In their own words

I have seen tweets over the last few months from people vowing never to read FreethoughtBlogs because they heard that FreethoughtBlogs is purported to condone groupthink, and comments in response to various blog posts about FTB that seem to suggest PZ or others at FTB promote the silencing of dissent, or that they condone bullying or threats of banning toward dissenters, or that they believe that commenters would be unsafe because they feature this or that writer on the network. I think this misinformation results from irresponsible messaging coming from a small number of prominent and well-meaning skeptics who, in trying to help correct real problems of divisiveness in skepticism, actually and rather clumsily themselves help create a climate where bloggers — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unread, and I find that unfortunate.

People who read FreethoughtBlogs do not feel silenced or unwelcome, and that bears mentioning at least somewhere in all of these posts about supposed rampant groupthought and unnamed lists of certain bloggers “bullying” dissenting commenters, and the like. So much of that feels to me more like trolling and distasteful chat room banter, often pretty mean-spirited, especially when it is from just one or a few skeptics recounting disagreements they’ve had with writers who are eventually deemed as “controversialist,” and whom they feel should be not allowed to write for such blog networks going forward.

(Relevant source material)


[Trigger warnings: rape, misogyny, terrible people]

You may be aware of the Rationalia affair, where poster and admin “Pappa” wondered:

Would it be immoral to rape a Skepchick?

Post by Pappa » Fri Jul 20, 2012 8:46 am

Not for sexual gratification or power or anything like that, just because they’re so annoying.

I’m really torn on this one. :dunno:

Given the recent climate, this post isn’t all that surprising. Rape “jokes” that don’t follow any kind of typical joke structure and aren’t funny? Check. Treating outspoken women (and Skepchicks in particular) like something less than human1? Check. People coming out of the woodwork to claim this is “out of context” and how dare the #FTBullies publicize this one post and demonize a whole group for condoning this sort of thing from a leader in their community, while remaining strangely silent on the actual thread? Check.

The one thing that weirds me out about the whole thing is a set of comments by Pappa’s supporters in the Pharyngula comment thread. Here are a couple by poster “comeatmebro,” which illustrate the thing I don’t understand. Comeatmebro says that Rationalia is a “close-knit…community,” and that Pappa is a “nice person,” that this statement was in bad taste but “is not characteristic of Pappa.” He cited much of this as reasons why more people on the Rationalia forums haven’t condemned Pappa’s comments.

And I just don’t get it. See, if one of my friends were going to say something as stupid, offensive, vile, hateful, and misogynist as what Pappa decided to post on a public forum, I would be the first in line to slap them upside the head (figuratively) and say “not cool, bro.” See, that’s what friends do. Being someone’s friend gives you the benefit of their company and association. It means they care what you have to say, they care about your opinions and what you think. But that also comes with a responsibility, the responsibility that belongs to all good friends, the responsibility of honesty. Friendship means looking out for each other, but that’s not just “if you ever get in a barfight, I’ve got your back” or “if you’re down on your luck, I’ll help you out,” or “if you ever lose your teeth when you’re out to dine, borrow mine.” It means that you’re there to protect them, even from their own mistakes, and help them, even if it’s to overcome their own faults. Being a good friend means being willing to pull your friends up short and tell them when they’re being an asshat.

You do this, in part, because you care about your friend, and you don’t want to see them hurting themselves or others. You do this, in part, because you know that a strong friendship is unlikely to break over one disagreement. You do this, in part, because you know they’ll listen to you more than others. You do this, in part, because you want the people you associate with to reflect well on you.

And when you shirk that responsibility, when you let your friend continue using homeopathy instead of real medicine/dating her obviously abusive boyfriend/making bad rape jokes on the Internet, eventually your friend is (hopefully) going to realize their mistake, and then they’ll ask you that question: why didn’t you tell me sooner? Why didn’t you warn them ahead of time that they were making a mistake? Why didn’t you tell them how they looked to everyone else? Why didn’t you say what no one else was brave enough to say to their face?

The answer is always the same: because you were being a bad friend.

Rationalia, your friend Pappa has a problem. His problem is that he thinks he’s joking. He thinks he can make comments about raping people and laugh it off as a joke. He thinks “annoying” may be a crime punishable with rape. He thinks it’s okay to double-down on this stuff and throw around ableist slurs. He’s shown that he doesn’t care how all this reflects on himself, or on all of you. Some of you are Pappa’s friend. It’s your responsibility to tell him what an ass he’s being, and how harmful it is. Harmful to himself, because you know2 that he doesn’t actually condone rape. Harmful to you, because your community’s silence looks like assent. Harmful to the culture at large, because this kind of speech going unchallenged acts as a cover for those who do think some people deserve rape, who do think rape’s a laughing matter, a trifle, a joke. You are shirking your responsibility. You are being bad friends.

Either you need to start being better friends to Pappa and save him from himself, or you need to stop being friends with Pappa, and save yourselves from him.

1. I think Pappa’s post implies that there are people–less annoying people, obviously–that it would be immoral to rape. I honestly can’t wrap my head around it.

2. You don’t know this. Sadly, rape is very common, and thus rapists are a lot more common than we think. And since most rapes are committed by friends, dates, or acquaintances, it’s fair to suppose that most rapists are generally thought to be “nice people.”

A Play in One Act

I posted this at Lousy Canuck, in response to the most recent entry in the harassment tragicomedy of errors, which only gets worse the more you learn. But because I’m easily impressed with my own cleverness, I decided to make it a blog post here, too. For posterity.

I like the logic of “damned if they do, damned if they don’t.” Imagine, if you will, the JREFstaurant.

MAITRE D’J: Welcome, sir, to the JREFstaurant.

PATRON: Thanks, I read some reviews and–

MAITRE D’J: Anything bad you’ve heard about our food is clearly the fault of some well-meaning food critics who are engaged in some distasteful cafeteria banter after they willingly ate their food and thought the price was too “steep.”

PATRON: What I read was actually pretty positive, except–

MAITRE D’J: Controversialist food bloggers, looking for better circulation! There has never been a report of food poisoning at the JREFstaurant!

PATRON 2: Wait a minute, I got food poisoning here last week! You helped me to the bathroom!

MAITRE D’J: I thought you just had the stomach flu. You didn’t think it was important at the time to say it was food poisoning.

PATRON: Didn’t I hear about a food poisoning case here a couple of months ago? They even made documented reports.

MAITRE D’J: Your table’s over there. I’m going into the back now, and you won’t see me for the rest of your meal.

[PATRON sits and reads the menu. WAITER enters to serve them]

WAITER: What would you like to order, sir?

PATRON: Actually, your menu doesn’t seem to have any food information on it. Just this long welcome note.

WAITER: I assure you, we have nineteen specially-prepared chefs in back to take care of your order.

PATRON: Yes, but if there’s no food on the menu, how do I know what to order?

WAITER: Putting food options on the menu might be a serious waste of time! Do you have any evidence that putting food options on the menu makes people more likely to order something?

PATRON: But all other restaurants do it.

WAITER: See, that’s just an argument from popularity. Surely you expect the JREFstaurant to have higher standards. Besides, what if we put these food options on the menu, and someone wants an item that’s slightly different? Or worse, what if they ordered the wrong thing?

PATRON: That doesn’t seem like it’s much of a problem.

WAITER: You’re just some kind of foodinazi! I mean, I’m not saying you’re a Nazi, but you know who puts food options on menus? Nazis.

PATRON: Okay…can I get a sandwich?

WAITER: Fine, I guess.

[WAITER leaves, and returns a few minutes later with a sandwich on a platter.]

WAITER: Your sandwich. Happy?

PATRON: Wait, what is this? Why does it smell so bad? [Picks up one of the bread slices] Is this what I think it is?

WAITER: It’s a sandwich, just like you ordered.

PATRON: It’s shit!

WAITER: What foul language!

PATRON: No, this is a shit sandwich. It’s dung on toast!

WAITER: Look, you ordered a sandwich. I gave you a sandwich. It’s got stuff between two slices of bread, therefore, a sandwich.

PATRON: But it’s a shit sandwich.

WAITER: Jeez, there’s just no pleasing you people!


Nothing of Consequence

Rant mode activated. You’ve been warned.

So, I got into another Twitter kerfuffle, this time with a blogger from Skeptic North. This, of course, hot on the heels of some moderately heated exchanges in Jen’s comment thread. I don’t know what it is with me and these Canadian skeptics, man. I mean, I love Degrassi and hockey and bacon.

But I don’t love the current popular trend among some skeptics to blame atheism for diverting resources, energy, and attention away from other skeptical causes. I don’t love the current efforts by some skeptics to hide or silence atheists because they see them as some threat to recruiting theists. The circular firing squad is getting fucking old.

Some additional highlights of the evening:

As usual, my side of the argument can be seen here. Just scroll down and keep clicking. You know, I hate threaded comments on blogs, but I sure wish Twitter had a feature that let you slot comments in a conversation with each other, so you could actually follow what was being said. But then, that would also require a system that didn’t drop every third tweet on its way to my feed. Eventually, I will learn that Twitter is not the proper medium for this kind of asinine argument, but not yet, apparently. Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: yes, I was most certainly being hostile, antagonistic, snarky, sarcastic, and borderline insulting right off the bat. Maybe it’s because I’m writing this rant directly after the argument, but I don’t even feel bad about my tone, the way I sometimes have in the past. “He started it” is a poor excuse for anything, but I think the condescending, ‘get out of my way’ post which kicked everything off, set that tone. Believe me, I’ve been bored with the religion fight too. There are times when I’ve felt exactly the same as Mr. Thoms, that anything worth saying about religion had already been said–most of the time, centuries ago. That’s one of the reasons that this blog has gone through such long dry spells in the past, and I know folks like Don and Bronze Dog and Skeptico have felt the same at various times. On the other hand, I suspect they’d all agree that we’ve all felt the same about most of the typical skeptical topics from time to time. For me, there are four loose categories of skeptical topics: those I don’t care about, those I care about enough to talk about, those I care about but am sick of talking about, and those I don’t know enough about to talk knowledgeably. I suspect that any skeptic would have a similar breakdown. We have our areas of interest, our areas of expertise, and hopefully we largely stick to talking about the places where those two overlap. And yet, I’ve never really felt the need to tweet about how the anti-dowsing crowd is getting in the way of my anti-antivax activism. It all goes back to that philosophy I keep espousing regarding skepticism: do what you want, just stop telling me what to do. Different people have different interests, different goals, different priorities, and so forth. Let ’em. So, let me lay down a few things that I haven’t expressed before, because I don’t generally care that much (but they make for a good example):

  • I think skeptics in the United States generally spend way too much time and effort on homeopathy. It’s not ubiquitous here the way it is in Europe, and I’ve found that in order to argue against homeopathic remedies with Americans, I first have to explain what they are. That doesn’t mean they’re not a problem; the Zicam scandal and Airborne lawsuit showed that they certainly are. But I think the attention they receive on this side of the pond is disproportionate to the danger they actually pose, largely because there’s such a large contingent of skeptics from Europe and Australia, where the stuff is endemic.
  • I think skeptics, and particularly James Randi, spend way too damn much time on dowsing, relative to the prominence and harm actually caused by dowsing. Those useless bomb detectors certainly were a big deal, and it’s good that skeptics worked against them. But before that, I don’t think I’ve ever seen dowsing in the news outside of the occasional local story about some hick who thinks he can find water or oil or gold with a stick. I know there’s some annoyance on the JREF side of things too, since ‘the dowser who is convinced of their ability’ was the particular example given of wasted effort when they changed the parameters of the Million Dollar Challenge a few years ago to focus it on more prominent figures.
  • I think we could be doing a lot more to promote vaccination, especially since we have the CDC and other major organizations on our side. The groups involved in promoting vaccines are dedicated and good at what they do, but I think we could focus more effort and time on that.
  • I think we’re way too resigned to the glut of woo-woo programming on television, and particularly on channels that should have higher standards, like Discovery and History. The Skepchicks recently spearheaded an (apparently somewhat) successful campaign to keep an antivax ad from running in movie theaters around the country; it seems like we ought to be able to exert similar pressures against garbage like Ghost Lab or any History Channel show that consults Fred Zugibe or John Hogue as credible sources. Some prominent television figures, like, say, Adam Savage, speaking out against some of the televised paranormal dreck in public would probably help raise a little consciousness and exert a little force in that regard.
  • I think we ought to be doing more against Chiropractic. Like, period. I have a hard time believing that the ubiquitous back-cracking which people generally think is real medicine is more powerful in Great Britain (where the whole Simon Singh flap has been going down) than here.

Those are all things I think about the priorities of (at least) the American skeptical community, as I see them. But here’s the rub: I don’t begrudge anyone for sorting their priorities differently. I don’t claim that the 10^23 movement is taking money and resources away from the fight against shit like “Ghost Lab.” I don’t say that because it’s fucking absurd. There is certainly a largely common pool of people with a largely common pool of money to be had for all of these groups and causes, but people are going to associate with and support the causes they prioritize most highly. You want to change people’s priorities? You want to get a bigger piece of the skeptical community pie? I’ll give you two hints: one, you’re not going to get there by alienating existing allies, and two, you’re not going to get it by complaining about how everyone else’s slice is bigger than yours. This is a marketplace of ideas. If you want more people to buy into your idea more strongly, then you need to be a better marketer. I offered Mr. Thoms some suggestions as to how he might go about doing that, but he didn’t seem receptive. Because, after all, I’m an angry atheist, and my presence alone, what with my desire to be out and open about my atheism, and my penchant for criticizing religious believers, is driving potential theist supporters away in droves.

Let me break down some of the problems with that notion, shall I?

  • I’d be less angry if I weren’t constantly dealing with patronizing skeptics who want me to stay in the goddamn closet.
  • Where are these droves of theist skeptics who would have joined up if not for those danged pesky atheists? Can we substantiate that they even exist in large enough numbers for us to really care?
  • A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. It seems like shortsightedness to alienate people who already mostly agree with you because you don’t like how in-your-face they are with their religious (non)beliefs, in hopes of catching more supporters who may or may not exist.
  • I think just the idea that–“if atheist skeptics would only keep quiet about their atheism we’d have more theist skeptics”–is profoundly condescending to the theists. It isn’t just that it looks from the outside like you’re trying to hide an uncomfortable truth (skepticism might gasp lead you to atheism!), it’s also that it sets theism apart from all other non-skeptical beliefs. We don’t caution liberal skeptics to keep their mouths shut about social security and medicare lest they scare away the libertarians (or vice versa). We don’t tell the skeptics who accept Anthropogenic Global Warming to stay quiet about hockey sticks and climate forcing, for fear of alienating potential skeptics from the anti-AGW camp. We don’t tell anti-GMO skeptics to lay off of potential pro-GMO allies. I’ve never seen skeptics who love the Cubs told to put their hats away to avoid offending Cardinals fans who happen to agree that vaccines are super. In all of these cases–and many others–skeptics disagree, often vehemently. Heated discussions often rage around these topics on message boards and in blog comment threads. Skeptics argue with each other, questioning their assumptions, pointing out flaws in their logic, and generally secure in the rightness of their own position (but, one would hope, open to changing their mind, given sufficient reason and/or evidence). I think it’s coddling to give theist skeptics a pass on their theism when we would not hesitate to skewer them mercilessly on their objectivism (for instance). If they can’t handle having their beliefs questioned and defending their claims against challenges and pointed questions, then they’ve joined the wrong community.

And here’s a bombshell: I think it’s possible for someone to be a skeptic and a theist. I don’t necessarily even think they’re being a bad skeptic, depending on what their theist-position is like. I fully admit that I could be wrong and other people could have evidence to which I am not privy. Of course, those are the theists I’d be most interested in, since I’d like to know what their evidence is, but that’s kind of beside the point. I don’t actually have a problem with the idea that applying skepticism can lead different people to different conclusions regarding the same question. I think they’re wrong, and if it came up, I’d ask them what led them to their conclusion. And if asked the same, I’d answer. Because that’s the kind of dialogue and discourse that I expect from a community of doubters, questioners, and scientists. If a theist agrees with me on vaccinations and Bigfoot and UFOs and 9/11 and every other skeptical topic, but can’t handle being associated with me because we disagree on the matter of the existence of God, or because they resent the fact that I think they’re as wrong about God as Bill Maher is about medicine, then fuck them. What good is such wishy-washy, fairweather support? Skepticism is a way of thinking; anyone can do it. Consequently, the skeptical community is a diverse damn group, and I should think it’s as disgusting, dishonest, and disrespectful to tell an atheist to remain closeted so they don’t offend potential theist allies as it would be to tell gay skeptics to stay in the closet in case there are homophobes who think acupuncture is nuts. Now, there’s one last point I need to address, and that’s the matter of atheists being aggressive, taking it to the streets, being in-your-face, and, as a side-effect, causing theists to not support skeptical causes or join skeptical organizations. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that anyone who makes that argument is missing the goddamn point, and is likely so self-absorbed with their own goals and priorities that they simply can’t conceive of the possibility that other people might be individuals. The movement toward atheist activism and visibility and openness is almost completely orthogonal to the movement to increase support for skeptical causes. The only real relations are that atheists tend to be scientific, and skepticism tends to lead toward atheism. But the goals are almost completely separate. The specific goals of things like the Atheist Bus Ad campaign or the Coalition of Reason’s billboards or the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s ads, are (as I understand them):

  • To destigmatize atheism
  • To debunk myths about atheism and atheists
  • To make people who are already atheists more comfortable about coming out
  • To make people who are atheists realize that they aren’t the only ones around
  • To raise consciousness about the privileged position which religion has in our society
  • To increase the acceptability of criticizing religious dogma and religious claims

If you think “embarrassing religions” is a primary or even secondary goal of the “There is probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” bus ads, then I think it’s safe to say you’re missing the goddamn point. You and the point are not even on the same brane. If you think that “increasing support for skeptical causes” is a major goal of such ads and campaigns, then again, you are missing the goddamn point. When atheists can generally feel comfortable about being out and open about who they are and what they believe, without fear of reprisal and repercussion from coworkers, employers, families, friends, and communities, then we can start talking about who gets hurt when atheists come out of the closet. Until then, suggesting that an ad which says “Yes Virginia, there is no God” is even in the same league as “guns,” and is “aggressive” is colossal asshattery. When atheists start doing shit like this? Then you can talk about “aggressive.”

So in the end, no, Mr. Thoms, I don’t give a flying fuck how aggressive or in-anyone’s-face you are as an atheist. What I give a fuck about is people telling me what a horrible person/skeptic I am for driving away allies who I’ve never seen. What I give a fuck about is being stereotyped by skeptics with the same asinine brushes used by fundamentalists. What I give a fuck about is hegemonic assholes who think that their way is the only way, and “take issue” with groups and organizations that see things differently, and criticize groups who are achieving their goals because they aren’t helping him achieve his. What I give a fuck about is people who are willing to complain about their lack of support, but not enough to see that if they want to compete, they need to change the fucking message. What I give a fuck about is treating people with openness and honesty, whether or not they believe in God. It seems to work all right for my theist friends and associates. Strange how I haven’t driven them away.

Sarah Palin is Fucking Retarded

I’ve mentioned before that when I was a kid, riding in the car with my parents, they were almost always listening to talk radio. And talk radio, as you probably know, is almost always conservative. My dad listened to Rush Limbaugh, which didn’t leave much of an impression on me (I remember the theme song and some parodies, and a bit about how left-handed people were breastfed too much, which I later realized must have actually been about left-wingers). I rode with my mom more frequently, so I remember more of the frequent shows. One, the only one I ever actually enjoyed, was Dr. Dean Edell’s show. He’s an actual medical doctor who talks straight and gives good advice and is generally awesome. The other was Dr. Laura Schlessinger.

I listened to a lot of Dr. Laura as a kid. I remember all of the “I am my kid’s mom/dad” calls; I remember all her advice that sometimes seemed reasonable and spot-on and other times seemed ridiculous and reality-challenged. I know that she’s a doctor of physiology, not anything relevant to giving advice, she’s not much of a fan of “shacking up” or divorce (some irony there) or gay people, she generally sides against men (unless she thinks the woman in a situation is somehow impure) and that she’s generally pretty prudish and puritanical for someone who has some topless pictures floating around. Finding the letter to Dr. Laura that circulated around the Internet several years back and was adapted into a West Wing scene was a major step in getting over my homophobia (and, frankly, my religion, since prior to that my main use for the Bible was condemning homosexuality).

So, when Dr. Laura had her latest bigoted flame-out recently, I can’t say I was either surprised or disappointed. In fact, the only potentially surprising thing is that this particular instance was racism instead of homophobia.

For those who have somehow avoided the latest non-story in the news cycle, here’s the scoop: On August 10th, Schlessinger took a call from a black woman named Jade who was offended by racially insensitive comments made by her white husband’s family, which her husband remained silent about. Here’s the full call:
So, Schlessinger’s immediate reaction was to suggest that Jade was just being hypersensitive, so she asked for an example. The caller said they had a neighbor who comes over and says things like “how do you black people like doin’ this” and so forth. Schlessinger immediately says that she doesn’t think such comments are racist.

Let me pause here and suggest that “you people” is probably the most bigotry-infused phrase in the English language. It suggests that the person you’re talking to is not an individual, but a member of some larger collective who are all the same–as the rest of this neighbor’s relayed comment suggests he thinks. “You black people” don’t all like the same things or do things the same way, because they’re individuals. The whole edifice of bigotry is built on treating people like they’re not individual people.

Schlessinger continues, suggesting that a lot of black people voted for Barack Obama just because he was half-black, not because of his politics (Dear Dr. Laura: without contradicting yourself, please explain how Obama defeated Alan Keyes in his 2004 Senate race). “It was a black thing. You gotta know that. That’s not a surprise.” She then proceeded to make a “white men can’t jump” joke regarding her black bodyguard, and the caller asked “what about the n-word?” Schlessinger then says that “black guys use the word all the time.” And then Schlessinger, who is not a black guy, says it three times. She trots out the usual racist faux-confusion regarding the word: “I don’t get it. If anybody without enough melanin says it, it’s a horrible thing; but when black people say it, it’s affectionate. It’s very confusing.”

No, it’s not very confusing. The “n-word” has a lot of baggage, because for so long it was used by white people to disparage black people. It’s a symbol of black oppression. The movement among blacks to use the word themselves has been a reclaiming of that symbol, a way of demonstrating that the word doesn’t have the power to keep them down, that they can rob it of its oppressive connotations. But we are not yet to the point where a white person can throw it around without invoking those negative connotations. White people still have a privileged position, and racism–institutional, personal, casual, and political–still affects blacks. When that’s no longer the case, maybe the term will become harmless enough that white people can just throw it around.

Moreover, that some black people use the word does not suggest that all black people are comfortable with the word being used. Making that assumption is, once again, seeing black people as some kind of hive mind where they all think the same because they all have similar amounts of melanin in their skin. Which is racism.

After a commercial break, Schlessinger continues talking over Jade in order to trot out her false equivalency canard, complain about how racism should be over because we elected a black guy, and to accuse Jade of having a chip on her shoulder. After saying the n-word four more times, she then complains that she can’t finish a sentence, something she’s failed to allow her caller to do repeatedly–note that she hasn’t addressed the original fucking question yet at all, she’s just used the caller as a springboard to complain about how black people can’t just sit down and shut up and be happy that they got one of their own into the White House.

Ah, yes, Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous dream. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where a black guy is President, and that’ll be enough.”

Schlessinger then tells Jade not to take her out of context, not to “NAACP” her (whatever the fuck that means), and hangs up. She then says “if you’re that hypersensitive about color and don’t have a sense of humor, don’t marry out of your race.”

She then goes off on how, if you belong to a minority, people are going to ask you what that minority thinks about things. Being a woman who converted to Judaism, I would think that Schlessinger would have some kind of handle on the problem with that kind of thinking, but about the closest she comes to understanding it is “Of course there isn’t a one-think per se. But in general there’s ‘think.'” Okay, perhaps that’s true with, say, a religion, which has doctrines and dogmas that everyone is supposed to believe–not all Catholics will share the same position on any given issue, but there may indeed be an “official Catholic position” on that issue–but it’s not even slightly true when you’re talking about race or gender or other inborn traits. There is no black dogma. There is no doctrine of womanhood. There is no reason to expect that all, or even a majority, of people in non-religious minorities will think the same thing about any topic. And the assumption that they would is bigotry.

Schlessinger proceeds to say the n-word four more times, then attempts to excuse it by saying that it’s okay because she didn’t call anyone that. She was just using the word as a word, nothing wrong with that at all. I can think of a particular k-word and c-word that I might throw around, and I’m sure someone like Laura Schlessinger would have absolutely no problem with that.

Her rant meanders on into conspiracy mongering and more complaining about how Obama’s election should mean that all black people need to shut up about racism, not in so many words.

So, Schlessinger took a bunch of flak for her remarks and gave a typical notpology the next day. As they did in 2000 after her homophobic screeds, some people suggested boycotting her sponsors, and specifically called for the sponsors to demonstrate whether or not they endorsed her statements. At least one, General Motors, dropped her show in the aftermath. Schlessinger then announced on Larry King’s show a few days later that she was going to quit radio. Her reason?

SCHLESSINGER: The reason is: I want to regain my First Amendment rights. I want to be able to say what’s on my mind, and in my heart, what I think is helpful and useful without somebody getting angry, some special interest group deciding this is a time to silence a voice of dissent, and attack affiliates and attack sponsors.


SCHLESSINGER: You know, when I started in radio, if you said something somebody didn’t agree with and they didn’t like, they argued with you. Now, they try to silence you. They try to wipe out your ability to earn a living and to have your job. They go after affiliates. They send threats to sponsors.

KING: That’s their right, too.

SCHLESSINGER: Yes, but I don’t hatch the right to say what I need to say. My First Amendment rights have been usurped by angry, hateful groups who don’t want to debate. They want to eliminate.

Ah, yes, her First Amendment rights have been violated, so she’s going to quit. I’m a big fan of the First Amendment, and that’s why I know what it says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Also, certain people are entitled to a national radio talk show, and the people have no right to hold those people accountable for their speech.” Those Founding Fathers, always looking ahead.

The First Amendment is pretty damn clear on how it applies. It’s very straightforward, and yet conservatives in particular seem to have a lot of trouble understanding what it means. It says that government isn’t allowed to make laws impinging on free speech. Nowhere in this debacle has government done anything. Schlessinger’s rights remain intact. What she wants, and what she can’t have, is for her speech rights to trump other people’s speech rights. She wants to be able to speak without consequence, but the beautiful brilliance of the First Amendment is that it guarantees everyone the same right to speak freely. Moreover, it gives everyone the right to assemble and speak freely, including speaking to the sponsors of radio talk shows. Schlessinger is entitled to speak her mind; what she is not entitled to is a platform from which to do that. She has that platform only so long as her sponsors continue paying for it. If the sponsors decide that she’s no longer profitable, whether it’s because she’s become irrelevant or because her association with them is bad PR, then it’s well within their right to stop giving her money. And the sponsors wouldn’t know she was bad PR if the public wasn’t relating their bad feelings to them.

So, what Schlessinger really has a problem with is free speech, free assembly, and the free market. Why do conservatives hate our freedoms?

But honestly, I never would have commented on this idiocy if noted Constitutional scholar Sarah Palin hadn’t chimed in:
I tried reading her Facebook essay, but I just couldn't do it.
Volumes could be written about the insensitive idiocy it’d take to use the words “reload” and “shackles” in the context of white-on-black racism. But I’m going to ignore that to hit on the Constitutional point. Activists trying to hold Schlessinger responsible for what she says are not “Constitutional obstructionists,” and at no point in this did Schlessinger’s First Amendment rights cease “2exist.” In fact, given how much exposure she’s had because of this, she’s been able to exercise those rights more often and to a wider audience than she has in about a decade.

Keep in mind that this woman was the Governor of a state for a short time, and was fairly close to being Vice President of the United States. And she doesn’t understand the most basic points of the First Amendment.

But the real irony is in her obvious hypocrisy. After a tiff with David Letterman over some jokes that she found “offensive” and “contribut[ing] to some of the problems we have in society,” she took umbrage with Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. See, Rahm called the plans of a group of liberals “fucking retarded,” and Palin’s youngest son has Down Syndrome. She said that Emanuel’s remarks were “unacceptable” and “heartbreaking” and called for the President to “eliminate” him (presumably by firing, and not firing squad). In fact, in the full quote, Palin even draws a parallel to another kind of situation that we would find appalling:

Just as we’d be appalled if any public figure of Rahm’s stature ever used the “N-word” or other such inappropriate language, Rahm’s slur on all God’s children with cognitive and developmental disabilities – and the people who love them – is unacceptable, and it’s heartbreaking.

Yes, surely if a public figure as famous as a one-time Illinois Congressman and White House Chief of Staff, someone with the combined fame of Danny Davis and Evelyn Lieberman, used the “N-word,” we would all be terribly appalled! Why, we’d probably even ask for them to be fired!

Or not. Instead we’d defend them, call them “powerful” and “effective,” and chastize those who criticize them and call for their termination. Clearly, former Governor Palin’s views have changed on the subject, and that’s understandable. We all change our minds now and again. So I’m sure, Mrs. Palin being a person of consistent, steadfast values, that she would have no problem with people throwing around those terms which she once found “appalling.”

So throw off the shackles, America, and show just how powerful and effective you are in defying the Constitutional obstructionists in our mollycoddled society. Say it loud and proud, knowing that the former Governor of Alaska supports your Constitutionally-secured right to say that Sarah Palin is fucking retarded!

Oh for the love of Pete, America.

Dear America (or at least the American Newsmedia),

Can you please stop acting like a particularly brain-damaged hyperactive dog?

Seriously, there are real things happening in the world. There are real concerns that deserve to be reported. A sizable portion of Pakistan is underwater. Russia has been on fire for weeks, and now in addition to facing concerns about nuclear plant safety and radioactive material left over from Chernobyl, they’re also facing major storms. Whooping cough is making a resurgence in the United States, and has killed several people already. The Taliban recently stoned a couple to death for adultery. Google and Verizon are working on a deal that may have serious implications for net neutrality. The ban on gay marriage was overturned in California.

But the American newsmedia doesn’t seem to care about those kinds of things, because some Muslims want to build a community center in the same general neighborhood where some other Muslims knocked down a couple of buildings nine years ago. This non-story results from the usual set of demagogues, fearmongers, and asshats, pissing and moaning that some non-Christians would dare have the sheer unadulterated chutzpah to think they could exercise their First Amendment rights and legally purchase a real estate property for private use! I guess it’s because they’re doing it in within a three-block radius of where something particularly nasty happened due to people of the same general religious faith almost a decade ago. It’s the same reason that those same people go into a tizzy whenever a Christian church opens up within a few blocks of an abortion clinic, or when a Japanese restaurant opens in Hawai’i.

Oh, they don’t? But wouldn’t that make them terrible hypocrites?


Seriously, America. You’re outraged over a couple of liberal Muslim immigrants from allied nations (one-half of the couple behind the community center is from Kuwait. You know, the country we protected from Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War) building the Muslim equivalent of a YMCA (called “Park51”) in the general vicinity of the Twin Towers. People are saying it’s “in bad taste.” And yet, you seem to be just fine with the strip club, Off-Track Betting place, and Hookah Bar in the same radius. Are you telling me that the strip club is in good taste? That Off-Track Betting is in good taste? That tobacco hasn’t killed large numbers of New Yorkers in the recent past? You’re being stupid, America.

There are so many ways in which this attitude is wrong that I scarcely know where to begin. Let’s start with that popular conservative meme that New Yorkers are out-of-touch elitists, not “real Americans,” an idea that, just a few short weeks ago, was exemplified in the confirmation hearings over Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan. It’s nice to see the same people who use “New York” as a slur care so much about real estate dealings in lower Manhattan. Perhaps those people would like to purchase or lease some of the empty buildings in the area, to improve the local economy and contribute something to the area. You know, the way the Park51 folks are.

There’s the matter of Islam, which is a pretty diverse religion. Even some skeptics and atheists are falling into this little trap, in part because we tend to be an American or European bunch, and are not as familiar with Islam as we are with Christianity. Yes, sure, the couple behind Park51 believe in the same religion with the same holy book and the same basic tenets as the people who crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. But keeping them from opening this place because of the actions of some of their fellow Muslims is like barring Fred Clark and John Loftus from opening up a YMCA near the Centennial Olympic Park. Blaming and discriminating against individual Muslims because of something that different individual Muslims did, because they share a religion (even if their actual beliefs are very dissimilar) is plain old bigotry. It’s no more valid than the idiots who try to tar all atheists with the reputations of Stalin and Pol Pot.

Sure, you could argue that moderate and liberal Muslims legitimize the radicals and conservatives, even if they don’t share the same politics. I make the same argument regarding Christians. That’s a reason to argue forcefully against the beliefs and tenets of Islam, and to not give moderates and liberals a free pass for being less crazy than the radicals; what it’s not is a reason to discriminate against them on the basis of their religion. I’ll argue against Barry Lynn about religion if it’s appropriate, but I’m not going to tell him he can’t open up his own business because some other Christian killed people nearby once. That’s unfair, unreasonable, and un-American.

There are people who see this as a potential rallying point for the same kinds of radical Muslims who conducted the attacks in the first place. I fail to see the relevance. First, I think the radicals would be just as scornful of the westernized liberal folks behind Park51 as they are against the rest of us western infidels–potentially moreso, because they’re defying conservative Islam while still professing to be Muslims. You see the same in Christian circles; liberal Christians and Catholics and so forth are fallen backsliders and false prophets, pretending to preach the faith while actually doing the Devil’s work or overly concerning themselves with “this world.” But let’s say that Osama calls up the next meeting of al-Qaeda and says “Oh, right, a new Muslim community center went up near the place where the Twin Towers fell. So our conquest of the West proceeds apace; next, we’ll be looking into getting Quran verses on the bottom of In-N-Out Burger cups.” Who gives a damn? I would think the bigger victory would be that they blew up the damn World Trade Center, and that we still haven’t fixed it. The victory would be that the people of the Great Satan have revealed their anti-Muslim bias by trying to make Muslims into second-class citizens and loudly proclaiming the infidel Christian basis of their nation and laws and motivations. I hardly think that treating Muslims like everyone else could look bad for us.

I can’t even get behind the idea of a ban as an atheist. Yeah, yeah, I’m generally against religion, and I think worship buildings are a general waste of real estate. I think churches and mosques and temples ought to be taxed unless they can show a clear benefit to society, the same way that other non-profit organizations do. But looking at the actual plans for this building, I think it would easily meet those criteria: it’s a community center dedicated to the arts, classes, and fitness, with a prayer room for Muslims. I wonder if the nearby St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church has so much as a stationary bike, let alone a swimming pool. I’m all for religious buildings that actually serve a secular good–I’d prefer they were secular buildings, but I’ll take what I can get–and Park51 looks like just that kind of place.

And so the news cycle turns on another day of this shit, with reporters bothering the President wondering what he thinks about this terrible example of the free market in action. It’s another reason that I could never be President; while Obama has given a measured response couched in Constitutional terms, my response would be more along the lines of “Jesus H. Christ, don’t you people have better things to worry about?”

And the worst part is that they do. There’s still a whole bunch of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, the job market is still complete shit, a crowd of Juggalos attacked Tila Tequila, and so on and so forth. But the Republicans are constantly trying to keep people hateful and fearful and distracted and outraged–it’s the only way they can get elected, since they don’t actually do anything–and their drummed-up scandals are like shiny things to the infants of the mainstream media. And the Democrats, being as they have evolved beyond the need for a spine, are happy to oblige and try to engage the idiots and the imbeciles in conversation as if they were saying reasonable, important things. Meanwhile, real concerns go unanswered and real news goes unreported. Because Republicans think Americans are stupid, Democrats think that’s a reasonable position even though they disagree, and Americans will obligingly prove the Republicans right.

So America, please stop being idiots. Let’s all take our collective Adderall and focus on real concerns, rather than letting the right-wing hate machine and the left-wing acquiescence machine distract us with shiny things and butterflies. I promise, we’ll all be better for it. You, me, and New Yorkers who like to swim.