Badly done political plagiarism

Rand Paul gave a terrible political speech for his buddy Ken Cuccinelli, in which he used a dystopian science fiction movie, GATTACA, as an illustration of what liberals aspire to. I would tell him that the operative word there is “fiction” — it’s not real. “Dystopian” is kind of important, too, because it was portraying a nightmarish authoritarian future that we liberal types would oppose. It was not the Democratic Party Platform, quite the opposite.

But the truly hilarious part is that he cribbed the speech from the Wikipedia entry on the movie. He just outright stole whole lines from it.

I’m sorry, Rand, but I’m tearing up your whole speech and giving you an “F” in the course. You know, I tell my students outright that you can’t trust Wikipedia as a source — go ahead, use it to get a quick overview, but everything you say about a subject has to be backed up by a better source, preferably a peer-reviewed primary paper — so Paul was plagiarizing a poor resource. Come on, guy, at least steal from quality!

Now I’m wondering if he’s even seen the movie.

I approve this message

Although the title is a bit weird: Atheists can’t be Republicans? That’s a bit off. One thing we know is that atheists can be all kinds of things: Republican, Libertarian (oh, jebus, but there are a lot smug Libertarian atheists), Progressive, smart, idiotic, egalitarian, elitist. The message is good, though: it’s not enough to just be an atheist. We have to stand up for something, rather than just being against something, and that means that atheism has to find a conscience.

Individual atheists can, of course, have wildly divergent views, but the atheist movement, if it is to have any political clout at all, must focus on some key issues and make those part of the message. If we are going to claim to have positions based on reason and the intelligent interpretation of the evidence, then the climate change denialists, the sexists, the racists, the narcissistic worshippers of the Holy Market…they cannot be regarded as representative. The ones who think the solution to Islamic theocracy is to bomb Muslim countries or deport brown people should be considered as lunatic and beyond the pale as atheists who advocate nuking the Vatican or ostracizing Catholics.

It’s time for the movement to address bigger and real issues, and the biggest issue of our time is income inequality. Of all the developed nations, the U.S. has the most unequal distribution of income. In the past decade, 95 percent of all economic gains have gone to the top 1 percent. A mere 400 individuals own one-half of the entire nation’s wealth. Meanwhile, median household income keeps falling, and our poverty levels resemble that of the Great Depression era. In other words, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and the middle class is being decimated.

Atheists like to talk about building a better world, one that is absent of religiosity in the public square, but where are the atheist groups on helping tackle the single biggest tear in the fabric of our society — wealth disparity? They are nowhere. Its absence on the most pressing moral issue of our time makes it difficult for the movement to establish meaningful partnerships with other moral communities.

To remain white, middle class, intellectually smug and mostly apolitical will not only serve to alienate atheism from minorities and the poor, but will also ensure it remains a politically impotent movement that is incapable of building a better America. Growing up means less time and money spent on self-righteous billboard campaigns, and, instead, more resources allocated to fighting the political conditions that have caused this nation’s middle class and infrastructure to resemble that of a hyper-religious Third World nation.

I would broaden the mission a bit, though. On economic issues, atheists as a whole ought to be behind reducing the rich-poor divide — it’s the only rational position to take — but I would consider it legitimate to regard human rights as an umbrella topic to be more important, or to make the even bigger issue of environmental degradation the major crisis of our time. We can have a broad tent, but that does not include supporting ideas that conflict with reality.

Atheism is ultimately going to have to be a progressive political force, fighting for inclusion, evidence-based policy, humanist values, and the goal of expanding knowledge and power for all. We’re hampered right now by a rather reluctant leadership that tends to focus on pettier issues in the name of unity.

Guest post: Fighting for refugee and migrant rights

[This is a guest post from Walton. Trigger warnings: violence, sexual abuse, child abuse and neglect, hyperskepticism, racism.]

In January 2013, Jackie Nanyonjo was forcibly returned to Uganda on a charter flight, escorted by guards from the private security contractor Reliance. Jackie was a lesbian woman from Uganda who had come to the UK to claim asylum, fleeing the wave of horrifying anti-gay violence in her home country. In common with many other LGBT asylum-seekers, her claim was rejected, authorities refusing to believe that she was “really” a lesbian. She was detained, and eventually put on a plane back to Uganda. With no options left to her, she resisted – and was beaten so badly by her security escort that she later died of her injuries.

[Read more…]

Another ridiculous poll

The Montgomery, Alabama police have pious plan to send out priests along with the police on emergency calls. “Trained” priests, apparently, which means they’re going to be spending money on completely unqualified people who can provide no material assistance to tag along with the police. Why? Because it makes someone in the chain of command feel good, I suppose.

Do you think police should send out trained clergy to violent crime scenes?

No, there should be a separation of religion and government  66.64%

Yes, police and victims need all the help they can get.  29.98%

I don’t care either way.  2.45%

Not sure  1%

The only virtue I could think of is that maybe they’d put a check on the police and prevent them from shooting innocent people, but you don’t need to be a priest to do that.

Validating religious symbolism…with a poll

This is a cross in Middleboro, Massachusetts. It’s on public land in the town.


Would you believe that the people of the town stupidly looked at that and decided there was no conflict at all between a great big Christian symbol that says OBEY WORSHIP and secular government? None at all. Let’s just pretend that that is a secular message.

They have a poll, of course. It was apparently going very much the wrong way yesterday, but Cuttlefish has had his minions shredding it. I’m just coming along to administer the coup de grace.

What’s your take on the Middleboro cross?

It’s a religious symbol that has no place on public property 53%

It’s an appropriate expression of religious freedom 46%

Charles Pierce: The clearest vision of politics

He has the whole sorry lot of the 113th congress pegged.

This is what they came to Washington to do — to break the government of the United States. It doesn’t matter any more whether they’re doing it out of pure crackpot ideology, or at the behest of the various sugar daddies that back their campaigns, or at the instigation of their party’s mouthbreathing base. It may be any one of those reasons. It may be all of them. The government of the United States, in the first three words of its founding charter, belongs to all of us, and these people have broken it deliberately. The true hell of it, though, is that you could see this coming down through the years, all the way from Ronald Reagan’s First Inaugural Address in which government "was" the problem, through Bill Clinton’s ameliorative nonsense about the era of big government being "over," through the attempts to make a charlatan like Newt Gingrich into a scholar and an ambitious hack like Paul Ryan into a budget genius, and through all the endless attempts to find "common ground" and a "Third Way." Ultimately, as we all wrapped ourselves in good intentions, a prion disease was eating away at the country’s higher functions. One of the ways you can acquire a prion disease is to eat right out of its skull the brains of an infected monkey. We are now seeing the country reeling and jabbering from the effects of the prion disease, but it was during the time of Reagan that the country ate the monkey brains.

He breaks it down into the individual Republican idiots who are screwing up the country, and not to be unfair, he also characterizes the Conservacrats who’ve been enabling them.

What else did people think would happen when we started fetishizing the notion that government was bad, and electing people to govern who just wanted to shut government down and sell it off to the plutocrats? Libertarians and Republicans are all poisoned by the same lunacy that infected the US in the 1980s, and the Democrats are all lurching towards the lure of money and the same damn attitude.

This seems appropriate, from last night’s Daily Show.

The people who safeguard our liberties…

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia believes in the devil.

You believe in heaven and hell?
Oh, of course I do. Don’t you believe in heaven and hell?

Oh, my.

Does that mean I’m not going?
[Laughing.] Unfortunately not!

It doesn’t mean you’re not going to hell, just because you don’t believe in it. That’s Catholic doctrine! Everyone is going one place or the other.

But you don’t have to be a Catholic to get into heaven? Or believe in it?
Of course not!

Oh. So you don’t know where I’m going. Thank God.
I don’t know where you’re going. I don’t even know whether Judas Iscariot is in hell. I mean, that’s what the pope meant when he said, “Who am I to judge?” He may have recanted and had severe penance just before he died. Who knows?

Can we talk about your drafting process—
[Leans in, stage-whispers.] I even believe in the Devil.

You do?
Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person. Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that.

Every Catholic believes this? There’s a wide variety of Catholics out there …
If you are faithful to Catholic dogma, that is certainly a large part of it.

Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?
You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore.

It’s because he’s smart.

So what’s he doing now?
What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.

That has really painful implications for atheists. Are you sure that’s the ­Devil’s work?
I didn’t say atheists are the Devil’s work.

Well, you’re saying the Devil is ­persuading people to not believe in God. Couldn’t there be other reasons to not believe?
Well, there certainly can be other reasons. But it certainly favors the Devil’s desires. I mean, c’mon, that’s the explanation for why there’s not demonic possession all over the place. That always puzzled me. What happened to the Devil, you know? He used to be all over the place. He used to be all over the New Testament.

What happened to him?

He just got wilier.
He got wilier.

Isn’t it terribly frightening to believe in the Devil?
You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.

Jesus fucking christ. I’m speechless.

The power of speech returns to me. That interview by Scalia is pure religiously driven anti-intellectualism — he short-circuits reasoned thought about an issue to fall back on dogma, the doctrine of the Catholic church, and on popular opinion — hey, lots of good Catholics believe in the devil, therefore my belief is justified.

The Catholic church also believes witches should be killed. Does he believe in witches, then, and does he agree that they deserve the death penalty? If a million Catholics thought it was a good idea to strangle a puppy before breakfast, would Scalia be making daily trips to the animal shelter?

This view of Scalia’s is the antithesis of mine. When I was a church-going kid, the final straw for me was going through confirmation classes and being told that good Lutherans had to believe in every word of the Nicene creed. I did not say, “I’m a good Lutheran, therefore I believe this.” I looked critically at what I was asked to believe, judged whether it was true and reasonable, and decided, “I do not believe any of this, therefore I am not a Lutheran.” Or a Christian of any kind, for that matter.

Scalia is a mindless ape. Why is he on the Supreme Court again? Oh, yeah, he was appointed by that senile evil goon, Reagan.

Flying witches and Africans

Leo Igwe has an op-ed on an African problem.

Some months ago, the aviation authorities in Swaziland issued a statement which surprised many people around the globe. They warned that high-flying witches would be penalised. High-flying witches? Be penalised?

Swaziland Corporate Affairs Director Sabelo Dlamini actually said, “A witch on a broomstick should not fly above the [150-metre] limit.” Wow!

Of course, on hearing this directive one may think it was something made up by someone bent on discrediting Africa’s last absolute monarchy. Far from it, it was a policy statement from the aviation authorities in Swaziland to regulate ‘witch-flights’ in this 21st century.

He concludes by setting a goal for Africans.

We must break the spell of ignorance that hangs over Africa. Fearful ignorant minds wasting precious resources fighting imaginary witches in winnowing baskets must be replaced with educated, honest people administering the forward progress of an emerging continent with real needs.

Are the authorities in Swaziland and Zimbabwe listening to the future calling?

I hesitated to post this, because it’s all too easy to turn this into a vindication of racist bigotry. But let me remind you that here in mighty America, we have white people claiming to have fought demons, legislators denying global climate change because a god promised not to ever flood us again, and of course, the perennial insistence that we must swear an oath to an invisible boogey man to take public office.

So I have to revise Igwe’s suggestion a little bit: We must break the spell of ignorance that hangs over humanity.