Comment of the Day, #10

September 11, 2011

A little love, Republican style

Here again, I present my semi-annual feature, “Comment of the Day”. Today’s comment comes from Sue Blue, who gives us a capsule summary of Rick Perry:

Perry is a twat who makes even Bush look reasonable and middle-of-the-road. This is the guy who supported Texan secession and who thinks holding huge public prayer rallies at taxpayer expense is the way to fix Texan weather and economic woes. The irony of this guy running for president just fucking blows the top right off my irony meter. Here’s someone who claims to hate “big government” so much that he wants his state to secede… yet he wants to be POTUS? Who in their right mind—even a Republican—would want this guy running the country? Then there’s the do-nothing-but-pray-loudly approach to natural and man-made disaster. He’s as dumb and crazy as Bachmann when it comes to his statements about evolution and science. He’s only slightly more articulate than that other Texan village idiot.

I was down in Texas visiting unfortunate relatives when this moron held his prayer-fest, held in a huge, air-conditioned stadium while thousands of Texans sweltered in 110-degree heat with their power turned off because the emergency funds collected by the utility to help the poor were being held in a special account used to make the state budget look good and keep the Repub promise not to raise taxes. These guys would rape their own Grandmas if there was a buck in it for them.

Dark Matter Finally Identified!

September 7, 2011

I’ve solved the mystery that astrophysicists have been puzzling over for decades: What is dark matter?

That’s easy! It’s Anti-Science!

Republicans, the anti-science

We’re surrounded by it. It’s everywhere! Just look. Here’s a bunch right here!

Organized crime

It obviously makes up the majority of the matter in the United States alone; therefore (and I’m extrapolating here), it must make up the majority of the matter in the rest of the universe.

Mystery solved.

For my next miracle, I will explain why so many women and minorities vote Republican.

OK, on second thought, maybe I can’t explain that one.

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On the anti-science front, there was an article in the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday about the quandary the Republican presidential hopefuls are in when they come out here to Silicon Valley:

But the Republican candidates’ views on climate change are being met with the most raised eyebrows in Silicon Valley, the mecca of political fundraising, tech innovation and venture capital dollars.

“In a valley of scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs, the science behind climate change is overwhelmingly accepted,” said Carl Guardino, president and CEO of the nonpartisan Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which represents more than 325 of the region’s top companies.

That will hurt them a bit financially, but I suspect there is more than enough stupid money in the rest of the country to make up for it.

Fortunately, their irrational beliefs will also make it harder for almost any of these Republican to carry the state in 2012.

There is little doubt about climate change among likely California voters, 61 percent of whom believe that the effects of global warming have already begun, according to a July survey by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.

It also might work against them, to some extent, in the rest of the country.

Nationally, 55 percent of Americans believe that global warming is a “serious personal threat,” according to a Gallup survey in August.

Here’s where it gets good:

The bad news for Republican presidential candidates: The Public Policy Institute survey found that 62 percent of independent voters, who are the swing voters in the state, believe that, too.

Of course, they always have the idiot core:

Thirty-two percent of California Republicans believe that the effects of global warming “will never happen,” the poll also found.

That’s just not enough to carry the state. If things were settled purely rationally (the way they ought to be!), the election would already be over in California. Just hand over those 55 electoral votes to Barack Obama!

In reality, since Obama is a thoroughly incompetent president, he’ll probably manage to hand over those 55 electoral votes to the Republicans.

An example of this is best illustrated by this tweet from God regarding the recent earthquake on the East Coast:

There was just a 5.8 earthquake in Washington. Obama wanted it to be 3.4, but the Republicans wanted 5.8, so he compromised.

But let’s get back to the Chronicle article:

Only one major Republican candidate has dared to challenge his party on these views. Last month, Jon Huntsman, a former U.S. ambassador to China and Utah governor, tweeted: “To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”

He is crazy. By Republican standards.

He has other problems, so I could never support Huntsman, but I still wish he’d be the Republican’s pick. Actually, I really wish they’d pick Michelle Bachmann. She’s so crazy that she probably couldn’t win the general election.

Since the Republicans will probably nominate someone else, My hope is for Huntsman. If they pick a “moderate” (by Republican standards), whoever that is will probably win. I’d rather we have a pro-science Republican in the White House than an anti-science Republican. All of the other GOP candidates are anti-science.

In addition to climate-change denial, all of the other candidates also deny evolution. The Chronicle article briefly touches on those views too.

Rick Perry has described himself as “a firm believer in intelligent design as a matter of faith and intellect…”

OK, I can understand it being a matter of faith. But intellect?

…and has called evolution “a theory” with “some gaps in it.”

I think it’s his brain that has some gaps in it.

Mitt Romney appears to be taking a nuanced position. “I believe God is intelligent, and I believe he designed the creation,” he said.

He’s not taking a nuanced approach. That’s exactly what the Intelligent Design creationists are saying.

“And I believe he used the process of evolution to create the human body.”

This actually shows that not only does Romney not understand evolution, he doesn’t understand Intelligent Design creationism! According to Michael Behe and the other pushers of this drug, evolution alone isn’t capable of creating us. God had to step in at critical points during our evolution and poof us to the next stage.

Michele Bachmann…

Who let the crazy woman in here? How did she get out of bed this morning? Didn’t anybody check her straps?

…has claimed that “hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel Prizes,” believe in intelligent design, as she does.

If by “hundreds and hundreds” she means “one or two” and by “many of them holding Nobel Prizes” she means “none of them”, then she’s absolutely correct!

But she said government shouldn’t take sides in scientific debates “when there is reasonable doubt on both sides.”

She’s right. Some scientists look at her brain scans and claim to see activity. Other scientists only see a wet gray sponge. The government shouldn’t take sides in that debate until we can cut her open and check. Evidence! We need more evidence, people!

Ron Paul said he does not accept the theory of evolution. “The creator that I know created us, each and every one of us, and created the universe, and the precise time and manner,” Paul has said, although he has also said there is no “absolute proof on either side.”

Science doesn’t work on absolute proof. It works on data. In the case of evolution, “absolute” refers to the absolute mountain of data we have supporting it. Where is any data supporting his claim?

Newt Gingrich…

Newt Gingrich!? Is that guy still around?

…has said, “I believe that creation as an act of faith is true, and I believe that science as a mechanical process is true.… Both can be true.”

What does that even mean? The universe had two origins? A created origin and a mechanical origin? When we finally look, the act of observing will make the entire universe collapse!

He says both should be taught in schools, evolution as a science and intelligent design “as a philosophy.”

ID creationism isn’t philosophy. It isn’t the intellectual equivalent of Plato or Kant. Just try to justify teaching creationism in the schools, Newt! You’ll discover you Kant.

Jon Huntsman is the only candidate in the GOP ranks who has taken a strong position in support of evolution, recently tweeting, “I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”

Rick Santorum, who calls himself a fierce believer in creationism, jabbed back at Huntsman, saying, “I believe in Genesis 1:1 – God created the heavens and the earth. I don’t know exactly how God did it or exactly how long it took him, but I do know that he did it.”

And I do know that the Republicans are hell-bent on destroying science and science education. Lose your house in the Republican-caused Great Recession? Don’t worry! Just vote Republican a few more times, and we’ll all be living in nice warm caves again! Then we’ll be arguing over “teaching the controversy” and the “strengths and weaknesses” of the theory of fire.

The Fundamentalist Assault on Our Civil Rights Never Takes a Vacation—But I Do!

August 7, 2011

I know you can't live without me, but you'll have to try

I’m on vacation for the next two weeks. You guys can worry about the fundies for me. I’ll try to look in on the blog every few days to delete the spam comments and fish anybody out of comment moderation.

Summer Vacation, 1976

August 7, 2011

“There is a Growing Tendency to Think of Man as a Rationally Thinking Being… Which is Absurd. There is simply no evidence of any intelligence on the Earth.”

When I was growing up, my family would sometimes go back to my grandfather’s farm in South Dakota for a couple of weeks in the summer. I loved that place. It was so different from the world I knew. It was so alien, in fact, that my grandparents didn’t even own a television.

In 1976, when I was in my early teens, we somehow managed to go back for six weeks (I’m not sure, but that might have been the summer of the spreader.). Interestingly, the prospect of spending a summer without a television didn’t bother me at all—except for one thing…

That was summer that NASA landed Viking 1 on Mars. That was a big event. It was NASA’s first robotic probe to land on Mars. Among the various scientific equipment aboard, it had a biology lab. They were looking for life on Mars! Microbial life seemed a very real possibility back then. This was our best chance to find it. And I was stuck in the middle of Buttsuck, South Dakota, miles from a television.

Road trip!

It looked something like this.

We drove there and back in our 1969 Chevy station wagon. It was decadent! It had air conditioning and seat belts. Our prior car, a 1965 Ford Mustang, had neither (Actually, I think the Mustang had seat belts in the front. I guess the rear passengers, like rabbits, were expendable.).

We’d stop for gas and food at the wonderful truck stops and tourist traps along the interstate. I loved to buy their postcards of giant grasshoppers:

Yummy!

… jack rabbits:

Bunny!

… fur-bearing trout:

If you catch enough, you can make a coat

… and, the most famous of all, of course, the jackalope:

Not bad for the days before Photoshop

A lot of the gift shops also sold this book:

Fun trivia.  Most of it may have even been true.

It was filled with all sorts of fun trivia about U.S. history. It was a good book to read on the trip, so I bought it. Here are the titles of some of the short articles:

  • The last man to invade U.S. ended up as a guest at a banquet
  • She was first woman in United States to wear pants—by an act of Congress!
  • Five presidents have had beards and all five were Republicans
  • Famous ghosts still walk halls of White House
  • The day president U.S. Grant was arrested for speeding

Some of this book’s trivia I later confirmed in other books. One or two I’ve found were common myths. But overall, it was a fun read.

I have a good memory. Looking through this book today, I see that I have actually retained most of these stories in my massive brain.

One of those articles that I always remembered was the story of the Millerites, which I have reproduced below. I remembered it during the recent Harold Camping laugh-fest.

Reading this article back then in the summer of ’76 was my first exposure to the concept of the doomsday cult. I had always known that there were crazy fundies perpetually predicting the end of the world. Until that point, I never knew that some of them were insane enough to actually abandon work, leave their fields unplanted, and sit on a hillside waiting to be raptured.

Welcome to the real America, kid. Ugly, isn’t it? (I wonder what I would have thought if I had known that 30 years later, I’d embark upon a 5+ year quest to document and expose the dangers of this insanity.)

So for your enlightenment, here is the article that I read that summer 35 years ago:

You're not going to believe this, but the world is ending tomorrow!

(Click to embiggen, if you can stand to see fundie craziness at full size.)

I love the last two words of that title: “It Didn’t!” Really? I would have thought he wouldn’t have needed to tell us. (At the very least, he should have preceded it with the words “Spoiler Alert!”)

That article doesn’t tell the entire story, though (and it gets a few of the minor details wrong). Those people didn’t just “[start] life all over again”. Nor did they learn their lesson. They became the Seventh Day Adventists.

Thinking back now on that article, I see a similarity between what I wanted to do that summer in 1976 and what the Millerites wanted to do in their day. Yet in that similarity I see an even bigger difference.

Both of us looked to the heavens.

The Millerites, though, were looking to a delusion of the past and hoping for the demise of mankind.

I was looking to man-made robot on Mars and dreaming of our future.

A Million Ticking Breiviks

August 1, 2011
Tick… tick… tick…

The “normal” right wing crazies are distancing themselves as much as they can from Anders Breivik. The truth is, he’s a right-wing crazy, and he’s a Christian. Deal with it.

This week’s On the Media had a segment on Breivik’s religious beliefs. Give it a listen. They play a clip from Bill O’Reilly, who desperately tries to convince us that “No true Christian” would do what Breivik did.

OTM interviews Jeff Sharlet (who frequently writes about the dangers of Christian fundamentalism), who actually sat down and read Breivik’s entire 1500-page manifesto. Sharlet says that Breivik starts out “not particularly religious” in the beginning of the document but slowly becomes a full-bore Christian by the end of the manuscript.

I’m not going to lay the bulk of the blame for his behavior on Christianity. The impression I get from this report and other things I’ve read is that he was already an intolerant xenophobe. The Christianity is just something he picked up along the way. He probably found things within Christianity that reinforced his bigotries, just like you can find things within the Bible that back up any preconceived notions you’re looking to support. The Christian fanaticism was probably just a byproduct of his existing conservative fanaticism.

That’s the important part of this story. Breivik is a dangerous conservative fanatic. It’s his rabid adherence to and belief in the terrified and hateful views of the far-right conservative movement that drove him to mass murder.

Sure, something is probably wrong inside his head. Most extreme conservatives, who hate everyone different, don’t go on murderous rampages. But there are quite a few right-wing extremists who are just barely restraining themselves, and that’s only due to social pressure. They know they’d go to jail. Most of them would even agree that randomly killing other people is “wrong” by most definitions, including by their own personal moral code. But they also would claim that killing in self defense is justified. And killing to protect your home is justified. And killing to defend your country is justified.

So you see, there is almost nothing stopping the hundreds of thousands (or millions?) of the most right-wing of the right-wingers from killing one (or two or a hundred) non-white non-Christians, if given a plausible excuse or if they feel sufficiently threatened.

Look at the epidemic of lynchings we had (mostly in the South) between the end of the Civil War and the 1960s. Some lynchings were perpetrated by just a few people. Other lynchings were perpetrated by large crowds. All told, thousands (or tens of thousands) of ordinary non-crazy, non-sociopathic, church-going white people murdered over 3400 black people (and 1200 white people!). Most of these lynchers would probably begrudgingly admit that the black guy they just killed actually was a human being. Most of them would probably admit that killing human being is immoral. Yet every single one of them justified their actions. How? Because they felt threatened. They were acting in self defense.

It’s very easy to turn a normal person into a killer. Just make him feel threatened enough.

The current tone of political “debate” in this country (in the town halls and at the teabagging rallies and on Fox News and on countless radio stations) is too toxic and too inflammatory. Don’t throw gasoline on a smoldering fire. Norway isn’t as far away as you think.

The Alpha Course

July 11, 2011

I'm opposed to capital punishment, but somebody fetch a mousetrap

I was all set for my big comeback article tonight. It was going to be good. I was going to write about a high-pressure fundie recruitment ploy that utilizes intensive sales techniques, a la the dreaded timeshare sales pitch.

It turns out that isn’t quite what they do, and it was a rather sucky documentary to boot.

The film I watched is episode one of an 8-part U.K. documentary series on religion, titled Revelations (That page at the IMDb is like the documentary: Not really worth your time.).

The series was actually made back in 2009. Apparently it’s in the process of being rebroadcast right now. Depending on where you live, you can watch a few of the episodes online, but not episode one.

That first episode is titled “How to Find God”. It’s about a Christian recruitment program called The Alpha Course. Alpha was developed by a reverend in the Church of England, but it’s used by churches of many denominations. According to the documentary, “there are 30,000 Alpha courses running… in 168 countries.”

The whole shtick here is that churches know they’re losing members. They don’t want the golden goose (that allows them to avoid getting real jobs) to die, so they have to bring in fresh bodies. Like the tobacco industry, they don’t want to steal parishioners away from some other church. That just means they’d be squabbling over the crumbs of a smaller and smaller pie. They need brand new bodies! They’ve had schemes running for centuries to suck in the kids (just like the tobacco industry). That used to be sufficient. Sadly, not even that will stave off irrelevance. They need some other source of bodies. How about atheists? No, that really wouldn’t work. Here’s an idea! Why don’t they harvest some agnostics? Brilliant!

So they developed this course that runs one night per week for eight weeks, plus a weekend getaway (ironic, since “getaway” is the one thing they don’t want you to do). The documentary tells us that more than two million agnostics in Britain have done the Alpha course. One in eight converts. Multiply that by all of the other Alpha courses running around the world. Yow! That’s a lot of very weak agnostics.

The documentary was produced by a chap named Jon Ronson. I guess I haven’t been paying attention, because I didn’t know who he is. It turns out that this is the guy who wrote The Men Who Stare at Goats. If you go to his Wikipedia page, the first thing you’ll see is a picture of him speaking at TAM London in 2009. (If I had actually been able to score a ticket to TAM London like I wanted, then maybe I wouldn’t have been so clueless on who he is.)

The documentary itself was somewhat amateurish. It follows eight agnostics as they go through this course, yet Ronson doesn’t even bother to get all their names. One agnostic bails after the first night. We watch her walk away while Ronson narrates “…one of them, I never know her name, says it isn’t for her.” Then in a later scene, his video tape runs out, and he misses a dramatic moment. Later in the documentary, he forgets to turn off the camera. He catches an important scene merely through ineptitude! Despite this, the program did hold my interest, but maybe only because I was taking notes for this article.

The way the Alpha course is structured, everybody piles into the church some evening for the weekly meeting. The head of that church gives a low-pressure lecture about Jesus, what he taught, how we “know” he was real (they claim to have evidence, but it’s just Josephus, who wrote about Jesus years later), and how God loves you so much he’s going to send you to hell to burn and writhe in agony for eternity for not clapping your hands and believing in Tinkerbell.

After the lecture, the congregation of agnostics breaks up into small discussion groups. In the documentary, we follow one of these groups, which consists of eight agnostics (seven after the first night) plus two discussion leaders. In the group, they discuss where everybody is coming from regarding their thoughts on whether God & Jesus exist and if there is any chance in hell of any of them converting.

During these discussion groups, the agnostics raise all sorts of logical objections. Those clever Alpha people can’t be stumped, though! The head office publishes a set of pamphlets that refutes (or so they think) all of the common logical proofs that God & Son are unlikely to exist.

It’s clear that the agnostics in this documentary are not buying any of it at that first meeting. For whatever reason, all seven come back in subsequent weeks and continue to subject themselves to this low-grade sales pitch. Ultimately, some of them falter and find themselves getting drawn in. Don’t these people read science fiction? Never go into orbit around a black hole!

I would surmise that the reason this course works on so many agnostics is because it isn’t hardcore fundie. Supposedly the content is evangelical. It is anti-gay. They even speak in tongues at one point (or fail to in this documentary, thanks to a convention of sports car enthusiasts). But I didn’t see any of the fire and brimstone that we normally associate with fundiegelicalism.

Maybe that’s something that varies by church. Of the thousands of churches around the world that use this course, perhaps some of them whip themselves into a frenzy of Jesus-praising and gay-bashing and porn-hating. I’d be very curious to see what their conversion rate is. As counterintuitive as it might seem, I’d be willing to bet that those fundie churches actually have a much higher conversion rate than one in eight. After all, look how many people buy timeshares.

[If you are unable to find this documentary through your cable system or however else you acquire content, I did find a watchable copy on YouTube. It’s apparently from German TV, because it’s full of German subtitles (or maybe the video is speaking in tongues). Here are part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.]

False Alarm

May 24, 2011

No Jesus. Know peace.

This guy stood outside the hall all day Saturday and tried to convert us.
(From San Jose Calif. Mercury News)

Don’t panic about that last post. That went up by mistake. I was having too much fun at the Regional Atheist Meeting to run home and stop the post. I figured if Harold Camping was wrong about his rapture, I could be wrong about mine.

When I first arrived (a bit late), I was surprised to see the place crawling with reporters. There were multiple news outlets there, both print/internet and television. I watched one of the 11:00 PM news broadcasts that night, but we weren’t on it. I also barely found any references to us in the papers/online. It seems odd that they’d go through the effort of sending reporters and then not use any of it. Maybe we just aren’t interesting or colorful enough for them.

The San Jose Calif. Mercury News gave us two short paragraphs in their larger rapture-is-a-bust article, although they did give us a few photographs. But of the five photographs, two were of the looney-tune who stood out front all day trying to convert us. So 40% of the news photographs devoted to our event actually covered the religious opposition to our event.

(To be fair, the San Francisco Chronicle gave us more coverage, but they only covered Sunday, which wasn’t the day of the rapture (of course, neither was Saturday!). I didn’t go on Sunday. I had run off to the Maker Faire to see, among other things, Adam Savage stand in a Faraday cage between two arcing Tesla coils.)

Speaking of the fundie out front, I passed him several times, going to & fro lunch and dinner. He was always engaged in a civil, non-emotional debate with one or several atheists. Mostly, he was giving the standard arguments you’ve heard from them before. The one exception was how he justified genocide.

I know that fundies have no problem with murder as long as God does it, but I guess I’ve never heard them articulate it in the flesh before. It’s one thing to read it waved off abstractly on an apologetics website. It’s another thing to have one tell it to your face.

An atheist was telling the fundie that God is an immoral brute, because he killed millions of men, women, and children in the Flood. The fundie said “That’s not murder. That’s not immoral, because God did it. God is the source of morality. If he did it, it can’t be immoral.” (I’m paraphrasing here.)

That is why these people are so dangerous. You would think we would have not just a consensus but a unanimity of opinion in this country that murder, especially genocide, is immoral.

Nope!

The apocalypse was scheduled for 6:00 PM. As you’ve no doubt figured out by now, it didn’t happen. But here’s the funny thing. At 7:04 PM, the Earth shook. It didn’t exactly open up and swallow us all, but it was an actual, honest-to-dog earthquake with a magnitude of 3.6! It not only shook our building, but also the Family Radio building, which was just a couple of miles away. And if you take away Daylight Saving Time, the quake actually struck at 6:04 PM, just four minutes behind Harold Camping’s prediction!

Of course, he predicted a quake of much larger size, actual destruction, and actual death, so we have to count this prediction as a bust. There were bigger quakes that day, including a 6.1 in New Zealand. In fact, there were at least nine earthquakes of magnitude 5.0 or greater on Saturday. But, as the USGS points out, that’s about how many you get every day.

I’ve been looking at some of the coverage that failed-prophet Harold Camping’s rapture failure has received since it failed. A “news blog” (whatever the hell that is) on Yahoo reports:

Camping’s PR aide, Tom Evans, told the L.A. Times that the group is “disappointed” that 200 million true believers weren’t lifted up to heaven on Saturday while everyone else suffered and eventually died as a series of earthquakes and famine destroyed the Earth.

I can see how that would be disappointing (emphasis added). Maybe we can get some of them jobs torturing prisoners at Guantanamo. I think they might have an aptitude.

Finally, have you seen that Camping is sticking by his end-is-nigh story, but he’s changed the date? This is just too funny. His original prediction was that the so-called “good guys” (you know, the ones who think genociding an entire planet or watching billions writhe in agony is moral and proper) would rapture on May 21st, the rest of us would be tortured for five months, and then the Earth would kaboom on October 21st. Well now he’s saying that the beginning of the end did start on May 21st after all, but none of us can see it. Instead, the rapture and the torture and the destruction of the Earth are all going to happen on October 21st.

And when October 21st comes and goes, then what’s your new date going to be, Harold?

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And for those who bothered to read (or scroll down) this far, here’s what you could have been doing on Sunday. Here’s Adam Savage at the Maker Faire:

I’ve Been Unexpectedly Raptured

May 21, 2011

Is a Rapture Muffin like a meadow muffin?

Well this is embarrassing. It appears that I have just been raptured.

If you’re seeing this post, it means that God has taken me! (Or possibly I’ve just been run over by a drunk driver while trying to cross the street. Please check outside for a mangled body on the road. That’s probably me.)

I had this post scheduled to run automatically at 6:01 PM on May 21st. I figured that the rapture would run on time (God is like Mussolini, you know). If I hadn’t been raptured by 6:01, I was planning to intervene and prevent this post from publishing. The fact that you’re seeing it now means that I have been raptured!

Hallelujah!

This just shows what those fundies know. They claimed that I’d spend eternity in hell for being an atheist. I’m not going to hell! I’m going to heaven!

…Surrounded by fundies for eternity. Oh, shit!