Thursday, January 31, 2008

Religious choral music

Kazim here. I know I've mentioned before that I sing in the Austin Community Chorus, and that we do a lot of religious music. I did a whole show about justified acknowledgment of religion in art and education a while back. The fact is that historically, MOST classical music (along with other forms of art) was sponsored by the church. So in general, if a song is much more than a hundred years old and has words, there's a fairly high chance that it will have something to do with Jesus.

This doesn't stop the music from being very uplifting and well written. A couple of years ago I was doing Bach's "Saint Matthew Passion," which ranks high among the best music I've ever heard from any era. Of course, the words are in Latin, so it's easy to just ignore what you're saying unless you grew up Catholic, which I didn't.

This season we're doing a piece called Saint Paul by Felix Mendelssohn. I'm not familiar with very much Mendelssohn. I've heard the overture he wrote for A Midsummer Night's Dream and it's fine. Apparently, this upcoming performance is a fairly big deal. Mendelssohn originally wrote the piece in English but then later translated it back into his native German, and the German version became the standard while the English got lost to history.

Apparently some music historian dug up the original English lyrics and republished it. There have been other translations before, but our concert will feature the world debut of THESE PARTICULAR English lyrics, or something like that. Musicians get excited about the weirdest things.

Anyway, my point in writing this is that I don't particularly like it. The music doesn't really do it for me, but singing the English words just makes it generally much more unpleasant. The story is the most tedious kind of apologetics. It is all about how Saint Paul used to persecute Christians, then was blinded and visited by Jesus. He converted to Christianity and then went on to write most of the most awful sexually repressed parts of the Bible. (Okay, that last part isn't in the piece, it's just my spin.)

Probably my least favorite passage is when he's condemning a Christian to death. The basses chant "Stone him to death!" and then the tenors (that's me) join in "Stone him to death!" and then the altos and then the sopranos, and so everybody is yelling in unison. Frankly, it's a little bit creepy and uncomfortable. Supposedly it's about the Jewish power structure persecuting the Christians, but I can't help flashing forward on the Spanish Inquisition and other acts of atrocity, as well as the modern reconstructionist movement, who ironically want to bring back exactly the punishment that is used to portray Paul as a bad guy. It kind of feels like being part of a lynch mob.

Much of the rest of the piece follows the kind of simpering glurginess that you often hear in praise of Christianity. It's a lot of "Oh blessed are they who have endured" and even something that goes like (paraphrasing because I don't have the score) "You are so grand and mysterious that you are beyond our comprehension." Bleah.

Next season, though, we get Beethoven's Ninth (Ode to Joy). Now that's something worth sticking around for.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Mid-week schadenfreude

And another lying fundagelical scumbag goes down! Daniel Thompson ran a video store and online video club called Clean Flix, where people could rent "family friendly" versions of R-rated movies that Thompson had personally edited the sex and profanity out of. Thompson had already raised the ire of Hollywood for possible copyright violations in doing that. Now he's charged with paying a 14-year-old girl for sex and has further embarrassed his supporters following the discovery of — all together now — a massive stash of porn he kept tucked away in his "family friendly" store. Police are now investigating whether the whole Clean Flix thing was a bogus front for distributing porn all along.

Chuckle along with the video report here.

Update: It gets nastier. According to the news item on IMDb, Thompson allegedly told one of the girls (there were two) that he and a buddy are charged with raping that "his business was actually a cover for a pornography studio and asked them to participate in making a porn movie." Awesome.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Nothing but liars

Those of you who were, like me, children of the 80's might remember that song by Thompson Twins: "Lies lies lies yeah..." Here it is in all its 80's cheesy retro glory. With a chorus like that, they might as well have been writing about creationists.

There are three certainties in this life: death, taxes, and that when a creationist opens his mouth a flood of lies will pour out. Their lie du jour at the moment appears to be trying to link Charles Darwin and evolution to racism and Nazi ideologies. Even for born pathological liars like creationists, it's pretty low to stoop. Over at the Texas Citizens for Science site, Steve Schafersman has published a handsome rebuttal to this calumny, so the next time you hear this bullshit from some creo swine, kick his lying ass over there for some schooling.

Imagine living a life in which you cannot help but lie all the time, a life in which reality itself must be fought and warred with and denied all the time. Really, if creationists didn't sicken me so, I'd pity them.

Shalini just e-mailed

It's bad like a very bad thing.

No details are allowable right now, other than I can assure anyone worried she may have come to physical harm that this is not so. Until such time as she is ready to make her own announcement, we'll let it lie.

What a Nuckolhead!

There's this homeschooled scientific illiterate named Dan Nuckols who's got a blog where he offers dippy anti-science cartoons like this one, amongst other twaddle. Pharyngula readers have been having good fun today knocking the poor dope around, and I, being the mischievous little scamp I am, decided to fuck with him via email. Here's the email exchange in progress, starting with my response to the linked cartoon.

Subject: I wuz robbed!
You mean I've been an atheist evilutionist all this time, and nobody told me about the porn and the sacks of money!? What a ripoff!

Dan: Dude, you are robbed. Of eternal life. Repent and Trust Jesus.

MW: But the Flying Spaghetti Monster hath touched me with his noodly appendage, granting me not only eternal life but all the pizza I can eat without getting fat, and free digital cable! Plus I don't have to go to Sunday School. Just seemed like the better deal to me all around.

Thanks though. Tell Jesus I suggested he offer some additional perks to the eternal life deal. Say, NBA seasons passes or something. Otherwise eternity can get awful boring without anything to do!

Update: Hours and hours later, and no followup? How pathetic. Maybe this is another example of what Stephen Rogers was calling half-hearted evangelism.

Johnny B. Goode Stoopid: the Discovery Institute keeps the laffs coming!

They can't offer any peer-reviewed research, but they can publish indignant tirades against "Darwinism" in various forms, the latest of which is a sure-to-be-laff-a-minute diatribe entitled Darwin Day in America, written by John G. West. West's main schtick is to attack evolution by Godwinizing it; i.e., blaming it for eugenics and, in turn, the Nazis. An indication of the emotionalist, rhetorical word salad this book is sure to be is suggested by the wording of its online press release, a paragraph from which is excerpted below. And remember, when dealing with creationists, you can always expect at least one 20-megaton irony blast; I have highlighted it.

Based on extensive research with primary sources and archival materials, John G. West’s captivating Darwin Day in America tells the story of how American politics and culture have been corrupted by scientistic ideology. Marshaling fascinating anecdotes and damning quotations, West’s narrative explores the far-reaching consequences for society when scientists and politicians deny the essential differences between human beings and the rest of nature. It also exposes the disastrous results that ensue when experts claiming to speak for science turn out to be wrong. West concludes with a plea for the restoration of democratic accountability in an age of experts.

Don't you just love that highlighted bit? Especially coming from a clown who's been a poli-sci and history professor, and never, you know, a biology professor. I can't think of anything similarly head-smackingly dishonest, except for the day O.J. got acquitted, and immediately announced he was going to launch a search for "the real killers."

But get a load of the sentence after the highlighted one. Another of West's obsessions is that he cannot stand that there are people in the world who are "experts" in a field, who have an annoying tendency to correct uninformed regular folks who just want everything to be "fair and balanced." When West makes "a plea for the restoration of democratic accountability in an age of experts," he is essentially admitting that he is not an expert in the field he has decided to criticize, and his only way of dealing with this is to try and discredit the idea that there can or should be any experts at all, and that "democracy" ought to reign. And by "democracy" he means, like all religious ideologues, "mob rule," the idea that if the majority doesn't like how reality works, they can just vote it different.

Bad news, Johnny. Science is not a democracy. Facts are what they are, and they don't care what you believe or what ideology, religious or political, you've chosen to embrace. None of the experts whose expertise you resent (because you lack it) deny that evolution takes place, any more than they would deny the sun rises in the east. And tell me, if evolution is "racist," why is it, I wonder, that the KKK burns Christian crosses instead of, say, giant wooden Darwin fish or effigies of the double helix? Why do white supremacists call themselves things like "World Church of the Creator" and "Church of Jesus Christ, Christian," instead of "Darwin's Badasses" or "Chuck D.'s Master Race Society"? Why is it that Darwin's works were banned in the Third Reich, as we see in this list from 1935 (scroll down the page), in which, among works promoting pacifism, bolshevism, communism, and liberal democracy, the Nazis also gave the thumbs-down to...

Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism (Häckel).

Hmm. Could it be, John, that you are simply full of shit? Why, I think it could!

But hey, writing this crap is at least easier than actually producing research that offers scientific (or is that "scientistic") evidence for intelligent design, right?

For more debunking of nonsensical creationist attempts to link Darwin (who opposed slavery, for instance) to the Nazis, here's some worthwhile reading over at Panda's Thumb.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

American Idol beats up defenseless Christian virgin!

Over at Christian website, they're all in a kerfuffle over how mean the judges and host of American Idol were to poor Bruce Dickson, a 19-year-old from Bastrop (about half an hour from here) who, when asked to tell something about himself, admitted that he had never even kissed a girl.

"What?" Randy Jackson asked. "On purpose?"

"On purpose," Dickson said. "On my wedding day, that will be my first kiss."

Jackson's advice to Dickson after the judges sent him packing: "Go kiss some girls."

Simon Cowell, eyebrows raised, told him: "Avoid Ryan (Seacrest) on the way out."

Seacrest himself ended the segment featuring Dickson with these words: "Maybe next year he'll come back less a boy and more a man."

Dickson, of course, didn't take the ribbing well and went into full persecution mode.

"I respect women and don't think of them as a sexual object, and I'm the freak?" Dickson said.

Dude, fer fuck's sake! There's such a thing as being a sleazebag who sexually objectifies women...and then there's kissing a girl, something that is widely done by most heterosexual males at some point in their developmental cycle, and is not only not considered disrespectful (unless you're forcing it upon an unwilling kissee) but entirely healthy, normal, and — you'd better sit down for this — fun to boot!

I cannot help but notice that there's a big distinction to be made between the idea — perfectly sensible and sane — that you are the master of your own body and it's up to you what happens to it, especially sexually, and the way in which Christianity reframes and sells this message, heaped with great globs of guilt and fear-mongering designed to make young people think the proper way to confront their budding sexuality is to consider it "sinful," and suppress it until the magical day of your wedding, at which point everything bad about your body becomes good and holy and you can touch your pee-pee without fear of a lightning bolt up the back door.

There's a healthy way to promote abstinence, and it's not the way it's promoted in Christianity. Rather, what Christianity sells are some bitterly unrealistic expectations of marriage. I mean, what do Christians think they're protecting here? Do Christians really believe that if they remain virginal — and not just virginal, but refrain from any physical contact with the opposite sex at all — until holy matrimony, that this will have some kind of talismanic effect upon their marriages, rendering them perfect and idyllic in every way? No arguments, no financial strain, 100% contentment and happiness, and angelic obedient children? Well, it wouldn't be the first foolish thing Christians have chosen to believe, I suppose.

If you're looking for reasons why the divorce rate among Christians is so much higher — especially among Bible Belt Baptists — than any other demographic group, you might look to these "sexual purity" programs. These aren't about giving young people healthy, sex-positive messages that incorporate abstinence at all. It's about plugging this concept of "purity," which comes, naturally, with the inevitable view that failure to live up to purity's criteria means that you are impure and probably in danger of hellfire and damnation. Attaching the baggage of sin to sex is a recipe for some pretty debilitating neuroses.

Of course, a Christian reading this would offer the obvious false dilemma as a retort: "So what, I should just go out and have sex with everyone I see?" No, just be aware that your sexuality is part of you, and a good part of you, not something the Devil scotch-taped to your crotch in order to lure you into a fall from grace. Realize that part of acknowledging and growing in your sexuality means that it's something you control. The choice to take command of your body and not engage in sex until you're emotionally ready for it is a rational decision, and shouldn't be one based on hangups over your body and fear of God's punishment.

As for young master Dickson, well, if he finds it hard to get over Ryan Seacrest's taunts, I suspect he can always find a sympathetic shoulder to cry on over at Clay Aiken's place. Malicious rumors suggest he's not all that into kissing girls either.

Shalini in some kind of trouble?

Shalini Sehkar, whose blog Scientia Natura is full of hilariously foul-mouthed rants against "theistards" (she certainly embraces the "bad cop" role in atheist blogging with gusto), has been locked out — see for yourself — and some commenters over at Larry Moran's Sandwalk are indicating that some theists have allegedly gone off the deep end at last and are doing things to make her life miserable. As always, the lack of details being offered means the rumor mill is going to be churning overtime, and it would be nice to nip that in the bud if possible. So if anyone knows any real details (of the kind that can actually be spoken of, in the likelihood there are legal issues in play here), and how we can help her out if possible, please let us know.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

(flat, deadpan voice) man that's just like so totally cool

Toddling along on the intarweebs tonight, trying to find some equilibrium between this week's dose of sad (poor old Heath) and glad (looks like the HD format war is over!), I came upon this enlightening press release about a new website at, which offers apparel for young Christians "with a message that it is cool to be Christian... Some of the messages on the clothing are intentionally ambiguous, fun and often with an ironic twist."

But hey, don't just take their word for it! Want to see just how cool they really are? Check the logo!

There. If that isn't officially the coolest thing ever, I'll eat my copy of Pat Boone's In a Metal Mood. I mean, shit, the fact that the fish has got shades would have been enough to make me want to be him in the worst possible way. But look! The motherfucker's got shades and a goatee! Damn, dawg! Creamed jeans are made of this! Even James Bond is gonna have to pack up his license to kill and go home, now the fish is in the house. Finally I see what I've been doing wrong all these years. If I'd known about the tsunami-like levels of mad cool that just radiates from the shades/goatee combination, damn, I bet by now I would have already worked my way through the waitstaff of every Hooter's in town and would be halfway through the Texas Bikini Team. But no, the best I ever managed to figure out on my own was a pair of my dad's old bifocals and a Charlie Chan moustache. Clearly, coolness has eluded me as a concept. Where have you been all this time when I needed guidance, Mr. Hipsterbeatnikfish?

Thing is, though, I looked at some of this apparel on the site itself. And, well, I don't see that it's really as cool as all that. I mean, it doesn't seem like the sort of thing the fish would wear, you know, if he was gonna represent. And some of them don't seem especially Christian, either. Like, there are these designs promoting Intelligent Design, for one thing. And as we keep being told by its proponents, Intelligent Design has nothing to do with religion. Right? So I guess I'm confused about that. I'm also confused by shirts that say things like "thump thump" with no explanation. And the explanation the website gives me doesn't help to clear anything up.

Who's that knocking and what do they want?

We think it might be God trying to get our attention. He just might have something to say to us. Do you think we would respond better if we actually heard the knocking or, um, thumping?

What is a thump? Is it the sound your heart makes? A peck on the shoulder to get you to notice something? A knock on the door? The bass note in a great song? Granted it's a shirt that will get a lot of attention and more than a few questions.

I'm still not sure if that's an actual explanation of what the shirt means, or an exercise in free verse. I'm even more baffled by the shirt that says "splat!", whose meaning is explained in this way: "What is the sound of creation? When God creates someone, and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?" Uh...what? Is this like Zen Christianity now? And are they referring to God, the act of creation, or the created someone by the word "it"? And are they really telling us that the creation of the universe was accompanied by the monumental sound of a splat? Are they replacing the Big Bang theory with the Big Dump theory? Or is this, like, a joke, and is that what makes it "cool"?

I have so much to learn!

Really, I have to admire the way the gang at Nicthus went about their, um, market research. You know, for how to appeal to 21st century youth by being all "humorous, edgy, thought-provoking," and "stylish." I don't see how you could fail with a campaign like this:

...the brand name Nicthus was formed from a combination of the words 'beatnik' for young, hip and cool, and 'icthus.' The beatnik was an icon of the "cool" generation in the 1950s...

An icon of the 1950's!

That is sooo fucking 2008, dudes! What an ironic twist!

Irrefutable proof there is no God

The immensely talented actor Heath Ledger was found dead in his apartment today of what appears to be a drug overdose.

In related news, Britney Spears is reportedly still alive.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Interesting map

This map shows the dominance of various religions in different parts of the country.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Creationism in Texas: "One of the worst situations that I've ever seen."

Last night I attended the meeting sponsored by the tireless folks at CFI-Austin, "Will Texas Support 21st Century Science Education?" I arrived a little early and bumped into Matt Dillahunty. Soon I was glad I hadn't walked in the door ten minutes later than I actually did. The room filled up quickly, soon swelling to SRO status and quite possibly violating fire codes. I did a quick head count and stopped at 60, guesstimating about 20 more faces buried in the back of the crowd I couldn't fully see.

The enormous turnout was heartening for many reasons, not the least of which is that when the forces of ignorance and scientific illiteracy begin their campaign to dismantle science education in Texas this year, they're going to meet with some organized and vocal opposition quite prepared to humiliate them in their efforts every step of the way. The Christian Right may have a stranglehold on politics in this state. But as their ill-advised firing of Chris Comer, a bit of local political shenanigans that quickly became an international outrage once word got out through the intertubes, illustrated, when they try to mess with the realities of science, the real world is not so accommodating to their ideologies.

Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science was first to speak. Schafersman has spent 27 years on the front lines fighting creationists in their attempts to infiltrate schools, so he's seen firsthand just how much creationism has evolved in that time. But he described the current situation in Texas as "one of the worst situations that I've ever seen."

As many of you may not know, Texas has long been what's called an "adoption state" in terms of how textbooks are chosen for public schools. A small group of people in state politics chooses all the textbooks for the entire state. (Many states let each individual school board choose.) In Texas, the selection process had long been influenced by a fundamentalist Christian couple, Mel and Norma Gabler. The Gablers ran roughshod over every textbook submitted for approval, demanding deletions to evolution in biology texts, deletions to information about contraception in health texts, and other things. Censorship of textbooks in Texas got so bad that a number of textbook publishers would simply release "Texas editions" of their books. The idea that religious ideologues can effectively censor students' access to knowledge is chilling, to say the least.

Mel Gabler died in 2004, Norma last summer. With their passing, fundie whitewashing of textbooks stopped, though the selection process is still mired in politics. The pro-science community succeeded in thwarting the efforts of creationists and their well-funded leaders at the Discovery Institute in 2003 — a process that several ACA members including Kazim and myself participated in directly — but failed in 2004 when health texts came up for review, with the result that teenagers in this state are still not getting health texts informing them of the proper use of contraception to avoid unwanted pregnancy and STD's. Hey, what's a few dead kids as long as you're standing up for Jebus, eh?

Here's why the situation for science is so dire right now. Science standards are coming up for review later this year, and right now, the State Board of Education is not only run by a YEC, but out of the SBOE's fifteen members, seven of them are YEC's. Schafersman has described them as "very aggressive" and certain to make a set of standards that has already been graded an "F" even worse. (This was done by the Fordham Institute, a conservative organization, interestingly enough, but not one with a fundamentalist agenda.)

Chris Comer's firing in 2007 was part of an effort to purge pro-science individuals from positions of influence in Texas education. The whole thing of sacking her based on supposed insubordination and bad performance was just their little dog and pony show. The real goal is to remove anyone who has anything nice to say about evolution — let alone anyone who recognizes it as the foundational principle underlying all biology — from the rolls.

Now this part is important: Right now the fundies are running some fundie wingnut against Patricia Hardy, a non-fundamentalist, non-creationist Republican. If Hardy loses to this person, then the YEC's will flip to a majority on the SBOE and every schoolchild in Texas will be assured of a 19th century education. In other words, they'll be fuct, and Texas will become as bad a laughingstock as Kansas was a few years back.

What about the Democrats, you ask? Who are they running? Well, no one. Apparently the Democratic party in Texas doesn't care about the SBOE, preferring to devote its efforts toward the legislature. So that means there's no outright progressive, solidly pro-science candidate to vote for. The best we have is a moderate Republican. But that's better than nothing, I imagine.

Anyway, Schafersman reiterated that there is a "great deal of apprehension about what's going to happen this year." How exactly are the creos going to strike? Well, ID has failed stupendously, despite the efforts and the millions spent by Discovery. After Dover, even Dan McLeroy, the cretinous YEC dentist who heads up the SBOE (and who I remember seemed to think he was onto something at the 2003 textbook hearings by constantly asking UT biology professors if evolution was as well-supported by scientific evidence as gravity), is careful openly to acknowledge the lack of support ID has from the scientific community, and that it is thus inappropriate to teach.

But this is simply McLeroy's (and the rest of the YEC's) grinning Cheshire Cat face for the media. The agenda now is to demand that the "weaknesses" of scientific theories like evolution must be discussed in classrooms. You know, fair and balanced and all that. This is bogus for several reasons, not the least of which is that the things the creos trumpet as "weaknesses" — Jonathan Wells' foolish "icons of evolution"; Behe's broken record about "irreducible complexity" — aren't "weaknesses" at all for evolution. They're merely made-up hand-waving nonsense the creos throw out to impress the scientifically illiterate. Also, while the idea of addressing "weaknesses" in scientific theories is, in principle, supposed to be applied to all fields of science, when the rubber meets the road, it's only evolution that finds itself under the weight of that demand. Hypocritical much? Why yes. But these are creationists. What do you expect? Integrity? Honesty? Knowledge? Ha.

Remember, these are not people who care about knowledge. These are people desperately attempting to protect a bronze age religion from the modern ideas and scientific facts that defy its magical claims. Their whole lives are rooted in the desperate belief that there's a god willing and eager to grant them eternal life, and if this belief is debunked, then they're doomed to plunge into a whirlpool of existential despair and hopelessness they probably cannot escape. So if it's a choice between understanding science and hanging on to the hope they'll never die, they'll pick the latter, thank you. They're the modern day equivalent of the people who imprisoned Galileo and murdered Giordano Bruno, and make no mistake about it.

More shenanigans from the "Goddidit" crowd involve the Institute for Creation Research attempting to get accreditation in Texas so they can offer master's degrees in science education here. They'd been trying to do the whole process under the table, with the help of creationist sympathizers in the Texas GOP. Once Texas Citizens for Science got wind of what they were up to and made it public, things have been a little bit rougher for the ICR's efforts. Right now, the hearing to determine what to do about the ICR's application has been pushed back from January 24 to April 24. We'll be following this closely.

Schafersman then introduced Chris Comer, who got a huge round of applause for being, in effect, evolution's first "martyr" in Texas. Chris didn't and couldn't say much, as Schafersman had cautioned us there could be litigation pending concerning her firing, and so Comer was under orders from her lawyers not to take questions about the firing itself. (Good, I hope she takes the assholes to the cleaners and leaves them there naked.) But Comer did tell us that the "forces at play here are huge" and that the whole situation concerning science education in Texas is "far worse than I ever, ever dreamed it would be." As an indicator of just how thin the ice is on which we're all skating: there is an end-of-course biology test, currently optional, that will be required of all Texas students as of 2012. Last month there was an attempt to remove all references to evolution from this test, and it almost worked.

Schafersman told us all that, unlike Dover, where fed-up citizens finally got their own back by voting out all of the creationist idiots from their school board after the trial that had damaged their community was over, in Texas it will be harder to rely on the electoral process alone to fix the SBOE. Once again, the Christian Right controls the GOP here (mavericks like Hardy notwithstanding), and the Democrats don't want to play. So the key to saving science — and saving students — in Texas will be grassroots movements that constantly shine a light on what the creos try to pull whenever they try to pull it. Comer's firing was met by unanimous condemnation in newspaper editorials not merely throughout Texas, but the whole country and overseas as well. By keeping this kind of attention on creationism's sneaky BS, pro-science Texas citizens can ensure that science education in Texas does not fall victim to a religious auto-da-fé anytime soon.

If you want to keep up with this (and you want to keep up with this), bookmark the Texas Citizens for Science page as well as the Texas Freedom Network's Stand Up for Science campaign.

A final note. During the lengthy Q&A, a high school teacher whose name I didn't catch made an interesting point. Whatever goes on with the textbooks, it was his experience that students didn't really read their textbooks anyway. What with the internet able to provide all sorts of information to students directly, regardless of whether it's been vetted by Christian Right ideologues, wouldn't it be an easy thing for science teachers simply to encourage students to visit such sites as the Talk Origins archive, the Panda's Thumb, and others, to get the lowdown on the down low about real science? It was a neat idea, and certainly a fun suggestion of the way teachers can rebel if education standards are in fact undermined as badly as the creationists want them to be. I think teachers should do this anyway...but we still have to keep up the fight, and keep it as bloody as it needs to be.

Addendum, Monday: If you're one of the folks who's popped over from Pharyngula, welcome...and please Digg this article to spread awareness of what's going on in Texas. Thanks.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Why hasn't Uwe Boll thought of this?

Worried that your movie is going to tank in the wake of unavoidable, relentless mockery and abuse? Just pay people to see it anyway!

The latest news making the rounds of science blogs is the remarkable revelation that the producers of Expelled, the farcical ID faux-documentary soon to be released and hosted by the foolish Ben Stein, have come up with a campaign essentially to bribe Christian schools to take entire classes on "mandatory field trips" to see this hokum. Let us marvel at religion's great contribution to science education in America: pulling a bunch of kids out of classes, filling their little heads with disinformation, and raking in the bucks.

You really have to read all about this stunning campaign here. It means this movie is less likely to be profitable than it already was — the idea is these Christian schools send in the ticket stubs, paid for by the students, and the more stubs they send in the more money gets donated to the school, up to $5000 for 500 stubs. That's $10 per ticket stub, which is right around the full ticket price for a movie in a lot of big cities, and far more for the average ticket in the kinds of Bible Belt small towns where this movie is likely to be well received. (My parents go to the movies in Marshall, TX, population about 25,000; they pay $3 to see movies at the one theater there.)

What's also hilarious is the way this movie is openly defying the Discovery Institute mantra that ID is not religious, no ma'am! Seems to me the next Dover trial ought to be even easier, since the record of this online campaign will be right out there in the open, calling attention to itself like a streaker at a football game, for the pro-science side to destroy them with. It's even better than Barbara Forrest's brilliant tracking down of the absurdist publishing history of Of Pandas and People, which gave us all that masterpiece of Christian copy editing, "cdesign proponentsists."

Frankly, the more bullshit like this the anti-evolutionists pull, the better things are in terms of exposing their mendacity and dishonesty. Come on, these people really think they're morally superior? The lack of moral integrity in their every action is repugnant and depressing. When it isn't merely hilarious.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Ten (plus) things I've done you probably haven't

Scalzi started this, damn him, so I'm now caught up in the meme. Nothing especially atheisty, but entertaining all the same. What are yours?

  1. Attended a Beduin Arab wedding in the middle of the desert in the UAE.
  2. Driven round and round Loch Ness with my family looking for the monster, to no avail. (Stupid monster.)
  3. Met XTC.
  4. Sailed first class on the QE2 from Southampton to New York.
  5. Sailed on the Persian Gulf in a fishing dhow.
  6. Spent ten years as a comic book artist.
  7. Hung out with Billy Bob Thornton at his rented house during shooting of The Alamo.
  8. Been an assistant director on several independent films.
  9. Hung out with Ron Livingston in the backyard of a house during one of those film shoots, while his fiancee Lisa Sheridan did scenes inside.
  10. Worked as a driver on the most recent season of The Bachelor.
  11. Met Terry Gilliam in the 80’s while still in film school, where he came to talk about the controversy surrounding the just-released Brazil.
  12. Cockblocked Nic Cage. (Details by request only.)
  13. Played with a leopard cub.
  14. Married a topless dancer. Then divorced her.
  15. Hosted an atheist TV show.

I was going to add “Hung out with Quentin Tarantino,” but then realized that probably two-thirds of Austin has done that, so I left it off.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Next Wednesday in Austin: Chris Comer at Texas Citizens for Science meeting

From the Texas Citizens for Science website:

Forthcoming Appearance: 2008 January 16 - "Will Texas Support 21st Century Science Education? A Briefing by Texas Citizens for Science"

Time and Location: Wednesday evening, January 16, 7:00 p.m., Mangia Pizza-Mesa location, 8012 Mesa Drive, Austin, Texas. Maps are available here and here. There is no charge, and you can buy all the pizza you want.

Texas Citizens for Science President Steven Schafersman will discuss the mounting threats to science education in Texas. He will cover the forthcoming revision of Texas K-12 science standards, the forced resignation of Chris Comer from the Texas Education Agency, and the effort by the Dallas-based Institute for Creation Research to obtain Texas certification to grant masters degrees in science education. After the briefing there will be a Q&A session and open discussion. Chris Comer will also be on hand to answer questions about science education in Texas.

I'll certainly be there, and not just for the pizza. This will be the year the supporters of science are going to face continued histrionic attacks on quality education from well-financed creationist groups out to protect their Bronze Age myths at all costs. Florida also seems to be a state where the forces of organized ignorance are rattling their swizzle sticks. Despite the fairly comprehensive defeat ID suffered in Dover, they just aren't getting the message. That's what people are like when they think they can play "choose your own reality," I suppose. If this matters to you at all — and it should, for it will go a long way towards deciding America's relevance as a leader in science and innovation in the 21st century — turn up. Plus, Mangia's pizza is the shiz.

Oh no, not again

Today in the news:

A mother who is suspected of killing her four children, whose decomposing bodies were found in her home, appeared in court Thursday.

Banita Jacks, 33...told police that her daughters were possessed by demons and that each died in her sleep during a seven- to 10-day period, court documents said. Aja died first, she told police, then N'kiah, Tatianna and Brittany.

Okay, I know it's simplistic simply to blame religion in situations like this. You can make the same post hoc fallacy people make when they blame violent video games for school shootings, or porno magazines for rape. In the case of the wacko who killed and cooked his girlfriend a few days ago, and then told the cops God ordered him to do it, it's obvious he was trying to appear as crazy as possible so as to cop a sanity plea when his case goes to trial. There are cases of clearly religiously inspired violence, such as 9/11, gay-bashing incidents, the killing of abortion providers, excessive corporal punishment of children bordering on child abuse, the ongoing Arab/Israeli conflict, tribal violence in Kenya and the Sudan, Catholic/Protestant violence in Northern Ireland, and more.

Then there are cases where a lunatic does something loony, and, surprise, is found to have kooky religious beliefs as well. Kooky religious beliefs and kooks do go together well.

A case like this leans toward the latter, but still, I don't think religion can get off the hook entirely. Religion is the only thing out there that encourages people to believe in absurdities like demonic possession. It's bad enough that literally millions of people have their critical thinking faculties short circuited by the teachings of religion, and thus fail to know how to protect themselves from religious hucksters selling their snake oil. But add religion into an environment where mental illness is latent, and it's a recipe for unmitigated catastrophe. While the mental illness is ultimately the cause of this woman's actions, religion only enhanced its severity, rather than helping her to overcome it.

Science, on the other hand, has made great strides in treating mental illness. There's nothing in the article to indicate Banita Jacks was on any medication for any psychological disorder. But clearly she should have been. Had she been, this might not have happened. But by putting her faith in her religion, what happened? She believed her babies were possessed by demons, and butchered them. Religion can't always be blamed for the bad things people do. But I see precious few examples of its actually doing anything to help or prevent such tragedies either.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

If you're running a con, go for the richest mark you can!

The fad of Kabbalah mysticism, that seems to have conned nearly as many Tinseltown hangers-on as Scientology, has such a transparently silly racket that, because it's so obviously stupid and fraudulent, it's no wonder some of the richest and most high-profile celebutards are falling for it. MSNBC reports that Madonna, who popularized warding off evil spirits with a few inches of red twine around your wrist, is now spending $10,000 a month on "specially blessed" Kabbalah water! Yoiks! I always thought most bottled water was a big scam (a suspicion long-since confirmed), but to spend as much money in a month on the stuff as someone with a serious cocaine habit really makes me cringe at the way fate (or whatever) always seems to dictate that the people with the most money in our world are those with the fewest brains.

Maybe I'm just in the wrong business. Damn these morals of mine! They keep me from slicing into the lucrative religion pie.

Pitching in to help P-Momma

I'm a little behind the curve here, but scanning some blogs I haven't visited in a couple of weeks, I learned that Possummomma, everyone's favorite atheist in a minivan, has lupus. And it's really messing with her lately, making her so sensitive to sunlight that even walking around her house gives her a hard time due to UVs bouncing all over the place. Over at his blog, Berlzebub has taken it upon himself to set up a Paypal donation thing so that P-Momma's family can afford to get UV-filtering films, which are naturally expensive as hell, installed on her windows. So far donations have been pretty good, so I thought I'd let AE readers join the charity if they see fit. Here is the link to Berlzebub's blog's donations-tag page, where you can get up to speed on everything.

It should come as no surprise that some Christian bitch called Heather has leapt upon this situation as an excuse to troll P-Momma's blog with snarky and insulting comments. I guess that's what comes from being morally superior to everybody, eh?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Religion's latest contribution to mental health

Moron looks at own hand, sees what he thinks is "Mark of the Beast," freaks, slices off hand with bandsaw. For added dose of crazy, microwaves hand. As Voltaire once said, "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." Even when the victim is yourself.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

More faux-intellectualism: the appeal to other ways of knowing

In this comments thread, we've been visited once again by Rhology, who says:

I don't agree that God is unprovable or unproven. Not provable by naturalistic means, of course, but there's no reason to restrict ourselves to solely naturalistic means.

What, exactly, are the "non-naturalistic" means that Rho proposes? How do they work? What are their methodologies? Can one use them to test a falsifiable hypothesis and formulate a theory which has predictive power? Rho seems to imply this, since his statement suggests God's existence can thereby be (and actually has been) proven. But if you're looking for a real explanation of how to go about seeking knowledge using "non-naturalistic means," then Rho will disappoint you.

This is the appeal to other ways of knowing, a common bit of hand-waving employed not just by religionists, but practitioners of all manner of woo. Skeptico has also written about this. And I hate to say it, but it seems to be a view that not only has traction amongst the anti-science clods you'd expect, but among people in the scientific community who should know better, usually in a misguided attempt at offering a sop to the ignorant in the belief that those people would simply be too scared of the threat science poses to their precious belief of choice unless the olive branch of appeasement is offered.

Case in point: the National Academy of Sciences has just released a booklet for the lay reader (you can download the whole thing as a free PDF) spelling out the case for evolution and against ID in a very clear, accessible, and commendable way. But the book makes the concessions to religion that has caused guys like PZ Myers and Larry Moran to roll their eyes. "Science and Religion Offer Different Ways of Understanding the World," trumpets one chapter heading. But they don't. Not even remotely. Science offers ways of understanding the world, religion offers supernatural beliefs in place of understanding, which actively impede many people's ability to achieve understanding. It really is a big blemish in an otherwise scientifically sound book. Then again, if the way in which this "different way of understanding" actually works, and how its conclusions can be determined to be just as epistemologically valid as those of science, were actually explained in detail, then I'd happily sing a different tune. But no, we just get the assertion that a "different," "non-naturalistic" means of examining truth claims exists, and that it's better, and that anyone who tries to rebut this is simply "making excuses" for science's own presumed failings. That's religion for you. No evidence is ever needed, only that whose existence conveniently resides in some "non-naturalistic" realm only discernible to those who have thrown off materialism's presumptions.

Monday, January 07, 2008


The only thing crazier than killing your girlfriend and cooking her flesh for supper? Calling the cops to tell them you're doing it.

Obligatory non-PC Martin-remark: It occurs to me this could be a guy who'd be the ideal test subject for CNN's poll question...

Seems like anyone who'd answer "yes" would be dead

"Is execution by lethal injection so likely to cause pain that it is unconstitutional?" That's the poll question today on It doesn't really have much to do with theism or atheism, but I think it says a lot about irrationalism in the media. There are only two answers allowed for you to choose, "yes" or "no." Seems to me that, unless you're an actual executioner and you've witnessed the process taking place, or have undergone the process yourself (in which case you'd hardly be in a position to respond to the poll), then how could you possibly know? You might as well ask, "Which hurts more: being shot with a .45 caliber hollow point or a 9mm caseless?"

I've seen similar polls all over websites, especially ones like CNN where they'd at least like to think there's some respectability involved. Readers are asked to give an authoritative answer to a question to which they couldn't possibly have any expertise either way. I took a phone poll once that was all about gasoline. I was asked which gas station I preferred to go to (I kept saying "whomever's cheapest," which didn't go down well considering they wanted a company name), and who had the better gasoline. How, I asked, was I supposed to know whose gasoline was actually "better," unless I were a chemical or petroleum engineer and could analyze samples in a lab? Hell, I put gas in my car, and if my car goes, then I guess it's pretty good gas in my book. I have no expertise in this field. Why was I being asked to give some for a stupid poll?

This kind of thing, I think, is all part of the same climate of faux-intellectualism that allows creationists to flourish. People with no expertise in biology or any other science are preening around like they know all there is to know about the subject, and that the science (they haven't studied) is wrong. And this attitude — perfect pig-ignorance validating and congratulating itself with arrogance — is openly encouraged. It's all just one more sad little symptom of our culture's war on reason.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Today on the show: Conspiracy theories

Rather than spend a lot of time today actually debunking those 9/11 conspiracies, I'm going to tackle an even less plausible one: the reptile people who live among us.

No, I'm not making this up. See the Wikipedia page on it. Also see pages by crackpots supreme, John Rhodes and David Icke. This interview with Icke is pretty priceless, not least because of the credulous tone of the interviewer.

The point, of course, is to talk about conspiracy theories in general, as well as phony skepticism and the nearly religious devotion to some nonreligious ideas. And yeah, that is a backhanded way of smirking about 9/11 conspiracy theories, but I am emphatically not going to bring that up unless a caller does.

But if that's your thing, then here are a couple more hilarious 9/11 links for you to enjoy:And for general skepticism:
Oh, and one last reptoid link:

Friday, January 04, 2008

Evolution video podcasts

An organization here with the slightly odd sounding name of Scientific Qualitative Research and Education, Inc., has a series of little Quicktime video podcasts you can view or download here or here, designed to give teachers and students the skinny on both the creo/evo "controversy" as well as an understanding of the scientific method itself and the ramifications of what may happen if religious ideas are actually allowed to be taught as science. Interviewees include the usual suspects of strong science supporters: Barbara Forrest, Eugenie Scott, Kenneth Miller, Kevin Padian, and others. Two dozen of these are up now. Worth checking out.

Iowa: so far, so good

Well, 2008 is looking less like a lost cause for the progressive side, with Obama's decisive and most welcome win in the Iowa caucuses. I dislike Hillary intensely, though not for the same reasons conservatives do, of course; mainly for the fact that she's a pure careerist who'll do whatever she thinks is necessary to ensure her own advancement, such as repeatedly siding with BushCo on supporting the war. (Also, the fact that she didn't promptly divorce Bill the minute he left office made it abundantly clear that she wanted to ride the coattails of the Clinton name to her own victory, despite ostentatiously adopting her maiden name — Hillary Rodham Clinton — in the early years of Bill's administration.)

So the fact Hillary got her ass handed to her yesterday indicates to me that I may well be able to vote this year, and moreover, have someone to vote for, not simply against. I like both Obama and Edwards, though I think Obama has a huge charisma/honesty edge, whereas Edwards has his Kerry baggage to dump. And if it comes down to Obama vs. Huckabee in the general election, polls so far indicate it'd be Obama by a long chalk. So the next caucuses will be most interesting to follow. Here's hoping Hillary's opportunism and dishonesty aren't overlooked by Democrats in New Hampshire, either.