Archive for March, 2009

Earlier I blogged on some nonsense about Noah’s Ark that was broadcast on Discovery Channel. This time I’m commenting on the History Channel (which likes to go by the name of just “History” now, sans the “channel,” for some reason). At one time, the History Channel might better have been called “the World War II Channel,” since they spent so much time on World War II. Then for a while they went berserk over the Civil War and made almost every show about that. Both of these trends were tolerable for a while, but they wore thin and became aggravating.

In an effort to branch out even further, though, instead of delving into other areas of history, over the last few years they’ve been digging deeply into gobbbledygook and assorted flavors of woo. This ranges from annoying wingnut-driven conspiracy-theory crap about Lincoln’s body, to fact-deprived wild-eyed weirdness about UFO hunters.

Tonight I saw something truly nutty, however, which simply goes too far. It was a show called Bible Code II: Apocalypse and Beyond, and it definitely goes “beyond” reality.

The show examines both Nostradamus and the Bible codes. It offers a putatively accurate, verifiable prediction made by Nostradamus that terrorists would attack New York City, citing a quote from a quatrain that mentioned “the king of terror” striking from the sky. But this is horsehockey, because the quatrain (X.72) actually said:

The year 1999, seventh month,
From the sky will come a great King of Terror

As you can see, Nostradamus was off by two years — and that’s assuming Nostradamus saw two airplanes flying into towers in New York City, one flying into the Pentagon, and one being taken down in a field in Pennsylvania — not a peep of which is to be found there.

Then, on the show, a couple of guys wearing yarmulkes (I guess this implies they were rabbis, but I didn’t see their credentials, so I don’t know) were bragging about how Nostradamus was all washed up but the Bible codes were “scientifically proven.”

I do agree with them, that Nostradamus is bullshit. No doubt there. But what’s hilarious is these Bible-coders actually claiming that some other bullshit is really bullshit, while their own bullshit is scientific and provable. Imagine, a show about duelling claims of woo and bullshit!

Make no mistake, the nonsense about Bible codes is — just like Nostradamus — complete, 100% pure grade-A prime bullshit. There is nothing “scientific” about Bible codes, either — even though most of the Bible-coders use computers to analyze the Bible texts and cook up their codes. That they use computers to weave their bullshit does not make their bullshit “scientific.”

Lastly, I not that there is not one speck of actual “historical” content from either Nostradamus or Bible codes, in this show on the History Channel. Not so much as a whiff of a hint of it. It’s all fantasy, not “history,” woven by cranks and pseudohistorians.

I look forward to the day when I can turn on the History Channel, and actually view some attestable, objectively researched “history” — which is not about World War II or the Civil War, both of which they’ve already done to death.

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Back in August I blogged on the death of Javon Thompson, a 1-year-old who was killed by his own mother because he didn’t say “amen” after meals. The AP reports (via MSNBC) on the mother’s unusual guilty plea:

A former religious cult member pleaded guilty Monday to starving her 1-year-old son to death after making an unusual deal with prosecutors: If the child is resurrected, her plea will be withdrawn.

Ria Ramkissoon, 22, also agreed to testify against four other members of the now-defunct religious group known as 1 Mind Ministries. All four are charged with first-degree murder in the death of Javon Thompson.

According to a statement of facts, the cult members stopped feeding the boy when he refused to say “Amen” after a meal. After Javon died, Ramkissoon sat next to his decomposing body and prayed for his resurrection.

Ramkissoon’s attorney, naturally, defended this defendant-indulging plea deal:

Ramkissoon’s attorney, Steven D. Silverman, said Ramkissoon believes the resurrection will occur. She agreed to plead guilty only after prosecutors said they would drop the charges if the child comes back to life, Silverman said.

“This is something that she absolutely insisted upon, and this is indicative of the fact that she is still brainwashed, still a victim of this cult,” he said. “Until she’s deprogrammed, she’s not going to think any differently.”

While I can understand a defense attorney indulging his client — after all, they make their livings indulging sociopaths — no explanation is offered for why the prosecution or the judge chose to indulge the defendant with this bizarre plea. I’m not sure that it’s wise for the justice system to participate in and endorse the pathological religious delusions of a woman who would kill her own son.

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A Welsh couple in the UK has gotten government funding to start their business as psychics, as the BBC reports:

A decision to give taxpayers’ money to a help a couple set up a business as psychic mediums has been criticised.

Paul and Deborah Rees, from Bridgend, claim they have been given £4,500 from Want2Work, which aims to help people on benefits get back to work.

They know they can make a business of being psychics, because it’s their heritage, and they’ve done it before:

“It was something my grandparents did,” said Mr Rees, a former upholsterer at a furniture firm.

Mr Rees said he and his wife had worked as mediums for years but had to give up about 18 months ago while Mrs Rees battled a spinal disease and he acted as her carer.

As one would expect, the Reeses defended their “business” as legitimate:

“If you want to educate yourself and the science behind it, this is becoming a very popular subject — the public are needing it and wanting it at these uncertain times,” said Mrs Rees.

I hate to break it to Mr Rees, but 1) there is no “science behind” being a psychic; and 2) just because people turn to something during “uncertain times,” does not grant it any veracity.

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I know, vampires are in vogue these days. Vampire novels have been hot since Anne Rice was cranking them out at the rate of four or five a year, and some were made into movies with big-name stars; and recently there have been teenage vampire movies too. I get that there’s currently something of a “vampire fashion” in entertainment.

But we all know vampires aren’t real — or at least, we should. Despite this, there has been a very real vampire scare at one of the country’s most prestigious schools, as the Boston Globe reports:

Boston Latin School headmaster Lynne Mooney Teta issued a notice to parents and students yesterday quashing rumors of vampires at the school. An odd move for the head of a historic elite preparatory school, but Teta and Boston public school officials declined to elaborate on what triggered the unusual message.

They did, however, adamantly offer assurances that no one at the school has been hurt, arrested – or bitten.

“The headmaster believes that the outrageous rumors had reached a point where she had to say something to families to ensure that all students felt safe and respected,” said Chris Horan, School Department spokesman.

As for the details surrounding this scare, I’ll leave that up to the Globe article. The details, however, don’t matter so much as the fact that a vampire scare happened … in the 21st century and in the United States. Look, folks, this isn’t some remote third-world outpost where witch scares are to be expected. It’s not even in some backward part of the US. This is Boston, fercryinoutloud, and it’s the Boston Latin School we’re talking about!

Really, the people there who truly thought that Boston police were about to arrest a real live vampire, have no valid excuse for having believed it. None.

In case anyone is not clear on the matter, I’ll clue you in: There is no such thing as “vampires” and there never have been. What we think of as “vampires” are merely a literary device invented by writer Bram Stoker; his inspiration was a disparate collection of source stories, none of which were connected with any other until he came along. These included the tale of Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory and the Wandering Jew, and Stoker named his vampire character after the Romanian voivode Vlad Tepes, also known as Draculea. In truth, Stoker’s vampire had no direct historical antecedent.

So no … there are no such things as vampires, and nothing like them has ever existed.

No one in the 21st century United States has even the slightest excuse for thinking they’re real — because they’re not, and we know better. That the staff of the Boston Latin School had to go to great lengths to quell a vampire scare, is inexcusable. Time to grow up, people.

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To date I’ve blogged not once, but twice, about creationists’ efforts to get their religion into public-school science classrooms in Texas. Well, the state’s Board of Education finally voted, and in an equivocating manner typical of bureaucrats and politicians, came up with a compromise decision that satisfies no one, which will not appreciably help students understand the evolution model, which will allow religionist teachers to keep presenting the evolution model as bogus and creationism as sound, and which leaves open the possibility of future interference and agitation by creationist religionazis. CNN reports:

Dueling theories of how the universe was created got a split decision Friday night from the Texas Board of Education, which required examination of “all sides of scientific evidence” in new science standards, but rejected language requiring teachers to teach the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories. …

“Science loses. Texas loses, and the kids lose because of this,” board chairman Don McLeroy, a creationist, told the Dallas Morning News.

A final 13-2 vote approved language that will be printed in textbooks beginning in 2011 and remain there for 10 years, CNN affiliate KPRC-TV in Houston reported:

“In all fields of science, analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental observation and testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those explanations so as to encourage critical thinking by the students.”

While this directive sounds good, it’s specifically worded so as to allow creationist teachers an opportunity to throw doubt on evolution and introduce their religion to kids as an alternative. It’s eerily similar to “academic freedom” laws that creationists — er, “intelligent design” proponents — have pushed in other states, as the CNN article goes on to mention:

“Academic freedom” bills have emerged but failed in various state legislatures, the National Center for Science Education said.

An “academic freedom” act has been adopted as law in Louisiana, and there is legislation in Florida calling for an “academic freedom” bill that would mandate a “thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution.”

The center says such bills are strategies by creationists to appeal to the American sense of balance, and give the false sense that there are different sides to scientific issues such as evolution.

Creationists use this tendency to undermine the evolution model and continue to present it as questionable, even though it is nothing of the sort (again, as CNN mentions):

The scientific community has overwhelmingly scorned creationism and its latest incarnation, intelligent design, as a pretext for biblical explanations of how the world came to be, and asserts that there is no weakness or doubt in the scientific community about evolution.

Last year, the National Academy of Sciences called for the public to be better informed about the importance of understanding and teaching evolution. The academy released a booklet titled “Science, Evolution, and Creationism” — the third explanation of evolution put out since 1984 by one of the nation’s leading scientific organizations.

Allow me to be perfectly clear: There is no scientific controversy over the validity of the evolution model, even though creationists — er, intelligent design proponents — say there is one. The truth is that the evolution model is both a theory and a fact.

The religionazis’ efforts to proselytize in public-school science classrooms have not, unfortunately, abated since their tactics were revealed as disingenuous during the course of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (2004) — and declared so by a conservative, evangelical Christian appellate judge who’d been appointed by George W. Bush! Exposure of their duplicity, and their explicitly-outlined strategy to undermine science in the US and replace it with religion, has not shamed them at all … if anything, they’ve become even more vocal and vehement, moving on to other strategies, such as the aforementioned (and equally disingenuous) “academic freedom” bills.

Thus, they continue to lie to people when they claim to want to improve science education and promote what they call “academic freedom.” In truth, they want nothing of the sort. They want to destroy science as we know it, since they view it as a threat to their religionism.

One final note: Contrary to what religionazis like to say — and which CNN parroted at the beginning of the article — the evolution model is not and never will be a “theory of how the universe was created.” Evolution says absolutely nothing about the creation of the universe, which took place billions of years before evolution ever started. As a matter of fact, the evolution model also says nothing whatever about how life started on this planet. The evolution model describes only how life forms change over time — not how the universe came into existence, nor even how life began. Seems to me the first step in teaching this subject is getting one’s terminology straight — and CNN could go a long way toward that by correcting this article.

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Five years ago Norman Frank wrote What’s the Matter with Kansas?, a now-famous book which chronicled how conservatives — and more particularly, the Religious Right wing — hijacked an entire state in an effort to remake it into a showcase for their ideology and religiosity. While Frank’s book has been critiqued to death, and I’m not sure I agree with all of it, the fact remains that the Religious Right does have a great deal of power in that state, even despite it having a pro-choice Democratic governor, Kathleen Sebelius (she’s slated to join Obama’s cabinet). And they have used their authority to bludgeon all opposition. Recently, though, their campaign of demolishing “secularity” hit a roadbump, as reported by the Kansas City Star:

A jury today acquitted one of the nation’s few late-term abortion providers of violating Kansas law requiring an independent second opinion for the procedure.

Tiller was acquitted Friday of 19 misdemeanor charges stemming from some abortions he performed at his Wichita clinic in 2003. Prosecutors had alleged that a doctor he used for second opinions was essentially an employee of his and not independent as state law requires.

The religionazis in Kansas have long had a personal vendetta against Dr Tiller; they’ve been after him for over two decades, as the story explains:

Tiller has been a favored target of anti-abortion protesters, and he testified that he and his family had suffered years of harassment and threats. His clinic was the site of the 1991 “Summer of Mercy” protests marked by mass demonstrations and arrests. His clinic was bombed in 1985, and an abortion opponent shot him in both arms in 1993.

Way to go, Religious Right … show your support for “life” by bombing buildings and shooting people. How nice of you.

Of course, the religionazis in Kansas aren’t quite done with their effort to destroy Dr Tiller, even despite being rebuffed by a jury:

[M]oments after the verdict was announced, the state’s medical board made public a complaint against Wichita physician George Tiller on similar allegations.

Note that they held this complaint back, awaiting the outcome of the criminal trial. Having been denied their pound of flesh by a jury’s verdict, they’re plodding along using other avenues of attack.

This leaves me asking, what the hell is the matter with Kansas? When are these people going to grow the hell up?

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Over the last year or so, Canada has had to deal not only with the global financial crisis and growing recession, but with a parliamentary crisis as well. Now, on top of it all, there’s a controversy over whether the science minister accepts evolution — and whether or not his religious beliefs have affected budget decisions, as reported by CBC News:

Federal Science Minister Gary Goodyear’s refusal to say whether he believes in evolution has left scientists questioning what that means for Canadian research.

Dolph Schluter, a professor at the University of British Columbia, told CBCNews.ca in an email that he was “first flabbergasted and then embarrassed” when he heard Goodyear’s response to a reporter’s question about whether he believed in evolution.

“I’m not going to answer that question,” Goodyear, federal minister of state for science and technology, told the Globe and Mail in an article published Tuesday. “I am a Christian, and I don’t think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate.”

A deeper concern to me is not just that Goodyear may be allowing his religious beliefs to affect how he handles the science ministry in Canada. He happens to be a chiropractor, and given the unscientific metaphysical beliefs on which chiropractic is based, I have to wonder whether he should have his current position at all.

Note: While many people believe chiropractic is scientific medicine, it is not. It supposes that disease is caused by subluxations of the spine. Exactly what a “subluxation” is, has never been clear. They are obstructions of energy-flow of some sort, apparently (like the qi meridians postulated by the even-less-scientific field of acupuncture). Neither the energy flow nor the subluxations in them which cause disease, have ever been documented to exist by any known means. The idea that these subluxations of some unknown force causes disease, is wholly unscientific.

I have to wonder, then, why Goodyear got his job in the first place. A metaphysician — Christian or otherwise — has no authority to decide science policy for anyone, let alone a great country like Canada.

At any rate, Goodyear’s dodgy response to a question about evolution has elicited a furor in Canada which is being played out in its media outlets. Various pundits are commenting on how evolution is compatible with evolution, or it isn’t, or it’s not fair to ask a scientist (if Goodyear could be called one) a religious question, or whether something called “scientism” has damaged both science and society; and so on. It’s almost funny, if it weren’t so sad.

Religious people often erroneously consider science a threat to their beliefs, when in truth, that’s not the case. Science is a rigorous method of learning about natural phenomenon — nothing more and nothing less. Centuries ago many great scientists, such as Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton, were deeply religious or spiritual men, who believed their scientific investigations were almost a form of worship in themselves. They saw no incompatibility between the two. Unfortunately, religious fundamentalists — mostly starting with Biblical literalists who were angry that science contradicts their ancient documents, thus casting their literalist interpretation of them in doubt — decided that science was a threat to them. They’ve managed to create a “war” which need not exist.

Science is, in fact, fully compatible with religion — so long as that religion doesn’t profess to be science as well (as is the case, for example, with “Young Earth” creationists).

At any rate, a much bigger concern for Canadians than just whether or not Goodyear is a creationist or whether or not his beliefs affected his administration, is how Goodyear — a metaphysician by vocation — came to his office in the first place. That Stephen Harper and other conservatives had no problem placing a chiropractor of all people into the science ministry, should be deeply disturbing. He never should have been asked whether he believes in evolution, because he’s unqualified for the job he holds.

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