Archive for June, 2009

Fun with Mormons

It was Saturday afternoon. I was walking through Liscard and listening to my iPod, when I was stopped in the street by a young man in a sharp suit.

“Excuse me, sir.  I’m here today to tell you the Good News™”

Fantastic! I love it when they pick on me. Seriously, I do. We don’t get many religious zealots around here, so it’s the only sport that I get.  I think our lackadaisical national religion has bred most of the zealotry out of the population.  The most extremist thing you’ll see a Church of England vicar do is invite himself over for tea and Victoria sponge.  This bloke has an odd accent.  He sounds American, but at the same time he sounds Dutch.  I’m never good with American accents.  Maybe one of the Mountain States?

“What would it mean to you if I were to say that there is a God, and He loves you, and that He has a prophet on Earth right now? What would it mean if these things were true?”
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‘Psychic’ Joe Power and the Two-Man-Mob

Skeptics with a K

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Cool drizzle fell onto the grey Saturday streets of Liverpool, a light breeze tumble-weeded a sweet wrapper down the road in a clichéd fashion, and I was becoming increasingly aware that this would be the strangest conversation of my life.  And I didn’t need psychic powers for that.  For I was in the company of ‘Psychic’ Joe Power, fresh from his latest in-store book-signing (signed copies of which, I add, are still on the shelves of Waterstones – supply quite exceeded demand it seems), and things were getting weird.

“The thing about you sceptics,” he said, standing on the step of a plus-size lingerie shop to raise himself to my eye-level, “is that you sit there, festering in front of your computers at 3am, thinking up ways to get at people.  What if I were to sit in front of your house and tell people you’re a paedophile?”

“Well,” I say, “that’s for you to decide to do if you want to but it’s not really the same thing – I’m raising questions over what you do and the service you claim to provide; insinuating I was a paedophile would be just a personal attack, and wildly baseless.  It’s not really the same thing.  At all.”

“Oh I think they’re very similar,” he answers, “because you’re there festering, at 3am, plotting to get at me, in the same way that paedophiles fester and plot to interfere with children – you both have to be sick in the head to do what you do.”

With Herculean effort to suspend my natural what-the-fuck? reaction, and with a curt politeness that in retrospect now seems other-worldly, I manage a swift retort:  “Sorry, can I just clarify – are you comparing sceptics to paedophiles?  Could you explain that?  I mean, are you saying that paedophiles also ask questions of you, or what exactly?”

Joe:  “I think most sceptics probably are paedophiles. I mean you’re sat around at 3am, plotting, aren’t you?  Do you deny that?”

An-incredulous-Marsh: “Do I deny what?  That I ask questions?  That I’m sometimes awake at 3am?  Or that I am a paedophile?  Could you please be clear what you’re asking me, Joe?”

It’s not often that you’re 5 minutes into a conversation with someone you’ve never met before and they’ve already played the paedophile card.  I had a feeling it was going to be one of those days. Read the rest of this entry »

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Measles Myths

Sir Sandy Macara, the former chairman of the British Medical Association, suggested last week that the MMR vaccine should be made compulsory in the UK, for children wishing to take advantage of a state education.  This follows a huge increase in measles cases, which is directly attributable to the decline in vaccination rates, in turn attributable to uncritical reporting of the discredited Wakefield study which linked the MMR vaccine to autism.

As part of their coverage, the BBC’s regular “Have Your Say” feature posed the question “Should the MMR jab be compulsory?”.  The comments which followed made my blood boil and my toes curl.  So, for your delectation, here is a list of myths I’ve picked up from HYS – with responses.

If it helps, I could hear Mark Crislip’s voice in my head as I wrote this.

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If a coathanger was good enough for my grandmother, it’s good enough for you!

George Tiller, a high-profile abortion doctor was shot. Gingi Edmonds has been cheering for a return to the good-old-days of coathangers and gin.

Starbucks, McDonalds, Subway – undoubtedly, US culture is not shy of landing on our shores, strolling right up to us and asking if we’d care to replace our afternoon tea with an extra-skinny-mochafrippolatteflippin’cino.

However, for every square-jawed-sun-licked-white-toothed Adonis of the culture wars who catches us, swooning in their comforting, capitalist arms, there is a snaggle-toothed-wild-haired-stinking-clothed screaming lunatic, screaming from the street corner, who never quite made it into the Army of the American Dream, failing the interview on account of the fact that they held their gun backwards, pissed in their helmet and offered sexual favours in exchange for the general’s cigarettes.

These are aspects of US culture that quite thankfully remain locked to its shores. Here, for example, we have the occasional abortion debate when it appears in the commons, but in the US they have blooming television adverts about it!

You see? That foetus that was aborted by a school-age teenager had a future (just as the teenager very nearly didn’t).

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Clairovoyant Cabbie predicts pregnant passenger’s due date! Or ‘How basic cold reading can be used to monkey with strangers’

According to The Sun, a mysterious taxi driver has predicted the due date of a passenger’s unborn child, with a level of insight labeled ‘Spooky’ by the mum-to-be.  As the article explains:

“The cabbie said: “You’re expecting a baby” — and at that stage she was not even showing a bump.  He then said the tot was due on August 9 — which is the date she had just been given by her gynaecologist.  The mystic cabbie then went on to tell her the baby would be born five days late, at 11.10am on August 14.”  Source: The Sun: 01 June 2009

Quite the miracle, indeed. Or is it?  Let’s break the story down piece by piece.

First of all, the cabbie guessed the mum-to-be was pregnant.  Cool.  After having picked her up from her first ultrasound scan.  OK.  Which, unless I’m mistaken on these things (I’ve never been pregnant and have never had an ultrasound), takes place at a hospital.  Convenient. In an Obstetrics and Gynaecology ward.  Ah.  So a cabbie charged with picking a woman up from the Obs & Gynae entrance speculated she may be with child – perhaps not the greatest stab in the dark to have made.

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How to demonstrate ghosts are real in one easy step

Imagine a conversation between two people.  We’ll call them Bill and Frank.

  • Frank claims: “God is real.”
  • Bill claims: “God is real.”
  • But Bill disagrees with Frank’s claim;
  • and Frank disagrees with Bill’s.

The solution to this simple problemette is that Bill and Frank define the word “God” in different ways. Bill, a fundamentalist Christian, worships the abrahamic god Yahweh.  Frank is a pantheist, and worships a spinozan god who might also be called “nature”.  The apparent contradiction in their conversation arises because they both use the word “god” to refer to the object of their worship, even though the concepts they are expressing are not equivalent.

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