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Technology Triumphs Again PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

logoI'm regularly in contact with my good friend in China, Matthew Hu Xinyu, who works with the Beiing Cultural Heritage Protection Center. His excellent "CHP" site can be seen at en.bjchp.org/english/indexen.asp. Matthew and his colleagues are working to see that the cultural relics of his country are properly preserved and valued, particularly in the old architectural areas, with their unique character and charm. The recent expansion and conversion of some areas of Beijing to accommodate the very successful Olympic Games, caused his people some apprehension, but things appear to be reasonably settled now, much to his relief.

Recently, Matthew sent me a note about a talk on feng shui that was to be given at his organization by an authority on that subject. I expressed some alarm at this, and Matthew informed me of something of which I was unaware, but might have discovered - that the traditional art of feng shui has been badly contorted by the myriad of "authorities" worldwide who've chosen to make it mystical and woo-woo - though that flavor persists, probably due to the cultural origins of the art. He assured me that the talk would be rational, and I responded to him:

Matthew:  That is very satisfying, to know that the basic principle of feng shui - balance and proportion - will be emphasized by the professor. I hope you will congratulate him on presenting a practical, real, view of artistic and culturally-consistent theory and practice, regarding feng shui - which has become distorted and mysterious here in the USA, rather than being a cultural reflection of genuine Chinese taste and preference. I am happy to hear this, and I hope that you might communicate my delight to the professor for me, please.

compassNow, as if to prove that woo-woo still triumphs, faithful reader Bob Pagani, who often harvests interesting items for us, found a notice of the availability of an "Electronic Feng Shui Compass" - surely a huge leap forward in pseudo-technology. In typical fashion, relatively sane readers of the posting responded. The first four:

I've invented a new gadget that finds all the hidden coastal property in Arizona. For a limited time, I'll let you pay me $19.95 for it.

I wonder who owns the rights to feng shui. I smell lawsuit if they find out.

Fantastic. Now instead of wasting thousands of dollars on quack Feng Shui "experts," we can waste a mere $19.95 on quack Feng Shui "compasses." What fantastic progress.

Will this still work after the Feng Shui poles flip?

And then a cogent explanation (?) was offered:

It's basically an electronic magnetic compass that is marked with the symbols and ideas that are associated with the directions of north, south, east, and west. This may not be perfect, but for example have the couch face north for success in the endeavors you take on in the room, put the chair east to enhance the feeling of love in the room.

This was followed by:

Actually, according to the compass, south west is the direction for success.

I would buy one of these, and it would inform me that I wasn't even Asian. Bummer.

And one commenter apparently quoted from "Pirates of the Caribbean," an exchange between a detractor and Captain Jack Sparrow:

"A pistol with one shot, no additional powder, a compass that doesn't point north...hmmm...and I half expected it to be made of wood. You're absolutely the worst pirate I've ever heard of."

"Ahh, but you have heard of me."

Then this:

A friend of mine's mother worked for quite a well-known fashion house here in the UK. Things weren't going so well, so they called in a Feng Shui expert, who pointed out that their wastepaper basket was on their money-making wall. Move it, and all will be well, he said.

Four weeks later, they were bankrupt.

I rest my case...

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Comments (9)Add Comment
Not $19.95
written by Willy K, November 16, 2008
I just checked out the Electronic Feng Shui Compass web site. It sells for $399.99 not $19.95! The videos on the web site are very professionally done. I'll bet that that alone will convince the feeble-minded lovers of Woo to shell out their money. smilies/grin.gif

So Randi, your friend Matthew suggests that Feng Shui has been Americanized like Chinese food has been? It only resembles it superficially?

Excuse me, I have to head South, my energy levels are depleted. Should I choose Burger King or McDonald's? I need a burger compass. smilies/wink.gif

Willy K
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written by hughie522, November 16, 2008
My advice?

Forget the compass and hire a doswer. It'd be cheaper and no less effective...
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written by Realitysage, November 17, 2008
My mother used to practice her own version of Feng Shui for free every year after spring cleaning. Only she called it "rearranging the furniture" which may or may not be english for Feng Shui for all I know. It only added to the quality of our lives if we got a better view of the TV-otherwise, he had to move things back....
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written by mjh937, November 17, 2008
Does anyone know of a website that has info on "scientific" fung shui? I looked, but could only find site talking about "chi" and other woo-woo ideas. If I am going to read about chi's I am going to need a lot of wine (and perhaps some crackers).
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written by Lingua, November 17, 2008
Realitysage: The literary translation of feng shui would, if my knowledge of Chinese characters is intact, be Wind Water (fëng=wind, shuî=water).

Ps. I realize that you were making a joke. I just wanted to show off my skillz.
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written by dr pepper, November 17, 2008
I too, practice my own kind of fung shui. I rearrange my furniture, then i see if i like it. If i don't i rarrange it again.
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written by BillyJoe, November 17, 2008
I bought furniture that cannot be moved. That way it stays put right where I want it and I have Karma. I wish those Chinese had called it Bung Shui, or BS for short.

Besides, I don't even know where East is.
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written by jbspry, November 19, 2008
Isn't there something slightly schizo about believing in the wisdom of the ancients but wanting it in a state-of-the-art technological package?
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written by BillyJoe, November 19, 2008
Well, actually, the phrase "Wisdom of the Ancients" is just being applied to the wrong people. It should be applied to the likes of Newton, Copernicus, and Galileo, not the originators of BS like Bung Shui, Inacupuncture, and Zereopathy.
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