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February 16, 2007


 "...the chief end I propose to myself in all my labours is to vex the world rather than divert it." - Jonathan Swift

Table of Contents:
  1. A Failure to Communicate?
  2. Browne News
  3. Big Secret
  4. Free Ad
  5. More Zoo Poo
  6. Let's all Try to Grow Up - Shall We?
  7. More Columbia Scandal
  8. The Museum of Mind Games
  9. And This Encouraging News
  10. Sasquatch Revealed
  11. Fair Warning
  12. A Comment
  13. Conspiracy Nuts Listen Up!
  14. Takes the Cake
  15. Terminal Naivety
  16. In Closing...





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A FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE?

Marketmac, a marketing “news” agency that touts stocks and is paid by those who need such fluffing, has brought us even more news about the marvelous “Sniffex” device – a dowsing rod we referred to at www.randi.org/jr/081205another.html#1 and other places. Note that this newest earth-shaking announcement was – as required by law – followed by a “Safe Harbor Act Disclaimer,” which included this:

These forward-looking statements are subject to certain risks, and uncertainties and actual results could differ from those discussed. This material is information only and is not an offer or solicitation to buy or sell the securities.

A potential investor would be very wise to heed that notice. Here’s the “news” from Marketmac:

Homeland Safety Intl. Announces First US Military Order for Bomb-Detection Device

IRVING, TX--(MARKET WIRE)--Feb 6, 2007 -- Homeland Safety International, Inc. …announced today the receipt of their first purchase order from the US Navy for deployment of Sniffex, the Company's explosives-detection device. Homeland Safety indicated that this was the first order, other than for testing purposes, it had received from the US Military. The Company has previously sold its products primarily to other countries and indicated that this was a major step forward in its attempts to expand US sales.

The Company further stated that more specific information would be released at a later date, pending approval from the Navy to disclose details of the order and how Sniffex will be deployed.

"We are thrilled to begin the process of training American military personnel in the use of Sniffex," stated Paul Johnson, President of Homeland Safety International, Inc. "Sniffex has been sold in several countries around the world, and we have had serious interest from many departments in the US government and military. We fully expect this first national deployment to be a major, positive factor in advancing our ability to sell the product in other parts of the world."

This is incredible – if true – that any US military agency would actually invest in such a device! Why? Because the U.S. Naval EOD Technology Division conducted an extensive and definitive evaluation test of the Sniffex device back on August 8-9 of 2005, at the Yuma [Arizona] Proving Ground’s Joint Experimental Research Complex. The official report, dated September 2nd, 2005, was titled, “Test Report: The Detection Capability of the SNIFFEX Handheld Explosives Detector.” Here are excerpts from that report:

The test objectives were to evaluate the vendor's claims concerning the device's ability to detect explosives. Testing was performed in a manner consistent with the specifications of the SNIFFEX, and was designed only to evaluate the device's principles of operation, not to test its limits. Thus, explosive weights were considerably more than the minimum detectable amounts (20 or more pounds vs. 0.1 pounds), while distances were kept well within the maximum delectable ranges (10-25 feet vs. 300 feet) and the vendor was given the opportunity to take multiple passes prior to making a determination vs. 2-3 as stated in their literature. As shown in Table 1, the SNIFFEX handheld explosives detector performed no better than random chance over the course of testing…

The SNIFFEX did not detect explosives. A summary of the results is shown in Table 2. Every effort was made to meet the vendor’s needs to allow the device to operate under ideal conditions…

The vendor never suggested that the SNIFFEXs were malfunctioning during any test despite the fact that the devices were not correctly identifying the location of explosives…

On one occasion, the vendor wondered if the building was influencing the accuracy of the device, even though their device is purported to be able to detect explosives through most any barrier. In response to this, the operator proceeded to walk around the outside perimeter of the building while twenty pounds of TNT were inside. As he walked, the SNIFFEX indicated that explosives were present within the building as evidenced by a clear antenna deflection. [Randi comments: The vendor/operator had already been informed that there was an explosive target stored somewhere within that building.] However, as he was noting the positive indication of explosives in the structure, two explosives trucks containing a total of 1,000 pounds of explosives drove up behind him to a distance of approximately twenty feet away. The SNIFFEX failed to show any indication of this much larger quantity of explosives…

Based upon the observed test results, the SNIFFEX handheld explosives detector is not capable of detecting explosives regardless of the distance between the device and any explosives…

The antenna [on the SNIFFEX] is prone to deflection from slight breezes, magnetic influences, and improper handling. Furthermore the device is extremely susceptible to a well-documented phenomenon known as the ideomotor effect…

In summary, the U.S. Department of the Navy spent two days of their valuable time – and our tax money! – looking into the possible validity of what turns out to be just another dowsing stick, albeit an expensive and attractive one. They purposely – and fairly – gave huge advantages to the claimants: they used 200 times the amount of explosives that were claimed to be the minimum quantity required for detection, and in one case, 5,000 times that amount! In the one instance cited above, a truck carrying 10,000 times the minimum amount, failed to cause a reaction from the SNIFFEX! The Department also gave the claimants the advantage of operating at one-twelfth the operating distance they claimed the device would work, and allowed them to make any number of attempts they wished, and yet the device was, as they plainly stated, “not capable of detecting explosives.”

The question of competence arises. Were the chosen operators of the SNIFFEX capable of operating the device? Were they experienced? Were they familiar with this wonderful thing? Did they believe that it would actually work – bearing in mind that lack of “belief” and “faith” is often invoked when explaining failures? To all these four questions, the answer is most certainly, “Yes!” You see, these tests were carried out by Paul Johnson himself, the president of Sniffex, Inc.! He is the ONE person who should be most confident and capable of operating the dowsing rod, having had more experience with it than anyone else!

Next week, I’ll give you the latest tirade from Johnson, one that will give you stitches laughing… 




BROWNE NEWS

Reader Bob Prentice reminds us of CNN/Anderson Cooper’s recent criticism of Sylvia Browne’s flustered business Manager, Linda Rossi, who denied on his program that Browne was first a “psychic” and then a “spiritual teacher, though according to her own website, that was how she clearly described herself. Here, the Browne people have shown yet another example of how frantically they’re treading water. Writes Bob:

Check out $ylvia's website – she recently reversed her tagline from "Psychic and Spiritual Teacher" to "Spiritual Teacher and Psychic" – no doubt thanks to Randi's appearance on CNN. Sometimes it's the little things that make a big difference!

And note, please, that Montel Williams persists in featuring Sylvia, just as if she were the real thing …! Why does this man continue to promote such fakery? It boggles the mind!

Reader Ted Collins warns Sylvia:

Here's a particularly choice Bible selection for Sylvia (plucked from the Skeptics Annotated Bible, book of Deuteronomy):

18:20 But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.

18:21 And if thou say in thine heart, “How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken?”

18:22 When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him. 

Sylvia should be really careful about invoking the Bible after the Shawn Hornbeck incident.




BIG SECRET

Reader Scott Marshall, a proud JREF member, tells us of yet another film that presents woo-woo as fact:

A friend at work gave me the DVD movie, "The Secret," a 90-minute movie from Australia that promises to reveal the answer to all of one's hopes and dreams. He said it was recently featured on Oprah. If Oprah covers it, it must be real, right?

In the first few minutes of the film, I was drawn in just a little by the familiar promise that it would change my life, though I was skeptical, since this had been promised by so many other works, so many times before. The movie spends a good part of its opening dramatically and slickly portraying ancient Egyptians coveting and hiding the Secret of the Ages, plus other similar exciting historical dramatizations. It brings us up-to-date with a modern boardroom of executives using their knowledge of "The Secret" to expand their wealth and power. It lists historical figures supposedly privy to this secret – Plato, Newton, Carnegie, Beethoven, Edison, Shakespeare, Einstein – although backing this up with no supporting evidence. The implication is that I could achieve similar heights of fame and accomplishment if I were to follow the upcoming advice contained on that very disk. The onscreen pundits worried me, e.g. a New Age Minister, a Quantum Physicist.

Then they revealed "The Secret."

Called "The Law of Attraction," it basically means that thinking things makes them happen because of “quantum effects.” They express this visually as a shock wave emanating from the head that, when passing things nearby, causes the world to fall in line with one's expectations: one "attracts" what one expects. The video is not content, however, to suggest that a good or bad attitude makes you see the world in a better or worse light and leads you indirectly to obtain these things you are thinking about. It's not content to suggest that these waves emanating from our brains are metaphorical. It really suggest that, for example, if you worry that you will be stuck in a traffic jam, the quantum waves from your brain will cause the traffic to jam and make you late. They back up their magical promise with irrelevant ramblings from their Quantum Physicist, and a dramatization of an Aladdin-style Genie – a 20-foot-tall black bodybuilder – granting our every wish.

That was enough for me. I've sent this disk to you since it seems to be a fairly loud cannon blast. Defenders of the rational need to know of this incoming missile from New Age woo-woos.

Thank you, Scott.  I’ll look this over and have my own comments, anon.




FREE AD

Reader Richard Hubbard – no relationship, I’m sure, to L. Ron – writes:

Randi, just saw the front page of http://www.xenu.net/, and noticed that those good folks are spreading the word about randi.org.  Specifically, they have invited any Scientologist at the highest level (Clear or OT) to demonstrate their abilities to your organization, and win the $1,000,000.

I'm not holding my breath.

Nor are we, Richard…




MORE ZOO POO

Reader Paul Compton, of Lexington, Kentucky, was one of many who alerted me to this latest waste of taxpayers money, this time brought about by the Los Angeles Zoo. He sent me an article:

I couldn't resist sending you this article from the Los Angeles Daily News about the Zoo and their Feng Shui-nanegans.  Note paragraph 4, which says "It's very experimental" (no kidding?) and "we have to assume that Darwin is correct....and what is good for humans is good for monkeys".  I think evolution may have lagged behind with some of the zoo staff in Los Angeles.

The story goes that the Zoo has paid a fee of $4,500 to an “expert” in the “ancient Chinese art of feng shui” to make life safer, happier, and richer for three rare, endangered, golden monkeys on loan from China – at a rental of $1,000,000 for ten years. This hoary Asian flummery, they believe, will ensure that the monkeys “have a strong life force,” and will “focus on balance in design to promote health and happiness.”

This was part of the cost for a $7.4 million enclosure for the golden monkeys that will debut at the zoo later this year. The brilliant at the Los Angeles Zoo directors who, on the advice of their principal architect Charles Mays, called in the quack – Beverly Hills-based Feng Shui “expert” Simona Mainini – are convinced it’s all real because it’s “in demand among high-end architects and interior designers,” and they are eager to show their ignorance by rushing to be the first to apply it to animal enclosure design. How original and exciting!

Mainini said:

We don't have any books on Feng Shui for monkeys. We just have to assume that Darwin is correct and that there is a connection and what is good for humans is good for monkeys.

So much for this “expert’s” knowledge of Darwin, biology, and the real world…




LET’S ALL TRY TO GROW UP – SHALL WE?

A recent bill designating January 29th as Thomas Paine Day in Arkansas has failed after Representative Sid Rosenbaum, a member of the state House of Representatives, protested Paine’s clearly stated preference for reason over religion. The bill was intended to be official recognition of Paine’s contribution to American independence from Britain, and not to establish an official state holiday.

Rosenbaum is alarmed about Paine’s frank opinions as expressed by him in “The Age of Reason,” published in 1795. Rosenbaum labels that book “anti-Christian and anti-Jewish,” but he admits that the author actually “did some good things for the nation.” How perceptive of Representative Sid! No wonder he was elected to this exalted position by the citizens of Arkansas.




MORE COLUMBIA SCANDAL

Reader Bruce Flamm, M.D. – see www.randi.org/jr/2006-01/010606netherlands.html#i10 for one of many mentions – writes:

This may be too much to believe, but the scandal surrounding the "Columbia Miracle Study" aka the "Pray for Pregnancy" study, has yet another amazing new twist. Recall that the study had three authors. However, Dr. Lobo at Columbia now says he had nothing to do with the research and had his name removed from the paper. Daniel Wirth was convicted of fraud and resides in Federal Prison.

That leaves only Dr. Cha, an internationally famous infertility specialist, and he still claims the supernatural study is legitimate. Because Cha refuses to admit that the research is flawed or fraudulent, Dr. Devoe at the JRM [Journal for Reproductive Medicine] steadfastly refuses to retract the absurd publication.

Here's the news: I have just been informed that Dr. Cha now has major problems with another publication in a different medical journal. I can't comment on the details but this scandal will probably be reported in the national media within the next few days.

If you’re not familiar with this scientific farce and the absolute refusal of Columbia University and the JRM to acknowledge the scandal, do a search and learn about it.  This is suppression of scientific truth and reality fostered by the “faith-based” bureaucracy.




The museum of mind games

Reader and correspondent Professor Richard Wiseman – among many others – informed us of an interesting bit of news. In 2003, the world's first-and-only Psychic Museum opened in Stonegate, York, the creation of UK astrologer Jonathan Cainer and “psychic” Uri Geller. At that time, Cainer – see  www.randi.org/jr/2006-01/010606netherlands.html#i11 – declared:

I'd always been interested in doing something along these lines, and I thought a museum dedicated to telepathy and telekinesis hadn't been done before, and then this very strange thing happened. I sat down and was fishing in the psychic pool. I believe that when you're being creative it's as if you can fish something from above your head, so I'm fishing in the creative pool for my idea and this is the first time I've had an idea I've picked up from the creative pool and seen written on the bottom of it “property of Uri Geller.”

It was the strangest thing, I've seen people take ideas and try to copyright them, but I've never seen somebody have an idea and put it back but leave it with the name still stamped on it, and the minute I had this idea for a psychic museum I thought “I must ring Uri.” I felt like I'd been hypnotized.

Don’t ask me what this means, friends.  It’s woo-woo language, which I don’t speak. I’d suggest, though, that Cainer should take fishing lessons…

The "aura machine" at the museum was a Kirlian-style device which showed the naive their “energy field,” and they had an “Egely Wheel,” a small metal disc – originated by an Hungarian crackpot – which the uninformed believe can be moved by using “mind power.” But all that’s over, now. The museum has closed due to a lack of paying visitors. It will no longer be a museum, but will gain a new lease on life as an internet resource, reopening for the 2007 tourist season under the auspices of “Fright Nights,” which will lease the premises and use them to host their “Ghost Night Experiences.”

We must wonder, with two such prodigious psychic talents as Jonathan Cainer and Uri Geller putting their money into this museum, how could it possibly have failed?




AND THIS ENCOURAGING NEWS

From reader Jeff Tucker, who describes himself as, “an embarrassed but relieved alumnus,” we hear news from his alma mater, Princeton University. PEAR, the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Laboratory described by the media as

…a colossal waste of money for nearly three decades, is finally closing down, having discovered precisely nothing.

They had conducted studies on ESP and PK from the basement of the University's engineering building since 1979. The lab's founder, Robert G. Jahn, 76, former dean of Princeton's engineering school and an emeritus professor, disagreed with the “discovered precisely nothing” comment:

For 28 years, we've done what we wanted to do, and there's no reason to stay and generate more of the same data. If people don't believe us after all the results we've produced, then they never will.

Really? Well, Senator Claiborne Pell, a firm believer in the powers of Uri Geller and other such nonsense, demanded 20 years ago that the National Research Council – part of the National Academy of Sciences – conduct an investigation of certain borderline claims such as those made by the PEAR labs. The conclusion of the well-qualified committee, of which Ray Hyman was a member, was that there was nothing to the claims made by the PEAR labs. Furthermore, there were only two serious attempts to scientifically replicate the PEAR work, at York University in Canada, and in chosen labs in Europe, mainly Germany. All the attempted replications were failures, followed of course by frantic objections made by Dean Jahn and his colleagues.

You’ll find all sorts of references to PEAR in the SWIFT archives, such as at www.randi.org/jr/2006-03/033106mccrea.html#i4. One of the major projects at PEAR was to find out if humans could mentally interfere with the operation of machines, including electronic devices - a pet notion of Jahn's. Analyzing data from their experiments along this line, the PEAR team concluded that people could do this “only very slightly,” changing about 2 or 3 [virtual coin] flips out of 10,000. If the human mind could alter the behavior of such a machine, they said, then “thought” could bring about changes in many other areas of life – helping to heal disease, for instance, in oneself and others.

Interestingly, there has been no official comment made by Princeton University about this closing. The lab was able to raise some $10 million during its existence, which one would think might interest Princeton, since that money was, after all, their funding…




SASQUATCH REVEALED

Reader Dean Malandris directs us to an interesting website, www.joanocean.com/sasquatch.html, where we discover that The Abominable Snowman, yeti, Bigfoot – whatever you wish to call him – has abilities far beyond what we might have expected. Did you know that the Sasquatch can read, write, shape-shift, voice project, create infrasound that affects the environment, de-materialize at will – or cause you to have an experience of “lost time” so you think they de-materialized! – travel 300 miles a day on foot, and that they live in well-lighted underground facilities, contact and live with star people, tell us about our past and our future, have lived here longer than the human race? They are Christian, and use rocks as units of currency.

Gee, I never knew that! It shows what a wealth of information is available to you on the Internet!




FAIR WARNING

A few readers were alarmed at my accidental ingestion of a tiny neodymium magnet – as described last week at www.randi.org/jr/2007-02/020209morebrowne.html#i8 – and warned me that there have been serious effects suffered by children who have swallowed more than one magnet. Two of them coming together can pinch off vital parts of the intestinal tract, as described at tinyurl.com/2gwv9e. I assured those readers that I’ve taken great care to swallow only one magnet at a time…

As the authority on the subject of magnet-ingestion, I accept reader/veterinarian Michael J. Dark, D.V.M., who corrected me on my comments re “cow magnets.” He writes:

I was reading through the last commentary, and just wanted to correct a statement. Magnets administered to cattle are meant to (and generally do) stay in the rumen, the main fermentation vat of the cow's digestive tract. They attract metal objects to prevent them from perforating the gastrointestinal tract and causing traumatic reticuloperitonitis. Generally, this is because the magnets are large enough to stay in the rumen (based on the rumen's design), rather than pass through as they would in monogastric animals (like humans). When we necropsy cattle, we routinely find magnets that have been in the rumen for months to years.

Going to my reference books, I discovered far more about the bovine digestive system than I really needed to know. That clever rumen device was probably intelligently-designed to store junk-gathering magnets, I suppose…?




A COMMENT

In The New York Times, we found a comment by TV host/comedian Dick Cavett:

I'm not an atheist exactly, but remain what you might call "suggestible." Is there a category of almost-atheist? A person who does not have the courage of his nonconvictions? I guess Woody Allen has, as so often, had the ultimate comic word on the subject. "You cannot prove the nonexistence of God; you just have to take it on faith."

I can, with a little effort, like people who buy into screwy beliefs and cults, as long as no blood is involved. I confess I do have to remind myself almost daily that there are people on this Earth capable of reading, writing, eating and dressing themselves who believe their lives are ruled from billions of miles away, by the stars – and, of course, the planets. I don't scorn such people (exactly); it must be damned pleasant to think the wrong turns and heartbreaks in your life aren't entirely your own dumb fault but, partially at least, the doings of those great hulking clinkers, way up in the sky, which somehow take a personal interest in your doings. I can be tolerant.

More than I can manage, Dick...




CONSPIRACY NUTS LISTEN UP!

Here’s something from reader Jim Oberg that will thrill those who are sure NASA faked the Moon missions. Says Jim:

I'm not making this up. Read it and giggle: www.darkhorizons.com/news07/070209t.php




TAKES THE CAKE

Surely, here is a company who can snatch the JREF million-dollar prize from our grasp without any problem! “Aquamantra” is one of the nuttiest delusions we’ve ever come upon, and you readers need to know that this is officially trade-marked nonsense; it’s not just from some kid with a keyboard and a fantasy problem. It turns out that this originated (see www.randi.org/jr/052303.html and search for “Emoto”) with a Dr. Masaru Emoto, who boasts certification from the Open International University of Alternative Medicine, that reliable and highly respected source of quackery. I’ve dealt with his hilarious ideas before, at length.

You have to see this hilarious site to believe it. Go to www.aquamantra.com/index.php, but be seated and prepared to fall over giggling. You may catch the fleeting phrase, “Experience the flavor of 100% pure thought,” which should have you on the floor, but don’t skip the intro, as you might be tempted to do…

By now you’re asking, “What could Aquamantra possibly be?” Just read what they tell us:

Aquamantra: is Energy Enhanced Natural Spring Water that resonates with the energy and frequency of well-being. The quality of your thoughts determine the quality of your life and NOW water, because you are what you THINK and you are what you DRINK. We deliver powerful messages to you through the mantras, I AM HEALTHY™, I AM LOVED™ or I AM LUCKY™.

The thoughts inherent in those words permeate the liquid, influencing the taste and beneficial properties of the water. If you are drinking ‘I am Healthy’ for example, you will resonate with the energy to be healthy. I am Loved will allow you to feel loved and I am Lucky will make you feel prosperous and LUCKY!

Aquamantra was inspired by a 2004 film, “What the Bleep Do We Know?!” This Movie discussed the underlying quantum mechanics of our world. It showed how reality is changed with every thought. Dr. Masaru Emoto, who was featured in the film, wrote a book called “Hidden Messages in Water,” he showed us the basic principles of quantum theory, whereby the molecular structure of water was changed by a Zen Buddhist monk’s thought. Based on this premise, Aquamantra uses the design on its labels to affect the molecular structure of California natural spring water to make it more refreshing and wholesome to drink.

Each bottle features custom created artwork inspired from local O.C. artists and a portion of the revenues from each mantra, are reserved for a variety of charities. Infused with positive energies and powerful mantras, Aquamantra can truly stimulate your soul.

Learn the more about each of our magnificent waters below, by clicking on the bottle of choice.

As a precaution, this is followed by a notice:

All mantras are trademarked. All Rights Reserved.

So there! Now, a simple test conducted with devout believers in this flummery, would result in either the surrender of the JREF million-dollar prize, or the failure of the believers to tell whether they’ve consumed ordinary tap water, or the Aquamantra product. I’ll expect my doorbell to sound, any minute now.

Or maybe not…




TERMINAL NAIVETY

This almost goes without comment:

Bradenton, Florida — A man who gave a psychic $32,000 to bless, returned the next day to find she and the money had disappeared, the Manatee County Sheriff's Office reports.

The strange case began when Manuel Lanaverde, 29, of Arcadia, heard ads the psychic ran on two local radio stations, promising she could change your luck. He telephoned her, then met with her at her residence, 3200 51st Ave. Drive East, telling her his construction business was not making money.

"The psychic advised him that if he brought her a large amount of money she could bless it and that would make his business prosper," the sheriff's office said. "The victim then brought her $32,000 in cash to her residence and had her bless the money."

She then told the victim to come back tomorrow to pick up the money because it would take a full day to bless the money.
The next day the victim went back to the psychic’s residence and she was not there.

Deputies say he then contacted the apartment manager and had her check the residence for him. The residence was checked by the manager and everything in the residence was gone.

The victim also stated that other people were at the psychic’s residence stating that she also took money from them.

Now, to us it can seem as if this man was remarkably stupid. Not necessarily so. Much would depend on his educational background, his community, his family environment, and/or his religious beliefs. Some ethnic groups have well-established cultural beliefs that lead them to take it for granted that supernatural powers are possessed by certain individuals, that those persons can and will assist them with problems – much as a lawyer or doctor would – and they turn to these sources when in need. This “curse-removing” ability is often accepted by such folks, and it’s sought out by those who feel they can benefit from it. It’s basically a “gypsy” sort of scam – a “bajour”* that is commonly encountered by those who investigate bunco cases.

*this word, pronounced, “bazhure,” as in “azure, is used in the gypsy trade to mean a carefully-planned swindle. It may be a corruption of the Old French word, “bajoire,” which means, “double-sided coin.”




IN CLOSING…

And for those of you enjoyed the quotes that were playing during the breaks at TAM 5, they’re now available here in PowerPoint format.

There are, as of this date, 2,049 books in the main JREF library…!

 

 

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