Sunday, March 18, 2012

Blarney At The Reason Rally?

I have a ton of work to do today (writing is my work of choice, but today it is physical work away from the computer which must be done!),  but reading P.Z. Myers' post this morning made it imperative that I post a "Heck, yeah!" post.

The Reason Rally is set for next week in Washington DC.  It has been the source of great excitement for people who care about science, justice and equality in this country.  Many of us have been thrilled to know that voices will be raised in defense of scientific rigor,  including medical science.  Further, many people expect that the rally is also meant to be a signal to right-wing hardliners that their anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-humanity agenda does not enjoy total, unopposed support in this country.

Best of all,  there is the fervent hope that closeted atheists, social moderates and people everywhere who have been cowed by the apparently overwhelming power of fundamentalist religion will take heart - and hopefully take action - when they see that there is a movement out there full of people of courage who will speak out for social justice, equal rights and protection from religiously-motivated oppression.

It turns out though that, in an apparent effort to attract a larger audience to the Rally, organizers have included some speakers whose credentials as "freethinkers"  are problematic at best and totally dishonest at worst. I don't think it will completely ruin the Rally, and I hope this strategy brings the event more attention than it alienates. But still, I agree with P.Z.:  There ought to be higher standards!

As a woman, I am appalled that Bill Maher - who routinely disrespects women -  is going to be a prominent speaker at the Rally.  Simply being atheist is not, in my opinion, an adequate credential to speak at an event which is meant to promote support for accurate science as well as social justice - reasonable goals, if you will.   Maher is known for pointing out the silliness of religion - poorly, in my opinion, and not effectively - but he is also known for being a shameless promoter of alternative medicine woo and anti-vaccinations.

Then, there is that little problem he has with women. -->

Even more troubling, the Rally has welcomed a video speech from Senator Tom Harkin.  I can understand that Reason Rally organizers would be pleased to have some voices of reason from within the federal government willing to speak at this event, but perhaps Senator Harkin is not the best choice for that.  P.Z.:

"This is a man who takes pride in being affiliated with a patriarchal, hierarchical, medieval institution that oppresses women, celebrates poverty, wallows in its own wealth and privilege, and has actively disseminated pedophiles into communities all around the world…and has worked hard to protect and defend these child rapists. This is an organization that is currently fighting for the right to refuse life-saving care to women, that even opposes making contraception available to men and women, thatendorses discrimination against gay couples.This is a man who pushed through the formation of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative ‘Medicine’, a gigantic boondoggle that sucks federal research dollars out of the hands of qualified scientists studying real phenomena and into the hands of quacks and con artists peddling bogus therapies. This is a man who so poorly understands science that, when his pet quackeries all failed when examined,declared his disappointment because he said NCCAM was supposed to “validate alternative approaches”, and instead was “disproving things rather than seeking out and approving things.”

Yeah. That Tom Harkin."

Interestingly, I was about to defend Sen. Harkin as perhaps a cultural Catholic (I can understand that!) but a Democrat who, like Kennedy, surely keeps his religion out of his office - and could even be, perhaps, a social moderate.

The source which made me want to say "Hang on a sec, there..." was this story in the Iowa paper, Quad City Times. According to the QCTimes, Harkin voted against the so-called "conscience clause"!

But then, knowing that journalistic rigor in news media these days is often subpar, I decided to look for other sources to cite before I let P.Z. have it with my puny outrage.  I found this, but who knows if that source had a liberal bias? heh.  So I went straight to the horse's mouth, so to speak and found this. Well, damn.  Looks like P.Z. Myers is right (again! damn you, P.Z.!).  Although Sen. Harkin did vote to repeal DADT,  there is a whole raft of other legislation that he was on board with which is really only a problem if you are for equal rights for women, and not for privileging religion with the right to deny human beings in this country basic civil rights.

That is a problem when you are organizing a rally to promote separation of church and state, rational approaches to medicine and science and social justice.  To tell the truth, it makes me wonder if these actually are the goals of Dave Silverman, et al.  Or could it be that, contrary to what this post of mine (and P.Z.s and a few others') seem to be assuming,  the goal isn't that the rally was meant to stand up for reason?

It is hard to figure out what is going on, but it seems that we are meant to believe that the organizers of the Reason Rally think getting some fuzzy-thinkers to appear to support this rally will be good for science, reason and social justice.  My blarney-radar is pinging, though.  Could it be that, on the contrary, it is the voices of reason who have been sucked into participating in a rally which may only promote some of the organizers while giving undeserved validatation to supporters of misogyny, homophobia and woo?

I still hope the Reason Rally is a huge success.  But, like others,  I worry that the message is getting fuzzier with the addition of people like this to the roster.  I get that the organizers want to attract a wide audience -  and people sure know who Bill Maher is, after all - but damn it is frustrating that even a Rally for Reason has to be watered down with connections to people who are known proponents of stupid anti-scientific woo and misogynistic / homophobic ideology.

Update: UGH!  Niftyfailure. I have been stuck on the computer trying to understand these confusing bills for an hour. It appears that the Iowa paper may have been correct, but the wording is deucedly difficult to understand.  It appears that Harkin did vote against the Blunt amendment,  but he did it by voting "Yes" to tabling the bill. So the news story says he voted against a conscience-clause -  which threw me when I saw that he had voted YEA on March 1.  Bloody obfuscating congressional launguage.

Now I have to update my post,  but the point remains that Harkin did vote for a whole raft of other anti-choice legislation and privileging of religion.  This quote in the Iowa paper makes me not think quite so badly of him, however:

Sen. Harkin said the measure would undermine the whole health care law. Here's what he had to say this morning, courtesy of Radio Iowa:
“It would allow any employer or any health plan to deny women access to contraception, mammograms, prenatal screenings, cervical cancer screenings and much more,” Harkin says. “It would allow employers and health insurance companies to deny coverage of any health services they find morally objectionable.”
Read more:</blockquote>

I still agree that he is hardly a poster boy for Reason,  but at least he is not quite as bad as I first thought.
But the question remains: why are these people speaking at a REASON Rally at all?

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