Just Jake

Jake Highton is a journalism professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada, Reno. He teaches media law, history of journalism and advanced reporting. Highton is the author of numerous books, including "Nevada Newspaper Days." He writes a weekly column for the Daily Sparks Tribune.

Location: United States

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Casino tycoon out-scrooges Scrooge

Steve Wynn is the cheapest trillionaire in the world. He makes Scrooge seem benevolent and charitable before his reformation.
CityLife of Las Vegas rightly skewered Wynn in its recent “Get Out of Town Issue.” Editor Steve Sebelius wrote of the casino mogul: he steals tips “from dealers to redistribute them to supervisors!”
“Wynn’s company complained it couldn’t induce dealers to move up because tips were so good. Instead of raising supervisor’s salaries to compensate, Wynn insisted that dealers pool tips, which are then distributed among dealers and their bosses. The upshot? Hardworking dealers take a cut in pay and Wynn doesn’t have to pay more in salaries.”
The pay of the 500 dealers at Wynn Las Vegas has been slashed 20 percent. Unfortunately, dealers are not unionized. A union might not defeat the nefarious Wynn policy but it would fight for worker rights and provide the marvelous disinfectant of publicity.

News item: Ramsey Clark assails death penalty. Clark, former attorney general, says the United States will shame itself even more and be responsible for still more bloodshed if it allows Saddam Hussein to be executed. He’s right.
Few will mourn the death of Hussein, convicted of crimes against humanity. But capital punishment is murder by the state. It is the barbaric biblical notion of an “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” (Exodus: 21:24) The death penalty is thoroughly discredited throughout the civilized world.

The Associated Press filed a story recently that more than 9 out of 10 Americans have premarital sex. No kidding.
No survey is needed to support that happy fact. But it does show the stupidity of the sex-abstinence preachings of President Bush. Speaking of stupid, now Bush wants to send 20,000 more troops to Iraq. Stubbornness and stupidity are a frightful combination.

Another AP dispatch from Tehran, Iran, recently began: “Hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad….” Have you ever seen an AP story begin: “Hardline President Bush….”?

A statistic in a recent issue of Playboy is stunning: 39 percent of Americans reject the fact of Darwinian evolution. But at least America is not last in the world. Michigan State University researchers ranked 34 major nations by their citizens’ acceptance of evolution. The United States beat out Turkey for last place dishonor.

Fads often flourish in America. In the Roaring Twenties goldfish swallowing was popular. Then we had fads like hula hoops, pet rocks, mood rings and Rubik’s Cube. But one of the ugliest fads today is tongue piercing.
For nearly a decade attractive young women have been disfiguring themselves with metal studs embedded in their tongues. (On dit that the studs enhance fellatio.) Now this fad has been pronounced by medical science as fraught with problems: tetanus, heart infections, brain abscess, chipped teeth, receding gums--and even possible death.
Tongue piercing can cause excruciating facial pain. This nerve disorder is called trigeminal neuralgia--colloquially, the suicide disease.

Robert Messenger, deputy managing editor of The Atlantic Monthly, recently wrote that “no critic in history has ever wielded as much influence as Robert Parker. His ratings send customers scurrying to wineshops and drive prices skyward. Wines are made on five continents to suit his preferences.”
Bogus claim? No. Parker is the American Bacchus, a one-man supreme court of wine.
But wine drinking itself is filled with snobbish and phony rituals like cork-sniffing, wine-swirling and test-tasting in restaurants.
Winemakers love to describe their products in fanciful terms. A Kendall-Jackson label on a bottle of its chardonnay: “Bursting with tropical flavors--pineapple, mango and papaya.” And here’s an Aussie brand, [Yellow Tail], on its cabernet sauvignon: “Leaps from the glass with a touch of mint over aromas of blackberries.”

Harper Lee, whose 1960 novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” sold 2.5 million copies in its first year and won a Pulitzer Prize, has written: “in an abundant society where people have laptops, cellphones, iPods and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books.”

Science teachers association sells out

A memoirist quoted British 18th century Prime Minister Robert Walpole as saying: “All those men have their price.” The nation’s high school science teachers also have their price. They rank money higher than learning.
The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) has rejected an offer of 50,000 free DVDs of the Al Gore global warming documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” because it is in the pay of the ExxonMobil Corp.
Oh, the association will not admit it has sold out. Instead, it offers bogus reasons for refusing the offer. Such as: other groups and organizations might ask for equal treatment; it doesn’t want to appear political by implicitly endorsing a Democratic Gore film; and there would be little benefit to the association in accepting the DVDs.

Above all, the association admitted that it did not want to risk its “capital campaign, especially targeted supporters.” (Read ExxonMobil)
Laurie David, producer of “An Inconvenient Truth,” wrote recently that ExxonMobil “for more than a decade has done everything possible to muddle public understanding of global warming and stifle any serious effort to solve it.
“It has run ads in leading newspapers questioning the role of manmade emissions in global warming and financed the work of a small band of scientific skeptics who have tried to challenge the consensus that heat-trapping pollution is drastically altering our atmosphere.”

The science group has received $6 million from ExxonMobil in the past decade, mostly for an electronic program setting standards for teaching and learning.
NSTA teachers also load up with freebies from other corporations. They get free lesson plans on forestry provided by Weyerhaeuser. They accept lesson plans extolling the wonders of genetic engineering provided by Monsanto.
These are classic cases of foxes instructing the chickens.
Meanwhile, schools in Sweden and Norway, not beholden to filthy lucre, require all students to view the documentary.

Gary Younge, columnist for The Nation, recently wrote a political truth: “Presidential politics are not designed to support progressive candidates. Indeed, they are set up to exclude them. Monied interests are too prevalent and the media gatekeepers too conservative.”
The five most progressive American presidents in the 20th century were accidental: Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson.
TR succeeded to the presidency only because President McKinley was assassinated in 1901. Wilson was elected minority president in 1912 only because the Republicans were splintered by the Taftites and Roosevelt progressives. FDR was elected in 1932 only because his predecessor, Herbert Hoover, presided over the Great Depression. Truman became president only because FDR died in office in 1945. And LBJ became president on the assassination of Kennedy in 1963.

President Bush is the dumbest of all 43 presidents--and we are not talking here just about his bad grammar and atrocious language. His verbal gaffes are monumental, delighting late night show hosts and prompting books on his maladroit tongue and brain.
Bush told the American people that they should not misunderestimate him. Campaigning in La Crosse, Wis., he declared: “Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream.”
Bush is even worse than another linguistic mangler in the White House. On President Harding’s death in 1923, poet E.E. Cummings said Harding was “the only man, woman or child who wrote a simple declarative sentence with seven grammatical errors.”

For the following gem from H.L. Mencken, substitute Bush for Coolidge and 300 million for the figure and you get the perfect definition of democracy:
“Democracy is that system of government under which the people, having 35,717,342 native born adults to chose from…including many who are wise, pick out a Coolidge to be the head of state. It is as if a hungry man, set before a banquet prepared by master cooks…should turn his back on the feast and stay his stomach by catching and eating flies.”

QUOTE OF THE YEAR?: A Seattle woman complained to her son’s sixth grade math teacher that her had no idea how to do long division. The teacher replied: “We don’t teach long division. It stifles creativity.”

Friday, December 08, 2006

On God, religion and superstition

My own mind is my own church. --Thomas Paine

The reigning buzzwords in academia are critical thinking. But if the professoriat, maybe the most intelligent group in society, really believed in critical thinking all professors would be atheists.

That is not the case. In a 1997 survey reported in Nature magazine, 40 percent of biologists, physicists and mathematicians said they believed in God, a God they could pray to “in expectation of receiving an answer.”
The majority of scientists say that science is compatible with religion. Untrue. Science and religion are incompatible.

Pastors, priests, rabbis and imams are living a lie athough they neither know it nor think so. God does not exist despite the mythmaking of millennia. God, as a creation of man, is obviously false. So it is amazing the number of intelligent people who suspend disbelief about religion.

The intellectual struggle over God has preoccupied people over the the ages: reason vs. faith, science vs. religion, rationalism vs. superstition, evolution vs. creationism, enlightenment vs. the supernatural, truth vs. delusion, intelligence vs. the preposterous, reality vs. ignorance, wisdom vs. dogma.

Religion is intellectual dishonesty. Science is not. But reason seldom prevails when it comes to religion. This is a God-drenched nation. A recent Newsweek poll showed that 92 percent of Americans believe in God. But even a nodding acquaintance with history demolishes the very notion of God.

Six million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust. Where was God? Nowhere. But in spite of the Holocaust, too many Jews--perhaps the most intelligent people in the world--cling to God and religion.

Millions died in the orgy of religious killing that attended the partitioning of India and Pakistan. Where was God? Slavery? Where was God? Apartheid in South Africa—and the United States? Where was God? The Inquisition? Where was God?
The recent volleying against God has been withering. Two books are thoughtful, provocative and intellectually challenging, “The End of Faith” by Sam Harris, and “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins.
But even 99.44 percent pure atheist Dawkins has a failure of nerve. Dawkins, dubbed “Darwin’s Rottweiler,” admitted: “I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable.”

The great Thomas Paine in “The Age of Reason” assaulted organized religion and the Bible. But even he refused to go beyond the deism that most Enlightenment notables espoused. He had a failure of intellect. Paine believed in “a God of moral truth and not a God of mystery or obscurity.”

But atheists need no God to be moral. They don’t need a Sixth Commandment to tell them that murder is wrong. Indeed, atheists are more Christian than Christians.
Dawkins notes that the nastiest letters he gets are from religionists. Justice Harry Blackmun, after writing the abortion decision for the Supreme Court in 1973, noted: “I do not understand the vilification and personal abuse that has come to me…It is hard to believe that some clergymen and sisters can indulge in such abuse and still profess to be workers in the vineyard.”

The true followers of Christ have compassion, understanding and love. The fundamentalists are against gay marriage, homosexuality, abortion and birth control. They oppose stem cell research although it may well prove immensely beneficial to mankind.

A woman I know asked me why I could not tell a harmless lie. “You’re an atheist.” she said. “Why do you care?” The question showed a serious misunderstanding of atheists. They do not need a “higher authority” to be ethical and moral.

Atheists do not have to prove the existence of God. The theists do. But the truth is that they cannot. Their arguments are jesuitical: prime mover, first cause, celestial watchmaker, intelligent design and Pascal’s wager.

Theologians are masters of solemn hocus-pocus. Their logic is theological prestidigitation. No critical thinker can believe in miracles, virgin birth, resurrection, original sin and the Garden of Eden. No critical thinker can believe in the trinity, the divinity of Jesus, immortality and embryos ensouled by God. No critical thinker can believe in 72 virgins waiting in paradise for Muslim martyrs. No critical thinker can believe in the efficacy of prayer.

Yet you cannot attack religion as you can any other superstition. The Establishment press refuses to run articles exposing religious delusion. As author Harris writes: religion “is still sheltered from criticism in every corner of our culture.”
Paul in Hebrews 11:1 says: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Precisely. Hoped for but without evidence. Reason always defeats a leap of faith.