In a world dominated by magical thinking, superstition and religion, give yourself the benefit of doubt. This is one skeptic's view of the Universe.

"Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure."

-George Carlin

“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed”.

-Albert Einstein

“Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.”

-Carl Sagan

The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species. It may be a long farewell, but it has begun and, like all farewells, should not be protracted.

-Christopher Hitchens

 

Full Moon Mania

Does the full moon cause lunacy or affect crime?

Kyle Hill, July 31, 2013

When the police began the booking process the handcuffed man blamed everything on a mosquito. The bloodsucker landed on his arm and he went berserk. The obvious change in gravity changed an otherwise calm man into a lunatic. Once every month—though sometimes twice a month—the police have it even worse. No cop wants to walk his or her beat at night when a full moon really has the power to change the populace.

Our moon has about as much gravitational effect on the body of any one person as a mosquito sitting on someone’s arm. If the amount of gravity the moon commands really did affect rates of crime, suicide, homicide, depression, and accidents, any swarm of the pests would be a flying disaster waiting to happen. The same gravitational truth exists for anything larger than the tiny insects. The laptop or monitor or smartphone that you are reading this on right now has more gravitational influence on you than our moon. Hold any of these too close to you and you might go on a rampage if the assumptions of “lunacy” were true.

If the moon itself, and not its gravity, was the instigator of madness, the famous Apollo landing missions should have worried about than just rocket trajectory and weight restrictions. Neil Armstrong would have made a giant leap towards insanity.

The mysterious power of the moon—if it did influence the violent crimes that mental health professionals and police officers dread each month—would increase the number of homicides around the time it shines brightest. But does it? I usually like to continue down hypothetical tangents in this column, but we actually have data that can answer this particular question. (Frankly, the presumptions of the full moon effect are so bizarre—grave misunderstandings about gravity and tides, for example—that I think it is too abstract to even think of a world where these presumptions were true.)

In 2012, the city of Chicago recorded 512 first-degree murders. Using the only public database with daily updates that I could find, I took each case and plotted it on a graph showing the date and number of homicides on each recorded date. If the moon truly could create a madness all its own, we would expect a visualization of these crimes to look something like this—a full moon atop each rise in homicide:
Each of the moons in the graphic is placed on or near the highest incidences of homicide across the months. A real full-moon effect should predict these positions to coincide with the actual full moon dates of 2012. But when we place the full moons in accordance with the dates they actually occurred, we see this:
On most of the dates of the full moon, there were no recorded homicides. This is small-scale analysis, but it goes against exactly what should happen over a year of violent crime in a major American city if the full moon had some effect. Remember, the moon is always full; it is just lit differently throughout the month.

Confirmation bias may keep it alive, but at larger scales like national studies and smaller scales like homicides in Chicago last year, the “full-moon effect” is reduced to the absurd.

Source

Iran unveils finger amputating machine for use on thieves


Photographs appearing to show a blindfolded man having his fingers severed by the mechanical amputation device have been published by an official Iranian press agency.

According to the INSA news service, the prisoner used to demonstrate the brutal contraption had been convicted of theft and adultery by a court in Shiraz last Wednesday.

A series of pictures show three masked officials, clad entirely in black, holding the man’s right hand in a vice while one turns a wheel operating the guillotine in the manner of a rotary saw.

In none of the four closely cropped images does the bearded prisoner’s expression register pain, suggesting that he may have been drugged.

Following the public amputation, Ali Alghasi, the Shiraz district’s public prosecutor, announced sentences against criminals are to become increasingly severe.

This warning, issued without explanation, may be an attempt by authorities to deter public protest ahead of June’s general elections.

The Iranian government’s deplorable human rights record has been well documented.

Public execution, including death by stoning, and torture, including flogging and amputation, are routine.

Amnesty International led international outcry over the execution of 21 year-old Ali Naderi earlier this month for the alleged murder of an elderly woman killed during the course of a burglary – a crime he committed when he was 17.

It is illegal under international law to execute anyone for a crime committed as a minor.

Ironically, they still have plenty of crime, demonstrating the ineffectiveness of severe punishment in deterring crime.

(Source: telegraph.co.uk)

The Linchpin to a better world: Free Women

Must the world forever remain the victim of ignorant passion? Can the world be civilized to that degree that consequences will be taken into consideration by all?

Why should men and women have children that they cannot take care of, children that are burdens and curses? Why? Because they have more passion than intelligence, more passion than conscience, more passion than reason.

You cannot reform these people with tracts and talk. You cannot reform these people with preach and Creed. Passion is, and always has been, death. These weapons of reform are substantially useless. Criminals, tramps, beggars and failures are increasing every day. The prisons, jails, poorhouses and asylums are crowded. Religion is helpless. Law can punish, but it can neither reform criminals nor prevent crime. The tide of vice is rising. The war that is now being waged against the forces of evil is as hopeless as the battle of the fireflies against the darkness of night.

There is but one hope. Ignorance, poverty and vice must stop populating the world. This cannot be done by moral suasion. This cannot be done by talk or example. This cannot be done by religion or by law, by priest or by hangman. This cannot be done by force, physical or moral.

To accomplish this there is but one way. Science must make woman the owner, the mistress of herself. Science, the only possible savior of mankind. Must put it in the power of woman to decide for herself whether she will or will not become a mother.

This is the solution of the whole question. This frees women. The babes that are then born will be welcome. They will be clasped with glad hands to happy breasts. They will fill homes with light and joy.

Men and women who believe that slaves are purer, truer, then the free, who believe that fear is a safer guide than knowledge, that only those are really good who obey the commands of others, and that ignorance is this soil in which the perfect, perfumed flower for virtue grows, will with protesting hands hide their shocked faces.

Men and women who think that light is the enemy of virtue, that purity dwells in darkness, that it is dangerous for human beings to know themselves and the facts in nature that affect their well-being, will be horrified at the thought of making intelligence the master of passion..

Robert Green Ingersoll - What is Religion, article 10

Divine Irony: The godless commit less crime, have longer marriages and are more highly educated than almost any other group in America

According to Federal Bureau of Prisons data, the number of responding people in prison acknowledging they were Catholic was 39 percent; Protestant, 35 percent; Muslim, 7 percent; Jewish, 2 percent; and godless, 0.2 percent (20 percent did not respond).

Since the number of godless is estimated to be 10 percent of the general population, all things being equal you would expect their prison population to be 10 percent.

If, as many people assume, the godless do not lead moral lives, you would expect the number to be greater than 10 percent. The fact that the actual number is 50 times less than expected can lead to only one of two conclusions: either the godless commit less crime than the religious or they’re too smart to get caught very often.

According to a Barna Research Group report, fundamentalist Christians have the highest divorce rate, followed by Jews and Baptists. The godless are tied with Catholics and Lutherans for the lowest divorce rate. It seems that some groups that claim to follow the Bible most strictly are not putting their money where their mouths are. The godless who are thought to be without morals seem to take their vows more seriously.

According to a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life Survey, the least-educated Americans are Jehovah’s Witnesses, followed by black Protestants and fundamentalist Christians. The most highly educated are reformed Jews, followed by Unitarian Universalists and the godless.

Some groups seem to like their flocks ignorant so that pastors’ interpretations of God’s edicts are not questioned. Other groups prize scholarship and achieve more in their lives here on Earth.

In fact, a review of worldwide studies found that criminality and religion go hand in hand. The countries with the most religious people have the highest crime rates, highest sexually transmitted diseases and the highest teen pregnancy rates.

This is also true in the United States. The more religious a state’s population, the higher the crime, STD and teen pregnancy rates. The report does say that the religious are happier than the secular but posits that the ostracism of the latter may be a major cause.

So what conclusion can be reached? It is obvious that you do not have to believe in a higher power in order to live a moral and successful life. Quite the opposite.

I won’t attempt to claim a correlation of religion with crime, infidelity and ignorance. However, it is total hypocrisy for those in such groups to claim that the godless are not and cannot be moral. Yet in a recent study atheists were believed to be no more trustworthy than rapists.

In spite of this easily obtained information, the groups with the highest crime rate, the poorest marriages and the lowest education continually strive to force their beliefs on the nonreligious. And the politicians pander to them. Why else would they pass laws to put religion in the schools and on courthouse facades? And then they wonder why the godless could possibly be upset.

Source

Psychic Who Said Amanda Berry Was Dead Silent After Berry Is Found Alive

Psychic Sylvia Browne, who has made a career of televised psychic readings, told Louwanna Miller on a 2004 episode of the show that her daughter was dead, causing Miller to break down in tears on the show’s set.

A year after Amanda Berry disappeared in Cleveland, her mother appeared on “The Montel Williams Show” to speak to a psychic about what happened to her daughter.

"She’s not alive, honey," Browne told Miller on the show, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper. "Your daughter’s not the kind who wouldn’t call."

Miller told the newspaper that she believed “98 percent” in what Browne told her. Miller died a year later from heart failure.

On Monday, Berry was found alive after she broke free from a home in Cleveland where she says she has been kept for the past decade.

Browne did not return phone calls seeking comment today by ABC News. The Montel Williams show, through syndicator CBS, also did not return calls for comment. The show no longer airs new episodes.

It’s not the first time that Browne, and other psychics, have come under fire for their involvement in law enforcement cases.

In 2003, Browne incorrectly told the parents of missing teen Shawn Hornbeck that their son was dead, and his body could be found somewhere near “two jagged boulders,” according to her premonition.

Nearly four years later, Hornbeck was found alive, and Browne was widely criticized in the media for causing the Hornbecks additional grief.

A website called “Stop Sylvia Browne,” dedicated to cataloguing Browne’s purported failures at prediction, sprang up in 2006.

Last year, Dwayne Baker told ABC News that after his son went missing in 2007, he was flooded with calls from psychics offering potential leads into the whereabouts of Travis Baker.

"It’s very hard,’ Dwayne Baker said. "I went through everything. My son was missing for two years, two months and 12 days. "Psychics called me. I even received a DVD in the mail that a guy claimed he could talk to the dead and this was Travis’ voice, with no return address. I don’t understand why people would want to do that."

"The psychics…" said Baker, 45, before pausing to let out a long sigh. "I hate to say how many of those called me and said they knew where Travis was. My mother and wife went to one and paid them $100."

Travis Baker’s remains were located in 2009.

Brad Garret, a former special agent with the FBI and ABC News consultant said that alleged tips from psychics rarely help solve a case.

"As far as finding a victim, finding remains, finding evidence or in any way helping to solve the case, it’s never been my experience," he said. "So, it’s really a disservice to victims."

"We’ve never had a psychic lead that turns out to be correct," said Lt. Dave Parker, of the Anchorage, Alaska, police department, after 18-year-old Samantha Koenig went missing in February, 2012.

Today, Brown faced backlash on social media for her incorrect prediction about Amanda Berry. It is unclear whether she has helped to solve a crime with her psychic predictions.

"Psychics make me sick. Here’s an example: Sylvia Browne told Amanda Berry’s Mum (now dead) her daughter was dead," wrote Twitter user Chris McBriarty.

Source

New Study Suggests Religion May Help Criminals Justify Their Crimes

[…]

A new study in the academic journal Theoretical Criminology (hat tip to the Vancouver Sun) suggests that, far from causing offenders to repent of their sins, religious instruction might actually encourage crime. The authors surveyed 48 “hardcore street offenders” in and around Atlanta, in hopes of determining what effect, if any, religion has on their behavior.

While the vast majority of those surveyed (45 out of 48 people) claimed to be religious, the authors found that the interviewees “seemed to go out of their way to reconcile their belief in God with their serious predatory offending. They frequently employed elaborate and creative rationalizations in the process and actively exploit religious doctrine to justify their crimes.”

First of all, many interviewees had only a vague notion of the central tenets of their faiths.[…]

Often, the authors found, these knowledge gaps were self-serving. “God has to forgive everyone, even if they don’t believe in him,” insisted one 33-year-old enforcer for a drug gang, with a vested interest in avoiding damnation for the murders he had committed.

A 23-year-old robber called Young Stunna suggested that the circumstances of his upbringing would absolve him of his crimes: “Jesus knows I ain’t have no choice, you know? He know I got a decent heart. He know I’m stuck in the hood and just doing what I gotta do to survive.”

Indeed, many of those surveyed used their understandings of faith to justify their own criminal behavior. A 25-year-old drug dealer called Cool suggested that God doesn’t mind when you do bad things to bad people:

Also another thing is this; if you doing some wrong to another bad person, like if I go rob a dope dealer or a molester or something, then it don’t count against me because it’s like I’m giving punishment to them for Jesus. That’s God’s will. Oh you molested some kids? Well now I’m [God] sending Cool over your house to get your ass.

In the end, the authors found, “there is reason to believe that these rationalizations and justifications may play a criminogenic role in their decision making.”

A couple points. First, this is a really small sample size, and it’s possible that if the authors had surveyed more people over a broader geographical area, their results would have been different. Second, as the authors themselves acknowledge, criminals certainly aren’t the only ones who tend to misunderstand religious teachings, or to contort them for their own benefit. Granted, there aren’t usually violent consequences when your Aunt Sue misunderstands something in the Bible; the worst that happens is that she’s just a little more unbearable at Thanksgiving dinner. But, still, the Theoretical Criminology study shouldn’t be interpreted as conclusive evidence that faith-based outreach and rehabilitation programs are worthless.

But the point is, neither is there conclusive evidence that religion on its own actually helps rehabilitate criminals. This becomes a policy question when we’re talking about prisons. As that Bureau of Prisons report put it, while “religious programs in the correctional setting have been the single most common form of institutional programming for inmates,” nobody really knows whether those programs are effective. There’s not much good data. People tend to use tautological arguments to support religion-based rehabilitation programs. That’s not good enough. If we’re going to talk about whether religion helps rehabilitate criminals, we need to insist on data. Don’t just take it on faith.

Married Pastor Arrested For Knowingly Spreading HIV To Church Members

Pastor Craig Lamar Davis of Full Gospel Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia was arrested last month for allegedly spreading HIV among his church members. So far at least two victims have pressed charges, alleging that he knowingly had unprotected sex with them even though he was HIV positive. Initially, his bond was denied, but after a second hearing he was granted a $30,000 bond.

Married Pastor Arrested For Knowingly Spreading HIV To Church Members

Pastor Craig Lamar Davis of Full Gospel Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia was arrested last month for allegedly spreading HIV among his church members. So far at least two victims have pressed charges, alleging that he knowingly had unprotected sex with them even though he was HIV positive. Initially, his bond was denied, but after a second hearing he was granted a $30,000 bond.

ryking:

Prosecutors: U.S. Soldiers Plotted to Kill President Obama

In a disturbing report out of Georgia, prosecutors say four U.S. soldiers plotted to overthrow the government and assassinate President Obama. Details remain slim about the case, but the AP’s Russ Bynum says the soldiers allegedly bought $87,000 worth of “guns and bomb-making materials and plotted to take over Fort Stewart, bomb targets in nearby Savannah and Washington state, as well as assassinate the president.” The plot was apparently uncovered in relation to a murder case surrounding the killing of former soldier Michael Roark and his girlfriend Tiffany York in December. On Monday, Pfc. Michael Burnett, one of the accused soldiers, plead guilty to manslaughter and gang charges in the murder case. “Burnett told a Long County judge that Roark, who had just left the Army, knew of the militia group’s plans and was killed because he was ‘a loose end,’” reports Bynum.

Prosecuted as a gang? They should be prosecuted as terrorists. The charge of treason should also be thrown in for their plot against President Obama.

How can you seriously plot to assassinate the president and “overthrow the government” and not get charged with treason?

ryking:

Prosecutors: U.S. Soldiers Plotted to Kill President Obama

In a disturbing report out of Georgia, prosecutors say four U.S. soldiers plotted to overthrow the government and assassinate President Obama. Details remain slim about the case, but the AP’s Russ Bynum says the soldiers allegedly bought $87,000 worth of “guns and bomb-making materials and plotted to take over Fort Stewart, bomb targets in nearby Savannah and Washington state, as well as assassinate the president.” The plot was apparently uncovered in relation to a murder case surrounding the killing of former soldier Michael Roark and his girlfriend Tiffany York in December. On Monday, Pfc. Michael Burnett, one of the accused soldiers, plead guilty to manslaughter and gang charges in the murder case. “Burnett told a Long County judge that Roark, who had just left the Army, knew of the militia group’s plans and was killed because he was ‘a loose end,’” reports Bynum.

Prosecuted as a gang? They should be prosecuted as terrorists. The charge of treason should also be thrown in for their plot against President Obama.

How can you seriously plot to assassinate the president and “overthrow the government” and not get charged with treason?

He who should not be named

I wish that every news story, report and article would refer to the Aurora gunman by anything but his actual name. I think when someone perpetrates such a crime, their name should be erased from the story and replaced by some generic identifier such as “the suspect”. Instead, this guy will revel in seeing himself become a household name. His name will be repeated and his photo displayed a million times on TV and in print. His perosnal story will be told and retold.

These maniacs perform these acts for various reasons but I have to think that it greatly appeals to them to have their names go down in history, even for such a heinous reason. While it’s important to understand the circumstances that lead to these acts for closure and prevention, I think that can be done without constantly boosting the suspect’s notoriety or carving out a place for him in the history books.

May the victims always be remembered and the killer swiftly forgotten.

reuters:

Penn State leaders including late head football coach Joe Paterno concealed former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s child sexual abuse for years, showing a “total disregard” for his victims, former FBI director Louis Freeh said in a report on Thursday.

Pennsylvania State University trustees hired Freeh and his law firm to investigate the school’s handling of the allegations involving Sandusky, 68, who was convicted last month of sexually abusing 10 boys.

“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State,” Freeh said in a statement on the findings of an eight-month investigation.

Freeh also criticized the board that hired him, saying it failed to hold senior leaders accountable.

READ ON: Ex-FBI chief blasts Penn State in Sandusky child sex abuse

LIBOR Interest Rate Scandal: a BFD

americawakiewakie:

Forget Bernie Madoff and Enron’s Ken Lay—they were mere amateurs in financial crime. The current Libor interest rate scandal, involving hundreds of trillions in international derivatives trade, shows how the really big boys play. And these guys will most likely not do the time because their kind rewrites the law before committing the crime.

Modern international bankers form a class of thieves the likes of which the world has never before seen. Or, indeed, imagined. The scandal over Libor—short for London interbank offered rate—has resulted in a huge fine for Barclays Bank and threatens to ensnare some of the world’s top financiers. It reveals that behind the world’s financial edifice lies a reeking cesspool of unprecedented corruption. The modern-day robber barons pillage with a destructive abandon totally unfettered by law or conscience and on a scale that is almost impossible to comprehend.

How to explain a $450 million settlement for one bank whose defense, in a plea bargain worked out with regulators in London and Washington, is that every institution in their elite financial circle was doing it? Not just Barclays but JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and others are now being investigated on suspicion of manipulating the Libor rate, so critical to a $700 trillion derivatives market.

Caught as the proverbial deer in the headlights, Barclays Chairman Robert E. Diamond Jr. resigned this week and offered a plaintive defense to the British Parliament that he learned only recently that his bank was manipulating the index on which so large a part of international trade is based. That is plausible only if we assume he was paid $10 million a year to be deliberately ignorant. The Wall Street Journal had exposed this scandal fully four years ago but his bank continued to participate in it nonetheless. 

“Study Casts Doubt on Key Rate” was the headline on the May 29, 2008, investigative report, which concluded: “Major banks are contributing to the erratic behavior of a crucial global lending benchmark, a Wall Street Journal analysis shows.” Even then, according to the report, it was known that the Libor rate was being manipulated “to act as if the banking system was doing better than it was at critical junctures in the financial crisis.”

Fast-forward four years to Diamond’s testimony before Parliament this week in which the CEO claimed his recent discovery of a pattern of interest manipulation by Barclays had made him “physically sick.” Who was to blame? According to the executive, subordinates acting behind his back. 

The American-born banker, who has dual citizenship in the United States and Britain, is well versed in financial chicanery, having started by putting together derivatives packages at Credit Suisse First Boston back in 1996. He was compelled under parliamentary questioning Wednesday to admit that “I can’t sit here and say no one in the industry [knew] about the problems with Libor. There was an issue out there and it should have been dealt with more broadly.”

He couldn’t deny widespread chicanery within his bank because, as in the collapse of Enron a decade ago, investigators had uncovered an email record of market manipulation so glaring that if the top executives were unaware, it was because they didn’t want to know. 

As The New York Times editorialized: “The evidence, cited by the Justice Department—which Barclays agreed is ‘true and accurate’—is damning. ‘Always happy to help,’ one employee wrote in an email after being asked to submit false information. ‘If you know how to keep a secret, I’ll bring you in on it,’ wrote a Barclays trader to a trader at another bank, referring to their strategies for mutual gain. If that’s not conspiracy and price-fixing, what is?”

The U.S. Justice Department made a deal with Barclays, and although it may prosecute some individuals in the scam, it agreed not to go after the bank itself. “Such an agreement makes sense only if that cooperation will allow prosecutors to nail other banks that have been involved in setting the rates, including potential cases against Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and HSBC … ,” the Times editorial said.

Both Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase were reported by The Wall Street Journal years ago to be suspected of rigging the Libor interest rate. The leaders of those banks, despite such media exposure, clearly remained confident enough to continue on their merry way.

The sad reality is that they will probably get away with it. The world of high finance is by design as obscure and opaque as the bankers and their political surrogates can make it, and even this most recent crack in their defense of deception will soon be made to go away.

Source 

(Source: america-wakiewakie)

fuckyeahdrugpolicy:

Joe Rogan Live: March 28, 2012

“Who’s doing more harm? The guy who’s smoking pot or the person who locks him in a fucking cage and destroys their life, and does it because it’s written on paper somewhere that that’s okay? Well that guy is a destructive force. The law becomes the destructive force in society, not the drug. Don’t put people in cages because they don’t agree with you. Because they like something. They like it so much they’re willing to risk freedom, because they found themselves in some sort of a situation where they’re in an environment that they have no control over whatsoever. They were born into this. They didn’t ask to be dropped into this preposterous, illogical, nonsensical, ridiculously lopsided and corrupt society. And you just expect them to comply with these stupid fucking things that are written down on paper that everybody knows makes no sense. That’s the problem. The laws are the problem. The laws are destructive. The laws are anti-evolutionary. The laws are anti-enlightenment. That’s the problem. It’s not the drug. It’s not pot. It’s not mushrooms. It’s the laws against pot and mushrooms. Those are a devastating aspect to our society.” 

Zimmerman attorneys pull out of Florida case

Sanford, Florida (CNN) — Attorneys for neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who authorities say fatally shot an unarmed teenager in Florida, said Tuesday they have lost contact with their client and no longer represent him.

"He has gone on his own. I’m not sure what he’s doing or who he’s talking to," said legal adviser Craig Sonner. "If he wants us to come back as counsel, he will contact us."

(click link for full story)