Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Predictions for 2013, Part Two

Continuing our series from yesterday, I will be analyzing the predictions of the remaining five professional psychics whose predictions were quoted in this article. Yesterday's psychics didn't do very well, so we'll see if today's crop is more of the same or if there seem to be some genuine paranormal insights in the mix.

As I commented yesterday, making a living as a professional psychic is very difficult. As a magical practitioner, I'm pretty good at divination and can sometimes not only connect with genuine intuitions but also take advantage of them in my daily life. But magick by its very nature is sometimes quite unreliable. Doing significantly better than chance is certainly possible with training and practice, but most media psychics claim that they truly can see the future to an astonishing degree. And frankly, given my own experiences, I'm fairly certain that without some level of trickery such as cold reading nobody is that good.

I also have noticed that many of the predictions here are simply based on extrapolating trends. Most of the psychics predicted more extreme weather for 2013 just like a lot of climatologists did, but as it turned out 2013 was a milder year than 2012 in terms of significant weather events. Likewise, a number of them predicted various technological advancements, usually the sort of things that could be guessed at by regular readers of publications like Scientific American, Popular Science, and Wired.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Predictions for 2013, Part One

What's that? 2013? Isn't the New Year 2014? Of course it is. This article was actually published last year, with predictions from nine professional psychics for the year that we're now wrapping up. In the interest of science, I thought I would take a few minutes here and see how they did (Spoilers: not very well). I'll cover the first four today and the rest tomorrow to close out the year.

I've often been perceived as rather uncharitable towards professional psychics on this blog. That's not because I don't believe in psychic intuitions, but rather because having experienced them myself I know that it's very difficult getting them to work reliably enough to make a living without resorting to trickery, cold reading, and so forth. A substantial portion of media psychics, such as those mentioned in this article, in fact rely (as we will see) on the method of throwing a whole bunch of outlandish predictions at a wall and hoping some will stick. Then, if they get a hit on something unlikely, the idea is that's what people will remember rather than all of their other spectacular failures.

So let's meet our psychics. I'll start out with their biography, then comment on whether each of their predictions came true. I'll award one point for a correct prediction and half a point for a partial hit, in which something similar but not identical to the prediction took place. Then I'll tally up the total score for each psychic to see who was the most accurate.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Year in Bigfoot

2013 has been a good year for the sasquatch. Back in February I covered the DeNovo scientific journal, a sham "independent journal" apparently created for the sole purpose of disseminating a paper analyzing supposed bigfoot DNA, and then in July I followed up with the announcement that an independent review of the same purported DNA found that it was in fact opossum DNA mixed with that of another species, raising the possibility of a half-ape, half-possum horror roaming the Pacific Northwest.

The bigfoot DNA story wasn't the only sasquatch news item of the year, either - 2013's sightings attracted more media attention than bigfoot research has in a long time. Huffington Post has a roundup of the various bigfoot stories that made the news this year.

The Bigfoot controversy reared its head (or feet) many times in 2013. The debate surrounding alleged Bigfoot DNA continued from 2012; numerous videos and still images emerged of reported Bigfoots (or is that Bigfeet? We've never really figured that out.); a Texas press conference presented a group of Bigfoot researchers who claimed to show real, never-before-seen high quality videos of the legendary tall, hairy creature; there was also a series of "clear" photos showing two Bigfoot in Pennsylvania.

Back in October I covered new research suggesting that the yeti is not an ape, but rather a species (or subspecies) of bear. In light of this finding, it's worth pointing out that if you draw up a map and put all of the bigfoot sightings on it what you get is a nearly perfect correspondence to the range of the American black bear. Now the videos from British Columbia and the "sleeping bigfoot" look like they might depict real animals - that is, as always, assuming they weren't faked.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Universe as Hologram - Or Not

Many news sites such as Huffington Post are touting a new simulation that apparently shows the universe "could be a hologram." At the same time, I've come across a couple of esoteric sites that are already taking the idea and running with it, claiming that it proves "matter is an illusion" or some other nonsensical variation on that point. The problem is, first of all, that New Age commenters jump on this stuff all the time in an attempt to justify concepts like that put forth in "The Secret," an updated version of "New Thought" cosmology in which the way in which you think determines every single thing that happens to you. Second of all, they are completely misunderstanding the use of the term hologram. The scientists publishing their findings are in no way arguing that the material world is an illusion - in fact, they're actually trying to understand it better.

Before explaining further I'm going to rant a little more about the whole "illusion" thing, because I think the way it gets used in some esoteric circles is so utterly wrong. I was looking through this stuff a couple of days ago and came across a site proclaiming that matter is an illusion because it's made of energy. That's just stupid. We've known that matter is made of energy since Einstein's relativity theory. It's true that when you touch an object what you're feeling is not a solid surface but rather electromagnetic repulsion at the atomic level - but so what? If you play with neodymium magnets carelessly you're going to get your fingers pinched by a magnetic field, and it's certainly real enough to damage your skin.

Now the idea is based on a valid point, that the way in which our minds mediate the world is "illusion" in the sense that it is basically an internal construction based on sensory data, and brain scans show that imagining something and experiencing it are similar mental processes. It is also true that advanced meditators gain the ability to manipulate this process to a degree that untrained people find incredible, even to the point of being able to control some autonomic body functions by thought alone. But extending this truism into the physical worlds leads to all sorts of incorrect assumptions. If you're about to be hit by a bus, for example, you need to jump out of the way - I'm quite convinced that even the most advanced practitioner in the world couldn't just think the bus out of existence.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Fake Illuminati, How Do They Work?

The war against the Illuminati has officially begun. That is, the fake war against the fake Illuminati, which is oddly appropriate. Followers of musicians Insane Clown Posse who call themselves Juggalos have valiantly set up a Facebook page in opposition to the "Illuminati leadership" that is destroying America. Or something like that. So the perennial crazy people railing against the Illuminati have now been joined by the followers of insane clowns - at least on Facebook. You can't make this stuff up, folks!

On paper, the Illuminati and the Juggalos have a lot in common. Both are tightly knit societies whose customs strike outsiders as creepy and cultish, and under no circumstances should either be trifled with. But there’s only room for one new world order, and fans of the Insane Clown Posse have banded together to combat what they see as the influence of shadowy conspirators who occupy various seats of political power—mainly with crummy image macros.

The Facebook page for Juggalos Against Illuminati Leadership, or J.A.I.L., has drawn more than 600 followers, all “standing up to protect the rights of the people and raise awareness of the corruption within our government!!!!” It’s meant to be a hub where people can plan protests and “family events” as well as just “raise awareness.” To that end, they share pictorial grievances against gun control advocates, Barack Obama, police, war in the Middle East, the 1 Percent, the Federal Reserve, the Affordable Care Act, “sheeple,” marijuana laws, and even Disney.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Wisconsin Does This Right

While Oklahoma struggles with non-Christian religious groups wanting to erect their own holiday displays on state grounds, the state of Wisconsin shows how to do it right. Wisconsin doesn't restrict anyone from putting up their own holiday displays, and the current crop includes a Festivus pole, a nativity-like scene featuring Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin, and a Flying Spaghetti Monster display set up by a college atheist group. This is in fact exactly how religion should be dealt with in the public square, by allowing all voices to be heard, whatever their beliefs (or lack thereof). There are essentially two ways to do secularism - either allow everything, or ban everything. And my contention is that the former is by far the best option.

The secular displays join traditional Christmas items such as a 30-foot balsam fir tree encircled by a toy train set, and they have been part of the capitol holiday displays since a 1984 lawsuit failed to remove the Capitol Christmas tree, halt a menorah lighting and end an annual nativity pageant.

“We would prefer to keep our capitol secular,” said Sam Erickson, AHA president. “But if the state decides to turn it into an open forum, they have opened the floodgates. We hope everyone takes advantage of this opportunity to advertise their own viewpoints, no matter how silly.”

The group’s display features movie poster-style artwork depicting the Flying Spaghetti Monster, saying “he boiled for your sins,” and urging onlookers to “be touched by his noodly appendage, before it is too late!”

The Poor Oppressed Christians who are offended by the very existence of other religions will never get it, and their demands for appeasement know no bounds. Telling them to go stuff it is really all any government can do, short of declaring Poor Oppressed Christianity the official state religion and driving all others, even reasonable Christians, underground. And fortunately for the rest of us such a thing would be a blatant constitutional violation.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

RIP Harold Camping

Harold Camping, the radio evangelist who staked his reputation on the apocalypse coming to pass first in May, then in October of 2011, has died at the age of 92. His failed prediction marks him as the latest in a long series of failed end-times prophets going back to William Miller in the mid-nineteenth century. Camping's death was announced in an email sent to listeners of his radio program.

Yesterday, Sunday, December 15th, at around 5:30 p.m., Harold Camping passed on to glory and is now rejoicing with his beloved Savior!

On Saturday, November 30th, Mr. Camping sustained a fall in his home, and he was not able to recover from his injuries. He passed away peacefully in his home, with his family at his side. We know that each of us remain in God’s hand, and God is the One who knows our appointed time to leave our earthly body behind.

We are so grateful to God for Brother Camping’s dedication to Family Radio and for his lifetime of service to God. We are thankful to know that Family Radio is God’s ministry, and will continue to be in God’s care and keeping.

Please remember the Camping family in your prayers, in particular, Mrs. Camping, Mr. Camping’s wife of over seventy-one years. May God sustain her in her loss.

It's as if it simply is not possible to predict the apocalypse by constructing complex Biblical timelines that seem to reveal particular dates, as those dates always come and go without incident. Or, to quote Jesus himself from the Gospel of Matthew (24:36), "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only." In other words, Christians have to face the fact that the man they consider God incarnate specifically stated that predicting the end times is impossible.

So why do so many of them keep trying?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Jesus Was White?

One of the most laughable bits about modern portrayals of Jesus is when he is rendered as a white European. It's laughable for the simple reason that Jesus was a Jew born in first-century Israel. The debate goes back and forth over whether a historical Jesus existed, but assuming that he did there is no confusion whatsoever about his ethnicity. That is, apparently, unless you're Fox News host Megyn Kelly.

Fox News host Megyn Kelly on Wednesday assured children viewing her program that both Jesus Christ and Santa Claus were white men even though some liberals were trying to make them black.

There's so much wrong with that statement I'm going to address it here before moving on. Not only was Jesus not white, he was also not black - that is, not of African ancestry. And I can't say that I know of any "liberals" arguing for an African Jesus. That's just as silly as a European one. It's central to the Christian interpretation of Jesus as Messiah that he be a Jew of the line of David. So the only way in which Jesus could be thought of as "black" is if the term simply means "not white," which frankly is just goofy.

“For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white,” Kelly said. “But this person is just arguing that maybe we should also have a black Santa. But Santa is what he is.”

“Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change, you know?” she added. “I mean, Jesus was a white man too. He was a historical figure, that’s a verifiable fact, as is Santa — I just want the kids watching to know that.”

Contrary to Kelly’s assertions, Jesus Christ was a Jew of Mediterranean descent and not the white European figure often depicted in paintings and movies.

Clearly Kelly needs to read up on not only her history, but the basic theology of her religion. It's pretty amazing to see this sort of ignorance on display in a mainstream news program. And as for Santa Claus, the closest historical figure to the popular icon created in the early twentieth century is probably Saint Nicholas of Myra, who was a fourth-century Greek bishop and thus also of Mediterranean descent.

UPDATE: Megyn Kelly has now released a statement that she was being "tongue-in-cheek" with her comments about Santa Claus being represented as a white man, mostly ignoring that everybody is slamming her for her comments about Jesus. She added: “By the way, I also said Jesus is white,” Kelly said, “As I’ve learned in the past two days, that is far from settled.” According to Kelly's biography she's Roman Catholic, and I'm sorry, but anyone who could grow up Roman Catholic thinking Jesus was supposed to be a white European is simply so stupid that they should be kept as far away from relating actual news as possible. Who knows what other basic facts she's shockingly ignorant about?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Dueling Monuments

There's a reason that religious displays are not generally permitted on government property in the United States. Because the Constitution forbids the government from endorsing one religion over another, once you allow the symbols of one faith to be displayed on public property you open the door to those of everyone else's. Or at least, that's how it should work.

Naturally, Poor Oppressed Christians hate the idea of being inclusive towards other religions, because they believe that unless they are being treated like special snowflakes they clearly must be victims of discrimination. That is, they want Christian symbols allowed and those of other faiths prohibited, a clear violation of one of the basic principles of religious freedom - because, I suppose, the very existence of other religions hurts their feelings.

Recently this debate has surfaced again in Oklahoma, where a monument of the Ten Commandments was allowed to be placed at the state capitol. Last week, a New York-based Satanist group called the Satanic Temple proposed a monument to Satan to accompany that of the Ten Commandments, which was soundly rejected by Oklahoma lawmakers. Some treated it as a joke, but in fact the Temple is a legitimate 501C religious organization and should therefore be legally entitled to the same rights as any other church.

The Satanic Temple represents neither a venerable nor popular religious tradition, so at least in the popular culture it's easy to dismiss. However, the Temple has now been joined by Hindus in demanding equal representation. Hinduism is the world's third largest religion, behind Christianity and Islam, with more than a billion adherents. While it's most popular in India, it's also the fourth largest religion in the United States.

“If the Oklahoma State Capitol was open to different monuments, we would love to have a statue of Lord Hanuman, who was greatly revered and worshipped and known for incredible strength and was (a) perfect grammarian,” said Rajan Zed, president of Universal Society of Hinduism.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Two More "Satanic Panic" Victims Released

No occultist should ever forget the "Satanic Panic" of the late 1980's and early 1990's, when far too many innocent people were sent to prison after being accused of "Satanic Ritual Abuse." The roots of these accusations go all the way back to Freud's psychoanalytic model, which contends that traumatic memories are "repressed" and therefore can be "recovered" by therapists, even if no memory existed of them prior to treatment. Unfortunately back then the neuroscience revolution was in its infancy, and the understanding of memory we have obtained over the course of the last decade was yet to be discovered.

Furthermore, at that time fundamentalist Christians were a rising force in American politics. It is perhaps a bit of a stretch to assert that the "Satanic Panic" was an organized movement specifically designed to criminalize alternative religions by equating them with "Satanism" and linking them to child abuse, but the evidence suggests it as a possibility. Not only did fundamentalists vigorously pursue these allegations all over the country, they cultivated a network of therapists trained to induce memories in children at seminars funded by churches and other religious organizations.

Evidence that these accusations were essentially fabricated keeps emerging, albeit slowly. Recently Dan and Fran Keller, who were convicted back in 1992, were released from prison after serving 21 years for committing imaginary crimes at the daycare center the two of them ran.

The Kellers were found guilty of aggravated sexual assault of a child, even though the three-year-old girl at the centre of the case recanted her claims in court.

The only physical evidence against the Kellers was the testimony of Dr Michael Mouw, who examined the girl in the emergency room of a local hospital after the therapy session and said he found tears in her hymen that potentially indicated that she was molested.

Mouw signed an affidavit last January in which he affirms that he now realises his inexperience led him to a conclusion that "is not scientifically or medically valid, and that I was mistaken."

Friday, December 6, 2013

Bad Animal Husbandry is All They Know

I recently covered efforts by Answers in Genesis, the group of young-earth creationists that operates the Kentucky Creation Museum, to secure funding for their proposed "Ark Encounter" theme park. The park will be centered around a full-sized replica of Noah's ark, complete with live animals held in enclosures. Wired has an article up today that takes a closer look at the plans for the ark, and concludes that the conditions would have been downright hazardous to both animals and humans on board. The image above is an artist's rendering of the ark's interior from the proposed plans themselves.

If I saw something like that in my neighbor’s garage, I’d call animal welfare. The wooden poop diversion system shown in this photo will not hold up under a constant bombardment of feces, uric acid, and ammonia.

I’ve helped manage and care for a wide assortment of wild and domestic animals, big and small, over the course of my career. There is a HUGE amount of paperwork, documentation, and inspections involved in having captive animals. It is, frankly, a gigantic pain in the ass, and the animals are healthier and receive better care because of all the annoying, complex rules. That’s why the Ark project set off all sorts of alarm bells in my head.

Keeping animals in captivity is really, really difficult. By gathering animals together in an artificial environment you concentrate all the poop and pee, and just make it easier for diseases to rapidly spread. (Got a kid in daycare? You know exactly what I’m talking about.)

The fact that the ark couldn't successfully hold all the animals it was supposed to for any period of time is one more nail in the creationist coffin, and that's even ignoring the similarities between the story of Noah and a portion of the Epic of Gilgamesh and the fact that the bible story was written down more than a thousand years after it supposedly took place. The article notes that the latest plan is to include only a few live animals as part of the ark exhibit, but if that's really necessary in order to make the enclosures workable, how likely is it that the story of Noah bears any resemblance to real history?