Bill Maher: The Enemy of My Enemy?[ CONTENT OVERRIDE: KILROY2.0 IS HERE!!! ]

I believe we’ve all heard some version of the aphorism, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”. Maybe from the bible? As in Exodus 23:22, “I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you.”

This sentiment is commonly used in international politics. Creating alliances of convenience to achieve gains against another is a common tale. The second world war is replete with uncomfortable alliances, as was the cold war. The Afghan Mujahideen had very little common ground with the United States, except an ongoing conflict with the Soviet Union.

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I would contend that this is not nearly as good a way to select friends as they would have you believe. Just looking at the history of U.S. foreign relations would suggest the long term effectiveness of this policy is quite poor. Shortly after World War II we’re embattled with Russia in a lengthy Cold War. After allying ourselves with Saddam Hussein in an effort to oppose fundamentalism in Iran, we end up in an intractable mess in Iraq after deposing him.

So, I guess it’s time to bring this around to comedian Bill Maher.  Maher, host of the show Real Time on HBO, endeared himself to the Non-theist community with last year’s movie Religulous. I enjoyed Religulous and I think it was, for the most part, handled quite deftly. Before the release of the movie, and since, Maher has been an outspoken critic of religious institutions.

I would tend to agree with many of his complaints against organized religions.  Yet, is that common cause enough to consider  Mr. Maher a friend?  I’d have to say for myself, NO.  Many others skeptics who happen to share Mr. Maher’s non-theism say NO, as well.

Before I move on, let me be clear.  There are many who maintain a theistic position while still holding rationalism in high regard.  Many scientists who choose to have a form of faith, still dedicate their lives to advancing our understanding of the world.

Some arrive at an agnostic or atheist world view as a logical conclusion from choosing science and reason as their basis for understanding the world, others through dissatisfaction with their religious experience for one reason or another or just a recognition that our lives should not be under the dictate of clergy. Blah blah blah….

Why are you still reading this?  I’m just rambling on to embed the viral advertising for J.C. Hutchins’ new release of 7th Son: Descent.  Get going and buy yourself a copy.  A 4-year old murders the president in public with a knife! What more could you want??

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Roger Ebert Nails It

In his recent blog post, “This is the Dawning of the Age of Credulity”, Roger Ebert correctly characterizes our times as an age when we “accept rather than select”.  The constant stream of sound bites, mash-ups and carefully sculpted lies push and prod us to conclusions.  Rarely do we take the time to collate, digest and reflect.

The drive for this particular article was the firestorm of comments generated by another blog post by Ebert where, without revealing preamble, he laid out as a Q&A his understanding of Creationism.  Most of the answers he gave were subtly snarky, well subtle if you are a Creationist;

Q. What about bones representing such species as Cro-Magnon Man and Neanderthal Man?
A. Created at the same time as man. They did not survive. In fact, all surviving species and many others were created fully formed at the same time. At that moment they were of various ages and in varying degrees of health. Some individuals died an instant later, others within seconds, minutes or hours.

Apparently, they were subtle enough to get some anti-Creationists upset and there the problem lay. Posting a Q&A about Creationism without clear derision was enough to get people up in arms.

Mr. Ebert challenges us to be “perceptive readers” and schools us with a story of his early education and the lesson learned by reading “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift.  He then uses a recent review of the Heroes season premiere where a quote from Hamlet is characterized as “crazy nonsense” to show how our rapid processing can let us miss the obvious.

In the final weeks of a multi-year Presidential Campaign where so much is at stake, Mr. Ebert reminds us to be critical thinkers.  Look at the context, judge the merit and above all, use your head!  It is exactly what these careful crafters of lies hope you will not do.

These days, there is no room for ambiguity, and few rewards for critical thinking. Now every word of a politician is pumped dry by his opponent, looking for sinister meanings. Many political ads are an insult to the intelligence. Here I am not discussing politics. I am discussing credulity. If you were to see a TV ad charging that a politician supported “comprehensive sex education” for kindergarten children, would you (1) believe it, or (2) very much doubt it? The authors of the ad spent big money in a bet on the credulity and unquestioning thinking of the viewership. Ask yourself what such an ad believes about us. No politics, please.

Don’t you think that Roger Ebert should be acknowledged as one of the standard bearers of the Skeptical movement?

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Big News for Skeptical Community

Dr Phil Plait, The Bad Astronomer (Bad the same way Shaft was one bad-“SHUT YOUR MOUTH”), has been named the new President of the James Randi Educational Foundation. Replacing founder and namesake, James “The Amazing” Randi.

I feel this is great news for a couple of reasons.  The most important is that Phil is a tireless educator and crusading skeptic in his own right.  This will provide him with further resources and, possibly, a wider forum for his work.

Only slightly less important is that it assures that the foundation will continue on for many years.  While still incredibly energetic Randi cannot go on forever, but his work should and this will help.

Meanwhile, as board chairman, Randi will be able to influence the direction of the foundation and have time to finish his two books.

Best of luck Phil, stepping into the shoes of an icon is never easy.

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The Amazing Meeting 6 (Next year, for sure!)

I was unable, again, to attend the James Randi Educational Foundation’s , The Amazing Meeting (TAM) in Las Vegas. It conflicted with the trip to Costa Rica. Which was awesome and more important to my marriage.

Nonetheless, with the help of some of my favorite podcasters, I’ve been able to experience some of the better moments.

This was George Hrab‘s first year at TAM, and he was on the bill! It’s worth listening to his post-tam episode, just to hear what someone sounds like when they get what they always wanted.

Skepticality is running a series of episodes featuring interviews from TAM 6. The first two interviews, Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Adam Savage from The Mythbusters.

The Skeptics Guide to the Universe, recorded a live episode at TAM and will be incorporating interviews from the meeting into future episodes.

The Bad Astronomer, Phil Plait, has blogged of the event and included a cool video.

Soccergirl episode #286 and #287 has some great video footage from TAM 6.

These are only the ones I’ve managed to get to since I’ve been back from travel. I’m sure there’s more great coverage out there I haven’t found yet!

But are not the dreams of poets and the tales of travellers notoriously false?
H. P. Lovecraft

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Dust off that ghost!

This is a pretty quick post, since it doesn’t seem to require much. Check out the video in this article from NBC11 in San Francisco.

I guess this kind of thing fills up space on the evening news when there can’t possibly be anything important to report on. I mean what with the war in Iraq over, ignorance finally conquered and the presidential election resolved.

Anyway, some nice lady who can’t seem to take pictures without the flash lighting up the dust in the air and IT’s NEWS???? How credulous do you have to be to buy into this stuff?

Not only is it pretty easily explained, but they don’t even ask for her to reproduce the effect. The reporters don’t even talk to anyone who might have a better explanation. Really, really sad.

It gets even better. Following the link to the nutty lady’s website http://www.irmaslage.com , might lead one to think this was more about publicity than human interest.  Irma Slage is a psychic, author and lecturer to the gullible.  Seems she’s not just a charming lady with an odd habit of taking really bad pictures.

“Don’t tell fish stories where the people know you; but particularly, don’t tell them where they know the fish.

— Mark Twain

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The World Ends in 2012! Can I have your stuff?

In the last couple of days I’ve heard people mention the belief that the Mayan Calendar foreshadows the end of the world in 2012. They Mayan culture is long gone, why has this meme come to the surface now?

Well, there have been a spate of news articles about the end of the Mayan Calendar in 2012. The quesion, as posed by USA Today, “Does Maya calendar predict 2012 apocalypse?”.

If you hit Amazon.com looking for books and such on the subject you get quite a variety with titles like, “The Mystery of 2012: Predictions, Prophecies and Possibilities” and “The Mayan Code: Time Acceleration and Awakening the World Mind”. Some might dismiss this as typical New Age bunk, but there is always a portion of the credulous who will have anxiety after learning of apocalyptic predictions.

What makes the Mayan apocalypse any different from The Millenium, The Great Disappointment of 1844 or any other prediction of the end of the world? Well, I think it has a lot to do with some of the mystique of Pre-Columbian Meso-American cultures like the Aztec, Inca and the Maya.

Honestly, when you hear someone speak of the Maya, what is the first image that comes to mind? Is it of an long lost advanced civilization with lost knowledge we have yet to recover? Is it of ancient astronauts?

The Mayan culture was extensive and advanced, but it seems unlikely they had any prescient knowledge of the end of the world. I think it would be great if we could ask them. Unfortuntely, this advanced culture with foreknowledge of the end of the world collapsed over a thousand years ago.

So, if you are convinced the world will end in 2012…. Can I have your stuff?

“The End of the Universe is very popular, people like to dress up for it, Gives it a sense of occasion.” — Douglas Adams in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”

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SKEPTOID Podcast

I recently heard an interview with Brian Dunning on Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe and was very impressed with him, so I pulled down his podcast. I’ve now gone back and listened to all of them.

Skeptoid is a very different skepticism-oriented podcast from the rest I subscribe to. It is not a round table, it is not interview-oriented. It is just one guy, who does his research, and presents one topic per show in a straightforward intelligent manner.

His topics range from Homeopathy, and other medical buffoonery, to 9/11 conspiracies and the war on Terror. Along the way Brian sprinkles in some good education on Critical Thinking and how to spot Logical Fallacies and Fallacious Arguments.

Brian is committed to just getting clear information out. All of his podcasts are available for free, they are also reproduced as essays on his site AND now many of them are collected into his new book, SKEPTOID: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena with a foreword by none other than James “The Amazing Randi” Randi.

He doesn’t even accept donations, he only asks that you spread the word. So, in my little way…

“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles at it.” — Margaret Fuller (1810 – 1850), journalist, critic, women’s rights activist

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