'It's the rage, stupid!' / PsiCop original graphicForgive me, Dear Reader, for this blog post which deals entirely with politics and has nothing to do with belief or metaphysics of any kind. This is important, so please indulge me.

I’m sure you’ve heard about all the ridiculous and juvenile antics of real estate mogul and “reality TV” star Donald Trump, now that he’s joined the Republican presidential primary for 2016. That makes him King Bozo of the “clown car” (WebCite cached article). I won’t quote any of Trump’s comments or rationalizations for them here; their content — aside from their crass, insulting, and rude nature — is beside the point, as is his fierce and petulant refusal to apologize for any of it.

No, my point is something else entirely. And that is that — on the strength of his fiercely juvenile antics — he’s riding even higher than before among the Republican rank-&-file (cached). Most politicos will say this is because a lot of Republicans are tired of political “business as usual” and are gratified that a fresh and unorthodox voice is making itself heard. I’m sure this makes sense to a lot of folks … but it doesn’t fly with me. The reason is very simple: It’s possible to be both outspoken and unconventional, without being unduly insulting. Unacceptable, outrageous, and childish remarks and actions need not accompany a critique of the political establishment. A guy like Trump certainly is capable of taking on and eviscerating “the Establishment” without acting like a two-year-old.

I’ll digress here with a full disclosure: For a decade, through the 90s, I was a Republican activist in my home state of Connecticut. I was a delegate at several district and state party conventions. I assisted the campaigns of several GOP candidates. I’ve dealt with a lot of Republican officials, including some whose names are well-known to other residents of the Nutmeg State (if not to folks in other parts of the country or the world). I wasn’t exactly a “big wheel” in the machinery of Connecticut’s GOP, but I had a lot of contacts and through those years spoke with hundreds of active Republicans, as well as a lot of Republican voters, during the process of campaigning for candidates.

I chose to leave the party around the time George W. Bush was elected, because I didn’t like what I saw in it. There was a great deal of religious ferocity, as well as a rather virulent strain of intolerance for anyone who didn’t think “correctly.” Nasty, vile jokes at the expense of Democrats and minorities were common — and openly traded. Anger was palpable. I’d entered politics in order to make my town and my state better; but many of my fellow Republican activists had done so because they wanted to get “their way” all the time and to vent their rage at whatever they disliked; and they did so with the party’s approval. The GOP worked very hard to instill a certain amount of sanctimonious anger among conservatives beginning in the early 90s, and they’ve been milking it ever since as the chief fuel of the party. That particular aspect of the GOP has endured long after I left, as seen for example only last year.

(It’s possible much the same could be said of some Democrats. I really don’t know, because I didn’t join them and have never dealt directly with any Democratic activists. But even if so, that doesn’t excuse the childishly tasteless words and behavior I saw within the GOP, and it doesn’t make conservatism any less dysfunctional as a movement.)

At any rate, the Republican rank-&-file has embraced Trump, not because he’s unconventional, but because he’s saying things they like hearing. They’re every bit as crude and distasteful as he is, so they happily embrace his angry, juvenile verbal vomit. They see themselves in him — so they happily approve of his every childish move.

Even more than that, though … each time the mass media laugh at his latest juvenile maneuver and wonder aloud when his campaign will collapse, that only further encourages the Right to stick to him. Why? Because they goddamn fucking hate the mass media! Conservatives have despised the media since at least the Nixon administration, which for a while did a very good job of making it appear the Watergate scandal was just a figment of the imagination of the Washington Post and the rest of the “media elite.” Since then, the mantra that “the mass media are biased against the Right” has become part and parcel of conservative subculture. (They conveniently forget that major outlets like Fox News and the Wall Street Journal are decidedly biased in their favor but also very much a part of the mass media. Oh well.) Right-wing pundits like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Mark Levin, and the rest of that sanctimoniously-enraged crowd keep reiterating it to them by the moment, which only further reinforces this assumption. Many conservatives blame the mass media for Obama’s election (they were, after all, “in the tank” for him from the moment he announced his candidacy, you see). So the more the media ridicule Trump, the more convinced the Right becomes that he’s their man.

But beyond what’s already happened, the real problem for the Republican party is, it can only get worse. Trump has learned his poll numbers go up the more odious and vile he gets; so he’s sure to keep ramping it up. And the more he ramps it up, the more fiercely the GOP rank-&-file will attach themselves to him. He has no incentive to cool it, and the rank-&-file have no desire for him to do so. This is lethal for the party’s chances in the presidential election, though, because Trump’s disapproval ratings among the overall American population are high. Should he become the GOP nominee — which is quite possible, no matter how convinced many in the media are that it’s not — he’s guaranteed to throw the election to whoever the Democratic nominee is. The same fate will befall them if Trump doesn’t become the nominee and mounts a third-party campaign. So the GOP’s electoral fate may already be sealed.

In sum, Republicans created a monster when they decided to use anger, sanctimony and outrage as the glue that holds conservatives together to support their party. They now stand to reap a well-deserved reward for having done so! I suppose it’d sound nice if I could say I wished them luck, but quite honestly, I don’t. (This is in spite of the fact that I’m not really a fan of Democrats and/or liberals, either, and I’m by no means pleased with everything the current administration has done.) I want the Republican party to go down in flames — electorally speaking! — in 2016. Maybe that will encourage conservatives to fucking grow the hell up for the first time in their sniveling little lives and start acting like adults.

P.S. Ed. to add: Well, well, well! Buzzfeed reports that Donald Trump may have paid Breitbart News — an exceedingly popular Right-wing Web site — for glowing coverage (cached). This arrangement — which the site’s management vehemently denies — supposedly goes back to last year, so it predates Trump’s campaign by quite a while. It certainly doesn’t explain Trump’s staggeringly vast lead over his rivals, but if true, it means his candidacy is a lot less impromptu than it had appeared to be. Hmm.

P.P.S. Ed. to add: This morning, Donald Trump admitted his childish act is his way of intimidating everyone into letting him have his way (cached).

P.P.P.S. Ed. to add: Megyn Kelly returned to Fox News after a planned vacation, and Trump wasted no time venting his juvenile rage at her via Twitter. I have no doubt this childish stunt will further pump up his approval ratings within a GOP electorate which clearly views such behavior as “presidential.”

Photo credit: PsiCop original graphic.

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General Audience with Pope FrancisPope Francis continues to amaze, by repeatedly marching to his own drummer. The latest example of this came during his most recent audience. As Religion News Service reports, he instructed priests to welcome remarried Catholics (WebCite cached article):

Speaking out on one of the most contentious issues of his papacy, Pope Francis on Wednesday (Aug. 5) issued a powerful call for the church to embrace Catholics who have divorced and remarried, telling a gathering at the Vatican that such couples “are not excommunicated, and they absolutely must not be treated that way!”

“They always belong to the church,” he added, calling on pastors to welcome Catholics who have remarried without an annulment, even though such Catholics are currently barred in most cases from receiving the Eucharist, the central sacrament of the faith.

“The church is called to be always the open house of the Father. … No closed doors! No closed doors!” Francis told the crowd at his weekly public audience, which resumed after a monthlong summer break.

The pope’s words were greeted with what was described as thunderous applause [cached].

The article points out that Catholicism has, traditionally, taken a hard line against remarriage:

Current teaching says such Catholics cannot receive communion unless they abstain from sexual relations because their first marriage is still valid in the eyes of the church.

A debate over this has been brewing in the halls of the Vatican since Francis took office, and it appears his comments are of his effort to press the matter. He also pointed out the hypocrisy — not to mention dysfunctionality — of the Church’s current approach:

How can the church “tell these parents to do everything to raise their children as Christians, giving them an example of a firm and practiced faith, if we keep them at arm’s length from the community, as if they were excommunicated?”

I can attest that it’s not uncommon for people born into, and married within, the Catholic Church to be alienated from it, and therefore become ex-Catholics, because of this particular issue. It’s literally driving people right out their doors … making it a really stupid way to operate. And, from the “thunderous applause” of the people in his audience, it sounds as though a lot of lay Catholics agree.

Photo credit: Catholic Church England & Wales, via Flickr.

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A photo frame displaying portraits of blogger Niloy Chowdhury, 40, with his wife is placed inside their room in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Friday, Aug. 7, 2015. Assailants believed to be Islamist militants entered an apartment building posing as potential tenants and killed the secular blogger in Bangladesh's capital on Friday, in the fourth such deadly attack this year, police said. (AP Photo/A.M. Ahad)Unfortunately, there are a lot of places in the world where being a non-believer is dangerous, and being an outspoken non-believer is undeniably deadly. Bangladesh is one of them. Just this year, four secular bloggers have been killed there. Agence France-Presse reports via Yahoo News on the latest such slaughter, which took place earlier today (WebCite cached article):

A gang armed with machetes hacked a secular blogger to death at his home in Dhaka Friday, sparking protests in the capital over the fourth such murder in Bangladesh this year.

Niloy Chakrabarti, who used the pen-name Niloy Neel, was killed after the gang forced its way into his apartment, according to the Bangladesh Blogger and Activist Network, which was alerted to the attack by a witness.

“They entered his room in the fifth floor and shoved his friend aside and then hacked him to death. He was a listed target of the Islamist militants,” the network’s head, Imran H. Sarker, told AFP.

Police confirmed Chakrabarti, 40, had been murdered by a group of half a dozen people at his home in the capital’s Goran neighbourhood who had pretended they were looking for somewhere to rent.

As one expects in a country with many Islamists, calls for help went unheeded before Chakabarti was hacked to death:

“Two of them then took him to a room and then slaughtered him there,” deputy police commissioner Muntashirul Islam told AFP, adding that his wife had been “confined to another room” during the attack.

Mahbubur Rahman, another deputy commissioner, told reporters Chakrabarti’s wife had been heard crying out “Save us! Save us!” but no one responded.

The AFP notes the 3 previous savage butcherings in Bangladesh, as well as the fact that the government there has taken the cowardly route of doing basically nothing about them:

Immediately after the murder, hundreds of secular activists joined a protest march in the city’s Shahbagh Square, which was also the venue for the demonstrations two years ago.

“We’re protesting a culture of impunity in Bangladesh. One after another blogger is being killed and yet there is no action to stop these murderers,” said protester Sarker of the Bangladesh Blogger and Activist Network.

The problem here, of course, is that as long as these Islamist terrorists are going after outspoken atheists, the country’s Muslim government isn’t motivated to act. They don’t appear to care about atheists or their country’s nominal secular nature. Secular activists are dispensible, I guess. Once the terrorists have slaughtered or driven out all the secularists, though, their machetes will start chopping into other targets … i.e. other Muslims, of different sorts than they are. At that point it will have turned into a sectarian war, and the government will be forced to intervene; but by then, the terrorists will have had time to entrench themselves and will be more difficult to go after. As unpopular as secularists are in a country which is over 90% Muslim, it really is in the government’s best interests to start going after the Islamists now, rather than later.

But my guess is they won’t see the wisdom in this. They will, as I noted, keep acting like cowards and letting secularists die so they don’t have to get up off their sniveling little asses and actually do something. Cowardice is perhaps the single most common human trait — sad to say.

P.S. Edited to add: The Center for Inquiry offers a timeline of such attacks in Bangladesh, dating back some 16 years (cached). Hat tip for this addition: Friendly Atheist.

Ed. to add: As though to answer the question of why Bangladeshi authorities aren’t doing much of anything about the butchering of secular bloggers, they just made their position on the matter clear (cached):

Terming hurting one’s religious sentiment as crime, Inspector General of Police (IGP) has advised the free thinkers not to hurt religious sentiment in their writings.

IGP AKM Shahidul Haque said: “According to laws if any one hurts one’s feelings, he will be punished by the law.”

Advising the free thinkers, IGP said: “None should cross the limit.”

In the eyes of the government, then, the lives of any anyone who’s publicly atheistic are automatically forfeit. How wonderful! (Hat tip for this edit: Friendly Atheist.)

Photo credit: AP Photo/A.M. Ahad, via Yahoo News.

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Welcome to Farmersville, TX ... 'ceptin if yer wunna dem Mooslim types, den we can'ts let y'all inta our goodly Chrishun town / PsiCop original graphicPity the devout Christian folk of Farmersville, TX. Some horrible Muslim-type people seem to have moved in, and are trying to take over the town by building their own cemetery. They’ve only been living there for decades, and need one, but it seems this is just too much for the local Christian masses to take. As the Daily Beast reports, they’re not going to stand for it (WebCite cached article):

In the town of Farmersville, Texas—a far-flung suburb of Dallas 20 miles from Garland where the Draw the Prophet Mohammed cartoon contest was held—area Muslims have purchased a 35-acre tract on Lake Lavon for a new Muslim cemetery.…

Ever since the cemetery proposal was announced this summer the plans have been cause for controversy and outrage [cached].

Tuesday night, in a town of 3,000 people, between 300 and 400 people gathered in the Farmersville High School cafeteria/auditorium for a town hall meeting to discuss the plans: Every seat was filled and an overflow crowd lined the walls and filled the adjacent hallway, small children playing quietly in front of their parents and grandparents.

These devout Christians proceeded to express a lot of stupidity and prejudice in their effort to disparage and derail the project. For instance:

Muslims have been buried in the Dallas area for decades with no concerns about health violations or contamination, but in Farmersville those concerns were very prevalent.

The first written question was: “What is the Muslim burial process, and will there be seepage?”

What do they think … that “Muslim-hood” is going to leak into the ground and consume the town or something!? There was also this admission:

When the town hall was turned over to an open mic, the second person to get up was Darrell Moore, “Commander of Farmersville VFW Post 7426,” who represents WWII veterans still living in town.

He said, “People, we have received a lot of phone calls. We have received letters from out of state, OK. I want you all to understand something. We are a veterans’ organization. We are not the police. We have been called on to do illegal activities.” (Moore didn’t specify what he meant, but presumably activities to somehow resist the planned cemetery.)

“It’s not gonna happen,” Moore continued. “I’m gonna save y’all a lot of phone calls and a lot of time. The position of the VFW in this situation is the VFW will support whatever laws, regulations, and ordinances set forth by the state and local government. We are not the police department. We are not going to take a stand on this either way.”

You read that right: People had actually been trying to get the local VFW to take up arms and prevent the cemetery from being built. Yes, the VFW. They didn’t take the bait, but this is how desperate the devout Christian folk of Farmersville (and elsewhere!) are to block this horrific Muslim cemetery.

The behavior of people at this meeting was juvenile and deplorable. Just read the article for all the details. They seem to have fallen for the too-often-believed lie that there’s no religious freedom for Muslims. It’s time they fucking grew the hell up and accepted the reality that there have been, and are, Muslims in their vicinity, and that they have as much right as anyone else to practice their religion … which includes burials. They may not like that, but too fucking bad for them, that’s just the way it is. The sooner they make their peace with it, the better off they’ll be.

Photo credit: PsiCop original graphic.

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bygging þar sem Alþingi Íslendinga situr, síðan 1881 (Íslenska); Parliament Building in Reykjavík, Iceland (English)For years now I’ve pointed out that the “crime” of blasphemy is really no crime at all; it doesn’t actually harm anyone or anything else. Consider: If (for example) someone expresses disrespect for a deity, what does that accomplish? It can’t harm the deity, since — if they exist — deities are metaphysical entities unaffected by such things. The deity — again, if it existed prior to the blasphemy — will continue to exist and in the same state as before. It can’t harm the deity’s religion, because it will go on just as it had previously; it will still have followers, its teachings won’t vanish, its various artifacts (objects/locations of worship, sacred texts, etc.) will go on as before. It also can’t harm the deity’s worshippers; they can keep on worshipping him/her/it as they always did, and continue believing as they did, prior to the blasphemy having been uttered.

Thus, blasphemy damages nothing and no one. People might be offended by it, but that doesn’t really mean anything, since they aren’t harmed in any meaningful way.

Despite this, a lot of countries have outlawed blasphemy, as well as apostasy (refusal to adhere to the prevailing religion, which is related). As noted, because blasphemy never harms anyone or anything, these laws accomplish nothing, except to protect believers in those countries from the terrible burden of being offended by someone outside their faith. This has the corollary effect of sensitizing people to any expression of blasphemy, and this in turn infantilizes them, fooling them into thinking the entire world believes as they do and they’re entitled never to have to know that not everyone does. This leads them to do insanely juvenile things like riot, maim and murder when they hear someone might burn a Qur’an (for example), or kill people over rumored blasphemies that never actually happened.

There really is no reason, therefore, for any jurisdiction on earth to have a blasphemy law.

I’m glad to hear, therefore, that — as the BBC reports — earlier this month, Iceland repealed its old blasphemy law (WebCite cached article):

Iceland’s parliament has abolished its blasphemy laws, despite opposition from some of the country’s churches.

A bill was put forward by the minority Pirate Party [cached], which campaigns for internet and data freedom.

It came after the deadly attack the same month against French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

The bill said it was “essential in a free society that the public can express themselves without fear of punishment”.

It’s too bad it took a massacre to bring this to their attention … but at least they managed to get this done, driven by Iceland’s Pirate Party, which had been small but is growing in both numbers and political influence (cached). What’s also gratifying is that Iceland’s largest church supported repeal of the blasphemy law (cached):

The Iceland Monitor website said that the Church of Iceland supported the change [cached], and quoted them as saying that “any legislative powers limiting freedom of expression in this way is at variance with modern-day attitudes towards human rights”.

The Catholic Church of Iceland, along with a couple others, opposed it, claiming that allowing people’s religion to be insulted somehow reduces their religious freedom. I haven’t a fucking clue how that works — and I suspect they don’t either — but that’s what they said.

It’s time the entire world grew the fuck up and did what Icelanders did, which is to get rid of blasphemy laws. Because that’s what this is all about, ultimately … the maturity it takes to let people say what they want, even if it offends their religious senses. We can no longer afford the alternative. We just can’t.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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The former archbishop makes his first remarks since resigning in June. Glen Stubbe – Star TribuneI’ve blogged a few times about recently-resigned Twin Cities archbishop John Nienstedt and his various specious behaviors. These were significant enough that — at his own direction — his archdiocese launched an investigation into his dealings a year and a half ago. He ended up trying to derail it once he learned it was going places he’d preferred it wouldn’t (WebCite cached version).

Well, as the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports, it seems Nienstedt had more than a little reason to be embarassed by what that investigation had found (cached):

Former Archbishop John Nienstedt said he remains “dumbfounded” by the allegations of personal misconduct that emerged last year during an internal church investigation of his behavior — a report that the archdiocese now is considering making public.…

Commissioned by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the probe looked into claims that Nienstedt had engaged in behavior that was inappropriate for a priest. The Star Tribune has learned that investigators collected affidavits from priests, former seminarians and a former priest alleging actions, some dating to the Detroit area in the early 1980s, that range from inappropriate touching to visiting a gay nightclub.…

The archdiocese declined to answer questions about the investigation. Last year, it hired the Greene Espel law firm in Minneapolis to look into allegations of clergy misconduct involving Nienstedt and adults. The law firm’s work ended last summer, and the chancery hired Minneapolis criminal defense attorney Peter Wold to complete the probe.

Greene Espel has publicly disputed claims by the archdiocese that Nienstedt did not intervene in the investigation.

The firm conducted interviews and collected affidavits, or sworn statements, from people who worked with or knew Nienstedt. The Star Tribune has confirmed that five Catholic priests, one former priest and a former seminarian were among those who provided affidavits.

In one affidavit, a priest in Harrison Township, Mich., reported seeing Nienstedt at a gay nightclub in Windsor, Ontario, just across the border from Detroit in the 1980s. “I recall seeing John — and there is no doubt in my mind that it was him based on my prior interactions with him — at the Happy Tap,” the Rev. Lawrence Ventline wrote in his affidavit. “He appeared to wave me off as I was coming — and I backed off because I did not want impose on him.”

Another affidavit from a Michigan priest said that Nienstedt pulled up to his car in an area frequented by gay men one December in the early 1980s and asked him if he had any “poppers,” an inhalant used by gay men to enhance sexual pleasure. When he got into Nienstedt’s car, and Nienstedt recognized him as a former student, he changed the subject, the priest told the Star Tribune.

A former seminarian at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, James Heathcott, also filed an affidavit. He said that Nienstedt — who was the seminary’s rector — expelled him after he refused an invitation to join Nienstedt and two other seminarians on a private weekend at a ski chalet in the late 1980s.

In addition, the Star Tribune obtained a 2014 letter sent by a former student at Sacred Heart Seminary to former auxiliary bishop Lee Piché, who oversaw the Nienstedt investigation, alleging that Nienstedt touched his buttocks after a dinner together one night between 2000 and 2002. Joseph Rangitsch said he protested and Nienstedt replied he could “make things unpleasant for you very quickly.”

As I said, and as the Star Trib reports, Nienstedt categorically denies it all, and offered excuses for some of these encounters, which oddly enough tends to lend them a little credibility. It’s odd that such a vehement anti-gay crusader might turn out to have been a closeted gay … or, maybe it’s not so strange after all, given that it seems to happen now and again.

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist.

Photo credit: Glen Stubbe / Star Tribune.

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Pope Francis with children on Friday in Luque, Paraguay, the final leg of his Latin America trip. Andres Stapff/Reuters, via New York TimesPope Francis continues making headlines by marching to what is largely his own personal drum. In addition to his recent encyclical calling for action on global warming, he keeps finding ways to poke his nose into things a lot of people would rather he didn’t. During his trip to Latin America, as the New York Times reports, he did precisely that, by condemning capitalism in strong terms (WebCite cached article):

His speeches can blend biblical fury with apocalyptic doom. Pope Francis does not just criticize the excesses of global capitalism. He compares them to the “dung of the devil.” He does not simply argue that systemic “greed for money” is a bad thing. He calls it a “subtle dictatorship” that “condemns and enslaves men and women.”

Having returned to his native Latin America, Francis has renewed his left-leaning critiques on the inequalities of capitalism, describing it as an underlying cause of global injustice, and a prime cause of climate change. Francis escalated that line last week when he made a historic apology for the crimes of the Roman Catholic Church [cached] during the period of Spanish colonialism — even as he called for a global movement against a “new colonialism” rooted in an inequitable economic order.

His apology for Church atrocities in Latin American during the colonial age have been a long time coming. The missionaries who arrived with the conquistadores and acted as their enforcers sometimes were a savage bunch. Which is why it’s odd that he pressed to canonize one of the more controversial among them (cached) — but at the moment that’s beside the point.

At any rate, it’s not the first time the Pope has made noises in this direction, and because of that, he’s already aroused the ire of American conservatives, who worship at the altar of Capitalism right alongside their Jesus. The first among them to weigh in on the Pope’s latest denunciation of capitalism was Rush Limbaugh, who as Media Matters reports — and provides audio — threw a fit over it (cached). Note that he managed to wedge Obama into his tirade, even though Obama had no relation to it whatsoever. Poor little Rushie has made a multi-decade career out of being sanctimoniously enraged that there are actually people in the world insolent enough to dare disagree with him on shit. He seems actually to think that no one on the planet is permitted to say or even think anything other than what he approves of. Expect more fierce Rightists, probably many of them, to agree with crybaby Rushie and go on self-righteous tirades of their own.

Photo credit: Andres Stapff/Reuters, via New York Times.

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