Monday, May 30, 2011

A little fiction for a change - WEB NOIR

The Internet Abuse Recovery Course is an eight step program, designed to get you off the wireless I.V. cold turkey. It is run by Reverend Julius K Tanly, a former social worker and Best Buy computer repair technician. It was a muggy evening in August and the meeting was being held in the basement of the 127th street Community Center. I was there to satisfy a court order in connection with a chat room etiquette infraction. As I waited for the meeting to get started I surveyed the other social defects around me. I’ve seen all these types before.

Sure, there were the hackers and the scam artists (those are just common criminals) but there were also the real deviants - the cretins whose pictures you see in the center square of the Wal-Mart Bingo, websites.

Hovering next to the doughnuts, was a guy who can’t stop posting LOL cat photos. I spotted him first, because he had maine coon hair stuck to his 5 o’clock shadow and his clothes smelled heavily of urine. Like all the people of his ilk, his forearms and face was covered in small scratches from him trying to wrestle some poor tabby into a reindeer outfit. That alone wasn’t enough to land him here, but the missing eye told me he was not only a threat to cats but to himself as well.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Harold Camping Might Just Be a Genius

NPR, Washington Post, CBS News, Time Magazine, this guy is getting a lot of press. If I were Harold Camping, let me tell you what I would do. (If you don’t know, Harold Camping is the guy behind all those billboards that say the world will be ending on May 21st.) If I were Harold, I would disappear on the 21st, lay low, check into a hotel under another name or go sleep in an RV someplace where I would not be identified. Then about two weeks later, I would just pop up on my Family Radio show and say I’ve been to heaven. That’s right, I would say, I have seen the almighty himself, and he has sent me back to deliver wisdom and knowledge to you, the unworthy and smelly masses. If Camping did that, he would be an instant messiah.

It wouldn’t matter if most people wouldn’t believe him. He would still increase his following by about a thousand percent. He wouldn’t even have to be careful about his disappearance. If later, let’s say, some investigative reporter where to figure out where he had been for the last two weeks, it wouldn’t matter. His followers (old and new) would just think the reporter was lying. We Skeptics are all thinking Camping is crazy, daft, loopy, a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic. But if he did that – we’re not talking picnic – we’re talking Ringling Both. Barnum & Bailey Circus, with Harold Camping as the ringmaster.

Ok, so I’ll admit it. I’ve been reading too many conspiracy blogs again. That probably won’t happen. Camping doesn’t look that smart. But I’ll tell you what will happen. On May 21st, A few people will be reported to the police as having gone missing (as happens every day). Some religious group someplace is going to latch onto those reports and say those people were raptured and a brand new circus will come to town. And if you think believers wouldn’t do that because it would imply that they themselves had not been raptured, don’t worry they will say this was just round one. The real rapture is coming soon. Send in the clowns.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Proof of Life After Death

I’ve always said that if presented with solid evidence for the supernatural, I would change my mind. My brother-in-law, who I care about very much, has been having health problems. Recently he had a seizure and was taken to the hospital. I received reports from his children throughout the day. The doctors requested he stay overnight for observation. As I went to bed that evening, his condition weighed heavily on my mind.

At around 2 o’clock I woke with an uneasy feeling. Unable to fall back to sleep, I decided to get up and get a glass of water. When I walked into the living room, I was startled by a shadow in the dark room. This might sound contrived but what followed changed my view of the entire world. I turned on the light and sitting on the couch in a hospital gown was my brother-in-law. I know, this sounds like a story, but this really did happen to me. He sat there silent. I asked him what he was doing there. He did not answer. He didn’t have to. I knew what had happened.

I put my hand on his shoulder half to console him, half to convince myself that this was all real. He was solid, no shadow, no trick of the eye. This was real. He looked up at me expressionless. But I still could not trust myself so I called into the bedroom to my wife. Dreary eyed she walked into the living room. She too saw what I saw. She too was shocked. Here, sitting in my living room was solid proof of an life after death. I was wrong. This changes everything. So what should I do?

First, I got a piece of paper and pen out of the drawer and handed it to my specter. He looked at the two items with confusion. “I have to establish that it’s really you. Please write your name, the date you were born and your social security number. And sign it.” As I moved into the office to grab a camera, I yelled , “Keep watching him. Is he writing?” My wife said he was. I quickly returned with a camera. To my relief, the visitor poltergeist was still there. I turned the camera on. A small red blinking light indicating the flash was charging. Damn, I don’t want to waste a second. “Look, I’m going to have to prove the date somehow.” He looked up at me still confused and held the pad and pen out for me. “I know, come into the office. I can get a picture of you next to the computer. If I take a close shot, people will be able to make out the date and time on the monitor. Oh, I can also turn on the webcam. This is great.” Everything was all going perfectly. It was at that moment that I looked down at the pad and understood fully the true meaning of this entire event.

I could not read any of the writing on the paper. There written on the pad, in my brother-in-laws handwriting, was gibberish. I could not make out any of it. It was letters mixed with numbers, and even some symbols it did not recognize.

I remember hearing someplace that researchers discovered that the parts of your brain, that help you read, are not activated while you are asleep. So, if you want to figure out if you are dreaming, try to read some printed texts from a book or something writing on a pad. I couldn’t read what was on the pad. This was all a dream, all of it.

This explained why my wife was now growing bored with what was happening and announced she was going to feed the dogs on the roof. We don’t have dogs. It would also explain why all the living room furniture, with the exception of the couch that the ghost was sitting on, was outside on our front lawn.

As I stated previously, this really did happen. I really did have this dream. My brother-in-law is fine and out of the hospital now (thank goodness). But there are some issues that this entire episode brings up.

First you might have considered me callous for the way I acted after supposedly learning about my brother-in-laws death. But think about it for a second. Sitting in front of me was proof of life after death. Why wouldn’t I be happy? For him, for me, for the entire world, this would be great news.

Second, for people who accuse Skeptics of being closed minded consider how quickly (in my dream) I changed my mind. The second I was presented with solid evidence of a position contrary to my own,(for that brief moment) I reversed my entire position, even to the point of preparing to become an advocate for this new world view. Truth is what is important, not a position. I only hope that I would act the same way in real life.

Third, consider how many people have dreams like this when they are worried about a relative? Since the worse did not happen (thankfully) most people wouldn’t think twice about this type of dream. The next morning, they would just forget about it. But, if something bad did occur then the average person would consider this type of dream proof of ghosts or spirits. And it does not have to happen the evening of the death. The dream could happen days, weeks, months or even years later and people would still consider it solid proof that they had been visited by a ghost. This is what happens - people get sick, and relatives naturally worry. People die and relatives dream about the people they care about. This is exactly how you get stories of visiting ghosts. Again, thank goodness nothing even close to that happened in this case, but this happens all the time.

Fourth, (and I think most importantly) this entire incidence illustrates how important it is to have a subscription to a newspaper. Yes, in this age of digital media, having an old fashioned ink and print daily delivered to your door, is still crucial. Taking a picture of a ghost next to a computer screen would have proved nothing. Anyone could have faked that computer readout; but, getting the picture of the ghost holding up that day’s newspaper, now that would have been something.