Obama’s German Flyers: Yglesias Jumps the Gun on RNC’s Ruffini

July 23, 2008

In an illustration of the dangers of habitually indignant speed blogging, Atlantic Monthly blogger Matthew Yglesias totally misreads a post by Republican strategist Patrick Ruffini, complaining about Obama’s big upcoming rally in Germany:

Patrick Ruffini slams the Obama campaign for using a foreign language in its promotional material for an event in Germany. Apparently it’s now unpatriotic to so much as concede that they speak foreign languages in foreign countries. Or maybe American politicians should only be allowed to speak in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and the UK.

Get it? Ultra-partisan Ruffini is so knee-jerkily nuts that he actually thinks that using a foreign language in a foreign country is unamerican!

Unfortunately, Yglesias’ take is, literally, too funny to be true.

Ruffini’s actual objection is the use of classic campaign tactics and money to build a crowd for the speech in a foreign land. The fact that the flyers are in German is not a problem for him because he thinks that Americans should never stoop to the use of anything but the King’s English. It’s a problem for him because it demonstrates how Obama’s campaign is willing to spend money lobbying foreigners to rally for American-media consumption:

So, this isn’t just some sober, high-minded foreign policy speech, part of a foreign trip occurring under the auspices of his official Senate office. It is a campaign rally occurring on foreign soil. They are using the same tactics to turn out Germans to an event as they would to any rally right here in America.

The sea of Germans drummed up by the Obama campaign will be used as props to tell us Americans how to vote, and the campaign isn’t trying to pretend otherwise. That’s breathtakingly arrogant, and par for the course for Barack Obama.

Now, I don’t think it’s breathtakingly arrogant at all: this is simply Ruffini being a good campaign man and dutifully reinforcing the standard Republican talking point about Obama having a big head.

I disagree with Ruffini’s argument, of course: demonstrating Obama’s appeal to the world is undeniably a legitimate selling point for his candidacy. It’s all a demonstration of his ability to get things done abroad to better serve American interests back home. He has as much reason to play that up as McCain does to talk about the surge (or to campaign abroad himself).

Still, Yglesias’ criticism of Ruffini is the only thing that’s “breathtakingly” anything here: breathtakingly sloppy. A little skepticism about something seemingly too partisan-ly perfect would have served him a little better.

More on PZ Myers & the Kidnapped Communion Wafers

July 18, 2008

We’ve been debating the fallout from Florida student Webster Cook taking (and then returning) a communion wafer, atheist blogger PZ Myers’ aggressive reaction to the blacklash, and Andrew Sullivan’s lame defense of double standards when it comes to defending the infamous Muslim cartoons, but condemning Myers’ proposed symbolic wafercide. In the process, I had an exchange with Murder of Ravens on the subject that I think helped clarify my position on the whole mess, and was worth expanding on a bit. MoR wrote:

In the case of the Danish cartoonists, they were mocking specific actions of fundamentalist Muslims, namely, their proclivity towards blowing things up and killing innocent people in the name of Allah. Sure, the cartoonists’ approach was injudicious and heavy handed, but then, surely no more heavy handed than the actions of their subjects. And besides, political cartoons have never been known for their subtlety.

In this case, the cartoons were not intended to depict at ALL Muslims, simply an odious minority who engaged in violent and, one might daresay, sociopathic behavior. I think most people will agree that this sort of behavior is rightly condemned by all right thinking people.

On the other hand, taking communion is a benign expression of faith that is partaken of by almost all Catholics. Even if you don’t believe it has any benefits, I think you’ll agree that it harms no one. Unlike the Danish cartoonists, Myers is deliberately antagonizing an entire faith for participating in a harmless act of faith.

Read the rest of this entry »

Double standard: Andrew Sullivan on Catholic Wafer Controversy

July 14, 2008

Blogger and liberal Catholic Andrew Sullivan was a hearty defender of the infamous Danish cartoons that depicted and poked fun at the Islamic prophet Mohammed. But now, the sacred cow is, er… on the other foot, or something. Sullivan Sullivan tells a very different story when it comes to the recent hubbub about PZ Myers merrily threatening to desecrate Catholic communion wafers:

It is one thing to engage in free, if disrespectful, debate. It is another to repeatedly assault and ridicule and abuse something that is deeply sacred to a great many people. Calling the Holy Eucharist a “goddamned cracker” isn’t about free speech; it’s really about some baseline civility. Myers’ rant is the rant of an anti-Catholic bigot. And atheists and agnostics can be bigots too.

“Atheists and agnostics” is just another word for “some people,” and yes, people can be bigots, especially towards groups of which they are not a part. Whether or not you think Myer’s jab is bigoted or not depends quite a bit on whether you think attacking and parodying beliefs can be a form of bigotry or not. I’m open to the argument that it can be in some cases.

But I’m not so open to the argument that it’s bigotry when done against Catholics, but not when basically the same thing is done against Muslims.

Sullivan, however, thinks he can dig his way out of this double-standard:

Thanks for the defenses. My objection to PZ Myers – even as I defended his right to say whatever he wants and wouldn’t want him punished in any way – is not, in my view, a double standard. Printing a cartoon for legitimate purposes is a different thing than deliberately backing the physical desecration of sacred objects. I’d happily publish a Mohammed cartoon if it advanced a genuine argument, but I would never knowingly desecrate a Koran purely to mock religion.

But Sullivan’s distinction here is nonsense. In Islam, creating images of their prophet is inherently very much a form of physical denigration, no different than physically denigrating a consecrated wafer (in this case, oddly, by NOT destroying it!), or improperly treating a written name of God is for some observant Jews. All of these are, of course symbolic acts done to unfeeling objects, and it is a matter of religious belief as to whether it causes any real harm to anything other than people’s feelings or not.

Sullivan’s definition of “legitimate purposes” is also a form of special pleading. Myers and the Danish cartoonists were both seeking to mock religion for precisely the same reasons: to puncture presumptions of special authority in matters metaphysical. Either you think that’s a legitimate purpose or not: but you can’t have it both ways depending on how much you like the target.

I certainly think it fair to object to these sorts of showy, trolling criticisms as unproductive, or rude, or aggressive. But as even Sullivan’s readers have pointed out, the same can be said about people, himself included, attacking or making fun of Scientology. If it were really “about baseline civility” as Sullivan claims, he’d treat this incident as a case of reconsidering his own bigotry when it comes to anything but Catholic doctrine, rather than trying to pin it exclusively on Myers.

Update: Commenter Terry points out that Sullivan’s concern for the desecration of the host is potentially problematic for him. For any number of reasons, if Sullivan himself has taken communion in what his church could consider a state of sin (i.e. unrepentantly defending and/or engaging in gay sex), then he himself would have desecrated the Host.

Dueling Hypocrisy Update: Andrew Sullivan still hasn’t addressed his own lame defense of his cartoon blasphemy apologia, but he has thought to check in on PZ Myers’ take, and implies that Myers wasn’t as enthusiastic about bashing Muslim beliefs as he was about Catholics. But Sullivan is pretty clearly quote-mining here. Myers says immediately after the supposedly damning quote:

So on the one hand I see a social problem being mocked, but on the other—and here comes the smug godless finger-wagging—I see a foolish superstition used as a prod to mock people, and a people so muddled by the phony blandishments of religion that they scream “Blasphemy!” and falsely pin the problem on a ridiculous insult to a non-existent god, rather than on the affront to their dignity as human beings and citizens. Religion in this case has accomplished two things, neither one productive: it’s distracted people away from the real problems, which have nothing at all to do with the camera-shy nature of their imaginary deity, and it’s also amplified the hatred.

In short, there doesn’t seem to be any less willingness to attack sacred beliefs here. Myers’ reservations were, if you read his post, mainly about his feeling that the cartoons traded in racial stereotypes of what he saw as a powerless minority.

Trolling for dollars (more on Expelled!)

August 23, 2007

As predicted, the Expelled! movie blog looks to be a rich man’s Uncommon Descent: incoherently discursive responses to criticism coupled with an embarrassing amount of self-congratulation. That said, the suspicions of folks like Orac and Elsberry that the comment section will model UD’s insofar as the aburdly heavy moderation and random vanishings of embarrassing material are probably missing the sheer grandiosity of this particular production. Don’t forget, these guys are champions of free speech, man!

Instead, I predict that comments will be by and large unmoderated, but on issues of substance pretty much ignored. Their true purpose will be to serve as a source for “nutpicking” so as to spice up their complaints of persecution and periodically provide a tsk tsk to “science” for being so close-minded and emotional. This is an on message promotional vehicle after all.

The latest missive from the film’s blog (now apparently deleted!) fits this pattern, albeit somewhat cryptically. But it does manage to lay out at least one goal pretty plainly:

“It’s good to be hated by the right people.”
— Attributed to Johnny Cash

To which someone or something named “Deacon Blue” (a Steely Dan song? a Scottish pop band?) gives a hearty “Indeed

So, let’s see: setting out to be hated? Isn’t that sort of behavior ordinarily called, well, trolling?

And then there’s this gem of aforementioned back-patting:

And if we re-read Ben Stein’s words here again and again (as I have)…we may still not quite comprehend the full implications of his thoughts. But keep trying, if you misunderstood them…it’s worth it. (emphasis, amazingly, in the original)

Oh boy…

Update: Oh crap. Score one for Orac and Elsberry. It seems that the somewhat loopy post I referenced has fallen down the memory hole, along with all its comments. Additionally, the movie’s associated production company Rampant Films is looking decidedly curious. After someone tried to stop by their offices, only to find residential apartments, their address vanished from the contact section of their website.

Update2: Walt Ruloff, the movie’s executive producer, has done an interview with Intelligent Design the Future. Another producer, Mark Mathis, is curiously mum about the issue of misrepresenting himself and his production during interviews.