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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.

D.J. Grothe Reveals Society of Secrets PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Alison Smith   

Recently, I interviewed D.J. Grothe, vice president and director of outreach programs for the Center for Inquiry, in a restaurant inside Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. At a nearby table, a group of fifteen or so men spoke in hushed tones. Sometimes they were entirely inaudible to me, and the only way I knew they spoke at all was by the movement of their lips. It was reminiscent of watching a group of government operatives taking lunch. But, to my knowledge, none of the men in the restaurant were government operatives. They were mentalists - mentalists attending Luke Jermay's Mentalism Workshop.

"It's not exactly a secret society," Grothe said, "but it is a society committed to keeping secrets."

I had never really thought of the secretive aspect of magic before. I mean, sure, mentalists aren't supposed to tell you how it's done, but I never envisioned a whisper-filled meeting that included celebrities like Teller, Max Maven, Eric Mead, and Jamy Ian Swiss. And, for something extra cool, Larry Fong, Director of Photography for 300 and Watchmen gave an excellent talk on story-telling.

I never saw any of the actual workshop - I assume because I'm not that cool - but Grothe was willing to fill me in on a few of the details: The event is, sadly for me, invitation only, and has a very small number of attendees. The one I visited was the fifth of its kind.

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Paper or Plastic? PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Naomi Baker   

Jeff Wagg notes:

Naomi Baker is a chemical engineer and founder of the Houston Skeptics Society. She is currently in Mexico on her third Amaz!ng Adventure.

Paper or Plastic? How do you answer?  If you give what you think is the 'correct' answer, you say ‘paper' or you've brought your own bags.  Let's examine that choice.

The paper bags used in the grocery stores begin in the forest, with the clear-cutting of forests.  Even though trees are a renewable source, there is more to producing new paper than planting new trees.  The paper industry is one of the dirtiest industries we have.   The chemicals used in the paper pulp process include sulfur, bleaches, and acids.  The process uses huge quantities of water, which must be treated and cleaned, a process which also uses chemicals.  According to a representative of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, paper manufacturing also receives a larger number of complaints than refineries on ‘nuisance odors ‘ which is a term meaning that the facilities emit very strong, disagreeable odors, as unpleasant to live near as a feedlot.   Processing facilities must control odors to the same extent that they must control pollutant emissions.

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Based on a True Story PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   

haunting_in_connecticutA Swift reader asked me to comment on the upcoming movie, The Haunting in Connecticut. It's the story of a family who moves into the perfect house, only to find it's haunted. And while I can't comment on a movie I haven't seen, I can use this opportunity to point out something that irks me about movies, and that's the tagline "Based on a True Story."

You'll see in the photo the large words at the top. And then below "Some things cannot be explained." Er, I'm not so sure about that, but again, I haven't seen the film so I can't comment.

There are many other "based on true story" films that are worthy of comment, however.

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Pyramid Scheming PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Barbara Mervine   

A note from Jeff Wagg:

Barbara (Kitty) Mervine is a long-time friend of the JREF who is joining us on her second Amaz!ng Adventure. While she'll be enlightening those on board with tales of Mexican UFOs, she's taken time to point out some European assumptions concerning ancient American civilizations for those who missed the boat.

pyramidIn preparation for travelling to Mexico for the first time I have been studying up the history of Mexico and in particular the Mayan civilization. The misconception that the native people of Mexico were incapable of having such advanced skills in architecture, math and astronomy started long before the Erich von Däniken wrote his infamous "Chariot of the Gods" book. When sixteenth- century Spanish historians wrote of the Mayan ruins, they concluded that the people that built the pyramids and other advanced architectural structures were descendants of the lost tribes of Israel. Cotton Mather, William Penn and Roger Williams were all supporters of what was called the "Jewish Theory" for Mexico. Other theories to explain how such an advanced civilization ended up in Mexico include the Mayans being survivors of a lost continent such as Atlantis. In recent times we have space aliens coming to both Egypt and Central and South America to build landing pads and pyramids, and pass on their wisdom.

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American Library Association Chooses Poorly PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   
Swift reader Stephen brings this item to our attention:

I just wanted to alert your readers that, sadly, one of the best professions for critical thinkers seems to have been infiltrated. Yes, I'm a librarian and usually damn proud of it. But just the other day, as I was checking the conference program for the American Library Association's Annual Meeting in Chicago this summer, there was cause to be less proud. For, there on the program, in the "Auditorium Speaker Series" was a notice that one of the featured speakers was to be... wait for it... James Van Praagh! Arrrgh! Even worse, the write up for the event sounds as if it came right from the computer of a HarperCollins publicist (as no doubt it did). It's full of material that really brings shame to ALA.

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