Archive for the “General” Category

Posts of a general nature

Kevin Trudeau has made himself famous in infomercials … and also made himself infamous by running afoul of the law: He’s been convicted of fraud and other felonies; has been sued by partners and investors; has been fined by the FTC and had his activities proscribed by that agency; has been held in contempt of court; has been targeted by multiple states including New York and Michigan (and he can no longer do business in the latter) … and that’s just part of his story. Along the way he managed — successfully for a while — to sell a book of phony alternative-medical “cures” despite having absolutely no medical training whatever and having conducted no research at all. Yet time and again, he persists in returning to sell yet another swindle.

Well, this longtime promoter of woo and kerfluffle has once again run afoul of the legal system; this time, he may not squirm out of it as easily as he has in the past. The Chicago Sun-Times reports on his latest example of legal defiance (WebCite cached article):

Kevin Trudeau held in criminal contempt, facing jail time

Kevin Trudeau, the slick, silver-tongued infomercial king and best-selling author amassed a fortune over years of persistent, late-night hawking.

This week, he made the wrong sales pitch.

Trudeau was found in criminal contempt of court Thursday and nearly had handcuffs slapped on him after he asked his supporters to email the federal judge overseeing a pending civil case brought against him by the Federal Trade Commission.

U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman said he was flooded with hundreds of “harassing, threatening and interfering” emails, locking up the judge’s email system and shutting down his Blackberry for part of the day.

“This is direct contempt — that’s how I view it,” Gettleman said. “He interfered with the direct process of the court.”

Gettleman hauled Trudeau into court a day after he posted a message on his Web site with his appeal. Gettleman ordered Trudeau to turn over his passport, pay $50,000 bond and warned he could face future prison time.

I’m not sure what’s worse … that Trudeau would consider himself so impervious to the legal system that he would take it on directly, by siccing people on the court … or that there were enough people who actually obeyed him, to cause a problem with the court’s email system.

People, get this: Trudeau is a convicted felon. He doesn’t deserve your support. You need to stop doing what he tells you to do, even if you think his “cures” work.

Americans are, sadly, vulnerable to Trudeau’s claim, which is the title of his book, that there are natural cures that “they” (whoever that might be) don’t want you to know about. Unfortunately this is absurd on its face. Any “cure” for any significant ailment, is worth tons of money to whoever knows about it and can show it works. No one has any financial incentive so sit on one and never allow it to be disclosed.

Hat tip: Skeptic’s Dictionary.

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Religiofascism … particularly Christian religiofascism, or Christofascism … is alive and well in the Lone Star state. The Texas Board of Education recently reviewed curriculum guidelines, with an eye toward turning public school social-studies classrooms into proselytization venues. The New York Times Magazine provides a lengthy explanation of the process and what lay behind it: (WebCite cached article):

Following the appeals from the public, the members of what is the most influential state board of education in the country, and one of the most politically conservative, submitted their own proposed changes to the new social-studies curriculum guidelines, whose adoption was the subject of all the attention — guidelines that will affect students around the country, from kindergarten to 12th grade, for the next 10 years. Gail Lowe — who publishes a twice-a-week newspaper when she is not grappling with divisive education issues — is the official chairwoman, but the meeting was dominated by another member. Don McLeroy, a small, vigorous man with a shiny pate and bristling mustache, proposed amendment after amendment on social issues to the document that teams of professional educators had drawn up over 12 months, in what would have to be described as a single-handed display of archconservative political strong-arming. …

The cultural roots of the Texas showdown may be said to date to the late 1980s, when, in the wake of his failed presidential effort, the Rev. Pat Robertson founded the Christian Coalition partly on the logic that conservative Christians should focus their energies at the grass-roots level. One strategy was to put candidates forward for state and local school-board elections — Robertson’s protégé, Ralph Reed, once said, “I would rather have a thousand school-board members than one president and no school-board members” — and Texas was a beachhead. Since the election of two Christian conservatives in 2006, there are now seven on the Texas state board who are quite open about the fact that they vote in concert to advance a Christian agenda. “They do vote as a bloc,” Pat Hardy, a board member who considers herself a conservative Republican but who stands apart from the Christian faction, told me. “They work consciously to pull one more vote in with them on an issue so they’ll have a majority.” …

These folks quite frankly admit their agenda, which is to fashion a specifically Christian government, some time in the future, by turning today’s children into tomorrow’s militant political soldiers for Jesus:

The Christian “truth” about America’s founding has long been taught in Christian schools, but not beyond. Recently, however — perhaps out of ire at what they see as an aggressive, secular, liberal agenda in Washington and perhaps also because they sense an opening in the battle, a sudden weakness in the lines of the secularists — some activists decided that the time was right to try to reshape the history that children in public schools study. Succeeding at this would help them toward their ultimate goal of reshaping American society. As Cynthia Dunbar, another Christian activist on the Texas board, put it, “The philosophy of the classroom in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next.”

A lot of their reasoning is predicated on faulty logic, of course:

For McLeroy, separation of church and state is a myth perpetrated by secular liberals. “There are two basic facts about man,” he said. “He was created in the image of God, and he is fallen. You can’t appreciate the founding of our country without realizing that the founders understood that. For our kids to not know our history, that could kill a society. That’s why to me this is a huge thing.”

It’s also “a huge thing” to me, too. The truth about the Founders is that they did, in fact, want religion and state to be severed from one another. The author of the First Amendment, James Madison, said so, rather clearly and unambiguously. Don’t just take my word for that … read it for yourself, from his own pen (WebCite cached version).

The Christofascists’ reasoning is also based on more than a little paranoia and conspiratorial thinking:

The idea behind standing up to experts is that the scientific establishment has been withholding information from the public that would show flaws in the theory of evolution and that it is guilty of what McLeroy called an “intentional neglect of other scientific possibilities.” Similarly, the Christian bloc’s notion this year to bring Christianity into the coverage of American history is not, from their perspective, revisionism but rather an uncovering of truths that have been suppressed. “I don’t know that what we’re doing is redefining the role of religion in America,” says Gail Lowe, who became chairwoman of the board after McLeroy was ousted and who is one of the seven conservative Christians. “Many of us recognize that Judeo-Christian principles were the basis of our country and that many of our founding documents had a basis in Scripture. As we try to promote a better understanding of the Constitution, federalism, the separation of the branches of government, the basic rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, I think it will become evident to students that the founders had a religious motivation.”

There is much more to this New York Times Magazine article, which includes tracking out the history of the notion of “separation of church and state.” Sadly, the article leaves out the contribution of Roger Williams, Baptist minister and founder of the Rhode Island colony, which was established with religious freedom as its core. The Founding Fathers a century after him, certainly knew about him and had been influenced by his ideas. The Times adopts and relays the inaccurate claim that the phrase “separation of church and state” originated in Thomas Jefferson’s famous letter to the Danbury Baptists. The truth is that Williams had come up with the phrase over a century before Jefferson. One can debate whether or not Jefferson knew about it particular, but there’s no doubt he knew about Williams’s ideas and career.

In spite of this and other flaws, though, I invite you all to read the Times Magazine article in full. It does accurately relate the duplicity, dishonesty, and the subtle manipulation of the Christofascists in Texas who are trying to raise a new generation of soldiers for Jesus who will — they hope — establish a new Christian theocracy in the United States.

P.S. I contributed an article to Freethoughtpedia some time ago, which goes over the pros and cons of the issue of whether or not the U.S. was founded as “a Christian nation.” Please have a look.

Hat tip: Skeptics & Heretics forum on Delphi Forums.

Update: Religion Dispatches explores in greater detail the relationship between this particular movement and the larger national “intelligent design” movement.

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I had not thought that Arizona authorities would do this … previously, their behavior had indicated their willingness to let James Arthur Ray (of The Secret fame) skate on the sweat-lodged deaths … but they finally arrested him for it, and apparently will prosecute him. ABC News reports on this unexpected development (WebCite cached article):

Controversial spiritual leader James Arthur Ray was arrested today and charged with three counts of manslaughter connected to the deaths at a Sedona, Ariz., sweat lodge in October.

The Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office announced the arrest in a statement on its Web site.

“With the arrest of James Ray, Sheriff [Steve] Waugh hopes the familes of the three victims will now have some measure of closure to this tragedy,” the post said.

The reason I wondered if they would do anything is because, from the very start, Arizona and Yavapai county officials have treated Ray with kid gloves. For instance, they did not question him at the scene, and did nothing to prevent him from leaving their jurisdiction, leaving them unable to question him soon after. The sheriff’s announcement specifically mentions “closure” for the families, so I assume they were instrumental in, perhaps, coercing him into arresting Ray.

It’s understandable they’d be sympathetic with Ray. He’s an integral part of the Sedona Arizona region’s New Age movement, and holds many events there, bringing in thousands of his sheep robotic followers, thus propping up the area’s economy.

Thus, it remains to be seen whether or not Ray will even see a trial; if authorities don’t truly want to prosecute, and are only posturing for benefit of the victims’ families, there may be a plea deal which lets Ray off the hook, or they may even later decline to go through with a trial.

Thus — not surprisingly for me anyway — I remain skeptical that Ray will ever truly be held accountable for what he did.

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I’ve blogged before about the Roman Catholic clerical-abuse scandals, here in the U.S. and in Ireland. It’s also happened in other countries, such as Australia and Canada. But this scandal has finally hit home for the current Pope — literally (WebCite cached article). The German magazine Der Spiegel offers an exposé in how it has been going on, for decades, in the Benedict XVI’s native Germany:

Inside Germany’s Catholic Sexual Abuse Scandal

This is what it looks like, the document of a conspiracy: 24 pages, with appendix, in Latin, published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican. A “norma interna,” or confidential set of guidelines for all bishops, who were required to keep it a secret for all eternity, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

The guidelines, issued in the year of our Lord 1962, address a sensitive subject: sex in the confessional. The Vatican doesn’t put it quite that directly, preferring to use more guarded terminology to describe what happens when a priest leads a member of his flock astray before, during or after the confession — in other words, when he provokes a penitent “toward impure and obscene matters” through “words or signs or nods of the head (or) by touch.”

According to the instructions from Rome, the bishops were to deal very firmly with each individual case — so firmly, in fact, that everything would remain within the confines of the Holy Church. After all, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — formerly known as the Inquisition — has centuries of experience in conducting internal investigations. The Vatican has always filled all the positions in such investigations — prosecutors, defendants, judges — from within its own ranks, while the investigation files have been kept in the secret archives of the Roman Curia.

Because these guidelines were issued with regard to the sacrament of Confession — or Reconciliation as it’s more commonly known — the focus of this document, naturally, is on secrecy … because of the fact that everything having to do with the confessional is supposed to be kept secret. The problem with this is that the document in question has been used as a precedent for how the Roman Catholic Church handles all accusations of clerical abuse … even when it didn’t occur within the confessional or in connection with that sacrament. This is, of course, extremely convenient for the Church.

Der Spiegel‘s report is a a multi-page online document which covers a lot of ground. I cannot address all of its points. I will point out only a couple:

In page 4 of the report (cached), the weakness of the Church’s own internal criminal law (not government criminal law) is mentioned:

But because the Church refuses to admit to the mere possibility of crimes within its own ranks, its criminal law is as obfuscating as incense smoke at the altar. “One can’t say that the criminal law has any practical significance,” says Klaus Lüdicke, an expert on church law in the northwestern German city of Münster. In the past, he adds, the number of cases that became known was “negligibly small.”

The Church, then, cannot philosophically accept with the possibility of crimes being committed by its priests, so it barely deals with the subject at all, and the Church’s apologists toss it away as “negligible.” How nice.

On the same page, it’s mentioned that German Catholic hierarchs dismissed abuse cases as a merely-American aberration back in 2002, but found out that this wasn’t so:

Even after the massive abuse scandal in the United States in 2002, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the bishop of the southwestern German city of Mainz and the head of the German Catholic Church at the time, felt no particular need to take action. “We don’t have a problem of the same dimension (as in the American Church),” he told SPIEGEL in an interview at the time. In his diocese, he said, anyone who “is truly a pedophile is immediately removed from pastoral service.” These kinds of people, he said, could “not simply be transferred to a different location.”

Only a few weeks later, however, Lehmann was confronted with a new case of abuse inside his own diocese, in a parish near Darmstadt. A few months earlier, parents in a small city near Frankfurt had discovered, to their dismay, that the new director of their children’s choir, Father E., was the same man who had been forced to leave his previous parish because of questionable relationships with minors. Lehmann’s system had already shuffled the priest around several times from one location to another.

On page 6 of the report (cached), Der Spiegel mentions that help has been offered to the Church to help treat priests who may be pedophiles, but that offer wasn’t well-received:

Klaus Beier, one of Germany’s most prominent medical experts on sexuality, initiated the Dunkelfeld Prevention Project at Berlin’s Charité University Hospital to help pedophile men. Some of the men who have participated in the project are religious, and for them the path to his institute was particularly difficult. Beier has assessed a number of priests, including members of orders, sometimes in the context of trials and sometimes in response to a church’s request. …

Beier, who is convinced that priests can be helped, offered his support to the Vatican in a letter to Pope Benedict XVI in the autumn of 2008. His clinical experiences, he wrote to the Holy Father, could “be of great benefit to affected members of the clergy.”

Surprisingly enough, the Vatican responded to Beier’s letter. “On behalf of the Holy See, I wish to thank you for your concern about the welfare of children and your efforts to provide appropriate assistance to those affected,” an official with the Vatican Secretariat of State wrote. Beier’s remarks, he added, would be “carefully acknowledged and forwarded to the appropriate officials.”

Folks, this is known as the “we’ll take this under advisement” dismissal. Der Spiegel did not say that the Vatican has responded to Beier in any other way, so it’s safe to conclude that the Vatican is not going to ask him for his help.

As long as the Roman Catholic Church retains its insular and secretive treatment of these cases, things will not change, and the abuse will not stop. The truth about the Church is that it is hypocritical down to its very core … claiming to be the sole remaining arbiter of morality and ethics in the world, yet unwilling to examine the morality or ethics of its own hierarchy or clergy.

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Yes, indeed, this is what the Religious Right in the U.S. would do … if it could. (And it’s been trying, for a long time.) The USA Today Faith & Reason blog documents this desire on the part of several R.R. organizations (WebCite cached article):

Some folks are worried about President Obama munching toast at last week’s National Prayer Breakfast with friends of Ugandan homophobe David Bahati. But while the prayer event held the headlines, leaders of the Family Research Council and the American Family Association, made news, too.

They wouldn’t go as far as Uganda’s kill-the-gays bill pushed by Bahati. They would just outlaw homosexuality, like shooting up illegal drugs, here in the USA, according to Tobin Grant’s weekly roundup of the latest from Christian activist groups, for Christianity Today.

I’ll leave the list of quotations by multiple R.R. groups and leaders to blogger Cathy Lynn Grossman. The bottom line is that these outfits are still for real, they are still activist, they are proud of what they say and believe, they are still radical in what they want — which is for everyone to live according to their own subjective, metaphysical beliefs — and they are not giving up or going away, any time soon.

Hat tip: Skeptics & Heretics forum (at Delphi Forums)

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The “Birther” delusion I’ve blogged about a couple times already, apparently has not died, even though it’s been as thoroughly debunked as anything can be. The occasion of the “Tea Party Convention” — a loose collection of paranoiacs, anarchists, and assorted other falling-off-the-cliff Rightists — has kicked up the (non-existent) controversy over President Obama’s birth. The Los Angeles Times Top of the Ticket blog reports on the persistence of this delusion (WebCite cached article):

Joseph Farah, to cheers at Tea Party Convention, again questions location of Obama’s birth

If the National Tea Party Convention hoped to keep its focus on political organizing and its message on limited government, it has had little success so far.

Capping the first full day of the meeting, right-wing instigator Joseph Farah spent much of his dinner speech questioning whether President Obama was born in Hawaii and casting doubt on whether the president was legitimately elected.

“The media, the politicians … all say, no, it’s all been settled. I say, if it’s been settled show us the birth certificate. Simple,” Farah’s said, as his remarks were cheered by the roughly 600 activists gathered in Nashville for the event.

If you don’t know who Joseph Farah is, consider yourself fortunate. You haven’t missed much, except for Farah’s insane religiofascist gibbering.

Farah runs, a conservative tabloid, book publisher and tireless critic of the administration [WebCite cached version]. He dismissed those who say he is obsessed with the birth certificate issue saying, “I admit it, I’m obsessed with the Constitution.”

But Mr Farah, if you were truly “obsessed with the Constitution,” you would know that it says absolutely nothing whatsoever about birth certificates. Not one blasted thing! Farah, being a dutiful Religious Rightist, inserted a religious angle into his drivel:

Farah said he believed establishing lineage was important for leaders, using Jesus’ genealogical ties to King David as an example.

Mr Farah, if you know so much about the Bible, then surely you must know that the two genealogies of Jesus that are provided in the gospels, conflict with one another (cached article)! The truth about Jesus is that no one knows if he even existed; and even if he did, his genealogy is utterly unknown.

In any event, the matter of Obama’s birth has been settled. FactCheck has gone over the matter with a fine-tooth comb and has not found any problem with Obama’s citizenship (cached article). (For those who don’t like FactCheck, here’s Politifact’s article on the subject, along with a cached version.) The “birthers” who demand an “original” birth certificate in order to demonstrate Obama’s citizenship — and who say that only an “original” birth certificate will suffice — are legally incorrect. In some jurisdictions, it is not possible for a person ever to get an “original” birth certificate … it is the property of the recording agency, not the person, so the person cannot give it to anyone. If the “birthers” are to be believed, anyone born in such a place is automatically and forever barred from becoming president. This is, of course, totally asinine and childish. But then, “birthers” are not known for being bright or mature, so it’s to be expected, I guess.

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