Sep 7 2010

It’s no “secret” that Rhonda Byrne’s full of shit

One of my most popular posts ever was The Secret: New Age Stupidity and the ‘Law’ of Attraction, about author Rhonda Byrne’s bestselling tome of new age überbullshit, about how if we just visualize positive things, they will come true, as though the universe gives a flying shit about us bipeds on this tiny rock here.  Like most new age crap, there’s plenty of appeals to quantum physics (from a non-physicist, of course) and pesudo-scientific jargon which, to the gullible types that would read this tripe, give it an air of credibility. Heh.

Byrne made millions off of this, as well as several other Secret books, and I believe there was even a movie, too. The fact that Oprah, who’s apparently never met a ridiculous “inspirational” story that she couldn’t shill, pushed this one relentlessly didn’t hurt, either.With over 19 million in print, there are surprisingly more idiots reading Byrne than Glenn Beck. Although she’s not a paranoid, lunatic conspiracist/hatemonger, I still don’t take a lot of comfort in that fact.

So now Byrne’s back with an all- new tome of  hucksterism called The Power.  Jerry Adler’s review of it over at Newsweek reveals that it’s more of the same “Law of Attraction” nonsense we saw in The Secret, but it gets even worse in regard to the pesudo-scientific crap. Get this:

But there are some new observations in The Power, such as the importance of being nice to your water. Researchers in several countries, she writes, “have discovered that when water is exposed to positive words and feelings such as love and gratitude, the energy level of the water not only increases, but the structure of the water changes, making it perfectly harmonious … When water is exposed to negative emotions, such as hate, the energy level of the water decreases and chaotic changes occur.” Since “the inside of your head is 80 percent water,” you can see how important this is.

My eyes just rolled so far into the back of my head, I think I hurt something. I remember something like this vaguely in that silly and similar movie, What the Bleep Do We Know?

Let’s talk about energy for a minute, because people that buy into this kind of new age pseudoscientific crap (as well as astrology, reiki, homeopathy, etc.) LOVE to talk about energy. Energy, as physicists describe it, is simply “thermodynamic quantity equivalent to the capacity of a physical system to do work”. And of course, there are multiple definitions of energy, that go outside of the realm of physics. But new agers seem to have their own definition, which sounds like some sort of perversion of the physics definition. Brian Dunning at Skeptoid, explains it better than I could, in his bit on New Age Energy (podcast here):

In popular New Age culture, “energy” has somehow become a noun unto itself. “Energy” is considered to be literally like a glowing, hovering, shimmering cloud, from which adepts can draw power, and feel rejuvenated. Imagine a vaporous creature from the original Star Trek series, and you’ll have a good idea of what New Agers think energy is.

In fact, energy is not really a noun at all. Energy is a measurement of something’s ability to perform work. Given this context, when spiritualists talk about your body’s energy fields, they’re really saying nothing that’s even remotely meaningful. Yet this kind of talk has become so pervasive in our society that the vast majority of Americans accept that energy exists as a self-contained force, floating around in glowing clouds, and can be commanded by spiritualist adepts to do just about anything.

He then cites numerous example of the pseudoscientific babble we hear all the time, and how they are essentially meaningless. I’ve always laughed in particular, at the use of the terms “positive” and “negative” energy, which, of course, have specific meanings in physics, in relation to the electric charges, yet, once again, new agers pervert those terms to have “positive” and “negative” mean “in an emotional context”. Which is fucking ridiculous of course, as though protons and electrons give a rat’s ass about human-defined emotions. Puh-leeaze. Like the universe gives a shit if I’m in a bad mood. Yes, people who put out “negative energy” tend to attract negativity and negative people. But there’s nothing mystical about that; humans tend to seek out others who are familiar and similar. Duh. If I’m an asshole, there’s a good chance that I like to hang around with other assholes. No energy field necessary for that.

Byrne’s book will undoubtedly sell millions, as America is chock full of people who are always looking for he quick and easy fix, and don’t have a friggin’ clue as to how science and physics really work. They just see “quantum theory” in a book somewhere and assume it’s legit. Godless help us.

Jul 22 2010

Lies, lies and bullshit

The only thing surprising about right-wing lunatic spittlemonger Andrew Breitbart’s fabricated smear against Shirley Sherrod is how DC and the media actually vindicated her. Usually, the typical thing goes “right-winger fabricates something through the noise machine, where it is soon amplified and becomes conventional wisdom, and any contradictory evidence is forgotten.” See “ACORN pimp video” for more on that one.

Aside from the fact that it’s the only way cons can stay in the news, it’s bigger than that. I think the typical winger views “truth” in such a gray way, that the people at the top know they can peddle this shit uncritically.

Now, Dems lie a lot, too. Shit like “hope and change”, that kinda stuff, and a lot of  ’em peddled Bush’s Iraq/WMD nonsense for whatever reason. But by and large, it’s lying about vague policy stuff, which politicians of all stripes have done since the beginning of time (and I’m not talking about personal stuff, whether it be Strom Thurmond’s love child or Bill Clinton’s blow job). Today’s krazy cons just pull shit out of thin air, precisely because they know they have a huge following of mouthbreathers who don’t question, and even when they are confronted with facts, they deny it any way.

Before you accuse me of shilling for Dems (although I will shill for lefties in general, but you already know that, and that ain’t necessarily Dems), think real hard if there’s any real equivalent on the left (like some people compare Biden’s crazy-uncle gaffes to Palin’s perpetual proud stupidity). As much as I loathe them, I don’t see mainstream Dems out there fabricating videos to smear people or peddling horrendous conspiracy theories. And no, Alan Grayson is not the left wing equivalent of Glenn Beck, so spare me ahead of time. So please, by all means, please show me the leftist equivalent of this:

Death panels. Shirley Sherrod. ACORN pimp videos. Vince Foster. The Rapture. Anything Michele Bachmann says and anything you read on WorldNutDaily. Where’s the birth certificate? The War on Christmas. Mission Accomplished.

Am I forgetting anything? Oh, yes.

Illegal immigrants beheading lots of Arizonans. One can be a Nazi, socialist, communist, athiest and Muslim all at once. If left alone, the free market will do what’s right for the country. Anything Glenn Beck says. Forced abortions. And so on.

Now recently, I was criticized here by an ally that instead of just mocking, perhaps I should delve into the causes of why a pecan-size brained dolt like Sarah Palin can be so popular. Fair enough. It’s easier, though, to look at the things that aren’t the cause.

It’s not poverty; many of these people who believe this crap are quite comfortable. It’s not education; I read somewhere that Rush’s demographic seems, oddly enough, to have a sizable college-educated demographic.

Now that’s not to say that there aren’t a bunch of uneducated saps out there; there most certainly are. One can be highly educated, too, and have incredibly poor judgment. Just look at my marriages, fer chrissake.

The long answer probably has something to do with a combination of factors such as disenfranchisement, educated but lacking critical thinking skills, entrenched in the bullshit of American exceptionalism at a very early age, religiosity, white privilege, fear of an ever-changing world and not having the skills to deal with it, the need to scapegoat someone or something for one’s own miserable existence, and so on, mental illness in some cases, and in some cases, people knowing better but playing along since it benefits them (that last one mostly applies to the people spreading the shit).

The short answer? Lots of idiots and assholes in this country, and the origins of the idiotry and assholery (I can make up words too, like Shakespeare! Yay!) are so complex and diverse, that it’s nothing you’re going to see me sum up in some post on a shitty blog.

Jul 4 2010

Homeopathy: utter bullshit

Even though Vermont has a high proportion of educated people in relation to other areas, we have our own set of often otherwise rational people who believe in utter bullshit and spend lots of money on sugar pills that they somehow are convinced do something other than drain their wallets.

For your enjoyment, a video that illustrates how utterly ridiculous it is (Trekkies take note):

What really amazes me is when I talk about this to some smart people, and they completely seem to ignore the fact that all of homeopathy’s claims have no scientific validity whatsoever, but just don’t seem to be able to care or try to refute it in any meaningful way. Apparently, the burden of proof is so low that “I took it and it worked,” is all they need. Sigh.  For more on that, have a look at this massive cartoon from Darryl Cunningham that lays it out quite clearly in all of its quackish glory (click here to read the whole thing – it’s awesome):

Seriously, did any of that make any sense to you? I hope not.  At least in the UK, there’s a major move from doctors to ban NHS funding for it:

Delegates to the British Medical Association’s conference are expected to support seven motions opposing the use of public money to pay for remedies which they claim have ‘no place in the modern health service.’..

The conference will also hear calls for homoeopathic remedies to be banned from chemists unless they are clearly labeled as placebos rather than medicines.

We need something like that here.  Badly.

Feb 25 2010

What I’ve learned from the HCR summit so far

No, not that it’s fun watching the Prez shoot down the usual GOP bullshit – I knew that. It’s that, even in the face of contradiction of the above said b.s. (not talking points, actual demonstrable facts), Republicans simply cannot stop lying, as evidenced by a typical GOP congressdouche Twitter feed:

RepTomPrice: Takeaway from summit so far–Dems push govt takeover of HC! Bureaucrats deciding coverage, everyone forced to buy it, cant keep what you have

See, the prez, to his credit, explained quite clearly why this is anything but true. But facts don’t matter when you’re catering to idiots who walk around with teabags tied to their hats. Good thing the GOP put on those jumbo clown shoes before they showed up.

UPDATE: Rep. Mike Spence is the king of stupid. Twitter is the perfect medium for him:

Boehner brings the Dems’ massive gov’t takeover of #hc to the summit for all Americans to see

I said yesterday that this #summit looked like a
taxpayer funded media event, looks like I was right

Pence doesn’t like the fact that all the typical GOP talking points that work with the teabaggers don’t look so hot when they’re easily smacked down. The GOP doesn’t do too well in a reality-based format.

Jan 22 2010

“Battling science and reason since 2007…”

A.A. Gill from Vanity Fair paid a visit to the notorious Creation Fred Flintstone Museum in Kentucky:

But we should cut the creationists a little slack, because every new bit of evidence, every discovery, is a nightmare for them. Take the ark. The big-boat business poses all sorts of questions. But, again, they’ve got answers. There are models and plans and layouts of the vessel. You can walk through a part of the hull. There’s biblical carpentry and weather reports. And the dinosaurs are on board. (They were probably small ones, the museum helpfully adds.) But recently scientists found a new giant rat and a fanged frog in Papua, New Guinea, so now some Noah-ists have to redesign the amphibian quarters. The rats probably sort themselves out. O.K., so you get everybody aboard, 10 million creatures, times two, without the neighbors’ noticing. Where did the water come from? You have to flood the whole world. Did they import water from the Scientologists? No: it came from underground. There is a great reservoir, presumably for flooding purposes, under our feet. I assume that’s where it went back to. Why don’t we drill for it to water Phoenix? (By the way, the flood is where we get fossils from. That’s all the dead stuff, caught in mud.) When the waters abated, the animals got off, stretched, and walked around the world eating one another’s children. I’m not making this up. Nobody’s making this up. This is what happened.

As PZ aptly observed:

It’s also ugly, cheesy, and stupid. People often try to excuse faith by claiming it inspired a lot of great art…but here is the evidence that god is dead. All his rotting corpse seems to inspire any more is cartoon kitsch. And Christian rock.

I really wish the Rapture would hurry up and get here so I can go through these peoples’ things and grab the good stuff (what that would be, other than money, who knows? – certainly not Left Behind Books and Christian rock CD’s).

Oct 29 2009

No two ways about it

Shorter John Cole:

There is nothing, nada, zilch, zero, nothing, that is bad news for conservatives. When they win elections, it proves we’re a conservative country. When they lose, it proves it. When we pass health care bills, it proves it. When we lower taxes, it proves it. When we raise taxes, it proves it. Everything proves it always.

Mar 10 2009

50 Reasons to reject evolution

The best satire is so goddamn funny because it reveals the truths so well, they practically hit you over the head. Like in this list of 50 Reasons to reject evolution. They sum up the creationist minsdet perfectly. My favorite 10:

2.) Because I’m too stupid and/or lazy to open a fucking book or turn on the Discovery Science Channel.

4.) Because I don’t care that literally 99.9% of all biologists accept evolution as the unifying theory of biology.

8.) Because science has yet to produce any transitional species… except for the magnitudinous numbers of them found in the fossil record which don’t count because… I uh, OOH LOOK! A SHINY OBJECT!!! *runs away*

11.) Because I think the word “theory” actually means: “random stabs in the dark” when it really means: “an explanation of certain phenomena that is well-supported by a large body of facts and often unifies other similarly well-supported hypotheses” i.e. atomic theory, gravitational theory, germ theory, cell theory, some-people-are-dumb-motherfuckers-theory, etc.

12.) Because the fact that science is self-correcting annoys me. Most of my other beliefs are rigidly fixed and uncorrectable.

23.) Because the idea that life evolved naturally over billions of years is infinitely less believable than the idea that an 800 year old man crammed two of every species into a giant wooden boat when the entire planet flooded, an event for which there is absolutely no geological evidence whatsoever and also makes no fucking sense at all.

28.) Because I think that knowing how nature works magically obliterates all of its beauty.

44.) Because I believe there is a strong comparison between designed inanimate objects such as buildings, paintings, and watches (which we know were pieced together from identifiable components by human beings) and living organisms (which reproduce with genetic variation under the effects of environmental attrition).

47.) Because I unquestioningly swallow the ignorant anti-science bullshit spewed directly from the fraudulent stupid asses of people like Ken Ham, Ted Haggard, Fred Phelps, and Kent Hovind.

and the best….

50.) Because despite the fact that in all my years of life, I have never seen any magic, I still believe magic is the answer to anything I don’t immediately comprehend.

(h/t to Pharyngula)

Apr 23 2008

UK: Bullshit scammers on notice

One of the good news/bad news things about living in Vermont is although fundie Christian types are a distinct minority up here and one can openly live as an atheist without any repercussions, hokey new-age spiritual nonsense is quite rampant, such as energy healing, astrology and psychics. Granted, none of ’em are as malicious and destructive as fundamentalist Christianity, but ignorance and superstition are still never good things.

So in that regard, I’m a bit jealous about a development in the UK.  A bit in the Guardian called End is Nigh for Zombie Slayers by Ben Goldacre tells us of some legislation that will put some consumer protections in place, putting the burden of proof on psychics and other charlatans about the veracity of their claims.

How, then, can we police this kind of mis-selling? Next month the Fraudulent Mediums Act will be repealed, and replaced with general consumer legislation, which is to regulate various popular psychic services including predictions for the future, casting good luck spells, managing spooks (but perhaps not zombies) and communicating with the dead. The burden of proof is shifted to the psychic, and they are up in arms, with their union visiting the government yesterday to lobby against the new regulations.

Psychics are popular. They do what they say on the tin. They serve consumers who possibly shouldn’t watch telly after 9pm, but who have chosen to seek out practitioners with a very odd take on evidence. Apparently, special protection will be given to those who may be “particularly vulnerable” on account of their “credulity” (“consumers who may more readily believe specific claims”).

The author, although no believer in nonsense himself, seems to think the law is simply a waste of time because it’s unenforceable. But, strangely enough, the best stuff is actually in the comments section:

“If the mainstream angle on this is that its right in principle but leans too much towards protecting the gullible then lets include religion in the debate.”

“The “spiritual workers” certainly seem to be taking it seriously. According to reports I’ve seen there was a mass protest by “about a dozen” of them in Trafalgar Square yesterday.”

“These professional psychics are all well and good, but what measures have the government taken to deal with the bogeyman threat? Millions of citizens are menaced by supernatural monsters in wardrobes and under beds, which can only be defeated by fully covering all exposed parts of the body. Where is the government’s taskforce to deal with the issue?”

“Why not treat psychic claims in advertising as we do smoking? A large public health warning plastered over the advertisment, to the effect that the product has no scientific basis whatsoever, and is harmful to one’s mental health. Big, in-yer-face, just like on cigarette packets.”

I like the first and last ones particularly. It would most certainly put most charismatic and fundie preachers out of business. The thing I’m really wondering, of course, is why didn’t the psychics see this coming?

Feb 16 2008

Reyes smacks down Bush

Well, as you probably know by now the lefty blogs are all twittered about the Dem-led House actually standing up to Bush for real this last week, both in not caving on FISA and in issuing those contempt citations for Bolten and Meirs. And the word is that Bush was actually caught off guard because he (as well as most of us) was so used to them caving over and over again. What took ’em so friggin’ long? I’m withholding excitement for now, because we’ve often seen a pattern of toughness followed by the inevitable backdown. It sure would be nice if they’re really getting that spine transplant we’ve been hoping for for so long.

Anyways, poking around reading about it, I came across this letter to Bush from House intelligence committee Chair Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) via TPM. What he says, and with the authority he says it needs to be the de facto method of dealing with Bush from now on, and more importantly, it needs to be the public face that the Dems need to put on if they ever expect to be taken seriously by the public (emphasis mine):

If our nation is left vulnerable in the coming months, it will not be because we don’t have enough domestic spying powers. It will be because your Administration has not done enough to defeat terrorist organizations – including al Qaeda — that have gained strength since 9/11. We do not have nearly enough linguists to translate the reams of information we currently collect. We do not have enough intelligence officers who can penetrate the hardest targets, such as al Qaeda. We have surged so many intelligence resources into Iraq that we have taken our eye off the ball in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As a result, you have allowed al Qaeda to reconstitute itself on your watch.

You have also suggested that Congress must grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies. As someone who has been briefed on our most sensitive intelligence programs, I can see no argument why the future security of our country depends on whether past actions of telecommunications companies are immunized…

I, for one, do not intend to back down – not to the terrorists and not to anyone, including a President, who wants Americans to cower in fear.

We are a strong nation. We cannot allow ourselves to be scared into suspending the Constitution. If we do that, we might as well call the terrorists and tell them that they have won.

TPM has the whole letter. What I’m wondering is if that little light bulb went on somewhere after all of this and perhaps the House leadership might actually feel good and more importantly, emboldened by standing up to Bush. In the past, even when making feeble attempts, it’s always been with a modicum of embarrassment or something as though they felt like thy needed to be ashamed for doing the right thing. i’m not holding my breath on this one, but at the very least it’s a good development and they should be commended for it.

Jun 19 2007

More on “The Secret” and New Age bullshit

A few months ago, I wrote about “The Secret”, a best-selling New Age book that is based on the bogus premise of the “Law of Attraction”, a new age idea that similar things attract each other, so positive thoughts bring positive things and negative ones bring negative things. Sure. It’s complete bullshit, with no real “science” to speak of, even though its proponents like to tie it into quantum theory.,. Anyways, I stumbled across a nifty site, The Secret Lie, that takes on the premises of the bestselling book, as well as nails the mechanics of New Age trends and scams quite well:


Definition: Snake oil peddler; “a traveling”doctor” with dubious credentials, selling some medicine (such as snake oil) with boisterous marketing hype, often supported by pseudo-scientific evidence, typically bogus. To enhance sales, an accomplice in the crowd (a “shill”) would often “attest” the value of the product in an effort to provoke buying enthusiasm.

Does this sound familiar?

It should, because it’s the very same set of tactics used to promote and sell The Secret as well as dozens of other so called law of attraction products.

Basically, the strategy goes something like this:

1) Create a product that promises to show you how to get whatever you want by merely thinking and dreaming about it.

2) Label your product something along the lines of “The Secret”, “The Irrefutable Law of Attraction”, “The Science of Intentional Creationism”, “Wealth Beyond Comprehension”, “Attract a BMW by Tonight”, “Ask and It’s Yours Guaranteed”, “Feel Your Way to Riches” etc. and so forth.

3) Be sure to add in a healthy dose of the latest quantum physics research as well as some obscure “science” or long-lost ancient wisdom “proving” how easy it is to manipulate matter and the physical world. Mix in a few conspiracy theories or unverifiable salacious stories and you’re well on the way to a blockbuster hit.


There’s a few more steps to it. Have a look, it’s really too bad that people seem to fall for these things all of the time. Comfort is easier than truth, I guess. There’s also a blog and some links. And a good spoof of the Secret that aired on Saturday Night live a while ago, here. Funny stuff, check it out.