Why the panic over Julie Payette?

Governor General Julie Payette made comments in a speech to the Canadian Science Policy Conference on Nov. 1 in which she encouraged her audience at a science convention to ignore misinformation, fantasy and conspiracy theory, to support facts and science, and to engage in “learned debate.” That has the right furious, and as is their wont, making both fallacious claims about her words while launching ad hominem attacks against her.

It’s particularly galling to the right that not only is Payette a woman, she’s smart and accomplished: a former astronaut and an engineer. That means the right gets wildly incensed when she says anything vaguely interesting, let alone true. And so they’re trying to make this into a wedge issue about religion. The undertext being that Payette, being a Liberal appointee, is touting Liberal anti-religion screed.

Andrew Scheer, the pasty-white leader of the Conservatives who recently hired as his party’s campaign chair a former media director of the vile Rebel media organization, said,

It is extremely disappointing that the Prime Minister will not support Indigenous peoples, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Christians and other faith groups who believe there is truth in their religion.

Which is bullshit. Scheer, of course, completely ignores the actual truth and substance in Payette’s comments. How dare the GG make any statements that are not the most innocuous, content-removed, pastel puffery? Yet nowhere in her speech did Payette mention any religion or indigenous people, so where does he get this allegation? Probably from his misogynist, racist Rebel media buddies. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to see Scheer’s attack as an anti-feminist one: that’s been Scheer’s way since he took charge.

What colossal arrogance for Scheer to think he can speak for millions – even billions, because he doesn’t specify there are just Canadians he’s speaking for – of people with whom he has no contact, let alone consulted about their reaction to Payette’s comments. And why does he think that any Canadian, not just our Prime Minister, has to have blanket, unquestioning support for every bit of religious myth, pseudo-health or pseudoscience claptrap? That’s simply nuts. And cowardly. We elect people to have opinions, to take stands, to advocate for issues, and to stand up for truth, not simply agree with everyone and everything. A toy bobblehead doll does that. That’s not what Canadians expect from their leaders. Unless, it seems, they are Conservatives.
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It’s about the process, stupid…

Be honestMy negative comments on the impending privatization of our electrical utility (and potentially our water utility once the first deal is sealed) drew some online criticism recently. None of those critics refuted any of the facts I offered, or attempted to debunk any of the numerous documents I quoted and linked to.

Nor could they. After all, they are easily proven, well-documented facts. But still, they called me a liar and attempted to use other cheap ad hominem tactics to discredit me.* However, regardless of their like or dislike of me, the facts remain, the facts speak for themselves. Facts matter; name-calling doesn’t.

It’s not about me. It’s not even about the decision to sell the utility. It’s about the process used to get to that point. And that means it’s also about the people who chose that process over an open and transparent one. Open and transparent is honest. Anything else isn’t. If you can defend such dishonesty, then we can’t have a reasonable discussion about the process.

We elect representatives to make our decisions for us. That’s what a democracy is all about. And for the most part, the public leaves those representatives alone to do their job. But when a major issue arises, such as the sale of a publicly-owned asset, those representatives are bound by both honour and ethics to both inform and consult the public. Neither of which have been done this term.

The process this term has been appallingly secretive and deceptive. We elected people whom we trusted to accomplish their job with consideration of the basic rules or ethics and morality. And they didn’t follow them. They betrayed the public trust and they continue to do so.

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The ignorati rise

Chapman University recently published the results of a depressing, but hardly surprising, survey that shows American believe in codswallop continue to rise. Not political codswallop – this is the supernatural, paranormal, wingnut type.  And the numbers are huge. Or yuge as the ignorati-in-chief would say.

The article notes, “nearly three-fourths of Americans do believe in something paranormal.” While we expect that sort of muddle-headed, superstitious thinking to be widespread in the 13th century, that’s truly sad in the 21st century. And we don’t expect it in the country that put a man on the moon, invented the iPad and the PC. You can’t do that when you believe in ghosts, goblins and magic.

WIngnut beliefs

These are truly, deeply unsettling scary figures. Almost 20% of those surveyed believe “psychics” and “fortune tellers” can “…can foresee the future.” These so-called psychics are constantly being debunked and revealed in the media as con artists,  swindlers and charlatans. Yet millions of Americans believe they have some ability to see the future. Depressing. But it gets worse. According to the results,

  • 55.0% believe that ancient, advanced civilizations, such as Atlantis, once existed;
  • 52.3% believe that places can be haunted by spirits;
  • 35.0% believe aliens have visited Earth in our ancient past;
  • 26.2% believe aliens have come to Earth in modern times;
  • 25.0% believe some people can move objects with their minds;
  • 19.4% believe fortune tellers and psychics can foresee the future;
  • 16.2% believe Bigfoot is a real creature.

The rise of Donald Trump and the rapidly growing culture of anti-intellectualism, anti-science, faux Christianity and the alt-facts version of reality promulgated by the theocratic right parallel this growing belief in superstitious and religious claptrap. It’s a deliberate, planned attack on Americans to make them stupid. And it appears to be working.
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Idiot lights: aka fog lights

idiot lights
Have you noticed how many people drive with their idiot lights on all the time? These are supposed to be “fog” lights, but idiots drive with them day and night, good and bad weather. Hence the name: idiot lights.*

Not that they’re illegal (they should be…): the Ontario Highway Traffic Act allows a minimum of two and up to four headlights on the front of the vehicle, so they slip in under that provision. But fog lights are not meant to be used as headlights for daytime or clear driving at night: they’re meant for specific visibility conditions. Not for regular driving. The Act obviously doesn’t say anything about blinding other drivers, being inconsiderate of just an asshole, however.**

The term ‘Idiot lights’ refers to the extra set of headlights placed either between or below the main set (not the daytime running lights, which are low-intensity and separate). They were also known as auxiliary lights or even ‘driving lights.’ Once sold as add-on accessories, they have become standard on most pickup trucks and SUVs, and are increasingly common on everyday sedans.

These used to be called “fog lights“ but that term seems to have fallen out of favour because bad drivers use them in any weather and never turn them off. We call them idiot lights today for one, or both, reasons:

  1. They cannot be turned off (so the owner is an idiot for buying a vehicle with such a limited feature).
  2. They won’t be turned off even in good weather (so the driver is an idiot for annoying oncoming drivers and pedestrians).***

Idiot lights are often promoted as nighttime or bad weather vision enhancers. Well, that might be true, but only if they pointed down towards the road. Most seem to point out and often up, like the regular headlights. Which is right into the eyes of oncoming drivers – four headlights in your eyes instead of two. Plus they add glare on wet pavement that makes it harder to identify lanes and road markings.

Wheels.ca says of these lights and the drivers who use them:

Many motorists drive with their fog lights on at night even though there isn’t a slight hint of fog anywhere to be found. Fog lights are designed to be used when the fog is so dense the headlights reflect back off the water droplets and make vision difficult. Fog lights are mounted low to cut under the fog and light up the road surface under the mist. Driving with fog lights on during clear nights does two things. One, it blinds oncoming drivers which is very dangerous and, two, it shows everyone else you don’t understand fog lights and probably think yourself quite sporty.

Their sole purpose, in an age of increasingly uncivility, is to annoy oncoming drivers and reduce their vision. And it works. You used to have to turn on your high beams to get this effect, now you can buy a vehicle with annoyance built right in. And as an added bonus for the truly ignorant, you can annoy other drivers with both your high beams and your idiot lights in tandem. The real sociopath also replaces standard bulbs with high-intensity bulbs (HIDs) to double or triple the blinding effect!
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Collingwood’s first post-literate council

Post-literacyAt the Corporate & Community Services standing committee meeting this week, the committee discussed the Art on the Street festival, its operation and management to be taken over by the BIA. That’s probably a good thing because any affinity to culture and cultural events at the council table evaporated early this term. A cup of yogurt has more culture in it than The Block has. The whole ‘cultural economy’ thing and all the benefits that cultural tourism can bring has simply flown away this term.*

That report led to a discussion of a local Word on the Street festival, a “national celebration of literacy and the written word.” Apparently there is a move afoot to bring it back (it’s held in September, so I suppose that won’t be until fall 2018). Councillor Kevin Lloyd semi-jokingly suggested that council entertain regular poetry readings at the start of each council meeting to help publicize the event. There was an uncomfortable silence at the committee table (The Block not being able to easily recognize irony or sarcasm).

The stolid faces of The Block collective were shaken by his (somewhat sarcastic) suggestion. The idea that they might have to sit, in stony Politburo-like silence while someone read a poem clearly unnerved them. Even Sleepy Councillor Ecclestone tossed and turned in his sleep, in the grips of a bad dream where words and phrases were dancing around him with menace and malice.

How were they supposed to respond to poetry? Would they make the usual banal “gee that was swell” comments they toss out like candy to staff for run-of-the-mill reports? Or – a frightening thought – would they be expected to comment intelligently and coherently on the nature of the poem, its symbolism, its rhyming scheme, its use of metaphor, how it compared with the work of other poets? That would take The Block far from the safety of their comfort zone over the deep intellectual ocean, a place they had never ventured to.

When The Block plumb the depths of their collective intellect, they don’t need a ruler, much less a measuring tape to measure down to their seabed. Their ship of state is already stranded on its shallow reefs. Keep in mind that their greatest collective intellectual achievement this term is a bylaw that prohibits residents from throwing birdseed on their driveway. To expect them to do anything intelligent with culture – you’re better off wishing for something more achievable. Like world peace. Or the overnight reversal of climate change. Or the Rapture.

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Prayer isn’t stopping the violence

Jesus facepalmAn acerbic piece in Maclean’s Magazine from June had the title “America’s mass delusion.” The subtitle read, “Surprisingly, the strategy of praying to God is not stopping the mass shootings in the U.S.” That piece was recirculated when the news of the latest and largest mass shooting in the USA broke. Fifty nine (so far) people were killed and more than 500 wounded by one homegrown American terrorist with an assault rifle. A terrorist who, police found later, had more than 20 rifles in his hotel room (some reports say “more than 10”). He owned more than 40; 10 of them reportedly assault weapons – a weapon designed solely for mass killing of people.

Prayer didn’t stop him getting into a hotel with all those rifles. Prayer didn’t stop him owning and firing military-grade automatic weapons into the crowd. (And why aren’t the media telling us his religion, when they gleefully announce the religion of every non-Christian who so much as farts in a subway?)

Despite the flurry of “prayers and thoughts” for the victims that erupted when the news of the massacre broke, not a single one of those shot came back from the dead. Even the prayers of that uber-fundamentalist, VP Mike Pence, failed to move his deity to act on anyone’s behalf and you’d think he had pull with his god. So who are they praying to, if no one is listening?

Curiously, no one seems to be praying to have the NRA held accountable for its pro-gun lobbying that led directly to this and every other mass shooting in the USA. No one seems to be praying for stronger gun control legislation, for background checks or to ban assault rifles. Americans are too obsessed with their guns to pray for anything that resembles sanity about gun ownership.

Meanwhile, an NRA-backed bill to permit silencers on personal weapons is being presented. The conscienceless-GOP is pushing ahead with it despite the news of this latest shooting – feckless minions of their NRA masters. Is anyone praying that won’t pass? Why isn’t anyone praying the GOP will disappear so the country can find some peace?

Or Bill O’Reilly? The neo-fascist former Fox host apparently claimed that the shooting in Las Vegas is “…the price of freedom” for America’s sociopathic lack of gun control laws. Such an NRA shill should not go unprayed for… pray he vanishes, just like the NRA does.

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Nibiru apocalypse failed again

End of the world? Nope...Since you’re reading this, the world didn’t end, Saturday. Again. Damn…

All those wacky “predictions” from the fringe of the ignorati didn’t come true. Again. Not that that’s surprising: what’s surprising is that these conspiracy-minded folk keep proposing the end of the world as we know it (TEOTWAWKI) over and over, often regurgitating the same nonsense, just with new dates. And yet they keep missing the mark. Yesterday was no exception. Here we are, bereft of another apocalypse on a beautiful, sunny Sunday morning. Damn.

According to the wingnuts, the imaginary planet “Nibiru” (also spelled Niburu) was supposed to show up and crash into the earth, Sept. 23. Or at least wreak havoc with its gravity waves.

I’m writing this on Sept. 24, and as you can see, it didn’t. Possibly that’s because most of the claptrap about Nibiru is the creation of one person: Nancy Lieder, a seriously deranged woman who hears alien voices in her head. She had made numerous apocalyptic claims over the past two decades, none of which have come true, but her followers are True Believers and don’t give up on her.

Possibly, as her followers will likely spin it, Nibiru missed but it’s coming back on another date (those deadly gravity waves they predicted failed to materialize, too…). Or maybe the aliens decided to give us a second chance (the Annunaki the wingnuts claim live on Nibiru – despite it being in utter cold and darkness well more frigid than Pluto for most of its orbit – and are planning to take over the earth… go figure…). Whatever. These stories as so far from coherent that it’s hard to be clear on any of this.

I’ve debunked the Nibiru delusion in the past, along with the whole TEOTWAWKI madness. A lot of it comes from the extreme fringe of the fundamentalist/evangelical Christian world, spawned by people who claim to have uncovered “secrets” in the bible that predict the apocalypse. Usually this involves numbers deciphered not from the actual bible, but from an English version. The irony of deciphering allegedly hidden messages from an English translation is lost on them.

Nibiru nuts, by the way, have their own Facebook pages and YouTube channels, pushing all sorts of silliness as “proof’ – like obvious camera flares declared as a sighting of the Easter Bunny fake planet. One commentator posting after a YouTube fake video that shows a lens flare presented as a “brown dwarf” passing through our solar system, says, “This solar system going through ours is the real reason for climate change.” It’s mind boggling how abysmally stupid these people are.
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Cultural appropriation is the new gluten free

Cultural appropriationLike food fads, political fads wax and wane as the gnat-like attention span of their followers gets diverted by the Next Big Thing. Political Correctness has of late given birth to Cultural Appropriation just like the gluten-free food fad gave rise to lectin-free food fad.

All such fads are fuelled by the earnest desire of some people to avoid thinking and follow the crowd over the intellectual cliff. They’re not about analysis, research, and objectivity: they’re about being on the Latest Thing bandwagon.

All fads teeter on a basic misapprehension; sometimes it’s a fabrication, other times a misunderstanding, and other times simply a con. Anti-vaccination faddists, for example, believe that vaccines cause autism. You can present reams of evidence that debunks their core belief, but they won’t get off their bandwagon to investigate, let alone change their erroneous belief. You can ridicule chemtrails, flat earth, alien abductions, angels, ghosts, homeopathy and Bigfoot all you want – it won’t shake the faith of the true believers. Just look at the uber-wingnut Food Babe and her gormless followers…

Like food fads, political fads are steadfast until they aren’t. But in the interim, people get pleasure out of pointing fingers and accusing others. Shaming and name calling. Such is the state of the Cultural Appropriation fad: calling out those who deliberately or even inadvertently “appropriate” another culture has replaced the accusations of bigotry, racism, bullying, cyberbullying and misogyny among the Upright Politically Correct Watchdogs for Cultural Appropriation Violations (UPCWFCAV).

Wikipedia tells us that Cultural Appropriation is:

…the adoption or use of the elements of one culture by members of another culture.[1] Cultural appropriation, often framed as cultural misappropriation, is sometimes portrayed as harmful and is claimed to be a violation of the collective intellectual property rights of the originating culture.

If you even so much as think of rolling seaweed and rice together and you’re not Japanese, watch out: the UPCWFCAV will have you skewered on social media or through indignant letters to the editor. If you dare pluck a balalaika and you’re not Russian, think of getting a Chinese-character tattoo and you’re not Chinese, make a taco and you’re not Mexican, wear dreadlocks and you’re not Jamaican, or admire a totem pole and you’re not First Nations… watch out. The UPCWFCAV will be on you in a flash.

But the UPCWFCAV aren’t made up of Japanese, Russian, Jamaican, First Nations or other natives protecting their culture from exploitation. They’re mostly white, urban (and suburban), leftish Westerners with too much time on their hands and hankering for a suitable cause in which to sink their well-maintained teeth and inject some meaning into their lives.
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WiFi hysteria again

Scared of wifiEvery so often, old crackpot ideas, hoaxes, cons and plainly silly pseudoscience resurface online under the guise of Trump-like alternate fact. Scary stories about chemicals in your food, fake health tips, and Facebook-stealing-your-photos nonsense compete for attention with actual news and factual stories. The old bromide about wireless signals (WiFi) killing things is just one to come back to life this week on Facebook.

(You already know Facebook isn’t a reliable source of anything factual, even though factual content does get shared now and then. More common are the wingnut conspiracies, hoaxes and codswallop, along with cute kitten videos. Facebook is the place where what was once called the fringe has a cozy place alongside the mainstream, and New Age charlatans prey on fears and fantasies.)

This latest story beings pread on FB comes from a UK site called “Stop Smart Meters” originally published in 2013. SSM is one of those wacky “all wireless is evil and the government is behind it” sites that thrive despite the overwhelming scientific research that debunks their crazy notions. Break out the tin foil hats. These sites are to electronics, physics and biology what the Food Babe is to nutrition and chemistry: bunkum.

While it’s easy to scoff at this as just a fringe community, it’s more tragic that usually reliable media sites and sources (like ABC News) picked up the story and reprinted is, uncritically, without analysis or examination. This only helps spread the bunk and give it a semblance of credibility, while diminishing that of the media itself. It’s worse when these articles use words like proof or proven alongside the conjectures, allegations and fantasies.

Whether they be about chemtrails, creationism, magic crystals, auras, ayurveda, homeopathy, angels, chakras, UFOs or anti-vaccination claptrap, these pseudoscience sites all feed off each other, spreading the viruses of ignorance and fear. They share one another’s stories as if publishing on one wingnut site gives the conspiracy credibility. And they have a huge, gullible audience who treat their version as gospel and any debunking as a Satanic attack. Plus, they usually have some magic potion or bean to sell you for protection against those things that go bump in the night…
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Antarctica’s icy hoaxes return

ClaptrapUnder the thick ice of Antarctica lies buried the remains of an advanced civilization, dating back 55,000-65,000 years. So startling was this discovery that world leaders were flown in to the perennially frozen continent to witness for themselves the proof of alien presence on our planet.

Or not. Well, really not. Not at all.

You don’t really believe that claptrap about Antarctica, do you? I tried to warn you about this malarky in 2013. It’s a hoax that just won’t die. Or rather a series of hoaxes.

No, there’s no buried civilization on the southern continent. Humans can barely survive there today with all the high-tech gear and clothing they bring. It’s been that way for the past 34 million years (its deep freeze began about 37 million years back and it’s been iced over the past 15 million).

By the time modern humans began to populate the planet, it was a solid mass of ice. It was even too hostile for the Neanderthals before us – had they even had the technology to reach it (they didn’t). The ice is as deep as 10,285 feet (3,135 meters) and covers 98% of the land. NO civilization now or earlier has built on its ground – only a handful of temporary shelters have ever been built and they rest on the ice.

No “flash frozen” remains of people and buildings have been found under the ice, human or otherwise. None. World leaders never visited archeological sites on the continent because there aren’t any. Nor are there “mysterious” structures or alien remains and there are no tanks or military units defending finds from curious eyes.

It’s all one of those wacky New Age alt-fact hoaxes that keep spreading online, the intellectual equivalent of herpes. This latest one – the flash-frozen archeological site – is from the mind (and I use that word loosely) of uber-wingnut Corey Goode, whose grasp on reality is somewhat shy of an infant’s grip on a car tire. But he has followers who hang on his every word, no matter how wacky and illogical his fantasies are. (and they are increasingly so… he believes there is an “Interplanetary Corporate Conglomerate” building bases down there and claims to have been abducted by “Sigmund from a USAF/DIA/NSA/NRO secret space program…”)

It’s easy to scoff and say this is just the fringe. Goode is clearly not playing with a full deck. You can guffaw and say that someone would have to be bonkers to believe this diaphanous piffle, but we’re a gullible society. You can’t take it for granted we are smart enough to spot a con job. We’re not. This stuff has to be debunked constantly so it doesn’t suck in more of the gullible.

Goode’s nutty notions about under-the-ice ruins are not alone. A story about an alleged “human settlement” found in the Antarctic under 2.3 km of ice keeps resurfacing (if you’ll forgive the pun) on social media and people still fall for it. But the clue to the hoax should have been readily apparent even to the hard of thinking. Look at this photo:
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Which do we need more?

Dialysis machineThink about all the many and varied kinds of equipment a hospital relies on to provide modern, efficient patient care today. It’s the sort of equipment we want – we NEED – our own hospital to have to provide us and our visitors with the best treatment possible, so none of us have to leave the region to get that care.

Try to imagine all the types of lifesaving and diagnosis equipment that we should have – not only new items, but replacement devices for when machines need service or repair. You can search online for information about hospital inventories and make your own list. But here are some ideas…

You would likely include devices like a dialysis machine, or modern diagnosis equipment like a CAT scanner. Or an ECG machine. A spirometer. A nebuliser. Vacuum autoclaves. Surgery couches. Examination lights. Ophthalmoscopes. Otoscopes. Oximeters, cauterizers, dopplers., ultrasound scanners. Ambulatory blood pressure monitors. EKG machines. Anesthesia machines, sterilizers, defibrillators, patient monitors, surgical lights, beds, X-Ray processors and viewers, gastroscopes, colonscopes, ventilators, pulsoximeter, oxygen concentrator, gynecology couch, delivery beds, fetal monitors, uterine aspiration kit, microscopes, blood analyzers, centrifuges…

And this is just a cursory sample. A modern hospital needs a huge array of equipment today. Every item is something someone will need, sometimes simply to survive.

Pile of reportsNow ask yourself, which does the hospital need more? Any of these devices, tools or machines – or a pile of paper? Which will best serve the needs of providing patient care? Which will save lives?

You see, the Block on Collingwood Council, and the town’s administration, don’t want the hospital to redevelop on the preferred site, a mere two-minute drive from the current site. And to make that location more difficult, this group have thrown up bureaucratic roadblocks and procedural hurdles. Delaying tactics. One of those is to demand more reports. More paperwork. Mostly unnecessary work for outside consultants, but costly stuff. Hundreds of thousands of dollars. And they want the hospital to pay for them.

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Ghostly claptrap

Ghosts are fakeDoes the Large Hadron Collider Actually Disprove Ghosts? That’s the question asked in a recent article posted on Gizmodo. Well, of course it doesn’t. The LHC doesn’t disprove invisible pink unicorns, either. It can’t disprove what doesn’t exist.

No matter how many wingnut websites promise to reunite you with your long lost loved ones (for a fee, of course), ghosts are all in your imagination. Along with goblins,orcs, vampires, werewolves, dragons, angels, fairies, demons, and, yes, invisible pink unicorns. Nothing the LHC does will change that.

Sure, ghosts make for great stories and allegories, add spice to religion and make charlatans rich. As literary figures go, they’re indispensable for whole genres of fiction and generally entertaining in the movies. But in the real world they join Harry Potter and chemtrails as imaginary creatures.

To be fair, the author of the article is using the words of someone else to extend his own thoughts on the stuff of the universe (as I am doing with his words as my own springboard). The actual source goes back to comments made by physicist Brian Cox, speaking on the BBC’s show, The Infinite Monkey Cage (listen here)

What Cox actually said was,

“If we want some sort of pattern that carries information about our living cells to persist then we must specify precisely what medium carries that pattern and how it interacts with the matter particles out of which our bodies are made. We must, in other words, invent an extension to the Standard Model of Particle Physics that has escaped detection at the Large Hadron Collider. That’s almost inconceivable at the energy scales typical of the particle interactions in our bodies.”

Cox’s point seems to be that if anything persists after death it would leave an energy trail and the LHC – its sensors being so good at identifying energy signatures – would have spotted it.

But no one is really looking for ghosts with the LHC. Nor should it be used for such frivolous purposes. It wasn’t designed to be used in some fake-reality TV show episode about the afterlife, one of those egregiously silly “ghost hunter” episodes. But if it were, and something was there that had any measurable energy, the LHC would very likely find it.

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Hoax: Five-meter giant skeletons

Fake, thanks Photoshop!Once again, the internet is being circulated with fake news that grabs the gullible by their grey matter. This time’s it’s a regurgitation of a 2014 hoax – then recycled in 2015- claiming the skeleton of a five-meter tall giant was unearthed in Australia. Accompanying the reports are risibly Photoshopped images that even a child could see are fakes.

As a report on Hoax-Slayer noted:

Supposedly, the skeleton was found near Uluru in central Australia and was 5.3 meters long. The report also claims that an ancient ‘megalithic civilisation’ has been discovered at the site.

You have to shake your head. The source of the bogus story this month (it’s spew, not “news”) is a site renowned for publishing egregious bullshit: World “News” Daily Report. The first photo shows not human remains, but those of a mammoth.

And the so-called, quoted Professor Reese? Or the quoted Professor Adam Goldstein? Or the alleged discoverer Hans Zimmer? More fiction. No such persons work or teach at the University of Adelaide, nor ever have. (Another Hans Zimmer is a composer, author of popular film music for Pirates of the Caribbean and Gladiator)

The WNDR has been publishing crap related to this stuff long before this. In 2013, it published a hoax piece about the “lost” Uluru civilization (Uluru is the native name for Ayer’s Rock) that was so outrageously phony that even the UK’s Daily Mail didn’t buy it. But that didn’t stop WNDR from regurgitating their codswallop – almost verbatim – again this month. In their recent story, the WNDR writers claim:

A team of archaeologists working for the Australian National University, who were proceeding to an excavation near the sandstone rock formation of Uluru, has unearthed the ruins of a large precolonial city dating back to more than 1500 years ago.

Claptrap. All of it fake. Not to be outdone, another of these fake story sites took the tale, even using the same photographs, and spun it all into a tale about a “lost” civilization found at El-Kurru in Sudan. hoping, I suppose, that the conspiracy theorists and New Age dimplebrains who feed off this crap wouldn’t look too closely.

But a lot of people do take it seriously; they share this stuff on social media without taking the time to check out the facts. They swallow the hoaxes whole. Just like our local council has done with the reports on Collus-PowerStream, but I won’t digress into that right now.
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Reading Moby Dick

Moby Dick big readRecently, coincidental to while I was reading Herman Melville’s classic novel, I read a story that some folks in Vancouver took offence to the name of a restaurant: Moby Dick’s Fish & Chips.

Apparently the property overseers mistook the “Dick” in the name for a euphemism for penis, rather than reading the name of the famous novel in the whole title. A wholly puerile response, I’m sure you can agree. Perhaps many people in Vancouver haven’t even heard of the book, let alone read it, otherwise why would anyone protest? Which is a much sadder statement that the one about political correctness gone wild that the news story makes. It exposes the threadbare fabric of the protesters’ cultural upbringing and education.

But despite these philistines, I finished the book. It took a long time because it’s a long book (more than 206,000 words) and not the easiest to read for several reasons. Not least is my absolute loathing of the whaling industry and the killing of sentient cetaceans. And frankly, my aversion to the whaling aspect had stymied my several previous attempts to finish the novel. But this time I persisted, and was rewarded for the effort.

It’s also difficult because of the way Melville wrote it (first published in 1851) – dense, florid, perambulating stuff. It’s not so much a novel as an extended meditation on sailing, the ocean, whales, whaling, ship technology, weather, natives of the South Seas, the commerce of Nantucket, American values, religion, life and fate. Among other things. He digresses often and at great length. But those digressions add such riches to the narrative that you can’t really bypass them.

Moby Dick is one of those many “must read before I die” books that I have on my bookshelves that I know are great milestones in literature, but have either not caught my prior interest or simply defeated my attempts in the past (I tend to read mostly non-fiction and a lot of it). Many of these titles I know somewhat of through synopses or abridgments, through other media like movies, or through my childhood favourite: Classic Comics. Moby Dick is one of those: I’ve seen the movie, read the comic, read it analyzed and dissected in other books.

A few years back I wrote a post on Melville’s poetry, inspired by reading his powerful poem, The Shark, which got me to thinking about him. Last year, I stood in the Melville Hotel, in Mazatlan, built in the 1870s, and named after the author who had stayed in the town in 1844. That also got me thinking about Melville again.

And finally, I was watching an episode of CSI on DVD, one day in 2016, and the character Gil Grissom, when asked what would he do if he had more time to live, replied he would read Moby Dick again. That stuck with me. It seemed incongruous, and I wondered what impelled the script writers to add that line; why that book. My curiosity was aroused, which encouraged me to finally pick up Moby Dick and not give it up.

Easier said than done (I read around a dozen books at a time, and flit from one to the other every day). But I had help. I came across Moby Dick: Big Read, a project to bring the novel back to prominence through art, and through a reading of its entirety.

All 135 chapters plus the epilogue are read by different people. Normally I don’t like my audiobooks read by such a diverse group, and prefer just one reader, but this worked marvellously well.

I read, I listened, I read some more. I sometimes read a chapter then listened to it. Sometimes I listened to one, but unable to complete it on my walks, returned to finish it through reading. Sometimes I listened then went back to read the words again simply to see if the rhythms were the same as when spoken.
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It’s Not a Wonderful Life

It's a Wonderful Life
I’m convinced many Americans – Donald Trump among them – think Frank Capra’s famous film, It’s a Wonderful Life, was a documentary, not entertainment. It has all the elements of Trumpist utopia: a white, Christian, unquestionably patriotic, male-dominated, patriarchal culture where the bad guy gets away with stealing from others, and making himself rich at everyone else’s expense. No one stops him and everyone still lives happily ever after.*

Married women in the film are mostly housewives; those women who work are secretaries and clerks while men are the bosses. There is little traffic: no hopped-up cars, no street racing, no motorcycles or biker gangs. Streets are broad and tree-lined; no apartments or highrises. The pretty downtown would be a heritage district today, frozen in time against modernization and change.

You don’t see teenagers loitering around coffee shops obsessed with their cell phones. Younger kids have jobs and even run businesses. There are no unions. Everyone dresses modestly, clothed from neck to ankle to wrist. Children appear in families without the messy, distracting business of sex (although there is a suggestive kiss in the film). There isn’t even a honeymoon for the newly married couple.

People of colour appear in it only as polite servants, employees or entertainers. From my count only five black people are in the film: the family servant, a couple in the high school dance scene (possibly the same couple who appear on the street in the background of a scene where George and Violet flirt), a delivery person who appears only in the final scene and a piano player in a honky tonk a la Fats Waller. Only Nora, the black servant, has any lines. The rest are mere background.

No Mexicans, Asians, Indians or other ethnicities. No Thai food restaurants or Chinese or Indian, no fast food drive-throughs. The downtown has no graffiti, no litter, no stray dogs or homeless people. You can drink and drive without consequences since the police are aw-shucks-just-folk torn from the set of Andy Griffiths’ Mayberry. There are no drugs, no drunks, no social housing. No strip clubs.

And of course it is watched over by a jovial, benevolent god who appoints a happy, somewhat feckless angel to make sure things go right.** George Bailey, secular at the start, learns to pray by the end. Every time you hear a bell, an angel gets its wings. No place in Bedford Falls for the unbeliever. Or the Jew. Or the Muslim. George prays, muttering his own version of Oh, Father, why hast Thou forsaken me? And he gets results. God is always on hand to absolve the faithful of their folly, just as long as they ask nicely. You don’t even need to believe, just make a show of doing so.

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