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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Vitamins Schmitamins

As an open skeptic, I sometimes have a reputation among my friends and family as a chronic naysayer who doesn't believe in anything. And to that I say nay. I believe in some things. I just doubt I'm correct in those beliefs. But I really get some eye rolls when I publicly poo-poo the flagrant use of vitamin supplements. Everyone seems to be popping these pills, simply because they hear that vitamins are good for them. But what they don't realize is that even though certain doses may be good for them, that doesn't mean any dose will do. Science, it turns out, backs this up. Several major studies recently have revealed that vitamin supplements often don't do what they claim to and can even hurt you if abused. Vitamin E, for example, was found to do nothing to prevent cancer or heart disease. In fact, those taking excess amounts of vitamin E via supplement pills were found to have increased instances of various cancers. Turns out too much vitamin C, which people take thinking it will stave off cancer and other illnesses, can also increase your cancer risk. And vitamins aren't the only potentially useless pills cluttering up your medicine cabinet. The popular herbal supplement ginkgo biloba, which is touted as helping with memory loss and fighting off dementia, doesn't do squat to keep your mind sharp. And it can raise your risk of internal bleeding. Read all about these studies and more here.

Florida: A Little Less Crazy After All

Sometimes it seems like Florida is nothing but a malignant tumor of ignorance and hatred dangling off America's chin. But then there's good news like this. A circuit court judge has ruled that Florida's ban on gay adoption is unconstitutional. No, not the adoption of gays, silly. Gays adopting kids. After testimony from numerous experts in child psychology and social work, Judge Cindy Lederman ruled that there was no rational or scientific basis for denying gay people the same adoption rights as straights. Indeed, any infringement on gay rights should be ruled unconsitutional, since the primary arguments against state-recognized homosexuality are religious and, therefore, a violation of the Establishment Clause. Weirdly, gays in Florida have always been allowed to act as foster parents, which was another issue Judge Lederman raised in her ruling. In fact, this legal challenge against Florida's gay adoption ban came from a gay man who wanted to legally adopt the two children he's been fostering since 2004. Hopefully this will be a kick in the pants for the two other states with anti-gay adoption laws. In Utah, no unmarried couples are allowed to adopt, be they gay or straight. And Mississippi bans gay couples from adopting, but not single gay people. Truly, family values at work. More details here.

Anti-Scientology Swordsman Killed

A bald, tattooed gentleman dual-wielding a couple of samurai swords was shot and killed by a security guard at the Cult of Scientology's Celebrity Centre in Hollywood after charging the building in some kind of crazy rage. A cult spokesperson said the man had a "relationship" with the cult a while back, but no further details were available. Since the guy wasn't wearing a ridiculous mask, it's probably safe to assume he had nothing to do with the anti-Scientology group Anonymous, though he may have been a member of the international terrorist organization known as Cobra. But he obviously had some kind of beef with the cult. Could he have been one of the unlucky few chosen to service L. Ron Hubbard aboard his international waters pleasure yacht? Perhaps. More likely, he was just insane. But let this be a lesson to everyone that the best way to protest oppressive cults is with the pen, not with two samurai swords. More details here.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Chinese Anti-"Chinese Democracy"

Chinese Democracy, the long-awaited new album from what’s left of Guns n’ Roses (mostly just the Rose at this point), is a lot of things: surprisingly good, late ‘80s rocking without sounding like a relic of the late ‘80s, chock full of bewildering musical decisions that even more bewilderingly took fifteen years to make. But a “venomous attack” on China? Not so much. However, that’s just what the Chinese government is claiming in their state-sponsored media as both a general rebuke against the album and as a sort of backdoor explanation for why the thing will never be allowed to be legally imported into the country. Of course, that won’t stop intrepid Chinamen (can we call them that anymore, or is that term now considered so retro it’s not racist?) from torrenting the thing from behind anonymous proxy servers. After all, the Chinese have continued to enjoy this very site even though it’s sometimes banned in some places in the country with no apparent reasoning or method. While the title track from the album does engage in a little gentlemanly prodding at China’s disastrous history of human rights abuses between the serpentine wails from what’s left of Axl Rose’s throat, I’m sure that Mr. Rose would love to have his album sold in the country. If only to recoup the expenses of whatever the hell he’s been doing these past fifteen years. More details here.

Our Elected Officials are Ignorant and Other Things You Already Know

According to a recent survey by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, many of our elected officials here in the U.S. are sort of idiots when it comes to civil knowledge about their own country. It should be noted up front that these results probably need to be taken with a grain of salt, since the survey only included a sample group of 2,500 people, and only some of those identified themselves as “elected officials”, which could mean any variety of things. But still, of those elected officials, 31% couldn’t identify both of the U.S. enemies during World War II. Only 54% knew that Congress and only Congress has the power to declare war (unless, of course, they give that power up because the president asked them nicely). 20% believed the electoral college was set up to supervise the first televised presidential debate. Even if this survey is an accurate reflection of the civics knowledge of our elected officials, that still doesn’t excuse the fact that we’re the ones electing these people. Nearly half the electorate in this past presidential election were apparently comfortable with supporting a vice presidential candidate who didn’t know what the vice president does, and until that statement becomes absurdly realistic, I don’t think we have much room to complain. More details here.

Brain Speak

Scientists from Boston University have discovered a way to interpret speech from the brain signals of an almost completely paralyzed patient who is unable to talk. Dr. Frank Guenther studied the particular signals produced in the brain when a person thinks about certain vowel sounds. He then implanted electrodes in the brain of a patient with locked-in syndrome, a type of paralysis that prevents all movement save for flutters of the eyelids. The patient has an otherwise healthy brain, and the electrodes were tuned to register the specific signals associated with certain vowel sounds. Now, a computer can interpret those vowel sounds verbally, and the hope is that this technology will eventually allow people who can’t physically speak to communicate with their brains. Meanwhile, some researcher in some part of the world is currently in the eighteenth month of an intensive study into whether a self-proclaimed psychic can move a matchbook with his mind. Ah, priorities. More details here.

Yogatwa

Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council (your donations, of course, are tax deductable) has issued a fatwa against Muslims practicing yoga, claiming the Indian contortions are a gateway drug into Hinduism. Like the rest of the world’s yoga enthusiasts, most of Malaysia’s don’t delve into the spiritual aspects of the exercises. Although I’m not sure if, like the rest of the world’s yoga enthusiasts, Malaysia’s are also self-absorbed douchebags. Still, the council of clerics have decided that yoga can corrupt a Muslim’s religion despite any absence of Hindu imagery. Regardless, not all of Malaysia’s Muslims give a crap about the National Fatwa Council, in which case they’ll probably just continue to lug around those ridiculous mats and harass all their friends with stories about how much more energy they have. Or they’ll track down a copy of Wii Fit and do their yoga at home to avoid any instance of public douchebaggery. More details here.

Friday, November 21, 2008

More Psychic Smackdown

"Sister Charlotte", a self-proclaimed clairvoyant, tarot card reader, and palm interpreter has been banned from making claims she can't prove in her advertising. Britain's Advertising Standards Authority issued the ban in response to a complaint that Ms. Charlotte printed leaflets saying she could cure anything from depression to cancer by removing "negative energies" and replacing them with "positive" ones. Unfortunately for her, the ASA doesn't look too kindly upon people making money off of outright lies. As an American and a fan of free speech, I'm a little wary of these kinds of rulings. People should be allowed to offer whatever ridiculous services others are willing to pay them for. But it's the medical claims that push cases like this from harmless charlatanism to outright fraud. And to borrow a well-worn joke, shouldn't Ms. Charlotte have seen this coming? More details here.

Furby: Captured!

Scientists in Indonesia have captured a creature that hasn't been seen in eighty years and looks an awful lot like the uselessly adorable Furby of late '90s holiday gift giving obsession. The pygmy tarsier is a tiny primate long thought extinct. I'm sure that these newly rediscovered animals will be tagged and released back into the wild where we can track their movements and figure out a way to protect their elusive species. Call me nostalgic, but it's times like these that make me sort of pine for the days of 19th century naturalism, when intrepid researchers would search dark jungles looking for exotic creatures they could shoot, stuff, and lock in a museum. Ah, history. Though I guess our newfangled scientific methodology has its benefits as well. I still want one of these things for Christmas, though. I hear you can teach them to say "fuck". More details here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

School for Rejects

I hate stories like this. As a fan of rational thinking and intellectual responses to difficult situations, it’s particularly painful to watch people with the best of intentions do something ridiculous in the name of those intentions. But there’s really no word to describe the proposed Social Justice Solidarity High School in Chicago’s school district. Previously, the school’s planners wanted to call it Pride Campus, and it was intended to be a safe haven for gay, lesbian, transgendered, or sexually ambiguous students who would otherwise be harassed in regular public schools. The new proposal would set up the school as an all-inclusive place for any kind of social outcast, from goths to geeks to physically disabled kids. Again, the good intentions are obvious here. You don’t want any kid to feel threatened or, worse, be harmed at school. And there’s some evidence to suggest that gay teen suicide rates are disturbingly high. But at the same time, doesn’t this kind of segregation just make the problem worse? Aside from the risk of overprotection and coddling, wouldn’t this make the regular public schools just a rampant breeding ground for homophobic, hateful bullies? Also, there’s something special about being the minority outcast in a vast population of fools. These kids don’t need a special school. They need a dark boiler room and a house where the parents don’t get home until late. They need to lead normal lives—to bottle up their insecurity and resentment and seething anger so they can use it to skip ahead of everyone else in college. There’s no point in being a reject when you never face any rejection. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail here, and Chicago’s outcast teens will be able to get back to secretly crying in their rooms at night. Depression builds character, and if you’re having too good a time in high school, chances are you’re doing it wrong. More details here.

Chuck Norris: Idiot

Former martial arts star and part-time Internet meme Chuck Norris has filed his two cents on the whole Proposition 8 issue in a column for TownHall.com. For those coming in late, Proposition 8 was the proposed amendment to California’s constitution that would ban gay marriage in the state. It passed by a clear majority. Since then, several protests against the amendment have been staged across the country. But if you’re looking for an explanation as to why anyone should care what Chuck Norris thinks about anything other than roundhouse kicks, I’m at a loss. Regardless, he explains his support for Proposition 8 this way: “[Votes supporting Proposition 8] weren't intended to deprive any group of its rights; they were safeguarding their honest convictions regarding the boundaries of marriage.” In other words, “I didn’t mean to take anyone’s rights away—I’m just protecting my opinions about marriage by taking people’s rights away.” He goes on to lay out the tired and disturbingly anti-American argument that the gay marriage ban is the will of the majority and should necessarily be respected. Apparently Chuck doesn’t understand that America isn’t a majority rules country. When it comes to basic human rights and civil liberties, we have a Constitution which upholds those rights in the face of the will of a local majority. This is why black people in Alabama are allowed to eat at the same restaurants as whites no matter what any white majority thinks about it. Also, gay marriage is an issue of the separation of church and state, as there’s no argument against it that isn’t based on religious feelings of ickiness about people of the same sex starting a family. But, of course, I don’t expect any brilliant feats of logic from the star of Firewalker. More details here. And for more on the Prop. 8 protests, tune in later this week to the next episode of The Amateur Scientist Podcast, where our own Christian Walters reports from the Atlanta, GA pro-gay marriage rally.

Federal Smackdowns “They” Don’t Want You to Know About

Professional douchebag Kevin Trudeau has once again been slapped by the FTC for violating the terms of a previous conviction, which barred him from making any false claims in the selling of his books. Trudeau has made a living selling useless garbage for many years now. In 1998, he was charged with making false claims in infomercials for products that promised to help people lose weight, cure their addictions, and develop a photographic memory. In 2003, he violated the terms of his previous conviction by selling a nonsense product he claimed could cure cancer. Although the FTC had banned him from selling pseudo-medicinal products and fined him millions of dollars, they couldn’t stop him from selling books under the First Amendment. Which is why for the past few years, he’s been making his living publishing useless tomes like Natural Cures They Don’t Want You to Know About and The Weight Loss Cure They Don’t Want You to Know About and Kevin Trudeau’s Convictions He Doesn’t Want You to Know About. Okay, maybe not that last one. The first book simply directed readers to a subscription-based website that allowed them to buy “natural” supplements from outside sources. But it’s the weight loss book that’s landed Trudeau in trouble again. The court found that the claims made in Trudeau’s latest infomercials simply aren’t supported in his book. So, he’s banned from producing any more infomercials for three years, and he’s been fined another $5 million. The only problem is that he’s made much more than that in profit, so this is really just a slap on the wrist. The man should be in jail, but he’s likely to pop back up again in another three years. In the meantime, you might want to print out the FTC’s press release on the new conviction and slip them into any copies of Trudeau’s books you find cluttering up your local health food store. It’s available here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mythbusters on YouTube

If you’re reading this site, you probably like Mythbusters. Or your Google search for “amateur MILF” brought you to the wrong place. Even still, you may like Mythbusters, so you’ll be interested to know that Adam and Jamie will be appearing on the first ever YouTube Live, a streaming variety show premiering Saturday, November 22 in San Francisco and on (you guessed it) YouTube. Walrus ‘Stache and Sugar Rush (as they’re known on the manga circuit) were asked to perform because of the tremendous popularity of their video clips on YouTube and around the Internet. Here’s hoping they use a giant paintball gun to reproduce the Sistine Chapel. The boys will be joined by “rapper” Soulja Boy (who will crank something), “singer” Katy Perry (who will kiss something), and “hologram” Will.i.am (who will punctuate something). More details here. And enjoy one of my favorite Mythbusters clips right now:

God vs. Education

The Bishop of Lancaster, Patrick O’Donoghue, was charged by the Vatican with finding out why mass attendance has been steadily declining in recent years. His conclusion? It’s all that book learnin’. According to O’Donoghue, the rise of mass education has led to hedonistic, selfish, and egocentric behavior. Not to mention flagrant skepticism about unscientific and otherwise ludicrous beliefs. Without bothering to go into detail about how this makes any sense, O’Donoghue says that while mass education has led to scientific discovery and the enrichment of daily life, it also has a dark side due, for some reason, to original sin. This is probably a reference to the fact that the first sin committed by humanity in the Biblical creation story is eating from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. But even the Bible doesn’t explain why knowledge is necessarily a bad thing. Still, there’s really no arguing the bishop’s point. After all, the Catholic Church’s heyday was in the dark ages, when people were too busy working and/or dying to bother with learning about things like evolutionary biology. But he might want to do a better job dancing around the implication that religious devotion is directly proportional to basic ignorance. More details here.

Laughs of the Titans

A newly discovered ancient Greek joke book called Philogelos: The Laugh Addict contains a premise eerily similar to Monty Python’s famous parrot sketch. But while the Pythons found humor in John Cleese returning a parrot to a pet shop because it was sold as a corpse nailed to its perch, the ancient comedy duo of Hierocles and Philagrius created a scene wherein a man returns a dead slave to the slave trader. Ah, slavery. Is there anything about it that isn’t funny? It’s sort of amazing how similar these old jokes are to the kind we tell today, only with a horrible twist of contemporary Greek society. Take the one about the dunce sent to fetch two fifteen-year-old slaves. “No problem,” he says. “If I don’t find two fifteen-year-olds, I’ll get one thirty-year-old.” Hilarious. Unfortunately, not all the jokes in The Laugh Addict are as easily relatable these days. There are several sexy zingers about lettuce, for example, which only make sense when you consider the ancient Greeks thought lettuce was an aphrodisiac. Actually, that still doesn’t make any sense. More details here.

Albino Murder

A six-year-old albino girl in Burundi has been found dead with her head and limbs cut off in the region’s sixth such murder since September. There’s a thriving black market for albino body parts in neighboring Tanzania, where local witch doctors use them to make magic potions. Yes, this is 2008. Consequently, several albinos and their families have been moving into urban centers where they might be a little safer. This little girl and her parents were one of those families, but their house was still broken into by armed guards who tied up the adults and shot the girl in the head before dismembering her. Crazy superstitions are all fun and games when you’re talking about tourist trap voodoo dolls and souvenir Vatican rosaries, but these murders should serve as a reminder of where irrational thinking can lead. Not to sound vindictive, but I hope we start hearing reports of several Tanzanians choking to death on magic potions. Actually, I meant to sound a little vindictive. More details here.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hawaii County Council: Idiots

The Hawaii County Council has overridden the veto of Big Island mayor Harry Kim to approve a ban on genetically modified coffee and taro. While I’m sure some of the motivation for this ban comes from the standard paranoid idiocy of all anti-GM measures (misunderstanding of how genetics work, corporate conspiracy theories, gross callousness toward the world’s poor), a large part of the support for this ban is even dumber. Native Hawaiian myth says that humans sprang forth from the roots of the taro plant, so we shouldn’t mess with the plant’s genes. The biologists and rational thinkers who are against the ban pointed out that the plant has a much stronger chance of permanent survival if it’s engineered to be resistant to pests and disease, but these kinds of reasonable arguments tend to fall on deaf ears. Of course, this kind of legislation will only up the cool factor of GM crops in Hawaii. Because when you outlaw genetically modified coffee and taro, only outlaws will have genetically modified coffee and taro. More details here.

The Sad Box

People who claim to be generally unhappy watch more TV than those who claim to be generally happy. That’s according to a survey of 30,000 American adults conducted between 1975 and 2006. Of course, because this is a survey and not a scientific study, the conclusions are up in the air. For one thing, this doesn’t indicate whether people watch more TV because they’re unhappy or if watching more TV makes them unhappy. I know every time Bravo announces another Real Housewives show I die a little inside, but that doesn’t stop me from sitting on the couch for hours at a time. One hypothesis is that unhappy people can tend to have social phobias that lead to more solitary TV watching. Or that addiction to TV can push out more fulfilling activities like sex, drinking heavily, sex, and getting drunk. And there’s always the very real possibility that people lie about being happy. Just because you’re smiling, it doesn’t mean you’re not dead inside. See: John McCain’s debate performances. More details here.

Friday, November 14, 2008

GM Hullabaloo

An Austrian study has found that a long-term diet of genetically modified maize (or as the Indians called it, maize) decreases fertility in laboratory mice. Moronic environmental groups like Greenpeace and moronic tax burdens like Prince Charles have been up in arms about GM crops for years now, claiming that they will somehow result in freakish mutations and are developed solely to line the pockets of international corporations. This despite the fact that eating something can’t alter your genome and GM crops actually provide a cheap and abundant food source for millions of people all over the world who would literally starve without them. The researchers involved in the mouse study were quick to point out that no conclusions can be drawn from it without further testing, and there’s certainly no reason yet to think that similar effects would be found in humans. Regardless, Greenpeace and other idiots are citing the study to prove the dangers of GM crops and to call for a world-wide ban. This just goes to show you that Greenpeace loves whales almost as much as they hate starving children in developing countries. More details here.

No Communion for You

The Rev. Jay Scott Newman, a South Carolina Roman Catholic priest, has warned his parishioners that they will be committing a deadly sin if they voted for Barack Obama and accept Holy Communion before doing penance. His rationale? That supporting the pro-choice Obama “constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil”. He goes on to describe Obama as “the most radical pro-abortion politician ever to serve in the United States Senate”, though I find it hard to believe anyone could top Vermont senator Coathanger McFetussucker, who performed upwards of seven hundred abortions on the Senate floor from 1952 to 1964. While the doctrine of who should and shouldn’t eat crackers while pretending they’re human flesh is largely set by local bishops, the Catholic Church as a whole has set its sights on the abortion issue as the topic most important to their faith, saying that there is nothing more important in God’s eyes than children, or as the Church calls them, diddle fodder. More details here.

HIV Cure?

I hate headlines that end in question marks, as they can usually more accurately be written with a “no” in front and a period at the end. Still, this case is pretty curious and potentially exciting. A 42-year-old American living in Berlin who was HIV positive and had leukemia has apparently been cured of both diseases after receiving a bone marrow transplant from an HIV-resistant donor. About one in a thousand Westerners have an inherited genetic mutation which prevents HIV from attaching to cells, and the marrow donor was one of those. But before the world gets too excited, it’s important to note that this is an isolated case, and we won’t know how reliable this treatment is until it’s tried several more times. Also, since the anti-HIV mutation is so rare, it’s not realistic to assume that all of the 30 million or so people infected with HIV can hope for a similar transplant, not to mention the fact that the procedure is extraordinarily expensive. But, this does bode well for more research into gene therapy as a treatment for HIV. If we can somehow replicate this mutation, then we might be one step closer to a cure. Or, if this were a Michael Crichton novel, we might be one step closer to having science blow up violently and hilariously in our faces, teaching us all a childish and unnecessary lesson about playing god. More details here.

Indian Moon Hoax

A TV-sized probe decorated with a painting of the Indian flag supposedly detached from the Indian Space Research Organization’s lunar orbiter, Chandrayaan-1 and crashed into the surface of the moon. Supposedly. As we all know, going to the moon is impossible since the Earth is flat and the sun and moon are both simple optical illusions created when gas lamp light reflects off of low-hanging fog. But I guess India needs to pretend it’s taking its rightful place on the world scientific stage as a bastion of democratic prosperity in the heart of Asia. This whole moon probe story is even more unbelievable, though, when you realize that the so-called “Moon Impact Probe” was designed simply to smash into the lunar surface and subsequently break. Even if the moon were real, this wouldn’t really be a very impressive display of scientific discovery. Still, I suppose we all “owe” India a sarcastic slow clap and a half-assed “way to go, there.” More details here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Prayer Booths

Dylan Mortimer, a Kansas City artist, has received money from New York’s Arts in the Park program to build two public prayer booths in the Big Apple. The booths sport pictures of folded hands on either side and a flip-down kneeling pad. The idea, according to Mortimer, is to “start a discussion about prayer” in NYC. While fostering prayer discussion might be a noble goal, it seems more likely that these booths will instead foment discussion about how easy it is to take someone’s wallet while he’s kneeling. Or they might stir the pot of conversation about whether that smelly, sticky substance on the kneeling pad is urine or semen. Or they might encourage New Yorkers to pray that these booths aren’t in their way while they’re trying to get to goddamn work. More details here.

We’re Fine, Thanks

The American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors has had about enough of the Mormon church’s sneaky do-gooding and wants them to stop posthumously Baptizing Jewish Holocaust victims once and for all. For over a century, the smily-faced con operation known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has practiced the posthumous baptism of those who would otherwise burn in hell (or on a hell planet, I’m not quite sure) for not being squeaky clean Mormons. Obviously, they don’t want Holocaust victims to suffer any more than they already have, so they’ve particularly tried to go after the imaginary souls of innocent Jews with their imaginary water. Understandably, many living Jews see this as a gross disrespect toward their faith and their suffering at the hands of the Nazis. To that end, the AGHS has not only called for an end to the practice, but also an undoing of the posthumous baptisms that have already occurred. I’m all for people of varying religions telling each other what to do, but itsn’t this like asking a kindergartener to remove the kootie serum from the circle, circle, dot, and dot he just drew on your arm? More details here.

X-Mas

The American Humanist Association has launched a $40,000 ad campaign by plastering Washington, D.C.’s public buses with a billboard that says, “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake.” This is probably a little less condescending than the “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” bus ads the British Humanist Association launched last month. Still, it’s a little ludicrous to try and shoehorn your atheism into Christmas, the least religious of all religious holidays. Until the New Testament is rewritten to include door-buster sales and increased suicide rates, that is. Also, one of the things that sets the faithless apart from the faithful should be the lack of evangelization, which is the opposite intent of these ads. Atheists shouldn’t be shoving their critical thinking down people’s throats unsolicited. Instead, we should simply criticize irrational beliefs when the opportunity arises. Case in point: this outraged quote from American Family Association president Tim Wildmon, responding to the ads: “It’s a stupid ad. How do we define ‘good’ if we don’t believe in God? God in his word, the Bible, tells us what’s good and bad and right and wrong.” Which, of course, is why the Hebrews barely made it to Mt. Sinai before God told them to stop stealing, murdering, and coveting each other’s asses. More details here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Endtime Youth Corps Podcasts


by Karl Mamer

Next up fans of Podcasting Without Pity (are there any fans?) we have the Endtime Youth Corps Podcast. EYCP for short, which makes it sound like they're a Korean all boy hip hop band ("an nyong yo yo ma chingus, EYCP in da house. Word to yo halmoni!"). And sure enough their theme music sounds a lot like what Asians think American hip hop sounds like. Christian gangster hip hop banged out on a Radio Shack keyboard. Oh man. Nothing is more pathetic than when religion types try to take on the trappings of the youth culture to appear all hip 'n' cool and, like, testifying about the Lord is no big thang, yo. It's just another thing the cool kids are doing these days like under age drinking and sex on the hood of your dad's Volvo after a high school football game with a cheerleader you got drunk on half a bottle of Boone's Strawberry Hill.

I remember back in university the local head of the Campus Crusade for Christ (I'll call him "Ted") tried to convert our campus paper's outspoken atheist editor (I'll call him "Larry"). Ted had his little "playbook". Ted's playbook told him to find something the "mark" really likes and then claim Jesus was into that as well. Ted decided our editor liked to party. Par-tay. So he decided that would be the thin edge of the wedge to drive Jesus into our editor's heart.

Ted sidled up to Larry and asked "So, Larry, I hear you like to par-tay."

"Errr, sure, Ted."

"You know, Larry, Jesus liked to par-tay too."

"I was not aware."

"Sure thing. After all Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding to keep the par-tay going."

"Ted, if Jesus really liked to party he would have turned the water in to J├Ągermeister."

In my day (the 1970s), religion was out to convert the hippies. And nothing will turn you off organized religion quicker than hearing a priest say "hey, man, come by my pad sometime and we'll rap about Christ Jesus."


As a young boy, scenes like this were repeated daily outside my window

Right. So after about a mercifully short 30 seconds of their Christian hip hop signature tune (which seems to end on a very short sampling of the guitar in Scientologist Beck's "Loser"), the hosts Jessie and Vince intro themselves. Jessie, who uses "dude" a lot, announces it's raining and he's sad. So, a bit of funk music to get the hip hop crowd, now some emo funk to get the shoe gazers. I can't wait to hear what their hook is for the metal crowd. Lee Aaron has become born again?

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Jessie's next hook is talking about this great new thing called MySpace and how he's got to get himself an account. I'll note here the show I downloaded was from September 9, 2008. Tune back in 2012 when he discovers Facebook and SuperPoke.

Jessie then introduces the show's topic: Protestants who believe in Calvinist-type predestination are wrong. There is a rich irony about a man complaining about the error of believing in predestination when he hosts a podcast about the predestined end times. Goodness.

Jessie gets Vince, who has done about dick all so far, to read a wiki page or something on predestination. Jessie could not have gotten a worse person to do it as Vince reveals he has a hard time reading even simple words in the English language. Ah, another triumph of home schooling. Vince's jumbled, stoner-like reading prompts Jessie to rephrase by throwing out a rhetorical question about one sect's belief that an all-loving god is picking and choosing from the outset who is going to heaven and who is going to hell ("and there's nothing you can do about it!"). Jessie never bothers to question his own brand, where an-all loving god from the outset has picked which generation is going to see 1/3 of the earth's population horribly killed during the end times (and there's nothing you can do about that either!).

After about only four minutes into this podcast we go to a "commercial". I love podcasts that have commercials which are just promos for themselves. The funky theme music from the top of the show (plus the Beck guitar riff) plays us out. We then hear a promo for their magazine, which opens with the "One small step for *static* man" quote from Neil Armstrong. It's really disturbing that all this science, all this engineering, just amounts to a sound bite for a bunch of end times creationist podcasters who think the world is only 6,000 years old.

Anyway the promo is for their magazine. The hosts are doubled over with excitement about the cover for their latest End Times Magazine. The cover features, get this, a real live photo of two real live homosexualists getting married by a liberal pro-homosexualist priest! Nothing heralds the final days when two humans want to publicly declare their commitment to a monogamous loving relationship. The End Times boys are so excited about this cover photo you'd swear they thought they had a clear, well-lit photo of Bigfoot stepping off of JHVH-1's UFO. In the promo segment Jessie asks someone named Jason how a person might go about sending out copies of this issue with their exciting landmark homoerotic cover to their pastor or their church (Yeah, throw those in the pews and start a great Sunday morning convo like "Mommy, why are two bare-assed men in white leather chaps kissing in front of a priest?"). Jason breaks it down real simple like. Send us money. More money, more copies they'll send you. Jason suggests you buy them by the truckload and then, for some reason I'll never figure out, we hear a cow mooing before Jason can answer. But not one of those placid "moo, food is in my feed bucket" moos but more like one of those "moo, something fist-sized has been inserted into my rectum" moos. You know the kind of moo.

After the promo we're treated to a reprise of the Christian hip hop intro tune. Oh joy. The hosts remind us of the topic: why another Christian sect's ideas about predestination are all wrong 'n' shit. Jessie gets all logical, asking Vince what kind of god would condemn you to hell despite a lifetime of good works? Yeah. And what kind of god lets 10-year olds get bone cancer? Vince manages a "not really" before Jessie cuts him off. I'm noticing a trend in these woo podcasts. With the exception so far of the Paracast, there's always a dom and a sub. One guy does most of the talking and the other guy just says "pie" a lot.

Anyway, Jessie rambles on about the illogic of predestination, still oblivious to the theme of his own podcast. Jessie notes that god wants all men to be saved. He doesn't actually want to send people to hell. Now you would think what god wants, god can get. I want the cute short-haired redhead working behind the counter at the Starbucks where I'm currently banging this Podcasting Without Pity into my laptop. But I lack the power and ability. Guys who spend Saturday nights alone in Starbucks with a laptop oddly lack the magical power of getting any mega cute short-haired redhead of their choosing. However, I want a sip of the Gold Coast tall drip I ordered and I have the amazing, awesome power to make that happen. I can take firm, decisive hold of the pansy sleeve wrapping my Starbucks paper cup with some pithy "The Way I See It" saying and raise it to my lips and drink. But I mean god, the omnipotent ruler of heaven and earth, could have any Starbucks barista of his choosing. If true, then it's not an unreasonable jump in logic to believe god could certainly make it so even men with free will could make it to heaven. While I'm sure there are ways a mere mortal couldn't even contemplate, I can think of one easy way: just let humans live to be nearly immortal. Once they accept god and Jesus as their personal savior there's the quickening, Christopher Lambert appears out of the clouds, and cuts their head off. But those that don't manage this just keep on plugging along until they figure it out. You know?

Jessie calls upon Calvinists to call in and explain their stupid ideas to him. He notes Calvinist predestination and evangelizing are logically incompatible. Why preach to people who might be destined to go to hell? Seems to me the simple answer to Jessie's question is this: that's why you don't get a lot of Calvinists banging on your door 9am on a Sunday. I'll take those assholes over an asshole that can't leave you in peace on your day off.

Jessie calls on Vince to read something about St. Augustine and John Calvin. Vince again blows his lines. Jessie then goes on a long diatribe about the biblical passages Calvinists use to support their whacked idea of predestination. Jessie smugly notes Calvinist are really just a cult, doing what cults do best, cherry picking biblical passages and then twisting them to say whatever the hell you want them to say. Again, rich irony from a guy who cherry picks the Book of Revelation to determine they're living in the end times.

Hmmm. Oddly, no Calvinist has called in yet.

Jessie notes if you're a Calvinist you could just walk away from god, being you're already one of the elect. He seems to have missed the fact Calvinists don't know who is elect until they die. I believe that's why they work so hard and follow such a strict moral code: it's the only way they can get a hint whether or not they're elect. If they're elect they'll be financially successful and lead a moral life. If they're not elect they'll fuck up sometime before they kick the bucket.

Vince then helpfully notes this whole thing is just like the terrorists who flew airplanes into the World Trade Center. Does Vince think Calvinists were at the sticks of those planes?

Jessie then pulls the "some of my best friends are black" routine. Don't get him wrong, eh. He says he knows a lot of Calvinists and they're a very kind people. A very musical people.

Jessie sums up that he just doesn't think god operates in the way Calvinists think god operates. After all, he argues, Hitler could get into heaven under a Calvinist system. Errr. But couldn't Hitler also get into heaven if he accepted Jesus as his personal savior two seconds before the end? Couldn't Hilter get into heaven if he confessed the sin of genocide to his local Catholic priest? Geez. At least a Calvinist would argue there's no way in hell Hitler was one of the elect based on his track record of death and destruction. I'll take a religion that says Hitler is doomed no matter how much he tries to make up for it after the fact over a religion that's going to give him a get out jail free card if he just intones some magic words.

Jessie closes out by reading a passage from Ezekiel. He's the guy who saw the UFO, eh? The relevance of the passage to the episode's topic escapes me.

Update on my prediction of an impending Nov 1, 2008 attack on New York by a giant lobster

If you will recall, in my September 3, 2008 installment of Podcasting Without Pity I made this
bold prediction:

People, unless you change your ways [in some nebulous, ill-defined fashion], New York is oing to be devastated by a giant marauding lobster on November 1, 2008! Mark my words! Act now!

I'm quite happy to say I predicted accurately people were going to change their ways and head off (for now) a merciless attack by a giant lobster on the good and fair people of New York.

Clearly the death of Studs Terkel on October 31, 2008 and the many, many warm
tributes from all across America convinced the giant lobster to suspend his rampage through the streets of New York.

But I warn you, the giant lobster has only suspended his plan to smite New York. To find out how to delay future retribution, consider buying my soon-to-be-released book How to Avoid the Total Devastation of Your City by Giant Lobster Attack and Related Calamities. Makes a great Christmas or Festivus gift.

Karl Mamer is host of The Conspiracy Skeptic podcast, a 12 part look at conspiracies of today and the not too distant past. Karl is also the world's greatest living proponent of Franglais. He also likes to bait Nigerian Bank Scammers and hosted his own podcast about teaching English in Seoul, South Korea. Karl lives in Toronto, Canada and works as a senior technical writer to pay the bills.

Mad Scientists vs. Mad Police

A group of London students were detained last week after police mistook their mad scientist-themed costume party for a terrorist meetup. The students just wanted to have a nice evening of dressing in wigs and lab coats and laughing maniacally, but when the cops showed up for a “routine check” of the private party (by the way, why are private parties in England subject to “routine checks”?), they mistook the amateur chemistry set equipment and plastic skeletons for drug and terror paraphernalia. 29-year-old Richard Watson was arrested under Britain’s Anti-Terrorism Act and questioned while the streets surrounding the party were blocked off. If all this sounds like ridiculous overkill to you, that’s because it is. But, really, what’s more in keeping with the mad scientist spirit than ridiculous overkill? More details here.

Stating the Obvious

A study out of the University of Chicago shows that the reward centers of the brain light up in aggressive teenagers when they watch videos of people being hurt. The conclusion? That bullies inflict pain for the sheer joy of it. Why we needed a study to prove this is anyone’s guess, as there didn’t seem to be any risk/reward calculations involved in that time four guys tied me to a tetherball pole and beat me with a dildo. (I went to a private Christian school, so weird things happened.) But if we were going to try and apply these results practically, I suppose this might lead to a pill-based anti-bullying medication. Just chemically deaden the pleasure centers in all bullies’ brains. Because, really, are they using any other part of their brains anyway? In conclusion, I’m a dork. More details here.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Oh No, Obama!

This has been making the rounds on skeptical and political blogs for about a day now, but I thought it important enough to comment on myself. (And if you check out my IMDB profile, I also thought Tank Girl was important enough to comment on myself.) Apparently Barack Obama is considering appointing environmental activist Robert Kennedy, Jr. as head of the EPA. While it might seem like a good idea to appoint someone who cares about the environment to be the head protector of said environment, giving RFK, Jr. the position is an absolutely terrible idea. Tragic, even, if it actually happens. See, Little Bobby is kind of a nut. He's an anti-vaccination conspiracy theorist, an election conspiracy theorist, and an unabashed admirer of Venezuelan dictator and part-time political comedian Hugo Chavez. In other words, the guy's bad news. He can't think critically, and his decision making skills are suspect at best. He's about as anti-science as they come. Orac has posted a link to the contact information for Obama's transition team, and I suggest you send them a message about this potentially horrible decision. Here's what I wrote:

First of all, I'd like to congratulate President elect Obama and Vice President elect Biden on winning a landslide victory based on a campaign of honesty, integrity, and respect for the American people. I am a fervent supporter of Sen. Obama's and am looking forward to a new and exciting chapter in American politics.

The men and women appointed to Sen. Obama's cabinet and to the heads of various federal agencies will play a very large part in shaping this future. With the threat of global warming looming over the entire planet, environmental issues have understandably been a major focus of Sen. Obama's campaign. This is why the appointment of the next head of the Environmental Protection Agency is so important.

I was disturbed and dismayed to hear recently that Sen. Obama is considering environmental activist Robert Kennedy, Jr. for this post. While Mr. Kennedy has undoubtedly proved a staunch defender and champion of environmental causes through the years, I feel his tendency toward anti-scientific, conspiracy-minded thinking will prove nothing but a hindrance to the goals of the EPA. Mr. Kennedy has been a vocal critic of vaccination programs, spreading false and misleading information about the harmfulness of vaccines despite all scientific evidence that vaccination programs are not only safe, but are the single most important contribution to public health in the history of medicine. While his anti-vaccination stance may not have a direct relation to environmental protection, it illustrates a startling lack of critical thinking and a hostile attitude toward scientific consensus.

Mr. Kennedy has also been a mouthpiece for false conspiracy theories about the efficacy of the 2004 presidential election, suggesting among many other claims, that the election was somehow stolen by George W. Bush. While the defeat of President Bush would have certainly been welcome, these conspiracy theories once more demonstrate a hostile attitude toward evidence and reason.

Finally, Mr. Kennedy is a vocal supporter of Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez and has praised Mr. Chavez as a visionary leader despite the fact that Mr. Chavez has manufactured elections, taken private property away from his own citizens, and participated in the kind of coup-based politics that are nearly the opposite of American ideals and values. Again, this belief on Mr. Kennedy's part is just another sign that he does not have the critical decision making capacity to effectively head such an important federal agency as the EPA.

I'm sure that Mr. Kennedy is a decent person who honestly believes in what he says and trusts that he has the best interests of Americans and the rest of the world's population in heart. However, he clearly does not respect or understand the role of scientific evidence and rational decision making important to effective leadership. I'm afraid that as head of the EPA, Mr. Kennedy would be susceptible to the same kinds of false arguments and misguided beliefs that have clearly shaped his world view today. For these reasons, I hope and trust that Sen. Obama will think twice about appointing Mr. Kennedy to this position or to any other position of authority in the federal government.

Sincerely,
Brian Thompson

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

UFO Blackout

So, the power went out for a little while in a town called Chorley in northwest England. Seems simple enough, but maybe that's just what the aliens want you to believe. John Szwarc says he and his wife were driving near the local power station just before the blackout and saw a large cross-shaped UFO and an accompanying glowing orb hovering in the sky. The power company says the blackout was the result of a faulty cable, but Szwarc isn't buying that perfectly "reasonable" story for a second. The aliens want us fumbling around in the dark, apparently. "I am aware that electrical power cuts have been associated with UFO activity in the past," he said. The reporter didn't press him on what other baseless falsehoods he's aware of, but that's really beside the point. The moral of this story is that you'd better keep a crank-operated ion cannon on your roof, because there's no way you're going to shoot down the oncoming spaceship hordes if you have to plug in. More details here.

Florida Forrestphiles

Okay, so Barack Obama's election hasn't given the country a reason enema like it should have. Proposition 8 was defeated in California, so now an entire population of citizens will have their civil rights taken away because an invisible person thinks dudes kissing is icky. A similar ban on gay marriage was voted into law in Florida, but no one was really surprised about that. Mostly because of stories like this: The Duval County School Board voted earlier this week to prevent changing the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest High School even though the student population is over 50% black and Nathan Bedford Forrest was a Confederate slave trader and Ku Klux Klan leader. Actually, the last part is reason enough. White kids shouldn't have to suffer this indignity either. Because they're racist morons, the majority white school board decided that Forrest, who was elected the KKK's first Grand Wizard and allegedly massacred black prisoners during the Civil War, has gotten a bad rap over the years. One Forrest supporter who attended the school board meeting on the issue praised the former Confederate general as a "military genius". So it's good to know their priorities are in order. More details here.

Obama Defeats Truman

As you've probably heard, Barack Obama was elected president of the United States last night. Our panel of experts (thanks to Christian, Karl, Maria, Elyse, Rebecca, Lisa, Tim, Brother Richard, Phil, and everyone who provided color commentary) covered the election returns live, but there wasn't too much of a chance to soberly talk about what this election means since most of us were nude and drunk. It's important to remember that although Obama's presidency will undoubtedly deliver plenty of disappointments and head-scratching decisions, the fact remains that America has gone some way toward washing itself of the seemingly permanent stain of racism we've endured since before we became our own country. But even beyond the symbolic importance, Obama is actually a candidate that fact-based science fans like us can get behind. Did you notice the nod to scientific progress in Obama's victory speech? We have a president who took the time to write in the prologue (that's the part that comes first!) of his book The Audacity of Hope that he believes in evolution and scientific inquiry. Those are his words: "scientific inquiry". Whether he'll be a good president, a great president, or the fattest president since Taft (it could happen) remains to be seen, but at least we have a president who lives in reality. Which is great for him, since reality is where all the cool stuff happens. It's nice to be happy for a while, isn't it?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Night Crunkathon '08

Crack open the champagne or puncture the Ziploc bag of homemade hooch you've been fermenting under your bunk, because it's time for the liveblogging event of the fall fashion season: Election Night Crunkathon '08! Below, you can see a window for the liveblog where our panel of experts and amateurs will be checking in at the top of every hour this evening (starting at 7pm EST) to catch you up on election news and/or make uncomfortable jokes involving genitalia. Also, you can see a window for the evening's open chat room, where you can interact with fellow political junkies or perhaps score some smack from actual junkies. Anything goes in the chat room, and it's yours until the party ends when the election is called for Ralph Nader. Or whatever. Plus, there's a fabulous prize of one (1) roll of George W. Bush toilet paper for the lucky chatter who can describe the most creative use for this priceless relic from the past eight years of American horror. If you want to be considered, please include your email address in your post.

That's it. Let's crunk it up.



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Unfrozen Caveman Mouse

Okay, so maybe the mouse wasn't a caveman. But still, Japanese scientists have successfully cloned a mouse that had been frozen for sixteen years (since the Flannel Era, as archaeologists call it). They used a technique called nucleus transfer, whereby they swapped a nucleus from one of the frozen mouse's cells with that of a living mouse's egg call. Being a creepy clone hasn't apparently stifled the unfrozen caveman mouse's social skills, as he's successfully reproduced with a female. Obviously, this research just makes us pine all the more for a day when we can create cloned herds of prehistoric beasts that eventually escape our control and teach us all a lesson about playing god. But that's a tricky proposition. To create a cloned woolly mammoth, for instance, you'd need to carry the clone to term in a modern elephant. And I imagine the birth video would be pretty freaky. More details here.

Doggy Suicide

For over fifty years now, dogs have been mysteriously hurling themselves off the Dumbarton Bridge in Scotland. There's nothing about the area which would make a dog's life particularly depressing, and being illiterate animals, they rarely leave a note. A BBC documentary investigated the doggy deaths and determined that the animals were following the scent of mink trails. Which sounds like a mundane explanation until you discover that this was due to the fact that Scottish dogs maintain an elaborate black market fur trading empire. Still, despite the fact that science has successfully explained the phenomenon, cranks aren't so quick to lay the issue to rest. One such crank is 44-year-old Utopias Shinne (yes, that does sound like an L. Ron Hubbard character), who says that "psychic research" at the bridge has revealed that it's haunted by a white or gray lady, and that a medium claimed to feel the presence of an "angry ghost" there. This, of course, makes no sense. For one thing, "psychic research" is the same thing as "no research". And for another, why would this ghost have a thing for pushing dogs off bridges? More details here.

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