28 April 2013

Red Lights - Film Review

 A classic film for lovers of  scepticism, this is a story about scientists debunking stage psychics using a variety of laboratory techniques.

The story centres around a small team of scientists who, aside from their academic careers, work to prove or disprove the genuineness of people who claim to have psychic powers. Sigourney Weaver plays a college professor who has 20 years' experience in the field. We see her giving lectures about how so-called mediums use tricks during seances - with the buildings power to make the lights go off and on, and use sleight of hand to move the table around, and so on. Weaver's character has strayed away from objective science a long time ago, having never seen a genuine case. Her assistant, played by Murphy, is the technician with all the fiddly bits of recording equipment. He's younger and less sceptical, but she's done a reasonable job of bending him to her belief that there is no such thing as psychic powers.

Along comes De Niro who is clearly based on 1980s spoon-bending guru Uri Geller. He can also apparently read minds, cause electronic equipment to explode and do faith healing. He and Weaver have "history", and he's the only psychic who really has her thinking that her sceptical view of the world might be wrong. Cue arguments within the team, embarrassing TV chat show recordings, spooky psychic events happening all over the place, and the feeling that De Niro really does have powers that he can use at a distance. Several twists make it into an intriguing tale with a surprising ending.

There are some really good scenes where the psychic powers are being analysed under lab conditions. This movie is a good introduction to the science of scepticism.

Poor points in the film include ridiculous over-acting (Weaver sometimes comes across as if she's fighting aliens rather than doing science experiments) and a bizarre love affair that's quite inappropriate, yet has no bearing on the rest of the story.

So all in all not a particularly gripping, or even convincing watch, but it gets you thinking a lot about psychic powers and leaves you with a sense that not all the answers are yet there.

31 March 2013


A teacher in Idaho is under investigation by the local board of education. They
have received complaints from parents that he used the word "vagina", and discussed female orgasms and various forms of contraception.

Did he say these things loudly in the middle of the town square whilst masturbating naked? No.
Did he say these things whilst teaching 5-year olds? No.
Did he discuss these items in the context of sleeping around flirtatiously, or devil worship, or some other such un-Mormon activity? No.

In fact, he delivered these messages calmly and professionally during school biology lessons for 15-year olds, and the material he used came straight out of a school text book. Just like he's been doing for the last 17 years.
In fact, one might almost say that he was doing his job as a teacher in a very real and normal way. He even gave students the option of missing the sex-ed classes if they didn't feel comfortable with them.

Amazingly, the teacher himself, one Tim McDaniel, does not attempt to deny or refute these claims. In fact he considers them a normal part of biology education for young teenagers in the western world.

The first question that springs to my mind is this: do these parents really think it is feasible that their 15-year old children, growing up in the USA, are not already somewhat aware of these facts? For fuck's sake! This is a country where sexuality is almost forced upon kids through culture and porn. A 15 year old girl probably has 15 other words for vagina, already has personal preferences for contraception and if they haven't had orgasms yet, they've had a damn good go at trying. What kind of reality do they think their children actually live in?

In fact, Education like this is all the more important, in a highly sexualised society, as so much of what culture teaches about reproduction is warped, misogynistic, religiously biased, or more commonly, all three. Teaching kids the actual biology of reproduction helps them to dispel some of the myths that society pushes, and many would say that to do so at the age of 15 is way too late. Don't these parents want their kids to get a formal message about what real sex means?

Another reported fact about the McDaniel case reveals that this was probably a politically motivated attempt to oust him from a position of authority within the town. It seems that parents weren't just upset about the sex education stuff. It was also an issue when he showed the documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth". In case you missed it, this documentary, by former Democrat presidential candidate Al Gore, presents compelling evidence for man-made climate change. Something of a political hot potato in small-town America. He didn't even present the documentary as solid facts, he showed it as the basis of a discussion about the climate change debate. Again, normal school stuff. He probably would have showed a compelling documentary showing evidence against man made climate change (but there isn't one).

So it's entirely possible that, instead of being shocked or upset by these issues, the parents who have made the complaints about McDaniel just, basically don't like him, don't like his mainstream politics and are looking to fuck him over.

In the meantime, the kids in him class think he's great, other teachers from all over the world are wondering what all the fuss is about as he's doing the same stuff as they all do, and most people with an ounce of sense are dismissing these complaints as coming from a bunch of whingeing religious zealots who can't bear the fact that their kids are learning cool stuff at school that their preachers and stockbrokers don't agree with.

28 December 2012


Posted here at request of Steve Magiclantern, this is an article from"God Doesn't Talk to me when I wear my purple hat".
Psytrance is a musical style that developed from techno in the early to mid 1990s. Early psytrance was often played at beach parties in Goa and Ibiza. Like techno, it usually consists of fast, danceable 4:4 beats, but is characterized by a higher preponderance of squelchy, wibbly noises that add more complicated layers to the music. It sometimes has other rhythm styles and sometimes is slower and easier to follow.

Here are two testimonials describing the amazing benefits of getting into psytrance.

“If you get into psytrance it really does change your life. You instantly become more cool for one, and if you play your cards right you can suddenly have new friends from all around the world. You can look down on other musical styles as being simplistic, and for less trendy people.
It makes you feel and hear music in a whole new way. You can meld in with the energy of it, feeling the pulsing rhythms course through your soul, healing you psychically and mentally and physically. “Normal” trance and techno will always seem flat and unexciting, the kind of thing that less evolved people listen to.
Dancing to psytrance will give your body healing and happiness unparalleled in other yoghurt weaving styles. Healing energy literally beams out of the speakers, targeting your every woe, ache and pain. Different artists' music creates different types of healing.
Of course the most important thing about listening to psytrance is the trances themselves. Assisted a little by some substances, the music stimulates a variety of trance states in your mind and helps you communicate with etheric spirits. Gods and demons literally walk around the dancefloor, weaving in and out of your consciousness at your choice. Other trancers communicate with you in equally paranormal ways. The frenzied dancing that the music stimulates also helps in production of a variety of alpha and theta wave brain states that allow the senses to expand and the consciousness to flow exotically around you in layered whirls of ethereal mindfulness that are whipped into beautiful displays of trancendental dancing.
When you get into psytrance you will join and become part of a truly global community, and suddenly will be whisking yourself off to parties all over the world. It is not a small town thing. It speaks from a global perspective, it truly is Gaia calling us all to dance and be beautiful together, to break down borders created by politics and develop a truly global community. All are welcome in this new world disorder. Come see for yourself, you beautiful people! Come feel the love of psytrance!”

“That party were fookin' shite. Full'o pompous rich kids wi' dreadlocks fookin' trippin' ther noots off. Acid an' 2CI an' that. Look down ther'noses at yer if ye've a can o'beer in y'hand. Thinkin'ther in anoother dimension or summat. Take the drugs away the'd al' be sittin'down watchin' Corry like th'rest of'us.
Shame tha', cos the music weren't ‘alf bad. Like at Samsara bu'bit more interestin', y'know. Be good ter listen to wi'some proper party'eds. The'say thez  a festival playin' this stuff soon, bu'i'ss in Portugal. Who da' fook's got money te go out there? Global Community, pah! For those tha'can afford it. An'ar' pompous enough. Fook tha'shite. I'm off t'a real party.”

21 August 2012

Food frequencies

I'm sure you have experienced people telling you that you should eat this or that food rather than another, but have you ever read or heard about different foods having a unique frequency? How higher frequency foods are better for you? Been wondering how it all works? Then this is the article to give you all the answers you need.
For it is proclaimed, by many a yoghurt weaver, that processed and canned foods have a frequency of precisely 0MHz, while fresh vegetables have frequencies in the range 20 - 27MHz, and the really high frequency foods are products like seaweed, wheatgrass, spirulina etc. that hippies have been telling us for years are good for us.
Of course, there are a lot of variations on this theme (an example is given in the illustration below) and a lot of different numbers bandied about, though for some reason they all seem to agree that the frequency of pure rose oil is 320MHz. Not that consuming rose oil is particularly healthy for you, but that's another story. The important message is that eating higher vibration foods will raise your body's own vibration, which will in turn make us healthier and happier. Oh, and cure cancer. And activate all 12 strands of our DNA. Apparently. What does all this really mean?

Meat exhibits a rare phenomenon known as antivibrating, apparently.
It's nothing new having hippies tell us not to eat meat, for example, or non-organic foods, or processed foods, or takeaways from global fast food chains. There are tangible and good reasons behind all of these things - wether you agree with (or care about) those points of view or not. For example, ethics, chemical pollution of the environment, toxic substances in the food or global economics all play a part in people's food choices.
So where do these numbers come from?  It's almost as if someone has come up with a ratings scale for hippy food. There's no need for all these complex arguments about wether the president of Chick-Fil-A is a closet homosexual, or if organic food has more nutritional content than non-organic. You can just refer to the frequency of the food to decide wether it's suitable.
It makes me wonder why this sort of information is not publically available everywhere. I mean, food manufacturers in many countries are required to detail the nutritional content and calorific value of the product, so why not the frequency as well? Wouldn't food choices become so much easier?

So, lets take a step back. What does "frequency" actually mean? It's a hugely complicated subject and there are many different answers. Yoghurt weavers often use the term to apply to mystical, wishy-washy "vibrational energy" of the type undetected by science. The type you need to pay crystal healers and dowsers to help you read. I have written much about those types before.
Instead, this article is about the tangible, known-to-science kind of frequency. The type you can actually measure. Put simply, frequency is the number of times an event repeats itself per unit time. So, when applied to a periodic wave, for example, the frequency is the phase velocity divided by the wavelength. There are all sorts of different types of waves, which have different properties. Light and sound waves are examples. Pulses of electricity through a wire, nervous signals in the brain, and those wobbly things in the sea are others. Frequency is measured with the unit Hertz, which equals the number of cycles per second of the repeating event.

Frequency can also apply to oscillations. When yoghurt weavers are talking about "vibrational resonance" this is the known-to-science version that what they say most closely resembles. You may be aware that at a minute level, matter is made from atoms which are pieced together into molecules.
A water molecule
Consider water. In the diagram you will see that it consists of one oxygen atom bonded to two seperate hydrogen atoms. The "sticks" connecting them are called bonds. There are a number of different ways this molecule oscillates - the bonds can grow longer and shorter, they will move slightly relative to one another (a bit like a pair of scissors moving); both bonds can move in harmony this way and that relative to the oxygen nucleus - and so on. Also, the whole molecule moves around in a regular or irregular way depending upon its conditions - the medium, other molecules nearby, temperature, pressure; electrical, magnetic and gravitational fields; adhesive and cohesive forces that are a function of the container size and shape, and so on and so on. Finally, the spread of the electrical charge around the molecule moves around.
All these individual "frequencies" may be measured in a laboratory, for a given set of conditions, (with difficulty) but to say that a molecule of water has a unique frequency is hugely simplifying the issue. More correctly, it has many different oscillating frequencies pertaining to many different types of movement that vary according to a number of environmental conditions.

Moving up another level of complexity, here's a picture of a DNA molecule. This one is designed to be flexible and move around in a variety of complex ways, under manipulation by other, even larger, proteins and cofactors. Processes that happen in timescales measured in microseconds. In short, a small strand of DNA has thousands of unique oscillatory vibration movements that it makes.

Hopefully you are getting the point I'm trying to make. The concept of "frequency" when applied to a molecule is meaningless. Cells are made up of millions of hugely complex molecules in a dynamic, fluidic environment. Organisms are made up of millions of different cells of lots of different types. Therefore, the concept of frequency when applied to any type of food, or living tissue, is also meaningless. Furthermore, there are no methods of measuring it that are known to science.
(The one exception to this is the frequency of nervous signal transduction. But this too, has many complex local variables, and subject to change from one minute to the next.)

Put plainly, food and living tissues in general do not have a meaningful, fixed frequency of any description - whatever you measure, (with whichever quackery device you are using) is the sum total of thousands of different, fluctuating variables. So, returning to the original question, where do these numbers come from?

Researching this, I came across a lot of people who confused the issue of oscillating molecules with that of the frequency of light and sound, and more generally describing vibration as some amazing concept you can just apply to anything. Amazingly, Jesus had a score of over 1000MHz, a Tibetan singing bowl scores 615, and corn from the local market scores 80. One site proclaimed that cannabis has a frequency of 19, 500 MHz, I think it was called smokadaherb.com. Someone else was trying to convince the world that food comes in packets called "colloids" which can be as small as 0.1 Angstroms, apparently (smaller than a hydrogen atom!). These colloids have their own electrical charge which directly tops up the body's frequencies whenever you eat.
The less said about these fools, the better.

The company Coherent Resources, under the direction of a certain Bruce Tainio used to produce a machine called the BT3 Frequency Monitor. This seems to be the device that has been used to generate all the numbers. There is only vague technical information on how it's supposed to work but it explains the process in terms of molecular structure oscillations. The manufacturers say that results will vary over time, and one of the reasons they withdrew the product was because of the difficulty in reproducing results. They blame this on the increase in EMFs in our environment in the modern age. I would put it down more to the fact that measuring the "frequency" of a food (if indeed, that's what the device does) will give you a different result every time.

Dr Robert Rife was an inventor who came up with a device for measuring the frequencies coming from different types of body tissue. He was interested in using this information in medicine and claimed that disease only sets in to the human body when the frequency of body tissue drops below 62MHz. He then went on to invent a device for "beaming" certain frequencies at tumours to try and cure the cancers. This consisted of an anal probe typical of alien abduction movies rigged up to a car battery, and he had the same kind of measuring system, in MHz.
Several people died as a result of their abstention from medical treatment whilst undergoing this procedure. Rife claimed that his work was covered up and discredited in a conspiracy to supress cancer cures.

So it's almost tempting to come to the conclusion that there are no reliable ways of measuring the frequency of a food, or a body part for that matter, and these numbers that people ascribe are made up by the people who manufacter the health food products. These "superfoods" may be good for you because they have a good range of vitamins or fatty acids or minerals, because they are chemical free, or other tangible reason. But beware of claims that they have a higher frequency and don't listen to anyone who tells you that a food can cure cancer.

05 July 2012

Tropical Astrology

In the west, since about 2000 years ago, there have been two schools of astrology that appear, to the outsider, to be fundamentally opposed – tropical and sidereal - but astrologers claim that there is no conflict. Astrology is a hugely complicated subject that has grown and developed over 5 millenia in many different traditions. Here I'm not planning to question the astrological interpretations themselves – tripe though they may all be; but instead I'd like to focus on the astronomy involved and what it can tell us about these two different astrological models.

Astrology basics
So as you probably know, astrologers seek to make predictions about our lives, and about world events, based on the “influences” of certain heavenly bodies. Of particular importance in developing a person's chart are the relative positions of these heavenly bodies at the time of birth. Depending on which system is used, the position of the sun, the moon, the other planets of the solar system and various distant stars are used and the angles between them are calculated and plotted in a special way to develop the chart. The positions of each of these relevant heavenly bodies are looked up and referenced using a chart called an ephemeris. Of course there are numerous disagreements about how this process should be done, and numerous different, contradictory ephemera. And numerous, different interpretations of the influences. But don't let that put you off this scientific, results-driven science.

Terran orbital mechanics and how we see the universe
If you are already familiar with the language and concepts in planetary geometry, you may want to skip this bit. In order to make it is simple as possible, I'm going to explain everything at a basic level.

The Earth moves in three main ways –  it spins round on its axis, it orbits the sun, and it wobbles on its axis. The period we call a day is the time taken for the Earth to do one revolution on its axis. It takes a bit shy of 365 and a quarter days to go all the way around the sun, which is simplistically the period of time we call a year. More on this later. The wobbling on the axis is what is called precession, and is much slower – one whole cycle of the wobble, known affectionately as a great year, takes approximately 25,800 years (no one seems to be able to agree on the exact length of time).

So, when we look from the Earth at the skies, all these three motions play a part in the way we observe the rest of the universe.
The daily spinning of the Earth on its axis means that, through each 24-hour period, looking directly up, we see a whole 360 degree panorama of the universe appearing to rush across the sky from East to West.
The yearly motion of the Earth's orbit round the sun means that over the course of a year, the time of day that we see a particular star or constellation (from a given location on the Earth's surface) gradually rotates around, coming round full circle in a year's time. I'll make that simpler with an example. As I write, here in Los Angeles at 130am, the constellation Perseus is just rising from the Eastern horizon. At the same time of the night in a couple of month's time, it will already be high in the sky. Next spring it will be invisible to the naked eye, as it will only be in the sky during the day. On this day next year, it will once again be rising in the sky at around 130am.

The sun can be seen to “appear” in a series of certain constellations throughout the course of the year. What this means is, that constellation is directly behind the sun, from the Earth's perspective, depending on the time of year. (That is, assuming that there are no light bending effects of the type known to be exerted by dark matter and black holes). In a way, the sun traces a path across the heavens, always “appearing” in the same series of constellations in a constant cycle, year after year. This path is called the ecliptic line. The movement of the moon across the skies is essentially the same is this, tracing roughly the same line, except it cycles around the heavens in about a month instead of a year. The other planets of the solar system can only be seen on or close to this line, since the solar system is basically a flat plane. Their periods and locations in the sky are more complicated.
Most of the stars, galaxies, nebulae and so on can be said to have “fixed” positions relative to the Earth, and to each other. Of course, this is bullshit. They are all moving at thousands of miles per second, as is our own solar system, but since they are all so far away we can't see this movement (without lab equipment) as it appears to happen extremely slowly.

Precession and the different ways of defining a year
So when you talk about a year, what do you mean exactly? The period from New Year's Day to New Year's eve? 365 days? Another cup final day?
In fact there are several distinct and precise ways of defining a year. Two are important here:
a tropical year is the time taken for the Earth to complete one 360 degree orbit around the Sun, being defined by the time from one vernal equinox to the next.
a sidereal year is the time taken for a “fixed star” to return to the same position (at the same place and time).
Because of precession, being the Earth's wobbling on its axis, these two years are of slightly different lengths. This is because the two measurements are topologically different. A tropical year is a function only of the Earth's orbit around the sun; whereas a sidereal year is measured from the surface of the earth, which has it's own independent movements. The sidereal year system has another degree of freedom, as there are two mechanisms contributing to it.
To illustrate by example: this year, the sun was very close to the star Omega Pisces (i.e. the Earth, the Sun and that star were in approximate alignment) on the vernal equinox. They rose from the horizon at about the same time. Next year, the sun will be about 50 seconds ahead of that star. In 2018, the difference in rising times will be closer to 5 minutes. This is because, since the Earth has wobbled slightly, a given location on Earth, at a given time each tropical year, is pointing in a slightly different direction towards the heavens.

Another way of expressing this is to go back to the apparent “motion” of the sun through the different constellations of the ecliptic. On a particular time and day of the year (lets say the vernal equinox) the Sun's position will gradually shift across the sky, over thousands of years, such that at the end of the precession cycle it will have cycled all the way around the ecliptic and back to it's start point.

Zodiacs and different types of astrology
A zodiac is a map of the ecliptic line that astrologers use. Most western astrologers use a zodiac that is divided into twelve equal sections of 30 degrees each. These are just like grid references on a map of a section of the Earth. The sections are named after the real star patterns – Scorpio, Leo etc. but only loosely. (The real constellations have varying angular widths and there are in fact at least thirteen real constellations along the ecliptic).
The starting point for the zodiac was set a long, long time ago as the “first” star in Aires, Mesarthim.  The sun was directly on the line between the Earth and this star on the vernal equinox. In a tropical zodiac, which defines a year as a tropical year, this starting point of the zodiac always occurs on the vernal equinox, March 21st.
However, because of precession, over many years the position of the sun, (relative to the real constellations along the ecliptic) on this date and time changes. Therefore a sidereal zodiac takes into account the precession cycle by shifting the start times of each “sign” according to what is observed from Earth.
The difference means that over time, these two different zodiacs have become out of sync with each other. In fact, while Tropical astrologers have always defined the start of the sign of Aires on March 21st, sidereal astrologers currently define its beginning on April 15th.

(There is a third type that I'll mention only briefly – where the “signs” are of varying length, defined by the movement of the sun through the actual constellations in the ecliptic as defined by the International Astronomical Union in 1930. This zodiac usually has 13 signs (14 in some systems).  Even most astrologers think this system is bogus. “Reputable” western astrologers generally agree that there should be twelve signs of equal length.)

What does this mean for astrology?
To the lay observer, it seems that at least one of these systems must be fundamentally flawed. If your birthday is today, then in one system you're a gemini and the other you're a cancer. All that gobshite about this sign means this and that sign means that, its meaningless. At first glance it seems that tropical astronomy is the one that is bunk, because the dates are so out of sync with the real constellations. So if your horoscope is telling you that Jupiter is rising in Aires, whilst a quick glance out the window clearly reveals it to be in Taurus, it makes you question the validity of this amazing ancient divination tool...

But to be fair you need to look a bit deeper than this really. According to most writers, the zodiacs were never meant to be representative of the actual starscape, they were only supposed to serve as a referencing grid system. One way of thinking about tropical astrology is that its zodiac measures cycles of solar time and, therefore, remains linked to the seasons on Earth. OK, well if that's the case, why all the significance and symbolism around the constellations themselves then? Why do we have to hear about Aires, god of war being influential in our relationships and Libra bringing harmonious balance to our lives?

The tropical zodiac preserves the Earth's solar cycle
Imagine each zodiac like a measuring stick against the heavens. The tropical “measuring stick” is fixed to the Earth's Solar cycle. The cycles and patterns of all other heavenly bodies are out of sync with it. This means that the positions of the “constellations” themselves, and the position of the planets in relation to them, should be meaningless in tropical astrology, since the predictions of their locations via a tropical ephemeris are incorrect.

Essentially, a tropical zodiac is little more than a solar clock. Predictions made from it can only really relate to cyclical effects of the Earth-Sun system. Some attempts to justify astrology point to the possibility of the seasons having an influence on foetal development, as a possible mechanism by which time of birth could help predict personality. Of course, even if this were true, it would only explain a tiny minority of the claims astrologers make.

The tropical zodiac does allow comparison of the solar system bodies, however. Astrologers are very concerned with the angles between Earth and the different planets. Using this system, calculations of these angles will be correct, although it does depend on where you get your data. Of course, prediction of where in the sky the planets actually appear will be skewed. But that doesn't matter to a tropical astrologer as long as they are in the correct sign of the chart.

Also, position on the earth isn't relevant either. This is because, over time, a particular place on Earth moves slightly for the same date each year. It doesn't observe the same part of the "measuring stick".
Say a prediction is made about the influence of Sagittarius on someone born in New York. In tropical astrology the same prediction might be made year after year for children born at that place and time of year, but after hundreds of years, Sagittarius would instead be rising over Oregon at that time, and Capricorn would be the actual part of the zodiac “influencing” the birth (with whichever planets are currently in that constellation).

The age of Aquarius is only possible in Sidereal astrology
This is because the so called ages come about due to the precession cycle. The Age of Aquarius is supposed to begin when the Vernal Equinox shifts into the part of the zodiac known as Aquarius.  So if you hear any astrologers who follow the tropical system (most of the ones in the western world), talking about the dawning of a new age, they are talking complete horseshit.

The sidereal zodiac preserves the cycle of the ecliptic
On the flipside, sidereal astrology maps the ecliptic with its zodiac in way fixed to a given location on the Earth. It effectively charts and maps the constellations themselves. The “measuring stick” is fixed to the distant stars. When these guys talk about the positions of constellations and planets in the sky, over a particular place at a particular time, they really mean it. However, this is at the expense of the influence of the cycles of the seasons. This zodiac is out of sync with the Earth-solar cycle. Also, it must be noted that the precise mechanics of precession are not perfectly understood, so the length of a precession cycle is not precisely known. It may oscillate and never be the same from one cycle to the next, which means there will be inaccuracies in the sidereal zodiac also. But as long as it is is based on (and updated according to) actual observation, this doesn't matter too much.

Most writers agree that Sidereal astrology was around long before it's tropical cousin, and sidereal (and complex versions thereof) is still the most common form in the East. Indian writers refer to tropical astrology simply as “Western”. Some say that Tropical astrology is simply a more esoteric and mystical form, whereas sidereal is more practical and factual. Some think that tropical is better for predicting psychology, whereas sidereal is better for predicting events.

However, the best conclusion to come to, is that right from the off, tropical astrology is complete crap. One huge mindfuck of a mistake that people have been labouring under for the last 2000 years, and are still in denial about it.
Think about it. In ancient times, people believed that gods ruled the world and that the movements of stars and planets had a real effect on peoples' lives. It's entirely understandable that they would then invent a system for predicting the movement of the stars and planets, in the hope that it could be used to predict events. Before the days when humans really understood anything about astronomy, this sort of logic is reasonable, if a little flawed.
Was Ptolemy on drugs when he made this?
But then, someone came along and said, “Ah ha! Well instead of using the real movements of the stars and planets, why don't we simply refer to a fantasy one instead? We can use inaccurate information about the heavens to make even more inaccurate predictions about our lives!”
Thinking about it, Ptolemy was probably high as a kite when he came up with the first tropical zodiac system. Looking over it the next day, and realising he'd made a big fuck up, he probably invented all this new age stuff about linking the zodiac to the cycles of the Earth, just so he could avoid losing his status and employment. Not that I'm cynical about these things or anything.

23 June 2012


1. Celestial event brought about by a combination of the earth's rotation round the sun and the tilt of the angle of the earth's equatorial plane. Over the course of  a solar year, the latitude on the earth above which the sun directly shines moves from 23 and a half degrees north (the tropic of cancer) to the same position south (the tropic of capricorn). The solstices on June 21st and December 21st mark, respectively, the northernmost and southernmost points of this apparent journey of the sun across the sky. The equinoxes, on March 21st and September 21st, mark the points when the sun is directly above the equator.
The practical upshot of this is that the angle of the sun in the sky changes, to a greater or lesser extend depending upon latitude; and the range of stars visible changes also.

The variation in the angle of the sun in the sky at different times of the year is the most direct cause of the changes in the seasons. For example, in the northern hemisphere on the December solstice, the sun is low in the sky and it is winter. On the June solstice the sun is high in the sky and it is summer. It also affects the length of the days, which effect increases exponentially with latitude. The solstice is the shortest or the longest day of the year: at the tropics, the summer solstice day is only an hour or two longer than the winter solstice day, whereas at 50 degrees latitude, the difference is about 8 hours.

2. The second definition of a solstice is that it is an excuse for  hippies to have a party and worship a variety of mystical things. Evidenced vaguely on the back of a few neolithic buildings that appear to have a solstice marker built in, and a few ancient scriptures that encourage solstice worship wrapped in layers of metaphor, such people believe that the ancients worshipped the solstices above all other events, and that to do so is fundamental to our place in the universe. Some believe it is sacreligious and dishonorable not to do so. As a result, such people are often to be seen hanging around at places like Stonehenge in the middle of the night waiting to watch the solstice sun rise over the stones. What they expect to happen at these places, apart from the sun rising as normal, is a mystery. What is slightly less mysterious is that the summer solstice at Stonehenge attracts many more people than the winter solstice....

Quote from a solstice 'sermon' by the Unitarian Universalists:
“This is the stillness behind motion, when time itself stops; the center which is also the circumference of all. Now darkness triumphs; and yet, gives way and changes into light. We will be awake in the dark. We will call the sun from the womb of night. As we celebrate the solstice we join across time and space all the festivals of light emerging from the dark.”
Sounds very mystical and yoghurty to me. The winter solstice is also of astrological significance, being the time when "saggitarius" moves into "capricorn".
It is generally agreed that Christmas was timed to both continue some of the traditions of, yet overshadow, the pagan festival that once marked the solstice.
The winter solstice is also seen as the birthday of the Buddha, a time to celebrate the cycle of birth and death, the death-day of Osiris, the beginning of the time of the serpent days, the beginning of the month of the birch, the best day of the year for introspection and future planning, and the best day of the year to become a vampyre. Oh and it's the specific end date for the Mayan calendar, when we will reach the end of the world/eschaton/massive shift in global consciousness, or whatever it is. But that's just this year, 2012. Just to be clear, that will not happen every winter solstice. Which is lucky.

There is no doubt that the solstice is an important astronomical event which is a significant marker in the process of the solar year. If you don't live in the tropics, that is. If you live in the tropics the solstice makes precisely bugger all difference to your life, because in the tropics it is hot all the year round and the days are about the same length. Ooh, and more than quarter of the world's population live in the tropics.
It is also clear that centuries of religious and ritualistic practice have been ascribed and attributed to the solstices, the scope of which I have only touched on here. Believe what you like, but the only things that are certain about the solstices are described in the first definition.

29 May 2012

"Merrick" by Anne Rice - Book review

This novel is a magnificently ornate story of magic, supernatural beings and love. Actually it's mostly about love. I recommend it to anyone interested in yoghurt weaving.
When I first discovered that Merrick involves vampires, I almost shut the book immediately, since I generally find vampire tales to be either woefully predictable or nauseatingly gothic, or both. However, this book was a pleasant surprise because it filled neither of these qualities. The fact that a number of the main characters are vampires is important, but it doesn't dominate the story. Instead, the story is about a young woman, who has powerful magic – and her relationship with a much older man, her ward in fact – who happens to be one of said vampires.
Now I said that the book is not nauseatingly gothic, but be warned there is still a great deal of rich and colourful romantic language. The narrator goes on and on about Merrick's tender shapely breasts and her delicate clothes and her exquisite character that he loves so tenderly. A great deal of love flows between many of the main characters, which is beautiful, but in places it is also dark and twisted.
We see the vampires in action, feeding on the blood of the dregs of society; we see the witch in action, summoning the spirits of her dead sister (wonderfully named “Honey in the Sunshine”) and others; we see magical objects, such as a mask that allows one to see the dead; and all is watched over by the order of the Talamasca, a rich and powerful set of people who govern and look after the interests of all sorts of magical folk. One of the few gripes I have with the story is that I would have liked to have seen more direct involvement from these people.
I found it easy to follow, despite the fact that it jumps from one time frame to another quite a lot, as it is almost always focused and there are few characters.
All in all, an excellent read if you can put up with the romantic language that dominates it.

09 September 2011

Someone else wants land in Israel

Playmobil model of the proposed structure, yesterday

There are two main schools of thought on the origin of life on Earth. Some people believe that it was created by a divine being, also known as "God", others assert that it arose gradually from the primordial soup and developed by the process of evolution. There is another theory. Aliens designed it, using genetic engineering techniques. This is the belief of members of Raelianism. They also believe that they should be granted a large chunk of land near Jerusalem...

So in arguments about how life arose, common issues always arise. The creationists say that God created life. In their minds, that is the only possible explanation, because it says so in their holy books. Also, with the main alternative being evolutionary theory, it just must be God's work! Life is too complex to have arisen by chance. I mean look at that bacterial motor.
The Darwinists, on the other hand, have many decades of hard biological experiments, demonstrating time and time again the truths within the theory of evolution. No scientific evidence of God has been found anywhere, ever. They haven't proven evolution 100%, and frankly they are way off describing how life could have begun, but they are pretty damn sure they are in the right ball park.

Raelianism is a bit like creationism but does not rely on deities. Instead, the belief is that life on Earth was created about 35000 years ago by a race of aliens called Elohim. They, in turn, were created by some other aliens, and so on ad infinitum. A convenient theory, as you don't have to explain away Gods with supernatural powers, or provide ultimate proof of a fantastic theory like the rise of life from the primordial soup. You just have to believe in aliens, and many people find it easier to believe in aliens than in  Gods. In fact, plenty of scientists believe in aliens. In Raelian philosophy, evolution occurs when one species creates the next in a test tube.

Similar to all the best obscure beliefs, this one started with a man alone in the mountains. I mean, it had to be, right? These things always happen where no one else can see. It's never in the middle of a shop, or on the number 6 bus. The founder of the religion was a Frenchman named Claude Vorilhon. Primed perfectly in his early years for a life as a spiritual leader, having been a slightly unsuccessful racing car driver for a number of years; and blessed with the necessary edge of paranoia, being both Jewish and French, he was the perfect person to start a new religion. So on this particular day in 1973, (he neglects to mention in his book what quantity of psilocybin he ingested on that morning) he was walking on a volcano in some obscure region of south-central France, when he met an alien who told him he had been chosen. And the aliens were desperate for him to spread the word about their benevolent love and the message that they are our creators. So naturally they gave him all sorts of proof of their existence? Well, not really, no. In fact they didn't even allow him to take photos of them or their equipment. Nor tell him how any of it works, nor even say where they were from. Instead, they quoted the bible at him, and explained how they were responsible for much of what happened in it.

See, Elohim is the Hebrew word for "God" or Gods, but according to Vorillhon it has been mistranslated. It actually means, "comedy four foot tall alien, in stereotypical 1960s flying saucer, who exists only in the mind of a delusional racing car driver." He claims that they planned and designed life on Earth. Oh, and Moses, Jesus,  Buddha and any other influential religious figure you might happen to think of, were all sent by them. Except Popes. They chose now to come and communicate with us because we have reached a suitable technological level to be able to understand the genetic engineering involved. They didn't appear to the whole world, or even just to world leaders, with these revelations - because they were worried about hostility. Instead, they decided to entrust the whole thing to one slightly neurotic racing car driver, who they nicknamed "Rael". It is his mission to convince the world of the message of the Elohim, and only when most of the world are believers will they truly reveal themselves. Oh, and, when their embassy is created.

Some crop circles are thought to be made by the Elohim
That's right, embassy. Part of Vorillhon's mission is not only to persuade the world that the Elohim are coming, he also has to design and build a welcoming space in the form of an embassy, on neutral territory, with neutral airspace. Effectively, a mini country. The proposed embassy is about 350 hectares, some 8 times larger than the Vatican. There are drawings and visions of the place which were inspired by Crop Circles, Scifi films and PlayMobil toys. It has a UFO pad for the Elohim to land their ship on and dome-like spaces that give it the feel of a moonbase.
Where do they want this? Somewhere remote, where conflict between people is a distant memory, somewhere people will welcome these peaceful newcomers into their lands? No, they want it in Israel, about 5 miles north of Jerusalem. Apparently the Jews are the direct descendants of "the children born of the unions between the sons of Elohim and the daughters of men," as opposed to cloned animals like the rest of humanity, so the Elohim want the Embassy to be in the Promised Land amongst the chosen people. However, if Israel refuses to grant permission for the embassy to be built, then the Jews will be smited forever and the Elohim will just find another chosen people. In any case, when the Elohim arrive, sometime between now and 2035, only the most enthusiastic supporters of Rael will be worthy.
To this end, Vorillhon has officially applied to the State of Israel for this land on many occasions, and made appeals to the chief Rabbis to persuade them that he is the Messiah. (Including a brilliant bit about Hitler starting the holocaust because he had a vision of Vorillhon's coming - he was born in France in 1946). He points out the massive benefits to the local tourist industry if the appeal is granted. He says that if the land is not granted, then the Jews will once again be dispersed, with great suffering.
However, he also chose a swastika emblazoned within a Star of David as the Raelians' official symbol and states in no uncertain terms the Elohim's disgust at the current state of Israel and its stance against Palestine. In separate writings, he states that the Jews were dispersed and punished in the first place, by the Elohim, because they didn't believe in Jesus. So he's not really bending over backwards to win their hearts and minds, frankly. Effectively he's telling the Jews that they need to buck their ideas up.Needless to say the Israeli authorities have been less than forthcoming about granting Vorillhon's request.  Meanwhile, terrorist groups worldwide have offered him billions of dollars, and more virgins than you can shake a stick at, should he succeed in getting the land he wants...

Last year it was announced that talks are already underway with China, which has the highest concentration of reported UFO sightings in the world. Israel had better hurry up and grant them what they want, or the Chinese will get all the glory...

His main persuasion technique is rather flimsy. Alongside cheesy soundbites such as:

Be aware that the name "Rael" is the root of the word "Israel" and without roots, the tree cannot live...

...he states that everything the Elohim have told him  is backed up by "all the ancient religious writings, legends, traditions, as well as modern science." Naturally, all of these documents are in harmony with each other. I mean, no one could argue that the Bible is at odds with, say, modern Palaeontology, could they? They just different sides of the same coin, needing this final piece of the puzzle so that they make sense together.

"The Raelian philosophy is one of understanding and not believing, that's why Rael himself asks you not to believe him blindly but to do your own research and see if the pieces of the puzzle match for you."
Oh, I see! Its about understanding! Well that's OK then. For a minute there I thought he was asking people to believe in an obscure bunch of people who want their own territory in the Middle East, just on blind faith. I mean, that would be stupid, right?

The Elohim have hoodies and goaties, but are not thought to be teenagers.

Over the years he has brought more attention to the Raelian movement with a series of elaborate publicity stunts and deliberate stirring of controversy. Largely because of these acts, membership in the movement has reached more than 80000 worldwidew in the past, though current estimates put the figure at closer to 60000. The most renowned of these publicity stunts was the announcement in 2002 of the first human clone, "Eve", by the company Clonaid which is run by Raelian member Briggitte Boisselier. It came only a few years after scientists announced the birth of Dolly, the world's first cloned sheep. Clonaid's announcement differed from the news about Dolly in two major respects. Firstly, the scientists who created Dolly published an open, peer-reviewed research article on the process, whereas Boissellier published only some insane gibberings in press interviews; secondly, Dolly was there for all to see whereas no one has met Eve. Ever. Even her parents. But obviously, no one questions that Eve is really a cloned human being. I mean, these people are scientists, right? Of course, Vorillhon denies any link between the Raelian movement and Clonaid, which just happens to have been founded by himself and run by one of the senior Bishops, and shares the same scientific goals...

Other stunts have included naked protesting, anti-Catholic demonstrations (such as burning crosses and handing out thousands of condoms in Catholic schools), and promotion of sexual liberty. Which also prompted arguments from the Catholics. In fact, they kind of hate Catholics with a passion, actually, which seems to contradict the Elohim's desire for peace amongst all men, but I'm no expert, I may be misinterpreting.

'E's not the messiah! He's a very naughty boy! (Sorry, had to get that line in somewhere...)
It's odd the way things can seem different depending on how you look at them. Raelianism seems like it's some harmless, benevolent hippies trying to reconnect with our long lost creators from across the Universe, but it's easy to see it as a madman trying to start his own country and pour flame on two of the world's major religions. But I'll say one thing for it. The idea that aliens created life is significantly more plausible than a divine creator. Then again, what's the difference?

30 August 2011

Homeopathic vaccines

Vaccination has become more and more contraversial over the years, and people are becoming increasingly interested in alternative, less toxic means of preventing disease. Homeopathic practitioners have responded to this with a range of products that are completely safe and non-toxic. Other than a couple of slight drawbacks, they are an excellent holistic solution!

The human immune system has lots of different parts to it, including an entire chemical attack system, parts that produce an allergic reaction when appropriate (and sometimes when not appropriate) and little cells designed to heal wounds properly - but the most important part is the immune response. This is achieved sometimes by whole cells performing a range of functions in the fight, and sometimes by antibodies. The average human has thousands of different antibodies at any one time, each of which targets a specific type of foreign body. Foreign bodies can be viruses, bacteria, fungi, or all manner of dust, pollens or chemicals, which can enter the body in all sorts of different ways. Whenever a particular foreign body appears, it is recognised by a unique chemical marker called an antigen. On detection of this antigen, the body produces the correct antibody, which is chemically unique so as to specifically target that antigen (i.e. the two chemically bond together) and, in a nutshell, it destroys the foreign body.
Diagram of a typical antibody-antigen reaction.

Once the body has sucessfully "dealt with" a foreign body, using it's antibodies, it remembers how to make those antibodies so it can do so quickly next time. It's as if the body wrote itself a little program on how to deal with that problem, like an update to its antivirus software.
The body is capable of making new antibodies when it encounters foreign bodies that are new. This is the really clever bit. A healthy immune system can generate a whole new type of immune response every time there is a new foreign body - a strain of, flu for example - and fight it off. It is not 100% clear how this works but it is thought that the body pre-prepares millions of different types of immune response cells (i.e. B and T lymphocytes). The genetic diversity required to produce all these is explained by the process of V(D)J recombination. When an infection occurs, one or a number of these are able to bond, with an antibody-antigen reaction - this then triggers the production of many more of that type of cell.

A vaccine is a medical intervention, normally in the form of an injection, that makes the patient immune, or partially immune to a disease. It works by stimulating the body's immune system, as described above, to improve its response to that particular disease. To use the computer virus analogy, it is like updating the virus database. Vaccines come in many forms, but they almost all have the same basis - to expose an antigen to the body so that it knows how to fight the disease if it occurs.

A common form of vaccine is to use a weakened version of the pathogen that causes the disease. Examples are the vaccines for measles and TB. Live vaccines are generally the most effective vaccines as they provide the immune system with the "closest match".
Killed vaccines are organisms that have been heat-treated, such as the hepatitis B vaccine. These are not so effective as the particles have been partly denatured, meaning that on some particles the antigen will not be structurally sound, so the immune response is less specific.
Some vaccines are composed only of cellular fragments. For example, to make the one for bacterial meningitis, the polysaccharide antigen, that protrudes from the cell membranes, is isolated.

For a long time now there has been controversy around vaccines since there are an increasingly large number of them (For example, in the 1980s, children in the US were typically given about ten different ones; nowadays they get more than thirty), and there have been many media scares stories. Parents worry when they see their one year old child being injected with a cocktail of drugs that they don't understand, and they saw on the news that it causes autism.  People question why the government forces toxic drugs upon them and their families. Conspiracy theorists go one step further: they are convinced that the government are deliberately poisoning us, and that we have all been living in a Matrix-style psychedelic dreamworld since birth, and the injections are just to boost the psychedelic response. And the aliens that really control the world are doing experiments on us to see how well we would live on their planet. Apparently.
In the meantime, no one has smallpox anymore, although this could be because doctors started washing their hands.

Some of these are legitimate concerns. Do not think for one minute that vaccines, as they stand, are great, because they're not. There is certainly need for change.

Homeopathic vaccines have been purported as that necessary change For, as you may have guessed if you have some previous understanding of homeopathy, (see my previous article if you want a quick revision) homeopathic vaccines do not work in the same way as those described above at all. Instead of containing a viable sample of an antigen for the disease to the body, such that the body produces its own immunity to the disease: the homeopathic vaccines contain precisely fuck-all. Just some sugar and crystalline stuff to pack it into a pill. The invading bacterial or fungal cell will probably just gobble up these sugar molecules as a tasy lunch before doing a bit more damage.

In fact, these vaccines work by sheer luck, in that when functioning correctly, the person being vaccinated either never catches that disease, or manages to fight it off without the help of a vaccine. OK, I'll admit, divine intervention is also a possibility but even if that happens it's probably not related to the homeopathic tablets.

Homeopathic immunization, also known as homeoprophylaxis, has apparently been around for 200 years, but oddly no one had really heard of it until just recently. It is sold strongly on the safety aspects - no side effects, no pains, no toxic adjuvants etc. Great, yes, we know, taking sugar pills is safe (unless one is diabetic).
They also claim to be able to immunise against diseases for which western medicine has not yet found a vaccine, such as Meningitis B. The homeopathic preparations are typically derived from what are called nosodes, which are biological samples extracted from infectious body sites in an infected patient such as pustules or sputum. The way these are stored and prepared into stock homeopathic medicines is something of a mystery, especially as the finished products are supposed to last 30 years or more. But only if you store them in the dark, away from electrical or magnetic fields, never touch them, refrain from using the words "Louis Pasteur" within 24 feet of the bottle, and never allow negative "energy" into the room. Then they might go off. You have been warned.

Of course homeopathists would fiercely deny that the vaccines contain nothing, arguing that the essence of the disease has been potentised and energised into the finished product: especially since these vaccines are usually diluted by 10 to the power 200. Yes, that's greater than the equivalent of one atom in the number of atoms in the observable universe. I'm not going to go into all the arguments about why this is bullshit, because they're just the same as the ones for normal homeopathic medicines.

Just remember, parents. The chemical vaccines may be dodgy but they do have very high success rates. If you choose Homeopathic vaccines you can be assured that they are incredibly safe, and your child's immune system probably will genuinely become better for the absence of working vaccines. Furthermore, you might get a good holistic diagnosis of your child's spiritual wellbeing (if you pay hundreds of dollars for a very good homeopathist, that is); but there are two main downsides. The first is that these vaccines have no effect at all. Second, if you live in the western world it is likely your child will be excluded from school and from travel to foreign countries, you will be accused of child abuse, and people will think you are a witch.

23 August 2011

Witchcraft is new technique in war on drugs

Thanks to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for highlighting this one.

For many decades, cocaine smuggling has brought untold suffering to south and central America. Some of the best places to grow cocaine plants are in South America, and some of the biggest markets for the stuff are in the USA. Because cocaine is illegal, this has resulted in huge amounts of gang violence in the name of control of this illicit trade. The authorities in the various countries in which this violence takes place are seemingly powerless to stop it (some might argue that the whole "war against drugs" is pretty pointless, but that subject is for another day).

In Mexico, for example, even conservative estimates toll the number of killings in this "war on drugs" as more than 25,000 in the last five years, although US border authorities put the figure at closer to 84.1 million. Mexico sees the lion's share of the violence since it shares a long border with the US. This, and other factors such as poverty, and years of suffering with stupid stereotypes about wide-rimmed hats, have brought about a modern Mexico that is fraught with domestic problems, and its military police are known to be corrupt on many levels. Despite the 1.3 billion dollars that the US provides annually to Mexico in aid for this war on drugs, not to mention all the other backhanders and military assistance that they give behind the scenes, nothing seems to work.

Desperate, the Mexican government turned to God for help, and the Catholic Church has stepped in with a brilliant solution. They have sent magical items that will be used in healing rituals across Mexico. A vial of blood from the Late Pope John Paul II, alongside his scullcap, mobile phone and favorite copy of Choirboy magazine, have all recently arrived in Mexico and been viewed and blessed by the president, Felipe Calderon. There is also a model of the late Pope that was kindly lent by Madame Tussaud's waxwork museum in London, with the strict understanding that if it comes back riddled with bulletholes, "it's more than me jobsworth me old mucka."

The next stage is to take the relics to places of unrest and run the healing rituals. There will be many different types of these. Chief witchcraft officer Antonia Javez guides us through one of them: "The relics will be placed on top of a waxwork of John Paul, laying upon a sacred sedan chair in a dark room, lit around with many candles. Though not enough that the model will melt. Healing prayer in the original latin will be sung to the relics so that they soak up the voices of woe and love from around the congregation. Sparked with the touch of God, Jesus and of course, the Virgin Mary, a ressurection of the late Pope will arise and sit in the sedan chair. He will send messages of healing and love all around him. Then we will parade into the gangland slums. The men with guns will think we are getting in the way of their business and start shooting, but with the power of John Paul we will be blessed and nothing can harm us.
"We are so poor from all the fighting, this is our only hope," Javez explains. "I have to send all my seven children out to work just so we can eat. May the blessed John Paul answer our prayers and stop the fighting. And tell us he was just joking about the condoms."

The organisers acknowledge that it could be tricky to achieve something that has tried and tested the minds of resources of hundreds of powerful leaders, military tacticians and strategists over the years, simply by chanting some meaningless mumbo-jumbo in a dead language and waving around a few bits of cloth and blood from a dude who died years ago. But they are optimistic.

If successful in stopping the war on drugs, there are big plans to continue the witchcraft project by obtaining the blood of other famous people so that their ressurected spirits can inspire their nation. The list includes Hugo Chavez, Venezualan president, and Shakira, who is considered to have a nice arse.