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April 20, 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. Hot Stuff
  2. Word Play
  3. More Nutty Old Ideas
  4. Collections
  5. Promises Not Kept
  6. Concentrated Crapiola
  7. Why We Do It
  8. Weak Laughter
  9. In Conclusion
An Evening with DawkinsThe Amaz!ng Meeting 5 DVD Set with Bonus Critical Thinking Workshop
and Sunday Papers

Video documenting the fifth Amaz!ng meeting in Las Vegas. Speakers include: Michael Shermer, Penn and Teller, The MythBusters, John Rennie, Scott Dikkers, Phil Plait, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, Neil Gershenfeld, Hal Bidlack, Richard Wiseman, Peter Sagal, Christopher Hitchens, Nick Gillespie and Ron Bailey, Eugenie Scott, Lori Lipman-Brown, Jamy Ian Swiss, James Randi, and many more! Includes all Sunday papers! 6 DVDs total spanning over 17 hours.

$69.00 (International Price: $76.00)*
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At you’ll see yet another Asian miracle-worker fooling an over-confident documentary camera crew who are quite out of their depth. Another such stunt is seen at, where one of the thousands of such con-artists, John Chang, shows other standard tricks of the trade. Note, please, that the “healing” of the narrator’s brother Loren (?) is not followed up on, nor is any mention made as to whether or not anything resembling a “cure” resulted. Knowing these folks, any recovery brought about by woo-woo would have been flourished…! As reader David Smith comments on the first video:

This guy heats a towel with his hands to near boiling. I mentioned that the towel wasn't examined beforehand, and mentioned that the camera wasn't tested to see if it was functioning properly, either.

There’s no problem with the camera, David. I refer readers to, where a formulation for this trick is provided, though there are many other combinations that will provide the same exothermic effect. In this case, a Californian, Dr. Michael Upsher, is produced as an “expert” to express his astonishment at the wonder he’s been shown. Just what qualifications Dr. Upsher might have to detect trickery, isn’t mentioned: he’s a retired anesthesiologist, and I can’t understand how he would be able to observe very well while he’s face-down on a table with the action being carried out not only behind his back, but also on his back…! How I wish I could perform my tricks under those conditions!

(I’ve been trying to contact Dr. Upsher to inform him of how he was deceived. If any reader can find this person…)


Taken from the Washington Post's Style Invitational, which asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. Here are a few of the winners that appealed to us:

Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

Karmageddon: It's when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, and then the Earth explodes and it's a serious bummer.

Glibido: All talk and no action.

Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.


Reader Charles Shopsin, who writes the Modern Mechanix Blog we mentioned last week, suggests these items you’d also be interested in looking over:

A Perpetual Motion Engine, at, a $5,000 Challenge to prove the world is a globe, at, Invisibility At Last Within the Grasp of Man, at, and Look out for Swindlers Who Turn "Scientific": Top this off with: World's Most Costly Blunders, at


Here’s the best of the additional submitted “collective nouns” I asked for last week. There were hundreds offered…

Acupuncturists/accupressurists: a pain of, a pincushion of, a poke of
Alien abductees: a delusion of, a conspiracy of
Applicants for the JREF Prize: a vacancy of, a lack of
Applied kinesiologists: a weakness of
Aromatherapists: a mist of, a whiff of
Chiropractors: a crack of, a knot of, a manipulation of, a quack of
Creation Scientists: a notion of, a fantasy of
Crop circlers: a spin of
Cryptozoologists: a crock of, a howl of
Diviners/dowsers: a profane of, a puddle of, a delusion of, a failure of, a tremor of, a dupe of, a drought of, a spring of, a stream of, a stick of, a dry of, a desert of,
Faith healers: a frequency of, an offering of
Homeopaths: a dilution of, a quack of
Intelligent Design supporters: an IDiot of
Iridologists: a blink of, a blur of
Magnet enthusiasts/magnetic-therapy healers: a placebo of, an attraction of
Mediums: a fraud of, a rare of
Numerologists: a remainder of
Parapsychologists: a chimera of, a confusion of
People who find Jesus, Mary or Elvis on a wall, refrigerator or tortilla: a raw shock of (get it?)
Prophets: a loss of
Psychic photographers: an exposure of
Psychic surgeons: a quack of, an operation of
Psychics: a guess of
Reflexologists: a foot of
Rune stone readers: a pile of
Scientologists: a lawsuit of, a contract of
Skeptics: a doubt of, a qualm of, an input of
Spoonbenders: a drawer of
Talkers-to-the-dead: a garble of, a Schwartz of
Tarot card readers: a deck of, a shuffle of
Telepaths: a notion of
UFO abductees/believers: an invasion of, a saucer of

Some of those may have gotten by you. Read ‘em again…


Reader Jim Boskus sent off an irate letter to the editor of the Poughkeepsie Journal:

I am writing because you published something in Sunday's paper (April 8) that does not belong in a respected news journal. I am referring to the blurb on page 2E "Center plans workshop on mediumship." According to the article, for "only" $45 (or $55 at the door) you can attend a workshop that will "teach techniques to help participants connect to angels, guides and loved ones on the other side."

I cannot believe that the Poughkeepsie Journal is effectively facilitating the fleecing of gullible and distraught people. Do you truly believe that the people running this scam can teach you how to communicate with angels and your dead relatives? I must ask, if I were to run a workshop that I claimed could teach participants how to communicate with fairies and leprechauns, would you provide free publicity in the paper for it? If not, why not? This would be no more outrageous than what the folks putting on this "medium workshop" say they can do.

Please ask yourself this: if these people can actually communicate with the dead, why don't they contact murder victims and help bring killers to justice? Why don't they contact geniuses such as Edison, Einstein or Franklin? Certainly mankind could benefit from their wisdom, especially from the perspective of "the other side." No, instead of using this incredible power for good, these folks instead will "teach you" for a paltry $45. Either these people are wasting an amazing ability or they are charlatans. Which do you think is more likely?

Finally, if these people can truly communicate with the dead, they should apply to the James Randi Educational Foundation and claim the one million dollar prize for any provable paranormal ability (details at How many workshops do you think these people would have to run in order to pull in one million dollars?

The perpetrators of this "workshop" should be prosecuted for fraud, not given free advertising space in the newspaper. Including this garbage in the paper alongside legitimate happenings lends credibility to alleged "mediums" that they simply do not deserve.

Shame on the Journal.

Mr. Boskus received a response that almost answered his question:

Good morning, Mr. Boskus, and thank you for your email. I’m happy to address your question….

I have reviewed the news item you’re referring to. While I understand what you are saying, the goal of the Healthy Living section is to present information about the variety of viewpoints, therapies and activities that address total health: body, mind and spirit.

For some, that might be traditional Western medicine and beliefs; for others, it encompasses less traditional, or alternative, beliefs and practices. The Hudson Valley has become a region where many different therapies are explored and available. For example, some people believe reiki – a system of healing based more on a spiritual belief – works, while others shun it. Or some people visit a chiropractor regularly for all their physical health needs and shun medications, while others put their trust solely in an M.D. Other people do a combination of those things.

That said, your point makes sense. I have reviewed our policy with the editors involved and we will keep it in mind in the future. Thank you for taking a moment to contact me. It’s appreciated. And thanks for reading the Journal.

Have a good weekend.

Stuart Shinske
executive editor/director of content and audience development
Poughkeepsie Journal and Poughkeepsie

Jim Boskus adds his comments:

I'm not sure why he brings alternative medical practices into the discussion. I was complaining about a workshop where you will supposedly be taught how to communicate with angels and dead people. Anyway, I'm hoping that my complaint will cause them to think twice before publishing drivel again.

One more quick thing... I was in our local Barnes and Noble recently and I was distressed to see that Sylvia Browne had an entire shelving unit dedicated to her books. Ugh. I'd be much happier to see a case full of your books on display with Sylvia's dreck relegated to the bargain bin!

Before I close I must thank you for your consideration and taking the time to respond to me.

This illustrates the situation in which media editors provide a response that only appears to handle the complaint. Editor Shinske is working under the burden of having to respect any and all opinions, beliefs, and notions, no matter how unlikely or juvenile – especially religious delusions such as survival-after-death. He could find himself looking for other employment if he were to actually address Jim Boskus’ inquiry…

It’s called, survival.


Reader Paul Tyrrell sends us to Woo-Woo-Land at, where we find the latest version of this rather superior collection of double-talk, including the “Money Magnet” and the old “Tesla Shield” – see and for previous references to this wonder. It appears that “L.T.” has stumbled upon an old stock of these purple dog-tags and is again offering them to the suckers.

The turgid text – I’ll only give you 137 words of it here, to spare you indigestion – is typical:

Advance Mind Body And Soul Through Life Technology™.

Life Technology™ is the world's leading researcher in the fields of Alternative Health, Alternative Medicine, Alternative Therapies, Rife, Radionics, Psychotronics, Psionics, Homeopathy, Alchemy, Subtle Energy Therapies, Metaphysics, Kabbalah, Magick, New Age Subjects, Self Help, Hypnosis, NLP, Spiritual Technologies, Ormus, Orgone, Orgonomy, Free Energy and related areas of Alternative Science.

Life Technology™ was established in 1993 as an holistic therapies practice with the aim to conduct research into several related fields of subtle energy medicine. Our aim is to evaluate new treatment methods in vibrational energy medicine and to further develop and evolve these healing technologies. Our vision is to enhance the quality of human life through adoption of safe, natural and effective holistic therapies. Our mission is to improve human health through the application of innovative subtle energy technologies.

Who writes this stuff? Political writers out of jobs, or evangelical hacks lining up a few adjectives for extra income? Mind you, this is well-done crapiola; it doesn’t happen by mistake, and has to be carefully crafted – by tossing in “vibrations” and such buzz-words to appeal to the naïve and vulnerable populace. I admire this ability in the same way I admire those who design electric chairs or a better gallows…


This short note from reader Ruben D. Hoyos will help to provide just one reason:

A have a little sad story. My friend Gustav fell sick with symptoms of pneumonia. Instead of seeing a doctor, he went to see a Latin yerbatero (herbalist). He took the prescribed "natural remedies. His condition worsened to the point that he had to be taken to the emergency room a week later. The real doctors tried to help him but it was too late. He was told to say his goodbyes to his wife and kids as he would not make it. At age 46, his life was cut short due to his own ignorance and the unscrupulous conduct of a doctor wanna-be. I guess in this case we can sadly say that he died of "natural causes."

Ignorance can be deadly, or fatal. And ignorance is what we’re battling, every day. That, and the naïve, honest embrace of dishonest fraud. I was just reminded last week by a correspondent of something I wrote in the Epilogue of “Flim-Flam,” my second book:

As for my readers, of whatever opinions they may be, my writing of this book was dictated by a feeling that I had to tell what is here revealed. I believe every word of it to be true and you have read what I believe to be adequate proof. Parapsychology is a farce and a delusion, along with other claims of wonders and powers that assail us every day of our lives. Knowing what I do, and holding the opinions that I do, has not made this world any the less exciting and wonderful and challenging for me, nor should it for you.  On the contrary, to know that you are an individual not put here for some mysterious reason by some supernatural means, and that you are not protected by unknown powers or beings; to know that you are a product of millions of experiments in the evolutionary process and not the result of a seed thrown on this planet by extraterrestrials – that, to me, is very exciting. I am a responsible member of a race that reached out into space and walked on the Moon, folks! In a small way, I also walked there, and so did you. And I'm thrilled about it!

Throw away the Tarot deck and ignore the astrology column. They are products offered you by charlatans who think you are not the marvelous, capable, independent being you are.

Nonsense has reigned too long as Emperor of the Mind. Take a good look. The Emperor has no clothes!

The correspondent who reminded me of this statement, which I wrote some 26 years ago, also assured me that my influence got him on his way to a more rational, satisfying way of life – a declaration that always makes me renew my efforts and fortifies my pursuit of reason.

But reader Hoyos added a line to his note:

I love your work and miss your talks on the Skepticasts.

That deserves a line or two of comment. I’ve recently been forced to curtail some extra activities, one of which is my weekly contribution to Dr. Steven Novella’s podcasts. That will be remedied. Go to and you’ll see that I’m still listed there, and I want to be back doing this simple task, weekly. I promise…


Reader Ruth Page writes:

While amusing myself with the Geller-cheating videos on your site last night, I was reminded of his appearance on a BBC comedy show a few years ago.  It made me smile, so I thought I'd share it:  The show was on BBC2 and was called Fantasy Football League. It was a popular comedy talk show focusing on soccer and hosted by two comedians, Frank Skinner and David Baddiel.  Geller was on because he was running a daft publicity campaign to encourage us Brits to "put our hands on the [tv] screen [at a specified time] and Uri's psychic power will make England will win the European Soccer Championship!"  We didn't win, needless to say.

Geller started banging on about how, at one time, he was "doing some secret work for the British government."  He said "they had hidden me out in the countryside, at a pig farm."  Without missing a beat, David Baddiel said, "A pig farm?  Is it you that does the pigs' tails, then?"  Geller almost made his laugh sound sincere.  Almost.

Ruth, that “pig farm” visit is part of Geller’s eternal fantasy trip. He claims that the UK government actually commissioned him to try to kill pigs with his powerful mind-waves. The implied purpose was that humans are so similar to pigs… He might bore them to death by just looking at them, but otherwise they might hope for a handout… Oh, and the pigs all matured to bacon status, without any ill effects from Geller’s mental gymnastics …


First, an important announcement. We're officially launching our revamped scholarship program. We will award up to $10,000 in academic scholarships this Fall. The scholarships, in amounts of $5000, $2500, $1500, and $1000, may be awarded to deserving students in potentially any field of study, at the graduate or undergraduate level. A committee composed of a physicist, a social scientist, a physician, and a very senior member of the staff of Scientific American magazine will select the winners, with the awards being announced on August 1, 2007. For more information, please visit

Also, reader John Simpson has provided us with a .pdf file showing that swindlers have been around for a very long time. Read this article from the '30's and realize that the same scams still arrive in the JREF's mailbox daily. Will we ever learn? Check out the JREF Library at

I’ll end this week with a prayer, inspired by President George Bush’s recent appeal to “a loving God” who he asked to “comfort those who are suffering today,” in response to the massacre of 32 persons at the Virginia Tech campus. My prayer:

To God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, God of Abraham, Jehovah, whoever or whatever:

God, You in Your omniscience – You know everything, past present and future – and also in Your omnipotence – You can do anything You want to do – why, 23 years ago, did You create this deluded man Seung-Hui Cho, then allow him to buy the guns, go to the Virginia Tech campus, and slaughter all those students and faculty? That took long-term planning, determined intention, and careful nurturing of Cho’s delusions and hatred, by You. God, what’s “loving” about that? Our President may labor under the delusion that such an act somehow shows Your “loving” nature, but in my admitted ignorance, I cannot see that. Help me to understand.

Or was this – forgive my suggestion, God – yet another failure of Your Intelligent Design, along with tobacco, cancer, spina bifida, and Crohn’s Disease?

A better plan, God – in my humble opinion – would have been to prevent that horrendous, senseless, slaughter, and then You would have had no reason to have to “comfort” those parents, friends, fellow-students and so many others who will now have to do without the delight of knowing these beautiful people. You see, God, You could have saved the lives – and futures – not only of those 32, but of Mr. Cho, as well! This deranged young man, angry and desperate, reacted to a society he felt was opposing him. He murdered 32 persons because he felt he had to, in answer to impulses he could not control. But You, Almighty God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, etc., etc., could have intervened – “omnipotent,” remember? – and there would be far less sorrow in our nation today.

Why did You do this to us? The figures show us that most of us believe in You, believe in Your loving nature, and appeal to You for Your comfort even after You have decided to allow tragedies such as this to happen; doesn’t that count? Personally, I don’t believe in You, but don’t the numbers count?

God, I’m sure that Dr. Richard Roberts, president of Oral Roberts University, speaks for You when he says, “…there’s no doubt that this act was Satanic in origin." He calls Cho's recently-revealed writings, “just words,” which he says are “one of Satan’s tools to bring about Man’s destruction.” Now, this fits the Christian idea of demonic possession, which says that human existence is predicated on the narrative of Man’s Fall from Grace in the Garden of Eden, and that wherever there is good, Satan is trying to destroy it.

Please, God, try to get Your act together, or there may be fewer people out there willing to appease a jealous, callous, vindictive, cruel, obviously insecure deity such as Yourself. And what would You do then?

God only knows…


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