Monday, July 25, 2016

#1696: Michael Hammond

Gun Owners of America, Larry Pratt’s group, is probably one of the most delusional and deranged organizations in the US at present. GOA is a rightwing group whose guiding idea seems to be that the NRA are liberal weaklings, and they have made a mark by promoting conspiracy theories that would make even Alex Jones blush (ok, that’s hyperbole; Jones and GOA see level on quite a number of things). Mike Hammond is one of their spokespersons and has, as such, been given the opportunity to explain for instance how GOA opposes a comprehensive immigration reform since a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants would lead to an increase in “anti-gun voters.” Just think about it for a second.

In an interview with Jim Schneider on Crosstalk radio Hammond shared his theory that universal background check legislation might well lead to government-led “extermination” and “genocide”, not unlike what happened in Nazi Germany (the Nazis’ confiscation and ban of firearms was the main reason they were able to carry out their genocide, according to Hammond, an idea that is as silly as it sounds but has become remarkably popular). He also, helpfully, explained how (well, asserted that) gun control advocates “bear some responsibility” for the Sandy Hook shooting and that liberals have become “paranoic” and “racist against people who hold traditional American values.”

At least Hammond is a stellar example of the workings of the conspiracy theorist mind: In 2013 GOA was pushing the (silly) conspiracy theory that the Obama administration was using the Environmental Protection Agency to institute backdoor gun control, as exemplified by a Missouri lead smelter that in reality shut down rather than complying with clean air regulations (a demand issued during the Bush administration) but which the GOA claimed was in reality forced shut by the guv’mint to suppress the supply of lead used for manufacturing bullets. The conspiracy was so silly that even the NRA (and major bullet manufacturers) were compelled to issue statements to the effect that there really was no cause for concern. Like any good conspiracy theorist, Hammond took those statements to not only fail to undermine the conspiracy theory but to confirm it.

Diagnosis: This is really idiocy, but the GOA has had surprising (or not) success in promoting it. Which tells you something that ought to scare you just a bit (but which in these presidential election candidate times was probably abundantly clear to you already).

Thursday, July 21, 2016

#1695: Mac Hammond

Mac Hammond is a prosperity gospel preacher who preaches that God wants you to be rich, and that your duty to give extends only to giving to the church (in fact, giving to the poor might be a sin); and if you are poor, it’s because you just don’t believe hard enough: “What happens when you’ve tithed and contributed to the capital campaign and you haven’t been prospered with anything other than a stack of unpaid bills? The doctrine holds that you haven’t believed sincerely enough. And if you already possess all the tools for prosperity, then you can believe the failure’s all yours, too.” That is, if you give to the church and get rich, that is proof that God wanted things that way and Hammond’s theological lunacy is correct. If you give to the church and remain poor, that is proof that you can only blame yourself.  He is also an ardent supporter of Michele Bachmann – so much so that his church has had some run-ins with the IRS. He’s also so obviously a huckster and a con man that it may be hard to justify including him in an Encyclopedia of loons, but we really couldn’t not include him either (honorable mention to his glossolaliating wife Lynn as well).

Diagnosis: Ok, so perhaps not really a loon, but like any clever pyramid-scheme initiator he is at least a serious threat to human progress and prosperity. The devil would have been pleased with the efforts and works of Mac Hammond.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

#1694: Lamont Hamilton, Sidney Friedman, Judy Hevenly & Vicki Monroe

Oh, the psychics. Every year, many of them issue great predictions for the year to come, and – apart from the usual vague and ambiguous ones – each year they seem to do somewhat poorer than chance, presumably because the career options selects for poor reasoning and thinking skills. There’s a fine rundown on various psychic predictions for 2013 here. Entirely unsurprisingly, the psychics in question appear to be completely unfazed by the dismal performance of their predictions – to the extent that one sometimes get the feeling that they know that they are frauds and really don’t care as long as their bullshit continues to bring in support and sympathy from the gullible or desperate.

Lamont Hamilton, for instance, promotes himself as a “recognized and respected intuitive spiritual counselor, writer, speaker and educator” and “internationally known as a top Clairvoyant for his predictions.” For 2013 those included things like “[a] global U.N. tax will be enacted this year to help fund disaster relief and poverty,” which may at least tell you a bit about his target audience; and “[a] mind-to-mind telepathic telecommunication device will be developed for the mentally ill to help people communicate better,” which tells you a bit about his general (lack of) grasp of reality; “[a] truce is seen in the Middle East before late summer after one or more spiritual leaders emerge in the region to bring stability to several countries now in conflict,” which demonstrates beyond any doubt that Hamilton is a complete idiot; and “Supreme Court Justice Ruth Gingrich [sic] steps down from the Supreme Court after an illness,” which sort of affirms everything. He tried again with “[a] discovery that diseases can be transmitted or transferred by pure thought from one location to another will be foundfor 2014, just to emphasize that psychic abilities is not the only hilariously silly bullshit he subscribes to.

Sidney Friedman, on the other hand, “claims a documented predictions accuracy of 71%, and a near 100% success rate with his Oscar predictions, missing only twice.” You can read the details yourself, but at least his failed prediction that “[a] new, odd, unexpected source of fuel for cars, trucks and/or machinery is announceddoes undeniably suggest that he’s a sucker. Meanwhile, Judy Hevenly claims that her “clientele includes royalty, former presidents, Hollywood movie stars, and heads of state,” and one can only suspect that her description of her clientele is as accurate as her predictions (she, too, tried the “[a]n unexpected vacancy on the Supreme Court moves a conservative court to a liberal one” one; a reasonable guess, but ultimately pretty good evidence that her psychic abilities are shoddy). For 2014 she predicted that “Pope Francis to appoint the first woman cardinal to the Vatican,” which suggests that she doesn’t really know how these things work, and that “Scotland breaks away from United Kingdom and becomes independent.”

Vicki Monroe, a “psychic medium and spiritual messenger” who has “touched the lives of countless people across the globe,” tried “Congress will deal with gun control: Automatic weapons and high-powered rifles, semi-automatics that belong in war zones will be removed, and only used in situations where they are absolutely necessary,” and look: When you try this kind of guess you sort of demonstrate that it is not only your psychic abilities that are wanting. Monroe did, however, land a job on the absolutely despicable TV show Cell Block Psychic, where she would talk with convicted murderers to put them in touch with the “spirits” of their victims, to the pretty reasonable protests from grieving families.

Diagnosis: Not only are they con artists; they are apparently also pretty hopelessly ignorant about how the world works – it wouldn’t be hard to come up with better predictions than theirs – and that tells you plenty of non-flattering things about those who listen to them.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

#1693: Annie Hamilton

Annie Hamilton is, or at least used to be, the official blogger of the Tea Party Patriots. Imagine that. At least Hamilton is extremely patriotic. She is, in fact, so patriotic that she completely rejects the Constitution in her zeal to protect everything America stands for. She argues for instance (with lots of CAPS LOCK TO MAKE SURE THAT YOU CAN HEAR HER) that Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to gather or for instance go to amusement parks. Of course, she doesn’t really think that the First Amendment even applies to Muslims, since, according to her Islam is not a religion: “First, Islam is NOT a religion, it is an ideology – the religious portion only encompasses 11 % (the qur’an) the rest is the Sira and Hadith and the closest parallel to Islam is the Ku Klux Klan.” The she proceeds to manage to claim that Muslims “cannot ever respect our constitution because it’s in direct violation with Sharia.” Well, funny how these things work, Annie.

Diagnosis: So, ok: we don’t know much else about her beyond that screed, which made its rounds on the Internet a few years back. Still: It’s quite enough insanity for decades.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

#1692: Dominic Halsmer

Dominic M. Halsmer has a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from UCLA and is currently Professor of Engineering and Dean of the College of Science and Engineering at Oral Roberts University, which is, of course, a cargo cult institution and not a real university by any stretch of the imagination. As befits someone in a position like this, Halsmer is – like so many other signatories to the Discovery Institute’s petition A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism – not a scientist but a cargo cult scientist, who is “studying how the universe is engineered to reveal the glory of God and accomplish His purposes.” In particular, Halsmer is a creationist, and much of his, uh, output consists of attempts to apply engineering concepts in support of intelligent design; the results are primarily published on the Internet. Casey Luskin was apparently very impressed with a paper by Halsmer arguing for an “engineered world” published in the International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics (of which we know little – it may be a real journal but certainly doesn’t sound like it; the volume including Halsmer’s paper also included an anti-evolution rant by young earth creationist (and engineer) A. C. McIntosh), which you can read about here and seems to mostly be a regurgitation of Paley’s old watchmaker argument that points out the “biofriendliness” of the universe (oh, yeah) and referring to Hoyle, apparently in blithe and total unawareness of the critical literature on these issues.

Diagnosis: Another religious fundie and non-scientist who really, really wants his religious ramblings have anything to do with science – with the results you’d expect. Halsmer seems like a rather obscure figure, but Oral Roberts University is one of the more significant pretend universities in the US, and deserves exposure.