12.22.2011

A Krampus Carol: Anthony Bourdain's Stop-Motion Hellscape Banned By Travel Channel

Thanks to the fine folks at Religion Dispatches, I was made aware of a mini-masterpiece of holiday entertainment that I would have never stumbled across otherwise. (I recently told Time Warner Cable to suck eggs.)

The Travel Channel's celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain had prepared a wonderful, stop-motion animation entitled 'A Krampus Carol,' as part of his holiday special. The segment, of course, is based on Krampus, the European legend of St. Nicholas' much feared henchman who handles the naughty list on the eve of St. Nicholas Day.

The segment is skillfully done in the style of the Rankin-Bass Christmas specials of the past.

Apparently, the segment was a little too much for the Travel Channel, who nixed Krampus in fear of terrifying the children, as Krampus has done for centuries.

Religion dispatches was keen to note a special appearance in the segment:
Perhaps accidentally, perhaps not, Bourdain’s Krampus Carol ends up capturing something important about the relation of folk beliefs to institutional doctrine. When Krampus raises his clawed fist to punish these poor cherubs, we see on the wall behind them (blink and you’ll miss it at 1:42) the smiling mug of none other than Pope Benedict XVI.

Just a random jab at Christendom and its discontents? Maybe. But Benedict is there because these claymation kinder are his kin. When he was just a Bavarian boy called Joseph Ratzinger, the Pope knew Krampus well—perhaps too well.

In fact, the Pope once told a Krampus carol of his own, in a video message to the people of Tittmoning, the small town near the Austrian border where he lived from the ages of two to five. In his memoirs, Benedict calls Tittmoning his “land of dreams,” and his holiday memories do begin with warm glow of a reverie:

“Before Christmas we walked through the hallways of the kindergarten and rehearsed to sing,” the Pope recalled. “And then we beheld in the hall where the Christmas tree stood. It remains for me truly a dream, reaching to the ceiling and on top bending over a little more.”

Soon Saint Nikolaus would arrive, dressed in gold brocade vestments that made the future pope “completely sure that all the other Nikolauses were fake, but that this was the real one, the only real one.”

What happy memories for the boy who would be pope! But then Benedict’s dreamy Alpine Christmas took a darker turn. At the end of the hall, he remembered, “two sisters held the doors closed, so that Krampus, who raved frightfully outside, would not come in.”

Part of the kindergarten’s Christmas celebration, he explained, was the reading aloud of all the naughty things the children had done that year, a catalogue of the transgressions of preschoolers. As a teacher moved through the list, the doors would bang and shake, and the two nuns charged with guarding them would pretend that they could hardly keep the doors closed, so vile were the children’s sins, so great was the wrath of Krampus.

“That was much scarier than if he were there,” Benedict said, “because what you only imagine, what has not yet happened, is much more dangerous than what you can actually see.”
Behold, Krampus!






12.21.2011

The Un-Aired Lowe's 'All-American Muslim' Commercial

In case you've been living under a rock this month, you're aware that Lowe's is receiving a great deal of criticism for pulling their ads from the TLC reality show All American Muslim.

Lowe’s yanked their ad from the series after the Florida Family Association encouraged members to email the program’s advertisers.

The FFA stated:
“The show profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish. Clearly this program is attempting to manipulate Americans into ignoring the threat of jihad and to influence them to believe that being concerned about the jihad threat would somehow victimize these nice people in this show.”
Now viewers can finally view the un-aired Lowe's commercial.

OK, not really. The below satirical video was directed by Gregory Bonsignore, and stars Rizwan Manji and Parvesh Cheena, from the NBC sitcom Outsourced. (Read more about the project here.)







12.20.2011

A Godless Proposal: A Kinder, Gentler Atheist

I'm not much of a joiner. I have a hard time affiliating with organizations whose policies or ideologies I can't fully embrace.

I fully admit to doing so from time to time (I am a registered Democrat, after all). If we went through life only aligning with organizations, products, services, and politicians with which we agree 100%, we would probably be living off the grid in adobes, wearing loin cloths.

But when it comes to social and civic organizations, charities, and such, I'm skittish. I have avoided the Boy Scouts for their discrimination against homosexuals and atheists. I stopped dropping money in the Salvation Army kettles since I learned of their LGBT policies.

So, when a secular, pro-equality fellow like myself looks for kindred spirits, often he is pointed to secular and atheist organizations. They have become plentiful in the past decade, thanks in part to the internet and the rise in popularity of secular/atheist books, blogs, and websites -- all of which have helped many non-believers come out of hiding.

I am quite fond of many secular organizations and their members. I applaud many of their fantastic philanthropic projects, awareness campaigns, community-building initiatives, and the support systems they provide and foster. However, I have trouble committing to some of them due to philosophical differences.

Although I am a non-believer who came from a religious background, I am not the least bit resentful about my religious past (I grew up in a fairly liberal Methodist church). Unlike some who have left the church, I did not leave in disgust, or because of a bad experience. I left the church, and religion, simply because I could no longer admit that I accepted the doctrine beliefs. I did not believe, and therefore, I didn't belong there anymore. It would be like continuing to show up for piano lessons after having one's fingers amputated.

At times, I cringe at some of the undertakings of my fellow secularists. Take, for example, some of the holiday-themed initiatives. There are nativity brouhahas in Santa Monica and Athens, TX. There was the crucified skeleton Santa display in Leesburg, VA. There are the evergreen battles to remove 'Under God' from the Pledge of Allegiance. There are in-your-face campaigns that tend to condescend to believers by claiming Jesus is a myth, or that there probably is no God.

To be clear, I do understand these endeavors. I get the sentiment. I don't disagree one bit that nativity scenes (or statues of Jesus, or engravings of the ten commandments) on government property are completely at odds with the Constitution's Establishment Clause. I don't disagree that it is rude to only acknowledge the Christian winter holiday this time of year. I don't disagree that much of the Bible (or much of religion) is mythical in nature. And I certainly don't disagree that non-believers are essentially invisible to society and to the government.

What I'm not crazy about is the antagonistic nature of some of the campaigns. (And I do realize that many atheists would not see these as antagonistic -- it depends on one's perspective, to be sure.)

I also tend to think that there are other, more important issues to address -- issues that can be addressed without further alienating ourselves. Is the removal of 'under God' in the pledge really more important than ensuring our kids learn about evolution in schools? Is it really that important that we insert ourselves into Christmas tree and nativity scene turf wars when we could funnel that time and energy into educating people about the science behind gender and sexuality and combating the religion-based bigotry that drives many LGBT teens to suicide?

I think it is difficult to gain acceptance and respect by systematically antagonizing average citizens who happen to be religious (many of which don't share the same religious views that we may find harmful). Part of my reluctance to antagonize is because I am still very close to my religious family members (and they are supportive and understanding of my secular approach to life), and I have many religious friends who share most of my political and social ideologies -- they just happen to also believe in God. I don't like throwing these people out with the bathwater.

While I certainly do not refrain from ridiculing specific religious beliefs or ideologies which cause harm or perpetuate bigotry (just ask any of my Facebook friends), I don't think that a scorched earth approach accomplishes much, except for furthering the stereotype that atheists are angry, smug, antagonistic, condescending, untrustworthy, and lacking in morals.

Call me crazy, but I tend to think that there is a particular group of people that can be extremely helpful to non-believers in combating negative stereotypes, and reaching some of our goals: progressive Christians. Christian writers such as John Shore, Mark Sandlin, and organizations such as The Christian Left, Believe Out Loud, and the Clergy Letter Project, are more closely aligned with the values of secular folks than one might imagine. These folks are progressives. They are pro-equality, pro-science, pro-evolution, and they have the same distaste for theocratic politicians as we do. They get angry when Christians use scripture to validate bigotry, or to deny overwhelming scientific evidence. They, too, are often maligned, berated, and threatened by Christians.

We are so focused on the fact that we disagree on the big questions that we don't see that we agree on all of the other ones. All of us want evolution taught in schools, religious dogma out of politics, and equal treatment for all. All of us want progress. All of us long for a time in America when the thought of a Bachmann, Santorum, Perry, or Palin in the White House is closer to science fiction than reality.

My Christian family and friends remind me that, for many people, religion does have a lot to offer. I am also reminded that these people are important to promoting progressive causes within their churches and their religious communities. They are much better positioned to do so than you or I.

I realize that there are many atheists and non-believers who long for a day when religion is a curious phenomenon we read about in history books. While it is likely that humans will evolve to a point where religion takes a different form (and perhaps a less-prominent role), I have a hard time believing that religion will become extinct. We would be wise to accept this, and focus instead on combating the aspects of religion that can be harmful, specifically religion-based bigotry, scriptural literalism, and anti-science ideologies. We can accomplish these things without attacking religion as a whole. As the saying goes, 'use a scalpel, not an ax.'

That's not to say that there is no place for the angry, antagonistic atheist-- there absolutely is. We need the Dawkinses, the Hitchenses, the Harrises, and the Dennetts, just as we need any uncompromising figures in a variety of disciplines to open our eyes and challenge our long-held beliefs. We need people who shake us out of slumber. We need these uncompromising atheists, just as we need lightning rods to expose animal cruelty, government corruption, environmental threats, and social injustices. However, when we all follow suit (and especially when less-eloquent and less-tactful individuals follow suit), we can lose respect, we can perpetuate stereotypes, and, in the end, we are left preaching to the godless choir.

I have had a great deal of success, on a small scale, engaging the religious by discussing particular aspects of theology that trouble me. I will often leave behind any arguments about the existence or non-existence of God. Instead, I address specific religious ideologies which contribute to science denialism, bigotry, misogyny, and social injustice.

Isn't a world in which the godless and the faithful share similar objectives better than a world where the godless are continually at war with the faithful? Which of these two scenarios is more likely to lead to a more secular society? Which is more likely to lead to a progressive culture characterized by tolerance, equality, evidence-based policy, respect for people of all faiths (or no faith), and clearer boundaries between church and state?

I believe that such a reality is possible. I also believe we are more likely to reach it through building bridges than by digging chasms.

I came to my secular worldview on my own terms. Nobody twisted my arm or ridiculed me into disbelief. It was through calm, deliberate reflection and critical thought. It required a casual exploration of literature and self-education in the areas of science, philosophy, and history. For many like myself, with strong ties to the church and people of faith, condescension and antagonism would have made that transition more difficult. For some, it might completely halt such a transition.

The best way to convince a meat-eater to become a vegan is not to erect a sign in front of their house complete with images of slaughtered animals and condescending remarks labeling that individual as ignorant and ethically bankrupt. A more effective approach might be to politely suggest that it's possible to live a healthy life without eating meat or using animal products.  One is more likely to create more vegans by letting others know that it's not easy, and that it's not for everyone, but that it can be a fulfilling and healthy way to live. Providing educational resources and support, and engaging others in polite discussion, is much more effective than an aggressive onslaught of condescension, ridicule, and judgment.

When I first explained that I was no longer a believer to my mother, she said, "Well, just don't call yourself an atheist." It was a funny statement, to be sure, but very telling. First of all, it said to me that my mother still loved me. Secondly, while she wasn't so upset about the non-belief part, she was well aware of the stigma attached to that word and felt I was too good of a person to deserve such derision.

That stigma will go away eventually. (The Tea Party is now more disliked than atheists.) We can choose to blame the religious for this stigma, and further alienate ourselves, or we can choose to erase the stigma by being living examples of that stigma's inaccuracy.

Maybe we can get some work done while we're at it.





The Modern Holy Shroud

This morning, neuropsychologist Vaughan Bell tweeted a link to a most bizarre scientific paper.

"This is the weirdest forensic science paper I have ever read...and that's saying something," he wrote.

He's not lying. Not only is that 'saying something' (Bell's Twitter feed is a constant source of bizarro scientific links), but it is indeed a very weird forensic science paper.

The paper came out of the University Center of Legal Medicine, Lausanne-Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland, and is titled, The Modern holy shroud.

Here's the abstract:
Testimonies disclosed that a 44-year-old pedestrian was struck head-on by a truck while she was roaming on the motorway; at the time of collision, the truck was travelling at a speed of about 90km/h. In the second phase of the collision, the pedestrian was projected about 100m before her body was run over by the truck and then by a car. The autopsy revealed extensive mutilations, making it impossible to verify the testimonies of witnesses to the collision as regards the pedestrian's position at the moment of the first impact. However, the reports produced by the technical expert and the forensic pathologist were able to confirm the testimonies, based on an impact zone on the front panel of the cab of the truck, where part of the pedestrian's face was reproduced like a "modern holy shroud".
And here's a picture of the front panel of the cab of that truck (Bell tweeted this image directly after his initial tweet).

You're welcome.




12.19.2011

Update: LA Times Autism Story Comment Fracas Continues

A few interesting developments in the Basko-Ditz LA Times autism story comment fracas (for those unfamiliar with the episode, you may want to see this post for a primer).

In the comments section of Harpocrates Speaks, the blog which responded to the Liz-Basko affair with a post entitled How Not to Make a Fool of Yourself on the Internet: A PSA, a commenter posted the following (alleged Twitter direct message transcript):

Here's a transcript of my bizarro conversation with Ms. Basko on Twitter. Notice how she never answers my question. I'm not sure if she simply does not understand my repeated question or is just dodging it. And for the record, I do have a son with autism and he receives SSI. I work three jobs so my wife can stay at home. That's why I found her comments so offensive and insisted that she answer my question (even though she didn't).
==

SB (Sue Basko): I am being stalked/harassed by a nut named @LizDitz who actually wrote the words being tweeted. Have reported to FBI.

ME: Since you have an account at LA Times blogs, FBI or LA Times should be able to determine if or who posted alleged comments.

SB: In the meantime, Liz Ditz and her "gravy train" words roll on. I have not been interviewed by her, never even heard of her!

ME: Not defending anybody but I only know about this because of you, not LD. Had to use Google to figure out what you were talking abt

SB: LD wrote words and tweeted them as mine - I have not had any interaction with her ever. She is cyberbully.

SB: It is on Google, but because she wrote it and put it there.

ME: Are you referring to her blog post or the quotes she attributed to you from the LA Times comments section of the Autism article?

SB: I do NOT have a blog at LA Times. I have a blog about protest marches! Not on LA Times!

ME: I'm referring to the fact that you have a registered account to add comments.

ME: latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2011/10/… You're a "Top Commenter," though maybe you connected via Facebook...

ME: I'm selective about who I follow, that's why I'm asking.

ME: Liz has updated her blog and provides a screen shot of your comments to the LA Times blog article.

ME: My question still stands, did you write those words or not? (I'm referring to the comments attribute to you in the screenshot)

SB: Check sources before you repeat words of malicious stalker. Please.

ME: I haven't repeated them. I'm just asking you if you made the comments she said you did. Yes or no?

SB: I do not even know what you are talking about - I have never had any interaction whatsoever with this woman!

ME: No one said you did. I'm doing what you asked, checking sources. DID YOU WRITE THOSE COMMENTS OR NOT? YES OR NO?

SB: THIS IS MY BLOG: occupypeace.blogspot.com CHECK YOUR SOURCES.

ME: I'm not talking about YOUR blog. I'm talking about the comments you allegedly left on a LA Times piece on autism.

ME: Did you write this or not? lizditz.typepad.com/.a/6a00d83451b…

SB: PLEASE STOP TWEETING AND CHECK SOURCES, TRY TO BE RESPONSIBLE.

ME: Did you make the comments or not? Yes or no? Why can't you answer the question?

ME: I am checking sources, I'm asking you.

SB: I publish a blog by autistic man: paulmodrowski.blogspot.com I do not write LD's blog!

ME: OK, I give up. I've been asking specifically about comments you alledgely made on the LA TIMES blog. Is my question not clear?

ME: So did you write the comments (now deleted) that were allegedly (notice I use this word) on the LA Times blog? Yes or no?

ME: Look up definitions of cyber bullying, cyber stalking, as I don't think you know what they mean. Look up Streisand Effect too.

ME: You may also want to read up on how social media works. Good luck...

I cannot confirm or deny that the above Twitter conversation actually occurred, but it doesn't seem to be terribly unbelievable, based on the way Ms. Basko has reacted to the critique of her original LA Times comments. Again, she appears to avoid making any concessions regarding the original post on the LA Times piece, instead pointing elsewhere, saying, 'Hey, look over there!' when asked very direct questions about the comments.

In addition, Ms. Basko left the following comment on the def shepherd Facebook page:


The link points to a blog post entitled Liz Ditz Came Out of Hiding on Doug Copp's Blog. The post is from October of 2010, and makes plenty of painfully vague accusations against Ditz unrelated to the whole LA Times autism fracas. The post at Doug Copp's Blog is devoid of any supporting materials, links, or references -- simply a lot of angry remarks with no substance. It references ARTI, an organization which calls itself 'The World's most experienced rescue team and disaster management-mitigation organization.'

A Google search turned up some posts on Liz Ditz's blog about Doug Copp's disaster rescue and mitigation business. Her posts are well-documented, pointing to a number of credible sources which outline the sketchiness of Copp's business. Plenty of other sources had also reported on the dubious nature of Copp's enterprise, including CBS News, Snopes, the Jamaica Observer, and the Albuquerque Journal. Clearly, this is not a case of Ms. Ditz fabricating accusations out of thin air.

It appears Ms. Basko may have simply scoured the internet looking for any negative comments to support her declarations that Ditz is a 'cyberstalker' who attacks others on the internet.

Shortly after Basko left her comment on the def shepherd Facebook page, she left similar comments on the Harpocrates Speaks blog post, in which she quotes much of the post from Doug Copp's Blog:


I'm sure we haven't heard the end of Ms. Basko. It's clear that she touched a nerve with the comments on the LA Times (which, it appears, she may be suggesting she never made). It's unclear if there actually is an investigation underway. Unless she knows something we don't know, there's very little likelihood that any law enforcement agency would get very far in an investigation before dismissing the whole incident as simply a case of someone with thin skin resorting to threats rather than answering her critics in the same venue that launched this whole incident to begin with.

Although I don't know much about Ms. Basko outside of her various internet posts related to this story, her Occupy blog, and the fact that she is an entertainment lawyer in LA, I do know that Liz Ditz is greatly admired for her autism work, and is the co-founder and editor of The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism, which has just been named 'Book of the Year' by Steve Silberman, senior writer for Wired and autism/neurodiversity blogger for the Public Library of Science.

Many would be quite surprised if Ditz were guilty of anything more than speaking up.