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News or sensationalism?

Posted by 1minionsopinion on April 14, 2010

I’m not a journalist, nor did I ever have much interest in it save for lack of other ideas during career days in junior high. Still, I did go to university (Sociology degree, btw) and can be something of a critical thinker when I feel like it, so sometimes I like to pick on news sources and look at how they deliver information to the public.

I’m comparing a couple articles about a court case in Brisbane, Australia. I’ll start with The Brisbane Times whose headline was noticeable enough: ‘Satanic’ charges dismissed.

The article concerns itself entirely with the result of court proceedings where four people were accused of desecrating 82 graves at an historic cemetery.

The court heard one of the group bragged about inverting crucifixes at the cemetery because it “had meaning to Satanists”.

But following evidence from several witnesses at a committal hearing yesterday, lawyers for the four accused today argued their clients had no case to answer.

Lawyers Jann Taylor, for Ms Wilson and Mr Bell, and Debra Wardle, for Mr Smallbon, told the court the element of unlawfulness could not be proved by the Crown.

Laughably, their defense appears to center around the fact that police never contacted the owners of those plots to find out if the group had permission to tear the place up. (Another Brisbane article I found also points to police and investigators who couldn’t say precisely when the damage might have occurred. Some of all of it could have happened up to two weeks before this group was there.)

Ms Nisbett said Ms Wilson had been “quite animated” as she recounted what she had done.

“I said I hoped she hadn’t gone near my family’s graves. My grandmother and my uncle and aunt are buried at the Toowong Cemetery,” she said.

Ms. Nisbett’s testimony is what drives the second article, where she explains what else Wilson, her work colleague, said happened. I definitely like the wording of One India’s headline:

‘Vandal pinned down by Jesus Tombstone Down Under.’

The federal public servant said Ms Wilson had told her of a bizarre incident involving a tombstone.

“(Wilson said) ‘Jesus smashed Shane’. (She said) the tombstone moved a significant distance, hit Shane and pinned him on the legs,” Nisbett said.

Bell screamed and passed out from the pain, and the three others had to move the tombstone off his legs, the court heard.

Now, if you just read Brisbane’s version, you can gripe about how dumb the court system is since it has let this group get away with destruction of property. The Brisbane article only glosses over this tombstone story, because it’s more intent on providing a decent rundown of what all led up to the case against these people. Reading One India’s coverage, we’re led to think that God may have exacted some very specific revenge on one of the vandals. Is that true? Pretty damned unlikely. I’d believe Wilson’s ghost did it first.

The only value of the Jesus tombstone story is to explain how Bell’s leg got injured, which is what helped police pick him as a suspect. Well, that and the gravestone chunk he took home with him. He wound up pleading guilty to possessing “tainted property” because of it.

To sum up, I think the need to generate clicks on a story means writers or editors or whoever’s in charge of that stuff have to take the sensational angle more often than not. But you don’t get well rounded stories that way. And maybe they don’t care; they just want the clicks. Why worry about what a gullible audience will take from it? Caveat emtor and all that. Are journalists like this at all liable for leading their readers to goofy conclusions? Judging by what else I’ve read in the past, I guess not.

(cross-posted)

Posted in Opinion | Leave a Comment »

Cash crunch for Crystal Cathedral

Posted by 1minionsopinion on April 8, 2010

This just in: businesses expect to be paid. Promptly. (crossposted)

Robert Schuller’s church is being sued.

Three businesses, including an equipment financing company and two television stations, have filed lawsuits against the Crystal Cathedral stating that the megachurch owes them more than $2 million for services rendered.

The lawsuits were filed in February and March in Orange County Superior Court and are a continuation of the Garden Grove megachurch’s financial problems. Last week, several vendors who provided services for the cathedral’s “Glory of Christmas” pageant said the cathedral has yet to pay them.

Among the vendors are Kristina Oliver, who supplied camels, horses and sheep for the pageant; wardrobe manager Juliet Noriega; drycleaner Bruce Johnson, who cleaned the actors’ costumes; and Carin Galletta, whose public relations firm provided publicity for the pageant.

Yes, I’m sure camels don’t come cheap and I doubt buck-a-yard cotton/poly blend was considered for costume supplies. They’re also in the hole for a lot of electrical equipment and the loans they took out to cover those purchases. According to the article, they stopped payment a year ago and the attorney for PNCEF LLC, an Indiana-based equipment finance company, states that litigation is considered “a last resort” but the companies involved ultimately decided it was necessary.

Sheila Schuller Coleman, executive director of Crystal Cathedral Ministries, issued a statement last week that the church needs “an influx of new gifts to be able to honor” their current accounts payables with vendors. She also said that the cathedral would organize a meeting to talk face-to-face with vendors about getting them paid.

So, they’re begging for money and support from their fans. I’m thinking that if they’re this bad at managing money, they shouldn’t be allowed to ask for any more. Cut off some allowances. Ground some people. Make them return all the stuff they couldn’t actually afford to buy on their own.

The megachurch has put various properties up for sale, laid off employees and suspended its Easter pageant this year. The cathedral has scaled down its “Hour of Power” broadcasts viewed by millions worldwide.

Charles said there is still “a lot of interest” in the retreat center from prospective buyers. He said the Chapman Avenue office building, which houses the “Hour of Power” offices, is also up for sale, but so far, there have been no takers.

Cathedral administrators say they hope to bridge a $55 million budget deficit with the sale of the Rancho Capistrano and Chapman Avenue properties.

Well, good luck with that.

The OC Register also reports on a woman named Judy Hatch who has come up with an idea. She’s planning on starting a fundraiser to pay off the vendors and will ask for a dollar from anyone interested in actually helping those families make ends meet. She’ll bank what she gets in donations and put the money towards those unpaid bills.

At least that way people know where their money’s going. I mean really. Camels?

Posted in Business | 5 Comments »

God-belief runs rampant in USA. Well, duh…

Posted by 1minionsopinion on March 15, 2010

In a study that seems almost redundant, Canadian researchers took the results from two U.S. surveys regarding people and their faith in god and came to the (quite obvious) conclusion that many Americans are deluded habitually giving god credit for everything from a winning touchdown to getting voted into power to getting a speeding ticket.

“In American culture — much less so in Canada — there’s a really constant flow of God-talk that references these small, personal interactions. It’s almost like a self-absorbed view of divine will,” says study author Scott Schieman, a professor of sociology at the University of Toronto.

“The extent that it’s so visible, almost saturating the culture at times, makes me think it’s not just metaphor or symbolism; many, many people believe these processes are real.”

Eight in 10 Americans say they depend on God for decision-making guidance.

Seven in 10 believe that when good or bad things happen, the occurrences are part of God’s plan.

And six in 10 believe God has set the course of their lives.

Crazy. The article also reports on the fact that a third of those surveyed believed there was essentially no free will, that god is the guiding hand in every event, for good or ill.

“If you feel like, ‘No matter what I do, it’s all going to work out a particular way,’ what does that do for your motivation?” says Schieman, who suggests the 32 per cent of people who behave this way do so because it relieves anxiety in desperate circumstances, shifting the pressure skyward.

For others, they treat the invisible dude like he’s a BFF and get great feelings of love and confidence out of their delusion.

The concept permeates shows such as So You Think You Can Dance, American Idol and Big Brother, all of which frequently feature participants who credit their victories to a higher power. They also assume their failures are part of His plan, rely on prayer to further their competitive success or talk as though the right hand of God is cramped from texting votes on their behalf.

“People will weave a divine narrative into just about anything,” says Schieman …

Personally, I think the bigger question should be why. Why do so many people still cling to religion to get through life? Even if they claim they aren’t following a religion, that it’s all spiritual and godding around town with best buddy Jesus as a co-pilot is just something to brag about. Why do it? Why think it? Aside from feeling like they have big important friends solving their problems for them, what else is going on in their heads to make this logical and worth believing?

How did it come about? Has it always been this bad, or is something making it worse? Why does faith become such a powerful force for so many people? And why does faith have no impact for other people?

(cross-posted)

Posted in Opinion, Religion | 4 Comments »

Is the Inquisition Relevant Today?

Posted by 1minionsopinion on March 10, 2010

That’s the title of the Freethinker meetup I’ll be missing on the 21st. Damn those relatives with milestone birthdays who live nowhere near here but expect me to drop in for cake…

Just kidding, I like home visits. But what an interesting idea. I wonder which way they want to go with that.

I don’t know much about the Spanish Inquisition and the other ones throughout Europe over a 500 year period. A bit of poking around finds an argument that Spain’s intensive legal proceedings were far less offensive than other areas of Europe, and may have actually helped keep religious wars from breaking out.

There’s also something called the Black Legend, a ploy to paint what happened in Spain in far darker colours. It appears to be Protestant propaganda to make Catholics (and the Spanish people in general) look bad.

Well sure. All Spain did was forcibly convert Jews to Christianity and then punish them with death if they thought it didn’t stick. And then they evicted the Conversos they didn’t kill or burn in effigy. But no Protestants were harmed in the making of a Jew free Spain…

A lot of Protestants were harmed in the making of a pro-Catholic UK, though. And a lot of Catholics were harmed in return. Rev. Know-it-All pulls some numbers together.

Queen Mary Tudor who ruled England from 1553-1558 is called Bloody Mary for having executed 283 Protestants as heretics. Her little sister, Queen Elizabeth, a Protestant who succeeded her, is called Good Queen Bess. She, however, executed 800 Catholics for trying to have Mass said. If Bloody Mary was bloodthirsty, her little sister, Queen Elizabeth, was more than twice as bloodthirsty.

Another example: on September 11, 1649 Oliver Cromwell, the English dictator killed 3,500 Irish Catholics in the Massacre of Drogheda, burning women and children alive in St. Mary’s church, all in an attempt to establish Presbyterianism and wipe out Irish Catholicism. He killed more in an afternoon than the Spanish Inquisition did in 200 years, and went right on with the killing.

In the end, he had killed or exiled one quarter, perhaps one third, of the entire population of Ireland and taken 75% of the land, but I never hear anyone say, “Oh, those bloodthirsty Presbyterians.” I know Presbyterians. They are very nice people. They tend to keep their yards clean.

I think we could shine a light on any religion in any country and find history that likes to hide in the dark. Every country has had its bad rulers, bad seeds, bad ideas. Every country has had inequality, hatred and war. To point in only one direction and claim all the trouble comes from there.. well, it’s bad form.

Is the Inquisition relevant today? In terms of legal proceedings, apparently so.

Thierry Levy, a practicing attorney in Paris, observes that the procedures established during the Inquisition can still be seen in the workings of some European judicial systems today. Among the similarities, he cites: “The figure of the prosecutor, who can decide whether or not to pursue an investigation; the secrecy of the process; the provisional detention of suspects for interrogation.” He also points to the active role of the judge. The process of the Inquisition, he observes, is quite different from that of the Anglo-American judicial system, in which the prosecution and defense take active adversary positions, and the judge is a neutral arbiter.

In terms of ideology? Absolutely. I think it speaks to the risks we take allowing religious groups to have the power to influence government. Ideally, governments should make laws that help (and hinder) everyone in the same fashion, not grant one group better rights and greater latitude than the rest. Whether they want to break a country down by religious lines or racial ones, it’s still the wrong way to encourage patriotism and solidarity. Everybody does not have to be the same, but everyone does have to be considered an equal under the laws we agree as a country to uphold.


Speaking of religion and patriotism, this I quote reminds me of somewhere..but where…

But where do the guardians of orthodoxy put the blue-dotted line of damnation? Where on that sliding board do they see their colleague as no longer being a Christian?

Most Christians could easily be exposed for holding some heretical views even when judged only by the doctrine of their own sect. But they don’t care, for most Christian do not hold together the Jesus-in-their-head with theological propositions. So those Christians who worry about heresy are sort of unique.

Both from Triangulations, making a good point. The way Christians seem to view their place in their religion vs how their theology and books actually describe it. That blogger refers to the crazy “Jesus is my bestest pal!” kind of belief system that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the faith though which it developed.

Thoughts?

Posted in Opinion, Religion | 7 Comments »

Judge sides with pro-god teacher – giant banners allowed in math class

Posted by 1minionsopinion on March 2, 2010

The story started in 2007 when a San Diego high school math teacher was informed that his god promoting banners had to be taken down. It being America, Bradley Johnson took the Poway Unified School District to court over this. It being America, the federal judge finally sided with Johnson and gave him the right to push his religion in a public school.

The banners are about 7 feet wide and 2 feet tall. One has the phrases “In God We Trust,” “One Nation Under God,” “God Bless America” and “God Sheds His Grace On thee.”

A second reads “All Men Are Created Equal, They Are Endowed By Their Creator,” with the last word in uppercase letters.

The district said it had to come down on Johnson because the banners advocated a Judeo-Christian point of view that was not in sync with the nonreligious mission of public schools.

Benitez said the district allows other teachers to post things on a variety or religious and nonreligious topics without penalty.

He said the action against Johnson amounted to discriminating against a particular point of view, which courts have long said is not permitted.

According to a 2008 article from the L.A. Times, the district had tried to get the lawsuit dismissed but Judge Roger Benitez wanted his day in court as much as Johnson did.

In a blistering 23-page decision, U.S. District Judge Roger T. Benitez rejected the district’s motion as legally faulty and blasted its “brash” attempt to take down the banners. The jurist noted that the district allowed other teachers to put up posters with Buddhist and Islamic messages, posters of rock bands including Nirvana and the Clash, and Tibetan prayer rugs.

Johnson’s banners, Benitez wrote, were patriotic expressions deeply rooted in American history.

“By squelching only Johnson’s patriotic expression, the school district does a disservice to the students of Westview High School, and the federal and state constitutions do not permit such one-sided censorship,” Benitez wrote in a ruling issued last week.

But, as Jack M. Sleeth Jr., the district’s district attorney, pointed out, “It’s not as simple as the teacher loves the Lord and we tried to stop him. He was hired to teach mathematics. What do these banners have to do with mathematics?”

Fuck all. That’s the answer. Be religious if you want. Be patriotic if you want. But on the job, do the job. If it is not your job to be pushing your religion or your patriotism, then don’t do it while you’re working. Having enormous banners around to do it for you is stupid. As to the other teachers displaying religious/cultural decoration, maybe their stuff isn’t so damned hard on the eyes and maybe the teachers themselves aren’t so obviously pushing a religious agenda at the same time.

It’s a stupid ruling and I feel sorry for anyone who’s uncomfortable in that room but can’t switch math teachers.

(this has been a crosspost)

Posted in Opinion, Religion | 10 Comments »

If grumpy people are more evolved…

Posted by 1minionsopinion on February 4, 2010

I don’t know what to make of this new evolutionary theory. There was a study recently done of chimps and bonobos (our closest relatives) to see which species could learn quicker.

The two types of ape are very close to each other, genetically, but the clear differences are believed to be down to simple evolution, said lead researcher Victoria Wobber.

Her team put both chimps and bonobos through a variety of skill tests with rewards for those who completed various tasks the quickest.

They included a sharing exercise and a begging exercise in which they had to work out which of their keepers was most generous. In all cases the chimps learnt the tasks fastest and to their better advantage.

She believes that the ability to “restrain” their sociability was one of the reasons they were more intelligent and more civilised.

She said: “Bonobos took longer to develop the same skill level shown even among the youngest of the chimpanzees that were tested.

To paraphrase, chimps get ornery as they get older with more aggression and less desire to share their stuff. And their research suggests this could be a good thing.

Pity the poor bonobo who’s too laid back and easy going? Not quite yet. Instead of getting that aggressive, they just have lots of sex. And this is worth quoting:

Just imagine that we had never heard of chimpanzees or baboons and had known bonobos first. We would at present most likely believe that early hominids lived in female- centered societies, in which sex served important social functions and in which warfare was rare or absent. In the end, perhaps the most successful reconstruction of our past will be based not on chimpanzees or even on bonobos but on a three-way comparison of chimpanzees, bonobos and humans.

Maybe it looks like the chimps have an edge, but there are benefits to both types of lifestyle exhibited by our kin. No doubt more research will go into their findings to expand on or disprove what they discovered.

(this has been a cross post)

Posted in Nature, Science | 1 Comment »

Seems sinister for a church to insist on fingerprinting children

Posted by 1minionsopinion on February 1, 2010

I saw this at HumanistLife today – a church in Poland is using a fingerprint scanner to make sure kids are attending mass.

The pupils will mark their fingerprints every time they go to church over three years and if they attend 200 masses they will be freed from the obligation of having to pass an exam prior to their confirmation, the paper said.

The pupils in the southern town of Gryfow Slaski told the daily they liked the idea and also the priest, Grzegorz Sowa, who invented it.

“This is comfortable. We don’t have to stand in a line to get the priest’s signature (confirming our presence at the mass) in our confirmation notebooks,” said one pupil, who gave her name as Karolina.

What a weird idea. And parents agreed to this because…? I wonder how secure the system is. I wonder how much information the priest will be keeping on these kids beyond the prints. This just seems like something that could be abused in some way.

Thoughts?

Posted in wtf | 3 Comments »

Cruise line still offers tours to Haiti

Posted by 1minionsopinion on January 19, 2010

Even though a major earthquake decimated the place, cruise passengers on the 4,370-berth Independence of the Seas, owned by Royal Caribbean International, should still be able to lark about on a Haiti resort beach just like the tour brochure promised…

The decision to go ahead with the visit has divided passengers. The ships carry some food aid, and the cruise line has pledged to donate all proceeds from the visit to help stricken Haitians. But many passengers will stay aboard when they dock; one said he was “sickened”.

“I just can’t see myself sunning on the beach, playing in the water, eating a barbecue, and enjoying a cocktail while [in Port-au-Prince] there are tens of thousands of dead people being piled up on the streets, with the survivors stunned and looking for food and water,” one passenger wrote on the Cruise Critic internet forum.

“It was hard enough to sit and eat a picnic lunch at Labadee before the quake, knowing how many Haitians were starving,” said another. “I can’t imagine having to choke down a burger there now.”

Some booked on ships scheduled to stop at Labadee are afraid that desperate people might breach the resort’s 12ft high fences to get food and drink, but others seemed determined to enjoy their holiday.”I’ll be there on Tuesday and I plan on enjoying my zip line excursion as well as the time on the beach,” said one.

And how are you spending your recession dollars?

Actually, the article does list the pallets of food and supplies the company dropped off, and how much money it’s raised so far for relief efforts (including the 100% donation of these tour proceeds) so it’s not like they’re just in it for the money here, but still.

Thoughts?

Posted in News | 2 Comments »

 
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