Ask an Atheist with Sam Mulvey

I Like Baseball, Too.

Ask an Atheist has a longstanding policy about politics.   Specifically, we try to stick only to political discussions that have to do with the editorial statement of the show: “Atheism, skepticism, and the separation of Church and State.”  We strive to keep unrelated politics off the show, except when circumstances require it.  For example, we felt we needed to discuss Mike’s work in politics during our National Atheist Party interview.  My humanistic principles have political implications which might need investigation.   It’s sensible to think that Hugo Chavez might be outside of our policy.

We don’t think it is, and I was encouraged to talk about my problems with the Hugo Chavez fandom on this episode.    While I was encouraged, I need to make it clear that the opinions I spoke of at the end of this week’s show were mine.

And no, I didn't label the Y  axis.

And no, I didn’t label the Y axis.

To explain why, I’ll include the a graph from our listener survey.    The top three answers to our political question are “Liberal”, “Progressive”, and “Socialist.”   While the other answers are far from insignificant (and therefore, I think, vindicate our political policy) this political bent was well represented in the atheism community after the death of Chavez.  I saw many atheists lauding the achievements of Chavez in an incredibly uncritical way.


..and now, a rousing refutation!

The best way to explain the problem is by example, and thankfully the internet provided me with one in the form of Doug. His full comment is available on this week’s episode, so here I’m going to respond to it directly.   Another policy is that we “give as good as we get,” so I’m responding to Doug in kind.

The straw man he’s refuting was not available for comment at the time of publication.

Do the world a favor and don’t refer to yourself as skeptics when presenting such misinformed political opinion.

I’ve been working on Ask an Atheist for nearly three years now, and I’ve been a skeptic for far longer than I’ve been an atheist. In that time, I’ve never seen the “you’re not a skeptic” opening gambit wielded by somebody who could argue out of a wet paper bag.

My observation remains unchallenged.

Perhaps “fair and balanced” would be more appropriate.

The fact that you open with this insult is my entire point: I think you’re willing to overlook and whitewash the errors and the autocracy of Chavez because he’s on your side politically. He’s a socialist, so his constraints on freedom of the press, freedom in general, and jingoistic media tendencies get a pass. George W. Bush was against your political ideologies, so his constraints on freedom of the press, freedom in general, and jingoistic media tendencies are the stuff of apocalyptic young adult fiction.

This is an unskeptical position, and political idiocy of the highest order. When left unchecked, we get political extremes with murderous or genocidal consequences.

Radio Caracas Televisión had their license revoked because they called for the coup against the President, which was a violation of the broadcast laws in that country. Just like in other countries, if a media outlet violates the law they can have their license revoked. The FCC in America has revoked licenses of stations for broadcast violations, that doesn’t mean our leaders are just like Pinochet or violating the Constitution. Perhaps it’s a good idea to know what you’re talking about before ignorantly spouting off with your only defense is your self-proclaimed title as a “skeptic”.

To a free thinker, this is not even an argument.

So if someone is arrested under the Ugandan anti-homosexuality law, they should just suck it up because, hey, it’s the law? When someone is arrested and executed for speaking out against Islam in Saudi Arabia, we should not complain because the declared constitution there is the Qur’an?

We’re not talking about the “seven dirty words” or a bad transmitter or some technical violation, we’re talking about a curtailing of speech that, if attempted in this country, would have claims of fascism at the very start. If a President of the United States tried to push an indeterminate extension of their administration, calls for a coup or revolution would be the very least of what I would expect. In the conspiracy-minded media I listen to, I hear calls like this with regularity.

This is curtailment of free speech that raised not only my concerns, but the concerns of free press organizations, as you’ll see if you check my sources.

And what’s with the comparison to Pinochet? Tens of thousands of people murdered, hundreds of thousands tortured, including journalists. Did Chavez executed journalists? Nope. Was he a dictator? Nope. Yet because a tv station’s license is revoked for violating the law and he expands public broadcasting he’s a brutal dictator war criminal just like Pinochet. Gee guys, exaggerate much?

Not particularly, since that wasn’t the comparison I was making. I’m comparing you to the conservatives who lauded Pinochet and ignored his crimes because he was strong against communism. And so far, you’re stacking up quite nicely.

When I compared Chavez himself to another, much worse, world leader, I called him “Kim Jong-Il Lite.” In that comparison is an acknowledgement that he is not as bad as the leader who presided over an oppressive hermit kingdom that spent humanitarian aid on the military during a famine.

And golly, the nation has a banking crisis and he has some banks nationalized. Makes him kinda like the dictator of Iceland doesn’t it? Do you guys even know anything about what went on in that country or are you just in the habit of repeating Fox News talking points? News flash, most nations don’t have autonomous banks. Not surprisingly, those nations with increased regulation had healthier banks. Fixing problems with banks doesn’t make anyone like Pinochet anymore than Bush’s signing of legislation to fix the S&L crisis made him like Stalin.

This is no refutation of my point at all.

My argument is about skepticism, not bank reform.   Bank reform is not a part of the Ask an Atheist discussion, so your opinions regarding it will remain unchallenged.  I’m comparing what he told Univision with what he ultimately did. I’m attempting to show that Chavez is a politician who breaks promises, like most, and not the Salvation of the Gumdrop Kingdom who could do no wrong.

Oddly enough, bringing up Iceland makes my point for me. If Iceland could do a lot of the same bank reforms that you believe are needed, and did so quietly, why were the strong man tactics, cult of personality, and Lenin-esque permanent embalming necessary?

The communications network, CanTV, was originally a government owned operation. So they took back the company they started. Kinda like that dictator in America when they took over Fannie Mae again. Sheesh. How did they do it? They bought up the shares and got majority control. How oppressive, people got paid.

I could just scream “Fox News!  Fair and Balanced!  Rupert Murdoch! Propaganda Regime!” and claim victory as you do, but there’s a point here.   This is not about nationalization of an industry, but control of media and public opinion by authoritarian means.    In the United States, many liberals see our own version of it in the corporate concentration of media ownership.

To claim one is a problem and the other isn’t because of political dogma is unskeptical, and this is exactly what I’m seeing a population in the atheism community doing.

Why should anyone bother explaining the oil production issue. If you don’t know about the vast corruption there then I might as well assume you were also a big fan of the Shah of Iran. I know it may be shocking, but the oil in Venezuala belongs to the people, right-wingers might not understand that, but thanks for being part of the misinformation, propaganda regime.

I’ll ignore the straw man here, but I think it’s worthwhile to remind you that I live in a bilingual household. My opinions of Venezuela and Chavez in particular don’t come from any US news source, but from getting the information from Venezuelan news sources directly. By definition, this includes a lot of pro-Chavez sources.

If you want to know what a propaganda regime really looks like, watch this with a more critical eye. It’s hilarious.

Here’s an idea, actually bother to learn about the issue before mouthing off on it. Just don’t call yourself a skeptic in the future, you embarrass skeptics when you do so. Maybe you ought to stick to comic books.

If you’re going to insult someone, make sure you’re insulting the right guy. I’m the propaganda fan who likes puffins, not the comic book guy. For example: I’m willing to bet money that an early draft of this email included the word “sheeple” and a reference to The Matrix.

I’m not asking you to make any changes to your political ideology whatsoever.   All I’m asking is that you look at Chavez with a critical eye.   He did things that would clearly make you scream bloody murder if he did it in your back yard, but you’ve created shallow justifications for it because of your ideological agreement.

For a more comfortable example, I’m happy that some Presbyterians allow gay Christians into their church and even ordains them.  Marriage equality, and equal rights for homosexuals in general has been a very important thing to me over the years, and I’m willing to work with them towards that goal.   Even so, that doesn’t mean I’m going to whitewash their belief that if I don’t follow their rules and submit to the judgement of their own autocrat, I’ll suffer an eternity of torment beyond mortal understanding.


CORRECTION 3/12/13 8:09 AM:  I would be remiss if I didn’t point out an error in my post above.   Doug does get one thing right: I did directly compare Chavez to Pinochet, and that comparison requires explanation.   I give an explanation below, but I’ll include it here in the main post for completeness:

You know, honestly, I say a lot of things in an hour, and sometimes, I can’t remember exactly what I said or how I said it, so I go back and listen again. In this case and only this case, you’re right. I missed it at the end at the first listen through.

I’ll gladly concede that he’s not as bad as Pinochet was when it came to gross abuses of human rights. However, I’ll stand by that claim, as I have in my notes:

Like Pinochet, Chavez was Yet Another Political Strong Man. The difference is mainly in degree– both leaders felt they needed to curtail essential freedoms in order to maintain their rule. This seems to be at significant odds with the way his supporters in the atheism community have portrayed him.

About the Author: Sam Mulvey

Sam Mulvey is a producer and the technical brain behind Ask an Atheist. He is a collector of vinegar varieties, vintage computers, antique radios, and propaganda.

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Nonsense, you made the Pinochet comparison on the show. You said he was the left wing Pinochet. Don’t accuse me of misrepresenting you if you can’t remember what you claimed. I said you weren’t a skeptic because you made the claim that you weren’t biased because you were a skeptic, then you launched into a diatribe based upon so many logical fallacies I doubt anyone would who did think critically would like you in their classification of a skeptic. Here’s an example of your argument, brought to you by the folks at Fox News. One of Obama’s supporters refers to… Read more »


I never claimed you were parroting US news sites, I just compared you to Fox News. Thanks for the additional assumption. A strawman must be easy to fight. Since you’ve concluded I’m a Chavez supporter, although I’ve never stated such, go ahead and tell me what my positions are. I’m so interested in what I believe, since you clearly know. Face it, you lost all credibility when you repeatedly have to resort to so many logic fallacies. Here, this ought to help you out: No doubt your next show will be filled with equally lame arguments. I’ll assume that… Read more »


That’s your only reply? You’ve sourced your opinion? Those websites you linked to provided your opinion? That’s fascinating. One would think one would source facts. Here’s a suggestion, if you’re going to claim to be all skeptical then try presenting some facts, opinions are like cowboy hats. Try getting the back story and the context to actions rather than stating that since you’re from a bi-lingual home you can conclude that Chavez is just like Pinochet. As for that, you might as well read up on Pinochet so you don’t waste time making such false comparisons. One example, you might… Read more »


To inject some levity into the fray, ‘Parks and Recreation’ had an episode where visiting dignitaries from Venezuela came as a twin city to Pawnee. Although the story was a bit OTT for a typical episode, the contrasts between the two countries must bear at least the aftertaste of truth that makes satire work.

I especially liked the bit where all of the conditions where someone might be thrown in jail were explained by the Venezuelan.


Post Script followup: I was bopping around on some South American atheist webpages, and came across El Ateo Venezolano, who wrote this blog entry last fall: He details how CANTV, the national phone company that 95% of users have, has censored further publications/postings via blogger networks, and that he was updating using a proxy server. He writes (in Spanish): A government cannot speak of freedom of expression if its main telephone company…blatantly blocks access to Venezuelan bloggers…[This is a] country that wishes to censor its writers, because the principal opposition comes from social networks (the likes of which aren’t… Read more »

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