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Reader Ian MacMillan:
The main 50th anniversary being marked this month is the Soviet invasion of Hungary, but November 1956 also marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Third Eye by Tuesday Lobsang Rampa. This has also received some press coverage in the UK, as Rampa's books are still in print today and sell well in New Age bookshops. He is the only New Age author ever to have hit the big time with a general audience, and his "creator" Cyril Hoskin (1910 -1981) was born in Devon, although he was living in Surrey at the time that the row over the book's origins hit the headlines. There is a Wikipedia article about him at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lobsang_Rampa.
My favorite piece of Rampa trivia is that one of his later books, “Living with the Lama,” was claimed to have been dictated telepathically to Rampa by one of his pet cats, Mrs. Fifi Greywhiskers.
As if to prove the saying that the New Age is the Old Age placed in the microwave oven for thirty seconds, back in the 1950s and 1960s Rampa was doing most of the things that New Agers are doing today.
True, and as we’ve seen so many times, some of the scams are from the 1600’s and need only be revamped slightly to become acceptable to today’s naïfs…
The watch problem from last week generated a huge amount of interest, a great variety of solutions, and some interesting misconceptions. I thank you all for your participation. Obviously, most readers only guessed at the function of the three auxiliary dials, though some of you actually looked up the timepiece on the Internet and ascertained those functions. That provided a much clearer view of the situation, of course.
Some 20 or so readers assumed that I doubted the existence of the watch and/or of the company that makes it; they deluged me with Internet references. Others were sure I’d invented the whole thing. Wrong, and wrong.
Please study the first illustration shown here. This is the upper part of the TIME advertisement I referred to, showing the actual orientation of the illustration on the page. The lack of divisions down the right side of the illustration of the watch is now explained by the angle of the photo, taken from slightly above; the actual instrument does have those divisions, which did not show in the photo I provided. This omission also led some readers to say that the second-hand could not turn beyond the three o'clock position. Those readers who called attention to this lack now have my profound apologies. Also, I did not show you that there actually is a winding stem and two function-buttons to operate the watch.
There was probably no crystal in place when the photograph was taken for the ad, and probably no mechanism, so the artist could move the hands about freely. As reader Terence de Giere commented:
I think the problem is this is a prototype watch face without the mechanism, and the photographer didn't know how to set this watch, or just didn't care. This company seems to make very high class timepieces, so if they get wind of this, management might be very upset with this image, which puts a lie to Swiss craftsmanship.
No, Terence, I scarcely think that the manufacturers of this timepiece will be too embarrassed by the artistic license shown, but they might in the future give a little more attention to that factor. I must tell you that the Jaeger-LeCoultre folks have not responded to an inquiry I made more than 10 days ago, so it appears that they're not too concerned. In passing, I'll mention that to me, a square watch is a specific no-no; I have always preferred a round face on my timepieces, since the exact orientation of the hands is invariably clearer that way.
Since the three auxiliary dials of the watch cannot be guessed at without having the actual designations before you, I’ve shown them in this second illustration. The watch operates as a regular timepiece, and as a stop-watch. Misinterpretation of the functions of the three additional dials led many readers to believe that the calendar date – shown at the “12” position – was not in agreement with another date-indicator. First, the actual time is shown in the big display as exactly 10:09:00, but the “Alternate time zone” dial shows it to be exactly 3 a.m. somewhere else. Mind you, there are a few time-zones that are 30 or even only 15 minutes away from other adjoining zones – Darwin, Australia, as well as Iran and Kathmandu, are examples – but it would take some fancy traveling to find a spot where these dials agree…!
(I hate to tell you that the vast majority of readers gave the regular time on this watch dial as 10:10, when it's actually 10:09:00 – exactly…)
Another defect of this illustration is that though the two main hands show distinct shadows, there is no shadow of the second-hand – which would at least have shown beneath the wider part of that indicator. The light for this photograph came from about the 1 o’clock position, but bear in mind that this is an acceptably "doctored" photograph prepared specifically for this "glamour" shot; we have to understand such minor discrepancies. All the minor dial-hands are shown in +45°position, apparently for artistic neatness and balance, but with no consideration for the actual function of the timepiece.
Some readers, who thought that the “3 o’clock-position” dial recorded a day of the month, said it didn’t allow for a 31-day month. If that were its function, they’d be quite correct, but it’s the minutes indicator for the chronograph function, as you now know.
The hour hand, judging from the 10:09:00 time, should be three-quarters into the first minute past the 10 – it’s only a third of the way into it. In a $7,000 watch, especially one labeled a chronograph, I'd insist on better accuracy of registration.
Many readers opined that the digital display at the 12 o'clock position – “18,” which is the calendar day of the month – is unrealistic because a large rotating dial bearing figures of that size could not be accommodated inside the watch if it had 31 different numbers to show; they failed to note that the date display is actually in two parts; there are two wheels inside the instrument. One bears digits from zero to three, the other from zero to nine. We provided a “click to enlarge” facility to determine that the display was in two parts…
The second-hand is straight up, but the chronometer minute-indicator shows about 3 minutes, 40 seconds. Not acceptable, unless the second-hand only moves in the stopwatch mode.
Finally, I must address myself to the statement I made last week about this instrument: “The watch shown could not exist.” I should have explained more fully. I meant to say, that the watch as shown in this illustration would be incorrect in several aspects, and would not be a properly-functioning timepiece – especially in view of the very high price. Mea culpa.
Our good friend Martin Gardner is shocked to see that a scam from almost a century ago has made a comeback. Back in 1920, Dr. William Horatio Bates, M.D., published a book describing an exercise system – including something called “cupping” with the hand – that he said would cure every known sort of eye problem without surgery or the use of eyeglasses. I recall that my own father was quite captured by this notion, because he was a fan of health guru Bernarr Macfadden, a then-popular author and “authority” who endorsed the dippy idea. The Bates System of Eye Exercises urged readers to "throw away" their glasses, and my dad did just that. He wrecked his car shortly thereafter; he promptly threw away the book and ordered new glasses.
The Bates Method has now been revived in a new book, “Better Vision Now,” by Dover Publications – it was formerly $12.95, now $10.36! – which gives Martin even more reason to be taken aback, since Hayward Cirker, the founder of Dover, was a good friend of his and published many of his books. Martin avers that Cirker would never have permitted such quackery to appear under the Dover imprimatur while he was in charge. The Dover ad for the book says that
[author] Hackett's innovative self-help guide includes a basic 12-week program of simple routines and drills recommended for correcting nearsightedness, farsightedness, crossed eyes, and other serious eye problems.
This is pure old quackery, it’s wishful thinking, and it’s profitable…
Reader Tim Harrod submits an addition to our lightbulb-changing discussion:
Q: How many skeptics does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Hang on a minute. Before we go talking about numbers, let's first determine whether any number of skeptics can change a light bulb, and if they can, great, then we can talk about what quantity would be required.
More specifically, Kevin Kusinitz of NYC asks:
Q: How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Don't worry about it, it's alright, I'll just sit here in the dark.
Finally, Scott Craver writes:
Q: How many Brights does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None – it turns out that all these years we could see fine without it.
Reader Geoff Holister, referring to my comments on the latest silly Browne book on how angels celebrate Christmas in Heaven:
You say: "As I frequently tell you, folks, you just can't make up this stuff."
Oh, but you can if you happen to be a team of comedic geniuses... Monty Python's "Meaning of Life" featured this very concept, complete with song, way back in 1983. Sylvia's only 23 years late and a dollar short, but you'll forgive me for not being terribly shocked? There's a video clip here: youtube.com/watch?v=rULq2GHd8EI
Our friend Scott Romanowski, the Official Slavedriver and Supervisor of Volunteers for our annual TAM meetings, had a thought on this Xmas-in-Heaven problem, demonstrating his unfailing ability to invent new problems:
Wouldn't one decorating problem in Heaven be deciding which angel gets stuck on the top of the tree? Maybe it's a lottery. Imagine that one day you're cruisin' around, rockin' on your harp, and the next your name gets picked and you've got to spend the next few weeks with a pine tree stuck up your a**. Maybe the “Angel of Death” was once a nice guy until he had to spend one too many holiday seasons on the tree:
"What? Again? I'm still picking pine needles out of my robe from last year. That's it; I'm going to kill somebody."
Reader Bob Pagani has found a hilarious site at http://tinyurl.com/yyf65c that must surely be a gag, except that it’s not. It tells us about a marvelous device:
The Furutech DeMag completely demagnetizes LPs and optical disc media such as CD, CD-R, DVD, MD, Game CD, Photo CD, SACD, and DVD Audio. Plus it’s an indispensable accessory for keeping interconnect cables, connectors and power cords demagnetized to prevent magnetic signal distortion. Stereophile's Michael Fremer reviewed the deMag in the best-selling October Recommended Components issue. In the review, he said "...demagnetizing an LP definitively removed a high-frequency glaze or glare and seemed to enrich the midband... Demagnetizing LPs works. Better yet, once a record has been demagnetized, it seems to stay that way... And do not try one of these devices unless you're prepared to buy it."
Well, we’ve already seen what fools are employed by Stereophile Magazine. See www.randi.org/jr/2006-04/042806boots.html#i5 and several other references in SWIFT for evidence of this. Of course, the question arises whether the subscribers or the editors are the real fools… But the description goes on:
Demagnetization Isn’t Just For Optical Media Anymore! The deMag works for disc media as well as cables, connectors, and power cords! No part of the playback chain should be disturbed by resolution-sapping magnetic interference.
Demagnetizing LPs: How can an LP be magnetized? It’s plastic! The fact is that pigment added to the plastic during the manufacturing process is the culprit. The minute amount of ferrous material in the pigment causes LPs to become magnetized. Testing at the Tokyo Nanotechnology center with a IHI Gauss meter showed that after an LP was treated with the deMag the magnetic field of the LP was lowered from 620~630 nT to 572~582 nT (nanotesla: a unit of magnetic field strength,1 Tesla = 10,000 gauss)
Demagnetizing Cables: electric current generates a magnetic field as it flows through a power cord or conductor. However, magnetic impurities within the materials themselves become magnetized and introduce further magnetic distortion. Just loop your cables and power cords with their connectors on the deMag and begin treatment.
No matter how valuable or expensive your system is, the only way to achieve top performance is by demagnetizing your problems away! There are no other demagnetizers on the market that can be used in such a versatile and effective way. The deMag Demagnetizer can even be used on metal-based accessories like CD stabilizers or speaker terminals.
Reader Bob asks:
Yes, this amazing device can demagnetize a vinyl record. Wow! I'll bet foolish you didn't think that was possible (or necessary). Well, I guess the egg's on YOUR face now, Mr. Fancy Magician!
Oh, it'll demagnetize all those pesky wires you have lying around, too. Versatile, no? I guess it's just a matter of time before you have to sign that million-dollar check over to the wizards at Furutech.
No, Bob, I’d much rather give the prize to Michael Fremer of Stereophile, who apparently can tell – via his highly-developed senses – whether or not an LP has been treated by the deMag device! But, strangely enough, he won’t invest 20 minutes of his time to win the JREF million-dollar prize! Or could it be that he’s an incompetent fumbler and is just turning out crap for naïve subscribers to Stereophile? He will not respond, nor will anyone else at Stereophile Magazine, because they’re fakers.
Prove me wrong.
Comedian Paula Poundstone reports that the state of Kansas has a new approach to their science curriculum. Says Paula:
They're not going to teach science at all. What they do is take the science students down to the lake, tie them in burlap sacks, and throw them in. If God thinks they're good science students, they float.
Sounds good to me! However, we suggest that all members of the Kansas Board of Education be subjected to this direct test, first. And the JREF will gladly supply – free of charge and in the interests of pure science – all the burlap bags required for this task.
I thought I would share with you an exuberant note from my friend Marie Prins, in the Netherlands. Marie has been very active in fighting various quack elements in her country, and recently received appropriate acknowledgement of her contributions…
The last 10 days have been quite hectic, but also fun and encouraging. So many good wishes on my receiving the Gebroeders Bruinsma Erepenning (honorary medal) of the Union against Quackery. But altogether it is quite time-consuming to be world-famous in Oost-Souburg – and, it turns out, in the rest of Zeeland. The piece in the Provinciale Zeeuwse Courant [PZC] was not only printed in the Walcheren edition, but in all of Zeeland. Sunday, when I came home from Amsterdam, where I received the medal, the declaration, and the laudatio last Saturday, the cab driver did not want a tip. He was proud that I had used his cab! All those stories about real famous persons are quite true.
The Bruinsma brothers were the founders of the union 126 years ago. The Union started issuing the medal last year, when a popular TV program received it. I was surprised that I was the second recipient, but the reactions in Zeeland surprised me much more. I am considering placing a "Thank you" advertisement in the PZC.
I am right now trying to calm down, and this e-mail is part of it.
Congratulations, Marie. You certainly deserve this recognition.
Reader Ken Townsley sends us to www.edkuniversity.com, where 40 pages, 16,000 words, in 204 paragraphs, are to be found. (It is rumored that the editors of Stereophile Magazine wrote this as an exercise in rehearsal for an Electronic Seaweed Thought Filter article they’re preparing.) Here’s an excerpt, the first paragraph, just 413 words, exactly as it appears:
UNIVERSAL ENERGY is electric that all living things have Electric UNIVERSAL ENERGY and it is fermented D.C. electric made in all living plants and animals by mixing sodium and minerals that the acid in the sodium breaks down the minerals. The by-product is D.C. electric UNIVERSAL ENERGY which is the life giving force of the body that is fermented in plants and animals. When the energy channels that conduct the electric UNIVERSAL ENERGY get plugged up or broken down so the UNIVERSAL ENERGY can not get to the cells; they are dead. When the UNIVERSAL ENERGY stops flowing in the body the body is dead. By using energy healing you can jump start the UNIVERSAL ENERGY to flowing, cleaning up the energy channels so they have a strong UNIVERSAL ENERGY signal. Jesus used his UNIVERSAL ENERGY when laying his hand on directing his UNIVERSAL ENERGY into the ailing part of the body performing his miracles of healing the sick and he taught his apostles to use their UNIVERSAL ENERGY to go and heal the sick. You can learn to perform miracles like Jesus did using your UNIVERSAL ENERGY to heal the sick to be clean-healthy-happy-young. When the energy channels get plugged so the UNIVERSAL ENERGY is plugged off the lights in the body get dim and the body is sick because the UNIVERSAL ENERGY D.C. electric energy stops; the body is dead. As long as there is still life there is hope to jump start the UNIVERSAL ENERGY by reversing the flow of UNIVERSAL ENERGY back through the UNIVERSAL ENERGY channels to flush out the contamination particles that plug up the UNIVERSAL ENERGY channels to be clean-healthy-happy-young cells in the body by getting a energy cleaner and sleeping on it and bathing in the Fountain of Youth to clean the UNIVERSAL ENERGY channels and cells to furnish the body life giving force supply of UNIVERSAL ENERGY D.C. electric that the body needs for the brain to signal all functions of the body to be alive. When the UNIVERSAL ENERGY stops the lights go out, the body is dead like pulling the main switch on the electric panel to your house; everything stops. The lights go out. The house is dead. You can regain the UNIVERSAL ENERGY electric channels in the body quicker and cheaper than you can the electric conductors in your house as long as the body is alive and they haven't pulled the main switch to the UNIVERSAL ENERGY brain control.
The “Energy Cleaner” device sold here by Lee Crock, U.S. patent #6,016,450, is advertised – as you see in the illustration – “For Recreational Use Only.” But users are warned:
It also wouldn’t do to have unhappy customers leaving any of that dirty, uncleaned, energy lying about…
Folks, what’s interesting here is that the illustration from the site shows that it’s the same imaginary Hieronymous Effect that I described at www.randi.org/jr/2006-10/100627good.html#i2. Small world, isn’t it…?
Defendants Jim Bergin and Judy Garvey, who were being sued – see www.randi.org/jr/2006-09/091506remembering.html#i2 for details – wrote us:
The Gentle Wind Project and Millers' et al lawsuits against us are finally over as a result of their 11th hour cave-in and urgent request for settlement. We are attaching our statement about the Settlement Agreement. We're also attaching the Stipulation of Dismissal.
We are grateful to you for exposing this group several years ago and for your recent coverage during the Attorney General's investigation, lawsuit, and Consent Decree with them.
Please let us know if you have any questions. We expect there will be some press coverage in the next few days, and we will be updating our website soon.
Sometimes we come out ahead…
Reader Bill Morrow comments on the video item at the end of the http://www.randi.org/jr/2006-11/111006big.html#i6 item:
I think you might be quite surprised, as I was, when I saw the following demonstration showing exactly how the bricks were toppled and the bowl made to move, on a local Chinese station here in Beijing, and it appeared to be with the same Qi master in the youtube video you linked to in the November 10th SWIFT. I saw this before I had read SWIFT so I was stunned to realize how quickly someone had jumped on it. It was on one of the CCTV [China Central Television] channels, definitely a different channel than the one on youtube.
I didn't understand enough Chinese to follow the commentary and I couldn't tell how much editing was done, but it looked like they were confronting the Qi master in several respects. The falling-brick trick was shown in slow motion and you could see a bump appear under the brick. They then jumped to a shot of two springs being released under a similar table, which jarred the bricks as a handheld activator was pressed. It then appeared they pointed this out to the Qi master and he just stared back with an inscrutable smile on his face. They then showed the original with the Qi master again, pausing to clearly show a bump coming up in the table.
Next they gave a demonstration showing a bowl sliding back and forth across a table. It had a flat magnet sealed against its bottom and the table was equipped with a sliding magnet underneath. Immediately after, the Qi master was shown doing it and there was a very clear comparison made. The angle of both the Qi master's table and the demo was such that you could clearly see under the table, except for a few inches covered by a tablecloth. Again they appeared to confront the Qi master, with no response except that same smile.
I didn't see the first part of the video so I don't know if they also addressed the trick used when he appeared to try to cut himself.
When I saw it, I was quite impressed that someone here in China was confronting that type of tomfoolery, and after I realized this was in reaction to a specific and current Qi master, I was/am just stunned. Perhaps the new law has emboldened some.
On the topic of the respect of the elderly I can assure you that it is not universal. I am personally aware of some considerable disrespect, if not downright abuse, visited on surviving grandparents of friends. They are continually complaining about how various in-laws are treating them, including cursing them and reportedly striking them repeatedly. In one case the surviving grandmother was moved into the chicken house after her husband died.
Perhaps unfortunately... every culture appears to have the full range of human behavior.
Thank you, Mr. Morrow. Reader Lorne Dmitruk had another comment on the item:
Your article in Friday's Swift on "China Still Deceived" was quite interesting. I thought you might be interested in this article, http://tinyurl.com/ww7zn, published in the November 11, 2006, edition of the Globe & Mail regarding a Chinese medical historian who has spoken out against Chinese Traditional Medicine. Zhang Gongyao has possibly put his life at risk for saying that "traditional medicine is often unscientific, unreliable, dangerous, a threat to endangered species and even fatal to humans in some cases." In the article, various Chinese government agencies have attacked Mr. Zhang for his stand against traditional medicine. He is a ray of rationality in the fight against woo-woo.
I note that Professor Zhang has also come out against the continued use of the lunar calendar in China, another move toward bringing his country into step with the rest of the world. Here in the USA, we may someday get around to adopting the metric measurement units of the rest of the world, too…
Reader David Vangsness of Tampa, Florida, writes regarding last week's SWIFT posting, "Big Fuss Over Bigfoot":
The two most credible forms of evidence for the existence of Bigfoot consist of a) reams of anecdotal accounts and b) dozens of plaster footprint casts. The former is regarded by scientists as one of the most unreliable forms of evidence known to Man. Let us consider the latter; a footprint is indirect evidence of a foot. A plaster cast is indirect evidence of a footprint. Therefore what we have here is indirect evidence of indirect evidence and, as such, of no scientific value whatsoever.
Although the absence of direct evidence for something does not prove its nonexistence – it's impossible to prove a negative – the information is not totally without value. It can be used to place an upper limit on the probability of something's existence which, for Bigfoot, I would place at less than 0.00001% (also considering all the good reasons why it should not exist). Every day that goes by without the direct evidence drives this number even lower.
For all the above reasons, I vehemently object to even $1 of publicly-funded, hard-to-come-by research funds being used for this purpose. Dr. Meldrum's research is not just embarrassing, it's a tragedy.
Reader Carl Moreland, who has been battling the sellers of dowsing rods for decades now – see www.randi.org/jr/2006-11/110306relaxing.html#i2 – has his own challenge, specifically directed at these scam-artists. He writes:
Several months ago I mentioned Bob Yocum, a dowsing rod salesman in Reno, who finally agreed to take my $25,000 challenge. Yocum sells a dowsing contraption for $2,385 (Christmas Special, save $500). Well, he insisted on a specific date (July 22nd) for the test, and rented a pavilion at a local park for a big sales demonstration for that day, with invitations to all. But then he dragged his feet on completing the contract I had written up for the challenge, and I declined to fly all the way out there from NC without a signed contract. He did finally sign the contract, but now he refuses to reschedule the test.
Anyway, he's under investigation by the Nevada Consumer Affairs Division (CAD) for fraud, due to a ticked-off customer who actually made an effort to do something about this guy. I've had lots of other complaints about Yocum, but no one else would follow through on filing formal complaints with the government. Bob has had two prior hearings scheduled, but keeps filing for delays. His next hearing is scheduled for December, and the Nevada CAD has told him that they will only consider solid scientific evidence... no demonstrations, no customer testimonials, no anecdotal stories.
So now Bob has posted "help wanted" notices on his web site, www.path-inc.com. My guess is that he will be able to find some kind of "physicist" somewhere who will support his silly notion that buried gold 8 miles away will resonate with his micro-power signal generator and cause the dowsing rods to magically turn.
I own one of Yocum's toys and, as I've done with so many other dowsing rod scams, I've written a report on it. See geotech.thunting.com/lrl_reports.html, click on Omni-Range Master.
I’d be worried, Carl. I see that Yocum advertises that he’s the “world-wide leader in precious metal and mineral detection.” Yeah, sure…
Reader Leonardo Mesquita asks:
Have you seen the latest initiative of Princeton's Global Consciousness Project, the "Global Orgasm Project"? This is a project that asks people "to concentrate any thoughts during and after orgasm on peace." According to them, "the combination of high-energy orgasmic energy combined with mindful intention may have a much greater effect than previous mass meditations and prayers." Need I say more?
Their homepage is http://www.globalorgasm.org/ – be sure to check out the link labeled "The Science."
A very short link, I’ll bet… We get sillier as we move along, folks. Maybe consciousness didn’t work too well, so we’re falling back on a more dependable phenomenon…?
My item at www.randi.org/jr/2006-11/110306relaxing.html#i8 last week brought quite a number of clarifications by readers about my seeming confusion at the Philips TV innovation of an ambient light gimmick. I asked there, “Do advertising standards require that viewers must be informed that the actor didn’t really get magically transformed, that this isn’t a ‘faith-based’ miracle?” Folks, I wasn’t serious about that; it was my little joke. But think for a moment: our faith-based administration asks us to accept all sorts of miracles. Is this inquiry that much different…?
Yes, this has really been Silly Week on SWIFT. We’ve had magnetic vinyl, “fermented” direct current, and global orgasms… Can it get sillier?