Archive for October, 2015

Wall clocks / camera4u, via PixabayFor several years I’ve blogged about the scam which is Daylight Saving Time. It’s a ridiculous, twice-annual exercise in stupidity which provides no benefits and only burdens people (some of them fatally).

Over the years since I’ve started calling DST out as the fraud it is, I’ve seen a small amount of media attention which also debunks it; for instance, this CNN story, released today, with DST ending this coming Sunday (WebCite cached version). Sadly, there’s just not enough of this to make any real difference. That, however, may change, now that there’ve been more serious studies of DST and its effects.

An example of this, as the Washington Post reports, is a soon-to-be-issued study which suggests making DST permanent may reduce crime (cached):

Making daylight saving time permanent — by never “falling back” again — could save the country billions a year in social costs by reducing rapes and robberies that take place in the evening hours, according to a forthcoming paper [cached] by researchers at the Brookings Institution and Cornell University.…

The mechanism that might cause this drop is fairly simple: “Most street crime occurs in the evening around common commuting hours of 5 to 8 PM,” the authors write, “and more ambient light during typical high-crime hours makes it easier for victims and passers-by to see potential threats and later identify wrongdoers.”

Moreover, according to the paper, the drop in crime during evening hours wasn’t accompanied by a rise in crime during the morning hours. Criminals aren’t morning people, as it turns out. In addition to the decrease in robbery rates, the researchers found “suggestive evidence” of a decrease in the incidence of rape during the evening hours, as well.

Permanent DST appears, then, to be a very reasonable solution. Hopefully the powers-that-be will begin discussing it. Let’s get on it!

Photo credit: camera4u, via Pixabay.

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Better to remain silent, and be thought a fool, than to open one's mouth, and remove all doubt! (proverb) / PsiCop original graphicThe endless parade of expressions of “disaster theology” used by Christianists continues apace. It’s ridiculous, and childish, and a low thing to do (i.e. exploiting bad things that happen in order to make one’s own religion look good), but they just fucking love to do it! The latest is a particularly classy example (and of course, I’m being sarcastic). As Raw Story explains, well-known evangelist Ray Comfort was almost giddy to hear about a catastrophe that took place recently in India (WebCite cached article):

A creationist pastor mocked Hindus who were killed or injured when a religious idol fell on them as they worshipped.

One man was killed and three people were injured [cached] when a statue of the elephant god Ganesh collapsed during a worship service last month in India, and a video of the tragedy was circulated and widely reported last week.

Ray Comfort — who is probably best known for arguing that bananas disproved evolution, at least until he learned that they were the products of artificial selection by humans — posted a link to an article about the tragedy and urged his followers to donate to his Living Waters ministry.

“The Bible says that those who worship dumb idols, are just like them,” Comfort posted on his Facebook page [cached]. “How India needs the gospel! But we don’t have to go there to take it to them. We have the Internet.”

Comfort’s fans quickly picked up what he was laying down and praised God’s wrathful judgment.

Yeah, I guess that’s what those “dumb” Hindus deserve, eh? To be injured or killed by their own statute?

By the way, Comfort miscomprehends the words of the Bible. The only verses I could find that mentions “dumb idols,” in any English translation, are Habakkuk 2:18 and 1 Corinthians 12:2 in the King James Version:

What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols? (Hab 2:18)

Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led. (1 Cor 12:2)

But most English translations, especially the better recent ones, don’t use “dumb.” For instance, the New American Standard Version has:

What profit is the idol when its maker has carved it, or an image, a teacher of falsehood? For its maker trusts in his own handiwork when he fashions speechless idols. (Hab 2:18)

You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led. (1 Cor 12:2)

Neither verse says that worshippers of “dumb” idols (as Comfort put it) is “dumb” (and by that, I assume, he means “stupid”) are themselves “dumb.” What’s more, the original Greek of the 1 Corinthians passage, which I happen to understand, is:

οιδτε οτι οτε εθνη ητε προς τα ειδωλα τα αφωνα ως αν ηγεσθε απαγομενοι

oidate oti ethné éte pros ta eidóla ta afóna ós an égesthe apagomenoi (1 Cor 12:2)

The word quoted by Comfort, and translated by the KJV team, as “dumb” is afóna, a form of afónos, which means “silent” (the negation prefix a- followed by the Greek word for “sound,” which came into English in words such as “telephone” and “phonograph”). Granted, the word “dumb” in English did, in the King James era and also now in an older usage, mean “speechless” (for instance, in the expression “deaf and dumb”). Comfort ought to have known better … especially since — among other things — he claims to be a Bible scholar.

At any rate, one can see what Christianists like Comfort, as well as many of those who commented on his Facebook posting, really think of non-Christians. Really nice, huh?

Photo credit: PsiCop original graphic, based on proverb.

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Berlin Holocaust Memorial in snowFor years now, the “appeal to Hitler” (or reductio ad Hitlerum) (aka “appeal to Nazis,” reductio ad regnum tertium, etc.) has been a rhetorical weapon people have used to disparage pretty much anyone they hate. Since his election, the Right has hurled ad Hitlerums at President Obama pretty much non-stop, but prior to that, the Left often threw them at President G.W. Bush and V.P. Cheney. It’s an old habit, then, among American ideologues.

I’ve cataloged many instances of politicians, clergy and pundits using this vile propaganda technique, right here in this blog. It’s almost always invalid, because the people accused of being Nazis usually haven’t come even remotely close to doing anything like what the real Nazis really did during the 1930s and ’40s. Essentially, whenever I hear someone throwing around ad Hitlerums, I dismiss him/her as a childish whining crybaby who has nothing worthwhile to say.

In his own ongoing propaganda war against the Palestinians, as Haaretz reports, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just let loose with his own clever twist on the old ad Hitlerum (WebCite cached article):

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sparked public uproar when on Wednesday he claimed that the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, was the one who planted the idea of the extermination of European Jewry in Adolf Hitler’s mind. The Nazi ruler, Netanyahu said, had no intention of killing the Jews, but only to expel them.

In a speech before the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, Netanyahu described a meeting between Husseini and Hitler in November, 1941: “Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jew. And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here (to Palestine).’ According to Netanyahu, Hitler then asked: “What should I do with them?” and the mufti replied: “Burn them.”

Netanyahu’s remarks were quick to spark a social media storm, though Netanyahu made a similar claim during a Knesset speech in 2012, where he described the Husseini as “one of the leading architects” of the final solution.

Haaretz doesn’t elaborate much on what makes Bibi’s claim counterfactual, but a (UK) Guardian story on his remarks does (cached):

Yad Vashem’s chief historian, Prof Dina Porat, told the Israeli news website Ynet that Netanyahu’s claims were incorrect. “You cannot say that it was the mufti who gave Hitler the idea to kill or burn Jews. It’s not true. Their meeting occurred after a series of events that point to this.”…

n reality, the mass killings of Jews by SS mobile killing units – Einsatzgruppen – were already under way when the two men met face to face. The first was in Lithuania in July 1941, described by Yad Vashem as the “beginning” of the Final Solution.

In September 1941, again before Husseini’s meeting with Hitler, Einsatzgruppe C, commanded by Otto Rasch, killed more than 33,000 Jews over two days in the Babi Yar ravine on the outskirts of Kiev, an act of mass murder ordered by the new Nazi military governor of Kiev, Maj Gen Kurt Eberhard.

Look, I get that Israel and the Palestinians have a long, violent history. (Neither side has clean hands in that conflict … but at the moment, that’s beside the point.) I get that a new “stabbing intifada” has erupted, for purely irrational reasons (cached), and Bibi has to deal with it.

I also concede that Grand Mufti al-Husseini was, in fact, a ready student of Nazi propaganda and a raging anti-Semite. In many ways the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is perhaps the last extant relic of the Third Reich. But there’s just no way one can say he was the architect of the Holocaust. Simple chronology rules out any possibility of it.

Really, I get why Bibi would want to disparage Palestinians. I do. Honest! But … to lay the entirety of the Holocaust at their feet? When the facts don’t even come close to justifying it? Sorry, but that’s just wrong.

It’s time for everyone in the occidental world to just stop talking about Hitler and the Nazis already. Just. Fucking. Stop. If anyone feels the impulse to mention the Third Reich, s/he should stifle it and move on to something else. Or better yet, just shut up and stop talking altogether. (As the old proverb goes, it’s better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.)

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Stacey Wendell ties a ribbon around a telephone pole in front of the Word of Life Church, in Chadwicks, as a memorial for the two teenage Leonard brothers who were beaten at the church on Oct 12. Lucas Leonard, 19, was killed, his brother Christopher has been released from the hospital. Wendell is the organizer of the vigil being held for the two at St. Patrick's St. Anthony's Church in Chadwicks. Michael Greenlar (mgreenlar@syracuse.com) / The Post-DispatchI blogged just a few days ago about beatings and a murder that happened at a Pentecostal church in New Hartford, NY just over a week ago. The victims’ parents, jailed on manslaughter charges, reportedly claimed the two boys they beat, one to death, had molested other children. The Syracuse NY Post-Dispatch reports on their classy legal tactic (WebCite cached article):

A mother and father charged with severely beating their sons told police afterward that they did it because their sons had molested children, according to New Hartford police.

New Hartford police and State Police officials said they found no evidence that any children were molested.

That claim by the parents was an attempt to “cover their tracks”, New Hartford police spokesman Lt. Tim O’Neill said today. The parents made the claim early in the investigation, he said.

“There is absolutely no indication of any sex abuse to any of the children,” he said.

You’ve just got to love these devout adherents of “the Religion of Love” who brutalized their two sons … one to death, the other hospitalized … and then piled onto that crime by trying to set them up for one of their own. It’s a good thing the police didn’t fall for this scheme. That’s not to say that a fatal and a near-fatal beating would have been appropriate, had either actually been guilty of child molestation. Had that been the case, the proper response would have been to pick up the phone and call police, not spend hours interrogating and beating them in a church.

But precisely this reasoning is fully in line with what another member of the same church had claimed earlier, that the two beaten boys were involved in the occult and had practiced witchcraft.

The good news is that the local community has had it with the Pentecostal church where this occurred. As the Post-Distpatch explains, they’ve started a campaign to shut it down (cached):

Hundreds of mourners gathered behind the Word of Life Christian Church on Tuesday night to remember Lucas Leonard, pray for Christopher Leonard and call for the closure of a church that event organizers said put the town “on the map” for all the wrong reasons.…

“We want them gone,” organizer Stacey Mendell told the crowd to cheers. “We want peace back in our community. We want justice for our boys.”

Mendell is organizing a fundraiser for Christopher and is trying to organize support to get the church shut down. Another organizer, Ami Loomis, said the community needs to step up for Christopher.

This sort of thing is actually not common at all. If it were more common, it very well could be an effective way of getting churches and their officials to behave. Who knows how — for example — the Roman Catholic Church might have dealt with the “priestly pedophilia” problem if all their churches had been the focus of efforts to shut them down? Maybe they’d have had some incentive to actually deal with the scandal, and with child-abusers within their ranks, more meaningfully.

Michael Greenlar / The Post-Dispatch.

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Jesus playing football / tackyjulie, via FlickrIt’s well known that Christianists don’t care much for the principle of “separation of church and state.” They dislike anyone placing limits on what they can do to push their dour metaphysics on others. They view such limits as an impermissible suppression of their “freedom of religion” and a form of persecution. The idea that they have license to force their beliefs on everyone by definition necessitates rejecting the idea that anyone else can have “freedom of religion” or — in their minds, worse — “freedom from religion.” As they see it, only they have any “freedom”; all non-Christians must surrender to them, since they have no rights.

This presumption is a special problem in the case of public employees who’re Christianists, because the law prevents them from using their governmental positions to impose their religion on others. A lot of them bristle at such restrictions, even if their basis is in the Constitution and Bill of Rights and can’t just be dismissed because they dislike them. The quick and easy solution for public-employee Christianists, of course, is to resign their governmental positions and take jobs in the private sector that don’t restrict their religiosity. As a rule, though, they refuse to this — largely because they deem themselves to have a “right” to those jobs, even though they won’t carry out their duties lawfully.

The latest example of a militant Christianist who thinks this way is Bremerton (WA) High School assistant football coach Joe Kennedy. As KSTU-TV in Salt Lake reports, even after being told to stop leading his student athletes in prayer, Kennedy has continued his practice (WebCite cached article):

As Joe Kennedy knelt to pray at the 50-yard-line Friday night he felt a presence around him.

And it grew.

The assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in Washington state was being joined by some of his opponents and fans — some of whom had come to the game to pray with him.

After the Knights’ homecoming loss to the Centralia Tigers, Kennedy walked to the middle of the football field, hoping to say his usual thanks to God by himself.

He had been told not to do it. The Bremerton School District had said if he prayed while on duty as a coach he would be violating federal law.

Kennedy, as he has done after most games for seven years, prayed anyway, defying the order. He opened his eyes to find a huge crowd of supporters around him.

Yes, folks … not only did Kennedy break the law and defy his superiors’ orders, he had the support of a Christianist community that showed up to “protect” him. The KSTU report is larded up with sentimentality and emotion, for instance explaining that Kennedy “cried as he spoke to reporters.” It also includes mention of an agnostic student who participates in prayers with him. That, of course, defies logic, and suggests this presumed agnostic isn’t any such thing. As if that grants him any particular right to violate the law or disobey his own school district.

The story also explains he has the backing of Liberty Counsel, headed by the Christofascist Mat Staver, who also represents Kim Davis, the now-famous gay-hating clerk of Rowan county KY. Clearly Staver and his cadre of fierce religionists are at war with separation of church and state.

Well, I have news for Kennedy, Staver, and the rest of their supporters at Bremerton High School and everywhere else: What you’re doing is something your own Jesus explicitly forbid you ever to do! That’s right, the founder of your own religion ordered you never to express your piety in public! His clear injunction is found in the gospels:

When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. (Mt 6:5-6)

It’s not only a violation of the law for a public high school coach to lead his team in prayers in the middle of the field, it’s a violation of the teachings of his own religion to do so! All Christians everywhere ought to reject what this guy is doing … not because it’s against the law (which it is) or because he defied his own superiors (which he did), but because it’s brazenly un-Christian to pray in such a public venue. He shouldn’t want to do that, and his fellow Christians should want him to stop. That assumes, of course, that any of them actually give a fuck about what Jesus taught. For the most part, though, strangely enough, they’ve refused to actually obey his teachings.

Photo credit: tackyjulie, via Flickr.

Hat tip: Raw Story.

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Group of men and women being taken to a slave market Wellcome V0050647Former Arkansas governor and current GOP presidential candidate is another of those gifts that just keeps on giving for agnostic bloggers like myself. The man just keeps on saying insane religionistic things. The latest, as the International Business Times reports, is Huckabee’s endorsement of slavery, of all things (WebCite cached article):

Republican presidential candidate and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee waded into the criminal justice reform waters Wednesday with a novel statement for improving America’s system of prisons: Just sell poor convicts into slavery. Huckabee agreed with Jan Mickelson, the host of a right-wing radio show based in Des Moines, Iowa, after an extended rant in which Mickelson described biblical passages that suggest thieves should be sold into slavery.

The radio host said that the “criminal justice system has been taken over by progressives,” and continued, referencing the biblical Book of Exodus. “It says, if a person steals, they have to pay it back twofold, fourfold. If they don’t have anything, we’re supposed to take them down and sell them,” he said, according to Think Progress [cached].

While I have little sympathy for thieves, whether they’re rich or poor or in-between, I just don’t see enslavement as a justifiable punishment. Prison seems a fitting punishment, as does ordering restitution. But slavery? How fucking barbaric.

One wonders why 21st century Americans like Shucksabee and Mickelson talk as though slavery is a good thing. After all, it’s been outlawed here for 150 years. And it’s outlawed over virtually all of the rest of the planet, too. Humanity has rejected slavery. So why do these guys want it so badly?

The answer is simple. Shucksabee and Mickelson are Biblical literalists, and slavery is in the Bible. Therefore, in their minds, it can’t possibly be a bad thing. As the IBT notes, this is not the first time Mickelson suggested slavery could solve a problem that vexes him — such as illegal immigration (cached).

It’s long past time for more moderate Christians to understand the horrific lengths their more extreme co-religionists will go to in order to follow their dour metaphysics. Irrational notions like Biblical literalism have ramifications, and support for things like slavery is one of them. How much more evident could that be?

Hat tip: Rational Wiki.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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The Word of Life church occupies a former schoolhouse in New Hartford, N.Y., about 100 miles west of Albany. / Nathaniel Brooks for The New York TimesBy now frequent readers of my blog will have heard the story of one teen killed and his brother seriously injured, beaten by their parents and a number of others at Word of Life Christian Church in New Hartford, NY. I’d held off blogging about this until more information was available. At first, very little information was released, but with additional revelations and reporting a meaningful story of fierce, predatory religionism — so powerful that it ripped parent-child bonds apart — can be told.

Word of Life is a small, independent Pentecostal church. This isn’t at all strange, there are hundreds, perhaps into the thousands, of such churches around the country. The South is riddled with them, but they can be found almost anywhere in the country. There might very well be one in your town!

Biblical literalism and fanatical fundamentalism are features of this particular form of Christianity. “Speaking in tongues” is among their most notable practices; their church services, Bible studies, and pretty much any other gathering is liable to break out in someone “prophesying” incomprehensibly, often followed by someone else breaking out in a “translation.” It’s not unusual for Pentecostals to keep to themselves, becoming almost reclusive, because they fear “the World” and wish to remain as far from it as they can. Most Pentecostals reject all forms of pop culture, and will listen only to Christian music and watch or listen only to religious broadcasts. A lot of Pentecostal families even home-school their children, dreading the “worldly” indoctrination of public schools — or even parochial schools run by other kinds of Christians. Many Pentecostals shun medicine in favor of supernatural powers, especially “laying on hands,” and many things that go wrong — from physical ailments to emotional distress to car breakdowns — are often blamed on demons or devils, and ad hoc “exorcisms” aren’t uncommon.

(As an aside, I know quite a lot about this … during my own “fundie” days, I was a Pentecostalist myself. So my knowledge of this faction of Christianity comes from the perspective of an insider. For a while I was a “lay exorcist,” with the “gift of discernment of spirits” and a reputation as a healer.)

At any rate, two boys were severely beaten by members of their own church, including their parents, and one succumbed to his injuries (WebCite cached article). As I said, most of that bas been in the news for days now. It was a “spiritual counseling session” gone bad. Supposedly. CNN reports on what may have been the reason this “counseling session” had been called (cached):

The fatal beating of Lucas Leonard in the sanctuary of Word of Life Christian Church came after the teenager had “expressed a desire to leave” the secretive upstate New York church, New Hartford Police Chief Michael Inserra said Friday.

That wish, according to Inserra, apparently prompted a counseling session on the spiritual state of Lucas and his younger brother, Christopher. During the sessions, the teens were beaten with a cord and Lucas Leonard suffered injuries so severe that emergency room doctors thought he had been shot, Inserra said.…

A witness at a probable cause hearing told a judge the counseling session lasted 14 hours, beginning Sunday night and ending Monday morning. Daniel Irwin, who lives in the church, said the session ended when people thought Lucas had died.

It’s actually easy for me to understand how the folks in Word of Life wouldn’t have been any too happy about one of its youngsters wanting to leave. They’d surely assume him to be “lost” to “the World” and to Satan, whom they believe is currently its ruler. As for why two parents would want to beat two of their sons senseless, and one of them to death, there are clear Biblical directives to that effect:

If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; and they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear. (Dt 21:18-21)

For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Mt 10:35-37)

If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. (Lk 14:26)

In short, this church was just doing what its teachings and scripture demanded of them. Lots of media stories about the Word of Life Christian Church, such as this one by the New York Times, convey the impression that it was something of a one-off oddball “cult” (cached). I’m not sure I can go with that, though. The folks at Word of Life might have been a little stranger than some other independent Pentecostal churches, but what I see in the descriptions fits very neatly into how a lot of such churches operate. The philosophies described are truly not at all unusual. This church simply can’t be as novel as the media suggest.

As for the Word of Life congregants who’ve been charged, they’ve cooked up what is a very typically Pentecostal rationale for what they did. As another New York Times article explains, Lucas Leonard admitted he’d been practicing witchcraft (cached):

On Sunday night, toward the end of a daylong church service, Tiffanie Irwin, the pastor at Word of Life Christian Church here, turned to her congregation and made a stunning accusation.

Someone among them, she said, was practicing witchcraft.

Lucas Leonard, a 19-year-old whose family was immersed in Word of Life’s secretive practices, said that he was the one, that he wanted church elders to die and that he had considered making a voodoo doll of a church leader.

Those revelations were some of what one member of the church, Daniel Irwin, told investigators after Mr. Leonard was beaten to death by a group of fellow congregants — including Mr. Leonard’s parents and half sister — during a so-called counseling session that began on Sunday night and stretched into Monday morning.

You’ve just gotta love how these people make victims into perpetrators and vice versa, don’t you? To be honest, I have no idea if Lucas had really been practicing witchcraft, although I truly doubt it. Irwin’s testimony may very well have been an outright lie. It’s less likely to have been his interpretation of what Lucas said.

The vile, pathetic and desperate accusation that Lucas Leonard had been a “witch,” as the Syracuse, NY Post-Dispatch reports, is something police are downplaying (cached). They insist the “counseling session,” aka beating, was triggered by Lucas saying he wanted to leave and that neither witchcraft nor voodoo had anything to do with it.

The really sad part of all this is that the members of Word of Life Christian Church very likely don’t comprehend what they did wrong here. Chances are they see Bruce and Deborah Leonard, and all the other accused churchgoers, as martyrs … persecuted by Satan and “the World” for merely having followed the Word of God and the teachings of Jesus Christ. That’s how true Pentecostals think.

Photo credit: Nathaniel Brooks for the New York Times.

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