The Amazing Meeting 2014

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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.

In Defense of Karma PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   

Karma, the belief that the actions in your life are somehow tallied and weighed for or against you, falls firmly in the realm of woo-woo. There is no evidence that such a "force" exists, or that there is any entity keeping track of your "sins" so that you may or may not get into some heavenly place.

And yet, I think the concept is useful and effective. Let me explain.

 
Love Thy Neighbor PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Brandon K. Thorp   

This is a response to Jeff Wagg's month-old article on The Westboro Baptist Church. I'll dispense with the formal introductions - most Swift readers know about Westboro, and those who don't may inform themselves quickly by clicking here.

Jeff's article concluded with this paragraph:

Ignore these people. Their message is so over-the-top that they don't need debunking. Let them blow away and take their rightful place next to any of the thousands of other self-serving hypocrites pretending to have a calling from a higher power. Learn to be comfortable with the fact that there are lying, evil bastards out there who want your attention, and understand that you win when you don't give it to them. We all do.

Sentiments like Jeff's have been expressed by countless sensitive souls since the Westboroans began their protest ministry. But I disagree, on grounds both moral and practical. After all, no high-minded article could possibly inspire all people to ignore a group as loud and incendiary as The Westboro Baptist Church, and by ignoring them ourselves we only cede our place at their demonstrations to bullies with their own theological axes to grind - bullies who will engage the church far less thoughtfully than would, say, a public of even-tempered skeptics.

Many think such abandonment is right and proper. Even those without any sympathy for the Westboroan plight have surely been surprised at the rapidity with which good manners disappear whenever someone raises the subject. Otherwise peaceable people articulate murderous fantasies; otherwise tolerant people advocate gag laws. The Westboro Baptist Church, it seems, deserves whatever it gets, and no breach of civil liberties nor sudden lapse of decorum is too egregious so long as Fred Phelps and his brood are the targets.

Essentially, this is what we say when we suggest that the sane and secular give Westboro a wide berth. Let brutes deal with brutes.

It's a bad idea.

 
Reflections on TAM 7 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Michael Strieb   

mikerandiFor several months now, this webpage has been headed by a banner advertising TAM 7. As a member of the JREF forum, I had been following the excitement surrounding the event for some time. I followed much more closely when I learned I was the fortunate recipient of a scholarship and would be attending myself.

I arrived on Thursday not quite sure what to expect. I knew I'd be overwhelmed. But I thought what would overwhelm me was going to be the experience of being in the presence of celebrities. That's what we're led to believe, that famous people are awe-inspiring. I met so many of them. I had my picture taken with Banacheck, Mac King, Penn, Phil Plait, Jamy Ian Swiss, Teller, the Great Tomsini, Captain Disillusion, and of course Randi, whom I had the pleasure of sitting next to during the entire magic show. As amazingly cool as all of that was, though, it's not what really astounded me. What has really touched my heart, what overwhelmed me, is the kindness of simple, ordinary people.

To put the significance of this into context, I need to give you some of my background. I have ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease. It has left me (more or less) wheelchair bound, with excessive weakness in my hands and arms. As if that weren't enough, it has also left me with a severe speaking disability. This makes daily living difficult, to say the least. The prospect of a 2,500 mile trip by myself was daunting, and seemed to court disaster. Well, disaster was not only averted, it never had a chance.

 
Multiple Failures - Does No One Care? PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   

A couple of weeks ago, I reported on Zicam and how it was NOT a homeopathic drug but claimed to be one so as to gain the marketing boost that the label unfortunately provides as well as to fall under a special class in the FDA wherein the "drug" receives less scrutiny. This lack of scrutiny allowed this dangerous substance that has caused 900 people to lose their sense of smell to reach market.

Today, I found this Bloomberg article reporting that the FDA admits the homeopathy label let this product slip by:

Zicam’s homeopathic label allowed it to be marketed for a decade without a review for safety or effectiveness by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

The article then goes on to say:

Homeopathic products -- over-the-counter remedies that use plant, mineral or animal derivatives -- don’t need marketing clearance from the FDA under U.S. rules.

And therein, lies the problem. Bloomberg has it completely WRONG.

 
The Real Meaning of Crop Circles: Vandalism PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   

cropgraffitiReader John calls our attention to a recent article in The Mail in which curious sightseers investigating a crop circle saw something unexpected flying overhead: shotgun fire. The report is a bit confused, but it seems that a farmer, one of his cousins, or a hired hand fired a shotgun over the heads of a group of Norwegian tourists who had come to see a recent crop circle.

Why do such a thing? Simple, he says. He was defending his property.

One onlooker was surprised to come under fire:

I have been visiting crop circles for a decade and have in various ways been told that we are not welcome, but this is the first time I have been threatened with a gun.

Farmers have the right to protect their land, but they have no legal right to threaten people. It was totally unnecessary and incredibly scary.

So, let me get this straight... she knows she's not welcome, and admits that famers have a right to protect their land, but these realizations aren't enough for her to stop trampling people's crops. Got it.

 
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