Skeptics and Atheists of Durango NEWSLETTER January 21, 2014

Skeptics and Atheists of Durango        January 21, 2015

“If Atheism is a Religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby”.

– David Eller, Anthropologist

NEXT GENERAL MEETING, WEDNESDAY JANUARY 21

All meetings are at Irish Embassy, 900 Main Street Durango.    Dinner, for those interested, from 5:30PM.  Meeting at 6:00-ish.

This month, Kathleen (with a K) will be moderating a discussion of cognitive bias.  As ‘K’ cheerfully observed, “Cognitive Biases, we’ve all got ‘em.”  What are they?  What are yours? What to do about them?  This should be a great discussion!

Project Merry Christmas was a huge success.  Gifts were delivered, kids had a great Xmas day and all who participated are to be thanked for their kindness and generosity.  K will have more details at the general meeting.

Hint: Be sure to scroll to the very end of every newsletter and you’ll be rewarded with a new “Tom the Dancing Bug’ cartoon by Ruben Bolling wherein a Hindu baby is born to a Christian mother.

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CURRENT BOOK CLUB BOOK:  The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (recommended by Kathleen)    Present day Earth receives signals from an extra-terrestrial source… missionaries are dispatched to make first contact. With God leading the Jesuit mission what could go wrong?   This Friday, January 23rd 2015 (6:30PM).    To be held at Kathleen and Adam’s home.    Limited seating!  PLEASE RSVP AT MEETUP.COM

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UPCOMING BOOKS FOR THE BOOK CLUB include:

Waking Up: A Guide To Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris Mon, Feb 23, 2015

Nietzhe: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist   March 13, 2015

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Did Cognitive Bias Play a Role in the Charlie Hebdo Murders?  There is no excuse for murder.  The cold-blooded slaughter at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris has left us with the dismal feeling of déjà vu (all over again!).  While there is no excuse, there may be explanations that might help us understand and/or avoid similar tragedies in the future.  Are Western cognitive biases keeping us from seeing the Big Picture?  This link will take you to a blog written by Katie Miranda, a political cartoonist who lives in Portland, OR.  Hers is a contrarian perspective.   http://mondoweiss.net/2015/01/contrarian-perspective-cartoonist           Below are several of her cartoons.

ahmed

Dyab Abou Jahjah @Aboujahjah          I am not Charlie, I am Ahmed the dead cop. Charlie ridiculed my faith and culture and I died defending his right to do so. #JesuisAhmed          Re-Tweeted 40,000+ times

Among many interesting points she makes: the murdered cop, Ahmed Merabet, was also a Muslim and he died defending the right of Charlie Hebdo to insult Islam.  His religion did not turn him into a terrorist, so maybe religion itself isn’t the prime motivation for these criminal acts.  Miranda points to the past decade of bloody conflicts in the mid-east, drone strikes in Yemen, etc. which are largely viewed there as a continuation of the Crusades of Christians vs. Muslims.  She points to the various wars fought by, or on behalf of, The West in the Muslim world as a potent source of anger and frustration.  (Don’t forget that G.W. Bush actually called his war of choice in Iraq a ‘crusade’…words matter, it turns out).  Noting that Muslims are a minority in France, she writes, “The Islamophobic cartoons in Charlie Hebdo are the American equivalent of white people drawing cartoons of African Americans as monkeys or Germans drawing cartoons mocking Jewish suffering during the Holocaust.”  She also speculates that the cultural and cognitive biases of The West blind us to the effects of our political policies of the past decades.  Consider her cartoon:

Muslim cartoon re cognitive bias– See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2015/01/contrarian-perspective-cartoonist#sthash.fHPvm2g9.dpuf

PERSONAL ASIDE:  Nobody is asking, but I am going to contribute my personal $0.02 worth on the topic of Free Speech and Charlie Hebdo anyway.  I feel strongly about the importance of Freedom of Speech, but I wonder if the fact that you CAN say something means that you SHOULD?  In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, the outrage that has spread throughout the Muslim world now makes the likelihood of reaching a mutual understanding between East and West that much more improbable.  The West had its laugh at the silly cartoons, but at the cost of making communications about things that really matter (the way Islam marginalizes women, as just one example) impossible for the foreseeable future.  And it isn’t hard to conjure up probable unintended consequence of this exercise of Free Speech.  It may cost free-thinker blogger Raif Badawi his life (see item below: “Horrific Punishment…”) because religious hard-liners are going to be less lenient when granting free speech rights in their own countries if that freedom is used to ridicule their heart-felt beliefs.  This is a re-play, with different actors, of the crucifix-in-a-glass-of-piss saga which amped-up the  Religious Right’s animosity for public funding for the arts.

Actions and speech have consequences…was it worth it?  I’d argue, ‘NO’.  In kindergarten, we all learned not to be rude and to avoid fighting for fighting’s sake.  We were taught that unnecessary conflicts were to be avoided.  It may be time for some of  us to go back for some refresher courses.

The above is my personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of other members  Skeptics and Atheists of Durango.  What are your thoughts?  Post comments below!

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Pope Francis on Charlie Hebdo: Free Speech Has Limits  http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/A/AS_REL_FRANCE_ATTACKS_POPE?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT            Forget turning the other cheek, if you insult Pope Francis’ Mom you’re liable to get punched in the nose.  And ridiculing another person’s religion should be off-limits too, says the Pope.  Yes you are free to speak, but don’t be surprised when there is blow-back.

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Charlie Hebdo Played a ‘Dangerous Game’ Says the Magazine’s Founder    http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/paris-magazine-attack/charlie-hebdo-founder-says-hes-upset-slain-editor-charb-n286676     A founding editor of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, Henri Roussel, penned an editorial about slain CH editor Stephane Charbonnier and his “stubborn” management style.  Roussel wonders why Charbonnier continued to push his staff despite multiple threats and attacks, suggesting that his “block head” behavior led the rest of the team to their deaths.  “I really hold it against you,” he wrote to Charbonnier.   Charbonnier was unable to respond. 

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Horrific Punishment Inflicted on Free Speech Blogger by U.S. Ally…What To Do?            Item submitted by Kathleen O’Conner

http://livewire.amnesty.org/2015/01/15/five-ways-you-can-help-raif-badawi/        Free Speech isn’t free in Saudi Arabia.  In May 2014, the government of Saudi Arabia sentenced Raif Badawi, father of three, to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes. He was convicted of insulting Islam through his writings and on his website, which was set up to encourage public debate.   He is being publically beaten, fifty lashes at a time, every Friday and this will continue for the next 19 weeks.  After last Friday’s beating, the crowd chanted “God is Great”.  God, as usual, accepted the praise and worship of The Faithful but had no comment.  This should offend every Free Thinker, everywhere.  The above link suggests ways that we can help.  Kathleen has more information about this hideous miscarriage of Justice on her Durango Skeptics and Atheist blog: https://durangofreethinkers.com/2015/01/13/when-it-was-over-the-crowd-shouted-allah-hu-akbar-allah-hu-akbar/

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Cognitive Bias: The Dunning – Kruger Effect

“One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.” – Bertrand Russell

Back in The Day, Carolyn and I always told our kids: “Only competent people suffer from performance anxiety…it never occurs to incompetent people to doubt themselves.”  This gem of parental wisdom was usually hauled out (from where, I won’t say) when our children were stressed about an upcoming test, worried about giving a public speech and the like.  Well, it turns out that this notion has a name (who knew?): the Dunning – Kruger Effect.  “The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled people make poor decisions and reach erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the metacognitive ability to recognize their mistakes. The unskilled therefore suffer from illusory superiority, rating their ability as above average, much higher than it actually is, while the highly skilled underrate their own abilities, suffering from illusory inferiority.”  Read more about it here: http://code.tutsplus.com/articles/do-you-suffer-from-the-dunning-kruger-effect–net-22227

In a related story, our American Democracy may be endangered by apathy and the Dunning – Kruger effect.  An article in the Durango Herald http://durangoherald.co.newsmemory.com/publink.php?shareid=4605276d8  reports that a growing number of Americans, especially those under 30, don’t feel a duty to keep informed of current events and policy debates, don’t feel that it’s their responsibility to report a crime they’ve witnessed, don’t feel it’s their responsibility to perform jury duty or to vote and so on.  While the vast majority of Americans still feel that these issues are at least ‘somewhat important’, the numbers are trending the wrong way.

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U.S. Vaccinations Lag, Disease Advances.  Duh.

http://durangoherald.co.newsmemory.com/publink.php?shareid=7c6f15799          Froma Harrop reports in her recent article, Pondering the Rich and Their Anti-Vaccine Quacks, that ‘personal belief exemptions’ from vaccinations have doubled in the past seven years, especially in the wealthy cities of the US coasts and mountains.  This is the direct cause of the current whooping cough epidemic in California….in 2015!  “These prosperous communities are heavily influenced by the organic/natural foods culture — about which there is much good to say. However, the alternative-lifestyle package often includes a hostility to mainstream science based largely on myth, lies and susceptibility to hucksters exploiting fear of modernity.”

And Marc Masor contributed this link which details the results of a 12-year study of the measles vaccine conducted by Kaiser Permanente.  http://www.hcplive.com/articles/Two-Main-Measles-Vaccines-Deemed-Safe   Executive Summary: 12 years of testing = perfectly safe, no adverse effects. 

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The GMO Debate Rages Endlessly On

Members ‘Little D’ and Dave S. exchanged information on our MeetUp website this month concerning the public’s fear of GMOs.  Two diametrically opposed websites came up in the conversation.  First was Earth-We Are One http://earthweareone.com/former-pro-gmo-scientist-speaks-out-on-the-real-dangers-of-genetically-engineered-food/ which appears to be an ‘earth friendly’, organic and natural lifestyle website which was chock-full of nuggets like ’10 Ways We Are Killing the Earth’, ‘Thyme Oil Discovered to Kill 90% of Breast Cancer Cells’ and numerous offerings on the subject of GMOs, all negative.  Earth We Are One appears to be a website with an unapologetic anti-science Agenda…which always makes the skeptic in me a bit more skeptical.  The specific article under discussion was written by Thierry Vrain, a former researcher in Canada’s Department of Ag.   Dr. Vrain is very much opposed to GMOs and Monsanto, but does not offer convincing support for his emotional arguments.  A quick Google Search netted only three entries for Dr. Vrain: ‘Thierry Vrain’; ‘Thierry Vrain debunked’; and ‘Thierry Vrain quack’.

Dave S. commented that Earth We Are One is only marginally trustworthy.  (To that I would add that any website which solicits content by posting “Can you write an article like this?  We are looking for writers who have an interest…” adjacent to their stories seems a little dodgy).   Instead, Dave pointed to this: http://geneticliteracyproject.org/2014/10/28/not-all-science-is-created-equal-the-genetically-engineered-crops-story/  a website which has as its motto “Where Science Trumps Ideology”.  We can only wish.  This article confronts the ‘myths’ surrounding GMOs and has many references to actual data.

I also found a blog http://kfolta.blogspot.com/2014/01/false-equivalence-raises-its-ugly-head.html  written by Dr. Kevin Folta who is a professor and Chairman of the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida, Gainesville.  He describes himself as “… a scientist in a scientifically illiterate nation at a time when we need science the most.”  In his blog, he laments that after a journalist interviewed him recently about GMOs she went to get ‘the opposing viewpoint’ from….yes, from Thierry Vrain!  So, instead of being informative, the final article ended up equating the pro- and anti-GMO arguments using the old ‘we report all facts as being equal and you can decide’ gambit.  (The present state of journalism is deplorable).  The article simply stirred the pot and caused even more confusion in the public mind.  Dr. Folta points out that in the case of GMOs, there are ‘…not two sides…there is only one side and that is Science’s side’.  BTW, if you Google Kevin Folta, you’ll get numerous entries that accuse him of being a ‘shill’ for Monsanto and running a university department that is funded by Monsanto.  This may be my cognitive bias speaking, but I rationalize the conflict by acknowledging that Monsanto is the leader in GMO technology (regardless of how you may feel about them) and the University of Florida has done a lot of research on GMOs.  But a working relationship does not necessarily mean the university is in the pocket of the Evil Empire…I’d need to see evidence of malfeasance before I’d credit gossip or innuendo.  Evidence is key.

Can’t get enough GMO myth-busting?  Marc Masor contributed this: http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Suppliers2/5-GMO-food-myths-dispelled/?utm_source=newsletter_daily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=22-Dec-2014&c=bWa7RqFnO%2F3hLdgIwjOJEnmE7o1aOkDm

Eat Hearty!

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Anti-Science Fallacies Make It Difficult For the Public to Get Accurate Information     http://io9.com/8-logical-fallacies-that-fuel-anti-science-sentiments-1679442426?utm_campaign=socialflow_io9_facebook&utm_source=io9_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow            As Dr. Folta laments in the above item, false equivalence is the curse of modern journalism.  Today’s journalist is fixated on presenting two opposing sides of the issues they cover, without regard to the possibility that there may not be two legitimate sides to every story.  The result is a confusing welter of facts, myths, hypotheses, rumor, gossip and propaganda which makes the quest of a Truth Seeker almost impossible.  No wonder we rely on our pre-conceived cognitive biases!  Above is an interesting link to a discussion of the 8 most serious anti-science fallacies which distort our public discussions.

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HERE, AT LAST, IS SOME HELP FOR A CONFUSED PUBLIC: THE RED FLAGS OF QUACKERY     (Thanks to Kathleen O’Conner and Marc Masor for bringing this to our attention!)

RED FLAGS OF QUACKERY HEADLINE

RED FLAGS OF QUACKERY

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Discovery Channel: No More Pseudo-Science Programming       http://www.avclub.com/article/new-discovery-channel-chief-promises-no-more-made–213623    This should help clear up at least some of the confusion referenced in the above items.  No more bullshit fake documentaries about ghosts, haunted houses, mermaids and other denizens of the human imagination. 

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Pope Watch      Pope Francis has done many admirable things since taking office from former Pope Benedict.  He champions the underprivileged, speaks out against environmental damage, and torments the wealthy by criticizing Capitalism.  But he has been a disappointment on issues such as equality for gays and, now, on birth control.  Here’s the link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/16/pope-francis-contraception_n_6486686.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000051&fb_ref=Default&fb_source=message

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Ryan Bell, Ends His ‘One Year Without God’ Experiment…  http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/08/opinion/bell-god-atheism/index.html    Ryan Bell, ex-pastor and atheist-for-a-year, is now officially an ex-Christian.  If you are not familiar with this fascinating and courageous story, click the above link for a summary by CNN.  If you’d like to read more from Ryan himself, there are copious blog notes available at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/yearwithoutgod/   … read for yourself Ryan’s day-by-day musings as he goes through the process of re-imagining his personal world view.

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 News for the Smart:

For a variety of reasons, winter is the best time to test your home for radon.  If your home hasn’t been tested for radon, the second greatest cause of lung cancer after cigarettes, there really is no excuse because this winter test kits are available for FREE.  .  Here is a link that describes the issues and tells you how to get your free test kit.   http://durangoherald.co.newsmemory.com/publink.php?shareid=02e59ab97

Good ol’ Durango Herald.

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News of the Stupid:         poop in skull

Conservative Cardinal Raymond Burke: RC Church ‘Too Feminized’  http://www.religionnews.com/2015/01/07/cardinal-raymond-burke-feminized-church-altar-girls-caused-priest-shortage/

No stinky girls allowed…you’re wrecking the clubhouse, I mean, The Church!  Burke, a liturgical traditionalist as well as a doctrinal conservative who is renowned for wearing elaborate silk and lace vestments while celebrating Mass thinks that having ‘altar girls’ in addition to ‘altar boys’ is messing up a good thing.  Burke, a vocal critic of Pope Francis, was recently demoted as part of the Francis’ initiative to reform Vatican finances.

Cardinal Burke   Cardinal Raymond Burke

Raymond Leo Burke Clockwise from top left:        *Cardinal Burke blessing his way up the church aisle while the train of his silk gown is carried by manly attendants.    *Cardinal Burke wearing a manly hat, the newest member of The Red Hat Society   *Cardinal Burke gives a fellow Cardinal a manly, but chaste, hug.

News of the Stupid      poop in skull

Michelle Bachmann’s Conversations with God Almighty

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/26/michele-bachmann-god_n_6329282.html        She regularly converses with God about the weather, about running for office and about repealing the Affordable Care Act.  Watch the video if you feel strong enough and you have nothing better to do…

Bachmann Goodbye, Michelle!

News of the Stupid     poop in skull

Pat Robertson Wants You to Know…

Pat Robetson This item was mentioned on the Politics and Religion Facebook page…the poster, Bill Miessner, dryly notes: “To think that 1,000,000 Republicans voted for this [charlatan] for US President!  See Dunning – Kruger Effect, above.

News of the Stupid     poop in skull

Do Creationists Run the Wall St. Journal?             https://sensuouscurmudgeon.wordpress.com/2014/12/26/more-creationism-in-the-wall-street-journal/    Speaking of adding more disinformation to the public debate over science, several members (including Joyce F. and Adrian T.) were incensed by an editorial in the WSJ by Eric Metaxas.  The editorial tried to bend recent scientific discoveries into ‘proof’ for the Biblical story of creation.  Oh, my head.

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The Final Word from Marc Masor:

This comes from 2 math teachers with a combined total of 70 yrs. experience.  It has an indisputable mathematical logic:

What Makes 100%?

What does it mean to give MORE than 100%?
Ever wonder about those people who say they are giving more than 100%?

We have all been to those meetings where someone wants you to give over 100%.
How about achieving 103%?
What makes up 100% in life?

Here’s a little mathematical formula that might help you answer these questions:
If: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z    is represented as:          1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26…

Then:
H-A-R-D-W-O-R-K    8+1+18+4+23+15+18+11 = 98%   and …

K-N-O-W-L-E-D-G-E   11+14+15+23+12+5+4+7+5 = 96%  but …

A-T-T-I-T-U-D-E    1+20+20+9+20+21+4+5 = 100%    while…

B-U-L-L-S-H-I-T   2+21+12+12+19+8+9+20 = 103%

and look how far ass kissing will take you:

A-S-S-K-I-S-S-I-N-G 1+19+19+11+9+19+19+9+14+7 = 127% 

So, one can conclude with mathematical certainty, that while Hard Work and Knowledge will get you close, it’s Attitude that will get you there.
It’s the Bullshit and Ass Kissing that will put you over the top.
Now you know why some people are where they are!

Thank you, Marc, for clarifying this little-understood fact of Life!

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Tom the Dancing Bug

Tom the Dancing Bug is reprinted in the Skeptics and Atheists of Durango Newsletter with the permission of the cartoonist, Ruben Bolling.

See more TtDB at gocomics.com

Are there any announcements, activities, opinions or other news items you’d like your fellow Skeptics and Atheists to know about?

Drop an email to larrybollinger@comcast.net with your information so that it can be included in the next newsletter!

Thanks to Kathleen, Adrian, Joyce, Marc, Dave and ‘Little D’ for contributing to this month’s newsletter!

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9 thoughts on “Skeptics and Atheists of Durango NEWSLETTER January 21, 2014

  1. Jane Dunn

    It’s important to wonder whether freedom of speech was worth 12 lives in Paris. Not being one of the 12 and not knowing any of them personally, it’s easy for me to say, “Yes. Yes! It’s worth it!” And it’s easy to mean it. It seems to me that feeedom of speech is an all or nothing issue. It would be ideal if the ENTIRE WORLD stood together and said, “Go ahead. We will never back down, no matter what you do.” The religious idiots are unlikely to out-fight the rest of the world. Although I’m a skeptic, I do tend to believe good outweighs bad most of the time and when it’s vitally important. Having said that…I’m not convinced “the world” has the guts or the balls to make a united front against these assholes. There’s a lot to be said for turning the other cheek and standing your ground. However, that door swings both ways. And it’s likely to be a long, bloody fight with no winners. There’s no accounting for taste or tact. But in a perfect world, we should all be free to say whatever we want. Jane BE GOOD HUMANS

  2. It IS important to defend free speech…I am just not convinced that these cartoons are worth poking an angry ignorant mob in the eye for. For instance, it might have been more productive to have engaged Muslims in a discussion over their primitive blasphemy laws…but good luck doing that now! Why stir up trouble when you don’t have to, I am wondering? What did we gain? More important, what did we lose?
    I am attempting to think ‘beyond my confirmation biases’…so I am trying to imagine how things look to the miserable masses that we have had a part in making more miserable.
    For instance, I wondered how many civilian deaths occurred in Iraq as a result of the US war-of-choice? Answer: somewhere between 150,000 and 500,000 invasion-related civilian deaths are estimated for the years 2003 – 2011. jIt’s an ‘estimate’ because the US Gubbmint intentionally failed to count them. As a conservative estimate, say the US is responsible for killing around 200,000 civilians in a country of 26,000,000 over eight years. The US population is more that 12x larger than Iraq…so a comparable loss to the US would involve the loss of 2,400,000 American lives to a foreign invader! The US went ape-shit ballistic when we suffered the loss of ‘only’ 3,000 on 9/11…imagine what we’d do if 2 1/2 million of us ended up dead in an invasion!! Why shouldn’t the residents of the mid-east be outraged just as we would be?

    With regard to the Paris attack, the murderers are indeed ‘assholes’. But the huge anti-Islam rallies in Germany and in France must look pretty frightening to the overwhelming majority of law-abiding Muslims who have taken refuge in those countries. European colonialism is coming home to roost! On balance, I can see how Muslims might feel a bit stressed by the past few decades.
    There is no good excuse for such criminal actions as the Charlie Hebdo murders, but we’d be smarter to limit our own rhetoric so that we can better coexist with the 2,038,040,000 Muslims with whom we share this god-forsaken dirt clod. As it stands now, we are heading into chaos.

    BTW, did you check out the blog by Katie Miranda, the political cartoonist? She expresses the frustration and angst that I imagine innocent and law-abiding Muslims are feeling. She is what got me started on this tangent.

  3. Sebastian

    The actions of the US government in the Middle East that you mention are dually noted. But to answer the question of whether or not it is acceptable to exercise free speech to the extent that Charlie Hebdo did, the answer is yes. The cartoons I’ve seen appear to be satire directed at the extreme and more profane aspects of the muslim world. And there appear to be parallel satires directed at Catholics, Jews, and politicians. Would it be appropriate to call the magazine Catholic-phobe for its cartoons criticizing the church’s cover-up of sexual abuse by priests? Absolutely not. Do many Catholics find such a cartoon offensive? Probably, but the cartoon is not directed at the rank-and-file of that particular religion, but rather the leadership of the Catholic Church. And the true offense they should be offended about is the cover-up, and not the criticism of it. Absolute free speech is one of the very few tools that the masses have to call the leaders of various institutions out on their bad behavior.

    And if a person exercises their right to free speech by actually creating speech that is Islamaphobe, Anti-Semite, racist, or whatever, the proper response is to rebut with more free speech to counter them. Publish their stupid comments, show them what a fool they are, shed sunlight on their thoughts so they can be ridiculed.

    Should a person go to work and mockingly criticize the religious convictions of their co-workers? Probably not a good idea. Same for a head of state as another example. But for a known satirical publication, the publishing of such criticisims is perfectly acceptable as this is an appropriate forum for harsh, perhaps profane speech. The rational will understand the context, and unfortunately the irrational will not. And at any rate, no one has a right to not be offended.

  4. Sabastian: Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    I am no fan of Religion. I am especially not a fan of Islam. If I could wave a magic wand and banish all organized religion, I would do so in a heartbeat. But the reality is that we have to learn to live side-by-side with those who choose to walk through life on their knees, groveling to a vengeful/angry god, demanding that we all do likewise.

    I am suggesting that perhaps satire, in the case of Charlie Hebdo, wasn’t the best avenue for affecting change in a huge violent religious movement that has no history in, or understanding of, satire. If our goal in The West is to attract Islam to join the 21st century, we are doing a poor job. I am suggesting that insulting the core beliefs of such people in the casual way that Charlie Hebdo did (which, again, was their Right) made a bad situation even worse.

    I am suggesting that perhaps it’s due to the confirmation biases of The West to think that these cartoons were an invitation for the world of Islam (which is not progressive and not modern but which is anti-intellectual and anti-free speech) to form their own satirical newspaper to ‘fight back’. For CH to attack Western politicians and Western theology is one thing, since we (in the modern West) have a history of public discourse about sensitive subjects and a tradition of free speech. The world of Islam, however, is stuck back in the sixth or seventh century and views free speech as something Evil and subversive. Instead of convincing them otherwise, we have just confirmed THEIR confirmation bias that the West is out to destroy their religion, their world view.

    Say, for example, you hate the Hell’s Angels and want them to become better people. Although it is within your rights, it would not be prudent or effective to repeatedly draw and publish cartoons depicting them in dresses, sharing homosexual kisses with one another and riding pink bikes. Hell’s Angels, known for being violent and not devoted to intellectual pursuits, would most likely send you to the hospital (if you were lucky). Is a violent response to the provocation acceptable? NO. Although it was your ‘right’ to draw such cartoons and publish them, was the ultimate outcome predictable? Yes. Did your cartoons help you achieve your goal of reforming Hell’s Angels? No.

    The goal of the Charlie cartoons was not a lofty one…reform of Islam was not their aim. Their goal was only to sell more newspapers. Was it their right to publish whatever they wished? Yes. Was it prudent to do so? Was it helpful in any way? No. Was this outcome foreseeable? Yes, and that opinion was expressed by one of the founders of Charlie Hebdo (see January Newsletter) who blames the current, now deceased, CH Editor for being a ‘blockhead’.

    I am trying to walk in the other guys’ shoes and it isn’t hard to imagine that there is some serious Karma that we in the West will have to own. It seems you are blowing off “the actions of the US government in the Middle East” which you say you have duly noted. If the United States lost 2.5 million of its citizens over an eight year period because of the actions of a foreign power on our soil, there would be no containing the Fury…bombs would be falling on all of our perceived enemies 24/7. Well, a similar catastrophic loss of life actually happened in Iraq. And the religious conflagration we, The West, started rages on and on. And those in Paris paid with their lives.

  5. There is an interesting article on the front page of today’s Herald tracing the history of Islam’s traditions regarding images of Muhammad. Here is the link: durangoherald.co.newsmemory.com/publink.php?shareid=42183495f

  6. Sebastian

    I agree that the west has not been kind to that part of the world, what with the crusades and colonialism and the associated proselytizing (to be fair, similar actions were carried out by Middle Eastern peoples as well). But I firmly believe that the principles of our constitution and Bill of Rights are the way forward. Rule of law, free speech, religious tolerance, etc. are the keys to a society that will maximize happiness and promote the general welfare of all. We can’t undo all the wrongs of the past, nor should we because we were not responsible for those wrongs. But if we live up to these liberal principles going forward, then religious extremism will lose much of it’s fuel.

    Unfortunately, “we” are not living up to those principals. Setting aside whether our interventions in Iraq or Afganistan were justified, we have not been living up to those principals. From leadership speaking of military actions in Christian terms, conducting torture, soldiers disseminating bibles, arbitrarily picking and choosing sides on political whims, conducting mass surveillance, or passing out tanks to our own local police, we have been setting a pretty poor example. The French and much of the rest of Europe are no better. They actually have laws against “hate speech” (see amendment #1) and although they have allowed huge numbers of muslims to immigrate there, they have done little to promote their assimilation into the larger society, and in some cases have accommodated Sharia law, which doesn’t help with the assimilation, and creates a dangerous precedent for the rule of law (rule of two sets of law?). Not to mention banning of certain religious dress (again see amendment #1) and what appears to be a general xenophobia (or let’s just call it racism) across Europe.

    The French have certainly contributed to the huge population of disaffected muslim youth in their own country. And it’s not surprising that some fanatics have sprang out of their ranks. And by no means am I excusing their actions. But the exercising of the freedom of expression by CH was an example of people doing what they should have been doing all along.

  7. Sebastian: We agree. I also think my culture has the correct path for the world’s future. I also believe in total free expression…but there is not tradition that is remotely similar to free speech in the Islamic world. Unfortunately, their cognitive bias tells them that THEIRS is the correct path. I have no answers to offer. It’s just that the CH cartoons were an unnecessary and unhelpful contribution to the world dialogue.

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