Archive for the “General” Category

Posts of a general nature

It goes without saying that Scientology is a wing-nut cult cooked up by a third-rate science-fiction writer (Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, known to his followers and fans as L. Ron Hubbard). Its first “scripture” was Hubbard’s book Dianetics, which was insipid enough to begin with (as Martin Gardner explains in chapter 22 of Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science), but since it was published, he and his successors have added on some truly bizarre “doctrines,” many of them kept secret, including one dealing with an erstwhile galactic emperor named Xenu.

ABC’s Nightline reported recently on Scientology, exploring what Scientologists believe and do. In the course of this story, Martin Bashir interviewed Church of Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis … who walked out of the interview on the grounds that being asked about Xenu was “offensive” and talking about Xenu in any way was a “violation” of his religious principles. Here’s Youtube video of this segment (the abbreviated interview with Davis begins at 3:40):

That Davis was “offended” and that he walked out of the interview over the matter of Xenu, speaks volumes. Specifically, it implies that Scientologists do, in fact, believe in Xenu, and they hold it as such a secret doctrine that they view any discussion of it … even just the “confirm or deny” question that Bashir asked … as a serious religious offense. Of course, this was all staged for benefit of Davis and Scientology; there is no way that Davis went into the interview thinking that Xenu would not be brought up. And if Scientology did not believe in such a ridiculous doctrine as the Xenu story, his walkout would have made no sense — instead, he’d have just said, “No Martin, we do not believe in Xenu,” and Bashir would have moved on to the next question.

That a Scientology spokesman — whose job, by its very nature, is to be asked potentially unpleasant questions about Scientology — would walk out of the interview over Xenu, is immensely childish. In many ways Davis’s response reflects the “martyr complex” seen in so many Christians. It’s refreshing to see there’s at least one other religion out there in which this persecution complex can be found.

Hat tip: Mediaite.

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Last week I blogged about Bill Maher joining the likes of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Arianna Huffington, and Jenny McCarthy by revealing himself to be an Antivaxer. I found it surprising that an established skeptic like Maher would turn out to be such a brainless loon when it comes to vaccines … and I wasn’t alone, judging by the reaction to his Antivaxism. Well, he responded to that reaction by claiming not to be “crazy” and by digging his heels in on the matter, as reported in the Mediaite blog:

Just as Beck has warned against the dangers of the vaccination, especially relating to Swine Flu, Maher continued his path of medical conspiracy theory, to the annoyance of his guests and confusion of his audience.

“They said I was crazy in the New York Times on Monday,” said Maher, mid-way through the show, referring to this from the Times (that didn’t exactly call him “crazy”).

He’s still in denial, as Mediaite goes on to explain:

Still, Maher felt he had to “clear up a few things that people have been writing about me that are not true.” Among them: “I’m not a germ theory denier” and “I do understand the theory of inoculation.”

But with the air cleared, Maher wasn’t going to leave it there. He continued rambling on, about mercury and teeth and H1N1 and polio.

Maher finished his remarks by citing the numbers of deaths from medical errors and thus implying that medicine cannot be trusted. This is, of course, bullshit. The principle of vaccination works, without regard to whether or not other types of medical errors hurt people. The two are not actually related — and a man like Maher who’s otherwise able to think critically, probably knows this. Which makes me wonder what Maher’s angle may be with his Antivaxism.

In case you wanted to see this segment of his show, here it is:

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Following up my previous blog entries on this subject, CNN reports a third person has died as a result of the Arizona sweatbox incident:

A woman hospitalized after an Arizona sweatbox incident has died, bringing the total fatalities to three, authorities said late Saturday.

In addition to the deaths, nearly 20 others were injured at the October 8 event at Angel Valley Retreat Center near Sedona.

In the meantime, authorities are — supposedly — investigating the New Age guru who got these folks stuffed into the sweatbox, James Arthur Ray, as CBS News reports:

Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh said Saturday that his detectives were focusing on the self-help expert and his staff as they try to determine if criminal negligence played a role in the tragic deaths at the Angel Valley Retreat Center in Sedona, Ariz., on Oct. 9.

This claim, of course, is belied by the fact that the Arizona authorities allowed Ray to refuse to speak to them about the incident and to leave the state. His whereabouts are currently unknown, although apparently he’s still posting insincere drivel to his Twitter stream. Arizona authorities are, therefore, in no position to question him or even apprehend him, if they wished to. They have essentially let him get away. Nice work, guys.

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The recent Colorado Balloon debacle is an important lesson, revealing how mindlessness, stupidity, and a lack of critical-thinking skills have become pervasive in the US. I won’t get into details of this “event,” but rather, will point out how it cascaded out of control — because pretty much everyone involved ardently refused to think about what was going on.

  1. The media picked up early reports without making even the slightest effort to confirm what was happening … even though the Heene family are pathological attention-lovers and their word cannot be trusted

  2. Officials also took this report on its face and plunged ahead with search and rescue efforts — including nearly launching a plan to drop onto the balloon — without going to the house to find out if the child was there after all

  3. The mass media and local officials are still in denial that they were duped by this family … when quite obviously, this had been a hoax right from the start (as the boy himself admitted)

  4. Officials still do not know how much their overblown search and rescue effort cost, and still have no plans to try to recover those expenses

Other examples of stupidity here: Naming your son “Falcon”? Stupid. Naming your wife “Ninjawife”? Juvenile. Calling Hillary Clinton a “reptilian”? Asinine.

Need I say more?

Lesson to Americans: Next time you hear something stupid from a suspicious source, treat it as suspicious. OK?

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You can add another to the (unfortunately long, and growing) list of people in the mass media who’ve enlisted in the forces of Antivax … Bill Maher. He “doesn’t believe in them.” His stated reasons for this appear to be “distrust of government” and “distrust of ‘western medicine.'” The New York Times Well blog reports on Maher’s interview of former Senator Bill Frist (R-TN):

Mr. Maher recently told his Twitter followers that people who get flu shots are “idiots.” On his Friday HBO show “Real Time With Bill Maher,” he explained his opposition to the flu vaccine during an interview with Bill Frist, a heart surgeon who was a Republican senator from Tennessee.

Mr. Maher questioned letting someone stick “a disease into your arm,” wrongly implying that the flu shot contains a live virus. The flu shot is a killed vaccine. (Only the nasal mist vaccine contains a weakened live virus.)

Maher is fact-deprived on a number of other counts as well, such as:

He said he did not believe that healthy people were vulnerable to dying from the new H1N1 virus. This contradicts statements from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that young, healthy people from ages 5 to 24 appear particularly vulnerable to this flu.

Maher was unable to say anything in response to Frist pointing out that the polio and smallpox vaccines had wiped out these illnesses during the 20th century and thus saved millions of lives in the long term.

This blog entry includes a Youtube video of the interview, so you can get a taste of how truly nutty Maher is … and how well-reasoned Frist is, by comparison. I say this because during his Senate tenure, Frist had been an outspoken proponent of unthinking religiosity; if Frist really has “turned over a new leaf,” as this interview suggests may be the case, I’m gratified to see it.

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Note: This blog post has been updated with recent, new information.

Believe it or not — and yes, I know this runs contrary to what you hear from cranks like George Noory about the year 2012 — that year will not be the end of the world; the Maya did not predict this at all. Not even close! The truth of what the Maya thought is very different from the New Agey, pseudoscientific doomspeak you hear, and the Maya themselves are a bit annoyed, as the (UK) Telegraph reports (WebCite cached article):

2012 is not the end of the world, Mayan elder insists

The year 2012 will not bring the end of the world, a Mayan elder has insisted, despite claims that a Mayan calendar shows that time will “run out” on December 21 of that year.

Apolinario Chile Pixtun is tired of being bombarded with frantic questions about the end of the world. “I came back from England last year and, man, they had me fed up with this stuff,” he said.

A significant time period for the Mayans does end on the date, and enthusiasts have found a series of astronomical alignments they say coincide in 2012, including one that happens roughly only once every 25,800 years.

But most archaeologists, astronomers and Mayans say the only thing likely to hit Earth is a meteor shower of New Age philosophy, pop astronomy, internet doomsday rumours and TV specials such as one on the History Channel which mixes “predictions” from Nostradamus and the Mayans and asks: “Is 2012 the year the cosmic clock finally winds down to zero days, zero hope?”

Let me be blunt: The “2012 Doomsday” is bullshit. Complete, 100% pure, unfiltered and unmitigated bullshit. No one who has actually studied the Maya, their inscriptions, or their calendars believes they made any such prediction. One monument — just one, out of so many they left — mentions a god who will return in 2012, but the monument doesn’t make clear what will happen when he does.

Beyond that, as the Telegraph explains, the Maya thought the world would keep turning after 2012:

But [archaeologist Guillermo] Bernal also notes there are other inscriptions at Mayan sites for dates far beyond 2012 — including one that roughly translates into the year 4772.

The truth of the matter is something quite different than you hear amid all the raging hysteria. The Maya had a couple of ways of tabulating the passage of time in long eras, including blocks of 394 years called baktuns, and the year 2012 is the end of the 13th baktun as they reckoned things. They connected the passage of baktuns with primal forces and likely believed a great change would come about at that time … but this need not mean “the End of the World” as so many folks are saying.

In order to get around this problem, some folks have amplified the so-called “prediction” or “prophecy” of the Maya, to include bizarre phenomena they’re pegging to 2012, such as some kind of “galactic alignment,” solar flares, and all sorts of other crap they claim are coming — and in some cases that the Maya somehow knew about, which is why they leaned on the year 2012.

Again, however, all of this is bullshit. (I’m sorry to have to repeat a profane word so many times in one post … but really, no other word suits the claims that are being made.) If you want more information on how all these strange astronomical claims are also bullshit, check out this Universe Today article.

I will finish by posing a question that should be asked of anyone who honestly believes the Maya knew the world would end in 2012. If the Maya were so good at predicting the future, why were they blissfully unaware of the collapse of their own civilization, which ended c. 900 CE? You’d think they’d have been able to do something about it, no? But they didn’t! So how good can they be at predicting things?

The fact is that the world will not end on 2012, and anyone who says it will and that the Maya predicted it, is lying to you. I guess that makes them lying liars for doomsday, doesn’t it?

Update: National Geographic published a list of “2012 Myths” and reinforces that there is no “doom” that will hit in December 2012. (Hat tip: History & Archaeology Forum)

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I blogged a couple days ago about the “sweat lodge” incident at the Angel Valley Resort near Sedona, AZ. Authorities are conducting an investigation into it, including allegations that other people had been sickened before during similar events, according to a CNN report:

The two people who died and the 19 others who fell ill at a central Arizona resort after spending time in a sauna-like “sweatbox” were attending a program by self-help expert James Arthur Ray, authorities said Saturday.

The dead … were among the 50 or so visitors at the Angel Valley Resort near Sedona attending Ray’s “Spiritual Warrior” program.

Nineteen others were treated for injuries sustained in the sweatbox, a dome-like structure covered with tarps and blankets. Hot rocks and water are used to create steam in the enclosed environment.

Waugh said investigators are looking into evidence that “may turn this into a criminal prosecution.”

Investigators are looking into similar events held previously in other locations by Ray, who refused to speak with officers at the scene, Waugh said. A follow-up interview is expected to happen.

Ray didn’t have remorse enough to talk to police, but he did have enough to profess his anguish over the Internet:

Ray posted a noted late Friday on his Twitter page, saying: “I’m shocked & saddened by the tragedy occurring in Sedona. My deep heartfelt condolences to family & friends of those who lost their lives.”

On Saturday he posted another message, saying he’s “spending the weekend in prayer and meditation for all involved in this difficult time; and I ask you to join me in doing the same.”

Will the idiot park himself in a “sweatbox” and sicken himself in the process? One wonders if he’d be a “New Ager” enough to do so.

Ray, of course, is fond of playing the part of persecution victim for his New Age beliefs. Larry King once interviewed him:

“Well, you know, it’s interesting, Larry, because any time a new idea comes to the fore, it goes through three phases. It’s first ridiculed. Then it’s violently opposed. And then it’s finally accepted as self-evident, normally after the opposition dies.”

This is the old, “They’re making fun of me so I must be right” defense. Well, Mr Ray, if you managed to sicken 19 of your sheep followers and kill 2 more, then maybe your “new ideas” should be ridiculed!

The CNN report explains more about the site of this incident, including the New Agey reasons that New Agers hang out there:

Angel Valley Resort advertises itself as “a place to relax and heal … where powerful earth energies are present and active.” It was founded in April 2002 by Michael and Amayra Hamilton, both of whom are teachers and counselors there.

Uh huh. Right. Whatever. CNN even went on to discuss the practice of using “sweatboxes” by native Americans and asked some of them about it:

The use of sweat lodges for spiritual and physical cleansing is a part of several Native American tribes’ cultures.

A traditional Native American sweat lodge is a small dome-like structure made up of willow branches carefully tied together and covered in canvas. Rocks are heated in a nearby fire pit and placed inside the lodge, and water is poured over them to create steam.

“We are curious to find out what happened there,” Richard Moreno, a member of Pira Manso Pueblo tribe, told KPHO-TV. “I’ve been participating in the sweat lodge since the age of 3 and I’ve never recalled being sick from being in the sweat lodge.”

I wonder, too, what these New Agers were doing in there, that caused 19 to fall sick and 2 to die inside?

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