Nov 29, 2007

Pat Robertson: yoga is evil and "spooky"

During a recent 700 Club appearance, Pat Robertson responded to a question about yoga. When asked if the ancient Indian discipline "has its origins in evil?" - Robertson responded in the affirmative.

The problem with asking Robertson for his opinion on any topic of this sort is that at best he only has the vaguest of clues. His central convictions derive not from impartial knowledge - but from hearsay, prejudice and superstitious adherence to fundamentalist evangelical doctrines.

He has demonstrated time and again that he is ignoramus-in-chief in an evangelical media that rewards crass grandstanding and bone headed certitudes. This is no small accomplishment. To actually be number one requires a special talent and Robertson is in a class of his own.

The scary part is that he is actually very proud of his ignorance and has been known to masquerade as the font-of-all-wisdom on topics he knows little about - yoga being a case in point. The guy doesn't even understand basic ethics as it relates to the Christianity he professes. He demonstrated this clearly when he called publicly for the assassination of Hugo Chavez. The bible clearly states that earthly leaders are "appointed by God", so if you're a Christian the last thing you should be doing is calling for them to be knocked off.

During the 700 Club exchange he went on to describe yoga as "spooky". What he finds "spooky" is that in his mind, yoga practitioners worship Hindu gods when they use a mantra. The use of the term 'worship' in this context is misleading. In any case many yoga classes in the West are conducted without the requirement that students intone any mantras whatever.

Yoga for the most part is connected with the Advaita Vedanta in Hinduism, which is a minority tradition, not typical of mainstream Hinduism. But such distinctions completely escape Robertson who prefers to demonize anything that doesn't fit in with his bigoted outlook on life.

Asking Robertson about yoga is about as futile as asking Paris Hilton for her insights on the theory of existentialism.

Yoga: Pat Robertson style

Pat Robertson doing yoga

Nov 26, 2007

Michael Bloomberg: foreign affairs with Nancy Soderberg

Michael Bloomberg has privately been studying up on foreign affairs. He claims this has nothing to do with any intentions of joining the presidential race. It's all about a self-improvement regimen intended to increase his knowledge of the world, so he can be a better mayor.

He isn't just researching on the web in his spare time either, but has gone to the trouble to look up former US Ambassador to the UN, Nancy Soderberg, no less - to get the inside scoop.

Plotting to enter the presidential race has nothing to do with it. In fact Bloomberg claims he isn't even following the race in the media. The research according to Bloomberg is all about his insatiable urge to learn about all and everything. There's nothing that Bloomberg isn't curious about, and who better than Nancy Soderberg to enable him to get a grasp of the big picture.

No word if the mayor's foreign affairs interest involves "doing" anything other than the task on hand.

Nov 24, 2007

The Golden Compass: Philip Pullman and his Catholic detractors

Roman Catholic spokespersons have been venting a lot recently over works of fiction they view as threatening in one way or another. The Da Vinci Code came in for Catholic criticism, as did the Harry Potter series. Now there is a new reason for them to get hot under the collar.

In Ontario recently the Halton Catholic District School Board pulled an award winning childrens' book off the shelves of its libraries in response to complaints. The Golden Compass is part of a trilogy by British author Philip Pullman.

A movie based on the book is due to be released next month, starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. New Line Cinema is behind the production. They have departed somewhat from the text to avoid offending Catholics. Not that the Pullman books are explicitly anti-Catholic, but they could be interpreted that way.

Pullman is an atheist. Predictably he's been the target of attacks coming from Roman Catholic organizations, in particular the Catholic League in the US.

The head of the Catholic League, Bill O'Donohue, likened Pullman's work to an atheist manifesto - or more succinctly... "atheism for kids". As anyone knows who has actually read the books with any degree of comprehension, this is a deliberate distortion.

The Catholic Education Resource Center site offers this piece of outrage :

"Christians should be offended ... Pullman’s plot is a blasphemy worthy of Screwtape himself ... Pullman’s books are a direct attack upon God and the Christian faith."

Given their mixed track record in providing moral guidance for the young, Catholics aren't exactly in a strong position to attack a book that has received wide acclaim from parents around the world for both its moral vision and inspirational power.

Pullman's books aren't so much an attack on spirituality, as an attack on sinister authority. The dark power of the "Magisterium" appears to reference, however obliquely, the Catholic Church and its hierarchy.

Far from being morally ambivalent, Pullman's trilogy celebrates the virtues of hope and love. The books demonstrate the merits of such admirable human qualities as justice, honor and courage. There are even those readers who find Christian values alive and well in the books, so this criticism on the part of Roman Catholic organizations seems more about narrow self-interest. They are prepared to censor a work of childrens' fiction because it offends their hidebound criteria of what is permissable.

I'm pleased to report that there are Catholics I've read in the course of this debate who welcome Pullman's writings, believing that Church authority isn't beyond criticism.

Books that offend


Nov 21, 2007

The Benny Hinn circus: playing Jesus for a few million more

benny hinn

A while back I would occasionally watch Benny Hinn for entertainment value. In his perma-white suit he looked like a second rate Liberace act without the sequins. The theatrics during the 'healing' segment of his performance were amateurish. Rows of the easily seduced falling backward into the arms of "catchers", while voodoo boy moved along the line of human dominoes shooting out his magical fingers.

Assuming Jesus even existed, and assuming he actually performed the miracles Christians claim he did, I can't imagine him getting decked out in a Las Vegas style suit and hogging a mike, while working the crowd like a second rate hypnotist. But Hinn claims to be performing his brand of evango-magic in Jesus' name.

Hinn was born in Toufik, Israel, in 1952. He is of mixed Greek and Armenian lineage. His family emigrated to Canada in 1968. He became a born again Christian and started a 'healing' ministry in Toronto. The success he achieved owed much to an evangelical TV show on which he honed his circus-like skills.

He is now one of the better known televangelists. His enterprises rake in around $250 million a year. Believers are led to believe that putting money into his mission will result in blessings, including miracles. The emphasis placed upon this aspect of his teaching is completely counter to the teachings of the Jesus of the New Testament. Hinn twists biblical teachings to serve his own suspect ambitions.

He runs his crusades like a middle aged rock star. Jetting around the world and laying out top dollar for cushy stays in the best hotels. Unlike many of his peers in the born-again business, he refused to join the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, that helps to maintain standards. US tax laws enable people like Hinn to amass fortunes without making their finances public - one of the perks of being a religious organization.

How do preachers like Benny Hinn succeed in seducing so many people with trumped up 'miracles' and bogus prophesies? Given the number of times he has screwed up if he was in any other walk of life he would be looking at the door, yet he seems to maintain his popularity.

Part of Hinn's dubious success can be put down to the type of nerve generally associated with confidence tricksters. Not too many people would be prepared to step out and run an elaborate healing charade in front of a national audience. So people tend to assume that when someone attempts something this large and this public, they have to be for real... at least to some degree. It never occurs to them that opportunistic preachers do it because they can. These are people who are unscrupulous enough to take it to the max as long as there is a crowd that can be milked and laws that permit them to get away with it.

Behind the success of preachers like Hinn there is a vein of cynicism. They know that people who are attracted to their message are suggestible, open to manipulation. A prophesy can be retracted or re-interpreted if it doesn't pan out and when the next crusade rolls around the sheep in the pews will have forgotten such mistakes.

He prophesied that Jesus would appear in the 1990's and that Fidel Castro would die in the 1990's. In fact Hinn has notched up so many false prophesies in the course of his career that he is a leading contender for America's #1 false prophet. His prophetic utterances are based on nothing more than a delusional belief in his own second-rate powers. The same applies to the 'healing' spectacles over which he presides like magician-in-chief.

The dying, the fearful and the broken turn out at his crusades. An army of the wounded. An observer at a recent crusade in the UK noted that those in wheelchairs were placed at the rear of the building while Hinn perfomed his mumbo jumbo on the stage, along with the overworked spectacle of collapsing dupes designed to convince onlookers that something supernatural is taking place.

The truth is, the majority of people who arrive at his crusades in wheelchairs, leave in wheelchairs. He perpetrates his charade on the back of people who are disabled and in some cases in the grip of terminal disease. The ones who experience temporary relief of symptoms are responding to the psycho-emotional hype that surrounds them. Intense emotion and a will to recover can create the psychosomatic conditions for a seeming cure - a cure that is frequently of short duration once the high has worn off. These 'successes' have nothing to do with 'God', and everything to do with the supercharged energy of a large crowd.

Benny Hinn is a charlatan. He has claimed that he talks with the dead and with angels. He has claimed to be a 'messiah'. He has threatened and even cursed people who have accused him of being a fraud. His megalomania knows no bounds.

"Now I'm pointing my finger with the mighty power of God on me. There are men and women in Southern California attacking me ... You'll never win. ..your children will suffer. You are in danger. Repent, or God Almighty will move his hand. ..."

We go after priests and ministers for individual cases of abuse. Perhaps we also need to start paying close attention to the mass exploitation of some of the most vulnerable amongst us by preachers who rarely have to answer for the damage they cause, even as they line their pockets.

Nov 20, 2007

Archbishop Earl Paulk: sowing the seed takes on a whole new meaning

Earl Paulk, his brother Don, and various associates at the Chapel Hill Harvester Church in Atlanta, have been accused of a variety of sexual improprieties over the years. A number of women have threatened lawsuits and departed the church claiming to be victims of sexual misconduct.

In the early 90's a female church member alleged she had been pressured into sex by Earl and Don Paulk. Other women also came forward and made similar allegations, some of them directed at members of the church administration.

According to a former church employee, Mona Brewer, Paulk coerced her into sex by telling her that it was her only path to salvation (there is no mention if Paulk is a re-incarnated Tantric master). The way Ms Brewer puts it is that Paulk felt "impressed by the Lord to get to know her better". She hasn't mentioned if sex with Earl brought her any closer to the Pearly Gates.

Assuming Paulk did try this preposterous gambit to get Ms Brewer to put out, you have to wonder what critical faculties she was lacking to actually buy into it. Of course it is true that religious people can sometimes be unbelievably gullible when it comes to the far fetched claims peddled by spiritual authority figures. A number of Indian gurus have long histories of seducing female devotees by telling fantastical tales about the consciousness enhancing benefits of doing-it-with-Baba.

Mona Brewer is just one of many women with complaints about Paulk.

A former church member, Cindy Hall, alleges Paulk talked her into having a sexual relationship. She claims he made a 2 for 1 proposal - brother Don would also be included in the affair - sort of like a partner-in-adultery.

Another woman, Jessica Battle, accused Paulk of molesting her between the ages of 7 and 11. She alleges he forced himself on her when she was 17.

Jan Royston who left the church in 1992 after having her faith "crushed", said this of the operation ...

"This is a cult. And you escape from a cult," she said. "We all escaped."

It seems Earl Paulk didn't just have an eye for the ladies in the pews, he wasn't above a little family action on the side. He made the moves on his brother's wife and fathered a child with her. This came out recently, when the family went public with the results of a court ordered paternity test.

If even half the allegations out there are true, Earl Paulk must have been a very busy man indeed. Now at the advanced age of 80 his extra-ecclesiastical activities have come back to haunt him. According to the son he conceived with his brother's wife, all the accusations are true, although D.E.Paulk doesn't go along with the view that the women were entirely innocent parties in the proceedings:

"My uncle is 100 percent guilty, but his accusers are guilty as well," D.E. Paulk said, declining to talk further about the lawsuits.

Nov 18, 2007

Nov 16, 2007

Brian Mulroney: Mr Schreiber, cash and hotel rooms

After stonewalling and blustering in response to opposition calls for an inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber affair, PM Harper has done an about face and authorized a full public inquiry. This follows upon a demand for an inquiry by Brian Mulroney himself.

Recently during a speech at St Francis Xavier University, in typical bellicose fashion, Mulroney vowed that he was going to "fight and win again."

And that's part of the problem. Canadians never hear the end of it. Mulroney's affairs have been haunting Canadian public life for over a decade and distract from more important issues in the life of the nation. An inquiry will cost Canadians a whack of cash with no guarantee taxpayers will get even close to the truth.

Mulroney has already received $2.1 million from the Canadian taxpayer, and is now prepared to put Canadians through yet more years of this interminable circus.

What emerged from the earlier inquiry is troubling enough. On the basis of that alone Mulroney should offer frank and full disclosure rather than drag the country screaming and kicking into another public inquiry.

In 1995 Mulroney testified under oath that he never had any dealings with Schreiber - just coffee once or twice. Yet he admits to receiving $300,000 over the course of a series of meetings with Schreiber in Montreal and New York.

If this was an up-front business transaction why doesn't Mulroney simply reveal what the cash was for in a frank disclosure, instead of playing it cryptic while loudly protesting his innocence. His spokesman, Luc Lavoie, will only say it was "a retainer" with vague references to Mulroney's help with respect to Schreiber's German-Canadian business interests.

Images of people in hotel rooms handling stacks of bank notes, evokes thoughts of the Cosa Nostra. A recent Toronto Star column asks how Canadians would have reacted if during the Gomery inquiry it had emerged that Jean Chretien had been in a hotel room accompanied by "bagloads of cash". We would never have heard the end of it.

The handling of this affair should transcend political partisanship. It shouldn't matter that the main actor happens to be a conservative. It's about standards Canadians reasonably expect from a long standing Prime Minister - a statesman who represented the country to the world. Does a man who has held the position of the nation's top office holder voluntarily put himself into positions like this ... under any circumstances ?

Mulroney can't escape from the central image of a hotel room, piles of cash and a shady lobbyist. This is an image that has been lasered into the collective consciousness of Canadians. No matter how many explanations and justifications he musters in the course of the inquiry ... even if the verdict goes his way ... that image will remain indelible.

Nov 12, 2007

Jehovah's Witnesses: superstitious blood phobia

Over the years hundreds of Jehovah's Witnesses have died as a result of the Church's ban on blood transfusions. Now we are learning via Watchtower sources that those who have been expelled or shunned by the Church for making use of blood products might be readmitted if they show "true repentance".

This strategy on the part of Witness leadership is really about politics and PR. In order to remove some of the stain caused by the bad publicity they have been receiving over the blood ban, they are slipping in the "true repentance" caveat.

Why don't they just remove the blood ban altogether or make it less central to their faith... more a matter of individual conscience? They don't because they are afraid of an avalanche of lawsuits from members who have lost loved ones over the years.

Part of the Witness argument in defense of the blood ban is that it is meant to safeguard against importing diseases from the donor source. So the risk of having some unwelcome pathogen enter the bloodstream is what... more important than the responsibilities you have to your children and all who depend upon your survival? Is this a medical concern worth dying for, even in the name of religious belief?

Witnesses erroneously use the Old Testament as justification for the blood ban. The rules that governed life in an early tribal society can't easily be applied to society today, given the advances that have been made in areas of hygiene and medical science. Dietary laws relating to 'clean' and 'unclean' meat related to concerns about the health risks prevalent at that time. To simply lift these rules and apply them in a literal fashion today makes little sense. In the case of the Witness blood taboo, it can result in needless death.

Recently a story surfaced about yet another casualty of the Witness blood ban. Emma Gough, a 22 year old Jehovah's Witness, died after giving birth to twins. Following the birth she began hemorrhaging, but as she had signed a form instructing medical personnel not to provide blood, even in the case of an emergency, she died. What a tragic and unnecessary waste of a young life.

A former Jehovah's Witness, Rachel Underhill, who also gave birth to twins, had to have emergency Caesarean section. She was warned of the consequences of refusing blood by the medical staff and although she managed to get through without needing a transfusion, the experience got her thinking. She has since left the Church and runs a website to help others who are also disenchanted.

On hearing of the death of Ms Gough, Rachell Underhill had this to say ...

"After this sad case of Emma, all I can say is that if there is a scenario where the welfare of dependent children is involved, doctors should have the power to overturn the decision

Nov 10, 2007

The Mulroney-Schreiber connection

Stephen Harper has long been a man who has inveighed against corruption in high places. When he became Canadian PM he arrived in Ottawa with the steely eyed look of the reformer. He was hell bent on cleaning up government and demanded accountability across the board. A new era had dawned in Canadian politics with Captain Clean at the helm.

Reformers can be challenging to be around. Harper proved to be just as controlling as you might expect a zealot to be, especially in his dealings with the press. This definitely wasn't a fun guy. But he was righteous. He gleamed with the sanctimonious sheen of the corruption buster.

He was also the Adscam slayer. Conservative pundits were shrill in their denunciation of shady practices in Quebec ad agencies where invisible people were collecting salaries - possibly even dead people and their long deceased mothers. They also denounced the undercover game best known as the 'brown envelope express', that allowed sketchy players in Quebec to pocket wads of cash just for playing the old Canadian unity game.

But while Harper was hell bent on cleaning up corruption, he was also cozy with former Canadian PM, Brian Mulroney - a person who has allegedly handled a few brown envelopes in his time and who has singlehandedly managed to fuel a rumor mill with a smoke stack that has never stopped belching ... even with the passage of time. A strange choice of confidante for Harper, but perhaps to some extent unavoidable since there are still those in the conservative party who remain strong supporters of Mulroney. This loyalty is in part due to Mulroney's key role in the unite-the-right movement that was largely responsible for Harper's rise to power.

So why are the old suspicions and rumors that have long swirled around Brian Mulroney been gaining traction of late?

Since the Mulroney years the mug of a German businessman named Karlheinz Schreiber, has appeared on-and-off in Canadian papers - an oddly expressionless face, with the beaten up look of a pugilist well past his prime. For quite some time conservative allies of Brian Mulroney have been dismissing charges that the former PM did anything untoward in his murky business dealings with Karlheinz Schreiber and have characterized attempts to probe into the business connections between the two men as "a witch hunt".

Until recently Stephen Harper seemed to be taking an equally high handed approach. When the Liberals called for a public inquiry into the affair, Harper rejected the demand while making the not-so-veiled threat that an inquiry into Mulroney's affairs could lead to similar inquiries into the business dealings of former Liberal PM's Martin and Chretien.

This is a wicket however that has very quickly turned sticky for Harper, and it's a situation he can't bluff or threaten his way out of. That became crystal clear when new revelations put him on the defensive.

In an affidavit filed in the Ontario Supreme Court this week, Schreiber claims that he made a $300,000 lobbying deal with Mulroney. This figure has been cited by others with knowledge of the affair, but what makes it a matter of renewed public interest, is the fact that Schreiber claims the deal was struck in June of 1993, two days before Mulroney left office. Moreover Schreiber claims the deal was negotiated at the PM's Harrington Lake retreat.

There is also the claim that one of Mulroney's advisers asked Schreiber to transfer funds associated with the controversial Air Canada purchase of Airbus planes to a Mulroney lawyer based in Switzerland. This simply adds fuel to a fire that has long been simmering, because in the 90's the RCMP alleged that Mulroney had taken bribes in connection with the Airbus deal.

The current allegations cast extreme doubt on claims by Mulroney in 1996 that he "never had any dealings with him (Schreiber)." Other aspects of the case also arouse suspicions. Why did Mulroney take large payments from Schreiber in the form of cash, and not by cheque for example? How come in his recent memoirs there is no mention of the association with Karlheinz Schreiber?

What makes this a matter of pressing public concern, isn't just the suspicion that Mulroney engaged in under-the-table dealing while occupying the office of Prime Minister of Canada, but the fact that he received hefty financial compensation for being 'wronged'. In 1997 he received $2.1 million from the Canadian government headed by Jean Chretien to settle a lawsuit over the RCMP handling of the Airbus affair. This is a payment that likely would never have been made if current information relating to the case had been available at that time.

Stephen Harper's name also showed up in court documents in association with a letter which Schreiber claims to have written at Mulroney's urging. This was a letter that Mulroney allegedly wanted to show to Harper during a Harrington Lake visit. The contents of the letter are a bit perplexing because they offer a positive spin on the Schreiber/Mulroney relationship with affectionate phrases addressed to "dear Brian" such as "I have always been your friend" and "I am happy your health is fine again".

It seems though that Schreiber wrote the letter in a self-serving capacity. He believed it would help get Harper on his side in his battle to avoid extradition to Germany. The Germans want to have him return to face trial in Bavaria on tax evasion charges.

For the record, Stephen Harper claims Mulroney never showed him the letter from Schreiber.

The recent revelations have forced Harper to quit stonewalling on the affair. In a dramatic volte-face, he announced that his government will have no further dealings with Mulroney until the air is cleared. Harper has also called for an independent review of the relationship between Schreiber and Mulroney, and has signaled that a public inquiry into the affair may be necessary.

This is certainly a surprising reversal, but Harper had no choice. When you present yourself to Canadians as the corruption buster you can't sweep allegations of this sort under the rug just because it happens to involve an old mentor.

The Liberal opposition leader, Stephane Dion, is less than impressed with the Harper move and claims the PM is just buying time. Time is fast running out. The Canadian public have been given the runaround on this affair for far too long - they deserve to know the truth.

Harper gets out the disinfectant

Stephen Harper distances himself from Brian Mulroney

Nov 8, 2007

Purple pain: Prince sics lawyers on his fans

A while ago Prince took back some power from the big record labels. That was a time when he allied himself with his fans in the "them and us" crusade. Now the fans themselves have become the target of Prince's seemingly insatiable need to control everything about his work and image. Word is he's been hanging out in his Paisley Park Studio complex in Minneapolis scanning websites that post his image, album covers and lyrics. When he doesn't like what he is seeing, his response is to call in the heavies.

His lawyers have pressured three of the best known Prince fansites to take down photos, lyrics ... even album covers. An article in The Guardian states that a legal letter received by the fansites demands "substantive details of the means by which you propose to compensate our clients for damages."

The 'cease and desist' offensive also came with demands that fans remove pictures they had posted of their Prince tattoos, even pics of license plates that reference the performer and his works.

This attempt to censor fans follows upon his use of the company, Web Sheriff, to undertake the removal of thousands of Prince related clips from YouTube. A mother was targeted for posting a clip of her child dancing to the hit Let's Go Crazy, even though the audio quality is so poor you can barely make out the tune.

This is the age of social media. Images and words are part of a cultural experience that has increasingly become a shared experience. Most artists are cool with it and for the most part put up with the negatives that come with the internet. In the case of Prince who was all about leveling the playing field and getting the big labels out of the way so he could establish a relationship with his fans via the internet and concerts, this should be truer than most.

It's hard to know what exactly prompted him to react this way. There has been talk that some sites were selling bootlegged material. The threads on the sites could also get pretty negative about the man and his music on occasion which seems odd given that they are after all "fan" sites.

Prince is naive though if he thinks that he will somehow be immune from this type of attention. Very few people in the public eye these days escape negative treatment on the internet. It does seem a bit precious to care overly much what people say about you on fansite threads. But apparently these things matter to Prince. People who visited his NPG site claim when negative comments showed up in forum discussions it didn't take long before they were deleted.

The only reason we have even heard of Prince Rogers Nelson is because somebody, somewhere, bought his act. Later fans bought his albums with hard earned coin and made the trek to his concerts to support him. Now he's decided he wants some of it back.

Paisley Park special air service


Nov 7, 2007

Pat Robertson endorses Giuliani

Rudy Giuliani has the dubious distinction of being endorsed by Pat Robertson. This move reflects the opportunistic character of Robertson - the joker in the evangelical card deck - who routinely stakes out controversial positions to draw attention to himself.

What is clear with this endorsement is that the politics of power and ongoing war matter more to Pat Robertson and his followers than taking a stand on the so-called 'family values' priorities they preach from the pulpit.

Despite his less GOP-centric position on some social issues, Giuliani has been coming off like a heavyweight version of Bush lately when it comes to foreign policy - enough to suck in those believers who obviously put a higher priority on the politics of power than the moral values they tout.

This endorsement is a mixed blessing for Giuliani. But hey, Robertson claims he can squat 1,200 pounds and can see with the eye of the prophet, so at least Rudy will be able to get free ringside seats at the circus if he ever gets bored.

Nov 4, 2007

Asa Coon shooting: columnist attacks atheism

A recent Detroit Free Press column by Mitch Albom addressed the Asa Coon shooting. It merits a brief response if only because of Albom's misguided attempt to link the incident with the decline of religion in America.

In covering the school shooting by a troubled 14 year old boy, Albom states that the youth in question, Asa Coon, was "reportedly" into a Goth lifestyle and Atheism. The manner in which it is presented makes Coon's lifestyle appear deeply suspect. In case the reader required more convincing, Albom added a reference to Coon's fondness for shock rocker Marliyn Manson and included a few lines of the the most loaded Manson lyrics he could find.

The negative view of Atheists in the media is blatantly biased because there simply aren't the stats to back up the negative spin. The assumption is too frequently made that since an Atheist is 'godless,' he or she is therefore bereft of any type of moral code. Christian opinion pieces go so far as to link Atheism with perversion and drug addiction. In fact ethical concerns are important to Atheists as any who take the trouble to check out their writings will find to be the case.

Albom's smear comes on the heels of the attack on atheists launched by Dinesh D'Souza in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech massacre. D'Souza blamed modern science for reducing humans to "agglomerations of molecules" - among other accusations that bore little or no relation to the causal factors behind the tragedy.

These commenters are misinformed. They should take the time to actually read Atheist writers on the subject of ethics before pointing the finger.


Nov 3, 2007

Rudy Giuliani: depending ... sometimes torture is okay

When Mike Mukasey, the attorney general designate, was asked about his views on torture, specifically waterboarding, he said he wasn't sure if it was torture. Rudy Giuliani has a similar take on it.

According to Giuliani, it depends on the way you do it. A bit like crucifixion - if you give the palms of the condemned a brisk rub with an Icy Hot Chill Stick and then quickly smack in one of those really sharp ferrous nails with a 12 oz Ball Pein hammer, man the guy on the cross barely feels a thing. It's all in the execution, no pun intended.

Giuliani is a Roman Catholic and back in the day the RC Church was a bit like Torturers-R-Us. There was nothing about torture the Inquisition didn't know. The present Pope, Joseph Ratzinger, is a former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - the successor institution to the Inquisition.

The techniques the Inquisitors employed would require pages to list. A few of the more popular included The Rack, The Wheel, The Garotte, The Head Crusher, The Stake, The Judas Cradle, The Stocks, the Heretic's Fork - oh and what do you know ... Water Torture!

A favorite technique was to force a long piece of cloth down the throat while pouring water. This triggered a swallowing/gagging reflex and produced the same effect as suffocation. Fun times back in the 15th century when you were taking care of the Jesus business!

Giuliani is okay with water torture. He says "it depends on how it's done" ... "it depends on who is doing it". That's a bit like saying it's okay to kick a guy in the balls as long as you don't do it with steel toed Doc Martins. A crotch kick executed with Gucci loafers is more civilized.

So is waterboarding torture? Is controlled and deliberate drowning torture? When you immobilize a person on his/her back with the head inclined downward and pour water over the face to induce the sensation of drowning, you are in effect engaging in torture. Sometimes a cloth or plastic wrap is placed over the mouth. Cellophane is sometimes wrapped over the face.

Waterboarding can cause damage to the lungs and brain damage. Prolonged waterboarding can result in death. Victims have suffered prolonged psychological trauma, even after their release. It's not 'lightweight' torture. Efforts to minimize the negative effects of waterboarding is just the latest attempt to sanitize torture.

Waterboarding with Rudy

Nov 1, 2007

Purity balls: don't believe the hype

Purity Balls are being promoted by some conservative blogs as the cure for everything from family problems to promiscuity and abortion. Some make the connection between Purity Balls and the abstinence movement.

As studies have repeatedly shown abstinence regimens don't work. Teens with an abstinence-based lifestyle still have sex and moreover tend to take more risks. If a teen is in a loving relationship and things get hot and heavy, it's highly doubtful that a pledge made to Dad will be any kind of disincentive.

There is something more than a little odd about a teen girl pledging her virginity to her father. The last time I recall reading about fathers having a proprietorial interest in their daughter's chastity was while perusing a medieval text. What next ... chastity belts ... little towers?

The pledge implies that the father has some stake in decisions that are really about the daughter's choices as an individual. No teen daughter should be encouraged to step into the proxy role of 'Dad's little accomplice' because in the end that's what these vows and rings add up to. The ceremony binds her to a pact that is primarily about parental and religious priorities. When you read the moralizing that comes from Christian Purity Ball promoters this sub-text becomes very clear.

There is also the assumption that being a virgin equals "pure." Not always true. There are more than a few technical virgins who are the far side of pure. It also kind of infers that a teen who is having sex is what ... "impure"? This is a fallacy and moreover offensive. Dichotomies of the pure and impure type are always misleading, because they offer a false paradigm. The approach that is more real lies somewhere in the middle.

Instead of requiring a pledge, shouldn't fathers just settle for establishing real-life trust and understanding with their daughters? Daughters need to feel that channels of communication are genuinely open and that they can talk candidly about the things that matter.

Just because a teen pledges, doesn't mean the relationship with the father is a positive one. The father might be a remote workaholic. He might be impersonal and disengaged in the day-to-day world. He may be tied up with his own issues. Anyone can get dressed up and make a grand occasion out of pledging, but a pledge of this sort is unlikely to resolve the disconnect that characterizes many inter-generational relationships - in fact it may add to it.

Blogs that are pro-Purity Ball sometimes refer to daughters in diminutive terms such as "little princess" and "Daddy's little girl." There is a tendency to objectify young women as precious 'little' commodities. This phony feminization is infantilizing. It is precisely what we don't need in a society in which women are becoming increasingly empowered.

The mindset associated with 'purity culture' is regressive. The last thing we should be doing is turning daughters into daddy's-little-girls armed with pledges that in real terms are unlikely to prevent a teen from sexual experimentation. What it will more likely do is add to feelings of guilt and encourage the keeping of secrets - not exactly the recipe for a healthy father/daughter relationship.

Dads should give the Purity Ball charade a miss and focus instead on establishing a genuine relationship of mutual trust and respect with their daughters - no pledge involved and none asked for.