Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Beware of Paul Erdős


Jewish date:  8 Tammuz 5769.

Relevant to Divine Misconceptions:
  1. “Ky. pastor welcomes guns, their owners to church”:  Wait a minute...  Did Jesus ever promote the right to bear arms?  Whatever happened to pacifistically turning the other cheek?
  2. More religious oppression:  “Al-Qaida claims it killed missionary from Cleveland” and “Egypt: Village Christians In Hiding After Clash”.
  3. “‘Ark of the Covenant’ about to be unveiled?”:  The Orthodox Church of Ethiopia claims to have the Ark of the Covenant, and this Friday they are supposed to be showing it to the entire planet for the first time.  This is a huge change from their previous position, which was that they claim to have the Ark but refuse to show it to anyone—a warning sign suggesting that they do not really have it.  I am very curious as to what, if anything, they will produce on Friday and will patiently await to see what happens; this could end up as another Clonaid scandal.  I will also patiently await competent scholarly evaluation of whatever they produce and not automatically assume it is genuine.
  4. “Philippine Catholic families promote daily reading of the Bible”:  An obvious yet excellent idea.
Today’s news and commentary:
Today’s weird thing is “Apocalypse”.  Enjoy and share the weirdness.


PS:  For those of you who have no idea what this about, Paul Erdős is the mathematical equivalent of Kevin Bacon.
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Monday, June 29, 2009

Beware of mind-bogglingly stupid aliens


Jewish date:  7 Tammuz 5769.

Today’s holiday:  Feast of Simon Magus.

Today’s quasi-holidays:  Camera Day, Please Take My Children to Work Day.

Relevant to Divine Misconceptions:
  1. More people dying needlessly due to bad religious thinking:  “Horror of Kenya's 'witch' lynchings” and “Trial in death of infant raises questions of parental rights, religious freedom”, and “Man sees subtle victory in fight against Jehovah's Witnesses”.
  2. It is unsurprising that Buddhists would find this offensive:  “Footwear store in Geneva uses Buddha statue to hang shoes”.
  3. More oppression:  “AZERBAIJAN: 'Why shouldn't we bring order to this?'”.
  4. Political irony:  “Atheist China promotes Buddhism”.
  5. “Video of church's 'casting out' gay 'demon' in teen sparks anger”:  While demons are probably the least likely cause for homosexuality (as no one seems to have demonstrated yet why anyone specifically ends up with the sexual orientation they have), they are at least the most original suspected cause.  Some solid data supporting the existence of demons and an actual test of whether casting out gay demons actually works would be nice.
Today’s news and commentary:
Today’s weird thing, submitted by Barry, is “40 Things I Learned From ID4 That I Never Knew Before”.  Enjoy and share the weirdness.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Beware of Soundwave

Jewish date:  6 Tammuz 5769.
Today’s holiday:  Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Today’s quasi-holidays:  Paul Bunyan Day, Summer Fairy Fun Day.
  1. New tactic:  “Churches use social networking to sell themselves to a new generation”.
  2. This is somewhat disturbing, and I do not seem to be alone in thinking so:  “Seeking funds and congregants, the Church of England turns steeples into billboards”.
  3. “Clergy appeal over organ donors”
  4. More religious intolerance:  “Pakistan: Tortured Christian Languishing On False Charges”.
  5. “Jewish school broke race laws by refusing boy whose mother had converted”:  This case is an example of blatant judicial incompetence.  A boy has been refused admission to a Jewish school for the simple reason that he is not Jewish, period.  To be Jewish under Jewish law (not “custom) one has to be either born Jewish (i.e., one’s mother is Jewish when one is being born) or a convert.  His mother is a “Progressive” convert, and since “Progressive” is a gloss for “heretical”, her conversion is invalid.  Therefore the boy is not Jewish.  Calling it a race issue is untenable, as no one cares what race the boy or his mother belong to.  Judaism has no concept of race and welcomes converts of every ancestral background.  What Judaism does have a concept of is that converts must seriously and genuinely accept upon themselves to believe in Judaism and practice it.  What this case is really about is an attempt by heretics to abuse the law by mischaracterizing their case to try to force people to accept their heresy as valid.  Shame on them!
Today’s news and commentary:
Today’s weird thing is Today’s weird thing is the text a reply to the recent statement by Autobot Commander Optimus Prime, included below.  Enjoy (or be scared or disgusted or something) and share the weirdness.

Greetings, people of Earth.

There have been numerous reports in the human media regarding the recent assault on the Cybertonian embassy-at-large.  These have been, at best, inaccurate.  Much of the information in these reports was supplied by Optimus Prime, who was removed from our custody in the attack.  Although those controlling the media in much of Earth have been uncooperative in providing an unprejudiced view, we, the duly appointed representatives of the Republic of Cybertron, feel it important to correct these errors.  A number of commonly reported points are inaccurate, not only in sanctioned Autobot press releases, but also statements personally made by Optimus Prime himself, such as in his recent appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show.  A few of the more important ones are addressed below.
  • Optimus Prime was not a political prisoner, and neither was any Autobot in our custody.  Cybertron recognizes no political parties and allows full freedom of conscience.  All citizens are permitted opinions on matters of governance.  It is actions, however, on which they have run afoul of the law.  All the Autobots who settled on Earth have been targeted for arrest for serious criminal acts.  Copies of the warrant for their arrest and removal have been presented in many nations, and the original print version has been delivered to the headquarters of the United Nations.
  • The crimes listed on the warrant are sufficiently grievous to require an interstellar police action.  The presence of the Autobots on Earth constitutes an illegal settlement under Cybertonian law.  The Autobots left Cybertron with no intention of returning and intentionally settled on an inhabited planet without prior consent of its inhabitants.  The support of autocratic governments, mercenary actions, subversion of democracy, and murder are also illegal.  Under Cybertonian law we have universal jurisdiction in these matters.  Out of respect, we have been minimal in our intrusions into the territories of other countries.  The incursion into United States territory that resulted in the arrest of Optimus Prime actually saved him from suicide, for which all should be thankful.  Human governments also use such practices; “extraordinary rendition” by the United States sets the precedent for its acceptability.
  • At no time was Optimus Prime or any other Autobot in our custody mistreated, let alone tortured.  All coercive practices are forbidden in interrogation by Cybertonian law.  Aside from moral concerns, it does not produce reliable results, whereas more appetitive methods may be more effective.  The brig aboard the Cybertonian embassy, which has been enlarged to contain the Autobot population on Earth, is reasonably spacious, and a basic level of power, nutrition, and comfort is guaranteed.  Additional privileges are provided based on cooperation and progress at reform.  The goal of imprisonment is rehabilitation, and many Autobots who have been arrested have been successfully graduated into law-abiding citizens.  Several Autobots who have surrendered to us claimed to have done so as they found this a better alternative to continuing to live under oppressive Autobot rule.
    It should be noted that Optimus Prime was not cooperative during his stay.  We made numerous attempts to counsel him and treat his psychological issues.  As has been previously noted, Optimus has had to cope with conflicting roles, which he was not able to resolve adequately.  Had he been more cooperative, we believe he could have been successfully treated.  However, he spent most of his time while in custody refusing to interact with anyone.  His lack of progress is sufficiently serious that we have already sent warning to certain former human associates that it is not safe to be near him.  Jazz was similarly uncooperative.  He made numerous unsuccessful escape attempts and was unable to converse without making elaborate and improbable threats.  Regardless of the situation, he would divert to talking of politics and religion, especially how the Autobot god Primus would destroy the “Decepticons.”  His progress was equally small.
  • Media reports of how the assault on the Cybertonian embassy-at-large was conducted are at best incomplete.  The Autobots used diversionary tactics, assembling several robots in an isolated area that we were monitoring.  Several officers under the command of Constable Starscream were dispatched to arrest them.  The Autobot assembly included several hidden participants who emerged when the officers arrived, including Huffer, Ultra Magnus, and Inferno.  The Autobots were able to effectively occupy the officers while the real assault by a contingent of flying Autobots occurred.  This included Silverbolt, Powerglide, and Buttmonkey, among the largest Autobots in existence.  Following a missile strike, they were able to penetrate the embassy and free several Autobot prisoners from the brig.  Not as many were freed as they portrayed (actually just six), and there were four Autobots executed by other Autobots during the incident.  This included Mirage, who may have been seen as a traitor for his cooperation.  During the attack, the Autobots used flamethrowers similar to the one cobbled together by Arcee.  The damage inflicted on those guarding the embassy-at-large was severe. Ambassador Megatron was among those critically injured, and three guards were murdered.
  • An attack on an embassy is generally considered forbidden on Earth, especially one which is unprovoked.  However, this is not the most disturbing aspect of the operation.  We have analyzed the remains of the missile and determined it that was built by the Military Arms Research Syndicate (MARS), a weapons supplier with numerous customers, including the United States military.  A marking on a recovered missile fragment indicates it came from the terrorist organization Cobra, which is responsible for the deaths of thousands of humans.  As we have previously revealed, the Autobots are associated with the arms dealer James McMullen XXIV, head of MARS and frequent associate of the Cobra commander.  We suggest McMullen used his connections with Cobra to help the Autobots with the assault.  McMullen regularly receives income from the United States government’s use of the Autobots, of which he is considered their “owner.”  He thus is motivated to protect his investment in them.
These are difficult times for the Autobots.  In the schism of the Autobots two years ago, several on both sides were severely damaged.  The true Autobot commander, Ironhide, was damaged beyond repair.  Ultra Magnus, the nominal Autobot commander for the humans, proved completely incapable, and for some time the Dinobot Grimlock was effectively in charge.  Bumblebee, the Autobot communicator, was also damaged but was repaired and repainted.  He has taken over as Autobot commander under the name “Goldbug.”  The Autobot spymaster Elita One appears to still be operating in that role, though we have reason to believe she has expanded her role to more fully monitor the Autobot population.  The rebuilding of the Autobot forces has been slow following the schism, especially as Ratchet and Wheeljack were themselves injured.  Neither of them is a true medic, and First Aid, who has more of a medical background, has been overwhelmed by the complexity of the repairs.
The number of Autobots still under the control of the hierarchy may be more diminished than previously believed.  The renegade Autobots in hiding have been reformatting themselves, usually through cannibalizing existing vehicles.  The discarded parts, of course, must go somewhere.  Piles of exterior plates have been found in some junkyards, the removed pieces of Tracks were located in a storage unit, and parts from Wheelie were left in the backlot tour of Universal Studios, where they were unnoticed as such for several weeks.  Some of these pieces have ended up in the hands of mechanics and dealers and have made their way into the marketplace.  There are photographs showing that former talk show host Jay Leno has purchased the discarded exterior plates of Arcee and Hot Rod and had them mounted on new vehicles.  The sheer number of Transformer parts appearing on eBay indicates that the number of renegade Autobots is very large, perhaps a quarter of the population previously housed at Groom Lake.  With so many Autobots missing, their value as a fighting force is severely decreased.  It is little wonder that the Autobot hierarchy wished to retrieve some of their most skilled warriors which were in our custody, such as Jazz and Sideswipe.
Public relations with the humans have also suffered.  The new United States president Barack Obama has said he is willing to talk to the renegade Autobots and the Cybertonian embassy-at-large, contradicting the unyielding and simplistic views of his predecessor.  The behavior of some Autobots in public has also gotten worse.  The Dinobots in particular have roamed farther from the Groom Lake facility than previously and have caused traffic problems on both local streets and Interstate 15.  Snarl and Slag have frequently taken it upon themselves to “inspect” vehicles to determine if they are “Decepticons.”  This has resulted in several innocent motorists having their vehicles damaged.  There was also an incident at Nellis Air Force Base where Grimlock held up operations as he thoroughly inspected the aircraft for signs of “Decepticon” infiltration.  Additionally, Cliffjumper and Brawn have taken to making embarrassing public statements.  It is understandable humans do not like being called “puny” or told that “you’ll make great pets” and especially not that “they make a cool crunching noise when my tires roll over them.”  They have also been less than tactful making statements such as telling humans “you look like a bunch of little monkeys.”  While humans are biologically classified as primates, the comparison for historical reasons may be considered racist and offensive.
The timing of the movie Transformers:  Revenge of the Fallen may relate to these factors.  It is a transparent attempt to project a more positive view of the Autobots at the expense of the “Decepticons.”  Once again, Michael Bay has returned as director, and this continues to show how little they think of the public.  Like all Michael Bay films, it is mindless and loud, with the aim of trumpeting one specific and simplistic view.  It contains all the worst elements of the first movie and multiplies them.  This one is louder, longer, has more Transformers, and is even less plausible.  The overall effect is far from satisfactory.
I will not attempt to fully describe the plot, in part because there is no point.  While the plot is semicoherent, it is so poorly told that even seasoned critics have a difficult time following it, or caring.  There is a complicated backstory that greatly adds to the length of the movie without improving it.  The movie has an evil Transformer named the Fallen (played by Razor Face) visit Earth thousands of years ago, trying to use a device to extract “energon” by destroying the sun.  The energon is supposed to be essential to Transformer reproduction and the survival of the species.  (This, of course, is silly.  All we need for that is raw materials and electricity.)  The Fallen was defeated and appears to have been living on one of Saturn’s moons, apparently not repaired in all these thousands of years.  Using a piece of the Allspark from the previous movie that was somehow (incompetently) overlooked, the “Decepticons” revive Megatron (played by Omni Imperator) and begin a plan to activate this device, which is hidden in one of the pyramids at Giza.  The situation is complicated by the death of Optimus Prime, who is the only one who can defeat the Fallen (apparently using a missile or an explosive device is never suggested as a plausible alternative), and his resurrection involves the use of magic dust found at Petra, which has to be carried by a human, on foot, in a sock, without adequate coverage (making repairs and rebooting him was never considered).   There is, of course, more to the story, but discussing it further would not make the movie sound any better.  A slight advantage to this movie over the last one is the increased number of lines given to robot characters, especially Starscream (played by Buttmonkey).  In all likelihood this was a response to demands from the Autobot actors, any of whom could easily crush Bay.  This might potentially give them a chance to be more fully developed as characters, but Bay squanders this opportunity.  So one-dimensional are all characters that some critics have made the understandable but prejudiced suggestion that the human actors are actually robots.
There are numerous points in the movie that make one seriously question what is wrong with Bay.  That he is racist is obvious.  The token Hispanic character (played by Ramón Rodríguez) is panicky and wimpy and has a humiliating scene where he appears publicly with his pants and underpants at his ankles.  While there is a token African-American character (Tyrese Gibson), he does not do much.  However, Autobot characters Mudflap and Skids (Kingfish and Crunk) are portrayed as googly-eyed, big-eared, and bucktoothed, using African-American English slang and acting out negative stereotypes (especially being characterized as illiterate, violent, and stupid), a type of portrayal which harkens back to minstrel shows.  The treatment of feminine characters is also generally negative.  Sam Witwicky’s mother (Julie White) spends most of her time onscreen being fussy and foolish.  The “Decepticon” Alice, who can make herself look like a human, acts out the femme fatale stereotype.  The Autobot Arcee, portrayed as a trio of robots who turn into motorcycles (Buttercup, Zap, and Thrillkill) gets few lines and is the only Autobot to suffer a graphic onscreen death.  (We believe this is in retaliation for the real Arcee’s leading role in the Autobot schism.)  Even the character of Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox), the “good” female human, is completely uninteresting and seems to exist only to repeatedly demand her boyfriend Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf) tell her he love her, give him someone to cheat on, and run in slow motion next to him from explosions.  Among all the poor acting in the movie, hers is especially wooden.  There is also a surprising amount of sex-related material, even for a movie rated PG-13 by the MPAA.  Nothing in the story is helped by portraying two dogs engaging in homosexual relations (we kid you not), nor by showing two wrecking balls hanging between Devastator’s legs like testicles (we kid you not), nor even by having a small robot humping Fox’s leg (we kid you not).  Nevertheless Bay has included such gratuitous material, which indicates much about his character.
Additionally, Bay’s view of the military is disturbing.  The United States military (with token input from Great Britain) is shown operating with impunity across the planet.  This includes intruding into independent countries such as Egypt and China without any objections.  So effective is the military that incursions can take place almost instantly regardless of location.  The United States can even order the militaries of other countries to do its bidding.  This is the same troublesome disregard and hubris which got the United States into serious trouble under the previous president George W. Bush.  Under such conditions the behavior of the “good guys” can be shocking.  The Autobots and their (United States) human allies are shown hunting down “Decepticons” across the planet and summarily executing them.  An early scene of such a robot-hunt in Shanghai has a long chase through populated areas causing considerable damage, followed by Optimus Prime dramatically parachuting in (!) and graphically killing the “Decepticon.”  Outside of an actual war, such actions, without probable cause, warrants, or opportunities to surrender peacefully, amount to police brutality and murder.  It is shocking to see the United States portrayed using a death squad, one of the crimes former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was accused of.
There is also the issue of trust and belief.  Witwicky is somehow “chosen” and destined.  The entire Autobot-human death squad changes its operation to serve his whim without any justification.  This includes soldiers hijacking an airplane, acting without authorization, and abandoning a superior in a foreign country.  This is all so Witwicky can have explosions going on all around him for his glory while he runs across a stretch of desert (without even sweating) with a sock full of magic dust.  It is difficult to imagine the military acting with that kind of disregard for the chain of command, not to mention the severe lack of justification.  Even in Iraq War II reasons were given before proceeding, albeit fraudulent ones.  It is only because people trust him so completely that this can happen, even though in the context set up by the film, his reason for what he is doing makes no sense.  (The “matrix of leadership” found in Petra is supposed to be necessary to revive Optimus.  However, it crumbles into dust at his touch.  Logically then he cannot revive Optimus.  However, he collects the magic dust anyway and is able to revive Optimus.  Why?  Because he believes he can, and this works what amounts to magic.)  None of the characters around him, though, should believe this will work but they conveniently trust him anyway.  What message people should get from this is unclear.  Perhaps Bay idealizes the gullible and the foolish.  Or perhaps they should just know who should is the “chosen one” and follow regardless of logic.  This is certainly the reasoning of many politicians who want to be supported regardless of their actions.  It is also the type of reasoning the Autobot hierarchy depends on.
This sort of movie offering is beyond libelous.  It is a love song to illegal military operations, brutality, and blindly following those who in real life would not be worthy; it is propaganda passed off as entertainment.  It is not merely a bad movie, but transcendentally bad, going beyond mere overblown plotting, stereotyping, complete lack of character development, and excessive use of explosions and special effects.  Virtually nothing that appears in this movie is remotely plausible, from the absurd way a college class is conducted (one wonders if he ever attended a college class) to alien symbols appearing all over Earth throughout history but never being noticed by archaeologists.  Bizarre events are pointlessly used the same way an addict takes drugs, from a former government agent having a secret basement full of classified material (he would never be able to accumulate so much without it being known, let alone the problem of installing the basement) to a robot committing suicide so his parts may be used by another like a magical suit of armor (such an exchange of parts would require considerable amount of time to install.)  I have even been told (credit to Microtron) that the Witwicky-Banes relationship is unlikely as “there is no way someone as boring as Shia LeBeouf could ever get someone as hot as Megan Fox.”  Unlike the previous movie, this one resorted to using computer-generated characters, such as a giant sand-sucking monster formed from multiple vehicles (“Devastator”) because the designs were ones no robot would actually take and would be difficult or impossible to engineer.  There are so many things seriously wrong that to fully explore them would require a lengthy work, and with each viewing one might find even more wrong aspects that were previously missed.  He has thus reached a state of sublime abomination that has surpassed even the worst films of Ed Wood.  He should easily win at the next Golden Raspberry Awards ceremony.
Some might enjoy this movie for its shock value, or as a form of anti-art.  However, as anything more than the basest entertainment, it works as nothing more than pro-Autobot propaganda.  Truthfulness aside, the human population has better ways to waste its time than this.
We wish you well.
--Soundwave, Cybertonian Communicator

Friday, June 26, 2009

Microsoft sucks


Jewish date:  4 Tammuz 5769.

Today’s holiday:  Friday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time.

Today’s quasi-holidays:  International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, International Day in Support of Torture Victims, Take Your Dog to Work Day.

Worthy causes of the day:  “Ancient Forests at Risk”, “Take Action Now on Climate Change!”, “Why did you let Big Coal ruin the climate bill?”, “Industry lobbyists are trying to kill health care reform”, and “Demand Paid Sick Days for American Workers”.

Relevant to Divine Misconceptions:  “A nation under law?”:  This is an angry rant from a “Messianic Jew” (read:  Jewish-rite Christian) complaining about maltreatment in Israel.  This figures.  Ten percent of the Jews in Israel identify as religious/ḥaredhi, and thus have the knowledge to be certain that Jewish-rite Christians are religiously incompetent, ignorant, or dishonest in their portrayal of “Messianic Judaism” as Judaism, despite the fact that Judaism and Christianity decisively parted ways at the Council of Nicaea, and that belief in Jesus as Messiah is discredited among Jews (since Jesus did not fulfill the requirements of being the Messiah) and belief in Jesus as God to Jews is sheer heresy.  Not to mention that Jewish-rite Christians have a tendency to prey upon the ignorant, which does little to draw sympathy from Jews who actually believe in Judaism.  Given the built-in level of hostility, it is no wonder Jewish-rite Christians complain of persecution.  But what is not understandable is this paragraph:
Most Jews, even if not consciously expressing it, blame Jesus for all the troubles in the world, and want to blot out his name and memory.
I have no clue where he got this idea.  None of my fellow Jews have ever told me, even privately, that they blame Jesus for all the troubles in the world.  Did he ask any Jews about who they blame for all the troubles in the world?  Did someone do a survey?  If there was a survey, was it a methodologically sound survey?  Even as a guess, this is a poor guess.  Plenty of people suffered from war, plague, famine, violence, rape, murder, intolerance, and plenty of other unpleasant things long before Jesus was born, and the advent of Christianity did little to change that.  Jesus did not even preach violence.  So why should anyone blame Jesus for “all the troubles in the world”?  As an attempt to distract the reader away from his heresy, this sucks.  Major rule:  Never insist to anyone what they believe when it is not true; they are not likely to believe it.

Today’s news and commentary:
Today’s weird thing is “Does Microsoft Suck? USB Powered Vacuumer from Microsoft!”, which I ran across while testing out Bing. Enjoy, share the weirdness, and Shabbath shalom.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Beware of aquatic apes


Jewish date:  3 Tammuz 5769.

Today’s holiday:  Thursday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time.

Today’s quasi-holiday:  Log Cabin Day.

Relevant to Divine Misconceptions:  “It's about the women”:  This is an interesting perspective on our moral behavior.  Correctly noted is that the United States did not bother to do anything about the Taliban until 2001-09-11, despite their treating women in a way considered shocking in much of the rest of the planet.  How women are being treated in Iran is simply being ignored in the news as unworthy of attention.  People by now expect it to happen, and politicians are unlikely to do anything about matters people do not complain about.  It should be noted that a lot of antidemocratic, anti-non-Muslim, and other behavior in the Muslim world which  elsewhere would likely be considered immoral also gets a pass.

Today’s news and commentary:
Today’s weird thing is the aquatic ape hypothesis.  Enjoy and share the weirdness.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Beware of the Commodore 64


Jewish date: 2 Tammuz 5769.

Today’s holidays: Birth of John the Baptist, Feast of the Lesser Mysteries.

Worthy causes of the day:  “Iran: Stop the Crackdown” and “Send a United Message to Siemens and Nokia”.

Relevant to Divine Misconceptions:
  1. More lack of freedom of religion: “China's 10-year campaign to crush Falun Gong drives movement underground”, “Virulent new strain of anti-Semitism rife in UK, says Chief Rabbi”, and “Burmese jailed for Suu Kyi prayer”.
  2. “Warren prayer booth under fire”:  A Church of God congregation has erected a “prayer booth” in city hall in Warren, Michigan.  Putting aside the question of what anyone needs a “prayer booth” for—I pray multiple times a day, and I have never needed one—there is an obvious question of separation of church and state here.  However, what really drew my attention is this paragraph:

    "This is ridiculous. Prayer should be private," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Wisconsin-based nonprofit [The Freedom from Religion Foundation]. "A government is supposed to be neutral when it comes to religion."
    Boldfacing for emphasis is my doing.  Since when was prayer something done only in private?  Many (if not most) religions hold services in which people gather together to pray.  In some religions, such as Islam, people will even pray out in the streets.  Why should anyone expect others not to pray simply because there are other people around?
  3. “Night patrols by street pastors”:  Interesting tactic.
  4. The Church of Scientology is in trouble again, this time for physical abuse of staff:  “FLORIDA: Sect accused of violence”.
  5. Yes, I am tardy again in reviewing the latest episode of Kings, “The Sabbath Queen”.  The moral reasoning of various characters in this episode is severely wanting.  Cross causes a blackout because his son is not invited to a party, and Michelle, David, and Jack take advantage of the blackout to behave as they would not otherwise, as if no one can see their sins in the dark.  What Michelle and David do is likely to come back and haunt them in a future episode.  More interesting is the backstory revealed during the blackout.  A few years previously, Michelle was deathly ill, and with no medical intervention left to try, Silas was determined to keep her alive by keeping her spirits up.  (This is not rational, but it is human.)  To this end he read to her from one of her favorite childhood books, Harlow, Seven Dumplings, and the Sabbath Queen.  (If this is a real book, it is rare enough not to be even mentioned on Amazon.com.)  It is the story of a small girl, Harlow, who falls into the hands of the beautiful, yet evil Sabbath Queen, who refuses to let her go home.  (Which gives me wonder what the writers were thinking, considering that the Sabbath Queen is just a personification of the Sabbath in Jewish metaphor and in Qabbalah the Sefirah of Malkhuth and cannot be considered evil.)  Silas artificially draws out the story for days.  Finally Silas (perhaps in a hallucination) meets Death and strikes a deal with her “signed” in blood:  in exchange for Michelle’s life, he has to give up his kingdom once a better man for the job of king comes along.  This is frankly the most unusual variant on the Faust legend I am aware of.  But Silas is not alone:  Michelle, too, makes a deal.  She promises God that she will dedicate her life to serving Him if He lets her live.  Hence her determination not to marry anyone.  So at the end of the episode we are left wondering which of the two deals really saved Michelle’s life and which is valid.  We are also left wondering what the real requirements of the deals really are.  How is Silas to know who the better man for the job of king really is?  And is eternal spinsterhood really something Michelle needs to serve God.  (David does not think so.)  We are left with a moral cliffhanger, and I am very curious how it will be resolved.
Today’s news and commentary:
Today’s weird thing is “The Commodore 64 vs. the iPhone 3G S: The Ultimate Showdown”.  Enjoy and share the weirdness.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Beware of Barack Obama, evil-doers!


Jewish date:  1 Tammuz 5769.

Today’s holidays:  Ro’sh Ḥodhesh, Tuesday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time.

Today’s quasi-holidays:  Let It Go Day, United Nations Public Service Day.

Worthy cause of the day:  “Last Chance - Stand with Dr Dean”.

Relevant to Divine Misconceptions:  “The Seven Challenges of Chabad’s Future”:  It is comforting to see collective self-criticism like this.  It is easy for people to assume that they are just fine they way they are.  Such complacency is dangerous.  As humans, we are imperfect.  Failure to recognize our imperfections makes it unlikely to fix them.  Moreover, if we assume we are fine just the way we are, then we ignore any new imperfections that we acquire and thus become increasingly imperfect.  While recognizing one’s imperfections is no guarantee of fixing them, those who do so at least stand a fighting chance of ending up better than they are now.

Today’s news and commentary:
Today’s weird thing is “He's Barack Obama”:

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This is a nice parody of some people’s unrealistic expectations for Barack Obama.  While he is doing a decent job as president, considering the deplorable situation the United States was in when he started as president, he is no superhero who can use his amazing powers to make everything better quickly.  This is going to be a long, hard process, and he arguably has already made his fair share of mistakes.  (Note to Obama:  lay off Israel and start worrying about whether the US is going to have to bomb Iran.  Seriously.)  Enjoy, share the weirdness, and have a happy new month.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Beware of Optimus Prime


Jewish date: 30 Siwan 5769.

Today’s holiday: Ro’sh Ḥodhesh.

Today’s quasi-holiday: Stupid Guy Thing Day.

Relevant to Divine Misconceptions:
  1. More countries not getting freedom of religion:  “BELARUS: Religious freedom survey, June 2009”, “TAJIKISTAN: Muslims and Protestants are the latest official targets”, “TAJIKISTAN: Religion Law's worst impact is on Muslims”, “AZERBAIJAN: Further repressive Religion Law changes target Muslims”, “French move to ban the wearing of the burqa”, “MOLDOVA: Government repeatedly acts against ECHR judgements”, “Vietnam: Police Attack House Church, Jail Leaders”.
  2. “US girl 'burnt in voodoo ritual”:  Major rule:  whatever gods exist do not stand in the way of human stupidity.
  3. “Witch anger at Catholic club ban”:  This complaint makes no sense.  Wicca is not something Catholicism approves of.  Why should Wiccans expect any accommodation whatsoever?
Today’s news and commentary:
Previously on this blog I have posted material written by Transformers, including an exposé by the Decepticon Communicator Soundwave, a public apology by an immature robot named Microtron, and an open letter by the Autobrat Commander Arcee.   (These may all be found on the Cave of Spleen page.)  With Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen about to hit the theaters, our extraterrestrial robot guests are again getting noisy.  Today’s weird thing of the day is the text of the recent statement given by Autobot Commander Optimus Prime, included below.  Enjoy and share the weirdness.


To the people of the United States, and to all the people of Earth:
As has been reported in your media, I have been freed from the tyranny of the evil Decepticons, who have held me captive for the past two years. My freedom is due to the bravery and valor of my Autobot warriors, who also set free many other fine Autobots who have been also been imprisoned and tortured. We have most to thank Ultra Magnus, who, while acting as Autobot commander in my absence, organized and executed a rescue operation. While the majority of Decepticon forces were engaged elsewhere, the Aerialbots, Powerglide, and Swoop were able to were able to penetrate the defenses of the Decepticon warship and free the captives. Our warriors, who have so long defended human freedom and liberty, have done an admirable job. We are all pleased to be back on friendly soil among our human friends, whom we are pledged to protect just as they have sheltered us.
Our captivity among the Decepticons has been difficult, and we we have suffered greatly at their hands. Many of us have not made it back. In particular Mirage, in an act of exceptional bravery, charged ahead to fight off Astrotrain and two Seekers when they unexpectedly returned. He personally wrestled with Thundercracker, wrenching away one of his plasma canons, which he used to defend himself against the Decepticon commander Megatron. Mirage paid with his life, destroyed by a barrage of enemy fire that reduced him to scrap metal, but not without seriously wounding Megatron and allowing us to escape in the process. We owe him a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.
We have faced many challenges recently. The Decepticons have sought to poison everything within their grasp, not only the well-being of the human community on Earth, but also the Autobots ourselves. Too many have been swayed to their evil cause through ignorance and propaganda, or have let themselves think they have some spark of decency which can be appealed to. I have seen firsthand what they do and have been tortured by them, pains unlike any human can imagine. We cannot be so foolish as to give the Decepticons such a chance to manipulate us. Such a path can only lead to death and destruction.
Soon you will be able to see a new film, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, in your theaters. Many of the elements of this movie, of course, are fiction. Nevertheless, it accurately portrays the kinds of fiends the Decepticons are and the type of evils they associate with and draw upon. We have strived for an accurate portrayal, and we have worked diligently with producer Michael Bay and the writers to provide them with an deep understanding of our history and culture. We have long warned the Decepticons have plotted with such evil-doers as Unicron and the Fallen and have worked long to impose their evil dominion on the universe. Every human should take this opportunity to educate themselves about threat the Decepticons pose to their planet.
Stay strong, humans! The Decepticon menace is a serious one, and it will not be easily defeated. But together, humans and Autobots, we will continue to work together to stop this threat, and in the end, we will make Earth a safer and better planet.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Beware of Bill Maher


Jewish date:  29 Siwan 5769.

Today’s holidays:  Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Summer Solstice (Feast of the Times).

Today’s quasi-holiday:  Father’s Day.

Worthy causes of the day:  “It's time for Congress to stop legitimizing hate groups”, “Support a Public Option”, “Tell Tom Daschle: Don't undermine a public health care option”, “Protect American Wildlife from Global Warming”, and “Free My Phone!”.

Relevant to Divine Misconceptions:
  1. See what you get in place of a weird thing today.
  2. “Is Clerical Celibacy Viable?”:  This is Rav Boteach’s take on the Father Cutié scandal.  Father Cutié is a famous Catholic priest who was caught having an affair in violation of his vow of celibacy.  This drew the ire of his superiors—despite the sympathy of his followers—and he has since become an Episcopalian.  Rav Boteach argues that celibacy is an unrealistically heavy burden to place on the clergy, and he has a point.  The sex drive exists because it works very well to get mobile life forms (including humans) to reproduce, and it has been part of our biological heritage for hundreds of millions of years.  Short of drastic chemical or surgical intervention, there is little an adult human can do to silence the drive, even if one ignores it.  It is little wonder that Father Cutié was unable to keep his vow or why his followers were so understanding.
Today’s news and commentary:
In lieu of a weird thing, today I present a review of Bill Maher’s pseudo-documentary Religulous, included below. Enjoy (or be disgusted with Bill Maher) and share the weirdness.


Appeal to ridicule: a review of Bill Maher’s Religulous
by Aaron Solomon Adelman

Humor is now a rare art. Humorists once engaged the mind in word-play, forming elaborate plot structures, and showing us our own foibles. But now subtlety and elegance have been forgotten, and those who pass for comedians today tend to try to pass off anything unpopular, unpalatable, stupid, or merely different as funny. And Bill Maher is no exception to the rule.
In Religulous (Charles 2008), pseudo-comedian Bill Maher tries to follow in the footsteps of Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion (Dawkins 2006) and produce an anti-religious documentary. Unlike Dawkins, Maher has no academic credentials or even good critical thinking skills (i.e., he is known to believe in medical pseudoscience (Hemingway)), and it shows. Dawkins ignores potentially damaging historical and archaeological data—data dealing whether or not religions are actually true—but at least he argues against reasons some people have for belief in a religion. Maher, on the other hand, does not pretend that he is seriously arguing with his opponents; even at his most engaging, he still argues at them. Maher is primarily a comedian. Comedians do not normally argue with their opponents; they make fun of them. And that is exactly what Maher does.
The appeal to ridicule is pointing one’s finger at someone or something and saying, “This is too silly to believe.” This is a logical fallacy, because things which seem silly can be true. For example, one could argue that general relativity is silly. After all, the notion that the speed of light is a constant and the same for all observers and that physical dimensions, mass, and experienced time can actually be measured differently by different observers are contrary to everyday experience. Nevertheless, the predictions of general relativity have held up to rigorous testing. Silly or not, general relativity is a good approximation of the truth. Despite this fundamental flaw, Maher ridicules religion throughout the entire film. Whatever anyone religious says which Maher does not agree with, Maher treats it as unworthy of taking seriously and whoever says it as a naïve moron, whether or not it is actually unworthy of taking seriously and whether or not whoever said it is naïve or a moron. E.g., ex-Jews for Jesus missionary Steve Burg tries to justify his belief in God through the experience of “personal miracles”. Maher objects to Burg’s first “miracle”, which was a rainstorm happening coincidentally at a time he requested a drink and was mockingly told to hold a cup outside and catch rainwater. Maher insists that this was not a miracle, as rainfall happens naturally. But happening naturally does not make anything not a miracle; what makes a miracle a miracle is its recognized divine origin. The viewer is not given enough data to know whether or not any of Burg’s “personal miracles” really are miracles. Such data might not even exist, but the viewer will never know for sure; Maher never lets Burg get past “miracle” #1. As far as Maher is concerned, Burg is an idiot and unworthy of being argued with or taken seriously. What Burg might have been thinking is not his concern.
One obvious consequence of constant appeal to ridicule is that Maher only pays attention to what others have to say so far as he can milk them for material he considers funny. A scholar of religion would be interested in why his opponents take the positions they do, even if they are obviously wrong. E.g., José Luis de Jesús Miranda of Growing in Grace International Ministry takes the unusual position that since Jesus of Nazareth there has been no sin. A scholar would ask De Jesus why he believes this. Maher merely treats it as something funny and senseless. With this attitude, Maher is virtually predestined to learn nothing. Indeed, Maher habitually (and rudely) interrupts his interviewees rather than let them explain their views. (E.g., Yisroel Dovid Weiss of the Neṭure Qarta’ tells him to stop doing this several times.) Maher is also happy to spout inaccurate and wrong information (e.g., that people believe that God is a space alien, that we can destroy the Earth, that we know specifically where Sedhom and ‘Amorah were, that anyone considers Loṭ a paradigm of morality, that homosexuality is purely genetic, that the prohibitions of stealing and murder are the only two commandments in the Decalogue, etc.) if it adds to the illusion that religious people are a bunch of idiots. Attacking a fictional position is known as the straw man fallacy, and it is just as invalid as appeal to ridicule.
Another consequence of appealing to ridicule is biased sampling. The point of comedy is to say and show funny things, so the interviews included in Religulous (even among the deleted scenes on the DVD) are probably the ones Maher considers funny. We are not told how much material was rejected because it was not as funny as Maher wanted or even completely unfunny. For all we know, the vast majority of Maher’s attempts at interviewing religious people turned out so embarrassingly unfunny that he destroyed the recordings. Indeed, the segments of multiple people interviewed for the film (Dr. Andrew Newberg, Dr. Francis Collins, Rev. Reginald Foster, Rev. George Coyne) are known or reported to be selectively edited to show only material in Maher’s favor (quoting out of context) (Cusey).
Furthermore, someone competent wanting to show that religion in general is funny would actually try to deal with religion in general. Maher instead concentrates almost exclusively on Abrahamic religions, the sole exception among his religious interviewees in the final release being Reverend Ferre van Beveren of the First Universal Church of Kantheism (which holds smoking marijuana is sacred). Maher also puts an emphasis on the unusual and attention-grabbing, such as the anti-Zionist Jewish group Neṭure Qarta’ and openly gay Muslims, rather than the mainstream and everyday. How much of anything he claims about religion is the rule and not the exception is never made clear—and there is little reason to believe that Maher either knows or cares.
Hand-in-hand with appeal to ridicule is appeal to ignorance. Many of the religious people interviewed do not know—and, indeed sometimes cannot know—the answers to all the questions which Maher asks. Maher jumps to the conclusion that his interviewees are automatically wrong if they have imperfect information. E.g., Maher insists to a trucker that there is no historical evidence that Jesus existed and questions to Francis Collins’s face the accuracy of the historical reports in the Gospels. As far as Maher is concerned, since the historical evidence for the existence of Jesus is imperfect, Jesus did not exist. But no mortal in their right mind claims to know all the answers. To have all the answers would require literally knowing everything, something which is clearly beyond the capability of any human. Despite this limitation, we are clearly able to learn about reality; imperfect information is still better that no information. Therefore Maher’s assumption is wrong. After all, Maher cannot possibly know everything either; should this be taken as a sign that he is always wrong?
Maher is also happy to resort to appeal to hatred, listing all manner of horrible things done in the name of religion. Islam provides the material for this hatred, liberally illustrated with quotes from the Qur’an and other traditional sources. Maher takes this as a sign that all religion is inherently false and horrible. By that same twisted logic, we should automatically assume atheism is inherently false and horrible; millions of people have suffered and died at the hands of communists. Communism is an atheistic belief system, and so by Maher’s own twisted logic all atheistic belief systems must be equally at fault and culpable.
In short, Maher has produced an uninformative, unreliable, and unfunny pseudo-documentary. Despite his claims of arguing for doubt, he preaches blind skepticism, a baseless rock-solid certainty that everyone who disagrees with him is wrong. No serious attempt is made to find the truth or even understand anything which is genuinely wrong. The whole film is an unending stream of rudeness and obscene language of such a degree that it is little wonder that Maher shocked staff that he was admitted to the Holy Land Experience, was asked to leave the grounds of the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, and was thrown out of the Vatican. Maher even reports that his staff used deception in order to get interviews (Goldstein; Cusey). Indeed, it is to the credit of Maher’s interviewees that every one of them had the self-control not to punch him in the face. A work such of this is no credit to atheism whatsoever.

Overall classification: Offensive, alleged comedy.

Theological rating: F.

Charles, Larry. 2008. Religulous. USA: Lionsgate/Thousand Words.
Cusey, Rebecca. Maher takes on religion, but some interviewees cry foul. CharlotteObserver.com, 2008-10-01 [cited 2009-06-18. Available from http://www.charlotteobserver.com/104/story/226061.html.
Dawkins, Richard. 2006. The God delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.
Goldstein, Patrick. Bill Maher hates your (fill in the blank) religion. Los Angeles Times, 2008-08-27 [cited 2009-06-18. Available from http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/the_big_picture/2008/08/bill-maher-hate.html.
Hemingway, Molly Ziegler. Look Who's Irrational Now. The Wall Street Journal, 2008-09-19 [cited 2009-06-18. Available from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122178219865054585.html.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Beware of the shadow


Jewish date:  27 Siwan 5769.

Today’s holiday:  Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Today’s quasi-holiday:  Juneteenth.

Today’s news and commentary:
Today’s weird thing is “I hope to God”:
funny pictures of cats with captions
Enjoy, share the weirdness, and Shabbath shalom.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Beware of Laser Kitty


Jewish date:  26 Siwan 5769.

Today’s holiday:  Thursday of the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time.

Today’s quasi-holidays:  International Picnic Day, Cow Day, Recess at Work Day.

Worthy causes of the day:  “Remove the Trojan Horse from Global Warming Legislation”, “Stop the Internet Rip-Off of 2009”, “Fight Against Childhood Hunger”, and “Turn words into action”.

Relevant to Divine Misconceptions:
  1. More religious oppression:  “India denies visa to US religious freedom watchdog”.
  2. This I do not pretend to really understand:  “A Faith-Friendly Communist Party”.  The contradiction between communism being atheistic and “religion-friendly” communism should be obvious.  Apparently some communists support the social agenda while denying the atheism; one does not necessarily imply the other.  E.g., there are democratic atheists and religious socialists.
Today’s news and commentary:
Today’s weird thing is “laser kitty haz no needz for door handels”:
funny pictures of cats with captions
Enjoy and share the weirdness.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Beware of spag-worm


Jewish date: 25 Siwan 5769.

Today’s holidays: Wednesday of the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time, Feast of Marvel “Jack” Parsons.

Today’s quasi-holidays: Watergate Day, World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. (Intuition is suggesting that the United Nation gives its observances depressing names so that people avoid observing them and thus dealing with serious problems.)

Worthy causes of the day: “Tell Obama to Protect the Gulf Coast” and “Global Warming Action”.

Relevant to Divine Misconceptions:
  1. More intolerance: “Female teacher killed in Thai south”.
  2. I am late on posting on the latest episode of Kings, “Brotherhood”, which aired on Saturday night (inconvenient for me), but also viewable on the Internet (very convenient for me, except during thunderstorms). This one has a two-pronged plot. In prong one, David/Dawidh and Jack/Yonathan are sent into Gath to take out a terrorist called Belial. This name comes from the Biblical Hebrew term ben beliyya‘al, which translates roughly as “someone worthless”; the Qumran sect and Christians have interpreted beliyya‘al as the personal name of a demon. Going into combat against Belial is a bonding experience which helps move Jack away from the notion that David is a threat to him. They are not friends (as Dawidh and Yonathan were) yet, but they may get there by the end of the series. In prong two, Michelle/Mikhal, looking into her healthcare reform project, finds out that in the hospital are a mother and son sick with a plague. Besides being an opportunity for Michelle to engage in some noble self-endangerment, Silas/Sha’ul takes the plague as a sign that something is wrong with his administration—which he finds. (I will not spoil the surprise of who it is.) I am not getting the impression that the writers have a good grasp on how prophecy is supposed to work.
  3. I have gotten my hands on a copy of Bill Maher’s Religulous and expect to post a review of it soon. So far it lives down to its reputation.
Today’s news and commentary:
Today’s weird thing is “Dan Webb: HSV-7 "Spag-Worm" April Fool news story hoax”:

Enjoy and share the weirdness.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Kirk to Enterprise...


Jewish date: 24 Siwan 5769.

Today’s holiday: Tuesday of the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time.

Today’s quasi-holidays: Bloomsday, Fudge Day.

Worthy causes of the day: “Protect Montana's Glacier National Park from Canadian strip-mining pollution”, “Tell Congress: Pass a food safety bill with teeth”, “Stop Rising Teen Birth Rates and STD Infections”, and “Save key Clean Air Act provision”.

Relevant to Divine Misconceptions:
  1. “Bigotry alive for Christian Dalits”: This I do not understand. Since when did Christianity have or condone a caste system?
  2. “The Coming Storm: Obama and American Jewry”: Rav Boteach is reminding us of our responsibility of holding by what is moral, even at the cost of short-term gain in power or influence. I am not aware of any religion or other moral system which defines “moral” as “convenient”, so whoever compromises his/her integrity in this fashion is doing wrong—and when powerful people do wrong, the damage can be immense. Obama has arguably already made such a compromise in international diplomacy with the United States’s enemies. While he deserves our support for what he does right, he should not be exempted from criticism for what he does wrong. Otherwise we, too, make the same sort of mistake.
Today’s news and commentary:
Today’s weird thing, courtesy of Barry, is “Star Trek TOS Bluetooth Communicator”.

Enjoy, share the weirdness, and live long and prosper. And someone please send me one of these things.