NYT Asks: Should Atheists Pray?

Joshua Reynolds - The Infant Samuel

In last week’s Room for Debate, the question the New York Times posed was this:

With atheist church services this month in Louisiana and New York, nonbelievers are borrowing some of the rituals of believers: gathering, singing, sermons.

Would it be fruitful for atheists to pray? For believers and others, what is the point of prayer?

I suppose the Times should be applauded for asking a question that seems to take atheism seriously, even if they allowed just one self-identified atheist into this “room ” to answer the question.

The simple answer, from this atheist’s perspective, is a great big fat obvious no. Prayer is by definition something asked of someone (or something), and it seems ludicrous to ask people who don’t believe in the supernatural to close their eyes, put their hands together, bow their heads and concentrate on asking something that might theoretically hear their sublingual thoughts for anything. What is the point? Leave prayer to the believers! Continue reading

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Congressional Record by Dean Drummond, played by Newband

DRUMMOND-obit-articleLarge

I was reading today’s paper, looking at the obituary of George Jones, when I glanced across at a photo of someone who looked familiar. I realized it was Dean Drummond, an American composer, musician, teacher and acolyte of Harry Partch, whose musical instruments and scores Drummond assembled as founder of the Harry Partch Institute at Montclair State University in New Jersey. I was wondering what an arts piece was doing in the front section of the New York Times, when I realized, shocked, that I was looking at an illustration for Drummond’s obituary. Continue reading

Scrap the Constitution?

Do you consent to being governed by these people?

Do you consent to being governed by these people?

On Huffington Post’s Live channel this afternoon, Georgetown law school professor Louis Michael Seidman took up the case he made in the New York Times last weekend that the US should (as the Times piece title had it) “give up on the Constitution.” In the Times piece, Seidman wrote:

AS the nation teeters at the edge of fiscal chaos, observers are reaching the conclusion that the American system of government is broken. But almost no one blames the culprit: our insistence on obedience to the Constitution, with all its archaic, idiosyncratic and downright evil provisions….

Our obsession with the Constitution has saddled us with a dysfunctional political system, kept us from debating the merits of divisive issues and inflamed our public discourse. Instead of arguing about what is to be done, we argue about what James Madison might have wanted done 225 years ago.

As someone who has taught constitutional law for almost 40 years, I am ashamed it took me so long to see how bizarre all this is. Imagine that after careful study a government official — say, the president or one of the party leaders in Congress — reaches a considered judgment that a particular course of action is best for the country. Suddenly, someone bursts into the room with new information: a group of white propertied men who have been dead for two centuries, knew nothing of our present situation, acted illegally under existing law and thought it was fine to own slaves might have disagreed with this course of action. Is it even remotely rational that the official should change his or her mind because of this divination?

Seidman argues  that what he calls “constitutional disobedience” is not radical or new but has been applied over and over in the nation’s history. “No sooner was the Constitution in place than our leaders began ignoring it,” he wrote in the Times. He cites  several big examples, beginning with the writing of the Constitution itself, when national leaders chose expediency over fidelity to the sacred document.

On HuffPo, Seidman the non-radical was met mainly with skepticism from left and right, from defenders of civil liberties as well as from Cato Institute grandee Roger Pilon. The latter said something I actually agree with, that Seidman was getting it “exactly backwards,” suggesting a political solution when our politics is precisely what’s gone wrong. But I think Pilon’s faith in the document is misguided, as I think anyone’s faith in it is. Continue reading

#Frankenstorm and the Way We Talk About Climate Change

Andrew Revkin, in his Dot Earth blog for the New York Times, has been writing a lot over the past few days about the relation of global warming/climate change to the ferocious late-season appearance of #Frankenstorm Sandy, which flooded lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, tore up the Jersey shore, killed some 40 people in the US and left more than 7 million on the East Coast with no power for several days (not to mention the overlooked damage it wrought in the Caribbean before smashing into Delaware on Sunday). Many of his readers (including climate activist Dan Miller) accuse Revkin (who is a science journalist and not a professional scientist) of taking too cautious a tack on climate change generally and on human responsibility for the increase of North Atlantic storm activity in particular. Continue reading

#OWS: The Status Quo Strikes Back

I went with my wife and daughter to Times Square on Saturday evening, October 15, to add our numbers to the #occupationWallStreet demonstration that ended up there, climaxing a day of global protest. It was invigorating to know people were there, like us,  specifically for the shared purpose of declaring to the world that this is a movement–or a revolution, I like to think– only just beginning. And on top of that, to witness the tourists and ordinary denizens of the shops, hotels, restaurants and street corners near America’s Crossroads seeming to get that they were observing history being made around them, like the diners pressed against the windows on the second story of  T.G.I.Friday’s staring down at the throng-choked sidewalk below.  It was difficult to tell how many in the crowd were existing in the gray area between tourist just happening to be on the spot and protester in the making. (Truth be told, probably not many. But among the workers, that’s another matter.)

When we got home, my wife read aloud a report from Reuters called “Wall Street protests go global, riots in Rome,” that stunned me–actually depressed me, to be more precise. The story, by Philip Pullella from Rome with additional reporting by Ray Sanchez and Ed McAllister in New York (among others elsewhere), gave the distinct impression that, besides the Roman riots, the news service’s reporters were unimpressed with the subject. Continue reading

9/11 Flashback: No Excuses

I wrote this in response to an analysis of George W. Bush’s actions in the wake of 9/11 by R.W. Apple of the New York Times. It was published on Democratic Underground just a week and a day after the event that supposedly changed everything. As far as I was concerned it did nothing to change my perception that the man in the White House was illegitimate. I believe that the deterioration of the American ethos that we’ve seen since that day is due largely to that central fact, which the media continue to prefer to sweep under the rug.

No Excuses
September 19, 2001
by Burt Worm

R.W. Apple and the New York Times are at it again: trying to bestow legitimacy on a president whom many people in the United States and around the world sincerely – and reasonably – believe was not legitimately elected. Continue reading

Profiling in Oslo

I just came upon this amazing paragraph from a right-wing blog, referring to yesterday’s terrorist attacks in Oslo and Utøya:

I happened to be listening to the radio this morning, as the periodic news updates about the tragedy began coming in.  The first report said that the police had apprehended a “blue eyed suspect’.  A later teaser described the suspect as “an anti Islamic Fundamentalist”.  By noon they referred to him as a “Christian fundamentalist”.  Switch any of these descriptions and tell me if the narrative would fly.  What media outlet would ever dare to describe a suspect as a Middle Eastern, anti Christian, Muslim fundamentalist, even if the evidence overwhelmingly pointed in that direction?

You’ve got to be kidding, even though this is no subject to kid about. Continue reading