Poll to plumb the depths of human stupidity

I know, that’s a rather vague descriptor: that’s what so many polls do. This is a poll about the anti-vaccination movement, though, which is like creationism in that it’s hard to believe people can be quite that thick about something that has been so thoroughly demolished. But go ahead, smash it down a little bit more. Apparently, Paul Offit, who has written a couple of excellent books debunking the anti-vaxxer loons, is going to appear on the Colbert Report, which has annoyed the crackpots. They have mobilized their forces to defeat the evil poll…so we’ll send out a few people to help.

Will You Watch Offit on Colbert?

Yes – I agree with Offit’s perspective and look forward to watching him

Yes – I disagree completely with Offit but plan to watch

No, I wouldn’t watch Offit if he were the last man on Earth

No – But I think he has some great things to say

I get strange books in my mailbox

I must be a magnet for madness. The latest treasure to manifest itself in my mail is a book by Stefano Polidori called The Chaos Riders. It may be a rare artifact; it’s not listed on Amazon, but it’s expensively bound with an inset photograph of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper on the cover, with thick glossy pages and profuse color illustrations throughout, but no publisher is listed anywhere. It’s hot off the vanity press.

I have tried to read bits and pieces of it. I was a bit put off by the translator’s remarks that claim the author is a scientist, but the first words in the preface are Polidori proudly telling us that he doesn’t read anyone else’s work, and the last book he read was Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and by the way, he dropped out of university because he “refused to accept others telling me how my brain should work.”

I was not able to figure out why the book is called The Chaos Riders or even what it is about. I did learn that Stefano Polidori possesses the reincarnated soul of John William Polidori, and that he vibrates at the same frequency of the prior Polidori, which attracts UFOs to hover over him. He carries a mutation which equipped his brain with an electromagnetic transmitter, which allows telepathy. He’s also obsessed with a friend named Henrik Dreyer, who knows a lot about past lives and gets his information by talking with plants. He does nicely spill the beans on the current identities of the reincarnated Lord Byron and Percy Shelley, in case you’re looking to commission some poetry.

But there’s something else that’s notable about this book, that simply blew my mind when I opened it and leafed through the pages.

The entire book, every word, is typeset in Comic Sans.

You doubt me. No one could be that mad, you think. But I tell you, it is so! And you can trust me, after all, since I am the reincarnated Hypatia of Alexandria, and you know she’d never tell a lie. Like a true skeptic, though, even that isn’t good enough, so I am currently broadcasting images of this book via my mutant electromagnetic transmitter brain, images that will be displayed on the undersurfaces of passing UFOs like advertising on the Goodyear Blimp, so just look up.

What, you still doubt me? You must have only limited, mundane senses. Therefore, to aid the handicapped, here is a scan of page 97. Behold!

[Read more…]

Oh, yeah?

A trite phenomenon is taking place in a church in Bakersfield:

According to Tom Dorlis, the vice president of the parish council for St. George Greek Orthodox Church, back in 2007, around the time of the financial crisis, a portrait of the Virgin Mary, from Hawaii, started to cry an oily substance that smells like roses. Parishioners at the church, located at the intersection of Truxton Avenue and ‘U’ Street, said there’s no doubt that the weeping icon is a gift from god, whether you’re a believer or not.

I doubt it.

That phrase, “around the time of the financial crisis”, tells me everything I need to know.

It’s a regular business.

The icon- originally from Hawaii- is a smaller copy of the ancient original which has been at a monastery in Greece for over a millennium. Other copies have been produced in Montreal and Moscow. Some of those weep myrrh as well.

I wonder if they come with instructions on how to put a drop of a thick, oily substance on the painting at night, when no parishioners are around, so that it will ooze fragrantly during the day, when they are? Seriously, anyone taken in by the ancient stunt of the weeping/bleeding statue/painting is a frackin’ moron.

Christian leader is hypocritical abusive homophobe. Since when is that news?

Lots of people are sending me this news story about Stephen Green, the British evangelical Christian fanatic. In case you’ve never heard of him:

Green, 60, is founder and director of Christian Voice, a fundamentalist group he set up in 1994, whose website thunders against the vices — family breakdown, crime, ­immorality and drink among them — that are ruining the lives of ‘real people’. Green’s ­pronouncements are often outrageous. For example, after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005 and killed more than 1,600 people, he claimed it was a result of God’s wrath and had purified the city.

I could stop right there, couldn’t I? You already know how this will end: Green will turn out to be some kind of pathological monster when the cameras aren’t rolling in his face.

Caroline Green was often punished by her husband Stephen for failing to be a dutiful, compliant wife, but his final act of violence against her — the one that prompted her long-overdue decision to divorce him — was all the more chilling because it was coldly premeditated.

Stephen Green wrote a list of his wife’s ­failings then described the weapon he would make to beat her with.

‘He told me he’d make a piece of wood into a sort of witch’s broom and hit me with it, which he did,’ she recalls, her voice tentative and quiet. ‘He hit me until I bled. I was terrified. I can still remember the pain.

‘Stephen listed my misdemeanours: I was disrespectful and disobedient; I wasn’t loving or submissive enough and I was undermining him. He also said I wasn’t giving him his ­conjugal rights.

‘He even framed our marriage vows — he always put particular emphasis on my promise to obey him — and hung them over our bed. He believed there was no such thing as marital rape and for years I’d been reluctant to have sex with him, but he said it was my duty and was angry if I refused him.

‘But the beating was the last straw. It ­convinced me I had to divorce him.’

Ah. So he was a vicious judgmental control freak who felt a profound sense of privilege for being a Christian man. But you could already get that from the first paragraph I quoted.

Next big item of non-news: the media continues to flock about Stephen Green, flogging his sensationalist hatred to the public, despite his patent hypocrisy.

Alister McGrath loves him some Deep Rifts

After a brief career as one of Richard Dawkins’ fleas, author of some book or another complaining about atheism, Alister McGrath faded away into irrelevance again. Not that he was missed; he always reminded me of the Impressive Clergyman played by Peter Cook in The Princess Bride, that affected pontificator with nothing really to say. I guess he’s trying for a comeback now, but his only tactic is to try and ride the coattails of the New Atheists again, this time by triumphantly pointing out that there is dissent in the ranks, that the New Atheists are all loud and enthusiastic while other atheists are critical of the aggressive approach.

So he has now published a longish opinion piece crowing over what I consider healthy disagreement.

It’s easy to see why the “old school” of atheism is worried. The slick and breezy slogans of the New Atheism simply conceal its obvious evidential and rational deficit. Sooner or later, someone’s going to notice that these simplistic slogans just don’t match up with the reality. And they’re right to be apprehensive.

The conversation has now moved past the sloganeering stage. The froth has disappeared, leaving us free to look critically at arguments and evidence.

It’s classic McGrath. The essay goes on and on for many paragraphs while McGrath struggles to toothlessly mumble over the scenery (I’m sorry, but he doesn’t even have the dramatic flair to be able to chew it)…but he never quite gets around to the “arguments and evidence.” It offers the same hilarity as a cavalcade of clowns tumbling out of a clown car — it’s not so much the individual bits, but that they keep on coming.

And just when you reach those final paragraphs and think he’s finally done, his big announcement is that he’s going to do a whole series of posts just like this one. More clown cars are rolling into the center ring!

Besides, Deep Rifts are so 2009. Atheists disagree with one another? That’s always going to be true.

Hey, Alister, the joke can only last so long, you know. The incongruity of a fervent Christian denouncing atheism for a lack of evidence helps a little bit, but you’re really going to have to come up with something more entertaining to hold anyone’s interest.

I guess I’ll cancel my plans to go to prison, then

There’s another reason not to go to prison: they’ll confiscate your Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks! The courts have ruled that fantasy role playing games are a threat to security because…

Well, in a 2009 case, a prison gang leader “established and enforced rules.” You know, just like in D&D. And hell, there’s even a risk of “D&D players looking to Dungeon Masters, rather than to the prison’s own carefully constructed hierarchy of authority, for guidance and dispute resolution.”

Man, this is too easy. I can think of another fantasy game that is encouraged and rewarded in prisons, and has exactly the same properties they attribute to D&D. Quick, someone confiscate Chuck Colson’s bibles! Or better yet, someone take away his Templeton Prize.

How homeopathy works

Follow this link to the amusingly bizarre webcomic about homeopathy behind it. I’ll just share with you the story behind the artwork:

So this might seem to make very little sense at all. Fair enough, it’s sort of supposed to. But this did actually happen to me at work — A guy came in to buy some homeopathic tablets, and was quite insistent that I not let them touch the large tub of ice-cream that he was also purchasing. Assuming that it had something to do with astronomically minute quantities of poison that such remedies are reputed to contain (they don’t, by the by — it is entirely water,) I assured him that there was no threat of contamination.

He then proceeded to explain to me, as a primary school teacher would an infant, that homeopathy works due to molecular vibration. Being a mere layman, I will try to explain this process to the best of my limited ability. The water molecules vibrate with the same resonance as the poisons that give them their efficacy. This in turn causes human molecules to vibrate upon ingestion, curing one’s ills. Close contact with the tub of ice-cream will cause the vibrations to shift to the new medium, resulting in an ineffective medicine.

The comic does not explain the specific details of homeopathy — it’s more like an artistic rendering of the spirit of homeopathy. And like all great art, it reveals the deeper truth. In this case, that homeopathy is gullet-gibbering, brain-blitzing insanity that has gone beyond evidence into the realm of childish delusions.

Roger Nygard in Morris

The University of Minnesota Morris has a special guest coming to town: Roger Nygard, the filmmaker best known for making the movie Trekkies, about the Star Trek culture. He’s here as a guest of our philosophy department, though, because his latest movie is The Nature of Existence, in which he asks various people about the meaning of life.

I don’t know. Wandering around the world asking strange weirdos to explain why the world was created sounds like a lousy way to do philosophy, and an even worse way to do science, but it might be a great way to do entertainment. We’ll have to see.

He’s going to be doing a marathon screening of the companion series to the film from noon to 9pm on Sunday (tomorrow!) 30 January, in Imholte 109. This event is free and open to the public.

But wait! There’s more! And all totally free!

On Monday, 31 January, you can meet with Roger Nygard from 3:30-4:30 in the McGinnis Room of the university library. And then at 7pm, in Imholte 109, there will be a screening of the movie The Nature of Existence…again, open to the public. This event is sponsored by the Midwest Philosophy Colloquium, the International Programs Committee, and the Morris Freethinkers.

I’ll be dropping in on some of the events, depending on whether I can get all caught up in my lecture prep for the coming week (with my current load, I will die if I don’t have most of the work laid out on the weekend); I’ve also got to get some preliminary work done organizing some talks for the week after, which contains Darwin Day, in case you’d forgotten. I will peel myself away for at least a little while, though, to be entertained but probably not enlightened.