Saturday, March 10, 2012

God save us from atheist whining

A US campaign encouraging atheists ‘out of the closet’ is fuelled more by victim culture than secularist principles

An atheist association’s decision to take their latest billboard campaign to the heart of Muslim and Jewish enclaves in New York and New Jersey seems like an outright provocation. ‘You know it’s a myth… and you have a choice’, the billboards erected on Monday say - in Arabic, Hebrew and English.

But Dave Silverman, the president of American Atheists, claims the aim is not to stir up tension but to reach out to non-believers who feel isolated and beleaguered because they are surrounded by devout people. He and his fellow atheists want to encourage Americans to ‘come out’, something that is, of course, most closely associated with gays and lesbians. The billboards are also an advertisement for the Reason Rally, to be held in Washington DC later this month. According to its website, the goal of this gathering is ‘to encourage attendees… to come out of the closet as secular Americans, or supporters of secular equality’.

This idea that closet atheists need to be coaxed out into the open, and that they need to claim the right to rally together as proud non-believers, has become a central tenet of the ‘new atheist’ movement. The approach comes across as a curious blend of therapeutic thinking and fearmongering, and it is expressed with a kind of fervour that would not be altogether alien to the deeply devout. Silverman, for instance, believes that the Christian right ‘has unleashed an unparalleled slew of efforts aimed at Christianising the country’. The same kind of shrillness is heard among those religious people who imagine that atheists are tearing down the social fabric of America and are conducting a ‘war on religion’.

In an article outlining the importance of coming out, Silverman speaks of the ‘fear of rejection’, the ‘shame’ and the ‘mental and physical’ toll experienced by closet atheists. Admitting you’re a non-believer is, Silverman says, ‘the first step’, but he implores readers also to be ‘proud, open, honest’ atheists and not ‘another closeted victim of the Christian right’. The advice here reads like a 12-step programme for people recovering from religion. Rather than a positive clarion call for secular values, this is a self-help scheme for people who see themselves as traumatised abuse-victims.

But are Silverman’s sentiments even borne out by reality? Are atheists really a beleaguered minority in the US? Is it really a great taboo today to profess that you do not believe in God?

The so-called ‘new atheism’ movement has been headed up by esteemed writers like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens, and supported by famous people like Bill Maher, Tim Minchin and - unsurprisingly - the band Bad Religion. In other words, this is an outspoken crowd that does not need to cower in fear or meet behind closed doors. The Reason Rally will take place on the Mall, for god’s sake, on the doorsteps of the US political establishment.

No doubt there are Americans growing up in religious communities who do not feel like they belong there. Some of these communities are very closed off, including the Jewish orthodox neighbourhood in Williamsburg, Brooklyn where the American Atheists are putting up their signs. And no doubt many politicians are antagonistic to the idea of completely separating church and state. But atheists are not being persecuted for denying the existence of God or prevented from holding secular values and expressing them in public. Hard as it may be from a personal point of view, even Jews in Williamsburg are free to leave the orthodox life behind.

American Atheists and other supporters of the Reason Rally say they want to promote secular values. But in asserting that they are beleaguered and ought to forge a sense of togetherness based on that, they reveal that their true roots lie in therapy culture and in its relative - identity politics. Of course, non-belief, self-victimisation and religion-bashing make for a pretty negative and weak ground for common identification.

It seems, in fact, that the very thing that irks today’s atheists about religious people is that they have a strong, unifying vision of a good society and that they are willing to live by it, well, religiously. But those of us interested in advancing a human-centred vision of the future would do better focusing on important things like wealth creation, liberty, scientific advancement and creating great art. With these things comes enlightenment. With plastering religious areas with insulting billboards and attending feelgood events in DC come smugness and cheap thrills. The Reason Rally really isn’t worth coming out for.


£70,000 for a British warden who slipped and fell on ice ... while putting up 'beware of ice' signs

As the park warden picked his way through the snow and ice he should have known every step was a health hazard. After all, the signs he was putting up all around the park said so. ‘Be careful in the ice and snow,’ they boomed in big bold letters. But somehow the warden hadn’t got the message himself.

As he selected the best locations for the warning alerts, he went head over heels on the icy ground, badly hurting his back, neck, wrist and arms.

Now his council bosses, who had no doubt sent him on his mission with the aim of preventing compensation claims, are facing a £70,000 claim from one of their own. It seems health and safety can be downright dangerous at times. Not to mention expensive.

Leicester council has agreed to settle the case out of court after admitting the accident could have been prevented. The final payout has yet to be decided but £70,000 has been set aside to compensate the unnamed park warden and cover legal fees.

So how could the warden’s spectacular slip-up be blamed on the council? The recent purchase of 150 pairs of slip-on shoes with studded soles might be a clue. The council has ordered the winter weather shoes, which cost £13 each, in the hope of avoiding any more such injuries to outdoor workers. The accident came to light in a report from the council’s ‘risk committee’ into action it has taken to avoid expensive compensation claims.

The report explains that, under the Employers’ Liability Act, councils are obliged to ‘provide all necessary equipment for staff to safely carry out their role’. And since the council spent £1,950 buying ‘snow/ice traction aids’ (snow shoes to the rest of us), there have been no more workers taking a tumble in wintry conditions.

The prevention doesn’t stop there. The council has also spent £7,500 on tracking devices for its fleet of gritters, to monitor which of the city’s roads have been gritted.

That initiative followed a claim from a member of the public who slipped and broke an arm. The council claimed the road had been gritted but couldn’t prove it and ended up having to pay out £16,000. The tracking devices have helped successfully defend four similar claims since then.

Leicester council would not say where the warning sign accident happened or whether the warden was still an employee. Last year it revealed it had paid £356,000 in compensation to 61 staff since 2008, for accidents ranging from broken teeth to sore backs.

Leicester mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said: ‘Councils and other large organisations have increasingly found themselves targeted by lawyers who encourage people to make claims.

‘The Government needs to look at the best way to give those with genuine injuries access to justice, while deterring lawyers who are out to make a quick buck.’


Who wants police chiefs to edit a free press?

In the atmosphere of press unfreedom created around Britain's Leveson Inquiry, it seems ‘the public interest’ is now to be defined by… the London Metropolitan Police

What is meant by reporting in ‘the public interest’, and who is to define it? We are told that this is one of the big questions facing Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into the British press. Now, it appears, we have an answer. In the non-brave new world of press unfreedom that the Leveson Inquiry is helping to create, the ‘public interest’ is apparently to be defined for us by…. the Metropolitan Police.

Last week Leveson started the second phase of his inquisition into the crimes against humanity, sorry, the ‘culture and ethics’, of the tabloid press, which is supposed to deal with relations between the media and the police. The first star witness was Sue Akers, deputy assistant commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, in charge of the investigation into alleged criminal acts by newspapers. She baldly announced to Leveson and the world that there had been ‘a culture at the Sun of illegal payments [to police and public officials] and systems created to facilitate those payments’.

Never mind that the 11 Sun journalists and executives arrested on suspicion of bribing public officials have not even been charged with, let alone convicted of, any such offence. DAC Akers of the Yard apparently felt free to declare that all and sundry at the Sun had effectively been found guilty by a jury of one good woman and true (her).

Worse, the pious DAC indicated, this supposed corruption had not been carried out in the cause of good journalism: ‘The vast majority of the disclosures made [by officials] have led to stories which I would describe as salacious gossip, not what I would describe as being remotely in the public interest.’

The notion of senior uniforms ruling on what is ‘remotely in the public interest’, and thus what the press should and should not be reporting, might normally be associated with a nice little police state. Yet in the UK, the anti-tabloid atmosphere around the Leveson Inquiry has now reached the point where a police chief can try to lay down the law on what information we should be allowed to read and hear, drawing a line between information published as ‘salacious gossip’ (tabloid journalism, bad, open to prosecution) and stories in ‘the public interest’ (quality journalism, good, potentially justified). When did the Old Bill take on the new powers to police the minds of tabloid journalists and their readers?

This snobbish division between the ‘Goodies’ and the alleged ‘Baddies’ of the British press (to borrow Hugh Grant’s infantile phraseology) runs right through the Leveson debate about regulation. Now it has been given the Metropolitan Police seal of approval. Goodbye Press Complaints Commission, hello deputy assistant commissioner?

Many concerns have been expressed about ‘unhealthy’ and ‘too close’ relations between senior police officers and the Murdoch press. Yet those concerns are being exploited to justify a far more dangerous relationship, one where rather than the media poking around in police business, the Met take a close interest in the affairs of the press – with the collaboration of newspaper management and the support of crusading journalists.

Scotland Yard has been embarrassed by criticism of the Met’s early conduct of the phone-hacking investigation, and revelations about links to the press which led to the resignation of its commissioner. Now the Met’s new leadership is trying to reassert the Force’s moral authority by pursuing a zealous campaign against the evil tabloids that allegedly besmirched the honour of naive and innocent police chiefs.

In this surreal atmosphere, Trevor Kavanagh of the Sun estimates that the police war on the heinous atrocities of hacking phone messages and buying information from public officials has now become the largest-scale investigation in British criminal history. Leading lights among Kavanagh’s fellow Sun journalists have been arrested in dawn raids while police squads tear up their floorboards. Meanwhile News Corp’s own Management and Standards Committee has been tearing up the book on protecting journalists and their sources, handing over millions of emails and internal documents to the Met and setting up the Sun’s own people for arrest. So much for the ‘ethical’ backlash against bad practice in the press.

These are dangerous developments in the policing of a free press, the like of which have not been seen in recent times. Yet so shrunken is the esteem in which press freedom is held in the UK today that even supposedly liberal-minded journalists have effectively turned into police cheerleaders. Take Nick Davies, the crusading Guardian reporter whose investigations are credited with bringing the phone-hacking scandal to light. After DAC Akers’ appearance before Leveson last week, Davies wrote correctly characterising the inquiry as a ‘defining power struggle’ between the state and the press. Yet he came out as an Akers backer in that struggle. So blinded are high-minded journalists by anti-tabloid bigotry and Murdoch-phobia today, many seem to have lost sight of the simple truth that state encroachment is far more dangerous to a free press than the most debased abuse of such freedom by journalists could be.

There are some forgotten principles that need to be reintroduced into this debate. For instance, that the freedom of the press, like any aspect of free speech, is not divisible or something that can be rationed out only to the ‘Goodies’. That it should not be up to a deputy assistant commissioner – or indeed a Lord Justice – to decree what is or is not in the ‘public interest’ to publish; that is a matter for the public to decide, on the basis of all the information that is freely presented to them. And that anybody with an ounce of feeling for liberty should strive for all they are worth to get the police, and the judges, out of the debate about the future of the press.

Meanwhile, Nick Davies has just been announced as the winner of the Paul Foot Award for investigative journalism. According to the Guardian report of their man’s triumph, ‘The organising committee, in its citation, praised Davies’ “dogged and lonely reporting”, the impact of which forced “a humbled Rupert Murdoch” to close the News of the World…’ Thus a journalist wins a top prize for helping to close down a newspaper, while a senior cop is praised for laying down the law on what the press should be free to publish. Welcome to the alternative unfree universe of Planet Leveson.


Australia: Leftist newspaper's angry man says it's racist to criticize half-Japanese airhead

Because George Negus [white male] hasn't come under as much scrutiny for his comments on "The Circle" TV programme as Yumi Stynes [half-Japanese female].

The fact that Stynes and Negus made different comments (etc.) doesn't count, apparently, though both made derogatory remaks about an Australian hero soldier

John Birmingham

It is possible, if only just, to imagine that the hateswarm engulfing Yumi Stynes this week has nothing to do with her being an attractive Asian woman, but unfortunately my imagination doesn’t stretch that far. So I’m gonna say it – most of the vitriol being spewed in her face over the comments she made about Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith on The Circle are motivated by racism, gender and jealousy.

Yumi Stynes and George Negus disgraced themselves when they mocked the VC winner Roberts-Smith in a seriously ill-considered grab for a couple of cheap laughs. What they did was wrong and quite literally shameful. Media careers have been extinguished by much lesser offences. Giles Hardie wrote a great piece explaining how such mistakes are often made, not just on live TV, but at barbecues, bars and in the tea rooms of millions of workplaces every day. He explained their oafish behaviour without excusing it, because there is no excusing it.

But while those two particular citizens are probably wallowing in their shame – and I say ‘probably’ because Negus has a hide much thicker and tougher than even the giant Walrus of Stupid – some of the deranged responses directed at Stynes in particular are appalling and immeasurably more shameful than her original sin. She is being attacked with a savage and terrible glee that is largely absent from the criticism of Negus.

Producers are removing or disallowing any comments on The Circle’s Facebook page that go beyond reasonable criticism. Sexual threats and insults, threats against Stynes’ family, misspelled and misogynistic abuse (so odd, how those two often go together), they’re all being zapped. But there is no shutting down the interwebz and a search on Twitter for Stynes and Negus finds thousands of comments, some of them quite level-headed and judicious critiques of their foolishness, but many, many of them not. Many, indeed, present with an air of menace and promised violence that would go a long way towards securing Stynes the protection of the law, if she chose to seek it.

Why the difference? I asked this, not entirely seriously, on the twitterz and farcebuck the other day, as the shrieking of the horde reached an ugly, feral pitch. “I wonder why the hatin' on Yumi Stynes is so much hatier than the hatin' on George Negus? What possible difference might there be?”

Only one respondent actually replied with any sort of coherent defence of the lynching of Stynes, an irregular drop-in here at the Instrument, Lobes, who wrote on Facebook that, Stynes' comments were worse "for a start". She has achieved little since she was a contest winner VJ on Foxtel, he argued, whereas at least Negus has had a career of some accomplishment. "Saying that though, they are both retards*, but she definitely deserved it more… The initial comment was made by Stynes about BRS being brainless. She set the tone and Negus followed.”

I doubted that the mob assaulting Stynes had parsed the original exchange so minutely, and Lobes replied, “I see where you are coming from JB, and believe me I do not share the sentiment that seems to motivate those thousands. But just because you take a different path does not preclude you from arriving at the same conclusion.”

Why delve into these individual responses? Because for better or worse they at least characterise some of the moderate and more considered ‘debate’ that has flowed from Stynes’ and Negus’ abysmal misjudgment.

For the most part, though, it’s been a feeding frenzy, with the worst of our natures on display. The only person to come out of this with their integrity unsullied is Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith who graciously accepted the apologies of Negus and Stynes and moved on. He doesn’t need the army of trolls and orcs which has come boiling out of the lower levels of internet hell to defend him. The sick-making abuse and threats of violence they’ve heaped on Stynes, and the contrast with the relatively light treatment of Negus – in spite of his shark’s tooth amulet and porno mo – is a disgusting example of double standards and cowardice.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


No comments: