Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Incubi, hoaxes, and limelight

A long-time reader of Skeptophilia sent me a link yesterday to a story from Wales, in which we find out about a family who is allegedly being terrorized by demons and poltergeists.

The bare bones of the story, which won't take long to tell because it pretty closely resembles most such claims, is that Keiron and Tracey Fry of New Tredegar, near Caerphilly, Wales, have been visited by spirits who are making their lives miserable.  Jon Dean, author of an article about the haunting that appeared in Wales Online last week, writes:
Keiron and Tracey Fry say they have been terrorised by the poltergeist every night for months, in scenes reminiscent of supernatural chiller Paranormal Activity
Mum Tracey, 46, even thinks she is beaten up in the night by the 'incubus demon' - leaving her covered with bruises in the morning. 
An incubus is a demon in male form who, according to mythological and legendary traditions, targets sleeping people, especially women...
The family got in a specialist to "cleanse" the house and brought a vicar in to bless their home. 
The phantom, which has also been menacing the couple's three children, was summoned by a using a Ouija board in the house, they say. 
Dad-of-three Keiron says he took a pic of the ghost in his sons' bedroom which he says shows a small child in a white gown with a blue face and a tail.
Without further ado, here is Fry's photograph of the alleged ghost:

 So the family decided to take action:
The family, who moved into their house in July 2013, called in an investigator to tackle the spook. 
Ghostbuster Robert Amour, 43, arrived at the house with a bible and crucifix. 
He banned the petrified family from going upstairs after he shouted to them that he could "feel the evilness in the room." 
After 20 minutes the psychic returned to the frightened family - claiming he had slain two small demons.
Which is pretty hardcore.  Of course, we have the usual problem; the whole story relies on anecdote and flimsy photographic evidence.  So I'm very much inclined to disbelieve it, even if (I will admit up front) I have no proof that they aren't being haunted by a violent ghost that looks suspiciously like a knotted-up bedsheet.

The incident got me to thinking about hoaxes in general, and what is so appealing about them. Because whatever the Frys' claim turns out to be, it is a sorry truth that hoaxes are extremely common in the woo-woo world.  It seems like every other day people get caught out faking bigfoot photographs and tracks, using Photoshop to create realistic-looking UFO photos, and employing stage magic to convince people that psychic phenomena are real.  The whole thing pisses me off, because the human propensity for fakery makes it even harder for we skeptics to discern whether there's anything to all of the paranormal claims out there.  To paraphrase Michio Kaku (who was speaking about UFOs) -- if even 1% of the claims of supernatural goings-on are legitimate, it's still worth investigating, and hoaxes do nothing but muddy the waters.

So the hoaxers certainly aren't even doing the true believers any favors.  But it did get me wondering why people create hoaxes in the first place, because it's something I honestly can't imagine doing.

I know that part of the motivation is money, especially for the mediums and faith healers and so on, who are charging big bucks for people to participate in their nonsense.  But there is a lot of fakery that doesn't explicitly involve the money motive -- think of all of the UFO and cryptid sightings and reports of ghosts that turn out to be completely made up, and just result in one or two newspaper articles or television interviews before they die out as quickly as they started.

What on earth can motivate people to do this?

I expect the answer lies in the "fifteen minutes of fame" phenomena -- the drive that some people experience to get their names in the newspapers somehow.  As a person who is at the "very introverted" end of the spectrum, this is hard for me to imagine.  It's difficult enough for me to be the center of attention for things I've actually accomplished; the idea of manufacturing a lie, knowing I could be found out and humiliated as a liar, for the sole reason of getting interviewed on television -- well, it just strikes me as bizarre.

But I honestly can't think of any other reason that someone would do such a thing.  It's unlikely that most of these incidents generate much in the way of income, so the only other possible motivator must be fame.

Which brings us back to the Frys.  Again, I can't prove their claim is a hoax, but even the fact that that they mentioned that their experiences were "reminiscent of supernatural thriller Paranormal Activity" -- and the article ended with the movie trailer -- makes my Suspicion Alarm start ringing.  And if their claim does turn out to be cut from whole cloth, can you imagine what the repercussions will be?  They've been in the newspapers and online, with photographs (including their children, for pete's sake).  They'd be laughingstocks.

If that were me, I'd want to crawl in a hole.  Permanently.

So that's today's contribution from the I Really Don't Understand Humanity department.  I'm far from perfect, but a long habit of honesty combined with a hatred of being embarrassed render this sort of thing a sin I'm hardly even capable of comprehending.  So I wish the Frys the best of luck dealing with their two-foot-tall abusive pillowcase incubus.  If they are telling the truth, that's gotta suck.

Friday, July 3, 2015

The demolition of Palmyra

Something that conquerors have understood throughout history is that if you want to destroy a culture, you don't have to kill all of its people; all you need to do is to destroy its languages and its artifacts.  Time and the limitations of human memory will do the rest.

When the Spanish conquered Peru in the 16th century, they did exactly that.  Kill the leaders; wipe out the traces of the existing culture; mandate the use of Spanish and the conversion of the natives to Christianity.  By the time the last Inca king, Túpac Amaru, was beheaded by Francisco de Toledo's men in Cuzco, the downfall of the culture was already a done deal.  There are still traces left -- the Spanish never were able to completely eradicate the Quechua language, for example, and there are still about nine million speakers today, mostly in Peru and Bolivia.  But their actions broke the back of the rich culture that had existed, and the destruction of priceless artifacts -- such as almost all of the quipus, or "talking knots," a computational or archival system that no one now can decipher -- was so thorough we really know relatively little about the day-to-day life of the people who lived there only five hundred years ago.

So it goes.  The suppression of the Bretons by the French, the Basques by the Spanish, the Irish, Welsh, and Scots by the English, and damn near all the minority groups in mainland eastern Asia by the Han Chinese, have all been followed by eradication of native languages and artifacts, and the subsequent cultural amnesia that follows.

I find the whole thing horribly tragic.  Our cultural history is what makes us who we are; language and symbol define us as a people.  And conquerors understand that.  To bring a people to its knees, you destroy those pieces of the culture that are most representative of the conquered group, then let time do away with the rest.

Which brings me to ISIS.

As the members of the "Islamic State" sweep across the Middle East, they are doing precisely what the Spanish conquistadores did; they are killing the leaders and destroying the culture.  And now, they have taken the Syrian city of Palmyra -- a treasure-house of ancient relics, some dating back to the second century B.C.E., declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1958 -- and are systematically destroying its artifacts.

The Roman-era Grand Colonnade of Palmyra [image courtesy of photographer Jerzy Strzelecki and the Wikimedia Commons]

They have already publicly demolished statues and temples, declaring such things "unholy." The razing of the land has not spared pieces just because they're unique, beautiful or irreplaceable.  In fact, they seem to be targeting these relics first.  For example, they announced this week that they have shattered the "Allat Statue," which was a huge and nearly intact statue of a Roman-era god, shown with a lion and a deer between his feet.

"ISIS terrorists have destroyed one of the most important unearthed statues in Syria in terms of quality and weight," Ma'moun Abdul-Karim, Syrian Director of Museums and Anquities, said.  "It was discovered in 1977 and dates back to the second century A.D."

While these acts have been characterized as the wanton acts of ignorant savages, Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, got it right.  "Violent extremists don't destroy heritage as a collateral damage," she said.  "They target systematically monuments and sites to strike societies at their core."

I know that the loss of things, however beautiful, cannot be compared to the loss of human life.  The depredations that the vicious evil of ISIS is visiting on the people they conquer -- the beheadings, rapes, beatings, and selling of women and children into slavery -- outweigh the destruction of stone and ceramic relics.  But still, just reading about the destruction of Palmyra, and before it the destruction of priceless artifacts in every city ISIS has sacked, makes my heart ache.

And the worst part is that it's not over.  ISIS is still pulling in new recruits, making headway, taking over village after village.  Here we sit, in the 21st century, watching a group of people who take their directives from a book written in the 7th century sweep across the Middle East, and we are largely powerless to stop it.  We are watching a huge geographical area that has, in less than a decade, been been plunged back into the Dark Ages by the adherents of a violent and disgusting interpretation of a medieval religious text.

I'm no expert in geopolitics.  I have no idea what, if anything, the West should do to intervene, to try to stem this tide of religious extremism.  All I can do is sit here, helpless, as irreplaceable archeological history that had survived for two thousand years is demolished.

And hope against hope that reason and sanity will eventually prevail against the horrible ideology of conquest and destruction that these people represent.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Shut up, Jim.

It would be really nice if we could stop giving credence to celebrities just because they're celebrities.

Just like any other slice of humanity, there are going to be some famous actors and singers and so on who are intelligent and sensible (Matt Damon seems to me to be one of those) and others who are either dumb as a bag of hammers, or else batshit insane (hello, Tom Cruise?).  Being in the limelight -- even being a brilliant actor or singer -- does not necessarily correlate with having brains.  So let's stop acting as if everything that comes out of a celebrity's mouth has to be divinely-inspired wisdom, okay?

The last in a long line of A-list stars to demonstrate a significantly low IQ is Jim Carrey, who recently went on a tirade in response to the passage of California Senate Bill 277, which outlawed personal and religious exemptions for parents trying to avoid having their children vaccinated before attending public school.  Carrey has long been anti-vaxx, and in fact was once in a romantic relationship with noted anti-vaxx wingnut Jenny McCarthy.  And now Carrey has launched into a diatribe on Twitter against the new law, saying that it legalizes "poisoning children."  Here are a few of his salvos:
California Gov says yes to poisoning more children with mercury and aluminum in manditory [sic] vaccines.  This corporate fascist must be stopped. 
They say mercury in fish is dangerous but forcing all of our children to be injected with mercury in thimerosol [sic] is no risk.  Make sense? 
I am not anti-vaccine. I am anti-thimerosal, anti-mercury.  They have taken some of the mercury laden thimerosal out of vaccines.  NOT ALL! 
The CDC can't solve a problem they helped start.  It's too risky to admit they have been wrong about mercury/thimerasol [sic].  They are corrupt.
First of all, if he doesn't like the stuff, learning how to spell it might be a good place to start for improving his credibility.  (It's "thimerosal," for the record.)  Second, although he's right that not all vaccines are thimerosal-free, all of the ones given as routine childhood vaccinations are (or are available in a thimerosal-free version).  (It's significant that the one the anti-vaxxers rail about the most often -- the MMR vaccine -- has never contained thimerosal.)

Third, of course, is that in any discussion of vaccines, we have to take a look at relative risk.  Have there been children who have had adverse reactions to routine vaccinations?  Sure.  No medical procedure, however innocuous, is completely risk-free.  There have been extensive studies of the relative risks of side effects, from mild to severe, for every vaccine that's commonly administered, and the vast majority of side effects from routine vaccinations are mild and temporary.  (Here's a summary of those studies -- oh, but wait.  It comes from the "corrupt CDC."  Never mind.)

What about the risk of childhood disease?  Again, the risk is known, and it's high.  Diseases like measles, diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis A and B, and polio -- for all of which there are now safe and effective vaccines -- are killers.  It's significant that the boy that I wrote about a few weeks ago, the first person to contract diphtheria in Spain in 29 years, died last week, and that the parents are now blaming the anti-vaccination movement for their decision not to have him immunized.  "The family is devastated and admit that they feel tricked, because they were not properly informed," said Catalan public health chief Antoni Mateu.  "They have a deep sense of guilt, which we are trying to rid them of."

Interesting way of putting it.  Maybe they should be experiencing a deep sense of guilt, given that it was their decision that led to his death.  And it's hard to see how in this day and age, being anti-vaxx qualifies as not being "properly informed."  Falling for scare talk and pseudoscience isn't "not being properly informed," it's being anti-scientific and gullible, which isn't the same thing.  And there's a fundamental principle operating here, which is that you can't save people from themselves.  Humans are going to make dumb decisions and then cast around for someone to blame them on -- this is hardly a new problem.

It's just tragic when those decisions result in the death of an innocent child.

Which, by the way, is exactly why we should have mandatory vaccination laws.  Adults are going to make their own decisions, and some of them will be based in ignorance and fear, and some of them will result in people being injured or killed.  But society has a responsibility to step in and protect children when their parents won't do so voluntarily.

That's what Senate Bill 277 is about.

And as far as Jim Carrey: dude, go back to making movies.  You made some pretty good ones -- The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are two of my favorite movies.  (You also made some pretty stupid ones, but let's be as charitable as we can, here.)  You are not only not a scientist, you have shown that you can't even make an intelligent assessment of scientific research.  Hell, you don't seem to be able to spell.

So maybe it's time to retreat to Hollywood in disarray.  Or failing that, simply shut up.  That would work, too.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Sharing the misery

I guess it was too much to hope for that the opponents of marriage equality would say, "Oh.  I guess it's the law of the land now, and we lost.   Bummer."  And disappear gracefully.

Things are never that easy, are they?  The dire threats of what's gonna happen to us, now that we've allowed LGBT people to have the same rights that the rest of us have always had and completely take for granted, are already ringing from the rafters.

First we had the ever-grim Franklin Graham, informing us that now that the Supreme Court has legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, there's gonna be hell to pay:
I’m disappointed because the government is recognizing sin.  This court is endorsing sin.  That’s what homosexuality is – a sin against god...  Arrogantly disregarding God’s authority always has serious consequences.  Our nation will not like what’s at the end of this rainbow...  The President had the White House lit up in rainbow colors to celebrate the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.  This is outrageous—a real slap in the face to the millions of Americans who do not support same-sex marriage and whose voice is being ignored.
Graham wasn't the only one who keyed in on the whole rainbow thing.  Over at Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham took a moment away from building a new Ark to make the following cheery assessment:
The president did not invent the rainbow; God invented it, and He put the rainbow in the sky as a special reminder related to Noah’s Flood.  God had sent the global Flood in Noah’s time as a judgment because of man’s wickedness in rebelling against the Creator...  (T)he rainbow was set up by God as a sign to remind us that there will never again be a global Flood as a judgment.  But one day there will be another global judgment—the final judgment—and it will be by fire...  (W)e need to take back the rainbow and worship the One who invented the rainbow, and every time we see it be reminded of its true message.
Which brings up a point I've never understood.  How does the whole Flood thing lead anyone to think that Yahweh of the Old Testament is worthy of worship?  It's more the action of a genocidal maniac, in my opinion -- killing everyone and everything, infants and children included, because of some perceived wickedness that couldn't be fixed any other way.

Oh, but rainbows!  There are rainbows, so it's all okay!

Isn't this a little like saying, "Hey, dude!  I know I drowned your family and pets and livestock and all, but look, here's a pretty rainbow in the sky as my promise I won't do it again!"  *glowers*  "At least not that way.  I might still start a fire and burn them all alive.  But if you bow down and worship me exactly the right way, I might let you slide, this time."

Doesn't that make you want to shout hallelujah at god's infinite goodness?

But no one demonstrated quite so clearly the truth of the old definition of Puritanism as "the desperate fear that somewhere, people are enjoying themselves" as Wayne Allyn Root.  Root, you may recall, is the one who said that the only way that Obamacare was upheld by the Supreme Court is that the president blackmailed Justice Roberts.  And now, Root has made a rather bizarre pronouncement -- that same-sex marriage is wrong, because marriage isn't about happiness:
Marriage is the most difficult thing in the world.  I’m talking to you as someone who has been married 24 years, marriage is so difficult that if you do not go to church every Sunday and your whole life isn’t built on a bedrock faith in God and you don’t have kids and your whole life isn’t built around those kids and none of that’s in place and you’re married, the odds of you staying married are close to zero.  Divorces will now triple.  Gays will never stay married.  They just bought themselves the biggest bunch of unhappiness and legal bills that they could ever imagine.
"Go ahead, LGBT people," Root seems to be saying.  "I hope you're satisfied.  Now you get to be just as miserable as the rest of us."

You have to wonder what his wife thought when she read this, don't you?

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

Besides just being ridiculous, his statement is actually exactly the opposite of the fact.  The highest divorce rates aren't among atheists.  The highest divorce rate of any of the main religious affiliations is the Baptists, at 29%.  (Atheists are at 21%, tying the virulently anti-divorce Catholics.)  Regionally the highly religious Southeast and Midwest have the highest numbers of divorces, with Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, and Oklahoma topping the list.  

Kind of funny, when the bible is even more unequivocal about divorce being sinful than it is about homosexuality.  Consider Luke 16:18: "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery."  And adultery, recall, was punishable by being stoned to death.

And yet, the ultra-religious aren't pressuring the courts to make divorce illegal.  Funny thing, that.

So anyway, I'm sure we haven't heard the last of this.  We'll be revisiting it frequently, not only when individual clerks of court refuse to issue marriage licenses to LGBT couples (something that has already started) but every time there is a natural disaster, at which point we'll hear all about how it's "god's wrath."

I wonder what god will pick as a symbol this time that he still loves us even though he's willing to smite the shit out of us at the drop of a hat?  After all, he's already used rainbows.  Maybe flowers, you think?  Flowers are nice.  "I'm sorry you deserved being beaten to a pulp," he'll say.  "Here, have a dozen roses.  All better now?"

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Jesus wept

A report is in from Bolivia that there is a statue of Jesus in a church that is "weeping real tears."

Of course, the devout are now flocking to the church, and church officials are declaring that it's a miracle.  Parishioners have spent hours kneeling and praying before the statue.  People are collecting the "tears" in vials, and claiming that they have magical powers of healing.

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

Such stories are not uncommon.  There have been enough claims of this type that "Weeping Statues" has its own Wikipedia page.  Weeping statues, usually of Jesus or Mary, have been reported in hundreds of locations.  Sometimes these statues are weeping what appear to be tears; others weep scented oil, or (in a number of cases) blood.  

The problem is, of course, that when the church has allowed skeptics to investigate the phenomenon, all of them have turned out to be frauds.

One of the easiest ways to fake a crying statue was explained, and later demonstrated, by Italian skeptic Luigi Garlaschelli.  If the statue is glazed hollow ceramic or plaster (which many of them are), all you have to do is to fill the internal cavity of the statue with water or oil, usually through a small hole drilled through the back of the head.  Then, you take a sharp knife and you nick the glaze at the corner of each eye.  The porous ceramic or plaster will absorb the liquid, which will then leak out at the only point it can -- the unglazed bit near the eyes.  When Garlaschelli demonstrated this, it created absolutely convincing tears.

What about the blood?  Well, in the cases where the statues have wept blood, some of them have been kept from the prying eyes of skeptics.  The church, however, is becoming a little more careful, ever since the case in 2008 in which a statue of Mary in Italy seemed to weep blood, and a bit of the blood was taken and DNA tested, and was found to match the blood of the church's custodian.  Public prosecutor Alessandro Mancini said the man was going to be tried for "high sacrilege" -- an interesting charge, and one which the custodian heatedly denies.  (I was unable to find out what the outcome of the trial was, if there was one.)

Besides the likelihood of fakery, there remains the simple question of why a deity (or saint) who is presumably capable of doing anything (s)he wants to do, would choose this method to communicate with us.  It's the same objection I have to the people who claim that crop circles are Mother Earth attempting to talk to us; it's a mighty obscure communiqué.  Even if you buy that it's a message from heaven, what does the message mean?   If a statue of Jesus cries, is he crying because we're sinful?   Because attendance at church is down?  Because we're destroying the environment?  (Pope Francis might actually subscribe to this view.)  Because the Saints didn't make it to the Superbowl this year?  Oh, for the days when god spoke to you, out loud, directly, and unequivocally, from a burning bush...

In any case, I'm skeptical, which I'm sure doesn't surprise anyone.  I suppose as religious experiences go, it's pretty harmless, and if it makes you happy to believe that Christ's tears will bring you good luck, then that's okay with me.  If you go to Bolivia, however, take a close look and see if there's a tiny hole drilled in the back of the statue's head -- which still seems to me to be the likeliest explanation.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Spaceships on ice

I love science, and am delighted with the progress we've made in understanding the universe.  This has come along with a lightning-fast improvement in the quality of our technology, and although most of my friends consider me a Luddite, I'm actually in favor of that, too.

However, there are times when our technology gets ahead of our good sense.  When, in fact, it becomes apparent that in some ways, our devices are smarter than we are.  And one of those instances has to do with the geographical close-mapping project, Google Earth.

As our ability to create detailed aerial photographic maps of our planet has improved, so has our knowledge about places that are inaccessible to conventional human exploration.  But the problem is, the photographs are becoming detailed enough that we're falling prey to our perceptual biases, and coming up with some pretty wacky explanations for what we're seeing.  Here are a few examples:
  • The discovery of a peculiar pattern of lines in the deserts of western China, that some people believed were mimicking the streets around the White House, in preparation for an attack.
  • A digital artifact that made it look like there was a grid of giant squares on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, leading to claims that the Google Earth people had discovered, and then covered up, evidence of the Lost Civilization of Atlantis.
  • A five-pointed star in Russia that was variously described as a training camp for children of the Illuminati, a refuge for Satanists, an alien landing site, or a sign from Mother Earth that she's not happy with us, and actually turned out to be the remnants of a Soviet-era lakeside campground.
So you can see that we don't have a very good track record of interpreting what Google Earth is finding.  Add to that all of the misidentifications made by people pawing through NASA photographs from Mars (where various wingnuts have found "evidence" of a thigh bone, a flip-flop, a skull, a fossilized gopher, and a vicious-looking Martian bunny), and it's understandable that I'm not ready to lend much credence to the latest "discovery"...

... which is a crashed spaceship in Antarctica.

The UFO enthusiasts are leaping about making excited little squeaking noises over an image from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, more specifically from 80°34’08.4″S 30°05’19.3″W, which showed the following:

See that diagonal mark in the middle of the image?  That, we find out, is no geographic feature.

What evidence do they have?  Well, you're looking at it.  Everything else is just taking the above image, magnifying it until it gets really blurry, and finding bits of that blurred image that look like metallic reflections or spacecraft windows or hatches or whatever.  Next thing you know, they'll be claiming that this is rising up out of the snow:

As long as no one expects me to get on my Tauntaun and ride out to investigate.  I'm not taking a chance of freezing my ass off and then having to get shoved inside some smelly animal's abdominal cavity just in order to survive, all in the name of exploration.

But the guy who discovered the image, Russian UFO hunter Valentin Degterev, is adamant that we doubters are wrong. "I think there is very large disc-shaped flying machine amongst the frozen ice," Degterev said.  "It is definitely not a polar station, nor a plane (as there aren’t any airplanes or helicopters this big in the world).  There also aren’t any ships lost in Antarctica. It seems this is an artificial object from the distant cosmos."

Because, apparently, that's the only other option.  British UFO hunter Nigel Watson thought Degterev was spot-on, however. "It’s hard to tell if this ‘classic’ saucer sticking out of the ice, or whether it is a break in the ice," Watson said.  "Antarctica has a long tradition of being the resting place of crashed saucers or a base for their operations."

How convenient, given that Antarctica is so inaccessible to conventional exploration -- and verification of your claims. 

Pretty sneaky guys, those aliens.  Never crash-landing their saucers in places that are thickly inhabited.  Can't you see the discussion, as the ship is going down?
Alien 1:  "Our guidance system is failing!  The inertial dampers are offline!  We're going to crash!" 
Alien 2:  "No!  We can't crash here!  We're over Newark, New Jersey!  If we crashed here, then everyone would find out about our existence!  We can't have that!" 
Alien 1:  "I have it!  We'll stay aloft for another ten thousand kilometers, and then dive headfirst into an ice sheet in Antarctica." 
Alien 2:  "Brilliant!"
So if the mark on the ground in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet isn't an alien spaceship, nor an Imperial Probe Droid, what is it?

Easy.  It's a crevasse.

The movement of glaciers frequently opens up cracks, and the overlying snow cover collapses inwards, forming a slot-like hole.  (Sometimes it takes a while for the snow cover to fall, which is why hiking over glaciers is so dangerous -- what looks like solid ice can be a thin crust of snow over a hundred-foot-deep plunge.)

So sorry to burst your bubble, UFOlogists, but if you're looking for the smoking gun, alien-wise, this isn't it.  Just as the Chinese lines weren't a mock-up of Washington, DC, the seafloor anomaly wasn't Atlantis, and the star wasn't an Illuminati summer camp, this isn't a downed spaceship.  You'll just have to keep looking.

Back to scanning Google Earth images.  Make sure to tell us what you find.  As long as it isn't vicious alien bunnies.  If you find one of those, I'd rather not know.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Love wins

I'm sure that most of you know by now that in a landmark 5-4 decision, the United States Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal across the nation.

When I got up this morning, I noticed a few things that bear mention.
  • The world still exists.
  • God did not smite America.  No meteorites, no volcanic eruptions, no earthquakes.  Nothing.
  • My marriage to Carol has continued, unaltered, since yesterday.
  • Texas pastor Rick Scarborough has yet to set himself on fire.
  • The bible-thumpers who threatened to move to Canada are still here.
I find the last-mentioned especially amusing, given that Canada legalized same-sex marriage in 2005.  If you people are looking for a place to move, a country where religion trumps the rule of law, homosexuality is a punishable offense, and everyone is expected to run their lives by the precepts of a holy book, I think Syria or Iraq might fit the bill better than Canada.

What gets me most about all of these people is that they're not just content to live their lives by their own religious precepts; they expect everyone else to follow those precepts, too.  Not satisfied with simply practicing their own religion to the best of their ability, they demand that the entire country has to do so as well.

It's not that hard.  If you want to marry someone of the same gender, do so.  If you don't, then don't.  

End of story.

Or would be, except for the likes of Glenn Beck, who thinks that giving people rights they've been denied amounts to persecuting everyone else.  Beck, who really needs to up the dosage on his anti-psychotic meds, had the following to say:
Persecution is coming. If this goes through, persecution is coming.  I mean serious prosecution.  Mark my words. …  If gay marriage goes through the Supreme Court and gay marriage becomes fine and they can put teeth in it, so now they can go after the churches, 50 percent of our churches will fall away, meaning the congregations.  Within five years, the congregations, 50 percent of the congregants will fall away from their church because they won’t be able to take the persecution.
Further, he says that there are tens of thousands of ministers who are going to face martyrdom because of the decision:
The number in the Black Robe Regiment [a group of conservative Christians Beck likes to talk about] is about 70,000 now.  The number that I think will walk through a wall of fire, you know, and possible death, is anywhere between 17,000 and 10,000.  That is an extraordinary number of people that are willing to lay it all down on the table and willing to go to jail or go to death because they serve God and not man.
Because that's likely.  I think the Black Robe Regiment is going to be pretty frustrated over the next few months, wandering around looking in vain for someone to kill them:
[member of the Black Robe Regiment shows up at a gay couple's wedding reception] 
Black Robe dude:  "Aha!  Here we go!"  (throws his arms open)  "Go ahead!  Oppress me, torture me, and kill me!  I'm ready to die!" 
Guy at wedding reception (puzzled):  "Why would I do that?  This is a celebration.  Here, have some cake." 
Black Robe dude (triumphantly):  "I thought so.  This cake is poisoned, isn't it?" 
Guy at wedding reception:  "No, sorry.  It's lemon cake with rainbow frosting."  (takes a bite)  "See? Delicious."
Black Robe dude:  "So you're not going to murder me for my beliefs?" 
Guy at wedding reception:  "Nope." 
Black Robe dude:  "Rats."  (slinks off, looking for persecution elsewhere)
Beck, of course, wasn't the only one.  Franklin Graham, Billy Graham's less compassionate son, was grim yesterday evening.  "I pray God will spare America from His judgment," Graham said.  "Though, by our actions as a nation, we give Him less and less reason to do so."

Mike Huckabee, of course, was considerably more verbose in his reaction, not to mention considerably less coherent:
The Supreme Court has spoken with a very divided voice on something only the Supreme Being can do-redefine marriage.  I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our Founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch. We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat. 
This ruling is not about marriage equality, it's about marriage redefinition.  This irrational, unconstitutional rejection of the expressed will of the people in over 30 states will prove to be one of the court's most disastrous decisions, and they have had many.  The only outcome worse than this flawed, failed decision would be for the President and Congress, two co-equal branches of government, to surrender in the face of this out-of-control act of unconstitutional, judicial tyranny. 
The Supreme Court can no more repeal the laws of nature and nature's God on marriage than it can the law of gravity.  Under our Constitution, the court cannot write a law, even though some cowardly politicians will wave the white flag and accept it without realizing that they are failing their sworn duty to reject abuses from the court.  If accepted by Congress and this President, this decision will be a serious blow to religious liberty, which is the heart of the First Amendment.
Right.  Because that's what the Supreme Court is supposed to be doing; passing "god's law."

But no one was more butthurt than Justice Antonin Scalia, who said in his dissent, "Who ever thought that intimacy and spirituality [whatever that means] were freedoms?" he wrote.  "And if intimacy is, one would think that Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage.  Ask the nearest hippie."

And the result was not what Scalia hoped, which was for people to sit up and amazement and say, "Good heavens, you're right!"  Instead, #AskTheNearestHippie has become a trending hashtag on Twitter, along with a brilliant new Twitter account to follow... @TheNearestHippie.

Because, Justice Scalia, mocking a ridiculous statement is a freedom.  It's called freedom of speech.

But despite all of this, the lion's share of the responses I saw yesterday were positive.  Facebook positively erupted in rainbows.  Even a conservative buddy of mine posted, "Let gays get married.  Let the rednecks have their guns.  Let atheists be atheists, and let Christians be Christians.  Because America is about freedom.  Freedom to live how you please, and be happy with your life.  So smoke a bowl, shoot your guns, cuss a lot, praise Jesus, and wish those two fellas next door a happy honeymoon."

To which I responded, "Amen, brother."

So there you are.  The law of the land.  And to my LGBT friends and their allies who have fought this battle for decades, I can only say:

Congratulations.  Love won.