Author Archive | majestic

A Field Guide To American Truthers

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Photo: Damon D’Amato (CC)

Truthers. What does that word mean to you? Turns out there are quite a few flavors of “Truther” in today’s America. Drew Magary reports for The Concourse (note that his essential book for 9/11 Truthers is one of ours!):

There were no truthers back in the 20th century. I grew up in the Golden Age of Kennedy Assassination Conspiracies, but the word “truther” was never used to describe Oliver Stone or any of the other folks who decried the Magic Bullet theory. (DISCLOSURE: I saw JFK when I was in high school and took every scene as gospel and totally bought into the whole thing for a while.) Conspiracy theorists were just that, and nothing more.

But the advent of the internet has allowed conspiracy theorists to blossom—to become even more deeply immersed in their own version of the truth. You can find “proof” of pretty much anything online if you’re willing to look and you are strong of faith.

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The Middle Class is Poorer Today Than it Was in 1989

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Photo by Brendel (CC)

No surprises for guessing who hogged the gains in the economy over the last 25 years. Yes, you guessed it, the wealthy 1%, per the Washington Post:

The fundamentals of the economy are, well, okay.

It’s been slow and steady, but the recovery has chugged along enough to get us back to something close to normal. The economy has surpassed its pre-crisis peak, unemployment is at a six-year low, and stocks have more than tripled from their 2009 low. It’s not the best of times, but it’s certainly not the worst — which was a very real possibility after Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy threatened to send us into a second Great Depression.

President Obama and his fellow Democrats, naturally, would like to claim some of the credit for that. If voters credited them with this economic turnaround, Obama and his party might have a better chance of holding the Senate this fall, an outcome that looks precarious.

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The Cult of Neil deGrasse Tyson

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Are you a fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson? You know, the fellow who took picked up the mantle of Cosmos from Carl Sagan. He’s definitely the most famous astronomer of our time, but as with anyone reaching certain heights of fame, he’s now attracting critics, Rich Lowry of Politico among them:

Neil deGrasse Tyson is a very famous and popular scientist. He even has a TV show. And wears a cool astronomical vest. Only he’s not infallible.

This rather basic truth has been established over the past couple weeks, over much resistance and at the cost of much abuse, by Sean Davis of the lively new conservative website, the Federalist.

Davis dug into a handful of just-so stories repeated by Tyson in his public lectures, the point of which is to make himself — and by extension, his audience — feel superior to the dolts who aren’t nearly as scientific as he is.

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The Origin of Witches

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The Three Witches (Johann Heinrich Füssli)

“Where do witches come from?” asks Alastair Sooke at BBC Culture:

Ask any Western child to draw a witch, and the chances are that he or she will come up with something familiar: most likely a hook-nosed hag wearing a pointy hat, riding a broomstick or stirring a cauldron. But where did this image come from? The answer is more arresting and complex than you might think, as I discovered last week when I visited Witches and Wicked Bodies, a new exhibition at the British Museum in London that explores the iconography of witchcraft.

Witches have a long and elaborate history. Their forerunners appear in the Bible, in the story of King Saul consulting the so-called Witch of Endor. They also crop up in the classical era in the form of winged harpies and screech-owl-like “strixes” – frightening flying creatures that fed on the flesh of babies.

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First US Ebola Case Diagnosed in Dallas

Inevitably, Ebola has jumped across the Atlantic Ocean and a patient in Dallas, Texas has been diagnosed with the virus, reports CBS DFW:

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control have confirmed that a person in Dallas definitely has the Ebola virus. Tuesday’s official determination makes the Dallas patient the first diagnosed Ebola case in the United States.

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are holding a press conference at 4:30 p.m.

It was late on the evening of September 29 that CBS 11 News learned a patient at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas was feared to have been exposed to the Ebola virus.

Health officials said given the information that the unnamed patient had been in the West Africa area where the Ebola virus exists and the type of symptoms they were exhibiting, testing was being performed.

After the information was related to the CDC the health institute sent a team to North Texas just in case the patient was infected with Ebola.

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World Has Lost More Than Half of Wildlife in 40 Years

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Can you imagine the conspiracy theories that certain usual suspects would be broadcasting far and wide if the human population was halved in just 40 years? So why isn’t there more outcry over that happening to the Earth’s wildlife population? From BBC News:

The global loss of species is even worse than previously thought, the London Zoological Society (ZSL) says in its new Living Planet Index.

The report suggests populations have halved in 40 years, as new methodology gives more alarming results than in a report two years ago.

The report says populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish have declined by an average of 52%.

Populations of freshwater species have suffered an even worse fall of 76%.

Severe impact
Compiling a global average of species decline involves tricky statistics, often comparing disparate data sets – and some critics say the exercise is not statistically valid.

The team at the zoological society say they’ve improved their methodology since their last report two years ago – but the results are even more alarming.

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Leaving Your Religion Can Damage Your Health

WARNING: Leaving your religion can damage your health (courtesy of The Atlantic):

…Americans are less religious than ever. A third of American adults under 30, and a fifth of all Americans don’t identify with any religion, according to a 2012 study by Pew Research (an increase from 15 percent in 2007). But though scientists have studied people who leave cults, research on the health effects of leaving religion is slim.

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The most mainstream research on this is a 2010 study out of Pennsylvania State University, which examined data from 1972 to 2006. The study showed that 20 percent of people who have left religion report being in excellent health, versus 40 percent of people currently part of strict religious groups (such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Latter-Day Saints) and 25 percent of people who switched from a strict religion to a more lenient religion. “Strict” in this study was defined as “high-cost sectarian groups that are theologically and culturally exclusive.”

There are some studies comparing the health of religious and nonreligious people.

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The End of Peak Oil

Peak oil has been an alarmist catch phrase for so long that many of us simply assume that oil production has in fact peaked and we’re well on the way to running out of the world’s favorite fossil fuel. Not so, according to this story in the Wall Street Journal:

Have we beaten “peak oil”?

For decades, it has been a doomsday scenario looming large in the popular imagination: The world’s oil production tops out and then starts an inexorable decline—sending costs soaring and forcing nations to lay down strict rationing programs and battle for shrinking reserves.

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U.S. oil production did peak in the 1970s and sank for decades after, exactly as the theory predicted. But then it did something the theory didn’t predict: It started rising again in 2009, and hasn’t stopped, thanks to a leap forward in oil-field technology.

To the peak-oil adherents, this is just a respite, and decline is inevitable.

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The Myth of Religious Violence

323px-Siege_of_NándorfehérvárKaren Armstrong, author of Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence, says in a lengthy essay in The Guardian that “the popular belief that religion is the cause of the world’s bloodiest conflicts is central to our modern conviction that faith and politics should never mix. But the messy history of their separation suggests it was never so simple”:

…[P]erhaps we should ask, instead, how it came about that we in the west developed our view of religion as a purely private pursuit, essentially separate from all other human activities, and especially distinct from politics. After all, warfare and violence have always been a feature of political life, and yet we alone drew the conclusion that separating the church from the state was a prerequisite for peace. Secularism has become so natural to us that we assume it emerged organically, as a necessary condition of any society’s progress into modernity.

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This Man Has 100 Orgasms A Day – and Calls It Hell

Persistent Genital Arousal Syndrome is one of the most bizarre physical afflictions you’re likely to come across, and it’s perfect tabloid fodder for the New York Post. (What astounds me is that he’s gone public with his condition!):

Experiencing 100 orgasms a day may sound like the gift that keeps on giving, but a heartbroken man from Wisconsin can assure you — it’s much more of a curse.

Dale Decker is a 37-year-old husband and father of two who suffers from an uncontrollable condition known as Persistent Genital Arousal Syndrome, Barcroft Media reports.

He first felt the symptoms after he slipped a disk in his back and was on his way to the hospital. Decker inexplicably ejaculated five times on the drive — and says the orgasms have kept on coming ever since.

“Imagine being on your knees at your father’s funeral beside his casket, saying goodbye to him — and then you have nine orgasms right there,” he said.

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