Monthly Archives: February 2017

Get this book that I have a chapter in!

Karen Stollznow has edited this book: Would You Believe It?: Mysterious Tales From People You’d Least Expect, and you will find my chapter on page 112.

This is a great idea for a book. Suppose Susan Blackmore told you she had an out of body experience? Or that Don Prothero had an alien abduction story for you? Or that I claimed I had once hunted down and captured a ghost? Would you believe it??? Indeed.

You would probably be skeptical if any of the 30+ established skeptics who authored chapters in this book told you that they had a paranormal, psychic, or otherwise impossible experience. But that is what this book is full of: people who don’t believe in any of these things having these very experiences.

In some cases, the teller of the True Tale of Mystery can explain their experience as a natural phenomenon. In other cases, not, but for some reason, they still believe that what happened to them was not paranormal. Why? Well, read the chapters to find out.

Would You Believe It?: Mysterious Tales From People You’d Least Expect has a forward by James Randi, and a few of the chapters are more theory than observation. There is an afterward by James Alcock.

Has anything mysterious ever happened to you?

Experiences of this kind are more common than you think. And they happen to people you’d least expect, even notable scientists and skeptics.

This collection features personal stories and experiences of the mysterious, as told by Banachek, Susan Blackmore, Joe Nickell, Eugenie Scott, Chris French, Ken Feder, George Hrab, Brian Regal, Steve Cuno, Ray Hyman, and many others, with a foreword by James Randi and an afterword by James Alcock. These are tales about a wide range of extraordinary experiences, including ghost and UFO sightings, alien abduction, Bigfoot encounters, faith healing, séances, superstitions, coincidences, demonic possession, out-of-body-experiences, past lives, episodes of missing time and one case where time stood still. You will read about a poltergeist in a bakery, a genius baby, a haunted concert hall, a stone carving that vanishes and reappears mysteriously, a one-time palm reader, and a former Mormon missionary who once believed he healed a woman of a brain tumor.

Indeed, when Karen asked me to write a chapter for the book, and if I had any stories of this kind, several such experiences came to mind. I didn’t mention to her two UFO observations I had made as a kid (one seemingly bogus even at the time although all the adults bought it as real, the other very realistic and still a bit difficult to explain). I did have a more recent, adult-age, UFO experience that I could easily explain that I put on the initial list to consider. Also, having grown up in an old-world style religious household (not American evangelical Christian, but rather, Midlevel demonic possession poltergeisty Central European and Irish Catholic style household), I had a lot of stories handed on to me from relatives, including one harrowing story having to do with Exorcist style levitation, vomiting of green goo, and all that. And, of course, there are those non drug induced time shifting experiences and the pets that can read your mind and all that. I settled on the story about the ghost because it is the best story for the telling.

Resist Protest Event in Minnesota Draws Huge Crowd, Ignored By Press

Last night, I went to an event, apparently organized by an indivisible group, in Plymouth Mass.

Plymouth is in Minnesota’s 3rd Congressional District, and is represented by Congressman Erik Paulsen. Paulsen took over, years ago, from a “reasonable Republican” that even Democrats in CD03 remember fondly. But Paulsen has quietly and without fanfare served as a Tea Party Republican since being elected. During the time that he and Michele Bachmann served in the same Congress, in physically adjoining districts, Paulsen and Bachmann voted the same way on almost every bill, and the few differences were trivial, such as, one was absent, or a division on a water district resource bill, or something really minor.

Other than being a lock-step Republican, Paulsen is famous for something else: Doing or saying absolutely nothing to anyone at any time, and keeping entirely to himself. Back when he was first elected, he had a town hall meeting or two, the last of which was done electronically, as far as anyone remembers, so no one would be in the room with him. That was close to seven years ago. It is like Paulsen is pathologically unable to be in a room with constituents.

Meanwhile, the voters of the third district are a mixture of Democratic union supporters and recent immigrants who are politically active and vote, wealthy Republicans who quietly write checks and vote, and workers in the technology, medical device, or Big Ag industries whose livelihoods depend on good science policy in Congress but who are not politically active and don’t vote. This is the education district. Some of the top school districts in the state are in this congressional district. But the voters prefer to send education-killing Republicans to the State House and an anti-Education member to Congress, then compensate for their bad policies by voting yes, sometimes, on school district bonding bills. It makes very little sense that Erik Paulsen gets elected every two years.

Part of this has to do with the inability of Democrats to get their acts together. One year, two medium-strong candidates slogged it out in the primary and caucus process, but caused so much hate that a lot of Democratic voters stayed home. Several year later, in 2016, that vitriol probably kept some of the Democrats that might have elected one of those candidates, back for another try, from being elected. One year we had a good candidate who was very honest, and thus, another candidate who was less than honest in his positions was selected to run against Paulsen, and he stopped running several weeks before the election for personal reasons. One year a really good candidate emerged, but a different candidate, very well connected in the Democratic Party on the national level, shoved him aside, ran, and lost. That sort of thing.

So, the other day, I was communicating with some environmental activists about an event we’ve got coming up. Somebody said, “hey, let’s bring some flyers for our event to that thing going on Thursday down at the church.” So I looked into the thing.

It turns out that an Indivisible group had organized a Town Hall for Congressman Erik Paulsen. He never has his own, so they kindly organized one for him. He was invited, but just in case, they got a big cardboard cutout to put up in front of the room.

The event was not that well publicized. I know a lot of activists in the area who did not know about it. I learned about it at the last minute from a random mention, as noted. And, I did go.

So, I got in the car to drive the five minutes down to the church. Partway there, traffic stopped. About 25 minutes later, I got to the church, crawling along in this huge traffic jam, that was going out in all directions from the church. Five minutes after that I got a parking spot a few blocks away, and walked down to the church. So, maybe a thousand cars were in this giant traffic jam, and hundreds of people were standing around outside the church. Inside, were the 600 or so maximum occupancy, and and the cardboard cutout.

One or two thousand, maybe a little more, citizens showed up to let Erik Paulsen know that they did not appreciate his having ignored the voters for so long, and demanding to know what he will do, as a member of the House, and as a Republican, about his fellow Republican, Donald Trump.

I hear the news reporters were there, but there were no TV trucks identified as being affiliated with a station. I saw one guy from MinnPost. I see zero coverage of this event on most of the news this morning, and where there is coverage, it is minor (the Strib did something small).

If people are wondering what they can do about Trump, one thing you can do right now is to contact WCCO, KARE, FOX-9, Eyewitness 5, and the Star Tribune and ask them why they did not cover the protest with a couple thousand people at it held in Plymouth.

Ellison vs. Perez

Which one are you for? I’ll take either. At first I didn’t want Ellison to leave MN05, but if he does, and he should if he is DNC chair, we have some excellent replacements lined up, and since MN05 is the most left leaning congressional district in the country, we don’t have to worry about it going blue.

BernieDems hate Perez because he supported Clinton, and their vitriol is greater than the hatred of Ellison, who supported Sanders in the primary and then Clinton in the general. But, if we react to BernieDem whinging and temper tantrums, we might as well get out of the game now. These videos show a fair amount of difference to the unity issue, by all of the candidates.

Nobody, including Perez and Ellison, said anything impressive. Ellison is closest to following my plan. Sally Boynton Brown is also close to my plan, but she seems to have been sidelined by being so supportive of #BLM.

Perez, on Meet the Press:

If this breaks down to Clinton wing vs. Sanders wing Democrats (Perez vs. Ellison) will that hurt the party more than it helps? I’m thinking yes, and neither Ellison nor Perez is therefore qualified to be DNC chair. But Perez does address the question, vaguely, in the above video.

From the DNC chair debate, Ellison is at 1:20 and beyond:

Ellison takes credit for Minnesota having two Democratic senators. Yes, Minneapolis (roughly, Ellison’s fifth district) made a difference in those races. No, Ellison did not turn a centrist, purple, or red district to a blue one. The Minnesota fifth district is inherently the most liberal congressional district in the country in all of history. A liberal dead cat would beat Jesus the Republican there.

Discussion of Clinton vs Sanders factions at about 3:40 in the above video, starting with Ellison. Ellison gave a good unity line.

Ben Santer on Seth Myers

Via Media Matters of America. Very interesting segment.

Santer talks about what is is like to be a rogue scientist in a Donald Trump administration.

The words referred to here the twelve words, were part of the 1995 Second Assessment report of the IPCC. That report is regularly updated, and forms the scientific and policy basis for our thinking about climate change at the national and international level. I highly recommend that you have handy at all times what I like to think of as the human-readable version of the most current IPCC report: Dire Predictions, 2nd Edition: Understanding Climate Change

An excellent resource for debunking and learning about the sort of junk Ted Cruz is seen to be spilling on this segment is Dana Nuccitelli’s book Climatology versus Pseudoscience: Exposing the Failed Predictions of Global Warming Skeptics.

Here’s a little more on Ted Cruz:

Earth like exoplanet story telling

As more and more exoplanets (at first) and earth-like exoplanets (eventually) have been discovered, the way thy are described to us has become increasingly sophisticated. Below are embeds of diverse video descriptions that have been very quickly developed and distributed given the freshness of this latest scientific discovery. Note that the practice of very clearly stating that a particular depiction of something that no human has ever seen, or will ever see, as being an artist’s reconstruction has largely fallen by the wayside. Exoplanets are no longer physical features of the universe occassionally glimpsed by astronomers with very fancy Big Science Gear. They are now stories, where almost all the details and even implications are made up.

From the Telegraph:

From the Guardian:

From NASA via CNN:

Additional small exoplanet discovered in alleyway:

Oh, no, wait, that’s a plastic bag, never mind.

Cannibalism by Bill Schutt

Biologist and author Bill Schutt has a new book out: Cannibalism: A perfectly natural history.

He and I talked about cannibalism on Ikonokast: Click here to check it out! It is was a fun interview, and Bill’s book is excellent.

See also:

vizziniYou Come From Cannibals
Among Cannibals
Cannibal, Native, Indigenous
On Cannibalism and Jameson

So, what do you think, are all mammals cannibals, or is it mainly the Sicilians? Check out the podcast.

H.R. McMaster is New NSA

Going from Flynn to McMaster feels like going from Beetle Bailey to Jack Ryan. But I don’t know much about him.

He is, importantly, full of degrees and the author of Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam, based on his PhD thesis.

How do we do from a marginal Putin stooge/Russian asset/whateverthefuck to a highly qualified and possibly super ethical choice in one fell swoop? How does someone like McMaster accept an appointment like this if there isn’t something wrong with him?

I do have a hypothesis to explain part of this: Trump’s first choices for everything, including all those that Trump’s fellow Republicans approved so gleefully, were mostly Bannon choices. That would make sense given Bannon’s stated goal of wanting to destroy the state. For the few such appointments that either self destructed or that somehow managed to not get confirmed by the Sycophants who call themselves Senators, the second choice is, simply, not Bannon’s.

Just a suggestion. If you have a better explanation, let’s hear it.

More Classic Dystopian Fiction

Animal farm: A Fairy Story

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

A farm is taken over by its overworked, mistreated animals. With flaming idealism and stirring slogans, they set out to create a paradise of progress, justice, and equality. Thus the stage is set for one of the most telling satiric fables ever penned—a razor-edged fairy tale for grown-ups that records the evolution from revolution against tyranny to a totalitarianism just as terrible.

When Animal Farm was first published, Stalinist Russia was seen as its target. Today it is devastatingly clear that wherever and whenever freedom is attacked, under whatever banner, the cutting clarity and savage comedy of George Orwell’s masterpiece have a meaning and message still ferociously fresh.

The Handmaid’s Tale

The seminal work of speculative fiction from the Booker Prize-winning, soon to be a Hulu series starring Elizabeth Moss, Samira Wiley, and Joseph Fiennes.

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable.

Offred can remember the days before, when she lived and made love with her husband Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now….

Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid’s Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and literary tour de force.

Honorable Mention (non-Fiction): The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany

1984, the novel

1984

“The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

Winston Smith toes the Party line, rewriting history to satisfy the demands of the Ministry of Truth. With each lie he writes, Winston grows to hate the Party that seeks power for its own sake and persecutes those who dare to commit thoughtcrimes. But as he starts to think for himself, Winston can’t escape the fact that Big Brother is always watching…

A startling and haunting vision of the world, 1984 is so powerful that it is completely convincing from start to finish. No one can deny the influence of this novel, its hold on the imaginations of multiple generations of readers, or the resiliency of its admonitions—a legacy that seems only to grow with the passage of time.