Reading List for December  

Friday, November 30, 2007

Read in November
The Sparrow - Mary Doria Russell
False Gods (The Horus Heresy) - Graham McNeill
The World Without Us - Alan Weisman (Audiobook)

I really wanted to finish Darwin's Ghost this month, but I'm still only half-way through it. It's a great book if you want to read about evolutionary theories. Not to be critical of Dawkins, but I'm finding this one a little easier to read than The Bind Watchmaker.

Currently Reading
Darwin's Ghost - Steve Jones
Seasons - Robert Frost
Galaxy in Flames (The Horus Heresy) - Ben Counter

No dent, but I'm actually progressing through the list rather than constantly sneaking books in on top. OK, OK, I still do that a bit, but I am making progress. I blame my brother-in-law for getting me hooked on those Warhammer books.

Coming Up Next
A History of the End of the World - Jonathan Kirsch
Spirit Gate - Kate Elliott
Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea - Carl Zimmer
Dark Tower - Stephen King
The Lucifer Effect - Philip Zimbardo
The Android's Dream - John Scalzi
The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science - Natalie Angier
Hoaxes, Myths, and Manias: Why We Need Critical Thinking - Robert E. Bartholomew and Benjamin Radford

And don't forget, the Nonbeliving Literati will be discussing The Sparrow around December 15th. If you want to join, just pop over to No More Hornets and leave a comment.

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Stermy Awards  

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Exterminator over at No More Hornets has honored me with a Stermy Award for Exemplary Writing in the Atheosphere. Not just *a* Stermy Award, but a share in the very first Stermy Award.

What I'm referring to is a quality that’s hard to pin down, an urgent shoulder-grab by someone who just has to say something important or hilarious or informative or so interesting it demands to be shared, a feat of linguistic magic that breathes into mere strings of words a life of their own, a mind-meld you're powerless to resist.

Stop by his place and see the other blogs awarded as well.

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Reality Television  

Warning: Mild Spoilers Ahead

My husband and I watch quite a few shows on television during the year. Most of the shows we watch are reality television. Although I know that all reality television has a patina of unreality, those people who act out for the camera, I still find that they contain more.. well, reality. I enjoy people watching, and for me television has become a voyeuristic experience.

But, I do watch some dramas as well. I remember being excited for shows like Lost, Heroes, and Battlestar Galactica that seemed to be cut from a different mold than the plethora of crime dramas and relationship sit-coms that are popular. But then, somewhere along the way they lost that something that made me enjoy them. I continue to watch Lost because although I've been strung along for two season too long, I still want to know the mystery. I stopped watching Heroes part way through this season when the story began to feel forced, although I plan to catch up when the season's over. The last season of Battlestar still had an authentic feel to it, but there were times when I just wanted them to move on with it.

But one show has continued to hold my interest week after week. Maybe it's because it's just the second season and there aren't yet too many hands in the pot, messing with the story. That show is Dexter. Last week's episode had a scene where Seargent Doakes discusses a potential security job with Lieutenant LaGuerta. As the scene ended my husband said, "Wow, a real conversation." And I realized that yes, the conversation sounded just like a conversation I'd have with a co-worker or a friend.

Why was it so noticeable? A conversation that seems real should blend in, not stick out. But normal, every day conversations don't make it onto the dramas I watch very often. We're not watching every second of a person's life on television, only the important bits to the story after all. I think writers have fallen into the trap of having to make every encounter exciting instead of making the story interesting and absorbing over all.

On Dexter the co-workers spoke to each other pleasantly, agreeing on a plan. And it felt completely natural. I think that's what finally turned me off to Heroes. Every conversation is about conflict. Friends, family, even allies never agree. Even as they're working towards a common goal there's constant infighting and drama. And after a while it's not just exhausting, it defies belief.

Don't get me wrong. All of these shows require a viewer to suspend belief. All of them are based somewhat on fantasy. But when the actions of the characters lack credibility I find it hard to continue to buy into the story.

Hopefully the popularity of Dexter this season isn't its downfall and it has some influence over the the direction shows take in the future.

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Americas Psychic Challenge November 23, 2007  

Welcome to the second episode of the Semi-Finals. For this episode we have Lynn and Jackie who won the first Quarter Final round and Michelle and Jeff who won the second Quarter Final round.

Task #1: Remote Viewing
For this task the psychics were required to use remote viewing to tell as much as they could over a telephone about the man on the other line and the location. The location is the Queen Mary, you know, the ship in LA that's supposed to be haunted that's permanently docked. Last Comic Standing housed its contestants for episode four. The man works on the ship, I believe, as a tour guide? I didn't catch his exact profession.

The psychics were given 20 minutes to state what they saw from a remote location about the boat and about the man.

Lynn was up first. She asked him if he spoke another language, French, and he did. Then she mentioned that he was a world traveler and that there was a hotel nearby. She also mentioned petroleum, Russia, a park bench, water, and a boat. All of those were hits in a general sense. We did not get to see the misses she made in 20 minutes. She was awarded 18 points.

Michelle was next and she got hits on a parking lot, water, birds, an 'M' name, and that someone had drowned. She was also awarded 18 points.

Jeff was third and straight away asked the man his age, whether he was single, and whether or not he was gay. Then he guessed that the guy was a clown, and he had a hereditary cardiovascular health issue and was taking medication. He also said he saw the man in a bed, which was totally off. But I'm sure he played that off like it was the future. He was awarded 8 points.

Jackie was last and gave these general observations about the location: blue, aquarium, and beige. She said the man was interested in speaking with the dead and it had something to do with books. The man indeed was working on a commercial seance. Not a skeptic then, I take it. She was awarded 13 points.

Task #2: Match the Man with the Profession
This task was about guessing information about three men. Each man would judge the psychics and award up to 5 points. Also, the psychics were told that one of the men was a cowboy and given an additional 5 points if they guessed correctly.

The three guys were:

#1 - Ben: a children's musical/yoga teacher
#2 - Michael: a mechanic/motorcycle designer
#3 - Dan: a cowboy

They had 20 minutes.

Lynn was first. She talked Michael the most stating that he was mechanical and had problems with his knees, but also guessing that he was the cowboy. She made a few general guesses about the Dan relating to training and almost didn't speak to Ben. She was awarded 1 point from Ben, 4 points from Michael, 3 points from Dan, and 0 points for her cowboy guess for a total of 8 points.

Michelle went next. She immediately guessed that Ben was a cowboy and moved on to Michael, telling him he could fix anything and that he had issues with his knees. She guessed that Ben was in business and drank a lot, but also was involved in training. She was awarded 0 points from Ben, 5 points from Michael, 1 point from Dan, and 0 points for her cowboy guess for a total of 6 points. She complained about only getting 1 point from Dan, but she wasn't really accounting for her misses.

Jackie was next and she pulled her spooky voodoo white serpent routine as usual. She guessed Ben was the cowboy, I can't remember what she guessed about Michael, but she guessed that Dan was in business and should quit drinking and driving. Dan wasn't too happy and was sure to tell her (and America) that he didn't even drink once she was finished. She was awarded 0 points from Ben, 0 points from Michael, 0 points from Dan, and 0 points for her cowboy guess for a total of, well, 0 points.

Jeff was last and guessed Michael was the cowboy. He guessed that Ben was athletic. For Dan he asked if he was married, and then if he had kids. Once he'd confirmed both he guessed Dan's kid was a boy. Then he said he sensed a Ryan in his life. Dan gave him a hit because his kid's name was Rowan. He was awarded 2 points from Ben, 0 points from Michael, 2 points from Dan, and 0 points for her cowboy guess for a total of 4 points.

Task #3: Crime Scene
The last task was to read a crime scene. The crime happened in 2004. A celebrity from the 60's and 70's got in a fight in a bar and was escorted out. He came back an hour later and shot and killed the man who escorted him out. He also shot the man next to him in the back and the face. He was convicted and is serving two life terms for the murder and attempted murder.

Again, this story is recent and could be known to the psychics, especially this late in the show when they know they'll need to investigate a crime, as they have in almost every episode.

The survivor from the attack along with a private investigator were at the bar to judge the psychics.

At one point later in the episode the host says that the victim called 911. Although there were other people in the bar and he had been shot in the mouth, he called 911? It's possible that's true I suppose, but it doesn't seem likely.

Michelle went first and mentioned the following: it happened fast, there was trauma to the head, a gun was involved, there was a fight, the victim was sitting, there were two victims, a male was killed, another person was injured, and it was a closed case.

Jeff was next. The host warned him that he might get emotional and immediately Jeff started welling up. He mentioned a fight, a homicide/murder, multiple attacks, it happened fast, and that a man did it (though it almost seemed like he was saying the victim was the perpetrator.

Lynn went third and mentioned the following: it happened fast, cars screeched, there was money involved, the victim had gone through a dramatic change since then, it was a robbery, there was a fight, she felt pain in her heart like multiple stabbings, the perpetrator went home and returned, there was a gun or guns, and there was a lot of blood.

Jackie was last. She said that there was a fight prior, that there was a dispute or an argument, there was a lot of blood, there was a gun, there was a surprise attack, she identified the location of the body, she pointed out the victim as a witness to the attack, and she said the perpetrator was well-known (which they interpreted as "celebrity").

The Results
The points were revealed in the end. Michelle received 29 points for her crime scene reading, giving her the highest score for a total of 53. She is in the finals.

Jeff received 22 points points for is reading for a total of 34, which wasn't enough to continue. He was the first to be eliminated.

The last spot in the finals was between Lynn and Jackie. Jackie so far had received 13 points and Lynn 26. So how well did they do? Lynn was way off in her reading and only received 12 points. Jackie needed at least 25 to tie. And she received 33 for a total of 46.

So that means that Michelle and Jackie will compete next week in the final episode.

Viewer Participation
At each commercial break they show items and ask the viewers to use their psychic powers to determine the outcome. So how did I do this week?

At the first break they showed a man walking into a bike shop with three bikes parked outside and asked what color bike he would rent: blue, green, or red. I selected blue and he did too.

At the second break a die was thrown on a table with markers labeled 1-6. Which marker would it land on: 2, 3 or 4? I guessed 2 and was wrong. The correct guess was 4.

At the final break a painter was about to select a color: green, blue or red. I selected red, but the painter selected blue.

Which makes me 1 for 3 tonight, or 10 out of 21 total. I'm now worse than 50/50.

Related Posts
Americas Psychic Challenge October 12, 2007
Americas Psychic Challenge October 19, 2007
Americas Psychic Challenge October 26, 2007
Americas Psychic Challenge November 2, 2007
Americas Psychic Challenge November 9, 2007
Americas Psychic Challenge November 16, 2007

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More Emails  

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I sent a response.

Hi Randy,

It seems to me that for you it comes down to likability. What would it take for an atheist to be likable to a theist? Could an atheist feel free to talk at all about atheism and still be considered likable? Or does that make the theist uncomfortable and thus make the atheist unlikable. Do people like Ellen Johnson, who is always polite on television, still come off as unlikable simply because she states her views unequivocally?

I agree that some atheists are angry or arrogant or that ubiquitous unlikable. Not to sound like a school yard argument, but so are theists. Why isn't the term for "angry theist"? The reason that atheists are labeled as angry and dismissed is because people don't like having their views challenged.

I see two issues here. One, that an atheist can be classified as angry when he isn't expressing anger. The other is when an atheist expresses anger he is dismissed because he's angry. As if there's no reason to be angry. As if anger can never be used in a positive way.

I could say, "Man, that Keith Olbermann is always ranting on and on. I can't believe those angry Democrats. Their spokesperson is out of control." But would that be fair? Are all Democrats like Keith, all with the same ideology? And is it wrong to be angry in public just because it's unlikable? Does Keith only hurt Democrats because he expresses anger, arrogance, and is, I'm sure, unlikable to many people?

I also agree with your ideas about being persuasive. I dislike confrontation. It makes me uncomfortable. These letters aren't an easy thing for me to write. I'm constantly trying to be nice, to soften anything I say that might be interpreted as impolite. But, sometimes it's good to be angry and passionate. Persuasion is great, but there isn't just one way to achieve a goal. Sometimes passion, even anger, reaches people that persuasion won't.

You may think that Dawkins and Hitchens are doing more harm than good for atheists. But they are good at motivating people to think and feel passionate. They've mainstreamed atheism enough that many people who might not have spoken out, now feel comfortable doing so. Sometimes you can't be nice or likable when you're challenging the status quo.

Thanks for responding,

P.S. I should have asked you before, but I posted my first letter and your response on my blog. If you're uncomfortable with this exchange being public, I'll take down your half of the exchange. When I first put it up I didn't think about asking you. I just thought it'd be fair to post your response. But after thinking about it some more I realized that the assumption is that email is private and shouldn't be published without permission.

And thank you guys for encouraging me. I'm not good at debate because really, I just want to get along. Even friendly debates make me a bit uncomfortable. But I think this has been good for me. I've had friends over the years tell me I needed to be more outspoken (or as a co-worker said, "find your inner bitch") over the years, which was their way of telling me to stop worrying and speak my mind.

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Template Update  

I changed my template again. If anything looks odd, let me know. The font is a bit small, but it did some odd things when I increased it. But if it's unreadable let me know and I'll see what I can do.

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Phenomenon November 21, 2007  

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Welcome to the finale for Phenomenon. Writing these articles has been a challenge for me because I find it difficult to make the shows sound interesting. I'm not sure if my format has been very good. Perhaps I should try less dry detail and more commentary next time around?

This week's episode starts with another replay of Criss Angel (it's a bit embarrassing to learn that I've been spelling his name wrong for 4 weeks) and Jim Callahan's confrontation again. Really, it was interesting, but it really is starting to feel like the show knows that's the only thing they have going for it. I know we know that, but it's a bit sad when the show knows it too.

Criss got a chance to comment again and talked about his father's death and that he thought it was important to stand up for people that are vulnerable to psychics that use tricks to claim to be paranormal. Now that's something I can agree with. For as much as I've said I'm not a Criss fan, I do admire how he's championed the skeptic position.

Then we're shown the Deal or No Deal models sitting in the audience, who will play a part later in the episode. And our three celebrity guests this week are returning from prior episodes - Shandi, Ross, and Dana. What? No Raven? Where's the love?

Then the four finalists perform a trick. They call the three celebrity guests and the host up to the stage and ask them to pick one of four differently colored flags and then place one in front of each magician. Then the magicians pull off their black coats and reveal that they're each wearing a colored shirt underneath that matches the flag placed in front of them. Even though the trick was never rehearsed according to the magicians, they each had a little speech to recite. And Ross almost tripped over the other guests making a beeline for one of the magicians. I don't buy it.

After the commercial break we get the first of the five "unexplained phenomenon", which is a lousy excuse for a filler if I've ever seen one. I'll go ahead and list them all here since there's really no suspense involved.

5. Loch Ness Monster
4. Crop Circles
3. Stonehenge
2. Area 51
1. Bermuda Triangle

They might as well have included Big Foot and the JFK assassination in with the rest. At least they weren't tasteless enough to include a conspiracy theory like 911.

Then we get to our first elimination and find out it's Guy. It shouldn't be surprising since Guy was eliminated last week, but saved by the judges. Criss said that he was a wonderful practitioner of the arts. Uri breaks in to tell Criss that he's open minded and thinks Criss's father is watching from above as a response to Chriss's earlier discussion about psychics. Then he tells Guy that he loved his entertainment and wanted an Israeli to win.

Finalists Tricks
Then Eran performs his trick of the night. (Poor Guy, eliminated first doesn't get the luxury.) Eran first explains that his amulet protects him from harm, but that he's not going to risk his own life. He calls Ross up to the stage, who looks at him nervously. Eran then asks Ross to stiffen his arm and resist the pressure of two fingers. Eran, of course, pushes easily against his arm. Then Eran gives Ross his amulet to hold and tries again, this time pushing with his whole hand and he's not able to push Ross's arm down. Maybe Ross's arm is stiffer, but then maybe Eran is just not pushing as hard.

Eran then asks Ross to stiffen the rest of his body, which elicits some jokes about stiff members. Really, are these jokes funny? Maybe if they weren't so obvious. But then it's hard not to smile a little bit at Ross's nervousness. He has Ross focus on being stiff and then has two men lift him onto two chairs set up with their backs facing one another. I paused the recording a few times and Ross's shirt and pants are kept from hanging down, but do seem to be slightly draping over something. I'm guessing there was a board that couldn't be readily seen by the camera or the audience that they put him on.

Shandi tests a concrete block at Eran's urging and I can believe it's real. It sounds real. It looks real. It's convincing, at least. Eran places it on Ross's chest and then breaks it with a hammer. And that's the trick. It's not very good.

Then Eran says a few things that surprise me. He takes his amulet back and mentions that he sells them at his store. But he says that if people want to use it for strength they should fill it with dirt from their back yard. He pours out the contents and it looks to be salt or something that looks for salt. He tells the viewers that strength comes from the inside and it's all about believing in yourself. Nice. Maybe Chriss isn't the only skeptic.

We got to break, crop circles, and then each of the kicked off contestants performs.

Eliminated Contestants Tricks
The tricks are all performed with the Deal or No Deal girls assisting.

Wayne has one of the girls take quarters from a cup. He has her hold out her hand and he says he'll guess how much change she's holding. He then writes something down on a piece of paper and hands the pencil to another girl standing next to her (so we know he's not cheating). Then she reveals that she's holding 6 quarters and his paper has $1.50.

Likely he had a pencil on his thumb or some such and wrote the number as she revealed the change. He didn't give the paper away, just the pencil. I was hoping he'd show his arm so we could see if he still had the tattoo, but he didn't.

Jim was next an he played the human lie detector. He had one of the ladies take a card and then asked her yes or no questions about the card, which she was instructed to always answer no to.

"Is it a heart?"
"Is it a club?"
"You shook your head. It's a club."

He asked a second lady the same set of questions and again knew when she wasn't telling the truth. I can believe it was simple psychology.

OK, this trick was just bad. He pulled out a razor blade and pulled off the wrapping. Then he had one of the ladies hold it by the sides (safe side) and tried to show that it was sharp. He had a piece of paper, but it wouldn't cut, so he pulled it against the blade until it tore. It might have been more convincing to the audience that was further away, but it didn't stand up to the camera very well. I wasn't at all convinced the blade was sharp.

He took back the blade between his thumb and finger and smushed it in half. Yeah, that would be easy with a fake aluminum blade.

Gerry had one of the ladies pour soda into a plate. Then he showed a board with the five ESP symbols that Uri used for his trick in the first episode. He had the other lady circle one of the symbols. Then as the first lady and Gerry held their hands over the plate the wavy line symbol showed up in the bubbles of the soda. And that was the symbol that the second lady had circled. (Names would make this a lot easier to write, but I didn't write down any of the Deal or No Deal guest's names.)

OK, the plate was sitting on a podium and I bet the plate was vibrated in some way that made the wavy lines show up by someone who knew what the second lady circled could be one explanation.

Ehud had one of the ladies turn on a lamp to show the light bulb worked. Then had her unscrew it. He held it with the metal part between his thumb and forefinger and had the ladies concentrate bad energy on the light bulb as they put a hand on each of his arms. Good energy is light, but bad energy is destruction, or some such. With the camera close up it was easy to see that he squeezed his thumb and forefinger, causing the light bulb to shatter. One of the ladies even had a unbelieving "OK" response as the cameras panned away. She probably felt his arm tensing.

But Jim's trick had to be the worst of the night. He performed a rope trick. First he turned to the side and put the rope trick behind him and acted like he thought it was going through him. Then he showed the audience the rope was just up against his side and said something snide like that was how a magician did a trick. But then he did it again, putting the rope under his vest and pulling it out where the buttons were so that it looked like it was actually going through him and said that's how paranormalists do tricks. Whatever man. You're so obviously a hack that I could hardly believe that people really believe in you. Until I read they believe in 911 conspiracies too.

Finalists Tricks Continued
After the break Mike performs his trick for the audience. It's another, here's a list of things I already have written down and look, people match up to them on a whim.

Mike has Dana shuffle some cards and then put eight of them face down on a table. At one point after she's shuffled he grabs the cards and straightens them because she's being sloppy. Did he switch the decks?

Then there's a Dana then get in a fan box that blows the dollar bills around and has her pick a dollar bill from the bills floating around. Then he he pulls out an envelope and has her put the dollar bill in and seal it. He takes her back to the table and places the envelope on a stand.

Then he has her reveal the cards and it's a number - 8 digits. Aces stand for 1's and the face cards stand for 0's. Then he takes the envelope and cuts it open, but it looks like he cuts it open on the opposite side that Dana sealed. Could it be a trick envelope with two sides? And reveals the dollar bill has the same serial number as the cards.

Then he asks her to name a sweet and she asks if a cookie is OK and he asks her what kind and she says chocolate chip. And he pulls a chocolate chip cookie out of a bag sitting on the table. Something he purchased earlier in the day, but she didn't know what it was. Then he shows the USA Today and he has an ad in it with the serial number and the chocolate chip cookie.

The only thing I'm not sure about is how did he get her to guess that it was a chocolate chip cookie? I don't think he'd risk that it was a popular sweet on national TV.

Angela performs another dangerous trick. She has Ross and Shandi come up. Ross's mouth is taped shut and she asks Shandi to bind his hands with a nylon zip tie. Then she pulls a curtain between herself and four upright boxes with doors and asks Shandi to put Ross in one of the boxes. As Shandi does that and closes all of the open doors, Angela explains that there is a camera inside each box that will enable the audience to see the inside of each as she cuts them with a chainsaw.

Then she asks Dana to pick two boxes. Dana picks #1 and #3. Angela goes over to #1 and cuts through it with a chainsaw. Wait a minute. Why ask her to pick two boxes? Unless Angela knows what box he's in already. Then she asks someone in the audience randomly to pick between #3 and #4. Of course he's not in either, so it's a safe gamble. The audience member picks #3. Angela saws it. Then she focuses on Shandi's energy and cuts #4. Amazing, she didn't saw Ross in half!

Eliminations Continued
The three finalists line up on the stage. And Eran is eliminated. That leaves Angela and Mike.

Criss's Challenge
The host turns to Criss to talk about what's in his envelope, but first mentions that America got involved and the guesses ranged from a lock of hair, the name of the person who would win the competition, or nothing at all.

Criss turns to Uri and offers to let him guess. Uri starts talking about how his birthday and Criss's birthday are a day apart (December 19 & 20) to which Chriss says, "didn't I tell you that?" or something like that. I think he thought Uri would claim he had discerned it magically. Uri started to talk about how Criss was born when he was already bending spoons basically saying, "be respectful of me, I'm your elder and don't challenge me like that".

Criss cut him off and opened the envelope. Inside there was a smaller envelope and then a paper with "911" printed on it. Criss mentioned that psychics could have done some good if they'd predicted 911, but no one had and it was a "travesty." I've seen all kinds of complaints about Criss using the word travesty. I'm sure he really meant tragedy.

Eliminations Continued
Mike and Angela return to the stage. The show is almost out of time and I'm sure it's going to cut off before they reveal the winner, but it doesn't. The winner of $100,000 and the title of "Phenomenon" is Mike.

Related Posts
Phenomenon October 24, 2007
Phenomenon October 31, 2007
Phenomenon November 7, 2007
Phenomenon November 14, 2007

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Response to I get angry too post  

Monday, November 26, 2007

I received a response back to my I get angry too post from Randy. Also, Derek responded in the comments section of the post.

Hi [OG] -

Sounds like I made you angry! Sorry about that. Yes, I have a limited pool of atheists to draw on, but they all have a rather unlikeable angry streak running through them -- the most notable are Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. I don't care what you say, if you show a clip of those two guys to any group of average Americans, the first thing they will say is that they are arrogant, then if you show them enough, they will probably eventually say they are angry as well.

I'm not sure what to say about your statements that atheists aren't angry. At one screening I had a whole group of 5 atheists tell me they liked the movie but wished it had a little more anger and outrage towards intelligent design.

But I don't believe in anger and outrage nearly as much as I believe in the power and importance of persuasion. The U.S. today is more polarized than 30 years ago and things seem to only be getting worse. Part of this is due to the media world which has fallen into a polarized approach to marketing. But so much of it is just a self-perpetuating belief that no one wants to listen.

I don't know if my films are the least bit persuasive to anyone, but I do know that I don't want to be part of the chorus of hate-speech directed at religious groups (or atheists). It just isn't helping the world, and there is a clear positive feedback dynamic to communication -- i.e. to a large extent, you get back what you send out.

And I guess the worst taste of the "new atheists" has come from the people on P.Z. Myers blog, Pharyngula. All I can say is that they simply are not likeable. They have a lot of fun reassuring each other on their blog that everything they say is right, and trying to out-perform each other in their insults and ridicule of intelligent design, but to the outside world they just come off as a very gross bunch of losers.

I am in no way a supporter of intelligent design or even a defender of religion, and I originally thought I'd find a lot of kindred spirits among atheists because I'm probably pretty close to being one, but after a while of listening to their anti-social ranting all I can conclude is that they deserve each other.

I'm still waiting for a spokesperson for atheism, in the real mainstream (meaning on television a lot, sorry) who is likeable. It would be nice and I'm sure it's not impossible, but it doesn't exist right now. Dawkins and Hitchens are just irritating (unless you're on their team), and they are the only ones appearing on talk shows and thus reaching the mass audience, which is about all that matters in mass communication in the U.S.

Or am I missing some really wonderful broad voice for atheism who doesn't zealously think that religion needs to be attacked and eradicated?

thanks for writing,

Randy Olson

I haven't sent a response yet.

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This Weeks Reader November 25, 2007  

Sunday, November 25, 2007

I hope everyone is enjoying their weekend.

The Exterminator talks about coming out as an atheist.

Book Review
At Evolving Thoughts, John Wilkins discusses Our Inner Ape by Frans de Waal.

Two leading religion journalists have quit the faith over exposure to scandals within the faith.

At Positive Liberty, Jim Babka discusses the third commandment and how it relates to believers today.

John Wilkins continues his series on sociobiology and the evolution of humans.

At Cafe Philos, Paul argues that pornography and erotic art are distinct and explains the differences.

Weight Loss
The Pasta Queen at Half of Me discusses stress, eating, and life.

BigHeathenMike explains reiki at Mike's Weekly Skeptic Rant.

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The Truth About Ghosts and Ghost Hunting Recap  

Friday, November 23, 2007

Well, first it was nice to meet Fate and put a name to a face. About 18 people showed up and even though it was a little confusing finding the right room, it was worth it, especially on a cold, sort of snowy night. It was our first snow of the season, though it was just a dusting. But the temperature dropped from the 70's to the 30's within a day, so it was a noticeable change. I wasn't really ready for winter.

Ben started out informally, not part of his official talk, by showing some photographs and sharing some stories of ghost hunting investigations he's been involved in. Then he started the talk officially.

I didn't do a great job of taking a lot of notes, but I wrote down a few really good points that he brought up.

* Why are ghosts perceived differently over time? For example in the Victorian era ghosts were seen and heard rattling chains, something we have very little reporting of these days. Also, ghosts used to be photographed as full images of people and now ghosts mainly show up as orbs of light. It shows that perception of ghosts are largely an artifact of culture.

* He talked about a show on Court TV called "Haunting Evidence," and one of the investigators is Patrick Burns, who debated skeptics at Dragon Con. The premise of the show is psychic investigators helping police solve unsolved mysteries, murders and such. So far after one season and part of a second not a single case has been solved due to the psychic investigations. The show claims they helped solve one, but it was in fact solved by a DNA match.

I had never heard of "Haunting Evidence," but I'm going to see if it's still showing on Court TV and watch what's left of season two. Ben has an article in the next issue of Skeptical Inquirer about the show.

Afterwards about half of us went out for Mexican food. I got to talk a bit to Karyn, who is the president of the Midwest Skeptical Society. It seems like a really good group and I'm going to try to go to more events now that I know a few people.

Ben and I talked a little bit about Dragon Con and he's thinking about offering a skeptical workshop next year, which sounds interesting. From what I saw at Dragon Con and what I've heard since there might be a skeptical track emerging out of the science track since it's been so popular.

All-in-all I had a really great time. If you get a chance to see Ben, I'd definitely recommend that you do.

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Happy Thanksgiving!  

Thursday, November 22, 2007

I hope you all have a wonderful day, no matter how (or if) you celebrate. Now I'm off to bake a turkey and all the fixings.

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Americas Psychic Challenge November 16, 2007  

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Welcome to the second episode of the Quarter Finals! The four contestants this week were Jeff, M.W., Michelle, and Joseph. The three tasks were finding a missing child, finding the room with no emotion, and reading the relationship between two women.

Task #1: Finding the Child
For this task the psychics were given 30 minutes to find a child hidden on a 17 acre farm. Now, first I must point out that the child hid in the first 1000 yards or so, mentioning that the farm was 17 acres was a complete red herring for the show. The child's mother was there and the contestants were each given his shirt, though it was a different color with different psychics so maybe this exercise took place over the course of a couple of days.

An investigator (I think?) judged each psychic based on how close they came to finding the child and how certain they were with his location.

Joseph was up first. He began walking towards where he thought the child was. A map of the child and where he was walking was up on the television screen. After making a sharp V in a right turn away from the child, he managed to find him in 4 minutes and 12 seconds. That seems pretty impressive. He was awarded 23 points.

Michelle was next and she wandered along in a wide sweep, not finding the child in 30 minutes and by the end only indicating a wide area where he could be. She admits to working with the police to find missing children and characterized her performance as embarrassing. She was awarded 8 points.

Jeff was third and ran directly for the child, claiming that he could feel the child's vibrant energy and hear directions in his head, finding him in 1 minute and 24 seconds. Now that's really impressive. I wonder though, if he spotted the child from the hill he started on. My husband pointed out that the child was wearing a blue shirt that didn't blend in and even though he was hiding behind a mesh blind, it was possible to see him from where the contestants started. Jeff was awarded 25 points.

M.W. was last wandered around in a haphazard manner for 30 minutes. At one point she asked if she was getting warmer or cooler, but the host didn't answer. At the end she indicated she thought the child was in an area opposite of where he was. She was awarded 6 points.

Task #2: Find the Room without Emotion
For this task the psychics had guess which room had no emotion. Like last week 5 sheds were set up (without roofs, but with doors) that this time held 4 people. The emotions they were giving off were: #2 tranquility, #3 joy, #4 discomfort, and #5 sorrow. Door #1 had no one behind it.

M.W. was first. At one point the host asked her if she was nervous. She said, yes, after her performance on the last task she was. He replied that she didn't get to the second round on accident. Which, if you think about it, yes, it probably was a mixture of luck and psychological cold reading, so coincidence or luck might be a correct assessment.

In any case she selected door #3 or joy (man listening to music via headphones). After she learned the correct door (#1) she said she in the parking lot she knew it was #1, but second guessed herself. Mmmmm.. that's a common psychic claim. They knew the right answer, but for some reason didn't select it. M.W. was awarded 0 points.

Which makes me think of one thing. The psychics are all driven around in a black SUV-type vehicle. The show shows them talking to each other, presumably between tasks. I wonder if they're driven to a task and one by one each psychic performs it. Do the psychics get back in the SUV afterwards with the psychics that haven't gone yet? I don't know that's the case, but if it is, it blows the entire task because it's possible for them to tell the others the correct answer (though it'd be silly to in a competition, but still possible).

Michelle went next. She immediately picked #1 before the host even finished explaining. This is reminiscent of the task when she found a guy in the trunk (hatchback trunk) of a car. She was correct and she said she just knew the answer. She was awarded 25 points.

Jeff was next and he explained that he was an empath, but that it doesn't work when the emotion is weak. Yeah, nice excuse. He selected door #2, which was the room with discomfort (man with his feet in ice). He was awarded 0 points.

Joseph was last and decided to try remote viewing. He warned the host that he'd never tried it before but he was hoping it would help him. Somehow he was able to get it to work on his first try, and yet because of that he didn't trust the results. At first he thought it was either #1 or #4, but then after "seeing" #1 was empty with remote viewing, he chose #5. It makes no sense, and yet, in his psychic wackiness explanation it seemed to make sense to him. He was awarded 0 points.

Task #3: Read the Relationship
The last task was to read the relationship between two women. The women met on an internet board for organ donors. Both women were advocates of living organ donation and one was a match for the other, who needed a kidney. They met in person at the hospital where one gave her kidney to the other.

I admit, that's a hard relationship to discern just from looking at two people. Let's see how the psychics did.

Jeff went first and buttered up one of the ladies by telling her she was psychic. Then he said the other lady was like a grandmother (though they were near the same age it seemed from looking at them) or a mother figure.

He then told the other lady there was some connection with the military and fear. When she started to ask him a question he said, "Yes." I have no idea what she was going to ask, but then it shows a clip from later where she's talking about her brother serving in Jordan (I think?).

Then Jeff says that they've known each other 1 1/2 - 2 years and they have a healing, kindred, loving relationship.

Now most of what he said is way off base or obvious. The hits (military figure and how long they've known each other) are lucky hits with a bit of cold reading.

Michelle was next. She asked them their birth signs and then warned one of the women to be careful and seek a doctor for some issue she was having in her female area or abdominal area. She scored big points for that because, you know, that's just like coming out and saying "kidney". Then she mentioned some names Michael, Mark, M, and David. One lady had brothers named Mark and David. Guess what, so do I? How could she have known? Not because they're common names, could she? She didn't even say what they're relationship was, just mentioned the names. Certainly a lot of people know Marks and Davids.

She also mentioned that they were bonded by grief, pain, and loss and were kindred spirits. The lady that had the transplant's father died from kidney failure, so that was a hit. But how many people have not had grief and loss in their lives (by middle age)?

Joseph went third and he started out by talking about their spirit energies. Then she mentioned the father I mentioned above and told the other lady that she was in some way related to horses. He saw horses all around her. Oh boy.

Then he said they had a relationship like mother/daughter (miss) and mentioned seeing a ring and commitment. One lady said in a scene from later, "It's a pretty big commitment giving up a kidney." Well, yeah, but not a marriage commitment, which is what a ring symbolizes.

M.W. was last. She said she saw a feminine figure in a habit. I'm not sure if she was trying to say that they were nuns or knew nuns or maybe were haunted by nuns? Then she mentioned she could see one of them had a huge heart with wings. Huh? And that they had a sister-like love for one another. And capped it off by saying they had "a mutual love for something." Really? I love cats? Anyone else share that sentiment?

The Results
The points were revealed in the end. Michelle received 30 points for her guesses about the abdominal area and the name hits, giving her a total of 63 (8+25+30) points, which was enough to move on.

M.W. only received 5 points for pointing out they shared "something" for a total of 11 (6+0+5), which is dismal. She was sent packing. The sad thing is that she seems like a really nice lady and she really seems to believe she has these powers. I wonder if something like this might shake her up a bit.

The last spot was between Jeff and Joseph. Jeff so far had received 25 points and Joseph 23. So how well did they do? Although the ladies accepted the ring vision for commitment pretty strongly, they only awarded him 10 points. Jeff received 20 for his military connection guess, though he never did figure out any connection between the two ladies.

So that means that Michelle and Jeff will compete next week with Lynn and Jackie in the semi-finals.

Viewer Participation
At each commercial break they show items and ask the viewers to use their psychic powers to determine the outcome. So how did I do this week?

At the first break they showed three men and asked which man juggled: left, right, or center. I selected right, but the correct answer was center.

At the second break a child was shown with a set of toys: a football, a stuffed animal, a truck, and a rattle. Which was his favorite? If you're paying attention you'll notice that there's four choices. There's never been four choices before. I selected the truck, but I was wrong again. After the commercials the child selected the stuffed animal.

At the third break a roulette wheel is shown with three colors on it: red, black, and green. Which color would the ball land on. I selected black (Matt selected green). It landed on black.

Which makes me 0 for 3 tonight, or 9 out of 18 total. I'm back to 50/50.

Related Posts
Americas Psychic Challenge October 12, 2007
Americas Psychic Challenge October 19, 2007
Americas Psychic Challenge October 26, 2007
Americas Psychic Challenge November 2, 2007
Americas Psychic Challenge November 9, 2007
Americas Psychic Challenge November 23, 2007

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I get angry too  

This morning on the way into work I was listening to the Skepticality podcast. I listen to a lot of podcasts. I was thinking of making a post of recommendations soon.

I'm listening to Randy Olson talk about his film Flock of Dodos and the controversy of intelligent design and evolution. Then suddenly out of the blue he starts in about atheists.

Randy: I just, I don't see the evidence to prove that there is clear, 100% evidence that there is no God. And, until somebody comes up with that evidence I don't see any reason to get too high and mighty towards religious people and their beliefs. So, that's the way I look at it from a scientific perspective. But, I'm real tired of these angry debates that the atheists are having and I just don't think it's very constructive and productive. And, all I can say about the atheism issue is that South Park already nailed it the [laughter] episode and that's all that needs to be said on atheism.

Derek: The thing is you can't prove a negative, so.

Randy: Exactly.

Yeah, it made me angry, so I suppose I'm on of those angry atheists. The thing that makes it more galling is that just before this launch into atheism he was talking about what a good chat he'd had with creationists from Liberty University and how they're normal kids just like the rest of us.

And I just don't get the "angry atheist" bit. All an atheist has to do is state her thoughts about religion and suddenly she's angry and argumentative? Who are these angry atheists? Please, someone tell me.

And the null hypothesis argument is just so done. It's not possible to prove anything doesn't exist. So does that mean I should believe that pink unicorns are dancing on my bookshelf at home just because I can't see at this moment that they're not?

I'm tired of people that are as intelligent as Dr. Olson falling into this trap, so I decided to write him a letter.
Dear Dr. Olson,

I was listening to the October 31st podcast of Skepticality on my way into work today. I enjoyed your movie, Flock of Dodos, and I thought you interview was entertaining, until you broke in with a "beat down" on atheists. Being an atheist I took some issue with your characterization of me.

I'm not an angry person. In fact, most of the time I'm pleasantly happy. Most of the atheists I know aren't angry most of the time either. They're friendly, even polite.

I suppose if your definition of angry is outspoken, that could be true. But I don't think that most atheists are any more outspoken than most religious people. I've never turned on the television and seen an atheist trying to convert. Usually the "angry atheist" argument is used to tell atheists to be quiet and go away not because atheists are angry, but because they make people uncomfortable.

However, have you ever considered that on the rare occasion an atheist is angry, there might be a good reason behind it? Because I was angry after hearing your comments. Like most people I don't like being told to shut up when I try to speak my opinions. Although "shut up" is usually not the phrase used, but instead I'm just called "angry" and dismissed. Having an opinion does not make me angry, as much as you may claim.

And, I'm tired of the null hypothesis argument. It's not really a very good argument. As a scientist you should know that there never is 100% evidence for anything. It doesn't bother me if you think I'm wrong in being an atheist. I don't even mind a good debate. But, please, use a better argument.

And, if you want to understand a little more about angry atheists, then visit Greta Christina's Blog because she's written an excellent piece containing many valid reasons why atheists are angry. They'll probably make you angry too.

OG [well, my real name actually]

Updated: See Randy's response here.

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The Truth About Ghosts and Ghost Hunting Reminder  

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Just as a reminder, Ben Radford of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSI) will be at Devry University on Wednesday, November 21st at 7:30 PM.

I plan on being there. Anyone else?

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Memory Meme  

I was tagged by Dikkii over at Dikkii's Diatribe for a memory meme.

Here are the rules:

1. Describe my earliest memory where the memory is clear, and where "clear" means I can depict at least three details.
2. Give an estimate of my age at the time.
3. Tag five other bloggers with this meme.

I have a couple of memories, but I can't remember which is the oldest, so I'll name them all.

The first house I remember living in was the house my father built in Big Rock, IL. I moved in when I was just a couple of weeks old and we lived there until I was 5 years old. We had a garden and horses on a couple of acres of land (5, I think?). Next door to us was a corn field where we used to play hide and go seek when the corn was high. I still have a scar over my eye that I think came from running into some thorns in the corn, but I may not be attributing that correctly.

So the memories...

I remember in our "great room", the room with the big picture windows that faced the back yard, sitting with my sister at the piano. She was eating an apple and sprinkling salt on it. That was my first exposure to "sweet and salty" taste, that I know of. I don't know if she still sprinkles salt on her apples or if it was a passing fad. I would guess I was somewhere between 2 & 5 years old.

I remember one Easter my mom hid our Easter baskets around the house, like an Easter egg hunt. I found mine in my parents bedroom, which was painted yellow, behind a big, gold-upholstered chair. I remember that chair from my grandparent's house too though later, so maybe I'm confusing the chair in my memories or maybe they were similar. Again, it was sometime between ages 2 & 5.

I remember my brother and I giving hay to the horses. I'm not sure where the hay came from. Maybe my father had bales in the back yard. But we were feeding it to them and I felt like I was doing very important work. And my brother and I actually got along doing it. Again, it was sometime between the ages of 2 & 5.

Thinking about it I could come up with at least 10 more, I'm sure, in that hazy period between first memories and when we moved. I remember the house and all of the rooms. I wonder how good my memory would be if tested against reality. I wonder if the house is still standing and who lives there now.

I'm tagging:
Evolutionary Middleman
Just Married Chilean Style
No More Hornets
Spanish Inquisitor
You Made Me Say It

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Blogroll Update III  

More updates to my blogroll:

evanescent, blogged by a free-thinker, atheist, rationalist, and humanist. You'll find posts about atheism, philosophy, and politics.

Evolving Thoughts, where John Wilkens posts about cultural evolution and the philosophy of religion from down under.

Greta Christina's Blog, where she writes about atheism, current events, feminism, sex, and skepticism. One of her recent posts, Atheism and Anger generated a lot of talk in the atheist blogging community.

Half of Me written by Pasta Queen, who lost half of her weight between January 2005 and February 2007. She's an awesome, sweet lady.

The Spanish Inquisitor is always unexpected. He writes about atheism, books, religion, and science. (Well, and a lot more, but that's a good general overview.)

Symbolic Order Publishing, written by (I believe) Aaron Powell and Trevor Burrus. The blog is dedicated to discussing atheism and religion.

The Choice is Now, a blog dedicated to the pursuit of intellectual thinking, pragmatism, rationality, logic, reason, education, and advocacy for social progress via the deconstruction of patently false beliefs and abject stupidity (yep, stolen directly from her because she says it best), by Kelly Gorski.

The Skinny in Chile, a celebrity fitness blog, but really more of an overall fitness and nutrition blog written by mamacita chilena.

You Made Me Say It where PhillyChief discusses atheism, religion, science, and the ridiculousness of life in general. He also claims to be a KC Chief's fan, but I thought that was a breed that died out years ago.

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My obligatory haircut post  

Monday, November 19, 2007

I hinted on No More Hornets, no said, that I was going to post about my haircut this week. Well...

On Saturday I got my hair cut.

Well, actually Saturday I got a lot of hair cut. When I moved out here to be with my husband back in 2000 he mentioned he liked long hair. So, I started growing my hair out from about chin length (the shortest I've ever worn it) to eventually about half-way down my back.

Now, one thing you probably don't know about me, especially those of you who have never seen me. My hair often reflects my current emotional state to some extent. Actually, when I'm stressed I tend to do crazy things to my hair.

See, I've always liked long hair and since I've been old enough to make my own decisions about hair cuts I've grown it long. My hair been almost to my waist before, but most of the time it's a little shorter. The shortness when I moved here was due to just being a little crazy after a difficult break-up.

The color is kind of a medium blond/strawberry blond naturally, but I've dyed it anything from a very light blond, to a bright red, to a dark brown, always when something big and emotional is going in during my life. Over the last two years I've gone back to my natural color and I like it, though it's not as vibrant.

A couple of weeks ago I decided it was time for a change. Having pretty much the same hair cut for the past 5 years (despite a few color changes) is just boring. So on Saturday I had a little over six inches chopped off and now it just touches my shoulders.

And I love it. It's so much easier to style and, if I must say so myself, it's kind of cute.

But the best thing about it is that the change isn't driven by emotion. I'm not stressed or stuck in a rut or looking for change because life is crazy. I'm happy and it's just a little change because I wanted a change. And this time my hair is just my hair.

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Phenomenon November 14, 2007  

I hope to get caught up on my television watching and show posting this week.

This week's episode starts with the announcement that there will be an unexpected twist later in the show. Then the five remaining contestants are lined up and the host announces who will be moving on next week.

Last Week's Results
I predicted that Angela, Mike, and Gerry would move on. Let's see how America voted. The first to move on is Angela. The next is Mike. There's something about Mike that bothers me, but I guess America likes him. The third won't be revealed until later in the show.

The celebrity guests are introduced and this week it's Tia Carrere, Dayna Devon, and Kim Kardashian.

This Week's Contestants
Angela was up first. Part of the lame introductions are back as they show her facing a broken mirror and giving a mysterious look. Then she gets down to hear act. She says as a medical student she's always been interested in crystals and the claim that they have different therapeutic qualities. (*sigh*)

Then she turns to her celebrity guest Dana and asks her if she can see her own birthstone in the line of 12 birthstone "crystals" that are hanging above a table. Dana looks, very obviously at each, before finally saying yes, she can. Angela asks Dana to put her hand on her (Angela's) back, just over her heart. Dana makes a comment about Angela being David Copperfield. Angela laughs and says, "Maybe Dana Copperfield". Huh huh huh.

Anyway, Angela runs her hands back and forth near the birthstones a few times before asking Dana if her birthstone is Amethyst. Dana says no. Angela asks again quickly if it's aquamarine and Dana says yes. A mistake? Maybe she was just watching which birthstone Dana seemed to "find" when she was looking for her own?

Angela then asked Dana to think of someone she knew and the birthstone for that person. She asked Dana to write down the name of that month. (Is this starting to sound familiar, like maybe her trick last week?) She moved behind Dana and put her hand on Dana's back over her heart and asked Dana to run her hand under the stones a couple of times. Then she predicted the stone was the diamond, or April's, which was correct.

Then Angela had Dana stand to the side with the stone cupped in her hand and took a Polaroid picture. She had Dana take the picture out of the camera so that it wasn't tampered with and put cup it in her hands. Angela put her hands over Dana's and they concentrated on that person. When Dana showed the picture to the audience it had the name "Brent" written on it, which was the person Dana was thinking about. Except, of course, we don't have any confirmation that it is the truth, but Dana did seem impressed.

Uri said that she failed to mystify.

Chriss said that she left out the audience in her trick and and although she had performed an intimate trick with Dana, she failed to connect to the audience.

Then they showed a quick, pre-taped card trick with Angela out on the street. She had someone cut a deck of cards and then put the first card in his right pocket and the second card in his left pocket. She then correctly guessed the two cards - the five of spades and jack of hearts.

Mike was up next. He said he was going to blind our minds. He then had the audience focus on his hand and snapped, saying he had hypnotized us into not seeing something.

He had three people in the audience write down three random four digit numbers. While they were doing that he had the three celebrity contestants Kim, Dana, and Tina come up into the "isolation cabana" and stare at "void space" between a square defined by velvet ropes (like the movie theater ropes and rope stands).

Then he unrolled the three sides of the cabana and asked the women to draw something on each of the three sides. He asked Tia to draw a picture of anything, he asked Dana to write a mode of transportation, and he asked Kim to draw the name of a color. The three women drew a green skull, the word motorcycle, and the color red. (This is starting to sound similar too, like his act two weeks previously).

Then he unrolled the fourth wall of the cabana, enclosing the inside completely. Written on the outside of the wall was skull, motorcycle, and red. I just don't believe that's coincidence. The women had to have been prompted at one point or another.

Then Mike took off the effects of hypno blindness and revealed a red motorcycle with a skull on the seat between the ropes in the cabana. Maybe the three women could see it when they looked between the ropes, but it was hidden from the audience and the camera. Anyway, he then added up the three numbers the audience wrote down and revealed it was 11,689. The license tag on the motorcycle was 11X689. Of course the guy could have totaled any set of numbers to 11,689 and no one in the audience would have been able to confirm without talking about it between themselves.

Chriss said that he was very likable and non-threatening and that he did pretty well.

Uri said that his mentalism and mind illusion was so good that he deserved to win.

For his card trick Mike asks for someone to select a card and then think of it. Then he says he had a dream the night before and shows a slip of paper indicating the six of cups. The person says that's not the right card. Mike says, well, maybe it's because there was fire in my dream. He puts a flame to the paper to heat it up and the text disappears until "ace of hearts" is the only thing left.

It looked pretty neat, but it also looked like a camera trick. But the street audience seemed pretty amazed.

Last Week's Results Continued
Then the three contestants that haven't performed are called to the stage - Eran, Gerry, and Guy. And Eran is through to the next round. He goes backstage to prepare for his act.

Then we're told that Guy and Gerry have not been eliminated. The twist is that Chriss and Uri can decide together to keep one. Both are to perform for the judges.

This Week's Contestants Continued
Eran asked Dana and Kim set three containers of different hazards up on an obstacle course (really just a long plank that ends with two mattresses). The tree items are razor blades, scorpions, and glass in the containers. He also asks Kim and Dana to select a mattress to have some stage hands move a bed of nails onto.

He then has Tia help him blindfold himself. He puts a coin over each eye and uses duct tape (it's black and shiny, more like wide electrical tape) to cover his eyes. Then he takes a blindfold and puts it over his eyes and turns his back to the audience so they can see Tia tying it. I think at this point he adjusts the tape and the blindfold so that he can see, because he definitely acts like he can see.

Then Tia guides him over to the steps that lead up to the plank. She leads him to the side of the first step and he hesitates and asks her if he's in front of it. She laughs nervously and leads him in front. Bingo! He can see. Then he tells her he needs to synchronize with her breathing. He tells her she must keep her breathing even for it to work, but she doesn't and he reminds her a couple of times.

Then he has her lead him up the stairs so that he's facing the plank with the three "obstacles". He steps across the plank in big stomping steps except when he starts to approach an obstacle. Then he scooches up to it and steps over it. It's so obvious that I'm laughing.

Finally he reaches the end without stepping on anything hazardous and faces the mattress with the bed of nails... and falls over backwards to the other mattress. As if we thought for one second that he'd pick the wrong one.

Chriss said that he needed to be more diverse.

Uri said that he was versatile, mesmerizing, and innovative.

His street trick wasn't a card trick. He asked a woman to think about the first person she kissed. Then he flicked her on the forehead causing her to yell out (or maybe he touched her and shocked her?). Then he guessed Daniel, which was correct.

Guy was the first to perform for the judges. He kissed up to Uri by talking about telekinesis and spoon bending. He had an array of spoons and forks on a table. Dana inspected them all during the commercial break and said they were all normal. He then had Dana select a spoon or a fork. She selected a spoon. He performed the spoon bending trick by placing it in his palm and rubbing the area where the spoon meets the handle to bend it.

He then had her select another and bent it by moving it very slightly back and forth in his hand very rapidly. Then he showed the spoon twisting and breaking apart. We've all seen Randi's explanation and I don't believe the spoons weren't tampered with somehow.

Then he revealed a stop sign and said he would go beyond the normal trick (was he picking on Uri) and had the audience concentrate on the sign and yell out in unison "bend". The sign bent, but Guy's movements weren't really in sync with the sign bending. Of course it seemed to me more like a person backstage hitting a switch and making it bend, but I could be wrong.

As the host started talking Guy ran over to the sign to bang on it with the spoon to show that it and the sign were really metal. Yeah, I believe it's metal, but your telekinesis is still not convincing.

The judges did not comment.

Gerry performed a trick with postcards. He had several set out on a table with the picture facing up. He then had Dana look at Tia and pick a city that Tia reminded her of and pick a landmark from that city. Then he asked Dana to draw the landmark and write the city name.

He took Tia over to the table and asked her to pick a postcard, any postcard. She picked the postcard of Paris. He showed most of the other postcards on the table an they were all blank. He then showed the back of the one she selected and it had a message for her.

Then he had Dana reveal the picture she had drawn and it was a picture of the Eiffel Tower. Then the audience revealed they had independently, on many cards, drawn a picture that if they were put together and turned toward the ceiling was the same Eiffel Tower drawing that Dana had drawn. Urgh! I don't believe it. It seemed cheap.

Chriss revealed that he and Uri had selected Guy because Guy had really stepped it up with his act. After seeing Gerry's trick I think they had no choice.

Then the host said that Chriss was giving everyone in America a chance to guess what was in his envelope, the one he asked Jim Callahan to guess about. And Jim will be on the show next week, supposedly, to guess.

There's a forum post about it over at the Phenomenon board, but since the moderator states,

Personally I find the repeated insistance by several of you that spirit communication is impossible just as offensive as some of you might my disrespecting your belief in your god.

I'm not going to hold my breath for any skepticism or objectivity.

Related Posts
Phenomenon October 24, 2007
Phenomenon October 31, 2007
Phenomenon November 7, 2007

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This Weeks Reader November 17, 2007  

Saturday, November 17, 2007

I am still 150 posts behind in my blog reading. I'm going to soon get to the point where I say screw it and mark them all read. But, here are a few posts that I really enjoyed when I did get a chance to read.

At Charity Navigator, Trent Stamp comments about the separation of church and state as it applies to charities.

Jon Blumefeld at The Rogue's Gallery writes about those crazy tax protesters.

As a tie in to my posts about the America's Psychic Challenge television program, Chris Hoofnagle has a post up about criminal profilers and cold readers at denialism blog.

Philly Chief discusses the Godless Delusion at You Made Me Say It.

At No More Hornets, The Exterminator asks his second Quazy Quistian Question.

Paul at Cafe Philos, explains why the notion of God will never die out.

At Whatever, John Scalzi finally posts his Creation Museum Report. Readers donated over $5,000 to the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State to torment himget him to go.

At Letters from a broad, CL Hanson writes about feminism and porn.

Skeptico gives you the tools to play cold reader bingo and posts links to interviews after the Chriss Angel challenge on Phenomenon.

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Atheist blogroll  

Friday, November 16, 2007

OMG, OMG, I'm famous!!

OK, not really. But the video below shows my blog and several of the blogs I read, if only for a fraction of a second.

(via Greta Christina)

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Here's a picture of my niece and nephew from a year ago

And here they are from just last week

Not to sound trite, but time does go by quickly. With all of us older people getting old and sick and frail, I sometimes forget about the young ones growing up into strong, beautiful individuals.

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Americas Psychic Challenge November 9, 2007  

Welcome to the Quarter Finals! The four contestants this week were Jackie (Bowl Cut), Zenobia (Xena), Lynn, and Silvana. The three tasks were finding fear behind five closed doors, psychically diagnosing two people, and reading the scene of a crime.

Task #1: Finding Fear
For this task the psychics were given ten minutes to find the person in fear behind five doors. Five sheds were set up with a door and no roof. Inside five people were participating in activities. Four were participating in relaxing activities (drawing, receiving a massage, painting finger nails, and something else I can't remember). One person was facing her fear, sticking her hand in a glass aquarium with roaches. Eeek! That would have not been something I could do. She was gagged, but you could still hear her muffled screams. The camera didn't show her screaming when the psychics were there, but it's possible that she made some fearful noises.

Lynn was up first. She listened at each door and then confidently chose door 4, which had the fearful woman behind it. She earned 25 points.

Silvana was next and she seemed nervous and all over the place. She said 3, 2, or 1 at first, but then finally chose door #2, which was not the fearful participant. She was awarded 0 points.

Zenobia went third and mentioned she felt the sensation of creepy crawlies and on a woman. She selected door #1, which was the one with the man getting a massage. Maybe the lady giving him the massage was getting the creepy crawlies from touching the man? Well, probably not. She was awarded 0 points.

Jackie was last and walked around acting like she didn't care. Then she said either 2 or 4 and looked at the host a few times as she questioned 2 or 4. Then she selected #4, which was correct. That's just cold reading in my opinion. She was awarded 25 points.

Task #2: Diagnose Patients
For this task the psychics had to diagnose the medical conditions of two patients, an older man in not the best shape and a younger, attractive woman. They received points for a correct diagnosis as well as for listing the symptoms the patients suffered. The conditions were diabetes and Crohn's disease.

The judge was a clinical research scientist, Dr. Jewell. She watched video of the psychics diagnosing the symptoms from another room. The task was worth 25 points.

Zenobia was first. She described a swollen neck and some kind of pain up and down the back in the first man. The woman she mentioned had something wrong with her circulation, was tired, hurt, needed three surgeries, and was taking too many medications.

Dr. Jewell gave her a hit on the back, mentioning sensory neuropathy. I'm not familiar with sensory neuropathy and didn't realize it was a part of diabetes, but the doctor was very impressed. She was also impressed with the symptoms she named for the woman and the fact that she mentioned three surgeries since the woman had three surgeries and was diagnosed three years ago. She was awarded 19 points.

Lynn went next. About the man she said phrases like ankle, feet, bones, aching, and podiatry. For the woman she diagnosed pregnancy - a baby boy. Dr. Jewell was not impressed and gave her 7 points, mostly for the aching ankles. Afterwards Lynn admitted she had completely missed on both of them.

Silvana was next and again was fast talking all over the place. For the man she mentioned liver, swollen feet, something on the right side, hepatitis, prostate, virus, not exercising or eating right, and diabetes. For the woman she pointed to her shoulder and her knees and said it was between there and there, pain, cancer, and cyst.

Dr. Jewell wasn't impressed and awarded her 12 points because she mentioned diabetes, but said she didn't deserve more because she also mentioned hepatitis and prostate problems. Silvana was upset and thought she deserved more for saying diabetes. The doctor stuck by her score, which I thought was entirely too high. She almost got half the points for mentioning diabetes in with a bunch of other things? Silvana complained more before we moved on.

Jackie was last and started out by saying she wasn't here to win as she casually, creepily walked around the patients. For the man she said diabetes, kidney, exercise, and urine. For the woman she said uterus, heavy bleeding, acid in the esophagus, then she sort of hit on the woman, I think. The host asked her if she had more to which Jackie said, "the full Jackie will blow you away," but since she wasn't trying to win she was OK with her diagnosis.

The doctor was somewhat impressed with the diagnosis of the man and gave her 15 points.

The problem with this task is that diabetes would be the first thing I'd guess about the man. He doesn't look like he exercises or eats healthy. The woman is much harder and Crohn's disease is not as well known. And, as expected, the psychics did much better with their diagnosis of the man than the woman.

Task #3: Crime Scene
The last task was to read the scene of a crime. A firefighter was there recounting what had happened. It was at the Palomar Hotel. I did a quick search on the Palomar Hotel arson found found several entries about a fire, insurance fraud, and the death of the woman in the fire. This wasn't a little-known event, but pretty well know. I call BS on this task as it's likely that some of the psychics had heard about it or read up about crimes in the area.

Also, the fireman was there to judge each contestant and was visibly still upset by the events that transpired. Cold reading definitely came into play. The psychics had 30 minutes to convince him that they're psychic. There were three things they could not ask about - the fireman's education, career, or what happened.

Silvana went first. She started by asking when it happened. The host said that it wasn't a question she could ask, that she should tell them. She mentioned the crime was premeditated, and as a result of greed. She also kept talking about the man's brother, which the show gave her a hit on because there was a brother-in-law involved in the crime. The fireman seemed annoyed and at one point told her, "I don't have a brother." On the roof she mentioned falling, that someone was pushed and choked. The show gave her a hit because a woman fell from the third story window before she could be rescued (obviously not pushed) and because she choked on smoke (but she wasn't choked by a man like Silvana implied). I certainly wasn't impressed.

Zenobia was next. She saw two people arguing and said the fireman saw it and tried to help, but he couldn't and he was sad because of it. She kept reassuring him that there wasn't anything he could have done. Then she mentioned a young woman and kids and used the letters L & M and once she saw that she had hit on something mentioned that she was hearing a lullaby and a lot of loud, chaotic noises. The two children rescued, whose mother died were Miguel and Lobita (or something like that), so she was able to make an impact on the fireman with the letters and the lullaby.

Jackie went third and started out with a little wink talking about how she was the white serpent and that this was her temple, or some such nonsense. She's really annoying. She said that the fireman was a cop and that whatever it was started on the third floor. Then she mentioned something about someone going off the roof and a young woman and asked the host and the fireman how those two things were connected. Neither answered her and she said she was done.

Lynn was last. She got very emotional right away and started crying, saying she'd been sad all day. She immediately started mentioned images of a fire, sirens, police, and a disaster. She said the building had been rebuilt (well, it was remodeled), and then she mentioned a child being trapped, crying and screaming. She said when she was a child she had a dream that someone told her there was going to be a fire. Then two hours she woke up and there was a fire. She said she could empathize with the children because they were like her.

The Results
The points were revealed in the end. Lynn received 36 points for her recitation of the events, the highest awarded to anyone to date, for a total of 68 points. She was ecstatic and asked all the women for a hug. Jackie said she didn't give hugs away for free, which miffed Lynn.

So Lynn moves on to the semi-finals. Silvana only received 15 points for mentioning that someone was pushed and choked, which gave her a total of 27 points, not enough to move on.

The last spot was between Jackie and Zenobia. Zenobia only had 19 points going in, which was well behind Jackie's 40. For Zenobia's account she recieved 26 points, mainly for saying the letters M & L. So Jackie needed at least 5 point to tie, but she said very little to the fireman. Would she move on? Well, of course. No one ever gets less than a 7 on these tasks, which my husband pointed out, and that's exactly what she got, 7 points, bringing her total to 47.

Both Lynn and Silvana expressed unhappiness that Jackie made it to the semi-finals. Silvana made a quip about it not being "America's Pshycho Challenge." Zenobia was happy for Jackie.

Viewer Participation
At each commercial break they show items and ask the viewers to use their psychic powers to determine the outcome. So how did I do this week?

At the first break they showed a man getting on the elevator and asked which floor he would select: 2, 3, or G. Since he was clearly getting on from the third floor, I selected 2. And I was right! Maybe my psychic powers are returning to me.

At the second break an older couple was shown sitting in the park, snuggling and kissing. The show asked how long they had been married - 1, 15, or 35 years. I selected 1 because they were very affectionate. Not like they couldn't be at 15 or 35, but it's less likely. And I was correct again.

At the third break a man was running and came to an intersection. The show asked which way he would run: left, right, or straight. Since he was jogging in place at the intersection it should be straight or right since both require that he cross the intersection, right? Why else stop? Of course I was wrong that time and he veered out into the street left. Why go into the street rather than follow the sidewalk? Is the show actively trying to trip me up??

That makes my total for tonight 2 out of 3, or 9 out of 15 total. Not too shabby, but still not good enough to be psychic.

Tune in for next week where the winners from the second two episodes (M.W., Jeff, Joseph, and Michelle) face off against each other.

Related Posts
Americas Psychic Challenge October 12, 2007
Americas Psychic Challenge October 19, 2007
Americas Psychic Challenge October 26, 2007
Americas Psychic Challenge November 2, 2007
Americas Psychic Challenge November 16, 2007
Americas Psychic Challenge November 23, 2007

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

This weekend was my father’s 65th birthday. It was good to see him reach it. He’s not been well the past couple of years. Going to visit my family is always an odd mix of happiness and depression. We don’t keep in touch regularly. My mother had a suffocating relationship with her mother, so she won’t call in fear that she’ll do the same thing. My brothers and I only talk about once a year. I talk to my sister every few months and occasionally get the odd call from my father when he feels like talking.

I’m the only one in the family that lives far away. My sister and brothers haven’t always lived close, but they’ve settled now in the area probably for life. I’m the only one in the family without at least a step-child now. We’re the incredibly shrinking family. Out of the four of us there are only now two surviving grandchildren and four step-grandchildren.

I always feel odd visiting because my family doesn’t feel much like a family. We’ll get together for a couple of hours and then disperse, as if we’re much more comfortable being apart rather than together. Although I lived in the Carolinas for 20 years prior to where I am now it doesn’t feel like home. Yet every time I talk about going there, it’s “going home.” I can’t seem to get past that expression.

My mother and father are still married, yet barely tolerate each other’s presence anymore. When I was very young I used to wish they’d divorce. Now I realize that divorce is much worse than I imagined. But still, they aren’t happy together and I wish they had a happier life. There’s a feeling of tragedy and chaos that surrounds all of my family members. I think I don’t visit often because I want to escape it.

But at that moment of parting it’s hard to leave. It’s hard to leave the one good friend I still have that I’ve kept in touch with over the years, someone I can still talk to like we did years ago after college. It’s hard to leave my parents and brothers and sister. It’s hard to give up that closeness that I could have if I lived there. And yet, I’m relieved I didn’t stay.

I don’t think I’d be a different person than I am now. I think I would have had the same sort of life. But maybe it would have been easier to see my parents grow old a day at a time instead of suddenly. Maybe I would have a family of my own right now, though I can’t imagine what kind of rifts that would cause. My parent’s fundamental beliefs would have clashed with my own wishes and the absolute certainty that they were right wouldn’t have allowed them to give up and let me raise my children the way I would want to.

My grandmother still tries to bully her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and maybe soon great-great grandchildren into worshipping her way even now in her frailty. We had a short disagreement about the soullessness of clones and I spent two hours trying to ignore Pat Robertson on television when I visited.

I used to think that there was nothing wrong with the way I was brought up, but when I remember some of the things that I missed out on I feel some resentment. I spent years in private Christian schools where I learned in a world apart from reality. We were scandalized by a teacher who believed in theistic evolution, a belief that probably led to her dismissal. Even in public school in my last few years I don’t remember if I ever had evolution in my curriculum.

I always thought it was a good thing that I was sheltered. My parents didn’t raise me to believe in Santa Claus because they felt it was lying, and yet I was terrified of demons that could manipulate my thoughts and gain control of me if I thought the wrong thing.

I’m glad that I didn’t go wild in my youth, but I wish I had grown up with a more realistic view of the world. Maybe children can’t grow up with true understanding. Maybe it takes maturity to grasp those concepts. But I still feel cheated that I grew up thinking that knowledge was the root of evil.

I still don’t know why I was able to pass into a different world view so easily. Sometimes I worry that my views are so malleable that I’ll embrace anything with a little convincing. I keep thinking back about the article I read about peer influence versus family influence on children. In a sheltered world where everyone I knew embraced fundamentalism how did I escape it? What was the difference between me and everyone else I knew from that time?

My parents prized a good education, and yet they rejected anything that disagreed with their religious beliefs. It’s a dichotomy that I can’t even begin to reconcile. They believe in conspiracies and all sorts of things that people would classify as crazy, and yet they are smart people. I can argue against it or ignore it, but I can’t relate.

I’m content with the person I am. I accept the past as part of what made me who I am. But it doesn’t change the fact that I feel guarded around the people that should know me the best. I fake feeling like a family along with the rest of them and then go back to my separate life.

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Bioshock and Art  

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Here's another jab at Roger Ebert's claim that video games cannot be high art from the Games for Windows October 2007 issue.

Here's a game that serves as the perfect counterpoint to Roger Ebert's notorious assertion that games ain't art (if you care about such crap), and not just because Rapture really is a magnificent museum of the morbid, its fascinating tape-recorder diaries like discarded Alcatraz audio-tour headsets. Ebert hurdles to the "A" word, but BioShock's big message is that choice is largely an illusion. You think you're making decisions, but really, someone else is pulling the strings, whether it's a character quite pointedly planting thoughts in your brain or level designers directing you to the next important hallway.

"You are being manipulated," BioShock says, over and over again. Puppeteers hand out unassailable assignments, reservations (is Tenenbaum playing me now?) and ethical objections (did Sander Cohen just ask me to become a cold-blooded murderer?) be damned. Instead of asking "How would you like to do this?" BioShock asks, "How do you feel now that you've been forced to?" --and, on a few occasions, it gives you the opportunity to say a cathartic "f*** you" to the crazy postobjectionist monster who just played you. Then it grins and asks again, "Now how do you feel?" BioShock's greatest achievement is getting you to answer back

I haven't played the game yet myself because I'm afraid my system won't handle it, but I have been looking forward to it for some time. And now even more.

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This Weeks Reader November 10, 2007  

I'm flying out very early and I'll be out of town for the next few days. I'm taking a laptop, but I'm not sure I'll get a chance to post, much less keep up with blog reading or email. I hope all of you have a great weekend.

Below are some posts that I enjoyed reading this week.

Paul at Cafe Philos discusses historical ideologies.

The Mist is reviewed at Horror Movie a Day. This one of the few movies horror movies in a while I'm looking forward to.

International News
At A Wide Angle View of India, Nita posts a story about the inhumane treatment of prisoners and wrongful detention. The story she posts, about a man who was arrested because the incorrect IP address was provided in the case is heart-wrenching.

John Wilkins talks about animals and rights at Evolving Thoughts. I thought the comment posted by Aaron Clausen was especially good.

Trevor Burrus at Symbolic Order lists 10 Reasons Why Christianity is Wrong, an older, classic post and the more recent follow-up.

Greta Christina explains how atheists make C.S. Lewis cry.

At Evolving Thoughts, John Wilkins continues his series of explaining religion with part 4.

PhillyChief at You Made Me Say it discusses religion and health care.

Steven Novella has a story about aliens and demons blowing up toasters in Italy at The Rogue's Gallery.

Peter Popoff is back in the news with comments from James Randi.

At The Rogue's Gallery, Bob Novella discusses cold reading.

At denialism blog, Mark Hoofnagle discusses the origin of HIV in the Americas.

Steven Novella at NeuroLogica Blog explains why the placebo effect is a fallacy.

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