Monday, December 27, 2010

#124: Anna Falling

Anna Falling ran for the office of mayor of Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2009 (as far as I can see, she didn’t win it), and her top priority for the city – her number one issue? To get creationist displays installed in the Tulsa zoo so that “[God] shall not be shunned” in Tulsa.

She also said that “the next mayor needs to appoint people to city boards, authorities and commissions who will ‘honor God.’ […] We will also look for people who want to characterize the origins of both man and animals in a way that honors Judeo-Christian science that proves God as the creator”. Notice the insertion of “Judeo-Christian science” here.

One would, perhaps, assume that (apart from the sheer insanity, anti-scientific attitude and ignorance (also about the Constitution) behind the proposal) Tulsa would have more pressing matters to attend to. But Falling was adamant that she had her priorities right: “It's first. If we can't come to the foundation of faith in this community, those other answers will never come. We need to first of all recognize the fact that God needs to be honored in this city.”

Diagnosis: Severely intellectually challenged space cadet; belligerently ignorant. She is, of course, one of an endless row of such people, and insofar as she doesn’t get elected her impact will be limited.

#123: Dave Emory

Dave Emory is really on the good side. Unfortunately, he’s been staring into the abyss for a little too long and has come away not entirely unscathed. Good intentions and a spine is no guarantee against insanity.

Emory is a radio personality who has run a variety of shows. He describes himself as an anti-fascism and anti-Nazi activist, and is a staunch critic of dangerously malfunctioning crackbots such as David Irving. The problem is that Emory sees Nazi and Fascist conspiracies everywhere, in governments and secret societies around the world, and himself as the lone hero who can unmask them (here, and here). His shows deal with fascism and neo-nazi movements and regular topics such as the banking crisis, corporate influence over government and so on, but tend to slide into discussions of the Kennedy assassination, its obvious connection to the the FBI, of German-controlled industry and banking, the Muslim Brotherhood, 9/11, the Bush family (connected to Bin Laden and the Third Reich, the P-2 Lodge, organized governmental disinformation, mind control of the HAARP/New world order kind and other things.

His main theory is the existence of an “Underground Reich”, which maintains the long-term interests of German-based multinational conglomerates, which is a survivor of WWII (partially run by Nazis), and which currently flourishes as major parts the global capital elite today. Among other things, he asserted in 2008 that the US was about to walk into a nuclear trap in Iraq set up by the Underground Reich in cooperation with the Muslim Brotherhood (See here. He seems, in general, to emphasize a connection between Nazi Germany and current radical Islam – in the sense of a conscious, determinate effort (the link also extends to the American conservative right and international companies)).

His website is here. There’s lots of information there, some of it probably accurate and important. Unfortunately you cannot really take anything Emory says for granted, and much of it is simply batshit crazy.

Diagnosis: Well-intentioned but over-zealous and clearly deranged loon. Emory should stand as a warning to all.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

#122: Trace & Beth Embry

After a series of major figures (Drake to Egnor) we’re currently doing a number of less distinguished miscreants of the looniverse. Less distinguished does not mean less deranged, just that the impact they have occurs at a slightly more local level.

Trace and Beth Embry are, at least, utterly insane. They run what is known as “Shepherds Hill Farm”, which is a “wilderness therapy program”. That is, it is a behavior modification facility marketed as a Christian Boarding School. Here parents, for the modest sum of $58,900, can sign over parental guardianship for their troublesome young (sinners who quarrel with them, fail to honor Jesus appropriately, has some sort of behavioral condition the Embrys don’t recognize as anything but the devil’s work, and so on). Here the kids live without electricity or contact with the world in the forest and are repeatedly told that they are despicable sinners who will burn if they don’t change their sinful ways and that their parents are equally horrible people who have failed them (Trace and Beth are now their parents). The schooling is strictly Christian – science classes are adamant that evolution is a Satanic lie and primarily rely on Kent Hovind’s writings (an emphasis on very careful explanations of the abominable nature of homosexuality). Apart from that, school for the most part consists of reading from the Bible. A personal recount is here.

Myers weighs in candidly here. Of course, the Embrys have absolutely no clue about mental health issues – which is what they appear to claim to deal with at the camp.

Their website is here (at least Trace’s own website). Here you can among other things download podcasts explaining the relationship between depression, ATD, modesty, sin and the Bible. Or there's also this site featuring Trace and one Walt Reed, who must also be indicted as a complete loon.

Diagnosis: Vile, deranged, and insane Jeebus-nazis. They may mean well, but their evil through ignorance is overwhelming (and, heck, their greed suggests that they may not be having the best of intentions either). These people are truly dangerous and would, if reason and moral considerations reigned, have taken down business a long, long time ago.

#121: Joe Ellison

Another minor and eminently forgettable figure, Ellison is the vice president of the Council on Spiritual Principles, Richmond VA, whose main claim to fame is his endorsement of Pat Robertson’s explanation for the Haiti earthquake (he claimed to speak as “an emissary of the black community): "I know his comments angered a lot of the so-called, in my opinion, liberals […]. From a spiritual standpoint, we think the Dr. Robertson was on target about Haiti, in the past, with voodoo. And we believe in the Bible that the practice of voodoo is a sin, and what caused the nation to suffer. Those who read the Bible and study the history know that what Dr. Robertson said was the truth." As far as I can see, there are some hidden premises in that inference that remain, shall we say, unsubstantiated.

Ellison is also “declaring war against Planned Parenthood,” pointing out that “[w]e’re asking pastors to shut them down in the community. We’re asking pastors to pray them out. And we’re asking Planned Parenthood to leave our children alone”.

Diagnosis: Completely unhinged, of course, in a very predictable way. His influence is probably limited, but he seems pretty zealous.

#120: Dallas Ellis

A completely unimportant schmuck, Dallas Ellis is a pastor and, uh, hobby-scientist who apparently attempts to emulate the intellect of the great Ray Comfort when it comes to scientific rigor and brilliance. His only claim to fame is the circulating clip of a public hearing in Orlando when people were allowed to stand up and explain their views on evolution (this was before the Florida wedge proposal met its timely demise). As an argument to match Comfort’s banana argument, I give you Dallas Ellis’s argument from oranges.

The basic argument is that no commonsensical person could conceivably believe that people or pets could be related to an orange – hey, round orange fruits ain’t looking nothing like furry, cute animals that jump around and lick your face; hence evolution is bunk (the fact that he doesn't notice that an orange isn't really an organism and that the analogy from the very start is like questioning whether I'm related to my grandmother's left foot, is the least of his problems).

If nothing else, he kinda elevates the argument from ignorance fallacy to an art form. More here.

Diagnosis: Astoundingly moronic nincompoop. Probably relatively harmless.

#119: Michael Egnor

Egnor is a neurosurgeon and creationist, and one of the more recent additions to the Discovery Institute’s rooster of loons. He is also an idiot. His main anti-science strategy is attacking materialistic neuroscience and an attempted revival of dualism (taken up also by e.g. O’Leary), completely oblivious to any of the literature on the subject (and to fallacies such as the fallacy of division and denying the antecedent).

One of his primary arguments against materialism, for instance, concerns altruism, and the argument is that since altruism does not have the properties of matter it cannot derive from matter (no, the fact that this is a silly, often-refuted idea has passed him by completely). More specifically, matter has certain properties like location, temperature, and divisibility while ideas and concepts do not have these properties, therefore ideas and concepts cannot derive from matter (wonder whether he would see the category mistake if he tried “democracy” or “computing 2 + 2” vs. computer programs). He also claims that if altruism derived from the brain than when someone walked around in a room, or changed one’s bodily position, it should “change” your altruism. It also follows, according to Egnor, that if you take a chunk of random brain that chunk should have a proportional amount of altruism inside it. Yes, it is that silly (in fact, it is pure choprawoo. More here.

He doesn’t like evolution (the old canards, see here and here. He doesn’t understand “information” either (nor information theory): here and here and here. The examples are really plentiful. For some horrid quote-mining (-mangling), this one is good. And, of course, Darwinism has nothing to contribute to medicine: here, here, here, here, here, and also here.

As liars for Jeebus are wont to do, he also brazenly attempts to reconstruct history.

The term “egnorance” has been proposed to be defined as “willful ignorance”. Egnor is also a prime example of the notion of “crank magnetism”.

Ok – lets just cut straight to it. Michael Egnor hates science; Darwinism, medicine, climate science, physics, you name it. And as all good kooks, he is convinced that he is being persecuted for it (distinguishing criticism and persecution is obviously tough).

Diagnosis: Blissfully ignorant, total moron and dependable fallacy generator. He is relatively prominent among the Discovery Institute Crackpots, and might actually prove to be dangerous; see more here.

#118: John Edward

John Edward is an alleged mentalist who tricks, consciously or not, people into thinking he is talking to the dead, and is most famous for tricking money out of desperate people by offering them to communicate with the spirits of his audience members' deceased relatives.

To appear convincing, the John Edward shows are heavily edited and uses plants (people in on the deal placed at random in the audience; their job is to speak to the audience members whose relatives Edward is supposed to communicate with then relay that information to Edward - see here, and here). Chances are, in other words, that he's a fraud, but since he might still believe that he has some sort of supernatural powers, and I think his inclusion in our encyclopedia is justifiable.

His technique (apart from the obvious cheats) is mostly cold reading.

It seems that he is able to fool Sean Hannity, but I don’t think convincing Hannity is evidence that there is something worth considering in your claims. He has actually been considered one of the five greatest psychic frauds of all time (entering right after Sylvia Browne). Apparently Oprah likes him as well (which does to your credibility approximately what “endorsed by the Discovery Institute” would do).

More here.

Diagnosis: Might be a fraud, but likely believes in the stuff he is doing. In that case he would have to have utterly succumbed to confirmation bias – but he has displayed no affinity for critical thinking anyway. Must be considered vile for his ability to pressure money out of people in difficult situations. Seems to be relatively popular, although the efforts of people like James Randi and Derren Brown have helped make people like Edward seem like the fringe loons they are.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

#117: Cynthia Dunbar

Perhaps the most influential loon in our Encyclopedia, at least in 2009-10 – her antics caused severe, maybe irreparable damage. Hopefully, her power to do harm may have abated, but I’ll be reluctant to write her off.

Dunbar is a lawyer and author in Richmond, Texas and currently a Republican representative on the Texas State Board of Education. She is a graduate of Regent University School of Law (Pat Robertson's university) and teacher of law Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. In other words, she has a fake education, and her lack of real knowledge or understanding is displayed by her utter stupidity, lack of knowledge and understanding, her anti-science anti-intellectualism, ignorance, dishonesty, zealous conspiracy theories and general wingnuttery.

In 2006 she won the Republican nomination for the Texas State Board of Education for District 10, claiming that people voted for her because she supports teaching intelligent design in science classes. So what else does she stand for?

Her book “One Nation Under God” argues (asserts) that the Christian religion should be more prominent in the public square and championed by the government. She is herself a homeschooler, and also claims that public education is a "subtly deceptive tool of perversion" and that "the establishment of public schools is unconstitutional and even 'tyrannical'." (here
- because, of course, they disagree with respect to whether schools should actively promote Christian reconstructionism of Barton’s or DeMar’s styles, or creationism).

What has she achieved? As a member of the Texas State Board of Education, in March of 2010, she proposed and won ratification of a number of modifications to Texas K-12 social studies curriculum, including the removal of Thomas Jefferson and mention of the Age of Enlightenment (i.e. any implication that reason should be the foundation for authority; more here). More precisely, the previous formulation:

- “explain the impact of Enlightenment ideas from John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Charles de Montesquieu, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Thomas Jefferson on political revolutions from 1750 to the present.”

was changed to

- “explain the impact of the writings of John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Charles de Montesquieu, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and Sir William Blackstone on political revolutions from 1750 to the present.” (important enlightenment thinkers such as Aquinas and Calvin were added, in other words)

So Thomas Jefferson, who favored separation of church and state, had to go. On the other hand, a new focus on the "significant contributions" of pro-slavery Confederate leaders during the civil war was added. Furthermore, the study of Sir Isaac Newton was dropped in favor of examining scientific advances through military technology; and she suggested an amendment to the effect that the anti-communist witch-hunt by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s may have been justified.

Another curriculum amendment describes the civil rights movement as creating "unrealistic expectations of equal outcomes" among minorities, and at the same time drops references to the slave trade in favor of calling it the more innocuous "Atlantic triangular trade".

Dunbar says these are important steps to overturning what she believes is the myth of a separation between church and state in the US (she is, with DeMar and Barton, explicitly endorsing the view that the United States was ultimately governed by the scriptures.) In fact, she thinks government should be guided by a “biblical litmus test.” She endorses a system that requires “any person desiring to govern have a sincere knowledge and appreciation for the Word of God in order to rightly govern.” (in other words theocracy, Taliban style). Here is her prayer before the board voted to distort history for Texas’s kids. And here is an intelligent discussion of the system that allows such loons through to positions of influence. Another of her public prayers is discussed here.

If you have children in Texas, you should move.

She is, of course, a pathological liar, but I suspect it is unintentional – this nitwit wouldn’t be able to distinguish truth from falsity if it hit her with a shovel.

She has also written (for the Christian Worldview Network website) that a terrorist attack on America during the first six months of an Obama administration would more likely "be a planned effort by those with whom Obama truly sympathizes to take down the America that is threat to tyranny." As if ayatollah-sycophant Taliban theocrats such as Dunbar would be able to distinguish tyranny from freedom.

She is also a birfer who thinks Obama is, secretly, a muslim.

Diagnosis: Total moron, and probably one of the loons that has caused the most harm of all the loons covered thus far. She is off the board now (she didn’t run for reelection), but much damage has been done, and it doesn’t mean she won’t reappear elsewhere.

Also indicted is fellow board member, Democrat Rick Agosto, who aligned himself with the Taliban on most issues concerning education. Do not forget him. The abominable Ken Mercer will get his own entry (Barbara Cargill has already got hers). As mentioned, Dunbar was not herself running for reelection in 2010, and her handpicked successor Brian Russell (equally lunatic) lost the runoffs. At least a glimmer of hope for the future of sanity in Texas.