Monday, April 23, 2007

Greetings from Hospital Corners

I have asked my wife to post this to explain why there have been no entries here in more than a week -- namely, an unexpected stay in the hospital for a heart condition.

To my blogosphere friends and new visitors, please be assured that I will be back and blogging again when I am released to go home (this very advanced hospital has no internet connectivity for patients). I don't know when it will be... but Reflecting Light will be active again! Watch this space.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The psychic "industry" and its "victims"

mooncloudsI make no claims of being clairvoyant (or more precisely, precognitive), but I can clearly foresee this: 20 years, and 50 years, and a century from now, journalists who don't know the first thing about psychical research will be writing what they think are knee-slappingly funny columns about psychics and their duped clients. The language will probably change somewhat, but in essence they'll read like this, from The Times:
What would you do if you were genuinely clairvoyant? If you could really tell the future? The possibilities are endless.

You could make a fortune stock-picking and betting on sporting events. You could win the Nobel Peace Prize (by anticipating world crises and advising how they could be avoided), the various Nobel scientific prizes (by demonstrating in a series of controlled experiments that what we thought we knew about the natural world was wrong), and the Nobel Prize for Literature (by copying future masterpieces and passing them off as your own). You could save lives, avert catastrophes, only call restaurants when you knew that there was a table available. What fun you could have.

The writer, Daniel Finkelstein, doesn't just confuse clairvoyance (the ability to obtain visual impressions or knowledge through means other than the senses) with precognition (psychically catching glimpses of future events); he confuses precognition with fortune telling.

Psychics or "sensitives" are no more omniscient than you or I. They can't read tomorrow's newspaper today or tell you which horse will finish in the money. Most psychics would agree that they get impressions — sometimes clear, sometimes ambiguous — through using mental faculties that seem to operate best when sense impressions and thinking are stilled as much as possible.

Finkelstein goes on, wink-wink:
Here are some of the things you [if you were psychic] wouldn’t do: advertise on the internet, call yourself a celebrity psychic, appear on daytime TV, rent a table at a Psychic Fair just off Stanmore High Street, take a part-time job in Holland & Barrett while receiving clients at home of an evening, live in a caravan [trailer] park in Totnes, sell your wares in the classified section of the local paper and stand in front of a group in a half-full village hall saying that you’ve had a message from someone called John and asking if anyone knows anybody with that name.
If his point is that there are self-proclaimed psychics who aren't all they profess to be, almost any psychical researcher would agree. In my experience, there are few completely fraudulent psychics, but there are a fair number who just aren't particularly talented … something you could as validly say about artists, automobile drivers, actors, and, hmmm, newspaper columnists. Many psychics have on and off days, like you probably do with whatever your skill happens to be.

Fractal spongeBut his larger argument seems to be that no real psychic would ever indulge in commerce (presumably because they could get rich just by perfectly knowing in advance which investments will go up in value). We've already disposed of the idea that psychics know everything there is to know, which means they have to make a living, either through their psychic gifts or in some more mundane work. Why shouldn't a psychic take a part-time job at Holland & Barrett, whatever that may be, while receiving clients at home in the evening? I suppose Mr. Finkelstein has never moonlighted or written a freelance article.

Claims to be able to speak to the dead and tell fortunes seem so obviously ridiculous that they are easy to make fun of," he says. Yes, I guess those claims (which are not, by the way, what most telepaths and clairvoyants say they do) are obviously ridiculous, if you've never bothered to look into the vast literature on the subject.

I haven't time or space here to even begin to cite the evidence from more than a century and a quarter of serious scientific research on paranormal faculties. If you are interested, check out the Web sites linked under "Spirit/Psychical" in the blogroll to the right (and these are only a few sites, cherry picked from a much larger number; and Web sites are still far fewer than the reputable books and papers).

For a quick overview of scientific resarch that has tended to verify paranormal faculties, this page from Wikipedia might do. I agree that Wikipedia isn't always a trustworthy source, but this article — which is actually rather conservative — seems to have been written by someone with no particular ax to grind. For a more in-depth study, see Dean Radin's The Conscious Universe.

Since our columnist has had a right old laugh at the idea that psychic impressions might offer warnings ("You could save lives, avert catastrophes … "), I am sorry to have to tell him that there have been just such cases, even involving people who were not known as being psychic. Two examples — one actual, one potential — are given in the excellent The Dictionary of Mind and Spirit by Donald Watson. He writes:
Many theories about [precognition] involve ways in which information available to the unconscious mind is brought to conscious awareness. What would happen if this information were not successfully brought to conscious awareness? Would we still perhaps amend our actions in the light of unconsciously recognized danger, for example? Statistics suggest that this is actually the case. William Cox studied the figures for railway passengers in America over a twenty-year period, comparing the numbers of passengers on trains which had accidents with the comparable figures for those trains in the month leading up to the accident. The result was that fewer passengers always travelled on the train that crashed. Needless to say, more sceptical investigators have contested Cox's conclusions, maintaining that he had not discounted the effect of all the other variables, but proof of this kind is never likely to be one hundred per cent convincing. As with so many psi phenomena we will only ever find evidence of tendencies.
A novel written in 1898 by Morgan Robertson, The Wreck of the Titan, showed remarkable similarities to the real life story of the Titanic, which (14 years later) like its fictional counterpart sank on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. "If one is unwilling to subscribe to the view that a discarnate [out-of-the-body] spirit was keen to write a novel based on a forthcoming event, one can hardly escape the possibility that in some altered state of consciousness the author himself had access to the future," Watson says.

Butterfly satoriFinkelstein complains: "
The activities of the pyschic industry have victims. Grieving people are being exploited and the naive enticed to part with cash. Falsely suggesting to the bereaved that you are in communication with a dead relative seems to me a terrible thing to do." It is a charge that has been made aggain and again since mediumship first became popular in the mid-19th century, and without doubt there have been instances where it was true. Nevertheless, the key word is falsely. However "grieving" or "naive" Finkelstein thinks clients of mediums are, they — not he, and not some government agency — have the right to determine for themselves as best they can whether what they learn from psychics, including mediums who believe they are a channel between this world and what lies beyond, is false or true.

People who are dissuaded by ignorant journalists from ever testing truth for themselves can also be victims.

Monday, April 09, 2007

U.K. exports professionals, imports manual workers

Britain's brains keep draining, while immigrants with relatively little education keep replacing them.
International migration is eroding Britain's skills base with an exodus of professionals matching the arrival of low-skilled foreign migrants, the Government is to be warned.

The number of Britons emigrating has jumped in recent years, with a growing proportion leaving professional or managerial jobs to work overseas. By contrast, the number of immigrant workers - many of them manual workers - has risen sharply.

Why should anyone be surprised? Who, having a choice, would choose to live in a country where crime is rampant but you can be arrested for defending yourself; free speech is dead and you can be charged with a "hate crime" for using the word "Pakistanis"; and where your rulers have set their sights on making you, if you are of Anglo-Saxon or Celtic ancestry, part of a minority group.

I feel almost guilty about writing one more post bashing Britain's leaders (not its people, many of whom if I read the signs rightly, are plenty unhappy about how things are going). Too easy. Fish in a barrel. I could do one posting a day under the "Britain self-destructs" rubric, just by linking to news stories from the scepter'd isle with little or no comment.

But it's worth asking: how has the United Kingdom come to this wretched state? A mere hundred years ago, not much in historical time, Britain was one of the most prosperous, self-confident, powerful, and respected countries on earth. Today it's a place its professionals can't wait to get shut of.

The number of reasons for social and political degradation of a country can be almost infinitely complex if you want to see them that way, but those who still count themselves as citizens with a responsibility for their nations mustn't take refuge in that academic cop-out. Look at the basics and let others fuss over the details.

You can't ignore the effects of two World Wars, the first if anything more than the second. The slaughterhouse of trench warfare in 1914–18, aside from its devastating psychological sequels, killed off many of the country's young men who would have played leading roles in its future. Both '14–'18 and '39–'45 were very democratic carnage, officers and enlisted men both suffering heavy losses, which I suppose is to Britain's credit. But you have to figure that lots of the smartest and most educated went down, and while they were no more important on a human scale than their working class compatriots, it's hard to doubt that the U.K.'s intellectual capital took a blow from which it has never fully recovered.

But the main reason for Britain's decline and fall into a death spiral of social breakdown and political correctness is, I have come to believe, the varying degrees of socialism that have prevailed for the past 60 years.

British leftists and pacifists (pretty much the same, until Hitler invaded Russia and they suddenly became hearty anti-fascists) hated Winston Churchill back in the '30s for constantly warning about the danger from Nazi Germany and the necessity of being prepared to fight it. Once Churchill had led the country to a successful conclusion of World War II, the country rewarded him by voting him out of office and electing the first officially socialist Labour national government.

Although in the years since, control of Parliament has gone back and forth between Labour and the Tories, those first postwar years of socialist rule seem to have left an indelible stamp. Even when under so-called Conservative leadership, Britain has accepted many of the principles of socialism: nationalized medicine, high taxes, council housing (what we Yanks call housing projects and have virtually abandoned, recognizing them as the failures they were), welfare, and most important for what we're looking at, a centralized state dedicated to social engineering. People are economic units of production and consumption; the government's role is to decide how they shall live (right down to how many "alcohol units" they should consume per day), speak, and think.

Ten years ago, Tony Blair was elected on a "New Labour" platform — his party abandoned the old leftist cant about workers owning the means of production, bleeding the aristocracy white, booting out U.S. miltary bases and all that. Scratch a New Labourite (and many a Tory quasi-Labourite), though, and you'll find the mental gears still turning the same way.

Certainly, the Left has had to shift its tactics. Beginning with Karl Marx, it based its expectations on the working class being the force de frappe that would do in capitalism and enforce equality. That continued to be the underlying theme through the 1980s, even as it sounded more and more hollow. The class warfare model wasn't working anymore. The working class was in many cases making good money and going on strike whenever some part of it didn't get what it wanted. It was more interested in football, booze-ups at the local, cheap flights to Spain, and betting shops than in being the Revolutionary Vanguard.

The present phase of Britain's sickening came when the Left realized that the island's indigenous population just wasn't good Red-flag-waving material. But wait! The world is full of the oppressed, many of them very possibly more pliable than the home-grown lumpenproletariat!

And so the visionaries opened a new front in the struggle for egalitarianism — importing as many of the wretched of the earth as possible. Toss out the dragnet in Somalia and Pakistan and other super-under-underdeveloped waste dumps and reel 'em in. They won't be co-opted by capitalist imperialism! We'll set the immigrant cat among the bourgeois pigeons!

Today's Left, instead of having an uncooperative lot of native British workers for their pawns, has retrofitted immigrants into position. Smart move. It seems to be working: everywhere in British life, anyone or anything that stands out from the herd is under threat, the educational system is being dumbed down and used to denounce everything about the country's past that once was considered an emblem of greatness, speech codes and legally enforced political correctness inhibit protest. Equality is quickly being achieved, an equality of ignorance and lack of qualifications.

The operation has been a glorious success. Too bad about the patient.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Sorry about the lean supply of postings recently. I'm in a particularly busy patch of work at my job, and a malevolent case of bronchitis has reminded me continually of the importance of breathing. Besides all that, I got married the weekend before last.

Our text for today is an article titled "The Next Conservatism" in The American Conservative. It is not a publication or Web site I know anything about, but I ran across several references to the article, and they sounded interesting enough to impel me to conjure up the source.

To briefly synopsize the piece, by Paul M. Weyrich and William S. Lind (also heretofore unknown to me), they start from the assumption that political conservatism in any traditional or genuine sense is in a very bad way. What passes for conservatism, at least in Washington, no longer has any real ideas. It's just a brand name for a coalition that craves political power for its own sake.

Weyrich and Lind think that conservatism's political failure is the symptom of a deeper cultural, perhaps spiritual, failure. And any change that matters must be in reverse gear:

If the next conservatism is to reverse this decline and begin to recover the America we knew as recently as the 1950s, the last normal decade, it must do three things. First, it must aspire to change not merely how people vote but how they live their lives. It must lead growing numbers of Americans to secede from the rotten pop culture of materialism, consumerism, hyper-sexualization, and political correctness and return to the old ways of living. The next conservatism includes “retroculture”: a conscious, deliberate recovery of the past.

This recovery should not be, indeed cannot be, imposed through political power. This is the second action the next conservatism must take: putting power in its place. … The rejection of the counterculture that has become the mainstream culture must proceed bottom-up, person by person and family by family, on a voluntary basis.

They should have left that phrase "the last normal decade" out of the final cut, because it's mockery bait: what does it mean to call a decade "normal"? And their argument isn't really about today's American culture being abnormal, but about it's being pernicious.

The authors score a good point that so much of what has gone haywire is not a matter of political doctrines or bad laws; where those exist, they are effects of widely held value systems.

The usual shorthand description of the values gap is a "culture war." I don't want to put words in the authors' mouths, but they would be likely to agree that the war is over. Cultural conservatives have lost. The quasi-Marxist social revolution that the '60s radicals demanded is now mainstream. The separation of the population into racial and ethnic tribes, "celebrating" their differences; permanent reverse discrimination in hiring and social services; the belief that diversity, of whatever sort, is an unquestionable benefit; government and corporate promotion of multi-lingualism; all forms of social engineering; an ever-growing intrusion into people's private lives by the government, which knows what's best for everybody; contempt for restrictions on immigration (except by whites of Anglo-Saxon and Celtic ancestry, who aren't wanted); the chilling of free speech by formal and informal strictures against expressing certain words and ideas — all this, and so much more, is generally accepted as progress.

Of course, there are individuals, quite a few actually, who jib at some or all of these assumptions. But they are disfranchised, with no major party or faction representing them.

Weyrich and Lind say:

Cultural Marxists have largely captured the powers of the state and use those powers to force their ideology through government policies from affirmative action to public-school curricula to the imposition of feminism on America’s Armed Forces. This points to the third thing the next conservatism must do: restore the American Republic by stripping the state of culturally Marxist ideology in all its dimensions.

A Republic devoted to liberty imposes no ideology on its citizens. The government has no business mandating diversity of races or sexes in hiring or school admissions, or forcing the armed services to make women into fighter pilots and ship captains, or “celebrating” homosexuality in the workplace, or any of the other myriad of actions the state now takes to impose political correctness.

Hear, hear.

They recognize that a traditionalist conservative revival can't afford to ignore conventional politics. Among other things:
Restoring the Republic requires breaking the monopoly of professional politicians and two parties that are for the most part one party—the Party of I’ve Got Mine. The next conservatism should promote increased use of ballot initiatives and referenda, term limits, putting “none of the above” on the ballot and requiring a new election with new candidates if it wins, and ending legalized bribery under the name of campaign contributions.
I agree with most (not all) of the political goals they spell out, including "the abandonment of a Wilsonian foreign policy, which is promoted by neoconservatives and neoliberals alike, and a return to a policy based on America’s concrete interests. … The Founders warned that we could either preserve liberty at home or seek Great Power status but not both. The next conservatism prefers liberty to the trappings of empire."

Unfortunately, our authors now begin to wax sentimental over a fantasy Arcadian past, again providing fuel for detractors to take cheap shots.
Further, the next conservatism should revive the dormant conservative agrarian tradition. As the Amish demonstrate, the small family farm can be economically viable. Organic farming, conservation and restoration of the soil, farmers’ markets and “crunchy cons” should find an honored place in the next conservative agenda. Family farms are good places for children to grow up. While environmentalism is becoming an ideology, conservation and care in the use of God’s creation have long-standing conservative credentials. In turn, agriculture has always been a conservative culture.
Maybe it's a character defect of mine that urban "farmer's markets" bore me to bits, or maybe I've just known too many yuppies playing the organic purist, but I can't see — and wouldn't want to see — us becoming overall-clad sons and daughters of the soil again. Now this:
The next conservatism should promote the return of trains and streetcars as alternatives to dependence on automobiles. The private automobile is a great way to travel as long as not many people have one. At present, the proliferation of cars creates such congestion that everyone, liberals and conservatives alike, wastes vast amounts of time sitting in traffic. Not even a Mercedes sports car is much fun when it can’t move. Bringing back trains and trolleys can save us time and help revitalize our cities. The future energy situation also makes it likely that coming generations will thank us for re-creating the network of trains and streetcar lines America once enjoyed.
Bring back trolley cars? What next, nickel beer and wooden Indians? Look, I dislike traffic jams as much as we all do, but I also spent years commuting via public transportation, and the worst traffic jam I've ever been in, seated in my own space, listening to a CD of my choice on the sound system, is better than an average day on a bus or metro line.

But it's more than a matter of personal preference. Public transportation was reasonably efficient, if less than enjoyable, when people worked in compact city downtowns and commuted a few miles to nearby dwellings. But it can't possibly work on a significant scale in cities of hundreds of square miles, decentralized, with people headed to every point on the compass, when many people live 30 or 40 miles from their place of business. That isn't to say that public transportation shouldn't be upgraded and expanded; it can relieve some of the pressure. But it isn't the basic answer to sprawl and stop-and-go traffic. There is only one answer that makes any sense to me: fewer people, ergo, fewer cars and smaller cities. But Weyrich and Lind apparently think population stabilization (or better, reduction) doesn't fit with their notion of a conservative way of life.

It's too bad they get carried off by nostalgia, because such lapses make it all too easy to dismiss the many good things they have to say. In fact, the very same issue of The American Conservative carries patronizing responses by James P. Pinkerton, David Franke, and John Derbyshire. The latter is usually entertaining and shows evidence of intracranial work even when I disagree with him, and some of his criticisms of Messrs. Weyrich and Lind are similar to mine, but he is not giving them their due with a snide put-down like this:
Perhaps we can salvage some of that old vitality to fortify us in the coming storms. I certainly hope so. The salvaging won’t be accomplished, though, supposing it can be accomplished, by turning us into a flock of hat-wearing, church-going, streetcar-riding, home-schooling, natural-produce-eating, “Lawrence Welk Show”-watching brownstone-dwellers.
Come along, Derb, the article's theme is worth taking seriously, and deserves better than a simplistic parody. It is, or should be, possible to create a partial retroculture by preserving and reviving the best elements of the past without imitating what was trivial or is no longer useful in it.