Thursday, January 29, 2015

Bryan Fischer Fired

Remember Bryan Fischer? The Christian talk radio host has a long history of spouting crazy nonsense about the alleged oppression of American Christians. More recently, he pontificated on the demonic power behind the "gay agenda." For the last several years he has also served as the spokesman and director of issues analysis for the American Family Association, an advocacy group for Christian conservatives. However, yesterday the group announced that Fischer had been fired from his official position with the organization.

Rachel Maddow tonight broke news that the American Family Association has officially fired notorious evangelist Bryan Fischer after a controversy involving the RNC and Israel. Fischer is notorious for having some––well, let’s not sugarcoat it––crazy views on gays, “homofascists,” more crazy views on gays, and… yeah, basically a lot of gay stuff.

Fischer is so out there, he concocted some insane conspiracy theory last year that the only reason Shepard Smith wasn’t freaking out about Ebola is because he wants to support President Obama‘s big government gay agenda.

At issue this time is an RNC trip to Israel that was apparently being paid for by the American Family Association, of which Fischer is the director of issues analysis. Or, rather, he was. Until today. Maddow quoted AFA President Tim Wildmon as dismissing Fischer as “just a talk show host” who is no longer associated with the AFA.

When asked specifically what bothered him about Fischer, he cited “the soundbite quotes, you know, the Hitler and the homosexuality one… we reject that.”

Fischer's talk radio show will remain on the air, so he's not without a job. It seems that the American Family Association finally realized how nuts he sounds, though if they wanted to effectively distance themselves from him they should have done so years ago. Those soundbites that Wildmon mentioned are out on the Internet now, which means that they will be with us forever. Firing him now suggests the organization had no problems with the statements themselves, but rather the bad press they generated once they were more widely circulated.

Just once I would like to see a public Christian conservative who was sane and reasonable. It should be possible to hold socially conservative beliefs without degenerating into crazy talk and conspiracy theories about gays, liberals, and pretty much anybody else opposing your views. But from the clowns I see getting all the media attention, you would never know it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ghost for Sale

You can buy just about anything on Craigslist these days. Apparently, that includes ghosts. This article tells the story of a man named Dan who came across someone selling a wooden chest that was supposedly haunted by a ghost for $300. From the picture, shown above, the chest itself is pretty unimpressive, so it's not much of a stretch to think that the seller came up with the "haunted" angle so that he could make a quick buck. It seems Dan had the same idea, and proceeded to ask the seller a list of tongue-in-cheek questions about the ghost.

The story of the Craigslist ghost first appeared over at Barstool Sports. According to a guy named Dan, he stumbled across someone selling the spectral being for $300. This included the aforementioned wooden container, which the ghost apparently called home. Check out the listing’s description below.

“I have a male Ghost for sale. He came into my house when I purchased a old wooden chest. He is attached to the Chest. The chest comes along with the Ghost. He is attached to it. What ever room I put the chest in, he hangings around it. If I try to hide the Chest, he searches for it and even gets mad if he can’t find it for awhile. You get the chest and the Ghost for $300.00.”

After emailing the seller some questions — including if the ghost was a Green Bay Packers fan — Dan began a curious conversation with the seller. Unfortunately, the price of the ghost jumped from $300 to around $1,000, much to the would-be owner’s dismay. Here’s what the ghost’s handler had to say about the entity in question.

“Hi there. I cant answer any of your questions, and if you showed up with $1000. I would not and could not sell to you. This is serious. I p**sed it off once and it hurt me. I have pics. I have also played around with it and had a little fun. I have a video of that. If I try to send it off with just anyone, it will hurt me. I am not a quack and this is real.”

Unfortunately, according to the seller, the Craigslist ghost ended up going to another individual.

So did the seller believe his own bullshit? Or was he just unwilling to sell to an obvious skeptic? I have to admit, if I were selling any sort of paranormal item I would be wary about selling it to anybody from the capital-S skeptic crowd. Given their past behavior, they might buy it and then turn around and file a criminal complaint against me for fraud when whatever carefully-rigged test they run fails. That's way too much hassle to go through for a mere $300, and of course if the whole thing is in fact a scam it's the last thing the seller would want.

I suppose the seller could be sincere, and I suppose it's possible that a spirit could be linked to the chest. Still, from the exchange it sounds to me like the seller was looking to sell it to someone gullible rather than an individual with actual critical thinking skills.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Cthulhu Yoga

There's been some talk lately around the blogosphere regarding the cultural appropriation of yoga by Western students. One of the issues involved is that what we think of today as "yoga" is not particularly ancient or Indian; rather, it is a combination of poses found in old Indian texts and European exercise techniques that first became popular about a hundred years ago.

The synthesis did happen largely because of the British occupation of India and so is related to the colonialism of the British Empire, but as it incorporates so many European elements it is not simply a case of Europeans hijacking an existing non-European tradition. Rather, it is a combination of European and Indian methods, and the current systems really only date back to about 1960.

A while back I wrote about schools teaching yoga classes as part of physical education, which prompted a lawsuit from Christian parents who were under the impression that the classes were teaching Hinduism or something. But the school had gone to great lengths to secularize their classes, going so far as to replace the official names of postures with nonsense like "crisscross applesauce."

Frankly, that's just dumb. If you want to teach yoga completely divorced from any possible religious context, why not combine it with a completely fictional mythology? Better still, why not a mythology in which every single entity in the pantheon wants to eat your sanity for breakfast? Now that's hardcore, and I didn't even have to make it up. Cthulhu Yoga is apparently a real thing!

Let’s say you want to combine fitness and darkness, but don’t have access to a gym with Bauhaus-blasting cycling classes. Never fear, online tutorials already exist! “Yoga Fhtagn” (from “Cthulhu fhtagn,” meaning “Cthulhu waits”), and combines a Lovecraftian horror (is Lovecraft goth?) with low-impact Sun Salutation—minus the sun. The class of the damned is actually led and narrated by no other than feminist writer/journalist and and Harvard Fellow, Laurie Penny—so you know the politics of Health Goth are soundly left (and also that quite a few of the people that admire the style have a sense of humor about how silly it is).

Billed as “the ultimate health goth workout,” Penny’s says her routine will help us “tone our bodies, while slowly losing our minds,” but the video cuts mysteriously short, most likely owing to cosmic monstrosities. Hey, no pain, no gain.

This is just plain hilarious, and it's the perfect remedy to the argument that modern yoga is somehow based on a religion practiced by real people, or that using poses that were never intended to be part of an exercise regimen in the context of Western fitness is somehow offensive. After all, if you're going to be criticized anyway, why not go all-out and align your teachings with the greatest of all possible evils?

I suppose if these first students start descending into madness or mutating into gibbering horrors or becoming obsessed with mysterious and entirely fictional grimoires held in the libraries of fictional universities the class may turn out to be a tragic failure. But for now, it strikes me as a fun way to keep Lovecraft fans engaged with fitness practices that help maintain their overall health.

Friday, January 23, 2015

A Satanic School Bus?

Here's another story that stands as a testament to the power of human stupidity. A Christian mom in Tennessee is outraged after she spotted a brake light on a school bus that (sort of) looks (a little) like a pentagram. The offending light is shown above.

“Anyone who fears a God, if not God and Jesus Christ, should be outraged,” said the mother, who was not identified because she is reportedly receiving death threats after sharing the photo on social media.

The mother says it’s appalling the brake lights are shaped like a pentagram. “If you can’t put a cross on there, you can’t put a pentagram on it,” she said.

The woman pointed to Walgreen’s decision last year to remove wrapping paper from its shelves because images on the paper appeared to be those of swastikas.

“Would we allow a swastika, for instance, to be on the back of the bus?” said the mother.

Before I go any further, whoever is sending this woman death threats needs to cut it out, right now. I am so tired of that bullshit that a proper metaphor escapes me. On this blog I poke fun at a lot of people who post dumb stuff on the Internet, but anybody who thinks threatening a person's life over an online comment or photograph or whatever is an okay thing to do is a far worse human being than any of those folks. Any of them.

Now it is true that the stupid is pretty strong here. Look at the picture. The light is a circle filled with a small ring of five lights and a bigger ring of five around that. So you can trace lines between the lights on the outer ring and get a pentagram, but what else could you do? Using four as the base number for the lights wouldn't fill the circle as well, and anyway it would look kind of like a cross. Six would suggest a Star of David. Seven would suggest the Thelemic Star of Babalon. And so forth.

Just about every lineal figure can be construed to mean something. Safety features like lights go through rigorous testing, and my guess is that the base-five pattern was selected because it was most visible or worked the best in some fashion. I'm hoping that this woman is not trying to say that Satanists have infiltrated the bus company and are making pentagram-shaped brake lights to corrupt the youth of America, because that's total tinfoil hat nonsense. That's beyond dumb; it's straight-up delusional.

I also think that the comparison to the swastika is pretty ignorant. Satanists have never engaged in the systematic murder of millions of Christians. When they do, maybe she'll have a point - but I highly doubt such a day will ever come.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Own a Haunted Castle!

For those of you who may have dreamed of owning a haunted English castle, here's your chance. Blenkinsopp Castle in Northumbria is on the market for a mere £325,000. That's not necessarily cheap in the overall scheme of things, but relatively speaking real estate values in the UK are quite high. An average house in London goes for more than £500,000 - and that won't include ramparts, a tower, a bunch of fourteenth century ruins, or a resident ghost.

Built by the Blenkinsopp family in 1339, the castle has served as a family home and a hotel and was added to by William Lyle Blenkinsopp Coulson in the 1880s. It comes complete with a Pele tower - a type of fortified watch tower that was added in the 19th century - and is nestled in a hamlet of 70 homes.

Rumour has it that the castle is haunted by the widow of Bryan de Blenkinsopp because he left her when she refused to tell him where she had buried her treasure chest. The chest was never found and "The White Lady" is said to roam the corridors.

Despite being ravaged by a fire in 1954 when it was a guest house, the home has been lovingly restored and is now a Grade II listed imposing house fit for a lord or lady.

More photographs of the castle and its interior can be found here. While the renovated interior looks a lot more modern than you might expect, that's not necessarily a bad thing. The new fixtures and windows are going to work a lot better than the originals. Also, with some clever faux-painting it wouldn't be that hard to redo the interior to look more castle-like.

I can't say that I have much interest in relocating to England, even to live in a haunted castle. But for anyone who does or who already lives there, this is a great deal for the property.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Remembering the "Satanic Panic"

There's a good article up today on io9 recounting the "Satanic Panic" of the 1980's and early 1990's, during which phony "recovered memories" were treated as evidence of widespread Satanic cult activity. I started practicing magick in high school and graduated in 1987, so my first forays into occultism happened during that whole media circus connecting day care centers, heavy metal music, Dungeons & Dragons, and pretty much anything else fundamentalist Christians found distasteful.

The article references a video entitled "The Law Enforcement Guide to Satanic Cults" that is now available on YouTube. The poster does not know whether it was ever used as a training video, but as it dates from 1994 I would guess not. The FBI report that debunked the Satanic Ritual Abuse phenomenon was published in 1992, and afterwards public opinion rapidly turned against the fundamentalist leaders who were pushing it as real. So the video was certainly made for police training, but 1994 was likely too late for it to be taken seriously by many police departments.

It's impossible to know if this 1994 oddity was ever used as an actual police training tool (hopefully not), but it's presented matter-of-factly. It features input from "experts" like blatantly homophobic "former Satanic priest turned Christian" Eric Pryor (a fascinating guy in his own right), who interprets graffiti and sets up altars, presumably for the benefit of the wide-eyed police officers who suspected their communities were being overrun by a Satanic menace.

The video offers a glimpse at the context that spawned not just the McMartin trial, which ran from 1987 to 1990, but also at the widespread fear that a battle of good versus evil was raging just below the surface of American culture. Heavy metal songs (and the subliminal and backwards messages supposedly contained therein) and album art, horror movies, and fantasy games like Dungeons & Dragons all offered easy, obvious targets. (As seen in the classic TV movie Mazes and Monsters.)

Talk shows, the era's number-one source for dubious investigations of hot-button topics, also helped fan Satanic Panic's flames. (Check out the Oprah clip below; the technical quality isn't good, but the content — in which a calm and clear-eyed representative of an alternative religion calls out an audience member who makes vague claims of having, uh, murdered a guy as part of a Satanic ritual — is very telling.)

"It was something we didn't realize at the time, but now, it looks like a low-scale version of the McCarthy-era paranoia around communism," Peter Bebergal, author of Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll, tells io9."The devil worshippers could be anywhere. They could be your next-door neighbor. They could be your child's caregiver."

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Jesus Sure Gets Around

It has been awhile since I covered allegedly miraculous Jesus sightings on pieces of toast, sides of skyscrapers, and just about anywhere else a semi-random pattern can emerge that looks a little like a human face. The latest of these, though, really takes the cake. A Welsh woman named Rachel Evans has apparently found the face of Jesus in a photograph of her wet dog's ear.

Evans had used ordinary, non-holy water for the bath – so was surprised when her partner pointed out the divine visage in Yorkshire terrier Dave’s ear. The DVLA worker from Swansea, south Wales, said: ‘I was a bit freaked out to be honest.

‘I am a bit superstitious and it’s quite spooky. At first I didn’t see anything at all. We were just giving them a bath in the sink and taking silly photos and selfies because they looked cute. About an hour later I showed my partner and he said “can you see that face?”

‘We looked a bit closer and realised it looked like Jesus. It’s a bit strange.’

I have two thoughts on this. First, this is a clear case of the mosaic effect. The image does look a little like part of a face, but that's just because the contours are close enough that our brains identify it as such. Second, it looks absolutely nothing like any traditional rendering of Jesus, just a generic partial face.

So I can't explain Evans' identification, unless it was just so that this ridiculous story would get some actual press coverage.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Boy Admits He Made Up Heavenly Visit

Apparently books detailing near-death experiences are more popular than I previously thought, at least among Christians. That probably explains why Eben Alexander's book was titled Proof of Heaven and marketed accordingly, even though his story doesn't line up with anything explicitly Christian and has more in common with New Age accounts of the afterlife that were popular in the 1970's.

Now a boy who claimed to have "visited Heaven" while in a coma, much like what happened to Alexander, has come forward and admitted that he wanted attention and made the whole thing up. He was six years old at the time and is now a teenager. Oh, and his last name is Malarkey. You can't make this stuff up, folks!

Here are a few key background details of the story: Alex Malarkey was paralyzed at the age of 6 when he was in a car wreck. He then spent two months in a coma. He's now a teenager. The book lists him as a co-author along with his father, Kevin Malarkey.

Calling the book a "spiritual memoir," The Washington Post notes that it "became part of a popular genre of 'heavenly tourism,' which has been controversial among orthodox Christians."

Alex's parents are now divorced; he and his siblings live with his mother, Beth Malarkey, who has previously spoken out against the book (and last year, a movie) featuring her son. She has also said that profits from the book haven't been going to Alex.

Last spring, Beth Malarkey wrote a blog post stating, "Alex's name and identity are being used against his wishes (I have spoken before and posted about it that Alex has tried to publicly speak out against the book), on something that he is opposed to and knows to be in error according to the Bible."

The publisher has announced that it will be pulling the book in light of this new revelation. When I was younger I spent a lot of time studying near-death experiences, and one of the things I took away from it is that the closer the experience is to any one religion's dogma, the more likely it is that it's fabricated.

There are a lot of common features - moving down a tunnel towards some sort of light, the presence of deceased loved ones, and the sense of being in the presence of some sort of ultimate divine source. But there's a considerable debate going on between neuroscientists who think those features are caused by the brain being deprived of oxygen and and spiritual people who impart to them a greater significance.

Until we have a viable model of consciousness that debate is going to be hard to settle. It seems to me that both a physical and a spiritual process could be going on at the same time, as the body and mind influence each other to varying degrees, but without empirical data it's hard to be sure.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Satanic Temple Halts Bible Distribution

The Satanic Temple has done it again. Back in November, I covered the group's plans to distribute the “Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities” at a Florida school in response to a Christian group distributing bibles. Following the announcement from the temple, the school suspended the bible distribution program subject to review by the school board. That review is now complete, and the school has decided to end the distribution of all religious materials rather than include the activity book.

The Satanic Temple intended to distribute the “Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities” to students, while the FFRF planned to give them pamphlets describing the Bible as “An X-Rated Book.” The school board decided to review its policy about materials made available for students after the groups announced their plans. Atheist materials had previously been permitted, but the board changed its plans after the Satanic Temple asked to include its activity book.

An attorney for the Christian groups said he was disappointed by the change in plans. “It seems like the momentum right now is to a policy that would exclude all religious materials, which is unnecessary,” said attorney Roger Gannam. But a spokesman for the FFRF said the protest worked exactly as intended. “We don’t want our schools to become religious battlefields,” said David Williamson, of FFRF. “We’ve advocated all along to close the forum.”

Personally, I'm in the "religious battleground" camp myself. I've worked to expose my own kids to a variety of religious beliefs so they can make up their own minds about it, and I wish more parents would do the same. But the caveat there is that minority religions like my own rarely have the resources of large, established churches, and I will grant that there are some cases in which the only way to ensure equal representation is to exclude religious materials entirely.

The Satanic Temple continues to do a great job of exposing the hypocrisy of Christians pushing for "freedom of religion," which of course to them means freedom for their religion and exclusion of all others.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Hunt Ghosts Naked!

I suppose with the ongoing evolution of "reality tv" something like this was inevitable. Apparently, a television production company is pitching a new paranormal investigation series with a twist - the investigations will all be done in the nude. The producers claim they're looking to see if a naked team will get "different readings." You know, because they can't just come out and say they want to spend their days filming naked people.

Casting agent Chrissy Glickman of Matador Content sent the email out this week to various paranormal teams and ghost hunting enthusiasts. In the email, she says that she is looking for paranormal investigators that will take "paranormal investigating to the next level" and bare it all for the camera.

"For this paranormal investigating show, we are putting a different spin on paranormal investigating and we are looking for people and/or teams that would be interested in taking paranormal investigating to the next level by doing it in the nude. This is the REAL NAKED & AFRAID! We will have different teams going to different haunted locations around the country," Glickman said in the email.

The producers are using nudity for the concept of the show because they want to see if paranormal research teams get different readings and more evidence than when they are fully clothed. They believe that spirits will communicate with someone more vulnerable.

"This show is not about putting a bad light, causing drama or making fun of the paranormal. This idea was brought to our company after research on paranormal investigation teams in history doing it in the nude and we want to see if their reasoning for doing it in the nude really does get spirits to communicate easier," Glickman said.

But I'm thinking that What really happened was this. At a brainstorming session, somebody threw out the idea, "Hey, people like to watch paranormal shows. They also like to watch naked people. Let's combine the two! Our ratings will go through the roof!" If the people selected for the show all look like models rather than being experienced ghost hunters that will prove it, and if this show ever gets off the ground I'm sure they will.

I've never seen any evidence in the paranormal literature that people have more paranormal experiences when they're not wearing clothes. And I'm sure some investigators tried it at some point, but my guess is that the technique is not very well known because it was potentially embarrassing and seemed to work no better than clothed investigations. As such, I highly doubt that a team of naked ghost hunters will be good for anything but ratings, and the viewers tuning in won't be watching it for the ghosts.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Unconvincing Ghost Chases Car

According to local legend, the English town of Blackburn is haunted by the ghost of a monk who was executed hundreds of years ago. Last week, this video was posted to the Internet purporting to be footage of Blackburn's local phantom. Looking over the video, though, the "ghost" is not very convincing.

The video, posted without explanation on Thursday, is taken from a car and shows a hunched figure in white in the distance. As the car tries to back away, the figure keeps approaching.

Someone in the car can be heard screaming in a foreign language. The Daily Record reports that the person is shouting "Move the car backwards!" and "Faster! faster!" in Arabic.

Local historian and author Simon Entwistle told The Citizen newspaper that the "ghost" in the video may be the spirit of a monk who was executed in Turton Tower.

"It's the actual timing that I find quite unusual, this person was executed in early January 1643, and the ghost will only make an appearance in the early January period," Entwistle was quoted as saying.

But Entwistle may not be the most objective expert. As commenters on that page pointed out, he hosts ghost tours of the area.

Most commenters who have seen the video think it's fake and I have to agree.There's no evidence that this is a paranormal entity rather than a person wearing a costume consisting of a white sheet, a walking stick, and a dark wig. It doesn't appear or disappear, it's not translucent, it moves no faster than a person could walk, and so forth.

As it's not clear whether the people in the car are in on it, this could also be a prank at their expense. But either way, I'm confident that there's a person inside that outfit rather than some sort of undead spirit. For that matter, it might be Entwistle himself. What better way to drum up business for ghost tours than running around pretending to be a ghost and making sure people report sightings?

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Florida "Bathing Bigfoot" Photographed

A Florida man claims that he photographed the legendary Bigfoot a few weeks ago while on a fishing trip. The photograph has been making the rounds on the Internet, receiving varying degrees of scrutiny. The picture is extremely clear, one of the least blurry that I've come across. But some experts who have examined it claim that it shows evidence of digital tampering. The blown-up photo is shown above.

The Bigfoot photo was sent by a 66-year-old retired electrician named John Rodriguez, who said he captured the startling image while out fishing the Hillsborough River near Tampa, Florida, on December 26. According to Rodriguez, the Bigfoot creature was making its way through the water before lowering down, at which point Rodriguez took the shot.

“I fish for gar in the river and I bring my camera to take pictures of the birds and what not. I heard a squishing sound, looked over and saw this thing walking through the water and crouch down in the duck weed. It did not look like a guy in a suit — it was definitely an animal. I took this picture and got out of there as fast as I could.”

At the same time, the Huffington Post reporter seems skeptical that Rodriguez actually captured a shot of Bigfoot, who in Florida is known as the Swamp Ape or Skunk Ape. The skepticism arises from some of the characteristics of the Bigfoot photo. For instance, a closer look shows the photo to be “too crisp” with a “jagged line between the hairy beast and the water.” Possible signs that someone tampered with the Bigfoot photo in Photoshop or some other picture editing software.

Apparently the photo's EXIF data shows that it was saved from a version of Photoshop on December 26th, the day Rodriguez claimed to have taken it. But he claims that photos are imported from his camera directly into Photoshop and then saved, so that's not necessarily proof of deliberate tampering. I will say that to some extent it hinges on Rodriguez' ability with the software. I'm a relatively novice user myself, and I know I would have difficulty making the twigs in front of the figure look right.

The first thing I thought when I saw the photo, actually, was that it looked more like a replica than a living creature. The face is so neutral and expressionless it looks like it might be fiberglass, and there are absolutely no ripples in the water as if it were completely stationary. It is possible that the Photoshop EXIF data happened the way Rodriguez said and he actually photographed some sort of Bigfoot mock-up. Still, if he's an expert at Photoshop all bets are off. An expert can make anything look good.

Depending on the kind of camera he uses, Rodriguez could settle this controversy by producing the raw image. Many cameras, especially more expensive ones, save that data and don't necessarily delete it when the image is imported. Raw image data would show whether or not the picture was tampered with, since it's from the camera. Even so, I still think it isn't of a real animal - to me it looks more like some sort of model.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Icelandic Pagan Temple Under Construction

In Iceland, Norse paganism experienced a revival in the early 1970's. Now the Ásatrúarfélag, the organization largely responsible for this revival, is working to construct the first Nordic pagan temple built in almost a thousand years. Land for the temple was purchased in 2008, and construction of the main structure will begin next month.

This will be the first pagan temple to be built in the Nordic countries in nearly a thousand years, said the alsherjargoði Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, head priest of the Icelandic Ásatrúarfélag, in an interview with RÚV.

The Ásatrúarfélag applied for a plot of land to construct a temple in 2006 and was allotted a piece of land in Öskuhlíð in 2008. The 350 square metres (3767 sq ft) temple will have a vaulted ceiling and seat around 250 people. Its construction will be completed next year.

The Icelandic Ásatrúarfélag is an Icelandic Germanic Neopagan religious organization founded in 1972. The organization conducts ceremonies such as marriages, name-giving ceremonies, and burials.

As a huge fan of religious diversity, I wish the Ásatrúarfélag the best of luck as the project moves forward. The temple sounds like it will be a beautiful building, and I look forward to seeing its final finished form. It's good to see minority religions able to gather the resources they need to maintain a legitimate cultural presence.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The "Sounds of Sodomy?"

In May Ireland will vote on a referendum to allow same-sex marriage. Predictably, the impending vote has brought out all sorts of objections from the conservative religious community. But I don't think anyone expected those objections to be this funny. The above image is from a pamphlet being circulated by an unknown Christian group warning of "sounds of sodomy" should the referendum pass.

This pamphlet has been spotted in the town of Wicklow, south of Dublin. “Should children be exposed to sounds of sodomy?” it asks, warning of “dire consequences for the innocent if homosexuals are given access to the scarament of marriage.”

“Should children be exposed to this beastly obsession with unholy acts? Should the sounds of sodomy echo in the halls of a Christian home?”

The church group’s dim-witted attempt to strike fear into the hearts of the public has backfired hugely, with Ireland’s people pouring scorn and ridicule on its ridiculous message.

As one commenter noted, "Does it sound different when straight couples do it?" So far, there have been no answers from the pamphleteers.

Seriously, though, once you pull out the "think of the children!" argument it means you've lost the debate. It's essentially admitting you're an awful person who thinks that the entire public sphere should be dumbed-down to something a six-year-old can easily understand. I have a six-year-old, and let me tell you, such a world would be an abject nightmare.

There's no evidence whatsoever that children raised by same-sex couples suffer any sort of harm from that situation, and it's not for lack of looking. Conservative researchers have been trying to find some sort of connection for the last twenty years, and have come up empty. Opponents of same-sex marriage really have nothing else besides religious objections, and the dictates of one religion should be no basis for civil law.

Because here's a news flash for these pamphleteers - a lot of same-sex couples aren't Christian, and the rest don't share their fundamentalist worldview. So why should such couples be legally obligated to follow the dictates of a faith other than their own?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Tomb of Osiris Discovered in Thebes

Archaeologists have uncovered another fascinating ancient Egyptian site near Thebes. The site itself was located over a hundred years ago, but recent excavations have revealed that it is much larger than previously thought. The tomb appears to be a smaller version of the Osireion in Abydos, a complex dedicated to the god Osiris.

The complex consists of a large hall supported by five pillars. RTVE describes the structure as having a staircase from the north wall of the main room, leading down to the funerary complex, where there is a carving of Osiris, god of the dead, in the middle of a central vaulted temple. To the west of the central temple is a funerary room with the reliefs of demons holding knives.

The leader of the Spanish-Italian team that uncovered the tomb, Dr. María Milagros Álvarez Sosa, told EFE that the demons are there to protect the body of the deceased. Opposite the statue of Osiris is a staircase with a 29.5 foot (9 meter) shaft leading to another chamber. Inside this chamber is a second shaft that descends 19.6 feet (6 meters) into two more rooms, which are currently full of debris.

“The symbolism of Osiris is very evident here, since all the elements recalling the mythical Osiris tomb are present,” writes Luxor Times Magazine, “a big staircase of 3.5 meter long with a 4 meter high ceiling at the bottom leading to the Netherworld and another one leading directly to the Osiris statue, which is therefore at a higher level and ideally isolated on ‘his island’; the Osiris statue itself; the empty corridor surrounding it which symbolizes the channel of water (see Osireion in Abydos); the expected burial chamber below the statue, thus identifying the deceased with Osiris.”

I've always wanted to see what would happen if archaeologists were to discover the original tomb of the actual Osiris, or at least a site identified as such. Then, if a body was present, its DNA could be tested to see if it has extra strands or lizard chromosomes or whatever else the alien conspiracy folks are looking for. When the tests come back as fully human, I'd like to think that it would put to rest the notion that ancient Egyptians were far too stupid to erect monuments and so forth on their own and therefore required alien assistance.

Of course, that's wishful thinking on my part; so far, no amount of scientific data and/or rational analysis has been able to accomplish such a feat. It's not that I think it's impossible that representatives from an alien civilization could have visited Earth at some point in the past, but I do think it's pretty ignorant to cite the supposed incompetence of ancient people as proof such an encounter had to have occurred. The ancients had a different knowledge base, but there's no reason to think that their geniuses were any less gifted than those of the modern world.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Stupid is Strong in This One

It seems that whoever wrote the headline for this story really earned their keep. The story itself is just as bizarre. A Florida man attacked his "spiritual" girlfriend after she "prophecied" that his dead grandmother would assault him in his dreams with an "adult erotic device."

According to TCPalm‘s Will Greenlee, Casey Molter and his unnamed girlfriend had gotten into a physical altercation earlier that morning, and police were called to break them up. At that time, Molter had only inflicted minor damage to her car and smashed her cell phone.

After police left, however, Molter continued to attack his girlfriend’s car, breaking a passenger side mirror, deflating its tires, and strewing the hood and windshield with used condoms and what the police referred to as “love notes” written in creams and lotions.

When police returned to the scene, they asked Molter why he was so intent on damaging his girlfriend’s car. He replied that she is a “‘spiritual person’ and can tell a person about their dreams.”

He said that she had told him that his deceased grandmother was going to return to him in his dreams, and that she was going to “commit an unusual sex act to him involving an adult erotic device,” the police report stated.

Breaking down the stupid here, Molter (A) believed his girlfriend and (B) decided that the appropriate response was not just damage her car, but cover it in used condoms, creams, and lotions. Because he thought that would make her "prophecy" go away? Truly, this man has a dizzying intellect. Where did he get the used condoms? Was he saving them up? I wonder about the girlfriend, too - why would she come up with such a weird prediction, and why did she think that sharing it with a violent individual was a good idea?

In fact, there's nothing spiritual or magical about predicting dreams, at least not when you tell people what your predictions are ahead of time. A lot of psychoanalytic nonsense has been written about the symbolic significance of dreams, but for the most part they just consist of recent memories being rearranged and recombined. So all you have to do to make someone dream about something is plant a strong enough suggestion in their mind, and it will probably get incorporated.

Of course, since most people only remember a small portion of their dreams, they likely won't remember it - which in this case is a good thing!