Archive for the “Fuzzy Thinking” Category

Examples of fuzzy thinking, illogic, absurdity, etc.

Scary Ghost / naoshika, via Open Clip Art LibraryIt’s been a while since I last blogged about the phenomenon of “hauntings as news.” Of course, that’s not because media outlets have stopped reporting on “hauntings” and other “paranormal” events as though they were legitimate news stories. Oh no. In this age of so-called “reality” shows featuring ghost hunters, mediums, etc., it’s obviously something the media have decided they’re not going to let go of.

And frankly, why should they? “Haunting” stories are the sorts of things that literally drop themselves into reporters’ laps. Either people tip reporters off to “hauntings,” or else they overhear a “haunting” story and decide to relay it. They might have to talk with a couple of people familiar with the supposedly-haunted location, but most of those folks are willing interviews who have a lot of information to give (or so they think). It’s quick and easy to write a “haunting” story … whereas, by comparison, most other types of real news are much harder to develop. In this age of pared-down newsrooms, one can see the appeal of such stories.

As for “reality” shows, supposed ghost hunters (cached) and “paranormal investigators” are very good at ginning up drama and staging things to appear however they wish them to. The shows’ producers don’t have to work too hard at their jobs. It’s easy money!

The latest example of “paranormal journalism” caught my eye — and engendered this blog post — because the venerable Hartford Courant reported flat-out that a building is haunted. As though it were definite and confirmed. There are no caveats, qualifiers, “reportedlys” or anything of the kind. Reporter Dan Haar lays it out unequivocally and unreservedly (WebCite cached article):

In Canton, near the town green, the contrast between The Junk Shop and The Blue House a few doors away is striking.

Both sell antiques and vintage furnishings but The Junk Shop, owned and run by Eric Hathaway, has the feel of a chaotic workshop and is open to noise from Route 44. The Blue House, owned and run by Eric’s wife, Kimberly Hathaway, is quiet, orderly, filled with linens and lace, artwork and clothing.

Oh, and The Blue House is haunted.

Did you catch that? It’s a simple, clear, unqualified statement: “… The Blue House is haunted.” Nothing else.

This is not the first time Connecticut’s paper of record has declared a building definitively “haunted”; I caught them at it right around 5 years ago. The Courant is also part of the same group (within the larger Tribune media conglomerate) which thought exorcisms were genuine “news” a couple years ago and told us all about how a “spiritual battle” is underway, and that “in recent years, it has intensified” … as though they’d somehow managed to verify that claim.

Anyone with a brain — and who can use it — knows there’s no such thing as a verified haunting. Lots of places are supposedly “haunted,” but that’s a far cry from being definitely known as “haunted.”

If Canton’s “The Blue House” has, in fact, been confirmed haunted, it ought to be trivial for its owners (or for reporter Haar or anyone else connected with the place) to provide verification of it. So let’s have it! Upon what objective evidence can anyone know this building is “haunted”? I dare someone to demonstrate it. (Oh, and when they’ve done so, they may as well turn around and apply for the million-dollar grant that the Randi Foundation will no doubt provide them.)

This is the kind the bullshit a paper like the Courant ought never to stoop to. It’s beneath their dignity, and their editors ought to have known better. And it’s a cheap way of grabbing eyeballs. As I said above, I get why they want to churn out stories like this. It’s easy writing and it’s dramatic. People like hearing this crap. Unfortunately, it remains crap, no matter how much readers might like it. And reporting affirmatively that a building is “haunted” without any verification that it actually is, is dishonest at best and lying at worst. It needs to fucking stop. It just does. No one is served by overly-credulous reporters repeating bullshit and lies as though it’s all true — no matter what excuse they come up with for having done so.

Photo credit: Naoshika, via Open Clip Art Library.

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Vatican flag (8583012024)It seems Pope Francis’s own handlers within the Vatican are having difficulty keeping him in line. He recently had another interview with Eugenio Scalfari, founder of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, and today they published an article on it (WebCite cached article). (A Google translation of this article is available (cached).

This interview covered a lot of ground, but among the topics covered were pedophiles within the priesthood, and celibacy for clergy. First, on pedophilia within the Church (both quotes from the interview below are automated Google translations into English, so pardon the poor language):

Many of my co-workers who struggle with me reassure me with reliable data that assess pedophilia within the Church at the level of two percent. This finding should reassure me but I must tell you that I do not reassuring at all. I consider it very serious indeed. Two percent of pedophiles are priests and even bishops and cardinals. And others, more numerous, they know but they keep silent, punish, but without saying why. I find this situation intolerable and I intend to tackle it with the seriousness it requires.

About clerical celibacy, the Pope said:

“Maybe she does not know that celibacy was established in the tenth century, that is, 900 years after the death of our Lord. The Eastern Catholic Church has the power right now that its priests to marry. The problem certainly exists but is not of great magnitude. It takes time but there are solutions and find it.

Now, almost anyone would consider both of these remarkable. For the Pope to say that even a low-sounding 2% proportion of priests being pedophiles is “intolerable,” is certainly strong language. Also, for him to say that there may be “problems” with clerical celibacy and that he’s willing to “find solutions,” is also unprecedented. To date the Church has consistently dismissed priestly pedophilia, at best acknowledging it as an unusual and marginal phenomenon — when they’re even willing to admit it exists (they frequently deny it outright). Also, the Church has repeatedly declared there is absolutely nothing wrong with clerical celibacy and that the practice dates to the beginning of the Church. That it might cause “problems” with it, is something the Church has never once conceded.

But no sooner did the ink dry on the pages of this morning’s La Repubblica, than the Vatican machinery cranked out objections to it. The paper’s own English-language blog goes over their complaints (cached):

But a few hours after the account of Scalfari’s conversation with the Pope was published, Father Federico Lombardi, official Vatican spokesman, issued a strongly worded statement calling Scalfari’s account of the conversation into question.

“One cannot and one must not speak in any way of an interview in the usual sense of the word… The conversation was cordial and very interesting and touched principally on the themes of the scourge of the sexual abuse of minors and the Church’s attitude towards the mafia. However… it is important to note that the words that Mr Scalfari attributes to the Pope, reporting his words in quotation marks, are from the memory of an experienced journalist, but not a precise transcription or recording, nor have they been approved by the person to whom the remarks are attributed.”

Father Lombardi was particularly keen to undermine Scalfari’s recollection of the remarks on paedophilia and those on celibacy, even hinting that the pontiff may have been deliberately misquoted.

“The individual remarks… cannot be confidently attributed to the Pope. For example and in particular… the fact that there are paedophile cardinals, and that “I will find a solution” to the problem of celibacy.

“In the article published in La Repubblica these two affirmations are clearly attributed to the Pope, but — curiously — the quotation marks were opened at the beginning but were not closed at the end… An oversight or explicit recognition that it is an attempt to manipulate some ingenuous readers?”

An oversight by Repubblica’s sub-editors, or a sign that Pope Francis’s willingness to tackle certain controversial issues head on frightens the conservatives within the Vatican?

That’s the way to go about it, Fr Lombardi! Quibble over possible typos (e.g. the missing/misplaced quotation marks) in an effort to suggest La Repubblica published fabricated quotations of your Pope. Yeah, that’s the ticket!

If the interview, as published this morning, does accurately reflect the Pope’s own thinking — and right now, no one has any reason to think it doesn’t, Fr Lombardi’s accusations notwithstanding — then Pope Francis clearly is at odds with his own bureaucracy in the Vatican. How long is that going to last? Is he going to bend to suit them, or is he going to crack down on them and whip them into line? It will be interesting to find out, although given the Catholic Church’s vast machinery and its almost crippling institutional inertia, I suspect it’s the Pope who will have to give in, before Vatican functionaries do.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Pope Francis in IsraelThe current pope, Francis, has been in office for over a year. During that time he’s skirted the edges of a number of controversies, and even kicked up a few of his own (such as the astonishingly raw outrage engendered by his having washed the feet of — gasp! — women, of all people, during a Maundy Thursday rite). But so far he’s had little, if anything, to say about the worldwide “priestly pedophilia” scandal that’s swirled through and around his Church for many years now.

But that changed this past weekend. As the New York Times reports, he delivered a rare (for Popes, anyway) apology and asked forgiveness from the scandal’s victims (WebCite cached article):

Pope Francis on Monday used his first meeting with victims of clerical sex abuse to offer his strongest condemnation of a crisis that has shaken the Roman Catholic Church, comparing priests who abuse minors to “a sacrilegious cult,” while begging forgiveness from victims and pledging to crack down on bishops who fail to protect children.

By meeting with six victims from three countries, Francis was trying to show resolve — and personal empathy — to address an issue on which he has faced criticism in what has otherwise been a popular papacy. While some advocates for victims praised the meeting, others dismissed it as little more than a publicity stunt.

Francis first greeted the six victims — two people each from Ireland, Britain and Germany — on Sunday after they arrived at a Vatican guesthouse. On Monday morning, he led them in a private Mass at a Vatican chapel, where he offered a strongly worded homily condemning an abuse scandal that began to surface decades ago under John Paul II. Francis also met with each victim individually in sessions that, in total, lasted more than three hours.

For a pope … and considering he hadn’t yet addressed the scandal squarely … he was remarkably frank:

“Before God and his people, I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you,” Francis said during his homily, according to a text released by the Vatican. “And I humbly ask forgiveness. I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves.”

In his homily, Francis also vowed “not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not,” and declared that bishops would be held accountable for protecting minors. He said the abuse scandals had had “a toxic effect on faith and hope in God.”

Since this admission and request for forgiveness is virtually unprecedented, I can see why a lot of the Church’s critics are unimpressed. It’s one thing for the Pope to say all of this; it’s another entirely to put those words into action. Just a few days ago, for example, the Pope’s own minions in the Holy See told the Australian commission investigating clerical child abuse in that country to go fuck itself (cached). That position directly and materially contradicts the Pope’s claims that his hierarchs are to “be held accountable for protecting minors.”

Given that — and given the Church’s consistent and many-years-long pattern of denying the scandal and blaming it on anything and everything but itself — I’m not really sure Francis means what he said. I’m really not. Only time will tell … but I don’t expect time will reveal any meaningful change within the Church.

P.S. Oh, and you Catholic apologists who always stamp and fume that child abuse is reported only in relation to your precious Church … take a look at the bottom of this Times article. Under “More In Europe,” you’ll see a link entitled to another Times article about the UK investigating decades-old government-related abuse allegations that reportedly had been hushed up by that same government (cached). So put away your laughable fucking martyr complex and just admit what you damned well know your Church did. That other institutions, religious and otherwise, pulled the same shit doesn’t make any of it right; using the whiney crybaby claim that the mass media is out to destroy your Church has gotten ridiculous. Quite obviously the media are not ignoring other groups’ similar transgressions so they can make it seem only your Church is guilty of systemic child sexual abuse. Grow up and get the hell over it already.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Universal Church of the Lord God, Incorporate (PsiCop original graphic)Given the Supreme Court’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, released this morning, which exempts corporations from the ACA’s contraception mandate if they have religious objections to doing so (WebCite cached article), I expect corporations’ religious objections to just about everything to expand immensely.

Just think: If a corporation has a religious objection to paying minimum wages (for example), by the Court’s reasoning, they should be exempted from that. If they religiously object to having to provide a safe workplace, they can be exempted from OSHA regulations. If they religiously object to registering vehicles, they should be allowed to skip going to their state’s DMV. And so on.

“But wait!” you, Dear Reader, are no doubt objecting. “There’s no religion that objects to any of those things!” That may be so … but that problem can be easily fixed. All one needs to do is create a new religion which does object to them.

Let’s create a “Universal Church of the Lord God, Incorporate.” Its main tenet is that, since the Lord called his followers together to join as a Church, likewise people join together to form Corporations. As such, each and every Corporation is a reflection of the Lord God’s holiness. Each is inviolate and sacrosanct.

This new corporatist church could easily teach that Corporations should never be constrained or limited in any way. Government regulations would not apply to any UCotLGI-following Corporation. They can’t be taxed — taxation reduces profits, you see, and because profits are the reason Corporations exist, forcing them to pay taxes would violate their sanctity. Even things like simple liability would go right out the window for a UCotLGI-following Corporation. Too bad for you, if you’re hurt or killed by some defect in a UCotLGI-following Corporation’s products!

So let’s get moving on this new Universal Church of the Lord God, Incorporate! Make all CEOs its clergy. Have them all get together (hey, those rotten little anti-trust laws that would normally prevent such conferences are an unacceptable limitation on Corporate behavior!) and figure out how best to exploit all the possibilities. And those possibilities might even include things like the restoration of slavery!

Of course, there’s just one little problem here: Does anyone know precisely how it is that a corporation can have religious beliefs? I’m still not clear on that. Just wondering. Anyone care to fill me in on that?

Photo credit: PsiCop original graphic.

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Seattle St James - pano 02Another year is almost half over, and that means another Roman Catholic institution has been forced to settle up with “priestly pedophilia” victims. This time, as the Seattle Times reports, it’s the Seattle archdiocese (WebCite cached article):

The Archdiocese of Seattle has agreed to pay $12.125 million to 30?men who say they were sexually abused as students decades ago at Seattle’s O’Dea High School and Briscoe Memorial School in Kent.

In lawsuits filed in King County Superior Court, the men alleged the archdiocese failed to protect them from known abusers, including two former O’Dea teachers who were members of the Roman Catholic Christian Brothers order, which filed for bankruptcy in April 2011.

The Christian Brothers operated O’Dea and Briscoe, a former orphanage and boarding school for boys, but both schools were owned by the Seattle Archdiocese.

“I deeply regret the pain suffered by these victims,” Archbishop J. Peter Sartain said Tuesday in a statement. “Our hope is that this settlement will bring them closure and allow them to continue the process of healing.”

The allegations in these cases dated back as long ago as the 1950s, and documentation from the 1960s indicated that problems were known, at that time:

In court papers, [plaintiffs’ attorney Mike] Pfau and law partner Jason Amala cited a 1966 letter from one of the Christian Brothers at Briscoe to an official at the Catholic order that described a “damaging atmosphere” that had reached “immoral and unethical limits.”

These men of God spent decades working very hard keep their nasty secrets from leaking out. I’m sure they’re all very proud of their efforts.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Columbo facepalm, via ButterfunkThe line between ideological ferocity and childishness is a thin one. It might even be so thin as to be non-existent. Consider that the very reason a lot of people cling to arbitrarily-assembled packages of notions is that they’re desperate for easy, simple answers to problems they find incredibly vexing. They can’t emotionally handle that they’re vexed, so they latch onto whatever they think explains why they’re vexed and grants them the right to tell everyone what to do about it … and to rage and fume at whoever it is they decide is vexing them.

After having spent about a decade as a Republican activist, I can tell you that a lot of these folks are very immature. But for those who haven’t dealt with these people as much as I have, it can be hard to see just how pervasive this immaturity is. Well, here’s an example that turns out to be very public. Time magazine reports on what someone did in the urinals at a Faith and Freedom Coalition conference this weekend (WebCite cached article):

President Barack Obama made a cameo at a conservative conference in Washington on Friday—in the restroom.

The Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority Conference, which draws some of the biggest conservative icons and presidential hopefuls looking to make inroads with the grassroots, was heavy on criticism of Obama’s domestic and foreign policy agenda. And small figurines of Obama’s head, first spotted by the Huffington Post‘s Igor Bobic, were placed inside the urinals in the mens’ restroom outside the conference hall where the likes of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were addressing a crowd of several hundred.

Here’s the photo Bobic tweeted (cached):

'Scene from a Faith & Freedom restroom #RTM2014' / posted by Igor Bobic (@igorbobic) of Huffington Post, via Twitter

‘Scene from a Faith & Freedom restroom #RTM2014′ / by Igor Bobic (@igorbobic) of Huffington Post, via Twitter

Well done, guys. Really. I mean that. Thanks for putting your childishness on display for all to see. Now we truly know what sort of character you have … which is to say, you have none. You must be so proud!

Note, this example and discussion of Rightist immaturity shouldn’t be taken as an assertion that Leftists can’t be juvenile. Of course they can! A lot of them are. I don’t deny that at all. It’s just that, in this case, it’s Rightist childishness we’re talking about. And we’re talking about it in the context of a conference run by a religious organization, where one would expect attendees to behave with far more maturity than one would find elsewhere … since we all know that religion automatically makes adherents upright and moral.

Or does it … ? Hmm.

Not to mention, the fact that there are some immature Leftists doesn’t grant Rightists license also to be childish. To believe so is to fall for the “two wrongs make a right” fallacy.

Photo credit, top: Butterfunk; middle: Igor Bobic of HuffPo, via Twitter.

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Mehmet Oz - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2012I’ve blogged a time or two about Dr Mehmet Oz, aka “Dr Oz.” His friendship with Oprah Winfrey has given him his own TV show and small media empire. Some of his medical advice is fine, however, he occasionally waxes rhapsodic over spurious remedies which — as a physician who heads a program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and who’s on the faculty of Columbia University — he has to know have no meaningful scientific support.

What Dr Oz doesn’t seem to have been aware of previously, and which was the subject of a Senate hearing yesterday, is that his words are grist for the mills of scammers, liars, cheats and con artists. As NBC News reports, Sen. Claire McCaskill in particular confronted him about this problem (WebCite cached article):

Dr. Mehmet Oz, a celebrity doctor who frequently extols weight-loss products on his syndicated television show, got a harsh scolding from several senators on Tuesday at a hearing about bogus diet product ads.

Oz was held up as the power driving many of the fraudulent ads, even as he argued he was himself the victim of the scammers. The hearing is a follow-up to the Federal Trade Commission’s crackdown last January against fake diet products.

“I don’t get why you need to say this stuff because you know it’s not true,” Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat who chairs a Senate subcommittee on consumer protection, said at the hearing. “So why, when you have this amazing megaphone…why would you cheapen your show by saying things like that?”

Dr Oz’s defense is that he’s giving people “hope”:

Oz, a frequent guest on NBC’s TODAY show, admitted he uses “flowery” language on his shows, and said he realizes that the moment he recommends a product, the scammers use his words to sell spurious products. “I concede to my colleagues at the FTC that I am making their job more difficult,” he said.

But he said he has to be “passionate” to engage his audience. “When we write a script, we need to generate enthusiasm and engage the viewer,” Oz said.…

Oz said the products give people hope to keep trying to lose weight — something almost all experts agree is a very difficult thing to do. Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese.

Ah. So that makes it all better, I guess. Somehow. The Senator hit back on this point:

McCaskill asked why Oz didn’t use his show to promote what actually has been proven to help people lose weight — careful eating and exercise. “I want to see all that floweriness, all that passion, about the beauty of a walk at sunset,” she said.

“The scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of a few products that you have called miracles,” she added. “I just don’t understand why you need to go there … You are being made an example of today because of the power you have in this space.”

Of course, it’s not just green coffee bean extract which Dr Oz has touted. He’s pumped other things, too, such as magical pajamas. Yes, you read that right: Pajamas. Note, this recommendation wasn’t a general or generic one, like, “avoid salt” or “eat oranges.” It was a specific recommendation for a single, proprietary product known as “Goodnighties” (cached). Dr Oz also cooked up a weird, pseudo-scientific justification for believing in the claimed magical powers of Theresa Caputo, the so-called Long Island Medium. Pardon me while I laugh at the famed towering intellect of this academic-physician. I’m neither an academic nor a physician, yet I know there are no magical health-granting pajamas, and I also know that no one can talk with the dead.

Having said all of this, Dr Oz wasn’t the only one criticized at this Senate hearing, according to NBC News:

McCaskill also rebuked media companies that run the ads. “I find it troubling that broadcast and satellite radio witnesses who were asked to be here today were unwilling to appear. To me, this indicates that either there is something to hide or they don’t have a good story to tell,” she said.

The Senator has a good point. Media companies happily carry ads and promote shows that they, also, must know promote useless products. But they didn’t have the courage to appear before Congress and defend that practice. Hmm.

Although I’m gratified that the Senate held a hearing to expose this problem, I’d much rather they took meaningful action that would truly make things better. Perhaps the most important of those would be to repeal the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (aka the DSHEA). This act removed “dietary supplements” … which would include things like green coffee bean extract … from FDA oversight, thus creating a vast market for bogus products that are peddled behind cowardly little legalistic caveats like “not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.” If any of these things actually did what their makers imply they do, it ought to be possible — if not trivial — to demonstrate it using the same sorts of studies which the FDA requires for pharmaceuticals. Sure, it’d cost money … but so what? We’re talking about people’s health here! Why is it so onerous or unreasonable to expect the makers of “herbal remedies” provide medical evidence for their claims, when we have no qualms about demanding the same in the case of pharmaceuticals? I don’t see how or why there should be any difference.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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