Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fun with Nutrition!

Something Dara O'Briain said in that hilarious rant I posted really made me think.  OK, truthfully just about all of it made me think which is why I love it so much.  But only one part made me consider a career change, the part where he talked about Nutritionists vs Dieticians.  He mentioned how, unlike Dietician, Nutritionist was not a protected term so pretty much anyone could become a Nutritionist and dispense nutritional advice.  Could it really be that easy though?  Could I be a nutritionist?  Well I did some research and it turns out the answer is yes and no.  But mostly yes.

First he was totally right about dieticians, that's not an easy course.  A good friend of mine married a dietician and they started dating while we were all students so I got to see a bit of what it takes to get that degree.  Believe me, it's no cakewalk.  It's years of study plus a lot of hours working long shifts at various hospitals and none of it looked fun or easy.

Unfortunately the thing about "nutritionist" not being a protected term wasn't totally true.  While in most parts of the world - including most US states, parts of Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom - the term "nutritionist" isn't subject to professional regulation it turns out that South Africa is the exception in this regard*.  How is that for irony?  If I lived in the first world, I could just advertise myself as a nutritionist with zero education or experience and no one would be able to call shenanigans.  However here in the third world I would actually need a qualification to do that!  What were the freaking odds?!

So how hard would it be for me to get that qualification?  I looked around a bit and it turns out that it wouldn't be that hard at all!  I found a whole bunch of courses offered by everyone from Hotel schools to Cosmetology Academies.  None of those looked particularly challenging either but unfortunately that website didn't give me all the syllabus and fee information I wanted and I was sure as hell not going to contact any of those places to ask.  Made that mistake once and I'm still getting spam and the occasional call...  However I did find two schools with all their info online and it turns out I could have a fully accredited diploma in nutrition in under 6 months.  For $650 and 5 months (or less) of my time I can get a diploma in nutrition from The Institute of Natural Healing.  Seems that I just need to hand in 15 assignments which sounds totally doable!  For £365 and a suggested 200 hours of study, I can get a diploma from Oxford college.  While that's not as prestigious as Oxford University I would still get a diploma with the word "Oxford" on it and that is bound to impress someone!  Plus I just have to pass an online multiple question test at the end to get it!  So then for around R5000 I could become a certified nutritionist - which is more than I'm willing to spend right but still pretty cheap considering that's for the entire course.  At an actual university you'd be lucky to spend that little per subject!

Now you may be wondering what I would do with such a qualification.  Well I guess I could try to offer sound advice on healthy eating hwqi'jsdfl'kajhl'ahhl'zzzzzzzz  Oh sorry, that sentence was so boring I passed out while typing it!  No, there will be none of that!  As I see it it would be good for two things:

I could go over to the dark side and make tons of money preying on people with low self esteem, bad body image and more money than sense.  I rake in the cash telling people to cut out gluten or carbs or rice crakers while selling my special brand of "Cayenne pepper and Anchovy Cleansing Shakes".  You will lose weight or die trying, guaranteed!  I will let my absolute favourite skeptical sketch artists Mitchell & Webb demonstrate:

Alternatively I could use my nutritional powers for good and spread some joy instead.  At my Super Happy Funtime Nutrition Academy, I will help you feel better about eating the things you like.  By starting sentences with "As a certified nutritionist..." I could help ease your troubled mind.  Allow me to demonstrate:

You:  "I really love banana cream pie but I feel so guilty everytime I eat it!  What should I do?"

Me:  "Well as a certified nutritionist, I can assure you that dessert is without a doubt the most important part of any meal.  There really is no reason for you to feel bad at all, trust me, I'm a nutritionist!  In fact the only thing ruining your life right now is all that unnecessary guilt!  Stop beating yourself up, you look fantastic!"

You: "I've never heard that before, could it be true?"

Me:  "Of course!  I'm not just making things up, I'm a certified nutritionist!  Here, have a look at this pamphlet I wrote about the health benefits of chocolate and remember, chocolate is twice as healthy when you enjoy it with a nice glass of red wine.  No go on out there and eat something delicious!"

See?  I would be awesome!  On a completely unrelated note, if you would like me to become your personal nutritionist, I am accepting cash donations!  Best part is that since nutritionists aren't technically dispensing medical advice, you can't actually sue me for malpractice!  Best part for me that is, not so much for you and your diabetes!

Look, I'm not trying to call all nutritionists quacks.  I'm sure a lot of them are really great at what they do and will give very sound advice.  But be honest, if you broke your arm who would you rather go to?  A medical doctor who spent years and university and countless hours in the ER or someone who did a 3 month online course on bonesetting?  Sure, the bonesetter may turn out to be fantastic at it but how can you know for sure?  If you have an actual problem, why not go to an actual professional?

Then again, an actual dietician will never make you feel as good about yourself as the Super Happy Funtime Nutrition Academy would, just sayin'...

*According to Wikipedia that is.  However the Institute of Natural Healing's FAQ page said the following regarding regulation in South Africa:
  "AHPCSA (The Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa) is a statutory health body, however there is no government control over nutritionists in South Africa.

The AHPCSA legislation governs all medical and mental professionals. The legislation is primarily intended to regulate doctors and dentists, but to be absolutely safe, it would be wise to give client’s a document pointing out that you are not going to treat any medical or mental conditions. "

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Get in the sack!

My previous post shows where I am right now with regards to giving a response when someone praises the irrational.  Clearly I still have a lot to learn when it comes to expressing myself well without it devolving into angry ranting.  My elders and betters tell it's good to have goals.  Very well then. Here is mine.  To one day be this good at addressing the irrational:

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Into the darkness

Yesterday someone posted an article on Facebook called "The Science of Faith".  Reading it was not good for my blood pressure.  The message was basically that science is overrated and that there are other ways of finding truth that works just as well if not better.  This type of mealy mouthed mysticism triggers me to no end but what to do about it?  I could vent in the comment section but experience has taught me that my incoherent rage at proponents of anti-science usually just leads them to shake their heads at me condescendingly while making comments like "Your blind adherence to scientism blinds you to larger truths, don't be so close minded!" or even worse, "I'll pray for you".  I could simply avoid all articles like this but where would that leave me?  To avoid everything I disagree with and only read things I already agree on will just leave me stagnant and trapped in my own conformation bias.  No, it's far better to engage with the things I disagree with.  There is always a chance I'm mistaken and this way I can be corrected.  If I'm not mistaken I can still gain a better understanding.  The problem is that when I try to engage things that piss me off I have trouble expressing myself clearly.  So then it's better for me to learn how to respond to articles like this with less blind rage and more sense.  But how to do that?  I guess I could wait for someone out there who is smarter and more informed than me to tell me what to think but that doesn't seem like a great option.  How much would I really be learning from that after all?  So I decided to instead work out a proper response here on my blog.  It may be a little rough and clumsy at times but I can't really think of a better way for me to learn how to give a clearheaded response to things I disagree with.  After all, that was what my New Year's not-resolution was all about! 

By the way, I welcome all input in this whether you agree with me or not.

OK then, here is my response to "The Science of Faith" by Nico van der Westhuizen.  Original article in bold my response in [brackets].  All pictures added by me.

I am not necessarily what you would call a “Scientist”, [up to here I agree completely but it quickly goes downhill from here...] but I am an avid student of all things unexplored and mysterious [He uses "student" in the loosest sense of the word only]. Science in many ways has become the root of all things that steer our lives in the modern world [the what now?]. And at the core of all human investigation is the yearning to explain the unexplained. 

That brings us to my point of question for this discussion, the Naturalist. As I was flipping through the numerous useless and unentertaining channels of my very expensive television subscription, I came across a scientific program explaining the Naturalist view of the world.
[so far so good]

Despite being an enthusiast of science I have some reservations about what was being said during the broadcast. If I can recollect correctly the presenter claimed that he was a Naturalist by heart, one who believes that we can only know what can be scientifically tested. He based his belief on the fact that since we have made much progress in science over the last 300 years compared to the fields of Arts, Theology or Humanities, it is therefore vastly superior to other ways of “knowing.”

The very statement that we can know only that which is scientifically testable is in itself a self-refuting statement. No scientific laboratory in the world could perform any kind of experimentation to prove this statement as fact. 
[See this is why I have such a hard time taking Mr vd Westhuizen here seriously.  He calls himself "an enthusiast of science" but he clearly doesn't actually understand what science is - something that's going to become much clearer as we keep going.  It seems that he thinks that the only way to verify something scientifically is with a test tube and a microscope.  Wrong!  We can totally test this scientifically using a little something called The Scientific Method.  The question is, which is the most reliable way of knowing the truth - Science, Theology, Arts or the Humanities?  Now let's observe and gather data.  On a wide range of issues, which of these has been correct most often?  Much like the unnamed Naturist, the data is bound to lead you to the hypothesis that Science is the best way of separating fact from fiction.  Now we can test this over and over again.  Science says bacteria makes you ill, Theology says it's demons.  So lets give some sick people antibiotics and some other sick people exorcisms and see who gets better.  Repeat as many times as you'd like and make some predictions using this model and see if it's accurate. This is both repeatable and falsifiable and therefore scientific]

Famous physicist Stephen Hawking wrote the following in his latest book ‘The Grand Design’. He writes, “Philosophy is dead. It has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly in physics. As a result scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.”

This avowal is clearly not a scientific statement; rather it is a philosophical statement about science. It is a logical inconsistency, because what he claims to be inapplicable is what he is using to prove his statement. 
[Did he read past the first page?  I did and I seem to recall Dr Hawking backing that statement up with lots and lots of scientific evidence, not philosophy and handwaving.  So no, it's not logically inconsistent at all.  Science says the side with the most evidence wins, Hawking gave evidence so he wins]

Science creates many assumptions while producing its own experiments.  [No.  Some assumptions are necessary but not many.  In fact to practice good science you have to make as few assumptions as possible] So much so that many experiments cannot begin without assuming certain things.  [Yes, for example we have to assume that we exist and that reality is not some kind of computer simulation a la The Matix.  We also have to assume that our senses are mostly reliable and that the Flying Spaghetti Monster isn't tampering with our results as they are measured] These assumptions guide experimentation and are themselves not the result of experiments. So the assumption that all things are scientifically knowable and nothing is supernatural is itself a belief which can neither be asserted nor defended by the Naturalist position that all things are scientifically testable.  [WTF??  This is just wrong on so many levels!  These assumptions scientists make are not just random bullshit they pull out of thin air.  They have to be pretty well grounded and defensible because other scientists are going to check their work (peer review) and the first place they are going to try to poke holes are in the starting assumptions.  There is a reason science makes a naturalistic assumption rather than a supernatural one - supernatural claims have been tested over and over again and each time the answer turned out to be a natural one.  Assumptions like these are actually based on other experiments.  Go check out the James Randi Educational Foundation, they regularly run tests on alleged paranormal and supernatural claims and they have yet to find someone who can demonstrate such a thing for a million dollars]

So I believe that a naturalist’s assumptions are as much a matter of “faith” if not more than that of a believer who believes in the supernatural. [No, assuming that you should trust in evidence does not take as much or more faith than it takes to believe things happen magically.  For example believing that Jesus turned water into wine takes faith.  There is no natural, scientific mechanism by which to do that and no rational way to prove it therefore if you want to believe it you just have to take it on faith.  It does not take any faith on the other hand to believe that the world is round though - we can fly around it, we can send up satellites and spaceships to take a look and see for ourselves.  One of these things is not like the other]

In light of this it can then also be concluded that other forms of “knowing” are equally certain and sometimes even superior to science. [Credit where it's due, here he demonstrates what it would look like if things really worked the way he thinks they do.  If people make nonsensical assumptions and then just run with it they end up with crazy conclusions like this one.  Do tell, how are other forms of "knowing" superior to science?]

To use an example: Mathematical knowledge like 1+1=2 is inescapably true and I don’t need any experiments or any of my senses to guarantee that it is true. Similarly, the basic laws of logic are self-sustaining and don’t need any support from science.  [Here's the thing.  This example actually proves the opposite of what you think it does.  You don't know that 1+1=2 via osmosis or magic.  You know it the same way you know the basic laws of logic are true, through science.  The only reason it feels like these things are second nature to you is because you have been doing the science on this all your life.  You are NOT born with the knowledge that 1+1=2 or with the knowledge of cause and effect.  Instead you learn these things by observation, experimentation, testing and prediction - science.  At the very basis of what you know about math there is the observation that there are things and things come in amounts.  Pretty soon you learn that you can make those amounts more or less.  You learn this with toys, marbles, stones, whatever is available to you.  If you were born deaf and blind and lived alone in an empty room, you may never have any concept of basic math or logic.  Sorry but you don't know this via magic, you know this via science]

Certain universal laws of ethics are applicable and accepted without having to be proven to us through scientific tests. We “know” that abusing our children is wrong and those concepts such as mercy and kindness are virtues. [Who is your "we" kimosabe?  Have you seen the crime statistics?  A LOT of people don't seem to "know" that abusing children is wrong.  There are also no "universal laws of ethics" to speak of.  Ethics can and does vary wildly throughout time and space.  Your morals and ethics depend mostly on where (and when) you live and how you were raised, they certainly don't get magically zapped into everyone mystically.  I did a fairly long blog post on this a while back using Sleeping Beauty as an example but for now, consider someone born into an organized crime family who grew up in a culture of violence and cruelty.  Do you think they see mercy and kindness as virtues or weaknesses to be exploited?]

I do not wish to offend anyone by writing these words, [only actual fans of science will be offended at this point, don't worry about it, I doubt you know any] but I believe that we [we? srsly?] fans of science and the yet unexplained are too engrossed in finding the mechanism that works a system and are confusing it with whomever or whatever set that mechanism in motion. [How about no?  The one does not preclude the other.  There are plenty of scientific fields - physics, cosmology, evolutionary biology - that are dedicated to investigating both the mechanism and whatever set the mechanism in motion.  If you were an actual fan of science you would have known that.  Both are fascinating.  You know what's not fascinating?  Closing your eyes to the wonders of the universe and shouting "You can't explain it! It must be magic gnomes!"]

Let’s look at another example: Birds have wings in order to fly. Because we want our own set of wings or developed that same mechanism to make an airplane, we sometimes stop at the mechanism as the ultimate explanation to that phenomenon. [I'm not sure what that last sentence is even supposed to mean!  However when I think of how human beings - a species of flightless mammals - managed to overcome our biology and mastered flight (which btw, not everything with wings can even do!) I am overcome with awe and wonder!  Think about it!  We can fly faster than the speed of sound!  We have flown to the moon!  We dreamed it and we did it!  Yet somehow all that leaves him with a profound sense of "meh" because that's just boring mechanics and not the divine purpose of wings or whatever]

Rather we should also pause to think who gave those wings to the birds and for what ultimate purpose. [Ohhhh now I get it!  All that ultimate purpose stuff was about God somehow.  Well I for one would LOVE to know the ultimate God given purpose of wings and remember, it can't be something stupid like "flying" because that's besides the point somehow] Because we are only interested in technology and not the whole truth we have gotten our languages confused. We are beginning to treat the natural world or the mechanism as the agent who contains the ultimate purpose. [This just seems like a case of weapons grade projection to me.  Creationists and other proponents of anti-science are always telling you how much they love science when all they really love are the fruits of science - all the technology and advancements that make our lives easier and longer.  They don't like science itself.  Because science doesn't care what you believe or what you would like to be true.  Science is a process that can find the truth no matter what that truth is.  You start messing around with science and next thing you know all that cool, mystical "ultimate purpose" stuff may end up not seeming so profound anymore.  Real scientists on the other hand aren't in it for the tech, they are in it for the journey of discovery]

How do you test the love between a mother and a child? [Well thank goodness not everyone was satisfied with that Hallmark card drivel.  See not all mothers love their children.  Some mothers go a little nuts sometimes and drown their babies.  Good thing then science didn't just chalk it up to "mysterious ways" because now postpartum depression can be diagnosed and treated] How do you explain the spontaneous explosion of matter into what we now call the universe? [Work in progress.  There may be much we don't know yet but scientists are actually working on that over at CERN.  Fun fact, it's thanks to work on particle accelerators that we ended up with things like MRI machines and the internet]  Sometimes we should just accept that some things are better left unexplained and mysterious. It’s more fun that way too. Imagine a world in which all things were revealed to all men…not that magical anymore is it? [You know that world you're fantasizing about?  The one without all these stupid "explanations" and "scientific inquiry" where everything was mysterious and magical instead?  We had that!  It was called the Dark Ages and it wasn't a great time to be alive.  No one had the slightest idea how the world worked but hey, at least they had art and philosophy and theology!  But don't fret, I hear that in parts of Nigeria they reject science in favour of the supernatural so you could always move there if you don't mind occasionally having to torture and kill a child for being a witch!  I'm sorry, was that rude?  Am I being offensive?  Good, because this was an offensive article!  You know what rejecting science in favour of "other ways of knowing" gets you?  People people being robbed of potential happiness, suffering and even dying needlessly.  Our supernatural superstitions landed us in the deepest, darkest holes humanity has ever been in and it was only by the light of reason and science that we managed to claw our way out of it.  To suggest we turn our backs on that and return to the darkness is a deeply offensive notion.  Oh, I know you don't mean it like that.  You just think talk of "other ways of knowing" and "deeper ultimate meanings" make you sound oh so damn deep and thoughtful and spiritual.  But it doesn't.  It makes you sound ignorant and clueless.  The world is incredible and the universe a place of infinite wonder but you can't see that.  You miss the true beauty of your garden because you would rather imagine it has fairies in it than learn of it's true magnificence.  You refuse to see the awesome wonder of reality because you would rather believe in the smallness of magic and superstition]

I think it is for that reason that C.S. Lewis said “Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator”.  [Right, scientists of old like Newton, Kepler and Galileo assumed that if God created the universe then it followed that the universe would make sense and therefore they should be able to understand it.  Modern anti-scientists do the opposite.  They say that since God did it we shouldn't try to understand it or bother investigating it.  We've come a long way baby!]

OK so I lost my cool there for a while but at least I managed to get through the whole thing without once using the word "fucktard" so there's that.   It just upsets me when people act as if science takes all the mystery and joy out of the world.  Have these people ever listened to someone like Carl Sagan or Brian Cox (the rockstar scientist, not the curmudgeonly actor) talk about science?  Science doesn't steal the mystery away, it gives us the tools to appreciate it in full!  The more we explore the more we find, each question we answer leads to countless new questions!  Science robs you of nothing, it gives you the keys to the castle.  You know what does rob you?  Closing your eyes to all that by making up your own ignorant bullshit and calling that "a different way of knowing".  Sure, that way you can get to live comfortably in your own little cave, blissfully unaware of the greatness that is right outside (but at least your little pet beliefs will be totally safe so there's that).  You would be missing out on so much though!  The self made prison world of superstition and fairytales will rob you of all the wonder of the universe while offering nothing but a tiny portion of pathetic mysticism.  Trust me, once you get a taste of the real mysteries of the world, it's hard to go back!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

All things to all people

I just played the funnest game and got really upset with the English language!  But first the game.  Thanks to my awesome new blogging friend Ali I found an online game called Bible or Qu'ran.  Basically you are given a verse of scripture and you have to say if it's from the Bible or the Qu'ran.  It's a lot of fun to play and you can learn a lot!

Go give it a try before you read on, otherwise the rest of this post won't make that much sense.  My final score was 156 (178 correct, 22 wrong), think you can beat me?  If you're not the type who enjoys a challenge then highlight for some spoilery tips:  FUN FACT!  Verses talking about "Paradise", "Hell", "the hereafter/afterlife", "Satan" and "unbelievers" are almost always from the Qu'ran.  As I've pointed out before, these things - though popular in Christian dogma - don't play much of a role in the actual Christian Scriptures.  Islam does seem to resemble Medieval Christianity quite a bit which coincidentally was the time when Islam got started.  Not saying the Prophet did any cribbing, just saying it's interesting...

Now as soon as I finished it I knew I had to blog about it but I needed a good title.  I can write pretty much anything if I have a title I like but if I don't I just can't get started!  Hence my frustration with the English language, specifically its lack of idioms!  But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

If you did the quiz (and I really hope you did it and didn't just skip ahead) you will have noticed that they didn't use any nice, happy, fluffy verses on love and peace.  No, these were the horridly hardcore verses that most believers either don't know exists or have to bend over backward (twice!) to explain why they're not actually as bad as they seem.  Apologetics exist because of verses like these.  Seems to me that if the Bible was written today then every Christian Family Watchdog group and all the self appointed morality police would tell you to stay as far away from it as possible due to all the questionable content.  But, because it was written thousands of years ago it's somehow OK to hand it out to kids in primary school!  Is it just me or is that more than just a little weird?  He-Man and the Turtles are too violent and immoral for your children but a book full of rape, slavery and genocide (and that's the mild stuff) is not only OK, it's highly recommended!  Somehow these Holy books have become famous as sources of extremely enlightened moral teaching despite their actual content.

And yet, most of the people who claim to follow and obey these books, don't look or act anything like those ugly verses.  Most people read these books and find the good while mostly ignoring the bad.  This is where English fails me.  In Afrikaans we have a saying that fits nicely:  "Vir elke ketter is daar 'n letter", which translates roughly to mean any heresy can in some way be justified with a quote from the Holy book.  That sounds about right to me.  People find what they need from their scriptures.  Doesn't seem to me your morals - or lack of them - depend on the Holy Scripture you read.  Seems more like people who are good and kind and peace loving find scriptures to support that lifestyle in their Book while people who are cruel and violent find excuses to be that way from the same Book.  Seems more like people use their Books to justify what they already believe and then retroactively claim that their beliefs are not their own but that it comes from their Book. 

I once read this interview with some of the survivors of David Koresh's cult, 18 years after the tragedy at Waco.  This one part always stuck with me:

"[Clive] Doyle says his daughter started having sex with Koresh when she was 14. Koresh fathered at least 13 children with sect followers and engaged in sexual acts with underage Davidian girls, according to the Justice Department, numerous affidavits of Davidians and interviews CNN conducted...

 Doyle knows that trying to justify Koresh having sex with underage girls incites nothing but outrage from nonbelievers. And, initially, when David began preaching a message that his holy seed must be spread to any girl he preferred, married or in pigtails, Doyle admits he was bothered by it.  "I wondered, I asked, 'Is this God or is this horny old David?'" ... But Doyle's concern didn't last long. "I couldn't argue because he'd show you where it was in the Bible." "

Scripture really can be all things to all people...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Operation Spider Karma backfires badly

This morning I found my study has been invaded by another big spider.  What are the freaking odds?!  Here is a blurry photo as proof, I didn't feel like getting much closer...

He knows what I did to his cousin...
 So with my recent embarrassing spider encounter still fresh in my guilty conscience I decide to try a more humane way of spider disposal this time.  When I was waiting at the Frankfurt airport there was this annoying ad on a loop for some kind of helpful hints website (I think.  It was in German) where a little girl saves her shrieking parents from a spider by trapping it in shaving cream and taking it outside.  I thought this would be perfect since I had both shaving cream and an outside!  I even had a spatula!  This was going to be easy!  And humane!  This totally wasn't going to be another story about a spider who hates me!


Turns out the fucking Germans deceived me regarding just how easy this is.  Long story short - shaving cream is everywhere except on the spider and the spider is missing!

The best laid plans of mice and men...

So right now the spider is somewhere inside this study!  This super tiny study!  And I don't know where!  Although it's a fair guess that it's watching me with its wee beady eyes as I type this and figuring out the best way to strike at me...

What I'm saying is that if you don't hear from me in a while, tell the cops the spider did it!

Sweet Spider Spatula Success!

I owe the Germans an apology, I did it!  One spider safely trapped and humanely relocated to the garden.  I even hosed off the excess shaving cream because, lets face it, I seriously need some karma points with the local spider population.

Suck it Gumby!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Schrödinger's Spider

The Altoids box of spidery doom!

In this box there is a spider.  The spider could be alive or dead but the only way to actually know what state it is in would be to open the box to find out.  Until that happens the spider can be thought of as being both alive and dead.  Which is far more preferable at this point to me than opening the box and finding it to be still alive because if that spider is alive it is going to attack me like a rabid rottweiler!

Here's the thing.  I have something of a complex and layered relationship with spiders.  I really love and respect them for their ecological niche - killing things like flies and mosquitoes that I so passionately despise.  I think having spiders in the garden is great for that very reason.  In fact, as a child I used to catch grasshoppers and throw them into spider nets just to watch them feed.  I think spiders are totally cool.  However ALL of that changes when they come inside the house.  Especially if they come into my bedroom.  When that happens I lose my shit.  I'm not proud of that fact but that iss never going to change.

Look there are exceptions.  I don't care if there's a Daddy Long Legs in my room.  Those guys are cool, welcome even.  The worst thing about having a Daddy Long Legs in your room is that it means that the cleaning lady is totally ignoring you on the whole "dusting" thing.  But like I said, I don't mind that much since they are totally harmless except to small annoying insects.  Therefore any Daddy Long Legs is welcome in my room.

So last night I'm getting ready for bed and I hit what feels like a tripwire.  Suddenly I feel like I'm covered in pieces of sticky string which I quickly realise is not string but web and not your average thickness for spiderweb so clearly not something as innocuous as Daddy Long Legs webbing.  Does anyone else ever have that feeling when they've hit a spiderweb that there is a spider on them?  I do!  So I spend some frantic minutes in front of the mirror checking  to see if I have a spider on me.  I didn't.  Just some really strong webbing that felt like it stayed on me even after I removed it.  In fact I kind of still feel it on me right now.  Spiders just make me feel violated like that.  Alright so after I made sure there is no spider on me I turn around and look up and see this on my bedroom wall:

At which point my rational mind shut down and the only voice left inside my head was just screaming a stream of profanity.  As I'm writing this now I have deep shame and regret for what happened next but honestly I don't think there is any way it could have played out differently.  On some level I know that these spiders offer no threat to humans (I think) but on every other level I was going "AAAAAAHH FUCK there is no fucking way I'm fucking sharing my fucking room with that fucking spider!!"  OK I also regret my unimaginative use of expletives but once adrenaline takes over the poetry in me dies.  Like I said, I'm proud of none of this.  So I ran to get the Raid with the alleged "Fast Killing Action" which mostly just seemed to make it angry.  There was no fast killing happening, that was for damn sure!  Eventually the spider ended up convulsing towards my heap of laundry and shoes (you are probably judging me by now anyway so whatever) and I realised I had to dispose of this spider before it crawled in somewhere we would both regret.  And by we I mean me. 
Raid, you have failed me for the last time!!

So I got some pliers and tried to pick it up at which point the spider levitated!  Again, rationally I know that it probably just went up a bit of its webbing but at that point it seemed more like that spider defied the laws of gravity to lunge at my neck!  At which point trying to get it out of the window was no longer an option for me and so I grabbed the nearest container I could find and maneuvered it in there before it could challenge the laws of physics again to attack me.  I refuse to live in an anime!

And that is how I ended up with a dead-alive spider in a box.  And I think I'm OK with never knowing whether it's alive or dead.  I'm willing to live with that mystery so perhaps I will just go bury it somewhere...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My first clue

I saw this video on Scotteriology today and I just had to do whatever the blogging equivalent of retweeting is.  This played a very large part in making me what I am today.  Not this specific video but videos, articles, books and sermons just like it.  It's why I'm the lovable heretic I am today.  I'll explain after you've seen the video.

My formative years were filled with and shaped by this kind of propaganda.  All the shows, toys, music and comics I liked the most just happened to be the ones I weren't supposed to like because they were "demonic".  Good Christian kids shouldn't even watch that or the devil would get a hold of you and mess you up!  No, I'm not joking, they really tell stuff like that to kids in church.  I was a very pious little fundamentalist so on more than one occasion, fearing for my salvation, I tried to rid myself of some of these "occult" toys and comics.  But then I got a little older and started noticing something.  These people didn't know what the fuck they were talking about!  They were mixing up different stories, they would add a ton of embellishments that made no sense and sometimes they would just plain make stuff up.  Mullet guy in that video is a shining example - there was no magic in TMNT of any kind.  Splinter didn't use white magic and
Bebop & Rocksteady didn't use black magic either.  Now it would still be years before I would be willing to start asking serious questions about my faith but this really laid the groundwork.  These guys preaching to me about the Turtles and Rock music were my first clue that people in the church could talk with great conviction and certainty about things they knew absolutely nothing about.  Once I realized that people could stand on a pulpit and talk out their asses (without blushing!) it was only a matter of time before I started questioning more things.

Oh, and this also led to my first publicized rant!  Sometime in early High School I just got so fed up by the BS on "evil" kids shows I wrote a letter to Die Huisgenoot, a local tabloid style family mag (only in SA!) calling them on all the nonsense they were publishing.  Sadly when they printed my letter it was heavily edited - they left out all the bits where I pointed out that their "reporter" was a sensation seeking moron who clearly never spent 5 seconds checking out the shows he was criticizing and the part where I pointed out that they were making false claims to rile up parents - but still, it was my rant and it was out there in public.  It felt good!  That probably had some effect on me eventually taking my rants to the internet. Even though their hatchet job on my letter made it seem like I claimed Bugs Bunny was also a bad influence on kids.  Actually what I said was that children's entertainment had always been violent, using Bugs and Tom & Jerry as examples to show that Power Rangers didn't invent violence in kid's shows.  But I guess that also gave me my first clue on how far to trust the media...

Monday, January 16, 2012

Us, Them, Here & Not Here - A Language Lesson

If the apocalyptic topic of the previous post was something you are interested in at all, then you really should do yourself a giant favour and check out The Slacktivist's weekly dissection of the Left Behind series.  Its a lot of fun and you will learn a lot about Evangelical End Time beliefs and Evangelical beliefs in general.  One post in particular has always stuck with me.  Without being hyperbolic it's hands down one of the best blog posts I have ever read on any topic.  In it he talks about the weird idea some Christians seem to have that all non-Christian people are basically exactly the same.  While he only discusses a very specific topic here I think this is actually applicable to many instances of groupthink, whether it be religious, cultural or racial.  I strongly recommend you click on the link below and go read the entire post:

TF: Not Xianity

Tribulation Force, pp. 274-277

"Well here I am and there you are. Since you're not here, you must be elsewhere.

This kind of basic binary distinction is a necessary and useful tool for making sense of the world. We need words to mean things, meaning we need them not to mean everything else too. So if you're not here, you must be elsewhere because this is what "elsewhere" means. (It's also, in a way, what "here" means, i.e., not elsewhere.)

But while such necessary distinctions can be useful, they can also produce confusion if we forget the rather important ways in which the categories they create are different. "Here" is singular and particular while "elsewhere" is vast and diverse. (You're all, plural, reading this elsewhere, but I shouldn't assume that means you're all crowding around a single monitor somewhere.) "X" marks the spot, a single spot, but "Not X" marks everything else. "Not X" is the rest of the universe.

Of course. No duh. Why, you may be wondering, am I wasting our time with such an elementary and obvious discussion? Who could possibly be confused about something so simple?

Who else? Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. And any of their readers and fans who manage to get through this next section of Tribulation Force without laughing hysterically at the crazed absurdity of it.

This weirdly laughable confusion is the premise of this section and of much that follows it. LaHaye seems to believe that "elsewhere" is a single location. He believes that "Not X" marks the spot. He believes, specifically, that all of those left behind — every believer and non-believer who subscribes to anything other than his very specific variety of real, true Christianity — believes one thing and the same thing. All of them. All of us. Christopher Hitchens and Muqtada al-Sadr and you and me and the Dalai Lama — we all believe Not X and so, to LaHaye, we are all the same and must agree wholly on every other point.

This singular uniformity of Not X is essential to the plot of LaHaye's story because it is essential to the fulfillment of his supposed prophecy. If his prophecy is true, then we must all be identical and uniform.

That also means, of course, that if we are not all identical, then LaHaye's prophecies as described in these books cannot be true. That makes this a rather important section of these books, a passage that provides the opportunity to disprove LaHaye's claims without having to wade into the deep weeds of the Bible's apocalyptic imagery. We don't need to become experts on Daniel and Revelation to demonstrate that Tim LaHaye's reading of them is bogus. All we need to do is to show that, for example, Tom Cruise and Richard Dawkins don't share a uniform belief system."

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Apocalypse Apocalypse

No, that title is not redundant.  As my friend Tim reminded me on Facebook, the word "Apocalypse" has 2 meanings.  These days we use it to refer to the end of the world but it's original meaning was "revelation", literally "lifting of the veil" in the original Greek.  I want to lift the veil off of what is commonly believed about the End Times.

This quote from The Slacktivist on Tim LaHaye (co author of the Left Behind series) tells you everything you need to know:

"Tim LaHaye has been an influential power-broker in the religious right and the Republican Party for the past 30 years — this despite the fact that he has also spent those past 30 years assuring us that Jesus was coming back any day now and that the signs and prophecies make it clear that there’s no way we’ll still be here for more than just a few years more at most.

Those who took LaHaye seriously in 1982 would have been surprised that the world was still around in 1992. Those who took LaHaye seriously in 1992 would have been surprised that the world was still around in 2002. Those who took LaHaye seriously in 2002 must be surprised that the world is still around in 2012.

And those who take Tim LaHaye seriously in 2012 must be overlooking everything he’s been saying since 1982."

First off, it doesn't matter if you don't care about Christian eschatology.  It doesn't matter whether you believe in the Rapture or not.  It doesn't matter if you have never heard of Premillenial Dispensationalism.  What matters is that these people both wield a lot of power and have great access to those in power.  This belief system influences culture and politics in any country with a large amount of Christians - most notably the USA.  It has a profound influence on foreign policy, especially regarding Israel and the Middle East.  It also has a lot to do with the resistance amongst many Christian groups to environmentalism and their refusal to acknowledge the reality of Global Warming.  After all, why save the planet if God is just going to destroy it all really soon anyway*?

Jesus loves you.  Love Him back or He will do terrible things to you!

The second thing you need to know is that these people are massively wrong.  They are as wrong as can be.  They are wrong about it all.  Every single thing that they believe about the End Times is utterly and demonstrably wrong.  So in keeping with my New Year's not-resolution to sharpen my skepticism, here is a concise guide to why they are wrong.  Feel free to use it if necessary.

Images from the Chick Tract Here Comes the Judge!

Right so the exact details of the End Times may differ slightly depending on which prophecy guru you follow but generally the belief comes down to this:

After the Rapture of the Real True Christians, the whole world will be united under the Antichrist who will form a One World Government with one currency and one religion.  The Antichrist will reign for 7 years during which he will persecute the (new) followers of Christ, culminating in the battle of Armageddon where Christ and His followers will defeat the Antichrist and his followers.  The slaughter will be so great that the blood will flow as high as the mouth of a horse for 300 km**.  This may seem unbelievable but we can know this from a simple literal reading of Revelation.

Here are some of the problems with that:

There can be no One World Government.  Have you ever traveled outside of your own home?  Have you met people from other cultures?  Do you watch the news?  Then I shouldn't have to explain to you why there can be no One World Government.  Despite the best utopian ideals of some, the world is headed to more disunity, not more unity.  Countries are splitting into smaller countries.  People are getting more nationalistic, not less.  Imperialism is over.  I realize that some conspiracy nuts think the UN is some kind of super government and that the Secretary General of the UN is actually the president of Earth, but that is wildly out of touch with reality.  There is simply no way you can everyone to just set aside their differences and unite under one flag, totally abandoning their national and cultural identity in the process.  And I'm just talking about all the parts of the world that kind of get along.  What about all the parts that hate each other and have feuds going back generations?  How do you imagine getting Iraq and Iran, North and South Korea, China and Japan, not to mention getting all the war torn and lawless bits of Africa to all just become BFF's overnight?

There can be no One World Currency.  Just look at how well the Euro worked out.  Look I understand economics about as well as Charlie Sheen understand self control but even I know that our entire system of international trade is based on different currencies having different values.  Some economies are based on export so they have low value currency and others are based on import so they have high value currency.  Give everyone the same currency and the entire system collapses.  You can't get cheap third world labour and goods if your currency has the same value as theirs.

There can be no One World Religion.  This may be the most ridiculous thing to still believe in a post 9-11 world.  If you find it even remotely plausible that all the people in the world - who have been killing and dying for their faith, who have built their national and cultural identities on their religion - are just going to agree that they were wrong all along and accept a whole new faith you are an idiot.  There is no other word that describes someone who thinks that all the Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Pagans, New Agers and Atheists of the world (plus all the Christians who aren't Real True Christians), not to mention all their various sub-sects and denominations who have been persecuting each other over minor differences in doctrine for centuries, can all just put aside their differences overnight and start agreeing.  If people who worship the same God and read from the same holy writ can't even agree with each other, how much less will all the wildly divergent religions of the world be able to do that?  Only an idiot would think that!  Or someone who actually thinks the world consists of only Christians and Not-Christians and all the Not-Christians all believe the exact same thing.  But I repeat myself.

Oh and don't forget, all of this unification has to happen in under 7 years.  That's less time than it takes an actual government to build a bridge or tunnel in the real world.  Does that seem realistic in the least to you?

This is not even in the Bible.  Anyone who claims that they got this End Times playbook from a simple literal reading of the Bible is either deluded or lying.  It's easy enough to test, just give the Book of Revelation to someone who has never heard of the Bible and ask them to read it and write down exactly what it tells them will happen.  I can pretty much guarantee it will look nothing like any prophecy guru's End Time checklist.  In fact the very fact that there are so many End Time experts in the Evangelical sub-culture should have tipped you off that there is no such thing as a simple, straightforward and literal reading of Revelation.  That is why any attempt at a cohesive apocalyptic scenario always ends up as some kind of Biblical Frankenstein monster.  You tend to end up with something that has a verse from Thessalonians stitched to a chapter at the end of Revelation, glued to a chapter from Daniel, sowed to half a chapter from the middle of Revelation with a verse from Matthew awkwardly hammered in between.

So no, the Apocalypse many Christians are expecting any day now cannot and will not happen.  Not in this world.  Not with the actual people populating the world.  For the best proof of this, read the Left Behind series.  You can't help but notice how incredibly out of touch with reality it is. That's because it has to be.  The Premillenial Dispensationalist Apocalypse cannot exist in our reality. 

*Or as Evangelist Ray Comfort put it:  "We don’t value creation as though our life depends on it. That’s because we know and trust Him who made all things, and if humanity wrecks this earth, we have His immutable promise that He is going to make all things new."
**Revelation 14:19-20.  Feel free to do the math on that one but at around 5 liters of blood per person, that's one shitload of people bleeding!

Friday, January 13, 2012

The end is never as nigh as you think it is, Part 2: Electric Boogaloo

When people fail to learn from history it's usually because the lesson they were supposed to learn happened a very long time ago.  This could (and does) happen to almost all of us.  If on the other hand you fail to learn from history that happened just the other day, you must be a special kind of stupid.  There's really no excuse - excepting brain damage - to not learn a big history lesson that happened a couple of weeks ago.  And yet here we are, just a short while after Harold Camping's spectacularly failed Rapture predictions, with another "prophet" giving an exact date for the Rapture.

You would think people would learn.  You'd think no one would be that stupid.  You'd think they would wait at least a year or two after the last spectacular FAIL so people can forget about the last guy who tried it.  You'd think all of that but you'd be wrong.  In fact it turns out you will be about as wrong as any prediction for the Rapture's date will turn out to be, which experts agree is as wrong as humanly possible.

The new date on which the Rapture won't happen is 27 May 2012 so at least we won't have to wait long to point and laugh.  This time the prediction is being made by one Ronald Weinland, self described Prophet of the End Times and leader of a small Christian denomination called The Church of God – PKG (Preparing for the Kingdom of God).  Much like Harold Camping's little group, this is also a small group of believers who are convinced that they are the one true church of God.  The only reason I even know they exist is because recently I've been flooded by Google ads on every website I visit inviting me to find out more about this one true Christian church originally founded by the late Herbert Amstrong.  In case you're wondering how this date was calculated, you'll be happy to know that it's far more scientific than Camping's numerology and features far less maff.  As Weinland explains:

"January 7, 2012, is another important occurrence for the timing of God’s work and end-time events. This date is an important crossroad in time as it ends a prophetically historic portion of time in Daniel that consists of a prophetic measure of “time” and “times” that began after Trumpets of 2009.

January 8 of this year begins the final “half-a-time” of this full prophetic period known as “time, times, and half-a-time.” That day is the start of the final period of 140 days (half-a-time) that leads up to the very coming of the Messiah spoken of in those same prophecies of Daniel. This post will also address a newly revealed final fulfillment of the 70 weeks prophecy that has a dual fulfillment of both Christ’s first coming and his second coming.

The final “half-a-time” that begins January 8 will be the prophetic period when the Trumpets of Revelation will finally be heard (witnessed and seen) throughout this world, along with the Thunders of Revelation that will progressively escalate in a dramatic manner. The period of “time, times, and half-a-time” consists of seven segments of time (seven half-times). It can be likened to God’s plan covered in the weekly cycle of seven days and the 7,000 year plan where the last 1,000 years is when God takes control and gives mankind the ability to know His ways."

I believe the most apt response to this would be from the movie Happy Madison"what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul. "

Now you may wonder why I'm taking the time to point out one more insignificant group of religious nutbags who believe the world is ending.  The haven't been as vocal as some of the other groups so they are really easy to ignore.  Except for this:

That makes it impossible for me to ignore them.  When he threatened anyone who mocks him with cancer he pretty much forced me to mock him.  I grew up predominantly in the Pentecostal and Charismatic wings of Evangelical Christianity and I've seen this happen too many times to be OK with it.  Far too often, some charismatic gasbag will make ridiculous claims and/or demands in the church and then claim to be speaking on behalf of the Lord God Himself.  Therefore anyone who questions or criticizes is actually opposing God and will be dealt with harshly by the Allmighty.  If you weren't ever part of that subculture it may seem transparently ridiculous but trust me, it works better than you could ever imagine at making all dissenters submit to this so called "authority".  I used to be one of those.  I am not anymore.  So I'm calling Ronald out.  I think he is a false prophet, a fraud and a liar and if he's not then he can hit me with his best avada kedavra. I'll be right over here calling bullshit on his fake prophecy and feeling great doing it.

Look, I know that I'm a nobody with a small blog that pretty much no one actually reads.  But that is kind of the point.  Weindland and all the other spooky shamans of the world make all their followers cower with fear at their alleged authority from on high.  So if a nobody like me can challenge them without dire consequences from above that proves that these guys are just blowing smoke.  Besides, the somebodies of the world probably have better things to do with their time.  So, underachievers of the world unite!  If more of us can reveal to the followers of these charlatans that they are shooting blanks then soon they will lose all control they have over the minds and wallets of their flock.  Sometimes it takes a nobody to show that someone pretending to be someone is actually a nobody too.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

I have come to realise that New Year's Resolutions are nothing but an Illuminati plot to keep humanity feeling dispirited, downtrodden and defeated so that they may carry out their nefarious schemes with impunity.  I am on to their game (I know too much!  And now you do too!!) and I'm refusing to play along.  So this year, no resolutions that will only make me feel bad about myself later on.

Having said that, there is something I would like to work on a bit in the new year.  This piece by Tim Minchin will explain:

It may have been pointless to argue with Storm but it's not pointless to argue against woo.  I know because I've been on both sides of that table.  Once I was like Storm, I believed all kinds of weird and wonderful things that had no basis in reality and I believed them with all my heart.  But I don't anymore.  I've come a long way and I've learned a lot and now I'm starting to find myself on the other end of that conversation more and more.  The problem is that I'm not yet as ready as Mr Minchin here to lay out my argument in a simple and logical fashion at the drop of a hat.  I plan on changing that in the new year.

Obviously there is no point in moving from a fuzzy believer in magic to a fuzzy skeptic.  Either way you just end up sharing a dogmatic belief you cannot back up when backed into a corner.  It's far better to know exactly what you believe and why you believe it.  That way lies illumination - not some woo-woo mystical kind, but actual illumination, i.e seeing the world around you clearly.

This works better for me than some traditional New Year's Resolutions would.  I enjoy learning and skepticism and critical thinking is fun!  2012 can be a great time for me to get to know my Skeptic's Dictionary a whole lot better!  So I won't try to change or reinvent myself in the new year, instead I will just do the things I enjoy so I can organically grow into the version of myself I would like to be.

So may you, have a great and interesting 2012.  May your life be free from illusions and may you find all the truth you seek.  Say no to the Illuminati, embrace illumination!  Happy New Year!  (Unless you follow the Chinese or Hebrew calender in which case, happy January I guess)