Earlier this week I had a pretty long post on The BEAST about a Shroud of Turin presentation I attended. Some of the details didn’t really fit with how I wanted to write the story, so I thought I’d add them here. This isn’t an admission of hiding facts which would have contradicted what I had to say about Russ Breault’s presentation. These are neutral omissions that just would have made the article too sprawling and rambling. Still they’re kind of interesting and I thought I should get them down somewhere and this is kind of the place for me for that sort of thing. So here we go:
The church this was held at had two flags on either side of its altar. One was a US flag and the other was a “Christian flag.” Now these are used by lots of Christian organizations, but they’re all pretty creepy. Here is is outside of the HQ of Focus on the Family:
And here it is at a Ku Klux Klan HQ:
There were ushers, but they didn’t… erm.. ush anyone. They just stood by the exits. One man was going to the bathroom towards the end of the event and an usher approached him and asked if he was leaving. I don’t know why, but it seemed ominous. Maybe that’s just my own paranoia though.
If Joe Nickell were there, he didn’t ask a question afterwards. I saw one person raising his hand after the Q&A ended, but I kind of doubt that was him since he’d have known to try to get his question out there quickly. Breault mentioned beforehand that his Q&A would have to be brief.
The pastor of the church’s name is Andrew Abraham. He shook my hand and told me God blessed me. He didn’t seem like an asshole.
Breault said that we were living in an age of skepticism. People seem to just lap that stuff up. I wish as many people showed up at skeptics’ conventions as they do to church on Sundays.
At one point Breault brought up a slide of the Pope holding that incense thing they use before Mass. Like a teacher in a classroom he said something like “And this represents… what?” and there was this really awkward pause because this is at a Protestant church and they wouldn’t be expected to know these things, apparently. A few people did and spoke up eventually.
One of Breault’s defenses against the Carbon-dating of the Shroud was that the scientists took a sample of it at a point where it had been handled. This is illustrated in the pic I have on The BEAST article where some Bishops are holding it. Breault used similar images to make this point. Then he made a few jokes about how scientists are stupid for choosing that sample. But during the Q&A it came to light that the scientists were following the Church’s protocol, since they owned the thing after all. Breault admitted this, therefore admitting that he was knowingly deceiving the audience by making it seem like this “error” – at least it was an error as he saw it – was the fault of the scientists and not the Church. I would speculate that the Church wanted to sample a part of the shroud which could be questionable so that they could always fall back on an excuse like the one Breault used to make it seem like it is at worst, still a mystery.
There were around 150 people there. Most of the pews were full. There were very few people under 40. I only saw one couple with children. I sat in the back corner in a ‘reserved’ section, but nobody seemed to care. They had water but nobody took any. It took place at 107 Smith Street in Tonawanda, NY, which is Immanuel Lutheran Church.
Breault was selling DVDs. He mentioned them once at the end, but didn’t cite them during the talk which would have been really annoying.
OK, that’s about it. Hopefully I’ll update this blog more often, but then again I always say that.
So this column’s going back to the multi-topic format, and we’ve got a school-related theme this week. It’s funny how I started this thinking it would force me to write within a certain formula only to tweak it for each of the first three.
Please don’t sue.
There’s some good news in England, where they’ve stopped publicly funding schools which teach creationism as science. That link’s from The Guardian and usually they do a good job but the headline (“Richard Dawkins celebrates a victory over creationists”) sucks. It’s not just Richard Dawkins who wins in this, it’s all of us. Even people who don’t like Dawkins benefit from not having to pay teachers to indoctrinate students with nonsense.
It’s kind of interesting that the UK was able to do this without having a separation of church and state. Here in the US, advocates of science have depended largely on the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to keep creationism out of science classes. In cases like Edwards. v. Aguilard, those who argued for teaching science in science classes only had to demonstrate that what creationists were proposing amounted to a government establishment of religion.
Creationists have responded by re-branding their creationism “Intelligent Design,” which differs from creationism only in that they claim that the intelligent designer they propose doesn’t necessarily have to be a supernatural god. It could be aliens, for example. Unfortunately for them, the defenders of science have found the transitional fossils which prove ID is nothing but a cover for the same old biblical literalism which US courts have already rejected.
Where the History Channel and the Discovery Institute converge.
Even if the creationists were sincere in their claims about aliens, it’d still be pseudoscience for pretty much the same reasons a God-based creationism is pseudoscience. So it’s nice to see that if for some reason it became necessary to fight against that brand of nonsense here in America without using the separation of church and state, we could. It’d be like beating up a 86 year old with one hand tied behind your back – a little more challenging than usual, but still fairly easy and lots of fun, too.
Meanwhile, here on our side of the Atlantic some principal is being accused of hypnotizing his students and programming them to do some creepy shit. One student killed himself the day after the principal hypnotized him. Unlicensed practice of hypnosis is a crime in Florida (where else would this happen?) and this guy is facing up to a year in prison.
One hypnosis victim (left) went on a brutal path of vengeance to find the dickshit who imprisoned him.
Someone is crazy here, but I’m not sure who. Either the parents are using the post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy in order to insinuate that the hypnosis caused the suicide, or he really did program the kid to kill himself. It sucks, but students do kill themselves all the time without having anything to do with hypnosis. And it looks like this principal was pretty excited about hypnosis, so it’s not too unusual that among all the students he hypnotized, one of them would be suicidal for unrelated reasons.
But at the same time, remember being a kid in school and how powerful and mysterious the principal of the school seemed to be? What if the possibility of the principal having the power to control your mind were thrown into the mix? That’d be terrifying. Kids would be afraid to even pass a note in class or throw a paper airplane because if they got caught, they might get sent to the principal’s office where he would program you to piss your pants whenever your teacher told the class to open your Math textbooks. So even though it’s probably not possible to use hypnosis to influence someone to kill themself, you can see why the parents would be a little upset.
Just when the British are finally getting their shit together and rejecting pseudoscience from their classrooms, we here in the States are going to be teaching more of it to our kids. It’s like they say: When God closes a door for creationists, he opens a window for anthropogenic global warming deniers.
But the Brits are supposed to be the backwards ones here. They’re the ones with a monarchy. They’re the ones with an official state religion. They’re the ones threatening students with expulsion for posting internet comics mocking Islam. They’re the ones calling a snack “tea.” They’re the fuckers who gave us terrible people with the first name Andrew like Wakefield and Sullivan. We should be miles – yeah, miles – ahead of them in this department. But instead here we are in 2012 with a small group of cranks monitoring our classrooms to make sure science teachers aren’t being too dismissive of their ideology-driven beliefs about global climate change.
The only cool thing to come out of England since 1066
We should all be sickened by this. It’s one thing for people to grow attached to goofy ideas after they’ve reached adulthood, but it’s something else altogether to indoctrinate students with those same goofy ideas in the very institution which is supposed to give them the mental tools they need to defend themselves against them.
Fortunately the National Center for Science Education is on the case. They’ve hired staff tasked specifically with fighting this ugly trend in politicizing science in public schools. Previously the NCSE mostly dealt with creationism, so this new development is kind of a big deal for them.
One last thing, and if you regularly read atheist/freethought news outlets you’ve probably already heard about this. A high school student named Jessica Ahlquist successfully sued in order to get a prayer banner removed from her Cranston, RI school cafeteria. Cranston is of course the city best known for portraying the role of Walter White on the TV show Breaking Bad.
So of course when a 16 year old girl wins a fight against people with little to no understanding of how the law in America works, you know what comes next: Christian threats! Here are some of the classier ones:
“I think everyone should just fight this girl”
“what a little bitch lol i wanna snuff her”
“lol i wanna stick that bitch lol”
“Brb ima go drown that atheist in holy water”
And to make it even worse, even someone supposedly on “our side” decided to be a big jerk about it to whine about how he feels victimized by women on twitter:
I’d call him a pussy for being so offended by feminism, but that’d probably defeat the point.So I’ll just follow Dan Savage’s advice and call him a scrotum.
Politicians in Rhode Island are piling on Ahlquist, too. Some piece of slime / Democrat (but I repeat myself) named Peter Palumbo called her an “evil little thing” on some ham radio show. A state Senator/caps-lock enthusiast named Beth Moura called her an “ACLU sweetheart.” Based on the context and the fact that she’s a Republican, Moura presumably thinks that defending the Constitution and civil liberties is a horrible thing. But with any luck, these cheap shots at a teenage girl who’s smarter than both of them put together will be the closest either of these losers get to any kind of fame or power.
The American history and early American lit geeks among us probably know Rhode Island as one of the first states with a strict separation of church and state. The guy who basically founded it, Roger Williams, was a preacher who was pretty adamant about keeping religion and politics separate. It’s worth remembering that while doubters of religion tend to be the ones who are most outspoken about defending the Establishment Clause, those values really are in the interest of the religious believers. One thing religions are good at is forming schisms, and who’s to say your’s is going to be in the majority forever? Keeping the government secular protects those with religion just as much as it does those of us without.
Anyway, this story has a happy ending because it looks like Ahlquist will be less massively in debt after college than most other students her age. Her supporters set up a scholarship fund for her which as I’m writing this has collected over 22K$ for Ahlquist’s college education. Chip in if you can.
So that’s all I’ve got for this week, kids. Hopefully you read this column on your iPhone during a boring class. Back in my day we didn’t have cell phones in school. Most adults didn’t even have cell phones. Some of us had pagers, and we had to come up with these weird codes to tell each other things using only numbers. And if you wanted a call back, you had to be at a place with an old fogey land line phone. And if we wanted to see a movie and missed it in the theaters, we had to wait until it came out on VHS. Do you even know what VHS is? Nevermind, just get off my lawn, my back hurts, tell me how to get to the shuffleboard court, my maid is stealing from me, etc.
There are lots of numbers associated with football games. But what do they mean?
A lot was made of Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow throwing for 316 yard in last week’s footsball game against the terminally unemployed steel-workers of Pittsburgh. You see, Tebow stood out from other quarterbacks for painting Bible verses on his face, a favorite of his being John 3:16. People imagined there was some connection between the number of yards Tebow threw for and the placement of one of the more important verses in Christianity within one of the later Gospels.
It’s a pretty clear example of selection bias. When something unusual happens which seems to validate a wacky but popular belief, that will stand out in the memories of people holding that belief. We remember the hits and forget the misses. It’s what psychics and astrologers depend on to keep customers. And now this weird sub-section of the divination industry is combining sports, numerology and religion, so I’m going to cash in on it like the rest.
Last night the Tea Party Patriots of New England beat Tim Tebow and the Broncos by a score of 45-10. I couldn’t find any relevant verses in the Bible. So unsurprisingly I had to turn to the Quran. Here is 45:10 from the Quran:
Before them is Hell, and what they had earned will not avail them at all nor what they had taken besides Allah as allies. And they will have a great punishment.
So it’s pretty clear what Mohammed’s referring to here. Hell obviously symbolizes the Patriots losing to the Broncos. In endorsing Jesus, Tebow had “taken besides Allah as allies.” And this blog post mocking Tebow and his fans is the great punishment predicted by the Prophet Mohammed under the divine guidance of the arch-angel Gabriel.
Now to dig a little deeper, I’m going to be using the King James Version of NFL statistics and the ESPN reports of the Bible. This is where this kind of work gets fun because there are about as many sports statistics in a game as there are verses in the various alleged holy books. So I can pretty much make the “meaning” of this NFL playoff game be whatever I want.
Tebow completed 9 passes out of 26 attempts. The ninth chapter of Mark in part tells the story of Jesus casting a demon out of a young boy. Here’s Mark 9:26
And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead.
Right after this, Jesus takes the boy’s hand and he regains consciousness. So the 26th verse of Mark 9 refers to the low point of the “boy,” i.e. Tebow, just before Jesus fully heals him. So now all Tim Tebow has to do is to have a game where he plays even shittier than he did last night and only completes 9 passes out of 27 attempts, and he’ll be back to how he was before the demon of losing in the playoffs took control of him.
Patriots QB Tom Brady’s longest completed pass of the game was for 61 yards. And is it just a coincidence that there is such a verse as Exodus 6:1? I DOUBT IT.
Then the LORD said unto Moses, Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh: for with a strong hand shall he let them go, and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land.
Here the God character is a metaphor for the INS. The government is telling Moses (Brady) that soon it will crack down on Pharaoh (Tim Tebow) for being an illegal immigrant. As he admitted in that horrible anti-abortion commercial which ran during the Super Bowl, Tebow was “born” in the Philippines. Well, all his documentation is apparently faked, according to my haphazard and irresponsible numerological interpretation of the theological meaning of Tom Brady’s football stats. Remember, you heard it here first.
Since last night’s game was one of those playoff games where the losers are banned from playing any more games and from talking or thinking about footsball for the rest of the season, this marks the end of playing football games for money for the Broncos until next fall. So we have the complete stats for the Broncos for this season.
Tebow was sacked 33 times this season. And after this disappointing loss for him, he’s gotta feel a little like Job wondering why God could let all these horrible things happen to him, like losing a game he’s paid millions of dollars to play regardless of the outcome. Job 33 is a speech by this young guy named Elihu, who tries to answer Job/Tebow’s whining and bitching. Elihu’s unsatisfied with the counter-arguments made by Job’s buddies, so he busts up the pity party to give them what he sees as the real explanation.
Job, seen here defying God by fixing his television antenna.
Elihu’s speech in Job 33 is basically a foreshadowing of the response the God character gives Job, which is that God is powerful and Job shouldn’t even question him. Shut up Job, you bozo. I MADE you from dirt. Get lost. I work in mysterious ways. That’s what God tells Job ultimately.
And it’s also what we hear from apologists trying to respond to the Problem of Evil. God gets all the credit when things are going well, but when something horrible happens like a flood or earthquake or a Broncos playoff loss, suddenly it’s all “mysterious ways.” When scientists cure polio, the devout thank God. But when a tsunami kills a few thousand people they suddenly embrace a naturalistic worldview where randomness instead of God is at the root of all things.
I’d like that kind of gig – one where all your fuck-ups are always overlooked and you get all the credit for the good stuff others do. It’s nice work if you can get it.
[I meant to write about a few different subjects this week, but got a little carried away with one in particular.]
You’ve probably heard from your jackass co-workers who read the tabloids that Beyonce gave birth to a human child this past week. But were you aware that this baby will one day reduce the human population of Earth to 500 million by instigating wars and spraying poison gas from commercial airplanes? IT IS TRUE.
Jay-Z, left, seen here warming Beyonce up to the idea of the pidder padder of little Antichrist feet.
First, some background: There have been rumors going back a while that Jay-Z is a member of the Illuminati. The Illuminati actually existed back in the 18th century. It was this group of intellectuals who worked in secret to try to undermine the theocratic monarchies which had been so popular around the world for the past several centuries and replace them with the liberal democracies we enjoy today. Eventually the Illuminati became popular to the point where it could no longer operate in secret and disbanded. Today this is known as the Operation Ivy Effect.
Around this time, America was growing up as the first modern secular republic with its own wars, pubic hair, slaves, lack of confidence around girls, wholesale slaughters of the indigenous populations and all that jazz. So the people who might have joined the Illuminati in times past didn’t have to sneak around in the shadows to talk about why they thought secular values were better than following the divine right of kings. If being able to speak your mind openly in public without too much fear of being burned alive for heresy is winning, then the Illuminati had “won.”
If you take a map of Washington, DC, you can like draw lines through it and stuff.
But the fundamentalist Christians wouldn’t let it go. They had to keep believing that the Illuminati was still out to get them, somehow. So they projected their fear and hatred onto other groups. Freemasons, Catholics, Jesuits, Jews – they were all supposedly new hideouts for the old Illuminati who’s bent on global depopulation so they can control the world. This isn’t the root of all of the kookier conspiracy theories, but it is for a hell of a lot of them.
I’m not really clear on why Jay-Z became the target of the fundamentalists on the grounds that he’s a part of this “New World Order” conspiracy. They seem to think he uses Illuminati symbolism in his music, but that just raises the question of why a secret global takeover conspiracy would risk the cover they’ve supposedly used for the past few centuries just to put some of their symbols on a Jay-Z album. What’s the point of doing that?
I’ve noticed this kind of innuendo in conspiracy-mongering a lot before. The Beatles put backwards messages on Strawberry Fields Forever to tell fans that Paul McCartney is dead. There are messages on the dollar bill. Hollywood used 911 in movies and television because they all knew the government would blow up the World Trade Center buildings on September 11. It’s all absurd on its face, and if they get anywhere near a coherent reason for why they believe the conspirators publicly displayed their plans in this subliminal way, it never makes any fucking sense at all. It’s weird that the conspiracy subculture which thrives so much on narrative can’t seem to come up with a consistent, entertaining story to really explain the reasons for the “symbolism” which only they see.
And it’s no wonder only they see this symbolism. They’re the only ones who want it to be there so badly that they actually try to force it into existence by force of sheer will. Let’s go back to that Jay-Z album cover that put him on the anti-Illuminati types’ blacklist:
I mean, sure, gold is tacky. But demonic? I don’t think I’d go that far. It has some interesting detail in it, but it’s not what I would choose for cover art if I were making an album.
A blogger I picked at random sets me straight and explains some of the symbolism:
Triangles- These are designed as an inner frame in clusters around the album. Triangles are known symbols of the pyramid in the illuminati.
OH GOD NO NOT TRIANGLES! ANYTHING BUT TRIANGLES!
Baphomet- There are four huge symbols of the baphomet in the middle of all four walls of the album. The baphomet is a pagan deity symbol for the occult and satanism.
Admittedly I kind of suck when it comes to aesthetics. But I really have no clue what this person is talking about with four Baphomets in the album cover. I see stuff in the places the blogger’s referring to, but I don’t see any goat heads. Later they misidentify tilted stars as “Pentagrams… Very known mason symbols.” They make such stretches in this way that it’s difficult to believe they’re perceiving these “symbols” for any reason other than that they simply want them to be there.
But the best part is in the update:
UPDATE: July 6, 2011- The album cover is ornate solid gold designed by Givenchy creative director Riccardo Tisci who is the same guy who designed the infamous Jesus is Lord T-shirts that the hip hip artists wear in order to deceive their fans. But it’s obvious whom they serve by this album cover.
That’s right, don’t be fooled, people! You saw the triangles, didn’t you? And the goats? No? Well, you saw the triangles, right? So… yeah! TRIANGLES OMGWTF.
To put the joking aside for a minute, this is how conspiracy believers inoculate themselves from disproof. Any evidence against them must itself be part of the conspiracy. If it turns out the guy who made the ‘Satanic’ album cover is a Christian, then his identity as a Christian is just a cover so he can deceive other Christians. If NIST finds that WTC Building 7 collapsed due to damage from debris and the fires that ensued instead of a controlled demolition, that just proves NIST was in on the 9/11 conspiracy. If some yokels call a press conference to show off their fake Bigfoot corpse and get called out on it, then they must have been part of a government plot to discredit cryptozoology.
Someone’s probably already made this connection before without my seeing it, but all this is a lot like the ‘Satanic Panic’ of the 1980s where people got whipped up into such a hysterical fear of Satanic cults kidnapping and murdering children that they started to smear some of the heavy metal and punk bands of the era as stealth Satanists. The only real differences are that this version hasn’t reached the scale of the 1980s one, and Jay-Z doesn’t seem to be adopting an over-the-top Satanic persona to mock his nutty critics while appealing to suburban teenagers who think upside down crosses are cool.
Maybe the non-reaction to the irrational fear of non-fundamentalist Christian rappers is enabling it. Maybe that’s why people feel comfortable with literally demonizing an infant.
Beyonce, seen here performing her hit single All The Single Ladies Must Bow Down Before Baphomet (Or Be Executed By The United Nations Military In A FEMA Internment Camp)
And then you’ve got the ridiculous excuses everyone in that last link parrots: That Ivy Blue means Illuminati’s Very Youngest / Born Living Under Evil. For starters, unless the Rap/R&B division of the Illuminati has developed a reverse aging potion, Ivy isn’t going to be the youngest member of the shady imaginary cabal for very long. Also, Eulb Yvi isn’t Latin for “Lucifer’s Daughter,” or anything else for that matter. It doesn’t mean anything in Latin. Some asshole behind a pulpit just made that up and people without critical thinking skills repeated it because believing it was true made them feel good.
Lastly, so what if they were Satanic members of a secret society bent on destroying theocracy? Satanism’s kind of silly in my opinion, but if the fight’s between secularists and theocrats, I don’t really need to take long to decide which side I’m on.
So to re-cap: The Illuminati doesn’t exist anymore except in the minds of hateful and gullible people who want an enemy. And even if they did, they’d pretty much be the good guys. Also, Jay-Z should start trolling the fuck out of these people by rapping about gun control, providing free abortion and sterilization services at his concerts, and hanging out with anyone named Rothschild. The worst case scenario is that the attempt to embarrass the conspiracy people into re-examining their beliefs backfires, but then Alex Jones has that on-air heart attack we all know is coming while talking about it. And that’s good enough.
So I had originally thought of calling this regular column This Week In Fucked Up Religious Shit, but a few problems came to mind. For one thing, there are lots of non-religious infuriating, hilarious, or otherwise crazy shit I would have to ignore: psychics, alternative medicine, fringe politics, conspiracy theories, North Korea, and a lot more. Also, I’d eventually collide with the problem of trying to delineate between what does and does not qualify as a religion, which can be tricky at times. I’d rather leave that problem to the IRS.
Anyway, I’m going to try to regularly write about some of the craziest shit that happens throughout the week. When I’m feeling more patient, I’ll try to actually explain how people’s thinking has gone wrong and how we can actually know that, but there will be plenty of mockery too. Sometimes that’s the most appropriate response.
So let’s get to it:
If you thought religious trolls in America were bad you can take some comfort in that you don’t live in Nigeria, where actual witch hunts are still taking place. I don’t mean some kind of Arthur Miller metaphor for an irrational hysterical atmosphere of false confessions prompted by accusations based on conjecture and hearsay; I mean the HEY LOOK DELMAR THERE’S A WITCH LET’S DONE KILL IT kind of witch hunt.
The good news is that even Houston, Texas doesn’t have a local expert in witch hunting. The bad news is that they’re flying one in to preach at them about the final solution to the witchcraft problem. Her name’s Helen Ukpabio and she’s a “Lady Apostle” at the Liberty Gospel Church. She’s going to be doing something called a “Marathon Deliverance” for 12 days in March.
The poster advertising her visit is lots of fun. For instance, if you have any of the following conditions, please consult your local witch hunter for exorcism and deliverance:
- Having bad dreams
- Financial impotency and difficulties
- Unsuccessful life with disappointments
- Possessed by mermaid spirit and other evil spirits
So whether you’re poor or sometimes disappointed, or you’re possessed by those pesky mermaid spirits (and who isn’t these days?), Ukpabio can help you “receive freedom from the Lord.”
It’s just too bad she’s incapable of offering her victims freedom from herself. See, the witch hunting problem in Nigeria has gotten so bad that some extremely brave humanists have been organizing efforts to educate people on how we know that people like Ukpabio are dangerous and evil and wrong. Stepping Stones Nigeria has been the victim of attacks from Ukpabio’s Liberty Gospel Church, when members invaded their seminars, beating people up and stealing things.
And true to religious troll form, Ukpabio had the mermaid balls to actually sue SSN for depriving her church of the right to believe in witchcraft. The good news is that Ukpabio apparently believes that when people are presented with the facts about the witch hunting craze, they can’t go on believing in it. The bad news is that that’s just not true, case in point being the fact that she’s preaching the same nonsense here in America in 2011.
Imagine how much cognitive dissonance you’d have to ignore to run an organization devoted to stopping a particular religion (i.e. paganism, animism, or whatever they mean by witchcraft) and then turn around and sue someone else on the false grounds that they’re doing the same thing, which you really are doing.
Hopefully there will be some organized protests against this hateful lying bitch in Houston, so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, check out this video she made about How Witchcraft Works. I could only watch a minute or so at a time without pacing around like an inmate in a psych ward that’s running low on medication, so you know, be warned.
Former C2C AM host Art Bell, seen here recording a Bauhaus album.
Besides the Twilight Zone marathon, the best thing about New Year’s is how the “psychic” industry clings to the change in calendars in order to make a bunch of predictions for the next 12 months. The problem in writing about this is that these people usually do this on their own websites, which of course they can alter or delete when their predictions fail.
So the good folks at Something Awful are archiving a few of the predictions from one outlet in particular: Everyone’s favorite late-night radio talk show for truckers on massive amounts of amphetamines, Coast to Coast AM. Besides keeping a reliable archive to fact-check when it comes time for next year’s fake psychic circlejerk, it’s a nice case study in how psychics give the superficial appearance of having supernatural powers. Also, they’re pretty funny. For example:
Major earthquake in central/northern California in May.
Fuzzy language is a good way to cover your bases if you’re pretending to have magical powers. What makes an earthquake “major?” It’s not clearly defined anywhere. Of course there is seismic activity all the time all over California. So all you have to do to call this prediction a hit is take all the seismic data, find the day with the most activity during May, and call that a “major” earthquake. Other predictions use a similar approach by referring to “a plane between life and death,” “a major find of buried treasure,” “More tornadoes than usual,” “bad weather,” and a “very large object.”
Some predictions are just mundane and probable, if only because they’re based on things which are already happening. The economy will slowly improve, you say? Wow, what a risky prediction! Even if we all get hit with the coming global super-collapse of all civilization in six months, whoever predicted the economy slowly getting better can still claim accuracy since the economy slowly got better for a few months.
And then some of these predictions contradict each other. Also, they’ll never fucking happen:
Hillary Clinton will win the election over Obama.
Donald Trump will win the election as a third party nominee.
Obama… will cancel the election in November.
Bigfoot will be elected to the presidency.
And some are just incoherent and goofy:
Ron Paul will win the Republican nomination, but it will end up that drag queen RuPaul won through some accident in the vote count.
End of days will become disco nights. Blondie will write the sequel to the Rapture. The three wise men will be some three wise guys.
One domestic and one natural, with one being unnatural, will change the outcome of the election.
Finding a whole new species of human beings.
The Earth will supernova because of nitrogen and helium in the core of the Earth, not molten iron like everyone thinks it is.
So, uh… yeah. Be on the lookout for that stuff, too!
Remember back when Charlie Sheen was a thing and he was bitching and whining about how he only bought hookers because he didn’t know what to do with all his money? Junk science enthusiast and Fox propagandist Steve Milloy doesn’t have that problem. Miloy’s even more passionate about his bad ideas than Charlie Sheen is, so he’s willing to throw money at anyone stupid enough to repeat his nonsense in public.
There’s a screening of a documentary on climate change this Monday, January 9. Milloy wants to pay someone $500 to ask a question for him at the panel afterwards, because he’s way too much of a coward to do it himself. And even though he hasn’t seen the documentary, he knows his question won’t be covered in it. The problem for him is that it won’t be covered in the documentary because his question is stupid:
How long will it take for the 3 x 1023 drops of water in the Himalayan glaciers to disappear?
What prompts his stupid question is that the press release of the documentary mentions that the Himalayan glaciers are “disappearing.” Well obviously there will be no problem with that at all until EVERY SINGLE DROP of the glaciers has already melted. So there! Checkmate, scientists!
In America, far right-wing militia types talk about the government staging false flag operations while calling into Alex Jones’ ham radio show under a pseudonym like “One-Eyed Leroy.” In India, the far right-wing militia types actually do the false flag operations themselves.
Sri Ram Sena is this horrible group of Hindu Nationalists in India. In a lot of ways they’re not too different from Christian Nationalists. I first wrote about them about a y ear ago when they were making the news for attacking women at pubs and threatening to attack unmarried couples celebrating Valentine’s Day in public. They also threatened to kidnap and forcibly marry them as punishment. And they raided their political opponents headquarters.
Along with physically attacking love wherever they see it, they also have a bug up their ass about Muslims. Especially those Muslims in Pakistan. See, there’s a bit of ugly history between the two countries, and some still haven’t let go of the old hostilities. So yada yada yada, now they both have nuclear weapons aimed at each other.
But even mutually assured destruction isn’t bad enough for some people, and that’s where the Sri Ram Sena enters the picture. They were alarmed at how many people don’t seem to care too much about hating Pakistanis anymore, so they hatched this plan to raise the flag of Pakistan over government buildings in India. Police say their goal was to create “communal disharmony” in the area because there is a large Muslim population there.
So people saw the flag, probably assumed it was either a mean-spirited prank or even a sign of an actual invasion of some sort, and threw rocks at their local Muslim prayer hall.
You would think that a really devoted Hindu Nationalist would buy into their own propaganda enough to not think that this kind of shit were necessary. If there really were another India-Pakistan war looming and only Hindu Nationalism could save India, why would anyone need to dishonestly provoke hatred in that way? The whole basis of their worldview is that these fights are ones people really care about and the conflict they dream about really is inevitable.
But that’s the problem with faith. It’s just not good enough of a reason to believe something, and even the most die-hard proponents of it recognize that. Deep down, they have the same doubts as the skeptics. They know the gods / God isn’t really going to smite their enemies, so they’re going to have to do it themselves. And that’s what’s really scary.
Stupid faitheists act all stupid, again
So it’s getting close to the end of 2011 and like every other group of dipshits in the known universe, science-religion accommodationists are releasing lists of people and things which have warmed their hearts over the past 12 months. Like this one in Religion Dispatches, for instance.
It’s by some guy I’ve never heard of called Paul Wallace who appropriately enough writes at the nauseatingly terrible Huffington Post. Someone who shares a masthead with Jenny McCarthy and Deepak Chopra is trying to tell us the roles of science and religion. That’s cool…
Like most accommodationist propaganda, Wallace’s screed is a mishmash of misrepresentations, unsupported assertions, fuzzy thinking, and uncontrolled rage towards outspoken atheists, all wrapped up in a haughty air of totally unwarranted smugness. I’m going to limit myself to going after the most egregious parts of Wallace’s little list here since more thorough takedowns are already available at Pharyngula by friend of The BEAST PZ Myers and Butterflies & Wheels by the amazing Ophelia Benson.
This year has marked, I believe, the beginning of the end of the war between science and religion. Creationism cannot last. The New Atheists are now getting old. And between these camps the middle ground continues to expand.
Creationism “cannot last,” huh? It’s managed to last just fine for the past several thousand years, but Wallace has enough hubris to claim that it can’t last. Not that it shouldn’t last, or even that it probably won’t last. It just can’t – the physical laws of the universe somehow require that.
Also, the New Atheists are getting old. I’m 30. Gonna be 31 in a week and a half. Is that old? I guess we’re all aging, right? Aren’t even the accommodationists getting older, too? Isn’t that how time works? Maybe if I accommodated more ancient superstition into my worldview I’d have a better grasp of such things.
To recap so far: Christopher Hitchens died and creationism will somehow go with him in the near future, so therefore ANY DAY NOW people will start buying and reading awful fence-straddling books about how Jesus was really an ancient neurosurgeon, but with magic! Are you listening, publishers? Good, let’s continue with some of his “peacemakers:”
8. Jon Stewart, political satirist, for shining light on American Atheists’ frivolous lawsuit against the inclusion of the Ground Zero cross in the 9/11 memorial museum
Wallace’s desperation is really showing here. Sure, I agree with what Stewart (and Murphy, here at this site) said about the AA lawsuit. But The Daily Show does something like 200 22-minute shows a year, and one three minute segment gets Stewart a position on this list? Wallace really wants Jon Stewart to be on his side here. It’s a classic example of confirmation bias. If you’re an accommodationist, you remember the one time Stewart rightfully took American Atheists to task and forget the hundreds of other segments where he’s attacked religion because you’re more interested in coming to the conclusion that Jon Stewart thinks like you than in reality.
Oh, and by the way, what exactly does the case in question here have to do with science? Oh, that’s right, not a fucking thing.
6. Jack Templeton, surgeon, president and chairman of the John Templeton Foundation, for bringing science into the church
In reality, if you look at the list of Templeton Prize Winners (which gets them £1,000,000 each), it’s almost entirely scientists who are then saying nice things about religion, not the other way around. And the exceptions aren’t ministers or imams or rabbis; they’re philosophers and mathematicians. Templeton doesn’t bring science into the church – otherwise creationism might really be as doomed as Wallace seems to believe. It bribes scientists to bring religion into their laboratories.
5. Chris Stedman, interfaith activist and super-swell atheist guy, for decoupling atheism from science, and for being the face of a kinder, gentler atheism
That description sounds like a parody I’d write making fun of people like Wallace, but the thing is that he really means it. He really thinks Stedman is a “super-swell” guy. I’ve already disposed of Stedman here, but this is a good opportunity for an update. Stedman said he would revisit this, but like the coward he is he’s failed to do so yet. All I’ve heard from some anonymous source is that he felt “blindsided” by my article, even though it basically just told the story of how he was lying and wrong on Twitter. So there’s not much to update. He still cites studies which don’t support his claims and then retreats into rhetorical hysterics when called out on it. As long as you’re only doing that to people like Dave Silverman and PZ Myers, it’s fine to still be labeled kind and gentle.
3. All Those People Who Are Not Backing the Ark Park, for keeping the sure-to-be-divisive Ark Encounter from its scheduled August groundbreaking
LOL wut? Wallace explains this bizarre entry further:
All year, I have been watching the fundraising thermometer at the Ark Park blog. It’s been moving really slowly. I wish I had recorded the data as the months rolled by, but it seems safe to say that, at current rates, it will take another five years to meet the $24.5 million goal set by the Ark Encounter masterminds (this is a small fraction of the project’s $150 million price tag). I suspect that’s not what they have in mind; they have publicized an opening date of 2014.
OK, get it? By simply not giving money to this fringe group of lunatics, you’re now a “peacemaker” in the religion-science wars. Yay! Even the New Atheists (You know, the ones whose imminent deaths Wallace is eagerly awaiting) get to join in on his list of super-swell guys and gals.
It’s a total failure that they might need to open in 2017 instead of 2014, I guess is what Wallace is trying to say here. They’ve only raised over $4 MILLION so far, so it must be a failure. I hate to think of the implications of what that means for us here at The BEAST. If only raising $4 million means failure, we’re several million layers below failure at this point. But fear not, readers! Like creationism and Celine Dion’s heart, we will go on.
2. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, for reminding us that being ethical does not depend on belief in a personal God—nor, particularly, on science
No decent person should turn to the Dalai Lama for advice on what’s ethical. He’s a pompous asshole. So it’s not surprising accommodationists love him.
If you’ve been taken in by the Dalai Lama’s tolerant pose, you should definitely watch this clip from the Australian TV show Jon Safran vs. God. In it the host offers a few quotes from “His Holiness” and asks if they’re from him or the Pope. They all think the quotes are from the Pope. In other words, the Dalai Lama is so backwards and horrible that people can’t distinguish his position from that of the head of an international child-raping criminal organization.
So that’s the distorted view of the “middle ground” this unknown clown imagines. And who is it he wants to build a middle ground between, you might ask. Well, I’ll leave you with a few examples of that, from just the past few days.
I could go on. There are LOTS more of these. Build bridges with these people? Fuck that.
War on Christmas News — Heathen Edition!
We’re getting to that time of year again when the snow starts falling and we all come together in the spirit of harmony and goodwill to wage War On Christmas. But as we get into the serious anti-Christmas fighting over the next few week, we might take a moment or two to consider the less fortunate among us who might not have a Christmas to wage war against. And by that, I mean Hindu and Buddhist fundamentalists.
Not many of us here in the West get too worked up about these two religions. Liberals want to be ecumenical, inclusive, and multicultural, so they tend to withhold harsh criticism of minority (in America, at least) religious views. Conservatives believe Hinduism and Buddhism are just different forms of Islam, so they figure they’ve already got it covered. But what both groups miss is that these religions make claims which are just plain wrong. And those wrong beliefs can lead to some terrible actions.
A couple of recent news items raise this issue. For starters, in India a 14 year old boy was found strangled in a field. His name was Neeraj Kumar, and he was a member of the “untouchable” caste. Except it’s no longer PC to call him an untouchable — and you can touch him, apparently. Now they call them Dalits. It’s still OK (socially if not legally) to have caste system biases in some parts of India. Go figure.
According to the BBC article, the boy’s family had been a-fussin’ and a-feudin’ with a higher caste family, one member of which shared a name with the murdered boy. And as we’ve all learned from The Big Lebowski, having the same name as a rich person leads to conflict. But in this case, most stoners won’t find much humor in it. The rich family had been pressuring the poor family to actually change the name of their children because they didn’t want to share a name with a Dalit, who they believe are somehow lower than them. The good news for the rich family is that they don’t have to worry about associating with someone lower than them because there is nobody lower than them, ridiculous bullshit about karma and reincarnation notwithstanding.
Anywho, the police say that this murder is the culmination of this absurd fight. With a billion people in India, you’d think even the most backwards of them would get used to some name overlap, but I guess not.
Representing Buddhism, we’ve got King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, but you can just call him Phra Bat Somdet Phra Poramintharamaha Bhumibol Adulyadej Mahitalathibet Ramathibodi Chakkrinaruebodin Sayamminthrathirat Borommanatbophit. That’s his official title. Seriously. Some insecure guys get sports cars to compensate for their, um, shortcomings; others give themselves insanely long and silly titles.
- “Hey Adulyadej! Is that some kind of goofy hat or did an elephant take a shit on your head?”
Like the caste system in India, the Thai monarchy is justified in religious terms. In the early days it was a mixture of a Hindu emphasis on military power and the teachings of Buddha. The current monarch is a staunch defender of Thereveda Buddhism. Back in the 1950s he became a monk for a couple weeks because one of his relatives died, which is apparently a thing Thereveda Buddhists like to do. He even wrote a book based on a traditional Buddhist story.
Buddhists try to reach what they call enlightenment, for some reason. Enlightenment means you monitor the private text messages of the citizens you rule over and throw them in prison for a couple decades if any of them insult you. That’s what happened to the 61 year old Ampon Tangnoppakul, whose lawyer says doesn’t even know how to send text messages and “loves His Majesty the King.”
Tangnoppakul has a reason to lie, though. This isn’t the first time King Adulyadej has gotten his panties in a bunch over someone saying mean things about him. Back in 2007 the Thai government banned YouTube after it refused to remove videos mocking the monarch. That same year a Swiss man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for dabbing some black paint on the king’s portrait while drunk. Others are currently serving long sentences in prison for such trivial “offenses” as posting pictures or forwarding Facebook messages critical of the thin-skinned dictator. Not standing during the royal anthem is also considered a crime in Thailand on the grounds that it insults the monarch.
The judge in Tangnoppakul’s case found him guilty and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. Tangnoppakul wasn’t there to hear the verdict in person though because as the NY Times article cited above notes, the prison he was kept in was surrounded by floodwater at the time of his sentence. Personally I doubt the authorities had any intention of letting him leave the prison even without a guilty verdict from the judge.
That really says it all when it comes to the Eastern religions which even critics of religion often treat with kids’ gloves. How messed up are your priorities when the government would rather scour the internet for critics (or develop nuclear weapons, in India’s case) than do something about massive flooding to the extent where a prisoner can’t even leave his cell for his own trial? For some reason Hinduism and Buddhism get this reputation as ‘peaceful’ religions, but even a quick glance at the news over the past week or so shows that such a reputation is totally unjustified.
Pamela Geller is this nice Muslin lady who runs an anti-Islam organization with its very own website and everything. She likes to warn us real Americans about the Mohammedans when they’re about to do something illegal, like whistle a call to prayer at a stoplight. There’s always some new and exciting way to be afraid of those Moslems.
With Thanksgiving coming, Geller has spent the past week or so wondering what the best way to connect her McCarthyite crusade to the holiday, like most of us have. And that’s how she discovered that your Thanksgiving turkey is really a Trojan Horse which has been brainwashed by the Prophet Mohammed. Check it:
Did you know that the turkey you’re going to enjoy on Thanksgiving Day this Thursday is probably halal? If it’s a Butterball turkey, then it certainly is — whether you like it or not.
Whether you like it or not, people! You cannot change your dead turkey’s religion just by wishing for a postmortem conversion really, really hard! That is unless you’re a Mormon, in which case you can have a weird pagan ceremony where you baptize your dead turkey along with a few Nazi war criminals for good measure. Anyway, this is a shock to Geller’s audience, who probably also believes in The Secret, Atlantis, energy independence, and extended warrantees too.
So why is Geller the only one very concerned about the Muslim turkeys? Sure, maybe it’s not the most important thing in the world. It’s probably only the fourth most important thing in the world. Geller laments how she seems to be the only one freaking out over this:
Where are the PETA clowns and the ridiculous celebs who pose naked on giant billboards for PETA and “animal rights”? They would rather see people die of cancer or AIDS than see animals used in drug testing, but torturous and painful Islamic slaughter is OK.
Yes, where is PETA? See, this is what separates a level-headed rational person like Pamela Geller from those ridiculous celebs and clowns, of which she certainly isn’t one at all, no, no sir. Why doesn’t PETA have an entire section of their website devoted to the cruelty of this halal slaughter practice including an article titled “The Cruelty Behind Muslim Ritual Slaughter” which anyone with two brain cells to rub against each other and a fraction of a second and Google could find? We may never know.
EDIT: The Twitter back-and-forth between Stedman and myself isn’t showing up on this blog for some reason, and I’m too lazy to figure out why. So probably just read this at The BEAST where it miraculously showed up.
A billboard campaign rarely makes the news unless it’s either wildly provocative or sponsored by an atheist group. As far as billboards go, it’s all well and good to remind people of some dehumanizing catastrophe like a Celine Dione concert at the local casino; but if you suggest that Christianity’s a myth or that atheists exist, everyone will freak the fuck out.
And part of that everyone who freaks out at atheist billboards includes other atheists. Like Chris Stedman.
Stedman calls himself a “Humanist chaplain.” [EDIT: Stedman responded in part on Twitter denying that he called himself that. I may have mistaken his defense of the position as a real job as self-defense] Don’t ask me what that means. Don’t ask Stedman either, because as far as I’ve been able to gather he hasn’t been able to elaborate on what that so-called “job” entails beyond simply being a decent person. It’s nice work if you can get it.
Anyway, Stedman’s been pretty upset with a billboard campaign by American Atheists. AA is admittedly on the more “in your face” end of the spectrum of atheist organizations, and for the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas they’re putting up these billboards:
Stedman doesn’t approve of the billboards even though, as a secular humanist, he would mostly agree with the underlying claim they make. Sure, he knows that Christianity’s based more on mythology than history, but Christians don’t. So they might be offended by American Atheists pointing that out. They need protection from those mean atheists and their differing opinions. But who will protect them? The “humanist chaplain,” that’s who.
So Stedman took to Twitter (where we admittedly follow him) to take American Atheists president and wearer of bewildered expressions in reaction to Bill O’Reilly’s idiocy Dave Silverman to task for undermining the secular cause by being too offensive. Silverman countered by citing increases in AA membership and media coverage. In a surreal move, Stedman then criticized Silverman for just focusing on the numbers. Because when you want to demonstrate a strategy’s effectiveness, you’re supposed to measure it with…Japanese calligraphy.
At this point my head was starting to ache and I felt like I had to intervene. So here’s how it went down:
&amp;amp;amp;lt;a href=”http://storify.com/BfloBEAST/beast-v-stedman-part-1″ target=”_blank”&amp;amp;amp;gt;View the story “BEAST v Stedman, part 1″ on Storify&amp;amp;amp;lt;/a&amp;amp;amp;gt;]
The studies he’s citing are pretty interesting, but almost totally irrelevant. The experimenters would take people grouped by ideology and have them read fake news stories and respond to them. Some of the fake news stories confirmed their beliefs. Others contradicted them. And some of them would have a correction at the end, while others didn’t. What the study revealed was that people don’t usually change their false beliefs when they learn of new evidence which proves them wrong. Stedman seemed to think this proves that correcting misconceptions about atheists in a nice way works, while doing it in a more aggressive, American Atheists-style doesn’t. But there was no control in the studies he cited for tone. All it tested was whether or not people respond to any correction at all, and it looks like most of us don’t. So if he’s saying we should apply these findings to a strategy of explaining to people that atheists aren’t all evil people, then the new strategy would be no strategy at all. The whole idea of secular outreach, or even just education in general, is a futile endeavor if nobody will ever change their minds when corrected. But it doesn’t look like he was thinking of things in the same way:
&amp;amp;amp;lt;a href=”http://storify.com/BfloBEAST/beast-v-stedman-part-2″ target=”_blank”&amp;amp;amp;gt;View the story “BEAST v Stedman, part 2″ on Storify&amp;amp;amp;lt;/a&amp;amp;amp;gt;]At this point I quoted from the abstract of a study he cited describing how the experiment was carried out, and pointed out that these studies weren’t about how people double down on their beliefs when they feel they’re under attack at all. He just made that up out of whole cloth. Here’s the relevant quote from the abstract:
We conducted four experiments in which subjects read mock news articles that included either a misleading claim from a politician, or a misleading claim and a correction. Results indicate that corrections frequently fail to reduce misperceptions among the targeted ideological group. We also document several instances of a “backfire effect” in which corrections actually increase misperceptions among the group in question.
As you can see, there’s nothing in there about how corrections are made. That’s not what these people were studying at all. Stedman the chaplain is just doing another form of apologetics by pretending that empirical evidence supports what he’s already decided to believe for his own subjective reasons.
Later he claimed he was thinking of another study and couldn’t find it because he was busy. As of now I’m still waiting on that. But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he’s right. Let’s hypothetically say that being aggressive in your outreach usually backfires and reinforces the same worldviews you’re trying to change. If that were true, you would expect an organization running billboards like this:
And then there’s the assymetry to consider. It’s not like Stedman is objecting to a comparably ham-handed PR campaign like this one by some anonymous person on reddit:
The American Atheist billboards just present their general position on Christianity, i.e. that it’s a myth. It doesn’t say that myths are horrible things which will lead to you going on a senseless massacre. It should be no more offensive to theists than a Pepsi billboard would be to Atlanta. I pass by all kinds of advertising and marketing campaigns I don’t agree with every day, but I don’t go on a Quixotic Twitter crusade to stop them.
Another problem with urging people like Dave Silverman, PZ Myers, Greta Christina, and our other ‘angry atheist’ friends to be nicer in their approach is that people are pretty good at spotting phonies. If you think you’re being respectful on the outside, chances are the person you’re trying to reach will just see you rolling your eyes on the inside. Unless you’re trained as an actor or something like that, sugarcoating is always going to come across as disingenuous.
One last point: even if a nice accommodationist approach works for 70% of the population, there’s still a 30% potential audience for a more blunt approach. Why not let others try different approaches? Maybe it is less effective as a whole (and I’m not yet convinced of that), but do we really want to ignore everyone who doesn’t respond to the most popular tactic? It seems so short-sighted.
Sadly, our Twitter mini-battle ended pretty much where we started:
&lt;a href=”http://storify.com/BfloBEAST/beast-v-stedman-part-3″ target=”_blank”&gt;View the story “BEAST v. Stedman, part 3″ on Storify&lt;/a&gt;]Not entirely opposed to multiple approaches…just partially. And that’s where the facepalming began.
One year from today, Americans and Mormons alike will line up at the polls to cast their votes for who will be the next king of the playground. I didn’t vote for Obama last time because I am a racist who only votes for Arab-Americans like Ralph Nader (besides, to be totally honest, I prefer the Trial By Stone method of appointing political leaders as portrayed by the Skeksis in The Dark Crystal). And I don’t plan on voting for Obama again next year. But this could change.
John McCain (right), shortly before his banishment
Since I know the President reads all of our posts and commits them to memory like most other people on Earth, I will now inform him of 39 things he can do over the course of the next year in the interests of both earning my vote and of general awesomeness.
- Start wearing a cape.
- Grow an Afro.
- Make The Avengers real.
- Replace hands with hand-shaped chainsaws.
- Sign an executive order mandating that one night a week, Bill O’Reilly’s TV show must only air footage of O’Reilly trying to fit his fist in his mouth.
- Stop the war on drugs.
- Follow @BfloBEAST on Twitter.
- And then re-tweet ALL the things!
- Start every sentence with “In accordance with The Prophecy…”
- Angrily refuse to answer any questions about The Prophecy.
- Tell my boss to fuck off during the State of the Union address, at the end in between the now obligatory reassuring lies “The state of our union is strong” and “Thank you, and may God continue to bless America.”
- Wipe all the snow off my car right before I get out of work all winter.
- New appointment: Attorney General Glenn Greenwald.
- Go BASE-jumping in secret just to try to piss in Nancy Grace’s mouth.
- Dress up as a pirate on a random Tuesday and when people ask about it, act like you don’t know what they’re talking about.
- Cut the military budget in half.
- Split the money saved from #16 between NASA and the NSF.
- Answer the next “Why” question at a press conference with “Because FUCK YOU, that’s why.”
- Order the National Guard to follow Nickelback on tour, just to freak them out. Both of them.
- Murder Andrew Breitbart with a predator drone.
- Then outlaw drone assassination of US citizens.
- Stop doing that sideways pointing thing he does.
- Punch Jay Leno in his stupid prick face.
- Get the birther thing started again by pushing for an amendment to the Constitution which nullifies the requirement that the President must be a natural-born citizen. It’s an idiotic rule anyway, and the conspiracy nuts are too much fun.
- Strap a camera to your head and livestream everything you do for a day.
- Sexually harass Herman Cain using a stick of pepperoni and at least 3 types of cheese.
- Order Mike Tyson to train his pigeons to pick the pockets of hedge fund managers on Wall Street.
- Release the invisibility cloaks along with all other technology the government received from the aliens and has since been hiding away in a vault to the public.
- Make the Pentagon invisible.
- Presidents can too make things invisible. It’s in the CONSTITUTION.
- Change the National Anthem to either What Is Hip? or any song from the Black Dynamite soundtrack.
- Find my car keys.
- Abolish the death penalty for all crimes except for driving 5 or more miles per hour under the speed limit in the passing lane.
- Sell Idaho to the Canadians.
- Forget that, trade it for Vancouver.
- Sell Arizona to the Mexicans.
- Challenge Rick Perry to a duel. At dawn. At “Niggerhead.” Call him ‘yellow’ when he declines.
- Stop pestering us about your boyfriend Jesus.
- Use the find/replace function on your speeches to change “Republicans” to “jive turkeys.”
It seems like we’ve been mourning Hunter Thompson for the past seven years now. We’ve had the obituary, the response to others’ shitty obituaries, the oral history, the documentaries. Some people got to see his ashes shot from a custom-made Gonzo cannon. We’ve even had weird conspiracy theories about him being murdered floated out on the internet by people who apparently have trouble understanding why someone like Thompson would blow his brains out when he’s in a wheelchair and just starting George W Bush’s second term as President. And now we’ve got the long-awaited movie adaptation of The Rum Diary.
The Rum Diary is pretty good for a superhero origins movie. The superhero later became known as Raoul Duke and Hunter Thompson, but back then he was Paul Kemp.
Kemp was Thompson before Thompson was Thompson – more of a late ’50s greaser who rode around with the Hell’s Angels than the eccentric character we all came to know and love in later years. But there are several moments in the film where you get the impression that you’re watching the beginning of certain aspects of his persona. His love of driving fast in sports cars with beautiful women, his love of psychedelic drugs, his hatred of Richard Nixon – all these things are inserted into the script in order to foreshadow the future of Thompson’s career. Even some lines are lifted directly from his later works for the more obsessive fans in the audience who might be looking for a little more than a literal translation of the novel itself.
Because – and I say this as one of those obsessive fans in the audience – the plot of The Rum Diary isn’t that great. I don’t even remember how it ended, exactly, though I’m pretty sure it was different from the film. What I do remember are the little anecdotes and the overall ambiance. The look and feel of Puerto Rico just before the Paleface, Inc. came in with their pin-striped suits and took over the place, that was really the strong point of Thompson’s writing at this stage.
And that definitely carried over into the translation to celluloid. Some of the characters are simplified to fit a Hunter Thompson model some of us might be more used to. The newspaper’s staff photographer Bob Sala is made into more of an Oscar Acosta / Dr. Gonzo / Ralph Steadman constant companion character than he was, and Moberg (more on him later) is more of an outcast in the film, while he was more or less part of a trio in the book.
Since this is set back about half a century ago, one of the predominant themes of corruption and crime within journalism seems quaint in the modern world. A PR guy played by the Two-Face / Thank You For Smoking guy asks Kemp to plant what amounts to miniature subliminal ads for his development projects within his stories. And although he agrees to it Kemp seems troubled by how he’s being used in the situation. So back then that would’ve been the standard reaction to an offer to be paid to unethically haul water in what amounts to a tiny newsletter for a guy who wants to build a hotel; today you get hacks like Judith Miller enthusiastically volunteering to make a case for war in Iraq in the pages of the New York Times. It’s sad how things change sometimes.
Anyway, it’s been a while since I’ve read the book, but the parts I remembered and the imagery it conjured in my mind looked pretty much exactly as I imagined. The one exception was how Moberg looked. But going back to the book it dawned on me that they had portrayed him pretty accurately and that I had read it wrong. In the movie Moberg looks like an actual transient bum who sleeps in the streets. Reading the book gave me the impression he was just the scruffiest of a scruffy bunch – the drunk who all the other drunks point to, saying, “At least I’m not like him.” But that was because I assumed Thompson was using an unreliable narrator device in describing Moberg.
But I think a moderate version of Moberg could even be justified by a literal reading of the text. The newspaper’s editor Lotterman yelled at him a lot, but you get the feeling Lotterman was a uptight guy from the beginning. Besides, in the book it was Moberg who was originally with Chenault, not Sanderson. They had a small place on the beach way out in the sticks where he would hunt for chicken. All these factors put together led me to believe Moberg was a little more together than he appears in the film. But then you’ve got Thompson’s [Kemp's] original description of him, which pretty much overrides my own nerding out over this:
Moberg had been in San Juan only a few months, but Lotterman seemed to loathe him with a passion that it would take most men years to cultivate. Moberg was a degenerate. He was small, with thin blond hair and a face that was pale and flabby. I have never seen a man so bent on self-destruction — not only self, but destruction of everything he could get his hands on. He was lewd and corrupt in every way. He hated the taste of rum, yet he would finish a bottle in ten minutes, then vomit and fall down. He ate nothing but sweet rolls and spaghetti, which he would heave the moment he got drunk. He spent all his money on whores and when that got dull he would take on an occasional queer, just for the strangeness of it. He would do anything for money, and this was the man we had on the police beat. Often he disappeared for days at a time. Then someone would have to track him down through the dirtiest bars in La Perla, a slum so foul that on maps of San Juan it appears as a blank space. La Perla was Moberg’s headquarters; he felt at home there, he said, and in the rest of the city — except for a few horrible bars — he was a lost soul.
It goes on for a few more paragraphs, but you get the idea.
Anyway, enough about Moberg. He’s a minor character. What you should take away from this is if you’re thinking about seeing The Rum Diary, don’t expect a literal translation. That’s a pretty unreasonable expectation for any movie based on a book and especially so here, where the filmmakers are trying to make this more of a final goodbye to one of the 20th century’s great journalists than a simple story about a crappy newspaper in late ’50s Puerto Rico.
One last thing. As well as they capture the image and tone of Thompson’s book, I didn’t enjoy this nearly as much as the Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas movie. Then again, this one didn’t have an obsessive maniac in the director’s chair, and we all know Johnny Depp’s not nearly as age-appropriate for a 20something Hunter than he was 14 years ago as a 30something one. Still, it’s better than Where The Buffalo Roam, but not quite good enough to not wait for it to come out on DVD.
Animal testing is a tough subject. For the most part I’m for it, although there are probably a lot of unnecessary ways it goes down which should probably be stopped. But when it comes to developing new drugs to treat diseases, there’s a certain amount of acceptable harm to non-human animals which in my opinion can be justified in the interests of a greater good to humanity.
Probably some BEAST readers disagree with me there, and we can have a discussion about the moral ambiguities and grey areas, and maybe learning more about it might cause some of us to change our minds. But when you get into how animals are used in the alternative medicine industry, all these potential nuances are wiped away since by definition alternative medicine doesn’t even work. If any of the practices I’m about to get into had shown efficacy through real scientific evidence, then they wouldn’t be alternative medicine anymore; they’d just be medicine. So what we’re talking about here isn’t about whether we should sacrifice X number of Y species to save Z number of humans; it’s just about how much we should let the quack industry harm animals for the sole purpose of profit.
Killing Tigers For Boner Pills
This one will grow up so that he may give us hope for a solution to our erectile dysfunction.
Hey guys! Having trouble getting your dick up without fantasizing about presumably wild tiger-sex? Does the idea of poaching endangered species to grind up into vitalism-inspired magic dust give you a boner? If so then alternative medicine has just the thing for you.
Vitalism is this quasi-religious way of looking at the world which emphasizes some kind of vital essence of things. We might be made of mere atoms, but there’s also some kind of mysterious living force or “spark” of life within us which always manages to escapes detection by empirical means.
In some versions of this belief, the vital essence idea doesn’t apply only to life and living organisms themselves, but also to each part of the body. So for example, my feet aren’t just organs made up of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and other elements as encoded by my DNA and controlled by electrical signals connecting them to my brain. For some reason that’s not quite cool enough to interest people who get into vitalism. For them, my feet also have to have a “keeping Josh standing” essence to them. Presumably if you cut them off, they’d still ‘want’ to help me walk just because that’s what they really like doing, apparently.
So how does this apply to killing tigers for boner pills? You need to start with the assumption that tigers have AWESOME sex lives. I don’t know why exactly people would assume that, but if they do, the secret to their unparalleled ability to just bone for hours on end (at least according to vitalism) is literally in their junk. Chop it up, smash it into powder, pour the powder into those little empty pill capsules you can buy at the health store, and you’ve got an aphrodisiac. Or at least a product you can sell as one, thanks to the FDA’s lax regulations.
Homeopathy For Cows
Louise and Melvin, seen here drinking their €2 million barrel of water.
We’ve dealt with how absurd homeopathy is a few times before, so I’ll spare you the details on that this time around. It’s a similar way of thinking to what leads people to crush up tiger junk for boner pills, but adds another layer of quackery by insisting that the supposedly active ingredient be diluted. Like, diluted a lot. This makes the remedy more powerful. Seriously, that’s what homeopathy proponents say they believe.
Using homeopathy on cows isn’t so much evil as it is stupid and wasteful. But that’s not stopping the European Agriculture Committee from allocating millions of taxpayer Euros on it during one of the worst recessions in decades. You know, just to be really extra sure it doesn’t work. Again.
This time the quacks are saying homeopathy will cure mastitis, a bacterial breast infection, in cows. The nauseating Dana Ullman tried to portray a recent study as supporting his brand of bullshit, but as Le Canard Noir points out on Quakometer, Ullman badly misrepresented the actual text of the study. A group of cows being treated for mastitis using homeopathy showed statistically significant results, but — and this is the part Ullman leaves out — there was only one observation showing the homeopath group of cows having a significant difference compared to a placebo-controlled group. Also there was only one trial, so the chances of a false positive increases.
Let’s say you have the world’s worst basketball player. Someone who only makes, say, 1 in 20 shots. You give him a basketball and tell him to take 3 shots. He makes one of them. The basketball equivalent of Dana Ullman would say that this player makes 1 in every 3 shots. A more scientific person interested in knowing just how bad this hypothetical basketball player is would tell him to shoot the ball as many times as possible, and then take a percentage. And if this basketball player is analogous to homeopathy, what that person would find is that the only times he manages to sink a ball are basically flukes.
The Europeans are being swindled by cranks and frauds to support magical thinking. If they want to spend more money on how they treat cows, that’s great. But at least spend it testing some treatment which is plausible. We don’t need to waste time and money on showing there’s no tooth fairy, and we don’t need any more studies on whether or not water has memory. It’s ridiculous.
Torturing Bears For Their Bile
Let’s say you’re a black bear, in southern China, born and raised. In the forest is where you spent most of your days. Chillin’ out, relaxin, maxin, all cool and all, eating some fruit, honey, and small birds outside of the nearest village.
A black bear, seen here roaming the forest like a boss.
When a couple of dudes who were up to no good started making trouble in your neighborhood. You get in one little fight and the poachers got scared. They said, “We’re going to lock you up in a cage for the rest of your life so we can extract bile from your gall bladder to sell as traditional Chinese medicine.”
Yeah, so that’s an image of a black bear in captivity. What they do is puncture a hole through its abdomen into its liver. They keep this wound from closing up, creating a brand new orifice which the quacks then use to extract bile. Imagine being kept in a cage only slightly bigger than you so someone can stab you in the guts without you tearing both of their arms off. Then whenever the hole in your belly starts to heal, they tear it back open again. It sounds like something out of an Eli Roth torture porn flick where medical staff are kept around to keep the victim from dying prematurely, thereby prolonging its suffering for as long as possible. But this is alternative medicine, so you know they do all of this with love and in harmony with nature and stuff. Or something.
Smoking Vulture Brains to See the Future
For some reason, some people in South Africa got the following idea into their heads: That you can see the future — especially lottery numbers and the results of sporting events — by getting yourself a vulture, killing it, crushing its skull, extracting its sweet juicy brains, rolling it up into a giant spliff, and smoking it.
You would probably think this is the kind of superstition with a short shelf life, since it’s so easily testable. Actually, maybe “easily” isn’t exactly the right word. But if you find it easy to kill a bird and smoke its brains or you know someone who does, and if that really does allow you to perceive future events, this should be one way to win the lottery or a long-shot sports bets by being like this kid:
But no. As far as I know, there’s no huge surge in South African millionaires. All that’s happening is that the vultures in that part of the world on the verge of going extinct because people can be greedy and stupid. Or maybe it’s just that they secretly like the taste of vulture brain smoke but rightfully feel embarrassed about it so they make up this lie about seeing the future to cover for their weird and cruel habit. Some vulture brain junkie is probably explaining to his wife right now that they’re going to win the lottery any day now if only he could just have a few more vulture brains.
Haunted Abortion Cemetery? The BEAST Investigates
There are lots of stories of haunted places here in Western New York. Surprisingly, most of them are places with prices of admission: haunted theaters, haunted hotels, haunted gift shops, haunted pet stores, haunted haunted houses, haunted toll booths, and that sort of thing.
Being the poverty-stricken proletariat that we are, we decided to investigate a supposedly haunted place which is open to the public. So we went to Goodleberg Cemetery in Wales, NY, to investigate the local legend of fetal ghosts terrifying the populace by leaving tiny handprints on the windows of cars.
Here are the results of our investigation. Enjoy and Happy Halloween.
I kinda forgot about this blog until some obsessed fan reminded me of it. So if one of the tens of people who read this regularly still haven’t given up on it, please do keep it in your subscriptions or whatever. I’m going to try to keep it updated with BEAST stuff and more, but no promises. A few things from the past month or two to follow…