Propaganda and UFOs in Movies and Television


Propaganda and UFOs in Movies and Television with Comments from Robbie Graham

Big bucks are spent manipulating belief systems via the big screen.

In the novel ‘1984’, author George Orwell described life under a totalitarian regime in which a disingenuous Ministry of Truth regularly rewrote history to effectively promote the state. It might therefore be considered darkly ironic that the Central Intelligence Agency changed the ending to the movie version of the story. The change portrayed a less morally defeated main character than contained in the book and against the specific instructions of Orwell. The CIA apparently did not want movie goers to think Big Brother was all that bad.

That was the case according to Frances Stonor Saunders, author of the 2000 book, ‘The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters’. Stonor Saunders further reported the CIA purchased the film rights to Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ following his death in 1950. Agents were dispatched to visit Orwell’s widow and secure the rights so the Agency could present a more overtly anti-Communist message than the author saw fit to do in his original classic novel. Orwell used a tale of political unrest among animals on a farm to metaphorically suggest the fundamental difference between greedy, power hungry capitalists and greedy, power hungry Communists was impossible to discern, a point that seemed to have sat no better with the actual CIA than it might have sat with the fictional Ministry of Truth.
It is clear the media is used for propaganda purposes. The sources of such propaganda may represent a wide range of individuals and organizations, and the range of motives may be just as broad.

UFO censorship and propaganda
A review of such events in ufology might quickly turn our attention to insights provided by researcher Robbie Graham. A self-described independent scholar, Graham reports on such topics as processes by which Hollywood’s UFO movie content is shaped and the resulting impact on popular perception. According to his Blogger profile, Graham holds a Masters degree with Distinction in Cinema Studies from the University of Bristol and a First Class Honours degree in Film, Television and Radio Studies from Staffordshire University. He maintains the blog ‘Silver Screen Saucers’, has contributed content and interviews to numerous venues, and has collaborated on research projects with Matthew Alford. Their work includes a 2011 paper titled, ‘A History of Government Management of UFO Perceptions through Film and Television’, which presents many items of potential interest.

One such item involved a 1958 CBS broadcast in which the network subsequently admitted it was subjected to official censorship. During a televised discussion about UFOs in which military officers participated, the microphone of U.S. Navy Major Donald Keyhoe was cut. The major was muted when he made apparently unapproved statements, including suggesting UFOs were real machines under intelligent control. Nine days later, CBS director of editing, Herbert A. Carlborg, acknowledged that “pre-determined security standards were in place” and that deviations thereof were not authorized for release, resulting in the censorship.

Graham and Alford inform us that during the 1980’s the Department of Defense assisted in the production of a UFO fantasy film for children, ‘Invaders from Mars’. The DoD granted full cooperation, including providing Major Fred Peck and Chief Warrant Officer Chas Henry of the Los Angeles Public Affairs Office to assist the director. What’s more, a retired public affairs officer, Captain Dale Dye, prepared extras for the film.

There are many such examples. Government agencies clearly have certain levels of interest in productions involving UFO-related subject matter and controlling public perception of alleged alien space travelers. The history is long and well documented.

Some of the more recent events on the time-line include the splash Chase Brandon made in 2012 when he cannonballed into the deep end of the pool of ufology. Described by Graham and Alford as a 35-year veteran of the CIA, Brandon was apparently employed for some 25 years in undercover covert operations prior to his assignment in 1996 as an Entertainment Liaisons Officer. He was then involved for ten years in shaping film scripts, characters and concepts.

Brandon also claimed he knew about an official cover-up of alien bodies retrieved from Roswell or some such stuff. Such circumstances arguably give added meaning to the now classic line from ‘The Wizard of Oz’, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

Just how influential are intelligence agencies in manipulating UFO-related film scripts, info presented in documentaries and so on? “Very influential,” Graham informed me via email, but that is by no means to suggest Hollywood is entirely controlled by the powers that be, because of course it is not.

“Whatever effect UFO movies have on our perceptions of the phenomenon,” Graham continued, “it is largely the result of a natural cultural process whereby Hollywood creatives feed off of existing UFO literature and debate, and incorporate these ideas into their narratives. Just because a film contains specialized UFOlogical detail does not mean it has been produced at the behest of the US government for acclimation or disinformation purposes. More often than not, it means the screenwriter has read one or more books on UFOs or watched some documentaries on the subject and thought it would be cool to incorporate some of these ideas into a fictional story.

“That said, and as Matthew Alford and I showed in our peer reviewed article, the US government and military have demonstrated a very keen interest in Hollywood’s UFO output since the early years of the phenomenon and have, on occasion, monitored and successfully interfered in the production process of UFO-themed movies and documentaries. So, is there a Hollywood UFO conspiracy? Yes and no.”

Motives
Identifying motives for the vast majority of investors in film and other forms of media is simple enough. Some want to increase public awareness of topics in which they have personal interests. Some are artists and support the arts. Many, of course, desire to profit from their financial investments.

In the case of government manipulation of media and resulting perceptions about UFOs, motives become more difficult to conclusively identify. The fact such manipulation occurs is clear enough, but precisely why it happens is the subject of debate.

Some would argue a gradual disclosure of an alien presence is taking place. Others would disagree, suggesting such a gradual disclosure is highly unlikely for reasons including it has seemingly been crawling along at a snail’s pace for over 60 years.

Others still would suggest government interference in the Hollywood-portrayed UFO phenomenon might be indicative of efforts to cover up an alien presence – not disclose it. Arguments to this effect commonly include citing circumstances of official censorship of potentially relevant events. Those who support such theories and the extraterrestrial hypothesis also tend to suggest the topic is intentionally made to appear silly in an official attempt to devalue its likelihood and oppress serious public consideration.

Yet others argue government manipulation of public perceptions about UFOs might be due to it being a scam – that select members of the powers that be actually want us to believe in a nonexistent alien presence. Supporters of this school of thought suggest the intelligence community finds it advantageous to conduct some of its covert operations, such as certain projects involving advanced aircraft or psychological experiments, within the confusion and resulting cover provided by an alien meme. Some suspect the intelligence community has essentially perpetrated an alien hoax for numerous advantageous reasons.

Perhaps the truth is found somewhere among and between such possibilities, not entirely within or without any of them. Perhaps certain events indeed involve circumstances that confound many of us, but in reality have nothing whatsoever to do with interplanetary spaceships or their alleged occupants, interesting and fascinating as correct explanations might actually be. And perhaps sometimes the intelligence community indeed manipulates perception of such circumstances for many reasons.

Robbie Graham on UFOs in the movies
“Feature films and documentaries influence our opinions about pretty much everything, including UFOs,” Graham explained, “to a very great extent indeed. Outside of the UFO community – which is relatively very small – almost no one reads factual UFO literature (and most UFO literature isn’t very ‘factual’ anyway). For most people, ideas about UFOs and potential ET life come via TV and cinema – either in the form of ‘factual’ documentary series (such as ‘Ancient Aliens’, for example), or, more traditionally, through the fantastical imaginings of Hollywood creatives. TV and cinema are, without question, the two biggest ‘spoons’ feeding us ideas about UFOs and ET life.”

Graham suggested cinema is more powerful than television, lingering much longer in the memory. He gives television its due in cultural influence, but described cinema as having a mystical ability to completely detach us from our physical environments while creating a vivid realm of perception.

“But regardless of the medium through which they are screened, movies can pack a punch that we feel for weeks, months, or even years afterward. The power of the story – of storytelling – is primal, and essential. Movies, in their slick, neatly packaged, self-contained way, serve to narrativize the frustratingly non-narrative, and therefore unpredictable and confusing events, processes, and ideas that constitute our world. Life rarely makes sense, but movies usually do, and in that we take comfort – rightly or wrongly.”

How does Graham assess the overall accuracy of UFO documentaries, films based on true stories and similar such productions?
“Most TV documentary series about UFOs are sensationalized pap,” he replied. “This is a shame, because even the worst of them do include demonstrably factual and important information about the phenomenon; sadly, this information is usually presented in the tackiest and most hyperbolic manner, which has the effect of discrediting the actual material.”

Graham thinks there are a handful of very good documentaries dealing with the UFO issue, including ‘Out of the Blue’ and ‘I Know What I Saw’ by James Fox. This would be the case, Graham added, even though Fox himself criticized what Graham termed “the impossibly ridiculous” National Geographic TV series, ‘Chasing UFOs’, in which Fox appeared last year.

As for films, Graham gives thumbs ups to the 1994 TV movie ‘Roswell’ by Paul Davids, ‘Fire in the Sky’ about the Travis Walton saga and ‘Communion’, in which the Whitley Strieber story is presented. The films do not always represent details in entirely accurate manners, Graham observed, but the films are nonetheless memorable and reasonable portrayals of the stories.

“So, while some UFO movies are arguably quite accurate in their depiction of certain aspects of the phenomenon, I think it’s impossible for any UFO movie to give an entirely accurate depiction of the phenomenon as a whole because, quite simply, no one in the world can claim to have a complete understanding of what we’re dealing with. Still, it’s fair to say that the vast majority of UFO/alien-themed movies take a considerable amount of artistic license with the UFO phenomenon as experienced by millions of people. And that’s absolutely fine, of course – Hollywood is interested in entertaining, not educating. But we do need to constantly remind ourselves of this fact, especially when watching films dealing with the UFO/ET issue: movies, no matter how realistic they are in the events they depict (and regardless of the nature of the events they are depicting), are not real life. They are, at best, reflections of our reality, snapshots of it, simulations of it, skewed and distorted through the ideological framework of those who have made them.

“Movies masquerade as the final word on a given topic. No matter what the subject, and regardless of how much that subject has already been written about and debated, once it is committed to film – once it has received the full Hollywood treatment – it is embedded in its glossy cinematic form firmly and forever into the popular consciousness.”

Commenting further on the extent such films result in largely inaccurate beliefs held by the public, Graham continued, “Cinema and TV are meme generators, or at least meme magnifiers. Think, for example, of the idea of ‘Little Green Men’. Actually, although little green beings were reported in the Hopkinsville, Kentucky ‘farm siege’ of 1955 and the ‘little green men’ term itself was coined by the press in their reporting of that event, it was Hollywood that took this meme and ran with it in the 1957 movie ‘Invasion of the Saucer Men’, in which little green men terrorize a small town in rural America. One of the characters describes the alien she encounters as ‘a little green man.’ Hollywood has thrown the ‘little green men’ meme at us ever since in movies too numerous to list (though the ‘Toy Story’ movies immediately spring to mind, as do ‘Planet 51’ and ‘Aliens in the Attic’). But actually, as anyone who has studied this subject knows, green beings – little or otherwise – are almost never reported by UFO witnesses.”

What does Graham think is most important for us to understand about the relationship between the film industry and UFO subject matter?
“Quite simply, when it comes to our understanding of UFO phenomena and our expectations regarding potential extraterrestrial life – make no mistake about it – movies matter… perhaps more even than anything else.  As audiences, we should therefore seek to actively engage with Hollywood’s depictions of UFOs and extraterrestrials – to look up from our popcorn once in a while and acknowledge that such phenomena spring first and foremost not from the minds of Hollywood creatives, but from the fabric of our lived historical reality. By more actively engaging with Hollywood’s UFO movies, we enhance our ability to distinguish UFO fact from fantasy, and to more easily identify and understand the political thinking behind instances of government manipulation of UFO-themed entertainment products.”

Looking ahead
Taking a look forward on the time-line of television and UFOs, we might turn our attention to an item that stated, “We’re seeking subjects for the first season of a new TV show for a leading US cable network.” The item specified interest in people who “have had an extraterrestrial encounter, seen a UFO, been abducted” or similar, and was posted on several UFO-related discussion forums and blogs. The post stated experts were available to help, yet provided no details other than a relatively generic hotmail address. However, one website which published the post identified a Lauren James as a contact.
Your writer sent emails to the hotmail address provided and requested permission to ask some questions about the upcoming production in order to include responses in a blog post. No replies were received from Lauren James, helpful experts or anyone else, for whatever reasons.

While there may of course be many reasons the involved parties might prefer to not field questions about their project, they might nonetheless choose to take the nature of the genre into ample consideration in the future and plan accordingly. Distrust understandably tends to figure rather prominently within the UFO community, and providing reasonable amounts of information tends to be much more of the solution than the problem.

Items on the film and UFOs horizon include The John Mack Project, which includes a forthcoming movie from Denise David Williams of MakeMagic Productions. David Williams reports that she secured the life rights to the late researcher of alleged alien abduction, Dr. Mack, apparently giving her exclusive access to and portrayal of the information contained in his books, personal archives, journals, manuscripts and similar such property.

Further research suggests the subject of life rights has become increasingly relevant when producing documentaries and films based on what are promoted as true stories. Obtaining such rights stands to become important when telling a story or retelling it if the story has previously been presented in another media or context. Life rights may also become relevant to ensure due consideration and/or compensation is provided to researchers who invest significant amounts of time and resources in a story.

Beliefs
A wide variety of individuals, corporations and agencies are clearly competing to influence your beliefs about alleged extraterrestrial visitors, for whatever ultimate reasons. Successfully accomplishing the task has apparently been identified as worthy of substantial amounts of money and sustained effort.

Ultimately, we are each responsible for that which we choose to believe, as well as how we arrive at such choices. Please recognize and be mindful of how you make your decisions.
Sanctity of free thought should be cherished and encouraged to thrive. Consciously develop your process of making intellectual choices, honor and respect your process, and do not allow it to be overtly or covertly hijacked.

 

Scientologists’ Alleged ‘Alien Space Cathedral’ Found


Scientologists’ Alleged ‘Alien Space Cathedral’ Found
Marc Lallanilla, Life’s Little Mysteries Assistant Editor
scientology-bunker

A report claims this is the secret New Mexico bunker of the Church of Scientology. CREDIT: Google Maps

A secret bunker hidden deep within the deserts of New Mexico is reported to be the “alien space cathedral” of the Church of Scientology, according to the author of a new book on Scientology.

The site is marked by a large symbol etched onto the desert floor: two diamonds surrounded by a pair of overlapping circles, according to the British newspaper The Sun. A private airstrip, built to serve the controversial church’s leaders, is within walking distance of the symbol.

The entire complex is located near Mesa Huerfanita, N.M., roughly two-hour’s drive from Santa Fe, N.M., and three hours north of Roswell, N.M., site of numerous purported UFO sightings, according to The Sun.

The Sun report, penned by BBC journalist (and author) and Scientology debunker John Sweeney, claims the church designed the underground site to withstand a nuclear holocaust. Hidden within the complex’s vaults are titanium caskets that hold gold disks inscribed with the original texts of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, according to theDaily Mail.

Best known for its celebrity members like Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Kirstie Alley, scientology “is a religion that offers a precise path leading to a complete and certain understanding of one’s true spiritual nature and one’s relationship to self, family, groups, Mankind, all life forms, the material universe, the spiritual universe and the Supreme Being,” according to the organization’s website.

The symbols seen on the desert floor are reportedly there to help guide such Scientologists returning to Earth after fleeing the planet to escape a future “Armageddon,” writes the Daily Mail.

The Church of Scientology did not respond to requests for comment, according to the Daily Mail. Sweeney’s new book “The Church of Fear: Inside the Weird World of Scientology” (Silvertail Books), is scheduled to be published in January 2013.

 

Operation INFEKTION: Soviet Bloc Intelligence and Its AIDS Disinformation Campaign


Operation INFEKTION: Soviet Bloc Intelligence and Its AIDS Disinformation Campaign

“Our friends in Moscow call it ‘dezinformatsiya.’ Our enemies in America call it ‘active measures,’ and I, dear friends, call it ‘my favorite pastime.’”—Col. Rolf Wagenbreth, director of Department X(disinformation) of East German foreign intelligence The CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence has just published Volume 53, Number 4 (December 2009) of Studies in Intelligence. The issue includes an unclassified extract from a classified study of the Soviet Union’s propaganda “campaign to implicate the United States in the emergence of the AIDS pandemic that appeared in the early 1980s.” According to a note at the beginning of the extract, “This article was the recipient of an Annual Studies in Intelligence Award in 2009.”The author writes:

The opening salvo of the AIDS disinformation campaign was fired on 17 July 1983, when an obscure newspaper in India, the Patriot, printed an anonymous letter headlined “AIDS may invade India: Mystery disease caused by US experiments.” The letter, allegedly written by a “well-known American scientist and anthropologist” in New York, claimed that “AIDS…is believed to be the result of the Pentagon’s experiments to develop new and dangerous biological weapons.” (4)

The 17 July letter’s extensive quoting of US sources—e.g., U.S. News & World Report, Associated Press, and Army Research, Development & Acquisition magazine—suggests that US-based KGB officers initiated the AIDS campaign, or at least collected the material that triggered the idea. The KGB had large residencies in New York City and Washington, DC, both of which were assigned officers who worked solely on active measures. (5)

Read the CIA’s introduction here and the actual study by Thomas Boghardt here.

 

Terrified Glenn Beck: Technology Leads To ‘Transhumanism’ And Nazi Atrocities (Video)


Terrified Glenn Beck:  Technology Leads To ‘Transhumanism’ And Nazi Atrocities (Video)
Glenn Beck Idiot AATTP

 Glenn Beck is the king of fear-mongering and he routinely instills irrational and paranoid delusions and fears into his listeners as well. Of course, he does this because his idiot disciples will buy gold, and seeds and other snake oil garbage from his worthless website. He’s a charlatan, a fraud. A freak.

So what is terrifying Beck now? Something called “Transhumanism” brought on by a technological singularity. The “Singularity” is the moment when the exponential growth of technology intersects and surpasses the processing of the human brain. This is an idea conceived by Ray Kurzweil and others.

Transhumanism, abbreviated as H+ or h+, is an international intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities. SOUNDS TERRIFYING!!!! We think the reason Beck is so scared is that he counts on his audience NOT using their brains.

Here are the psychotic ramblings of Glenn Beck on the subject.

 

ARE UFOs JUST A CIA CON-TRICK?


ARE UFOs JUST A CIA CON-TRICK?

MIRAGE MEN BY MARK PILKINGTON

By HARRY RITCHIE

The way of things to come?: Or are UFOs just a CIA conspiracy?
The way of things to come?: Or are UFOs just a CIA conspiracy?

Ufology is a faith that includes many beliefs, from the oddly popular one about Nazi aliens who live under the ground to David Icke’s contention that the Duke of Edinburgh is in fact a shape-changing, blood-sucking alien lizard.

But here’s the core of the faith – that some UFO sightings and encounters are real, the U.S. government knows all about these extraterrestrial visitations, and they’ve mounted a huge conspiracy to keep the aliens secret and us in the dark.

This book threatens to demolish that faith. Because here Mark Pilkington sets out to prove that the U.S. government really has been conducting a top-secret UFO conspiracy – only one designed not to hide UFOs but publicise them, fuelling and even creating the major UFO myths. Flying saucers, alien abductions, crash-landed spacecraft, secret underground bases in New Mexico – they were all created by the U.S. government.

As Mark Pilkington immediately acknowledges, that might sound only marginally less ridiculous and emptily melodramatic than claiming that the Royal Family are actually alien reptiles. But he begins to build a pretty convincing case that U.S. agencies really have been conducting just such a long-running disinformation campaign to promote UFOs. And it does make sense.

UFOs make the perfect cover story to hide experimental aircraft from prying Russian eyes as well as those of their own citizens. Ufologists are a particular pest to U.S. Air Force security, for ever trying to root around their secret projects and hack into their systems – they need to be led up various extraterrestrial garden paths and far away from finding out about actual highly-classified experiments in weaponry or aircraft.

The Roswell Incident: were alien bodies really found?
The Roswell Incident: were alien bodies really found?

Pilkington’s theory would certainly explain why so many of the key UFO sightings and events happen near U.S. Air Force bases – such as Roswell, home of the famous ‘incident’ when an alien craft was supposed to have crash-landed, with a couple of aliens aboard.

And why so many extraterrestrial spaceships seem to behave like the pilotless drones and stealth aircraft developed by the U.S. Air Force. And why flying saucers should first turn up at the start of the Cold War, just when the U.S. Air Force was beginning to experiment with exotic new types of flight.

According to Pilkington, the campaign to promote the idea of UFOs was masterminded in the Fifties by the head of the CIA, Allen Welsh Dulles. More recently, many of the leaked fake documents and bogus stories seem to have come from the U.S. Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI).

One victim of fake UFO documents evidently supplied by the American government was Timothy Good, whose international bestseller about supposed contact with aliens, Above Top Secret, included completely bogus papers planted in the American National Archives.

Another is George Adamski, an early fan of flying saucers whose bestselling books in the Fifties described his meetings with a chap called Orthon from Venus and his own trips in flying saucers.

I came across one of Adamski’s mad books in my local public library when I was a boy, and I remember being disturbed and perplexed – this was a book, a proper printed book, so all this stuff about going to Venus and meeting Venusians … it had to be real, didn’t it? Now, it seems Adamski was an innocent, eager dupe and that Orthon and the spaceships weren’t figments of his silly or venal imagination but real people and vehicles supplied by the CIA.

Fake spaceships, fake aliens, fake documents and even a fake underground alien base – it might all seem unduly elaborate and indeed expensive.

But the Americans certainly had the money for it, budgeting billions of dollars for the CIA’s black arts.

The Pentagon already had a good bash at that themselves, sponsoring a recruitment film of the Seventies, which claimed that UFOs were real and which included footage of a flying saucer landing at a U.S. Air Force base and a couple of aliens disembarking.

And that, you might think, is the Pentagon bang to rights. But at this point in the book, things begin to get even more complicated.

An AFOSI agent takes Pilkington aside and confides the real ‘truth’ – yes, there is a huge government conspiracy to produce a smokescreen of nonsense about UFOS, of course; however, it’s designed to hide not supersonic test-flights but … real UFOs.

Because, you see, by offering up a series of scary stories about UFO invasions and alien abductions, this will gradually desensitise the public to the eventual truth that the U.S. government really has been in contact with aliens.

Argh! Clearly, obviously, surely, this is more hokum, an attempt to exploit Pilkington with a slightly refined version of the same old stories – but he has previous as a Ufology believer and he can’t quite shake off the thrill of thinking that maybe, just maybe, an alien spaceship did crash-land at Roswell. That’s typical of a book that isn’t quite the rigorous hard-hitting investigation it could and should have been. Pilkington just about manages to hold on to his scepticism but ends with a spiel about nobody knowing for sure what the truth can be and Ufology being a murky, grey area.

No, no, no. There’s nothing grey about it. Either we have been visited by aliens and the American government is covering this up or we haven’t and it isn’t.

Either that debris at Roswell was part of a crashed flying saucer or it came from a test-flight that went wrong or a knackered high-altitude weather balloon. Either the Duke of Edinburgh is a blood-sucking alien reptile seeded from a distant star system or he is a human from Greece. So. What do you reckon? Great credit to Pilkington, though, for revealing who Orthon really was/ those aliens really are.

Conspiracy Theories Used as Propaganda | Operation INFEKTION | The KGB and Anti-American AIDS Conspiracies


Government use of conspiracy theory: Operation INFEKTION
Art: Burning heart by Leslie Ann O’Dell. Listening: Black Star by Lustmord.

A future common theme on this blog will be that governments don’t just partake in conspiracies, but they also create and amplify conspiracy theories. Note the difference here. The former is legal term about individuals colluding in secret; while the latter pertains to a narrative about these collusions. One is ontological to do with the world; while the other is epistemic to do with beliefs about the world.
There are various reasons why governments would need to create a belief in conspiracy. Sometimes it is to cover up black projects or intelligence failures, i.e. covering up real conspiracies. Other times the conspiracies are created as offensive weapons against some international actor, i.e. creating fake conspiracies. For the moment, I’d like to discuss the aforementioned reason from a case that is in actual scholarly literature: Operation INFEKTION, which was the Soviet disinformation campaign to pin the origin of AIDS on the USA.

A good source on this disinformation operation is an essay entitled “AIDS Made in the USA”: Moscow’s Contagious Campaign, which is from the book The New Image Makers: Soviet Propaganda & Disinformation Today. The author is the noted historian of counterintelligence Roy Godson. You won’t find this essay published on the Internet, which is unfortunate given it is a well-reasoned argument giving us a clear example of governments creating conspiracy theories (I may get around to scanning it, and putting it up on this blog). The reason why this clear example is so important is because it allows us to draw some broader themes of how governments go about spreading disinformation. True believers in high weirdness and conspiracy circles often accuse each other of spreading disinformation, and it sometimes becomes hard to sort the wheat from the chaff. A clear non-bullshit example can be quite illuminating.
Godson argues in the essay that the “AIDS was made in the USA” disinformation campaign was created by the KGB in 1985. They continued this disinformation campaign for around two years. Godson identifies five reasons why they did this:

  1. To discredit the United states by falsely claiming that AIDS originated in CIA-Pentagon experiments.
  2. To discourage undesirable political contact with Westerners by portraying them as potential carriers of the disease.
  3. To create pressure for removal of US military bases overseas on the grounds the US service personnel spread AIDS.
  4. To undermine US credibility in the Third World by maintaining that hypotheses about the African origin of AIDS are an example of Western, and especially American, racism, and;
  5. To divert attention from Soviet research on biological warfare and genetic engineering and to neutralize accusations that the Soviet Union has used biochemical agents in Asia.

Notice the two wider themes here of using conspiracy theory. (1) to (4) are all examples of undermining the ethos or moral stature of some actor or groups. (5) is an example of diverting attention away from an actual conspiracy. These twin themes of undermining ethos and diverting attention from actual conspiracies will arise again in future posts about government use of disinformation. Also, when I say ethos, I mean in the rhetorical sense. To undermine someone’s ethos in rhetoric is to undermine their character. This is important in rhetoric, as building rapport with the audience by appealing to one’s character and moral stature is one of the foundations for a rhetorical speech.

I won’t recount the timeline of how this disinformation campaign came about. You can read the Wikipedia article above on the operation to recount this. But some other tidbits worth noting here are the following:
The disinformation campaign started in newspapers in Russia and India. They then spread to radio, and then other sources from around the world picked up on the disinformation. This disinformation campaign was also backed by pamphlets, which were spread in Africa. One of these pamphlets was written by biologist named Jacob Segal, and was backed by (what appeared to be) scientific reasoning. Segal was then cited in a news article in England, which then spread the disinformation about the planet like wildfire. Once major papers from around the planet picked up on it, the KGB no longer used their primary sources. Instead they started spreading the disinformation by stating other major papers from around the planet had confirmed the theory about AIDS. What we can learn from these is that:

  • disinformation can be sophisticated. It can use individuals that people trust (like scientists), and can dress itself up with reasonable arguments.
  • disinformation campaigns can use multiple sources (radio, newspapers, pamphlets).
  • disinformation campaigns will try to hide the original sources. Once the campaign is in the open, they may switch to sources that their targets may trust (in this case, domestic newspapers). In rhetoric this is a combination of using kairos (the opportune moment to switch sources), combined with exploiting ethos (sources people trust).

Godson also has a lengthy paragraph on how the AIDS campaign was, “a diversionary tactic against claims that the Soviet Union has used biochemical weapons in Cambodia, Laos, and Afghanistan and is engaged in genetic-weapon research.” The first claim about chemical weapons pertains to Yellow Rain. Those interested in disinformation should also read that Wikipedia article on Yellow Rain for a possible similar campaign conducted by the USA. The second claim about genetic-weapons pertains to US attempts to undermine Soviet bioweapons research via UN arms control treaties (Godson quotes a State Department report here). Godson states that one of the aims was to “muddle the debate” between bio-chemical weapons and AIDS.
So finishing up, we have the two aims of government use of conspiracy theory:

  1. To undermine ethos, and;
  2. To divert attention away from actual conspiracies.

We also have some general properties of these disinformation campaigns:

  • They can be epistemologically sophisticated.
  • The sources will change themselves according to the opportune moment for spreading the disinformation.
  • They will take into consideration the targets of the campaign, and will use sources that the target trusts.

Now, true-believing conspiracy theorists might state something along the lines of, “Yeah, but how do we know this Operation happened? It could be a conspiracy theory about a conspiracy theory.” The answer to this, is that it actually happened. You can look up old news archives and find the disinformation spread in actual newspapers. There are also multiple corroborating sources that this event occurred, including sources from the Russian parliament and members of the East German Stasi admitting to the campaign. Godson has 26 footnotes to his essay, most of which are primary sources. I will endeavour to upload a scan of this essay in the future.

Genetically engineered virus kills cancer


Genetically engineered virus kills cancer

Sixteen patients given a high dose of the therapy survived for 14.1 months on average, compared to 6.7 months for the 14 who got the low dose.

“For the first time in medical history we have shown that a genetically engineered virus can improve survival of cancer patients,” study co-author David Kirn told AFP.

The four-week trial with the vaccine Pexa-Vec or JX-594, reported in the journal Nature Medicine, may hold promise for the treatment of advanced solid tumours.

“Despite advances in cancer treatment over the past 30 years with chemotherapy and biologics, the majority of solid tumours remain incurable once they are metastatic (have spread to other organs),” the authors wrote.

There was a need for the development of “more potent active immunotherapies”, they noted.

Pexa-Vec “is designed to multiply in and subsequently destroy cancer cells, while at the same time making the patients’ own immune defence system attack cancer cells also”, said Kirn from California-based biotherapy company Jennerex.

“The results demonstrated that Pexa-Vec treatment at both doses resulted in a reduction of tumour size and decreased blood flow to tumours,” said a Jennerex statement.

“The data further demonstrates that Pexa-Vec treatment induced an immune response against the tumour.”

Pexa-Vec has been engineered from the vaccinia virus, which has been used as a vaccine for decades, including in the eradication of smallpox.

The trial showed Pexa-Vec to be well tolerated both at high and low doses, with flu-like symptoms lasting a day or two in all patients and severe nausea and vomiting in one.

The authors said a larger trial has to confirm the results. A follow-up phase with about 120 patients is already under way.

Pexa-Vec is also being tested in other types of cancer tumours.

A patient undergoes a scanner as radiology technicians look at the exam on a screen, on February 6, 2013, at a medical unit specialised in cancer treatment in France. A genetically-engineered virus tested in 30 terminally-ill liver cancer patients significantly prolonged their lives, killing tumours and inhibiting the growth of new ones, scientists reported on Sunday.

Religious Fanatics | Theist Stampede Kills


Stampede Kills 10 at ‘Largest Gathering in History’
MASSIVE GATHERING ATTRACTS UP TO 30M DEVOTEES TO BATHE
By the Associated Press

(AP) – At least 10 people were killed and a dozen more injured today after a stampede broke out at a train station in the northern Indian town where millions of devout Hindus gathered for a religious festival dubbed the“largest human gathering in history.” As many as 20 people are feared dead, and some 30 others injured. News reports said the large crowds caused a section of a footbridge at the station to collapse leading to the accident.

News reports said tens of thousands of people were at the train station at the time. Television showed large crowds pushing and jostling at the train station as policemen struggled to restore order. “There was complete chaos. There was no doctor or ambulance for at least two hours after the accident,” an eyewitness told NDTV news channel. An estimated 30 million devotees were expected to take a dip at the Sangam, the confluence of three rivers—the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the mythical Saraswati—today, one of the holiest bathing days of the Kumbh Mela, which lasts 55 days.

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Hindu devotees take a holy dip at ‘Sangam’, the confluence of Hindu holy rivers Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati, during the Maha Kumbh festival at Allahabad, India, Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013.
(Rajesh Kumar Singh)

Mystery Brain Disease Strikes Women in US


Doctors have been wrestling with a newly discovered illness that attacks mainly young women and looks a lot like psychosis. In Philadelphia, hospitalized women appeared possessed, crying or laughing hysterically one moment and turning catatonic the next. One had seizures and left her arms stuck out in front of her. Finally doctors realized they weren’t crazy—they were suffering from an auto immune disease known as Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis, reports CBS Philadelphia.

Discovered six years ago, the illness strikes the brain with antibodies and causes it to swell—as one doctor explained to two nervous parents: “He told them her brain is on fire,” says a woman who was hospitalized for weeks. “He used those words: ‘Her brain is on fire.'” A spinal fluid test can spot the disease and immunotherapy can treat it, but there is no cure; all patients face possible relapses. Now a former patient is trying to get the word out, explaining that “there could be people in comas right now or people stuck in psych wards that have this disease and aren’t being treated properly.”

Theism In Action | Woman Accused of Witchcraft Tortured, Burned Alive by Mob


Woman accused of witchcraft tortured, burned alive by mob
Accused witch burned alive

ASSOCIATED PRESS | CST in World

A mob stripped, tortured and bound a woman accused of witchcraft, then burned her alive in front of hundreds of horrified witnesses in a Papua New Guinea town, police said. It was the latest sorcery-related killing in this South Pacific island nation.

In this Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013 photo, bystanders watch as a woman accused of witchcraft is burned alive in the Western Highlands provincial capital of Mount Hagen in Papua New Guinea. The 20-year-old mother of one, Kepari Leniata was stripped naked by several assailants, tortured with a hot iron rod,...
Photo; bystanders watch as a woman accused of witchcraft is burned alive in the Western Highlands provincial capital of Mount Hagen in Papua New Guinea. The 20-year-old…   (Associated Press)

Bystanders, including many children, watched and some took photographs of Wednesday’s brutal slaying. Grisly pictures were published on the front pages of the country’s two largest newspapers, The National and the Post-Courier, while the prime minister, police and diplomats condemned the killing.

In rural Papua New Guinea, witchcraft is often blamed for unexplained misfortunes. Sorcery has traditionally been countered by sorcery, but responses to allegations of witchcraft have become increasingly violent in recent years.

Kepari Leniata, a 20-year-old mother, had been accused of sorcery by relatives of a 6-year-old boy who died in a hospital on Tuesday.

She was tortured with a hot iron rod, bound, doused in gasoline, and then set alight on a pile of car tires and trash in the Western Highlands provincial capital of Mount Hagen, national police spokesman Dominic Kakas said.

Deputy Police Commissioner Simon Kauba on Friday blasted Mount Hagen investigators by phone for failing to make a single arrest, Kakas said.

The public were apparently not cooperating with police, and police carrying out the investigation were not working hard enough, Kakas said.

“He was very, very disappointed that there’s been no arrest made as yet,” Kakas said.

“The incident happened in broad daylight in front of hundreds of eyewitnesses and yet we haven’t picked up any suspects yet,” he added.

Kakas described the victim’s husband as the “prime suspect” and said the man had fled the province. Kakas said he did not know if there was a relationship between the husband and the dead boy’s family.

He said more than 50 people are suspected to have “laid a hand on the victim” and committed crimes in the mob attack. While many children had witnessed the killing, there were no child suspects, he said.

Kakas said onlookers were shocked by the brutality but were powerless to stop the mob. Police officers were also present but were outnumbered and could not save the woman, he said. There is an internal investigation under way into what action police at the scene took.

Police Commissioner Tom Kulunga described the slaying as “shocking and devilish.”

“We are in the 21st century and this is totally unacceptable,” Kulunga said in a statement.

He suggested courts be established to deal with sorcery allegations, as an alternative to villagers dispensing justice.

Prime Minister Pete O’Neill said he had instructed police to use all available manpower to bring the killers to justice.

“It is reprehensible that women, the old and the weak in our society should be targeted for alleged sorcery or wrongs that they actually have nothing to do with,” O’Neill said.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland condemned Leniata’s killing as a “brutal murder.”

“There is no possible justification for this sort of horrific violence. We urge that sufficient resources are devoted to identifying, prosecuting and bringing to justice those responsible,” Nuland said. She added that the U.S. would continue to work with the Papua New Guinean government and civil society to address gender-based violence.

The United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said the killing “adds to the growing pattern of vigilante attacks and killings of persons accused of sorcery” in Papua New Guinea.

In other recent sorcery-related killings, police arrested 29 people in July last year accused of being part of a cannibal cult in Papua New Guinea’s jungle interior and charged them with the murders of seven suspected witch doctors.

Kakas could not immediately say what had become of the 29 since their first court appearances last year in the north coast province of Madang.

Police alleged the cult members ate their victims’ brains raw and made soup from their penises.

The killers allegedly believed that their victims practiced sorcery and that they had been extorting money as well as demanding sex from poor villagers for their supernatural services.

By eating witch doctors’ organs, the cult members believed they would attain supernatural powers.

Murder in punishable by death in Papua New Guinea, a poor tribal nation of 7 million people who are mostly subsistence farmers. But no one has been hanged since independence.

Our Aliens Are Better Than Your Aliens


Our Aliens Are Better Than Your Aliens

News reports indicate renewed global efforts are underway to prosecute Nazi war criminals remaining at large. Some US-based organizations support the efforts.

Those not afflicted with conspiracy-phobia will be reminded of Operation Paperclip, a confirmed post-World War II US intelligence project in which Third Reich key personnel were targeted for recruitment. Select Nazi scientists were provided asylum in the States in exchange for their contributions to American intelligence interests. “Our Germans are better than your Germans,” went the Cold War era running joke between the CIA and KGB.

The New York Times published further details of such recruitment efforts and related issues in a 2010 article titled, Nazis Were Given ‘Safe Haven’ in U.S., Report Says. The article, written by Eric Lichtblau, provides key details of a 2006 US Justice Department 600-page report, The Office of Special Investigations: Striving for Accountability in the Aftermath of the Holocaust. The report, heavily redacted by the Justice Department prior to its release, was obtained and subsequently published in its entirety by the Times.

Further concerns might be raised by the fact US-based funding entities, including the Rockefeller Foundation, financially aided eugenic research conducted in pre-World War II Germany and elsewhere. This has long been accepted as fact among historians and as reported on George Mason University’s History News Network, among any number of sources defined as credible by the professional research community.

Now, any self-respecting realist will find nothing surprising about world powers demonstrating double standards. Most of us are all too aware politics courts hypocrisy, so let us move along to further considerations of how such circumstances might be relevant to ufology.

Progeria and Genetic Testing

A couple years ago, a valued associate and good friend, Iza, known on line as stiver, brought Progeria and its implications to my attention. She contributed substantially to my understandings of the following information.

Progeria is a rare childhood genetic disorder, typically including an enlarged head and absence of hair, in which accelerated aging occurs. According to the Progeria Research Foundation, the disorder is due to genetic mutation.

 

Dolly’s taxidermied remains.

Iza studied other evolving genetic research, including cloning. She noted the curious similarities between symptoms of Progeria and certain clones, such as Dolly the sheep, the first mammal cloned from an adult cell. Dolly developed arthritis and other disorders common to much older sheep, resulting in her premature death at the age of six years, only about half the life expectancy of the average sheep. Essentially, Dolly died of old age while still young, Iza noted, just like those stricken with Progeria.

If any doubts remain that intelligence officials would take serious interest in genetic research, consider a BBC report about cloned cattle. Scientists observed in six cloned cows what was literally termed reversed aging! The cows simply aged at a significantly slower than normal pace.

A small number of UFO and alien abduction researchers have considered the implications of Progeria and genetic research. Some of their resulting work is reasonably well conceived while some leaves more than a bit to be desired.

Nick Redfern tried to raise awareness of relevant possibilities. He wrote about Progeria and related circumstances in some of his books, as well as posted about it on UFO Updates List. Redfern wrote the List, “And I still find it interesting that I found files – forwarded to the Nuclear Energy for Propulsion of Aircraft people at Oak Ridge and the Biology Division at Oak Ridge, no less – in 1947 on radiation experiments undertaken that summer on people with Progeria.”

I find it interesting, too. I also find it interesting that those diagnosed with Progeria so closely resemble descriptions of supposed human-alien hybrid beings as described by alleged alien abductees. Let us explore such things and the potential ties to Oak Ridge, also known as Atomic City and as cited by Redfern, a bit further.

Covert Research

A 1977 article titled, Private Institutions Used in CIA Effort to Control Behavior and published by The New York Times, delved into mind control experiments perpetrated by the American intelligence community during Project MKULTRA. Among other noteworthy items, the article cited some 25 years of covert experiments conducted at colleges, medical institutions and research facilities, funded by nonprofit organizations acting as conduits for the Central Intelligence Agency.

During the 1990’s the Clinton administration established the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments. The committee was created to investigate allegations involuntary human research subjects were deceived and abused during radiation experiments, some of which were alleged to have been perpetrated by MKULTRA personnel. The committee ultimately concluded an estimated 11,000 people were treated negligently by the US government in the course of radiation experiments, some of which were fatal.

The advisory committee heard testimony, sometimes absolutely horrific in nature, from individuals claiming to be victims. One such self-described victim was Suzanne Starr, a woman who, among other nightmarish allegations, stated she was subjected to an induced pregnancy resulting in her baby boy being taken from her, presumably for further experimentation. One reasonable interpretation would be that a primary difference between testimonies narrated by Starr and those narrated by some possible alien abductees is that Starr blamed CIA operatives for her abuse rather than aliens, whatever that may or may not ultimately indicate.

It should be noted that certain MKULTRA victims, some of which were indeed conclusively verified to have been among those abused during the notorious operations conducted at Allan Memorial Institute in Montreal, claimed to have observed pathetically mutated individuals at the facility. The details and existence of such alleged mutated individuals cannot be confirmed and may of course indicate circumstances other than actuality in at least some instances. My point being there are demographics in addition to alien abductees that describe experiences similar to that of abductees, including allegations of extensive testing, including genetic, the circumstances of which have historical precedence and substantially more likelihood.

All things considered, if a claim of a stolen fetus or ominous encounter with a child having wispy hair, large eyes and an enlarged head were to ever be substantiated, could we sincerely look one another in the eye, with full knowledge of factual information such as cited in this post, and say space invaders were really the most likely explanation? Really?

Related articles

A Guide to Understanding Nothing


A Guide to Understanding Nothing

Posted  by Daniel Honan

Nothing

How could the universe be created out of nothing? This question has so perplexed mankind that we have come up with a fantastic assortment of myths to explain the how and the why of existence.

The stories that tend to resonate with us employ metaphors that are based on human scale, or the observable world around us. Quantum mechanics doesn’t offer that. And yet, “the universe doesn’t care about our common sense,” says Lawrence Krauss, whose book A Universe From Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing led to one of the fiercest intellectual battle royals of the past year, which Krauss attributes to his alleged encroachment into the field of philosophy.

What is nothing?

The simplest kind of nothing is “an infinite empty space,” Krauss tells Big Think. This type of nothing, the dark infinite void of the Bible, is not filled with any particles or radiation. It’s just nothing. However, due to the laws of quantum mechanics and relativity, Krauss says, “we now know that empty space is a boiling bubbling brew of virtual particles that are popping in and out of existence at every moment.”

Krauss says the idea of “empty space with stuff in it” and the idea of “empty space with nothing in it” are actually “different versions of the same thing.” We have come to understand a more complicated version of nothing because the laws of quantum mechanics guarantee that if you wait long enough, nothing will eventually produce something.

But if this is true, where did space come from? As Krauss points out, “once you apply the laws of quantum mechanics to gravity itself, then space itself becomes a quantum mechanical variable and fluctuates in and out of existence and you can literally, by the laws of quantum mechanics, create universes.”

What about the laws of physics? The laws of nature? These laws themselves are somehow something. “That is not at all obvious or clear or necessary, says Krauss. In fact, “we now have good reason to believe that even the laws of physics themselves are kind of arbitrary.”
For instance, there may be an infinite number of universes, and in each universe that has been created, the laws of physics are different. “The laws themselves come into existence when the universe comes into existence,” Krauss says. In other words, there is no pre-existing fundamental law. Anything that can happen, does happen.

So what are we left with? No laws, no space, no time, no particles, no radiation. That’s a pretty good definition of nothing.

Krauss acknowledges that when he talks about “virtual particles popping in and out of existence on a timescale so short you can’t see them,” he might sound like some kind of philosopher or priest “talking about angels on the head of a pin or something.”

However, while we can’t see virtual particles directly, Krauss points out that we can measure their effects indirectly. And this is the key to understanding modern physics. For every particle that exists in nature, there is a likelihood that out of empty space, particle-anti-particle pairs will be created spontaneously and they will exist for a very short time before they disappear. “The fact that we can actually calculate them is what’s responsible for at least one Nobel Prize,” Krauss says. Why? If we include the effects of virtual particles, “we can predict from first principles the results of an observation to nine decimal places and get it right, Krauss says. “There’s nowhere else in science where you can do that.”

What’s the Significance?

Now that we have a better understanding of nothing, we still need to answer the question of why we need to bother getting out of bed in the morning. After all, quantum mechanics can be quite dispiriting to some. As Richard Dawkins wrote in his afterward to A Universe From Nothing:

Even the last remaining trump card of the theologian, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?,’ shrivels up before your eyes as you read these pages. If ‘On the Origin of Species’ was biology’s deadliest blow to super­naturalism, we may come to see ‘A Universe From Nothing’ as the equivalent from cosmology. The title means exactly what it says. And what it says is ­devastating.

That is not to say that Krauss embraces a pessimistic worldview, or, as some have charged, a reckless indifference to the great moral questions that arise from the idea of creation from nothing. I, for one, don’t think that criticism is fair.

Sure, we’re insignificant, Krauss tells us, but we’re also quite precious. Krauss sees it as “spiritually uplifting” that we get to determine our own future, as opposed to having to simply fulfill the purpose of our creator, like some kind of mannequin. “That makes our future more precious,” he says.

Watch the video here:

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Follow Daniel Honan on Twitter @Daniel Honan

 

Teaching Creationism Is ‘Child Abuse,’ Says Prominent Physicist


Teaching Creationism Is ‘Child Abuse,’ Says Prominent Physicist Lawrence Krauss (VIDEO)
By Deborah Montesano

images-1

Big Think, the online knowledge forum, released a video on Tuesday of theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss speaking on the idea of teaching creationism. In it, Krauss asserts that the notion of creationism defies reality and teaching it to children is tantamount to child abuse. The video is in reaction to Senator Marco Rubio who, in December, declared in an interview with GQ that he didn’t know how old the earth is. In Rubio’s words:

“I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians… I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.”

Wrong, says Krauss. Evolution is accepted reality, the basis for all biological sciences. For someone like Rubio, who is presumably both intelligent and educated, to take the stand that anything goes in education–that it’s okay for any belief to be taught regardless of reality–is a terrible error. In the following video, Krauss says:

“Allowing the notion that the Earth is 6,000 years old to be promulgated in schools is like teaching kids that the distance across the United States is 17 feet. That’s how big an error it is… The purpose of education is not to validate ignorance but to overcome it… To overcome a situation where a United States Senator can speak such manifest nonsense with impunity is vitally important to the healthy future of our society.”

 

Here’s the video:

Krauss isn’t the first person to insist that teaching creationism is a form of child abuse. Various atheist and rationalist groups have maintained the same thing. But people of faith, like Anglican priest and theologian David Jennings, of Leichester Cathedral, have taken that stand also. Last fall, when asked whether creationism should be taught in the schools, Jennings said in an open forum:

“There are some people who believe the earth is actually flat… But do we teach that, do we actually suggest that to young people?… Whatever people want to believe in the privacy of their own home, in the privacy of whatever religion they practice, they’re free to do that. But to teach young people things that we know are not true is tantamount to an abuse of young people.”

Last August, Bill Nye the Science Guy weighed in on the subject, also for Big Think:

“Denial of evolution is unique to the United States…I say to the grown-ups, If you want to deny evolution and live in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we’ve observed in the universe, that’s fine. But don’t make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future…we need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems.”

Here’s the video:

All of these men underline the point that we Americans are not only unique in our denial of science, but also in the degree to which that denial holds back our young people. As a society, we’re jeopardizing both our future and theirs. We battle over religious ideology–which seems to lurk behind every issue these days–rather than uniting to educate our young and insure that they maintain an edge when it comes to innovation and leadership in the world.

Granddaughter Of God Hates Fags Founder Defects From Hate-Cult


Granddaughter Of Westboro Baptist Church Founder Defects From Hate-Cult To Speak Out (VIDEO)
Posted by Lorraine Devon Wilke

Libby Phelps Alvarez, before and after; photo courtesy of Capital Bay

Libby Phelps Alvarez, before and after; photos courtesy of Capital Bay

A cult has a way of ensnaring its members with promises of spiritual freedom, the seductions of power and charisma, and in some cases, just the sheer influence gained by tapping into the fears, biases and bigotry of potential recruits. Scientology has used those many tools in attracting followers, as has every cult from Jim Jones with his People’s Temple mass suicide tragedy in Jonestown, Guyana; David Koresh and the Branch Davidians of Waco notoriety, Warren Jeffs of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints and its polygamous sexual abuses; right up to the Westboro Baptist Church and their pervasive and media-savvy mission statement of hate and bigotry.

While it’s one thing for adults to be ensnared, willingly or otherwise, it’s another for the children of cult members to be held captive simply for being unfortunate enough to be raised by a cult member. Such was the case with Libby Phelps Alvarez, the granddaughter of Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps, whose particularly toxic view of gays and Jews–and anyone who supports either–is well-known and much vilified (you have to see Brit comedian, Russell Brand, take on a few of his henchmen!).

Libby had no choice but to tag along with her family of religious zealots when their “life’s work” demanded that they express hate in the “name of God” by protesting funerals and screaming vile insults at grieving families. Now, after having ultimately escaped the clutches of her nefarious family, she is publicly speaking out about their malignant world view and its impact on her while growing up.

In an interview with Andrea Canning from the Today Show:

She said she first began to question church activities after a friend’s husband died while serving in the military. Her family picketed the funeral. She stayed behind.

“There was a point when we started praying for people to die,” she said. “I didn’t actually do that, but I was around when they did it.”

In addition to disrupting military funerals, Westboro church members also are known for extreme anti-gay and anti-Semitic rhetoric, targeting both groups in their protests. But they shocked the nation when they announced plans to protest the funerals of the children killed in the Newtown, Conn., mass shooting.

“Westboro will picket Sandy Hook Elementary School to sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment,” the church announced in a tweet.

“They think that they are the only ones who are going to heaven and if you don’t go to that church you’re going to hell,” Alvarez said.

Religious narcissism is not new and certainly not specific to this controversial branch of the “Christian” faith. Most of the more fundamentalist religions believe their way is the only way to get to Heaven, making that promise–and threat–a significant part of their pitch. It’s the depths to which the Westboro group takes this philosophy that separates them from the more benign interpreters of that zeal, however. There is a sociopathic thread that weaves through their hate-based doctrine that goes far beyond the standard “we’re the only way you can get to Heaven” message, as demonstrated by their “God hates fags” signs and comments, and their suggestion that everyone should “sing praise” in response to the Sandy Hook massacre.

Given the sheer saturation and public demonstration of that level of hate, it’s not hard to extrapolate that some of those raised in the church–ones who may have had the good fortune of holding on to their individual thought processes and seeing the malevolence being sold–would find themselves repulsed by the group’s principles. Alvarez was one of the lucky ones in that regard.

She decided to leave the church four years ago, slipping away while her parents attended a protest.

“I was terrified I was never going to see my family again,” she said, still tearful at the memory.

Alvarez still aches to see her parents, but “my aunt emailed me and said that nobody wants to talk to me anymore.” [Source]

wed_phelps_alvarez_t640

Still, the pain of leaving her family, who, despite the toxicity of their faith, remain her family, was sharp. She remains close by: only 30 miles from the church. While she has sorrow for any hurt she may have caused them on a personal level, she’s firm in her own decision to leave, and even hopeful that her courageous move will encourage and inspire others to do the same.

“I would tell them I love them and that people aren’t evil like we were taught,” she said. “And even though I am crying right now, life isn’t full of sadness and sorrow and disease and heartache like they told us. You can lead a happy and good life.” [Source]

Like many “apostates” who managed to find their way out of other cults to reach back to help others do the same, here’s hoping Libby is successful in her goal. Thinning the ranks of the Westboro Baptist Church can only be a good thing for everyone.

See video of Today Show interview:

 

God Hates Fags | Westboro Heretic Leaves Her Church


dana halferty
dana halferty
Jeff ChuinReporter’s Notebook
Damsel, Arise: A Westboro Scion Leaves Her Church

Just after 11 last Sunday morning at Old First Reformed Church in Brooklyn, the Rev. Dr. Daniel Meeter is starting the Sunday service as he always does. He runs through the opening salutation and the collect for the day, and then he welcomes everyone to church as he always does, introducing Old First “as a community of Jesus in Park Slope where we welcome people of every race, ethnicity and orientation to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves.”

The congregation—some eighty strong on this sunny but cold February morning—is the usual mix of Park Slope churchgoing types: a smattering of journalists, a few artists, a handful of old ladies, some rambunctious children. But in the back row of the tin-ceilinged, wood-floored hall, there’s a visitor. It is Megan Phelps-Roper’s first time not only at Old First but also at any church not called Westboro Baptist. Yes, that Westboro Baptist, the Topeka, Kansas, congregation that has become famous (or infamous, depending on your viewpoint) for its strident views on sin (and the abundance of it in modern America), salvation (and the prospective lack of it), and sexuality (we’re bad, in far more colorful terms).

For nearly all of her twenty-seven years, Megan believed it: believed what her grandfather Fred Phelps preached from the pulpit; believed what her dad Brent and her mom Shirley taught during the family’s daily Bible studies; believed (mostly) what it said on those signs that have made Westboro disproportionately influential in American life—“God hates fags”; “God hates your idols”; “God hates America.”

Megan was the one who pioneered the use of social media at Westboro, becoming the first in her family to go on Twitter. Effervescent and effusive, she gave hundreds of interviews, charming journalists from all over the world. Organized and proactive, she, for a time, even had responsibility for keeping track of the congregation’s protest schedule. She was such a Westboro fixture that the Kansas City Star touted her—improbably, as it turns out, because a woman could never have such a role at the church—as a future leader of the congregation.

Then, in November, she left.

___

I first met Megan in the summer of 2011, when I went to Topeka to spend a few days with the Westboro folks for my book project. During that visit, we talked about faith, we talked about church, we talked about marriage (and Megan’s feeling that, given the prospects, it would require no small amount of divine intervention in her case), and we talked about Harry Potter (for the record, she’s a fan). She seemed so sure in her beliefs, that I could not have imagined that some fifteen months later, we’d be having a conversation in which she tearfully told me that she was no longer with her family or with the church.

Mostly, the tears have subsided—“in public, anyway,” she says one afternoon, as we sit in a Tribeca café. “I still cry a lot.” Forget what you know of the church. Just imagine what it is like to walk away from everything you have ever known. Consider how traumatic it would be to know that your family is never supposed to speak to you again. Think of how hard it would be to have a fortress of faith built around you, and to have to dismantle it yourself, brick by brick, examining each one and deciding whether there’s something worth keeping or whether it’s not as solid as you thought it was.

As we talk, Megan repeatedly emphasizes how much she loves those she has left behind. “I don’t want to hurt them,” she says. “I don’t want to hurt them.”

Her departure has hurt them already—she knew it would—yet there was no way she could stay. “My doubts started with a conversation I had with David Abitbol,” she says. Megan met David, an Israeli web developer who’s part of the team behind the blog Jewlicious, on Twitter. “I would ask him questions about Judaism, and he would ask me questions about church doctrine. One day, he asked a specific question about one of our signs—‘Death Penalty for Fags’—and I was arguing for the church’s position, that it was a Levitical punishment and as completely appropriate now as it was then. He said, ‘But Jesus said’—and I thought it was funny he was quoting Jesus—‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’ And then he connected it to another member of the church who had done something that, according to the Old Testament, was also punishable by death. I realized that if the death penalty was instituted for any sin, you completely cut off the opportunity to repent. And that’s what Jesus was talking about.”

To some, this story might seem simple—even overly so. But we all have moments of epiphany, when things that are plate-glass clear to others but opaque to us suddenly become apparent. This was, for Megan, one of those moments, and this window led to another and another and another. Over the subsequent weeks and months, “I tried to put it aside. I decided I wasn’t going to hold that sign, ‘Death Penalty for Fags.’” (She had, for the most part, preferred the gentler, much less offensive “Mourn for Your Sins” or “God Hates Your Idols” anyway.)

What “seemed like a small thing at the time,” she says, snowballed. She started to question another Westboro sign, “Fags can’t repent.” “It seemed misleading and dishonest. Anybody can repent if God gives them repentance, according to the church. But this one thing—it gives the impression that homosexuality is an unforgivable sin,” she says. “It didn’t make sense. It seemed a wrong message for us to be sending. It’s like saying, ‘You’re doomed! Bye!’ and gives no hope for salvation.”

She kept trying to conquer the doubts. Westboro teaches that one cannot trust his or her feelings. They’re unreliable. Human nature “is inherently sinful and inherently completely sinful,” Megan explains. “All that’s trustworthy is the Bible. And if you have a feeling or a thought that’s against the church’s interpretations of the Bible, then it’s a feeling or a thought against God himself.”

This, of course, assumes that the church’s teachings and God’s feelings are one and the same. And this, of course, assumes that the church’s interpretation of the Bible is infallible, that this much-debated document handed down over the centuries has, in 2013, been processed and understood correctly only by a small band of believers in Topeka. “Now?” Megan says. “That sounds crazy to me.”

In December, she went to a public library in Lawrence, Kansas. She was looking through books on philosophy and religion, and it struck her that people had devoted their entire lives to studying these questions of how to live and what is right and wrong. “The idea that only WBC had the right answer seemed crazy,” she says. “It just seemed impossible.”

___

The act of leaving Westboro is as weird as the church itself. Sometimes it’s described as a shunning process, but that’s not entirely apt. It is, in the eyes of the remaining members, a sort of death, but it’s a gentle one, because the carcass isn’t just dumped or ignored. One church member, who has lost two of his kids to the outside world, told me that he still loved them and that he set them up as best they could with what they’d need to start their new lives—some money, some household goods, even a car.

Megan didn’t leave alone; her sister Grace decided to go with her. They stayed just one night in Topeka. Then, after returning to their family home to retrieve some things they’d not packed the night before—“it was so weird and horrible to ring the doorbell,” Megan says—they left town.

They decided to disappear for a while, and found rooms in a house in a tiny Midwestern town. They needed space—to think, to read, to imagine what had previously been unimaginable. Their lives had largely been scripted, and “now that we’re writing our own script, everything seems a lot more tenuous,” Megan says. “We needed to think about what we believe. We need to figure out what we want to do next. I never imagined leaving, ever, so I never thought about doing anything different. I have no idea what kind of work I want to do, or where to live. How do people decide these things?”

Once a constant Tweeter, she hasn’t posted anything online since October. “I don’t know what I believe, so I don’t know what to say,” she explains. “I haven’t been ready to talk about any of this.” She’s only doing so now, and briefly, because, she says, “I was so proactive before and vocal about the church. My name means something now to others that it doesn’t mean to me. I want people to know that it’s not now how it was.”

But how is it going to be? She’s still not sure. They’ve been trying new things; one of their housemates made sushi one night, the first time Megan tasted raw fish (“yum!”). They read a lot—“I liked ‘The Sun Also Rises.’ There was a quote that was perfect for where we were: ‘Wonderful how one loses track of the days up here in the mountains.’ And you know what else I loved about it? I could be completely mistaken about what the book means, but where the book began and where it ended was the same. It makes your problems seem like small things. It gives you perspective—well, it gave me perspective, that my problems in the grand scheme of things are not as horrible or monstrous as they seem.” They talk to each other for hours each day, about religion, about God, about the Bible, about the future, about how to treat people, about “what’s right and what’s wrong—capital R and capital W.”

That raises the question of regrets and amends, for things they’ve said and signs they’ve held and judgments they’ve passed. “I definitely regret hurting people,” she says. “That was never our intention. We thought we were doing good. We thought it was the only way to do good. And that’s what I’ve always wanted.”

That’s not how the message was received. “I think I’ve known that for a long time, and I would talk to people about how I knew the message was hurtful,” Megan says. “But I believed it couldn’t matter what people felt. It mattered that this was what God wanted.”

___

In the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus resuscitates a girl who is believed to be dead, commanding her, according to the King James Version that is favored at Westboro, “Damsel, arise.” The verse has long been a favorite of Megan’s, and it has taken on new and special meaning since her departure from the church.

Now that she has arisen, what does Megan Phelps-Roper think God wants her to do? She smiles and puts her hands on her cheeks as I ask the question. She laughs, but it’s a weird laugh—hollow, a little nervous.

“I have no idea,” she says. “I mean, I have almost no idea. I know I want to do good for people. And I want to treat people well. And it’s nice that I can do that now in a way that they see as good too. How exactly do you accomplish that? I’m not sure.”

Over lunch, we had talked about so many big questions: Predestination. Hell. The Bible. Sin. Big things and small about how “church” is done at Old First versus what she grew up with at Westboro. The Bible verses were the same—there were readings on Sunday from Jeremiah, from I Corinthians (on love), and from the Gospel of Luke. She knew one of the hymns, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and during the singing, “that was when I felt most at home.” But she was struck that the congregation had a role beyond singing hymns, and noted that she’d never before been in a church where women’s heads were not covered. “It just felt really different. I didn’t think it was bad,” she says with a shrug. “It’s literally so very different that it is hard to compare them.”

At times, there’s something about the way she unpacks these observations and answers my questions that makes her seem much younger than her twenty-seven years. There’s an innocence, almost a naivete. But how else would it be? How else could it be, given the boundaries that have always marked the hours of her life?

Now that those boundaries are gone, “I’m trying to figure out which ones were good and smart, and which ones shouldn’t be there anymore,” she says. “I don’t feel confident at all in my beliefs about God. That’s definitely scary. But I don’t believe anymore that God hates almost all of mankind. I don’t think that, if you do everything else in your life right and you happen to be gay, you’re automatically going to hell. I don’t believe anymore that WBC has a monopoly on truth.”

She hopes to emerge from this season “with a better understanding of the world and how I fit into it,” she says, “and how I can be an influence for good.” This all sounds lovely and rainbows and unicorns, but really? You may believe it or you may not, but Megan won’t budge on this—and a trace of the characteristic Westboro stubbornness that I experienced in Topeka resurfaces. She is emphatic: “It’s true! I wanted to do good! I thought I was. And that wish hasn’t changed.”

When I push her to articulate what she wants for herself, she reminisces about an interview, in her Westboro days, in which a journalist asked her what she wanted her legacy to be. “I had only a few seconds to think while my mom answered the same question,” Megan says. “And then I said: ‘That I treated people right.’ That’s still true.”

Thank God for second chances.

—-

Read a statement from Megan and Grace here.

Justice Department Paper on Drones Leaked


Justice Department Paper on Drones Leaked

An Air Force RQ-170 Sentinel unmanned aerial vehicle as reported by ABC News.
NBC News reportedly obtained and subsequently published a previously confidential Justice Department white paper concerning the use of deadly drone strikes on American citizens. The paper addresses guidelines and circumstances for executing such strikes.
Human rights advocates are concerned the guidelines are poorly defined and leave far too much room for interpretation. This creates a situation, they claim, conducive to ill advised and otherwise unlawful assassinations and executions. Concern is also being voiced that officials are publicly averting from discussion of such loosely defined procedures while implementing their use behind closed doors.
Contrastingly, those who support the policies outlined in the paper argue that such measures are required in order to enable the Justice Department to act in timely and effective manners. Severe circumstances call for severe measures, they suggest.
Meanwhile, John Brennan, nominated by President Obama to direct the Central Intelligence Agency, will soon appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee to discuss his nomination. Brennan has acted as Obama’s chief counterterrorism consultant while serving as Deputy National Security Advisor and Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. He is credited with designing what have come to be known as US drone assassination programs. The drone projects are reported to be controversial and complex, largely consisting of circumstances unknown to the American public.

THIS IS THEBLAZE’S POINT-BY-POINT SANDY HOOK CONSPIRACY THEORY DEBUNK


THIS IS THEBLAZE’S POINT-BY-POINT SANDY HOOK CONSPIRACY THEORY DEBUNK
By Billy Hallowell

Was Adam Lanza really the only shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School? Why are there supposed inconsistencies surrounding the weapons that were used during the attack? And are some of the parents really “crisis actors” brought in to make the situation that much more believable?

Those are only a few of the questions that have been posed by conspiracy theorists who have used the Internet to virally spread their doubt about the horrific massacre that unfolded in Connecticut on Dec. 14.

The main crux of the arguments presented in documentary-style videos is that the Sandy Hook massacre is either a government-planned hoax intended to lead the nation to overwhelmingly embrace increased gun control measures. Or, at the least, those who have put the videos out believe that essential information is being withheld from the American public surrounding multiple shooters and other game-changing elements. The motivations of those who have created these theories are difficult to pin down, as most are spouting their views anonymously.

A video documenting purported inconsistencies surrounding the tragedy that killed 20 children and six adults inside the school has gone viral, gaining more than 11 million views in just two weeks. And a follow-up “documentary” has also been released, adding further “evidence” to the claim that the event either didn’t unfold at all or that it happened contrary to the media narrative that has been advanced.

To most people, the idea that any of it is true is repulsive. So we decided to visit the most popular of the theories and break them down in a point-by-point debunk.

In addition to questioning the official account of weapons used and whether or not crisis actors were employed by the government, theorists have taken aim at parental reaction to the shootings and have claimed that memorial pages for the victims were published before the shooting took place. And these notions only scratch the surface that is the bizarre world of Sandy Hook Trutherism.

The shadowy individual behind the first video, entitled, “The Sandy Hook Shooting – Fully Exposed” (30 minutes in length), weaves together sparse details and attempts to poke holes in the overall story. As for the first video, Snopes.com, a web site known for debunking untruthful information, dismissed it as “a mixture of misinformation, innuendo, and subjective interpretation.” You can see the clip here:

The second part of the Truther initiative, titled, “Sandy Hook Fully Exposed” (19 minutes in length) tackles similar themes, builds upon the first video and attempts to defend those individuals who are questioning the details associated with the event. In addition to asking a variety of questions about family members who lost children, the videos even devote time to questioning whether “crisis actors” were brought in to speak with media in the wake of the attack. See Part II, below:

“Isn’t something like Sandy Hook just what the government needs to start disarming the public so they don’t have to worry about people being a threat to them anymore?,’ text embedded in the video reads.

TheBlaze has decided to go through both videos to provide you with a recap of the major points that Truthers are raising. In addition to presenting the arguments that those perpetuating an alleged hoax are positing, you’ll see reasonable explanations that essentially debunk their claims and questions. In any crime scene – especially one as traumatic and dramatic as what unfolded at Sandy Hook – information flows quickly and it isn’t uncommon for incorrect details to make their way into media. This, as you will see, is the case when it comes to numerous elements surrounding this tragic shooting.

THE MAN IN THE WOODS & ADDITIONAL SHOOTERS

Sandy Hook Truthers have spent a great deal of time and energy reporting about a man who was allegedly chased in the woods nearby the school; the individual was subsequently apprehended and the entire spectacle is captured on video — footage that is now being used to advance the idea that there was another shooter. The first “expose” shows media interviews with witnesses who claim to have seen this individual in handcuffs following the incident. If it is true that there was more than one shooter, this would obviously turn on its head everything that has been said about a lone murderer (i.e. Lanza).

The man in the woods, though, isn’t the only theory about additional shooters floating around. Additionally, others claim that there were two men who fled the scene in a van. Initial media reports did say that there may have been more than one shooter involved, but as the details came in and the events were clarified, Lanza was the only gunman named and the evidence cleared every other initial suspect.

While conspiracy theorists continue to question where these additional suspects are and why the media has allegedly failed to report about them, there are some pretty convincing counter arguments and debunks surrounding this matter.

These Are the Sandy Hook Conspiracy Theories & TheBlazes Debunk of Each | Truther

The Newtown Bee, a local outlet, reported that a law enforcement official told them that the man seen in the woods had a gun and was nearby the school. He was apparently an off-duty tactical squad police officer from a nearby area. Also, Chris Manfredonia, the father of a 6-year-old student at the school, was handcuffed briefly by police after he ran around the school in an effort to find his daughter. And another unidentified man was briefly detained, but later released when he was found to be an innocent bystander, Snopes.com claims.

Those being interviewed by media likely saw one of these individuals, leading Truthers to suspect something sinister. Lt. Paul Vance, a media relations representative with the State of Connecticut, dismissed the notion that there were other shooters, while also highlighting and confirming the fact that authorities did end up detaining and quickly releasing other individuals.

“Were there other people detained?,” Vance rhetorically asked. “The answer is yes. In the height of the battle, until you’ve determined who, what, when, where and why of everyone in existence…that’s not unusual.”

THE WEAPONS USED INSIDE THE SCHOOL & THE VICTIMS’ BODIES

Another point of contention that Truthers seem to be focusing upon is the weapons that Lanza used in committing his crime. In the first video, the narrator claims that, according to media, three guns were found at the scene (two handguns and one assault rifle). Four handguns were also allegedly found inside the school. The inconsistency here comes from the Dr. H. Wayne Carver II, the chief medical examiner, who said following the incident that the assault rifle appeared to be responsible for the children’s deaths.

Here’s why Truthers are jumping all over the claims surrounding the assault rifle. The first video alleging a hoax claims that this particular weapon was later recovered from the trunk of the car that Lanza was driving. If this is the case, then critics are questioning how Carver’s claims could be possible. The shooter clearly couldn’t have used the assault rifle to commit his crimes if the weapon was in the trunk of the car the entire time.

These Are the Sandy Hook Conspiracy Theories & TheBlazes Debunk of Each | Truther

But there’s an understandable answer here as well. A few days after the attack, clarity surrounding the guns finally emerged. Lanza left a shotgun in the car, but he had three other weapons that were brought into the school – a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle, a Glock 10 mm and a Sig Sauer 9 mm (the latter two are handguns). The fourth weapon – the shotgun – was left in the vehicle’s trunk. Carver was correct in making his claim that it was the AR-15 that was responsible for the children’s deaths – a firearm that was not in the trunk as the first video indicates (CNN actually has a great primer on the weapons that expounds upon this in detail).

While we’re on the subject of Carver, it’s important to dispel another rumor – that the parents never saw their children’s bodies. While they did not identify the bodies in their entirety, pictures of the kids’ faces were provided to the families. This wasn’t done to be sinister or to hide details; quite the contrary, the doctor was trying to spare the families the pain of seeing the horrific injuries the children sustained, so photos of their faces were used instead.

SCHOOL NURSE’S ALLEGED CLAIMS ABOUT THE KILLER’S MOTHER

Andrea McCarren, a reporter for WUSA, reported in the wake of the killings about a conversation she had with Sally Cox, the Sandy Hook school nurse. Cox, who McCarren described as “fairly traumatized,” apparently told the reporter that she knew the killer’s mother, a kindergarten teacher at the school. Initially, media reported that Lanza may have been the son of a teacher, but this was soon dispelled.

Truthers are questioning this story, though, obviously wondering how McCarren was given information about the killer and his mother that ended up being entirely untrue (they argue that the school nurse should have had the information correct and that her mention of a teacher at Sandy Hook is curious, especially considering the details we now know).

During McCarren’s report, the journalist also said that the nurse expounded, claiming that Cox said that the kindergarten teacher was kind and exactly the person one would want his or her children to spend time with. Snopes notes that the USA Today also “mistakenly reported…that Nancy Lanza” was a teacher at the school. Perhaps this report and McCarren’s were based on the same misinformation.

Some have also claimed that Cox is also not a registered nurse, but her real name is Sarah and a search of that name does, indeed, yield results that show that the woman is a registered nurse in the state’s registration system. Since “Sally” isn’t her birth name, it’s obvious that a license attacked to that name isn’t available in the Connecticut database (see above).

ROBBIE/EMILIE PARKER & LYNN/GRACE MCDONNELL

Emilie Parker, one of the 20 children killed at Sandy Hook, is a central character in Truthers’ questioning, as they throw a number of theories about her very person and her family’s reaction to her death into the mix. In addition to claiming that the young girl was Photoshopped into at least one family image, those questioning official accounts claim that her father, Robbie Parker, can be seen getting “into character” before a press conference — something they dismiss as proof that he may, indeed, be acting or playing the role of a grieving father.

This latter accusation relies upon footage of Robbie purportedly laughing before a press conference. In the clip, he can be seen smiling, taking a moment to compose himself and then allowing emotion to overtake him. “How many parents are laughing and joking a day after their first child has been shot,” a text message reads across the screen in the first hoax video. Later, the words, “I smell B.S.,” are added to describe the father’s reaction.

The video also claims that Parker wasn’t in her class photos and that she appears in images with President Barack Obama following the shooting (something that obviously wouldn’t be possible had she been killed during the incident). But the below video explains that the little girl shown in the image is one of Emilie’s sisters, not the young girl who perished just days before:

At least one other parent was targeted for the same reason – for appearing too chipper in the wake of losing a daughter in the horrific incident. Footage of Lynn McDonnell, mother of a child named Grace, came under scrutiny after the parent spoke with CNN’s Anderson Cooper about her immense loss. While remembering her young child, she expressed facial expressions of joy. However, considering the content of her commentary (she was remembering her young child) it seemed entirely appropriate (in fact, TheBlaze covered the inspirational interview when it aired in December).

CHILD SECURITY EVENT PLANNED FOR DEC. 14

Those embracing the notion that Sandy Hook was a hoax also question an event that was put on by the Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (this department falls under the state’s Division of Emergency Services and Public Protection). This particular event was purportedly planned before the shooting and aimed at helping explore strategies for protecting kids in the result of emergency situations like what happened that same day at Sandy Hook.

 

This event did occur, but it isn’t as surprising as some might assume. On the surface, it may seem odd that the FEMA class, called “Planning for the Needs of Children in Disasters,” was offered on the same day that Sandy Hook unfolded. But this course was also offered six additional times in the state of Connecticut during November and December. It wasn’t a rare occurrence only planned on the day of the shooting; it was an event that had been repeatedly held within the state’s boundaries during recent days and weeks.

MEMORIAL PAGES & ASSOCIATED INTERNET TIMESTAMPS

The Truthers are particularly fired up about various memorial pages and social media initiatives that they claim were created days before Lanza’s crimes at the elementary school. In addition to teacher Victoria Soto’s Facebook memorial page, which they claim was created on Dec. 10, four days before the shooting, the individuals behind the video and movement also point to a GoFundMe initiative, among others, as also having timestamps that precede the event.

Inquisitr explained how the Internet, despite being quite advanced, still has its hiccups. Here’s a brief recap that explains some of the reasons behind date stamps seeming incorrect on various posts and web sites:

To understand the Sandy Hook websites that seem to have been published early, you must first understand the way the internet reconciles dates as well as how Google crawls them. If a page is repurposed to host other information than it originally displayed, it may show up as having been “published” earlier.

Further, servers and sites often have incorrect dates. Having used a number of WordPress panels in my career, it is a job to keep track of where dates and times are set in order to avoid publishing in the past when scheduling a post, something that could be at play and an easily explainable factor not often acknowledged by Sandy Hook truthers.

And given the fact material can run afoul on an individual computer, a site’s panel and then a search engine, sites like the United Way’s Sandy Hook page could easily register as a prior date on Google.

When it comes to Google results – another target the Truthers point to – the Internet giant isn’t always correct. Sometimes, search results have the incorrect dates associated with them, clearly a factor that is overlooked in the conspiracy theory videos. As for the web sites that seem to have an earlier date stamp, another theory is that certain donation and Facebook pages that were created for other reasons were edited and amended to assist with Sandy Hook efforts following the shooting. While they retained their earlier creation date, their intended purposes changed.

TheBlaze spoke with Justin Basch, CEO of Basch Solutions, a web site production company. The tech expert dismissed conspiracy theorists’ claims, calling them “nonsense.” He explained the many ways that dates can be manipulated in WordPress (the platform running at least one of the web sites at the center of the debate).

“It’s very, very easy to manipulate a date that content was published — whether it’s through text, whether it’s through date manipulation, etc.,” Basch explained.

THE SYMPATHETIC AND HELPFUL NEIGHBOR: GENE ROSEN

Then there’s Gene Rosen, the neighbor who lives nearby Sandy Hook. He began appearing in media immediately following the shooting, telling of his involvement in housing six children who had escaped the school that fateful morning. Rosen has been interviewed numerous times by the mainstream media and he has explained how he entertained the children inside of his home after they fled the school in terror.

The Truthers, though, claim that Rosen’s story has some troubling inconsistencies. Among them, they charge that he is a member of the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG), a professional union of acting professionals (thus, advancing the theory that he might be a crisis actor). They also claim that Rosen’s story about discovering the children in his driveway changed and evolved during various appearances. While in some interviews he described the six kids sitting with a female bus driver, in at least one other account, he described a male adult talking harshly to the children, the video proclaims.

Additionally, Rosen, a retired psychologist, told reporters that the children told him their teacher, Ms. Soto, was dead. Initially, some media reported that only one child escaped the classroom where the majority of the kids perished, but this ended up not being the case (others seemingly escaped as well). Rosen also said in one interview that he saw the list of victims not long after the shooting, but conspiracy theorists claim this isn’t possible, as it wasn’t released until after the time he claims to have seen it.

A list of casualties, though, was released the day after the shooting and, as Snopes documents, the Gene Rosen who is a member of SAG is a different individual – one who has never lived in Connecticut. The retired psychologist at the center of this particular case has always lived in the state (while both are in their 60s, the actor is 62 and the Newtown resident is 69).

LANZA’S VEHICLE ON THE DAY OF THE SHOOTING

In the second video, which spent some time defending Truthers against attacks, an bizarre claim is made about the vehicle that Lanza drove to Sandy Hook on Dec. 14. While it has been widely reported that the car belonged to his mother, whom he also shot dead before heading to the school that morning, hoax theorists believe that the car is registered to a man named Chris Rodia.

While it may be tempting for those looking for holes in the story to wonder if Rodia was complicit in helping Lanza with the attack, Snopes.com debunks this, claiming that Rodia was pulled over at a traffic stop and, thus, ended up being named on a police scanner. Salon recaps how this particular element of the story was debunked:

This one was debunked by the theorists themselves just a few days after the shooting. Blogger Joe Quinn obtained the police audio, which definitively debunking the myth. (Rodia appeared on the scanner because he was getting pulled over in a traffic stop miles away, but his license plate doesn’t match Lanza’s car). “This was a huge blow, because lots of people were making big leaps on this … but we now have to look elsewhere,” another amateur investigator said on YouTube.

To clarify: Rodia is not a suspect and he did not own the car that Lanza drove to the school, as the video seems to allege. Rodia was also not at the school at the time of the shooting. Snopes claimsthat “he was driving a different vehicle in another town at the time.”

CRISIS ACTORS DEPICTED IN MEDIA

Truthers’ have gone out of their way (there’s even a disclaimer at the start of the first video) to claim that they are not trying to dismiss the event as though it never happened. Instead, they say that they are merely asking pertinent questions and, in a sense, exercising their civic duty as caring and in-tune Americans (a tactic likely being used to separate themselves from the criticism being thrown their way). Among those curiosities, a consistent theme emerges: The idea that crisis actors were used.

We already covered Rosen and the theory that he is one of these individuals. But there are others who are being dubbed potential crisis actors. One couple in particularly has come under scrutiny. CNN interviewed Nick and Laura Phelps, parents of two children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. In the exchange, Nick becomes emotional while describing the principal at the school as “a very special person.” It’s clear that the family was impacted by what unfolded.

But Truthers question the motivations, sincerity and identity of Nick and Laura, claiming that they may actually be Richard and Jennifer Sexton, two actors from Florida. This bizarre claim — that the couple was brought in to merely depict parents who have children at Sandy Hook Elementary, is one of the more curious ones being floated. The evidence being posited?

The hoax video shows images from an alleged Picasa account belonging to Richard and Jennifer (the actors). Those who believe that something isn’t quite right about Sandy Hook claim that the photo album was deleted after it gained attention. In addition, Truthers are using a clip showing Laura (or Jennifer) giving what appears to be an audition or performance.

But Snopes claims that the husband and wife duos merely resemble one another and that they are not, in fact, the same individuals. While the videos seem to indicate that there may be a connection between the Crisis Actors company – a group that provides actors to simulate traumatic and disastrous events, there is no connection between the actors provided by the group and the individuals shown in media interviews. Plus, a simple web search shows that the family does, indeed, live near the school.

Crisis Actors (the company) also makes it clear that its performers do not engage in real-life events. While the video alleges connections between the Sandy Hook families and these individuals, no such connections exist. In fact, the company has gone out of its way to dispel such rumors.

See Anderson Cooper address some of these controversies:

UNDERSTANDING THE VIDEOS AND THEIR CREATOR

While the conspiracy-laden clips have intrigued some, others find themselves completely horrified, sickened and offended by their contents — especially considering the pain that the families of Sandy Hook victims have already endured. Following the publication of the first video, reaction and media coverage was swift. As noted, the creator of the videos made it a point to vehemently defend himself against critics.

“This video was made to clear up confusion and shed light on new information. Apologies to anyone offended by the past videos,” a caveat at the beginning of the second clip reads. “[W]e hope this one is easier to digest. Would you rather be hurt temporarily by the truth, or comforted forever by lies?”

Later, the anonymous individual behind the clips claims that it is unfair for critics to label him and others supporting his ideas as “Truthers” – or even “conspiracy theorists.” Such labels, text embedded in the video reads, implies that those questioning the event are “over the top, crazy, and against everyone else.”

“These are millions of everyday people that deserve answers to their questions,” the text continues. “And it seems by labeling them like that, it’s easier to dismiss them and not have to look at the facts.”

These Are the Sandy Hook Conspiracy Theories & TheBlazes Debunk of Each | Truther

However, those looking to debunk the Sandy Hook debunkers would dismiss these views as fringe. Even the person who created, “The Sandy Hook Shooting – Fully Exposed” and its companion video was surprised by its viral nature. In an interview with Gawker before the video released, he seemed surprised by its viral nature, telling the outlet that he would have “spent more time on it” if he knew it would be so popular. TheBlaze reached out to him to get further comment, but we did not receive a response.

“[I]t all started when me and my friends used to research 9/11 in high school,” said the source, who refused to identify himself to Gawker. “That’s what really got me started when it came to researching government cover ups…Once I learned about all the false flag attacks in history that have been proven to be true, I knew it was only a matter of time before another came a long.”

Apparently, in the mind of the individual behind the videos (which were published on a YouTube channel under the account ThinkOutsideTheTV), Sandy Hook was next in this purported line of government cover-ups. The individual went on to tell the outlet that he felt as though the event was “too perfect” and that the people and the town involved had an “artificial vibe about them.”

OTHER THEORIES

Since Sandy Hook unfolded, other conspiracy theories have emerged, although the aforementioned YouTube clips have become the most pervasive and widespread. TheBlaze already told you about James Tracy, a communications professor at Florida Atlantic University (FAU), and his controversial comments about the Sandy Hook massacre.

Tracy, too, appeared on radio interviews, where he advanced the crisis actor angle, claiming that the Obama administration might have deployed these individuals to stage the attack in an effort to further crack down on guns. On his personal blog, he cited InfoWars.com as well. Later, he clarified his comments, claiming that while “one is left with the impression that a real tragedy took place,” images and information have been withheld from the public.

The entire ordeal, which captured national attention and was covered by TheBlaze earlier this month, led FAU to separate itself from Tracy’s comments. Lisa Metcalf, director of media relations, said, “James Tracy does not speak for the university.”

In the same Blaze report, Jason Howerton covered Dr. James H. Fetzer, a professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). In an op-ed published in an Iranian (state-owned, of course) outlet, he charged that, perhaps, the Mossad (Israeli security forces) were responsible for the attack.

“The killing of children is a signature of terror ops conducted by agents of Israel,” he wrote. “[W]ho better to slaughter American children than Israelis, who deliberately murder Palestinian children?”

These Are the Sandy Hook Conspiracy Theories & TheBlazes Debunk of Each | Truther

These, of course, of just two of the numerous alternative conspiracy theories being floated. There are plenty of other ideas that have circulated since Dec. 14. However, the growth in popularity of the latest videos creates some serious questions that deserve to be answered in order to properly educate readership.

At least one father of a first-grader at Sandy Hook took the issue to heart, showcasing his frustration in an on-air phone call that was placed to radio host Glenn Beck. The father, named “Pete,” expressed his dismay at the conspiracy theories, calling Trutherism an “unimaginable way to even look at a tragedy or horrific event.”

“I was there. I’ve been to the funerals,” he told Beck. “I know the families very closely. I know a lot of those children. It happened. It really happened.”

But if thats not convincing enough, consider BuzzFeed’s logic: ”The evidence on which these budding theories are based is, even by the standards of fringe conspiracy theory, remarkably thin, and demand massive collusion between hundreds of private citizens, the federal government, local authorities, and the news media.”

While the viral nature of the videos has begun to simmer, the mainstream media has not provided a level of coverage that would disseminate the truth fervently enough to dispel the rumors. Setting the record straight and showcasing the truth, though, is essential.

The ‘Obama Faked Newtown to Take Our Guns’ Theory


The ‘Obama Faked Newtown to Take Our Guns’ Theory
Cover of
Cover via Amazon
Cover via Amazon
One of the points Charles Pierce made in his excellent book, Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free, was that we in the U.S. love our conspiracy theories. He traced several such theories over the course of our nation’s history, and I suspect we can all think of a few in our present and recent past. One of the newest and most disturbing concerns the mass murder that took place in Newtown, CT, late last year. Evidently, some on the right are now pushing the theory that President Obama faked the entire thing, hiring actors to make it look convincing. And why would he do such a thing? To provide false justification for taking our guns, of course.

This particular theory, like so many others on the right, starts with the conviction that black helicopters filled with ATF agents are going to show up on our property any day now in order to disarm us. “It will be like Waco but on a larger scale!” Sure it will. From the belief that this outcome is inevitable, they work backwards to provide a way in which it could come about. And somehow the UN will be involved. They always are.

When I first saw bits and pieces of this theory emerging on Twitter and assorted websites, I was disgusted. That initial reaction has largely passed and been replaced by one of disappointment. You see, it occurs to me that this is precisely the sort of thing our reality-based community ought to love smacking down. With our professed love of skepticism, critical thinking, reason, debunking myths, and the like, this sort of garbage should be drawing us together. We could be the ones taking the lead on providing reasonable voices to counter this stuff.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that we all support gun control or that we should do so. I’m rather conflicted on that subject myself. I just wish I believed that we are all capable of setting aside our petty squabbles for awhile to focus on dismantling this theory and those like it before they do additional harm. If the atheist community is not going to be at the forefront of debunking this sort of delusion with the same vehemence with which we approach religion, disappointment seems to be the appropriate reaction.

Fatwa Fear | Islamic Fanatics Attack All-Girl Rock Band


Kashmir all-girl rock band gives up singing after fatwa

by 

ALSO SEE

Pragash Band, an all girls rock band from Kashmir have decided to stop singing, after receiving a string of death and rape threats on their social media pages, as well as on their mobile phones.

The all-girls band, which came to limelight in late December last year after their performance at the annual ‘Battle of the Bands’ competition, had defied the convention by stepping into the male-dominated field of music.

They since received abusive and hate messages on their Facebook page, including from extremists who said the teenage girls should be raped and then drowned. The message read, “Post this status in advance. The three band girls raped in Jammu and thrown in river.”‘

Screengrab from CNN-IBN

Screengrab from CNN-IBN

The Times of India quoted Adnan Mattoo, owner of Band Inn, a musical academy where the girls trained, as saying that their talent is ‘astonishing’.

‘They are just 15 and too young to face such abuse.  They are hurt. They cried, but I tried to convince them to continue”, he told the newspaper.

The girls troubles were only compounded after the Grandmufti of Jammu and Kashmir Bashiruddin Ahmad termed singing as “un-Islamic” and asked them to abandon it.

The Grandmufti issued a decree, terming singing as un-Islamic.

“I have said that singing is not in accordance with Islamic teachings,” Ahmad told PTI.

The cleric said he advised the members of Pragash Band to “abandon” singing as it is against Islamic teachings and will not help them in playing any constructive role in the society.

“Society cannot be built or developed by doing un-Islamic acts like singing. I have advised these girls, and other Muslims as well, to stay within the limits of modesty as prescribed for them,” he added.

However, support has been pouring in from all corners on social networking sites for the band and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has also backed them.

Omar came out in support of the girls yesterday saying police will probe the threats.

“I hope these talented young girls will not let a handful of morons silence them,” he said.

5-Year-Old Girl Allegedly Raped In Haredi City, Police Met With Wall Of Silence


5-Year-Old Girl Allegedly Raped In Haredi City, Police Met With Wall Of Silence

Little haredi girls backpacks

An anonymous complaint to the Israel Police has reportedly sparked fears that a five-year-old girl was raped in the haredi Wast Bank city of Modiin Illit last week, but haredim have refused to cooperate with the police investigation and neither the girl or her alleged rapist has been located.

Little haredi girls backpacks

5-Year-Old Girl Allegedly Raped In Haredi City, Police Met With Wall Of Silence
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com

An anonymous complaint to the Israel Police has reportedly sparked fears that a five-year-old girl was raped in the haredi Wast Bank city of Modiin Illit last week, but haredim have refused to cooperate with the police investigation and neither the girl or her alleged rapist has been located, Ynet reports.

The girl reportedly received medical treatment, but members of the local haredi medical organization have also refused to cooperate with police.

Despite this lack of cooperation, the town is reportedly rife with rumors about the rape.

Police warned several haredim that they would be charged with obstruction of justice if they continue to refuse to cooperate.

Sometime in the past two weeks a man lured a five-year-old girl he saw on the street to a storeroom at a nearby synagogue. He allegedly sexually abused the girl for two hours.

The girl was allegedly treated by haredi medics and brought to a hospital in central Israel. But police could not find any evidence that a five-year-old girl had actually been treated at that hospital, and at least one of the hospital workers who were questioned by police denied having treated the child.

“Everyone is shocked. Some rabbis even discussed it over the weekend… One of them urged us to keep children safe and report anything of the sort. Nobody wants to protect such criminals, but parents know that in the haredi public the one who will be tarnished by this is the girl. She will not be able to get married and this will ruin her entire future. I have reason to believe that (her parents) took care of her and probably also took her to therapy, but they wouldn’t complain, so everyone who knew about the case simply respected their wishes,” a haredi resident told Ynet.

Other residents believe the rape never happened.

But another resident told Ynet that he had personally been order not to cooperate with police or the media.

[Hat Tip: Jonny.]

80% Of Jewish Israelis Want Haredim Out Of Government


80% Of Jewish Israelis Want Haredim Out Of Government
Israeli Flag

“[The haredi political parties] United Torah Judaism and Shas have made the wide public hate them after many years of aggression and extortion.”

Ynet reports:

…[A] new survey reveals that 80% of Israeli Jews are in favor of a civil government [i.e., no haredi political parties in the governing coalition] with an agenda focusing on freedom of religion and an equal share of the burden.

The survey, commissioned by the Hiddush association for religious freedom and equality, was conducted by the Smith Institute among 500 respondents – a representative sample of the adult Jewish population in Israel. The maximum sampling error was 4.5%.

Sixty-eight percent of Habayit Hayehudi voters were also in favor of such a government (26% said they were very supportive and 42% said they were pretty supportive of the idea).

In addition, even 39% of Shas voters voiced their support for a civil government.

In parties affiliated with the centrist-leftist camp, the support level was close to 100%. All Labor, Hatnua and Meretz voters and 99% of Yesh Atid voters said they were in favor of such a government.

According to Hiddush CEO Rabbi Uri Regev, the fact that an overwhelming majority among Likud Beiteinu voters supports a government that will advance freedom of religion and an equal share of the burden shows that “the era in which haredi parties were perceived as natural coalition partners is over.”…

In previous Knessets, the chairman of the Finance Committee was mostly a representative of the United Torah Judaism faction. The survey’s last question tried to find out whether the Jewish public is in favor or against continuing this tradition.

About two-thirds of the Jewish public (67%) were against giving the job to a UTJ lawmaker, and one-third were in favor. Eighty-eight percent of seculars were against the idea, while 97% of haredim were in favor.…

“United Torah Judaism and Shas have made the wide public hate them after many years of aggression and extortion,” Rabbi Regev added.…

Atheism, Defined


Dave’s Mailbag: Atheism, defined

Yesterday, the Atheist Alliance tweeted:

What do you consider to be the exact definition of atheism?

There are many incorrect definitions of atheism floating around. It’s important for religious extremists, in their deliberate attempts to misinform (see my previous post about lying for Jesus), that atheism be depicted as nonsensical, demonic, or irrational. For example, this display:

atheism-defined

It says: “Atheism: This is the belief that there is no god. This is a very common belief of those who do not wish to be responsible for their actions, as if there is no god there is no judgment. This belief was started by Charles Darwin, but has very recently (within the last 30 years) become a popular religion.”

facepalm

I do a talk called “Atheism 101″ that covers the definition of atheism, among other things. In it, I discuss the difference between agnostic/gnostic and atheistic/theistic. The question should not be worded, “Are you an atheist or an agnostic?” but rather “Are you an atheist or a theist?” and independently, “Are you 100% certain that God does or does not exist (gnostic) or do you acknowledge a possibility that you are wrong (agnostic)?”

I tweeted back to the Atheist Alliance:

@atheistalliance Atheism can be defined precisely as “the lack of faith in the existence of a god or gods.”

I think this is the most precise and accurate definition I have come across. In my talk, I use this. For a thorough breakdown of the definition of atheism, with sources, I recommend this webpage.

Dictionary Series - Religion: atheism

This has been on my mind because I received the following message today:

Your professed “belief” in the religion of athiesm has everything to do with your selfish desire to continue in your favorite sins. You have a strong motive to hope that there isn’t a Holy God who will punish you for your sins. Those making a profession of faith in the religion of atheism hope that if they scream loud, long, and shrill enough, they will be able to convince themselves that God doesn’t exist. I don’t believe that your even an atheist Dave.

First off:

  1. Atheism is not a religion. The definition of a religion is arguable, but the one I use and agree with comes from anthropologists Drs. Craig Palmer and Lyle Steadman in their excellent book, “Supernatural and Natural Selection: The Evolution of Religion.” They define religion as “a communicated acceptance by individuals of another individual’s ‘supernatural’ claim, a claim whose accuracy is not verifiable by the senses.” They continue: “The distinctive property of such acceptance is that it communicates a willingness to accept the influence of the speaker nonskeptically. While supernatural claims are not demonstrably true, they are asserted to be true” (pg ix). Since atheism makes no supernatural claims—in fact many atheists are metaphysical naturalists—it definitively is not a religion.
  2. My belief that atheism and science are the most likely contenders for an accurate description of the universe’s workings have nothing at all to do with sin. I don’t believe sin exists. I believe that some acts and behaviors are anti-social and, on ethical grounds, should not be committed. I believe that other acts and behaviors are pro-social and, on ethical grounds, should be encouraged. But I find the whole concept of sin—transgressions against divine law—to be ridiculous. I don’t believe there is any such thing as divine law, because I am an atheist.
  3. This entire statement is just a bare assertion. In no way does the sender attempt to provide reasons for the claims he is making, or explain on what basis exactly he is claiming to know these things about me and other atheists.

I think the sender is unable to see atheism for what it really is because doing so would make him insecure in his faith. It’s necessary for him to misunderstand atheism because atheism, understood, is the more rational position. So he builds a straw-man and uses it as a human shield. It’s really quite pathetic, pitiable even.

straw-man

What’s really wrong with his message, though, is where he says “[atheists make] a profession of faith.” Atheists lack faith by definition. Faith comes from the Latin “fidere,” which means “to trust.” In the theological sense, this means trusting that God exists, or that God will provide, etc, even though the logical arguments and evidence are insufficient for belief in themselves.

I am proud to say that I do not have faith. I am a skeptic: I have an attitude of doubt, an inclination toward incredulity. I think faith is dangerous, irrational, archaic, and puerile. If you are a logical person, a good critical thinker, and you come across an argument that lacks evidentiary backing, contains fallacies, or is nonsensical, you do not [continue to] believe that argument. Faith is the admission that you are not being logical, that you are not a good critical thinker, continuing to believe something when the reasons you have to believe it aren’t good enough on their own. Saying you have faith is saying, “Here are the reasons I believe this. Here is the evidence supporting why I believe this. Oh, the reasons have logical problems? Oh, the evidence is not very strong? Well, I choose to believe it regardless.” Or even worse, sometimes people say, “I don’t need evidence. I don’t need logical arguments. I have faith.” Faith is the very model of a circular argument. As Mark Twain is credited with saying, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”

I have never met a Christian who claims not to have faith. If you call yourself a Christian and do not have faith, I would really like to hear from you. Hebrews 11:6 says that “without faith, it is impossible to please God. Hebrews 11:1 says: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” This is directly at odds with skepticism. It is my position that if you are a skeptic, and you also claim faith in a god or gods, you are doing one or the other incorrectly.

I think my favorite part of this, though, is where he says, “I don’t believe your [sic] even an atheist, Dave.”

This is my license plate:

license-plate2

(Atheos is Greek for atheist). If I’m not an atheist, I don’t know who is.

Thanks for reading. Until next time,

Dave


dave_bio_pic4
Dave Muscato is the Kansas/Missouri-Area Volunteer Network Coordinator for the Secular Student Alliance. He is also a board member of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A non-traditional junior at Mizzou studying economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday and twice monthly for the Humanist Community at Harvard. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com

The Believing Brain


The Believing Brain

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ABOUT THE BOOK

book cover

IN THIS, HIS MAGNUM OPUS one of the world’s best known skeptics and critical thinkers Dr. Michael Shermer—founding publisher of Skeptic magazine and perennial monthly columnist(“Skeptic”) for Scientific American—presents his comprehensive theory on how beliefs are born, formed, nourished, reinforced, challenged, changed, and extinguished. This book synthesizes Dr. Shermer’s 30 years of research to answer the questions of how and why we believe what we do in all aspects of our lives, from our suspicions and superstitions to our politics, economics, and social beliefs. In this book Dr. Shermer is interested in more than just why people believe weird things, or why people believe this or that claim, but in why people believe anything at all. His thesis is straightforward:

We form our beliefs for a variety of subjective, personal, emotional, and psychological reasons in the context of environments created by family, friends, colleagues, culture, and society at large; after forming our beliefs we then defend, justify, and rationalize them with a host of intellectual reasons, cogent arguments, and rational explanations. Beliefs come first, explanations for beliefs follow.

Dr. Shermer also provides the neuroscience behind our beliefs. The brain is a belief engine. From sensory data flowing in through the senses the brain naturally begins to look for and find patterns, and then infuses those patterns with meaning. The first process Dr. Shermer calls patternicity: the tendency to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless data. The second process he callsagenticity: the tendency to infuse patterns with meaning, intention, and agency.

We can’t help believing. Our brains evolved to connect the dots of our world into meaningful patterns that explain why things happen. These meaningful patterns become beliefs. Once beliefs are formed the brain begins to look for and find confirmatory evidence in support of those beliefs, which adds an emotional boost of further confidence in the beliefs and thereby accelerates the process of reinforcing them, and round and round the process goes in a positive feedback loop of belief confirmation. Dr. Shermer outlines the numerous cognitive tools our brains engage to reinforce our beliefs as truths and to insure that we are always right.

Interlaced with his theory of belief, Dr. Shermer provides countless real-world examples of belief from all realms of life, and in the end he demonstrates why science is the best tool ever devised to determine whether or not a belief matches reality.

BRIEF SYNOPSIS

The Believing Brain is divided into four parts. Part I, “Journeys of Belief,” includes personal narratives of belief, including that of the author; Part II, “The Biology of Belief,” bores into the brain and explains how the mind works to form beliefs, from thoughts and ideas down to neurons firing across tiny synaptic gaps as they talk to one another chemically; Part III, “Belief in Things Unseen” applies my theory beliefs to the afterlife, God, aliens, and conspiracies; and Part IV, “Belief in Things Seen,” examines the role of beliefs in politics, economics, and ideologies, explains how belief confirmation works to assure that we are always right, and then explores the history of scientific exploration, from the world to the cosmos, and how science works to overcome the power of belief.

The Believing Brain begins with three personal belief stories. The first story is about a man whom you will have never heard of but who had a profound and life-changing experience in the wee hours of the morning many decades ago that still haunts him to this day and drives him to search for ultimate meaning in the cosmos. The second story is about a man whom you will most definitely have heard of as he is one of the greatest scientists of our age, and he too had a life-changing early-morning experience that confirmed his decision to make a religious leap of faith. The third story is Dr. Shermer’s own passage from believer to skeptic, and what he learned along the way that drove him into a professional career of the scientific study of belief systems.

From narrative stories Dr. Shermer turns to an architecture of belief systems, how they are formed, nourished, reinforced, changed, and extinguished, first conceptually through the two theoretical constructs he developed called patternicity and agenticity, and then delve deeper into how these cognitive processes evolved and what purpose they served in the lives of our ancestors as well as in our lives today. Dr. Shermer then bores deeper into the brain, right down to the neurophysiology of belief system construction at the single neuron level, and then reconstructs from the bottom up how brains form beliefs. Then we shall examine how belief systems operate with regard to belief in religion, the afterlife, God, extraterrestrials, conspiracies, politics, economics, and ideologies of all stripes, and then consider how a host of cognitive processes convince us that our beliefs are truths. In the final chapters we will consider how we know any of our beliefs are believable, which patterns are true and which false, which agents are real and which are chimera, and how science works as the ultimate pattern detection device.

In the end, all of us are trying to make sense of the world, and nature has gifted us with a double-edge sword that cuts for and against. On one edge, our brains are the most complex and sophisticated information processing machines in the universe, capable of understanding not only the universe itself but of understanding the process of understanding. On the other edge, by the very same process of forming beliefs about the universe and ourselves, we are also more capable than any other species of self-deception and illusion, of fooling ourselves while we are trying to avoid being fooled by nature

Don’t Replace Religion; End It


Don’t Replace Religion; End It
Penn Jillette

Penn Jillette is the author of “Every Day is an Atheist Holiday!” and “God, No!

Religion cannot and should not be replaced by atheism. Religion needs to go away and not be replaced by anything. Atheism is not a religion. It’s the absence of religion, and that’s a wonderful thing.

Religion is not morality. Theists ask me, “If there’s no god, what would stop me from raping and killing everyone I want to.” My answer is always: “I, myself, have raped and killed everyone I want to … and the number for both is zero.” Behaving morally because of a hope of reward or a fear of punishment is not morality. Morality is not bribery or threats. Religion is bribery and threats. Humans have morality. We don’t need religion.

Atheism is the absence of religion. We don’t really need atheism. We just need to get rid of religion.

Religion is faith. Faith is belief without evidence. Belief without evidence cannot be shared. Faith is a feeling. Love is also a feeling, but love makes no universal claims. Love is pure. The lover reports on his or her feelings and needs nothing more. Faith claims knowledge of a world we share but without evidence we can share. Feeling love is beautiful. Feeling the earth is 6,000 years old is stupid.

Religion is often just tribalism: pride in a group one was born into, a group that is often believed to have “God” on its side. We don’t need to replace tribalism with anything other than love for all humanity. Let’s do that, okay?

Religion also includes fellowship, joy, compassion, service and great music, and those can be replaced by … fellowship, joy, compassion, service and great music.

Atheism is the absence of religion. We don’t really need atheism. We just need to get rid of religion.

All Children are Born Atheists


All Children are Born Atheists
Anyone who understands the definition of atheism must acknowledge that all children are born atheists, including those born to Christian parents. Atheism is nothing more than the lack of acceptance of the theistic belief claim (i.e., some god or gods exist). A theist is one who believes that god(s) exist; an atheist is one who does not share this belief. The newborn child cannot even entertain such possibilities and thus lacks theistic belief. Atheism is the default position, and this is where we all begin.

In order for Christians to argue against the reality that all children are born atheists, they must distort the meaning of atheism. They must convince themselves and their audience that atheism is a religion, a philosophy, or a worldview. They claim that atheism is an explicit repudiation of religion and that it involves faith that no gods exist. Such distortions in the meaning of atheism allow them to claim that children cannot be born atheist because atheism requires the same sort of deliberate choice required by religious belief.
Atheism is not a belief system but lack of acceptance of one particular belief. It requires no faith; it is the absence of faith. It is the null hypothesis, the default condition, the natural starting point for each of us.

But why must Christians distort the meaning of atheism at all? Why should they even care if their children are born atheists, especially when it is likely that they will begin brainwashing them at an early age? There are many reasons, ranging from a need to see the child as connected to them through the manner they consider most important (i.e., religion) to the harsh implications of infant mortality to their belief system.

To expand on this latter point, consider the Christian parent whose child dies before the child is capable of forming the cognitions necessary to comprehend theistic belief. According to this parent’s own Christian doctrine, this child is likely destined for hell. This is where non-believers go, and this child is clearly a non-believer. The Catholics toyed with limbo as a way out, but the evangelical Protestants now engaging in America’s “culture wars” never really warmed to this idea. Even theism will be insufficient for such a parent, as a personal relationship with Jesus is thought to be the only vehicle for salvation.

It should be remembered that Christians have created this doctrine for themselves and should be solely responsible for unraveling the many conundrums it presents. Distorting atheism is not an acceptable way out of the mess they have made.

Ann Coulter Goes Off On Obama’s Gun Proposals: ‘Screw You! You Don’t Think We Care About The Children?’


Ann Coulter Goes Off On Obama’s Gun Proposals: ‘Screw You! You Don’t Think We Care About The Children?’

by Matt Wilstein

Sean Hannity invited Ann Coulter onto Fox News tonight to discuss President Obama‘s latest speech on gun violence reduction in Minnesota today.

The two began by mocking the recently-releasedphoto of Obama skeet-shooting, with Coulter saying she’s “waiting to see the photos of him taking birth control pills to show that he’s fighting the war on women.”

But what Coulter really wanted to talk about were the “lies” being propagated by the New York Times and President Obama: “If we want to do something to reduce these gun shootings all we have to do is for the American people to want to do something” about guns. She said that the real problem is that the ACLU and liberals are preventing any real action to happen surrounding the mentally ill.

She continued, “Connecticut, Aurora, Tucson. These are crazy people. Everything they are telling you that they can do about guns is a lie.”

Coulter claimed that Obama’s big plan is to “demonize people that are legal gun owners. And Obama, look at him. He cares about the children,” she said sarcastically. “Screw you! You don’t think we care about the children?”

Hannity brought it all back to the mainstream media, who he thinks are focusing too much on the guns issue and not enough on stories that could be detrimental to Democrats, like the Sen. Menendez prostitution scandal.

Finally, Coulter weighed in on the announcement of a Republican super PAC set up to protect incumbents from Tea Party challengers. She agreed that “we do have to be careful to get candidates who don’t say stupid things.”

Watch video below, via Fox News:

Who Would You Rather?


Who Would You Rather?

I know, asking “Would I rather hump on Gerard Butler or Mel Gibson?” is like asking “Would I rather end up at the top of the CDC’s Most Wanted list or would I rather have my genitals banned by Jewish people, black people, gay people, women people, hispanic people, jacuzzis, etc….?”

So apparently, Mel Gibson and Gerard Butler are friends and together they terrorized Miami over the weekend. These pictures have got me craving an IV drip full of Gatorade and menudo, because they look like two hungover and hairy nutsacks in sunglasses. They’re like two rejected members of The Pussy Posse. But you know, Gerard is a genius for hanging out with Mel Gibson. Because next to Mad Mel, Gerard looks like a fresh piece of fresh ass and you completely forget that his crotch probably smells like a Limburger cheese and tonsil stones sandwich and you don’t even care that when he unzips his pants, an unidentified wart mysteriously grows on your genitals. Who cares! Give me Gerard! Give me a mysterious kind of STD! But don’t give me Mel Gibson!

Besides, call me vanilla, but when a sweaty piece is grunting over my back, I really don’t want to hear him moaning about how Jews are evil. I also don’t want a piece to threaten to burn my house down if I don’t tickle his huevos. Oh, and don’t call Mel’s ballsack “huevos” or he’ll demand to see your papers and call INS on you. That’s a total orgasm killer.

Loony Donald Trump Sues Bill Maher


This Bitch Again: Donald Trump Sues Bill Maher For $5 Million
Posted by: Michael K

When the talking fart bubble out of Jabba the Hutt’s ass known as Donald Trump publicly told President Obama that he’d give $5 million to the president’s charity of choice if the president produced his college records and shit, Bill Maher jokingly threw a proposition at Trump. On The Tonight Show last month, Bill Maher said that he’d give $5 million to Trump’s charity of choice if Trump proved that his mother didn’t make him by screwing an orangutan bareback-style. Bill Maher basically said that Trump’s hair looks like an orangutan’s dirty ass, so he wouldn’t be surprised if his biological father was an ape. Makes sense to me!

Donald Trump says that he has coughed up a copy of his birth certificatethat says he is the father of Fred Trump, a human person, and Bill Maher hasn’t paid up. So Trump filed a lawsuit in L.A. today to get that $5 million. Trump queefed out this statement to Politco:

“I don’t know whether this case will be won or lost, but I felt a major obligation to bring it on behalf of the charities. Bill Maher made an unconditional offer while offer while on The Jay Leno Show and I, without hesitation, accepted his offer and provided him with the appropriate documentation. Prior demands for payment went ignored by Mr. Maher despite the fact that the beneficiaries of this suit will ultimately be the charities […] who would share equally the $5 million — something I am certain they can desperately use.”

Trump wants to donate the money to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society, Hurricane Sandy Victims, March of Dimes and the Police Athletic League. Trump also said on Fox & Friends this morning that he doesn’t think Bill Maher was joking when he made the bet. Trump’s lawyers couldn’t be reached for comment, because their mouths were otherwise occupied with the act of laughing at how he keeps throwing stupid money at them.

In related news, orangutans everywhere have filed a class action lawsuit against Bill Maher for defamation for saying that Donald Trump is part their species. Gloria Allred is representing them and they will win.

On the Pill? Religious Right Nut-Job Claims Tiny Dead Fetuses Litter Graveyard Wombs!


Swanson: Wombs of Women on Birth Control ‘Embedded’ with ‘Dead Babies’
SUBMITTED BY Miranda Blue

Well, here’s some medical research we hadn’t heard about. Generations Radio host Kevin Swanson, who last week delved memorably into feminist theory, tells us this week that “certain doctors and certain scientists” have researched the wombs of women on the pill and found “there are these little tiny fetuses, these little babies, that are embedded into the wombThose wombs of women who have been on the birth control pill effectively have become graveyards for lots and lots of little babies.”

Swanson must be speaking with the same doctors as former Rep. Todd Akin. Even Kevin Peeples, whom Swanson is interviewing about his anti-contraception documentary Birth Control: How Did We Get Here?, isn’t quite sold on the evidence.

Swanson: I’m beginning to get some evidence from certain doctors and certain scientists that have done research on women’s wombs after they’ve gone through the surgery, and they’ve compared the wombs of women who were on the birth control pill to those who were not on the birth control pill. And they have found that with women who are on the birth control pill, there are these little tiny fetuses, these little babies, that are embedded into the womb. They’re just like dead babies. They’re on the inside of the womb. And these wombs of women who have been on the birth control pill effectively have become graveyards for lots and lots of little babies.

PeeplesWe’ve actually heard on both sides of that. We’re researching that and want to make sure we speak correctly to that in our second film. But we have medical advice on both sides of the table there, so we want to make sure that we communicate that properly.

Swanson: It would seem, and I realize that people are a little split on what are all the effects of the birth control pill, but it would seem that there’s a tremendous risk in the use of it for the life of children.

Earlier in the interview, Peeples and Swanson discuss how birth control came to be widely used and accepted by many churches. Women, Peeples laments, “desire the men’s role” and are now missing out on “the role God put them in that he laid out in Genesis.” Before World War II, Peeples claims, “abortion, sterilization, eugenics and birth control were all tied together” until “Hitler took the fall for taking it very aggressively and dramatically.”

Peeples: It starts with men and women fighting and not being happy with the role that God put them in that he laid out in Genesis. So whenever you seek to desire, when women seek to desire the men’s role, they lose the part and the idea of what children does, not just for the kingdom and not just does with their family, but does for their gender role.

Swanson: Are you saying that the population control stuff, egalitarian feminism, birth control, abortion, they’re all sort of interrelated?

Peeples: Yeah, it wasn’t until after World War II that they begin to separate them. Abortion, sterilization, eugenics and birth control were all tied together, they were all kind of a package for eugenics and population control. Hitler took the fall for taking it very aggressively and dramatically, and so they said, ‘Hey, let’s kind of take this back, let’s get rid of the negative things and let’s play on Christian liberty, let’s play on freedom, let’s play on people kind of taking this upon themselves to control population rather than forcing it on them. So, again, it’s just another effect of not researching our history to know what happened in the world alongside of the Church.

NONBELIEVERS SECOND LARGEST ‘DENOMINATION’ IN AMERICA


NONBELIEVERS SECOND LARGEST ‘DENOMINATION’ IN AMERICA

“Nones” climb to 19%

America’s “Nones” — the nonreligious — are at an all-time high, now comprising nearly one in five Americans (19%), according to a new study by the Pew Center for the People and the Press. The 19% count is based on aggregated surveys of 19,377 people conducted by the Pew Research Center throughout 2011 and reported by USA Today.

“This means great news for progress, for reasoned debate, for the status of nonbelievers in our nation,” said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “The freethought movement and FFRF are growing rapidly. There is an explosion of local and campus freethought groups, activities and conferences.”

“Nones” were already the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population, according to the definitive American Religious Identification Survey, whose 2008 study showed adult Nones up to 15% from 6% in 1990. ARIS, released in 2009, actually estimated “Nones” at 20% if responses to broader questions about religious practices were included.

Freethinkers have been highly marginalized, in part for being perceived as making up a small segment of the U.S. population. Actually, there have always been many more nonreligious than Jews, Muslims, Mormons or Eastern religions’ adherents, currently respectively at 1.2%, 0.6%, 1.4% and 0.9% of the U.S. population, according to ARIS. “Most minority religions, however tiny in numbers, are treated with respect, inclusion and sometimes deference. It’s time public officials and the American public wake up to the changing demographics and stop treating atheists and agnostics as outsiders,” added Annie Laurie Gaylor, who co-directs FFRF with Barker.

“With nonbelievers at about 20% of the population, there is no longer any excuse for leaving us out of the equation. Public officials cannot continue to assume ‘all Americans’ believe in a deity, or continue to offend 20% of the population by imposing prayer at governmental meetings or government-hosted events. These surveys now show that ‘In God We Trust’ is a provenly inaccurate motto. Nonbelievers should not be treated as political pariahs,” Gaylor said.

“ ‘Nones’ in fact were at the time of the last ARIS survey, the second-largest ‘denomination’ in the nation,” Barker said, “following Catholics at 25% and tied with Baptists at 15%. According to the new PEW study, nonbelievers now outrank Baptists.”

  The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation’s largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.