Monday, September 24, 2018

#2074: Christopher Ortiz

Christopher Ortiz is (or at least was in 2006) the editor of the reconstructionist journal Faith for All of Life, communications director for the Chalcedon Foundation and a remorseless theocrat. His goal, and the goal of his group, is to establish “the universal rule of God” and “impose the full text of Biblical law” in the US, which, it should be noted, is quite a bit more stringent than what the Taliban tried to do in Afghanistan. (To his credit – or not – Ortiz seems dimly aware of the similarities.) The Chalcedon foundation also promotes not only young-earth creationism but geocentrism.

Ortiz and his group – which is not really a particularly small one – seem to see themselves as the heirs to Rushdooney and Rushdooney’s promotion of a “theocracy as the Bible sets it forth,” a government not “by the state but a government over every institution by God and His Law, and through the activities of the free man in Christ to bring every area of life and thought under Christ’s Kingship.” The phrase “free man in Christ” means one who voluntarily chooses theocracy. Freedom to choose what you want as long as what you want is exactly what I want you to want (otherwise you’ll be forced), is not freedom under any ordinary definition of “freedom”. It is worth noting that the Chalcedon foundation promotes itself as “libertarian”.

Ortiz does, however, think that critics of theocracy get it all wrong. The goal of his group is not to establish theocracy by undemocratic means. “Theonomists are often accused, wrongly, of wanting to impose Old Testament penal codes on contemporary offenders, against the will of the vast majority of the populace. In fact, what they argue is that by the preaching of the gospel and the adoption of this interpretation of the Bible, the nation should, and one day will, repent and reaffirm the covenant. Old Testament sanctions will then be the will of the people and the law of the land” [quote by Canadian fundie extremist D.A. Carson]. The means by which they gain control, we suspect, is not most people’s primary objection to theocracy, nor the primary reason theocratic rule is thought to be oppressive. There are historical parallels that would illustrate the distinction. And of course, when Ortiz goes on to say that “Biblical theocracy is not opposed to the American democratic process,” he sorts of misses some rather crucial features of how constitutional democracies like the US are actually supposed to work (e.g. that somewhat essential “constitutional” bit, for instance). 

Diagnosis: Yes, not only do they exist: There are plenty of them. And it should scare you.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

#2073: Judith Orloff

Though she is a board-certified psychiatrist and has enjoyed something resembling real career (she is, for instance, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA), you should probably refrain from taking advice from Judith Orloff. Orloff’s main focus is, at least at present, what she considers to be the relationships between medicine, intuition, and spirituality, and she is not afraid to use quasi-religious speculation, pseudoscience, anecdotes and nebulous metaphors to support her conclusions. She has also been involved in what people of her ilk considers “intuitive research”, including projects with parapsychologist Thelma Moss, the Mobius Group and Edgar Mitchell’s Institute of Noetic Sciences.

Orloff is the author of a number of books, including Second Sight, which Publishers Weekly tactfully said would “appeal to open-minded readers” (they didn’t really mean open-minded, of course). In the book, Orloff claims to have second sight and invokes the New Age religious notion of “energy psychiatry” to describe her psychotherapy model. Energy psychiatry stands to reality roughly as numerology stands to physics. The updated 2010 edition carried the subtitle “An intuitive psychiatrist tells her extraordinary story and shows you how to tap your inner wisdom,” presumably to ensure that potential readers who cares about cold, hard reality would stay far away. She is currently also a blogger at Huffington Post.

“Ha-ha, silly nonsense” may immediately seem like the reasonable response to such bullshit. But the thing is, Orloff even claims to be able to diagnose mental illnessintuitively (and it’s not like intuitive medicine in general is without a substantial body count). It shouldn’t require much imagination to realize that, in meetings with people in difficult situations, Orloff’s nonsense suddenly becomes less than wholly benign. And in 2000 Orloff was even given an opportunity to address the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting to market her bullshit. Which is really not particularly amusing.

Diagnosis: Repugnant and potentially dangerous crackpot. That the apparently ever-diplomatic academic bodies she is apparently still a member of do not put their feet down is a disgrace.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

#2072: Mensur Omerbashich

Mensur Omerbashich is a crackpot and conspiracy theorist who received some attention when the Comet Elenin silliness took off in conspiracy circles. He has subsequently spent a lot of pretty quixotic efforts trying to have criticism of his nonsense removed from the Internet. Thing is, Omerbashich actually has genuine credentials; he’s got a PhD in theoretical geophysics from the University of New Brunswick, and has published a couple of real papers. (His more plentiful ArXiv papers count for significantly less) Apparently getting his degree was an ordeal involving for instance the resignation of several committee members, something Omerbashich blames on a conspiracy, presumably by the same shadowy cabal that controls the US patent office, with which he is engaged in combat over efforts to patent his ideas. His website, much of it written in ALL CAPS, reads as if it is trying to set some sort of world record in paranoia (there’s a lot about Jesuits allegedly assassinating people and mind control).

Omerbashich claims that there exists tidal “resonance” between comet Elenin and Earth, as shown by increased levels of earthquakes at specific times that are purportedly caused by the comet. He even provides “predictions” on his website about earthquake severity to test his hypothesis – rarely in advanceof those earthquakes, of course – but the explanations of how the data are supposed to fit his hypothesis are a bit unclear. Nor do the data align with data from the US Geological Survey or similar groups (more on his predictions and data here). In other words, from the perspective of facts and science, his hypotheses, needless to say, fail rather miserably. There are substantial critiques of his ideas here and here.

Like so many cranks, Omerbashich is a huge fan of Tesla. On the other hand, he has no love for Einstein, and appears, at least, to be a relativity denier.

Omerbashich’s idiosyncratic beliefs, usually presented in long, dense screeds, concern a wide range of issues going far beyond astronomy, however (although it is apparently all linked in some way). Much of his writing is focused on New World Order conspiracies, in particular freemasonry, insofar as Omerbashich has gotten himself to think that more or less everyone who disagrees with him is a Freemason trying to suppress his ideas (criticism = attempts to suppress, of course); he even has helpful lists of traits that will enable you to identify a Freemason, such as being politeand using Oxford English. And his website prominently states that “[n]o member of ‘Freemasonry’ or another deceptions organization that plagued sciences (Illuminati, Trilaterals, Bilderbergs, Committees on this and that, etc.) may use in any way, as in by citing or/and referencing or/and profiteering from, any of the publications, discoveries, expressions, laws/relationships, inventions or any other intellectual property that came into existence by intellectual activity of Dr. Mensur Omerbashich.” I don’t think it works quite like that.

As for himself, Omerbashich claims to be a direct descendent of a range of royal families, and to be “pretender to the thrones of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia.” His ancestors were unfortunately removed from their rightful places as tyrants by the New World Order because they had deep knowledge of the evils of freemasonry encoded in their genes (or something). He currently seems to prefer to go by the title HM the King of Bosnia. So it goes.

Note: Omerbashich seems to be currently residing in Europe, but he is – at least according to himself – an American citizen, so we judge him eligible for an entry.

Diagnosis: Paranoid crank magnet, but for the most part responsible more for color than for harm on the Internet.

Hat-tip: Rationalwiki

Sunday, September 16, 2018

#2071: Kyle Olson

Indoctrination: How ‘Useful Idiots’ Are Using Our Schools to Subvert American Exceptionalismis the title of a book by Kyle Olson. It’s hard to see how further comment could be necessary, but at least the book was praised by Rick Green on Wallbuilders Live. As an example of the kind of subversion the book is about (mentioned on the show), Olson highlighted an episode in Texas where a teacher used the book Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Typeto – allegedly –promote a “pro-union” message. Then David Barton helpfully explained that the book was also an “anti-Creation book” because it makes kids think that cows are equal to humans. Barton’s hardwon insights into how kids get moved to think in certain ways is at least helpful to understand how Barton’s own thinking is working.

Beside the book, Olson is the founder of Education Action Group, a Michigan-based anti-union-propaganda-in-schools organization (apparently), which claims that public schools ought to promote traditional American ideals instead of the progressive ideals of collectivism and centralized government (apparently the latter is an insidious effort led by bogeymen Paolo Freire, Bill Ayers and Howard Zinn, whom wingnuts by entirely predictable and idiotic causes have come to think are powerful influencers on American K-12 pedagogy), that public schools “have a spending problem, not a funding problem”, and that administrators and teacher unions are responsible for poor performances in public schools. He’s also written for BigGovernment and TownHall.

Diagnosis: Same old paranoid shit. Over and over again.

Friday, September 14, 2018

#2070: Pam Olsen

A.k.a. Prayer Woman

Pam Olsen is a deranged religious fundamentalist of the Florida Prayer Network, creator of the group Bound4Life, founder of the Tallahassee branch of the International House of Prayer and an associate of people like IHoP founder Mike Bickle and Cindy Jacobs – indeed, according to herself she opened her branch of the International House of Prayer after she “received a prophetic word through Cindy Jacobs that God was going to use her as a mighty weapon against the enemy through the prayer movement and that He was going to raise up a physical location that would be a place of refuge for people, pastors and missionaries to come and pray.” Here you can find a video of Olsen talking about seven mountains dominionism and her desire to take over the government – as well as how she soon (during the End Times) is going to be given the power to raise the dead since she’s a prophet.

Indeed, Olsen seems occasionally to view herself as something of a superhero, with the superpower of intercessory prayer: “I have been a governmental intercessor for 25 years, standing in the gap for our country. I began to truly intercede for the nation when I had my fourth child; today, with four grandchildren, I am still standing in the gap for America and training young intercessors.” Though she admits that her efforts, often conducted in non-existent languages, aren’t always successful (some of her moves in the culture wars seem to have backfired rather spectacularly, for instance), she does claim that her stats are pretty good: “Many battles have been won and some lost,” says Olsen, though “[w]hen you watch the news and it seems like you’re losing, you have to learn to declare the Word of the Lord, realize you’re in a long-term battle and not grow weary.” Her superpowers seem to have less effect against natural disasters, where her efforts are counteracted by the Satanic power of homosexuals; yes, Olsen is one of those who think that gay rights are responsible for natural disasters like fires, tornadoes and floods (actually, such disasters are, more precisely, God’s just judgment on America and the church, which would presumably make it immoral for Olsen to try to prevent them with prayers; things quickly get tricky here): “You know what, God is not one that’s gonna wink at sin, He will come and shake at everything that can be shaken. God is a God of judgment, He is. If we think we’re not gonna be judged…He judged Israel? Are we better than that? And sometimes I think we think we are, but we’re not. And God is shaking. If anybody looks at the news and has just seen what’s been happening recently with the floods, the fires, the tornadoes.” The old I-don’t-like-gay-rights-and-my-Strong-Friend-Henchman-will-beat-you-up-if-you-don’t-do-as-I-want gambit, in other words. 

On the other hand, she seems to take partial credit for the election of George Bush, who opened the White House for such prayers: “We asked God to give our president great wisdom.” One may wonder if thatone is assigned to the success column of her scorecard. 

Now, in her dominionist efforts Olsen has, in fact, managed to become a rather influential player on the religious right, first (at least insofar as we noticed) as part of the leadership team for Rick Perry’s presidential campaign in Florida in 2011. (She later switched her allegiance to Rick Santorum).

Diagnosis: Not a particularly pleasant person – hatred and anger combined with paranoia, delusions and poor reasoning skills tend to make you a bit unsavory – but an up-and-coming figure of non-negligible influence on the religious right sideshow. Worrisome.

Monday, September 10, 2018

#2069: John Oller

John Oller is a hardcore young-earth creationist with a (real) PhD in general linguistics (he does, however, invoke the biblical Tower of Babel story to explain the diversity of human languages, so one should probably be wary of listening to his claims even in his area of expertise). Despite his education, Oller is currently Professor of Geophysics and Head of the Science Division at Bryan College. Bryan College is, accordingly, not a place to pursue an education. As a proudly self-proclaimed “creation scientist”, he is also a member of the Board of Trustees and the Technical Advisory Board of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR). The ICR lists him as a “physical scientist” on their List of Creation Scientists in the Physical Sciences (he also appears on the Creation Ministries International’s list of scientists alive today who accept the biblical account of creation and  Answers in Genesis’s List of Creation Scientists). Oller, of course, isn’t a physical scientist by a long shot, but presumably close enough for groups that care as much for science as the ICR. 

Creationist adventures
Oller has enjoyed a long career in the creationist movement and in campaigns to have creationism taught in public schools, e.g. in Louisiana. There is a critique of his Louisiana efforts, including his successful effort to convince the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to give control over the procedure for complaints about creationist supplementary materials in public schools to the fundamentalist, creationist Louisiana Family Forum, here; summaries here and here. His Louisiana adventures seem to be mostly a sad tale, however (though he seems to have returned to the fight for creationism in Louisiana schools in 2016), culminating in a lawsuit he brought against his colleagues at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, supported by the Alliance Defense Fund, claiming that said colleagues had urged him to leave, reduced his class size, forbidden him from participating in policy committees, banned his textbook, denied him opportunities to lecture or instruct students, and marginalized his status at the university because of “viewpoint discrimination.” The lawsuit was, of course, duly supported by the WND, which called Oller a “globally recognized” professor and denounced his critics as politically correct and engaging in censorship, having apparently no real idea what either expression really means. The courts, however, were not impressed, and Oller also lost the appeal (twice) before petitioning the Supreme Court to hear his case. That one failed, too.

Anti-vaccine promotion
It is natural to suspect that Oller’s colleagues were as much put off by his anti-vaccine views as by his young-earth creationism. Of course, having not the faintest grasp of science, evidence or intellectual integrity, it really shouldn’t be that surprising, but Oller is apparently a big fan of Andrew Wakefield and the latter’s completely debunked attempts to connect vaccines to autism – Oller still seems to believe that vaccines cause autism). And just like delusional fundamentalist anti-scientist conspiracy theorists like Ken Ham admire Oller’s work on creationist pseudoscience, so his views on vaccines automatically earns him the respect of central anti-vaccine advocates because it appears to provide support for what they already believe. Indeed, Oller was even first author on a paper coauthored with anti-vaccine stars Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic trying to argue that the neonatal tetanus vaccine administered was in reality an anti-fertility ploy. The paper was so bad that Shaw and Tomljenovic, who must be close to setting some sort of record in number of retracted papers, themselves ultimately retracted the paper from the predatory journal in which it was published. (The article was subsequently republished by the journal – initially with an addendum outlining the authors’ conflicts of interest, but that addendum later disappeared, which is unsurprising given how predatory journals tend to work.)

Diagnosis: So, Oller is not merey your run-of-the-mill insane fundie and staunch anti-science advocate: the neonatal tetanus vaccine saves a lot of babies, and fueling conspiracy theories around it will literally kill children. That’s right: Oller promotes conspiracy mongering that kills babies. A better illustration of Clark’s Law is hard to find.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

#2068: Rosie O'Donnell

Ok, we’ll bite and give her a brief note. Rosie O’Donnell is most famous for being a, shall we say, outspoken actress, comedian and television personality, and one that President Donald Trump has had a weird obsession with. And, as with so many others in similar situations, with great celebrity comes great confidence in one’s own opinions, and when those opinions are unfettered by external constraints such as evidence, truth or reason, the road to idiotic crankery is a short one.

O’Donnell is, for instance, a 9/11 truther, sarcastically saying that 9/11, 2001, must have been the “first time” that “steel was melted by fire.” Swings and misses, in other words. In fairness, O’Donnell has subsequently exhibited a certain degree of unwillingness to discuss the details, but the fact remains that she did endorse the “documentary” Loose Change, and has not at any point since actually denied any of its claims. She is, of course, not alone in a television context (here is Roberto Orci going truther, and we’ve already covered Martin Sheen, Woody Harrelson and Ed Asner, but the fact that many stupid people believe a stupid thing does not make the stupid thing less stupid.

Apparently O’Donnell is a fan of homeopathy, too.

Diagnosis: Yes, a celebrity loon. Just don’t listen to the nonsense that drops out of her mouth (and why on Earth would you?), and you’ll be fine.