Saturday, May 30, 2015

Resurrection or Epilepsy?

Faith healer Robby Dawkins has raised the dead. At least, that's what he says. Dawkins claims that at a church service last month in northern England, parishioner Matt Catlow collapsed and died. Dawkins diligently prayed to remove the "demonic spirit of death," and the man recovered. It's a miracle! Except that according to Catlow's sister, no such thing occurred. She explained that her brother collapsed because he is epileptic, and that his "death" was actually a seizure.

“I began to bind the spirit of death and say, ‘You can’t have him!’” Dawkins recalled. “I began to declare the resurrection life of Jesus Christ over him. People were beginning to get a bit restless but then I could hear his breathing start to recover and his color started to return.”

Dawkins, who has previously complained that United Airlines would not allow him to resurrect another passenger who died on a flight, said Catlow’s condition has improved dramatically.

The man’s sister, however, said those claims are nonsense. The woman set up a Facebook page to refute Dawkins, who she described as a charlatan using her brother’s medical condition to promote his books and ministry.

“What Robby is telling everyone is not true,” she said. “It has since been MEDICALLY proven that Matthew had suffered an epileptic seizure which often can display similar signs of someone dying. TWO nurse family friends of ours both had their hands on Matthew throughout and not once lost his pulse. So no, Matthew did not die.”

That's one way to resurrect someone - pray over a person having an epileptic seizure, knowing that most of the time people recover from those with or without any spiritual intervention. So it doesn't make any difference whether or not your prayers do anything, but when the person recovers you can proclaim that you've accomplished a miracle. Nice.

I suppose it's possible that Dawkins was unfamiliar with epileptics and really believed that Matthew was dying, but if so his first course of action should have been to call an ambulance, not start praying. As I've mentioned a number of times before, I have no problem with magical healing of whatever sort, be it prayer or energy work, but only if it does not interfere with or take the place of conventional medical care.

In this case, though, I think it's more likely that Dawkins knew the seizure wasn't fatal and took full advantage of the situation. The church where the "resurrection" occurred seems to agree, as its preacher has apologized for the incident.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Debunking Charlie

So a couple days ago I posted an article on the "Charlie Challenge," a method for allegedly summoning a spirit using two pencils that went viral. In my article, I noted that if it worked, it might be usable as system for spirit communication that did not involve the ideomotor response, which is what makes pendulums and planchettes seem to move on their own. Last night I did some experiments with the two-pencil method, and concluded that it doesn't work. At least, not in the way that I posited.

First off, I determined that the pencil generally won't spin in response to vibrations in the room. That was one of my initial thoughts about how and why the pencil might be moving. One of the videos, for example, shows a couple of kids sitting in a kitchen bouncing a basketball on the floor. But when I set the pencils up on my desk I found that I was able to hit the surface quite hard without making the pencil on top spin at all. The best I could do was a slight wobble without sliding the desk.

My next thought was to apply Qigong methods and see if I could make the pencils spin that way. I previously have had some success with an Egeley Wheel along those lines, which was designed based on the observation that Qigong masters seem to be able to affect the rotation of leaves suspended in water. I should note here that this isn't necessarily a supernatural effect, as Chinese researchers have measured infrasonic waves being emitted from the hands of Qigong practitioners. But like my vibration tests this was a bust as well, with no noticeable effect.

I finally happened upon what I believe to be the mechanism. Moving air at just the right angle will make the pencil spin dramatically. It's not obvious, though. If the angle is off you can blow as hard as you want and it won't move. Likewise, if the angle is right even a slight breeze will work, whereas if it's wrong even a strong breeze won't do anything. Air movement is obviously going to be a factor outdoors, but forced-air furnaces also produce moving air. In a home with such a system, if the pencils are placed in the right spot they will move when the fan comes on.

Otherwise, breathing at the right angle will do the trick as well. I can imagine a bunch of teenagers calling out to "Charlie" and scrutinizing the pencils closely. As soon as somebody gets excited enough to start breathing hard, sure enough, the pencil on top will spin. I will add, though, that as with a breeze the angle seems to be very important. Just blowing on the pencil doesn't do it unless your breath hits it just right. Furthermore, the angle at which it needs to strike is not what you would expect, and at that angle it can work from further away than you would normally think.

The difference between how you would expect moving air to effect the pencil and how it really takes place probably explains the "supernatural" appearance of the method. The teenagers involved in this likely don't necessarily notice that they're breathing hard, and don't realize it when their breath hits the proper angle. So what this implies is that method probably won't work as a system for spirit communication - which is too bad, but at the same time I imagine that if it was usable some magician would have talked about it before now.

The apparent nature of this practice does highlight one of my problems with capital-S skeptics. Whenever they are confronted with something that looks paranormal, their first response is to accuse whoever is reporting it of lying or perpetrating an outright fraud. But, in fact, most experiences that people identify as paranormal are normal experiences that they misinterpret for various reasons. It's easy to dismiss accounts outright, but much more revealing to investigate them in a sincere manner.

I may still see about trying the pencil method in a formal ritual, but given the shifts I see on my EMF meter when spirits show up, my suspicion is that they won't be able to generate enough physical energy to produce noticeable movement. That's still just a working hypothesis, though, and if my tests turn out differently I'll be sure to keep you all posted.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Against Pregnant Hands

Until now I had no idea that the Islamic concept of the afterlife was so weird. Recently Turkish Islamic preacher Mucahid Cihad Han warned on a live television broadcast that in the afterlife, men who masturbate would find themselves with "pregnant hands." Most conservative strands of the Abrahamic monotheistic religions consider masturbation a sin, but this is the first time I've ever come across such a bizarre explanation. How does a hand get pregnant, anyway? I realize that it's the afterlife so this could be a "spiritual pregnancy." But what does that even mean?

According to Hurriyet Daily News, Han was appearing on the TV station 2000 TV when a man rang the station to confess that despite being married, he kept masturbating - even during the holy pilgrimage to Mecca known as Umrah.

Forced to repeat the question several times to the confused preacher, he was eventually advised that the act was forbidden. 'Moreover,' Han said, 'One [saying] states that those who have sexual intercourse with their hands will find their hands pregnant in the afterlife, complaining against them to God over its rights.

'If our viewer was single, I could recommend he marry, but what can I say now?' He later posted on Twitter an interpretation of Islam which he said proved masturbation was forbidden, adding: 'Lets keep ourselves out of trouble.'

While I realize that in the afterlife basic biological constraints don't necessarily exist, this still strikes me as a strange interpretation that just brings up more questions. How many eggs does a hand produce? It's the afterlife, so I suppose that number could be huge. If it's one for every sperm, that means most men will find themselves with a massive infernal legion of the night in the next world. But what if that's the idea? Could someone deliberately generate more "offspring" so as to enter the afterlife with the largest possible army? Because that would be badass.

It's more likely that this is just a bunch of nonsense, even to those who believe that the afterlife is real. In fact, the Christian Bible contains nothing prohibiting masturbation. The story of Onan, which is usually cited, is more about disobeying God and refusing to honor community traditions in favor of self-interest - which many sins have in common. It also sounds like it's not a settled issue in Islam, pregnant hands notwithstanding.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"High Elf" Sentenced

Remember Konrad Bass, elvish warrior of Portland and bane of German luxury sedans? He was sentenced last week for attacking a BMW with a sword about a year ago, damaging but failing to slay the vehicle before being taken into custody by police. Bass' case highlights the dangers of allowing elves to run rampant in our modern-day cities. The age of dragons and heroes passed away long ago, but elves never forget - especially those who are both mentally ill and high on hallucinogenic drugs.

In closing arguments, Marrero, the prosecutor, said Bass was trying to blame his mental illness for his behavior. Marrero told jurors that if they believed that Bass' actions were caused by a combination of drugs and mental illness, they must find him guilty.

"It was his decision to ingest all of these drugs for his own enjoyment," Marrero said. "He's hoping you'll just let him off the hook, that you'll find him 'not guilty' or 'guilty except for insanity.'"

When the attorneys finished presenting their cases, Bass' fate rested in the jury's hands. Jurors had to consider various arguments, such as whether Bass voluntarily took the party drugs knowing they could lead to trouble, and whether the drugs were largely responsible for his sword-wielding attack.

Jurors deliberated for about an hour before finding Bass guilty of first-degree criminal mischief, a felony, and second-degree disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor. The verdict was unanimous.

Bass was sentenced to a year and a half of probation, along with mental illness and chemical dependency treatment. He was also banned from possessing weapons, including swords, spears, and magical staves that call fire from the sky. That should put a dent in his BMW-slaying activities for the duration of his sentence. After that, who knows? Perhaps he will decide his quest is complete and pass on to the realms of the west.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Summon a Mexican Demon!

Recently videos have been going around the Internet depicting the "Charlie Challenge," a practice that allegedly summons a spirit named Charlie. It should be noted that "Charlie" probably isn't a demon in the traditional Christian sense, but it's possible that he might be a real entity of some sort. The "challenge" is based on a game that is apparently common in Mexico involving the use of two pencils as a sort of pendulum-like divination tool that can answer yes/no questions.

The challenge is a cross between "Bloody Mary" and Ouija, and as the name suggests, involves summoning an entity named Charlie.

Here's how it works: Take a piece of paper and draw a single horizontal line and a single vertical line that meet in the center. Put a "YES" in two opposing sections and a "NO" in the other two. Place two pencils across the middle of the drawing in a plus-sign formation, with one balanced atop the other so that it can spin.

Ask aloud, "Charlie, Charlie, are you there?" or "Charlie, Charlie, can we play?" and the top pencil will likely move at some point because of how it's balanced. However, some players believe it's a sign that "Charlie" is in the room and ready to take questions.

What's interesting to me about this is that if this indeed works, it could be used as a pendulum-type divination tool that relies on something other than the ideomotor response. From a scientific standpoint that's potentially huge - if it works. It takes the human variable out of the equation in a way that Ouija boards and pendulums don't. I think it's unlikely that this method only works with "Charlie" unless he's the patron spirit of pencils or something. If it works for one, it should work for others.

I'm familiar with devices like the Egeley Wheel, which appears to spin on its own in response to qigong and other energy work practices, but that device is not really a practical divination method. This pencil method or something derived from it might be. However, before we can go that far with it we need to somehow verify that the "answers" it gives are anything other than random.

While I think the hype around this game is kind of silly, whoever came up with it might be onto something worth investigating. Many of the videos look like the pencils are just moving in response to environmental vibrations, so that would have to be controlled for in some fashion. Also, most just show the pencil moving once and stopping. For this to work in any practical way, it will need to be tested with multiple questions to verify that it can spin both ways in response to them.

Friday, May 22, 2015

It's Demons, All The Way Down!

It's been a little while since we heard from Pat Robertson, now well on his way to getting his own tag here on Augoeides. This week, though, another of his bizarre claims surfaced. During a recent installment of his 700 Club television program, the evangelist seemed to claim that eating disorders were a form of demonic possession. I'm sure that will come as a big surprise to all those who were successfully treated for such disorders without even once resorting to exorcisms.

Today, “The 700 Club” aired a report on a rehab facility for people with eating disorders, which got Pat Robertson to thinking about someone he knew who had had an eating disorder as well as Karen Carpenter, the singer who died after suffering from anorexia.

Robertson agreed that those with eating disorders need “a whole rehab program,” but added that such disorders could also “be treated as a demonic possession thing. This can be treated as a demonic possession thing,” he said, “it is like a demon and it needs to be rebuked and cast out.”

To be fair to Robertson, the argument could be made that he was saying an eating disorder was "like a demon" rather than an actual demon. The thing is, though, Robertson seems to believe that all sorts of things are caused by literal demons. For example, if he's really talking about something psychological, why would he contend that demons can be attached to thrift store clothes? That doesn't sound very psychological.

He does correctly point out that regular rehab programs are needed in addition to spiritual help, but I still think it's pretty ridiculous to support the mindset that literal demons cause or exacerbate all of our problems. And understand, I'm a magician, I work with spirits, and I'm convinced that they can cause problems for people under some circumstances.

But far more often than not, normal causes are at fault - which is precisely why spiritual influences are called "paranormal." If they were ubiquitous or commonplace, they would just be considered part of normal life.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Misunderstanding Mystery Traditions

Apparently the debate over "astral initiations" is back on. This is largely an issue within the Golden Dawn tradition, and it's mostly due to the actions of one person, Robert Zink, who heads up the Esoteric Order of the Golden Dawn. This group pioneered the concept of astral or long-distance initiation years ago amidst a lot of criticism, and I personally count myself among the skeptics. The tradition in which I am a chartered initiator, Ordo Templi Orientis, does no such thing. Our initiations must be conducted in person, and there's a good reason for that. As descendents of Masonry, both Ordo Templi Orientis and the Golden Dawn are fundamentally mystery traditions in addition to being magical orders.

Peregrin Wildoak has written up a critique of astral initiation, based on the idea that an initiation should be done in person because it grounds the result of the operation in Malkuth, the physical plane. Magical orders are generally small, and for many people travel can be difficult, so if a system by which candidates could be initiated at a distance could be developed it would be quite convenient for many people who don't live near a chartered body. But even though healing rituals can be conducted at a distance, they don't work as well as when the patient is physically present - and besides, an initiation is a fundamentally different type of operation.

There is an argument that if absent healing works, so should astral initiation. However, absent healing works by the healer changing the higher subtle selves of the patient. These changes then hopefully manifest down into the physical. Sort of a trickle-down approach to healing, and we all know how well that has worked in the economic sphere, eh? :)

Anyway, even if absent healing works better than trickle-down economics and actually does cause physical health benefits, we simply cannot apply the same logic to the traditional Golden Dawn initiations, which were designed to be conducted simultaneously on all planes: physical, etheric, astral, mental and (hopefully) spiritual. We can look at this from two angles. Firstly, the Golden Dawn initiations stem from the broader lodge tradition which has always required physical initiations. The structure of the initiations themselves work with the physical in many ways, from blindfolding, binding, moving, touching, placing etc the candidate. Secondly, the initiative process takes into account the divinity of the initiate on all planes, recognising the body as sacred, whole and inviolable.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

It's Just Stretching, Dumbasses!

The Christian hatred of non-sectarian yoga continues to baffle me. Raw Story has an article up today that tells the story of Mike Persi, a man who was wheelchair-bound for many years as the result of an accident.

A member of Mikes congregation, John Taylor, heard about a case where a man regained his ability to walk after intense yoga therapy. John connected Mike with Mitch Menik, a Christian yoga instructor, and after a similar course of treatment Mike was in fact able to walk. However, his church found itself divided over whether his recovery was a miracle or whether it actually came from the devil.

No, really! These folks are trying to figure out whether or not physical therapy is evil. Back in the real world, Mike's recovery was neither a miracle nor dark sorcery; it was his body's natural response to exercises designed to strengthen muscles and improve joint flexibility. The fact that those exercises happened to employ a particular set of poses should be a non-issue, at least to anyone with a modicum of critical thinking skills.

Mike had been wheelchair bound for over three decades, ever since an accident at age 27 left him unable to walk or to speak without stuttering. The odds were long against Mike getting back on his feet. But one week later, an acquaintance who didn’t know about the prayer sent John’s wife a video in which a man with similar injuries regained his ability to walk through intensive yoga therapy. John took it as a sign. So did Mike. So did born-again Christian yoga instructor, Mitch Menik, who even offered to take Mike into his own home during a course of intensive treatment.

When Mike took his first wobbly but unassisted steps, all involved were thrilled and thanked God for a miracle that to their minds was modeled on the ministry of Jesus. But not everyone in Mike and John’s Abundant Living Las Vegas congregation felt the same. When friends set up a GoFundMe page to help Mitch cover income lost during the time he was working with Mike, most parishioners refused to contribute. And when Abundant Living’s pastor blessed the therapy, members (and money) poured out of the church. Many biblical literalists, and charismatic or Pentecostal Christians in particular, are deeply suspicious of yoga, which they see less as a healing or wellness practice and more as a seductive point of entry into the Hindu religion.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Stone the Witch!

Esther Horton looks absolutely nothing like this

What is it with the state of Florida? Some of the weirdest stories ever come from there, like this one. A St. Augustine woman named Esther Horton was putting her son in a car seat when she was attacked by her neighbor with a rock. When police arrested the neighbor, she claimed that Horton was a witch and was casting spells against her. It's not clear why the neighbor believed this, or what Horton did that looked "witchy."

A Florida woman who was six months pregnant was attacked by a neighbor with a large rock because she thought she was performing witchcraft. Esther Horton was in her driveway, putting her four-year-old son in a car seat when Annie Olomua came running towards her, screamed an obscenity and threw the rock at her head. Luckily, Horton ducked and it only hit her in the arm.

Horton’s husband was able to restrain Olomua until police arrived, who then arrested the woman for aggravated battery. According to ActionNewsJax, Olomua claimed her neighbors were using witchcraft against her and her family over recent months, but there’s no mention of why exactly Olomua had these suspicions. Was the neighborhood overrun by goths? Did she spy on someone’s extensive crystal collection?

Or maybe Horton wore a lot of black, or a lot of eyeliner. After all, eyeliner abuse is a sure sign of trafficking with the Devil, right? It gets debated back and forth on the Internet how common magical attacks really are, and personally I believe they are relatively rare. Mental illness, on the other hand, afflicts something like one person in four, and I strongly suspect that's what's going on here. According to the local news report, police are evaluating the neighbor to determine whether some sort of mental health evaluation is in order. I expect that it will be.

The other takeaway from this story is that if you believe yourself to be under magical attack, it's much smarter to do something like a good uncrossing ritual than it is to attack random neighbors with rocks. You'd think that would be self-evident, but as this story shows, that may not be the case for everyone.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Could Nessie Be An Otter?

A while back I put forth the hypothesis that the Loch Ness Monster could actually be a large sturgeon. Now another expert has come forth claiming that, in fact, people who think they are seeing the monster may actually just be spotting otters. It is true that swimming otters can look like that "humps" that are often attributed to otters, and I was rather surprised at the photograph above, which shows an otter swimming in such a way that it presents the illusion of a head plus two humps. The first hump is formed by the back, and the second by the tail being held in just the right position.

The image was taken by Dr Jonathan Wills, off Lerwick in Shetland, and is of a female otter known locally as Dratsie. Her head, back and tail form three very distinctive humps which, at a distance could be mistaken for a much larger creature.

Dr Wills says the image taken this week proves the beast said to prowl the depths of Loch Ness, hundreds of miles away, is more likely a 4ft otter than a monster. But despite Nessie experts admitting some sightings can be put down to a case of mistaken identity, they continue to insist Loch Ness is home to an unrecorded creature.

Dr Wills, owner of Seabirds-and-Seals boat trips, took the photo while skippering near the north end of Bressay island. He said: ‘We know there are otters in Loch Ness. You can understand why some people believe in the Loch Ness monster when you see three distant humps like this in the water.’

It is well known that people have a hard time judging the sizes of distant objects in the water. Otters may only be four feet long, but that's not exactly small. Furthermore, if two or more swim in a line they could easily be far enough apart that they would look like the humps of some sort of enormous animal. Otters are playful and they do chase each other, both in and out of the water.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

What Were The Masonic Police Up To?

In my comments last week on attempts to revive the "Satanic panic" and other conspiracies, when people go to great lengths to do something their motivations usually make sense. Part of the reason that the Satanism scare of the 1980's and 1990's was so unconvincing is that the allegations would have required everyone involved to be expending a great deal of effort for basically nothing. The practices ascribed to those folks had little to do with real occultism, and a lot to do with made-up nonsense from the Malleus Maleficarum. That is, they were things that competent occultists would never bother with, because there's no evidence that they work or even that they were ever applied by anyone in a coherent manner.

But sometimes the actions of a handful of crazy people can fly in the face of that principle. And as more information comes to light about California's phony "Masonic Police," the more it's starting to look like the people involved might fall into that category. Nothing they did makes any sense - did they really think that they were going to be accepted as a legitimate police agency? And if so, what did they hope to accomplish? They weren't police officers themselves, and it's not even clear what they intended to police. I'd say Masonry based on the group's name, but if that's true why would they bother trying to set themselves up to work with other law enforcement agencies?

While the lore surrounding Freemasonry is deep and full of conspiracy theories, experts say that there have never been any rumors of a police force existing within it. “I can’t imagine there is anything of the sort,” said Steve Bolluck, a professor of history at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts and the author of Revolutionary Brotherhood, a history of early Free Masons in America. “It’s really bizarre. Badges, ID cards, weapons, uniforms…"

Prior to their arrests, none of the three had had run-ins with the law in Los Angeles, other than a drunk driving conviction for Kiel in 2007. In late January, the trio began sending letters to heads of local law enforcement agencies in southern California, announcing that Henry had been elected as Chief of the MFPD. Soon after, Kiel began follow-up calls to those agencies, identifying himself as “chief deputy director” of the department and requesting meetings to offer information on how the agencies could potentially work together.

So I want to know if I'm missing something, or if there really was some sort of endgame these folks were working towards. I suppose it could have something to do with with generating notoriety, as they probably could have guessed something that weird would get a lot of exposure on the Internet. But is that really all it was? Or were they really too dumb and/or deluded to realize that they would outed as fakes the minute they talked to real police agencies? On the one hand, human stupidity is far more powerful than most smart people realize. But on the other, I still feel like something is missing from the story. Maybe those details will emerge when these folks go to trial. At the very least, it will be interesting to hear what they put forth as a defense, and maybe that will fill in what look like holes in the story to any rational, reasonable person.

I'll be following the story as it continues to unfold, and I'll keep you all posted as I find out more.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Dead Milkmen Versus Roy Moore

While this isn't exactly a big or particularly important news story, I'm posting it because I happen to be a huge Dead Milkmen fan. The band broke up in 1995, reunited in 2008, and is currently touring. Their satirical songs are brilliantly hilarious, and in recent comments made at a show in Alabama they mocked "Ten Commandments Judge" Roy Moore with a very Augoeides-like pronouncement.

The conservative judge was previously removed from the same position for refusing to move a Ten Commandments monument from a government building, and he has recently attempted to dodge federal law ordering the state to allow same-sex marriages to proceed.

“Now Judge Roy Moore, he doesn’t like gays, but he sure does like Ten Commandment displays,” sang frontman Rodney Linderman. “But there’s one thing Judge Roy don’t know: The 11th commandment is, ‘Don’t be an asshole.’”

Well, it's not, but it sure should be. In the ongoing debate between believers and non-believers, and between members of majority and minority religions, this is really the main principle that all sides should follow. There's nothing wrong with questioning religion or questioning atheism, or criticizing aspects of particular beliefs, so long as you refrain from being a dick. That's really all there is to it.

The trouble is that particularly with extreme fundamentalists like Moore, it's pretty difficult to evangelize without being dickish - basically, the point you have to make is that you're right and whoever you're engaging is at best wrong and at worst unspeakably evil. "New Atheists" may come off as jerks a lot of the time, but much of what they're really doing is just turning that tactic on its head to emphasize how annoying it is.

Moore is particularly obnoxious because he's a Poor Oppressed Christian with actual political power - he currently serves as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. And like the rest of his Poor Oppressed brethren, he seems to lack the cognitive capacity to distinguish between exercising his own religious rights and preventing others from doing the same. None of his religion's alleged opponents want to prevent him from exercising his faith, they just want equal space to live as they see fit.

As often seems to be the case, the world would be a much better place if everyone, especially fundamentalists of every stripe, could follow a principle even more basic than the Dead Milkmen's eleventh commandment - "Mind your own business!"

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Conspiracies for Stupid People

Lately it seems like conspiracies are in the news. From the Masonic Police to Walmart martial law to attempts to revive the "Satanic panic," people all over seem to be losing their shit. And understand, I'm not talking about smart people here. I am aware of the complicated history of the "conspiracy theory" designator, which has often been used to discredit critics of the status quo and shield real covert operations such as the Iran-Contra affair and current NSA surveillance activities. It's just that the conspiracies that many of these folks are pushing are so damn stupid.

Over the last week or so Operation Jade Helm, part of the aforementioned Walmart martial law conspiracy, has been getting all sorts of press. Apparently the idea is that the United States Army plans to invade Texas and confine its citizens to the Walmarts that recently closed without warning. Last I checked, Texas was part of the United States, so an invasion makes absolutely no sense. Likewise, why would the military bother confining a bunch of Texans to closed Walmarts? As representatives of the military have explained, repeatedly and at length, Jade Helm is simply a training exercise that will be taking place in Texas and several other southwestern states.

Now if the military really were planning some big operation, it's true that they probably would insist up to the end that it wasn't what they were really doing. But just because you don't trust the government, that doesn't mean that everything they say is automatically a lie. What a lot of conspiracy enthusiasts miss is that there has to be some sort of goal that the perpetrators of said conspiracies are trying to pursue - and that goal has to make at least a little bit of sense. But just like with "Satanic abuse," there never seems to be any point.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Not That Kind of Science

So Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis is back in the news again. This time around, the young-Earth creationist has announced that he will be applying his patented "observational science" method to dinosaur fossils in order to prove that they are in fact only a few thousand years old. As the saying goes, good luck with that. Ham's a kook, but he never fails to entertain with his combination of sheer ignorance and absolute conviction.

It appears that the Creation Museum’s Ken Ham hopes to use donated bones and his specially patented “observational science” to prove once and for all that dinosaurs were present on the Earth only a few thousand years ago — rather than over 65 million. Together with creation scientist Dr. David Menton, Ham says he soon hopes to publish findings from the study of the bones — hinting that what he thinks they’ll find will be world-changing.

It should be understood that Ken Ham routinely dismisses findings of paleontologists, geologists, and other scientists who look at the evidence on Earth to determine what it must’ve been like before recorded history. In Ham’s worldview, there are two types of science: historical and observational. He considers things in the present to be “observational science,” which can be seen, and when confronted with evidence for anything he categorizes as historical science, retorts, “Were you there?”

I have a question here. Ham's "observational science" is patented? It's clear from his use of the term that it refers to something other than actual science, but is the deal that Ham wants anyone who looks at anything to owe him money? I suppose revenue from that would finally get his ridiculous Noah's Ark theme park built, if anyone was dumb enough to pay him. But it sure sounds like patent trolling to me.

The other thing about Ham that has always cracked me up is that while he claims that an Earth that's a few thousand years old makes more sense in the context of the Bible, his justification is the Ussher Chronology, one of the most convoluted pieces of Biblical scholarship ever. Not only that, he believes that it is the only possible way to read the Biblical chronology. Note the following:

Ussher's specific choice of starting year may have been influenced by the then-widely-held belief that the Earth's potential duration was 6,000 years (4,000 before the birth of Christ and 2,000 after), corresponding to the six days of Creation, on the grounds that "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Peter 3:8).

Except that's absolute nonsense. Nowhere in the Bible is any hint given whatsoever with regard to the duration of the Earth. I've read the whole thing; it's not in there. In fact, the Gospel of Matthew specifically states "but of that day and hour knoweth no man" with respect to the "passing away" of the Earth.

But there I go, using this method that I should patent called "observational reading." You know, the process by which you see shapes on a page or screen and your brain turns them into meaningful letters. I could totally own that! And if I did, I could probably retire tomorrow because the whole Internet would owe me big money.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Call The Masonic Police!

It sounds like something out of a Monty Python skit. An aide to California's Attorney General was arrested along with two other people on suspicion of impersonating police officers. The three were involved in an organization called the "Masonic Fraternal Police Department," which apparently has nothing to do with legitimate police work or regular Masonry.

For whatever reason, these brainiacs thought that it would be a good idea to meet with regular police organizations, who quickly realized that they were basically fantasists. Or LARPers. Or whatever the hell the term is for people who make up a nonsensical origin story and think that because of it they can run around pretending to be cops. It gives the term "secret police" whole new meaning.

On April 29, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department served arrest warrants to three people “on suspicion of impersonating police officers,” a local CBS affiliate reports. Officers arrested Brandon Kiel, David Henry, and Tonette Hayes, all members of the “Masonic Fraternal Police Department.” Kiel is the deputy director of community affairs at California’s Justice Department and an aide to Harris, according to the LA Times. He held the title of chief deputy director with the Masonic Fraternal Police Department.

Police became aware of the rogue police force after the MFPD sent letters to various police departments throughout the state of California to ask for meetings. In late January, the organization sent letters to police chiefs in Southern California asserting its legal authority and announcing changes in its leadership. Officers who met with the group quickly became suspicious after their members failed to answer basic questions about the Masonic police department.

“Detectives conducted a thorough investigation in collaboration with several law enforcement agencies and determined MFPD was not a legitimate police agency,” Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department said. Police obtained badges, identification cards, weapons, uniforms and police-type vehicles after searching the suspects’ homes.

What this sounds like to me is that this is some sort of police-themed fraternal group along the lines of those that were popular over a century ago. I suppose the degrees would be "Officer," "Detective," and "Captain," or something like that. There was no mention of whether or not fake guns or clubs are part of their regalia, but they certainly would fit. And obviously, instead of robes or aprons they wear knockoff police uniforms complete with fake badges.

Which, frankly, is really, really dumb. It also has the distinction of being one of the saddest conspiracies I've ever heard of. It wouldn't necessarily surprise me to find that the "organization" consists of just these three people and a sub-par website with a bunch of password-protected content.

If you happen to be a police-LARPer who might be interested in this group, you're out of luck. There's no information on how to join, though I have hard time seeing why anyone would want to.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

I Suppose Everyone Needs a Hobby

Does anybody here remember Brainbeau? No? Well, you're missing out, because Brainbeau was the man with the solution to all the world's problems. I first became aware of him thanks to Ivan Stang's book High Weirdness By Mail, and the link above goes into more detail than the brief overview in that book.

Brainbeau's real name was George E. Lemon. He was a veteran of World War II who pioneered the use of a medium never before employed on a large scale by kooks, the classified ad. After he retired, he essentially took up being Brainbeau as his hobby. He would run inexpensive ads in various publications, and when people wrote to him he would send them more sheets of ads containing snippets of his wisdom.

So Lemon is a good example of somebody who found something worthwhile, or at least extremely amusing, to do during his retirement. Not all of his ideas were ridiculous, either. His concept of the "50/50 split" for businesses is in fact what my friends and I did without knowing it years ago when we set up a company to manage our independent computer consulting gigs. However, the idea that it would end war, inflation, unemployment... let's just say that part of it needed some work.

Unfortunately these days kooks seem to be far less innocuous than Brainbeau. A retired woman in Nebraska recently filed a lawsuit against "all homosexuals," whatever that means in legal parlance. The bizarre petition shows an ignorance of both the law and the Bible, and while I suppose it gives her something to do during her retirement, I and many others would probably have been far happier had she stuck to posting weird classified ads. She even wrote the whole thing out in cursive, which has to be a sign of the apocalypse or something.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Why the "Satanic Panic" Makes No Sense

One of the first things you learn publishing an occult book is how few occultists there really are. I was on a panel at a Pagan conference a number of years ago and got the sense that the people there really thought that occult authors could make big money writing about magick. Here's a spoiler for you - we can't. There aren't enough people buying books on magick to even earn a decent living, let alone make "big money."

Now I will grant that I'm perhaps more jaded on that front than many of the authors out there. I'm a professional software designer and developer, so the only way I could ever top my current income would be to somehow come up with a mega-bestseller. It's not impossible, but it's unlikely and I can pretty much guarantee that if I do somehow manage to write something like that, it won't be a book on magick or occultism.

Occult books, even good ones, usually only manage to sell a few thousand copies. Compared to the population of even the United States that's practically nothing. As far as occult organizations go, the largest one I know of is the one I belong to, Ordo Templi Orientis. It has about four thousand members worldwide, with approximately half in the United States. There simply aren't millions of occultists out there, let alone millions of occultists who specifically identify as Satanists.

In light of this, it's rather amazing to me that people were actually fooled by the "Satanic panic" of the 1980's and early 1990's, presumably because they seriously believed in this imaginary population of occultists out there who were up to no good. If extrapolated, many of the stories told about "Satanic cult activity" would have required something like a third of the population of the towns in which they happened to be members of said cult. And that just isn't realistic.

I now know this from personal experience, because if there really were that many occultists in the world or even the United States I would be selling a lot more books. Likewise, it points out that people today who are worried about "Illuminati activity" or whatnot really have no idea what they're talking about. While it is true that the wealthy have a massively disproportionate influence on modern civilization, for the most part these real "elites" have nothing to do with actual occultism.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Sheldrake Versus Shermer

Here is a fascination set of dialogues that will be going on over the next three months. Biologist Rupert Sheldrake, author of the morphic resonance hypothesis, will be debating skeptic Michael Shermer on the nature of science. Ever since the controversy over a TED talk given by Sheldrake questioning some of the assumptions of modern science, this has been a topic ripe for debate. And Shermer is a good choice as well; unlike a lot of people in the Skeptic community, he has shown himself to be relatively fair-minded in evaluating evidence of paranormal phenomena.

MAY 2015: Materialism in Science

Sheldrake: Science needs to free itself from materialist dogma; indeed, science misunderstands nature by being wedded to purely materialist explanations.

Shermer: Science, properly conceived, is a materialistic enterprise; for science to look beyond materialist explanations is to betray science and engage in superstition.

Believe it or not, I actually side with Shermer on this one, though probably not in the way that he intends. I am not a believer in the supernatural, but rather in the paranormal. The distinction is an important one, and not merely an attempt to dodge the issue by means of semantics. Supernatural means above or outside the natural universe, while paranormal means beyond the realm of everyday experience.

According to the ontological model I follow, the natural universe is defined as the summation of all that exists, including phenomena such as consciousness which are not necessarily amenable to straightforward measurement. I classify the two primary components of all phenomena as matter/energy and information, which maps nicely to both the Platonic and Aristolean philosophical models.

These two schools share the notion that the primary components of existence may be classified as matter and form, with form corresponding to the modern concept of information. Plato proposed that form preceded matter, while Aristotle proposed that matter preceded form. The two schools can be reconciled by proposing that matter/energy and information are locked into a reciprocal relationship with each other, such that either may organically precede depending upon the circumstances.

So what this means is that Sheldrakes morphic field model is essentially based on similarities between information structures rather than conventional physical forces, but as information is part of the physical universe I still classify it as "material."