7 things @ 11 o’clock (7.4)

1. Robert Morrison of the Family Research Council says marriage equality must be denied to same-sex couples because the Pioneer Plaque clearly shows that humans from Earth come only in pairs of one male and one female.

The odd spectacle of a religious right culture-warrior praising these plaques, which were designed by Carl Sagan, has me thinking of a new theory to explain the Fermi paradox. Maybe the nude figures on that plaque have led to some sort of inter-stellar boycott of Earth by some sanctimoniously prudish intergalactic equivalent of One Million Moms.

In any case, I like the Voyager Golden Record better. So here’s Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground.”

2. For many Americans, today is a holiday, but some of you may still be stuck at work, so here are three personal accounts to make you perhaps feel better about the day you’re having. (At least, I hope you’re having a better day than this.)

• Jason Martin’s Very Bad Day: getting struck by lightning.

• Steve Rankin’s Very Bad Day: getting bitten by a Fer-de-Lance.

• Paul Templer’s Very Bad Day: getting chomped and swallowed by a hippopotamus.

3. And for those stuck at work, here’s an excellent time-waster. Marginal Revolution asks “What’s the most intellectual joke you know?” Read the whole comment thread. Here’s a taste:

Two economists walk past a Porsche showroom. One of them points at a shiny car in the window and says, “I want that.” The other one says, “Obviously not.”

4. Following yesterday’s robust, interesting discussion of psychics and fraudulent psychics, and the extent of the overlap in a Venn diagram of those two categories, let’s further complicate things by mixing in Orson Welles’ discussion of “the shut-eye” and his theory that this may explain much of what we experience as premonitions or intuitive leaps:

Welles’ analogy of the hotel clerk is an apt description, I think, of what is usually at work in what we refer to as “hunches.” That, in turn, suggests that the best response to a “hunch” may be to work backwards, rather than forwards. Instead of setting out to find evidence to support our hunch, we should try to identify the unconsciously calculated evidence that led to our having the hunch in the first place. Figure out where it came from before trying to figure out where it leads.

Welles, I think, was trying to be skeptical without being dismissive. (Since I share his skepticism, I’m unable to judge how well he succeeded at that.) I don’t wish to be dismissive either, but thus far my reason and my experience haven’t given me any grounds for anything other than skepticism when it comes to psychic phenomena. That raises an interesting question: What would it take to change my mind about that? I’m not sure, so let me ask you. If, like me, you’re skeptical of the existence of psychic phenomena, what would it take to change your mind? (Besides seeing someone cashing their $1 million check from The Amazing Randi.)

(This also raises a less-interesting, but apparently irresistible, question as to how I can be skeptical about X but, some would say, so enthusiastically credulous about Y. The short answer has to do with faith, hope and love, and with the extent to which the latter two provide a sufficient basis for the first one.)

5. Brian McLaren points us to the protest songs page from the One Campaign. Some terrific covers there. Don’t miss Mumford and Sons & Elvis Costello performing a mashup of Springsteen’s “Ghost of Tom Joad” and Woody Guthrie’s “Do-Ra-Mi.” I also really liked Alison Moyet’s take on “Shipbuilding.” Here’s a favorite of mine from a band that ought to be included in One’s list — Midnight Oil, because the whole Pete Seeger acoustic-guitar thing is great, but sometimes you also need a big, scary, bald Aussie Jeremiah shouting his heart out from a flatbed truck in front of Exxon’s corporate headquarters.

6. We now have another 6,000 pages of documents revealing how Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan handled allegations of the sexual abuse of children when he led the Diocese of Milwaukee. He transferred priests and transferred funds, and then, as Andrew Sullivan writes, “he seems to be able to lie about all of it – in the face of massive evidence – with nary a flicker of hesitation.”

What Dolan did in Milwaukee is shameful, but not as shameful as what he didn’t do there. He was willing to bend the law to try to protect the church’s assets and the Church’s reputation, but he doesn’t seem to have been much concerned with protecting the Church’s children.

7. Love and justice are both more than reciprocity, but they cannot be less than reciprocity. Or, to put it another way, turn-about may not precisely be fair play, but turning things about can be a useful way of highlighting unfair play that needs to be corrected. It’s the Golden Rule or the Miley Principle.

That’s all still too abstract. What I mean to say is that Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner is pretty fantastic:

Before getting a prescription for Viagra or other erectile dysfunction drugs, men would have to see a sex therapist, receive a cardiac stress test and get a notarized affidavit signed by a sexual partner affirming impotency, if state Sen. Nina Turner has her way.

The Cleveland Democrat introduced Senate Bill 307 this week.

A critic of efforts to restrict abortion and contraception for women, Turner says she is concerned about men’s reproductive health. …

Under Senate Bill 307, men taking the drugs would continue to be tested for heart problems, receive counseling about possible side effects and receive information about “pursuing celibacy as a viable lifestyle choice.”

“Even the FDA recommends that doctors make sure that assessments are taken that target the nature of the symptoms, whether it’s physical or psychological,” Turner said. “I certainly want to stand up for men’s health and take this seriously and legislate it the same way mostly men say they want to legislate a woman’s womb.”


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  • tricksterson

    Or siblings and/ spouses. Which might be perfectly okay with an alien race. Which reminds me of one of Spider Robinson’s Callahan Stories where they meet a genocidal alien who was exiled from his race for being a pervert. One of the barfolk calls the alien a “shit-eating motherfucker” to which the alien replies, “Actually, it’s part of my perversion that I’m neither”.

  • Marshall

    I don’t know anything about your experience except what you put in your post, and I didn’t say anything about your experience except what you put in your post. So I guess you aren’t reading me right, or at least not according to my intention.

    Certainly there is stuff about Magnetism that is not well understood. Nature is bigger than our understanding of it. I think “supernatural” is rather an oxymoron … if “psychic powers” (and so on) exist, then they would be “within nature”. It seems to me that labeling phenomena, or apparent phenomena, as “supernatural” is often a way of avoiding thinking about it.

    “Explanations” are not the beginning and end of wisdom. Newton’s “explanation” of gravity was not at all what we understand these days, but as a “description” is was excellent, of great practical value. Just because the explanation is bogus doesn’t mean that the observation is.

    I suppose I did extrapolate from your comment above and others on this blog that you think people who believe in “psychic powers” are either batshit or bullshiters. If you do think that people who claim to posses Gifts are reasonable people doing their best, then I do apologize for misapprehension and can’t we have a nice discussion? (BTW, your typo … or a spellcheck burp for ‘expect’? … is what showed up in my reader. I did think it was funny, Freudian-like. I apologize for giving in to childishness.)

    I understand that you meant that social work is stressful, as indeed it is, calls for considerable self-sacrifice. I meant at one time I spent hundreds of dollars on 50-minute talk sessions with people with good academic training and certification from the state. Some were worth it; some were not. I think maybe the difference is whether the “therapist” was willing to let him/herself really care about me, and whether they had the Gift of human insight.

  • Marshall

    What can “heal the world” is the ability to look at a cheerful woman in a bright pink dress and see her pain, and the courage and skill to intervene. What to call that insight, courage, and skill is at best secondary, but labeling it “psychic” or “supernatural” as an excuse to marginalize it and throw it in the trash is not helpful.

  • Lori

    There is a difference between a thing which is not entirely understood and a thing which violates what we understand. Questions about magnetism and a number of other things, fall into the former category. Most claims about psychic phenomena are the latter. That doesn’t change no matter how many times you capitalize the “g” in gift.

    I have never seen anything that lead me to believe that actual psychic powers exist. I don’t categorically deny the possibility, but I have yet to see it. What I have seen is quite a number of claims of psychic phenonina that could actually be explained by quite ordinary means. I’m open to that changing, but don’t expect it to.

    I think some people who claim to have Gifts are willfully lying. I think many others are simply unaware that they are unconsciously doing exactly what I was doing consciously—-obtaining information by picking up cues that most people overlook or can’t interpret accurately and then using that information to glean more information from the subject of the “reading”.

    Some therapists are good, some are not. I don’t think that says all that much about the value of psychic services.

  • Lori

    caryjamesbond and I aren’t the ones labeling the skills “psychic” or “supernatural”. Quite the contrary, we’re calling them perfectly natural. I’m certainly not marginalizing the skill or throwing it in the trash. Again, I trained to make it my career and have great admiration of many of the people who have the same skill and use it in various helping professions.

    The skill to see see that the woman in the bright pink dress is in mourning is separate from the skill and willingness to intervene in a way that’s actually helpful, as opposed to useless or harmful.

    The ability to see others’ pain can just as easily be used to harm as to help. It’s the courage, skill and caring that really matter, not the insight in and of itself IMO we spend way too much time and energy on the supposed ability to see things via extraordinary means and not nearly enough cultivating the will and ability to help.

  • Certainly there is stuff about Magnetism that is not well understood.

    Oh, please don’t start with this crap.

    Maxwell’s Equations describe it on the macro-scale quite well, and as far as the quantum mechanical treatment goes, trust me when I say it’s been proven that quantum electrodynamics is more than up to the task.

  • caryjamesbond

    Am I missing something about bright pink dresses here?

    Yeah, being able to look at someone and see that they’re suffering is a useful skill. It’s empathy, which has some fascinating studies being done on it right now.

    Our best guess is that it involves literally arranging your mind into the same state as theirs- for a moment, you sort of become them. To a certain degree, obviously- but its the reason we all- men and women- tend to wince when we see someone get hit in the balls, for a moment we’re putting ourselves entirely into their shoes, to very nearly the point of sympathetic pain.

    There’s nothing…..extra….about that. It’s a useful survival skill for an animal that lives in packs to have. Undoubtedly there is something similar in wolves, but probably not in bears.

    Regardless- however much it helps our hypothetical pink dressed woman, that isn’t healing the world. If you can do it seven billion times in a row in less than your lifetime, you’d make a solid START at healing the world.

    The world is very big, and we are very small. And the simple fact is, as the old joke goes- we still use traditional medicine. We just took the part of it that worked, called it “medicine” and went to work on improving it. All the other stuff is just….woo.

  • caryjamesbond

    if “psychic powers” (and so on) exist, then they would be “within nature”. It seems to me that labeling phenomena, or apparent phenomena, as “supernatural” is often a way of avoiding thinking about it.

    Lots of people spend lots of time focused on psychic powers and the supernatural. Hell, Newton was more an alchemist than a scientist. The Amazing Randi has an entire organization that does nothing but go around testing peoples claims to psychic abilities. Psychology LOVES psychics, because they’re extremely good at demonstrating the power of the subconscious.

    Nature is what we can test, observe, and replicate. Science has numbers and statistics and double blind experiments and results that are significantly above the background noise of happenstance. Anything that doesn’t fall within those parameters is just…..woo. If it makes you happy, go woo all you like. But don’t pretend its because science is ignoring your special claims of specialness.

  • Lori

    It’s a reference to the story Orson Welles told in the interview Fred linked to.

  • Fusina

    Titles?? Net locations to read?? More info?? I would like to read this series.

  • Space Marine Becka

    Back again with less rage inducing news because I know some other UK peeps hang out here.

    Labour have forced a parliamentary debate on Wednesday 10th July to demand a culmulative impact assessment on Welfare Reform. http://liambyrne.co.uk/?p=4534

    For information on why we need one see here http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/what-is-overall-impact-of-cuts-to.html

    Then if you live in the UK please contact your MP with the evidence and ask him to vote for the assessment. You can look them up and mail them for free via the http://www.writetothem.com/ website.

    Also please signal boost this everywhere we need to reach as many UK peeps as possible because we don’t have much time.


  • Space Marine Becka

    It could happen if the LibDems grow a spine and break the coalition

  • BaseDeltaZero

    Eh, sorry, it’s just an idea. I might end up writing stuff at some point, but it’s hard to know when…

  • Fusina

    Now that is just mean. ;-) Get someone all excited about a novel and it doesn’t exist yet. I mean, I haven’t run out of books yet, but I like to keep a pretty full new TBR pile–nothing like knowing that you have a huge supply of books you get to read for the first time, along with the pile of well loved TBR books.

  • EvilKate discussed the concept of Intuitive Savants, which could go a long way to explaining how something that looks like ESP could simply be an extremely good ability to integrate together information normally glossed over or discarded in mental processing about another person.

  • An alternative explanation could come from the concept put forth by EvilKate, where she discusses “Intuitive Savants”.

    Such people could appear to exhibit ESP when in actual fact they are capable of integrating information about other people which an average person would mentally discard as unimportant.

  • Darn you, I was on the verge of saying something along these lines.

    I’m generally an agnostic in most matters. In a blog about a religion where a supernatural being snapped his fingers and made matter from nothing (not even transformation of energy!), where discussions of miracles happens every so often, psychic powers feel pretty tame by comparison. I discount neither, but neither am I convinced of either.

    I do, however, think that much of what is taught about the subconscious mind is supposition, including the idea that it exists and what we’ve anthropomorphized as a blend of rational and irrational thinking isn’t just neurotransmitters doing the hokey pokey in the synaptic cleft.

    But we know there’s something to the idea of an autonomous, poorly understood level of mental functioning because there are things the brain does for which we still have no adequate explanation. What governs dreams? What makes them happen? What decides what goes into their content? What causes mental disorders? We can’t cause them at will, nor cure them by pointing out where a person’s life went wrong or why it’s not all bad. Do they really even exist, or are they just neurotransmitters acting whacky because of some imperceptible flaw in a protein somewhere vital?

    At the very least, my belief is that the cognitive abilities attributed to various psionics (postcognition, precognition, thought reading) are the subconscious, for reasons we cannot guess, activating savant levels of cognitive processing and fitting together data that the conscious mind automatically filters out, then makes an intuitive leap. If this happens and draws a successful conclusion enough times, a person is liable to think they’re drawing upon something preternatural. If it happens and draws incorrect conclusions, the person learns to dismiss that irrational part of their mind that keeps insisting Miss Paisly, their kindergarten teacher, is secretly having an affair with at least two married men.

    There are other things I’m still trying to put into coherent words too. We know that various marine life (and platypodes and echidnas) have a sixth sense allowing them to detect electrical fields, possibly even as fine-tuned as to be capable of detecting the magnetic field of the Earth itself. A common experiment among kids when I was growing up was to hold their hands close together and see if they could feel the other person without actually touching them — there may be a connection between these ideas. What if a human were, at intervals, capable of making an intuitive leap about someone’s well-being based entirely on a part of their brain detecting a change in their electromagnetic field? How would one even articulate sensing such a thing without making a jump to psychic powers?

  • Not sure if documented, but ISTR that birds and some worms orient themselves using the Earth’s magnetic field.

  • Marshall

    I am glad we have come to a place of agreement.

  • Marshall

    Oh, “Intuitive Savants” sounds much more reasonable than “People with Psychic Powers”. Since we already understand everything, that must be it.

  • It simply has a more obvious physico-psychological explanation that does not require invoking nonreproducible powers.

  • I’ve gotten a few free readings, and one of the best was from someone who didn’t believe that card reading meant anything at all. Because they didn’t believe and didn’t expect anyone else involved to believe in what they were doing, and because they didn’t care about the traditional meanings of the various symbols, they felt free to engage in a very detailed and wildly imaginative interpretation of the cards. And their detailed metaphors turned out to be more useful to me than any of us had any right to expect.

  • dpolicar

    This is a very useful technique, incidentally, completely without reference to tarot cards or divination more generally. We often know a lot more than we are aware of knowing, and reframing a problem can often bring that knowledge to bear more effectively. I often find writing poetry useful in the same way.

  • hf

    There should be a rule against quoting this in a discussion of allegedly supernatural phenomena.


    My love for you does call me to avenge your death,

    but greater crimes have I heard told this night.

    If all those murdered go to Hell, and others as well,

    who would have confess’d had they the time,

    If people who are, in balance, good, suffer grisly

    at the hands of God, then I defy God’s plan.

    Good Ghost, as one who dwells beyond the veil,

    you know things that we mortals scarce conceive.

    Tell me: is there some philter or device,

    outside nature’s ken but not outside her means,

    by which death itself may be escap’d?


    You seek to evade Hell?


    I seek to deny Hell to everyone!

    and Heaven too, for I suspect the Heaven of our mad God

    might be a paltry thing, next to the Heaven I will make of

    when I am its immortal king.


    Done. When my brother is slain, he who poured the poison in my ear,

    then will I pour in yours the precious truth:

    the making of the Philosopher’s Stone. With this Stone, thou may’st procure

    a philter to render any man immune to death, and more transmute

    base metal to gold, to fund the provision of this philter to all mankind.


    Truly there is nothing beyond the dreaming of philosophy.


    The man whom I must kill-my uncle the king?


    Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast,

    With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts-


    Indeed, he has such gifts I near despair,

    of killing him and yet succeeding to his throne.

    ’twill be an awesome fight for awesome stakes.

    Hast thou advice?

    A cock crows. Exit Ghost.

    -“A Will Most Incorrect to Heaven: The Tragedy of Prince Hamlet and the Philosopher’s Stone”

  • Drives me nuts that they released it as “The Tragedy of Prince Hamlet and the Sorcerer’s Stone” over here.