Saturday, 26 March 2022

Rising to the bait

Posted today by Hemant Mehta in his column at OnlySky, this item is guaranteed to get people from all sides riled up. Mehta summarises with his first paragraph:

“Robert Foster, a former Mississippi lawmaker and gubernatorial candidate whose Christian faith has always been a large part of his identity, says that anyone who supports transgender rights should be executed via firing squad.”
It's safe to say that Mehta's readers at OnlySky would likely have a range of unfavourable reactions to this statement, from “Yeah, typical fundie — not surprised,” to “Absolutely despicable! How dare he?!”

Foster's offending statement was actually a tweet (since deleted by Twitter, but screencapped in Mehta's post):

“Some of y’all still want to try and find political compromise with those that want to groom our school aged children and pretend men are women, etc. I think they need to be lined up against wall before a firing squad to be sent to an early judgment.”
As Mehta points out: “To be clear, supporters of trans people aren’t in favor of grooming children or allowing men in women’s locker rooms and bathrooms.”

This is true — pointing out that Foster has erected a straw man at which he can launch his fiery diatribe. But Mehta continues with:
“It’s a typical right-wing tactic to equate trans people (and gay people) with pedophiles while turning a blind eye to actual corruption within their ranks. It’s yet another lie conservative Christians tell themselves because they believe tolerance and acceptance are four-letter words. They would rather deny the existence of trans people than come to terms with their own ignorance about who trans people are.”
Which is also true, but it does appear to be a triggered response to a deliberately provocative statement. Foster, by his own admission in his tweet, is an extremist, decrying attempts at compromise, so he probably wants his public statements to be triggering. Being measured and reasonable won't get him his desired attention.

I'm not convinced knee-jerk responses to attention-seeking fundamentalist sound-bites serve a useful purpose in general, although in this case Mehta points out that Foster is by no means the only one engaging in such provocation. I do find it odd that these Christian fundamentalists are so keen on capital punishment — a pro-life stance seems starkly at odds with calling for the death penalty. And for the record, trans women are not “pretending” — if Foster knew any transgender people he would be aware of this.

Saturday, 19 February 2022

Debate, or train crash? Matt Dillahunty vs Michael Egnor

Two hours, or more? Did I really want to watch a debate that long on the topic Does God Exist? Maybe I'd watch the first 20 minutes, and give up if it didn't seem to be going anywhere. In the event I watched the whole thing without a break (and slept in the next morning).

It started off amicably enough, though the production quality of this live-streamed YouTube video left a lot to be desired, both technically and from the moderating point of view.

Here's the video, hosted by the Theology Unleashed YouTube channel:


It was streamed live last September and has to date been viewed over 136,000 times, with over 8,000 comments. As far as I can tell (not having scrolled through all of them), the comments are overwhelmingly in favour of Matt Dillahunty, or against Michael Egnor. This will not be a surprise if you watch the video first.

Michael Egnor has blogged about the debate at the Discovery Institute and on Evolution News, though you'd be forgiven for thinking he was at a different debate in an alternative reality.

Matt Dillahunty has posted his own preliminary analysis of the debate on his own YouTube channel, with a promise of more in-depth analysis to come:


The most gobsmacking moment in the debate for me was when Michael Egnor claimed that the singularity at the Big Bang that began the universe was supernatural (therefore God). Less of a surprise (because one gets used to such shenanigans from the Discovery Institute) was Egnor's unwillingness to engage in proper debate, instead resorting to personal attacks on his interlocutor. Even less surprising, therefore, is Dillahunty's refusal to debate Egnor again.

Saturday, 11 September 2021

Absolutely go and listen to Pseudopod #771 right now

Readers of this blog (if there are any, considering the paucity of posts recently) will be aware that I have narrated for three of the Escape Artists short fiction podcasts for many years. My British voice has been in demand for fantasy (I narrated the very first story for PodCastle — the fantasy fiction podcast) and for horror, at Pseudopod — the horror fiction podcast. Apparently I'm scary enough to impart the desired fright to stories of the night — and I'm glad to do so.

This blogpost, however, is not to tout the latest of my appearances, but to draw your attention to an episode of Pseudopod that I found truly wonderful. As a listener to Escape Pod, PodCastle, and Pseudopod, I've had my issues with some of the stories, with some of the narrations, and with some of the audio productions (as in, is it really that difficult to ensure that audio levels of the host and the narrator actually match?) — but today I'm here to tell you that Episode 771 of Pseudopod, "The Human Chair" by Allen Zhang and Edogawa Ranpo, narrated by Ron Jon is absolutely wonderful in every respect and you absolutely must go and listen to it right now. Absolutely.

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Fitbit goes woo

As a Fitbit user I regularly get notifications to 'go Premium', which I ignore as I have no reason to pay for features I don't need. But if anything is likely to make me consider going in the opposite direction — that is, ditching Fitbit altogether — it's their latest embrace of arch-pseudoscientist Deepak Chopra.

And when it comes to the mind-body connection, there’s no one more knowledgeable than the pioneer of integrative medicine, Deepak Chopra. That’s why we’re thrilled to announce Deepak Chopra’s Mindful Method for Fitbit, our new partnership with the world-renowned well-being expert and founder of the Chopra Foundation, exclusively for Fitbit Premium members.

Fitbit Premium? No thanks. Deepak Chopra? Definitely not. 

Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0/Wikimedia/Mitchell Aidelbaum 

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Wasteful Witnesses

Front and backInside

This was sent to me, or rather to "The Householder", by post (2nd class) at my street address. I don't know a great deal about Jehovah's Witnesses but I can understand that the pandemic has limited their door-to-door activities. This handwritten card, however, seems rather wasteful of resources. It doesn't appear to be personalised in any way, so it could have been printed in bulk. What are the JWs trying to say with such a profligate squandering of their time?

Here's a larger version of the handwritten text:

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

No smoking here, dummy!

I'm retired now, but I can't help musing on certain things when I see them. One of those things I saw recently was on top of a partially built house in a new housing development near where my parents live. It was a chimney stack on top of a roof. Except the roof was as yet no more than flimsy timber trussed rafters. There was no actual chimney below the roofline to support the bricks-and-mortar chimney stack, nor any chimney breasts in the rooms further down. The stack, complete with earthenware chimney pot, appeared to balance unsupported above the uncompleted house as if hoisted wholesale into position. Which, I concluded, it probably was.

During my working life in architectural practice I came across fakes of various kinds, including plaster and glass-fibre pretending to be something else, and I've been against them on principle, despite many being such good fakes that without actual physical contact it wasn't possible to distinguish them from the real thing. My objection isn't based on how poorly they replicate the real thing, but on how well they do it. They do it so well that it's impossible, at a moderate distance, to tell that they are fakes.

But once you know such fakes exist, that knowledge devalues the genuine article. You see something that looks genuine, but is it? The existence of convincing counterfeits puts everything into question. Does this matter? In the grand scheme of things, probably not, but if you care about truth, it most certainly does.

So I now look at chimneys with a degree of suspicion. Nowadays of course, this also applies to news media.

From the Stormking website:
The Stormking GRP SmartStack dummy chimney applies the same principles of the Stormking GRP chimney that enhance the appearance of any building offering the builder virtually maintenance free product, with a traditional aesthetic look, but with the added bonus of incorporating a GRP lead effect plinth box and lead flashing detail, saving you time and money with installation. Whilst the chimney used to have a function to them in the past, today they are viewed as unnecessary features that add to the build cost but are required under planning restrictions.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Non-faith primary school caves to minority creationist pressure

This would be disgraceful enough if the school in question was a religious or faith school, but Hartford Manor Primary School in Cheshire is a 'community school', of which there are precious few available for children whose parents don't want religious indoctrination to be part of their education.

A cursory perusal of the school's website reveals no religious agenda (as it shouldn't), and yet in response to threats by a few creationist parents the school have cancelled a play about Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution. The National Secular Society have understandably made their objections to the cancellation clear:
NSS chief executive Stephen Evans said: "Schools should have the confidence to face down unreasonable parental demands. Objections to children learning about evolution – including the Church of England's historical hostility to it – clearly fall under this description.
"We're seeing a worrying trend of parents pressuring headteachers and threatening to withdraw children when teaching doesn't fit their, often narrow, worldview.
"Schools should broaden pupils' horizons and need to be supported to do that when faced with external pressure demanding that the education their children receive conforms with parents' religious views."
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