Archives April 2012

Cooches Are Filthy and Disgusting. Who Knew?

The BillDo is up in arms again. This time, he’s unhappy about a piece that aired on The Daily Show a few days ago about the right’s War on Women, contrasting it to the War on Christmas™. And specifically at a bit where Jon Stewart suggested that, to prevent unwanted government intrusion into their sex life, women could protect their vaginas by placing mangers in front of them:

Vagina manger

It’s hard to tell what exactly it is about that image that has given poor Billy the vapors. He’s called it “obscene” and “vulgar“, “Stewart not only made a vulgar attack on Christians, he objectified women“; an “unprecedented assault on Christian sensibilities“, “anti-Christian and grossly misogynist“, even “What Jon Stewart did ranks with the most vulgar expression of hate speech ever aired on television“; “so indefensible—putting a nativity scene ornament in between the legs of a naked woman—that no one save the maliciously sick would even try to defend it“.

So he’s clearly in a tizzy, but doesn’t say exactly what the problem is, or why this comedy bit should warrant such over-his-usual-over-the-top rhetoric, which means that I need to guess.

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt has been working on a theory of morals, studying what people find to be moral or immoral. This is from a psychological standpoint, not a philosophical or ethical one. That is, he’s not interested so much about figuring out what’s right or wrong, as much as he is in finding out how people think about right and wrong.

One of his categories is “sanctity/degradation”, which concerns purity and contamination: an action is immoral if it contaminates the purity of the person or community. Thus, for instance, I’m guessing that most people would object if someone brought a dog turd in a clear Ziploc bag onto a subway train, because (in people’s minds, at least) dog turds are filthy and disgusting, and the subway car and its passengers would be in a sense contaminated by its presence.

As far as I can make out, this is the explanation that best fits BillDo’s reaction: he feels that manger scenes are pure and holy, and photoshopping one in proximity to a set of ladyparts contaminates it with, I don’t know, cooter cooties or something. Which leads inexorably to the conclusion that Bill thinks vaginas are filthy. I wonder how Mrs. Catholic League feels about that. Or maybe Bill feels this way because he’s gay. Dunno.

At any rate, this seems like his personal hangup. And maybe, until such time as he can get over it, and realize that a vagina is no more dirty than any other body part, especially once it’s been thoroughly washed, ideally by a willing showermate, that he should just fuck off.

(Psychological analysis brought to you by the Institute for Advanced Psychological Research and Bajingo Jokes.)

Goodbye, Dick Clark


Catholic Church 99 44/100% Pure

BillDo has a post in which he plays down the Catholic priesthood’s image problem:

Catholic League president Bill Donohue comments on the findings of the 2011 Annual Report on priestly sexual abuse that was released by the bishops’ conference; the survey was done by a Georgetown institute:

The headlines should read, “Abuse Problem Near Zero Among Priests,” but that is not what is being reported.

According to the 2011 Official Catholic Directory, there are 40,271 priests in the U.S. The report says there were 23 credible accusations of the sexual abuse of a minor made against priests for incidences last year. Of that number, 9 were deemed credible by law enforcement. Which means that 99.98% of priests nationwide had no such accusation made against them last year. Nowhere is this being reported.

If that’s his standard of purity, then I’m sure Bill would have no problem drinking a glass of 99.98% water and only 0.02% urine, right?

The thing is that very few men in general are child abusers. The question (or one question) is, does the Catholic clergy contain more child abusers than the population at large?

I wasn’t able to quickly find child-abuse statistics for the United States, but I did find the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting statistics for violent crime in 2010, which shows an aggregate of 27.8 forcible rapes per 100,000 victims. The FBI defines “forcible rape” as:

The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will. Rapes by force and attempts or assaults to rape, regardless of the age of the victim, are included. Statutory offenses (no force used—victim under age of consent) are excluded.

So the numbers are not directly comparable: the report Donohue is quoting concerns itself only with sexual abuse of minors, while the FBI’s number covers all rape. The FBI’s 2010 number excludes sexual abuse of males, while BillDo emphasizes that in the report he’s quoting, “almost all the offenses involve homosexuality“. And BillDo calculates the rate per offender while the FBI counts the rate per victim, which means that BillDo’s number tends to undercount priests who abused multiple victims, compared to what the FBI counts.

Having said that, BillDo’s figure of 9 credible accusations and 40,271 priests works out to 22.3 per 100,000, compared to the FBI’s 27.8 per 100,000. So the number of pedophile priests seems to be in the same ballpark as the number of rapists in the US as a whole. That seems pretty bad, especially for a group that presents itself as the guardians of morality.

BillDo also ignores, as usual, that the Catholic church’s problem is not so much one of having rapists in its ranks — any large organization is bound to have some — but of covering up its members’ crimes. The abuse itself can be blamed on individual priests, sure. But the coverup is a problem for the organization.


This weekend is Easter, at least by the calendar used in most of Christendom, so I thought it might be worth taking a look at the central message of Christianity.

The story in a nutshell: way back in the beginning, Adam and Eve, the first two humans, ate a fruit that God told them not to. As a result, every human is born with Original Sin. So God sent his son Jesus to Earth as a sacrifice, to atone for humanity and rescue us from Hell.

Where to begin? Leaving aside the many problems with the Adam and Eve story (like why God put that tree in the garden in the first place, without so much as a child-proof lock on it), and ignoring the question of whether it’s a literal story or a metaphor, there’s original sin: how does it get transmitted from parent to child? I’m guessing it’s not genetic, or else Christians would be pushing for research into bioengineering, so that we could one day have a generation of chilren born without original sin.

Or is it passed down like a title of nobility, or a debt? That is, it’s not a thing or a substance, but more like a contract that affects how God behaves toward us? If original sin is like a debt, then it seems unfair of God to hold us responsible for something that Adam and Eve did.

(By a fortuitous coincidence, while I was writing this, two Jehovah’s Witnesses came to the door, so I took the opportunity to ask some of the questions in this post. They didn’t tell me anything I hadn’t heard umpteen times before, and offered no good explanations, so I can proceed as planned, without major revisions.)

At any rate, God decided not to fix the problem right away, but to let a few thousand years (or more) elapse before doing something about it.

And what a solution he came up with! He decided to have a son (who may or may not be himself, depending on whether you accept the doctrine of the Trinity or not, and how you interpret it) to be executed. This was to be construed as a blood sacrifice: sacrificing his son (or himself) to himself. This would somehow make things all better by allowing him not to send people to Hell.

The hell that he created, or at least subcontracted to Satan. Because God wanted there to be a hell in which the people descended from the people who disobeyed God would be tortured forever.

So how exactly does that work? Or, as comedian Doug Stanhope put it,

Jesus died for your sins. How does one affect the other? I fucking hit myself in the foot with a shovel for your mortgage. I don’t get it.

If God wants to forgive people, why can’t he just forgive them, without having to kill his son? If it’s to create a loophole in the law that every sin requires a sacrifice, then the law is stupid and he should have just repealed it.

If sinful people can’t get into heaven, why does God insist on sending them to hell? Why not just obliterate them, so that at least they don’t suffer? If there has to be a hell, for whatever reason, why doesn’t he reform it and get rid of the gratuitous torture?

If that’s not possible because God’s constitution doesn’t allow for amendments, then he’s either stupid or malevolent (and given that he decided to torture people forever, and for someone else’s crime, I’d be leaning toward malevolent, if I weren’t already leaning toward imaginary).

Basically, Jesus is a scapegoat. Scapegoats, you may recall, are animals or lower-class people upon whom the crimes of the community were laid, and who are then punished or killed for those crimes. The whole notion rests upon the notion that sin or crime or guilt is a substance that can be transferred from one person to another. If it did, we could talk to prisoners on death row and ask if they’d be willing to take on the additional guilt of, say, a hundred guys serving for pot possession, or a thousand parking tickets. But every advanced country, in particular the ones with the lowest crime rates, has recognized that this isn’t justice, but merely a salve that allows people to buy a guilt-free life, rather than having to live with the consequences of one’s actions, and having to think ahead and avoid doing things that might come back to haunt one.

In short, it’s not just that there isn’t a shred of evidence to think that the Easter story is true. It also doesn’t make sense on its own terms. The story of Xenu makes more sense than this, and that’s saying something.

Shit My Bible Says: Chariots of Iron

The book of Judges starts out with Judah finishing the job of conquering the promised land and wiping out its current inhabitants. At first, all goes well (“When Judah attacked, the LORD gave the Canaanites and Perizzites into their hands, and they struck down ten thousand men at Bezek.”).

But then (Judges 1:19):

19 The LORD was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had chariots fitted with iron.

Stupid iron chariots, with their stupid stronger-than-God-ness! They’re always foiling God’s plans!

Maybe this is why we don’t see miracles like the parting of the Red Sea or the sun standing still anymore: there are too many iron chariots around, in the form of cars and trucks, so God can’t do his stuff anymore.

Anyway, this verse is the namesake of a wiki, a podcast, and I don’t know what all else.

What’s Three Orders of Magnitude Among Friends?

(Alternate title: “Numbers Mean Things”.)

The increasingly-irrelevant Uncommon Descent blag had a post today, commenting on an article in Science News.

Right now, UD’s post is entitled “Timing of human use of fire pushed back by 300,000 years”, but when it showed up in my RSS reader, it was “Timing of human use of fire pushed back by 300 million years“. This mistake survives in the post’s URL:

From skimming the Science News article, it looks as though a new study found evidence of fire being used one million years ago, pushing back the earliest-known use of fire by 300,000 years. So presumably the previous record-holder was 700,000 years ago.

The author at Uncommon Descent reported the 300,000-year difference as “300 million years”. But hey, what’s a factor of 1000 between friends?

To illustrate, imagine a student in school in 2012, writing a report about, say, e-commerce. At first, she dates the origin of e-commerce to 1994, when was founded. But upon further investigation, she finds an example of a company selling stuff on the Internet in 1987 and revises her report to say that e-commerce is 25 years old, not 18. That’s about the magnitude of what the scientists found.

Now, along comes UD and reports this as “Origin of e-commerce pushed back to 22,000 BC.” That’s the size of their mistake.

It’s easy to make fun of primitive people whose counting system goes “one, two, three, many”. But the truth is, we all do this to some extent. Imagine a newspaper headline that says, “Federal budget increases by $600 billion, including $300 million increase in NASA funding.” Did you think, “holy cow! NASA got half of that extra money!”? If so, I’m talking to you: you’re not counting “one, two, three, many”, but you are counting “ten, hundred, thousand, illion”.

At any rate, I still question the numeracy of whoever wrote that UD headline. If you’re going to spell out “million” in letters, it should trigger a reality-check mechanism in your brain that makes you ask, “Wait a sec. 300 million years ago. That’s the age of dinosaurs or earlier.”

Shit My Bible Says: Pharaoh’s Hard Heart

You remember the story of the Exodus, right? How the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, and Moses asked the Pharaoh to “Let my people go”, but the Pharaoh was like “Nuh-uh!” and Moses had to unleash ten increasingly-horrible plagues on Egypt before the Israelites could pack up their stuff and escape?

So yeah, there are a couple of bits that don’t get mentioned very often.

Exodus 9:11-12 (the plague of boils):

11 The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils that were on them and on all the Egyptians. 12 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses.

Well, okay, maybe that was just a figure of speech. Maybe in the original Hebrew, the phrase “The LORD did X” is akin to “inshallah” in Arabic, and would have been understood by the people at the time as meaning something closer to “and it came to pass that X“.

So let’s look at another example, like Exodus 10:1-2:

1 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these signs of mine among them 2 that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the LORD.”

Okay, so the “figure of speech” explanation doesn’t really work. Here we have God explicitly saying that he’s messing with people’s brains so that he can show off properly.

By the time the plague of darkness comes along, the Pharaoh is ready throw in the towel (Exodus 10:16-20)…

16 Pharaoh quickly summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “I have sinned against the LORD your God and against you. 17 Now forgive my sin once more and pray to the LORD your God to take this deadly plague away from me.”

18 Moses then left Pharaoh and prayed to the LORD. 19 And the LORD changed the wind to a very strong west wind, which caught up the locusts and carried them into the Red Sea. Not a locust was left anywhere in Egypt. 20 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go.

…but God won’t allow a peaceful, if delayed, resolution, because he’s not done showing off yet.

The Plague of Darkness, comes along, and once again, the Pharaoh’s ready to give up: Exodus 10:24-28:

24 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and said, “Go, worship the LORD. Even your women and children may go with you; only leave your flocks and herds behind.”

25 But Moses said, “You must allow us to have sacrifices and burnt offerings to present to the LORD our God. 26 Our livestock too must go with us; not a hoof is to be left behind. We have to use some of them in worshiping the LORD our God, and until we get there we will not know what we are to use to worship the LORD.”

27 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was not willing to let them go. 28 Pharaoh said to Moses, “Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die.”

Finally, we get to the plague on the firstborn: Exodus 11:1-3:

1 Now the LORD had said to Moses, “I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt. After that, he will let you go from here, and when he does, he will drive you out completely. 2 Tell the people that men and women alike are to ask their neighbors for articles of silver and gold.” 3 (The LORD made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and Moses himself was highly regarded in Egypt by Pharaoh’s officials and by the people.)

Moses then tells the Pharaoh what God told him about how he’ll murder the firstborn sons of Egypt, from the Pharaoh’s son to that of the most menial slave, and of all the cattle as well. (Is it just me, or is it funny that God can’t be bothered to tell the Pharaoh himself, even though the whole point of this exercise is to say, “Hey, look at me! I’m badass!”, but has to go through a human intermediary?)

At any rate, Exodus 11:9-10 then says:

9 The LORD had said to Moses, “Pharaoh will refuse to listen to you—so that my wonders may be multiplied in Egypt.” 10 Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country.

If anyone ever gives you that clichéd line about God not providing proof of his existence because that would violate people’s free will, point them at the story of the ten plagues. If there’s a more insidious violation of people’s free will than reaching into their heads and making them want different things, I don’t know what it is.

And I think this post just ensured that I will never, ever be invited to a Seder.