Heavy Hitters, Part 2: By the Numbers

(This is the second installment in a five-part series about fat acceptance.)
Regarding the medical aspects of being overweight or obese, do fat advocates have a case? Overwhelmingly, statistics are not on their side. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney (NIDDK) Diseases of the National Institutes of Health, the Federal Government’s lead agency responsible for biomedical research on nutrition and obesity, excess weight is associated with an increased incidence of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke, diabetes, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, gallbladder disease, fatty liver disease, and some forms of cancer.

Continue reading “Heavy Hitters, Part 2: By the Numbers”

The latest on fighting fire(water): worth a hill of beans?

This has probably been addressed within this blogmunity already, but a highly publicized study of almost 130,000 Kaiser Permanante members in Northern California has concluded that coffee consumption decreases the risk of alcoholic cirrhosis in a dose-dependent manner.

…drinking one to three cups of coffee a day was associated with a 40% decrease in the risk of alcoholic cirrhosis versus drinking less than one cup (P<0.001), according to a report in the June 13 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Moreover … this protective effect appears to be dose-dependent. Those who drank four or more cups of coffee had an 80% decrease in the relative risk of alcoholic cirrhosis (95% CI 0.1-0.4, P<0.001).
Among subgroups of patients with nonalcoholic cirrhosis, coffee had a similar, weak, nonstatistically significant inverse relation to risk of either viral hepatitis-associated cirrhosis or to miscellaneous other cirrhosis.

I’ll offer the usual caveat (I’d have to read the entire thing to have a genuine clue) but I found it telling that lifestyle habits (i.e., amount of coffee and alcohol consumed) were collected only at baseline in a study in which enrollees were followed up 16 to 23 years later.

Continue reading “The latest on fighting fire(water): worth a hill of beans?”

Heavy Hitters, Part 1: The Scale of the Problem

(This is the first installment in a five-part series about fat acceptance.)
They’ve been part of the U.S. since the days of the Founding Fathers, but in recent years their presence has become increasingly visible. Now comprising about two-thirds of the American populace, the more vocal among their ranks have been causing a stir lately; their unconditional refusal to accept long-standing, seemingly incontrovertible research findings puts them squarely at odds with a large, powerful segment of the scientific community. Moreover, the fight – and its consequences – may only be in the opening round.

Continue reading “Heavy Hitters, Part 1: The Scale of the Problem”

CD burning

“Cognitive dissonance,” that is. I have a certain programmed wariness of this term for the same basic reason I flat-out reject “elitist,” am extremely skeptical of “patriotic,” and even look askance at “liberal” and “conservative”: As a phrase now invoked almost entirely for the purpose of idiot-bashing denigrating political views with which one disagrees, it is one that must be used with care.
I have the perfect example, though.

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The MSM straw-manhandles evolution again

Don’t panic just yet. Although Kerwin Brown, the writer of this engagingly senseless bit of blog-slag claims to be in the media and communications industry, I wouldn’t bet the Hummer on this, and “MSM” in this instance refers to some permutation of “mental,” “senseless,” “meandering,” “stuporous,” and the associated noun forms of these and a number of profane words.
I have nothing original to say about this doggedly inept exposition. I’m amused by Kerwin’s unintentional admission — even he seems aware that the motives of early Christian church leaders were about 100 percent utilitarian and zero percent honest. And Darwin had no need for another religion — it’s well established that in later life, he, having renounced Christianity himself, was troubled by the potential ecclesiastical implications of his biological theories and findings and certainly wasn’t looking to found a new religion in any sense. Kerwin’s comment about scientific methodology is too muddled to either parse or critique. His observation that Darwin’s ideas were met with resistance by scientists of his day is baldly irrelevant given how many of his hypotheses have since been tested and validated (some of these creationists, perhaps shackled by the static nature of their dogma, seem to think Charles Darwin remains the only evolutionary biologist in human history) and his suggestion that Darwin’s ideas were borne to us on a cloud of racism would be another red herring were it not simply false. As for “Java Man was used to prove that evolution was a fact,” well, Kerwin must have consulted different resources than I would choose in order to reach this whimsical conclusion.

A whopper of a calculation?

Just as I turned off the TV before heading out the door for a run last night, an unseen but jaunty-sounding fellow confided from within the idiot box that there were 1,537 ways to order a Burger King Whopper® (about 1.2 to 3 per calorie provided, I later ascertained). Being a numbers sort by inclinaton, I had no choice but to try to figure out, armed only with basic knowledge about the sandwich in question and lingering skills from my academic salad days, how the BK geek squad had come up with this figure.

Continue reading “A whopper of a calculation?”

Claims that are hard to swallow

Now that you’ve presumably digested my appetizer on fat acceptance, it’s time for a sampling of some of BFB’s recent output. Here, Mr. McAleer cites an article that suggests that corporate influence peddling may sway medical researchers toward conclusions favoring the funding source. (I asked a Harvard School of Public Health obesity researcher about alleged corporate influence on work he’s been involved with and will relate his reply in a future entry.) The article says nothing about obesity studies, but McAleer’s conclusion — already iterated on his blog too many times to count — is that any data suggesting a link between overweight and health woes is either biased or ineptly collected, so he feels confident in again mentioning the alleged conspiracy between companies like Weight Watchers and independent researchers.
Given this background, here’s a look at some the sources commonly used by Big Fat Blog to “debunk” the crazy — and I daresay tasteless — idea that disease and excess weight are related.

Continue reading “Claims that are hard to swallow”

Take your Pickler

After being tied for third after four events, Diana Pickler wound up taking third and Julie Pickler fifth in the heptathlon at the NCAA championships (results). Diana’s 5,757-point performance was a personal lifetime best by 162 points; Julie’s 5,603 fell 131 short of her highest-ever total. Their best outings are now separated by 23 points, or less than one-third of one percent. That’s like beating your buddy in a mile race by about a second.
On day two, Diana pulled cleanly away from her sib by taking Julie’s measure in the long jump (5.88m – 5.73m), outgunning her in the javelin throw (40.27m – 37.45m) and bolting away from her in the 800-meter run (2:20.15 – 2:24.23). Looking at the final breakdown, Diana would up with a 53-point advantage in the three running events, a 119-point advantage in the two jumps, and a 19-point deficit in the two throws. However, only in the jumps was Diana’s advantage consistent.
I’m glad the season is over, because I’ve already had to go back and edit this post a number of times owing to confusing one sister’s efforts with the other’s. If similarly skilled triplets ever take up track and field, I’ll leave the task of following them to someone else.

Virtue reality?

I could go on all day long about this story, but it being the Sabbath and all, I will only make a few brief comments.
First of all, the reporter’s pandering to Bosserman’s “conviction” and “virtues” is misplaced at best. “Nauseating” is a better term. So the guy sticks to the orthodox brand of his religion and doesn’t lift a finger one day out of each week. Fine; I do little besides cruise the Web for the better part of every day, and I have no deities with which to excuse my layabout ways.
But then there’s this:

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Cool as two cucumbers

Okay, I know that identical twins are genetic carbon copies of each other and all, but how does this translate into similarites in objective task performance?
Twin sisters Diana and Julie Pickler, who are members of Washington State University’s track and field team, are competing in the heptathlon at the NCAA Championships in Sacramento. For those who have forgotten, the heptathlon is a two-day affair consisting of the 100-meter high hurdles, high jump shot put, 200-meter dash (day one)and the long jump, javelin throw, and 800-meter run (day two). Competitiors can rack up anywhere from zero to 1,000 points in each event, with scoring done via tables.
One expects the sisters to be similarly talented, but this is ridiculous: At the end of one day of competition, the twins shared third place with 3,451 points each. Julie had edged her sister by 0.26 seconds in the hurdles and thrown the shot about 3 1/2 feet further, while Diana jumped 2 1/4″ higher than her sib and ran 0.37 seconds faster in the 200. On the basis of this very limited information, neither woman seems to have a distinct advantage over the other in any defined realm, i.e., in terms of speed, finesse or power. Going into this season, Julie’s lifetime best (5,650 points) was 55 points higher than Diana’s, a difference of less than 1%.
It’s unlikely that the twins will remain tied when the competition ends tomorrow afternoon (results here), but the question is: Will Diana — the older twin by four minutes and the one who apparently winds up in front most often — or Julie prevail and why? (Invoking the trivial age difference is probably inane, but I can’t think of much else to add.)

Big deal, this blog

When I turned to the sports section of Tuesday’s USA Today, the first news I spotted was, as usual, bad: Former Major League Baseball umpire Eric Gregg had died of complications of a stroke. Gregg, one of only a handful of African-American umps in pro ball, was a treat to watch because of his flamboyant style. Though he was by definition a subject of constant on-the-job controversy, Gregg rarely displayed impatience with the grown children with whom he shared the field, always seeming to both value and enjoy himself and the game. Packing close to 400 pounds on a 6′ 3″ frame at one time, Gregg was 55 years old.
The Life section of the same newspaper was headlined by a story about the difficulties facing boomers as they transition into old age. Ever-increasing rates of obesity combined with nursing-home personnel shortages, the story explained, will spell disaster for a population whose leaner members already face a host of age-related mobility problems. There was nothing surprising, encouraging, or controversial about this item.
To most people, anyway. To others, the article was one in an endless line of one-sided, hateful and dishonest pot-shots at overweight people, apparently everyone’s favorite collective whipping person these days (with the exception, that is, of other non-minority minority groups claiming this aintle, e.g., conservative Christians). From doctors to potato-chip makers to narcissistic bodybuilders to self-loathing anorexics, everyone evidently hates fat people.

Continue reading “Big deal, this blog”

The foundering of America

Complaints from the wingnut brigade about the “war on Christmas” (how these followers of an archetypal peacenik love to talk in terms of battle!) are part of a greater ethos that posits that the United States is a country “founded on Christian principles.” They claim that its laws, traditions and moral codes are rooted solidly in devotion to Christ, with the founding fathers leading the charge on behalf of Jesus. They point to this claim whenever a redneck judge insists on displaying the Ten Commandments at a courthouse or when controversies regarding the Pledge of Allegiance arise. They say that church-state separation is an outcropping of “revisionist history.”

As usual, their ignorance is as astounding as it is unyielding. Also as usual, the irony is thick enough to eat with a trowel: Those bitching loudest about the supposed rewriting of U.S. history haven’t a clue about the very annals they themselves are desperately ignoring in their attempts to modify the record books to their liking.

Although Christianity — in its various guises and with its battling subgroups — is and always has been the predominant stateside religious affiliation, this is not tantamount to either a constitutional endorsement of same or a reflection of the founding fathers’ personal beliefs. Ardent Christians often invoke the names Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Henry and Paine when advancing the idea that the kick-starters of America really — no, really, it’s true, look into it — intended for the U.S. to be a Christian nation, despite no mention of Jesus or Christianity in the U.S. Constitution. In doing so, they’re only beshitting the very case they are trying to make. These men were men of faith, but were largely Deist and, more to the point, vehemently anti-sectarian and anti-Christian. (Had they not lived before the advent of molecular genetics, microbiology, geoscience and other helpful disciplines, they likely would have would have questioned even their vague ideas about a Creator, but that’s a side issue.)

References are legion, and although a thorough understanding of history is always preferable to following a few Internet links, here’s an excerpt from a concise summary of the founders’ documented attitudes about Bible-based Christianity.

Thomas Jefferson:

I have examined all the known superstitions of the world, and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology. Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth.

Christianity…(has become) the most perverted system that ever shone on man. …Rogueries, absurdities and untruths were perpetrated upon the teachings of Jesus by a large band of dupes and importers led by Paul, the first great corrupter of the teaching of Jesus.

The clergy converted the simple teachings of Jesus into an engine for enslaving mankind and adulterated by artificial constructions into a contrivance to filch wealth and power to themselves…these clergy, in fact, constitute the real Anti-Christ.

Jefferson’s word for the Bible? Dunghill.

John Adams:

Where do we find a precept in the Bible for Creeds, Confessions, Doctrines and Oaths, and whole carloads of other trumpery that we find religion encumbered with in these days?

The doctrine of the divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity.
Adams signed the Treaty of Tripoli. Article 11 states:

The Government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.

Thomas Paine:

I would not dare to so dishonor my Creator God by attaching His name to that book (the Bible).

Among the most detestable villains in history, you could not find one worse than Moses. Here is an order, attributed to ‘God’ to butcher the boys, to massacre the mothers and to debauch and rape the daughters. I would not dare so dishonor my Creator’s name by (attaching) it to this filthy book (the Bible).

It is the duty of every true Deist to vindicate the moral justice of God against the evils of the Bible.

Accustom a people to believe that priests and clergy can forgive sins…and you will have sins in abundance.

The Christian church has set up a religion of pomp and revenue in pretended imitation of a person (Jesus) who lived a life of poverty.

(Paine’s notable work The Age of Reason is as hilarious as it is instructive.)

James Madison:

What influence in fact have Christian ecclesiastical establishments had on civil society? In many instances they have been upholding the thrones of political tyranny. In no instance have they been seen as the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty have found in the clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate liberty, does not need the clergy.

Madison objected to state-supported chaplains in Congress and to the exemption of churches from taxation. He wrote:

Religion and government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.

So, as loudly as the Christians demanding special dispensation screech, historical evidence firmly relegates their entreaties about the founders to la-la land along with too many other insane ideas to count.

The strangest and saddest part? Christians, even when history texts are flung open beneath their noses, have no qualms about simply squeezing their eyes shut, jamming their fingers in their ears and bellowing “KWISTIUN NASHUN! KWISTIUN NASHUN!” over and over until their challengers give up and move on, thereby preserving the Christians’ perverse espirit de corps until they produce their next complaint about the commies at the ACLU and the librul America-haters who abet them. It’s one thing for backwater Bible-beaters to deny the scientific reality of evolution; after all, it takes a modicum of study for even an open-minded and scholarly person to appreciate the various precise ways in which anti-evolutionists reveal themselves to be as off the beam with respect to biology as they are in other areas. But even an idiot can appreciate the gravity and meaning of Thomas Jefferson referring to the Bible as a pile of shit. Yet such references don’t sway them or slow them down in the least.

As with all godidiotic undertakings, this would be funny (albeit in the discomfiting way that stumbling upon fornicating senior citizens is amusing) were it not so ominous. that wingnuts can continue screeching that America is a nation founded on Christianity when all historical evidence demonstrates otherwise.

Thomas Jefferson et al. would certainly find the modern-day manifestation of “Christianity,” with its grisly infestation of top-level goverment affairs and decisions, especially abhorrent. They would find it abominable that highly visible assclown Christian individuals and groups shrug off hurricane destruction and death on the basis of natural disasters’ origins in divine punishment, and they would cringe at seeing a large fraction of the populace justifying America’s involvement in a futile war by pointing directly or indirectly at the Christian Bible. They would rail against the hamstringing of scientific progress by people who, motivated by vague and misguided notions of God’s will, believe that the “life” of a corpse that has spent years on a ventilator or a newly formed morula is more valuable than that of a fully sentient ALS sufferer.

Which is exactly why people like me, who are anything but anti-American, are pointing fingers today.

We wish you a buried Christmas…

…and a jappy Jew queer. Or so some claim.

Last year was the first one in which I remember the substitution of “Happy Holidays” for “Merry Christmas” by numerous merchants and other public entities becoming an attention-gathering issue. As you might imagine, I didn’t really care; I’m an atheist who is technically a “Christian” by birth (the WASP son of an agnostic and a lapsed Catholic), has always taken part in the commerical ritual of modern-day Christmas, and — being well aware of the pagan origins of the holiday presently dictated by consumer extravagance and credit-card debt — has never questioned the clear detachment of the life and times of Jesus Christ from Frosty the Snowman, red-nosed reindeer, or egg nog.

Moreover, I took no special pleasure in watching innumerable Christians complain about an increasingly popular move which, according to their claims, is aimed at striking Jesus from the American historical record and denying this nation’s “Christian heritage” (which is demonstrably nonexistent, but that’s for another disgustion). If anything, I initially found it odd that Christians would rail so strongly in favor of ensuring that tableaus rife with toy-making elves, popcorn garlands, mistletoes, and the Grinch would reign supreme in the public eye over menorahs and Kinaras, given that Jesus would likely have been mortified by the whole Yule display of human excess at its finest. But then I quickly reminded myself that vocal Christians’ chief mission is to blindly ensure that the word “Christ” appears in this country in as many places as possible, regardless of context. They may claim to wish only to spread “God’s word,” but at heart they’re all for the P.T. Barnum model of publicity. Like every other business, they enjoy free advertising, but in their case they literally feel entitled to it, which makes their declarations of woe especially malignant.

This year, the volume level of this particular channel has shot up tremendously. Since before Thanksgiving, every day has brought several news items revolving around the decision of a major retailer or outfit such as Wal-Mart or the USPS to de-emphasize Christmas in favor of a more general approach to getting people to buy shit during the all-important holiday season. Here is a representative one. Note the pastor’s observation: “The way I see it is retailers want to make Christmas money without acknowledging Christmas.” That’s right — not unlike the way Christians want creation “science” taught in public schools without acknowledging science. Then there are amazingly vacuous bits of “but why, Grandpa?”-style demagoguery like this, and biology professor P.Z. Myers has a nice summary of the whole circus at the eminently pro-nontheist Pharyngula.

Bill O’Reilly, who would be the first person admitted to Hell if there really were such a place and its chief sexual harassment correspondent, wasted his and his viewers’ time (not that people parked nightly in front of Fox have anything better to do) with this segment, in which he examined who is and isn’t adopting the MC-HH transmogrification. In each instance of “Christmas-squashing,” a large band of wingnuts has surfaced to generate large amounts of static about the efforts of secularists, liberals, communists, atheists and their chief abettor, the ACLU, to destroy “the true meaning of Christmas,” though no one seems clear on what that actually is, with the possible exception of the ancient Romans.

To hear them tell it, the National Guard is standing by and prepared to sweep anyone uttering a peep about Christmas off the streets and in the general direction of Gitmo. They’re also convinced that the phrase “Happy Holidays” somehow excludes Christmas by not making overt mention of it — an archetypal example of Christians’ demand for pedestal placement.

To be honest, especially given America’s slate of more pressing concerns, this is a bunch of bullshit. There’s no reason people should be hesitant to sing Christmas carols, deck the halls, display trees or nativity scenes. Christians, though misguided in myriad ways and especially in conflating the American holiday with the Jewish folk hero, are correct in pointing out that Christmas is an American tradition. If a guy like me can swallow it without wincing, it can’t, at its root, be faith-driven.

The maneuverings of the ACLU may seem excessive. The thing is, if Christians aren’t kept in check at all times, they engage in increasing levels of tomfuckery until someone shuts them down. Whenever they claim to be asking only for equal treatment, they’re demanding the expansion of the special treatment they already enjoy across multiple realms. The best example I can provide is the gathering of mushbrains at StopTheACLU.com, whose collective penchant for whine-based lying is trumped only by its writers’ and followers’ inability to understand the subjects they choose to rant about. That the government gives these talking cloacas property-tax exemptions and money for bullshit-based sex abstinence programs says it all. So it’s best to nip their machinations in the bud.

Overall, when I watch Christians squawk and stomp their feet over the “denigration” of Christmas, the term that comes to mind is just desserts, or, if you prefer, divine retribution. For as long as anyone can remember, plenty of us have been telling Christians — directly and indirectly, personally and through media or legal channels — that we don’t want them coming to our homes to push their mythology on us, we don’t want them arsing up our biology classes or biomedical research, we don’t need their ideas about homosexuality to become a part of American law, we don’t care for their insane ideas about the origins of natural disasters, we aren’t sympatico with their conviction that God and morality are inextricable, and we don’t give a rip what their charmed book of ghost stories claims will happen if we stick our pee-pees in places some jealous skygod allegedly doesn’t approve of. But feeling supremely entitled to the imposing of their views on anything with a pulse, they’ve never paid attention. They’re surely unable to grok or appreciate the irony here, but it’s fun to watch anyway.

In addition, we non-theists have stressed at every opportunity that it’s not Christianity per se that is bothersome but religious aggression, which of course is virtually synonymous with fundagelicalism in the United States. Ever notice that Jews, Native American spiritualists, and Buddhists aren’t out to convert people? It helps to not be worried about being posthumously shipped off to black-fantasy-world furnaces and torture chambers where no one bothers to keep track of the time.

The bottom line is that Christians are choking on their own bile. The funniest part of it is that if they bothered to act remotely in accordance with what they supposedly stand for, they wouldn’t have to.

Feliz Noel.

Another day in fools’ paradise

With Hurricane Wilma three weeks in the meteorological books and utilities restored to most in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, things in South Florida are more or less back to normal. For example, two Fort Lauderdale doctors just pleaded guilty to using fake botox; a toddler drowned in a West Palm Beach swimming pool; three brave up-and-comers rammed a motorboat into a channel marker near Boynton Beach in the pitch black, killing one of them; a Pompano Beach family was killed when their SUV collided with a train; and the recently suspended city manager of Deerfield Beach is petitioning for a contract extension.

Threads of normalcy ran throughout my own busy day as well. I was awakened by the hammering, yammering and general loud bonhomie of the “workers” outside my door, who seemed to be intent on reaching relatives back in Gaudalajara without the use of telecommunications devices. When I went outside, one of them was using a leaf blower to clear pieces of terra cotta roofing from the steps. Several discarded Coke cans lay in the third-floor breezeway serving four apartments: signatures of the construction trade.

When it came time for my afternoon run — done in the typical crisp 80-degree temps of mid-November — I was treated to the sight of an apartment complex with screen balconies that had been uniformly treated like five-dollar whores, with the enclosures having been transformed into curious Rorshach patterns of torn mesh and warped metal; perhaps the residents had left them that way after declaring them art. I alternately dodged piles of branches and septuagenarian-commanded golf carts. I passed a stone golf-community marker that had been toppled by Wilma and not yet righted and marveled; it easily carried the heft of a half-dozen large gravestones. (Of course, in accordance with local standards of shoddiness, it had probably never been sunk properly in the ground but simply placed on the soil.)

After waiting almost five minutes for the recently restored traffic signal to change in my favor so I could cross my local eight-lane monstrosity, I watched a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Deputy blow through the nascent red light less than ten feet from where I stood, en route to a destination that evidently warranted no siren. Like every other motorist in this swampy armpit, he obviously believed that shaving two minutes off his trip to the next box store or fast-food joint was more important than yielding the lawful right of way to someone dumb enough to be on foot in this century. “I hate this fucking place,” I remarked to the wading birds lurking elegantly at the brim of a nearby canal. I believe they empathized, but were apparently more accepting of the direction this place has taken than I.

Once home, I figured I’d work a necessary visit to the local parochial school in with a trip to the nearby dog park. The skies were clear when I left, darkening by the time I left the school ten minutes later, and as I approached the park the deluge began. “Sorry,” I muttered into the back seat, and turned around.

By the time I got home the skies were blue again. I had to go to the grocery store and considered walking the one-klick distance, but reckoned I’d get soaked if I did. So I drove, nearly being clipped by a Jeep housing two bimbi and cranking along the main driveway of the apartment complex in reverse. Sure enough, when I left Publix (jammed, as always, regardless of day or time thereof), it was pouring South Florida-style. I congratulated myself for my wise decision and stepped off the curb. I was soaked within three seconds and, having demonstrated sterling judgment in wearing flip-flops, almost fell on my ass with twenty-five pounds’ worth of groceries.

The lowlight of the day, if not the most emblematic, was finding reason to post these uninspired, uninspiring events on Jeff Kilgore’s message board as soon as I was in for the evening. That’s like slithering into a bar full of malevolent, coked-up NFL washouts and moaning toward the floor about how you can’t keep your hot but stupid wife from banging other guys. At least here I have those benevolent bonobos (however faint) for an audience.

(Up)standing Pat

Pat Robertson has been bonkers since the Taft administration, but unlike other members of the Religious Reich (e.g., James Dobson, Jerry Falwell) — who maintain a more or less steady but low-grade public presence — Robertson is a binge idiot, interspersing islands of relative quiescence with bursts of raucous verbal flatulence suggesting he either has some of the worst judgment in history or is truly insane (not that these are mutually exclusive qualities, but I digress).

A couple of months ago, Robertson famously shat all over New Orleans, opinining that if abortion were not legal, Hurricane Katrina would have avoided savaging the Big Easy. (Robertson, of course, was far from alone in serving up this and similar solecisms.) On the heels of that, in a move so misguided it appeared parodic even by the standards of the source, he called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Chavez. Soon afterward, realizing for once that he had stuck his foot so far into his mouth that his anus appeared to have sprouted toes, he backpedaled, but by then it was too late, and besides, it’s not as though anyone was really surprised. (For an amusing litany of all known Robertson faux pas, go here).

Now, with all eight school board members supporting ID having been voted off the backwater island that is Dover, Pennsylvania, Robertson noted that God was likely to forsake the town, what with turnabout being fair play and all. At least he didn’t recommend offing anyone. (Be sure to watch the 700 Club clip.)

Dispatches from the Culture Wars has a brief but amusing post on this, and also goes into some detail about the general situation in Dover. The blog’s owner and operator, Ed Brayton, is a fine wordsmith who has also written extensively about the ACLU’s penchant for defending freedom of religious expression, not that the facts are bound to sway the energetically uneducable troglodytes zealots at StoptheACLU.com.

Wrong Said Fred

It’s hard to believe that someone can imbue an eleven-paragraph essay with the quantity of ignorance that this asstard has. Hopefully he’s just raving for effect, something near and dear to me. But his convictions seem genuine.

I hate it when frigslappers refer to the “church” of evolution, spuriously likening an enormous number of well-established scientific facts to the blind faith and ludicrous nonsense inherent in creationist claims.

“If Pennsylvania wants to mention Creationism, or to require three years of French for graduation, it seems mightily to me that these things are the business of parents in Pennslyvania.”

Leaving aside the fact that one backwater town, not “Pennsylvania” as a whole, is involved in this skirmish: Facts are not subjective, something too many people refuse to accept or even understand. Science classes are simply not forums for the expression of any and all ideas. Those classses exist, so no one is being cheated if what’s taught in biology courses is limited to naturalistic material. But everyone is cheated if faith-based idiocy takes root.

The reason the courts get involved in these matters is simple — we’re a nation of abject morons that increasingly deserves to be carved out of the planet and fired in the general direction of Altair (which, come to think of it, would mark the Rapture and therefore make lots of fundies happy).

What if Pennsylvania wants to teach its students scientific “facts” about ghosts, the healing power of magnets, or the divine origin of natural disasters? What if they allow a vote in Georgia or Alabama as to whether re-segregating schools, or just lynching blacks outright, might be a good idea? What if Texas wants to make football mandatory for every male over the age of four? Lots of people believe in the utility of such shit; this is their birthright as Americans, but shepherding it into public schools is a different matter.

“I do not object to the content of Evolutionism. Some, all, or part of it may be correct.”

Good deal. How generous of someone who’s clearly and proudly a fifth-degree bumpkin to say that something 99.9% of scientists support might be correct. What makes objects tend to fall from the sky to the ground? Might it be gravity, or does the earth just suck?

Fred, like most Americans, can’t even distingush between abiogenesis and evolution:

“…an entertaining way to study the politics is to ask the Evolutionists questions that a scientist would answer…They are simple. (1) Has the chance occurrence of life been demonstrated in the laboratory? Yes or no. (2) Do we really know, as distinct from guess, hope, or imagine, of what the primeval seas consisted? Yes or no. (3) Do we know, as distinct from guess, pray, wave our arms, and hold our breath and turn blue, what seas would be needed for the chance formation of life? Yes or no. (4) Can we show mathematically, without crafted and unsupportable assumptions, that the formation of life would be probable in any soup whatever? Yes or no.

“…Of the Knights Templar of Evolution, none—not one—answered the foregoing yes-or-no questions. They ducked. They dodged. They waxed wroth. They called names.”

Evolution doesn’t touch the primordial seas or the chance occurence of life. Much remains to be discovered about the origin of life, but what’s known about evolution is as incontrovertibly true as anything can get. He doesn’t know fuck from phinola.

Victory by the good guys in the Dover trial seems all but assured, but what has recently happened in Kansas is a travesty. They should evacuate everyone with an IQ over 75 (which would only require two or three full-size school buses) and then nuke the goddamned place. (Admittedly, places like Oklahoma and Nebraska would probably not favor such a thing.)

Actually, the whole country is fast becoming a waste of space. Slack-faced, ponderous booger-eaters whacking their Bibles with one hand and dialing out for an XXXL pizza pie with the other. Again, they should be able to do exactly this and more if they like, but it’s not pretty to watch. Europeans — scientists and otherwise — are caught between titillation and horror when hearing about this ID garbage, to say nothing of our collective corpulence.

Other than these trivial things, two thumbs up to Fred’s essay.

The rhetorical Eephus pitch

I am sometimes asked — indirectly, in the form of angry outbursts from wounded parties — why I am so strident in criticizing the failures of religion. To hear believers tell it, as in this fine example (see the comments), they are all for hearing views from the god-free camp — as long as such views are not dismissive, straightforward, strongly worded, categorical or otherwise couched in such a way as to get their central message across without confusion. In other words, it’s okay to criticize faith as long as it comes off as something other than criticism.

I am obviously among those who believe that faith in the supernatural ought to be treated just as irreverently as any other idea grounded in high-grade horseshit, e.g., “psychic” consultants, astrology, fad diets and so on. That most people in America are religious to some extent doesn’t cow me, because it doesn’t take, well, a genius to grok that most people in the U.S. are stupid in one and usually numerous realms, usually in concert with their own particular “failures” (obesity, poverty, insecurity, and so on). I am among these unfortunates, as frequent lapses in judgment have established, but if nothing else I happen to have escaped the religious byrus.

Apart from this, however, I have an ulterior motive in being especially aggressive when it comes to taking on the assertions of the faithful. Part of the reason I do this is because I know that even if I begin gently, in accordance with the tacit demands of believers, I’ll ultimately wind up stating things in increasingly strong fashion until I reach the point of offensiveness I’m presently accused of adopting from the outset. In other words, I’m sparing everyone the preliminary dancing around. But my chief reason for acting this way is because doing so, in theory at least, puts the faithful in the seemingly strategic position of having a powerful motive for refuting my serves.

It doesn’t take a philosophy background to understand that the best way to defuse an opponent in debate is to prove his assertions false. Yet all I ever hear from goddists is that I’m intolerant, or pompous, or overly wordy, or operating on blind faith of a perversely religious variety — usually some combination of the above. As for why I am supposedly wrong, I’ve never heard the slightest focused argument. I occasionally hear appeals to “authority” such as the Pope, baldly relativistic nonsense about godlessness being just another fundamentalist religion, and, amusingly, figures about the prevalence of belief, as if a mass, institutionalized delusion compensates for the inanity of the whole charade.

In baseball, there’s a phenomenon known as an Eephus pitch. (I saw it demonstrated by Yankees reliever George Frazier back in the 1980’s during a post-season lost cause.) The Wikipedia background is here, but know that the basic idea is that this is a pitch that by all appearances is an easy target for batters, yet repeatedly stymies its victims. This is how I see challenges to religious doctrine. Give them something that provides every imaginable reason for shredding its originator, and the invariable result is that its recipients can only stammer, yammer and fumblefuck in circles. It wouldn’t even be considered a fair fight were it not for religion’s unfortunate stronghold on American politics.

Is the effectiveness of the rhetorical Eephus pitch telling? Well, only if you remain on the fence or unconvinced of the things I typically write. To me such hollow forms of backlash are entirely predictable, because people who have nothing to back up their belief systems other than belief itself have no forensic option other than complaining of their opponents’ tactics or personalities. Overbearing as I may seem, and overwrought as my writing may be, this isn’t the point; I could shed these qualities and become a wishy-washy, semiliterate religious skeptic instead, and if I did you can bet your ass I’d be criticized on the basis of these shortcomings instead of indicted for verbosity or recalcitrance. Ad hominems, of course, are all the faithful have. Well, that and the inevitable proposition that goddism is exempt from the ordinary burdens of evidence and demonstrable support because, well, that’s how God set things up: the unyielding value of observation, data, mutability and testability on this side, and blind, crass dogma on the other. He’s a tricky character, after all.

All this means is that goddists have every imaginable motive for putting people like me in their place. Yet they don’t. They withdraw from arguments on the basis of their opponents’ alleged uneducability, bitterness, and lack of proper exposure to the real side(s) of [insert religion], or occasionally feing disinterest even after days of back-and-forthing, but that’s pretty much the end of it. No in-your-face challenges of substance, no palpable reasons for why godless folks should just keep their “opinions” (which are no more worthy, supposedly, than those of blind goddies) to themselves. Just generalized retorts.

This is not surprising, given what it is believers are blindly and sadly representing. But it’s instructive from the standpoint of human psychology, as it demonstrates — not for the general good — that a mind selectively deprived of critical thinking properties at an early developmental stage remains irreversibly crippled throughout the lifetime of its owner.

Religious people don’t like me painting them in this light. This is understandable, and they’d surely feel this way even if they could somehow become cognizant of their own de facto lobotomies. But I don’t care, because for my part I don’t like the extreme ramifications of their non-surgical lobotomies, manifested to the discordant tunes of ID creationism, homophobia, opposition to useful medical procedures, and endemic embracing of fucktardation in every imaginable guise. If someone can explain to me the benefits of these solecisms I’m all for learning new things. The point isn’t that all believers embrace any or all of these nasties, but that without the pervasiveness of “faith” such things would recede in terms of incidence and impact. I may be asking the impossible, but remain an idealist anyway.

I look forward to people continuing to take their swings at challenges to shittery. Somehow, I’m not especially worried that I happen to not have brought a glove along, or that in fact there’s no catcher behind the plate. I know a three-pitch, the-whiffs situation when I see one.

The throaty cry of the Black Knight

Many Americans who believe in a Creator do so quietly, harboring as much scorn for their outspoken “leaders” as do the militant atheists allegedly taking over the nation. But the most visible and yammerprone Christians rail incessantly about the leftist American media’s failure to properly represent them, and as usual they’re campaigning against a phantom adversary. Today, finding media outlets supportive of one’s political stance, however paranoid or ramshackle, is not difficult; the Christian world view is scarcely a marginal matter, and every misshapen brainchild of the religious right’s singularly rancid collective consciousness is duly cast squarely into the mainstream.

For all their complaining, Christians prone to agitating for patently theocratic aims have done well for themselves in painting those decrying their bigotry and underhandedness as inimical to humankind. Any writer or philosopher who takes aim at religious superstition (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris jump to mind) is tagged intolerant; anyone who does it serially is called an “enemy of God.”

Even other skeptics often miss the point, which is never that faith in the supernatural itself — while inherently nonsensical — is necessarily destructive, but that faith used to leverage or justify gross political or social misconduct is a vile enemy in every imaginable dimension, because its proponents can justify virtually any solecism, burst of idiocy, or abomination on the basis of an unseen, powerful approbator. Americans forget this far too easily and at a time when it is especially dangerous to do so.

Presently, in the whole kingdom of vile and violent religions, Islamic fundamentalism, with its atrocities toward women, its continual parade of suicide bombings and its anti-Western orientation occupies the throne. But Christians, though less prone these days to outright bloodletting owing more to cultural circumstances than to an intrinsically more humanitarian or useful assortment of beliefs, exhibit no smaller degree of outright lunacy than do Koran warpers and literalists.

Like ultra-high-fidelity malware wrought of a diseased engineering revolution — the tour de Republican force’s astoundingly mindless 21st-century bullshit campaign — the sizable moron arm of America, which enjoys a near-complete overlap with its most ardently religious demographic, lays the blame for every one of its real and imagined ills at the feet of The Liberals. Despite the fact that Republican Party carries both houses of an unusually redneck-laden Congress in addition to occupying the Oval Office, despite the Plame and DeLay and FEMA scandals and the public revulsion to God-fearing conservatives insinuating themselves in full vainglory into the Terri Schaivo mess, these hapless, nonthinking, nonseeing haters of The Liberals believe that this strawman enemy, not reality, is to blame.

Why? For one essential reason: The Liberals won’t roll over and allow Christianity to have its artless, grunting way with schools, with private sex lives, with public policy from A to Zed. Committed Christians are quite literally unable to see what it is that they’re demanding, or that their demands conflict not only with constitutional law but with the most permissive of logical frameworks, and are devoid of anything resembling a “love they neighbor” bearing.

A corollary to this is the moron battalion’s steadfastly unawareness of the impotence of its own arguments. Its members unfailingly cast forth the gleeful fantasy that they have trounced the opposition even as they nominally choke on the shit sandwich that has just been rammed down their ululating throats. This illusion is easier to maintain in online media, where it is common practice to simply ignore items that damage, inconvenience or dismantle thoroughly any coherent points the morons may have tried to advance.

All of this brings to mind a memorable scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, wherein King Arthur, upon being denied passage over a bridge by the Black Knight, systematically dismembers his adversary with his sword, leaving the Black Knight first hopping on two legs, then one, and finally rendering him a bleeding, sputtering torso. Throughout the “battle,” the Black Knight maintains, loosing at the confrontation’s terminus a triumphant cry: “I’M IN-VINNNNNNNNNCIBLE!”

Remember, the important thing here isn’t that the Black Knight has been sliced to bits. It’s that he believes he has won. Any great satirist recognizes that the human capacity for self-deception is indispensable to his trade, and the creators of the Python cinematic series are no exception. And Christian “horsemen” — in arguing fervently against evolution, against non-Christian religious adherents, against “Nigers,” against liberals, and fundamentally against enlightenment, education, and palpable truth — have this one element on their side: conviction. Conviction breeds effort, and this assures that no matter how extraordinarily fuckheaded or odious or oppositional a given Christian cause becomes, they will stand solidly behind it, throwing into and behind it as much money and votes and force and they can. It’s the kind of wide-scale bullying that occasionally raises doubts about whether reality and truth will always prevail in the end, at least stateside, where history is seemingly on the side of the cognizant and the collected.

I’ll delve into specific examples later.