The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘fascist’

The Shooting of Congresswoman Giffords & Skepticism When It’s Needed Most

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 12, 2011

I’ve waited a few days before making this post, partly because I wanted to give myself some time to reflect and partly because I wanted to see if cooler & more rational heads would prevail.  Of course, from the title, you can see that I’m making some remarks concerning the horrific shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona this past Saturday.  As we all know by now, the shooter – Jared Loughner – not only shot Giffords point-blank in the head, severely wounding her, but others were killed (including a 9 year-old girl & a federal judge) and many more were wounded.

Events moved fast on Saturday, and – in some cases – the media moved even faster, sometimes to the point of even getting major parts of the story wrong in a misguided effort to “get it first.”  For example, you can see how some outlets, such as National Public Radio, mistakenly reported that Rep. Giffords had died in the attack. But that isn’t the most unnerving thing…

Like many, I was shocked & dismayed when I heard the news, and I immediately went to the Internet to read more… and what I read shocked & dismayed me even more.  Within an hour of the reporting of the event, I saw all manner of accusations being slung around.  This pointing of fingers had a decidedly political slant on it, with some liberals blaming the Tea Party rhetoric and “loose gun laws” for the actions of the shooter, while some conservatives insisted that the killer “must have been an illegal immigrant” or that it “had to be a set up to make Republicans look bad.”  Not only that, but I saw that conspiracy theories were being spun faster than you could say “9/11 coverup”.

I decided to go to one of my favorite skeptical online forums – the JREF Forum – to discuss the situation, and I was sadly disappointed to find that the behavior among many of my so-called skeptical colleagues was no better than that which I saw elsewhere online.  Take a look at the JREF thread on the topic, and you’ll see what I mean.

One of the things which seemed lacking during the chaos of my Saturday afternoon, much of which was spent in online discourse & surfing the Web for news of the incident, was a willingness to step back, apply some basic critical thinking, and wait for reliable information from the proper authorities to come to light.  It was, and still is in many ways, a time of great fear, anxiety, and uncertainty, and – unfortunately – in such times all too many of us will succumb to extraordinary arguments from ignorance in an attempt to fill in the gaps in our knowledge.  I lost my cool a bit and said some pretty rough things, some of which I share here:

… Especially in this politically charged environment, the last thing we need to go doing right now is jumping to conclusions, pointing fingers at “the other side”, and basically engaging in rampant & irresponsible confirmation bias. From what I’ve seen on this thread so far, there are way too many so-called skeptics displaying blatant irrationality in this regard – you should be better than that. …

In addition to other criticisms, some people mentioned a very dubious argument in response.  They stated something to the effect that “when a politician gets shot, what reason for it is there besides politics?”  Of course, facts can be stubborn things, and I responded with a very important fact: that when President Reagan was shot in 1981 by John Hinckley, Jr., Hinckley’s motivation wasn’t political; instead, he was attempting to assassinate the President as a way of gaining the attention of actress Jodie Foster, with whom he was disturbingly obsessed.  Therefore, it is well within the realm of possibility that what motivated Jared Loughner’s actions is entirely non-political.

What this shows is, in my view, the fact that there is nothing inherently special about those who label themselves as “skeptics”.  We are irrational & emotional creatures just like the rest of humanity, and in times of great stress we also feel the sometimes overwhelming pressure to dismiss our better, more rational natures in a desperate attempt to grab onto something, anything which seems like it might provide us with some measure of comfort.  But, as we skeptics are wont to say, simply because something feels right doesn’t mean it’s real.  And thus, simply because there are those who view the world through an overly-political lens doesn’t mean that reality conforms to that view.

And now, as I write these words, it seems that we still don’t have any idea exactly why it is that Jared Loughner went on a rampage, spilling blood and scaring a nation.  The suspect himself isn’t talking, early indications from the investigation point to Loughner having some kind of mental instability.  Unfortunately, without more information, we may never really know why he did what he did.

In closing, I want to share with you some very important words from Jon Stewart of The Daily Show regarding this tragedy and how people are reacting to it. These are the most mature, rational, and – yes – skeptical words I’ve heard uttered on the matter, and I hope that we all take them to heart:

Posted in politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Memorial Day, President Obama, and Internet Nonsense

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 31, 2010

In this post, what I want to do is address a right-wing smear campaign which has been making the rounds on the Internet recently; it states how “Obama is the first U.S. President in history to not attend Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day”, with the implication being that he somehow “hates America”, I suppose.  Apparently, there are emails on this going around, as well as articles from various right-wing blogs & “news” outlets.  People who get snagged up in stuff like this don’t even have to receive the email directly, they just have to talk with someone who received it or heard about it, or they just have to hear/read about it from some other news outlet which merely repeats the story uncritically – that’s how memes like this propagate.  Basically, for bad or incomplete information to propagate, all it takes is gullibility & uncritical thinking, either on the part of individuals or the media.

For example, how many of those partisan emails or “news” outlets mention that Obama did indeed visit Arlington National Cemetery in 2009?  Here’s a photo of him at the event…

Not only that, but a quick search of Snopes.com – an excellent website for checking the validity of all manner of Internet nonsense – reveals plenty more information which the partisans who forward this garbage are omitting…

Claim: Mike Savage [a right-wing shock jock] stated that President Obama was not going to Arlington this Memorial Day but is sending VP Biden in his place. Obama is going to Chicago instead. Savage stated that this is the first time in history that a President has not laid a wreath at Arlington on Memorial day. Is this true?

No, it’s not true.  Specifically, the claim that Obama is the first U.S. president to not lay a wreath at Arlington on Memorial Day is not true.  Snopes.com elaborates…

Origins: Memorial Day, now observed on the last Monday of May, is the day of the year set aside for Americans to commemorate the men and women of the United States who died while in the military service. On Memorial Day the President of the United States traditionally visits Arlington National Cemetery, where America’s honored dead are interred, to deliver a speech in remembrance of those who died in service to their country and to lay a memorial wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

News that President Obama would be spending the 2010 Memorial Day weekend in Chicago rather than attending services in Arlington were attended by claims (like the example cited above) that he would thus become the first U.S. president to skip the Arlington wreath-laying ceremony since the inception of Memorial Day. This claim is inaccurate: On several occasions in just the last thirty years, U.S. presidents have been elsewhere on Memorial Day (either vacationing or attending to other presidential duties), while other administration officials represented them at the wreath-laying ceremony:

  • In 2002, President George W. Bush was in France on Memorial Day and participated in ceremonies at Normandy (site of the D-Day landings) honoring the U.S. soldiers who fought and died in World War II. In his place, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
  • President George H.W. Bush (himself a World War II veteran) attended no ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery during his four years in office. In 1989 he was in Rome on Memorial Day (where he led observances at an American military cemetery south of that city), and from 1990 through 1992 he spent the Memorial Day weekend vacationing in Kennebunkport, Maine, while Vice-President Dan Quayle laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
  • President Ronald Reagan was away from Arlington on Memorial Day on four occasions during his eight years in office: In 1981, he (who had been seriously wounded in an assassination attempt six weeks earlier) spent the Memorial Day weekend at his ranch in Santa Barbara, California, while Vice-President George H.W. Bush laid the wreath at Arlington. In 1983, he attended a summit meeting in Williamsburg, Virginia, while Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Thayer represented the administration at the wreath-laying ceremony. In 1987, he spent Memorial Day at the Camp David presidential retreat while Navy Secretary James Webb participated in the wreath-laying ceremony. And on Memorial Day 1988, he was out of the U.S., attending a summit meeting in Moscow.
  • (NOTE: President Bill Clinton has no entry in this list because he attended Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington each year throughout his eight years in office.)

On Memorial Day 2010, President Obama is scheduled to honor America’s fallen heroes with a speech at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery near Chicago, while Vice-President Joe Biden takes his place at Arlington.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in internet, media woo, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

 
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