People Unclear on the Concept

I live in a large city in Texas, and, like most, mine has a number of codes of construction to prevent the creation of safety hazards. Here is one:

See, the steel barricades installed into the sidewalk keep pedestrians from accidentally stepping off or falling into the storm drains on either side. Pretty neat, eh?

Here’s another:

See, the steel barricades keep pedestrians from stepping falling off the sidewalk into the storm drains on either side. However, in this case I do believe the builder missed a key point. Am I the only one who thinks there is too much a thing of following strictly the letter of the code?

By the way, there are multiple instances like this.

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American Hero

The 70th anniversary of the Allied attack on Northern France is coming up this year, and I am starting to post on the events leading up to the event. I just finished reading Winston Churchill’s account in his fifth volume from The Second World War series, Closing the Ring, which takes us up to the launch of the Normandy Invasion. I have also acquired Desmond Young’s Rommel, about the famous German field commander, and I have obtained Patton, Ordeal and Triumph, by Ladislas Farago.

Many years ago I read Crusade in Europe, by Dwight D. Eisenhower. It’s time to read that again, so I acquired the Kindle edition.

Eisenhower’s career is remarkable, and it’s a story interesting in itself. He was born in Denison, Texas, and was raised in Wichita, Kansas. At the time the Second World War broke out he was an army lieutenant colonel working for General Douglas MacArthur in the Philippines to build up the Philippine army. The island nation was scheduled to leave United States custody in 1946.

When news came that the German army had invaded Poland, Eisenhower immediately requested transfer back to the United States. It was a fortunate move for him, since most of MacArthur’s remaining ground troops were destined to be killed or captured by the Japanese two years later.

Back in the United States, Eisenhower worked on helping to convert the peacetime United States Army to a war footing. He quickly moved through the rank of army colonel to brigadier general. What happened next illustrates how his career rocketed as events of the war unfolded:

On the afternoon of December 7 at Fort Sam Houston , Texas, tired out from the long and exhausting staff work of the maneuvers and their aftermath, I went to bed with orders that under no circumstances was I to be disturbed. My dreams were of a two weeks’ leave I was going to take, during which my wife and I were going to West Point to spend Christmas with our plebe son, John. But even dreams like these— and my strict orders— could be shattered with impunity by the aide who brought the news that we were at war.

Within an hour of the Pearl Harbor attack orders began pouring into Third Army Headquarters from the War Department. There were orders for the immediate transfer of anti-aircraft units to the West Coast, where the terrified citizens hourly detected phantom bombers in the sky; orders for the establishment of anti -sabotage measures; orders for careful guarding of industrial plants; orders for reconnaissance along our Southern border to prevent the entrance of spies; and orders to insure the safety of ports along the Gulf of Mexico. There were orders for rushing heavy bodies of troops to the West in anticipation of any attacks the Japanese might contemplate. In turn General Krueger’s headquarters had to send out instructions to a hundred stations as rapidly as they could be prepared and checked. It was a period of intense activity.

Immediacy of movement was the keynote. The normal channels of administration were abandoned; the chain of command was compressed at meetings where all echelons got their instructions in a single briefing; the slow and methodical process of drawing up detailed movement orders that specified to the last jot of equipment what should be taken with the troops, how it should be crated and marked , was ignored. A single telephone call would start an infantry unit across the continent; troops and equipment entrained with nothing in writing to show by what authority they moved. Guns were loaded on flatcars, if flatcars were available; on gondolas if they could be had; in freight cars if nothing else was at hand. The men traveled in de luxe Pullmans, in troop sleepers, in modern coaches, and in day cars that had been obsolete and sidetracked in the yards for a generation and were now drafted for emergency troop movements.

I had five days of this. Early in the morning of December 12 the telephone connecting us directly to the War Department in Washington began to jangle. I answered and someone inquired, “Is that you, Ike?”

“Yes.”

“The Chief says for you to hop a plane and get up here right away. Tell your boss that formal orders will come through later.” The “Chief” was General Marshall, and the man at the other end of the line was Colonel Walter Bedell Smith, who was later to become my close friend and chief of staff throughout the European operations.

Eisenhower, Dwight D. (2013-01-02). Crusade in Europe (Kindle Locations 353-374). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

There followed close work with Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall in Washington, culminating in a few months with another swift and critical action:

Our inspection team spent ten days in the United Kingdom . I returned home to report to the Chief of Staff that in my opinion the individual to take charge of the American effort in Europe should be someone thoroughly indoctrinated in the plans of the United States Government, with a working knowledge of our capabilities in the production of land, air, and naval units and materials to support them in offensive fighting. In his quick way General Marshall asked me who should take the job, and this time I had my answer ready. I recommended General McNarney. I knew that McNarney had previously served some months in London, was thoroughly familiar with the workings of the British service departments, and was acquainted with many of the key officers therein. Moreover, it was apparent that the earliest operations of the United States out of Great Britain would be limited to air raids, because the building up of the great air forces visualized in the invasion plan would have as a first result the initiation of a long and vigorous bombing campaign. Finally, I knew that General McNarney firmly believed in the Air Force’s ability to make ground invasion of France possible.

The Chief of Staff rejected this recommendation. He had just appointed McNarney Deputy Chief of Staff for the War Department and there was no other suitable officer to take over the post. 3 To insure integration and to build up mutual confidence, General Marshall felt it essential that, at that time, his deputy should be from the Air Corps.

On June 8, I submitted to the Chief of Staff a draft of a “Directive for the Commanding General, European Theater of Operations,” which provided for unified command of all American forces allocated to the European area. 4 I remarked to General Marshall that this was one paper he should read in detail before it went out because it was likely to be an important document in the further waging of the war. His reply still lives in my memory: “I certainly do want to read it. You may be the man who executes it. If that’s the case, when can you leave?” Three days later General Marshall told me definitely that I would command the European theater.

Eisenhower, Dwight D. (2013-01-02). Crusade in Europe (Kindle Locations 1013-1029). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Eisenhower would never command troops in battle. His contribution to the war effort was his organization of the forces of an alliance between Great Britain and the United States, a task that many of great wisdom loudly advised was unworkable. His success in keeping the alliance running smoothly and in making the critical strategic decisions contributed immensely to the defeat of Axis forces in Europe.

This book came out in 1948, and immediately Twentieth Century Fox acquired the rights to make a documentary. It aired on the ABC television network, and is now in the public domain. It was the first major documentary produced for television.

I have not finished my (second) reading of the book, but as I make progress I will post highlights of interest about this remarkable American hero and the events that careened around him.

Political Science

Science is a wholesome and beneficial enterprise, and it serves us well in figuring out how the universe works and what’s going on. We may not always like the answers we get from science, but we ignore the results of science at our own peril.

The conservative mindset has long had issues with scientific results. Back when the tobacco lobby held larger sway they wooed conservatives with campaign contributions. Politicians so entranced with this largess were inclined to shave points in the government’s battle to educate the public on the hazards of tobacco. What scientific research there was showed that tobacco smoking was addictive and that there was a strong positive correlation between smoking tobacco and lung cancer. Tobacco industry executives came before Congress and perjured themselves denying these findings, this despite knowing their own research had confirmed them:

Tobacco Chiefs Say Cigarettes Aren’t Addictive

By PHILIP J. HILTS,
Published: April 15, 1994

The top executives of the seven largest American tobacco companies testified in Congress today that they did not believe that cigarettes were addictive, but that they would rather their own children did not smoke.

The executives, sitting side by side at a conference table in what seemed to many a counterpoint to the growing antismoking sentiment in Congress, faced more than six hours of sharp questioning by members of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health and the Environment.

Under persistent questioning, each of the executives agreed to give Congress extensive, previously unpublicized research on humans and animals that their companies had done concerning nicotine and addiction.

Democratic Congressmen on the panel, inspired by recent news reports, pressed the executives on whether their companies manipulated the content of nicotine to keep smokers addicted to cigarettes. The executives acknowledged that nicotine levels could be and were controlled by altering the blends of tobacco, but they said this was done to enhance flavor, not to insure addiction.

Elsewhere we have seen a decades-long parade of conservative politicians defending the teaching of creationism (including the faddish Intelligent Design formulation) at public expense. In many cases it has been hard to tell whether these advocates are scientifically challenged or merely blinded by the lure of religious-based government.

Twenty years back I carried on a running dispute with a fellow (conservative) member of The North Texas Skeptics. This person was at odds with a lot of science relating to environmental issues. Environmental issues may sometimes require government action, and I get the idea talking to my conservative friends that government intervention is a bad thing and must be avoided. It also became apparent to me that because the scientific findings pointed to government action, the findings must be suspect. The hot topic twenty years ago was atmospheric ozone depletion.

Serious scientists had identified a problem, and politicians had determined a solution:

  • Ozone high in the stratosphere blocks harmful ultra-violet radiation, thus protecting those of us living on the earth’s surface.
  • This ozone layer was continuously formed by the action of that same ultra-violet radiation.
  • Chlorinated fluorocarbon compounds that migrate to the stratosphere become dissociated (the molecules broke up), releasing free chlorine, which precipitates the disintegration of ozone molecules.
  • The ozone layer is being thus depleted. Harmful effects were already apparent and would worsen if the process continued.
  • The culprit chlorinated fluorocarbons come exclusive from human activity, since we manufacture these substances, which do not normally appear in nature on the earth.
  • We were responsible for this calamity, and we needed to change our activities to eliminate the problem.
  • Government regulations were put into place to limit the production of chlorinated fluorocarbons.

My conservative friends vigorously denied the validity of the scientific findings, and this dialectic went on for a number of years, until…

Press Release

11 October 1995

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to

Professor Paul Crutzen, Max-Planck-Institute for Chemistry, Mainz, Germany (Dutch citizen),

Professor Mario Molina, Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and Department of Chemistry, MIT, Cambridge, MA, USA and

Professor F. Sherwood Rowland, Department of Chemistry, University of California, Irvine, CA, USA

for their work in atmospheric chemistry, particularly concerning the formation and decomposition of ozone.

The ozone layer – The Achilles heel of the biosphere

The atmosphere surrounding the earth contains small quantities of ozone – a gas with molecules consisting of three oxygen atoms (O3). If all the ozone in the atmosphere were compressed to a pressure corresponding to that at the earth’s surface, the layer would be only 3 mm thick. But even though ozone occurs in such small quantities, it plays an exceptionally fundamental part in life on earth. This is because ozone, together with ordinary molecular oxygen (O2), is able to absorb the major part of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation and therefore prevent this dangerous radiation from reaching the surface. Without a protective ozone layer in the atmosphere, animals and plants could not exist, at least upon land. It is therefore of the greatest importance to understand the processes that regulate the atmosphere’s ozone content.

I have not heard about this too much since from my conservative friends. They have moved on to other topics, including anthropogenic global warming. I picked up on this recently. A link was posted on Facebook by a vocal conservative advocate. The item is by John Hawkins, and it appeared last week on RightWingNews.com. I am re-posting the entire piece for analysis:

5 Scientific Reasons That Global Warming Isn’t Happening

Written By : John Hawkins
February 18, 2014

How did global warming discussions end up hinging on what’s happening with polar bears, unverifiable predictions of what will happen in a hundred years and whether people are “climate deniers” or “global warming cultists?” If this is a scientific topic, why aren’t we spending more time discussing the science involved? Why aren’t we talking about the evidence and the actual data involved? Why aren’t we looking at the predictions that were made and seeing if they match up to the results? If this is such an open and shut case, why are so many people who care about science skeptical? Many Americans have long since thought that the best scientific evidence available suggested that man wasn’t causing any sort of global warming. However now, we can go even further and suggest that the planet isn’t warming at all.

1) There hasn’t been any global warming since 1997: If nothing changes in the next year, we’re going to have kids who graduate from high school who will have never seen any “global warming” during their lifetimes. That’s right, the temperature of the planet has essentially been flat for 17 years. This isn’t a controversial assertion either. Even the former director of the Climate Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia, Phil Jones, admits that it’s true. Since the planet was cooling from 1940-1975 and the upswing in temperature afterwards only lasted 23 years, a 17 year pause is a big deal. It also begs an obvious question: How can we be experiencing global warming if there’s no actual “global warming?”

2) There is no scientific consensus that global warming is occurring and caused by man: Questions are not decided by “consensus.” In fact, many scientific theories that were once widely believed to be true were made irrelevant by new evidence. Just to name one of many, many examples, in the early seventies, scientists believed global cooling was occurring. However, once the planet started to warm up, they changed their minds. Yet, the primary “scientific” argument for global warming is that there is a “scientific consensus” that it’s occurring. Setting aside the fact that’s not a scientific argument, even if that ever was true (and it’s really wasn’t), it’s certainly not true any more. Over 31,000 scientists have signed on to a petition saying humans aren’t causing global warming. More than 1000 scientists signed on to another report saying there is no global warming at all. There are tens of thousands of well-educated, mainstream scientists who do not agree that global warming is occurring at all and people who share their opinion are taking a position grounded in science.

3) Arctic ice is up 50% since 2012: The loss of Arctic ice has been a big talking point for people who believe global warming is occurring. Some people have even predicted that all of the Arctic ice would melt by now because of global warming. Yet, Arctic ice is up 50% since 2012. How much Arctic ice really matters is an open question since the very limited evidence we have suggests that a few decades ago, there was less ice than there is today, but the same people who thought the drop in ice was noteworthy should at least agree that the increase is important as well.

4) Climate models showing global warming have been wrong over and over: These future projections of what global warming will do to the planet have been based on climate models. Essentially, scientists make assumptions about how much of an impact different factors will have, they guess how much of a change there will be and then they project changes over time. Unfortunately, almost all of these models showing huge temperature gains have turned out to be wrong.

Former NASA scientist Dr. Roy Spencer says that climate models used by government agencies to create policies “have failed miserably.” Spencer analyzed 90 climate models against surface temperature and satellite temperature data, and found that more than 95 percent of the models “have over-forecast the warming trend since 1979, whether we use their own surface temperature dataset (HadCRUT4), or our satellite dataset of lower tropospheric temperatures (UAH).”

There’s an old saying in programming that goes, “Garbage in, garbage out.” In other words, if the assumptions and data you put into the models are faulty, then the results will be worthless. If the climate models that show a dire impact because of global warming aren’t reliable — and they’re not — then the long term projections they make are meaningless.

5) Predictions about the impact of global warming have already been proven wrong: The debate over global warming has been going on long enough that we’ve had time to see whether some of the predictions people made about it have panned out in the real world. For example, Al Gore predicted all the Arctic ice would be gone by 2013. In 2005, the Independent ran an article saying that the Artic had entered a death spiral.

Scientists fear that the Arctic has now entered an irreversible phase of warming which will accelerate the loss of the polar sea ice that has helped to keep the climate stable for thousands of years….The greatest fear is that the Arctic has reached a “tipping point” beyond which nothing can reverse the continual loss of sea ice and with it the massive land glaciers of Greenland, which will raise sea levels dramatically.

Meanwhile, Arctic ice is up 50% since 2012. James Hansen of NASA fame predicted that the The West Side Highway in New York would be under water by now because of global warming.

If the climate models and the predictions about global warming aren’t even close to being correct, wouldn’t it be more scientific to reject hasty action based on faulty data so that we can further study the issue and find out what’s really going on?

I will start with Hawkins’ statement of the problem: “How did global warming discussions end up hinging on what’s happening with polar bears, unverifiable predictions…”

That’s probably the best point he makes in the entire piece. There are a lot of people out there who, while possessing an earnest belief in the basis for global warming, have no real knowledge about the science. There are alarmists making unverifiable predictions, predictions that are almost certainly baseless. It’s good that Hawkins brings this up. Unfortunately for him it does nothing toward making his case, namely that he is presenting “5 Scientific Reasons That Global Warming Isn’t Happening.

Let’s move on to Hawkins’ first point:

1) There hasn’t been any global warming since 1997:

This is a good statement for Hawkins to start with, because it has the possibility of real science. It makes a definite claim, and the claim has the possibility of invalidating the theory of global warming. The problem with this statement is merely that it is false. I have in the past posted the following figure:

It’s from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Goddard Institute for Space Studies Web site. The line representing the 5-year running mean climbs up through 2005 at least. If you look at the remainder of the plot, there has been a progressive increase in the temperature index since 1900, with a dip following 1940 and a steady climb since about 1970. There have been periods since 1960 that the index has not increased, but Hawkins’ statement (hasn’t been any global warming since 1997) is technically not true, and the hiatus of the past few years is not inconsistent with the trend of global warming.

Hawkins’ point number 1 is invalid and is definitely not a Scientific Reason That Global Warming Isn’t Happening.

2) There is no scientific consensus that global warming is occurring and caused by man:

Hawkins wants to make the point that “Questions are not decided by consensus.” Actually, in real science they are. If a scientist has a new idea, a new theory for example, this idea gets kicked around and studied by other scientists knowledgeable in the subject. When a reasonable consensus is obtained, the idea or theory gets incorporated into the body of science, and others begin to use it as a basis for additional study. Here are some interesting histories of theories that went through the process:

  • Phlogiston was thought to be a substance associated with heat. It sounded good, and scientists attempted to use it for years. Eventually they came across instances that were in contradiction, and the theory was discarded.
  • Aether was supposed to be a substance that permeated all of space and was he vehicle for the transmission of light waves. An experiment about 150 years ago by Albert Michelson and Edward Morley attempted to use the concept to measure the absolute motion of the earth through the aether. They achieved negative results (the aether theory did not work), and the aether theory was discarded.
  • On the other hand the theory of continental drift was proposed about 100 years ago by Alfred Wegener. Wegener had a lot going for his theory, there was the appearance that continents had moved. However, Wegener’s proposal did not include a workable mechanism for continental movement, and it was rejected until well after he was dead from a polar exploration accident. In the 1960s scientists established conclusively that the continents were moving, and they further formulated a model of the earth’s interior that accounted for the movement. The scientific consensus now is that continents are moving. This movement can be measured by GPS, and measurements show that North America and Europe are separating at about one inch per year.

That is scientific consensus. It’s formed by real scientists doing real science. It’s not formed by passing around a petition for people to sign as Hawkins alludes to: “Over 31,000 scientists have signed on to a petition saying humans aren’t causing global warming.”

I have seen this kind of thing before. The National Center for Science Education came up with Project Steve to counter a list of 500 (the number varies) scientists who dispute the fact of biological evolution:

Project Steve

October 17th, 2008

NCSE’s “Project Steve” is a tongue-in-cheek parody of a long-standing creationist tradition of amassing lists of “scientists who doubt evolution” or “scientists who dissent from Darwinism.”Creationists draw up these lists to try to convince the public that evolution is somehow being rejected by scientists, that it is a “theory in crisis.” Not everyone realizes that this claim is unfounded. NCSE has been asked numerous times to compile a list of thousands of scientists affirming the validity of the theory of evolution. Although we easily could have done so, we have resisted. We did not wish to mislead the public into thinking that scientific issues are decided by who has the longer list of scientists!

Project Steve pokes fun at this practice and, because “Steves” are only about 1% of scientists, it also makes the point that tens of thousands of scientists support evolution. And it honors the late Stephen Jay Gould, evolutionary biologist, NCSE supporter, and friend.

We’d like to think that after Project Steve, we’ll have seen the last of bogus “scientists doubting evolution” lists, but it’s probably too much to ask. We hope that when such lists are proposed, reporters and other citizens will ask, “How many Steves are on your list!?”

What the NCSE did was to come up with a list of scientists who back the theory of biological evolution, but they limited their list to only people named Steve or variations of the name, e.g., Stephanie. The NCSE list easily trumped  the creationists’ list.

A few years ago I took the creationists’ list of 500 and picked one at random. When I tracked the guy down I found out he was not really associated with the ccollege/university listed, and he was not a working scientist.

The EcoGeek has done something similar with the Global Warming Petition Project:

31,000 “Scientists” (Some Dead) Refute Global Warming

Written by Dave Loos on 20/05/08

In keeping with the amount of virtual ink this item deserves, we’re going to try and keep this short. The Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine held a press conference this morning to announce that 31,000 “scientists” have signed apetition rejecting claims of human-caused global warming.

According to OISM officials, the purpose of the Petition Project is to demonstrate that “the claim of ‘settled science’ and an overwhelming ‘consensus’ in favor of the hypothesis of human-caused global warming and consequent climate damage is wrong.”

So what does it take to be included among the 31,000 “experts” on the petition? Well, according to the OISM criteria, any undergraduate science degree will do just fine. Bet you never thought that BS you earned 20 years ago made you a qualified climatologist. Congratulations!

OISM also wants to let you know that 9,021 of the signers hold PhDs. They don’t specify what the doctorates are in, but they repeat that figure quite a bit, as if it means something. Since the group was nice enough to list all 31,000 signers, including the dead people, let’s take a look at the qualifications of three randomly-selected “climate experts.”

  • W. Kline Bolton, M.D. is a professor of medicine and Nephrology Division Chief at the University of Virginia. Nephrology deals with the study of the function and diseases of the  kidney.
  • Zhonggang Zeng is one of the 9,000 with a PhD. He is a professor of mathematics at Northeastern Illinois University. His most recent publication is entitled “Computing multiple roots of inexact polynomials.”
  • Hub Hougland is a dentist in Muncie, Indiana. He was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame last year.

We have encountered the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine before. Robert Park is a physicist who has long written a “What’s New” on skeptical and anti-religious issues. Not allowing the scent of plagiarism to bother me, I have regularly re-posted his comments. Here’s one:

Political climate: what’s right for the American people?
One of the purported abuses cited in the minority staff report involved the insertion into an EPA report of a reference to a paper by Soon and Baliunas that denies global warming (WN 1 Aug 03). To appreciate its significance, we need to go back to March of 1998. We all got a petition card in the mail urging the government to reject the Kyoto accord (WN 13 Mar 98). The cover letter was signed by “Frederick Seitz, Past President, National Academy of Sciences.” Enclosed was what seemed to be a reprint of a journal article, in the style and font of Proceedings of the NAS. But it had not been published in PNAS, or anywhere else. The reprint was a fake. Two of the four authors of this non- article were Soon and Baliunas. The other authors, both named Robinson, were from the tiny Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine in Cave Junction, OR. The article claimed that the environmental effects of increased CO2 are all beneficial. There was also a copy of Wall Street Journal op-ed by the Robinsons (father and son) that described increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere as “a wonderful and unexpected gift of the industrial revolution.” There was no indication of who had paid for the mailing. It was a dark episode in the annals of scientific discourse.

That was from the September 2003 issue of The North Texas Skeptic, and is posted on the What’s New site at http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN03/wn080803.html.

The Motley Fool site also took a dig at beloved old OISM and included remarks from Bob Park:

The Oregon Petition again! Definitely one for a putative FAQ.

Here are some facts about the petition; the text was authored by the late Frederick Seitz. Seitz used to be the chairman of both the Science and Environmental Policy Project and the George C.Marshall Institute. Both organisations are funded by ExxonMobil and both deny that manmade climate change is happening

The petition was widely circulated “Virtually every scientist in every field got it,” says Robert Park, professor of physics at the University of Maryland at College Park and spokesman for the American Physical Society. “That’s a big mailing.” According to the National Science Foundation, there are more than half a million science or engineering PhDs in the United States, and ten million individuals with first degrees in science or engineering.. (Emgineers outnumber Earth scientists in the petition by about 3 to 1).

Seitz attached what appeared to be a reprint of a scientific paper – a ‘review’ of the science of climate change. The review mimicked the font and format of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, of which Seitz was a past president, but it was in fact written by a Christian fundamentalist called Arthur B. Robinson, who has never worked as a climate scientist, his 22-year old son and two employees of the George C. Marshall Institute, Willie Soon and Sallie Balliunas. Robinson runs theOregon Institute of Science and Medicine which sounds impressive but is in fact a barn in the small rural town of Cave Junction. Soon after the petition was published, the NAS released a blunt statement:

The Council of the National Academy of Sciences is concerned about the confusion caused by a petition being circulated via a letter from a former president of this Academy. The petition was mailed with an op-ed article from The Wall Street Journal and a manuscript in a format that is nearly identical to that of scientific articles published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The NAS Council would like to make it clear that this petition has nothing to do with the National Academy of Sciences and that the manuscript was not published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences or in any other peer-reviewed journal.

The petition does not reflect the conclusions of expert reports of the Academy.

Chicanery indeed. Anyone claiming to hold a degree may sign and it has been repeatedly spoofed by environmentalists; previously signed by the cast of M*A*S*H, (Dr. Frank Burns, Dr B. J. Honeycutt etc geddit?), Michael J Fox, John Grisham and ‘Dr’ Gerri Halliwell (twice).

Scientific American took a sample of 30 of the 1,400 signatories claiming to hold a Ph.D. in a climate-related science:

Of the 26 we were able to identify in various databases, 11 said they still agreed with the petition – one was an active climate researcher, two others had relevant expertise, and eight signed based on an informal evaluation. Six said they would not sign the petition today, three did not remember any such petition, one had died, and five did not answer repeated messages. Crudely extrapolating, the petition supporters include a core of about 200 climate researchers.

and in 2005, journalist Tom Shelly found In less than 10 minutes of casual scanning, I found duplicate names (Did two Joe R. Eaglemans and two David Tompkins sign the petition, or were some individuals counted twice?), single names without even an initial (Biolchini), corporate names (Graybeal & Sayre, Inc. How does a business sign a petition?), and an apparently phony single name (Redwine, Ph.D.). These examples underscore a major weakness of the list: there is no way to check the authenticity of the names. Names are given, but no identifying information (e.g., institutional affiliation) is provided. Why the lack of transparency?

So, still waiting for those scientific facts,
Sources :
Frederick Seitz:
http://www.exxonsecrets.org/html/personfactsheet.php?id=6
Marshall Institute
http://www.exxonsecrets.org/html/orgfactsheet.php?id=36
SEPP
http://www.exxonsecrets.org/html/orgfactsheet.php?id=65
Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine :
http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Oregon_Institute_…
http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/10/oregon…
The ‘paper’ and petition
http://www.realclimate.org/wiki/index.php?title=OISM
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oregon_petition
http://naturalscience.com/ns/forum/forum01b.html

[Some text deleted]

From first appearances it would seem John Hawkins draws from fraudulent sources to make his argument. Let me add that he also also appears to do so from second, third, fourth and fifth appearances, as well.

The real scientific consensus is available to all who care to read:

The scientific opinion on climate change is that the Earth’s climate system is unequivocally warming, and it is extremely likely (at least 95% probability) that humans are causing most of it through activities that increase concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such as deforestation and burning fossil fuels. In addition, it is likely that some potential further greenhouse gas warming has been offset by increased aerosols. This scientific consensus is expressed in synthesis reports, by scientific bodies of national or international standing, and by surveys of opinion among climate scientists. Individual scientists, universities, and laboratories contribute to the overall scientific opinion via their peer-reviewed publications, and the areas of collective agreement and relative certainty are summarised in these high level reports and surveys.

National and international science academies and scientific societies have assessed current scientific opinion on climate change. These assessments are generally consistent with the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), summarized below:

  • Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as evidenced by increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, the widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.
  • Most of the global warming since the mid-20th century is very likely due to human activities.
  • “Benefits and costs of climate change for [human] society will vary widely by location and scale. Some of the effects in temperate and polar regions will be positive and others elsewhere will be negative. Overall, net effects are more likely to be strongly negative with larger or more rapid warming.”
  • “[…] the range of published evidence indicates that the net damage costs of climate change are likely to be significant and to increase over time”
  • “The resilience of many ecosystems is likely to be exceeded this century by an unprecedented combination of climate change, associated disturbances (e.g. flooding, drought, wildfire, insects, ocean acidification) and other global change drivers (e.g. land-use change, pollution, fragmentation of natural systems, over-exploitation of resources)”

No scientific body of national or international standing maintains a formal opinion dissenting from any of these main points; the last was the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, which in 2007 updated its 1999 statement rejecting the likelihood of human influence on recent climate with its current non-committal position. Some other organizations, primarily those focusing on geology, also hold non-committal positions.

[Some links removed]

The critical wording is in the last paragraph: “No scientific body of national or international standing maintains a formal opinion dissenting from any of these main points…”

Hawkins’ second point is without merit and mirrors a gross misconception of all science, including climate science, held by the scientifically uneducated.

3) Arctic ice is up 50% since 2012:

The first thing that can be said about this is that it is not a scientific reason “that global warming isn’t happening.” Actually, that’s the only thing that needs to be said about Hawkins’ point 3, but I will say more.

Joe For America posted a similar claim last year, and I countered it at the time:

JFA does not say which polar ice cap—there are two, one north, one south—so I’m going to have to look at both. First the Arctic cap. Here’s a news item from that left wing liberal source, the New York Times:

Sea ice in the Arctic Ocean underwent a sharp recovery this year from the record-low levels of 2012, with 50 percent more ice surviving the summer melt season, scientists said Friday. It is the largest one-year increase in Arctic ice since satellite tracking began in 1978.

The experts added, however, that much of the ice remains thin and slushy, a far cry from the thick Arctic pack ice of the past. Because thin ice is subject to rapid future melting, the scientists said this year’s recovery was unlikely to portend any change in the relentless long-term decline of Arctic sea ice.

Hawkins is batting 0 for 3 so far. In real science Hawkins should be playing defense by now. Instead he keeps on throwing out unsubstantiated assertions. This is getting to be fun. Here’s the next:

4) Climate models showing global warming have been wrong over and over:

This is not even close to being a scientific argument. Hawkins’ argument is supposed to be that global warming isn’t happening. A statement about failed predictions has no connection to his argument. I will go to Hawkins’ final point:

5) Predictions about the impact of global warming have already been proven wrong:

Really? Somebody makes wrong predictions about the impact of global warming, and this is supposed to disprove the science behind global warming? This in no way resembles a scientific argument. Let me give you a parallel example:

The theory of gravity states that the attraction between two bodies is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the two.

  • Somebody says, “For example, two spheres.”
  • I say yes.
  • They say “A big steel ball the size of the earth and a small steel ball the size of a bowling ball.”
  • I say yes.
  • They say, “At or near the surface of the big ball the centers of the two are about 4000 miles apart.”
  • I say yes.
  • They say, “Now I bore a hole 3999 miles deep into the big ball and lower the small ball to the bottom of the hole. Now the center of the big ball is only one mile from the center of the big ball. The attraction should now be about 16,000,000 as great. But it isn’t. In fact, it’s almost zero. This is a contradiction of your supposed theory of gravity, so the theory of gravity is all wrong.”

Somebody please do the physics. Isaac Newton did it over 300 years ago.

I have not gone to the same depth in analyzing every one of Hawkins’ points. I should not have to. Analysis of the first three has demonstrated the scientific vacuity of his argument. If any reader wants me to I will provide additional detail to back up my statement that Hawkins’ argument is lacking in either scientific merit or factual basis or both. This is a case of politics attempting to trump science. It’s the same approach political conservatives took against the health effects of tobacco and the facts behind ozone depletion, and it’s the same approach they are currently taking against the science behind biological evolution.

The strident conservative who posted the Hawkins link has since unfriended me on Facebook. She likes to post a load of crap like this and then avoid taking the heat when it is due. I have called this tactic Ring and Run. I get this a lot from people who cannot withstand a serious challenge to their world of myth, and I have lost multiple conservative Facebook friends over time.

Take it as you will, readers. The title of this blog is Skeptical Analysis, and I do like to give bullshit a rough ride. Learn to live with it.

The Hinge of Fate

This post is about the movie The Petrified Forest, but the real story is in the book by Winston Churchill The Hinge of Fate from his collection The Second World War.

The movie came out in 1936, and it’s about Alan Squier (Leslie Howard), an out of work drifter making his way across the Arizona desert during the Great Depression.

People, it just doesn’t get much worse than this. This part of the world is absolutely dry, and besides that, economic opportunities are close to nil. There is one bright spot, however, and that’s the gas station and eatery run by Jason Maples with the help of his attractive daughter Gabrielle (Bette Davis).

Poor Alan is trudging along the desert road and finally arrives at the gas station, where he mooches a meal he has no money to pay for. He is a failed intellectual and writer, and in Gabrielle he finds a kindred soul.

Lurking in the background, however, is infamous gangster Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart). Constant radio updates alert everybody that Mantee and his gang of desperadoes are the subject of a police dragnet and are headed in the direction of the Maples gas station. The tension mounts.

I’m not going to lay out the plot, but eventually Mantee and his gang arrive and take over the gas station, holding all captive while Mantee waits for his girlfriend to come by separate transportation. Then they are going to take hostages and make their escape.

Alan sees his own escape. He makes a deal with Mantee. He wants Mantee to shoot him before he leaves, ending his miserable existence. In the end the police arrive, and two surviving members of the Mantee gang escape in a hail of gunfire, but only after Mantee fulfills his final promise to Alan. Alan dies in sweet Gabrielle’s arms as word comes that police have caught up with and killed the remainder of the gang.

How heroic.

Of course, being the critic that I am, I notice some gaping flaws in the script and the production.

  • Early on Gabrielle’s grandpa is reading a newspaper. The headlines blare that in a recent exchange Mantee has killed six people and fatally wounded two others. Does anybody besides me notice that “fatally wounded” means the same as “killed?” The headline should have stated that Mantee killed eight people.
  • Also, in the end Mantee shoots Alan then skedaddles out the front door and speeds off into the night. Alan dies, and a phone call comes announcing that the police have killed Mantee and the other surviving gang member. People, this is during the Great Depression of the 1930s. There were no cell phones in those days. The nearest other habitation is miles away. And the police have phoned in the results of the encounter barely three minutes after the gang drives off. Are you kidding me?

All right, I will give allowances this movie was drafted straight from a stage production, and on live stage you don’t have the luxury of dissolving the scene to 30 minutes later when the police are finally able to make their phone call.

And that’s the end of the story, except for British actor Leslie Howard.

Howard was born Leslie Howard Steiner to a British mother, Lilian (née Blumberg), and a Hungarian father, Ferdinand Steiner, in Forest Hill, London, UK. His father was Jewish and his mother was raised a Christian; her own grandfather was a Jewish immigrant from East Prussia who had married into the English upper classes. He was educated at Alleyn’s School, London. Like many others around the time of the First World War, the family changed their name, using “Stainer” as less German-sounding. He worked as a bank clerk before enlisting at the outbreak of the First World War. He served in the British Army as a subaltern in the Northamptonshire Yeomanry, but suffered shell shock, which led to his relinquishing his commission in May 1916.

[Links removed]

Howard went on to bigger movie rolls, including Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind. When World War 2 came along he returned to England:

Howard’s Second World War activities included acting and filmmaking. He was active in anti-Nazi propaganda and reputedly involved with British or Allied Intelligence, which may have led to his death in 1943 when an airliner on which he was a passenger was shot down over the Bay of Biscay, sparking conspiracy theories regarding his death.

Here is what Winston Churchill had to say:

Eden and I flew home together by Gibraltar. As my presence in North Africa had been fully reported, the Germans were exceptionally vigilant, and this led to a tragedy which much distressed me. The regular commercial aircraft was about to start from the Lisbon airfield when a thickset man smoking a cigar walked up and was thought to be a passenger on it. The German agents therefore signalled that I was on board. Although these passenger planes had plied unmolested for many months between Portugal and England, a German war plane was instantly ordered out, and the defenceless aircraft was ruthlessly shot down. Thirteen passengers perished, and among them the well-known British actor Leslie Howard, whose grace and gifts are still preserved for us by the records of the many delightful films in which he took part. The brutality of the Germans was only matched by the stupidity of their agents. It is difficult to understand how anyone could imagine that with all the resources of Great Britain at my disposal I should have booked a passage in an unarmed and unescorted plane from Lisbon and flown home in broad daylight. We of course made a wide loop out by night from Gibraltar into the ocean, and arrived home without incident. It was a painful shock to me to learn what had happened to others in the inscrutable workings of Fate.

Churchill, Winston (2010-07-01). The Hinge of Fate (Winston Churchill World War II Collection) (Kindle Locations 13472-13481). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

War on Christianity

I am so very sorry

I have this feeling. Haven’t I been over this before. Maybe yes:

I previously wrote about the war on Christianity. I made a big joke about it then. There is more, however. Apparently there really is a war on Christianity, and it’s being waged by no less than the United Nations. A conservative friend posted this on Facebook. I have copied and pasted the ensuing exchange with some editing to remove superfluous text and to obscure the identity of some participants:

The post centered on a short Facebook exchange and ended when I posted the whole mess on this blog. In the result I was unfriended and lost the ability to comment further on the thread. I groused about my misfortune and in a fit of poor sportsmanship I posted my final say so:

It’s an old game, but I got the title from a not quite as old TV show. It’s called “ring and run,” and what you do, if you’re a kid, is to ring somebody’s doorbell and skedaddle before they can get to the door. See what fun it is? You make somebody go to all the trouble for nothing, but the best part is, you don’t get caught. You get to leave your message and not have to answer for the consequences.

That’s all come and gone, but the supposed war on Christianity surges forward, at least in the minds of some:

Conservative Tribune

We’ve seen this happen in Syria, where the destabilization that the civil war caused allowed the allies of al-Qaeda come in and begin slaughtering Christians.  In Egypt, the Coptic Christians had no help from the Muslim Brotherhood as they suffered serious persecution after Mubarak’s regime fell.  In Iran, Christian pastor Saeed Abedini has been imprisoned since September 2012 by the Islamic radicals who run the country.

Well glory be. What a stunning news break. Muslim extremists are killing people, especially Christians. Who would have thought it?

Wait! Here’s an even later news break. Al-Qaeda operatives are also killing Jews, Hindus and Muslims. These snarly rascals are giving religious conservatism a bad name. They are killing anybody who looks at them sideways.

And the president is not jumping up and down about the murder of Christians? Conservative Tribune, you need to find some real news to report.

Of course the outcry doesn’t end there, and am I ever glad. Else I would have little to write about. Now we have this:

Arizona SB 1062 is a legislative Act in the U.S. state of Arizona, introduced by Senator Steve Yarbrough. The bill is one of several state bills that would allow anyone in the state to legally refuse business or service to LGBT people based on religious freedom. The bill was passed by the Republican-controlled Senate, along party lines, it was also passed by the Republican-controlled state House. Governor Jan Brewer, also Republican has until February 28 to act. The bill will become law if she does not either sign or veto the bill, only once has she allowed a bill to become law without her signature.

It would be a first-of-its-kind amendment to religious freedom laws in the U.S.

Section 41-1493 of the Arizona Revised Statutes regulates who can claim religious freedom or exercise thereof as a defense in a lawsuit. AB 1062 revises that law by expanding the definition of who is a person to “any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution, estate, trust, foundation or other legal entity”, and allows for religious-freedom lawsuits “regardless of whether the government is a party to the proceeding.”

[Extraneous links removed]

Here is the text of the bill.

Many believe the bill was prompted by litigation in neighboring New Mexico. I touched on this in a previous post:

BEFORE THE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF NEW MEXICO
VANESSA WILLOCK
Complainant, v. ELANE PHOTOGRAPHY, LLC,
Respondent.
DECISION AND FINAL ORDER
HRD No. 06-12-20-0685
THIS MATTER came before the New Mexico Human Rights Commission for determination of a discrimination claim based on sexual orientation, brought by the Complainant, Vanessa Willock, against the Respondent, Elane Photography, LLC. The designated hearing officer, Lois Dogliani, heard the above-captioned matter in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on January 28,2008. The Complainant appeared, gave witness testimony and was represented at the hearing by her attomey, Julie Sakura. The Respondent appeared through its representative and co-owner, Elaine Huguenin, and was represented at the hearing by its attorney, Jordan Lorence.

Conservative legislators in Arizona don’t want the same kind of thing to happen in their state, and the bill is their defense against businesses having to work with unsavory members of society.

A prime mover was the Alliance Defending Freedom:

Alliance Defending Freedom is a servant ministry building an alliance to keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel by transforming the legal system and advocating for religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family.

Recognizing the need for a strong, coordinated legal defense against growing attacks on religious freedom, more than 30 prominent Christian leaders launched Alliance Defending Freedom in 1994. Over the past 18 years, this unique legal ministry has brought together thousands of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations that work tirelessly to advocate for the right of people to freely live out their faith in America and around the world.

There’s additional information on Wikipedia:

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF, formerly Alliance Defense Fund) is an American conservative Christian nonprofit organization with the stated goal of “defending the right to hear and speak the Truth through strategy, training, funding, and litigation.” ADF was founded in 1994 by Bill Bright (founder, Campus Crusade for Christ), Larry Burkett (founder,Crown Financial Ministries), James Dobson (founder, Focus on the Family), D. James Kennedy (founder, Coral Ridge Ministries), Marlin Maddoux (president, International Christian Media), and Donald Wildmon (founder, American Family Association), along with the leadership of over thirty other conservative Christian organizations.

ADF supports the inclusion of invocations at public meetings and the use of religious displays (such as crosses and other religious monuments) on public lands and in public buildings.[3] The ADF opposes abortion, and believes that healthcare workers have a right to decline participation in the performance of abortions and other practices an individual health worker finds morally objectionable. ADF opposes same-sex marriage and civil unions, as well as adoption by same-sex couples based on their belief that children are best raised by a married mother and father. ADF believes parents should be able to opt their children out of sex education in schools that run counter to a family’s religious beliefs.

ADF states that it has “had various roles of significance” in thirty-eight wins before the United States Supreme Court, including such cases as Rosenberger v. University of Virginia,Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network of Western New York, and Boy Scouts of America v. Dale. ADF is representing a litigant in Perry v. Schwarzenegger.

On July 9, 2012, the Alliance Defense Fund changed its name to Alliance Defending Freedom. The name change was a strategic initiative designed to reflect the organization’s shift in focus from funding allied attorneys to litigating cases.

Alan Sears heads up the ADF:

Alan Sears has served as president, CEO, and general counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom since its founding in 1993. He leads the strategy, training, funding, and litigation efforts of this alliance-building legal ministry that brings together thousands of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations to protect religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family in America and around the world.

He is also author, along with Craig Osten of The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today [Kindle Edition]:

Authors Alan Sears and Craig Osten expose the goals of the homosexual movement and its rising legal activism. The homosexual agenda has as its primary aim to “trump” the rights of all other groups, especially those of people of faith. The saddest part of the story is that it is working. In 1988, 74.9 percent of the American public thought that sex between two people of the same gender was always wrong. By 1998, the percentage had fallen to 54.6 percent. Sears and Osten provide well-documented proof that America; is not only becoming more tolerant of homosexuality, through the indoctrination of children, positive exposure on TV, and the support and approval of corporate America, it is becoming less tolerant of those who disagree.

I have purchased a copy of the book and will be doing a review in the future. If you don’t see my review after a few weeks have passed, then send me a hammer by e-mail to remind me.

Some people call me cynical, but I am beginning to suspect that AB 1062 is a lot about protecting religious people from having to deal with homosexuals. Apparently others feel the same way, and you all know how it makes me feel whenever I find myself in the main stream. However, I’ve gone this far, so let me plow ahead.

What got me onto the Arizona case tonight was watching Anderson Cooper on CNN. If you have just come back from several years at the South Pole, then I need to remind you that Cooper is a major news anchor and commentator on CNN. And he is also openly homosexual. How about that for adding juice to his interview with Arizona State Senator Al Melvin:

08:06 PM ET

Arizona Republican State Senator Al Melvin voted for SB-1062 and wants Governor Brewer to sign it. His interview tonight with Anderson ran too long for air. The full unedited conversation which included NYU Law Professor Kenji Yoshino is available here in two parts.

Andy Towle has posted significant text of the interview:

Anderson Cooper Destroys Arizona GOP State Senator’s Defense of Anti-Gay Law: VIDEO

02/24/2014

On AC360 tonight, Anderson Cooper confronted Arizona State Senator and gubernatorial candidate Al Melvin about SB 1062, the bill that would allow businesses to discriminate against gays based on religious beliefs. Constitutional law professor Kenji Yoshino joined the debate and spent the segment rebutting Melvin’s arguments.

Melvin either didn’t appear to know or didn’t want to admit that his state can already fire someone for being gay because sexual orientation is not included in the state’s anti-discrimination statutes. Melvin also couldn’t give an incredulous Anderson Cooper a single instance in which someone has been discriminated against based on their religious beliefs.

Said Melvin:

“Not now. No. But how ’bout tomorrow?”

Using a hypothetical situation under the proposed law, Anderson went on to ask the Senator if, because Jesus spoke against divorce, he would support a business person who wanted to discriminate against a divorced woman or an unwed mother.

“I think you’re being far-fetched with all due respect sir. As a Christian, as most God-fearing men and women would respect unwed mothers, divorced women, who would discriminate them? I’ve never heard of discriminating against people like that. I never have…”

Melvin’s only response was to return to his wingnut talking points:

“All of the pillars of society are under attack in the United States, including religious freedom…We want to protect traditional marriage. Traditional families…”

Finally, Anderson blasts Melvin when he can’t say if he believes it is discrimination if someone is fired for their sexual orientation.

There’s probably a good reason I’m not a TV anchor. However, I would like the chance to interview somebody like Al Melvin in this case. I watched through the video, and there were questions I kept wanting Cooper to ask:

“How is this bill going to protect religious liberty? Let’s play through a scenario. I’m sure when you were considering whether to vote for this bill you thought about how enforcement would play out. Please do that for me. Run the tape starting at the point where a religiously repugnant person pushes through the front door of an Arizona business, and demands service. Finish up at the point where the deeply offended business owner invokes SB-1064 and tells the deviant to get lost.”

Senator Al Melvin refused to consider any of the cases Cooper proposed in the interview. When it was brought to his attention he shrugged off suggestions that a business might show an unwed mother the door.

In all sincerity, it is unlikely a real business would do exactly that. I mean, there are varying levels of repugnance. Why turn down the sale of a $3500 wedding gown just because the bride is showing six months already? There is, after all, the business bottom line.

And it appears the bottom line is about to win out in Arizona:

As expected, the measure has drawn criticism from Democrats and business groups who said it would sanction discrimination and open the state to the risk of damaging litigation.

On Friday, the LGBT group Wingspan staged a protest march to the governor’s office that drew about 200 people. Some carried signs with messages “God created us all equal” and “Shame on Arizona.”

Tucson-based Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria posted a photo on its Facebook page of a sign with a message for state lawmakers: “We reserve the right to refuse service to Arizona legislators.”

“It’s a ridiculous bill,” pizzeria manager Evan Stevens told CNN on Friday. “Arizona has much bigger problems than allowing businesses to discriminate against people.”

In a statement, Anna Tovar, the state senate Democratic minority leader, said: “With the express consent of Republicans in this Legislature, many Arizonans will find themselves members of a separate and unequal class under this law because of their sexual orientation. This bill may also open the door to discriminate based on race, familial status, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability.”

The Greater Phoenix Economic Council, in a letter to Brewer on Friday, urged the governor to veto Senate Bill 1062, saying the “legislation will likely have profound, negative effects on our business community for years to come.”

“The legislation places businesses currently in Arizona, as well as those looking to locate here, in potentially damaging risk of litigation, and costly, needless legal disputes,” council President Barry Broome wrote, adding that four unidentified companies have vowed to locate elsewhere if the legislation is signed.

He added, “With major events approaching in the coming year, including Super Bowl XLIX, Arizona will be the center of the world’s stage. This legislation has the potential of subjecting the Super Bowl, and major events surrounding it, to the threats of boycotts.”

Some of the Republican lawmakers who originally voted in favor of the bill are now wishing to change their vote. There is religious preference, and there is profit. A little hand-holding with evil may not be all that bad. I am reminded of a Russian proverb that I came across reading Winston Churchill’s book Closing the Ring from The Second World War. It’s a long clip, and the cutting line is at the end. I have highlighted it:

From the moment when the Armistice was signed and when the Italian Fleet loyally and courageously joined the Allies, I felt myself bound to work with the King of Italy and Marshal Badoglio, at least until Rome should be occupied by the Allies and we could construct a really broad-based Italian Government for the prosecution of the war jointly with us. I was sure that King Victor Emmanuel and Badoglio would be able to do more for what had now become the common cause than any Italian Government formed from the exiles or opponents of the Fascist régime. The surrender of the Italian Fleet was solid proof of their authority. On the other hand, there were the usual arguments against having anything to do with those who had worked with or helped Mussolini, and immediately there grew an endless series of intrigues among the six or seven Leftish parties in Rome to get rid of the King and Badoglio and take the power themselves. Considering the critical nature of the battle and the supreme importance of getting Italy to fight with a good heart on our side, I resisted these movements whenever they came to my notice. In this I was supported by Marshal Stalin, who followed the Russian maxim, “You may always walk with the Devil till you get to the end of the bridge.”

Churchill, Winston (2010-07-01). Closing the Ring (Winston Churchill World War II Collection) (Kindle Locations 3056-3065). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shroud of Evidence

I do believe I covered this topic before. It turns out it was nearly 24 years ago. The following originally appeared in the September/October issue of The Skeptic:

The Shroud Comes to Plano

by John Blanton

On a Saturday in August a friend of mine who is an ardent creationist phoned me to tell me about an exhibit he had just attended. A shopping mall in Plano was featuring a rather impressive display of photos and history of the famous “Shroud of Turin,” said by its proponents to have been the burial cloth of Jesus, and said by its detractors to be a fourteenth century artifact. The evidence, I was told, was impressive. I took this as some testimonial by someone who was not a Catholic and resolved to take in the exhibit before it closed.

The display lived up to all of its billing. The centerpiece consisted of three large color transparencies fitted together to form a life-size photo of the cloth (which usually is kept in a silver case at a church in Turin, Italy). Mounted display panels told the story of the Shroud and vouched for its authenticity. Furthermore, two highly articulate speakers lectured at length to a very attentive crowd.

The two speakers (who later introduced themselves as Larry and Chuck) were with the Shroud Society of Texas, which may or may not have some association with STURP (the Shroud of Turin Research Project). After Larry had talked mainly about the historical and the religious significance of the shroud, Chuck got into the meatier aspects.

Allowing the carbon 14 dating tests to be performed, Chuck told his listeners, was a big mistake. Proponents had miscalculated gravely in letting a single test determine the shroud’s authenticity. The tests, he announced, had been badly botched in a number of ways: 1) The chain of custody of the samples had been broken (they had been left unattended for some time in a room). 2) The samples had been taken from a region where reweaving indicates some repairs have been made using newer material. 3) Besides that, carbon 14 dating is old hat. The uranium-thorium process has superseded the C-14 process. Chuck further related how the results of the tests had been unscrupulously leaked to the press in October of 1988, prior to publication in a legitimate scientific journal. Fortunately, Chuck explained, an unauthorized test (that presumably did not have all of these problems) had dated the fabric at AD 200, which, apparently, was close enough.

Chuck saved his best for last. He told of STURP scientist John Jackson’s “vertical mapping” process which led him to conclude that the image on the cloth had been imprinted as the cloth (previously resting on the supine body of Jesus) fell straight down through the body to the table below. This, we were told, was an example of a new kind of physics. This was the physics of miracles. An event that happens once and cannot be repeated is not natural, but is miraculous. When I later asked Larry about this analysis, he referred me to Jackson’s published work. He told me to check Applied Optics, 1982 and 1984 for particulars, and he went on to say that Jackson will publish his actual calculations in the future (where, we were not told). NTS Secretary Mark Meyer was able find “Correlation of image intensity on the Turin Shroud with the 3-D structure of a human body shape” in Applied Optics, Vol. 23, No. 14 (pp 2244 – 2270). It is a very detailed article, with charts, photos and computer-generated images. I have not had the time to read it.

After Larry’s talk, and before Chuck got up to speak, I went up and introduced myself to Larry. He saw that I was taking notes and asked me if I was an interviewer. By way of introduction, I gave him a copy of The North Texas Skeptic (a mistake, as it turned out) and allowed him to read it while I listened to Chuck. When Chuck was finished I once again conversed with Larry, and he began by stating that he hated to offend me by accusing me of being non-objective (I told him to go right ahead).

This is disturbing. Apparently I was as unpleasant 24 years ago as I am now. Obviously my people skills still require some work.

Anyhow, it’s a story that just will not go away:

The historical records for the shroud can be separated into two time periods: before 1390 and from 1390 to the present. The period until 1390 is subject to debate among historians. Author Ian Wilson has proposed that the Shroud was the Image of Edessa, but scholars such as Averil Cameron have stated that the history of the Image of Edessa represents “very murky territory”; it cannot be traced back as a miraculous image, and it may not have even been a cloth.

Prior to the 14th century there are some congruent references such as the Pray Codex. It is often mentioned that the first certain historical record dates from 1353 or 1357. However the presence of the Turin Shroud in Lirey, France, is only undoubtedly attested in 1390 when Bishop Pierre d’Arcis wrote a memorandum to Antipope Clement VII, stating that the shroud was a forgery and that the artist had confessed. The history from the 15th century to the present is well understood. In 1453 Margaret de Charny deeded the Shroud to the House of Savoy. In 1578 the shroud was transferred in Turin. As of the 17th century the shroud has been displayed (e.g. in the chapel built for that purpose by Guarino Guarini) and in the 19th century it was first photographed during a public exhibition.

There are no definite historical records concerning the shroud prior to the 14th century. Although there are numerous reports of Jesus’ burial shroud, or an image of his head, of unknown origin, being venerated in various locations before the 14th century, there is no historical evidence that these refer to the shroud currently at Turin Cathedral. A burial cloth, which some historians maintain was the Shroud, was owned by the Byzantine emperors but disappeared during the Sack of Constantinople in 1204.

The pilgrim medallion of Lirey (before 1453), drawing by Arthur Forgeais, 1865.

Historical records seem to indicate that a shroud bearing an image of a crucified man existed in the small town of Lirey around the years 1353 to 1357 in the possession of a French Knight, Geoffroi de Charny, who died at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356. However the correspondence of this shroud with the shroud in Turin, and its very origin has been debated by scholars and lay authors, with statements of forgery attributed to artists born a century apart. Some contend that the Lirey shroud was the work of a confessed forger and murderer.[28]

The history of the shroud from the 15th century is well recorded. In 1532, the shroud suffered damage from a fire in a chapel of Chambéry, capital of the Savoy region, where it was stored. A drop of molten silver from the reliquary produced a symmetrically placed mark through the layers of the folded cloth. Poor Clare Nuns attempted to repair this damage with patches. In 1578 Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy ordered the cloth to be brought from Chambéry to Turin and it has remained at Turin ever since.

Repairs were made to the shroud in 1694 by Sebastian Valfrè to improve the repairs of the Poor Clare nuns. Further repairs were made in 1868 by Clotilde of Savoy. The shroud remained the property of the House of Savoy until 1983, when it was given to the Holy See.

[Extraneous links deleted]

Then I came across this last year. For your convenience I have re-posted the entire piece:

New research removes ‘shroud’ of doubt

Experiments prove sacred Christian relic in Turin dates back to Christ

author-imageby Garth Kant Email | Archive

Garth Kant is a WND staff writer. Previously, he spent five years writing, copy-editing and producing at “CNN Headline News,” three years writing, copy-editing and training writers at MSNBC, and also served several local TV newsrooms as producer, executive producer and assistant news director. He is the author of the McGraw-Hill textbook, “How to Write Television News.”

Shroud1

A new book on a scientific analysis of the Shroud of Turin confirms what WND reported more than a year ago – the relic is not a medieval forgery. The latest tests date the shroud to between 300 BC and 400 AD.

The results of the tests are documented in the book “Il Mistero della Sindone” or The Mystery of the Shroud, written by Giulio Fanti, a professor of mechanical and thermal measurement at Italy’s Padua University, and Saverio Gaeta, a journalist.

Scientists measured radiation intensity using infra-red light and spectroscopy to analyze the shroud, which is kept in a climate-controlled case in Turin, Italy.

Fanti said the imprint was caused by a blast of “exceptional radiation.”

That is essentially what WND reported in Decemeber 2011, that the imprint on the shroud was likely caused by a burst of ultraviolet light that was beyond the technical capabilities of medieval forgers.

Get the full story in “The Case for Christ’s Resurrection,” “The Fabric of Time,” and “Stunning Science of the Shroud.” Then enjoy the fictional adventures in “The Shroud Codex.”

That finding is also remarkably similar to the fictional explanation WND staff reporter Jerome R. Corsi provided in his 2010 novel on the Shroud of Turin, “The Shroud Codex.”

In 2011, Corsi told WND, “What the Italian scientists are saying is that the image was created on the shroud in a burst of energy that Christian believers would understand as physical proof of the Resurrection.”

And, in 2010, Corsi had reported in WND that scientists were building the case that the Turin image was created by radiation that emanated from the body itself, a theory remarkably supportive of the traditional resurrection account that is central to Christian theology.

A scientific paper co-authored by attorney and historian Mark Antonacci and physicist Arthur Lind argued that the shroud image might constitute what amounts to a photograph taken at the instant Jesus’ body transformed as he rose from the dead.

Scientists had been unable to explain the image of a bearded man’s body with wounds in the wrist, feet and chest on a 14-foot linen cloth. Many Christians believe it the burial cloth of Jesus Christ.

WND reported in 2011 that experts from Italy’s National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Development found, “The double image (front and back) of a scourged and crucified man, barely visible on the linen cloth of the Shroud of Turin, has many physical and chemical characteristics that are so particular that the staining … is impossible to obtain in a laboratory.”

Experiments in 1988 by laboratories in Oxford, Zurich and Arizona indicated the shroud dated back to only 1260 to 1390, suggesting it was a fake.

But, as WND reported, those findings were suspect.

In 2005, a scientific paper by chemist Ray Rogers of the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, a member of the 1978 Shroud of Turin Research Project, argued the samples taken from the shroud in 1988 for the radiocarbon dating were contaminated by medieval reweaving.

He argued that after a fire in 1532 nearly destroyed the shroud, French Poor Clare nuns repaired the shroud by adding 16 burn patches and stitching to the back of the shroud a reinforcing cloth that is known as the Holland cloth.

The nuns were able to repair the edges of the shroud by expertly reweaving with cotton much of the damage the fire did to the shroud’s original linen cloth.

Rogers was able to detect under a microscope the reweaving because the cotton had been dyed to match the linen, and the fibers could be distinguished in the reweaving at the edges of the shroud because linen is resistant to dye, while cotton is not.

Rogers’ change of heart made an impact on the Shroud of Turin research community worldwide, largely because immediately after the results of the 1988 radiocarbon dating were made public, he was an outspoken leading voice among critics charging the shroud was a medieval forgery.

The shroud will be on display on Italian television Saturday, the day before Easter. Pope Francis has recorded a voice-over introduction.

The designated “pontifical custodian of the shroud”, Archbishop of Turin Cesare Nosiglia, said, “It will be a message of intense spiritual scope, charged with positivity, which will help (people) never to lose hope,” and, “The display of the shroud on a day as special as Holy Saturday means that it represents a very important testimony to the Passion and the resurrection of the Lord.”

An app sanctioned by the Catholic Church called “Shroud 2.0″ will let users see details in the shroud invisible to the naked eye.

“For the first time in history the most detailed image of the shroud ever achieved becomes available to the whole world, thanks to a streaming system which allows a close-up view of the cloth. Each detail of the cloth can be magnified and visualized in a way which would otherwise not be possible,” said Nosiglia.

You can also examine the shroud in close detail at shroud.com.
Read more at http://www.wnd.com/2013/03/new-research-removes-shroud-of-doubt/#lxHUoEYyf0D24SAC.99

[Extraneous material deleted]

Call me a skeptic if you want, but I have always considered the Shroud of Turin to be in small part religious idolatry and in large part wishful thinking. I was curious about just who it is pushing more nonsense about the Shroud. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about WND:

WorldNetDaily (WND) is an American web site that publishes news and associated content from the perspective of U.S. conservatives and the political right. It was founded in May 1997 by Joseph Farah with the stated intent of “exposing wrongdoing, corruption and abuse of power” and is headquartered in Washington, D.C.

In 1997 Joseph Farah created the news website WorldNetDaily as a division of the Western Journalism Center. It was subsequently spun off in 1999 as a for-profit organization with the backing of $4.5 million from investors, Farah owning a majority of the stock. The site describes itself as “an independent news company dedicated to uncompromising journalism”. In 1999, WorldNetDaily.com, Inc. was incorporated in Delaware with offices in Cave Junction, Oregon. According to its website, WND has a staff of approximately 25 people. In 2007 it was headquartered in Medford, Oregon.

[Extraneous text and links deleted]

Who would ever believe it? An organization with a conservative lean pushing religious nonsense. What next?

Here’s what’s next. This is from that liberal front organization Fox News:

Could ancient earthquake explain Shroud of Turin?

By Megan Gannon

Published February 12, 2014

The authenticity of the Shroud of Turin has been in question for centuries and scientific investigations over the last few decades have only seemed to muddle the debate. Is the revered cloth a miracle or an elaborate hoax?

Now, a study claims neutron emissions from an ancient earthquake that rocked Jerusalem could have created the iconic image, as well as messed up the radiocarbon levels that later suggested the shroud was a medieval forgery. But other scientists say this newly proposed premise leaves some major questions unanswered.

It would seem that WND had the news as far back as 2010. So why is it news again? Is Easter approaching? Maybe it’s time to read more about this enigmatic artifact, and there are multiple sources. You might want to read Inquest on the Shroud of Turin: Latest Scientific Findings by Joe Nickell:

This authoritative book about the controversial “shroud” of Turin, claimed to be the burial cloth of Jesus, presents overwhelming evidence that the cloth is actually the creation of a clever medieval artist.

From the earliest known document that mentions the shroud – a letter from a 14th-century Catholic bishop reporting that the artist had confessed – Joe Nickell traces the historical, iconographic, pathological, forensic, and physical and chemical investigations of the purported relic. He details the microchemical tests that revealed artists’ pigments on the image and tempera paint in the areas claimed to be bloodstains.

Working with a panel of distinguished scientific and artistic experts, the author links the reported medieval confession and the scientific proof of pigments by demonstrating that the much-touted “photographically negative” image can actually be convincingly simulated by means of an artistic technique employed in the Middle Ages.

For the faithful the available literature is ponderous. I have not read this, but you might start with The Sign: The Shroud of Turin and the Birth of Christianity [Kindle Edition] by Thomas de Wesselow. If this kind of stuff interests you, then you may also want to read Scientific Creationism by Henry Morris:

The story of the origin of all things: Does the scientific evidence support special creation or atheistic evolution?

Authoritative and thoroughly documented, Scientific Creationism is easily understood by readers with non-scientific backgrounds.

Teachers, students, pastors, and other witnessing Christians can now be equipped with the convincing evidence for special creation. Updated and expanded, Scientific Creationism is a book that has changed the lives of people for Christ ? people who have been blinded by the current origin-myth, evolution.

“All ministers of the gospel, teachers and professors of our Christian schools on the primary and secondary level, should read this book. A copy should be placed in every church and school library, and used as a textbook in our Christian high schools and colleges.” -Rev. C. Van Schouwen

284 pages 5-1/4 X 8-1/4 Paperback

From there you can go on to Alien Contacts and Abductions: The Real Story from the Other Side by Jenny Randles:

This author strikes me as having the mind-set of a True Scientist. Leaves it up to the reader to choose to believe in this subject, or reject it. The book contains many, many old sightings which I had never heard of, so is highly informative. Heartily recommended to all who wish to gain an unprejudiced look at this fascinating subject. One major disagreement: the author makes the assumption that any advanced alien culture would have just as much rapid change as we have. I believe this would indicate the beings to be from Earth. If an alien technology were 1,000 years ahead of us, would they have our half-yearly change in auto design, or would their autos (and space ships) have reached fruition, and be more static? MUST MUST read this book!

The Skeptics Dictionary also has a take on the Shroud:

“All empirical evidence and logical reasoning concerning the shroud of Turin will lead any objective, rational person to the firm conclusion that the shroud is an artifact created by an artist in the fourteenth-century.” —Steven D. Schafersman

Wikipedia concludes:

In 2013, new peer-reviewed articles were published in favor of the hypothesis that the Turin shroud is the burial cloth of Jesus of Nazareth. One followed a “Minimal Facts approach” to determine which hypothesis relating to the image formation process “is the most likely”. Another analysed the wounds seemingly evident on the image in the shroud and compared them to the wounds which the gospels state were inflicted on Jesus. Another regression analysis by Riani et al concluded that the validity of the 1988 radiocarbon dating test is questionable.

A team of researchers from the Politecnico di Torino, led by Professor Alberto Carpinteri (and published in the journal Meccanica, where same Alberto Carpinteri is currently the acting Editor-in-Chief ), believe that if a magnitude 8.2 earthquake occurred in Jerusalem in 33 AD, it may have released sufficient radiation to have increased the level of carbon-14 isotopes in the shroud, which could skew carbon dating results, making the shroud appear younger. This hypothesis has been questioned by other scientists, including a radiocarbon-dating expert. The underlying science is widely disputed, and funding for the underlying research has been withdrawn by the Italian government after protests and pressure from more than 1000 Italian and international scientists. Dr REM Hedges, of the Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit of the University of Oxford, states that “the likelihood that [neutron irradiation] influenced the date in the way proposed is in my view so exceedingly remote that it beggars scientific credulity.” Raymond N. Rogers conducted various tests on linen fibers, and concluded that “the current evidence suggests that all radiation-based hypotheses for image formation will ultimately be rejected.”

[Links to footnotes deleted]

I have a final take, as well:

  1. First you have to assume that there is somewhere in the universe a magical person who exhibits certain human qualities but is invisible, inaudible, untouchable and imponderable. This person is supposed to be deeply concerned with human welfare, having created the universe in which she dwells plus all the people in it. This person can work many feats of magic and is, on top of that, all powerful. For example this person is said to have helped defeat the “people of the mountain” but could not defeat the “people of the valley,” because they possessed chariots of iron.
  2. Now that you have swallowed that, there is Jesus. Jesus is the son of this magical person and at the same time is the earthly embodiment of this person, and Jesus was sent to this planet in the womb of an unwed teenager to save us from the punishment for sin that the magical person had caused two stone-age people to commit, namely engaging in sexual copulation.
  3. The scheme by which Jesus was supposed to save us all was to have himself tortured and executed on a cross, as was the practice of the Roman government at the time.

Now, and only now, do we get to the issue of the Shroud. You have to believe all the foregoing in advance. Trust me, if you have bought in to the previous, then belief in anything is palpable. Convince me of the first three, and I will eat the Shroud, without catchup.

Sumerian Confusion

So, I was reading my Bible lately, and the news was reassuring:

1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

I always take comfort in those words, because they remind me the Earth and the Universe have not always been here, but they were created by a person of superior power and not in a physics lab somewhere at Princeton.

You can imagine, then, my distress on reading this news item:

Sumerians Look On In Confusion As God Creates World

NewsScience & Technologyyear in review 2009 ISSUE 45•51 • Dec 15, 2009

Members of the earth’s earliest known civilization, the Sumerians, looked on in shock and confusion some 6,000 years ago as God, the Lord Almighty, created Heaven and Earth.

“I do not understand,” reads an ancient line of pictographs depicting the sun, the moon, water, and a Sumerian who appears to be scratching his head. “A booming voice is saying, ‘Let there be light,’ but there is already light. It is saying, ‘Let the earth bring forth grass,’ but I am already standing on grass.”

“Everything is here already,” the pictograph continues. “We do not need more stars.”

Historians believe that, immediately following the biblical event, Sumerian witnesses returned to the city of Eridu, a bustling metropolis built 1,500 years before God called for the appearance of dry land, to discuss the new development. According to records, Sumerian farmers, priests, and civic administrators were not only befuddled, but also took issue with the face of God moving across the water, saying that He scared away those who were traveling to Mesopotamia to participate in their vast and intricate trade system.

Moreover, the Sumerians were taken aback by the creation of the same animals and herb-yielding seeds that they had been domesticating and cultivating for hundreds of generations.

According to recently excavated clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform script, thousands of Sumerians—the first humans to establish systems of writing, agriculture, and government—were working on their sophisticated irrigation systems when the Father of All Creation reached down from the ether and blew the divine spirit of life into their thriving civilization.

Well, if this does not beat all… If those ancient Sumerians wrote all of this stuff down, how come the Bible got all the credit? Scientific findings are where you find them, folks, and it pays to be the first to publish.

But, there’s another thought. How come the Bible doesn’t mention all the Sumerians standing around watching it all go down? I mean, if you read the Bible, there were only two people at the time. What’s with this? Don’t the Sumerians count as people? Shouldn’t the Bible have said something like:

1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

5 And lo, the Sumerians stared in amazement, for these were primitive people and easy to amaze.

Actually, the Sumerians deserve a closer look:

Sumer (from Akkadian ŠumeruSumerian, approximately “land of the civilized kings” or “native land”) was an ancient civilization and historical region in southern Mesopotamia, modern-day southern Iraq and Kuwait, during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age. Although the earliest forms of writing in the region do not go back much further than c. 3500 BC, modern historians have suggested that Sumer was first permanently settled between c. 5500 and 4000 BC by a non-Semitic people who may or may not have spoken the Sumerian language (pointing to the names of cities, rivers, basic occupations, etc. as evidence). These conjectured, prehistoric people are now called “proto-Euphrateans” or “Ubaidians“, and are theorized to have evolved from the Samarra culture of northern Mesopotamia (Assyria). The Ubaidians were the first civilizing force in Sumer, draining the marshes for agriculture, developing trade, and establishing industries, including weaving, leatherwork, metalwork, masonry, and pottery. However, some scholars such as Piotr Michalowski and Gerd Steiner, contest the idea of a Proto-Euphratean language or one substrate language. It has been suggested by them and others, that the Sumerian language was originally that of the hunter and fisher peoples, who lived in the marshland and the east Arabian littoral region, and were part of the Arabian bifacial culture. Reliable historical records begin much later; there are none in Sumer of any kind that have been dated before Enmebaragesi (c. 26th century BC).

That explains much that was left untold in the biblical account of the Creation. Like, when Cain killed his brother and then had to leave for parts unknown, where did he get his wife? Yes, the Bible doesn’t answer that. The story of the Sumerians takes care of this detail nicely. All hoodlum Cain had to do was to head over the next hill and meet up with the local Sumerians and latch onto a local underage girl desperately in need of a husband, and never mind about his criminal record. It’s happened before, folks.

Bad Joke of the Week

Not yet

On their first date, a man asked his companion if she’d like a drink with dinner.

“Oh, no, what would I tell my Sunday school class?” she said.

Later, he offered her a cigarette.

“Oh, no, what would I tell my Sunday school class?” she said again.

On the drive home, he saw a motel. Figuring he had nothing to lose, he asked if she wanted to stop in there.

“Okay,” his date replied.

“What will you tell your Sunday school class? he asked, shocked.

“The same thing I always tell them. ‘You don’t have to drink or smoke to have a good time.'”

The Question That Was Asked

I’ve had a number of job interviews over the years, and in the last few decades something subtle has crept into the process. Somewhere along the line interviewers got the dubious advice that they should attempt to probe the psyche of the applicant. Some odd questions have come up.

For example, one interviewer (it was at Nokia) asked me if I could have any job in the world, just what would my preference be. Of course the obvious answer came to mind immediately. I would want to be the guy at the Las Vegas casino who helped the showgirls put on their costumes. I couldn’t say that, so I just lied and told the man I would like to be a research scientist. I didn’t get the job. He was interviewing for somebody to develop software. A few weeks later I did get a job as a research scientist.

On another occasion I dared take a chance with the truth. Somebody deep into human management science decided that interviewers should put applicants on the spot and give them the opportunity to dress themselves down. The popular question became, “What do you consider to be your greatest shortcoming.”

When the question was put to me, the answer just came out of my mouth. I said, “I have a tendency to answer the question that was asked.” I didn’t get the job.

About 24 years ago I purchased this book. It’s “The Geography Quiz Book.” It’s Everything is Somewhere. It’s chock full of questions, with answers, about things geographic. The title has also gotten me into some trouble around the house. The wife sees my computer on the breakfast table and asks, “What’s this doing here?” My response is “Everything has got to be somewhere.” That doesn’t work, either.

Anyhow I plowed through the book and attempted to answer the questions without flipping forward to check the answers. Some of the facts are quite provocative. Others are seriously dated. A lot has changed since 1990. Another thing I also noticed brought me no end of amusement. It was the nature of some of the questions. Examine the following questions and see if you find what I found:

  • Can you name two important cities, very far apart, that are known for their cherry blossoms? For extra credit, can you tell how they are connected?
  • At Babson College, in Welesley, Massachusetts, there is an unusual map. Do you happen to know what sort of map it is?
  • Tropical savannas have rainy summers and dry winters, but are warm all year. The vegetation is usually some sort of open forest with scattered grasses and shrubs. The largest areas of savanna are on two continents. Can you name them?
  • Can you name a fruit you probably eat at least weekly, perhaps even daily, but that only a hundred years ago was grown only as an ornamental?

This is a sampling of many such questions in the book. If you have been paying attention, then you know an appropriate answer to all of them, and the answer is the same for all. The answer is “no.”

So, be careful what question you ask. A question properly put will elicit the information you want. The wrong question will get you information you cannot use.

The book is by Jack McClintock and David Helgren, and it is loaded with hundreds of noteworth questions that do not have trite answers.

Dirty Jobs

This just in: Wal-Mart is promising to bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States:

How Mike Rowe became a lightning rod for Walmart

When it comes to dirty jobs, Mike Rowe is finding that hawking for Walmart (WMT) leads to plenty of mud-slinging.

Rowe, the deep-voiced host of Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs,” sparked the controversy when he provided a voice-over for a heart-tugging Walmart ad touting the company’s pledge to bring manufacturing back to the U.S. The spot first aired during the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics, a prime night for advertisers seeking a large audience.

Sounds great, right? After all, who isn’t for a return of U.S. manufacturing? But the ad campaign took on a life of its own, with some consumers taking Rowe to task for championing what they view as an anti-union company that offers rock-bottom wages.

The ad might not have sparked such a fierce debate if another spokesman had been tapped. But Rowe, thanks to his seven-year run on “Dirty Jobs,” is viewed by many as the voice of the underdog, the overworked and the underpaid. In short, the champion of the types of people working in Walmart jobs. Rowe then threw a bucket of fuel on the fire by writing on his Facebook page in response to one consumer, “Who gives a crap about your feelings toward Walmart?”

This blog is not called Skeptical Analysis for nothing. I decided to do some skeptical analysis. Here is what I found out.

The big complaint against Wal-Mart seems to be they are buying foreign-made goods. Call me a bleeding heart liberal if you want, but I find that to be absolutely disgraceful. So I decided to investigate further (skeptical analysis). Here’s what I found out.

It’s not Wal-Mart that’s buying products from foreign manufactures. It’s you. Yes, dear reader, you are the guilty party. You are the one who’s buying foreign-made goods. And don’t try to deny it. I have photographic evidence. See the above photo that I took earlier this week. That’s your car parked in the Wal-Mart while you’re inside buying foreign-made goods. Shame on you.

So, readers, here’s the solution. Quit blaming Mike Rowe, and quit blaming Wal-Mart. I have not done a rigorous scientific study on this, but I feel deep down that if you quit buying foreign-made goods Wal-Mart will quit selling them. Like tomorrow.

Dying to Believe

The book

OK, people. Somebody is not reading the blog. There are at least two:

Pa. couple sent to prison for 2nd prayer death of child
AP 4:10 p.m. EST February 19, 2014

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A couple who believed in faith-healing were sentenced Wednesday to 3½ to seven years in prison in the death of a second child who was sick but didn’t see a doctor.

A judge told Herbert and Catherine Schaible that it wasn’t 8-month-old Brandon’s time to die.

“You’ve killed two of your children … not God, not your church, not religious devotion — you,” Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Benjamin Lerner said.

The Schaibles pleaded no contest to third-degree murder in Brandon’s death last year from pneumonia. They are third-generation members of a small Pentacostal community, the First Century Gospel Church in northeast Philadelphia.

Both expressed remorse and apologized for violating a court order to seek medical care for their children after the 2009 death of a 2-year-old son of untreated pneumonia.

They have seven surviving children.

Jesus! Seven more left. These people have their work cut out for themselves.

No, seriously. There was no reason for the first two to die. I explained it all before:

Want some really good news? OK, here it is.

It’s a work of fiction. You don’t have to go along with what’s in the Bible. Somebody made all this stuff up. You do not need to die.

Wait! There’s even better news. You do not need to go to prison either. No, really. All you have to do is to quit killing the kids. Sounds too easy to be true, but you should try it sometime. And while you’re at it, quit reading the Bible. The Bible is a sorry work of fiction, and there is a lot of false information in it. Do not, I repeat, do not base your life on the Bible. Your children can die.

Here are the particularly offending passages in the Bible:

James 5

13 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.

14 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:

15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

But it’s all fiction.

If it’s fiction you want, here’s a much better read:

And the kids don’t have to die.

And you don’t have to go to jail.

The Empty Hat

What would the Democrats do without Ted Nugent? You don’t want to even consider the possibility.

Greg Abbott under fire for allying with rocker Ted Nugent

By CHRISTY HOPPE

Austin Bureau
Published: February 17, 2014 10:31 PM
Updated: February 17, 2014 11:28 PM

E-mail: choppe@dallasnews.com

AUSTIN — Democrats and women’s groups assailed Republican Greg Abbott’s choice of Ted Nugent to appear with him Tuesday, citing the rocker’s abusive name-calling and early penchant for relationships with underage girls.

Abbott’s campaign for governor said Monday he might not agree with some of Nugent’s language but praised the Motor City Madman as an avid defender of the Constitution. The campaign did not comment regarding Nugent’s inappropriate affairs from 30 years ago.

As attorney general, Abbott has touted his office’s Internet Crimes Against Children division, which works with law enforcement to identify predators who go online seeking young women. Calling it his cybercrimes unit, Abbott frequently mentions its efforts to arrest those who would solicit minors.

The Lone Star Project, a Democratic group, slammed Abbott for pledging to protect young Texans while booking appearances with Nugent at two North Texas events to highlight the start of early voting.

No no no, Democrats. You do not want to slam Abbott for booking appearances with Nugent. You want to praise Abbott for selecting a spokesman who best defines the Tea Party and its basest ideals. Democrats need to get out there and tell voters that Ted Nugent is Abbott’s man. And what greater face. And what a wonderful empty hat.

On April 17, 2012 in a Romney stump speech at the 2012 NRA Convention in St. Louis, Nugent said, “If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.” He also compared the Obama administration to coyotes who needed to be shot, and encouraged voters to “chop Democrats’ heads off in November.” Nugent received a visit from the Secret Service for these remarks. Following these comments, commanders at Fort Knox opted not to allow him to perform at a previously scheduled event with REO Speedwagon and Styx.

The News has more to say:

More recently, Nugent has been hailed for his outspoken support for gun rights, his hyperpatriotism and his tirades against Democratic leaders. An avid hunter, he is on the National Rifle Association’s board.

He’s also earned critics for his no-holds-barred statements, including calling Hillary Rodham Clinton a “worthless bitch” and President Barack Obama a “communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel.”

“Ted Nugent is a forceful advocate for individual liberty and constitutional rights — especially the Second Amendment rights cherished by Texans,” Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsch said Monday.

Sometimes I am able to get the Los Angeles Times to agree with me:

Rocker Ted Nugent stirs controversy in Texas governor’s race

By Mark Z. Barabak
February 18, 2014, 6:00 a.m.

Kids say the darnedest things. Grown-ups, too. Otherwise, what would fill all those hours of reality TV? How could we possibly survive the dreaded work function without the benefit of an occasional indiscretion to enliven the forced merriment?

We may laugh, or cringe, but we usually don’t blame those in close proximity for the offensive, weird or wacky things others say in their presence.

In politics, though, it’s different. By accepting someone’s backing, or inviting them onto the campaign stage, there is often an assumption the sentiment runs both ways: Someone endorses a candidate and the candidate, therefore, embraces their supporter and their worldview.

Which explains why Texas Democrats were eager to welcome Ted Nugent, the sexagenarian rocker, to their state with a catalog of his provocative pronouncements ahead of his scheduled appearance Tuesday alongside the GOP’s likely gubernatorial nominee, state Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott.

To wit: Nugent’s recent description of President Obama as “a Chicago communist-raised, communist-educated, communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel … ACORN community organizer gangster.” (This run-on characterization as per the Dallas Morning News, quoting Nugent at a Las Vegas hunting and outdoor trade show last month.)

Or, regarding various female political leaders, Nugent’s alleged use of the words “brain-dead soulless idiot,” “varmints,” “fat pigs” and “dirty whores,” to cite only some of the vocabulary. (A compilation courtesy of Annie’s List, a Texas group that works to recruit and elect women candidates.)

Sometimes Nugent’s brilliance absolutely shines, as in this op-ed piece that appeared in the Washington Times, no friend of liberal ideology:

NUGENT: It is us
We’re the ones who allowed anti-Americans to take over America

By Ted Nugent

Barack Hussein Obama did not sneak into power. An army of clueless, disconnected, ignorant Americans invited him to bring his Marxist, glaringly anti-American jihad into our lives. This president’s overtly destructive, clear-and-present-danger agenda is surpassed in transparency only by his ultra-leftist public voting record and overall lifetime conduct of consorting with the enemy as a child and student of Marxism, socialist and racist community organizer, congregant of the blatant America-hating black-theology- and social-justice-spewing Rev. Jeremiah Wright and close personal friend of convicted communist terrorists like Bill Ayers, and by his unflinching appointment of an array of communist czars, including Van Jones, Cass Sunstein, Anita Dunne, et al. So let me get this straight: You claim your intentions were noble because you simply wanted to get your child a puppy but somehow didn’t notice that it was foaming at the mouth, and now you’re shocked that your child has rabies? I think not. That is not a mistake. It is negligence — dangerous, life threatening and, I am convinced, downright criminal negligence.

And the Democrats want Abbott to ditch Nugent? Get out of here. The Democrats love it when the opposition cozies up to an empty hat like Nugent. Often times the worst kind of thing you can say about conservatives is to cite the company they keep. I’ve done this before:

While the movement is not all about white pride and racial discrimination, it seems to be the closest safe harbor for many of the radical right element who seek the sheen of respectability. So it happened that a number of the disaffected white pride showed up at CPAC 2013 in March. This was apparent at the “Trump The Race Card” session.

According to Talking Points Memo’s Benjy Sarlin, the trouble began at the “Trump The Race Card: Are You Sick And Tired Of Being Called A Racist When You Know You’re Not One?” session when the black conservative leading it, K. Carl Smith, began describing the Democratic Party as the party of the KKK, and urging white conservatives to begin referring to themselves as “Frederick Douglass Republicans.”

I caught some flak over this link when I posted it last year. Was I calling the Tea Party a friend of Nazism or the KKK? No. I was saying that if you find comfort with extreme conservative ideology the Tea Party is the most viable political organization in this country where you will be welcome.

My comparison of Ted Nugent with an empty hat does not require any defense from me. There is plenty of support from Nugent, himself. Here are some priceless nuggets from Brainy Quote:

There are hundreds of millions of gun owners in this country, and not one of them will have an accident today. The only misuse of guns comes in environments where there are drugs, alcohol, bad parents, and undisciplined children. Period.

I have busted more hippies’ noses than all the narcs in the free world.

The war is coming to the streets of America and if you are not keeping and bearing and practicing with your arms then you will be helpless and you will be the victim of evil.

I’m not in the leftist controlled Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because of my political views, primarily my lifelong militant support of the NRA, the Second Amendment, and my belief that the only good bad guy is a dead bad guy.

Without question, the Red Ryder BB gun is the most important gun in the history of American weaponry.

At 62, I remain clean and sober and my ponytail remains erect.

Vegetarians are cool. All I eat are vegetarians – except for the occasional mountain lion steak.

Americans have the right to choose to be unarmed and helpless. Be my guest.

Every study on crime and or firearms proves time and time again, that 99.99999% of American gun owners do not commit crimes or use our firearms in any dangerous or improper way.

I particularly enjoyed reading the first quote above. When I read it I immediately recalled Dickey Martinetts. I last saw Dickey an early Friday evening nearly 50 years ago. It was a few hours before Dickey’s cousin shot him in the head. No drugs or alcohol were involved. Just a gun that was thought to be unloaded.

No, Democrats. You do not want Greg Abbott to ditch Ted Nugent. Abbott needs to keep Nugent and treasure him as the most empty hat in the room.

Dying to Believe

The One, the True, the Pure

Want some really good news? OK, here it is.

It’s a work of fiction. You don’t have to go along with what’s in the Bible. Somebody made all this stuff up. You do not need to die.

Jamie Coots, co-star of ‘Snake Salvation,’ dies of a snakebite

By Bob Smietana | Religion News Service, Published: February 17

Pastor Jamie Coots, a serpent-handling pastor and co-star of the “Snake Salvation” reality television show, died Saturday (Feb. 15) after suffering a snakebite during a church service. He was 42.

Coots, pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name in Middlesboro, Ky., was found dead at his house around 10 p.m.

Coots had been bitten at the church and passed out there, Middlesboro Police Chief Jeff Sharpe said. Sharpe said emergency workers went to the church and to Coots’ home but his family members refused medical care. The police chief said there were no plans to press any charges in relation to Coots’ death.

Coots, whose father is also a serpent handling preacher, was a legendary figure among a small group of Pentecostal believers who practiced the so-called “signs of the gospel” found in Mark 16; among them, taking up serpents.

Serpent-handling believers say the Holy Spirit can protect them from harm while they handle venomous snakes. Some, like Coots, refused medical care — saying God would heal them. If he died, that would be God’s will.

People who know me know that I am not a religious person. That said, it is no surprise that I do not believe in “God’s will.” However, and this is a big however, if I did believe in God’s will I would hope that God’s will would not be “You’re going to die because you are a complete idiot.”

Here is the work of fiction in question:

Mark 16
King James Version (KJV)

15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;

18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

19 So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.

20 And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.

People! Listen to me. It’s a work of fiction. There is no magical person in the sky who created the universe and all of us. Jesus was not the son of that mythical person, and he did not die for our sins. You are still responsible for what you do, and certainly a person who’s been dead for 2000 years is not going to be able to absolve you of your sins. It’s all fiction.

You do not need to die.

For those who enjoy fiction, here’s some more:

Nathan Bar-Fields Challenge

Recently I received the following from Nathan Bar-Fields. To bring some readers up to date, for over 20 years several friends and I have funded a prize, now at $12,000, to anybody who can provide a demonstration of the paranormal. We conduct this activity under the title The North Texas Skeptics Paranormal Challenge. First read the e-mail from Nathan, then I will continue:

Date: Wed, 05 Feb 2014 05:10:25 -0500
From: “Nathan Bar-Fields” <e-mail address redacted>
Subject: The North Texas Skeptics Paranormal Challenge
To: skeptic75287@yahoo.com

To Whom It May Concern,

My name is Nathan.  I’m a college student who is interested in psi, although I’m not 100% convinced it exists.  I’ve done quite a bit of self-testing. My experiments involve predicting binary numbers and events, which are generated using various methods (ex. random number generators, dice, etc.). My results are significantly above chance in each trial: 66%-85%, where we’d expect them to be 50% on average. I have received and followed advice from various scientifically and skeptically minded people, but I still get the same unusual results, provided the testing adheres to the following protocols:

1) Generously timed conditions (ex. 4 hours for 100 guesses, although I normally only need half that time.)

2) Split-second and direct visual feedback after each guess. That is to say after I guess, I need to see the result almost immediately if not immediately, and I need to see it for myself, not be told about it via a third party.

They suggested that I contact someone who can look at my process in person to see where the flaw in my methodology may be, if there is one. I originally contacted Chip Denman of the JREF, but it’s been over a month, and he still hasn’t been able to find anyone in my local area ( I live somewhere between Harrison County and Galveston County) who can help figure out if there are any methodological flaws in my experiment.  So I’ve decided to contact you to take your challenge listed here: http://ntskeptics.org/resources/the-north-texas-skeptics-paranormal-challenge/, since you are closest to me.  If there is some flaw in my method, I’m sure you’ll find it–or possibly them if there’s more than one thing amiss–and I’ll fail the challenge (but I’ll also know what I was doing wrong). But on the off chance you don’t find anything awry and I pass, then I’ll at least have money for travel to do better testing wherever I have to go to find out what’s going on wth me here.

I read all of your statements and requirements.  My responses to them are below.

“Claimant must describe the paranormal or psychic ability or power clearly and precisely. Claims must be specific enough to be scientifically testable. Claims must be clearly psychic or paranormal.

“Binary presentiment,” “binary ESP,” or “binary intuition” are the best descriptions for what I’m claiming to do.  Pick whichever suits your fancy.  To put it simply, I can sit in front of a computer that is set up to show me either a 1 or a 0 after I guess, and I can predict what the digit will be no less than 66% of the time, where chance would suggest a 50% success rate, provided the feedback is very quick (a second or less), and I see the feedback for myself, rather than through a third party like someone telling me, “Sorry, dude, it was a 1.”  The digits are randomly or pseudorandomly generated, depending on the RNG in question.  I normally do 100 guesses per testing session, so we’re talking about 66 out of 100 right (and 80% of the time guess #1 of guesses #1-#100 is right).  If my guess matches the digit (ex. I call out 1 or press the button for 1, and after I do that the number that shows up on the screen is also 1), that is considered a hit.  If it does not (ex. I call out 1 or press the button for 1, and after I do that the number that shows up on the screen is a 0), that is a miss.  The cumulative probablity of getting 66 out of 100 right by chance under these circumstances is around 1-in-1,000.

I’ll leave it up to you to decide if this is psychic or paranormal.  I’m still on the fence, personally.

“Claimant must specifically describe any proposed test procedures which will be used to demonstrate the paranormal or psychic power. Claimant and challengers must agree to the test procedures to be used before any tests are performed.”

Proposed Procedure

1) There is a random number generator.  Without question the most undisputable one would be a cesium-based RNG like I used when I was a student at Cal Berkeley.  However, those aren’t exactly the kind of RNGs one can just carry around.  I’ve been mostly, though not exclusively, using RANDOM.ORG which claims, “RANDOM.ORG offers true random numbers to anyone on the Internet. The randomness comes from atmospheric noise, which for many purposes is better than the pseudo-random number algorithms typically used in computer programs,” as of late.  However, if RANDOM.ORG is not sufficient for you, I’m quite flexible.  If you want to use a cesium-based RNG, we’re going to have to find a university that stores one.  I believe Univeristy of Houston does.  If you’re thinking about another kind of mechanical RNG, that’s fine, but please keep in mind it needs to be able to show me a result no more than a second after I submit a guess.

2) The RNG will be hooked to a computer, and will randomly submit either a 0 or a 1 to the screen immediately after I submit a guess of 1 or 0 via a corresponding button or key on the computer.

3) Whatever number the RNG generates will be shown on my screen for immediate (or as close to as immediate as we can possibly get) feedback for me.  Again, we’re talking a second or a split-second.  No longer than that.

4) The guess will be marked as a hit or miss, depending if my guess and the number generated match or don’t match, respectively.

5) Steps 2-4 will be done a total of 100 times to make a test made up of 100 guesses.

5) I have a maximum of four hours to take this test, but it is perfectly fine for me to finish sooner than that.

6) I have the option to do a 15-minute pre-test to get a feel for the RNG if it isn’t RANDOM.ORG’s, which I’m more familiar with.  If it is Random.org’s RNG service, then there will be no need for the pre-test.

7) I must get at least 66 out of 100 right to pass.

8) The presence of an audience is fine, but they must be out of my field.  If there is an audience it would be similar to the testing conditions when taking the Graduate Records Exam–cameras in the testing room are fine, and people on the other side of a window are fine, but someone sitting right next to me or me doing this on a stage in front of an auditorium of people (as an example) is no bueno. Oh, I’m not sure what you may or may not be considering, but I’m okay with being searched for any devices on my person, if you think I may have a technology to somehow influence the RNG or the computer electronically. However, I’m not paying for a body scan or anything like that if that’s where your mind is going.  I’ll undergo one, but the bill is yours.

“Claimant must describe exactly what test results will constitute success or failure. If success and failure will be described in terms of statistical results, such results must be significantly beyond chance expectation.”

A success/hit rate of 66 out of 100 or higher has an expected 1-in-1000 chance.  I’d say that’s significantly above chance.  If I do this twice–once as a demonstration, and again for the actual challenge–we have something that isn’t just improbable, but ridiculous (though, again, I’m still not sure it’s psychic, but at least I’ll have money to research if it is).

“Claimant and challengers will each be responsible for their respective expenses, such as equipment, travel, accommodations, consultant fees, or other expenses.”

That’s fine, but two things. One, it would help to know where this will happen.  Your contact address is in Corrallton, but I went through the earlier emails with earlier challengers and it sounds like at least one of you are in San Antonio and were going to test there.  Where exactly would this all take place?  Of course, it probably would be best to do this at a university if they’re willing to allow us to use their nuclear based RNG.  And alternatively, they may be able to let us use it, but connect it remotely to a computer so we didn’t actually have to be on their campus.  In any event, let me know what your thoughts are.

Secondly, to minimize traveling (unless you’re coming to me), I’d like to do the actual challenge the same day or the next day after the demonstration, assuming I pass it to begin with.

In the event the claimant is successful under the terms and conditions of the protocol, challengers will immediately deliver the challenge prize to claimant or claimant’s designee, in full settlement of all claims.

Works for me.  I have my bank account number memorized.

Claimant and challengers waive all claims, damages, and causes of action against each other arising out of the challenge, for any injuries or damages of every kind, whether to person, property, or reputation.

I can’t think of any reason to sue you, or you to sue me.  And the test we’re doing isn’t in any way dangerous as long as the nuclear RNG–if we were to use that instead of another kind of RNG–was properly shielded and far enough away from where I’m testing.  So agreed, no lawsuits.

All agreements, protocols, correspondence, data, audio or video recordings, photographs or results made or obtained by either party during the challenge or negotiations leading up to the challenge may be used by either party in any way he or she may choose, including publication, and challengers and claimant both waive all exclusive rights to such information.

Agreements, protocols, and written correspondence are fine and good.  However, I want to be able see the final product of any audio or video recordings of me before I agree to them being used. Those type of media can be edited in very misleading ways.  Sorry, but I’m a skeptic too.   I’m not sure what you mean by data, but my birthdate, social security number, mailing address, and other PII items other than my name certainly cannot be shared with others.  I hope that’s not what you meant by “data,” but if so, I’m just making it clear that I will not and do not agree to that.

This offer is made by the challengers personally and not on behalf of The North Texas Skeptics or any other agency or organization, although others may be involved in the examination of claims.

Okay.

After challengers have received claimant’s offer to demonstrate a claimed psychic or paranormal ability or power, challengers will promptly enter into negotiations with claimant and attempt to arrive at a written protocol satisfactory to both parties. Neither claimant nor challengers shall have any right of action or damages against the other for failure to enter into the protocol or for failure to conduct any test or demonstration.

“Promptly” definitely works for me.  As I mentioned earlier, I’d prefer to do the demonstration and the actual test either the same day or on consecutive days, if I’m the one expected to travel rather than you guys.  I just can’t afford to be traveling back and forth for hours over a period of weeks to do this.

Correspondence sent to NTS regarding the NTS Challenge becomes the property of NTS and will be posted publicly on this web site and elsewhere.

That’s also fine.  I request that you do not publish my email address or my last name, in order to minimize potentially bizarre communications I may get from others. But if you decide to do so anyway, I reluctantly accept that.  I take it this email will not be edited or altered in any way if it shows up on your website.

I found this note from Nathan Bar-Fields to be refreshing in the highest degree. Nathan is articulate, and he is also detailed, to a certain extent. Compare this to some of the other inquiries we have received. Here is an example of what we often get:

Date: Sun, 29 Jul 2007 12:29:41 -0700 (PDT)
From: Francis Jones <e-mail address redacted>
Subject: Re: Challenge
To: skeptic75287@yahoo.com

My claim is this: 1) There is an inherent sixth sense that usually lays dormant in human beings. 2) There co-exist an inseparable, invisible, intelligent reality that has an effect on the material world. 3) From that invisible realm exists a supreme being, namely the “God who created the world,the God of the judeo-christian religion. 4) Concluding there is” life after death”.

It is obvious Nathan’s approach is more palatable. However, what he has proposed is, as with all the others, absurd. Let me summarize:

He is proposing to predict the outcome of a sequence from an RNG (random number generator) or at least a PRNG (pseudo random number generator). More explanation: There is not much of what we do that is purely random. In a lot of things preconditions determine the outcome in principle if not in practicality. For example, in the case of a football game between the Seahawks and the Broncos we can predict the Seahawks will win every time. There are some things that are purely random. These are events that don’t depend on initial conditions. Quantum mechanical events are a good example. A radioactive atomic nucleus will emit an alpha particle with a probability of 50% within the next specified time interval. There is no way of predicting whether the alpha particle will or will not be emitted.

What we do when we want the appearance of randomness is to employ a PRNG. The output of a PRNG is a sequence of numbers that is preset by the coding and the PRNG’s initial state, but cannot be readily discerned by even a very careful observer. Computer programmers use a function in the C programming language called rand (). The parentheses are part of the name of the function. The way it works is to first have your program execute a companion function srand (seed), where seed is some number you pick. This sets the initial state of the PRNG. Now, every time your program needs a new random number it invokes rand () to produce the next number in an apparently random sequence.

Suppose that I write the code to compute sequences of 0 and 1. I would do this:

rand () % 2

That will produce 0 for even output of the PRNG and 1 for odd output. I now get a sequences of apparently randome 0 and 1.

If a casual observer were to just watch the output of this program as it produces a 0 or a 1, and if this person were to attempt to predict the next number in the output, then we would expect him to be right about half the time. What Nathan is claiming is that he will be right at least 66% of the time. Nathan gives the odds of scoring 66 out of 100 at 1/1000. I do not know an easy way to do this calculation, but I computed some preliminary numbers, and 1/1000 seems to be a fair estimate.

Here’s what’s critical. The underwriters of the Challenge will pay off for demonstration of a paranormal ability. Obtaining a score of 66 out of 100 is not a paranormal ability. If we bring in 1000 contestants and let each play the game once, there is a good possibility that somebody will win by luck alone. No paranormal ability is required.

Significantly, what Nathan is claiming is that he has tested himself and has obtained 66 to 85 percent success. A problem with his statement of success is the lack of any detail. He does not describe completely how the test was set up or how it was conducted. If this were a scientific study being prepared for publication, then all results from all tests would be included, and there would be a lot more detail about how the whole business was carried out.

Let me continue with my dialog with Nathan Bar-Fields. I responded:

Date: Sun, 9 Feb 2014 09:08:37 -0800 (PST)Date: Sun, 9 Feb 2014 09:08:37 -0800 (PST)
From: John Blanton <skeptic75287@yahoo.com>
Subject: Re: The North Texas Skeptics Paranormal Challenge
To: Nathan Bar-Fields <>

Nathan,
To test your ability to predict random digits (1 and 0) we would do the following:
1. Write a computer program that generates pseudo random 1 and 0 sequences.
2. The computer program would use a well-known algorithm to simulate random numbers. Sequences are not truly random, but an individual would not have the ability to discern the sequence and predict the next output.
3. Run the program on a computer.
4. The subject would press a key on the keyboard, 1 or 0.
5. The program would immediately display the next random 1 or 0 in the sequence and would record the score, hit or miss.
6. The program would be ready immediately to accept the next input from the subject.
I will write the program, and if you like I will send you a copy. You could run the program on a PC (not a Mac) in a DOS window. You could practice with the program and verify your ability to predict the random sequence. This way you could determine whether you actually have the ability. This would be beneficial to do before you proceed further with this endeavor.
All correspondence related to the North Texas Skeptics Paranormal Challenge will be posted on the Internet.
Best regards,
John Blanton
http://specularphoto.com/blog/
214-335-9248

Nathan responded:

Date: Sun, 09 Feb 2014 17:35:24 -0500
From: “Nathan Bar-Fields” <Nth@groupmail.com>
Message-ID: <20140209223524.271320@gmx.com>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Subject: Re: The North Texas Skeptics Paranormal Challenge
To: “John Blanton” <skeptic75287@yahoo.com>
Hi John,
This sounds reasonable to me, and in contrast to our phone conversation, it sounds like now you have a better grasp of what I wrote.  I’m BCC’ing some of the critical-thinkers I know to see if this makes sense to them as well.  It doesn’t hurt to have a few extra eyes scanning for potential errors.While it seems generally fine, a few things pop out at me:

1) I want to make sure that we agree that I have a generous amount of time.  In the original email, I said at least 4 hours for 100 guesses.  Does that work for you?
2) I think it would be better to use an RNG or PRNG that neither of us has access to or any involvement in its creation.  This is why I suggested getting a local university involved. The University of San Antonio expressed interest, when I sent them an email.
3) I’m personally okay with using a PRNG instead of an RNG, but if it’s psuedorandom, I’m not sure if it is really presentiment that is being tested for, if I do unusually well on it.  It could be high-range pattern-recognition that explains the result.  Full disclosure:  As a kid, I was a mental calculator limited to intuiting the nth-terms of sequences and series. I was so good at it, I got the nickname “Nth” while in the navy as a nuclear tech.  I’ve wondered (and still wonder) if it’s really some calculating part of my mind that’s able to approximate the pseudorandom pattern of a PRNG now that I am an adult.   But if you’re fine with pseudorandom, I’m fine with it too.
4) When would be the earliest you’d be ready to do the actual test or preliminary test, rather?  I need  to make preparations for a hotel.
5) Also, I’m not sure what your response is to my request that the pre-challenge happens either on the same day as the challenge or the day after.
I trust this reply isn’t too long  for you, like you said about my first email.  In the meantime, yes, please send me the program so that I can test myself with it.

Best,

Nathan

Nathan followed up:

Date: Mon, 10 Feb 2014 06:54:38 -0500
From: “Nathan Bar-Fields” <>
Subject: Re: The North Texas Skeptics Paranormal Challenge
To: “John Blanton” <skeptic75287@yahoo.com>

John,

On second thought, I don’t want to delay this endeavor any more than I feel it’s going to be delayed.  Your PRNG program as a self-assessment test works for me.  I suppose one can’t do too many of them.  We can address the other things I brought up in the first email and in my first reply email after that.  When can I expect the program to be delivered to me? I happen to know it’s a program that can be created in less than an hour, so I hope I won’t have to wait days for it.  As soon as I get it, I’ll do a few sessions, perhaps even record one or two via Skype, and send them back to you in an email.

Regards,

Nathan (Nth).

I responded:

Date: Tue, 11 Feb 2014 13:24:38 -0800 (PST)
From: John Blanton <skeptic75287@yahoo.com>
Reply-To: John Blanton <skeptic75287@yahoo.com>
Subject: Re: The North Texas Skeptics Paranormal Challenge
To: Nathan Bar-Fields <Nth@groupmail.com>

Nathan,
I have [a] PNRG routine that I have used previously, and I will incorporate that into the demo. I have some errands to run today, but I will possibly be able to send you a copy of the EXE file tomorrow. There may be some difficulty sending the file, because really good mail services typically delete EXE files. No telling what is in the EXE file that can constitute a security risk.
All correspondence related to the NTS Paranormal Challenge will be posted on the Internet.
Best regards,
John Blanton
http://specularphoto.com/blog/
214-335-9248

Nathan responded:

Date: Tue, 11 Feb 2014 17:45:11 -0500
From: “Nathan Bar-Fields” <>
Subject: Re: The North Texas Skeptics Paranormal Challenge
To: “John Blanton” <skeptic75287@yahoo.com>

Hello John,

I have to admit this is taking far longer than I expected. It’s been 7 days since I first contacted you, and I’m still waiting just to do this demo, in order to do the pre-Challenge, in order to do the Challenge.  But sure, if you think it’s going to take you a day (or more) to email me this demo,  then we’ll get over that obstacle too.  How about changing the .exe to something else like ._xe, and I can reformat it on my end? That’s usually the workaround for delivering .exe’s.  I suppose with our luck, it’s not improbable that we’ll run into another delay.  If that happens, then how about I just pay for the shipping and handling to have you express mail the PRNG to me as a CD?  You’ll obviously want my address, which I can provide to you over the phone.    In any event, yes the “promptly” element of getting all this underway is still as important to me as it is to you according to the content of your Challenge.

For the record, there are plenty of PRNGs (some claiming to be true RNGs) available through various websites that I could use to do this demo for you. I’d just record a session and send it to you.    Here are but a few.

Random.org
http://www.randomizer.org/form.htm
http://andrew.hedges.name/experiments/random/
http://graphpad.com/quickcalcs/randomN1.cfm
http://www.randomnumbergenerator.com/
http://www.psychicscience.org/random.aspx

and many, many more to pick from if any strikes your fancy.

Regards,

Nathan

Nathan further suggested the executable code could be sent in a zip file. I responded:

Date: Tue, 11 Feb 2014 19:08:37 -0800 (PST)
From: John Blanton <skeptic75287@yahoo.com>
Subject: Re: The North Texas Skeptics Paranormal Challenge
To: Nathan Bar-Fields <>

Nathan,
It’s not going to take me long to send the EXE file. What’s going to take some time is for me to write and test the code.
My best bet is to put the file on a Web site and send you a link. Your browser will ask if you really want to load the file, and it will save it to your computer if you approve.
John Blanton
http://specularphoto.com/blog/
214-335-9248

Nathan responded:

Date: Wed, 12 Feb 2014 07:38:45 -0500
From: “Nathan Bar-Fields” <>
Subject: Re: The North Texas Skeptics Paranormal Challenge
To: “John Blanton” <skeptic75287@yahoo.com>

Hello John,

Thank you for responding.  I have a huge amount of respect for anyone who is willing to do a job thoroughly.  I take pride in being thorough about things I really care about as well.  Parapsychology is one of those things for me, especially how I’ve gone about my testing myself in the area of binary presentiment.  However–I’m just going to be brutally honest here, and I accept I could be far off the mark–it doesn’t feel like you’re being thorough, it feels like you’re being dilatory.  This is why I say that:

    • First there was no reply to my email, so I had to call you.
    • You couldn’t talk over the phone because you were at a store, but you said that you’d respond via email.
    • When I didn’t get the email, I had to call you again. We then discovered you forgot to respond to the email.
    • However, the email I sent was supposedly too long to read even though it was just a point by point reply to all the articles your Challenge outlines. We had to discuss this over the phone nonetheless because of that. I’d have preferred having a written correspondence rather than a phone conversation for obvious reasons, but sure, no problem.
    • Then there was suddenly a need for a demo before doing the Pre-Challenge, even though the website only mentions a pre-Challenge and a Challenge required.  I agreed to that demo, nonetheless.
    • However, I later got an email saying you anticipated that the demo would have trouble being sent via email.  No problem, I mentioned commonly known workarounds for that issue in order to get the show on the road.
    • Now that there is no justifiable delay for the demo’s delivery, creating the demo itself will take “some time” even though it’s just a PRNG (that you already have created according to your earlier email) with a stat counter and a save function–which I’m thinking we both know takes “no time at all” to whip up.

But I’m still willing to do this Challenge of yours to figure out what’s really going on here when I do this kind of test, assuming you are someone who can figure such a thing out.  It’s that important to me. The growing amount of intricacies on your end are what they are.  I will be ready on my end whenever you are finally ready.  However, if you would be courteous enough to let me know how long it will take from the time I first signed up for the Challenge on February 5th to actually being in San Antonio to do this Challenge, I would greatly appreciate it.  I am scheduled to travel all of March and some of April, so I need to know if I’ll have to cancel or rearrange my plans.  The sooner I know, the more money I can save.

I would also like to know where in San Antonio would the Pre-Challenge and Challenge happen if I were to do satisfactory on the demo.  I should start making hotel reservations this week before my remaining hotel.com points expire.

Sincerely,

Nathan

Nathan has claimed he can obtain 66 or better out of 100 in predicting the output of a PRNG. Since he has not provided any additional detail, I presume he means he can get this kind of result every time. That’s what would amount to a paranormal ability. In in this light I responded:

Date: Wed, 12 Feb 2014 10:40:17 -0800 (PST)
From: John Blanton <skeptic75287@yahoo.com>
Subject: Re: The North Texas Skeptics Paranormal Challenge
To: Nathan Bar-Fields <>

Nathan,

Again, thank you for your interest in the NTS Paranormal Challenge. Also I appreciate your thorough critique of my process.

In case this information is of any use to you: Monitoring and responding to the Challenge mail is not a full time job for me. I also write a blog and have family responsibilities. When things get hectic I may not read my mail for several days.

I have concocted a computer program that produces pseudo random sequences of 1 and 0. I produced this under Cygwin on my PC. Apparently this program requires a Cygwin environment to run. Cygwin is free. if you already have it, then you will be run the program immediately. Else you will need to obtain Cygwin from the Internet and install it on your computer. I will send you the program shortly either way.

If you want to skip any at-home self test, then we can schedule a demonstration for the next few days. We can do it at my house in San Antonio. I live at [home address].

The pre-test demonstration is meant to save you and everybody concerned the time and expense of setting up a test that will not be successful.

You have claimed you can always score 66 (or better) out of 100. We will verify this by conducting multiple runs of 100 trials each. If you fail to score 66 or better on any of them it will be determined you are unable to perform as you claim. The number of runs will be agreed in advance.

All correspondence relating to the NTS Paranormal Challenge will be posted on the Internet.

Best regards,

John Blanton
http://specularphoto.com/blog/
214-335-9248

I followed up and sent Nathan the executable file:

Date: Wed, 12 Feb 2014 10:46:48 -0800 (PST)
From: John Blanton <skeptic75287@yahoo.com>
Subject: Re: The North Texas Skeptics Paranormal Challenge
To: Nathan Bar-Fields <>

Nathan,

I am attaching the computer program.

John Blanton

Nathan responded:

Date: Wed, 12 Feb 2014 19:32:16 -0500
From: “Nathan Bar-Fields” <>
Subject: Re: The North Texas Skeptics Paranormal Challenge
To: “John Blanton” <skeptic75287@yahoo.com>

Hi John,

You’re very welcome for my interest, and I thank you for present/pAll correspondence related to the North Texas Skeptics Paranormal Challenge will be posted on the In/div/divternet. ing the opportunity to get me one step closer to figuring out what I can do is really supernatural, preternatural, natural, or even just plain ol/p Subject: Re: The North Texas Skeptics Paranormal Challenge/pe’ delusional.  And you can show your appreciation for my tho lt;skeptic75/emblockquote287@yahoo.comrough critique of your process by offering a thorough critique of mine with regard to this possible binary presentiment ability. That’s something I know you’re going to do anyway, so you have my thanks both in return and in advance.

I can empathize with having to juggle many hats.  That seems to be something all of my adult friends have to do.  I include myself in that set–with work, school, family obligations, volunteer work obligations, and this endeavor. It’s amazing that any of us ever get any of the things we have to get done accomplished. So yes, you definitely have my sympathy.  But even more than that, you have my gratitude for responding to my last email rather promptly despite all the other things you must handle in life.

You wrote:
“You have claimed you can always score 66 (or better) out of 100. We will verify this by conducting multiple runs of 100 trials each. If you fail to score 66 or better on any of them it will be determined you are unable to perform as you claim. The number of runs will be agreed in advance.”

I’m pretty sure  to see if I have binary presentiment, not if I can score at least 66% on every trial.  IN other words, I’m sure you would agree that I could not score 66% on every presentiment test from here to eternity, but presentiment could still be demonstrated.   It would be like a batter with a  .380 career batting average losing his or her claim as an unusully gifted batter because that one time he was 0.200. That doesn’t compute.  If I’m doing a total of 400 guesses for you and I get 300 right (for example), then I would have averaged 75% accuracy, and the chances of that happening by way of simple chance is greater than 1-in-86 septillion.    But if I got 70%, 70%, 65%, and 91% on the individual 100 trials I would have failed the Challenge despite presenting even statistically stronger proof than in any other cumulative trial set of 400  I’ve ever done, *and* despite in each trial of 100 I still managed to achieve something smaller than 00.02% that was a chance occurence in even my worst trial… all because I was one percent shy on one of the sub-tests? Not only would I have lost the Challenge, the results wouldn’t disprove to anyone with basic to advanced reasoning skills that this is binary presentiment, which is the aim of this Challenge, correct? To disprove “paranormal” claims.

No, what has just been proposed is not looking to see if I really have binary presentiment or not, it is to test if I get 66% or better every time I test, and that is not the same.   If there is a sound and scientific reason why an average of 66% right on four trials of 100 wouldn’t be confirmation that this is binary presentiment, then I’d love to hear it.   If there is no reason, then I think you mean if I fail to average 66% then I fail the Challenge, to which I agree.

As for me driving out to do this pre-Challenge and Challenge, I would like to be there next Wednesday, February 19th-20th.  Will that work for you? If so, I will make the reservations as soon as I hear from you.

Best,
Nathan

Once again Nathan has failed to provide complete details of his claimed paranormal ability. My response is to continue to assume his claim is for 66 out of 100 every time. If he wants to cllaim something else he will need to state what that is. He needs to be specific. In this light I responded:

Date: Wed, 12 Feb 2014 20:32:46 -0800 (PST)
From: John Blanton <skeptic75287@yahoo.com>
Subject: Re: The North Texas Skeptics Paranormal Challenge
To: Nathan Bar-Fields <>

Nathan,

Thanks again. Here is some explanation for you.

What you have claimed is that you can score 66% every time. That is what we are going to test. If you want to change your claim and assert that you can score 66% some of the time, then I will devise a different test.

Take special note: This is not a test of mathematical probabilities. If we wanted to test probabilities, then we would just hold a lottery. It would be free for anybody to enter, and the first person to beat the odds would walk away with the prize. What we test is what people claim to be able to do, and we devise tests to eliminate virtually all chances of success by luck alone.

Here is a good time for you to reconsider if you wish. If you want to reformulate your claim, then it’s best to do that before we schedule any demonstration. In any event I will make myself available either Wednesday or Thursday of next week (19 or 20 February).

Let me know if you received the program and tested yourself with it. Remember, you need to install Cygwin, and you need to run the program in a Cygwin window.

The program has a fixed PRNG seed, so each time you run it you will get the same sequence. What this means for you is that if you are testing yourself there is no point in running more than one test. When I test you for the demonstration I will provide a different seed for each run of 100.

If you agree, then the demonstration will proceed this way:

1. I will run the test on my computer.
2. I will provide a different seed for each run.
3. You will sit at the keyboard and enter a 1 or a 0 each time the computer prompts for one.
4. You will be allowed 10 minutes for each run.
5. There will be 10 runs of 100 trials each.
6. If you fail to obtain 66 out of 100 for any run, the demonstration will stop immediately.
7. If you score 66 or better for all 10 runs you will be invited for a formal test for the Challenge and will be awarded the prize ($12,000) if you are successful.

If you think all of this is too much trouble, then you need to remember that you claim you can do this every time. If you can actually do this every time, then you will wind up making two trips to San Antonio, for which you will be paid $12,000. That’s better wages than most people can get anywhere.

Finally, if you are having difficulty with the program I sent, then I can arrange for you to test yourself without making a trip to San Antonio. I will run the program on my computer here. When prompted, you will send me your entry by e-mail. I will monitor my e-mail and provide prompt responses. Let me know it that will work for you.

All correspondence related to the NTS Paranormal Challenge will be posted on the Internet.

Best regards,

John Blanton
http://specularphoto.com/blog/
214-335-9248

Nathan responded:

Date: Thu, 13 Feb 2014 02:38:47 -0500
From: “Nathan Bar-Fields” <>
Subject: Re: The North Texas Skeptics Paranormal Challenge
To: “John Blanton” <skeptic75287@yahoo.com>

Hi John,

Sorry for the typos in my last email to you. That’s very unbecoming of someon like me who is an aspiring science fiction novelist. My brain is not groggy now, so the wording in this email should be copacetic. Okay, so here we go…

You wrote:
> What you have claimed is that you can score 66% every time.

My mistake.  I thought my claim being presented was purely binary presentiment, but I definitely see how I worded this in a misleading way.  We can overcome this, though…

> This is not a test of mathematical probabilities.
> If we wanted to test probabilities, then we would just hold a lottery.

No, I’m pretty sure I described that the feedback needs to be a split-second after I guess, binary, bit by bit, and I have ample time for each guess; or the presentiment won’t show up in a measurable way.  In fact, I’m almost certain I’ve explained that more than once.  I’m unaware of any lottery that works that way, and I’ve certainly looked for any that does. The closest I can think of is roulette, but that darn immediate feedback issue happens.  Now, if you know of a lottery that would work, please give me a heads up, and I’ll just test if I have binary presentiment from the comfort of my home instead of doing this.

> What we test is what people claim to be able to do,

Cool, because I’m still claiming binary presentiment as what I’m seemingly able to do.

> and we devise tests to eliminate virtually all chances of success by luck alone

And that works for me.  This is good.  Multiple trials are a great way to do that.

> Here is a good time for you to reconsider if you wish. If you want to reformulate
> your claim, then it’s best to do that before we schedule any demonstration. In
> any event I will make myself available either Wednesday or Thursday of next
> week (19 or 20 February).”

Thank you for the insight and the scientific rigor. I really appreciate that.
I shared this email with a few of my skeptical friends.  One of them—the one who gives me the most frat boy grief about my claiming binary presentiment—was kind enough to play liaison here, translating what you’re saying from Skeptic-ese to something I’d understand better.  He wrote,

I think they just want to nail you down on a specific claim. You said 66/100, so they’re going with that. To some extent, you can set your own bar (above their bar for being impressed).

Imagine a crazy person who says that they can talk to animals. They start testing that, and then it turns into, oh, I can only talk to birds. So they try to test that, and then it’s oh, I can only talk to birds about music. Later it’s I can only hum to birds, and they appear disinterested. So they just want one concrete claim up front that they can test. That’s my sense anyway.

I think he’s read you correctly, and I can see where you’re coming from now.  You have my sincerest apologies for my part.  I‘ll rectify that now.

To be as specific as I possibly can be, I am interested in finally figuring out if I am demonstrating binary presentiment or not, and would like you to devise a test to do that.  The test will also be the Challenge.  Two birdies, one stone.  I do think your suggestion of multiple runs to definitively test for this possible ability is a good one, but if I were to fail to attain at least 66% on just one of the numerous runs, while doing that well or better on all the other runs in the session, that would not prove that I don’t have binary presentiment in my mind; it would prove that now the worst I’ve ever performed on a session is under 66%.  My average, however, would be even stronger proof that it actually is binary presentiment, yet I’d still have lost the Challenge. No, that won’t do.  We’ll have to come up with something that will work.  Thankfully, you and I are both great critical-thinkers and smart enough to get this done.

I normally reply point-by-point, but I jumped ahead and I see that it looks like the pre-Challenge you are proposing will include a total of 1000 individual guesses.  How many guesses out of 1000 or (I’m hoping for time’s sake) 600 would I have to get correct in order to reasonably suggest binary presentiment and pass onto the Challenge?

> Let me know if you received the program and tested yourself with it.
> Remember, you need to install Cygwin, and you need to run the
> program in a Cygwin window.

Found it in my Spam box.  It’ll be one of the first things I do in the morning. Thanks.

> The program has a fixed PRNG seed, so each time you run it you will get the
>  same sequence. What this means for you is that if you are testing yourself
>  there is no point in running more than one test. ”

Yes, I figured.  Or I could just do a session of 500 guesses, break it into 5 runs, and I would have an average for my personal records of self-testing.

> When I test you for the demonstration I will provide a different
>  seed for each run of 100.

Cool. Sounds like what I’ve been doing already.

> If you agree, then the demonstration will proceed this way:

I take it you mean pre-Challenge, because the program you emailed me is supposed to be a demo.  Am I correct here?

> 1. I will run the test on my computer.”

Mmm…okay.  But wouldn’t it be better to use a computer that neither of us had previous access to?  I’m thinking we contact a university or community college that is local to you and see if they’d be interested in hosting this pre-Challenge. Regardless if we agree to a minimum for each individual run or for the total session, this sounds like a valid issue to address.
>2. I will provide a different seed for each run.

I’m kind of skeptical of the program(s) being yours, and run by you.  Here’s the thing–you could program the response to be the opposite of what I guess at or around 50% of the time on one of the PRNGs. This is a realistic possibility.  I absolutely believe you wouldn’t do something unbecoming and tricky like that, but I try to separate what I believe from what I know, as I’m sure you do.  Would you agree that this is a valid concern on my part?  I’m thinking it would be better to have an independent 3rd party construct the PRNG or RNG, as well as to run it, which is why I suggested a local university in the first place. And I’m even cool with a community college.  There are a number of them in San Antonio to choose from.  I’d even let you pick the one, but we’d both have to agree which.  Does this make as much sense to you as it does to me or more sense?

> 3. You will sit at the keyboard and enter a 1 or a 0 each time the computer prompts for one.”

Okay.  I’m very good at sitting at a keyboard. I can do this part.

> 4. You will be allowed 10 minutes for each run.”

No way! There is absolutely no way I can do 100 guesses in ten minutes.  It sooooo does not work that way, which I clearly wrote out in my first email. In fact, I made sure that was marked as “1) Generously timed conditions (ex. 4 hours for 100 guesses, although I normally only need half that time.)”.  If you can’t find where I wrote that out, I can highlight it, because it’s definitely there in the first email.  I mean I can do 10 guesses per minute, but I’ll almost certainly wind up getting average results on at least one trial, and more likely on all of them.  In other words, if I passed the Pre-Challenge under this circumstance it wouldn’t be presentiment at work, it would be a divine miracle!

>5. There will be 10 runs of 100 trials each.”

Given my timed average (though I’d expect some additional time allotted for a Challenge and pre-Challenge), that would take me 25 hours to accomplish…without any breaks…in a day.  Yes, you’d be testing for binary presentiment, but you’d also be testing for fatigue, as well as the magical ability to add one more hour to an Earth day.  I don’t see what 10 runs for a Demo/pre-Challenge will accomplish that 4 or 5 runs won’t. Or I suppose I could do 3 sessions a day for two consecutive days.  That’s 6 runs of 100 trials each.  I’m willing to do that if the actual Challenge is on the same day or the day after (and I know what the Challenge is before I even get out there) the last pre-Challenge day.  I just can’t spend a week or so in your city, even though I’m sure the town is wonderful.

>6. If you fail to obtain 66 out of 100 for any
> run, the demonstration will stop immediately.

Drop it from “66 out of 100” to “59 out of 100,” then you have yourself a deal if you’re sticking to each and every session rather than an average over different sessions and different PRNGs. Again, it was not my intention to test if I will always score at least 66% on every test I ever take from now on. I’m just interested in seeing if I have binary presentiment.

> 7. If you score 66 or better for all 10 runs you will
>  be invited for a formal test for the Challenge and
>  will be awarded the prize ($12,000) if you are successful.

If you score 59 or better for all 6 runs you will be invited for a formal test for the Challenge and will be awarded the prize ($12,000) if you are successful.” works better for me. How about you?

We also need to discuss what exactly the Challenge is. No offense at all is intended here, but this is starting to feel a wee bit stretched out.  I rather the Challenge be logical than Herculean, but I’ll do Herculean (well, up to a point) if I must.  I am not going to do Sisyphean, though.  I don’t want to drive out there to do the pre-Challenge (please tell me that’s what you mean by the “Demo”), only to discover the details of the Challenge entail things we can’t agree on and I have to drive back empty-handed without even trying.

Regards,
Nathan (Nth)

I responded:

Date: Thu, 13 Feb 2014 08:37:40 -0800 (PST)
From: John Blanton <skeptic75287@yahoo.com>
Subject: Re: The North Texas Skeptics Paranormal Challenge
To: Nathan Bar-Fields <>

Nathan,

To sum up:

Before we get serious about testing you, you need to say exactly what is it you claim to be able to do that is paranormal.

“Binary presentiment” is a term you have been using, but that does not have any meaning as far as the NTS Paranormal Challenge goes.

You need to state your claim in this manner: “I have the ability to predict the next output from a PRNG (1 or 0) at least 66 times out of 100.”

If that is what you claim, then that is what we will test. Before we set up a formal test you will be required to demonstrate that you can do that. If you fail in the demonstration, then we will conclude that your claim is false, and we will  not be interested in testing you regarding this claim.

If you successfully predict, say, 67 out of 100 trials in a session, then there are two possible explanations:

1. You really can do as you claim.
2. Your success was due to pure luck.

We need to remove all possibilities of success due to pure luck. There are tests that do not require multiple sessions to eliminate luck. Here is an example:

A person visited one of the NTS meetings several years ago, and he claimed he could walk through walls. I proposed to test this claim. We would point out a wall, and he would walk through it. If he could do it the first time we would agree he could do it the second time. He declined to be tested.

In my previous response I did mention 60 successes out of 100. I was ignoring your claim is the ability to obtain 66 out of 100. My apologies.

Yes, it’s going to be my program on my computer. Those are the rules. It’s my money, so I get to make the rules. If you do not agree with this, then we can halt the process at this point.

The term “pre-Challenge” is not one we use. We require a demonstration before I will get any of the other underwriters involved and set up a test for the prize.

Finally, it appears to me that if you are only interested in determining whether you have the ability you claim, then you can perform your own demonstration. Write a computer program and run it on your computer and see if you can predict the PRNG output as you described. If you determine that you cannot do this, then you will save everybody a lot of wasted time and money (travel expenses and such).

Remember the case of Rosemary Hunter. She claimed she could write on a piece of paper the same word I wrote on another piece of paper. I advised her to carefully verify her ability before she came out to Salt Lake City for a demonstration. She claimed she had verified her ability by testing with some friends. My guess is she did not. She went to great expense to come from Cleveland, Ohio, for a ten-minute demonstration that failed.

Be very sure you verify your ability before proceeding.

All correspondence related to the NTS Paranormal Challenge will be posted on the Internet.

John Blanton
http://specularphoto.com/blog/
214-335-9248

Nathan makes the mistake of believing he is being specific. The term “consistently” is not anyway specific. An experimenter who says he “consistently” gets a certain result can later point to consistently getting that result every other day, or worse. I responded:

Date: Thu, 13 Feb 2014 11:26:42 -0800 (PST)
From: John Blanton <skeptic75287@yahoo.com>
Subject: Re: The North Texas Skeptics Paranormal Challenge
To: Nathan Bar-Fields <>

Nathan,
Then we are done. I believe you can obtain 66 out of 100 “consistently.” That is not a paranormal ability. I can do that myself. Come back when you can do it invariably.
All correspondence related to the NTS Paranormal Challenge will be posted on the Internet.
Best regards,

John Blanton
http://specularphoto.com/blog/
214-335-9248

Nathan responded:

Date: Thu, 13 Feb 2014 14:09:11 -0500
From: “Nathan Bar-Fields” <>
Subject: Re: The North Texas Skeptics Paranormal Challenge

“Before we get serious about testing you, you need to say exactly what is it you claim to be able to do that is paranormal.”

My claim is that I can consistently–not invariably–score at least 66/100 on binary presentiment tests under the conditions I outlined in the first email.  If you don’t want to go searching for what those conditions were,  I’ll summarize them here.

1) Immediate feedback–no more than a second after I hit 1 or 0
2) Direct feedback–I see the result for myself immediately after each individual guess.
3) Generously timed conditions–At the very least 2.5 hours per session.  If I finish earlier than that, then cool beans for everyone.

Are we good now?

Best,

–Nathan (Nth)
P.S. I did your PRNG demo and got 69/100 (80 minutes). I haven’t turned it off, and will continue doing it for another 400 guesses so that I can have a total of 5 runs of 100, without starting from the beginning.  If the PRNGs I’ll be doing are like this, then I’m fine.

Take special note of Nathan’s P.S. If he did accomplish this, then his feat was remarkable. Why would this not qualify?

  1. We would have to take Nathan’s word for it.
  2. Given complete control of the program it would not be difficult to reverse engineer it, determine the value of the seed, write a similar program, run that program and learn the expected results.

Nathan sent a follow-up e-mail:

Date: Thu, 13 Feb 2014 14:41:27 -0500
From: “Nathan Bar-Fields” <>
Subject: Re: The North Texas Skeptics Paranormal Challenge
To: “John Blanton” <skeptic75287@yahoo.com>

Fine.

I’d like to test if I can score 66/100  each and every time.  Either way the information would be useful.  But, I can’t do 100 guesses in 10 minutes.  I’ve never been able to do that, and I explained that in the very first email.

So are we back on?

Even better regards,

Nathan (Nth)

Nathan followed with this:

Date: Thu, 13 Feb 2014 17:41:53 -0500
From: “Nathan Bar-Fields” <Nth@groupmail.com>
Subject: Re: The North Texas Skeptics Paranormal Challenge
To: “John Blanton” <skeptic75287@yahoo.com>

This may be a repeat email as I’m being told the first didn’t go through.

You know what, John? We only live once that we can prove.  I’m ready to go with the original demo you suggested and the original claim you want to test for.  I have to get at least 66% right on each run?  Okay.

However, we need to:

1. Agree that the PRNGs should be via an independent party rather than yours.
2. Come up with something better the 10 seconds per guess, as that will not work,  which I stated from day 1.
3. That the the pre-Challenge and Challenge are something I can do over no more than a three day period.
4. Discuss what the actual Challenge is.

I look forward to your response.

Cheers,

–Nathan (Nth)

So far a lot of talk, but no action. Nathan, as is the case with a number of people vying for the prize, would like to control the test. That is always a mistake. I and the other underwriters insist on complete control before we put our money out. I responded:

Date: Fri, 14 Feb 2014 09:03:24 -0800 (PST)
From: John Blanton <skeptic75287@yahoo.com>
Subject: Re: The North Texas Skeptics Paranormal Challenge
To: Nathan Bar-Fields <>

Nathan,

I am still available to see your demonstration. Note:
1. The PRNG will be mine on my computer.
2. Let me know how long you will require for each response. It had better not be a “guess,” because you are supposed to be knowing the correct response and not guessing. There has to be some reasonable limit on your response time. My time is limited.
3. There is no such thing as a pre-Challenge. If you qualify by your performance in the demonstration, then I will work with the other underwriters to set up a formal test. That will take whatever time it takes and will be more than three days.
4. We can discuss what an actual test will be: There will be a signed contract specifying what is to be done. The contract will include a clause that upon successful completion of the test (your claim is proved) you will be paid the prize by check immediately.
My position is, and what I expect to demonstrate is, that your claim is completely without merit. What you are proposing to demonstrate is known to be impossible. You are claiming to be able to do the impossible. You should not be looking forward to success.
The best advice I can give to you now is for you to demonstrate this to yourself. I believe, despite what you have told me, is that you have not performed this step. You need to do it.
Here is what you need to do before proceeding further:
1. Obtain a device that produces random sequences of 1 and 0.
2. Run the test yourself.
3. Score yourself just as I would when testing you. If you even once fail to correctly predict the correct output 66 times out of 100, then stop. You have disproved your own claim.
4. You really do not need a computer to do this. Flipping a coin produces a random sequences of heads and tails (1 and 0). Is there some reason you think this will not work whereas a computer-generated sequence would? If you believe a computer PRNG is required, please explain why.
What we at the NTS have found in the past is that claimants will play with their idea and try it several times. Then one time the result will come out the way they want, and they believe they have acquired the supposedly magical ability. Then they will stop testing and will come to us with the assertion that they have successfully tested themselves. Do not do this. You should attempt to refute your own hypothesis by all means possible. Before you proceed further I urge you take all possible steps within your ability to refute your own hypothesis. In your next e-mail response to me please tell me if you have or have not done this. If you have performed this procedure, then tell me what you did and what you observed. Be very detailed.
I’m looking forward to your response.
All correspondence related to the NTS Paranormal Challenge will be posted on the Internet.
John Blanton
http://specularphoto.com/blog/
214-335-9248

Nathan responded:

Date: Fri, 14 Feb 2014 16:46:49 -0500
From: “Nathan Bar-Fields” <>
Subject: Re: The North Texas Skeptics Paranormal Challenge
To: “John Blanton” <skeptic75287@yahoo.com>

Hi John,

Nice to see we’re tentatively back on.  Per your points:

1.  What proof do I have that my concern about any one of the PRNGs you create and run can’t be programmed by you to produce a sub par result regardless of what I guess? I need actual, conclusive proof–not your word– that it would be impossible for you to tamper with any of the ten programs to make it result in a score under 66%.  Additionally, I’d like to know your reasoning why an independent 3rd party (e.g., the math or computer science department of a college nearest to you) that creates the PRNGs per your specifications and run them instead of one of the people with a vested interest in the outcome (that would be both you and me) doing this is an unacceptable and unreasonable condition. Especially if the department is willing to proctor this for free. If you can’t come up with a good reason (“It’s my money” is not a good reason. That’s a similar argument that 3-card Monte hustlers on the street corner use for why they get to shuffle their cards), then we either get that third party or as you put it, the deal is off.

2. From the beginning I mentioned how much time I require for a run of 100 guesses. It was item #1 in the first email, in fact.  Feel free to check to make sure.  This means I told you *before* you said you want me to have only ten seconds per guess.  And I have repeated my requirement to you multiple times since then in our correspondence.  Again, my average is 2.5 hours, but I requested 4 hours just in case. The 4 hours is negotiable, but it has to be at least 2.5 hours per run.

3. Fine. Demonstration. Glad to hear it.

4. Yes, I know we can discuss what an actual test will be. That is a given.  My point is I want to hash that out now, not when I get there to San Antonio. This is for the sake of not wasting my or your time, and other $imple rea$on$. It is totally reasonable for us to have this figured out now, not when I get there, discover we can’t even agree on something for the Challenge (which was pretty darn close to being the case just through these emails regarding the Demo), and I come back home with an avoidable loss. As for your question about why don’t I just use a coin, if you (again) will just look at my very first email, I pointed out that I’ve used dice and other mechanical objects to make a mechanical RNG.  Matter of fact it’s in the very first paragraph of that very first email. If I hadn’t already explored mechanical RNGs (I’ve done four now–one nuclear, one coin, a few dice, and one CD), I wouldn’t have contacted JREF to help me find someone to establish a better testing protocol to figure out if this is really binary presentiment, and I wouldn’t have contacted you when Chip Denman couldn’t help.

As for your re-reminding me that you do not believe me when I say I’ve done this before, or that I’ve done this before under many different conditions to see what does and does not work, I’m indifferent. I see no point in recapping my testing history or getting affidavits for you. I say that because even if it is all true (which it is), you’re not testing to see if I’ve done this before.  You’re testing to see if I can do this now.  Furthermore, we should not be interested in what the other person believes. If we were just going to believe each other’s claims, then I wouldn’t be asking for the PRNGs to be created and ran by an independent 3rd party, and you wouldn’t be offering a Challenge to begin with.  No, it’s all about the empirical data and a protocol that is above scrutiny.

I gt;5. There will be 10 runs of 100 trials eadiv id=”yui_3_7_2_1_1392643703867_21593″ch.”/p pdiv id=”yui_3_7_2_1_1392643703867_22306″am also uninterested in your experiences with previous claimants (which you’ve already told me over the phone before) f3. Score yourself just as I would when testing you. If you even once fail to correctly predict the /pcorrect output 66 times out of 100, then stop. You have disproved your own claim.or the same reasons you’re uninterested in my experiences with previous testers. I see no reason to bring it up again.

However, you do raise a good point. While I have done this test somewhere between 100-200 times over the years, I’ve never done 10 tests in a row like we’re going to hopefully do if we can agree about point #1 above.  In fact, I’ve never done more than two in a day.  I’ll do three today, four tomorrow, and three on Sunday in order to better assess if that amount of testing in that amount of time lowers my lowest score.  I’ll also use a different PRNG for each test to better resemble the Demo.  Thankfully, there are at least a dozen to choose from online.  If I continue to get at least 66% right, then we’re golden.  If I get less than that, then we’ll have to do an adjustment about what my lowest %-age will be for a series of ten tests  in a row.

Now that I think about it, it looks like I’m going to have to schedule this Demo/Challenge over a weekend rather than during the middle of the week.  It’s going to be at least three days, and maybe four, depending on what the Challenge entails.  I can take one day off of work/class, but I cannot take off two.

[Pick your favorite closing],

–Nathan (Nth)

Nathan sent another note:

Date: Fri, 14 Feb 2014 17:12:37 -0500
From: “Nathan Bar-Fields” <>
Subject: I have an idea.
To: “John Blanton” <skeptic75287@yahoo.com>

John,

You wrote:

The PRNG will be mine on my computer.

I replied:

What proof do I have that my concern about any one of the PRNGs you create and run can’t be programmed by you to produce a sub par result regardless of what I guess? I need actual, conclusive proof–not your word– that it would be impossible for you to tamper with any of the ten programs to make it result in a score under 66%.  Additionally, I’d like to know your reasoning why an independent 3rd party (e.g., the math or computer science department of a college nearest to you) that creates the PRNGs per your specifications and run them instead of one of the people with a vested interest in the outcome (that would be both you and me) doing this is an unacceptable and unreasonable condition. Especially if the department is willing to proctor this for free. If you can’t come up with a good reason (“It’s my money” is not a good reason. That’s a similar argument that 3-card Monte hustlers on the street corner use for why they get to shuffle their cards), then we either get that third party or as you put it, the deal is off.

How about this:  You still get to come up with the PRNG is still yours, but the code is tested by a qualified and independent 3rd person from someone in the computer science department of the college nearest you–with you watching them to make sure they do not tamper with the code in any way. We can also arrange things in a way to make sure there is no communication between me and the third party in case you think I’m in cahoots with them.  And as soon as I get confirmation that it is not a code programmed to invariably give a result of under 66% independent of what I “guess” I immediately begin doing that run for that PRNG.  We repeat this procedure for every run.    Again, I just have to make sure there is no tampering on your part, just like you have to make sure there is none on mine.

Just trying to extend an olive branch here without compromising the integrity of the Challenge.

Best,

–Nathan (Nth)

Again Nathan is forgetting who is putting up the money for this prize. The conditions should have been clear by now, and those conditions are that we offer the prize, we set the rules. If you’re not interested in going along with our rules, then forget about going for the prize, and quit wasting everybody’s time.

More from Nathan.

Date: Sat, 15 Feb 2014 15:56:40 -0500
From: “Nathan Bar-Fields” <>
Subject: Parenthetically…
To: “John Blanton” <skeptic75287@yahoo.com>

“Concerning your account of your evaluation of your previous performance results, I am quite sure you have never performed an adequate self-evaluation.”

It seems like we’ve been speaking a different language on numerous occasions, almost from the beginning.  For the record, I did not test me at Cal Berkeley’s Psychophysiology Lab back in the 1990’s.  The lab tested me. This should go without saying, but I don’t have personal access to a nuclear RNG like they did.  I also didn’t test myself at MIT’s Corkin Lab.  Again, they tested me (albeit with what I assume was a PRNG).   Yes, I do quite a lot of self-testing, but I also get tested by others.  You seem to be under the impression that I’m probably engaging in selective rememberance.  That couldn’t be further from the case. I definitely remember the failures (in fact, one of the skeptics I’ve been Bccing likes to occasionally bring one up), because they helped me figure out what to eliminate in order to isolate repeatable success.

The reason I know I need immediate feedback is because I did so abysmally on tests where the feedback was delayed. I had to do it multiple times to be sure it wasn’t a fluke.   The reason I know I need an adequate amount of time is because under speeded conditions my accuracy dropped in every session like that but one.  The reason I know I need direct feedback is because I did fantastically abysmal on a string of tests that did not employ that but were like the protocol in every other way.  The reason I know it has to be bit-by-bit rather than a string is because I  kept getting chance results over a long enough run when there was more than one digit to guess at a time.   And once it was clear that it didn’t seem to matter what the PRNG was in order for me to get the same results, it was suggested to me to try mechanical RNGs, on the suspicion that perhaps I’m doing some type of mental calculating.  I tested myself on those, and did well on everything but the dice at first (I tried to guess odd or even).  But when I painted the 3-sides white and 3-sides black, and guessed for that, then suddenly I got the results I usually get.  I then had others test me–as with the other tests– because I didn’t really trust myself.  One of those people is an on again off again member of the JREF.  Once he ran out of ideas of what could possibly be going on he suggested I contact the big boys of the organization, so I did.  That is how I eventually got to you.  I expected this exchange to go much more neutrally and productively than it did; just us focusing on creating an excellent testing protocol that is beyond reproach.  I could have potentially figured out what was really going on right here with this Challenge.  Instead we had this exchange.  That is unfortunate, but at least I now have a taste of what to expect if I choose to approach another sub-section of the Skeptic Society.

Please let me know when our correspondence (including this email) are up on your website, as I will link them to the college I contact as a reference when discussing a testing protocol to definitively figure out what’s really going on.

Thanks.

–Nathan (Nth)

I concluded with:

Date: Mon, 17 Feb 2014 05:22:59 -0800 (PST)
From: John Blanton <skeptic75287@yahoo.com>
Reply-To: John Blanton <skeptic75287@yahoo.com>
Subject: Re: The North Texas Skeptics Paranormal Challenge
To: Nathan Bar-Fields <>

Nathan,

Thanks again for your interest in the NTS Paranormal Challenge. I am posting the correspondence on the blog today. See the link in my signature block below.

All correspondence related to the NTS Paranormal Challenge will be posted on the Internet.

Best regards,

John Blanton
http://specularphoto.com/blog/
214-335-9248

My conclusion is that Nathan is fooling himself by running inadequately controlled tests, or worse. My reason for saying this is that nobody has the ability to mentally predict the outcome of a random event. Additionally, nobody has the ability to predict the output of a pseudo random number generator by mental processes alone.

I make this statement based on a lot of past history:

  • In a history spanning hundreds of years nobody has ever demonstrated this ability.
  • Such an ability would be equivalent to predicting the outcome of a roll of dice. How come Nathan has not already been barred from all the casinos in Las Vegas?
  • The most prominent (most publicized) tests using random number generators have been at the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab. This intensive study has never claimed results approaching what Nathan claims.

Wikipedia has a short write-up on the PEAR project.

PEAR employed random event generators (REGs), to explore the ability of test subjects to use telekinesis to influence the random output distribution of these devices to conform to their pre-recorded intentions to produce higher numbers, lower numbers, or nominal baselines. Most of these experiments utilized a microelectronic REG, but experiments were also conducted with a mechanical device which dropped balls down a peg-covered board. PEAR also conducted exercises involving groups of volunteers which, they claimed, produced more pronounced results. In all cases, the observed effects were very small (about one tenth of one percent), but over extensive databases they compounded to statistically significant deviations from chance behavior. The baseline for chance behavior used did not vary as statistically appropriate (baseline bind). Two PEAR researchers attributed this baseline bind to the motivation of the operators to achieve a good baseline.[9] It has been noted that a single test subject (presumed to be a member of PEAR’s staff) participated in 15% of PEAR’s trials, and was responsible for half of the total observed effect. PEAR’s results have been criticized for deficient reproducibility. In one instance two German organizations failed to reproduce PEAR’s results, while PEAR similarly failed to reproduce their own results. An attempt by York University’s Stan Jeffers also failed to replicate PEAR’s results. PEAR’s activities have also been criticized for their lack of scientific rigor, poor methodology, and misuse of statistics

Particularly telling is a statement by Nathan in the e-mail exchange:

I see no point in recapping my testing history or getting affidavits for you. I say that because even if it is all true (which it is), you’re not testing to see if I’ve done this before.  You’re testing to see if I can do this now.

That is properly indignant and also properly disingenuous. The real reason Nathan sees “no point in recapping my testing history” is 1) there is no history, or 2) he would prefer not to discuss the history.

Nathan also employs a tactic I often observe when a debater holds a weak position: He introduces extraneous points. In this case Nathan refers to “affidavits,” but I have never mentioned, nor do I require an affidavit, that is, a sworn statement. In science sworn statements really are worth the paper they are printed on.

If I hear any more about this from Nathan Bar-Fields I will update this post or else follow up with another post. Keep reading.

And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Update

4 March 2014

I have received additional correspondence from Nathan Bar-Fields:

Re: The North Texas Skeptics Paranormal Challenge

FROM Nathan Bar-Fields TO You

Finally got around to reading it.
“If I hear any more about this from Nathan Bar-Fields I will update this post or else follow up with another post. Keep reading.”

Here you go! http://mentathlete.blogspot.com/2014/02/skeptic-paranormal-challenge.html

–Nathan (Nth)

Here is what Nathan posted on BlogSpot.com:

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Skeptic Paranormal Challenge.

Hey guys,

I know I’ve been away from this blog for years, but life sort of happened. However,  I recently had something so interesting to share that I’ve decided to resurrect Mentathlete.

I’ve only casually mentioned this before, but I was a paid ESP test subject while in college.  I did unusually well on one particular type of experiment called binary ESP (also called binary intuition, binary precognition, and binary presentiment).  I didn’t think much of it during the time. It was in the category of my memory banks of “weird things I did for money” not “evidence I may have ESP.”  Testing for binary ESP is pretty simple. You have one of two choices–heads or tails, 1 or 0, male or female, etc.–and you have to predict which will randomly show up after you guess.  Chance says you should only be right 50% of the time, especially over a very long run of, say, 100 guesses. But during my testing days I always did well above chance, no less than 66% (66/100 guesses) and sometimes as high as 85%.

I mentioned that part of my history to a few of my skeptic friends years ago in a discussion, and it wasn’t until they pointed it out (with lots and lots of skepticism) that I had an inkling of how “odd” my experiences as an ESP test subject were.    My friends of course were all over that one to shred. It had to be impossible, after all. I submitted myself to all of their testing to find out–there was a lot of assumptions about what all I should be able to do, so consequently lots of variations on testing in the beginning.  This was actually good, because I eventually started figuring out what I couldn’t do, which resulted in a firmer description.

During this exploratory phase, it went from,
“I can score high on binary ESP tests” to
“I can score high on binary ESP tests if there is immediate feedback” to
“I can score high on binary ESP tests if there is immediate direct feedback”
and so on, until there was nothing else we could identify as a requirement.

After somewhere of the ballpark of 130 runs, it eventually became clear what were the requiring factors to consistently perform so robustly.

1 ) Generous amount of time to guess. I average about 2.5 hours for a run of 100 guesses.
2 ) Immediate feedback.  That is to say after I guess, I need a result in under a second.
3 )  Direct feedback.  I need to see the result for myself, not have a result reported to me by way of a second party.  This is simple if the number (I’m usually guessing “will it be 1 or 0”)  shows up on the computer screen I’m sitting in front of after I hit the button.
4 ) Feedback after each bit, not for a sequence.  So guessing for 1, then getting feedback, then 0  and getting feedback, then 1 and getting feedback works, but guessing for 101 will not.

Without these four, my results consistently return to predictable scores.

Given all the controversy over how to test for ESP, what I just described is a surprisingly simple thing to measure for if you use a good random number generator (RNG) or something mechanical like a fair coin. Yet I definitely have always done no worse than 66% on testing in the past and this should not be so unless I’m actually remembering the immediate future or there is a design flaw in the protocol that no one has yet found.  So after a lot of nagging by others and a lot of curiosity of my own, I finally mustered up the courage to have more sophisticated testing done to see what was going on, even though I had a good idea of what to expect for coming forward.

I contacted the Skeptic Society nearest to me for assistance to figure out what’s really going on here when I do this kind of test after my contacting JREF for assistance proved fruitless.  As it happens, the Skeptic group local to me sponsors a Challenge of their own, and I thought, “Hey, why not?” I must say I expected the correspondence with the Skeptic point of contact–a man by the name of John Blanton— to go much more smoothly than it did. A few bumps along the road of communication, sure, but not someone who was almost looking for a fight.   Instead, our correspondence got rather comical and very back-and-forth.*  I guess I was more disappointed than anything else, because I’d have rather flat out failed in testing than to not even get to test because my insistence that neither party be in a position where they could tamper with the RNG used was considered unreasonable.  I’m even more disappointed in his follow-up write-up because he–either intentionally or unintentionally–misconstrued quite a number of things that need to be cleared up, which I’ve done so here.  It’s a Google Doc set to be read by the public, but anyone who reads it can edit, unfortunately.

Having said that, his write-up wasn’t as bad as I thought it would have been. I can at least give him that.

For the record, I’m pretty sure that my results on this test are not paranormal.  It’s not because I don’t believe in ESP, it’s because this particular thing doesn’t “feel psychic” to me.  The closest thing I can liken it to is a stimulus-response memory, only the response precedes the stimulus in this case.  I’m also pretty suspicious–or perhaps curious–why I would be *this* consistent on this test and have such a large effect size.  It’s usually one or the other with ESP studies.

In fact, this endeavor has made me even more curious about what is going on here, so I’ll continue to do research, both on my own and collaboratively to get a definitive answer.  I swear it’s the most curious thing…

*For whatever reason many of my own emails he posted are mis-formatted, so you can sometimes only read glyphs and hypertext commands where you should be reading what I actually wrote.  I’m sure it’s just an accident, but if anyone wants an un-butchered copy just let me know as well as knowing where to send the emails.
Posted by at 11:50 PM
Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

[Some text removed]

In a follow-up e-mail Nathan sent me a link to a Goggle document:

John,

Thank you for a write-up that was fairer than I expected it to be.  Though, it is not to say I think it was completely fair or accurate.

If people only read one part of what I have to say as a response, it should be this:

I do find it strange that in all these points you brought up, the only one that was the actual deal-breaker—your eventual admission that you are either unwilling or unable to guarantee fair testing— is glaringly absent.  As I said before, whenever you can agree to fair (foolproof) testing, I will pursue the Challenge again. It’s thankfully that simple.
As for the peripherals, and those who don’t mind reading longer replies there are 8 things you mentioned that I’d like to clear up.  In some instances, it’s the third or fourth time doing so, so I’m not entirely sure a fourth or fifth time will do any better.  But it may help any unbiased person who casually comes across your blog entry about me to see a summary.

1. “Significantly, what Nathan is claiming is that he has tested himself and has obtained 66 to 85 percent success. A problem with his statement of success is the lack of any detail. He does not describe completely how the test was set up or how it was conducted. If this were a scientific study being prepared for publication, then all results from all tests would be included, and there would be a lot more detail about how the whole business was carried out.”

That’s not entirely true.  It’s true that I’ve tested myself extensively—and it’s certainly possible I did a poor job doing so, and it’s also possible I didn’t—but I’ve also been tested by others, including (but not only) by UC Berkeley’s Psychophysiology Lab and MIT’s Corkin Lab.  I‘ve mentioned this before, but for whatever reason your follow-up responses indicate it’s not registering when I say that.  In fact all of my initial testing was done by those two labs.  And yes, it’s true that I did not describe completely how the test was set up and conducted, but that had more to do with never being asked by you, and not making my emails any longer than they originally were—since one of the issues brought up over the phone conversations was that my emails were too long to read.

If you had ever asked, I would have obviously had no problem telling you.  As it stands, this is the first I’m hearing that you wanted to know this.  But I’m still not clear if you really do want to know, so I’ll just ask you.  Do you want to know the details, or was that just something to throw out there?

2. “Once again Nathan has failed to provide complete details of his claimed paranormal ability”

We’re going to have to agree to disagree on that one, since I’m fairly certain that was outlined pretty clearly in the first email I sent.  I’m not sure if you recall it or not, but I proposed doing it (getting 66/100 or better) twice, which would have been almost 1-in-2 million odds of occurring by chance.  That sounds pretty detailed to me.

3. “Nathan makes the mistake of believing he is being specific. The term “consistently” is not anyway specific. “

Consistency does in fact have a specific meaning in any scientific study reliant on statistics. It is the king of predictive validators, no less.  I do apologize for assuming you knew what consistency meant. But if you had only told me that you didn’t understand I would have linked you to the technical definition.  Instead, you said “anybody can be consistent” the way I am, which didn’t really give me a lot to respond to, since your rejoinder was so over the top.

4. “So far a lot of talk, but no action. Nathan, as is the case with a number of people vying for the prize, would like to control the test. That is always a mistake. I and the other underwriters insist on complete control before we put our money out.”

My suggesting and actively seeking out an independent 3rd party in your area to verify the PRNGs used are legit is definitely *not*what one does to control the test.  It is what one does to make a test as above scrutiny as possible, and to ensure that neither party is in control of the test for obvious reasons.   As for you having complete control over the testing, I wish that was clearer, because when the Challenge says, “challengers will promptly enter into negotiations with claimant and attempt to arrive at a written protocol satisfactory to both parties” I reasonably thought it actually meant both parties negotiate about the protocol until both are satisfied.  If I had known you meant the exact opposite, I would not have wasted your time or mine.

5.  “Again Nathan is forgetting who is putting up the money for this prize. The conditions should have been clear by now, and those conditions are that we offer the prize, we set the rules.”

Actually it’s not very clear at all. In fact, the part of the Challenge I quoted in #4 response makes it sound like anything but.  You may want to reword your Challenge for future challengers, because what you wrote in it and what you are writing here are definitely two different babies.

6. “My conclusion is that Nathan is fooling himself by running inadequately controlled tests, or worse. My reason for saying this is that nobody has the ability to mentally predict the outcome of a random event. Additionally, nobody has the ability to predict the output of a pseudo random number generator by mental processes alone.”

No, that is not indignant.  That was simply factual for the very reasons I outlined. I do apologize if you took it that way, though. As for you claiming to know “the real reason,” without any evidence to support the claim, well, I’ll just let the irony sink in in its own time.

I have *no* problem discussing the history of my testing with you or anyone else. In fact I have discussed it numerous times elsewhere in cyberspace.  As a matter of fact the email exchange we first had had some of the people who’ve tested me Bcc’d.  Mind you, two of them still don’t think it’s ESP, but they do think it’s something and are as interested as I am in figuring out what that something is. The problem was (again) you never asked me this, didn’t really seem interested, and also complained that my emails were too long.  Describing the entire history—which I did for you in a later email anyway—would definitely have been another case of my writing something that was too long for you.  It is starting to sound like no matter what I do, you’ll find a fault.  An exchange is too long.  Fine, I make it shorter.  Aha! Now it’s evidence I’m omitting things!  See what I mean?

“Nathan also employs a tactic I often observe when a debater holds a weak position: He introduces extraneous points. In this case Nathan refers to “affidavits,” but I have never mentioned, nor do I require an affidavit, that is, a sworn statement. In science sworn statements really are worth the paper they are printed on.”

To be fair, you also didn’t ask for my testing history either.   I was just anticipating what all you could likely bring up in the future. It seemed reasonable to me that you’d possibly ask for affidavits.   I was just saying I can get them if you ever ask in the future, but it’s still irrelevant because they’d have no bearing on our proposed testing. So no, this is actually an example of the exact opposite of what you’re seeing into what I wrote.

Which is kind of why I contacted you to begin with! 😀  Believe me, I know enough about statistics and clinical testing to recognize my results are “absurd” as you’ve put it.  That isn’t what I’m questioning.  I’m questioning why they are absurd. You’ve mentioned several times that it’s probably due to me somehow fooling myself as the reason (though that overlooks that it would also have to be sloppy testing by those who tested me and the institutions that tested me as well).  The thing is until your “conclusion” is actually tested and tested properly, it’s not a conclusion, it’s a just a strong belief.  Plus your conclusion relies heavily on fallacious thinking (ecological fallacy, appeal to probability, begging the question…).   So I look at your “conclusion” and think okay, let’s test if it’s an inadequacy issue.   In fact, I’m eager to do just that.  The testing just has to be done fairly, which I’m surprised is even up for debate. One of the big complaints leveled at parapsychologists is that the testing they do is sloppy, after all.  We don’t want to do sloppy testing, do we? We want to do better than that.

7.  “In a history spanning hundreds of years nobody has ever demonstrated this ability.”

Okay.  That sounds like the ecological fallacy again, with a dash of appeal to history.  No one ran a mile in under 4 minutes until Roger Bannister did so.  I couldn’t imagine telling Bannister he couldn’t run a mile in under 4 minutes because no one in a history spanning a hundred years has done so before him.  No, I would just say, Okay, let’s see you run a mile in under 4 minutes. The only thing I can offer to counter fallacious thinking is critical-thinking, but it’s up to you to see it as such or not.

“Such an ability would be equivalent to predicting the outcome of a roll of dice. How come Nathan has not already been barred from all the casinos in Las Vegas?”

Well, again you would just have to ask me. You never did, and this is the first I’m seeing this question from you.  Here is the answer. When I first decided to use dice, I chose to predict if the roll would result in either an odd or even number to make it binary. My results wound up being chance.  So I then painted the odd sides white and the even sides black. It was only then—guessing if the roll would be black or white—that I wound up getting the very high results that I usually get. While impressive, this would not help me at the casino with gambling games that rely on dice.  Roulette is also something people suggest, but the time delay (remember the immediate feedback   requirement) is an issue.  So while what I do in testing is statistically equivalent to the casino scenario, it is not so procedurally.  And again, the binary presentiment only shows up for me under the protocol I outlined in the first email.

“The most prominent (most publicized) tests using random number generators have been at the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab. This intensive study has never claimed results approaching what Nathan claims.”

Yes, that is definitely the ecological fallacy at play again, along with that dash of appeal to history we talked about.  I’m not sure what else I can say about that.

8. “Me: I see no point in recapping my testing history or getting affidavits for you. I say that because even if it is all true (which it is), you’re not testing to see if I’ve done this before.  You’re testing to see if I can do this now.

John: That is properly indignant and also properly disingenuous. The real reason Nathan sees “no point in recapping my testing history” is 1) there is no history, or 2) he would prefer not to discuss the history.”

No, that is not indignant.  That was simply factual for the very reasons I outlined. I do apologize if you took it that way, though. As for you claiming to know “the real reason,” without any evidence to support the claim, well, I’ll just let the irony sink in in its own time.

I have *no* problem discussing the history of my testing with you or anyone else. In fact I have discussed it numerous times elsewhere in cyberspace.  As a matter of fact the email exchange we first had had some of the people who’ve tested me Bcc’d.  Mind you, two of them still don’t think it’s ESP, but they do think it’s something and are as interested as I am in figuring out what that something is. The problem was (again) you never asked me this, didn’t really seem interested, and also complained that my emails were too long.  Describing the entire history—which I did for you in a later email anyway—would definitely have been another case of my writing something that was too long for you.  It is starting to sound like no matter what I do, you’ll find a fault.  An exchange is too long.  Fine, I make it shorter.  Aha! Now it’s evidence I’m omitting things!  See what I mean?

“Nathan also employs a tactic I often observe when a debater holds a weak position: He introduces extraneous points. In this case Nathan refers to “affidavits,” but I have never mentioned, nor do I require an affidavit, that is, a sworn statement. In science sworn statements really are worth the paper they are printed on.”

To be fair, you also didn’t ask for my testing history either.   I was just anticipating what all you could likely bring up in the future. It seemed reasonable to me that you’d possibly ask for affidavits.   I was just saying I can get them if you ever ask in the future, but it’s still irrelevant because they’d have no bearing on our proposed testing. So no, this is actually an example of the exact opposite of what you’re seeing into what I wrote.

I will leave it up to readers to analyze the foregoing interchange. If Nathan is available to provide a demonstration that takes less than an hour, then I will be interested in seeing it. If Nathan is willing to provide specifics of successful self tests he has performed, then I will be interested in reviewing these details.

It’s up to Nathan: Show me what you’ve got.

Bad Joke of the Week

Not yet

Humorous slogans for college majors.
(I even alphabetized them for you)

Aerospace Engineering: “It actually is rocket science”
Anthropology: It’ll get you laid, but it wont get you paid!
Astronomy: I don’t give a fuck about your ‘sign’.
Biochemistry: Spend 4 Years Aspiring to Discover the Cure for Cancer, and the Rest of Your Life Manufacturing Shampoo.
Chemistry: Where alcohol IS a solution
Creative Writing: Because job security is for pussies.
Dental Hygienist: “Something to do until you get knocked up.”
Engineering: The art of figuring out which parameters you can safely ignore.
English-creative writing: Massive amounts of student loan debt, a bartending job, and your dad thinks you’re gay!
Film and Television: because you didn’t know that you don’t need the degree to work in the industry
Fine Art: “it’s a commentary on society. If you have to ask, you don’t understand”
Information Technology: Because Computer Science has too much math.
Marine Bio: “I wanted to play with dolphins, but I’m looking at algae instead”
Mathematics: Want to talk to girls? Just become a tutor.
Speech Pathology: We have ways of making you talk
Statistics: where everything’s made up and the numbers don’t matter
Structural Engineering: Because architects don’t know what physics is.
Zoology: because you can’t major in kittens

Skeptical Analysis Prevails, Again

Don’t you just hate it when you’re always right? Then I know how you feel. I sometimes find it depressingly monotonous, but I’ve learned to live with it.

Yesterday I posted this:

Into day three of jury deliberations in the Michael Dunn murder case, and it may not be looking good for the Polite Shooter.

The jury has just requested the judge answer two questions. The first is fairly inconsequential: OK to take a 30-minute break?

The second question is loaded with drama: Is it OK to hung up on one of the verdicts and reach a conclusion on the others?

Wow! I am trying to figure out what’s going one in there. Here are the charges (counts):

1. Murder in the first degree
2. Murder in the second degree
3. Manslaughter
4. Attempted murder
5. Shooting into an occupied car

I’m thinking this: They are not unanimous on 1-4 and hung up on 5. My conclusion: They have decided on 5 and are hung up on one of the other counts. A logical possibility is they are hung on count number 1: murder in the first degree. If the jury decided on not guilty of attempted murder (4) then it is not likely they decided guilty on 1-3. The logical conclusion is they decided guilty on 4. Using the same logic I have worked my way up to undecided on count 1.

At 6 p.m. Central Time today the jury handed in its verdict: Mistrial on 1, guilty on the others. Michael Dunn, the Polite Killer, is going down for a long time. By all reckoning it’s 20 years for each of the guilty counts under 2. If the judge decides to stack these up (Russell Healey is known to be tough on sentencing), then the last words of Jordan Davis, “You’re going down,” were prophetic. In any event, I feel sure that, years too late, Michael Dunn has at last forfeited his license to kill.

Wait!

It’s not all over yet. Sentencing is set for the week of 24 March. And human decency has yet another bite at the apple. The prosecutors have the option of retrying count 1, first degree murder. The defense, Michael Dunn, also has the option of appealing the current convictions. That may not be a good choice.

It is suggested the prosecutor has an additional option. They can approach Dunn through his attorney and say, “Cop to the first charge, and we won’t ask for life. Also we will request the sentences run concurrently.” Dunn will admit to being a killer, and the family of the late Jordan Davis will get some satisfaction. Dunn will escape what amounts to a life sentence of 60 years. Gentlemen, it’s time to play “Let’s Make a Deal.”

Lock And Load

The jury has called it a day and will resume deliberations tomorrow. In the mean time people are still talking about the case. Including a former neighbor of shooter Michael Dunn. First some background.

Early on it was apparent that Dunn would have to testify in this case. Defendants cannot be required to testify in their own defense, and they seldom do. However, since Dunn’s defense is based on Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, somebody needed to testify as to any claimed threat that Dunn faced. The remaining surviving witnesses are friends of the victim, and they are not backing up Dunn’s claim that he was attacked.

I watched expectantly Dunn’s testimony on Wednesday, and a more kindly, sincere and humble killer I have never seen in my life. He said he came to the scene of the killing bearing no animosity toward the deceased, Jordan Davis. He said he parked next to the SUV containing the Davis and two of his friends as a matter of convenience. Other available parking spaces were much farther from the door. He testified there was something very irritating to him about activities going on within the SUV, and he rolled down his driver’s side window and politely asked a person in the other car to turn down the loud music. He has just moments before remarked to his fiancée, “I hate that thug music.”

At first one person in the SUV complied, but another person, Davis, ordered the music to be turned back up. Then Davis initiated a verbal tirade against the kindly Mr. Dunn and finished off by threatening Mr. Dunn’s life. Mr. Dunn testified that when Davis got out of the SUV to assault him with a shotgun, Mr. Dunn retrieved his 9 mm pistol from the glove compartment of his car and fired ten shots into the SUV, three of which struck Davis. One of the bullets penetrated the victim’s aorta, causing him to die within minutes.

Mr. Dunn further testified, that he then went about his business, driving his fiancée to another place over 100 miles away to have some drinks and to spend the night. All this time Mr. Dunn was the model of respectability. There were even some neighbors of his who testified for Mr. Dunn, allowing as how he was a kind and respectful person.

All except one neighbor:

“He’s Arrogant:” Michael Dunn’s Neighbor Reveals His True Character & Violent Past (VIDEO)

This week during the Michael Dunn murder trial, defense attorney Cory Strolla brought forth a handful of character witnesses on Dunn’s behalf who testified that the software developer had a “calm demeanor.”

During a Friday afternoon press conference, Strolla also revealed that his client has never been enraged or accused of being racist. The conference was held while the jury of 12 decides if they will convict Dunn of murder in the first degree for the killing of Jordan Davis.

But video just released by John M. Phillips, the Davis family attorney, exhibits a differing perspective on Dunn’s demeanor.

In a statement, Phillips reveals his reason for releasing the video now:

In response to Mr. Strolla’s recent comments, I have been authorized to release this videotaped statement I took of Mr. Dunn’s former neighbor in the defamation/death lawsuit. Charles Hendrix lived next to Michael Dunn for 8 years.

And what Hendrix has to say just might surprise you.

“He was light and friendly and he laughed, but if you disagreed with him he would get boisterous and try to be overbearing and try to intimidate people with his size and voice.”

Hendrix continued:

“He appeared to me to be very selfish and there wasn’t much he wouldn’t do to get what he wanted and to get his way. Very arrogant.”

To see the rest of Hendrix’s statement on Dunn, including insight into Dunn’s tumultuous relationships with his wives and his estranged relationship with his son, watch the video above.

SOURCE: John Phillips

On the video Hendrix supposedly relates that Dunn was at one time involved in litigation with another person and inquired about getting somebody to take care of that person—to have the individual killed. There are also allegations of Dunn’s experiences with two ex-wives from foreign countries. He was very controlling, and used threats to make them conform to his wishes. One of the wives asked Hendrix to go into Dunn’s home and remove a gun that Dunn kept there. Hendrix said he did that—the woman feared Dunn would use the weapon. Hendrix later returned the gun. Dunn was apparently not aware that this had happened.

This information is considered to be too inflammatory and was not used by the prosecution to rebut Dunn’s testimony as to his own nature. However, the prosecution did introduce correspondence Dunn penned from during his jail confinement prior to the trial.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (WOKV) — The State Attorney’s Office released over 150 pages of evidence in the first-degree murder case against Michael David Dunn, including dozens of letters he has written to family members, friends, and others since he’s been in jail.

Dunn has been charged with first degree murder in the November 2012 shooting of 17-year-old Jordan Davis outside a gas station on the Southside.

[Special Coverage: Jordan Davis: Murder Over Loud Music]

The recipients of the letters range from his girlfriend to his daughter to his grandmother, and even several unknown correspondents. In many of them, he talks about the status of his case, what happens next in the legal process, and what he’s doing to pass his time. He notes he’s doing a lot of reading and exercising, saying since his “near-death experience” he has realized he has to eat better and take better care of his body.

Many of the letters also accuse the media of bias, saying they are misreporting the facts of his case. In one letter he tells his grandmother that there are so many outright lies in the media and asks her not to believe that he is the monster they make him out to be.

In another letter to an unknown recipient, he writes, “As you can imagine, I’m not getting much sympathy from the press. The’re (sic) a bunch of liberal b*****s.” He goes on to say “North Florida is more like the Deep South. They seem to have a lot of racial guilt, or at least the prosecutor’s office does.”

He also lashes out at the State Attorney’s Office for playing legal games and trying to bury him in fees. He accuses them and the courts of being racially biased.

“It’s spooky how racist everyone is up here and how biased toward blacks the courts are. This jail is full of blacks and they all act like thugs,” he notes. He goes on to say “This may sound a bit radical but if more people would arm themselves and kill these **** idiots when they’re threatening you, eventually they may take the hint and change their behavior,”

At first glance it would appear that’s the kind of behavior that could cost Mr. Dunn his Eagle Scout’s merit badge. It trashes the Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient,Cheerful, and Reverent parts.

Whether Mr. Dunn ends up doing any time for his most recent adventure is yet to the determined. We can only hope Florida will suspend his license to kill.

Holy Days

Back when we lived in Dallas—actually about 10 years ago—we would go to this nice restaurant near our house. It’s called Sweet Basil, and it’s the spot in the neighborhood for Italian cuisine.

So we were all primed to go. It was to be a special day. It was Valentine’s Day, and we were scheduled for a nice quiet dinner. It turned out not to be.

We showed up, got a table. And we got the menu. Only it wasn’t the regular menu with all the stuff we liked. It was a special holiday menu. I’m thinking all dinners were the same price, and all included dessert. And they were not the oh so pleasant price were accustomed to.

We ordered. We ate. But it was not nice and quiet and low key. It was a holy day.

Ever since, Barbara Jean has been leery of holiday dinners. Before going somewhere on a “holy day,” she will call to see if they have a “special menu.” Sometimes we wind up going to Subway for a sandwich.

But we have realized something. Holidays (holy days) are not special. They are just numbers on a calender. Sorry for yourself you have to work on Thanksgiving? Don’t be. Celebrate the holiday some other day. It’s likely to be not as crowded, and you won’t have to put up with the restaurant’s special menu. You can actually enjoy your dinner.

And that’s my message to all on this holy day, namely Valentine’s Day. Tonight we went to Ruby Tuesday for dinner and had the nice grilled salmon salad. No crowds, no hassle. Just a chance to enjoy a quiet meal on Darwin Day.

Ring And Run

It’s an old game, but I got the title from a not quite as old TV show. It’s called “ring and run,” and what you do, if you’re a kid, is to ring somebody’s doorbell and skedaddle before they can get to the door. See what fun it is? You make somebody go to all the trouble for nothing, but the best part is, you don’t get caught. You get to leave your message and not have to answer for the consequences.

Ring ring

It happens on the Internet a lot.

People post outrageous assertions without any consideration for their merits. And there is no consequence. Somebody has issues with the sanity or veracity of your post, they can take a hike, because you’re off busy looking for something else to post. And it goes on.

A few days ago I took issue with something posted by a Facebook friend. I added my comments, and she commented back, and I commented back, and somebody else commented on my comment, and I responded to that comment. I thought the whole matter was so bizarre that it was due some Skeptical Analysis, so I did the analysis and posted everything on this blog. Then I linked back to my blog post on Facebook.

I did not have an egg timer on hand, but shortly my Facebook friend unfriended me. Her posts completely disappeared from my Facebook feed. It’s not as though this has never happened to me before. It’s called ring and run.

My blog post was related to the so-called War on Christianity (and also how come the Muslims don’t get the same condemnation the Catholic Church does). For your reference, it concludes with:

LifeStetNews has taken offense at some part of the U.N. report and has concocted a propaganda piece that selectively reviews the report “to provide balance and more accurate coverage on culture, life and family matters than is usually given by other media.” In other words, to defend the Holy See’s transgressions in the name of religious freedom. And LifeSiteNews has done this to help convince religious adherents that there is an attack on Christianity.

Does this tactic work? Apparently so.

MJ and DJ have read the LifeSiteNews posting and have taken it at face value. Without taking the time to obtain, much less read and review, the U.N. report. They have also gone to the trouble to post the LifeSiteNews item on Facebook with the likely intent of justifying their own world view and to reassure like-minded individuals of the validity of this view. This kind of action appears to have the desired effect.

I have observed a number of Facebook posts, and I have seen the term “sheeple” bandied about. “Sheeple” is obviously a contraction of “sheep” and “people,” and it’s an implication that some people are like sheep in that they are being led about by propaganda mills. That such a situation exists I have no doubt. Those who fall back on terms like this instead of performing careful and reasoned analysis of what they read should take note. And they should make use of a mirror.

So much for Facebook friends and so much for earnest dialog.

I have an additional observation: In my life I have been mocked, I have been ridiculed, I have called stupid, I have been called a liar, I have been called dishonest, I have been called evil, I have been cursed at, I have been physically assaulted, my life has been threatened. In all this time I have never said, “I will not talk to you.”

Animal Crackers In My Soup

If this movie doesn’t melt your heart, then your heart is made of stainless steel. It’s The Little Princess, staring Shirley Temple.

Shirley Temple Black (born Shirley Temple; April 23, 1928 – February 10, 2014) was an American film and television actress, singer, dancer and public servant, most famous as a child star in the 1930s. As an adult, she entered politics and became a diplomat, serving as United States Ambassador to Ghana and later to Czechoslovakia, and as Chief of Protocol of the United States.

I have always been amazed at this child prodigy. At the age of 3 she had maturity at a level I was not able to attain until my teens. Of course, some have considered me to be backward.

Poster of the movie The Little Princess

In this movie she is little Sara Crewe, whose father is Captain Crewe of the British army, a widower soon to be off to the front in the Boer War in Africa. He is wealthy, and little Sara is his whole life. He has to park his little darling in a girls’ school while he is gone, but he arranges all expenses and luxuries for her at the school, including a pony and riding lessons. An elaborate birthday party is also scheduled with the head mistress.

Of course there are some envious girls (aren’t there always?) who wish only the worst for Sara. And the worst comes.

Captain Crewe becomes MIA and presumed dead. All his holdings are usurped and funding for Sara’s stay at the school evaporates. The news comes just as the birthday party is getting underway, and all the presents are withdrawn, and Sara is relegated to servant status at the school.

Rich as she is, Sara is properly democratic and associates well with the other poor servant girl at the school. The envious girls gloat and make life miserable for Sara. However, Sara soldiers on and lives in the hope her father will be found alive and returned to her. She skips out when possible to check the military hospital to see if her father is among the wounded.

All to no avail—she receives constant discouragement from the officials. But she perseveres. In desperation Sara makes another break and heads for the hospital to look for her father. The headmistress and the authorities are after her—the headmistress has accused her of theft.

In the hospital Sara encounters an elegant and elderly lady in a wheel chair, who seems to receive a lot of deference from everybody in sight. It’s the aging Queen Victoria. The Queen orders the authorities to help hunt for Sara’s father, but the search is fruitless.

Meanwhile, Captain Crewe is in the hospital with a bad head wound and out of his mind. He keeps calling Sara’s name, and when Sara hides in a room to escape the authorities, her father is there, out of sight behind her. He calls her name. She turns and sees him. He calls her name. She comes to him. He seems to gain some of his senses. The authorities come and find them together. The Queen comes by, and everybody salutes, including Captain Crewe. Tears flow like Niagara in the audience.