Prioritizing the Idiots

People in e-mail have been asking me what I think of the whole thing about fundamentalist Muslims getting stupid over a dozen cartoons of Muhammed, but aside from the rote observation that being a religious fundamentalist of any stripe means you are rather more liable to get stupid than not, I find I’m rather more concerned that some 24-year-old press officer (and Bush political appointee) at NASA named George Deutsch has been taking it on himself to screen that organization’s materials from a religious point of view, and to ride herd on scientists whose talking points, in his opinion, make the president look bad.

The good news is it looks like the little twit has gotten a slap down from NASA’s administrator, who released an e-mail saying “It is not the job of public-affairs officers to alter, filter or adjust engineering or scientific material produced by NASA’s technical staff.” The bad news is that apparently the twit is still hanging out at NASA, probably stewing at how such a slap is bad for his career and plotting against all those who oppose him, and also, of course, the administration that installed this moron in this position is still in office, and will continue to get all puckered and testy when science — as it frequently will — flies in the face of whatever damn fool thing the administration wants to say. As long as this jackass is around, the Bush-pucker view will have a proponent at the agency.

Look. I’m not terribly surprised that thousands of largely ignorant Muslim fundamentalists were manipulated by their mullahs and governments to pitch a fit about pictures of their prophet that they haven’t even seen, printed in newspapers in countries they don’t live in. I prefer not to disrespect Muhammed, not to avoid turmoil but simply because it’s polite, but at the same time I’m foursquare behind the idea that a free press doesn’t need to be polite, and if largely ignorant Muslim fundamentalists don’t like that, they can suck it, as can any largely ignornant fundamentalist of any stripe who doesn’t like when his god or prophet or preacher or president gets a healthy slam.

Of course the largely ignorant Muslim fundamentalists will pitch a fit. That’s what they do. As far as their mullahs and governments are concerned, that’s all they’re actually good for. It’s not as if these folks would allow them to think on their own, otherwise they wouldn’t have been out protesting, they would have just shrugged it off and gotten on with life (which would have meant, incidentally, that the dozen cartoons wouldn’t have been commissioned at all). Naturally, I think the attempts of largely ignorant Muslim fundamentalists to shut down anyone who promotes a world view that opposes their own should be met with defiance, possibly with cartoons of Muhammed cavorting with beer-bearing babes in bacon bikinis. That’ll really spin them up.

People with the right to free speech are not obliged to cave to people who demand that the world has to be their way and their way only, even as they are obliged to be respectful of those who are respectful of those freedoms. The ideal world is one in which one can print a picture of Muhammed without incident, but generally chooses not to because it’s not nice to those who see him as their prophet. Basically, the entire world as Minnesota. It’s not going to happen anytime soon, but we can strive. In the meantime, I’ll continue not to be surprised at the idiocy of largely ignorant fundamentalists of any sort.

I don’t expect much out of largely ignorant Muslim fundamentalists, but I do expect more out of NASA and of my government, which is why I am rather more distressed that some damn fool political apparatchik has the unearned ego to assume that his 24-year-old flatly ignorant self is an arbiter of what scientists can or cannot say, and what is science and what is not. While I have over the years become resigned to the fact that the way to tell if a government spokesperson is lying and/or evading is ask whether he is a Bush appointee and whether his lips are moving, it’s depressing to realize just how saturated the government is with these yahoos, even down to the lowly level of NASA press flack, and just how entitled they feel they are to their “truthiness” at the expense of truth. I mean, for God’s sake: a 24-year-old press officer for NASA who sees it as his primary mission to “make the president look good”? Gag me. Can’t we throw him to the largely ignorant Muslim fundamentalists? Then all our problems will be solved.

I don’t expect I can do anything to solve the problem of largely ignorant Muslim fundamentalists, especially when their mullahs and governments are actively working to keep them that way. However, I do feel I can do something about post-adolescent pinhead political appointees smearing their gummy little paws all over science in an attempt to look good to a president who couldn’t possibly give a crap about them. I’ll let someone else worry about the largely ignorant Muslim fundamentalists for now. But if George Deutsch ever Googles himself, as no doubt he will, he’ll eventually come across this entry. So he’ll read this: George Deutsch, you’re a idiot. It’s one thing to stick your own head up your ass; it’s another thing to try to stuff the rest of our heads up in there with you. You’re so obviously full of shit that it’s really an unpleasant experience for the rest of us. Please refrain from doing so in the future. Thank you.

46 thoughts on “Prioritizing the Idiots

  1. Wait a minute. A single foolish bureaucrat concerns you more than tens of thousands of fanatics burning down embassies and threatening to behead people over a dippy couple of cartoons? I mean… really?

    The former is certainly aggravating, and indicative of the blinders this administration can put on when it wants to… whereas the latter has revealed the scary depths of insanity that grips a wide swath of the population around the world — a state of affairs that looks like it can only end with bloodshed.

    Man, if George Deutsch concerns you more than these Muslim uprisings, I would definitely like to know the name of that medication, and if it is prescription or available OTC.

  2. Yes, Eric, in fact, the anti-scientific and anti-truth machinations of political appointees in a society that largely prides itself on its rationality and free expression of ideas, and whose economic well-being rests on its facility with science concerns me more than the obviously-rigged demonstrations in countries where the concept of the freedom of the press and of intellectual discourse are well-niegh alien and whose economies often rest on sucking the remains of dead animals from the ground. Call me crazy — oh wait, you already did.

    To be clear, the jackassery surrounding the cartoons is not trivial. However, George Deutsch represents a greater threat because he’s not actually the disease, he’s the symptom, and as to what he’s the symptom of I will leave to you, except to note that there’s a reason I paired these two subjects together, and I suspect you’re smart enough to figure out why.

  3. “While I have over the years become resigned to the fact that the way to tell if a government spokesperson is lying and/or evading is ask whether he is a Bush appointee and whether his lips are moving,”

    Are you saying they move their lips as they type? Actually, that sounds about right…

  4. In a perfect world this post would be the number one search result on Google for “bacon bikini,” alas it is not.

  5. There’s an interesting and funny post on the cartoon blowup over here, in which the author concludes that everyone involved is a freakin’ moron. I’m tending to her point of view.

    One of her more serious points, though, was that the American media — and Americans in general — tend to regard this as the act of a unified and threatening religion. When the Syrians burn down an embassy, it’s the act of “Islamic extremists”, but when the IRA was blowing up large bits of Britain it was not the act of “Christian extremists”. Odd, that.

    I’d also note that while there are certainly large and loud portions of the Middle East acting like idiots, I heard several letters read aloud on the BBC from Middle Eastern Muslims who disliked the cartoons but decried the violence even more. But this is overlooked in favor of more Scary Pictures of Islamic Extremists…. Overall, I would say it’s the media — particularly the American media — who are making the biggest idiots of themselves over the whole thing.

    That NASA, of all people, is being censored by the American equivalent of the embassy burners is ironic. Scary, but ironic.

  6. Kat, it is certainly true that not every Muslim is a fundamentalist idiot, just as not every Christian is a fundamentalist idiot, or every [enter practitioner of your religion of choice] is a fundamentalist idiot, either — and I agree that in general, we and our press need to do a better job gradiating between those who are fundamentalist idiots and those who are not.

  7. Yes, John, I was able to tease out the meaning behind linking the two events, but I’ve never bought in to comparing Christian fundamentalists with the Taliban or what-have-you. I’m no fan of extreme Christian fundamentalists, not one bit, but I recognize that their attitude towards gays, (for instance) while reprehensible, comes to a halt a long, long way off from stoning them to death in the town square. Saying the two groups are equal because they are both extremist versions of their given religions has always struck me as simplistic. And the idea that George whats-his-name represents the greater threat? Uh, no, gotta disagree with you there.

    I grant that constant vigilance is required in fending off extremists from both religions. But the weapons needed to fight extreme Christianity come in the form of mere words: Newspaper articles and blog entries, lawsuits by the ACLU, any possible way to expose their ignorance. The weapons needed to fight extremist Islam are more likely to be… weapons.

    Sorry if I called you crazy, John. You’re usually so level-headed, and I agree with you as a matter of course, that I am downright surprised when you say something that strikes me as unreasonable. And saying Christian fundamentalists are more dangerous than Islamic extremists is a pretty good example of that.

  8. Eric Berlin:

    “And saying Christian fundamentalists are more dangerous than Islamic extremists is a pretty good example of that.”

    I don’t recall saying that, so you’re on your own with that interpretation. Also, now that I’m on that matter, I wasn’t directly comparing Muslim and Christian fundamentalists, since the Bush people are not all Christian fundies, and it’s not Bush who is carrying water for the fundies, it’s the other way around, for which Bush occasionally throws them a bone. Think on it some more. The Muslim fundy – Christian fundy comparison is too easy.

    Also, “dangerous” isn’t a word I used, either. I said what George Deutsch represents concerns me more than what’s going on with the Muslim fundamentalists. Although for the record I think the concerted attempts to undermine truth and science in a nation and economy largely based on both could have a greater far-reaching impact than a bunch of hopped-up Muslims screaming and chanting and burning things exactly as they’ve been stage-directed to do.

    The problem is that you seem think that just because something can be fought with “mere words” that it’s a lesser problem. It’s really not a lesser problem; it can be a significantly greater problem, in fact. It’s merely a less obvious and showy problem.

  9. Eric,

    We have the weapons to fight Muslim fundi extremists, and advertise them weekly on Mail Call, which is a pretty nice piece of propaganda to the rest of the cable watching world. What we are losing are the weapons to fight religious zealots in our own country. Slowly we are losing the ability to speak truth to power in this country as the power base shifts down the conservative spectrum from your Republican uncle Al to wing nut. All of a sudden disagreeing with the zealots is ipso facto proof that you are immoral and wrong, the very act of suggesting that perhaps it is no one’s business who marries whom except those involved is seen as heresy. How can you combat an enemy who disagreeing with is seen as unpatriotic, immoral, and can only be accomplished on a show that is seen as more comedy than reality?

  10. Fundamentalism in all forms (even fundamental atheism) is a thing to be despised and, yes, all fundamentalist attitudes are equal because they reflect a mindset so entrenched in a single ideology that matters of demonstrable scientific truth are referred to as “opinion”. It doesn’t matter if one fundamentalist group says gays should be stoned to death (as is the case with certain Muslim fundamentalists), or another group says that adultery should be punishable by death (as is the case with certain Christian fundamentalists, unnervingly demonstrated by Richard Dawkins’ recent television programme The Root Of All Evil): in their fundamentalism they are equal because truth, for them, is not something arrived at by experimentation, or reflection, or mere observation – rather it is handed down to them by the insane “prophets” of mythical hover-gods. Their religious predilections serve not only as blinkers, but as blindfolds to the marvelous machinations of the world around them, and their contentment in their received truths renders them obstinate, petty, and dangerous. A Muslim demanding fatwa because of some cartoons, or a Christian censoring scientific material within NASA – both are equally irrelevant, and both are equally deadly, and all rational, reasonable, free-thinking individuals ought to actively protests them.

  11. Traditionally, I think that religious zealots have gotten significantly less traction in the U.S. than they would in other countries. I think that the state/religion line of demarcation is particularly strong in this country, thanks to the Constitution, and our education system and media gives people tools for critical thought. That doesn’t mean that our zealots are any less dangerous.

    In theocratic countries, or in countries where the masses are less educated, it’s easier for religious leaders to grab the attention of the masses, and lead them in riots. Here, instead of inspired masses, I think our zealots inspire single individuals, who might shoot abortion providers, or bomb abortion clinics. It’s harder in our society for zealots to command the attention needed to control large groups.

    I think it’s harder in this country because of our large and powerful media, and a moderately decent public education system. But those are also our weakest links. We currently have an Administration working on behalf of those who would weaken our resolve against zealotry, by supporting Intelligent Design in public schools, and appointing PR people (who’s job it is to talk to the press) who have the agenda of weakening scientific discourse in favor of religious faith.

    John says that Deutsch is the symptom, but I disagree. I think that Bush is the carrier, Deutsch is the virus, and riots like we see in the Middle East are the prognosis, unless we innoculate ourselves against stupidity real soon.

    K

  12. i don’t know if any of you remembers sinead o’connor — it’s been so many years since she even pretended to be relevant — but if you do, you might remember her pope incident in the early nineties. first, she appeared on television and tore up a photograph of the pope. catholics all around the world, and especially in her native ireland, reacted badly. later, appearing at madison square garden, the crowd booed her off-stage. she ended up apologizing.

    now, no one really seriously tried to say that she didn’t have the right — freedom of speech, blah blah blah — to tear up a picture of the pope. but there was a lot of sympathy and understanding (ultimately) for catholics’ outrage, partly because o’connor was such a patent childish idiot, but also because the pope was more than a conservative individual whose decisions adversely affected millions of lives. the pope was/is also a figurehead who represents millions of people in their faith. criticizing the man is one thing, but attacking the symbol is tantamount to attacking the faith … and the people who profess it. her action was symbolic and she allowed a poorly-thought-out symbolic action to replace intelligent critique.

    this goes ten thousand times more so for mohammed. mohammed has been dead nearly a millenium and a half. it is nearly impossible to criticize the man. you can ONLY criticize the symbol. and in criticizing the symbol (which is exactly, no more, no less, what the cartoonist/s did) you do NOT criticize muslim leadership in general, much less the specific fanatical muslim leadership you SHOULD be targeting. in criticizing the symbol you only only only criticize the faith, and you do so at the expense of intelligent critique.

    let me give an analogy: a cartoon of jesus wearing united states army fatigues and carrying an ak47. like that one? how about a cartoon of the virgin mary’s round pregnant belly with a burning fuse coming out of it, labled “christianity”? i’m not even christian and I’D protest that one. how about a crucifix with the long end turning into a rifle barrel? anyone find any of these offensive? i do. and, no matter what what their personal opinions on the matter, most newspaper editors would likely choose not to run such cartoons because they wouldn’t want the firestorm. instead, they would run less incendiary, if not less critical, cartoons.

    why can’t we expect newspaper editors to make similar choices when it comes to muslims? because muslims, ALL muslims, regardless of denomination or stance, have already been demonized, and, as kat pointed out, lumped together in an undifferentiated mass. and they are assisted by readers, even intelligent, educated readers (john), who are all too apt to say things like this:

    thousands of largely ignorant Muslim fundamentalists were manipulated by their mullahs and governments to pitch a fit about pictures of their prophet that they haven’t even seen, printed in newspapers in countries they don’t live in.

    the assumptions here are many: 1) all of the protestors are muslim fundamentalists, 2) muslim fundamentalists are ignorant, 3) the actions of muslim fundamentalists are always manipulated by their leadership, because they are incapable of thinking things through on their own, 4) muslim fundamentalists are all third world impoverished and have no access to the internet, where they can find the cartoons in a three-second google search and/or 5) muslim fundamentalists are too doopit to use technology.

    i’m not excusing the violence, but i not only excuse, but support and encourage the anger and the public protest (short of violence) for these truly offensive and pointless and, frankly, bigoted cartoons.

  13. Cultural relativism can only take us so far. There comes a time when the right-minded have to show conviction and dig their heels in against things like backward religious fundamentalism.

    Seeing as ignorance seems to be the root of the problem, I keep wondering if there’s some way to expose Muslims to Western culture. Could we possibly humanize ourselves to them using media? Could we flood them with images of our own lives and our passion? If they’re so into being militant, let’s show them The Matrix. Dubbed over in arabic, of course.

    In my vision I see thousands of miniature, portable tv’s being airdropped with parachutes into their most populated cities.

  14. My boyfriend’s getting his masters in geology, and his thesis advisor recently sent him an email about this issue. To sate Deutsch, he jokingly suggested that all his students should include in their thesis proposals exercise number four: refute your own findings, assuming that intelligent design and literal creationism are accurate.

    (I’m rephrasing, but that was the gist.)

  15. What’s interesting about the Muslim kerfuffle (the least interesting of the two kerfuffles, in my opinion) is how it’s run like clockwork.

    A Danish author was trying to write a children’s book about Muhammed, but couldn’t find an artist willing to bear the wrath of Islam for drawing the prophet. A newspaper hears the story, and in protest of that attitude by some Muslims, runs a series of caricatures, political cartoons, and drawings of Muhammed – thereby drawing down the wrath of Islam.

    The images were calculated to offend those who would take offense. It’s like catering pork and mussels to a rabbinical conference.

    I think that if an American newspaper ran a cartoon like Claire describes (the Explosive Virgin Mary would be a good commentary on blowing up abortion clinics), you would see a lot of angry letters to the editor, some people cancelling their newspaper subscriptions, and maybe (at most) a molotov cocktail thrown against the newspaper building. You would not see angry mobs torching the newspaper publisher.

    And everybody knows that Jesus would _never_ carry a Kalishnikov. Jesus is homies with Messrs Smith & Wesson.

    K

  16. kevin: there’s a difference between protest and FORM of protest. westerners conflate the wrongness of violent protest with the wrongness of the protest itself. the protest is right. the WAY they are protesting is mostly wrong.

    i say mostly because anything short of violence and muslims can’t get anyone’s attention. damned if they don’t, bombed if they do.

    westerners are also, in this kerfuffle, conflating the violence of the protest with islam itself. but did it ever occur to anyone that it’s not ISLAM that makes these protesters violent, but rather living in an unstable, violent region for decades, where much of the violence is institutionalized and underwritten by the west? even christians in this region are, or have recently been, very violent (cf. lebanon) but i don’t hear anyone saying, “look at the civil war in lebanon. look at how ignorant and violent all christians are!”

  17. claire light:

    “the assumptions here are many: 1) all of the protestors are muslim fundamentalists, 2) muslim fundamentalists are ignorant, 3) the actions of muslim fundamentalists are always manipulated by their leadership, because they are incapable of thinking things through on their own, 4) muslim fundamentalists are all third world impoverished and have no access to the internet, where they can find the cartoons in a three-second google search and/or 5) muslim fundamentalists are too doopit to use technology.”

    Claire, ironically you have a history of reading into statements things that aren’t there, among them that I’ve said all Muslim fundamentalists are ignorant, impoverished and technologically backward, none of which I’ve said. However, I do think your average Muslim fundamentalist is no more independently-thinking than the Christian fundamentalist here in the US who thinks God created the universe in six days despite ready access to the Internet (not to mention the library) for ample factual evidence otherwise.

    You’ve also made the assumption that I think all protests were populated solely by Muslim fundamentals, which I don’t and never said. Now, I do suspect that the Muslims busy burning down embassies and performing other moronic acts of violence are not in fact moderate Muslims with engineering degrees and Web-capable cell phones who just flash-mobbed their way into burning things, but if you can show evidence otherwise, by all means please present it.

    Otherwise, I personally suspect most moderate, educated and connected Muslims — while almost certainly outraged by the cartoons, and rightly so, and while possibly present at protests as well — were not busy participating in violence, which is at the heart of the present discussion.

  18. Claire, you’re right, a lot of people in the United States see the violence in the Middle East and believe that Islam is the source of that violence. I hope you don’t think that I’ve made that same mistake. I’ve tried to convey in my comments my belief that the violence is caused by a lack of access to education and information.

    They have bombings and we have boycotts because our citizens and residents have access to the education and information necessary to keep the zealots from taking over. However, our zealots (and their occasional puppets) are working to undermine the value of those resources in this country by trying to force religious education into public schools, and trying to force scientists to toe a religious and political line. We must stand against this.

    K

  19. Also, “dangerous” isn’t a word I used, either… Although for the record I think the concerted attempts to undermine truth and science in a nation and economy largely based on both could have a greater far-reaching impact than a bunch of hopped-up Muslims screaming and chanting and burning things exactly as they’ve been stage-directed to do.

    All right, well, I certainly didn’t mean to put the phrase “more dangerous” in your mouth when you really meant that Christian fundys would simply have a “greater far-reaching impact.” Although I guess I’m a little fuddled as to the distinction between these two phrases.

    Whichever way you prefer to phrase it, I still disagree with the sentiment. Perhaps it is simply a matter of geography and background — you are out in the Midwest, where the fundys have a firmer grip. (And thanks for that abbreviation, by the way; MUCH easier than typing ‘fundamentalist’ again and again.) I’m here in Connecticut, where Christian extremism just does not play outside of its razor-thin base.

    Still, understanding that geography plays a role in shaping our views doesn’t help me shake my bewilderment that people honestly view Christian fundys as the bigger threat. A problem? Oh yes. Something to be countered at every turn?** I’m with you. But a bigger problem than the culturally isolated, violently fanatical, fanatically violent millions of extremist Muslims? A problem so severe that even moderate Muslims don’t even know what to do about it? Well, I just don’t see how Christian fundys compare.

    I’ll stop pushing this now, since I doubt we’ll make much headway in convincing each other.

    (**Well, I’m not particularly bothered by displays of the Ten Commandments, any more than “In God We Trust” boils my blood. But they should be countered at most turns.)

  20. Eric Berlin:

    “I’ll stop pushing this now, since I doubt we’ll make much headway in convincing each other.”

    Well, as I said before, I don’t wish to imply that I believe Islamic fundamentalism to be a trivial problem; it’s not, and certainly it presents obvious real time and real world issues. I can even grant that on balance it may be the more pressing issue. I simply find the NASA thing retaining my personal interest more, no doubt because of my own personal inclinations.

    What we can do, Eric, is simply divide up responsibilites. You focus on the Islamic fundamentalists; I’ll focus on the American political hacks. Between our efforts, sanity will once again (heh!) rule in this world.

  21. (sorry, long)

    As far as specific (modern) examples of Christian extremists, I’d say Abortion Clinic bombings are a good place to start. (Or you could go back to the Inquisition if you don’t mind being historical).

    I agree that we see more of those sorts of protests “over there” because those areas of the world are simply less stable. Not only is violence is more prevalent, but violence and disasters push more people to religion.

    Taken in context, I have to agree with John. The muslim protests we’re seeing are bad, but not all that unusual for that region. Perhaps more broadly targeted in this case. On the other hand, undermining scientific research and rational thought by introducing religious dogma scares the hell out of me, in all its forms.

    But to take a critical look at the protests:
    The muslims who are inciting these riots make no distinction between the country and its newspapers. They don’t see a distinction between the church, the state, and the press, between the actions of a few individuals and the rest of their culture. I don’t recall the exact NPR quote, but it was from a company that said roughly “We built a business over 30 years and we’re going to lose it in 5 days.”

    How we educate those cultures of that distinction (and getting to a point where they perceive us as wrong, but not someone to be firebombed) is a question we HAVE to answer. How we reduce the conditions that allow for violence and extremism is a critical question we need to address.

    On that front, I’m not that worried for our current generation, but scientific progress is fast enough that a generation in our near future is going to have to worry about the possibility of a small group of people being able to wipe out the world. The right people could do it today with a well tailored virus introduced into critical transportation hubs. If we don’t combat extremist views, eventually someone is going to act on them with tools capable of devastation on a mass scale.

    Or, to bring things back around, addressing either situation involves encouraging people to think critically rather than follow blind dogma, and to do so in a world that allows them to do so in safety.

  22. Claire:

    I think most people’s defense of the Danish paper’s intentionally inflamatory action is this:

    The heart of the Muslim protest isn’t saying “You shouldn’t have done that.”
    It is saying, “You shouldn’t be allowed to do that.”

    Like John was saying about Minnesota…
    Sinead O’Connor got what she deserved, and what she should have expected. Piss off a huge number of people, and lookeehere, those people don’t like you! That’s the sane consequences of pissing people off.

    It’s okay that all the American Newspapers I’m aware of are not printing the cartoosn because they don’t individually want to piss off the people those cartoons piss off. It’s much less okay they are scared of printing them because the people that they would piss off are prone to violence. It’s even less okay that the papers have reason to believe that their own government with a constitutional obligation to allow freedom fo the press wouldn’t support them.

    “We … respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable,” said State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper.
    —-
    Quote from: http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20060203/ts_nm/religion_cartoons1_dc

    Not acceptable you say?

  23. Actually, I’m gonna go with John on this one—the flack at NASA is more important in the longer term than the idiots in Syria burning down embassies (thereby proving the the cartoons more or less correct, a fact apparently lost on them). Lets all think back to, oh say, the year 1000. Islam kicked scientific ass. They had the edge in basically any field of science you’d care to name. Hell, they invented the University. Nowadays? Nothin’.

    Yeah, sure there are a bunch of reasons (the Crusades, oil wealth, monarchy, etc, etc) but a Fundamentalist religious shift is in there and now that its in place, even balancing other monetary factors its still going to be hard to kickstart that process again. This must really frustrate the Muslims who know their history and believe in the bit of the Koran that tells them to seek knowledge.

    Fast forward to present day America. Flacks like Deutsch are doing the exact same thing. Yeah it sounds alarmist, but the best and the brightest are gonna start asking the question “why the hell do I want to work someplace where some jackass with a PoliSci degree is going to tell me what I can and can’t say about global warming?” Down goes NASA (remember they do a big chunk of earth science research). Next comes the National Labs (outside of the weapons programs perhaps, but the Labs also do a lot of non-weapons related work). Slippery slope time: political appointees deciding NSF and NIH so labs start turning away from federal funding sources (already happening in the stem cell arena. This also has availability implications). May as well cut funding, don’t really need it. Next thing we know we’re trying to figure out how to pay for sending the grandkids to India or China for University. This really isn’t about a single jackass, this is about the systematic introduction of jackasses (c.f. the FDA, NHSTA).

  24. Do we really have to keep mentioning his age in tandem with the fact that he’s an idiot as though the two are mutually inclusive? That hurts, man.

  25. Well, it’s certainly true that being 24 does not make one an idiot. However, when one is an idiot, being 24 does tend to compound the problem.

  26. “westerners conflate the wrongness of violent protest with the wrongness of the protest itself. the protest is right. the WAY they are protesting is mostly wrong.”

    No. To the extent that they are protesting that the newspaper shouldn’t be allowed to print those cartoons, the protest itself is wrong. And so are any non-Muslims who side with that protest.

    Whatever happened to “I don’t like what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”? Does it get chucked out when it is millions instead of hundreds who are offended? I really don’t care how much depicting Muhammed offended those people who are rioting, any more than I would care if those cartoons Claire thought up were published. They have a right to be offended, Christians and Muslims (and anyone else) all. They have no right to compel others to act so that they can avoid offense.

    “Traditionally, I think that religious zealots have gotten significantly less traction in the U.S. than they would in other countries.”

    Compared to anywhere aside from Canada or most of Europe, I think you’re probably right. You guys are beginning to slip a little, though.

  27. John, I noticed that you used the word ‘Muslim’ many times whilst always remembering to insert the word ‘fundamentalist’ after it. For that I must applaud you, as you’re not generalizing all Muslims as being just of one type (unlike many other people). Thanks dude.

    Now, you said, “I’m not terribly surprised that thousands of largely ignorant Muslim fundamentalists were manipulated by their mullahs and governments to pitch a fit about pictures of their prophet that they haven’t even seen, printed in newspapers in countries they don’t live in.”

    I’m a Muslim, by the way, but I’d like to classify myself as a moderate one.

    But I was still offended by the cartoon/caricature, without the need for goading by any external sources, even being a moderate muslim. I imagine the fundamentalist muslims must be far more offended than I am. But here I justify my reasons.

    1. Look, I’m all for free speech and freedom of press, but as you’ve mentioned, perhaps politeness and respect for other people’s beliefs, is much needed when we speak of matters involving religion.

    My opinion is that if one wishes to make fun of one’s own religion, then one is free to do so, because he is a part of the faith that he chooses to believe in, has experienced it and knows it best. But if other people do not wish for their religions to be made fun of or ridiculed in some way, then I think their wishes should be respected, and one should not make jest of them and their beliefs.

    2. There is an sunnah (which is an Islamic, err, how shall I put it, religious doctrine) mentioning that one should not draw drawings of (I’m shortening this for the sake of simplicity) people who have passed away, and that would include the Prophet Muhammad. Unlike our other brethrens, who are also the descendents of the Abrahamic faith – Christians namely – us Muslims don’t paint murals or draw drawings of our prophets. Which is why most Islamic artists tend to focus on geometrical drawings and calligraphic art stuff instead.

    With all due respect, if other people wish to draw on subjects concerning their own religion then please do so, but don’t encroach upon subjects involving us Muslims.

    I speak with respect (and I’m not trying to be holier-than-thou) and I’m not trying to bring up a flame war or anything like it. Just thought that I might enlighten a head or two should anyone not know of the (second) fact yet. Sorry if I offended anyone.

  28. I’m offended all the damn time.

    But I’m used to this, because I live in a society which values free expression.

    People who are used to being offended all the time can’t understand people who aren’t.

    And I’m angry at those who seem to want to limit my ability to be offended.

    Those countries where all the riots are happening aren’t used to free expression, and haven’t seen the cartoons in question, and are just reacting to what they’re told to react to.

    Those rioters may have never been exposed to anything their government doesn’t approve of.

    I’d like to offer that those of us who live in a place where it’s OK to disagree might not have any clue what these rioters are feeling.

    Which isn’t to say that they aren’t buttheads.

  29. 1. Look, I’m all for free speech and freedom of press, but as you’ve mentioned, perhaps politeness and respect for other people’s beliefs, is much needed when we speak of matters involving religion.

    My opinion is that if one wishes to make fun of one’s own religion, then one is free to do so, because he is a part of the faith that he chooses to believe in, has experienced it and knows it best. But if other people do not wish for their religions to be made fun of or ridiculed in some way, then I think their wishes should be respected, and one should not make jest of them and their beliefs.

    No. See. You’ve missed the point. The whole point behind freedom of speech is that you have to let the dumbasses do as much speaking as the rational human beings as little as you may like it. Yeah, it sucks. In a true and just world I shouldn’t have to put up with Pat Robertson, but its not so I do. Mostly I ignore the guy, which I am also free to do (dealing with oppressed minorities is a different issue, its generally very difficult). I agree that people should be polite, but I can’t force anyone to be polite (and barring my successful world domination attempt nor should I have that power as much as I may want it).

    Yeah, the U.S. doesn’t do this perfectly—there’s plenty of dodgy “to protect the children” (who probably don’t really want your protection thank-you-very-much-Mrs-Clinton) legislation out there—but “having to put up with crap you don’t want to hear” is sort of the core exercise here. Its really much better than the alternative.

    2. There is an sunnah (which is an Islamic, err, how shall I put it, religious doctrine) mentioning that one should not draw drawings of (I’m shortening this for the sake of simplicity) people who have passed away, and that would include the Prophet Muhammad. Unlike our other brethrens, who are also the descendents of the Abrahamic faith – Christians namely – us Muslims don’t paint murals or draw drawings of our prophets. Which is why most Islamic artists tend to focus on geometrical drawings and calligraphic art stuff instead.

    With all due respect, if other people wish to draw on subjects concerning their own religion then please do so, but don’t encroach upon subjects involving us Muslims.

    Actually, I did know about this. But there’s a problem here. You want to apply YOUR religious doctrine to MY actions. If I were Muslim it might work, but I’m not so it doesn’t. This is essentially the same as claiming I can’t enjoy my BLT because you disapprove of bacon. In public, of course. You’re allowed to get upset if I wander into a mosque, Carls Jr. Double Western Bacon Burger in hand and drip on the carpet. In much the same way the whole picture-drawing thing applies to YOU but not to the cartoonist (unless he or she happened to be Muslim, I don’t recall anyone every saying). Yes, the cartoonist was impolite; that’s no excuse for setting embassies on fire.

  30. 1) Fundamentalist muslims riot when their messiah is depicted as a mass murderer.

    2) Republicans riot when Linda Ronstadt dedicates a song to Michael Moore. (Oh, and during vote recounts in Miami-Dade.)

    Really, what else is there to say?

  31. Byron: “This is essentially the same as claiming I can’t enjoy my BLT because you disapprove of bacon. In public, of course. You’re allowed to get upset if I wander into a mosque, Carls Jr. Double Western Bacon Burger in hand and drip on the carpet. In much the same way the whole picture-drawing thing applies to YOU but not to the cartoonist (unless he or she happened to be Muslim, I don’t recall anyone every saying). Yes, the cartoonist was impolite thats no excuse for setting embassies on fire.”

    Though we Muslims do not eat bacon, we of course respect and would not disturb your right to enjoy it.

    I refer to the analogy that you made: the case here is this, why in the first place would you go to a mosque and start eating bacon inside there? (Intentionally, that is.) That would just be looking for an argument (and religious tension), wouldn’t it?

    Your analogy is similar to the situation: The cartoonist could have drawn a million other things, making fun of Muslim culture all in the name of satire, and nothing would have happened. But the cartoonist happened to draw upon a subject matter that is particularly sensitive to us. Which is why all this happened.

    Although I disagree, very much, with the setting of fire to the embassies. That’s taking things a bit too far, but, well, those are extremists.

  32. Byron, it didn’t strip your blockquotes, you were just using the wrong tag (you need to spell out “blockquote”). I fixed it for you.

    Wan, re: not lumping all Muslims into fanatical territory: Of course. There are Muslims of all sorts.

    As Byron notes, the challenge to free speech is when free speech is incredibly offense. Here in the US, if you really want to piss people off, you don’t offend God (or his prophet), you burn an American flag in protest; it presents the same “gut check” moment these pictures of Muhammed provide, and lots of people here fail that moment entirely, which is why couple of years there is a movement with our politicians to amend our Constitution to prohibit burning the flag in protest. So even in a land where the right to speak and protest is encoded into the national character, it’s still a tough thing to deal with.

    The right to say anything assumes the right to say everything, no matter how offensive. And this does include the right for people to say incredibly jackassed things, or to talk about things they know nothing about (including other people’s religion). The way to combat speech is with more speech. For example, when some jackass comes onto my site, spewing ignorance and lies about Islam, I stuffed him back into his hole by displaying the depths of his ignorance. Which made me feel good on any number of levels.

  33. John wrote:

    [...] God created the universe in six days despite ready access to the Internet [...]

    I didn’t know the Internet was that old. How long would creation have taken without ready access to the Internet?

  34. Though we Muslims do not eat bacon, we of course respect and would not disturb your right to enjoy it.

    And that’s just the thing. You distinguish between religious doctrines that you demand other people follow (don’t depict Mohammed) and religious doctrines that you don’t expect everybody else to follow. Judaism does the same thing really… there are “crimes” in Judaism which apply to non-believers and that Jews are supposed to prosecute people for. (I don’t remember the exact list, but I think it’s something like “Murder, sexual impropriety, somethingelsery”).

    Unfortunately for you, and the Jews, those restrictions aren’t codified into law in Europe, or the United States, much less international law. There’s an U.S. Constitutional inability for it to happen in in the U.S. (The Reese’s Peanut-Butter Cup Prevention clause of the Bill of Rights (You got your religion in my secular government… You got your secular government in my religion!)) And there’s a reason its not. Exactly those reasons that Byron mentioned. What controls the behavior of Muslims does not, and should not control the behavior of non-Muslims. Of course, the non-Muslims should apply a liberal spread of neighborly concern on any exercise of communication. They didn’t, so… you know… they’re assholes. *shrug*

    I think the funny thing is that the restriction against images of Mohammed is supposed to prevent idolatry. Because the Muslims are so strong in their reverence of The Prophet that any images of him may cause worship in the unwary. I think it’s particularly funny to imagine an incredibly devout Muslim, overcome with awe for The Prophet that they begin to worship one of those 15 (the 12 Danish ones, and the 3 later added) images as God.

  35. John: Thanks. Curse my own late night stupidity!

    I refer to the analogy that you made: the case here is this, why in the first place would you go to a mosque and start eating bacon inside there? (Intentionally, that is.) That would just be looking for an argument (and religious tension), wouldn’t it?

    Your analogy is similar to the situation: The cartoonist could have drawn a million other things, making fun of Muslim culture all in the name of satire, and nothing would have happened. But the cartoonist happened to draw upon a subject matter that is particularly sensitive to us. Which is why all this happened.

    Actually, no. If you had read the entire paragraph you would have observed that I was making a distinction between a public place and a private place.In other words, on the hood of my car across the street from the mosque my Bacon Western Cheeseburger is tough for you. Inside the mosque my Bacon Western Cheeseburger is tough for me because you (to an extent) make the rules there. The media is the most public of places.

  36. Mmmmm… Bacon Western Cheeseburger. Not for the mosque. Or for the synagogue! But certainly for me.

  37. This is mostly a reply to Wan.

    Not a thing offensive in your comment — seemed to be to be a clear statement of your beliefs.

    As always, I think this comes down to what is allowed versus what is being a good neighbor. I worry about any attempts to censor speech because it is a slippery slope to go down. Put another way, if you are going to censor speech because it offends a group of people, just how big of a group does that need to be? If I’m offended by something written by someone else, can I lobby to get it censored? And can that group use that censorship for more nefarious purposes? Basically, it is a dangerous precedent, and I’d rather have the opportunity to be greviously offended than to lose the ability for people to speak out.

    I knew about your point #2, which is one of the reasons why while I respect the newspaper’s right to do so, I think publishing these cartoons was in poor taste.

    Not that this works for everyone who was offended by these cartoons, but the answer really is to stop advertising in the newspaper, stop purchasing that newspaper, and to write letters to the editor stating why you have done so. A company that makes its money selling a product gets the answer quickly when people stop buying it.

    And, in general, a public protest against the newspaper is entirely reasonable, although I do have a problem with violent protest.

    I do think it is a mistake to take it past the newspaper — e.g. violence against embassies, embargoes against unrelated Danish products.

  38. Best Minnesota story ever…

    After Herschel Walker was traded there, he began looking for a house. Part of his search criteria was to find a town with a large black population.

    A realtor found him a county with 15,000 blacks out of a population of 50,000… a regular Soul Train when looking at Minny’s demographics. Herschel bought the house before he even went to it.

    He then drove around town wondering where all the black people were. This town was whiter than a George-driven Seinfeld episode. Finally, he went to the library and cracked a few books.

    Herschel had settled in the same town that the state prison was in.

  39. Fine, TallDave — you find me a Clinton-appointed NASA press flack who tried to tell scientists that he knew more about cosmology than they did, and I’ll roundly condemn that, too. Good luck with that.

    Meanwhile, let me just say that the implication that the current administration doing something jackassed shouldn’t be “an outrage” because a previous administration did something similarly jackassed is a special tangy flavor of moronic.

  40. Yes, stupid behavior should not be a precendent for more stupid behavior. :)

    Actually, here’s a very nice quote from Al Gore a few weeks ago. (Context is about the wiretapping program)

    Second, the Attorney General’s attempt to cite a previous administration’s activity as precedent for theirs — even though factually wrong — ironically demonstrates another reason why we must be so vigilant about their brazen disregard for the law. If unchecked, their behavior would serve as a precedent to encourage future presidents to claim these same powers, which many legal experts in both parties believe are clearly illegal.

    I certainly agree that injecting politics into science is not simply a Republican problem, but the current administration has far exceeded past administrations of either party at throwing out real science.

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