Today's Blogs

Atheist in the House

Bloggers celebrate the first openly atheist congressman, worry that YouTube will be all Lonelygirl videos and no Daily Show clips, and wonder what makes us laugh.

Atheist in the House: California Democratic Rep. Pete Stark has publicly acknowledged his atheism, making him the first congressman in American history to do so. Stark’s announcement came after the Secular Coalition for America offered a $1,000 to anyone who could point to the “highest level atheist, agnostic, humanist or any other kind of nontheist currently holding elected public office in the United States.”

Hugh Kramer at leftist MyDD pens an open letter to Stark: “I am not in your district and I do not know much about you personally or where you stand politically but it does not matter. I feel that you represent me in a way that my own congressman never has because I, like you, am a freethinker and a nontheist. In an environment where polls show that Americans without a god-belief are more distrusted than any other minority and that the majority of our countrymen would not vote for an atheist even if he or she were the most qualified for office, it takes a great deal of courage to take a public stance on this issue of conscience.” Environmentally conscious Tod Brilliant writes: “Now, let me ask the perhaps obvious follow-up question: Who do you value as a leader more highly - a person who makes decisions based on rationalism and the desire to do right by his or her fellow humans simply for the sake of doing right OR a person whose decisions are governed by the fear of eternal suffering in a lake of molten lava?”

Liberal Pastor Dan at Street Prophets magnanimously argues that atheists “deserve representation, and they deserve to be able to speak freely about their beliefs or not-beliefs. Unless we’re going to toss 10% of the population out of office, then, it’s an unqualified good for somebody like Stark to ‘come out’ … At best, my own United Church of Christ represents less than 1% of the population. With ten members of Congress split between the two houses, we’re over-represented.”

And Rob Boston at The Wall of Separation, the blog of Americans United for a Separation of Church and State, writes: “The U.S. Congress is increasingly diverse. This is a good thing because it means that body more accurately reflects the great diversity of our nation. This year, there are Buddhists in the ranks, as well as the first Muslim member. Stark is probably not the first non-believer in the House — he’s just the first to admit it.”

Read more about Stark’s announcement.

Cease and desist: Viacom is suing Google, which owns YouTube, for $1 billion for copyright infringement. Clips from The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and South Park are the problem, but Google doesn’t seem overly worried about the suit.

Sarah Perez, of the social-media-themed site Sarahintampa, observes: “It could be that Viacom isn’t just looking for compensation…perhaps they’re trying to take on the legality of the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Safe harbor is provided to limit liability if a company makes a reasonable effort to remove the copyrighted materials from the site. But what constitutes reasonable effort? It seems as if Viacom wants the courts to decide.”

At Internet Outsider, a business and market-watch blog, Slate contributor Henry Blodget thinks YouTube shouldn’t sweat it: “Why won’t the Viacom lawsuit shut down YouTube the way the music companies shut down Napster?  First, because the resources Google can draw on to defend itself are about a million times as big as Napster’s were.  Second, because Google already has plenty of real distribution agreements with other real media companies that will view the Viacom fusillade as a chance to gain online market share. … Third, Viacom doesn’t really give a damn how many people watch its content on YouTube–they just want to get paid what they view as a less-insulting amount for the use of that content.”

Eric Flemming at Associated Content, the “people’s media company,” does some amateur due diligence on the suit: “Viacom’s complaint is very similar to other file sharing lawsuits, historically. When Napster was sued, the main thrust of the argument against the peer-to-peer network was that it was not taking an active role in policing the content users were sharing. …  After that lawsuit was resolved, Napster ultimately implemented content controls, a likely outcome in this instance as well, say some observers, given the fairly strong standing Viacom has in this case.”

Read more about the Viacom suit.

Secrets of the ha-ha sisterhood: According to a recent study, laughter is not an intellectual response to wit but a survival instinct for social interaction. We giggle at unfunny things all the time.

Mudge at Underground Curmudgeon lives up to his epithet: “You know what that means, don’t you? YOU AREN’T FUNNY AND YOU NEVER HAVE BEEN. People only laugh at your lame jokes in hopes that you won’t snap and teach them a hard lesson in survival of the fittest. So individuals with low self-esteem who believe that people only laugh at their jokes in order to be polite seem to be right.”

Rasputin at SL.OB notes that laughter as a social mechanism explains a lot: “You’ve probably seen it before: the boss tells a crummy joke — a joke so undeserving of laughter that it barely qualifies as one — and some poor underling starts cackling like a madman. It’s irritating, sure, but maybe there’s just a little flicker of sympathy deep in your cynical soul. That poor bastard. Having to feign amusment at some godawful jape, just because his job’s on the line. Well, maybe, he’s not faking.”

Read more about the study.