Monday, April 26, 2010

You Have Been Spammed

Attempted intrusions into the “comments” section by abusive visitors have compelled me to introduce, to my regret, moderation of comments.

Eric Idle and Graham Chapman
Image is linked to video clip of scene on YouTube

Mrs. Bun. Have you got anything without Spam in it?

Waitress. Well, Spam, eggs, sausage, and Spam—that’s not got much Spam in it.

Mrs. Bun. I don’t want any Spam!

On the Internet, we are all like Monty Python’s lady customer at the Viking restaurant: we don’t want any spam; but we can’t escape it.

I used to think that “spam,” in Internet parlance, referred only to uninvited bulk advertising sent through e-mail; but the term applies more broadly. One definition reads: “Spam is flooding the Internet with many copies of the same message, in an attempt to force the message on people who would not otherwise choose to receive it.” I think that this captures the essence of the matter. Whether the content is advertising or something else, and whether it comes through e-mail or through a Web site, is not relevant. It is the tedious and insensate repetition made possible by the medium of the Internet that defines spam and makes it so revolting.

A few days ago, I posted a comment on an entry in John Loftus’s blog Debunking Christianity in response to another visitor’s comment on the same entry. As I subsequently learned, the writer of the comment—I have since learned who he is, but I shall refer to him here simply as “Mr. Loony”—has been posting the same text all over the Web since at least 2008. You can read about him, and about the threats he made on the life of one writer, here and here, and you can find the text of his comment by doing a Web search for the phrase “the really sharp end of Occam’s razor.” (This guy thinks that a razor is sharp on the end?) The comment is a blustering denunciation of skeptics and atheists, who, it says, “start begging when they start dying.” I responded:
Supposing—contrary to all evidence—that atheists start believing in God when they are facing death: is that supposed to strengthen the case for belief in God? Surely it is rather evidence that such belief is a product of desperation and fear, as contrasted with sound judgment. If you have to be scared out of your wits to believe in God, surely that is reason to conclude that belief in God is a superstition, not that it is true.
For the record, I do not believe that belief in God is in every instance a product of desperation and fear, or that it is in every instance a superstition. My point was merely that, if there were any truth to the assertion that theistic unbelievers become believers when facing death—an assertion that is often made by unsophisticated theistic apologists as if it somehow gave support to theism (see this video for a comparatively entertaining musical version of this argument)—it would not support theistic belief but rather the dismissal of it.

Mr. Loony’s comment also contained a rather comically ill-informed representation of a face-off between his atheistic and skeptical enemies on the one hand and himself and his allies on the other, in the form of two lists of names conjoined by “vs.” The first list named Michael Shermer, Sam Harris, P. Z. Myers, Richard Dawkins, and James Randi—a very just selection of prominent atheistic skeptics of the present day. But the list of their opponents was a bizarre mix. It comprised Nostradamus, Einstein, and a third name that I did not recognize, but which I later learned to be the real name of Mr. Loony.

Citing Einstein as a believer in God is another argument favored by naïve would-be defenders of faith. Like the argument previously mentioned, it suffers from weakness both in its premise and in the relation of that premise to the conclusion. As far as the relation to the conclusion is concerned, the supposed fact that Einstein believed in God is at best a very feeble piece of evidence—if it deserves to be called evidence at all—of the truth of that belief. As for that premise itself, when a rabbi asked Einstein, “Do you believe in God?”, Einstein’s reply was: “I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings.” In other words, as far as belief in God is concerned, Einstein was at best a deist, and, like Spinoza, denied the existence of miracles, divine providence, and most of what gives content to most people’s belief in God. In my reply to Mr. Loony I cited this famous quotation and added some words of derision upon his argumentative capacities.

Some time later, the very same text was posted as a comment on the last entry in my blog. I immediately deleted it. Some time after that, it was posted again, along with the childish taunt: “Can’t handle the truth, huh?” No, Mr. Loony, I can handle the truth; I just can’t handle deranged cretins. Mr. Loony was then joined by another crank of much the same stripe, who before that had been posting abusive comments on Loftus’s blog and who apparently was led to my blog from the same source. I initially took the second crackpot to be the same person as the first, operating under a different name; but eventually it became clear that Crackpot Number Two differed from Mr. Loony in two important respects: one, he could express himself in coherent sentences; and two, he was a pretty serious Jew-hater. (One of his comments was signed “Schicklgruber.”)

Obviously, I did not care to have such obnoxious comments appear even momentarily on my blog. I was also concerned that they might be posted during times when I was away from my computer and would not know about them. So I had to introduce moderation of comments. This, of course, provoked the infuriated Crackpot Two to much the same kind of childish taunt as my deletion of Mr. Loony’s comments had provoked him. “Why do you [and John Loftus] have to hide, like rats, behind comment moderation?”, was his virtually self-answering question.

Now I don’t get a lot of comments on my blog, so I can’t afford to be picky. I am usually delighted to see that a reader has taken the trouble to write something in response to one of my posts. But I do not care to see my “comments” sections turned into a platform for lunatics, crackpots, and Jew-haters. So, at least for a little while, I am obliged to subject comments to moderation. I just wish that the likes of Mr. Loony and Crackpot Two would subject themselves to it.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

More Insights into the Ways of God

The bright side of natural disasters: they always bring us prophets!

Eyjafjallajökull; photograph by Reuters from

Reading God’s intentions off natural events is a great game: any moron—and not only morons but even persons of intelligence, provided that they indulge in the intellectual habits of morons—can play it. The recent earthquake in China and the more recent volcanic eruption in Iceland, though disasters for millions of people, have brought forth a harvest of prophet-cretins. Here are three of them, one for each of the three Abrahamic religions:

For Judaism, Rabbi Lazer Brody, writing on his blog Lazer Beams on April 16:
Some people think they’re smart, like the British folks who run the British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The day before yesterday, the senseless stuffed-shirts declared that the Western Wall and the site of our Holy Temple in Jerusalem are not part of Israel, banning Israeli Tourist adverts that included photos of these holy sites.

The bumbling Brits didn’t realize that when you mess around with Jerusalem and the Wall, you mess around with Hashem. . . .

So what did Hashem do?

Hashem let a remote volcano in Iceland erupt, from the Icelandic mountain Eyjaffjalljokull [sic], whose ash cloud grounded all air traffic above Britain yesterday, leaving thousands of passengers stranded.
Well, at least the events that Rabbi Brody regards as cause and effect had some geographical connection: the eruption of Eyjafjalljökull (if you want to learn how to pronounce it, spend a few minutes studying this page and practicing) did indeed ground all air traffic over Britain. Of course, it grounded traffic over most of continental Europe as well, which seems a rather excessive, not to say ineffective, way of punishing a few supposed “stuffed shirts” in the British Advertising Standards  Authority; but I suppose that such grossness of aim and disregard of the innocent is nothing new in the record of God’s supposed exhibitions of wrath.

For Islam, Iranian cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, as reported on April 19 by the Associated Press:
“Many women who do not dress modestly . . . lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes,” Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi was quoted as saying by Iranian media. Sedighi is Tehran's acting Friday prayer leader. . . .
“What can we do to avoid being buried under the rubble?” Sedighi asked during a prayer sermon Friday. “There is no other solution but to take refuge in religion and to adapt our lives to Islam's moral codes.”
Now I don’t want to make Sedighi appear more foolish than he actually is: as far as I know, he was speaking about earthquakes in Iran, rather than ones in far-off places like China!

Last and decidedly least, for Christianity, Rush Limbaugh (sorry, but Pat Robertson seems not to have spoken up on this occasion) on his radio show on April 16 (transcribed by me from this recording at Media Matters):
You know, a couple days after the health care bill had been signed into law, Obama ran around saying, “Hey! You know, I’m looking around here, the earth hasn’t opened up. No Armageddon out there, the birds are still chirping.” Well, I think the earth has opened up. God may have replied. This volcano in Iceland has grounded more—air space has been more affected than even after 9/11 because of this plume, because of this ash cloud, over northern and western Europe. . . . Earth has opened up. I don’t know whether it’s a rebirth or Armageddon. Hopefully, it’s a rebirth—God speaking.
In fairness to Limbaugh (not that he particularly deserves it), he does not flatly attribute the volcanic eruption to divine wrath over the passage of the health care bill, but says only that it may be God’s reply. Yes, it may be that God is a Republican and is offended by the health care bill, and that he reacts to legislation that offends his sensibilities with retribution, only a few weeks late and a few thousand miles wide of the mark. Or it may be that Rush Limbaugh has no idea of what he is talking about. The latter seems to me by far the more plausible explanation.

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