If you live in the U.S., you’ve no doubt heard that the state of Arizona recently issued one of its periodic warnings to the rest of the world not to drink its water — this time in the form of SB 1062, a bill that would have allowed businesses to deny service to gays for “religious” reasons. The measure was vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer, and it’s no big secret that she likely did so on the basis of economic rather than moral concerns. And as you might expect, fundamentalists now claim that her veto was a slap in the holier-than-thou face of “religious freedom”. Some even refer to the torpedoed bill as the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” — as if religious freedom needed to be “restored”. As always, the spin is that prohibiting discrimination against other people by religious fanatics constitutes “religious discrimination”.
“Religious freedom” is a very predictable defense that some people offer for bigoted behavior. It’s also a very bullshit defense, because it can be used, and has been used, to mask just about anything and everything — from slavery and racism to child marriage to capital punishment to genocide to beating the crap out of little kids. But while true religious freedom means that you have the right to belong to whatever religion you choose (or, we hastily and emphatically add, to no religion at all), it doesn’t automatically mean that you have the right to practice whatever any religion preaches; it’s a case-by-case consideration that always must balance the freedom to indulge in a behavior with its impact on other people. Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins. You’re perfectly free to adhere to a faith that maintains some sectors of the population are second-class citizens (or “sinners” in fundie lingo) but that doesn’t mean you’re entitled to actually treat some people as second-class citizens.
Contrary to what the “religious freedom” crowd might have you believe, the United States government has always provided special dispensation to persons with strong religious convictions. Among other things, this has appeared in the form of exemption from military service, from property taxes, and now from certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Since such programs require mass participation to be effective, allowing some individuals to opt out places an undue burden on those who do participate; yet this has been deemed perfectly legal and constitutionally defensible from day one. Far from being the victims of discrimination and persecution, as they so often proclaim, Christians have been and still are the beneficiaries of reverse discrimination and even extraordinary privilege.
Likewise, the government has been, if not supportive, at least indifferent to, misguided and misinformed efforts by pharmacists to deny women access to medication on “moral” grounds. Many states have even passed legislation specifically authorizing such campaigns. And as despicable as it may be to contribute to the inconvenience, distress and even suffering of individuals in need of medical services in order to bolster one’s sense of moral superiority, it appears that such a position does not clash with constitutional ideals. Why? Because the “moralists” generally are tendering smug condemnation of individuals for their actions rather than smug condemnation for their demographic groups. (We say “generally” because in some cases women are prescribed birth control for medical conditions rather than for contraception. And we can’t help noting that sometimes, as in the case of Hobby Lobby, the “morality” dictated by Christian arrogance takes a backseat to Mammon.)
Homosexuality is another matter altogether. While the anti-gay factions try to portray homosexuality as something one does rather than something one is — to depict being gay as a “lifestyle” that one chooses — the fact is that one has no more control over one’s sexuality than one does over race, gender or age. That makes discrimination against gays as much prohibited by law as discrimination against Asians or women. Interestingly — and ironically — there has always been a virulent, overreaching protection against religious discrimination — even though religion, unlike age, race, nationality or sexual orientation, is entirely voluntary.
If someone operated a business that did not allow Christians on the premises, that would be religious discrimination. But it’s perfectly fine to prohibit religious activities — e.g., baptism, foot washing, pot smoking, circumcision, or snake handling. Similarly, a restaurant certainly could forbid patrons from engaging in overt displays of amorousness, whether gay or straight. But just because you can prevent customers from brushing their hair or applying makeup or wearing bikinis at the table doesn’t necessarily mean that you can bar women from entering.
Why should the government get involved at all? Why can’t we just adopt a Libertarianoid invisible hand policy and let those customers whose business isn’t wanted in one place just take their trade elsewhere (which they probably will anyway)? Get the government off our backs and let the markets decide. Live and let live. Cool and groovy, baby.
Ah, if only things really could work that way. But alas, ideological solutions work perfectly only in a perfect world. And in this particular world, people will not conduct themselves consistently in a civil manner if left to their own devices. Of course, it would be equally fallacious to suppose that government intervention is always the best answer. But it is, all too often, the only answer — it is frequently the only available mechanism by which the best of humanity can pull everyone else up, or at least prevent the worst from dragging everyone else down. Without it, we risk sliding into what “moralists” like to call (at least when condemning the actions of other people) a “slippery slope”.
By allowing some businesses to discriminate against a demographic sector, we invite an avalanche of such exclusions, which very well could result in a situation such that this group and others would find it difficult if not impossible to obtain certain services at all — at least in the “red” states. This is discrimination, oppression and persecution, no matter how many Bible verses you quote while doing it. And there is the very real risk that such exclusionary discrimination will escalate into persecutional discrimination and even violence. This isn’t just idle speculation; it’s gleaning from the shameful pages of history.
Many people are alive today who can remember when African-Americans were not allowed to attend the same schools, eat in the same restaurants, sit on the same park benches, or drink from the same water fountains as Caucasians. It was bad enough that black baseball players were confined to “Negro leagues” instead of major leagues; what made it even more undignified is that after playing their hearts out in a game and traveling by bus to their next destination, they often were denied lodging at hotels, and even the use of restroom facilities en route. And even worse still, they were subjected to endless harassment, threats and physical attacks.
And guess what? “Religious freedom” was the rallying cry of many who indulged in these evils. Going back even farther, slave owners used select biblical passages to justify the ownership, oppression and brutalization of fellow human beings of a different complexion. (And I won’t go into detail lest I be accused — quite inaccurately — of running into Godwin’s Law, but there was also a Christian ethnocentric dogma underlying Nazism.)
But things are very different now, you say? You bet. And if you believe that the changes just “happened”, you’re living in cloud cuckoo land. Social evolution is generally much too gradual to effect such a drastic difference in such a relatively short time. For kids growing up today, it may be hard to imagine there was ever a time when racism was so prevalent, so officially sanctioned. That’s because we’ve had a couple of generations for equality (relative if not total) to become the norm. But before that, there were many, many generations in which blatant, extreme racism was the norm. And overturning that norm required legislative, judicial and executive intercession — goaded, to be sure, by persistent and courageous activism.
Today, “faggot” is the new “nigger”; gays are the target of choice for Good Christians (and others) who feel that they absolutely must target someone, and no longer can get away with overt racism. In the past few years, American civilization (or what passes for it) has made tremendous strides toward respect and equality for gays. Now, the legislators of Arizona, among others, are trying to turn back the calendar. If they succeed, there almost certainly will be more Matthew Sheperds. And more Fred Phelpses saying they got what they deserved.
If even one person criticizes the religious right for its bigotry — or makes a vitriolic comment about them even in tasteless jest — then that individual will become an icon of “religious persecution” . And, of course, “proof” that “liberals” are intolerant and hateful. Meanwhile, when World Vision (which, lest we forget, is itself a Christian organization) announced that it would begin, in one measure at least, treating gays like human beings, it was bullied into reversing that decision by the reactions of hundreds of thousands of Good Christians outraged by its support for “immorality”. This even entailed cutting off financial support for World Vision’s programs that fight global poverty and greatly benefit children.
And what do we call this kind of reaction? Christian Love, of course. With a heavy dose of “religious freedom”
They’re mad as hell, and they’re not gonna take it anymore. Yes, the Obama Haters Inc. have made it clear that they won’t stand for the president’s audacity in getting himself elected (twice, no less), and they’re gonna do whatever it takes to put him in his place. Sooner or later, they’re going to reach the holy grail of impeachment, even if it takes 20 years. And they’re not the least bit deterred by having no actual grounds for impeachment; they’ve been known to suggest that they can impeach now, and come up with a reason later, and they know how to generate “scandals” until the cows come home. Surely one of them will eventually stick.
They’ve previously brought you the NSA “scandal” and the IRS “scandal”, among many many others. (For the record, the NSA has indeed indulged in behavior that might be considered scandalous, but it was going on long before Obama came along; and it’s not a matter of the agency “spying” on the American public, though it’s almost always spun that way. And the real scandal with the IRS is not that it has targeted “conservative” groups, but quite the reverse; it has allowed them excessive leeway to flout rules and guidelines — and in the process viciously malign their Public Enemy Number One, The President of the United States.) Both of these “scandals” failed to topple the guy who has “stolen” THEIR country; so now they’re really pinning their hopes on Benghazi. STILL.
It doesn’t matter how many times their myths are debunked, how many documents are declassified to show that the “scandal” is bogus; every new scrap of information is twisted and spun as “proof” that Obama lied, covered up and/or collaborated with terrorists.
The myths they love to perpetuate about the Benghazi attack include these:
1. That the Obama administration ignored terrorist threats.
(Nope. Perhaps they’re confusing him with George W. Bush. But intelligence found no evidence of any imminent threat in Benghazi.)
2. That the Obama administration issued a “stand down” order to forces in Libya.
(Nope. There’s no evidence such a thing ever happened, and nobody actually involved has ever made such a claim.)
3. That the Obama administration abandoned personnel to die.
(Nope. The president ordered all available assets dispatched to the scene post haste.)
An especially silly (and therefore especially popular) tack is the obsession over when exactly the president called the assault terrorism. You’d think that after Mitt Romney so thoroughly humiliated himself on this point in a presidential debate, having to be schooled by moderator Candy Crowley, that they’d give up this narrative. But they seem absolutely impervious to self-embarrassment, so they keep hammering away at it, even though it’s a matter of public record that the president used the T-word within 24 hours.
Romney also had made a fool of himself on the day of the attack by echoing another popular right-wing talking point, saying:
“It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”
Contrary to what the Haters frequently assert, the president has never “sympathized” with nor “apologized” to or for terrorists. Moreover, the statement Mr. Romney chose to label “sympathizing” was actually issued by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. And it was issued before the attack. Other than that, I suppose Mr. Romney was fairly accurate. While he was willing to take great liberties with the facts himself, he indulged in the pettiest of semantic hair-splitting with regard to the timing of the president’s denouncement of terrorism.
When confronted with the evidence, however, the critics insist that Obama wasn’t explicit enough that he was specifically referring to Benghazi (even though his first use of the word was in a Rose Garden speech especially presented to address that attack), or that he used the words “act(s) of terror” instead of “act(s) of terrorism”. They also spin and twist subsequent remarks by Crowley into some kind of admission that she’d been wrong at the debate. For example Breitbart,com (the man is gone, but his brilliant legacy lives on) ran a blog post with the title “CNN’s Crowley Admits Obama Didn’t Call Benghazi A Terror Attack”, but the ensuing text delivers no such blockbuster; it merely mentions that someone else at CNN asserted she was wrong. Even the Washington Post Fact Checker jumped on the bandwagon, awarding the president FOUR Pinocchios — a rating normally reserved for the most blatantly bald-faced falsehoods — for insisting that he used the T-word immediately.
Doubling down on the asininity, the Haters have really gotten their thong in a bunch over the administration’s suggestion that a video may have played a role in motivating the attack. What they’re systematically ignoring (or, to put it in their terms, lying about, downplaying or covering up) is that it appears the video indeed did play a role. Eyewitness accounts to that effect were reported in numerous media sources immediately. And not just the fabled librulmedia, either. Even Rev. Moon’s beloved Washington Times, a revered Beacon Of Truth for faithful “conservatives” from Ronald Reagan to Glenn Beck, got it right:
But in telephone interviews with The Washington Times, several residents in Benghazi said there had been two distinctly different groups involved in the assault on the U.S. diplomatic post.
The residents described a scene that began as a relatively peaceful demonstration against a film produced in the United States that had been deemed insulting to the Prophet Muhammad.
The situation did not turn violent until a group of heavily armed militants showed up and “hijacked” the protest, the residents said. The original group of protesters was joined by a separate group of men armed with rocket-propelled-grenade launchers. (Emphasis added, rather emphatically.)
But wait. Can it be… is The Times possibly suggesting that an incident like this could have more than one cause? While such an idea has been known to make small brains explode, it appears that yes, that could indeed have been the case. But the Obama Haters are ignoring/ lying about/ covering up such a possibility. They’re also ignoring/ lying about/ covering up the obvious fact that in the first days after the violent outbreak, things were rather confusing, and what few facts were available might have seemed contradictory. You hardly can blame the president and his administration for being cautious about drawing conclusions before all the pieces were assembled.
If it had turned out that the assault had not involved terrorism, I unconditionally guarantee that the Haters would have insisted that he had unequivocally declared it had. And they would have raked him over the coals for that just as they have been doing for supposedly trying to avoid saying it. The moral of the story is that there is absolutely nothing this president can possibly say that these people will consider the right thing to say.
Wherefores and Whys
Chances are that if anyone else were president, nobody would give a big rat’s ass about his timing of the T-word. But the Obama Factor makes it somehow a matter of cosmic importance. And the official spin, you see, is that he had a good reason for trying to downplay/ lie about/ cover up the terrorist element: he was afraid it would impact his chances in the upcoming election. Which is patently absurd for at least three reasons.
First, the election was still a couple of months away; and the voting public, as it has demonstrated repeatedly, has the memory span of a gnat. Second, even the Haters acknowledge that the president ultimately did use the T-word — the standard spin is that it took him at least 2 weeks to do so. And according to the calendar I use — the same calendar commonly in use throughout North America — 2 weeks is even closer to the election date. Third, if Obama’s predecessor is any indication, a terrorist attack would not have damaged his electoral fortunes at all; on the contrary, it would have enhanced them greatly.
On the watch of George W. Bush — who, if anyone cares, seized The White House without being elected — there were 13 attacks on U.S. consulates and embassies, killing at least 98 people and injuring dozens; two of these sites were attacked TWICE during this time. But far from clamoring for investigation and impeachment, the punditocracy rhapsodized endlessly about the commander-in-chief’s “leadership”, “courage” and “resolve”.
And then there was that attack on American soil in September of 2001 — the exact date eludes me — in which a mere 3000 or so Americans were murdered. And unlike the victims in Benghazi, who accepted a certain amount of risk as part of their government jobs, the victims in the U.S. were mostly civilians going about their daily business. At the time terrorists struck, Bush was attending at photo-op at a school in Florida. Keeping his priorities straight, he appears to have continued attending the photo-op for at least half an hour after getting the news (not merely 7 minutes, as Michael Moore suggested), and didn’t lift a finger while hundreds of Americans were roasting alive in Manhattan. (There is evidence that he even knew about the attack before he went into that classroom.)
His eventual “response” was to invade a country that had nothing to do with the attack, and that was ruled over by one of Osama bin Laden’s enemies. This little undertaking has cost thousands of additional American lives (the vast majority of them during the Bush years) as well as the lives of probably hundreds of thousands (nobody’s really keeping count) of Iraqi men, women and children. The end result was that, according to terrorism experts, the U.S. was left even more susceptible to terrorism.
Bush and members of his administration fabricated evidence to support their scheme and persecuted those who dared try to expose the fraud. They lied about the siege of Iraq dozens (if not hundreds)of times, and repeatedly changed their story about the reason for initiating it. The company that was awarded a no-bid contract to rebuild Iraq just happened to have a cozy relationship with Dick Cheney. And George W. Bush continued to maintain cozy relations with Saudi Arabia — one of the world’s most brutal dictatorships — which supplied 15 of the 19 hijackers.
And how did all of this impact Junior’s standing with the public? Well, for starters, it scored him (heavily aided by media manipulation) the highest presidential approval rating in polling history. Nice. So obviously, President Obama should embrace the T-word lustfully, eh?
But wait. How silly of me. We’re talking apples and oranges here. George W. was a whitebread Republican from the beefsteak-red Republic Of Texas (actually lilac-blue Maine but shhh! don’t tell his supporters) while Obama is an ethnically challenged Democrat from surf-blue Hawaii (which the Haters keep mistaking for Kenya). And those differences totally turn the world on its ear.
Just look at what happened when the Obama administration brought down Osama bin Laden — who, lest we forget, was the suspected mastermind of the terrorist strike that gave Bush his biggest PR godsend. The punditocracy went absolutely bonkers (well, even more bonkers than usual) trying to discredit the president. They claimed he waited too long to kill bin Laden, they claimed he tried to claim he’d killed bin Laden singlehandedly, they claimed he didn’t kill bin Laden mercifully enough, they claimed bin Laden wasn’t really dead. But at the same time, they must have considered bin Laden’s killing a great accomplishment, because they did their best to credit it to George W. Bush — who had been out of office for more than two years, and had long ago said he was not concerned about bin Laden.
If Islamic radicals attack Americans when a Republican is in The White House, then Muslims — all Muslims — become The Enemy. If it happens when a Democrat is in The White House, then the president and his fellow Democrats become The Enemy. This “scandal” is not about Benghazi. It’s not about terrorism. It’s about Barack Obama. Or more accurately, it’s about Obama Derangement Syndrome.
It has become very popular among climate science deniers to say that “the science is unsettled”, as if such a statement settles anything. It doesn’t. Of course the science is unsettled. Science is almost always unsettled. That’s why they call it science instead of religion. But just because scientists don’t know everything doesn’t mean they don’t know anything. There’s still much they don’t know about global warming, just as there’s much they don’t know about cancer and Pluto. That does not mean they’re uncertain that any of them exists.
“Settled science” is a straw man suggesting that scientists claim to have all the answers. How could they when they usually don’t have their own radio talk shows? And I’ve never heard a one of them claim to know everything. What you might hear them claim, however, is that they know more about the field they work in every day than does someone who’s never worked in it at all. Fancy that.
Charles Krauthammer (pictured) recently paid tribute to the “settled science” decoy with an article in the Washington Post titled The Myth Of Settled Science. He prefaces his remarks with the insistence that “I’m not a global warming believer. I’m not a global warming denier.” But he certainly uses the tactics of a denier, including cherry picking, misinformation and distortion. And he follows the Golden Rule of today’s rabid ideologues: When All Else Fails, Attack President Obama.
He quotes a statement by the president that “the debate is settled … climate change is a fact” , for which he believes the president deserves the appellation of “propagandist in chief” — an irony too thick to cut with a chainsaw– and pontificates that
“There is nothing more anti-scientific than the very idea that science is settled, static, impervious to challenge.”
Scientists, of course, subscribe to no such credo, nor does Obama. He didn’t say that the science is settled, but that the debate is settled — i.e., the debate over whether global warming is a fact. And on this point he was all too accurate. The debate indeed has been long settled among competent and disinterested scientists. Plenty of people still contest that conclusion, of course, just as plenty of people contest that a landing on the moon really occurred. But neither is really a debate in any meaningful sense.
Such individuals often cloak themselves in the mantle of “skepticism”, as if a skeptic would be more likely to doubt scientists than crackpots and ideological fanatics with little or no scientific background. You can also doubt gravity if like, and test out your conviction with as many leaps from tall buildings as will support your thesis. In the words of physicist and advocate for scientific literacy Neil deGrasse Tyson, “the good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” One might argue that the leapers from buildings hurt nobody except themselves; but sometimes before they leap they get themselves into positions of power and influence. And they have a habit of vilifying and ridiculing people who do support science. (See Gore, Al.)
Are scientists sometimes wrong? You bet. But that doesn’t mean science itself is wrong. And you need a lot more to establish that scientists are wrong than ideological fervor and cherry-picked details.
Krauthammer likens global warming to mammograms, which have been used for many years to prevent breast cancer but which, according to one study, are more or less worthless. It’s a weak analogy because mammography research is experimental and remedial, whereas climate research is purely observational. A more appropriate analogy would be: “The certainty that global warming exists is like the certainty that breast cancer and x-rays exist.” Or, if Krauthammer’s assessment is correct: “The idea that mammograms prevent breast cancer is akin to the idea that global warming can be dispelled by flapping your bedsheets at the moon.”
Krauthammer can speak with some authority about mammograms, having been trained as a physician. But to the best of my knowledge, he has little to no expertise in climatology. Which doesn’t seem to make any difference to the cult of denial.
It’s interesting to note that Krauthammer is generally considered a “conservative” — which may not be entirely fair, since he holds certain positions (i.e., pro-choice) that are antithetical to contemporary boilerplate “conservatism”. But he is a regular contributor to Fox “News” and The Weekly Standard. And he certainly follows the winger playbook on this one.
“Conservatives” — whether they’re genuine conservatives or modern neocons fraudulently wearing the badge of conservatism — have a long, long history of being on the wrong side of science. You’d think that just once in the long, long history of the human race, they could get it right. But they seem very, very determined not to.
On January 31, Media Matters published, as it does every year, an analysis of the biases exhibited in the Sunday network news talk shows during the preceding year. And even though its findings pretty much replicated what it discovers every year with a similar survey, the results might be quite a surprise to many people. Because contrary to the persistent narrative we hear about the “liberal media” dominating the American landscape, the survey, as always, indicates a very pronounced right-wing bias in mainstream media.
Now you may say that Media Matters is itself biased, and so this survey can’t be trusted. And you’d be half right. Media Matters is definitely biased, as I’ve mentioned before. But bias in itself isn’t necessarily a problem; biased is not a synonym for inaccurate or dishonest, even if they frequently all go together. (See previous post, Shades Of Subjectivity). Media Matters has an extraordinary track record of honesty, accuracy, and even balance. If you can find a more accurate accounting of media bias during the past year than the one it presents, I’d love to see it.
Besides, the type of survey in question is pretty much foolproof. Media Matters did not attempt to determine the biases evident in the stances taken on various issues, as that would have entailed too much subjective judgment. Instead, what it did was tally the biases of the personalities involved. And it’s almost always a simple matter to determine whether an individual — particularly a public figure — has exhibited an ideological position, and if so, what it is.
The report examines the four leading Sunday morning political talk shows: ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, Fox’s Fox News Sunday and NBC’s Meet the Press. And it examines each of them for six types of ideological bias: ideology of guests, ideology of interviewees, dominant ideology of panels, ideology of elected and administration official guests, ideology of elected and administration official solo interviewees, and ideology of journalist guests. (Note that there is some overlap.)
Only one network, ABC, displayed even a slight tilt to the left: it leaned slightly leftward on 3 of the factors, rightward on 2 of them, and was evenly balanced on the other. The other three networks were, with the exception of a single instance, consistently “conservative”, often to an extreme degree. The single deviation was that in the category of elected and appointed administration official guests NBC’s Meet the Press hosted “liberals” over “conservatives” by a slim 50-48 margin — hardly stunning given that it’s a Democratic administration. Nonetheless, Fox managed to dig up more Republicans to interview.
Of particular interest is the distribution of journalist guests:
As you can see, all 4 networks featured far more “conservative” than “liberal” journalists, even though allegedly there are far more “liberal” journalists to pick from. Yet 3 of the networks featured far more independents than either left or right; but good old fairandbalanced Fox had considerably more “conservative” than neutral journalists.
Are you shocked yet? None of this should come as a surprise to anyone who’s paying attention, but it runs very counter to the dominant narrative of the “librulmedia”. (Am I the only person who’s noticed that when people parrot the myth of the “liberal media”, they’re generally repeating a refrain they’ve heard from the “liberal” media?)
In his 2003 book What Liberal Media?, Eric Alterman comments that the persistent hammering away at the narrative of the “liberal media” is part of a tactic that he calls “playing the refs”: by constantly complaining about a supposed “liberal” bias, the right-wing punditocracy hopes to nudge the mainstream media even farther rightward than it already is. If that’s the case, the strategy seems to be working quite handsomely.
As 2013 was coming to a halt, the cult of climate science denial believed they had great reason to gloat. After all, hadn’t their favorite bogeyman, Al Gore, predicted 5 years ago that the Arctic would be free of ice by now? And wasn’t there still plenty of ice left at the North Pole? And heaven knows, as long as there’s at least one icicle left on Santa’s beard, it totally proves that global warming is a hoax. Ditto if we can establish that Al Gore has been wrong even once in his life.
Sorry to pop the bubbles in your champagne, deniers, but you got it wrong on both ends; both Gore and the scientists he was quoting were all too accurate.
Climate science denial is predicated on the belief that climatology is part of an evil commie plot to destroy the American economy by nibbling away at the mountain of profits raked in by corporate polluters. Somebody forgot to pass that memo along to the CEO of ExxonMobil, who has acknowledged not only that global warming is real, but that fossil fuels “may” contribute to it. But the global warming “skeptics”, as they like to fancy themselves, know better.
If you’re one of these cultists — oops, “skeptics” — then I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you. The good news is that them thar evil commie scientists were indeed mistaken. The bad news is that their error is minor, and not one that will be very friendly to your dogma. On the contrary, the estimates were too conservative: Arctic ice is disappearing even faster than projected.
The “skeptics” generally try to discredit climate science by stringent cherry picking. Unable to grasp the concept that global warming is an AVERAGE increase in WORLDWIDE temperatures over a LONG period of time, they instead seize upon very short-term variations in temperatures in one location, particularly if they happen to occur during the winter. The folly of this type of cherry-picking “skepticism”, particularly with regard to arctic ice, is readily apparent in the following graph borrowed from Truthout:
Yeah, there was a spike in the ice in 2013, just as there had been in certain previous years; but there’s still an unmistakable downward trend. Any gambler who records his wins and losses at the craps table long enough can show you a graph like this one. It doesn’t mean that probability is a hoax or mathematicians are frauds or casinos are generous. But gosh, ain’t it fun to just forget the facts and ridicule Al Gore.
If you try Googling something like “Gore’s 2013 prediction”, you’ll come up with an ocean full of blogs sneeringly touting Gore’s pronouncements that the Arctic would be ice free by 2013. What an idiot! What a lunatic! What a shill! What a propagandist! What an opportunistic manipulator!
But what you’ll have a much harder time finding is his actual words. So let’s take a look at them. Chances are you saw them here first:
Last September 21 (2007), as the Northern Hemisphere tilted away from the sun, scientists reported with unprecedented distress that the North Polar ice cap is “falling off a cliff.” One study estimated that it could be completely gone during summer in less than 22 years. Another new study, to be presented by U.S. Navy researchers later this week, warns it could happen in as little as 7 years.
In case you’re having struggles with the Mother Tongue, let’s point out that there’s a difference between “could” and “will”; between “one study estimated” and “without a doubt”; and between “in as little as 7 years” and “in at most 6 years”. In their ever-mounting desperation for a Gore flub, the anti-sciencers also turned to a speech he made in 2009, in which he supposedly said that the arctic ice could be gone in 5 years. Even if that had been what he said, that would mean this year (2014) and as of this writing it’s only January. But what he actually said was this:
Some of the models suggest that there is a 75 percent chance that the entire north polar ice cap during some of the summer months will be completely ice-free within the next five to seven years.
His office later clarified that he meant to say “nearly” instead of “completely” — in which case he was, again, too conservative, as the Arctic is already nearly ice-free during summer — but even as it stands, the statement leaves way too much wiggle room for anyone to declare that it’s wrong. Except, of course, for the Gore-hating science deniers. They’ve even misrepresented the words of the scientific source Gore was citing. But their most extensive smearing and distorting is, as always, reserved for Al himself.
As its own Exhibit A against Mr. Gore, PJ Media, one of those innumerable bastions of disinformation and general wingnuttery out in the blogoshpere, presents a brief, undated, uncontexted, garbled, and possibly edited clip of Mr. Gore appearing to say that arctic ice could be (or might be, or something) gone in 5 years. PJM notes that a presumably more damning clip that it had alluded to previously seems to have vanished down the “memory hole” along with, presumably, its smoking gun evidence that global warming is a hoax and thousands of the world’s top scientists are frauds. Doncha hate it when that happens?
The campaign to discredit Mr. Gore has been long, intensive, nasty, silly and downright bizarre. For sheer silliness, it’s hard to surpass the recent grade school gigglefest at Fox “News” over the fact that Mr. Gore’s book finally has, as any book eventually does (are you ready for this?) gone on sale. (Snicker snicker tee hee) Except maybe for photographing a copy of the book in the snow. But above all, there’s the standard practice of heavily editing his own words, as above.
As discussed previously , the Gore haters were relentless, systematic and unscrupulous in their efforts to assail Gore’s credibility during the 2000 presidential election, twisting his words like pretzels. When he said of a student’s campaign to clean up the toxic spill at Love Canal, “That was the one that started it all”, the librulmedia, taking its cue from GOP propagandists, quoted him as saying “I was the one who started it all.” And even more famously, of course, his observation that “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet” will be forever remembered as “I invented the Internet”. They branded him permanently as a pathological liar without producing even one lie he’d told.
Not content merely to distort his words, the Gore haters have distorted his actions as well, pegging him as a blustery con man. What a hypocrite, they say, to warn people about the dangers of pollution when he, like any successful American, lives in a nice house and travels on planes occasionally. Obviously, he’s spent 4 decades warning about climate change just so he can put a feather in his own cap and rake in a few bucks in the process.
What you probably won’t hear these folks talk about is how he used planes after Hurricane Katrina. Remember Katrina? Even if you’re one of those sage souls who pooh-pooh the commie notion that global warming may have contributed to it, and instead chalk it up to gay marriage and abortion, you probably agree that the government’s finger-in-the-ass response to it was less than stellar — under the “leadership” of the guy who, by all evidence, had stolen Gore’s job. Meanwhile, Gore himself shelled out $100,000 of his own money to secretly charter two planes to fly to New Orleans and evacuate 270 stranded citizens — an effort in which he physically assisted. And he refused to discuss it with the media when they found out about it. A big spender he may be. A self-aggrandizing phony he ain’t.
Somehow, the rightwing anti-science vendetta against Albert Gore, Jr. reminds me of a line from the movie Love Story. Perhaps it’s because the author of the book , Erich Segal, was a friend of Gore’s at Harvard. Perhaps it’s because Gore’s good faith reliance on an inaccurate newspaper article about the book was transformed into another of his baldfaced “lies”. Perhaps it’s because the line in question was uttered by Gore’s Harvard roommate, future Hollywood superstar Tommy Lee Jones.
In any case Jones’ character, upon hearing the news that the male lead is romantically holed up in his room with his girlfriend, initially responds, “Again?” But then after a moment’s reflection, he amends it to the more appropriate reaction: “Still?”
Likewise, when I hear about the smears and distortions against Al Gore by climate science “skeptics” I seldom think, well there they go again. Because in all these years they’ve never once put on their clothes and gone home.
While I was visiting Florida recently, this news headline caught my eye:
Man fatally shot during Davie home invasion, police say
This piqued my curiosity, because I’d already written a post discussing how the frequency of home invasions is very greatly overestimated. Additionally, this appeared to be the kind of incident that would probably be classified as a defensive gun use (DGU), which, as I’ve discussed, is also vastly inflated.
So I read the story, which includes this statement:
The resident of the apartment had some company over and they tried to rob him, Capt. Dale Engle said.
Huh??? The resident of the apartment had some company over? How exactly is it a “home invasion” if you willingly let people into your home? This is a strong indication that the alleged defender has been hanging out with the wrong company; and while it doesn’t automatically negate the claim that he acted in self-defense, it certainly does place a big question mark next to it. And reading a little farther, we see this:
The man who was shot was found about 8 p.m. outside the front door of the apartment in the 6100 block of Southwest 48th Street.
Now it’s possible that he might have been shot inside the apartment and then stumbled outside to die. But in the absence of solid facts, we have to allow for the possibility that he already might have been outside when the resident grabbed his gun, then came out and shot him. Very defensive, no?
Finally, there’s this:
The names of those involved haven’t been released, and no charges have been filed in the case. An AK-47 assault rifle found in the grass of a nearby home Friday morning was being examined, Engle said.
An AK-47? Hey, just the perfect thing to defend yourself against home invasion. Especially by some of your buds that you’ve invited inside. Again, owning an AK-47 doesn’t automatically mean that you’re trigger-happy. But it certainly would seem to increase the odds dramatically.
Despite frequent wild claims of millions, the “confirmed” DGUs number no more than about 1000 per year. And a great many of those “confirmed” DGUs, on closer inspection, turn out to be not so confirmed after all because, as in the Davie shooting, the circumstances are fishier than Chicken of the Sea. Meanwhile, there are at least 400,000 crimes committed with a gun in the U.S. every year, and between 15,000 and 20,000 accidental shootings; altogether there are at least 100,000 gun injuries and/or deaths annually. All in all, it doesn’t add up to a very compelling argument that guns make us safer.
By now you’ve surely heard more than you ever, ever wanted to hear about the whole Duck Dynasty flap (if you live in The United States). But chances are you haven’t heard anything at all about the important lessons to be learned from it. So here are a few observations for your consideration.
1. Disapproval is NOT censorship.
It’s become an automatic response of anyone on the receiving end of a backlash for expressing bigotry or general idiocy to say, “Hey, you’re trying to censor me”. Or “you’re trying to suppress my First Amendment rights.” Poppycock, horsefeathers, balderdash and codswallop.
Duck Dynasty’s head mallard, Phil Robertson, expressed his mind (such as it is) and nobody tried to stop him. GLAAD and A&E expressed their disapproval. All were perfectly within their constitutional rights. So was the network’s decision to suspend Robertson temporarily while they reassessed their relationship with him.
The constitutional protection of the right to free speech was never intended as a shield against fallout if your speech is cloddish. If you call a guy a rotten sonofabitch and say his mother is a whore, he just might punch you in the nose. It’s not censorship. It’s not unconstitutional. It’s not intolerance. It’s Newton’s third law.
2. Overreaction has become the standard American reaction.
Let’s face it, we live in the Golden Age of the tempest in the teapot, an age in which any dumb joke or offhand whimsical remark triggers a hoopla of seismic proportions. The formerly innocuous neologistic verb Tweet has become a synonym for “invite an avalanche of distortion and negative publicity”.
So did people overreact to Robertson’s crass self-righteousness? Maybe. After all, there was far less outcry to his comments in the same interview to the effect that he thought African-Americans had been perfectly content with their social status in the pre-civil rights South, and that a non-Christian outlook leads to Nazism and genocide. (Hey, nobody ever accused him of being a history scholar.) And his remarks about homosexuality in the interview were really rather tame in comparison to his past sage utterances on the topic that also flew mostly under the radar.
But if the gay community and A&E were overreacting, their overreaction was blown to smithereens by the overreaction to that overreaction on the part of Robertson’s defenders.
Here’s GLAAD’s statement:
“Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil’s lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe. He clearly knows nothing about gay people or the majority of Louisianans – and Americans – who support legal recognition for loving and committed gay and lesbian couples. Phil’s decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a stain on A&E and his sponsors who now need to reexamine their ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and families.”
As you can see, it’s much more elegant and civil than Robertson’s. As is the statement issued by A&E:
“We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series ‘Duck Dynasty.’ His personal views in no way reflect those of A+E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. “
And it’s certainly far more elegant and civil than the over-the-top reaction from Duck-lings, as typified by Fox “News”:
“A&E is apparently run by a bunch of anti-Christian, bigots. Duck Dynasty worships God. A&E worships GLAAD. If Phil had been twerking with a duck the network probably would’ve given him a contract extension. But because he espoused beliefs held by many Christians, he’s been silenced. Perhaps A&E could provide the nation with a list of what they believe is politically correct speech. Maybe they could tell us what Americans can say, think and do. Should the U.S. Constitution be amended to prevent Americans from holding personal beliefs that others might not agree with?… It’s not about capitalism. It’s about driving an agenda and shoving it down the throats of the American public. And Hollywood is beholden to an agenda that is anti-Christian and anti-family. “
Good grief. They forgot to mention the “Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids”.
You’ll notice that GLAAD and A&E (and most other people who objected to Robertson’s clueless crackerdom) limited their remarks to complaints about specific comments by a specific individual. They didn’t attack, insult, accuse or belittle him or anyone else. Not the rest of his family. Not duck hunters in general. Not Louisianans. Not guys who look like ZZ Top posing as GI Joe. And most certainly not Christians. But…
3. Americans desperately crave a narrative.
Have you noticed that people seem to find it increasingly difficult to view an incident as merely an incident? Everything has to be part of a trend, a movement, a plot, a conspiracy. Of course, the media do all they can to feed this attitude, and we could have an interesting chicken-and-egg debate about whether it’s more a matter of the media dictating or catering to the mindset; but in any case it’s pretty hard to deny that the mindset does exist.
In this instance, the overreaction to the overreaction tended to follow what has become a very popular narrative: that rejection of intolerance is more intolerant than intolerance itself. There was an explosion of rants about the oppressiveness of “political correctness”, whatever that is, on the part of the “Hollywood elites”. And always, such narratives absolutely and inevitably MUST lead to a scathing indictment of them librulz. This, the official spin goes, was another shining example of that ever-sought chimera, liberal intolerance. And oh yeah, it was a “war on Christian values”, as if all Christians were homophobic. (Quick, what did Jesus have to say about homosexuality?) But in fact some of them are actually too busy trying to improve the world to go around proclaiming that God is going to punish people for being the way He made them. And then there are the others…
4. Many Christians desperately want to feel persecuted.
They want it so much that they’re more than willing to pick a fight as often as possible in order to justify the paranoia. One group they love to pick a fight with is gays. (See previous posts on Gay Activism and the Christian Persecution Complex: “Playing Chikin“, “A Tale of Two Legal Judgments” and “The Kirk Cameron/ Anita Bryant Delusion“.) But they’ll settle for other groups as well.
Not long before the GQ story broke, another Internet narrative began circulating about Phil Robertson, to the effect that Duck Dynasty producers had asked him not to pray on the show, at the insistence of “atheists and liberals” — a claim which turns out to be quite unfounded . In another interview, he specifically mentioned that they frowned on his ending prayers with “in Jesus’ name”, possibly because it could offend Muslims. There’s no substantiation of this claim either, nor any reason to believe that in fact Muslims would be offended by such a thing.
It’s also interesting to note that this controversy erupted at time of year when the Christian persecution complex was already operating at full throttle. Every winter, one of the most inane of narratives, the “war on Christmas”, is as predictably conspicuous as eggnog and candy canes. Whenever someone says “happy holidays” or anything else except “Merry Christmas”, it’s taken as a sure sign that they’re out to eradicate the holiday altogether and ship all Christians off to a gulag in Siberia.
At about the same time the Duck Dynasty brouhaha was brewing, a woman in Phoenix who was collecting donations for The Salvation Army (which, lest we forget, is itself a Christian organization) was allegedly assaulted for expressing good will in an unauthorized fashion to a Good Christian. Is that censorship? Persecution? Political correctness? We don’t know, because The Indignant Guardians Of Liberty And Tolerance tend to become eerily silent about occurrences of this type. But maybe if Christians really are at war with the rest of the world, it’s because they’ve fired the first 5000 shots.
As we discussed in the previous post, they try to blame God for their bigoted and unenlightened doctrines, and quote cherry-picked biblical passages to buttress those beliefs. But this doesn’t work because (1) it’s very difficult to know exactly what the Bible says or intends; (2) the Bible often seems to contradict itself, and (3) you can find something in the Bible to justify anything you choose to believe.
One scriptural snippet the gay-bashing fundamentalists love to dredge up is Leviticus 18:22. What they fail to mention, however, is that the same book also states some other laws issued by the Almighty that most Christians wouldn’t want to live by. (At least let’s hope not.) And the Bible devotes even more wordage instructing you to sell your daughters into slavery, for instance. It’s the believers themselves who pick some biblical passages to live by and ignore others. And if there is a Guy Upstairs, he’s probably getting mighty annoyed at taking the rap for so long.
6. Americans love the lowbrow.
The above photo depicts the Robertson family in its pre-DD days. Chances are they wouldn’t have created such a media buzz if they’d continued grooming themselves like this. But fortunately for them, they underwent a savvy PR makeover, relinquishing an image that suggested the stereotype of the Homogenized Yuppie for one that suggests the stereotype of the Inbred Goober. And subsequently, their popularity has taken off like a skeet.
Americans have a fondness for, an infatuation for, an obsession with, the severely unsophisticated personality — not just the non-intellectual, but the anti-intellectual. Most people (hopefully) recognize that pop culture icons like Homer Simpson and Archie Bunker are meant to be satirical rather than exemplary. But there are real-life characters who are almost equally satirical, and they often end up in positions of power and influence: e.g., Sarah Palin, George W. Bush, and Dan Quayle. And did we mention Sarah Palin?
Phil Robertson was hired to be a buffoon, so nobody should be surprised by his comments in GQ. Or comments like this:
“Look, you wait ’til they (women) get to be 20 years old, the only picking that’s going to take place is your pocket. You got to marry these girls when they are about 15 or 16. They’ll pick your ducks.”
Really, Christians? You feel morally superior for standing behind someone like this?
It’s also no surprise that he was reinstated on the Arts and Entertainment network, though he is neither very artful nor, for may of us, very entertaining. His supporters rallied to his defense, and he probably picked up quite a few more troops along the way — which is one reason why it’s probably not a good idea to make such a fuss about his comments in the first place. In fact, it wouldn’t be a big surprise to learn that the whole thing was a publicity stunt cooked up by the Robertsons and the network.
But the real question is, why do so many people even give a shit at all about what someone like Phil says? That they do surely reveals something significant about contemporary American “culture” — something that, like the Robertson clan decked out in its waterfowl-slaughtering regalia, ain’t very pretty.