Skepticism, Religion Archive

Friday, January 25, 2008

Abunga - The Close Minded Bookstore

Abunga LogoIt's Friday afternoon, I'm running out of time to meet my post per week goal, and I just don't have that much motivation, today. So, I'll just briefly discuss a topic that's been on a few other blogs, recently, the new online bookstore, It was discussed recently on Pharyngula (it even got a follow-up entry), and in an aritcle in the Knoxville News. From their home page, their logo is, "Empowering Decency as your Family Friendly Bookstore. Basically, they "empower decency" by only carrying books that they deem appropriate. Hell, I'll just quote from their site to explain what they do:

Abunga provides three levels of content filtering:
  • Internal Filter – We remove broad classifications of illicit materials by the information classifications set by the publisher. Currently, over 65,000 books are eliminated from our available inventory to protect your family.
  • Individual Customer Block - On any search, any Abunga customer member can click the block button and that particular book will never show up as an offering on their account.
  • Community Block – Abunga records your blocks and if a number of customers block the same product, Abunga will remove it from their offering.

Now, Abunga's perfectly within their rights to run a bookstore this way. I just think it's remarkably silly. As PZ Myers said in his first blog entry on the subject, "This makes no sense to me. There are a lot of books that I deplore, and the way I cope with them is that I don't buy them. I don't go to the manager and tell them that no one else should be allowed to buy them."
In some of the responses I've seen to people defending Abunga, they've brought up the, "but what about the children" defense. It's still silly. We're not talking about a brick and mortar bookstore, here, where a kid could just walk up and start thumbing through An Illustrated History of Pornography. It's an online store. The only way a book is going to be bought is if someone of legal age with a credit card orders it. Who's really being protected, here? And seriously, if you're that worried about your kid ordering illicit material from an online store, what in the hell are you doing letting them on the internet without any oversight?

There is at least one redeeming quality to the company - they donate 5% of every purchase to a charity that the customer chooses (from a list of pre-approved charities).

One last thing I want to point out, if you go visit their page, at least at the time I'm writing this, in the top left corner there's a little picture of a book with one of those "no smoking" type lines through it, right next to the words "Empowering Decency." In fact, I've copied it, and put it at the top of this entry. I think it's a little funny that the first logo you see on a bookstore is a symbol for "no books allowed."

So sure, Abunga has every right to run a bookstore this way, and their customers have every right to shop there. I also have every right to call them a bunch of close minded ignoramuses, and take my business to a company that's a little more open minded, and will let me decide what books I want or don't want to read.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Golden Compass - A Surprise at the Bookstore

Earlier this week, at the bookstore, I decided to have a look to see if they had Lyra's Oxford, a short book written by Phillip Pullman as a kind of mini sequel to the His Dark Materials trilogy. I'd already looked the book up on Amazon, and saw that it had a few extras included in it, such as a map of Oxford in Lyra's world, a postcard written by Mary Malone, and a few other things. So, when I saw the card board insert pictured below, at first I thought it was just another of those extras. However, on closer inspection, reading the back, I saw that it wasn't part of the book at all, but a tract produced by the evangelical, creationist organization, Living Waters Ministries.

Golden Compass Collectible Insert
Click on image for larger version, including back of insert - opens in new window

Continue reading "Golden Compass - A Surprise at the Bookstore" »

Friday, December 14, 2007

Texas Education Agency - Chris Comer

I've been very late in blogging about this - the story broke a couple weeks ago. Chris Comer, the director of science curriculum for the Texas Education Agency resigned. There's still a fair amount of controversy surrounding this. Many are quick to jump to the conclusion, which is based on Comer's side of the story, that her resignation was forced because of her support for evolution. In particular, she forwarded on an e-mail announcing a talk by Barbara Forrest, author of "Inside Creationism's Trojan Horse," and a key witness in the Dover trial, which prompted an e-mail from Lizzette Reynolds calling for her to be fired:

This is highly inappropriate. I believe this is an offense that calls for termination or, at the very least, reassignment of responsibilities. This is something that the State Board, the Governor's Office and members of the Legislature would be extremely upset to see because it assumes this is a subject that the agency supports.

Well, I would hope the agency supports sound science teaching, but this e-mail wasn't an official TEA statement, so I'll move on. It was very soon after this that Comer was forced to resign, and the memo recommending her termination included the FYI e-mail as one of its reasons. So, it seems that her support of science was a big reason for her forced recommendation, but the only reason I'm holding out is because of the list of other reasons given in that memo. Comer and others called those other reasons trumped up charges, which they might very well be, but call me naive, I just really want to give people the benefit of the doubt, so I'm not going to assume that the people at the TEA are that malicious.

So, I'll hold off judgement on why Comer was fired, but another statement from the memo does damn the school board:

Ms. Comer's e-mail implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that TEA endorses the speaker's position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral.

Must remain neutral?! Looks like Reynolds' statement wasn't so far off from what the TEA board thought as a whole. But it's all ludicrous. Isn't the TEA's whole raison d'etre to provide quality education to students? How can remaining neutral on the issue of science vs. pseudoscience be fulfilling that mission? What if Comer had forwarded an e-mail about a lecturer addressing issues of holocaust deniers or HIV denialists - is the TEA to remain neutral on pseudohistory and pseudomedicine as well?

Given that the current chairman of the Texas State Board of Education, Don McLeroy, is a creationist (who doubts anthropogenic global climate change, to boot), and in the past has openly advocated Intelligent Design and old school creationism in the classroom (heck, you don't even need to look at his opponents - just go visit McLeroy's own site to see the type of craziness he believes in), and considering that school science standards are coming up for review in 2008, it makes Comer's resignation all the more fishy. I think everyone in this state needs to keep a close eye on how things play out in the coming months.

Much more information on this whole affair can be found at the website of the National Center for Science Education.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Iraq Death Toll - Rebuttal to a Chain E-mail

The other day, I got an e-mail titled, "Statistics on Military Deaths," claiming to put into perspective the deaths caused by the Iraq War. It examines total military fatalities since 1980, showing that there were actually higher fatalities in the 80's than there are now, during the war. Since the information came in an e-mail forward, I was skeptical right off the bat, and decided to research it a little. The total death statistic is accurate, however, it's misleading in a number of ways - ignoring the causes of deaths, and ignoring the total number of people in the military over that time span. So, for anyone who's gotten this chain e-mail, I'm posting the reply I wrote to clarify it.

Continue reading "Iraq Death Toll - Rebuttal to a Chain E-mail" »

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

AiG's Creation Museum Follow-Up

Ticket from Creation MuseumBack in May, I wrote an entry, Creation Museum/Creationist Rule of Thumb with the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, to coincide with the opening of the new Creation Museum, operated by an organization known as Answers in Genesis (AiG). Since the "museum" hadn't opened yet, I couldn't very well criticize the museum itself, so I instead picked a page from AiG's website, The Second Law of Thermodynamics: Answers to Critics, and criticized it, instead. I also used that entry to introduce a rule of thumb of mine: Anytime somebody tries to use the Second Law of Thermodynamics to refute evolution, you should realize you're dealing with somebody who doesn't understand science or who is a flat-out liar. If you're actually trying to learn something, you should save yourself the time and quit paying any attention to them, as you can't really trust anything they have to say about science.

Anyway, now that the museum's been open for a few months, people have gone to visit it, and it turns out to be just as bad as everybody expected. Just recently, the sci-fi writer and blogger, John Scalzi, paid the museum a visit, and posted his review on his blog (if the term, "horseshit," offends you, you may not want to follow that link). It's a fairly good review, but the part that makes it the best one I've seen of the museum so far (and admittedly, I haven't really gone looking for them), is the flickr set of 101 photos from the museum. It's not just Scalzi's opinion - you can see for yourself the idiocy on display.

To give you a taste of the review, here are a couple excerpts:

Let me say this much: I have to admit admiration for the pure balls-out, high-octane creationism that’s on offer here. Not for the Creation Museum that mamby-pamby weak sauce known as “Intelligent Design,” which tries to slip God by as some random designer, who just sort of got the ball rolling by accident. Screw that, pal: The Creation Museum’s God is hands on! He made every one of those animals from the damn mud and he did it no earlier than 4004 BC, or thereabouts. It’s all there in the book, son, all you have to do is look...
But seriously, the ability to just come out and put on a placard that the Jurassic era is temporally contiguous with the Fifth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom of Egypt — well, there’s a word for that, and that word is chutzpah. Because, look, that’s something you really have to sell if you want anyone to buy it. It’s one thing to say to people that God directly created the dinosaurs and that they lived in the Garden of Eden. It’s another thing to suggest they lived long enough to harass the Minoans, and do it with a straight face. It’s horseshit, pure and simple, but that’s not to suggest I can’t admire the hucksterism.

I suppose I should add one more excerpt, to make it clear that it's the stupidity of AiG he's criticizing, and not Christianity in general:

To be clear, the “horseshit” I’ve been speaking of is not Christianity, it’s creationism, which to my mind is a teleological quirk substantially unrelated to the grace one can achieve through Jesus Christ...There are lots of Christians who clearly don’t need to twist their brain like a pretzel to get around the idea that the universe is billions of years old and that we’ve evolved from earlier forms.

Anyway, I guess this entire entry was just a drawn out way to put a link to Scalzi's review. Go read it, and especially visit the flickr set, to see just how bad the Creation Museum really is.

Note - this entry was slightly modified from the original version, to include the third excerpt.


Selling Out