Beautiful Info-Graphics From 1870
Posted on June 4th, 2010 at 7:37 pm by Steve

You wouldn’t expect to find such beauty in the Statistical Atlas of the United States, Based on the Ninth Census (1870) from the Library of Congress, would you? Sophisticated data visualizations, hand-calculated and hand-engraved, in beautiful colors, prepared by a staff headed by Francis A. Walker, M. A., superintedent of the ninth census.

The display above shows you, for each U. S. state and territory, the proportion of the church-going population (the colored boxes) relative to the total population (the shaded box in which the colored boxes are set), as well as the breakdown by the top 11 denominations!

I highly recommend that you check out all the charts and maps!

‘It’s Incredibility I’m After’
Posted on January 8th, 2010 at 11:09 am by Steve

Wikipedia Says the Darndest Things
Posted on December 29th, 2009 at 5:29 pm by Steve

So… speaking with occasional NII blogger Dan, I mentioned in an off-hand fashion that breakfast cereals were developed to help curb masturbation. True story!

Wanting some backup for my outlandish-sounding claims, I did a quick Google search for ‘cereal masturbation’, which quickly led me to the Wikipedia entry for John Harvey Kellogg, M.D..

Kellogg didn’t invent dry breakfast cereal, per se, although he developed and championed the eating of cereal as beneficial in reducing sexual urges, particularly the “solitary vice” known as masturbation. In fact, he considered masturbation to be “a crime doubly abominable. As a sin against nature, it has no parallel except in sodomy (see Gen. 19:5, Judges 19:22). It is the most dangerous of all sexual abuses, because the most extensively practiced…”

Here’s where Wikipedia really gets creepy. It quotes Dr. Kellogg on the ‘treatments’ for masturbation:

A remedy which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision, especially when there is any degree of phimosis. The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anæsthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment, as it may well be in some cases. The soreness which continues for several weeks interrupts the practice, and if it had not previously become too firmly fixed, it may be forgotten and not resumed.

Ah yes. The “brief pain…will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment!”

Nothing like good-old honest, straightforward advocacy of genital mutilation for the purpose of reducing sexual behavior! Not to mention the infliction of serious pain on an infant boy as a means of enforcing obedience! What could possibly be wrong with that?

Today, of course, we know better! After all, the US Agency for International Development even organizes an annual conference dedicated to banning genital mutilation as “a violation of human rights!” However, USAID and NGOs working on the issue point out that “It persists as a local custom in at least 26 developing countries, and many people believe, mistakenly, that it not only is a religious requirement, but that it makes a girl clean and sexually modest.”

Oh, right. Female genital mutilation is a violation of human rights.

Male genital mutilation is… sane and rational and healthy and medically appropriate and besides it’s a tradition!

These noxious ideas spouted by Dr. Kellogg had wide acceptance in the United States 125 years ago. The same ideas – with different justifications – persist today. Something like 75% of men and boys in the United States are circumcised. Or, in more vivid terms, three quarters of the men and boys in the United States are victims of genital mutilation.

As gross as all this is – and, at some level, as utterly stupid as it all is – I think it’s important for people to think about it, and try to understand how these batshit crazy ideas stick around. As Mark Twain wrote, “Often, the less there is to justify a traditional custom, the harder it is to get rid of it.”

You can read a whole lot of reasons why male circumcision is properly considered genital mutilation at the Doctors Opposing Circumcision website.

And you can read Dr. Kellogg’s bizarre views on health and sexuality in his 1881 tome, Plain Facts for the Old and Young (published in 1881). The passage quoted above is from the section entitled “Curative Treatment of the Effects of Self-Abuse.”

Something to think about while you much on your Corn Flakes…

“Just Say Noel!”
Posted on December 14th, 2009 at 5:26 pm by Steve

It’s that time of year once again. Posting Nina Paley’s excellent sticker (h/t to lulutsg!) sent me scurrying to the far corners of the web, and I found this little Christmas tidbit courtesy of the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities:

in 1659, a law was passed by the General Court of Massachusetts Bay Colony requiring a five-shilling fine from anyone caught “observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way.” Christmas Day was deemed by the Puritans to be a time of seasonal excess with no Biblical authority. The law was repealed in 1681 along with several other laws, under pressure from the government in London. It was not until 1856 that Christmas Day became a state holiday in Massachusetts. For two centuries preceding that date, the observance of Christmas — or lack thereof — represented a cultural tug of war between Puritan ideals and British tradition.

The law makes for strange bedfellows. In this case… I expect I’ll be waking up next to the younger Reverend Mather. And, perhaps, I’ll finally learn why they called him “Increase!”

Sane People Predicted…
Posted on September 15th, 2009 at 8:49 pm by Steve

You know things are bad when, eight years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the alleged mastermind – Osama bin Laden – remains at large, continuing to school Americans in the realities of our foreign policy apparatus:

Here is an important point that we should pay attention to with regard to war and stopping it. When Bush assumed power and appointed a defense secretary who had made the biggest contribution to killing more than two million persecuted villagers in Vietnam, sane people predicted that Bush was preparing for new massacres in his era. This was what took place in Iraq and Afghanistan. When Obama assumed power and kept the men of Cheney and Bush — namely, the senior officials in the Defense Department, like Gates, Mullen, and Petraeus — sane people knew that Obama is a weak person who will not be able to stop the war as he had promised and that he would procrastinate as much as possible. If he were to decide, then he would hand over command to the generals who oppose this aimless war, like the former commander of troops in Iraq, General Sanchez, and the commander of the Central Command who was forced by Bush to resign shortly before leaving the White House due to his opposition to the war. He appointed instead of him a person who would escalate the war. Under the cover of his readiness to cooperate with the Republicans, Obama made the biggest trick as he kept the most important and most dangerous secretary from Cheney’s men to continue the war. The days will show you that you have changed only faces in the White House. The bitter truth is that the neoconservatives are still a heavy burden on you.

Good times.

“Excuse me stewardess; I speak JiveHebrew”
Posted on August 24th, 2009 at 10:38 pm by Steve

I’m looking for smart-alecky remarks on this video, which is apparently a group of rabbis on a charter flight above Israel, blowing and chanting in an attempt to ward off the Swine Flu, which they refer to as the H1N1 flu because pigs are unclean. Maybe something like, “In the unlikely event of a pandemic, shofars will drop from the panel above your head. Place the shofar in your mouth and continue to pray normally.”

I’m sure you can do better.

(BTW – I love the guy in 3C who’s sitting there reading quietly.)

Door-to-Door Atheists Bother Mormons
Posted on July 17th, 2009 at 2:13 am by Agent B

Australian filmmaker John Safran is so fed up with mormons ringing his doorbell early in the morning that he flies to Salt Lake City Utah and tries to convert Mormons to atheism. Needless to say, the locals were not pleased.

Theories of “Just War” Are Bullshit
Posted on May 21st, 2009 at 1:49 pm by Steve

Every time the American War Machine™ revs up, we are deluged by arguments appearing in the press about whether or not the pending military action qualifies as a “Just War.” Invariably, the answer is, Yes!

The next time someone tries to convince you that a war is “just” by some philosophical, religious, or moral principle, you can trot out this quote, from a discussion of traffic in human slaves:

Papal blessing was given to this traffic in a bull* of 1442, which proclaimed that enslaving Africans fell within the limits of a ‘just war’.

That’s from Slavery and the British Empire, a scholarly work by Kenneth Morgan, published by Oxford University Press.

*Has there ever been a more apt phrase for a religious edict than “Papal Bull”?

Obama Endorses “States’ Rights”
Posted on May 7th, 2009 at 11:05 am by Steve

Governor George Wallace (above, left), on the subject of racial segregation:

Integration is a matter to be decided by each state. The states must determine if they feel it is of benefit to both races.

President Obama (above, right), via spokesman Robert Gibbs, on the subject of marriage equality:

The President believes this is an issue that’s best addressed by the states.

Not that I’m surprised, mind you.

Good News!
Posted on March 17th, 2009 at 8:40 pm by Steve

The man whom many of us may remember as “Hakim Bey” is still online, still writing, under his “real” name, Peter Lamborn Wilson:

Coins might “really” be worth only their weight in metal but the temple says they’re worth more and the king is ready to enforce the decree. The object and its value are separated; the value floats free, the object circulates. Money works the way it works because of an absence not a presence. In fact money largely consists of absent wealth-debt — your debt to king and temple. Moreover, free of its anchor in the messy materiality of commodity currencies, money can now compound unto eternity, far beyond mere cows and jars of beer, beyond all worldly things, even unto heaven. “Money begets money,” Ben Franklin gloated. But money is dead. Coins are inanimate objects. Then money must be the sexuality of the dead.

His regularly-updated posts can be found on Reality Sandwich.

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