Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Saturday morning shorts

Here at Worldwide Wacko Watch, we've got our eyes on three stories.

First, there's a story out of Nigeria that should be highly alarming to my male readers; sorcerers may be trying to steal your genitals.  (Source)

Four young men were walking along a road near Rumuola and came across a disabled gentleman who was sitting in a wheelchair hoping for a handout from passersby.  One of the four young men came up to give the beggar a few coins, and as he dropped coins into the man's hand he suddenly realized that his penis was missing.

Alarmed, the young man started to beat up the poor guy in the wheelchair, and when his three friends came up  to see what was going on, they realized that their penises were missing, too.  So they joined in, shouting (this is a direct quote from the article), "Help!  He has stolen our pricks!"

Fortunately for the poor man in the wheelchair, who by this time had been knocked to the ground, some policemen came onto the scene and stopped the younger men.  (The young men had apparently been ready to lynch the man.)  When the policement heard the young men's story, he ordered them to drop trou, and lo!  There were their wangs, after all!  "Ha ha," the young men said.  "Now don't we feel foolish!"

No, not really.  Superstitious morons never give up this easily.  The young men did reluctantly admit that their penises were still in the customary location, but they claimed that the beggar had bewitched them and now they didn't work.  As a demonstration of this, one of the young men tried to take a piss and couldn't.  So the policemen sent all four of the young men to a hospital to be checked, and (it is to be hoped) the beggar got himself right the hell out of there before they could return and finish what they started.  After examination, doctors said that there was nothing wrong with the young men's equipment, although their brains could certainly do with some looking after.

Next, we have an interview with Tony Wright, author of the 2008 blockbuster Left in the Dark, in which the claim is made that humans are losing touch with the spirit world because we like to eat fruit.  (Source)

Fruit, Wright claims, is a "highly advanced molecular engineering cocktail" that affects our hormone levels and causes our brains to shrink.  Additionally, the "DNA transcription factors" in fruits are gradually taking over our bodies, shifting us "from a typical mammalian developmental environment to more of a plant developmental environment."  Wright says this has caused problems:
This has severely limited our perception and compromised many abilities. The evidence suggests those abilities as well as a wholly different sense of self lie dormant in the right side of our brain and is only occasionally glimpsed by a tiny minority of people. Unfortunately this also creates a paradox. The dominant side of the brain is assessing itself and so while the concept of specialist abilities appears initially to make some sense on further investigation all is not as it appears and this doesn’t hold up. I have proposed that the abilities and perception facilitated by the left side of our brain are a more primitive and greatly reduced or distorted version of what still remains locked away in the right. Instead of separate senses a unified and highly advanced system that perceives everything all at once without any problems was the norm.
 How can we access this lost ability to see Everything All At Once?  It's simple, Wright says, and takes only two steps:
  1. Stop eating fruit.
  2. Take hallucinogenic drugs.
He particularly favors ayahuasca, he says:
Psychedelics like ayahuasca seem to be a powerful means of re-accessing these lost perceptual abilities (any wonder our left brained society has made these things illegal?). It’s been said that shamans for example who work with it enough can eventually bring in an altered state of consciousness willingly, without even drinking the brew. The beta-carbolines in ayahuasca alone are powerful MAO inhibitors with psychoactive properties by themselves (along with many other beneficial effects). We’re chronically deficient in not only a complex cocktail of plant MAO inhibitors but also the ones that our pineal glands would have produced in much higher amounts as well, given that flavonoids stimulate this gland. Pinoline is just one example. 
Oh, okay, I will dump out my fruit smoothie and go take some hallucinogens right away.

One last note about Wright; his book costs $30 from Amazon.  Myself, I think you could find better uses for $30, which would include taking three ten-dollar bills and setting fire to them.

Last, we have a story out of Arkansas, where a guy leading a search for the Boggy Creek Monster got fined for forgetting to apply for a park pass.  (Source)

Matt Pruitt, a team leader with the Bigfoot Field Researchers' Organization, was on an expedition with 31 other squatchers, trying to find some relatives of the stars of the truly atrocious movies The Legend of Boggy Creek and Return to Boggy Creek.  The only hominid he ran into, however, was an annoyed park ranger, who informed Pruitt that in order to take a group into the park, he needed to apply for (and pay for) a permit.  Pruitt was given a ticket and ultimately had to pay a fine of $525.

It was, Pruitt said, "an innocent mistake," which is undoubtedly true.  And I think he could well afford the fine, because each of the prospective Bigfoot hunters had paid him between $300 and $500 for the privilege of wandering around in the woods and not seeing any monsters.  So Pruitt still came out ahead to the tune of about $12,000, even taking the fine into consideration.  So it could have been worse.

Way worse, actually.  He could have had a banana with his breakfast, and had his brain shrink.  Worse yet, he could have passed a guy in a wheelchair on the trail, and had his penis stolen.  So it's all a matter of perspective, and I think we can all agree that by comparison, Pruitt was pretty lucky.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Public schools, alien overlords, and banned words

I am happy to be able to tell you that we finally have figured out what is wrong with the public education system in the United States: it is being turned into a factory for brainwashing children by our elite alien overlords.

If by now the name "David Icke" comes to mind, you have evidently escaped brainwashing yourself, possibly by going to private school.  David Icke is the conspiracy theorist's conspiracy theorist.  His ideas are so bizarre and abstruse that they probably are secrets even from himself, and his book The Greatest Secret has been called "the Rosetta Stone of conspiracy theories."  This seems fairly generous, frankly, because most of what I've read by Icke is patent horse waste.  My favorite example is that various public figures are actually reptilian aliens masquerading as humans, including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Queen Elizabeth II, Kris Kristofferson, and Boxcar Willie.

I bet you thought I was going to say "Okay, I made the last one up."  Nope.  That is the level of conspiracy theory that David Icke has reached -- he says even the world of washed-up folk singers has been infiltrated.  Next thing you know, we'll find out that Snooki is actually a reptilian alien.  And then all of a sudden the fact that her baby is due on December 21, 2012 will make terrible, terrible sense.

In any case, David Icke has now come forth with a new claim -- that the American public school system exists solely to turn children into obedient little automatons, because that's what the Archons want.  (Source)  You really should watch the video clip attached, which contains quotes such as, "These guys, the manipulators (the Archons) know it's an illusion, know reality is all in our minds, so they know that if they program our minds with the right illusion, we'll create it physically.  The educational system is massively, massively part of that."

All I can say is, if I was creating an illusion with my mind, it wouldn't be this one.  The illusion I want to have is me on the beach in Costa Rica, clad in nothing but swim trunks, holding a margarita.  But maybe I wasn't programmed properly, so what I got was upstate New York in March.

Be that as it may, we will leave behind David Icke for a different sort of wingnuttery -- the kind that comes out of the actual educational system.  Perhaps you haven't heard about it, but a story broke a couple of days ago about a policy by the New York City Education Department regarding fifty words that are banned from appearing on standardized tests.  (Source)

If you immediately thought of George Carlin, so did I; but interestingly, only one of the banned words is even vaguely naughty, and that's "sex."  Mustn't find out if children understand how humans procreate!  The other words fall into a few loose classes:
  • Words that someone, somewhere might take exception to, on religious grounds: dinosaurs, evolution, Halloween, the occult, fortunetelling, parapsychology, witchcraft
  • Words describing things we'd like to pretend that children don't know exist: alcohol, cigarettes, gambling, junk food, pornography, rap music
  • Words that get people emotionally stirred up: abuse, cancer, catastrophes (tsunamis/hurricanes), crime, death, homelessness, poverty, slavery, terrorism, war
Yes -- in New York City schools, standardized tests can't mention slavery, terrorism, or war.

I wish I was making this up.  The powers-that-be in the New York City School District think that it is somehow acceptable to give children tests, and (worse) use those test scores to evaluate not only the children themselves, but their teachers, school administrators, and schools as a whole -- and never once ask a single question regarding war or sex, which are the two biggest drivers for human history I can think of.  We are successfully creating a school system that is so bland, mechanized, and PC that it merely labeling a word as "controversial" can get it banned from appearing on the test.  Did you know that "hunting" can't appear on standardized tests in New York City?

And don't even start with me about eliminating any mention of evolution.

You know, it pains me to say so, but I'm beginning to wonder if David Icke might have a point.  Not about the Archons; why would we need reptilian overlords to destroy public education, when the people we've elected to oversee it seem to be doing a damn good job of it without any alien intervention?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

An evening with Dr. Eugenie C. Scott

Last night I had the privilege of attending a lecture by one of my heroes, and getting to meet her and chat with her afterwards.  Her name is Dr. Eugenie C. Scott, the director of the National Center for Science Education.

The subject of the talk was the relationship between science and religion, a topic that is of great interest both to Dr. Scott and myself.  Dr. Scott has been a passionate exponent of keeping religion out of the science classroom, and her efforts have been instrumental in the overturning of state mandates that high school biology teachers "teach the controversy" regarding evolution (amongst scientists, there is none) or include "alternate explanations" (most often intelligent design, which is a fundamentally non-scientific stance).

Dr. Scott's talk last night revolved around what she called "three ways of knowing" -- authority, personal experience/insight, and science.  Each of them, she said, has its limitations, and is useful in different situations.  Science's limitations in particular include the fact that it only addresses natural processes and natural explanations -- it is silent on issues of the supernatural, and even in the realm of the natural world stops short of giving meaning to what is out there.  In particular, she took exception with statements such as the following by Richard Dawkins (from River Out of Eden): "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference."  Her objection was not that she didn't agree with it -- she is, she said, a philosophical materialist -- but that it is not a scientific statement.

I thought it was an interesting argument, but after letting it bubble about in my brain for twelve hours, I'm not sure I actually agree with it.  Science does attach meaning to things; rightly or wrongly, scientists do more than what she claims, which is to draw inferences from data about relationships between variables.  When a scientist in my favorite discipline, which is evolutionary biology, states that stripes in zebras serve the function of breaking up the animals' profile when the herd is in flight, making it harder for predators to single out one particular individual, (s)he has crossed the line into an unprovable assertion -- albeit a logical, and fairly benign, one.  That stripes are selected for is obvious; zebras have stripes.  What the ultimate purpose of stripes is, is another matter entirely.  And science does often have a lot to say on such matters, although careful scientists are rightly cautious about granting such statements too much weight.

And as far as the difference between natural and supernatural, I wonder very much if that is not itself an artificial distinction.  If things we consider supernatural (gods, spirits, ghosts, demons, and so on) actually exist, it points to some pretty fundamental truths about the universe, and says a lot about how the world around us is put together.  The existence of such entities should leave traces -- evidence -- and that evidence should be accessible to evaluation by scientists.  Dr. Scott's claim that the supernatural (should it exist) is the sole provenance of non-scientific ways of study is, I think, drawing a false dichotomy.  We cannot (as she said) detect god in a test tube; "we have no theometer."  But evidence of a spiritual world's existence would, I think, be detectable in other ways than the notoriously unreliable appeals to authority and mystical insight.  The lack of such evidence drives us to the most parsimonious explanation, namely, that such entities do not exist.

In any case, it was a brilliant lecture, and it was an honor to meet finally someone whose work I have admired for years.  And personally, Dr. Scott is a gracious, funny, and highly articulate woman.  After the lecture, when I went up to shake her hand and thank her for coming to Ithaca, I told her that I had a t-shirt captioned "Skeptical Squares," with wonderful caricatures of nine prominent skeptics.  (If you want one, go here -- you can choose from amongst dozens of scientists and philosophers.)  And one of my nine favorite skeptics was her.

"My goodness," she said, laughing.  "I am overwhelmed by my own fame.  I barely know what to say."  If so, it was the first time that evening that she was at a loss for words.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Weird news out of Whitby

In what is probably nothing more than a coincidence, but might have to do with hallucinogenic drugs in the water supply, today we have three stories from Whitby, England.

I remember Whitby as a lovely town, and one that I was mighty glad to see when I visited England, because it represented the end of my 110 mile solo hike across England, which had begun three weeks earlier at the Irish Sea in Blackpool.  The last part of the hike was across steep moorland country, and I still remember my relief when I saw the North Sea glittering in the distance, under virtually the only sunshine I'd enjoyed during the entire trip -- Britain was, according to a news report I saw, experiencing the rainiest summer since 1865, and I spent a good bit of the hike soaked to the skin.

So, anyway, my associations with Whitby are pleasant ones, and nothing odd or unexplained happened during my visit there.  But in the last few weeks, there has been a sudden spate of weirdness that makes me wish I could go there and investigate in person.

First we have two stories (source) regarding strange sightings.  In the first, Whitby resident Caroline Russell reports seeing an animal she describes as a huge, jet-black "cat-like creature" on February 29.

"It was my dog that flushed it out of next door’s garden," Russell told reporters.  "It flushed out a pheasant and at the same time it flushed out this black creature.  Where this had come from and why my dog didn’t chase it I’m not sure – my dog could have been scared of it.  I’ve never seen anything like it before."

The sighting, Russell said, occurred at two o'clock in the afternoon, and there's no way she's mistaken about what she saw.

"Whatever it was it disappeared.  It just shot up into the woods and it was jet black.  If it was a cat we would have heard it hissing but it was really, really quiet."

This is not the first time that there have been sightings of large black panther-like animals in the Whitby area.  In fact, the RAF base at nearby Fylingdales is rumored to be the site of a Roswell-style UFO conspiracy, but instead of bodies of aliens, the British military is alleged to be storing "the carcass of a puma-like creature."

For the record, I'm not making any of this up.

Russell, however, isn't saying whether she believes what she saw is an Alien Space Kitty.  "I’ve heard people talk about them and I’ve heard previously of someone walking through Mulgrave Woods and actually seeing a cat- like creature," she said.  "I walk along the ridge with my dogs and I’ve never seen it before or since."

It was only a day later that another Whitby resident saw a UFO in the skies above Port Mulgrave.

"I was coming out of Boulby Potash last night and had just pulled up at the junction," she told reporters, on the condition that her name not be released.  "I saw orange lights going round in a circle and I said to my daughter in the back of the car, ‘Blimey that’s a UFO’.  I did a big U-turn in the middle of the road and it had gone.  I looked into it and there was a young chap in 2007 who had seen something round about the same place on the second of March.  This was the first of March, but it was a leap year so it would have actually been the same day.  It was not an aeroplane and not a helicopter and there were about six big orange lights around it...  I got a tingle down my spine."

Myself, I wonder if what she saw was a Close Encounter of the Third Kind between Whitby councillor Simon Parkes and (literally) the Mother Ship.  This past Monday, Parkes stunned his colleagues on the Whitby Town Council by publicly stating that his mother was a nine-foot tall green alien with eight fingers on each hand.  (Source)

Parkes said he first saw his alien mum when  he was only eight months old.  Despite being only a wee baby, he recalls “a traditional kite-shaped face”, with huge eyes, tiny nostrils and a thin mouth appearing over his crib.

“Two green stick things came in," he said, in a YouTube video that you should all definitely watch.  "I was aware of some movement over my head.  I thought, ‘they’re not mummy’s hands, mummy’s hands are pink’."

He then said, "I was looking straight into its face. It enters my mind through my eyes and it sends a message down my optic nerve into my brain.  It says ‘I am your real mother, I am your more important mother’."

He also stated that he's seen his alien family many times since then, and in fact was taken for a tour of a UFO when he was eleven years old.  But, he stated reassuringly, and probably because anyone in the room at the time was inching their way toward the door by this point, no one should be worried that his mother is an alien.

"It’s a personal matter and it doesn’t affect my work. I’m more interested in fixing someone’s leaking roof or potholes.  People don’t want me to talk about aliens.  I get more common sense out of the aliens than out of Scarborough Town Hall.  The aliens are far more aware of stuff.  People in the Town Hall seem not to be aware of the needs of Whitby."

Myself, I think that a flying saucer would be handy thing to have if you were trying to fix a leaking roof.  You could simply hover over the house, and lower yourself down from a ladder.  Or possibly just fix the leak by materializing tar paper and sealant in place over the spot and fusing it with a ray gun.  So maybe it'd be useful to have alien connections on your town council.

Not that this is any comfort for the residents of Whitby, who apparently are reacting with some horror that the guy they elected is babbling like a loon.  And as for the rest of the town councillors, they seem a bit at a loss as to how to react.  There has been no official statement from the town council regarding the matter, although Parkes' fellow councillor Terry Jennison did tell reporters that he had no idea what Parkes was going on about.

"I'm completely in the dark about this," Jennison said.

So, anyway, that's the news today from lovely Whitby.  Giant extraterrestrial space pumas, orange UFOs, and aliens on the town council.  Hearing all of this makes me want to go back for a visit.  I would, however, make sure to drink only bottled water while I was there.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The naughty naughty Nephilim

In further exploration of beliefs for which there is no evidence whatsoever, today's topic is: Nephilim.

What are the Nephilim, you might ask?  Well, amongst other things, they are the subject of Scott Alan Roberts' new book, The Rise and Fall of the Nephilim: The Untold Story of Fallen Angels, Giants on the Earth, and Their Extraterrestrial Origins.  In order to save you the money of buying this book (even the Kindle edition costs $9.34), allow me to explain that the Nephilim are apparently the result of angels having sex with human women, which resulted in a race of giants.  The whole thing seems to have come out of a couple of lines in the bible, especially Genesis 6:4, "The Nephilim were on the earth in those days--and also afterward -- when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown."  They're mentioned in Numbers 13:33 as well:  "We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them."

So, the Nephilim were big dudes, evidently.  Exactly how big is uncertain.  Be that as it may, Scott Alan Roberts has examined the evidence (two passages from the bible) and come to the only possible conclusion: the "angels" mentioned in Genesis 6:4 as the fathers of the Nephilim were outer space aliens, and the Great Flood happened to destroy these "demonic hybrids" and remove all traces of alien DNA from the human gene pool.

Oh, okay.  I mean, my only question would be: seriously?  You can tell all that from two bible passages?  And I thought that angels didn't have sex, given that they don't have the required, um, equipment?  I distinctly remember in a highly scientific documentary I saw, the movie Dogma, the angel Metatron drops his drawers and lo, it was revealed unto me that although he hath wings, he hath no wang.

But I digress.

A complete lack of evidence, as I've stated before, never seems to discourage some people, and this hasn't stopped various folks from yammering on at length about the Nephilim, not to mention the sex lives of aliens and/or angels.  Take a look, for example, at this site, which not only claims that the aliens had their way with human women back in the Bronze Age, but omigod it's still happening today:
Dr. John E. Mack, who needs no introduction to UFOlogists, has stated that the alien abduction scenario seems to be a program for the development of a hybrid race. This very fact lends support to the theory that the abduction scenario is the modern resurgence of the Nephilim breeding program. Pregnant women are abducted only to find the foetus has been removed from their womb. In some cases they are reunited with their hybrid child in future abductions. Men are forced to engage in sexual activity with hybrid females, or have their sperm removed from their bodies. If there is any truth to theses alien abduction claims of literally thousands of people across the world the demonic plan of creating yet another hybrid race is already in action... It seems pretty clear we may have entered “the Days of Noah”.
Well, speaking of Noah, I'll borrow a line from Bill Cosby:  "Riiiiiight."  I don't know about you, but this is the first I've heard of guys being forced to have sex with "hybrid females;" and you'd think that if pregnant women suddenly woke up to find their babies had vanished, it would kind of make headlines, you know?  So once again, we run headlong into the speed bump of "no evidence."

Anyway, that's today's post about the naughty Nephilim, sneaking into your house to steal your sperm and/or your hybrid children, lo unto this very day.  The whole thing leaves me wondering if today's Nephilim are as big as the ones in the bible.  I'm thinking in particular of my younger son, who is 6' 7", and next to whom I verily seemeth as a grasshopper.  On the other hand, the hypothesis that he is a human/alien hybrid is confounded by the fact that he looks a lot like me, so the likelihood of his being anyone else's son is pretty slim.  And I can vouch for the fact that his mother is who she claims to be, i.e., not an alien.

At least, as far as I know.  Those aliens are pretty tricky.  Maybe my ex-wife is really from another planet.  Maybe I was abducted in 1982, and was held on board a UFO for sixteen years, and used as part of a captive breeding program.  It's as good an explanation for my first marriage as any other I can think of.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Woo-woo casserole recipe

Today, I ran across a truly wonderful site, if by "wonderful" you mean "absurd."  It is called "Divinorum Psychonauticus,"which loosely translated from sort-of Latin means "Spirit Sailor of the Divine," even though to my ears it sounds like a spell from Harry Potter.  The site is subtitled, "Where science fears to tread, art staggereth in theorem."  Whatever that means.  Its creator, Erich Kuersten, seems to be a raving wingnut, although in his defense he's up front about that.  In his "About This Author" paragraph he calls himself "legally insane ten times over," although in his posts, he seems entirely serious; I saw none of the hallmarks of "Divinorum Psychonauticus" being a spoof site.  In any case, I bumped into the site because of this post, whose title ("The Bigfoot-Ancient Alien Connection: Solved!") seemed to promise great things.

I was not disappointed.

The first thing I noticed was how deftly the article explains why we haven't seen Bigfoot.  It is not, as many think, because Bigfoot doesn't exist.  It is also not, as others explain, that Bigfoots are intelligent, wary primates who live in trackless wilderness with plenty of places to hide.

No, it's because Bigfoots have all of their junk DNA turned on, and that allows them to time travel.  In Kuersten's words:
Our DNA is tampered [sic] down, which is to say a lot of our 'junk DNA' is disconnected. We're like parrots with clipped wings, while Bigfoot's are unclipped. If we could access all 100% of our brain, 'turn on' the dormant DNA, we could do some of the things Bigfoot does, such us 'skipping' through time, being able to wink in and out of existence (and thus avoid capture). In fact this is why they are so evasive... they're on the run if you will, from the castrating scissors of the Greys.
Well, I have to admit that if a gray alien with castrating scissors was chasing me, I'd try to avoid capture, too.

Kuersten then adds a nice seasoning of biblical "history" to the mix:
The story of the Great Flood and all that - the Annunaki went to wipe us all out and start again because they made us in their image and likeness and with many of their powers, their ability to tap into the higher dimensions of consciousness (there are nine total), to vibrate their Kundalini energy in and out of existence and forward and backwards through time, and into alternate dimensions. So when the sasquatch /earlier race learned how to 'wink out' they no longer wanted to mine gold for their masters. They had the power to hide, and went on the run. The next wave of humans (the Annunaki/Greys spliced with early ape hominid DNA) had these aspects of the brain shut off, the wings clipped. But the flood couldn't reach the high up mountains, which is why the bigfoot and yeti are often found there. 
Is that why that is?  I'd always wondered.  The Himalayas, for example, have always seemed to me to be a singularly inhospitable place, what with all that snow and ice and thin air.  If I were a primitive hominid, I would choose somewhere rather nicer to live.  Maui, for example.  But evidently the reason you never see sasquatches on the beach is because they got stranded up in the mountains after the Great Flood and now, 4,000-odd years later, they still haven't been able to find their way down.

But why, you might ask, are Bigfoots frequently seen getting in and out of UFOs?  I know I've asked that question myself, and usually my response has been, "hallucinogenic drugs."  But Kuersten disagrees:
The reason Bigfoots are sometimes found getting into and out of UFOs is explainable as either a kind of bigfoot terminator or traitor, working to infiltrate the bigfoot colonies, or various 'friendly' alien visitors--the equivalent of, say, Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves. 
Okay,  now I understand!  Some of the Bigfoots are in cahoots with evil aliens.  Or friendly aliens.  Or Kevin Costner.

And finally, how does Kuersten know all of this, as clearly there is no way you could get here via any of the more standard ways of thinking?  By this time, you will not be surprised to find out that the answer is:  spirit animal guides.
I asked my 'channeled' guru panther animal spirit guide. Believe it or not, that's what he 'told' me, in the weird non-linguistic way that spirit guides will. Now, he's quite a trickster as I've learned on more than one occasion. But this all makes a lot more sense than some of the daffy theories (I've heard), so I'm posting it here. Make of it what you will, and remember, the truth is so strange no language can encompass it, so never be afraid to leave language at the door when entering the higher planes! 
Oh, I will, Erich.  I left language with baggage check, and am ready to be x-rayed by the TSA (Transcendental Safety Authority) before boarding my astral plane!

So, anyway.  That's our brief foray into the deep end of the pool for today.  It's kind of like a recipe for a woo-woo casserole, isn't it?

In a large mixing bowl, place 2 lbs. finely ground Bigfoot.  Add:
  • a chopped Annunaki
  • biblical references to taste
  • 3 tbsp. references to poorly-understood science
  • 1 cup higher dimensions of consciousness
  • 1 cracked UFO
  • 1 pint time travel
  • 1 spirit guide (preferably "panther," but "weasel" will do)
Mix well.  Place in a greased baking dish, and bake at 350 F until well-done  Serve immediately.

Pairs excellently with most wines.  In fact, the more your guests drink, the more palatable the casserole will seem.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

*ding* You've got mail!

Even though I've had this blog for a couple of years, I am still mystified as to why certain posts will grab people's attention.

To date, the two posts I've done that have garnered the most hits are ones describing the fact that Rebecca Black was not singing about JFK's assassination in her dreadful song "Friday," and the fact that the blob of rock discovered by some treasure hunters on the bottom of the Baltic Sea is not the Millennium Falcon.  Why those two still get dozens of hits a day is a little beyond me, but who am I to question my readers for reading what I write?

Still more, I am frequently puzzled as to why specific posts get people's dander up.  I still periodically get hate mail over my rather sardonic post about British ghost hunters, for example.  And this brings up the interesting phenomenon of the interconnectedness of social media -- the irate Brits who still get their knickers in a twist over my disbelief in ghosts found my blog because it showed up on Twitter and then got posted to a site devoted to ghost hunting -- with the caption, "Look at what this Yankee twit said about us!"  After that, they stopped hunting ghosts for a time to hunt the wild skeptic, and I got 300 hits in an hour.  Followed by a torrent of very irate emails.

Something similar happened on Thursday, although I have yet to figure out how it occurred.  Wednesday's post, you might recall, was about the Tennessee anti-evolution bill, and I not-so-gently pointed out that the sponsors of that bill had a poorer understanding of science than your average Bigfoot chaser.  Okay, that may have been a little inflammatory, but I've said worse things about creationists in the past and gotten little to no response.

Evidently, someone told someone who told someone, and by midday on Thursday, the floodgates had opened up.  It's a little alarming, and seldom good news, when I see a big spike on my hit tracker -- so when I saw the line rising suddenly, I said, "uh-oh."  And sure enough, the emails started shortly afterwards.  And ye gods and little fishes... If I had time and space, I’d print a bunch of excerpts.  Instead, here’s a capsule summary of their comments:
So, you think you’re so smart, Mr. Evolutionary Biology Guy.  Well, blah blah blah transitional fossils?  There are no transitional fossils at all, you freakin dumass!  Blah blah yak yak the Bible is INERRANT!  It’s God’s Word!  Yak yak Second Law of Thermodynamics!  Entropy disproves evolution yak yak blah blah you worthless wanker!  Radiometric data is inaccurate, so therefore yakkity schmackity booga booga Big Bang!  What happened before the Big Bang, huh?  Were you there to see it, Mr. Godless Atheist?  I didn’t think so!  Gotcha there!!!  Yak yak blah blah it’s just a theory, not a fact!  Even the scientists don’t have any confidence in it!  Blah blah you smug, arrogant BASTARD!  Rot in hell.

Yours in Christ,

The Creationists of America

Well, all I can say is, thank you so much for your comments.  To address a few of your points:

  • I can be smug and arrogant, sometimes, so guilty as charged.  I know it’s not nice and I try not to be, but it’s one of my faults.
  • As far as being a bastard, my parents were married long before I was born, so it’s a big nope on that one, and my mom, god rest her soul (if there is one and she had one) would have been scandalized by the suggestion.
  • “Godless Atheist” is kind of redundant, don’t you think?  Okay, I’ll let that one go, maybe you were just being emphatic.
  • I’d have taken the “dumbass” comment more seriously if the person who called me that hadn’t misspelled it.
  • I’m not actually worthless, although what I am worth is left as an exercise for the reader.
  • And as far as my being a wanker – well, I’m not going there.  You’ll just have to speculate.

Regarding the objections to evolution itself, those have been discussed at such length in other venues that I won’t respond, except for one.  Saying “evolution is just a theory” is not an argument.  The word “theory” has nothing to do with uncertainty, or the idea that there’s this nagging feeling in scientists’ minds that “evolution might very well be wrong.”  They call it “music theory,” and it’s not because they think that music might not exist.  Are we clear on that point?

Okay.  I feel much better, but have probably now initiated a further waterfall of hostile posts.  I guess you can’t have everything.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The monolith on Phobos, and why the aliens are avoiding us

In Stanley Kubrick's seminal science fiction movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, Earth astronauts discover a monolith on the Moon that turns out to be a signal transmitter to a super-powerful race of aliens.  Uncovering it alerts the aliens that we have become sufficiently advanced that we have made it into space -- letting them know that we had achieved a high enough technological level that we were ready to take the next step, which turned out to be spending twenty minutes watching psychedelic colored lights and the main character's eye blinking.

Well, according to a new claim, based upon NASA photographs, Kubrick's vision may have been prophetic -- he just got the location of the monolith wrong.

Take a look at this photograph of the surface of Phobos, one of the two moons of Mars:

The stick-in-the-mud, dry-as-dust scientists at NASA say this is just a tall, vaguely rectangular boulder.  This ignores the truth, which is that it is a structure placed there by a highly advanced alien species, of unknown motives, so we should proceed with caution.  After all, three separate probes have all disappeared on or near Mars -- the 1988 Phobos-2 spacecraft, the 1999 Mars Climate Orbiter, and Beagle-2 in 2003.

Oh, and also: Phobos is hollow, and is actually a spacecraft launched in 1876 that is peopled by aliens whose job is to monitor what we're up to here on Earth.

By this time, you're probably wondering who dreamed all of this up.  It will come as no surprise to hear that this is the brainchild of: Richard C. Hoagland.

Yes, Hoagland again, he of the Face on Mars, the faking of the Moon landing, hyperdimensional super-energy inside the dormant volcano Mauna Loa, the crop circles on Saturn, NASA being a thinly-disguised cult that worships the Egyptian god Osiris, and the idea that the universe is being controlled by a Giant Radioactive Bunny from the Andromeda Galaxy.  Okay, I made the last one up, but it would be hard to tell, frankly, because a lot of Hoagland's ideas leave me thinking that where most people have a brain, he has a half pound of Malt-o-Meal.

So, anyway, given Hoagland's track record I'm voting for the "big boulder" hypothesis regarding the Monolith on Phobos, boring as that may be.  But this isn't the only news from the skies -- we also should mention the claim last week, by Russian astronomer Sergey Smirnov, that the aliens aren't landing on Earth and making contact because they think we're "childish idiots."

"They don’t really like the way we are polluting our planet," Smirnov told reporters.  "Obviously, they warned all the space inhabitants to avoid contacts with the Earth, because our civilization is dangerous and all the secrets they might reveal to us will be used for constructing a new super bomb or poison."

So, basically, we're sort of the interstellar version of the creepy guy on the subway who hasn't bathed in weeks and looks like he might mug you if you get too close.

Anyhow, that's our news from the world of space research.  And maybe Smirnov's right; perhaps the take-home message is that it really would be better if we just stuck around on Earth until we learned how to clean up our act, both literally and figuratively.  This goes double if Hoagland is right about what's on Phobos.  After all, look at all the trouble the guys in 2001 got into when they started investigating the monolith.  Their computer went bonkers, a bunch of them died, and one of them got turned into an Enormous Floating Space Baby.  And lord knows, we wouldn't want that to happen.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Life Vessels and faith healers

I'm often asked why I feel so passionately about critical thinking.  "Why," the question usually goes, "does it matter so much if people believe in crazy stuff?  How does a belief in astrology, crystal healing, Tarot cards, or whatever harm anyone?"

Two recent stories will illustrate that there can be a tremendous human cost to irrational thinking.

First, we have a story broken by Karen Stollznow of the James Randi Educational Foundation (read it here) regarding a quack cure called "The Life Vessel."  The purveyors of this useless piece of woo-woo  "alternative medicine" state on their website, "THE LIFE VESSEL is a patented non-invasive technology and technique by which Frequency, Vibration, Sound and Light Waves are applied to the human body in a resonate [sic] frequency, resulting in the body being able to perform its innate Natural Ability to Heal Itself."

Note the use of our favorite words "frequency," "vibration," and "resonate" (although I think they meant "resonant").  I'm surprised they didn't throw in "quantum" for good measure.  The machines are basically a bunch of light bulbs and speakers in a box; you climb into the box, and are exposed to light and sound, and voilà!  You're healed!  Now, fork over...

... $125 per session.

And these things are showing up in "alternative medicine clinics" all over the Midwest.  An investigative reporter working for the James Randi Foundation posed as a potential client, claiming to speak on behalf of her ill mother, found that the practitioners of this foolishness claimed it could cure ovarian cancer!

How many people are forgoing medical treatment for serious conditions to pay $125 for the privilege of spending a half-hour in a box with some light bulbs?  And yet when the CBS station in Denver did an exposé regarding the practice, people came howling out of the woodwork claiming that the treatments work -- logic and the placebo effect be damned.

Then, out of South Africa we have this story, in which a popular "faith healer" presided over an event in which one man died and sixteen were hospitalized.

Brother Chris Oyakhilome, a Nigerian pastor, stages something he calls the "Higher Life Conference" at venues all over the world, attracting huge crowds and raking in money.  He has supposedly made paralyzed individuals walk, cured terminal illnesses, and performed other miracles.  And last week, he was doing his dog-and-pony show in Cape Town, South Africa, to a crowd of 150,000.

I guess the miracle pipeline was down for repairs that night, because one man collapsed from renal failure and later died, and thirty had to seek treatment at a local medical center.  Sixteen were sent from there directly to a hospital.  "Some of them had traveled long distances to get there, they had ongoing medical issues and were in a lot of pain," Dr. Wayne Smith, the doctor in charge of the emergency room, stated.

What harm if people believe in ignorant superstitions?  A lot.  Sometimes a fatal dose of harm.  Had the gentleman who died in Cape Town last week gone to a hospital directly, instead of trying to get Brother Chris to heal him through miraculous means, it's possible that he could have received treatment and might still be alive.  But no doubt Brother Chris would rationalize the man's death as being "god's will."

Sorry, I don't see it that way.  People like Brother Chris and the purveyors of the Life Vessel are charlatans and frauds.  They are making claims that are factually untrue, and are harming people in the process.  And as there seems to be no particular will on the part of governments to institute legal proceedings in these cases, the only alternative is to educate the populace in how to think critically -- and put these hoaxers out of a job.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The monster hunters and the Tennessee anti-evolution bill

There are two stories in the news that are interesting not only on their own merits, but especially in juxtaposition.

The first comes out of the world of cryptozoology, where Dr. Karl Shuker has announced the birth of a new peer-reviewed cryptozoological journal, The Journal of Cryptozoology.  (Read about it here.)  My first thought, being rather a cynic regarding human credulousness, was that it was going to be the Sasquatch hunter's answer to Fate or UFO Digest, but I'm pleased to state for the record that I was wrong.  When they say "peer-reviewed," they mean it -- and the group of people who make up the review board for submissions is no bunch of MonsterQuest rejects, it is a prestigious, highly educated group of renowned zoologists and paleontologists.

So they're doing this thing the right way.  As I've long said, my position as a skeptic does not mean that I don't believe in Bigfoot; it means that I'm withholding judgment until I have evidence.  There's nothing scientifically impossible about many of the claims of cryptozoology buffs, and there have been numerous examples of species long thought extinct being found, alive and well.  What's generally lacking is hard data, something that an unbiased scientist would accept as convincing.  And it seems to me that this review board is amply qualified to make that determination.  It's pretty clear that they don't have a dog in this race -- they're there to sift through the data and publish only those papers that meet a minimum standard for scientific validity.  And that's just as it should be.

So watch for The Journal of Cryptozoology.  It looks like the people in charge have exactly the skeptical approach that has been largely missing from discussions of this subject.

Which is more than I can say for the legislature of the state of Tennessee, which on Monday passed a bill (HB 368) by a margin of 24-8.  (Read about it here.)  Sponsored by Republican Bo Watson, the bill “provides guidelines for teachers answering students’ questions about evolution, global warming and other scientific subjects,” specifically encouraging teachers to "teach the weaknesses" of these "controversial scientific theories."

Well.  As I've said so many times that I'm beginning to feel like I should just post it as a banner headline on the top of this blog, THERE IS NO CONTROVERSY AMONGST SCIENTISTS REGARDING EVOLUTION.  And damn little about global warming.  The evolutionary model is no more subject to "weaknesses" than is the atomic theory, the theory of gravitation, or the theory of electromagnetism.  As far as global warming -- there is no doubt any more that the world is warming up; the only question is to what extent that warm-up is due to human production of carbon dioxide.

As always, this bill is just a transparent attempt to introduce a political or a religious agenda (and increasingly, those are fusing into one thing) into the sphere of governmental oversight of education policy.  It has nothing, nothing whatsoever, to do with science per se -- with the world of rational, critical evaluation of the evidence.  No one who starts from an unbiased position could fail to be swayed by the mountain of evidence supporting the evolutionary model, and in fact we know a great deal more about the mechanisms involved in evolution than we do about those involved in gravitation.

See why I found the linking of those stories wryly amusing?  It's a crazy old world when the people who are investigating Bigfoot and El Chupacabra understand the principles of scientific induction better than those who are entrusted with the welfare and education of our children.  And to the Tennessee legislators who voted for this bill; if you want a fine example of how to keep ignorant superstition and confirmation bias out of the realm of science, you might want to learn a thing or two from the Monster Hunters.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Water of life

Are you thirsty?  Is plain old water just not doing it for you any more?  Would you like to try a new kind of water, special water, that is different from the regular kind mostly because it costs lots more?

Well, allow me to introduce "Starfire Water."  But let's let the manufacturers speak for themselves:
...Starfire Water™, a proprietary alkaline, performance, bio-holographic “living” water produced using breakthrough, 21st-century quantum water technology. Starfire Water™ is treated with ultraviolet, ozonation, infrared stimulation and electromagnetism for a negative ion charged water, as in nature, allowing deep, cellular intake through aquaporins, the floodgates to hydration. 
Wow.  "Quantum water."  And it's also "bio-holographic."  Doesn't that make you want to drink up?  But tell me, how is "Starfire Water" different than tap water?
Structured Water - Water is naturally structured, but water from the tap is not and neither is most water sold in the store. Unstructured water goes right through you, while structured water removes toxins from your body.
Energized Water - Even structured water on the market, isn’t energized. When you taste our water, you’ll feel a tingle on the roof of the mouth. That’s the energized water. It gives you energy for life.
Infused Water - Most water is just water. But we infuse our water with Etherium, a trace form of liquid gold, known to facilitate higher awareness.
"Etherium?"  I checked the periodic table, just to see if I'd missed something last time I looked, and I couldn't find any "etherium."  But they said it's just "liquid gold," right?  Why on earth do we need gold in our water?
In car stereos, they use gold plated ends to provide a crisp clear connection. In the human body, we use gold too! We cannot just eat any old gold off of our wedding ring or the wires of our stereo. This gold must be small enough to enter the human cell with out digestion. If the gold is in flakes or too large like colloidal gold, it must be digested, or broken down. Some times large minerals like these do not stay in the digestive tract long enough to be digested and pass through with out much benefit. A better choice is to get the gold in a form that is all ready in it's (sic) smallest form. What is the smallest form of gold? It is Angstrom gold. Angstrom gold is the smallest form of gold available today. It is so small it can enter the human cell without digestion. Angstrom gold does not have any fillers or other excess baggage with it like colloidal gold can carry with it. Angstrom gold is pure gold infused into Pure water using angstrom's special process.
"Angstrom" gold, eh?  Isn't an "angstrom" just a unit of length, equal to one ten-billionth of a meter?  I would much prefer my gold measured in units of mass, not length.  And large ones.  "Kilograms of gold" would be something I could get excited about.  But be that as it may: what can "Starfire Water" do for my health?
(It is) The Most Hydrating Water on the Planet. That's because Starfire Structured Water is infused with Hydrogen Structuring Technology introduced by a syndicate of water enthusiast, and making it the most energizing, detoxiying (sic), anti-oxidizing and hydrating water on the planet. Using [hydrogen fortification] vortex technology, we’ve created hexagonal water that quenches your thirst from inside out.
Oooh!  Hexagonal water!  My favorite kind!  Trapezoidal water is kinda pointy and hurts going down,  ya know?  And how awesome that it's "introduced by a syndicate of water enthusiast."  Whatever the hell that means.  But in any case, how can you folks manage to make such an amazing product?
Our process utilizes a centrifugal vortex to implode the water and set the water in motion for several hours. This reorganizes the molecular order into a receptive state to receive high frequency vibration. The water is then passed through a chamber where magnetic resonance imprints a series of frequencies in an infinitely modulating sequence. Molecular order and frequency loading mutually reinforce each other to maintain the transformation of the water. The result is a liquid with the water formed into small, biocompatible water crystals that resonate at a designed and predictable frequency. The specific frequencies of the crystalline structured water solution are designed to be amplified by the cells of the human body, and transferred through resonant paths to tissues in need of "tuning".
Oh, really?  I... I see... I... um...


*several minutes pass*

Whoooo, sorry for that outburst, folks.  I've gotten a handle on myself, now.  In fact, I think what I really need, right now, is a nice big glass of...

Scotch.  But being that it's 5 AM, it might be a little early for that, so I'll settle for coffee.  Made with plain old, ordinary tap water, unpotentiated and un-bio-energized.  Which, to be clear, is the only kind of water there is. 

And, allow me to point out, it is also far, far less expensive.

Monday, March 19, 2012

We're having an apocalypse. Again.

I remember reading some years ago, although I've forgotten the source, about a theory that connects the degree to which people engage in apocalyptic thinking with how godawful the conditions are at the time.  The author pointed to the decades following the Black Death in Europe, and 250 years later the misery that attended the Thirty Years' War, as spawning a resurgence of focus on the End Times -- and, interestingly, an increased persecution of individuals perceived as collaborating with the agents of evil.  It's almost as if people said, "Wow, this is some awful stuff we're going through right now, wouldn't it be nice if the powers-that-be would just press 'Reset'?  But until then, let's amuse ourselves by burning some witches."

I have been mystified recently by how much attention has been given to end-of-the-world scenarios, and not just by the religious.  Besides the Christian Rapture crowd, led by such luminaries of critical thinking as Harold Camping and Ronald Weinland, there has been the Mayan Apocalypse crowd, the Planet Nibiru crowd, and (to bring it into the realm of the marginally plausible) the Death Asteroids crowd.  And what has struck me, each time, is how enthusiastic everyone seems to be about these various scenarios.  You very much get the impression that these folks really would love nothing more than to see a giant rock turn downtown Baltimore into a humongous crater.

Which, I suppose, is why new and different proposals for bringing down Civilization As We Know It keep cropping up.  I ran into a new one just yesterday (described here), in which a Russian scientist, Alexey Dmitriev, goes into his own personal take on how we're all gonna die.

We are (Dmitriev says) about to run smack into an "interstellar energy cloud" that will propel us into "2,000 years of light."  This sounds good until you read a little more, and find out that Dmitriev blames the leading edge of this cloud for massive animal die-offs, hurricanes and tornadoes, climate change, and solar coronal mass ejections.  He includes this map to illustrate what's happening:

So, anyway, I'm looking at the diagram, and I'm thinking, "I see where we supposedly are, but who are all of those other folks... Electra, Celaeno, Alcyone, and so on?"  And then I thought, "Wait, those names are familiar..."  And finally I figured it out.  Those are the names of the Seven Sisters from Greek mythology -- the Pleiades.

Interestingly, the article I linked above doesn't mention anything about the Pleiades -- it goes on and on about how NASA is covering the whole thing up so as not to cause mass panic, but never explains that the map is showing the solar system orbiting around one of the Pleiades.  This is probably because, given that the Sun does not, in fact, orbit around the Pleiades, anyone who knows even a smattering of astronomy would then look at the article and say, "This is complete horse waste."

Interestingly, the article gives a link to a NASA press release (here), and only quotes one line:  "The solar system is passing through an interstellar cloud that physics says should not exist."  This, of course, makes it sound mysterious and scary.  The article doesn't mention, however, that in the very next paragraph of the NASA story, the author states that information from Voyager gave physicists the information they needed to figure it out -- and in any case, the cloud is a "wispy mix of hydrogen and helium" that is being held in place, far outside Pluto's orbit, by a bubble of stable magnetic field.  So, as usual, the apocalyptic woo-woos quoted just enough actual science that, taken out of context, it sounded scary.

What is more interesting, however, how... cheery the author sounds about the prospect of worldwide cataclysm:  "...this strange nebulous cloud of energy (will cause) the sun to become more excited than ever before... fueling the sun to erupt into one final burst of energy that could not only destroy everything we know about our society, but also herald in a new wave of consciousness as a new generation of highly advanced and technologically minded people attempt to put the pieces back together and the infrastructure sends humanity back to a level of technology comparable to the turn of the 19th century."

Doesn't this sound the same as what the Rapture folks and the Mayan apocalypse folks are saying?  "Okay, it'll be rough for a time, but don't worry, everything will be amazingly wonderful afterwards!"  You have to wonder why this kind of thinking is so popular these days -- everyone and his dog seems to be coming up with a new and improved version of how modern civilization is going to collapse.  And I started to wonder: "Is it because things are kind of cruddy now?"  I mean, we don't have anything as catastrophic as the Black Death to try to recover from, come to terms with, and explain; but there are hundreds of more ordinary bad things -- economic woes, wars, terrorism, unemployment, hate crimes...  It did cross my mind to speculate that some of this neoapocalypticism (to coin a new, and almost unpronounceable, word) might be fueled by people looking around them and thinking, "This is dreadful.  Maybe we should just start over."

I also wonder if it might be fuel to the fire of the hypermoralistic wingnuts who are currently trying to promote government intrusion into women's rights and every facet of human sexuality, despite that it is these same folks who chant the mantra of "small government" with no apparent awareness of a break in the logical chain.  To listen to Rick Santorum, contraception, gay marriage, and pornography are going to lead directly to the fall of the United States; and if you look at folks like Brent Bozell (not directly!  Wear protective eyewear!), you'd come away with the impression that movies with scenes showing people having sex are going to destroy the moral fabric of the entire society. 

It's the same thing, isn't it?  The world is facing some pretty serious problems; day-to-day life can be kind of depressing; and we have a sudden resurgence of apocalyptic thinking and persecution of people on the basis of morals and beliefs.  In so many ways, we haven't progressed much with comparison to our ancestors from the 14th century -- a thought that is not all that reassuring.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy St. Patrick's Reincarnated Alien Etheric Ascension Day

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  Time for everyone of Irish descent to celebrate their heritage by drinking Guinness, wearing green, having parades, singing "O Danny Boy," and celebrating the fact that we're all actually reincarnated aliens.

This last part comes from noted wingnut Theresa Thurmond Morris, who calls St. Patrick's Day "Spritual Fey Day."  It's not that she scoffs at the traditional meaning of St. Patrick's Day; in her article (here) you will find that she is highly ecumenical in her woo-wooism.  She seems to have no problem with all of the drinking of green beer and wearing of shamrocks, and also gives a pleasant nod to the Catholic Church's ritual blessing of missionaries on March 17; but she also says that because of St. Patrick's Day's connection with pagan symbolism, it is a day of "Spiritual Understanding of both Good and Bad as Dark and Light Fey on Earth."

Whatever that means.

Ms. Morris talks about her work as a "White Lighter," which is a reincarnated alien sent here to do good.  Lots of us are reincarnated aliens, she said, only most of us have forgotten it, and her job is to reawaken that memory so we can go help reawaken others, kind of like a giant woo-woo game of "Tag."  And St. Patrick's Day is the day to begin it all: 
Those who are on earth will be given a day on earth from 2012 forward to choose as adults. Normally, those who come to earth are trained in the spiritual ways of the creation of both the alpha males and the omega females to exist inside the omniverse. Those in the past on earth who found themselves on the dark areas and chose their parents before coming may have had to stay in their area or community.
Now we have an annual cross over from the dark fey to the light fey. In the past, there was a choice made ace the age of sixteen earth years to choose to be good spirit light or bad spirit light and to work on one side or the other. Now from 2012 forward all those who come to earth that desire to change will be allowed to do so.
This is one of the reasons for the Ascension Age is change! What does all of this have to do with me being visited all my life with those from above to share that they exist and so I would not forget them in my human form?
I had been an experienced avatar ascension master in past lives and decided to come back in an agreement I made with the Advanced Beings and the Alpha God and Omega Goddess realms. This was due to my prior choices in past lives.
Evidently, her home world is the Planet of Convoluted Syntax, because she goes on to say, "However, we prefer those who are now present on earth who have not caught up to the way our Supreme Council desires us to be for the future of all humanoid sentient intelligent beings who will be Taken to Terra-Form and begin new worlds to think."  To which I can only respond, "Has anyone ever really been as far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?"  To borrow a phrase.

Whatever her origins, Ms. Morris is pretty optimistic about the future of life on Earth.  She thinks we're headed into something she calls an "etheric ascension," which is due to happen this year.  St. Patrick's Day is only the beginning, she says; we're all going to become highly evolved beings.  I applaud her enthusiasm about this, given my general opinion that there are a good many people who could do with some evolving, and more than a few who richly deserve to be on the receiving end of natural selection.  "I do my part as the Oracle of this generation in the Akashic Field and what we now call cyberspace as the WEB of sharing the All that is known," she says.  "We are now going to enter a time when all are accepted into the sea of both waves and particles."

Well.  I'm assuming by this last bit that she's talking here about the dual nature of light, a purely physical phenomenon that woo-woos love to yammer on about because it sounds like some sort of Mystical Duality Of Being, when in reality it just a description of how photons of light behave (albeit a pretty cool thing in and of itself).  So once again, we have someone who seems not to understand the science throwing around buzzwords to give herself more credence in the eyes of the gullible.

But don't let me rain on your Spiritual Fey Day Parade; if you think you're a reincarnated Good Alien and are highly in touch with your Akashic Field, don't let me stop you.   Me, I'll probably stick to drinking Guinness and wearing green.  Don't expect me to sing "O Danny Boy," however.  I freakin' hate that song.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Clean sweep

It will hardly merit mention to regular readers of this blog that, given an odd circumstance, I will look first for a rational, scientific explanation.  Although my field is biology, I know enough of the basics of the other sciences to have a good shot at coming up with a plausible explanation for most of what I see -- or, failing that, at least to recognize when a proposed explanation doesn't make sense.

Which brings me to the strange case of the standing brooms.

Apparently over the last few months, there have been multiple reports of brooms staying standing up after being set on end, sometimes for hours.  People report that they were resistant to falling over even if bumped or pushed, and several folks stated that it felt like a "strange force" was keeping the brooms upright.

Naturally, once this sort of thing starts to be reported, we have a veritable explosion of silly explanations.  Here is a sampling of ones I saw on various websites:
  • planetary alignment creating a change in the gravitational pull
  • solar flares
  • static electricity
  • Mercury going into retrograde motion
  • ghosts
  • the position of the Moon
  • the position of the broom relative to "ley lines"
  • tapping into "psychic energy currents"
Reading the impassioned exponents of each of those so-called explanations made me want to weep softly and bang my head on my computer keyboard, but I decided to man up and see if I could find anyone who had a more sensible approach.  I found this wonderful site ("Common Sense Conspiracy: We Filter the Bullshit So You Don't Have To!"), which attributes the phenomenon to simple physics -- almost any object will stand upright if it has a flat surface of some kind, and you can get the object's center of gravity to stay over its base of support.  Voilà -- a standing broom!

Of course, woo-woos never give up that easily.  Or sometimes at all.  The "comments" section was filled with rants about how no, it wasn't simple physics, because the broom would only stand up on second Tuesdays when the Moon was full and the appropriate words were chanted.  It can't just be a simple explanation!  It can't!

It is a mystery to me why so many people don't find the world as it is sufficiently wonderful and weird -- they feel like they have to make stuff up, push natural phenomena into supernatural molds, turn everything into some kind of paranormal mystery.  Isn't what actual, reputable scientists are currently discovering -- especially in fields like quantum mechanics, cosmology, neurology, and nanotechnology -- awe-inspiring enough?  Why do you need to muddy the whole situation by making stuff up, or coming up with loony explanations for what you see?

Now, mind you, I'm not saying that there aren't things that haven't been explained yet.  There are plenty, and good science is always pushing the envelope of what's known.  But I am confident that any real phenomenon is ultimately going to be explainable by science, because that's what science does.  It may seem supernatural now, but that's just because we don't yet comprehend what's going on.  As Robert Heinlein said, "Magic is science we don't understand yet."

But the brooms, alas, aren't even that; it's just simple mechanics at work.  No need to invoke solar flares or planets in retrograde.  I'm glad, actually; the whole thing brought up memories of Fantasia, which I'd really rather not think about.  That movie scared the hell out of me when I was a kid.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Here comes the sun

Well.  And I thought that the only thing we had to worry about, sun-wise, was the appearance of a Massive Unknown Object that was tethered to the sun and slowly draining it of energy.  As the responses of six regular readers of Skeptophilia to yesterday's post show: a lot I know.

Besides the game of cosmic tetherball currently involving our home star, we also have another thing to fret about, which is a giant triangular coronal hole.  Well, not the coronal hole itself, which is a purely natural phenomenon, but the reactions of thousands of woo-woos who, upon seeing the photographs, immediately started running around making terrified little bleating noises.  I mean, people seriously need to calm down, or someone's gonna get hurt.

First, let's take a look at a photograph of the phenomenon, once again courtesy of NASA:

Okay.  So, even I have to admit, it's kind of creepy-looking.  But, I assure you, it's harmless -- all it is is a place where the sun's magnetic field has shifted, changing the speed and direction of the solar wind.  A solar storm, so to speak.  It could cause brighter-than-average auroral displays, but here on Earth, that's about it as far as impacts.

Tell that to the woo-woos.  Here is a sampling of comments on posts, blogs, and websites regarding the phenomenon, which I replicate here verbatim:

"Could the pyramid be a sign of the new world order that's about to be achieved? You know.. like what's on the dollar.  The triangle.. the novos ordo seclorum.  (New world order).  HMMMMMM?"

"The first thing I noticed is that the configuration is the same as Orion's Belt.  That's significant."

"The SUN WARMS... the SUN WARNS!!!  The heavenly signs are up there for those that have EYES TO SEE!!!"

"The sun is crystallizing, or something.  It's turning into a merkabah."  (I had to look up what a "merkabah" was.  It's god's chariot, such as was seen in the visions of Ezekiel, an event that goes on record as the world's first known bad acid trip.)

"What's the possibility that all celestial bodies have this shape as their inner core, as opposed to the round core commonly considered?  If this was true, couldn't it account for the importance of this shape to every ancienct [sic] civilization so far discovered?  The properties attributed to this shape alone is remarkable, and, possibly applicable, if considered.  Think of it.  This shape creates energy.  It is said to effect force fields.  Think of the spin of round bodies.  The attributes of this triangular core might contribute to a cascade of complimentary forces that would keep a body upright and spinning.  Not knowing science to any degree, I still can't figure the magnetic pole parts, or, what happens in a pole reversal, yet, the properties of triangular bodies containing an infinite number of it's [sic] own kind, including those additional shapes formed by them, seems to make this idea worthy of a few moments of consideration, even if unusual, or, to mainstream thinking, implausible.  Well, that's what I posit, when I look at that anomoly [sic].  What is causing it to show itself is quite another matter. That I have no clue about...except to say that the energy that the Sun has been ejecting lately probably needs to build back up."

Oh, really?  You posit that, do you?  Even though you don't "know science to any degree?"  It never fails to amaze me that people who have no understanding of science whatsoever still think they have valuable contributions to make in the field just based on their "feelings."

But then, there's one last comment I saw that I just have to throw in:


So, there you have it, folks.  A coronal hole leading to a massive outpouring of foolishness.  I know that correlation doesn't equal causation, but I think here we might have a pretty good case.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Space tetherball

New from the "Okay, Really, You Actually Believe That?" department: a gigantic UFO is moored next to the sun, and is sucking energy from it in the fashion of a leech.

At least, that's the claim of a guy who seems to have spent too much time in the sun himself, who based his conclusions on the following photograph from NASA:

There are apparently two theories currently going around to explain what the Massive Unknown Object is trying to accomplish by this.  (1)  It is a benevolent Massive Unknown Object, which is siphoning off energy from the sun to prevent a solar flare from deep fat frying the entire Earth.  The siphoning is keeping us at just the right temperature, and is responsible for the abnormally warm weather much of the United States is currently experiencing.  (2)  It is a malevolent Massive Unknown Object, which is draining the sun of energy, the ultimate result of which will be that the sun will fade out and the entire Earth will become a frozen wasteland, sort of like Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back, but without any weird goat-things to ride around on and periodically disembowel to stay warm.

All of this has had the effect of making me want to shout at my computer, "Don't you understand the definition of the word 'unknown?'  It means you don't know!"  Of course, woo-woos never let a little thing like a complete lack of facts stop them, and there have been thus far a variety of videos that have showed up on YouTube, seemingly mostly made by people who really ought to be medicated, as well as impassioned posts on woo-woo websites imploring us to For God's Sake Do Something.  One of them urged NASA to try to contact the Massive Unknown Object and demand to determine its intent; another one, evidently posted by someone from the Woo-Woo Auxiliary Unit of the NRA, suggested shooting at it; and a third tied it to the upcoming Mayan apocalypse, which I suppose was inevitable.

But by far my favorite comment was one posted on a website that put up the photograph with an all-call for explanations from anyone who wanted to weigh in.  "Jesus H. Christ on a raft!" the poster wrote.  "A GIANT SPACESHIP is SUCKING ENERGY out of the SUN and people are UNSURE whether this is good or bad?  Wake up and smell the cold, dead planet!  People, people, people!  It's time to sell out and see if we can negotiate to at least keep Australia!  Madagascar!  South Central LA! Something!"

Oh, you silly folks!  It's gotten so I can't tell when you're joking!  So I'm just going to assume you are!  And hope that none of you know where I live!

Anyhow, that's the latest storm of controversy stirred up by the folks at NASA.  I'm sure that in a day or two, some guy at NASA will make a public statement to calm everyone down, assuring us that the Massive Unknown Object is actually a sensor artifact, which will have the result of making all of the woo-woos howl even louder that it's a conspiracy and a coverup and that we're all gonna die.  At least until they all stampede off, mooing wildly, toward the next blurry photograph that seems to show something that's actually not there.  In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy the amazingly warm weather the northeast is currently basking in.  Whether or not it's due to the energy-siphoning work of a giant alien spacecraft, it's pretty nice.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Thoughts of a small-town atheist

Recently I was asked by a former student, who is now a graduate of Harvard University in the field of evolutionary biology, if I would write an article for The Harvard Humanist Community Project, a fine new organization supporting rationalists, humanists, skeptics, atheists, and agnostics in the Harvard community.  (You should check out their website, which has a great many interesting links.)  To say I was honored by her request is an understatement; the following was my contribution.


I am a high school teacher in a small, rural village in upstate New York. I’ve lived here for twenty years, and know pretty much everyone around here.

I am also an atheist.

It was some years after I moved here, from the safe anonymity of the big city, before I felt comfortable admitting my beliefs (or lack thereof). In fact, I actually attended the local Methodist church for a time, mostly on the prompting of my (now ex) wife, who felt that it was important to raise children in the social, ethical, and cultural setting that a church could offer. Contrast that with now, two decades later, when virtually everyone who knows me knows that I am an atheist.

Despite what a geometry teacher would tell you, getting from point A to point B seldom progresses in a straight line. I did not have a sudden “coming out,” where I went to the center of the village and made some kind of public proclamation of disbelief. It started out because, as a teacher of biology, I yearly face the daunting task of addressing students’ preconceived notions about evolution, and inevitably someone asks, “What religion do you belong to, Mr. Bonnet?” Even the phrasing of the question seems not to admit “None” as an answer; there is a tacit assumption of religiosity in this country, even in the relatively liberal part of it where I live, that makes a denial of faith seem almost like admitting to being some sort of pervert.

At first, I just dodged the question. “Why is that relevant?” was my standard response, mostly because few 10th graders had the wherewithal to come up with an answer to that question on the fly. The fact is, of course, it is relevant, just as the religions of the presidential candidates are relevant, however much we’d like to pretend as a nation that it isn’t true. And honestly, the deflection of the question was disingenuous, and left me with a sense of unease, a feeling that I had lost a teachable moment, not to mention left students with the impression that I was afraid to answer.

About twelve years ago, following a divorce, and perhaps feeling I had less to lose in the public eye after the very visible collapse of my marriage, I started answering the question by saying, “I’m an atheist. However, religion is outside the scope of this course – I’d be happy to discuss it with you another time, if you’d like.” This seemed to satisfy the majority of students, who (to be honest) probably had figured it out anyway. But it opened the door for the minority who were bound to see that as throwing down the gauntlet.

I’ve had letters written to me urging me to “confront my disbelief” and accept Jesus as my personal savior. I’ve been mailed piles of religious promotional materials. I’ve had a former student, once a skeptical rationalist but now a born-again, take it as his personal mission to save my soul. I’ve had parents who have asked the administration to place their children in the other biology teacher’s class, because she is “less hostile toward people with opposing views.” I even had, on one spectacularly frightening occasion, a man show up at my door and tell me that I was headed to hell because I “mislead young minds,” and he would be the one who would send me there, if need be. (I told the man to get the hell off my property, and called the police – and, fortunately, never saw or heard from him again.)

All of this has, on the one hand, made me more militant – my general reaction being, “I’ll be damned if I’ll be bullied.” On the other, it’s made me wonder why atheism is viewed with such hostility. It’s not like the majority of us are saying you can’t believe in god if you want to – by and large, atheists are a pretty live-and-let-live bunch. It more seems to be that people are bothered by someone calmly and rationally looking at all of the religious choices out there, and simply smiling and saying, “No thanks. I don’t want any of them, thank you.” It offends a lot of religious people, I think, because it implies that even given the smorgasbord of dishes, we atheists would prefer to forgo dinner completely.

In a well-publicized survey, it was found that when asked if Americans would vote for a person who was an atheist, a smaller percentage responded “yes” than did for almost any other stigmatized group. Muslims, homosexuals, even convicted felons garnered more “yes” votes than atheists did. When these results appeared in the press, I made a fairly aghast comment about it on Facebook, and a woman who was one of my high school classmates responded, “I agree! I wouldn’t vote for an atheist! How can you have any ethics or morals if you don’t believe in God?”

Well that, to quote Tolkien, needed a week’s answer or else none. Sensing a losing battle, I elected the latter, all of which goes to illustrate that I’m not as self-confident as I could be. It has been, and continues to be, a process of growth – toward, I hope, a position of respecting others while simultaneously never allowing myself to be browbeaten into silence again.

Toward that end, a little over two years ago I started a blog called Skeptophilia, intended to explore the rationalist’s view of life, with a bit of humor frequently thrown in. What at first began as a way for me to express myself in a public forum has grown to have a significant regular following – I am currently zooming toward 50,000 lifetime hits. More important to me personally is that I have a number of current and former students who are regular readers, and have contributed topics on many occasions. This gives me hope – that given exposure to rational, skeptical views, people will respond positively.

And also toward that end, I am here, at the invitation of another former student of mine. I hope to continue to contribute to the cause of humanism in whatever way I can. I may never be a Hitchens or a Dawkins, making headlines and fighting the big battles, but if I can in some small way add my voice to those championing the rationalist viewpoint, I will have succeeded.

Monday, March 12, 2012

DNA energy field laser frequency vibrations!

Every once in a while I'll run across a claim that is so wildly ridiculous that I question, for a time, if it is meant as a joke.  Sadly, the majority of them aren't.  As hard as it is for me to believe, given that we currently live in the most scientifically and technologically advanced society that the Earth has ever seen, there are a lot of people who believe stuff that is unrefined bullshit.

I ran into an example a few days ago, when a friend sent me this article, entitled "Scientists Prove DNA Can Be Reprogrammed By Words And Frequencies."  The word "frequency" always acts like a red flag to me, as it is for some reason a word woo-woos like a lot, and throw about in absurd ways despite its having a rigid, and not especially thrilling, definition in the scientific world (three others are "energy," "vibration," and "field").  So I read the article, and found ample fodder for faceplanting right in the first paragraph, to wit:
THE HUMAN DNA IS A BIOLOGICAL INTERNET and superior in many aspects to the artificial one. Russian scientific research directly or indirectly explains phenomena such as clairvoyance, intuition, spontaneous and remote acts of healing, self healing, affirmation techniques, unusual light/auras around people (namely spiritual masters), mind’s influence on weather patterns and much more. In addition, there is evidence for a whole new type of medicine in which DNA can be influenced and reprogrammed by words and frequencies WITHOUT cutting out and replacing single genes.
So -- DNA causes auras and clairvoyance, not to mention "weather patterns."  And here I thought weather patterns were caused by air masses moving around, and all that sort of thing.   But the author is far from done:
The Russian biophysicist and molecular biologist Pjotr Garjajev and his colleagues also explored the vibrational behavior of the DNA. [For the sake of brevity I will give only a summary here. For further exploration please refer to the appendix at the end of this article.] The bottom line was: “Living chromosomes function just like solitonic/holographic computers using the endogenous DNA laser radiation.” This means that they managed for example to modulate certain frequency patterns onto a laser ray and with it influenced the DNA frequency and thus the genetic information itself. Since the basic structure of DNA-alkaline pairs and of language (as explained earlier) are of the same structure, no DNA decoding is necessary.
Ooh, there we are -- "vibration!"  That's two down, two to go.  My favorite part of this is that "no DNA decoding is necessary."  You don't have to know anything about how DNA actually works, apparently, to experience "endogenous DNA laser radiation."  Maybe it'll grant you superpowers, you think?  If so, I want to be able to fly.  You know, big feathery wings coming from my shoulders.  It'll make fitting into shirts tricky, but that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make.

But let's not get sidetracked, here.  Back to the article:
One can simply use words and sentences of the human language! This, too, was experimentally proven! Living DNA substance (in living tissue, not in vitro) will always react to language-modulated laser rays and even to radio waves, if the proper frequencies are being used...  Esoteric and spiritual teachers have known for ages that our body is programmable by language, words and thought. This has now been scientifically proven and explained. Of course the frequency has to be correct. And this is why not everybody is equally successful or can do it with always the same strength. The individual person must work on the inner processes and maturity in order to establish a conscious communication with the DNA. The Russian researchers work on a method that is not dependent on these factors but will ALWAYS work, provided one uses the correct frequency.
"The human language" reprograms DNA?  Hmm.  I wonder if it has to be a specific language?  Russian, given that that's what the "scientist" who did this "research" speaks?  Would English do?  How about Sanskrit?  Or Swahili?  What about Pig Latin?  "This is Ordon-gay attempting to eprogram-ray your NA-Day."

But that's not all your DNA can do, when the proper "frequency" is achieved:
The Russian scientists also found out that our DNA can cause disturbing patterns in the vacuum, thus producing magnetized wormholes! Wormholes are the microscopic equivalents of the so-called Einstein-Rosen bridges in the vicinity of black holes (left by burned-out stars).? These are tunnel connections between entirely different areas in the universe through which information can be transmitted outside of space and time. The DNA attracts these bits of information and passes them on to our consciousness. This process of hyper communication is most effective in a state of relaxation. Stress, worries or a hyperactive intellect prevent successful hyper communication or the information will be totally distorted and useless.
I've been kind of stressed lately, which is probably why there have been no wormholes forming in my vicinity.
When hyper communication occurs, one can observe in the DNA as well as in the human being special phenomena. The Russian scientists irradiated DNA samples with laser light. On screen a typical wave pattern was formed. When they removed the DNA sample, the wave pattern did not disappear, it remained. Many control experiments showed that the pattern still came from the removed sample, whose energy field apparently remained by itself. This effect is now called phantom DNA effect. It is surmised that energy from outside of space and time still flows through the activated wormholes after the DNA was removed. 
Yay!  "Energy" AND "field!"  We've scored four for four with this one!  At this point, my DNA was tired of hypercommunicating at high frequencies, so I pretty much stopped reading, although I did notice further along that the article mentioned the Schumann resonance, Princess Diana's funeral, remote sensing, UFOs, "troubled children," and anti-gravity.  So they've got their bases pretty well covered, woo-woo-wise.

And yes, this article appears to be entirely serious.  As do the comments, the first one of which was, "This appears to be how Jesus performed miracles.  The power of God is within us!"  Because Jesus had lasers, and all. 

I find all of this simultaneously hilarious and discouraging.  Hilarious because the claims are so bafflingly stupid that I can't help but laugh when I read them; discouraging because there is, apparently, a large group of people who actually find them plausible.  As a science teacher, we try to provide what Carl Sagan calls "a candle in the dark" -- a way of seeing the world that gets past superstition and credulity, and bases our knowledge instead on evidence, logic, and rationality.  And to be sure, we've come a long way since the Dark Ages, when people believed that there were only four elements (earth, air, fire, and water) and frogs were spontaneously created from muddy water.  When I read stuff like this, however, it makes me realize how far we still have to go.