CSI(COP) – best example of the skepticfuckwits at work

25 April, 2009

Via Greg Bishop, this timely reminder of when the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims Of the Paranormal (CSICOP- now CSI-Committee For Skeptical Inquiry) conducted their one and only scientific study of an alleged paranormal phenomenon.

The full sorry tale, ‘sTarbaby’ told by physicist and ex-CSICOP Dennis Rawlins is here. RA Wilson told a truncated version in one of the Cosmic Trigger books, but this is the one with the full dirt…

I USED to believe it was simply a figment of the National Enquirer’s weekly imagination that the Science Establishment would cover up evidence for the occult. But that was in the era B.C. — Before the Committee. I refer to the “Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal” (CSICOP), of which I am a cofounder and on whose ruling Executive Council (generally called the Council) I served for some years.
    I am still skeptical of the occult beliefs CSICOP was created to debunk. But I have changed my mind about the integrity of some of those who make a career of opposing occultism. I now believe that if a flying saucer landed in the backyard of a leading anti-UFO spokesman, he might hide the incident from the public (for the public’s own good, of course). He might swiftly convince himself that the landing was a hoax, a delusion or an “unfortunate” interpretation of mundane phenomena that could be explained away with “further research.”
    The irony of all this particularly distresses me since both in print and before a national television audience I have stated that the conspiratorial mentality of believers in occultism presents a real political danger in a voting democracy. Now I find that the very group I helped found has partially justified this mentality…

Sara Robinson’s “The Truth about Consequences”

23 April, 2009

A truly outstanding and stirring piece by Sara Robinson, taking both sides of American politics to task over the CIA torture and other actions of the Bush regime that Obama has said he wants to move on past – starting with noting the difference between conservative and liberal concepts of authority, freedom and justice:

Understanding that difference may explain something about how we got here.

For conservatives, the goal of discipline is to assert the power of external authority. In their worldview, most people aren’t capable of self-discipline. They can’t be trusted to behave unless there’s someone stronger in control who’s willing to scare them back into line when they misbehave. Don’t question the rules. Don’t defy authority. Just do what you’re told, and you’ll be fine. But cross that line, dammit, and there will be hell to pay.

In this view, the whole point of punishment is for greater beings (richer, whiter, older, male) to impress the extent of their authority upon lesser beings (poorer, darker, younger, female). I’m in control, I make the rules, and I’m the only one of us entitled to use force to get my way. Since emotional and/or physical domination is the goal, the punishments themselves often use some kind of emotional or physical violence to drive home that point. Spanking, humiliation, arrest, jail and torture all fill the bill quite nicely. I’m not interested in what you think. Do as I say, or I will be within my rights to do whatever it takes to make you behave.

Note, too, the hierarchical nature of this system. Those at the top of the heap enjoy the freedom that comes with never being held accountable by anyone. This exemption is implicit in conservative notions of “liberty,” and is considered an inalienable (if not divine) right of fathers, bosses, religious leaders, politicians, and anyone else on the right who holds power over others. The privilege of controlling others’ liberty, without enduring reciprocal constraints on your own, is at the heart of the true meaning of “freedom.”

Liberal parenting books, on the other hand, talk a lot about “logical and natural consequences.” Since liberals believe that most people are perfectly capable of making good moral choices without constant oversight from some outside authority, the goal of discipline is to strengthen the child’s internal decision-making skills in order to prepare him for adult self-governance.

…I don’t have research on this, but I’m pretty sure that after eight years of the most lawless presidency in history, most of us had “restoring real accountability” fairly high up on the Hope and Change list when we cast our votes for Barack Obama. We were craving that even-handed, reasonable, cleansing moment—a season of transparency that would show us where we went wrong, let some air and light into the wounds, and allow us to begin to heal. He sounded for all the world like the kind of morally serious person who understands the difference between right and wrong—and between that kind of old-fashioned even-handed inquiry that simply finds what it finds and deals with miscreants without fear or favor, according to the demands of the law; and a partisan witch hunt that’s conducted for no higher purpose than terrorizing your opponents into submission with naked displays of unchecked power. He seemed like just the guy to do it.

So the last thing we expected was to hear him warbling that same terrified-Democrat line, starting within days of his inauguration. Fortunately, as outrage over the torture memos spreads, both the President and Congressional Democrats seem to finding their moral feet again. And not a moment too soon, either—because if they blow this one, it’s nothing short of the end of America as we know it.

When the administration says that “we’re not looking backward” and “we’re not out to assign blame or punish anyone,” what it’s really saying is that there no longer any real relationship between cause and effect in our government. The very idea of consequences has absolutely no meaning. If you have access to enough money and/or power, there is nothing you can say or do, no amount of money you can steal, no lie perfidious enough, no fraud brazen enough, no treason heinous enough, to get you so much as called up before a hearing to explain yourself.

And that’s a truly frightening development.

Fred Phelps has a use!

21 April, 2009

Slacktivist, yet again, makes everything that much clearer. Writing about the homophobic astroturfing campaigning of the National Organisation for Marriage, he makes this perfect observation:

We could go through a point-by-point refutation of the ad’s innuendo about the Big Gay Stormtroopers menacing California doctors, Massachusetts parents and tax-free beach-front property managers in New Jersey, but it would be wrong to dignify such brazen BS by pretending that anyone shoveling this crap might even slightly believe it to be true.

So instead we’ll just stick with the two-word rebuttal of everything this ad darkly hints will come to pass down the slippery slope of equality: Fred Phelps.

 Yes, that Fred Phelps. The military-funeral crashing leader of the inbred Westboro Baptist Church. You know, the “God Hates Fags” and “God Hates America” guy.

Or, more to the point here, the anti-gay bigot whose church’s freedom to preach his gospel of hate has never been threatened, circumscribed or interfered with despite the vicious and despicable things he’s made it his life’s work to go around saying at the worst possible times in the worst possible places.

So it turns out that the litigious old bastard has at least one useful social purpose. The unimpeded, undiminished work of his infamously evil  anti-gay “ministry” emphatically disproves every Scary Story promoted by anti-gay religious groups who claim that recognizing marriage equality or including sexual orientation in existing hate-crime or anti-discrimination legislation will lead to Christian ministers being thrown in jail for saying they believe homosexuality is a sin.

“My freedom will be taken away,” says one woman in the NOM ad.

How so? She doesn’t say. But Fred Phelps’ freedom hasn’t been taken away, so we have to assume that this otherwise pleasant-seeming woman must be referring to her “freedom” to harass, slander and berate with greater intensity than anything Phelps has done.

…So there’s the two-word answer for every Tony Perkins or James Dobson or Damon Owens who makes up some dubious claim about being persecuted or punished or threatened or jailed or whatever for their anti-gay beliefs.

“I’m a California doct– ” Fred Phelps! He’s a free man. Are you worse than him? No? Then shut up, ‘kay?

I commend this approach to my readership.


Want a new free Bruce Sterling short story? ‘course you do!

18 April, 2009

Via Boing Boing, who said this:

In White Fungus, an “architecture fiction” published in the first issue of Beyond magazine, Bruce Sterlng marries the sardonic and the hopeful in a gripping, hilarious story about how every aspect of civic life from schools to tomato-farming will be reformed after ecotastrophe and econopocalypse destroy our present way of life.

Sample:

Logically, industrial farmers should move into places like White Fungus and industrially farm the lawns. Derelict buildings should be gutted and trans formed into hydroponic racks. White Fungus was, in fact, an old agricultural region: it was ancient farmland with tarmac on top of it. So: rip up the parking lots. Plant them. Naturally, no one in White Fungus wanted this logical solution. Farming was harsh, dull, boring, patient work, and no one was going to pay the locals to farm. So, by the standards of the past, our survival was impossible. The solution was making the defeat of our hunger look like fun. People gardened in five-minute intervals, by meshing webcams with handsets. A tomato vine ready to pick sent someone an SMS. Game-playing gardeners cashed in their points at local market stalls and restaurants. This scheme was an ‘architecture of participation’. Since the local restaurants were devoid of health and employee regulations, they were easy to start and maintain.Every thing was visible on the Net. We used ingenious rating systems.

Enjoy a small glimpse at a very possible near-future, but one where survival, and even creativity, thrive.


Rending the Veil – Beltane edition

14 April, 2009

The latest issue of the online magical ‘zine Rending the Veil goes live today. Many excellent features and a wide range of viewpoints, as ever. Contributions from Yours Truly include another Guttershaman reprint and my review of Pete Carroll’s Apophenion.


Grant Morrison on The Matrix ‘borrowing’ from The Invisibles

11 April, 2009

Since it’s the tenth anniversary of the cinema release of The Matrix (and as I found this synchronistically while looking for something else), here’s Grant Morrison interviewed at Suicide Girls on the subject of just how much the film took from his epic magical (literally) comic The Invisibles:

It’s really simple. The truth of that one is that design staff on The Matrix were given Invisibles collections and told to make the movie look like my books. This is a reported fact. The Wachowskis are comic book creators and fans and were fans of my work, so it’s hardly surprising. I was even contacted before the first Matrix movie was released and asked if I would contribute a story to the website.

It’s not some baffling ‘coincidence’ that so much of The Matrix is plot by plot, detail by detail, image by image, lifted from Invisibles so there shouldn’t be much controversy. The Wachowskis nicked The Invisibles and everyone in the know is well aware of this fact but of course they’re unlikely to come out and say it.

It was just too bad they deviated so far from the Invisibles philosophical template in the second and third movies because they blundered helplessly into boring Catholic theology, proving that they hadn’t HAD the ‘contact’ experience that drove The Invisibles, and they wrecked both
‘Reloaded’ and ‘Revolutions’ on the rocks of absolute incomprehension. They should have kept on stealing from me and maybe they would have wound up with something to really be proud of – a movie that could change minds and hearts and worlds.

I love the first Matrix movie which I think is a real work of cinematic genius and very timely but I’ve now heard from several people who worked on The Matrix and they’ve all confirmed that they were given Invisibles books as reference. That’s how it is. I’m not angry about it anymore, although at one time I was because they made millions from what was basically a Xerox of my work and to be honest, I would be happy with just one million so I didn’t have to work thirteen hours of every fucking day, including weekends.

In the end, I was glad they got the ideas out but very disappointed that they blew it so badly and distorted all the Gnostic transcendental aspects that made the first film so strong and potent. If they had any sense, they would have befriended me instead of pissing me off. They seem like nice boys.

And while I’m at it, here’s XKCD’s take on the anniversary. And seriously… if you’re a magician and haven’t read The Invisibles yet, why not?

Meeting fictional characters

10 April, 2009

Found this excellent piece on Electric Children on the subject of (specifically comic book) creators who have spoken of fictional characters as being in some sense real – and those who have met them.

The classic example is Alan Moore’s oft-told story of having met his creation John Constantine – twice. The article doesn’t accurately quote the one thing Constantine told Moore (on their second meeting), which in the unexpurgated version goes like this:

“You know what the secret of magic is?
Any cunt can do it.”

Long – but do read it.


Roll-your-own anti-terrorist poster

9 April, 2009

Via Boing Boing, this:

This odious billboard appears in my town, encouraging me to rat on my neighbours because I don’t understand what they throw away.

Use the text fields below to make improvements to it.

And so I did, using a classic theme

billboardphp1


Pagan myths of Easter

6 April, 2009

Every year since time immemorial, Pagans and Wiccans and witchy folk have told others the tale of how Easter is really a Pagan festival to the Goddess Eostre which was co-opted by the Xtians.

And every year, writer Adrian Bott attempts to point out that there’s bugger all evidence for this being true and most of what is ‘known’ about the details is entirely made up. This year, he’s kindly given the full details on his LJ blog.

The total sum of available information about Eostre amounts to two lines of text.
The Venerable Bede, in his De Temporum Ratione (“On the Reckoning of Time”), explains the naming of the Easter festival as follows:

Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month”, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.

And that is all there is. There is no hare connection, no suggestion of a bunny story, no link to eggs. Bede’s passage is the only evidence we have that there ever was a goddess called Eostre; worse still, he may even have been making it up.

And to cap it off, an awful lot of the popularising of the Pagan Easter myth is being done by… fundamentalist Xtians:

This is because their version of Christianity does not accept Easter, or indeed anything else that is not found in the Bible. Associating Easter with paganism has allowed them to villify secular traditions, and presumably become more truly Christian in their own minds. Christians are thus responsible for some of the more ludicrous suggestions concerning Easter and paganism, such as an attempt to identify Eostre with Ishtar, and the assertion that ‘Eostre’s hare was the shape that Celts imagined on the surface of the full moon’, which manages to garble together Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and Chinese myth in one sentence. (Pagan Origins of Holidays). It seems that not a year goes by without more spurious Eostre nonsense being thrown on to the heap, a far cry indeed from Bede’s two sparse lines.

Enjoy your chocolate eggys and bunnies, folks – but don’t fall for the mythologising. Or, if you have to commemorate some spiritual aspect to the festival that has nothing to do with the Jesus-man, why not follow the Way of Saint Bill of Hicks?

(And for the non-Americans, click to find out what a Lincoln Log is!)


Putting the mockers on

4 April, 2009

I have to smile when The Economist agrees with me… in an opinion piece about the awful UN resolution regarding ‘defamation of religion’, they say:

 The resolution says “defamation of religions” is a “serious affront to human dignity” which can “restrict the freedom” of those who are defamed, and may also lead to the incitement of violence. But there is an insidious blurring of categories here, which becomes plain when you compare this resolution with the more rigorous language of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 in a spirit of revulsion over the evils of fascism. This asserts the right of human beings in ways that are now entrenched in the theory and (most of the time) the practice of liberal democracy. It upholds the right of people to live in freedom from persecution and arbitrary arrest; to hold any faith or none; to change religion; and to enjoy freedom of expression, which by any fair definition includes freedom to agree or disagree with the tenets of any religion.

In other words, it protects individuals—not religions, or any other set of beliefs. And this is a vital distinction. For it is not possible systematically to protect religions or their followers from offence without infringing the right of individuals.


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