So confused

I got these pamphlets in the mail yesterday. People send me Bible tracts all the time — who needs to think when you’ve got Jack Chick to give you a Hallmark shortcut? — and I usually just flip through them and toss them. But these were weird. One was about a Ken Ham-like preacher ranting that God wanted you stupid and ignorant and receptive to his message; another was all about the necessarily literal truth of the first book of Genesis, and that the whole rest of the Bible falls apart if you don’t accept it; and the other one is about how Jesus was a failure, since almost everyone goes to Hell, and only the elect few get to join him on his motorcycle to heaven. They were evil Poes.

Apparently, you’re supposed to distribute these at bus stations and truck stops and other places more typically associated with cheap Jesusy crap. I could see how someone might pick these up and confuse them with genuine believer baloney. I’m going to have to keep my eyes open for Christians sincerely spouting the mockery from the True Bible Church.

Because Indians are magic!

So you wish you were an Indian, because they’re so spiritual and noble and one with nature — they’re so magical that having a name like Manny Two Feathers or Vicki Ghost Horse means the crap you sell on e-bay has extra cred and is worth more money.

Now you can be! It’s easy. There are plastic tribes popping up all over the place, and all it takes to become one is money.

The "United Cherokee Nation," which did not respond to Phoenix inquiries, charges a $35 application fee, while the "Western Cherokee Nation of Arkansas and Missouri" has a $60 application fee and a $10 annual roll fee. The "Cherokee of Lawrence County" don’t charge for membership but instead asks its members to "make it a priority to send $10 a month to help with the tribe" and $12 to subscribe to its newsletter.

Membership fees and dues are just two signs a "Cherokee" group isn’t legitimate, task force members said. Other signs include members using Indian-sounding names such as "Two Feathers" and "Wind Caller," acting and dressing like Hollywood-stereotyped Indians or Plains Indians, asking for money to perform DNA tests or genealogical research, requirements to wear regalia to meetings and requirements to go through an Indian-naming ceremony.

Once admitted into the groups, members usually get membership cards, bogus "Certified Degree of Indian Blood" cards and genealogy certificates "proving" they are eligible for membership.

You might notice the Cherokee mystique: most of the fake tribes seem to be some branch of the Cherokee nation. Apparently nobody wants to be a long lost member of the Humptulips tribe, or a Stillaguamish — although you’d think Lakota, with their history as the stereotypical Plains Indian, would be more popular.

They usually dress it up more, of course. The Red Nation of the Cherokee (totally fake) thinks that if you really feel like an Indian in your heart, then you ought to join the tribe.

We do not need to follow the standards of the antiquated BIA regulations/policies of the late 1700’s or after any longer! Which, dices people up into fractions and percentages, we are true human beings and a whole person.

Our beliefs are, if an individual is of multi-Nations, then they should be allowed to honor each of them in their own way, not being forced to choose one over the other.

We of the Red Clay People of all Nations believe, we should not have to prove our heritage’s on the talking leaves paper, but be allowed to prove in the older way, what is truth in our hearts.

The Creator has heard the prayers of the people, and gave vision to start RedNation of the Cherokee. To make a place, for all the people to have a home and family, to come to and to be finally called brother or sister and to be recognized as blood.

The “talking leaves paper”? Jebus. I know a lot of local Indians (UMM offers free tuition to people of real Indian descent, verified by membership on a real tribal roll), and not a one talks like that. They also don’t wear fringed buckskin clothes with feathers in their hair. You will occasionally see them in traditional costume — which is usually jeans and a plaid work shirt, with maybe a decorative bit of bead jewelry, or a feather in their cowboy hat — when artists and cultural representatives show up on campus for our yearly powwow of native music and dancing. But get real, these are human beings who are part of a changing culture — they are not the TV Indians who never left the 18th century.

I did find this fake tribe’s rationale amusing.

Another group asking for federal recognition is the Cherokee of Lawrence County, Tenn. The tribe’s principal chief, Joe "Sitting Owl" White, said he eventually expects his tribe to be federally recognized because he and his 800 fellow members are Cherokee, and he cites photography as proof.

We’ve been called every name in the book, but we are Cherokee, he said. We can take photos of our members and hold them up and see the Cherokee in us.

He also said his tribe has scientifically proven with DNA evidence that the Cherokee people are Jewish.

You know, I actually wouldn’t be at all surprised if some members of the Cherokee of Lawrence County were certifiably and demonstrably of Jewish descent, so he might not be wrong about that. I should apply and join — they could test me and prove that Indians were also Celts who drifted over on a coracle, and Vikings who colonized the entire continent.

My zombie story

The zombie plague was a dud. When the first cases emerged, scattered around the globe, everyone knew exactly how to put them down: destroy the brain. The world had been so saturated with zombie comic books, zombie TV shows, zombie novels, and zombie movies in the greatest, if unplanned, public health information program ever, that the responses to the outbreaks was always swift and thorough. In fact, most civilian casualties were caused not by the zombies themselves, but by the way everyone had been conditioned by the media to respond to lumbering, moaning, disheveled humanoid forms with instant and brutal violence.

The death of a few homeless or mentally ill people, or others who just weren’t perky morning people, was considered a small price to pay for the ruthless efficiency with which the zombie problem was eradicated. There was talk of giving George Romero a Nobel peace prize; Time Magazine ran an issue with “Heroic Humanity” featured on the cover; the public acquired a cocky attitude and brain-smashing weapons of destruction became the hot new fashion accessory. The horror of the worst catastrophe we could imagine, the emergence of an evil twin of our species, corrupt and mindlessly destructive, had been met and dismissed with arrogant ease.

An important lesson was not learned. Zombies were our mirror image, big animals that were short-sighted and heedlessly destructive, and we had easily wiped them out…because big animals are delicate, fragile things with a limited population size, requiring immense amounts of cooperation to survive. Our pride was undeserved. We had discovered how easy it was to kill small groups of bipedal primates. Nature laughed at our trivial accomplishment.

The same plague had been burning through rat populations. Every city, every small town garbage dump, every ship, had been boiling with upheaval in the darkness as the zombie rats spread the infection everywhere. The rats were numerous, and it took three months for the disease to consume them…and then the undead rodents slithered upwards, looking for a new food source. They were ubiquitous and silent and sneaky, and found ways into bedrooms at night, where the smug humans lay with shotguns and pistols and hammers for demolishing large-skulled stupid targets, their doors safely (they thought) barred against 70 kilogram intruders. The little, mindless zombie rats scurried forward, and gnawed.

Homo sapiens was extinct within a year.

(I had this idea for a great and accurate zombie novel that would reveal the true message of the zombie fad — come on, look at yourselves, it’s all about rapacious humans with no restraint — and would also make me millions of dollars. I got up this morning all excited and rushed to start writing it, and then I discovered that I could tell the whole story in five paragraphs. Oops. Is there much of a market for one-page novels? With a totally depressing conclusion?)

I’d hate to have to get that one past the IRB

In which we learn that kings get to define their own protocols, and that coffee might be good for you.

“Coffee drinking was compared with tea drinking in monozygotic twins in 18th century,” Lars Breimer, BMJ, vol. 312, June 15, 1996, p. 1539. The author, at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine in London, explains:

“One of the more peculiar attempts to throw light on the question of whether drinking coffee is bad for one’s health’ was carried out in the 18th century by King Gustaf III of Sweden…. A pair of monozygotic twins had been sentenced to death for murder. Gustaf III commuted their death sentences to life imprisonment on the condition that one twin drank a large bowl of tea three times a day and that the other twin drank coffee. The twin who drank tea died first, aged 83-a remarkable age for the time. Thus the case was settled: coffee was the less dangerous of the two beverages. The king, on the other hand, was murdered at a masked ball in 1792 at the age of 45 and became the subject of an opera by Verdi.”

Although, I have to say, the n is really small, and the controls are inadequate.

Cannibalistic humanoids from the deep

I met Karl Banse, the famous oceanographer, a few times. Back when I started college, I was an oceanography major for a brief while, but then I got introduced to embryos of marine invertebrates and got seduced into developmental biology. I had no idea that he was destined to write a scientific paper on the biology of mermaids (pdf available), or I might not have drifted over to the zoology department.

Or on second thought, I might have been propelled even faster. It turns out that mermaids are nasty creatures.

Regarding mermaid behavior, a recurrent theme is the habit of the females to haul out on beaches (usually in pairs) allegedly to lure, then seduce sailors; their voices were repeatedly recorded as being “irresistible”. Perhaps they lured- but the stark fact was that they then drowned the men and devoured their flesh. Similarly, when ships broke up in gales, the females pulled sailors down into their abodes for further disposition.

Once again, Disney betrays reality. Ariel was not accurately portrayed.

Weird ways of thinking

Breatharian crank Jasmuheen believes she doesn’t need food or water to live — she claims to absorb nutrients from sunlight and air. She was rather easily exposed, as are all these breatharians, by putting her up in a nice hotel with people to monitor her eating, and observing the subsequent quite rapid deterioration as she failed to thrive and wasted away quite dangerously.

The people who were testing her terminated the experiment to avoid risking her health. Breatharian claims are absurd and trivially debunked, but what is fascinating is Jasmuheen’s logic as she is gradually falling apart. She has to know that in her day-to-day life she is regularly drinking and eating; she has to know that she’s hungry and thirsty during the test; she has to know that she’s physically suffering from dehydration and starvation. Yet she denies it all.

I think she was trusting the common sense of her testers: she knew that they could not in good conscience allow her to go on, that the experiment would be terminated while she protested that she was fine, and that she could get out of the dangerous situation while maintaining her fiction of dietary abstinence, no problem.

Her claims are not interesting at all — they’re ludicrous — but I find her psychology fascinating. Last year she was in a bogus documentary about ‘living on light’, and now, years after her failed test, she twists it into a triumphant victory.

Wow. New Age delusion at its finest. I loved this statement, though:

What was recorded, what was presented to the world was not my truth, was not how I interpreted it.

So truth is entirely subjective, it’s whatever you decide it should be, and we can entirely disregard physiology…or video technology. Nothing can beat that rationalization — these are people living lives of radical solipsism. It’s too bad that people are dying trying to follow their claims.

Speaking of psychology, another odd thing in the documentary jumped out at me. It’s a German documentary. I’ve run into these breatharian loons sporadically over the years, and they always babble about not eating anything ever…but leave it to the Germans to focus on something I hadn’t heard much about before, that breatharianism meant never pooping. The German obsession with all matters fecal is just a little odd. Odd but harmless, compared to the American obsession with shooting things and blowing them up, I suppose.

I am Power-Mad Drunk on Intoxicating Power!

As many of you may know, just less than a week ago some earnest questions were asked – to the Horde generally – about gender by morgan (frequent, though apparently not current, epitheter of metaphors). morgan’s questions reduced to a more fundamental one: “Why is constructively engaging gender so damn hard?”

This is something about which I’ve often written and spoken. It runs through my critiques of a number of disciplines/specialties, most notably the pedagogy of gender itself. It’s long been my thinking that we can teach gender much better than we do, and one important aspect of that is to encourage self-exploration rather than using idiographic studies of various exotic species: trans* folks and intersex kids and survivors of testicular, ovarian, or breast cancer. To encourage that self-exploration, I’ve developed workshops in the past that attempted to reveal to the participants’ view the transsexual analogous and transgender analogous portions of their own psyches. It occurred to me that morgan might find better answers through something like the workshops I’ve led than through simply reading a recommended book or a fantastically intelligent comment (to which, ahem, I might link). And so I offered to create an online workshop, though I’d never done one before.

Quickly others spoke up to express interest, and noted that weaving the workshop into the Lounge’s already multi-threaded complexity simply wouldn’t work. It would compromise the Lounge’s comfortable directionlessness, perhaps making idle chat feel less welcome in the exact space set aside for it. Likewise, it might make it very difficult for people to find, and follow, the workshop itself. So it was suggested that we ask PZ for a separate thread for our experimental conversation.

And how you responded! With more than 50 people – if I’ve counted correctly – jumping in during the introduction period, it became quickly apparent that even with our own thread people were bound to get lost. The solution? More threads! (Good for these cotton workers, if no one else.) I took to PZ the suggestion that he open a new thread for each set of exercises. His counter-offer has given me the power to make my own OPs on Pharyngula, under my own byline.

This will take work off PZ’s plate, permitting me to create separate threads on my own initiative, when my posts are ready. Also, it eases worries about posting times, as starting a new thread will not interrupt a conversation in an old thread. All in all, I think it’s a good idea.

But it only happened because 1) the Horde appeared to want it, and 2) it suited PZ’s whim. It will continue only so long as both are true. I have no aspiration to pepper Pharyngula’s headlines or to change the character of this blog: it is absolutely and always PZ’s house. I just got a spare key. I don’t have any plans at this point to post anything other than the this introduction and my planned workshop posts, although if it seems particularly relevant I might blog about a current event that allows me to make a point useful to the exciting gender discussion happening here.

When the workshop is over, I may hand the spare key back to PZ or, if he prefers, just keep it in my key bowl in case it’s needed. But for whatever duration, a few posts under my byline will, I hope, change nothing about my relationship to the Horde. I expect to be corrected when I make mistakes, challenged when I make an argument, and called out when something I do or say enacts or reinforces oppression. On every single thread not in the workshop series, I hope I continue to be no more and no less than I have been: a member of a very special group of people who enjoy learning from each other.

Rum, chocolate, and confetti (if you feel compelled to eat, throw, and drink these things in despair and/or celebration at this Crip Dyke-has-a-byline development) should be available in the Lounge. Afterparty with the scum and villainy will be in the ThunderDome, per usual. The third exercise set will appear sometime a little after midnight Blog Standard Time as the second OP in the workshop series [given that the second exercise set was posted under the first OP before this development].

In the meantime, thanks PZ, for creating this space. Thanks to the Horde for doing all the heavy-lifting in the workshop thread. I owe it all to… Oh, who am I kidding?

Power! Absolute power!