“It’s not because [Palin and Bachmann] have breasts, it’s because they are boobs”

I always have a problem with Bill Maher.  I almost always agree with what he says.  And I thought his movie “Religulous” was hilarious.  But I don’t like his “style” as a comedian and he sometimes is unnecessarily “anti” particular individuals.  And his comments on women sometimes (often?) sound sexist.

But, on his HBO show this past Friday, he got it right about sexism.  His “New Rule” was that Republicans have to stop making up “intricate psychological reasons” for why liberals don’t like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann.  His (correct) answer was that the reason is because they are “crazy people” and are “not that bright and are full of awful ideas.”  He summarized by saying that “”it’s not because they have breasts, it’s because they are boobs.”

It got better.  He (obviously correctly) stated that it’s not sexist to point out how terrible Palin and Bachmann are, but that it is sexist for the main stream media to plaster their papers and magazines with Palin and Bachmann while providing far less coverage of not so “pretty” people, such as Tim Pawlenty, who have at least some reasonable things to say (if you can ever say that any Republican has anything reasonable to say).  Maher showed six Newsweek covers of Palin and, then, in a great moment for atheists like me, said: “If you want to know where most of this nation’s sexism is really coming from, you don’t have to look any further than the one person who makes the cover of Newsweek more often than Sarah Palin”–and then showed Newsweek covers that have had Jesus on then.

He correctly pointed out that “in America, you’re allowed to justify almost any kind of bigotry, sexism or intolerance if you source it” to “God” or some kind of so-called “holy” book.  I couldn’t agree more.  And, as an example of that, the response by his audience when the Newsweek Jesus covers were shown shows the fear that Americans have of criticizing religion.  The audience, almost surely a vastly liberal audience, was almost silent when the Jesus covers were shown, save for a few nervous laughs.

When people like Palin and Bachmann are harmfully wrong, they deserve to be criticized–if not actually ignored.  The same should go for anyone hiding behind–and espousing– the ignorance of religion.

Here is the clip.


Iranian Women’s Soccer Team Banned from Chance to Compete in Olympics because of the Wearing of Headscarves

Politics and sports and women. Again we have the intermingling of the powerful men in a world sports organization with women athletes and politics. Last week, in an Olympic qualifying round in Amman, Jordan, FIFA (the world soccer governing body) officials refused to allow the Iranian national women’s team to compete in a match with Jordan because they were wearing headscarves that covered their necks.  Thus, Iran forfeited the game and lost out on any chance its women players would have to compete in the Olympics.

Iranian Women's Soccer Team with the "unsafe" head scarves

According to FIFA, the reason for the ban on wearing headscarves was “safety.” FIFA had implemented a new rule last year that allows women to wear “a cap that covers their head to the hairline, but which does not extend below the ears to cover the neck.” Of course, there is no logical reason why a cap that goes to the hairline is safe but a headscarf that goes to the neck is unsafe. And, so, why has FIFA implemented this rule? Well, as frequently happens with FIFA, no one seems to know the real reason. For example, FIFA supposedly has a rule that prohibits players from wearing clothing that has religious or political symbols.  However, as an exception to that rule, FIFA accommodates Muslim women and gives them the choice of wearing long pants instead of shorts.

Iran is certainly complicit in what has occurred. For example, it previously accepted the rule on headscarves when, last summer in Singapore, it had the players on one of its youth teams cover their heads but not their ears or necks.  Interestingly, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a soccer fan and has previously interjected himself into soccer disputes. He even, in 2006, lifted a ban on women watching soccer matches in Iranian stadia, but was overruled by “Supreme Leader” Ali Khamenei. Now, Ahmadinejad has vowed to “seriously confront” FIFA about the ban on headscarves.

The losers in all of this, of course, are the female athletes.  (Isn’t it always?)  They want to play soccer on the world stage and now cannot. According to Shahrzad Mozafar, the team’s former head coach, “This ruling means that women soccer in Iran is over. . . . Headscarves are simply what we wear in Iran.” She said that if FIFA no longer allows Iranian women to wear scarves, the Iranian government will no longer send them abroad for competitions.

Almost certainly, if you ask the players, they would say that it was their choice to forfeit the game because they cannot violate their religious tenets. But can anyone really believe that?  After all, the youth team competed without wearing regular head scarves. No, this is simply another case of patriarchal officials imposing religiosity on its citizens.

I have written previously that I concur with France’s decision to ban the burqa.  But wearing a head scarf is far less dehumanizing than wearing a burqa. It is tempting to think that forcing the women’s team out of international existence will cause Iran to change its patriarchal beliefs. Maybe some additional compromise can be reached. But I think the only realistic move that will allow these women to compete will be for FIFA to eliminate the rule.

The All-Women “Last Supper”

Friends of mine were showing me their photos from a recent trip to Spain.  One of the photos was taken in the Church of Santa Maria la Mayor in Ronda, Spain.  Remarkably, the photo is of a painting in the church that depicts the “Last Supper,” but with all women, including a female Christ.

I did some googling and was unable to find any details about the painting such as the artist and when it was done.  In fact, I only found a very few photos of it.  One of the photos has a comment that the painting was “smuggled” into the church, but that seems suspect since it has apparently been there for quite some time.  Another photo had the comment that “The bishop who commissioned the work was apparently losing his sight and didn’t notice.”  If anyone has any information about the painting, please let us know.  Here it is for your enjoyment.

“U.S. Catholic Bishops Major Force Behind War on Women”

In April 2010, Newsweek had an article titled “A Woman’s Place Is in the Church” with the subtitle “The cause of the Catholic clergy’s sex-abuse scandal is no mystery: insular groups of men often do bad things. So why not break up the all-male club?”  The article was strongly against the male officials of the church and had this to say:

The problem—bluntly put—is that the bishops and cardinals who manage the institutional church live behind guarded walls in a pre-Enlightenment world. Within their enclave, they remain largely untouched by the democratic revolutions in France and America. On questions of morality, they hold the group—in this case, the church—above the individual and regard modernity as a threat. We in the democratic West who criticize the hierarchy for its shocking inaction take the supremacy of the individual for granted. They in the Vatican who blast the media for bias against the pope value ecclesiastical cohesion over all. The gap is real. We don’t get them. And they don’t get us.

The assault on women’s rights from the Catholic bishops and cardinals has only gotten worse.  Two days ago, NOW issued a press release titled “U.S. Catholic Bishops Major Force Behind War on Women.”  It correctly declared that “[t]he collusion of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has led to an open declaration of war on the women of this country.”   This is the press release:

Statement of NOW President Terry O’Neill
February 23, 2011

The collusion of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has led to an open declaration of war on the women of this country. The bishops have long sought to enshrine into law those policies of the Catholic Church that subordinate women. And they don’t care how badly women get hurt in the process.

In the last election, the bishops helped to elect legislators that would do their bidding, which includes enacting dangerous and discriminatory bills denying women safe, accessible and affordable abortion care and family planning, even encouraging hospitals to let women die in the name of ‘life.’

A recent poll shows abortion ‘barely registers’ among voter priorities, and yet Speaker Boehner has declared barring federal funding for abortion care a ‘highest priority’ — responding not to the call of his constituents but to the demands of the bishops. And it turns out abortion isn’t the only target, as evidenced by their stunningly dangerous efforts that, if enacted, can and will result in the preventable deaths of women:

  • The proposed continuing resolution passed by the House to temporarily keep the government functioning would zero out Title X family planning, which has never covered abortion care. Should this gain traction in the Senate, millions of women, the vast majority of whom have incomes of less than $11,000 per year, will lose access to pap smears, testing for sexually transmitted infections, and contraception. It is a public health nightmare — but a dream-come-true for the Catholic bishops.
  • HR 358, which many are calling the ‘Let the Women Die Act’ not only brings back Rep. Joe Pitts’ (R-Pa.) rejected Stupak-Pitts proposition from health care reform, but also encourages providers to refuse training, performance and even referral of abortion care. This bill gives our government’s ‘blessing’ to any emergency room that would let a pregnant woman die rather than perform an abortion procedure that could save her life.
  • HR 3, also known as ‘Stupak on Steroids,’ would enshrine the Hyde Amendment into law and expand it to impose tax penalties on millions of families and businesses whose private insurance covers abortion care, thereby expanding the scope of Internal Revenue Service audits to the area between women’s legs. In testifying in favor of this bill in committee, a representative from the Catholic bishops proudly supported revoking abortion rights even in cases of rape. You read that right — and isn’t that rich, coming from the very men who have consistently protected sexually abusive priests?
  • And HR 217, which NOW has dubbed the ‘Public Health Nightmare Act,’ would permanently eliminate Title X family planning services, leaving millions of women and men stranded without essential services like birth control, cancer screenings and screenings for HIV/AIDS and STDs.

Pro-life? Hardly.

Not only are these assaults on women’s rights at odds with generally accepted medical practice and flatly unethical, there is little doubt that they will kill women.

The National Organization for Women is fighting back against these efforts in coalition with our allies and women’s health advocates across the country. We also renew our demand that the federal government require the all-male and violently anti-woman U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops follow the same lobbying and disclosure requirements that currently apply to everyone else.

There is one tactic I would add.  As I said in an April 2010 post about the Newsweek article:

Depressingly, catholic women are not doing much about the situation.  The article says that, in the U.S., 60 percent of the people who attend Sunday mass are women and, thus, most of the contributions to the collection plate are made by women.  That amount is $6 billion each year.  Obviously, the catholic church (all churches for that matter) wants to bring in as much money as it can.  It would seem that women would have a lot of leverage simply by stopping their Sunday contributions.  I don’t remember seeing anything about monetary boycotts of the church, but there must be groups that are talking about that kind of an approach.  If not, why not?

What else can be done to stop the Catholic bishops from continuing their assault on the rights of women?






The Army’s Wrong-Headed (and Discriminatory) “Spiritual Fitness Test”

It’s hard to believe that the U.S. Army has something known as the “Spiritual Fitness Test.”  According to an NPR report, Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, director of something called “Comprehensive Soldier Fitness,” supposedly found data that “spiritual fitness has a positive impact on quality of life, on coping and on mental health.”  Since that “finding,” the army has had a required survey for soldiers to assess their “spiritual fitness.”  One question in the survey asks a soldier to rank herself or himself on the statement: I am a spiritual person. I believe that in some way my life is closely connected to all of humanity. I often find comfort in my religion and spiritual beliefs.”  Another asks to rank herself or himself on “In difficult times, I pray or meditate.”

Obviously, atheists and other non-religious soldiers will get ”low” marks on the test.  In fact, most atheists might be expected to get 100% of the questions “wrong.”  A “low” mark on the test results in an assessment that:

Spiritual fitness may be an area of difficulty… You may lack a sense of meaning and purpose in your life. At times, it is hard for you to make sense of what is happening to you and to others around you. You may not feel connected to something larger than yourself. You may question your beliefs, principles and values…Improving your spiritual fitness should be an important goal.

This is so wrong-headed that it’s beyond belief.  Cornum defends the “test” as “merely a helpful resource for soldiers,” saying that: “There’s no pass-fail, nothing happens. No one sees it but the guy who takes it.”  Another spokesman for the Army, Lt. Col. David Patterson, insists that the military respects the various beliefs of soldiers:  “Although spiritual fitness is offered to all soldiers, it is not meant by any means to influence, dissuade nor entice soldiers to believe in a deity, endorse religion, or in any way state that a soldier is unfit to serve if they lack spiritual fitness.”

Yeah, right.  Giving that kind of spin is nonsensical.  How can anyone possibly believe it?  “If an official survey tells you you’re deficient in some area, the implication is that you need to improve. Otherwise, why would the Army even ask?”  Moreover, Cornum’s supposed “finding” of data that “spiritual fitness has a positive impact on quality of life, on coping and on mental health”–and the implication that a soldier without “spiritual fitness” is harming those areas–is just plain wrong.  I can find just as many studies that find that being an atheist has absolutely no negative impact on one’s quality of life, coping, and mental health.  Cornum’s “findings” go back to the completely unfounded, self-serving religious canard that a person’s value system has to be based on the religion and whatever “Bible” that religion uses.  Nothing could be farther from the truth, as the many “new atheism” books in the past 5-10 years make absolutely clear.

I do agree that “coping” and “mental health” are areas for which the Army should try to help soldiers.  But coming at those areas from “spiritual fitness’ is not the way to do it.  In fact, in the same way that the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule can accurately be said to have harmed the “coping” and “mental health” of gay and lesbian soldiers, it is easy to see how things like the “spiritual fitness test” can harm atheist and non-religious soldiers.  What the Army needs to be doing is to make sure it is not condoning discrimination toward those soldiers and not finding new ways to extend the discrimination by things like the “spiritual fitness test.”

Thankfully, people in the Army are fighting back.  There is an organization called the Military Religious Freedom Foundation that represents non-religious soldiers.  Mikey Weinstein, a former Air Force lawyer who founded the group, says that the group has 220 soldiers ready to sue next week if the survey doesn’t drop the questions.

The “Pope” and Condoms

Well, isn’t this nice.  “Pope” Benedict (I hate using the title “Pope” as if the position has some exalted status) has now said that condom use by male or female prostitutes is sometimes justified since it is a “lesser evil” than the spread of AIDS.  And some people are calling that a step that will help his “legacy.”

No, his statements will not help his legacy; he should still be seen as the power-hungry, bigoted misogonyst that he (and his predecessors) have always been.  First of all, other than the most blind followers of the church, who even cares what the “Pope” says.  In fact, it is reported that some bishops have disregarded the “Pope’s previous “ban” on all condom use when it applies to the spread of AIDS.   And he gave his statements about condoms and AIDS not in any official church document, but merely in an interview for a book; he says that he “takes personal responsibility” for the statements but they are not official church teaching.  Essentially, he wants the church to officially keep its policy of no condom use ever while trying to polish his image a little bit in the wake of all the criticism he took about his policy of banning all use.

If this leads to any increased use of condoms, it is welcome.  But let’s not give any praise to the “Pope.”  He, and his sycophantic church officials, should only be criticized for all of the harm caused by their hugely harmful actions concerning sexuality, including the “ban” on condom use.


CNN’s Biased Poll About the New York Mosque

President Obama did the right thing at first by essentially saying that he supported (or at least was not opposed) to the building of a mosque a few blocks away from “Ground Zero.”  But then, unfortunately, he attempted to distance himself from his remarks by saying that he had only meant to voice his support for freedom of religion and was not taking any stance on whether building a mosque there was the right thing to do.  This led CNN to publish an article titled “Critics say Obama’s message becoming ‘incoherent’.”  And, then, Senator Harry Reid took the political stance of saying that he does not think a mosque should be built there, thereby starting a probable trend of other Democrats distancing themselves from Obama’s first remarks.  (Can anyone imagine a time when politicians do what they think is right rather than do what they think will get them reelected?)

All of the people who are against the mosque are doing so without adequate facts to back them up.  The following facts paint a different story than the sound bites voiced by opponents of the mosque.  First, the mosque is blocks away from Ground Zero.  Second, there is an existing mosque that is about the same distance away.  Third, the proposed mosque is more than a mosque; it is planned to include a fitness center, swimming pool, basketball court, bookstore, performing arts center and food court.  And, according to Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, most importantly, the mosque’s organizers have “made clear that the whole point of the project is to provide a high-profile platform for mainstream, moderate Islam — and to stridently reject the warped, radical, jihadist worldview that produced the atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001.”  Daisy Khan, one of the organizers, has said that “[the mosque] will have a real community feel, to celebrate the pluralism in the United States, as well as in the Islamic religion.  It will also serve as a major platform for amplifying the silent voice of the majority of Muslims who have nothing to do with extremist ideologies. It will counter the extremist momentum.”

So, the real fallacy of the opponents’ argument is that they equate the 9/11 terrorists with ALL Muslims.  They think that anything related to Islam (as opposed to the tiny subset of Muslims who happened to be terrorists) should be nowhere close to Ground Zero.

Many are quoting a CNN poll that showed 68% are opposed to the mosque.  But this is how the poll question was worded:

As you may know, a group of Muslims in the U.S. plan to build a mosque two blocks from the site in New York City where the World Trade Center used to stand.  Do you favor or oppose this plan?

68% said they were opposed and 29% said they were in favor.  But, as Eugene Robinson said in his column today, imagine how different the poll results might have been if the question was something along the lines of whether “a group of Americans” should be allowed to build “a center promoting moderate, peaceful Islam.”  It seems to me that the CNN poll is showing the same bias as the opponents of the mosque, that is, equating all terrorism carried out by a tiny number of Muslims with the entire (multi-billion) Muslim population.