No kidding! Al-qaeda bashes the Truthers! AHAHA!

September 29, 2011

It may well be the thing that helps me get through the day.

Oh, man. I have to email this to my students.


I need some motivational speaking to…

September 27, 2011


The Week in Conspiracy (25 Sept 2011)

September 25, 2011

I’m recovering from a case of what was probably the Outbreak virus and working variously on numerous little projects, as always. But I’m not so busy that I would miss this week’s conspiracy theory round-up. I have been looking at some pretty horrid Christian Identity stuff lately, so I am a little more bitter than usual. It won’t appear here. You’re welcome.

  • Here was five awesome minutes worth of research on my part. Some guy makes a video about transcripts of the radio chatter between the LEM and Command Module on Apollo 10 while they were behind the moon. This is cool enough for me, but then the crew members report hearing what they call music, “like andouter space-like thing”. Here’s the vid:

So the guy highlights a few quotes. Luckily, he zooms in enough on them so that at time 3:38, you can see that the noise is on channel VFH-A, which I dropped into the Googles and got an eminently reasonable explanation. Shielded by the moon, Apollo was not receiving any terrestrial broadcast, but broadcasts are not the only source of radio in the universe, or even the solar system. Lacking other radio sources, Jupiter would have been the loudest radio source in Earth’s lunar radio shadow. Guess what it sounds like?

Awesome! So, guys, do your homework. Learning is cool!

  • My only excursion to 9/11 Trutherism this week (probably because I never get invited to the orgies of deception) is both unintentionally ironic and condescending. I think it’s a snippet from the most recent bigtime Truther vid, 9/11: Explosive Evidence: Experts Speak Out. In it, psychologists tell you exactly why you can’t let go of that feeling that the government is a warm cuddly friend who strokes your inner thigh every night as you drift off–COGNITIVE DISSONANCE! You can start to expect hearing this phrase used by Truthers (as I have recently–it’s a charge leveled against me twice here).

The funny thing is that absolutely nobody worth listening to takes their arguments seriously, so what do they do to correct the disparity between that reality and their understanding of the world? They invoke cognitive dissonance! Ahahaha! Damn, I love the irony. It’s like a loop-the-loop of fail.

Conspiracy Theories of the Week:

And lastly a skeptical shout out to Tim Farley of, who has compiled a brief What’s the Harm rundown of real damage done by conspiracist beliefs.

That’s all everyone! Don’t take any wooden nickels. Or any all-nickel nickels, for that matter.


Stormtroopers Reminisce about the Day the Death Star Exploded

September 19, 2011

An oldie but a goody sent to me by one of my students.


The “Oprah of the Paranormal” at Dragon*Con

September 19, 2011

Independent Investigations Group-Atlanta had our big debut this year at Dragon*Con: we had a table, we brought in a guest speaker, mentalist Mark Edward and we distributed lots of brochures and cards inviting people to take our $50,000 Challenge.

We also kept an eye on the ParanormalTrack. One day, another member and I attended ParanormalTrack’s Psychic Reading Gallery featuring Ericka Boussarhane, “the Oprah of theParanormal.” We distributed our version of Granite State Skeptics’ psychic bingo cards at the door; however, since most people were already seated, we only handed out a few. Fortunately, one young woman was so delighted with hers that she got more from us and passed them out to other members of the audience. We can haz minion?Mwahahaha!

Boussarhane’s website is called, but she doesn’t actually seem to make many claims about work on cold cases or with the police. She is, however, impressively multifaceted (if not particularly gifted at grammatical parallelism):

Psychic, Intuitive, Empath,  Dreams, Horoscopes, Reiki II Clairvoyant, Success Coach, Cold Cases, Ordained Minister, Notary, Psychic Detective, Criminal Readings, Astrology, Counseling, Missing Persons & Tarot Readings .

In addition to being the “Oprah of the paranormal,” she has auditioned for Oprah’s OWN cable network.

At Dragon*Con, she was heavily promoting Pensacola ParaCon 2011. She is also promoting the Con on her website.

Boussarhane comes off as warm, personable and somewhat goofy. She projects an earth-mothery, women’s-feelings-are-magic vibe that I suspect would suit Oprah’s Jenny McCarthy/Suzanne Somers-infected network.

She began by talking about herself, her background and her point of view. She believes everyone is “intuitive.” Her mother was very psychic, “like a lot ofwomen.” She did mention that she has worked with cold cases but offered no details. In her public readings, she tries to cover everyone in the room, so she began her readings in the front row. Although the room was fairly small, she did not get to Elizabeth and me. Her method also meant that there was no time for questions at the end.

After her introduction, she made all sing “Twinkle, twinkle little star.” This, she said, would change the feel of the room and create “positive energy.” It would cause “good people” to come across, not those who want to talk about underwear (it seems that Ms. Boussarhane is frequently assailed by spirits with Tourette’s Syndrome or at least very poor impulse control).

She explained that she begins a reading with a silent prayer and closes her eyes so she won’t be influenced by visual clues. She was, she says, a psychology major and knows about “skeptic stuff.” She did’t mention cold reading, but it was clear that that was what she was talking about. It also seemed clear that she was, in fact, using cold reading techniques. While she does close her eyes, she does not keep them closed throughout the entire reading. If there are visual cues to be seen, then she sees them.

She explained that not everything she says will be a hit, and, indeed, when one of her statements fails to hit the mark, she often accepts it and moves on, rather than aggressively suggesting that the audience member must be wrong (à la John Edward). She did, however, mention that the information she is getting for one audience member might actually apply to another, or to a relative, or to a friend, or to someone the audience member passed on the street last week (okay, I added the last one).

I should mention that, from where we were sitting, it was often difficult to tell whether Ms. Boussarhane’s insights were hits or misses: the audience wasn’t miked, and we could only see the backs of the heads of most of the people who received readings. It was also difficult to tell how much information people were providing. That said, Ms. Boussarhane came up with no extraordinary hits.

Some highlights:

For one woman, she sees an aunt who is “poking her girls [breasts] out.” This means that she has “passed,” apparently. This is a miss. “Well, that’s okay,” says Ms. Boussarhane; she won’t try to make it make sense.

For a woman named Jennifer, she sees a large-breasted, blond woman who is dead. The woman wants to hug Jennifer. Her death was sudden, and she shows a puppy (breasts and animals, especially dogs, are a frequent theme). Ms. Boussarhane gets something about “cuttin’ hair.” The woman is “showing me a bathing suit top, kinda hippie-ish.” Jennifer is going to have a dual major and study away from home. At least some of this seems to make sense to Jennifer. At the end of the reading for Jennifer, the dead blond tells her not “‘to sweat the small things.’ She’s talking about your chest.” Ms. Boussarhane apparently does not realize how funny (and perhaps insulting) this is until the crowd laughs.

For a woman named Clair, she sees a woman with a “tramp stamp.” Seems to be Hello Kitty or something with kitty ears. Not sure whether this was a hit. I don’t think so. “Did you have a relative you only visited one time?” No. “Is there a Bruce?” Yes.

She sees someone giving a man named Hugh a wedgie—a chest-thumping colleague. This is a miss. She asks if he wants to sell a plot of land. He does. She suggests that he get his cholesterol checked because high cholesterol and neck blockages run in his family (this is worded oddly—something like, “cholesterol runs high in the neck in your family”). Although a propensity toward high cholesterol somewhere in the family seems a fairly safe suggestion, it appears to be a miss.

She tells someone, “The check is in the mail. Literally, the check’s in the mail. Not literally the check’s in the mail.” I’m not sure if this made sense to its intended target, but it didn’t to me.

“Someone put a big Shakespearean head on you. Or a hat. Or Peter Pan.” At first, I imagined someone with a bust of Shakespeare on top of or over the individual’s own head, but I think she meant an Elizabethan hat. Regardless, it isn’t a hit.

“Who killed a lizard in the house?” No one. Oddly, the lizard is the one thing Ms. Boussarhane can’t let go of. She keeps trying to find some connection to a lizard. In vain.

Perhaps my favorite exchange: “You’re gonna get a new car, sweetie.” “I don’t drive.”

Some noticeable cold reading elements: “Do you have three siblings?” No. “How many do you have?” “One.”

She gives one woman information that relates to the woman’s mother. Or, to be more accurate, the woman relates it to her mother. Ms. Boussarhane asks if the woman comes from from New York. The woman says no, but her mother did. She says, “I’m sensing that your mother’s not here.” Now, it seems to me that she’s suggesting that the mother has died, but “not here” could mean not in Atlanta or not at Dragon*Con, and that is how the woman takes it. This woman is sitting in the row ahead of me, so I can see and hear the exchange better than I could many of the earlier readings. The woman is clearly, if unwittingly, leading Ms. Boussarhane. The woman is also clearly upset about some things going on in her family, and the reading is starting to get uncomfortable when time runs out.

While Ms. Boussarhane’s wedgie-giving, big-boobed spirits are somewhat entertaining, this woman brings home to me why psychics are such horrible leaches. Although there were no tears or raw emotions over suicides or dead babies, this woman was upset about the way her mother is being treated (by whom, I’m not sure). The psychic’s words seemed to make sense to her, even if she was providing most of the information. The reading was brief, but the woman seemed to become very involved in it and seemed to hope she could get something useful out of the reading. There may be help for her, but it is not going to come in a one-minute reading at Wookie-infested convention.


Crossposted at IIG-Atlanta.

The Week in Conspiracy 9/18

September 18, 2011

I’m back. I’m almost done grading and can afford to give two hours to my last remaining joy, This Week in Conspiracy. I have a few weeks worth of stuff, since last week I stuck just to the 9/11 material that came through, most of which was actually recycled content. Oh well. Beats thinking.

“Attention Hollywood. We are Anonymous. We have been watching you. We have been listening to you. You have been allowed to run free too long. The time of Jew-controlled media is over. We are taking back the media with your faggot vampires and Scientology pastors. We are here for the people. We are here for the Lulz. We are here to stay. We have your lives. We have your blood, sweat and tears. Over the next couple of weeks, everyone will have them. We will rock you for ages. Consider this our acceptance speech for the Video Music Awards.”

  • First review of Apollo 18 I’ve seen: It sucks.
  • Federal Jack freaks the fuck out over weather modification. It’s clearly a roll cloud. There was one on Astronomy Pic of the Day earlier this month. They are pretty cool looking (last one has always been my fave). They are well understood, and grow the hell up.

This Week in Satan:

This Week in 9/11

  • One of Robert Palmer’s backup dancers says that the Reality community is trying to discredit WTC7 Truth community’s claims by putting UFOs in footage of the collapse. I don’t see it, but I do see evidence of an internal collapse happening long before Truthers say it could have happened. I mean, really.

That’s all. No conspiracy theory of the week this week. I have to finish grading. Those two ideas aren’t actually connected, but I’ll let you think they were.


Dear Internet, I’m Bob. I have arrived.

September 16, 2011

I totally have a new phone background.

For the backstory, or a version of the backstory, at least, go to We Are Change Atlanta. (Honestly, I was stunned to hear what I was up to.) Then go to my bosses at the “Georgia Tech Institute of Technology” [sic] and demand that I be fired, because it cracks me up.


David Mitchell on the Burden of Proof

September 15, 2011

His is the only youtube channel to which I subscribe, by the way. Unfortunate how he used the word “skeptic” when he meant “denier,” but that’s my personal beef.

Also, new rule. If  you laugh, you need to give a donation to the NCSE. They recently took up climate science as one of their interests. Also, Eugenie Scott is awesome, an educator of truly epic proportions.


In Praise of Sutton Hoo Woo

September 14, 2011

All right, I admit it, I am writing this post mostly as an excuse to use the phrase “Sutton Hoo woo.” It’s a lovely phrase. Try saying it. Go ahead; I’ll wait.

See, wasn’t that satisfying?

More seriously, though, we’ve all heard psychics claiming that they have worked with the police and provided material assistance in finding missing persons and dead bodies and in solving cases. In every instance, these claims have proved to be dubious, at best. We’ve also heard of dowsers claiming to have found…well, all sorts of things using their magic sticks.

The excavation of the Sutton Hoo ship burial may be an instance where fringe beliefs actually did contribute to the discovery of a great treasure and human remains (sort of). Now, right off the bat, I should make two things clear: in the first place, it’s unclear to what extent unconventional beliefs contributed to England’s greatest archaeological discovery. Secondly, I’m not saying that anything extraordinary actually happened. Ghosts and magic sticks didn’t actually lead to the discovery, but the belief in ghosts and magic sticks may have acted as a catalyst. I guess what I’m saying is that someone who is a bit of a woo can also be a Big Damn Hero.

In this case, our Big Damn Hero is the delightfully named Mrs. Pretty. Edith May Pretty was the daughter of a wealthy northern industrialist. In 1926, she married Col. Frank Pretty, and the two of them bought Sutton Hoo House, a large Edwardian mansion near Woodbridge in Suffolk. In 1930, Mrs. Pretty found herself pregnant at the age of 47. Four years later, her husband died.

After her husband’s death, Mrs. Pretty became interested in spiritualism, frequently travelling to London to consult with a spiritualist medium. According to Joseph Allen McCullough, Mrs. Pretty “claimed to have strange dreams and visions of the place, including a vivid dream where an Anglo-Saxon funeral procession buried the body of their king inside a ship in the largest of the mounds.”  According to the video below, it was a friend of Mrs. Pretty’s who saw the ghosts:

Mrs. Pretty also had a nephew who was a dowser. He said there was treasure under Mound 1. Armed with this supernatural information, Mrs. Pretty decided to hire herself an archaeologist. She consulted with Guy Maynard, curator of the Ipswich Museum, who suggested Basil Brown, a self-taught but conscientious and successful excavator. She paid him 30 shillings a week and provided him with accommodation in the chauffeur’s cottage and the assistance of two estate workers (one of whom was named Tom Sawyer).

Based (allegedly) on the supernatural insights she had gained, Mrs. Pretty suggested that Brown excavate Mound 1.  Brown did begin to excavate Mound 1 (using a long probe designed by Mrs. Pretty), but concluded, logically if erroneously, that Mound 1 had been looted. Instead he turned to Mounds 2, 3 and 4. Mounds 3 and 4 were cremation burials that had been looted. Mound 2–one of the largest mounds–produced a number of scattered rivets. It was a ship burial, but it too had been looted.

The next year (1939), Mrs. Pretty again suggested that Brown excavate Mound 1. He did so, with extraordinary results. As with Mound 2, he found ship rivets, but in Mound 1, they were still in place. The dark coloration of the sandy soil also showed the outline of an enormous ship (larger than any other Migration Era or Viking Age ship yet discovered).  At this point, the Office of Works and the British Museum got involved, even though they had other things to worry about: the Office of Works was busy building airstrips, and the British Museum was busy crating up its treasures and sending them to the London Underground for safekeeping in anticipation of WWII. Consequently, the initial excavation was a rather hurried affair, but worth it. Mound 1 proved to be an unlooted, probably royal Anglo-Saxon ship burial:

The ship

The helmet

Recreation of helmet made by Tower of London armourers


Shoulder clasp

No body or bones were actually found, but in subsequent excavations, phosphate traces were found in the soil, suggesting that a body had once lain there. The soil is highly acidic; almost no wood from the ship survived either.

After the treasures were unearthed, a coroner’s inquest was held to decide who was the rightful owner: the crown or Mrs. Pretty. The court decided that the treasure belonged to Mrs. Pretty. Martin Carver, who led the most recent excavations at Sutton Hoo, describes what happened after the inquest:

Charles Phillips [who led the British Museum excavation] mentions family pressure to keep the jewellery, but Mrs. Pretty’s own position is less certain. Her spiritualist counsellor soon came to stay with her, and Phillips took a stroll with him that evening on the heath, volunteering his opinion that a presentation of all the finds to the nation “would be a splendid gesture” (Carver, p. 22)

Ultimately, Mrs. Pretty did donate the treasure to the British Museum, “thus making the most generous donation to the Museum ever made in the lifetime of a donor. Mrs Pretty was offered the honour of Dame of the British Empire, which she declined” (Carver, p. 22). The treasure was then taken to the London Underground for the duration of the war.

So, how much influence did spiritualism and dowsing have in the discovery of the ship burial? I have no idea. Certainly, some of the claims seem exaggerated. Carver downplays the influence: “whatever her sensitivity to the attentions of solicitous phantoms, Mrs Pretty was no stranger to scientific archaelogy” (p. 4). She had visited the pyramids in Egypt, and her father had gotten permission to excavate the remains of a Cistercian Abbey near their family home in Cheshire:

She would have been aware of the responsibilities of excavating burial mounds, and had already refused to allow enthusiastic amateurs to try their hand. In her case a keen eye and an educated curiosity would have encouraged investigation as surely as any interest in the other world. (Carver, p. 4)

More importantly, there is nothing mystic about the discovery: Mrs. Pretty lived on an estate that had big, honking mounds in the back yard. No one knew exactly what they were, but the idea that they were burials was hardly outlandish. And with pagan burials comes treasure. There had been rumors of treasure for centuries. Certainly the looters thought there was treasure. Nor is the interest in Mound 1 particularly surprising. It’s really big (admittedly, so is Mound 2).

Still, it seems likely that Mrs. Pretty’s interest in spiritualism and her faith in her nephew’s dowsing may have played some role in her decision to hire someone to excavate, and her spiritualist medium may have encouraged her to donate the treasure to the British Museum.

Edith May Pretty: First Class Woo.  Big Damn Hero.



Bruce-Mitford, Rupert. The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial: A Handbook. London: British Museum, 1972.

Carver, Martin. Sutton Hoo: Burial Ground of Kings? Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998.

Comic Book Review: The Big Lie

September 14, 2011

“Lies are like unwashed socks,” opens Rich Veitch’s new comic, The Big Lie. “They come in all sizes and stink to high heaven.” Take the stinker he just published, for instance.

The Big Lie is the story of Sandra Stratton, who works at the Large Hadron Collider in 2011 but travels back in time to the morning of 9/11 to rescue her husband, who was killed in the attacks. She materializes in the WTC subway, and opens with a pee joke:

This is the high point of the comic; it’s all downhill from there. Also, doesn’t it seem strange that they chose as their model a surprised, unbespectacled Desiree Schell?

Anyway, because of some quantum, Sandra has teleported back into the past, but because of some pesky tachyon entanglement miscalculation issues, she only has one hour to rescue her husband. But here’s how Veitch puts it:

Big spelling fail.

Carl’s at an early morning meeting, discussing, as best I can tell, the possibility of demolishing a real steel framed building in Iraq for Steven Spielberg. Really.

I had hopes for this comic book. Usually, when you encounter a truther in the wild of the Internet, you will be debated at and shown youtube videos. I thought that moving to a new medium would perhaps change this. So what does Desiree do when she sees her husband, Carl? SHE DEBATES HIM AND SHOWS HIM FECKING YOUTUBE VIDEOS!!


So they settle into a debate not unlike Plato’s Phaedrus, only populated by snarky douchebags. Take, for instance, the following exchange:

For you non-engineers, Carl is a moron. Silly-puttying “teh thermites” to the wall will only give you burned silly putty and burning thermite on the floor. It burns so hot that you’d actually need to weld trays to the steel of the building, and even then, you would only scorch the steel, not cut it:

That scene of thermite not cutting a steel beam, by the way, is from Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura by the way. Yet he fails to learn anything from it. Oh well. As she is being dragged away by security,  Sandra exclaims, “Building 7!”:

I know how you feel, Carl. Oh, by the way, Carl doesn’t recognize his wife, because she was never crazy or old before.

As soon as Sandra is escorted from the building,  the office is rocked by a gigantic….

This is the plane hitting, not an enormous exploding owl, as you might expect from the noise it made. In the last scene, they see exposed thermite bombs on the steel beams in their office building. This means that the author is endorsing the idea that not only did the conspirators crash planes, but were also able to decide which floors they would hit, a far, far more complicated project than either an airline strike or a demolition. If you’re going to be wrong, be shamefully, spectacularly wrong, that’s my motto.

It’s confusing. It’s pedantic and saturated with bad arguments by every single character, the product of a mind detached from reality. It’s prefaced by the statement that:

The sheer number of spelling/grammar/factual/anachronistic errors suggests to me that someone at editor at Image, a usually reputable publisher, did not really care if it looked as bad as it is. At least I like to think so. It’s too bad. Veitch, who used to rub shoulders with Alan Moore, is now piddling in the shallow end of the pool with the kids from the short bus.

RJB (with a shout out to Steven for letting me take a peek at his copy!)