Sunday, April 21, 2013

The rocky nook with hilltops three/Looked eastward from the farms

So, what is our takeaway from the Boston bombing? Three people were killed, and over 170 people were injured. What should we do about it?

Well, Senator Lindsey Graham (belle of the ball and well-known Scarlett O'Hara impersonator) believes we should take away the rights of American citizens, skip having a trial entirely, and pull out the whips and cattle-prods.

Wonkette published a list of people who they suggested should eat a bag of dicks on the subject. But I'm pretty sure Lindsey has dreams like that, and I'm not in the business of making him happy.

Over on the openly-insane side of the argument, we have Alex Jones of the conspiracy-theory site saying that the Obama administration staged the whole thing in order to establish martial law and take away our rights. (On the other hand, a blogger at Forward Progressives makes an equally persuasive argument that Alex Jones’ desire for farm animals fuels his distrust for the government.)

Jones wasn't the only conspiracy theorist to go completely bugnuts over this whole thing. There was just too much misinformation out there for their tiny little brains to process. For one thing, the media certainly failed to do anything except look like incompetent idiots (here's a visual representation of who said what and when, if you're curious.) The most egregious lies, of course, came from publications owned by Rupert Murdoch: the New York Post, Wall Street Journal and Fox "News" Channel.

Easily the worst of those three was the tabloid NY Post, who decided to devote their front page to two bystanders who the Post implied were the bombers. Because, hey, they had dark skin, right?

One of them, a high-school track star, turned himself in to the police because he didn't want to get attacked by people who still believe that the NY Post covers the news.

Social media wasn't much help - Twitter and police scanners allowed the innocent people to end up smeared as "suspects," or sometimes, to create people who didn't exist.
Meanwhile, at 2:14am Eastern, an official on the police scanner said, "Last name: Mulugeta, M-U-L-U-G-E-T-A, M as in Mike, Mulugeta." And thus was born the newest suspect in the case: Mike Mulugeta. It doesn't appear that Mulugeta, whoever he or she is, has a first name of Mike. And yet that name, "Mike Mulugeta," was about to become notorious.
One of the things that spurred many a paranoid rant, of course, was the fact that a Saudi man was (or wasn't) taken into custody (or to a hospital, or escaped) after being seen planting a bomb (or running from the scene, or acting suspticiously), and then was released (or disappeared, or was taken up by the alien mothership).

Yes, "facts" became remarkably fluid over the course of last week.

What basically happened was a simple combination of paranoia and racism.
A twenty-year-old man who had been watching the Boston Marathon had his body torn into by the force of a bomb. He wasn't alone; a hundred and seventy-six people were injured and three were killed. But he was the only one who, while in the hospital being treated for his wounds, had his apartment searched in "a startling show of force," as his fellow-tenants described it to the Boston Herald, with a "phalanx" of officers and agents and two K9 units...

Why the search, the interrogation, the dogs, the bomb squad, and the injured man's name tweeted out, attached to the word "suspect"? After the bombs went off, people were running in every direction—so was the young man. Many, like him, were wounded; many of them were saved by the unflinching kindness of strangers, who carried them or stopped the bleeding with their own hands and improvised tourniquets....

In the midst of that, according to a CBS News report, a bystander saw the young man running, badly hurt, rushed to him, and then “tackled him,” bringing him down. People thought he looked suspicious.

What made them suspect him? He was running — so was everyone. The police reportedly thought he smelled like explosives; his wounds might have suggested why. He said something about thinking there would be a second bomb — as there was, and often is, to target responders. If that was the reason he gave for running, it was a sensible one. He asked if anyone was dead — a question people were screaming. And he was from Saudi Arabia, which is around where the logic stops.
He was cleared by the authorities. But not by social media. And he has now become another puzzle piece for the paranoid to obsess about.

And our right-wing media continues to fan the fear. We have columnists ranting in national outlets that this attack (which, as I mentioned above, killed 3 people and injured 170) was literally worse than 9/11, or the Oklahoma City bombing, or any attack ever, all the way back to the Great Flood!

Huh. If you think about it, the Biblical Flood was just another mass killing. What does that make God?... It is the Old Testament, so it could be argued that He was Middle Eastern...

Sorry. Seem to have gone off on a tangent, there...

So, what should we take away from this experience? Well, while there were more injured, there were less people killed than there were at Sandy Hook. We should probably react to this tragedy just the same way we did to that one. Just as much should get done because of this, as will get done because of that.

And maybe, just maybe, the media can get its head out of its ass, and go back to reporting facts, instead of rushing to get something (anything!) out there to the public, and to be first!

Somehow, I doubt that any of this will be the case. But we can hope.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Rape, and a Little Reality

So, another sad example of male privilege and victim-blaming came to light last week, when Canadian teen Rehtaeh Parsons hanged herself after the RCMP decided that it didn't have enough to act on, and closed the case. Despite one of the four boys having circulated evidence of him committing the crime (which also constitutes child pornography, incidentally). Despite the fact that it took hacker group Anonymous about two hours to find the names of the four boys involved.

Backed against a wall, the RCMP agreed to reopen the case. So, bravo, Anonymous.

This case is remarkably similar to the Steubenville, Ohio rape case, in which two teens took advantage of a drunk underage girl to abuse her when she couldn't fight back. In both cases, the victim was blamed for being a slut, when they were both unconscious (or all but) at the time. In both cases, the police tried to cover it up, and members of Anonymous wouldn't let them.

The Far Right (and some other idiots) practically dryhumped the Steubenville story, trying to empathize with the rapists and saying it was the victim's fault (because, after all, all men rape - they can't help themselves, right?).

Easily the weirdest reaction, though, came from a libertarian college professor, who put it this way:
Let’s suppose that you, or I, or someone we love, or someone we care about from afar, is raped while unconscious in a way that causes no direct physical harm — no injury, no pregnancy, no disease transmission. (Note: The Steubenville rape victim, according to all the accounts I’ve read, was not even aware that she’d been sexually assaulted until she learned about it from the Internet some days later.) Despite the lack of physical damage, we are shocked, appalled and horrified at the thought of being treated in this way, and suffer deep trauma as a result. Ought the law discourage such acts of rape? Should they be illegal?...

As long as I’m safely unconscious and therefore shielded from the costs of an assault, why shouldn’t the rest of the world (or more specifically my attackers) be allowed to reap the benefits?
Now, I'm not going to try to refute his argument directly (if you aren't sociopathic, the answer should be obvious). What I'm going to point out is this:
A. Following that logic out to its obvious conclusion, there is no private possession of any item. This is more extensive than anything ever suggested by any follower of communism or socialism.

By this reasoning, nobody should ever be allowed to take their keys with them after they drive to work; while you're in your office, other people should be allowed to use your car. After all, if they refill the gas and return it before you leave for the day, there's no problem, right?

Nor can you lock your door: people should be allowed to have parties in your house while you aren't there, shouldn't they? As long as they clean up after themselves, no harm, no foul, right?

(Let's just pretend that there's no such thing as "depreciation" in the tax code: these are his thought experiments, not mine.)

B. Would you like to guess why the Right Wing is losing the idiotically-named "War on Women"? It's fascinating how this argument joins up with the abortion question: it's all the same. Dr Landsburg doesn't expand on his rape-apology in the way that I just did, because that's where it breaks down. In his view, not only is a woman's body just property (and not property that she controls, by the way), but it isn't even as important as his house, or his car. She's just there to be used by other people.
This is why the Right Wing is roughly as popular as chlamydia in most polls.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Quick English lesson

I'm currently (re)reading The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way by Bill Bryson. And it's one of the few non-fiction books that I will unreservedly recommend to anyone. It would be sad if a person who studied English couldn't be said to have a "way with words," and he most definitely does. The whole thing is written in an excessible, jovial style, and is simultaneously fascinating and educational.

And here is your vocabulary word for today: polysemy. That's where you take a single word, and give it a whole buttload of meanings. "Fine," for example: not to put too fine a point on it, but a man with fine hair can pay his fine to the court, and if he's got money left and is feeling fine, can go buy some fine art.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "fine" has 14 definitions as an adjective, six as a noun and two as an adverb. Its definition fills two full pages, and takes 5,000 words to explain. "Sound" and "round" are other fine examples.

The winner, though, is a three-letter monosyllable, "set." It has 58 uses as a noun, 126 as a verb, and 10 as a participial adjective. It takes the OED 60,000 words to explain the full range of its use. Apparently, like the Tardis, it's bigger on the inside.

Ironically, though, "polysemy" only has one definition.

Monday, April 08, 2013

What is it about Islamic fundamentalists?

Anybody who knows me (statistically, damned few of you) is aware that I am not a faithful churchgoer. And some of you probably worked that out from my nom de blog.

However, for all that unbelievers in America face discrimination, idiocy and occasional threats, we have it better than people in some parts of the world.

I tend to reserve most of my bile for Christianity, mostly because it's the religion that keeps trying to take over America. Which happens to be where I live. I don't happen to appreciate people trying to shove their beliefs down my throat - I'm not going to compare it to rape, but there are philosophical similarities. Much in the way that a house fire would be similar to a nuclear holocaust, but still...

In fact, due to the excessive and overwrought hatred of Muslims that is typically found among members of the Right Wing, I've tended to shy away from pointing out the less-brilliant aspects of Islamic beliefs. But let me just say this.

Muslim societies, on the whole, are less advanced than those of us in what they call the "West." Their educational levels frequently aren't even on a par with Mississippi, they are roughly as set in their ways as the Catholic church, and they share many beliefs with the Westboro Baptist Chuch. And they have an unpleasant tendancy toward violence similar to members of the NRA.

Bangladesh, for example, is nominally a secular democracy, but they seem to have forgotten what "secular" actually means. When Bangladesh gained independance from Pakistan in 1971, they set up a constitution that included "Four State Principles" - Secularism, Democracy, Nationalism and Socialism (factors which were upheld in Bangladeshi court in 2010).

However, with a population that is almost 90% Muslim (89.4% in 2010), they seem to be adding two more principles: Bigotry and Intolerance.

And Violence. So maybe three principles. (I could add "Murder," but it would rapidly grow into a Monty Python sketch about the Muslim Inquisition.)

See, there's an atheist blogger in Bangladesh named Asif Mohiuddin. In January, he was attacked in an apparent murder attempt, by three men who tried (but failed) to stab him in the throat. A month later, on 15 February, another atheist blogger, Ahmed Rajib Haider, was hacked to death in a machete attack in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh.

For the crime of making himself a target, the surviving blogger, Asif, was arrested last Wednesday, and his blog on ordered shut down by the government. He was the fourth blogger in two days to be arrested for "defaming Islam.".

The government is cracking down on athiests because Muslims are rioting. Which is, of course, the perfect response: you should always give in to violent threats. On 13 March, the Prime Minister's office formed a committee tasked with identifying "blasphemous" bloggers.
Earlier in the week, four online writers were arrested on charges of hurting Islamic religious sentiments in a country where 90 percent of people are Muslims.

Following recent protests over the war crimes tribunal, the government has blocked a dozen websites and blogs to stem the unrest. It has also set up a panel, which includes intelligence chiefs, to monitor blasphemy on social media.

Under the country’s cyber laws, a blogger or Internet writer can face up to ten years in jail for defaming a religion.
What is it about radical Islam that causes them to attack and kill anyone they disagree with? If girls try to go to school, they get shot. Cartoonists who draw pictures of Mohammed are attacked with axes. Being "too Western" or committing "sexual impropriety" will get a woman murdered by her family.

Now, among Christians, the percentage of fundamentalists varies: in the Bible Belt (sociographically, the "East South Central Region" - Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Alabama), it stands at about 58%, while in New England, it climbed slightly during the Bush era to 13%. If we assume that the same percentages hold for the Islamic peoples, that's still a buttload of fundamentalists. And in any religion, it's the fundamentalists who make the worst neighbors.

Here's the thing. Islam has been round for about 1400 years. Know what Christians were doing at about the same point in their history? Crusades and Inquisitions: killing people of other religions, and locking people up for daring to speak against them. The only difference is, modern Muslims have access to more technology than Christians did in the Middle Ages.

You have to wonder if this is a cycle that all major religions go through.