Right Wing Nutballs never give up on banning books

Somewhere amid the current outbreak of parental fears over Covid vaccine mandates, misguided attacks on critical race theory being taught in elementary schools and the fistfights and yelling at school boards, we’re seeing a renewed attempt to ban textbooks…It’s not that parental challenges to textbooks are new, but the intensity is prompting the Department of Justice to act.

Justice is seeking ways to address a “spike in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence” against school boards, administrators and staff; against teachers, administrators and school board members in heated conflicts over Covid safety policies and curriculum content.

That, in turn, has Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and leading Republicans attacking Justice and offering to defend parental rights to decide that curriculum match their community values, even if it means banning books.

Titles like The Catcher in the Rye, A Brave New World, Lolita and Lady Chatterley’s Lover are among the classics barred from schools or libraries over time. Now there has been a shift. The American Library Association’s Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2020 showed that the books challenged the most concern “racism, Black American history and diversity in the United States.”

Uniform national standards aren’t the hardest thing in the world to create and order. Even in a nation barely competent as the United States. Finding politicians with sufficient backbone to stand up to archaic bigotry, racism and religion, is the hard part.

Americans Have Grown Liberal on Most Cultural Values

❝ Americans continue to express an increasingly liberal outlook on what is morally acceptable, as their views on 10 of 19 moral issues that Gallup measures are the most left-leaning or permissive they have been to date. The percentages of U.S. adults who believe birth control, divorce, sex between unmarried people, gay or lesbian relations, having a baby outside of marriage, doctor-assisted suicide, pornography and polygamy are morally acceptable practices have tied record highs or set new ones this year. At the same time, record lows say the death penalty and medical testing on animals are morally acceptable.

On many of these topics, public acceptance of legality – beyond morality – is even more acceptable. Another giant step. The kicker remains the current power of the gerrymander-kings, the Republican Party, whose viewpoints variously reflect the Confederacy or, say, any Pope before the 20th Century. Tom Price, Jeff Sessions, Betsy DeVos and their fellow Trumpkins will continue to try their best to outlaw contraceptives, legal weed and public schools. Along with every progressive step into reality ever accompanied by an elevted official in the last 100 years.

World Council of Churches calls for fossil fuel divestment

The altar where the Koch Bros worship

The Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, a fellowship of over 300 churches which represent some 590 million people in 150 countries, endorsed fossil fuel divestment this week, agreeing to phase out its own holdings and encourage its members to do the same. The WCC Central Committee is made up of dozens of influential religious leaders from around the world, meaning the decision could resonate far and wide.

“The World Council of Churches reminds us that morality demands thinking as much about the future as about ourselves–and that there’s no threat to the future greater than the unchecked burning of fossil fuels,” said Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, a global climate campaign that is supporting the divestment effort. “This is a remarkable moment for the 590 million Christians in its member denominations: a huge percentage of humanity says today ‘this far and no further…’”

The endorsement is a major victory for the fossil fuel divestment movement, which has seen a surge of momentum amongst religious institutions over the last few months. In recent weeks, the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly in the United States committed to divest, the University of Dayton in Ohio became the first Catholic institution to join the campaign, and the Church of Sweden have come out in favour of divestment.


Thanks, Mike

Israel sorted out medical marijuana — Why can’t the United States?

Moshe Rute

Moshe Rute survived the Holocaust by hiding in a barn full of chickens. He nearly lost the use of his hands after a stroke two years ago. He became debilitated by recurring nightmares of his childhood following his wife’s death last year.

“But after I found this, everything has been better,” said the 80-year-old, as he gingerly packed a pipe with marijuana…

Now, Israel’s Health Ministry is considering the distribution of medical marijuana through pharmacies beginning next year, a step taken by only a few countries, including Holland, which has traditionally led the way in Europe in legalizing medical uses of the drug.

Marijuana is illegal in Israel but medical use has been permitted since the early 1990s for cancer patients and those with pain-related illnesses such as Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and even post-traumatic stress disorder. Patients can smoke the drug, ingest it in liquid form, or apply it to the skin as a balm.

In stark contrast, medical use is still hotly contested in the United States, with only 17 states and Washington, D.C. permitting medical marijuana for various approved conditions. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says smoked marijuana is not medicine, and “has not withstood the rigors of science.” In Europe, Spain, Germany and Austria have allowed or decriminalized some degrees of medical marijuana use.

“When push comes to shove, and people see how suffering people are benefitting, I’m sure everyone will get behind it,” said Yuli Edelstein, Israeli Minister of Public Diplomacy, as he toured Israel’s largest marijuana growing farm, Tikun Olam, on Thursday and lauded the facility as an example of Israel’s technological and medical advancements.

Rute, the nursing home resident, said the cannabis may not change his reality, but makes it easier to accept…

“I’m now 80 and I’m still a Holocaust child, but I’m finally able to better cope.”

One thing that’s obvious is that even with a state religion Israel isn’t wasting time making medical decisions on the ground of that specious commodity – morality. Here in the United States, we’re not only limited by the bought-and-paid-for version of morality, we get the additional scourge of looneybirds who think their bible is a guidebook to politics and social justice.

Certainly Israel has the latter component – and the former – but, there’s also a pragmatic current in governance prompted by necessity. Our political hacks dedicate their greatest responsibility to those who fund their electoral machine.

Forget the money, follow the sacredness that is your totem

Jonathan Haidt is a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and a visiting professor of business ethics at N.Y.U.’s Stern School of Business…parts of this article were excerpted from his new book – which means we’ll probably see him on TV in the next week visiting with either Tom Keene or Charlie Rose.

In the film version of “All the President’s Men,” when Robert Redford, playing the journalist Bob Woodward, is struggling to unravel the Watergate conspiracy, an anonymous source advises him to “follow the money.” It’s a good rule of thumb for understanding the behavior of politicians. But following the money leads you astray if you’re trying to understand voters…

Despite what you might have learned in Economics 101, people aren’t always selfish. In politics, they’re more often groupish. When people feel that a group they value — be it racial, religious, regional or ideological — is under attack, they rally to its defense, even at some cost to themselves. We evolved to be tribal, and politics is a competition among coalitions of tribes.

The key to understanding tribal behavior is not money, it’s sacredness. The great trick that humans developed at some point in the last few hundred thousand years is the ability to circle around a tree, rock, ancestor, flag, book or god, and then treat that thing as sacred. People who worship the same idol can trust one another, work as a team and prevail over less cohesive groups. So if you want to understand politics, and especially our divisive culture wars, you must follow the sacredness.

A good way to follow the sacredness is to listen to the stories that each tribe tells about itself and the larger nation. The Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith once summarized the moral narrative told by the American left like this: “Once upon a time, the vast majority” of people suffered in societies that were “unjust, unhealthy, repressive and oppressive.” These societies were “reprehensible because of their deep-rooted inequality, exploitation and irrational traditionalism — all of which made life very unfair, unpleasant and short. But the noble human aspiration for autonomy, equality and prosperity struggled mightily against the forces of misery and oppression and eventually succeeded in establishing modern, liberal, democratic, capitalist, welfare societies.” Despite our progress, “there is much work to be done to dismantle the powerful vestiges of inequality, exploitation and repression.” This struggle, as Smith put it, “is the one mission truly worth dedicating one’s life to achieving.”

This is a heroic liberation narrative. For the American left, African-Americans, women and other victimized groups are the sacred objects at the center of the story. As liberals circle around these groups, they bond together and gain a sense of righteous common purpose.

Continue reading

Iran cracks down on the moral peril of Barbie dolls

The ideal

Iran’s morality police are cracking down on the sale of Barbie dolls to protect the public from what they see as pernicious western culture eroding Islamic values, shopkeepers said on Monday.

As the West imposes the toughest ever sanctions on Iran and tensions rise over its nuclear program, inside the country the Barbie ban is part of what the government calls a “soft war” against decadent cultural influences…

Iran’s religious rulers first declared Barbie, made by U.S. company Mattel Inc, un-Islamic in 1996, citing its “destructive cultural and social consequences.” Despite the ban, the doll has until recently been openly on sale in Tehran shops.

The new order, issued around three weeks ago, forced shopkeepers to hide the leggy, busty blonde behind other toys as a way of meeting popular demand for the dolls while avoiding being closed down by the police…

Pointing to a doll covered in black long veil, a 40-year-old Tehran toy shop manager said: “We still sell Barbies but secretly and put these in the window to make the police think we are just selling these kinds of dolls.”

Iran has fought a running battle to purge pervasive western culture from the country since its Islamic revolution overthrew a western-backed king in 1979, enforcing Islamic dress codes, banning Western music and foreign satellite television.

Just to give you an inkling of what lies ahead for any nation that decides that theocracy is needed to “improve” society. There truly ain’t anything as foolish as some silly git who thinks puritan life was so wonderful in the good old days.

“War on drugs” is a failure in many ways

In a step few politicians would take, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle…declared the nation’s decades-old war on drugs a failure…

“Rather than invest in detaining people in the Cook County Jail at almost $150 a day . . . we need to invest in treatment, education and job-skills training. That’s the only way . . . we are going to reduce crime and stabilize our communities,” she said…

“We all know that the war on drugs has failed to end drug use. Instead, it’s resulted in the incarceration of millions of people around the country, and 100,000 here in Cook County on an annual basis,” she said. “Drugs and the failed war on the drugs have devastated lives, families and communities. For too long we’ve treated drug use as a criminal justice issue, rather than a public issue, which is what it is.”

Academics, religious leaders and social-service providers spoke out, but Preckwinkle was the sole politician to address the crowd, which cheered her on.

Kathleen Kane-Willis, director of Roosevelt University’s Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy, kicked off the rally by citing recent statistics indicating Illinois leads the nation when it comes to putting far greater percentages of African Americans behind bars for drug crimes than whites.

The sad thing about the war on the drugs is that most people know it has failed,” added Rev. Alexander Sharp of Protestants for the Common Good. “They just don’t have the courage to say so…”

Preckwinkle’s call for more treatment and less punishment was in keeping with her statements on the campaign trail, when she often talked about diverting drug users into treatment programs. She said she now is working with the courts, prosecutors, defense attorneys and the sheriff’s office to find ways to do that.

“If 70 percent of the people in the jail are there for non-violent offenses, and 83 percent of the people who walk through the door have illicit drugs in their system, clearly the issue we’ve got is around addiction as much as it is around criminal justice,” she said after making her speech. “It is a public health issue.”

American politicians lead the Western World in hypocrisy. Moralizing based upon myth, laws carrying sanctions better suited to the Dark Ages, characterize the unproductive foolishness that our jurisprudence and book of laws has become.

Most drug use should be decriminalized. Take crime and drug cartels out of the equation altogether – and treat simple addictions for what they are. A product of many causes from genetic sensitivity to social and economic despair.

Feeding stray cats and building sandcastles now banned in Italy

Mid-year is when lots of new laws seem to kick-in throughout the Industrial West. That includes silly as often as useful. It appears Italy is attempting to corner the market on not-very-useful:

“Castles made of sand slips into the sea – eventually”

Bans on kissing while driving a car, feeding stray cats and building sandcastles are among a rash of new laws Italians say threaten to turn the country into the ultimate nanny state.

More than 150 “public security” laws have been introduced since Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister, granted extra powers to local councils to help them crack down on crime and anti-social behaviour.

In the latest episode in the fight to maintain “public decorum”, Vigevano, a town near Milan, this week slapped fines of €160 each on a young couple who dared to sit on the steps of a local monument.

“It was really hot, so we just sat down for a moment,” said Giada Carnevale, 24. “The only other alternative in the piazza is to go to a bar but there they charge you €5 just for a drink. We were just chatting – we weren’t eating or drinking or smoking.”

But the town’s mayor justified the fine, saying the council spent precious time and money each month cleaning up after idlers on the steps.

Passionate Italians caught kissing in a moving car in the town of Eboli, south of Naples, face a €500 fine.

The coastal town of Eraclea, near Venice, prohibits the building of sandcastles on the beaches because they can “obstruct the passage” of people strolling along the strand…

On the island of Capri, wearing noisy wooden clogs is banned.

In Bergamo, you can be fined €333 for feeding the pigeons, while Venice punishes the same offence with a €500 penalty. The town of Cesena on the Adriatic Coast extends the ban to feeding feral cats.

The Italian press has slammed what they claim is a return to the bureaucratic straightjacket of the Mussolini era.

The chuckle for me has been the erratic attempt by rightwingers to characterize nanny state laws and political correctness as a leftwing phenomenon.

While both sides of the aisle have their petty adherents to PC, the lead in “moral rearmament” has been a steady theme of rightwing politics for centuries. Especially with dependence on fundamentalist religion.

Breastfeeding rooms hidden in health care law

With her 5-week-old daughter crying in a bathroom at Nordstrom, and not knowing how to get the baby to latch on to her breast, Garima Nahar found herself surrounded by other women. Some offered tips, but one woman told the new mother to cover up or turn the other way.

“I had to kind of hide my tears and just be brave in front of her, because, you know what, ‘I have a crying baby and I don’t want to deal with you right now,’ ” said Nahar, a software manager in Chicago, Illinois.

Women across America have felt uncomfortable in public situations when breastfeeding their children. Sarah Hood of Fayetteville, Arkansas, who works in advertising, got stares when breastfeeding her son in the open.

Working mothers like Nahar and Hood have had to carefully tailor their schedules so that they can pump milk in the middle of the day, and avoid stares when they put bottles in the communal refrigerators. Some have to use a bathroom stall to pump milk, as there is no other space available.

Nursing mothers will now get additional support, thanks to page 1239 of the health care bill that President Obama recently signed into law. It requires employers to provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.” Only companies with less than 50 employees can claim it’s an undue hardship…

A recent study in the journal Pediatrics showed breastfeeding a child for the first six months of life would save nearly 1,000 lives and billions of dollars each year. That’s because breastfeeding reduces the risk of certain illnesses such as pneumonia, according to the study. Much of the cost comes from excess premature deaths, the study authors said.

Part of the question takes us back to what bloody century does our nation belong to? Not the part that studies and learns, not the part that marches towards health and happiness? It seems to be the loudmouthed crowd that Congress seems to listen to at least as much as the lobbyists paying their country club bar bill.

RTFA. It’s long and useful. It’s amazing that this is a tougher question to deal with in the 21st Century than the centuries which felt women shouldn’t have the right to vote or equal opportunity at a job.

When science goes up against ideology, ideology usually wins!

I’ve worked for more than a decade in the field of HIV prevention. That means working with sex and drugs — two areas where there is no shortage of good science, and an abundance of ideology.

The science tells us, for example, that making clean needles universally available to drug injectors can more or less wipe out HIV transmission in this group. The ideology tells us that providing such services for injectors is tantamount to condoning an illegal behavior that wrecks lives and families and increases crime. If you were running for election, faced with the choice of paying for clean needles and health services for injectors or with putting more cops on the streets and cells in the jails, which do you think would play best with the voters..?

The fact is that many of the most effective public health policies have been put in place by governments that Americans think of as ideological, even undemocratic.

Iran has one of the world’s better prevention programs inside its jails, and sterile needles are available to injectors from dispensing machines around Tehran. The Kyrgyz Republic gives clean needles to prisoners. China makes needles available to injectors through pharmacies at subsidized prices…

At the local level, though, things often look different. Many cities, realizing that they would have to pick up the pieces of the nation’s failed war on drugs, have scraped out their pockets and provided services to injectors. The result has been a huge decline in new HIV infections among drug users and their sex partners; the burden on the health system has of course fallen, too…

This disconnect between national and local policies is instructive about the way democracy works. At a national level, politicians seem to respond to what they think the electorate wants to hear. Ideology and rhetoric rule. At the local level, however, they are more likely to respond to what the electorate really needs — workable solutions to real problems. The only workable solutions are the ones that are based on good, solid, scientific evidence.

In my little corner of public health, the Obama administration is following through on its promise to put the science back into policy. Since the ban on federal funding for safe injecting programs was dropped in December, the sky has not fallen, and if the government falls, it certainly won’t be because of this small piece of pragmatism.

Yes – when science goes up against ideology, Ideology usually wins!

At least, when you’re in a nation where religion trumps reason, superstition cranks up more votes than knowledge, sophistry overrules scientific research.