Archive for August, 2010

Gardaland Ghost TrainOnce upon a time, ghost hunting was a rare vocation. The only “ghost hunters” I ever heard of — when I was a kid — were Ed & Lorraine Warren, who happened to live in my home state of Connecticut. Back then, if you mentioned “the ghost hunters,” you were assumed to be referring just to those two people, in particular, and to no one else. Now, with many media outlets hosting ghost-hunting television shows, everyone and his brother and sister and first and second cousins seems to be a ghost hunter.

Until now, I suppose it was harmless … aside from the time, energy, and money wasted on a futile enterprise … but it has finally claimed a life. WBTV-3 reports on a guy who died trying to see a “ghost train” in North Carolina (WebCite cached article):

A man who was with about a dozen people who were looking for a legendary “ghost train” in Iredell County was hit by a locomotive and killed early Friday morning. …

“It’s extremely steep, rugged terrain,” said Captain Darren Campbell of the Iredell County Sheriff’s Office. “The train impacted with one of them before he was able to get off the tracks.”

The train was rounding a curve on Bostian’s Bridge over Third Creek which is located two miles west of Statesville.

Christopher Kaiser, 29, died at the scene and two more people were injured, according to Iredell County Sheriff Phillip Redmond. Kaiser’s body was found below the trestle down a steep incline, Redmond said. …

“During the investigation, witnesses told deputies they were at the site in hopes of seeing a ‘ghost train’,” the Iredell County sheriff’s office said in a press release.

As I read this, this question leaped to mind: Why would someone stay on the tracks when they heard a train coming, long enough that they could not get out of its way? Trains are not known to be silent or sneaky as they approach; quite the opposite, they tend to be thunderous and loud. So I couldn’t figure why these people wouldn’t avoid it. But then, almost as if in answer to this question, I read:

The group of people did not immediately run from the real train because they believed the train was — in fact — the ‘ghost train’ and posed no real threat, sheriff’s officials said.

Yep. It’s true. They stayed on the tracks, even after hearing the train coming, because they thought it was a harmless “ghost train.” Maybe it’s time people used their heads as something other than a hat-rack?

Photo credit: marcoPapale.

P.S. I wonder if the late Mr Kaiser will be given a Darwin Award?

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Jesus with a rifleI’ve blogged about the wingnut church in Gainesville, FL that plans to celebrate the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks by burning Qur’ans. Their planned tantrum has been widely criticized, even by other Christians. They’ve noticed this backlash, and have decided to do something in response. That response can be summed up in one phrase: “Lock and load.” Yep, they’re arming for battle and are ready to fight for their right to burn Qur’ans. CNN reports on their increasing obstinacy and militancy (WebCite cached article):

An armed Christian organization, Right Wing Extreme, will protect a church that is planning to host an “International Burn a Quran Day” on September 11, the church’s pastor said Tuesday. …

Dove World Outreach Center Pastor Terry Jones has accepted the support of Right Wing Extreme, which he said offered to come to the church with between 500 and 2,000 men on September 11. He described the organization as an armed civilian militia group.

The pastor’s childish defiance goes beyond merely arming up for the Qur’an-burning: He and his church plan to break the law, too. You see, they haven’t been able to get a burning permit from the city of Gainesville … but still plan to light up nonetheless, as reported by the Gainesville Sun (cached):

On Wednesday, the department faxed and mailed a letter to the church’s senior pastor, Terry Jones, to let him know for the second time that the city wouldn’t allow the burning.

But the church, which has about 50 members, has indicated that even if it doesn’t have a permit, it will still burn the Muslim holy book.

It sure looks like these people are hoping to engage in a battle when Gainesville officials arrive to arrest them for hosting an illegal burning. I can only hope no one gets killed.

Well … no one who doesn’t belong to Dove World Outreach Center, that is; its members, I couldn’t care less about.

What a marvelous testimony to the Religion of Love … no?

Photo credit: Jordon.

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Repent-or-Perish signThe news out of Iowa these days isn’t good. There’s the salmonella-tainted eggs, which have hit a second producer in that state (WebCite cached article), of course. That’s been news for the last few days. The other Iowa news you likely have not heard about, is the religiofascist bellyaching that’s been going on there, over gays. This story is taking on a life of its own … sad to say.

It all started with a Republican legislative candidate’s idiotic rant about AIDS being God’s retribution against gays, as reported by the Iowa Independent (cached):

When the Bible says homosexuals should be “put to death; their blood shall be upon them,” the blood is really AIDS. Or so says Jeremy Walters, Republican legislative hopeful, in a series of posts on his Facebook. …

Facebook Rant of Jeremy Walters, GOP candidate for Iowa's 67th state House district

Walters uses the old Leviticus 20:13 to support his claim. Evangelicals love to trot out this and other verses as “proof” that God has condemned gays. What they forget is that other Leviticus passages also forbid a great many other things, including the eating of pork (Lev 11:7-8) and shellfish (Lev 11:10-12). Yes folks, that means no shrimp scampi or baby-back ribs for good, dutiful Christians!

As adamant as Walters is about this matter, it hasn’t previously been a cornerstone of his campaign:

On his campaign website, Walters makes no mention of same-sex marriage or gay rights at all, focusing instead on economic issues like property taxes, the estate tax and the state budget, as well as gun rights and education.

To its credit, the Iowa Republican Party has disavowed Walters’s words, again as reported by the Iowa Independent (cached):

Statements by a Republican candidate for the Iowa House that AIDS is punishment for the sin of homosexuality have been officially denounced by Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Matt Strawn. …

“Mr. Walters’ comments are inappropriate and in no way represent the beliefs of the Republican Party of Iowa,” Strawn said in a statement to The Iowa Independent. “HIV/AIDS does not discriminate and our hearts and prayers go out to any Iowa family facing this disease.”

That, at least, is pretty clear and unequivocal. This same story, however, reveals that Walters plans not to back down on his claim:

Walters told The Des Moines Register that he has no plans to remove the posting from his Facebook page, saying it’s only offensive to gay rights advocates, “because they know it’s the truth. Truth does hurt.”

Nonetheless, Walters’s remarks on gays and AIDS have been removed.

Even with the state Republican party clearly weighing against Walters, however, the matter still will not die. A radio host has angrily called bullshit on Strawn’s claim that “AIDS does not discriminate” … again reported by the Iowa Independent (cached):

The gay rights movement has worked hard to convince society that AIDS does not discriminate, but that is a lie, conservative radio host Jan Mickelson said on his WHO-AM show Thursday. …

“For the chairman of the Republican Party to say, ‘AIDS doesn’t discriminate,’ well of course it does,” Mickelson said. “It discriminates against people who engage in stupid behavior.”

“Lung disease doesn’t discriminate, but it’s probably a good idea to stop smoking,” he said. …

Mickelson said it all comes down to God’s law, or natural law, which “also applies to sexual disorders.”

Mickelson’s lung-disease scenario doesn’t quite work as well as he probably thinks it does; there are people who’ve been afflicted by lung disease, caused by environmental factors outside their control. Musician Warren Zevon, for example, died of a form of lung cancer which is triggered by asbestos; as near as anyone can figure, his exposure came during childhood, from his family’s carpet business (asbestos was a component of some carpet fibers until just a few decades ago). He didn’t ask to get lung cancer, and my guess is that no one knew his exposure to carpet fibers would cause it. So Zevon’s cancer cannot be called any kind of natural consequence of willful, “stupid behavior.”

At any rate, Mickelson may have realized he was stepping into a steaming load of manure of his own making, because his remarks after that point are almost incomprehensible:

So, does God punish homosexuality? Does he punish sodomy? Well, no, he doesn’t get off his throne and say, ‘Hey, I’m gonna get that guy.’ Well not directly,” he said. “Most of God’s laws, which another way of saying God’s law would be natural law, that is, law that is consistent with the nature of the universe because it was built in such a way, most of God’s laws are self enforcing. God doesn’t have to do anything. So if you skydive without a parachute, does God punish people who do that? No, but one of his inventions does. Gravity. If you skydive without a parachute, you’re going to die. Should you blame God for that?”

Mickelson kept spewing gibberish, even after callers challenged him on various points around this topic; read the article if you wish to see the depths of stupidity and inanity he stooped to in order to hold onto his religiously-motivated bigotry.

Folks, this is just another sterling example of “the Religion of Love” in action.

Hat tip: Unreasonable Faith.

Photo credit: Marshall Astor.

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This target has been hit twice at the top with one near miss at the bottom right.I suppose that psychics missing their targets is not really news. It happens all the time; I’ve blogged on various such things before, including one example of this phenomenon which disrupted people’s lives. The problem is that “miss” stories are not really newsworthy enough to get any attention. The latest one I’ve come across is this story from Australia, reported by the (UK) Sun (WebCite cached article):

A “psychic” hunting the body of a missing child found the headless torso of an adult woman instead. …

Aboriginal elder Cheryl said: “I had a dream about a little girl being murdered and that her body was about here.”

So the psychic was wrong. Nevertheless, authorities couldn’t seem to just come right out and admit it; instead we have some equivocating:

Det Chief Insp Pamela Young said: “It’s interesting that a woman had a feeling it was worth coming to this particular part of the park.”

You may find it “interesting,” Detective, if perhaps you’re wondering whether the “psychic’s” information hadn’t come from a more mundane source, such as genuine knowledge about the crime (such as having directly seen the dumping of the body, or having been told about it from a witness). I have to wonder, however, if maybe you’re trying to justify having examined the area on the say-so of a “psychic,” only to find something other than what was reported to you.

Authorities have no business taking “psychics'” tips seriously, as happened once — unfortunately — in Barrie, Ontario. (On that occasion, too, authorities attempted to rationalize leaping to action and targeting a family, merely on the word of a “psychic.”)

Beyond that, however, other folks appear also to have no problem whatsoever shoehorning this “psychic’s” tip into the actual discovery; take for example this comment on the Sun article (scroll down the page a bit):

Wether you believe in here soothsayer skills or not, she pointed them to where a body was. Still pretty impressive. Unless of course there are bodies strewn in ponds and lakes all over the country and the chances of finding one is nearly 100%.

Let’s be perfectly clear on this: The “psychic” said she had dreamed about “a little girl being murdered”; this dream also revealed that this particular girl’s body would be found at the spot in question. The “psychic” did not have some amorphous dream about some sort of female person being murdered and dumped there … her dream was, specifically, about “a little girl.” Not about “a woman.”

The psychic was wrong. Period. End of discussion. No amount of rationalizing or shoehorning can change that.

Photo credit: Felix.

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Two Wrongs Are Inequal To A RightIn my experience, one of the most common fallacies that people fall into, themselves, or hear and accept from others without noticing it, is two wrongs make a right. This is in spite of the fact that most of us were taught by our mothers that two wrongs do not, in fact, make a right; however, this simple teaching that most or all of us received in childhood, can’t seem to contravene the overpowering emotional effect of seeing someone else do something wrong, thus triggering a sense of an entitlement for oneself to do the same. The frequency with which grown adults — who by definition should all know better — plumb the depths of this fallacy hit home over just the past couple of days, in two ways.

First, CBS News reports on how extreme Religious Rightist and radio host “Dr Laura” Schlessinger used the “N word” on the air, in a barrage aimed at an African-American caller (WebCite cached article):

Talk radio host Dr. Laura Schlessinger has issued an apology for saying the N-word several times in an on-air conversation with a caller that she said was “hypersensitive” to racism. …

During the exchange on Tuesday’s show, Schlessinger said the woman who called herself Jade was too sensitive for complaining that her husband’s friends made racist comments about her in their home.

Dr Laura’s reasoning for why this woman was being “too sensitive”? It was the old “two wrongs make a right”:

When the woman asked if the N-word was offensive, Dr. Laura said “black guys say it all the time,” then went on to repeat it several times.

Schlessinger did not direct the epithet at the woman, but said she used it to suggest how often she hears it, and that it should not automatically be cause for offense.

When the caller objected, Schlessinger replied: “Oh, then I guess you don’t watch HBO or listen to any black comedians.”

For Dr Laura, then, the “N word” becomes acceptable to use, because some African-American comedians use it, and because it can be heard on HBO … therefore there’s nothing wrong with the word, and her caller should not be insulted by it.

A second use of this fallacy was one I encountered while reading about the childish Religious Right caterwauling about the Cordoba Center proposal in lower Manhattan (about which I’ve blogged already). Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — who apparently is trying to reintegrate himself into Rightist politics after having shamed himself out of office years ago — has come up with this rationale for opposing it, which you can see him spew in this Youtube video:

Here’s a transcription of his key remarks, courtesy of Reason.Com:

I find it very offensive to get lectured about religious liberty at a time when there are no churches and no synagogues in Saudi Arabia and when no Christian and no Jew can walk into Mecca…. I’d love to have these folks say, “Let’s build a church and a synagogue in Mecca, or rather Saudi Arabia, and that would balance off our having an interfaith mosque [in lower Manhattan].” They’re not saying that. It is entirely one-sided. It is entirely, I think, a kind of triumphalism that we should not tolerate.

For Newt, Saudi Arabia’s religious intolerance means it’s OK for us to prevent American Muslims from building cultural centers where they want. In other words, he thinks it’s a good idea to get into a pissing contest with Saudi Arabia to find out which country can be more religiously intolerant. What he fails to understand is that Americans should do what Americans should do, and not emulate others, just because they feel entitled to do so.

These are but two examples of how “two wrongs make a right” thinking sneaks into common rhetoric. It happens much more often than this. Be on guard against it, and don’t be swindled into thinking or doing the wrong thing just because someone can point to someone else who thinks or does it.

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Crying babyThe American Family Association is one of the more militant and juvenile arms of the Religious Right. As such it’s been known to make some really freaky announcements now and again, such as when it propounded that an orca had killed its trainer because its owners didn’t follow the Bible, and that the US military is run by gays and Muslims. They’ve now decided to rail against Sears for selling what they claim is “pornography,” but which actually is not, as reported by the Consumerist (WebCite cached article):

Remember those posters you used to flip through at the back of Spencer Gifts in the mall? The ones featuring scantily clad women — and some bare-chested dudes — looking all sexy-like into the camera? Well, apparently the not-at-all-insane people at the American Family Association are convinced that these are pornographic… and they are absolutely livid that they can be purchased at Sears.com.

The AFA recently posted a call to arms on its website. Please note that the “*”s in the following quote are theirs, because apparently the words “nudity” and “sexual” are potentially poisonous to your brain:

I’m not going to post any of the AFA’s juvenile diatribe here, nor will I even link to it. The Consumerist story contains a link, if you care to follow it.

Personally I congratulate Sears for — so far — standing up to these childish bullies and their incessant caterwauling over things that are not their concern and over which they have zero control. In a free country — which the US supposedly still is — Sears can sell any risqué thing they want. The AFA’s religious objections are utterly irrelevant. They don’t have to buy these items, but they do not possess any authority to tell Sears what it can sell. Period.

Photo credit: bbaunach.

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Flip Benham, Director of a group called Operation Save America, leads members in a prayer Friday August 6, 2010 on Clinton Avenue outside the Bridgeport Islamic Society following a protest against Islam. Photo: Autumn Driscoll / Connecticut PostLast week a strange event occurred in my home state, the Land of Steady Habits. Perhaps inspired by the ridiculous Religious Right attacks on the Cordoba Center (a cultural center — not a mosque! — which will soon be built near — not at, or over! — the site of the World Trade Center in New York City), a bunch of militant Christians protested at a mosque in Bridgeport. The Connecticut Post reports on this protest (WebCite cached article):

About a dozen right-wing Christians, carrying placards and yelling “Islam is a lie,” angrily confronted worshippers outside a Fairfield Avenue mosque Friday.

“Jesus hates Muslims,” they screamed at worshippers arriving at the Masjid An-Noor mosque to prepare for the holy week of Ramadan. One protester shoved a placard at a group of young children leaving the mosque. “Murderers,” he shouted.

My first inclination, upon reading this, was to say, “Here? In Connecticut?” This is a relatively progressive state, compared to the rest of the country. OK, so we have a bit of a parochial streak, as evidenced by our remaining Puritan-era “blue laws,” and of course we have the same sort of “lunatic fringe” one might expect to find in a state of some 3 million people. And the Roman Catholic Church has staged some massive protests, when the Connecticut bishops needed to distract people and squirm out of having to take responsibility for the things they’ve done and so they could desperately cling to all their precious money. But really … this kind of brainless Christofascism, I thought, is something one is far more likely to find down in the Bible belt. Well, it turns out I was correct — these wingnuts aren’t even Nutmeggers:

Flip Benham, of Dallas, Texas, organizer of the protest, was yelling at the worshipers with a bullhorn.

“This is a war in America and we are taking it to the mosques around the country,” he said.

I’m not too sure how truly proud of themselves they were, however, since they didn’t really protest too long, and they packed up and left fairly quickly:

After about an hour the protesters packed up their placards and fliers into a couple of vans and drove off.

Good riddance, “Flip,” and all your militant religionist pals.

Just to see what kind of a freak show these people are, I went to their Web site, and took a look (cached version). They seem to have a problem with the CT Post‘s coverage, as you can see in this screen-shot:

Operation Save America's complaint about the Connecticut Post

So, they admit the CT Post covers this “protest” correctly, in every detail but one … i.e. the accusation that they’d screamed “Jesus hates Muslims.” As evidence they did not, they proudly link to a PDF file of the brochure they said they handed out there. Unfortunately for them, this brochure does nothing to make them seem less extreme. If anything, it shows how insane they are. It includes such enlightened gems of “the Religion of Love” such as:

WHAT DO ABORTION, HOMOSEXUALITY, AND ISLAM HAVE IN COMMON?
They are all inspired by the same liar who has come to the earth to rob, kill, and destroy. …

OUR FAILURE TO RIGHTLY REPRESENT CHRIST TO YOU
Unfortunately, Christianity in America has become so feminized, weak, and limp-wristed that these lies (abortion, homosexuality, and Islam) have come to prevail in a nation that was established and made great on the manly bedrock of biblical Christianity.

This brochure also claims the US was “founded on Christianity” — which is a lie, because it was not — a contention that they support using a quotation supposedly by Patrick Henry — which in fact, he never actually said.

Given the ferocious, irrational content of this brochure — capped by lies and fake quotations — on this matter, I find I must believe the CT Post over this delusional and militant crew.

Photo credit: Autumn Driscoll / Connecticut Post.

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