Creationism

The Ben Carson Show (Phenomenon)

Source photos: Ben Carson announces his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, 5 May 2015 (Paul Sancya/AP). A biblical inscription is chiseled into the wall of Ben Carson's home, with 'proverbs' spelled incorrectly (Mark Makela/The Guardian, 2014).

Tom McCarthy tries to explain the Ben Carson phenomenon for The Guardian:

He is more than an American success story, brilliant brain surgeon and bestselling author of 10 Christian-themed books. He has also coined some of the most outlandish statements ever uttered on the national stage, a purveyor of bizarre conspiracy theories and a provocateur who compares abortion to slavery and same-sex marriage to pedophilia.

This week, Carson restated his belief that the pyramids were built by the biblical Joseph to store grain, and not by Egyptians to entomb their kings. He believes that Vladimir Putin, Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Abbas attended school together in Moscow in 1968. He believes that Jews with firearms might have been able to stop the Holocaust, that he personally could stop a mass shooting, that the Earth was created in six days and that Osama bin Laden enjoyed Saudi protection after 9/11.

The Carson conundrum is not fully captured by a list of his eccentric beliefs, however. He also confounds the traditional demographics of US politics, in which national African American political figures are meant to be Democrats. Not only is Carson a Republican – he is a strong conservative on both social and economic issues, opposing abortion including in cases of rape and incest, and framing welfare programs as a scheme to breed dependence and win votes.

He has visited the riot zones of Ferguson and Baltimore but offered little compassion for black urban poor populations who feel oppressed by mostly white police forces.

Even Carson’s core appeal as a Christian evangelical is complicated by the fact that he is a lifelong adherent to a relatively small sect, the Seventh-Day Adventist church, whose celebration of the sabbath on Saturday instead of Sunday and denial of the doctrine of hell have drawn accusations of heresy from other mainstream Christian groups.

That last probably plays more strongly with the British audience; in the United States, Christian is as Christian does; Dr. Carson’s penchant for false witness and exclusionary, judgmental scorn are his own ad hoc iteration of faith, shot through with neurotic self-contradiction as it struggles to justify his self-centered pretense of humility. If one seeks strangeness about the SDA experience in general, it is a different phenomenon.

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Oklahoma Governance

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R), in May 2015. (image: KFOR)

There are days, you know, when it is really easy to pick on an idea. Take Oklahoma for instance. Last week we learned about the strangeness of Oklahoma virtue, and then a spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin (R) found himself blaming Texas for protests in Durant and Oklahoma City demonstrating support for the Confederacy as President Obama arrived.

Talk about a trifecta; this also happened:

Gov. Mary Fallin (R) and the GOP-led legislature announced they’re prepared to ignore the state Supreme Court, at least for now, while they consider new solutions.​

The Republican governor talked to reporters, saying roughly what you’d expect her to say: she’s “disappointed” with the court’s decision; she thinks they made the wrong call; etc. But as KFOR, the NBC affiliate in Oklahoma City, reported, Fallin added one related thought that wasn’t expected at all:​

Gov. Fallin said she believes the final decision on the monument’s fate should rest with the people.​

“You know, there are three branches of our government. You have the Supreme Court, the legislative branch and the people, the people and their ability to vote. So I’m hoping that we can address this issue in the legislative session and let the people of Oklahoma decide,” she said.​

The KFOR report added, “Despite what the governor said, the three branches of government include the legislative, executive and judicial branches” ....​

.... We can certainly hope that Fallin, a former multi-term member of Congress, knows what the three branches of government are. Indeed, in Oklahoma, she’s the head of one of them – the one she left out this week.​

(Benen)

This is actually one of the big differences. Look, Democrats might well be just as middling, mincing, and incompetent as they seem, but, to the one, to the one, it’s nothing comparable to this, and, to the other, ritual equivocation would only obscure important considerations.

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A Fair Point

→"I didn't 'evolve' from no monkey! I descend from two people cursed for disobeying God, and the incestuous unions of their children!" | (I never understood the 'argument from dignity'.)← ('Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal' by Zach Weiner, 21 May 2015.)Two notes:

(1) He’s got a point.

(2) Argument from Dignity? Is that what it’s called? Really?

Something about Scott Walker goes here, but something else tells me that’s not quite right.

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Weiner, Zach. “Descent”. Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. 21 May 2015.

The Value of Their Values

Lebanon ... and Hei (top), in thought (lower left), and mourning (lower right).  Details of frames from 'Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor'.

Speaking of incoherent, sputtering rage, because, well, nobody actually was, we do have this sort of sputtering, incoherent something to either amuse or distress or merely distract us:

The Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver is behind a new online petition asking supporters to reject a potential Supreme Court decision if justices vote in favor of making it unconstitutional for states to prohibit same-sex marriage.

“The Pledge in Solidarity to Defend Marriage,” which Staver co-authored with Deacon Keith Fournier of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, defines marriage as “ontologically between one man and one woman” and “not based on religion or revelation alone, but on the Natural Law, written on the human heart and discernible through the exercise of reason.”

Although specifics of how the pledge will be enacted are scarce, the authors nonetheless ask supporters “to stand together to defend marriage for what it is, a bond between one man and one woman, intended for life, and open to the gift of children.”

(Wong)

Of course the specifics are scarce; they’re supposed to be when one is scratching around for straws to build a wall.

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The Scott Walker Show (Impressive Heap)

Undated, uncredited photo of Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin)

One of the interesting things about news and commentary in the internet age is that bloggers have every reason to recycle their own material.

No, really, just think about it for a moment. Read a paragraph, and count the links:

If that is the game plan, it’s a flawed strategy. Walker couldn’t have been pleased with his recent missteps – on evolution, on the Boy Scouts, on air-traffic controllers, on ISIS, on Rudy Giuliani, on President Obama – which left him looking unprepared for national office.

Because that’s the other interesting thing about Steve Benen’s latest attempt to figure out what is going on with the Wisconsin Republican. It isn’t so much self-promotion as the fact that Walker just keeps serving it up. And it’s quite an impressive heap when you get right down to it.

Remember, Gov. Walker wants to be president.

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Benen, Steve. “Scott Walker starts steering clear of reporters”. msnbc. 30 March 2015.

A Profile in Political Courage (Bizarro Bonehead Mix)

Undated, uncredited photo of Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin)

It would be difficult enough to construct an infraction scheme for our political discourse, but at some point Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) needs some time in the penalty box. After ducking obvious questions about evolution and the ravings of a madman, the Badger-in-chief has once again stared into the eyes of a straightforward question and buckled.

Dan Balz and Robert Costa of the Washington Post explain the latest fold:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a prospective Republican presidential contender, said Saturday he does not know whether President Obama is a Christian.

“I don’t know,” Walker said in an interview at the JW Marriott hotel in Washington, where he was attending the winter meeting of the National Governors Association.

Told that Obama has frequently spoken publicly about his Christian faith, Walker maintained that he was not aware of the president’s religion.

“I’ve actually never talked about it or I haven’t read about that,” Walker said, his voice calm and firm. “I’ve never asked him that,” he added. “You’ve asked me to make statements about people that I haven’t had a conversation with about that. How [could] I say if I know either of you are a Christian?”

True, the proposition of “dog whistle” politics is always a sketchy one; we prefer to call it by its name, which is “bigoted” politics. But given an example of this basic function, it really is the proper indictment.

But here’s the thing. The governor responded that “this is a classic example of why people hate Washington and, increasingly, they dislike the press”, a point reiterated by spokeswoman Jocelyn Webster when she called the Washington Post to try to salvage the governor’s performance:

“Of course the governor thinks the president is a Christian,” she said. “He thinks these kinds of gotcha questions distract from what he’s doing as governor of Wisconsin to make the state better and make life better for people in his state.”

Mr. Walker and his staff, including Ms. Webster, need to recognize that they are asking to play at the highest valence of American politics, and cheap excuses are unproductive. To explain it as simply as possible for both their benefits: When the eventual answer is, “Of course he thinks ____”, it would behoove the candidate to say so in the first place.

And this is where the dog whistles come in. (more…)

Your Liberal Media Conspiracy (Walker’s Bone Mix)

Wow.

So, you know, many who consider themselves Republican or try to convince you that they are “independent” will occasionally complain about the evil liberal media conspiracy by which apparently the conservative-tending owners of newspapers and other media outlets are all conspiring to force their reporters to write left-wing propaganda. The specifics will vary, but the general theme holds: If the news cycle is against Republicans in any way, it’s a conspiracy.

And it is indeed one of those alleged bastions of pernicious liberalism that brings us today’s liberal media conspiracy offense.Alan Rappeport, of The New York Times. (Photo: NYT)

The conspirator’s name is Alan Rappeport, and he writes for The New York Times.

You might remember yesterday’s strange tale of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) traveling to London and gobsmacking a host while speaking to Chatham House, a royally-endorsed foreign policy wonkbox. The gist of the story, of course, is that when presented with a question about the theory of evolution, Walker chose to punt and counterintuitively claim it an issue politicians are supposed to stay out of.

There are, of course, any number of angles to this. Republicans in London are a dangerous idea. When did evolution become something politicians punt on? Do conservatives recognize that our international neighbors think we’re absolutely weird about this? What are the implications of our political system being subject to such delusional litmus tests that Republicans are absolutely quaking in their boots at the thought of acknowledging science?

Enter The New York Times, who thought Mr. Rappeport would best serve their First Draft blog, intended to bring us breaking news, by rehashing and reframing Mr. Walker’s embarrassing gaffe under the headline, “Walker Steps Back From Evolution ‘Punt'”.

As we noted yesterday, in (ahem!) “stepping back” from his comments, the Wisconsin Republican was still too frightened to say the word “evolution”; his “step back” is, essentially speaking, is to stand in one place and whine like a petulant, untrained puppy.

And the liberal media conspiracy? The New York Times, an alleged chief conspirator? Why wouldn’t it rehash and reframe a story, bringing us exactly nothing new, in order to throw Scott Walker a bone? You know, because that sounds exactly like what a liberal media conspiracy would do.

Mr. Rappeport’s “First Draft” needs some work.

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Rappeport, Alan. “Walker Steps Back From Evolution ‘Punt'”. First Draft. 11 February 2015.

Something About the Evolution of American Politics

London, 11 February 2015.  Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin) speaks at Chatham House, a foreign policy research organization.  Photo uncredited, via NBC News.

“And so, when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) arrived in London yesterday, there was a lingering fear: how exactly would he manage to screw this up? Now we know.”

Steve Benen

How?

No, seriously, I’ll bite: How does this keep happening?

First, Ned Simons of Huffington Post:

Speaking at the Chatham House foreign policy think tank London, Walker was asked: “Are you comfortable with the idea of evolution? Do you believe in it?”

“For me, I am going to punt on that one as well,” he said. “That’s a question politicians shouldn’t be involved in one way or another. I am going to leave that up to you. I’m here to talk about trade, not to pontificate about evolution.”

There are a few things here. The first is that it’s London. The second is to note the host’s disbelief; perhaps Americans don’t realize just how strange our evolution debate sounds to our friends and neighbors around the world, such that there is a reason our homegrown Creationists find international kinship among various religious groups we tend to worry about for any number of reasons derived from their theological justifications. Additionally, Walker’s decision to punt reflects a reasonable calculation within the American political context, but that point only highlights the glaring question of what role fundamentalist myth has in asserting reality under law.

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Farcical

Detail of promotional image from Ark Encounter.

Some fascinating questions should not be so … er … fascinating. To wit: Can one’s equal rights be violated by the proposition that equality is not supremacy?

Catherine Thompson of Talking Points Memo frames the latest iteration of the question:

The saga that is the construction of Ark Encounter, Kentucky’s proposed “creationist theme park,” plowed on Tuesday as the project’s coordinator vowed to sue the state for discrimination.

Ironically, it was the project’s proprietor, Answers in Genesis, refusing to agree to hiring practices that wouldn’t discriminate on the basis of religion that led Kentucky tourism officials to yank about $18 million worth of crucial tax incentives for Ark Encounter in December.

Answers in Genesis said in a statement Tuesday that the decision to reject its application for the tax incentives “violates federal and state law and amounts to unlawful viewpoint discrimination.”

“Our organization spent many months attempting to reason with state officials so that this lawsuit would not be necessary,” Answers in Genesis President Ken Ham said in the statement. “However, the state was so insistent on treating our religious entity as a second-class citizen that we were simply left with no alternative but to proceed to court. This is the latest example of increasing government hostility towards religion in America, and it’s certainly among the most blatant.”

This is a theme conservatives have echoed for years. The general idea is that by some device, the very concept of equality means that some people must be allowed superiority.

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Kansas, Failing to Cope

Great Seal of Kansas (detail)

It is a Kansas thing:

A federal judge Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit alleging that science standards for Kansas public schools promote atheism and violate the religious freedoms of students and parents.

(Associated Press)

There are a number of questions one might wonder about, but perhaps it is time we pause to consider what, exactly, these religious fanatics are doing to their children.

That is to say, we are accustomed to the fundamental argument, and it really does seem a matter of one being unable to tell the difference between unlike things. Thirty years ago groups representing parents, churches, and politicians unleashed a daily spiel about how children were not smart enough to listen to music.

Here’s one: Have you heard Trans Siberian Orchestra? Okay, you know that song they play toward the end of the set, called, “Believe”? It was first recorded in 1990 by Savatage, and describes the epiphany of an unfortunate soul stumbling into the light. But think about that for a minute, one of our best new Christmas songs comes from a band once denounced on a regular basis as being satanic.

Sometimes it seemed a matter of simple jealousy; the “Christian” version of pop music does not seem to carry very far outside its dedicated audience. Those who remember the South Park episode “Faith Plus One”, and the crack about how Christian pop sounded like lust songs about Jesus, need only look back to this time in order to understand where that joke comes from. Brief moments of exposure over the years suggest it hasn’t gotten any better, but if one had to guess without knowing who Stryper was, would “Calling On You” sound like an appeal to salvation or begging for some fumbling teenage intimacy?Stryper

It was a futile effort to keep children away from popular music, but it also made one point clear: These people do not believe their kids are smart enough to listen to pop music.

Over the years, religious advocates have humiliated themselves. Christian censorship advocate Bob Larson demonstrated himself unable to comprehend liner notes, and, furthermore, could be caught rewriting the lyrics to some of the songs he complained about in order to make musicians sound scary.

The psychopathology of the underlying parental fear is open to certain argument, but functionally speaking the argument was clear: I do not trust my child to be smart enough to resist what I find objectionable and scary about the music. It is what it is.

But here is a new proposition: I do not trust my chiled to be smart enough to resist what I find objectionable and scary about science.

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