No. 118 (essentialsaltes) wrote,
No. 118

Sunday & Beyond

Picked up the thingummy I won from Aaron on Ebay. Went to the Third Street Promenade. I've been reluctant to face the truth for some time, but it's true... the Promenade is no longer cool. And hasn't been for some time. The death blow has been struck now that Hear Music is closed (for renovation, I hope, even though they are owned by Starbucks) and DOM (or whatever it called itself most recently) is completely gone. I loved that place, even though I barely ever bought anything there. But look how 3rd Street has changed:
Abercrombie & Fitch yes, used clothing stores no.
Barnes & Noble yes, Bayside Books no. (Bayside was pretty crappy, so that's not such a loss)
Barnes & Noble yes, Penny Lane & Pyramid Records no.
Wolfgang Puck yes, Benita's Frites no.

[Holy shit! While trying to find a decent link for Benita's Frites, I discovered that Mo Better Meaty Meat Burgers is closed.]

Anyway, I picked up some shoes at Aldo. Hopefully, they will have broken my feet in before I have to go to Pittcon and walk up and down McCormick Place.

I also trotted into Santa Monica Place, to make sure Khyber Express was still there. The Wizards of the Coast store has stuff at 40-50% off, but there was nothing that grabbed me. All of the RPG stuff was stupid old WotC product. If anyone needs any Catan or Axis&Allies stuff, head there. There was also a place intriguingly called DICE that's going out of business. They had some wacky furniture with dragon themes. It looked like most of the structural elements were metal, but there were some strange ceramic or plastic dragons with a metallish surface used as decorative ornaments. There was a tall round table or stand there that kind of intrigued me. The 7 foot tall erect dragon floor lamp was a bit too much. Aha, I'm pretty sure the lamp is the thing in the lower right here, but I don't see the table. They did have this table also, but I didn't like it as much. The stuff is 75% off at DICE, but they won't be there long.
After that, I hit the neo-FIRM to pick up the famous purple blanket. Bino was starting to get attached to it, so I'm glad he wasn't around. Someday on ebay, 'the blanket that kept Oscar-winning director Aaron Vanek from freezing to death while lying in a drunken stupor in my filthy garage' will help fund my retirement.
Back home, I spent a good amount of time on Miskatonic U while chatting with the Lovecraftians on #cthulhu. I managed to actually provide something of value to the other gents, so that was a success. Then some CSICOP-bashing took place, so I stood up for them. My brain's still percolating, so maybe we'll follow this tangent.

My own involvement with CSICOP began with the writings of Robert Anton Wilson, who has lampooned CSICOP in his fiction and criticized them in his 'non-fiction'. For a while, I really enjoyed Wilson, and I came to adopt his attitude toward CSICOP. Then he wrote The New Inquisition. In it, Wilson accuses CSICOP of terrible offences against truth and honesty, making them into a conspiracy of bookburning ostriches. This outraged me so much that I spent a good deal of time in the UCLA library checking up on all of this. And that's when I discovered that Wilson was a lying sack of shit. That's perhaps too extreme. The truth is probably just that Wilson remembers his facts the way he wants to remember them. Or they are true in the universe that he inhabits. Unfortunately, they are not in accord with the facts in the universe I live in.
As an example, you can see here in "THE ASTONOMER WHO ABOLISHED GRAVITY" (link discovered through Dan Clore's site) how Wilson describes Carl Sagan (CSICOP Fellow) and his dealings with Velikovsky:

"Let us see how Expertese works, by examining Dr. Sagan's long series of polemics against Dr. Immanuel Velikovsky. First of all, in every page Sagan has written about Velikovsky, he never once calls him "Dr. Velikovsky" as I just did. Thus, most people who know Velikovsky only through Sagan's attacks have never learned that Velikovsky had scientific training. The contest thus seems a struggle between "Dr." Sagan, the learned scientist, and "Mr." Velikovsky, the ignorant layman. Little tricks like that go a long way in deluding the naive, and Sagan never fails to use every dirty trick he knows. In what follows, I reverse this process, just for the hell of it. Sagan I will call Sagan and Dr. Velikovsky I will call Dr. Velikovsky."

Wilson makes heavy weather of this "dirty trick", despite the fact that Chapter 7 of Broca's Brain [from which Wilson quotes] is entitled "Venus and Dr. Velikovsky". Who is "deluding the naive" now?
Next, Wilson takes Sagan to task for saying that Velikovsky "intends his cosmic catastrophe theory to revive the old-time religion.: 'It is an attempted validation of religion'..... 'Velikovsky attempts to rescue not only religion but also astrology.' (Brocca's Brain, p 126) We can only conclude that Sagan either reads very carelessly or engages in deliberate lying."
Wilson rightly says that Velikovsky's naturalistic explanations for Biblical miracles are hardly evidence in favor of God or religion. But if one fills in the ellipsis in Wilson's quote from Sagan, one sees that the next sentence is: "The old Biblical stories are literally true, Velikovsky tells us, if only we interpret them the right way." This is an accurate representation of Velikovsky's argument, unlike the caricature that Wilson is trying to put in Sagan's mouth. Who is reading very carelessly or engaging in deliberate lying now?
For some reason, Wilson bashes Sagan about "nuclear winter", claiming that Sagan refused "to accept valid criticisms of" "this hilarious theory".
In fact, if one studies the 1990 follow-up to the Nuclear Winter paper (by the same authors):
Turco, R.P., Toon, O.B., Ackerman, T.P., Pollack, J.B., Sagan, C., Science 247 (1990) 166-176.

one sees that the authors admitted that "some modifications to their 1983 paper were necessary."

Further down, check out the quote that Wilson CAPITALIZES. Is he unable to understand the important clause "are due to a runaway greenhouse effect"? This paper of Sagan's is how he made his reputation.
Sadly, Sagan lost some of his academic reputation for his 'support' of Velikovsky. Sagan arranged for Velikovsky to appear at a meeting of the AAAS and discuss his theories in a debate setting. Many in the AAAS were against it, and several famous astronomers had already boycotted Macmillan for publishing Velikovsky's book, threatening to publish their textbooks elsewhere. These were the ostriches and the suppressers... not Sagan.
Shortly after the debate, Sagan was one of the founding members of CSICOP.

I'm not going to defend everything any member of CSICOP has ever done, written or said. There are plenty of knee-jerk skeptics, who are as irrational in their rejection of paranormal ideas as some believers are in their acceptance of them. Most of us do tend to ridicule 'believers' from time to time, mostly out of frustration. After all, astrology still has millions of followers. But it's still a bunch of bullshit. Must skeptics humorlessly say, "Well, all the previous scientific studies of astrology have resulted in thousands of failures and just one unreplicated, ridiculously contentious and marginal result,but the astrology column in the Des Moines Register has never been tested, thus we must remain unbiased on the subject of its validity, until our data is collected and we arrive at our sober conclusion"?
Now, I'm not saying that CSICOP never needs to investigate astrology ever again. But neither do I feel any qualms about calling astrology 'baloney'. Can't I laugh at Flat Earthers? Maybe this sort of ridicule is bad PR for CSICOP and skepticism in general, but I think CSICOP suffers more from the way it is attacked by Wilson and others.
The fact is that most scientists just ignore the paranormal; thus, advocates of the paranormal largely ignore science, except to note that "they laughed at Galileo/Einstein/Wright Brothers/me". Science ignores pseudoscience because it (like cold fusion) has already been tested and found lacking. But pseudoscience (like cold fusion) lives on, and CSICOP actually attempts to confront it. The debate is acrimonious on both sides at times, but I don't regret joining the ranks of people like Sagan, Asimov, Joe Nickell, Susan Blackmore and Bill Nye.
Sure, Martin Gardner and the Amazing Randi get a bit too crotchety for my tastes at times, but it doesn't compare to the distortions, lies and hucksterism of people like Wilson, Duane Gish, Uri Geller and Sylvia Browne.
Tags: bio, blog, ebay, skepticism

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