Monday, December 20, 2010

Facebook Follies: Christmas edition

Today's Facebook Folly, just in time for Christmas:
Keep CHRIST in CHRISTMAS...Who's with me?
No one is stopping you from keeping Christ in your Christmas. Go right ahead, and do just that. Christ your Christmas all you want.

The problem is, you want people who don't believe in, or care about, the mythical son of your invisible, magical sky guy (who is also his own mythical son), to be required to keep Christ in their Christmas. 

And to that, I give this sassy, but elegant, reply: Pffffttttt!

Celebrate the real reason for the season: axial tilt. A joyous solstice to you!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Facebook Follies: Save Christmas, Kick Out Immigrants

Today's Facebook Folly is this inane rant:
We Can't say 'MERRY CHRISTMAS' anymore, We Now Say 'HAPPY HOLIDAYS ! We Can't call it a 'CHRISTMAS TREE', We Now Call It a 'HOLIDAY TREE,Because it might offend someone! They call it 'CUSTOMS', We Call it 'TRADITIONS'.This is 'OUR COUNTRY!' If U Wanna Live & Work here have Some RESPECT! If U Dont like it, GO HOME! If u agree with this, PLEASE post as ur status. OH, By the way.♥☆MERRY CHRISTMAS!♥♥☆ ♥
This rant is even less rational (if that's possible) than the usual "war on Christmas" and immigrant bashing that I too often see in my Facebook newsfeed. I couldn't make any sense out of the connection between the "I'm not allowed to say the word 'Christmas' anymore!" part of the rant, and the "GO HOME!" part. I'm thinking that's because there isn't any connection--other than the same people who whine about the "war on Christmas" are frequently also immigrant-fearers. Like my friend who posted the rant apparently is. 

Paranoia strikes deep.

I don't usually say anything to my friends about their regular Jesus-praising, praying, and Bible quoting on Facebook. But I will confront bigotry whenever I see it, and if the bigot wants to defriend me, on Facebook or in real life, *shrug*.

So I asked the friend who posted that rant some questions that I thought might help me her "get" what I she didn't "get":

1. Who is stopping you from saying "Merry Christmas"? And when, where, and how have you been stopped from saying "Merry Christmas"?

2. If you said "Merry Christmas" to someone, what would happen?

3. Who is stopping you from calling the decorated tree in your house a "Christmas tree?" If you referred to it as a "Christmas tree," what would happen to you?

4. What's the difference between a "custom" and a "tradition"?

5. Do you realize that many native-born Americans do not celebrate Christmas? They are already in their country, they are already at "home," and they have every right to continue to live and work here.

6. Do you realize that many of the recent immigrants are Christians who celebrate Christmas, and so are not the least "offended" if you wish them a "Merry Christmas?

[Blogger's note: by the time I got to this part of composing my questions to my friend, I was feeling increasingly irritated, and, therefore, more sassy, as is reflected by what followed...]

7. When did the law change so that immigrants are not allowed into the U.S. if they don't agree to always say "Merry Christmas," and never say "Happy Holidays"? Or are you now in charge of U.S. immigration law and policy?

8. It appears that you are offended when someone wishes you a "Happy Holiday," rather than "Merry Christmas." Why do you have the right to be offended by "Happy Holidays," but some other American doesn't have the similar right to be offended by "Merry Christmas"?

9. Since you're demanding respect, do you respect the rights of other Americans, including those who choose to say "Happy Holidays"? Or do you believe that everyone should be required to say "Merry Christmas" and to refer to their decorated tree as a "Christmas tree"? I mean, it's not like the U.S. was founded on the principles of freedom of religion and freedom of speech...oh, wait!

10. How is anyone's saying "Happy Holidays" harming you?

Oh, by the way, I thought the lovely ♥♥♥'s in your post reflected the love expressed in it. Truly in keeping with the spirit of good will towards all during this holiday *gasp!*--yes, I indeed said HOLIDAY--season.

[What I didn't say to my friend, but really wanted to is this: "And as for me posting that rant as my status: pfffftttt!"]

The friend who posted the rant replied with this cogent answer to all my questions: "I have rights too!!!! And I shouldn't have to 'press 1 for English' either!!!"

Uh. Huh. Well, that settles it. I now understand, clearly, exactly how some or all English-as-second-language immigrants are preventing you from saying "Merry Christmas" and putting up a "Christmas tree." And why they need to leave the U.S. immediately as a threat to your traditions (of Christian privilege and anti-immigrant intolerance).

Saturday, December 18, 2010

At the pharmacy: Scripture candy

Seen today while shopping at Rite Aid Pharmacy:

The Jesus Tin, embossed with "Jesus, Sweetest Name I Know" containing soft peppermints with wrappers printed with Bible verses, $3.95.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Facebook Follies: US would be better if...

Today's Facebook Folly:
If you think the country would be in better shape if we all started asking for God's help, press like on ♥.
But what do I press if I think the country would be in better shape if we all learned critical thinking skills and became better educated in the sciences?

Monday, December 13, 2010

At lunch: praise of woo for colds

I was at lunch with some friends, one of whom had a cold and complained she had trouble sleeping because she coughed so much at night.

Friend 1: Use castor oil. That'll knock it right out!

Friend 2: Before you needed a prescription to buy quinine, I used it to treat myself when a cold first started. Gone, overnight.

Friend 3: The best thing for a cold is to put Vicks VapoRub on the bottom of your feet before you go to sleep. Wear socks so you don't smear VapoRub over your sheets.

Friend 4: (skeptically--yay!) The feet? Why? How would that work?

Friend 3: No one knows how it works, but it really does! I used it on my son when he couldn't sleep because he was so congested and coughing, and within minutes, he was able to go to sleep. It's been scientifically proven that your body can absorb stuff through the soles of your feet really well. In a study they rubbed garlic on the bottoms of people's feet, and within minutes, they could taste garlic in their mouths.

Friend 1: So it's sort of like acupuncture? No one knows why it works, but it does?

Friend 3: Exactly!

I was about to say something about the efficacy--or actually the lack of efficacy--of acupuncture (which probably would make acupuncture exactly like the use of VapoRub* on one's feet to ease a cough or improve a cold), but I limited myself to rolling my eyes. No sense ruining a nice lunch with friends to lecture them on woo, the placebo effect, and confirmation bias. 

But the friend with the cold, who knows of my general skepticism, gave me this look--not quite a glare, but an "I know what you're thinking" look, and said to me, "I believe in 'woo'." 

I obviously need more skeptical, or at least more-skeptical, friends.

*My skeptic sensor was vibrating like crazy about the notion of using VapoRub on feet bottoms to treat a cold, but I couldn't find any studies on the use of VapoRub used this way. (And if Vicks thought it would work, don't you think they'd do the studies? Wow! What a claim that could be for Vicks if it did.)

I did find this information:
The Skeptic Detective 
Urban Legends

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Facebook Follies: Christian Christmas Message

The Facebook Folly of the day is this kind, warm, thoughtful Christmas message, full of the spirit of tolerance, understanding, brotherhood and sisterhood, and the true holiday spirit:
You will never convince me that one ounce of harm is caused to anyone reading or hearing the very word: 'Christmas'.
Unlike, of course, all the horrible pain and suffering inflicted on Christians by those wishing them a "Happy Holiday" rather than "Merry Christmas." Because if you're not "with them," you're obviously against them.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Facebook Follies: I live for Christ

Today's Facebook Folly, posted by several friends:
I live for Christ. He is my way, my light, my strength, and my savior.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Facebook Follies: With God all things are possible

Today's Facebook Folly (weird formatting and punctuation--or lack thereof--in original, I assure you):
Keep this going!!!Heavenly Father, walk through my home and take away all my worries andany illnesses, and please watch over and heal my family, in Jesus name,Amen. This prayer is so powerful. Stop what you're doing & set thisto your status. Watch what He'll do...With God all things are possible
I did not keep this ^^^ going. The irrationality stops with me.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Chain emails: In God We Trust (Not Really)

Let's start with the premise that, with extremely rare exceptions, anyone who sends out chain emails is clueless (and those rare exceptions are usually folks who are just plain evil). I mean, who really "thinks" and comes to the conclusion that "everyone in my email address book would love to get this!"?

Now, sometimes, I admit, the people who send out chain emails are only following instructions. You know, the instructions that say: "Send this to everyone you know!!!!" 

So they do. Without ever checking first to see if what they're being asked to forward to everyone is true, accurate, or up-to-date. (I know googling must be hard for these people, since they never hesitate hitting the "Forward" button in the name of caution.) Or without considering whether the content of the email might be offensive to any of the recipients (it goes without saying that the email will be annoying to most (all?) of the recipients.)

I don't remember the last time I received a chain email that wasn't a hoax, a lie, a prayer or other religious message, medical woo--or most terrible of all--filled with a disturbingly large number of photos of incredibly cute kittens and puppies and ducklings and hamsters wearing tiny clothes, and unicorns, and pretty glittery flowers, or gifs featuring kittens and puppies and hamsters wearing tiny clothes and unicorns and pretty glittery flowers. With music. *shudder*

Among my recent examples, this rant:
----Forwarded Message----
From: Clueless Friend
Sent: Recently
Subject: Fw: It has begun...Refuse new coins!

It has begun...Refuse new coins!

True Americans will refuse these!

This simple action will make a strong statement.  

Please help do this.. Refuse to accept these when they are handed to you.  

I received one from the Post Office as change and I asked for a dollar bill instead.  
The lady just smiled and said 'way to go' , so she had read this e -mail.  

Please help out..our world is in enough trouble without this too!!!!!

U.S. Government to Release New Dollar Coins

You guessed it

                      IS GONE!!!
                    If ever there was a reason to boycott something,
                    THIS IS IT!!!!


                    Together we can force them out of circulation..

to all

(Typically kooky formatting from the original, just wish I could put the "Please send to all on your mailing list!!!" in the size 72-gazillion font from the email. It was very impressive. No wonder Abbie did just that without research--or apparently thinking.)

So, anyway, my friend Abbie, a habitual chain email forwarder, after receiving the email (from someone who had received it from someone, who had received it from someone...well, the email had clearly been forwarded many times, because none of the forwarders--clueless all--know how to send out blind emails or edit them, as evidenced by the fact that the email Abbie forwarded to me contained several repeats of the message (and really, once was bad enough), once for each mailing list to whom this vital, urgent message had been forwarded, along with the email addresses of umpteen dozens of people I don't know), did exactly as instructed, and sent that email to everyone on her email list, me included, without checking to find out that--wait for it--the email is a lie mistake. 

A Google check, which took a prodigious amount of time--something like 10 seconds--would have brought up, in the #3 spot, a link to Clicking on that link--perhaps as long as another second--takes you to a page that says 

Claim: New dollar coins were designed with the motto "In God We Trust" omitted.

And then, on the same page, there's sample email with the false claim which says in part:
Who originally put 'In God We Trust" onto our currency?

My bet is it was one of the Presidents on these coins.
Get that? The writer can't be bothered to do research, but instead, "guesses" and guesses wrong. (Surprised? Me neither, either that the writer just "guessed" rather than doing actual research 'cause that's really hard, or that the guess was wrong.)

Here are the facts, not my guess:

The American Numismatic Association says:
The motto “In God We Trust“ was first placed on U.S. coinage in 1864. An era of high religious sentiment surfaced during the Civil War. Many citizens desired that their religious beliefs be reflected on the nation’s currency. The two-cent piece was the first coin to bear the motto.
So the motto "In God We Trust" began with the religious pushing their own agenda. I am shocked! Staggeringly, stupefyingly shocked!

And the U.S. Mint (on its kids pages, so it's not real challenging to comprehend) lists this "Fun Fact" #22:
"In God We Trust" was first used on coins during the Civil War. This inscription was added to the two-cent piece of 1864. But it didn't become necessary to add it to all coins until 1955. The inscription "E Pluribus Unum," which means "One from Many" (as in one country made from many states) was first used on the gold $5 piece of 1795. 
And helpfully, for those whose reading abilities are shaky, Snopes provides a photo of the edge of the coin, clearly (and unfortunately) showing the words "In God We Trust":

And there's this information on the Mint's "Presidential $1 Coins" page:
In 2009 "In God We Trust" was moved from the edge to the face of the coin.
So, Abbie forward this email that contained false information, and the asinine assertion that "True Americans will refuse these" to me. 

Even though I've repeatedly asked her not to send me chain emails.

Even though I've repeatedly strongly suggested to her that she check out the facts contained in the chain emails that she sends to everyone on her mailing list.

Even though she knows that I'm an atheist.

Even though she knows that I'm politically liberal.

Do I think Abbie sent this to try to change my political and (non)religious views? Do I think Abbie sent this because she's trying to bait me, annoy me, or hurt me? Do I think that Abbie really thinks that I'm not a "true American" since she must know that I not only would accept the coin (despite the fact that I'd rather carry paper money, cashiers glare at me when I hand them one, and their only utility seems to be for use in the parking machines in downtown Baltimore), but also don't think the words "In God We Trust" belong on the coins in the first place?

No, I don't. Abbie is one of the nicest women I've ever known, and would never try to provoke or hurt anyone. Deliberately. But she does that so often when she sends out chain emails because...she's clueless.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Facebook Follies: Nativity Myth

My Facebook feed is filled with howls of outrage about this billboard in New Jersey, put up by the group American Atheists.

The Billboard says, "You KNOW it's a Myth. This Season, Celebrate REASON!" [Blogger's note: Odd punctuation is not mine, it's on the billboard.]

"How dare those atheists!" my friends rant. "We never tell atheists that what they believe is wrong!" Uh, folks, yeah, you do. Every day. In so many ways, both explicit and subtle. Even your comments on Facebook letting atheists know that we're all going to burn in hell and that "it's atheists who believe in myths!!!!" is doing exactly that. Do you have no self-awareness at all? Oh, and I'm curious; what myths do atheists believe, and why don't you believe in those "myths"? You weren't very clear about that.

"Why do atheists insist on shoving their beliefs into our faces? Why can't they keep quiet and keep their offensive beliefs to themselves?! Christians would never express their faith publicly, especially at Christmas. (Please ignore the Nativity scenes in front of our Churches, in our front yards, in storefront windows. Also please ignore the Christian carols that have been playing and playing and playing on the radio since Halloween, and torment you in every mall and store you enter.) We're very sensitive to that fact that some people don't believe as we do, or don't believe at all." Right. So, you express your sensitivity and tolerance by protesting this billboard? This one. Single. Billboard. In New Jersey.

Can you explain what offensive atheist beliefs you're complaining about being shoved in your face? Atheism is non-belief. Your yelps that atheists have (wrong) beliefs and faith (in the wrong things) only make sense to you because you don't recognize the logical fallacy of equivocation when you use it. 

"Those atheists are ruining Christmas!" (Horrors! The atheists are on to us! They have history to back them up! They have geography to back them up! They have cosmology to back them up. They have archeology to back them up! They have evidence!!!!! What do we do now?! We're not allowed to torture or burn non-believers anymore! We can picket at the local atheist church! No? Drat! Those clever atheists don't spend their money on building churches! We'll fight back by putting up Nativity scenes in front of our churches and our homes. Oh, yeah, we'll howl and whine and do news stories on Fox on how awful the atheists are! That will show those awful atheists how abominable they and their billboard are! (We hope God is watching. He'll be so impressed!))

If a billboard in New Jersey can ruin Christmas, and what Christmas is supposed to truly mean to Christians, then that's a mighty powerful billboard--and a mighty weak myth you believe in. I'm rooting for the billboard.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Woo in my cookie

I opened my Chinese fortune cookie, and found the standard slip of paper with a "fortune" on one side and "lucky numbers" on the other.

I usually don't pay much attention to my "lucky numbers," but today I started to wonder:

How long are my lucky numbers lucky for exactly? Is there a "use by" date? A "best if used by" date? An expiration date? 

Are the numbers only "lucky" on the day the cookie was bought? Or the day the cookie is opened? Because I sometimes don't open and eat my fortune cookie on the same day I buy Chinese food, so I need to know!!!
Are my numbers lucky today only? Or do they carry over to the day I decide to do...something...with my lucky numbers?

And that "something" I choose to do with my numbers....are my lucky numbers lucky in any game I play using them? 

Can I use them for the Daily Lottery "Pick 3" or "Pick 4"?

I would assume not for the "Pick 3" because how would I know which three numbers out of the six different ones (0,1,2,3,4, and 5) in the six two-digit numbers are the right three to pick?

But I guess I could use two of the six two-digit numbers for the "Pick 4," but which ones?!

This is so complicated!

Since "Bonus Match 5" only uses numbers up to 39, only two of my numbers would be "lucky" if I played that game. But are the rest of the numbers not on the cookie's slip "unlucky"? And, if so, I guess I can't play "Bonus Match 5" either because I'd have to use unlucky numbers, and that probably wouldn't be lucky.

I guess I could use my "lucky" numbers to play "Powerball" and "Mega Millions." And those games have the really big payouts, so no complaint there. Hmm. I wonder if I can use the same "lucky" numbers twice, once for each game. Winning both "Powerball" and "Mega Millions" would, indeed, be lucky.

But wait! How lucky is "lucky"? I hope "lucky" means that all six numbers will result in my winning the really big umpteen-million dollar prize in at least one, if not both, of the games. I wouldn't consider it very "lucky" if I was only "lucky" enough to match one of the numbers drawn and win only $2 or $3. 

I wonder if these "lucky" numbers are only "lucky" in Maryland. Would they also be lucky in other states' lotteries too? 

Hey! I also wonder if they're also lucky in those Canadian and Irish Lotteries that I keep getting email about, telling me that I won, even though, honestly, I don't even remember entering them. Which kind makes me think that I must be very, very lucky even without my Chinese (are there any other kind?) fortune cookies "lucky numbers."

And what about lotteries that aren't quite, um, government-approved? I remember when I was a kid, my older family members would play "the numbers." But I wouldn't even know how to contact someone who knew someone who knew someone who might be a bookie. It's easier just to go to the liquor store and buy a "Powerball" or "Mega Millions" ticket there. And when I win, I won't have to get stressed worrying if "Bernie" was actually going to deliver all the millions I'd won.

I just thought of another potential complication: What if the Chinese lady at the checkout throws an extra fortune cookie in my bag since I'm such a valued customer?! And I end up with two sets of "lucky numbers"? Do I need to choose which set of "lucky numbers" to play? And if so, which one is the lucky set of "lucky numbers"? Or, do I play both sets of numbers? Because it seems to me that that will result in one of the sets of "lucky numbers" being unlucky, since only one set can win. Unless...well, clearly the solution is to use one set for "Powerball" and the other set for "Mega Millions." Problem solved. Silly me!

And--now my mind is swirling at the thought--what if I bought a whole bag of Chinese fortune cookies the next time I'm at the grocery?! And the bag had, like, 50 cookies in it, and they all had different "lucky numbers" inside?!

But just as I started to think that if I bought Chinese food at least once a week and played my "lucky numbers" weekly, I would be really really really rich. And I would quit my job. And I would let being really really rich change me, at least the part of me that gets tired of not being really really rich.

But I digress...

Just as I started planning to eat Chinese more often, I realized I am not the only person who eats Chinese food and gets fortune cookies with "lucky numbers" in them!! Zounds! Sometimes there's an entire line of people waiting to get Chinese food when I go to pick up mine!!

So, how does that work exactly? All those people with all those fortune cookies with all those "lucky numbers" inside?

All this wondering and thinking is giving me a headache. Or maybe my headache's from the MSG. I keep forgetting to tell them "no MSG" when I order.

There's no instruction manual that came with my cookie to explain any of this. Typical. I'm thinking that I'll google "fortune cookie lucky number" and "instructions" to see if I can find any helpful information. Maybe there's a Fortune Cookie Lucky Numbers: The Missing Manual or, more likely (because there's one for just about every possible subject), Fortune Cookie Lucky Numbers for Dummies. I just hope that when I do find the answers to my questions, I don't find out that my "lucky" numbers' luck has expired, and all I have left are "numbers."

Monday, November 15, 2010

In the community: Woo vs woo?

How does a customer decide which woo to choose? 

Are astrology and tarot cards complementary woo or competing woo?

Is this the woo equivalent of an interfaith center in which different irrational practices may be practiced by people who, although they share a building and a belief in silly things, don't share the same belief in the same silly things?

Can you get two different predictions if you do both woos? If not, why even offer two woos? Wouldn't one woo be enough woo?

And, really, if the astrologer and/or card reader could truly predict the future, would they have set up shop in Dundalk, Maryland? Not dissing Dundalk, but seriously. Someone who can predict the future bases herself in the obscurity of Dundalk? Why? Could it be because enough gullible people willing to pay someone to tell them fairy tales about their future live in the Dundalk area?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

New woo at The Community College of Baltimore County

I've written before about my dismay that The Community College of Baltimore County miseducates some students--who it clearly should be educating in critical thinking and science instead--by offering courses in pseudoscience and woo. This semester, CCBC has added at least one new course to the woo it offers to the gullible and irrational.

From its course title, Enrich Your Life sounds as though it would help its students live more fulfilling lives, but the course description describes a course that, while it may be manure, won't enrich anything but the finances of the teacher and CCBC. 

The description says:
We exist in a field of energy that influences us positively and negatively. When energy is negative it creates harmful influences in our live. Learning to align with natural energy patterns invites wealth, good people, events and well-being. Learn the keys to creating beneficial energy to heal and support you.
Sounds like this course would be a negative and harmful influence on the minds of those who takes it. 

Doesn't CCBC require evidence that the courses it offers teach students something other than "stupid stuff some silly person simply pulled out of their ass made up"?

Is there no criteria for what someone can teach at CCBC other than "what we can get some gullible people to pay for"?

Will CCBC agree to offer any course that labels itself "alternative" and contains the words "healing" and/or "energy" in its course description? 

Isn't anyone at CCBC embarrassed or ethically troubled by the woo being offered there?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Facebook Follies: Why God Makes Winters Cold

When we left my friend Jeannie yesterday, she was explaining that God has the oaks drop more acorns when He's decided that the coming winter will be especially severe.

I asked her, "Why didn't God just make the climate suitable for all of his creation at all times to begin with?"

I expected her to answer by saying, "It's God's mysterious plan," or "The climate was perfect--in Eden, but then Adam and Eve got themselves kicked out for violating the terms of their lease--which God the Landlord knew long before He rented the place to them, they'd do." (OK, the latter is my version of Genesis, my friend wouldn't recount the story of The Fall exactly that way.)

But actually, what Jeannie said was, "God made winters cold to kill germs and the diseases that attacks trees." 

Asked I, "Why did God make germs and diseases in the first place?"

Maybe now Jeannie will play the God's Mysterious Plan card.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Facebook Follies: Acorns and wooly bears

For the last several days one of my friends, Jeannie, has been opining on the coming winter. She's convinced that it will be "especially bad" because the oaks are dropping such a large number of acorns this fall, and she is now on the lookout for wooly bear caterpillars to see if the little buggers confirm the acorns' prediction, based on the width of the caterpillars' black bands, because the bigger the black, the worse the winter.

The majority of her other friends have agreed eagerly with her that this winter will be a bad one based on the predictive power of acorns.

One friend says she was still on the fence because, although the acorns were abundant this fall, the only wooly bear she's seen so far was mostly light in color. (I hate when weather forecasters disagree too, don't you? How will I know whether to buy taller boots for the winter or not?)

I'm relieved to say that a few, besides me, have told Jeannie that neither oaks nor caterpillars can predict future weather, and that there's no scientific evidence to support the folklore. 

Of course, Jeannie, won't even hear what the rational people have to say. She dismisses science based on nothing more than her own observations over the years, the value she places on folklore, and, of course, God. "It only makes sense that God would provide more acorns for the animals when He knows the coming winter will be bad!" 

And God makes wooly bear coats darker when the coming winter will be worse to...what, exactly? Absorb more sunlight in the fall so they'll somehow be warmer in the winter? Make them easier for predators to see so at least the predators enter the winter better fed?

No sense asking why God wouldn't just make winters less harsh if He were so concerned about the welfare of the animals. Jeannie would just lecture me, again, on God's mysterious plan. A pretty screwed-up plan, if you ask me. Why didn't God just create an environment on this most-blessed-of-all-planets that would be best suited to all the life on it? Are you telling me God couldn't do that? 

And now, I'm going to predict something: Jeannie's answer to those questions: "God's plan is mysterious. We can't understand why He does what He does. But know that whatever happens or doesn't happen, everything He does is because He loves us and the rest of His creation."


Monday, August 16, 2010

Facebook Follies: Homeopathy? Aw, no, cuz!

Most of the irrationality that appears in my Facebook newsfeed is religious in nature. No surprise there. Most of my friends and relatives both in real life and on Facebook identify as religious. But every once in a while, some medical woo passes by too.

My favorite cousin now "likes" San Diego Homeopathy. At first I was rather surprised. "Aw, no, cuz!" He's a smart, educated, well-traveled man, so why would he believe such a silly thing as homeopathy?

But after I'd thought about the "why" a while, I realized my cousin exemplifies a certain type of woo believer: the free-spirited, nature embracing, non-conformist New Ager.

Rather than just yell, "What are you thinking?!" at my cousin, I decided to find out how much he really understood about homeopathy. And the answer was, "Not much." Literally. That was his answer.

I asked, "Do you know how homeopathic remedies are made? What they contain?"

"No, not really," he answered." 

Drat!" I said. "I was hoping you could explain to me how homeopathy works when it seems to defy our current knowledge of biology, chemistry, and physics."

In reply, all I could hear were the crickets: "Chirp, chirp, chirp."

I then asked my cousin why he "liked" this particular homeopathic center when he knew little about homeopathic theory. He said, "I have a friend who is a homeopathic doctor, and she seems pretty healthy. Plus, homeopathic treatment costs a whole lot less than going to a regular doctor." 

By "regular doctor," he meant "a doctor who practices medicine, rather than some alternative-to-medicine.

I've never done any research on what homeopathic treatments from a homeopathic doctor cost, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they're less expensive than science-based medical treatments are. After all, homeopathic remedies are basically water. And seccussion--the shaking that makes each successive dilution of the homeopathic remedies increasingly powerful--probably doesn't cost as much as the technology used by science-based medical doctors does.

But really, if you consider the cost vs. benefit, with homeopathy, gullible patience are paying for water, not medication or treatments that have been shown to be generally safe and effective.

Personally, I'd rather pay more for something that might actually work, than a lesser amount for something that couldn't possibly do any good for what ailed me.

Plus, if I wanted to treat my illness with water, water from my tap is a lot cheaper than even the homeopathic remedies used by my cousin. And it works just as well. 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Facebook Follies: Daily Prayer/Reflective Time for the Gulf of Mexico

The Facebook group Daily Prayer/Reflective Time for the Gulf of Mexico has only 31 members, and one of them is a Facebook friend--a dear, valued friend, both on Facebook and in real life.

This group is "dedicated to the idea that daily prayer and/or reflection can help bring about a solution to the environmental disasters this beautiful region faces."
My friend is kind, gentle, caring, tolerant, intelligent, and funny. Generally, she's a rational person. 

She's a good mother and politically liberal. She's environmentally conscious. She supports gay rights. We share a love of dogs, cats, art, travel, and gardening. Our tastes in books, music, TV, and movies are pretty much identical. We support many of the same causes.

In fact, the only area of our lives where we seem to have a major disagreement is religion. She embraces it; I reject it. Her belief in God is deep and unshakable; mine is so shallow as to be virtually nonexistent and extremely skeptical.

And, yet, we like each other. A lot.

We don't talk much about her belief and my disbelief. Although I've often wondered how someone so smart, so reflective, and typically much more rational than so many of my other friends, could believe something as irrational as Christianity, albeit a liberal, "my God is a loving God," Cafeteria Christian who picks-and-chooses which Bible verses she sees as allegorical, historical, or God's actual instructions on how to live her life (which, surprisingly, almost always coincide perfectly with her own personal, non-religious convictions and philosophy).

But I never ask the question. Nor do I ask what kind of solutions for the Gulf environmental disaster have resulted from her daily prayers. And I probably never will ask either question. Because this friend is one friend not easily dismissed and defriended on Facebook.

Facebook Follies: Christ! Walking Billboards!

I've been invited by a Facebook friend to "attend" the public event, One Million Walking Billboards for Christ on October 10.

Really? You're my friend, and you thought I'd like to: "Just throw on a Christian T-Shirt, hat, button, Hang a flyer, sticker or anything you can think of that will let those around you know of your love for Jesus"?

Oh, you think, maybe my friend is being snarky, and thought I'd respond by wearing a t-shirt like this one:

Or this one:

But, alas, no. My friend is serious about wanting me to join "fellow Christians" and "show overwhelming enthusiasm for the One Million Walking Billboards event."

Ah, no. 

But I think I'll try to organize a event with my atheist friends that day which will involve drinking, enthusiastically--and enthusiastic blasphemy.

Sorry, Facebook-friend-who-invited-me, that's the best I can do.

No, wait! Actually, I'm not sorry at all. Except for the fact that I have Facebook friends who are as oblivious as you are.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Facebook Follies: God is Awesome!

Forty-eight people currently "like" I BELIEVE THAT GOD IS AWESOME! and six of those people are my Facebook friends.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Barnes and Noble Woo Books

Because I'm drawn to less-than-full-price books like, well, a thrifty book addict to inexpensive books, I've perused the Bargain Book shelves at Barnes and Noble easily a hundred times since they opened stores in the area. But until my most recent visit, I'd never noticed how many of the bargain books are no real bargain because they promote the irrational duo: woo and religion.

OK. I had noticed the Bargain Book section that "Religion" has all to itself before. How could I miss it, even if I wanted to? But while I'd scanned the other sections on earlier visits, my eyes--and brain--seem to have passed over the woo books as if they weren't there so they could home in on more rational books. Or at least more rational books that were being marketed as non-fiction.

But this time I focused on the titles of all the books in the "Mind and Body" Section and found a what seemed to me to be a disproportionate number of woo books on sale. Among them:
  • The Feng Shui Dictionary
  • Reflexology Basics
  • Parkers' Astrology
  • Healing with Crystals and Chakra Energy
  • Crystals and Healing Stones
  • Reflexology: A Hands-on Approach to Your Health and Well Being
  • Feng Shui Home
  • The Tarot Workbook
On the maybe a little-bit-positive side, at least these books weren't selling at full price. On the negative side: the fact that they were being sold at all, and even if they were no longer full price, gullible readers will waste their money on nonsense, and perhaps, end up believing in its validity.

To help cleanse my mind after wading through the woo goo, I bought these books, also in the Bargain section:
  • The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature by Steven Pinker
  • The Illustrated A Brief History of Time/The Universe in a Nutshell by Stephen Hawking

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Facebook Follies: A Church for Farmville

Not content to build their useless, non-tax-paying houses of worship in just about every town in the U.S., believers in the magical, invisible sky guy are now banding together to ask for a church for Farmville, the extraordinarily popular Facebook game in which virtual farmers tend virtual farms.
Farmville! Perhaps ruined by the pathological pest of a silly belief in the supernatural. Is nothing sacred?!

"Oh, look God and neighbors! I'm such a good believer, that I even have a virtual church on my virtual farm for my virtual farmer to virtually worship a virtual God. Isn't that wonderfully admirable and worth extra points on my frequent worshiper card?"

Two of my Facebook friends (so far) have recommended the "ask Farmville for a church for your farm!" page to me, asking me to "like" it.

I do not, could not, like it for my farm,
I would not, could not, want it near my barn,
I would not like it with my sheep-y,
I do so think the idea's creepy,
A place to worship a magic, made-up guy,
Would stink much more than my pig sty,
I do not want a church,
No way, no how,
To think I would,
Well, Holy cow!

The only way I'd support a Farmville church if it is designed to immediately be declared abandoned, and then, allow Farmville farmers to convert (no pun intended, although I like it) the empty building to a more sensible, useful purpose. Perhaps a nature center, a science lab, a childcare center, or a shelter for the lost animals who are always wandering onto farms. I can think of dozens of acceptable uses for a church on Farmville, but adoring an invisible, magical sky guy isn't one of them.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Science vs. God of the Gaps--why the odds are against God

And now, I take a momentary break from writing about my encounters with the irrational, in order to post something rational: this "Atheist Meme of the Day: 'God of the Gaps' is a Bad Argument" from Greta Christina's Blog:
Science doesn't understand everything" is a terrible argument for religion. Supernatural explanations for the world have been replaced by natural ones thousands of times. It's never once happened the other way around. So if we don't currently understand something, why would we assume that it's probably supernatural? Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Monday, July 5, 2010

On Twitter: My Christian Followers

I'm both bemused and amused by the growing number of my Twitter followers who are Twitter Christians. These are not my friends and followers who also happen to be Christians, but Jesus-tweeting strangers who have decided that they should follow me. 

It began last week when, much to my delight, I discovered the Christian Coalition had become one of my Twitter followers. And almost every day since then, another Twitter Christian--someone whose tweets have a primarily Christian content, and who usually has a Christian-focused website too--has decided to follow me. I'm not quite sure what to make of this.

My guess is that these are people who follow anyone whose tweets contain a key word like "Jesus" or "Christian." A few weeks ago, something similar to that happened to me when I tweeted some quotes from Olympic ice skater Johnny Weir (who I adore). One of my tweets mentioned Johnny's love for Balenciaga purses, and shortly after, a twit selling designer purses started following me. Later, I tweeted a quote from Johnny that contained "Long Island," and gained a follower who collected and retweeted Long Island related gossip. Both eventually apparently realized that I was unlikely to follow them back, and/or that I wasn't going to provide them with appropriate tweets to retweet, so they stopped following me.

The other two possibilities for my new Twitter Christian followers are a bit more creepy, yet still amusing:

The first is that they're hoping to make me see the error of my atheist ways, and embrace their own particular brand of irrationality. But, really, they need to face reality in at least this instance. I'm not going to follow them back. I'm not going to visit their websites except for material to poke at on this blog. And if they start tweeting me, I'll just block them.

The other possibility that crossed (no pun intended) my mind is that the Twitter Christians are just keeping an eye on me--the old "keep your enemies closer." Although that seems very unlikely given that in the atheist world and the blogosphere, I'm a nobody.

I've tried checking to see if other atheists on Twitter also have a fairly large proportion of Twitter Christian followers, but most of the atheist bloggers I thought of have many more followers than I have--too many to count the number of Twitter Christians among them.

I suspect that if my new Twitter Christian followers actually read what I tweet, and/or follow the links provided in some of them to this blog, they will either be horrified and/or angry, and stop following me. Or, admittedly more unlikely, they will read, learn, think, and see the error of their ways. 

Either way, it's good.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Facebook Follies: Celebrating the Fourth of Jesus

I saw this on my Facebook newsfeed several times today, July 4th: 

WELCOME TO THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA...Please remember only two defining forces have offered to die for you... JESUS CHRIST and the AMERICAN SOLIDER. One died for your soul the other for your freedom. If you agree... copy and paste in your status... GOD BLESS THE USA!!!!! GOD BLESS OUR SOLDIERS!! 

On the Fourth of July, a secular holiday, we Americans celebrate our independence. Our freedom. Our birth as a nation. It's not about Jesus, for Jesus Frickin' Christ! In part, it's about freedom from religion, including freedom from your religion and your Jesus, so give the rest of us a break from this incessent, "I'm witnessing. Look what a great Christian I am. I hope everyone, including God, is favorably impressed."

Did it ever occur to you that many of those in the military who offer to die for you are not Christians--the atheists, agnostics, Deists, Jews, Muslims, Wiccans, Unitarian Universalists, and others? Guess they don't count, eh? And yet, they're willing to fight and die on behalf of even bigots like you.

Must you Jesus-shillers ruin every secular celebration by interjecting your silly mythology about the middle-Eastern, Jewish son of an invisible sky guy, who really is his own sky guy daddy, except when he's not (not to mention that both the daddy and son are sometimes a spirit who is not either one of them), who sent his son-self to die to save his human critters from his own punishment because they did some naughty stuff he designed them to do and always knew they would do from before time began? And who had to allow himself to be tortured and killed because he couldn't think of any other possible way to fix things? But who knew all along that he really was god and wasn't going to stay dead, and then, as he always knew would happen, after two nights in his tomb, he became undead and walked around until he flew up to heaven to be god with his father/himself.

Really? My brain gets swirly just trying to comprehend how any sane, reasonably intelligent, and reasonably educated person could possibly believe that. (Heh, maybe it's the "reasonably" that's the problem. Reason seems to be sorely lacking in your beliefs.)

You seem to think your many Facebook posts about your God and Jesus are something all your friends would agree with, or at least tolerate.

Did it ever cross (no pun intended) your mind that some of your Facebook friends--and this is shocking, I know--aren't Christians? (And at least one of your Facebook friends is--gasp--an atheist. That would be me. Boo!) And in fact some of us think your religious beliefs are superstitious nonsense on par with believing in Thor or Zeus or the tooth fairy?

How would you feel if I started regularly posting how ridiculous I find your beliefs, and self-congratulate myself for not being as credulous and irrational as you are? I don't. (I blog about you and my thoughts about you instead.)

I guess it also never occurs to you how tiresome your continual Facebook praying, preaching, and witnessing is. How narrow-minded you seem when you do it. How insulting your implication is that I'm not a real American because I don't share your Christian beliefs. Are you really that oblivious (a definite possibility, since so many U.S. Christians are)? Or is it that you just don't care about how I, and other non-Christians, feel when you post your Christian status updates?

And you don't need to "welcome" me to the U.S. I'm already in the U.S. I intend to stay in the U.S. I like the U.S. I like the freedom I have in the U.S. I really like the fact that I don't need to believe in your god to live in the U.S. But I really, really wish that I didn't have to visit your Jesus-filled, irrational, bigoted version of it.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Cancer did not make me lose my ability to reason

I wrote this as a comment in the Pharyngula thread "Jerk of the Day," which is about George Berkin's disgusting Christian joy over Christopher Hitchen's cancer diagnosis. Since I haven't had time to write anything new for a few days, I thought I'd repost my comments here:

When I found out I had breast cancer, I did not suddenly reject reason and start believing in an invisible sky guy who had a mysterious plan for me that included cancer.

The only faith I had was in the expertise of my doctors.

I let my husband and kids know that if I were in the hospital and a chaplain (or anyone else who wanted to comfort me with prayer or "good news" about god) ever attempted to enter my room while they were there, they needed to push that person back into the hallway (and yell blasphemous remarks as they did so), because if they didn't, I'd be forced to crawl out of my bed, and beat the god-shill with my bedpan. 

I also made clear that I want no prayer, hymns, and any other god-mentioning at my funeral, but I also noted that the funeral was for them, not for me, because I would be--you know--dead, so wouldn't know and couldn't care what happened at the funeral. Still, I hope that they would tell funny stories about me and drink a lot of margaritas. And I believe that that's more likely to happen than mass and recitation of the rosary, given that I have raised two godless children and am married to the most apathetic Protestant ever.

It looks like I'm going to be fine, and my doctors tell me I am unlikely to die of breast cancer (which only leaves everything else I can possibly die from.)

And while all my friends are patting themselves on the back that their "prayers were answered" and god cured me, I only praise my doctors and the other health care providers who used their skills and knowledge to obtain a good result for me.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Atheist Blogroll

The Bastion of Sass blog has been added to The Atheist Blogroll, which you can now find in my sidebar. The Atheist Blogroll is a community building service provided free of charge to atheist bloggers from around the world. If you would like to join, visit Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for more information.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Homeopathic products ad in Newsweek

I'd put Newsweek's May 24 &31 double issue aside the day it arrived, since I was really busy then, and totally forgot about it until this weekend.

So, I'm finally browsing through it, and although I'm usually fairly oblivious to ads (I, and others like me, must be the bane of advertisers), I happened to glance at the ads under "Best of Healthy Living"--because, really, who doesn't want to live healthily?--and saw the above ad for two homeopathic products.

OK. I know the ad is legal, even though I highly doubt that either of these remedies can provide evidence that they are either safe or effective for treating fibromyalgia or tinnitus, as science-based OTC products that make medical claims are required to do. And that's just dangerous. And pathetic. And misleading. And a rip-off of gullible consumers.

But, geez, Newsweek, even though I realize that you are hard-up for advertisers these days, don't you have any standards for the ads you accept?

And when is Congress and the FDA going to finally take some action to protect consumers against misleading and potentially dangerous ads for untested products like these?