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JREF Swift Blog
Swift, named for Jonathan Swift, is the JREF's daily blog, featuring content from James Randi, the JREF staff, and other featured authors.

SWIFT November 2, 2007 PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Randi   

Incredible Naivety?, Is CNN Serious?, More “Phenomenon”, News Flash, Re the Cable Nonsense, Popoff Does Rather Well, Useless Woo-Woo Therapy, Ignorance Prevails, It’s Still Nonsense, You’re Kidding – I Hope, Nietzche at a Séance, and In Closing…


When spirit medium Nomatter Tagarira, 35, of Zimbabwe announced that she could magically cause refined diesel oil to come out of a rock just by striking it with her staff, the ministers in President Robert Mugabe’s Government apparently believed her, and they gave her five billion Zimbabwean dollars in cash – worth US$3.5 million at the start of the year, but now worth one seven-hundredth of that – for this fuel bonanza. President Mugabe had already come up with a clever scheme of simply printing money to end inflation, so this was no stretch of the Zimbabwean imagination, I guess.

The woman was also given a farm, as well as food and services that included a round-the-clock armed guard on the magical rock located 60 miles from Harare, the capital city. A year passed, and the officials actually realized they had been deceived! Ms. Tagarira is now awaiting trial on charges of fraud. Court papers said that over fifteen months, until July of this year, the enchantress continued to convince Cabinet ministers, ruling party politicians and top army and police officers of Zimbabwe that by striking the rock with her staff she could produce enough fuel to supply the country for the next century. It was discovered that this was an exaggeration…

SWIFT October 26, 2007 PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Randi   

Boring, A Matter of Education?, Trudeau Again, Nine Silly Rules, Krugel “Responds” – Sort Of, Sylvia In the Comics, Compounded Woo-Woo, Schoolboy Prank, Shudder…, Understandable, Good Decision, That Monster Again, No Argument Here, Correction, A Welcome Document, Definitions, Honest “Fakir,” and In Conclusion…

Last night, the highly-touted “Phenomenon show appeared on NBC-TV. It was right on time, but that’s about all that can be said for it.

Happily, Criss Angel maintained – as he’d told me he would – his decision to treat the matter logically, critically, and in a straightforward manner. It seemed as if Uri Geller didn’t have much to contribute except that tired old ESP-card audience-participation stunt that he’s pulled on TV all over the world, along with his presumptuous clenched-fist repeated shouting of “1, 2, 3!” like a desperate cheer-leader. Now, magicians have known for decades that when those five basic symbols – the circle, plus-sign, wavy lines, square, and star – are shown, particularly with the star in the second-from-left position, as Geller displayed them, the audience choice is heavily for the star. Geller certainly has always been aware of this, since every time he’s done this chestnut, he’s chosen the star as the one to “broadcast telepathically” to the audience… Duh… In any case, the star symbol barely won the day, scoring just one percent more than the runner-up, the circle symbol…

Toronto Star columnist Vinay Menon, writing in advance of last night’s show, asked the obvious question about Geller’s major claim to fame:

SWIFT October 19, 2007 PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Randi   

Phenomena Examined, Censorship in Germany, Yet More Dilution Delusions, A Martial Arts Parallel, Remarkable – And Probably Quite Real, Officially Categorizing Nonsense, Fremer Fumes, A Sterling Example, Selling Tap Water, The “Locator” Is Back, Attenborough Reacts, and In Closing

A recent article in The New York Times pointed out the current and continuing fascination that the public has with woo-woo – and how eagerly the media snap up every attractive possibility of using this delusion to provide entertainment and sell products. Perhaps the most naïve statement in the NYT article was this:

People used to believe in magic until science began proving them wrong.

No, people still believe in magic – even more than ever – because of the hyperbole, distortion, and bias provided by the media. And this sentence in the same article also got my attention:

SWIFT October 12, 2007 PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Randi   

Sounds Like Acceptance, Incredible, Freedom of Expression Triumphs, No Surprise at All, Correction, Evolution and Education, Coo-Coo Department, In Closing…

It’s not often that one of the noisy woo-woos out there actually accepts to take the JREF challenge, but we just may have such a one! It’s Michael Fremer, who signs himself as “senior contributing editor, Stereophile Magazine.” Now, we’ve sniped away at Stereophile many times here on SWIFT, and offered them the JREF million-dollar prize, repeatedly – with no response. But that may have changed. I must admit, I feel like a hungry lion who just had a flock of tasty lambs wander into his valley…!

In a rather “enthusiastic” and certainly colorful response to my taunting, Mr. Fremer chose to quote me from the November 17th, 2006, SWIFT, where I printed one of his more hilarious statements re demagnetizing vinyl LP recordings. No, that’s not a misprint, folks. Even though vinyl plastic can’t retain or even react to a magnetic field, Fremer – a scientifically-trained editor, remember, as opposed to my own meager educational background – seems to believe otherwise. He wrote:

SWIFT October 5, 2007 PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Randi   

Truth Is Actionable, Egg On Their Collective Faces, Now It Can Be Told, A Call for More Teeth In the Law, Ammunition for the Homeopaths, Making a Fuss, Giving Up the Ghost, And From Hungary, Yet More Cables, Consider This, New Laws, Old News, A Contrary Expectation, Watch This, A Small Hallelujah, and Robbins Strikes Again!

AdamEveSteve Bitterman, 60, was an instructor at Southwestern Community College in Red Oak, Iowa. Last week, he dared to tell his students that the Biblical story of Adam and Eve should not be literally interpreted. Truth is not much a part of Iowa curricula, it seems, so a handful of students who threatened legal action over his remarks in a Western Civilization class intimidated the faculty enough that the teacher was fired.

Bitterman objected, and rightly so:

I’m just a little bit shocked myself that a college in good standing would back up students who insist that people who have been through college and have a master’s degree… have to teach that there were such things as talking snakes or lose their job.

The Southwestern Community College president, Barbara Crittenden, said that Bitterman taught one course at Southwest, but declined comment on his claim that he was fired specifically over the Bible reference, claiming that it was a personnel issue. The teacher said that he uses the Old Testament in his Western Civilization course and always teaches it from an academic standpoint.

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