Cable News Anchors are Often Insane: Bemoaning Bobbling Boobs Edition

February 29, 2008

Case in point: “Prime News” talking head Mike Galanos cheerfully bemoans Victoria Secret as being too risqué and too “front and center”… while showing clip after clip of exactly the sorts of salacious booty shots he and Bob Peters from “Morality in Media” are kvetching about.

Corporate Death Sentence for Enzyte, the “Natural Male Enhancement” Scam

February 28, 2008

You’ll never have to sit through another “Smiling Bob” commercial again: Enzyte maker Berkeley Premium Nutraceuticals and it’s President have been busted on everything from mail fraud to money laundering.

Some former employees, including relatives of Warshak, pleaded guilty to other charges and cooperated with prosecutors. They testified that the company created fictitious doctors to endorse the pills, fabricated a customer-satisfaction survey and made up numbers to back claims about Enzyte’s effectiveness.

Just another reason not to trust the claims of those shilling “herbal supplement” and other such products which have no independently proven results. What’s unfortunate here is that BPN only got caught because they flagrantly abused things like their money-back guarantee (not only would they not give people’s money back, but they would apparently keep quietly charging customers’ credit cards for non-existent purchases). Meanwhile, countless other companies who manage not to blatantly steal things from their customers outright will continue with their snake oil scams without any fear of prosecution for their bogus claims.

Repent Your Divorce Now: Get Back Together or Face Denying God His Due!

February 26, 2008

According to Christian theology, everyone is a sinner. So why, in so many conservative churches, are homosexuals treated as especially unworthy of things like communion or open leadership participation in church activities? The answer, and not a theologically irrational one, is that gay people are unrepentant of their alleged sin: they won’t admit that homosexual sex and relationships are wrong, and so cannot be taken seriously as congregants, at least to a church for whom the sinfulness of homosexuality is doctrine. Homosexuals can’t stop being sinful because, supposedly, no one can: but they can at least try to repent by taking actions to avoid “sin” and not trying to justify it. Fair enough.

What’s unfair is that conservative churches are packed with divorcées, many of them remarried. And at this very moment, the Republican party is preparing to try and elect John McCain, who divorced his first wife and mother of his children to re-marry a 25 year-old heiress. Though it may be hard to believe, I’m really not trying to cast a veil of illegitimacy over McCain for that: he and his wife may well have fallen out of love, may have had sexual incompatibilities, and/or may even have ultimately saved their friendship by divorce (his ex-wife and children all seem well adjusted, speak well of him, and remain close). Sometimes ending a failing marriage (no matter who the failure is) and falling in love with someone young, invigorating, and new is the right choice for everyone involved. I’m just using McCain as an example of something that many people seem perfectly willing to tolerate in their party, in their churches: places where the same group of people would not tolerate open, practicing homosexuals.

It’s just that if we apply the same logic to divorce we applied to homosexuality, then the logical conclusion is that most divorcées are unrepentant sinners. And if they really wanted to repent, then the conclusion is obvious: they should cease their ongoing adultery and remarry, including attending to the usual marital duties.

There isn’t a lot of theological room for wiggling here. Jesus, for instance, pretty clearly identifies divorce as an Israelite perversion based on the “hard hearts” of Jews, who were traditionally much more de facto tolerant of divorce. He says, flat out, that what God makes one flesh, let no man separate (though in one of the Gospels he is then said to cripple/contradict this grand, seemingly absolute principle of god-joined flesh by adding the weaselly caveat that a man can divorce his wife over unfaithfulness.). He unflinchingly calls divorce a form of adultery, a sin so serious that it, unlike homosexuality, made one of God’s Top Ten lists of things that he really really hates.

So, at least for those that claim to draw their objection to homosexual acts from the Bible, I’m not seeing a way around this, even with the “unfaithful wife” escape hatch added. I breathlessly await James Dobson to call upon John McCain to repent of his divorce, leave his current wife Cindy, with whom he shares only an adultery, and return to his original god-glued partner, Carol.

P.S. Make no mistake: I think divorce is almost always traumatic and bad, and there are many reasons to try to avoid casual marriage and rushing into divorce. But it is a bad thing that exists to prevent worse things: ongoing abuse, marriages based on long-lasting resentment and frustration, and so on.

Expelled! Film: Clumsy Creationist Marketing Ramps Up the Religion

February 23, 2008

I’ve made no secret about how big a fan of the new Intelligent Design film Expelled!, and I was one of the first to sign up to receive updates so I could find out how my church youth group, just in case I ever decide to join a church and then form one, could get involved. Having just received the latest marching orders from Motive Entertainment’s Dairek Morgan, I feel that I simply have to post it for everyone to see.

I mean, look at all the scientific evidence on display in this latest missive, without any hint of a religious agenda! Look at all the great celebrity endorsements the film has received, and from such a broad cultural spectrum of opinion. Why there’s everyone from employees of the Intelligent Design think-tank the Discovery Institute to employees of the Creationist think-tank ARN! Wow!

Read the rest of this entry »

Creationist Misunderstanding of Word “Theory” Hilariously Comes Back to Bite Them in Florida Education “Compromise”

February 21, 2008

I woke up this morning to a wonderful realization just now washing over the science-blogosphere: that the creationists protesting Florida’s new educational science standards appear to have made a tremendously goofy tactical error.

In what creationists believed to be a compromise, they approved changing any mention of “evolution” in the standards to the “theory of evolution” or the “scientific theory of evolution.” Given that calling evolution “just a theory” is a staple of creationist know-nothingism, they apparently thought that this was victory. Instead, it’s simply redundant (science classes don’t teach any body of explanation that isn’t a scientific theory, after all) and worse, the standards also mandate that children learn what scientists mean when they call something a theory: that it is a coherent corpus of explanation, and not at all a synonym for “speculation.”

So, in other words, creationists essentially tricked themselves into a compromise which concedes nothing at all to their position. Their ignorance of scientific terminology simply backfired on them. Creationists like Terry Kemple are going to be livid when they realize the gargantuan mistake they’ve made. Their slightly more scientifically literate allies over in the Intelligent Design think-tanks are already hopping mad.

Gay Threat to Israel Revealed: It’s Earthquakes!

February 21, 2008

Back when Israeli Kessnet member Nissim Ze’ev was ranting about how gays were a plague that would destroy Israel, I wondered openly just what the heck he could possibly mean: how exactly were gay people going to go about destroying the Middle East’s only functional democracy, one that’s more progressive in its legal attitudes towards gay people than even the US?

It turns out that his fellow member of the Shas party, Shlomo Benizri, has the answer: its earthquakes. Gay people cause earthquakes now. The most charming thing about his accusation (or at least how it was translated) is that he seemed to phrase it as sort of aside, as if it were just an uncontroversial fact that everyone was already aware of:

He called on lawmakers to stop “passing legislation on how to encourage homosexual activity in the state of Israel, which anyway brings about earthquakes”.

You know, it’s a bad idea, and anyway it brings about earthquakes, so there’s that, too!

National Review Tests the Water on Slime: Schiffren Attacking Obama’s Parentage

February 20, 2008

Political candidates are subjected to a lot of attacks on their character and policies. Some are fair game. Others are just pure slime. Lisa Schiffren over at the National Review’s Corner, sprints down the latter route by questioning whether Barack Obama’s parents’ marriage wasn’t really all just some sort of Communist plot to stir up “discontent” with ‘America[‘s] blacks’.

You always know someone is floundering when they have to add a line like “To be sure, there was much to be discontented about, for black Americans, prior to the civil-rights revolution” as a self-justifying aside.

Along with the “wait wait, this Michelle Obama gaffe is deeply important and revealing” thing taking over the Corner, it looks like severe bi-partisan drop in the quality and sincerity of blogging that always accompanies big elections is fully upon us again. Which is a real shame. And I was just starting to enjoy the internet.

Expelled! at the National Review: Steven Hayward On Intelligent Design

February 19, 2008

Over at the National Review’s Corner, PRI fellow Steve Hayward has been trading polite “can’t agree with you theres” with John Derbyshire over the Intelligent Design film Expelled!

Unfortunately, Hayward seems to have bought into the central message of the film without any evident reservation: the idea that scientists are indeed rushing to create blacklists and persecute intelligent design proponents merely for daring to ask questions. And while Derbyshire is giving his usual unabashed best on the subject, he seems to be mostly leaving this belief alone.

There are two important responses to this claim, both worth repeating.

Read the rest of this entry »

Intelligent Design Film Expelled! Gets a Positive Review

February 19, 2008

Of course, it’s from the American Spectator’s resident Intelligent Design author Tom Bethell, who is hardly one to bite his own hand, which feeds him. His review is the usual mantra of half-truths and bizarre characterizations. He even manages to slander religious scientists like Kenneth Miller by claiming that they put “diplomacy before truth” in their acceptance of evolution.

As we all suspected, this review confirms the use of Stein touring Holocaust death camps, pawning his Jewish heritage to pimp Intelligent Design:

In the movie there are somber moments, as when Stein visits World War II death camps and traces the Nazi philosophy back to the godless Darwinian world in which fitness must prevail and everything is permitted.

With statements this confused, it’s always difficult to know where to start.

Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t Listen to Ellen Johnson: Atheists Should Vote

February 18, 2008

Over at the Friendly Atheist, Hemant highlights a recent bit of incoherency in the positions of American Atheist leader Ellen Johnson, who apparently decided not to vote in the recent primary elections.  Hemant does a good job of defending what I assume to be his favored candidate, Obama, from Johnson’s cynical call to sit out elections.  There is little doubt that Obama and Clinton, and the presumptive Republican nominee McCain, are all religious, but bemoaning the lack of an atheist candidate at a national level is just sour-grapes bigotry, not savvy politics.

Rational people should understand how representative democracy works, instead of pretending that its something its not.  Our election systems are based on forced compromise, end of story.  In order for us to all live together as one big, ideologically diverse nation, there’s simply no logical way that every subgroup can get 100% of what it wants. If ever we wanted such a dictatorship, it could only work for one interest group at a time.  Comfort yourself over your compromise by recognizing that nearly everyone in the country has to compromise just as much, if not more, when they cast their votes.  That’s just how the system works.

And frankly, I find a lot of the atheist kvetching over God-talk amongst the Democrats this year to be overblown.  PZ Myers let his vaunted rantism overcome his reading acuity in his recent screed against Obama’s supposed “ghastly exercise in self-delusion and post hoc justification of religious bigotry.”  The fact that a religious person thinks that religious values are worthwhile to a public debate could be a jumping off point to deride non-believers as inferior, with less to contribute.  But when someone like Obama clearly goes out of his way to show that this is not his message, accusing him of the implication anyway just seems petty, not principled.  When candidates could easily safely ignore the non-believer vote, credit where credit is due for politicians that never fail to put in a compensatory good word for the unchurched.

Anyway, one more reason for me to give an eye-roll to the endlessly clumsy and tone-deaf group American Atheists.  If any regular people think that Ellen Johnson is Queen of All Atheists, no wonder they aren’t impressed.

No Free Speech or Debate Allowed on Intelligent Design’s Expelled!

February 16, 2008

This deserved its own post: one of the few people who have seen the creationist film Expelled! and haven’t been forced to sign non-disclosure agreements was Colorado Confidential’s Dan Whipple, who panned the flick back in December.

He’s now written another article on the peculiar press junket that the Expelled! folks have taken on the road to promote their film. It’s well worth a read, but the long and the short of it is that these folks, who call biologists hypocrites for not acting out the things they observe in nature, seem to have some real blinders on when it comes to their own message of “freedom of speech.”

In short, only carefully pre-approved questions are allowed at their events, and virtually all are from religious and right-wing “family” organizations. No critics allowed. And any viewers of their film are, of course, required to sign an agreement purporting to waive their right to free speech about the film!

That’s not exactly the sort of commitment to a “marketplace of ideas” you’d expect from people that claim that this is their one true rallying cry.

And then there’s this embarrassing exchange between Stein and his PR straight-man:

Paul Lauer: You mentioned that Darwinism appears to be lacking on certain fronts. From your research, and your travels, and interviews with many different scientists, what are some of the areas that scientists are, perhaps, increasingly saying are problematic with the theory of, Darwin’s Theory of Evolution?

Ben Stein:Well, just a couple of them, I’ve already hit one is: Where did life come from? Second one is: How did the cell get so complex? Third one, which I think is overwhelming, and just sort of blows the whole theory of Random Mutation out of the water, is, at least, let me say, raises big questions, that is. Assuming it all did happen by Random Mutation and Natural Selection, where did the laws of gravity come from. Where did the laws of thermodynamics come from? Where did the laws of motion and, of heat come from? Where, I guess that’s the same as thermodynamics. Where did all these laws, that make it possible for the universe to function, where did they all come from? Why isn’t all just chaos and everything collapsing in on itself and killing everything? I think that`s where the universe works. Who created these perfect laws, that keeps the planet in motion, keeps the blood pumping through our bodies? So, I think, all these are giant questions that need answers. (emphasis added)

Biologists don’t even claim that biological history or even evolution “all happened” by random mutation and natural selection. The idea that the origin of the universe is an unanswered question for “Darwin’s Theory of Evolution” is just downright daffy. It’s like claiming that the big unanswered question within the television series Lost is how the television network ABC that produces it got its start. If Stein wants to believe that the laws of the universe were written by God, then evolutionary theory contains no conflict whatsoever with this idea. He would, in my opinion, be jumping to a rather unwarranted and deeply misinformed conclusion, but deeply misinformed about physics and philosophy, not biology.

Expelled Producers Expell More Intelligent Design Slime: Lies and Nonsense A’hoy

February 16, 2008

Marking “Darwin Day” (and also the original release date of their film), the producers of Expelled have penned yet another smirkingly amateur tirade against evolution on their official blog. They seemed to have discovered that Darwin’s Origin of the Species has a sub-title that includes the word “races” though they bizarrely then seem to agree that this word had nothing to do with human races, but was the 18th century term for “varieties.” Nevertheless, they include this as if it were some sort of shocking hidden secret in biology, despite the fact that every scientific or historical minded person on the planet already knows about it, and most have discussed it at length. And then it’s into a sanctimonious tirade about how they like Lincoln more than Darwin.

PZ Myers calls it a solid wall of lies and nonsense and gives it a pretty darn thorough debunking.

The gist is that highlighting the fact that Darwin was a man of his time, and shared the same racial prejudices as everyone else, is irrelevant to the validity of his science (which rests on the evidence for or against), irrelevant to the validity of evolution today (what Darwin thought is irrelevant except as historical and biographical interest), and deeply misleading to boot, at least as a comparison to Lincoln. Darwin and Lincoln BOTH shared the same racial prejudices (and not only them, but everyone of their era, including most of the African-American leaders of the nascent civil-rights movement like W.E.B. Du Bois). Myers quotes Lincoln to drive the point home, and it’s really worth a full read:

I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races – that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.

The important thing for both Darwin and Lincoln is that while they both held these prejudices, and were lesser men for it, they were also far more progressive on race than most everyone else of their era, including many of the ancestors of the very religious right that’s behind Expelled. Darwin, in fact, may have been more progressive than Lincoln, in that he opposed slavery far more bluntly and directly, and did believe in some measure of political racial equality.

Of course, all of this, in this day and age, is pure posturing. Both men are dead. Both had ideas that were historically important to the development of our nation and our science, respectively, but neither is any sort of final or even current authority on anything. And no one pretends that they are… except for creationists.

The other big goof the Expelled Producers make is in trying to slam Dawkins as a supposed “hypocrite”

In his “The Ancestor’s Tale,” he posed the Welfare State as a challenge to Darwinism. When asked by an Austrian journalist in an interview (Die Presse -July 30, 2005) how he would justify that challenge?

Dawkins: “No self-respecting person would want to live in a Society that operates according to Darwinian laws. I am a passionate Darwinist, when it involves explaining the development of life. However, I am a passionate anti-Darwinist when it involves the kind of society in which we want to live. A Darwinian State would be a Fascist state.”

Or, in other words, “I really don’t want to think about it!”

Nonsense. There is a crucial and unavoidable distinction between describing what is, and proscribing what ought to be. It is the producers of Expelled that seem utterly blind to this distinction. What they see as someone like Dawkins not following through on “true” evolution is simply someone not following through on a deeply confused caricature. The argument here is as profoundly stupid as claiming that since physicists do not oppose the use of airplanes or hot air balloons, then they haven’t “really” thought about the theory of gravity.

The only question that remains is whether this movie will succeed in spreading these sorts of profoundly silly misconceptions far and wide, or whether viewers will reason right through them.