Archive for June, 2012

Hartford Courant / Photo page / CNN Breaking News tweets 'Supreme Court strikes down individual mandate portion of health care law'Folks, I’ve said it before and will say it again: It pays to be skeptical. Of everything. This morning offered a great example of why caution is in order. As the Hartford Courant explains, two major media outlets — CNN and Fox News — both published erroneous information on the Supreme Court decision released this morning (WebCite cached article):

For CNN and Fox News, among other news organizations, the twitter frenzy proved to be a source of embarrassment. Both news organizations falsely reported that the bill had been struck down, as did those who repeated the error.

A tweet by CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) containing the incorrect report was retweeted over 1,100 times. For example, Huffington Post tweeted “We jumped the gun in following them (Fox and CNN). Apologies for the confusion.” …

CNN originally tweeted that the Supreme Court struck down the individual mandate for health care and displayed the information prominently on their website. Their blunder also unfolded on television, where Wolf Blitzer said the network had received conflicting reports. The network was forced to publicly issue a retraction.

Fox News also displayed incorrect information, as they displayed a television banner reading, “Supreme Court Finds Individual Mandate Unconstitutional.” The network changed it’s message soon after re-reading the court’s decision.

Note that this is eerily similar to something that played out, nearly as famously, some 6 months ago, when former Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno was prematurely reported dead. The same impulse, it seems, was at play here … CNN and Fox News were so eager to release a story — any story! — on the highly-watched case, that they didn’t take a few moments to check and see if what they were spewing was factual. They may well have had a story “pre-written” and launched it, without even taking the time to be sure it had any relation to the decision itself.

It’s nice that the Courant reported this error, but I note — with chagrin — that they did so within the framework of a different faulty journalistic trope, that is, “news-that’s-not-really-news.” The article’s lede is:

Twitter activity around today’s Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act peaked at more than 13,000 tweets per minute at 10:17 a.m., significantly more than the 900 TPM that was tracked during the oral arguments in March, reports Rachael Horwitz, a representative from Twitter.com.

The article adds that lots of Google searches were made for the story, too. Listen, reporters, I don’t need to be told that “people use Twitter” or that “people use Google.” Nor do I need to be told that Twitter use and Google searches spike when a big story breaks. Those are both things I already knew, without having to be told. What on earth made you think that’s “news”? It’s not. You guys really need to stop already with that trope. OK?

Update: Media critic Howard Kurtz at the Daily Beast has pointed out that not only did some media outlets get the story factually wrong, initially, but they had also had made what turn out to have been inaccurate predictions of the results of the case (cached). Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20, so perhaps it’s not fair to condemn legal pundits like Jeffrey Toobin for not having gotten it right … but isn’t that a reason for them just to refrain from making predictions at all? The mass media are now jammed full of yammering, talking-head “pundits” who present themselves as prescient and all-knowing, and prattle endlessly about things they cannot necessarily know with as much certainty as they claim. Yet, they continually do it. Even after they’ve been proven wrong about things, on multiple occasions.

I would love for there to be a “pundit-prediction database” in which every prediction made by the talking heads is collected up and then evaluated to see if it came true. Then we might be able to hold these jabbering windbags accountable for their nonsense and gibberish. We already have something like this — informally anyway — for politicians, in the PolitiFact and FactCheck projects. There’s no reason this principle can’t be extended to media figures too.

Photo credit: Hartford Courant (cached).

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Hoaxed photo of the Loch Ness monster from 21 April 1934.We’ve seen that Creationists will stop at nothing to indoctrinate school children with their irrational, non-factual, hyperreligious dogma. They’re ferociously angry at the idea that anyone might actually accept evolution (what they often call “Darwinism”*). That evolution is currently the only valid scientific explanation for the diversity of life on the planet, doesn’t matter to them. They’re still outraged that science has validated evolution. (“Science,” you see, in their minds is an insidious diabolical conspiracy designed to destroy them.)

An example of just how far these people will go in their sanctimonious effort to promote Creationism and discredit evolution, can be seen in this Scotsman report about a Louisiana outfit that claims the Loch Ness Monster refutes evolution (WebCite cached article):

Thousands of American school pupils are to be taught that the Loch Ness monster is real — in an attempt by religious teachers to disprove Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Pupils attending privately-run Christian schools in the southern state of Louisiana will learn from textbooks next year, which claim Scotland’s most famous mythological beast is a living creature. …

One ACE [Accelerated Christian Education] textbook called Biology 1099, Accelerated Christian Education Inc reads: “Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence.

“Have you heard of the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland? ‘Nessie’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.”

Another claim taught is that a Japanese whaling boat once caught a dinosaur.

These are lies, of course. The putative Loch Ness Monster has never been recorded by any imaging device, ever … not by sonar, and not even by photograph — for example, the famous “surgeon’s photo,” above, is a known hoax (cached). Over the last few decades, a number of expeditions have tried to locate and image “Nessie,” but all have failed to do so. If “Nessie” exists, then she’s done a remarkable job of hiding herself from all of these efforts. Maybe this is because she’s aware she’s being searched for and is purposely avoiding detection, specifically in order to deprive skeptics of evidence of her existence …!?

In short … one can’t possibly use “Nessie” as proof evolution isn’t true, because “Nessie” does not even exist!

It’s one thing for private Christianist schools to want to teach this nonsense to their children. They’re free to do so, even if what they’re teaching is wrong. The problem here, as The Scotsman explains, is that public funding is financing the education of some of the kids who’ll be indoctrinated this way:

Thousands of children are to receive publicly-funded vouchers enabling them to attend the [ACE] schools — which follow a strict fundamentalist curriculum.

So Louisiana taxpayers will be picking up the tab for some of this religious indoctrination. I’m sure Louisiana’s devoutly religionistic governor, Bobby Jindal, doesn’t view this a a problem, but those of us with brains know otherwise.

* Use of the term “Darwinism” as a label for evolution is a rather transparent — not to mention juvenile — attempt to discredit it. It implies that evolution is merely “the teachings of Darwin,” rather than a valid field of science. Calling a field of science by the name of the person who first brought it to light, is simply not done. We do not, for example, call relativity “Einsteinism,” nor do we call quantum mechanics “Planckism.” Nor is classical physics called “Newtonism.” Really, Creationists need to grow up already and put “Darwinism” to rest, ferfucksakes.

Hat tip: Skeptical Inquirer.

Photo credit: Wikipedia.

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Repent The End Is NearIt doesn’t seem that very many folks have gotten the memo about the “Maya Apocalypse 2012” being fraudulent. At least one doomsaying lunatic is spewing this steaming load of stupidity and lies. AOL ran this publicity piece for a would-be Internet prophet of destruction named Michael Luckman (WebCite cached article):

Going into a new profession six months before you think the world’s going to end may not be the smartest of career moves, but don’t tell that to Michael Luckman.

The New York-based writer of UFO books is committed to becoming what some might call “the D.J. of Doomsday” with a new radio show, “Radio Doomsday.”

The show, which could be promoted as “all doomsday, all the time,” airs every Thursday at midnight. It premiered a few weeks ago and Luckman predicts interest will pick up over the next six months. That’s because some believe that the world will end on Dec. 21, the last day of the Mayan calendar.

That “‘the’ Mayan calendar” doesn’t actually have a “last day” is something I’ve been blogging for a couple years now. That doesn’t appear to matter much to Luckman, who’s deluded himself into thinking he’s onto something:

Signs abound that the Apocalypse is upon us, according to Luckman. Events like the devastating Japanese tsunami, declines in the populations of certain honeybee species and last year’s Hurricane Irene dovetail nicely with increased doomsday fears.

Luckman’s trouble is, events like animal rainfalls, the Japanese earthquake/tsunami, the onset of colony collapse disorder, and hurricanes happen all the time — unfortunately — and there actually has been no statistically-meaningful increase in them. He just thinks there has been … and that’s all he cares about.

(Such insular, subjective thinking is the height of arrogance and self-centeredness, not to mention being a hallmark of a crank, but I digress.)

Luckman displays his lack of logic in this manner:

“I’m not coming from a biblical perspective,” Luckman told The Huffington Post. “But there are many parallels between what is happening now and what is in the Old Testament and New Testament. I think increased sightings of UFOs are also directly related to the end times.”

Hopefully you see the contradiction here: He says he’s not being “Biblical,” yet he appeals to the Bible nonetheless. Hmm.

Although NASA scientists and other educators have repeatedly said the end of the Mayan calendar just reflects the close of a cycle, Luckman insists they’re missing the big picture.

“I’ve seen the NASA statements,” said Luckman, who is also director of the New York Center for Extraterrestrial Research and founder of the Cosmic Majority, which aims to reach out to alien intelligence. “Whatever they come up with, I can counter. We have birds falling from the skies, depletion of the honeybee population and trees that are 4,000 years old dying.”

I’m sure that, within the staggeringly empty vault of Luckman’s mind, he genuinely thinks he can “counter” anything that real, live, working astronomers and Mesoamerican anthropologists might say (cached) … but that hardly means he’s correct or that he truly knows what he’s talking about. Luckman’s lies mount as the article goes on:

“The simple truth is that many of us are unlikely to survive the coming Earth changes due to solar super storms, Planet X and a possible pole shift in 2012 and beyond,” he told The Huffington Post. “Mayan elders have broken their silence and confided to me the truth about the Mayan calendar and the dangerous times we are living in. A large portion of Earth’s population may perish during the transition into an enlightened new age.”

Not one of these things is true … in fact, a real live Mayan elder has gone on record as saying there will be no apocalypse. My guess is, Luckman doesn’t know a word of Mayan, has never met a live Mayan, has no fucking clue what the Maya actually said or thought, and hasn’t the slightest knowledge of astronomy.

Unfortunately, Mr Luckman, expertise does not come from merely talking and acting as though one’s an “expert” in something. Rather, it comes from rolling up one’s sleeves, getting an education in a field, and actually working in it for a while.

Here’s my open challenge to Mr Luckman and other doomsayers of his ilk: Will you state in advance — right here, right now, without reservation — that, once December 22, 2012 arrives and there’s been no “Maya apocalypse,” you promise to issue an unqualified apology for having lied to people, and without delay or equivocation donate the proceeds of your doomsaying to charity? If you’re sincere about your beliefs and are correct about the world ending on December 21, 2012, you should have no qualms about making such a pledge. Do you have the courage to do it? If so, contact me and let me know. I’ll make arrangements to ensure your pledge is kept.

Photo credit: Robert Bejil Photography, via Flickr.

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Monsignor William Lynn walks to the Criminal Justice Center before a scheduled verdict reading, Friday, June 22, 2012, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, via CBS News)I blogged some time ago about the Philadelphia archdiocese being investigated by the state of Pennsylvania for its complicity in child abuse by its clergy. A long trial, followed by a long and apparently contentious deliberation, finally paid off: As CBS News reports, an official of the archdiocese was found guilty of child endangerment (WebCite cached version):

A Roman Catholic church official was convicted Friday of child endangerment but acquitted of conspiracy in a groundbreaking clergy-abuse trial, becoming the first U.S. church official convicted of a crime for how he handled abuse claims.

Monsignor William Lynn helped the archdiocese keep predators in ministry, and the public in the dark, by telling parishes their priest was being removed for health reasons and then sending the men to unsuspecting churches, prosecutors said.

Lynn, 61, had faced about 10 to 20 years in prison if convicted of all three counts he faced — conspiracy and two counts of child endangerment. He was convicted only on one of the endangerment counts, leaving him with the possibility of 3 1/2 to seven years in prison.

Lynn and his attorneys naturally insist he’d done nothing wrong and that he was not responsible for the transfer and redeployment of abusive priests, even though he was the one who had lied in order to cover up for them:

Lynn’s lawyer, Thomas Bergstrom, pledged in opening statements in late March that the monsignor would not run from the sins of the church. However, he said in closing arguments that Lynn should not be held responsible for them.

He suggested his client was a middle manager-turned-scapegoat for the clergy-abuse scandal. Lynn, he said, documented the abuse complaints and did his best to get reluctant superiors to address it.

“And now, now of all things, the commonwealth wants you to convict him for documenting the abuse that occurred in the archdiocese, …. the evil that other men did. They want to hold him responsible for their sins.”

It’s true that Lynn himself abused no one. It’s also true that Lynn himself was not responsible for the duplicitous behavior of his superiors. But that said, he is still responsible for what he did — which was to watch the abuse occur, lie in order to cover it up, and refuse to hand over any of his supposed documentation to police (which he most certainly could have done at any time, had he truly wished to). Instead, he remained where he was, doing what he was, surrounded by abuse he knew was going on, and which was being covered up by his archdiocese …

And he never so much as lifted a finger to try to stop it or see that it was prosecuted. Not once.

As I said, Lynn was no abuser, but he’s still a walking piece of garbage who willingly played along with the Roman Catholic Church’s policy of hiding the abuse rather than allow abusers to be prosecuted. He’s most certainly no hero or unwitting dupe, as his attorneys have portrayed him.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Matt Rourke, via CBS News.

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WatchtowerThe Jehovah’s Witnesses are something of an apocalyptic religion, whose members eagerly look forward to Jesus’ return. That their past predictions of this event never came true as they promised, doesn’t seem to matter much to them; they still look forward to “Judgement Day.”

Well, at long last, a judgement day of sorts for this religion has arrived — but it’s far from what they wanted. The AP reports via the New York Times on a court judgement that came down recently against them (WebCite cached article):

A Northern California jury has awarded $28 million in damages to a woman who said the Jehovah’s Witnesses allowed an adult member of a Fremont, Calif., church to molest her when she was a child.

Alameda County jurors awarded $7 million in compensatory damages on Wednesday and an additional $21 million in punitive damages on Thursday to the plaintiff, Candace Conti, said Rick Simons, her lawyer. …

Ms. Conti also said in her lawsuit that the Christian denomination’s national leaders formed a policy in 1989 that instructed the church’s elders to keep child sex abuse accusations secret. Congregation elders followed that policy when Mr. Kendrick [her abuser] was convicted in 1994 of misdemeanor child molestation in Alameda County, according to Mr. Simons.

The cloak of secrecy behind which the JW’s operated is reminiscent of how the Roman Catholic Church handled similar allegations.

And that leads me — once again — to restate the obvious: Child abuse within a religion does not only happen in the Catholic Church. It happens in all religions. I’ve blogged on that many, many times. So you Catholics out there who whine and bellyache that I only mention child abuse when it’s reported within Catholicism, are lying. Just stop already with the martyr complex, grow up, and deal with it.

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Jesus before Pontius PilateI’ve already noted the tendency of people to use religious principles to defend the indefensible. For a number of reasons, it often happens to be Christianity which is used in this way. Lawyers representing now-convicted massacrer Joshua Komisarjevsky, for example, attempted to cast their client as a saint rather than a sadistic rapist and murderer, and used quotations from the gospels to suggest that no one on the planet has any right to judge him for what he did. (Fortunately, neither the judge in that case nor the jury bought into the defense’s sickening notion; their client was convicted and sentenced to death for his crimes.)

Well, another high-profile criminal case has elicited a similar reaction. Yahoo Sports reports on the infamous — and currently on-trial — Jerry Sandusky’s supporters (WebCite cached article):

Joyce Porter sits in a booth at the old downtown Diamond Deli, across the street from the Centre County Courthouse where her friend Jerry Sandusky is being tried on 52 counts of sexually molesting children. …

“When everyone was persecuting Jesus, someone had to stand with him,” Porter said.

It’s worth noting that Porter didn’t say Jerry Sandusky was Jesus, just that in her view the situation has similarities.

I’m not quite sure how any rational person could see any significant “similarities” between Jesus and Sandusky, beyond the fact that they’ve both been tried in court. One of the chief differences between them is that Jesus … according to the gospels and Christian tradition … was supposedly innocent of the charges that had been leveled against him. On the other hand, Sandusky’s own attorney has admitted he showered with young boys, which is such a stunningly inappropriate habit that — no matter the outcome of this trial — one can hardly call Sandusky completely “innocent.”

The Yahoo Sports article explains more of the rationalizing, compartmentalizing, and excusing that Porter engages in. I’ll allow it to speak for itself. It’s sickening to read, but it does illustrate how well human beings can deceive themselves, if they’re sufficiently motivated to do so.

As with my earlier example of this phenomenon, I don’t for one moment think most Christians would agree with Ms Porter about Sandusky being a close analogue of Jesus. That said, it’s clear that the principles of Christianity can very easily be twisted in ways most people wouldn’t recognize. It’s hardly to Chrisitanity’s credit that it can be used in such a way.

Photo credit: Nick in exsilio, via Flickr.

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crying-babyThe Christofascist and Neocrusading preacher Terry Jones, head of the Gainesville, FL church which goes by the ill-fitting name of Dove World Outreach Center, is the gift that just keeps on giving. He seems to throw crybaby tantrums almost regularly. His antics over burning Qur’ans are legendary … so legendary that they’ve triggered numerous riots and murders on the other side of the world in Afghanistan. He seethes with anger over the fact that there is such a thing as Islam and that there are Muslims who dare believe in that religion, and reject his own militant fundamentalist Christianity.

It seems, though, that — in spite of his ferocious rage over the existence of Islam — Jones has managed to find a new enemy to bluster and fume about: President Barack Obama. The Smoking Gun reports that Jones and his church have hung the president in effigy, over this support for abortion rights and gay marriage (WebCite cached article):

The Florida pastor who ignited an international furor by threatening to burn a pile of Korans has applied his subtle touch to the 2012 presidential campaign by constructing a gallows from which a likeness of President Barack Obama now hangs in effigy.

The display in the front yard of Terry Jones’s Dove World Outreach Center (DWOC) in Gainesville features a dummy wearing an Obama mask hanging from a yellow noose. Along with an American flag and a rainbow-striped gay pride flag, the scene includes an Uncle Sam dummy and a child’s doll hanging from the right hand of the Obama figure.

Nearby, the words “Obama is Killing America” are printed on a trailer. So, it appears, the creepy Jones is returning the favor.

Here’s the picture itself:

Display in front yard of Dove World Outreach Center, Gainesville, FL (The Smoking Gun)

Setting aside the question of whether or not this constitutes a threat to the president’s life — something the Secret Service will no doubt look into, and probably decide it’s not — it’s true that the First Amendment means Jones can do this. But it’s also true that this is clearly a political message, and that runs counter to the DWOC’s tax-exempt status (since all tax-exempt institutions, religious or not, are precluded from engaging in politicking, as the price they must pay for that tax exemption). Folks around the Web have commented that the IRS will surely look into it, and take away their exemption. I doubt it will come to that, however; the IRS has only rarely done this to religious groups, so the odds are very much in Jones’s favor.

Rightists have also noted that Leftist outrage over this is misplaced and hypocritical, since just a few years ago, Leftist demonstrators hung G.W. Bush and Dick Cheney in effigy. While I’m sure Rightists find this kind of “two wrongs make a right” thinking emotionally satisfying, the real question here is whether or not Jones and his church did something they knew they shouldn’t have (i.e. engage in politicking). It’s pretty clear it wasn’t (and I’m saying that, even assuming the IRS will choose to do nothing about it). Rightists ought to exhibit more integrity than that.

Photo credits: Top, bbaunach, via Flickr; center, The Smoking Gun.

Hat tip: Mark at Skeptics & Heretics Forum on Delphi Forums.

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