Scott Rhode, morning news anchor & reporter
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Not content with being the leader of the world’s Roman Catholics, Pope Francis also wants to be my assignment editor. In his recent apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, the pope asks, “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” While KENI does have daily stock market updates (reporting on the Dow Jones Industrial Average far more frequently than the seasonal gauge Charles Dow intended), we also report the deaths of homeless people. A person dying in a public place—a park, trail, under a bridge—is a news story. Why? As a lesson in how our world is filled with tragedy? Or as an inspiration to change it? Perhaps the pope’s complaint is that the audience is not told, in no uncertain terms, that a needless death is a scandal. He is decrying a media culture that lets the audience interpret the significance of news events for themselves.
Not that KENI listeners are insulated from opinion. Rush Limbaugh, for instance, vented at length about the sting he felt when Pope Francis criticized “trickle down theories” and the “crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.” In his reaction, Limbaugh called the pope’s exhortation “pure Marxism.” He also slyly accused the church of hypocrisy: “I have been numerous times to the
The zeal with which Limbaugh defends the “unfettered free market” is, in its way, religious. Andrew Sullivan elevates Limbaugh to the status of “Pope of the Republican Party,” preaching the gospel that “market capitalism is an unqualified, eternal good.” Indeed, Limbaugh rebuts Pope Francis by arguing that pure, unfettered capitalism has never been tried; markets are always regulated, making Limbaugh’s concept of capitalism as invisible as the Holy Ghost.
Limbaugh argues that the evils of capitalism are figments, too. Part of the “litany” of “modern-age Democrats” is that business owners “cheat their customers, abuse their employees, hoard all the money.” There’s nothing wrong with hoarding money, he says; “It’s not a matter of need.” For instance, Limbaugh probably didn’t need the $14 million annual raise in his 2008 contract that preceded the “wave of mutilation” when Clear Channel laid off hundreds of Limbaugh’s co-workers. He knows first-hand that bosses take care of their favorite employees. Like when Wal-Mart scrounged donations for associates on its payroll who couldn’t afford Thanksgiving dinner. Or when banks help tellers make ends meet by paying them wages low enough that almost 40% qualify for public assistance. Who would call that evil?
While faith, hope, and charity are the theological virtues upon which the pope’s church is founded, Limbaugh knows that capitalism trumps all three. “The
If Limbaugh is astonished by the pope’s message, it’s only because he is not Catholic himself. If he were, he might be aware that Catholic doctrine has always opposed exploitative capitalism. The only difference now, as Matthew Yglesias points out, is that Pope Francis chooses to emphasize that doctrine. Even John Paul II, whom Limbaugh reveres for his anti-Communism, had little patience for Limbaugh’s version of capitalism, Sullivan recalls. So while Limbaugh isn’t Catholic, he’d make a fine cafeteria Catholic, choosing the doctrines he likes and ignoring others when it’s inconvenient. He might even agree with the pope’s suggestion to report more news stories about dead homeless people, if only as a reminder of the power of almighty capitalism.
(Originally posted May 7, 2009.)
Listeners may have noticed that I've been working with a cold this week. Not the first time I've spread my germs around the office. This time, however, I didn't have much choice. Although Clear Channel gives me paid sick days, I can't stay home because the company laid off the guy who covers for me when I'm out. So, as much as I have not wanted to come to work the last few days, I'm grateful to still have work to go to.
If I were to complain, Eric Boehlert suggests I should aim my gripes at Rush Limbaugh. The hundreds of recent layoffs at Clear Channel are supposed to save $400 million, and Boehlert notes that's the same amount as the contract Clear Channel gave Limbaugh last summer. That's $50 million per year for eight years -- or, divided over the 590 stations that carry his show, an $84,000 salary if Limbaugh had to contract with each station individually. Suffice to say, that's more than I make.
Boehlert wonders, "Why does Clear Channel, now desperately trying to stop the corporate bleeding, feel the need to support Limbaugh with a quasi-welfare state arrangement?" It's like that episode of NewsRadio when WNYX was sliding into poverty because of anchorman Bill McNeal's sweet contract. Clear Channel gave Limbaugh a 40% raise -- a $14.4 million annual increase -- even though his value to the company has not gone up nearly that much. Boehlert admits Limbaugh is a superstar worth a hefty contract, but he disputes that Limbaugh can justify such a huge raise, especially in this economy. He compares Limbaugh to other superstar talent, for example Jay Leno, who is paid less despite earning more revenue for NBC.
Boehlert figures the cause is a combination of political kickback for the de facto signal-caller of the GOP and plain ol' corporate short-sightedness. Limbaugh himself is hardly to blame for earning as much as he can, though Boehlert asks, "Does he feel a little guilty? And does he ever think about giving some of his riches back so that thousands of radio colleagues wouldn't have to be bounced to the curb?"
I won't hold my breath.
Put “Alaskans are…” into Google, and the search engine’s autocomplete feature shows the most popular formulations of that phrase. In addition to idiots, Alaskans are weird, Asian, not Americans, and racist – so racist, apparently, that another alternative for “Alaskans are…” is “Malaysians are stupid.” (Sorry, Malaysians.)
Alaskans aren’t the only idiots. “Journalists are…” idiots, too, as well as being liars, scum, intellectual prostitutes, actors on the political stage, watchdogs, like dogs, the eyes and ears of the public, and overpaid. I’ll try not to take too much of that personally.
All of this was inspired by Bad Astronomer Phil Plait’s observation (suggested by a Twitter follower) that “Scientists are…” a lot of unflattering things, according to Google autocomplete. Digging in, he found that the reason for these popular search terms is, naturally, because the Web is full of sites disparaging scientists. More specifically, the searches are so popular because people are seeking out sites disparaging scientists.
People have also been seeking out “science” itself. Based on searches in online dictionaries, Merriam-Webster declared “science” its 2013 word of the year. Normally, the word of the year is a neologism (Oxford Dictionary went with “selfie”) or a word that is heard repeatedly because of some particular phenomenon (e.g. “chad” from 2000). But “science” is ancient and ever-present. Why in 2013 were so many people suddenly wondering, “What is science, anyway?” A Merriam-Webster editor figures it’s because science was at the root of so many public discussions. But isn’t that the case every year? Understanding science has been essential for civics & citizenship for decades, and I doubt our increasingly technologized society reached a tipping point in the last 12 months. Anyway, I don’t see how knowing the definition helps anyone understand Science, Technology, and Culture issues. But it’s certainly a sensible place to start.
Plait figures the popularity of “science” is good for scientists. For those who seek it, the dictionary definition may replace the smears on the Web’s anti-science sites. That’s one way to rehabilitate scientists in the eyes of Google autocomplete. But Plait says scientists must take action themselves for Google to suggest the searches he'd like to see: Scientists are explorers, teachers, or important. (Not that teachers have it easy. “Teachers are…” overpaid, lazy, stupid babysitters. But teachers are also underpaid, role models, and heroes.) To accomplish this, Plait recommends a two-pronged strategy: 1) take every opportunity to praise scientists on the Web, and 2) prove the nay-sayers wrong by being nice. Alaskans (and journalists) can improve their reputations the same way. Malaysians, too.
Ex-Secretary of the Interior James G. Watt became a boogeyman of the Left when he said, “I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns.” This was taken as a religious motivation to oppose environmental conservation: why have consideration for future consequences if the end of the world is imminent? However, Watt insisted he never held such a belief. In 2005, Watt wrote in the Washington Post that, in context, he was saying that resources should be conserved for future generations. Furthermore, Watt claimed that nobody seriously held such a nihilistic view: “I know of no Christian who believes or preaches such error.” But a lot has changed since his notorious quote in 1981—and even since his 2005 denial. What Watt considered a slur is now orthodoxy.
On the specific environmental issue of global warming, Watt’s disavowed argument is openly employed by Republicans in Congress. On Sunday, Chris Mooney posted a video montage of several examples. To be sure, the new argument is not explicitly eschatological; no one is saying per se that climate change should be ignored because the End Times are near. Rather, the argument is that God is in charge, so the world will end on God’s schedule, and humans can’t change that. Mooney is puzzled because he figures climate denial is motivated primarily by economics, so he assumes it aligns with religious belief only because of a convenient political umbrella or by a shared mistrust of scientists. While those certainly seem to be factors, with politicians ever ready to impugn the integrity of scientists, Mooney may be missing a more obvious explanation.
A few years ago, I noted a short news item about a woman who told her daughter that fossils were not older than Jesus. No matter how little sense that makes, that was her belief. To her, that’s how the world works. Therefore, the simple reason why religion is now being mustered against climate change is because it’s part of a belief system. Not all belief systems, of course; there are plenty of religious environmentalists. But there are some, evidently unknown to Watt, who ground their anti-environmental stance in religious belief. Katherine Stewart cited the “Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming” from the Cornwall Alliance, which concludes that combating climate change would harm the poor and that “stewardship” entails preserving the fossil fuel economy. Working backward from this conclusion, the declaration denies any evidence of human-caused global warming. While this too is distinct from Watt’s supposed End Times anticipation, it shows that the union Mooney finds so bizarre is simply a manifestation of sincere belief.
Maybe Mooney leaps beyond that explanation because he sees Bible-based reasoning as supporting some prior motivation. Anti-environmentalism is not an essential feature of religious belief; it changes over time, responding to other forces. Those forces include active opposition. In his 2005 op-ed, Watt warned of a campaign to split the anti-environmental and religious factions of the GOP by promoting religious environmentalism as an alternative. That wedge seems to be working, given stories like this one about climate-aware evangelical scientists. Republicans, more so than Democrats, have invested in denialism as a tribal identifier, so doubling down on denial is a rear-guard defensive posture to hold the factions together. If Mooney’s perception that the factions are an unnatural fit takes hold, they could come unglued. Then it really would be the End Times for the GOP coalition.
Prospective teachers are different from all other college students in one very peculiar way: they are the only adults who take classes in "social studies." It's a subject that is only taught in elementary and middle schools. Anyone else might study history or geography or economics, but not "social studies." Those disciplines are included within "social studies," of course. They are among the ten themes identified by National Council for the Social Studies in their curriculum standards, although the themes are given obscure names. History is called "Time, Continuity, and Change." Geography is "People, Places, and Environments." Economics is "Production, Distribution, and Consumption." Other themes are called "Civic Ideals and Practices" (or, simply, civics); "Power, Authority, and Governance" (politics and law); "Global Connections" (international affairs); "Individuals, Groups, and Institutions" (sociology); "Individual Development and Identity" (psychology); "Culture" (anthropology). And then there's "Science, Technology, and Society," which is... well, there's no other name for it.
Science, Technology, and Society is an actual field of study. Sometimes called Science, Technology, and Culture or Science and Technology Studies, it's everywhere around us. Broadly speaking,
Specter lists several other examples of
Clearly, Democrats can ignore and impugn science and scientists as well as Republicans, making it harder to claim a monopoly on rational thought. But there is a manifest difference. Only Republicans put denialist planks in their political platforms, as the Alaska Republican Party does in its platform (PDF file) by treating "Creation Science or Intelligent Design" as "theories for the origins of life" while also demanding that children be taught "evidence disputing the theory" of "evolution outside species." (The AKGOP platform also opposes embryonic stem cell research and human cloning, which are
While denialism exists across the political spectrum, there is a stronger tendency among Republicans to not only elect denialist candidates, but for candidates to be elected on the basis of denialism. Among Democrats, Sen. Harkin stands out for his obsession with alternative medicine. Democrats tolerated ex-Georgia Rep. Cynthia McKinney's 9/11 conspiracy theories for a few years before they gave her the heave-ho, leaving her to run for president on the Green Party ticket in 2008. By comparison,