Robin Williams brings joy to the hearts of journalists and politicians once again

I’m sorry to report that comedian Robin Williams has committed suicide, an event of great import and grief to his family. But his sacrifice has been a great boon to the the news cycle and the electoral machinery — thank God that we have a tragedy involving a wealthy white man to drag us away from the depressing news about brown people. I mean, really: young 18 year old black man gunned down for walking in the street vs. 63 year old white comedian killing himself? Which of those two stories gives you an excuse to play heart-warming and funny video clips non-stop on your 24 hour news channel? Besides, the real story in Missouri is that businesses have been damaged by angry black people — no one is going to trash the Family Dollar in rage over the death of a popular comedian. Mike Brown’s death is confusing — the police say he was a shoplifter struggling to get a gun, while no stores reported a shoplifting event, and Brown was unarmed and shot while raising his hands in surrender. Where’s the moral clarity? We’re supposed to want to believe the police, you know, yet all the evidence points to their status as a gang of militarized thugs. That’s very uncomfortable.

Boy, I hate to say it, but it sure was nice of Robin Williams to create such a spectacular distraction. No one wants to think the police might be untrustworthy.

And think of the politicians! Midterm elections are coming up. Those are important! So people like Barack Obama need to be able to show their human side and connect with the real concerns of the American people by immediately issuing a safe, kind statement about Robin Williams, while navigating the dangerous shoals of police brutality and black oppression by avoiding them. Wouldn’t want to antagonize those lovely law-and-order folks before an election, you see.

Lovely folks like this white lady:

nardi

She seems nice. She looks like the kind of person who would have laughed at “nanu-nanu” and cried at What Dreams May Come. She is a Real American whose opinions deserve the attention of the powers that be.

AtheistTV gets a thumbs up

I was home for a late lunch, so I flipped on the Roku and installed the AtheistTV channel. It was easy, but then you Roku owners know that part already.

The channel is well organized into various categories, but right now content is a little thin — the comedy category, for instance, contains one video, and the movie category…well, there are a few entries there, but it’s a stretch to call them ‘movies’. I guess atheists are a bit light on providing entertainment.

But I consider the sparse content on the day of the launch to be a good thing. My dread was that they’d take a shortcut to filling up the channel by importing youtube videos wholesale, and then it would be an exercise in wading through garbage to find the gems. That’s not the case at all — they’ve exercised restraint and quality control.

So what you’ll find there is a lot of material relevant to American Atheists: recordings of talks at the last few national conferences and the Reason Rally, and AA’s official talk show, the Atheist Viewpoint. There’s a lot of stuff transferred from the RDF. The Atheist Community of Austin is featured with a collection of videos from the Atheist Experience. When I say it’s thin, I’m talking relatively, compared to a movie channel — you could still veg out for many weeks nonstop trying to watch everything on it. It’s still important that they are being selective about putting up videos with thoughtful commentary about atheism.

It also looks ready for expansion, and I’m sure even more will be added. It’s a good strategy for introducing the content of the conferences to a wider audience, and that’s a natural procedure for generating new material.

Some suggestions I’d make: it really is American Atheist-centered, understandably, but it would be nice to see partnering with CFI or American Humanists or British Humanists, for instance, to fold in some of their content. It would also be cool to adopt more science content — HHMI, for example, has lots of free science videos that aren’t at all explicitly atheistic but would fit in well with a theme of scientific naturalism (whether they’d be willing to have them shown on an atheist channel is an open question). Not just science, but also history and philosophy categories would be a nice addition.

Check it out. I think it’s going to be useful. If you have a Roku, it’s definitely worth getting the channel (it’s free, so I’m not saying much there), but it’s also yet another reason to get a Roku if you don’t have one.

Why why why?

I really like Richard Dawkins, personally and professionally, although a lot of readers here get indignant at that. But that’s why it hurts to see him say obnoxious things on Twitter, like rating different kinds of rape and pedophilia. He doesn’t understand why that’s objectionable; has he ever heard of Todd Akin (maybe not — he is an obscure American politician who made up a lot of nonsense about “legitimate rape” and got flambéed for it)? This is like walking straight into a firepit that has consumed many far-right wingnuts (which Dawkins is not) before him, and thinking he’ll come out unsinged.

Amanda Marcotte does an excellent job of explaining why his remarks were objectionable. That feminists think a patronizing pat on the ass deserves a lesser punishment than rape is simply not an issue; we don’t need condescending explanations of basic logic to understand the concept. The problem is people who don’t understand that logic at all, and think there’s a sharp cliff, an all-or-nothing pattern, so that rape gets you put in jail, while date rape gets you a high-five in the locker room. And those people aren’t feminists.

If you want to make a difference in social attitudes, you can say “Date rape is bad”…full stop. You don’t go on and say that some other form of rape is worse, because that’s all the date-rapers see: “Richard Dawkins says I’m not as bad as a rapist”. The first part is ignored.

Better still: I believe in a proportional response to a crime, and therefore someone who commits date rape should not go unpunished.


Maybe this will get through to him.

Who else plays Minecraft?

I like to putter around on Minecraft now and then, and I’ve been using a free (well, they do ask for small donations once a year) public server called Sitosis. Did you see me write free right there? That’s what makes it shocking that it is woefully underpopulated right now, so they’re open to new applications. There’s a gigantic world there waiting to be played with, and we’ve only developed a tiny bit. Here’s the island a couple of us have been tinkering with lately.

craggyisland

One other reason that it might be less than packed with people is that it really is a totally vanilla server in survival mode — no hacks or mods. They also expect players to be mature and respectful of one another, so no griefing or screwing around with others’ enjoyment of the game. They also occasionally reboot everything and start fresh, but that’s only done by vote of the users.

There might be a few other Minecraft tinkerers here, so signing up a few more might get the place hopping again.

Is Ted Nugent still a darling of the Republican party?

I knew Ted Nugent was a nasty piece of work, but this…can he possibly be a bit more blatantly racist? He’s had a couple of shows cancelled at Indian casinos — first by the Coeur d’Alene tribe in Idaho, and most recently by the Puyallups in Washington — and I guess it made Nugent a mite testy.

“The Coeur d’Alene Tribe has always been about human rights — for decades, we have worked individually and as a Tribe to make sure that each and every person is treated equally and with respect and dignity,” said a statement from the tribe.

A spokesperson for the casino said that the company didn’t want to provide a platform for the “racist attitudes and views that Ted Nugent espouses.”

Nugent responded to the cancelation by calling the Coeur d’Alene Tribe unclean vermin.

By all indicators, I don’t think they actually qualify as people, but there has always been a lunatic fringe of hateful, rotten, dishonest people that hate happy, successful people, he continued. I believe raising hell and demanding accountability from our elected employees is Job One for every American. I am simply doing my job.

Brilliant: fired for racist remarks, so he calls the whole tribe “vermin” and questioning their status as humans, perfectly confirming the accusation.

Democrat behaving badly

The appointed Democratic senator from Montana, John Walsh, has a master’s degree from the United States Army War College. But does he deserve it?

An examination of the 14-page paper, titled “The Case for Democracy as a Long Term National Strategy” and posted online by The Times, revealed that about a third of Mr. Walsh’s 2007 paper consisted of verbatim language and extremely similar passages to other sources, without any kind of attribution.

“Another third is attributed to sources through footnotes but uses other authors’ exact — or almost exact — language without quotation marks,” The Times said.

That first clause made me pause…you can get a master’s by writing a 14-page paper? My undergraduate students write far more than that every semester. Thanks, War College, for cheapening the value of a degree so much!

Even if two thirds of the essay weren’t plagiarized (really, he wrote about 4½ pages to get his degree?), I’d say that isn’t graduate level work.

AtheistTV, next week

I hope AtheistTV is good — they’ve announced they’ll be putting 50 years worth of their video archives on there, so I’m hoping for some interesting content. On the other hand, if it’s recycling crap from youtube as a fast way to get lots of noise online, well…it could get embarrassing. There has to be some quality control, somewhere.

I’ll check it out next Tuesday and let you know what’s on.

The dose makes the poison

Princeton physicist William Happer is still getting invited on television to say stupid things.

I keep hearing about the "pollutant CO2," or about "poisoning the atmosphere" with CO2, or about minimizing our "carbon footprint." This brings to mind another Orwellian pronouncement that is worth pondering: "But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought." CO2 is not a pollutant and it is not a poison and we should not corrupt the English language by depriving "pollutant" and "poison" of their original meaning….CO2 is absolutely essential for life on earth.

Did you know oxygen, while not a poison at standard concentrations, is highly reactive and will kill you at high concentration? Or that CO2 is vital for plants and is measured to regulate your breathing, but too much and you’ll suffocate?

What makes a substance poisonous is how much of it there is. Paracelsus figured this out in the 16th century. So Princeton physicists are unaware of developments and explanations that predate even Newton? That’s kind of amazing.

Maybe CNBC and other networks ought to take a lesson from the BBC on ginned up controversies and false dichotomies, and cut this bozo Happer from their invitation list.

Jim’s dead

I’m sorry to see that James Garner has died. Just last week, when I was laid up, I watched a few episodes of the Rockford Files on Netflix — sometimes one just has to reminisce about the 70s, whether we liked them or not.

One thing: Garner was a terrible actor. He always played the same character, himself, in every show he did, but that was OK, because he had such an amiable personality. You knew exactly what you were going to get.

Another, completely irrelevant thing: watching 70s TV was really weird. Nowadays, in a drama, if somebody is going somewhere, there might be a brief shot of them going out the door, cut, they are at their destination. Travel is implied. On the Rockford Files, they go out the door, there is a long lingering scene of the car tooling down city streets or out through the California country side, finding a perfectly open parking space, guy gets out, walks up to destination. Watch it now and geez, you feel like they must really have loved their cars 40 years ago. Half the show feels like an advertisement for Pontiac, or a leisurely travelogue.

But Garner at least made it a pleasant hour.