Suspicion of clouds

CHEMGRAM

The rejection of science fact and the embrace of science fiction is perhaps best encapsulated by those persons who think manmade climate change is a hoax while believing that chemtrails are real.

First, let’s deal with anthropogenic global warming. I have seen Sean Hannity and others challenge climate change believers on exactly what percentage of global warming it is that humans are responsible for. While not responding directly to that challenge, Brian Dunning penned an excellent piece for Skeptoid which showed how simple observation reveal that average annual global temperature is rising and that human activity is the overwhelming reason why. He noted this can be done without use of “climate models, politics, predictions, economics, or how many scientists agree.”

The key point is that CO2 levels are rising as the result of human activity. From here, it gets a little more technical, but stay with me. Carbon dating is done by comparing the amounts of carbon-12 and carbon-14 in a sample. When organisms die, carbon-14 decays and no new carbon-14 comes in. This means eventually only carbon-12 remains. Fossil fuels come from plants that died millions of years ago so they have no carbon-14. Hence, the CO2 produced by burning fossil fuels contains only carbon-12.

The one natural source of carbon-12 is volcanoes and volcanologists measure their output and know that each year, worldwide volcanic activity contributes about 200 million tons of CO2 to the atmosphere. This accounts for .006 percent of the 29 billion tons of carbon-12 that enters our atmosphere each year. The only source for the other 99.994 percent is fossil fuel burned by humans. So when observers carbon date the CO2 in the atmosphere, it reveals precisely how much of it comes from people burning fossil fuels. Oceans and plants can only absorb about half of that 29 billion tons, with the rest ending up on our atmosphere, where it remains.

Now we will address how we know that those 14.5 billion tons of carbon-12 is causing an increase in average global temperature. There are five gases that are primarily responsible for the greenhouse effect: CO2, methane, water vapor, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Through a method called spectroscopy, observers can measure how much of these are present. Earth’s surface is warmed by the sun and our planet emits that same heat back as infrared radiation. When aiming a spectrometer skyward, observers see peaks and valleys in the infrared spectrum and can determine which greenhouse gases are trapping Earth’s radioactive heat. This method provides clear evidence that excess heat energy is being trapped in our atmosphere because of increased CO2, which we earlier is the result of humans burning fossil fuels.

Those who dismiss AGW are denying what scientists are able to see through their analysis of carbon dating and spectroscopy. Meanwhile, some of those same persons say that what is really dangerous for the planet and its inhabitants are strings of fluffy white smoke.

They are convinced that harmless water vapor left in the wake of flying aircraft is a weaponized agent that will do something nefarious, though it’s not agreed on precisely what that is. Speculation includes poisoning, sterilization, mind control, and unleashing tornadoes. Believers will often point to geoengineering, cloud seeding, or attempts to control the weather, all of which have happened, but are unrelated to airplane exhaust. All this was explained in a pair of Washington Post essays by Matthew Cappucci and Dennis Mersereau.

Like the current warming trend, contrails are man-made. They are clouds that form under ordinary environmental conditions and follow the physical processes that occur with any other cloud. In the specific case of contrails, they form when hot, moist aircraft exhaust condenses after coming into contract with extremely cold temperatures in the upper atmosphere. A long, narrow cloud results.    

There is usually little water vapor present because air’s ability to hold moisture wanes as the temperature drops, and temperatures at this altitude are around minus -40 Fahrenheit (which is also -40 C, I’ve always liked that). Cappucci wrote that despite those frigid numbers, water vapor remains a gas or liquid and does not become ice because water must have something to latch onto in order to become an ice crystal. He further explained, “When the airplanes emit aerosols, sulfates, soot, carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons, water vapor, and so on, the particles in its wake can serve as the nuclei for cooled water droplets and vapor to condense and freeze on,” and a contrail is born.

There is variety in the contrail family and some paranoids say these differences distinguish contrails from chemtrails. Believers concede that some airplane exhaust is harmless but insist that at other times airplane emissions represent the deliberate sabotaging of our lungs and minds. As this has zero evidence in reality, there are differing assertions as to which is the key factor that gives away chemtrails. Some say duration determines it, some say thickness, and others go with color. But science explains why all these ideas are mistaken.

Altitude and the air’s wetness determine how long contrails are. If an airplane is flying through wet air, it leaves a contrail; if it is flying in dry air, it does not. Airplanes that appear to be at the same height from ground level may actually be 5,000 feet or more apart in terms of altitude. Chemtrail detectives love to show an airplane leaving little or no contrail, while another plane in the same frame is bellowing out a lengthy cloud, but this is the result of altitude and air conditions, not because government agents are dispatching death from above.

With regard to duration, how long contrails last depends on the humidity level and how favorable the atmosphere is for sustaining them. These are the same factors that help determine whether a day is cloudy or sunny.  

As for their color, the key elements are the contrails’ height and the planet’s curvature (convincing Flat Earth chemtrailers is an especially challenging undertaking). Contrails are dispatched at nearly 40,000 feet and when natural clouds closer to the ground look dark in the waning daylight, contrails will still glow for a few minutes after sundown. Also, when an airplane flies directly away from a setting or rising sun, a contrail may block out much of the sun this gives the contrail a blackened appearance.

Another reason to discount the chemtrails conspiracy theory relates to an airplane’s travel weight. Mersereau noted that a fully-loaded 747 flying from London to Hong Kong would require almost 60,000 gallons of fuel. That would weigh nearly 200 tons and along with passengers, cargo, and luggage, would leave precious little room for weapons in a mind control program.

As to all this, one Post fumed, “What a joke. Our government has been involved in weather modification since the 1940s. Do a little research.”

The U.S. government may have made previous attempts at weather modification but there is no connection between that and airplane exhaust. And by research, the reader does not mean retreating to one’s laboratory, employing the Scientific Method, and submitting results for peer review. He is talking about clicking on the YouTube link he provided.

 

 

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“Things that make you go Hum” (Taos, N.M. sound)

TAOS

Much that is captivating when being pursued ceases to be of interest once the goal is met. Now that the Cubs have won the World Series, I no longer care if the Cubs win the World Series. Now that I know who Deep Throat was, I don’t care who Deep Throat was. One of the most enduring mysteries is whatever became of the Roanoke colonists. I read about this, encourage the continual search for clues, and would be greatly interested for about a week if a definitive conclusion were reached. But knowing the answer would cause my interest in the colony to diminish quickly then evaporate almost completely. 

While it’s far less fascinating than lost colonists and their Croatoan carving, another unsolved mystery relates to the Hum. This is a phenomenon where a low rumbling sound can be heard in certain places by select people. It can happen anywhere, but it mostly associated with Taos, N.M., and to lesser extents in Bristol, England; Auckland, New Zealand; and Kokomo, Ind.   

Sufferers describe it as akin to the idling of a distant diesel engine. Earplugs help some of them, suggesting this is indeed an audible phenomenon. But others report that earplugs make no difference, indicating it’s an internal ear issue.

As to what the cause might be, speculation has included insects, meteors, industrial equipment, high-pressure gas lines, seismic activity, and secret government projects. But these are all without backing and there’s no proof as to what’s going on. Others have suggested radio waves, but those produce a high pitched sound that is opposite of what synthesized Hums sound like (synthesized Hums have been created by those who experience it so the rest of us will have some idea what they are going through).

The most conspiracy-happy speculation focuses on HAARP. However, the frequency of Hum reports did not increase when HAARP operations began, nor has the sound ever been reported near the site. Finally, like radio waves, the potential acoustic effects of HAARP signals are completely different from simulated Hums.  

Previously, some suspected LORAN, an extinct radio navigation system. But when LORAN went away, the Hum continued, so that explanation was out. Still others blame cell phone networks, but that explanation fails for the same reason as the HAARP and radio waves claims do. The emitted signals are far too high to be responsible for a low rumbling sound. This hypothesis only has currency among a paranoid crowd that sees cell phones, WiFi, wind turbines, and the like as being behind an array of health problems, all of which existed centuries before these technological developments. 

Mass hysteria has also been suggested, but that also falls flat, if only for linguistic reasons. Even in Taos, just two percent of residents report having ever heard it. So even if this is an auditory hallucination, it’s not on a large scale. As to hysteria, that generally suggests unwarranted panic and few people are freaking out about this, though extremists think the government or other powerful entity is behind this for mind control purposes.  

Brian Dunning of Skeptoid wrote about the Hum and it turns out he might have first-hand experience with it. He suffers from tinnitus and relates this anecdote:

“It sounds nothing like the Hum. However, by yawning or by tightening the tensor tympani muscle inside my ear, I can induce a loud, low-frequency rumble. When I do this, it sounds exactly like the Hum. It’s not hard to think that some people may have this condition chronically, and since this is the exact sound described by Hum sufferers, it’s virtually certain that some variation on this condition is the explanation for some of them.”

Still, Dunning concludes that the Hum does not exist as a single worldwide phenomenon. Rather, he and others perceive a low rumble under certain conditions. Some are likely hearing an actual audible sound from an undiscovered source while others may be plagued by tinnitus or similar condition. Still others may be having auditory hallucinations while a different group of sufferers may have heightened hearing that combines with an undiscovered geophysical phenomenon to produce the sound. Others may be experiencing spontaneous otoacoustic emissions, which arise through cellular and mechanical causes within the inner ear. With it still being largely a mystery, we cannot even rule out it being part of a secret sinister strategy. Maybe someday we know, I just kind of hope not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Hide the lightning” (Tesla cult)

TESLA

The universe is amazing and captivating enough that there’s no reason to fabricate the fascinating. But some want still more, which is one reason there are champions of pseudoscience, the supernatural, and the paranormal. But the stories they create are still less captivating that what is really happening.

For example, last year astronomers landed a satellite on a comet. How much cooler is that than the landing and all other NASA and cosmonaut missions being hoaxes to enrich Jesuits, Free Masons, or Bilderbergers?

Or think about the mechanics and engineering that went into crafting the castles and great houses of Europe. How much more appreciation should there be for the architects than for the beeping ghost-chasing device being bandied about these grand structures by the host of a schlocky TV unreality program?

Also, consider also fascinating aspects of the animal kingdom. The North American opossum has evolved a built-in antivenin that offsets any venom injected by bees, scorpions, or snakes. This defense mechanism has even proven effective against predators from other continents that the opossum would normally have no contact with. Traits like this bring an appreciation of animals that renders unnecessary the imagining of a Chupacabra or Skunk Ape.

All this creativity does show that pseudoscientists are an indefatigable lot. Flat Earthers have already launched preemptive ad hoc strikes against any Elon Musk space tours that may take place. They haven’t come up with any definitive answers yet since the question hasn’t been asked. But my guess is they will say that instead of seeing space and astronomical bodies through rocket windows, passengers are instead seeing simulated computer imagery in a rocket attached to gears and levers that moves it a la an amusement park ride, and that no one ever left the ground.  

Musk named one of his more terrestrial pursuits, Tesla, Inc., after the Serbian-American electrical engineer genius. Also inspired by Nikola Tesla has been a conspiratorial cult that, like the pseudoscientists and paranormal investigators, takes something that is impressive and tries to turn it into something better without regard to reality. Members of the Tesla cult ostensibly praise his genius and accomplishments, but these distinctions are actually bit players in a tale where his inventions and visions have been suppressed, purloined, and used for malevolent ends.  

Tesla has enough of a hold on the public imagination that a quarter century before Musk named one of his companies after him, a 1980s hard rock band did the same. That group was referred to as the “no image” band, a description that was repeated often enough that it paradoxically became their image. One of their tracks, “Edison’s Medicine,” made reference to a coordinated suppression of Tesla that often benefited the Wizard of Menlo Park. It was a catchy enough track, but spotty at best historically and it underlies the myth that surrounds the man. The song has plenty of company in that regard and another example is the photo showing him working in his lab while simulated lightning bolts emanate from Tesla coils. That picture is the result of double exposure, a precursor of today’s PhotoShop trickery.

Like comet-landing satellites, opulent residences, and marsupial defenses, there is much about the real Telsa to admire. He spearheaded the practical widespread distribution of electricity via the alternating current (although he did not discover it, as is commonly misperceived). He was awarded more than 300 patents and had blueprints for many other potential inventions. He made his first splash by illuminating the 1893 World’s Fair with AC and he keyed the creation of the Niagara Falls power plant. But this is inadequate for those who prefer a narrative drenched in deception, plotting, and plundering.

One accuracy from conspiracy theorists is that the U.S. government did seize Tesla’s papers through probably extralegal means. He died in January 1943 and government agents, having heard rumors he created or was working on a death ray, used a law enacted during the Constitution-shredding heyday of World War I to pilfer about his home. The law allowed an entity called the Alien Property Custodian to seize the assets of any enemy during wartime, with the custodian given authority to unilaterally declare someone a combatant. In this case, the enemy was a recently-deceased inventor who specialized in electromagnetics. The custodian’s office found little of use because much of Tesla’s later work was speculative and he made few notes of it.  The government report of what was seized revealed that “his thoughts and efforts during the past 15 years were primarily of a speculative, philosophical, and somewhat promotional character often concerned with the production and wireless transmission of power; but did not include new, sound, workable principles or methods for realizing such results.”

This bland sentence, almost literally, describes nothing. Tesla had done pioneering work early in his career but was sidetracked due to a lack of funding in the Great Depression and he spent his last several years finalizing few inventions while possibly spiraling into madness or at least showing signs of what would become known as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This speaks to some unfulfilled potential and is a sad ending for a great man, but nothing terribly extraordinary is going on here. But conspiracy theories don’t become such by strict adherence to facts, investigation, reason, and Occam’s Razor. So a tale was hatched whereby government agents or other authoritarians complete the work begun by a mad genius and use it to control the world. That would make for a B movie and is an even worse conspiracy theory.  

The most widely-spread myth is that Tesla discovered the AC current, even though this was done 25 years before his birth. He is also credited by his enthusiasts as having been rooked out of receiving credit for taking the first X-ray photo. The truth here is a little more complicated. While photographing his companion Mark Twain, Tesla used an early form of fluorescent tube light called a Geissler tube. Unbeknownst to Tesla or anyone else, the tubes emitted X-radiation, so this innovation was unintentional, not repressed.

The invention most associated with a supposed theft and cover-up is the radio. Tesla did predate Marconi in demonstrating wireless communication and Tesla posthumously won all patent disputes.

But the controversy was the result of normal competition among scientists in an emerging field. Tesla and Marconi were both using and improving on theories and experiments of scores of inventors stretching back nearly 100 years. Patents for various wireless communication apparatuses had been filed beginning in the 19th Century and by the mid-1890s inventors on three continents were giving demonstrations of radio prototypes. Tesla made substantial contributions to the field but he borrowed ideas and techniques from others (and they from him), and this was all part of an explosion in knowledge related to the workability of wireless communication.

There are competing winners for the inventor of many devices. Edison, for example, was far from the first person to get heat to flow through a coil wire with illuminating results. But he was the first to devise a light bulb that lasted long enough and could be manufactured easily enough for it to be commercially viable. There was never a cover-up to deny Tesla credit for the radio, nor was that the incentive in giving Marconi the Nobel Prize. While the radio is the one invention most associated with the conspiracy theory, from a conspiratorial viewpoint it makes the least sense. That’s because the government that supposedly contributed to the repression recognized him as the inventor in a Supreme Court ruling the year he died.

There are several other purported Tesla inventions or accomplishments that are said to have been covered up and/or stolen. This includes his causing a field of light bulbs 26 miles away to illuminate wirelessly. This supposedly happened during the two years Tesla lived in Colorado Springs. But he kept detailed records of his time there and no such experiments are referred to in his papers. Photographs exist of his experimenting with this idea on a small scale in his lab but there is no evidence he took the idea any further.   

There has also been speculation that he had created artificial ball lighting. Portions of his notes taken out of context make it seem like he is describing having done this, but a more careful perusal of his writing and speeches reveal no such claims. But it does serve to heighten the myth, as Tesla is presented as a real-life Thor who can create and direct lightning at will.

One of his more ambitious pursuits was to transmit wireless power worldwide. But his only movement toward this goal was to partially constructing one tower. Another claim is that he had learned how to draw electricity straight from the atmosphere, but was silenced to protect energy companies. There’s no telling if he ever had this idea, but in any case, many of his proposals stayed in the embryonic stage.

That these devices were never seen by the masses, along with the government having seized his notes, fuels the conspiracy theory that his inventions are being used, but are being kept hidden. One example is the assertion that HAARP is Tesla’s worldwide wireless power grid in action. There is nothing at HAARP that even vaguely resembles a worldwide power grid, but to the theorist that appearance is all part of the cover up that keeps Tesla’s inventions in the hands of Rothschild Reptilians. 

 

“Idiot lights” (K2 meters)

GHOST

In an episode of King of the Hill, the no-nonsense titular character chastised juvenile cut-ups for placing a trash canister on its side, positioning a board diagonally across it, then using this as a makeshift launching pad for skateboard antics. Hill sternly pronounced, “That is not its intended use.”

I could go for a crossover show between King of the Hill and the glut of ghost hunter shows that infest the airwaves. For most of the latter employ a K2 meter that purportedly serves as a conduit between the TV hosts and the poltergeists they are chasing. However, the K2’s purpose, or intended use in Hank vernacular, is to locate sources of electromagnetic radiation, such as magnetic, electric, radio, and microwaves. The meters also provide a reading of the strength and direction of the field being detected.

Skeptic leader Kenny Biddle did a series of experiments, with ghost hunters on hand, to demonstrate how the K2 can be manipulated, and also showed how responses from the device are no evidence of a haunted locale.

First, the basics of the K2. Biddle wrote, “The K-II meter is a simple, single-axis electromagnetic field meter. A pressure-sensitive switch on the front turns the device on, using your thumb to maintain pressure.  It was designed to read a small part of the electromagnetic field from household devices and give a general measurement of strength.”  

Most meters consist of five light-emitting diodes that indicate the strength of the signal being detected. When powered on, the K2 performs a self-test, twice flashing the diodes in succession and back again. Per Biddle, the device “can detect Extremely Low Frequencies and Very Low Frequencies,” these two together covering the range from 50 to 20,000 Hertz.

However, there is no proof ghosts exist, much less that they have the desire and ability to communicate via the low end of the electromagnetic spectrum. Some spirit chasers claim their K2 devices have been calibrated or altered to perform paranormal hunts, but Biddle’s investigation found this was limited to adding a toggle switch to the instrument. But regardless of how much a K2 is altered, there is no reason to deduce that the changes turn it into an apparition apparatus.

Ghost hunters normally ask questions of the spirits and interpret any dancing signals as a result the hunted is answering. They may stipulate that it should be one flash for yes and two for no, or something similarly simple. But this is just the K2 detecting the low end of the electromagnetic spectrum and performing as it is supposed to. If the ghost hunters asked the spirit to speak though the lights in Morse Code and this occurred, that could be worthy of further investigation, but the K2 performing as designed requires no supernatural explanation.

Often, even the K2’s standard performance can be manipulated by the ghost hunter. Biddle explained that this is done by “applying just enough pressure on the switch so that it appears to be fully depressed even though the switch is making the slightest contact. This allows the operator to manipulate the device, causing the LEDs to dance crazily and or flash twice” because he is forcing the K2 to perform the self-test mentioned earlier.

In his experiment, Biddle met with a group of paranormal investigators who had staked out a hotel it suspected of housing ghostly guests. Biddle first determined what implements he could get the K2 to respond to, and he had positive results from the powering on of a video camera, the turning on of a camera flash, and the presence of two-way radios. Next, all these devices were removed and the ghost hunters allowed to attempt dialogue with their prey. The two parties agreed to bypass the standard “two beeps for yes, one beep for no” protocol to avoid mistaking normal operation for a ghostly chat.

Under these controlled conditions, the hunters were unable to get the device to respond. This contrasted sharply with the rainbow of supposed proof that highlights paranormal shows. Of course, these shows have the advantages of editing, multiple takes, toggle manipulation, two way radios being present, and there being no skeptic on hand to monitor the situation. Under conditions much more friendly to the investigators, the K2 lights up regularly and this is presented to a credulous audience as a deceased spirit crazily trying to communicate. This fuels more shows doing the same premise, boosts the ratings, and keeps the advertisers rolling in. And that, for the network, is the K2’s intended use.

“Free spirits” (Quad Cities Psychic and Paranormal Expo)

FAIR

Each year, the Quad Cities Psychic and Paranormal Expo rolls into town. Another tradition is me having 86 cents in my expendable income account. That has kept me from paying for any paranormal products or psychic services, but I have some magic of my own and always come away from these events having gotten something for nothing.  

My first stop this year was at an essential oils table, where I was assured the merchandise was “100 percent certified pure therapeutic grade, with nothing synthetic.” When it comes to the only oil I ever buy, motor, synthetic is a good thing, so I’m curious what this is all about.

I asked the two women what they could tell me about the oils and they inquired if I had any aches or pains. Indeed, my head was hurting so they referred to their chart that recommended peppermint. Later, I checked other essential oil businesses and websites for their headache cures and among those listed were lavender, eucalyptus, rosemary, spearmint, roman chamomile, magnesium, turmeric, frankincense, wintergreen, birch, jasmine, sage, marjoram, bergamot, ginger, and basil. By the time I tracked all those down it would be way past the four hours my headaches normally last and it would be gone anyway.   

As to these ladies’ recommendation, per their instruction, I put a couple of drops on my fingertip and lathered up my forehead and the back of my neck. This caused a pronounced burning sensation, meaning the pains on the inside of my head were now matched by ones on the outside, so I at least had symmetry going for me.

Brushing off the unpleasantness, I asked if the oil had healing properties. Assured this was the case, I asked if they knew the science behind it.

“There’s lot and lots of science. Our company is all about science.”  What they lacked in specifics, they made up for in enthusiasm and assurance, so I continued.

“If there’s an active ingredient in it, is there a chance you could use too much of it?”

“Other companies, yes, but not ours. This is 100 percent pure.”

“But if it has healing properties, I would think there would be a danger of overdose. If you take a bottle of Excedrin, you’d be dead.”

“But that’s not all-natural.”

“Natural could still do you in. Hemlock is natural, too. So with the peppermint oil, is there a way to determine the proper dose?”

There is a look I get from psychic and paranormal fair merchants when I start lobbing anything beyond remedial inquiries at them. They are used to being asked, “What can craniosacral therapy do for me,” not, “Can you explain the mechanism behind craniosacral therapy?” Questions about the science are answered with “lots and lots” as opposed to providing examples of peer-reviewed articles and double blind studies.

I got that look, which they then turned on each other. They traded stammers before one of them offered that I should start with a drop or two and work up to what works for me. Of course, if no amount worked, I would keep going until I overdosed, which is what I was trying to avoid.

I was about to make this point when one of them changed the subject by offering me oil-infused chocolate chip cookies. I can’t ask probing questions if I’m chewing on confectionaries. To wash it down, they handed me water with lemon oil added.

“What does this do for you?”

“It helps with dehydration.”

Water helps with dehydration. Really glad I’m not paying for this information.

Glancing at the comparison chart that recommends oils in lieu of over the counter medication, I asked, “So for body aches, instead of Tylenol, I should take chamomile?”

“That’s right.”

“Why not just take Tylenol?”

“Because ours is pure.”

Oh, that’s right, you told me that. I need to look and see what oil helps with memory.

I then made my way to another table, where I asked a middle-age woman bespectacled woman with shoulder-length blond hair what she was offering.

“Readings, Reiki, and energy clearing.”

“What’s a Reiki healing?”

In a dreamy voice she intones, “Oh it’s wonderful. I love it. It holistically heals you from the inside. A week ago I got arthritis real bad and had Reiki done and I haven’t had it since.” There have been about 10 million such anecdotes in Reiki’s favor, none of them accompanied with an explanation for the mechanism behind it.  An eternal optimist, I hoped to be the first to track this down.

 “How does it work?”

“It’s spiritual. It’s the universe. It’s the angels. It’s the spirit guides and all the energy they use to heal you.”

“What type of energy does it use?”

“Well, we’re all made of energy. The Earth is made of energy, you, me, all living creatures, that type of energy.”

So someone would take my energy then give it back to me. Again, glad I’m not paying for these services.

Turning the subject to another of her offerings, I asked, “What’s energy clearing?”

“That clears away the energy we pick up from other people as you’re walking around or you’re living with them.”

“But that kind of contradicts the Reiki healing. Wouldn’t the energy clearing cancel out the Reiki energy you received?”

“No, it’s not connected. The energy that’s been cleared is low level. Depression, for instance, does not have a high vibration. The session helps to clear the clutter that builds up from negative thoughts and actions,” she told me. “Have you ever been talking to someone that just makes you sad for what the world has come to?”

Boy, she nailed that one. Why isn’t she manning the mindreading booth?

Moving on, I found a merchant who focused on a haunted house south of Buffalo, N.Y. He owns the house, he told me.

“Do you live in it?”

“No.”

“Does anyone live in it? Besides the ghosts, I mean?”

“No, I’m fixing it up.” He’s probably using sub-contractors for the various tasks, like remodeling, wiring, and ghostbusting.

He further explained, “I’ve researched the spirts in this house and its history. There was a failed exorcism there, another guy died there. Some people left after two months. Another family got out quickly and left all their stuff behind. People have tried to live there but it’s hard.”

I tried living in upstate New York for a while, I know what you mean.

“How do you research it?”

“There’s lots of scientific ways of researching it. Then there’s the personal, the feelings you get when you’re there.” So he bases it on science and feeling, and I have a feeling he’s exaggerating the science part.

This fellow was giving a free (there’s that key word again) presentation about this, so I followed him into the speaking room. Wonder if all this makes me a paranormal investigator investigator.

Once there, he enthralled audience members (well, with one exception), telling tales about these spooky surroundings. He assured us, “There’s definitely a dark entity there.” I imagine that’s called nightfall.

His talk contained the phrases, “something’s holding the spirit there,” “there’s a portal in that room that can’t be closed,” and “spirits are crossing a threshold.” There was talk about “an Indian chief” and “a woman in white at the pond,” both of whom he reported capturing on film. He also related a story about how a K2 meter stayed lit when he attempted to contact a former resident. “There was no explanation for it,” he said.

That’s because he didn’t ask me. The K2’s purpose is not to enable the dead to communicate via beeps and flashing lights as you walk up creaking stairs. Its function is to detect electromagnetic radiation and indicate the radiation’s strength and direction. There is there is no evidence deceased homeowners have the ability to leave this radiation behind.

When I asked if the K2 meters he were designed to chase ghosts, he said no but added, “When your body dies, energy can’t be created or destroyed. There’s still that energy somewhere. If you ask a question and it flickers, perhaps it’s paranormal.” And perhaps it’s from the cell phones, video cameras, and computers you brought in.

Other audience members asked questions like, “Are you worried about driving off the friendly ghosts and leaving only behind the evil entities,” and “If the house burned down, would the spirits go back out the portal?” Meanwhile, I got in a second question, about why ghosts in his photos would still be wearing clothes. He answered that they did that somehow, some way, so that people in the present could recognize them. By this point, I realized the peppermint oil wasn’t helping any and my headache had gotten worse.

 

 

“The story of the moral” (Self-righteousness)

BETTER

People of different religious viewpoints can get along, depending on the person.  I have had nothing but positive interaction with the friendly imam at our neighborhood mosque, while others who read the same book that inspires him would interpret it as a fatwa to slit my throat.

There are Christian extremists like John Hagee, who has called for all atheists to leave the United States. He is apparently OK with a trade that would see his country lose 67 percent of its scientists and .02 percent of its prisoners. Even more extreme is Bryan Fischer, who has declared that no atheists should be allowed in the military, that belief in evolution makes one unpatriotic,  and that Native American genocide was beneficial because Christians were given the land and resources. Fischer also has supremely creative reading comprehension skills. He was written that the Constitution’s Article VI, which reads, “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States” is a mandate that only Christians be allowed to serve in public office.

At the other end of the spectrum from Hagee and Fischer are the dozen military chaplains I have worked with, who have been among the most cordial, compassionate, and hardworking men I have known.  

The nonbelief side has its extremists as well. Although stopping short of calling for expulsion or death, the late Jon Murray of American Atheists once wrote that only atheists could accurately teach the history of religion and he chastised anyone who labeled themselves an agnostic, humanist, free-thinker, apatheist, or similar moniker. He considered this a wussy way to avoid the dreaded atheist label. Similarly, I have seen many a Facebook thread where agnostics are viciously attacked by atheists for not taking the doubt far enough, even going so far sometimes to say that there is no such thing as an agnostic. The argument generally goes like this: If you’re not sure there’s a god, it means you lack a belief in deity, so this makes you an atheist. This is almost invariably followed with personal attacks and character assassination directed at the agnostic for failing to realize what they  are. A similar argument is used against atheists by some Christian extremists who insist atheists believe in God, but are in a state of denial, hate, or rebellion, or are wanting to continue in their sin.  

There also exists a subset of Christians who feel that their belief in an invisible sky creature entitles them to the moral high ground. There are many examples, but I will focus on Dennis Prager and Frank Turek since they have been the most vocal and persistent about this stance over the last few years.

On his online site, Prager makes this astounding claim: “If there is no God, murder isn’t wrong.” Given that in the Bible, Koran, and Book of Mormon, the Abrahamic god is responsible for the slaughter of 2,476,633 persons (tiny.cc/mr7yoy), in addition to an unknown number flood, plague, and famine victims, a more logical conclusion would be, “If there is a God, murder isn’t wrong.” But let’s keep our focus on what Prager and Turek have written. 

In a takedown of Prager’s assertion, skeptic leader Michael Shermer noted the cosmic chicken-and-egg conundrum that arises when one cites a god as source of morality.  

Plato asked, “Is what is morally right or wrong commanded by God because it is inherently right or wrong, or is it morally right or wrong only because it is commanded by God?” Shermer picks up on the Greek philosopher’s point by asking, “If murder is wrong because God said it is wrong, what if he said it was okay? Would that make murder right?”

This is not a hypothetical question, as there are instances of God acting more like a Godfather and ordering hits on victims for trying to keep the Ark of the Covenant from hitting the ground (2 Samuel 6:7), for picking up sticks (Numbers 15:36), or for looking over their shoulder (Genesis 19:26). Prager and Turek would have to be OK with these divine executions. There is no room for considering other angles, mitigating circumstances, appeals, reasoning, talking it through, societal values, norms, traditions, or human input.  

Also, Prager and Turek present a false dilemma between either a deity-dictated absolute morality or a secular relative morality where there are only opinions with no actual right and wrong. This often leads to an insistence that without a god-based morality, persons have license to commit all manner of mayhem and mischief without being immoral.

But the false dilemma is a logical fallacy where the interlocutor posits that if the opponent’s position is wrong, the speaker’s position is right. This is mistaken because an debater must actually prove one’s point, not just try and tear down the opponent’s. Prager and Turek also commit the begging the question fallacy, assuming without supporting evidence that the correct position is that their god established right and wrong and that his dictates were all uncompromisingly correct.

Prager and Turek say that if I insist arson is wrong, this is merely an opinion. They might be right on this point. But that’s all Prager and Turek have too, an opinion. In their case, they accept the opinions written by Bronze Age Middle East nomads. There’s nothing wrong with any of those traits, but those opinions belong to just another man.  Even if we graciously allow that a god wrote it, it’s still just another opinion. Might does not make right and Prager and Turek never establish why Yahweh saying something makes it correct. Supernatural abilities such as creating or destroying a planet are separate from having keen insight into right and wrong.

Besides, Shermer wrote, there is a third option between absolute morality and relative morality, which he calls provisional morality. He defines this as “Moral values that are true for most people in most circumstances most of the time.” He continues, “All societies throughout history and around the world today have sanctions against murder. Why? Because if there were no proscription against murder no social group could survive, much less flourish. All social order would break down. We can’t have people running around killing each other willy nilly.”

At the same time, Shermer explained, there are exceptions such as self defense, war, and executions. These exceptions do not wipe out the provisional morality that murder is wrong. Likewise, most societies have considered human cannibalism wrong, yet most persons would understand the reasoning and actions of the 16 Andean plane wreck survivors who resorted to eating deceased passengers as a last-ditch way to stay alive.

Consider one more example. Stealing is wrong, but this can be mitigated or involve extenuating circumstances. A man with literally no money or food who swipes a bucket of friend chicken to feed his children their first meal in two days would be looked at differently than an online hacker who helps himself to millions in ill-gotten gain for the thrill of it and to prove that he can. Our legal system would almost certainly treat these offenders differently, yet Biblical justice calls for no distinction to be made and for the punishment to be as harsh for the destitute family man as the affluent cyber criminal.

Sources of provincial morality can include parents, peers, mentors, society, teachers, solitary reflection, life experiences, books, culture, and one’s conscience. Shermer noted that since the Enlightenment, “religious-based theocracies have been replaced with Constitution-based democracies, and the result was the abolition of slavery and torture, the democratic rule of law, the decline of violence,” and the granting of rights to minorities, women, gays, and animals.

Prager and Turek insist our rights come from God, but the Bible endorses execution for blasphemy and for practicing wicca instead of embracing freedom of speech and religion; it favors slavery over emancipation; it requires stoning to death for a woman having premarital sex instead of forbidding cruel and unusual punishment; and the Torah includes no prohibition on warrantless searches or self-incrimination. To see just how in how in error Prager’s and Turek’s assertion is, contrast the First Commandment with the First Amendment. The former mandates worship of the Abrahamic god under penalty of death. The latter guarantees the right to worship any god or goddess or none at all.

Taking morality from a book requires no thought, whereas morality arrived at through introspection, debate, and experience requires the person to justify their conclusion. Were Turek to take his morality from the Bible, he would have to believe that his daughter’s rapist, instead of becoming a prisoner, should become his son-in-law, regardless of the daughter’s wishes (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).

Citing a god as the source for morality runs into another problem. Different scriptures have different rules and they can’t all be right. Here, Prager and Turek have little trouble here with a retort, simply making a begging the question assumption that the god they were taught to believe in since preschool is the correct one. But belief in absolute morality can lead to the conclusion that anyone who believes differently has departed from the true path and can be dealt with accordingly, in line with punishments in the believer’s holy book. Such thinking has led to the Inquisition, witch trials, and holy wars.

But looking at it from an objective standpoint and having been impacted by the influencers mentioned two paragraphs ago, I can see that the 10 Commandments gets right the prohibitions against murder, stealing, and adultery. But in consciously allows child abuse, rape, and slavery while forbidding innocuous actions such as talking back to one’s parents, uttering profanity, and building a bronze and iron sculpture.  

On another topic, it is a disingenuous debate to ask whether torturing an innocent man to death is morally correct. I truly believe Prager and Turek are capable of figuring out murder is wrong on their own. Further, no atheist is going to read Prager’s or Turek’s pieces and decide, “Whoa, if I don’t convert to their religion, I’m going to go out today and commence with raping, pillaging, and burning.” Their assertions are meant to establish their moral superiority, which ironically can be used to commit immoral acts such as the Crusades, Jonestown, and flying airplanes into tall buildings.

Prager tries to tie Stalin and Mao into this and asserts godlessness leads to genocide. But this is the composition fallacy and this decade there have been atheist heads of state in Australia, Greece, Croatia, Belgium, and New Zealand without corresponding bloodbaths.

And a minor point, but Mao and Stalin killed in the name of communism, not atheism. These two built personality cults and the same has been done in North Korea. These communist cults mimic religious extremism by basing a system on the supremacy of an all-wise leader, from whom any departure is worthy of scorn, ostracism, exile, imprisonment, or death.

Shermer makes the argument that murder could be worse if there is no god than if there is. In Prager’s universe, the murder merely creates a painful but temporary separation. If a hundred years from now, the victim and his family are together in paradise and will be there a million millennia after that, murder ends up seeming not so bad. This also brings up a point raised by Richard Dawkins: If one is following the instruction manual because of a belief of being incessantly watched and thinking they are subject to calamity if they stray, is the person really being moral, or just pragmatic?

Going back to Turek, one of his essays contained this strawman headscratcher: “To be a consistent atheist you can’t believe that anyone has ever changed the world for the better. You have to believe that rescuing Jews from the ovens was not objectively better than murdering them. You have to believe that loving people is no better than raping them.” Earlier in the essay, Turek wrote that atheists could be good people, but he then abruptly switches to a position that atheists by nature feel that rape is proper and that the holocaust was fine and dandy. He also wrote, “In an atheistic universe there is nothing objectively wrong with anything at any time. There are no limits. Anything goes.”

Yet Turek’s assertion that belief in the Christian god equals morality is inconsistent with what we see when looking at religions in different cultures. The most secular countries are in Scandinavia, which are perpetually among the most affluent and educated and which enjoy high quality of life, excellent health care, and low crime rates. By contrast, the overwhelmingly religious countries Guatemala and El Salvador are riddled with crime and poverty. Further, since Turek stipulates that his god is the true one, Japan, which is just two percent Christian, should experience unending epidemics of decapitations and machete attacks instead of having the planet’s fourth-lowest crime rate. Travelers to the country report seeing no bicycle locks because so few people there would ever think to help themselves to another person’s form of conveyance.

For all anyone knows, Prager or Turek may someday be saved by an atheist surgeon, a person they would would insist has no moral concern with whether someone lives or dies. Prager and Turek would also have considered Ted Bundy to necessarily be a good, moral person if  he had practiced their religion.

They’re wrong on these counts, of course. A few years ago, there were Muslims who slaughtered Yazidis for their beliefs and other Muslims who risked their lives to save those Yazidis. Beliefs don’t make a person good or bad; actions do.

“Squawk like an Egyptian” (Man-made cancer)

MUMMY

A popular myth in anti-doctor and anti-pharmaceutical circles is that cancer is man-made. The idea is that the disease either didn’t exist or existed very rarely thousands of years ago, but has increased exponentially due to persons being bombarded with artificial toxins. Even more tenuous proclamations blame GMOs, vaccines, Wi-Fi, or whatever other entity one wishes to demonize.

The idea of man-made cancer stems primarily from a study by professors Rosalie David and Michael Zimmerman. The researchers examined nearly 1,000 mummies and found just one who had developed cancer. The professors therefore concluded that the disease is of recent origin. They went so far as to claim that cancer is “limited to societies that are affected by modern lifestyle issues, such as tobacco use and pollution resulting from industrialization.” Officials from the University of Manchester lauded the study in a press release that stated, “Finding only one case of the disease in the investigation of hundreds of Egyptian mummies, along with few references to cancer in ancient literary evidence, proves that cancer was extremely rare in antiquity.”

It’s true that the cancer rate in ancient Egypt, as well as in Rome and Greece, was much less than it is today. But that’s because cancer is predominantly a senior disease. According to Dr. Lesley Walker of Cancer Research UK, 75 percent of cancer hits persons 60 or over, a demographic that includes just 18 of the population. In men, 90 percent of cancers occur in those over 50. If the average lifespan were to hit 125, virtually all men making this milestone would develop prostate cancer, but this would be due to drastically longer lives, not because a futuristic nefarious agent will have perfected a way to commit microbial misdeeds. Conversely, in times and societies where hitting 50 was as noteworthy as making 100 today, it would be expected for cancer to be rare.

The David-Zimmerman study said that besides environmental factors, lifestyle also has an impact. It’s true that lifestyles make a difference in the likelihood of developing cancer. Smoking, drinking, overeating, forgoing sunscreen, and being sedentary all make cancer more likely.  But these are choices, meaning persons can do something to positively impact them. Cancers that would result from these activities are the result of poor decisions are not evidence of society being awash in a carcinogenic wave. True, there are some pesticides and industrial solvents that could can cause cancer with prolonged, concentrated exposure, but these are responsible for a tiny fraction of the disease, and steps can be taken to reduce the risk, such as the exposed person wearing protective equipment.

The authors are correct that pursuing a more active lifestyle and eating a balanced diet can help stave off cancer. And their point about cancer being rare 3,000 years ago is true, though this was accompanied with a correlation-causation error that blamed industrial developments, not increased lifespans, for the disease’s surge.

So at this point, we have one truth and one probably unintentional misuse of numbers. But they jumped the analytical shark with an absurd claim that would delight Gwyneth Paltrow, the Food Babe, and Doctor Oz. David wrote, “There is nothing in the natural environment that can cause cancer.”  The (literally) most glaring error here is failing to consider the sun. Ultraviolet radiation, after all, is the number one cause of skin cancer.

Going to much smaller examples of nature, carcinogens exist in bacteria and viruses. These infectious agents are responsible for up to 25 percent of cancers, including the human papillomavirus. And one of main reasons stomach cancers are less prevalent than 100 years ago is because of refrigeration and improved living conditions.

Then there’s radon, a natural product of granite. In gas form, it is responsible for about 10 percent of lung cancers. Additionally, there are chemicals found naturally in foods and produced by molds or plants that can cause cancer. Even soot and smoke from fire contain carcinogens that could result in cancer with prolonged exposure.

But at least David and Zimmerman conducted original research and submitted their findings for peer review. We will now transition to those unencumbered by scientific protocol. These types attribute cancer to whatever modern development they find most intolerable.

Some anti-GMO types point out that genetic modification has been going on for about 30 years and cancers have gone up over time, so, voilà. Even a rudimentary critical thinker would recognize this as the post hoc fallacy, where because one event comes before another, a connection is assumed without offering evidence and without considering other possible causes.

A seemingly more reasonable position is to blame GMOs for cancer because of reports that both bacillus thuringiensis (which is incorporated into insect-resistant plants during genetic modification) and glyphosate (a herbicide used on some GM crops) will, when applied to cells in a petri dish, cause some cells to experience abnormal growth. But University of Florida horticulturist Dr. Kevin Folta noted that cells in a petri dish behave differently than cells in a human body, and he added there is zero evidence consumption of GM foods would cause the change that cells in a petri dish undergo.  

Another alarmist camp blames WiFi for cancer. But WiFi operates in the microwave portion of the electromagnetic spectrum and the risk of cancer only begins at the high end of ultraviolet light. A similar slander targets cell phones and accuses them of causing brain cancer. However, the ubiquitous nature of these devices and the lack of corresponding brain cancer pandemic show this to be an unfounded fear.

Smart meters are another modern development forced to stand in a police lineup of suspected carcinogenic agents. This is based on the misuse of a fact, specifically that ionizing radiation can break the bond that holds molecules together and possibly have   carcinogenic results. But this danger does not extend to low-frequency fields, which is where smart meters operate.

And what pseudoscientific scaremongering would be complete without pinning unwarranted blame on vaccines? The horribly-misnamed website Truth About Cancer notes that most vaccine inserts contain the phrase, “This vaccine has not been evaluated for its carcinogenic potential.”

The website then issues an alarm about today’s vaccine schedule being thrice as long as what it was 40 years ago, leaving out that there are 95 percent fewer antigens injected now than then. It then joints the post hoc parade with, “Coinciding with the ever-increasing vaccine schedule are soaring rates of chronic illness in children, including cancer, which has skyrocketed and is now the leading cause of death by disease in children past infancy.” Yes, especially now that no babies in the West are dying from polio or smallpox.

The website next rails against formaldehyde without mentioning that the compound occurs naturally in the human body in greater amounts than what vaccines contain. Finally it recommends avoiding vaccines altogether in favor of eating fruits and vegetables, getting enough rest, sunshine, and exercise. There’s nothing wrong with doing all that and also getting vaccinated. I do love my bananas, sleep, 70 degree days, and time on the treadmill. But my joy from those pursuits would be greatly curtailed if I indulged them while enduring Whooping Cough.