Reality vs. fantasy: a visual metaphor

Via PZ, a YouTube clip of a martial arts “master” who seems to have watched too many Shaw Brothers wire-fu movies from the seventies, and who thinks he can vanquish all comers by the use of his “qi”. In the video on Pharyngula, you can see him goofily flapping his arms in the general direction of a host of “opponents” who are all several feet away, obligingly falling down, or pretending to convulse as if their bodies are taking vicious blows.

Then, said “master” decides to prove his skills in the real world by taking on a practitioner of regular old-fashioned martial arts…and gets pwned in most humiliating fashion. Go to Pharyngula to see the whole video with the ridiculous wannabe-Jedi playfighting, followed by the real thing. The clip below is of the “master”‘s sad defeat, from a better, clearer angle. (Don’t watch it if the sight of a poor idiot taking a few kicks to the face might upset you. Good grief, I studied tae-kwon-do when in college in Houston, and even today I could block better than this guy. But then, I would know to block rather than just relying on my magical force field.)

The whole ludicrous farce is, as PZ has also pointed out, a grim metaphor for the dire consequences of rejecting reality in favor of irrational fantasy. As people in the US continue to turn their backs on science and empirical truth, so shall we find our collective asses handed to us when other countries who don’t disdain things like evolution, global warming, or any other ideologically incorrect science, race ahead of us intellectually, economically, and in overall quality of life for their citizens.

Worst. Monday. Ever.

By now I’m sure a lot of you have heard about the lunatic armed rampage at Virginia Tech that has, as of this writing, claimed at least 31 lives.

What will be nearly as hideous as these crimes is the fact that in the coming days, numerous groups — a number of which I imagine will belong to the Christian Right — are sure to co-opt this tragedy as they did Columbine for their own political gain, exploiting all this pain and suffering to propel more bombastic propaganda into the media that this is why we need the Bible and the Ten Commandments and forced prayer in schools and in the government, etc., etc.

Of course, I suppose I could be accused of exploiting the event to point to it as yet another piece of ironclad, irrefutable proof of the nonexistence of God. Difference is, I’d be right. But who’s right or wrong here will be no consolation to the families of the victims. Our condolensces go out to them all.

Update — tol’jaso!: Wingnut Coulter-wannabe Debbie Schlussel is first out of the gate with a Muslim terrorist conspiracy theory, based solely on the fact that the shooter was identified as “Asian” in some news reports. Nothing like a little right-wing racial profiling to heal a shattered community in a time of tragedy, eh?

Yet another update: Now Bush seems to be thinking a visit to VT would be the ideal photo op to boost his flagging approval ratings. Never mind that what happened today is a mild day in Baghdad. Thanks but no thanks, chimpy.

The updates keep comin’: Well well well, Debbie. Turns out our shooter was a South Korean who’d been in the country since 1992 and who’s been described, as so many unhinged lunatics seem to be, as a “loner”. There goes your Muslim conspiracy theory. I just don’t know how to contain my surprise.

The shooter apparently left behind a note railing against “debauchery” and “deceitful charlatans.” Meanwhile, deceitful charlatan Ken Ham, the creationist fool responsible for that momument to ignorance in Kentucky, has wasted no time blaming “naturalism” and “atheism”.

Another tragedy brings out religious smarm

Here’s a story about the sinking of a cruise ship off the coast of Greece, in which almost all passengers and crew survived, and here’s the obligatory dumbass comment by some of said survivors:

The couple says prayer is the reason why only two out of 1,600 people were reported missing.

Guess those two were off having gay sex somewhere.

No comment on why God didn’t prevent the wreck in the first place.

$176 million a year not enough to stamp out f*cking

Here’s one that’ll knock you over with a feather. A study commissioned by Congress has shown that abstinence-only sex education programs, on which our government currently spends $176 million of our tax dollars annually, have quite literally no effect at all on teens’ sexual behavior.

The only thing defenders of the programs can say in their defense — apart from what they’re currently saying, which is that the failure of the abstinence message is that is just isn’t being repeated enough, which reminds me of the hilarious line from Black Adder Goes Forth: “By doing exactly what we’ve done the last 18 times, the Germans will be caught totally off guard!” — is that this new study also shows no effect on contraceptive use either. (It had been one assumption of abstinence-program critics that kids who fall off the wagon would be less informed and less likely to use condoms.)

Naturally, anyone who’s been paying attention will know exactly why abstinence programs don’t work. They’re all part of the Religious Right’s war on science. They have nothing to do with facts about sexual behavior, STD’s, or any other factor that can be supported with evidence. They’re about foisting Christian “morality” on students without regard to reproducible results. They’re about theocratic social engineering, not education. Their proponents are the same folks who deny evolution, global warming, and increasingly, other ideologically touchy subjects like the Holocaust.

Way back during the Reagan administration, Austin’s Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Ben Sergeant did a brilliant panel. A school principal is shown informing a teacher, “All right, we’ve removed everything that could possibly offend any religious group! So, Mrs. Smith, get in there and teach!” And the teacher is standing, gagged, in a classroom stripped of pictures, textbooks, maps, pencils, even desks. It was on point then and distressingly so 20 years later.

This is another of the evils of politicized religion. Rather than contribute anything meaningful to learning, these are people who want to play politics with our children’s educations — and, increasingly, their lives.

More on blog civility and dealing with trolls

It so happens that there’s currently an active debate on blog trolling and how to deal with it.

The current discussion was motivated by the proposal of a blogger “code of conduct” in order to manage the virulent antagonism that often goes on in blog comment threads, when, from the anonymity of a keyboard, people are free to dehumanize those with whom they disagree and give vent to the most egregious forms of hatefulness their little minds can muster. This proposal, involving such quaint and silly concepts as “seals of approval,” like you might find on a can of beans, is just a teensy bit on the absurd side and has led to criticisms from such prominent bloggers as John Scalzi and Kos.

Scalzi makes the most sound points: that, for one, there really is no such thing as the “blogosphere” as any kind of enforceable entity. When we refer to the “blogosphere,” we are referring in the abstract to the social phenomenon of blogging itself. To say that there’s any kind of uniform “code of conduct” that one can apply, let alone enforce, to what is essentially people setting down their thoughts on whatever subjects interest them is naive and foolish. And as for hateful and trollish commenters, there are many options available to blog owners: you can ban, you can disemvowel (as PZ Myers does), or you can moderate as I have chosen to do. As Scalzi notes:

…the reason that we’re now at a point where some self-appointed guardians of the discourse have decided it’s necessary to tell the rest of us slobs how to talk to each other is that people apparently forgot they have the right on their own sites to tell obnoxious dickheads to shut the hell up. Honestly, I don’t know what to say to that, other than I’m sorry that other people’s muddled-headed conception of what “free speech” is has allowed obnoxious dickheads to run free in blogs, and allowed busybodies to wring their hands in the New York Times about how mean the blogosphere is. It’s idiotic.

What the blog world needs is not a universal “Code of Conduct”; what it needs is for people to remind themselves that deleting comments from obnoxious dickheads is a good thing. It’s simple: if someone’s an obnoxious dickhead, then pop! goes their comment. You don’t even have to explain why, although it is always fun to do so. The commenter will either learn to abide by your rules, or they will go away. Either way, your problem is solved. You don’t need community policing or a code of conduct to make it happen. You just do it.

You’d think this would be simple, but at times, there are folks who are unprepared for just how extreme trolls can get. One incident cited as a motivator for the “code of conduct” idea had to do with death threats received by blogger Kathy Sierra, some of which included distressing Photoshopped images of her. Certainly this behavior is alarming to someone who’s never seen it before, and who would be understandably bewildered and horrified that such sick responses could be made to the mere expression of an opinion. But Kos made the following point:

Look, if you blog, and blog about controversial shit, you’ll get idiotic emails. Most of the time, said “death threats” don’t even exist — evidenced by the fact that the crying bloggers and journalists always fail to produce said “death threats”…. For my part, I’ve gotten my fair share of such vile emails. Some of them have threatened my children. One or two actually crossed the line into “death threat” territory. But so what? It’s not as if those cowards will actually act on their threats…. Email makes it easy for stupid people to send stupid emails to public figures. If they can’t handle a little heat in their email inbox, then really, they should try another line of work. Because no “blogger code of conduct” will scare away psycho losers with access to email.

Kos’s response might seem too glib, but I think he has a point. There are people out there in the world who are emotionally and intellectually incapable of dealing with the fact that some folks have opinions which differ from their own. The more strident and dogmatic their views (hello, religion), the less able they are to handle differing opinions maturely and rationally. They fly into rages. Unable to form a counter-argument and take down the other person with clear facts, they go berserk, sometimes making death threats.

However, as Michael Newdow (who’s had more than his share of death threats) stated when he was here in Austin as guest of the ACA, these threats can most often be dismissed as idiots simply venting because they haven’t got the tools between their ears to do anything other. When I was hosting the AE TV show we got at least two overt death threats over the phone I can remember, and several more threats of a lesser nature (mere beatings, those). And while we were always common-sensibly cautious, we didn’t take them seriously. These were simply fools venting like the fools they were.

Which is why I think PZ has overreacted in criticizing Kos for the above statements.

Is Kos really so tone-deaf that he doesn’t realize he has just sided with people who threatened to slit Sierra’s throat and rape her corpse?

…This is not the time to act snotty and superior towards the target of online hate; I know that we get inured to the petty, vicious stupidity of some of the worst of the web (yes, I get death threats too, and some of them are nastily explicit), but what the kind of ugliness directed at Sierra ought to do is wake us up out of that take-it-for-granted attitude and get us motivated to shine more light on the cockroaches. It is not appropriate to encourage the roaches by acting as if the problem is Kathy Sierra’s too-fragile hide — it isn’t. We all ought to be outraged when some no-name faux-macho cretin writes to us and tells us to shut up or he’ll shoot us in the head. There is the problem, the eliminationist assholes who thrive under the encouragement of AM talk radio, admire the posturing bullies like Limbaugh and Coulter and Savage, and think homicidal sexual fantasies are manly.

Well, for one thing, I don’t think that Kos was blaming the victim. He was simply pointing out a fact: state controversial opinions in public, and expect to take some abuse from assholes. If you haven’t got skin thick enough for it, then perhaps you ought to choose a different hobby than the public expression of controversial views. In other words…heat, kitchen, all that.

PZ may be right in saying that you encourage asshole trolls by letting them know their vile behavior can shut you up. But PZ should also know trolls seek the outrage he advocates. This is the thing about trolls: in their minds, they win no matter how you respond. If you ignore them, they call you cowardly. If you ban them, they call you cowardly. If you get angry with them and slam them back twice as hard, they laugh to know they ruined your day and got under your skin. If you try to engage them respectfully, they just amp up their reprehensible behavior until you do decide you’ve had enough and get angry, at which point they declare victory. Remember, it’s never about the equitable exchanging of views with trolls. It’s just about their stroking their little egos the only way they know how, through hurting and attacking others. It’s the behavior of people who never matured past playground scuffles at recess in 5th grade.

So Scalzi’s advice is the best. Remember that your blog is your blog and you get to make the rules, just as you get to set rules for guests visiting your home and are entirely within your rights to throw them out if they break the furniture or shit on the rug. For idiots who want to whine that moderating or banning offen
sive commenters constitutes some kind of free speech violation, all I can say is “pull your head out.” Their free speech is never at risk, because no one’s stopping them from starting their own blogs.

Confront us, challenge us, debate with us, critique us, disagree with us all you like. I’m happy to have you here. Once you descend to the level of playground bullying and emotionally unhinged raving, you’re gone. And I’m not sweating it.

Dawkins wins Author of the Year at the British Book Awards

Not sure how new or old this is, but not only am I delighted to see such a prominent atheist writer receive this kind of accolade, I’m doubly impressed that over in England they actually have book awards shows that appear to be televised just like the Golden Globes! Here in the middlebrow U.S. of A., if it ain’t goofy teenagers trying to win a bad-singing contest, or C-list celebrities doing ballroom dancing, it ain’t gettin’ on television. As an avid reader, I feel very much apart from the American mainstream, I can tell you.

Anyway, congrats to the good professor! No, The God Delusion isn’t quite the best atheism book ever published. But it certainly is the most accessible, giving readers who’ve never been exposed to the views of nonbelief a decent “Atheism 101” overview. And its prominence as a major worldwide bestseller means that Dawkins’ goal of “consciousness raising” was a roaring success. Now I’m ready for the next wave of atheist books to flood the bestseller lists in its wake.

Comment moderation enabled

It’s a shame, but I’ve had to activate comment moderation. This does not mean that if you are a theist who wants to disagree with us, even vehemently, your comment will not be allowed. This is simply a measure I’ve had to undertake due to a lot of reprehensible and dishonest (but par for the course from people like this) trolling behavior from a couple of commenters, one of whom I’m sure you all know by name. Yes’m, ol’ Dan Marvin proved himself a lying little scum as usual, gleefully reneging on his own promise not to post here anymore. Dan belongs to that particularly unctuous and dispicable breed of religionist who does not feel rules of decency and honesty apply to him, and that being a man of your word is, shall we say, overrated. As Blogger does not make banning an easy thing to do (and banning by IP is an iffy process anyway, as it’s easy to get around in so many ways), moderation is the only way to keep the worst of the worst out.

Civil and decently behaved believers are more than welcome to post here, and post criticisms of us. Free expression is a thing all freethinkers respect. But so is integrity and maturity, neither of which have been on display from the likes of Dan or Emanuel. As Tracie has pointed out, Emanuel has nothing to offer but insults. He doesn’t even attempt to make arguments for a god; he just wants to shit on atheists. And by his own admission, whenever he takes his wild, undisciplined swings at nonbelievers in general (and guys like Richard Dawkins in particular), he’s really just settling scores with an abusive uncle, whose alleged violent and alcoholic impulses Emanuel thinks can be projected upon all atheists. Tracie said it best: there’s really no conversation to be had when one side is trying to discuss theology and the other is undertaking a kind of self-induced primal scream therapy to deal with personal emotional issues.

(Though I have a lot of skepticism over Emanuel’s account of this. For one thing, he claimed this uncle owned “a library of over 2500 atheist books,” and frankly, I don’t even think there are 20% of that quantity of books about atheism by atheists in existence. And most of those would be in the Prometheus Books catalog.)

Emanuel clearly has some severe mental imbalances to work out. But that is the purview of psychiatry, which is not what we do here. Criticism of religion, and intelligent debate over same, is what we do here. If anyone in the theist camp feels they can last a few rounds, then be welcome. Go ahead, tell us we’re full of shit all you like. Just have thoughtful arguments to present when you do it. The pooflingers can stay in the primate cage in the zoo, until they evolve.

Creationists admit it: “We refuse to learn!”

The clod-hoppers at Answers in Genesis have demonstrated the depth of their stupidity in a recent post that is being discussed at the Internet Infidels message boards. Red State Rabble has also done a concise takedown of the following young-earther display of “Look ma, no brains!”

Have you ever noticed that evolutionists are so sure that they have the answers to how everything began and that the Bible has to be wrong—yet every time a new discovery is made, it’s the evolutionists who have to change their theories! The only true thing about their evolutionary theories is that whatever they believe to be truth today, seems to change tomorrow!

But God’s Word NEVER changes. It’s NOT subject to modification every couple of years when a new discovery is made about the universe. If you really want to have the absolute, unchanging account of everything, go to the book of Genesis.

For Chrissakes, you creationist cretins, which is it? Are “Darwinists” dogmatists, as you often whine, or are they waffly mind-changers, as you now imply? It seems that whatever attack you’re mounting against science today seems to change tomorrow!

What the godtard brigade doesn’t realize is that science’s quality of adapting to new discoveries and new evidence is its greatest strength. Conversely, mindless Biblical dogma is etched in stone no matter what new discoveries come to light. And these fools are boasting about their intellectual inflexibility, strident dogma, and stubborn ineducability as if that makes their way of doing things better! Look at what they write — it’s all there. Their beliefs are “NOT (all caps, wow!) subject to modification”! Evidence has no place for them! Full stop. So the next time to hear a young-earther talking about some bullshit “evidence” they have that the earth is only a week and a half old last Tuesday, or whatever tripe they’re spouting, you can catch them out simply by saying, “Evidence? But you’ve admitted you don’t use that. So were you lying then or lying now?”

Plus, if one is a young earther, and one wants to apply one’s attitude about how facts are determined consistently, one must live a hopelessly confused life in which belief and reality are constantly frought with conflict. If a friend or relative says they’ve bought a new car, and they wish to drive it over and show you, and you form a belief in your mind that this car is going to be a Porsche, and it turns out to be a Hyundai, you are not allowed to deviate from your belief that it is a Porsche even after you have seen it’s a Hyundai and ridden in it! Belief before empirical reality at all times!

Of course, I doubt most young-earthers apply their belief practices in that way. But that means they’re applying them inconsistently, and adhering to don’t-think-ever! dogmatism only to those subjects like evolution that they feel threaten their cherished myths. In short, just more evidence they’re the least intellectually honest people alive.

To modify a hilariously vulgar line from a sci-fi novel I just read, my dick can fart better than these people can think.

Special Easter counter-programming: AE #492/493 double feature

Atheist Experience #492, 3/18/07: Deconversion. Everyone’s favorite commenter Tracie talks about the common path that Christians take when they become atheists.

Atheist Experience #493, 3/25/07: Pascal’s Wager. Don Baker takes on the “Believe or else!” pseudo-argument, commonly given by Christians.