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Web www.birminghamfreepress.com

April, 2009

Alabama has New Chance to Become National Embarrassment

It looks like ol’ Hank Erwin is tossing his jester's cap in the ring to run for Lieutenant Governor. I know it’s hard for people outside the state to realize that everyone in Alabama isn’t a total nutjob because that’s always the face we put forward. Hank has been a local radio and television personality for quite some time. Like all local personalities all he talks about is Jesus. That same old American capitalist Jesus that the right wing invented in the 1970’s. It’s hard to believe that the Evangelicals who are so passionate about the Bible imagine it to be filled with republican talking points. You really have to read between the lines to find praise of handguns and social Darwinism in the gospels.

Hank has all the self-confidence of someone who has never questioned his belief system and is sure that those who disagree with him are the tools of Satan. He now has a public access TV show that lacks all the entertainment value of his old radio programs. Gone are the young earth creationists, exorcists, ex-gay ministries and pornography addicts that made him such a delight on the radio. The TV show is just basically Hank schmoozing up to rich political donors and local celebrities about how much they all love Jesus.

Top among the list of examples of cognitive dissonance displayed by Hank is the idea that American Evangelicals have some sort of ownership over the family. It’s odd that the one group of religious folk with the highest divorce rate of anybody in the entire world would feel comfortable telling others how to run their families. Hank also has a very unhealthy preoccupation with homosexuality. I’m sure there are some people out there that hate gay people because they have been brainwashed into believing that it’s the right thing to do but in Hank's case there’s something much deeper going on. Not to say that Hank’s gay but it is well documented that homophobia is a symptom of repressed homosexual feelings. Oh, and that picture above. Let’s just say that some of the material in the Birmingham Free Press is satirical and not meant to be taken literally.

This is hilarious.

Willful Ignorance and Climate Change

Willful ignorance is easy to spot when it comes to science. If you find yourself digging through a mountain of literature to find one source that agrees with your presupposition then you might be willfully ignorant. Much beloved local weatherman James Spann is a classic example of willful ignorance when it comes to global warming.

If Spann wanted to find the truth behind global warming he would go to google and type in in the words "global warming." He’d skip Wikipedia because anybody can update the article so it’s not authoritative. The second site in the search results is the EPA. Certainly Spann can trust the EPA. All Americans pool their money and hire a bunch of scientific experts to study the environment for us. According to the EPS’s website “Scientists are certain that human activities are changing the composition of the atmosphere, and that increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases will change the planet's climate.” So that’s it. A reliable source says that anthropogenic global warming is a fact. But Spann’s not interested in objective information from a reliable source he wants to be told that global warming is a big lie.

To understand Spann’s motivation you have to understand that global warming is associated with the political left in America and the thought of “liberals” being right about anything is intolerable for some folks. Not finding what he wants Spann might try another search, maybe he’ll type in anthropogenic global warming in his search box. Bingo! The top result says that 30,000 scientists reject the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis. Sure this is a blog, but 30,000 scientists signed a statement by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine saying they didn’t believe in global warming. So the willfully ignorant will just repeat this as evidence that there is at least a controversy about the science. Now the genuinely curious might wonder why the EPA would make the bold statement that “scientists are certain” if there are these 30,000 dissenters out there.

The genuinely curious might go the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine’s website and quickly discover that anybody can print out their petition and mail it in to become the number thirty thousand and one. A little more research will show that the “institute” is run by some real nutjobs with all kinds of crazy ideas. What’s amazing is that this petition of 30,000 scientists is continually being cited by the global warming denial crowd.

Pseudoscience isn’t hard to recognize. If you pay any attention to the global warming debate you’ll begin to notice that on one side are legitimate scientists and on the other are conspiracy theorists and right-wing extremists. The few scientists that refute the generally accepted understanding of climate change will, with a little research, be exposed to be creationists or on some oil company’s payroll. The global warming deniers aren’t interested in finding the truth they’re interested in finding information to support what they want to believe. They are being willfully ignorant.

Why Women Don't Like Rush Limbaugh

by Jerome Heyes

Everyone has known an older person who longs for simpler days when up was up and down was down, when life was slower and gentlemen wore hats and you would hold the door open for a lady and she wouldn’t think you were a chauvinist. It was a time when everyone understood who the bad guys were, and someone didn’t get it, well, they were the misfits. They were the misfits and everybody knew it. It was a time when people obeyed the boss, and the boss was white. The boss was white, and the boss was a man.  You know that old saying, “You learn something new every day.” Well, there was a time, so the legend goes, that you didn’t have to learn something new every day. You could stick with what you had always known, the things you’ve known since you were a young white boy, and as such, it was understood that people like you, people who looked like you, were going to get the biggest piece of cake. That was your world, and that’s how it had always been.
 
And suddenly that saying, “You learn something new every day,” is everywhere you go.  Nowadays, you can’t count on anything. This Indonesian guy named Osama Hussein is President of the whole f**king United States. Not Vice President, but President. Suddenly, that pantsuit-wearing baby killer wife-of-a-cheat Hillary is Secretary of State. So you want to wake up in the morning and start the day by screaming “Stop. Just stop, right now.” There was a time that a white man of means could stand up and say “Shut the f*** up” and get some respect. Not long ago, the men who did the work, the men who built this country, who drove the trucks and laid the pipes and built the cars and fixed the roads and fixed the toilets – we got respect. We didn’t have to wade through all this political correctness just to get what was ours without some pinhead whining about it.
 
And there was a time when you knew where the communists were. They were in Russia, not in the White House. And you could count on the respectable people to ferret out the rest. Now you got socialists and communists running everything, telling us we have to spread the wealth, telling us that what is ours is not really ours. Who the f*** let them in, anyway?
 
The above rant is the product of a mind who cannot grasp that black-and-white, us-and-them viewpoints no longer work. The world of simple questions (“Are you for America or against it?” “Do you love free enterprise or hate it?”), has been replaced by shades of grey. Now you have to deal with people that say, “I love my country enough to criticize it, I love my country, but can’t support it when its wrong.” The Rush Limbaugh mind rejects these equivocations as signs of moral laxness. You either love America or you hate it.
 
The Rush Limbaugh mind does not have to participate in the world of nuance, the world of qualified support, the Limbaugh mind despises the politics of “yes, but except….”, or anything that reeks of compromise. The Rush Limbaugh mind lives in the bliss of absolute certitude. Certitude is a powerful anesthetic. Certitude provides almost a physical “high” because all of one’s energies can work towards pushing a cause, rather than having to rethink it, or having to pause long enough to consider you might be wrong about something. The Rush Limbaugh mind never has to stop to consider much of anything. The Rush Limbaugh mind can scream and yell and rant and swear at its enemies because it is very clear who the enemies are. In Rush’s world, the enemies never “have a good point or two.” They are always wanna-be politically-correct socialist commie cowards with pussies for dicks. The Rush Limbaugh brain embraces a type of certitude that never lets any air in. It is a closed system. If you question one of the basic tenants, for example, thinking that in some cases, higher taxes might be needed, or that, in some cases, a Democrat might have a good idea, then according to the Rush Limbaugh mind, you are showing weakness. Self-questioning is not seen as a healthy way to check your facts, to improve and mature your viewpoint, but rather, as sign of a weak will, of being contaminated by the vacillation of little men. To the Rush Limbaugh brain, if you are a leader, then you never question.
 
In the post-consumer age, which is where we are headed, hierarchical thinking is doomed. The mindset of “I am right and you are wrong, I am high and you are low,” is not compatible with the epoch we are entering. Our problems are universal, and not limited by boundaries. The crises we must solve are never again going to stay on one side of the tracks. Fortress America cannot hide from overproduction of manufactured goods, global warming and deforestation, a dwindling oil supply and overpopulation. Everyone will have to weigh in, everyone will have to participate, and everyone will have to feel vested in and be part of the solutions.  Leaders in today’s world must view themselves as the center of a web, like the hub of a bicycle wheel with spokes moving outward. This mindset is vastly different from the traditional hierarchical style of leadership. Hierarchical leadership, with power imposed from the top downward, is no longer a good model for solving the world’s problems. Rush Limbaugh’s thinking resembles the out-of-control male parent who comes home from work, says to the family “My word is law. If you don’t like it, then get the hell out.” The leadership we need today is more maternal, recognizing that what matters in family disputes is the outcome, what matters is that the next morning, people can still look each other in the eye and live peacefully under the same roof. To the maternal mind, “winning” a dispute is measured only by the degree to which family members are able to cooperate after the dispute is over. Such is the kind of leadership required for human survival in an age of dwindling resources, which is our future. Leadership Limbaugh-style is a vestige from a soon-to-be dead age, the age of consumption, and much like the early hominids you see on those ape-to-man evolutionary charts, as transitional as an ape with a spear.

The Psychopath in the Corner Office

I’ve recently finished reading Peter Biskind’s Down and Dirty Pictures: Mirimax, Sundance and the Rise of Independent Films. Biskind is an insider and former editor for Premier Magazine. The book works on two levels both as a guidebook to independent films and damning expose on some of the personalities behind the genre. Biskind takes a few swipes at Robert Redford and his various Sundance experiments but saves most of his venom for Mirimax cofounder Harvey Weinstein. Whether or not Weinstein actually is the monster portrayed in the book doesn’t diminish from his appeal as a literary character.

Relying heavily on quotes from people that had run-ins with Weinstein, Biskind paints a picture of a ruthless businessman who relishes petty feuds, revenge and power. Weinstein’s unscrupulous business practices and constant threats of violence certainly make for a good read. The book gives the impression that these bullying tactics worked for the benefit of the film industry but Weinstein’s insistence on meddling with the films resulted in an overall poorer product. The Mirimax head seemed to have a talent for finding the most powerful point in a film and insisting it be cut. He tried and failed to get Quentin Tarantino to cut the ear scene from Reservoir Dogs. To be honest, Weinstein was certainly on to something by dumbing down art for general distribution. How does the saying go? “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

It’s believed that about 1% of people are psychopaths. The failed psycho turns to violence while the successful psycho ends up in business. Having no empathy and being able to lie without hesitation will take you far in corporate America. Backstabbing helps too. I’m not saying Harvey Weinstein is psychopath but the character in Biskind’s book certainly is. He seems willing to talk down to anybody and gets infuriated when slighted or when he doesn’t get his way.

The rise and eventual commercialization of the independent film is an interesting story filled with characters that most of us are familiar with. Biskind manages to make the 544 pages seem short. According to IMDB they’re making a movie out of it. Also according to IMDB it was suppose to be released in 2008. That shows you not to trust Web 2.0. Down and Dirty Pictures also goes on about the movie version of A Confederacy of Dunces. In the book Harvey Weinstein causes problems but in reality the story is much more interesting. It turns out they’ve been trying to make this movie since the early 80s. John Belushi was going to play Ignatius, then John Candy then Chris Farley. Another delay in filming was the murder of the head of the Louisiana State Film Commission. Will Ferrell is now supposed to play the lead and as of the time of this writing he’s still alive.

Wanna Bet?

The citizens of Alabama love to gamble. Poker’s wildly popular as is sports betting. The problem is it’s illegal. There are slot machines all over the state but they’re not called sot machines because, if you remember, gambling is against the law. But bingo’s not against the law. It may be gambling but it's been grandfathered in. When we think of bingo we think of little old ladies in the rectory basements playing for charity. The reality in Alabama is that what is usually called bingo is actually room full of slot machines. How does it work? Call your slot machines bingo. It’s simple.

Another brilliant move is to open up an Internet café. But instead of using a typical computer to access the web you use a slot machine. What’s amazing is that these loopholes seem to work. Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against gambling. Really who cares? I guess the busybodies care. Right now Alabama is trying to run the mom-and-pop “bingo” halls out of business and replace them with state approved versions. The proposed constitutional amendment to make this change is called the “Sweet Home Alabama Bill.” That’s about as misleading as calling your slot machine a bingo card.

Gambling opponents consist of the usual cast of characters. They rallied before to stop Alabama from forming a lottery. This time their arguments are a little more compelling. I don’t think too many people have squandered their mortgages away buying lottery tickets. Arguments presented in the Alabama Baptist go from the rational sounding “We love out neighbors and don’t want their families destroyed” to the nonsensical “gambling is anti-spiritual.”

Of course people are already gambling. Gaming is widely available on the Internet although your truly adventurous might be more likely to take in a cockfight. Better yet a human fight. The big question is who gives a rat’s ass if people want to gamble? There are already too many laws protecting us from ourselves. The vast majority of people who gamble have no problem with it and find it entertaining. Those who do have a problem shouldn’t play. It’s like overeating (I’m looking at you Baptists). If you have no self-control stay away from the buffet.

The state doesn’t need to get involved but the big payout must seem irresistible. The best solution is just to let the small business owners continue what they’re doing. But stop calling it bingo. That’s embarrassing.

Birmingham Art Community Continues to Thrive

The new Birmingham Arts Journal is now available and can be found online here.

Blackest Material Ever
Scientists have fashioned what may be the blackest material in the universe: a sheet of carbon nanotubes that captures nearly every last photon of every wavelength of light.

The substance absorbs between 97 percent and 99 percent of wavelengths that can be directly measured or extrapolated. It's the closest that scientists have yet come to a black body, a theorized state of perfect absorption whose closest analogue is believed to be the opening of a deep hole.

4,000-Year-Old Temple Discovered in Cyprus
An Italian archaeologist claimed Friday to have discovered Cyprus' oldest religious site, which she said echoes descriptions in the Bible of temples in ancient Palestine.

Maria Rosaria Belgiorno said the 4,000-year-old triangular temple predates any other found on the east Mediterranean island by a millennium.

Scientists on Brink of Finding Second Earth
Astronomers may be on the brink of discovering a second Earth-like planet, a find that would add fresh impetus to the search for extraterrestrial life, according to the US journal Science.

Atheist's Testimony once Not Allowed in Court

Newspaper clipping from 1931

According to a recent poll atheists are the least trusted segment of American society. This is below Muslims, whose ideology was twisted to justify the World Trade Center bombings. So why don’t we trust atheists? Possibly because so many people associate non-belief in a god or gods with immorality. But there are all sorts of ethical systems that don’t rely on the supernatural. Furthermore, the existence of morally upright atheists would seem to be clear evidence that there is no need for the fear of divine retribution to behave.

If the perceived lack of morality is the true reason for the distrust of atheists how can this simple straw-man argument be rationalized? Admittedly many non-believers keep their opinions to themselves for fear of discrimination. Because of this some of us don't realize that many people we admire are atheists. But there is no excuse for the willful ignorance of imagining some sort of bogyman. Most people would be surprised at how many people they admire don’t believe in a god or gods. How many conservatives are aware that Karl Rove and Charles Krauthammer are non-believes? The fact that Rove cynically downplays this is both enlightening and disturbing. You can’t force yourself to believe something you honestly feel is not true. Being an atheist is not a choice.

Check out the famous atheists list here. I think you’ll be surprised whom you find.


© 2009 The Birmingham Free Press