June 6, 2003

Dog Talk, Tighter Code, Lena's Back, Q-Ray at the Kentucky Derby, Astrology in Chambers, Denmark Still A-flutter, Bad Money, Psi Tech Test, Dowsing for Landmines, Dr. Uri Geller, Itchy Baby, Holy Calcium, and Spook Photos...

I knew I left South Korea defenseless against further pseudoscience. Under the headline, "Dog Called in as Eyewitness for Murder," the Korea Times ran an article last week about the Seoul police using the pet dog of one of three murder victims to solve a two-month-old case. That notion was referred to as "a last-ditch but unsuccessful attempt to identify the suspects." The dog was thought by police to have been an eyewitness to the crime, and they sought to sort out murder suspects using an "Animal Language Translator," but failed to connect the translated language of the dog to the identification of the suspects.

The three victims were found dead after a fire on April 6. After police found that the three had been repeatedly stabbed, they suspected that the fire was lit by the murderer(s) to cover up the crime. They had been trying to locate the dog since the fire, as possibly their last hope to find clues, and finally found it living with one of the neighbors. They tried to understand the dog's behavior when it was confronted with murder suspects, using an "animal language translator," a person who is said to be able to interpret the body language and other behavior of animals. This investigation method, they thought, is known to be widely used in the United States — a claim unfamiliar to me, but perhaps based on the popular US "pet psychic" show. That show always amazes me, because the "psychic" has to ask the owner the pet's name! Of all the words that any pet hears, it's the pet's own name that is surely the best-known and most easily recognized by the animal. Why don't they just ask the beast?

When this line of investigation failed, they decided that the dog's memory of the incident had already faded. Said a police spokesman, "The result might have been different, had it been a breed of dog with relatively higher intelligence.''

So, it's a stupid dog with a short memory, not a pseudoscientific claim, that's to blame here?

We've just learned that the UK's Independent Television Commission (ITC) has recently ruled that two programs on their "Living TV" channel were in breach of the ITC Program Code, primarily because they were not clearly labeled as "entertainment." Both series, "Crossing Over" and "6ixth Sense", in which mediums pretend to be making contact with the spirit world and passing on messages to members of the studio audience, were ruled to be in breach of the Code. The ITC decision is that the shows could be permitted to continue, provided that "additional safeguards are put in place, including announcements before and after each program." They also announced that their Program Code would be revised to include details of what kinds of "supposed contact with the dead" should be considered "occult."

Come again? Isn't any "supposed contact with the dead" automatically "occult"? I don't understand what any other kind of flummery could be in consideration here. Unless, of course, prayer will be exempted from this ruling. That wouldn't be a surprise, at all.

Reader Darius Braziunas calls my attention to something which quite escaped me:

I wonder whether you realized that the Lithuanian healer Lena Lolisvili, mentioned in your April 25, 2003, newsletter ("Official Lithuanian Delusion") is the same person who tried to claim the JREF prize three years ago (described in October 1 and 8, 2000 newsletters)? I thought that you would find it amusing that "a nice woman" that you met in 2000 is now causing domestic and international scandals for Lithuania.

Readers may recall that Lena is the "healer" who employs a bizarre method of wrapping people in "blessed" toilet paper to cure them. The daily newspaper Lietuvos Rytas reported that she is now so influential in the office of the new Lithuanian president Rolandas Paksas that candidates for official posts have to meet her before they are approved for appointment. Paksas is a former stunt pilot, a fact which prompted Lietuvos Rytas to comment on this latest farce:

Lithuania risks becoming the laughing-stock of the world for the next five years. It is time for the president to realize he is no longer a pilot flying under bridges, but the leader of a democratic state.

So, no million dollars from us, but her pal President Paksas might be able to improve Ms. Lolisvili's future by a large margin. But of course, she already foresaw that...

Reader Rob Hoffmann of Richmond, Virginia, asked, adding to my item on the "Q-Ray" quackery and clearing up a scandalous news item which led the public to believe that a major jockey was involved in an illegal procedure:

I write to ask you if you are aware of the peripheral role the Q-Ray bracelet played in the recent Kentucky Derby fiasco. If not, you might wish to go back and read that jockey Jos� Santos proves he's a better jockey than a thinker, proudly mentioning that he wears a Q-Ray to help him with his arthritis, and then the Miami Herald proves that "journalism" is a misnomer as their comically-inept researcher hears "Q-Ray for my arthritis" in Santos' broken English and turns it into "cue ring for my outrider" and invents a non-existent use for the non-existent device.

I don't know which was worse, actually: the fact that a major sports figure (and have no doubt, Santos is a major figure in his sport) is gullible enough to wear a Q-Ray, or the fact that a major newspaper could commit such a journalistic disaster, thus providing the Quack-Ray with tons of free publicity.

The mind boggles... Thanks, Rob.

In my continuing search for entries on astrology to be found in early reference works, I had the opportunity to consult the Cyclopaedia assembled in 1728 by Ephraim Chambers and published in London, England. It is subtitled, "An Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences," and as a result of its immediate success, Chambers was elected to the Royal Society. This is considered to be the first of a long series of similar works that then came from other researchers, who easily saw the attraction of getting such material together in book form. I�ll provide a couple of excerpts from Chambers' treatment of the subject of astrology, some quotations he used from the work of the Scottish satirist John Barclay (1582-1621).

A question long asked of astrologers is how the exact moment of birth for the casting of a horoscope is to be arrived at, and Barclay suggested some of the problems with this determination. From his romance Argenis, Book II, wherein he confronts an astrologer who was said to have advised King Henry — he probably refers to Henry IV of France — he asks:

You maintain that the Circumstances of Life and Death depend on the Place and Influence of the Celestial Bodies, at the Time when the Child first comes to Light; and yet own that the Heavens revolve with such vast Rapidity, that the Situation of the Stars is considerably changed in the least Moment of Time — What certainty then, can there be in your Art; unless you suppose the Midwifes constantly careful to observe the Clock; that the Minute of Time may be convey'd to the Infant as we do his Patrimony? How often does the Mother's Danger prevent this Care? And how many are there who are not touched with this Superstition?

But suppose them watchful to your Wish: If the Child be long in Delivery; if, as is often the Case, a Hand or the Head come first, and be not immediately followed by the rest of the Body; which State of the Stars is to determine for him? That, when the Head made its Appearance; or when the whole Body was disengaged? I say nothing of the common Errors of Clocks, and other Time-keepers, sufficient to elude all your Cares.

Again, why are we to regard only the Stars at his Nativity, and not those rather which shone when the Foetus was animated in the Womb? And why must those others be excluded which presided while the Body remained tender, and susceptible of the weakest Impression, during Gestations?

Excellent questions! Even today, astrologers have continued to ignore this important problem in their pseudoscience, though they claim that the reason that twins do not share exactly the same future, is that the interval between their birth-times can vary by anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or more, and that time difference, they say, can be critical. Even more important, we would think, are these additional questions quoted by Chambers as posed by John Barclay:

But setting this aside; and supposing, withal, the Face of the Heavens accurately known: Whence arises this Dominion of the Stars over our Bodies and Minds, that they must be the Arbiters of our Happiness, our manner of Life, and Death? Were all they who went to Battle, and died together, born under the same Position of the Heavens? And when a Ship is to be cast away [wrecked], shall it admit no passengers but those doomed by the Stars to suffer Shipwreck? Or rather, do not Persons born under every Planet go into the Combat, or aboard the Vessel; and thus notwithstanding the Disparity of their Birth, perish alike?

Barclay gets even more dismayingly specific, to the annoyance of astrologers, then and now:

Again, all who were born under the same Configuration of the Stars do not live or die in the same manner. Are all who were born at the same Time with the King, Monarchs? Or are they all even alive at this Day? View M. Villeroy, here; nay view your self: Were all that came into the World with him as wise and virtuous as he; or all born under your own Stars, Astrologers like you? If a Man meet a Robber, you will say he was doomed to perish by a Robber's Hand; but did the same Stars which, when the Traveller was born, subjected [sic] him to the Robber's Sword; did they likewise give the Robber, who perhaps was born long before, a Power and Inclination to kill him? For you will allow it as much owing to the Stars that the one who kills, as that the other is kill'd. And when a Man is overwhelmed by the fall of a House, did the Walls become faulty because the Stars had doom'd him to die thereby; or rather, was not his Death owing to this, that the Walls were faulty? The same may be said with regard to Honours and Employs: Because the Stars that shone at a Man's Nativity promised him Preferment, could those have an influence over other Persons not born under them, by whose Suffrages he was to rise? Or how do the Stars at one Man's Birth annul or set aside the contrary Influences of other Stars, which shone at the birth of another?

(The "Villeroy" referred to was most likely Duke Nicolas de Neufville, Marquis de Villeroi (1598-1685) who was looked upon in Barclay's day as the epitome of a noble aristocrat. He had served as a marshal of France, and was a man of gallant character and a soldier of distinction. The King was James I of England, who was also James VI of Scotland.)

Chambers, giving his own opinion on astrology, tells us that:

The same Superstition has prevailed in more modern Ages and Nations. The French Historians remark, that in the time of Queen Catherine de Medicis, Astrology was in so much Vogue that the most inconsiderable thing was not to be done without consulting the Stars. And in the Days of King Henry III. and IV. of France, the Predictions of Astrologers were the common theme of the Court Conversation.

John Barclay was hardly unaware of the most common problem of the astrologers, the fact that their prophecies — made with great confidence and bombast — simply fail. He reminded the astrologer he was questioning in Argenis:

You boast much of the Event of a few Predictions, which, considering the Multitude of those your Art has produced, plainly confers its impertinency. A Million of Deceptions are industriously hidden and forgot in favour of some eight or ten which have succeeded. Out of so many Conjectures it must be preternatural if some did not hit; and 'tis certain, that considering you only as Guessers, there is no room to boast you have been successful therein. Do you know what Fate awaits Sicily in this War; and yet are not apprehensive what shall befall your self? Did you foresee the Opposition I was this Day to make you? If you can say whether the King shall vanquish his Enemies, find out, first, whether he will believe you.

That latter admonition was well-derived. King James was very fond of zealously pursuing witches and unpleasantly dispatching them. He had little official patience with such heretics as astrologers, who might well have stayed out of his way.

The lesson we can take from these perceptive observations in Chambers' Cyclopedia, is this: The flummery known as astrology has been under deserved fire ever since our species first decided that reason and critical thought should replace superstition and na�ve acceptance. This "art" has never proven any of the claims made by its supporters, it has failed every proper test of its theories and procedures, and though there are still — even in this day of relative rationality — a few giddy souls who continue to wave its tattered banner high, it is a thoroughly discredited belief and an embarrassment to our species.

Danish astrologer Karen Boesen is very obviously pleased that I mention her here so often on our web page. That's verified by her repeated thanks to me for keeping her name in the public eye, which, were I mean-spirited, I might suspect to be an amateur attempt to make me cease doing so. Karen need not fear; I will keep her name right up front here. In any case, she doesn't appear to be doing very well in Denmark, even though she's created a group on the "Victims of the Press" homepage, which can be seen at www.presseofre.dk and www.presseofre.dk/skeptikerne.htm, if you read Danish. This material is advertised by Karen "to appear in English this autumn," which will keep us breathless with anticipation. The page connects all of those who floundered on �jvind Kyr�'s TV series, who are portrayed there as "victims" — and according to Karen, the group intends to:

(a) contact Members of Parliament

(b) send complaints to the Danish Press Council

(c) arrange public demonstrations by sending out "sandwich" people — strange folks walking around carrying large "sandwich" posters, front and back.

So far, however there has been no result from any of these, even though — according to Ms. Boesen — most of the Danish press has been informed about her actions. Only the article mentioning numerologist Annet Kofoed has appeared, though we're told by the Press Council that they have received at least one of her complaints...

Reader Walter Beals writes his thoughts re last week's item on Danish numerologist Annet Kofoed, who told the media that she is terrified of trying for the JREF prize because the million dollars we offer is cursed. Says Walter, asking the obvious questions that logically arise about this bizarre notion:

This comment got me wondering. If "bad energy" resides in money, I wonder how long it lives there. Does it eventually leak out? Does bad energy last longer in coins than it does in paper money? If you have money with bad energy in it, but it is kept in the bank, will it spread bad energy onto the rest of the money in the bank? If you write a check, will bad energy come through the check, or does check writing act as a natural bad energy filtering system?

With the natural circulation of money all over the world, in various hands, for various reasons, I wonder how much of the money I have (which is not that much,) has bad energy? If I have money with bad energy, I wonder what I can do about it? Is there a way to test the money? If I discover which of my money has bad energy, should I just throw it away?

I have an idea. I, and my partner Tommy the Fist, could start a money laundering service to get rid of the bad energy in your money — for a small fee.

Don't call us, Walter. We'll call you....

I refer you to www.psychologytoday.com/htdocs/prod/contents/searchdetail.asp?URL=/PTOArticle/PTO-20030527-000002.asp, where you'll find an excellent article dealing with various aspects of the ideas of Harvard University's John Mack on "alien abductions" and on the still-popular "repressed memory" notion, both aspects of modern witchcraft scares that seem to stick around despite excellent and convincing refutations.

Another old standard nonsense-bag, the "Psi Tech" fumblers who are still so noisily and frantically touting their fantastic claims of "Technical Remote Viewing," but somehow cannot bring themselves to accept our JREF million-dollar challenge, is still being displayed and flouted. A recent statement:

The standards to become a skilled Technical Remote Viewer are extremely high. Although almost anyone can be trained to become a Technical Remote Viewer, very few become skilled at it because it requires so much hard work and dedication. The frauds and charlatans muddy the water with their lies and deception and this damages our industry and further confuses an already confused public.

Gee, where are those "skilled" persons who have put in the required "hard work and dedication"? How can we tell the difference between them and the "frauds and charlatans" who "muddy the water with their lies and deception"? Those questions could be easily, definitively, and quickly answered, if only Psi Tech would deign to accept the JREF challenge, and thus relieve the "already confused public." Just to make it easier for these seemingly dense people to understand what we propose as an appropriate test, I'll outline it here:

First, I note that these "remote viewers" tend to want to project their astral bodies out to Jupiter or Lebanon, and return to us with muddy descriptions that are hard to verify. I suggest they may want to visit easier targets, such as here in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where the ambiance is arguably much better, and the facts can more easily be checked for accuracy. Forgive me for being pragmatic and realistic, but it's my nature. In my office, I have a small locker (see photo) in which a single, recognizable, common, object is locked. Every so often, about once every two weeks, I exchange that object for another one. All targets are chosen by random means. The object concealed inside the locker on any specified date, is the "current" target. Should a "remote viewer" wish to try to guess — or divine — what the target is, all that's necessary is to contact us, fill out the application, agree on a date or date-span for the test, and await the arrival of a list of twenty-five possible targets, then zoom in on that locker and tell us which of the twenty-five is the object. As for security measures, we will send the list along with a coded word which identifies the correct target. That word can be definitively decoded afterward, and the accuracy of the guess (divination?) ascertained.

Of course, other security measures may be suggested and applied, as well, by any person(s) involved. Get in touch and inquire.

For more than three years now, we've been negotiating with Dr. Wayne Carr PhD, an active RV'er who teaches students to be able to do this wonder. We've not heard from him now in over two years. If Psi Tech is willing to participate in the proposed test — or any other such test — I trust it will not be a matter of years to see some results.

Who am I kidding? That loud silence you hear...

Reader John Weber writes:

There is a web site http://mypage.direct.ca/j/jliving/landmine.htm that, as incredible as it seems, purports to train people how to use dowsing techniques to locate buried anti-personnel mines! Much of the technique involves intersessionary prayer and an on-going dialog with the "bobber," a pendulum dowsing device used during the search.

As one who has experienced anti-personnel devices used in Viet Nam, it seems to me that anyone wandering around a mined area with a dowsing pendulum is a candidate for protective restraint, although there is some merit to allowing such credulous individuals to remove themselves from the gene pool.

Given the immediate danger of millions of land mines spread throughout the world endangering civilian populations, especially children, it is beyond belief than anyone could be irresponsible enough to make such a claim. Don't try to convince me that belief in the paranormal is "harmless."

You don't hear any denials from here, John...

My book, The Faith Healers, will be coming out soon in a South Korean edition.

The latest items in the ongoing saga of Uri Geller should make your day. A UK stripper known only as "Jordan" apparently collared Uri's daughter Natalie at "a glamour model's Pimps and Prostitutes-themed 25th birthday party." She took Natalie aside and asked her to talk to her dad about curing her baby Harvey's blindness. Apparently Uri's former miserable record on psychic healing hadn't reached Jordan. According to newspaper reports, Natalie said she would speak to Uri and arrange a meeting. Is this a new sideline for Mr. Geller? It's a lucrative trade...

The Universal Press Syndicate turns out crossword puzzles for newspaper and magazine use. I just received a copy of one titled, "Turning the Tide" which has a 3-letter word under "30 down" defined by: "Debunked mentalist Geller." Three letters? Lemme see now: Sam? Bob? Hal? Art? Gee, I'm stumped.

UK reader Chris Hughes gives us this story, one that he ran on his own web-page www.epicure.demon.co.uk earlier this year.

A little ignorance goes a helluva long way...

The desire to believe in the mythical, the nonsensical and the just plain daft is rampant. At the end of January I saw a piece in London's sole remaining evening paper, The Standard, in which a TV presenter told how her baby had suffered from eczema for months, while she "tried in vain" to find a "natural" cure. She resisted her husband's advice to take the child to the doctor, because "like many other mothers I know I am concerned about filling my children's bodies with drugs and chemicals." In other words, she places the un-tutored opinions of other woo-woo bimbos above those of the trained physician. Notice the buzz-words: "natural," "drugs," and "chemicals." She said that her two sons have been denied the protection afforded by inoculation because she doesn't believe in "overloading their immune systems."

Long story short — she finally took the baby to the doctor, and then didn't follow the advice he gave. "You hear about the side effects of steroid creams," she said, presumably from those other mothers worried about drugs and chemicals.... She went to two different homeopaths and a Chinese herbalist, and rubbed in all the junk they provided. She cut wheat out of her own and the child's diet, because she vaguely knew that eczema can be "linked to the food we eat." Nothing worked — surprise, surprise. Meantime, of course, the baby was suffering, scratching all night.

Eventually a specialist was consulted, and a steroid cream prescribed, and what do you know? It worked almost instantly.

"I don't regret exploring all the alternative treatments," she said. I have news for you, lady — "alternative" in this context means that the "treatment" is un-tested and has not been proved to work. And probably won't be, as the baby learned to his cost.

People must be free to believe whatever they want to, but I must be equally free to say that the mythical "secrets of the ancients," the elixir made from a formula whispered by a dying hermit in a Tibetan cave, the crystals and the power of prayer to heal, have no real place in real life. They should be relegated to the same sphere as all the other dungeons and dragons: pure entertainment. They should NOT be used to prolong a baby's suffering in the name of "alternate medicine."

Reader Jack Mott gets vibes:

While cruising through the TV channels this morning I came across a show where two fascinating-looking TV personalities were interviewing Bob Bearfoot about his product, "Coral Calcium." The particulars of this supplement were new to me, and I couldn't help but notice a lot of the typical signs of quackery as he explained some of the benefits of the product.

First, he claimed that there are cultures where people live much longer than we do, and who stay younger and rarely, if ever, get sick. Of course these people are in far-away places like certain Japanese islands and in the Himalayas, where none of the right-wing Christian audience of this show are ever likely to visit to verify these claims. Bob claims that these people live so long because they have a much larger amount of calcium in their daily diet than we do.

The broad claims that Bob makes for his "coral calcium" product are that it will provide everlasting life, keep you younger-looking, prevent disease, and even cure cancer. Yep, that's right. He was audacious enough not just to claim that calcium was a cure for cancer, he even claimed that medical journals had made this claim as well, but that doctors were mysteriously ignoring it. Of course he didn't provide an exact reference, so actually finding the study to see what it really says, would take some digging. I can only wonder how many people out there suffering from cancer were given false hope by this man, and who will spend their money on his "snake oil" only to be disappointed.

Bob cites some specific examples of success with people suffering from acid reflux. Well, no doubt ingesting calcium will help this particular disease, since calcium can in fact neutralize acid. I'm sure Bob milks the acid reflux success for all it's worth, even if Tums would work better.

Bob also quotes the Bible during the interview to support his claim, stating that the Bible says we should live to be 120 years old, and that calcium deficiency is what keeps us from getting there. Earlier he had claimed everlasting life. I guess 120 years is supposed to approximately forever. Indeed, after 120 years of hearing men like Bob ramble on, that might be plenty!

Remember that the show on which this man appears, is a 30-minute commercial, labeled as such at the beginning and end, in accordance with FCC regulations. The hosts don't know — nor do they care — whether the man is a quack. They get paid to ask pre-arranged questions from a script.

We show you here a set of spooky photographs sent us by a reader, and ask you to submit explanations for the strange images you see...