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SWIFT April 4, 2008 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

Tragedy, A Lifetime of Superstition, Medium Not at All Well Done, We Sure Get Letters, Organized Quacks, Iowa County – A New Level of Idiocy, It’s a Neologism!, Real Stuff, Find Us On YouTube, and In Closing…

mkn

Madeline Kara Neumann, 11 years old, died a horrifying death recently. She died from ignorance.

No, not her own ignorance. She was an innocent victim of her righteous parents’ unknowing error. They were led to believe that there exists an invisible deity – somewhere in the sky – who has absolute power to subvert the laws of nature that govern our real world, and they chose to believe that strange notion because everyone they knew and trusted had similarly opted to accept this mythology that has created and supported a vast network of priests and organizations that depend upon the public’s naivety and ignorance. It’s called religion.

Table of Contents
  1. Tragedy

  2. A Lifetime of Superstition

  3. Medium Not at All Well Done

  4. We Sure Get Letters

  5. Organized Quacks

  6. Iowa County – A New Level of Idiocy

  7. It’s a Neologism!

  8. Real Stuff

  9. Find us on YouTube

  10. In Closing...



TRAGEDY

mkn

Madeline Kara Neumann, 11 years old, died a horrifying death recently. She died from ignorance.

No, not her own ignorance. She was an innocent victim of her righteous parents’ unknowing error. They were led to believe that there exists an invisible deity – somewhere in the sky – who has absolute power to subvert the laws of nature that govern our real world, and they chose to believe that strange notion because everyone they knew and trusted had similarly opted to accept this mythology that has created and supported a vast network of priests and organizations that depend upon the public’s naivety and ignorance. It’s called religion.

The parents’ blind belief was that by pleading for a miracle from this demonstrably capricious, jealous, arrogant, vengeful, deity, they could reject medical assistance that is very capable of successfully treating the ailment from which Madeline suffered. This sort of perverse notion persists among the religious in spite of the plain historical fact that millions of humans were tortured and killed by the Nazis in World War II, by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, by the Holy Roman Inquisition, and by literally hundreds of other mass atrocities. Those people died despite the earnest, desperate, prayers of the victims – and of those who loved them – directed at this deity in whom they invested their faith.

The power of prayer is clearly described in the Holy Bible. There’s no doubt about that. In Proverbs 10:24, it is simply stated: “…the desire of the righteous will be granted.” Oh, but it goes on and on:

Matthew 7:7 – Ask, and it shall be given you.

Matthew 21:22 – And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.

James 5:15 – The prayer of faith will heal the sick.

John 14:14 (quoting Christ) – If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.

John 15:7 (quoting Christ) – If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

John 16:23 (quoting Christ) – Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.

1st John 3:22 – And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him…

This is just a brief selection from Holy Writ. But it’s wrong. It’s all mythology.

The media have grabbed their scythes and torches, and assembled against Dale and Leilani Neumann, Madeline’s parents, whose actions they have described as “unforgivable,” “willful negligence,” “child sacrifice,” and “parental negligence.” Nonsense. Madeline’s long-drawn-out death – involving nausea, vomiting, unbearable thirst, weight loss, and weakness – due to diabetic ketoacidosis – was something that the majority of the rest of our species had been drumming into the Neumanns as an example of what prayer could and would solve, just by applying it. They believed that claim, firmly and absolutely. So who’s really to blame? The Bible-thumpers who convinced the Neumanns of this claptrap, that’s who. They’re the people who are allowed to ignore tax laws, to operate freely any time or any place they want to, to screech their delusions in public and to manipulate their own children like helpless puppets in this monstrous Morality Play that our species so adores. Other parents do not own their children, as these zealots do – and should be prohibited from doing.

What's even more alarming in this calamity is exemplified by one of the ambivalent media headlines: "Ethicists say case unclear." Bio-ethicist Dr. Norman Fost of the University of Wisconsin Medical School is quoted as saying that we should not to be moralistic or pass judgment on parents who think they can heal a child through prayer, an opinion that I share. BBSNews [see tinyurl.com/33j6c6] expressed my own stance very clearly:

The fault lies in society's laudatory attitude toward a "holy book" which teaches superstition and faith-healing, whose passages are latched onto by Bible literalists, and whose obedience to such injunctions has been given a pass in the criminal statutes of many states. The mother, Leilani Neumann, of Weston, Wisconsin, publicly announced: "We need healing. We are going through the healing process." What about the healing process her daughter required? This helpless dependent of a middle-class family had last seen a doctor at the age of three, and recently had been pulled out of public schools for religious home-schooling, possibly to cover up symptoms of her illness, which, according to medical experts, would have surfaced at least six months ago…

As a memorial to the painful, frightening and needless death of Madeline Kara Neumann, the Wisconsin Legislature needs to finally show some gumption, and remove from the statutes its callous exemption sanctifying child homicide in the name of faith.

However, that last paragraph, I must admit, makes me uncomfortable. No law is ever going to affect the decisions of religious zealots who fear damnation for not accepting and believing every word found in a badly-translated set of writings that originated in the ignorance of two thousand years ago. They will continue to treat their kids like chattels and pets, subjecting them to poisonous ideas and substances, and denying them proven life-saving measures. I am philosophically adverse to seeking a cure for ignorance through legislation rather than by education…

We can easily say that Dale and Leilani Neumann were simply stupid. Perhaps so, but more importantly, they – and we – have been swindled by the priests, and society continues not only to tolerate them, but to support them by granting them exemptions from the regulations and ignoring their folly and arrogance.

I received about 60 notifications from readers about the media coverage of this dreadful tragedy…




A LIFETIME OF SUPERSTITION

From reader Christopher Gagnon:

victim

I have recently discovered that, along with the Lifetime Network's ridiculous programs such as "Lisa Willams: Life Among the Dead" and "America's Psychic Challenge," there is a large portion of their website dedicated to astrology, numerology, runes, tea leaves, and feng shui. There is no disclaimer that this is for entertainment purposes only. They seem to fully believe in and endorse it as a legitimate practice. I have emailed them numerous times to get them to pull their endorsement of these silly notions, with no response. Their astrologer, Christopher Renstrom, gives out advice on things such as health problems by explaining that their conditions will get better when their planet starts acting right again. This seems like a dangerous practice considering that the people seeking his advice might actually need to see a real professional. What's a skeptic to do?

First, Christopher, the Lifetime Network hardly “fully believe in and endorse” the nonsense they sell; they promote it because it brings in viewers and their money. Second, astrologer Renstrom doesn’t care any more than the Lifetime Network does, whether or not viewers suffer from accepting spurious advice based on observations of the relative positions of the planets and stars – observations that Renstrom simply takes from an ephemeris that real scientists have provided for his use. The only motive of the Network and of their pet astrologer is whether naive viewers will part with money due to their poor understanding of reality...




MEDIUM NOT AT ALL WELL DONE

jane

Reader Fred Sciarratta tells us about his encounter with “medium” Jane Doherty, who has as bizarre a claim as I’ve ever heard:

About two years ago, a few of my family members decided to visit a haunted house, where Jane was going to “show her stuff.” Supposedly, there were more ghosts there than you could shake a stick at. Being a skeptic, I went there with an open mind, looking for actual proof.

As luck would have it, I was asked to go up to Jane and place my hands on her stomach. She told me to push hard against it. She then walked towards me, and as I walked back, her stomach was supposed to get bigger & harder. In case you don’t know, this is her “power.” Her stomach senses where spirits are and protrudes farther out, the closer she gets to it. Well, as we walked, I didn’t notice any change at all. When she asked if I felt her stomach get bigger, I honestly answered, “No.” She persisted, asking:

Are you sure? Right here, it gets bigger. See?

Just to move on, I said, “Oh yeah! Now I feel it!” And everyone gasped. Apparently, the ability to jut your belly out makes people believers.

Well, I decided to see how far the power of suggestion went. After Jane left this room, and half of the people followed, I exclaimed, “Ooh! There’s a cold spot right here!”, at which I waved my hand through empty space. Correction, room-temperature-air-filled space. About ten people gathered around and waved their hands through the air, too. Not surprisingly, they all said that the air felt cold, almost freezing, to some. After meeting up with Jane in the next room, some people told Jane of their experience. Her reply:

Of course. There are many spirits within this house. You have found one.

Needless to say, I am still not a believer.

I believe you Fred, but please, in the future don’t go along with such flummeries just to “move on.” You become part of the scam…




WE SURE GET LETTERS

I don’t think we have to explain further why the JREF million-dollar prize offer will be history as of March 6th, 2010 (UPDATE: The Challenge is not ending), but I’ll provide you here with an example of the seriously delusional persons who represent those who we’ve had to deal with over the past ten years. The letter that follows – sent to me by post – began with references to a URL that the writer stated he’d promised to send me. Though I recall having had several e-mail exchanges with the man, I don’t have any recollection of such a promise. This man has an Imaginary Friend named Michael, it seems. He continued his letter, shown to you here in exactly the format, spelling, and spacing, as the original:

Under INDEX, CLICK ON RECENT DISCOVERIES AND GRAZE over the
many things I have discovered since I had a stroke over 3 years ago and lost my high sensitive standing balance and "don't get around much any more" physically. But i have met several high-level friends in the Astral plane. By the way, I have not found any disease the Healing Mantra given to me by AA Michael, won't cure, it even cures "incureable" ones.
I understand that Archangel Michael visited you and delivered the Pigasus gold statue I took from your safe. I hope you follow up on our pre-incarnational agreement to
confirm the reality of “Paranormal" events in our physical reality before you pass on permanently. I did my part of the agreement by giving you the gold pigasus an hiding some birds in a sealed box that really upset you when you discovered them. Also hiding a box turtle in your desk, etc.

I found that you have 6 dark astral associates that keep intuitive people from
performing their gifts properly in your presence. All such creatures are supposed to be gone as Mother Earth raises the earth to 5th dimension. So if they show up missing you will know where they have gone (they can't stand the higher vibration and heat). If you
forgive all those you have associated with in your lifetime for any harm they did to you and they forgive you for all that you did harmful to them, you both can raise to a higher spiritual level on your way back to Unity with All That IS.
I gave you the gift of Unconditional Love.

Make no mistake, this man really believes his delusions. To him, they constitute his entire world. I wrote him – via post – and suggested strongly that he seek professional help; this is an action we’ve had to carry out many times over the years, a suggestion that I’m rather sure has never been acted upon, but it’s the ethical thing to do. I wish there were a better way…

And in the same hour as the above letter arrived by post, this one came by e-mail. It was sent by “Bob,” surely a distinctive moniker if ever there was one! He uses “Quirinus Quirrell” as an Internet signature, so maybe he’s just an acned juvenile in an attic with a keyboard... Again, spelling, punctuation, and language intact:

For your humble information, Skeptic, Uri Geller is better than your gang of cynics could EVER HOPE TO BE! Uri Geller can really bend spoonsm DEAL WITH IT! I hate the way you go romping around, saying "Ooh, I hate magic! Leonardo da Vinci didn't really paint the Mona Lisa! That's not real! That's not real!" Well, some people wish magic was real. You think that those people are mentally unstable. I believe that is very wrong. Magic way better than your stupid physics and formulas! "Blah equals blah over blah squared!" How stupid is that? I'm not ashamed to say that I PRACTICE PALM READING AND HOMEOPATTHY AND I BELIEVE IN ALIENS! GO AHEAD, TAUNT ME AND LAUGH ALL YOU WANT! I AM NOT MENTALLY UNSTABLE, JUST BECAUSE I HAVE PREDICTED THE FUTURE! I LIKE MAGIC AND ALCHEMY BETTER THAN YOUR PHYSICS AND FORMULAS! I WISH I COULD JUST JINX YOU AND YOUR GANG OF CYNICAL KNOW-IT-ALLS! I HOPE YOU GET HEXED AND THEN ABDUCTED BY ALIENS! I HATE SKEPTICS!!!

Signed,
Bob.

P.S.: URI GElLER RULES!

Bob, it’s “Geller,” not “Geiler”! At least spell your hero’s name correctly! Otherwise, some may think you’re just an acned juvenile in an attic with a keyboard! Oh, I already said that...




ORGANIZED QUACKS

incam

“CAM” in the following refers to “Complimentary & Alternative Medicine.” Reader Terry Polevoy alerts us, and asks:

The following is the usual INCAM Research newsletter. How the hell can the government of Canada support such rubbish?

I found that the “IN-CAM News FLASH” is a “service” of the Canadian Interdisciplinary Network for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Research. It provides “timely information on IN-CAM news, resources, and activities.” Here’s a shortened version of what has reader Polevoy so incensed:

IN-CAM News FLASH (2008/03/28)

Funding Opportunity – Homeopathic Research Network of Canada. The Homeopathic Research Network of Canada (HomeoNet) is requesting proposals for a funding competition in homeopathic medicine. For more information, guidelines and application package, please visit…

Conference Announcement – The Syndicat Professionnel des Homopathes du Quebec is hosting a conference entitled, "Homeopathy's Contribution in Epidemics: A Scientific Symposium"…

CAM Summer School – The International Society for Complementary Medicine Research… [has] organized a summer school course on Research Methods in CAM. The course is open to a small number of international participants and will take place in Potsdam, Germany…

Conference Announcement – The 16th Annual Symposium on Botanical Medicine, entitled "Medicines from the Earth," will be held… at Blue Ridge Assembly in Black Mountain, North Carolina.

Conference Announcement – The 5th International Congress on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Research will be held… in Troms, Norway.

Terry Polevoy is as astonished as I am about the fact that homeopathy is still able – despite abundant evidence of its obviously spurious nature – to attract enough attention from the world of quackery to afford such conferences and attention. The public of Canada is being asked to fund pseudoscience labeled “homeopathy,” a silly notion that has done nothing to benefit victims of epidemics, but has filled the pockets of the quacks. Whether held in Germany or in Australia, any “Research Methods” school course in quackery is still a course in quackery. And yes, effective medicines have been found in the earth of our planet – terramicine, for example – but I’ve a strong feeling that any CAM handling of this subject will be abundantly woo-woo in nature.

We’re losing our fight for honesty and good science in medicine…




IOWA COUNTY – A NEW LEVEL OF IDIOCY

johnson

A building built in 1855 called Chatham Oaks, which houses people with physical and mental disabilities, will shortly be visited by a four-person “Carroll Area Paranormal Team,” all adults and thought to be sane. Johnson County officials have given their informal approval for these “ghost hunters” to check out what was once an insane asylum to see if any spirits are hanging about. This brilliant decision was made by apparently otherwise sober officials of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, who took the initial action on a request from the Johnson County Historical Society, which gives tours of the 153-year-old building and seems to think that the citizens of the area will now be better protected from any beasties and banshees that might be in the area. Can’t be too careful, you know, even if you look like damn fools and have folks tittering as you pass by them in the street.

Mr. Brandon Cochran, Museum Operations Assistant for the Johnson County Historical Society, says that there have never been reports of ghosts or bizarre happenings at the building, and that bringing in a paranormal team is “kind of taking the pre-emptive approach.” Wise man, though maybe a trifle “teched,” as they say. You know, Brandon and his fellow employees can probably add and read, yet they believe in ghosts and demons! Probably taught school or had responsible jobs, at one time…

Brandon wants the Iowa-based paranormal investigative team to come in for one night of “scientific” investigation, but he sure hopes they don't find any paranormal activity goin’ on! The Team, we’re assured, will use the usual useless means of finding spirits – thermal imaging equipment and voice recording systems tuned up so high in an environment jammed with signals from cell phones, intercoms, various media transmitters, and private/commercial communications, that anything within miles will sent the instruments off the scale – and signify nothing. But, count on it, there will be reports of faint words and strange sounds that the Team will shudder and gasp over, like teeny-boppers at an Alice Cooper show…

The Chatham Oaks officials said there wouldn't be a problem with the paranormal team coming in “as long as it didn't disturb residents,” said county facilities director Dave Kempf. Get real, folks! A bunch of gawking dumbos looking for ghosties are not exactly conducive to sanity and good mental health among patients. But actual adult human beings will solemnly sign papers approving the decision, the farce will take place, and common sense and rationality will again yield to juvenile ideas of what passes for truth…




IT’S A NEOLOGISM!

I just knew there was a word in English for newly-made-up words, as we mentioned last week at randi.org/joom/swift/swift-march-28-2008.html#i7. RoseAnne Mussar of Ottawa, Canada, promptly informed me:

There is a word in the English language for newly-coined words: is it "neologism." But I expect those creatively wacky SWIFT readers will come up with some neologistic zingers of their own!

Just to show that she can play the neological game, RoseAnne closed with:

SWIFT is the cyberhighlight of my week – can't get enough!

And reader Larry Coon wrote us:

Your “invented word assignment” already has an answer: “sniglet.” A comedian named Rich Hall coined it, and has been doing this for a couple decades. See here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sniglet




REAL STUFF

mitlab

I just returned from a visit to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT] Media Lab, a magical place where I lectured at a closed session held for the prestigious sponsors of the Lab, among whom are Bank of America, Canon, Motorola, Cisco Systems, General Motors, and Microsoft. It was titled, “Trust Me,” and having a magician there seemed appropriate. I hadn’t spoken for the Media Lab since 1993, and experiencing the enthusiasm, spirit, and eager pursuit of knowledge that constitute the center, was even more exhilarating this time around. Young people of every cultural, ethnic, and philosophical background, work together with a zeal and dedication that I can only hope will infect other centers of learning and innovation around the world. The sponsors of the Media Lab are performing an essential service to all humanity, not just to the USA, by supporting this endeavor, and I’m sure they know it.

Fantastic devices, beautiful objects, exciting ideas and applications, are evident everywhere. I saw prototypes of innovative “green” vehicles, graphic demos of computer systems, and the very new “3-D printing” technique whereby intricate interlocking sculptures can be carved out (more correctly, laid down) by lasers, layer by layer. The first photo here shows just a sample of the thousands of Lego pieces that the Lab denizens fiddle with, and the cute animal doll is a robot with fully-articulated hands, as well as rolling and blinking eyes, which – among other tasks – assembles projected shapes on a table surface into other shapes and objects… The more traditional robot, also shown here, examines basic shapes, identifies them, and does simple tasks with them… It was a captivating atmosphere in which to be immersed, and I hope that I’ll be back for another visit very soon.

The Media Lab rules…!




FIND US ON YOUTUBE

rd

We've been extremely busy here at the JREF going through our entire DVD library which currently consists of more than 300 discs. There is so much great content that we've decided to post them on the official YouTube channel of the foundation youtube.com/jamesrandifoundation.

There are currently 45 videos posted but many more are on the way. Our media manager has reported that he will be posting 1 DVD a day to the channel so make sure you subscribe so you are kept informed of the latest upload.

Here I share with you one of my many TV appearances in the 1980's. I was a guest on the show People Are Talking, you'll notice a now very famous host by the name of Oprah Winfrey. Make sure to leave comments on the videos after you watch them.




In Closing...

Off to Boulder, Colorado…


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