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.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The road to hell

The transition of a culture into fascism is seldom sudden.  It's a slow slide, urged forward by fear and xenophobia, and often catalyzed by the appearance of a charismatic figure who spouts jingoistic talking points, pounding the table and telling everyone that he has the answers, that all will be well if they just vote for him.

And one of the first things that often happens is that his followers, buoyed up by the heady air of finally having a leader who is saying all of the things they've felt for years, begin to shout down the opposition.  Inevitably violence occurs, and a protestor at a rally is beaten up for having the wrong views.  The charismatic leader doesn't chide his followers for their actions; oh, no.   He urges his followers on, suggests that the victim deserved the beating -- which of course fosters further violence and more fear on the part of anyone courageous enough to dissent.

James Luther Adams was one of those victims, and was lucky to get away as more-or-less unscathed as he did:
I didn’t know what was going to happen to me.  Was he going to beat me up because of what I had been saying?...  He shouted at me... "You damn fool, don’t you know that here today you keep your mouth shut or you’ll get your head bashed in... You know what I have done.  I’ve saved you from getting beaten up.  They were not going to continue arguing with you.  You were going to be lying flat on the pavement."
And throughout it all, the moderate rationalists look at each other in amazement, saying, "How can this happen?"  Some deride the leader as a fool, a buffoon with no experience in government and even less credibility.  As if that has any effect on people who are reacting through fear and the sudden thrilling awareness that the leader has just given you carte blanche to beat the shit out of anyone who says the wrong thing.

The fear is fed by a knowledge of there being terrible societal inequities, and the sense that the problems can only be righted by a complete overturning of government.  In the words of an ordinary citizen, "Of course all the little people who had small savings were wiped out.  But the big factories and banking houses and multimillionaires didn’t seem to be affected at all.  They went right on piling up their millions.  Those big holdings were protected somehow from loss.  But the mass of the people were completely broke.  And we asked ourselves, 'How can that happen?'...  But after that, even those people who used to save didn’t trust money anymore, or the government.  We decided to have a high time whenever we had any spare money, which wasn’t often. "

Small wonder that such conditions foster distrust, suspicion, and anger.  And then, along comes someone who says he can fix all that:
We deceive ourselves if we believe that the people want to be governed by majorities.  No, you don't know the people.  This people doesn't want to lose itself in “majorities.”  It doesn't want to be involved in great plans.  It wants a leadership in which it can believe, nothing more.
And still the moderates stand around, shaking their heads in dismay, and doing little else.

Anyone who disagrees is ridiculed or denounced.  Critics are publicly humiliated and made to apologize for their audacity, and sued for defamation if they refuse.

Then the propaganda machine goes into overdrive convincing people that the entire country is going to hell if the election goes the other way:
This man who, because of his extraordinary knowledge and ability in all areas, was able to rise from nothing to his present position as the leader... despite tremendous resistance, is perhaps the only one who has the ability to master the enormous tasks, rescuing the nation at the eleventh hour from its almost hopeless situation.  Led by fate, he followed his path. It would not be the first time in history that [we were] rescued by the right man in our greatest need.
And of course, the final step is turning that anger and fear against a common enemy, someone who can act as a scapegoat.  After all, there has to be a means for directing the rage; the revolution can't be too complete, or it will destroy the very structure to which the leaders are trying to ascend.  So who's to blame?

The poor and powerless, of course.
The more economic difficulties increase, the more immigration will be seen as a burden... In this struggle... there’s only a clear either/or.  Any half measure leads to one’s own destruction.  The world [of these people] must be destroyed if humanity wants to live; there is no other choice than to fight a pitiless battle against [them] in every form.
Amazingly, people fall for it.  Fact-checking, pointing out the lies and half-truths, doesn't alter the trajectory by one millimeter.  In a direct quote that you would think would be enough by itself to wake people up: "Credibility doesn't matter.  The winner will not be asked whether he told the truth."

But still his poll numbers climb, until what looked like a ridiculous bid for attention by a narcissistic troll has become a threat to the founding principles of the entire country.

And at some point, we look around us in horror, and say, "How did we get here?"  There was no single turning point, no sudden overthrow -- just a gentle, smooth slide into being governed by the worst people in the world.

[image courtesy of photograph Robert F. W. Whitlock and the Wikimedia Commons]

Oh, but wait.  All of the quotes and references above were taken directly from primary documents regarding the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in pre-World War II Germany.

Who did you think I was talking about?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Inventing Glastonbury

It must come as a shock to woo-woos to find out that some of their favorite wooful phenomena were actually invented by humans for purely down-to-earth reasons.

Take, for example, the Ouija board.  A lot of paranormal enthusiasts claim that the Ouija board is some kind of portal to the spirit world -- and an equal number of religious types think it's the gateway to hell.  Using it, they say, is just asking to be possessed by an evil demon.  Unfortunately for both contentions, the Ouija board was invented as a parlor game by a toy manufacturer named Elijah Bond in 1890.  Even the name is made up -- Bond stuck together the French and German words for "yes" and decided it would make a catchy name.  Which it is.  Better than the words for "no," anyhow, because "Nonnein" sounds kind of silly.

So finding out that the Ouija board was invented purely to make money is a little deflating to those who think it's some kind of tool for accessing the supernatural.  Which makes me wonder how the woo-woos are going to deal with the recent claim by archaeologists that the hype over Glastonbury is a 12th-century fabrication.

Glastonbury Abbey [image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

If you're not up to date with woo-woo mysticism and don't know what the deal is over Glastonbury, it's a town in England that is considered to be one of the most "spiritual" places in the world, right up there with Ayers Rock in Australia, Sedona, Arizona, and Salem, Massachusetts.  Supposedly, Glastonbury is the place where Joseph of Arimathea fled after Jesus's crucifixion, and when he got there he thrust his walking stick into the ground, where it took root and now flowers every Christmas.

The problem is, the Glastonbury Thorn doesn't flower at Christmas, it flowers in the spring, like most hawthorns.  No, the faithful say; that's because the current thorn isn't the real thing, which was cut down as an idolatrous image during the Puritan era following the English Civil War.  Even so, there are people who take the whole thing awfully seriously, which is why the current tree (planted in 1951) has been repeated vandalized.

Then there's the King Arthur connection, because Glastonbury Abbey is supposedly where the Once and Future King was buried after his death at the hands of his cousin Mordred in the Battle of Salisbury Plain.  There's even an inscription on a stone cross in the Abbey that allegedly has an inscription dating back to the fifth century, and which mentions King Arthur by name.

In addition to all this, or perhaps because of it, Glastonbury (or more specifically the hill Glastonbury Tor that stands nearby) has been identified as being the world's most powerful convergence of "ley lines," lines of spiritual force that allegedly encircle the globe. "[T]he landscape as a whole," we're told, "is imbued with a beauty, mystique and numinescence which has made it well loved over many centuries, and the haunt of many advanced souls."

So with all of this romantic folklore surrounding the spot, it's no wonder that people make pilgrimages to Glastonbury every year.  Which makes a recent paper published by a group of archaeologists at the University of Reading all the more devastating.

Because the new study has shown that all of the mystical trappings surrounding the place were the invention of some 12th century monks who were trying to find a way to raise money when their monastery burned down.

Archaeologist Roberta Gilchrist and her team have spent years looking at both the documents and the structures that supposedly play into the legend.  And she has concluded that after the fire, which occurred in 1184, some enterprising monks decided to cash in on the increasing popularity of the Arthurian mythology (Geoffrey of Monmouth's seminal Historia Regum Brittaniae had only been completed some 46 years earlier, and was still immensely influential).  So they started a rumor that Glastonbury was where Arthur was buried, and that he'd been buried there because it was where Joseph of Arimathea planted his walking stick.  "Look!" they said.  "There's a hawthorn tree up on that hill!  That's the ticket!"

And thus the legend of the Holy Thorn was begun.

Gilchrist and her team said that the stone cross was also the product of the same enterprising brothers, and had been fabricated to resemble earlier Anglo-Saxon and Celtic stone crosses, with the clever addition of an inscription mentioning Arthur by name.  And when they rebuilt the monastery, they made sure to make it of materials, and in a style, that made it look far older than it actually was, so the pilgrims (and the profits) kept rolling in.

As they still do, lo unto this very day.

It's kind of unfortunate, really.  I've always loved the Arthurian legends -- I grew up with tales of Merlin and Gawain and Morgan le Fay and the rest of them, not to mention my discovery during my teen years of Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail.  The idea that the whole thing might be some 12th century hoax is kind of sad.

You have to wonder how all the woo-woos will respond.  My guess is, they won't.  They'll ignore the current study just like they've avoided anything remotely factual in the past, and keep on claiming that ley lines and the rest are real.  They haven't based anything on evidence yet, so why start now?

Friday, November 27, 2015

Getting into the spirit

So it's Black Friday, in which we Americans follow up a day set aside to give thanks for everything we have, with a day set aside to trample each other to death trying to save money on overhyped garbage we really don't need.

Me, I stay right the hell away from stores on Black Friday.  I hate shopping in any case, and the rabid crowds only make it worse.  Plus, today marks the first day of the Little Drummer Boy Challenge, a yearly contest in which participants see how long they can make it into the Christmas season without hearing "The Little Drummer Boy," which ranks right up there with "Frosty the Snowman" as the most annoying Christmas carol ever written.   I've participated in this contest for three years, and haven't made it to Christmas Day undefeated yet.  Last year, I was taken out of the competition by a clerk in a hardware store who didn't even know all of the freakin' words, and kept having to la-la bits of it:
Come they LA LA pah-rum-puh-pum-pum
A newborn LA LA LA pah-rum-puh-pum-pum
Our LA LA gifts we bring pah-rum-puh-pum-pum
LA LA before the king pah-rum-puh-pum-pum, rum-puh-pum-pum, rum-puh-pum-pum
And so on and so forth.  He was singing it with hearty good cheer, so I felt kind of guilty when I realized that he'd knocked me out of the game and blurted out, "Are you fucking kidding me?" a little louder than I intended, eliciting a shocked look from the clerk and a significant diminishment in the general Christmas spirit amongst those around me.

Thomas Couture, The Drummer Boy (1857) [image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

And of course, the Christmas season wouldn't be complete without the hyperreligious types ramping up the whole imaginary War on Christmas thing.  We atheists have allegedly been waging this war for what, now... six years?  Seven?  And yet if you'll look around you, just like the Grinch's attempt at banishing Christmas from Whoville, the holiday season still goes right on, pretty much exactly as it did before.

Oops!  Shouldn't say "holiday," because that's part of the War on Christmas, too, even though the word "holiday" comes from "holy day" and therefore is also religious.  Some people feel really strongly about this even so, including Harris County (Georgia) Sheriff Mike Jolley, who is so determined to bash everyone over the head with Peace on Earth and Good Will Toward Men that he posted a sign at the border of Harris County that says:
Welcome to Harris County, Georgia!  WARNING: Harris County is politically incorrect.  We say: Merry Christmas, God Bless America and In God We Trust; we salute our troops and our flag.  If this offends you…LEAVE!
Because nothing communicates god's love like telling everyone who is different than you are to bugger off.

What is wryly amusing about all of this, at least in my local community, is that I'm known to be one of the more outspoken atheists in the area, and in December I tell people "Merry Christmas" at least as often as I say "Happy Holidays."  Basically, if someone says "Merry Christmas" to me, I say it back to them; if they say, "Happy Holidays," I say that.  Likewise "Happy Hanukkah," "Blessed Solstice," "Merry Festivus," or "Have A Nice Day."

You know why?  If people speak kindly to me, I reciprocate, because I may be an atheist, but I am not an asshole.  So I guess that's three ways in which I am different from Sheriff Mike Jolley of Harris County, Georgia.

Basically, be nice to me, I'll be nice to you.  Unless you're singing "The Little Drummer Boy."  I'm sorry, but my tolerance does have its limits.

In any case, mostly what I plan to do today is to sit around home, recovering from the food-and-wine-induced coma in which I spent most of yesterday evening.  So however you choose to observe the day and the season, I hope you enjoy it, whether you get into the spirit of it or pretty much ignore the whole thing.


Thursday, November 26, 2015

The inner voice

Like most of us, I have a constant narrator in my head.

My narrator isn't nearly as sensible and coherent as the one Will Ferrell's character heard in the wonderful movie Stranger than Fiction; he heard someone describing his actions, in detail, as he performed them.  (I won't give away any more of the plot than that; you really should watch the movie, which is brilliant, and has killer performances not only by Ferrell, but by Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, and Queen Latifah.)

My internal monologue sounds more like a three-year-old with serious ADHD and the vocabulary of a sailor.  Here's a small sample of my brain chatter from this morning:  "I'm hungry... I've got to write my Skepto post first... wow!  Full moon! Cool!  Let the dogs out first...  I'm still tired... Fuck, now the dogs want back in!... Better get writing...  I'm hungry..."  And so on, and so forth, every waking hour of the day.

No wonder I'm an insomniac, with that nitwit babbling in my skull nonstop.

I've wondered at times if there was a way to get the internal voice to quiet down.  Or at least slow down.  In my several relatively unsuccessful attempts to learn to meditate, I found that if anything, my mental monologue gets louder and more insistent the quieter my surroundings are.  A Buddhist friend who is an advanced student of meditation has said to me, "When you have thoughts, let them flow through your brain and out, without judging.  Just watch them go by."

The problem is, there's always one more frenetic utterance following, and then another, and another.  This flow isn't a murmuring brook, it's Niagara Falls.

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

So it was with some astonishment that I read that our internal monologues might be part of how our brains shape our sense of self.  Recent research seems to indicate that without it, we are completely severed from our personhood, left unmoored, without a way to anchor our consciousness to our surroundings.

The whole thing is the subject of a 2015 film by Guillermo F. Flórez called Speechless, which investigates the lives of three stroke victims who have developed some form of aphasia, a loss of the ability to speak coherently.  One of them, Tinna Phillips, was fluent in six languages -- but suffered a stroke in her 30s that left her with Broca's aphasia, the inability to string words together into sensible sentences.    Even now, almost twenty years later, she still has trouble expressing herself.  "I cried inside, because I cannot communicate," Phillips said.  "My mom, others, Chinese!  I don’t know.  Is not communicate, nothing.  I, six languages, gone!"

What is even more remarkable about Phillips's case, however, is that the stroke completely stopped her internal monologue.  Where once she had the random thought patterns we all have, now she has... silence.  And that silence has in a deep fashion divided her from the context in which she lives her life.

We talk to ourselves, American philosopher Jerry Fodor says, to create an internal representation of our world, and without that, it's difficult to function.  "There is a gap between the mind and the world, " he writes, "and (as far as anybody knows) you need to posit internal representations if you are to have a hope of getting across it.  Mind the gap.  You’ll regret it if you don't."

Psychologist Alain Morin goes even further.  He writes, [I]nner speech is the main cognitive process leading to self-awareness.  That is, self-talk allows us to verbally identify and process information about our current mental experiences (e.g., emotions, thoughts, attitudes, goals, motives, sensations) and other personal characteristics such as personality traits, behavior, and appearance.  At an even higher level, I suggest that our internal dialogue is also what makes us aware of our own existence: 'I’m alive and well; I’m a unique person with an identity; I have goals, aspirations, and values.'"

As far as what its ultimate purpose is, Morin speculates that it has something to do with recognizing our own personhood and continually evaluating and reevaluating our own place in the social milieu.  Inner speech makes it possible to communicate and develop a relationship with ourselves.  "We can talk to ourselves as if we were speaking to someone else," he writes.  "In this process we can reproduce for ourselves appraisals we get from others.  For example, we can say to ourselves 'You’re very strong,'emotional, lazy,' etc., 'Why did you do this?  Because…', 'You take yourself way too seriously!', 'I feel anxious', and so on.  Talking to ourselves that way most certainly makes us self-aware and helps us identify self-information."

Which is fascinating.  I wonder how animals without spoken language see the world, and their place within it.  Do dogs have a sense of self?  Do dolphins?  How can you encode your world without language?  Our understanding of ourselves and our context is so tightly tied up in language, both internal and external, that it's hard to imagine even having thoughts without their being embedded in words.

So as annoying as my inner voice is, I suppose it's better to have it than not.  I just hope that my monologue's neurotic nature isn't equally evident in my external personality, although that would explain why I so seldom get invited to parties.

And now I need to go eat something, because I'm tired of hearing "I'm hungry" over and over.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Children's Guide to Nonsense

Two weeks ago I wrote a post suggesting that people who have any concern for the promotion of quality information about how the world works should boycott The History Channel until it stops claiming that shows like MonsterQuest have the least thing to do with reality.

This post prompted a number of emails and comments, which can be distilled down to (1) there's nothing wrong with entertainment, (2) THC is not trying to convince anyone who isn't already convinced, and (3) lighten the hell up.  The number of responses I got along those lines made me wonder for a while if maybe I was taking the whole thing a little too seriously.

Until I read a post a couple of days ago on Jason Colavito's wonderful blog, entitled "History Channel Official 'Ancient Aliens' Guide for Children, Teaches Kids Aliens Are Behind Everything."

I don't want to steal Colavito's thunder, and all of you should check out his post, which is spot-on.  But the gist is that THC has released a book called The Young Investigator’s Guide to Ancient Aliens: Based on the Hit Television Series.  The Amazon page for the book describes it thusly:
As a tie-in to the wildly successful History Channel show, perfect for young readers, here's a book filled with fascinating tales, ancient folklore, and compelling evidence of the role extraterrestrials may have played in human history. 
What really happened to the dinosaurs? Who actually built the ancient pyramids in Egypt? Are airplanes really as modern as we think they are? This book takes a close look at landmark events throughout history and asks the question: What if aliens were involved? 
Spanning history, from the earliest of human civilizations to the modern period, this book exposes evidence of the presence of extraterrestrials in some of our most triumphant and devastating moments.
Entertainment, my ass.  This is a calculated effort to catch children while they're young and naïve, and convince them that a zero-evidence pile of horse waste actually has legitimate standing in the world of science.

I was heartened, however, to see that The Young Investigator's Guide has thus far received five reviews, all one-star.  Here's a sampling of the comments from the reviews:
Keep this toxic claptrap away from children. 
The War On Science is fought on several fronts, from the schools of red state America to our television screens.  'The History Channel' is contributing to this as it debases the meaning of the word 'History' into anything it thinks will sell no matter what the consequences. 
This has to be considered an extension of the mind-numbing influence of ratings-driven TV.  Ratings-driven TV exists as a money sucking virus seeking viewers at all cost.  It doesn't exist to educate or enlighten, to make things better or to warn us about shams and fiction posing as fact.  It exists only to promote an uncritical passive hoard of watchers who predictably consume what is offered in the commercials.  It dumbs us down to serve corporate agendas. 
Will we soon be selling electronic editions of "The Little Holocaust Deniers' Guide to the Early 1940s"?
To which I can only add: Huzzah.

Lest you feel too optimistic, however, Colavito points out that the Toronto Public Library System purchased 31 copies of the book, to make sure that several of the 23 libraries in the system had more than one copy.  Not to mention the fact that it's shelved under "nonfiction."

The whole problem here, of course, is that this sort of thing is like a gateway drug to woo-woo.  You hear the "what's the harm?" argument come up, over and over again, with respect to ideas like Ancient Aliens, Astrology, the Tarot, and so on.  And the direct harm is certainly to nothing more than your pocketbook.  But there's a more subtle reason to fight pseudoscience; accepting an idea on anything other than the standards of scientific evidence establishes a habit of uncritical thinking.  If you're willing to buy into nonsense like this based on an I Want To Believe attitude and very little else, what's to stop you from accepting other unscientific ideas that do cause direct harm -- homeopathy, anti-vaxx, climate change denial, and so on?

In any case, check out Colavito's take on the whole thing, which is well worth reading.  And to the "it's just entertainment" crowd; maybe you should give some second thoughts to how insidious a non-scientific approach to the world can be.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Tinfoil hat upgrade

Are you concerned about being abducted by aliens, especially considering the inevitable result of being strapped down naked to an examining table and probed in ways you'd prefer not to think about?

You, apparently, are not alone.  And a fellow named Michael Menkin has done something about it.

He has invented a hat that stops the aliens from being able to get in touch with your brain.

So what we have here is a higher-tech version of taking a couple of sheets of Reynolds Wrap and smooshing it over your head.  It's a tight-fitting cap made of Velostat, which I had never heard of before, but which Wikipedia explained was "a packaging material made of a polymeric foil (polyolefines) impregnated with carbon black to make it electrically conductive."  The stuff looks, from the photographs, a little like Naugahyde.

Which means that the photographs of people wearing the things look like they're wearing a beanie made from a 1970s loveseat.  (I'd include some photographs here, except for the fact that there's a big "COPYRIGHTED ALL RIGHTS RESERVED" caption attached to them.  However, don't miss out -- you must go to the website and look at the pictures, but I'll warn you not to attempt to drink anything while doing so.  I will not be held responsible for damage to your computer that occurs if you do not follow this advice.)

Laugh all you want, Menkin tells us, there are more important things to worry about than looking silly:
The "thought screen helmet" is our only defense in a "telepathic war."  I call this device a "thought screen helmet" because it prevents aliens from performing any kind of mental control over us.  It blocks out all alien thought so humans can no longer be manipulated or controlled, and it prevents aliens from completing mental communication with us so people cannot be abducted.
So let me get this straight.  Aliens come across the galaxy, in faster-than-light spacecrafts powered by unimaginably complicated technology, intent on kidnapping a few humans, and they're defeated by... a hat?

And apparently hats aren't the only things the aliens can't figure out:
Aliens have taken ten helmets from abductees and several Velostat lined baseball caps.  If you are not wearing a hat they will go through your entire house looking for them. They will not, however, go into a locked cabinet.  Before you make a helmet have some kind of cabinet or trunk that you can lock. That way they won’t take it. 
All thought is open and controlled in a telepathic society therefore locks are unnecessary.   Aliens are unfamiliar with locks and the concept of a lock.
So, let's see... aliens can be defeated by hats, locks, and... string:
Almost any kind of tape or string wrapped around the helmet several times will prevent aliens from removing the helmet if they manage to get close to you.
And if the hats, locks, and string aren't enough, you'll have to resort to harsher measures -- like Axe Body Spray:
Several abductees report that aliens do not like perfume.  One abductee claims that they stopped an abduction by exposing strong cheap perfume to aliens.
I dunno.  These are beginning to sound like some pretty inept aliens.  These sound like somehow the cast of Gilligan's Island learned how to drive a spaceship, and are now bumbling around like buffoons, running into each other and dropping coconuts on the Skipper's toes.

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

I went through this website for nearly an hour, looking for any sign that these people are joking.  Tragically, it appears that they're are completely serious.  There's even a testimonials page, wherein we hear glowing reviews like the following:
“I am happy to report that the Thought Screen Helmet has been performing beautifully!   It’s been over six months now and NOT ONE INCIDENT! Aside from some of the naive neighborhood kids and their taunting it’s been a blissful period.”

"The hat and helmet work very well and I have experience much relief wearing them.  I am however, surprised that the aliens have not found a way to thwart this simple but effective technology.  At any rate I am very happy with mine and thank you again for your work." 
“Still nothing new to report it must work!”
Yup!  The only possible explanation for nothing happening is that the hat you're wearing is blocking alien telepathic signals.

Anyhow.  I might make myself a hat at some point, because the website gives step-by-step instructions, and supposedly the whole thing costs less than $45.  On the other hand, I doubt that the hat will block sarcastic comments from my wife, which is honestly much more of a concern to me than being abducted by aliens.  So maybe I'm just as well off going back to tinfoil.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Doomed to repeat

This weekend, I inadvertently started an online argument about the Syrian refugees.

I rarely get involved in political discussions online (or anywhere else) because of this very thing.  It's the most fruitless of pursuits, really; it usually accomplishes nothing but eliciting shouts of acclamation from the people who already agree with you, and snorts of derision from the people who don't.

In other words, nothing.

I got the ball rolling by comparing the plight of the refugees, and the reluctance of the United States government to give them asylum, to the attitudes of the majority of English policymakers during the Irish Potato Famine of the mid-19th century, and the blocking of Jews before World War II trying to flee Germany into the Netherlands (and from the Netherlands and elsewhere into the United States).  Some of you may not know that Anne Frank and her family applied for, and were denied, passage into the United States in 1940 -- a move that would have saved their lives.

Well, that was apparently pasting a bullseye on my chest.  How dare I compare the Syrian refugees to the Jews?  The situation is completely different.  Plus, you know, those people want to kill us.  They are uniformly hostile to the United States and everything we stand for, so we're right to deny them entry.

So I thought it was time to set aside my reluctance to discuss political matters, and offer a little history lesson.  I have pulled some quotes, all from primary sources, that refer either to the Irish during the Potato Famine, the Jews prior to World War II, or the Syrian refugees now.  See if you can tell them apart.  (The only editing I did was to remove obvious giveaway references.)
  1. The judgment of God sent the calamity to teach [them] a lesson, and that calamity must not be too much mitigated. … The real evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil... but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of those people.
  2. [They are] more like squalid apes than human beings... Only efficient military despotism [can succeed in this situation], because [they] understand only force.
  3. It is probably unwise to say this loudly... but [this situation] is and has been since its beginning guided and controlled by [people] of the greasiest type, who have... absorbed every one of the worst phases of our civilization without having the least understanding of what we really mean by liberty.
  4. Two things made this country great: White men & Christianity.  Every problem that has arisen can be traced back to our departure from God’s Law and the disenfranchisement of White men.  And our current actions serve no purpose but to depart even further from those.
  5. [They] can go [back home] and stew in their own juice.  The rest had better stop being what they are, and start being human beings.
  6. It looks like to me if shooting these immigrating feral hogs works, maybe we have found a [solution] to our... problem.
  7. I see no solution to the... problem short of expelling all followers of the religion from the United States.
  8. [They] could be put down very plausibly as the most unpleasant race ever heard of.  As commonly encountered they lack any of the qualities that mark the civilized man: courage, dignity, incorruptibility, ease, confidence.
  9. A policy that will not kill more than one million [of them]... will scarcely be enough to do any good.
  10. [They] are a cancer that must be cut out of our society, whose goal is the destruction of civilization from within.
  11. [They] hate our order, our civilization, our enterprising industry, our pure religion.  This wild, reckless, indolent, uncertain and superstitious race have no sympathy with [our] character. Their ideal of human felicity is an alternation of clannish broils and coarse idolatry.  Their history describes an unbroken circle of bigotry and blood.
  12. When neighborhoods are occupied by [these people], they establish their own laws and don't respect our own. 
Ready for the answers?
  1. The Irish.  Charles Trevelyan, head of the English Administration for Famine Relief, 1845.
  2. The Irish.  James Anthony Froude, professor of history, Oxford University, 1860.
  3. The Jews.  General Montgomery Schuyler, 1919.
  4. Syrian refugees.  Representative Don Davis of North Carolina.
  5. The Jews.  George Bernard Shaw, 1932.
  6. Syrian refugees.  Representative Virgil Peck of Kansas.
  7. Syrian refugees.  Representative Charlie Fuqua of Arkansas.
  8. The Jews.  H. L. Mencken, 1930.
  9. The Irish.  Nassau Senior, chief economist to Queen Victoria.
  10. Syrian refugees.  Representative John Bennett of Oklahoma.
  11. The Irish.  Benjamin Disraeli, 1878.
  12. Syrian refugees.  Representative Carl Gatto of Alaska.

Only the details change.  The hate speech, the fear and loathing of the "other," the wild claims that those people are trying to destroy our society, all stay the same.

It doesn't even seem to do any good to point out how many of the refugees are children or the elderly.  It doesn't help if you tell people that none of the Paris attackers were Syrian -- every last one of them was a citizen of the E.U.  Nor were any of the 9/11 bombers Syrian.

None of that matters.  They may look like starving, homeless refugees, but they're still implacably hostile to us.  You know how They are.

It's just that every generation has a different They.

I will end with a quote from the great Elie Wiesel.  As a survivor of the concentration camps during World War II, he has as good a reason as any to give in to hate, fear, and intolerance.  Instead, here are his words on the subject.