Monday, May 25, 2015

Mike Huckabee: Petty Theft is a Far Worse Crime Than Sexually Assaulting Children

Well, ok, he didn't say that in exactly those words. But note the difference between how he talks about self-confessed child molester Josh Dugger and suspected petty thief Mike Brown.

Mike Huckabee on confessed child molester Josh Dugger:
“The reason that the law protects disclosure of many actions on the part of a minor is that the society has traditionally understood something that today’s blood-thirsty media does not understand—that being a minor means that one’s judgement is not mature.”
Mike Huckabee on suspected petty thief Mike Brown:
“It’s a tragedy that the young man got shot, but this is a young man that just roughed up a store owner, just robbed a store, and now he’s going after a cop’s gun. It’s a horrible thing that he was killed, but he could have avoided that if he’d have behaved like something other than a thug.”
I'm not going to say the difference in his reaction is entirely due to race, but...oh, wait. That's exactly what I'm saying. Because either Mike Huckabee is racist, or he feels that the sexual assault of multiple children is a far, far less serious crime than being suspected of stealing some cigars. In either event, Mr. Huckabee might want to rethink his priorities in life.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Friday Funnies: The TSA is Jeff Foxworthy

Recently leaked documents have revealed that the TSA has been employing what they call "behavior detection" (what the rest of us would call "make believe") as a tool in attempting to thwart potential terrorists. As is the case with most forensic science, there is, of course, absolutely no evidence this kind of profiling works, and every reason to believe it doesn't work.

Like all profiling programs, this one mainly consists of innocuous behavior which has no connection to terrorism or crime of any kind. Instead, it simply substitutes what someone deep in the bowels of the TSA feels like is probably related to terrorism. Things like carrying an almanac, or too many pre-paid calling cards. The fact that such profiling programs are laughably ineffective is so obvious I'm not going to even do the minimal work necessary to provide citations (fun challenge: find a single citation supporting any profiling program!), because these programs are basically putting a slight, psuedo-scientific sheen on what is basically a Jeff Foxworthy routine.

So the next time you're flying, remember that if you do any of these things, you just might be...a terrorist.



Yes, you're reading that correctly (this comes straight from a TSA powerpoint). If you complain about the screening process, you're a terrorist (or a hacky comedian at an open mic). If you've recently shaved, you're a terrorist (or trying to look presentable). If you comb your hair, you're a terrorist (or...no, I have to agree here. What do you need to look so fancy for?). But by far my most favorite is that if you whistle, you're definitely a terrorist hiding something. Because everyone knows, the only reason anyone would ever whistle is to rub everyone else's face in how nonchalant they're trying to be...





Wednesday, May 20, 2015

When Is Violence The Answer?

I made this snarky meme in response to the disingenuous arguments assholes were making about the Baltimore uprising. While it's pretty much just sarcasm, it does highlight the odd line we as a society make between legitimate and illegitimate violence.

Because while so many (almost exclusively white) people were tut-tuting about the violence in Baltimore (which resulted in no deaths), our nation is currently involved in multiple wars (which have resulted in many, many deaths). In fact, for someone born the same year as I (1982), the US has been officially at war roughly half of their lifetime. Of course, if you don't accept the absurd notion the linked Washington Post article (and pretty much all of our elected leaders) hold that somehow bombing a nation and killing hundreds of people doesn't count as war, and include every time we as a nation have found it fit to kill people of another nation, then the US has been at war for 214 our of our 235 calendar years of existence.

So given that our official policy as a nation seems to be to turn to violence at any provocation, no matter how small, on what basis are we condemning the people of Baltimore, Ferguson, or anywhere else turning to violence after experiencing decades of violent provocation themselves?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

You Think This Is Funny? Well Right Now Millions Of Fans Are At Home Crying Like Little Girls!…Well, Ok, It's a Little Funny.

If Harry Shearer's tweets are correct, he is officially leaving The Simpsons. For those of you who have been living in a cave on Mars, with your eyes closed and your fingers in your ears, Shearer is possibly the most central voice actor on the show, voicing (among others) Principal Skinner, Kent Brockman, Mr. Burns, Waylon Smithers, Ned Flanders, Reverend Lovejoy, Dr. Hibbert, Lenny Leonard, Otto Mann, Rainier Wolfcastle, the late Dr. Marvin Monroe, and about a billion one-off characters.

Apparently it's over a salary dispute, as Shearer wanted more of that sweet, sweet merchandising money (though he's also in his 70s now, so he might just be getting sick of the whole thing). This isn't the first time the notoriously prickly Shearer has threatened to walk (a long running rumor has it that the show was briefly cancelled in 2000 when he demanded too much money, only undone by the other principal voice actors essentially reigning him in). Apparently they plan to go on without him (the show did just get picked up for two more seasons), but it's hard to imagine how. Either they'll have to kill off half the town (a route they took when the voice of Maude Flanders quit, though she was far less central than many of the characters Shearer voices), or they'll have to bring in someone of Billy West's ilk who can imitate these characters. Really neither of these are desirable or even, frankly, acceptable scenarios.

I've long maintained that the only thing that would finally kill The Simpsons would be the death of one of the principal voice actors, as I assumed no one would turn down the dumpsters full of cash they're getting at this point. So will this be the final nail in the coffin of a show that's been steadily going downhill since I was about 17 or so? It's hard to say. This is, after all, the show they'll never kill.

Nothing has been announced outside of two tweets from Shearer himself, so it may be too premature to say anything. After all, this seems like the kind of thing that could be solved by simply driving a slightly bigger dump truck full of money to Shearer's house. Or it could spell the end of what has been inarguably the greatest cartoon of all time and arguably the greatest television show of all time.

If it's the former, we'll get at least two more seasons of a show that, while definitely a shell of its former self, can still have brief moments of greatness. If it's the latter, well…if you need me, I'll be curled up in fetal position clutching a bottle of whiskey.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Brown Sins Are Always Greater Than White Sins

I've been noticing a disturbing trend lately, in which otherwise progressive people feel free (hell, feel seemingly compelled) to be anti-Islamic in the name of some other ideal (current ideal du jour: free speech). That the left has it's own problems with racism and bigotry is nothing new, but this particular form has been popping up quite a bit in places I normally wouldn't expect it. As one example, take this racist claptrap, written by Jeffrey Tayler and published on what is supposed to be at least a liberal, if not terribly progressive, website. While I'm deconstructing this one singular bigoted rant, it's pretty par for the course for this type of argument, featuring the same augments I've heard from multiple sources, so it serves as a handy stand-in for progressive bigotry in general.

I'll save you the time/aneurysm of actually reading the article by pulling the most offending quotes and responding to them individually. I mean, you can feel free to read the article, but then you may also need to thoroughly scrub your eyeballs, so don't say I didn't warn you. Anyway, all quotes in italics are directly from the piece in question.

"From a rationalist’s perspective, any ideology that mandates belief without evidence is a priori dangerous and liable to abuse."

Remember this point, because we're going to be coming back to it quite a bit. Because this really underscores all of the logical problems with Tayler's (and other's) argument. Essentially, religion is bad because it is not based on empirical evidence. That's a fine argument, if not one I agree with. However, in arguing against the non-science of religion, this guy fails to give any actual evidence of his own. Instead, we're left to take his arguments on…well, faith.

"Europe’s colonial past and the United States’ current (endless) military campaigns in the Islamic world, as well as prejudice against nonwhites in Europe, have predisposed many to see, with some justification, Muslims as victims."

Yeah, some justification. Sure, our decades of indiscriminate slaughter of innocent people might have had something to do with the anger found in parts of the Muslim world, but only a little bit. But the real reason for this violence is that they're actually just all backward savages, and it's insane that you'd call him intolerant simply for pointing out the obvious truth that they're savages! So I guess he needs none of that evidence he criticizes religion for not having, because the point that following Islam makes one a savage is apparently just a given fact.

"All those who, à la Reza Aslan, maintain that Muslims today do not necessarily read the Quran literally have lost the argument before it begins.  What counts is that there are those (ISIS, say, and al-Qaida) who do, and they are taking action based on their beliefs.  To the contention, “ISIS and al-Qaida don’t represent Islam!” the proper response is, “that’s what you say. They disagree.”  No single recognized Muslim clerical body exists to refute them."

Ah, the old canard that a sufficient amount of Muslims have not yet denounced the violence done by extremists, so that means they obviously approve of said extremists (of course, folks like this never actually specify what percentage or total number of Muslims have to condemn these actions. Because thousands have, but that's apparently not yet enough).

But the bigger problem is that this logic is so patently absurd you really have to take it…on faith. For instance, this same logic would have to hold that Jodi Foster is responsible for the assassination attempt on President Reagan. "That's insane!" you might say, dear hypothetical reader. "Hinckley was obviously a nut! Just because he said he was doing it for Foster doesn't mean she was in any way involved." And sure, that would be a pretty reasonable reaction. But according to Tayler's logic, the proper response to any argument that Foster is not responsible for the assassination attempt on Reagan is "That's what you say. Hinckley disagrees. After all, there is no single recognized authority on assassination motivation to refute him."

Or to bring the example closer to home, George W. Bush invoked Christianity and the name of Christ constantly while launching attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan. So, again, according to Tayler's logic, that means these wars represent all of Christianity. And since there's no single recognized Christian clerical body in existence to refute that fact, this means the War on Terror is inarguably a Christian crusade, full stop. That might surprise some folks. Like say, Pope John Paul II who notably condemned the war as illegal and immoral.

"When “holy” books and their dogmas dominate, societies suffer.  Whatever Islam did for scholarship in the Middle Ages, the dearth of top-quality institutions of higher education in Muslim countries today stems at least partly from the reverence accorded to, and time spent studying, Islam and its canon.  Says a respected report, the highest-ranking university in the world within the Dar al-Islam occupies the 225th spot."

Yeah, sure, inventing math was fine, but what have you done for us lately?!? Here's where I have to diverge from talking about all Muslims and focus on the one Muslim-majority nation I have some expertise on. Having spent a lot of time in Iraq and years studying the nation, it's history, politics, culture, etc., I can speak with some authority on the subject.

Iraq used to have an amazing education system, with an incredibly educated society. In fact, UNESCO points out it was one of the most educated societies in the world. But you'll notice I say "was" because for some reason, Iraq's education system really started to go down hill in the early 90s, and then fell completely apart around 2003. I wonder what was happening during this period. They must have all just discovered Islam, since that's the reason their education system isn't any good, right? Wait, but Islam preceded this fall in education by generations. Actually, by centuries.

But how can that be? That almost seems to imply Islam is not responsible for this decline. So what could it be? Could it be something to do with the US-imposed sanctions and subsequent illegal invasion? Surely not, for Tayler already explained how Western imperialism has nothing to do with this. And, again, we just have to accept that on faith, since he provides no empirical evidence for this argument in any way. Wait, where have I heard someone denouncing that very idea?

Also, and this probably goes without saying but I still feel the need to point it out: "white people ranked everyone and white people came out on top" is not a super convincing argument.

"Islam’s doctrinaire positions on women are infamous enough to merit no repetition here. Their sum effect is to render women chattel to men, as sex objects and progenitors of offspring, and foster the most misogynistic conditions on the planet: nineteen of twenty of the worst countries for women, according to the World Economic Forum, are Muslim-majority.  Some Muslim countries are deemed more progressive than others, but their progressivity varies inversely with the extent to which Islam permeates their legal codes and customary laws – the less, the better.  Not liberal at all, that."

And of course! Can't have a bigoted article about Islam without concern about teh wimminz! Again, I might note that Iraq has more female politicians in office than America. Not just a higher percentage, but a higher raw number, even though the US has roughly 310 million citizens, compared to roughly 36 million Iraqis. Apparently Iraq is oppressing women by making them write laws and influence the direction of their nation, while the US protects women by not making them work in the government.

Or I might point you to this article about how the status of Iraqi women has worsened dramatically since the secular, brilliant America decided to intervene. But then that article was written by a Muslim, so we should probably not even bother reading it.

"The rising number of ethnically Europeans mesmerized by Islam who set off to enroll in the ranks of ISIS attests to this; and may prefigure serious disruptions, especially in France, the homeland of a good number of them, once they start returning."

"Hey everyone, there's a terrible future of death and totalitarianism on the horizon! Even real human beings (e.g. Europeans!) are being seduced by this terrible force!" Is there any empirical evidence at all to support this point? No? Oh, guess I'll just have to accept it...on faith. You know, for someone who says religion is backward because it requires you to believe with no proof, this fella sure wants you to believe a lot of stuff he says without offering any proof. It's almost as if he's holding Islam to a different standard.

"This is no call to disrespect Muslims as people, but we should not hesitate to speak frankly about the aspects of their faith we find problematic."

Yeah, it's totally not a call to disrespect Muslims. It's just a call to tell them that everything they believe is wrong, everything they do is bad, and that they need to either change to his way of life or be wiped out. Gee, where have I heard that perspective disparaged before?

"We must stop traducing reason by branding people “Islamophobes,” and start celebrating our secularism, remembering that only it offers true freedom for the religious and non-religious alike."

"There is only one way! All who don't believe as I do are a dangerous threat that must be wiped out!"

I mean, seriously, dude actually says "only it offers true freedom." Like…I can't even parody that. He's denouncing what he sees as totalitarianism by saying that only he is correct and that only his ideas are valid and must be followed by everyone. It's times like this I wish irony wasn't dead, because this sure as shit seems pretty ironic to me.

Bu the bigger point of all of this is that this bigoted drivel is written in response to two attacks by four people that killed eleven people total.

Now, I'm of the perspective that any deaths are far too many. But unlike Tayler and others of his brand of special progressive bigotry, I also understand that context exists. And the context of those two attacks are that they come after a decade-plus rampage of the West throughout the Middle East, which has featured thousands of attacks which have killed hundreds of thousands of people. Echoing Paul Pierce, at a certain point you've just got to call "game."

Because only if you remove all context of world politics and the two-plus wars which have been going on for well over a decade can you somehow say that two violent acts perpetrated by four people are somehow emblematic of the roughly 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. Not to mention that at the same time you can somehow ignore the regularity of hate crimes perpetrated against Muslims here in the US. Or, you know, somehow separate the literally tens of thousands of Muslims slaughtered by the US from representing all Americans, or white people, or Christians, or whomever you'd like to attach random acts to in an attempt to smear them.

Really, I shouldn't be surprised by such bigotry. But it's the gall that gets me. Tens of thousands of murders of innocent people perpetuated in your name? Well, that's a complex issue and can't be said to reflect any single cause. A small handful of murders perpetuated in the name of foreign Brown people? These clearly represent everything about those people, and we must destroy their way of life before it destroys ours. But remember, calling that logic Islamophobic is to traduce the very concept of reason!

Friday, May 08, 2015

Things Jesse Currently Likes

So as to not make everything I post a dreary condemnation of the ills of our world, here's a happy post about something fun. As a television junkie, I watch way, way too much television. As in I watch so much television that in rare moments of clarity I'm forced to admit I probably have a problem. But the purpose here is not to catalogue the unhealthy levels of television I consume, but rather to make the case that when I say a show stands out as worthy of your time, I'm somewhat worth listening to.

So with that said, I cannot recommend enough the yahoo series Other Space* (incidentally, between picking up the recently-cancelled yet still brilliant Community and this show, the fledgling channel is really something to keep an eye on). Other Space is ostensibly a parody of old sic fi shows, with it's intentionally cheap sets and special effects and whatnot, but it's really more of an homage created by people who clearly have a great deal of reverence for the old classics, most notably the original Battlestar Galactica and, of course, Star Trek.

It's helmed by the brilliant Paul Feig (creator of Freaks & Geeks and director of about a million great comedies) and has an awesome, diverse cast. For one, it turns out the annoying skinny kid from those AT&T commercials and the annoying short lady from those other AT&T commercials are both pretty great comedic actors. But much more importantly, it also stars Joel Hodgson and Crow T. Robot! Ok, technically it's not Crow, but it is Trace Beaulieu voicing an obnoxious, sarcastic robot. Which is pretty much the same thing.

Being a web series, supporting shows like this with your clicks and eyeballs can actually have a direct impact on both this specific show continuing and more generally giving the chance to other similarly brilliant but not necessarily network-ready tv shows (Other Space was originally to air on NBC, but let's all thank the Lord that didn't happen, as it would have been cancelled after two episodes). Unlike standard broadcasting, where unless you happen to be a Nielsen viewer, your viewing habits don't actually make a difference in which types of shows get pick ups and which don't, these internet-based shows are actually somewhat democratized, in the sense that each view is actually counted and gives an accurate impression of who is actually watching. This is what allows shows with small but fervently loyal fan bases (again, Community) to have life when they would have been long shuttered by network television.

So go watch it. In addition to laughing uproariously, you'll also be supporting some cool people making cool stuff and possibly opening the door for other cool people to make yet more cool stuff. Or you can watch season 107 of American Idol and be a horrible person. Whichever.


*Yes, yes, on a very technical level this is not a television show as it is completely web based. But you clearly knew what I meant. Quit being a pedantic asshole.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Trudeau On The Same Subject

Following yesterday's post, a friend hipped me to this speech given by Doonesbury creator Gary Trudeau when recently receiving a Polk award. Basically, it's just a lot better version of the argument I was making yesterday, delivered by someone with much more authority on the subject. 

It's a quick, short read, so I highly recommend you just go read it, but here's two paragraphs from it that make the same argument I was trying to make, albeit it much more eruditely and succinctly:

I, and most of my colleagues, have spent a lot of time discussing red lines since the tragedy in Paris. As you know, the Muhammad cartoon controversy began eight years ago in Denmark, as a protest against “self-censorship,” one editor’s call to arms against what she felt was a suffocating political correctness. The idea behind the original drawings was not to entertain or to enlighten or to challenge authority—her charge to the cartoonists was specifically to provoke, and in that they were exceedingly successful. Not only was one cartoonist gunned down, but riots erupted around the world, resulting in the deaths of scores. No one could say toward what positive social end, yet free speech absolutists were unchastened. Using judgment and common sense in expressing oneself were denounced as antithetical to freedom of speech.

What free speech absolutists have failed to acknowledge is that because one has the right to offend a group does not mean that one must. Or that that group gives up the right to be outraged. They’re allowed to feel pain. Freedom should always be discussed within the context of responsibility. At some point free expression absolutism becomes childish and unserious. It becomes its own kind of fanaticism.

But seriously, just go read the whole thing.