A place for new ideas to settle.

03 February 2016

Wednesday Links -- 3 February 2016

I'm a bit late ringing in the New Year, but ah well, it's an arbitrary calendar anyway. In this first links post of 2016, we have the flat-earth rapping controversy, drones versus eagles, mathematics versus conspiracy theories, the state of science fiction writing in the 21st century (aka "The Future") and lots more.

The Stranger sends a reporter to ask various psychics, channelers, and animal-telepaths about the coming year. That last one is worth checking out directly: she learned from an encounter crows and an owl how to protect her dreams!

The "aspiring rationalist" scene continues to demonstrate its crippling PR difficulties, this time in the New York Times. And I say that with a lot of sympathy.

The terror of 640x480 screen resolution, dial-up Internet, and watching a dessicated hand manipulate a computer mouse: Surfing For Seniors

(h/t Asher) You might have heard about rapper B.o.B. beefing with Neil deGrasse Tyson about whether or not the Earth is flat. (Spoiler: It ain't.) Well, surprise surprise, flat-earth conspiracy theories are pretty bound up in "THE JOOOOS" conspiracy theories, what this article calls "the digitizing of old-school antisemitism." I think old-school antisemitism is just one of several ideas gaining ahistorical traction on the Internet, sort of analogous to the resurgence of religiosity in the 1960s and 1970s, after ivory-tower types had declared the inevitable secularization of the West. Now the Internet is "the place where religion goes to die," maybe, but what if people just adopt a nihilistic attitude towards truth and ethics? Then you might see people ironic (sliding towards whole-heartedly) embracing conspiracy theories and old bigoted tropes...

Meanwhile the science writer for The Atlantic pushed out an article in praise of flat-earth theorists, claiming that they really exemplify the true spirit of scientific inquiry. Ah, no. Behold this journalistic embarrassment (archive.is link) here.

Network theory and urban hyenas: Among the Bone Eaters

Charlie Jane Anders at io9 on what it means to be a science fiction writer in the 21st century. I agree overall, but quibble on a few points—(1) Anders doesn't challenge the idea that 20th c. sf has "come true," which I think that is a misleading reduction of 20th c. sf; (2) I think sf is at its best when it's really weird, not "15 minutes into the future," because that discontinuity from the reader's reality forces them to understand the author's universe on its own terms... but I think I'll expand on these ideas in my review of Lester del Rey's 1979 history of science fiction.

Some very important differences between "capitalism" and "markets." Lots of people confuse and conflate the two terms (and "socialism" too!), regardless of whether they like or dislike the terms.

I knew John Conway was interesting but I didn't think he was this weird; amazingly weird. Sort of like the Ian Anderson of mathematics...? Maybe if you squint. John Conway: A Life In Games

Rebecca Goldstein, when asked by Edge.com what she thinks is the most important recent (scientific) news, relates this fascinating hypothesis about the gender gap in STEM fields: that the gap isn't among "STEM" fields exactly, but among all fields by how much success in that field is perceived to  be based in innate ability. So non-STEM fields like philosophy, music theory, and literary writing are at least as male-dominated. Of course, the perception is wrong wrong wrong wrong, but the hypothesis has interesting implications for how to close the gaps.

Cry havoc, and loose the hawks of war: Eagles are being trained to catch drones in the Netherlands

Is this a net benefit, or should we rend our garments at the imminent cyberpunk dystopia? I'm sure the writing style of this article doesn't help the former case that much: America's Oldest Mall Now Contains 48 Charming Low-Cost Micro-Apartments

A mathematical model to predict the expected failure time of "grand conspiracies"? Be still my heart!

01 February 2016

REVIEW: "National Sunday Law" -- Sighs and wonders

Most people, if they get some piece of obvious proselytizing literature in the mail, will probably throw it out. Not I! When life gives you weird tat, make weird-tat-ade, I always say. This time I'm looking at the Seventh-Day Adventist conspiracy theory about a "national Sunday law," which is one of the weirder End Times prophecies I've heard about. Also the author made some bizarre stylistic choices, which makes everything more "fun." Let's dive in!

This post is a partial follow-up to: "Let no man deceive you by any means..."; Looking forwards, getting it backwards; A marriage of heaven and hucksterism

I.
 
My friend Milo got a book in the mail. It's called National Sunday Law, and was written by Seventh-Day Adventist minister Jan Marcussen. 7DA is absolutely obsessed with Bible prophecy (ironic, perhaps, given that the whole church formed as a direct result of failed Bible prophecy) so you can imagine my utter lack of surprise when I learned Marcussen's religious provenance. In fact, this wasn't my first rodeo with the 7DA Endtimes circus: I attended a few of their "lectures" in Bellingham because I just can't say no to a crappily-Photoshopped poster advertising Armageddon.

This is my first review of outright fringe/conspiracist literature, so I'm going to have to clarify what it would mean if I "recommend" something of this type as worth reading.

Once we've identified a book as conspiracist or fringe or generally kooky, its chief merit comes in how freshly kooky the contents are. I've written before about how pseudoscience is actually kinda boring most of the time—most often it's a recapitulation of common failure modes in human thinking, filtered through cultural lenses. It's not a coincidence that UFO contactee stories sound similar to older stories about saints being taken up by angels to view the kingdom (or bureaucracy) of Heaven and the terrible punishments of Hell—and not because "it's all true," either.

So I want some novelty in my nuttiness.

II.

Now I will share a collection of the best quotes from National Sunday Law. There's really no better way to experience the crazy. I should note that the quotes are all taken as-is. The book is just that poorly typed.
Dust-filled people - like mummies
The first of many strange similes, metaphors, and analogies in this book.
A prominent author from a hundred years ago, speaks of "the mystery of her [the United States'] coming forth from a vacancy," and adds, "like a silent seed we grew into an empire."
Uh huh.
Millions of Americans, hooked on marijuana, "crack," heroin, and other chemicals, peer at the world through differing degrees of "goony eyes," and further appall society with their resultant behavior and crimes.
Spoiler alert: the scare quotes around "crack" show that this book hasn't been updated (121 printings notwithstanding) since the 1980s. All the citations that aren't from the Bible are no more recent than 1989—and that includes "recent reports" and so on.
A U.S. senate subcommittee revealed that in one decade violence witnessed on T.V. skyrocketed and delinquency in real life grew nearly 200%!
That was in the 1960s, if you check the references. It's now 2016.
Prostitutes, homosexuals, and drug addicts share AIDS with the innocent.
AIDS panic, check!
A group of them, LIFE magazine reported, lying on the floor in a circle, and summoning some of their last remaining strength - laughed in sequence.
I tried looking for the "January 1988" issue of LIFE magazine where this report allegedly appeared, but I got nothin'.
Crime doubles every ten years.
No it doesn't. Another artifact of the 1980s.
They could slap Him [Jesus Christ] in the face and press a crown of thorns onto that holy brow; they could beat Him until His back was like raw meat, but they couldn't rob Him of His royal right to forgive the chief of sinners. Wonderful Jesus!
There's more than a little Crucifixion/Passion fetishism throughout the book, it's a bit creepy.
Some years ago, a man in Chicago claimed that he was the man child! Could he have been?

Hardly.
I have no idea what this is supposed to be referencing, if anything.
When the Roman empire collapsed, ten divisions resulted.
The first of our badhistory (if you're not counting Bible prophecy as eligible for the name, otherwise this is example #1,000,000 probably) rears its erroneous head. Supposedly it's ten divisions, one for each barbarian tribe... except that there's no consensus on how many different tribes of Germanic peoples there were. Oops.

It's catnip for end-times prophecy junkies, though, as seen in this Google search.
In 538 A.D. the pope took possession of the city after the emperor decreed that he should be head of all the Christian churches.
I think this is mostly inaccurate, also there's an ambiguity to the pronoun. According to Wikipedia (which is probably at least 50x more accurate than National Sunday Law) it was the Byzantine Emperor who basically took over the church and insisted that he confirm all elections for bishops and patriarchs.
Don't be fooled by thinking that the "beast" is a computer in Europe somewhere. That's only a smoke screen to get people off the track that the Bible points out.
The "barcode-scanner/RFID is a ploy by Satan" conspiracy is a ploy by Satan!
[Referring to Belshazzar's feast in the book of Daniel] What a scene!
One of several phrases that make me think of the Spire Christian Comics version of Archie.
Alexander had conquered the world. But he hadn't conquered himself. At a drunken debauch he drank the Herculean cup full of alcohol. [...] He drank it twice! And it killed him. Alexander died with a raging fever at the age of 33. The year - 323 B.C.
Wiki says it was probably disease, not booze, that killed him; but assassination-by-poisoning can't be ruled out, since the Macedonian aristocracy was apparently super fond of that.
Isn't Bible prophecy fantastic!
In a matter of speaking, yeah, it's "fantastic."
From 538 A.D. the Papacy ruled for exactly 1260 years, until 1798 when something incredible happened. The pope was taken prisoner! Napoleon's general, Berthier, captured the pope and took him to France! He later died.

A deadly wound. The Papacy had reigned exactly 1260 years. Could it have just been coincidence?
Well, yes, because the "1260 years" 'prophecy' comes from a lot of numerological voodoo based on weird interpretations of "day" and "time" from the book of Daniel. But also, even that date range is faulty: there have been many, many significant challengers to the Pope-in-Rome's authority, and moreover the Papacy had been moved to France before!
The 1260 years of the Papacy's rule are called the "dark ages." I'm sure you've heard that expression before. The reason it was so dark is because the priests forbade anyone to read or even have a Bible! For hundreds of years only the priests were allowed to read Bibles.
 Protestant Reformation don't real, apparently. Now, the issue of Bible-reading in the Catholic Church is a confusing one. Certainly it's a common belief that the Church was slow to translate the Bible into anything but Latin... except that the Church did issue sanctioned English Bibles (mostly in response to Tyndale's Protestant version) so yeah.
As you begin to keep God's Sabbath [i.e. Saturday] holy, it becomes a delight. Sweet peace and joy fill your heart.
I mean, I also like Saturday. Rebbecca Black likes Saturday. But jeez.
All ten [commandments] stand or fall together, because it's a sweet love relationship between you and God. [...] It's like two lovers - it's either all or nothing.
I have no idea what that second sentence means.
Because of these ["health laws" in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14], God's people were the healthiest people in the world! [...] Since our stomachs and bodies are the same as theirs, those who follow these wise, and scientific health laws today also reap delightful benefits. They just don't get the terrifying cancer, heart attack, etc. like others.
 [citation needed]
Nations have been talking "peace" while preparing for "high tech" war.
??? Possibly referencing the "Star Wars" defense program? (Remember, this book was actually written in the 1980s.)
This very book may be one method God has chosen for you to learn these fantastic facts! It's no coincidence that you are reading it now.
Yes, you, CURRENT RESIDENT!
First let me say that I love my country. I just got back from Europe, and it's great to be back. But this is what God's word says.
The author has been "just getting back from Europe" for decades now.
Believe it or not, in Virginia, my home state, it's already been done - - I mean a mandatory Sunday law - and the death sentence!
He's citing the law of the old Virginia colony, from 1610. Who knows if it's still on the books, but we have other laws (supreme laws, like the First Amendment) that would shut that shit right down.

Incidentally, Sunday laws (aka "blue laws") are definitely stupid crypto-theocratic bullshit, and lots of places have them, and they've been upheld by courts unto the modern day, which is dumb. National Sunday Law is dumber though.
I.D. cards, numbers - something like this will allow the followers of the national Sunday law to buy and sell.
Never let a good conspiracy theory go to waste!
According to the Greeley poll, one in four Americans have tried to contact the dead! And half of the widows in America and Iceland admit to communication with the dead"[4] [sic] {If they only knew who and what they were talking with, they might faint!}
Oh yeah, seances are totally real in the mind of the 7DAs, except that all successful seances are actually communion with demonic spirits, which are also real. I have no idea why it's American and Iceland, of all places.

III.

Now the extended description of the End Times. I think this is notable for its literalness. Most Bible-prophecy folks try to at least sound realistic: World War III, nuclear holocaust, or something, with the purely supernatural stuff thrown in at the very end. But not National Sunday Law:
All of a sudden the news breaks - the waters have turned to blood! [...]
Have you ever seen the blood of a dead man? It coagulates into a jelly mass. Those who have hated God's people [e.g., the Seventh Day Adventists] have tried to shed their blood. Now, picture them in the pain of their feverish boils turning on their faucets for some relief, and out comes the oozing "blood of a dead man."
The End Times of Revelation is (perhaps unsurprisingly) Hell on Earth for those who aren't anointed by God. Why don't they repent at this pretty effing obvious demonstration of supernatural power? Because they're proud of their sin, or something.
Now something unbelievable happens. The atmospheric layer that shields the earth from the scorching heat fails.
So like the opening sequence of Thundarr the Barbarian? Cool!
Everything in nature goes haywire. The mountains shake like reeds in the wind. [...] Ragged rocks are hurled in every direction. The sea is lashed into fury. The earth heaves and swells. Its surface is breaking apart. Mountain chains sink. Islands disappear. Wicked cities that have become like Sodom and Gomorrah are swallowed up by tidal waves. Great hailstones, each "about the weight of a talent" are wreaking havoc. A talent is about 63 pounds. You can see that these, like cannon  balls, will beat the wicked cities to a pulp.
"Man's civilization is cast in ruins. Two thousand years later, Earth is reborn! A strange new world rises from the old; a world of savagery, super-science, and sorcery!" Thundarr 1:5-8
I sincerely believe that there's no way for you to read these amazing truths of God's word without having a deep longing to follow Christ all the way and have a part in His glorious kingdom. I know that you will never have read this unusual book this far unless you had a real interest in learning truth and following Jesus all the way.
The author seems to lack the concept of "voyeurism."

IV.

National Sunday Law is not a good book. At best it's an above-average fringe book.

You can find it for free online, not just for free in your mailbox, at websites of various levels of Timecube design sensibility. Major props to whoever got it listed on Amazon under the "Books > Religion & Spirituality > New Age & Spirituality > Wicca, Witchcraft & Paganism > Paganism" section (where it's #110!), that's some high-effort trolling there.

Praise Thundarr.