Go Back to Where Ya Came From, or “Cure from the Common Cult”

Posted in 1st Amendment, ethics, Skepticism with tags , , , , , , , on April 9, 2010 by theicidalmaniac

The Radio from Hell Show, a local morning show on Salt Lake City’s X96, had guest Vincent D’onofrio on today.  You may remember D’onofrio’s colorful antics as the dude that goes psycho and blows his head off in Full Metal Jacket, yes?  Well, now he wants your money.  Alright, that’s not fair.  D’onofrio doesn’t want your money for himself; he was here in SLC to plug the “Utah Meth Cops Project” and its “Ride for a Hero” fundraiser, to which he has attached his quasi-iconic status.

I love these celebrity causes.  When a face that I trust from TV tells me to write a check, brother, I usually don’t ask questions.  But it just so happens that I had heard of this particular project before…as a Scientologist health care camp.  And before I get into the claims that this Utah Meth Cop Project makes I need to explain the amazing story behind this detox clinic, its precursor NarConon, its ties to Scientology, and why it’s all nothing more than a common and familiar cult.

Aaaand GO!

NarConon

In 1966 one William Benitez, a former Arizona playmate…er, sorry…former Arizona inmate, founded a drug treatment regime based on ideas from L. Ron Hubbard’s book “Clear Body, Clear Mind.”  He called the program NarConon.  Riding the coattails of Narcotics Anonymous, a slightly more legitimate organization that was established in the 1940’s, Benitez was all too happy for the 2 groups to be confused with eachother as Narcotics Anonymous’ good name added an air of legitimacy to the then unknown NarConon.  To clarify, the 2 organizations are NOT affiliated with eachother.  So what exactly does the NarConon regime call for?  What are the revolutionary ideas that Monsignor Hubbard brought us about addiction recovery?  Let’s see, according to Narconon.org, the Hubbard Detoxification Protocol consists of 6 tidy bullet points:

1. Moderate exercise

2. Appropriate amount of sleep

3. Regular trips to the sauna

4. Plenty of liquids

5. Healthy diet

6. Vitamin and mineral supplementation

WOW ! *yawn*

Not exactly a paradigm-shift.  That advice sounds a lot like what my doctor keeps begging me to do, but its from Scientology so it’s more galactically significant and futuristic, right?  THANKS L. Ron!

Ok, so it doesn’t sound evil, actually, it just sounds like decent advice for maintaining general good health.  So WHY THE HELL would you need to go to a camp or clinic to follow basic health tips?    Why spend so much money to go to a clinic to drink water and take vitamins, when you could easily do it from your couch while watching TV?  The truth is that reason people had to go to them is because, as it was soon discovered, NARCONON WAS A SCIENTOLOGY RECRUITMENT PROGRAM.

Oddly enough, to this day NarConon fails to mention on its website or its publications that they are affiliated with Scientology despite the fact that this information has been exposed by news agencies in cities all across the U.S., including the Fox affiliate here in Salt Lake City, at a regular pace for the last 40 years. 

Okay, so they’re wacky alien worshippers who suck people in by presenting successful-looking representatives who dispense engaging testimonials.  So what!?  They wouldn’t be the only game in this town to market that product.  The real question is, does what they offer work?  According to their own website, not really.  I mean, the adjectives hint at cure, but overall they are throwing some pretty low quality evidence out there.  NarConon’s “research studies” list the patients as “clients” suggesting that they were in-house, and therefore practically in-valid or at LEAST in-conclusive, studies.  When I investigated the actual research facility where the studies were conducted, Downtown Medical P.C. , I found out that Downtown Medical P.C. is a non-medical treatment center run by none other than…drum roll, please…the Mormon Church!  Just kidding.  It’s run by the Scientologists.  In fact, according to my buddy, Wikipedia, it was commissioned by Tom Cruise himself to “treat” (translation: “recruit”) WTC rescue workers in the aftermath of 9/11.  NOT kidding.

Bogus treatments aside, even the ailments that they were treating were a bit suspect.  The symptoms they “cured” were ALL self-reported, and mostly subjective.  Even the “mental acuity” and “nervousness” attested to in the studies were not empirically validated by the researchers in any way…no baseline, no way to show an effect.

In fact, there is little reason to conduct a study at all, considering that from a scientific standpoint, the notions underpinning their methods are utterly implausible…but more on that later.

The worst news is that after all their “research” the Scientologists at Downtown Medical concluded that their method of detoxification was not only effective, but safe.  I mean, yeah you’d think a fake treatment for an imagined illness WOULD be safe.  And they certainly did say that it was safe…but I find that troubling, because C. Everett Coop, former United States Surgeon General, had this to say about Hubbard Detox:

“It’s dangerous.”

He went on to say:

“I don’t think L. Ron Hubbard has credibility in the scientific world. The author’s suggestions about detoxification can be detrimental to [one’s] health.”

Other medical professionals from the U.S. and Sweden have found that the program involves the ingestion of hepatoxic levels of niacin.  Now I’m no scienstician, but that sounds pretty bad.  Adding inefficacy to injury, addiction specialists at home and in Berlin have found NarConon’s abyssmal success rate to be “as effective as no treatment.”

So here are my tidy bullet points, presented to you now as “opinion” due to the litigious nature of the parent organization, Scientology:

1. The treatment is nothing novel, proprietary or spectacular, nothing that requires a NarConon membership.

2. NarConon hides their true identity.

3. The supporting research is poorly conducted and the published results are misleading or fraudulent.

4. They use “treatment” as a stage for recruitment into a religion which is notorious for ostracizing its members from their friends and family and who takes money in exchange for enlightenment.

CULT

CULT

CULT

Meth Cops uses the Hubbard Detoxification Protocol, is based largely on the NarConon model and is affiliated, by their own admission, with the Church of Scientology.

Back to our story:

Utah  Meth  Cops

I caught an episode of the Reasonable Doubts podcast  a while back that discussed this detoxification regimen, which consists primarily of giving cops pep talks and then sticking them in a sauna for a spell, and to my embarassment Utah was at the heart of the bullshit once again.  It seems that Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff thinks that Utah Meth Cops is a swell idea, and he spent Utah tax dollars to send Utah cops to what will turn out to have been a Scientology camp in Florida to test the effects of the program.  Now I know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry; Utah politicians care not for the 1st Amendment.  It’s perfectly fine to mix church and state liberally here…just don’t say the word “liberally,” or you’ll be told to leave America.  The proudly Mormon public official was so impressed by the Hubbard Detox method that, according to local news agencies, he has procured over $300,000 of public money to fund Utah Meth Cops.  Apparently Mark Shurtleff is a goddamned genius, because he saw an effect where even Utah State University’s Roger Coulombe Jr. PhD, did not see one.  According to naysayer Coulombe, a Professor of Toxicology at USU, the premise of Meth Cops is “preposterous.”

 Yeah, well…uh…he’s just a scientists, right Mark?  Ok, I didn’t talk to Mark Shurtleff directly -because his office ignored my email- but I DID consult his Twitter account, where I was directed to Utah-Detox.org, which explained the project in about as clear of language as I expected.  Here’s a rundown according to that website:

THE PROBLEM

Utah officers were among the first in the nation to be exposed to toxic methamphetamine labortories, as if there weren’t enough reasons to be sheepish when telling people you’re from Utah.  The claim is that in the 80’s and 90’s officers were not dressed in protective gear and were thus exposed to harmful chemicals, which I do not doubt.  In “An Open Letter from Attorney General Mark Shurtleff,” this elected official makes the bold claim that this exposure has caused “ill effects” and ties these effects DIRECTLY to meth lab exposure, though toxicologists never have.  Of course, a project that would rid a person of these toxic chemicals would certainly be able to IDENTIFY the “toxins” specifically and the ailments that they cause, right?  Mmmm, well…other than citing headaches and acid reflux (both of which have other known causes) all they really say here on this site is that contact with the unnamed chemical toxins can “make you sick,” and that prolonged exposure leads to CANCER.  While the meaning behind technical medical jargon like “make you sick” flies right over the heads of slack-jawed idiots like me, cancer is a word I DO understand.  It’s very scary, and politicians LOVE scary.

But wait, if cancer is the only ailment they’ve named specifically, and their treatment is supposed to address the ailments caused by exposure, then does this mean that their treatment can prevent or cure cancer?  Are they actually claiming that they can prevent or treat cancer?  It sure looks that way.  But the American Cancer Society – you know, the experts – says that detox methods are not effective for the treatment of cancer, and they have published article after article defending that position.

THE RESULTS

Utah-Detox.org cited some research to give the appearance of scientific support and efficacy.  Participants of the initial trial OF 3 PEOPLE  engaged in moderate exercise, a vegetable-based diet, and a few trips to a day spa.  They reported the following miracles: a sense of overall better health, more energy and greater clarity of mind.  Oh, and one guy grew an extra penis.  I could be mistaken about that last one.

Gee, ya don’t say?  A “sense” of better health!  Clarity of mind!  More energy!  More penises!  I can get all but maybe one of those effects by doing situps or buying a new pair of shoes.  Hell, I get “more energy” and “clarity of mind” when I use stimulants like caffiene, or ADD medication (but only by prescription, kids) which is, ironically, chemically similar to the very methamphetamines that this program is trying to purge.

MY CONCLUSION

No one needs Utah Meth Cops,

least of all Utah’s meth cops.

 

Now let’s make a further mockery of what was already a big pile of bullshit anyway:

So, to paraphrase everyone:

Vincent D’onofrio and Mark Shurtleff, “Scientology, er, oops, we mean UTAH METH COPS, will cleanse your toxins!

Expert Toxicologists, “Not a chance in hell.

Vincent D’onofrio and Mark Shurtleff, “We’ll prevent cancer!

American Cancer Society, “No damn way.

Vincent D’onofrio and Mark Shurtleff,It’s safe!

United States Surgeon General, “Negative.

 

FUCK I’m sick of typing D’onofrio.

THE REPUGNANT

The bottom line is this: Men In Black was an awesome movie, and if you’re gonna sell us Crap-O-La Crunch Cereal, go ahead and hire D’onofrio, a face we’ll recognize from a beloved classic.  He’s an actor.  Whoring themselves out to the highest bidder is just what actors do.  But don’t drag our civil servants into the mix.  It’s bad enough that these cops have to risk their lives trying in vain to keep meth out of our hands, do you have to add insult to injury by exploiting their status to get us to make donations, or to trick them into thinking that you are helping them?

And Attorney Generals should sure as shit know better than to use tax dollars to send people to religious gatherings.  IN FACT, the State of Utah, in a rare act of sanity, STOPPED the practice of sending convicted drug offenders to NarConon after they discovered in 2000 that it was a Scientology front, presumably because using the law to compel someone to engage in a religious activity is a violation of Constitutional Amendment 1, or perhaps because there’s only room for one cult ’round h’yuh.  At the very least, an attorney general should know how to tell the difference between compelling evidence and pure, unmitigated con-artistry.  But apparently that is a little too much to hope for.

You’d think that one of the few radio stations with liberal tendencies would try not to let bullshit artists walk all over their listeners and bilk them out of the $96 they just earned for properly naming all 10 top’o the hour songs, or whatever the hell “listen to us all day” gimmick they run nowadays.  The station KNOW for a fact that when they endorse a product or cause, that their listeners are more inclined to buy or become involved with it.  In fact, that is the very premise that radio is built upon.  That’s why Gina Barberi is paid good money to promote the local laser hair removal clinic.  Advertisers in SLC KNOW that if Kerry, Bill, or Gina tell their listeners that something is the Bee’s knees, sales and participation goes up.  That’s a fact.  So when they kiss D’Onofrio’s ass, and rile their listenership into contributing to his cause, they are responsible for an increase in activity.  They need to do their homework.  Clearly, they did not. 

But then again this is the same station that ran an ad from local skate shop owner, Salty Peaks’ Denis Nazari (whom I have spoken to at length and who I am VERY comfortable calling “batshit crazy” – and marginally literate) giving him a mouthpiece with which to spout bigoted, xenophobic conspiracy theories about a Northern American Union and a Mexican Invasion.  I really SHOULDN’T be surprised and disappointed, but I SO am.

For what it’s worth, I did attempt to call in and really stick it to D’Onofrio, but alas, the interview was wrapping up as my call got through, and they didn’t get me on air, although I suspect that I might have if I hadn’t told the engineer WHY I was calling.  Supporting this suspicion is the fact that, to date, I have recieved NO reply from anyone at X96 regarding this issue, despite having sent multiple emails.  Whatever.

THE FINAL SOLUTION

D’onofrio, it’s ok to be an actor without a cause.  Really.

Shurtleff,  please return to your former political obscurity, as you have proven yourself absolutely worthless.

Meth Cops, Utah-Detox.org, et al, it is time to stop obscuring your identity.  Scientology is still stinky cerebral diarrhea no matter what flowery name you call it by, and no matter what public heroes you try to attach to it.

…and YOU, Radio From Hell…you know where to go.*

*See title

Anti-Choice or Anti-Life?

Posted in ethics with tags , , , , on August 1, 2009 by theicidalmaniac

Recently this question has been thrown around in some of the circles I frequent…although it’s usually phrased as “are you PRO-choice, or PRO-life?”  While I appreciate people’s attempts to ruin a perfectly cordial dinner-party, I have to say I object to the premise of the question entirely.

I’m looking at my blog…it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything.  I had been awaiting some action on my “what kind of religion won’t let you quit” post, so I could do a follow-up, and I have been looking at topics for this and upcoming posts.  Abortion keeps coming up.  I have to get it out of the way, and many people won’t want to hear it.  Perhaps they won’t even CARE, it has come up so often in the past few years of presidential campaigning, and recently in the Sotomayor inquisition.  But I think that my take may be a slightly novel approach to the topic, and I’m going to hit it from several angles (no sexual innuendo intended…or IS it?).  Hopefully, in between posts on the subject I’ll talk about stupid myths that Utahn’s and Mormons believe in, and why they are utterly false, or why I think smoking should stay legal but selling tobacco should be outlawed.  Perhaps I’ll discuss the disturbing trend of pedophiles living next door to every school in my town.  Hopefully that teaser will sucker some of you back later…

But for now, we’re talking abortion, and this is episode 1. 

Why do I puke in my mouth a little every time someone asks the abortion question?  I support abortions in at least some cases, and depending on how my thinking goes in the near future, I may make room to support abortion in all cases.  I’m piecing my arguments together.  But I’m not pro-choice.  In fact, I think taking on the title “pro-choice” is terrible PR.

I used to feel that anyone who opposed a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion was, necessarily, anti-choice, hence the first part of the title.  When you think in terms of choice versus right-to-life, you tend to see things in that light, and wonder how on Earth anyone could tell a woman in this day and age of enlightenment and civil rights what she can do with her body.  It seems absurd.  So absurd that all you do in a debate with an anti-choicer is tell them that they are wrong, let them rebut, and then tell them they are wrong again a little bit louder, ad nauseum.

What I want to do is issue a plea to the “pro-choice” croud to stop calling this an issue of choice.  WTF, right?  I know.  But if we want to make any headway, politically, and win the support of a larger demographic, we have GOT to understand the pro-life mindset, and adjust our position.  Pro-lifer’s very often see those who support abortion as “anti-life.”  This insenses us, but it makes absolute sense.

We want the law to protect abortion, or at the very least we want the law to NOT prohibit abortion.  They think abortion is murder – the unjust killing of a human being.  In other words, they think we want the law to protect, or at the very least NOT prohibit, murder.  And that just doesn’t make sense to them.  Sure, we allow legal exceptions or leniencies for some types of killing; executions by the state, war, crimes of passion, accidents.  But when it is unjust, we call it murder, and we don’t make exceptions.  We don’t protect a person’s right to choose to unjustly kill another human being at whim, and if we did protect that right we’d be dooming ourselves.  So when we claim to be pro “choice,” what they hear is “we want the choice to commit murder.”

It’s nice to attach a cute name to your position, but it’s actually hurting our efforts a great deal.  We need to abandon the “choice” language and begin to focus on destroying the idea that abortion is murder, and to do that we have to ask,

1) is a human being‘s life being terminated, and/or

2) is it unjust?

I say no, but I’ll go into that another time.  Any of you pro-choicers out there reading this (both of you) please consider this.  We have to change the direction of the discussion, because currently there is no dialog, and without a dialog we cannot make any progress, and we CERTAINLY can’t make any converts.

Lost in Translation, or “Oh, the Mormanity!”

Posted in Language, Mormonism, Skepticism with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 22, 2009 by theicidalmaniac
Arabic Book of Mormon

Arabic Book of Mormon

Utah has no shortage of mythology and folklore, a great deal of which is tied to the LDS church organization and its, er, interesting tales.  A recent discussion on Postmormon.org , in which I participated, reveals the ubiquity of these dubious stories.  Among them are claims that a Mormon official encountered bigfoot while on horseback, and discovered the beast to be none other than Cain, the son of Adam.  And of course no suite of tall tales would be complete without a lake monster story.  Utah’s Bear Lake is said to be the home of one such monster, and local folklore has it that Bear Lake is connected to Loch Ness in Scotland by a long tunnel which serves as a a thoroughfare for Nessie as he travels, apparently through magma, between the two locations.  It has even been reported that Brigham Young himself went to great expense to catch the monster using 300 feet of rope and a large custom-crafted hook baited with a sheep.

Myths abound here in the wild country, but I wanted to focus on something that came up recently in my family.  My mother handed me an email recently, which was given to her by her mother, forwarded by her sister-in-law (that’s how these things apparently propagate in the digital age, even among octogenarians).  It was a four page “transcript” of a “speech” given by former apostle Russel M. Nelson.  She handed it to me saying “you’re a linguist,” (I’m not, although I am studying linguistics) “I think you might find this interesting.”  She then qualified this by saying that she was in no way attempting to “re-convert me,” although I think that this was precisely her intent.  Fortunately, I had come across this story some time before and was prepared to handle it.  I’ll only provide a link to the “talk” called “Reflections of Sami Hanna,” rather than post the entire contents here.  In the text, it is claimed that one Dr. Sami Hanna, an expert in Semitic languges, was converted to Mormonism after determining that it was a true Semitic text.  Here is a link which, in its preface disclaimer, alludes to the biggest problem in establishing the truth of the claims that lie within.  The author of the page states:

Elder Nelson has mentioned Sami Hanna in several talks. All the information mentioned in this talk regarding what Mr. Hanna learned during his translation of the Book of Mormon into Arabic is accurate and verifiable. Why I have a disclaimer is because I have not been able to find where THIS PARTICULAR talk originated. I am not nor have I ever intimated that Elder Nelson or anyone else made up Sami Hanna or his story. I just don’t know if Elder Nelson gave this specific talk as it is written, or if it is just a compilation of other talks given by Elder Nelson on this subject. It could just be a copy of a sacrament meeting talk he gave in 1976 that was never published. The origin of this talk itself is not what’s important. What is important is that everything mentioned in it is true.

Elder Nelson did, indeed, mention Dr. Hanna in several talks, however Elder Nelson’s office released an official statement denying that he wrote “Reflections of Sami Hanna.”  One might wonder then, is Elder Nelson lying about having written it, or did the author lie about being Elder Nelson?  Either way, the entire story is therefore discredited as a hoax.

Do I stop there?  Oh no.  Not on your life.  Because people still believe this!  To be fair, this has been rejected by most of the online Mormon apologetic community, but it is still circulating, so I feel I must treat it.  I’m going to look at the specific claims, and deconstruct them.

*This may not be of interest to all readers.  I have provided this information for anyone who has been duped by this fraud of a story, or for non-Mormons who have heard the tale and lack the inside info to tackle the technical aspects.  For those who are uninterested, rest assured that I will return soon with other, more tantalizing tidbits!

(cracks knuckles)

The story claims that Dr. Hanna was converted when he translated the Book of Mormon into Arabic.

Sami Hanna is an expert in Semitic languages, and legend has it that, upon being presented with a Book of Mormon, he began to translate it into Arabic.  He was stunned by the ease with which the book flowed back into a Semitic language, so much so that he became immediately convinced of its authenticity and converted to Mormonism.  This claim has been supported by Nelson elsewhere, and a certain Mark Hanna, who claims to be Sami’s son, affirms that this is true, but says that it was a momentary lapse of reason, and that now Dr. Hanna has reverted to some more ancient form of Christ worship.  So this checks out, but it is hardly helpful in supporting the major claim being made.

The story further claims that “this was to be a translation back to the original language of the book.”

As far as I can tell this would, indeed, have been the first Arabic translation, however to claim that this would convert it back into the “original language” is problematic, to say the least.  The book of Mormon is said by Mormons to have been started around 600 BCE.  But the earliest evidence of Arabic, the ABSOLUTE earliest thing that linguists can call Arabic, dates from 328 CE, over 900 years AFTER Nephi supposedly started writing in America after traveling from Jerusalem.  What’s more, the Book of Mormon directly states in Mormon 9:32-33 that the native tongue of the authors was Hebrew, but that they had to write in “Reformed Egyptian” characters, a writing system unknown to linguists, and not optimized for Hebrew.  The same verse goes on to state that due to their inability to write in Hebrew script, there were imperfections in the record, complicating any “easy translation.”

If Nephi’s people (Nephi being the supposed first author of the canonized Mormon text) were linguistically isolated from their original language community for nearly 1,000 years, and during that time another language popped up from the same source in a different location, it is HIGHLY unlikely that those two languages would have much in common, except for some word roots, the way English and Persian share some roots.  A language COMPLETELY replaces approximately 10% of its vocabulary every 1,000 years or so.  This may not sound impressive at first glance, so allow me to illustrate:

Britain is invaded by waves of Germanic and Roman groups for centuries, until around 500 CE a language, Old English (Anglo-Saxon), forms as a composite of Germanic and Latin, and the local Britton languages.  500 years later, the Normans invade England and English takes on a Norman twist, then is later influenced heavily by French as France became the great world power.  Thus English is related to German, and also to French, and to Spanish through Latin.  All of these languages share a common ancestor, Indo-European, as does Greek and Persian (Farsi).  Let’s look at the word for HEART in each of these languages:

ENGLISH: Heart
OLD ENGLISH: Heorte
GERMAN: Herz
LATIN: Cor
FRENCH: Cœur
SPANISH: Corazón
GREEK: Kardia
Proto-INDO-EUROPEAN: Kerd

Some of these may seem unrelated.  You might say that over the years – the thousand and a half years since English split from Latin, the several thousand years since each of these split from Indo-European, that the vocabulary for heart has changed.  But it hasn’t, as such.  These are merely morphologically different incarnations of the same original Indo-European root word.  Indo-European “Kerd” morphed into “khertan” in Proto-Germanic, into “kardia” in Greek, and “cor” in Latin.  Latin is responsible for both “cœur” in French and “corazón” in Spanish, as is plain to see.  “Kardia” is responsible for our term “cardio,” and “khertan” became “heorte” and by 1500 CE, the present-day English “HEART“.  So the vocab of this word is considered the same, and would not be part of that 10% new vocab I mentioned above, despite the very different look between the Greek, German, and French.  The kinds of changes that represent a shift in vocabulary are even stronger than that.  What is meant when it is said that 10% of the vocabulary changes is that COMPLETELY NOVEL words are invented out of whole cloth, or are replaced by loan words from unrelated languages.  For instance, if an Englishman moved to Utah, he might see mountainous rock formations that were completely alien to his English mountains, and would have to either invent a new word to describe them, or borrow an Indian word, thus changing the vocabulary of the language.

We would expect such changes to vocabulary from 600 BCE, when Nephi began writing his American adventure, to 328 CE, when Arabic was in its infancy.  Not to mention the regular morphological changes and vowel shifting, dialectical anomalies, and spelling changes that would have taken place during that time. Not to mention the fact that the Nephites would have invented TONS of new words when they came to a completely NEW WORLD with (apparently) no native hosts from whom they could borrow vocabulary.  The Arabs, too, would have had their own unique words, because they would have had completely different technology at the time the language came about, again requiring novel vocabulary.  The two languages, even at that point 1700 years ago, would have been mutually unintelligible, to say nothing of the difficulties Sami Hanna would have run into 30 years ago.  There is NO WAY that there would be an easy flow between the languages, ESPECIALLY if translating from a writing system that is not optimized for the given language!  The LAST thing you could expect here would be ease in translation between unrelated languages separated by two and a half thousand years of technological advance.

…the Prophet Joseph did not merely render an interpretation, but a word for word translation from the Egyptian type of hieroglyphic into the English language.

There is no 1-1 exchange for word meanings between ANY 2 languages, but this is ESPECIALLY true for languages from completely different linguistic families, like Indo-European (English) and Semitic or Afro-Asiatic (Arabic, Aramaic, Hebrew).

My copy of the Qur’an is in English AND Arabic. In my copy of the Qur’an the first five verses are dissected in full-page detail by multiple scholars.  The first verse of the Qur’an, and probably the most common phrase in Arabic caligraphy and art, and Muslim worship, is
“Bismillah, ar-rahman, ar-rahim…”
or roughly,

“In the name of Allah, the merciful, the benevolent…”

The first page shows the verse in Arabic, the second page shows the translation from EACH of 32 different scholars.  NOT ONE of the 32 professional translations is identical.  NOT ONE.  This is ONE verse, 3 words, yielding 32 distinct translations out of 32 attempted translations.  Granted the differeneces are subtle, but they would be compounded if you then attempted to translate those translations BACK into Arabic!

An HILARIOUS illustration of this is something I found in a DVD version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, (click title for example) in the special features.  There is a feature where they take the Japanese version of the film, and translate the Japanese dubbed dialog back into English.  The original feel of the dialog is lost completely, the phrasing mostly quite different, and several utterances are virtually unintelligible.  We see instances of words and concepts replaced altogether (“bonsai” for “shrubbery,” is one such example, but “sake cup” for “Holy Grail” is the more poignant example, as clearly the purpose of the quest is completely lost if all they are after is a cup for their warm rice-wine).  The sequences still make me LOL.  Funny as that example is, that is typical of the kind of results you can expect when trying to translate from language A to language B, and then back to A again, and this is something that will crop up independent of the other factors I mentioned above.  The whole notion of this “easy flow of translation” is utterly recockulous!

His conversion came purely from the linguistics of the book which he found could not have been composed by an American, no matter how gifted.

Probably one of the favorite apologies for the Book of Mormon goes a little something like this:

“there is no way that an uneducated farm-boy like Joseph Smith could have written a masterpiece like the Book of Mormon.”

We shall see, going forward, that this is far from the case, but here are some examples given:

1. Jarom 2: “It must needs be . . .” This expression, odd and awkward in English, is excellent Arabic grammar. Elsewhere in the book the use of the compound verbs “did eat,” “did go,” “did smile,” etc., again awkward and rarely used in English, are classical and correct grammar in the Semitic languages.

Must needs be appears in both the Old Testament (ex. “must needs be circumcised,” Gen 17:13) AND in the New Testament (ex. “scripture must needs have been fulfilled,” Acts 1:16) of the King James Bible, which is, incidentally, the version of the Bible that Joseph Smith himself purported to have read over and over long before translating the Book of Mormon.  Furthermore, I’d hardly call the phrase odd and awkward, given its liberal use by the likes of Shakespeare (Hamlet, All’s Well that Ends Well, Henry VI, and many other plays and poems), Johnathan Swift, and Charles Dickens. http://www.randomhouse.com/wotd/index.pperl?date=20010817

“Did eat”, “did go,” etc, is used throughout the KJV, like King James thought it was going out of style.

Not only did the old farm boy have ACCESS to the KJV, he admitted freely to having poured over it prior to any divine work as God’s translator.

2. Omni 18: “Zarahemla gave a genealogy of his fathers, according to his memory.” Brother Hanna indicates that this is a typical custom of his Semitic forebearers to recite their genealogy from memory.

Indeed.  For that matter it was also a common practice among many other cultures, particularly European and Britton which provide the principle ancestry of America in Joseph Smith’s lifetime.  Here is an excellent write-up on the topic of geneological recitations: http://nicolaa5.tripod.com/articles/Hector/hist/HGene.htm

3. Words of Mormon 17: Reference is made here as in other parts of the Book of Mormon, to the “stiffneckedness” of his people. Brother Hanna perceives that this word would be a very unusual word for an American youth as Joseph Smith to use. An American would likely prefer an adjective such as stubborn or inflexible. But the custom in the Arabic language is to use just such a descriptive adjective. Stiff-necked is an adjective they use in describing an obstinate person.

Again, this is found in multiple places in both the Old Testament (ex. Exod 32:9, 33:3, Deut 9:6) as well as the New Testament (Acts 7:51).  Sure, Smith COULD have gotten this phrase by reading it out of a hat using the same seer stones that he had once used to con money out of farmers when he used them to locate “buried treasure” left behind by ancient Indians on their farm land, but if he did he’d have been doing it the hard way; everything he needed was right there in the KJV, and would hardly be “unusual” considering the religious fervor of the time.

4. Mosiah 11:8: “King Noah built many elegant and spacious buildings and ornamented them with fine work and precious things, including ziff.” Have you ever wondered about the meaning of the word “ziff” referred to in this scripture? This word, although in the Book of Mormon, is not contained in dictionaries of the English language. Yet it translates freely back into the Arabic language, for ziff is a special kind of curved sword somewhat like a simitar which is carried in a sheath and often used for ornamentation as well as for more practical purposes. The discovery of the word “ziff” in the Book of Mormon really excited my neighbor, Brother Hanna.

Although I was unable to find any reference to an Arabic word “Ziff” on the entire internet (Google’s never heard of it, outside of references to the Sami Hanna story, nor has my Arabic-English, English-Arabic dictionary) I was able to find the ACTUAL reference (the above quotation is not correct) to “ZIFF” in the BoM that is CLEARLY not meant to denote a weapon:

Mosiah 11:8 – “And it came to pass that king Noah built many elegant and spacious buildings; and he ornamented them with fine work of wood, and of all manner of precious things, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of brass, and of ZIFF, and of copper.”  This is clearly some type of raw metal used as a decoration, and does not support the claim in regard to an archaic weapon that may or may not have ever existed.  Clearly, the verse was misquoted in order to support an already unlikely claim.  Unfortunately for the author of “Reflections,” he also failed to realize, or at least to acknowledge, that archeologists have discovered that although Native Americans may have had some crude metal-working abilities, they never developed the technology to construct metal weaponry, nor was weapons-grade steel introduced to the continent until Columbus arrived in the late 1400’s CE.  Later the Natives’ stone weapons, still in vogue in indigenous America in the 1500’s, were easily overcome by Spanish steel.

What’s more, it seems quite likely that I could make a sound with my mouth, any sound at all, and find dozens, perhaps hundreds, of languages for which that sound has a specific meaning among the nearly 7,000 human languages that currently exist, or the thousands more that have perished.  It would hardly require divine inspiration.

6. Helaman 1:3: Here reference is made to the contending for the judgment seat. Brother Hanna observes that the use of the term “judgment seat” would be quite strange to an American who might have used a more familiar noun such as governor, president, or ruler. Yet, in Arabic custom, the place of power rests in the judgment seat and whoever occupies that seat, is the authority and power. The authority goes with the seat and not with the office or the person. So, this, in the Semitic languages, connotes the meaning exactly.

Romans 14:10, KJV “…we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”  (yawn)

Points 5, 7 and 8 also describe characteristics of the KJV Bible, and we’ve beat that dead horse enough, so I’ll not include them, but feel free to refer to the document from the link I provided earlier and check it out for yourself.

“Well, I have just cited a few of these examples. There are many more! As Latter-day Saint leaders, we are aware of the Semitic origin of the Book of Mormon. The fact that an Arabic scholar such as this seems[sic] a beautiful internal consistency in the Prophet Joseph Smith’s translation of the book, is of great interest, for the Prophet Joseph did not merely render an interpretation, but a word for word translation from the Egyptian type of hieroglyphic into the English language. Brother Hanna said the Book of Mormon simply flowed back into the Arabic language.”

“As Latter-day Saint leaders,” the quote says.  Remember that Elder Nelson was, in fact, a leader in the LDS church, but that he denied authorship of this document.  One wonders what the true author must have been thinking as (s)he wrote this line, which can only be a boldface lie.  Did the author intend a pious fraud, where shady means justify the glorious ends, or was this merely a prank?  Are there people out there whose role it is to create and propagate salacious stories like this in order to reinforce faith falsely?  We don’t know.

But this bullshit has been laid to rest.

Utah loves its porn more than YOUR state does!

Posted in Atheism with tags , , , , on March 3, 2009 by theicidalmaniac

Well, anti-depressants and prescription drugs aren’t the ONLY thing we Utahns lead the country in anymore:  According to a study conducted by a professor at Harvard Business School 8 of the 10 states that lead the country in online porn subscriptions (anonymized data provided by credit card companies) are CONSERVATIVE REPUBLICAN STATES!!!  I’m so happy!

And guess who leads the pack?

Yup.

Utah.  #1 BABY!!!  So what if the Jazz let us down year after god-damned year, we are #1!!!

 

#1 in prescription and non-illicit drug abuse (National Census Bureau)

#1 in anti-depressant use (National Institute of Mental Health)

#1 in internet porn subscriptions (http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16680-porn-in-the-usa-conservatives-are-biggest-consumers.html?DCMP=OTC-rss&nsref=online-news

HOORAY, Utah.  Your mom is proud.

What I’m not sure about is, does this mean that Mormons are indulging in the forbidden, or are the rest of us just finding that Utah’s bullshit porn laws leave us only 2 options: Drive to Evanston, WY (also the nearest place to buy ACTUAL-strength beer and real fireworks!), or stay home, get a porn subscrip, and rock the night away.

It’s probably a mixture of both, I suppose, but since Mobots outnumber us regular folk, like, 9,000 to 1 I’m guessing that the Morg collective is responsible for the lion’s share of subscriptions.  Either way, it should be clear to the Morg that their tactics are failing and that their decrepit culture is rotting from the inside out, and that our resistence is perhaps not so futile.

Essentially what Utah is doing is pushing normal sexual interests into the closet where dysfunction will fester, pushing drinker’s into the basement where they become a subculture (oh yeah, I didn’t mention the proposed law that would allow cops to issue citations to persons who APPEAR drunk), and pretending that prescription drugs are OK to abuse because your bishop/doctor hooked you up. These laws are actually making things WORSE here, and we’ve got the stats to prove it.  That’s it, next election year I’m voting for people who make decisions based on FACTS instead of beliefs.  …give that a try for once.

 

On a side note, the New Kids on the Block just wrapped up a set on Jimmy Kimmel, and now they are being followed by self-proclaimed “whistle-blower” and ex-con, Kevin Trudeau.  WTF?!?!  We’re bringing THESE PEOPLE back?  This world is going to shit in a pioneer handcart.

Euthyphro for Parents

Posted in Atheism with tags , , on February 24, 2009 by theicidalmaniac

My kid said “Oh Shit,” today while playing with grandma.

I’m reminded of a line spoken by Ralphy in “A Christmas Story,” a line that will certainly be true for my daughter.  “Now, I had heard that word at least ten times a day from my old man. He worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium; a master.”  But it is somewhat embarrassing when your child blurts it out at gramma.  I think it probably happened because she helped me fix the sink the other day, which reminds me of yet another quote from the same movie: “I have since heard of people under extreme duress speaking in strange tongues. I became conscious that a steady torrent of obscenities and swearing of all kinds was pouring out of me as I screamed.

Well, that’s an exaggeration, but only a slight one.  I sat down with my daughter and apologized for what I said and told her that Daddy shouldn’t have said those words, and neither should she.  Her mother suggested, “Daddy needs to go on time out.

I don’t go on time outs, but this got me thinking.  SHOULD I tell her that it is bad for me to say swear words?  Should I let her believe that time-outs apply to her parents?  I am reminded of Plato’s Euthyphro dilemma:

“Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious? Or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?”

In other words is a commandment good, in terms of cosmic justice, because a deity commands it to be done, or does the deity command it to be done because it is good?  If a deity commands something because it is good, then its goodness is independent of that deity; in essence it is a law that transcends the deity, or is supreme to the deity.  On the other hand, if it is only good for the mere fact that a deity commands it, then ANYTHING COULD BE GOOD, if only the deity would say so.  In other words there is nothing inherently WRONG with any actions; an action only becomes good or evil when a god arbitrarily assigns that value to it.

If I tell my daughter that I should not swear, and, in order to uphold the order of justice that we are attempting to impose upon her, I must then go on a time out, then those things that should be done and those that should not be done do not come from me at all.  If I let her see this, does that not make me her peer in some way?  Does that not bring me to her level, and thus I lose my authority over her in her eyes?  And what right would I then have to impose a punishment upon her?

OR, if I show my daughter that I may do as I please, and that punishment such as “time-out” will not apply to me, won’t it then become clear to her that I am inventing right and wrong before her very eyes, and then doling out punishment based on her adherence to my inventions and whim?  How is that just?  Will she then come to believe that there is no right and wrong, only that with which one can get away and that with which one can not get away?  Not to sound like a fundy Christian, or to rip off Dostoyevski, but won’t that teach her that “anything is permissable?”

Well, she’s only 2½ years-old.  Maybe I don’t need to worry about it just yet.  Maybe she is not capable of seeing me as her peer, in which case I should submit myself to punishment to teach her ethical stability.  If, on the other hand, I teach her that the rules apply only to her, I could perhaps temper that with the golden rule, but unfortunately there is quite a lot of evidence suggesting that children are not able to empathize with others until they are 5 or 6 years old.  Without empathy, one cannot make a good moral judgment about how to treat others (say she had hit someone instead of just said a naughty word) based on a humanist viewpoint of “it is bad to hurt other people” or a maxim like “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

It seems as though I am in a situation where the only effective option is that in which I follow the same rules, and suffer the same consequences, that she does.  But then at what point, and HOW, do I switch that over into a secular humanist ethic, where the only real “good” is in causing happiness, and where the only “evil” is in causing harm to people.  How do I show her that, if she has come to believe in a tangible force of right and wrong, something that is above even me?

This must be why somebody pre-packaged a value system a long time ago and put it on the market as religion.  It would be nice to not think so much…

Euonym

Posted in Atheism on February 20, 2009 by theicidalmaniac

Euonym: an appropriate name for a person, place, or thing

Example: The realtor’s name was Sue House, a euonym.

Etymology: 1889; Gk. eu ‘good’ + onym ‘name’

 ~Dictionary.com

 

Just a quick update to my most recent post, “What Kind of Religion Won’t Let You Quit?”  Actually, it’s nothing new, just something I hadn’t noticed until recently.  The letter I received from the LdS church, informing me that they weren’t quite done with me, was signed by one Greg Dodge, of the LdS Records Department, letting me know that they could not process my request until I spoke with someone at the local level, so that this local person could then contact the LdS records department an tell them that I want to resign.  Is there a better example of bureaucratic runaround?

I found it strange to be toyed with in this way.  Is this one final insult, to dodge my request to be released by sending me the infamous “local ecclesiastical matter” letter signed by a Mr Dodge?  Does this man exist?  Or is it just a really, really funny joke?  Well, I have seen online that many people in my shoes have actually spoken to Dodge directly, and claimed that he was quite cordial…In fact it is apparently a tradition of people who have had to deal with Mr. Dodge to send him Christmas cards at the records department every year.  But isn’t it more likely (or at least more fun to imagine) that when you call you just get some random phone support person who goes by an alias?  Or perhaps they have a strict policy of employing only people with serendipitous surnames:

“Hi, this is Elder Blowoff.  How can I appear to be attempting to be helpful in a condescending and disrespectful way today? Uh-huh.  Oh you don’t say? Wha-?  No I’m listenin, honest.”

What Kind of Religion Won’t Let You Quit?

Posted in Atheism with tags , , , , on February 18, 2009 by theicidalmaniac

I know…you’re all expecting that I’ll answer the question in the title by saying, “a CULT, of course!”

Well, I’m not gonna do that.  I’ll let you, the reader (yes, that’s singular INTENTIONALLY*) decide what kind of religion won’t let a person quit.  Also, this marks the last time I’ll bother apologizing for the unreasonable length of my post.  It’s long get used to it.

That’s what she said.

I have been an atheist for, hell, nearly a decade.  As an apostate of the Mormon faith I’ve heard other ex-members mention having their “name removed from church records,” and for the longest time I thought that this was a silly, reactionary thing to do.  I mean, does anyone think they can stick it to Salt Lake City’s biggest pyramid scheme by sending them a resignation letter?  Do they really think it would be honored?

Well, I ended up resigning a few weeks ago.  I’ve moved maybe a half-dozen times since becoming a godless heathen, never bothering to let the church know my whereabouts.  They’d always manage to track me down, and missionaries would inevitably stop by and ask for me by name.  But missionaries, the poor saps, are a tasty breakfast treat, easily taken in a single bite.  HOME TEACHERS on the other hand (the Church’s way of letting you know that your peers are checking up on you and will be stopping by your home occasionally to ask you questions about your private affairs) are not so easy to eschew.  For one thing, you often know these people, and they are just low-level do-gooder henchmen, after all.  Sometimes they even bring treats.  It’s tough to be rude to these people, and as an atheist struggling to be seen as a legitimate human being by these Mobots, I just don’t want to give them the impression that the d-d-devil is living next door and can’t be trusted.  You think they watch you close when you’re a member, try letting them know you aren’t anymore and see what happens.  Besides, I like people to like me, and I might need to borrow a pinch of salt some time.

That’s why, when they stopped by t’other day, after I stopped puzzling over how the hell they knew where I lived and chalked it up to my mother’s meddlng, I decided to make it all stop.  But they won’t let me to quit, which is odd, ’cause I stopped paying tithing years and years ago.

This incident with the visitors was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.  I have problems and oppositions against that organization on pretty much every level and on nearly every policy, and that is in fact why I quit attending and calling myself a Mormon…why I stopped arguing with people as a Mormon apologist.  But 2008 was a bad year.  There was the issue with Prop 8, the recurrence of the issue of the church YET AGAIN baptising holocaust victims despite the Jewish community’s outrage, and my revelation (from a friend, not from Jeebus) that the “15 or so million members” of that church included people like me, yet that number was still being touted as some sort of ad populi argument for the truth of their flavor of sky-god worship.   I couldn’t let them count me as a supporter any longer.

So I sent them a letter.  The wife of a friend had done this some years ago and had gotten a letter from the church in question saying, basically,

We are so grateful for your interest in the informercial-cult that is Mormanity, here’s a free holy undershirt, and expect 2 hired goons to visit you soon.  Remember the d-d-devil is using you, and the d-d-devil is bad.”

So I did my research, and discovered through www.MormonNoMore.com that technically speaking, if you say the magic words in the right order and put it in a letter, that you are effectively NO LONGER a member the moment someone from the customer retention department of Mormon Corp, Llc reads the notice.  So I went to the USPS, dropped $5 US on priority, got delivery confirmation so they wouldn’t pull the kind of tricks that MormonNoMore says they like to do:

You sent a letter, huh?  Well, uh, we never saw one.  Just a sec…Hey, Jedidiah, you see a letter?

Naw, didn’t see no letter…

Sorry, the United States gov’ment’s postal service musta lost yer letter.  Next year vote on the Utah House Bill to relinquish letter delivery and editing over to the LdS Church…or don’t, we’ll get the vote anyways.  Thanks a bunch for calling, we’re so grateful ya did!

In my letter I made a few things clear:

  1. I quit, effective immediately
  2. I know that when you read this I am officially NO LONGER a member
  3. I know you think that’s a big deal
  4. I don’t
  5. The only thing I want to hear from you in return, E-V-E-R, is a letter saying that you closed out my account
  6. I know that you dick people around…I know my rights, so don’t do it to me
  7. Since I am no longer a member no other member has any authority over me…DO NOT SEND PEOPLE MY WAY
  8. Your church is ruining my state, and now it’s trying to ruin California, give up the ghost

Guess who didn’t listen?  I mean, maybe I’m wrong, but that seems pretty straight forward.  Of course, I worded it much better than that.  Made it all official-like, and shit.  Still, just this weekend I got a letter saying, basically:

We are so grateful for your letter.  But we know what’s best for you.  You are clearly confused.  Obviously you are not competent, so we’ll have a couple goons swing by and talk you down.”

Here’s a sample of some the sparkling gems of respectful consideration with which they bejeweled their correspondence to me:

Such a request [is] considered an ecclesiastical matter that must be handled by local priesthood leaders before being processed by Church Employees. …This, despite the fact that it is patently untrue, and in spite of the fact that I let them know IN MY LETTER that I knew that they would play this card and not to bother, and just to piss me off even though I specifically stated that no clergy members have any authority to act with me in ecclesiastical or disciplinary actions, they’re gonna send some ANYWAY!  Assholes.

In view of the eternal consequences…[we] urge you to reconsider your request and to prayerfully consider the enclosed statement from the First Presidency (the Mormon leaders)” …Eternal consequences!?  Reconsider!? Prayerful consideration!?  I told them I was an atheist! ROFL. So what did the “enclosed statement” have to tell me?

We invite you to return and partake of the happiness you once knew.” Right.  Because I left the church due to the unbearable agony of pure truth and endless, blissful happiness.  My face hurt from smiling so damn much.  Apparently they think that ex-Mormons are the only people in the world who  are not influenced by the economic principle of rational self-interest.  Somehow it is our own misery that makes us as atheists happy?  Pair Of Docs, anyone?  Ya know, I find this one offensive.  REAL fucking offensive.   Becoming an atheist can be an arduous mental task, one which alienates you from friends, family, and good social standing.  It is a trial by fire, for sure, and often a painful journey of awakening.  Most zealots-turned-atheists are so in-your-face about their atheism because they are so damn proud of their accomplishment, and yet at every turn, strangers are compounding this pride by saying “the fool hath said in his heart there is no God.  It’s in the Bible, so it’s true!  You’re a fool!  (as if that would persuade an atheist – and apparently ignoring the New Testament verse where Jesus prohibits calling men fools),” family members cry over your new beliefs, and old friends recieve your harrowing tale of overcoming impossible intellectual odds and abolishing mental slavery with, “Oh you fell away from the true church.  How sad.”  God damnit, that’s just asinine.  No wonder fresh meat atheists are so pissed all the time.

I’ll tell you what’s sad…being so junked-out on Christamphetamines that you can’t imagine any happiness that doesn’t include your sunday fix.  Nothing in life is good unless you can cling to your belief that I’m going to hell and you aren’t.  That’s sad.  REAL fucking sad.

So now I play the waiting game.  And, to pass the time, perhaps I’ll play the tuck-away game for a minute or two.  Whatev, I’m keeping my schedule loose.  The Mormon Mafia should swing by someitme in the next few days (I’ve been assured that all my relatives will get a “still small voice” or perhaps just a written letter telling them about my resignation, and asking for their help in saving me.  So it’s a debate they want, eh?

They can’t think like us.  They just aren’t able.  That’s why they can’t win.  That’s why they’re making the mistake of coming to visit me, and why I’m getting my damn confirmation letter a lot sooner than they thought.

Keep your prayers with me…LOL

TheicidalManiac

 

* Statement based on an evaluation of current and past readership