Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Is it wrong to laugh?

I haven't felt like saying much about the video leaked out of Cruise's prose about the wonder of Scientology. Partly, it is too easy, also, Scientology is working hard to scourge all copies from the Net.

But some have asked, is it wrong to mock him? If he had gone off like this on being Christian, it wouldn't be funny or weird....Uh, yeah, it would. He is a weird little guy that is a fanatical.

The RCC, the Baptist Church, Judaism, or Islam (...or Hindi or Buddhism or Wicca...and so on)...when people go on like this, you get to chuckle, or fall on the floor laughing your ass off.

Tell me about crystal power, I laugh. Or your magic black meteor. Or your seemingly plagiarized stories. Or thetans. Religion is silly. When adults go on about fairies and dragons, go into magical thinking, it is funny.

A Chucklefest. And let us not pretend we all don't do laugh. I remember going through my religious confirmation. I was shown videos of how creepy Mormons are. I was also shown videos how psychics are fakers...thanks for that assist on my skeptic upbringing, church. Atheist just have an edge. They don't have one magic being (or group) that is off limit.


Back to Cruise.

In spite of the purge of the imagery, the Cruise mockery continues. The Gawker has a fun compilation, including these:


Eugene Mirman: Scientologist: "I'm tasting meatloaf. You know why? Because I want to."



Tom Cruise Scientology-Constipation Video: Cruise discusses how he stays regular.



Craig Ferguson on CBS's Late Late Show: A series of unfortunate laughs.



Stephen Colbert vs. Xenu vs. Cruise: "This guy was like...psheeew!"

Sunday, January 27, 2008

That divide the media was on about

Crooks and Liars:
...

MSNBC’s Norah O’Donnell looks at the voter turnout in South Carolina. Once again, the primary shows an energized Democratic voter base, since twice as many voters came out in 2008 as they did in 2004. As is their wont, MSNBC’s focused on race primarily, reassuring us that the majority of voters felt we were “ready” for a black president. *Whew* Glad they told us; I guess the votes and the fact that Obama has more actual delegates would not not be a big enough indication for most. /snark
The media was chattering a lot about viability. Now that Obama won handily and took good percentages in the key categories, the meme will switch again. Really, do me need human components in the MSM is they are just their to spout "conventional wisdom" again and again?

Here is the timeline. Obama had nice but not inspiring numbers. He went to Iowa, got some momentum and interest and took it, plus Clinton fell into third place. He was being fitted for robes of high office. Clinton took NH, and now they went to questioning him and wondering what hope he had. And it has gone back and forth since. Experience. Change. Racism. Sexism. And on and on. Clinton did herself harm, as did her husband. But Obama didn't help himself. The polls say the Clinton people were more disgusted with her, than Obama's supporters were with him. But they did not like it. It gave Edwards a shot. People gave him a glance, pointed to interest in supporting him, but the numbers didn't work out that way. He is charismatic with a good message, he just does not have the Clinton or Obama base. So he will try to be a spoiler and have some weight to make the others shift as we approach convention time.

Josh Marshall has some good insight about the campaigning and race so far.

I've been trying for several days now to sort out my reactions to the increasingly bitter turn of the Democratic nomination race. So let share with you my thoughts about where we are.

As I told you at the time, I thought most of the charges that the Clintons were injecting race into the process were bogus. And the Obama campaign definitely tried to stoke questions about what were at worst awkward or ambiguous statements. What's more, most of the talk about venomous attacks on Obama really don't add up.

Bringing up Rezko or cherry-picking Obama's quotes about the Iraq War to cast doubt on his consistent opposition to the war don't cut it. You don't go into a campaign with the idea that your opponents are obligated to present a dispassionate and fair-minded picture of the totality of your record. Or if you do you're a fool. Maybe you think that it should be that way but I'm not even sure there's any point discussing that hypothetical. Fundamentally a campaign is an adversary process, like a courtroom; it's not a civics lesson. Each side puts the other to its test. And there's very little I've seen from the Clinton camp that would seem like anything but garden variety political hardball if it were coming from Hillary or other Clinton surrogates rather than Bill Clinton.

I hear from a lot of Obama supporters that that may be how it's been. But Obama is about the 'new politics'. But this is no different from what Bill Bradley was saying in 2000. And it was as bogus then as it is now. Beyond that there is an undeniable undercurrent in what you hear from Obama supporters that he is too precious a plant -- a generational opportunity for a transformative presidency -- to be submitted to this sort of knockabout political treatment. That strikes me as silly and arrogant, if for no other reason that the Republicans will not step aside for Obama's transcendence either.

...
This transcendence is something that has bugged me. It is a nice idea. As a historical perspective it is interesting to note in books, but in an election for someone I want to do more than just INSPIRE...I need more. But I keep getting this talk of ephemeral wonder over Obama. He's different. He'll show the way. He is a blessed coming. He'll make the lame walk. But...what does he think about taxation? How will he approach picking judges? How will bring international leaders together to improve things? How will he talk on SEC issues and FCC troubles? How do we handle growing poverty in the US? Etc.

I like inspiration, but it is a thin broth to live on. Or to get my vote just because.

...

And yet I cannot deny that I've felt a mounting sense of unease verging into disgust with Bill Clinton's increasingly aggressive role in the campaign over the last couple of weeks. So I've tried to figure out just what it is that's gotten to me. To give you some perspective, I don't think there are many people who are bigger fans of Bill Clinton than I am or who've expended more ink defending him and his presidency. Nor am I particularly sold on Obama's candidacy. Transcendence isn't usually a big sell for me in politics. And I continue to have my doubts about whether Obama is tough enough or savvy enough to withstand the avalanche the Republicans will throw against the Democratic nominee this fall.

I think there are a lot of us who sense an air of arrogance in Obama's talk of transcendence, reconciliation and unity. I think there are a lot of people who would say, I would have loved to have transcended back in 1995 or 1998 or 2002. But we were spending every ounce on the political battle lines trying to prevent the Republicans from destroying the country. It's hard for folks like that to hear from someone new that they're part of the problem, part of the 'old politics'.

But again, I've thought to myself, what is it that seems wrong about what's going on here. And it's this: seven years after he left the Oval Office, in many respects, Bill Clinton remains the leader of the Democratic party. No, not in any formal way. But he remains extraordinarily popular among Democrats. He is almost unique in the last century as a successful Democratic president continuing to live on after his term of office. Give it some thought and you'll realize that it's almost unprecedented. Harry Truman left office extremely unpopular. And the deserved cult that's grown up around him didn't take root until many, many years later. Certainly it didn't apply to Lyndon Johnson or Jimmy Carter. And Kennedy and Roosevelt didn't outlive their presidencies.

For all these reasons Bill Clinton is unique,
sui generis. And for all these reasons he commands massive press attention. I agree with what TPM Reader JD said last night that, in effect, Bill Clinton holds a de facto office within the Democratic party. And what he's been doing amounts to an abuse of office. He has come into a primary process between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and used his unique power to jam his thumb down on one side of the scale in a way that I think is very difficult for anyone to overcome.

...
He really is a disproportional response. Sure, some campaigns are having Rambo and the MIA movies guy duking it out for them, but that is the height of stupid political theater...its stupid all around. Maybe by Summer Larry the Cable Guy and Jeff Foxworthy will be mud wrestling for given candidates. But Bill Clinton is a nasty weapon. He gets instant national coverage when he talks. And if he hits you, to hit back is to risk damage to the party. Yeah he is a spouse. But he is also a living monument to our history. And the main thing the past month has reminded me of was what a nasty campaigner he can be. And he is only offering short term aid, and short and long term damage.

...

Now, when I've written similar things before, many of you have written in to say: How is that fair? Obama's and Edwards' spouses are vigorous advocates on their behalf; why can't Bill do the same for Hillary? Why should she be penalized? Others say, he's her husband. Of course he's going to do every thing he can to ensure victory for her. How could he not? Some even say that he owes her in some way because of past transgressions. But this is silly. Obviously there's no comparing Elizabeth Edwards or Michelle Obama to Bill Clinton.

But there's another aspect of this too. Bill Clinton may owe all sorts of things to Hillary Clinton. I'm sure there's a complicated mix of loyalty, love, sense that he owes her, probably the sense that she'd be a great president. But here's the thing. Back during impeachment folks like me made the point -- and I think it was the right one -- that Bill Clinton's obligations to his wife, to his marriage to sexual fidelity and so forth were an issue between him and his wife. He had a different set of obligations and responsibilities to his supporters and to the larger public. And it was the latter that concerned me.

I think something similar applies in this case. I respect all the loyalties and devotions between the two of them in what is clearly a very complicated but also very enduring relationship. But I'm not part of that marriage. Its obligations aren't any concern of mine and they have no claim on me. My relationship with Bill Clinton is as a member of the party that he is, as I've said, the leader of or at least the most revered elder statesman of. And I feel like he's violating the compact that I have with him.

You might say that's not fair, that that means his obligations as a husband and as a leader of his party are hopelessly in conflict. And I could only say you're probably right. But that frankly is one of the reasons we have instinctive suspicions about dynastic politics. And as I say, I can only see one side of the conflict. I'm not part of that marriage. And I can't see putting the fate of the Democratic party, or the country for that matter, into the balance of its obligations.
But before I finish there's another part of this that is I think even more important. With the exception of a few days in early January I've gone on the assumption for many months that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. But I think Bill's actions have greatly diminished her. He has put her back under his shadow where she hasn't been for years.
For the moment, I doubt either of them is losing much sleep over that. Get through today and then worry about tomorrow. But I think she looks much smaller now. He's dominating the race. And that makes her look like a weaker figure -- something that will not wear well in the general election. And this campaign really suggests this is going to be some sort of co-presidency. When Hillary's getting knocked around by the folks on the Hill is Bill going to go Larry King to knock her enemies around? Will he be going off to foreign countries on his own little diplomatic missions?

I had assumed he'd remain a step in the background as he has through through most of this decade. But that doesn't seem to be the case. If the constitution allowed it, I'd happily have Clinton back. I'd happily have Hillary in his place. But I don't want them both.

The presidency is a singular job. It should stay that way. And it's precisely because I'm looking forward to supporting her if she is the nominee that I hate seeing her being overshadowed by her spouse and having her husband bigfoot the process which diminishes her and makes me think her presidency could be a 4 year soap opera where Bill won't shut up and let her have a shot at doing the job.
I like the Clintons. But, yeah, Bill needs to step back a little. And Hillary needs to be sure he knows his place in the campaign and presidency. And that is more time off stage.

South Carolina results

Obama takes a big win. The media tried to amp things, but it seems clear that Obama's support was strong. And any attempts to be divisive are not helping anyone.

Turnout was quite good.

Also impressive was the Democratic turnout. Last week, according to CNN's Election Center , 442,918 Republicans voted in a very, very competitive primary. It's fair to say that South Carolina is a red state.

Today, Democratic turnout far surpassed the GOP's performance. With 98% of precincts reporting, over 520,000 Democratic votes were counted.

Numbers breakdown.
African-Americans

Obama 81%, Clinton 17%, Edwards 1%

African-American women

Obama 82%, Clinton 17%, Edwards 0%

Whites

Edwards 39%, Clinton 36%, Obama 24%

Edwards winning white men, Clinton white women.


Obama's victory speech.


UPDATE: Daily Kos:
And some other numbers:

  • Total 2008 South Carolina Primary Turnout
    Democratic: about 530,322
    Republican: about 446,000
  • Obama received more votes than all Democrats in the 2004 South Carolina Democratic Primary (292,383)
  • Obama received more votes in this primary than George W. Bush received in 2000 when he beat John McCain (Bush won 293,652 votes)
  • Obama has won more votes than McCain and Huckabee won in South Carolina--combined.
  • Republican turnout in the 2000 South Carolina GOP primary was about 573,000 (the state's record). This appears to make this primary the second highest turnout in South Carolina history. In other words, Democrats are likely going to finish about 40,000 shy of what the GOP was ever able to crank out in a state where Republicans outnumber Democrats by a wide margin.

McCain on sticking it out in war.

Crooks and Liars:
At the GOP Debate on Thursday McCain said that setting a date for withdrawal will mean a victory for al Qaeda. ...

...

Yet, when we had a Democrat in the White House McCain repeatedly argued for bringing the troops home regardless of the consequences. ...

...

There you have it. McCain’s newfound surrender-phobia is a partisan fabrication, or else it’s time to question his sanity, or possibly both. In any case, the US most certainly does not need to keep a military presence in Iraq for a 100 or 10,000 more years just so McCain won’t call the troops losers and try to figuratively pin a victory medal on a terrorist group. It’s past time we declare victory (didn’t we already?) and start bringing our troops home. And when we do al Qaeda will have won nada unless some partisan dissembler like McCain tries to declare different.
The wheels came off the Straight-Talk Express a long time ago, so it’s about time the msm began to notice. Even the Moonie Times has begun figuring out what we’ve known all along, that McCain’s so-called ‘straight-talk‘ is anything but.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Keeping people accountable

Feministing:
Note to readers: Feministing is honored to have Congresswoman Louise M. Slaughter (NY-28) guest posting today on the KBR rape cover-up and violence against contractors abroad.

Yesterday, I, and over 100 of my colleagues, took a serious step to breaking the dangerous “boys will be boys” attitude that has been allowed to fester for far too long among United States government contractors in Iraq and around the world.

Many of you have heard the appalling tale of Jamie Leigh Jones, the past employee of US government contractor KBR, a former subsidiary of Halliburton.

While working in the Green Zone within Baghdad, Iraq, Jamie Leigh Jones was drugged, assaulted, and viciously gang raped by her coworkers. Upon learning of the attack, KBR had US Army doctors perform a medical examination showing that she had been viciously raped both anally and vaginally. After, the rape kit was turned over to KBR; she would later discover that portions of that kit had magically vanished into thin air.

Jamie Leigh was then placed under armed guard in a shipping container for 24 hours without access to food or water. There, she remained until she was rescued from her American employer by the State Department at the urging of her Member of Congress.

Over two years after these near unspeakable acts of violence and incredulously callous reaction by her employer, not only has the Justice Department not brought any criminal charges, but ABC News recently reported that they could not confirm that any federal agency was investigating the case at all.

Instead, it appears that the Departments of Justice, State, and Defense would prefer that the American public forget what happened to Jamie Leigh Jones.

It appears they do not want to rock the boat.

But this boat must be rocked. Because what happened to Jamie Leigh Jones was not an isolated incident.

It is increasingly apparent that there are many women working for United States government contractors that are regularly subject to sexual harassment, assault, and rape. And what is even more apparent, the perpetrators of these heinous acts are not held to account and justice is almost never served.

With over 20,000 Americans employed by US government contractors in Iraq alone, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates are in need of a big wake-up
call.

Well, yesterday morning, I sent two letters that I co-authored with Reps. Jan Schakowsky (IL) and Ted Poe (TX) with the signatures of over 100 Members of the United States House of Representatives to demand answers from Secretaries Rice and Gates. We are demanding that they go on record and answer specific questions detailing the precise steps they are taking to ensure that what happened to Jamie Leigh Jones does not happen to another US contractor again.

We will not rest until these answers meet our satisfaction and there is a guarantee that criminal offenders are punished to the letter of the law and that contractors, getting rich on massive taxpayer funded contracts, are held to account.

It must be the Bush Administration’s unequivocal position that individuals working as United States government contractors, whether at home or abroad, have the same rights to treatment, services, and proper legal recourse when they are victims of a violent crime.

Take Action: Keep pressure on the Department of State and Department of Defense on the Jamie Leigh Jones case and protecting US contractors; let them know that you expect a timely and appropriate response to Rep. Slaughter's letters.

Events in Gaza

Following the promises of forward movement by Bush and Olmert, the people in Gaza seemed to have run out of patience, as their food and heat evaporated away.

Informed Comment:
About 3:00 am on Wednesday morning Jan. 23, well-coordinated explosions demolished the iron wall built by Israel to seal the southern border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt (the Philadelphi axis). Tens of thousands of Palestinians streamed across the border and entered the Egyptian side of the town of Rafah, which had been bisected by the wall, in search of food, gasoline, and other basic commodities which have been in short supply for many months in Gaza. The first wave of Palestinians to cross consisted of hundreds of women who were met with water canons and beatings by Egyptian security forces.

The wall was the starkest expression of the international boycott of Hamas imposed by the United States, Israel, and the European Union after Hamas won a majority of the seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections of January 2006 and formed a government the following March. Hamas has been in sole control of the Gaza Strip after it executed a coup d'├ętat against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in June 2007. Since then, Israel has tightened the siege of Gaza which had been in effect since June 2006.

In response, Hamas and Palestinian Jihad militants have fired thousands of Qassam missiles on the town of Sderot and other Israeli population centers near the Gaza Strip. According to the 2007 annual report of B'Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, Hamas and Jihad killed twenty-four Israeli civilians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during 2006 and 2007 and thirteen Israeli military personnel.

In retaliation, Israel escalated the pace of its targeted assassinations of Hamas and Jihad militants, killing hundreds of civilians in the process. Based on B'Tselem's 2007 annual report, a Ha-Aretz investigation (Jan. 14, 2008) concluded that Israeli forces killed 816 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip during 2006 and 2007; at least 360 of them were civilians not affiliated with any armed organizations; 152 of the casualties were under age 18, and 48 were under the age of 14.

Despite the siege, Israel continued to provide electricity and water to the Gaza Strip, allowing people to live on the edge of survival, hoping that the economic pressure would bring down the Hamas government. Half the population now depends on charity handouts from the UN refugee relief organization and other humanitarian NGOs. Four days before the wall came crashing down, Israel sharply cut back fuel and water supplies, imposing a harsh collective punishment on the entire population of 1.5 million.

According to Ha-Aretz columnist Amira Hass (Jan. 24, 2008), for several months Hamas leaders had been discussing measures to end Gaza's torment, described by Rela Mazali, an Israeli feminist peace activist with the New Profile organization and an editor of Jewish Peace News, as "an abomination." Apparently, Hamas decided that four days of hermetic closure, following months of siege, created conditions in which Egypt and the international community would be willing to accept bringing down the wall. Hamas did not take official responsibility for blowing up the wall, but praised the action.

The Egyptian press reported that, several days before the wall was blown up, the General Guide of the Muslim Brothers, the largest opposition force in Egypt, spoke by telephone to Khaled Mash'al, the head of the Political Bureau of Hamas who resides in Damascus. Hamas emerged from the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brothers; and there is a high likelihood that the actions of the two organizations were coordinated. Following this consultation, the Brothers began to organize demonstrations throughout Egypt beginning on Friday, Jan. 18. The number of its supporters in the street gradually increased, culminating on Wednesday. Jan. 23. That morning, thousands of Egyptian security forces surrounded Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo and arrested hundreds (according to some reports thousands) of people who were attempting to demonstrate in solidarity with the people of Gaza. The demonstration was supported by both the Muslim Brothers and secular nationalists.

Meanwhile, at Rafah, Egyptian security forces initially tried to stop the Palestinians from streaming across the border. But as the numbers swelled to tens of thousands, the government had no choice but to acquiesce. President Hosni Mubarak told journalists that he had instructed the security forces to: "Let them come in to eat and buy food" and return "as long as they are not carrying weapons."

What are the implications of these developments?

...

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Political victory in Iraq?

Crooks and Liars:
The de-Baathification law recently approved in Iraq has been heralded by war supporters as the political progress we’ve all been waiting for.

I wish it were, but reality shows otherwise. As Josh Marshall noted, the law is widely seen as a “sham“: “The people to be reconciled, the Sunnis, were against it; the Shi’a, the folks forced to do the reconciling, voted for it. And the most likely result of the new law seems to be a new and more thorough purge of ex-Baathists rather than their reintegration into the state and military bureaucracy.”

In case there were any doubts, the Washington Post makes it clear today.

Maj. Gen. Hussein al-Awadi, a former official in Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, became the commander of the Iraqi National Police despite a 2003 law barring the party from government.

But now, under new legislation promoted as way to return former Baathists to public life, the 56-year-old and thousands like him could be forced out of jobs they have been allowed to hold, according to Iraqi lawmakers and the government agency that oversees ex-Baathists.

“This new law is very confusing,” Awadi said. “I don’t really know what it means for me.”

He is not alone. More than a dozen Iraqi lawmakers, U.S. officials and former Baathists here and in exile expressed concern in interviews that the law could set off a new purge of ex-Baathists, the opposite of U.S. hopes for the legislation.
So much for the “breakthrough.”

Funny what is and is not acceptable in politics.

TPM:

A couple of days ago, a group called Citizens United Not Timid filed papers with the IRS as a "527" organization. Then we saw that Roger Stone had signed on as the group's "assistant treasurer." Uh oh.

Stone, regular TPM readers know, is a Republican operative who prides himself as something of an elder statesman of GOP dirty tricks. He went to work for Richard Nixon at age nineteen, making him the "youngest Watergate dirty trickster." He continues to idolize the man, even sporting a tattoo of Nixon's face between his shoulder blades. On his website, the StoneZone, he proudly touts Nixon's endorsement of him as "one of the very few excellent political professionals."

His career with the GOP took off from there, leading to spots with Ronald Reagan's campaigns, Bob Dole's presidential campaign, two of Sen. Arlen Specter's (R-PA) campaigns (Specter reportedly counts him as a friend), among others. James Baker tapped him to lead street protests in Florida to shut down the recount in 2000. Most recently, he was hired by New York Republicans for their battle with Gov. Elliot Spitzer (D), a gig that exploded when he was accused of making a threatening phone call to Spitzer's 83 year-old father (Stone denied it).

...


Feministing:

A new 527 organization has formed with the express purpose of opposing Hillary Clinton. Which, in and of itself, isn't sexist. Until you hear the name of the group:


Wow. Not subtle. Not witty. But so Republican.

What racial epitaph would be acceptable? What slander of sexual orientation? But women, free game.

Tucker Carlson believes neither Clinton or women face nasty crap. Idiot.

They do try to make it hard to ask questions.

Steven Novella looks at the plight of skeptics as they face threats and law suits from those upset to have the curtain peaked around.

Skeptics are in the game of criticism, and often their criticism is sharp, uncompromising, and deep. In fact, that is often the point - to use logic and evidence like a surgical scalpel to cut away nonsense, superstition, and sloppy thinking. This is what scientists do every day, because the culture of science understands this is a necessary process for progress within a system that values truth above all.

The recipients of skeptical criticism, however, often do not value truth as we do. Gurus and charlatans like to set themselves up as authorities and savants beyond criticism. Sometimes they are just too childish to take a dose of reality in the face. This may lead them to fight back against skepticism - which is fine. Argue away, I always enjoy a good verbal tussle.

Other times, however, the targets of skeptical criticism fight back dirty, by using the threat of legal action as an intimidation tactic to silence their critics. Syliva Browne has done this against Robert Lancaster from stopsylviabrowne.com. Recently the Society for Homeopaths pulled the same trick against Le Canard Noir who writes the Quackometer Blog. Both of these attempts at silencing free speech ultimately failed.

Now, I learn from Orac that Le Canard Noir has again been targeted, this time by a dubious nutritionist named Dr. Joseph Chikelue Obi. Obi (no relation to Kenobi) has threatened Le Canard Noir’s webhost with a lawsuit, demanding a £1 million a day penalty unless pages about him and his highly dubious activities are removed from their server. The ISP instantly caved.

So, as a show of solidarity for skepticism and free speech, and at the kind request of Orac, I will repost the offending blog entries here. Enjoy.

...

That funny sunny benign side of religion


This past week we have seen a number of examples of that soft and cuddly side of religion...not really.

RichardDawkins.net:
On a quiet Sunday morning in June, as worshippers settled into the pews at Allen Baptist Church in southwestern Michigan, Pastor Jason Burrick grabbed his cellphone and dialed 911. When a dispatcher answered, the preacher said a former congregant was in the sanctuary. "And we need to, um, have her out A.S.A.P."
Half an hour later, 71-year-old Karolyn Caskey, a church member for nearly 50 years who had taught Sunday school and regularly donated 10% of her pension, was led out by a state trooper and a county sheriff's officer. One held her purse and Bible. The other put her in handcuffs. (Listen to the 911 call)

The charge was trespassing, but Mrs. Caskey's real offense, in her pastor's view, was spiritual. Several months earlier, when she had questioned his authority, he'd charged her with spreading "a spirit of cancer and discord" and expelled her from the congregation. "I've been shunned," she says.

Her story reflects a growing movement among some conservative Protestant pastors to bring back church discipline, an ancient practice in which suspected sinners are privately confronted and then publicly castigated and excommunicated if they refuse to repent. While many Christians find such practices outdated, pastors in large and small churches across the country are expelling members for offenses ranging from adultery and theft to gossiping, skipping service and criticizing church leaders.

...
Kicking old ladies out of church...sorry, having the police march in and drag old ladies out. Nice.

...

Her expulsion came as a shock to some church members when, in August 2006, the pastor sent a letter to the congregation stating Mrs. Caskey and an older married couple, Patsy and Emmit Church, had been removed for taking "action against the church and your preacher." The pastor, Mr. Burrick, told congregants the three were guilty of gossip, slander and idolatry and should be shunned, according to several former church members.

"People couldn't believe it," says Janet Biggs, 53, a former church member who quit the congregation in protest.

The conflict had been brewing for months. Shortly after the church hired Mr. Burrick in 2005 to help revive the congregation, which had dwindled to 12 members, Mrs. Caskey asked him to appoint a board of deacons to help govern the church, a tradition outlined in the church's charter. Mr. Burrick said the congregation was too small to warrant deacons. Mrs. Caskey pressed the issue at the church's quarterly business meetings and began complaining that Mr. Burrick was not following the church's bylaws. "She's one of the nicest, kindest people I know," says friend and neighbor Robert Johnston, 69, a retired cabinet maker. "But she won't be pushed around."

In April 2006, Mrs. Caskey received a stern letter from Mr. Burrick. "This church will not tolerate this spirit of cancer and discord that you would like to spread," it said. Mrs. Caskey, along with Mr. and Mrs. Church, continued to insist that the pastor follow the church's constitution. In August, she received a letter from Mr. Burrick that said her failure to repent had led to her removal. It also said he would not write her a transfer letter enabling her to join another church, a requirement in many Baptist congregations, until she had "made things right here at Allen Baptist."

She went to Florida for the winter, and when she returned to Michigan last June, she drove the two miles to Allen Baptist as usual. A church member asked her to leave, saying she was not welcome, but Mrs. Caskey told him she had come to worship and asked if they could speak after the service. Twenty minutes into the service, a sheriff's officer was at her side, and an hour later, she was in jail.

...
So the church is to quash debate? Questions of governance? Shocker. They get to be run tax free, and get to silence those that question?


PZ Myers has a tale from the democratic land of Afghanistan.

Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, a journalist in Afghanistan, has been arrested and condemned for downloading articles on the internet that are critical of Islam.

Kambakhsh, a student at Balkh University and a journalist for Jahan-e Naw (New World), was arrested in October 2007 after material he downloaded was deemed to be offensive to Islam.

Shamsur Rahman, the head of the court, told Reuters news agency: "According to... the Islamic law, Sayed Perwiz is sentenced to death at the first court.

"However, he will go through three more courts to declare his last punishment," he said.
...
Is this the taste of victory for America and democracy?


PZ Myers also reminds us about those Westboro Baptists, lead by Fred Phelps. Following news of Heath Ledgers death, the group is planning to go and picket his funeral. Why? Cause the guy starred in Brokeback Mountain. As they explain...really pathetically justify...that making a movie where being gay is not evil is a sin against God.



Ah, religion, feel all that love? Do you?

Bush and the market

How much does Bush really care about the orderly running of the market?

AMERICAblog:
The only remaining Democrat at the SEC is resigning and Bush still has yet to move on the other Democratic position, open since last year. He does nothing because this is the system that the GOP wants. No oversight or regulation and whatever Big Business wants. Investors? Who cares? Fairness? Not on your life. Balance? Kidding, right? Bush is not going to move because for him, everything is just fine. Of course, this also means that Bush and the GOP own this problem. The failures - which are extensive - are the failures of the GOP and there's nobody to hide behind. The US economy continues to hit new lows not seen in decades and he does nothing. Worst president ever.

And again, can we handle 4 more years of Republican leadership?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Just how advanced is biblical science?

PZ Myers is linking to a great video that aptly, excitingly, and lovingly explains the difference between biblical science and science.



Enjoy.

Thompson wanders off the campaign trail


It's both sad and funny.

TPM:
As you can see, Fred Thompson is now officially out of the GOP primary race. You can read his statement here. I thought it was worth pointing out though how hilariously Fred has managed to have his departure be as lackadaisical and delayed as was his entrance into the race.

As you can remember, Thompson fiddled and waited and yawned and dawdled, eventually going through something like two or three campaign managers before even getting in the race. And here it's been pretty obvious that the guy's been toast for weeks. He basically gave his withdrawal speech three days ago on primary night. Earlier today he put out word that he wasn't showing up for the next debate. And now as sort of an afterthought he mentions that he's dropping out of the campaign.

I say two weeks before he picks up the phone and lets his campaign workers know there's no need to come by the office any more.

TPMtv - War of Attrition

TPM:
In today's episode we look at highlights (or lowlights) of yesterday's Democratic debate and who looks set to take the lion's share of delegates on February 5th ...

Social Security Meme

So what is the deal with the media and Social Security?

Crooks and Liars:
...

CNN clearly is gunning for FOXNews’ spot as the propaganda department for the White House and Wall Street. Why else would they need to introduce a segment on the various candidates’ stances on Social Security thusly?:

Voters know that Social Security is a financial time bomb that needs fixing. The latest government calculation is that the system will go bust—be out of money– in 2041. So voters paying in want something done.
Um, no. For the record, Social Security is not a time bomb–nice imagery, CNN. Common sense tells you that–if left alone (granted, a huge IF)–there will always be more people paying into Social Security than SSI is paying out, even with the baby boomer generation. It’s a self-sustaining system as FDR designed it. You know who wants you to believe that there is a financial crisis? The Bush White House obviously, but also their cronies on Wall Street, just rubbing their collective hands in anticipation of getting a hold on private accounts to manage.

To keep furthering the false memes, CNN interviews a Giuliani supporter who doesn’t believe that Social Security will be available to him (maybe because you keep telling him that, CNN?) and goes through first the Republican candidates’ support for Bush’s private accounts either in toto or in part. The Democratic candidates? They “just want to raise taxes” (hmmm…taking our framing from Grover Norquist again?). Technically correct, but definitely a Republican framing of raising the cap on income from its current cap of $90,000 a year. As it stands, the person who makes $1,000,000/ year pays the same payroll tax as the person who makes $95,000. Imagine the benefits of lifting the cap.

But giving the general populace (and more importantly in this election year, the electorate) the real facts so that they can make decisions that will be in their best interests, well, that just wouldn’t be newsworthy, would it, CNN?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Uri Geller and the excuses

BadPsychics has some fun video of

Uri Geller, psychic...no magician...no psychic as he explains his failures.


And James Randi responds and cuts through the guff.

ID is worthless. Surprised?

Rosenhouse, of EVOLUTIONBLOG, gives a great example of the sheer ridiculousness of Intelligent Design.

ID folks make numerous assertions said to represent scientific challenges to conventional evolutionary theory. These claims are uniformly wrong, which is one of the reasons scientists generally ignore them.

But ID folks also claim that adopting a design perspective could lead to great progress in science, if only scientists would take off their materialist blinders. There is an acid test for all such claims: Go discover something! Writers are fond of saying “Show, don't tell,” and that adage applies very well here. If your perspective is so useful, then prove it by discovering something the conventional methods had overlooked.

Every once in a while an ID proponent claims to have done such a thing, but such claims invariably crumble after even the briefest examination. So I read with interest this post from ID hack and Dembski lackey Denyse O'Leary. It's title: Nine Predictions, if Intelligent Design is True.

Golly! That's a lot of predictions. Now, typically when scientists talk about a prediction of a theory, they are talking about something they can use to guide their research. Give a paleontologist a region of the world and rocks of a particular age, and they can tell you with considerable precision what sorts of creatures you ought to find in the fossils. We saw a dramatic example of this in 2006 with the discovery of Tiktaalik. Paleontologists were searching for a fossil with certain characteristics, and they had a good idea of where to look for the best chance of finding one as the result of evolutionary thinking. That is just one example. It is not difficult to come up with many more.

Can ID do anything like that? Of course not. If it could, it would have taken over as the dominant paradigm in biology long ago. This hasn't stopped various ID folks from trying to pretend otherwise. Let's have a look at O'Leary's efforts.

...

They cloned old Bessie

Steven Novella wants you to understand cloned beef. Get informed, and get passed rhetoric and uninformed fear.

The FDA has declared that cloned beef and milk are probably safe. This announcement was based upon a review conducted by the National Research Council at the request of the FDA. For the last several years the meat industry has upheld a voluntary moratorium on the sale of products from cloned animals. Some fear that this new announcement by the FDA is premature and will lead to the lifting of the moratorium. Others hail the announcement as a sign of welcome progress. Meanwhile, the majority of Americans are weary about cloned product amid widespread misunderstanding. So what’s the deal with cloned beef?

The basics of cloning is this - the process begins with a newly fertilized embryo, which has the potential to develop into a mature animal. The nuclear DNA, the instructions for making the entire organism (almost), is then removed from the embryo. It is then replaced with the DNA from the cell of an existing mature animal. The result is an almost exact duplicate of the mature animal from whom the donor DNA was taken.

I qualified the above with a couple of “almost’s” because nuclear DNA is not the complete list of instructions for making a grown animal - a small amount of DNA is mitochondrial, found in the small organelles inside cells that are responsible for energy production. Also, clones differ from their “parent’ in that they did not develop in the same womb, and the environment of the womb has an effect on development. In fact, identical twins are more similar to each other than clones.


Contrary to the common portrayal in science fiction, clones are not produced as mature creatures nor do they have the memories of their donor. They grow from an embryo just like any animal. If the process works then the result should be a perfectly normal and healthy animal. There is a high number of birth defects in cloned animals, but that is a technological problem, resulting, likely, from damage during the cloning process or some stress that the process places on the embryo. But there is no theoretical reason why clones should not be normal organisms - they are not monsters.

Also, cloning needs to be distinguished from genetic engineering, where the DNA is altered in order to change an organism. Clones are not necessarily genetically engineered.

If the process is so difficult and the result is a normal animal, why is the farming industry even interested in cloning? Well, for maximum efficiency - highest yield of the highest quality product - farmers prefer to use the best plants and animals. This is usually accomplished through selective breeding, a process that has served humanity very well and has, in fact, created most of the plants and animals we eat. Almost nothing we eat exists as it evolved in nature prior to human tinkering. But this is a slow and unpredictable process. What if a farmer comes into possession of an exceptional cow, a perfect pig, an enviable fowl? Traditionally they would use that animal to breed more like it, but often the offspring are not as optimal as the parent. If they could clone the animal, however, they would have an endless supply of perfection - they could lock into place whatever gains they made by prior breeding.

What are the objections to cloning? From a scientific point of view there are no theoretical concerns about cloned plants and animals for human consumption. The only real concern is that of uncertainty - that the cloning process may have resulted in an unforseen effect. This latest study essentially looked into that question - do the cows seem normal. The answer is that they could not detect any problems, but answers in the negative - claims for the absence of something, in this case the absence of any anomalies, are only as good as the thoroughness and sensitivity of the search. So while I think that the cloned animals probably are fine, and the research that has been done so far is very reassuring, we can’t rule out an undetected anomaly.

Another concern, not related to the safety of clones, is that of genetic diversity. The farming industry has increasing relied upon fewer and fewer varieties of plants and animals. This means that genetic diversity has been dramatically reduced in the last century, as the multitudes of local varieties have been replaced by a sea of monotonous optimization. Concern is not just nostalgia for lost varities. Genetic variation takes a long time to emerge, and it is a hedge against blight and extinction. We should be cautious before we put all of our genetic eggs in one basket. Cloning has the potential of exacerbating this problem significantly - as single varieties may be replaced by single genetic individuals.

Among the public, however, it seems that the biggest resistance to cloned products is simple disgust. Disgust is a specific emotion that evolved to protect individuals from tainted or bad food. We don’t have to do a chemical analysis of food prior to eating it, or way the risks vs benefits of possibly spoiled nutrition. Rather, our emotions of hunger and disgust battle it out, and one wins. Disgust (and the enjoyment of food on the positive side) makes the decision for us. But emotion decisions, while efficient, are not always rational or optimal. There are things that may trigger our disgust emotion even when there is no health risk - and I think that cloned food products fit into this category.

Clones are weird, unknown, and therefore frightening, so they trigger our disgust emotion. But this also means that over time, familiarity will lessen that reaction, and eventually eating cloned food will be ordinary and accepted. Don’t expect cloned beef on the shelves anytime soon. For now it seems that the industry is still testing the waters. But I do predict that cloned beef is in our future.

WHY I VOTE PRO CHOICE

WHY I VOTE PRO CHOICE:


BECAUSE...

  • IT IS A PERSONAL CHOICE.

  • IT IS A MEDICAL CHOICE.

  • IT IS A WOMAN'S CHOICE.

and

  • I SHOULDN'T BE ABLE TO INTERFERE IN THAT CHOICE.

  • NO ONE ELSE SHOULD BE ABLE TO EITHER.

Bloggers for Choice

There are a number of great posts for the Annual Bloggers for Choice. It is Blog for Choice Day 2008

Blog for Choice Day

For me, with the election year ramping up, I wanted to talk to you about just why it is important to use your vote, and use it wisely. If you believe in Choice, your vote is paramount.



Why politics matter.

It is an obvious thing, but one that strangely gets forgotten in the heat of campaign watching and getting into the horse race. How many times for you heard it? I might just vote for McCain in that case. Or, I might not vote. Or, I will vote Green [etc.]. Have you heard this or read it online? I have.

Now among liberals there are a plethora of opinions and views. But we agree, in large, that women must have the right to make reproductive choices. None of us are wished to sustain senseless wars around the world. We want to be secure, but also free. We work to sustain the environment. We share some important positions.

We agree on so much that is so critical. But then I heard a liberal radio commentator note how they would like McCain and Obama to run together. Or people online declare that if one candidate (Obama, Edwards, Kucinich) does not win, they are out.

How soon do we forget? THE GLOBAL GAG RULE? A MORE and MORE CONSERVATIVE SUPREME COURT? Pushing some extremely conservative judges into positions across the country? Installing some of the worst people into admin and high level government posts where they have spouted lies about sex ed, reproductive issues and other issues, and silenced research and aid to those in need in this country and around the world?


  • Gore ran and people went to Nader or stayed home, and we got years of Bush. And we all suffered.
  • Kerry ran and people went to Nader or stayed home, and we got more. And we all continued to suffer.
  • The hubris of saying any one of the Democrats is worse then sitting the next election out, going to McCain is...See the Bush Years.
All the front runners for the Republicans are planning to attack Roe vs Wade, Romney, Huckabee, and, yes, even John McCain. Eight years has begun a precarious move to the right on the Court, and done huge damage of sex ed and reproductive rights in this nation of ours.

Can any of honestly be that blase about 4 more years?

So I hope we all think about Choice, not just today, but all the way to November.

Lapse in judgment?

Feministing:
Here's an interesting story. The Women's Center at Yale University, which provides sexual assault counseling to students, has said it will sue the fraternity that posed in front of their building with a sign reading: "We love Yale sluts." And I say good on them.

It seems that Zeta Psi pledges not only posed in front of the center with the sign, but also intimidated women who tried to get into the building.

...

All of the individuals involved wish to issue a formal apology to the female community, those directly or indirectly affected, as well as the Yale University community at large. We realize that the photographed actions were inappropriate, and we send our regards to any and all offended parties. The intentions of everyone involved were not to harm anyone socially or psychologically; rather, it was a lapse in the judgement [sic] of the group as a public organization.
A lapse in judgment? Really? Posing for that picture in their own frat house could maybe be a lapse in judgment. Going to a center that provides services to rape victims with a sign that calls women sluts is deliberate, it's fucking transparent, and it's harassment. I hope they shut them down.

...

A look at Obama and the Gay issue

This piece gives a nice tour through Obama and his turbulent campaign history with Gay issues, and how he has come a long way.

AMERICAblog:
Obama's relations with the gay community were off to a great start yesterday morning. Obama had just addressed the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, MLK's own church (text of the speech and video here), and Obama went out of his way in the speech to call the black community to task for having "scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them."

Not bad, considering candidates don't usually admonish their own in order to get votes.

Then, word started getting around (i.e., I started getting lots of emails) that Obama was embracing yet another homophobic friend-of-Bush, a la the controversy a few months ago in which Donnie McClurkin, a gospel singer (and Bush supporter) who advocates that gays can (and should) be "cured" emceed an Obama fundraiser. This time around, it's Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, a black minister who says he's been asked by the Obama campaign to travel around the country on their behalf. The controversy? The minister's church runs a ministry that tries to cure gays.

Or at least they did. The ministry's Web site no longer contains the page promoting their anti-gay/ex-gay ministry, but I still have a copy that you can see below ...

...

Monday, January 21, 2008

Women and education

Feministing:
This one is a doozy. John Bustrak of Michigan Tech writes that "Feminism has gone too far." What is it this time? We've made girls slutty? We're the reason more women are in prison? No, Bustrak thinks feminism has overstepped its bounds because we've made it difficult for women to fulfill their "desire to nurture." Also, we probably shouldn't be allowed in college.

...
Charming sentiment.

They point to this paragraph late in the work.

Now, I have known a number of women who consider themselves not simply equal to men, but superior. Why? Because they are more “sophisticated,” because they are more “rational,” and less prone to violence. Further, I have seen women who have decided that they need to one-up men for aggressiveness and become almost psychotic in their brash confrontationalism...When did feminism stop being about “we are worth just as much as you are,” and start being about “we can do everything you can do, and then some”?
Ah. So this is all the result of being turned down by a girl. Buddy, lighten up, move on, and, especially after writing this screed, ask, "Is it you?" Cause I think it might be.

Feministing Weekly Blast

Feministing:
...

Pioneering journalist Fran Lewine has died. She was the first woman to be a full-time White House reporter for the Associated Press.

Class issues, weight issues, and Starbucks' new "Skinny Platform."

What? You mean you can be in a devoted, life-long, loving relationship without getting married -- or even wanting to? Wow!

Schools in the UK are told to stop giving students sexist career advice.

The New York Times has a big feature and photo essay on female genital cutting. Plus, and Iraqi Kurdish parliamentarian is pushing legislation to criminalize FGM.

Women in Saudi Arabia are now allowed to rent hotel rooms without a male guardian.

Vogue editor Anna Wintour calls Hillary Clinton "mannish."

Texas teens were arrested for forcing girls as young as 12 into prostitution.

Susie Bright on "smashmortion" cinema.

Note to political journalists writing about Obama and the Latino vote: Black and Latino are not mutually exclusive.

UK police are trying tactics that encourage rape suspects to incriminate themselves via text message.

Wisconsin antichoicers are mailing out 40,000 plastic fetuses.

Rep. Louise Slaughter has a letter asking the Department of Defense to investigate the KBR rape case.

High-school moms in Denver ask for four weeks of maternity leave.

Does caffeine increase pregnant women's risk of miscarriage?

Frances Kissling and Kate Michelman on Roe's 35th anniversary.

How Kansas antichoicers are using grand juries to undermine abortion rights.

Reviewing the new Bella Abzug biography.

How John McCain is using his adopted daughter to "prove" he's got antichoice street cred.

A Muslim girl was denied the right to participate in her high-school track meet because of her modified uniform.

If you haven't listened already, check out Melissa Harris Lacewell's brilliant response to Gloria Steinem (and her op-ed) on Democracy Now.

And Rachel points out that race and gender are real issues in this election.

Dinesh...Is it surprising?

Dinesh D'Souza keeps at it. But there are those that are ready and more informed, or more honest, and set the record straight.

Rational Responders:
Isn't it remarkable that Christians would like to use atheists as scapegoats for every evil action throughout history instead of admitting their own complicity? After all, they are the ones who are constantly reminding us that the inhumane actions committed by their predecessors don't necessarily reflect upon them, so why can't they just admit that the christians of the past were complicit in some of these atrocities?

I don't know that I need to move beyond the first sentence to prove the absurdity of his assertion. Apparently, Mr. D'Souza has forgotten about the atheists and deists who were the true impetus for ending slavery-like Abraham Lincoln! As far as we can tell from the biographies written about Lincoln, particularly those written by some of his closest friends, he was at best a deist, possibly an atheist, and definitely opposed to organized religion and christianity.1 How about other atheist abolitionists like Fanny Wright, Elizur Wright2 and Ernestine Louise Rose3?

...

Bolstering Edwards

Martin Luther King III had strong words of praise for John Edwards.

Crooks and Liars:
...

…I appreciate that on the major issues of health care, the environment, and the economy, you have framed the issues for what they are - a struggle for justice. And, you have almost single-handedly made poverty an issue in this election.

You know as well as anyone that the 37 million people living in poverty have no voice in our system. They don’t have lobbyists in Washington and they don’t get to go to lunch with members of Congress. Speaking up for them is not politically convenient. But, it is the right thing to do.

I am disturbed by how little attention the topic of economic justice has received during this campaign. I want to challenge all candidates to follow your lead, and speak up loudly and forcefully on the issue of economic justice in America.[..]

I believe that now, more than ever, we need a leader who wakes up every morning with the knowledge of that injustice in the forefront of their minds, and who knows that when we commit ourselves to a cause as a nation, we can make major strides in our own lifetimes. My father was not driven by an illusory vision of a perfect society. He was driven by the certain knowledge that when people of good faith and strong principles commit to making things better, we can change hearts, we can change minds, and we can change lives.

So, I urge you: keep going. Ignore the pundits, who think this is a horserace, not a fight for justice. My dad was a fighter. As a friend and a believer in my father’s words that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, I say to you: keep going. Keep fighting. My father would be proud.


...

Going into the next primary

Does Romney have a chance of surging back? Would that be ironic against McCain?

TPM:
Another Robopoll out on Florida. This one from SurveyUSA ...

McCain 25%
Giuliani 20%
Romney 19%
Huckabee 14%
Thompson 7%
Paul 7%

Earlier today Rasmussen put out a poll with Romney 25%, McCain 20% and Rudy 19%.

For what has shifted:
McCain 25% (+0)
Giuliani 20% (-3)
Romney 19% (+1)
Huckabee 14% (-4)
Thompson 7% (-2)
Paul 7% (+3)

Paul and Romney seem to be getting the attention...in this polling. Where will Giuliani and Thompson numbers bleed off to through this week?

TPMtv - Is Bill helping?

TPMtv:
Bill was the big topic on the Sunday shows this weekend. I shared my own views yesterday evening. I must confess that when the Sunday yakkers say X I pretty much always think it must really be Y. But here I think I have to continue saying X in spite of the fact that the yakkers are saying it too.

...

Beating the truth out of her.

Here is a scary trip through religion, faith, and superstition. Be ready to be creeped out.

Last year, I met a drawn, defeated 14-year old girl who had been possessed by Satan, until he and his Armies of Evil were tortured out of her.

That is how her priest explained it to me. That is how she explained it to me.

They spoke as if it was all as obvious as her scars. Clarice was a tiny girl wrapped in a big white woollen cardigan. In a church in the middle of Congo's carnage she explained how she had chosen to let the demons enter her when she was twelve.

Since then, Satan had forced her to make her mother fall, breaking her leg.

Satan had forced her to jinx her father, making it impossible for him to get a job. Satan had forced her to kill her little sister, by giving her a deadly fever.

Her Pentecostalist priest, Papa Enoch Boonga, told me with pride how he had driven the demons out. They starved Clarice for four days, whipped her and threatened to burn her, until finally she "confessed."

Then they forced her to admit to everything she had done, and performed a long exorcism ceremony. They only believed it was working when her little body began to judder and howl and curse. I ask Clarice quietly if she really believed she had done all these things. "Yes," she said. "I do." And so we sigh lazily: another example of African primitivism. But no. Exorcism, even of children, is being aggressively promoted today by one of the most powerful men in the Western world, Pope Benedict XVI, in only slightly watered-down form. Presidents and Prime Ministers fawn over this man.

His every word is reported with the respect we are required to show to "religion", lest we are accused of bigotry.

And yet he is openly commanding an army of exorcists to tell horrifically disturbed and mentally ill people that demons and devils are within them – because they invited evil in.

This December, Father Gabriele Amorth, official exorcist of the Rome Diocese, and friend of the "Holy Father", announced that the Pope will soon undertake a new campaign to unleash a fresh batch of 400 exorcists on the world, in addition to the thousands already in operation. "Thank God," he said, "we have a Pope who has decided to confront the devil head-on." (One representative of this evil, he added, is Harry Potter.)

The Catholic Church has officially denied having such a plan – but they admit the Church has had official exorcism rites since 1614, and that bishops and priests are encouraged to act on them today "where appropriate."

In practice, official Catholic exorcisms have been dramatically increasing since the mid-1970s, according to Michael W. Cuneo, a sociologist at Fordham University in New York who conducted a four-year study into this topic. But very few people were prepared to talk to me about what this involves.

I was finally able to track down one of the more "moderate" exorcists – if you can imagine such a thing – in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hallam, in Yorkshire.

Father Anthony Hayne is a soft-spoken, sincere man who tells me that in his little slice of Britain he carries out "a couple of exorcisms a month".

Although it's years since he's seen the movie The Exorcist, he thinks it's broadly accurate, explaining, "As a Catholic, I would use those methods, yes.

"Lately I've been seeing a professional person who seems very balanced, except she feels demons are ruining her life. Sometimes she speaks with a voice that is certainly not her voice, it is obviously a demon using her. . . We have prayed together, and if that doesn't work we have a solemn rite of exorcism we can use if we have the approval of the bishop."

He says he takes the question of whether these people are mentally ill "very seriously".

He encourages anybody who feels they are possessed to go to their doctor – but he claims he has to take their word for it when they say the doctor says there is no physical or psychological cause for their disturbance, because of patient confidentiality.

Father Anthony tells me he does indeed believe children can be possessed, although he would only ever "treat" a child with the presence and co-operation of its parents. The closest he has come is to treat a few people in their late teens, who "had been using ouija boards and had let the darkness into their lives".

It's true the official Catholic exorcism rites do not involve the physical torture inflicted on Clarice – but in many cases, it inevitably involves telling the mentally ill they are responsible for their own suffering.

For example, one of the heroes to Catholic exponents of exorcism is M. Scott Peck, who wrote: "People who are suffering from demonic possession [have] at some level co-operated with demonic evil; they have invited it into their life. In such cases there is always – perhaps at an unconscious level – some kind of sell-out to evil." Imagine telling this to a howling woman hearing voices. Every day there is a case somewhere of an exorcist taking the Catholic theology seriously but going beyond its fetid rules. To pluck one recent example from hundreds: recently a 23-year-old Romanian nun called Maricica Irina Cornici became convinced she was hearing the voice of Satan.

Her colleagues reacted by tying her to a cross, gagging her mouth with a towel, and leaving her for three days with no food or water, to "starve out Satan". At the inquest, it was revealed she had a long history of schizophrenia. Whenever I write about the harm caused by organised superstition, well-meaning people write, asking – why get so worked up? Isn't religion all about love and light and helping people through the hard times?

No. Here is the biggest, richest and most powerful religious institution on earth, explicitly telling deeply mentally ill people the Devil is within them because they asked him in, and they have to suffer to get him out. Even the famously wet and woolly Church of England has an official exorcist in every diocese. This is not love, nor light.

Nor can we fall back on the glib claim that these people are distorting the "true" religion, which is all about peace and love. Jesus Christ himself performed exorcisms and he called on his followers to copy him, engaging in spiritual trench warfare against Satan. If a Christian is somebody who follows the example of Christ, these people are true and good Christians – and they are also deeply immoral human beings.

In that crater-church in Congo, I wanted to be able to hug Clarice, and tell her that there was a place in the world where these barbaric superstitions were a distant, dismissed relic. Thanks to the Catholic Church, I could not offer her even that.

888 the number of the creeps

A reminder about the pending resolution in Congress.

Crooks and Liars:
Last December, Republicans in Congress introduced a resolution noting the significance of Christmas and the Christian faith, which eventually passed, blurring the lines between church and state — and they’re at it again, attempting to rewrite American history and further the lie that America is a Christian nation.

...

The resolution, which is supported by the likes of Reps Patrick McHenry, John Doolittle and Mean Jean Schmidt, calls for an “American Religious History Week” and rejects any attempt to remove religious messages or teachings from our public buildings and educational resources. There can be no doubt that during an election year, Reps voting against the resolution will be labeled anti-religion, but we can’t let them be bullied into signing this flawed resolution that goes against the very principles our country was founded on. Contact your Representatives and tell them to say no to H. Res. 888, (corrected) which further blurs the separation between church and state.

RichardDawkins.net:
Jan. 11 - Flush with last year's success in passing H.Res. 847, "Recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian Faith," Christian nationalists -- those who would have the United States be governed as a Christian theocracy -- are pushing H.Res. 888, another resolution which promotes a false and distorted Christian nation reinterpretation of our history. Generally, we do not take action regarding resolutions because they are ceremonial in nature and express the non-binding opinion of one chamber. They do not have the force of law.

However, this resolution is so outrageous that YES votes -- even with its ceremonial form -- would send a dangerous message to history and civics educators throughout the United States. Teaching an unbiased account of our nation's founding and its governance will be curtailed; in its place supporters of this resolution clearly call for a revised history of the United States as a Christian nation.

Additionally, the resolution rejects constitutional requirements that government not establish religion. It calls on "our Nation's public buildings and educational resources" to be permitted to spread its specific revisionist history.

...

The world markets

While the US markets took the day off, other markets reacted to last week.

European markets drop fast at opening

Asian markets drop hard in response to Bush stimulus

Will the US markets stifle drops tomorrow?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Obama on the MLK vision


I was hoping to hear some word from Obama since Clinton came out in vocal support for gay rights this week. This has been especially interesting to see, as early on he was silent as those around him were quite cruel and cold. Obama has now spoken out. And loudly, in church, taking the community to task for turning on those in need of people to stand with them. It is a fine speech and one needed in the black religious community. There have been many nasty comments from the pious black community against homosexuals and their striving for rights.

So it is impossible not to applaud him and his tough words. Now only if he would speak on shared coverage, etc. Plus some policy would be nice. But a positive and big step.

TPM:

Barack Obama spoke today at Atlanta's famous Ebenezer Baptist Church, the home church of Martin Luther King, Jr. In his speech, he discussed the need for unified action in solving the social problems of our time. "We have walls - barriers to justice and equality - that must come down," Obama said. "And to do this, we know that unity is the great need of this hour."

Obama also singled out the black community itself in his call for moral change: "We have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them. The scourge of anti-Semitism has, at times, revealed itself in our community. For too long, some of us have seen immigrants as competitors for jobs instead of companions in the fight for opportunity."

...

AMERICAblog:

...

For most of this country's history, we in the African-American community have been at the receiving end of man's inhumanity to man. And all of us understand intimately the insidious role that race still sometimes plays - on the job, in the schools, in our health care system, and in our criminal justice system.And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that none of our hands are entirely clean. If we're honest with ourselves, we'll acknowledge that our own community has not always been true to King's vision of a beloved community.We have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them. The scourge of anti-Semitism has, at times, revealed itself in our community. For too long, some of us have seen immigrants as competitors for jobs instead of companions in the fight for opportunity.
The political power of a good orator should not be underestimated. Bill Clinton knew how to speak to the people, as did Reagan. And it didn't just help them get elected, it helped them rule.

What has the Surge really given us?

Informed Comment:
Andrew Bacevich eviscerates the Iraq War party with this passionate and clear-sighted essay on 'the Surge to Nowhere' in WaPo. He points out that the real motivation behind last year's troop escalation was to avoid popular outrage building in the US electorate to the point where the troops were pulled out. He observes that the argument for the 'success' of the 'surge' is purely a tactical one. When viewed from the vantage point of grand strategy, the Iraq War is as much a failure as it has always been.

If someone came to you six years ago and said that for only $2 trillion, you could have for your colony a burned out country, a failed state, and a semi-permanent incubator of terrorism and hatred against the US, would you have ponied up the money? That's what you've got, and that is what it cost you. Detroit could have used some of that money. New Orleans could have used some of that money. Appalachia has lots of schools that need to be painted.

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The state of Gaza

Informed Comment:
It is a perfect time for the Israeli government to commit a war crime on the miserable civilians of the Gaza Strip. The US primary season has created a news blackout on US television about foreign news (apparently the public of the world's sole superpower is not estimated by corporate news executives to be able to handle more than one story). So most Americans will never even know that the Israelis have cut off fuel to Gaza's power plant, depriving tens of thousands of people of electricity.

I sympathize with Israeli civilians who have been subjected to illegal bombardment by Hamas. (That bombardment has not recently resulted in loss of life, but it is traumatizing, especially for children.) But one has to ask whether the Olmert government has behaved toward Gazans in such a way as to try to achieve peace. (The unilateral withdrawal of colonists has been followed by frequent bombardments and incursions and arrests, political meddling and a placing of the whole Strip in a kind of geo-penitentiary.) Israeli deployment of excessive force in recent weeks has resulted in dozens of deaths in Gaza. Even if military action were justified, it is only legitimate for the Israelis to punish Hamas fighters doing the firing, and big bombs should not be dropped near civilian apartment buildings. Don't they, like, have SWAT teams?Just a reminder that electricity is life and death for some people. The low is 48 degrees F. tonight; it is cold without electricity. And another reminder that the children of Gaza, who I suspect are 2/3s of the population, haven't done anything wrong, to be punished by this blockade. ...

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Getting to know the ancestors

Interesting results in study of Pacific Islanders.

RichardDawkins.net:
The ancestral relationships of people living in the widely scattered islands of the Pacific Ocean, long a puzzle to anthropologists, may have been solved by a new genetic study, researchers reported Thursday.

In an analysis of the DNA of 1,000 individuals from 41 Pacific populations, an international team of scientists found strong evidence showing that Polynesians and Micronesians in the central and eastern islands had almost no genetic relationship to Melanesians, in the western islands like Papua New Guinea and the Bismarck and Solomons archipelagos.

The researchers also concluded that the genetic data showed that the Polynesians and Micronesians were most closely related to Taiwan Aborigines and East Asians. They said this supported the view that these migrating seafarers originated in Taiwan and coastal China at least 3,500 years ago.

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Atheist Talk #2

Air America Minnesota is running a show from the Minnesota Atheist at 9AM Central on Sundays.

Richard Dawkins.net:

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In our first show, we discussed House Resolution 888, Robert G. Ingersoll, the discovery of a transitional fossil, and an interview with Richard Dawkins (also includes a short interview with PZ Myers).

Visit their new website at:http://mnatheists.org

Page for this episode.