Jul 20 2014

Church camp looks so … fun?

Look at this video and images from the Rose of Sharon Summer Camp in Tennessee.


Please note that these were not selected excerpts chosen to make the camp look bad; these were publicly posted by a camp counselor who was overjoyed with what the camp was doing, and was trying to promote the camp to others.

All I know is that I’d never send a child of mine there. What a horror of a place.

Compare and contrast that with this video of Camp Quest, made with similar intent.

“Freedom to be who you are without judgment”…yeah, I like that.

Even scarier, the counselor who released the initial Rose of Sharon video was very surprised at the negative response it prompted on the net.


Chilling, isn’t it? She’s abusing children in the name of the Lord, who she loves so much. What you’re seeing there is the end result of generations of indoctrination, of the kind still being practiced at the Rose of Sharon.

Jul 20 2014

Alternative career choices for chemists

What? Breaking Bad had a grain of truth? Read this story about a university chemist who was probably involved in making meth; he was also a consultant to the police, and an expert witness who helped accused meth dealers get acquitted.

And he’s free and a successful CEO in Europe. That part of the story doesn’t quite align with the Breaking Bad story.

Jul 20 2014

Jim’s dead

I’m sorry to see that James Garner has died. Just last week, when I was laid up, I watched a few episodes of the Rockford Files on Netflix — sometimes one just has to reminisce about the 70s, whether we liked them or not.

One thing: Garner was a terrible actor. He always played the same character, himself, in every show he did, but that was OK, because he had such an amiable personality. You knew exactly what you were going to get.

Another, completely irrelevant thing: watching 70s TV was really weird. Nowadays, in a drama, if somebody is going somewhere, there might be a brief shot of them going out the door, cut, they are at their destination. Travel is implied. On the Rockford Files, they go out the door, there is a long lingering scene of the car tooling down city streets or out through the California country side, finding a perfectly open parking space, guy gets out, walks up to destination. Watch it now and geez, you feel like they must really have loved their cars 40 years ago. Half the show feels like an advertisement for Pontiac, or a leisurely travelogue.

But Garner at least made it a pleasant hour.

Jul 20 2014

Responsible atheism

It’s the same old story: ever since I introduced the idea of dictionary atheism, I’ve been accused of trying to redefine the word.

Wrong. Although I should have noticed their twitter handle and realized that they weren’t worth talking to.

What I advocate is taking atheism seriously, owning the word and recognizing the implications and the causes behind your ideas. A flippant “I just don’t believe in god” is only the middle of the story: it’s actually “because X, I just don’t believe in god, therefore Y.” Yet so many people just make that statement, and then argue that there are no antecedents and no consequences of atheism — a revolutionary idea for which people have been executed, which is in opposition to the premises used to establish many of the powerful institutions in our culture, which directly contradicts what many people consider the basis of all morality in society, is treated as casually and cavalierly as the statement, “I don’t much care for Justin Bieber’s music”. So what we get are people who jump on the bandwagon, assert their atheism, and then continue to perpetuate the same old injustices and prejudices as before. Which is not at all unexpected in any movement, but still doesn’t sit well — I think it’s important that we remind everyone that taking on a major philosophical position isn’t the same as getting the latest shoe from Nike. There’s baggage. There are implications.

I’ll also say something that will irritate much of the readership here: you may not like some of their interpretations, but Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, and Hitchens definitely take atheism very seriously, and see it as a transforming principle for society. They’re right about that. If we do take responsibility for what atheism actually means, it has a host of consequences: it means that naturalism is the only principle we should use in making decisions, no waiting for miracles. It means that there is no afterlife, so causing death is a problem of far greater magnitude, no cop outs that they’re going to a better world. It means justice isn’t something imposed on us from above, but arises from our relationships with one another. It means we have to work together to build a better society, and clinging to old biases will not work.

Obviously, this does not mean atheism needs dogma — the disagreements we have are actually a good sign that we recognize that making a post-theist society takes work, and there certainly is no unity within the movement. But I think an important first step is to realize that some people are responsible atheists, and others are not. And for me, the first sign that I shouldn’t even bother arguing with someone is when they pull out the dictionary and declare that atheism only means that you don’t believe in any gods. Well, good for you, you’re nominally atheist, we’re all done, come back and talk to me when you’ve grown up a little.

Jul 19 2014

Fightin’ words

This weekend, Elizabeth Warren spoke at Netroots Nation. This is what I want. This is what I would like the Democratic party to be.

We have to talk about what does it mean to be a progressive, an American.

We believe Wall Street needs stronger rules and tougher enforcement, and we’re willing to fight for it.

We believe in science, and that means that we have a responsibility to protect this Earth, and we’re willing to fight for it.

We believe that the Internet shouldn’t be rigged to benefit big corporations, and that means real net neutrality, and we will fight for it.

We believe that no one should work full-time and still live in poverty, and that means raising the minimum wage, and we will fight for it.

We believe that fast-food workers deserve a livable wage, and that means that when they take to the picket line, we are proud to fight alongside them.

We believe that students are entitled to get an education without being crushed by debt, and we will fight for it.

We believe that after a lifetime of work, people are entitled to retire with dignity, and that means protecting Social Security, Medicare, and pensions, and we will fight for it.

We believe — and I can’t believe I have to say this in 2014 — we believe in equal pay for equal work, and we will fight for it.

We believe that equal means equal, and that’s true in marriage, it’s true in the workplace, it’s true in all of America, and we will fight for it.

We believe that immigration has made this country strong and vibrant, and that means reform, and we will fight for it.

And we believe that corporations are not people, that women have a right to their bodies. We will overturn Hobby Lobby and we will fight for it. We will fight for it!

Right here  in this room this is where it happens. This is 21st century democracy. This is where we decide that we the people will fight for this together, and we’re going to win!

Everyone seems to be assuming that Hillary Clinton is going to be the frontrunner for the next presidential election. Can she be this strong on the right things?

Jul 19 2014

I get email

I’m getting a swarm of these, all sounding nearly exactly alike. And what do you know, an idiot youtube atheist just issued a fatwah. Guys, I’d be more impressed with your claim to be unique individuals if you didn’t simply parrot some youtuber’s talking points.

Hello PZ myers. I just want to email you to ask you a few questions and to plead for sanity. I am fairly sure that I am just wasting my time and you will not respond but here I go anyways. What is the deal with your “free thought blog”? You censor comment and ban people for not agreeing with you, from what I have heard.

Oh, please, get down off the fucking cross already. It’s a really boring trope: I’ve got comments all over the place that start, “I know you will delete this comment because I disagree with you…” and strangely, they don’t get deleted. Look at any article with a lot of comments, and you won’t find it’s all a bunch of people agreeing with me — even regulars here routinely criticize me. What you always find in those long threads is one or more jackasses braying repeatedly and inciting prolonged rebuttals.

“From what I have heard”…right. Sleazy little wanker, you are. Where did you hear it? I bet I can guess.

You seem to start arguments in the atheist community, which largely serve to divide the community and make it harder for us to get in a position to actually do something about the harm that religion causes humanity. You have people on other websites talking bad about other atheists and scientists in your name.

In MY name? That doesn’t even make sense. I’m a guy with a blog and a teaching position, with zero power and authority. I write what I think, and many people agree, and many disagree.

And what atheist community? You act as if there is some monolithic institution with a few rebels causing trouble. Atheism is a chaotic mess, with many communities within it. It seems to annoy some people that I don’t join with the libertarian, anti-feminist herd, but they never seem to consider that it takes two sides to make a rift.

I am trying to be polite in this email but you seem to be starting a cult in your fan base. We all need to work together to make the world a better place. We won’t always agree 100% with everyone even in our little niche groups, if we do then that is a sign of something worse at work. I am not asking you to just go out and say “sorry I was a jerk” but you NEED to stop doing things to divide the community.

Oh, no, I’m dividing the community! I dare to point out that some members of this community are assholes, and you get to call me a jerk and tell me what to do. If you really want to do something to help humanity, then I’m afraid what you need to do is separate yourself from the anti-feminist ranters and join a group that sincerely cares about social justice, rather than using the term as an insult.

I grew up in the 1960s, and I remember a real divide — there were all these young people demanding an end to the draft and opposing war, and then there were all the people with the “America, love it or leave it” bumper stickers. And even when I was 9 years old I could see the deep logical flaw in the bumper sticker people. If you really loved the country, and you saw serious problems (like Nixon, or creationism, or misogyny), wouldn’t the appropriate response be to work to fix them, rather than denying their existence?

Yet here we have atheists who insist on the equivalent of “atheism, love it or leave it,” seeing no flaws at all, and demanding that anyone who disagrees should shut up in the name of holy unity.

Fuck that noise. I do not aim to conform.

Jul 19 2014

I’m willing to pay good money for honest tales of beauty and despair

Chris Clarke has published a short excerpt from his upcoming Joshua tree book. It’s good. It promises great things to come. It’s also mildly sorrowful, but then, that’s what you’re going to get with good environmental journalism.

There’s also a deal where you can sign up for weekly stories on the desert, in return for a reasonable donation. I signed up for a year’s worth — you might want to consider chipping in, too, if you can afford it.

Jul 19 2014

When you let assholes be the public face of atheism, it’s no wonder we have a bad reputation

I am no fan of Bill Maher. I was extremely uncomfortable with his selection as the recipient for the Richard Dawkins Foundation award in 2009, and I could only accommodate it by telling myself it was solely for his movie, Religulous, and not a general appreciation of his asshattery. And I didn’t even like Religulous! Orac was spot on in his criticisms, and while I’d hoped to talk to Maher at some time — we were even seated at the same table — he showed up late, complained about the brand of water served at the table, did his acceptance speech, and blitzed out of the room immediately afterwards. While happy to get an award, you could tell he was completely uninterested in associating with the riff-raff of atheism.

He also showed up with an extremely attractive young woman who could have been his daughter, or even granddaughter, but was actually his date. She was pleasant to talk to, quite unlike her sugar daddy, and actually bothered to engage the table briefly in light conversation. But you could tell that Maher’s ideal woman was candy to decorate his arm in public. It also illuminates his behavior — the man has a history of sexist remarks. Is it any surprise that he has done it again?

Bill Maher benefits from the hive mind mentality of so many atheists. You cannot disagree with Bill Maher without simultaneously delivering a slap to atheism — you must not foster divisiveness. You must accept all prominent celebrities who openly embrace atheism as pure paragons of human goodness — it is simply too complicated to think that a person might have a mix of views that are sometimes appealing, sometimes repugnant. So we constantly loft up “heroes” as exemplars, failing to recognize that the essence of atheism has to be a recognition of the flawed humanity of its people, and then we end up with primitive atheists getting defensive and angry at all those critics who point at the awkward reality of those heroes, whether they’re Feynman or Maher or Sanger or whoever.

The problem is compounded by the fact that these same boosters of the Brave Hero Leader of Atheism simultaneously insist that atheism has no guiding principles or morality or goals — it’s a complete moral cipher that simply says there is no god. So sure, as long as you clearly state that there is no god, you can be sexist or racist or endorse bombing the Middle East or love Ayn Rand with all your heart or believe that the poor deserve their lot since Darwin said “survival of the fittest” (he didn’t), and still be the paradigmatic Good Atheist. In the absence of any moral principle, we can promote even moral monsters, or ascientific promoters of bunkum and quackery, to be our representatives — and if you dare to disagree, you are ‘divisive’ and ‘bickering’ and doing harm to the movement.

I am tired of it. Atheist organizations, step it up, clean up your act, and put together a clear statement of what you stand for. If it’s just that you agree that you believe there is no god, fine; if you think the only cause worth fighting for is separation of church and state, that’s a good cause and it’s reasonable to limit your goals; if you want to promote science education, I’m all for it. But I think you need to go further. You need to recognize the implications of godlessness, that there is no Chosen People, that there is no godly support for patriarchy, that everyone is equal under Nature’s law, and that that means there is a whole raft of social and political causes under your purview…and that you should have a broader statement of the meaning of atheism. I want to know what you stand for. This current vacuum of any attempt at an understanding of what atheism ought to mean is exactly what allows assholes to flourish.

I apologise for the “sugar daddy” comment, which implies that the woman had no say in the relationship. That was not my intent; Bill Maher came off as a sexist pig, but she was actually quite an interesting person. She seemed more intelligent than Maher, that’s for sure.

Jul 18 2014

Shermer rides again!

Jesus. He’s written a climatological ‘Dear Muslima’ for Scientific American, defending Bjorn Lomborg. It feeds directly into a common Republican trope: ‘sure, climate change occurs, and maybe humans contribute to it, but it’s just too costly do what is necessary’. He lists a bunch of problems, and then does a “cost-benefit analysis”.

The ranking is based on a cost-benefit analysis. For example, an investment of $300 million “would prevent the deaths of 300,000 children, if it were used to strengthen the Global Fund’s malaria-financing mechanism.” Another $300 million would deworm 300 million children, and $122 million would lead to total hepatitis B vaccine coverage and thereby prevent another 150,000 annual deaths. Low-cost drugs to treat acute heart disease would cost just $200 million and save 300,000 people.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do more about climate change. But what? Both books posit technological solutions: Lomborg’s Copenhagen experts recommend spending $1 billion for research on planet-cooling geoengineering technologies; Oreskes and Conway have humanity saved by the creation in 2090 of a lichenized fungus that consumes atmospheric carbon dioxide. Whatever we do about climate, we should recognize that the world has many problems. If you are malnourished and diseased, what the climate will be like at the end of the century is not a high priority. Given limited resources, we should not let ourselves be swept away by the apocalyptic fear generated by any one threat.

I fucking hate “cost-benefit analysis” — it’s always accomplished by sweeping a lot of costs under the carpet to reach the desired conclusion. It’s such an easy way to create imaginary books that you can fudge without consequences. Do they factor in the cost of losing New Orleans and Miami? Wanna bet everything is lowballed?

The argument about other problems is bogus, too: if we could wrest government out of the control of goddamned Libertarians and Republicans, we could talk about rational policy making and trying to fund all of those projects. Does anyone really believe progressive politicians are arguing we can’t save those children because we’ve only got money for ONE project, and we can’t prioritize to support humanitarian goals? Does anyone seriously believe for one second that if we follow the Libertarian dream and spend less on carbon reduction (as if we spend enough now), that suddenly the wretched conservatives in congress will decide they can invest a few hundred million dollars to prevent the deaths of foreign children?

NO ONE is claiming that we need to stop everything else and deal only with climate change right now. But they are arguing that we need to carry out an appropriate, necessary, and immediate change in our carbon consumption habits — which we are not doing, thanks to obstructionists and pseudo-scientific rationalizers for the status quo, like Shermer. Pretending that climate scientists want everyone to be “swept away” to deal with “one threat” is simply dishonest. Reprehensibly dishonest. What they’re doing instead is explaining how the long term costs of climate change represent a far greater concern than phony ‘cost-benefit analyses’ allow.

And citing Oreskes and Conway…they wrote The Merchants of Doubt, which is all about how industry assholes have connived to lie to us about the scientific consensus on tobacco, ozone, acid rain, and climate change — Oreskes does not agree with Lomborg. Yet here Shermer lumps Conway and Oreskes into the same camp with Lomborg. And what is this nonsense about ‘lichenized fungus’ in 2090? Nobody can make that absurd claim now, nor give it a date of arrival, let alone a couple of historians of science. What are they going to do, switch to molecular biology and develop it themselves? Why should we trust magic bullet solutions to complex problems?

Simply citing the discredited conservative hack Lomborg is grounds for suspecting Shermer’s ability to judge the quality of the arguments. He might have been well off reading Scientific American’s 12 year old demolition of Lomborg’s credibility. I don’t know what has happened at SciAm that they continue to encourage a Libertarian crank to publish in their once respectable journal…and this after his bogus article on a liberal war on science, and his more recent lying with statistics to dismiss concerns about wealth inequity. Do they simply not care any more?

Jul 18 2014

For shame, Discovery Channel

Do they show any science you can trust any more? Now they’ve been caught faking a shark scare in the Great Lakes, all in the name of promoting their shark week. Sensationalist lies for a so-called documentary series? I think I can give it a pass, again.

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