Monday, January 29, 2007

Shooting Yourself in the Foot

I don't want Muslims to think I'm deliberately busting on them in this post. I'm not singling them out, it's just that they're the ones who made the news most recently. Fundamentalists of other stripes also engage in similar acts of self-endangerment in the name of religion (the Amish and Jehova's Witnesses being notable American religious groups with medical taboos).

EDIT: My bad. I had the Amish confused with the Quakers when I first wrote the post. The Quakers are innocent of anti-vaccination hysteria.

In a Times article mentioned on the BBS, I heard that a fundamentalist Muslim doctor is advising Muslims not to let their children receive vaccinations for common childhood diseases.

Dr Abdul Majid Katme, head of the Islamic Medical Association, is telling Muslims that almost all vaccines contain products derived from animal and human tissue, which make them “haram”, or unlawful for Muslims to take. Islam permits only the consumption of halal products, where the animal has had its throat cut and bled to death while God’s name is invoked.
It's not like the world needs more anti-vaccination hysteria. Various fringe groups have emerged in recent years with conspiracy theories about vaccines being deliberately tainted to cause infertility or negligently laced with heavy metals (used as preservatives). Such claims generally don't require evidence to convince the crowds they're aimed toward, either. Among conspiracy theory crowds, lack of evidence is considered proof of a cover up.

The inevitable result of such claims, of course, is that the number vaccinated people in the targeted groups will decline, which will lead to a resurgence of easily preventable illnesses. Furthermore, the resurgence won't just be limited to the segments of the population that avoid vaccination. Since no vaccine is 100% effective for all recipients, the small percentage for whom the vaccine didn't "take" will be at greater risk of running into a carrier from whom to get the disease. The groups who subscribe to anti-vaccine propaganda will suffer the most, but they'll bring the infection rate up a little bit for everyone else, too.

Admittedly, there probably are "haram" ingredients in vaccines. Does that mean you're just supposed to ignore them and let Allah decide whether your child gets polio, measles, or mumps? Or do you use the vaccine and ask forgiveness? Allah does forgive, doesn't he? I don't know if there's an unforgiveable sin in Islam, but Dr Shuja Shafi, a spokesman for the health and medical committee of the Muslim Council of Britain, doesn't seem to think this would be one.

In terms of ingredients in vaccines, there are so many things that are probably haram, but in the absence of an alternative we are allowed to take it for the sake of our health.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Saltare Approaches

Yes, I’ve been a blog slacker for over a week. In my defense, I’ve been rather busy helping organize this year’s Saltare dance event as well as coordinating dance activities for Gulf Wars.

Saltare 2007 will be taking place on February 3rd in the student center of the University of Alabama at Huntsville, with some activities in the nearby Tom Bevill Center.

Friday, January 12, 2007

How Bill Gates Went Broke

I have to share this email from a very dear friend of mine who I can only hope sent it to me as a joke; the name is being withheld to protect the (hopefully) innocent. According to Snopes, variations of this particular gag have been bouncing from mailbox to mailbox since 1997. This is the “Bill Gates wants to go broke” incarnation. We’ll go through it bit-by-bit to look at all the tell-tale signs of an email hoax.


Lots of capitalized text is a good indicator of nonsense, since apparently ANYTHING IS MORE BELIEVABLE IF YOU TYPE IT IN ALL CAPS.

To all of my friends, I do not usually forward messages,

Of course, that line was presumably written by the instigator of the chain, so they’re technically not forwarding the message. They just expect millions of other gullible people to do it for them.

But this is from my friend Pearlas Sandborn and she really is an attorney. If she says that this will work - It will work. After all,What have you got to lose?

The old “what have you got to lose?” line is a favorite in chain letters. After all, what’s the risk of losing the good will of all the friends in your email address book compared to the negligible possibility that Bill Gates is giving away billions of dollars for no good reason.

SORRY EVERYBODY.. JUST HAD TO TAKE THE CHANCE!!! I'm an attorney, And I know the law. This thing is for real. Rest assured AOL and Intel will follow through with their promises for fear of facing a multimillion-dollar class action suit similar to the one filed by PepsiCo against General Electric not too long ago.

I don’t remember any such lawsuit; do you? It must have happened, though. Even though I should remember a multi-million dollar lawsuit fought between two of the world’s largest corporations, surely a LAWYER wouldn’t be making this up! I mean, her friend used her name in the letter and everything!

Dear Friends: Please do not take this for a junk letter

Perish the thought! I’m really starting to believe this, people. The author of this letter is INCREDIBLY PERSUASIVE.

Bill Gates sharing his fortune. If you ignore this, You will repent later.

Important messages like this always make major grammar errors, like leaving the verbs out of sentences. These messages are so important, you just HAVE to send them right away, without running a spelling/grammar check or anything.

I also like the quasi-Biblical threat (since no one uses "repent" in normal communications).

Microsoft and AOL are now the largest Internet companies and in an effort to make sure that Internet Explorer remains the most widely used program, Microsoft and AOL are running an e-mail beta test.

Obviously, the best way to insure the continued success of a WEB BROWSER is to run a massive EMAIL beta test that throws away money.

When you forward this e-mail to friends, Microsoft can and will track it (If you are a Microsoft Windows user) For a two weeks time period. For every person that you forward this e-mail to, Microsoft will pay you $245.00 For every person that you sent it to that forwards it on, Microsoft will pay you $243.00 and for every third person that receives it, You will be paid $241.00. Within two weeks, Microsoft will contact you for your address and then send you a check.

Absolutely TRUE! And Microsoft also uses this technology to track down terrorists and turn them in to the government. That’s how we caught Osama Bin Laden and utterly destroyed Al-Qaeda! Oh, wait…

Regards. Charles S Bailey General Manager Field Operations
1-800-842-2332 Ext. 1085 or 904-1085 or RNX 292-1085

This is unquestionably a real person with a real title, and I have no doubt those numbers are legit.

Thought this was a scam myself, But two weeks after receiving this e-mail and forwarding it on. Microsoft contacted me for my address and within days, I received a check for $24, 800.00. You need to respond before the beta testing is over. If anyone can affoard this, Bill gates is the man. It's all marketing expense to him. Please forward this to as many people as possible. You are bound to get at least $10, 000.00

Let me try doing a little math, here. The version of this that I got was apparently forwarded four times. The number of “To” addresses in the forwards varied from twelve to thirty-five. If we’re conservative and guess that the average victim forwards this to ten acquaintances, that’s over 2.6 million dollars in advertising expenses in just four chain links. If this conservative chain continued one link per day for the two weeks this promotion is supposedly running, Bill and company would need to pay out over 2.3 QUINTILLION dollars (2.3 million billion or $2,320,000,000,000,000)! That’s over 46 thousand times what Microsoft earns in a year (before expenses). It’s also about 900 times the 2006 budget of the United States.

Are we seeing the nonsense, yet?

We're not going to help them out with their e-mail beta test without getting a little something for our time. My brother's girlfriend got in on this a few months ago. When I went to visit him for the Baylor/UT game, she showed me her check. It was for the sum of $4,324.44 and was stamped "Paid In Full".

And just for some added internal inconsistency, we have this conundrum (which actually reiterates a problem I skipped over earlier in the letter). What good is it for us to forward this email – which is part of a TWO WEEK beta test – if some guy's girlfriend got into it and got paid MONTHS ago? Supposedly you get paid a couple of weeks after you forward the letter, meaning THE PROMOTION IS OVER BEFORE ANYONE GETS PAID. If people have already gotten paid, there is absolutely NO CHANCE that you will get any renumeration for forwarding this email, even if it weren't a hoax from the start.

Can we stop forwarding nonsense like this now?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

ID vs Evo: The Game

Actor Kirk Cameron (of Left Behind fame) and Christian author Ray Comfort have produced a board game called Intelligent Design versus Evolution, available from Living Waters. Unsurprisingly, they market it as “a board game that reveals the insanity of perhaps the greatest hoax of our times -- the unscientific ‘theory of evolution.’

I won’t delve deeply into the hubris of an actor and author who really know nothing about the subject thinking they’re going to bring down one of the best-supported theories in modern science with a board game. I don’t have the game, nor do I intend to spend money to get a copy, so I don’t know exactly what ID/Creationism arguments they use on the game cards (although history suggests there won’t be anything that hasn’t already been repeatedly refuted by people who actually understand the Theory of Evolution).

What I will present is a small introduction to selective quoting by Creationists. I first learned about this game when it became a topic on Mike Wong’s bulletin board. Mike’s BBS is a haven for neither Creationists nor the politically correct, so the denizens wasted no time belittling Kirk’s and Ray’s newest pet project. Low and behold, someone at Living Waters found the BBS thread discussing the game, and they promptly added a “What evolutionists are already saying” heading to the sales page, quoting from the BBS:
What evolutionists are already saying:

"You think Bush is bad?? I've found something worse . . . Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort's board game!"

". . . made me spit my water out."

". . . a board game by two idiots in North America who are ex-nothings will prove science wrong."

"I get the feeling that this game will not be allowed to be sold most places."

"I'd love to buy this game, then completely rip apart every 'brain card' online with cold, hard data!"

You might get the impression that the evolutionists being quoted are credentialed evolutionary biologists, since the page doesn’t bother to say where the comments came from. Further, notice the frequent ellipsis dots? Creationists are quite fond of selectively quoting their adversaries. For instance, one BBS denizen actually said “This critter made me spit my water out” in reference to the image at right. I’m not exactly sure where he got the image, although I expect it came from the game material somewhere.

Another quote was cut short without even using the ellipsis dots to show they’d made a cut. The original line was “I get the feeling that this game will not be allowed to be sold most places, under the argument that it is either A: Deliberately deeding kids false information, or B: doing the ID movement more harm than good.

The final quote, at least, is an accurate one, and the others don’t seem to have originated at the BBS. Still, it’s pretty lame that Creationists are trolling science fiction bulleting boards for advertising "endorsements".

On a related note, I’d like to share this YouTube video of Ray’s infamous “well-designed banana” argument being shot down ruthlessly.