Thought for the Day

This is my version of the BBC’s Sunday radio programme, Thought for the Day. They still refuse to allow secular voices, even though it’s billed as “Religion & Ethics,” and presumably atheists are allowed to have ethics. Or perhaps not. Anyway, I think the video below is prime Thought for the Day material.

I lived for 20 years in Seattle in Washington State. It has always seemed the best and most liberal place in a country I’ve never really understood – a place where extremes of sentimentality and barbarism can sometimes mix in the same people and groups. Not surprisingly, Republicans and those further to the right are not my flavour of the milennium. The thought that one of the venomous dunderheads running for president could make decisions on a national and international level is truly appalling.

On Wednesday, Washington State passed a Gay Marriage Bill. Obviously, as a liberal (in American terms), I’m delighted that what I came to think of as my home state has passed such a progressive measure. It makes me proud.

More than that. This video of a Republican State Representative talking about voting with her conscience to pass the bill is extremely moving. I feel slightly ashamed of my tribal knee-jerk responses. Maureen Walsh is a woman of honour, part of the pride I feel in Washington and its people.

Colbert for President 2012

The Guardian reported yesterday that Stephen Colbert has taken the first step to running in the Republican primaries. On his show, The Colbert Report, he signed over authority to Jon Stewart to raise funds on his behalf. Thus opening the way to creating a super PAC, which can raise as much money as it likes for a candidate, as long as it’s not co-ordinating directly with the candidate.

The Blue Meanies won’t let me play or share clips from Friday’s show, but I do have Colbert’s epiphany on the Thursday show. A poll shows that, were he to run, he would get 5% of the Republican vote as against Jon Huntsman’s 4%. Watch Colbert struggling to make a decision in this video.

Obviously it’s satire, but American politics in general, and Republican politics in particular, are a parody of the democratic system. They are fueled by obscene amounts of corporate political donations, which were given a legal rubber stamp by the Supreme Court decision in the case of Citizens United.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 08-205 (2010), 558 U.S. ––––, 130 S.Ct. 876 (January 21, 2010), was a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court holding that the First Amendment prohibits government from placing limits on independent spending for political purposes by corporations and unions.

The creeping notion of corporate personhood has reached its apotheosis in this insane ruling, with dire consequences for American democracy, which wasn’t in great shape to begin with.

So if Colbert can draw attention to the absurdity of the situation by pretending to run for “President of South Carolina,” then he’s a hero. This what news media should be talking about, not leaving it up to a comedian.

A few suggestions for Colbert’s campaign:

1) Pronounce the last syllable of your name to rhyme with shirt. Republicans hate the French.

2) Choose Tina Fey as your running mate. She already has the Sarah Palin vote sewn up.

3) Adopt this campaign slogan: Colbert/Fey Go All The Way!!! Really, it’s a winner.

I hope that helps.

Jesus and Mo: Storm in a Beer Mug?

Good news for University College London’s Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society. They put this cartoon on a FaceBook page, advertising a society event, but the Student Union wanted it taken down. The atheists stuck to their guns, and the Student Union have now backed off. See the Guardian article for a complete account of the brouhaha.

So, a victory for freedom of expression. I’m genuinely surprised there was so much fuss about what is a rather charming cartoon about two friends having a pint together. How do I know they’re friends? Because the cartoon is the second frame in a strip. All 4 frames are drawn the same, but the first has the caption, Today Jesus, Mo, and the barmaid have pledged not to say anything which might cause one of them to be offended. The fourth frame has Mo saying, This is nice, isn’t it? Gentle satire on the stupidity of religious conflict, with a sideswipe at political correctness.

Jesus and Mo is a series. Behind the personae of verbally sparring college room-mates, they are the mouthpieces of Christianity and Islam. They also spend a lot of time in the pub, debating among themselves and with the barmaid, who always wins the argument.

Now let’s turn to a far nastier cartoon. The Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy is well-known, and I don’t need to rehash it here. The cartoon on the right is the most egregious of them all, and I’m including it only to illustrate my point.

To be completely clear, I’m a atheist, I think all religions are doctrinal nonsense, and none of them should be allowed any institutional power. No belief should be immune from criticism, and I firmly believe that no-one has the right not to be offended.

That said, the devil’s in the motivation. To my mind, the Danish cartoons spring from bigotry, as does the burqa ban in France. Just in case anyone should think I want to condemn Muslim women to living in a sack, there is provision for a fine and imprisonment if convicted of forcing them to wear it. See my previous blog post here for further thoughts on the subject.

It’s telling that while most newspapers recognized the bigotry, and did not reprint the Danish cartoons, the media that thrive on bigotry pounced on them with glee. I give you, reluctantly, Human Events, which glories in the likes of Ann CoulterNewt Gingrich, and Pat Buchanan. The last thing we need is propaganda.

Jesus and Mo, in contrast, is a humane take on religious belief, bringing it right back to human beings where it belongs. Better yet, it’s funny. Exactly what the debate needs, rather than hatred masquerading as fundamentalist principle.

Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin

A new biography of  Sarah Palin is coming out next week.  Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin, by Joe McGinniss, claims that Palin used marijuana and cocaine, and had an affair with her husband’s business partner.  Whether you believe that, or not, probably has more to do with political affiliation than proven fact.  It’s enough for me that Palin is the very last person who should be entrusted with political power, purely on the grounds that she’s an ignorant bigot.  Joe McGinniss is a biographer’s biographer, getting as close to his subject as possible by moving into the house next door.  The book was panned in the New York Times.

According to this Guardian article, McGinniss teamed up with Garry Trudeau to incorporate revelations from the book into a story line in the Doonesbury cartoon strip.  If you’re interested in getting just the juicy bits, here are the cartoons, starting with the first on September 5th.

Disclaimer: Yes, I know the photo is a fake.  Palin’s head was photoshopped onto another model’s body.  But I’d argue that they got the political ambiance right.  And if the allegations are correct, then they got the hypocrisy factor right as well.