July 11, 2003

Another Breatharian, Sensible Danes, "Lectra Search" Swindle Revealed, Credulity Strain, Spirit Site Warning, Baba Back, Imperial Point Pointless, Penney Magnets, Real Nut Stuff, Which Witch, and the X-Windows...

A very strange news item showed up last week, one that brought a great deal of mail in here and caused some excitement in the media. It was a report that a man named Hira Ratan Manek — also known as Hirachand — a 64-year-old mechanical engineer who lives in the southern state of Kerala, India, apparently started disliking food in 1992, the Hindustan Times newspaper reported. In 1995, he claimed, he went on a pilgrimage to the Himalayas and on his return he stopped eating completely. His wife told reporters that every evening he would look at the Sun for one hour without batting an eyelid. It was his main food, she claimed. "Occasionally he takes coffee, tea or some other liquid."

Last June, reported the Hindustan Times, scientists from NASA verified that Manek spent 130 days surviving only on water. The report claimed that NASA had even named this subsistence on water and solar energy after him: The HRM (Hira Ratan Manek) Phenomenon! Said the newspaper, Mr. Manek is now in the USA to show NASA's scientists how he survives without food, with the hope that they can use his technique to solve food storage and preservation problems on its expeditions.

The account went on to give details. Manek said he "eats through his eyes" in the evening, when the sun's ultraviolet rays are least harmful. His wife said: "He has a special taste for sun energy. He believes only 5 per cent of human brain cells are used by most people. The other 95 per cent can be activated through solar energy."

Well, Mr. Manek, I've often been known to dip into my gray matter deeply enough to use as much as ten percent, so I think you're a damn liar. And, here at the JREF we get all sorts of claims from people who say they don't eat, ever, and we stack those claims with the fly-by-flapping-my-arms and make-women-crazy-by-ESP presumptions. One guy tested in California a few years back was discovered to be sneaking out to McDonalds in the wee hours of the morning, though he claimed he only inhaled the burger aroma to stay alive... We didn't believe that...

Ah, but as the Hindustan Times story developed, it was discovered that Manek took a bit more than sunlight for sustenance. His wife had somewhat hyperbolized his claim — what a surprise! — and admitted that he also consumed buttermilk and fruit juices. The miracle begins to fade somewhat at this point, don't you think?

I wasn't too excited at yet another "breatharian" claim. What really interested me was whether NASA had actually expressed interest in this nonsense. Believe me, no federal agency can surprise me, in this period of our history where qualified physicists accept and endorse dowsing, the patent office issues patents for "free energy" machines, and hospitals officially allow witchdoctors in gowns to cast spells for patients. So I looked into that matter.

Theoretically, that sounds easy to do. In actuality, it's a horror. Go to NASA's official page, www.nasa.gov and you'll see. Look over the entire page. The only likely button there is labeled, "Contact NASA" at the upper right. Okay, press it. On this next page, you'll find 3 more buttons labeled "Contact NASA," all of which bring you back to the page you're already on. Remaining on this set-up, there's only one likely way to go, at the top center: "Multimedia." Press. Now you see 2 more "contact NASA" buttons, but you'll ignore those. In fact, you're stopped dead. There's NO WAY to "contact NASA." Give it up.

I had to abandon this quest, and I called a good friend who had an "in" with the system, who put me in touch with the person directly involved with the issues about which I had the question. I called, and told her my problem, to simply discover whether NASA was involved with this "living-on-sunlight" claim. Within half an hour, I was assured that no group within NASA had any knowledge of, nor involvement with, this nonsense.

Fine. That's what I'd hoped for. But within the hour, reading the web page of another group, a very well-informed and prestigious one, I was shocked to see that they'd been in touch with NASA over the same item, and had been told that NASA was active in this respect, with this man Manek! Who to believe?

Well, the official NASA spokesperson, Dolores Beasley, has now said she has no idea why press reports had claimed that NASA had invited Manek. NASA has no record of him being involved with them, in any way whatsoever. So, it's all a lie. What else is new?


One of the exchanges that took place in Øjvind Kyrø's TV series in Denmark that tested various psychic claims, was between an interviewer and Dr. Bjørn Franck Jørgensen (BFJ), director of the planetarium in Copenhagen. Here is part of that exchange, plus a comment by another well-informed Dane...

BFJ: In contrast to what most people imagine, stars have nothing to do with astrology. If you look at the constellations and the Sun moving across them, it originally served the purpose to divide the year into months, that which we call signs of the Zodiac. But as you can see the constellations and the dates when the Sun passes them, they don't correspond. So if somebody claims that it has something to do with the stars, then they are the wrong stars.

Interviewer: But celestial bodies like the Moon do have an impact on water here on Earth?!

BFJ: Add to that the common misconception that because the human body contains a lot of water, consequently it should influence us the same way. The fact is that water in the ocean can flow freely over great areas, it flows from other places in the ocean and therefore more water can be accumulated in one place. But water does not flow freely in the body. Most of it is tied up in the cells. And lunar gravity has no significant influence on this. It is so weak a force that it corresponds to only going up to the third floor of any building, and a lot of us do that every day.

Interviewer: So that means that the position of the stars has nothing to do with your fate?

BFJ: I can't imagine these things having anything to do with each other. It's an illusion, an idea that is similar to religious ways of thinking, that you have to believe in something. And if you then imagine that the two things are connected, it's probably not difficult to find some connections. But remember that you should also count the misses and deduct them from the score.

Mogens Niss, professor of mathematics at the Roskilde University Center contributed:

The consequences of people believing in astrology, or E-ray jugglers, or rod swingers, or crystal healers or whatever, is that we'll have a society where people can't tell the difference between knowledge and ignorance. That's a serious problem for democracy, because if people can't tell the difference between knowledge and ignorance, and can't tell when it is legitimate to claim that you know something, then they are open to political manipulation, to swindlers and frauds.

Methinks there's something sweet in the state of Denmark...


After taking apart one of the "LectraSearch" dowsing devices sent to us by Carl Moreland, I saw that it was the expected flummery, and I sent an inquiry to "Kellyco," who offer these things for sale, alongside devices that actually work. I contacted JW@kellycodetectors.com asking this rather pertinent — and perhaps impertinent — question:

Nowhere in your advertising do I see a statement that the Lectra Search units actually locate anything. Is there any evidence that anyone has located anything as a result of the use of one of these units?

Thank you for your attention to this inquiry.

James Randi

Right away, I heard from a representative of "Kellyco," who told me that she'd seen actual photos of users holding gold ingots that they'd found using the thing! Any validating evidence wasn't there, but she pointed out that the folks in the photos hadn't been paid, so would have no motive to misrepresent the situation. (?) No, she had no indication of whether the things worked, really. But there wasn't much concern at Kellyco about whether they were selling a genuine device, or a fraud.

Now, I'm really a simple soul. The Lectra Search folks make many roundabout statements about what can be accomplished by using their devices, but occasionally they get down to it, as here, from their web site:

The X-60 has proven to be one of the most popular models because of the extended range achieved by utilizing a special load coupled with an internal choke filter. Finds coins, both silver and gold, gold of all types, and deep caches.

and...

Use your Lectra-Search to locate coins, rings, jewelry, both large and small caches, for prospecting, nugget shooting, etc.

But then they fall back to lawyer-designed statements that don't actually say anything about whether the device will actually work. As here...

Lectra Search locates small coin caches as easily as it locates large buried treasures, long-medium-short range distance and depth. Prospecting, nugget shooting, gold veins, and old mines all can be searched using the Lectra Search, regardless of soil conditions.

Yes, since it can't find either small coin caches or large buried treasures, it performs equally well for each task. And the other projects "can be searched," but it doesn't say that anything will be, or even can be, found...

Another of these wonder-bars (pun!) called the Automax Pro II Gold Cross is said to be able to "detect gold up to 300 yards away and up to 70 feet deep." Okay, that's a positive, clear, statement that can be tested. Of course I'd place the gold only three yards away, on the surface — to simplify the task — and I'll bet the million dollars that they still couldn't do it!

Automax claims:

As you approach the gold, the tuned rods will point towards the target. When you're directly over the gold, the rods will fully cross one another. Perfect pinpointing, that's why it's called the Gold Cross! The Gold Cross only points towards gold (no nails, iron, or other trash). The Gold Cross also has the unique ability to determine the size of the object by use of the adjustable sensitivity knob, a feature lacking on similar long range locators.

Now here we have a distinct four different tasks to which the Automax can be applied. The JREF will award the million-dollar prize if any of these four claims turns out to be true! Ah, but there's more from Automax:

Accurately Locates: Gold & Silver Coins, Rings, Jewelry, Dredging Pay Streaks, Nuggets, Treasure.

While I've no notion of what a "dredging pay streak" might be — unless it's a penalty for coming to work naked on pay day — I'll present the prize for each of these claims, too.

What am I missing here? These are business people who are advertising a device for sale at prices from $595 to $2,795. They sell it by mail order. They clearly state that it works. It doesn't work, though purchasers may believe — for a while — that it does. We're offering a million-dollar prize to anyone — and that includes the salespersons, the manufacturers, and the advertisers. I repeat: ANYONE.

Aside from the reluctance and refusal of the peddlers of this pseudoscience to step forward and prove me wrong, there's much more glaring evidence to be had here. Carl Moreland sells devices that actually work, and he has a tidy web site at www.thunting.com/geotech dealing with real technology for locating metals and treasure in general. He has sent the JREF, on loan, several popular "treasure locaters" that are simply dowsing rods in disguise. Though I'd never had any doubt at all what they were, I wasn't about to hand out the hefty prices they commanded, just to be stuck with a piece of pseudotechnology. Thanks to Carl, I've now been able to see for myself just how blatant the swindle is.

The Lectra Search, described above, is incredible. The first thing that meets the eye as the cover is removed, is the remarkably clumsy and amateurish soldering job. It looks as if a juvenile twisted some wires together and then just jammed a soldering iron against them. As you see in the illustration, there is an impressive-looking circuit board that appears to be the "heart" of the device, even though it's fastened in on an odd angle. That placement, alone, is enough to convince anyone that the thing is a farce. To secure the board in place, the assembler has drilled a hole through a perfectly good circuit board (indicated by the pink arrow) and in doing so he destroyed the integrity of the printed circuit. Various wires run onto the board and are merely terminated there without connecting to any of the other components.

And there are lots of components there. At least 80 individual resistors, diodes, and other basic units festoon the board, and none of them enter into the circuitry. I noted that the wire connected to the end of the antenna was one of eight, part of a brightly-colored flat cable (indicated by the yellow arrows) that was simply laid around the inside of the enclosure but was not connected to anything. The antenna lead went nowhere! Notable also, is the fact that the identifying logo of the manufacturer had been filed away, evidently to conceal the fact that this was just an electronic "scrap" designed for a totally foreign purpose. Rather than describe to you any more of the fiasco I found inside this enclosure, I'll simply say that it's a total fake, it's a scam, it's a fraud, and it's an outright swindle.

Well, there are a few other things I should tell you. As you can see from the photograph, there are a few ICs in place, very highly-sophisticated electronic components; none of those entered the circuitry, either. The voltage that came from the battery case only served to power the bells-and-whistles section of this fake. The meter, the switches, the LEDs, were part of that showbiz feature, the only part of the entire device that actually functioned, and that's only for effect.

Now, I should tell you that such circuit boards are easily obtained through any electronics surplus outlet for a matter of one or two dollars. Experimenters like to de-solder these discards from assembly lines to salvage the parts. Often such boards are damaged to such an extent that they cannot easily be salvaged, and they find their way into the junk heap. Of course, it wouldn't make any difference at all to those who sell this fraudulent device; nothing in it works, in the first place, so broken parts don't slow down the operation one bit.

The "more advanced" — that means, "more expensive" — X-60 model differs in only one external respect; it has a brass "spooler antenna cylinder" between the chassis and the antenna. This is another name for the “internal choke filter” that is supposed to make this model so much more sophisticated. That cylinder can be opened to reveal the contents: 17 grams of a mixture of loose charcoal and rock salt, plus a tiny electronic item known as an "RF choke" labeled, "LQ467." That was badly corroded, as was the inside of the brass cylinder itself, obviously from the action of the salt. And, not to my surprise, the RF choke was merely glued to the side of the container, not connected in any way!

The circuit board found inside the model X-60 was a very pale version of the one inside the X-50. Only a few components — all unconnected, of course — and the same bells-and-whistles fakery in place. And I'm sure it works just as well...

But I went on-line to plumb the vast knowledge of the thousands who look in at this page every day, among them certainly more than a few electronics mavens. And it paid off. The unconnected, disabled, non-powered circuit board in the "advanced" X-60 Lectra Search device is a junked part left over from a 1979 production run of what's known as "rats" used on guitars to produce the favored distortion and often-used "raspy" tone! As can be seen, it's a "plug-in" module that's not plugged in to anything. The black and brown wires shown at "W" are the only two soldered-in connections, and they go nowhere on the other side of the board. At "D" we see where a hole has been drilled right through the circuitry on the other side, thus ruining the original function, to push a screw through to fasten the board to the case. At "C" we see another piece of rainbow-colored 8-conductor ribbon cable, with one wire (the brown one) connected to the antenna post; but all eight wires are tucked around the edge of the case, and none of them are connected to anything!

These are fakes, swindles, phonies. And so are those who make and sell them.


In my huge weekly crop of e-mail, I was offered a quotation from evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr:

. . . it is a considerable strain on one's credulity to assume that finely balanced systems such as certain sense organs (the eye of vertebrates, or the bird's feather) could be improved by random mutations.

Why is it that I don't have a "strain on [my] credulity" with this concept? Given a huge amount of time, and an almost infinite number of experiments — in which the bad results don't survive — the evolution of such features is inexorable.


There's a strange site at Site-Circles.co.uk that covers just about every variety of cuckoo material you can imagine. In the spirit (pun!) of protecting readers from stuff that just might not be true, they ran an on-line survey on 21-28 June 2003 asking the question: "Have you had a bad or disturbing experience consulting a psychic or medium for a reading?" Here's a summary:

Results . . . strongly suggest that we should be wary of jumping onto the talking-to-the-dead bandwagon. In recent months there has been a noticeable increase in audiences attending demonstrations of mediumship due to the popularity of such television programmes as "Sixth Sense" featuring Colin Fry, "Beyond with James Van Praagh," and "Crossing Over" starring John Edward. Similarly, business is booming for private readings.

Unfortunately, real-life experiences, uncovered by the on-line survey into consulting a psychic or medium, paint a very different picture to the cut and edited versions presented by psychic entertainment television. Reality, for many who want to contact the dead, ranges from disappointment to emotional trauma.

Bereavement is a powerful and complicated condition, which those who have suffered a loss know only too well. It is perhaps not the best time to be exploring the unregulated and unlicenced services of psychics and mediums. Yet that is precisely the time when most respondents to the survey first encountered a psychic or medium. 86% of individuals indicated that they were actively grieving when they had their initial reading, and 62% said that the reading occurred within 3 months of their loss. The majority of respondents sought to confirm that their loved one was safe, but, significantly, 23% confessed that they wished to resolve regrets, such as not saying goodbye.

"The buzz word at the moment is 'validation'," said Tim Reubens of Site-Circles.co.uk. "Simply put, validation is meant to establish two things: to confirm the existence of life after death and to confirm that your loved one is happy. The temptation to have such proof at any cost becomes overwhelming for some people." 18% of survey respondents consulted psychics and mediums intensively for at least two years following bereavement. Many ultimately concluded that the confusion of messages and descriptions that they received caused them to question the ability of mediums and to abandon any notion of acquiring proof of life after death.

52% of people reported feeling badgered or bullied into accepting the accuracy of what they were being told. The psychic or medium is apparently never wrong in the messages received from the dead, but making sense of the reading is strictly the client's responsibility. 74% of respondents testified to sleepless nights, high anxiety, and attacks of guilt because they could not understand certain aspects of their reading.

The potential for mental and emotional anguish as a consequence of turning to a psychic or medium should not be ignored. "As with many issues of faith," said Reubens, "context is very important. The Spiritualists National Union, for example, maintains as a tenant of its faith that communication with the 'other side' is possible, but money does not change hands in the attempt, and a supportive community of believers is available during the process."

Randi comments: There's the tired old alibi dragged in again: the faithful are expected to accept any nonsense that's delivered without a set fee. The most successful of all "mediums" in history — among them Daniel Dunglas Hume, who died fabulously wealthy — never "charged" for services, but like Blanche Dubois in "A Streetcar Named Desire," "depended upon the kindness of strangers." The survey closes with a prediction:

While some draw comfort and belief from the confidence of mediums, it would appear that the number of dissatisfied customers is set to increase as the bandwagon rolls on.

We can only hope...


Reader Brian Steel suggests you go to http://bdsteel.tripod.com/More/index.html for a scathing treatment of "guru" Sathya Sai Baba, who we've written about more than enough. Bear in mind that such exposures have not made a whit of difference in the Baba's income or his comfort. He's just too well protected by money and the ignorance of his dupes.


An anonymous reader tells us:

Living in Pompano Beach, not far from your Ft. Lauderdale habitat, I received in the mail recently from Imperial Point Hospital the enclosed advertisement for offerings to enhance my well-being. I quote:

Our intention is to enhance the balance and harmony of body, mind and spirit in relationship to the environment and one another. These offerings are based on ancient healing arts and substantiated by the emerging sciences of psycho-neuro-immunology and biophysics. By decreasing stress on the system, these therapies can soothe and relax as well as energize and mobilize. They can also increase a sense of connection and meaning leading to an increased state of wholeness, well-being and joy.

The witchdoctors are alive and well, in sunny Florida, joining the ranks of telemarketing and investment fraud. And, what the hell is an RNC, HNC, doing after these quacks' names? Sheesh! While you're getting your by-pass someone will be in the operating room waving his hands over you and jumping up and down in a grass skirt. At least I hope he/she is wearing a surgical mask.

What's next? Haitian Voodoo, zombies, Rastas puffing in the OR, images of the Virgin Mary on the hospital's windows, yikes!


Reader Frank Womble suggests we go to www.jcpenney.com and type "magnets" into the search function. It brings up this, from the J.C. Penney catalog pages:

Slimmer Belt with Magnets, $14.99

Maximize the benefits of your personal fitness program. Snug fit helps slim and trim your appearance instantly. Helps support your lower back and abdomen. 16 wafer-thin, covered magnets are positioned in the lightweight neoprene belt to help you enjoy your workout or everyday activities in increased comfort. Unisex, grip-strip closure. Hand wash. One size fits all. Imported from China. 9.2 lbs.

The point proven here is that no matter how reputable or trusted the merchant, the market for quackery is just so attractive that none can resist. I expect to see such a product offered by Sharper Image, because they feature such pseudoscience all the time. I was dismayed to see the Florsheim Shoe Company selling "Magnaforce" shoes, and I'm equally disappointed when I see J.C. Penney now selling such crap...


Brett Campbell, seeing the title of the recent UFO show on Larry King Live, and noting that there wasn't a skeptical syllable uttered by anyone participating, opines that they at least should have changed the title of the show from "Are U.F.O.'s Real?" to "U.F.O.'s Are Real And If You Think Differently You're Not Getting On The Larry King Show!"


Now, I regularly tell people about the nutty material I receive here daily, but to prove that point I really have to give examples every now and then. This selection is from a very long tirade that came in recently, and I offer it for your consideration. I've corrected only some of the spacing, I've taken out the italicized and flamboyant fonts, and I reduced the seven or eight different colors down to black-and-white....

Written August 2000

IF YOUR BACKWARD OR GENTLE BRED
AN OSTRIGE HOLE MIGHT WORK INSTEAD;
THIS "ANTI-CANNIBAL" LETTER SHOULD NOT BE READ!

TRUTH or DARE

Final Edition

Japan has underground cities and tunnels under Tennessee; Alabama; Mississippi; North Carolina; South Carolina; Virginia; Delaware and Maryland. They are supplying the Mormons with disk craft and crystal meth. Since W.W.II. the Japanese have been building disk craft in factories under Japan, in tunnels that stretch all the way to Pejing. The "Silicon Chip" is made out of "Solidified" human murdered sub-atomic light particals known as Silicon.

The Mormon Federal Police have distributed crystal meth to the Gym Teachers in every County, from the Atlantic to the Pasific. The Gym Teachers have a large supply waiting at their homes that they will bring to the school on "Truth Or Dare" Day!" It's to be held in the school gymnasium. Inhaleing the chemical, the little witches will "bite" something off. This is all done "under the Big witch's spoken orders."

Meanwhile Jap-Chinese Toyota Highway Tanks will storm out from underneath "All Of The United States and Europe's International Airports.

DEATH IN THE STREETS.

Sunday Night Football will be "Crashed by "Bloody Sunday." Silicon Gas will be dumped into the Football Stadiums. Certain Lude Acts will be Televised on National Television. It's been set up for a long time. As this Televised Fiasco Developes, People will be "Shot" by local U.S. Silicon Police Force Agents. Later on, within a short period of time, The Skyscraper Nuclear Bombs will be set off. Your Local Television and Radio Networks are in on it. They belong to "J-Corps;" the Silicon Jetson, "Jason Control Group."

After that,"Operation-Live And Let Die" will fly into non-effected U.S. State Areas and will fly out grain and Equipment. These are trained European Agents known as "The 007." Japanese will be terrorizing those in Appalation America. Japan's Code Name for their invasion is "COLD CONG."

"But Wait!" The Reason this is all happening is that, The Japanese are "Moving In and Taking Over!" At this very moment Japanese ships in the Gulf of Mexico and South American Carribean Seas are filled with Enforcers. They are moving closer to American Ports.

"So," Priming Up and Preparing their Invasion "Are the Police and Broadcasters." The National Broadcasters; the Police of Manatee County; Pinellis County and Orange County All Eat 1 to 4 Human beings Alive every month. Many in the South Hillborough County Police and Tampa Police are cannibals also. Most of these "Faithful to Japan" have Cellars under their garage or house where they torcher and bury the victim.

These "Traders to the Union" think that they will get to transfer up to Idaho when things get hot. But what will really happen is; "the Japanese are going to make them disappear with the rest of us."

Underground Silicon Jetson City-Bases in Western Canada; North Western U.S.; Guatamala; Honduras; Costa Rica; Equador; Columbia; Dutch Guiana; French Guiana; Guiana; Argentina and Chili will recieve the stolen American Grain and Equipment. These South and Central American Mormon U.S. Police Force Bases already "possess stolen U.S.A.F. Cruise Missels and many I.C.B.M. missels in underground silos."

Did you ever notice how N.A.T.O. has Russia in their back pocket as a "Rent A Hop Sing Army?" The Silicon Jetson Soviet Govenment was allways "controlling" their populations to eventually "exchange" their people for Global Silicon Jetson Government "favors." So these poor Russian people are starving; cold and kept in poverty for the "leverage" of "using" these people as a Rent An Army. What has the Soviet Government Built under Bellgrade that N.A.T.O. wanted accsess to? What Are Silicon Jetson Russians and Japanese Dominion Troops Doing On The Alaskan Pipeline? Untapped oil reserves are under Siberia and Canada. What's going on in Alaska? Let's feed them X-Lax, spray them with "Ben Gay" and send them back naked in a parashute. I'd say Russians can punish them, but "give" Russia fuel oil and grain. Let Russians stabilize and sort it all out.

For Example; U.S. 101st Airborn are "Pirate Silicon Jetsons" looking to haul off your diamonds and gold.

The U.S. Military; including Sheriff's Deputies; will use the Milwaukee Rail; the Grand Trunk; the Penn Central; Union Pasific; Santa Fe, and the CSX (Amtrack) Railroad Lines to toak their Treasures to Military Runways and to New Jersey Harbor. New Jersey Harbor has N.A.T.O. Cargo and Cruisers to toat the cargo to BEAR ISLAND. From BEAR ISLAND the Bandits will go to underground manger Bases in the RINK.(The Middle World)

You had better "Get Those Atomic Bombs Out Of The Skyscrapers." Atomic Bombs are in Many More Cities Than Are Charted On This Map! Make a Strategy!

NOT ONLY LEARN TO THINK, BUT TO CARE.
NOT ONLY LEARN TO DREAM, BUT TO DARE!

INTO THE YOUNG!

No, dear reader, this is seriously-intended material, not a 12-year-old with a jug of moonshine. Okay. What's my responsibility here? Do I forward such material to the appropriate authorities? If so, just who are the proper authorities? The writer of this drivel is obviously unbalanced, but is it my job to see that he/she goes for professional help? Does this person pose a threat to others? I just don't know what to do...


Remember that Uri Geller was warned about the propensity that the citizens of Exeter had for doing away with witches, and following the failure of his latest football adventure, there was the threat of a bonfire in the air…? A reader has informed us that the last witches ever to be executed in England, met their fate in that city in 1685, at least that's according to a commemorative plate erected there. Not quite; there were two hanged in 1705, and five more in 1712. The Witchcraft Act itself was last invoked in England in 1944, when a Helen Duncan was tried at the Old Bailey and sentenced to nine months in prison. Burning and hanging the witches was by then considered impolite, so the guilty were instead only locked up. In fact, up until 1951 that act was still in effect.

Some laws should be brought back into use...


Reader Bernardo Malfitano solved the "X" Shapes puzzle of last week, hours after the question went up on the Web! I received a large number of solutions just telling me that these were reflections from other windows across the street, which was pretty obvious. I was looking for the explanation of the "X" shapes...

Wrote Bernardo:

My guess is that these X's and quadrilateral shapes are caused by windows across the street reflecting the light of the low sun. Differences in temperature from the inside layers to the outside layers of this reflective glass, or maybe differences in pressure from the inside air to the outside air, might make the mirror-like outer surface slightly concave or convex. But because the slightly bulging glass is constrained by four straight sides, it bends along the two diagonals (especially near the 4 corners), not a nice spherical mirrors, so the light is reflected into X's by concave windows and fat quadrilaterals by convex windows.

I amplified this phenomenon for Bernardo: though I believe that he had assumed that double-glazed (double-paned) thermal/insulating windows were being used across the street, as they were (remember, I mentioned cold climate!) he erred in mentioning that a "convex" ("bulging") shape might produce the effect. Also, for his "differences in pressure from the inside air to the outside air" scenario, we'd have to assume a very good seal between the interior and outdoors, with no one even able to open a door to the hallway! Yes, he was bang on about the panes tending to "bow" along the longest — diagonal — axes, thus producing a focus effect and the resultant "X" images.

The cold climate caused the rarefied air (or nitrogen, which is often used between insulating panes) to shrink a very slight amount, thus drawing the two layers of glass closer together from normal atmospheric pressure. The glass on the outer pane (the inner pane wouldn't enter into this optical effect) was bent into a concave shape, more so along the long diagonal axes. A mirror was created that was only minutely different from flat, but enough to produce an image as far away as across the street. Here's a crude drawing of the process...

On the left, the "unbent" window elements. Parallel Sun's rays reflect a flat same-size image of the window onto the building opposite. No focusing effect. On the right, the outer "bowed" element focuses across the street. PLEASE note: this drawing is GREATLY exaggerated to illustrate the phenomenon!

One solution that arrived was difficult to assess. I publish it here as received. You decide its value...

I don't know about the strange light X's from Canada or Scandanavia, but, as a trained theologian, I can tell you that the ones from Scotland are obviously miraculous manifestations of Scotland's patron saint, St. Andrew the Apostle. Christian tradition records that Andrew was crucified on an x-shaped cross. The two crosses (x-shaped and standard) in the Union Jack flag of Great Britain recall the patrons of England (St. George, the big fat ordinary cross) and Scotland (the little skinny x-shaped cross).

For the true woo-woo theologian, this is a fascinating development. We have long been used to appearances of the Blessed Virgin Mary in reflections on office buildings, tortillas, containers of Cheez-Whiz, etc. Now, apparently, God is deploying his second rank of apostles to communicate with the world in vague and enigmatic ways. Were the light patterns, perhaps, accompanied by increases in sales of bagpipe CDs, tastier haggises, enhanced North Sea oil revenues, or more decisive victories on the soccer field by the Hearts of Midlothian Football Club? Any of these would be confirmations of divine favor over Scotland. We can surely expect the restoration of the Stuart monarchs (they've been waiting since 1689) at any moment.

Keep up your great work. The Rev. John Borrego, Episcopal Priest and regular Randi reader (also former rector of two different St. Andrew's parishes)


A lot of stuff to digest this week... Work on it...