Selling Hope

I saw a commercial on TV today.  Some guy (I didn’t get his name, and it’s not really important) was selling a book that he claimed contained his secret to overcoming any addition.   You see things like this all the time.  Someone has a cure-all for whatever might ail you.

I’m not going to talk about the details of this guy’s supposed cure.  I’m not going to analyze the efficacy of him claims.  I want to look at the idea of selling hope;  why it is a sign of selfishness and perhaps even sociopathic. 

There are plenty of reasons why dubious claims are harmful, just browse the what’s the harm website for a plethora of details.   There are many examples there of people who have died because the chose to follow programs that promised a cure for a medical condition.  These stories are sad and unnecessarily so.

What what I can’t help but wonder about guys like the one I’ve mentioned here is, if they truly have cure or treatment that is revolutionary and that does what they say it does, then why do they always insist on charging for it?  Sure, I know people have to make a living, but I can tell you that if I came up with a treatment that could cure and help a lot of people, I’d want to help as many as I could.  

To have a treatment, a real cure, for a disease like MS or cancer, or a treatment that will get people off their addiction and keep them off, would be an amazing thing.  The ethical, the moral, thing to do would be to share this with the medical community, to allow others to test it and perfect it, so that it can benefit everyone.

Sure, get compensated.  After all, you worked for it.  You discovered it.  Drug companies would pay millions for something like this.  But to horde it, to sell it only to those who could afford your asking price, it the ultimate in selfishness and immorality.


Religion Gets A Pass. Again

Once again, religion in the U.S. gets a free pass.  As you probably know, the Obama administration recently required all employers to offer free contraceptives as part of their employee health plans.  This included religious employers who employe people who are not of that particular faith or are non-religious.  This created a firestorm of protest from churches across the country, Catholic and Protestant.   After weeks of outrage and complaints, the President announced that he will seek to allow religious employers to pass on the responsibility, and the cost, of providing contraceptives onto the insurance companies.

Now, I’m no economist, but it seems pretty obvious that the insurance companies aren’t going to like this very much.  The result will probably be higher premiums, which religious employers will likely pass onto their employees.  This means that people who are employed by religious organizations will be forced to pay more for “free” contraceptives.  This despite the fact that religious organizations and churches are already allowed to operate tax free, even if they don’t use their money for charitable purposes, unlike other non-profits.  Now they get to avoid the responsibility for the cost of contraceptives, unlike every other employer in the country.

The religious organizations claim that the rule to provide free contraceptives are an infringement of their constitutional right to religious freedom.  This is blatantly bullshit.  What it is in reality is an infringement upon their centuries old privileges.  What if a white supremacist church, who believe that the Bible condones discrimination agains blacks and Jews, claimed that they didn’t have to provide health insurance for black and Jewish employees (assuming that they would employ them in the first place)?  This would never be allowed, as it is blatantly discriminatory and against the law.  Yet we allow churches to subtly discriminate against women who want, or sometimes even need, contraceptives.  Not only do we them to discriminate against their employees (mostly women), but we allow them to pass on the cost of providing them as well.

The whole compromise it just a thin sheen of slime that allows religious groups to pretend that they aren’t providing contraceptives.  Everyone is praising this sham as a great compromise that protects religious freedom, when what it really does is violate the rights of employees of theses organizations to equal access under the law.

I sincerely hope that someone brings a legal challenge to this and see how it plays out in the courts.  Even if unsuccessful it will at least, hopefully, publicly shame these religious groups who continue to bend the law to allow them to perpetuate their immoral patriarchal privileges.

Sometimes Being a Non-theists Sucks!


I am currently going through my second divorce in 5 years.  My first marriage lasted 18 years and produced two children who live with me.  The second marriage lasted two years, but we were together four years.   On the advice of my therapist I am currently looking for a support group that I can meet with to help me through this and possibly even make some friends from.   I never really recovered or grieved after the first divorce so I’m sort of reeling right now.   My therapist recommended that I find a divorce/grief support group.  A search at brought up the following.  Notice a pattern?  Out of ten search results, only one is not, on it’s face, affiliated with a faith based organization.

Nebraska Divorce Support Groups

  • ( Dakota County ) 
    Assembly of God
    1219 First Avenue South Sioux City , Nebraska 68776 Phone: 402-494-1852 Contact: Mr. Ward Aspin 
  • ( Douglas County ) 
    Christ Community Church
    404 South 108th Avenue Omaha , Nebraska 68154 Phone: 402-330-3360 Contact: Data Administration 
  • ( Douglas County ) 
    Faith United Methodist Church
    4814 Oaks Lane Omaha , Nebraska 68131 Phone: 402-345-5383 Contact: Mr. Doug Ferguson 
  • ( Douglas County ) 
    First Presbyterian Church
    216 South 34th Street Omaha , Nebraska 68131 Phone: 402-345-5383 Contact: Mr. Ray Stewart 
  • ( Douglas County )
    Grace Counseling Center
    1316 South 8th Street Omaha , Nebraska 68108 Phone: 402-449-2909 Contact: Dr. Norman Thieson
  • ( Douglas County ) 
    Harvest Tabernacle Church
    P.O. Box 4772 Omaha , Nebraska 68104 Phone: 402-333-1322 Contact: Mr. Martin Williams 
  • ( Douglas County ) 
    King of Kings Lutheran Church
    11615 I Street Omaha , Nebraska 68137 Phone: 402-333-6464 Contact: Ms. Soni Schegelmilch 
  • ( Douglas County ) 
    Lutheran Church of the Master
    2617 South 1114th Street Omaha , Nebraska 68144 Phone: 402-333-4444 Contact: Mr. K.Alan Tyler 
  • ( Douglas County ) 
    Salem Baptist Church
    3336 Lake Street Omaha , Nebraska 68111 Phone: 402-455-0750 Contact: Mr. R.W. Williams 
  • ( Douglas County ) 
    Trinity Church
    15555 West Dodge Road Omaha , Nebraska 68154 Phone: 402-330-5724 Contact: Pastor Les Beauchamp
  • The real kicker is that a search for Dr. Norman Thieson and Grace Counseling Center brought up the following:

    NORM THIESEN, PH.D. is a licensed Psychologist in Oregon. Dr. Thiesen is a professor in the Masters in Counseling Program at Western Seminary. Dr. Thiesen has over twenty years of experience as a psychologist and college professor and now focuses his practice on adults presenting with mood/anxiety disorders, divorce recovery, life and career transitions, faith/spirituality issues, marital counseling and life coaching.

    The site I found that at is for what seems to be his personal practice.  They have this to say about their staff:

    The clinical staff at Cornerstone Clinical Services, P.C. represent a unique collection of Christian clinicians licensed in psychology, psychiatry, psychiatric nursing and social work. All are committed to excellence of care in a warm and confidential setting.

    Ten out of fracking ten!  Or more poignantly, zero out of ten. While I laud these organizations for the help they provide to people, and I’m sure they do provide much help and comfort, I could not imagine that I would fit in at any of these groups as I am sure that faith will somehow creep into the proceedings somewhere, somehow.  Perhaps I’m just being cynical.  I could just give a couple of them a try, but I don’t want to invest my emotions into a group that I could quite likely end up feeling uncomfortable with.

    Suddenly my rejection of faith, which until now hasn’t really hasn’t caused me much grief, except with a few individuals, is a significant stumbling block in a much needed mental health treatment plan.  I’m sure I’d be better off back east when I’m originally from, but I’m not moving my kids again.  They finally have stability, a home, and friends after almost seven years of constant change.   Of all the places we could have ended up, I’m in one of the reddest of the red, most God fearing states in the nation.  Geesh!



    The Stigma of Mental Illness – A Personal Story

    The resources for people with mental illnesses in the country are sadly lacking. They are terribly underfunded and understaffed. The problem is somewhat better for those with health insurance, but even then, there is the social stigma that goes along with being mentally ill.

    I would prefer a term such a Brain Chemical Imbalance or Brain Structural Anomaly. These terms are more accurate and better describe where the real cause of mental illness lies. It is a malfunction of various brain activities. Because these things are happening in our brains, where our mind resides, the effects can be profound and devastating to the person suffering from it and all those around him.

    I have a son with ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder). Deal with him has been a constant and difficult struggle since he was a baby. While he is intelligent, attends high school like any other kid, ways of perceiving the world and relating to others that make life very difficult for him. He can come across as indifferent to feelings of others because he can’t understand the normal queues such as tone of voice or body language or facial expressions that most of us grasp intuitively.

    I myself suffer from chronic clinical depression. There are days when I literally can barely function. Imagine wearing a suite that weights 200 pounds and goggles that are slightly cloudy and then trying to go through your day like that. Add to that a complete lack of motivation and even something as simple as standing up to walk to the printer at work takes an amazing effort. I’ve even had people remark that I look like I’m carrying a weight around on my shoulders. It actually affects how I move physically. It certainly effects how I feel physically. My head feels like it is full of cotton stuffing, my arms, hands, head feel like little needles are being poked into the. There are almost constant headaches and the pain in my neck, shoulders and arms are real and ever-present. When those commercials say that depression hurts, they are 100% serious and true.

    I have begun to reach the point where I don’t know if I can work anymore. Of course, I have to because I can’t afford not to. I’m a single dad and there is no one else to take care of my kids. Taking a leave of absence is out of the question. I have not idea if my disability insurance at work covers mental illness. I suppose I need to find out.

    I’m sure you are wondering what I’m doing to treat this? I am on various medications for depression and anxiety. I also regularly see a therapist. I try to get out, do some exercise. Not keep myself isolated. I’m doing the right things, but the depression just seems to worsen as each day passes.

    Why do I bring all this up? I’m not looking for sympathy. I want people to be aware that mental illness is more than just homeless people mutter to themselves in parks and on street corners. It can effect anyone, in any walk of life. It is as debilitating as any physical illness can be, and that is because it is a physical illness. And just like other physical illnesses it needs to be treated with medication and therapy.

    Unlike other physical illnesses, you can see the signs just by looking at someone. Instead it affects behavior and mood, which are considered to be part of our personalities. If your job performance is impacted because of a physical ailment like a back problem, accommodations can be made to help compensate. But what accommodations can you make for an inability to focus on tasks or to organize your thoughts enough to organize your work?

    I don’t have the ability to even focus on possibly solutions. If anyone out there does, please comment.

    Finally, A Power-like Band That Does Exactly What It’s Name Suggests

    I got my Placebo Bands in the mail yesterday from the brilliant Skepticbros in Australia.

    Does wearing two of them make them twice as ineffective as just one?

    Placebo Bands are the Skepticbros answer to Power Balance bands and others of their ilk. Unlike the unsubstantiated claims of Power Balance to be able to balance your body’s energy field, the Placebo Bands promise to do nothing, except perhaps becoming conversations starters.

    When someone asks me about the band I’m wearing, I can proudly tell them that it is a placebo that does nothing, just like the Power Balance bands. With a knowing wink I will add that unlike the Power Balance bands that cost $29.99, I only paid $2 for mine. According to the Skepticbros, they used some of the same manufactures who make Power Balance bands using the same materials and manufacturing process to make their bands, but they didn’t get nearly the volume discount that Power Balance must be getting. The best thing of all about the Placebo Bands is that the approximately $1 profit per band goes to charity, while with Power Balance, $28.99 per band (with their volume discount, probably more like $29.50) goes into their pockets.

    After telling inquisitive people all the stuff I just told you, my favorite part is telling them that the both have the exact same effect, which is none, except possibly a placebo effect for those who are gullible enough to buy into the body energy bullshit claims.

    So if you really do believe in body energy and that a silicone band with a hologram in it can help balance it, save yourself $27.99 and go for the Placebo Band. They look the same, they feel the same and, most importantly, they have the same effect, which is to say, none at all.

    State Support For The “Persecuted” Majority

    I’ve written here before about Christians who feel that they have a right to refuse to do their jobs if something about it conflicts with their conscience. Now we get to hear more about this from Idaho. A pharmacist in a Walgreens refused to fill a prescription, Methergine, which is a medicine used to prevent or control bleeding of the uterus following childbirth or an abortion. This was prescribed by a nurse practitioner from a Planned Parenthood clinic. The pharmacist would not fill it because the nurse practitioner refused to tell the pharmacist if it was being prescribed for an abortion, citing patient confidentiality.

    If a person’s conscience is going to be an issue in being able to full carry out the duties of their chosen profession, then they are in the wrong profession and should find a new one.

    Sadly, Idaho recently passed a law that gives pharmacists and other health care providers the right to refuse to provide any health care service or dispense any drugs that violates their conscience. Once again, the state is given preference to religious believers, believers who somehow feel they should be protected and excused from simply doing their jobs like the rest of us.

    Andrew Wakefield Goes Down Hard

    I’ve written before about my strong support for vaccinating children and how, in the past decade or so there has been an anti-vaccination movement that has literally cost the lives of dozens of children in the US and UK of pertussis and measles. Now, the man who started it all, the darling of all the anti-vaxers out there has been shown to be, not just unethical and a sloppy researcher, but a fraud. I’m still digesting everything in the article and I’ll have more to say on that later, bur for the meantime, read it.

    It’s good to know that sometimes the truth can win out.

    More Senseless Violence – Why And What To Do

    I wrote several entries, here and here, this week about a shooting at a local high school in which a principle and assistance principle were shot by a student angry over being suspended. The assistant principle died and the student killed himself shortly afterwards.

    Now we have news of another senseless shooting. This one involves U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona who was shot along with 12 others at a meeting she was holding at a grocery store in Tucson. A federal judge was also among those shoot. So far, 6 people have died, including the judge. The shooter, Jared Laugher, is in police custody.

    There have been death threats against both Rep. Giffords and the judge in the past; Giffords for her support for President Obama’s health care bill and the judge for his ruling in an immigration lawsuit. It is too early to say if this shooting was motivated by either of this issues or who the intended target, if any, was.

    I’m not a big propionate of gun control, but I do support laws to require background checks of people purchasing guns and laws requiring gun owners to properly secure their firearms. I believe that there should also be laws that will hold gun owners accountable for crimes committed with their firearms if it can be proved that they did not properly secure them.

    For those who would assume that I am against gun ownership let me say that I don’t own a firearm, although I have on several occasions in the past. The only reason I don’t own one now is that I have teenagers in the house and I just don’t feel comfortable having one in the home. Personally, I enjoy target shooting and skeet shooting and once my kids are out of the house, I plan on purchasing a shotgun, rifle and possibly a handgun, all for target and skeet shooting.

    To get back to the main focus of this post, it is unclear what the causes or solutions are for these sort of events. There will always be angry and violence prone people and they will always find a way to act on their violent impulses.

    There are plenty of statistics to be thrown around. From the Brady Campaign and Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence we get:

    In one year, guns murdered 17 people in Finland, 35 in Australia, 39 in England and Wales, 60 in Spain, 194 in Germany, 200 in Canada, and 9,484 in the United States. This seems to indicate that the number of people killed in the U.S. is disproportionally large compared to other western countries and when you run the numbers, they seem to bear this assumption out. I used estimate population for 2010 from the CIA Worl Fact Book and here is the number of people killed by guns per 1000 people in each country :

    Country Percentage gun related deaths per capita
    Number of gun related deaths per 1000
    Finland 0.0032349724 3.2349724
    Australia 0.001626715 1.626715
    England and Wales 0.0006255168 0.6255168
    Spain 0.0012901571 1.2901571
    Germany 0.002357717 2.357717
    Canada 0.0059242159 5.9242159
    US 0.0305705847 30.5705847

    So the US has 5 times the gun related death than the next highest, Canada. I’d call that significant. The real question is what to do about it?

    This, of course, is something that has been debated for decades and this particular incident probably will inspire more debate, but with a Republican controlled House of Representatives you can be sure that no real progress will be made to address the issue of gun deaths in America.

    There has been a lot of speculation on the motives for this shooting on twitter with some people pointing to Sarah Palin’s web site that used to have a Rep. Gifford’s district on a map with a target on it. That was removed from the site today after the shooting. Wether it was removed out of respect for the congress woman and other victims or because a target has been eliminated is unknown, but some people are trying to infer the latter. There is also many who are promoting the idea that the shooting was politically motivated, but until the facts are in as to the gunman’s motive, we can, and should, assume nothing.

    The new Speaker of The House issued a statement condemning the attack in which he said, “An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve. Acts and threats of violence against public officials have no place in our society.” I heartily agree.

    My thoughts are with the victims and their families.

    Another Case of Male Privilege – Reproductive Rights

    Why is it that people, mainly men, think they have the right to control what a woman does with her own body?
    There is an artlce in The Telegraph discussing a private clinic in the U.K. which is offering walk-in, ten minute sterilization procedure for woman that leave no scars.  The clinic is marketing this procedure to woman who want to keep the procedure a secret, and there in lies the rub.

    The article says:

    Medical experts condemned the sales pitch being used, which they said was a “cynical” attempt to encourage secrecy in relationships.

    Dr Allan Pacey, a fertility lecturer at the University of Sheffield said: “This seems really sad – it looks like a worrying and cynical attempt to trade on dishonesty and deceit.

    “Of course women have to be able to control their fertility, but in a relationship people need to be able to have conversations about this kind of thing – taking a step like this behind a partner’s back is so dysfunctional, and if women are doing it just so they can sleep around, they are leaving their partner at all sorts of risks. Ethically, this is a huge can of worms.”

    He said some women who chose to have the operation in secret because their culture or religion opposed the use of contraception, could end up suffering ill-consequences if they mysteriously stopped producing children.

    Ann Furedi, chief executive of British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said: “I do think this is pretty cynical. It’s really important when women are making a decision like this that it is very carefully considered – for most of them that means a conversation and coming to a shared view with their partner.

    “I can understand why some women might not want to discuss this but I would be very cautious of promoting that as a specific benefit of any treatment.”


    The point that everyone seems to be missing here is that they, the ones who are urging caution and/or outrage, are assuming that they actually have any kind of vested interest in what any woman does with her body.  It’s just assumed that it is OK to push themselves into this most private of medical and life decisions.  It is also assumed that they, and by proxy, society at large, have a vested interest in what happens in a relationship between two consenting adults.

    It is this false sense of privilege that is the real outrage here.

    I’m sure most of us would agree that it would be best that both partners in a relationship be honest with each other about something as important as their reproductive status and desires, but there is, and should be, no law against keeping these things private.  Even if one of the parties were to lie to the other, this is still a matter between the two of them and no one else.

    Here is an interesting question I’d love to put to these people: Would you, or do you, apply the same standards that you would to women in this case to men who have vasectomies, which also leave little or no noticeable scaring?  I have a pretty good idea that the answer is no.

    This is another example of male privilege that I’ve talked of time and time again.  Yes, it is true that one of the people who questioned the privacy issues in the article is a woman, but that doesn’t mean that she isn’t still influenced by the male privilege that permeates society.  She, like many woman, just accept the male privilege without question, not necessarily because they really believe in it, but more likely because that’s how they were brought up and they have never even considered that there is another way to look at it.
    That’s the point of this and other posts I have written.

    That is the point that other writers like Amanda Marcotte, Jen McCraight, and Rebecca Watson are trying to make.  Among consenting adults, only one person has any say in decisions about their reproductive capabilities, and that’s the person who will undergo a sterilization procedure. Period.  Full stop.

    Only we have the right over our bodies.  Only we should decide health and reproductive matters for ourselves.  Unless there is harm or the immediate potential for harm, only we and our partners should decide what goes on between us.  These are fundamental human rights and it is up to us to stand up and defend them where ever and whenever we can.

    Cognitive Dissonance Revisited

    I have written about cognitive dissonance here before (here, here, here, here and here). In brief, cognitive dissonance is holding two contradicting ideas in your head at the same time and the emotional discomfort that causes.

    Cognitive dissonance is something that we all experience to one degree or another on a fairly continuos basis. Most of the time, the dissonance is easily and painlessly resolved simply by making a decision. For example, say you know that you need complete a project deadline by the day after tomorrow and you have planned on completing it today, but then you get a call from a friend asking you to go out for lunch and shopping. You feel unease because you know you need to get the project done. If you decide to work on the project instead of go with your friend, you have resolved the dissonance and the unease gone now that you know you will complete your project today. If, on the other hand, you decide to go with your friend, the dissonance remains. You justify your decision by telling yourself that you have all day tomorrow to complete the project. In this case you haven’t really resolved the dissonance, but you have rationalized it to yourself effectively enough so that you are able to go out and enjoy your time with your friend, even if the dissonance may be nagging at you in the back of your mind.

    We deal with situations like this all the time. The vast majority of times, we resolve it by making a decision that makes the dissonance go away. Sometimes, we choose to let the dissonance remain and we rationalize it away in order to allow ourselves to function without the emotional discomfort.

    In situations where the dissonance involves a very important idea to us though, it becomes much harder to remove the dissonance because that could mean making a very big change in our worldview. A good example of this is religious belief.

    I was a devout believer in god for much of my life, but was constantly changing my reasons for believing because the more I thought about it the more I saw that the evidence for god’s existence was non-existence. For a while I found ways to rationalize the dissonance that arose from keeping the ideas of a perfectly good and loving god and of suffering and evil in the world in my head at the same time. Eventually, I could no longer justify away the dissonance and accompanying emotion distress without abandoning either my rational, scientific view of the world, or my belief in god. As those of you who have been regular readers of this blog know, I abandoned the later.

    How we deal with cognitive dissonance has huge implications for our society’s future because those who are devout believers in god are actively trying to interfere with and limit government funding for much important scientific research. From climate change to stem cell research, vital research into subjects that will have a profound impact on our future is in danger.

    I will be continuing to research, think about, and write about cognitive dissonance and what can be done to successfully deal with it here on this blog.