Republican Primaries

January 9, 2012

It’s interesting watching the primaries from across the pond. To me and almost everyone else in the UK, it’s like a freakshow of Republican loonies who, thankfully, wouldn’t stand a chance of winning an election here, at least not without pretending to be less ridiculously right wing than they are. There are a number of interesting things about elections in such a huge country. I think I quite like the idea of a caucus like they had in Iowa last week, although it’s not really clear to me what happens with the results of all these votes. They only give one preference so it’s not amazingly democratic, but with a few changes and some clarification it could be good.

The other thing which interests me about American politics is the way in which so many people have been duped into voting for a party which doesn’t have their best interests at heart. Here we are in a recession caused by a lack of regulation and a small state, so that banks can screw people over and not get punished, and people have been convinced that regulation is their enemy and that cutting public spending even further (except for the military of course) is the best way to cut the deficit and get out of the recession. I really don’t understand how people can think that.

And don’t even get me started on campaign finance! Here are these millionnaires with their millionnaire friends running campaigns which cost millions to run, and getting campaign donations from huge corporations who obviously want a return for their money, and political analysts in the press and on TV saying that certain candidates will have to drop out because they don’t have enough money, and not seeming to realise that this is a problem! What happened to the votes counting, not the money?

And now we have this new 20 minute advert attacking Mitt Romney, a thoroughly unpleasant person who, remarkably, is probably one of the more moderate candidates of the pack, which will cost $3.5m to air in South Carolina. Here’s the trailer (yes, a trailer for an advert):

Newt Gingrich in particular has been constantly attacking Romney, questioning his conservative credentials, and saying that his measures aren’t radical enough (which seems like a contradiction to me), and this ad seems to be along those lines. But some of the lines from this film are pure gold:

Capitalism made American great. Free markets, innovation, hard work, the building blocks of the American Dream. But in the wrong hands, those dreams can become nightmares. Wall Street’s corporate raiders made billions of dollars. Private equity leaders getting rich at the expense of American workers!

Mitt Romney became CEO of Bain Capital the day the company was formed. His mission was to reap massive rewards for himself and his investors.

Well, yeah!? That’s what CEO’s are supposed to do, that’s what capitalism is! In fact companies are legally obliged to try and give the biggest returns possible to their shareholders. What, did you expect the CEO to worry about workers’ rights?  How very un-capitalist of you! Did you expect him to carry on operating these companies when they stopped making a profit? Well that would seem to go against the doctrine of the free market, wouldn’t it? In fact it sounds like you wanted the workers to have some kind of control of the company, so the profits didn’t just go to the ‘greedy investors’ and the companies didn’t close leaving people without employment. It sounds a lot to me like whoever made this video wants to take control of the means of the production. Romney is obviously far too capitalist for them, I wonder what they’ll make of the other candidates. [/facetiousness]

It’s almost as if the thought process goes like this:

1. Free market capitalism leads to happiness.
2. Romney’s actions at Bain Capital did not lead to happiness.
3. Therefore Romney did not act as a free market capitalist.

And that’s just how the Tea Party became so popular. Because idiots don’t know what’s good for them. Anyway, I just wanted a rant.

The should vote for this guy instead, at least he seems to know what’s going on:

An analogy

January 3, 2011

For quite a while now I’ve been trying to hammer out some kind of analogy or thought experiment to help deal with Christians who think the Bible is enough justification for their beliefs, to illustrate how ridiculous it is.

If 4 of your good friends came up to you separately and told you that two days earlier they’d seen a man rise from the dead, would you believe them? I’m gonna be honest, I’d think there was something in it. Maybe there was someone who everyone thought was dead, but actually it turns out they weren’t, or they were just injured or something. (In fact something very similar happened last Easter to a friend of mine from the pub, believe it or not. He hadn’t been seen for a week or so, and then one of his crazy neighbours phoned the pub on Good Friday and said they’d seen a body being carried out of the house, so word gradually got around and everyone was in the pub on Easter Sunday, mourning, when he showed up alive and well. Now he’s nicknamed ‘The Phoenix’ by some, but that’s a tangent.) I probably wouldn’t just dismiss it completely, but I wouldn’t be convinced that it actually happened.

Back to our hypothetical 4 witnesses, would you hear their account and then conclude: “Hmm, clearly this man was the Son of God and obviously when he died it was a symbol of his victory over death and only a fool could deny that believing in this sacrifice is the only way to get into heaven because we’re too sinful on our own”? Of course not! It’s a complete non-sequitor. None of those things follow from the account that a man rose from the dead.

Now consider that we don’t even have this kind of testimony in the Bible. We have 4 accounts from people we don’t know and whose trustworthiness we can’t even guess at. They did not witness the events themselves but at very best got it from direct eyewitnesses, and that’s only if Mark got his information directly from Peter. So at best it’s second hand testimony. Then consider that the first Gospel, Mark, was written about 30 years after Jesus died. So at best we’re talking second hand testimony recorded from an eyewitness 30 years after the event happened. Memories are not trustworthy.

On top of that, a lot of Biblical scholars currently believe in a 2 source hypothesis, that the authors of Matthew and Luke both used the gospel of Mark and another text as source material for their own gospels (with their own theological bents), and it’s undisputed that the author of John had read the other synoptic gospels too, so actually we’re only talking about 2 testimonies, not 4, one of which we have no access to. (Even if John the apostle did write the gospel – which is unlikely – he starts his gospel with “In the beginning there was the Word…” Clearly he’s not speaking as an eyewitness.)

So let’s get back to our analogy. A stranger called Mark comes to you and says someone told them they’d seen a man rise from the dead 30 years ago, and then over the next 20 years 2 more strangers called Matthew and Luke come to you and say they’d heard from 2 people (one of whom was Mark) that someone rose from the dead at that time as well. Then a full 30 years after Mark walked in, another stranger called John comes and says he’s been speaking to the first 3 people outside and he agreed, and in addition John swears blind that this person who rose from the dead was also present at the creation of the universe. Would you believe them?

Then consider that this testimony isn’t given in person, and we can’t question the witnesses, because it was written down thousands of years ago. And the testimonies sometimes contradict each other! Is this really enough to establish that someone rose from the dead, never mind all the theological interpretation that goes along with it? If any Christian can honestly say yes to that, then they’re gullible, and there are plenty of conmen out there who’d love to meet them.

Ace Ventura: Pet… Psychic?

November 9, 2010

There was a piece yesterday in Times 2 or Times Life or Times modern or whatever it’s called these days by Carol Midgley. I can’t link to it because it’s behind a paywall so you’ll just have to take my word for it. What’s so interesting about this article? Well it’s about a psychic who claims to be able to tell you what your pet thinks. Now I think I’m getting a bit of the psychic gift as well and I know what you’re thinking, surely your dog is only thinking “woof woof”. But apparently not.

The Merseyside Skeptics have covered a pet psychic in the past, and when I saw the little strapline on the front page of the paper I wondered how this woman was possibly getting even more publicity, but no, it’s a different one. Let me introduce you to Michelle Childerley, “Sky 1 Pet Nation featured Animal Communication Expert, Pet Psychic and Behaviour Specialist”, to quote her website. The article itself is actually pretty well written from a purely analytical point of view; lots of wordplay, a recognition that it’s all a bit daft, a bit of comedy here and there. But the writer is so credulous that I have to wonder if she’s being serious or not.

“Well, here my journalist’s mask of cynicism slips a bit. You see, I’m in no doubt that animals are telepathic. Steven knows the difference between when I’m putting my coat on to take him out or leaving him behind. He seems to know when I’m thinking quite a lot of the time, actually [should that be ‘what I’m thinking’? – Mike]. And since I’m not convinced that some humans aren’t telepathic, too, then why shouldn’t man and beast be able to communicate? It seems kind of arrogant to rule it out.”

Wow, that’s amazing. It hasn’t been proven that some humans aren’t telepathic, therefore all (non-human) animals are telepathic, and can communicate with humans. Anecdotal evidence, check. Argument from… idiocy? Check. “Science is arrogant”, check.

“Besides, a surprisingly large number of people use animal communicators of which there are about 20 in this country.”

Well that’s just dandy then. Argument from popularity, check. But what exactly is happening when you communicate with animals? Fortunately, Michelle gives us the science.

Michelle believes that everyone is capable of animal communication if they allow their brains to “slow down” and let the animals’ thoughts “come in”. Animals are on an alpha brainwave frequency, and we are on a beta frequency, she says. “Theirs is slower than ours, they don’t have as much to think about. So to communicate with them we have to slow our frequency down, clear out our thoughts, and become more right-brained than left-brained, the left being our analytical side.”

Mangling of a science most people don’t understand, check. Pop-psychology, check. WOO BINGO!! Do I win? No, we all lose. But of course Michelle doesn’t even stick to her own twisted version of the science, as we’ll see in a second. The reporter Carol is having a reading done for her dog, Steven, and also for her editor’s imaginatively-named cat, Kitty. So Michelle will have to be there and meet Steven and Kitty to match up her brainwave frequency with theirs, right?

Michelle explains. “I don’t need to meet the animal in person,” she says. “I just need you to send me a photograph of it.”

Oh, no, apparently she can read the “energy” off the photograph. What was that earlier about alpha waves? Do animals leave alpha waves on photographs taken of them, and do alpha waves get transmitted on these photographs through email? Oh that’s right, no they don’t.

So let’s look at the results of this reading. For Kitty, Michelle says she was shown the words Smartie, Twinkle (or Tinkerbell), a set of curtains hooked back either side, people in the house who wear a lot of blue and someone swimming fast, possibly doing the butterfly stroke, and that she’s a happy cat, because of course if nothing else, fall back on something noone can check. Smartie, Twinkle/Tinkerbell and the hook-back curtains turn up nothing (Emma the editor tries to retro-actively fit “Naughty” into Smartie, and the curtains aren’t tie-back but Kitty does curl up on a curtain sometimes, and Twinkle gets conveniently forgotten about) but her kids wear blue blazers for school (who doesn’t wear blue?) and her son does swim the butterfly. How would Kitty know about that though?

Michelle says that she would read it in the thoughts of the people in the house. She would “hear” them thinking about swimming, getting ready for swimming and be aware of the swimming itself through telepathy. “Animals pick up on what we think all the time,” she says.

Hold on, so for animals it’s just that easy, they can just pick up on what we’re thinking, even though they use alpha waves and we use beta waves? Why don’t they have to “speed up” their brains? And if humans all operate on beta waves, then how come we can’t read each others’ minds? I’m glad Michelle knows what she’s doing, this is all going over my head…

Onto Steven’s reading, Steven has apparently dug a hole which is quite deep, he mentioned a new dress and gave the names Lucky, Poppy and Sarah, and a male name beginning with S, possibly Simon (nice and specific, like it). There was also ‘tomato’, ‘coffee’, and the word ‘card’, which could be playing cards but maybe not, as well as an itchy right ear, the fact that he loves to eat ham, and a long dark tunnel with an arched roof which was outside with plants. 2 things about the reports of these readings; first of all they’re being relayed by the reporter, Carol, so they’re subject to recall bias – maybe she’s saying Michelle read something that she actually said afterwards. Secondly there is an awful lot more with Steven’s reading than with Kitty’s reading, were some things taken out of Kitty’s reading for the printed version? Who knows?

Anyway the results. No Sarah, no Poppy, no Simon, tomato means nothing. No Lucky, but her daughter’s called Lucy, could that be it? Yes, because your dog spelt out the word and got it a bit wrong. He did dig a hole about a year ago which Carol sometimes nearly breaks her ankle in (which implies to me that it’s not that big – I suppose ‘big’ is a subjective term, so it becomes ‘dog digs hole’ – big deal). He does drink coffee out of people’s cups. She did have a new dress (not an altogether rare thing) and she was wearing it when she took the photo (she places the significance onto it). She later recognises the dark tunnel as the area in her garden where the trampoline is (really? You have a long dark tunnel with an arched roof in your garden?), and Steven did have a bit of an infection, but in the other ear. Ham gets conveniently forgotten. Not that impressive to be honest.

Of course like all the mediums and cold readers, Michelle tries to play down the misses and turn them into hits. She says the names could be other animals or their owners, sometimes animals pick up on things that we don’t. And they’re all psychic. Clever these pets, aren’t they? Makes you wonder why we own them.

Carol justifies her article with the following:

I’m sure some of you reading won’t believe in animal communication, or that what Michelle does is real, but I want to believe it mainly because I want to live in a world where my dog notices that I’ve got a new dress and possibly disapproves of this spendthriftery.

Now this is fair enough but I’ve said it a hundred times with regards to other pieces of pseudoscience. I use the scientific method because I want my beliefs to reflect reality as closely as possible, and the scientific method has shown itself time and time again to be the best way of achieving that. If you don’t care whether your beliefs are true or not, or if you believe what you want to believe rather than what is true, then that’s your choice. But don’t think that’s a good reason to convince anyone else of what you believe, and don’t think that’s a good reason to give publicity to people who are making money from other credulous fools like you.

I took a look on Michelle’s website, and there are a few comments. Most of them are just obvious spambots (well, obvious to me), but one of them is quite distressed, trying to find their lost pet and looking for advice from a pet psychic. You might think that debunking pet psychics is a waste of time and if people want to believe it then let them, but when people’s emotions are involved it’s a different game. Pet psychics can sometimes make money from trampling on people’s emotions, just like spiritualist mediums make money from trampling on the memory of dead loved ones.

If there is a god, he can deal with me himself

January 2, 2010

The BBC have just broken the news that a man has broken into the home of Kurt Westergaard, the Danish cartoonist who, out of the 12 involved, caused the most controversy across the Islamic world when his cartoon was published in 2005. The man was carrying a knife and an axe, and apparently told the police that he intended to kill Mr Westergaard, who has a $1 million price on his head.

This is the cartoon here. It was published in Jyllands-Posten in 2005 (the beeb have been saying it was 2006 for about half an hour now, I know better), and you may remember that it went unnoticed by pretty much everyone until a group of radical muslims took it to the Middle East and showed it to everyone, along with some other cartoons that hadn’t even been published. This sparked outrage across the Middle East including violent attacks on Danish embassies and calls for the deaths of the cartoonists and anyone else who insults Islam, ironically kind of proving the point of the cartoon, really.

It was fitting that this happened on the first day of the new year, the same day that the anti-blasphemy law came into effect in Ireland. This law will bring a 25,000 euro fine down on anyone found guilty of blasphemy, defined as “publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defences permitted“, according to Atheist Ireland. It’s an affront to freedom of expression and it’s received widespread criticism.

So how have Atheist Ireland responded? Today they published a list of 25 blasphemous comments, originally uttered by such people as Jesus H Christ, Mohammed the alleged prophet (yes, I liked that touch too), Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, Frank Zappa, Salman Rushdie, Bjork, Christopher Hitchens and Ian Paisley. They also included the comment by alleged paedophile-harborer Cormac Murphy O’Connor where he said that atheists were not fully human, to illustrate that atheists will not receive any protection from similar insulting attacks, and that therefore the law is discriminatory as well as contrary to freedom of speech.

I wonder exactly what will count. If a Christian expresses the fairly commonly-held opinion that anyone who doesn’t accept Jesus of Nazareth as their personal Lord and Saviour will be tortured for eternity after they die, will they be arrested under this law? It’s certainly very offensive to a lot of people, religious and non-religious. Perhaps the almost-polytheism of Catholicism will be deemed too offensive to the strict monotheism of Judaism, and every time the creed is repeated there’ll be a flurry of arrests? Of course what’s very dangerous about this law is that it encourages religious groups to be easily outraged. This is detrimental to community cohesion and may lead to more situations like the violent attacks on the Danish embassies, and more fatwah’s being issued. It’s irresponsible.

Once again when people get offended when people insult their religious beliefs, I was reminded of this passage from Judges 6: “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.” It applies equally well to any god. Why do offended religious types think their gods can’t stand up for themselves? If your god has a problem with what I have to say, he can strike me down himself. But of course, although the world’s gods differ greatly in many respects, one way in which they’re all the same is that they all prefer the non-interventionist approach. They prefer to let the known universe behave exactly as it would if there were no gods.

So in the interests of good healthy not-illegal-anymore-in-the-UK blasphemy, here’s my favourite George Carlin clip. There is something quite funny about this though. If you click on the window below, read the information box on the right hand side. The person who posted this video didn’t see the irony in referring to the dead George Carlin in the second person (“thank you George Carlin, your insight was of huge importance etc”) for a video in which he declares that religion is bullshit.

Anti-Vax march this Saturday in Edinburgh

December 9, 2009

This coming Saturday, 12th December, there will a protest against Swine Flu vaccines in Edinburgh, organised by the Vaccine Awareness Network (VAN). It’ll start at midday at St Giles Cathedral (well, High Kirk actually, it was only a Cathedral for 33 years in total back in the 17th Century, but that’s not related) on the Royal Mile and march down to the Parliament, finishing about 2pm.

Why am I telling you this? Because I disagree with it, obviously, and since I’m not in the country, I want you to go and ask awkward questions. You can get a more vaccination/science based commentary at ‘…and your electron microscope!‘ and at the Edinburgh Skeptics Blog, the rest of my post is just going to be a rant about the website. Read on if you like that sort of thing.

The anti-vax movement has a lot of people’s lives on its conscience, or at least it should, but this protest seems to be less about the vaccine itself, and more about compulsory vaccinations. When I read that, I was a bit taken aback. I support the vaccine, but I wasn’t so sure about compulsory vaccinations and I thought this post would reluctantly have to support the protest despite it’s probably anti-science agenda. As far as I was aware, there were no plans to introduce a mandatory vaccine. So I looked at the protest’s page (which is quite a mess, they really should have links to the different parts or something) to have a peek at their arguments. It’s a big straw man!

AFAIA there are absolutely no plans to implement mandatory vaccination. The page cites legislation (namely the Civil Contingencies Act 2004)  that allows the government to implement it during a national state of medical emergency. So, in the case of something like the Black Death coming back to haunt us, the government could implement mandatory vaccination against it. This is not going to happen this time, it is nothing to do with swine flu. So far swine flu has had a relatively small number of cases, and the death rate is also fairly low, something like 1% if I remember correctly. It appears to pose less of a risk than normal seasonal flu. They are not going to implement it in this case (and AFAIA they never have done, ever).

They seem to oppose this legislation being used in any case, and I also disagree with that. In the case of a serious epidemic, refusing to get vaccinated puts not only your own life, but the lives of others around you, at risk. Mandatory vaccination should be an option for the government in extreme circumstances.

It’s quite ironic though. They seem to have got themselves all whipped up into a frenzy over swine flu, and still somehow oppose the best known way of preventing it. Meanwhile towards the bottom of the page, there’s a section on what you can do, and the first point is:


1. Firstly, stay calm. The vaccination business is run on fear (see swine flu page, recipe for selling flu vaccines, written by the CDC as an example). They want you to feel backed into a corner and as if you don’t have any choice.

What? You’re the ones taken in by the tabloid fear-mongering, the government have been playing down the risks about swine flu! So what is the source of this information about the government implementing vaccines? Well about halfway down the page in big bold capital letters it says:


– followed by an undated clipping, which doesn’t even fully agree with what they’re saying, from the Sunday Star. Yes, the SUNDAY FUCKING STAR!! That bastion of good journalism that has pictures of tits on most of its pages, and which insists on giving almost every sentence its own paragraph! I suppose sentence structure is hard enough, they don’t want to even consider structuring their paragraphs too. According to the website, it’s actually called the Daily Star Sunday, but if it only comes out on Sunday then it’s not daily is it? AntiVax websites tend to be full of this, scaremongering stories from any rag going, as long as it has an anti-vax spin.

Fuck it, I’m wound up now, I’m going to have a look at the rest of the page. This might take a while.

But this kind of mandatory innoculation has a precedent, right? They haven’t just pulled it out of the air. Oh right, it seems that Greece has already introduced it. So the owner of this website wrote to the Greek health minister (same page but just so you don’t have to scroll to the top of the post. It’s about 2 thirds down) to complain and to get more information. She asked among other things why the mandatory vaccination had been implemented. The minister replied saying it hadn’t, and citizens had the right to refuse it as soon as they’d been given the information on it. Her reply contained, “however, why did a 31 July Reuters article say that Greece was mandating the vaccination?” Wow, a news report wasn’t accurate. That never happens. She also asks why the police will be present at the vaccination centres if it’s not to be compulsory. Maybe to prevent disturbances because of the scaremongering that’s been going on? Yet she’s still perplexed as to why they haven’t replied a second time. Maybe they have better things to do.

So then there’s a story entitled “WHO Launches Global Mandatory Vaccination Programme” Here it is:

The World Health Organization has issued a binding ‘recommendation’ to all member countries requiring them to institute mandatory vaccination programs. Under an existing multilateral agreement this formally invokes each state’s pandemic plan and puts coordination under control of WHO. For some European states the pandemic plan includes setting aside government as normal and ruling the country by a special council under control of the EU and WHO. France has already announced that it will effect a move to military rule beginning in September.

The global pandemic vaccination program will begin somewhere around the end of September and last about two months. Many countries are in the process of acquiring from Baxter, Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline and other pharmaceutical companies enough doses of vaccine to vaccinate their entire population twice. They remain quiet about mandatory vaccination, simply saying they will make vaccination ‘available’ to all on a priority basis. But Greece and Switzerland have already announced that their programs will be mandatory and enforced by the military. There are unconfirmed reports that Norway and Israel have done the same. The United States is preparing for military ‘assisted’ mandatory vaccination but has not explicitly declared its intentions to the public.

Source: Columbia Valley News, 14 August 2009.

See the end of that first paragraph? “For some European states the pandemic plan includes setting aside government as normal and ruling the country by a special council under control of the EU and WHO. France has already announced that it will effect a move to military rule beginning in September.” Err… what? I think someone’s having a laugh here… but it’s ok because it was in that well respected international source, the Columbia Valley News, the local community newspaper of Invermere, British Columbia. Funnily enough I googled “columbia valley news” today (December 9th) and this story, from August, was the second result. You may not know how Google works, basically it puts the pages in order according to how many links it has on other pages, that’s what allowed a googlebomb to work in the past. What that means is that people have been linking to this story left right and centre. Say, you don’t suppose that this story hasn’t been covered anywhere else, do you? I mean it’s implausible that something as important as this would be left to the Columbia Valley News to take all the credit. I suppose the BBC didn’t deem it important. Or maybe they’re in on the conspiracy too? Whaddya say, folks?

There are other stories on that website, most of them totally unrelated and dealing with how much money pharmaceutical companies make or when one time some out of date vaccines were given to people but noone was hurt, as well as an advert for alternatives to pet vaccines. Really relevant to what the protest is about, you know? But there’s another section I’ve already mentioned about what you can do. Most of it is just letter writing and things, but point number 5 reads:

Consider home schooling your child. Proposed mandates appear to be around school entry, and under 16’s can be pressured in school to consent to a vaccine in spite of parental objection.
School is not a legal requirement, only education is.

There would be a limit to what the state can do in the case of a home educated child, since he is out of the state system – particularly if he has always been home educated and never gone to school, as then there is no legal requirement to notify the education authority.

Wow, that’s extreme, especially since school vaccinations are optional. Here’s number 6, watch out for the really dodgy stats work.

9% of parents in England choose not to vaccinate at all, that’s 5 children in every 100. Another 15% refuse MMR. That’s approximately 20-25% of the population who refuse some or all vaccines. There are far too many parents with this objection for the JCVI to sue, and too many of us willing to fight, for them to be successful.

At the very least, we would be entitled to exemptions like parents get in other countries that mandate, namely philosophical, medical or religious exemptions.

Erm, I’m not sure what their source for this is, but I’m pretty sure that the 15% who refuse MMR would include the 9% who refuse all vaccines. Plus the MMR link to autism has been well and truly put to bed by a wealth of studies. Unfortunately this hasn’t made the news headlines the way the original story did so people still don’t realise they’re talking rubbish. Additionally, the piece claims 20-25% of the population. It’s only talking about parents, not the rest of the population, and I’m willing to bet that the original stats only included parents of children entering primary school. It’s nothing like 20-25% of the population!

This is turning into yet another ridiculously long piece so I think I’m going to cut it short here. I hope you can get along to the protest, and if you can, why not address some of the points I’ve raised here to the people there? See if the ordinary person going along knows why they’re there, and most importantly, if they bring up something and you’re not sure about it, google it, get the source, and think about it for a bit! Don’t take it at face value, read around the subject. The Bad Science Blogs aggregator is usually a good place to start.

I gets Ben Stein email!

December 7, 2009

Warning: this blog post will be quite very long. A Christian friend of mine sent me this. I’ve seen things like it before, lots of emails get sent around Christian circles and I’m privy to precious few. I suppose they help with the persecution complex. Anyway so it’s a piece written by Ben “science leads you to killing people” Stein in 2005, with a bit added on by someone else, apparently. I’m going to see if I can take it apart.

I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish.  And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees, Christmas trees.  I don’t feel threatened.  I don’t feel discriminated against. That’s what they are:  Christmas trees. It doesn’t bother me a bit when people say, ‘Merry Christmas’ to me.  I don’t think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto.  In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year.

That’s fine, I agree with him completely here, I have no problem with people saying Merry Christmas to me. Even if I did consider Christmas an explicitly Christian holiday (and I don’t), it’s the sentiment that counts. Similarly I have a friend who almost always says “goodnight and God bless” when he leaves, and most of the time he corrects himself and apologises to me. I don’t mind it at all and he doesn’t have to apologise, it’s the sentiment that counts.

But this is interesting. Here we have a Jew saying he doesn’t mind the season being called Christmas, a tolerant image. Presumably, since he then goes on to wonder when America became an atheist nation, he’s accusing atheists of being intolerant and waging a war on Christmas. The kind of people who do this usually have an issue with Christmas trees being referred to as ‘Holiday Trees’ and people saying ‘Happy Holidays’. There are countless videos of Bill O’Rly? bemoaning the fact that Christmas has now become secular in name as well as in substance. So it’s almost like Stein is saying he doesn’t mind it when it’s called something from a different religion, whilst presumably at the same time he’s siding with the Christians who do mind when it’s called something from a different religion.

But what is it that’s intolerant about the term holiday as opposed to Christmas? It’s not like atheists are going around forcing other people to replace the term Christmas with ‘holiday’. In reality all they’re doing is recognising that there are other holidays, religious and non-religious, happening at the same time, and that Christmas is no more important than any other. That’s no more offensive to Christians than recognising that Muslims exist. They really do whinge a lot more than they should when you think about it.

It doesn’t bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu   If people want a crèche, it’s just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

I don’t like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don’t think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians.  I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period.  I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country.  I can’t find it in the Constitution and I don’t like it being shoved down my throat.

Erm, big straw man… noone claims that American is an explicitly atheist country. What they do say is that it is a secular country, where people are free to express their religious beliefs or lack thereof, without the government advocating any one of them. I also have no problem with people having a nativity scene or a Menorah, that’s their choice and it’s an expression of their beliefs, go ahead. I know very few atheists who would have a problem with such a private display.

I do know some atheists who have a problem with public nativity scenes (as in nativity scenes put up by the government), and I think they’re perfectly within their rights! The government is spending their money on explicitly religious displays. That is a clear violation of the separation of church and state, so they definitely have a case, especially in the States. Personally I’m not all that arsed about that either, they’re going to spend the money on some kind of decoration, I don’t care what it’s like, and I’d rather concentrate on infringements that actually matter, but I certainly understand why these people care.

Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship celebrities and we aren’t allowed to worship God as we understand Him?  I guess that’s a sign that I’m getting old, too..   But there are a lot of us who are wondering where these celebrities came from and where the America we knew went to.

Woah woah, who said you’re not allowed to worship God? Noone who advocates a secular state (which includes many religious people) says that. Stop making stuff up to get offended about! And noone really says you should worship celebrities (if you’re wondering where the idea of celebrities came from, it’s at the start of the original version broadcast on CBS, which got edited out of this emailed version). I also think the celebrity culture that exists now is terrible. People get admired for things that aren’t all that admirable at all, and earn millions in the process, purely by luck of the draw rather than anything you could call work.

So, bear in mind that from here on, this isn’t Ben Stein writing as the piece that gets emailed around claims it to be, someone’s added it in. But I’ll treat it as it was when it was sent to me. I’m also going to miss a few bits out that aren’t at all that relevant or interesting, you can read the full version here (the part at the top and the part at the bottom together).

Billy Graham’s daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her ‘How could God let something like this happen?’ (regarding Katrina) Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response.  She said, ‘I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we’ve been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives.  And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out.  How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?’

First of all, if the Bible is anything to go by, God is not a gent. If  you believe that God created everything, then you can’t say that he just ‘let’ this happen, as if Katrina was somehow an act of negligence. People certainly didn’t do it, he did, if he is responsible for the creation of the world. It was a natural disaster. I also question whether an all-loving God would leave the Katrina victims to the hurricane, even by their own wish. If someone told me they wanted me to leave them alone, and then I saw a car coming their way, there’s no way I’d just turn away and leave them to it. So it’s hardly ‘extremely profound’, seems to me like she’s barely thought about this at all.

In light of recent events… terrorists attack, school shootings, etc..  I think it started when Madeleine Murray O’Hare [sic] (she was murdered, her body found a few years ago) complained she didn’t want prayer in our schools, and we said OK.  Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school.  The Bible says thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself.  And we said OK.

Actually, you didn’t say OK, you bitched about it for years and continue to do so. But I don’t think bad things suddenly started happening the day Maddy Murray O’Hair won the case (yes, it was a court case according to the Constitution, not that you’d know it from the way it’s described here) to have obligatory prayers banned. The history of bad stuff happening goes a lot further back than that. I’m not sure why they mention her murder here. Maybe they’re implying that God did it to her. That’s not true, a crazed lunatic did. I also think the way they cherry-pick what the Bible says, and then awkwardly shoe-horn it into this paragraph, is a bit pathetic. There are very few good moral teachings in the Bible, and they represent a very small proportion of its total content.

Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn’t spank our children when they misbehave because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr Spock’s son committed suicide).  We said an expert should know what he’s talking about.  And we said OK.

How the hell did we get onto corporal punishment? Is this just a collection of right-wing agenda issues? Are we going to turn to gun ownership and the death penalty next? Whoever added this bit needs to wipe their mouth, they’re foaming a bit. Oh and, by the way, Dr B Spock’s children are both alive. One of his grandchildren did commit suicide, but he was apparently schizofrenic. Ironically that same article mentions how a psychologist who advocated corporal punishment had a son, who actually did commit suicide, not that it matters.

Now we’re asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don’t know right from wrong, and why it doesn’t bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.

Bloody hell, scaremongering much? Does this guy (I’m presuming it’s a guy, I don’t think the feminists will mind considering who it is)  think nutters didn’t exist in the past or something? Get him a job at the Mail!

Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world’s going to hell.  Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says.  Funny how you can send ‘jokes’ through e-mail and they spread like wildfire but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing.  Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace.

I believe certain newspapers more than the Bible because those newspapers and its writers have a history of being factually correct. They are also scrutinised and we can check what they say for ourselves, unlike the Bible. And there are plenty of stories of people being suspended or fired for sending obscene material whilst at work. Back in the real world where Christians aren’t being persecuted, people are often afraid of pulling their employees up on evangelising, in case the Christian Institute get on their backs.

Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on your address list because you’re not sure what they believe, or what they will think of you for sending it.

Oh here we go, the defining feature of all spam email. “Send this to 59 people in your contacts list in 43 seconds or a creepy swamp monster will crawl into your bed at night and shit on your face before slitting your throat!!!one!!”

Pass it on if you think it has merit.  If not then just discard it… no one will know you did.  But, if you discard this thought process, don’t sit back and complain about what bad shape the world is in.

Right, that makes sense. Accept my batshit crazy argument that bad things happen because we told an invisible sky-fairy to fuck off, or you can’t comment on why bad things happen.

My Best Regards,  Honestly and respectfully,

Ben Stein

Honestly? Respectfully? Ben Stein? None of thats true!

So a bit of a mix on the fictional War on Christmas, the problem of evil and lying for Jesus. Not bad for one email.

A little encounter back home

December 2, 2009

Just a brief one today, a little bit of pisstaking. I spent 5 days back at home for a funeral, but had to get some work done while I was there. To this end, I decided to go the Blackwell’s in Liverpool to find a book I needed. They didn’t have it because their foreign literature section is tiny. Anyway my mum said she’d pick me up so I waited outside (in the cold – won’t be heading back in a hurry) with a coffee, and whilst I was standing there, a guy came over and handed me a flyer. This is nothing unusual on university campuses.

Anyway so the flyer read “If you don’t believe in God, then you’re in for a shock!” Interesting, I thought, (not) expecting to find some irrefutable evidence inside the leaflet. Instead it was just repeating what the Bible says about Jesus’ “cross-work on Calvary” and that believing in him is all the proof you need.

So I said to this guy, “oh, the Bible, I’ve read that.”
“Do you believe it?” he said.
“No, I’m an atheist, a humanist actually.”
“Oh,” he replied sneerily, “I see you’ve hardened your heart like the Pharoah did, then.”

I was quite taken aback by his tone (and that he of all people was apparently accusing me of a lack of critical thinking), but luckily he brought forward an example that I knew quite well, so I replied “Well I’m glad you brought that up, because actually, the Pharoah didn’t harden his heart, the Bible says that God did it.”

“No he didn’t, not the first time.”
“Really? Because I have the Bible quote, you can look it up if you want. It’s in Exodus 4.”

So he pulled out a Bible from his bag and I went through Exodus 4 and picked out the quotation, well before Moses meets the Pharoah. God says to him, “When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.”

And again, before the second meeting with the Pharoah, God says it again “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring forth mine armies, and my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments.” He’s essentially saying “I’m not going to let Pharoah agree, so that I can punish the Egyptians”. Nice guy, this god. Don’t know why he doesn’t just punish them anyway, doesn’t seem too far out of his character.

So anyway, this guy kept flicking backwards and forwards in his Bible, trying to look for some time before Exodus 4 when Pharoah hardens his own heart. He couldn’t find it, so he slammed his Bible with a huff and walked off without a word. Sometimes I love it when I know the Bible better than they do.

A nd I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt. (7:4, 13) “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart.”
God hardens Pharaoh’s heart for the second time.
Who hardened the Pharaoh’s heart?
(7:4) “Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay my hand upon Egypt.”
God will make sure that Pharaoh does not listen to Moses, so that he can kill Egyptians with his armies.

(7:5, 17)
“And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD.”
(Who else could be so cruel and unjust?)

7:4 But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring forth mine armies, and my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments.