Saturday, June 21, 2008

John Freshwater and a student of his . . .

Back on this thread, I wrote about John Freshwater, a science teacher from Mount Vernon, Ohio, who taught creationism in class and as a "demonstration of electricity" would brand crosses into students arms. I got this comment anonymously, and considering how some students are acting, I understand why someone might want to be anonymous about this. Anyway, here's the quote - it's already posted publicly so there's no confidence issues involved, I should note:

I am a student at Mount Vernon High School and last year had Mr. Freshwater as an 8th grade science teacher. This man should have been fired years ago, far before the branding of a students arm. I have been raised Catholic, and many times we asked him to allow Catholics to be added to his "Fellowship of Christian Athletes" conversation, allow a priest to come in to talk. His exact response was, "I as a True Christian can not allow my students to bear witness to this." I am an atheist though, and he constantly is mixing religion into the classroom, straight out shunning certain students. The only reason anyone is now coming out and saying anything is because in the last year Mount Vernon administration has changed, being that the previous principal and vice principal encouraged him and allowed him to do this.

No real surprise that a fundie Christian is anti-Catholic, is it? And it is interesting to have someone say that it had hitherto been systematic. Not surprising, of course, but interesting.

On the other hand, at least he got fired. I wonder if that would have been the case if the story hadn't gone national. Freshwater says he's going to appeal, but, yeah, right. Unfortunately, he hasn't been arrested for his child abuse (which is a bigger issue than even the teaching of religion in class - the man burned children in his care).

Friday, June 13, 2008

I can't figure out how religion rots people's brains - but it does; another example

An old friend of mine wrote the post about how Coyote loves him and what that "means". The person in question isn't particularly religious, tho' he maintains that the universe makes more sense with a governing intelligence than without one and I think this post really . . . make it clear the disjoint between what he says and what I hear.

See, his magical belief in Coyote is the belief in a god that does terrible things for laughs, and he isn't even a very good comedian. He gives an anecdote about how his step-dad got into a car wreck that looked horrible but wasn't so bad, haha, isn't that funny, what a trickster that Coyote is to scare a person like that! This reasoning, of course, ignores all the dead and maimed from car accidents. Well, for them, Coyote's joke was a little meaner. Some people pick bits of glass out of their hair, and other people pick out bits of their baby's skull, but it's just a cosmic joke, right? Which, of course, is how religious people everywhere "explain" things - they just say "it's my god's will". And if you disagree with it, well, then you lack the special knowledge (in this person's case, I don't "get the joke").

The only way this "reasoning" distinguishes itself from Christianity or whatever is that it acknowledges that the reasoning of the cosmos is, at best, that of a not particularly bright vindictive idiot who never the less likes to give his favorite pets pats on the head.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Dennis Kucinich introduced a bill to impeach Bush!

Dennis Kucinich, a Democratic Cleveland representative, has has introduced a bill of impeachment against George Bush. It has thirty-five articles of impeachment ranging from conspiring to circumvent voting laws to the whole business with the illegal war in Iraq.

There aren't that many news stories out there, here's one from the Belfast Telegraph, and another from Newshounds.

I haven't seen any news story about this on CNN, BBC or any of the big commercial websites. I'm also not seeing any action on this on the websites I generally frequent that have lots of political content. Which is why I'm writing this blog post.

Dennis Kucinich is trying to impeach Bush! The man is a criminal! He should be impeached, tried and convicted by our laws and then given over to the International Criminal Court to face his crimes in Iraq and elsewhere! For years, almost every even vaguely liberal person I've talked to has agreed Bush is a crook and should be impeached. If you are reading and are one of those people and you have a blog - post about this! Right now! And then write and/or phone your congressperson and tell them to impeach Bush.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Derren Brown Messiah on YouTube - go watch it!

Credit to Pharyngula for posting this so I might learn of it.

British stage magician Derren Brown apparently did a special called Derren Brown Messiah. It starts here on YouTube:

It's cool. Spoilers follow.

What he does is come to America, where no one knows him, and poses as five different people claiming to have paranormal powers of some sort - first as a psychic with remote viewing, then as a Christian with the power to convert with a touch, an alien adbuctee who could know people's medical histories (he assures us that abductees routinely claim to have these powers), the inventor of a machine that can collect dreams and, lastly, as a medium who can speak to the dead.

In each instance, he goes to a respected person in that field and tries to sell them that he's got paranormal powers. Part of the act is if anyone asks him if he's trying to trick them, if they ask if this is "real" or a trick in any way, he fesses up.

In every case, in all five cases, he gets at least some acknowledgment that he's got the powers he claims to have. Several of them are elaborately glowing in their praise and ask them to start doing things immediately on the grounds of his clear paranormal powers. None of them ask if it's real or not. They, on some level, just assume he's legitimate.

Of course they're tricks. I've seen Derren Brown's act before in different contexts. On his TV show, Trick of the Mind, he got some advertising professionals into his office and he pitched them a concept for them to brainstorm something and accurately predicted what they were going to brainstorm. He pulled back the curtain, then, and told the audience how he did it - he had, well, shills along the path the taxi took them from their office to his rented office, each of them with very noticeable signs and the like, knowing that they'd see them along the way - because they were so obvious - and likely incorporate them into their ads. They did. It as both eerie and fantastic.

But, here's this guy, a total scientific materialist skeptic, one willing to let people know how he does the trick, who tricked a bunch of "respected professionals" in their various paranormal fields that he had some kind of magic or psychic power! Often, their praise is elaborate, glowing, placing him as the best they've ever seen of that kind of thing.

And at no time did any of these professionals, nor anyone else with whom he dealt, openly criticize or doubt him.

All in all, absolutely fascinating because he offers a reasonable way that purely material events can cause the perception of the supernatural at the same time demonstrating it.

Which is something of a service the magician community does. Since at least the days of Harry Houdini, stage magicians have spent a fair bit of time, effort and energy throwing back the curtain on how religious, psychic, etc., "powers" are just psychology and performance. More than any other field, they blow away the clouds of obscurity from magical phenomenon. They show the the tricks are done. They do the tricks, but acknowledge that it's not magic, not supernatural powers, not psychics or aliens. Just real skills that can be learned by anyone with sufficient ability and drive - and tricks whose workings can be comprehended by anyone.

Interestingly, he doesn't accuse these people of insincerity. I think that's good to know, too. Because I don't think that they are being insincere, either. I think that even when people do start out as insincere, over time most of them teach themselves to think that this is what magic and psychic powers really are. In my own personal dealings with magicians, that is very much the case. They talk about how they're doing magic, but they're often just engaging in confidence scams - sometimes with themselves - and attributing the mundane to the supernatural. But they are sincere. They don't want to, and will not, see evidence that is contrary to their worldview.

Which, he very rightly points out, is what we all do. If I was in that room where he converted people by touch, I would have been intensely skeptical, because I think laying on hands and the like is very much just charisma and psychological manipulation of crowds (which was certainly the case with Jesus in Simon Peter), and I would be looking for the trick. And, looking, I would have seen it, how the crowds were self-selecting (people who don't have doubts about their skepticism wouldn't normally attend something like that), the people first selected I would conclude were either outright shills or people who were displaying emotional distress over what he was saying, and then once a couple of soft-targets had been used to prep the audience the mass conversion at the end would have been simple group psychology - no one there would want to openly criticize the "leader" of the group, and after you do that ridiculous falling down thing what are you going to say? How many people will really go "oh, damn, I was caught up in a sick group dynamic and totally got scammed", especially in public? Who would be willing to shame themselves thus? Few - particularly because they could easily be branded as weak hypocrites for coming out.

On the other hand, a Christian viewing the same event would likely draw the conclusion that their god was personally involved. That it was a miracle.

Which is a message I wish more people would internalize - that we're all gullible in some way.

Still, it was a nifty little show.