The Lorax used to sell SUVs

Via Badass Digest, easily some of the most cynical and tone-deaf marketing I’ve ever seen. Remember The Lorax? The Dr. Seuss classic with heavy environmentalist overtones? The story about how corporations will destroy the environment to make a buck and it’s entirely up to the reader to preserve said environment?

Well, Mazda apparently convinced the braintrusts behind the new movie to sell old Theodor Seuss Geisel’s soul post mortem.

I cannot imagine the estate of Dr. Seuss being cool with this. I’m certainly not. Way to take the mantle of the Once-ler, Mazda. Sure, an SUV is probably the most fuel-efficient way to transport six people, but seriously, what percentage of the time do you see an SUV that’s actually full?

Just… whargarbl.

The numbers don’t lie: as many long guns in Toronto as in rural areas

The impending destruction of the long gun registry has been touted by conservatives (and most especially conserva-bot sockpuppets) as being primarily intended as a sop to the rural voters who are “disproportionately affected” by the long gun registry is another demonstrable falsehood. As it turns out, there are 287,000 long guns in the Greater Toronto Area whose registration information will be bonfired when the Conservatives’ plan is carried out.

Most of the “nonrestricted” firearms registered within the GTA are in the possession of individuals — 263,000 guns — while a smaller number (nearly 24,000) are held by businesses (not including police agencies) or museums.

There are tens of thousands of urbanites — more than 85,000 — legally licensed to possess a gun in Toronto, a number that may include some police officers who possess personal firearms.

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Map-dowsing competition in UK

Via The Guardian‘s science department (yeah, figure THAT out!), evidently there are some segments of the dowsing community that are skeptical of some other segments of the dowsing community — those that evidently believe they can dowse using a pendulum and a printout from Google Maps.

However, even believers in the muddy wellies type of dowsing often have grave doubts about map dowsers, who claim to be able to locate such features just by holding a pendulum over a Google Earth satellite view taken from miles above a site. The debate has rumbled on through many archaeology forums, with believers and sceptics equally passionately engaged.

A website dedicated to prehistoric archaeology called the Megalithic Portal is now launching a competition to try and resolve the question, with would-be psychics and scoffers invited to join a hunt for archaeological remains from the comfort of their own armchairs.

Andy Burnham, founder of the website, says dowsing has consistently sparked “more discussion and discord” than any other subject on the site. “We always end up with the same stalemate. Dowsers claim they can find anything and non-dowsers doubt that because there is no documented proof.”

I hate this sort of test. If you crowdsource this large of a dataset with the opportunity to make some money, all you have to do is guess correctly, and with enough guesses in the pot someone’s probably going to win. It won’t mean these people actually found something except by pure chance. Not that that’ll stop the inevitable self-satisfied crowing. Le sigh.

Moderation, censorship, and The New Stasi at FtB

The latest imbroglio here at Freethought Blogs appears to be an ongoing systemic campaign of trolling and attempting to silence several voices via liberal application of a megaphone and a large and varied vocabulary of misogynist slurs and outright libel about certain individuals. One aspect of this campaign and one possible course of action that we’ve stumbled across, having had Franc Hoggle’s identity dropped into our laps by one of his real-life acquaintances, has repercussions that have drawn out a contingent of slimepit denizens to amp up the silencing campaign. I will refer herein to these crusaders collectively as “douchebags” or some variant thereupon.

So far, PZ Myers and Ophelia Benson have borne the brunt of the assault by the douchebags, though Stephanie Zvan is rapidly climbing the ranks of people being targeted. Greg Laden and I are thus far mere also-rans.

One of the things that I do around these parts is observe the larger knock-down drag-out fights, and pull out the side concerns — the little individual jabs and parries in conversations — and dissect them. During this ongoing fight, one of the largest bête noires raised by the douchetariat is the question of censorship. Specifically, that when one of them gets put into moderation for refusing to stay on topic or for outright flaming or spamming or otherwise disrupting conversation, they are being censored in violation of their freedom to douche publicly.
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The Case Against Outing Franc Hoggle

There’s a battle raging presently over at Ophelia’s and Stephanie’s over a guy by the ‘nym of Franc Hoggle. I say ‘nym, because a real-life friend of his learned of his online identity, evidently by him outing himself to this friend — leading to his friend discovering his blog, Grey Lining (no link, sorry). Said friend decided to tell Ophelia Franc’s real name so she could use it to defend herself and the rest of us by extension from his ongoing misogynist, anti-feminist, anti-FtB, anti-Ophelia and downright obsessive anti-PZ campaign.

To be clear, Franc Hoggle, despite making a great many oblique and yet threatening comments like “if I were a woman, I’d kick [Ophelia] in the cunt”, has never directly threatened anyone. In his nascent proto-Mabus state, he has compared PZ Myers, popular atheist blogger and small town professor of biology, of being like Idi Amin and Kim Jong-Il, the only admitted difference being that PZ was lacking only the opportunity to commit mass-murder.

The constant drumbeat of anti-feminist sentiment from his site and his commentariat (whom we would probably leave largely alone if they would only stop staging raiding parties!) is evidently intended to inculcate a hostile environment for our bloggers, shaming and othering and invoking fear to speak our minds lest we incur the wrath of some people who happen to think that including feminism in the skeptic and atheist blogosphere is the Wrong Direction For The Movement™. But he has made no direct threats to anyone, and short of the fact that he has visited the Melbourne-based Global Atheist Convention in 2010 under his real name, and PZ was planning on being at the 2012 GAC, he poses no physical threat to anyone in real life.

Yet.
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Are all astrologers fated by the stars to be douches?

Ed Kohout is one of THOSE kinds of trolls. The ones you know are just trolling from the get-go, but that you just have to feed anyway, just to see what levels of douchery they can realize. In my repost of “How does One Prove Astrology? By Starting Over”, our new friend Ed has taken it upon himself to go on several Gish gallops, spouting so much effluence and demi-truths at such a rate that no single human being could possibly keep up without giving up their job, their personal lives, and ridding themselves of the monkey-on-their-backs that some people call “sleeping”.

Ed has an irritating habit of, rather than merely blockquoting someone and referring to their names, instead including demeaning or degrading verbs in place of “said”. For instance, people “bleat”, “wail”, or “scramble for cover” every time they refuse to accede to his rhetorical demands. I will do likewise in each instance where I blockquote him. I will endeavor to pick the most appropriate verb for each quote (and reserve the right to verb some nouns). Sorry if it gets repetitive.

He’s ended his latest tirade with a demand that I show him one single astrology book that refers to gravity as being the source of astrology’s purported effects. To wit, Ed douched:

As for the perennial straw-man featuring gravity, Jupiter, babies and obstetricians, please cite the astrological claim that the gravity of planets determines the astrological effect.

I want a real citation of a real book, some text somewhere that makes this claim. Surely you know right where to go.

I will not partake in this thread any further until you do so.

Which is why I will reply! I’d never do anything to alienate my new friend Ed!
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It might not get better after all.

I love the “It Gets Better” campaign, started by newspaper personality Dan Savage. The message he has to deliver though, that bullying and oppression that you might experience by coming out as gay or transsexual or any other non-hetero orientation will eventually wane as others mature and learn to embrace plurality, might be… shall we say, inaccurate? Via sinned34’s blog:

President Obama to gay victims of bullying: “It gets better.”

Family Research Council to those same kids: “No, it doesn’t, you goddamned queers!”

Yeah. Really. Hardly any exaggeration there.

I honestly wish I was joking about this, but here’s the mailing the Family Research Council sent out recently.

EGADS! A homosexual extremist! I fully expect Dan Savage to strap on his pink Hello Kitty AK47 and bomb churches with fragmentation grenades shaped like dildos now! And I’m sure his terrorist attire would match his pumps, too! Seriously, people on the right throw around the word “extremist” to mean “people who advocate things that we don’t believe in”. It’s a pejorative that’s lost all meaning today, such that when you point to religious fundamentalists who stockpile guns and bomb buildings and call them extremists, the word just doesn’t capture their extremism any more.

The Family Research Council is not an extremist organization by any stretch of the imagination, but they are a religiously motivated single-issue political organization built around the idea that the only Biblically-acceptable family unit is one of man and wife, and any other family unit is evil and immoral. The people making up any non-heteronormative family unit are equally evil and immoral according to these chuckleheads.

Homosexuality, despite all the bloviating by these fools, is probably genetic.

The Family Research Council is therefore casting as a “moral failing” something that these children can no sooner control than they can control their handedness or hair color. Sure, you could train yourself to write with your right hand despite your natural inclinations; sure, you could dye your hair; but neither action will change your genetics. The fact that some really old book can be interpreted as saying that homosexuals are evil, doesn’t mean that anyone with that particular confluence of genes is actually evil. There’s nothing immoral (in the sense of “objectively harmful to society as a whole”) for people to be attracted to whomever they’re genetically predisposed to be attracted to. The only argument I’ve ever seen that might make it objectively harmful to society is one where you extrapolate out homosexual behaviour to the populace as a whole — if everyone were to switch to homosexuality, the human race would stop breeding and would die after a generation.

But that’s not what anyone’s suggesting here; what we’re suggesting is that we accept that proportion of the population whose genes direct them to be attracted to the same sex. We’re suggesting that you just live and let live. Love who you want to love. Tolerate who doesn’t love what you love. Be intolerant of people who are intolerant of others for stupid reasons like what genes they happen to have. Treat homophobes the same way as we’d treat someone who called being left-handed immoral and sinful. It is incumbent upon us to achieve a more perfect morality than the morality handed down by some goat-herders in the Middle-East who knew less about genetics than they did about the shape of the Earth or the orbits of the planets. We’re better than those morals. We deserve better than those morals.

Unless we can stomp out this bigotry, this intolerance, this hateful adherence to really old prejudices, then it might not get better. It’s up to us. Do we want it to Get Better? Because if we let bullshit like this slide, then it might not get better after all.

Lone skeptic successfully ‘intends’ guilty verdict for James Arthur Ray

By now if you’ve been following the case as I have you must know that James Arthur Ray, a popular proponent of the Law of Attraction, has been found guilty of three counts of negligent homicide and sentenced presumably to six years of prison, though the actual sentence is still pending.

For those of you not in the know, James Arthur Ray is a bestselling author, and was a guest speaker in the DVD production of The Secret. He has for a very long time advocated the idea that every event that happens in your life, you manifest through your thoughts via ‘intention’, and that it is possible to turn your life around simply by (as with The Secret) changing your mental habits. Now, there are a number of psychological traps that people can get caught into, where one self-sabotages every effort, and there are a number of self-help books that attempt to provide you with methods of overturning those traps, each with varying levels of scientific backing. But this isn’t one of those — what Ray, The Secret, and the Law of Attraction propose is far, far deeper than any of that.

In these philosophical frameworks, it works like this. If you win the lottery, you’ve been thinking good things — you’ve been ‘intending’ correctly. If you get cancer, you’ve been thinking bad things. The vicissitudes of your fortunes become self-directed, so bad fortune is resultant of your own sin. Rather than accepting that some bad things happen through no fault of your own, and that most good things actually take work to achieve, you cast yourself adrift to be carried on life’s waves and wherever it ends up taking you, you are wholly responsible by virtue of your mental discipline. If the exercise doesn’t work, and you don’t succeed, why, it’s not the fault of the guy that sold you the book or DVD that explained how to do it! It’s obvious that if you fail, you simply Weren’t Doing It Right(tm).

Oh, and something-something-quantum-physics. Because you just can’t have a modern new-age bullshit sundae without a quantum cherry on top! Since particles do weird things at the quantum level, you can throw the word “quantum” into any nonsense and suddenly people think it’s a proven scientific fact because basically nobody actually understands quantum physics. It makes a lovely gap to shoehorn any old bullshit into.

It’s karma writ large, and a lot of people are making a lot of money by peddling this nonsense as though it’s some kind of deeply held secret that only the successful people of this world knew about. Granted, the people on top of this particular grift have made a good amount of money simply by selling this hogwash, and people from all walks of life were buying it, from down-on-their-luck middle-aged mothers to ambitious salesmen who just can’t seem to overcome intense intra-office competition. James Arthur Ray ran a retreat to cater to these customers looking to quantum-manipulate their fortunes, though in reality he was offering nothing more than a day in a sweat lodge, out of which people would emerge (at least in theory) psychologically pumped up for having overcome such a trial of endurance. 56 people paid $9695 apiece to attend his October 8, 2009 “Spiritual Warriors” ceremony, which was designed to mimic (albeit poorly) the Native American sweat lodge tradition.

Through the ceremony, Ray encouraged participants to stay to symbolically overcome the struggles in their real lives. He said, “You will have to get to a point to where you surrender and it’s O.K. to die.” When the participants started vomiting, shaking, or experiencing delusions, Ray ignored them. When a number of them collapsed, Ray fled. Eighteen were hospitalized for burns, respiration problems, kidney failure and other issues associated with heat. Three died.

Without question, Ray was guilty of negligent homicide. I’d contend that with the complete nonsense he was peddling, the celebrity he had attained by peddling that nonsense, and lack of controls that he could easily have put into place to prevent injury or death but failed to implement, he is guilty of a whole lot more than simple negligent homicide, though the jury found him not guilty of manslaughter.

Throughout the trial, the denizens of his Law of Attraction forums had been “intending” that he be found not guilty. Not because he wasn’t actually guilty, mind you, but because of his celebrity status and his appealing message — that one can shape reality as easily as one can in the dreamscape of the movie Inception. If the jury had found him not guilty, we’d have a new and powerful group of nonsense-peddlers to contend with; as far as I’m concerned, we have too many of them as it stands without the meteoric rise of one of the benchwarmer factions, so I’m glad for a number of reasons that justice was served with regard to Ray. I hope they throw the book at him, though I suspect he’ll probably get the minimum sentence and the forum goobers (and Ray himself once he goes on his post-jail tour) will probably talk about how big a win the whole episode has been for them.

Meanwhile, however, a few days before the verdict came down, Twitter user @swskeptic (Rose Garcia) posted a Twitwall entry that would prove prophetic in hindsight. The full details of the ‘intention’ have not yet come to pass, but she’s at least successfully overturned the ‘intentions’ of Ray’s followers:

Until the verdict comes in, I’m going to be focusing on manifesting for James Arthur Ray the opportunity to learn from another very charismatic leader who also has strong opinions about how people should live their lives. If there’s any justice in this country then by next week, James Arthur Ray should be playing full on with Arizona’s own sheriff Joe Arpaio. I think it’s fitting that a man who prescribed extreme experiences for other people should have an extreme incarceration experience himself. Therefore, I’m sending my intention out to the universe that James Ray will be given the opportunity to experience a transformation in the Arizona desert this summer with the harmonic justice of sheriff Joe. After listening to James Ray’s ‘teachings’ for 3 ½ months, I know he wouldn’t want me to send out some weanie intention to some wussy white collar prison. No. I think James Ray has attracted an incarceration as extreme as his workshops, and Sheriff Joe is the just the extreme kind of man for the job. Sherrif Joe’s ideas on justice are about as skewed and James Ray’s ideas on spirituality, so these two should attract each other. Instead of dealing out justice to the poor and the marginalized people of Arizona, my intention is that sheriff Joe use his sadistic skills to provide James Ray with a truly intense incarceration experience. And that’s at the bargain basement price of $2.00 / day.

The forecast for today in Maricopa County is 114 degrees, so this is the perfect time for a man who believed that intense heat was a path to a spiritual break-through can break through Sherriff Joe’s chain gang.

If Ray’s incarceration includes working on the chain gang, then a single skeptic will have out-intended the whole crew of Ray’s followers who actually believe this shit is real. I had joked about this privately a few days ago, wondering when the first skeptic would claim responsibility for having wished Ray into prison, but had no idea someone would actually do it. Nor that they’d have done it in advance of the verdict.

Can we call this a win for skepticism, or not, though? Because I’m sure many of Ray’s well-‘intentioned’ followers, each of whom believing in the concept truly and without reservation, would simply wave this failure away as either themselves not doing it right, or of the skeptic being some kind of closet agent for a rival self-help guru and simply being better at manifesting her reality than they are. Or worse, that this skeptic is somehow endowed with awesome reality-shaping powers, and if only she would just drop her skepticism and harness these powers for the betterment of mankind…!

Fighting with people who believe so whole-heartedly in nonsense is a full-time occupation. Seriously, could you imagine a whole room full of people who think they’re the guy from Dark City? There’d be nary a flying dagger to be seen, at the very least.

A few podcasts from this weekend on skepticism and atheism

Meant to get these up on Monday, but I was hoping for a chance to listen to them first. Unfortunately, I’m now on a road trip to PEI for work, in the car with some coworkers, and am probably expected to interact with them rather than holing myself up in my iPhone’s ear buds. So, I’ll just queue this up to post while I’m on the road.

Having met Desiree Schell at Science Online 2010, I can tell you she’s a witty, warm and clever human being whose podcast Skeptically Speaking is always worth a listen. She generally tends to stay out of atheist arguments, because it honestly seems sometimes that both sides are presenting less than their best faces — with the most popular and eloquent firebrands on each side trending toward significantly less than civility in the argument. However, on the weekend, she discussed with Greg Laden and Mike Haubrich the intersection between skepticism and atheism on Minnesota’s Atheists Talk Radio. I didn’t get to listen to this live in toto, but I’ve heard snippets of it while the live net stream would allow it.

It’s well possible to come to either belief via the other first. I was an atheist who “believed” (loosely) in karma as a teenager, but grew out of it and into true skepticism the more I researched various nonsense religions and realized the similarities between them and the “whack-a-mole” nature of various other strains of bullshit pseudoscience. No matter how many significant pillars you sledgehammer out from under a fundamentally unfalsifiable or unscientific belief system, the people who believe it are going to prop it up with some other makeshift prop or simply hang it from a sky-hook so that no evidence against it may even be considered. How many conversations have you had with someone who earnestly believes “The Secret”, or Scientology, or homeopathy, or astrology, Christianity, or anti-vaccination, where no matter what piece of evidence you present that runs counter to their claims, no matter how damning the evidence against, their faith in their flavor of nonsense is at best static, at worst strengthened? Ed Yong blogged about this phenomenon recently, in context of Harold Camping’s failed rapture predictions and his doubling-down. Camping’s now saying “the Rapture happened but nobody was worth saving; God in his mercy is sparing us the tribulation and the world will end on schedule in October.”

Science doesn’t work like that. When presented with evidence to the contrary, science is not static — scientists may dig in their heels if they have a vested interest in their theories, but science itself will self-correct over time. Some scientists, like the unbelievably awesome Scicurious, swallow their pride and admit when they’re wrong, when they’re fooled, when they were making judgments with insufficient evidence or having seen only those papers that support a position but none that refute. In scientifically minded circles, this gains you popularity — not to enforce lockstep, but to reward selfless humility for the betterment of the sum of human knowledge.

Scicurious and Desiree discussed this event and its repercussions Sci encountered for having unabashedly admitted when she was wrong about bees and cell phones, on Desiree’s podcast the same day that Des did Atheists Talk. They also discuss, given the studies that have been put out recently, the idea that cell phones reduce sperm count or fertility. The whole idea that cell phone radiation can hurt you is a good example of whack-a-mole pseudoscience. Remember Science vs Garlic, and the comments thread that ensued? Frankly, the discussion didn’t go anywhere but to the same few sources and the same specious claims about low-frequency electromagnetic radiation, none of whom were anywhere near scientific consensus on what a cell phone can and cannot do to your body. I should have gone back to it, but my wedding day was impending, and I honestly got distracted.

At least the science is still coming in, and it’s still saying this nonsense is nonsense. If I had gotten the chance to send in a question, it would have been this:

How long must we humor people repeatedly suggesting the same thing over and over again, and perform tests of all stripes to conclusively prove their beliefs wrong, when they’re just going to come back and find some new way to suggest it again despite it being thoroughly refuted? It’s like this XKCD comic. At absolute best, you’ll get organizations like the WHO looking at all the studies, shrugging and saying the data’s inconclusive, but that one can’t rule out the possibility of cell phones causing X disease. At worst, you’ll get exactly the same, only the media will also report it as though a link was found between cell phones and cancer. When do you get to say “enough is enough?”

I ask that question often on this blog, about a lot of things. I never get a satisfactory answer.

Oh, by the way. Desiree is a Canuck. As though there wasn’t enough to love!