Beyond a joke

May 1st, 2008 3:25 am | By

Okay I take it back, it’s not funny, it’s disgusting. Read the interview – in Dartmouth Review, a notoriously right-wing paper, and by god she’s giving them ammunition.

Read her dropping names and explaining that students are not familiar with these earth-shaking names and so that’s why they get everything wrong and don’t understand how right she is.

it’s kind of interesting that when you are trained in graduate school, it’s sort of like, you know, you’re trained in this kind of—I don’t want to say it’s political—you must be aware that most college campuses are very liberal…and the training which you receive, it’s very much slanted toward a particular political point of view…In other words, talk about, you know, in French theory—we talk about Lacanian psychoanalysis. Lacan was a very radical psychoanalyst, but he’s considered almost like a god, Jean-François Lyotard… Bruno Latour—highly regarded in the field of science and technology studies. But these students aren’t aware of the framework in which I was training. They’re not; they’re just coming into college. So right there, there’s a discrepancy between what I know and how I was trained and their worldview.

In short, they haven’t been trained to worship her gods, so there’s a discrepancy. They haven’t joined the church of Lacan and Lyotard and Latour, so they don’t know what she knows, poor things.

They were concepts that were part of the field, and I was trying to bring it to the table. It offended their sensibilities, because the whole course of “Science, Technology, and Society” was about problematizing science and technology, and explaining the argument that science is not just a quest for truth, which is how we think about science normally, but being influenced by social and political values…This type of argumentation—the reason I did that in the context of expository writing, I thought “by reading arguments, they will learn how to form arguments, think better, and write better.” That was my goal, because when you think better, you write better.

True. So go back and learn to think better. Learn to think instead of dropping names. Then you’ll write better and also talk better. Right now you’re in a bad way.

I’ll sue, ya bastids!

May 1st, 2008 2:39 am | By

Is it another Sokal hoax? It is a massive con, right? It can’t be for real? Priya Venkatesan is too good to be true, isn’t she?

Dear former class members of Science, Technology and Society:

I tried to send an email through my server but got undelivered messages. I regret to inform you that I am pursuing a lawsuit in which I am accusing some of you (whom shall go unmentioned in this email) of violating Title VII of anti-federal discrimination laws. The feeling that I am getting from the outside world is that Dartmouth is considered a bigoted place, so this may not be news and I may be successful in this lawsuit. I am also writing a book detailing my eperiences as your instructor, which will “name names” so to speak. I have all of your evaluation and these will be reproduced in the book. Have a nice day.

Read the whole article; it’s full of rich stuff like that.

University Diaries comments.

I’m fascinated by the fact that a remedial writing class – which is essentially a class in 8th grade English – was called ‘Science, Technology and Society.’ Why not ‘Real Estate for Beginners’ or ‘Molecular Biology’ or ‘Torts’ – why Science, Technology and Society? Because it’s all part of the Grand Plot of pomo whack jobs to infiltrate Our Institutions Of Higher Learning? Because people who teach remedial writing are allowed to call it anything they like? Or what? I’d love to know – and meanwhile it makes me laugh like a drain. (Sad for the students though, since she can’t write herself. ‘whom shall go unmentioned’ indeed – Hey Teach, I gotta go to the jon and smoke a dooby!)

Isn’t it romantic

May 1st, 2008 2:10 am | By

How romantic. It makes me go all sentimental. Is it the same for you?

She screamed, kicked and scratched at the man, but he brought three male friends, a driver and two backup abductors to ensure she couldn’t escape. More young men in a second vehicle trailed, on the lookout for witnesses who might try to halt the brazen afternoon capture. But Ms. Edieva knew that no Chechen would rescue her that September day nearly three years ago. Well versed in Chechnya’s bride-abducting traditions, she understood she was caught up in a centuries-old ritual in which her captor, a suitor she had frequently rebuffed, was going to force her to marry him. “I told him I hated him,” she said, but he smiled. “It doesn’t matter if you love me or hate me,” he told her calmly. “I want you, and you are going to be my wife.”

Ahhhh – isn’t that sweet? That’s real love, that is. He doesn’t care if she loves him or hates him. He doesn’t care if she’s happy to marry him or miserable. He doesn’t care if she’s happy or miserable period. He doesn’t give a good god damn what she feels, he just wants her, as one might want a chair, or a hamburger, or an inflatable doll. Have you ever heard anything so touching?

Young women are snatched from bus stops, on their way home from school and sometimes out of their own yards. A shocking video with clips of men dragging screaming young women, their books, purses and cellphones sent flying, is a popular YouTube posting. Authorities in the two restive republics routinely turn a blind eye to the violent practice, preferring to depict it as a romantic tradition…Some claim the practice has a fairytale quality and many young women dream of being abducted by a handsome man. “It’s a sign that [a man] really loves her,” said Mariyat Muskeeva, a cultural liaison officer with the Chechen local government. “If a woman can tell her children that their father kidnapped her, it’s a great love story.”

So true. In much the same way, OJ Simpson said that if he had killed his wife, it would have shown how much he loved her. That is just so, so sweet. The more violent a man is toward a woman, the more he ignores what she wants and imposes his will on her instead, the more like a thing he treats her, the more unmistakable he makes his love. Like that guy in Austria for instance – now that’s what I call romantic.

Most women interviewed across Chechnya and Ingushetia disagreed, saying they felt no affection from the men who stalked them and shoved them into waiting cars…Women’s roles in these tradition-bound societies are largely submissive and they perform the lion’s share of household tasks. They are expected to act demurely in the presence of men and to eat at separate tables…Despite the official line that bride abduction is largely stage-managed by the young lovers themselves, scores of young Chechen and Ingush women told similar stories of abductions followed by hours of agonizing negotiations, often with complicit relatives.

Okay maybe not so romantic after all.

When in doubt, kill the nearest woman

Apr 29th, 2008 2:39 pm | By

Funny how ‘religion’ often seems to manifest largely as an unappeasable loathing of women. How the very first item on the agenda seems to be punishing women for being women, and terrorizing women for the crime of existing, and telling women what to do and killing them if they don’t do it.

The 19-year-old Iraqi was, according to her father, murdered by her own in-laws, who took her to a picnic area in Dokan and shot her seven times. Her crime was to have an unknown number on her mobile phone. Her “honour killing” is just one in a grotesque series emerging from Iraq, where activists speak of a “genocide” against women in the name of religion…

She has an unknown number on her phone, so let’s kill her. Her life is worth nothing, our rage is worth an infinite amount.

Beheadings, rapes, beatings, suicides through self-immolation, genital mutilation, trafficking and child abuse masquerading as marriage of girls as young as nine are all on the increase…[R]ecent calls by the Kurdish MP Narmin Osman to outlaw honour killings have been blocked by fundamentalists. “Honour killings are not actually a crime in the eyes of the government,” said Houzan Mahmoud, who has had a fatwa on her head since raising a petition against the introduction of sharia law in Kurdistan. “If before there was one dictator persecuting people, now almost everyone is persecuting women…It is difficult to described how terrible it is, how badly we have been pushed back to the dark ages. Women are being beheaded for taking their veil off. Self immolation is rising – women are left with no choice. There is no government body or institution to provide any sort of support. Sharia law is being used to underpin government rule, denying women their most basic human rights.”

I wonder if Seumas Milne considers that kind of thing ‘non-violent.’

The new Iraqi constitution, according to Mahmoud, is a mass of confusing contradictions. While it states that men and women are equal under law it also decrees that sharia law – which considers one male witness worth two females – must be observed. The days when women could hold down key jobs or enjoy any freedom of movement are long gone. The fundamentalists have sent out too many chilling messages. In Mosul two years ago, eight women were beheaded in a terror campaign…”We urge the international community, the government to condemn this barbaric practice, and help the women of Iraq.”

It’s not just according to Houzan Mahmoud that it’s contradictory to say women and men are equal under law and that sharia must be observed. Women and men are not equal under sharia, so of course it’s contradictory.


Apr 29th, 2008 12:20 pm | By

Sometimes people try to do the right thing and their very effort to do the right thing causes them to do just the wrong thing they meant to avoid. Sometimes that’s sad, other times it’s funny. Sometimes it’s part funny part irritating.

A Bradford man attacked and threatened after his family converted from Islam to Christianity was told by police to “stop being a crusader”…The No Place To Call Home report, by Ziya Meral, states apostates are “subject to gross and wide-ranging human rights abuses.”…The report, launched today, describes how the Pakistani community in Bradford reacted to the family’s conversion by shouting abuse and death threats, vandalising their house and car, attacking Mr Hussein and following his wife.

Really?! The entire Pakistani community in Bradford shouted abuse and death threats and followed Ms Hussein – that must have been something to see.

No, of course that’s not what happened, and it’s not what the Bradford Telegraph meant to say, but it was so busy trying not to offend anyone by referring to people without the c word that it did in fact, idiotically, say that. Block thinking taken to its logical conclusion – if some ten or twenty Pakistanis do something then that thing was done by ‘the Pakistani community.’ So much for precision, clarity, accuracy, and above all, fairness. Any Bradford ‘members of the Pakistani community’ who don’t approve of such behavior must be feeling very chuffed.

Oh comrades come rally

Apr 27th, 2008 11:48 am | By

I know it’s old news that Seumas Milne is a buffoon – but all the same…

These are good times to be in the “moderate Muslim” business. If you press the right buttons on integration and “radicalisation” and hold your tongue on western foreign policy, there are rich pickings to be had…Latest in the ring is the “counter-extremism thinktank”, the Quilliam Foundation…The foundation – named after a 19th century British Muslim – is the creature of Husain and a couple of other one-time members of the radical, non-violent Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. All three are straight out of the cold war defectors’ mould described in Saturday’s Guardian by the playwright David Edgar, trading heavily on their former associations and travelling rapidly in a conservative direction.

What is ‘western foreign policy’ when it’s at home? Does ‘the west’ have a unified and unanimous foreign policy? I don’t think so. Perhaps it’s just – western foreign policy, i.e. wicked because it’s western; wicked geographically and as it were ethnically. It belongs to ‘the west’ or to (as one might say) members of the western community, who are of course by definition enemies and oppressors of ‘the east’ (which is also called ‘the south,’ which confuses things slightly). In short, it’s a rhetorical phrase which is literal nonsense.

More interesting is Milne’s fond view of Hizb ut-Tahrir – the ‘radical, non-violent Islamist group.’ Radical is an ambiguous word, if only because people on the left usually use it to mean left-radical. But the real weasel word is ‘non-violent.’ Milne’s insinuation seems to be that Hizb ut-Tahrir doesn’t advocate terrorist violence as a means, therefore it is non-violent period. But that’s crap. You have only to read Hizb on itself to see that. What Hizb ut-Tahrir wants is a global society that is violent in the most up close way possible – a global society that coerces everyone in the smallest details of life by forcing them to obey stupid oppressive rules from the 7th century. If that’s non-violent, what would violent be like?

Hizb-ut-Tahrir is a political party whose ideology is Islam. Its objective is to resume the Islamic way of life by establishing an Islamic State that executes the systems of Islam and carries its call to the world. Hizb-ut-Tahrir has prepared a party culture that includes a host of Islamic rules about life’s matters…As for the resumption of the Islamic way of life, the reality of all the Islamic lands is currently a Kufr household, for Islam is no longer implemented over them; thus Hizb-ut-Tahrir adopted the transformation of this household into a household of Islam. With regard to determining whether a household is Islamic or not, this is not dependant on whether its inhabitants are Muslims or not, but rather in what is implemented in terms of rules and in whether the security of the household is in the hands of the Muslims, not the Kuffar…Hizb-ut-Tahrir is not a spiritual bloc, nor is it a moralistic or a scientific bloc, but rather a political bloc that works towards the management of the Ummah’s affairs as a whole according to Islam.

And so on and so on. Milne is an idiot if he genuinely thinks that is ‘non-violent.’ It seems to be common knowledge that Milne is indeed an idiot (useful or otherwise) – and he does a brilliant job of demonstrating that by equating people who ‘defect’ from Hizb-ut-Tahrir with cold war defectors and also by calling their direction ‘conservative.’ What the fuck does he think Hizb is – liberal? Progressive? Left? Can he seriously think that a party that wants everyone to live under a regime in which Islam dictates every single aspect of their lives, and calls everyone who doesn’t want that ‘Kuffar,’ not conservative? Can he seriously think that fleeing from that nightmare vision is to travel ‘in a conservative direction’?

In particular, they want to put Islamism – an extremely broad political trend that stretches from the Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development party to al-Qaida – beyond the political pale.

And Milne thinks that’s a bad thing. And he thinks (apparently) he’s a left-winger. It beggars belief.


Apr 25th, 2008 11:10 am | By

More on that Moyers-Nussbaum interview. As always when Nussbaum talks about religion, there are squashy places. The interview is like a pear with a lot of bruised spots.

[W]hat I love are [Roger Williams’s] metaphors for the way that freedom is taken away. I mean, there are two metaphors. One is the imprisonment of the soul. And the other, even deeper, is the rape of the soul. And he keeps saying it’s soul rape when people try to get people to believe something that they don’t really believe. So the only way we can avoid doing that kind of violence to conscience is to give it lots of space to unfold itself. Not just [not] persecuting people, but really bending over backwards to be sensitive to their religious needs.

I don’t think that’s true – depending on what she means by trying ‘to get people to believe something that they don’t really believe.’ If she means trying to force people to believe something by pure command, then – well, then I still don’t agree, but I disagree less than I do with the alternative. I agree that that does a kind of violence to people’s mental lives (I wouldn’t call it ‘conscience’ because I think Nussbaum is using conscience to mean religious belief, which is a stealthy way of privileging religion), but I don’t agree that bending over backwards is the only way we can avoid it; we can just not try to force people to believe something by pure command. But if by trying ‘to get people to believe something that they don’t really believe’ she means argument of any kind, then I don’t think that does do violence to people’s mental lives, or their consciences, and I don’t believe there’s any need to avoid doing that. I’m afraid she might mean that – which would be depressing.

[W]hat our whole history has shown is…that people can get along together and respect one another, even though they have differences about religion, because they can recognize a common moral ground to stand on. They can recognize values like honesty, social justice, and so on.

Well, yes and no. Or up to a point. Or sometimes but it depends. In short, that’s too easy. Some people can sometimes get along together because they can recognize a common moral ground – but not all people and not always. ‘Social justice’ for instance – people disagree about what social justice is, and lots of people are convinced it means nothing but taking all their money away and giving it to coke-addled women with 57 children, so that they hate the very sound of it. The people at Yearning for Zion ranch don’t recognize a common moral ground with people like, say, me. (And the history of the US isn’t entirely one of getting along, I have to say. A little spat called The Civil War comes to mind. So does slavery, so does the genocidal policy toward Native Americans, so do various other quarrelsome moments.)

And George Washington wrote a letter to the Quakers saying, “I assure you that the conscientious scruples of all men should be treated with the greatest delicacy and tenderness.” And what he meant is you’re not going to have to serve in the military. And I respect that. And unless there’s a public emergency, we’re just not going to do that kind of violence to your conscience. So, I think we have understood that lesson.

But that won’t do as a lesson, because that example won’t do as a general principle, because it’s an easy one. It’s no good trying to make a case for policy X by offering the easy examples and ignoring the hard ones. It’s no good at all, because the problems don’t arise with the easy examples, they arise with the hard ones, so citing the former and ignoring the latter is entirely the wrong thing to do. It’s like saying ‘the bridge is strong enough because look, this bicycle made it across,’ when cars and trucks and buses are also going to be crossing the bridge.

In short it’s a cheat. The problem is, the Quaker scruple is much too easy to ‘respect.’ Most people do understand and respect and sympathize with conscientious scruples about killing people, even if they don’t agree with particular instantiations of them. But that is not the case with all religious ‘scruples’, to put it mildly. Saudi authorities have ‘scruples’ about allowing women to do almost anything without written permission from a male guardian. I don’t respect that. I don’t think it should be treated with any delicacy and tenderness at all; I think it should be reviled. The Vatican has ‘scruples’ about condoms which cause it to forbid all Catholics to use them, which to the extent that it is obeyed will inevitably cause the deaths of countless women and children. I feel absolutely no need to treat that stupid, irrational, ill-founded ‘scruple’ with delicacy and tenderness. I think it’s vicious, obstinate, and murderous.

And the fact that Nussbaum picked an easy example instead of a hard one tips her hand, because if she picks an example that atheists and secularists can understand just as well as theists can, then she’s not really talking about religious scruples at all, she’s just talking about scruples. What is specifically religious about scruples against killing people? Nothing. So what does religion add to the scruples that mean we should treat them with the greatest delicacy and tenderness? Nothing. At least nothing that I can think of – do tell me if you can think of any.

No, I think it’s one or the other but not both, whereas Nussbaum wants to pretend it can be both. I think it’s either a good scruple whether you’re religious or not, or it’s a bad scruple. I can’t think of any that are good scruples that are also necessarily religious. Can you?

Thanks, but no

Apr 23rd, 2008 4:23 pm | By

Do atheists crave a replacement for church?

Atheism’s great awakening is in need of a doctrine. “People perceive us as only rejecting things,” says Ken Bronstein, the president of a local group called New York City Atheists. “Everybody wants to know, ‘Okay, you’re an atheist, now what?'”

Nah, thanks – I’m not in need of a doctrine. In fact the very idea is kind of…how shall I say…idiotic? Part of the point of being an atheist is not having to sign up to a ‘doctrine.’ It’s not a matter of thinking those other doctrines are no fun but our doctrine is just the ticket. It’s a matter of not liking doctrines in the first place.

The most successful movements in history, after all—Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc.—all have creeds, cathedrals, schools, hierarchies, rituals, money, clerics, and some version of a heavenly afterlife.

Yes…but atheists don’t want creeds, hierarchies, clerics, or fairy tales about the afterlife. I’m down with pretty buildings, schools are good, some rituals are okay if I always have a right of refusal, money is just fine if anyone wants to give me some, but the rest of it is a good deal too churchy for me, thanks.

The article goes on to give a toe-curling picture of pseudo-church (Secular Jewish church; go figure) that illustrates just why the idea is so unappealing. Singing secular hymns…noooooo thank you.

When Tim Gorski, a Texas physician, approached Paul Kurtz, an influential atheist who now chairs the Center for Inquiry, an atheist think tank, about his plans to start the North Texas Church of Freethought in the nineties, Kurtz discouraged him, on the grounds that atheists don’t need church.

Just so. Tim Gorski should have started an atheist think tank, instead. Did I ever tell you about the library at the Center for Inquiry? Biggest library of free thought in the country, or the world, or something. I liked to wander around it drooling slightly.

Dennett sees value in atheism’s great awakening, in the energy and money that come from organizing, but he counsels caution. “The last thing atheists want to see is their rational set of ideas yoked up with the trappings of a religion,” he says. “We think we can do without that.”

Although, as I mentioned, money and pretty buildings are always gratefully accepted if offered.

“In the larger war against supernaturalism, frankly, it doesn’t help to fraternize with the enemy,” [Dawkins] says.

Fraternize with or imitate.

The search for meaning

Apr 23rd, 2008 11:36 am | By

Martha Nussbaum talks to Bill Moyers.

[I]f you look into the religions, they have this deep idea of human dignity and the source of dignity being conscience. This capacity for searching for the meaning of life. And that leads us directly to the idea of respect. Because if conscience is this deep and valuable source of searching for meaning, then we all have it whether we’re agreeing or disagreeing. And we all ought to respect it and respect it equally in one another.

Hmm. I would say, as usual, it depends what kind of ‘respect’ is meant. There are, as usual, different possible levels of respect – recognition respect, substantive respect, and so on. In one way I agree with that (and so, it might surprise many people to know, does that notorious ‘fundamentalist’ atheist Richard Dawkins): I do respect the search for meaning and related projects, I do respect the desire for something more than the purely greedy or trivial or selfish. In another way I’m not sure I do agree with it – though I’m not sure enough that this really is another way to say flatly that I don’t agree with it. I respect the search for meaning, but then my respect goes wobbly if the search is carried on with the wrong equipment, or with self-imposed handicaps, or if it’s declared successful too early. My respect thins out to the vanishing point when the idea boils down to saying ‘people crave meaning therefore God exists’ or ‘people crave meaning therefore it is a crime to say there is no reason to think God exists and any old lies are okay to tell about people who commit that crime.’ Nussbaum doesn’t mean that, obviously; I suppose I’m just registering some caution about the idea because a lot of very vehement and inaccurate critics of ‘new’ atheism do resort to the ‘search for meaning’ defense in just that vituperative way.

Moyers later points out that many conservative Christians believe that ‘without a belief in a supreme being, a person, an atheist, can’t be a moral agent.’

I know they think that. But I think they really should look more closely at the ethical reasoning of people who are agnostics and atheists. And I think it’s obvious that lots and lots of people in this country are– are deeply ethical, do have a sense of the ethically obligatory and of the depth and real requirement of ethical norms, while not connecting that to a divine source.

Yes, I think they should too, but I’m not very optimistic that they will. But I would certainly be pleased if they did, and if Nussbaum’s book gets some of them to do that, very good.

Hedges on sin

Apr 21st, 2008 12:18 pm | By

One more bit of Hedges, because Eric mentioned that his (Hedges’s) theological training left him befuddled by the idea of ‘original sin,’ and I was planning to quote him on sin anyway if I got the time. Pp 13-14:

We have nothing to fear from those who do or do not believe in God; we have much to fear from those who do not believe in sin. The concept of sin is a stark acknowledgement that we can never be omnipotent, that we are bound and limited by human flaws and self-interest.

Stark, staring bullshit. Could hardly be more wrong. Obviously there is no need whatever to believe in ‘sin’ to be aware that we can never be omnipotent and that we are bound and limited by human flaws and self-interest. Really it’s mostly non-theists who are aware of that in the most thorough way, because theists mostly believe that we will ultimately be ‘redeemed’ or ‘atoned’ in some way. The rest of us just think we are deeply flawed animals and that’s all there is to it.

The concept of sin is a check on the utopian dreams of a perfect world. It prevents us from believing in our own perfectibility.

But the ‘new’ atheists Hedges is railing at dream no dreams of a perfect world, nor do they believe in human perfectibility – so clearly they don’t need the ‘concept of sin’ as a check on their non-existent dreams and beliefs.

To turn away from God is harmless…To turn away from sin is catastrophic…The secular utopians of the twenty-first century have also forgotten they are human.

And Hedges provides quotations to back up this assertion where? Nowhere. Because there are none, because the assertion is false.

We discard the wisdom of sin at our peril. Sin reminds us that all human beings are flawed…Studies in cognitive behavior illustrate the accuracy and wisdom of this Biblical concept.

Wait – what? It’s catastrophic to turn away from sin because without the concept of sin we don’t realize that humans are flawed, but on the other hand, studies in cognitive behavior (not to mention mere experience of life and humans and ourselves) offer evidence that we are flawed, so we don’t need the concept of sin after all. The man blows his own argument (or rather his baseless claim) without even noticing he’s done it. Where was his editor while all this was going on? Where was Hedges’s brain?

Bad book revisited

Apr 20th, 2008 1:20 pm | By

For some reason I feel like giving you another dose of Chris Hedges. It’s a morbid interest, because really his book (I Don’t Believe in Atheists) is so bad it makes more sense to ignore it than to spend time saying what’s bad about it. Its badness isn’t what you’d call subtle or hidden. But I’m interested in these displays of determined stupidity, for some reason.

Page 6.

Hitchens and Harris describe the Muslim world, where I spent seven years…in language that is as racist, crude and intolerant as that used by Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell.

No they don’t. That’s such an absurd claim that it’s stupid to make it, when it’s so easy to check just by googling. You don’t have to agree with Hitchens and Harris to find that statement laughable. Also, what does Hedges mean by saying he spent seven years in ‘the Muslim world’? Where is that exactly? He means he spent seven years in some countries where Islam is the majority religion, not that he spent those years in all such countries, much less that he spent them on some other ‘Muslim’ planet. His language is (in this book at least) considerably cruder and sloppier than anything Hitchens would write even on a bad day.

Continuing from the previous quotation, or rather, hail of abuse.

They are a secular version of the religious right. They misuse the teachings of Charles Darwin and evolutionary biology just as the Christian fundamentalists misuse the Bible. They are anti-intellectual.

What the hell does that mean? Other than that Chris Hedges is really pissed off. And what ‘teachings’ of Darwin? He seems to be confusing him with a church; clerics like to talk about ‘the church’s teachings,’ especially when they are trying to justify some mildewed old bit of irrational hatred like rules against HoMoSekShuality; but Darwin doesn’t have ‘teachings,’ he’s not a dang priest. And as for anti-intellectual – that’s just imbecilic. It ignores most of what they say, or simply turns it on its head.

Pages 6-7 – the new atheists don’t have the power of the Christian Right but

they do engage in the same chauvinism and call for the same violent utopianism. They sell this under secular banners. They believe, like the Christian Right, that we are moving forward to a paradise, a state of human perfection, this time made possible by human reason.

It’s very noticeable that Hedges never offers any evidence for this kind of crap (which continues for page after page, and recurs throughout the book). He repeats it ad nauseam and offers zero quotations to back it up – which is not surprising, since there aren’t any, since they don’t believe any such fucking thing. This is grossly irresponsible unwarranted garbage, and it’s a sign of something or other that a reputable publisher failed to throw it back in his face. I don’t think the Times would have let him publish this dreck in the paper – except possibly on the Op-ed page; it’s somewhat shocking that a division of Simon and Schuster published it.

There’s a great deal more of this kind of thing, but you get the idea. He’s beside himself with rage, he makes no effort to be accurate, he considers himself entitled to make wildly exaggerated claims, he can’t think, he can’t read carefully, and he’s overflowing with malevolence. (Which is funny in a way, because one of his chief claims is that religion is somehow necessary for or intimately connected to goodness, compassion, generosity, that kind of thing – yet he himself displays a remarkably unpleasant belligerence coupled with carelessness with the truth.) I looked for scathing reviews but didn’t find any – if anyone sees any, point them out to me.

Give my my spiritual £50

Apr 19th, 2008 4:30 pm | By

The mediums have been taken by surprise, poor dears.

Today, representatives of British mediums will march up Downing Street to deliver a petition containing some 10,000 signatories demanding that the Government change its decision to repeal the 1951 Fraudulent Mediums Act in favour of a new EU directive…”What we have here is a fundamental attack on our right to practise our religion…,” said David McEntee-Taylor, head of the Spiritual Workers Association (SWA).

Yes…except that ‘fundamental right’ has limits, dalling. It doesn’t have enough limits, but it has some. You can’t kill people and eat them with horseradish and call that practicing your religion and go on your way rejoicing.

However, by treating spiritualism as merely a consumer service, mediums believe they risk being sued if customers are dissatisfied with advice brought from the other side – advice they say they always point out should always be treated with care. The solution to the present impasse, according to lawyers advising the crystal-ball fraternity, is via the prosaic expedient of a pre-consultation disclaimer, describing any dialogue with the deceased in terms of either entertainment or scientific experiment. It does not sit comfortably with purist believers.

So what they’re protesting is having to mention at the outset that there is no actual reason to think that whatever mediums talk to when they talk to whatever they talk to is in fact actually the spirit of a dead person. They want to be able to take money for talking to whatever it is they talk to without having to admit to the people who are giving them money that in fact whatever it is they talk to might be…well, unreliable, or confused, or made up. Yes one can see why they don’t want to have to admit that and why they would prefer to take the money without having to admit anything, but I’m not absolutely sure that desire is rightly called ‘our right to practice our religion.’ It looks more like their claimed right to practice their commercial enterprise which is based on customer credulity. It’s rather as if from Monday to Friday priests and ministers took large fees for chatting to God and then telling their customers what God said. The line between religion and commerce would seem rather blurred in that case, I think.

Psychic mailings netted £40m from the British public last year and the number of telephone and internet services are soaring – an unsurprising fact considering some 50 per cent of the public claims to believe in the phenomenon, according to Professor Richard Wiseman, a stalwart critic of the religion. A further third claim to have had a psychic experience. “The problem is that there is no repeatable scientific evidence to back this up,” he said.

Good grief, so 80% of you are bat-loony? At that rate you’re just as crazy as we are.

While few dispute that there are some con men operating big money schemes, supporters say there is a genuine need to liaise with dead friends and relatives. Lyn Guest de Swarte, editor of The Spiritual News, said for most practitioners it is a “sacred calling”. “A labourer is worth their hire. But if people don’t feel they have been best served they should refuse to pay.”

Okay – and the mediums will be fine with that, will they? They’ll just allow the customers to say ‘Sorry, no good’ and walk out? No shouts of ‘Hey, you owe me £50!’? And then there’s this claim that there’s a genuine need to liaise with dead friends and relatives. Well of course there fucking is – and it’s a need that cannot be satisfied and that’s the great tragedy of all sentient life, isn’t it! But pretending some chump in a paisley shawl can fix that right up is no solution. There is no solution, and that’s that.

Chatting with clerics

Apr 18th, 2008 5:03 pm | By

I can’t help noticing that clerics say odd things sometimes. I suppose it’s their job, but it surprises me anyway. I suppose it surprises me that they don’t try to cover up more.

The Bishop of Oxford (again), for instance. He said something very droll.

I am sure the Roman Catholic bishops are intelligent, rational people, but their starting point on embryo research is mistaken. They believe that the newly fertilised egg, the tiny bundle of multiplying cells smaller than a pin head, has the same right to life as an adult. But more than two-thirds of fertilised eggs are lost in nature anyway. If each of these really is a person, that is, an eternal soul, it would lead to the absurd conclusion that heaven is mainly populated by people who have never been born.

Ah yes, how absurd – but is it any more absurd than the conclusion that heaven exists and that it is mainly populated by people who have been born? Not a lot. The whole idea of a heaven populated by dead people is absurd, yet here is this grown man treating it as a matter of fact.

The other day Gene Robinson, the gay bishop of New Hampshire (the one who has made life so difficult for the archbishop and his friends) was on Fresh Air. Terri Gross asked for his views on abortion, and he gave a both-and reply, the first part of which was that ‘all life is sacred’ and the second of which is that it’s for the woman to decide. It’s odd that churchy people keep saying that, and that no one takes them up for it. They don’t believe all life is sacred! Nobody does, and they’re no exception. Bacteria, viruses, mosquitoes, weeds, parasites, vegetables, fruits, grains – churchy people don’t think those kinds of life are sacred. It’s pompous rhetoric, and they shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it, because it can’t possibly be true. Yet get away with it they do.

The other other day Desmond Tutu was on the local public radio station. I admire Tutu, as most people do; from what I know he’s a sterling fella. But he did say this one thing…that the universe is a moral place, and that truth and justice always ultimately prevail. No – it isn’t and they don’t. Especially the universe is not a moral place – I think that’s such a mistake. The universe is a bunch of gas and rock; it’s no more moral than my kettle is when I put it on to boil water. We’re here and the universe is there and the universe couldn’t possibly care less about us or about morality. If there’s going to be any morality it has to come from us. That’s sad, because we’re not much good at it, but we’re all there is. And, alas, truth and justice don’t ultimately prevail, not least because there is no ulitmately, there’s only a series of nows, all of which are shot through with truth and justice not prevailing.

Time for Chuck to grow up

Apr 18th, 2008 11:50 am | By

Speaking of stupid stuff, the struggle continues to persuade the future king to act like a responsible adult and not endanger the health of his ‘subjects.’

The Prince of Wales is being challenged today to withdraw two guides promoting alternative medicine…The documents, published by the Prince and his Foundation for Integrated Health, misrepresent scientific evidence about therapies such as homoeopathy, acupuncture and reflexology…Edzard Ernst, Professor of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter, and Simon Singh, a science writer and broadcaster, call on the Prince to recall the publications, one of which was produced with a £900,000 grant from the Department of Health…Professor Ernst and Dr Singh say the Prince accepted the importance of “rigorous scientific evidence” to alternative medicine, in an article he wrote for The Times in 2000, and point out that more than 4,000 research studies have since been published…The first document is a pamphlet, part-funded by the taxpayer, that gives advice on finding practitioners of alternative therapies. It is misleading, Professor Ernst said, because it includes disorders for which alternative remedies have been shown to be ineffective. It states, for example, that chiropractic is used to treat asthma, digestive disorders and migraine, when it has been shown by rigorous trials only to be useful for back pain. The guide also promotes acupuncture for addiction, when studies suggest that it has no benefit, and homoeopathy, which a major review for The Lancet has indicated works only as a placebo.

That’s a good wheeze, isn’t it – to describe worthless treatments as being ‘used to treat’ diseases it can’t treat. It’ll be true, because there are people who ‘use’ them that way, but it’s misleading, because ‘using’ them that way is like me using a hammer to paint the wall blue. It doesn’t work.

Natasha Finlayson, of the Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health, said: “We entirely reject the accusation that our online publication Complementary Healthcare: A Guide contains any misleading or inaccurate claims about the benefits of complementary therapies. On the contrary, it treats people as adults and takes a responsible approach by encouraging people to look at reliable sources of information . . . so that they can make informed decisions.”

That’s rather disgusting. It’s manipulative bullshit to talk about ‘treating people as adults’ by giving them misleading pseudo-information. It’s not treating people as children to give them information that is careful not to mislead, especially when it comes to medical treatments. It’s disgusting that Chuck abuses his unearned power and influence to do this kind of thing. He’s not a doctor, he’s not a medical researcher, he’s not a physiologist, he’s not even a competent journalist, but here he is pushing quack medicine on people who will take him seriously because of who he is. Bad, very bad.

Good journalism

Apr 18th, 2008 11:03 am | By

Chris Hedges has a new book out, a really terrible book on the putative ‘new’ atheists. It’s so stupid it’s unreadable. This is a little surprising, since he was a foreign correspondent for the NY Times for several years, and even though the Times is not nearly as clever as it thinks it is, I would expect it to be above the kind of counter-factual drivel Hedges perpetrates in I Don’t Believe in Atheists. Or would I. No on second thought maybe I wouldn’t. Anyway the book is the kind of stupid that makes your jaw drop as you read. You don’t have to wait long, either – only five pages in you find

[The liberal church] accepts along with the atheists and the fundamentalists, Pangloss’s rosy vision in Voltaire’s Candide that we live in ‘the best of all possible worlds’ and that if we have faith and trust in the forces around us, ‘all is for the best. It is this naive belief in our goodness and decency – this inability to face the dark reality of human nature, our capacity for evil and the morally neutral universe we inhabit – that is the most disturbing aspect of all these belief systems.

He’s including atheism in that – specifically the atheism of what he calls ‘the new atheists.’ (He claims they call themselves that, which is typical of his respect for accuracy.) Really?! Dawkins and Hitchens and Dennett think we live in the best of all possible worlds? Which Dawkins and Hitchens and Dennett has he been reading?

And he enlists this kind of wildly inaccurate characterization in a stupidly belligerent attack on people and ideas and books that don’t exist. It’s cheap stuff. (I’ve heard him on the radio, too, out pushing his book – he works himself into an unpleasant lather of rage at these non-existent atheists. I felt dirty after hearing him.)

He’s on form in this piece.

The “new” atheists, in the name of reason, science and progress, endow themselves with the moral right to abuse others in the name of their particular version of goodness…These atheists, like religious fundamentalists, live in the illusion of a binary world of us and them, of reason versus irrationality, of the forces of light battling the forces of darkness. And once you set up this world, you are permitted to view as justified military intervention, occupation and even torture – anything, in short, that will subdue what is defined as irrational and dangerous.

Nice. Temperate, judicious, careful, precise, accurate, thoughtful, reasoned. Journalism at its best.

Have a nice energy yawn

Apr 16th, 2008 12:00 pm | By

Charlie Brooker saw a ‘Newsnight’ piece on ‘Brain Gym’.

It’s essentially a series of simple exercises lumbered with names that make you want to steer a barbed wire bus into its creator’s face. One manoeuvre, in which you massage the muscles round the jaw, is called the “energy yawn”…Throughout the report I was grinding my teeth and shaking my head – a movement I call a “dismay churn”…because I care about the difference between fantasy and reality…Perhaps the Department for Children, Schools and Families confused fantasy with reality the day it endorsed Brain Gym. Because while Brain Gym’s coochy-coo exercises may well be fun or relaxing, what they’re definitely good at is increasing the flow of bullshit into children’s heads.

Well at least that way the children will feel at home in the world.

Because we, the adults, don’t just gleefully pull the wool over our own eyes – we knit permanent blindfolds. We’ve decided we hate facts. Hate, hate, hate them. Everywhere you look, we’re down on our knees, gleefully lapping up neckful after neckful of steaming, cloddish bullshit in all its forms. From crackpot conspiracy theories to fairytale nutritional advice, from alternative medicine to energy yawns – we just can’t get enough of that musky, mudlike taste.

Well, you see, that musky, mudlike taste is essential for keeping our chakras aligned with our chi so that our cosmic energy crystals will be attuned to the feng shui of our irreducible complexity. It all makes sense if you just join the dots.

Episcopal fluff

Apr 14th, 2008 12:22 pm | By

The Bishop of Oxford seems to be in an irritable mood.

For a Christian it is always too early to give a final verdict, for only at the end of time will all be known, or as Tony Blair put it, it must be “left to God’s judgment”. It is strange how this standard piece of Christian orthodoxy should arouse such ire amongst the cultured despisers of religion just because it came from a Christian prime minister. They should have been worried if it hadn’t.

No it isn’t. It isn’t strange at all. It’s the taking it for granted that is strange. We know it’s a standard piece of Christian orthodoxy, of course, but that’s just it – it’s a standard piece of Christian orthodoxy and it’s a fairy tale. Our ire is aroused when people take for granted that an invented person-like yet mysterious agent will ‘at the end of time’ deliver a judgment on Tony Blair’s decisions. The bishop probably wouldn’t find it strange if people got irritated because Blair said his decisions must be ‘left to Harry Potter’s judgment’ at the end of time, but Christian orthodoxy is supposed to transform fantasy into the unremarkable. Well it doesn’t.

Yes, I prefer to rely on reason rather than eternity, if that is how you insist on putting it…But this is not all the mind does. When you and I read art critics we are looking for more than an ability to argue rationally. We want discernment and discrimination. If you like, we want sensibility as well as sense. This involves the mind to the full but not the mind alone. It is the same when we are thinking about moral or spiritual matters: the whole person is involved.

But what does that have to do with theism? (It is atheism that Harries is railing against.) Nothing, as he goes on to admit himself. But then what, exactly, is his quarrel with what he so elegantly calls ‘the attack dogs of the new atheism’? It’s hard to say. They think moral progress is possible. Harries prefers John Gray. Hmm.

Free at last, free at last

Apr 12th, 2008 11:26 am | By

Oh so that’s how you combat violence against women – by volunteering to wear a hijab.

The purpose of Scarves for Solidarity is to help save battered women while spreading awareness about Islam. The Muslim Student Association is working with sponsors who plan to donate $5 to Battered Women’s Shelter for every female who volunteers to wear a head-scarf/hijab on Monday, April 7th 2007.

That helps ‘save’ battered women because…because…because the hijab broadcasts the message that women need to be concealed. No. Because it conveys the message that women are a distraction to men and therefore have to be muffled from head to foot so that men can get on with their work. No. Because it shows that women are submissive to a male god and a male prophet and a lot of male clerics. No. Because it shows that women obey stupid rules that keep them in their place. No. Because – I give up.

Head-scarves will be available (FOR FREE) at the Union lobby between 12 pm and 3 pm throughout the week of Monday, March 31st. All that is required from you is to wear the scarf provided for you from 10am until 7:30 pm on April 7th. The scarves will all be the same color so that you can recognize other women volunteering to save battered women.

Oh is that all! All that is required from you is to wear a stifling piece of cloth wrapped tightly around your head and face and chin for nine and a half hours – a mere trifle!

There isn’t a set way to wear hijab. You can be as creative as you want as long as your body is covered (except your face and hands) with material that is long, loose, and not transparent.

Oh thank you. Thank you thank you thank you – you are so kind, so generous, so liberal, so relaxed. I can be as creative as I want provided every bit of me except my face and hands is covered with long loose opaque material. Why, my creative little mind is already buzzing with plans to embroider birdies and seashells and feathers on my robes.

They’re so sweet, they even provide an illustration of how it’s done. You pin the fabric at your chin, then you pin it again at the top of your head, and bob’s your uncle, there you are, with your whole head all nicely wrapped up like a corpse. Don’t you feel wonderful? That’s the way to combat violence against women! Well done Stony Brook Muslim Students Association.

Religious reasons

Apr 10th, 2008 11:29 am | By

This is insane. That camp of horrors in Texas –

The sect’s lawyers had sought to limit a search but have agreed temple records can be scrutinised under supervision. A representative of the sect will be appointed to vet documents, computer files and family Bibles for records that should not be used as evidence for legal or religious reasons, the Associated Press reports.

A representative of this pack of male lunatics that imprisons women and children and forces them to act as baby-factories will be appointed to decide what documents and files should not be used as evidence for religious reasons? What ‘religious’ reasons? They have god’s signatures on them? They might include god’s password? ‘Religious’ reasons are the problem here, so how can they be given veto power over what can be used as evidence?

I’ve said it before – the free exercise clause has a lot to answer for.

In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god

Apr 9th, 2008 5:58 pm | By

Why the human brain evolved. So that it could dream up pastimes like this:

A radical rabbi once linked to a plot to fire a missile at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, is hiding in Canada, Israeli police said Monday, announcing that he is wanted for his alleged role in a series of ghastly abuses of his followers’ children…[H]e has been described as the “spiritual mentor” of a group involved in the systematic abuse of children, allegedly using his status as a rabbi to convince a mother of eight that her children’s shortcomings could be beaten and burned out of them…Two of the eight children, aged 4 and 5, were hospitalized in serious condition two weeks ago after Mr. Chen allegedly ordered two of his followers to, among other acts, hit the children with hammers and light their fingers on fire, as a way of “correcting” their behaviour…The mother is alleged to have locked her two youngest children in a suitcase for three days, letting them out for only brief periods during that time. She also allegedly shook and beat them, burned their hands with a lighter and a heater, made them take freezing showers and forced them to eat their own feces. The goal, according to police, was to beat “devils” out of the children…The mother and the other two “educators” are also suspected of pouring salt on the burn wounds, gagging the children with a skullcap, and forcing them to drink alcohol until they vomited…Police searched Mr. Chen’s apartment on Thursday, and discovered journals documenting the violence…The notebooks describe how to prepare special drinks for the children, made of alcohol, salt, pepper and turpentine. The children were forced to drink the liquids until they vomited. “You see, they vomit the Satan inside them,” a letter tells the mother. The notebooks also detail how to beat the children with batons and then pour alcohol on their wounds, describing in exact detail how much time to leave the burning liquid on the body of the sufferer.

Makes you proud of the species, doesn’t it?