A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

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The 95th Skeptics' Circle

The 9/11 Edition

September 11, 2008. Seven years ago, The Very Lost Prophecies of Michel Nostradamus were found by Quantum Beam Radium and Harvard Veritas Schwartz in a Peruvian cave. Dr. Schwartz's validated spirit guide directed the pair to the cave by interpreting entangled stains found by Radium on a South Park urinal. We now know, after doing a thorough meta-analysis and finding odds against chance of a trillion to one, that the Great One predicted it all. However, because the prediction wasn't understood until after the fact, the discovery of the pertinent verse came too late to warn anyone about the impending attacks. Here is the verse in question:

In the year of two goose eggs and the golden snake
The gifted imbecile king 
Wearing a chain mail cross dripping in black blood
Will divide the united in Tuesday's ashes.

Cryptic prediction? Sure. Deciphering required diligence, perspicuity, and a Randi woo detector. A rogue band of skeptical inquirers, possessing critical thinking skills thought to have gone extinct in the 13th century, dared to interpret the prophetic ravings of our long-gone prognosticator. We were too late to prevent the events of seven years ago, but there are more prophecies in this very lost book than anyone might have dreamed. In any case, the results of the inquirers, while controversial, may prove useful in the future. Then again, maybe not.

I realize that some might mistake our interpreters for disinformation agents, put on this planet to deceive the masses into believing that rationality and critical thinking are good, and that self-deception, gut instincts, scientific ignorance, and superstitious adherence to ancient beliefs and practices are dangerous. It is not for me to judge. All I know is that it took seven years to the day to unravel many mysteries that had heretofore been only enigmas, puzzles, or riddles, wrapped in a conspiracy that involved a little intrigue and a lot of selective thinking.

Others will have to decipher the decipherings of these skeptics or deceptive agents (who can tell?), who once sat on terra firma and put their feet together in a circle. Each in turn chanted a quatrain from the lost book. Each revealed the meaning to the empty sky, which delivered the revelations to various lonely bloggers crying in the wilderness, some gnashing their teeth, rending their clothes, or breaking their neighbors' fences. Has something been lost in the translations? I don't know. I was there at the revealing and I have read the blogs, but I still don't know. Here they are. You decide.

Page one of The Very Lost Prophecies revealed the first verse:

In the valley of the giants where the stars and stripes explode
The peaches they were sweet and the milk and honey flowed
I was only following instructions when the judge sent me down the road with your subpoena.

"Easy," said Greta Christina, as a Celtic harp was gently strummed in the background by a lost druid. "This has to do with solving murders by sacrificing a cow. The algorithm's rather complex, but it's all there in Deuteronomy. It's scrambled, but it's there. The only difficult part is trying to figure out who should be the one to kill the cow."

"Maybe you're right," said Respectful Insolence. "But it sure seems to me that ND was predicting the end or the world by the Large Hadron Collider. Of course, the PoMos or postmodernists, who seem to think we're still looking for Absolute Truth, are on record as denying that scientific knowledge has any special merit because it is locked into itself by its language and male potency metaphors. So, to the PoMos all this is sexist gibberish. They really went too far, though, when they cast their net over evidence-based medicine. The Master foresaw their buffoonery in seven different languages."

The second verse was a bit more trying:

There's a black Mercedes rollin' through the combat zone
Your servants are half dead; you're down to the bone
Tell me, tall man, where would you like to be overthrown
In Jerusalem or Argentina?

"I've got it," said Ionian Enchantment. "The master is referring to Lake Storsjön in Sweden where a sea monster engaged in a wrestling match with David Hume." Michael used the equidistant letter sequencing protocol, long abandoned by most cryptographers. Whatever works. However, he did admit that it is possible this verse refers not to sea monsters but to Bigfoot flying a UFO. I can see that, especially if you consider the ricochet factor.

The next verse up for interpretation fell to the SkepDoc of Science-Based Medicine.

Standing on the waters casting your bread
While the eyes of the idol with the iron head are glowing.
Distant ships sailing into the mist,
You were born with a snake in both of your fists while a hurricane was blowing.
Freedom just around the corner for you
But with the truth so far off, what good will it do?

"I like puzzles," she said, "but this one had me baffled until I reminded myself not to trust interested parties on emotionally-charged issues. Nostradamus was clearly referring to questions regarding the safety of kava, especially for folks with liver problems."

You think? Could be. Who am I to judge?

Next up was Rebecca at Skepchick. Her verse was as follows:

Sixteen years, sixteen banners
united over the field
Where the good shepherd grieves. Desperate men, desperate women divided,
Spreading their wings 'neath the falling leaves.

"Wow," said Rebecca. "It's hard to believe, but Nostradamus predicted I would be asked to give dating tips to skeptics who are attracted to true believers in woo. He must have had a third eye or something." He had at least three eyes, I'm told. Maybe four.

The games continued.

I see pieces of men marching; trying to take heaven by force
I can see the unknown rider, I can see the pale white horse
In God's truth tell me what you want, and you'll have it of course
Just step into the arena.

Toes began to curl. Evolved and Rational saw the tunnel at the end of the light and explained the meaning of the verse: never trust a man with a Bible under his arm. "With the help of engineers who fancied themselves experts in demolition," he said, "the job was easy."

"Not so fast," said Dad of Cameron of Autism Street. "With all due respect, I think this one refers to Max Blaxill's unwanted concern over Sarah Palin's views on vaccinating her infant against influenza."

"Actually, I think you're both right," said Scepticon, "but I personally think there is a third, equally plausible, alternative explanation of the verse. I think it's about a certain kind of deceiver who takes advantage of vulnerable people and who needs to be taken down a notch." All nodded. Sometimes the Great One predicted three things at once.

That wasn't the end of it, of course. The next bit caused some consternation:

Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child's balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon.

A lone piper played in a distant field as Andrew at the evolving mind revealed the meaning of the revelation. "This is the call to understand the dangers of inhaling. It's not what you might think," he said. "I'm talking about inhaling incense while meditating. Don't you wonder why the Dalai Lama is so short? It's those polyaromatic hydrocarbons. The message became clear," he said, "after consulting some truthers about recognizing truthiness in a glass snowball of Pearl Harbor."

Next up was a puzzler of callipygian proportions:

My eyes collide head-on with stuffed graveyards
False gods, I scuff at pettiness which plays so rough
Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
Kick my legs to crash it off.

"That's not so difficult," said PodBlack Cat. "This is the prophecy about Phil Plait and James Randi in the Skeptic Zone at Dragon*Con. Randi's an escape artist who thinks gods are delusions and ... well, the rest is self-evident."

"Nostradamus would have been welcome at Dragon*con," someone said loudly. "He wouldn't have been taken seriously, but he would have been welcome."

"All are welcome at Dragon*Con," said a soft and wise voice that seemed to come from beyond the clouds. Had the Amazing One graced our presence?

Next up was vreify at TeenSkepchick

They'll stone you and then say you are brave.
They'll stone you when you are set down in your grave.
But I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.

"Just because I've still got my own hair and teeth, you give me the easy one. Anyway, this obviously refers to ignorant health ed teachers who pass on misinformation and falsehoods about drugs. Heroin is scary, but you don't have to lie about it." Out of the mouths of skepbabes....

There was a quiet silence before reading the next verse:

They're selling postcards of the hanging
They're painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town.

"Ah," said Zoo Knudsen of Skeptic Shock. "If I'm not mistaken this refers to the ancient, useless, and sometimes harmful art of ear candling. Grown-ups with medical degrees ignore the science because they take their experience at face value. Pity, the harm these clowns do. Good luck to the one who has the next quatrain," he said as he assumed the supine position.

Now at midnight all the agents
And the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone
That knows more than they do.

"I've got that one," said Coracle at Science and Progress. "It took me some time to figure out that the master was predicting a battle of epic proportions between a homeopathic arnica preparation and a medicine called diclofenac for the treatment of bunions. It was a bit tricky and I had to use the Randi woo detector to see through the apparent simplicity of the verse. I'm quite satisfied that this is the correct interpretation."

"You could be right," said Holford Watch, "but this particular verse might refer to the continuing epic battle over natural versus synthetic vitamins. I'm not saying it is, but when you consider the square root of the melting point of steel as seen on television versus the square root of the softening point in reality, you might come up with a different interpretation."

All the skeptics in the circle laughed and wiggled their toes when they heard the next verse.

A whore will pass the hat, collect a hundred grand and say thanks
They like to take all this money from sin
build big universities to study in
Sing "Amazing Grace" all the way to the Swiss banks.

"This one was meant to make us think of Pat Robertson and Benny Hinn, which would then trigger an association with great hoaxes," said The Bad Astronomer. "So, it was really just a matter of connecting the dots that nobody else could see to discover that the prophecy was referring to the moon-landing hoaxers who get their butts kicked by the Mythbusters." Jamie, Adam, and their crew of controlled demolition experts agreed that there could be no other meaning to the verse.

The next one was trickier.

They got some beautiful people out there, man
They can be a terror to your mind and show you how to hold your tongue
They got mystery written all over their forehead
They kill babies in the crib and say only the good die young.

The task of figuring this one out fell to The Skepbitch. She just shook her head and muttered obscenities, upset that she was given such an easy verse to figure out. "It's too f...ing obvious," she said. "This verse predicts Dragon*Con 2008. I like challenges and the only part of this one that was challenging was the part about killing babies in the crib, which obviously is a nod to writers of sci-fi who edit their first drafts with a butcher knife."

The next one also seemed too easy.

Of war and peace the truth just twists
Its curfew gull just glides
Upon four-legged forest clouds
The cowboy angel rides.

"This doesn't mean what you think it means," said Providentia. "I needed help from my muse, but it clearly refers to the danger of performing exorcisms on the mentally ill. Religion can be an excuse to do some pretty bad deeds."

After a break for a power lunch, the skeptics returned to the circle. The next oracle was read:

With a time-rusted compass blade
Aladdin and his lamp
Sits with Utopian hermit monks
Side saddle on the Golden Calf.

"Even on a full stomach, I can tell you what this one means," said It's the Thought That Counts. "The old saws of skeptics and atheists need some sharpening. We need to find new kinds of things to debunk, get off the beaten track, stop beating the dead horses, quit desecrating the same old altars, and maybe even move toward more unity."

There was a palpable buzz. Then, the next verse was read:

The rifleman's stalking the sick and the lame,
Preacherman seeks the same, who'll get there first is uncertain.
Nightsticks, water cannons, tear gas, padlocks,
Molotov cocktails and rocks behind every curtain.

Jeffrey Stingerstein of Disillusioned Words stood up and announced that this verse spoke about an old saw that needs a new blade, though he didn't think it would help the cause of unity much. "As far as I'm concerned," he said, "This was a call to action to rebut The Wall Street Journal's defense of the current administration's economic record." He explained himself in some detail. A lot of muttering in the circle ensued. Then, an anonymous blogger blurted out that she thought the verse referred to the 1968 Democratic political convention in Chicago. She was shouted down.

Whiskey Before Breakfast announced that he had a poem to read. Somebody pulled out a telescope and called attention to one of the moons around some planet.

Some were getting restless by the time the following verse was read:

The foreign sun, it squints upon
A bed that is never mine
As friends and other strangers
From their fates try to resign.

"Simply put," said Socratic Gadfly. "This means beware Christians who park their cars in other people's garages, or something like that."

The next verse wasn't quite so simple.

I've walked and I've crawled on six crooked highways
I've stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I've been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I've been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard.

His eyes sparkling with delight, Biochemicalsoul announced that this had to do with using the news to teach the post hoc fallacy. This verse, which seemed impenetrable only moments earlier, suddenly became obvious once the true meaning was revealed.

Some in the party were beginning to head to the snack bar when the next verse caught their divided attention:

I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children.

"I was hoping this one would be mine," said JDC325. "The Big Guy is talking about seeing things in other things, like seeing diseases in the whites of your fingernails. There's a cryptic sidebar here, too. Sometimes the diseases we see and treat aren't even real. It's as if we were making it up on the fly for the free market."

Attention reached a fever pitch again when the following quatrain was read:

All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too
Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.

"Ah, we've heard this one before," said Bug Girl, who told the group the Boss was talking about the exotic pet industry trying to kill the Non-Native Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act. "A lot of civilians would have misunderstood this one," she noted, "because they don't know that everything that flies is not a solid object."

Some of the more practiced evaluators took a shot at the next verse:

Let the bird sing
Let the bird fly
One day the man in the moon went home
And the river went dry.

"Well, it could mean Jack Chick's retrothinking is being rewired," said Bronze Blog. "Or, it could refer to thinking you're on the side of goodness because your side killed fewer people than somebody else.  Or, it might refer to a great flood and building boats in the desert."

"I think it's the latter," said Thinking Is Real. "It's a no-brainer, really. But it does make you wonder why a being who could create the universe in six days would waste 200 years making a tiny technical correction on a minor planet on the edge of a minor galaxy.

"This might be one of those verses, like so many in every sacred book, that means whatever you want it to mean," someone muttered under her breath.

"Mine's a bit more transparent," said Sam at Skepchick. "Listen to this:"

Ring them bells ye heathen from the city that dreams
Ring them bells from the sanctuaries cross the valleys and streams
For they're deep and they're wide and the world's on its side
And time is running backwards and so is the bride.

"This one seemed too obvious to bother with.  Clearly, The Prophet was referring to pole dancing for the masses. He was way ahead of his time."

"You may be right," said Polite Company. "I'm not so sure. Maybe he was just reminding us of the importance of science."

Bing McGhandi of Happy Jihad's House of Pancakes was up next.

Steal a little and they throw you in jail,
Steal a lot and they make you king.
There's only one step down from here,
It's called the land of permanent bliss.

"I had some loose change," he said, "so I paid off a couple of irresponsible journalists to interview people with personality disorders and discovered that this quatrain was well understood on the street to mean that Ken (What's Your Frequency?) is babbling something about NASA teaching people to communicate with aliens."

Next in the circle of interpreters was Rana of Reduce to Common Sense.

Broken lines, broken strings,
Broken threads, broken springs,
Broken idols, broken heads,
People sleeping in broken beds.

"I know there will be many who will deny what I am about to tell them, but the Great Doctor was predicting all the quality control problems we're having with Ayurvedic herbal treatments. The naysayers like to ask disturbing questions, ignore the actual evidence, speculate about possible answers, assume the worst-case scenario, and then claim that only an idiot could not agree with their conclusion. Fortunately, we in the circle can see beyond the hasty conclusions of the nattering nabobs of negativity."

Liam McDaid was given the next enigma to unravel.

Now the bricks lay on Grand Street
Where the neon madmen climb.
They all fall there so perfectly,
It all seems so well timed.
An' here I sit so patiently
Waiting to find out what price
You have to pay to get out of
Going through all these things twice.

"The obvious interpretation would be to look for something along the lines of reincarnation, but that's a ruse. The number 44 comes up quite a bit when you dig into this piece and play with the patterns, so I surmise that ND is predicting a teacher who will try to enlighten the masses about the heavens in 44 ways and lift the veil of ignorance from their faces."

PalMD at denialism blog was licking his chops when he read his verse.

Buy me a flute
And a gun that shoots
Tailgates and substitutes
Strap yourself
To the tree with roots
You ain't goin' nowhere.

"This is a foreshadowing of the need for physicians to engage their patients in conversation about the wonders of firearms for a person's health." A loud cheer went up.

The final verse of the day was read.

Everything stays down where it's wounded
And comes to a permanent stop
There's no exit in any direction
'Cept the one you can't see with your eyes.

"Could be about the end of the world," said Bob. "Then again, maybe not. Maybe it's about all those exploitainment programs featuring gifted confabulators who hear pieces of voices or solve crimes in their minds, while tearing the hearts out of people in distress."

As Jimi Hendrix's guitar and voice blasted over the loudspeakers, all went to their tents to meditate on the day and prepare for the next meeting of the circle. Notradamus predicted that the next two weeks would be brutal. The cacophony of the purveyors of woo would reach fever pitch, sending REGs into frenzied displays of order. The circle will return in a fortnight at Endcycle. If the Large Hadron Collider hasn't annihilated the earth by then, consider participating.


Circle Archives

comments (3)

Until I see the quatrain that predicted the whole Favre thing [http://www.tinyurl.com/FavreTraded] I'm not buyin' any of it...

J. Gravelle

* * *

Just wanted to utter a hearty congratulations on fitting in the word callipygian....and obviously the great article too.

P. Southworth


It's going to be a loooonnnnggggg time until I read something better that this! I think I'll probably read this fairly often. The last week's been pretty rotten from having the flu and other crap going on, but this lifted my spirits right off the floor.


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