Posts Tagged ‘global warming’

TWiC 3: School’s Out (Of Their Minds)

January 21, 2012

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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

@jennifurret @jessicaahlquist I would definitely support you on this but far to many Females use their being a victim as a weapon again Men.

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.

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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.

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This Week In Crackpottery #1: Witch Hunts, Psychics, AGW Deniers, & Hindu Nationalists

January 15, 2012

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:

Notorious Nigerian witch-hunter to preach in the US

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.

Coast to Coast AM’s New Year’s Prediction Show

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!

Fox News columnist offering $500 for someone to disrupt a science documentary about climate change

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!

Sri Ram Sena flies Pakistan flag over an Indian government building

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.

This post is about Israel but has nothing to do with the Palestine issue

October 5, 2010

… which makes it a rarity as far as blogs in general go, I guess.

OK so there’s this lesson we here in America ought to take from Israel, and that is that we should fire government officials who are in charge of science education and yet oppose the whole idea of science education. We haven’t had much of this at the federal level lately, but under Bush this was part of this drearily predictable pattern of appointing people to head departments who had the goal of undermining said department.

For example Bush’s Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao never had a labor job. She was always on the side of management. The Department of Justice was staffed with Liberty “University” grads who wanted to replace the Constitution with the Ten Commandments. The EPA was stripped of whistleblower protection, which also kind of undermines the point of having an EPA.

But this isn’t about early 2000s America. It’s about Israel in 2010. So I’ll try to get to the point.

Gavriel Avital was Israel’s chief scientist in its Ministry of Education until recently. He was fired for denying evolution and global warming. In other words he was fired for incompetence.

YNet News claims in its headline that he was fired for questioning evolution, which makes it seem as if he were fired for having an open mind. This seems like an injustice since science really depends on scientists having an open mind and being open to having even our most strongly-held beliefs challenged. But then you skim down the article a bit and you get a more accurate representation of his views:

“If textbooks state explicitly that human beings’ origins are to be found with monkeys, I would want students to pursue and grapple with other opinions. There are many people who don’t believe the evolutionary account is correct,” he said.

There are two logical fallacies in as many sentences here. The first is a strawman, since nobody but ignorant creationists claim that evolution means that humans evolved from monkeys. What it means is that humans and other apes share a common ancestor. So since textbooks don’t “state explicitly that human beings’ origins are to be found with monkeys,” it’s safe to presume that he wouldn’t want students to “peruse and grapple with other opinions.” But probably not, I’m guessing.

The other logical fallacy is an argument ad populum. From a scientific perspective (and certainly for someone in charge of science education), it doesn’t matter if there are “many people who don’t believe the evolutionary account is correct.” What matters is the evidence. But creationists don’t like to talk about evidence, so they try to make their weird conspiracy theories seem plausible by focusing on aspects of the discussion other than the evidence.

This is something we ought to learn from. It’s OK to fire someone for incompetence, even when their incompetence results from their religious beliefs. That doesn’t interfere with their freedom to believe whatever they want – it only interferes with their ability to get paid for a job for which they are clearly unqualified.


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