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SWIFT September 21, 2007 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

In Australia, Where is the FDA?, From the Mouths of Babes, Off-the-Cuff-Cold Reading, Reaching the Heart - the Hard Way, God Sued, Sylvia Writes, Not Enough Atoms, and In Closing…

There’s good news and bad news from Down Under. First, as reported there recently by Australian TV:

An attempt to broaden the appeal of state education appears to be coming unstuck in [the state of] Victoria where an investigation was launched this week into a public school offering the Steiner method of teaching.

To clarify: the “Steiner System” is based on the religion known as Anthroposophy. Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), was the Austrian woo-woo philosopher/mystic who founded the religion and the famous Waldorf schools, where his postulated "natural rhythms of everyday life" are pursued to “aid every child to unfold his or her unique destiny.” Waldorf teachers are given creative freedom to define curricula, to the extent that I have personally seen astrology, Wood Spirits, and Speaking to Trees incorporated into curricula in Finland and in Germany.

 

  1. In Australia

  2. Where Is the FDA?

  3. From the Mouths of Babes

  4. Off-the-Cuff Cold Reading

  5. Reaching the Heart – the Hard Way

  6. God Sued

  7. Sylvia Writes

  8. Not Enough Atoms

  9. In Closing…



IN AUSTRALIA

There’s good news and bad news from Down Under. First, as reported there recently by Australian TV:

An attempt to broaden the appeal of state education appears to be coming unstuck in [the state of] Victoria where an investigation was launched this week into a public school offering the Steiner method of teaching.

To clarify: the “Steiner System” is based on the religion known as Anthroposophy. Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), was the Austrian woo-woo philosopher/mystic who founded the religion and the famous Waldorf schools, where his postulated "natural rhythms of everyday life" are pursued to “aid every child to unfold his or her unique destiny.” Waldorf teachers are given creative freedom to define curricula, to the extent that I have personally seen astrology, Wood Spirits, and Speaking to Trees incorporated into curricula in Finland and in Germany. The Waldorf System divides children into four “temperaments,” defined as “choleric, phlegmatic, melancholic, and sanguine.” These are thought to express four basic “types” of personalities to which everyone belongs, and education is tailored to serve each type. To continue:

The review is being undertaken after a significant number of students failed to meet literacy and numeracy standards. This investigation follows one into the Steiner stream at another primary school where parents complained that the spirituality of the Steiner system was incompatible with secular public education.

The TV program report related the case of one alarmed parent who told them that the Steiner teachers had decided that his son’s

…soul wasn't fully incarnated yet, which was a strange thing for me to hear at a parent-teacher interview. And then she pulled out some drawings that he'd done which showed him, I guess, looking down, like a planned view of what he was drawing and she used this as evidence that his soul was hovering over the Earth and looking down on the Earth and so, therefore, she felt that he wasn't quite ready to move into the following year… I would like the Education Department to tell me where, in the guidelines, where reincarnation is a criteria for putting my kid up into another class or not.

We’ll follow with interest what transpires with this situation. Meanwhile, history seems to be a flexible subject of study in the UK. From the always-excellent little newsletter “Phactum,” issued by the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking, we take this item prepared by their treasurer Ray Haupt. Under the heading, “The Send-Me-To-Another-Planet Department,” he writes:

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has reported on July 13, 2007 that "Britain's World War II Prime Minister Winston Churchill has been cut from a list of key historical figures recommended for teaching in UK secondary schools, a government agency says. The radical overhaul of the school curriculum for 11-to-14-year-olds is designed to bring secondary education up to date and allow teachers more flexibility in the subjects they teach, the Government said."

Making the matter even worse, such unknown figures as Mahatma Gandhi, Adolf Hitler, and Joseph Stalin will be dropped from the curriculum and perhaps most breathtaking of all, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I will be missing from the required base of knowledge expected from British students.

UK Schools Secretary Ed Balls defended the move, saying a slimmed-down curriculum was overdue and traditional elements in all subjects had been protected. Among the few named figures that stay in the new history curriculum is William Wilberforce.

I sure am glad William Wilberforce will not be forgotten. Can you imagine an American History course where George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are deemed insufficiently noteworthy for inclusion in the curriculum?

We'll have more on this matter, next week. At risk of stating the obvious, perhaps this is a sign of an “insular approach” to history…?





WHERE IS THE FDA?

Those of us who have any concern for truth and integrity have been affronted by the fact that huckster Kevin Trudeau – see randi.org/jr/2006-06/060206nothing.html – is still selling his useless nonsense on TV, just as if the Federal Drug Administration [FDA] had never closed down his operation. Does the FDA have any teeth at all, or is it just another set of desks occupied by fearful federal servants who dare not disturb the faith-based status quo that Washington prefers?

Trudeau, whose health-related books have become best-sellers despite the fact that they give little useful advice, has come up against the FTC – again. They have now charged him with violating a previous court order by misrepresenting the contents of his book, “The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ Don't Want You to Know About,” in several of his invasive infomercials, seen all over the cable outlets – purchased at very high rates, it should be noted. Trudeau has never lacked the means to pay for these ads, in which he claims that

…the weight-loss plan outlined in the book is easy to do, can be done at home and ultimately allows readers to eat whatever they want.

Untrue, says the FTC. It actually is, they say,

…a complex, grueling plan that requires severe dieting, daily injections of a prescription drug that consumers cannot easily get, and lifelong dietary restrictions.

Up until three years ago, when he was stopped by a court order, Trudeau had falsely claimed that the product "Coral Calcium Supreme" could cure cancer and that his "Biotape" product could cure severe pain. The order banned Trudeau from using infomercials to sell products, services or programs, though through the “protected speech” provision, he can still sell books.

Trudeau, a convicted felon who spent two years in prison in the 1990s for credit-card fraud, likes to portray himself as a consumer advocate fighting the establishment. If you believe that, I have some swampland here in Florida upon which you can build a skyscraper. People like Trudeau have so much money and clout, that they are effectively immune to agencies such as the FTC.





FROM THE MOUTHS OF BABES

Reader Stuart Davies of Rugby, UK, writes:

Like many others who write to you, I have admired your work and that of the JREF for many years. I would like to relate an event that happened a while back.

We were traveling to my mother’s house when a feature on the local radio station came on regarding dowsing. At the end of it my sixteen-year-old daughter, Sam, declared it was “amazing what people can do,” to which my youngest daughter, Beth – aged twelve – simply replied, “How does it work?” I bit my tongue whilst the two of them argued over different ways it could. The youngest one always came out with the How? or Why? question as an answer, much to her sibling’s annoyance. Time to speak up, I thought. I told them of a time when, truthfully, I believed I could dowse. (I am wiser now than I was then).

Around the time of Uri Geller’s rise to fame in the UK, I had come across an article about dowsing and decided to give it a go. I had my Y-shaped stick and set off around the house trying to find signs of something “dowsable.” Just by one chair in a downstairs room, the stick rose up. I stepped back and it went back horizontal. I moved from side to side and back and forth – yes there was something there. Looking underneath the chair there was a glass half full of water (left there by my mother). I removed the glass from under the chair and got no reaction from my stick, replaced the glass and the reaction returned.

Dowsing works, I thought, and went off dowsing all over the place with various results. Some weeks later I realized that either dowsing could not work, or if it did, I couldn’t do it.

I didn’t reveal the answer to my children, but suggested that I would show them where the chair would have been in the room at my mother’s house and see if they could work out my conclusion.

When, at my mother’s house, the scene of my epiphany was re-created. Sam just stood, non-plussed, saying no, she didn’t get it. Beth asked one question: “What’s in the [central heating] radiator?” (This was next to where the chair would have been years before). “Water” was my reply. I could see the light of realization come into both their faces. Beth stated the obvious fact that I had initially missed years prior. “If you could find the water in the glass, why couldn’t you find the water in the radiator?”

Since then, neither of them have taken anything at face value and have always asked a couple of “how” or “why” questions. I always try to help them with their questioning and have shown them your website. They agree to disagree on some matters, but both of them agree on two things: a) they can’t believe how gullible some people are, and b) how many cruel people there are willing to exploit this.

I am sorry to have rambled on for so long, but it is important for people to be aware of my daughters’ areas of agreement: how gullible some people are and how many cruel people there are willing to exploit this

Long may you continue to speak the truth.





OFF-THE-CUFF COLD READING

Reader Michael Taylor Describes to us a minor “psychic” miracle he pulled, and the method he used…

Last week my wife and I had an experience that I would like to share with you.

Last year we remodeled a few rooms in our house. In the process we put a lot of junk in boxes with the goal of sorting through it at a future date. Saturday we finally got around to sorting through everything and throwing away the junk and filing away the good stuff. We were sitting on the floor looking in different directions going through different boxes when she told me that she had found some information about when we had first opened a bank account for our youngest son. A few minutes later she found an old receipt from a grocery store and asked me to guess what year it was from. With no hesitation at all I responded, “2000.”

She paused for several seconds and her jaw hit the floor. Apparently I was right on the money. At that moment I knew exactly how John Edward, Sylvia Browne and every other alleged psychic must feel when they get a hit.

I couldn’t let her sit that way for long. I explained to her that I hadn’t guessed the date at all. Ever since she had told me about opening the bank account for our son I had been thinking about 2000 because that was the year he was born and also the year of the other bills and paperwork that had been stashed away together. I simply said the first date that came to mind.

Thank you for what you do and for helping me to recognize that what had happened to me was simply an accidental “cold reading” and nothing paranormal. We are looking forward to attending TAM 6 next summer.





REACHING THE HEART – THE HARD WAY

Andrew Young and his wife are dismayed, both by the statement of a nutty observer, and by the way the experienced speaker responded to her inane comment:

I recently took a CPR certification class taught by Child Protective Services here in Austin, Texas. It is a required class for anyone who wants to adopt or foster a child, which is a great thing because I think that everyone should know at least the basics of CPR and first aid. I'm not currently adopting or fostering a child, but I am a leader in a local CampFire group and I'm expected to go every so often to renew my CPR certification.

The class was taught by a firefighter who has been serving here in Austin, Texas, for 15 years and definitely knows his stuff. Right after he finished explaining CPR and how it should be done, he asked if there were any questions from the class. One woman raised her hand, and when called on she said:

I don't have a question, but a statement. I'm a reflexologist, and I can reach the heart through the foot..

The instructor, obviously taken off guard by the comment, tried to reply without sounding as rude as I would have in his situation, and when the woman continued to talk about how the foot could be used to affect the heart he finally said "I don't know anything about that, but I'll be sure to ask my doctor about it" and moved on as quickly as he could to the next question.

My wife and I were simply stunned by the entire exchange. It seemed like this woman was actually suggesting that in an emergency situation reflexology would be somehow better than CPR! I hope that she isn't nearby when somebody actually needs someone to perform CPR on them. It was a not-so-subtle reminder of how dangerous woo-woo can be.

During the first aid portion of the class that took place later on, the instructor was sure to make a firm statement that people should not use any "old wives" remedies or homeopathic cures, probably to keep this woman from speaking up again.

Perhaps this speaker will be ready the next time a nut-case stands to confront him with nonsense. My favorite response is, “You may be right! But then, Richard Nixon also may be alive and well and living in Mexico with Simón Bolivar. I consider both scenarios to be equally likely.”





GOD SUED

Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers, 70, a civil rights leader in Omaha's black community, is described as Nebraska's most prominent and outspoken black leader. Now he’s suing God – presumably the Jehovah/Moses/Abraham version we know to be insecure, petulant, vindictive, vengeful, and so very full of Himself – to prove a point about frivolous lawsuits. Ernie says that senators have periodically offered bills prohibiting the filing of certain types of suits. "Thus, anybody can file a lawsuit against anybody – even God," he said. His lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction ordering God to cease certain harmful activities and the making of terroristic threats.

The lawsuit admits that the God against whom the senator brings the action, goes by all sorts of alternate names, titles and designations, and it also recognizes the fact that the defendant – by accepted definition – is omnipresent, though in the lawsuit, Chambers said he's tried – unsuccessfully – to contact God on numerous occasions. That “omnipresent” attribute suggested to the senator that God will thereby automatically have knowledge of the action, and has therefore requested that the court waive the “personal service” requirement. The lawsuit says that God has caused

…fearsome floods, egregious earthquakes, horrendous hurricanes, terrifying tornadoes, pestilential plagues, ferocious famines, devastating droughts, genocidal wars, birth defects and the like

along with

…calamitous catastrophes resulting in the wide-spread death, destruction and terrorization of millions upon millions of the Earth’s inhabitants including innocent babes, infants, children, the aged and infirm without mercy or distinction.

Chambers asks for the court to grant him a summary judgment. He said that as an alternative, he wants the judge to set a date for a hearing as expeditiously as possible and enter a permanent injunction enjoining God from engaging in the types of deleterious actions and the making of terroristic threats he has described in the lawsuit.

The Omaha senator, who skips morning prayers during the legislative session and often criticizes Christians, said that his lawsuit was brought about by a federal suit filed against a judge who recently barred words such as “rape” and “victim” from a sexual assault trial. That’s perfectly understandable, since we wouldn’t want the facts to be revealed to the jury…





SYLVIA WRITES

Ever-alert to an opportunity to exploit the public’s fears and doubts, Sylvia Browne’s people have produced a book designed to frighten and misinform – again. Her ad tells the whole story:

In these days of lingering war, diminishing resources, and a faltering economy, do we really have control over the world we live in? Or is there someone else pulling the strings and orchestrating our fate? Are the conspiracy theories really true? What are these "Secret Societies" that we keep hearing about? Do they really exist? Are their members manipulating the world's affairs?

The answers according to Sylvia are, obviously – no, yes, yes, names, yes, and yes. It’s so strangely satisfying to the woo-woos to believe that ominous individuals and organizations plot to control them; paranoia is a favorite illness. To know that they are able to bear up despite secret cabals that seek to keep them from perfect health, financial success, and freedom, gives them pseudo-heroic status, it seems. Of course, any and all evidence against the very existence of these forces can be put aside, since they’re “secret societies,” you see… It’s all very neat. The blather continues:

If there's one person who knows the answers, it's world-renowned psychic Sylvia Browne! For the first-time ever, Sylvia blows the lid off some of the biggest secrets that have been kept for centuries – until now – in her new book, “Secret Societies…and How They Affect Our Lives Today.”

And as if this weren’t enough, friends:

And when you order this illuminating new book today, you may win a trip to see Sylvia Browne LIVE!

Damn! I’m dropping everything to buy the book and send my name off to Sylvia – trusting that she won’t just add me to the mailing list – and then I’ll sit transfixed at the possibility that she might deign to meet me! What a thrill! And she’ll be ALIVE! Wow!

With her signature outspokenness and forthright candor, Sylvia reveals amazing communications from her spirit guide, Francine, proving that "Big Brother" is, in fact, watching over our every move and has been for years – through these Secret Societies – organizations that have existed since before the time of Christ, and that endure even today.

That’s “forthright candor,” as opposed to “reluctant” candor, please note…

You've heard the names before, whether in the news or in the movies: Skull and Bones, New World Order, Freemasons, Bilderberg Group. They each have a public face and very notable members – U.S. presidents (George Washington, George W. Bush), popular celebrities (John Wayne, Clark Gable), powerful politicians (Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell), and wealthy moguls (Henry Ford, David Rockefeller). But by definition, they are societies believed to have elite members who possess secret knowledge that they use to influence civilization.

Hey, the Boy Scouts, YMCA, GOP*, Dr. Who, and Orphan Annie Junior Commandos aren’t listed in the book – but I’m sure they will be in Volume 2…

*PLEASE don't write me about knocking the GOP. I'll try to give equal knock-time to the other party, anon.





NOT ENOUGH ATOMS

Reader John Brodbeck, of Clinton, Mississippi, writes:

I viewed your Princeton presentation and thoroughly enjoyed it. I then forwarded the link to my children so they could see it with the explanation that I am going to start sending them info on my heroes of rationality. These will be people who either promote a “Reality Based” world view or have accomplished outstanding accomplishments in the betterment of human life using solid scientific means. You named a few of my other heroes in your presentation: Feynman, Gardner, Sagan and in the intro video Stossel and Penn.

I also wanted to share a thought regarding your example of the homeopathic nostrums. Putting a single atom in a sphere of water the size of the solar system is a great visual image, especially when you were doing the shaking with the sound effects. A follow up comment to the example could be to point out there are only 1080 atoms in the known universe. When you get past 80X dilutions you are fooling yourself because there isn’t enough matter in existence anywhere to achieve that dilution unless you reuse some of the matter already used which I would not be Kosher. The other inconvenient truth is that the Earth’s water which has come in contact over its long life with the abundance of naturally occurring elements and compounds plus the manmade chemicals. The water molecule’s vibrations must be pretty confused by now. Of course I could be mistaken; I have overlooked the three-axis shaking of ten shakes each. That explains it.

Anyway keep up the good work. There is always hope as long as we keep pulling people back to rationality.




IN CLOSING

The item up above - "Where Is the FDA?" - criticizing the FDA’s inertia, should also call attention to the fact that people like Trudeau are given no attention by the media, while each and every small peccadillo exhibited by Britney and O.J. bring headlines and top-of-the-news attention from TV and the newspapers. Our priorities are obviously misplaced, in my opinion. The continued damage that Trudeau does to the American public seems unimportant, while worthless celebrities are featured as if their idiocies were significant. We need a little more justice and a lot more responsibility.

However, as colleague Phil Plait moaned on his badastronomy.com site, when a celebrity hostess – such as the lady who blew away The View listeners last week by declaring that she didn’t know whether or not the Earth was flat! – makes such an obvious faux pas, the media titter about it awhile, at least. But Trudeau’s victims will still be buying the quack nostrums and staying ill…

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