Saturday, August 15, 2015

Nora Lee King - Cannon Ball

This song has been going through my head all day, absolutely no idea why, I don't even know where the album I had it on is now.  Saturday night music with that kind of fascinating rhythm that won't leave you alone.

James Randi's "Carlos Hoax" As A Specimen, With A New Intro

A good example of how James Randi's fame and reputation as promoted by and through the media is the "Carlos Hoax" which shows just how blatant a liar he is and how the media, especially the American media, allows him to get away with the lies, reporting his PR instead of doing any actual reporting.   It also shows the extent to which he is willing to go, breaking laws, harming people, to do what he does.  I think his career as a liar and and ideological atheist also shows a lot about what can be expected when there is no reason to believe it is wrong to tell a lie if you can get away with it, something which I think is a foundation stone of popular atheism, the atheism that most people practice.  I have mentioned many times that until I went online I wasn't especially bothered by atheism.  Most of the atheists I knew and still know, personally,  were of the "I just don't believe it" kind, not the kind who believed they knew there was no God and that people who believed in God were  idiots, if not evil idiots.  Most of them weren't ideological about it at all.   It was when I first started to read blogs and encountered large numbers of ideological and fundamentalist atheists that I began to realize that they were addicted to misrepresenting history and the thinking of the large majority of people.  In 2000, I didn't realize just how much damage had been done and was being done by atheists in society, in the world and, especially, in culture.   I had to learn that from reading the atheists and then comparing their statements, claims and false picture of history to the actual record. Along the way I had to face the fact that huge masses of stuff I'd been taught and had absorbed through mid-brow culture (Things like Inherit the Wind, The History of Galileo) were saturated with lies that misrepresented things that were far, far more complicated than the ideologically motivated presentation of them were.

I had always gotten along, perfectly well, with most atheists, excluding the outright assholes among them, up till the time I went online, about the same time that the new atheism was being pushed, the next phase of a decades long campaign.

It's only if you accept the commonly found atheists as being the definition of atheism that you might think what I'm about to say is ironic.   Looking back, I think it was due to having read an ideological atheist and something of a Marxist who could, none the less, not stand to lie about history or his own science, Richard Lewontin, who prepared me for that massive revision in my own thinking, well, well into middle age when such revision is hard and very uncomfortable.  His review of Carl Sagan's book, "Billions and Billions of Demons" in the 1990s, with its well informed, honest and even compassionate understanding of why fundamentalists resented and resisted evolution being taught to their children and his corrective realism about science and even why atheists, such as himself, could not abide the idea of God has made a lasting impression on me.  He even mentions, through refuting Sagan, the "Carlos Hoax" discrediting the conclusion without, apparently, knowing that the "Hoax" was, itself, a prime example of stage magician fraud on every level, including the level that Sagan bought unskeptically and uncritically*.

It is possible for an atheist to have an aversion to lying, as Lewontin's carrer shows, a very strong and effective aversion to it.  It is possible for an atheist to be a decent person, but they won't turn out to be an atheist like the ones I generally address in these posts. As I named one of the experments I did in blogging, not all atheists are assholes but my blogging is about the ones who are.

I would trust an atheist like Lewontin with political power, I don't trust the vast majority of those I've read online, in books and magazine articles, even those who believe themselves to be and sell themselves as leftists or liberals, who turn out to be not that different from the neo-cons, just generally younger.   I don't, though, think that even Lewontin's atheism would maintain its character over three or four generations down the line if atheism became as common as a self-identification of Christianity is, today.

A fundamentalist Christian, even one who is wedded to the anti-Christian cults of white supremacy and anti-semitism, will, inescapably, have to claim they believe the Gospel of Jesus, the Letter of James, the Epistles of Paul, and Peter.  They will have to deal with the radical egalitarian economics of The Law in the Jewish scriptures, they will have to deal with the fact that virtually every single person in the scriptures they deal with, the very ones on whom their religious profession finds its entire information base were Jews, so noted by the Romans in the sign they put on the cross they lynched Jesus on.   There is no way for them to do evil things without violating the very words of a man they claim to believe spoke with divine authority, they cannot square their killing and oppression with his words.  Even if they are in a deeply ingrained habit of self-interested, selfish evil doing, the discrepancy is always there for them to face, honestly.  On that day they will have to either give up their professed belief in Jesus and the scriptures or they will have to give up their wicked ways.  They might continue to lie about a belief in Christianity, there is nothing in atheism to prevent them from lying about that, there is no requirement of integrity in atheism, but they can't lie about it to themselves.   Atheism contains no force for giving up evil when a person wants something and they think they can get it by lying, injustice, stealing, enslaving and killing.  As the evils done by professing Christians show, even having those scriptural prohibitions on doing those things are a weak force in general culture, but having no prohibition on them leaves only those two even weaker forces as the only bulwark against total evil.  Stalin, Mao, the Kim regime in North Korea, Pol Pot, Enver Hoxha, Nicolae Ceaușescu, none of those people can be said to have violated a single prohibition of atheism.   Every single professed Christian who has ever killed someone is in violation of the teachings of Jesus, perhaps even those who kill in direct, immediate self defense or the defense of someone else.  The difference that makes in history is imperfectly demonstrated as people, in aggregate, never perfectly demonstrate anything.  But the atheist regimes of history and today show that the difference is real and that it teaches what a disaster such a society could be expected to be.

The usefulness in looking at the pheomenon of James Randi and pseudo-skepticism, which like "Humanism" is a loss leader of ideological atheism, is that he shows how easy it is to sell blatant lies to people who don't believe there is anything wrong with lying, that it isn't a sin to tell a lie.  That, along the way, he endorses ideas such as cruelly indifferent Social Darwinism isn't atypical of atheists of his stripe, even those who are far less vulgar, such as James Watson and Francis Crick were Social Darwinists.  When you see people as material objects, you believe you can easily categorize them in terms of utility.   Utilitarianism is another means of showing the moral inadequacy of atheism, one which is as intellectually shoddy and dishonest as all of the rest of it, no matter how high-brow it is alleged to be.

The Real Carlos Hoax, parts 1 and 2

Randi's Involvement With Identity Theft And His Lies About His "Carlos" Scam  Part 1

If LGBT folks had equal rights in the United States it is quite possible that James Randi's long time, live-in companion might not have committed the crime of identity theft.   Randi would have been able to marry him and been able to regularize his living in the United States as many straight couples have been able to do.  But that's not what happened.

Randi's companion, Jose Alvarez, was arrested for identity fraud at Randi's home on September 8, 2011.  His real name was David or Deyvi Pena who had come to the United States on a student visa which he overstayed.  He is documented in a story that appeared in the Toronto Star in August 1986 and people who knew him at the time to have been associated with James Randi, under the name of David Pena.

A reporter profiling Randi for the Toronto Star caught up with the magician at LaGuardia Airport in New York in August 1986:

"A few feet behind him, David Pena, a young man of about 20, struggles with three large suitcases," the reporter wrote.

One of Pena's landlords in Broward County was Jim Sitton, a motel owner who let him stay in a room in exchange for some artwork. Sitton identified a photograph of the young Alvarez in his "Carlos" role as the man he knew as Pena.

"He was a young artist. He was going to the Art Institute in Fort Lauderdale. I think he went by different names, though," Sitton said. "At some point, I became aware that he used two names. The name he used is David Pena."

Sitton said Pena later told him he was working with Randi.

"He seemed like a really good person. I have very good memories of him. He was very serious about his artwork," Sitton said. "I wish him the best. I can't imagine how he got into this kind of serious trouble."

All of the available evidence shows, beyond any reasonable doubt, that James Randi knew his companion's real name was David, or Deyvi, Pena in 1986.

The next year, after he won a MacArthur "Genius" Grant, James Randi staged one of his well known PR operations in Australia with the purported purpose of exposing how credulous the media is when presenting people with claimed supernatural abilities,  his "Carlos Hoax".   He presented a young man called Jose Luis Alvarez as a medium named "Carlos", shopped him around to various TV and radio programs and presented him on stage while all the time running him like Peter Popoff was run by his wife in one of the rare instances when the Randi legend comes close to matching his PR use of it.

Only, as you might have guessed, Jose Luis Alvarez was really David Pena.

I will deal with the misrepresentation of the "Carlos Hoax" later.  For now, in order to travel to Australia David Pena needed a passport.   Since he was in the United States illegally he couldn't obtain one under his own name.   In order to get a passport Pena stole the identity of Jose Luis Alvarez, who was living in New York, working as a teachers aid.

As Steve Volk and other's who reported the facts point out,  the real Jose Luis Alvarez suffered considerable trouble because someone had stolen his identity.  He had problems with the IRS over income he hadn't earned in Florida.  He had his bank account frozen and, when he wanted to go outside of the country to attend his sister's wedding, his passport was refused.

As the Sun-Sentinel reports: “Alvarez, a teacher's aide from the Bronx, said he has suspected for several years that someone had stolen his identity — … that he's been dunned by the IRS for taxes he didn't owe on income in Florida, that his bank account has periodically been frozen and that he had difficulty renewing his driver's license. He's had to repeatedly prove he is who he says he is, brandishing his New York driver's license and a birth certificate, as well as his employment record.”

Recently, when the real Alvarez tried to obtain a passport to travel to his sister’s wedding in Jamaica, his application was pegged as potentially fraudulent—because, after all, someone else had already been traveling the world with a passport bearing all the same information. Sadly, the real Jose Luis Alvarez was not able to work the matter out in time to attend his sister’s wedding at all.

So far we know that James Randi knew that the man he was marketing as "Carlos" was traveling under the name of Jose Luis Alvarez on a fraudulent passport in 1987.  We also know that year before that he was traveling in the United States with the same man under his real name, David Pena.  It is a reasonable conclusion that since Pena was closely associated with Randi and an employee of his, that Randi knew the reason for the identity theft,  that Pena was in the United States illegally.  Steve Volk points out that some of the remarks Randi made about a man he was living with and traveling with, who he knew was using two different names and who he was presenting under a third, made some rather sly and deceptive comments about "Carlos" that were relevant to the real owner of the identity he was traveling under:

And intriguingly, the Sun Sentinel found, when Alvarez first performed as “Carlos” Randi billed him as 19 years old—the same age as the New York man whose identity was allegedly stolen by Randi’s partner. Further, in this video, recorded in 2009, Randi says, around the 2:40 second mark, that one worry they had before they put Pena/Alvarez on stage as “Carlos” is that his “Bronx” accent might creep through.

Randi was no novice when it comes to assuming identities and deceiving people.  There is every reason to believe Randi was an accomplice to the identity theft, which, in itself, is a serious crime that could carry a prison term.  Peter Franceschina's piece in the  October 18, 2012 Sun-Sentinel said:

Now, time may be running out for Alvarez to reveal his identity – prosecutors and Alvarez's attorney recently told a federal judge that he would plead guilty in the identity theft case. Alvarez is scheduled to have a bond hearing Friday, but two previous such hearings were postponed. His trial is scheduled for early November, and his attorneys, Ben Kuehne and Susan Dmitrovsky, declined to comment.

The lawyers have told Randi, 83, not to comment on the case. "I've been advised silence is the way to go," he said.

When asked about the Sun Sentinel's determination that Alvarez was previously , known as Pena, Randi would only say, "Well, if that's who you think he is."

Randi won a $272,000 MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant in 1986, and one of the first things he did with the money was hire an assistant – Pena.

In the end, Pena got off fairly easy.  He was sentenced by a magistrate to six months of house arrest, followed by three years of probation.   I don't have any problem with that, though,  as Greg Taylor pointed out, Randi's plea to the court was less than honest:

As per usual, I think Randi's being a bit loose with the truth here in saying "no one was hurt" - for instance, the victim of the identity theft reportedly missed his sister's wedding due to passport problems arising directly from Pena's actions. However, from all reports Pena is quite a lovely person, and two years in prison may have been a bit of a harsh punishment in my eyes.

I don't know what the real Jose Luis Alvarez has done or will do but if it were me, I'd sue for high damages going after his employer who was clearly in on the identity theft.  If he has or if he will, I hope he doesn't agree to sign a gag order as part of a settlement.  James Randi and the "Skepticism" industry would pay big money to keep this as quiet as possible.

As I noted yesterday, an even more interesting thing to see is the reaction of James Randi's fan base and his allies in "Skepticism"/atheism, people whose stock and trade is in loudly made claims of their rigorous honesty and above board integrity.   If any of them had information on a scientific researcher into parapsychology, that they had done any of the things Randi did in this caper, they would trumpet it as absolutely destroying, not only that researcher's credibility but the entire field of parapsychological research. They have used falsified, undocumented and clearly false accusations against people such as as Irving Langmuir's clearly false smears against J. B. Rhine to that end.  But when James Randi, the trademark of the "Skeptical" movement, has repeatedly, over a number of decades, proven to be a liar and fraud, they cover up and lie on his behalf.  They've even made a recent movie trumpeting his status as a serial liar as if it were some virtue when that is done in the name of "Skepticism".   It's been well past time, for decades, that someone says this emperor really doesn't have any clothes and that James Randi's courtiers deserve to be discredited for their part in maintaining his fraud on the world.

The Real Carlos Hoax   Part 2

To recap the first part of this story*:

-  As a young man of 22, David "Deyvi" Pena came to the United States from his native Venezuela on a student visa to study art.  He overstayed his student visa and continued living here illegally.  

-  In 1986 he is documented as traveling with James Randi, appearing in a story about Randi in the Toronto Star “A few feet behind him, David Pena, a young man of about 20, struggles with three large suitcases.”   1986 is also the year that James Randi was awarded a large amount of money through the MacArthur "genius prizes".  It has been reported one of the first things he did was hire the man known to him as David Pena.

-   In 1987, possibly using some of his "genius prize" money, James Randi mounted one of his PR campaigns calling it the "Carlos Hoax", in which David Pena impersonates a "channeling" medium, "Carlos" who is booked to appear on a number of Australian media and staged events.  While "Carlos" was supposedly giving messages from the his spirit contacts, Randi would be feeding him lines through a hidden radio receiver, as the phony faith healer, Peter Popoff's wife did in one of the few real and documented successes endlessly repeated in Randi's PR.  The stated intention of the "hoax" was to show how the media didn't treat claims of the paranormal skeptically and a large number of people were gulled into believing in a total and complete fraud.    

-  Traveling to Australia to play his part in Randi's PR stunt presented a huge problem for David Pena, who is believed to have been living with Randi at the time.  He would need a passport and, as he was in the United States illegally, he couldn't use his real identity.   As he pled guilty to have doing in 2012, David Pena stole the identity of Jose Luis Alvarez, a United States citizen who was living and working in The Bronx, in New York City.   He obtained a passport and was an employee of James Randi under the name of Jose Luis Alvarez, the name that Randi presented him under during his hoax and after that until Pena was arrested in the fall of 2011 for identity theft and, possibly, immigration violations.   The victim of the identity theft, the real Jose Luis Alvarez, had continuing problems with the IRS, his credit and banking and, ironically, with his genuine passport due to David Pena stealing and using his identity, with Randi's obvious knowledge and very possible involvement.  Remember, Randi wasn't only Pena's house companion and lover, he was also his employer who knew full well that he had used his real name before needing the passport.

-  Pena was sentenced after pleading guilty to a term of house arrest followed by three years of probation.   I'm not aware of how his immigration violations will be treated by authorities but that is certainly a crime which could get him deported.  Which would be too bad as he seems to have made a life for himself here but he did commit a crime which caused considerable harm to the victim of his identity theft. 

The "Carlos Hoax", though, has a life and legend of its own, apart from the crime of David Pena and the victimization of the real Jose Luis Alvarez by both Pena and those who participated in his identity theft.  Accounts of the "hoax" hardly ever mention that it was based in a crime and a fraud committed by James Randi and his lover. 

While Randi was deceiving the government and the media about the identity of "Carlos"-Alvarez**,  his account of the "Hoax" presents it as a triumph of Randian debunkery, a master stroke to show how gullible the media are when presented by claims of the supernatural.  That is how you'll see it written up in Wikipedia and in Robert Carroll's frequently cited (and often badly evidenced and researched) "Skeptics Dictionary".

José Alvarez had hoaxed an entire continent with his art. But he had created something that the media and his audiences would take from him and recreate to suit their own needs. One lesson here has to be the magician's refrain: deception requires cooperation. Another lesson might be that the need to believe in something like a "Carlos" is so great in some people that we must despair of them ever being liberated.

But, typical of the Randi Legend, as seen so often in American media and as touted by American "Skeptics" the real hoax is Randi's presentation of it as a triumph for him.  

Tim Mendham researched the "hoax" and wrote up his findings in an article for the Australian Skeptics Magazine, "The Skeptic" in 1988 (p. 26)

During February, Sydney was visited by a fraudulent channeler. But far from being like all the other fraudulent channelers who have visited Australia, this one was different - he was a fraudlent fraudulent channeler, an elaborate hoax organised by Richard Carleton of the Channel 9 60 Minutes program and US arch-skeptic James Randi

Preceded by a sophisticated promotional campaign including a press-kit with totally spurious newspaper clippings, reviews and tapes of radio interviews and theatre performances, and a stunningly inane little volume called The Thoughts of Carlos, 'channeler' Jose Alvarez was interviewed on three Sydney TV programs Terry Willesee Tonight (ch 7), the Today Show (ch 9) and A Current Affair (ch 9). There were also minor references to him on the John Tingle radio program (2GB) and the Stay in Touch column of the Sydney Morning Herald. The Today Show appearance achieved notoriety (and a front page storyin the afternoon Daily Mirror) because Alvarez'manager, upset at continued sceptical questioning by host George Negus, threw a glass of water at him before storming off the set with his charge in tow.

Already we have a problem with the story as told by Randi and his American fans, George Negus apparently didn't play his part by cooperatively being deceived.   I can only imagine the frustration of "Carlos'" "manager" when the person intended to be hoaxed, wouldn't be hoaxed during the broadcast.   And, over all of this, it was a media operation, the Australian version of 60 Minutes, which was in on the caper from the start. 

Mendham continues:

It should also be stated that to a certain extent the whole hoax backfired. As an exercise to prove that the local media were somewhat lax in doing research and effective checking of claims, proved its point, but on the other hand the media were extremely cynical (if not sceptical) of Alvarez' claims, and he received no sympathetic coverage at all. The Today program's hosts, Negus and Elizabeth Hayes, were particularly scathing. Terry Willesee, after screening Alvarez' first appearance on Sydney TV with a satellite interview, followed this up with an interview with Skeptics national committee member, Harry Edwards, who explained how Alvarez' number one trick, stopping his pulse while being 'possessed' was achieved. And the Current Affair program consisted of a confrontation between Alvarez and Negus, at which Negus said it was the first time that audience phone reaction had favoured him. John Tingle's radio coverage consisted solely of an interview with Skeptics president, Barry Williams - he even refused to say where Alvarez would be performing and the Daily Mirror story simply factually reported the waterthrowing incident. Still, the point remains that none of the programs checked out Alvarez' background, which would have proved conclusively that he was a fake. Ironically, the TWT program did check with one authority in the US for a view on the channeler - that authority was James Randi.

Read that last sentence again,  contrary to the story as told by James Randi, he had actually been contacted by the media AS AN EXPERT CONSULTANT IN HOW THE STUNT COULD HAVE BEEN FAKED!   AND IT WAS RANDI WHO LIED TO THE MEDIA TO KEEP UP HIS HOAX.  Which would, one would think, rather definitively show that the media are suckers, for James Randi and his self-constructed and peddled legend.   If you read the article you will find that virtually everything "Skeptical" sources online say about the "Carlos Hoax" is refuted by the facts.  

The rest of Mendham's account is revealing, including the fact that 60 Minutes falsified details in order to make their intended theme come off, the gullibility of their media competition and the public when it comes to claims of the paranormal. 

On the 60 Minutes program, it was claimed that Alvarez would not have had the audience he did at the Opera House (and the potential sales there from) had the media coverage been more aggressive (and factual). "The hall was packed" the program said, screening interviews with the credulous and deluded who had come because "they saw it on TV". Australian Skeptics came, as we had seen it on TV too. The hall was by no means full. Our estimate put the audience at about 250-300, as opposed to the 60 Minutes' 400-500; the Drama Theatre holds a maximum of 550. A large percentage of the audience were sceptical (if not Skeptical), with an even larger proportion thus unconvonvinced after the session was over. We subsequently learned of many who, having intended to attend, had been turned off by the poor performance Alvarez had given on TV

As a "Skeptic", himself, Mendham is to be commended for exposing more of the reality of Randi's failed hoax than American "Skeptics" have, though he obviously doesn't engage in what it really means and placing it in the context of Randi's long history of fraud and misrepresentation of his own record.  The media and the "Skeptics" fan base suck that up without any critical review at all.   The criticism, that the media frequently doesn't sufficiently research what they present is far more general they seldom do sufficient research to catch popular politicians when they lie and deceive, the administration of just about any corporate conservative proved that long before Randi was born.  The media and even large parts of the quasi-academic culture will ususally take the easy and safe route as opposed to the bravely rigorous.  No one needed organized "Skepticism" to tell us that.  Relevant to the theme of these posts, the media covers up and/or fails to discover the fact that "Skepticism" and James Randi are two of the greatest beneficiaries of their negligence to rigorously research the available evidence.  

Organized "Skepticism" has had more than three decades since sTARBABY was first exposed by Dennis Rawlins, it has not cleaned up its act, it is as bad and frequently worse today.   As Steve Volk and others who have gone over Randi's record have pointed out, the great "Skeptic" and his publicity machine are beneficiaries of the suspension of skepticism, able to cover up a long and documented history of lies and frauds.   In every case I'm aware of, when given the choice between the documented record and the easily accepted Randi myth, the media and the "Skeptics" go for the myth.  The near total fraud that the "Skepticism"/ atheism industry is couldn't be clearer than that record.  Which, as I pointed out before, is far easier to read and buy than it is to understand the published, peer-reviewed literature of parapsychological experiment.  I think the reason the media goes with the "Skeptics" PR operation begins in the same failure to do research that the real and larger lesson of the "Carlos Hoax".   There are no greater victims of fraud than the media and the fans who have made James Randi the legend he is today.

Post Script

As I noted at the beginning of this look into the "Skeptics",  Martin Gardner, James Randi, CSICOP, etc. it's hard to know where to begin in writing about their real history.  It's also hard to know when to stop.  The lies and deceptions of James Randi are far more extensive than those I noted, people have been researching and presenting the evidence of the real, as opposed to the public persona of James Randi for decades.  But his PR machine and the media it both dupes and intimidates goes on.

I'm sure this is a subject I will write more about in the future.  For now I will say that anyone who doesn't address the published research and experimental record into telepathy and other topics on the "Skeptics" index of forbidden topics, those who parrot the lines they get from Randi and other professional and amateur "Skeptics" haven't addressed the published, reviewed, scientific record.

Science can't be done through the PR practices of "Skepticism", there is not a single scientist in that ideological movement who would subject their science to those.  They will parrot the line Carl Sagan stole from Marcello Truzzi about extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence.  Well, leaving aside that standards of evidence that are deemed to be inadequate to confirm or falsify telepathy are just as inadequate to confirm any other aspect of any other science.  To use that line against "extraordinary" phenomena would logically impeach any orthodox science to exactly the same extent.  Not that the many psychologists, such as Ray Hyman would tolerate their use in their "science", which has an almost uniformly less rigorous record than scientific research into psychic phenomena.   The frequently extraordinary claims of physics, multi-universes, parallell universes, etc. couldn't withstand that standard even to the extent that the controlled research into psi has, over and over again.

"Skepticism" is a self-interested industry and an ideological movement, not a scientific one.  It is, in almost every case, an aspect of the ideological promotion of atheism and materialism.  I think it's more likely to be a symptom of an ideological dark age than some kind of neo-enlightenment. "Skepticisms" documented history proves it depends on deception and lies, incompetence and cover ups, the insertion of ideological orthodoxy into science.  And that introduction has been, for the most part, a success.

Scientists who have read the literature into psi are reported to often find it convincing, in some rare cases they have admitted that.  But, for the most part, they self-censor and cover up what they know because they can depend on a career damaging ideological campaign against them that rivals and, I'd say, surpasses that of the red-scare of the 1950s.  It's lasted far longer and it has been more effective.  Sometimes, when coming across those rare defections from the enforced common consensus, it feels like the early 1960s, as the red-scare was melting, far too slowly.   Maybe it is.  We will see.

*  Considering that Carl Sagan was there and an observer, as well as a participant in the CSICOP sTARBABY scandal, which James Randi was in the thick of, that he would take anything the old liar would say at face value exposes Sagans "skepticism" as an ideological scam, itself. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

We Need More Theology That Isn't an Expression of an Arid, Lifeless Devotionalism

I recently got hold of the one-volume republication of The Gospel in Solentiname published by Orbis.  I'd only ever had two of the 4 volume set of the original translation.  I am finding the theology as expressed spontaneously by Nicaraguan peasants in discussing the Gospel, peasants under attack from an oppressive dictatorship sponsored by the United States in occupation by proxy to be some of the most powerful I've read.  As Ernesto Cardenal pointed out, these were people living under similar conditions as those who first heard Jesus and for whom the Gospels were first written.  I think it would be an extremely useful and important thing if groups of the destitute, poor, marginalized and oppressed in other places and communities went through the same discussion of the Gospels, telling each other and the world about what those books look like through their experience.   The results may well have an authenticity that a lot of learned theology written by academics with an upper class background may, sometimes, lack.   I think that, in the United States, with the enormous population we have in prison that a lot could be learned from theology as generated from people in prisons. Anyone who read the Gospels with its mention of visiting prisoners as a moral responsibility could not but think that would be a good thing to know what they thought on that topic.

Here is a column by Richard McBrien that gave me something to think about in that regard this week.

David Tracy on God

David Gibson, author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperSanFrancisco, 2003), has written an excellent piece on the American Catholic theologian David Tracy in the January 29th issue of Commonweal. It is entitled “God Obsessed: David Tracy’s Theological Quest.”

Although I have not seen him in several years, I have always regarded David Tracy as a friend, having first met him many years ago when I was doing doctoral studies in Rome during the Second Vatican Council and he was a seminarian (for the diocese of Bridgeport, Connecti-cut) at the North American College.

Given its subject, Gibson’s Commonweal article is remarkably clear and can serve as a useful introduction to David Tracy for those who are understandably uncertain or even unaware of who he is. I say “understandably” because Tracy hasn’t published a major book in some twenty years, and his theological work has, for the most part, not found its way onto the Vatican’s radar screen. 

Why not? Because as one adviser to the U.S. Catholic bishops put it back in the 1980s, like many others the Vatican cannot fathom what Tracy is saying. His writings have never touched upon such toxic subjects as church authority or sexual morality, and so have not been regarded as controversial or dangerous to the faith.

At the time, the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine was investigating another U.S. Catholic theologian, who was warned by at least a couple of bishop-members of the committee that his problem was that, unlike Tracy, he wrote too clearly. People could actually understand what he was driving at.

According to David Gibson’s article, this frequently mentioned observation about Tracy’s dense writing style elicits a “wounded” reaction from him. “I don’t think I’m that obscure,” he insists.

But the main point of the Commonweal article is to focus on the central issue not only for Tracy’s theology but for all of theology, namely, the problem of God and of the possibility of belief in God.

Although now retired from his long-time teaching position at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago, Tracy is working on his so-called “Big Book,” a projected multi-volume treatise on God, which Gibson refers to as “the most celebrated case of delayed publication in theology today.”

Tracy has consistently followed a “method of critical correlation.” It is a slight modification of the great Protestant theologian Paul Tillich’s (d. 1965) “method of correlation.” Tracy wishes to maintain a dialectical balance between the demands of the Christian tradition and the questions posed by what he calls the postmodern world. 

Some of Tracy’s critics have erroneously charged that he yields ground on the demands of the Christian tradition in favor of the concerns expressed by the world of science. 

But Tracy insists that his yet-unpublished book about the problem of God “has taken him more deeply into the Christian tradition and more extensively into other religious traditions.” 

For him, the “overwhelming issue” facing us today is “massive global suffering.” Consequently, he has come to focus less on the “analogical imagination” (the title of his 1981 book) than on the inaccessibility of God.

David Gibson describes Tracy as “riveted by the silence of God.” The problem his fellow theologians have created, Tracy believes, is that too many of them have “an obsession with content,” with the result that the content “has drowned out the silence.” Making doctrine central to theology has been “disastrous,” he declares.

He is convinced that “theologians must reestablish the connection between spirituality and theology that was severed by medieval Scholasticism.”

Before Vatican II, Tracy points out, “Spirituality became something you do after you do your theology.” I can testify from personal experience that this was, in fact, the operative assumption of much pre-conciliar seminary theology. 

Theology, he continues, “is not about supplying answers that cannot be questioned,” but rather is judged by “the questions it asks.” In the final analysis, theology is a work of mysticism rather than of logic.

What, then, is the “take-away” from David Gibson’s article?

That Catholic theology must always pay adequate attention to both the Christian tradition and the questions posed by the so-called postmodern world.

That Catholic theology must be attentive to massive global suffering, even though it will only deepen our sense of the inaccessibility of God.

That Catholic theology, as Tracy himself insists, must be “riveted” by the silence of God, and not speak, write, or act as if we have a direct, static-free pipeline to God and to the divine will.

And that Catholic theology must always ground itself in an authentic spirituality, not its many counterfeits, which are simply expressions of an arid, lifeless devotionalism.

3 / 1 / 2010

Note:  I hadn't known until reading Ernesto Cardenal's introduction in the Orbis edition that the translation used in the Sonentiname communities' discussions was the "Protestant translation" Dios llega al hombre, a Latin American older cousin to the Good News Bible. Cardenal, one of the foremost poets in the Spanish language, today, said the anonymous translator must have been a poet, he found the simple, common language of it so eloquent as well as faithful to the original.   I can always use some Spanish practice so I'm going to go through it this fall.

With the "Skeptics" Irony Is Never More Than A Sentence Away

For anyone who doubts what the phony "Randi Challenge" means to the "skepticism" industry, here is a piece that was part of that series.

Here is a segment of  the podcast of  The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe. On Jan. 19 

Steven Novella: So Evan, more people are attacking our beloved Million Dollar James Randi paranormal challenge.

Evan Bernstein: Yeah, the latest is by a fella named Steve Volk. Anyone ever heard of Steve Volk?

Novella: No.

Rebecca Watson: Nope.

Bernstein: No. Of course you haven’t. Because he writes about the paranormal.

Who, outside of his patients and colleagues would have ever heard of Dr. Steven Novella if he hadn't written about the paranormal and other items on the CSI(COP) Index of Prohibited Ideas?   Who would have heard of Rebecca Watson or Evan Bernstein if they hadn't joined up with the "Skepticism" industry to do the same?  Not to mention the rest of the The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe crew, Jay Novella and Robert Novella?   None of them according to their site bios, save Dr. Novella  pere would have seem to have done anything else but live off of attacks against the "paranormal".

This is a good example of one of the "Skeptics" bags of tricks, try to avoid dealing with what someone says by ridiculing and diminishing them by asserting they're nobodies.  I've read pseudo-skeptics doing that this since before Gardner in the 1950s.  While I don't know the guy and am not that familiar with him, unlike Watson,  Bernstein and the young Novellas, Steve Volk has a job as a real newspaper reporter on the city beat covering real news.  As compared to the frat style snark of Novella, Watson and Bernstein, his answer is a model of journalistic ethics.

UPDATE:  I just realized that I neglected to include that Steve Novella has a (financial?) interest in Randi's "Educational" Foundation, being one of its "Research Fellows".    Anything he says about Randi and his "Educational" Foundation must be considered in that light.

NOTE:  Rebecca Watson may be better known as "Skepchick" and almost certainly best known for the attack Richard Dawkins and others in the "Skepticism"/atheism industry made on her when she addressed an industry meeting in Dublin, informing them that it's a really bad idea for a man to get into an elevator at four in the morning to make a pass at a woman who doesn't know him.    Apparently among the "rational" "Brights" it's a novel idea that a man doing that might be less than welcome.  On that occasion I agreed with her.  Here's what I said at Shakesville:

I hadn't read the transcript before now,  THAT is what upset the boys?  Geesh, to have it pointed out that a stranger making a proposition alone in an elevator at 4 AM is intimidating?   I'd be intimidated if a man I didn't know made a pass at me, alone, in an elevator at 4 AM.    From what the boys on the blogs are saying I'd figured it had to be some half hour public flaming or something.   Imagine if she'd gone into details of why it's a bad idea for some socially inept boy to do something that could make a reasonable person suspect he might be about to attack you.  

I was going to make a different comment about [ignorant] boys getting mixed messages from the "chick" designation and why women in the late 60s and early 70s tried so hard to dump those kinds of objectifying words.   But any boy who got upset with what Watson said is far, far too stupid for it have just been a matter of mixed messages.   Next time let them really have it,  they're too stupid to get anything else.

And in a second comment:

Perhaps asking the straight boys how they'd like to be propositioned in an elevator at 4 AM, by a bigger man would leave an impression.  Though I doubt it. 

That said, "skepticism" has been a frat house since it organized, which accounts for its tone and tactics.  I seem to recall reading articles by "skeptics" talking about that.   Anyone who has followed its history shouldn't be surprised by this.  

Having read a bit of the real history of the "Skepticism" industry I was aware of it having a long history as a being a boys club in which frat boy rules and behavior were the norm.  She could have profitably read what George Hansen wrote about that in his fair detailed and well documented study of CSICOP .

Such perceptions are not limited to outsiders. This has been an issue within CSICOP as well. In the March 1985 newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics, Mary Coulman (1985) wrote a piece titled “Where Are the Women?” She reported that sometimes she was the only woman who attended meetings of the Bay Area Skeptics and that often there were only 2 or 3 women present with 60 to 70 men. Coulman wrote another column in the June issue asking the same question, noting that no women had yet replied. Finally, months later, Elissa Pratt-Lowe (1985) responded:

I think another aspect of organized skepticism that may deter women is the aggressive, “macho” attitudes held by some of the (male) participants. It seems to me that some “skeptics” are more interested in ridicule than in exploring and challenging pseudoscientific beliefs. [This was followed by “Very true, I think-MC”]. (p. 7)

Pseudo-skepticism is still largely a boys club, apparently, as Watson is still getting flack from her fellow "Skeptics" over her offense of telling the boys that she wasn't there for their use and amusement.  It would seem not much has changed in the past few decades, "Skeptics"-"wise".   I, though, avoid getting into that continuing mess of an ongoing flame war among "Skeptics" that surrounds Watson and her "Skepchick" empire.

I will say, reading some more of her material, she was right about the creep in the elevator and the men and women of "Skepticism" who attacked her over a rather moderate protest, but she's just another cookie-cutter "Skeptic" on the make, not caring about misrepresenting other people and their work.
Update August 14. 2015/   Irony, not to mention arrogance, among the "skeptics" is, indeed, never more than a sentence away, Richard Dawkins, from his role in "elevator gate" complete with his "Muslima" statement is now advising Muslim women on feminism.  If there is one thing that feminists in Muslim majority countries,in Muslim societies and feminists, in general, don't need, it's an association with Richard Dawkins.  Of course, he like most of us were educated in complete ignorance of the histories and cultures and societies in the Islamic population, where feminism has a history going back more than a century in the struggle of women such as Huda Sha'arawi, and including groups such as the Egyptian Feminist Union.   Whatever conditions that women find and need to change is best known by them, living in the societies that will have to change, not old white, atheist men from Britain and North America.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Hate Mail - Simple Thinking Simply Misses the Point

Psychic abilities? How do those people do in the stock market, Sparky? :-)   Steve Simels

Probably at least as well as people using their intellectual abilities do, if not somewhat better.  Only intellectual abilities must seem like a delusion to you, as well, Simpy.

You really don't understand anything about statistics, do you.  You and about 99% of the other pop-atheists who gas on as if they knew what they were talking about on this issue.   The scientific demonstration of these phenomena rests on experiments demonstrating a higher than chance occurrence of them, which isn't uncommon with the science of small effects.* As Jessica Utts pointed out in her analysis which you've neither read nor understood, that has been demonstrated to a very, very high degree of statistical probability.  Or what don't you understand about 10-20  except what it means?  Ask the Eschatots who actually know something about science and mathematics to explain that number in terms of probability, though I doubt any of them will admit to its significance of that number in this area, they'd be too chicken to say that.   I'm not.

It's too much to hope for that you'll read, never mind understand the thing sufficiently for it to annoy you, but Dean Radin and a colleague did an analysis of these issues in terms of casino gambling.  One thing is certain, it would not be in someones' interest to make their ability to win money from casinos using psychic abilities widely known.  As a movie gangster might put it, it might not be good for their health.

*  As Radin also pointed out:

The combined 4.9 sigma result reported for the Higgs boson is hailed as a stunning achievement that took trillions of recorded events, billions of dollars, and thousands of scientists.

By contrast, several classes of combined psi effects already provide empirical results that are much, much greater than 5 sigma, with hardly any funding and a few handfuls of scientists working the problem.

Franklin Graham Being An Ass

Franklin Graham is a good example of clergy who work overtime to give Christianity a bad name.   He regularly gets on TV or radio and says stupid stuff to try to generate buzz for his brand among his target audience but which gets the God-haters even more buzz.   He's been on FOX to promote a guaranteed-to-be-ignored boycott of Target for removing gender labels from children's products.  Apparently he thinks peoples' gender identities are so fragile that they need the store to tell them which things are for boys and which are for girls.   Of course his implication is that without that they'll all go LGBT, or, more to the point, the boys will all go gay. That's what they're really concerned with.   But why restrict the gender assignment to the relatively few areas in which those are given?   Why not make it a requirement to avoid boycott by the followers of the Graham dynasty of clerics that all things sold be assigned gender labels for all ages?   Hers and his office equipment, balls of string, everything would turn into an opportunity to reinforce gender roles?

And, while we're at it, he could insist that they paint over all of those pictures of God the Father that such folk as Michelangelo painted  where he's wearing pink.

And that Mary be given the Straight Eye make over, as she's so often shown wearing the boy's color.

Or, maybe, just maybe, someone could point out that Franklin Graham is violating the rules of his profession that Jesus set [Luke 9:3] every time he puts on his custom made suit and expensive shoes to preach such nonsense at the world?   Franklin Graham is a living example just the kind of phony preacher that was warned about in the Gospels, leading people astray into a life time of bigotry, hatred, resentment and violence.

Hate Mail - According to Materialists The Valid Response To Published Science Is

citing a line from a 1951, Z grade sci-fi flick.  

And that's really about all there is to "skepticism" as popularly understood and promoted by the sciency side of things.  I expect to be sent the link to where the Eschatots take up that line of erudition.  

Now, Sims, tell me where Jessica Utts went wrong in her paper analyzing the methodology and statistical analyses of the peer-reviewed, published research.*  

Update:  Now he's refuting published science by quoting Kristie Alley in Star Dreck II.   

I really should think about posting the comments, they confirm what I said about the Randi fan base being scientific illiterates and idiots.   Yet they're the ones who are supposedly the "brain trust" of contemporary enlightenment. 

*  How about you refute the observations made by Utts in this section of her paper:

3.3 An Overall Analysis of the SRI Experiments: 1973-1988

In 1988 an analysis was made of all of the experiments conducted at SRI from 1973 until that
time (May et al, 1988). The analysis was based on all 154 experiments conducted during that
era, consisting of over 26,000 individual trials. Of those, almost 20,000 were of the forced
choice type and just over a thousand were laboratory remote viewings. There were a total of
227 subjects in all experiments.

The statistical results were so overwhelming that results that extreme or more so would occur
only about once in every 1020 (i.e., the p- value was less than 10-20)). Obviously some explanation other than chance must be found.  Psychic functioning may not be the only possibility, especially since some of the earlier work contained methodological problems. However, the fact that the same level of functioning continued to hold in the later experiments, which did not contain those flaws, lends support to the idea that the methodological problems cannot account for the results. In fact, there was a talented group of subjects (labeled G1 in that report) for whom the effects were stronger than for the group at large. According to Dr. May, the majority of experiments with that group were conducted later in the program, when the methodology had been substantially improved.

Show your work, not ignoring the statement that the same level of functioning continued when the methodological objections were eliminated in subsequent experiments.   If those methodological flaws had been relevant to the results they should have disappeared when those were eliminated.

Update 2 : I hate having to paste stuff from pdf files.  Sorry for the breaks, I'll refer you to the original at the link in my previous post.

Hate Mail - "there's no evidence..."

The biggest lie of the James Randi cult is that there is no evidence that parapsychological phenomena are real.  Considering the relatively few scientific researchers in that area, the massive opposition to conducting research in that area and the unavailability of funds as compared to other areas of science dealing with minds, the evidence in published science is massive.   Dr. Dean Radin has an online database of published research in this area and other material, most of which which meets the requirement of being scientific evidence in any other field.  You can, of course, just ignore that or to do what the pseudo-skeptics always do,  move the goal posts for anything you don't like,  which is what materialists are forced to do whenever they don't like the results of experiments, entire careers in pseudo-skepticism are made that way, even academic careers, it would seem.   And the "skeptic" can always gull the media into promoting their side of things by implying the reporter or scribbler would reveal themselves as a fool and a superstitious idiot if they even look at the evidence.  The slogan that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" is, of course, nothing like an objective standard, anyone can claim anything is too "extraordinary a claim" when they don't like it, look at the corporate promoted refusal to take both climate change science and the evidence of changing climates in that regard.  It is, of course, a violation of scientific reasoning to require different standards of evidence in different areas of research.  If standards regarding remote cognition are declared insufficient to demonstrate its presence by fiat, those standards can't, then, be held as valid in demonstrating any other phenomenon.  As I mention, below, applying the standards of the "skeptics" to another field would almost certainly obliterate its database.

My first serious regard of it began about twelve years ago by reading a paper published by Jessica Utts now of the University of California at Irvine, one of the world's most respected statisticians and experts in experimental design,   An Assessment of the Evidence of Psychic Functioning.  Her conclusion, after an extremely strong case is presented in the body of the paper states:

It is clear to this author that anomalous cognition is possible and has been demonstrated.   This conclusion is not based on belief, but rather on commonly accepted scientific criteria.   The phenomenon has been replicated in a number of forms across laboratories and cultures.  The various experiments in which it has been observed have been different enough that if some subtle methodological problems can explain the results, then there would have to be a different explanation for each type of experiment, yet the impact would have to be similar across experiments and laboratories.  If fraud were responsible, similarly, it would require an equivalent amount of fraud on the part of a large number of experimenters or an even larger number of test subjects.  

What is not so clear is that we have progressed very far in understanding the mechanism for anomalous cognition.  Senders do not appear to be necessary at all;  feedback of the correct answer may or may not be necessary.  Distance in time and space do not seem to be an impediment.  Beyond those conclusions, we know very little. 

I believe that it would be wasteful of valuable resources to continue to look for proof.   No one who has examined all of the data across laboratories, taken as a collective whole, has been able to suggest methodological or statistical problems to explain the ever-increasing and consistent results to date.  Resources should be directed to the pertinent questions about how this ability works.   I am confident that the questions are no more elusive than any other questions in science dealing with small to medium sized effects, and that if appropriate resources are targeted to appropriate questions, we can have answers within the next decade.

The pseudo-skeptic would now attack Utts' credibility, though her professional competence is certainly real.  You can compare it with that of James Randi, Paul Kurtz, most of the big name and little names of the "skepticism" industry.   They would also try to discredit what she says because she believes that these phenomena have been demonstrated, experimentally, to be real.  Of course they won't apply that standard for discrediting someone to their own side, all of who have an even stronger bias against even looking at evidence which is produced within the standards of science, never mind in trying to suppress even the attempt to find out if there is anything there.   The "skeptics" want there to be no serious, scientific look at these things, which leads me to think they're most afraid of them being real and demonstrable.   Even their most nearly scientific figures have tried to suppress evidence that was produced.

And, when you look at the research, when you read the critiques by the "skeptics" of those and the internal criticism of people within the field, her conclusions are quite reasonable and moderate.  You can compare her claims which are entirely within bounds of science with those of the scientific frauds like James Randi and Michael Shermer.   But the legitimately scientific way to do that would be to look at the most scientifically sophisticated critics have come up with by way of response to her.

That would be, primarily, what Ray Hyman, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Oregon said and, more revealingly did.   You can get a taste for that in reading his response to Utts' paper,  Evaluation of Program on Anomalous Mental Phenomena.   But you should also read Utts' response to Hyman, pointing out false and misleading claims made by Hyman as well as the response of Edwin C. May the lead investigator for the government-sponsored work and Director of the Cognitive Sciences Laboratory.  Note, especially, what his report says about the conduct of Ray Hyman when he was put in charge of an investigation into such research, especially his suppression of the report his committee had asked Robert Rosenthal to do because it supported the validity of some of the most highly controlled of the research.

He has, for more than half a century, come up with every single thing he could to keep people from taking this research seriously, everything from insisting that even the most rigorously controlled experiments, excluding chances for the remotest possibility of fraud were, none the less, open to fraud, to absurdly tenuous arguments of statistical error in analyzing the results.   When his objections have been reviewed, they have, one after another been answered in further refinements of experimental design and procedures to the most incredibly refined fact checking of the mathematics and all of his objections still result in a massively significant statistical demonstration that these phenomena are there.

Yet, as a person whose fund of fame and fortune and continuing career depends on his role as a "skeptic" Hyman has persisted in refusing to apply the normal rules of science to these areas of research, rules which, if they were applied to his field, psychology, would leave it with almost no body of supposed knowledge.   Almost no psychological research that is published in its journals and taught at universities by professors like Hyman is conducted with the rigor in experimental design and analysis that the experiments he rejects have been. Almost no psychological research has been subjected to a fraction of the exacting criticism which parapychological research has been the focus of and little of it, if so analyzed, would stand.   Yet even the most outlandishly unsupported of claims made by psychologists on the basis of their experiments, many of which don't even attain the bottom rung of what is needed to do valid research, are taught as being generally or even universally characteristic of the human population and are widely accepted by the credulous media and public on the basis of the presumed scientific authority and identity of the psychologists who did, published and teach the results.

If Hyman and the other psychologists in the pseudo-skeptical industry applied their own standards for what constitutes valid methodology to their own field, they wouldn't have any field left to stand in.   And it is remarkable how many of the big names in pseudo-skepticism either are psychologists or are in related professions, such as evolutionary psychology, which is even less wedded to rigorous scientific practice, making claims on the basis of no relevant evidence, whatsoever.

The role that financial interest, interest in becoming famous and well known and influential plays in the "Skepticism" industry should be looked at because I can't think of anything else that could account for the behavior and claims of someone like Ray Hyman.   He will never admit that the scientific research in this area has more than met the normal and even extraordinary requirements of science at its most minutely controlled, analyzed, and corrected to meet objections, both reasonable and, in many cases, quite unreasonable.    His entire public career would have shown him to be like those late medieval Ptolemaic professors of astronomy who refused to look at the evidence Galileo produced instead of a figure of objective, disinterested scientific inquiry.  Like those 17th century professors, to have looked at the evidence would mean their entire career was misguided, they would need to scrap all of it.   As Dean Radin pointed out, he'll never admit it.   I think a more fundamental reason that he and others reject the science done in this area is that they fear that their materialist-fundamentalist, atheistic concept of reality couldn't stand there being even one of these psychic phenomena being demonstrated to be real.   And, as I've said, their materialism, being an absolutely monistic system, it couldn't.  One demonstrated exception to their world view destroys the entire thing.

At the bottom, they are exactly like the most extreme of Biblical fundamentalists whose faith is so tied to the King James translation of the Bible that their entire world would be shattered by admitting the reality of evolution.   They are two sides of the same coin, variations on the same kind of rigid, fundamentalist personality.  Which probably accounts for why they can't see those who disagree with them as anything but a covert member of the enemy camp.   Their fundamentalist mentality is so rigid that they can't even imagine people who aren't trapped in it, normal people, who are quite able to accept reality, even reality as demonstrated by statistical trends that seem to contradict what they take as everyday reality.  Even reality which sometimes is entirely unexpected and unexplained.  Which, in most of our lives, is what we live with every day.   What fundamentalists don't want, above all, is evidence that challenges their pre-existing biases, they will reject that at all cost.   What fundamentalists want is anything, no matter how shoddy and dishonest, that confirms them in their beliefs.   There are no worse examples of that, none whose influence is more destructive than the "skeptics" who can pretend that they are not doing what they are doing because, you see, they're the "skeptics".

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

In Which I Praise A Professor at West Point For Telling The Truth

One of the most damaging things that the current cult of scientism and the hegemony that the "STEM" topics hold over the education system is the rise in historical superstition.  As we went through when the "Cosmos" remake lied about history and historical people, we were told that it didn't matter because that was "just history".  And so it is a widening superstition that lying about the past is OK because, you know, it's not science.   Which is an important problem because Faulkner was right, the past isn't isn't dead and it isn't even past.  The current events around the gun lynchings, by police and by civilians of black people is only lynching by other weapons.

And that brings up the fact that the concerted effort by the entertainment and other media in the past forty or so years to falsify history is, actually, a more powerful force in spreading lies as history and fact.  Most of the lies people learn as the truth don't come from schools and textbooks, they come from what they fill their hours and minds with, entertainment and infotainment.  "Birth of a Nation" and "Gone With The Wind",  "Inherit the Wind", myriads of TV mini-dramas and movies are probably the greatest force for the falsification of history for all time.  And it has real consequences, a good part of the resurgent racism we have today is brought to us by the media, TV, the movies, radio and, to an extent, the internet.   Hate talk radio and cabloid TV are especially potent spreaders of hate and fear and paranoia.  And it's not all FOX and the Murdoch empire of right wing lies and the heroizing of torturers and racists, CNN, presenting such people as Lou Dobbs, spouted anti-Latino propaganda most nights for years.

This video by Colonel Ty Seidule, Professor of History at the United States Military Academy at West Point, is the best and simplest refutation of the often repeated lie that the reason the Confederate States tried to leave the United States and the reason they fought a civil war against the United States was not to maintain slavery.    I thank him for making the video, it's a cup of pure water as compared to the ocean of sewage the media puts out.  That it would take a professor of history at West Point to tell a truth that tens of thousands of other professors and teachers and scholars could tell but would either be entirely ignored or who would be harassed for saying it as strongly and as publicly shows something more about the consequences of having a media freed to lie since the 1960s.

That's only gotten worse with the rise of the cabloids and the 24/7/365 diet of  alleged news pioneered by Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch.   I recall Turner was thickly involved with producing a massively expensive piece of romantic crap about the Civil War that was criticized as neo-Confederate propaganda and massively false.   I also remember reading he was nuts about the racist piece of crap, Gone With The Wind, its myth and everything involved with it.  And there are those who think CNN went downhill when he left it.

History as we are living it is giving us the lesson that the Gospels were right,  though they should have put it as a conditional statement,  IF YOU KNOW THE TRUTH THE TRUTH WILL MAKE YOU FREE, IF YOU BUY THE LIE THE LIE WILL ENSLAVE YOU.   And there has been no means of selling lies as efficacious as electronic media, I won't hesitate to say that it would not be unreasonable to view that role of  the American media as satanic as was slavery.  Political and social freedom will, contrary to 18th century faith, depend on abolishing the lies sold to people through the press, but more so through the camera lens, the microphone and high speed cables.

On Randi's Totally Phony Completely Bogus "Million Dollar Challenge" 1.0

See Updates Belo
James "The Amazing"  Randi's original claim to fame was that he was a magician and an escape artist.  His entire professional competence is in deceiving people into thinking they know what is happening while he is doing something else.  His history has shown that his habits of deception aren't limited to his stage tricks and escape events.  He also has a long and documented history of lying.  His fans, allies and associates have a long and documented history of their own, they  habitually overlook, excuse and even cover up his lying on behalf of their shared ideological campaign.

As pointed out yesterday, even one of his allies in "Skepticism"/atheism,  Dennis Rawlins, has quoted him as bragging that his famous "Challenge" is rigged to always allow him an out.  Rawlins is one of the rarest of "Skeptics", one who has told the truth about some of "Skepticism".  I will state at the start that Randi's "Application" form is full of such outs.   At each and every stage James Randi and his "Educational" Foundation are in full control of every phase of the "Test" and they can end it at any time from refusing to consider an application right up to the danger of having to finally prove they've got the money.  Anyone who looks at it is completely justified in suspecting deception and should be on the lookout for avenues of escape for "The Amazing" one.

Any honest analysis of James Randi's "Million Dollar" Challenge has to begin with considering its value to James Randi and the present use of the "Challenge"  by the "Skepticism" industry.   The entire value of  the famous "Randi Million Dollar Challenge", for them, is in being able to claim that no one has succeeded in winning it.  Which is how it is used by Randi and his ideological allies.   Just being able to say no one has won the money is the entire point of the thing for "Skepticism".  Despite that obvious fact, the application claims otherwise.  "The goal of this Challenge is a successful demonstration according to the agreed protocol."  And if you believe that I've got a bridge I can make disappear or, failing that, to sell you.   There is no honest possibility of anyone doubting a "successful demonstration" would obliterate two of the "Skepticism" industries' most valued assets, Randi's constructed persona and his phony challenge.   A successful "Challenge" and a requirement to pay out would, in fact destroy the popular credibility of  organized "Skepticism".  A win would be a far bigger disaster for "Skepticism" than the sTARBABY scandal.  That is a fact Randi's application form would seem to anticipate if through some catastrophe that someone won, Randi's got it covered,  "If the Prize is awarded, this would not mean that the JREF acknowledges the existence of the supernatural."

The unstated implication of that statement that "nobody has won Randi's million dollar Challenge" , is that people tried to win and failed, but that is far from clear.   Keep in mind that the "Skeptical" goal doesn't require an attempt, it can be fulfilled by keeping people from being given a real "test".   In fact the "APPLICATION FOR STATUS OF CLAIMANT**" from the James Randi "Educational" Foundation states that no one has made it past the "Preliminary Test" stage and so no actual "Formal Test" has been begun.

4. In all cases, the Applicant will be required to perform a Preliminary Test in a location where a properly authorized representative of the JREF can attend. This Preliminary Test is intended to determine if the Applicant is likely to perform as promised during the Formal Test, using the agreed-upon protocol. To date, no applicant has passed the Preliminary Test, and therefore no Formal Test has yet been conducted. At any time prior to the Formal Test, the JREF reserves the right to re-negotiate the protocol if issues are discovered that would prevent a fair and unbiased test. After an agreement is reached on the protocol, no part of the testing procedure may be changed in any way without an amended agreement, signed by all parties concerned

Any challenge that might risk being demonstrable can be kept out of consideration by having the application rejected.   That, as all aspects of the "Challenge" rest firmly in the entirely interested hands of James Randi and his "Educational" Foundation.

Another definitive "out" of the kind Randi boasted of having is the possibility that Randi's people can re-negotiate the agreed to protocol "At any time prior to the Formal Test"  That would effectively prevent any claims that put Randi in danger from being "Formally" tested.  Any "Preliminary Test" that looked like it could destroy Randi's brand could be short-circuited by these kinds of outs.

In order for Randi's and "Skeptics" claims of the Challenge to be honest a comprehensive list of people who have made it to the "Preliminary Test" stage would have to be issued and Randi and his "Educational" Foundation must allow anyone involved to be able to give a full and free account of what happened in both the "Test" and in the negotiations over them.  The rules under #8 would also need to be changed for the "Challenge" to be honest and transparent.

8. By accepting this Challenge, the Applicant waives any and all claims against James Randi, the JREF, the JREF’s employees, officers, directors, and any other person. This waiver includes, but is not limited to,injury, accident, and damage of any kind, including damage and/or loss of a physical, emotional,financial, and/or professional nature.
Notwithstanding anything else in this paragraph, should the Claimant pass the Formal Test, the Claimant does not waive any claims against the JREF that might be necessary to enforce payment of the prize.

There is absolutely nothing transparent about Randi's requirements, they are designed to prevent people from seeing an honest, transparent test of claims. Rule 8 gives Randi and his "Educational" Foundation the right to lie, misrepresent, distort and slander while without risking being sued, apparently, any challenger or even an impartial observer is not exempted from legal action. The only right they don't surrender is one that will never happen, Randi having to pay up when they've won.   I can't imagine any reasonably intelligent person, never mind a serious scientist, agreeing to that.  It is a complete violation of ethics to allow someone that contractual right.  It entirely destroys any claims to credibility that Randi's Challenge has claimed for it.

For a challenge that is parroted by "Skeptics" and sold as the gold standard of reliable assessment  the requirements of the participation of impartial observers and judges seems to be strangely missing.  At each and every phase all of that is done by Randi's people, none of whom can possibly be considered as impartial, all of whom have an interest in maintaining the real value of Randi's "Challenge" for his brand name and the "Skepticism" industry.

In these post I'm not interested in anything except the effect of Randi's PR campaign on rigorously conducted, controlled and analyzed science, which has quite different goals, methods and requirements than his publicity stunt.  The rules are written to violate the requirements of science in many ways and to prevent real, serious experiments that have produced positive results from being considered.

The real science that the peer-reviewed literature dealing with parapsychology has produced would seem to be as excluded from  entering into Randi's "Challenge" as the publicity stunt cannot be rationally considered to be scientific.  This makes the use of Randi's phony challenge to debunk peer-reviewed science entirely dishonest. 

Any skeptical review of Randi's "Challenge" would have to conclude that it is set up to prevent anyone being "tested" or any serious evidence entering into consideration.  The Challenge, as presented by Randi is a fraud.  As I said before, it was a challenge which was never intended to be met because any successful demonstration requiring Randi to pay up would destroy his reputation and the reputation of the "Skepticism" industry that has attached itself to his PR operation.  The "Challenge" itself is a distraction from any serious, scientific research into parapsychological phenomena.   It depends on people looking at Randi's gawdy geek show, which, to say the most, is easy to watch.  You can't say the same thing about reading a scientific paper, dealing with the methodological and mathematical substance of it.  That's hard, far too hard for the rank and file, the "Skeptics",  Randi's fan base.  I may deal with some of the scientists who are in on the Randi con later.  The reason that their ideology requires lying is obvious to anyone who has looked at the actual science.   As soon as someone honestly looks at the real, published science done demonstrating telepathy or other taboo phenomena, as soon as you understand the data,  ideological "Skepticism" falls apart.

UPDATE:  Just about every time I look at Randi's "APPLICATION FOR STATUS OF CLAIMANT" new outs and avenues of deception become obvious.  There is this:

The JREF may consult with experts, including statisticians, magicians,and others with specialized knowledge relevant to the claim. James Randi may or may not be present at these tests, but he will not interact with the materials used nor interfere with the protocol once a test is underway.

Notice that it is only Randi who "will not interact with the materials used nor interfere with the protocol once a test is underway".  Since some of Randi's most infamous scams and deceptions relied on hired fronts to act for him, some of whom were also professional magicians, anyone who knew about that should consider this a contract to get scammed by them.   Professional magicians with a financial or other interest are no more reliably honest than anyone else.  I've always been puzzled as to why a magician with a known bias would be considered reliable when they're known to have the skills to sabotage experiments.  Considering how even test subjects with no known skills of that kind are routinely accused of that style of deception, it's ridiculous to not suspect professional magicians with a known bias of doing what they have made a profession of doing.

The "Application" is a contract so full of avenues for cheating by Randi and his "Educational" Foundation that I can't imagine anyone familiar with him would even apply.

UPDATE 2.0  An e-mail (why don't you people ever use my comment system?) informs me that there is what is supposed to be a previous version of the "Application for Status of Claimant"  archived on Wayback.  It begins " This became effective on Sunday, April 1st, 2007, replacing the previous version of the Application; the nature of the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge in regard to those to who may now apply, has now changed substantially."  Which would indicate that the numbering of the current challenge is suspicious as noted in the first footnote below. I don't see any version number on this "Application" but it's clearly not the first one.  This is important because previous critics of the phony "challenge" would have been addressing previous requirements either on the "Application" or insisted on by Randi and his company.   In a quick read of it the 2007 rules are, indeed, deceptive and open to some of the same avenues of fraudulence I noted, possibly others I haven't noticed yet.   I would say that, if anything, the "Application" up at the JR"E"F this week looks less transparent and above board than this previous version.  This is funny because of the damage control campaign launched by D.J. Grothe, Randi's heir apparent at the JR"E"F claiming that they wanted to make the "Million Dollar Challenge" more transparent.

Related to that is the database of "applicants" up at the JR"E"F.   As I noted above,  the value of the "Challenge" to Randi, his employees, acolytes and "Skepticism" in general is to be able to claim that no one has won the challenge and that purpose is served by preventing any "Formal Test" from happening.  That purpose is served by 1. preventing serious scientists from subjecting their research to an unscientific "test", 2. rejecting applications that could seriously challenge the value of the "Challenge" for all of the above, 3. scotching the agreed to procedures during the "Preliminary Test" phase by insisting on "re-negotiation" as in the "Application" rule #4 above ..... It is necessary for the JR"E"F to list those who have made it to the "Preliminary Test" phase and to allow a full and open account of all of those on both sides.

Grothe doesn't seem to be  interested in a transparent test any more than the old fraud he works for does.   The "Challenge" is a fraud and a con set up to never really produce a test.  Its habitual use by the "Skeptics" against scientific research is one of the more serious instances of common intellectual dishonesty among the self-appointed "rational class".   The Randi Challenge couldn't test real science of the kind that the scientific study of parapsychology has produced, it is a geek show and as much of a lie and a con job as the sTARBABY cover-up was.  "Skepticism" is a profit making industry based on lies and fraud.

UPDATE 3.0  I suspect that the 2007 version of the "Application for Status of Claimant" , might have been made in reaction to a series about the fraudulence of the "Million Dollar Challenge" by Michael Prescott in 2006.   I don't have the version of it that he addressed but, as I said, the present day "Application" is even more dodgy than the 2007 one.  Prescott's series is worth reading for its continuing relevance to the fraud that the Randi operation is.  Greg Taylor at The Daily Grail has also written extensively and well about the "Challenge",  addressing it during that period,  and Steve Volk has in the most recent period.  

I don't know what to make of it, but Riley G. Matthews jr posted an exchange he says he had with Randi over a challenge that Randi invited before he scotched it, making and failing to make good on an offer of $3,000 for Matthews to drop it.   I have no way of knowing its authenticity but, then, I have no way of checking what the James Randi "Educational" Foundation claims about its role in the "Challenge" either.  I can say that as of the present, I don't have any reason to suspect Matthews isn't more honest than I do know Randi to not be.

* The first paragraph of the document says,  "This Application is Version 2.0, dated March 9, 2011, supersedes and replaces any previous version of the Application, and is the only version currently accepted."  I have, so far, been unable to find out how many previous versions of the "application" there may have been or how those have been worded.  2.0 might be taken to indicate this is the second of any such "application" but, as with the numbering of versions of computer software, the decimal makes that assumption unwarranted.  I'd like to know how any previous versions of the challenge were numbered and would like to have the exact wording of those.  I've seen two different figures for previously offered "prizes" so I'm assuming there were at least two previous versions of the rules.  In order to know why any theoretical applicant might have not applied or to have not fulfilled the test, it is necessary to know what Randi and his posse were demanding of them.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Blinded By Brain-Only Dogma and Michael Shermer Copy-cat?

I saw a link to this piece at RawStory, reposted from Medical Daily,  about a perfectly normal man who went to the doctors with leg problems and, through medical examination, was found to be "missing" between 50 and 75% of the normal material of the brain.  The piece notes that the man who holds down a job and has an otherwise normal life has a "slightly below normal IQ".  Which, considering the obvious stupidity of many holding PhDs in science and the humanities with all of their brain there, signifies nothing.

It being the materialist-fundamentalist RawStory and the rest of the Anglo-American media the most obvious conclusion that this and a considerable number of other such cases raise is not raised, that these examples in real life call into serious question all of the conventional assertions about the "brain-only" ideology of minds, what they are, where they come from, etc.  Which is especially odd because the first link in the piece is to an abstract of a paper about such brains of people treated successfully for hydrocephalus, which contains this sentence.   "The articles argue that, albeit unlikely, the scope of explanations must not exclude extracorporeal information storage."  That "albeit unlikely"hedge is remarkable, in itself, because the more of these cases that come up, the more that the entire "brain only" model is confronted with its basic contradictions and problems, the more it looks as if "extracorporeal information storage" and perhaps generation may be more likely than the current materialist ideological "brain science".    Materialist, "brain-only" brains are looking like a more unlikely explanation of our minds all the time.

At this point I will report that no materialist has yet taken on the challenge I issued of explaining how the "brain only brain" could make the correct physical "idea-structure" on which the entire materialist model of the brain relies before that idea could be present in the brain which, until it made the idea-structure, would not contain that idea.   The longer that and associated questions go unanswered by materialists the more unlikely their ideological model of our minds would seem to be.   And, frankly, after thinking about that question for the past several months, I don't think there is any way to do it. Certainly not without those psychic faculties - yes, I said it, psychic faculties - that the atheists just hate with all of their minds, and strengths and not without those continually accurately working at a far, far higher rate of success than is reported from any controlled experiment looking into the presence of those faculties.  With no purely materialist explanation of how the brain could know things before it knew them, in materialist terms, normal life as we continually experience it would require those abilities to function in a practically perfect manner thousands of times a day in each of us and in every animal that successfully sustains itself in life.

All of the materialist attempts to dispose of our minds as non-physical entities rest on such things as misrepresentations of the life of  Phineas Gage to the most rigid and even angry assertion of baseless and even irrational rules for talking about such things.   In the past half century the atheists who began that effort have imposed their ideology on the culture to such an extent that people in the media, in academia are afraid to talk about the most obvious problems with their loony ideas, even when, as in discussing such cases, those problems assert themselves most obviously and necessarily.  To talk about the "plasticity" of brains without an explanation of just what is supposedly molded by such brains, ideas, and how those are supposed to be constructed in such brains,  is fast turning into another promissory note of materialism.   If the materialist model of the brain is what materialism rests on, and I don't see how it can be true without minds, ideas, cultural institutions, ideologies, etc. being physical structures in the physical brain, then this could be the breaking point of materialism, once and for all.  If materialists don't take up these challenges, they are left with the sleazy tactics and methods of PR that I've been pointing out in discussing their masthead, the dishonest, sleazy, bottom of the show-biz barrel, James Randi.  And with him and his position in what passes as intellectual culture these days, the wreck that materialism, atheism has made of western culture has its most appropriate emblem.


I will also point out this article I came across yesterday in Scientific American by another rather sleazy fixture of our culture on atheism,  Michael Shermer, who tries to steal the term "pseudo-skepticism" and turn it to his own self-interested ends.   Considering that Michael Shermers whole career as a public person rests on his own pseudo-skeptical advocacy and promotion,  including his association with the king of the pseudo-skeptics, James Randi, it's pretty outrageous that he can get away with something like that at Scientific American.   The decadence that materialism consists of has become so ubiquitous that the sciences media is saturated with it.

He begins his piece this way.

What do tobacco, food additives, chemical flame retardants and carbon emissions all have in common? The industries associated with them and their ill effects have been remarkably consistent and disturbingly effective at planting doubt in the mind of the public in the teeth of scientific evidence. Call it pseudoskepticism.

 I pointed out two years  before he wrote that piece that the tobacco, oil, gas and other extraction industries have used the tactics of the Randi - style pseudo-skeptics to create skepticism about genuine science.

The media, when it writes about parapsychology lazily consults such "experts" as James Randi and the writings of Martin Gardner and other "Skeptics" because they know that anything else will invite attacks by the "Skeptics".  The role that laziness and cowardice has in maintaining the taboo of looking at the serious research into this is a pressing issue.  It is that the oil and other extraction industries use exactly the same tactics as the "Skepticism" industry that makes this even more important than a mere interest in honesty and telling the truth.  The industrial attack on legitimate research was pioneered by the "Skeptics".

The "Skepticism" industry really is an industry, providing many of the big names in the effort an income and fame.  In some cases, such as the extremely sleazy James Randi, it has made him the recipient of a small fortune and a reputation entirely unsupported by his record.  I will be writing on that record in the future. 

Considering that part of my 2013 series about James Randi mentioned the incident in which he and Michael Shermer told aspiring pseudo-skeptics that all they needed to do to become experts was to declare themselves experts - and I'm pretty confident it's an idea I've been expressing for longer than that -, I believe that Michael Shermer may well have been aware of what I said about him and his fellow pseudo-skeptics back then.  I'd like to know how far back he said anything like that.   That he, of all people, would use the term pseudo-skeptic is audacious in its hypocrisy.

The term "pseudo-skeptic" was certainly not invented by me.  Marcello Truzzi wrote extensively on pseudo-skepticism in describing the like of Michael Shermer, James Randi, Martin Gardner, Penn Jillette and other, lesser known people who ply the same trade to lesser notice.  Truzzi, as some of you may remember, had been in on the founding of CSICOP, the most famous of the pseudo-skeptical groups.  He was kicked out of it early because he wanted to practice real skepticism, looking at real claims with the methods and tools of science and academic research.  Only the pseudo-skeptics aren't about that, they are often entirely incompetent in those methods, relying on show biz and old fashioned intimidation.  I haven't had time to research whether or not Truzzi ever wrote anything about Michael Shermer, but Shermer is definitely a pseudo-skeptic, one of its more successful hucksters, likely in the running to succeed Randi when he finally finds out he was wrong about pretty much everything.

I think a good deal of their success is due to many of the people in the media and other college graduates with an inadequate preparation in science and even just plain logical thought being cowed through their ignorance into accepting what anyone with a phony label marked "Science" says.   They don't want to admit that some of those emperors don't have any clothes on even when it's obvious.  Something I also wrote about a few years back.

Update:   This link to a later version of the post dealing with what is known of the life of Phineas Gage after his accident is the one I should have given, it gives more information and why I think the materialists misrepresented his life to support their ideology.