Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Argentine Werewolf Hysteria Unfounded

Here's another of those viral stories that has become garbled in the telling. In Argentina, there is a century-old tradition that the president of the country serves as the official godparent to the seventh son or daughter born into a family. The adoption of such a godchild wouldn't be a particularly significant world event, except for this outlandish story published by the Independent.

The President of Argentina has adopted a young Jewish man as her godson to "stop him turning into a werewolf", according to tradition. President Christina Fernández de Kirchner met Yair Tawil and his family at her office last week to mark the unusual ceremony, which dates back more than 100 years.


The story recently went viral on the Internet thanks to the Independent article, but it later came to light that the article conflates the adoption tradition and a piece of local folklore that have nothing to do with each other, except that both involve seventh sons.

It seems there is another Argentine tradition called "El Lobison"; a belief that a family's seventh son turns into a werewolf starting on the first Friday after the boy's 13th birthday, and every full moon thereafter, according to the New York Daily News. The belief was allegedly so widespread in the 19th century that parents would kill the seventh son to prevent a future teenage werewolf.

It's a great story, but the two customs are not related, according to Argentine historian Daniel Balmaceda. “The local myth of the lobison is not in any way connected to the custom that began over 100 years ago by which every seventh son (or seventh daughter) born in Argentina becomes godchild to the president,” Balmaceda told the Guardian. That detail didn't stop the Independent from blending the two separate customs and reporting that Kirchner adopted Tawil to prevent him from becoming a werewolf.

It should be noted that nowhere in the myth of "El Lobison" does it say anything about adoption by the president or any other political official breaking the curse. There's nothing particularly spiritual or magical about holding office in a modern democracy, so even in the context of magick it strikes me as a pretty dubious remedy. I mean, if some dark force were really out there preparing to turn Tawil into a werewolf, there's no reason to think it would care whether the boy's godparent is a sitting politician.

That's some sloppy reporting on the part of the Independent. Perhaps if they want to run a story like this in the future, they should run it by an actual occultist to see if what they're alleging makes any sense at all.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

More "Flying Saucers" Revealed

Back in 2012 I covered the release of classified documents detailing attempts by the United States Air Force and a Canadian company to construct a supersonic saucer-shaped aircraft. At the time, I speculated that the goofy-looking prototype saucers might have been responsible for some of the UFO sightings in the 1950's, and that perhaps the project got further than the released documents implied. Nothing like that has come to light, but recently the Central Intelligence Agency took credit for many of the sightings during that period.

According to documents recently released by the agency, the culprit was the U-2 spy plane, which entered service in 1955 and remained a closely guarded secret. It flew higher than any other aircraft of the period, and operated out of the Groom Lake facility in Nevada, better known as "Area 51" among UFO enthusiasts. This facility was also used to test the U-2's successor, the SR-71 Blackbird, and the F-117 stealth fighter. Both of those look different enough from other aircraft that they could easily be mistaken for alien spacecraft.

"Reports of unusual activity in the skies in the '50s? It was us," the agency tweeted.

The document the tweet links to is a previously confidential report on the testing of the U-2 spy plane at altitudes of over 60,000 feet. It says half or more of supposed UFO sightings were actually times when they were flying the plane at high altitudes, which people didn't realize was possible at the time.

Though they realized people were spotting the plane by cross-referencing the sightings with when and where the plane was flying, the agency couldn't inform the public of that knowledge. The agency says the document explaining that scenario was the most widely read document released this year from their database.

It may very well be that when Project Blue Book released the statement that "there has been no evidence submitted to or discovered by the Air Force that sightings categorized as 'unidentified' represent technological developments or principles beyond the range of present day scientific knowledge" the investigators were well aware the people were seeing the U-2, but were unable to offer any comments to that effect due to the plane's classified status.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Satanic Temple Holiday Display Destroyed

They whine and they whine about being oppressed, but here's another incident that shows the Poor Oppressed Christians are the real oppressors. On Tuesday the holiday display put up by The Satanic Temple in Florida was destroyed by a Christian woman who claimed she was "taking a stand against Satan."

The controversial display — in which an angel can be seen descending into a pit of fire — stood alongside both traditional Christian Nativity scenes and an 8-foot-tall “Festivus pole” made of Pabst Blue Ribbon cans until 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, when Susan Hemeryck walked up to two Florida Department of Law Enforcement Capitol Police officers and told them that she was “sorry, but I have to take this down.”

Hemeryck, who was wearing a “Catholic Warrior” t-shirt at the time, told the Associated Press that “it’s just wrong, when you remove baby Jesus two days before Christmas and put Satan in his place? I was there at the right time and the right moment and I needed to take a stand against Satan.”

The Florida director of American Atheists, John Porgal, said “the angel’s dead. We’ve been tolerant of their [Nativity] display. We didn’t like it, but we tolerated it. You see what they did to our display.” He called the damaged display “a sign of what the religious right’s idea of tolerance is.”

Hemeryck’s only regret is that she was unable to do further damage to the display before Capitol Police arrested her on criminal mischief charges.

Can you imagine the uproar if this were a member of a minority religion "taking a stand against Jesus?" Condemning such an action would be totally justified, too, because it would be completely out of line. But we're not the ones doing it and they are, so tell me again who's being oppressed? Minority religions deserve representation in the public square too, and have just as much of a right to be there as Christians do.

It seems to me that rather than "criminal mischief" this woman should be charged with a hate crime. But she won't be, because Christians are not oppressed in the United States - in any way, shape, or form.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Zombie Nativity Scene Must Come Down

When Jay Dixon, the manager of a popular Ohio haunted house attraction, wanted a nativity scene for his front yard, he used what he had available - lots of Halloween decorations. The result was what Dixon called the world's first zombie nativity scene. Zombie enthusiasts loved it, but his neighbors and local officials were not amused. Dixon was recently ordered to dismantle the scene, with officials citing a rarely-enforced statute.

“The neighbors don’t like it. My father hates it and anything bad that happens he blames it on that,” Dixon pointed out. “On the average we probably get 30 or 40 cars stop and taking pictures, getting out with their camera. People that follow zombie movies and stuff like that love it,”

But just days after WXIX spoke to Dixon, Sycamore Township township ordered him to take it down or face legal action. Town officials claimed that Dixon was breaking the rules with a structure on the front side of his yard, and a display that took up more than 35 percent of the area. But Dixon said that he wasn’t buying the explanation.

“I’ve lived here for 15 years and I’ve never had a violation of any kind,” he insisted. “It’s a holiday decoration. I know if it was a real pretty nativity scene they wouldn’t be saying anything.”

The good news is that Dixon has until the 26th to take down the scene, so it will remain up through the Christmas holiday. The story has also likely generated a lot of notoriety for his haunted house. But it just goes to show that when it comes to Christmas, anything alternative tends to be targeted by the political establishment using whatever means they have at their disposal. I'm sure Dixon's town has others who put up huge displays, but it seems that as long as the displays are Christian they get a pass.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Poor Oppressing Christians?

Yeah, that title pretty much sums up this story from Phoenix, Arizona. A Poor Oppressed Christian there recently assaulted a Salvation Army bell ringer for saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." This may not be the stupidest thing I've ever heard, but it's certainly up there. I can't even get my mind around a worldview in which this would be a reasonable course of action.

Kristina Vindiola says a woman hit her outside the Wal-Mart on 91st Avenue and Thomas Road after she said "Happy Holidays."

"The lady looked at me," said Vindiola. "I thought she was going to put money in the kettle. She came up to me and said, 'Do you believe in God?' And she says, ‘You're supposed to say Merry Christmas,' and that's when she hit me."

The bottom line is that this is just never okay in a civilized society. Some media commentators have suggested that fundamentalist Christians want to return America to the middle ages, and while I generally consider such statements hyperbolic incidents like this make me wonder. It suggests the attacker believes that violence is an appropriate response to anyone failing to privilege her religion above all others, which is completely messed up.

American Christians are not a minority and the mere existence of inclusion does not mean that they are under attack. Incidents like these clearly demonstrate that those who go around bleating about persecution are really the oppressors, and just need to knock it the hell off.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Monday, December 22, 2014

A New Solar Evocation Ritual

Lately I've been playing around with a few new magical techniques for planetary evocations. Years ago I posted a collection of planetary rites, and since then my methods have continued to evolve. I still am working with the intelligences and spirits from Agrippa along with the planetary angels and godnames from Liber 777 and the basic ritual structure remains the same, but I've added several new pieces that seem to work well and add to the effectiveness of the rites.

This is a solar evocation that I performed over the weekend that highlights some of this new material. At some point I'll be putting together and posting the rest of the set to update my planetary rites.

0. Setup

The temple is arranged with the table of practice in the center. The banishing dagger, invoking wand, and bell chime are present on the altar. On the table of practice is placed the tablet of the Sun and a talisman depicting the character of the Sun conjoined with the sigils of Nakhiel and Sorath, the solar intelligence and spirit from Agrippa. An orange seven-day candle dressed with solar fluid condenser and cinnamon serves as an offering to the intelligence and spirit. The ritual shall be performed in the day and hour of the sun.

I. Opening the Operant Field

Officiant performs the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram.

Officiant performs the Comselh Ananael Lesser Invoking Ritual of the Hexagram.

All perform the Prayer of the Aeon, followed by Bell Chime.

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Sea Monster in New Zealand?

Google Earth has provided us with views of the world that would have been unthinkable twenty years ago. The combination of sattelite photography and mapping software means that there are now few places that can't be viewed over the Internet. Cryptozoologists have made extensive use of the software in their search for unknown sea creatures, such as the Loch Ness Monster. Recently a strange shadow was captured in the ocean near New Zealand, which some observers believe might be a sea monster.

Engineer Pita Witehira, who first spotted the dark mass using Google Earth, told the Daily Mail that he doesn't think it's a boat because there's no white wake. Other people think it's a floating tree trunk.

It isn't the first cryptozoological sighting in the region. In 2013, witnesses snapped a picture of a strange shape off the coast of Australia's Magnetic Island.

First off, it's not a tree trunk and it's not a whale. If you compare the shadow to objects on the shore it clearly is too large to be either of those. It also doesn't look anything like a boat. Not only is there no wake, but the shape is all wrong as well. A large American or Russian nuclear submarine would be big enough to cast such a shadow if it was running close to the surface, but the problem there is that the shadow would be straight rather than curved at one end.

So all things considered, it's probably just a glitch in the Google Earth software. But if it's not, there's something very weird going on in the ocean off New Zealand.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Satanic" Murder Trial Underway

The case sounds like something out of a horror movie. Two high school students murdered a young woman they both knew so that one of the perpetrators could "sell his soul to the devil." Or at least that's the scenario Houston prosecutors are pushing in the killing of 15-year-old Corriann Cervantes. Opening arguments in the trial of Jose Reyes began last week for the crime, which took place last February. Victor Alas, who also is alleged to have taken part in the slaying, will face trial at a later date.

Reyes is accused of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing 15-year-old Corriann Cervantes earlier this year with another teenage boy in a bid to sell their souls to the devil.

"Whether or not the devil was involved, what happened in that apartment was sadistic and inhumane," Assistant Harris County District Attorney John Jordan told jurors. "He said he had no regrets."

Jordan told jurors Cervantes and two other teens went to a vacant apartment to have sex after a late night of alcohol and marijuana at a friend's apartment.

In horrific and grisly detail, Jordan said the scene descended from consensual sex to a brutal beating with the heavy porcelain lid of a toilet tank.

From the crime scene reports there's plenty of evidence that Reyes and Alas killed Cervantes, so it's pretty clear to me that Reyes is guilty and should be convicted. What gives me pause about the report is that the occult angle is coming from the prosecution, and seems based on pretty flimsy evidence. For whatever reason, prosecutors love to bring up anything involving "Satanism" and will go so far as to coerce such details from suspects during interrogations.

The prosecutor's chief piece of occult evidence seems to be an upside-down cross carved into Cervantes' body. But that sounds more like something from an album cover than rather than from a real ritual. In fact, there is no occult technique for "selling your soul to the devil," at least none I've ever come across. Some of the techniques from the Solomonic grimoires involve pacts with spirits, but the details of such pacts differ substantially from this particular urban legend.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Satanic Temple Now Two for Two

The Satanic Temple's proposal for a holiday display at the state capital was recently approved in Florida, but the group is not stopping there. This week, their proposal for a holiday display in Michigan was also accepted. Michigan has yet to approve a proposal for a nativity scene, so if things remain as they are now the state capital may find itself with a Satanic display but no corresponding Christian one.

Michigan considered a nativity scene for the state capitol this holiday season. Instead, they got the snake from the Garden of Eden sitting in front of a pentagram, offering a book representing “knowledge” as a gift.

A local chapter of the Satanic Temple — a group best known for testing the limits of the intersection of free speech and religious expression, and not for actually worshiping Satan — announced this week that its proposal for a small holiday display was approved by the state. It’s the second such display from a local chapter of the group to gain approval this year.

I expect it's unlikely that no Michigan Christian group will submit a proposal for a nativity scene, but if they don't I'm of the opinion that this is exactly how the whole holiday display process should work. Any religious group that applies with a reasonable proposal should be able to put up a display, with "reasonable" having no relation to the religion practiced by the group. As with many things in life, sometimes what matters is showing up.

As activists for the separation of church and state, The Satanic Temple is continuing to do a great job. As I see it, it's a lot more interesting to watch the interplay of these competing displays than it is to be met with the same old thing every year.

UPDATE: As I expected, a Michigan Christian group has stepped up and will be putting up a nativity scene tomorrow morning. The Satanic Temple's display will join it on Sunday.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Pharaoh Rises

After more than three thousand years, the Pharaoh has risen again. Specifically, archaeologists have completed the restoration of a statue of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III that came down in an earthquake thousands of years ago. The completed statue was recently erected and unveiled near the city of Luxor, and is now the largest standing statue of its type in all of Egypt. It is the result of more than a year of work, as it required careful reassembly like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.

The statue, which came crumbling down during an earthquake in 1,200 BC, was reassembled at the northern gate of the pharaoh's funerary temple on the west bank of the Nile. The effigy is located directly beside an existing statue of the pharaoh which was unveiled last March. The restored statue measures 43 feet (12.9 meters) high and weighs 110 tonnes.

"These are up to now the highest standing effigies of an Egyptian king in striding attitude," noted German-Armenian archaeologist Hourig Sourouzian in an AFP article.

Last November, archaeologists began the restoration, which required the meticulous assembly of 89 large pieces and numerous small fragments. The completed effigy shows the king wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt, and like the twin statute, it's holding a papyrus roll in each hand inscribed with the pharaoh's name. It also features a belt with a falcon-head handle, which is fastened with a clasp bearing the names of the king.

Amenhotep III ruled during a period of peace and great prosperity for the ancient Egyptian civilization. Accordingly, more surviving statues have been found depicting him than any other Pharaoh. He was succeeded by Akhenaton, who is credited with establishing the world's first monotheistic religion, a cult that venerated the Aton or solar disk. However, Akhenaton's successor, the world-famous "boy king" Tutankhamun, returned Egypt to the worship of the old gods.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Comselh Ananael Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram

This ritual has been in development for a long time by our magical working group, Comselh Ananael. Back in 2008 when we had only used it for a couple of years I posted the changes we made to the keyword analysis and corresponding signs. We have continued to test it out since then for all manner of practical operations, and according to those tests it does seem to work better than the original, particularly when employing the operant field method to open and close magical fields. Generally speaking, at this point when I write about using the Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram, it's this version that I'm talking about.

Back in September we put on our Libra Elixir Ritual as an equinox rite for our local Twin Cities OTO body, Leaping Laughter Lodge. As this was the version of the Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram that we employed, I put together the following write-up to hand out to those present explaining its symbolism and structure. I invite you to try it out for yourself and see how it works. I'm not at the point yet where I'm ready to conclude that it works better than the original for all or even a majority of practitioners, but I will say that so far everyone I know of who's tried it out have found that it produces superior results. If you do try it out and feel like sharing I would be very interested in hearing about your experiences, even if you find that for you it doesn't work very well.

I. The Keyword Analysis: The primary issue with the use of the Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram for Thelemic operations is its reification of the life-death-rebirth formula of Osiris in the Keyword Analysis and the Signs of LVX. We set out to develop a new Keyword Analysis that would more closely embody the Horus formula of life and growth. We started with this version written by Benjamin Rowe, from his Ritual of the Heptagram:

(Make the sign of Osiris Risen. Recite:)
I, R, N, I
Yod, Resh, Nun, Yod

Isis, Horus, Set, Thoth
The linking of the Earth with the Stars!
Isis - Nature, the Fullness of Earth!
Horus - Warrior, the Triumph of Sol!
Set - Apostate, Seed of Rebellion!
Thoth - Perfection, Uniting them all!

We built upon Rowe’s concept considerably, to yield our revised keyword analysis:

I, R, N, I
Yod, Resh, Nun, Yod

Isis - Nature, the Fullness of Earth!
Horus - Volition, the Triumph of Sol!
Set - Guardian, Lord of the Threshold!
Tahuti - Perfection, Uniting Them All!
Isis, Horus, Set, Tahuti

(Sign of Sol) ABRAHADABRA!

(Sign of Isis) Isis in Fullness,
(Sign of Horus) Horus Triumphant,
(Sign of Set) Set the Liminal,
(Sign of Tahuti) Tahuti, Neter-Neteru.
Isis, Horus, Set, Tahuti

(Sign of Integration) MAKASHANaH!
The linking of Earth with the Stars!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

No Tax Incentives for Ark Encounter

Back in August I covered the latest attempt by Answers in Genesis to fund their "Ark Encounter" theme park based around a life-sized model of Noah's Ark. After failing to raise enough money by selling junk bonds and soliciting donations to obtain a set of tax breaks from the state of Kentucky, Answers in Genesis applied for a second set of tax breaks that they looked likely to receive. Unfortunately for them, job postings on their web site specified that only fundamentalist Christians need apply.

On those grounds, the state of Kentucky has denied the park's application, since recipients of state tax breaks are not allowed to hire in a discriminatory fashion. Tourism Arts & Heritage Cabinet Secretary Bob Stewart informed the group of the decision, and explained that without the park's discriminatory hiring policies the application likely would have been accepted, as the state otherwise supported the project. He also noted that Answers in Genesis had pledged to the state that they would not discriminate, and then put up job postings to that effect anyway.

Stewart explains that their application will not go forward because the state will not grant incentives to a company that openly intends to discriminate in hiring based on religion, saying it is a violation of the state constitution for these incentives to be used to advance religion. He detailed how Ark Encounter representatives had previously promised not to discriminate in hiring several times, but recently they have stated they have every right to do so, saying, “The Commonwealth’s position hasn’t changed. The applicant’s position has changed.”

Stewart cited AiG CEO Ken Ham’s Nov. 19 fundraising letter that accused the Beshear administration of religious persecution and reaffirmed their desire to discriminate in hiring based on religion. He also cited other statements throughout the year from AiG officials claiming the purpose of the park is to evangelize and indoctrinate its visitors.

“Certainly, Ark Encounter has every right to change the nature of the project from a tourism attraction to a ministry,” wrote Stewart. “However, state tourism tax incentives cannot be used to fund religious indoctrination or otherwise be used to advance religion. The use of state incentives in this way violates the Separation of Church and State provisions of the Constitution and is therefore impermissible.”

So Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis will have to go ahead and build their ark using their own money, which given the religious nature of the organization is as it should be. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by the entitlement of these folks, in that they apparently went ahead and lied to state officials in order to secure funding and expected it not to be a problem. Here I was thinking that Christians were supposed to be honest, but clearly Ham's brand of fundamentalism teaches that lying is fine and good so long as in your opinion you're doing it to serve God.

That just goes to show what a toxic version of the Christian faith Answers in Genesis is preaching. It's Poor Oppressed Christianity through and through, and deserves to be relegated to the dustbin of history.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Russian Orthodox Church Versus Sauron

No battle between the Dark Lord Sauron and the Russian Orthodox Church can be found in the works of J. R. R. Tolkien - not even in the Silmarillion. But that has not stopped the church from being angered by a Moscow property company's plan to place a replica of the Eye of Sauron as seen in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films on top of one of their skyscrapers. The Eye is a publicity stunt intended to coincide with the release of Jackson's final Hobbit movie. But the church fears that the replica will have evil powers.

A property company plans to raise what resembles a giant glowing eye on the 21st floor of a skyscraper this week to celebrate the release of the final part of Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation of The Hobbit.

In The Hobbit and also in Tolkien’s subsequent trilogy, Lord of the Rings, the Eye of Sauron is a giant flaming eye controlled by the “dark lord” Sauron, which allows him to watch anyone who puts on the fateful, power-giving ring at the novels’ center.

The installation is planned as a 1 metre (3.3 foot) sphere on top of a 21 storey building, with a light show projected from behind to create a 3-D effect, said Polina Murova, a spokeswoman for the property company behind the stunt.

But for the Russian Orthodox Church, the evil eye is no fiction. “This is a demonic symbol,” the Russian Orthodox Church’s head of public affairs, Vsevolod Chaplin, told Govorit Moskva radio station.

“Such a symbol of the triumph of evil is rising up over the city, becoming practically the highest object in the city. Is that good or bad? I’m afraid it’s more likely bad. Just don’t be surprised later if something goes wrong with the city.”

Let's break this down a bit. Tolkien's works are incredibly detailed and based on a back story as complex as any real-world mythology, but the bottom line is that they are fiction. There's no such thing as Sauron; he's a character from a series of books adapted into movies. As such, the idea that an image associated with a fictional evil character will create real-world evil is quite simply ridiculous. The Eye may be demonic in the context of Tolkien's invented mythology, but otherwise not so much.

More than anything else, this reminds me of fundamentalists who wanted the Harry Potter books banned because they were afraid kids would learn and practice the spells in them. You know, the completely fictional spells that any occultist would tell you do absolutely nothing. If the church wants to do battle against evil, it seems to me that there are enough real problems in the world that fictional ones should not be worth their time.

UPDATE: On the evening of December 10th it was announced that the property company has decided to forego the stunt due to pressure from the church and city leaders. It's really sad to see such nonsense taken seriously. At the same time, though, it may be that with the unexpected controversy the stunt would not have had the desired effect and been counterproductive to the company's image.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Turnabout is Fair Play

Like most people in the Information Technology industry, I find censorship incredibly stupid. Despite decades of research on the hypothesized link between violent media and criminal activity, no definitive evidence has ever been found. While news sources like to put forth the claim that experts overwhelmingly agree that there is a connection and that it is a significant problem in our society, a recent large survey shows that this is far from the case.

With those points in mind, you can imagine my reaction to a recent petition delivered to Target Australia that prompted the store to stop selling the new Grand Theft Auto 5 video game on the grounds that it depicts "graphic" sex and violence. But that's when the story starts to get good. A group of people who presumably thought the whole thing was as dumb as I do started their own petition to ban sales of a book that likewise contains plenty of sex and violence - the Bible! Not only that, it attracted about as many signatures as the original petition.

After Target Australia erred on the side of conservative moms, fans of the game or people who just didn’t like the idea of censoring a product because of its perceived vulgarity, created a new petition that requested that the store also ban the Bible… for the exact same reasons. From the petition (again, emphasis theirs):

"It’s a book that encourages readers to murder women for entertainment. The incentive is to commit sexual violence against women, then abuse or kill them to proceed or get ‘god’ points – and now Target are stocking it and promoting it for your Xmas stocking.

This is The Holy Bible. This book means that after various sex acts, readers are given options to kill women by stoning her unconscious, Setting them on fire, cutting off their hands, and killing their children!"

The Bible certainly has a disturbing amount of sex and violence. In fact, there have been whole books written on the subject. Oftentimes these passages are overlooked by modern audiences and can cause quite a shock to people who have never bothered to actually plow through the whole book.

Personally, I read the Bible all the way through twice while I was growing up Christian, and now I'm a Thelemite. You can't necessarily draw any sort of statistical conclusion from a single example, but I do find it amusing how far actually reading the Bible led me from fundamentalism. I also know several individuals who attended Bible college and are now OTO members, and have seen plenty of fundamentalists who for whatever reason don't seem to know the text of their own holy book.

As an example of the latter, I was very disappointed with Bill Maher's film Religulous for this very reason - it sure seemed like Maher picked weak targets. He interviewed an anti-gay fundamentalist who knew about the prohibition against male homosexuality in Leviticus, but seemed to be completely ignorant of Paul's remarks from Romans. I don't agree with the guy's position, but he should at least know the text well enough to argue it coherently. He's a full-time minister - isn't it his job?

At any rate, petitioning to ban the Bible here strikes me as a great tactical move. It highlights the ridiculousness of the original petition, and how Target Australia fundamentally erred by giving in to it. If the store doesn't want to sell anything that contains sex and/or violence it's their right, but it would mean removing a whole lot of stuff unrelated to this one video game. Also, if I were I Australian I would be looking for someplace else to shop that is less susceptible to hyperbolic nonsense.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Move Over, Birdemic!

Does everyone remember the abjectly terrible trailer for Birdemic? It came out in 2010, and is acknowledged by many insiders to be among the worst modern films ever. From the stilted acting to the over-the-top "bird attack" CGI that looks like the video version of 4Chan photoshopping, everybody who saw it knew that its awfulness would be hard to beat. And until recently, it was at the very bottom of IMDB's Bottom 100.

But that was before Kirk Cameron's latest came along. The evangelical actor's new film, Saving Christmas, has now dethroned Birdemic as the worst-rated movie in IMDB's history. Here's the film's summary from Rotten Tomatoes, where it holds an impressive 0%:

With "Merry Christmas" being replaced by "Seasons Greetings" and court ordered removal of public nativity scenes, the fruit of Mary's womb is falling on hard times. But this year, Kirk Cameron is taking back Christmas with his engaging new movie KIRK CAMERON'S SAVING CHRISTMAS.

So here we have the Poor Oppressed Christian worldview taken to its ridiculous logical conclusion. Apparently, Cameron is playing an action hero dedicated to stomping out the heinous evils of inclusive holiday greetings. Now there's a gripping conflict that will keep us on the edge of our seats - NOT! No wonder so many people think it's bad.

The lowest rating anyone can give a movie, in case you’re wondering, is 1. Which means if 0 stars were an option, the score would probably be even lower.

Need a basis for comparison? From Justin to Kelly is #23 on the Bottom 100 list. Cameron’s movie is worse than From Justin to Kelly. From Justin to Kelly!

Give it a few hours and I’m sure Cameron will complain about how he’s the victim of Christian Persecution. When he does, someone please remind him that God’s Not Dead has an average IMDb rating of 5 stars. Nowhere near the bottom of the barrel.

See, while much of the framing of God's Not Dead is kind of silly and unrealistic, it at least is based on a premise that's potentially kind of interesting - a Christian philosophy student debating his atheist professor on the existence of God. Cameron's movie, though, is about something that I'm pretty sure hardly anybody cares about very much.

While many Poor Oppressed Christians will bring up this topic as an example, even they realize that making a big deal about it just makes them sound dumb. It's pretty clear to most people that expecting members of minority religions to use exclusively Christian greetings is unfair, and only the most foolish Christian would ever argue that hearing "Seasons Greetings" harms them in any meaningful way.

It hasn't even harmed Kirk Cameron, just the reviews of his movie.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Dating the Antikythera Mechanism

The so-called Antikythera Mechanism, a device originally composed of a complex series of bronze gears, was discovered in 1901 off the coast of Antikythera, an island in the Aegean Sea. According to experts who have examined the device, it appears to have been used to determine the position of the sun, moon, and planets at specific times. In effect, it was the first known mechanical astrological calendar.

Researchers have now determined that based on its settings, the device could be as much as a hundred years older than previously thought. This is significant because precise dating of the device could help determine the mathematical principles that went into its construction.

A 2006 study dated the device to 150-100 B.C. But a new analysis of the mechanism's eclipse-tracking dial by scientists at the University of Puget Sound in Washington and the National University of Quilmes in Argentina indicates that the device's built-in calendar likely began at 205 B.C.

This suggests that the Antikythera Mechanism must be at least 50 to 100 years older than previously thought. If that's the case, the researchers say, the device could not have relied on trigonometry, which emerged during the 2nd century B.C. Instead, it was probably based on arithmetical principles the Greeks borrowed from the Babylonians.

For now, the mystery of who built the device remains unsolved. While some experts have linked the mechanism to legendary Greek thinkers like Archimedes and Hipparchus, the new study suggests it's too early to say for sure.

“We know so little about ancient Greek astronomy,” study co-author Dr. James Evans, a professor of physics at the University of Puget Sound, told The New York Times. “Only small fragments of work have survived. It’s probably safer not to try to hang it on any one particular famous person.”

Given the nature of astrology, it's also possible that these experts are wrong. For an astrologer, the device would be less useful if its starting date was the date on which it was built. Just like with a modern ephemeris, it would make more sense to have it start 50-100 years earlier so that it could be used to calculate birth charts for older adults. That amount of time is exactly the discrepancy found by these researchers.

As the research continues, I'm looking forward to hearing more about how the device works and how accurate it would have been over time. It just goes to show that ancient people were as smart as we are today, except that they were working from a more limited knowledge base.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Megan Fox Must Be Trolling

Creationist and anti-science blogger Megan Fox is back in the news this week, and now I'm convinced that her persona has to be some sort of ongoing performance art piece. Nobody could possibly be this stupid in real life - could they? This time around, Fox has posted a video of herself "auditing" the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. Not only does she confuse ordinary lizards with mythical dragons, as in her previous videos she sees "leftist propaganda" everywhere.

“Look, I found a dragon!” she exclaims as she examines what appears to be an iguana. “Spikes, claws, scales, nails – it’s a dragon!”

Fox, whose stupefying video audit of a science museum went viral last month, toured the Brookfield Zoo in another series of videos posted on her YouTube channel.

She complains that the zoo is exhibiting “anti-human” prejudice in a display that shows 90 percent of the world’s primates are threatened with extinction due to the actions of one species of primate.

“There are tons of (displays) here that say, you know, humans are bad,” Fox says. “There’s all kinds of anti-human and green initiative stuff that we can look at here, so it’s going to be fun.”

The PJ Media blogger argues, as the camera lingers over the Spanish translation of “water,” that a display on water conservation has nothing to do with animals and is instead leftist propaganda.

Yes, clean water has nothing to do with animals because none of them drink. Or swim. Or do anything that polluted water might affect. Clearly Fox has never kept fish, because even trace amounts of chlorine or soap can be toxic to them. Many of the chemicals we use for cleaning are even worse. As for the facts of biology being "anti-human," the truth is that human population growth and subsequent development has not been a good thing for most animals. As their habitat is reduced, their numbers dwindle. That's just math.

But I'm not going to bother debunking her ridiculous comments any further. I'm calling it now - Fox is engaged in some sort of a satirical project specifically designed to make religious people look dumb. She has to be. I'll freely admit that I fell for it last time, but no more. I expect that one of these days Fox is going to out herself as a member of the Landover Baptist Church. Either that, or one of these days she's going to go on some conservative television program and cite the mocking of her satirical videos as proof of how "intolerant" liberals are.

When she does, you can tell all your friends that you heard it here first.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Satanic Temple Plans Holiday Display

Let's hear it one more time for the folks at The Satanic Temple. The group is now planning a holiday display for the Florida State Capital that depicts Lucifer falling from Heaven. The display was initially turned down by Florida officials, but a legal challenge is in the works. The challenge falls directly in line with the latest rulings from the Supreme Court that allow for religion in the public square, but only if all religions seeking representation can obtain it. A model of the proposed display is shown above.

First a Christian group erected a nativity scene that endorsed Christianity. Then an atheist group hung a winter solstice banner celebrating the Bill of Rights and freedom from religion. Inspired, another atheist built a Festivus pole made of beer cans, and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster added a small pile of holy noodles. Under current First Amendment law, the Capitol had no ability to turn down any of these groups; once the government opened the door to one religion, it had to let them all in.

But when the Satanic Temple applied to erect a display featuring an angel falling into a pit of fire, state officials turned it down. The display, they explained, was "grossly offensive during the holiday season." Now, with Christmas around the corner, the temple is reapplying, asserting its constitutional right to include its display alongside the others. And this time, it's bringing a legal team.

How did the Florida Capitol become the center of a constitutional showdown launched by Satanists? Surprisingly, the fault lies squarely with the U.S. Supreme Court's most conservative justices. In their quest to let the government endorse and sponsor mainstream religion, they accidentally granted groups like the Satanists and the Pastafarians a constitutional right to force the government to advertise their beliefs.

Apparently the author of this article believes that the Supreme Court "accidentally" allowed religions other than Christianity to erect displays, give invocations, and so forth, but from the questions asked and testimony given during those cases they did nothing of the sort. In every case the justices have made it clear that they're simply reading the constitution correctly - banning all religious displays would conflict with the "free exercise" clause, while allowing one religion and not others would conflict with the better publicized "establishment clause."

So the most accurate reading is in fact to allow members of all religions to erect their own displays and so forth as they see fit, which is the exact set of rulings by which The Satanic Temple should be allowed to put up their display. Hopefully the state of Florida will abandon its unconstitutional opposition soon and fall in line with the law of the land.

UPDATE: The state of Florida in fact did just that. The Satanic Temple will be allowed to put up their monument. The officials trying to block it must have finally realized that they had no case.