Category Archives: Culture
Here is something we don’t think about for our websites and blogs: How do they respond to DMCA complaints? As critics of those who HATE to be criticized, we are GOING to get this kind of nonsense threat and intimidation.
I spent a harrowing Friday and Saturday moving my Doubtful News site to a new host after a crapload of issues from my existing host: InMotion Hosting. I was using VPS which made me a mid-tier customer. Because of the site traffic, we had to add on Cloud Flare to help ease the server load. Nearly every week, I was logging into chat or calling InMotion support to inform them that the website was down. They gave me tips on cache plugins (which sometimes messed up the site or didn’t help at all), told me my plugins were problems, that Apache had crashed on the server or that there was up and down load. Obviously, this was not a great fit but it was better than the 3 previous hosts we outgrew within months.
The final straw came from their horrendous and incompetent response to a bogus copyright complaint by a “psychic” businesswoman who claimed infringement by use of her trademark in our web post. This was regarding a news story that was NOT about her in any way. I didn’t even know she existed. Not only is that not applicable to copyright law (none of us would be able to write about Apple or Microsoft or any name brand), but we didn’t even use her damn trademark in the post. You can read about it here and have a look at what kind of person does this sort of thing.
There are some writers for which you know pretty much exactly what you are going to get. Donald R. Prothero is one of those writers. I expect a well-researched, comprehensive treatment of the topic with a flavor of emotion here and there. That’s what I got with Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten our Future, 2013, Indiana Univ Press.
The core of the book is summed up in the John Burroughs quote given on page 1:
To treat your facts with imagination is one thing, but to imagine your facts is another.
Once you observe the methods of creationists as the classic example of science denialists, you can recognize the same tactics in those that reject climate change. I have also noted the same tricks in environmentalists or those holding contrarian views about vaccines, the paranormal, and various consumer products.
The premise of Reality Check is that when “a well-entrenched belief system comes in conflict with scientific or historic reality” the believers in this system will actively discount, ignore or distort the facts that go against it. They may stop at nothing to defend their belief – they will lie, hide evidence, manufacture evidence, pay people off, bully, harass, discredit, and even threaten the scientists who are supporting the “inconvenient” conclusion.
The book highlights denialism rampant in the fields of environmentalism, global warming, evolution education, vaccine information, AIDS treatment policy, medical claims, energy policy and population size and growth. Each chapter exposes the hidden agendas of those who reject the scientific consensus and provides the reader with the solid, established evidence.
I was enticed to read this book, American Gypsy, by Oksana Marafioti, after the Rose Marks trial. Marks was from an infamous Romani family who had repeatedly been charged and now found guilty of fraud due to their psychic-related business dealings.
I didn’t know if this book had anything regarding the Romani [Gypsy] culture but I was interested in why Rose’s greatest fear was not being able to provide for her family and her loss of freedom in jail.
I did find some understanding here and it was a fun and enjoyable read as well.
Regarding the psychic issues: The writers mother can read coffee grounds as prophecy. She was encouraged to use this skill when money was tight and it worked. The author admits that the readings were more like psychotherapy, where people just needed to talk to feel better. Read the rest of this entry
Christian Science-based faith healing communities in U.S. today are failures of their own self-destructive ideas. At least that’s the conclusion you can’t help but make when a group sacrifices their own children to be “pious” and respected. I found this disturbing tale laid out in In the Name of God:The True Story of the Fight to Save Children from Faith-Healing Homicide by Cameron Stauth . I recommend this book for anyone even remotely curious about faith healing in the U.S. and about the practices of Christian science churches. It’s important to recognize the stories behind the news of children who die from medical neglect.
I don’t recall how the author or publisher decided to send me a review copy of this book. I suspect it was because on Doubtful News I cover the charges, trials and sentencing of parents who practice withholding health care. I didn’t understand. I could not wrap my head around it. How can you be in the 21st century and eschew the standard of care for sick kids? This book helped me understand that these are people who think that religious freedom trumps all else, even their child’s right to live.
While examining stories for Doubtful News, I noticed a wave of faith healing deaths or near deaths coming out of Oregon City, OR from a religious community known as The Followers. The Followers of Christ had their roots in the teachings of the Christian Science church founded by Mary Baker Eddy. Mary grew rich and famous by teaching others how to heal without officially practicing medicine. This method had no overhead. But it had consequences. Many people recovered normally or had illnesses that make life difficult but not end it. If they died, it was “God’s Will”. And, it is their choice, thanks to religious freedom, to allow their child or themselves to die. God takes all of the credit, none of the blame. The Followers of Christ turned out to be one of the most lethal churches in America basing their teachings on literal interpretation of the Bible, medical avoidance, shunning, and fear of Hell. There is also the Faith Tabernacle church who has seen a pattern of dead children. Even repeat offenders. (Schaible case) Read the rest of this entry
Last Dragon*Con, I went to a talk about movie monsters. It was a small group with three artists up front chatting about their favorite creature features. It was so much fun, all that trivia. There was one tidbit from that presentation that I found so adorable and interesting, I was amazed I never thought of it before. I had to write about it. Yes, it’s taken me a year to do it.
I don’t know how they got around to the topic but we were discussing the Count from Sesame Street. You may remember that he counts everything. Nifty, eh? What a great kids character – just a touch scary (like other Muppets) but not threatening.
When I was a kid, a bit after the Sesame Street days, I got into monster books and loved to learn “facts” about vampires. One way to stop or at least delay a vampire, I’d heard, was to throw a handful of rice or seeds behind you. He would (apparently) compulsively stop and have to count every grain before proceeding. Interesting…
Is that where the Count von Count got his counting habit from?
The person next to me in the monsters talk said “Yes”.
Really? How did I not make this connection!
Last week, I made a lot of people angry. I was angry, I lashed out at them. That was a mistake. In some cases, I was able to smooth things over but in others, I made it worse.
Also, I noticed several people reacted strongly to critique of their fields – cryptozoology in particular, but also against their faith or deeply held beliefs.
Kitty Mervine pointed me to this good piece that shows what I did wrong, what mistake I always make, and the mistakes most of us make when we get mad.
As it turns out, it’s not the thought that counts or even the action that counts. That’s because the other person doesn’t experience your thought or your action. They experience the consequences of your action.
So true. And that’s why they get mad. Really mad. The typical response doesn’t help. This is going to take some practice to fix.
Over the past year or so, I realized I don’t like to get into online disputes that will go on for hours or even days. It never gets resolved and just gets worse. So, I’ve made some rules for myself to follow to stop that trigger response to lash out. The first step is to limit contact with people who trip the trigger (often deliberately because, face it, some people thrive on outrage theatre). I’d be all for civil discussion but reading their twitter feed or blogs is just asking for my blood to boil. So I don’t.
Block the trolls, don’t go to their websites, don’t look for them to give you something to chew on. Be careful about engaging. Let stuff go.
Unlike some people who have deliberately gone out of their way to name and shame people for specific things they have done, I’m almost always responding to a problem I have with their claim. Yes, I don’t like the state of amateur paranormal investigation, for example. I dislike the activity. That does not mean I can’t be friends with those who participate in the activity. It’s not personal. But, I try to understand that some people consider these activities to be defining of who they are – they are Christians, they are psychics, they are Bigfoot researchers, etc. So if I or others attack the claim, this essentially equates to attacking them. All I can say is, that’s not my intent but as shown in that piece about getting angry, it’s not about the intentions, it’s about the consequences. I’m trying. Maybe everyone should try harder.
Goblins… yeah. EXPLODEY ones. This episode of Virtual Skeptics we also talked about elves and had a fun and rather disturbing game of Scientology? Or North Korea? Don’t miss that it’s a hoot and a holler. The full video is linked below. Check it out. But I wanted to write up and link to the information I gave about the Zimbabwe goblins. It was a fascinating story, not quite what you think.
Last Tuesday, the 22nd, I came across the story of a so-called sorcerer’s house in Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe that exploded under mysterious circumstances.
Police officials said the blast killed five people. The sorcerer, often known in the West as a witchdoctor, was doing business with a man seeking to improve his failing finances, They were both among the dead, witnesses said. Army bomb disposal experts told neighbours they found no remnants of a bomb or petrol or gas containers.
In Zimbabwe superstition, sorcerers can use lightning, to eradicate enemies. Neighbours told reporters they feared a “lightning manufacturing process” was being carried out.
I heard nothing more on this, I didn’t expect to.
But then on Monday, I find this story:
A traditional healer and a survivor claim that the house in which they were carrying out a cleansing ceremony exploded after they beheaded a goblin. According to the story, a man acquired the goblin from a neighboring country to bring wealth and prosperity to his business. But the goblin became troublesome, making demands, so he needed to get rid of it. The ceremony cost him $15,000.
At first, I didn’t connect the two stories until someone told me it was the same place. So things got interesting.
Virtual Skeptics #19 revealed that the end of the world comes alongside a bad hair day. I linked to the video of the show at the bottom in case you missed it. But this was an interesting topic this week for me. Here is a write up…
I follow a lot of sources for news stories for Doubtful News including some more paranormally-minded or, should I say, unskeptical sources. I’m always interested to see what kinds of stories are circulating in that community and they are often the first to spot the bizarre ones.
I use information from those stories to promote critical thinking about them. I think it’s harmful to spread inaccuracies so I wish to provide the skeptical, rational view.
Earlier this week, I saw a story on a news blog site about a mass grave found in Mexico that contained skulls that had deliberate cranial deformation. That is an interesting story in itself but the hook was that these skulls looked like your pop cultural stereotypical alien head. The “alternative news” sites Beforeitsnews.com and abovetopsecret.com, hubs for UFO and conspiracy tales, had latched onto that idea calling it a “mass alien grave” (that’s the way BIN said it, and I advise not visiting that site even for a laugh because it’s a piece of shit. However, they have since altered the title to delete the alien reference.) Then it appeared on the Daily Mail and the story went huge. Read the rest of this entry
I have finally experienced Dragon Con, the world’s largest sci-fi/fantasy convention, which was held August 31 to Sept 3 in Atlanta, Georgia. Encompassing 5 hotels and including 40,000 or so attendees, many of whom were in costume, it was a bit overwhelming at times. But, I was determined to squeeze the most out of my participation, hosting a great discussion panel on Monday about skeptics and believers, and attending as many talks as I possibly could.
Besides the uniqueness inherent in a convention fueled by artistic flare, this conference is different from all others I’ve been to in that the various “tracks” (themed schedules) are visited by others who may not attend a conference based solely on that particular theme. Certainly many people wandered into the Skeptic track room as they made their way to events in the nearby Science or Space tracks. This buffet of choices allowed me to see how other fields discuss their content. So, I wanted to share my observations on the Paranormal track, the sessions featuring the TV ghost hunters, and the fantastic talks about monsters.
This is a year of speaking “firsts” for me. I never did a panel. But my first workshop/panel went great (at TAM). I never talked to kids before but my trip to the local elementary school’s third grade with my bag of rock samples went splendidly.
Back in March, our local YMCA asked parents to volunteer to be guest speakers for their teen summer camp. I suppose most adults are called in to talk about their jobs or their hobbies, but I saw an opportunity to talk to kids about critical thinking. Specifically, about the 2012 Mayan apocalypse. My own daughter (13 at the time) had expressed curiosity about the Mayan calendar and the end of the world prediction. She revealed that lots of her friends believed in strange stuff she KNEW (from me) was nonsense, including the 2012 scenario. Kids get their information from media and their peers (who share even more media with them). They are influenced by what they see on TV. It shapes their idea of what is normal and accepted in our culture. I can hardly imagine other kids talking to their parents about paranormal and mystical topics and I shudder to think what information they might get in return. Not many families apply skepticism to their daily lives as openly as mine.
I could not pass up this outreach opportunity for a captive audience of just the right age (11-14).
What follows is some detail on how to do these kinds of talks just in case you ever get the opportunity to do one yourself. Even if it’s not about 2012, you can still talk to kids about how to think about psychics, ghosts, alternative medicine, whatever. THIS is the age you can make an impact. They are interested in knowing. What strikes them, they remember.