FTSOS 2011 in review

I blogged. A lot.

That is all.

Catholics, adoption, intolerance, and non-acceptance

A friend recently made a post on Facebook where I felt she did not distinguish between intolerance and non-acceptance. I’ve written about the issue before, so I naturally responded. I think it’s more than a mere semantics issue: If we conflate intolerance with non-acceptance, we bring everything into a false equivalence, often causing us to overlook actual issues of intolerance. Let’s take the issue of Catholic adoption agencies in Illinois:

Roman Catholic bishops in Illinois have shuttered most of the Catholic Charities affiliates in the state rather than comply with a new requirement that says they must consider same-sex couples as potential foster-care and adoptive parents if they want to receive state money.

This is blatant intolerance. Rather than continue placing orphaned children into loving homes, these Catholics are actively seeking to impede the rights of others by way of shutting everything down. If they weren’t legally bound, there is no doubt they simply wouldn’t allow gay adoptions at all – ya know, since that’s the sort of intolerance they had been practicing for decades.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, look at the gall of these people:

“In the name of tolerance, we’re not being tolerated,” said Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Ill., a civil and canon lawyer who helped drive the church’s losing battle to retain its state contracts for foster care and adoption services.

I suppose the Bishop is technically right. No one is willing to tolerate his bigotry, so that is itself a form of intolerance. Of course, this is nothing more than a caveat: Intolerance is unacceptable except where it has a compelling reason. I think that much is implied, assumed, and understood. The Bishop is trying to exploit an unspoken yet implicit issue in order to gain pity for discriminating Catholics. It’s pathetic.

It should be obvious to any thinking person that this really isn’t a matter of mere semantics. If we’re going to allow people to run around, without challenge, claiming they are facing intolerance, as if connotations and implied meaning have no place in language, then real issues of intolerance – such as gays not being allowed to adopt – will have far less impact in the public mind when they are identified and pointed out: the dilution of language is always the dilution of meaning.

via Friendly Atheist.


Thought of the day

I normally stay away from dumb entertainment news, but this is one of those things that actually gives me pleasure: Katy Perry and Russell Brand are divorcing. I don’t like to find pleasure in the misery of others, but I feel that Brand’s shitty, annoying comedy and awful, unbearable accent justify my glee, at least just a little.

Now Carlos Mencia needs to never be hired for any job ever again and I’ll be happy as can be.

Horrible ‘human’ Lawrence Stowe indicted

EDIT: See the comments for an update on the near-exoneration of Vincent Dammai.

I’ve been thinking about it. When I first wrote about scam-artist Lawrence Stowe, I called him “a horrible human being”. I now regret that. Allowing him the title of “human” is far too generous. Far, far too generous. Just look at what he did:

Stowe told [CBS’s “60 Minutes”] MS patient that he can reverse her disease with his program of herbs and vitamins to boost the immune system, custom vaccines and stem cell injections. Medical experts say it’s nonsense but it’s the same pitch that we secretly recorded again and again as Stowe claimed to reverse cancer, ALS, MS, Parkinson’s disease and more.

He did this sort of thing to desperate person after desperate person. He scammed people out of their life savings, sometimes putting them into debt and convincing them to sell their homes. He promised cures where there are no cures. He ruined the lives of real humans nearly as much as nature herself was in the process of already doing.

As awful as that all is, there is at least some good news on the horizon:

Three men have been arrested for their participation in a scheme to manufacture, distribute and sell to the public stem cells and stem cell procedures that were not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today along with Assistant Attorney General Tony West of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division, Special Agent in Charge Patrick J. Holland of the FDA—Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI) and Special Agent in Charge Cory B. Nelson of the FBI.

Francisco Morales, 52, of Brownsville, Texas, was arrested by Customs and Border Protection agents pursuant to a arrest warrant late Dec. 22, 2011. He made his initial appearance the following morning at which time he was ordered held without bond. Alberto Ramon, 48, of Del Rio, Texas, and Vincent Dammai, 40, of Mount Pleasant, S.C., were arrested yesterday. Ramon was arrested as he was about to enter his clinic and has already made his initial appearance in Del Rio, while Dammai was arrested in Florence, S.C., and is expected to make his initial appearance in Charleston, S.C., this morning. Lawrence Stowe, 58, of Dallas, Texas, also charged in relation to this case, is considered a fugitive and a warrant remains outstanding for his arrest. The two indictments in this matter, returned Nov. 9 and 10, 2011, have been unsealed by order of the court.

Given the terrible nature of Stowe, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that he has already packed up his stuff and moved his operation to another part of the world. Fortunately, the thing with criminals is that they almost always slip up. If he is out of the country, he will return at some point. He can’t hide from his lies and crimes forever.

via SCmom.

Awesome videos

I don’t really have any good context for posting these three videos other than that I find them neat and it’s my blog. So there.

First up is a 1000fps video of a slinky being dropped:

I love this next one. A Montana man was caught with about enough weed on him to roll a joint. For whatever reason he was going to be put on trial instead of given a pat on the butt and a reminder to buckle up. However, it was not possible to proceed with any due process because the judge was unable to find a jury willing to convict. And I don’t mean there was a hung jury or something like that. No, no, no, it’s even greater. When asked if they would be willing to convict someone of such a crime, potential jurors simply said “no”.

This last one is great, even if I did find it by clicking a link with that odious word “patriarchy” in it. I suspect this little girl will go far:

Thought of the day

It amazes me how willingly conservatives will admit that racism clearly still exists all around us, yet when it comes to pointing out or acknowledging any actual examples they suddenly fall strangely silent.

The religious fighting of Nigeria

As I have pointed out a number of times here, severe violence in Nigeria has long been based in or exacerbated by religion. In many cases we see Islamic sects bombing Christian sects, causing eye-for-an-eye retaliation. The motivation is sheer religious fervor, belief that one’s faith is more important than others’ lives. In other cases we see a division of goods and farmland which leads to disagreements. These disagreements often escalate into violence. Of course, no one would see such systematic violence were it not for religious labels. It would certainly still be there – Nigeria has distinct ethnic groups and that can and does cause problems – but much of the bloodshed would disappear. For, why would Nigerians fight other, for all intents and purposes, random Nigerians? (Looking at the situation this way, this arbitrary nature of division resembles the one between different Christian sects of Northern Ireland in relatively recent years.) No rational, fair-minded person can look at what is happening in this West African nation and deny that religion is a significant problem, often even at the base of the problems. We may see things come to a head in coming years:

Northern Nigerian Christians said on Tuesday they feared that a spate of Christmas Day bombings by Islamist militants that killed over two dozen people could lead to a religious war in Africa’s most populous country.

The warning was made in a statement by the northern branch of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), an umbrella organization comprising various denominations including Catholics, Protestant and Pentecostal churches.

Some political-religious leaders are denying as much will happen, even going so far as to lie about the nature of the conflict. But the facts are the facts. People are fighting and religion is making things worse. There are surely solutions, but I’m not going to pretend I know what they all are. Nigeria has democracy, the usual curing agent for much violence. It could be strengthened; rooting out corruption and greed would be a start – these things inevitably lead to someone’s oppression and that leads to as much violence as religious fervor does. But this is a small piece to the problem here and, again, I’m not going to pretend like I know all the answers. Nigeria is a complicated nation which is going to have to wait many, many years before it sees peace between its two violent religions.

The harm of NCCAM

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, or NCCAM, has been causing harm in one form or another for a dozen years now. We have Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to thank for that because he was the one who inserted a few paragraphs in a budget bill back in the 90’s which created this monstrosity. His basis? Not science:

In a 1998 speech, Harkin described watching acupuncture and acupressure ease the pain and violent hiccups of a brother dying of thyroid cancer.

“These are things I have seen with my own eyes,” said Harkin, who also lost three other siblings to cancer. “When I see things like this I ask, ‘Why? Why aren’t these things being researched?'”

In other words, he used anecdotal evidence to come to his conclusion. This is standard for supporters of woo, or even just idiots in general.

So what have we learned from NCCAM, a relatively small but well-funded branch of the NIH? Let’s take a look:

Thanks to a $374,000 taxpayer-funded grant, we now know that inhaling lemon and lavender scents doesn’t do a lot for our ability to heal a wound. With $666,000 in federal research money, scientists examined whether distant prayer could heal AIDS. It could not.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine also helped pay scientists to study whether squirting brewed coffee into someone’s intestines can help treat pancreatic cancer (a $406,000 grant) and whether massage makes people with advanced cancer feel better ($1.25 million). The coffee enemas did not help. The massage did.

Over more than a decade what we have learned is that it is not at all difficult to waste a total of $1.4 billion on quackery. That’s it.

What we have here is an organization which is well-funded but which carries out irresponsible studies. We don’t need research about coffee enemas and distant prayer when there is zero scientific evidence to support even the most vague of hypotheses.

What I really don’t find at all surprising in any of this is the reaction the history of failure at NCCAM gets from its supporters:

Researchers published their dramatic [coffee enema] results in 2010 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Patients receiving standard chemotherapy had lived an average of 14 months. The [Dr. Nicholas] Gonzalez patients [who received coffee enemas] lived an average of four months, and were in significantly more pain.

But some experts questioned the study’s findings, saying it lacked a clear question and had a flawed design. For example, the volunteers were allowed to pick whether they received chemotherapy or the other regimen. Originally, they were to be randomly assigned to a group, but few patients were willing to volunteer under those conditions.

That final line would normally be a significant compounding factor in any study, but these results are far from normal. People following a normal course of treatment lived nearly 4 times longer than those using the woo. Anyone who looks at these results and decides to carry out a completely random, double-blind study on coffee enemas ought to be tried for negligent homicide once their experimental group patients begin dropping dead.

But in all this I think the best/worst reaction from a supporter has to go to the father of this alternative death, Harkin:

“One of the purposes of this center was to investigate and validate alternative approaches. Quite frankly, I must say publicly that it has fallen short,” Harkin said.

The senator went on to lament that, since its inception in 1998, the focus of NCCAM has been “disproving things rather than seeking out and approving things.”

Methinks someone knows not a thing about science.

The point of any scientific endeavor is to always prove what does not work and what is not true. Do that enough and what does work and what is true becomes apparent. While it is certainly disappointing that coffee enemas don’t cure cancer, Harkin ought to be happy to know that that is the case (minus the wasted time, money, and human lives, of course). Anyone actually interested in science would view these results as such. Of course, I am assuming that people interested in science would actually let things get this out of hand. They wouldn’t. But fortunately for the supporters of woo – and unfortunately for the supporters of useful expenditures – that is a void NCCAM is more than willing to fill.

The data so far

via xkcd.