Saturday, June 29, 2013

Paul Weston has nothing to fear

... Except Muslims with quaint ideas of punishment.

And the government of the United Kingdom, of which he is a subject.

You'd take those odds any day, woudn't you?

I regret that I once teased Weston in a comment at Lawrence Auster's blog for his anti-sharia comments that struck me as being a bit wet. I could understand his need to be circumspect. Americans, even the few who take an interest in the state of play in Britain, generally have no idea of how far the government of that country has gone in suppressing free speech and imposing so-called diversity, with jail (do they still spell it "gaol"?) sentences for protesters like the English Defence League. Recently they refused EDL defenders and anti-jihad writers Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller permission even to set foot in Britain.

As of now, it's a coin toss whether the U.K. or Sweden will become the West's first overtly dhimmi country.

Anyway, I'm here to change my tune about Paul Weston. With everything to lose, including his freedom, he has chosen to speak the painful truth as he sees it. He is taking a terrible risk. I will not be surprised to read one of these days that he has been arrested under the Terms of Surrender to Islam Act of 2013.

Weston writes:
So here we are then. A Prime Minister who thinks we have a lot to learn from Islam. A Prime Minister who is a founding signatory of Unite Against Fascism, which is a Communist thug organisation with a Muslim fascist, Azad Ali, sitting as its vice-chair. A Prime Minister who said nary a word about Muslim gang rapists, and the only words used by him about the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby served to absolve Islam of any blame.

Britain is a country which allowed Muslim girls to attack white girls whilst screaming “kill the white bitch”, who were then absolved of a race crime. Britain promotes policemen to top positions who then publicly state on television that the 7/7 London transport bombings had nothing to do with Islam. Britain is a country that allowed any number of Muslim imams filmed by undercover C4 [Channel 4, a station independent of the BBC] journalists to just carry on their hatred, even after their rants were aired on prime time TV. Let’s not prosecute them our Crown Prosecution Service said — they are the wrong colour and the wrong religion. Old boy.
He is still shying off from the only real solution, which is ending Muslim immigration and encouraging Muslims to go back to the barbaric countries they left so they could enjoy the U.K.'s welfare system. Even so, he has slapped Her Majesty's Heavy Mob in the face with his glove.
Britain is lost.

Britain is a country that does prosecute you if you dare to mention that Islam indulges in a spot of gang-rape, and tells us it wants to blow us up. Britain is a country that threatens to prosecute T-Shirt vendors for inciting racial hatred if they wish to sell clothing bearing a logo saying “Respect our Culture, Respect our Laws or Get out of our Country”. Britain is a country that refuses to prosecute Muslims for hate crimes when they desecrate our war memorials, and Britain is a country that allows Jew-hating politicians like Keith Vaz to help decide just who should or should not be allowed entry to Britain.

And finally, Britain is a country that bans scholarly civil rights activists from entry, despite the fact they have never called for violence, cannot be exposed as being “Islamophobic” by Communists such as Nick Lowles and cannot be refuted by idiotic imams after directly quoting the Koran. Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer have been denied entry to Britain for two reasons. The first is that they speak the truth. The second is that they have sufficient knowledge to make sure the truth cannot be twisted.
Maybe Weston's decided that he has nothing to fear -- that life in a country that caters in every possible way to members of a cult that hates it is already to live in prison. Maybe he believes there is nowhere to go, no country in the Western world with the moral fiber to draw the line against creeping dhimmitude.

Whatever his reasons, he seems to have decided like Martin Luther, "Here I stand. I can do no other."

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Congress, Obama to celebrate July 4 as "No More America Day"

I simply cannot believe the Stupid Party and the neocons.

Once more, they're about to score a goal for the opposition. They've allowed themselves to be conned again. There they are, herded into the pen, braying for a carrot.

Did you notice how easy it was? The "immigration reform" debate is no such thing. All the politicos agree to amnesty for illegals. The turncoats would make border jumping a condition of citizenship if anyone called them racists for not doing it.

The only debate is a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. "Border security first, then we legalize the millions we've encouraged to violate our laws."  We haven't had any borders since at least 1986. Why spoil a good thing now?

¡Hey, Gringos! I've waited
a long time for this.

What does "border security" mean anyhow? An agreement to have 10,000 more uniforms assigned to drive beside the Rio Grande, talking into their cellular cheeseburgers? Make a few arrests for show and send the detainees back so the game can be replayed the next night?

We could secure the borders in a week if we were serious about it, and with the resources we have now. But big business isn't on board. Neither are the Evil Party strategists. Nor the Empire of Aztlan. Nor the Gang of 535.

The game is over, folks. Well played ... by everyone except the resistance.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Photo ops for the dead

A friend emailed me an article about a "ghost photograph" and asked what I made of it. Here is the photo:

And the article's description:
This intriguing photo, taken in 1919, was first published in 1975 by Sir Victor Goddard, a retired R.A.F. officer. The photo is a group portrait of Goddard's squadron, which had served in World War I at the HMS Daedalus training facility. An extra ghostly face appears in the photo. In back of the airman positioned on the top row, fourth from the left, can clearly be seen the face of another man. It is said to be the face of Freddy Jackson, an air mechanic who had been accidentally killed by an airplane propeller two days earlier. His funeral had taken place on the day this photograph was snapped. Members of the squadron easily recognized the face as Jackson's. It has been suggested that Jackson, unaware of his death, decided to show up for the group photo.
The photo might represent a genuine ghostly appearance. As evidence for discarnate survival, however, I believe it is of no value.

I enlarged the picture as much as I could on my screen and couldn't see any resemblance between the fuzzy image and the inset photo of the living Freddy Jackson. That, however, is beside the point concerning validity.

Like so many descriptions in popular media of paranormal events, this one leaves out important information that we need for even a tentative assessment of whether the camera might have captured a fleeting return of Jackson. We would have to have good reason to believe all the following:

1. That the number of (living) squadron members who posed for the picture was definitely known at the time -- not from RAF records or long-ago memories. And, of course, that there was one extra person in the shot.

2. That the members of the squadron, or a large majority of them, recognized their deceased mechanic spontaneously, with no leading questions of the "Do you notice anything strange about this picture?" type.

3. Unlikeliest of all: That the airmen who claimed to recognize Jackson did so independently of one another, and were not influenced by anyone else's perception.

Perhaps somewhere there is a more detailed description of the occasion, but what we are told here is purely anecdotal, based on Sir Victor Goddard's statement in 1975 of something that happened in 1919. It's extremely unlikely that all, or perhaps any, of the conditions above could be met.

Alleged ghost photographs are one of the least convincing arguments for life after death. They rank far below mediumistic communications and dreams in which people who have passed on deliver meaningful information. Past life regression memories and apparent cases of reincarnation have their problems too, but even they are more acceptable.

Digital photographs can be manipulated to show anything at all. But even film and plates in earlier eras could produce double exposures, on purpose or by accident. I'm not saying all the pictures are deliberate hoaxes, but they lack what lawyers call prima facie validity.

Purported spirits lurking in the images always seem wispy and vague. Consider the best case, the famous picture from Raynham Hall, England, often called the most impressive ever taken:

One reason the photo has received a degree of respect is that its provenance is clear. It was taken by one of a pair of professional photographers on assignment from Country Life magazine in 1936. While not impossible, it seems unlikely that two photographers hired by the ritzy magazine for Britain's carriage trade would risk their reputations and livelihoods for the sake of a trick.

Even the Raynham Hall ghost photo -- best of breed, maybe, but still ambiguous -- is famous mainly because it is so much more convincing than the vast majority of others, which offer endless variations on cloudy, translucent shapes.

Yet accounts from people who have seen ghosts describe a remarkable variety of appearances. By no means were the apparitions all diaphanous. Many are said to have been fairly solid, although sometimes only part of a figure was visible. Now and then, it is claimed, the visitor from beyond looked just as real as a living person, even though their clothing may have been from an earlier period.

Why do alleged ghost photos pick up only see-through blobs? There is the telepathy theory, advanced most famously by G.N.M. Tyrrell. He suggested that people don't really "see" ghosts -- they pick up a psychic impression, which the mind converts into something relatively conventional, and visible. I find his theory ingenious but too clever by half. Regardless, if true, how does the camera record mental impressions?

One more thing. Despite the widespread popular notion that ghosts are spirits from the Other Side, many mediums and occultists say that they are not the formerly living people. They are described as "astral shells," a sort of semi-material equivalent of the dead material body, left behind as the actual spirit or soul moves on to realms of a higher vibration. It is also theorized that ghosts are psychic impressions left in certain locations by past inhabitants, and usually connected with intense emotions. This could explain why so many ghosts are claimed to have been murdered or victimized (as the lady of Raynham Hall was).

The astral-shell and psychic-impression theories are supported by the fact that haunting ghosts seem alive only in that they can move. They rarely interact with or even notice observers. Their appearances and actions are repetitious, scarcely evoking a hint of consciousness.

Interestingly, the spirits that not infrequently interact with the living aren't visible at all. Those are poltergeists, who like to make noises and throw objects around. They don't speak but often respond to questions or requests. Some seem like naughty but basically innocent children; a few are clearly malevolent. For one of the best accounts of the latter, see Guy Lyon Playfair's This House Is Haunted.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The shape of drinks to come

Baijiu, a Chinese liquor with a kick like a soccer player, may be the next trendy drink to be adopted by the cooler-than-you-or-me set in the rest of the world.
Move over tequila, here comes Chinese firewater. Baijiu, a flammable, pungent white liquor averaging a 110-proof wallop, is the world's most consumed spirit, but for the first time distillers are looking to develop export markets.

But Baijiu's punch makes it a tough sell in Western bar culture where people tend to drink on an empty stomach. So does its fuel-like odor and its aftertaste. But the history of regional drinks, such as Japanese sake, or Mexican tequila, shows that nearly any taste can be acquired.
Traditionally, it would seem, baijiu was sold in bottles suitable for slipping into an overcoat or having a quick nip in a dark alley:

That simply won't do if the liquid dynamite is to sit on the luminous shelf behind the bar next to Johnnie Walker Purple and the single malts. So the Chinese marketers have been busy working to overcome Fear of Baijiu through stylish bottling and packaging. They've come up with some that for flair might make perfume merchants envious:

Today's mystique of the Orient. Opium
dens are so fuddy duddy.

China is hoarding gold.

Dragon in a bottle. Same principle as a worm 
in the tequila.

If you don't care for the liquor,
the bottle can be used as home decor.

Nostalgic for the Red Guards? Ah, my friend,
those were the days. 

Don't like rad? Have some trad.

According to the media descriptions, sinking a few tots of baijiu of an evening offers every prospect of leaving you in a sorry state the next morning. Even if you don't remember the prior night's carousing, though, you might recall the bottle that started it all.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Be still, my heart

Not still still, I mean, as in flatlining. Just calm.

Yesterday I went to the doctor for bloodwork and a routine meeting with a specialist doctor. Before he showed up, his nurse gave me the usual height, weight, and blood pressure/heart rhythm routine. When the heart monitor digested its readings and came up with numbers, she was suddenly alarmed.

"Your heart is beating fast."

"It's always pretty fast, every time I have it checked -- "

"I mean really fast."

The doctor I'd come to see arrived then and the nurse pointed out the monitor reading. "A hundred seventy beats a minute," the doctor said. "That's what I'd expect if you'd just finished running a marathon or half hour on the treadmill." I assured him I had done neither.

Other doctors were called in. Not only were the beats ultra-fast but the rhythm was a little dodgy. The weird thing was that I felt fairly normal except for a little edginess and fatigue, both of which are common enough with me. My primary care physician was called and she wanted me sent to an associated facility that had a cardiology unit. I said I'd drive over there straight away.

I was told I was in no condition to drive and they'd transfer me by ambulance. By ambulance? The last time I was ambulance freight was in 1985 when I had a broken leg. It seemed like an overreaction, but then again, what did I know?

So after a wait the ambulance driver and patient caretaker appeared (both physically strong women, refreshingly not fussing), they put me on one of those wheeled stretchers (a gurney? Odd, Edmond Gurney was one of the pioneering researchers for the Society for Psychical Research and co-author of Phantasms of the Living, the first modern scientific survey of paranormal experiences). On the ride the woman accompanying me was sticking fluids into a wrist vein to try to get my heart pumping more reasonably. No help. Still up there around 170. Rick, the human hummingbird.

It occurred to me that, notwithstanding I felt only a little lightheaded, I might be dying. While I'm convinced death is only a door to another and for most people better world, it's a pretty, shall we say, major transition. I had a sort of double consciousness: there was the ordinary me, in a potentially life threatening situation and nervy about it; at the same time I felt curiously detached from the business, almost as if it was a movie.

I did not have a classic out-of-the-body experience, didn't rise up to the ambulance ceiling in consciousness and look down at my body or anything like that; but maybe it was a slight taste of what a true OBE would feel like.

At the coronary unit they took my condition seriously indeed. At one point my little curtained enclosure near the nurses' station was populated by, in addition to myself, two doctors, nurses, and the two women who had brought me to the hospital in the ambulance. The ambulance crewmembers worked for an outside company and I doubt they were required to stay, but they not only remained but knew what they were doing and assisted the nurses wiring me up to the monitor. They are good people.

To cut the story short, the cardiologist who seemed to be in charge first tried a few what I guess were standard techniques. When they didn't work -- the room was dead quiet for a few moments, and now I was worried -- he went on to the next procedure (one of the nurses told me later this "if-then" checklist is called working the algorithms or something like that).

It didn't succeed instantly, but in a short time I was stabilized by a couple of doses of metoprolol, a beta blocker. I spent the rest of the afternoon there while they watched for a relapse and finally was released.  For the next few weeks I will be taking metoprolol and warfarin (the latter a blood thinner to clean out any possible clots), then some non-invasive electrical-stimulation technique that is likely to provide a cure.

The whole business partially restored my faith in human nature, which had been running on fumes lately. Not only did they execute their procedures flawlessly as far as I could tell, but actually recalled that their patient was a person and kept me "in the loop" and as soothed as one could be under the circumstances.

I would like to thank them here -- not by name, of course, which would be a breach of confidentiality -- but anonymously. They all (except for the ambulance crew) were team members of Kaiser Permanente in the centers located in Falls Church and McLean, Virginia. Bravo, folks. You did yourselves proud.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science (2)

As noted in the earlier posting, I don't want to give the impression that Nandor Fodor's Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science is just a collection of brief, intriguing squibs. Fodor takes on the big paranormal phenomena that have fascinated and baffled people for centuries. Nobody can claim definitive explanations, but Fodor does one hell of a job of collecting facts, theories, speculation, and anecdotes.

To show how he goes about examining a subject, consider his entry on xenoglossis. It's about five pages of near-microscopic print. I'm getting eyestrain from transcribing parts of it.

Ophthalmologist: "I don't like the look of that eye."
Me: "Why not? I'm just looking at the light you're shining in it."
Ophthalmologist: "Actually I don't like the look of the other eye either. Are they causing you pain?"
Me: "Well, actually, Doctor, I've just been keying in some passages on levitation from The Encyclopaedia of  Psychic Science ... "

The typography is the edition's least attractive feature -- but given the amount of content, it would be hard to increase the font size without creating a huge and weighty printed book. An online edition would seem to be the answer.

Fodor begins with a definition, and we are already in unavoidably murky waters:
Speaking in tongues unknown to the medium. According to certain classifications the term should cover writing in tongues and glossolalia should be employed for speaking them; but others, like Ernesto Bozzano, reserve the term for speaking non-existent pseudo-languages. Professor Richet uses xenoglossis inclusively. [Today glossolalia is the generally accepted word for all such phenomena.]
His scientific temper is evident in the introductory paragraph:
Speaking in an unknown language is a far more impressive phenomenon than writing in it. Sub-conscious visual memory may account for occasional reproduction of foreign sentences but the explanation becomes more difficult if the problem of intonation is superadded as it necessitates an auditive memory, the subconscious retention of strange languages actually heard somewhere sometime.
And conversing in a language unknown to the speaker is even more bizarre since it obviously demands more than visual or auditory memory. These cases now go by the term "responsive glossolalia." Skeptics are wont to dismiss all evidence of mediums delivering information they could not be expected to know by ordinary means as the springing up of long-forgotten, unconscious memories ("cryptomnesia"). Recall of buried memories undoubtedly can explain some such instances, but hardly all.

The entry continues: "The paramount question ... is what is the evidence for xenoglossis." Fodor traces various accounts back to the Middle Ages, when spontaneous speaking in foreign languages was considered "one of the four principal signs of the presence of a demon," and was one of the charges laid against the Ursuline nuns in the notorious Loudun persecution. At other times, though, "speaking in tongues" was accepted as a spiritual gift, albeit when the foreign phrases were tactfully perceptible as deriving from Scripture.
The "interpretation of tongues" does not always occur even when when it is prayed for. When it occurs the speakers may either see the translation written before them, or hear it inwardly, or perceive directly the meaning of the foreign words.
Fodor doesn't say that the old stories or true. He doesn't say they are false. He simply presents the surviving record.

If we're inclined to dismiss historical records, including Swedenborg's account of the language of angels (a subject Fodor goes into at some length), there are also relatively modern cases. For instance, that of Laura Edmonds.

Miss Edmonds was the daughter of an American judge, who testifies to the phenomenon in a letter of October 1857. We can perhaps give some credence to the word of such a pillar of the community, particularly a man whose wits were sharpened by a long experience of listening to trial lawyers. (A trial, George Bernard Shaw said, was an attempt to arrive at the truth by comparing the words of two liars.) That aside, there seems no possible motive for his making up the story.

In short, a guest in the household named Mr. Evangelides, a native of Greece, spoke little English. Laura began by uttering a few Greek phrases ("when some 12 or 15 persons were in my parlour") and eventually Mr. Evangelides inquired if he could be understood if he spoke in Greek. Laura not only did not know the language, she had never even heard it spoken.
"The residue of the conversation [wrote Judge Edmonds], for more than an hour, was, on his part, entirely in Greek, and on hers sometimes in Greek and sometimes in English. At times Laura would not understand what was the idea conveyed, either by her or him. At other times she would understand him, though he spoke in Greek, and herself when uttering Greek words ...

"One day my daughter and niece came into my library and began a conversation with me in Spanish, one speaking a part of a sentence and the other the residue. They were influenced, I found, by a spirit of a person whom I had known when in Central America, and reference was made to many things which had occurred to me there, of which I knew they were as ignorant as they were of Spanish. ... Laura has spoken to me in Indian, in the Chippewa and Monomonie tongues. I knew the language, because I had been two years in the Indian country." 
Chris Carter gives an account of the Edmonds phenomena in a recent book, Science and the Afterlife Experience (2012), p. 199. Carter adds a few words from Edmonds which Fodor omitted: "After the conversation [with Laura] ended, [Evangelides] told us that he had never before witnessed any Spirit manifestations, and that he had, during the conversation, tried experiments to test that which was so novel to him. These experiments were in speaking of subjects which he knew Laura must be ignorant of, and in frequently and suddenly changing the topic from domestic to political affairs, from philosophy to theology, and so on. In answer to our inquiries -- for none of us knew Greek -- he assured us that his Greek must have been understood, and her Greek was correct."

Fodor cites more examples of xenoglossy. For example, "According to Emma Hardinge's Modern American Spiritualism, the gift was demonstrated, besides Miss Edmonds, at an early period by Miss Jenny Keyes who sang in trance in Italian and Spanish, and by Mrs. Shepherd, Mrs. Gilbert Sweet, Miss Inman, Mrs. Tucker, Miss Susan Hoyt, A. D. Ruggles and several others whose names she was not permitted to make public. They frequently spoke in Spanish, Danish, Italian, Hebrew, Greek, Malay, Chinese and Indian. In 1859 nineteen people testified in the Banner of Light [a spiritualist publication] to 34 cases of persons who occasionally spoke or wrote in tongues."

The somewhat antiquated language of these quotations, and the date of the reported events, might be off-putting to some modern readers. Of course, they were hardly so far in the past when Fodor described them.

But he also includes one up-to-the minute anecdote.
In The Two Worlds [another spiritualist publication], March 31, 1933, Dr. F. H. Wood writes of Rosemary and Lady Nona, her ancient Egyptian control [a person in spirit who acts as an intermediary between the Other Side and a medium in our world]: "The fact is now established beyond disproof that over 140 Egyptian word-phrases which were in common use when the great Temple of Luxor in Egypt was built, have been spoken fluently through an English girl who normally knows nothing about the ancient tongue."

Mr. Howard Hulme of Brighton, the translator of the Egyptian phrases, after a preliminary test by post which resulted in an unexpected but correct Egyptian answer, has also heard Lady Nona speak. After an amazing dialogue in the dead tongue of the pyramid builders, "Nona cleared up many points of pronunciation, gave her own earth-name and explained the full meaning of some of her previous language tests."
Fodor gives many further cases, including the supposedly Martian language delivered by a Mlle. Helene Smith. ("The exhaustive analysis of Professor Flournoy, however, clearly proved that the originator of this language modelled it after French and that this marvel of subconscious activity cannot be ascribed to extra-terrene sources," Fodor says, for once letting his critical faculty get the better of his pure descrptivism.)

I hope I have suggested the thoroughness with which Fodor immerses the reader in the psychical phenomena he investigates. In general, you are invited to weigh the purported facts for yourself. He doubtless believed in the importance of the larger world of which our daily reality is only a fraction, but there's no special pleading on his part. He deserves a much wider recognition for his contribution to providing, if not the answers to our questions, at least the raw material to work with in seeking them.

Friday, June 14, 2013

They can see (and hear) clearly now

My country does the hanky-panky.

Of all the scandals that have come to light (or semi-darkness) in the second consulship of Hussein -- the IRS used as a hit squad against Hussein's opponents (or "enemies" in Obamamind), the weird unexplained background to the killing of four Americans at the Benghazi consulate, "Fast and Furious" -- the most worrying by far is the revelation of eavesdropping on a gigunda scale. First we thought it involved a few journos -- ironically including some in the Associated Press, the most shameless politically correct, Hussein toe-kisser in the media -- and now we find the eyes and ears of the National Security Agency are on ... all of us.

Let's not be hysterical. The country is not a police state -- anyone who has actually lived in one will tell you there is a big difference, although perhaps of degree. (A former girlfriend, who lived in Czechoslovakia when it was a Soviet satellite, clued me in on what went down there.) We still have freedom of speech that is only a memory in, for instance, the United Kingdom.

But we (Americans) live in a Surveillance State. That is, unless you're also a Muslim, since our beyond-sensitive security hounds are prohibited by law from electronic scrutiny of mosques. In our advanced dementia, the Watchers can sift through the lives of anyone, any time, anywhere -- except the most probable source of the conspiracies they are protecting us against. Right now, this posting is doubtless stored in a computer database at NSA to be analyzed for no-no keywords. 

And massively scaled surveillance is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for tyranny.

I have nothing more to say. But I will turn the microphone over to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who is still revered in some circles as our greatest jurist. He wrote:
A strong public desire to improve the public condition is not enough to warrant achieving the desire by a shorter cut than the constitutional way of paying for the change.
How fortunate he was to live in a time when such antics could be presumed a genuine desire to improve the public condition.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science

Fodor's magnum opus fully earns the claim to be an "encyclopaedia" (or in American English, encyclopedia) of psychic phenomena.

Those who think psychical research is a lot of tosh can stop reading now. I don't miss the company of those who willingly choose to be ignorant.

Still here? Good. In its detail, depth of scholarship, objectivity (as far as anything can be in this endlessly controversial field), and historical knowledge, nothing compares with Nandor Fodor's Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science (as the University Books edition [1966], the one on my shelf, calls it; apparently a later reprint added An to the title). As Leslie Shepard says in his foreword, "This wonderful book is the only comprehensive survey of the most amazing and baffling phenomena known to mankind."

Yet, its tone is nothing like that of New Age babble about pop mysticism, magic spells, wicca, palmistry, and other fancies intended for an undiscerning audience. Of course a wide-ranging survey is bound to include some of the same subjects; the difference is, Fodor's encyclopedia is a genuine work of psychic science. The fact that "science" in our time is so often reductionist and materialist in no way minimizes the efforts of more open-minded researchers.

Nandor Fodor was by any standard a remarkable person. As you can gather from his name, he was Hungarian by birth. (Interestingly, his career path, so to speak, resembled that of Arthur Koestler, another Hungarian who emigrated and later developed a strong interest in psychical research.) Fodor went to England, later to the United States, making a living as a newspaper writer. I'm guessing that all the while -- certainly, to judge from the information he assembled, for many years -- he mined the scientific literature of psychical research.

His other focus of interest was psychoanalysis. He was acquainted with the work of Freud and Jung, and I believe at least was personally acquainted with both. His attraction to Jungian psychology is understandable, to that of Freud not so much. It's been donkey's years since I read anything by Freud or his followers, or even much about Freud. In my view his psychoanalytic technique was mostly wrong, dogmatic, and for practical psychotherapy useless. Still, he was intellectually brilliant despite being wrong-headed, and obviously unafraid to go against conventional ideas. I've read that he took psychical research seriously.

One aspect of the book will put some people off: it was published in 1934 and as far as I know has not been updated. It is by no means, however, of purely historical interest. You could almost cite its date as the beginning of the decline in psychical research, which became unfashionable and then nearly taboo in academic and scientific circles. Nevertheless, the work done in the preceding century contains much that is still valid and some of which would have been forgotten were it not for Fodor.

Along with lengthy essays on every important topic in the field, he included short entries that show how widespread was public and professional interest in those days, the astonishing range of experimentation and phenomena produced, and the reputation of those involved. Here are just a couple of examples in the encyclopedia:
HENSLOW, Prof. GEORGE (1834-1926), a clergyman of the Church of England, a noted scholar and medallist of Christ College, Cambridge, Vice-President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1919, a celebrated authority on botany on which he wrote 16 learned works, a convinced spiritualist. In his researches he was closely associated with Archdeacon Colley and took much interest in psychic photography. He was the author of Proofs of the Truth of Spiritualism, The Religion of the Spirit World, and part author of the anonymously published Spirit Psychometry.

EVANS, FRED P., slate writing medium of San Francisco. Mediumship described in J. J. Owen's Psychography. His most remarkable feat was achieved on June 21, 1885, in San Francisco by producing thirty different spirit messages in so many hands [handwritings] on a single slate at a public seance. Many of the signatures were identified. On May 18, 1887, he produced five differently-coloured writings in the presence of Alfred Russel Wallace, also coloured portraits on paper between two slates.


If this gives you psychological indigestion, part of the reason may be that no one is performing such experiments anymore, so we have no chance to see for ourselves or validate them. But the psychics and witnesses can hardly be charged with simple-minded gullibility. Alfred Russel Wallace, you will recall, was ready to propose the theory of natural selection at the same time as Darwin, but graciously allowed Darwin to publish first.

One more entry about a fact that has faded into obscurity or even been suppressed to "protect" Conan Doyle's reputation:
PSYCHIC MUSEUM, founded by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1925 at 2, Victoria Street, London, containing an interesting collection of apports [objects that appear mysteriously "out of thin air" in the presence of mediums], automatic scripts automatic and direct sketches and paintings, paraffin moulds [a once-popular technique for capturing the impression of materialized spirits' hands and sometimes faces], photographs and other psychic objects. At present [in 1933], it is housed at the Friendship Circle, 82, Lancaster Gate, W.
Whatever happened to the collection? Does anyone now alive know, or even know that it existed? It's a safe wager that it no longer occupies prime central London real estate.

Such relatively minor descriptions give a fascinating glimpse into a world less than a century ago when psychical research was respectable. But Fodor's discussion of major topics, which can each run to 10 pages of tiny type, are of special importance.

This posting is long enough for readers who, like me, don't have a lot of spare time. Let's take a break here and continue in the next posting.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Windows OS Hate

For the first time ever, I bought a laptop. I now do almost all my business over the Internet and it will be useful. Eventually.

The trouble is, all the Windows platform laptops now comes infected with the Windows Edsel operating system. (Right, I'd have preferred a Mac -- believe me -- but it would have cost at least an extra $600.)

So I'm dealing with Windows 8. What a dog's breakfast this OS is.

As far as I can make out so far, it does everything Windows 7 and most earlier versions did. Only you have to learn a completely new system vocabulary and jump through more hoops.

Oh, it's co-o-o-l right enough. So cool it makes me gag.

I've used successive iterations of Windows since its first. While they all had their oddities, I had no critical problems learning or using them. Even the notorious Vista worked okay for me.

Win 8 is madness. What loon ever came up with the name "Charms menu"? Why must you open and close umpteen menus to do simple tasks?


This crackpot operating system seems to me both an example of corporate hybris and designer contempt for ordinary users. In that order:

1. Microsoft, the rooster on top of the dunghill. They couldn't just refine (or leave alone) a system that worked perfectly well. No, they'd been smarting for years about the Mac cult. They wanted to be the new cult. The word went out: Okay, tear it down and build us a Burj. We want color! We want glitz! Those stupid customers laughed at us when we had an animated paper clip telling them how to use our product. Let them laugh at this! (They were successful. No one is laughing. The sound you hear is a scream of frustration circling the globe.)

2. I have nothing against those who are knowledgeable in information technology. More than once they have pulled my chestnuts out of the fire. In fact I refuse to use the derogatory term "geek." But on the whole, they just can't understand the idea of designing systems or apps to meet the needs of 95 percent of the population that must work with the code they invent.

They are besotted with the idea that just because a function is technically feasible, it must be included.

The vast majority of customers use the Office Suite, send e-mail, and surf the net. They don't give a tinker's curse about apps that track the positions of the planets or send instructions to a microwave -- and the few that do simply download the apps they want. Win 8 doesn't give you a choice; every menu, including the Start page (or whatever they're calling it now), puts them all in your face as so-called "tiles". Yeah, I gather you can delete some you don't want, if you stand on your head while pedaling a unicycle and sing the Microsoft Company Song.

Win 8 has been an acknowledged dud, one of the colossal bloopers of corporate history. They are coming out with a revised version (called, I am told, "Blue"). Even if Blue files some of the rough edges off, now that Windows has fallen into the tar pit, it can't really extricate itself. Probably everyone who is lumbered with Windows 8 will get a free upgrade, but I don't know whether to look forward to Blue or fear it.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

No surrender to MP3 ... but a peace agreement (2)

When last heard from (previous posting), I was banging on about MP3 downloads. My thesis up to that point was that, with marginal exceptions, MP3 represented a boon for spoken voice and electronic music available in no other format.

Now we must deal with the third category, acoustic music. That is, unamplified and unprocessed.

In my digs, that means -- mostly but not exclusively -- classical music.

While there's no question that MP3 bit condensation degrades sound quality, sometimes that doesn't matter much even for high-quality classical music.

That's often so with historical recordings. For those, a good free-download site is Liber Liber, based in Italy. As a certified audiophile, I'm not generally fond of old recordings, but for those who can overlook sonic deficiencies there are treasures to be found here. Even if you don't know Italian (and my own command of the language is primitive), it's easy to navigate and find whatever you are interested in.

For instance, I downloaded Bruckner's Symphony no. 8 (Sinfonia n° 8 in Do minore) with the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Wilhelm Furtw√§ngler in ... wait for it ... 1944. Considering the time and place, it seems miraculous that such a performance was given at all, let alone recorded. Vienna, thankfully, was spared the destruction visited on Berlin despite the German occupation; still, nobody knew that at the time, and it must have been a harrowing period. I suppose it says something about the resilience of the human spirit that great art lived on.

I've only listened to it once, but I'm impressed how Furtwängler's famous tempo changes -- although in this case they seem subtle adjustments -- helped create performances that were organic, like a living breathing being.

What about modern MP3 recordings? The most fruitful source I've found is that derived from live performances at Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The art palace was founded by the nouveau riche Ms. Stewart Gardner in the 19th century, partly as a gesture of contempt toward Boston's aristocracy ("where the Lowells talk only to Cabots, and the Cabots talk only to God"). But it's now part of Boston's cultural mainstream.

The Gardner museum has the clout to attract notable and up-and-coming musicians. I have been grateful to hear and download quite a few of their recordings, including fine performances by excellent but relatively little known string quartets -- the Belcea Quartet, the Orion String Quartet, and especially the remarkable Borromeo String Quartet.

But, to get back to our topic, what about the sound quality of these MP3s?


Well, they're not up to the standards of good "Red Book" (16-bit) CDs, let alone Super Audio CDs. At their best they can be enjoyed and appreciated. Instrumental timbres are often surprisingly realistic. But something is missing. It's like the difference between a gray-scale picture and a color picture. Or, for a different metaphor, the sound is "flat" as if projected on a two-dimensional screen instead of having front-to-back depth -- like looking at a scene with one eye rather than both.

Probably all this won't matter in a few years. Full-spectrum download software, such as FLAC, already exists. I don't understand how it works and, anyway, it's currently used only by a few companies for paid downloads. I'm not even sure most CD players can decode it. But I expect lossless downloads will become the standard. Meanwhile, enjoy what's there, however imperfect.