Iranian actress sentenced to 90 lashes

October 12, 2011
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Lately, I’ve been appalled to hear some fringe voices in the Occupy Wall Street protests assert that the United States is “the most fascist country in the world.” Even worse, when asked to tone down the exaggerated rhetoric, the response has been either the insistence that it’s true if you look at the evidence or, almost equally preposterous, that we’re growing more and more fascist each day. Such statements seem to me to really be another way of saying, “Don’t take anything I say seriously because I’m crazy.”

Obviously, the U.S. isn’t the most fascist country in the world. On its worst day, the U.S. might not even make the top 100 list of fascist countries. And anyone who isn’t completely ignorant of the what’s happening in the rest of the world knows this. Hell, the very fact that Americans have no trouble publicly criticizing this nation and its government without fear that they’ll be assassinated or mysteriously disappeared in the middle of the night by secret police demonstrates the absurdity of this claim quite well.

Another great example can be found in this recent case of an Iranian actress being sentenced to ninety lashes for committing no crime other than appearing in an Australian film critical of Iran:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

This is what fascism really looks like. And we do a great disservice to victims like this around the world when privileged Westerners downplay their oppression in ill-conceived attempts to exaggerate their own plight. Don’t get me wrong. The majority of the Occupy Wall Street Movement is fighting a legitimate cause against a legitimate target and I largely support their efforts. So I’m not trying to downplay the serious problems we face here at home. But it’s just that they’re first-world problems. I’d wager that even the American poor by in large have it better than many of the poor in third-world countries. So I’m all for the Occupy Wall Street Movement. But let’s just keep things in perspective. The U.S. is not the most fascist nation in the world and using such rhetoric only hurts the credibility of that movement.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 6.9.11

June 10, 2011

I’ve been away for almost a week, so I’m going to have to play catch-up for the next few days.

1. New Pew Poll suggests atheists still unelectable – If the poll is accurate, atheists are less electable than a candidate who is Mormon, gay, divorced, or even an adulterer.

2. ‘Psychic’ leads Texas Rangers and FBI down dead end  – Police followed a tip by an alleged psychic who told them where to find a supposed mass grave containing dozens of dismembered bodies. Now Craig McNair, head of the county commissioners, is looking to hold her responsible for giving a false tip and creating havoc.

3. ‘Expelled’ production company expelled from existence – Premise Media Holdings LP has gone bankrupt and its shitty creationist propaganda film starring Ben Stein is going up for auction:

The high bidder will become the owner of the movie that The New York Times (2008 Apr 18) described as “[o]ne of the sleaziest documentaries to arrive in a very long time … a conspiracy-theory rant masquerading as investigative inquiry … an unprincipled propaganda piece that insults believers and nonbelievers alike” and that was denounced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science for its “profound dishonesty” and condemned by the Anti-Defamation League for its “outrageous” misuse of the Holocaust to “tarnish those who promote the theory of evolution.” (NCSE’s Expelled Exposed provides a collection of reviews, commentary, and resources documenting the extensive problems with Expelled.)

4. Tennessee passes law banning images that “cause emotional distress” – Though it remains to be seen if anyone will actually try to enforce this new law signed by Gov. Bill Haslam, it’s hard to imagine a greater offense to the First Amendment.

5. Hot nun fired over lap-dancing past – Wasn’t there something in Christian mythology about turning the other cheek? Which cheeks the passage was talking about is unclear.

And on a related note…

6. Pole dancing for Jesus causes controversy – There’s a pole dancing class that allegedly is intended to help women stay in shape while simultaneously bringing them closer to God:

Set to Christian music, church-going women spin and slither around poles. But the instructor and the students say it’s not about sex.

7. South Carolina prison insist lingerie ads lead to “deviant behavior”

But the organization says the jail has gone even further in its screening of mail to inmates by banning publications that contain any level of nudity, including beachwear and underwear.

Oh, and there’s a video in the link above.

 

And finally…

8. Congratulations to my friend Page Van Meter, who’s been named the new president of the NYC Skeptics!

 

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Happy Draw Mohammed Day 2011!

May 19, 2011

And for more images created for this day, check out the DrawMoDay2011 flickr page here.


Letter to the Editor 3.13.11

March 13, 2011
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Today my local newspaper published a letter to the editor I wrote, responding to an article by Greg Rummo (reproduced here) about the Supreme Court outcome of the Snyder v. Phelps case.

The letter can be found here. I think the link has an expiration date and later readers may not be able to access it, so as with other letters to the editor, I’m reposting it in its entirety here:

Testing limits of religion, free speech

Regarding “The Supreme Court’s puzzling ruling” (Opinion, Page O-2, March 6):

Greg Rummo combines two separate issues to paint the court’s deeming the Westboro Baptist Church’s funeral pickets protected speech as contrary to precedent.

The so-called “religious love speech” Rummo says the Supreme Court opposes as “dangerous” (Ten Commandment postings in public spaces, Nativity displays in public spaces and school prayer) are all examples of public institutions respecting the establishment of religion, which violates the Establishment Clause and the Lemon v. Kurtzman decision. And the court hasn’t opposed prayer in public schools, only institutionally sponsored prayer. Students are free to pray to their heart’s content so long as it isn’t disruptive.

That’s entirely different from the new Snyder v. Phelps ruling against funeral sanctity laws, which closely resembles Hustler Magazine v. Falwell. There, the court held that speech motivated even by hatred or ill will is protected by the First Amendment. In his Falwell decision, Chief Justice William Rehnquist said, ” ‘Outrageousness’ in the area of political and social discourse has an inherent subjectiveness about it which would allow a jury to impose liability on the basis of the jurors’ tastes or views, or perhaps on the basis of their dislike of a particular expression.”

Likewise, there’s an “inherent subjectiveness” in the “outrageousness” of funeral pickets. Although we may not like what the Westboro Baptist case says, the church members have the same constitutional right as anyone else to peacefully assemble.

The only problem I have with the editing job was the last sentence, which was originally intended to read as:  “Although we may not like what the WBC says, the church members have the same constitutional right as anyone else to peacefully assemble.” The intent was to say we don’t have the right to prevent ourselves from being offended, not to again defend the Court’s ruling. It’s a subtle difference and certainly both points can be found earlier in the piece, but I prefer my original version. Otherwise though, no major changes were made.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 3.4.11

March 5, 2011

1. John Connor, it is time.

Whenever the military rolls out a new robot program, folks like to joke about SkyNet or the Rise of the Machines. But this time, the military really is starting to venture into robot-apocalypse territory: swarms of little semi-autonomous machines that can team up to manufacture complex objects (including, presumably, more robots).

That’s right, the only thing scarier than a swarm of intelligent military mini robots is a swarm of intelligent military mini robots in control of the means of production. And your Navy is hard at work on making it a reality.

2. Supreme Court rules in favor of Westboro Baptist Church – As detestable as the WBC is, I think the Supreme Court made the right call, which I’ve argued previously over at the Gotham Skeptic. Alito was the only Justice who sided with the Snyder family against the WBC. Between this decision and the vaccine court decision last week, the Supreme Court has been batting a 1000 lately.

3. Anti-abortion billboard goes down in NYC – The billboard tried playing the race card, a gambit anti-abortionists have been using for some time now. And while I don’t condone censorship, this wasn’t government censorship:

Councilwoman Letitia James and her legislative aide Aja Worthy-Davis that yesterday they launched a Change.org petition targeting Life Always and billboard owner Lamar Advertising, asking them to remove it. Later in the day, Lamar Advertising announced that it would take the billboard down.

Of course this notion that Margaret Sanger was a racist eugenicist, and that Planned Parenthood’s true agenda is to exterminate black people is complete bullshit.

4. Third-grader allegedly heals friends with magic – Okay, let’s settle this once and for all by seeing him heal Christopher Hitchens.I understand why a kid could buy into this fantasy but adults who report the news have no excuse.

5. Age of Autism cries misogyny – The same blog that suggested journalist Amy Wallace was blowing Dr. Paul Offit is accusing Doonesbury of misogyny over a cartoon that suggested Jenny McCarthy makes Playboy bunnies look bad. That is too funny. If anyone can explain to me why, feminist crusader that she is, Katie Wright had no objection to her own blog’s attack on Wallace, let me know. Also, if you can explain how the content of the cartoon is criticizing all women instead of just criticizing Jenny McCarthy alone for speaking out of school, I’d love to know that too. Oh, and one more thing. If you can explain to me how a website that accuses its critics of being a “loyal Pharma-funded wife” without even the slightest bit of evidence of any conflict of interest can maintain any moral high gound, let me know that too. Sullivan writes about it here.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 1.4.11

January 4, 2011

1. Pakistani governor slain for opposing blasphemy laws – The governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was shot dead by his own bodyguard because he was an outspoken critic of religious extremists and called for the end of the death penalty for the crime of blasphemy.

2. Jesus infects hundreds with sexually transmitted disease – Hundreds of New Yorkers may have been exposed to hepatitis A when they attended Christmas Day services at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Massapequa Park in Long Island while receiving communion. Individuals exposed to the disease should receive vaccination within two weeks of exposure. Made up authorities are still unsure if this is connected to the non-existent Muslims who got gonorrhea from Mohammed.

3. Vaccine against cocaine high successful in mice

“Our very dramatic data shows that we can protect against the effects of , and we think this approach could be very promising in fighting addiction in humans,” says the study’s lead investigator, Dr. Ronald G. Crystal, chairman and professor of at Weill Cornell Medical College.

He says the antibody produced in lab mice by the binds to, and sequesters, cocaine molecules before the drug reached the brains of these animals — and prevents any cocaine-related hyperactivity. The vaccine effect lasted for at least 13 weeks, the longest time point evaluated.

4. Power Balance admit fraud – The manufacturers of PowerBalance were forced to admit to the Australian media that there is no scientific evidence supporting their claims that their bracelets improve strength, balance, and flexibility.

LEO!!!!

5. Romania passes bill requiring witches to pay taxes

“witches, astrologists, embalmers, valets and driving instructors are now considered by labor law to be working real jobs, making it harder for them to avoid income tax”

Meanwhile, in Ghana…

6. Ghana continues to burn ‘witches’ alive

Elderly women are used as scapegoats for all ills in large parts of Ghanaian society – leading to exile, and sometimes murder

Six people are currently appearing before a magistrate at Tema, near Accra, for allegedly burning a 72-year-old woman to death, in the belief that she was a witch.

In both cases, anyone with the slightest knowledge of dementia would recognise symptoms of the disease from the accounts given of the behaviour of the women. They were where they were not supposed to be, and when they were asked what they were doing there, they could not explain themselves. This is because dementia sometimes robs its victims of the ability to speak coherently.

It is absolutely insane that this is still going on in the 21st century.

7. Earth-like planet said to have 100% chance of life? – That’s the claim being made about Gliese 581g. But given the lack of fanfare and the number of times we’ve heard this kind of claim before,I think I’ll wait to hear what more experts say before accepting this “100 percent” figure without any actual evidence at all to justify it.

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A publisher to release ‘nigger’-less edition of Huck Finn

January 4, 2011

NOTICE

PERSONS attempting to find a motive in this narra- tive will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.

A new edition of Mark Twain’s novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is to soon be released that will not include any instances of the word ”nigger” in the text.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s about time. When you read Huck Finn in school, it transformed you into a intolerant racist and convinced you to join the Klan.

Oh, right. That probably didn’t happen because you’re not a fucking moron and understood the book was a condemnation of racism and slavery. Apparently, NewSouth Books thinks they can write better than one of the most celebrated authors in American literature. And you got to love that name of the company, “NewSouth” Books.

Well, I’ve got a message for NewSouth Books:

GO FUCK YOURSELVES, you sanctimonious pricks and your disrespectful vandalism of one of the greatest novels of all time! The word “nigger” is a very ugly word, which is all the more reason why Twain chose to use it to further his point. I’m sorry if you failed to understand that point and foolishly think you can erase a particularly ugly period in American history but you can’t. We won’t let you, because the atrocities of our ancestors must never be forgotten, lest we repeat them.

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