Friday, February 28, 2014

Tibetan Buddhists Protest Dalai Lama

There's a headline you don't see every day. The Dalai Lama is one of the most respected Buddhist teachers in the world, and while members of other religions don't necessarily see eye-to-eye with him, Tibetan Buddhists generally rally behind him. However, his reign has not been without controversy, one of which is his ban on Buddhists worshipping a deity known as Dorje Shugden. Shugden practitioners see the ban as an attack on their tradition, and have been protesting the Dalai Lama's recent tour through southern California.

Among those protesters was Len Foley, a Buddhist who is also a Shugden practitioner. He was in Santa Clara on Monday morning along with others protesting the Dalai Lama for "abusing basic human rights." "The Dalai Lama is posing as a man of peace and a man of wanting to unify different cultures, but in reality he's creating vast divisions throughout the Tibetan community," Foley said.

The Dalai Lama spoke this morning about compassion and business at the Leavey Event Center Santa Clara University. He himself was a Shugden practicer, but has since banned the practice from his formal religious teachings. The Dalai Lama has stated the Shugden spirit "arose out of hostility to the great Fifth Dalai Lama and his government," according to advice posted on his website. The post also outlines the Dalai Lama's concerns that worship of the deity could create sectarianism among Tibetan Buddhists and devolve the practice into a kind of "spirit worship."

"It is not at all on the basis of a change of mind arising from a new thought that I have restricted the practice of Dolgyal Shugden," the Dalai Lama stated in a March 2006 speech to a Tibetan-dominated audience. "... Gradually I came to have many major doubts about the external, internal and secret aspects of it and about developments concerning it. Finally I looked up the works of the previous Dalai Lamas and for the first time came to realize the error in practicing Dolgyal; as a result I stopped it."

The problem is this - Dorje Shugen is seen as a "dharma protector" specific to the Dalai Lama's Gelugpa lineage, which is only one of four Tibetan Vajrayana traditions. Part of Shugden's function is to protect the Gelugpa school from "corruption" by ideas said to emerge from the Nyingma school, the oldest tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

One of the Dalai Lama's longtime goals has been to bring the four traditions into harmony with one another, which he eventually decided doesn't sit well with a practice aimed at protecting one school from the "evil teachings" of another. Shugden practitioners, on the other hand, see it differently, and claim that they have been ostracized by some members of the Tibetan community in response to the Dalai Lama's decree.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Poor Oppressed Christian Test

Let's say that you're a Christian who enjoys reading Augoeides. One of the groups I like to make fun of on here is what I dub "Poor Oppressed Christians." These sad individuals are a small subgroup indulging the ridiculous belief that even though they belong to the dominant religious tradition in the United States they are somehow being denied their religious liberty. But how can you, as a Christian reader, be sure that you're not one of these pathetic folks? First off, enjoying this blog is a pretty good sign that you're a normal Christian rather than a Poor Oppressed one. But if you're still wondering, let me direct you to this Huffington Post article with a simple quiz that will tell you for sure. It's from September of 2012, but due to the ongoing whining of the Poor Oppressed crowd it remains relevant.

It seems like this election season "religious liberty" is a hot topic. Rumors of its demise are all around, as are politicians who want to make sure that you know they will never do anything to intrude upon it.

I'm a religious person with a lifelong passion for civil rights, so this is of great interest to me. So much so, that I believe we all need to determine whether our religious liberties are indeed at risk. So, as a public service, I've come up with this little quiz. I call it "How to Determine if Your Religious Liberty Is Being Threatened in Just 10 Quick Questions." Just pick "A" or "B" for each question.

The quiz itself follows those introductory remarks. The gist of it is quite simple. You're being denied religious liberty if you personally are being prevented from exercising your beliefs. You're not being denied religious liberty if you're simply being prevented from forcing those beliefs on others. This is simply religious freedom being applied across the board to everyone, including those who don't share your tradition or beliefs - because religious freedom isn't free. The mere existence of different perspectives is not an attack, not a war, and most certainly not oppression. Thinking otherwise is so irrational it shouldn't even be up for debate, but it seems as if the Poor Oppressed folks are too busy playing the victim to realize it.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

No Muslims on Mars?

In an effort to spur interplanetary colonization, Dutch company Mars One is planning a mission to Mars in 2023. The catch is that while the technology exists to get travelers there, without some major breakthroughs between now and then it will be a one-way trip. Mars doesn't have the infrastructure that would allow colonists to build a return rocket, so anyone who opts to go may very well be stuck there for the rest of their lives. This doesn't sit well with the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment in the United Arab Emirates, which has issued a fatwa against Muslims participating in the Mars One mission.

Promoting or being involved in a one-way trip to the Red Planet is prohibited in Islam, a fatwa committee under the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment in the UAE has ruled.

“Such a one-way journey poses a real risk to life, and that can never be justified in Islam,” the committee said. “There is a possibility that an individual who travels to planet Mars may not be able to remain alive there, and is more vulnerable to death.”

Whoever opts for this “hazardous trip”, the committee said, is likely to perish for no “righteous reason”, and thus will be liable to a “punishment similar to that of suicide in the Hereafter”.

The committee, presided by Professor Dr Farooq Hamada, said: “Protecting life against all possible dangers and keeping it safe is an issue agreed upon by all religions and is clearly stipulated in verse 4/29 of the Holy Quran: Do not kill yourselves or one another. Indeed, Allah is to you ever Merciful.”

The one-way nature of the mission would give me pause as well, but as a Thelemite my opinion is that if somebody wants to go its their own business. It also sounds as if the fatwa may be lifted once a suitable technology is developed for a return trip. But until then, the result is likely to be fewer Muslims in the initial wave of colonization. That is, of course, if the mission manages to get off the ground at all. Nothing like it has ever been attempted, and it remains to be seen if the organizers can really meet their commitments by the target date.

Mars One has issued a response to the fatwa. It can be found here.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Bigfoot Corpse a Hit at Houston Flea Market

So here's the question - is "master bigfoot tracker" Rick Dyer the reincarnation of P.T. Barnum? It sure seems like it. Back in 2008 Dyer was promoting a bigfoot corpse that turned out to be a rubber suit stuck in a freezer. As I noted in January he's now claiming to have killed the creature for real and is carting around a supposedly genuine body. But here's the thing - Dyer claims to have DNA evidence and so forth, but nobody has seen it. That should be the easiest thing in the world to obtain from a body that you have in your physical possession. And then there's the venue. Instead of taking the bigfoot corpse to a scientist who could run actual tests, he took it to a Houston flea market.

About 800 people came out to a Houston flea market for a glimpse at an alleged Bigfoot corpse being taken on tour by a self-described "master tracker."

Rick Dyer, who claims to have killed the legendary beast in 2012 outside of San Antonio, took the alleged Sasquatch corpse to Trader's Village Sunday for the first stop on his tour of the city, the Houston Chronicle reported Monday.

"We got here a day early and we just wanted to show as many people as possible," Dyer said of Sunday's unscheduled stop. Monday and Tuesday showings of "Hank" in Houston have already sold out, Dyer said. He named the corpse Hank after an investor, the newspaper said.

Is it just me, or is this starting to sound just like Barnum's Fiji Mermaid? For those not familiar with the story, Barnum hired a taxidermist to create a fake mermaid body by sewing the upper body of a monkey to the tail of a fish. The body was then exhibited at his museum of curiosities, where it could be viewed for a fee. Hopefully Dyer has put in a little more effort this time - the rubber suit in a freezer chest was a pretty sad attempt. Still, I have no doubt that this new bigfoot is a fake. A real bigfoot corpse would be worth a fortune to scientific researchers, and anyone who killed one would be able to make a lot more money by exploiting it that way than by showing it at flea markets. Of course, if it's a fake, that's not an option because the body won't stand up to scientific scrutiny.

Monday, February 24, 2014

More on the "Restored Heptarchia"

Aaron Leitch has recently proposed a revised order for the powers of the Heptarchial Princes that matches those of each Prince to the King of the respective day. His original article can be found here. In a Facebook discussion of said article, I commented that while I found this new order logical and interesting, I was not necessarily convinced that it was the only possible solution to reordering the Heptarchia. This post is an attempt to further clarify what I mean by that statement.

When I work with the Heptarchia Mystica the schema I recommend for the powers of the Kings and Princes is that of John Dee's 1588 text, which is how they appear in Mastering the Mystical Heptarchy. So everything in this post is more a thought experiment than a serious proposal. Let me be clear - I don't necessarily disagree with the idea of reordering the Heptarchia, but rather I'm at the point where I need to see more practical evidence that the new order works better than the original. I do have enough personal experience to say for sure that the original order works, after experimenting with it for many years and carefully tracking my results.

But let's say for the sake of argument that the Heptarchia does in fact need to be reordered to better line up the powers of the Kings and Princes. There are two distinct ways to do it. The first is the method Aaron outlines in his article, matching the power of each Prince to the power of the King that rules the same day. I'm not going to go over that method in detail, as his article explains it quite well. What he doesn't mention at all, though, is the second possible method, grouping the powers of the Kings and Princes by planet rather than by day.

This alternative schema is suggested by the simple observation that, in the Heptarchia, the Kings and Princes are given different planetary attributions. On Sunday, for example, the King is attributed to the Sun, but the Prince is attributed to Venus. This principle holds throughout the Heptarchia, with the complete list of Kings and Princes by day and planet as follows:

Sunday: King - BOBOGEL (Sun), Prince - BORNOGO (Venus)
Monday: King - BLUMAZA (Moon), Prince - BRALGES (Saturn)
Tuesday: King - BABALEL (Mars), Prince - BEFAFES (Sun)
Wednesday: King - BNASPOL (Mercury), Prince - BLISDON (Jupiter)
Thursday: King - BYNEPOR (Jupiter), Prince - BUTMONO (Mars)
Friday: King - BALIGON (Venus), Prince - BAGENOL (Moon)
Saturn: King - BNAPSEN (Saturn), Prince - BRORGES (Mercury)

These additional planetary attributions suggest that the powers of the Heptarchial angels could also be reorganized by matching the powers of the Prince associated with each planet to that of the corresponding King by planetary aspect, rather than by day.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Voynich Manuscript Decoded - Again?

Earlier this month I posted an article about a botanist who believes that the mysterious Voynich manuscript may have been written in some form of the Aztec language Nahuatl, based on illustrations that resemble plants found only in the Americas. This is apparently a good time to be studying the Voynich, because now British linguistics professor Stephen Bax has announced that he may have decoded part of the manuscript - and the language is most definitely not Aztec.

Professor Bax however has begun to unlock the mystery meanings of the Voynich manuscript using his wide knowledge of mediaeval manuscripts and his familiarity with Semitic languages such as Arabic. Using careful linguistic analysis he is working on the script letter by letter.

“I hit on the idea of identifying proper names in the text, following historic approaches which successfully deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphs and other mystery scripts, and I then used those names to work out part of the script,” explained Professor Bax, who is to give his inaugural lecture as a professor at the University later this month.

“The manuscript has a lot of illustrations of stars and plants. I was able to identify some of these, with their names, by looking at mediaeval herbal manuscripts in Arabic and other languages, and I then made a start on a decoding, with some exciting results.”

Among the words he has identified is the term for Taurus, alongside a picture of seven stars which seem to be the Pleiades, and also the word KANTAIRON alongside a picture of the plant Centaury, a known mediaeval herb, as well as a number of other plants.

I've been skeptical from the beginning about the Aztec hypothesis because (A) the European-style supposed transcription matches no known system and (B) the manuscript has been dated to the early 1400's, before Europeans reached the Americas. It makes more sense that the script might be a code for a language such as Arabic, which was known in Europe at that time. Also, a compilation of Arabic astronomical and herbal lore would have been quite valuable in the 1400's, when European science was just starting to catch up with that of the Arabic world. It remains to be seen how much more of the manuscript Professor Bax can decipher.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Ready for Ragnarok?

Back in November I posted about Ragnarok, the supposed "Viking apocalypse," which is scheduled for today. That's right, February 22, 2014. So are you ready for the end of the world - again? Or, more to the point, are you ready to laugh off yet another failed prediction as February 23rd comes without a hitch? This time around it sounds like the Norse apocalypse is not being treated so much as a calamity but as an excuse to sell tickets to a "Viking Festival," which is a big improvement over Harold Camping and his lot back in 2011.

The sound of an ancient horn heard reverberating across the rooftops of York this evening is a portent of doom and the beginning of a countdown to the Norse apocalypse, according to experts in Norse mythology from the JORVIK Viking Centre. The horn belonged to the Norse god, Heimdallr, who was said to blow the mythical Gjallerhorn to warn that Ragnarok – the Viking apocalypse – will take place in 100 days. Experts are predicting the end of the world will take place on 22 February 2014, coinciding with the grand finale of the 30th JORVIK Viking Festival in the city of York.

“Ragnarok is the ultimate landmark in Viking mythology, when the gods fall and die, so this really is an event that should not be underestimated,” comments Danielle Daglan director of the JORVIK Viking Festival. “In the last couple of years, we’ve had predictions of the Mayan apocalypse, which passed without incident, and numerous other dates where the end of the world has been pencilled in by seers, fortune tellers and visionaries, but the sound of the horn is possibly the best indicator yet that the Viking version of the end of the world really will happen on 22 February next year.”

So at least the folks attending the festival will have a good time. Much like the end-of-the-world party I threw back when Camping swore up and down the world was going to end in May 2011, it sounds like these festival organizers have the right idea. When somebody predicts that the world is going to end, the history pretty much proves that they're wrong. But an excuse to have some fun is always welcome.

Now lest you think I'm making fun of Norse beliefs, I'm not - I'm half Scandinavian myself (Norwegian/Swedish) so I expect some of my ancestors were Vikings, and on top of that I've done a fair amount of magical work with the Norse gods. It's the doomsday crowd that I like to mock, especially those who for some inexplicable reason seem to be looking forward to the end of the world.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Positive Thinking is Just Like Magick

The success of books like The Secret and films like What the Bleep Do We Know? has popularized a revival of the New Thought movement that first emerged in the early nineteenth century. It emphasizes that positive thinking and visualization are responsible for bringing good things into your life, and that by cultivating such an attitude you will be more successful. There's a grain of truth to that idea, in that defeatism is unlikely to produce any sort of positive outcome, but at the same time critics of positive thinking have wondered for a long time whether reflexive positivity might have a downside as well.

Recently social psychologists have put positive thinking to the test, and have found that the critics do in fact have a point - one that I would argue applies to magick as well. One of the big cornerstones of the "blogosphere school" of magick is that magical operations and rituals are no substitute for mundane action. In order to achieve the best possible result, the point is that you take every possible mundane action in pursuit of your goal and then use magick to increase your odds of success further. Using magick in place of mundane actions likely has a fair amount to do with the reason that so many occultists wind up broke. You can use a spell to get a better job, but you still need to network, send out resumes, and so forth. Even a well-done spell is unlikely to drop a new job right in your lap by itself.

As the journalist Oliver Burkeman noted in “The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking,” “Ceaseless optimism about the future only makes for a greater shock when things go wrong; by fighting to maintain only positive beliefs about the future, the positive thinker ends up being less prepared, and more acutely distressed, when things eventually happen that he can’t persuade himself to believe are good.”

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Christian Necromancy

If there was ever any doubt that Charismatic Christianity constitutes a school of magick, this should set it to rest. Apparently, the Word of Faith charismatic movement has adopted a practice dubbed "grave-sucking" that appears to be a form of straight-up necromancy. The idea is that by lying on top of a believer's grave and and performing certain prayers, a living person can absorb the powers and blessings that said believer accrued in life. As this article from Youth Apologetics Training points out, there is no real Biblical support for this practice and in many ways it runs counter to mainstream Christian theology.

Maybe that believer had a gift of healing. Maybe they were an apostle, prophet or evangelist. This of course assumes that they were actually empowered in these ways which I have serious doubts. Whatever the case, now God’s plans for that particular anointing are placed on hold. How does God correct this and get his plans back on track? We as believers must find a way to retrieve the mantle or anointing from the rotting corpse six feet under. Only then can we get God’s plans back on track. This is achieved by placing our hands on the gravestone of the deceased or lying on top of the grave. Sometimes a prayer will be offered to God to aid in this perceived power transfer.

I kid you not! Some people actually believe this. God’s plan has in fact been frustrated and now God needs us to seek out His lost anointing so we can bale God and His plans out. They believe that by laying there on the grave they will be able to pull the anointing from the dead. It’s as if they believe the Holy Spirit is lost and doesn’t seem to realize that the person they empowered is dead and is no longer able to minister in this empowered way. Suddenly the Holy Spirit senses someone is lying on the dirt six feet above His head. The Holy Spirit, apparently not caring who is laying up there decides to jump into the new body giving them the supernatural abilities that the dearly departed once had. Again this assumes that the person in the grave was in fact empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Not only does this sound just like necromancy as practiced by some occultists, it also displays an incredible amount of concretizing on the part of practitioners. It treats the Holy Spirit as a sort of substance that can be accumulated and remains in the bones of the deceased, rather than the unfolding of metanoia or enlightenment within the consciousness of the individual believer. Likewise, Word of Faith follows the green or prosperity gospel, which teaches that God wants you to be rich and only the unrighteous are poor - in direct contradiction to the teachings of Jesus.

So in case you were wondering where the warped teachings of the green gospel eventually lead, here you go - follow it long enough and you'll find yourself skulking around graveyards, seeking out remaining bits of embodied Holy Spirit to absorb from the dead. That's incredibly creepy.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

BREAKING: New Zealand Not Ruled By Lizards!

I really want to know who comes up with some of this stuff. Oh, wait, I do know - David Icke! For years the former television presenter has been promoting a conspiracy theory contending that the world's global elite is not made up of super-rich normal humans, but rather super-rich shape-shifting space alien lizards. Notably, Icke's theory does not predate the television series V, which features lizard-like aliens who disguise themselves as humans in order to take over the Earth. At any rate, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key, was recently asked whether or not he was in fact a lizard person. And his response is priceless.

Key, in a congenial manner atypical of shapeshifting reptilian aliens, responded. Said Key:

"To the best of my knowledge, no. I've taken the unusual step of not only seeing a doctor but a vet, and both have confirmed I'm not a reptile … I've never been in a spaceship, never been in outer space, and my tongue's not overly long either."

Auckland resident Shane Warbrooke, who first posed the question via an Official Information Act (OIA) request, said he was happy with (but unsurprised by) the president's response. He did complain, however, that the government "waited the full 20 working days they are allowed before getting back to me."

Because clearly, taking twenty whole days to respond to an individual asking if you are in fact a lizard person represents a massive failure of leadership. Or something. If Icke wants to convince me that the lizard people are really running the show, he's going to need to produce some actual biological evidence to that effect. YouTube videos showing world leaders appearing to move their tongues back and forth don't count. Until I see such evidence, I'll stick with what I know - that the world is run by a connected and wealthy global elite that is 100% human.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Astrology and Science

Lately the results of a survey have been going around the Internet claiming that nearly half of Americans believe that astrology is a legitimate science. The survey's promoters have been arguing that this shows how ignorant Americans are, when in fact the results are being interpreted to support that particular agenda. The results of the survey are quite ambiguous, perhaps even by design.

According to a new survey by the National Science Foundation, nearly half of all Americans say astrology, the study of celestial bodies' purported influence on human behavior and worldly events, is either "very scientific" or "sort of scientific." By contrast, 92 percent of the Chinese public think horoscopes are a bunch of baloney.

What's more alarming, researchers show in the 2014 Science and Engineering Indicators study, is that American attitudes about science are moving in the wrong direction. Skepticism of astrology hit an all-time high in 2004, when 66 percent of Americans said astrology was total nonsense. But each year, fewer and fewer respondents have dismissed the connections between star alignment and personality as bunk.

Not surprisingly, those with less science education and less "factual knowledge" have become increasingly willing to accept astrology as legitimate science, with 65 percent of such individuals considering the pseudo-science credible in 2012, up from 48 percent in 2010. Young people are also especially inclined to offer astrology scientific legitimacy, with a majority of Americans ages 18 to 24 considering the practice at least "sort of" scientific, and the 25-34 age group is not far behind them.

Do you see the problem? I'll give you a hint - the survey was designed with the following options. Respondents had to classify astrology as "not at all scientific," "sort of scientific," or "very scientific." Only 10% of respondents actually selected "very scientific," with 32% selecting "sort of scientific." But the survey promoters group both of them together so that they can breathlessly argue that "42% of Americans think astrology is a legitimate science!"

Monday, February 17, 2014

Thoughts on the "Restored Heptarchia"

Back in the late 1990's I was active on the alt.magick usenet newsgroup and was involved in a number of discussions related to Enochian magick. One that I specifically recall concerned what I then considered a brilliant idea with respect to the Angelic Keys. At the time I was trying to figure out how to relate the Keys to the quadrants of the Great Table, as I found the Golden Dawn's version problematic. I still do, and have been working with the Keys as laid out in Mastering the Great Table for many years now.

I first noticed the problem when trying to perform Enochian operations according to John Dee's original schema for the angels of the Great Table. I found that when going around the Holy Table and conjuring from each of the four directions, the Golden Dawn Key arrangement was a disaster. Many of the Keys refer to directions, but these never matched the direction from which the angels were being called. Clearly something was amiss.

Reading through the Keys in order a fairly simple solution presented itself. I related the First and Second Keys to the Conjurer and Scryer, or evocation and invocation, and divided the remaining sixteen Keys into four groups of four. Keys 3-6 are obviously one group, and Keys 15-18 are obviously another. Making groups out of 7-10 and 11-14 completed the set. However, there was one problem with this otherwise nice arrangement - Key 13.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Ketchum and Company, At It Again

Last week a news item made the rounds on the Internet regarding the Paracas skulls, a collection of unusually elongated skulls discovered in Peru in 1928. The skulls are something of a scientific curiosity due to both their shape and size. In some ancient cultures elongated skulls were produced by binding the head from early childhood, but the Paracas skulls are larger in volume and weight than normal human skulls and likely could not have been produced by binding alone. One possibility is binding combined with a condition such as hydrocephalus, which is known to enlarge the skull if untreated.

Obviously, obtaining the genetic code from these skulls would provide some insight into whether or not the size of the skulls might be due to some underlying medical condition. Unfortunately, the first group to look into DNA from the skulls includes Dr. Melba Ketchum, one of the founders of the De Novo Scientific Journal, a sham publication apparently created to showcase her work on sequencing Bigfoot DNA. You know, the same DNA that an independent, reputable geneticist identifed as possum. Now DeNovo has never published another article, so I imagine that a paper on the Paracas skulls would be welcome.

What the group apparently discovered is that the Paracas skulls contain mitochondrial DNA that identify them as an entirely new sort of human, distinct from modern humans, Neanderthals, and the recently identified Denisovans. The problem is that team involved has so many credibility issues it's hard to accept those findings. While Ketchum is not the only geneticist involved, it's a mystery to me why anyone would work with her at all. Conflating Bigfoot and possum is a pretty serious error - unless, I suppose, the sasquatch turns out to be a half-ape, half-possum horror straight out of a B-movie.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Is Nessie Dead?

In July of 2012 I posted an article suggesting that the Loch Ness Monster might be a very large sturgeon. Even bigger than the sturgeon shown in my lake monster article, the common or European sturgeon can grow to a length of 20 feet and live for more than 100 years. It also is critically endangered, its numbers suffering from pollution and habitat loss. Like the salmon, it is a seagoing fish that returns to rivers to spawn, and as a result is adapted to both salt and fresh water. And the monster has to be a fish if it's a real animal at all. An air-breather like a seal, cetacean, or even a plesiosaur would have to surface often enough that it would be seen all the time, and photographed nearly as often with cell-phone cameras everywhere.

The earliest confirmed modern sightings of Nessie took place in the 1930's. The oldest story of a "water beast" in the River Ness dates all the way back to the 6th century, but as similar stories were not uncommon in that period all over Europe it's hard to see a connection to modern sightings. As such, the monster has only been observed for about the last 80 years. As astonishing as it may seem, if the creature is a sturgeon witnesses might have been observing the same fish this whole time. At least, that is, up until now. As an article from USA Today notes, during the last 18 months there have no confirmed sightings of the monster.

"It's very upsetting news and we don't know where she's gone," Gary Campbell tells the BBC. "The number of sightings has been reducing since the turn of the century but this is the first time in almost 90 years that Nessie wasn't seen at all." Three purported photos of the beast from last year turned out to be a wave, a duck, and a picture not even taken on Loch Ness. But Campbell, who cites a total of 1,036 sightings, thinks the monster is just taking a break.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Anti-Witchcraft Squad Versus Twitter

Saudi Arabia's anti-witchcraft squad, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, is back in the news declaring war on Twitter. The religious police have announced a crackdown on the popular social media site, targeting accounts that "promote sorcery and witchcraft." And as I just added Augoeides to Twitter in January, I suppose that includes bloggers like me, so I won't be visiting Saudi Arabia any time soon. Not that I had any such plans.

Saudi Arabia’s feared religious police authority has decided to launch a war against what it described as vice and sorcery accounts on Twitter inside the conservative Gulf kingdom, saying it aims to destroy all those accounts.

The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice said it had formed special teams to track those accounts and arrest those who are behind them.

Quoted by the Saudi news network Al Arabiya, the Commission’s spokesman Ahmed Al Jardan said its members are watching those accounts which “are spreading vice and witchcraft” through the country’s society.

“We will track down all those who are behind these accounts whether they are men or women…we are determined to eliminate these accounts before they become widespread and out of control,” he said.

Twitter played an important role in organizing the "Arab Spring" revolutions in the Middle East, a bullet that Saudi Arabia has so far managed to dodge. The religious authority's motive here is clearly political, and I imagine that to them "sorcery and witchcraft" will look a lot like political activism. After all, it's pretty unclear how tweets about magical practices could "become widespread and out of control." Political protests, on the other hand, can topple governments if they become large enough. Witchcraft is just a convenient excuse for hunting enemies, as it has been for centuries.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Wizard Snow

Last week snow fell all over the country, including some areas in the south and west that rarely get any. As a Minnesotan I cope with lots of snow every year, but some of the cities hit were caught completely unprepared. It makes little sense, after all, to maintain a Twin Cities-sized fleet of snowplows and mountains of sand and salt for snow that only hits every twenty or thirty years, and that means even an inch of snow can shut down an entire metropolitan area. It's not some sort of conspiracy, it's just basic resource allocation.

Some theorists, though, see a sinister hand behind the recent snowfalls. YouTube videos claiming to prove that the snow was "geo-engineered" have popped up all over the Internet. The evidence? Supposedly, the snow does not melt normally when exposed to a flame, so it must be of a different chemical composition than water and therefore created by evil government scientists. Essentially, it's wizard snow - at least to anyone who doesn't understand basic physics.

WTVR Meteorologist Mike Stone explains in the video how the heat applied to the snowball is making the snow vaporize. The snow is disappearing and not melting.

According to Stone, this is known as sublimation, and the US Geologic Survey defines it as “the conversion between the solid and the gaseous phases of matter, with no intermediate liquid stage.”

According to WTVR, The black marks on the snow are caused by the butane in the lighter that is released when the flame is held close to the snow. If you dropped the snow in a saucepan, the snow would melt.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Great Creationism Debate

On Tuesday night the Creationism debate between science educator Bill Nye and Creation Museum founder Ken Ham took place. It pretty much went as expected, with Nye presenting facts and Ham insisting that since none of us were there are the beginning of the world we can't really know anything besides what the Bible tells us. Some commentators were of the opinion that the debate should never have happened because it made Creationism look more credible, but I disagree. The debate made Creationism look ridiculous, and laid out that their supposed "scientific" critiques of evolution are nothing more than hollow literalism. The more people who realize this, the better.

Unsurprisingly, the predictable set-up gave way to predictable results. Nye referenced wide swaths of research on rocks, landforms, trees, and ice; Ham produced alternative explanations for some of Nye’s claims and not others, all the while roundly declaring that the past is essentially unknowable to us. From time to time, Ham refused to engage with Nye or the opposing side altogether; when presented with an audience question asking how he would respond to a hypothetical world in which evolution was proven to be true, Ham merely replied that such a thing could never happen.

It would be easy enough here to call Ham’s intelligence into question and berate him for so thoroughly and publicly missing the point of a hypothetical. But this evasion was only one of many refusals of engagement, which calls into question why, if Ham is convinced of the shoddiness of evolutionary science, he would avoid delving into the particulars of its problems. Indeed, the two men talked past each other for the entire evening: if Ham were really crusading to reveal the utter bankruptcy of evolutionary science, why would he let that happen?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Voynich Manuscript Decoded?

The Voynich Manuscript is a mystery that cryptographers have studied for more than a century. The book contains many illustrations accompanied by text in an unknown language. While some analysts have concluded that the book is gibberish and was written as some sort of a hoax, the system of writing does appear to have characteristics of a natural language - which nonetheless does not seem to match any known cipher. I even made a fictional mention of it in my novel Arcana, as an encoded grimoire that once belonged to John Dee. It supposedly did belong to Emperor Rudolph II, in whose court John Dee and Edward Kelly resided for a number of years.

Now a new idea has been presented by botanist Arthur Tucker. He claims that many of the plant illustrations in the text resemble plants from the Americas, and that the unknown language might be a classical form of Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec Empire. Given what went on with the Mayans, this isn't as strange a suggestion as you might think. In the sixteenth century missionaries attempting to convert the Maya taught them a form of European script that went on to replace their original pictographic writing system. The pictographs were only recently decoded, by comparing a sixteenth-century glossary of syllables with the modern Maya language, which is still spoken in Mexico and Central America. It's possible that the Spanish could have tried something similar with the Aztec language.

Previously, many researchers assumed that the manuscript must have originated in Europe, where it was found. But botanist Arthur Tucker of Delaware State University in Dover noticed similarities between certain plants in the manuscript and illustrations of plants in 16th century records from Mexico.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Super Bowl a Disaster for Psychic Animals

This year's Super Bowl wasn't just a disaster for Denver's top-rated offense, which was shut down by Seattle's top-rated defense. Most analysts had predicted a close game, but in fact Seattle won one of the most lopsided Super Bowl victories in a long time with a final score of 43-8. The game was also a disaster for psychic animals, most of whom picked Denver to win. Ever since Paul the psychic octopus successfully predicted the outcome of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, there's been something of a psychic animal craze going on. The usual method is to offer psychic animals two pieces of food, with one representing each team. The piece eaten first then represents the winner - except that most of the psychic animals out there picked Denver to come out on top.
  • Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl players decided a Denver cake looked more delicious than a treat representing Seattle, choosing incorrectly for the second year in a row.
  • More puppies, this time on Jimmy Fallon, also foresaw a Broncos win.
  • Tyke the raccoon was all over a Denver Bronco’s box.
  • After 45 minutes of intense pondering, Pepper the Octopus decided on Denver.
  • Thanks to Kiano, a 3-year-old rhino who favored the Broncos, the Blank Point Zoo in Des Moines, Iowa, ended its four-year streak of correct predictions.
  • ZooMontana’s Ozzy the grizzly bear almost went for a banana cake with a Seahawks logo made of Nutella, but ended up devouring the Broncos cake instead.
  • Two komodo dragons, new to Moody Gardens in Texas, agreed that the Broncos had the game in the bag.
  • Orange, a harbor seal at the Maritime Aquarium in Connecticut, was given a chance for a “best of three” prediction — and went for the Broncos twice in a row.
  • Le Le, a panda at the Memphis Zoo, was so excited about the Broncos’ chances that he rolled around in the team’s banner for a while after making his pick.
  • After six years of correct predictions, Buffett the manatee failed big-time with a Broncos prediction. (His half-brother Hugh, despite his less accurate record, managed to get it right this time.)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Groundhog Predicts Early Spring

That is, famous prognosticating groundhog Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow today. Now I know what you're thinking - that's supposed to mean we won't get an early spring, right? Well, I wrote a post awhile back noting that Phil is only right 39% of the time, which makes him a terrible divination tool. But then a commenter set me straight:

If he gets it wrong 39% of the time, then he is a pretty good divination tool, they are just interpreting him wrong. If they said "If the groundhog sees his shadow we'll have an early spring" they would be right 61% of the time, which is better than guessing.

So what that means is if you want a better than 60% chance of predicting an early spring, you want to go with the exact opposite of what the groundhog says, every time. And this year, Phil predicted six more weeks of winter.

At 7:25 a.m.Sunday, a raw, cloudy morning, Groundhog Phil saw his shadow in the small town of Punxsutawney, Pa. The appearance of Phil’s shadow means winter will extend well into March according to folklore. Had Phil seen his shadow, it would have meant spring is around the corner.

This winter has been a difficult one for much of the United States, and a pretty normal one here in Minnesota after many years of a warming trend that's produced milder weather. So I say bring on the early spring! I'm certainly ready for it, and a know a lot of other folks are as well.