Spare the (dowsing) rod

Apparently it was a slow news day and everyone was tired of NHL speculation, so the Free Press decided to run a fluff piece about a guy who divines dead people. Little did I know that there was something more patently ridiculous than water dousing. This guy goes to graveyards in the R.M. of Springfield, helping to cataloguing graves for the Manitoba Genealogical Society. The article throws out a lot of big numbers

An MGS initiative has so far catalogued 1,362 cemeteries in the province…There are still about 150 cemeteries to do. Most of the work has been with cemeteries outside the city… But it has also done the St. John’s Cathedral Cemetery in Winnipeg, with its roughly 12,000 graves, and Elmwood Cemetery that’s home to 51,000 graves… Mavins has catalogued the four main cemeteries in Springfield.

Wow, that’s a lot of graves! But oh wait, if you read carefully, those are graves being catalogued the usual way, that is “transcribing to paper all the information on headstones before weathering makes inscriptions illegible.” A skimmer could easily read that to mean that Mavins’ incredible divining ability has helped catalogue thousands and thousands of graves in Manitoba, or at the very least the ones in Springfield. But that’s not what is really meant here. It means that he’s spent a bunch of time in graveyards, writing down what headstones say, and then a bunch more time wandering the grass in graveyards with two metal rods. Although I assumed from the article that he had found bodies and they’d been exhumed from identification, I don’t think they’ve even gone that far. From the sounds of things, he just walks around places where bodies are likely to be, and when the ideomotor response kicks in, “identifies” the “body.”

"I dowse dead people" doesn't quite have the same ring to it.

Even if they have started to dig at some of the locations that he has identified, remember that he’s in a 150 year old graveyard that’s known to have unmarked graves. If you pick any area that seems reasonable, it’s likely that you will dig and find somebody. The fact that he identifies the body’s gender is also patently ridiculous – has anyone verified this, or are they going on his solemn word? Does he know how to distinguish an adolescent male from an adult female skeleton? Has he worked with any archeologists?

"I know there's got to be some corpses in this graveyard somewhere... if only there were an easier way of identifying them, like say if there were some sort of stone which we place over their head..."

In another case, Mavins said, a family knew it had a cemetery plot with five burials but didn’t know which family members were buried there. “I witched it and could tell them the number of adults, adolescents and babies,” he said. From that, the family determined the identities.

This leap in logic is precisely the problem. These bodies were identified with the assumption that his claims are true, and thus cannot be proof that he is legitimate. That’s circular reasoning, and that is not evidence, let alone good evidence.

Another thing – I wonder if this works while he’s walking over top of marked graves, too, or only when he’s thinking about it? What about over the recently deceased? Can he correctly guess the gender of a freshly buried individual or do they have to decompose first? And if it is something innate in the rods, could he correctly identify me as female, or would he need me to die first?

If this guy really had these magical abilities, perhaps he should call up the archeologists at the University of Manitoba – I’m sure they’d love the help in finding the lost tombs of the Pharaohs.

Rant 2

Today, I am on the warpath. Today I am shooting laser beams out of my eyes at a certain group of people. This group of people is a popular and abundant low form of humanity, if there ever was one. Perhaps, I speak not to the people who read this blog, unless you fit into this despicable denomination. The people who read this blog tend to be a little more, how do you say, smarter than most. I don’t know why intelligent people gravitate to this blog (I believe it may be because of Flora) when I tend to write tripe and opinion pieces with an undertone of ignorance. I think maybe because of my ravishing good looks.

That being said and my vanity thirst quenched, I am here to smack some face. Here it goes.

To all you ignorant pricks out there who look, talk and breathe at homosexuality in a negative fashion, those of you who have a vendetta against the love expressed between a same-sex couple, and those of you who are opposed to all other forms of sexuality other than heterosexuality, I have the deepest disrespect and anger towards you as a person. I loath your very existence.

Strong words huh. Who said I need to tip toe around jerks like that? Sometimes, it’s better to be upfront and in your face as opposed to feigning respectfully.

Courts are passing anti gay laws, homosexuals are being killed and persecuted by people of all denominations and I would like it to stop. From the pious to the putrid, people are using every method to oppress a people who have not only belonged in our communities for centuries but have done nothing to deserve this treatment other than being an advantage to the human race due to the ability that only a homosexual has mastered, to bridge the gap between the sexes. That statement in it self is stereotypical, but it would take too much time to list every individual in the world and their affiliation towards deemed “acceptable” social norms in their view.

I have a lot to learn about how to approach this topic in a positive manner. All I am feeling now is anger towards those who oppress these people. So after venting and spewing my displeasure in the above paragraphs I will now calm down and find a way I can help the homosexual community overcome the obstacles that exist within me, in hopes that tmy actions are contagious to others around me. I want more people to be as appalled with the treatment of these people as much as I am and I want them to look within themselves to see if they are contributing to the negativity in their own lives with their own actions, thoughts and words. If more people think about this issue there may be a big change.

Education is always the solution to any social problems. Go educate yourself. You don’t want me to smack the bigot out of you.

Note: A strong note I wanted to add is in my last post I wrote the word “tards”. I am sorry if that offended anyone (I did not get any emails or responses, I was offended myself). Tards, I suppose, is a negative slang referring to anyone with a disability in today’s society. Similar to calling things “Gay” when referring to something in a negative fashion, the slip up is something I cannot accept. Please accept my deepest apology for the use of the term and I will endeavour to never use it again.

This is not hate speech

Harold Camping (I think he recieves a penny for every time someone says his name in print), the man of “infinite wisdom”, has once again failed to predict the end of the world. His website has removed most mention of his prediction and he has come onto the record to say that God has decided not to burn us until October.

I agree with PZ Myers when he stated his displeasure with people who are making fun of this fuck tard (Camping) in a recent blog post. Quoting scripture or using scripture to battle the insane claims of the pious is nothing short of legitimizing their claims. You (people who take this opportunity to use scripture to prove a point against religion) are missing the fuckin point. The point I am referring to is the denial of religion is the obliteration of scripture. What does that mean? It means STOP using scripture as an authority in an argument. It means bash them over the heads with their bible instead of reading from it to prove your point.

I can picture it now (wiggly waves, wiggly waves, wiggly waves):

“Why sure in Matthew 24:36 it says… and we read “No one knows the day …”

I snatch the bible from their hand and smack them upside the head with it.

“In real life we don’t chase fairy tales down the rabbit hole unless we are under the influence of plenty of barbiturates, fuck head. Come back when you have something useful to add to the conversation. I will accept meteor hitting the earth or global climate change as substitutes for your scripture argument. You’re lucky this book is full of fluff otherwise it may have hurt more than it did.”

Ahhh… that felt good. I enjoy a good beating with a bible. I also like to prop up shaky tables with one at the bar.

I understand the literature is important but it has been studied to death and should be put out to pasture in the land of antiquity. Also, let’s remove tax exceptions from churches. The free ride at my expense needs to be over.

Can we spend money to cure cancer already? Give the fuckin scientists money for their research. And, for the love of fuck, fund NASA again. I’ll send my Canadian dollars down there to help in any joint efforts to improve our understanding of life and the universe instead of spending all my time waiting for it to end.

Fuck you Camping, and the rest of the Christians as well. In fact, all you religious morons are the problem as well. You’re ALL part of the problem.

*Note: Fuck is an acronym meaning For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. Of which it is not a positive word but a legal term defining rape. Rape, to me, is crime greater than murder as the person must now live their entire life with this travesty. Religion, to me, is the rape of the mind of perfectly good people making them live their entire lives with the shame and guilt associated with the doctrine.

The power you’re supplyin’, it’s electrifyin’!

Every once in a while I stumble across one of the dark recesses of the internet in which commercial websites shill “free” health information in order to promote their insane pseudoscientific therapies for diseases that may or may not even exist. Let’s play a little game of Sales Pitch Vs. Reality.

Sales pitch:

YOUR BODY ELECTRIC
Rev. Tom Lawler BBA, MBCP

Reality:

Well, the title isn’t too scary. Electricity is absolutely vital to the normal physiology of everything from the smallest cell to the largest mammal. Electricity is just the movement of ions, and the movement of ions powers everything from import of nutrients into our cells to the spread of information in nerve cells to muscle contraction to heart rhythm pacing.

Why do I get the sinking feeling that this will not have anything to do with this article?

Oh, I know, because the author proudly displays his utterly irrelevant degree titles – he’s a Reverend of the Universal Brotherhood (an online “spiritual” diploma mill), has a Bachelor of Business Administration (so?) and an MBCP, which as far as I can tell is a Master Business Continuity Professional certification, which means he worked in the industry of creating plans of action in worst case scenarios for businesses for at least five years. Oooooh. I am so impressed at your credentials as a health professional!

Sales pitch:

NOTHING IS NEW
The first reported use of electricity in medicine was in 2750 BC. Several descriptions of therapeutic benefits, including pain control from exposure to the electric eel, were described by the Greeks in the first century.1 Around 1600, William Gilbert, an English physician, coined the word “electric” and established the difference between electricity and magnetism. In 1752, Johann Schaeffer published the book “Electrical Medicine.”
Electrodermal (sublingual) testing and treatment techniques offer tremendous benefits and safety as compared to traditional invasive testing. Effective results often occur within minutes from the time support is started instead of taking months, years or never with more traditional approaches.
Electrodermal testing utilizes micro amounts of electromagnetic energy to trigger a biofeedback response detectable with very sensitive computerized equipment. It is now possible to electronically “view” the inner workings of your glands and organs non invasively – even from the comfort of your own home.

Reality:

Not only is this painfully self-contradicting (advocating that there’s “nothing new” and then criticizing “traditional” medicine) but it seems that he’s trying to say that because we have a tradition of using this particular concept, we should continue to do so. It works because it’s always worked, i.e. argumentum ad antiquitatem, the appeal to tradition. Please ignore the fact that the ancient Greeks lived to an average age of 28. Please neglect the fact that the Egyptians referenced in 2750 BC electrocuted people with catfish as a treatment for gout, which is sort of just adding insult to injury.

Geez, you're looking pretty inflamed. Here, hug this.

Also, the distinction between electricity as treatment and electricity as diagnostics seems utterly lost here. This false equivalence is hilarious – treatment is doing something while diagnostics tells you something. Imagine if someone started using a deck of playing cards to tell the time because it’d traditionally been fantastic at passing the time. People would think they were insane!

Of course, the blinding with science fallacy comes into play. It’s not applying an electric current to your skin, it’s “electrodermal testing.” It’s not low voltage electricity, it’s “micro amounts of electromagnetic energy.” It doesn’t monitor your skin’s electrical current, it “triggers a biofeedback response.” He finishes off by claiming that electrical energy in the skin allows you to measure the inner workings of both your organs and your glands, since apparently the glands have been demoted and no longer count as organs.While appropriately placed electrodes can indeed measure the electrical impulses of the body, such as those which are active in the brain, heart and muscles, there is little electrical activity that correlates with, for example, insulin resistance. He’s taken a well-known technique like the electrocardiogram, and generalized it to everything. He clearly hopes that people will assume “If it works for your heart, why shouldn’t it work for your pancreas or your liver or your kidneys?” Mechanism be damned!

Sales pitch:

Incredible advancements in the emerging field of Bionetics has now made it possible to send a sample of your own DNA (via blood, urine, saliva, finger nail or even hair) to a state of the art testing laboratory for a BioScan. This computerized process can now accurately identify the underlying stressors in one’s body that can precipitate disease. This process is so sensitive, as many as 10,000 stressors (toxins, bacteria, viruses, mold [sic], etc.) can be identified years before they even appear as symptoms. Thus it is possible to both address active issues and prevent future issues before they may manifest as a symptom or disease.

Reality:

Bionetics sounds eerily similar to dianetics, Scientology’s junk science, so right off the bat I’m wary. Then, they talk about taking a sample of DNA and using it to identify diseases. This, by itself, is the basis of many genetic tests, which are extremely useful for the identification of people with Huntington’s, or Down’s Syndrome, among many, many other diseases. They can also be used to screen for cancer risk. However, the crazy quickly creeps in here. The author marvels at the ability to get your DNA from your hair or saliva, when these are methods usually used to obtain samples, as they’re minimally invasive and rich in cells, and thus DNA. Urine is a silly way to get DNA, because you’re relying on cells that line the bladder, ureter, etc. shearing off and finding themselves in the urine. Not a very high concentration. Blood is even sillier, because the majority of the cells are red blood cells, which are most notable for their complete lack of a nucleus, and thus their lack of genetic material. It is possible, of course, as there are white blood cells circulating as well, but considering it is painful for the patient, if you’re only looking at DNA, why should you look at the blood? And finally, the finger nails? Well, not only are they ridiculously hard to get appropriate samples from, they’re usually only used to get other people’s DNA, from blood, skin cells, or other potential sources that end up trapped underneath the nail. Fingernails, as it turns out, are just made of keratin, not living cells imbued with our DNA. It’s possible to get our own DNA from them, but in order to get at it, you have to break that hard keratin apart. Why go to all this ridiculous trouble when a simple cheek swab will do? (By the way, the cheek cells are what we’re after with the swab, not your saliva.

Of course, all of this is completely ignoring the fact that this information works on the base assumption that 10,000 stressors can be found in your DNA, and not just floating around in these various samples that you’re giving them. Why, exactly, would mould be in your DNA? Some viruses can be found in your DNA, but if you find them there, you have much bigger problems than the kind you’ll fix with electricity..

Problems like AIDS. Yeah, I don't think you want to be treating that with anything but a hell of a lot of drugs.

Illnesses are usually a manifestation of some sort of impairment of the functional aspect of our bodies – the proteins. Although finding the DNA of pathogens in our system is certainly a definitive diagnosis of infection, it isn’t necessarily a diagnosis of illness. Carriers can have a pathogen and never feel ill. Their immune systems deal with it, no intervention required. What is a definitive diagnosis of illness is when we see stuff going wrong at the functional level, and perhaps a DNA test could tell us what the underlying cause is. However, we are not looking at our DNA. Furthermore, what the hell is a toxin? Could someone please define this term for me? You know, aside from “random pseudoscientific word used to mean anything that is bad for you or even potentially bad for you and usually something that isn’t there to begin with.”

Sales pitch:

PROFIT VRS [sic] EFFICACY
Despite the wonderful progress in this technology, it hasn’t been easy to get to where we are today. Around 1910, the Carnegie Foundation established a commission headed by Abraham Flexner, who relegated the well supported science of electrodiagnosis and electrotherapy devices to “quackery” in favor of the more lucrative drugs invested in by Carnegie. Anyone using these devices were cast as charlatans and thus the dominance today of drugs, surgery and radiation.

It has been estimated that only 10 to 20 percent of all procedures currently used in medical practice have been shown to be efficacious by controlled trials.

Reality:

I was unaware that profit and efficacy opposed each other? People make profit off of both efficacious and non-efficacious medicine – see homeopathy, for example. In any case, they make themselves out to be falsely vilified, and yet don’t explain how their devices are well-supported by science. It’s easy to make a claim like that – where’s the proof to back it up? In any case, here’s a fun game. Google “10 to 20 percent of all procedures currently used in medical practice have been shown to be efficacious by controlled trials.” You’ll find websites advocating pretty much every alternative medicine out there, but not the original paper this is supposedly cited from. Interestingly, I could not find this phrase at all in an otherwise decent but anecdotal review of the current (circa 1983) uses of electricity in medicine. The cited data comes from this 1978 paper advocating science-based medicine. The paper throws the statement in as a one-off, with no empirical data to support it. No data, no fact. This is not to say that all procedures in medical practice are efficacious, of course. Overprescription of antibiotics is a major issue. However, to assert something as patently silly as 10% of all procedures in medicine are actually doing anything, we need to demand more than a haphazard statement. Which controlled trials? How long ago? How many people were in them? What was the definition of efficacious? None of these answers are, of course, to be found here.

Sales Pitch:

YOU CAN’T SUPPRESS THE TRUTH FOREVER
“We are accustomed to having men jeer at what they do not understand.”
Johan Wolfgang von Goethe, 1700’s

Reality:

Poor, poor salesman. It’s so much easier to accuse someone who disagrees with you with persecution than to actually deal with their arguments. It must be hard, being asked for proof and mechanism all the time. Life is hard. It’s this sort of persecution complex which lends people to really want to believe stuff like this is true. We want to root for the little guy who’s being censored by the big bad evil government/corporation/entity. Unfortunately, that sort of sympathy prevents us for criticizing the little guy, and little guys can be douchebags too.

Stick it to Big Pharma!... Buy from me.

Sales Pitch:

In spite of the virtual disappearance of all electrical therapy, investigation has continued particularly by Dr. Reinhold Voll, a German medical doctor in the early 1950’s. He developed an electronic testing device (EAV) for finding acupuncture points electrically, known to Chinese acupuncturists for millennia. Voll then began a lifelong search to identify correlation’s between disease states and changes in the electrical resistance of the various acupuncture points. He found, for example, that patients with lung cancer had abnormal readings on the acupuncture points referred to as lung points.

Reality:

Remember that article that he just cited? Yeah, um, I think that sort of proves that electrical therapy has disappeared. Reinhold Voll’s method is essentially dianetics, only instead of holding the electrode, it’s placed on acupuncture points. The needle moves, you make some conclusion from it. The claim that he could detect abnormalities in lung cancer patients – it cites a book, which as far as I can tell only exists for the purpose of this article, from 1980, not the original data. In actuality, studies have been done on EAV devices, especially for detecting allergies. Guess what? Readings are utterly random. Since people are prone to make patterns of random statistical noise (the very concept of “luck” is based on this), maybe a single individual could find meaning in the needle jumping around from reading to reading, but ultimately, there is nothing there.

Now we get to the fun bit.

Sales Pitch:

BioScan (remote DNA resonant testing) – This procedure utilizes extremely sensitive EAV computerized equipment to accurately measure stressors in the body. It bombards the clients sample DNA (usually hair) with up to 10,000 frequencies to locate bacteria, viruses, pesticides, heavy metals, industrial pollutants, chemicals, parasites, foods, allergies, dental materials, trees, weeds, pollens, inhalants, molds, yeast, fungus and many other substances that poison the environment today. These stressors and related deficiencies are identified in print form for the client along with the organs and glands affected by the stressors. Supplements are suggested that resonate with the test subject and homeopathics are customized to support the body to remove the stressors and return to homeostasis.

Reality:

Remote DNA resonant testing? What in the what-ing what-now is that? Remote means from a distant. DNA is genetic material. Resonant means vibration. How the hell do you combine those? Are they saying that they, from a distance, can measure the vibrations of your DNA for diagnostic purposes?? How do you utilize electroacupuncture (EAV) to analyze DNA? Certainly you can use electricity to move DNA (since it has a charge). But where does the acupuncture bit come in? How can electricity tell you about the foods and weeds poisoning your environment? Did you notice how they embedded the craziest things in the middle of that list? Dental materials are poisoning you? Trees? Is M. Night Shamaylan a prophet?

If so, Marky Mark will save us all, and that is not a world that I'm ready to be a part of.

Then they suggest supplements which match your “resonance.” What? Yes, everything vibrates but… What? Oy, so much craziness here, I don’t even know what do with it.

And of course, the old stand-by, homeostasis. Do you know what homeostasis is? That’s your base measures that your body maintains to keep you functioning. Things like 37 degrees Celsius, or fluid retention, or oxygen levels, or blood sugar. Do you know what happens when those go out of whack? You die. Homeostasis is a really, really important part of being alive, and any major fluctuation is lethal. It’s only with modern medicine that things like diabetes aren’t an immediate death sentence. Returning to homeostasis is something our bodies do remarkably well – and if they don’t, you need a little more than an iron supplement help you with it.

Thanks, body, for letting me eat candy without dying!

Sales Pitch:

It is the belief of this writer that the use of electrodiagnostic testing fulfills all the requirements to be considered adequately proven including:

  1. A number of double-blind studies from various centers validating its efficacy.
  2. Experts in the field who deal with this technology acknowledging its usefulness and accuracy.
  3. Electrodiagnostic testing having been in use around the world for many years by thousands of medical doctors.

Because it has virtually no dangers and is very inexpensive, anyone who singles out this procedure for investigation above the myriad of medical procedures which are much less proven, more dangerous and more expensive, does so arbitrarily and capriciously and for reasons other than a concern for the patient’s health and well being.

Reality:

1. Positive clinical trials don’t exist.
2. Appeals to authority aren’t data.
3. Tradition is not evidence.

Because it has no supporting evidence and is a complete waste of time and money, anyone who uses this procedure for investigation above the myriad of medical procedures which are much more proven, more accurate, and more effective, does so arbitrarily and capriciously and for reasons which are based in concern for their own bank accounts and not the patients’s health and well being.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Equal Opportunity Jackasses

Recently, a Houston newspaper put a contentious article in their online blog – the 10 Hottest Woman on the Texas Sex Offender List. Like most pieces of sensational journalism, clearly the title was designed to be a controversial but intriguing attention grabber. The editor knew that there would be people upset, and that was surely meant to be the point. I must admit, when I read the headline, I was disgusted myself. How could they trivialize such a heinous crime? How could they acknowledge, and shrug off, that these woman raped children? How could they objectify a woman to the point where her actions became irrelevant in comparison to her photo?

This woman was convicted of aggravated sexual assault of a two year old boy.

And then, I read the addendum by the editor.

…it’s a way of getting readers to look at the info, maybe get them to realize there are people out there like this and they all don’t look like the obvious stereotypical pervert.

I really struck me. Indeed, the women in those photos look like they might be your real estate agent, or your kid’s t-ball coach. They don’t look mean, let alone like someone that would violate a kid or rape a teenager. We’re using to kids coming forward to accuse priests and male celebrities of sexual abuse. We’re used to male coaches of sports teams perpetuating heinous crimes on their charges. We expect the pedo-stached loner with the white van with that teardrop window. We don’t expect our accountant. Maybe they had a point.

After all, we’re using to fighting for equal consideration for women. However, a sort of idealist undercurrent pervades feminism. I was educated in a girls-only environment, one that was strongly supportive of female ambitions and challenged us to break the stereotypes. On numerous occasions, my friends and I would muse about a “woman run” world, where it wasn’t a big deal for a woman to be elected leader of a country, and how women could prevent all these petty wars through diplomacy. Who hasn’t entertained such notions? And yet, they are so clearly wrong. Could anyone seriously say that Sarah Palin would actively end the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, even if she could? Would Elizabeth May liberate society from its male-dominated shackles (real or imagined)?

"Okay, but first I need to ban all that life-saving medical research because it uses animals. And replace medicine with homeopathy. YAYYYYY!"

So why is it that women get this sort of free pass, where we assume the best of them, and the worst of men? Women are murderers too. Women can be foolish, ignorant and self-centred in a massively destructive way too. There are ten photos of women at that link who raped children. If you still can’t grasp the horror, imagine reading a news story about a male kindergarden teacher who sexually assaulted his student. Capture that rage and revulsion, and apply it to Sharon up there.

If we’re willing to believe that women can be equally good, it’s time to also fess up that women can be equally bad.

The Power of Prayer

WICHITA, Kan. – Police in Kansas say a 57-year-old man lived with the body of his dead fiancee for several days, praying she would be brought back to life.

KAKE-TV reports the man told officers he was praying for divine intervention to bring his fiancee back to life. He was taken to a hospital for a mental evaluation.

Source

The story says that they don’t suspect foul play, but I find this story equally disturbing as if there might have been. If you have someone who believes so strongly in the power of prayer that they continued to pray days after her death (to the point that people were complaining about the smell!), how willing would that person be to seek out medical care for someone who was critically ill?

This story demonstrates the harm in magical thinking – it prevents you from seeking out real answers, instead turning to mysticism and superstition. I’ve had a terrible series of tension headaches and migraines over the last few days, and after mentioning it on Facebook, was told by a particularly religious person that they would pray for me to be well. Although I appreciated the sentiment, the statement struck me as patently ridiculous. We live in an age of modern medicine, and perhaps a better response would be to suggest some extra strength ibuprofen, or my prescription migraine drugs? There is no convincing evidence that prayer works, even via a psychological effect.

I must admit that there are no clinical studies which have examined the capacity of prayer to resurrect the dead. Perhaps the Templeton Foundation would be willing to fund me attending the morgue daily to pray?

Dutch Politician thumbs his nose at Islam.

My first reaction to the arrival of a Dutch politician coming to Canada to speak to a group of Christians about Islamic principles was one of Skepticism. Geert Wilders, traveling with bodyguards and strict security, has just hit my radar and I will do some further investigation into this man and his cause. I really did not think that a Dutch man would have any insight into the culture that is Islam. I may have been wrong in my initial assessment of the man.

My first reaction was to state “Come on my brothers and sisters, lets give this man a warm Canadian welcome and then tell him to ‘Fuck off’.” But he may, actually,  have a point.

“The word ‘Islamism’ suggests that there is a moderate Islam and a non-moderate Islam,” he told me during an interview in Toronto on Sunday. “And I believe that this is a distinction that doesn’t exist. It’s like the Prime Minister of Turkey [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, said ‘There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam, and that’s it.’ This is the Islam of the Koran.” – National Post interview

I find this extremely interesting. It takes plenty of courage to speak out against Islam. I was also sad to learn that this man cannot sleep in the same place for more than two nights out of fear. It seems the radical islamic people tend to have no fear when it comes to mortal punishments and they will go to any length to make this one speakers life difficult and dangerous.

This type of fear is not limited to Islam. Christians can and will attack people in a similar fashion if provoked in such a manner. North American Christians are just as violent as any other denomination of Christianity but many, as is in Islam, choose to be pacifists. I will find an example later of this, I don’t have much time right now to research. Three letters I can start my research at is ‘KKK’.

I find the venue for this disturbing, however. Geert Wilders should have spoken to a group of critical thinkers and not only a group of Christians. This type of action further drives a wedge between the two superpowers.

Let’s see what happens.

Bring on the conspiracy theories!

If your present domicile is rather cold, damp, and dark, and if your neighbours happen to be an assorted group of earthworms and beetles – congratulations, you’ve been living under a rock, and Osama bin Laden is dead!

For everyone else, this is old news I’m sure for all of you, as is the debate about whether the US should release photos of the newly dead-ified bin Laden. I’d like to throw my hat in the ring on this one, though I’m sure I echo the sentiment of many.

First of all, I would like to say that people will come up with conspiracy theories about just about anything. This does not (necessarily) mean that they are mentally ill, just that we, as a species, love to associate random snippets of information into a cohesive whole. Usually, these snippets are lacking a lot of necessary detail, and so we fill it in with the best available knowledge we have. That is to say, we make shit up.

Of course, we don’t know we’re doing it, as it’s an unconscious process. We think snippet A and snippet B are part of the same story, and the things that connect them are just pushed in by whatever it is the most actively activated pathway in our brain. If we think about aliens a lot, we’re likely to fill in those gaps with aliens. If we’re religious, we might fill in the gaps with God, angels, or demons. If we’re fearful of our government and people in authority – so births the government conspiracy theory. And indeed, on the surface, a lot of them seem plausible. But, perhaps the biggest problem with conspiracy theories is not that they would require a massive number of people to be utterly silent about nefarious goings-on, but that real conspiracies tend to be way crazier than our plebeian minds can gasp.

This is the A-12 OXCART Reconnaissance Aircraft. It was flying around Area 51 in the 1960s, over twenty YEARS before the introduction of the "first' stealth plane, the F-117 Nighthawk, in the late 1980s. Consider your minds blown.

Basically, if the government has something to cover up, they’re not just going to tell you that they did something, and then straight up not do it. No, they’re going to tell you, oh, we’re not doing anything at all, please look over there at the pretty pony while we create the insane freaking things that you only hear about in science fiction. The government, for all its inefficiencies and laziness, is not going to half withhold fake information. Why would they? I mean, if they wanted to boost the approval ratings, why wouldn’t they say they did it, photoshop some pictures, produce somebody else’s dead body, and be done with it? If they were worried about it being a gruesome photo, couldn’t they have just faked a politer one where he was shot in the heart? And if it really was an evil conspiracy, why wouldn’t it have happened a lot sooner?

This is one of the few situations where I’m willing to say that the lack of evidence being produced actually strengthens my feelings that is true. It’s not a matter of “Why would they lie?” – that’s a silly premise to work on.

Everybody lies.

No, I think it’s real because if they are faking it, they are pulling the worst possible fake ever. Let’s look at the information that has come out of the White House.

1) The Press Conference

It was called with little notice, to be held nearly at midnight in Washington. The majority of your East Coast Americans, the ones who were the most impacted by the events of 9/11 and the ones who would feel the strongest about it, are in bed and likely asleep. If you wanted to schedule something for publicity, wouldn’t 9:30 EST  have had a lot more impact?

2) The Sea Burial

I’m not going to lie: this one perplexed me at first too. Why would they take the only tangible, irrefutable evidence they had, and dump it in the ocean? From a “prove it” standpoint, this is utterly ridiculous. Why not bring the body back to America or bury it someplace? There are a couple reasons forthcoming for this one. First of all, why should secret government operation, which until that point was operating completely under the radar with the express purpose of leaving no trace of their efforts suddenly shift gears to utter transparency? The beginning of the mission was completely secretive for the purposes of the security of the mission as well as national security. Why should those priorities change? “But, Flora,” the hypothetical conspiracy theorist replies for the purpose of advancing my argument, “doesn’t the government have a responsibility to its taxpayers?” Of course it does, but this is not a clean cut situation. Bin Laden might be dead, but al Qaeda is not. Imagine if George W. Bush had been assassinated and his body taken to some Afghan cave by terrorists. Wouldn’t the American South been screaming bloody murder for the return of his body? Is there any doubt that the US Military would have rampaged in after the terrorists for the sole purpose of retrieving the corpse? Bin Laden’s body buried ANYWHERE would only lead to the potential of innocent lives lost to reclaim it. However, if you dump it in the ocean, al Qaeda can scream all they want – they’re welcome to go try and find it themselves. No burial means there is no target.

Furthermore, as much as I don’t think the guy deserved appropriate Muslim burial rights, it was the right call. In our hypothetical Bush situation, imagine if the terrorists desecrated the body with Sharpie, wrapped it in a gay pride flag and tossed it in a garbage bin. How much would you want to have to go into the American south as a Muslim person after that? When someone already hates you, nothing good can come out of pissing them off even more. Normally I’m not for this sort of pandering to religious beliefs, but we could at least do our best to not intentionally give them the finger.

In any case, it is possible that they simply told us that this is what happened to quell the potential for attacks – but, really, what are they going to do with the body? An autopsy is irrelevant. We know he died of a bullet to the head. What possible use do we have for the rotting, smelly corpse of a dude that we really, really don’t like? And what country would be willing to take his body within its borders?

3) The Meeting Photo

In what has become an iconic photo, the Obama administration’s national security team is being briefed about the upcoming mission to kill bin Laden. Although the intensity on the face of Barack is striking, what makes this image so arresting is Hillary’s hand, covering her mouth in horror of what’s being shown to her. Or, you know, coughing because of seasonal allergies. Whatever.

Either way, this really advances nothing other than their attempt to quell people’s curiosity while utterly failing at it. Again, if this was a cover-up, if this was a conspiracy, why on earth would they be so damn bad at it?

(Side note: is it just me or does Joe Biden over there look like somebody just killed his puppy?)

He was just six days from retirement, too!

4) Information About The Operation

What they have given us a lot of information about was the operation itself. We know a team of 25 Navy SEALS entered a compound 116 kms northwest of Islamabad, Pakistan. No Americans were injured. They avoided civilian casualties. One of bin Laden’s couriers returned fire. We know they were airlifted out by up to 4 helicopters. One helicopter crashed just inside the walls of the compound. Four other people died – three men and one woman. Two women were injured. One of his wives was one of the injured and is talking to the press. There were 13 children also living in the compound. The compound raised suspicions because of its lack of phone or television lines, and the fact that its residents burned their garbage within it. Bin Laden and his Yemeni wife had not left a singular room in the compound for 5 years. He was unarmed. He was, in what I believe to be cruel of them, killed in front of his daughter. They fully admit that they never had any intention of capturing him alive. BBC has extensive coverage about it, if you really care for all the details.

There are also graphic photos of the scene here, which I don’t care to include directly. WARNING: There are bodies and blood.

And yet, people are crying conspiracy! People are saying, “why aren’t you giving us more information? What do you have to hide?” What more could they possibly want to know? On the radio, I heard one morning show host stupidly asking for the names of the heros who partook in the raid. Are you kidding me? These people have families, lives outside the military, and they want the entire world to know precisely who took down the man that people are willing to die for? If they released the names, anyone named Joe Smith and Jane Doe and any of their families would be at instant risk for kidnapping, torture and horrible, gruesome deaths. Why on earth should the government endanger its citizens like to that? To fulfil the curiosity of some nosey conspiracy theorists who won’t believe you no matter what you say anyway?

5) The Lack of Photo

This is what you need for proof? Really? All of that wasn’t enough? You would like to have racist, ignorant Americans to have access to that photograph as a trophy? I can already see the bumper stickers with that photo and “DON’T MESS WITH THE US!”  You want to have a really gruesome photo for the Muslim extremists to have as proof of America’s corrupt cruelty? You want the inevitable plastering of that photo all over the internet and newspapers for shock value? And that would be irrefutable proof?

In the coming days and weeks, more information will likely come to light. And in all likelihood, it just won’t matter. The “birther” theories continue despite Obama’s short and long form birth certificates being produced. People still believe that aliens visited Roswell, New Mexico, despite the fact that all known instances can be explained by a combination of hoaxes and recently declassified military operations. If they produced the photograph, people will be screaming “SHOPPED” and denying it just as loudly as they do now. The confirmation bias means that we ignore and discount any evidence which conflicts with our current views – that’s how insanity like this persists. The anti-vacc’ers still think Wakefield is a hero, the creationists still think evolution is an elaborate scam, and Robert Sungenis still thinks the universe revolves around the earth. And unfortunately, the more vocal and adamant about our position we are, the stronger the confirmation bias is. At this point, Obama could produce of video of bin Laden saying “Hello, I am Osama bin Laden. I have been captured by American infidels,” and a soldier saying “Hi, I’m Joe Smith from Newark, New Jersey, 39 Elm Street, and I’m about to kill Osama bin Laden with a bullet to the face,” followed by Joe Smith from Newark, NJ shooting Osama bin Laden in the face – and that wouldn’t be enough. You could build a time machine, take someone back in time and let them watch it unfold, and they would accuse you of some sort of Matrix-style shenanigans. The fact that al-Queda isn’t releasing a video of bin Laden saying “Ha ha, you didn’t get me, suckers!” is telling. The fact that his wives and his children are not screaming that the Americans are dirty filthy infidel liars should say a lot.

At this point, if you don’t think that Osama bin Laden is actually dead, then I don’t think there will be any convincing you. But then, maybe I’m wrong – I’m welcome to hear what sufficient proof would be.

UPDATE: This morning, May 6th, al Qaeda confirmed bin Laden’s death. Case closed.

The Skeptics are coming!

I am pleased to announce that the Winnipeg Skeptics are opening their doors to the world again in the second annual SkepiCamp.  The location and date of this event continues to be a ongoing work in progress. I had a fantastic chance to join in on the event planning party on Saturday night to share some ideas and contribute my expertise to the gathering.

The evening started off interesting. I woke from a nap late and rushed to get out the door. On the way to Gem and Laura Newman’s residence I was compelled to stop and obtain a bottle of wine for my hosts. I find the gift of a bottle of wine to any host (if they drink or not) is the best way to show my appreciation. Wine carries with it a special message of which an accomplished poet of antiquity is able to hardly murmur a phrase appropriate to its majesty. I digress.

When science goes too far.

Discussions at the beginning of the meeting were random and disorganised. Gem Newman, Founder of Winnipeg Skeptics, with a commanding clink of his glass (which sounded more like a mouse in a crystal bowl, as opposed to a spoon on a goblet), caught the attention of the attendees and they grew quiet. The meeting initiated with a discussion on the previous year’s event. What worked, what did not work and how we can improve on last years event seemed to make the first hour disappear. I briefly pondered the magical powers that may be present in the Newman household to enable time to evaporate as it did, briefly being 1/32 of a second. The largest complaint from the previous year was the size of the room. To rectify this, we decided as a group to try to find a larger venue or to obtain the larger room at Aqua Books which would hold around four times the crowd we had last year.

On an interesting note, we did have around 25-30 people attend last year. This is above average attendance for first annual SkeptiCamp events held in other major centres. I would like to attribute this factoid to the growing movement of people who are educating themselves and thinking critically. Anecdotal evidence for that claim at best, but one can dream.

We talked further about speaking topics. Several people volunteered to speak and gave us insight into their topics. I have to say, I am extremely excited to hear these talks. Winnipeg Skeptics counts among their members a cornucopia of intelligent people, who have chosen to take time to prepare interesting talks. I also volunteered and only decided what my topic would be on the ride home. I can only hope my talk is as interesting as the other topics discussed at the meeting.

I did notice that not one topic is related to religion. This is an interesting change and one that requires further study. But it does prove that being a skeptic does not mean your anti-religion. I am, but I make that abundantly clear on a daily basis. My talk is also not related to religion directly.

I have chosen to speak about the Star Trek Economy and how humanity can evolve into a utopian society geared around the pursuit of knowledge and fulfillment rather than monetary gain. Each speaker only has 15 minutes to speak so this is going to be a challenge.

We then spent nearly an hour discussing pizza choices. This was interesting to me as the people at the event had a wide range of tastes. I challenged myself to a vegetarian pizza (normally if I don’t have 1 inch of meat, vegetables and cheese I send it back) and I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of flavour. That being said, the time spent on this important choice was not wasted.

The meeting turned, from this point, to casual dinner conversation with topics ranging from polygamy to homeopathy. I know this is not much of a range but it is fair to say, even a microscopic difference in morality is still a difference. The conversation briefly switched back to SkeptiCamp planning from time to time over the course of the meal and we did manage to hash out tasks for people to complete in the next little while prior to the pizza arriving.

All and all, the evening was a success. It created a fire in me to build and share an interesting idea with this group whom I identify with. I hope everyone gets a chance to speak in a venue like this in their lifetime. It is extraordinary to say the least. Incidentally, you can still submit a topic to speak about. So, what are you waiting for?