Thursday, January 25, 2018

Whither Rational Discourse?

Earlier today, an acquaintance of mine in a Facebook group posted a link to a video from Fox News in which Tucker Carlson, wearing his usual, placid, mentally-challenged-manatee face that clearly says "I hear the noises coming from your face hole, but I don't know what they mean," claimed that the infamous FISA memo contains information damaging to Democrats, and it is being squelched for that reason (forget that the memo is classified and nobody in the media has actually seen it ... that's irrelevant). On the same day, the Palmer Report posted an article detailing how donald trump thinks that FBI Director Andrew McCabe was bribed by Hillary Clinton to ... well, they aren't really clear on that.

Both of these pieces of dreck got me to wondering where the reliable reporting is these days? And from there it was a short hop to "What are these guys trying to do, anyway?"

The media these days has become so partisan, so charged, that it is virtually impossible to find truly balanced reportage. More and more we are seeing "news" outlets like the Daily Caller, the Drudge Report, OccupyDemocrats, and so on producing content that is not so much news as it is propaganda. Items are being disseminated that do not seek to inform; rather, they seek to indoctrinate.

Now we are getting stories about missing text messages between FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page. Apparently there were "anti-trump" messages in there while they were part of Mueller's team. Natch, this story is being reported in widely disparate ways:

Reuters reports the following:
  • The text messages were recovered using forensic techniques.
  • "Inspector General Michael Horowitz said he would not object if the Justice Department shares with congressional committees the messages."
  • The text messages in question also contained anti-Hillary statements.
  • Strzok was taken off the Mueller probe and reassigned last summer when the messages were discovered.
  • Page left the team in July at the conclusion of a 45 day assignment.
Your typical news story in the old-school mold: present the facts, do not attempt to interpret them, allow the reader to reach his or her own conclusions.

Now, let's look at some other outlets ...
  • Fox News (right): Sean Hannity says the text messages "are proof of an anti-trump conspiracy at the DOJ."
  • ThinkProgress (left)*: An article there mentions the recovery of the messages, but one of the main points is that trump got the number of text messages wrong in a tweet.
  • The Washington Examiner (right): Strzok is misidentified as a "lead investigator" on the team investigating Hillary Clinton (he wasn't; he was actually assigned to the Mueller probe into Russian collusion), and states that he was "demoted" last summer. Page's position is also made purposely ambiguous, stating that she "also was previously a member of the special counsel team" but fails to mention that her assignment was of fixed duration.
  • TruePundit (right): Claims that the missing 50,000 (stated with certainty even thought the exact number is unknown) text messages contain threats of violence against trump, and it is implied that there is a conspiracy within the FBI to assassinate trump. Naturally, being this outlandish, InfoWars picked it right up and ran with it.
I am not here to litigate the whole text message thing; that is being handled throughout the interwebs by many people far more qualified than I to speak to this. My point here is to highlight just how dysfunctional the whole concept of debate has become.

The idea behind rational debate is that one side presents their arguments, the other side presents an opposing view, but both sides have a basic agreement as to what reality is. For example, with the recent tax law that was signed by trump, a liberal outlet might point out that most of the tax cuts going to the top 1% would not trickle down as promised, but merely bolster executives' stock portfolios. Meanwhile, a conservative outlet might maintain that this is actually a good thing, by giving more money to "job creators." However, the fundamental underlying fact -- that the majority of tax relief is going to the top 1% -- would not be in dispute.

No longer.

In today's climate, left wing outlets cite the tax structure as proof that a) Republicans hate poor people, and b) that there is an active conspiracy to eliminate them, implying that Republicans will be hunting minorities for sport. Meanwhile, right wing outlets say, with no hint of irony, that a) the tax cuts are going to the middle class, and b) Republicans would love to help the poor, but gosh darn it, we just can't afford it, and c) so what? Hillary's emails.

What we end up with is a bunch of people yelling at each other instead of talking to each other; online "debates" that are little more than excuses for either side to belittle and berate the other, and very few people who are willing to even entertain the notion that they might be mistaken about something.

In this climate, is it any wonder why there is such hostility on either side toward the other?

We need to dial it back, folks. Yes, engage in online debate, but be civil. We each need to respect the right of other people to have their own opinions, to voice those opinions (provided it is done in a respectful, civilized manner), to disagree.We must -- must -- be willing to allow others to be "wrong" in our view. The chances of actually swaying someone to one side or the other in any online debate is very slim; the idea is to expand everyone's worldview and take into account information they might not be hearing from their usual sources.

Above all, however, we need to be vigilant and stop propagating bullshit. For every AP, Reuters, or BBC that provides responsible reportage, there is an InfoWars, Palmer Report,, or OccupyDemocrats spewing balderdash. If we see someone spouting nonsense -- even if it is nonsense in which we would like to believe -- we must not hesitate in calling it out as malarkey.

I gotta lie down.

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*It is important to note that I was unable to find any reference to this story on many left-leaning sites. I can only surmise this is due to an editorial choice on their part to dismiss this as a non-story.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Evangelicals Are Not Christians

Miguel de la Torre
It is a very rare thing when I, as an atheist, can find someone of faith talking about Jesus in terms that don't cause me to question their ability to think independently. This is one of those times. In an opinion piece written for the Baptist Times (you can find the article here), Professor Miguel de la Torre, a professor of social ethics and Latino/a studies at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado, writes about how modern day evangelicals have twisted the teachings of Jesus to server their narrow political desires.

Titled "The death of Christianity in the U.S," Professor de la Torre's piece spells out where evangelicals have twisted and perverted the words of Jesus to serve their own ends ... all in the name of a Supreme Court pick and some lower taxes.

De la Torre makes this argument far more eloquently than when I have attempted it. Regardless, the sentiment is the same. Evangelicals have turned Christianity into a product, and they are selling to the highest bidder ... in this case, the Republican Party. From televangelists like James Bakker and Franklin Graham trying to convince people that trump was "ministering" to Stormy Daniels, to James Dobson calling for a day of "fasting and prayer" for trump "to save him from impeachment," to televangelist Paula White, trump's "spiritual advisor," exhorting her followers to give money -- the first month's salary for the year -- or suffer the consequences for failing to obey God's command.

Right off the bat, this is not God's command, but Paula White's. And if she is trump's spiritual advisor, then she needs to find a new gig because holy mother of pearl, she sucks at her job. Moving on ...

None of these people, according to de la Torre, are true Christians. The are charlatans, false prophets, and blasphemers. In my opinion, de la Torre nails it.

I gotta lie down.

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Come At Me, Bro

So the latest stunt from Ron DeSantis and the Floriduh GOP -- and that's all they are is stunts -- is SB 1316, a particularly odious and...