Monthly Archives: August 2009

Little Shop of Horrors: CIA Torture Report Released

The CIA Inspector General’s report was released yesterday (due to the efforts of excellent groups like the ACLU), so if you’re looking for a deeply depressing  read this morning, there’s over 150 pages of horrors. One of the parts that really makes me shiver is where the interrogator threatens to rape the detainee’s mother and female relatives, and kill his children. Many of these prisoners are, in fact, innocent–although it seems our torture techniques are expressing suited to creating enemies and encouraging violence.

I particularly like Glenn Greenwald’s commentary on Salon over what it says that Americans aren’t expressing intense outrage at the U.S.’s cruel and inhumane punishment:

The fact that we are not really bothered any more by taking helpless detainees in our custody and (a) threatening to blow their brains out, torture them with drills, rape their mothers, and murder their children; (b) choking them until they pass out; (c) pouring water down their throats to drown them; (d) hanging them by their arms until their shoulders are dislocated; (e) blowing smoke in their face until they vomit; (f) putting them in diapers, dousing them with cold water, and leaving them on a concrete floor to induce hypothermia; and (g) beating them with the butt of a rifle — all things that we have always condemend as “torture” and which our laws explicitly criminalize as felonies (“torture means. . . the threat of imminent death; or the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering . . .”) — reveals better than all the words in the world could how degraded, barbaric and depraved a society becomes when it lifts the taboo on torturing captives.

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Women, War, and Economics: NYTimes Special Issue

Today’s Times Sunday magazine is all about the women. From Hillary Clinton on a government agenda that actually pays attention to women and girls, to Liberia’s first female president on what things would look like if women ruled the world, to the rising power of female philanthropists, we’re seeing a lot of focus on the X-chromosome.

Two articles in particular caught my attention. First, one on a topic I’ve posted on before: Feminist Hawks. While I thought the Feminist Majority Foundation’s stance came out of the blue, the Times indicates that the feminist Hawk position has not only had web prescence since the 90s, but that it’s provided an argument for conservative warmongers like David Horowitz to appropriate. Of course, I had noticed before that the only time the Bush administration seemed particularly worried about women’s freedom was when using it as a talking point to support war in the Middle East.

Even though the article’s main focuses is the evolving web presence of feminist hawks in terms of Afghanistan, its failure to mention anything about the “War on Terror” in Iraq is still a problematic oversight. After all, any discussion of feminist hawks and the Middle East should point out that Iraq was the most secular country there pre-invasion. Now? Well, if you want a long read, check out What Kind of Liberation?: Women and the Occupation of Iraq. In brief, they’re way worse off. The state has moved much closer to a theocracy, restricting the rights and freedoms of women, while a March Amnesty International report details the rising violence against women–violence that wars tend to provoke, not solve.

Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn’s “The Women’s Crusade,” which discusses the power of improving the position of women in fixing a slew of global ills, was a more impressive piece that you should click over and read immediately. Rather than suggesting invasion as a quick-fix for women’s rights, Kristoff and WuDunn spend a lot of attention on the potential of microfinance, probably the most interesting economic subject in ages. Seriously, if I’d been studying microfinance I might have stuck with my economic major; although, speaking of campus activities, my college did launch a microfinance organization, SEEDS, a couple years ago, and other student activist groups with an international focus have been getting onboard, too. Microfinance is sexy.

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Atheist Ally for Interfaith Relationships

Tonight I’m over at Secular Progressive with a post on atheists needing to support interfaith progress.

You’ll have to read me over there, but while writing the entry, I realized I’ve yet to say anything about interfaith dialogue on this blog, although I’ve had quite a few posts on atheism and religion. So I’d like to add a personal side-note to what’s up at Secular Progressive.

When I admitted my atheism to myself as a first-year at Dartmouth, this acceptance was spurred by some negative experiences regarding religion during my orientation, regarding a poorly timed prayer and an appeal to Christ by our student body president (which caused a few Jewish students to walk out of the welcoming). So it’s perhaps not surprising that my hostility toward religion was then at an all-time high.

For me today, the jury is out as to whether religion has the potential to be a primarily positive force, and whether we’d be better off with a world of atheism or one that included liberal, tolerant religions. Regardless, religion probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so interfaith work can at least impact how it impacts society. As an activist coming from an atheist/secular humanist viewpoint, I believe in the importance of explaining and defending those beliefs to people who have misconceptions about what it means to not believe in God. But I also believe that interfaith dialogue is suited to my goals of improving tolerance and countering conservative, fundamentalist religious elements.

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Read Me On Secular Progressive

By the by–as of last Wednesday, I’m now blogging weekly at Secular Progressive on religion & politics related content, on the kind invitation of founder Mike Tracey.

I made Mike’s acquaintance when interviewing about his scoop at the Campus Progress National Conference, when Bill Clinton admitted to personally supporting same-sex marriage. (See his Nation and HuffPost articles.) It became clear during the course of this conversation that we shared interests in the realm of atheism, religion, and politics, so when he later said he was looking for more contributors to his blog on “Religion, Politics, and Everything in Between,” I agreed to jump onboard. (Granted, “jump” might not be the right verb–I did take a few weeks to make good on my commitment.)

Why Secular Progressive? Bill O’Reilly coined the term “Secular Progressive” to give a name to the group he views as destroying the foundation of society, but us “S-P’s” are more troubled by the consequences of his right-wing rants. Mike reminds us in the blog’s first post that, oh right–“secular progressive” is not an insult. It’s a label to wear with pride:

No longer can those of us who identify as secular and/or progressive allow ourselves to be caricaturized by the likes of O’Reilly without putting up a fight. That’s how the Right stole the term “liberal” and it’s how conservative Christians have demonized the term “atheist.” Us S-P’s have ourselves a set of values, and we happen to think that they’re better than the alternative, or else we wouldn’t hold them in the first place. Rather than undermine society, we think that those values will actually strengthen our communities and our governments.

So look for me at the Secular Progressive on Wednesdays, and check out Mike’s latest on what happens to him after ordering a Book of Mormon. It’s the beginning of a short series of posts–I wonder what will happen next time with the young Elders Wilcox and Marble?

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$1 Books: Strolling Down a Strand Sale

One of the beauties of New York is that once you leave your apartment and start walking, there’s a good chance that within a few blocks you’ll stumble across something cool. My intention for this morning was to scurry over to an appointment not quite a mile away, then return home to catch up on Mad Men before tomorrow’s season premiere. Along the way, I ended up ambling through a street fair (1 free shampoo sample now tucked in my bag), crossing a bike tour that had closed down 4th Avenue to cars (good riddance), and spotted row upon row of full bookshelves on the sidewalk outside the Strand: a one dollar sale. Swoon.

So, instead of heading back to my couch, I spent an hour browsing the shelves, pleased with what I found. These are three of my fav politically-bent purchases:

The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women, Jessica Valenti

ThePurityMythLargeI’ve been dying to read this book by Feministing.com founder Jessica Valenti ever since a “Shameless Self-Promotion” popped up on that most awesome of feminist blogs in March. (And now that I’ve graduated college, I occasionally have free time for non-required reading!) Despite my very tight intern-on-a-stipend-soon-to-be-unemployed budget, I even felt a touch guilty about picking it up for only a dollar, since the book deserves full-price support. In any case, from the flowers on the cover to the concept of a “Post-Virgin World” (the title of the final chapter), I’m utterly taken with my loot. I’d like to share the first paragraph of the introduction, which makes half-a-dozen fantastic points in four sentences:

There is a moral panic in America over young women’s sexuality–and it’s entirely misplaced. Girls “going wild” isn’t damaging a generation of women, the myth of sexual purity is. The lie of virginity–the idea that such a thing even exists–is ensuring that young women’s perception of themselves is inextricable from their bodies, and that their ability to be moral actors is absolutely dependent on their sexuality. It’s time to teach our daughters that their ability to be good people depends on them being good people, and not on whether or not they’re sexually active.

Dispatches from the Abortion Wars: The Costs of Fanaticism to Doctors, Patients, and the Rest of Us, Carole Joffe

A swift trip to Amazon advises me that this slim volume has yet to be released; what I’m holding is an uncorrected proof (which, in all honesty, makes me feel special).

A postscript discusses the murder of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, gunned down in his own church, making the publication of this book tragically good timing. (Need to vent tangent: I may be a staunch atheist, but I still have far more respect for places of worship as sanctuaries than the so-called Christian who confessed to killing Tiller.) I’m particularly concerned with this subject after having interned at a think tank that monitors the right-wing, Political Research Associates (an enlightening/scary/depressing learning experience), under Chip Berlet, who has authored a number of excellent pieces on the Tiller murder. (And the timely report Toxic to Democracy: Conspiracy Theories, Demonization, & Scapegoating.) I’m sure I’ll be talking more about this topic in the future.

You Don’t Know Me: A Citizen’s Guide to Republican Family Values, Win McCormackRepublicanSex

I figured I needed a light-hearted read after that last one–so why not a book that “details over 100 cases of sexual misconduct by Republican officials, office holders, and ideological supporters.” Okay, so it’s still a little depressing; after all, these are the “family values” politicians who are destroying our country. But, hey, at least we’re laughing through the pain.

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The Land Before the Fall: Atheist Field Trip to Creation Museum

I wish I could have been in Kentucky last week for the atheist field trip to the Creation, ahem, “Museum,” where “Children play and dinosaurs roam near Eden’s Rivers.” Alas, I couldn’t make it down–but there are plenty of blogs sharing pics and videos, in particular this one from biologist PZ Myers, who is amused that the diet of a T-Rex specifies “After the Fall.”

I’m choosing to share a good laugh with PZ, rather than tearing up over the fact that people actually believe this, about the fuzzy dating: ~2348 BC is cited as the Jurassic, Upper Cretaceous, and Lower Cretaceous eras all in one. As PZ says, “Why does the geology even matter to them if they’re just going to ignore it all and compress everything into one year, a year given with such remarkable specificity?”

But it wasn’t all fun and games at the Creation Museum: one attendee got kicked out for making a snide remark to a friend (he’d earlier been forced to turn his T-shirt, which said, “There’s probably no God, so stop worrying and enjoy your life”).

Oh well. I have to get back to fantasizing about frolicking with Littlefoot in the Land Before the Fall. Does the Creation Museum have tree stars?

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Silence from the Pulpit: Torture and a Moral Voice

Until I was 17-years-old, I was what you could refer to as a “Christmas Catholic.” I’d had the baptismal waters flicked on my face as a baby, and from that point on my sole connection with the Church were the annual trips to Christmas mass with my dad; though by then agnostic and on my way to atheist, Christmas mass attracts many once-a-year Catholics and non-believers who enjoy the carols. Thus, I might have continued tagging along, if not for the unfortunate circumstance of missing Christmas mass that year, and attending the Sunday after as a substitute.

Christmas mass always presented a love and peace affair, so I’d never discovered that the priest in my dad’s town was one of the more political preachers, fond of mixing extremely conservative rhetoric in with his Bible passages. Between the lurid denunciation of murdering unborn babies and exhortations to support the war in Iraq (the war, not the soldiers, completely separate issues), I determined that I would not be attending any mass again. I couldn’t find any pleasure in the carols, knowing what the congregation supported.

Liberal Catholic friends assure me that political priests like this are unusual; I’m not sure whether this is true or not. I’m also not sure whether it’s a positive fact.

A Consortium News article clued me in to an April Pew survey that found a positive correlation between church attendance and support for torture. 54 percent of people who attend religious services at least weekly believed torture was often or sometimes justified, versus 42% of those who go seldom or never. Furthermore, people unaffiliated with any religious organization were the least likely to believe that torture is often justified; white Protestant evangelicals the most. Kudos to mainline Protestants (Episcopalians, Lutherans and Presbyterians), who are the most likely to state that torture is never justified.

I’m an atheist, and I’d fall in the “torture is never justified” bracket. But what interests me–and what Consortium News author Ray McGovern also considers–is that belief in God is not being measured here, but rather affiliation with and attendance for organized religion. McGovern hypothesizes: “My guess is that those who go to church on Sunday expect a modicum of moral leadership.  If the pastor is silent on torture, then torture must somehow be okay.” So, unlike my dad’s priest on abortion and the war, it’s not about what is being said from the pulpit–it’s about what isn’t. Continue reading

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Murky Water: Murder and Crusades by America’s Favorite Mercenary

Blackwater Founder Implicated in Murder.

I’ve been thinking about this story, published at thenation.com, all day, but am still lacking in words to respond.

It’s not exactly disbelief that stops my train of thought: we’ve been aware of a lot of dirty dealings at the infamous Blackwater, so why not that owner Erik Prince had whistle-blowers against his corrupt company murdered? It’s just a bit much, especially as the first thing I see in the morning before I’ve even eaten. (I’m not a morning person.)

It’s especially disturbing when combined with the allegations that Prince also considered himself a “Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe” who “encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life.” (This is from just the opening paragraph of Jeremy Scahill’s article.) The Christian supremacists he attracted even borrowed call signs from the historical crusaders themselves, the Knights of Templar.

I guess when the US President even used the term crusade offhand to describe American military force (oh, George W., when will your memory fade away?), this shouldn’t be all that surprising either.

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Hair, Girl Scouts, and War

Sunday, at a performance of Hair on Broadway, I sat in front of a troop of 13-year-old girl scouts taken by surprise by the full on-stage nudity that closes the first act. Listening to the concerned (yet giggly), troop leaders discussing what they would tell the parents back home, and asking which of the girls had written down this musical as their suggestion (no one owned up), I wondered if it was as age-inappropriate as they thought. Or, more to the point, what about it was the most serious, shocking, saddening–meant for a mature audience.

My play-going partner this weekend was my mother, who’d seen Hair for the first time in the summer of ’68, a time when it’s racy content launched even greater waves. But it’s not just the sex (or the drugs) that makes this musical so subversive. I never managed to submerge myself in the colorful, playful fun of Hair, pulled by its underlying current of the Vietnam War–a war that was still underway when my teenage mother saw this play. Continue reading

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Recent Research Finds Condoms Are Effective In Reducing the Risk of Herpes

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