Table of Contents:
  1. Bad Vibrations
  2. Desperate Measures
  3. The Sylvia Comedy Hour
  4. A Win for Quackery in the UK
  5. Science at Its Best
  6. Back to Steorn
  7. Thanks for Not Killing Me
  8. Sam Harris Alert
  9. Differing Conclusions
  10. More Common Sense
  11. A Look at the Past
  12. A Critique
  13. Pope Shifts Into Reverse
  14. No Child Left Behind
  15. Looking Back
  16. Revelations Florida Style
  17. More Good Sense Down Under
  18. Wanna See My Asteroid?
  19. In Conclusion



BAD VIBRATIONS

The “British Association” is the British Association for the Advancement of Science – BAAS – a parallel to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, or AAAS. At the recent British Association's Science Festival, a very interesting experiment was announced by Dr. Bruce Hood, professor of psychology at Bristol University. Hood was researching the origins of mystical beliefs.

He’d presented to his class a common cardigan – or “jumper,” as the Brits refer to it – which he told them had been thoroughly cleaned and bore no trace of its original owner. He also offered students £10 if they’d don the garment. Most agreed to wear it – until Hood told them that it had belonged to an infamous UK serial killer named Fred West, who was convicted of murdering at least a dozen persons and had hanged himself in 1995.

At that point, in spite of the attraction of an easy £10 (US$19), most of the students quickly reversed their decision to wear the garment. Professor Hood explained that the mere association with evil seems to be enough to cause strong disgust. In actuality, the cardigan itself was innocuous; it was not really linked in any way to the Gloucester murderer. Hood avers that his subjects’ reactions in this test illustrate that even the apparently very rational among us tend to give more credibility to superstitious intuition than we realize. He says:

Most people will wear it if I offer them, and then when I tell them it's Fred West's jumper most hands go down… Of the few hands that stay up and put it on, most people move away from [those persons]. It's a powerful emotive effect.

Hood’s research has indicated that people will often attribute emotions or sentimentality to inanimate objects such as wedding rings, souvenirs, medallions, and other special possessions. He described how he also allows his audience to pass around a fountain pen which he tells them belonged personally to Albert Einstein. When he later reveals that this is not really true either, the audience disappointment is evident, and the pen is thereafter treated with much less reverence and interest. Hood has found that humans are hard-wired to try to make sense of the world, and that includes both rational and irrational assumptions and attributes. This leads us to try to find explanations for everything, and may, he thinks, explain why superstitions and even religious beliefs – and thus religions themselves – develop.

It’s well-recognized that all animals – including, of course, our own species – have a very pressing need for pattern-recognition; it’s a very important survival technique.  (Indeed, we magicians depend upon our audiences finding evidence in small indications that we surreptitiously provide to them in order to accomplish our misdirection.)  In more primitive times, we had a more serious need to find significance in an unusual shadow or sound – that could have indicated some large-fanged critter intent upon having a Homo sapiens snack. Professor Hood has done well to extend this survival need as an explanation for our inventions of spirits-in-the-sky and various Valhallas as refuges.

I’ve had personal experiences with this phenomenon. As a child, I vacationed a few times at my grandparents’ home in Montreal. It was located right down the block from a very famous shrine, St. Joseph’s Oratory, where a monk known as Brother André – since beatified, so well on his way to becoming a saint – once lived. He gained a reputation as a healer, and the shrine was – and still is, I’m sure – festooned with crutches, canes, artificial limbs, braces, and various prostheses that appeared to attest to his ability.  I recall seeing penitents mounting the long stairway leading up the hill, on their knees, arriving there bloody and, of course, in agony. But the one article inside the building that really got my rapt attention was, and still is, Brother André’s heart. No, you read that correctly. They actually displayed the monk’s heart, preserved in rather cloudy formaldehyde, in a jar. Back in the 40s, which would be when I visited this shrine, the devout could actually stick a finger into the liquid and touch the heart!  Conveniently, tissues were available so that the brave and faithful finger could be wiped off.

That moldy-looking gray lump of meat in the jar commanded a great deal of attention and devotion from shrine visitors. I would stand fascinated by those who approached this ugly thing and expressed their devotion to it; whether it was actually the heart of the departed monk, or of an unlucky goat, I’d no idea, and I didn’t care. However, this attraction wasn’t a money-maker for the Oratory; other carnival items did bring in the cash and my own father was inadvertently pressed into aiding one of the major money scams active at the shrine.  At that time in his life, both he and my godfather worked for a large department store – the Henry Morgan Company – and one day both of them were summoned to the manager’s office and assigned a very important task.  They were each given a pair of pinking shears along with a roll of black gabardine fabric, and told to present themselves at the souvenir shop of St. Joseph’s Oratory. They did so, and for the next few hours they found themselves cutting up the fabric into two-inch squares, after which they stapled them to already-prepared cards bearing a printed message claiming that this was a piece cut from the actual robe worn by Brother André on his deathbed. He must have been of very ample girth, judging from the amount of gabardine required to cover him! Business was brisk…

I think my dad never quite got over that experience.




DESPERATE MEASURES

Franklin D. Trumpy is a retired group leader with Des Moines Area Community College. Back in 1984 he wrote a damning article for Skeptical Inquirer about the fatuous weather-controlling powers claimed by the Maharishi International University headquartered in Fairfield, Iowa. His article caused much – understandable – consternation among TMers. Frank notifies us about a desperate attempt at what is, effectively, “book burning” by the Transcendental Meditators when the article unexpectedly migrated right into their home base:

Actually, what got me thinking about this is coming upon a letter from a gentleman from Fairfield, Iowa. My article about MIU weather modification that appeared in the SI in 1984 was reprinted in the Des Moines Register, the most widely-circulated newspaper in the state. The letter I found was from a non-TMer who lived in Fairfield, informing me that MIU folks had quickly bought up all copies of that edition of the Register in the newspaper dispensers before many people in Fairfield had a chance to buy a copy and read it.

Frank has donated his extensive files of TM material to the JREF, and we should find some really interesting stuff in there. Stay tuned…




THE SYLVIA COMEDY HOUR

I’m on Sylvia Browne’s mailing list, and every now and then an hilarious item from The Claws comes in and quite makes my day. I’ll bet that when she gets into a corner with her buddy Montel, they both have a tee-hee over these. Here are eight mind-numbing questions that Browne says she’ll answer for readers of her newest book, “Exploring the Levels of Creation,” as if Browne had any knowledge whatsoever of that subject. After each, I’ll provide my amateur answers, just for flavor. But first she warns us, “I answer your toughest and most curious questions and show you another dimension of your existence. Are you ready for the answers?” Oh yes, Sylvia, please favor us with the profound answers these burning questions:

Where do I go when I die?

This assumes that you “go” somewhere, and we’ve no evidence to support that, other than a preferred notion. But if I must answer, I’ll say that it depends on whether you’ve chosen embalming or cremation…

Where are my loved ones who just passed over?

Same place, Sylvia, same place. And that place, I know you’ll believe, is either very, very, hot, or ideal – heavenly? – weather.

How do I reconnect with my kindred souls?

Ask around! How else? Or do you expect a really huge telephone directory with billions of entries? After all, you’ve got eternity to look around, right? Get real, girl!

What does the Other Side look like?

Crowded… Very crowded… And with very dull people.

Why do some people die young while others live to be very old?

Well, let me see… Some get sick, or a house falls on them – as in the Wizard of Oz – or they play too much in the traffic. Others get lucky, exercise, and limit their pizza input. Sylvia, you really should read more!

How can I tell if one of my family members is a dark entity?

Compare him/her with a light entity, or smooth-talk him/her with a slick question like, “Hey! You a dark entity, or not?” And smile, because you don’t want to be politically incorrect, right?

Are there really fairies, unicorns, and dragons?

Sure! And while you’re acting crazy, include elves, talking horses, snails that do calculus, and smart Republicans. Go all the way, girl!

What do I do when visited by a creature from the underworld?

Pack some undies and a toothbrush, whistle while you dial 9-1-1 and gently, calmly, ask for the loony wagon to be sent to pick you up…



A WIN FOR QUACKERY IN THE UK

Reader Les Rose sends us to http://tinyurl.com/qdl4b to see a press release from a UK agency. He adds:

Note that at the very end the MHRA [Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency] talks about “fact-based judgments,” yet in the explanatory memorandum they say they will accept “non-scientific data.” There is a statement of objection on the Sense About Science website, to which we want as many signatures as possible. This will support further actions later this year. Here is the link to that statement: http://tinyurl.com/zqk34.

Can you put this story on your commentary please? If we can get enough support, we can achieve something.

There are two important paragraphs in this release from the MRHA that surely must catch the attention of even the most casual reader. First:

The MHRA has today introduced a new scheme to improve and strengthen the regulation of homeopathic medicines in the UK. The National Rules Scheme for homeopathic medicines will enhance consumer confidence with respect to the safety, quality and use of these medicines.

That statement, as shown by what follows in the release, is total nonsense. There is nothing in there that in any way can “improve and strengthen the regulation of homeopathic medicines.” The new “scheme” removes any and all limitations on this organized quackery, and I must suspect that a royal digit belonging to a chap named Windsor was poked into this procedure to sanctify it. But read the other paragraph I selected, and see what has Mr. Rose so – rightly – alarmed:

The MHRA is the government agency that is responsible for ensuring that medicines and medical devices work, and are acceptably safe. We keep watch over medicines and devices, and we take any necessary action to protect the public promptly if there is a problem. No product is risk-free. Underpinning all our work lie robust and fact-based judgments to ensure that the benefits to patients and the public justify the risks.

There is nothing “robust” nor “fact-based” to support the decision to give homeopaths such validation and support! The MHRA is surely aware of the facts, since they’ve been made so evident, so many times, yet they choose to ignore them! Incredible! And the homeopaths are chortling happily, having won yet another decision that throws out the unwelcome realities and accepts the woo-woo aspects of a regulation that can cost lives and futures of UK citizens. It’s really hard to understand.




SCIENCE AT ITS BEST

Reader James Pryor works at the National Security Space Institute. He wrote to the makers of “HeadOn” (see http://www.randi.org/jr/2006-07/072806academic.html#i15) and asked them:

Please explain to me how your product works.  If I have a headache, it is not in the skin, it’s inside the skull, in the brain.  Your product does not penetrate the skull.  So it must enter the blood stream.  The only way for it to get to my brain is for it to travel to the heart through the bloodstream, then back out through the bloodstream to my brain.  So how is it better than a swallowed pill that breaks down, enters the bloodstream, and travels to my brain?

Now, that sounds like a perfectly sensible inquiry, to me. Neither James nor I expected he’d get an answer, but it came in!  Explains Mr. Pryor:

Thought you’d like their “official” company response.  Brilliant…

From: HeadOn Customer Service [mailto:info@headon.com]
Sent: Monday, September 11, 2006 2:49 PM
To: Pryor James E Ctr NSSI/NSS
Subject: RE: Your product

It works through the nerves.

Spoken like a true fathead! Well, it sure takes a lot of nerve to sell such a product, so maybe their useless answer isn’t too far off the mark… I suggest that it also “works” through the imagination and the wallet.




BACK TO STEORN

Reader Ian MacMillan  brings us up to date on the item to be found at www.randi.org/jr/2006-08/082506yet.html#i1 involving another one of those “free energy” farces. Ian had suggested to the company, Steorn, that since they had a free-energy device, they should pursue the JREF million-dollar prize. Their response:

Thank you for your interest in Steorn, your comments about testing and demonstrating the technology and the Laws of Thermodynamics.

Our apologies for not replying to your email sooner, but it has been rather busy here for the last few weeks.

For the moment, our focus is to secure a jury of 12 scientists to independently validate our technology, which was the purpose of our advertisement in the Economist.

We will release further information on the technology, following completion of the validation process.

Kind regards

The Steorn Team

Says Ian:

Nothing much here, although Steorn joins the long list of people who do not need or want $1 million.

We’re told that literally thousands of responses were received by Steorn after their hundred-thousand-dollar ad in The Economist newspaper appeared. It seems to me that this will give them a lot of choice, and they’ll be able to find a sufficient number of scientists in there – they only need 12! – who will provide them with some sort of endorsement. This is exactly the sort of fact-dodging and evasive maneuvering that we might expect from someone who doesn’t really have anything to offer, but would very much like to start selling stock to the naïve.  I’ll bet that they’ll soon be prepared to issue a statement saying that some previously unheard-of “scientists” are convinced that they’ve got a real working machine to offer, and that they’re now ready to issue a call for investors.

But let’s see…




THANKS FOR NOT KILLING ME

Reader Jacob Fortin reports:

A strange story appear yesterday on MSNBC (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14808979/) which immediately illustrates just how difficult it is to sway people away from their delusions. A Florida woman who was hit by lightning and survived, suffered burns, had her ear drums punctured, and blurry vision, said she has a new found respect for the power of nature and god (I purposefully don’t capitalize this word, thank you very much). After being hit, she was no longer breathing, and was revived by her sister, who is a registered nurse. Obviously, her first thought was to thank god for what had happened. To quote her, she said "I'm blessed. I'm blessed, and it was all because of God…" Never mind the fact that she was actually saved by her sister, who had studied medicine. No, her bearded sky god, who happened to throw a lightning bolt her way, making her deaf and partially blind, blessed her with what is bound to be chronic pain, and a shortened lifespan.

You have to wonder just what it takes to convince people that there really is no bearded, andro-centric god in the clouds looking out for you. If I were her, I’d be awfully suspicious of this character. I'd also be more likely to believe that perhaps the ancient Greeks were right, and maybe that bearded guy just throws lightning bolts all day and enjoys torturing us humans.

Jacob, I think that this woman was only pursuing the recommended procedure by thanking her god for the provisional “miracle.” Remember, this is a jealous, vengeful, capricious, deity – and thus to be greatly feared. She was doing the safe thing, that’s all…




SAM HARRIS ALERT

Dr. Michael Eslea, Department of Psychology, University of Central Lancashire, alerts me to a startling – and disturbing – fact that I only became aware of when I finally had a chance to curl up with the Sam Harris book during the recent Amaz!ng Cruise. Eslea could have waited until I independently came out with this, but he decided to beat me to it…!

I am writing to endorse your enthusiastic recommendation (in last week's Swift) of Sam Harris's "End of Faith," but also to sound a note of caution. When Harris rails against theistic religions, End of Faith is a terrific read and a powerful argument, but when in the final chapter he turns approvingly towards Eastern mysticism and spirituality, he veers into woo-woo territory.

A warning sign appears very early in the book: in his introductory chapter (page 41) he states that

There also seems to be a body of data attesting to the reality of psychic phenomena, much of which has been ignored by mainstream science.

Turn to note 18 on page 232 to see his justification for this statement, and you will find an astonishing paragraph citing books by Dean Radin and Rupert Sheldrake as evidence. Harris also notes that Ian Stevenson's work (on children supposedly born with memories of past lives) "may be credible evidence for reincarnation."

Dr. Eslea, I ask that you bear in mind this fact: if the Radin and Sheldrake declarations were really true and properly derived, then they would stand as good evidence for the reality of parapsychology, and would incidentally make the writers eligible for the JREF million-dollar prize. As we know, Sheldrake has directly refused to apply for that prize, and Radin has made the same decision by choosing to ignore it. The problem here as I see it, is that Sam Harris needs to be better informed on this subject; if he’d had the same experience of parapsychology that he has of religion, he would not – I’m sure – have cited this work as conclusive. Dr. Eslea continues:

It seems to me that Harris's own experiences of meditation, which he describes in the book, have convinced him that consciousness extends outside the body. He believes in the "interconnectedness of the universe," and so accepts, largely uncritically, any apparently scientific evidence that supports his view. Needless to say, this rather undermines his academic credibility. So by all means enjoy End of Faith as an anti-theism diatribe, but if you ever meet Sam Harris, have a word with him about parapsychology!

Oh, I will, Mike, I will! Only now do I understand a certain coolness I’ve experienced in Sam’s attitude toward me, and I now think that it can be entirely explained by his romance with woo-woo that you have pointed out. I’ll add that only recently he has expressed his rejection of the cattle mutilation stories and of astrology, so he’s reachable. But then, I don’t think that either Radin or Sheldrake ever endorsed these notions… Or did they…?




DIFFERING CONCLUSIONS

Reader Thom Green:

I just recently started reading your page, and I find it an amazing effort at restoring a bit of reality into the world we live in.  I discovered you from the Penn and Teller: Bullshit! show, of which I am an avid fan.

I have pretty much always been a skeptic, from the days of old when talking to the other school children who used to tell me I was going to hell for not believing in God.  Both my parents were raised heavy Catholic (nuns, yardsticks, and stinging backs of hands) and because of that, the word God was really never brought up in my household.  I was raised in Houston, the middle of the Bible Belt.  Situations as I mentioned above happened up until I learned to essentially ignore these "Holier Than Thou" people.

I was writing in on an astrology issue you posted in your SWIFT from the week of September 8th, 2006, about how Capricorns were the most dangerous drivers.  This article tickled me so much, that I decided I had to find the original article so I could read it with my fellow skeptics at work.  Good-for-a-laugh sort of thing. Well, I couldn't find the original article, probably because it was not printed in English, but Lo and Behold I found other articles, all with different statistics.  I am completely sure this news holds no surprise for you, or the bulk of your readers.

Thom sends us to www.ezrock.com/zodiac_sign.

This study had completely different statistics compared to the one quoted in SWIFT.  This one I like, because by its proclamation, I am in the group of the best drivers.  Yay!  Oh, and note that the study was conducted by AllState... I used to have insurance through those guys.

Now Thom sends us to www.driversdrive.com/driving/ to do a search for “Capricorns”:

This survey is even funnier than the previous one, generally, because it states that Capricorns are the BEST drivers.  How's that for stable scientific information? This doesn't say by whom it was compiled, but it does have a quote from Warren Duke, Suncorp's national manager of personal insurance.

So, are all the bad Capricorn drivers in Belgium, or what? I stopped looking after finding these two articles.  The joke of telling someone they were a bad or good driver by star sign lost its value when I found out that no one could agree on the right statistics.

Thom, I really dunno… Since I’ve never had a moving violation on my driving record, and don’t intend to, I’ve not looked up my astrological rating…!




MORE COMMON SENSE

Happily, the media continue to refer to Uri Geller – remember him? – by the right adjectives. The Anchorage Daily News recently had a crossword puzzle clue – answer: URI – which read, “Debunked mentalist Geller.”




A LOOK AT THE PAST

I’m amazed at the amount of video that’s available through various services online.  I’m constantly being sent excerpts from programs that I’ve long forgotten, and I was recently reminded of a show I did with Bob Barker, not “What’s My Line,” but “That’s My Line,” which didn’t really last for long on the TV horizon, though I like to feel that it’s not because I made two appearances there. I appeared on the first show as a psychic, then admitted that I was not, to the great disappointment of the studio audience.  My second appearance, shortly after that one, consisted of confronting one James Hydrick, who was making psychic claims and needed to be debunked.

Just so you’ll know, Hydrick – who used the name Song Chai – eventually confessed everything and went out of business.  He subsequently got into trouble with the law, and I’m told that he went back to prison. Look in at http://tinyurl.com/g4y6c and enjoy... It’s 18 minutes, 10 seconds, in length…




A CRITIQUE

At http://www.randi.org/jr/2006-09/091506remembering.html#i10 I ran a paragraph – actually the whole e-mail from reader P.T. Quinn – that evoked some hot controversy from my readers. I made no comments on it, just letting it stand as something I’d received in the mail. As I’d hoped, this gave rise to some 20 or so strong responses, most of them well-founded observations that were right on the mark. One term used there that received much attention was “Islamofascist.” As author Sam Harris recently remarked in The Los Angeles Times,

Recent condemnations of the Bush administration's use of the phrase "Islamic fascism" are a case in point. There is no question that the phrase is imprecise — Islamists are not technically fascists, and the term ignores a variety of schisms that exist even among Islamists — but it is by no means an example of wartime propaganda, as has been repeatedly alleged by liberals.

Reader Paul SanGiorgio of Menlo Park, California, had – I thought – a good analysis of the piece that pretty well summed up what most others felt. Paul wrote:

I am a big fan of your books, your weekly newsletter, and your work in general.  Today's Swift, though, featured an item which I feel deserving of some criticism. You published a brief excerpt of an email from one P.T. Quinn, of Ann Arbor, MI, which was itself a response to an item from a previous Swift, regarding the distinction between a "terrorist" and someone that is "mentally unstable."

Your original point – that anyone who really truly believes in the farcical contents of ancient religious texts is ipso facto "mentally unstable" – is well-taken, if a little bit cheap, given that the New York Times is clearly trying to make the distinction between what we might consider differing levels of mental instability. Clearly, a terrorist who shoots 6 people might well be suspected of belonging to a larger group, capable of shooting even more people, while a mentally unstable person, once caught, represents no serious threat.

That said, P.T. Quinn's response can only be described as hysterical. First, he drags out the old canard of the "left-leaning PC Movement in the media" – how much more beholden to the administration and the status quo could the current media be?  And when has political correctness been anything more than a punchline for bad comedians? – then he goes on to criticize a "friend" for being offended by the term Islamofascist, and finishes without ever really making a clear point (what do astrophysics have to do with anything!?).

I'm an atheist, and I'm offended by the term "Islamofascist!"  When Bush sits down next to his busts of Churchill and Lincoln and talks about what a great war president he is and how he is liberating the world from the greatest threat it has ever faced (more evil than Hitler!), I have to consider that the word "Islamofascist" is nothing more than pure propaganda meant to excuse our hapless blunders in the Middle East as being somehow related to our long-ago battle against the Nazis. Just because fascists were "bad" and terrorists are "bad" does not mean that they are one and the same thing!  We should all be offended by the word!

Skeptics are often accused of being unfeeling jerks who would rather spend their time making fun of people they disagree with than understanding where these people are coming from and gently bringing them to the side of reason.

I understand, Mr Randi, why after so many years of being attacked and disappointed by our woo-woo friends you have become somewhat pessimistic about attempts to convert them, but still we should not abandon all hope. Castigating everyone we disagree with about anything (religious people of any stripe, liberals, the left-leaning PC movement in the media, people who don't understand astrophysics, etc.) will get us nowhere. I can only hope that in the future, the Swift Newsletter will focus more on well-thought-out assessments on why people disagree with us, and less on histrionic screeds accusing those who disagree with us of being morons.

Reader Ryan Cunningham, too, had a comment about the use of the poorly-derived term, “Islamofascist”:

There are more than enough accurate words to describe radical Muslims: zealots, bigots, fanatics, lunatics, extremists, and homicidal maniacs. They are sexist, cruel, amoral, backward, bloodthirsty, hypocritical, and ignorant. It seems to me the reason we're not using a more accurate description is that such a description cuts uncomfortably close to the religious extremism our own politicians and populace are all too cozy with here at home.

Yes, Ryan, and I agree heartily with that last sentence. We need to recognize and accept that fact. In effect, this Administration has taken the Holy Crusades right back into where they started. Don’t we ever learn?




POPE SHIFTS INTO REVERSE

Reader Michael DiLeo has an interesting and informative piece about a recent papal brouhaha at http://tinyurl.com/hhw4y that you should consult. The illustration they used – an obvious PhotoShop product – is regrettable, but the article content is pertinent.




NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND

Rationality alert! Reader Donald Mongrain alerts us to just how insidious – and juvenile – the “Left Behind” campaign is:

One thing you forgot to mention in your commentary article on the "Left Behind" series, is the spinoff series "Left Behind: The Kid's collection" found here: http://tinyurl.com/m8tgs. Obviously it's never too early to prepare your children for what to do in case they aren't holy enough to get “taken” in the rapture! Oh, and don't forget the upcoming video game where you can fight the evil hordes of the Antichrist, or play as the other side and unleash the armies of Hell on the born-again Christians! Fun for the whole family!

You must read the naïve, gushing comments from those dedicated to this site, and as an antidote, I give you here one of the letters from a more rationally concerned parent who designates herself as “Momofthree”:

Found in our public school, January 7, 2006

I was familiar with the Left Behind series, mainly from seeing a few snippets of the badly-written, badly-acted movie. Then I learned there was a board game based on the books. A BOARD GAME! I didn't know there was a series for children based on the adult series until my son came home from school – PUBLIC SCHOOL! – with one of these books. I'm sure one of the fundamentalist Christian boys down the street must have suggested these to my son. I was floored that this fundamentalist propaganda was in my public school library. While I'm a Protestant and I am open to the study of all religions, to pound this in to impressionable kids' heads (did I mention my son is in ELEMENTARY school?) just amazes me. The people who love this stuff and highly recommend it for kids must be the same people who took their pre-schoolers to see hard-R-rated "The Passion of the Christ" to experience JUST how much Jesus loved them. Sad.... Let kids make up their own minds without scaring the bejezzes out of them.

No, mam’, I suggest that you don’t just let kids “make up their own minds” – without first preparing them properly. Parents should be equipping their offspring with the tools of critical thinking – merely accepting religion isn’t one of them! – and then sitting down with them to walk them through the process of evaluating the evidence. 




LOOKING BACK

Twenty years ago, we were investigating Walter Vincent Grant, the flamboyant TV preacher who in July of 1996 was convicted of fraud for using his Eagles Nest Family Church members' contributions to purchase his $1.2 million estate – and other goodies – without reporting it as taxable income. He got 16 months in prison, a fine of $30,000, and was ordered to repay back taxes totaling $253,000. Gee, that appears to be a profitable system, doesn’t it? Subsequently, Grant emerged from the pokey and took up a new pulpit on TV, from which he continues to screech about “Jeeee-zuz!” and collect the money from those sheep he can shear.  

I was re-organizing boxes of documents recently, and came upon one packed with mementos of the Grant investigation. Our search of the trash left behind when Grant departed a “crusade” at the Fort Lauderdale Armory Auditorium had yielded a mass of valuable material. We found notes from his wife – “Hurry up. We have 10:30 reservations at the restaurant” – as well as yellow Post-it notes discarded from his huge Bible after use – “Bill, arthritis in knees, veteran, 101 Tate Street, daughter Sally” – and a paper bag containing some $600 in discarded checks.

Discarded checks? Yes, folks, Grant simply threw away small checks because he couldn’t be bothered to enter them onto a deposit slip! He was making a fortune in undeclared income and he could afford to toss them out in the trash. You see here one example of those checks. Most were $5 and $10 offerings, but anything $20 or less was garbage to Grant. Can you think of any other business that can throw out $600+ in income and not notice it…?




REVELATIONS FLORIDA STYLE

Florida Representative Katherine Harris has now declared to the media that she sees – obviously through some divine means of clairvoyance – that God did not intend for the United States of America to be a “nation of secular laws” and that the idea of separation of church and state is a “lie we have been told” to keep religious people out of politics. Obviously, in Katherine’s case, this didn’t work. And just who told us these lies, Ms. Harris? Those old fuddy-duddy Fathers of Confederation? Harris warns us:

If you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin.

Harris has assured interviewers that her religious beliefs “animate” everything she does, including her votes in Congress. We’re fortunate that she has such a direct, clear, connection with this deity of hers, since we might otherwise entertain the possibility that Joan of Arc has been brought back to lead us. Joan, as we know heard voices in her head that were perhaps demons. Can’t be too careful about those sneaky demons, Kathy!

Harris told journalists:

We have to have the faithful in government because that is God's will. Separating religion and politics is so wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers… and if we are the ones not actively involved in electing those godly men and women… we're going to have a nation of secular laws. That's not what our Founding Fathers intended, and that certainly isn't what God intended.

You see how mistaken we common folks were before Representative Harris straightened us out? I know of a whole bunch of people who erroneously believed – until her fine hand finessed the “hanging chads” fiasco that the State of Florida contributed to the next-to-last Presidential election – that our politicians were accepted or rejected solely by the voting procedure! Apparently it’s God who makes the choices!

Happily, both Democrats and Republicans in Florida are appalled by Harris’ tirade. After all, there are several degrees of crazy, and with this contribution to woo-woo, Kathy has demonstrated just how high up on the scale she is, and has managed to frighten both parties.




MORE GOOD SENSE DOWN UNDER

At www.badpsychics.com/au you’ll see the site of Australian BP, an Australia-specific version of BadPsychics UK. It’s a look at “psychics” and “mediums” in that part of our world, as well as helping promote skepticism in Australia. There are excellent videos to be had there. Peek in…




WANNA SEE MY ASTEROID?

If any reader is curious about the asteroid named after me – Randi 3163 – it can be located by clicking on http://tinyurl.com/gdn9q at any time. Right now it’s just inside the constellation Virgo, very close to β Virgo from our point of view in orbit.  That is, it’s lined up with β Virgo, but nowhere near it… It’s a long story…




IN CONCLUSION…

Registrations for TAM5 are coming in nicely. However, one of our star attractions, Julia Sweeney, will be performing her "Letting Go of God" monologue at the Ars Nova Theater for a limited engagement – October 19-22, 24-25, and 27-29. Those of you in NYC who won’t be able to join us at TAM5 should plan to be there…

Hailed by the LA Times as "Brave, hilarious and a gale-force breath of fresh air," Julia’s show chronicles one woman’s unexpected and hilarious journey when two Mormon missionaries arrive on her doorstep and inadvertently challenge her way of thinking about religion, God, and the nature of self. It’s a comical and poignant story of a woman’s struggle with faith in our modern, scientific era.

The controversy surrounding the show has spilled over to other media. According to Ira Glass, host of NPR’s “This American Life,” the "Letting Go of God" episode of June, 2005, was the single most popular show that “This American Life” has ever broadcast. For booking information, go to www.arsnovanyc.com/media/main.cfm.

Reader Kevin Thurston, mindful of the Vatican’s official exorcist, warns us:

What happens if you don't pay the exorcist?

You get repossessed!

I doubt that…