Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top 10 Albums of the Preteens

It's the end of decade! That is, unless you're one of those pedantic technically-speaking-2010-is-the-end-of-the-decade-because-there-was-no-year-zero people. Which I'm not. Say goodbye to the 00's, the "Ohs", the "2Ks", the "Noughties". I'm calling them the "preteens" purely becuase I haven't heard anyone but me offer it up as a potential name for this decade. Yep. I'm that self-satisfied.

Anyway...

I know, I know. Top 10 lists are soooo cliche. Tough. Here comes a top ten list, along with my thoughts about the albums. I hope you enjoy!

Do you disagree? Anything you'd put on your list? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.

God, I love music.

Top 10 albums of the preteens, according to me
I'm trying reaaaaaallly hard not to weight this list too heavily to the last couple of years, with albums like Grizzly Bear's Vekatimest that I adore right now, but -- let's be honest -- I'll hardly remember in five years. Also, I refuse to rank them, so it's alphabetical. Also, there are twelve entries. Whatcha gonna do about it? Huh? HUH!? Okay, here goes:

The Decemberists, The Crane Wife
I debated long and hard (nearly two minutes!) over which Decemberists album to put on this list, and I almost included two. Upon my first listen, I didn't care for the Crane Wife as much as Picaresque. Maybe becuase it's a little less quirky. But as it grew on me, I discovered it was a deeply rich and engrossing album, with common threads (both figurative and literal, if you listen to the lyrics) running throughout the album. Like all Decemberists albums, it's one for storytellers and story lovers.

If you liked this album, check out bluegrass artist Sarah Jarosz's album Song Up in her Head to hear a gorgeous and chilling cover of the song "Shankhill Butchers".

The Dresden Dolls, The Dresden Dolls
If you're not already a Dresden Dolls or Amanda Palmer fan (you probably are), go buy this album right now. Listen to it. Then once more. Then come back here. Congratulations! You're now a Dresden Dolls fan!

Elastica, The Menace
This album is probably not making many best-of-the-decade lists. But you know what? I really like it, so there. Oh, how I miss Elastica.

Goldfrapp, Felt Mountain
Goldfrapp has become quite popular as a sort of weirdo-disco artist in the last few years. Even if you don't know her (she's not gotten near the attention here in the US as in Europe), you've heard music her on TV shows, in commercials and in films.

Felt Mountain, Goldfrapp's first album, is quite a bit different from later releases. Rather than quirky eletcronic dance pop, this album sounds like it was recorded in a smoke-filled speakeasy in the middle of an enchanted forest. How's that for a metaphor? This album is filled with haunting, jazz-ish melodies; strange howls and whistles; and an unrelentingly erotic air. The most upbeat song here, "Human", might as well have been a Shirley Bassey song, and that is not a bad thing at all. I LOVE this album.

PJ Harvey, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea
Anyone who knows me knows that I love me some Polly Jean Harvey. She's almost certianly on my list of top five favorite artists. But there really are two different PJ Harveys, and it seems that they alternate between albums. One PJ is a manic, rocking badass who could eat Mic Jagger for a midnight snack. The other is introspective, soulful, haunting and (relatively) subdued. I tend to prefer my PJ loud and in charge, but this album is by far the best of "quiet" PJ (though it's FAR from quiet at times) and is one of my favorite albums. Period.

The Thom Yorke duet "This Mess We're In" is beyond gorgeous, and "A Place Called Home" would surely be one of my answers if this were a lame Facebook "If you could only listen to the same five songs..." quiz. Which it is not.

Metric, Live It Out
Blah blah blah. I just wrote a long and pretentious passage about how so much of the decade's important music (blah blah Arcade Fire blah blah Broken Social Scene yada yada Feist) came from Canada, and it included jokes about Crash Test Dummies and William Shatner. But I scrapped it. The point is this: Metric is one of the best bands making music today, in my opinion. Any of their albums could have made this list, but I went with this one. There's not a song on it that I don't love. Excellent.


Nine Inch Nails, Year Zero
I "discovered" music in part because of NIN's album The Downward Spiral, which *HOLY CRAP CAME OUT 15 YEARS AGO WTF!?!?!??!*

After Spiral, it seemed like a looooooooong wait for another proper album from Reznor & Co. When The Fragile (and later, With Teeth) was finally released, I was more than a little disappointed. It just didn't speak to me at all, and I considered giving up on NIN entirely.

Then came Year Zero. YZ is so many things: It's a concept album. It's social activism. It's environmental activism. It's pointed criticism of religious fanaticism, racism, nationalism, fascism and corporate greed. It's a multifaceted, multilayered story told across different media, including the album itself, music videos, websites from the "future", real-world events orchestrated as part of an alternate reality game, and even mysterious USB drives filled with hidden clues left where fans might stumble upon them. And on top of all of that, it's a phenomenal album musically. A superb evolution of the NIN sound. I heart it.

Also, in case you were keeping track, the total number of words ending in "-ism" in the last paragraph: 7

Noisettes, What's the Time, Mr. Wolf
Every time I listen to this album, I find myself singing along, loudly, whether I want to or not. Nothing fancy here, just really well-executed, loud, fun rock-and-roll. If you've not heard this ridiculously fantastic album (and you probably haven't), imagine what the Pixies might sound like if they were fronted by Billie Holiday, and you're getting close. Unfortunately, the Noisettes went in a different direction for their second album: mostly boring, over-produced pop. They're more successful now, so good for them. But I miss this incarnation of the Noisettes.

Portishead, Third
Do this right now: Build a time machine, go back in time to 1998, find one of the newfangled "Internet Cafes" and look at some profiles on an internet personals site. Find the question that asks what music is the best to make love to. You'll likely see one of two bands (strangely, both hailing from Bristol, England): Massive Attack and Portishead.

The Portishead of the 90s was phenomenal music. I adored their first two albums, which sounded like they'd been designed with three purposes in mind: fucking, bleak rainy days, and early James Bond films. Their first two albums of truly excellent music helped spawn an entire new genre of music: trip-hop.

But even I, a Portishead fan, can recognize that another album of the same sound would have been overkill. I suspect the band members also realized this, so a long time passed before Portishead's third album called, uhh... Third, was recorded. And WOW, was it worth the wait.

Gone are the idiosyncratic spy-theme grooves and the record scratches. This Portishead is ferocious; full of distortion, aggressive drums and hypnotic sounds. And Beth Gibbons voice sounds more willful than ever. And yet, it still Portishead down to the last ounce. Every time I listen to this album, I discover new layers and new sonic adventures. (Huh, that statement sounds a lot more like it should involve cartoon hedgehogs than I'd intended it to).

Sleater-Kinney, The Woods
Best album of the decade. End of review.*

*-Except to note that it's also S-K's final album, which sucks.

Runners Up (i.e., superb albums I'm too lazy to write a review for):

Sons and Daughters, The Repulsion Box

Mary Timony, Ex Hex

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Just to move that last post down from the top

I'll have more real substance in my posts coming after the year. (Maybe before, who can say?)

This post is mainly to move that last post down the page a bit. I was having a bit of a bad day that day.

Aaaand, on that note, I'm out!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas this year.

It's been nearly a month since I've written a post. I think it's a record!

So, Christmas this year will be strange for me. It really is going to be just like any other day
and no, not for the reasons you think: Sure, I'm an atheist, but I've got nothing against Christmas. Ultimately, it's a secular holiday with a religious name and a few religious traditions attached to it (and, really, it always has been).

No, this will be the first Christmas I'll be spending more or less like every other day. I'll have no family in town, and all of my friends have elected not to do gift exchanges this year... This makes Christmas shopping REALLY easy, but still I feel like I'm missing out on something, and I'm not quite sure why. Despite not having anything against Christmas, neither have I any particular attachment to it... Still, it feels like I should be doing SOMETHING on the 25th.

Any ideas?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thank you, Wired!

Wired magazine has the first story (as far as I've seen) in the mainstream mediacalling into question the veracity of some of the claims made about Houben via facilitated communication.

Thanks! :)

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/11/houben-communication/

BTW: Wired has been kicking ass with the skeptical reporting lately. Amy Wallace's awesome cover story debunking the nonsense claims that vaccines cause autism was excellent as well.

Man thought to be in coma for 23 years was conscious the whole time!!!! Except, probably not...

If you're like me, you've heard everyone in your office talk in hushed, shocked tones of Rom Houben, the Belgian man thought to be in a coma for 23 years. Now, by using a special keyboard, Houben has miraculously spoken, and it turns out he was conscious the whole time, and he recounts the terrifying reality of being trapped in his body without the ability to speak or move. As Hoben himself sadi through his keyboard, "I screamed, but there was nothing to hear."

Or that's how the media is reporting it.

Unfortunately, that's not the whole story. This "special keyboard" works like this (via the Guardian):

What's so strange about that?

In order to use the keyboard, his hands must be supported and moved by an someone else. This is known as "facilitated communication". FC began as a method to allow people with severe autism and other neurological conditions to communicate. But unfortunately, facilitated communication has been not only debunked, but debunked soundly and repeatedly.

What's almost certainly at play here are the ideomotor effect and the observer-expectancy effect. These are the same principles upon which Ouija boards work: The facilitator (the one holding supporting the hand) will unintentionally be directing the hand where they expect it to go, spelling out words and sentences. The most famous example of the observer-expectancy effect is that of Clever Hans., the horse who could supposedly perform arithmetic.

Let me be perfectly clear: I don't believe that anyone is intentionally trying to fool anyone here. Much as in the Terry Schiavo case, there are loving family members who are looking for any reason they can find to believe their son is still "alive" in spite of the evidence to the contrary. The other side of this story is that a brain scan revealed abnormal activity. I don't know enough about the neurology end of this to say anything intelligent, and there aren't a lot of details in the public sphere about what those results are.

Perhaps Houben really is conscious. There's a simple way to prove it: Perform a test where some input available to Rom but not his facilitator, such as through earphones, and see if his responses still make sense. I'll gladly change my tune, then. Otherwise, there is absolutely no reason to accept that he is communicating in the the way described. And certainly not to uncritically attribute quotes directly to him in the Guardian, a usually top-form newspaper that ought to know better.
____________________
UPDATE: Tracy at Skepchick just posted about this as well.

And here's another credulous story, complete with video, at the BBC, another news organization that should know better. It's got more "direct quotes" from Houben. Gah!!! And despite the video showing facilitated communication, not one of the news articles I've seen mention that this "special keyboard" requires a facilitator. Grrrrr...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Feminism, Atheism and Skepticism

Okay, I know I've been rather absent from my blog of late... and I don't expect that to change for at least the next week or so. Apologies. I WILL be back with more to say on this topic...

But I wanted to break my silence briefly to draw your attention to this excellent post by Amanda Marcotte (one of my favorite people in all of the internets) over at Pandagon on the convergence between atheism, feminism and skepticism. She rightly calls the skeptical and atheist community on to the carpet for turning a blind eye to sexism and creating an atmosphere where women are not welcome unless its to sex things up a bit. I see this happen, and I've left local atheist groups (and even created my own skeptics group) in part because of some of the sexism I've seen on display. These communities ought to know better.

I could go on (and I will try to, later), but Amanda says it better than I can. Plus she's a professional blogger which is more than I can say for myself. (Read: "I better stop blogging and get back to work")

Read it at Pandagon.

And as a bonus, here's another superb post from Skeptifem from last week on a similar issue.

Also, if you're not following Greta Christina, who regularly posts on feminism, atheism, sexuality, politics and how the they all interact, you should be.

That's all for now! Back to the grind for me!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Why Gay Marriage Shouldn't Be Illegal

31 states have now put up ballot initiatives or propositions to explicitly ban same-sex marriage. In all 31 cases, those measures have passed, disallowing rights to some individuals that are granted to others. Maine was perhaps particularly surprising, due to it being solidly democratic and the 3rd least religious state in the country.

If you haven't read it already, check out my post from January of this year entitled "Why Gay Marriage Should Be Legal."

Re-reading it, it might have been better called "Why Gay Marriage Shoult Not be Illegal", as my focus is more on dismantling the various claims made by bigots and fundamentalists...

I'd love to hear any comments on that post, too. Have you heard any other arguments, particularly any that are -- at least on the surface -- not based on religion?

Read it here:
Why Gay Marriage Should be Legal

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A new post! Yay!

I've been neglecting the blog for the last bit... And I'm still doing it. This is really just a post to move the last one on the Oaks speech down the page, because I'm tired of the whole affair.

That's all from me today! :)

Friday, October 16, 2009

A closer look at Dallin Oaks' sinister speech

"Sinister?" A bit of an overstatement?

Maybe. Maybe not.

I think we all zoomed in on the absurd claim that Mormons are akin to the blacks during the era of the civil rights movement. That's a claim so baldly ridiculous that it's easy to, well, ridicule.

But as C. L. Hanson explores over at Main Street Plaza, that derision allowed some of the more insidious language of Oaks' speech to go unrebutted. For instance:
But unless the guarantee of free exercise of religion gives a religious actor greater protection against government prohibitions than are already guaranteed to all actors by other provisions of the constitution (like freedom of speech), what is the special value of religious freedom? Surely the First Amendment guarantee of free exercise of religion was intended to grant more freedom to religious action than to other kinds of action. Treating actions based on religious belief the same as actions based on other systems of belief should not be enough to satisfy the special place of religion in the United States Constitution.
In other words, Oaks is claiming that when people speak out against the LDS church from a secular position, their opinion should be automatically devalued, because religious "actions" by default carry more weight than secular ones.

Positions based on one's faith certainly are given deference in ways I think are often inappropriate, such that as long as someone can say a hateful belief or immoral action is faith-based, it should be immune to criticism. But to hear a high-ranking religious leader put it so plainly is troubling.

Oaks puts it even more plainly here [emphasis mine]:
Those who seek to change the foundation of marriage should not be allowed to pretend that those who defend the ancient order are trampling on civil rights.
Is he just saying that the faithful should call people who they disagree with on the carpet and tell them they're wrong? Maybe. And if so, that's all fine and democratic — as long as he does not expect religious people to be immune from criticism, which he clearly does...

If his text is taken literally, Oaks believes the gay rights movement (in particular) should be censored, that they should not even be allowed to express their opinion, simply becuase it contradicts religious tradition.

Ugh (for the second time today).

More analysis of Oaks' speech at Main Street Plaza. and here's the full text of the speech.

Picking cherries

I've been talking a lot about cherrypicking on this blog lately; that is, picking the bits you like out of something (let's say, oh, the Bible) while disregarding the bits you don't. It's one of the biggest reasons why I think one's personal religious perspectives in many ways form to fit the way they already see the world, rather than than one's worldview being shaped by religion.

Anyway, here's a terrible story: a gay man was brutally attacked and beaten on the streets of Queens. All of this was caught on security video. Disgusting. The two attackers have been apprehended, which is a good thing.

The news report below (WARNING: it includes video of the vicious attack) features an interview with a friend of one of the assailants who claims that the atatck was not a hate crime, as the victim had it coming for propositioning one of the attackers. Ugh. So, if a woman he wasn't interested in had propositioned her, she would have deserved such an attack too, according to his logic...









So, now to the cherrypicking part (as picked up on by the Friendly Atheist):

The interviewed friend features a tattoo of Leviticus 18:22 on his arrm. You know, the "thou shalt not lie with a man as with a woman" passage. Yep, that's in the Bible all right. But you know what else is in the bible? In some Bibles, probably even on the same page as LEV 18:22? This:
"Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord."
A prohibition against tattoos. Yet, he does not not seem to live in fear of being beaten nearly to death as a result.

Of course, his friends (assuming they were religious. Who knows?) were cherrypicking too: they're ignoring the "love thy enemy as theyself" parts.

Ugh.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

ATTENTION FUNDAMENTALISTS: Stop depriving us of all opportunities to satirze you

Right on the heels of this,

and this,

and countless other bits of paranoia and extremism from the far right and religious extremeists, comes this:
Pastor Marc Grizzard [of North Carolina's Amazing Grace Baptist Church] and his church’s members will be banning “Satanic” books… Like all non-King-James versions of the Bible...

They’re also burning books by Billy Graham, Rick Warren, and (really?) James Dobson, Bill Bright, and Tim LaHaye.
Seriously? The likes of Tim LaHaye, and James dobson are too pinko-liberal, lefty-revisionist for these guys? Serioulsy?

Yes, seriously:



I give up. I just don't know where to go from here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Irony, thy name is Dallin H. Oaks

Who was it that said "irony is dead?" I mean, originally. Whoever it was was either very, very wrong or was, ironically, trying to be ironic... or something.

Anyway, Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve (this quorum of twelve, not that one), is one of the highest-ranking officials of the LDS church.
(An aside: a few days ago, I found myself — bizarrely, for the second time — in a local diner in the company of Thomas S. Monson the president and prophet of the LDS church. For better or worse, I can't say the story was nearly as entertaining as the first such event.)
Oaks recently spoke to students at Brigham Young University- Idaho, remarking that "The extent and nature of religious devotion in this nation is changing... The tide of public opinion in favor of religion is receding, and this probably portends public pressures for laws that will impinge on religious freedom."

This isn't the ironic part. I do happen to believe Oaks is wrong about that, though: perhaps the tide is changing as he says, but there is no hint of any campaign to impinging on religious freedom, and indeed secularists and most nonreligious people would vehemently oppose any such proposed laws.

But wait, irony is on the way! You ready? Here it comes! [from Fox13 News]
In an interview Monday before the speech, Oaks said he did not consider it provocative to compare the treatment of Mormons in the election's aftermath to that of blacks in the civil rights era, and said he stands by the analogy.

"It may be offensive to some -- maybe because it hadn't occurred to them that they were putting themselves in the same category as people we deplore from that bygone era," he said.
Wait, did he really just say that? Yes he did: Oaks just compared the campaign to pass Prop. 8, which denied basic civil rights to an oppressed minority, to the 1960's Civil Rights movement. It's an apt analogy, of course... except in Oaks' metaphor, the LDS church is akin to oppressed African Americans, and gay people and progressives are akin to the oppressors denying people their rights.

Huh?

No one is trying to deny Mormons civil rights. No one is preventing Mormons from getting married, forcing them to the back of the bus, or dispersing their services with fire hoses. This is absolute lunacy.

Oaks cites a few threats against Mormons and incidences of vandalism of LDS church property. A few such acts did happen just before and after the passage of Prop. 8, and they were wrong and deserve to be condemned. But for every such incident, there are scores and scores of incidents of violence against gay people and their property. Oaks is so far off-base here, it's past "funny" and into "shocking" territory.

Today, this "oppression" Oaks is talking about consists of gay (and straight!) couples making out in protest near their property; a few people campaigning for the revocation of the LDS church's tax-exempt status (as they have been acting a lot more like a PAC than a church when it comes to political items such as Prop. 8); and, yes, some undeserved hostility to rank-and-file Mormon people — even to liberal Mormons who may have opposed Prop. 8 — that would be better directed at the church leadership and policies. (I will say this to any liberal Mormon's reading, though: remember, your tithing money is funding these hate-based campaigns.)...

But no one here is trying to infringe on the religious freedom of Mormons or any other religion. No one is now or will force the LDS church to perform gay marriages if they wish to become more and more irrelevant.

Oaks' statements — despite his claim that they should not be "provocative" — are not just laughably backwards, they are outright offensive.

[hat tip to PZ]

Monday, October 12, 2009

RE: Bill Maher

Regarding my previous post (and by "post," I mean "linking to a video with a snarky comment"), Orac has a great takedown of Bill Maher's recent comments, and why it's frustrating and ironic that the Atheist Alliance International would give him the 2009 Richard Dawkins Award (named for Dawkins, not given by him). Sure, Maher's film Religulous was entertaining, if mostly shallow, but his endorsement of cancer and flu death is every bit as dangerous, faulty and antiscientific as the rhetoric of the religious extremists he chronicled in Religulous. As Orac beautifully put it:

He's an anti-vaccine, quackery-supporting font of flaming moronicity every bit as bad as Ken Ham, Michael Behe, or any flak from the Discovery Institute. His views on medicine are every bit as much ideology driven as any view on evolution from a creationist. Indeed, the vitalism from which Maher's germ theory denialism derives is every bit as much a mystical, religious viewpoint as that of the worst hard core young earth creationist. And he's the 2009 recipient of the Richard Dawkins Award.

Good going, AAI.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Conservative Bible Project

Ugh! It has been a busy couple of weeks. After spending all of last week on a work trip, I came home... But guess where I am now? That's right, on a work trip. Busy busy busy...

Anyway...

The Conservative Bible Project. I can't not comment on this utter ridiculousness.

I can't not comment on this. Do you remember a few posts ago where I talked about how religious people cherrypick the bits of their holy books that illustrate their own philosophies? Both religious liberals and conservatives do this.

But few are so brazen about it as the people behind the Conservative Bible Project.

Andrew (son of Phyllis) Schlafly's Conservapedia has started a the CBP because, and I shit you not, they feel that the Bible has a liberal bias. their solution is, much as Conservapedia is to Wikipedia, to edit out all of the hippy dippy parts about not stoning adulterers but keep all the parts about guns and miniature American flags. Okay, maybe I'm being a TAD facetious on that last part, but only ever so slightly.

Jesus. H. Christ. On a bicycle.

This, of course, is quite frustrating, as the fundamentalists are swiftly depriving us of any opportunity to satirize them by going so much further than any satire could possibly imagine. (Indeed, Slactivist has a great post on that very topic. Check it out.)

Okay, now back to work for Patrick.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Quick update... and WTF?

So, I'm out on a work trip all week, and I've been BEYOND busy. whew!

That means no blogging... well, except for this.

Also, to the people at Ralph Lauren: are we REALLY supposed to believe this is a real person, or even some "idealized" version of one?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

City Weekly alien abduction story

[X-Posted at Salt City Skeptics]

A month or so back, I was interviewed by Salt Lake City Weekly, the local alternative weekly. I was asked help provide a skeptical perspective on alien abduction.

Looks like the story was just published online (my quotes are all on page 2), and the dead tree version comes out next week.

This is my first experience at being a Token Skeptic, but hopefully not my last (token skepticism is at least better than NO skepticism, right?), so I thought I'd share my thoughts.

When interviewed I didn't have any information on the specific cases being discussed, so I tried to speak in generalities. I will say that I appreciate the author including every main point I tried to make, and including a second skeptical voice as well (Joel Layton, who made some similar points).

Is the story written from a rather credulous perspective, taking the statements of "abductees" at face value? Yeah, but I'm having trouble faulting the author for that. That's just kind of how stories like this go. I think I did a decent job of giving a reasonable counter-balance, though it would have been nice to tailor my thoughts more to the specifics of the stories mentioned.

And so... that's what I'll do here! I'll try not to recap the stories themselves too much here, so keep the article handy if you want to follow along. In each case, I'm more or less assuming that the people interviewed are being honest about their memories, and not deliberately lying (there's no reason to think they were lying).

The article starts with a few "abduction" accounts. First up is Don Anderson's story, where aliens come to take for his four-year-old son and he convinces them to bring him along.

To me, Anderson's story reads just like the recounting of a dream: many things happen that aren't particularly causally linked to each other, lots of odd details that stick out with unusual focus in the story, the "tall blond woman" who seems strangely familiar (I know when *I* dream, people I know are often composited into other people who I don't quite know... alternative explanation: it was Six). It even ends with him springing out of bed.

I once dreamed that I was eaten whole by a fifty-foot tall genie on a Godzilla-like rampage through downtown Salt Lake City, only to discover that it was a robot on the inside. I challenged the robot's controller to a game of Uno and, upon winning, defeated him with a withering one-liner.

No one would report such a dream as an actual experience, yet if they dreamed the same experiences as Anderson, I could easily see them interpreting it as an actual experience, as our society is primed to accept stories of alien abduction more readily than those of giant robot genies.

There is nothing in this story to make me think it was anything other than a vivid dream.

Ron Johnson's story (not to be confused with Jon Ronson) is the same. It sounds like it was a nightmare, period. He had a nightmare about a scary-looking creature staring at him when he was fourteen. Two hundred years ago, he'd have dreamed it was a demon or a succubus; but in our culture, aliens are a more plausible beastie, so he he dreamed about an alien. Moving on...

Glenys Moore also recounts a story that sounds much more plausible as a dream. I hate to sound like a broken record here, but to me, these all just sound like dreams. Moore's may have been a sleep paralysis dream. As I mention in the article, sleep paralysis is a well-understood neurological phenomenon that, when coupled with a nightmare, can lead to some horrific experiences of captivity at the hands of whatever is in the nightmare, be it an alien, a succubus, or Freddy Krueger. Terrifying, but still just a dream.

None of these people are crazy nutjobs, but neither are the stories compelling... But wait, there's more!

Enter, Marlee Spendlove. Spendlove is a hypnotherapist and (though the article fails to mention this fact) Assistant Dirctor of the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) of Utah.

Now, if those two details together don't raise your skeptical alarm bells, perhaps you should have them readjusted.

According to Spendlove, aliens futz about with the memories of abductees to erase or mask what really happened. And Spendlove uses hypnotherapy to help her patients, including Anderson and Johnson, recover their memories of alien abduction.

Uh oh...

In the 1980s, there was a nationwide pandemic of people who, as adults, used hypnotherapy to "recover" "memories" of their parents sexually abusing them children in Satanic rituals. The only issue? It didn't happen. There was no such pandemic of Satanic abuse, and the recovered memories were actually false memories created by the therapist and the patient, sometime cause huge amounts of personal trauma, family estrangement, and prosecution over events that never took place. Furthermore, it minimized or distorted the trauma of people who really have been sexually abused by their relatives.

I should mention that I don't think such false memories are deliberately put in place through such therapy. I've no doubt that these therapists, including Spendlove, are providing these "therapies" honestly. It's just that they don't provide reliable memories, particularly when the therapist is predisposed to lead their patients to a particular conclusion, like Satanic sexual abuse or alien abduction.

Indeed, Spendlove is approaching her therapy with the assumption that her subjects have had an abduction experience, and from how I read it, helps direct her therapy to make her subjects come to that conclusion:
Spendlove says that extraterrestrials are able to block portions of memories, so that the human who interacts with them carries screened memories where the actual alien encounter is replaced with elements that are more typical of everyday human life. After his initial experience, Anderson says that memories of other experiences made more sense to him. “When I was a kid, the 9-foot man in the back yard was one of those beings coming to get me. On other times, they would send these little 3-foot black troll-looking guys to get me, and I called them my gorillas. Thinking back, it made sense, because I had a little black stuffed animal that was a gorilla.”
Umm... Or you, in a suggestible state, constructed a memory wherein two unrelated memories you already had (a scary nightmare and the gorilla stuffed animal) were combined into a narrative story that's much more interesting. Continuing...
Anderson hoped his young son would corroborate it. “I thought, ‘My son has got to prove to me that this really happened.’” When he arrived home from work the day after his first alien encounter, he met his son, who told Anderson he’d had a dream about being attacked by wild bears that were in the house. Anderson had recently read that “in screened memories, aliens mask themselves as animals, because people are comfortable with that.”
Really? A dream about bears = "I was abducted by aliens!" What would the interpretation have been if his son had dreamed of a trip to Willy Wonka's factory, or of a slimy reptilian monster under the bed, or us a giant robot genie, or if he could remember no dreams atr all? I'd bet money that any of these would be interpreted as evidence that the abduction story were true.

Anderson's original story was that they brought him along to make his son feel less afraid. Why was that necessary if they seem to have such mind-control powers? And why, then, did the aliens choose to disguise themselves as BLOODTHIRSTY FREAKING BEARS
Anderson’s son said, “It was really, really weird because it felt so real. And I reached down to scratch my leg, and it’s all bloody.” Anderson says he wiped some of his son’s blood away and “there was a little crescent mark on his leg, which is what extraterrestrials do to take DNA samples.”
So, let me get this straight: An alien species that has evolved to be so human-like in appearance and physiology that we can have sex with them (more on that later) develops faster-than-light space travel and journeys to our planet, but they don't know how to take a DNA sample without leaving a gaping, bloody gash on a young boy's leg? And this is supposed to be a plausible explanation? Ever heard of a cotton swab on the inner cheek? Or a syringe?

None of the stories recounted have any kind of physical evidence to support them. It's all based on people recounting their experiences years or decades after they actually happened. Ron Johnson claims to have actually obtained physical evidence at one point, though of course, it was never retained for analysis. Back to Ron Johnson...
In 2008, for the first time, Johnson was willing to discuss finding tangible physical evidence of alien encounters following several instances of sexual relations with extraterrestrials that occurred over many years. He describes lying on a table having intimate encounters with scrawny-looking, near-anorexic aliens with large eyes. For him, it felt like having sex with a mannequin. “They had no life to them.”

He says he always awoke with a green residue—the color of lime sherbet and texture of Karo syrup—in his underwear. He says he encountered a young man from England at a UFO conference in Laughlin, Nev., who had similar experiences. Recalling his many encounters, Johnson wishes that “whatever the aliens want to do with me, I wish they would let me know what it is.”
Great! So, he always awoke with a mysterious green substance in his underwear, and even found others that had the same experience! We should have some of this mysterious green goop, right?

No? We are supposed to accept that these who independently evolved to be almost human traveled across space to have sex with humans, and even left behind some sort of intergalactic lube for us to study, but the people they left it with threw it all away so we don't actually have any physical evidence?

Again, what is more plausible?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Unintentionally Wingnut Irony, Part II

On the heels of "don't steal from Medicare to support socialized medicine" comes more from Unintentional Wingnut Irony Theatre.

(from WSJ, via Balloon Juice)
Protesters who attended Saturday’s Tea Party rally in Washington found a new reason to be upset: Apparently they are unhappy with the level of service provided by the subway system.

Rep. Kevin Brady called for a government investigation into whether the government-run subway system adequately prepared for this weekend’s rally to protest government spending and government services.

Seriously.

The Texas Republican on Wednesday released a letter he sent to Washington’s Metro system complaining that the taxpayer-funded subway system was unable to properly transport protesters to the rally to protest government spending and expansion.

And there's more...

[hat tip to Tobasco da Gama]

Monday, September 14, 2009

Why I don't understand religious moderates and progressive Christians

I don't understand religious moderates. At all.

Let me start with the caveat that I *love* religious moderates and progressive Christians. Yay for religious moderates! I am glad that you are moderate, progressive and liberal. Religious fundamentalism and extremism pose significant threats, both to individual people (e.g, George Tiller) and to societies as a whole (e.g., generations of people in Africa condemned to die of AIDS because the Catholic church continues to lie about condoms and forbid their use). These are among the reasons our governmental structures need to be built on secular, religiously-neutral pillars. This is where the fight should be, and nontheists and moderates alike can strive for this...

But this post is not about fundamentalists. It's about moderates. It's about people I view as allies on nearly every issue I care about, but I simply do not understand why they are religious. And the issues here are at the core of why I'm an atheist. (Note: I talk here about Christianity, becuase that's the tradition I'm most familiar with, but the same goes for just about of the big "world religions.")

I touched on a lot of these same things last year in my review of For the Bible Tells Me So, the documentary about Christian families coming to terms with their homosexual children. I'll try not to reiterate TOO many points from that post. (You may want to read that post, as well.)

Okay, enough preamble. Let's do this:

Religious fundamentalists get a lot of criticism (and rightfully so) from nontheists, liberals, progressives, and religious moderates. Some particularly egregious examples (viz, Westboro Baptist Church) even get a fair dose of criticism from the right.

Many of these criticism take the form of "you're just reading the Bible the way you want! You're cherrypicking only the parts that back up your hateful views!" arguments.

These points are right on the money: Fred Phelps and friends (bizarrely) protest in front of soldier funerals that "God Hates Fags" but you never see him in front of Red Lobster saying "God Hates Crustaceans." They are cherrypicking the Bible. They are the just choosing the parts that back up their hateful views, and ignoring the "love thy enemy as thy self" parts.

But here's the thing: religious moderates are doing the same thing, just with different passages. They are cherrypicking the Bible (or whichever holy books they happen to be using), identifying with the passages that back up their already-held views of love and acceptance and charity, and ignore the parts advocating for murder and rape and avarice.

Homosexuality is perhaps the most currently pertinent case of this cherrypicking. I'll try not to rehash my points from my earlier post, but here's the thing: The Bible is pretty unequivocal about homosexuality, or at least male homosexual sex: The punishment is death. Period. People like Phelps say that every time homosexuality is mentioned in the Bible, it's met with execution and/or revulsion. And you know what? They're right. And that goes for the supposedly-progressive New Testamant as well, which also includes the only explicit mention (and condemnation) of lesbianism.

In fact, the Bible makes the point again and again that RAPE, though nearly always viewed bad (except when "righteous" men order it as a punishment), is somehow far less bad if a man rapes a woman than if a man rapes another man. In fact, if a man rapes an unbetrothed virgin, the only "punishment" is that she has to marry him and a small fee is paid to her father. That's horrid.

Let's look at a case in point: Do you know the Bible story of "the Levite?" In this charming little tale (itself a partial plagiarism from another part of the the Bible, the story of Sodom and Gommorah), a man and his concubine are traveling to Jerusalem and get caught on the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak. A man invites them to spend the night in his house, but things don't go as planned:

22 While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, "Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him."

23 The owner of the house went outside and said to them, "No, my friends, don't be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don't do this disgraceful thing. 24 Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But to this man, don't do such a disgraceful thing."

25 But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. 26 At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight.

27 When her master got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold. 28 He said to her, "Get up; let's go." But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home.

Now, it's not the central lesson of this story (which, as it happens, was that you should never trust anyone who's not part of your own ethnic group), but one of the explicit lessons here is that it is far preferable for these men to rape the concubine and the virgin daughter than the man. Like I say, the rape is condemned regardless, but it is less bad to rape a woman. It's the same thing in the story of Sodom and Gommorah: Lott offers up his daughters to be raped, and when the Sodomites decline the offer, God destroys them and their city. What an asshole.

How is it that someone can look at this story, or countless other horrid "moral" lessons found in the Bible, and say that the book is a good document to use as one's moral code?

And it's not just an Old Testament/New Testament thing. It's often said that the Old Testament god is a being of jealousy and wrath and terror; while Jesus and the New Testament god is/are being(s) of love and peace and forgiveness... But that's not really true.

Now, on the whole, there's less to dislike in the NT than the OT, but it still doesn't come close to being a positive moral guide, if you ask me. Jesus DOES say to love your enemy, but he also says people (by which here, as most anywhere in the Bible, he means only men) should abandon their wife and chidren for a cool reward. The NT states explicitly numerous times that women are subordinate to men. Paul, who more-or-less founded Christianity, had many charming things to say about women and their place in the chruch.

Let's be clear: *I* am cherry picking here, too. I'm only picking out a few particularly ugly and abhorrent passages. There are many positive moral teachings and lessons in the Bible.

But for for every one of those, there are three or four truly abominable moral lessons. Those lessons are ignored by progressive Christians and religious moderates... And though I think that's a good thing, it's also my point:

If the Bible is such an unpredictable mixed-bag anyway, why use the it as a moral guide at all? Either the Bible is the word of God or it isn't, right? If you're a good person and you recognize the nastiness of the stories mentioned in this post, then clearly the Bible is not really your moral compass anyway. Why not embrace the qualities you cling to and live by, and reject the superstitious and hateful nonsense?

Again, I'd be interested in hearing the thoughts of anyone who reads this. Positive, negative, whatever. Please post in the comments! :)

Also, in the course of writing this: Reed at Homosecular Gatheist put up an excellent post touching on similar themes. Go check it out as well.

Friday, September 4, 2009

What ever happened to posts with actual substance?

Hi everyone!

My apologies lately for not having many posts with any real, you know, substance. It's been an extraordinarily busy month or so. I'll be back in the swing of things here on the blog shortly. :)

Monday, August 31, 2009

Oh dear...

I just don't know what to say anymore. The Edward Cullen wall cling was a terrible thing.

But this... I just do not even have the words. I'll just let the picture do the talking:
I just... No. NO. GAH!

[via Gizmodo]

Friday, August 28, 2009

Hahah... HahahhaaHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

So, Glenn Beck is an idiot. This fact is not in dispute... But I find him strangely entertaining to watch.

I went through a brief period when I stopped finding Glenn Beck funny, and started to find him scary... But no, it's back to funny.. The man has no sense of self-awareness: he cautions right-wingers against getting violent, then puts on a skit about murdering a senator...

Now, I hope I'm right in only finding him funny, and that some crazy person doesn't get inspired by his words and, you know, murder a senator.

But this... THIS is just hilarious.

Yep! It was missing a letter all right... But the letter was C! Hahah. It looks like he'd been leading up to this moment all week, with his foreboding chalkboard of liberal doom... AND HE MISSED A DAMN LETTER! Hahahaha

Irreligiosophy, featuring ME!

So, I am on the latest episode of the Irreligiosophy podcast along with another Salt City Skeptics member to discuss the group, my religious background, and what it's like living here in Salt Lake City...

Additionally, it was finally determined which of the two hosts, Leighton or Charley, is the most grating -- and why. (This all goes back to my blog post mentioning that, although I liked the show, I could find the hosts grating).

I gotta say, it wasn't nearly as weird hearing my voice on this show as I had anticipated. :)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sigh... This is what we're up against, people...

Okay, so in my last post, I mentioned Andrew Schlafly and Conservapedia. If you're not familiar with Conservapedia, it's basically like Wikipedia, except that as the "trustworthy encyclopedia," it is not beholden to, you know, facts.

Just on a lark, I decided check out the current state of the Barack Obama article. What I found was not encouraging. Ugh.

Texas: DOOMED

So, for decades -- nay, over a century now -- there has been a constant tug-of-war waged by the religious right against including evolution in public school classrooms. To anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of biology, this is absolutely ludicrous. Trying to teach modern biology without evolution would be like trying to teach modern medicine without any discussion of germ theory. Evolutionary theory is modern biology.

The last few years of this war have not gone well for those who wage it. The Dover trial exposed the Intelligent Design movement as little more than a rebranding of creationism, and struck down its includion in public schools. Attempts to insert creationism into biology textbooks have failed, or have succeeded briefly before being overturned by voters or by courts.

Despite huge battles in this war being waged in Florida, Kansas, Pennsylvania and elsewhere; no single state is as important in this war as Texas.

Texas has a state-wide curriculum set by the state Board of Education. This means that rather than each district choosing its own textbooks, the state purchases vast numbers of only those textbooks that have been approved for the curriculum. As a result, Texas holds enormous sway over what is included in your public schools, whether you live in Texas or not. Textbook publishers tailor their content to fit the Texas curriculum. In a very real way, the Texas curriculum is the nation's curriculum.

Which makes what is going on there right now all the more troubling.

Religious conservatives, facing defeat after defeat on the creationism front, have taken an entirely new tack. Not content to simply rewrite science to fit a religious narrative, the Texas school board is now attempting to rewrite American history to reflect a religious, explicitly conservative narrative that is a grotesque distortion of reality:
The first draft for proposed standards in United States History Studies Since Reconstruction says students should be expected “to identify significant conservative advocacy organizations and individuals, such as Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly and the Moral Majority.”
This is outrageous. Amanda at Pandagon has an indepth take on this absolute insanity. As Amanda says, including people like Schlafly (who, of course, is a horrible monster) in the history books is not, in and of itself, nefarious. But it should be included in context of what it was she actually fought for, which was to deny equal rights to women. [Side note: Andrew Schlafly, Phyllis' son and founder of Conservapedia among other things], is also a piece of work Portraying her as some sort of hero is beyond ludicrous. It is outrageous.

Go read Amanda's post. She says everything better than I can say it, becuase all I want to say right now is "Mnablargablaniklobomablagrrrrrraflimaginlsdofidun!"

Friday, August 21, 2009

Oh dear god, NO.

This is quite possibly the creepiest piece of movie tie-in merchandise -=EVER=-:
Yep. It's a sillhouette of Edward Cullen that you can slap on your wall to spy on you from the shadows as you sleep. That's right. It's almost as good as having an actual stalker. I don't believe it's an officially licensed item, but seems to be offered without the merest HINT of irony.

Please, PLEASE just put me out of my misery now. I'm not sure I can go on.

[via Topless Robot, who has another piece of Twilight merch that is NSFW, unless you work at Good Vibrations.]

----

Update: Walking up to a stalker staring at you not enough? Why not have him stare at you in the shower, too!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Translation Party

Hahaha... Okay, after that longwinded and rather serious post, here's something much more fun:

Translation Party
takes whatever phrase you enter into it, translates it to Japanese, then back into English, then does it again and again until it's reached equilibrium (that is, until after two consecutive translations are identical). For instance, here's some text you've probably read before:
Human rights law, divinity, politics, the band's declaration of independence for a connection to the ground station for this event, the decision to establish the same rights, and meet the needs of the natural aging process.
This is the first paragraph to the Declaration of Independence. Strangely, the phrase "declaration of independence" does not appear in the source text at all. lol.

ur nation, in order to establish justice, peaceful, and form a more perfect Union, Japan, and certainly I, we provide a general benefit to the descendants of the Statue of Liberty in the United States Establishing a Constitution to improve the welfare for the common defense of its own.Go check out Translation Party.

[Skepchick me through an interpreter, and found the party.]

What groups like Humanists of Utah can do to thrive

[Cross-posted from Salt City Skeptics]

Note, though I'm talking about a particular group here in Utah, my thoughts apply to any similar organization...

Last week, I attended a picnic for the Humanists of Utah. HoU is a great organization. Their events and guest speakers are always insightful, and the people are warm, welcoming, positive and just generally awesome.

I've been to two or three HoU events over the years. Each time, one issue has been very apparent. And it's an issue they readily admit: they're aging out. Other than myself, a few members of SHIFT (which was invited to attend), and a few children of long-time members, I don't believe there was anyone under fifty in attendance. And most were older than that. Nearly everyone I spoke with was ecstatic that there were just a few younger people there.

I had a discussion with one member of the HoU who wondered why humanism didn't appeal to younger people, whether it even applied to our lives at all.

My answer: an unequivocal yes. The ideals of humanism are very much the ideals of vast, vast numbers of younger people openly embrace.

So, what's going on then? Why are there so few 20- and 30-somethings attending HoU events?

One piece of the puzzle is shifting labels. The ideals of humanism and the ideals of organized skepticism are very similar and entirely compatible. Yet organized skepticism has grown tremendously over the past few years. Events like The Amaz!ng Meeting have grown from a sort of boutique conference for a few people to become huge social events for skeptics of all stripes. And in the case of TAM, it's been getting younger and more diverse every year.

The "New Atheist" phenomenon has also had a huge impact in the last few years, particularly on younger people. Whether they consider themselves atheists or not, the nonreligious have been emboldened to more readily -- and proudly -- embrace their identity openly.

Not ervey last person who labels themselves a skeptic or an atheist is going to have ideals that line up perfectly with humanism, but for the vast majority of them (including myself), it's the Enlightenment ideals that these labels stand for that are important, not the labels themselves.

But what has changed to make it seem like groups like Humanists of Utah are no longer applicable?

Quite simply, the internet.

The internet has enabled people to form communities with like-minded individuals in ways that weren't possible twenty years ago, or even ten.

Each week, I download vast amount of content to my iPod. Podcasts like Little Atoms (<3), Point of Inquiry, SGU, Irreligiosophy (on which I will be a guest on an upcoming episode!), and Skeptically Speaking keep thoughtful insight into secularism, rationalism, non-theism and other Enlightenment ideals in my ears all week long.

I subscribe to countless blogs in my RSS reader. I've become friends -- both online and IRL -- with some of those bloggers, I keep up with people both locally and far-flung through social media. The people on these blogs and podcasts are real people, and I can get to know them, in some small way, through Twitter or Facebook. I mean, I know more about Rebecca Watson's stuffed animals than I do my neighbors two houses down. Never has it been easier to find a group of like-minded people, regardless of the topic.

This is awesome. I get to be a part of a community of like-minded people all around the world. Whether you love drinking beet root juice or want to find others who love to go bowling in full animal costumes, chances are there's a Facebook or Meetup group for you.

Does it come at a cost? Maybe. The fact is that I don't know much about my neighbor two houses down. My "neighborhood" is definitely more the place I live than a community of which I'm a part. But the internet allows me to find community locally as well. It's precisely because of the internet that I was able to form Salt City Skeptics, and indeed is how I know of Humanists of Utah.

But HoU has yet to jump in to these newer internet media. I've no idea whether this is by choice or just because it hasn't yet been done, but the fact of the matter is that younger people today just do not respond as readily to a static website or monthly physical newsletters. Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying there is anything wrong with these things or that they should go away. Maintaining a blog or podcast takes a lot a time and effort. And to some people, a printed newsletter may be totally indispensable.But the fact of the matter is that most people under 35 and a huge number of those over are likely to use (and I hate this term, but it here goes...) Web 2.0 media like blogs, podcasts and social networking sites.

Let's look at my group, Salt City Skeptics. I started the group a little under a year ago, more or less on a whim, and between the presences on Facebook, Meetup and subscribers to the SCS blog, we have nearly 250 unique "members."

Now, very few of those members are as devoted to the group as members of HoU are to theirs.
SCS has a rotating group of ten to twenty people who actively attend our events, plus occasionally more people at special events. For most, Salt City Skeptics "membership" mostly consists of adding it to one's Facebook profile in a list right next to "Fans of Lady GaGa" and "People who don't enjoy being on fire." Most "members" have never come to an event.

HoU members, conversely, have thirty or forty devoted members who come to every event (and probably countless more who don't) and are likely much more invested in the group, viewing it more as a unique community.

The Humanists of Utah certainly have more to offer in terms of content than SCS. I'm just one person and have to balance my time with the group with all the other stuff that comes up in life. HoU is, you know, and actual incorporated nonprofit group with clout and a board and a chair and a budget in excess of $70 a year. The programing schedule put together by HoU is impressive and insightful. SCS mostly gets together to share a few drinks and gripe about pseudoscience and the excesses of religion. I always promise to have more guest speakers, etc., but it takes work getting the ball rolling on these things.

So, what's my point here.

I, for one, want to see HoU continue. But that means they need to invest now in social media and a next-gen web presence. I'd like to help the group survive. I'm going to start posting HoU events here, and I'm going to make my best effort to attend them. I'd hope that HoU can start getting a presence on these newer platforms. A Twitter feed or Facebook group takes just a few minutes to set up, and it instantly allows people to discover these groups and their events. Let's all help this phenomenal group with 20 years of history survive.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Do Not Want



So, Ron Moore's take on Battlestar Galactica, the only TV show I've reliably watched in the last five years (though, after finally watching a few episodes of Mad Men, I may have another), has been off the air now for less than five months. Many, including myself, are still processing the finale (some in, um, great depth).

What's more, it's not even over: There's a spin-off series, Caprica, on the way; and a TV movie, The Plan, set for release in two months.

Ron Moore's vision of BSG has a throng of die-hard fans who have loved the series' realistic(ish) take on the science behind the fiction; the difficult ethical, moral and political questions explored; the complex characters that fail to fit into simple black and white categories; the strong female characters; it's occasional wry references to Mormon theology and on and on and on.

So what does Universal decide is a good idea? Have Bryan Singer direct a reboot movie. Not a sequel, not a film set in the same universe, but a reboot... supposedly holding closer to the campy 1970's original series, which was little more than a Star Wars ripoff. While I thought this summer's return to a candy-colored Star Trek was fun, I do not - DO NOT - want a candy-colored BSG. This is the worst idea since they decided to reboot Buffy without Joss Whedon's involvement. Ugh.

Who is the target audience for this? People who don't know BSG won't want to see it, and people who do won't want to see it.



Okay, sorry about that. Now back to what is swiftly becoming a favorite passtime: Snarky comments about Glenn Beck... Glenn Beck is a horrible, horrible person. I will laugh at him all the way to my death panel.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Importance of Standing Firm

[via Skepchick]
Boston Skeptics has a great post about the overlap of skepticism, feminism, activism, and the importance of standing up for what is right and what is true -- specifically in regards to the abortion issue. The comments on this post are worth a read too. Check it out.

Want. Now.

Looks like Terry Gilliam is back in prime form with The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. His last two movies left me wanting (Tideland was okay, but I absolutely ABHORED The Brothers Grimm).

It's also Heath Ledger's final film, and Depp/Farrel/Law stepped in to fill his shoes. Also, it's got Tom Waits as the god-damned (literally!) devil, so it must be good.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

OMG I hope Rick Santorum runs for president

[via Shakesville]

Word on the street is that Rick "man/goat marriage" Santorum will be throwing his proverbial hat into the proverbial ring for the 2012 GOP Presidential nomination. Please make this happen. Please help push the Republican party further into obsolescence by bringing in a homophobic, anti-progressive religious zealot and bigot of the highest order who will easily get over 15% of the vote and who is so egregious that his name is now synonymous with a byproduct of anal sex.

Of course, my face will be red if he wins.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Irreligiosopy: The Battle for Grating Supremacy

Last week, I wrote a post that included a recommendation to a podcast called Irreligiosophy. I'll second that review now. The topics covered on the show are always great and well-covered, and the occasional interview sections are always insightful... But I also noted that the hosts can sometimes be "grating."

Well, Charlie and Leighton, the hosts of Irrreligiwhatever saw my post and even read my "review" on the latest episode! Now I'm famous among all four-and-a-half of their listeners! (they do refer to me as "she" throughout the segment, but there aren't a lot of explicit references to my gender here, so no biggie.)

What's more, I've been invited to come on the show and settle once-and-for-all the burning question of whether it's Charlie or Leighton that is more grating, and why. Still working out the details, so when/if it happens, I'll let you know!

If you weren't already planning on coming to Drinking Skeptically at Piper Down this Wednesday, you plan on it. There's a chance -- emphasis on the CHANCE -- that the Irreligiosophy crew may be coming along and recording for the show.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Take this fun video quiz!

Hehehe... Oh I love Edward Current. Here's his latest, in the form of an awesome video quiz. I scored a zero. See if you can beat my score!

"If you thanked God that hilarious comedian Dane Cook wasn't aborted, you are correct."

Monday, August 3, 2009

Mississippi spends public money on sectarian abstinence-only conference

From Feministing:
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is going up against the Mississippi Department of Health and Human Services for an Abstinence Summit that was held using government funding.
Ugh.

Seriously: Ugh. Point the first: Abstinence-only sex education does not work. The ideas behind it -- viz. that if you keep secrets about sex from teens, they won't do it -- do a massive, massive disservice to the next generation. Not does AOSE not have any effect on the rates of teen sex, but it also ensures that, when they do have sex (which, since teens love sex, they will), they will not have the knowledge, forsight, and/or mindset to do so safely, with protection from pregnacy and STIs. Period.

And what's more, this event is Mississippi is clearly sectarian in nature. This is why it is so important that we keep religion out of government and out of civics. If all the churches in Mississippi wanted to get together and hold this pro-ignorance conference, then fine. But don't use public money. And it's nonsense like this that shows why organizations like the ACLU are so important. I heart the ACLU... See the video.

God and Abstinence from Stuart Productions on Vimeo.

Living in Utah

A coupe of links to here and Overheard in SLC from Main Street Plaza, which I just discovered is not in my blogroll... Ahh, there. That's better. I've been enjoying Main Street Plaza (the blog, that is -- I'm less enamored with the actual Main Street Plaza of late) for the last few months. Check it out if you have an interest in the intersection between culture, politics and religion here in Utah...

So, I love Salt Lake City. I really like living here. But it's a misunderstood place. Salt Lake City is one of the most liberal, progressive cities in the nation in a vast sea of red in every direction. Everyone I know who visits here is astounded that the city is so unlike what they expected. I never get tired of exploring new crevices of our (admittedly small) downtown or the gorgeous mountains just to my east. There are layers here. Layers to be pulled back and marveled at. I mean, I live within walking distance of a Sphinx with the head of Joseph Smith and just a quick drive from the haunted dancehall from Carnival of Souls. Can you say that, Bostonians? Chicagoans? I didn't think so. And is Chicagoans a word?

But it's undeniable that living in Utah -- even in the liberal bastion of SLC -- brings with it some challenges, and outsiders may not be familiar with some of the cultural references. Main Street Plaza is a great blog discussing the overlap between the culture, politics and religion here in Utah. Most of the contributors are "post-Mormon" (I like that term. I may appropriate it), but it's not an "anti-Mormon" blog, though it is certainly -- and rightfully -- critical of many of the the LDS church's policies.

Oooh, and another thing: my good friend RebelGrrrl recently introduced me to the Irrligiosophy podcast. It's a pretty decent podcast on atheism and religion, with an emphasis on archaeology, Middle Eastern history and Mormonism (both of the hosts are former Mormons). I'll be honest, sometimes the hosts can be a bit grating, but on the whole it's a very solid podcast with lots of good info. Check it out. :)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Unscientific America

So, if you've been following the science blogs, the atheist blogs, or the skepticism blogs, you've no doubt heard of the giant kerfuffle over Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum's new book Unscientific America.

Because I'm lazy, I'm not going to link to the relevant posts, but it shouldn't be hard to track down the relevant back-and-forth salvos o'vitriol at Mooney/Kirshenbaum's blog and PZ Myer's blog.

Now, I'd like to preface this with noting that I have not read UA to date. I have read and enjoyed Mooney's previous books, The Republican War on Science and Storm World. But the consensus I've seen of UA seems to be that there's some good discussion of scientific illiteracy in this country, but that there are major flaws in their approach to how to solve the issue. Namely, Mooney and Kirshenbaum blame scientists for not being PR people in addition to being, you know, scientists; and blame the "New Atheist" movement for daring to not bow down to religious claims when they are contradicted by science. If you ask me, kowtowing to unscientific claims is a good way to INCREASE public misunderstanding of science.

There's a new review of UA by Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon. Though it seems to echo the earlier criticisms of the book, Amanda's review is the best encapsulation of the issues at hand I've read... For instance,
I am so sick of the argument that assumes religious people can state their beliefs as forcefully as they like and threaten non-believers with hell, but atheists have to approach the topic on our tip toes. Mooney and Kirshenbaum repeatedly state that there’s no conflict between religion and science as if it’s a fact, when at best that’s a point of strong disagreement.
Exactly. This is why I heart Amanda Marcotte. Go check out the full piece.