Sunday, November 30, 2014

#1223: Hal Turner

Hal Turner is Hal Turner, and Hal Turner is, as many will be aware, a rather infamous sympathizer of white supremacism. He rose to attention (in part) as a regular caller on Sean Hannity’s WABC radio program in the 1990s, where he would make arguments such as “if it weren’t for the white man, blacks would still be swinging from the trees in Africa” (getting no rebuke from Hannity). It culminated in 2000, when Turner stepped forward to run for the Republican nomination for Congress in New Jersey (though he wasn’t recognized by the party), receiving Hannity’s endorsement (Turner’s experience included being North Jersey coordinator for Pat Buchanan’s 1992 presidential campaign and manager of the 1997 gubernatorial campaign of Libertarian Murray Sabrin). Turner himself has claimed that he and Hannity were “good friends” at the time, though Hannity himself has since remained silent on the issue.

Not long after (and having decided that the system was rigged against white males), he started the infamous “Hal Turner show”, a favorite of neo-nazi and white supremacist groups everywhere, and notable for spewing hate as if it were nobody’s business (ranting about “savage Negro beasts,” “bull-dyke lesbians” and “lazy-ass Latinos ... slithering across the border.”), supporting the murders of judges he didn’t like, calling for civil war (in 2000) if Al Gore were to win the then-contested outcome of the Florida vote, and telling his audience to “clean your guns, have plenty of ammunition … [and] then do what has to be done” to undocumented workers.

At least he is straightforward. He said on his radio show that someone has to kill Barack Obama to keep him from becoming president, adding that it would be “a public service” to kill African Americans (“sub-human simians”) and white people (“mentally-ill Whites”) who celebrated his election. In 2008 he also published the home address of the superintendent of Lexington schools in Massachusetts (where the wingnuts were upset about books that dare to mention that some families include gay people) and urged his followers to take him out – this being relatively standard fare for a guy who once started a website called for the purpose of posting photos and names of those who marched in favor of immigrant rights.

It is worth mentioning that Turner for many years (possibly, perhaps probably) worked as an informant for the FBI, supplying them with information about right-wing groups, and, after the revelation, announced that he would step down from “whites’ rights” political activism.

Diagnosis: There’s quite a bit to write about this guy, but I prefer to refer the reader to the SPLC’s extensive files rather than making my hands too dirty on this kind of shit.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

#1222: Frank Turek

Frank Turek is a famous fundie author and motivational speaker. He is the author of Correct, Not Politically Correct (you get the gist) and co-author with Norman Geisler of I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist and Legislating Morality. His level of fundie insanity can probably be gauged from his participation in Bob Cornuke’s expedition to find Noah’s Ark in Turkey, an expedition the participants judged to be successful (though their findings don’t seem to have convinced the skeptics – or fellow creationists, for that matter.)

Turek is also a hardline theocrat. Of course, he claims not to be a theocrat (since “theocrat” is a poor sales pitch even in wingnut circles). Indeed he insists that Christians (that would be ChristiansTM – those who agree with Turek) don’t want theocracy, they just want the government to enforce Biblical moral laws on people who don’t believe in them.

Turek is of course also negatively inclined toward gay people, and laid out his views in the Correct book. After the publication of that one, Turek did, however, notice that it became harder to sell his dayjob services as a team-building consultant – he was booted by Cisco Systems and Bank of America, for instance – since the rather rank bigotry of his book sort of tended to undermine his team-building message. Guess who screamed “persecution” because people didn’t want to buy his product and convinced himself he was a martyr, persecuted for just saying that he believed marriage should be restricted to one man and one woman? Of course, what Turek did claim was (for instance) that gays and radical muslims have united to destroy Western civilization – gays (and muslims) want to bring about totalitarianism, and they have united because “they both hate Western Civilization” and “hate Judeo-Christian natural law values” – gay marriage will, in Turek’s mind, cause Americans to “lose the freedom of speech,” and his arguments are quite clearly taken rather directly from the arguments against interracial marriage used in the 50s. His denunciation of diversity training programs (as well as gay pride events – “[p]ride is, as we all know, really the root of all sin,” though one suspect his main problem isn’t with the “pride” part) for religious reasons might also have been considered not entirely irrelevant to companies’ assessment of the suitability of his team-building consultancy practice.

A particularly notable feature is Turek’s borderline amazing inability to understand what marriage equality is all about and what the position of those in favor of marriage equality actually is – thus providing a rather stunning example of how bigotry-induced bias can blind one to the issues at stake. He has, at least, admitted that he sees no-fault marriage as an even greater threat than gay marriage.

Here is Turek being a wingnut moron on the Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the individual mandate to purchase health insurance.

Diagnosis: Rank theocrat and Taliban fundie. Relatively standard fare for this Encyclopedia, in other words, but Turek seems to have risen to a position of some prominence in the wingnut community.

Friday, November 28, 2014

#1221: Giorgio A. Tsoukalos

Ok, so we are not completely sure whether already-legendary kook Giorgio A. Tsoukalos is actually formally qualified – he seems to be Greek – but his (significant) contributions to lunacy has been made primarily in the US, so we’ll count him in, mostly because we want to cover him. Tsoukalos is the publisher of Legendary Times Magazine, a magazine occupied with searching for evidence to support ancient aliens, and has long been the Director of Erich von Däniken’s Center for Ancient Astronaut Research (Tsoukalos is also “Erich von Däniken’s official representative in the United States and the rest of the English-speaking world). Most famously, he is the star and consulting producer of History Channel’s cargo-cult-scientific drivel Ancient Aliens – The Series, and according to himself Tsoukalos “is the real-life Indiana Jones.” He has, of course, no qualification in history, archaeology or any field that would make him even minimally qualified to assess, well, any kind of evidence whatsoever (or distinguish it from non-evidence), a lack of qualification he amply and proudly displays in his writings and shows.

Tsoukalos believes that practically everything in the ancient world has something to do with aliens, to the extent that it has made him into some sort of official meme (you can try the Tsoukalos meme generator here). Did, for instance, the Babylonians have nuclear weapons? Oh yes, they did.

To give you a sample of crazy in Tsoukalos’s own presentations:
- Here is his breathtaking inference from ancient mythological creatures to aliens.
- Here is Tsoukalos presenting his view on Atlantis – “I don’t think that Atlantis sank. I think it was lifted off.”
- Here he claims that the rocks of Stonehenge “were transported by way of levitation by none other than Merlin the wizard.” (After all the rocks are there; clearly they must have been transported there by magic. It could be suggested by the Disney cartoon The Sword in the Stone that Merlin would be capable of such feats. Therefore Merlin did it.)
- Here he weighs in on the idea of an “alien goldrush” (the “ancient astronaut’s home planet needed gold for their atmosphere”).
- Here he concludes that “we’re half-human, and half-extraterrestrial. We’re hybrids;” an incoherent (think about it) conclusion drawn from the fact that common depictions of the DNA double helix looks strange (to him). A quick discussion of Tsoukalos’s take on genetics can be found here.

He has also claimed that the streets of D.C. (a well-known source of conspiracies) were laid out in the shape of a five-pointed star to communicate to the aliens that we “respect” them. (He seems to be unaware that real stars don’t have points and that the convention to depict them as such would make no sense to a foreign culture).

According to himself his study of the Ancient Astronaut Theory is “scientific”, though he doesn’t seem to have much by way of the faintest grasp of what that might mean. Apparently the fact that his “study” includes analyses of ancient scriptures, drawings, monuments and artifacts using pareidolia and motivated reasoning as their sole methods of assessment, somehow makes it scientific (plenty of the items featured are demonstrably hoaxes). A Tsoukalos argument that is rather telling (from a March 2012 episode) was, roughly:

1. People worship “Gods”
2. But people only believe in things they have evidence for.
3. They had written/drawn evidence for these “Gods”.
4. Written/drawn evidence is always realistic and never abstract, imaginative, or metaphorical.
5. But “Gods” don’t actually exist.
6. Therefore these ancient gods were actually aliens.

Notice the second premise. It really sums up Tsoukalos’s approach to everything – by virtue of beliving in ancient aliens, it follows that he has evidence for it. Here, by the way, is an account of an interaction with Jason Colavito, who are – shall we say – reasonably skeptical of Tsoukalos’s ideas. Tsoukalos was unhappy with the results, arguing that “[j]ust the fact that you so desperately attempt to dismantle our theory proves that we are on the right track. Otherwise you would not feel so threatened by our theories!” Which is also rather telling (there is a discussion of Tsoukalos’s approach to evidence here). As is his response to the question of whether ancient astronaut claims have been presented in peer-reviewed journals (imagine it read by Michael Scott/Steve Carell): “And because YOU haven’t seen any articles THAT means the articles don't exist, right? Wow. Oh wow. UN-real. What a glaring display of RAMPANT egotistical ignorance.” I think that means “no”.

Diagnosis: Tsoukalos has no idea what evidence is, or why it is needed, and is somewhat confused by the fact that people ask for it – which makes him precisely the kind of guy e.g. History Channel want. Though he has quite a media presence, it is hard to imagine that Tsoukalos’s helps rather than harms the conspiracy movement – even dimwits seem to find his claims and assessments of evidence rather … weird. But who knows; we may be overestimating people.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

#1220: Ide Trotter and the creationists on the Texas Education Agency Science Review Board


[Note: I wrote up this post for Round 1 but inexplicably forgot to publish it – it is published now, relatively unaltered, but still highly relevant to the current situation]

One of the most notorious institutions for promoting denialism and illiteracy in the US has long been the Texas Board of Education (TBoE) – despite the admittedly tireless work of some pro-reality members and good organizations such as the Texas Freedom Network. Although prominent former members, such as Don McLeroy and Cynthia Dunbar – who have done measurable harm to reason – are out at present, they are still saddled with ardent fundamentalist haters or knowledge such as Ken Mercer and Barbara Cargill.

In 2011, when the Texas Education Agency released the full list of members serving on the science review panels that will evaluate instructional materials submitted for approval by the State Board of Education, the review panel for biology predictably included individuals with histories of promoting creationism or at least the “teach the weaknesses of evolution inscience classes” gambit (i.e. advocating creationism). The identifiable creationists (courtesy of the Texas Freedom Network) were:

- Ide Trotter (appointed by Terri Leo) a “Baptist layman”, longtime herald of Texas creationism (funder and spokesperson for the creationist Taliban offshoot “Texans for Better Science Education”) and signatory to the Discovery Institute petiion A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism, despite not being a scientist. Trotter testified before the board of Education in 2003 and 2009, both times advocating the inclusion of “weaknesses of evolution” that have been scientifically thoroughly discredited. He has claimed – and seems indeed to believe – that major scientific discoveries during the 20th century have made evolutionary science harder to defend: “The ball is rolling and it’s going downhill. There are not enough forces on the side of Darwinism to keep pushing it back uphill forever.” The Trotter Prize, annually awarded by the creationist hub Texas A&M College for various work including important contributions to anti-science, is apparently named for his father.

- David Shorman (appointed by Barbara Cargill), well-known and completely delusional and stupid young earth creationist (with a doctorate in limnology): “Treating Earth history as just that, history, I can find physical and written testimony that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. And just as most of us have no problem believing Jesus Christ was a real person who lived 2,000 years ago, we should have no problem believing there were about 4,000 years from the Beginning to Christ’s birth.” Seriously.

- Richard White (appointed by current chair Gail Lowe), who advocates including (dishonestly) the “weaknesses of evolution” in the science standards, that there “are all well-known scientific problems with modern evolutionary theory” and that teaching evolution without these thoroughly debunked “weaknesses” amounts to indoctrinating children with a religious dogma.

Things can’t be going too badly, however. Even the Discovery Institute has expressed their displeasure with the TBoE.

Diagnosis: And the whack-a-mole goes on. The claims are refuted, and refuted again, and new loons flood in to repeat them. These people are complete idiots, and wear their ignorance and moronicity with pride, dismissing reality as an elitist conspiracy.