Reza Aslan is Wrong

Reza Aslan writing in NYMag:

“I think the principle fallacy…is that they believe that people derive their values, their morals, from their religion. That, as every scholar of religion in the world will tell you, is false. People don’t derive their values from their religion — they bring their values to their religion. Which is why religions like Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam are experienced in such profound, wide diversity…”

The sniffing way Aslan casually drops the bullshit appeal to imaginary authority is annoying: “Every scholar of religion in the world…?”
Would those be scholars like Aslan or the Pope? Carl Jung? Frank Moore Cross?
Aslan is making a false dichotomy: insisting that either religion pushes or is pulled by existing values.
This is wrong, horribly shallow and, at base, sadly hypocritical. It certainly demonstrates that Aslan isn’t much of a thinker.

It is wrong and shallow because the relationship between existing values and religiously imposed/propagated values is a far more dynamic system than a simple horse-and-cart. Quite plainly the values found in ideas such as, “Thou shalt not kill” predate anything like organized religion and are attributable to our evolved nature as social animals.
But there are other values: the cleanliness of a menstruating woman…or her presence near men on public transportation; whether an apostate should or should not be murdered; whether gay people can get married; whether stem cell research should be conducted; whether scientific fact or fairytales should be taught in classrooms – these are not “existing values” and are, rather obviously, a source of harm. In these cases the demands and edicts of religion have real, quantifiable consequences that are not the result of “existing values.”
There is no argument from existing values absent “God said so” that supports denying homosexuals the right to enter into the civil institution of marriage.
So, while such things as respect for life itself (except the infidels) may find commonality across religions, the devil is certainly in the details.

Religion, its commandments and edicts, the social cohesion and conformity it fosters, directly propagate and reinforce a wide range of values and beliefs that are simply NOT universal or even tolerable in a just society.
To say otherwise demonstrates either an inability or an agenda-driven refusal to think seriously about the question.

The hypocrisy of it is sad. Aslan accuses atheists firstly of painting all Muslims as evil (a slanderous falsehood) and, secondly of pointing to Islam as the singular fount of evil in the world without which all forms of oppression would cease. He points to the myriad other causes of oppression and says, “See, religion can’t be the cause!”
He stubbornly ignores the real claim – that religion is A CAUSE – one of many operating in concert – but that it is a big one, and directly responsible – the proximate cause – for a shocking number of very specific, very hideous crimes that would not otherwise happen; that, in addition to being a proximate cause, it is central to propagating the values that support oppression.

Aslan is so busy trying to get religion completely off the hook for the evil it plainly does and proudly supports, he commits the very myopic blunder of which he falsely complains. By accusing atheists of portraying religion as the SOLE cause of evil (which no one does), he only calls the spotlight onto his insistent and vacuous assertion that religion has absolutely nothing to do with it.
It just sits there…a shimmering gelatinous blob of hypocrisy with smug sprinkles.

On Language, Tone and Insistent Stupidity

I have always enjoyed argument and viewed it more as a pastime – a sport – than anything to be avoided.
The exchange of reasoned ideas supported by evidence of varying kind and quality. Like chess, no one gets to say they got a bad bounce or that the sun was in their eyes. Debate doesn’t come with those sorts of excuses for poor results (although, it is well noted that in the orgies of idiocy one commonly stumbles into on facebook, fan interference produces some ugly moments).

Premise: All of us believe very many wrong things.
Some more than others – there are people out there who are wrong about almost every single thing they believe short of their name…and they might be lying about that, too. But the ubiquity of stupidity is the point, not its varying depths. We’re all wrong about some things.
I tend to take great pains over this seemingly simple truth…usually by not making any claims.
There is a difference between making a positive case for a proposition X, and pointing out that the case being made for Y is a ridiculous fantasy cobbled together out of bullshit, lies and foolishness.

This commonly results in various forms of straw man: “Oh, you don’t like my Libertarian FREEDOM!, so therefore you must be a full-on stooge of full government control of everything!”
No…not really…I’m just pointing out what a moron YOU are.

THAT, of course, leads to accusations of ad hominem. So, before we go any further, allow me to clear that up.
Ad hominem (literally “At the man”) is a logical fallacy in which one attacks the person making the argument RATHER THAN the argument itself.
It takes the form, broadly speaking, of, “He is a stupid and bad man, so his argument (which I have not addressed) must also be stupid and bad.”
This must be contrasted with taking the time to specifically address the argument, shred it to fucking pieces, demonstrate beyond any question that it is premised on bullshit, and THEN calling the person who constructed it a mendacious, wrongheaded twat.
THAT AIN’T AD HOMINEM. That is calling a spade a spade.

The foregoing is merely a quick glance at the SORTS of stupid…the depth of the stupid is also a real and quantifiable thing.
There is a significant difference in degree between these two positions with regard to “questions” about September 11, 2001:

1. “I’m not sure we’re being told the whole story about what happened on 9/11. I have doubts about the official explanation.”
2. “The official explanation is a lie and the laws of physics prove it! Because they lied, I know it was a controlled demolition / inside job which the same laws of physics also proves!”

You can have a reasonable conversation with the first one.
For some purely masochistic reason I refuse to examine too closely, I cannot leave the second one alone.
And it doesn’t matter whether they are Truthers, Birthers, anti-abortionists, god wallopers, gun nuts, Republicans, Libertarians, Left-Wing Purity Police, Glenn Greenwald fanbois, anti-vaccers, creationists, racists, xenophobes, homophobes, David Brooks, Sarah Palin…I loathe stupid.
I simply cannot resist stabbing insistent public imbecility, willful blindness, and that damned Dunning-Kruger Effect degree of completely unwarranted certainty that they actually know what they’re talking about.
For me, stupid people might as well be slathering themselves in bacon grease and running around the garbage dump outside Churchill, Manitoba.
If you didn’t catch the reference, google “Polar Bear Capital of Canada.”

There are some specific examples that stand out:
One particularly knowledgeable chap asserted (among so very many outright lies) that Indian Reservations were created as reparations for past wrongs.
Now, one can view the creation of reservations in many ways, but their creation by treaty between sovereign nations (for good or ill) is an absolute conceptual denial that they could be seen as having been CREATED (as opposed to held back…or, you know RESERVED) or that they were in any way related to reparations for crimes that had not even been acknowledged and, for the most part, have yet to be so acknowledged, much less that any “Reparations” might be due.
He did not retract, modify or even acknowledge the error…by which term I am being kind, especially in view of his immediate progression into the casual claim to know what is best for Those People; how they need to get off their sovereign land and integrate into the community that murdered their ancestors, inflicted residential schools on generations and continues to socially and economically oppress them.
Ah…smart white people – where would Natives be without them?

In another thread, the same insightful fellow posited that corporate charity could and should be the source of all social welfare monies…because corporations, despite their ill-deserved reputation, are really very generous and caring.
He posted links to show that corporate giving is $16 BILLION per year! Do you see? Are you not thankful? If we would just stop taxing those generous, loving corporations, why…they would give more!
Analysis of his own data showed that corporate giving to “Charity” amounted to 16 billion. He was unable to explain how donations to Ducks Unlimited, the Texas 4H-Club, Americans for Prosperity and The Heritage Foundation equated with the social safety net.
Further analysis revealed that corporate charity amounts to 5% of ALL charitable giving – vastly greater sums coming from trusts and endowments, and (leading the pack!) individual, private donors – people like you kicking in $10 or $20.  This, of course, has nothing to do with the social safety net. After we subtract all of the Ducks and wetlands and Pandas, the anti-Obamacare organizations, Sean Hannity’s scam off the children of fallen soldiers which exists to provide Sean Hannity with private planes and expensive hotel rooms…after all that “Charitable giving”, some money winds up in church soup kitchens and food banks which are just a wee bit fucking overwhelmed by demand.
Almost effortless additional googling turns up the annual cost of the social safety net, which is not “Well-funded” or “Comprehensive” by any measure and through which far too many slip: $650 billion dollars per year.
The brilliant defender of corporate largess was unable to explain where the other SIX HUNDRED AND FORTY BILLION DOLLARS might come from…but lower taxes for generous corporations was still the only way to fly.

In yet ANOTHER thread…in which he had a problem with Building 7 falling at the speed of gravity (which, I kept explaining to him, is how fast things FALL)…he asserted that GRAVITY affects different material in different ways.
Now, keep in mind, the point at issue – the nut he wanted to crack – is that Building 7 fell at “Free fall speed”.
I granted that it did, because that is how things fall when there is nothing holding them up.
He kept insisting that it should not have done that.
“Why should it not have done that?”
Because there was something impeding it.
“What, specifically, was ‘impeding’ it?”

I provided an analogy: a skateboarder’s shin snaps – he doesn’t fall slowly as the skin and muscle fight to continue holding up what the bone can no longer support.
The brilliant truther started screaming that I know NOTHING about science, engineering, physics, the laws of gravity…that I was stupid. How could I not know that GRAVITY AFFECTS DIFFERENT MATERIALS DIFFERENTLY? Did I really expect that GRAVITY affects sheets of glass and large piece of steel the same way it affects a human body?
Well, yes…in fact, I do.

I explained gravity to him. How it’s a constant. How in 1589 Galileo dropped some stuff from the Leaning Tower of Pisa and sorted that bit out…and how most elementary school children know this.
Now comes the BEST part…
This fellow, who had repeatedly insisted on his expertise in design, engineering, construction, infrastructure, Native American history, economics, politics, civil rights (trust me…these specific examples barely scratch the surface) while asserting my stone ignorance in ALL things, accused me of putting words in his mouth:
OF COURSE he understands gravity…
…what he was REALLY talking about was how different materials respond to the force of IMPACT after they have fallen…
…remember that television commercial in which they drop a real pick-up truck and a TONKA truck from the same height and the pick-up truck is destroyed but the TONKA truck is only dented? See? The force of impact depends on the materials involved, and THAT’S what he really meant…
…and if I weren’t such a foul-mouthed, unreasonable, stupid know-nothing, I would KNOW that!

I did point out to him that the way different materials respond to impact doesn’t have ANYTHING to do with how fast they fall…which was, I had thought, the issue. I didn’t point out that the differing MASS of the pick-up truck and the TONKA truck might have had something to do with force of impact…but I didn’t want to stray farther into science, about which I know nothing.
But if I were arguing about how fast things are SUPPOSED to fall, I would certainly consider what happens to them on impact to be a determining factor. Sure I would. Because it makes perfect sense. How could I not know that? I guess I need to bone up on that science stuff.

Thus far, I have restricted my comments to the nature, quality and degree of the sorts of stupidity one is likely to encounter when strolling about hunting for it; the sort of insistent, wrongheaded pathology that accompanies it.
There is another facet I would like to note.
There are a couple of assumptions that people make about how debate ought to be conducted. The first of these seems to follow, incorrectly in my view, from the principle that everyone has a right to their opinion – freedom of thought and freedom of speech. The false step that often follows is the assumption that everyone’s opinion is just as good as anyone else’s. “You say X, I say Y…it’s a coin flip.”

If I need an operation, the opinion of my doctor outweighs that of my motorcycle mechanic. The reverse is true should I require piston rings.
Questions of evidence, expertise, experience, reason, history, bias and many other qualities come into significant play when assessing the value of any opinion.
That one HAS an opinion in no way obligates anyone else to take it seriously, or gives it ANY inherent value.

The other assumption people seem to make is that they deserve to be treated respectfully when they parade around in public spouting outright lies, stubbornly refusing to engage facts, reason and evidence in favour of insistent repetition of their paranoid fever dreams and giving snotty, condescending responses to anyone who happens to point out that, you know, the laws of physics they’ve been lecturing everyone about don’t work the way they think.

I understand the reasonable protocol of not calling someone a “Brainless, ignorant fuckwit with their head jammed so goddamn far up their own ass they need a glass belly button,” right off the drop (except in egregious cases)…but when it reaches the point where some god walloping anti-science piece of shit starts blathering about AIDS being god’s punishment for the homo-sek-shuls, I stop caring whether they care for my fucking tone.

When some stunningly ignorant, casual hatesac Libertarian starts telling me that I can trust the FREE MARKET to stamp out any “No Colored” signs that appear in Mississippi because, of course, that would cost the restaurant all of their business…you explain to me why they SHOULDN’T be asked when they get their fucking Klan sheets back from the cleaners.

I’m fucking well tired of a bunch a lobotomy survivors telling me they don’t like my tone; that my salty language offends their delicate, Nancy-boy sensibilities…but they have no trouble pulling themselves up from the fainting couch to bawl like a spoiled tween over my horrible language while refusing to address the awesome pus-soaked brainlessness that provoked it.

I don’t need anger management…they need stupid management.
And anyone who thinks they have a fucking right NOT to be offended can kiss my ass. Twice.

You don’t like being called a stupid, lying, ignorant fuckwit in public?
Stop telling blatant lies and making insistent claims that ooze infectious stupid IN PUBLIC.

When you climb up on the soapbox, squat and proudly take a giant shit, don’t expect a fucking pat on the head.



I’m a huge fan of television done well: The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad…I enjoyed Boardwalk Empire and I loved the first season of True Detective (even though the plot was overwrought, McConaughey was up to the weirdness and Harrelson was up to the rage).
If you aren’t watching Fargo, get thee to downloading and watch it.
Set in the universe created by Joel and Ethan Coen for their true crime film of the same name but following a fresh story, the writing, acting, characters, shots, music and camera work are all very reminiscent of the movie. But 10 hour-long episodes is a different game than a single 98-minute story. There’s room for more back story, side plots, additional cast and characters…all tangentially related to the main plot line but also carrying their own internal weight…and all crossing paths in ways that produce incredible surprises and excruciating tension.
And Fargo hits it out of the park in all regards.
Billy Bob Thornton deserves an Emmy for his work as Lorne Malvo, and everyone that has acted with him – from his plaything/nemesis Lester, to the old man in the post office, to the hyper little friend he tied up for police, to Oliver Platt (who found the money from the movie all those years ago!) deserves a chunk of the statue.
EVERYONE on this show deserves a nomination and Noah Hawley is one hell of a writer.

Bullet Proof Blankets – Because DON’T TOUCH MY FUCKING GUNS!

From Buzzfeed: An Oklahoma company has designed a bullet-resistant blanket that’s designed to protect children and teachers in the event of a school shooting.

bullet blankets

bullet 2

bullet 3

“Yeah, I’m Tony…from the bullet proof blanket company Protek UR Tot. This sure is a nice school you got here. Be a real shame if someone was to, you know, shoot the place up or somethin’. You know how easy it is to get a gun these days? Piece of cake. I got one right here…look. I got three more in the car. All perfectly legal – can youse believe it? Anyways, what you got here?…400 kids? So, how’s about I put you down for that?”

This is a very good idea. It prevents the kids from running and hiding and having to find them. This way, they’ll be lined up on the floor, camouflaged under bright orange blankets.
It’s like playing Whack-A-Mole.

Ted Cruz Is NOT Canadian!

I approach this news from a purely utilitarian perspective.
Ted, along with 33 million Canadians, are VERY happy that he is no longer Canadian…and I presume there are some inbred, redneck, tea party idiots in Texas who are grinning through their drool about it.
No doubt more than a few sane Americans are gobbling down handfuls of Advil this morning, but their disappointment cannot possibly outweigh the joy in Canada. This is like attending a Vancouver-Montreal Stanley Cup Final Game Seven at which there is free beer, free poutine, and between periods everyone gets to naked body surf behind the Zamboni.

Eric Cantor Lost His Seat

While I am overjoyed to see the political back of this TREASONOUS, mendacious, vicious, two-faced, rotten, ultra-partisan dickhead, have a look at the Brat the Republicans have hoarked up in his stead:

“Brat, an economics professor and political novice, runs a libertarian-funded program at Randolph-Macon College in Virginia. He ran to the right of Cantor, hammering the congressman for his refusal to rule out immigration reform and his votes to raise the debt ceiling and end the government shutdown.”

The Republicans are like some fucking Hydra – you cut off one asshole, and a bigger asshole grows back to replace it.

What Does NBA Stand For?

sterling plus one

Every time I see these two – the geriatric rich racist and the slutty exotic plastic surgery survivor – I think to myself, “See…it CAN happen. True love exists and, no matter your circumstances, if you live a good and honest life then destiny will bring you together.”
It puts a smile in my step and a song in my heart. Perhaps you’d like to sing along with me?
And the livin’ is easy
Fish are jumpin’
And the cotton is high…

It is somewhat ugly – that a man’s bought and paid for whore would secretly record him actually saying the bald words that confirm what anyone with half a brain knew already: he’s a rich RACIST asshole.
We knew he was racist. He isn’t being punished for being racist. If he were, the NBA would have kicked his ass out back when he was refusing to rent to “smelly’ black people. He’s being punished, it seems, for forcing the rest of America to use up its reserves of cognitive dissonance oil and change its hypocrisy gearing.

While I have no problem with a professional sports league – a private entity – saying, “Sorry, your blatant racism makes us look bad. We took a vote and you’re out. Your team is being auctioned. See you in court,” let’s do try to remember that this is a league that coddles wife beaters, drug dealers, illegal gun possessors, bar brawlers, deadbeat dads and drunk drivers; that tells anyone who can drain the three, “You don’t need an education, kid…bet it all on your Achilles tendons holding up.”
The righteous indignation at Sterling’s comments is justified, and so is the punishment, but let’s not trouble the props department to drag the goddamn fainting couch up from storage, shall we?


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