Friday Night Fun and Culture: Taylor Ferrera


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Blasphemy Is Good for You

From The Nation:

Katha Pollitt
September 26, 2012

As I write, mobs all over the world are rioting about an amateurish video portraying Muhammad as a horny buffoon. Death toll so far: at least thirty, including Christopher Stevens, US ambassador to Libya, and three embassy staffers. Not to be outdone, Pakistan’s railways minister announced he would pay $100,000 to anyone who murdered the videomaker, and added, “I call upon these countries and say: Yes, freedom of expression is there, but you should make laws regarding people insulting our Prophet. And if you don’t, then the future will be extremely dangerous.” More riots, embassy closings and a possible assassination attempt or two followed the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo’s retaliatory publication of cartoons of Muhammad naked. To bring it all full circle, an Iranian foundation has raised to $3.3 million the reward it’s offering for the murder of Salman Rushdie. (Just out and highly recommended: Joseph Anton, Rushdie’s humane and heroic memoir of his years in hiding.)

Shocking as these events were, some reactions here at home were not helpful: Newsweek’s notorious “Muslim Rage” cover, for example, with its photo of crazed-looking zealots. All together now: there are 1.6 billion Muslims, only a tiny minority of whom are involved in this nonsense.


What about acknowledging and honoring the huge demonstrations by Libyans against the militias who are believed to have killed Stevens? And let’s not forget the Muslims who took over Newsweek’s hashtag: “Twitter is over capacity. Heading to the U.S. embassy. #MuslimRage.” “I won a lifetime supply of bacon #MuslimRage.” The Muslim response to the subway ads was also classy: “If you see something (stupid), say something (smart) #MySubwayAd.” “Hatred is the first savagery. Being a wanker is the first freedom #MySubwayAd.”

What if the right to be a wanker—a jerk, an annoying obsessive—is indeed where freedom begins? On WNYC’s The Takeaway, John Hockenberry had a confusing exchange with BBC chief Jeremy Bowen:

Hockenberry: I’m wondering if it’s possible for the United Nations to create an initiative that would talk about some sort of global convention on blasphemy, that would create a cooperative enterprise to control these kinds of incidents, not to interfere into anybody’s free speech rights but to basically recognize that there is a global interest in keeping people from going off the rails over a perceived sense of slight by enforcing a convention of human rights, only in this particular case it would be anti-blasphemy?

Bowen: It would be a great idea if they could make it work, but of course you know, you think that the United Nations struggled for ages, and I don’t think it’s yet succeeded in coming up with a definition of “terrorism.” So, in the end, how do you define “blasphemy”?

So the only thing preventing some sort of international convention against “blasphemy” is that people can’t agree about what it is? Perhaps the UN could ask Vladimir Putin, who was eager to send three members of Pussy Riot to prison for appearing at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior to perform an anti-Putin “punk prayer” to the Virgin Mary. Their crime: “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” The rise of the Russian Orthodox church in the former Soviet Union, and its connections to a corrupt authoritarian regime, shows that Islam has no monopoly on religious freakouts or their exploitation for political purposes. But you already knew that, having lived through mosque burnings in several states, and of course the extraordinary ongoing wave of arsons, bombings, assaults, stalkings and murders committed against abortion clinics, their doctors and staffs, almost all by deeply devout Catholics and evangelicals.

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A Sokal-style hoax by an anti-religious philosopher

From Why Evolution is True:

September 25, 2012

I’m a big fan of Dr. Maarten Boudry, a Belgian philosopher who’s a research fellow in the Department of Philosopy & Moral Sciences of Ghent University.  Boudry has spent a lot of time showing that religion and science are incompatible, attacking the distinction between “metaphysical naturalism” and “methodological naturalism” (a distinction much beloved by accommodationists), and generally pwning “Sophisticated Theologians™.”

You can find my earlier discussions of Boudry’s work here, here and here, and, if you’re familiar with the unctuous theologian Alvin Plantinga, be sure to read Boudry’s new review of Plantinga’s book Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. Boudry’s review is free online, starting on p. 21 of the latest newsletter from The International History, Philosophy and Science Working Group.

But today I’m presenting something else: a real Sokal-style hoax that Boudry has perpetrated. He informed me yesterday that he had submitted a fake, post-modernish and Sophisticated-Theological™ abstract to two theology conferences:

By the way, I thought you might find this funny. I wrote a spoof abstract full of theological gibberish (Sokal-style) and submitted it to two theology conferences, both of which accepted it right away. It got into the proceedings of the Reformational Philosophy conference. See Robert A. Maundy (an anagram of my name) on p. 22 of the program proceedings.

To save you the trouble of downloading it, I reproduce below, with Boudry’s permission, “Maundy’s” abstract. Note that he made up a college, too, but the quotation from John Haught is real.

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My Job – Obama for America

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Shocking Study: Suicide Overtakes Car Accidents As Leading Cause of Death — Is the Economy to Blame?

From Alternet:

The suicide rate has increased dramatically between 2000 and 2009.

By Kathleen Geier
September 24, 2012

An extremely disturbing new study published in the American Journal of Public Health finds that  suicides have replaced car accidents  as the leading cause of injury-related death in the U.S. This is partly because deaths from automobile accidents are down — that’s the good news.

But the truly catastrophic news is that the suicide rate has increased dramatically: between 2000 and 2009, according to data from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, deaths by suicide went up by 15%, and deaths from poisoning increased by a whopping 128%. Moreover, researchers say that many of the poisoning deaths, which are labeled as “accidental,” may actually be intentional. According to the study’s author, Professor Ian Rockett, an epidemiologist at West Virginia University, “Suicides are terribly undercounted; I think the problem is much worse than official data would lead us to believe.” He added “there may be 20 percent or more unrecognized suicides.”

Experts note that much of the increase in poisoning deaths is due to prescription drug overdoses, but none of the reports I found about the study speculate about what psychological, social, or economic causes are behind the spike in suicides. (I was unable to find an online copy of the study itself). But there is strong evidence elsewhere that our disastrous economy may be playing a significant role. Last year, a  report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that “[s]uicide rates in the U.S. tend to rise during recessions and fall amid economic booms.”

Complete article at:

See Also Bilerico:  Death By Austerity

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Mitt Romney and Steve King: Partners in Extremism

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Tea Party favorite Steve King in trouble

From Salon:

Two new polls show Iowa Republican and Tea Party favorite Steve King in a dead heat with his Democratic opponent

Thursday, Sep 27, 2012

An internal poll released today by Democrat Christie Vilsack shows her essentially tied with GOP Rep. Steve King in Iowa’s new 4th District. A separate public poll, conducted by PPP and also released today, found similar results, with King leading Vilsack by just 3 points at 48 to 45, within the margin of error. The congressional race gives Democrats a chance to take down one of the country’s most prominent Tea Party leaders, a man who once remarked that the president “favors the black person” and, in 2008, predicted that al-Qaida would be “dancing in the streets” if Barack “Hussein” Obama won the presidency.

The internal poll (see the full memo here), conducted by Democratic pollsters Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, shows King at 46 percent and Vilsack at 44 percent. “This one will likely go down to the wire. But two concurrent surveys show all the momentum behind Christie Vilsack,” the pollsters write. A May GQRR showed King up by 16 points.

Iowa State University political science professor Steffen Schmidt told the Ames Tribune of King, “He should have much higher ratings … I don’t read it as ‘Christie Vilsack is a little bit behind anybody else,’ but I would read it as ‘Jeez, an incumbent should have an advantage in a question like that.’”

“As voters learn more about these candidates, it’s not surprising that congressman King is losing steam,” said Vilsack Campaign Manager Jessica Vanden Berg. The GQRR poll also shows that King’s approval rating is now underwater, with 44 percent opposed to the job he has done in Congress and 41 percent in favor.

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Repackaging Mitt as a Compassionate Conservative? It’s Too Late

From Robert Reich:

By Robert Reich
Wednesday, September 26, 2012

“My heart aches for the people I’ve seen,” Mitt Romney said, on the second day of his Ohio bus tour. He’s now telling stories of economic hardship among the people he’s met.

Up until now, Romney’s stories on the campaign trail have been about business successes – people who started businesses in garages and grew their companies into global giants, entrepreneurs who succeeded because of grit and determination, millionaires who began poor. Horatio Alger updated.

Curiously absent from these narratives have been the stories of ordinary Americans caught in an economy over which they have no control. That is, most of us.

At least until now.

“I was yesterday with a woman who was emotional,” Romney recounts, “and she said, ‘Look, I’ve been out of work since May.’ She was in her 50s. She said, ‘I don’t see any prospects. Can you help me?’”

Could it be Romney is finally getting the message that many Americans need help through no fault of their own?

“There are so many people in our country that are hurting right now,” Romney says.  “I want to help them.”

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Mitt Romney: Free Speech Is for Billionaires, Not School-Teachers

From Alternet:

At an educational forum this week, Mitt Romney called for restricting teachers’ unions from participating in the political process.

By Joshua Holland
September 26, 2012

What does a plutocracy look like? How about a leveraged buy-out artist who used his family connections – and gamed the tax code – to amass a $378 million fortune , and whose campaign is almost entirely financed by deep-pocketed conservative sugar-daddies, saying that while money equals Constitutionally protected free speech for his own donors, there should be limits on political spending by teachers making $75,000 per year.

That’s exactly what transpired on Tuesday at an education forum in New York. According to CBS, Romney said that “we simply can’t have” elected officials who may receive contributions from teachers’ unions negotiating with them. “I think it’s a mistake,” Romney said. “I think we have to get the money out of the teachers unions going into campaigns.” CBS adds: “He suggested that money should somehow be diverted or cut off,” but — as is typical with Romney — “he did not offer details.”

One would be hard-pressed to come up with a better example of rank hypocrisy. The conservative view – now broadly accepted in our courts – has long been that money equals speech, that individuals and organization have a Constitutional right to donate to the politicians of their choosing. That was the rationale behind Citizens United – and a series of related cases – which allowed Romney to dominate the early fundraising race on the backs of a very small number of extremely wealthy donors .

And teachers’ unions don’t “sit across the table” from elected officials; they negotiate with appointed chancellors and career school administrators. Are school officials subject to the influence of elected officials? Yes, absolutely, but no more or less so than Defense Department or Department of Energy procurement officers are when they sit down and hammer out billion dollar contracts with companies that showered law-makers with lobbying dollars, and that happens every single day. But that, according to Romney, is not a problem. (As chair of the Salt Lake City Olympics and then later as Governor of Massachusetts, Romney himself had a penchant for steering tax dollars to firms in which he had an interest, and failing to disclose potential conflicts of interest.)

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Obama: We Must Rally Around Economic Patriotism

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Social Security: Solidarity, Not Investment

From Common Dreams:

The most fundamental misunderstanding about an essential program

by Jeff Nygaard
Published on Thursday, September 27, 2012 by Common Dreams

Recently the Associated Press (AP) published a four-part series of stories examining “the state of Social Security and its long-term health.”  The AP said that “Few things affect more Americans than the future of Social Security, and yet it’s an issue mostly invisible during the current campaign.”  True, it’s not talked about much, but perhaps more important is the fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the program that is revealed when people do talk about it.

This misunderstanding was revealed in the very first installment of the AP series, which appeared on August 5th.  The headline on this kick-off piece read, “Social Security Not Deal it Once Was for Workers.”  Asked the AP, “How can you get a better return on your Social Security taxes?”

A large and growing number of people share the misunderstanding revealed in that headline:  They think that Social Security is a program of Individual Investment.  It’s not, and was never meant to be.  Instead, it is a program of Social Insurance.  Understanding the difference between these two types of systems is the key to having even a glimmer of understanding about what is at stake in this huge public debate.

Here’s how insurance works:  With insurance, one only gets something back if one loses something.  I hope I never collect anything on my home insurance, for example, since that would mean my house has burned down, or some other horrible thing has happened.  Still, I pay my home insurance premium every year and I don’t think I am wasting my money.  Why not?  Because I know that, if and when I do lose something, I have insurance.  If I never “get back what I paid in,” that’s a good thing.  And, if I lose something, and DO get back some of what I paid in, what I get back is related to what I lost, not to what I paid in.  And that, too, is a good thing.  That’s the nature of insurance.  That is not the nature of investment.

Insurance, in principle, is based on what we know, as opposed to what we don’t know.  What we know are aggregate numbers, or social statistics.  We know, for example, roughly how many houses are going to burn down in a given year.  What we don’t know is which ones they will be.  So, we insure the group.  Everyone who wants to be in the insured group agrees to pay a premium that amounts to their proportionate share of the costs of replacing all of the homes that will burn down this year, not knowing whether or not one of them will be their own.  Insurance, then, even in it’s most commercial form, is a social program.

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In GOP we do not trust

From The Guardian UK:

Somewhere between philosophical pessimism and political cynicism lies Republicans’ deep antipathy towards democracy, Wednesday 26 September 2012

The Drudge Report, which I’ve always considered more mischievous than malicious, gave “” some link love earlier this week. The site tinkers with the poll results of major firms by re-weighting them according to the national proportions of Democrats to Republicans, as determined by the notoriously GOP-friendly Rassmussen group. Fans of the “unskewed polls” see them as a way of countering what conservative critics consider to be the “undercounting” Republican votes.

I have trouble with figuring how, exactly, the creator of Unskewed polls comes to the cheerful outcomes he does: it seems like the most simplistic kind of magical thinking. The site has led to many mocking “unskewed” assertions and representatives of the firms have expressed a more gentle befuddlement with the project:

“‘Why would pollsters want to look inaccurate?,’ [director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, Lew ]Miringoff asked rhetorically in a phone interview.”

At their heart, Unskewed Polls express a pseudoscientific rationalization for a pre-existing belief: the mathematical equivalent of intelligent design. But the site represents more than just modern conservatism’s skepticism about science; it underscores what has become a more animating and alarming concern – conservatives’ distrust of democracy as a process.

This is nothing new, of course. Edmund Burke railed with a kind of admirable irascibility against democracy (“A perfect democracy is, therefore, the most shameless thing in the world”). Closer to home, the Anti-Federalists pitched a near-victorious battle in the United States against more direct forms of democracy, which they saw as inevitably victim, as James Madison put it, to “the turbulency and weakness of unruly passions”. They pushed successfully for the US constitution to mandate election of senators by state legislatures and not voters – a quaint affectation that was superseded by the 17th amendment in 1913.

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Mitt Romney on Bain’s plan to buy and “harvest” companies

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Rain on Our Parade: A Letter to the Dismal Left

From Tom Dispatch:

‘Every minute of every hour of every day you are making the world, you might as do it with generosity and kindness and style.’

September 27, 2012
Dear Allies,Forgive me if I briefly take my eyes off the prize to brush away some flies, but the buzzing has gone on for some time. I have a grand goal, and that is to counter the Republican right with its deep desire to annihilate everything I love and to move toward far more radical goals than the Democrats ever truly support. In the course of pursuing that, however, I’ve come up against the habits of my presumed allies again and again.

O rancid sector of the far left, please stop your grousing! Compared to you, Eeyore sounds like a Teletubby. If I gave you a pony, you would not only be furious that not everyone has a pony, but you would pick on the pony for not being radical enough until it wept big, sad, hot pony tears. Because what we’re talking about here is not an analysis, a strategy, or a cosmology, but an attitude, and one that is poisoning us. Not just me, but you, us, and our possibilities.

Leftists Explain Things to Me

The poison often emerges around electoral politics. Look, Obama does bad things and I deplore them, though not with a lot of fuss, since they’re hardly a surprise. He sometimes also does not-bad things, and I sometimes mention them in passing, and mentioning them does not negate the reality of the bad things.

The same has been true of other politicians: the recent governor of my state, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was in some respects quite good on climate change. Yet it was impossible for me to say so to a radical without receiving an earful about all the other ways in which Schwarzenegger was terrible, as if the speaker had a news scoop, as if he or she thought I had been living under a rock, as if the presence of bad things made the existence of good ones irrelevant. As a result, it was impossible to discuss what Schwarzenegger was doing on climate change (and unnecessary for my interlocutors to know about it, no less figure out how to use it).

So here I want to lay out an insanely obvious principle that apparently needs clarification. There are bad things and they are bad. There are good things and they are good, even though the bad things are bad. The mentioning of something good does not require the automatic assertion of a bad thing. The good thing might be an interesting avenue to pursue in itself if you want to get anywhere. In that context, the bad thing has all the safety of a dead end. And yes, much in the realm of electoral politics is hideous, but since it also shapes quite a bit of the world, if you want to be political or even informed you have to pay attention to it and maybe even work with it.

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