What happened to the History Channel?

I used to love watching the History Channel but every time I turn it on lately it seems to be showing some garbage about Revelations, Nostradamus, UFOs, el Cupacabra or the Bermuda Triangle. I watched one today called ‘Ancient Aliens’ about Erich von Däniken‘s theories regarding evidence of extra-terrestrial visitors to Earth. I find some of this stuff, like Piri Reis‘s map, inexplicable and fascinating. I don’t mind the History Channel covering these topics. I think they’re well within the purview of History and are worthy of investigation.

What I object to is the History Channel’s irresponsible treatment of the material. They are not making any effort at all to distinguish between facts and speculation and sometimes they just report the speculations of unqualified commentators as fact. For example, in this episode of ‘Ancient Aliens’ the commentator says “Joseph Seiss demonstrated that the pyramids of Giza lie at the intersection of the longest line of latitude and the longest line of longitude.” This is the picture they’re showing at the time.

Location of Giza Pyramids

The important part here is that the commentator reports this as fact, as though it is not in question at all. They use a flimsy appeal to authority to support it. “Who is this Joseph Seiss character?,” was my first question. Turns out he was an American Lutheran Dispensationalist minister and amateur archaeologist who wrote a book named “A Miracle in Stone: The Great Pyramids of Egypt” in 1887 espousing this view. Hmmmm, some expert, huh?

Right off the top of my head I’d say Seiss was wrong because Giza doesn’t lie on the Equator, which is technically the longest line of latitude. The Great Pyramid actually lies at 29°58’44″N and 31°8’3″E, according to Google Earth. Now obviously the East measure is entirely arbitrary since 0° is defined as the longitude line that runs through Greenwich, England. But the North value means something relative to the rotation of the Earth. What it means is that Giza is not on the Equator, the longest line of latitude!

As for the claim regarding the longest line of longitude I couldn’t actually say. Theoretically they are all the same length but the Earth is an oblate spheroid, not a sphere, and of course there is surface topography. I’d hazard a guess that the longest line of longitude would have to run through the highest point on Earth, Mount Everest, or through a North-South running mountain chain such as the Rockies or Andes, so I think we can safely conclude this is bunk too. In any case the technology didn’t exist in 1887 to be able to say accurately what longitude line would be longest if measured on the Earth’s surface. I think at that time they were still debating whether or not the Earth was a perfect sphere.

Conclusion? The whole Seiss thing is easily demonstrable complete and utter bullshit that the History Channel reported as fact. I know plenty of otherwise intelligent, educated professionals that don’t know the odds between horizontal v. vertical, let alone latitude v. longitude. How many people, without the necessary knowledge to be critical of such claims, swallow them whole? Most of the population probably.

I consider it irresponsible in the extreme for an ostensibly educational TV channel to so blur the lines between fact and fiction. The History Channel is trusted by many people to be purveyors of historical facts and they are betraying that trust. Don’t even get me started on their Nostradamus shows! History Channel, consider yourself scolded! You have become a laughingstock, but it’s not too late to turn it around. Start now by eschewing the mystical in favor of the historical. There are an infinite number of dramatic and compelling stories in History that you haven’t ever covered. Why don’t you get back to addressing those instead of this sensationalist garbage? Until you do, I for one will be boycotting you.

Bring facts or go away Cheney! Both of you.

Watching MSNBC following the two speeches from President Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney I saw Chuck Todd interview Liz Cheney. Chuck first asked her what she liked about what Obama had to say. I thought this was an excellent question because her answer to it would immediately expose her degree of partisan bias. Good job Chuck! She answered that she approved of the President saying that keeping America safe was the first thing he thought of in the morning and the last thing he thought of at night, which she says shows he’s taking the issue as seriously as he should. OK, good for her for coming up with something nice to say about the other side, but what a telling thing for her to pick. That statement by Obama was just about the only one in his whole speech that could could be used the increase America’s fear level. That’s what I am most weary about from the Cheney camp. They just seem so determined to make us fearful for our safety.

She went on to challenge the President’s assertion that terror suspects could be incarcerated and tried in existing prisons and courts within the U.S.. She claims that there are serious problems with trying terror suspects in Federal courts and suggested a book written by a prosecutor experienced in the problems. She asserted that such procecutions would never work because of these issues, whatever they are, and that Obama was naively not even aware of these issues. Now, I don’t doubt that there are problems which may require us to change some of the rules of evidence or whatnot in order to protect classified information in these cases, but my first reaction was that we have successfully prosecuted terrorists in our federal courts in the past. Why can’t we do it again? Also, contrary to Liz’s assertion Obama did mention those same problems in his speech.

I like that Obama seems to be committed to addressing whatever issues that come up in a way that respects our own laws and founding documents. I think this is really the difference between the two camps. Cheney is really defending the position that we can’t afford our high falutin’ morals if we’re going to have safety and I for one reject that position completely.

Dick Cheney himself just continues to argue with categorizing waterboarding as torture. OK, if that’s the case, what do you have to say to the Japanese officer we tried, convicted and sentenced to 15 years hard labor for waterboarding American POWs after WWII Dick? His fear and knee-jerk reaction towards totalitarianism based on that fear are no credit to him. They are, in fact, quite primitive and disgusting.

Dick, your worldview has been rejected by the American people after years of reflection. We’re not naively taking the threat of terrorists too lightly as you believe. We just prefer the rule of law to your totalitarian policies. If I were you I’d start preparing my defense to the charges you are sure to face. You just might have 15 years of hard labor in your future.

In any case, I haven’t heard either Cheney present any facts which support their position and until they do I can’t take their arguments seriously. They continue to trot out the same tired assertions, such as the dandy that waterboarding resulted in intelligence that was used to prevent other attacks on U.S. soil. These assertions have been refuted by the evidence again and again. Unless they can bring something better to the discussion I wish they’d just go away and let us get on with repairing the damage they’ve done.

The Label “Atheist”

Throughout this blog I will probably use the term “atheist” quite a lot. This is because everyone knows what it means, generally, and is therefor a useful term for discussion. I have pretty strong objections to it as a label for a group of people though. I don’t self-identify as an “atheist”, for example. For the same reason that I don’t label myself as a non-bigfoot-believer. It is utterly insufficient as a descriptive term for a human being. Since no human believes in all of the gods that have ever been invented by man every human is an atheist to some degree or another. I am myself only fractionally more atheist than Pat Robertson, for example. Also, since one has to be taught religious beliefs and isn’t born with them every human starts their life as an atheist. Continue reading

Stop using the term “militant atheist”!

I can’t believe how often I see the term “militant atheist” in the press coverage of the New Atheist movement! The generous interpretation of the use of this term is that the author is pointing out that atheists are finding their voice and speaking out against our society’s tendency to un-reason. The adjective “militant” has also been used to smear other movements in the past such as feminism, so it doesn’t make us special to be smeared with it as well, but because of certain myths about atheism I think it is far more dangerous to us. Unfortunately there are far too many people who believe the bullshit about how the atrocities of Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot can be laid fairly at the feet of atheism. I won’t bother debunking this childish belief here, maybe later. This myth makes it far too easy for our fellow citizens to believe that there are atheists living among them that want to eat their babies and attaching the label “militant” to atheism only adds to the the completely unjustified conflation of atheism and violence. The bottom line is that atheism is not a philosophy, contains no doctrinal elements, and as such cannot advocate anything, let alone violence. There is nothing militant about atheism in any way.

Another one that bugs me is “secular fundamentalism” which is a cheap attempt to conflate secularism with fundamentalism’s connotation for radical dogma. Every time I see it I think, “Yeah, secular fundamentalists, you mean like America’s Founding Fathers?”  Those darned secular fundamentalists who want everyone to have equal access to justice, liberty, and the other fruits of free democratic society, regardless of race, creed, gender, etc.? What jerks! In my mind arguing against secular government is tantamount to treason against the U.S. Constitution, and needs to be pointed out as such by journalists reporting on those advocating theocracy.

Set your brain to alarm when it sees either of these terms because they indicate the spin of the person using them.

Things I believe #1

When I think about what I’d like to teach my children about this existence I often return to the thought, “What do I believe, and which of my beliefs is most important?” I haven’t come up with a solid answer to the second question because as with many things the relative importance of beliefs are a matter of perspective and context. Perhaps I should state that as my first belief. Continue reading

Creationist mistake #1A

In addition to the common misstatement that science believes that everything was created from nothing magically I’d have to say the the creationist mistake that bugs me the most is the insistence on the misuse of the term “theory”. While it is true that the word “theory” has come to be synonymous in common language with “conjecture” this is not the definition used by the scientific community. Allow me to clarify… Continue reading

Creationist mistake #1

We frequently hear creationists assert that we evolutionists believe that “everything came from nothing”. Here’s a fun(di) site. Apparently magically. Nothing could be further from the truth. While a quantum physicist, or even a good astronomy textbook, could provide a more thorough explanation I’ll take a crack at a basic explanation here. Continue reading

Missing the point regarding torture

There is currently a hubub in the news about some Bush Justice Department memos that were released recently by the Obama administration. These memos and legal opinions describe the use of torture by U.S. agencies, such as the CIA, in the “War on Terror” under the Bush administration. It’s not a pretty picture. Apparently the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” was more widespread than had previously been reported. Predictably this has resulted in a hue and cry for investigations and prosecutions. Over on Fox News, however, it’s a different story. Go figure. Here’s some video analysis from Fox. Michael Hayden, the ex-head of the CIA, explains the pro-torture position well in this video from Fox News Sunday.
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Travelin’ Joe Don’t Know Albuquerque

There’s a great article every month in Golf Magazine called “Ask Travelin’ Joe” that I like to read and fantasize about traveling all over to play golf. This guy must have the best job on the world. Readers write in and ask Joe for recommendations for courses at their vacation destinations. In the article he briefly profiles a couple of courses in each location for them to try.

In the May 2009 issue a fellow by the name of Warren Dorn from Cincinnati asks for recommendations in Albuquerque, my home town. Warren already intends to play at Paa-ko Ridge and is looking for a couple more courses to try. Travelin’ Joe gives him three recommendations, but I only agree with two of them, so I thought I’d throw out some local knowledge.

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Ten Commandments at State Capitol

An Oklahoma state legislator has introduced a bill to put a Ten Commandments monument up at the state capitol. You can read Austin Cline’s report here. Seriously, do they even have Civics and U.S. History classes in schools in Oklahoma?! Apparently the proponents of the bill claim that 1) the monument is intended to honor the origin of the rule of law, and 2) has nothing to do with their religious beliefs. Oh yeah, then why honor the Ten Commandmants instead of Hammurabi’s law code, the earliest known formal system of laws? These people are just so full of it. They have no respect whatsoever for their fellow citizens if they don’t believe in the same fairy tales. Come on Oakies, you deserve better government than this. You are quickly becoming a laughingstock of religious intolerance and ignorance!