Milliblog: Religous and Comic Origin Stories

joseph smith powers up small

Joseph Smith gets his superpowers.

Have you ever noticed that the “origin stories” of religious figures and comic superheroes have a lot in common? Green Lantern is given a powerful ring. Moses is handed magic tablets. Buddha, a wealthy patrician, is horrified by injustice and suffering and decides to fix things: ditto for Batman. A powerful, otherworldly being, comes to Earth to save us. Are we talking about Christ or Superman? The only difference between comic book heroes and religious figures is: comic book origin stories are more plausible. There is a teeny tiny chance that being bitten by a radioactive spider will give you some powers, probably a tolerance for certain arachnid proteins, but there is absolutely no chance that long dead John the Baptist will poof back from the dead to baptize your semi-literate backwoods ass.


  1. A milliblog is a short blog entry that makes a single point and then gets out of the reader’s face.

Ferguson and Dark Matter

For the last month the big story here in St. Louis has been Ferguson. At least that’s what media hucksters have sold as the big story. You will have to excuse me; my interests rarely align with “the news.” I don’t watch broadcast TV, listen to the radio, or pay for newspapers. Despite my media starvation diet I am better informed than many broadcast addicts. What’s my secret?

Everyday I read scores of news stories from many Internet sources. When I gave up broadcasting a few years ago I worried that I might miss something.  Actually the exact opposite has occurred. I usually learn of things long before they are “discussed” in main stream outlets. Contemporary broadcasters remind me of short wave Radio Moscow transmissions in the 1970s. Radio Moscow was an insipid utterly predictable propaganda outlet. Listening to what they said was unnecessary. I could predict with nearly 100% accuracy what their slant on any topic would be. They only surprised me by what they didn’t cover. With propaganda only silence is news. I bet you feel the same about that broadcaster you despise. Is it really necessary to listen to MSNBC, FOX, BBC  or the CBC? Their ideological positions are almost as predictable as cold war era Radio Moscow. If your news is not surprising it’s not news; it’s noise.

Ferguson is a classic case of surprise free news. Everyone agrees that a white police officer shot and killed a black teenager. Such a lovely bare-bones tableau invites creative interpretation and that’s exactly what we got. There are hundreds of predictable Ferguson authorities. You can Google any viewpoint you want. What’s lacking in all the hysteria is what skeptics call reliable data.

To me the officer’s guilt is similar to your favorite type of Dark Matter. The case for Dark Matter is very strong. Something out there is undeniably affecting the rotation and formation of galaxies. Similarly, we have a dead teenager, and a literal smoking gun, in Ferguson. Now pay attention; this is where we separate skeptically informed thought from raving ideological demagoguery. The case for Dark Matter is strong but the case for particular types of Dark Matter is close to nonexistent. Detection experiments are ongoing, inconclusive or outright failures. Yeah, the Dark Matter science is not settled. Similarly, the case for the officer’s quilt is far from ironclad. Perhaps that explains the grand jury’s verdict. If you disagree offer incontrovertible evidence.

Of course missing incontrovertible evidence is never a problem for people who have made up their minds. People believe all sorts nonsense, ghosts, demons, past lives, central banking efficacy, but, as I often say, “belief is a bullshit word; you know or you don’t know.”  If you cannot mount a rigorous case that withstands the harshest and meanest of skeptics please calm down and refrain from looting and arson.

Blood Morons

Here we go again; literal lunatics are, for the zillionth time, announcing the end of the world.  What’s going to do us in this time?  Would you believe the next four lunar eclipses?  Starting tonight, an unusual, but not rare, sequence of four lunar eclipses begins.  Some religious loons are claiming this so-called eclipse tetrad is a sign of the end times. Oh, if it were only so.  Imagine a world cleansed of imbeciles! Unfortunately, as Fred Espenak notes on his highly regarded eclipse pages, there is nothing unusual about this sequence of eclipses.  In the last five thousand years we’ve had 142 eclipse tetrads.  That’s about one world ending every thirty-five years.  Look around people; we’re still here.

It astounds me that there is still a market for such nonsense. Astrology, and that’s all this blood moon rubbish is, has been completely, totally, absolutely and utterly debunked. On this the science really is settled! But, when have we ever let science get in the way of a good marketing opportunity, and world endings are well — world ending — sales opportunities.  Get your end times before they’re gone!  Running astronomical scams is easy because large swaths of the public cannot reliably answer basic questions like: does the Sun go around the Earth?  Maintaining such levels of ignorance must be exhausting.

You might want to pull your head out of your blood moron ass long enough to observe tonight’s total lunar eclipse. It starts around midnight here in St. Louis with totality commencing around 2:00 am. I’ll be out there, St. Louis weather permitting, shooting eclipse tracks.  With proper framing eclipse tracks make neat pictures. If what I have in mind pans out it will constitute my next post.

Cosmos Reboot

Cosmos_spacetime_odyssey_titlecardI am enjoying Neil deGrasse Tyson’s reboot of Cosmos. So far it’s as good as the early 1980’s Sagan original. Popularizing science is a thankless task. Successful stars like Tyson and Sagan will earn nothing but envy and scorn from their peers. They’ll be derided as dilettantes and panderers whoring out science for demeaning public fame and filthy capitalist lucre.  “Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low.” Such trollish antics are hardly surprising.  Watching the success of the undeserving drives men (and bitches) mad and academics, despite being a tad smarter than the average bear, are not exempt.

The snarky back-biting of resentful peers is understandable and I’m sure people like Sagan and Tyson eventually come to see it as a laurel. Yes, Cosmos is dumbing down General Relativity, glossing over the fine points of the Standard Model and ignoring many of the complications of DNA/RNA replication but what the Hell do you expect? Nature is a complicated beast and human beings are slightly evolved naked apes. Most of us can barely walk and chew let alone ponder the formal mathematics of renormalization. Cosmos will not to turn people into Nobel candidates but it might teach them enough to think twice about bowing to lunacies like: the Earth is six thousand years old, there was a global flood in recent times, dowsing works, unidentified lights in the sky are alien spaceships, vaccinations cause autism, bigfoot is crapping in backyards, evolution is wrong, global warming is going to kill us all and prophecy is real.

Science is hard on nonsense but only if it engages. The biggest mistake you can make is ceding the battlefield to your enemies. Recently Bill Nye took a lot of heat for debating a creationist. In silly lefty circles talking to these people only elevates them. They felt Nye was making a big mistake by sharing the stage with a young earther, but then lefties have always been more comfortable with outright suppression, libelous slander and five-minute hates. Shut up they explained! Winning an argument on pure intellectual merit reeks of white male privilege and decent liberal airheads just don’t go there. Now I’m more of a crush your enemies, “drive them before you, and hear the lamentations of the women,” type of guy. So I’m glad people like Nye, Tyson and Sagan suit up and slay nitwits.

And, when it came to slaying nitwits, Sagan was in a rarefied class. He debunked Mars facer’s, Velikovsky enthusiasts, UFO fanatics and more with characteristic style. Twenty years later his arguments still hold up. Sagan’s adherence to the skeptic’s creed, it’s not the skeptic’s job to prove an assertion false, it’s the proponent’s job to make its case, infuriated opponents and delighted “drive them before you” hard-asses like myself. This all happened before the Internet was widely available so I didn’t see how deeply Sagan got under idiot skin until he died in 1996.

By 1996 the web had spread everywhere you could make a phone call. I was using 56K BAUD dial-up then and for someone who started with 300 BAUD acoustic modems it seemed like a golden age. The day that Sagan died I remember thinking “it will be interesting to read the public’s eulogies.”  I logged on expecting human decency only to find, for the first time, Internet trolls. Large numbers of vicious cretins hated Sagan and actively celebrated his death. The morbidly religious imagined a sodomized Sagan roasting in Hell for the crime of atheism while scores of UFO dolts reiterated the very fallacies Sagan had debunked: the feeble-minded love proof by repetition.  I wasn’t shocked, I don’t do shock, but I was surprised. The tone was everything we’ve come to expect and love in modern unhinged troll-dom. I downgraded my already low opinion of mankind.

As nasty as Sagan’s death celebrations were I consoled myself with the fact that we’re not burned alive for entertaining unpopular cosmologies. It wasn’t always so as Cosmos attests. Left unchecked the omnipresent goons among us would love to grind Orwell’s boot in our faces forever.  Part of what holds them at bay is science and its ambassadors like Tyson and Sagan. So thanks Neil, and please continue ignoring your academic trolls.

Minnie’s Pictures

Minnie E. Raver 1881-1977

While going through my late mother’s pictures I came across a box of my great-grandmother Minnie’s old photographs. When my great-grandmother died in 1977 my grandmother Hazel took her pictures and stuffed them in her Hoarder’s level junk filled basement.1 After Hazel’s death my mother recovered Minnie’s pictures from Hazel’s hoard and promptly filed them with her pictures where they remained until I found them. Minnie’s pictures have already seen off three generations of my ancestors and I’m next in line. Are they worth it?

Many of Minnie’s pictures are over a hundred years old. The oldest probably date to the 1870’s or 1880’s. Despite their age they’re in excellent condition. Obviously Minnie took care of her pictures and thankfully Montana basements and attics are often high and dry. I spent an entire day studying Minnie’s pictures. Her old portraits are superb examples of small studio 19th and early 20th century photography, see the following wedding portrait, and her snapshots are candid shots of the people she knew and loved. All of which brings me to my current problem. I don’t know who these people are!

Callie Davis Frank Smelser wedding 1905

Callie Davis (Minnie’s sister) and Frank Smelser wedding portrait 1905.

I have never had much of an interest in family trees or the entire quasi-delusional undertaking of genealogical research for the simple reason that most of it is bullshit. The basic genealogical problem is simple: people have always screwed around and then lied about it. When you get right down to it you cannot be certain, without DNA testing, that your own parents are your biological parents. There are good reasons to suspect that at least 1% to 5% of children result from cuckolding and for some social classes it may be as high as 30%. In other words your daddy may not be who you think it is! Cuckolding varies with culture, time, socio-economic status and so forth but it’s rarely zero. A cuckolding rate of 5% implies that by the time you’ve traced your ancestors to the great-great-grandparent level there is a 19% chance that an alleged, perfectly documented, ancestor is not really an ancestor. By the time we get back to the time of Christ, roughly 100 generations, there’s a 99.99% chance that any alleged ancestor is not really any ancestor. Genealogy without DNA is a hollow dead-end.

As bad as cuckolding is it’s the least of our genealogical problems. Genealogical records are incomplete, contain serious errors and are often complete frauds. As late as the 19th century the settlement of estates was very sensitive to birth order. If you were a first-born son you got everything while your baby brother got squat. It was even worse for women; they got less than squat. In such an environment there is a powerful incentive to forge records. Old handwritten documents may look official to modern eyes but you cannot assume they’re accurate. With a well-placed bribe first-born Johnnie suddenly disappears from the record. People have always lied about the important things.

Given all these obvious problems I usually ignore people going on about the exploits of their glorious ancestors. Your roots are unreliable people! You really don’t know who your great-great-great granny was and if you insist on telling tales about her I will insist on DNA evidence. I know that many of the dead in Minnie’s pictures are probably blood relatives and some are probably direct great-great or greater grandparents. I cannot be 100% sure they’re genetic ancestors but I can follow obvious document breadcrumbs and learn enough about these people to attach stories to their pictures.

I wasn’t looking forward to the giant chore of scanning, restoring and researching Minnie’s pictures2 but following breadcrumbs was more interesting than expected. It turns out that there’s a lot of dead people on the internet. When I started looking for death and marriage records I immediately came across a cemetery record for my own recently deceased mother. It was surprising to find her so soon. There’s an active world-wide ghoulish group of people photographing cemetery monuments and posting their findings online. It’s ironic but a Facebook for the dead preceded the Facebook for the living. Starting with my mother I backtracked through my alleged ancestors looking for a “Lydia.”  “Lydia” was scrawled on the back of what looked like the oldest of Minnie’s pictures.

Lydia Jane Ayres

Lydia Jane Ayres 1839-unknown

If the records are correct I believe this “Lydia” is Lydia Jane Ayres. There is a very good chance that Lydia is one of my great-great grandmothers. Lydia married Albert F. Raver in 1863 in Brant Ontario. Albert was the mother of Minnie’s husband Bert Raver.

I didn’t find any pictures of Albert Raver in Minnie’s collection and that’s too bad because I suspect Albert had an eye for the babes. I looked for his death record and found this confusing census entry. Here was an Albert F. Raver with exactly the same age and birth origin remarried to a Lydia L. Raver. At first I thought it was a mistake but Albert’s marriage to Lydia L. Ayres was in 1906. That did not compute. Then I remembered a story my grandmother Hazel told me years ago when we were talking about her grandparents. She told me that one of her grandfathers married twice to two women with the same first and last names. She complained about how difficult this made sorting Christmas and birthday cards. I cannot remember if the name was Lydia Ayres but what are the chances? It seems Albert married  Lydia Jane Ayres in 1863. Somehow they parted ways and later, at the age of 68, Albert remarried in 1906 a younger Lydia L. Ayres. Having been divorced and remarried myself I can only marvel at Albert’s ingenuity. The last thing you want to do in your senile dotage is call a second wife by your first wife’s name. Before social security that could have been a fatal mistake. Randy old Albert neatly dodged that bullet.

The randiness was not confined to the Raver branch. Equally intriguing is this old portrait of “dad’s old sweetheart.” Here Minnie is likely referring to her own father and my great-great granddaddy Howell Cobb Davis. Screwing around, contrary to boomer mythology, wasn’t invented in the 1960’s.

Dad's old sweetheart

“Dad’s old sweetheart.” Probably an old girl friend of Howell Cobb Davis.

Minnie lived to 96. I was in my twenties when she died so I remember some of the people in her snapshots. Here’s Minnie with her first-born son Vernon standing in Marble Canyon Arizona in 1949. I knew Vernon as a boy. He always posed exactly like you see him her.

Vernon and Minnie Raver Marble Canyon Arizona 1949

Vernon and Minnie Raver Marble Canyon Arizona 1949

You can read the poor guys mind. “Do you really need another picture? Well if that’s how it’s going be I’m going to assume my petulant spoiled fat boy pose.” You cannot blame Vernon. His photographic life got off to a dreadful start. Look at this gem.

Vernon F. Raver 1904-1964

Vernon F. Raver 1904-1964

In the early 20th century women liked to dress up their baby boys as girls. Vernon got the full girly treatment. You cannot blame him for being scarred for life after such trauma. Here’s a clue ladies. Boys are not girls. Gender is not arbitrary. People that assert the contrary are idiots. Sorry if that sounds like mansplaining; the truth is not always polite.

I doubt I’ll ever get through Minnie’s pictures. There are hundreds of images to scan, restore and research. I just don’t have the time or energy but in the years ahead I will occasionally pick out and upload attractive images. Here’s the gallery to follow if you’re interested.


  1. If Hazel was alive today she would be a star on TV’s Hoarders.
  2. Despite their good condition it was still a lot of work to restore the images posted here. To judge what I had contend with browse this gallery of before and after diptychs.

Books to Ignore

My superpower is indifference. Indifference is the soporific that lets my inner beast nap in peace. Without it I would have long since turned into a murdering psychopath, but I remain calm, rational, nearly ethereal, as I proudly ignore the unhinged idiocy of my fellow human beings. I prize my detachment, my don’t-give-a-shit-ness, my lordly disdain, and I work hard to maintain it. Today I’m sharing one of my, how to resist pummeling the morons around you, secrets. Here it is: don’t read rubbish.

Now, don’t fire up your book Barbie; that’s not what I’m suggesting. I’m asking you to upgrade your standards and scoot past toxic aisles in your favorite book store. Ignorable books are legion and they’re relatively easy to identify. The following rules have served me well.

  1. Do not read biographies of living people. There are few, if any, definitive biographies of the living for the simple reason that they’re almost impossible to write without triggering crippling law suits. Historical figures, and their entire sycophantic bottom-feeding cohort, must be long dead before anything approaching perspective is possible. So put down that Prince of Wales or, don’t make me puke, Ted Turner, biography. They’re trash, worse than pornography, at least porn facilitates release.
  2. Do not read autobiographies. Autobiographical fiction, and it always is, is akin to masturbating in public. Only one person is going to enjoy it. Everything I said about biographies goes double for autobiographies. We know you’re misleading, omitting, embellishing, polishing, fabricating, composting and just plain lying. If you’re one of the rare true worthies, say a Fields Medalist, a hard science Nobel winner, a Caesar, or a Mark Twain then go ahead and indulge yourself. Your scribbling’s will show future generations that bullshit is the only human universal.
  3. Do not read hyphenated anything. Only mediocre twaddle preens as black-history, feminist-politics, gay-literature, Indian-mathematics, lesbian-drama or aboriginal-stories; the good stuff is known as history, politics, literature, mathematics, drama and stories.
  4. Skip anything with “New Age” in its title, preamble, introduction, appendices or footnotes. Virtually everything written about new age beliefs, medicine, philosophy and so on is complete and utter garbage. This dreck is for feeble, magical-thinking, childish minds. I genuinely pity the purveyors and swallowers of new-age bilge; they’re sad silly people: come the zombie apocalypse the Deepak Copra’s of the world are starters.
  5. Eschew political diatribes written solely to exploit current events. The political diatribe, or insta-history, like autobiographical fiction, may let readers in the future relive our self-deceptions, but we don’t live in the future. Most of these books emit a foul, cash in on my 15 minutes of fame, stench. I weep for the trees that died to print this crap.
  6. Ignore books that rehash thoroughly debunked cover-ups and conspiracies. 9/11 was not an inside job, there are no miracle cancer cures, Bigfoot does not exist, the pyramids were not built by aliens, dowsing is crap, Oswald shot Kennedy, and the world did not end on December 21, 2012. Being a hard-ass skeptic clears entire drivel laden bookshelves.
  7. Do not read diet books. You are not going to learn anything you don’t already know. We know why we’re fat. We eat too much and move to little. It’s really that simple. Get off you’re stupid obese ass and stop wasting your money on diet books.
  8. Do not read computer books with high screen-shot densities. As a programmer I am constantly pawing through computer books and it pains me to report that vast swathes of this technical genre are awful. Stop printing one damn screen shot after another. It’s not helping.
  9. Ignore how to get rich books. Get rich whores are worse than insta-history whores and often far more damaging to the pocketbooks of gullible readers.
  10. Give any book sharing Steve Job’s secrets a wide berth. The necrophages writing this tripe are stunted little animals. Let’s feed on the dead, rich, white guy. Maybe if we eat his soul we’ll get rich too.

See that wasn’t so bad. With these ten rules you, shrink big-box bookstores to manageable dimensions, speed up online searching, and cut your exposure to rage fomenting mental pollution.  I must warn you that there are exceptions my rules and it delights me  when I find them. If you can point to books that break my rules please drop a note. I enjoy being wrong; it’s an opportunity to learn something and it’s a rare experience.

Apocalypse Never or I Told You So Day

Let’s begin with an apology to the Mayan’s. There’s not a whit of verified historical evidence that the ancient Mayans predicted the end of the world or that they were any more upset about cycles in their calendars than we are in ours. Modern Mayans repeatedly pointed this out but arguing with new age morons, schizophrenic doom mongers and pure outright rapacious hucksters is a thankless task. Crazy ideas are easy to market. Just look at who we vote for, the consumer crap that fills our homes, the twaddle that we ludicrously label news and the sheer reams of reason suffocating rubbish that infuses the very core of our increasingly derelict civilization. Believe me; I completely understand the hygienic appeal of apocalypse. A clean, moron free, slate: oh what a glorious day that would be!

Well, it’s not the end of the world but it’s still a glorious day because the day after the world ends is when skeptics celebrate global I told You So Day. On I told you so day sane and rational people get to rub it in and remind delusional nitwits everywhere that they’ve been suckered again. My only regret is I told you so day requires a degree of sanity among the insane. Anyone that fell for Mayan doomsday drivel is now rapidly forgetting it and the very craziness that abetted the belief is now rapidly erasing it. Genuinely crazy people aren’t rational enough to recognize their errors making them poor I told you so targets. As for hucksters: they’re already working the next scam. Skeptics just can’t get no satisfaction!

XKCD is the best  skeptical cartoonist working the intertubes these days. Click for more.

XKCD is the best skeptical cartoonist working the intertubes these days. Click for more.