Sunday, January 17, 2010

Randomness as Acts of God

La Professora is the last to belittle anyone's personal religious beliefs, but even I have a hard time defending the latest pronouncement by Marion 'Pat' Robertson. For those of you not paying attention to the news -- and shame on you -- his zealotness announced that the earthquake in Haiti is part of the curse that hangs over that country as a result of "a pact to the devil." While his spokesperson pointed out that the earthquake itself was not a sign of "God's wrath" against the country, he did continue Robertson's theme: "History, combined with the horrible state of the country, has led countless scholars and religious figures over the centuries to believe the country is cursed".

The Haitian ambassador was not amused. In an interview with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, Ambassador Raymond Joseph pointed out that, if Haiti had made a pact with the devil in order to become independent from France in the 1800s, and if the US was able to secure the Louisiana Purchase as a result of the conflict Haiti had with the French, then American benefited from that so-called 'pact with the devil' by gaining enough territory to create 13 states.

The White House made it clear that Pat Robertson does not speak for most Americans, if any. Robert Gibbs, the spokesperson for the Obama Administration, said, "It never ceases to amaze, that in times of amazing human suffering, somebody says something that could be so utterly stupid. But it, like clockwork, happens with some regularity."

And with regularity Pat Robertson does indeed stick his foot in his mouth. Seems that Robertson and his ilk have regularly exploited disasters and attacks for their own ends. What those ends are is anyone's guess, but I'd have to say it's to promote his vision for the proper American way of religious life. What follows is but a small selection of the idiocy produced by the man.

Let us start with the doozyist of them all: The attacks of September 11, 2001 was the fault of the pagans, the abortionists, the feminists, the gays and lesbians, the ACLU, and the People for the American Way. Okay, so it was Jerry Falwell who said, "I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen'", but it was on Robertson's show on Robertson's network, and Robertson "totally concur[red]". Seems that defending the freedom from any religious doctrine that might restrict the rest of their liberties, the above named groups made "God mad" and that's why 19 fundamentalist Muslim terrorists used four planes in an attempt to get America to change its foreign policy toward the Middle East.

After the Katrina tragedy, Robertson had his own theory as to the cause. There are some environmentalists who believe the disaster was the result poor land management. For Robertson, it was clearer than that: the Old Testiment says that those who shed innocent blood will find that the land will vomit them out. His take on the situation was that the abortion of 40 million -- his number -- fetuses made God send a hurricane that killed 1,800 innocent people in the Gulf Coast.

Robertson isn't just in the business in laying blame retro-actively, he also has warned of possible future disasters for failing to live up to his idea of God's standards. For Dover, Pennsylvania, he predicted a vague tragedy as a result of voting out the members of the school board who favored intelligent design over evolution. "I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected him from your city .... I recommend they call on Charles Darwin."

While there was a rumor that Pat Robertson had said Katrina was the result of God's anger over Ellen Degeneres -- a well-known lesbian -- being selected to host the Emmy Awards that year, a rumor that proved to be false, he did 'predict' in 1998 that the Gay Pride Festival flags that Orlando, Florida, had set up around town would result in a hurricane. Specifically he said, "you're right in the way of some serious hurricanes, and I don't think I'd be waving those flags in God's face if I were you." I'm only guessing, but there are probably more than one member of the gay community that is rather happy Robertson isn't them.

Yet, he is very clearly against people like Ellen Degeneres. In 1992, he wrote in a letter to raise funds to defeat an Equal Rights amendment to the Iowa Constitution, in which he said the feminist movement wasn't really about getting equal rights for all, "it is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians." Not be out done, fifteen years later, he tells the world that yoga is evil.

Fearing that America was being taken over by secularists, Robertson addressed the need to have more religiously conservative justices on the Supreme Court. "Operation Supreme Court Freedom" was a call to the faithful to pray that John Roberts would get a speedy confirmation to the US Supreme Court. On August 2nd of 2005, his prayer was rather specific: "Take control, Lord! We ask for additional vacancies on the court, and we ask for additional fine people like John Roberts."

Calling for the death of a political figure is hardly unique for Robertson. Turning his eye to the international stage, he weighed in on what the United States should do to leaders of other nations: assassination. Not having the slightest clue of either geography or ideology beyond his own, in 2005 Robertson stated that Venezuela was going to be "the launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism." Thus, he called for the assassination of Hugo Chavez. "We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability." Being able and being morally and politically justified are two vastly different things.

When it came to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke in 2006, Robertson had an answer for that too. God's retribution for "dividing God's land". The same reason, according to Robertson, explains the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. "...I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the EU, the United Nations or United States of America. God said, 'This land belongs to me, you better leave it alone.'"

On the theme of Islam, Robertson continues to show his ignorance of others. Claiming that there's no such thing as a report of Christian extremists killing, he insists that the Koran clearly dictates that Muslims engage in violence against others. "Islam, at least at its core, teaches violence ... those who believe it sincerely in their hearts are those that think Osama bin Laden is their great hero." Not only is he wrong about Islam, he's also wrong about there being no such thing as Christian terrorism. He conveniently forgets about any number of terrorist organizations that have some form of Christianity at its base, the best known of which is the Irish Republican Army.

Four years later, after the Ft Hood attacks, Robertson compounds this stupidity by calling Islam a political system on the same scale as communism and fascism, and that America should treat adherents to the "political system" the same as we would members of a fascist group.

Likewise, following any other faith, especially a 'new-age religion', leads to a "severe price" as death is the penalty for seeking enlightenment outside the bounds of what Robertson believes to be the one true faith.

While Haiti may not actually be cursed, America certainly seems to be so -- with a bedeviling man named Marion 'Pat' Robertson.

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Lost in Random

Fans of "Lost" have lost their minds because the White House set the State of the Union speech for the same night as the premiere of Season 6 of the odd series. They have started a campaign to either get the Obama administration to change the date -- again -- for the speech, or get ABC to refuse to show the speech. After all, the other networks will be showing it, so why not instead broadcast a show that has absolutely no impact on anyone's life. Such fervent fandom brings to mind the uproar caused by the "Heidi" game of 1968.

It is not clear if the above information is something that should outrage the Political Science instructor in La Professora, or if it is merely confirmation of the belief that Americans are dangerously apathetic towards politics. The US Census Bureau reports that there are 225.5 million Americans who are eligible to vote -- 11.7 million between the ages of 18 and 20 -- yet only 64.9 percent of those bother to register to do so. Worse is the fact that 58.2 percent actually did vote in 2008. That means 94.3 million people who are eligible to vote don't bother registering and voting. Of the 18- through 20-year olds, in 2008 only 41% bothered to cast their ballot; meaning nearly 2 out of 3 college-aged citizens did not vote in an election that was supposed to energize the young in this country.

Suddenly, I needed to know just how inane are American preferences. Not only does a large number of the population choose not to exercise its most basic political right and participate in the electoral process, but a quick 'Google' of "Americans would rather" showed that Americans are a sorry lot.

When it comes to TV, the average -- no indication of which measure of central tendency this is -- American watches 15 hours of TV per week. One survey found that 80% of Americans can't live without their DVR. Another study showed that 26% would prefer to spend their evenings in front of the great glowing box. Hardly surprising given that American families spend $660 per year on TV, stereo, and gaming devices. That's just television; there's a plethora of other subjects that make one question the rationality of the American people.

Continuing on the theme of electronic devices. A survey done for Best Buy found that while 60% of those surveyed would choose to give up alcohol for (only) a week rather than to give up their cell phone, 15% would endure having their teeth drilled if it meant keeping their cellphone. A more surprising study found that 46 percent of woman and 30 percent of men would give up sex for two weeks in exchange for keeping during that same time period their access to the Internet. TV fares worse than sex; 61% of women said they'd give up their TV for two weeks for just one week's worth of Internet access.

Yet iPods fare much better; a study done found that 60% of Americans would refuse to give up their magic little Apples even if they knew that it was damaging the environment. That same study showed that only 6 percent would be willing to give up their car, and 7 percent would dump their computer. Cell phones, however, are more quickly abandoned: 21 percent of Americans would forgo the fun of being on an electronic leash if they knew that the device was harming the environment.

Furthermore, the survey found, given the choice between convenience, comfort, or protecting the environment, convenience and comfort were almost tied -- 38 and 36 percent respectively -- while only 26 percent of those questioned would choose protecting the environment. Which, one supposes, is better than none at all. Sadly, a look at the cost / benefit analysis done by Americans shows that their utility bill would have to increase by $129 per month -- $1,500 per year -- before they would motivated to put in the effort to make their homes energy efficient. Which seems odd, given that 45% of those asked would rather pay bills than scrub clean their shower.

One study found that Americans throw out 40 percent of all the food produced in this country. Granted, some of that waste is at the manufacturing stage and the point of sale, but the majority of the waste is from people throwing out that left over Chinese take out they never got around to eating. What that means is, while 6.7 million people are "food insecure" -- a fancy way of saying 'hungry' -- $48.3 billion worth of food is taken to the dump each year. Wasted food wastes other resources as well; 25% of the country's fresh water consumption and 4% of oil consumption is squandered along with that food.

The people of this country spent more money on bottled water in one year than they did on iPods and movie tickets. I have already ranted on the stupidity of bottled water, so it should come as no surprise that the fact that $15 billion was spent in one year by Americans on something that is basically free continues to boggle the mind.

With all the hoopla about health care reform and H1N1 in the news the last few months, one would be forgiven for thinking that the American people are concerned with their health. Sadly, this does not seem to be the case. One quarter of all Americans do not engage in any form of exercise; this matters as some $76 billion in 2000 is was spent on health care for the inactive. Far more scarier is the 51% of people who said they would get on a plane even if they knew they were sick with the flu.

Then there's the weight of Americans. Given their choice, Americans would rather live someplace where there are more McDonald's than there are Starbucks. It is clear that Americans love their fast food. Even in state such as California, the proportion of overweight people is staggering: 42% of women and 63% of men are fat. Nationwide, 31 percent of all adults are morbidly obese. Given the choice between losing 75 pounds or losing their job, well over half of the population chose shedding the weight. Even more chose being thin and poor over being a fat Croesus. However, when given the dilemma of having the perfect body or the perfect mind, only 5 to 7 percent (women and men, respectively) would choose to shed 20 IQ points along with their unwanted weight -- yet another 11 to 17 percent said they would certainly consider it. Additionally, 60% said that they'd rather reduce the likelihood by twenty percent of having their identity stolen than lose twenty pounds.

The country is not without its hypocrisy, however. When surveyed on volunteerism, 93% said that it is important to promote volunteer activities. Yet less that half donate any of their time to charitable organizations. In fact, 51 percent said they would rather spend their time watching television or visiting their in-laws than volunteer; all the while saying that the greatest barrier to volunteering is the lack of time.

It is not just the citizens who are lazy. Politicians are truly representing the constituents. When a news organization asked members of Congress if they were planning on reading the text of the health care reform bill before voting, many of them said they were not. It is no wonder then that 45% of voters believe that a group of people randomly chosen from a phone book would do a better job at running the country than the elected officials.

Let us face the fact that Americans do fit, in the most general sense, the stereotype of fat, lazy, and uninformed. No wonder the "Lost" fanboys have their panties in a twist over having their prized season premiere -- the sixth one, nonetheless -- bumped for something like the president laying out his plan for governing the country in coming year. Politics, after all, requires too much thought. If Americans really thought about what is being done in Washington, they'd know better than to think that 24% of the national budget is allocated to NASA -- the correct answer, by the way, is that a mere 0.58% is spent on NASA projects. And far fewer than the current 58% would believe that 'aggressive interrogation techniques' are necessary for gaining information from Umar Abdulmutallab, the "underwear bomber".

Sad as all this is, 90% of Americans would rather live here than anywhere else in the world. That's the highest for any of the 24 countries studied. I have to wonder if the other 10% are the "Lost" fans who would rather live elsewhere if it meant they got their precious show on the day promised.