Let Them Eat Gold

On the menu of a Wall Street restaurant is a burger covered in gold flakes - at US$180 for one burger, it's a meal fit for Gordon Gekko. Is there an Illuminati version of Gordon Ramsay loose in a New York restaurant? That's an appetising conspiracy, but sprinkling your food with gold isn't new. The Pharaohs of ancient Egypt ingested gold dust, believing it prolonged one's life. Restaurants in Turkey have been serving gold-flecked meals for a while, and they were undoubtedly inspired by history:

Europe has very old traditions in using edible gold on food, dating back to the Renaissance. While 15th century alchemists used gold medicinally as an aid to digestion, 16th century Italian dukes decorated their risotto with it. The Elizabethans added gold dust to fruit at their most sumptuous banquets and ate sweets covered in gold in the afternoons to maintain healthy hearts. Gold is still considered medicinal in both traditional Chinese and Indian medicine. The Japanese continue to use gold regularly in their diet, and it is especially consumed at New Year’s when it is thought to bring luck and prosperity. There are several brands of sake that feature gold flakes in the bottle.

A small bottle of Kizakura sake sits on the shelf above my computer, a past birthday present that I never drank. The gold flakes sit at the bottom, autumn leaves in a pond, until I shake it like a snow-globe. But this beautiful concept is shattered by my conscience conjuring images of the obscenely rich gorging themselves on gold and beef at the expense of environmental and human rights.

Or perhaps it's simply that the sake I just drank is well past its expiry date...how else can I explain contemplating a conspiracy of Wall Street burgers sprinkled with gold dust, Illuminati chefs, and alchemical immortality?

News Briefs 22-05-2008

If this were to be the last day of your life, what would you change?

Arigato Greg-san

Quote of the Day:

“There is no requirement that every statement be a scientific statement. Nor are non-scientific statements worthless or irrational simply because they are not scientific. “She sings beautifully.” “He is a good man.” “I love you.” These are all non-scientific statements that can be of great value. Science is not the only useful way of looking at life.”

William D. Phillips, Nobel Laureate.

10 Close Encounters

Last Sunday NBC's Dateline aired a UFO special titled "10 Close Encounters Caught on Tape", which presented a number of the more famous UFO cases in which video or photos of the event were recorded. The video of each segment is now available as an online feature at MSNBC.com, along with 'Internet only' material as well. The cases are certainly international in flavour, and include the Phoenix Lights, the McMinnville UFO photo, the Belgian Triangle, the Mexican Air Force footage, and New Zealand orbs. 'Experts' featured include Bruce Maccabee, James Fox, James Oberg and Michael Shermer. Cheesy at times, demonstratably wrong in certain aspects (eg. in conflating the two Phoenix Lights sighting), and some silly comments from ufologists and skeptics alike - but still worth checking out.

Remote Viewing Whitewash...

It's interesting to note how easily history/scientific results can be rewritten. In a New Scientist story we linked to earlier in the week - "Fifty years of DARPA: Hits, misses and ones to watch" - the following was listed in the 'Failed Projects' section:

Telepathic spies: One of the agency's most infamous blunders was its 1970s psychic spy program, inspired by reports that the Soviets were researching the area. DARPA invested millions to see if telepaths and psychokinetics – who claim to move objects using thought alone – could carry out remote espionage. They couldn't.

Now firstly I have to say that I've never actually heard of the psi spy programs belonging to DARPA - the 1970s forerunners of Project Stargate were funded by the CIA, and then at the end of the decade taken over by the Air Force and Army. Kenneth Kress, who was intimately involved with the research during this period, had this to say about DARPA's involvement - or lack of - in the programs (in his article "Parapsychology in Intelligence"):

At one time, we felt we had the strong interest of some people at DARPA to discuss our data. The SRI contractors and I went to a briefing where we had a several-hour confrontation with an assemblage of hostile DARPA people who had been convened especially to debunk our results. After a long, inconclusive, emotional discussion, we left. Contacts with DARPA stopped for several years.

Secondly, rather than being an "infamous blunder" which failed in its attempt to prove 'psychic espionage' abilities, much of the data suggest more research is more than warranted. Statistics professor Jessica Utts, who reviewed some of the experiments, had this to say about remote viewing:

Using the standards applied to any other area of science, it is concluded that psychic functioning has been well-established. The statistical results of the studies examined are far beyond what is expected by chance...there is little benefit to continuing experiments designed to offer proof, since there is little more to be offered to anyone who does not accept the current collection of data.

Hard to tally that scientific overview with the article's conclusion isn't it? Vociferous psi skeptic Ray Hyman, a high-standing member of CSICOP, co-reviewed the data with Utts, and was forced by the positive results and robust experimental protocols to conclude: "I cannot provide suitable candidates for what flaws, if any, might be present. Just the same, it is impossible in principle to say that any particular experiment or experimental series is completely free from flaws." Prominent skeptic Richard Wiseman had to concur with Utts, though adding the usual caveat: "I agree that by the standards of any other area of science that remote viewing is proven, but begs the question: do we need higher standards of evidence when we study the paranormal? I think we do."

The false information in this New Scientist article is now free to propagate endlessly. Whether there is something to remote viewing and psi abilities is still a matter for debate. This article though is guilty of badly misrepresenting the topic.

Wednesday Blogscan 21-05-2008

A strange assortment to get you through the week...


News Briefs 20-05-2008

Surprise! Oh alright, it's just me...

Thanks Ross.

Quote of the Day:

What I'd like to do now - well, what I'd *like* to do now is grow my beard very long, weave it into my pubes and strum it like a harp.

Bill Bailey

Is God Obsolete?

A new publication from the Templeton Foundation (available as online reading and a PDF download as well) seeks to explore the question "Does science make belief in God obsolete?" TDG readers may find it worth checking out, as according to this MSNBC article, "the answers offered by the booklet's two theologians, eight scientists, two cultural commentators and one philosopher are more creative and sophisticated than the mind-numbing 'culture wars' portrayed on television." Even more motivation for checking it out is that the publication is edited and contributed to by prominent media skeptic Michael Shermer...or at least his Bizarro world alter-ego:

Biological evolution is glacially slow compared to cultural evolution. Because of this, and the fact that the cosmos is very big and the space between the stars is vast, the probability of making contact with an ETI that is technologically equal to or only slightly more advanced than us is virtually nil. If we ever do encounter the representatives of an ETI, they will be so far ahead of us technologically that they will appear as gods to us.

For an ETI who is a million years more advanced than we are, engineering the creation of planets and stars may be entirely possible. And if universes are created out of collapsing black holes—which some cosmologists think is probable—it is not inconceivable that a sufficiently advanced ETI could even create a universe.

What would we call an intelligent being capable of engineering a universe, stars, planets, and life? If we knew the underlying science and technology used to do the engineering, we would call it extraterrestrial intelligence; if we did not know the underlying science and technology, we would call it God.

Don't fret though, MS manages to throw in a few standard skeptical pejoratives along with the more thought-provoking (or what I like to call, 'Daily Grail oriented') stuff. Other contributors include Christopher Hitchins, Steven Pinker, Victor Stenger and Keith Ward, among others.

News Briefs 19-05-2008

Scarily late news - like the White Rabbit, rollerblading on a mobius strip.

Thanks Rick and Greg.

Quote of the Day:

One trend that bothers me is the glorification of stupidity, that the media is reassuring people it's alright not to know anything. That to me is far more dangerous than a little pornography on the Internet.

Carl Sagan

Shadow of the Templars Online

The Rennes-le-Chateau Research and Resource website have made available online the entire Shadow of the Templars documentary, from which grew the seminal hidden history books Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The Messianic Legacy (and, despite the legal view, The Da Vinci Code):

In 1974, British script writer Henry Lincoln introduced the Mystery of Rennes-le-Château to the English speaking world through his documentary "The Priest, the Painter and the Devil". The documentary created a storm of publicity and eventually led to the production of a 2nd documentary in 1979, Shadow of the Templars, which you can see on this page. This documentary was already co-researched by Michael Baigent, which later led to Henry, Michael and the late Richard Leigh writing the international bestseller Holy Blood Holy Grail.

The script and presentation of Shadow of the Templars were done by Henry Lincoln. It was produced by Roy Davies for the BBC Chronicle series.

Shadow of the Templars marks the beginning of the mythos of the Priory of Sion entering the public consciousness (at least in the English speaking world), and features all the main 'characters', from the village of Rennes-le-Chateau to that man of mystery, Pierre Plantard. Fun to watch!

The online video is broken into four parts, for ease of viewing.

Weekend Blogscan 18-05-2008

A few things to keep you busy over the weekend...