A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

From Abracadabra to Zombies

The Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter

Volume 15 No. 4

April 2016

"We have learned about an enemy who is sophisticated, patient, disciplined, and lethal. The enemy rallies broad support in the Arab and Muslim world by demanding redress of political grievances, but its hostility toward us and our values is limitless. Its purpose is to rid the world of religious and political pluralism, the plebiscite, and equal rights for women." --The 9/11 Commission Report

What's New?

reader comments: Rick Simpson's cannabis oil as a cancer cure incompetently defended.

updated: Newsletter 119: Jim Humble still pushing his poison in the name of religion; New Thought (more evidence that positive-thinking isn't everything it's been made out to be); Dr. Dragan Dabic (Radovan Karadžić) found guilty of war crimes; now 70, he was sentenced to 40 years; diploma mills (feds set up fake school leading to the arrest of 21 brokers, recruiters, and employers for 'a wide-ranging scheme to defraud … the United States in connection with student visas.')

A Practical Guide to Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking Handbook

In 2004, Greg Haskins put together a handbook for critical thinking based on Becoming a Critical Thinker and The Skeptic's Dictionary. He has recently updated the guide to include a section on cognitive/natural biases based on The Critical Thinker's Dictionary.

I hosted the original “A Practical Guide to Critical Thinking” at skepdic.com/essays/Haskins.html

Over the years, Haskins' "A Practical Guide to Critical Thinking" has become internationally adopted or referenced by educational institutions, medical institutions, militaries, government agencies, blogs, and newsletters as a handy guidebook on critical thinking. It continues to be one of the most frequently visited posts on skepdic.com.

The second edition is available as an eBook at a modest price. As noted above, the second edition has been updated to include new material on hindrances due to natural biases. "A Practical Guide to Critical Thinking" is available from Amazon.com.

SkeptiCal 2016

Carolyn PorcoThere are still seats available for SkeptiCal-16. Space is limited to 250 registrants for the Northern California science and skepticism conference on Sunday, May 15, 2016 at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center. Main presenters include Carolyn Porco, planetary scientist and imaging team leader for the Cassini mission at Saturn, neuroscientist Indre Viskontas, Homo erectus specialist Henry Gilbert, and science writer Steve Silberman. Breakout speakers include Jeff Sheehy (CRISPR and the promise and perils of gene editing), Jerry Schwarz (Experience Testing Claims of Psychic Powers), Debra Berliner (Vaccinating Every California Child: SB 277 and Beyond), and Frank Mosher (Workshop for Producing Skeptical Children). Entertainment will be provided by San Francisco magician and comedian Ryan Kane.

Discount registration of $40 ($25 for students) is available at http://www.skepticalcon.com/contact/ until May 1.

Skeptic Tries Her Hand at the Art of the Novel

Karen StollznowKaren Stollznow, paranormal investigator and co-host of Monster Talk (along with Blake Smith) has recently expanded the art of her skeptical inquiries into the realm of novel writing. No, she's not examining paranormal fiction; she's created a novel about a skeptic who is having a difficult time trying to expose a cunning and charismatic psychic medium. Her novel is called Hits & Mrs.

The famous mentalist Banachek features as one of the main characters, and the book discusses many skeptical themes such as cold reading, hot reading, and the Forer effect. What happens when the world's greatest psychic medium is repeatedly challenged by a skeptic who tries to expose him as the world's greatest fraud? You'll have to read the book to find out. The end game may surprise you.

Franklin Graham: Spreading Bigotry State by State

Franklin Graham, son of preacher Billy Graham, has launched a 50-state crusade to restore Christian values and a "return to god," Abraham's god that is, the one favored by the Taliban, al-Qaeda, ISIS, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and billions of Christians, Jews, and Muslims around the globe. Abe's god is the one who ordered him to kill his only son as a "sacrifice" to show how far he was willing to go to prove his devotion to the Great One. F. Graham wants us to cast our votes based on the Bible. That would mean we'd have to read the Bible, I suppose, which I doubt many of his followers have done. The god depicted in the Bible is one nasty fellow, a megalomaniac whose demand for worship and obedience puts Donald Trump to shame.

I did a deep search for the book of Christian values, but came up empty. It turns out that 'Christian values' can mean just about anything you want it to mean. You have to look to the context to figure out what any given person might mean by the expression. In Graham's case, figuring out what he's really up to isn't that difficult. Those who know what he's about showed up to support him in my home state of California. An equally knowledgeable group showed up to protest: the Sacramento Bee labeled the protestors as the "LGBTQ community." The protestors, in other words, were lesbians, gay people, bisexual people, transgender people, queer or questioning people, and their supporters. Why would this particular group protest a return to god and electing people who want to run the country on Christian values? Because they know, as should every reporter covering Graham's crusade, that what Graham and his minions desire is to turn back the clock to a time when it was ok to discriminate against people who don't fit their Biblical image of the heterosexual male and female. These crusaders want to repeal same-sex marriages. They are supporters of laws that allow Christians to discriminate against anyone who offends their religious values. Mississippi’s governor Phil Bryant signed legislation that allows churches, religious charities, and privately held businesses to decline services to people if doing so would violate their religious beliefs on marriage and gender. That should please Graham and his minions, but not "diversity-minded corporations" and individuals. (New York Times' writers Jonathan M. Katz and Erik Eckholm refer to the religious bigots as "social conservatives" and the profit-minded corporations who oppose legalizing bigotry as "diversity-minded corporations.") Mississippi is not alone in alienating corporations with its bigotry in the name of religious freedom. North Carolina is a leader in the "religious freedom" and "right to use the toilet you were born to use" movement. The online-payment company PayPal responded by announcing it was canceling a $3.6 million/400 job investment in North Carolina, and Deutsche Bank said it was putting on hold its plans to create 250 positions at its technology development center in Cary, N.C., a municipality near Raleigh, that currently employees 900 people. Graham may have to put on his rally cap when he visits Georgia, however. Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia, under pressure from business interests, vetoed a bill similar to that passed in Mississippi.

Graham is not too subtle in his attempt at vague language to get his meaning across without directly claiming that the point is to make anything but heterosexual marriage (between people of the same race?) illegal. He wants people to take a pledge to honor god and Christian values--vague enough, to be sure--and he wants them to declare: "I pledge to honor god with my vote—supporting, where possible, candidates who will uphold biblical principles, including the sanctity of life and the sacredness of marriage." Read: I pledge to support candidates who oppose abortion and same-sex marriage. While in California, Graham blasted San Francisco's mayor Ed Lee for banning city employees from job-related travel to North Carolina. Graham praised Gov. Pat McCrory and the North Carolina general assembly for preserving "basic privacy" and protecting "its citizens from perverts and sexual predators." Yes, Graham is as ignorant of perversion and sexual predation as Trump is of nuclear threats.

Graham's crusade wants to reduce anyone who doesn't fit his view of "sexual okness" to the status of a second-class citizen. His driving purpose is to encourage those who share his views to run for public office or to vote for those who want Christian prayers in public schools and before public meetings, "under god" in the pledge of allegiance, abortion and same-sex marriage outlawed, and who knows what other kind of act in the name of "religious freedom." Do these folks want to go back to the days when mixed-race marriages were illegal? when segregation in public schools, restrooms, restaurants, hotels, etc. was common? In an ideal world, anyone who appeals to any god's will to justify any action would be immediately stuffed into a gunny sack and hung from a tree limb to be whacked like a piñata by local schoolchildren until the offender cries "Uncle" and promises never to try to justify anything by claiming some god commands it.

Proving he is just as deluded as his father Billy, and Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, F. Graham warned that if we don't turn back to god, the end is near. His meaningless gibberish plays well with those who think the fairy tales in the Bible are true stories, but it doesn't play well around here.

For the record, F. Graham's band of Christians and other religious groups--including jihadist Muslims, Pastafarians, and Raelians--have every right under our Constitution to advocate for candidates who want to change our form of government to some sort of theocracy, but they still have to follow the laws and abide by the Constitution. They might want to teach fairy tales in public schools and call them 'science.' They might want to ban all abortions and gay marriage. They might want to make homosexuality a crime. They might want to ban interracial marriage. They may want to segregate our public schools by race. They may want to allow discrimination against people on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, etc. They can have all the ill wishes in the world, but they still must obey the law and abide by the Constitution. Whether these folks get elected dog catcher or president of the United States, they can't dictate the law or change the Constitution by fiat.

Fortunately, there are many Christian groups who don't interpret the Bible the way F. Graham does. Nor do they mean the same thing as Graham when they talk about 'Christian values' or 'the sanctity of marriage.' There are progressive Christians, but they don't make the news. Love and kindness don't seem to play well with the media these days. But it could be worse.

Wahhabism: Spreading Death and Destruction Nation by Nation

Saudi leader waves goodbye to AmericaSome Christian groups in the U.S. may want to discriminate against the LGBT community, but one of the major Islamic states, Saudi Arabia, has used religious indoctrination (Wahhabism) for generations to encourage young people to behead Christians and kill Jews and apostates. No need to remind anyone where most of the 9/11 jihadists originated, but it might not be so clear that all the other fanatical jihadist genocidal maniacs now plotting their next acts of terror can trace their roots back to Wahhabism and Saudi Arabia, one of America's allies in the war against terror. How can this be? Oil? The Bush family? Why would the U.S. want to ally itself with a nation with a history of training children to grow up to be murderers and whose human rights violations defy the imagination? What is attractive about Shariah law as practiced in the Saudi kingdom? How can we be allies with a country where people are still beheaded or stoned to death in the public square? Why would we be friends with a country that has produced generations of fanatical jihadists who think it is Allah's will that they exterminate Christians and Jews and execute any Muslim who wants to leave Islam? What am I missing?

Frontline has two programs that might be of interest to those wanting to know more about the Saudi connection to the worldwide terror of jihadist Muslims: Analysis Wahhabism and Saudi Arabia Uncovered. You won't find out much from the mainstream media: those folks are too busy covering sports, celebrities, and the political circus being provided by our two major political parties whose clown cars are now occupied by a man who keeps reminding us of all the things he's never done and how breaking up the "financial system" will solve all our problems while he gives away the store, a woman who keeps reminding us of her experience, a man who's main claim to fame these days is that he isn't the guy he's running against, and the greatest blowhard this country has ever produced. Oh, and then there's the fellow whose main qualification to be president of the United States is that he's the only adult in the sandbox.

[new] further reading

28 Pages from "60 Minutes" "....President Obama will visit Saudi Arabia at a time of deep mistrust between the two allies, and lingering doubts about the Saudi commitment to fighting violent Islamic extremism.

It also comes at a time when the White House and intelligence officials are reviewing whether to declassify one of the country's most sensitive documents -- known as the "28 pages." They have to do with 9/11 and the possible existence of a Saudi support network for the hijackers while they were in the U.S."

Your Guide to the 28 Classified Pages About Saudi Arabia and 9/11 That Obama Might Release from Slate What do they say, allegedly? 60 Minutes—based on the statements of people who’ve read them—says the pages amount to “a working draft similar to a grand jury or police report that includes provocative evidence—some verified, and some not” about assistance that Saudi nationals with government connections provided to some of the 9/11 hijackers while those hijackers were in the United States. More than one outlet has reported that some of the allegations involve Omar al-Bayoumi, a Saudi national who’s known to have done favors (a small loan, help renting an apartment) for two of the hijackers after meeting them at a Los Angeles restaurant on the same day that he also met with someone at L.A.’s Saudi consulate. (Al-Bayoumi has claimed that he didn’t know anything about the future hijackers and just happened to have struck up a friendship with them after randomly meeting them at the restaurant.)"

9 Guantánamo Prisoners From Yemen Are Sent to Saudi Arabia "The effort to persuade the Saudi government to take the prisoners began in the Bush administration and finally resulted in an agreement in February. Current and former officials familiar with the negotiations called the timing of the transfer, which reduced the population at Guantánamo to 80 prisoners, a coincidence."

Saudis warn of economic reprisals if Congress passes 9/11 bill "Saudi Arabia is warning it will sell off billions in American assets if the U.S. Congress passes a bipartisan bill that would allow victims of 9/11 and other terrorist attacks to sue foreign governments. Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir issued the warning to U.S. lawmakers last month during a visit to Washington, two senior State Department officials told CNN. A source with knowledge of the Saudis' thinking said investments would be put in jeopardy if this bill passes, so they are trying to protect themselves from risk." [/new]

Written by Bob Carroll
with the assistance of John Renish
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