The Intolerance of the Fragile Christian

IntoleranceA month and a half ago, The Journal Gazette reported about a disturbing story out of God’s country in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Religion Focus of Suit vs Teacher. Last February, a second grade boy, called AB, was at school on recess. A little girl asked him where he went to church. He said that he didn’t and that he didn’t believe in God. The little girl claimed that this hurt her feelings. The playground supervisor then reported it to his teacher, Michelle Meyer. Meyer then asked him about his religious beliefs, and told him she was going to contact his mother. She never did that, although she did force little AB to eat his lunch alone and not talk to any other kids for the next three days. That was when his mother became involved and had it stopped.

Let’s be clear where the teacher is coming from, because I don’t want to unfairly vilify her. According to her, she was just punishing AB for being mean to other children (even though his interaction was really only with a single other child). I’m sure in her mind that AB was a bully. Think about it in this context: imagine if a child was going around the school yard telling Jewish children that the Holocaust never happened. Clearly, that’s not what’s going on, but that’s the way that a true believing Christian would see it: AB was spreading lies designed only to cause pain.

The teacher is totally wrong. And the whole thing shows the way that religious communities poison minds. I doubt it occurred to Meyer that AB was anything but some bizarre Satanic outlier. It wouldn’t have occurred to her that she had it completely backwards: that AB didn’t need to be told of the healing power of Jesus but that Meyer was totally ignorant of the actual variety of spiritual (and non-spiritual) belief. And her actions do not show any Christian love to me. They demonstrate the very worst aspects of Christianity. If it weren’t for our secular state, who knows what she would have felt okay doing to this little boy in the name of the One True Way™.

But I’m more interested in the little girl. How fragile she is! Her parents are raising her in the perfect cloistered way to create another Michelle Meyer. It hurt her feelings that someone else didn’t share her beliefs. This has bullying backwards. Long before Meyer got involved and started her course of bullying on AB, this little girl was bullying him. In the lawsuit against the teacher it says, “He also stated that it was fine with him if his inquiring classmate believed in God.” Yet the little girl was pandered to for days — including by other members of the school staff.

This is, of course, special pleading. This is what makes Christians come unglued when department stores use the inclusive “Happy Holidays!” That just isn’t acceptable to some Christians, because it doesn’t hold their religion up as something more than a belief rather than what they claim it to be: The Truth. And that is, at base, just like it was for the little girl. Such faith is so weak that they can’t be allowed to hear any idea that conflicts with it. This is not only bad for society generally, it’s terrible for the religion. But Christianity has been stagnant for hundreds of years, so I doubt that matters.

It would be nice to think that this lawsuit will change things. But I seriously doubt that. What the little girl and Michelle Meyer did was not an indication of viciousness. It was an indication of the inbred nature of American Christianity. To most Christians, atheists are people who exist “out there,” who dance naked with goats by moonlight. And it is going to remain that way as long as Christians in this country can delude themselves into thinking that “all good people” are Christians.

What If Fox News Succeeded Against Trump

Jonathan ChaitDonald Trump has dominated the early phase of the Republican campaign. The Republican Party needs to put an end to it. The question going into the first debate was which candidate would take it upon himself to take down Trump. The answer is that none of them did. Fox News did the work itself, a division of labor that made sense for both sides. The candidates could refrain from alienating the Donald’s loyalists; and the moderators, who don’t need Iowans to tromp through the snow for them, can peel the bark off him. The Fox News moderators brutalized Trump with questions about his partisan loyalty he could not answer because there is no answer. Trump is in this race for himself, not for the party…

That is why the significance of his performance lies in his deadly serious threat to run a third-party campaign, siphoning off the immigrant-haters and amorphously angry blue-collar whites the actual nominee will need for himself. The intense barrage of pointed questions displayed how seriously Roger Ailes takes Trump’s threat to hijack the GOP for his own end. It failed to reckon with the other threat: that the Republican plan to drive Trump from their party might instead work all too well.

—Jonathan Chait
Donald Trump vs the Republican Party: Now It’s War

Free Speech Hypocrisy and Unpopular Opinion

Ted NugentRegular readers know that I hate Ted Nugent. It is mostly just that he has an easy partisanship that is pure tribal identity. But there are so many facets to what is vile about him. And one thing that really bugs me is that he can make death threats regarding the president and nothing happens to him. Back in 2007 he said, “Obama, he’s a piece of shit, and I told him to suck on my machine gun.” And then in 2012 he said, “If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.” That is a clear threat. But nothing happens to him because he’s white and rich.

Let me be clear: I think he should be allowed to say such things. I don’t think they mean anything. I do think they coarsen political debate. And they do have bad effects on people who are even more unstable than Nugent. But I’m pretty much a free speech absolutist. Regardless, I don’t see that the state’s interest in protecting individuals comes anywhere near its interest in allowing for the free exchange of ideas. I certainly think that Nugent and others should be socially ostracized. The fact that Mike Huckabee is a friend of his should make Huckabee unqualified for the presidency. But we all know that the right wing of this country is crazy, so clearly, I am asking for too much.

Anjem ChoudaryThe problem is that if Ted Nugent were a Muslim with the same statements, he would have spent years in jail — twice. And all that says is that America has free speech as long as the speech is popular enough. And that means that we don’t actually have free speech. I am in the situation where the things I want to say are clearly inside the range of acceptable speech. But that’s hardly surprising. I’m a white male who grew up in the middle class. I don’t stray too far from that. I am the kind of liberal that such a background creates. So the fact that I feel unconstrained, means absolutely nothing.

The issue isn’t confined to the United States, of course. It is a problem in the west generally. Everywhere that countries congratulate themselves on their embrace of free speech, you will actually find incredible hypocrisy. This was well on display early this year with all the “Je Suis Charlie” protests. At the same time people were marching in the streets for “free speech,” the French government was going after a comedian. It certainly wasn’t because he was offensive. After all, wasn’t that what everyone was marching for?! It was rather because he was offending the wrong people. You see, Charlie Hebdo was offending Muslims, and the comedian was a Muslim offending non-Muslims.

Now we have another example, in the UK this time, A Quiz for the West’s Great Free Speech Advocates and Supporters of Anjem Choudary’s Arrest. It does indeed seem that Anjem Choudary is a vile guy. But then so are Nazis and Klansmen. But I support their rights too. In the article, Glenn Greenwald points out the ridiculous double standard that we commonly use in the west. Choudary gives speeches saying that he supports the Islamic State. Thus, the UK government claims that this is inciting violence. Okay. But so is the following that never got anyone arrested:

Saddam Hussein is a major threat and has WMD, and we should use all our might to invade Iraq, bomb the country, take it over, and kill him and his supporters!

Greenwald provides many other examples. But it’s clear. This is just a double standard. It’s like all the FBI “sting” operations where the FBI takes mentally unstable Muslims and gets them to pretend to start a jihad. I wonder what would happen if the FBI had similar “sting” operations with unstable Ted Nugent fans. But we’ll never know, because the FBI would never do that. Because Muslims are the enemy. Not Ted Nugent or Sarah Palin fans. And not Alex Jones, whose listeners have been incited to think that Jade Helm 15 is an existential threat to America. Because we are hypocrites. Because we do not have free speech.

Chris Christie’s Bad (and Old) Social Security Ideas

Chris ChristieSome conservative ideas are bad like raising the retirement age. It is just a way of cutting social security benefits without actually saying so. And given that the poor don’t live as long as the rich, it is an extremely regressive way of cutting social security. It would be far more fair to just cut how much money people get. But that would be admitting that it is a cut. Obviously, we need to call this sort of thing out. Delaying retirement by two years is what all the Republican candidates (except Trump) want to do. But at least it would save money.

But there is a whole other level of wrongness. I thought Chris Christie put out the proposal very well at last Thursday’s debate. After saying that we must “first” raise the retirement age because, hey, everyone’s doing it, he said, “Secondly, we would [means] test Social Security for those who are making over $200,000 dollars a year in retirement income, and have $4 to $5 million dollars in liquid assets saved.” This is what passes for hard nosed thinking in the Republican Party. It sounds good because obviously such people wouldn’t be hurt. And it seems to say, “See: I’m going after the rich!” But it really doesn’t.

Look at the numbers he’s proposed. Just making a quarter million dollars per year isn’t enough to make someone too rich to need Social Security. They must also have $4 million is liquid assets. So supposed you just bought Bill Gate’s $63 million mansion. So you are only left with three and a half million dollars in cash. And you only get about a million per year in retirement income. Then don’t worry, you are still going to get your $2,663 check every month. Because Chris Christie isn’t a monster! Clearly, Christie has put together his plan so it won’t actually apply to anyone, but it sounds like he’s coming down hard on the rich.

But the worst thing about this plan is that even if it were real, it is meaningless. Dean Baker has been writing about this for years. Unless we want to eliminate Social Security for everyone with retirement benefits of $40,000 per year and more, there really is no savings. All it would do is make the accounting more difficult (something that Republicans are supposedly against) and make people less inclined to support the program (something that Republicans are very keen for). Even if Christie set a single standard of $200,000, it would be meaningless.

There are two parts of Social Security. The “pay in” is highly regressive — mostly between the upper class (who make around $100,000) per year, and the truly rich who make many hundreds of thousands or more. But it is nonetheless true that the upper class pay a lot of money into social security. The “pay out” is far more egalitarian. So there is money to be gained by soaking the rich — but it isn’t on the “pay out” side; it is on the “pay in” side. Of course, no conservative is willing to eliminate the payroll tax cap — or even increase it. That actually would cause a little pain for the rich, so it is not even discussed.

I don’t think this is a conspiracy. For one thing, I don’t think that Chris Christie is smart enough to say to his people, “I want to propose increasing the retirement age, which is a regressive benefit cut; what can I come up with that makes it looks like I’m hurting the rich too, but which doesn’t actually hurt the rich?” But I do think that people like Christie have advisers who know that anything at all is okay as long as it doesn’t hurt the rich. So if Christie ever got it into his head to raise the payroll tax cap, there would be someone close by to explain that he can’t do that. The problem is more systemic: the Republicans are in the can for the rich. And that’s the only reason they exist.

Anniversary Post: Magellan

MagellanOn this day in 1990, the Magellan spacecraft achieved orbit around Venus. It had two primary goals: map the surface and gravitational field of the toxic cloud covered planet. Venus is in many way like Earth. It is almost exactly the same size and density. They both seem to have a similar internal structures. They are both losing heat at the same rate. Yet, as Carl Sagan put it: earth is like heaven and Venus is like hell.

Venus’ surface pressure is almost a hundred times the surface pressure here on earth. Standing on the surface of Venus would be like being a half mile under the ocean. You know: deadly. But it’s worse than that, because it is also incredibly hot. It is 860°F, which is, you know, hotter than any regular kitchen oven. In fact, it is even hotter than the hottest pizza ovens. Venus is very, very hot. In fact, it is hotter than Mercury at noon, even though Venus only gets 25% as much energy from the sun.

The reason for this is because almost 97% of Venus’ atmosphere is composed of carbon-dioxide. This creates the mother of all greenhouse effects. Or it would, if the greenhouse effect weren’t a myth created by a conspiracy of Al Gore and James Hansen. Moving on. This fact (or myth) combines with two other aspects of Venus to create a very constant temperature: almost no axial tilt (just 3° compared to 23.5° for Earth) and almost a circular orbit around the sun (eccentricity of 0.007 compared to 0.017 for the Earth). So day, night, pole, or equator, Venus is just too hot even for cooking pizzas. But the temperature does decrease with altitude. So on top of Maxwell Montes — the highest point on Venus at 7 miles — it is only about 700°F. And you know what that means: great pizza oven temperature! (Fun fact: there may be lead sulfide “snow” on top of Maxwell Montes!)

The Magellan mission made a number of discoveries about Venus. For example, it found that the surface was young. It is covered with volcanic material. It appears to have river-like lava flows. It is also geologically active, but doesn’t seem to have plate tectonics. And there is little evidence of wind erosion. Now this is actually something I know a little bit about. First, Venus rotates very slowly (and in the wrong direction), so not much in the way of Coriolis effect. And there are no temperature gradients, so not much mixing due to that. So the atmosphere is very static.

Anyway, when all the world gets you down, NASA is there to cheer you up: humans are good at doing positive things. And that’s true, even if we ultimately learn that it is nasty out there!