Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Hazards of Fire Walking (or Lack Thereof)

In the spirit of my last post speculating on species such as the white sturgeon as the source of lake monster sightings, here's another one along the same looks-supernatural-but-isn't vein. Two weeks ago a story hit the news that 21 people had suffered burns on their feet after attending one of Anthony Robbins' famous fire walks. The media treated the story as proof that fire walking is dangerous, but in fact it is far less so than one would think. To keep the story in perspective, six thousand people participated in this particular firewalk. That means your chance of getting burned at such an event is only .35 percent, or one person in about 287. The initial story reported "second and third degree burns," but in fact that turned out to be an exaggeration on the part of the original reporter on the scene. Some of the 21 burned participants developed blisters, which marks a burn as second degree, but that was about the extent of it.

It appears the debacle started with a report in a local paper, the San Jose Mercury News, which stated that 21 participants suffered second- or third-degree burns at the event and quoted a young college student who was passing by at 11 p.m. at night and was shocked by the sight of 6,000 people chanting, yelling, and firewalking. He claimed it was a "horrific" scene and he heard "wails of pain, screams of agony."

Those who participated said the young man must not have realized that seminar participants are encouraged to yell and scream to psyche themselves up and they were not all screaming in physical pain. The article in the San Jose Mercury News was taken at face value, and like a bad case of telephone gossip, repeated and embellished across various media outlets around the world with even more severe and shocking titles to grab people's attention. Fox News took the liberty of stretching the truth farther by reporting a "hot coal catastrophe," stating that people had been hospitalized with second- and third-degree burns, which then became quickly duplicated by others in the media. According to the medical professionals on site, while several participants received minor burns and blistering and received medical attention on site or afterward, these exaggerated reports apparently became the basis of a story then told around the world.

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Lake Monster Revealed

Reports of lake monsters come from all over the world. Loch Ness in Scotland is particularly famous for the elusive creature christened "Nessie" in the media, but in fact most deep freshwater lakes produce stories of strange and inexplicable sightings. Skeptics usually do their best to separate out fraudulent reports made by people seeking media attention and then assign the rest to cases of mistaken identity or my personal favorite, "mass hysteria." This latter explanation has always made me chuckle because (A) mass hysteria can't be quantified or measured, (B) its mechanism is not understood, and (C) it gets used as a catch-all for reports that appear to be honest but could not possibly be a case of mistaken identity. In other words, there's really not much difference in scientific terms between stating that an event was caused by mass hysteria versus some sort of supernatural effect. Neither stands up to the formal scientific method.

Here's something that does. Take a look at this photograph, which is genuine and has not been digitally altered. What you are seeing is a picture of the largest white sturgeon ever caught, measured at 12 feet 4 inches long and estimated to weigh approximately 1100 pounds. It was caught in British Columbia's Fraser River, which is known for its a thriving sturgeon population. Now I suppose that makes it a river monster rather than a lake monster, but various sturgeon species inhabit freshwater lakes all over the world. They're not dinosaurs, but they're quite ancient as fish go, dating back to the Triassic period 200 million years ago in the fossil record. In addition to growing extremely large sturgeons also have very long lifespans. The white sturgeon in the photograph is estimated to be around a hundred years old based on its size.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Why Paranormal Researchers Need Magicians

Back when Jason Miller's excellent Protection and Reversal Magick came out, he and I got into a disagreement regarding how common effective magical and paranormal attacks really are. Essentially, Jason believes that they are a lot more common than I do - at least in the course of regular daily life. In the area of paranormal research, though, it seems to me that the risk of attacks by spirits could very well be quite high simply because paranormal researchers are deliberately seeking out spirits strong enough to produce measurable effects on their "home turf," so to speak. I don't find it much of a stretch to imagine that many of these spirits would not welcome the intrusion and retaliate with everything they have, and I also am fairly certain that any spirit strong enough to set off a K2 meter or create an EVP is going to be able to launch a potent magical attack. This should make paranormal research more dangerous than it often is assumed to be, and as this article points out, a seemingly high number of investigators have in fact developed unusual health problems and even died under mysterious circumstances.

Ed Warren, who suddenly collapsed in 2001 and spent the last five years of his life plagued with sickness. Lou Gentile who died of cancer in his early 40s. Tom Robinson who's been hospitalized twice due to injuries he sustained while under spiritual attack. And perhaps most famous, the case of Ryan Buell of “Paranormal State.”

“For four years, Ryan starred in “Paranormal State”, a reality tv show notable for it’s overtly religious overtones, and Buell’s assertion that he worked directly with the Catholic church in the saving of souls. The series’ five seasons saw Buell leading numerous exorcisms, residential clearings, and at times, physical altercations with demonic entities.”

Monday, July 23, 2012

Your Own Private Leprechaun

Does anyone here remember disturbingauctions.com? The site still exists, but it stopped being updated years ago. That's a real shame, because some of the stuff they managed to come across on eBay was downright hilarious, especially their writeups of the various items. It still has a forum where you can post your own disturbing items, but come on - it's just not the same. At any rate, lately some enterprising souls have decided that there's money to be made selling "metaphysical items" on eBay, like charms, talismans, magical implements... and this.

An astral plane leprechaun is bound to this item. He has red hair, freckles, pale skin, and easily gets sunburn. Leprechauns are a good spirited type of male faery that flows with good fortune. He carries with him several four-leaf clovers. Leprechauns come from the old ways of Ireland, the pagan druids, before the Irish experienced cultural genocide, which lead to similar effects of cultural genocide the Native Americans experienced, such as alcoholism. The leprechauns all weep for Ireland and wish it to return to druidism. He is very protective of his pot of gold, but willing to share bit of luck for a worthy person. Having a leprechaun spirit around will attract good luck and money to you in everything you do. This spirit will also attempt to grant your desires. The way he grants them is purely through giving you good luck so that by virtue of luck will steer things to how you like them.

Oddly enough, I'm pretty sure this same item came up a few months back with a higher price attached to it. I considered blogging it, but never got around to writing up the post. Clearly, by coming up on my radar again it's just begging to be mocked.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

More British UFO Files Released

UFO enthusiasts have always contended that governments around the world have evidence of alien activity but are keeping it secret from the general population. The United Kingdom, though, started declassifying documents from its own UFO investigations back in 2008. These investigations started in 1950 and ran until 2009. Another set of these documents was released last week, revealing among other things that the British government did not believe UFOs were alien spacecraft but rather "atmospheric plasmas" that the Ministry of Defense hoped to weaponize. The documents also show that the highest levels of the government had knowledge of UFO investigations.

When the U.K. released declassified UFO documents a few days ago, the 25 files of nearly 7,000 pages included how:

• Prime Minister Tony Blair had been briefed on UFO sightings in 1998.

• The Ministry of Defense was concerned about military jets crashing after reported encounters with UFOs.

• U.K. Defense Intelligence wanted to create weapons out of little known atmospheric plasmas.

"Back then, in 1998, if you had said to me that by 2012, the Ministry of Defense will have disclosed virtually everything they have on this subject, I would have found that difficult to believe. And yet, here we are. They have," said David Clarke, the U.K. National Archives consultant and journalism lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University.

The best thing about all of this declassified UFO information is that the British government has made it available for downloading online. Here's the link. If there's a smoking gun anywhere in there, I have no doubts that somebody on the Internet will find it. So far it looks as if this latest collection doesn't contain any hard evidence of alien life, captured saucers, or abductions, but then again, it's only been up for a few days at this point.

Happy hunting!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Doorways to Demonic Possession

Various renditions of the above image have been going around the Internet for the last few days. It's a page from a tract that some Christian group was distributing at the most recent Comic-Con. It lists the usual things that conservative Christians preach against - magical practices, drugs, rock music, and religions other than Christianity. But it adds a few others that are just bizarre.
  • Cyberpunk Culture: I have no idea how one would get the idea that hacking computers is antithetical to Christianity. It must be all those quotes in the Bible explaining the sinfulness of bypassing firewalls. I can see it if you're talking about hacking in order to steal or something like that, but otherwise?
  • Meditation: These people are aware that there's a Christian contemplative tradition, right, and that monastic Christians have meditated for more than a thousand years? Meditation as a practice is not confined to Eastern religions and weird cults.
  • Vegetarianism: One of the interesting things about vegetarianism is that many Jews have discovered it makes keeping Kosher a whole lot easier - that is, conforming to the Biblical laws that conservative Christians say they love so much. But I guess now that's not part of God's plan?
  • Levitation: So if I levitate I open myself up to demonic possession? Phew! I guess it's a good thing that I've never been able to do it. Those people who can are just asking for trouble.
  • Alt "comix": So as long as I read corporate approved mainstream comics I'm okay? That's good to know. I guess God wants to make sure the big comic distributors can make their profit margins.
  • Skull & Bones: Granted, the Skull and Bones Society probably falls into the same category as Freemasonry or "Illuminati Groups" (whatever those are). But given how few people are invited to join and how rich they have to be I highly doubt anyone reading this tract is in any danger of being tapped.
  • Burning Man: I suppose the demons must just like the heat.
  • Goth Culture: So demons live in Victorian clothing? Seriously? I suppose a lot of Goths are into other things on this list, but I find it hard to see how Goth style by itself is demonic. Because it's black? Also, a lot of Goths wear crosses. Go figure.
Some commenters have suggested that this tract might be a parody, and I have to say I wouldn't be surprised if that turns out to be the case. If not, though, the group that produced this needs to follow the injunction that started off the whole fundamentalist movement - to read their Bibles. There's nothing in the text about drugs or music or games. All that stuff got tacked on relatively recently, probably because people were out there enjoying them too much.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Vampire On The Loose in Texas

One might think that Texas would be a terrible place for vampires to live. Not only are the days long and hot, but the wide open plains offer little in the way of shade or cover. Furthermore, the droughts that are currently plaguing the southwest bring with them the possibility of wildfires, and if there's anything vampires hate more than the sun it would have to be fire. Nonetheless, according to this report from Corpus Christi, a vampire appears to be on the loose in the area.

A 16-year-old boy was walking along Shoreline Boulevard in Corpus Christi near Corpus Christi Bay Wednesday night, according to Texas radio station 1200 WOAI, when he bumped into a man by accident.

What should have been a harmless misunderstanding then took a turn for the weird -- and perhaps the vampiric? -- when the man turned around and bit the boy on his neck, according to the radio station.

Police became involved, and Senior Police Officer Julia Hernandez-Garcia told WOAI that the boy's mother took him to the hospital with minor injuries.

"Apparently he left a bite mark and broke the skin and took some skin off," Hernandez-Garcia told WOAI. "This is a very unusual case ... I've been here for 27 years and I've never heard of anything like this."

The Colorado roadway vampire spotted back in 2010 is not known to have attacked anyone; it just stood in the middle of the road and caused a traffic accident. This Corpus Christi vampire, on the other hand, appears to be more aggressive. It sounds like the folks down in Texas need to break out the wooden stakes and get to work before the creature can feed again. Also, residents need to keep in mind that even though Texans tend to be well-armed, everyone knows that vampires are immune to bullets.

Friday, July 13, 2012

NLP Versus Real Science

It's hard to study magical literature these days without coming across ideas from neuro-linguistic programming, a methodology developed in the 1970's by Richard Bandler and John Grinder that has been picked up by a number of successful contemporary motivational speakers. While these speakers command big money teaching NLP techniques, most of the scientific analysis that I've reviewed of the system has found its claims to be dubious or at best inconclusive. One of the most widely disseminated NLP claims has to do with the supposed relationship between thoughts and eye movements. NLP teaches that when imagining an event, right-handed people tend to look up and to their right, while when remembering an event they tend to look up and to their left. Proponents of the system have taken this idea and run with it, claiming that it can work as a simple form of lie detection - the idea being that a liar is imagining an event, whereas a truth-teller is remembering one. This concept is widely promulgated on the Internet, but scientific studies demonstrating the relationship have never been tracked down. On the contrary, studies undertaken to test NLP claims have pretty consistently failed to support them. This new study, testing the relationship between lying and eye movement, proved to be no exception.

In short, all three studies provided no evidence to support the notion that the patterns of eye-movements promoted by many NLP practitioners aid lie detection. This is in line with findings from a considerable amount of previous work showing that facial clues (including eye movements) are poor indicators of deception [2]. Future research could focus on why the belief has become so widespread. Study 2 assessed the possibility that those who have been told about the claimed relationship between eye-movements and lying feel especially confident in their ability to detect deception, but this hypothesis was not supported by the data. An alternative possibility is that people believe the eye-movement/lying relationship because they are prone to illusory correlations. According to this idea, people will be likely to remember the times that the pattern predicted lying or truth-telling, and forget instances when this was not the case [16], [17]. Future work could examine this hypothesis by examining whether such matches are indeed especially memorable.

This work is the first to experimentally test the claims made by NLP practitioners about lie detection. The results provide considerable grounds to be skeptical of the notion that the proposed patterns of eye-movements provide a reliable indicator of lying. As such, it would seem irresponsible for such practitioners to continue to encourage people to make important decisions on the basis of such claims.

There are many people I have encountered in the magical community who are proponents of NLP. In fact, Bandler and Grinder's original published books describing the foundation of the system were titled The Structure of Magic I and The Structure of Magic II. The idea that NLP represents a sort of scientific approach to the psychological aspects of magick is compelling, but unfortunately most of the "science" I've seen that it claims to be based on is either taken out of context, misinterpreted, or generalized far beyond its original scope. The "neuro" in NLP is essentially meaningless, and while "linguistic programming" might be a reasonable description of the method there is actually little evidence that thought and language are anywhere near as intertwined as NLP claims. Personally, I don't think in words or even symbols unless I make a specific effort to do so, and from that perspective it's ridiculously easy to see the flaws in most linguistic models of cognition. Since the flow of information in society is mediated by language, it seems to me that NLP-like methods would be more applicable to programming interpersonal and especially mass-media communication. Of course, people who do that for a living just call it advertising.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Higgs Boson Officially Discovered

On July 4th scientists working on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN announced that they had "probably" discovered the Higgs boson, the particle responsible for conferring mass in the Standard Model of quantum physics. After combining data from several experiments, they then announced two days ago that a new particle fitting the characteristics of the Higgs boson had indeed been discovered with a mass of approximately 126.5 GeV. This is a very important finding, as it demonstrates that the Standard Model's predictions regarding the nature of quantum phenomena have once more been proven correct. This article gives a great summary of the whole series of events. It's from Daily Kos, which is mostly a politics site, but it's the best account I've been able to track down. Here's a brief excerpt, but if you're interested in the physics you should go ahead and read the whole thing. In addition to the article itself, it has some links to previous postings (called "diaries" on the Daily Kos site) that give a more detailed overview of what the Higgs is and why it's so important to our understanding of particle physics.

A few minutes ago, one of the most important announcement in particle physics in the past 30 years was made by scientists working with the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, in Geneva. For decades, tens of thousands of physicists have been involved in an intense experimental search for the "holy grail" of particle physics, the Higgs Boson. It has now been discovered.

I'm a theoretical particle physicist, whose first paper in 1978 was about the Higgs. Since then, I've written over 100 published papers on the Higgs (in the Standard Model and in various alternatives). Had the LHC not found it, much of my career would have been spent on something that doesn't exist. It would be hard to describe how I'm feeling right now....

In four earlier diaries, I discussed the status of the Large Hadron Collider's (LHC) search for the Higgs. The first diary, last July, described what the Higgs boson is and why it is so important. The second diary, a week later, gave the first results presented from the LHC. No Higgs boson was found, but the range of possible masses was narrowed. In November, the final update on all of the data collected through last August, was presented in the third diary. The fourth discussed an announcement last December, covering all of last year's data, in which the first solid evidence for the Higgs was presented. Although solid, it wasn't enough to announce a discovery. All four diaries got a lot of comments and made the rec list. This may be the last, since the discovery has finally been made.

In this diary, I will give a rough idea of why the Higgs is so important, and what the new results are (and what they mean), and what will be done in the future. For a more detailed description, written at a level that I think is comprehensible to the layman, please look at the first diary above (some of the text in that diary is copied below).

In my last post I made the point that there's nothing in quantum physics that proves the existence of magick or paranormal phenomena. This is absolutely true - the Standard Model does not have a slot for "magetrons" or whatever you might call a particle related to the "energy" that magicians are always talking about. Still, it's important that mages have a basic understanding of quantum physics if they want to examine the inner workings of thaumaturgy. So long as magick remains confined to the realm of consciousness its interaction with physical laws is difficult to define, but the moment it acts upon the material world it must in some way interact with quantum-level phenomena. The Standard Model does not offer any sort of proof, but it does define in great detail the constraints placed upon operant magical phenomena. The discovery of the Higgs boson demonstrates just how accurate those definitions have turned out to be, as the existence of the Higgs was hypothesized back in the 1960's and it's only now that it's finally been observed.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

What The Bleep Do They Know?

I suspect most readers of this blog are at least familiar in passing with the film What The Bleep Do We Know!? Almost a month ago, Jason Miller put up a post discussing five things that we need to "escape the gravity of," with #4 on the list being quantum mechanics as some sort of "proof" of magick and/or paranormal phenomena. This is relevant to the film because What The Bleep is probably most responsible for promulgating that particular idea into the popular culture, despite many complaints from the quantum physicists interviewed that their comments were distorted or taken out of context. Jason is in fact 100% correct and What The Bleep is 100% wrong - there's nothing in quantum mechanics that proves anything with respect to magical phenomena. If there were, quantum mechanics has been around a long time and it's established science, so magick would pretty much be established as well by default. That's how science works.

What The Bleep is filled with a lot of additional nonsense as well. Masura Emoto's "water memory" experiments cannot be replicated under controlled conditions and his experimental methods pretty much scream "selection bias." Human emotions do not behave like addictive chemicals - it's the other way around, since drugs are addictive precisely because they interfere with the brain's chemical messenger system. This idea about emotions seems to have been picked up by advocates of the unscientific twaddle that is "behavioral addiction," since according to those folks you can become addicted to (as opposed to, apparently, just liking) anything you happen to enjoy. And then there's this story from the film, which is so full of fail that I barely know where to begin.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Arrests Made in Codex Calixtinus Case

Last year I covered the disappearance of the Codex Calixtinus, a guide to the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage that was written during the twelfth century. Two days ago Spanish police announced that arrests had finally been made in the case following a year-long investigation.

The key suspect is a man who was sacked after working for the cathedral as a caretaker, electrician and odd job man for more than 25 years, police said in a statement. The force did not name the man but said his wife, son and another woman linked to the family were also detained.

Police said they had also recovered at least 1.2 million euros ($1.5 million), eight copies of the Codex and other ancient books that had also disappeared from the cathedral, during searches of garages, houses and storage rooms.

In my original article I commented that unique items like the Codex, while valuable, were extremely difficult to sell on the open market. Apparently, though, I just don't have the right connections. If the charges are true, this particular thief must have known more than I do about moving stolen goods, because his operation appears to have been highly profitable. There certainly is no way he would have been able to save up 1.2 million euros working as a church handyman. At any rate, I'm happy to see that this priceless religious relic has been recovered.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Government Denies the Existence of Mermaids

So it's settled, folks. The United States Government has just denied the existence of mermaids. Of course, for those of us who were fans of the X-Files, the next question that arises is what the government is trying to cover up. That's the way they work, after all, as explained by UFO enthusiasts everywhere - like how on the day after President Eisenhower signed the deal with the alien visitors to trade all the cow lips they wanted for advanced technology, the media was all over the place denying that any evidence of extraterrestrials had ever been found and blabbering on about swamp gas and weather balloons.

It follows the airing of a programme on the Discovery Channel entitled: Mermaids: The Body Found, which several members of the public confused for a real-life documentary. The Discovery Channel admitted that some viewers mistook the programme for a science education show after it was accused of creating a 'wildly convincing picture of the existence of mermaids'.

To clear up the matter, the NOC decided to publish an article on the Ocean Facts section of its website simply entitled: 'Are mermaids real?' The article continued: 'No evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found.

'Why, then, do they occupy the collective unconscious of nearly all seafaring peoples? That’s a question best left to historians, philosophers, and anthropologists.'

I saw another documentary years ago suggesting that mermaid legends originated with desperate sailors trying to get it on with manatees, but honestly I'm not sure that explanation is much more convincing than the existence of "aquatic humanoids." So what's left? Well, stories have come to light over the years about the Navy training dolphins to perform various underwater tasks, but imagine how much more could be done by creatures with hands and human intelligence. Perhaps that's the real reason for the denial - the Navy is building its own underwater fighting force made up of mer-people, and the government is trying to make sure none of America's enemies see them coming.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Leprechaun Attack

For a long time one of my top stories has been this one from back in 2010, regarding a report made to police in Boulder, Colorado about a leprechaun harrassing customers in the parking lot of a local supermarket. In the comments, it was noted that Boulder's reputation as a haven for drug users cast some doubt on the veracity of whole story. However, this latest account is far more chilling. Apparently the leprechauns have found their way to Seattle, Washington and have turned violent.

Seattle police responded to the report of a bar fight last Saturday to find a bloodied man clutching his head and screaming his pain. When asked who did this to him, he offered a shocking answer: “It was a bunch of leprechauns.”

Yes, leprechauns are out of season, but the man claims a group of pissed off little guys beat him down for dancing with a woman at the bar. The man was taken to a hospital, and police have not made any arrests as of yet.

Somebody needs to track down these leprechauns and get their pots of gold out of the city fast, before anyone else gets hurt. Remember, according to the unimpeachable authority that is Lucky Charms cereal commercials, leprechauns have the power to make just about anything out of rainbows, including boats, unbrellas, and presumably weapons of mass destruction. And let's face it, Seattle gets a heck of a lot of rain. The last thing any of us want is for the smoking rainbow machine gun to become a rainbow mushroom cloud.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Naked Zimbabwe Witches Face Court Hearing

The two women who were found naked in the Zimbabwe town of Chinhoyi were arrested and will face a hearing to determine their medical status. The two still are apparently claiming to be witches, explaining that they wound up naked in another resident's yard after being thrown out of a "winnowing basket," a small hand-held basket in which local witches are said to fly to and from their rituals. Prosecutors are seeking psychiatric reports to evaluate whether or not the women are fit to stand trial.

Prosecutors said Thursday two women were arrested earlier this month after they were found naked in the yard of a home in the town of Chinhoyi, 110 kilometers (70 miles) northeast of Harare. The women are charged under witchcraft laws carrying the penalty of a fine.

In local belief, the flat, traditional hand-held winnowing basket is equivalent to a witch’s broomstick in Western fable.

Officials said a Chinhoyi court on Wednesday set another hearing for July 11 to hear medical reports and testimony from tribal healers.

The middle aged women claimed the basket "ditched" them in the yard after a naked night ritual nearby.

One of the other interesting points about this case is that the neighbor's account that the witches were "seeking human flesh" has been dropped completely from the prosecutors' account of the situation. My guess is that the neighbor made it up in an attempt to inspire a mob - in effect, to murder these two women. This being rural Africa, it's probably too much to hope that local law enforcement will charge this individual with attempted murder, which is a real shame.

Also, if any practitioner out there does know how to build a magical flying basket that really works, clue me in. One of those would save me a fortune on gas and car insurance!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

July 2012 - Now With Less Pink!

It's been awhile since I posted a site update, or for that matter did much work on the look and feel of Augoeides. One of the things that I get asked from time to time is to make the site less pink. If this is the first time you've ever viewed this site that probably doesn't make a lot of sense, but up until now Augoeides was using a three-column variant of the "Thisaway Rose" template which did in fact color the main text area and sidebars in light shades of pink. For all that "clear pink rose" is the King Scale color for the Qabalistic sphere of Tiphareth, corresponding to the grade of Adept and thus the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel or Augoeides, I don't think very many of my readers got the reference and some just found it annoying.

So today I've gone ahead and updated the template to remove most of the pink, replacing it with white for the main text area and a very light gray for the sidebars. Even though the Qabalistic color reference is less direct, I do think that it makes the site more readable. Gray and white are of course the Queen Scale colors for Chockmah and Kether respectively, for anyone out there who might be keeping track. The pink is now confined to some of the text and border around the entire frame, and I hope that you all will enjoy the new look.