Skeptic News: BOTA FTW

NZ Skeptics Newsletter

 

BOTA FTW

Today I finally made it to the Builders Of The Adytum, a strange group whose beliefs combine Kabbalah and Tarot into an unusual, but enjoyable, philosophy.


The meeting was fun, with incense, chanting, music, a sermon and mention of the Philosopher’s Stone, transmutation, magical healing and mystical powers. I visited with Tim, my long-time partner in all things weird and wonderful, and we have been invited back to the group to join in with study sessions - something we are very much looking forward to. Although as a skeptic I find it hard to believe people when they tell me that they have figured out the secrets of the universe, nonetheless I enjoy hearing others’ ideas and seeing what kinds of people are attracted to these groups. Unsurprisingly, for most of these organisations, their membership is quite diverse - just like it is for a group like ours, the Skeptics.

One potential worry for us is that while at the event we bumped into someone who we had already met at the Ancient Mystical Order of the Rosicrucians (AMORC) last year. The AMORC group had “done their research” and found out from a google search that I’m a skeptic. Even so we had a good talk with the few AMORC members that we met on the day, explaining that we weren’t there to demean them, but rather were genuinely curious about their beliefs.


Tim and I have jokingly labeled the member of both AMORC and BOTA as our Marla Singer (watch Fight Club if you’re not sure what this means), and we’re hoping that he doesn’t scare the members of the BOTA group away from us. We’re genuinely interested in the group, even if we’re unlikely to ever get to the point where we pay membership fees, so I hope we are able to continue visiting until we have a good appreciation for what their beliefs are and what drives them. I’ve had an experience of being outed once before, by Nigel Antony Gray when I was attending Scientology meetings, and it was a bit disappointing to have to leave that particular escapade not when I wanted to, but when someone else had pulled the plug on it.

For those who really don’t understand why I do this kind of thing, I get that it can seem a little weird. Although some skeptics enjoy seeing what’s happening on the other side of the fence, I know many skeptics who either don’t have the time for nonsense, or find that seeing it up close makes them angry. After all, many of these groups are selling a false bill of goods - they promise to impart the secrets of the universe to you, and then they take your hard earned money and don’t deliver the goods. That’s something that we should all be angry about, although it’s often hard to find a way to turn that anger into meaningful positive action.

Mark Honeychurch

More Tamakis, Vaccines and Earthquakes

Following on from last week’s stories about the Tamakis saying they won’t be getting vaccinated, and Ken Ring saying he predicted our recent earthquake, there have been a couple of interesting developments.

Firstly, out of over 12,000 frontline workers who have been offered the COVID19 vaccine, just 21 of them have refused the vaccine so far. I’ve heard horror stories of nurses in New Zealand who are against vaccination, so it’s great to hear that so few of those who are doing such an amazing job at the front line have refused. The article goes on to talk about how those who refuse may be redeployed into other roles if they can’t be convinced. This sounds to me like a very pragmatic way to deal with this issue. Much as it feels to me that people with anti-science views have no right to be working in healthcare, the most important reason for vaccinating frontline staff is to shore up our MIQ (Managed Isolation and Quarantine) barrier. Holes in this protective layer would not be good, so it makes sense to remove anyone who may prove to be a potential gap in our defences. Let’s hope that vaccination rates among the general public, when it comes time for that, don’t drop too far below the amazing 99.8% uptake rate that we’ve seen so far from the professionals.

As for the Tamaki part of this equation, a week ago Brian Tamaki told a small congregation in Queenstown that the reason for the earthquake we experienced recently was that the media had “gone after him”. Now, “Bishop” Brian is no stranger to claiming that a) earthquakes are deliberately caused by his god, b) these earthquakes are used by his god as a punishment and c) Brian is privy to the reason these punishments are meted out. However, past seismic events have apparently been caused by homosexuals, whereas this time it’s more personal to Brian, and we’ve supposedly all been punished for being mean to him.

I’m really struggling to get my head around the level of arrogance required for someone to believe that they are important enough that their god would threaten an entire nation with a long, scary earthquake in the middle of the night just for pointing out their failings.

Cat Buttons

Graeme Hill, longtime broadcaster and a good friend of science, skepticism and common sense thinking, now has an evening slot on MagicTalk radio. As part of his show, Graeme usually interviews knowledgeable people about a wide range of fascinating topics. A few years ago I was lucky enough to have been invited to join Siouxsie Wiles as a regular guest to talk about skeptical issues, and I’m now privileged to have been asked back to talk on Graeme’s new show as he hosts Magic Nights.

Although listening to my slot would probably be a case of preaching to the converted for our regular readers, I’d recommend listening to Graeme’s show to hear some of the amazing guests he hosts, and hear some interesting facts about cool new science and historical events. With several high profile stories about radio presenters promoting bad thinking recently, it’s nice to have a show you can be confident is going to be based on solid evidence, with Graeme talking to experts rather than cranks and charlatans.

As part of my chat with Graeme last Wednesday, we talked about a curious video he found online showing a cat (Billi) using a set of buttons laid out on the floor to “speak” to its owner, a vet called Kendra. Rather than telling you why I don’t think this is a case of a cat who has the ability to convey complex thoughts and desires, I figured I’d simply give you a link to the videos and ask what you all think:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGMTesZlKa0Lokb7ZNqOJXQ

I really liked these videos because they’re pretty harmless, and as such I wonder if they’re good training material for people to engage their skepticism and think of reasonable explanations for what they see - something for skeptics to sharpen their teeth on. I certainly don’t want to demean Kendra for her belief that her cat is communicating with her in this way, but I’m definitely interested in the different ways that humans can fool themselves and each other into believing things that are not true. So, if you have the time, watch a few videos and have a think about what rational explanations there might be for this phenomenon. And, if you’re really game, send me your thoughts (to [email protected]). I’m especially interested to see what you might come up with that I hadn’t considered.

The Luck of the Cantabrians

Rebecca Booth, from Fairlie in the South Island, recently found a seven leaf clover. The Stuff article about this find mentioned that this is not the first clover-related find Rebecca has had. Apparently earlier this year, in January, she found both four and five leaf clovers.

 

A quick google search for Rebecca took me to the competition results for the 2019 Mackenzie A&P show, where among other accolades in the Home Produce section Rebecca won second place in the “Collection of Weeds” contest and first place in the “Bunch of Herbs, in a vase no more than 8 varieties” contest. This leads me to believe that Rebecca is somewhat in tune with the local greenery, something backed up by a quote in the Stuff article where she says “All my life, I’ve been pretty lucky finding multi-leaf clovers”.

 

It’s great that Rebecca has such luck finding these rare clovers - a four leaf clover occurs about once in every 5,000 plants. However, I’m guessing that her daily focus on clover and other plants means that she’s more likely than most to find these rarities.


I also wish Rebecca the best with her recent Lotto ticket purchase, which she hopes will be a winner because of her clover find, but I can’t help but be skeptical about the idea that one lucky event is going to make it more likely for another lucky event to occur. After all, we know that luck is just random chance - although when it comes to topics like gambling, there are degrees of freedom that can make lucky streaks appear to be real.

Two years

Today is the second anniversary of the horrific Christchurch massacre, and as skeptics it’s sad to have seen over the last two years those in our country who have posted content denying that the attack was real, or claiming that it was a “false flag” operation. It’s been hard enough over the last 20 years watching high profile conspiracy theorists, such as Alex Jones, engage in denial in the US for events such as the Sandy Hook massacre and the 9/11 attacks. But to see this kind of wrong headed thinking at home somehow feels worse. I guess we’ve been able to rest on our laurels watching America suffer from a spread of the conspiracy mindset, and at least for me it seemed implausible that the problem would ever reach our fair shores. I guess I was just too naïve.

For one of the people who has been spreading misinformation about the Christchurch attack, Vinny Eastwood, he at least accepted that people died, and didn’t try to tell family members of the deceased that their loved ones either never existed or were hiding from them as part of a government plot. Soon after the attack Vinny travelled down to Christchurch to interview people, subsequently appearing on several alternative media outlets in the US speaking about how he distrusted the “official narrative” of what had happened. My memory of the immediate aftermath of the events is that there was some confusion at first as police worked day and night to figure out what had happened, but that a coherent picture was built up fairly quickly showing that the attack was the work of a single gunman.

However, Vinny appears to have used the early confusion in the media as a way to sow doubt and claim that the truth was being suppressed - something that he continues to do to this day. Here are a few of Vinny’s videos from the months after the attack, where he makes all kinds of baseless claims about the attack and who was behind it:

And here is a video from last year, which Vinny re-posted to his Facebook page on Saturday, where in just 5 minutes he manages to Gish Gallop many of his nonsense ideas.

https://www.facebook.com/vincenteastwood/posts/10158087937342879

All of these videos are fairly enraging, and it might feel like there’s not much that can be done about them. However a recent video sees Vinny talking about how he’s recently had complaints made against his YouTube channel, and that he’s now received two out of three strikes from YouTube. A third strike would apparently involve removal of his channel, and the loss of his videos, and this would also take away a major source of his income. His secondary and tertiary YouTube accounts are also still active, for now - but who knows how long for.

Vinny says that he’s also had his Patreon account disabled, so he’s suggested that people subscribe to a “backup account” that he uses to raise money for his music endeavours. Thankfully that account is only receiving $19 per month, compared to $1,000 a month that Vinny says he was receiving through his main Patreon account until it was removed.

Vinny pleads with those who have been reporting his videos that spreading misinformation (or “truth content” as he calls it) is his livelihood, and that he has a small baby he needs to take care of. To me, this really shouldn’t factor into the equation. No matter what Vinny’s personal circumstances are, the spreading of dangerous misinformation is just not cricket. It doesn’t make it okay for Vinny to dupe people simply because he depends on the spreading of misinformation to pay his bills every month.

As an aside, Vinny says that the attacks on his media channels are making him feel unwell. So it’s lucky that his recent videos have been sponsored by David Holden, a well known alternative medicine practitioner who is responsible for offering bogus cancer treatments to desperate sufferers. It seems like Vinny and David will make good bedfellows.

Finally, like many of the people who posted messages to Vinny’s live stream, I’m sending prayers his way. I think that’s as much as he deserves, and I can only hope that this funding crisis forces Vinny to seriously reconsider his life choices. Maybe he could look for an honest, stable job that will allow him to care for his family while not damaging the stability of our country and leading people to believe in an erroneous, damaging worldview.

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