Thomas Jefferson was not an atheist. Neither is Jon Stewart.

And it makes him weak.

He recently interviewed David Barton, the professional liar and quote fabricator, and he was more interested in distancing himself from those fanatical atheists than he was in addressing the bullshit Barton was spreading. Barton claimed that there was some atheist group on the west coast that put up a billboard claiming Jefferson was an atheist; Stewart let it slide by. Actually, there was an erroneous billboard put up by Backyard Skeptics which used a false quote by Jefferson — “I do not find in Christianity one redeeming feature. It is founded on fables and mythology” — and it was atheists who went out of their way to point out the error, and the group apologized. Barton is notorious for making up quotes about the American founding fathers. Now he’s making up quotes about atheists.

I’m sure you can find a few fringe atheists who claim Jefferson is an atheist, but anyone who knows the slightest bit of American history knows he was a deist who rejected the supernatural elements of Christianity, but still held personal reverence for the philosopher Jesus. He was the kind of guy fundamentalist frauds like Barton would call not a true Christian, except when it serves their purposes to pretend we were founded as a Christian nation.

Barton also made up this anecdote I hear all the time about a public school teacher throttling a student who said a personal prayer at lunch. That is not illegal. Any teacher who did such a thing is exceeding their brief. Atheists oppose teacher-led prayer — authorities in a public, secular institution cannot use their influence to impose sectarian religion on their charges.

Stewart allowed Barton to control the whole interview; he made a few feeble thrusts, at which time Barton would immediately say “I agree!”, and then Stewart would fall over flabbily and not carry the argument home. He didn’t address anything in the book Barton was flogging at all; has he no researchers who could find specific claims made in the book, that Stewart could use to pin Barton down? Why was he allowing Barton to just dribble out random anecdotes?

It was a terrible interview, insipid and pandering, in which Stewart accepted everything Barton said as reasonable and factual, and didn’t do anything but give Barton a platform to lie. Barton is a professional revisionist, a charlatan who pretends to be a historian. Stewart was a marshmallow.

You can watch the whole disgraceful thing, if you really want to. I was disappointed and unimpressed. Stewart is an incredibly uneven interviewer; sometimes he can be sharp, but other times, I feel like his dedication to not pissing off the slack and careless American middle (by, for instance, defending anything an atheist says) makes him a pushover for the slick fundamentalist propagandists.

There are also parts 2 and 3 of the interview, which were not broadcast. Stewart gets a little better in them, but not much…and definitely not enough to salvage his reputation as a pushover interviewer. He can get scathing with people in the media who poison his profession, such as Rupert Murdoch or Tucker Carlson, but put some dishonest slug who’s poisoning the whole culture, and he rolls over and shows his belly to be tickled.

One of the stories Barton likes to trundle out is the tale of the St Louis schoolboy who was harshly punished for saying a prayer at lunch. It’s been tracked down and documented. IT’S A BIG FAT OL’ LIE.

Why, yes, we do have douchecanoes in Minnesota

It’s not just Michele Bachmann! We have a whole fleet of Rethuglican douchecanoes paddling away in our state legislature. Allow me to introduce you to Senator Paul Gazelka, who introduced a bill that would require a doctor to hover over women who use RU-486 (this bill, another example of Republican meddling in women’s lives, was fortunately vetoed by our Democratic Governor Mark Dayton). Gazelka was asked whether he also favored similar intrusions into men’s sexual lives, for instance in requiring that Viagra only be administered under a doctor’s supervision. Ho ho, you say, you already know how quickly he’ll back away from that one.

comparing Viagra to RU-486 was comparing apples and oranges or more like comparing life and death. Viagra is a wonderful medical advancement in that can help couples with sexual disfunction issues…it can even help in producing life. RU486 always destroys life by taking the life of the unborn child.

So that’s why Republicans like drugs that combat erectile dysfunction — it’s so they can create life. How sweet…so they never use the combination of Viagra + contraception, I presume?

Robin Marty asked a somewhat different question.

I also asked Sen. Gazelka if, in light of its "wonderful" qualities, he himself used the medication, or would consider sponsoring legislation that would create a database of information such as name, address, medical history, familial history, phone number, age and sexual history for those who are prescribed Viagra, to be handed over to the state department of health, such as databases created in various other states to gather information on women who obtain abortions.

He told me no comment to both questions.

But I think that’s perfectly fair! I say, let them have full access to Viagra, but as long as we’re snooping on women’s sexual histories, it’s entirely reasonable to apply the rules equally and have comparable databases of men’s sexual purchases.

They have nothing to be ashamed of. I’m sure they’re only purchasing Viagra in association with conjugal and procreative relations, and they’ll be ably to proudly point to each and every child that they spawn with every bottle of Viagra. They could even make the receipt or prescription for their erectile aids the first entry in the kid’s baby book.

Egypt shows respect for the dead

The Islamist-dominated Egyptian parliament is considering a law that allows a husband to have sex with his dead wife within the six hours following her death. Why? I don’t know. I guess if you think women are pieces of meat then it doesn’t much matter if they’re responsive or not. Although I think six hours is overly generous: rigor mortis is going to set in after 3 or 4 hours, maybe sooner in a warm climate. Maybe they should modify the law so you’re allowed to have sex with her corpse for three hours, and then you’re allowed to use her body as a surfboard for another twelve hours after that?

Oh, and they’re also considering legalizing marriage to 14-year-old girls and stripping divorce rights from women. The way they’re jumping up and down on women, I’m beginning to think they have delusions that they’re American Republicans.

(via B&W)

Tennessee needs your input

Tennessee is taking a big step backward with a new “academic freedom” bill that will open the doors of the public schools to a whole flood of nonsense. Students at the University of Tennessee sent a polite letter to the governor explaining the problems with the bill.

Dear Governor Haslam,

We are writing to you regarding HB368/SB893. As graduate students at the University of Tennessee, we strongly believe that this Bill represents a step backward for Tennessee and our state’s ascending recognition for Science and STEM education. We are specifically writing to address the nature of the Bill itself, which we feel was not adequately discussed during either the House or Senate hearings and misrepresents the undivided consensus among anthropologists, biochemists, biologists, ecologists, evolutionary biologists, genome scientists, geographers, and molecular biologists.

If given a cursory reading, this Bill appears to advocate for intellectual freedom in the classroom and hence would seem prudent. However, it is abundantly clear from both a careful reading and from the testimony at hearings that the intent of this Bill is to encourage teachers to call into question universally accepted scientific principles.

In Section 1(a)(2) of SB893, the generally assembly states “The teaching of some scientific subjects, including, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy;”

We agree. However, this “controversy” is not scientific. The controversy to which the Bill alludes is the reluctance of non-scientists to accept these principles due to certain religious and political beliefs. This can be the only explanation for the inclusion of human cloning in the Bill. Human cloning is solely an ethical issue. There is no scientific debate on how to clone an organism or whether genetic clones can be created. It is a fact that humans can create genetic clones. Only the ethics of the issue is at stake.

Scientific evidence supporting the occurrence of biological evolution, global climate change, and the chemical origin of life are not controversial among scientists. Scientists universally accept these principles based on their predictability and the overwhelming evidence supporting them. Among scientists, the controversy exists in the details such as how changes in temperatures will affect biodiversity or what evolutionary forces
regulate the speciation process. This type of discussion is due to the very nature of science, which requires the constant acquisition and analysis of data.

However, this is not the controversy to which the Bill speaks. The bill later states, in section 1(c), that “The state board of education . . . shall endeavor to assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies.” This wording seems to imply that the controversy for these aforementioned subjects lies in the scientific realm where in reality they lie only in the political and religious ones.

We fear that this bill only ostensibly supports “critical thinking” in Tennessee’s classrooms. Instead, by implying that subjects such as evolution and global warming are “debatable”, this bill achieves the exact opposite of its purported goal. This is tantamount to encouraging educators to suggest students in science classes disregard the very nature of the scientific process and ignore factual data in favor of the beliefs of some individuals. Scientists cannot ignore data in favor of personal biases. If they did, they would be discredited as non-objective.

This Bill is a step backwards and would do irreparable harm to the development of STEM education in this state. As university educators, we continually face the challenge of losing students’ interests in science courses when they arrive at The University of Tennessee because they are frustrated by their lack of sufficient preparation. Many of them know very little about evolution by natural selection or the mechanisms of global climate change. We hope that you see that as with the legislatures who passed this bill, we too are concerned about the education of children in Tennessee.

This passage of this Bill has the potential to cost the state dearly in terms of lost revenue, a poorly trained scientific workforce, and an exodus of scientists and educators who do not wish to have their discipline diluted with non-scientific biases. We fear that calling into question scientific support of foundations to biological theory will cripple the ability of Tennessee’s students to become functional scientists, doctors, professionals, and contributing members of many growing fields.

We ask that you please thoughtfully consider our position, and veto this bill. Thank you for your time.

Graduate Researchers in Ecology, Behavior, and Evolutionary Biology (G.R.E.B.E)
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

[56 grad students from EEB and other departments signed the petition]

Now this is it: this is the last day before Haslam signs the bill into law. Contact the governor and urge him to veto this embarrassing law.

Here’s the contact information for his office:

Phone: (615) 741-2001
Fax: (615) 532-9711

World-wide criticism would be helpful at this point.

In defense of John Derbyshire

You may have heard that John Derbyshire, troll-like conservative creature lurking on the National Review, has been fired for an awesomely racist article, full of overt, unashamed, joyful bigotry.

They shouldn’t have.

Derbyshire is a racist, misogynistic hack who has been saying this stuff for years. It’s a non-story, something that everyone with any sense has been pointing out for years: for instance, I’ve talked about how Derbyshire claimed Obama will destroy science because he is black, and science would expose him as genetically inferior. This is the guy who thinks women shouldn’t be allowed to vote and wants to repeal the civil rights act. He’s a nasty piece of work.

But he shouldn’t have been fired. He’s just been saying what the right wing has been thinking all along. And he’s been saying it for at least the last 10 years (which is about how long I’ve been aware of him), and no one on the right has been complaining about him. If his unashamed haunting of the cesspools of racism didn’t get him fired, why now? And if the wingnuts are just now getting around to cleaning house, can we expect Jonah Goldberg, Victor Davis Hanson, and Michelle Malkin to get the axe next? I mean, Derbyshire just whined about avoiding those black folks; Malkin has written a whole book advocating racist internment camps.

Besides, if Republicans start draining the racist swamp of their electorate, they won’t have anyone to vote for them ever again.

Is that border magical?

What strange transformation occurs within humanity as we trace the population northward, from the United States to Canada? A recent survey of Canadians (especially the Quebecois variety) revealed something:

Buried away in the survey was a single question that caught my eye immediately: Personally, do you consider yourself to be a religious person? A minuscule 22% answered yes. Presumeably, a whopping 78% of Quebecers do not consider themselves religious.

Across the whole of Canada, 36% answered yes, which is a little worse…but still, where has the United States of America gone wrong?

Them Southerners and their backward ways

You know what Southerners are all like? They’re all

  • Rural,

  • poor and lazy,

  • stupid,

  • red-necked conservatives, and

  • all the same.

Wait a moment…you mean those aren’t all true? If you think they are, maybe you need to read this article on Southern stereotypes.

I have not spent much time in the South (wait…maybe the stereotype is true, because y’all haven’t been smart enough to invite me to come on down and give a fire-eating atheist talk), but one thing that has persuaded me that pinning blame on Southerners is a huge mistake is that I live in rural Minnesota, about as Northern as you can get without turning inside out over the top of the swing and becoming Canadian, and those stereotypes could be equally well applied here. People are people everywhere, and the entire goddamned country is afflicted with god-fearing tea-partyin’ Jebus-fellatin’ racist warmongering American exceptionalists who hate edumacation and gays. You can’t give Alabama the dirty squink-eye without doing the same to Pennsylvania and Arizona and Idaho and yes, even Massachusetts and Minnesota. It’s a huge mistake to focus our concern on geography rather than uneducated social attitudes.

Besides, I want to see the South become a bastion of liberal progressiveness, like say, Austin or Chapel Hill. I’m not interested in seeing it turned into a convenient ghetto for bigotry.

Obama is a secularist just like he’s a socialist

Mitt Romney is arguing that Obama is fighting for secularism.

I think there is in this country a war on religion. I think there is a desire to establish a religion in America known as secularism.

They gave it a lot of thought and they decided to say that in this country that a church — in this case, the Catholic Church — would be required to violate its principles and its conscience and be required to provide contraceptives, sterilization and morning after pills to the employees of the church. … We are now all Catholics. Those of us who are people of faith recognize this is — an attack on one religion is an attack on all religion.

I’m an atheist fighting against religion. If it were me running for office, Romney could legitimately make that case. But Obama is openly Christian, he has expanded support for faith-based charities, he ends speeches with “god bless”, he attends prayer breakfast and praises faith. He is no ally of mine in this cause, even if he’s willing to acknowledge the existence of atheists now and then.

To argue that religious organizations, in their dealings with the profane material world in payroll and insurance and taxes (and in getting financial support from our secular government), ought to also abide by the laws in those dealings, is not an attack on religion. Romney is apparently one of those people who wants to bestow all kinds of special privileges on the churches…but then, that’s his whole life, privilege.

I have a new favorite insult!

I shouldn’t be this petty, given the ghastliness of these recently disclosed documents from the National Organization for Marriage. NOM is openly linking up with the Catholic Church, which is providing millions of dollars for campaigns to poison people into hating gays. They’re talking about fomenting hatred: they want to “interrupt the process of assimilation” of Hispanics into the wider culture by making gay marriage a sticking point; they say “The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks – two key Democratic constituencies.”

This is despicable. They’re targeting minorities to train them to find a new reason to hate, an artificial reason that widens the gulf without addressing the real problems of discrimination.

That isn’t funny. Their methods aren’t funny, either: they have lots of money, and they’re throwing it into hate-mongering ads, just like the Mormon church did with Proposition 8. But one of their proposed tactics did tickle my warped sense of humor:

"Hollywood with its cultural biases is far bigger than we can hope to be. We recognize this. But we also recognize the opportunity – the disproportionate potential impact of proactively seeking to gather and connect a community of artists, athletes, writers, beauty queens and other glamorous non-cognitive elites across national boundaries."

Yeah, they’re going to recruit famous dumbasses who can fall for their lies and toxic message…because don’t you know how effective Victoria Jackson has been as a spokesperson for tea-party insanity? But I do love how they openly admit that they have to recruit stupid people…ahem, I mean “non-cognitive” people… to their cause.

Let’s help NOM out and make a list of non-cognitive elites they can recruit. I’ll start.

Victoria Jackson
Pat Boone
Chuck Norris

Yes! Glamor and inanity go so well together!