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SWIFT June 27, 2008 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

Digging Up the Evidence, The Unsinkable Weil, Correction, No Comment, In Closing, The Amaz!ng Meeting Haunted?, How to Make a Difference, The TAM Community.

Padre Pio

At the end of April, the corpse of the the most charismatic holy man in the modern history of the Catholic Church, the popular saint Padre Pio, was exhibited to his devotees for the first time since his death forty years ago. You might ask, why?

An uneducated Capuchin friar from the town of San Giovanni Rotondo in southern Italy, this man became the most charismatic holy man in the modern history of the Catholic Church, being widely celebrated as a saint even during his lifetime and credited with at least 1,000 “miracle” cures. The most evident signs of his holy distinction were the "odour of sanctity" that followed him around – believed to have been obtained from eau de cologne – and the Christ-like wounds that he exhibited in the palms of his hands and in his side – at the traditionally-established body sites, though we now recognize that crucifixion was administered in a different fashion than medieval artists had presumed. Apparently sainthood does not confer expertise, only sanctity.

Table of Contents
  1. Digging Up the Evidence

  2. The Unsinkable Weil

  3. Correction

  4. No Comment

  5. In Closing…

  6. The Amaz!ng Meeting Haunted? - By Jeff Wagg

  7. How to Make a Difference - By Jeff Wagg

  8. The TAM Community - By Alison Smith



DIGGING UP THE EVIDENCE

Padre Pio

At the end of April, the corpse of the the most charismatic holy man in the modern history of the Catholic Church, the popular saint Padre Pio, was exhibited to his devotees for the first time since his death forty years ago. You might ask, why?

An uneducated Capuchin friar from the town of San Giovanni Rotondo in southern Italy, this man became the most charismatic holy man in the modern history of the Catholic Church, being widely celebrated as a saint even during his lifetime and credited with at least 1,000 “miracle” cures. The most evident signs of his holy distinction were the "odour of sanctity" that followed him around – believed to have been obtained from eau de cologne – and the Christ-like wounds that he exhibited in the palms of his hands and in his side – at the traditionally-established body sites, though we now recognize that crucifixion was administered in a different fashion than medieval artists had presumed. Apparently sainthood does not confer expertise, only sanctity.

Why this disinterment and public exhibition? Said the local archbishop in charge of grisly religious outrages, Domenico Umberto D'Ambrosio:

To check on the state of the body and to carry out all the necessary work to guarantee the best conditions for its conservation.

Oh, okay. Apparently the automatic non-corruptible status that saints are supposed to achieve needs a few tune-ups – as happened with Saint Bernadette. Her face – post mortem – was covered with wax, and when an over-eager camera crew left their lights on her face a tad too long, they noticed that her eyebrows were sliding down her face – but that’s another adventure. One saint at a time.

The remains of Padre Pio will remain on public display in a crystal casket until next Christmas, then will be transferred to a sumptuous sarcophagus in the crypt of the church erected at the centre of the Pio cult. They – and the town – have a lot riding on this show. San Giovanni Rotondo is now second only to the Our Lady of Guadalupe site in Mexico as the most popular pilgrimage site for Catholics. Seven million of the Faithful visit annually, and the recent dig-up-and-display has evoked even more excitement. In fact, 800,000 have already booked to visit the corpse before Christmas. Perhaps they can get a visit to the local abattoir thrown in as a two-fer deal…?

Those Faithful believe that death didn’t bring an end to Pio’s healing powers. You see, folks who embrace such beliefs will accept any and all variations of woo-woo. They thrive on the most unlikely and implausible scenarios, and the sillier those notions are, the more fiercely they defend them. They believe that the ghost of Pio can still heal, that death has not diminished his already-questioned powers. Souvenir shops around town are peddling every variety of Padre Pio statues as well as ashtrays, calendars, pens, keyrings, mugs, T-shirts, calendars, candles, comic books, rosaries, cigarette lighters, snowstorms-in-a-globe, and just about anything bearing his image, and of course the believers will easily decide that healing vibrations are given off from these chachkas. There is no end to their desperate search for magic.

Early on, considerable doubt was expressed concerning the “miracles” claimed by Pio’s fans, until Pope John Paul II moved into the Vatican. The Polish pope had been a devotee of Padre Pio's from his youth, and even traveled all the way from Warsaw so that the friar could hear his confession. When he became pope, John Paul II decisively rehabilitated the reputation of Pio, and he was on his way to sainthood; this was the saint-making pope, as we know, and this was the 462nd saint he created, as St. Pio of Pietrelcina, the name of the village where Pio was born.

I’ve had a revelation that within the next two centuries, the Roman Catholic Church will abandon such superstitious beliefs – but we all know how accurate revelations are…




THE UNSINKABLE WEIL

From reader Linda Rosa:

Weil

Andrew Weil's infamous CAM [Complementary Alternative Medicine] program at the University of Arizona has been named a "Center of Excellence" by the regents. This center claims to be introducing its “required” residency program in CAM to eight medical schools this year. See tinyurl.com/46xw28.

I find this incredible, though it’s understandable that the university is embarrassed – as it certainly should be – over Dr. Weil’s strange declarations and his embrace of mysticism, it’s difficult to understand how the entire board of regents could decide to endorse the granting of such a distinction. It may be a way of simply protecting the academic body, but to the public it must appear to be a weak-kneed method of escaping their real responsibilities, which would seem to include a need to inform the public of the true nature of education and the intrusion of pseudoscience onto their campus.

The U of A can take some comfort in knowing that they are not alone in their acceptance of quackery. A course in “Structural Acupuncture for Physicians” (???) is now being offered by Harvard University at the price of $6,500. Reader Richard Schultz, learning of this, wrote:

It makes me want to return my degree (AB 1985) from what was once one of America's premiere institutions of higher learning.

Understood, Richard…




CORRECTION

My Dutch friend Nienhuys, who was kind enough to inform me concerning the Waldorf schools – see tinyurl.com/3k92bf – has expressed concerns that I misrepresented his contribution, and made several basic errors, as well. This was inadvertent, and I apologize by giving here his correction, which should be read in conjunction with the entry referred to:

I was very gratified to see my contribution in print but I have to correct the article about Steiner.

Rudolf Steiner lived 1861-1925. He certainly was a mystic and a writer on philosophy and all kinds of subjects. Around 1902 he became deeply involved in theosophy, when he was elected president of the German theosophical society. But he fiercely disagreed with people like Besant and Leadbeater, and he quit the movement in 1910 when the theosophs promulgated Krishnamurti as a kind of returned Christ. He then founded anthroposophy, and is still considered as their all-wise guru, so his collected works comprise all the stenographed notes of all 6000 lectures he gave.... In no way one can say he “embraced Anthroposophy."

The anthroposophs have been castigated for sticking much too long to all kinds of outmoded racial stereotypes (which were quite common around 1920) but Steiner personally wasn't antisemitic at all. He spent a lot of time tutoring a hydrocephalic child of a Jewish family so well that it later became a medical doctor who defended Dreyfus.

How one could think that "Rudolf Steiner was a Nazi-era mystic who came up against the whole movement, threatened by the party, and fled. He embraced Anthroposophy..." is a mystery to me.

In the year of Steiner's death, part I of Mein Kampf had just came out, and Hitler was barely out of the prison where he had been writing the book. The "Nazi-era" is commonly thought to have started in 1933 when Hitler came to power. Of course there were right-wing activists, like the assassins of Rathenau, but they were only celebrated as national heroes (posthumously) in 1933.

The Waldorf schools are named after a school founded by the owner of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette company, and were managed by Steiner in 1919.

The anthroposophs were forbidden by the Nazis, but by then Steiner was long gone, and the Waldorf schools had already been in business over more then 10 years.




NO COMMENT

Geller




IN CLOSING…

I regret to tell you that I’ve no more for you this week, folks. The Amaz!ng Meeting 6 – last week – took so much of my time that I was unable to prepare more material for you. TAM6 was by far the best conference that the JREF has ever held. We’ll have a fuller report for you eventually but I will tell you now that our keynote speaker, Neil deGrasse Tyson, pretty well stole the show, and we were all delighted with his sense of humor – indicated by the title of his talk, “Brain-Droppings.” This gentleman provided a perfect example of how a major scientist can reach the public effectively with an attractive approach to what can otherwise be – to so many people – a dreary subject. I urge you to consider buying the DVD that will eventually be produced on TAM6, so that you can enjoy all of our marvelous speakers even though you were not part of the 900+ crowd that attended.

But how can we top this next year…?


Signature



The Amaz!ng Meeting Haunted? - By Jeff Wagg

While there were 900 skeptics assembled on the Las Vegas strip this weekend, they were apparently greatly outnumbered by another assembly. As reported on the site http://askdocparanormal.blogspot.com by operator Peter Fenton, a call for a "One Million Ghost March" went out to counteract the skeptics, and it was apparently answered. From the site:

Called the Amazing Meeting 6, the skeptics convention is organized by magician The Amazing Randi and will feature guest speakers including a cast member of the Mythbusters, magicians Penn & Teller and cable news pundit Christopher Hutchins (sic).

To protest this motley gathering of professional debunkers, volunteer clairvoyants and psychic mediums are inviting deceased spirits and ghosts to haunt Las Vegas in an unprecedented Million Ghost March.

Many celebrity spirits have been asked to join the march. "Las Vegas has a rich history of colorful personalities, from the Old West to the city's re-birth as the world center for gambling and entertainment," continued Fenton. "Invited celebrity ghosts include gangster Bugsy Siegel, entertainers George Jessel, Liberace and Tupac Shakur, the legendary Rat Pack and journalist Hunter S. Thompson, author of the book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." (More at http://tinyurl.com/6db9xl)

I was ever-present at TAM 6, and was in fact staying in the very hotel that Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel built, but I was unaware of any ghostly gate crashers. What were the results of this spectral summoning? Again, from the site (*http://tinyurl.com/3odsm2)*:

An estimated 870,000 ghosts and spirits participated in the Million Ghost March. While we wish we'd reached the magic million mark, the number of marchers who took a stand against skepticism was truly awe-inspiring. A major factor in the shortfall (that admittedly should have been foreseen) is that many ghosts are tied to a particular place--a house, a church--which made travel to Las Vegas impossible.

SAPS

One wonders how the ghost count was tallied. It's heartwarming to realize that while we exceeded our attendance goals, the ghosts put in a more lackluster performance. The offered explanation could very well be valid, but I offer photographic evidence of yet another deterrent to phantasmal foolery... the ubiquitous SAPS No-Ghost Stickers (designed by forum member TPrime), as distributed by Alison Smith, founder of the Skeptical Analysis of the Paranormal Society at skepticalanalysis.com. Alison would like to assure any real ghosts reading this, that she is only interested in banning fake ghosts and that any real ghosts are welcome to present themselves.

By the way, lest anyone be concerned that they were in the presence of the living dead at TAM, Peter Fenton's credits include being a former professor at "Edgar Allen Poe Community College." Anyone having a degree from that institution is encouraged to contact us.




How to Make a Difference - By Jeff Wagg

My home state of Vermont is very quiet, and the news of a missing person makes a major impact. Recently, the body of Nick Garza, missing from Middlebury College for months, was found in Otter Creek. As could be expected, some are claiming to have used paranormal powers to guide the police to the body. I received this from Chip Taylor, JREF supporter also from Vermont:

I don't know how often-if at all- you get to see WPTZ-TV editorials by their General Manager, Paul Sands. He comes across as a pretty rational type chap. So I sent the e-mail at the bottom of this to him...

Good Day,

In addition to enjoying the quality of WPTZ broadcasts I always appreciate your editorials. I agree with most of them, and even where there is disagreement your comments are always thoughtful and thought provking. You come across as someone who has a good grasp of common sense and critical thinking.

So I was very surprised that after providing some air time to Nan O'Brien (Who claims she's not really a "psychic" but an "intuitive counselor" who is clairvoyant, and "channels", whatever that means.) who became involved in the Nick Garza case, you failed to do what a good investigative journalist SHOULD do: Follow-up on exactly how helpful Ms. OBrien was in the search for Mr. Garza. On her web site she claims, "Using her gift as a medium Nan works with families and police departments nationwide on murder and missing persons cases." She then specifically mentions Nick Garza and Jodi Huisentruit. Now Ms. Huisentruit is STILL missing after 13 years, so it doesn't seem that Ms. O'Brien has been of any help there. Mr. Garza's body was found as you know. But did you ever think to ask the Middlebury Police how helpful Ms. O'Brien was in the search for Mr. Garza? The PR you gave to Ms. O'Brien coupled with what's on her web site might lead the average viewer to think she had some role in the eventual recovery of Mr. Garza's body. I think you could do a great public service if you asked the Middlebury PD how helpful Ms. O'Brien actually was, and then report their reply in one of your editorials.

Sincerely,

Grant Taylor
Cabot, VT

It's helpful to know that aerial photographs of the area weeks earlier showed what looked like a body in the river, but its remote location and treacherous spring conditions made a search unfeasible. Given the proximity of the river to Mr. Garza's last known location, the conclusion that he would be found there was not difficult. We owe thanks to Grant (Chip) for taking the time to write to the TV station.

Chip's e-mail indicates that not only did they receive his note, they will be reading it on the air soon. Way to go, Chip! This, ladies and gentlemen, is one way you can make a difference. It may be a small one, but tiny cracks can bring down mighty walls.




The TAM Community - By Alison Smith

TAM

It is impossible to explain The Amaz!ng Meeting to someone who has never attended. Depending on who you try to tell about it, the meeting can come across as the equivalent of a Star Trek Convention, a School Board meeting, or a giant group of Dungeonmasters armed with 18 Charisma, 97 Hit Points, and a Helm of Disintegration.

Your basic Nerdfest, in other words.

What people don't necessarily realize is how incredibly rare it is for some of us to find a group of friends as close as the attendees of TAM are.

I have to admit, when I go to TAM, I'm always a little bit nervous first walking into a group. What if no one recognizes me? What if no one wants to chat? What if, out of the over eight hundred people in attendence, I am the one person everyone's running away from like a group of birds scattering in flight when a dog comes bounding up?

Because I was working, I didn't get to attend many of the presentations. Yet I don't feel cheated. Every night, groups of TAM attendees gathered at the Garden Bar of the Flamingo. And they went out of their way to make everyone feel welcome.

There was an exciting game of Ho-Fish going on in one corner. Speakers mingled, drank, and elicited lots of fangirl-like squees. Rounds of shots were shared between people who had never before met, and there was always a scramble to pay the tab before someone else could. The conversations ranged from intelligent, gentle debates to contests for the best possible Uranus joke. Everyone was automatically friendly because we all have so much in common, and in our line of interest, that is so valuable.

When you attend TAM (should you ever decide to), it's like being transported to a world where people really GET you. It's more than just a conference. It's a community, a family. So often we feel like we walk alone. Never at TAM.