Saturday, July 28, 2012

Links du semaine

How the Mormon Church makes money.  My question is, why don't they pay taxes on this loot?  (They pay some taxes but not enough!) ...  No, wait, my question is what they wear at their Polynesian theme park. Do they have special Polynesian magic underwear?  Mormon defenders are out in force in the comments section.  If this money from for-profit companies is really being used for charitable purposes why is the LDS so secretive about it?

America for Jesus event in Philadelphia - will it become a dominionist election-year screed? How can they energize their base to vote for a Mormon?  Could be interesting.

Tragic but also ironic, Chik Fil-A PR chief dies suddenly.  It's too bad he was on the side of people who believe God smites people who are in the wrong.  Having to run damage control on his boss's bigoted statement would stress anybody's heart, but it sure seems like a smiting.

Methodist minister used to be a "she."  Gotta admit, except for that believing in God business, the Methodists can be cool sometimes:  "Weekley, 60, was invited to preach at Morningside as part of the church’s 17th anniversary as a Reconciling Ministry, a movement within the United Methodists Church to welcome LGBT parishioners."

As if to prove themselves as backwards as ever, a Catholic priest blames Satan for Holmes' attack in Colorado.  Uhhhh yes, the guy was demon-possessed in the same sense that the 'demon-possessed' characters in the Bible were demon-possessed, i.e., mentally ill.

Meanwhile, in Australia, the identity of a pedophile priest is kept secret and his victim commits suicide.  The victim's name appears prominently in this article.  What is wrong with the world?

Nuns on the Bus tour ends in Washington, D.C.  One of my friends from Wisconsin met them and she thought they were awesome.  I used to think nuns were just mean old hags who swatted boys on the hand (h/t George Carlin)

Another nun gets into trouble with the Vatican for saying things like "Any policy that is more pro-fetus than actually pro-life, if the rights of the unborn trump all the rights of those that were already born, that is a distortion."  Ahhh those modern-day Eves, trying to drag down the good ole boys...  Sister Pat wants to feed the poor and clothe the homeless... *sigh*  Silly woman.

The Southern Baptists are having trouble keeping up the bigotry.

Zombies counter-protest the Westboro Baptist Church.  Sadly, they found no brains to snack on.

A Baptist Church in Mississippi manages to make WBC look progressive.  The pastor, supposed to be a spiritual leader who does what's right, is too much of a coward to stand up to the bigots who don't want him to conduct a marriage ceremony between two black people who attend the church because they are black.

First female Episcopal bishop.   I still heart the Episcopal Church except for the part where you have to believe in a supernatural deity, take part in a cannibalistic ceremony, and listen to people read from a collection of fairy tales.

Louisiana's voucher system could pay for kids to go to evolution-denying schools.    Supposedly, the schools kids can use state cash for have to meet the same standards as public schools... in everything but biology.  *sigh*

Another reason not to fund creationism-based public education: Kids can go to creationism-based Vacation Bible School to learn that drivel.

One of Chik Fil-A's evangelical supporters admits he's gay (or gay-ish?)

Apparently female televangelists can be homosexual hypocrites, too.

With so many of their leaders turning out to be homosexual, why are evangelicals promoting homophobia in Africa?  Mormons are in on this, too. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Colorado shooter was seeing whom????

News reports say he was seeing a psychiatrist but when you look her up at Healthgrade, it says she's  physiatrist, a physical therapist! But.... UCompare says she's a psychiatrist.  Maybe she's both!  On the hospital's site it says she is.

Not to be a snob... okay I'll be a snob... but if I'm having paranoid delusions and hearing voices, I would not go to someone who can't make up her mind whether to specialize in the mind or the body.  Sure, the mind lives in the body, but seriously....

And checking pubmed, she hasn't published anything in five years.  In academia, for someone on a tenure track this is really really weak.

CNN is having trouble verifying her credentials, too.  If she's been getting grant money to study schizophrenia, the granting agencies should demand a refund.  She hasn't published anything on schizophrenia so where's the evidence she was really qualified to help this guy?

The sadder thing is that after he was no longer a student she probably could no longer see him.  That should be the one big exception to insurance company plans.  My brother had this problem too.  He got fired due to his schizophrenia and then couldn't see his doctor any more.  Of course he could have paid cash but...  *sigh*  When someone leaves work due to a broken leg they can see their doctor and come back when their leg is healed.  When they get sick with a mental illness their entire support system goes *poof* due to the very thing they need support for.

You'd think grad schools would have wised up after the University of Iowa shooting.  They need good mental health providers and support for people who are disappointed.  Instead of having a psychiatrist on their staff who has many duties, they should pay for sick students to go to the best shrink in town.  It's not just enlightened self-interest, it's the right thing to do.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Debate Video with TWO unbelievers!

Sam Harris and Michael Shermer take on Deepak Chopra and a woman who can't get in a word edgwise.  Listen for a priceless line by Deepak Chopra at 23:39 and at 28:40 one by Sam Harris.

This is one of the rare times when a "debate" included equal numbers on both sides. Usually a lone skeptic/atheist is up against half a dozen believers.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The week in links

Tom Vilsack is an individual who works for the government and says prayers that appear to be answered but not for the people he prayed for.  This is not unconstitutional!  (but it is a waste of taxpayer money if he does it on the clock)  It pains me when atheists make a fuss oversomething that's not illegal.  If anything, he should be taken to task for not explaining to the farmers who voted Republican that they are being punished by God.

Missouri will vote on the stupidest law ever.  Someone has told these cretins that the First Amendment can prevent them from praying in public.  Someone needs to explain to Missourians the difference between praying in public as a citizen and praying in public as a public official.

Got Prayer?  2700 students gather for "Prayer Fest."  Because just praying in your church isn't good enough to get God's attention.

Katie Holmes returns to the Catholic church, which she was brought up in,  and enrolls Suri in a posh Catholic school (@ almost $40k/year).  I didn't even know there were any posh Catholic schools!  If going to the school that produced Lady Gaga is an improvement over a Scientology education, I really wonder about that Scientology "education."

Why Scientologists buy the Xenu story.  "OK, so there's a galactic overlord named Xenu. Big deal. That's not the craziest thing you're going to hear on your way to spending three hundred thousand dollars."

An evangelical Christian has written a book called The Mormonization of America.  Oh horrors!  The other side is prosletyzing too!  You can't make this stuff up.

An evangelical blogger takes other evangelicals to task for a lack of intellectual and scholarly integrity.  He ends his blog post by saying he's open to criticism.

Referenced in the above blog post:  The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, a 1995 book that apparently still holds true.  The first sentence:  "The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is no evangelical mind."

Westboro Baptist Church plans to "super-picket" funerals in Aurora, Colorado.  Oh goody.  Just what the situation calls for: more theatre.

The Episcopal Church approves same-sex marriage ceremony officially, but they're not calling the ceremony a marriage ceremony.  Uhhh okaaaaay

In Australia, priests may be required to report crimes they hear about in confession. 

Strange faith healing technique:  kicking people in the face.  The article says the guy is all over youtube so of course I had to check.  Many of the videos label him a "false" healer (as if there are true ones) or "false teacher."  The Holy Spirit said "Kick her in the Face."  Yes, he said it!  Then, at other times he sounds like a bad Bill Clinton imitator.  (Go to 4:30 to see his imitation of Clinton masturbating)

Friday, July 20, 2012

Relax, America. "Batman" isn't a Religion

Like a dummy, I've been watching the news about the Batman shooting, and just shaking my head.  Sure, this is tragic, and the guy who did it is something of a mystery at the moment, but you don't have to be afraid to go to the movies because...


Only a religion can spur copycats or fund groups of sleeper cells to attack people because for an idea.  When a lone individual becomes obsessed with Batman and wants to make a violent splash, that does not in any way indicate that other people will take the same violent actions.  It just indicates that one psychotic individual came up with a plan to kill lots of people at one time for his own reasons.  It doesn't mean that movie theatres can't open tonight.  It doesn't mean you have to wear bullet proof vests to get your popcorn.  It will be okay.  Really.

4chan is not promising an afterlife peopled with big-busted cartoon whores to mass killers.  Comic Con will not give out free tickets to autograph signings to terrorists.  Stan Lee isn't pulling strings behind the scenes preparing a cabal of cult followers to do his evil bidding.   (that we know of)

It takes a religion to create an army of like-minded murderous terrorists.  When the tear gas settles, it will turn out that the shooter is a paranoid schizophrenic who had been unhinged for awhile before concocting his plot.  There will not be a spate of movie theatre killings, just as there has not been a spate of shopping mall killings after the few rare shopping mall shootings.

It is safe to eat at Luby's.  Or McDonald's.  Or at the food court at the local mall.

Crazy people are everywhere and only some of them have a gun and a chip on their shoulder.  They are like lightning or tornadoes.  They are not organized terrorists looking for "soft targets" just so they can kill YOU.

Now that the cat is out of the bag, there may indeed be another movie theatre shooting.  Or maybe someone will decide he can get a bigger body count at a high school football game.  Maybe a college graduation ceremony.  Anywhere you can find "targets," some nut case with too many bullets may decided to wipe you out.  But what are the odds?

So American Media, settle the fuck down.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Today's Viral Facebook Question

"If you were stranded on an island with three celebrities, which three would you choose?"

Predictably, some of my FB pals said Jesus.  At first I was just disgusted that they couldn't even play a simple game without invoking the deity, but then I realized...

You wouldn't starve, because he'd rain down loaves and fishes
You would have wine, made from seawater
You could walk on water to get back to civilization when you got tired of fish and wine.

Sounds like a deal.  I wouldn't pick him, though.  Too preachy and there's nothing in the Bible about him every washing anything but his feet.  Stinky crazy preacher, yech.

I think I'd rather pick one of those home improvement dudes and Wolfgang Puck to provide the victuals, and then a (male) porn star for entertainment.  One who could hunt and fish would be a bonus.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Week in Links

R.I.P. Judith Hayes, a.k.a. The Happy Heretic, 1945-2012.   I just discovered her blog today and I'm so sad that I never got to know her work before this.  She started blogging before it was called "blogging."  Her book is still for sale at  They call her the "Erma Bombeck of the secular humanist community.

New Zealand priests have to stop using ipads in the pulpit.  I wonder if they use them in the confessional.  That has to be the most boring part of their day.

A former nun in India has written a book that I hope gets translated to English.  Her advice to young girls: do not go to a priest for counseling or confession.   Sounds like she has some tales to tell.

But then what fake priests do in India is also shocking.  Child sacrifice to find hidden treasure?  Crazy.

Mr. Cranky reviews a film that proves that Christians shouldn't produce films.

A Christian & a Muslim ask hotels to stop selling pay-per-view porn.   Apparently they know that religious people are buying this stuff, because they certainly wouldn't care if atheists watched bad porn.

The Washington Post  on Elevatorgate Part Deux.  My first thought was 'wow we look so bad now,' but then I remembered that some of my friends have been harrassed at professional conferences.  Maybe some people just need to be reminded that you should behave at a conference the way you would at home, or better.

As yet another storm passes by my parched Indiana city, I realize we should try performing a frog wedding.

Lutheran church needs a liquor license to serve liquor at weddings (but not for communion?)  ... but the law states a license can't be granted within 100 feet of a church.  Well, they are the church and no other church happens to be next door, so they get licensed!

SkepChickCon: Don't Feed the Trolls (video)

I wish I could have attended the conference but I don't have the funds to fly all over to meet skeptics and atheists. Fortunately, internet people put their stuff up on the internet, for example, this panel about harrassment on the internet:

Women and a few men talking about sexist attacks on the internet and especially in the Skeptical & Atheist realms.  If you think they're exaggerating, check out the comments people have posted.

Some of my graduate school professors had to deal with a lot of dirty tactics by their male "colleagues" and of course I have known women who have been victimized in a variety of ways. So... I'm a bit shocked but if you are a guy who hasn't been the confidante of a woman who has dealt with abuse, you may be seriously shocked by what these people have to say:

  • Women who blog on the internet get rape threats
  • Women on the internet get death threats
  • Women do indeed get raped in elevators
  • Women get stalked by "trolls" who turn out to be dangerous

Men who find women threatening want to shut us up, and we who don't shut up have known this for years. We deal with it in ways that most men would never imagine.

Personally, I don't want to deal with that shit so you won't see my picture and real-life name here.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Quote of the Day: Lawrence Krauss

"The purpose of education is not to validate ignorance, but to overcome it." about 30:00 here:

He said it in reference to the assertion that biology teachers should "teach the controversy."

His comments on cosmology are also very interesting. I admit, I sometimes don't understand him but this talk is excellent an very understandable.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

20/20 "What is Heaven?" videos

The videos are up now! (Flash)  Watch the whole 2 hours or the segments:
The whole shebang:

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Betty Bowers on Abortion

Your Sunday School teacher never quoted these Bible passages!

If you're not familiar with Mrs. Bowers or Landover Baptist Church check out the True Christian [tm] site.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Some News of the Week

A few newsworthy items of late: 

The Demon Defense doesn't hold holy water but this story does help to explain why there are so many tiny congregations in the crazier denominations

Whites-Only pastors' conference in Alabama.  These nutters believe that "Europeans and their descendents" are the chosen people.  uhhhh have they read the Bible?

Maybe they were just upset about the Black pastors who disagree with Obama about gay rights.

Then there is a pastor who teaches a funny version of genital hygiene.  Apparently you don't have to be Catholic to be a pedophile.

The Catholic Church in Philadelphia continues to clean house

Presbyterians decide against changing the definition of marriage.  The proposed new definition would be "between two people," which imho is a bad idea because it doesn't imply the two have to be adults.  "Man and woman" indicates adulthood on both parts.

The Village Voice exposes Scientology's marriange "counseling" method.  If Katie Holmes didn't know the religion was abusive before trying this, she'd know it afterward.

Circumscision:  Something Muslims & Jews can agree on

Barbara Walters on Heaven

The full show will be on the site soon, but meanwhile, enjoy some clips.  She traveled the world interviewing people about heaven and hell, and let atheists and skeptics have about two minutes out of a two-hour special.

I DVR'd it so I could review it here, but there isn't much to say about it.  The various religions all have a different afterlife belief.  duh   Why she doesn't draw the obvious conclusion from there that heaven is man-made is beyond me.  Well, the ratings would tank but still... what an insipid show about an insipid concept.

Sure, we want to live forever, but forever is a long time and even Heaven would get really really boring.  And all those people who have near-death experiences never see Hell or their uncle who molested him.  Surely at least one person would have a hellish time of it considering how many of us are going there.  The explanation offered about the dying brain was immediately countered by the NDE experiencers with "I know what I saw."


Friday, July 6, 2012

Katie Holmes & Scientology or just another celeb divorce?

Some interesting thoughts here:

Many people have noted that all of Cruise's divorces happened when the wives were 33.  Makes me wonder if Scientology has some step-up at that age that makes them go "whoa.... I did *Not* sign on for THIS!"  The Daily Beast article is more down-to-earth, referencing child custody practices, and Suri's age, not Katie's as being the trigger.

Katie can probably never tell the whole truth without becoming a Suppressive Person and being stalked for life by henchment for the cause.  It's bad enough for her to be stalked by paparazzi.

What I find strange is the hoopla about Suri being brought up in Scientology with its special schools and nutty philosophy, but let someone send their kid to a Catholic, Jewish, or fundy school, well that's okay.  Well, no, that's not okay.  Brainwashing little kids is a vile, destructive and abusive practice.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Book Review: The Believing Brain by Michael Shermer

If I hadn't put this on my Kindle I might have given up in the introduction.  (It's really hard to skip around on a Kindle) This book starts out far less readable than Shermer's Scientific American columns, but I persevered, and the going got much easier.

He begins the book with three personal stories:  a guy who sponsors research on belief after a supernatural experience or hallucination (depending on your point of view), NIH director Francis Collins' conversion and exploration of faith and science, and Shermer's own conversion and deconversion from evangelical Christianity. He references the people and books that influenced him during that time of his life in great detail.  His own deconversion included a period of Ayn Rand fandom and evangelism for it, sad to say.  I have to wonder if he had a harder time giving up authoritarianism than he did belief in a supernatural, because it sounds like he was a true fanboy.  At this point in his life he hadn't yet become a big fan of the scientific method (or else he would have been persuaded more by evidence than by teachers and authors).

Fortunately the book does finally get to the sciency stuff I bought it for.  His main thesis is that people develop a belief first and then find reasons to support it, and he ranges over a lot of territory developing it.  The most interesting thing for me was the phenomenon of sensing the presence of another person (usually) when nobody is there.  It happened to Shermer on an ultramarathon bike ride.  It has happened to other extreme athletes, especially mountain climbers.  This may come as a surprise to some Christians, but the brain is part of the body, and when the body is under extreme stress, that includes the brain!

Pattern-seeking is another biggie, especially with the point that a false positive pattern is generally less dangerous than a false negative.  His example is a rustle in the grass on the African savannah.  Our ancestors are the survivors who assumed the rustle came from a snake or other predator.  The dead ends on the evolutionary tree are the ones who thought "m'eh it's just the wind" when it was actually a snake.  This is Pascal's Wager!

Another point that's interesting:  the ability to find connections between things (pattern-seeking) is related to creativity, which explains why so many brilliant and creative people have fallen for stupid shit like UFOs and "alternative" medicine.  The same person who might make a breakthrough in science because he saw a connection nobody else noticed isn't likely to filter out the ones that aren't really there, i.e. false positives.  Psychosis is the complete inability to filter out false patterns.

There's a section on political beliefs, which is pretty interesting.  There have been studies done on political belief and apparently (hold onto your hats!) people are very reluctant to give up their political leanings!  YES!

Sadly, he digresses into his libertarianism again, and as if to support his own thesis, he doesn't have any empirical evidence to back up his opinion.  After pages and pages of examples of studies that prove this or that aspect of belief, his own libertarianism seems to demonstrate his argument that people come to their belief first, and then validate it.  I really expected him to have at least done a little reading outside of libertarian literature.

His libertarianism doesn't really sound like Ron Paul libertarianism, though.  He believes in a flat tax, and Ron Paul wants to have no tax at all, and even abolish the IRS.  Some of Shermer's other views are really very moderate also.  He's much more nuanced than he gives himself credit for, but there's no word for "practical libertarianism."  Of course, since I kind of like the guy I may be giving him a pass in order to keep from changing my mind about him!

So... in the end his thesis that people come to their belief first and then find ways to justify it runs through the book but so do other ideas.  He lists the typical biases that a lot of us probably already know about, like confirmation bias.  These aren't dealt with in depth, though.  I wish they were and there was less about libertarianism!

The last section of the book is a long discussion of the development of astronomy as a science, and the scientific method in general.  As we should know (if we had the kind of education we ought to have had), the scientific method includes safeguards against natural biases of the scientists doing the experiments, and of the subjects, if they're human.  He states that his thesis is that people decide what to believe and then rationalize them, but I think the book makes sense as a study of why the scientific method is the best way to arrive at a true result.

The best take-aways:
  • People experience mysterious "others" during periods of stress
  • The human brain seeks patterns because of evolution
  • The human brain seeks an agent because of evolution
  • People with an ability to make more connections than others are "creative" but also prone to conspiracy theories, mental illness, and just plain mistakes
  • We are prone to fallacies that protect our beliefs
  • The scientific method is designed to mitigate against the human brain's faults
It's definitely worth a read for anyone who thinks they are "rational."  I do think atheists who come from religious backgrounds have made that leap of changing our minds so we've cracked a little of our human stubbornness.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

and in other news...

150 Mormons quit in a mass resignation ceremony. Congratulations to them all!

PTSD victim of priest's molestation strikes back years later

The Devil made him do it? Priest molests woman during "exorcism." uhh yeah

Get Yer End-Times Kit Right Hy-ee-ar!

That's right. All you need for the End Times! Books, DVDs, CDs, all by the same looney toons apocalyptic nutjob! ...and "5x7 framed four-color picture of Jesus Christ returning on "a white horse" (see Revelation 19:11)." That's right, a 5x7 picture. Who needs 8x10 glossies? 5x7 will dooya. All this, packaged by White Horse Media! ...and if this wasn't enough to prepare you for Armageddon, you have to become a Food Nazi and join the naturalistic fallacy bandwagon! Seriously? If the world is going to end, what would be the point of eating healthy? Why not have ice cream for dinner and gristle dripped with bacon fat for breakfast?

I wonder how much dough this charlatan is raking in. The sad thing is, he probably believes this drivel and also believes he deserves to make a pile of money from his delusions.