Friday, May 30, 2008

Video PROOF of alien visitation!

As noted by Phil Plait has noted (and others), a man in Denver named Jeff Peckham has held a press conference (original story: Denver Post) in which he played a video that shows undeniable proof that aliens exist, and they are among us. Supposedly, this is to get the city to create the Denver City Department of Extraterrestrial Affairs or some such.

The video shows an alien, shot in infrared, poking his head up to get some hot peeping tom action. There is a fake version of the video floating around, but it is an admitted fraud, and not real, genuine footage of a creature from light years away peeking through a living room window (and maybe YOUR living room window, too).

Of course, Peckham has refused to release or even show the video to the general public (it's totally because we're not ready to see it, and not because he knows it's a fake and wants to sell it for big $$$ before it gets thoroughly excoriated). He DID, however, release this single shot from the video to show that he's on the up and up... Here it is: undeniable proof...

Impressive, huh? And here's something even more impressive. I've taken this photo and applied a complex image enhancement algorithm to help us get a better view of our perverted friend from another world. I think you'll all be shocked -- but maybe not TOO shocked -- at the results:

Okay, I'm done now.

Bonus: What will this amazing video look like? Some have already put together detailed composites of what we might see. Check out these amazing videos:

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Personal History part 3: Age 10-14

See the entire "personal history" series of posts:
  • Part 1 - Who I am now. why I'm an atheist, a skeptic, and a progressive liberal, and why I think that's a good thing.
  • Part 2 - I grew up in a Mormon family and community, but my parents always encouraged critical thinking.
  • Part 3 - As I became a teenager, I began having doubts about religion and the supernatural and began to reconcile that with a scientific viewpoint that increasingly edged out religion.
  • Part 4 - "Agnostic, leaning toward atheism"

My family moved to Midvale, another suburb of Salt Lake when I was 10 - my fifth grade year. The new area and new people corresponded to a growing dissatisfaction with the LDS church and religion in general. My fifth grade year saw my first "debate" about evolution vs. creation with a peer, my first sexual awakening, and my first real struggle with faith in my assigned religion.

During this four year period, I still self-identified as Mormon. I participated in Boy Scouts. I attended Church (nearly) weekly. I had a close relationship with my bishop (not that close, you sicko you) with whom I shared a lot of intellectual conversations.

I took much (though not all) of what my Sunday school teachers said at face value. Once, a teacher was telling us about the importance of tithing, how there was a time in his life when he didn't tithe and everything went to shit (my words, not his). Then when he started tithing again, he got himself a hot chick, a hot car and a cool job and everything started shaping up nicely. How great is that! At the time, I remember being impressed: Wow! Tithing will make god send a little luck your way! Think of what you could do in Vegas if you just gave God a cut of the winnings! (Isn't the tithe supposed be from the goodness of your heart, not from avarice?)

When I hit 12, I became a deacon in the church. During this time, I started to become less active in the church, missing it now and then with increasing frequency. My parents encouraged me to go. They seemed disappointed that I didn't go, but never forced me to (keep in mind that neither of them went to church at all).

Aside: I think the fact that Mormon church starts handing out formal ranks like this so much earlier than other churches has the function of instilling a sense of responsibility, which kills any notions of becoming less active: "I can't miss church this week! Who will pass out the chunks of Wonder Bread!?!!?"

Unblinded by Science
I continued to thirst for knowledge. I overheard an offhand comment once from one of our ward leaders saying that it was not possible to be a scientist and believe in god. I had already been thinking along these same lines, but it was a surreal experience for me to hear such a blatant admission from a church leader. He was saying it in an anti-scientist way, of course, but there it was: religion was inherently at odds with science. (I still feel this way, though I acknowledge that it is not true for everyone. There are many great scientists of faith.)

Around this same time, at age 12 or 13, I had a one-on-one chat with the bishop. He asked what my favorite subjects in school were, and I said I loved science. Unprompted, I then began to talk about how I thought the Universe and the world were created by scientific means. I then said that "I think God works through science." I said that because I knew it was the sort of thing I should say, though I didn't believe it. It was the first time I was forced to confront the fact that I was beginning to reject God and the church. It was also the first time I lied about what I believed to anyone.

It wasn't the last time, though. On a Scouting trip, all the boys had to come up with an activity. I set up a long and elaborate orienteering course where each boy would have to follow the compass coordinates found at each post to get to the end of the course... Except that at one of the posts i had accidentally written the wrong coordinates. This sent everyone off into a field full of thorny bushes. After everyone got lost from the course, I made some impromptu remark about how it was intentional, and that I was showing how easy it was to think you're on the right course when really you're letting Satan lead you astray. This was bullshit and I knew it, but these were my friends and I knew that it was EXPECTED of me to at least SOUND like I believed in the church.

In retrospect, this analogy casts me in the role of Satan. Oh well.

Once I was in junior high school, I rode the bus every morning to school and my friend Mark and I would often get into these huge debates where I'd try to explain evolution to him (with a relatively rudimentary but still pretty much accurate view of how it worked myself), while he insisted that the Bible was true and mocked me for my often flawed arguments. ("You believe we evolved from MOSS!!!" "No no, of course not, that's silly. Moss and humans both evolved from the same bacteria!"). At this point, I was a firm believer in science, doubted religion through and through. But I still attended church. Concurrent with my scientific qualms, I was also developing issues with how the church regarded sexuality.

Heavy Petting
Note: this section gets pretty personal at times, and frankly discusses my developing sexuality. I just don't want to make anyone uncomfortable. You have been warned.
In addition to scientific matters, I was also forced at this time to confront differences in what the church taught, what my parents taught, and what I believed and did. Every young person in the LDS church receives For the Strength of Youth, a little peach-colored (at least then) pamphlet around the time they hit puberty.

This guide is designed to fit in your wallet, so that if, for instance, you're out on a date and your boyfriend asks "Hey, would you like to engage in some necking and heavy petting?" you can say "hold on one moment, let me consult my teen sex pamphlet thingamajig... No it appears that if I do that, it would prove that I don't love myself and I don't love God."

Aside: "Necking?" Way to keep up with the hep cat lingo of the kids these days!)

I was not involved sexually with anyone at the time, but I was a boy between the ages of 12 and 14, so read between the lines (I can still remember how hilariously inaccurate early mental picture of how sex worked was). According to the pamphlet, what I was doing was a nearly unpardonable sin. But, as the saying goes, everyone is doing it.

During a scout camp (age 12, 6th grade), I was in a big tent full of all the boys my age in the ward and the subject turned to how some girl one of us had seen in Playboy had really big nipples, and whether that was attractive or not. A long and fairly in-depth discussion of the female form ensued, and everyone had their preferences: John liked large-breasted Pamela Anderson types with skinny hips, bleach-blond hair and thought that large nipples were repulsive. Steve was racist and thought anyone other than white women were utterly repulsive and "literally make [him] gag." I had comparatively exotic tastes with a bit of an Asian fetish and a serious crush on a dark-skinned (for Utah) classmate from Greece. Brian said he liked redheads, was also a horrible racist and "believe[d] in the separation of the races."

Aside: All the boys had seen varying degrees of pornography, but remember that this was 1992, before the ubiquity of pornography in the Internet era, though I did have access to some digital pornography I found on some big 5.25" floppy disks my brother had hidden away (though not well enough, apparently).

Second Aside:
Anyone who thinks that racism is not still endemic in the LDS church has never been to Mormon Boy Scout camp.

Anyway, it turns out that this entire conversation was overheard by the scout leader. (Friendly tip: A tent wall leaves much to be desired when it comes to keeping your conversation private.) This led to a LONG talk in the morning about the dangers of pornography and how we were now all doomed to lives as serial rapists. He actually told us that sexual feelings, in general, were something to be ASHAMED of and repressed. All of this conflicted with what my parents taught me about sexuality. My mother was fairly anti-porn, but for completely different reasons: it was often exploitative and set unrealistic views of what relationships are like. But my parents NEVER condemned sexuality outright. Quite the contrary.

The big "sex talk" between my dad and I consisted of the following exchange:
"Hey, Patrick. I want you to watch this video. I'll be upstairs if you have any questions."
He proceed to put in a sex education video he'd bought after watching a PBS pledge drive or something (OH MY GOD! It was totally this one! Hahahahaha. Oh god, it looks so unhip, and the kids on the cover look so much like the kids on the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet!). Cheesiness aside, it was actually a pretty decent little video. If not truly sex-positive, it was at least sex-agnostic and knowledge-positive. It openly discussed sexuality, including masturbation and, if I recall correctly, homosexuality -- all without condemning it.

Again and again, I was confronted with what the church said was acceptable when it comes to sex and gender, and what my parents said about those same things:
  • Church: Sex before marriage is an affront to god.
  • Parents: You should be in love with someone before you have sex with them.
  • Church: Dressing modestly shows that you respect his creation (i.e., YOU).
  • Parents: The human body is beautiful! Let's go to Paris and see all the nudes in the museums.
  • Church: "Pornography" in any form is addictive and will destroy all civilization.
  • Parents: Nude photography in the living room!
  • Church: Homosexuality is an abomination.
  • Parents: There is absolutely nothing wrong with being gay (even if my dad did make the occasional limp-wristed-and-lisping-stereotype joke that to this day still make me cringe and sigh).
  • Church: Women should be subservient to men in every way and stay at home all day with the kiddies.
  • Parents: Women have been oppressed and if a woman (like my mom) wants to pursue a career, the only thing stopping her is the inherent sexism of the working world.
  • Church: Women's gift from god is being able to give birth. Men's gift is magical powers and -- when they die -- their own planet full of people to worship them.
  • Parents: Ugh!
That's a lot of conflicting messages! Add to that my own developing sexual morality and identity that was at times at odds with both of these sources (more a matter of degree with my parents), and this was fuel-to-the-fire for me leaving the church.

Leaving the fold
The straw that broke the camel's back when it comes to my affiliation with the LDS church is perhaps a bit unusual, and probably a bit overblown in my memory. Nonetheless, here's how I recall it:

I was already philosophically distant form the church, but I continued to go most weeks. These were the people I knew. I respected many of the adults in my ward, and I enjoyed going camping with the scouts.

But, You know the stereotype about the preacher's kids, how they kind of go off the deep end and become either sex- and drug-addicted hellions, or else become completely arrogant bastards with a sense of entitlement? Well the bishop's son in my ward fit the latter stereotype to a T. This jackass got away with everything, and there was always a "boys will be boys" response whenever he did something awful to someone.

One Sunday morning at church I arrived to Sunday school. Josh greeted everyone at the classroom door and shook our hands. This was unusual, but not remarkably so. We all sat down and our teacher began his lesson. At some point, my eyes started to become irritated with a mild burning sensation. I rubbed them as the irritation grew. I rubbed them some more. Soon, my eyes were on fire. I was in a great deal of pain and could barely keep my eyes open. Tears were streaming down my face as my eyes tried to flush out whatever was in them. This was then the most painful experience I could recall -- such intense, burning pain on my eyes. It's still one of the most painful experiences I can remember.

I was too wrapped up in my own agony to realize that I wasn't the only one: at least three other boys in the classroom were exhibiting similar symptoms as the teacher started to wonder what was up. Josh, on the other hand was having a grand old time and having trouble keeping composed and not bursting out into guffaws of laughter. He finally brought out the bottle of cinnamon oil he had applied to his hands before arriving in class to shake hands with everyone. The class took a break as we all went to the bathroom to try to flush out our eyes. I liked playing a good prank as much as any teenage kid, but I just didn't understand the compulsion to willfully apply uncontrollable pain to another person (or animal, for that matter) for pleasure. I was already thinking "This sucks. Why do I even still come to church to hang out with jerks like this?

But I was horrified when we got back to the classroom and the teacher was laughing about how funny it was, and how he couldn't figure out what was going on at first, but now it's just funny. Good think it was a funny, hilarious harmless prank rather than, say, Ebola. Hahahahahaha.

When the authority figure congratulated this asshole on his beautifully executed torture prank, that's when I decided that it was time to cut my losses and forget about this nonsense. I was done. When I walked out of the church that day, I never came back. I've since only been inside a Mormon church four times, for three weddings (one of which featured wine and Jaggermeister served surreptitiously in URCs) and a funeral.

Note: Never get cinnamon oil in your eyes. It's horrible. Seriously.

Next Installment: From non-Mormon to atheist.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Me of Little Faith


The new Lewis Black book sounds ubercool.

Friday, May 23, 2008


Racoons, of course, are walking festering furballs of disease that you should never ever get near.... But damn they're cute. I also thing it's really interesting how human-like their little hands are.

Anyway, I'm back to our regularly programed schedule of rants on relgion and politics soon. And I'm working on more of my "Where I am/How I got there" series. But for now... Raccoons!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

He's a Frakkin' Toaster!


So, I have no idea how this didn't occur to me, or any of the nation's pundit class has not realized this before, but as the Bad Astronomer (among others) points out, John McCain is secretly an evil robot, and he has a plan.

Just look at how much McCain looks like Colonel Saul Tigh, the former evil robot hater who it turns out actually is an evil robot. Coincidence? The parallels go beyond mere physical appearance. They both have rage problems. Both were POWs with a physical disability caused by torture (McCain's arm and Tigh's eye). Both are regularly heard singing "All Along the Watchtower." They both killed their collaborator wife (wait, that might not be true)... This has been staring us all in the face all along folks! We MUST not give in to Cylon trickery.

Friday, May 16, 2008

And another thing!

The new Portishead album is challenging, but ultimately great. A solid reinvention of the old Portishead sound, which would sound a little dated if resurrected as-is today.

Personal History part 2: Early chilhood

See the entire "personal history" series of posts:
  • Part 1 - Who I am now. why I'm an atheist, a skeptic, and a progressive liberal, and why I think that's a good thing.
  • Part 2 - I grew up in a Mormon family and community, but my parents always encouraged critical thinking.
  • Part 3 - As I became a teenager, I began having doubts about religion and the supernatural and began to reconcile that with a scientific viewpoint that increasingly edged out religion.
  • Part 4 - "Agnostic, leaning toward atheism"

As mentioned in my last post, I am an atheist and a skeptic (two categories that go hand-in-hand for me). To varying degrees throughout my life, that was not so.

The next couple of posts will relate my religious history, including that of my family.

Family History
First a bit of family background.

I don't know much about my dad's parents prior to their divorce, as this happened LONG before I came along. From what I gather, though, it had something to with my grandfather's extra-marital relationship with the woman I knew as "Grandma Orlob." By the time I was in the picture, my father's father had remarried and lived (outwardly, anyway) a fairly non-religious life. I couldn't even tell you if he identified as LDS or not.

My father's mother, on the other hand, had remarried and continued to be be an incredibly devout - I might even say fundamentalist - Mormon (not like the FLDS people, just an incredibly strict reading and practice of "conventional" Mormon doctrine). This is the family in which my father and his sisters were raised, and indeed this side of the family (save my father) is quite devoutly religious today.

My mother's family story is a little more complicated. She was born to a devout Mormon couple. However, my biological grandmother died in childbirth with my mom, leaving two young children and a newborn baby girl. The two kids were adopted out (and didn't even know my mom existed until MANY years later), but my mom remained with my biological grandfather for the time being. Soon, though, he determined that he couldn't take care of a baby, and gave my mother to a couple with whom he had been close. I have no idea what happened to him after this.

My mom's new family were Ralph and Bernice Foss. Ralph was Mormon. Bernice was Catholic. They decided to raise my mom as a Mormon, partly to honor her biological parents and partly because, well, it's far easier to be Mormon in Utah.

My parents were married in the Salt Lake City LDS temple. They were religious, but never particularly devout. My dad was a photographer and did some nude portraiture, some of which caused a minor neighborhood scandal in the 70s before I came around when he hung it in the living room.

Early Childhood (age 5ish to 10)
When I was two, we moved to a condominium in Murray. From as early as I can remember, I ADORED science. My favorite toy was a chemistry set which I had at an earlier age than the box indicated I should have. I had a little tent thing that covered my bed, making it look like a space shuttle. My career of choice vacillated between astronaut, paleontologist, and cosmologist (which was often mistaken for "cosmetologist" when I told people). I liked Disney Land and Sea World, sure, but the family event I was most excited about was going to see a Stephen Hawking lecture!

I attended church every week. By this time, my mother and father were no longer particularly active in the church, so I went to church on my own. At this time, I think my mom and dad would still consider themselves LDS (my dad might still to this day, he's not very forthcoming on that), but they were also very critical of the church's positions on many topics, and were dyed-in-the-wool Democrats. This was very nearly against doctrine. (The LDS-president at the time, Ezra Taft Benson, had once stated that it was impossible to be a Democrat and a good Mormon at once... An aside: Benson was a horrible racist.)

I believe my parents sent me to church for two main reasons. First, just as with my Mom, they figured it would be easier for me to be an active Mormon than not. Second, how the hell else were they going to get me out of the house four a couple of hours instead of watching interminable reruns of Wonder Woman and Star Trek on UHF channel 30.

Like any child, I assumed that the words of adults to be true, particularly words delivered by guys in suits to whom your parents entrust you in a big stately building. I'd go off every Sunday morning and hear about Joseph Smith's life (I once embarrassed myself by confusing Joseph Smith with Joseph of Nazareth) and memorizing the Articles of Faith. I loved me some science, but never really encountered any cognitive dissonance with my religion at this stage. (I say religion, and not "faith," as I had no faith and never really did. I just assumed there was good evidence to back all this stuff up.)

I was regarded as a thoughtful and intelligent child by regular- and Sunday-school teachers alike. I came to have a good friendship with my Sunday-school teacher (and years later, my wedding cake baker) Russ, who regarded me as a deeply reverent young boy, mostly because I asked a lot of questions and listened closely to his lessons (the same behaviors that got me in trouble down the road). I was still a science kid, but there was yet no conflict.

It wasn't until I was ten we moved from Murray (a suburb of Salt Lake, for those not in the know) to Midvale (another SLC suburb) that I had to confront some major issues I was developing with the LDS church, and with religion in general.

More to come.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Personal History part 1: Who I am now

See the entire "personal history" series of posts:
  • Part 1 - Who I am now. why I'm an atheist, a skeptic, and a progressive liberal, and why I think that's a good thing.
  • Part 2 - I grew up in a Mormon family and community, but my parents always encouraged critical thinking.
  • Part 3 - As I became a teenager, I began having doubts about religion and the supernatural and began to reconcile that with a scientific viewpoint that increasingly edged out religion.
  • Part 4 - "Agnostic, leaning toward atheism"

So, to placate the hordes of devoted fans clamoring to know all there is to know about me (that means you!), I wanted to take some time to relate some of the stories in my life that have helped shape who I am today, as well as define just who that is. This will be the first in a series of blog posts about my views about science, love, personal fulfillment and other weighty topics, as well as a personal history of how I came to be the person I am.

So, just who am I?
Where does one even start on such a question. I could begin how most people do: by describing my occupation. I really enjoy my job and I think I'm good at it, but I don't really think its helpful in conveying who I am as an individual. I'm 5'10" with red hair, zero children and a dog. I live in Salt Lake City, Utah.

I'm an atheist
. I am an atheist in the sense that I do not believe that supernatural explanations are necessary to explain my existence or the workings of the universe. Is it possible that there is some sort of higher being out in the ether responsible for the creation of the universe? Sure, but whatever that being is is beyond our grasp or understanding to the point of irrelevancy. Natural (i.e., scientific) explanations have proven to be far better explanations for natural phenomena than supernatural ones. There is no reason for me to operate under the assumption that there is some greater supernatural power out there.

I do not believe in a new agey "god is everything" sort of god, as there is no explanatory power in doing so. It might make us feel good to think that we are cosmically linked to the water that flows through our rivers and through our veins, that we share a piece of soul with the hummingbird outside our window. But most assertions like this are untestable or irrelevant. Those that are testable have failed to demonstrate what they claim. The new age "god" (lowercase) is of the same ephemera of Intelligent Design: it may make people feel good and validates their opinions, but doesn't add an explanatory power to the human book of knowledge, and indeed can lead people to reject those theories that are borne out by the facts.

Furthermore, I definitely do not believe in the Judeo-Christian God, Brahma, Yaldabaoth, the Spectre or any other more conventional god: a superpowered individual. Any testable claims made by scriptures claiming to establish the existence of these superpowered individuals or other testable claims fail to hold up to scientific scrutiny.

I live in the United States of America, so the superpowered individuals I am most familiar with are the Christian trinity (Yahweh, Jesus, the "Holy Spirit"), Satan, angels and demons, but the same logic holds for any faith.

Aside: This is quite an extensive pantheon for a supposedly "monotheistic" religion.

The supposedly-inerrant Bible makes numerous testable claims about how the universe functions. Many of these claims are demonstrably untrue (grasshoppers have four legs, hares chew cud, humans were sculpted out of dirt and or ribs, two specimens of every single earth-bound animal species can fit in a single ship about 1/3 the length of a modern aircraft carrier) .

Furthermore I live in Utah and grew up at least nominally as a Latter-Day Saint, so that adds a whole new layer of testable assertions that are demonstrably untrue (this piece of papyrus was written by the Abraham in an ultra-condensed script relaying his entire life story in great detail). More on how the LDS faith fits into my personal history in a later post.

I find religious moderates to be FAR more congenial to hang around with than fundamentalists, but I also find religious moderates difficult to understand. The Bible, according to itself, is the inerrant word of God and must be taken literally and its rules followed strictly. To me, saying "Well, I believe in Jesus and the Bible, but that part about how you should forcibly shave women's heads if they dare to have their hair exposed in church is, you know optional," should cause ridiculous amounts of cognitive dissonance. It seems to be that if one accepts the fallibility of the Bible, what is the point of claiming to still believe in it? Where does one draw the line on what parts of the bible to accept and what parts to reject? [See my post "For the Bible Tells me So" for more thoughts on this.]

But enough on that for now.

I'm also a skeptic. Just as with religious claims, I believe that all claims should be subject to testing by the scientific method. If a claim is untestable, then it really isn't of much use and is by definition not science. If a claim is testable, then it is open to rigorous and ongoing scientific testing. If the claim fails to hold up to the testing, then it should be rejected.

This goes for mundane claims ("rebooting your computer will solve this problem") to claims that may shake the foundations of our understanding ("humans evolved from earlier primates through the process of natural selection"). The bigger the claim, the more evidence is required to cause me to accept the claim. As Carl Sagan put it, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

This perspective allows me to look critically at paranormal or pseudoscientific topics such as psychics, UFOs, homeopathy, ghosts, and Intelligent Design. I personally do not do much to verify the power of, for instance, a dowser. But it's not my job to that. The dowser must demonstrate that their claim holds up to controlled testing. It is true that I rely on experts to do much of this testing for me, as I am not an active scientist. but I don't rely on the work of any single scientist. The important component is the general consensus of those that perform science.

I'm a progressive liberal. More on this later...

I'll delve into some of my other beliefs, my past, and what events have have led me to where I am in future posts... But this post is getting kind of out of hand, so I'm going to give everyone a break and stop for now.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Story of Stuff

I cannot stress enough how much I would recommend that everyone take twenty minutes out of their lives (say, to avoid work or homework) and go right now and watch Annie Leonard's cute-but-momentously-informative web-based documentary, The Story of Stuff.

I have never seen a more wonderful, succinct, easy-to-digest and fun (though also scary) summary of our consumer culture, all of the waste along the way (waste of resources, people, time, environment and consumer products themselves) and the impact all of this has.

Seriously, guys. If you can't watch this now, watch it when you can. Even if you are aware of much of the content, I'll bet you'll learn something new, and it's always good to be reminded of just what goes into making the stuff that we all buy.

When you're done be sure to click on the "10 Recommendations for Another Way." Some of these recommendations are things you're already doing or at least aware of. But again, it's good to be reminded...

Now go watch it!

Still here?

Okay, then. Watch this short extract form the video, THEN go watch the whole thing.

Can you tell that I thought this was a well-done and informative video? Don't know where you would have gotten an idea like that. But seriously, the more people are aware of what goes in to our consumer culture, the easier it will be to change it.

Monday, May 12, 2008


So, I received a chain e-mail from a friend today (no offense if you happen to read this. There is nothing in particular about the one you sent that set me off. It's just a good example of the sort of thing I'll discuss below).

The chain letter was a "Never Forget" message about the holocaust, how we must never allow ourselves to forget the lessons of inhumanity to man to be learned from the holocaust, accompanied with gruesome images of hundreds of bodies from a concentration camp.

Indeed, it is important to "never forget" this event, and in these times when our own government is willing to violate the basic human decency of our enemies (and suspected enemies) for no good reason.

The chain email includes Goebbles' famous quote (much observed by Fox News) that "If a lie is repeated often enough, people will believe it."

Unfortunately, the chain letter proceeds to repeat lies.

When some of the claims made in the e-mail sounded a little fishy, I did a bit of research. The message claims that the UK has banned teaching students about the holocaust for fear of offending Muslim students. This is patently untrue (snopes, BBC), and indeed this unfounded claim (apparently this e-mail really got around before it landed in my inbox) has damaged the reputation of the United Kingdom to the point where the British government took the unprecedented step of writing other nations' embassies that holocaust education not only has not been "banned," but is indeed compulsory in the British school system (BBC).

The message also claims that Dwight Eisenhower (then
Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces) forced German villagers to bury the dead at Dachau, and ordering that as many photographs be taken as possible, stating,
Get it all on record now - get the films - get the witnesses - because somewhere down the track of history some bastard will get up and say that this never happened!
I'm no WWII scholar, and this may indeed be true, but I was unable to find ANY trace of those actions or words outside of this e-mail or variants of it posted around the interwebs.

So what is the big deal? The holocaust definitely happened, and even if this message had a few details wrong, at least it's not lying about the big truths, right? Why do I single out this message when I've never attacked the holocaust deniers who are undoubtedly committing a more awful crime.

Most reasonable people understand that the evidence in favor of the historicity of the holocaust is insurmountable. There is just no way a reasonable person could view the evidence and come to the conclusion that the holocaust is a myth. Those who claim that the holocaust never happened are either willfully ignoring the evidence, brainwashed or lying. Others are more capable of calling out the lies of denialists than I (like these guys).

But the political, rhetorical and sentimental power of holocaust deniers around the world (along with evolution deniers, HIV deniers, climate change deniers, and other groups devoted to pseudoscience and crank history) is growing through their commitment to fraud and lies and their dismissal and distortion of mountains of evidence.

When those that oppose truth feel no remorse in making false historical or scientific claims, it is all the more important that those who recognize the validity and importance of truth not commit the same mistakes and allow falsehoods about these topics to propagate, even if they appear to validate our position. The holocaust was horrific enough, and the current spate of denialism is disgusting enough there we need not perpetuate inflated claims. When those of us who want to strive for the truth perpetuate, knowingly or unknowingly, falsehoods, it can backfire, actually giving CREDENCE to the denialists who can gloat, "if they lied about this, maybe they lied about the whole thing."

Anyway, this has turned into a long rant. I don't think there is any serious threat to the acceptance of the holocaust, at least not in the US, so I don't mean to blow this problem out of proportion... There are similar, if sometimes less sinister, efforts to establish non-scientific, ahistorical ideas into the heart of public discourse, and I'll be addressing some of them in future posts... Look forward to more long rants on HIV denial, the creationist claim that Darwin caused the holocaust, and the en vogue "vaccination causes autism" argument (the evidence against which is overwhelming, yet ALL THREE of the remaining presidential candidates have expressed, to varying degrees, that the issue is of concern to them).