Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Evil Girl Scouts

According to NPR, Indiana Representative Bob Morris has claimed that the Girl Scouts are an anti-family values organization. He claims they are in league with Planned Parenthood. His claims, based on internet research, fly in the face of both Planned Parenthood's and the Girl Scout's denials.

My Gut Reaction: Is Rep. Morris's next bout of internet research going to claim that the Twin Towers were brought down by the Illuminati.

Analysis: This story is an example of how extreme some fundamentalist Christians are. In the face of clear denials from both organizations, Rep. Morris draws on some far right website to argue that the Girl Scouts have become a "corrupt" feminist organization. This kind of bizarre suspicion and conspiracy mongering is downright disturbing, as it suggests the type of intolerant paranoia that spawned the Inquisition.

For the record, it is worth noting that the Girl Scouts officially steer clear of issues related to human sexuality. To quote NPR's report from the Girl Scouts' website: On the specific issue of sexuality, it states that both the national Girl Scouts and the state chapter "believe that issues related to human sexuality and reproductive health are best left to parents or guardians to discuss with their daughters."

Friday, February 10, 2012

Legal Gay Bashing in Cameroon

A young man in the Republic of Cameroon, Jean-Claude Roger Mbede, has been sentenced to three years imprisonment after being convicted of being a homosexual, Amnesty International reports. According to his lawyer Alice Nkom, police arrested Mbede because they considered his hair style to be too feminine.

My Gut Reaction: So the only safe way to go through Cameroon is to wear a crew cut?

Analysis: The BBC reports that Cameroon police claim they caught Mbede and another man having oral sex in a parked car. Even if that is the case, they simply should have been charged with lewd conduct, rather than being persecuted as homosexuals.

What makes matters worse is that Mbede has been held in Kondengui Central Prison in Cameroon's capital, where he is at high risk of violence from other prisoners due to his supposed homosexuality. Three years could conceivably be a death sentence for him.

Luckily, the international community has taken notice. Amnesty International has issued a call for people to write to the Cameroon government and ask for Mbede's release. I urge anyone reading this to go to their website and do so. Human Rights Watch has also condemned Cameroon's actions.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Stupidest Pro-Life Video EVER!!!

On Youtube, I just discovered what is arguably the stupidest pro-life video I have ever seen. It doesn't just have fanatical religiousity or implicit misogyny. The whole reasoning of the video is flawed.

Here it is:

My Gut Reaction: FAIL!

Analysis: There is so much wrong with this video it is difficult to know where to begin. First, the video argues that the financial crisis is due to a lack of population to purchase items. Apparently, sub-prime mortgages and irresponsible actions by investment bankers had nothing to do with it.

Furthermore, this argument ignores a number of drawbacks that would come with an increased population. For starters, a larger population would also mean increasing infrastructure costs, including but not limited to schools to educate all these children. You would also have to factor in the fact that many of the aborted children come from poor households, and in some cases would likely draw on welfare payments.

Finally, the solution to the problem, as framed by the video, would be simply be to allow more immigration so that consumers would come to the United States. Removing a woman's right to choose would have nothing to do with it.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Repression in Egypt

In the midst of growing violence, Egypt's rulers are cracking down on organizations committed to fostering democracy in the country. They are planning to try forty-three foreign employees of international NGOs for illegally working with Egyptian democracy activists. Among those groups whose offices have been raided are the International Republican Institute, which is loosely affiliated with America's Republican Party, and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, affiliated with the Democratic Party.

My Gut Analysis: I can see wanting to drive the Republicans out of your country, but this is rather extreme.

Analysis: The Egyptian government claims it is just enforcing Egyptian laws by prosecuting unregistered international groups. They can also point to the rather unsavory reputation of some of the NGOs in question. For example, the International Republican Institute has been accused of involvement with the 2004 Haitian coup by critics including former US Ambassador to Haiti Brian Dean Curran.

However, human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch have stated that this is just part of Egypt's effort to suppress democratic activists. Furthermore, the NDI points out that it did in fact register with the Egyptian government. The supposed law violations are just an excuse to further repress the Egyptian people.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has warned that these actions could result in funding cuts to the Egyptian government. One hopes she'll have the guts to follow through and stop taxpayer money from going to these thugs.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Fishing in Hell

Village fishermen in Sierra Leone are facing a new threat in addition to rough seas, as foreign fishing trawlers have begun illegally fishing in their waters. The trawlers have depopulated the local fish, and there have even been incidents of small canoes, called kru, getting swamped with fishermen drowning. As the BBC reports, these incursions are endangering the livelihood of villages in Sierra Leone.

My Gut Reaction: Never mind illegal fishing. If the trawlers are so negligent that they end up swamping and killing small fishermen, we're getting into the area of manslaughter.

Analysis: The BBC report follows two fishermen, Ishmael Kain and Kaba Kain, as they go fishing to feed their village. They find that the trawlers have caught virtually all the native fish in the area, including catfish, barracuda, and sea bass. Until recently, the fish had been plentiful, but now that the trawlers have come, they are few and far between. This is not a matter of mere profit, as they are dependent on the fish to feed the village.

This is just another case of the exploitation of third world country's natural resources. Leaving aside the environmental damage of large scale fishing, the illegal fishing is wiping out the food source of an entire village, and probably many other villages in the same area. The trawlers come in the dark of night in order to avoid being caught by authorities.

More alarming is their apparent disregard for the lives of small fishermen. As Ishmael and Kaba testify, their nephew died when one of the trawlers struck their boat after warnings to slow down. Legal authorities, whether in Sierra Leone or the international community, should not tolerate this kind of disregard for human life.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Seattle Cult

The Stranger, an alt-weekly in Seattle, has published an article by Brendan Kiley about a creepy megachurch in their area. The Mars Hill Church has gained a reputation for completely controlling the lives of its members and for essentially stalking people who try to leave. Former members describe incidents of Mars Hill leaders contacting their new churches and even the parents of people they were dating.

My Gut Reaction: I may not be a huge fan of organized religion, but I know the difference between a church and a cult. This, my friends, is a cult.

Analysis: Admittedly, the word cult is a very loaded term, and my use of it in this case requires some degree of explanation. I am not trying to argue that Mars Hill is some sort of Jim Jones / David Koresh style disaster where all the members will end up killing themselves.

Rather, Mars Hill, based on the article, is a cult in the sense that it tries to control its members' lives and has a manipulative leader. Let's start with the domineering leader, one of the sure signs of a cult. Pastor Mark Driscoll is the head of the church, which is based to a large extent on his teachings and books. He was one of the founders of the church, and gained control after one of the founders left and other church leaders were fired. Former members report being reprimanded after even jokingly critiquing Pastor Driscoll.

More disturbingly, Mars Hill appears to set out to control its members' lives. For example, it tells its members not to associate with people who have left the church. People who have left the church report being suddenly cut off by friends. It has also made moves to heavily indoctrinate children as young as two years old, all using materials designed by Pastor Driscoll.

Some might object that The Stranger is an extremely liberal paper with atheist writers such as Dan Savage. However, a number of evangelical Christians in the Seattle area have come out against Mars Hill. Many of their testimonies are gathered at this website. It's always a bad sign when there are enough angry former members of church that they form their own website.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


I do not know what is sadder: the fact that some conservative commentator was so stupid they felt the need to pick a fight with the Muppets, the fact that we need the bloody Muppets to speak truth to power against Fox News, or the fact that some conservative blogger will probably go berserk over this video.

Monday, January 30, 2012

BDS and a Peaceful Movement to Solve the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

In Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer, Electronic Intifada writer Ali Abunimah published an op-ed defended a conference by the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement (BDS) at the University of Pennsylvania. His essay was part of a debate with Former CIA Chief R. James Woolsey and Jonathan Schanzer over the conference. Woolsey and Schanzer object to the conference as promoting hate of Israel.

My Gut Reaction: Perhaps Woolsey and Schanzer prefer more violent forms of resistance to boycotts. After all, violence makes shilling for policies that border on apartheid much easier. Not to mention the fact that perpetuating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict keeps Israel dependent on the United States.

Analysis: Abunimah makes a good argument in favor of BDS. He notes that sanctions were what ultimately brought down the apartheid regime, while conservatives such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher tried to promote "constructive dialogue" as a sop to South Africa's critics while protecting their Cold War ally. He also notes that state-based negotiations have stalled due to weakness on the part of Western powers.

I think the BDS movement offers a new hope in a Middle East dominated by violence. In their article, Woolsey and Schanzer focus on the advocation of violent jihad by groups such as Hamas. One would think they would welcome a non-violent turn in Palestinian resistance.

Woolsey and Schanzer's article is not persuasive at all, and actually spends little time discussing the BDS movement or its goals. Instead, they whine that the BDS boycott doesn't focus more on violence in places such as Syria, never mind the fact that human rights abuses in Syria already get large amounts of mainstream attention. (One could equally condemn Woolsey and Schanzer for not solely focusing their efforts on human rights abuses by countries the United States has closer relations with, such as the People's Republic of China.)

However, the weakness of their article is predictable when you consider the authors' backgrounds. Woolsey was a shill for the Iraq War and publicly argued that Saddam Hussein was connected to the 9 / 11 attacks. Jonathan Schanzer is part of the Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia think tank set up by Islamophobic fanatic Daniel Pipes. Pipes's main claim to fame is that his writings helped inspire Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik, who posted a video of Pipes speaking on his blog. He also cited Pipes's writings over fifty times in his manifesto, leading to Pipes posting a rather defensive essay on his blog dissociating himself from the mass murderer who so obviously admired him.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Amazing Atheist Speaks the Truth

TJ, otherwise known as the Amazing Atheist, is usually a bit abrasive for my taste, but here he is spot on.

Dealing with the Fringe

For the past hour or two, I have been engaged in a comment war on the Christus Vincit blog. Those who have read my last post will remember that the writer of this blog posted a statement to the effect that Jessica Ahlquist, the Rhode Island high school student, had the threats she has been receiving coming to her.

To be fair, the author states in a response comment that he does not condone death threats. That may be, but saying that someone has death threats coming sure as hell comes close, at least in my book.

Interestingly, the author of the blog complains that my posting completely civil objections to his ideas, without the use of any threats or profanity, is harassment. Let's take a look at the comments Jessica Ahlquist has been receiving over Twitter, which I would consider to be real harassment. Here are some quotes (warning: strong language):

"Let's all jump that girl who did the banner #fuckthatho"

"I want to punch the girl in the face that made west take down the school prayer... #Honestly"

"hail Mary full of grace @jessicaahlquist is gonna get punched in the face"

"Fuck Jessica alquist I'll drop anchor on her face"

"lol I wanna stick that bitch lol"

"We can make so many jokes about this dumb bitch, but who cares #thatbitchisgointohell and Satan is gonna rape her."

"Brb ima go drown that atheist in holy water"

""But for real somebody should jump this girl" lmao let's do it!"

"shes not human shes garbage"

"wen the atheist dies, they believe they will become a tree, so we shld chop her down, turn her into paper then PRINT THE BIBLE ON HER."

And to top it all off, a true classic from Christianity, the religion of love:

"gods going to fuck your ass with that banner you scumbag"

Is this what Christus Vincit thinks Jessica Ahlquist has coming? I certainly hope not.

Of course, Christus Vincit and its posters seem to have rather, shall we say, extreme views. Just take a look at this piece they wrote about President Obama, or as they refer to him, Barack Saddam Hussein Obama Bin Laden.

Rhode Island Follies

Two Rhode Island State Representatives have disgraced themselves by personally attacking a sixteen year old girl on talk radio and Twitter. The girl in question, Jessica Ahlquist, had had the temerity to challenge the presence of a prayer banner in a public school. In a court case, the judge unsurprisingly ruled that long-established legal precedents barred the presence of the banner in public schools. As Greta Christina reports on Alternet, State Representative Peter G. Palumbo referred to her as a "pawn star" and an "evil little thing" on WPRO talk radio, while State Senator Beth Moura snidely called her "the ACLU's sweetheart" on Twitter.

My Gut Reaction: Stay classy, Pete and Beth, stay classy.

Analysis: I love it when the more fanatical Christians show their true colors. For all their talk about love, many fundamentalist Christians become genuinely hateful when their faith is challenged. Rather defensive, actually, as if they were not convinced of its truth.

As much as I like having my beliefs confirmed, there is nothing funny about seeing public officials insult and harass a teenage girl. Beth Moura is particularly disgusting. After making her comment on Twitter, another Twitter user tweeted to the effect that her mouth would need to be big to fit a foot into it. As Hemant Mehta points out on the Friendly Atheist blog, this is a clear reference to the classic idiom "to put a foot in one's mouth."

So how does Beth Moura respond? By claiming that the tweet was a threat and calling the police. So now law enforcement time is going to be wasted because a state senator can't interpret common English.

Moura's response is particularly galling given that Jessica Ahlquist herself has received death threats as a result of her activism. (Hey, I thought Christianity was the religion of love!) Some religious bloggers have gone so far as to tacitly endorse such threats. For example, the blogger at Christus Vincit posted a rant in which he states in regard to the threats:

To add insult to injury, now that Miz Ahlquist got her wish, she now fears for her life (apparently there have been threats against her, not surprising; I wish no harm on anyone, but I have to say, she had it coming) and she no longer wants to attend Cranston West, the very school she just (by some fluke) successfully sued.

Luckily, the humanist community is fighting back. Friendly Atheist Hemant Mehta has started a scholarship fund for Jessica, which I heartily recommend everyone donate to. Similarly, in her Alternet article, Greta Christina posted Rep. Palumbo's office number so that we can tell him what sane people think of someone who compares a teenager to a porn star. (If you call Rep. Palumbo, please be respectful. We're humanists, not Christians after all.)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Santorum's Red Roots

A recent article on Yahoo News brings up a surprising fact about Republican Presidential candidate Rick Santorum's family background. Apparently, Santorum's antecedents in Italy were, and still are, ardent communists. They fled to the United States from Italy in the wake of persecution by Mussolini's government. His current relatives express disgust at Santorum's rhetoric.

My Gut Reaction: It sounds like I'll have to go from calling Rick Santorum "Ranger Rick" to "Big Red."

Analysis: This news really has no real relevance, in one sense. A man's family should not reflect on himself, particularly ancestors who died before he was even born. Rick Santorum is no more responsible for his grandparents' actions than Obama is for his father's.

However, the Santorum family's story does debunk one of the major talking points of the far right: the idea that communism and fascism are identical ideologies. Like other communists, they had to flee fascist Italy for fear that they would be persecuted for their political beliefs. Other communists, such as the thinker Antonio Gramsci, died as a result of fascist imprisonment. In light of these historical issues, treating socialists and fascists as identical is frankly silly.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Iran: The Paper Tiger

In a recent post on his CNN blog, television commentator Fareed Zakaria suggests that the recent hysteria drummed up by Republicans such as Mitt Romney about Iran, along with concerns over its intentions in the Strait of Hormuz, may be exaggerated. Far from a strong enemy, the Iranian regime may be facing internal strife and economic weakness.

My Gut Reaction: It's about time someone had the guts to confront the panic-mongers.

Analysis: There are signs of conflict within the Iranian government. The recent threats to blockade the Strait of Hormuz are a good example. Although the Vice President of Iran made the threat, a major figure in Iran's Republican Guards denied that there were any plans to do so. This contradiction suggests a rift between different government factions.

Furthermore, Zakaria argues that the current instability in Syria leaves Iran without its closes ally. Zakaria may be overstating this issue, particularly with an increasingly Shia-dominated Iraq next door. However, the weakening of the Syrian regime had definite negative repercussions for Iran, leaving it with less of a capability to threaten Israel, our main ally in the region.

Perhaps the best part of Zakaria's piece is when he debunks the idea that a nuclear Iran is an existential threat to the United States. This claim has always struck me as genuinely silly. If a nuclear terrorist bombed the United States, Iran would probably be destroyed nearly instantly, in all likelihood with little chance to really examine whether the country or its government had been involved. Indeed, a nuclear Iran might even stabilize the region in a way, creating a balance of power with the United States and Israel.