Posts Tagged “new york NY”

Saint Patricks Cathedral in New York - NYC - USA - panoramioFallout from the worldwide Catholic clerical abuse scandal continues raining down all over the place. The latest example comes from New York City, whose archdiocese wants to borrow money to improve their cashflow, as Reuters reports, which has been choked due to payouts to abuse victims (WebCite cached article):

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York is seeking permission for a $100 million mortgage on some of its valuable Manhattan property to fund its compensation program for people sexually abused by its priests, a spokesman said on Wednesday.

The archdiocese said last October it would compensate people who had accused priests of abusing them as children, including those prevented by statutes of limitations from filing civil lawsuits. It said at the time it would seek loans to fund the payouts, which are being decided by two independent arbitrators.

On Monday, the archdiocese filed a petition in New York state court in Manhattan seeking approval for a one-year mortgage from JPMorgan Chase on land it owns behind St. Patrick’s Cathedral; the Lotte New York Palace hotel is located on the site. The petition was necessary under a New York law governing the use of church property, Joseph Zwilling, an archdiocese spokesman, said in a telephone interview.

“Because we have begun the process of paying out the compensation to victims, the archdiocese has taken this short-term loan to cover the payments,” Zwilling said.

As Reuters explains, the archdiocese is also soliciting claims by abusers who haven’t come forward yet, which may well add to their liabilities. That’s laudable, as such, but really, it’s the least they could do at this point. As with almost every other diocese on the planet, they spent years, and maybe decades, covering for abusive clergy and effectively enabling the abuse by continuing to grant abusers access to children, even in cases when they were known abusers.

It’s widely assumed that Catholic dioceses are wealthy … and nearly all of them are. But in many cases, their wealth is tied up in real estate, and while it has value, it’s not cash in the bank that they can write checks against. Hence, tactics like this, borrowing against their real estate. But I can’t say I’m sympathetic. As I said, this scandal was decades in the making and was fuelled by depraved and amoral hierarchs who put the reputation of their precious Church above everything else — even the welfare of children in its care. Disgusting.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Hep-hep riotsI blogged just a few days ago that the Great Neocrusade — a movement within the Religious Right that I labeled as such a few years ago — had moved from being an instrument of propaganda and Christian apologetics, into outright violence. At the time I specified a number of anti-Mulsim attacks that had taken place, in support of this trend.

Sadly, I must report, this trend continues … and it’s accelerated. Here’s just a sampling of stories over the last couple days:

Even more sadly, it looks as though the violent Neocrusaders aren’t very discriminating. They’ve gone after people who aren’t even Muslims, apparently without even realizing it:

Two notes: This list is not exhaustive! There have been many more anti-Muslim incidents across the country. Second, I acknowledge some of these are victims’ reports, and have yet to be corroborated. Some might turn out to be hoaxes, or may not have been motivated by hatred of Muslims. I will do my best to check these over the next couple of months to verify them.

Yesterday I received angry, private correspondence from someone I presume to be a Neocrusader, accusing me of not realizing that Muslims attacked both Paris and San Bernardino — which I obviously know about, since I blogged about Paris and mentioned San Bernardino; of not “understanding” the nature of the problem and of people’s anger over it — again, I’m obviously aware of that, since I’ve blogged about Islamist terror on countless occasions; and of sympathizing with Islamist terrorists — which also is obviously untrue since I’ve consistently condemned them.

Look, I get it. I do. Really. Honest! Yes, I understand the rage Neocrusaders feel. But I don’t fucking care how much rage seethes inside them! They simply can’t act out on that rage. Grown adults are able to deal with their anger and suppress it, and I expect them to do so. What’s more, the idea that it’s somehow OK to attack innocent Muslims at will, because some terrorists who happen to be Muslim have attacked innocents, is “two wrongs make a right” thinking, and is quite fallacious.

Go ahead, Neocrusaders, be angry, if it makes you feel better to do so. Have at it! Enjoy yourselves. Be as sanctimoniously furious as you want! But … keep it to yourselves. Taking your anger out on others is illegal, and is itself a form of the very same terrorism that got you all enraged in the first place. The better course would be to grow up, suck it up, and fucking control yourselves for once.

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novastock0015A lot of the time, metaphysical beliefs that people have appear harmless. What’s wrong, for example, with believing in angels? That wouldn’t seem a detrimental belief — unless one believes in angels so fiercely that one thinks one can leap from a rooftop and be caught by angels before hitting the ground (not that I think people are doing that).

Among some other metaphysical beliefs that also appear to be harmless, is reincarnation. When combined with the notion of karma, however, a lot of potentially-harmful complications can result from it. This story, reported by the Associated Press via ABC News, provides a sterling example of how this is possible (WebCite cached article):

A psychic accused of bamboozling clients out of tens of thousands of dollars was convicted on Friday after a trial that peered into the legalities of a business built on mysticism and uncertainty.

Sylvia Mitchell’s case drew back a bead-edged curtain on a Greenwich Village parlor where customers were warned about “negative energy” and their problems were traced to past lives. Prosecutors argued that Mitchell was a fortune-telling fraudster who preyed on vulnerable people.

The AP offers two examples of how Mitchell used the combination of reincarnation and karma to swindle people:

Lee Choong wandered in while working 80 to 100 hours a week at a New York investment bank, missing her family at home in Singapore and struggling with a one-sided workplace crush in 2007, Choong testified.

A skeptical but scared Choong gradually paid more than $120,000 as Mitchell told Choong she had “negative energy” and said Choong’s family had harmed the object of her affection in a past existence but concluded the two had a future together, according to testimony and prosecutors.…

Debra Saalfield, a ballroom dancing instructor from Naples, Fla., went to Mitchell after losing a job and a boyfriend within a day in July 2008. Mitchell told Saalfield she’d been too attached to riches in a previous life as a princess in ancient Egypt so she needed to prove she could part with money by giving Mitchell $27,000 to hold, Saalfield testified.

This is why reincarnation coupled with karma is the ideal platform for a perfect scam. According to the reasoning behind these ideas, you can explain anything for anyone at any time by appealing to “something happened in a past life” … and get away with it, because of course no one can remember anything from a past life and verify whether or not it’s so.

Which leads me to wonder about the logic of reincarnation and karma. If — as I’ve been told by “New Agers” who believe in this sort of thing — we each live multiple lives in order to learn cosmic lessons, it makes no sense for us to have no directly-accessible memory of all those past lives. What cosmic lessons can we possibly be “learning” if we can’t recall any of those past lives?

Maybe this is the kind of question that only occurs to viciously-cynical godless agnostic heathens like myself. Maybe I’m the only person in the entire cosmos who doesn’t inherently understand it. Oh well.

Photo credit: Gerard Fritz, via Flickr.

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Federal Bureau of Investigation agents raided a home in the Kensington neighborhood of Brooklyn early Thursday morning.  / Michael Nagle for The New York TimesThis news out of New York is horrific. Some rabbis there chose a disturbing means of getting around a peculiarity of Jewish divorce principles, as the New York Times reports (WebCite cached article):

The two rabbis offered an unusual service to Jewish women who could not get their husbands to agree to a divorce, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. For a fee, they would convene a rabbinical court and authorize the use of violence to get a recalcitrant husband to agree to a divorce, the F.B.I. said.

But that was not all, according to court papers unsealed Thursday morning. They were also willing to employ hired muscle, two men known as Ariel and Yaakov, to actually kidnap the man and torture him, until he pledged to divorce his wife, according a criminal complaint in Federal District Court in Newark.

Two men whom the authorities describe as rabbis — Martin Wolmark and Mendel Epstein — as well as a third man, Ariel Potash, have been charged in a kidnapping conspiracy according to court papers. In connection to the case, F.B.I. agents carried out raids in southern Brooklyn and Monsey, N.Y., in Rockland County on Wednesday evening.

The reason for this extreme approach, is because, as the Times explains, Orthodox Jewish husbands have a “veto” on divorces, and wives can end up stuck in bad marriages with no recourse:

In some Orthodox Jewish communities, a divorce is granted only once a husband provides his wife with a document known as a get. And stories of the frustrations and obstacles that women face in their quest to obtain a get are commonplace. While a woman can sue in rabbinical court to try to secure a get, some husbands do not comply with the court’s edict.

That, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is where the rabbis came in. “You need special rabbis who are going to take this thing and see it through to the end,” Rabbi Wolmark said in a recorded telephone conversation with an undercover F.B.I. agent posing as a woman whose husband would not grant her a get.

Whether or not a divorce is granted, is solely up to the husband. If he doesn’t want it, then it can’t happen. While I can understand the desire to help wives who want divorces whose husbands won’t grant them, kidnapping and torture is — quite obviously! — excessive. A much better and more effective approach would be to allow wives an equal say in whether or not they get a divorce. I don’t know, maybe that seems too simple a notion? Or maybe, being a cynical godless agnostic heathen, I just don’t understand the spiritual importance of giving husbands total and absolute control over their marriages and allowing wives no say?

Once again, we have ancient ritual purity codes getting in the way of contemporary practical considerations. It’s time we finally fucking got over the idea that women are property already and started treating them like real human beings. No?

Photo credit: Michael Nagle / New York Times.

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'Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.' -H.L. Mencken (PsiCop original graphic)I’ve blogged a few times about the ongoing scam that is anti-terror security in the US. Their actions are frequently extreme and misdirected, and often absurdly out of proportion with the risk being dealt with. The government’s excuses for all of this ridiculousness are legion: “An abundance of caution” is typically cited as being necessary, as well as the need to be vigilant because the terrorists are everywhere.

I concede there are terrorists working to attack Americans … as well as people all over the planet. It would be insane to say there’s absolutely no danger. What I’ve consistently questioned is whether what’s being done, actually diminishes that risk, as well as whether or not the measures that are taken, are worth the small increase in safety they might provide. I’ve long agreed with experts like Bruce Schneier that it’s all just “security theater,” or useless exercises intended to make people feel safer, without actually doing anything to make them safter.

In its review of New York City’s claim of success in contending with the threat of terrorism, ProPublica has examined the city’s record, and found its claims disingenuous (WebCite cached article):

The NYPD is regularly held up as one of the most sophisticated and significant counterterrorism operations in the country. As evidence of the NYPD’s excellence, the department, its allies and the media have repeatedly said the department has thwarted or helped thwart 14 terrorist plots against New York since Sept 11.

In a glowing profile of Commissioner Ray Kelly published in Newsweek last month, for example, journalist Christopher Dickey wrote of the commissioner’s tenure since taking office in 2002: The record “is hard to argue with: at least 14 full-blown terrorist attacks have been prevented or failed on Kelly’s watch.”

The figure has been cited repeatedly in the media, by New York congressmen, and by Kelly himself. The NYPD itself has published the full list, saying terrorists have “attempted to kill New Yorkers in 14 different plots.”…

Is it true?

In a word, no.

A review of the list shows a much more complicated reality — that the 14 figure overstates both the number of serious, developed terrorist plots against New York and exaggerates the NYPD’s role in stopping attacks.

ProPublica goes over this list of NYC anti-terror successes, and points how they’re really failures. I’ll leave the details up to them to explain, but I do urge you to look at them and see it for yourself.

I’m disappointed the mass media have reported on government anti-terror activities as uncritically as they have. It’s not as though the record on a lot of these matters can’t be verified … as ProPublica demonstrated. But it seems the mass media generally aren’t interested in checking it out.

Now, if I were a committed ideologue, I’d chalk this up to some sort of “media bias” (of whichever direction). But I need not appeal to anything that subjective. I think the reason the mass media have refused to examine the government’s anti-terror track record, is because reporters (outside of ProPublica!) are — quite simply — too lazy or too incompetent to bother doing it. This is not the only field they’re uncritical about … for instance, I’ve caught media outlets reporting uncritically on the paranormal. A lack of critical thinking on the part of reporters, is just one of many aspects of modern journalism that’s severely lacking.

Photo credit: PsiCop original, containing the wisdom of H.L. Mencken.

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Police are investigating a firebomb attack against the Imam Al-Khoei Foundation building and three other sites in Queens, New York. (CBS 2)Note: See the update below for an important update to this blog post!

I’ve blogged a number of times about a movement I call “the Neocrusade” — a modern effort by “Christian nationers” to eliminate Islam within the U.S. It’s mostly found in the same parts of the country as Religious Rightism, i.e. in the Bobble Bayelt (er, Bible Belt), but it can be found elsewhere too, including the New York City metropolis. As CBS News reports, there’s a chance that Neocrusading vigilantes might once again be active in the Big Apple (WebCite cached article):

Authorities are investigating four fire attacks in New York City, including one at an Islamic center and one at a house used for Hindu worship.

Police say three attacks Sunday night involved molotov cocktails. There were no injuries. Police are investigating the attacks as bias crimes.

The fact that non-Islam-related targets were hit, certainly suggests these attacks weren’t Neocrusade-motivated. But then again, Neocrusaders have been known to lash out at the wrong targets, so it can’t be ruled out quite yet.

If this is, in fact, the work of militant Christian Neocrusaders, the irony of Christianists resorting to terror and violence in their campaign against a religion they consider violent and terror-promoting, is precious.

Update: It turns out this may have not been Neocrusaders’ work, after all. The New York Times reports a suspect has been arrested, police say the fires he set all resulted from specific, personal grudges, not out of religious fervor (cached).

Photo credit: WCBS via CBS News.

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September 11 Photo MontageToday is the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks that killed thousands in New York City, the Pentagon, and in a field in Shanksville, PA. The mass media are running story after story about the commemorations and remembrances and lots of other aspects of this milestone. For me, this event provides an object lesson in human nature and demonstrates conclusively where we go wrong.

First, all the 9/11 conspiratorialism demonstrates that any event that involves enough details is ripe to be plucked by sanctimoniously-outraged paranoiacs of every possible stripe. Rick Green of the Hartford Courant ran a column the other day about one particular crank named Wayne Coste who stands on Hartford’s streets, railing and wailing like a street-preacher about how “9/11 was an inside job” (WebCite cached article). He uses the fact that he was an engineer as a kind of credential that — supposedly — “proves” his insane jabbering must be correct. But it doesn’t. That he has an engineering credential (in electrical engineering, not in mechanical or civil engineering or in architecture) does not automatically grant his conclusions any veracity. Lots of engineers and scientists have looked at the same evidence he has, but arrived at very different conclusions from it.

Perhaps the seminal explanation of how the World Trade Center came down — researched and written by engineers and scientists with the same kinds of credentials as Coste — was done by the venerable magazine Popular Mechanics. It’s well worth reading for anyone with any interest in this matter. Another source of information is the “9/11 conspiracies” entry at the Skeptic’s Dictionary; it lays out many of the screwy scenarios that have been proposed and picks them off one by one. Yet, in spite of these and many other such “takedowns” of all the lunatic scenarios, the wacky 9/11 conspiratorialism (aka the “Truther” movement) is alive and well and populated by all sorts of animated wingnuts like Coste.

What’s really happening with “truthers” is that their laughable “theories” grant them what they perceive as a moral license to indulge their juvenile impulses and paranoiac brain patterns. Telling them they’re wrong only enrages them more than they already are, causes the person telling them so to be viewed as a willing and integral part of the “wicked conspiracy,” and they just dig their heels in harder and cling even tighter to their insane fantasies. As R.T. Carroll of the Skeptic’s Dictionary puts it in the subtitle of his article on the matter, the “truther” movement is, indeed, very much a “war on critical thinking.”

A second lesson shown by Americans’ reaction to 9/11/2001 is their insular, even selfish reasoning. Too many people in the US view this country as the sole target of Islamofascist terror. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. Among the other large-scale terror attacks that have taken place elsewhere in the world since then:

Note, this is only a partial list. There were many more Islamofascist terror attacks in the last ten years. The point is that none of these took place in the US, and Americans were not the targets. Other people in other countries were. The Islamofascist terrorists aren’t killing people in places all over the planet just because they hate the US and our “freedom” — or whatever. They’re doing it simply because they’re murderously religiofascist; quite frankly they don’t give a crap about anything else.

The third chief lesson of the September 11, 2001 attacks, more obviously, is that militant religiofascism can become deadly, and it must be stopped. In every one of its forms. Everywhere it occurs. All the time, every time, without letup, and without granting it any excuses. It’s one thing to have metaphysical beliefs. It’s another to believe that everyone else on the planet must adopt them. And it’s another beyond that to believe one is entitled to kill in order to make that happen. This is rather obvious; we certainly didn’t need 9/11/2001 to tell us so … but apparently there are lots of folks who genuinely were unaware of this fact — and sadly, they remain so, in spite of 9/11/2001.

A proper response to such events is for believers to concede that other people are not theirs to order around or kill because of their beliefs, and just leave them alone. What’s not acceptable is to respond to murderous Islamofascism by becoming militantly Christofascist in return and then launch a Neocrusade to eliminate Islam. This Neocrusade is merely the same sort of religiofascist impulse, just manifest within a different religion and in a different country. Of course, to the Neocrusaders, 9/11/2001 itself is the reason they think they’re entitled to destroy Islam … but this belief, while widespread, is just “two wrongs make a right” thinking and is both fallacious and immoral.

In sum, let’s all stop using events like 9/11/2001 to justify insular thinking, American exceptionalism, and “getting back at Islam” because we feel entitled to. It’s time for us all to grow up, stop “reacting” emotionally every time something bad happens, and start living like the mature adults we all ought to be. And by all means, let’s stop giving in to the idea that militant Christianism is an appropriate response to militant Islamism. It’s not. They’re really just the same thing, only packaged in different wrappers.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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