Sunday, March 31, 2013

#491: Flip Benham

A.k.a. “the carnival barker on the religious midway”

Philip “Flip” Benham is a fundamentalist minister and the national leader of Operation Save America. That’s Randall Terry’s organization (which has recently decided to start harassing mosques “all over the nation”) – or at least it was Terry’s organization; the conflicts and structures here are a little complex. Benham is, accordingly, an ardent pro-lifer who has, according to himself, been arrested “less than a hundred, more than fifty” times (e.g. here). In July 2011 he was found guilty of stalking a doctor in Charlotte (taking pictures of the doctor's house and telling his neighbors that he was a murderer). He is, however, especially famous for converting Norma McCorvey (“Jane Roe”) to the pro-life movement and religious fundamentalism.

Now, not all of Benham’s actions are completely callous, and he did provide a lot of help in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. On the, uh, flip side, he is, quite simply, mightily insane. You can find his announcement concerning his participation in the “Christian Revolution” at the steps of the Supreme Court in 2009 here. According to Benham, following typical fundamentalist martyr-complex pattern of paranoia, “S.909 will make illegal every word in the Bible describing homosexual sodomy. It will legitimize sin and prepare the way for censorship of the Gospel of Christ,” which is incorrect.

Benham is a member of the Constitution Party, and his views on the Constitution seem to toe the party line: “The Declaration of Independence was […] a call to obey God rather than men. When our Founding Fathers declared their independence from England's King George III, they were really declaring their dependence upon Almighty God – the God of the Bible. They pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to proclaim – God is true,” quite despite the fact that they really did the opposite. But as Mark Rushdooney, son of R.J., so eloquently put it “[w]e must base our laws on faith, not reason.” Benham was accordingly one of the staunchest supporters of Roy Moore’s ridiculous antics.

According to Benham, First Amendment rights apply to Christians only, so when Muslim groups arrange press conferences discussing Operation Save America’s organized harassment of Muslims by screaming “Jesus hates you” outside mosques, Benham claims that those Muslims are violating his First Amendment Rights. Beautiful.

Benham is well-known as an attention seeker (when one’s protests start to fizzle, crank up the volume) and ardently continued his boycott of Wal-Mart (due to their involvement with gay rights groups) even after the AFA quit, because Wal-Mart is “being blackmailed by the Devil himself,” according to Benham.

His press release upon the antics of Operation Save America members Ante & Kathy Pavkovic and Kristen Sugar in relation to the Hindu Prayer in Congress was not particularly sane either.

There’s a good Flip Benham resource here.

Diagnosis: The flamboyant flair of Fred Phelps, the reasoning ability of Pat Robertson, the belligerent, petty bigotry of Matt Barber and the dominionism of Gary DeMar, all rolled up into one dazzling bundle of shrieking insanity. That doesn’t prevent Benham of having a bevy of acolytes and constituting a real threat to the side of good in virtually any battle over anything.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

#490: John Benefiel

When you look into the people participating in Rick Perry’s prayer rally in Houston in 2011, The Response (you can see spokesman Eric Bearse reveal the purpose of the rally here), you’ll find some interesting sludge from the pits, and John Benefiel may perhaps be the most insane one (others are covered here). Benefiel is head of the Heartland Apostolic Prayer Network and thinks the Statue of Liberty is demonic: “You know where we got it from? French Free Masons. Listen folks that is an idol, a demonic idol, right there in New York harbor.” Ok, that might need some explanation, and Benefiel’s got it: “We don't get liberty from a false goddess folks, we get our liberty from Jesus Christ and that Statue of Liberty in no way glorifies Jesus Christ.”

Can you guess what position Benefiel takes on the ethics of homosexuality? Or the health care bill? According to Benefiel homosexuality is part of an Illuminati plot to reduce the world's population to 500 million. “Homosexuality was and is one of [Baal’s] big strongholds […] the entity that we call the Illuminati which is really over, above Free Masonry, has stated it as their goal [no source] to limit the world population to no more than 500 million […] What do you think the health care bill is? Oh yes, it's a death culture.”

Benefiel has also broached the difficult questions concerning the name “District of Columbia”. According to Benefiel the District of Columbia is named after the “queen of heaven” instead of Columbus (the queen of heaven being probably the one that’s idolized by the Statue of Liberty; it’s all an Illuminati conspiracy, remember). Hence he has renamed the District of Columbia “the District of Christ” and some day, he thinks, it will be renamed that for reals (he has divorced it from Baal as well). Obviously, he thinks the country’s political problems are to blame on the District of Columbia’s supposedly pagan foundations – kinda similar to recognizing a national policy problem and blaming it on a group of coniferous trees outside of Tulsa. Or the Jews, which is more common.

Even though he already claims to have reclaimed the District of Columbia for Christ, he was apparently leading another effort in October-November 2011 (with Cindy Jacobs, to be covered). You can find a link to their prayer guide “Declaration of Dependence: How to Heal Our Nation Through Prayer” here. It is not … particularly moderate.

It ought to be somewhat troubling that this guy has political connections to Rick Perry. He also claims to have most of Oklahoma’s conservative representatives as followers, but it is tricky to get this verified.

Diagnosis: There seems to be some sort of competition going on in certain wingnut circles to make Pat Robertson look sane (kind of a “save Robertson by moving the Overton window”), and Benefiel’s effort is a good one. Absolutely stunningly insane.

#489: Eliana Benador

Eliana Benador appears to be a “publicist to neoconservative stars,” meaning that she gives advice on what they should do to look good on TV. Her company, Benador Associates, got some attention for functioning as a kind of public relations office for the war in Iraq; no, I’m not sure I completely grasp the idea either.

But lunacy shines through in particular in her role as a conservative blogger for the Moonie Rag Washington Times. Among her more notable contributions was her weighing in on the Weiner scandal, suggesting thatAnthony Weiner, who is Jewish, had converted to Islam and that his recent scandal may undermine the Muslim socialist plot to take over America. The article was of course promptly pulled from the Washington Times website, but is discussed here and here.

Benador also contributes to Teapartynation, mostly with unhinged anti-Islam paranoia to the effect that there is a Muslim-socialist conspiracy to take over the US, but also weighing in on Murdoch’s attempt to purchase Sky News, calling the criticism of Murdoch “reminiscent of Medieval witch-hunts” (as a frightening number of people she is completely unable to distinguish criticism from persecution, which means that she ends up having a very bizarre view of the First Amendment). The fact that she starts screeds with “most of the information below can be verified” does not bode particularly well either. (It couldn’t)

Diagnosis: Pretty mad, but the kind of insanity that is rather indistinguishable from mere stupid and ignorance. Her influence is probably rather negligible.

Friday, March 29, 2013

#488: Daryl Bem

Daryl J. Bem is a social psychologist and professor emeritus at Cornell University, the originator of the self-perception theory of attitude change, and proud recipient of the 2012 Pigasus Award (Category: Scientist). To the wider public he is most famous for carrying out research (i.e. credulously endorsing and propping up by confirmation bias and badly constructed experiments) on a range of psi-related phenomena and other branches of pseudoscience, including handwriting analysis.

More recently, Bem has investigated backward causation, and one cannot help to suspect that the “research” is part of a desperate attempt to save some post-hoc fallacies. Backward causation could of course in theory almost explain fortune tellers – admittedly with less predictive success than the “they don’t really predict the future”-hypothesis, but the backward causation thing is of course more exotic.

Bem really rose to fame in 2011, when he published the article “Feeling the Future: Experimental Evidence for Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect” in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The article offered purported statistical evidence for psi phenomena. Of course, the paper itself and its methods were crap, and its statistical analysis would have been deeply flawed –when corrected the extremely small but statistically significant effect disappeared – even if the test itself had been sound. The effects have furthermore not been replicated (more on that and the paper itself here; brief summary here). Indeed, Bem even admitted to committing the Texas sharpshooter fallacy at occasions in the experiment. He did not admit that he purposely waited until he thought there was a critical mass that wasn't a statistical fluke, which is, to put it mildly, not something you’re allowed to do in real science.

Indeed, the publication also prompted a wider debate on the validity of peer review process for allowing such a paper to be published, though that wasn’t quite the debate Bem was looking for.

Though it received wider dissemination, the publication was not Bem’s first attempt at carefully shoehorning data to fit a cherished hypothesis. With Charles Honorton, Bem has earlier claimed to have found “substantial evidence that the meditative state, the dream state, the hypnotic state, the sensory deprivation state, and certain drug-induced states are conducive to psi.” The “experiments” are discussed here, and were in fact also published (back in 1994) despite the horrible quality of the paper. Bem is also known to defend the, shall we say, “discredited” ganzfeld experiment.

And now for something entirely predictable. Bem, utterly unsurprisingly, thinks there is a connection between psi and quantum phenomena. Bem thinks there is such a connection because he understands quantum phenomena more or less as well as Dean Radin.

Diagnosis: Living proof of how far confirmation bias and post hoc reasoning can take you.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

#487: Mark Russell Bell

It is common to make small revisions when you issue a new edition of an old book. A book such as the Bible has undergone numerous such revisions to tidy up the language (or remove unsuitable passages). Some such revisions are more substantial than others, but the general idea is to make such an important, relevant book keep up with the times. Mark Russell Bell is thus in good company when he updates the Bible with small bits and detail he thought were missing in the original, sort of to fill in the gaps (ok, so it is more like an addendum). Among the things Bell thought the Bible needed is information about “poltergeists, aliens, bigfoot, synchronicity, angels, prophecies, reincarnation, psychic abilities, the Oneness of all spirit, Pop culture, Christ consciousness and events pertaining to what is sometimes referred to as the second coming.”

The results are predicably captivatingly stunning. You can find the revised (old) Testament here, and the revised New Testament here. Bell does emphasize that “this is a non-fiction book”, but I am not sure he really understands what the distinction amounts to. For a nice touch “Click here to see the detail of the reptilian-humanoid face on the cover artifact.” Here is Bell’s “interesting articles, links, and other media”: 

Diagnosis: Delightfully unhinged in a manner which is life-enriching rather than dangerous. Completely harmless.

I’d also like to recommend to readers the excellent resource where I first came across Bell.