“Objective” Journalism?

I figure if Ed Brayton can pull up a story from last November in order to write about a topic he cares about deeply, then I should be able to resurrect a dead blog to call attention to said issue, right?  That’s what I thought.

So over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars, Ed reminds us all of the CNN reporter who ended up an ex-CNN reporter after including her personal opinion in a tweet.

https://twitter.com/eliselabottcnn/status/667425269347704832?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

 

Ed writes a bit about that story, and then more on the larger issue of journalistic “objectivity,” which is something I feel a lot of people, including many in the news media, do not really understand.  The role of The Press in our system is worthless when it reports the news like competing press releases with no actual journalism involved.  I thought the press was supposed to search for the truth?  To tell the electorate what was really going on in the world, so they were better prepared to evaluate the issues, and see through the spin of politicians to make informed choices at the ballot box?  Or as Ed puts it:

At AINN, we measured our success through what we called “impact stories” — that is, stories that led directly to some kind of change in policy that improved a situation in a measurable way. And Michigan led all of our state news sites in impact stories by a wide margin, due entirely to my two amazing reporters, Todd Heywood and Eartha Melzer. They were tireless and committed to getting to the truth. They held the feet of the powerful to the fire time and time again and got real change.

Let me give you one simple example. At one point, Heywood got a call from a kid at the University of Michigan who believed he might have been exposed to HIV during a sexual encounter. He had gone to a clinic but they had not put him on a course of treatment called n-PEP: non-occupational post-exposure prophylaxis. If someone is exposed to HIV, putting them on anti-retroviral drugs like Truvada within the first 72 hours is incredibly effective at preventing the infection as a result of the exposure.

The CDC has issued official recommendations for the use of n-PEP in any situation of exposure to HIV since 2005, but the Michigan Department of Community Health had not issued any guidance to doctors, hospitals and clinics instructing them that this is the standard for treatment in such situations. Heywood started reporting about this and hounding the MDCH about it. It went on for about three months before the MDCH finally issued the proper guidelines. This is the very definition of an impact story, one that will literally save lives.

We did not report the dodges and rationalizations offered by the MDCH at face value. We didn’t pretend to be “objective” and just report the things they were saying. We pointed out why those statements were wrong and were disingenuous, because they were. Our commitment was not to some ridiculous and fake “balance” but to telling the truth. That’s what real journalists do. That’s what they should do. But major news outlets punish them for doing that, for injecting something more than a mealy-mouthed he said/she said into important conversations.

Donald Trump’s campaign has shaken some reporters and some outlets enough that they are coming dangerously close to questions that real journalists would ask Trump’s spokespeople if given the chance, yet even in this insane cycle you see the horse race narrative fight to come to the forefront, as some in the industry fight to drag HRC down to the level they manage to elevate Trump.  And even the ones that are asking the “tough questions” this year will fall back into “bothsiderism” as soon as Trump is safely defeated.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, sure.  But if it’s not an opinion informed by facts, then you shouldn’t expect anyone to take you opinion seriously or treat it with the least bit of respect, least of all a member of the press. If the claim is that water is indeed wet, do you need to give equal time to the “dry water” holdouts?  If a political candidate flat out denies saying something you have video of them saying, how can you not just instantly confront them with the video evidence?  When did “follow up questions” become a major journalistic sin?

Anyway, go and read the whole piece over at Dispatches.  You’ll know when I post again.

A “Wait, What?!?” That Caused Me To Cover My Monitor In Coffee.

There is so many delusional people in the United States today that it is difficult to pick a most delusional faction of the populace.  Is it members of the GOP who insist they had nothing to do with the rise of Trump?  Members of the GOP who still think Marco Rubio will become the GOP nominee?  Voters who believe Ted Cruz wouldn’t strangle a puppy on camera if it got him the nomination?  Progressives who apparently think the Tea Party and the House Freedom Caucus are on to something and claim they will sit out the election if HRC wins the nomination, refusing to acknowledge that another Clinton in the White House would be better than the modern GOP having control of every branch of government for a few years?  Pro-lifers who honestly believe Planned Parenthood is selling baby parts out of the trunk of their car to the highest bidder?  Gun owners who seriously believe the authors of the Bill of Rights would agree that the private ownership of an assault rifle is a right, not a privilege?  Citizens that truly believe we are living in a post-racial society, even after being smacked in the face with the crime that is the poisoning of Flint?

Just when I think it is impossible to choose a winner, Ed Brayton rescues me, drawing my attention to indeed, the most delusion segment of the population, hands down.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you your hysterical overreaction of the day. In an article on Pat Robertson’s CBN website, unhinged anti-gay bigot Brian Camenker of MassResistance says that Christians today are being treated just like the Jews were in Nazi Germany because they’re being “demonized.”

 

Some say American Christians are paranoid, that they’re feeling targeted and persecuted. But is it possible America is facing a growing anti-Christian agenda?

Some on the frontline of the culture wars have responded with a resounding “yes.” They feel it up close and personal – right in their faces.

“I’m particularly sensitive to that because I’m Jewish,” Brian Camenker, with Mass Resistance, told CBN News.

“I saw what happened to Jews in the 1930s and 40s and much of that same thing is happening to Christians now,” he said. “There’s an organized movement to demonize Christians.”

Maggie Gallagher, with the American Principles Project, agreed.

“What we’re seeing very clearly is an effort to target them [Christians] legally when possible and then to humiliate or deprive them of social respect,” she said.

I’m honestly speechless.  Thanks Ed.

Can I Haz Lawsuit Plz?

From Dispatches from the Culture War:

Apparently pulling a page from Donald Trump’s playbook, Saudi Arabia is now threatening to sue anyone who compares their “justice” system to the extreme form of Sharia law practiced by ISIS in the territory they control. The threat was aimed at someone on Twitter, but they say they’ll go after anyone who makes such a comparison. Okay, I’m game. Your legal system is, if anything, even worse than ISIS.

Saudi Arabia will sue any Twitter user who compares the Kingdom’s recent decision to execute a poet to punishments handed down by Isis…

“The justice ministry will sue the person who described … the sentencing of a man to death for apostasy as being `Isis-like’,” a justice ministry source told newspaper Al-Riyadh…

“Questioning the fairness of the courts is to question the justice of the Kingdom and its judicial system based on Islamic law, which guarantees rights and ensures human dignity”, the source seemingly told the pro-government newspaper.

They claimed the Kingdom’s courts would not hesitate to put on trial “any media that slandered the religious judiciary of the Kingdom”.

I’ll bite.  Hey Saudi Arabia?  Your system of justice is very ISIS-like.

 

Excuse Me, Mr. Brayton? I Have a “Bryan Fischer Award” Nominee for You. The “Wait, What?!?” for July 24th.

If you read my little blog, then you probably should at least be familiar with Ed Brayton’s Dispatches from the Culture Wars blog as well.  Ed, along with PZ Myers of Pharyngula fame, is the creator/owner of the Freethought Blogs blogging network, which is a great hub for those looking to get started in the freethought movement or just looking for some interesting writing from a plethora of different viewpoints.  A while back, Ed debuted a new award at Dispatches…; The Bryan Fischer Award, “given for those who display a staggering lack of self-awareness and accuse their opponents of their own worst sins.”  Those of you familiar with Bryan Fischer’s ravings can no doubt understand why the award is so named.

Well, while perusing Right Wing Watch this afternoon, I stumbled upon the perfect nominee for the next Bryan Fischer Award: David Barton.  For those of you lucky enough to never have heard of the man, I will offer this as a good primer on who he is and why you should know about him, but for this particular post all you need to know is that he is a Christian “historian” who revises American history in order to make it a Christian nation with no church/state separation, who published a book titled The Jefferson Lies that was filled with so much shoddy scholarship and outright lies that it was attacked by other Evangelical historians before eventually being recalled by Thomas Nelson, the world’s largest Christian publisher, with the statement that they had “lost confidence in the book’s details.”

For decades, Barton has tried to write enlightenment deism out of American history, but it seems that by attempting to turn the famously freethinking Thomas Jefferson into a pious precursor of the modern Christian right, he finally went too far. “Books like that makes Christian scholarship look bad,” says Warren Throckmorton, an evangelical professor of psychology at Grove City College, a conservative Christian school in Pennsylvania. “If that’s what people are passing off as Christian scholarship, there are claims in there that are easily proved false.”

Throckmorton and another Grove City professor, Michael Coulter, have been so disturbed by Barton’s distortions that they wrote a recent rejoinder to his Jefferson book, titled Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims About Our Third President. Their book appears to have inspired other conservative Christians finally to take a critical look at Barton.

So that is David Barton.  And you now know the purpose of the Bryan Fischer Award.  Three guesses what Mr. Barton did to deserve the award?

How about accusing others of revising history?

On his “WallBuilders Live” radio program today, Barton took a question from a listener on the controversy over the Confederate flag and the idea that the Civil War was really fought over the principle of states’ rights and not the issue of slavery.

Barton outright rejected this sort of “revision of history” and spent more than ten minutes explaining that the Civil War was explicitly fought over the issue of slavery, as he declared that it appalls him to see schools named after Confederate generals like Nathan Bedford Forrest and compared the actions of Confederate soldiers to ISIS.

Wait.  What?!?

The strangest thing about this all is, for once, I actually agree with just about everything David Barton says to his caller.

“It was not about states’ rights,” Barton said. “It was about slavery.”

As Barton explained, the documents written and speeches given by those who supported secession regularly cited the preservation of slavery as the primary factor. The idea that the Civil War was fought to protect states’ rights, Barton said, is absurd considering that the Confederate constitution explicitly prohibited states from abolishing slavery.

“It was not about states’ rights, it was about slavery,” Barton said. “What we’ve seen as a result of this is a lot of revision of history. And today, it literally appalls me to see that throughout the south, they still have elementary schools named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was one of the great Confederate generals in the Civil War. But you know, Nathan Bedford Forrest was also the founder of the Ku Klux Klan … We’ve got elementary schools named after a great murderer?”

Barton went on to praise the removal of the Confederate flag from outside the South Carolina capitol and elsewhere, saying that those who fly it and defend it “know nothing” about its history or the “values” it represented.

So all at once, David Barton complains about someone revising history, and says something I agree with?  I need to go lie down.  My head is a spinning.

Part of me just wants to ignore this and enjoy the afterglow of protest.

Luckily for me, it was the part of me that is easily ignored.

You know, when I first decided I wanted to write a blog, I thought that I would devote most of my time and effort to atheism and the atheist community.  After all, the blogs that inspired me all dealt with non-belief, chief amongst them PZ Myers’ Pharyngula.  Don’t get me wrong, I was also influenced by Ed Brayton’s Dispatches from the Culture Wars, as any of my readers can tell you, so there was always also going to be a bit of politics and social issue stuff, but I honestly thought the majority of my posts would be about atheism and the atheist movement, with a healthy dose of skepticism thrown in.  I mean, look at my book shelf.

Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Michael Shermer, Benjamin Radford….

And yet, the more I posted, the more I strayed from posting about atheism.  I never stopped posting about fringe religious elements and the Christian conservative control of the GOP, but that was much more due to the social issue ramifications than anything to do with an atheist, or skeptical movement.  And as much as I didn’t want to be just another liberal, progressive political blog, the more I posted, the more that is what I became.

Why?  Look at my book shelf.

Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Michael Shermer, Benjamin Radford….

Why People Believe Weird Things was my baptism in skepticism. The God Delusion my intro into the “New” atheism.  I loved The End of Faith so much that Harris became my second favorite author with a last name beginning with “H.”  And not only did I love Radford’s team up with Joe Nickell for Lake Monster Mysteries, but Monstertalk was my favorite podcast.  Two of my favorite magazines are heavily involved with Radford and Shermer.  From what I could tell, organized skepticism and atheism was entwined with these men.

And yet I found myself drifting away from skepticism and atheism as movements.  Why?

Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Michael Shermer, Benjamin Radford…..

First there was “Elevatorgate” and Dawkins showed his privilege.  Oh, but if only that was the only bit of sexism to make itself known in the community.  For those of you not involved in atheism or skepticism as a community or movement, I will spare you the details.  Those of you involved know exactly what I am talking about.  As time moved on, the list grew longer and longer.  DJ Grothe inserted foot firmly in mouth.  Sam Harris let us all know that he isn’t the sexist pig we’re looking for.  Go ahead and Google Radford and Shermer.  All I’ll say is Karen Stollznow was the best host of MonsterTalk.

PZ has a interesting post up today, it is worth reading the whole thing.

You won’t get your philosophical atheist utopia at all if that utopia considers the dignity of all human beings to be a secondary matter. You will effectively kneecap the whole movement if you don’t care about social justice, and worse, are more afraid of driving out the hateful and intolerant who are already inside our ranks than of embracing the needs of the many millions outside of them.

It’s already happening, though. The disenchantment with the movement is growing.

Libby Anne wonders, Do They Care about Women, or Simply Bashing Religion?.

Frankly, I feel used. These atheist activists are the sort of people who want to use my story as proof that religion is horrible to women but aren’t willing to listen to what I have to say about sexism in our culture at large. They are the sort of people who are eager to use the shooting of young education activist Malala Yousafzai by the Taliban to prove how horrible religion is for women but somehow fail to mention that Malala is a Muslim who speaks of drawing her inspiration to fight for gender equality from the Koran. This is not standing up for women. This is exploiting women as merely a tool in a fight against religion.

I’m done. I’m so, so done.

Katha Pollitt thinks that Atheists Show Their Sexist Side, and are currently having a “sexist tantrum”.

Alas, the ability to take such instruction is in good part something Sam Harris thinks women sadly lack. “There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree intrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women,” said the bestselling author of The End of Faith. “The atheist variable just has this—it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.” It seems to me, judging from recent events, that atheist men are the fragile flowers here—they, not women, are the ones wilting under criticism. Perhaps they can’t stand it that women are withholding that “extra estrogen vibe” that used to make conferences so much fun. (Amanda Marcotte, of the steel-trap mind, has a fine time slapping Harris around at Pandagon. Remind me never to get into a fight with her.)

Why would women join a movement led by sexists and populated by trolls? If this is atheism, I’m becoming a Catholic.

Tauriq Moosa says the reason he became an active atheist is now why he’s not one.

I won’t be part of a movement resolutely more focused on shielding rich, white dudes than by being inclusive of marginalised, non-male, non-white people. Count me out. Call me back when we give a shit about women and you can admit those of us writing in a small corner of the internet actually care about moral action, not money, for what we do.

The only people who can survive off atheist clickbait are people who write books called The God Delusion. It’s not fucking bloggers.

I will make a prediction, right here and now. The number of people identifying as “nones” will grow in this country in coming years, because we’re on the right side of history, and because organized religion is happily in the process of destroying itself with regressive social attitudes, scandals, and their bizarre focus on other-worldly issues that don’t help people. The number of people identifying as atheists will stagnate or even shrink, because organized atheism is happily in the process of destroying itself with regressive social attitudes, scandals, and their bizarre focus on irrelevant metaphysical differences that don’t help people.

I can’t say that’s a bad thing. The name of atheism has been burdened with unfair and inaccurate stigma for a great many years, and we’re now drifting into an era in which atheism will be burdened with a totally fair and accurate stigma.

Unless we change.

I don’t know that we can.

I’m pissed.

I took part in a nice little bit of atheist activism today.  There were men, women and children in attendance, working together, because atheism isn’t a men’s issue, or a women’s issue, it is a human issue.

I don’t want to be a political blogger.  I want to be part of an atheism/skepticism movement, a community that I can be proud of.

I’m so sick of watching my heroes prove themselves pigs.

(And yes, I am going to do something besides bitch about it.)

Now go enjoy your weekend.  I’ll be back on Monday.

Cartoonish DA Tells ACLU: “Come Get Some!”

After reading yesterday about the local teenager being charged with “desecration” for taking an idiotic picture then sharing it with his friends on Facebook, I immediately knew what I would be posting here at Foster Disbelief.  Just writing about it and expressing my fears and outrage didn’t seem like enough though.  This was in my backyard and being covered in my local fishwrap.  I’ve seen the statue before, and I’ve spent time in the teen’s hometown.  When I was in high school, I actually had several friends from down his way.  In addition to the close proximity to me of the events, the story also scared the hell out of me.  While I don’t routinely pose for pictures with Jesus statues, taken so it appears the Son of God is about to receive a shot of my holy spirit right in the face, I do post much that many in my area would consider blasphemous.  With this teen being charged for offending the religious feelings of locals, since he did no actual damage to the statue at all, and the evidence against him being pictures he posted on Facebook, I started to wonder how long it would be until one of my posts “offended local sensibilities.”  Yes, there is a First Amendment in this nation that supposedly protects my speech, but then again, this teen is being charged with a misdemeanor, publicly shamed, and exposed to threats of Christian violence.  Some people think that I blog under a nom de guerre due to my past status as a heroin addict, but to be completely honest, with the depth of the heroin problem Altoona has been struggling with since the 1990’s and the law enforcement strategy of gleefully targeting addicts by using fellow addicts*  as a weapon in the war on drugs, having a non-violent drug felony on your record is pretty common around here.  I am rather sloppy in protecting my actual name; to be honest, I really do not care if it gets out.  I am open about both my felony and my atheism to those who know me.  The only reason I don’t use my real name here is that I do not want the less grounded local fundamentalists to be able to tie my name to my posts with no effort at all.  My last name is extremely uncommon, and my home phone and address are listed.  I would rather not have threats delivered to my home because after I offended an unhinged person, all they had to do was grab the phone book to find out where I lived.  And then a story like this comes out, and I start to wonder if I should be more careful in protecting my identity.

Once I decided that just blogging about the story wasn’t enough, I tried to figure out what else I could do.  First off, for what I believe to be only the second time in the history of Foster Disbelief, I asked my readers to share the story.  Then I wrote a message to The Friendly Atheist and sent him the details.  Hermant Mehta wrote a post about the story and exposed a huge audience to the story.  (He also linked to and quoted from my blog post, which I didn’t ask for but greatly appreciated.)  I have a few more messages out to atheist bloggers and podcasters, and after being covered on The Friendly Atheist, I am sure it will draw attention from many in our community.  My final e-mail then went to the ACLU, and while I do not suffer from delusions and have no doubt others contacted them as well, the Altoona Mirror this morning brought a smile to my face and once again proved that we can all make a difference, as long as we make ourselves heard.  (The story is behind a pay wall, so I will be quoting most of it here.)

The American Civil Liberties Union is expressing interest in the case of an Everett 14-year-old charged with “desecrating” a statue of Jesus.

On Thursday, a Pittsburgh-based ACLU attorney said the state law cited in the case – a rarely invoked ban on “defacing, damaging, polluting or … mistreating” venerated symbols – poses constitutional problems. State police charged the teen Tuesday, several weeks after he posted photographs online of a simulated sex act with the Everett statue.

“There are some serious First Amendment issues with this statute” if merely gesturing next to an image is enough to be charged, said Sara Rose, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

The case has been debated nationally, with news websites and bloggers on both sides of the issue discussing the charge. An ACLU media representative said several people have sent her office copies of the article.

“Bloggers on both sides….several people have sent her office copies of the article.”  That’s me!  And a whole bunch of other people, but me as well!  Unfortunately, any good feelings from making a difference and having my voice be heard quickly faded when I read the reaction of the Bedford County District Attorney, a man who clearly has vastly different ideas of religious freedom from those not basing their understanding of the Bill of Rights on their religious beliefs.

Bedford County District Attorney Bill Higgins, who is in Puerto Rico for a Lions Club gathering, did not return a message seeking comment.

“I guess I should take solace in the fact that the liberals are mad at me – again,” Higgins said Thursday on his Facebook page. “As for this case, this troubled young man offended the sensibilities and morals of OUR community. … His actions constitute a violation of the law, and he will be prosecuted accordingly. If that tends to upset the ‘anti-Christian, ban-school-prayer, war-on-Christmas, oppose-display-of-Ten-Commandments’ crowd, I make no apologies.”

Let’s take a break here for a second, and see what Wikipedia has to say about  District Attorneys: (bolding mine, as always)

The district attorney (DA), in many jurisdictions in the United States, represents the government in the prosecution of criminal offenses. The district attorney – an elected or appointed official – is the highest officeholder in the legal department of the jurisdiction – generally the county in the U.S. – and supervises a staff of assistant (ADA) or deputy district attorneys. Depending on the system in place, district attorneys may be appointed by the chief executive of the region or elected by the voters of the jurisdiction.

In a moment, we will talk more about whether or not this “troubled” young man actually broke the law, and if that law is even constitutional.  But right now I want to dwell on an elected official who “represents the government, the highest officeholder in the legal department” of Bedford County, a man who’s job is to, without bias or malice, prosecute criminal offenses, making the following statement: ” If that tends to upset the ‘anti-Christian, ban-school-prayer, war-on-Christmas, oppose-display-of-Ten-Commandments’ crowd, I make no apologies.”

Last election, Blair County filled a vacant spot on the bench with an election for Judge.  When the Republican candidate (eventual winner, Wade Kagarise) came to my door during his campaign, I couldn’t help but notice that the most prominent statement on his handouts, other than his name and the office he was running for, was the statement pledging his firm opposition to abortion.  Out of all types of political pandering, this is perhaps the type that annoys me the most.  There is absolutely no reason anyone in Blair County needed to know the candidates stance on abortion to cast an informed ballot in November.  He was running to be a Judge on the Blair County Court of Common Pleas.  Roe V. Wade is not likely to come in front of his bench to be challenged.  He presides over criminal trials, child support and custody cases, and a myriad of other types of cases, none of which his stance on abortion rights has any bearing on.  He stressed his opposition to abortion rights because he knew it would get him votes from the overwhelmingly conservative local majority, not because that information was relevant on his qualifications to be a judge.  I bring this sort of political pandering up because Bill Higgins is using Facebook and this case to win himself votes the next time he is up for re-election.  He sounds like a host on Fox News, not a representative of our criminal justice system.  Either he actually believes the insanity he is spewing, in which case it terrifies me that he has the power to prosecute, or he is parroting right wing talking points to score points with the rabid local far right.

Either way, how can any non-Christian accused of a crime read that statement and not worry about malicious prosecution, or prosecutorial misconduct?  Let me be clear that I am not accusing DA Bill Higgins of either act, merely pointing out questions that may arise in the minds of non-Christians who find themselves prosecuted by his office because of idiotic, antagonistic, bigoted, prejudicial, unprofessional, inflammatory statements of his that make it clear that as the highest ranking official in the Bedford County legal department, he only represents the Christian majority.  Statements like that word salad of Christian far right delusions should cause him to have to recuse himself from every case where the defendant is not a member of the Christian religion.  I know that if I found myself on the wrong side of court opposing him,  I would wonder how much of his prosecution was due to the law, and how much was due to my beliefs.

Okay, let’s get back to the ACLU and the story, shall we?  Once again, you can find the pay wall here:

Rose said the state law is cited rarely enough that she had never researched it until this week. News accounts indicate a Wilkes-Barre college student was charged under the law in 2010 for urinating on a Nativity scene; in the 1980s, Pittsburgh authorities threatened a charge against an unnamed vandal who daubed pro-Palestinian graffiti on a public Hanukkah decoration.

At the root of the issue, Rose said, is the law’s distinction between “objects of veneration” and other items. While the Wilkes-Barre student could have been charged with urinating in public and the Everett teen could arguably be charged with public lewdness, she said, a special law protecting religious items from that violation is harder to justify.

And while not all symbolic speech is protected, the fact that the boy took photographs, posted them publicly and commented on them with friends is enough to be considered “expressive” and therefore legally protected, she said.

It’s an issue she said ACLU attorneys have faced in the past: The courts have repeatedly ruled that flipping a middle finger, while offensive, is a matter of free speech and not a criminal act, Rose noted.

Prosecutors have faced similar difficulty enforcing flag-protection laws, which also punished “desecration” of revered items until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional in 1989.

Once again, he did no damage to the statue.  DA Bill Higgins is claiming that taking a picture he finds offensive is criminal.  Until the pictures were seen online, no one even knew a “crime” had been committed.  There was no public nudity, no defacing or vandalism of property, nothing.  Just a picture some people find offensive.

That is not criminal.

As the ACLU seeks to contact the teenager, it could take at least several weeks for a hearing on the misdemeanor charge to be held. Bedford County President Judge Thomas S. Ling said the next set of juvenile court hearings is scheduled for Oct. 3.

I believe that if the ACLU represents this young man, the law will be ruled unconstitutional.  I think it is a rather open and shut case, to be honest.  No matter how much it offends you, I can flip you off and you can not arrest me for it.  We have a right to our own religious beliefs, and a right to freedom of speech, what we do not have is a right to not be offended.  The statements DA Bill Higgins made on Facebook sure the hell offend me, yet I do not think he should be arrested for it.  And as much as I question such statements being said by a representative of the government, and feel it reflects poorly on his ability to prosecute non-Christians without bias, I do not claim that he doesn’t have the right to make nonsensical statements.  What worries me the most is that the parents of the teen deciding that they just want their son to plead guilty to the misdemeanor and put this all behind them.  Perhaps they even feel that he broke the law, but even if they are just as outraged over the charges as I am, I could understand why they would want it all to just quietly go away.  The teen is already facing threats of violence over the issue.  Hopefully, those threats as well as the statements of DA Bill Higgins lets my readers understand that I am not exaggerating how insanely conservative the central part of Pennsylvania is for a state that votes blue in most national elections.  Our electoral votes may go Democratic, but the center of the state is as scary for atheists as any part of Georgia, Mississippi, or Texas.  I think it would be worth the backlash to fight this unconstitutional law because I am an atheist who sees how tightly the Christian religion is wrapped around local government in my state, and because of the gerrymandering of districts, races in areas such as mine are over after the primary with the only question being how conservative will the winner be this time.  I look at the words of DA Bill Higgins and then wonder if I will ever hear a knock at my door, resulting in my arrest for something I wrote, or for a picture that I posted, not of Jesus giving me a scrubby, but something that offended the wrong people with the right powers.  While it would be worth it for me, perhaps this teen and his family will have a different result to the equation.  His name is already out in the public domain (Thank you, Bedford County Free Press).  I have no doubt that if he fights it and his family stays in the area he will be ostracized at school and his family will face the type of Christian love reserved for those who dare have a different religion, no religion, or merely just a different understanding of Jesus and ask that their rights be respected as well. (Ed Brayton over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars specializes in telling the stories of the retaliation faced by those who take part in church/state separation cases.  Unless things changed since I last heard, he is even writing a book on the subject.)

If the teen and his family are not willing to fight this law, maybe it is time for me to get myself arrested again.  *sigh*

 

*The use of “addicts as weapons” in the war on drugs.  The Drug Task Forces in the Altoona area and surrounding counties claims that they are going after drug dealers.  And during one of the bimonthly drug round ups, one or two (up to five in a especially good month) dealers are included in the thirty or so people arrested and charged with selling drugs.  How does this happen you ask?  By targeting addicts, and using addicts as weapons.  It is standard operating procedure to try to turn arrested addicts into confidential informants (C.I.s).  In exchange for a reduced sentence, or withdrawal of charges, these C.I.s are given task force money to buy drugs, thereby setting up the seller for arrest.  There are many reasons this is a shady practice.  From discussions with C.I.s and situations I witnessed, C.I.’s are allowed to use some of the drugs they bought with no punishment.  Some C.I.s are then rewarded with money for their actions, money law enforcement is very aware is going to be used to purchase drugs.  Otherwise, in exchange for performing observed buys, the task force enables an addict to continue their addiction.  Sooooo ethical.  Perhaps it would be a tolerable (perhaps not, but I’m trying) practice if it took dealers off of the streets.  But as I said,  actual dealers make up a very small percentage of those arrested and charged with these methods.  The vast majority of the time the C.I. calls up one of their fellow addicts, someone who uses with them and therefor trusts them, and tells them that they have 100 dollars or so but can’t find anything.  Of course, if the person they called could somehow find some, they would be more than willing to share with them.  Which results in the target taking the money and buying dope for the two of them and then both of them getting high.  The target will even be thankful that the C.I. thought of them, and helped them out, until the day of the raid comes and the target finds out he is now somehow a drug dealer, even though he never sold a bag of dope in his life.  You may think this is all sour grapes; you may think it is justified to get users off the street; you may think we should all rot in a cell for ever experimenting with drugs in the first place.  You are free to hold your opinions, just do not delude yourself that drug task forces outside the larger cities are sweeping up truckloads of drug dealers.  Actual dealers use drug runners and other techniques to insulate themselves from shady tactics such as these.  Meanwhile your tax dollars are being used to shove your neighbors through the system for being addicts on trumped up charges for crimes that would never be prosecuted in a large city.  But regardless of the human cost, it sounds like they’re making progress in the War on Drugs, so fight on.

 

 

Prepare to Stare, Mouth Agape and Wide Eyed, With the Single Thought of “Wait. What?!?”

Reality has never been a particular concern of science denialists.  Creationists are not interested in learning the facts of evolution anymore than the deniers of human aided climate change want to understand how our species’ byproducts effect the planet’s carbon cycle.  “The human eye is too complex to have evolved,” they claim.  So you turn on the television and call up your dvr’d copy of Cosmos, or pull a popular science book on evolution off the shelf, or if comfortable enough with the subject, just explain the fascinating way that natural selection crafted light sensitive spots on cells, step by step through out the long history of life on Earth, into the complex varieties of eyes found in nature today with your own words.  And if you can actually get them to pay attention and follow along, the vast majority of the time the result is the same.  They look you in the eye and say, “the human eye is too complex to have evolved.”

Most climate change deniers share this trait with evolution deniers; an ideological basis to their belief on the issue.  The scientific evidence for both issues is overwhelming.  The consensus is in, and any actual debate within the scientific community is on specific mechanisms and matters of degree.  How much warmer is the climate going to get?  How much can we limit the damage if we act now?  Is there anyway to stop it now that we have started it?  What other natural causes drove evolution other than natural selection?  What role did gene transfers play early on in the history of life?  The questions are endless, and the deniers are quick to use this legitimate scientific debate to try to make the public believe the consensus is much weaker than it is in truth.  Stephen J Gould’s theory of punctuated equilibrium and the scientific debate surrounding it has been pulled out of context and used by creationists to paint evolution as a theory in crisis for decades.  They do not care about the context because they do not care about the science.  Their ideology tells them that God created us all six thousand years ago, or that men have dominion on Earth and God would never let us unbalance the cycles, or whatever their own particular reason for turning their backs on evidence, reason, and logic happens to be, and that is all that they care about the issue.  The evidence against them becomes a conspiracy.  The existence of a scientific consensus turns them into a persecuted minority.  It becomes more than a question of scientific literacy.  Suddenly it is a plot by the atheists to turn their children away from Christ.  A trick by the secular left to convince people that we are only animals to change the nation’s sexual morality.  An attempt by the Muslim in the White House to get us more dependent on oil from the Middle East by making the practically infinite reserves in our country untouchable.  Or the final ploy of the pinko, socialist, homosexual hippies seeking to end the American way of life by forcing men to emasculate themselves and perform such humiliating actions as conserving, recycling, and driving a compact electric car instead of a manly Hummer 3,  factory modified to burn coal.

Ideology before reality unfortunately has become a trend.  Perhaps it always was so, at least for a certain segment of the population.  I would love to yearn for a time past where people studied the evidence and reached rational conclusions on issues, using their new found knowledge to update their ideological worldview, rather than the tragic mirror image that seems so common today, but I question if any such time actually existed.    If there is any sort of silver lining to this cloud that interferes with rational policy debate, it would be the unintentional comedy that results when people hostile to science try to claim a scientific basis for their ideological beliefs.  Listening to a young earth creationist explain how the scientific evidence really does support a global flood a few thousand years in the past is practically identical to hearing a satirist skewer the same beliefs.  There is a reason Poe has a law. The denialist doesn’t care if the scientifically literate thinks his arguments are insane.  They only have to make sense to him, because scientific arguments are just accessories to the ideological certainty.

Today we will travel to the Kentucky state legislature to learn a bit about the climate on other planets in our solar system.  Why Kentucky?  Because it may be the only place in the nation where this specific fact can be learned.  No university or high school teaches this bit of trivia, yet here in the Kentucky state Senate, Sen. Brandon Smith is straight up schooling people during a hearing on climate change:

“As you (Energy & Environment Cabinet official) sit there in your chair with your data, we sit up here in ours with our data and our constituents and stuff behind us. I don’t want to get into the debate about climate change, but I will simply point out that I think in academia we all agree that the temperature on Mars is exactly as it is here. Nobody will dispute that. Yet there are no coal mines on Mars. There are no factories on Mars that I’m aware of.”

There is nothing at all I could possibly add to that.  That is a State Senator.  An elected official.  As Ed Brayton points out in his post:

Smith has been elected to the Kentucky House four times and the Kentucky Senate twice.

That, my friends, is weapon grade idiocy.