Why I Don’t Always Trust Israel

Does Israel resort to war crimes, and then lie about it, to gain its ends? It has in the past. Which is why I have a hard time believing Israel’s claims now that it isn’t targeting schools and hospitals, which are UN-observed civilian refugee sites. That would be a clear and horrific war crime under international law and the Geneva conventions. I also have a hard time believing what they also in the same breath say (see previous link), that they actually are targeting those sites because they are storing rockets for Hamas. (Yes, those two claims directly contradict each other; yes, it’s absurd to think sites observed by UN personnel are storing rockets–in fact, they clear any rockets found at sites set up as refugee centers).

To get up to speed on this, read this and this and this.

Hamas, of course, is evil and insane, if ever those words had meaning. They lie and kill all the time, in vile ways and without any rational sense. They also try to manipulate the public with false claims. But this isn’t a claim coming from Hamas.

There is a difference between responding justly with necessary force to legitimate terror and danger, and using that legitimacy as cover for trying to get away with evils even greater than those achieved by the enemy you are answering. Because of the Christian Armageddon Lobby, Israel does get away with quite a lot, and getting a free pass is a form of power, and power corrupts. If Israel is beyond all criticism, then it can slip in any evil and play the same get-out-of-jail-free card. If they are allowed to get away with anything, then they will in the end do anything. (So do we. Consider Tuskegee.)

Why am I doubtful that Israel is telling the truth this time? Because neutral observers confirm it. And Israel has done this before. In the most appalling way. And I want to share with you the example I mean. You can’t understand the world without it.

As a historian, I wonder at all the things people don’t know about our own history, and yet history repeats itself when we don’t. So let me recount something you probably have never heard about. It will sicken you. Especially the most patriotic, ra-ra, pro-military folk among you. Yes, especially you. [Read more...]

Did You Notice International Men’s Day? Maybe Next Year You Should

Yesterday was International Men’s Day. Our own Freethought Blogger, Ally Fogg (noted journalist and gender equality activist) blogged about it last weekend and then wrote a really good brief on it for The Independent, “Male Victims of Rape, Sexual Abuse and Depression: Breaking the Silence on International Men’s Day,” with the tagline, “Those who mock today are mocking victims of a viciously gendered society.” The latter is an article I think everyone should read. Though some balked or joked (as Ally notes), many feminists support the day and the ideas and goals behind it, and all certainly should: see this article in The Guardian, this article in The National Student, and this article in The Feminist Times, all of which are feminists speaking to feminists, and make some points even Ally overlooked, so they are good reads, too. Take a tour of these articles and expand your awareness of the gendered nature of real-world problems affecting billions of human beings. It will be especially enlightening for anyone who immediately asked, at first hearing of this, “Why do we need a day for men?” The more so if you didn’t immediately think of at least half a dozen good answers.

Help D.M. Murdock Get Her Facebook Account Reinstated

Jesus mythicist D.M. Murdock (aka Acharya S) has had her Facebook account terminated (permanently, FB claims) merely for posting a picture calling attention to religious child abuse. She documents the story on her own website here. My email box received a request to sign a petition over the weekend, and I signed. I recommend everyone do so. Our own Ophelia Benson has also written about this fiasco. She concurs.

There is no sound reason for Facebook’s action. The most they should have done is requested modification of the image to blur offensive sections of it (which Murdock would have been happy to do). Although even that is childish on their part (unless they are genuinely concerned about privacy issues, which would be a first), it would not be as absurd as killing her entire Facebook account. One might ignorantly argue any picture of naked children being sexually abused in a religious ritual is “child porn” and thus intolerable, but even that (which ignores the distinctions between porn and legitimate journalism and activism and the documenting of crimes against humanity…indeed, the image came from a news magazine) would have been solved by simple modification of the image to satisfy the prudes (as Murdock demonstrates) or victim’s advocates (whom Murdock would likewise be happy to oblige).

Everyone should voice their opposition to Facebook’s action in this case and demand a reversal.

Michael Shermer: Rapist or Sleaze? (Unless Box Checked for Other)

Presumably you’re aware by now that accusations have been made that Michael Shermer did something bad (if not, you can catch up on current events here). There are some things atheists need to consider about this, philosophically and personally.  [Read more...]

Lana Wachowski is Awesome

Lana WachoswkiIf you hadn’t heard, one of the famous “Wachowski brothers,” creators of The Matrix franchise and directors of the new hit Cloud Atlas, recently came out as a transsexual woman. She is now Lana Wachowski. And for her efforts at giving transgenderism more visibility and acceptance she received a visibility award by the Human Rights Campaign.

For which her acceptance speech is amazing. She’s funny, smart, eloquent, and super cute. In fact this rates among the best speeches I’ve ever watched. She claims to be an inexperienced speaker, but she clearly is a talented teller of tales, with charm and wit and insight, and boldly honest. Her speech is charming, hilarious, moving, and informative. She’s an awesome person. I guarantee you’ll love having watched this. So go do.

I discovered this gem thanks to Kylie Sturgess of Token Skeptic who provides the video and links to the transcript at Lana Wachowski’s Human Rights Campaign’s Annual Gala Dinner Speech (or you can just go direct to the transcript or video at The Hollywood Reporter).

And Then All Hell Breaks Loose…

So, I go off to the Atheist Film Festival for the weekend and come back to find out the Thunderf00t scandal broke, David Barton was publicly exposed and disgraced, and Romney deliberately tanks his campaign by picking a social conservative as veep. Christo santo! I couldn’t do anything about any of it until I got back. So here I am.

F00tGate

I was going to do a roundup of the Thunderf00t thing anyway (I was on the backchannel so I knew this was coming, I just didn’t know it was going to drop this weekend), but Dana Hunter already did such an excellent job of it I’ll just point you there: Thunderf00t’s Potentially Illegal, Positively Immoral Crusade.

For those who have been debating the point, yes, what Phil Mason (aka Thunderf00t) did is called “hacking” (legally and culturally) and besides being grossly immoral [Read more...]

Groovy Documentary Atheism

Let me convince you to help fund a movie. This is the year for positive, uplifting atheist documentaries. (Well, actually, next year. They are being made now. They’ll probably be out then.) Two are already nearly in the can, The Scarlett Letter and Coming Out in America. Letter (directed by John Jennings) focuses on atheist leaders (not solely, but largely) and explores their lives and philosophy and the growing movement of organized atheism in America and what’s driving it (as you’ll see in the trailer, I was interviewed and will likely be among those featured in it). Out (directed by Christophe Fauchère) focuses on the goals and challenges of atheists “coming out” as atheists and dealing with the backlash from friends, family, coworkers, and community, and why more and more atheists are doing it, especially in colleges and high schools. Two great documentaries I am definitely looking forward to.

But there is another that might get made, if the filmmaker can raise the money to do it. And I think if you can help, you definitely should. It’s Hug an Atheist, and it sets itself apart from those other two films in ways that make it yet another film I really want to see, if only we can find enough financial supporters to make it possible. It will be directed by Sylvia Broeckx, a cool Belgian girl living in the UK, and that is unique feature number one: she comes from a background of European culture that simply sees nothing like the hostility to atheism we do over here, and she has become increasingly appalled by it (her trailer exemplifies what I mean, as does her accompanying mission statement). She will be able to give us a nuanced compare-and-contrast point of view between how it is and how it could be, informed by her foreign background and point of view.

But unique feature number two is even more important: [Read more...]

Why The Week Rocks

I hate magazines and never read them. Except all the magazines that I read.

I say that only because the magazines I read would be considered (by many avid magazine readers) as weird. This includes trade mags that most of you would find terribly dull but that keep me up to speed on things in my field (Historically Speaking often touches on questions of historical method across historical disciplines, as well as forums on hot debates in those fields; Isis is the definitive review periodical for books in the history of science, one of those things that other fields of history annoyingly don’t have; and so on). But it also includes periodicals I think everyone should read–including Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer, but even more importantly (IMO), Science News and The Week. Something really awesome in that last got me to blogging today, which I’ll be getting at presently; but let me digress a bit on SN first.

Science News is a must because all other media do not report science correctly. Not only do they miss 99% of the important stories in scientific and technological progress. But the 1% they do report on, they get entirely wrong, almost all the time. Compare a science story in a mainstream source, with the coverage of the same discovery in Science News, and you’ll often be so appalled you will never get your science news from anywhere else again. Plus you get all those other stories you should be hearing. Isn’t the state of scientific progress across all fields one of the most important things to keep up with? As a citizen, and as a philosopher, it’s absolutely essential. Plus, you know, all those other reasons (e.g., in case you didn’t get the memo, ascience is hella cool).

But the biggest benefit is that if you read Science News for years (or, as in my case, decades), you learn tons and tons of shit about science you never would have otherwise, from field-specific knowledge and terminology, to all kinds of “consilience” stuff, like realizing the connections between everyday materials science and basic physics, or between biology and psychology, or what it really takes for cybernetics to work, or AI, or computer models of the Big Bang, and so on (also, if I don’t understand something in it, like a word or concept, I google around until I do, and being spurred to do that weekly has been a huge benefit to my intellectual development and understanding). Plus SN reminds you that religion doesn’t ever do this. That is, produce enough real advances in human knowledge every week to fill an entire magazine consistently for going on nearly a century now (and you know it won’t cease). The more you read Science News, the more religion looks decisively lame.

But my favorite magazine of all is the weekly The Week. I tried my hand at news weeklies before, and they all suck devil dicks. (That’s slang for wicked awful. Alright, yes, I just made it up. And yes, I should have said greasy devil dicks, in homage to Brian Flemming’s infamous question to me in The God Who Wasn’t There). For a classic example of my profound annoyance at U.S. News & World Report, for example, see my thrashing of it on the subject of love science in Sense and Goodness without God III.10.3, pp. 197-202. (And, hey, that combines my point above about shitty mainstream science news reporting, too! Two birds.) But The Week is different. So different. Radically different. Unparalleled, that kind of different. Better even than Brill’s Content (for those few who ever knew what that was, which I would love to see someone bring back again, at least in concept).

What is The Week? Basically, it’s like a 40-page weekly for-profit RSS feed for worldwide print media. You get one every week (it comes to your doorstep in paper, unless you get the electronic version), and it summarizes all the big stories in newspapers in the U.S. and abroad. It’s the “and abroad” part that’s especially cool. But even the U.S. part is something, because they summarize stories by summarizing sometimes several articles across several periodicals of different political bent, and they do it in half a page or even a quarter of a page or less, plus a ton of quick story summaries of a single paragraph taken from state and municipal papers across the nation and the world. And it’s brilliantly written, when you consider what they are doing here. So you don’t have to read tens of thousands of words to get the gist of what was said across the country on diverse topics by people from diverse perspectives–and in foreign newspapers even. Curious what Nigerian newspapers are saying about the U.S. presidential debates? Or about their own internal politics? What about what Iranian newspapers are saying about the assassinations of their own nuclear scientists? Or what Chinese newspapers are saying about the shift in focus of U.S. military policy to the Pacific (in case you didn’t notice that, BTW; it’s not like U.S. media cover shit we actually want to know). Then read The Week.

The effect of avidly reading The Week is the same as Science News, only it’s history-in-the-making, and world politics and cultures, that you are learning about. All kinds of stuff about, that you would never have learned otherwise. And in the same ways, e.g., you might google something talked about in an article to learn more about it; and multiply that by thousands of items a year, and the benefit to broadening your mind is priceless. And so on. Case in point (and this is what inspired me to write this blog today): Feb. 10 issue (I’m behind a bit; tends to happen), page 14, “Best Columns: International” feature, bottom fifth of the page, “Turkey.” It summarizes an article in the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet by Mustafa Akyol.

I’ll just quote it outright (with some stuff snipped for space):

Newt Gingrich professes to revere modern Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk…He has frequently written about Atatürk and held him up as a model statesman, to the point where the Atatürk Society of America gave Gingrich an award in 2006 in “commemoration of his contribution to publicizing Atatürk’s legacy.” But does the Republican presidential hopeful really understand that legacy? Atatürk was “the greatest and the strictest secularist” in our entire region…[creating] a state free of religious interference, even banning religious garb in the workplace. In the U.S., Gingrich considers secularism “a nightmare” and an abomination. “A country that has been, since 1963, relentlessly in the courts driving God out of public life shouldn’t be surprised at all the problems we have,” Gingrich says … and [he says] “anti-religious bigotry” is responsible for a decline in American morals. So how can Gingrich hold up as a hero the “militantly secular founder of a European one-party state?” The answer can only be that he favors secularism not for Christians but for Muslims, as a bulwark against what he sees as “creeping sharia.” The “obvious double standard” puts the lie to Gingrich’s claims of being an intellectual.

Ouch. But, yeah. “You are correct, sir!”

Now, I actually knew a lot already about the history of Turkey and its atheist national hero Mustafa Kemal Atatürk; but suppose you didn’t…you would have learned something cool here, plus you might have googled to learn more, and really learned something cool here. So think of what you might learn from other columns, week in and week out. Right above this article, for instance, is an article from Russia about the epidemic of teen suicide there and its relation to horrific flaws in the Russian healthcare system; above that, a panoply of columns from India are summarized regarding the Golden Temple flap (you may be surprised by what Indians are actually saying about that).

And case in point…I didn’t know any of this about Newt Gingrich! I mean, I knew he was a racist douchebag. But just when you thought you’d plumbed the depths of his hypocrisy… Comedian David Cross once quipped about how it pisses him off that he has to read “other countries’ fucking newspapers” to learn about shit happening in his own country. Well, touché, David. Touché.

Subscribe to The Week, people.

(And incredibly, they did not pay me to say that!)