Ian Stevenson’s case for the afterlife: Are we ‘skeptics’ really just cynics?  

“Towards the end of her own storied life, the physicist Doris Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf—whose groundbreaking theories on surface physics earned her the prestigious Heyn Medal from the German Society for Material Sciences, surmised that Stevenson’s work had established that ‘the statistical probability that reincarnation does in fact occur is so overwhelming … that cumulatively the evidence is not inferior to that for most if not all branches of science.'”

From Scientific American:

If you’re anything like me, with eyes that roll over to the back of your head whenever you hear words like “reincarnation” or “parapsychology,” if you suffer great paroxysms of despair for human intelligence whenever you catch a glimpse of that dandelion-colored cover of Heaven Is For Real or other such books, and become angry when hearing about an overly Botoxed charlatan telling a poor grieving mother how her daughter’s spirit is standing behind her, then keep reading, because you’re precisely the type of person who should be aware of the late Professor Ian Stevenson’s research on children’s memories of previous lives.

Stevenson, who died in 2007, was a psychiatrist by training—and a prominent one at that. In 1957, at the still academically tender age of 38, he’d been named Chair of psychiatry at the University of Virginia. After arriving in Charlottesville, however, his hobbyhorse in the paranormal began turning into a full-grown steed. As you can imagine, investigating apparitions and reincarnation is not something the college administrators were expecting of the head of their mental health program. But in 1968, Chester Carlson, the wealthy inventor of the Xerox copying process who’d been introduced to Stevenson’s interests in reincarnation by his spiritualist wife, dropped dead of a heart attack in a Manhattan movie theatre, leaving a million dollars to UVA on the condition it be used to fund Stevenson’s paranormal investigations. That money enabled Stevenson to devote himself full-time to studying the minds of the dead, and over the next four decades, Stevenson’s discoveries as a parapsychologist served to sway more than a few skeptics and to lead his blushing acolytes to compare him to the likes of Darwin and Galileo.

Stevenson’s main claim to fame was his meticulous studies of children’s memories of previous lives. Here’s one of thousands of cases. In Sri Lanka, a toddler one day overheard her mother mentioning the name of an obscure town (“Kataragama”) that the girl had never been to. The girl informed the mother that she drowned there when her “dumb” (mentally challenged) brother pushed her in the river, that she had a bald father named “Herath” who sold flowers in a market near the Buddhist stupa, that she lived in a house that had a glass window in the roof (a skylight), dogs in the backyard that were tied up and fed meat, that the house was next door to a big Hindu temple, outside of which people smashed coconuts on the ground. Stevenson was able to confirm that there was, indeed, a flower vendor in Kataragama who ran a stall near the Buddhist stupa whose two-year-old daughter had drowned in the river while the girl played with her mentally challenged brother. The man lived in a house where the neighbors threw meat to dogs tied up in their backyard, and it was adjacent to the main temple where devotees practiced a religious ritual of smashing coconuts on the ground. The little girl did get a few items wrong, however. For instance, the dead girl’s dad wasn’t bald (but her grandfather and uncle were) and his name wasn’t “Herath”—that was the name, rather, of the dead girl’s cousin. Otherwise, 27 of the 30 idiosyncratic, verifiable statements she made panned out. The two families never met, nor did they have any friends, coworkers, or other acquaintances in common, so if you take it all at face value, the details couldn’t have been acquired in any obvious way.
[…]
Stevenson’s magnum opus, published in 1997, was a 2,268-page, two-volume work called Reincarnation and Biology. Many of his subjects had unusual birthmarks and birth defects, such as finger deformities, underdeveloped ears, or being born without a lower leg. There were scar-like, hypopigmented birthmarks and port-wine stains, and some awfully strange-looking moles in areas where you almost never find moles, like on the soles of the feet. Reincarnation and Biology contained 225 case reports of children who remembered previous lives and who also had physical anomalies that matched those previous lives, details that could in some cases be confirmed by the dead person’s autopsy record and photos.

A Turkish boy whose face was congenitally underdeveloped on the right side said he remembered the life of a man who died from a shotgun blast at point-blank range. A Burmese girl born without her lower right leg had talked about the life of a girl run over by a train. On the back of the head of a little boy in Thailand was a small, round puckered birthmark, and at the front was a larger, irregular birthmark, resembling the entry and exit wounds of a bullet; Stevenson had already confirmed the details of the boy’s statements about the life of a man who’d been shot in the head from behind with a rifle, so that seemed to fit. And a child in India who said he remembered the life of boy who’d lost the fingers of his right hand in a fodder-chopping machine mishap was born with boneless stubs for fingers on his right hand only. This type of “unilateral brachydactyly” is so rare, Stevenson pointed out, that he couldn’t find a single medical publication of another case.
[…]
Stevenson, an expert on psychosomatic medicine, suspected strong emotions are (somehow) related to a child’s retention of past-life memories. Traumatic deaths, he thought, leave an emotional imprint. Indeed, most of the children he studied claimed that they had met a violent end previously. There was also a gap of a few years between lives; reincarnation is never immediate. And for the most part, souls seemed to stay local. That’s to say, the “previous personality” often lived in a distant village, but not quite so far away as to require a passport. Oftentimes, Stevenson observed, the child had habits and fears linked to the nature of death. Those who said they’d drowned in a previous life had an unusually intense fear of water; those who were stabbed displayed a crippling knife phobia, and so on. There were even three cases of children who’d reacted violently when they’d unexpectedly crossed paths with their own “murderers.” It’s bizarre to picture preschoolers lunging for the throats of adult strangers. Nonetheless, it made sense to Stevenson, since in his view, the children were attacking those who’d gotten away with their murders.

Interestingly, and contrary to most religious notions of reincarnation, there was zero evidence of karma. On the whole, it appeared to be a fairly mechanical soul-rebirthing process, not a moralistic one. What those mechanisms involve, exactly, is anyone’s guess—even Stevenson’s. But he didn’t see grandiose theorizing as part of his job. His job, rather, was simply to gather all the anomalous data, investigate them carefully, and rule out, using every possible method available to him, the rational explanations. And to many, he was successful at doing just that. Towards the end of her own storied life, the physicist Doris Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf—whose groundbreaking theories on surface physics earned her the prestigious Heyn Medal from the German Society for Material Sciences, surmised that Stevenson’s work had established that “the statistical probability that reincarnation does in fact occur is so overwhelming … that cumulatively the evidence is not inferior to that for most if not all branches of science.” Stevenson himself was convinced that, once the precise mechanisms underlying his observations were known, it would bring about “a conceptual revolution that will make the Copernican revolution seem trivial in comparison.” It’s hard to argue with that, assuming it ever does happen.

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Chilling dossier that PROVES Khashoggi wasn’t Saudis’ only victim  

“Journalist’s ‘horrific murder’ follows the disappearance of THREE exiled royal princes as the House of Saud hunts down its dissidents overseas.”

From DailyMail.com:

At 1.14pm on October 2, Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul and off the face of this Earth. He vanished as if he had never existed. But the fallout from his disappearance grows by the day.

It is now widely believed that Mr Khashoggi was killed in the building by members of a 15-strong Saudi regime hit squad that had flown into the city earlier the same day.

On Monday, police and prosecutors inspected the consulate building in Istanbul for more than eight hours.

Now Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said they found fresh paint in the building where Mr Khashoggi vanished.

Turkish officials believe he was killed and dismembered in the consulate. According to reports, the government has an audio recording which they have shared as evidence with Saudi Arabia and the US.

Yesterday, it was alleged that a recording suggested the journalist had had his fingers cut off one by one while still alive.

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Mexican government sends federal police to intercept caravan of U.S.-bound migrants  

“The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Border Patrol agents detained nearly 17,000 family members in September, an 80 percent increase from July when the administration ended its controversial practice of separating families at the border.”

From USA Today:

The government of Mexico dispatched two 727 Boeing planes filled with federal police officers to its southern border with Guatemala on Wednesday to intercept a caravan of Central American migrants who are trying to reach the U.S. border.

The Interior and Foreign Relations ministries said in a joint statement that any migrant in the caravan without proper immigration papers would be arrested and “returned to their country of origin.” Those with proper documents or wishing to apply for asylum would be allowed to enter Mexico.

The caravan of migrants set out last week from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, which has long been one of the hemisphere’s most violent cities with a murder rate ranking among the highest in the world.

The group of migrants swelled to an estimated 4,000 people even as President Donald Trump has condemned them and threatened to cut aid to Honduras if government officials do not cooperate in preventing their trip to the U.S.

“The United States has strongly informed the President of Honduras that if the large Caravan of people heading to the U.S. is not stopped and brought back to Honduras, no more money or aid will be given to Honduras, effective immediately!” Trump tweeted on Tuesday.

He followed up Tuesday night with a similar threat, but added more Central American countries to his list. “We have today informed the countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador that if they allow their citizens, or others, to journey through their borders and up to the United States, with the intention of entering our country illegally, all payments made to them will STOP (END)!” he wrote.

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White nationalist leader is plotting to ‘take over the GOP’  

“Identity Evropa is pushing its members to stealthily infiltrate Republican politics to move the party toward its agenda of banning nonwhite immigration.”

From NBC News:

Patrick Casey blended in easily with the buttoned-up crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington, D.C., earlier this year.

His boyish face was clean-shaven. His brown hair was close-cropped. And he shuffled between the networking breakfasts and panel discussions wearing a maroon sweater, matching collared shirt and crisp khaki pants.

But despite all outward appearances, Casey, 29, wasn’t like all of the other Republicans at CPAC, the largest annual gathering of conservative activists in the U.S.

He wasn’t there only to champion conservative causes. Casey had ulterior motives: to covertly spread the message of the white nationalist group he leads.

As the executive director of Identity Evropa, Casey is on a bold mission. “To take over the GOP as much as possible,” he told NBC News.

Casey and his roughly 800 fellow members believe ethnic diversity damages the country. Emboldened by President Donald Trump’s rhetoric on race and immigration, they advocate for allowing only Caucasians to immigrate to the U.S. in order to maintain a “white supermajority.”

In Casey’s perfect world, whites would live among whites in North America, Western Europe, Australia, and South Africa, blacks would live among blacks in Africa, Asians in Asia, and Hispanics in Latin America. “Ethnic diversity has been proven time and time again in many studies to be very detrimental for social cohesion, social capital, and it’s just not a good model for society,” he said.
[…]
The organization only accepts whites of European descent who are non-Jews. Members are banned from dating anyone outside of their race.

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‘Hyperalarming’ study shows massive insect loss  

The loss of invertebrates and the consequential knock-on affect on other living species are a stark warning that climate change can no longer be ignored by our leaders.

From The Washington Post:

Insects around the world are in a crisis, according to a small but growing number of long-term studies showing dramatic declines in invertebrate populations. A new report suggests that the problem is more widespread than scientists realized. Huge numbers of bugs have been lost in a pristine national forest in Puerto Rico, the study found, and the forest’s insect-eating animals have gone missing, too.

In 2014, an international team of biologists estimated that, in the past 35 years, the abundance of invertebrates such as beetles and bees had decreased by 45 percent. In places where long-term insect data are available, mainly in Europe, insect numbers are plummeting. A study last year showed a 76 percent decrease in flying insects in the past few decades in German nature preserves.

The latest report, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that this startling loss of insect abundance extends to the Americas. The study’s authors implicate climate change in the loss of tropical invertebrates.

“This study in PNAS is a real wake-up call — a clarion call — that the phenomenon could be much, much bigger, and across many more ecosystems,” said David Wagner, an expert in invertebrate conservation at the University of Connecticut who was not involved with this research. He added: “This is one of the most disturbing articles I have ever read.”

Bradford Lister, a biologist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, has been studying rain forest insects in Puerto Rico since the 1970s. If Puerto Rico is the island of enchantment — “la isla del encanto” — then its rain forest is “the enchanted forest on the enchanted isle,” he said. Birds and coqui frogs trill beneath a 50-foot-tall emerald canopy. The forest, named El Yunque, is well-protected. Spanish King Alfonso XII claimed the jungle as a 19th-century royal preserve. Decades later, Theodore Roosevelt made it a national reserve, and El Yunque remains the only tropical rain forest in the National Forest system.

“We went down in ’76, ’77 expressly to measure the resources: the insects and the insectivores in the rain forest, the birds, the frogs, the lizards,” Lister said.

He came back nearly 40 years later, with his colleague Andrés García, an ecologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. What the scientists did not see on their return troubled them. “Boy, it was immediately obvious when we went into that forest,” Lister said. Fewer birds flitted overhead. The butterflies, once abundant, had all but vanished.

García and Lister once again measured the forest’s insects and other invertebrates, a group called arthropods that includes spiders and centipedes. The researchers trapped arthropods on the ground in plates covered in a sticky glue, and raised several more plates about three feet into the canopy. The researchers also swept nets over the brush hundreds of times, collecting the critters that crawled through the vegetation.

Each technique revealed the biomass (the dry weight of all the captured invertebrates) had significantly decreased from 1976 to the present day. The sweep sample biomass decreased to a fourth or an eighth of what it had been. Between January 1977 and January 2013, the catch rate in the sticky ground traps fell 60-fold.

“Everything is dropping,” Lister said. The most common invertebrates in the rain forest — the moths, the butterflies, the grasshoppers, the spiders and others — are all far less abundant.

“Holy crap,” Wagner said of the 60-fold loss.

Louisiana State University entomologist Timothy Schowalter, who is not an author of the recent report, has studied this forest since the 1990s. The new research is consistent with his data, as well as the European biomass studies. “It takes these long-term sites, with consistent sampling across a long period of time, to document these trends,” he said. “I find their data pretty compelling.”

The study authors also trapped anole lizards, which eat arthropods, in the rain forest. They compared these numbers with counts from the 1970s. Anole biomass dropped by more than 30 percent. Some anole species have altogether disappeared from the interior forest.

Insect-eating frogs and birds plummeted, too. Another research team used mist nets to capture birds in 1990, and again in 2005. Captures fell by about 50 percent. Garcia and Lister analyzed the data with an eye on the insectivores. The ruddy quail dove, which eats fruits and seeds, had no population change. A brilliant green bird called the Puerto Rican tody, which eats bugs almost exclusively, diminished by 90 percent.

The food web appears to have been obliterated from the bottom. It’s credible that the authors link the cascade to arthropod loss, Schowalter said, because “you have all these different taxa showing the same trends — the insectivorous birds, frogs and lizards — but you don’t see those among seed-feeding birds.”

Lister and Garcia attribute this crash to climate. In the same 40-year period as the arthropod crash, the average high temperature in the rain forest increased by 4 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperatures in the tropics stick to a narrow band. The invertebrates that live there, likewise, are adapted to these temperatures and fare poorly outside them; bugs cannot regulate their internal heat.

A recent analysis of climate change and insects, published in August in the journal Science, predicts a decrease in tropical insect populations, according to an author of that study, Scott Merrill, who studies crop pests at the University of Vermont. In temperate regions farther from the equator, where insects can survive a wider range of temperatures, agricultural pests will devour more food as their metabolism increases, Merrill and his co-authors warned. But after a certain thermal threshold, insects will no longer lay eggs, he said, and their internal chemistry breaks down.

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Trump’s relentless lying threatens our democracy  

“When Trump insists on his own invented “facts,” he makes reality-based political dialogue impossible. His utter disregard for truth is a subversion of our democracy and a dereliction of his duty as president.”

From RealClear Politics:

President Trump’s constant, relentless, remorseless lying is a central feature of his presidency, an unprecedented threat to our democracy and — in my view — an impeachable offense.

I realize it does not qualify as news that Trump lies all the time. I also realize it is not always possible to draw a bright line between untruths Trump knows are untrue and conspiratorial nonsense he might foolishly believe. But never before have we had a leader who so pollutes the national discourse with garbage that he at least ought to know is false — and I fear the consequences will be with us long after Trump is gone.

At his inauguration, Trump swore to “faithfully execute the Office of President.” He violates that oath when he speaks to the nation in bad faith. Other presidents have lied — Lyndon Johnson about Vietnam, Richard Nixon about Watergate, Bill Clinton about Monica Lewinsky. But never have we had a president who lies about everything, who invents his own fake facts, who continues to trumpet patent falsehoods even when confronted with the actual facts.

And yes, undisputed facts do exist and can be ascertained. I am not talking about subtle matters of interpretation; I’m taking about knowing falsehoods, commonly known as lies.

Here is just one example: At a roundtable with a group of workers in Duluth, Minnesota, in June, Trump said, “The head of U.S. Steel called me the other day, and he said, ‘We’re opening up six major facilities and expanding facilities that have never been expanded.'” A few days later, at the White House, Trump said, “U.S. Steel just announced they’re expanding or building six new facilities.”

Reporters called the company for details and learned that U.S. Steel has not announced plans to open any new domestic steel mills, period. Not six new plants; not even one. The Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” column gave Trump the maximum four Pinocchios for his patently untrue statement. End of story, right?

Wrong. More than a month later, at one of his campaign-style rallies, Trump declared that “U.S. Steel is opening up seven plants.” At another rally around the same time, he told supporters that “U.S. Steel just announced that they’re building six new steel mills.”

Six new plants, seven new plants, what’s the difference when neither is true and the real number is zero? In June, Trump’s claim might have been called a “misstatement” or a “falsehood” or an “untruth.” A month later, after the truth had been clearly established, that same claim could only be called a bald-faced lie.

And those are just a smattering of the more than 5,000 falsehoods from Trump that the Post has tallied since he took office. Trump clearly understands the benefit of flooding the zone. If, during the course of a rally or a news conference or an interview, he tells one glaring lie, that’s where all attention will be focused. But if he tells a dozen lies, or two dozen, it is all but impossible for critics to keep up. By the time all those lies have been called out, Trump will have spewed a few dozen more.

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Trump’s attacks on the press are Illegal. We’re suing  

“A coalition of free-press advocates is taking on the president.”

From Politico Magazine:

President Donald J. Trump’s frequent threats and hostile acts directed toward journalists and the media are not only offensive and unbecoming of a democratic leader; they are also illegal. In the Trump era, nasty rhetoric, insults and even threats of violence have become an occupational hazard for political reporters and commentators. To be sure, a good portion of President Trump’s verbal attacks on journalists and news organizations might be considered fair game in this bare-knuckled political moment. The president has free-speech rights just like the rest of us, and deeming the news media “the enemy of the American people” and dismissing accurate reports as “fake news” are permissible under the First Amendment.

But the First Amendment does not protect all speech. Although the president can launch verbal tirades against the press, he cannot use the powers of his office to suppress or punish speech he doesn’t like. When President Trump proposes government retribution against news outlets and reporters, his statements cross the line. Worse still, in several cases it appears that the bureaucracy he controls has acted on his demands, making other threats he issues to use his governmental powers more credible. Using the force of the presidency to punish or suppress legally protected speech strikes at the heart of the First Amendment, contravening the Constitution. Presidents are free to mock, needle, evade and even demean the press, but not to use the power of government to stifle it.

That is why this week PEN America, an organization of writers that defends free expression, together with the nonprofit organization Protect Democracy and the Yale Law School Media Freedom and Information Clinic, is filing suit in federal court seeking an order directing the president not to use the force of his office to exact reprisals against the press.

While the president’s actions are unprecedented, the law here is established. A 2015 judicial opinion by the Seventh Circuit’s (now-retired) Judge Richard Posner makes clear that “a public official who tries to shut down an avenue of expression of ideas and opinions through actual or threatened imposition of government power or sanction is violating the First Amendment.” Similarly, a 2003 Second Circuit opinion found that the First Amendment was violated when an official’s statements “can reasonably be interpreted as intimating that some form of punishment or adverse regulatory action will follow the failure to accede to the official’s request.’”

President Trump has engaged repeatedly in precisely the kind of behavior those courts have found unlawful.

After repeatedly attacking CNN’s news coverage as “fake,” “garbage” and “terrible” and personally pledging to block a proposed merger of its parent company, Time Warner, with AT&T, the Trump administration opposed the deal, a vertical merger that would not normally attract antitrust scrutiny. The government denied that retaliation was at work and the court did not assess that claim. But the judge rejected the government’s challenge and approved the merger with no conditions imposed, citing the government’s failure to adduce “economic evidence of any kind” and reliance on “bare conjecture” as the basis for its case.

Trump has also repeatedly attacked the Washington Post and threatened to target its owner Jeff Bezos’s biggest holding, Amazon. This spring the president followed through on his threats, ordering the Postal Service to review rates for the online shopping behemoth. Coming in the wake of the president’s eruptions directed at the Post, that order too appears to be punitive.

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