April 9, 2004

That Remarkable Man, Does It Ever Work?, Claim a Refund, Those Were the Days, More Bullshit!, The Perfect Test, It Doesn't Really Apply, Another Epiphany, John Edward Is Trembling, The FDA Takes a Timid Step into the 21st Century, Meier's Evidence Found!, Really Bad News Via Sylvia, and A Junior Skeptic Chimes In….

Table of Contents:

THAT REMARKABLE MAN What follows is a short (900-word) essay I wrote for a local newspaper in New Jersey, in the early 60s. It therefore contains anachronisms, and deals with matters as they were at that time. I came upon it when sifting through other documents, and thought I'd share it here with you. Bear in mind that the subject I wrote about will be 90 years of age this October, and though world-famous, is not even listed in "Who's Who," incredibly. Here's the article:

There's a limited number of persons I have determined to meet at all costs. They include Peter Ustinov, Margaret Hamilton, Margaret Rutherford, and John Archibald Wheeler. But the most prominent person on that list I have already met long ago, and I am privileged to have enjoyed his company, his erudition and his confidence many, many times. He is Martin Gardner.

This remarkable man lives in Croton-on-Hudson, in his private kingdom of Oz at an appropriate address: 10 Euclid Avenue. I've never summoned up enough nerve to ask Martin if he chose the house for its address or for its topology, which I suspect on close examination would prove similar to a Klein bottle. Its many rooms are jammed with columns of full filing cabinets bearing exotic labels reading, typically, "Geometry, plane, solid, 4D and up" and "Combinational Color Cubes, Magic Squares, Logic & Misc. problems." It makes one's mouth water and mind boggle.

His bookshelves boast originals of many classics in the field of mathematics and in the art of conjuring, as well as first editions of all the L. Frank Baum "Oz" books. One section several feet long is devoted entirely to "Hollow Earth" theories and there must be several shelves consisting only of Martin's own books, in several languages and various combinations. A copy machine stands humming at "ready" so that every clipping gleaned may be multiply-copied for filing under as many headings as possible.

Martin files numbers. If a number is shown to be a prime, it is filed under "primes," then given its own file so that other of its specifics may be noted. Is it the sum of cubes? Then it goes into that file, as well. Any peculiarity is described and preserved. I recall the advantages of this system when I was employed by International Business Machines to work up a presentation involving logic, multiple solutions and new ways of approaching problems. IBM was concerned with promoting their series-370 business machines, and I asked Martin about that specific number.

"Aha!" he said — thus also inventing a book-title — "the number 370 is one of only four — aside from 1 itself — that are the sum of the cubes of its own digits. What's the next highest one?" I had no answer, and felt like a fool when he told me. It is quite obvious. "And if you're interested in a Spanish connection," he continued, "turn it upside-down." I did, and IBM was happy with the results. I'm sure Martin could have gone on and on with fascinating facts about 370 — or any other number I'd have cared to choose....

Martin Gardner is the most organized person I know. His tastes are simple, but in keeping with his interests. Numerous Escher prints — originals, of course — bought from the artist when no one else cared, grace the walls of #10 Euclid. A few ingenious mechanical devices occupy various shelves, and typically a table may display some puzzle that needs solution. One such was a group of eight letter-cards spelling out "PICTURES." Told that these could be re-arranged to form another English word of eight letters, all I could come up with was, "SCRIPTURE" — leaving me short one "R"….

A silver ring is the only personal adornment I've ever seen on Martin, shaped as a tiny Möbius strip. I suppose that there are numerous other artifacts of this kind about, but that particular shape seems to express the man fully. It is fascinating in a direct and amusing way, has many unsuspected facets and possibilities, it is simple and basic, suits him quite well, and attests to his good taste.

At four in the afternoon, after a long day of cerebration, there comes a holler up the winding stairway (counter-clockwise, two complete turns, going up) from wife Charlotte, the only other inhabitant of Oz besides the very proper cat, which one presumes is probably Cheshire. Both their sons are away on their own, returning only occasionally to Emerald City. Four p.m. is "Manhattan time," and deadline or no, Martin breaks from his labors to relax. It's a ceremony carefully observed and respected by all visitors upon pain of banishment. I don't think Martin could drink a Martini. The pun would be more than he could stand...

Closing these few brief observations, let me return to that IBM symposium in San Francisco. After my presentation, I credited Martin with having supplied the raw data for the production, and was pleased to see that the Systems Engineers present gave him a prolonged round of applause in absentia. But I was astonished when, immediately afterwards, I was surrounded by a large group of them who asked me a question: Was Martin Gardner a real person, or a composite? They found it difficult to believe that he was only one person and that he turned out such an astounding amount of material on a regular basis.

To those folks I said, as I say to you: yes, there is a Martin Gardner, and he is a delight and a frustration, a wonder and a good friend to every rational mind. He's rare, generous, thoughtful, shy, valuable and valued all in one. And he would rather I had not written any of this. But I had to.

In the twentieth century, we had Einstein, lunar landing, instant coffee, biorhythms, black holes, and Doctor Matrix. And Martin made it all worth while being here.

I'll entertain solutions to the "370" and "PICTURES" items, above, but won't be able to acknowledge all your answers due to volume of response…. Think: edible, nasty noise, next, bravo….


An anonymous reader who stumbled onto a dowsing-stick scam provides us with this excellent example of how those who first fall for the ideomotor delusion (see www.randi.org/library/dowsing/) will persist in their belief even after the reality becomes clear to them, and will resist any attempts to show them that they've been self-hoodwinked. It's a long piece, so we'll run it in two parts. Here's Part One of "Does It Ever Work?":

About mid-January of this year, I became aware that a neighbor, Darryl, was in the treasure-hunting business. He approached me mentioning that his group needed a new technical guy. Since I'd been looking for work, I asked a lot of questions about the nature of what he needed done, and laid out my credentials. He was quite interested and wanted me to meet his partner, Pete, which I did the next day.

Darryl claims to have some vague affiliation with the mob. Pete is in his mid-sixties, about six-foot-four, and maybe 275 pounds. He claims to have served in the U.S. Air Force in Viet Nam, where his aircraft was shot down. He was captured, he says, and subsequently tortured by the Viet Cong. The two have formed a company they call Worldwide Treasure Hunters, LLC. Pete is CEO and President, Darryl is Vice President. They take their titles and positions very seriously. Pete has been a treasure hunter for 30 or more years, and the two have known one another for about 5 years.

I was told a lot of stories while sitting patiently at Pete's kitchen table. Nothing too crazy. Just a lot of reminiscing over past treasure hunting trips to Mexico (both Old and New) complete with photos. After several hours of this, they decided to hire me. My first assignment was to take a hand-drawn 2-dimensional sketch and create a 3-dimensional CAD drawing that could be rendered and published to a website. The sketch was of a product Pete had "developed" that he called The Locator. Pete claimed to have some type of degree or training in either electronics or electrical engineering. This claim was never clear to me. He called his device a Long Range Locator, which he claimed could locate large underground caches of gold from miles away, and that it is tuned to find only processed — smelted — gold. The electronics were set to a frequency of 5,000 hertz. It was at this precise frequency, he said, that the locator would pick up the processed gold signal which he called EMIA or ElectroMagnetic Intensity Aura. He was expecting to market and sell this locator device thru a metal detector company by the name of KellyCo. He anticipated his revenues would be roughly $11 million which would be plenty to finance their upcoming treasure hunting activities.

Over the next few weeks I had numerous discussions with them. One or both of them called almost daily. I never really agreed to be part of their team, but I played along and nodded my head. I just wanted to get paid for doing my job so I kept my doubts to myself.

During this period, Pete would occasionally dole out the cash by envelope, which worked just fine for me. When I'd completed the project he called and told me what a wonderful job I'd done. Then the daily calls stopped. For some reason he was withholding the last $500 he owed me. Finally he called and said he would like me to "test" his gold locator prototype, confirm that it worked as intended, and write up a detailed analysis (i.e., the underlying physics) of how and why this device worked, and finally add my Professional Engineering stamp of approval. That was way outside the bounds of the original project scope, but since he was essentially holding my money hostage, I agreed to the field test, outside a small town in California. The place has some historical significance to the Mormons (I don't know exactly what) and there are petroglyphs all over the area.

On a Tuesday morning in February, I was lured to the testing site with the promise of full payment. They also wanted me to meet some of their other associates. At first it was just Pete, Darryl, and I, expecting three other members. We loaded up and headed out to the test site. This was my first experience with The Locator — a crude prototype. Pete hooked everything up and he gave it to me to use. I switched on the device. A red LED lit up and the control box emitted a low-volume, high-pitched hum. Interestingly enough, weeks earlier Pete had faxed me the schematic of the control box electronics. I don't claim to be an electrical engineer or even an electronics technician, but I can read a schematic. The device emits an extremely low power 5,000-hertz radio signal. So here I am out in the middle of nowhere on a very cold and windy plateau with this device in my hand, and as you might expect, the device did absolutely nothing! They were very disappointed, but decided it was the wind and cold conditions that were adversely affecting the EMIA and possibly the control box electronics. So we trekked over to the gap to try it "a little closer to the gold" where the EMIA was presumably much stronger!

On the way we stopped to look at the petroglyphs. That's where I got a sampling of Pete's personality. He claimed to have hundreds of books on ancient writings, and proceeded to tell us all about the hidden meanings of the ancient drawings we were looking at. He rambled on about aliens and UFOs. I found this quite entertaining. We jumped back into the vehicles and went down a dirt road for another mile. We got out at the top of a canyon. They had me try The Locator again. Guess what? It still didn't work! The excuse this time was that I needed more practice to get the hang of it.

Pete said we needed to get closer to the gold. We set out on foot down into the canyon and up the other side. I was walking in about six inches of snow and was starting to get creeped-out. [Perhaps I had seen one too many "Sopranos" episodes.] At least I was getting some exercise. We stopped halfway up on the other side of the canyon and Pete pulled out a long steel rod with another electronics control box attached to an "antenna." He pounded this device into the ground. This, he said, was an EMIA amplifier. As I already was aware, the control box circuitry was nothing more than a crystal radio set tuned to 5 kilohertz. Once we got to the actual site, they asked me to use The Locator again. Once again, it did absolutely nothing and I was thinking about how pitiful these guys were — and how stupid I was! About this time one of the new men mentioned that I probably didn't have the correct "energy" for The Locator to work properly. He was referring to the "energy" in my body, I suppose. At this point Pete was incredulous because the device won't work for me, so he took a stab at it. Everyone gathered around to watch the master. The arm on The Locator was swinging like crazy every time he walked past the exact site. Everyone but me was astonished! We were clearly standing above a huge cache of gold!

While the others were watching the gold-wire-tipped Locator arm, I was watching Pete's hand. He was tilting his hand to obtain the desired effect. Was he aware of it? I'm not sure. I asked about the depth of the gold and asked if we couldn't just start digging. Pete said it was about 80 feet down under layers of basalt, plus we were on Federal land. Pete's theory was that the gold was left by the Spanish some 500 years ago. However, the gold was under the basalt, which was the product of volcanic activity that occurred millions of years ago. So how did the gold get under the basalt? Beats me! I didn't say anything because I was beginning to think these guys might be dangerous. We hung around the site for a while taking turns with The Locator. Apparently Pete was the only one among us skilled enough to use it properly. Another of the team had been hiking around the area while we were busy locating gold. He informed us that there were "two guardians" watching us. That got my attention. I thought perhaps some agents of the Bureau of Lands and Mines were in the area. I was told these guardians were essentially ghosts who watch over the gold, and that if your "energy" was good, they would let you take the gold.

As we headed back home I asked Darryl if they had ever tested The Locator on a gold bar or gold coin. The convenient answer was that it only worked on large caches of gold. In addition, Darryl told me of their next dig they were planning in Shiprock, New Mexico. Pete "knew" the gold was there. They just had to dig it up. Darryl mentioned they also had a potential dig site in Old Mexico. Apparently there's a cave there covered by a large boulder. Darryl said he wouldn't be surprised if they also found an alien spacecraft in that cave. Yikes!

End of Part One. Part Two will follow next week….


A couple weeks back, I mis-spelled "navel" as "naval." Only "Charlie In Dayton" caught me on it. Where were all the rest of my monitors? (Not in the "lizard" sense, I hasten to add…..)

Charlie also commented, re the discussion of the newly-discovered "planet" Sedna, and how this will affect the astrologers, first quoting me:

"...the astrologers can now be expected to examine every one of the billions of chunks of ice and rocks that are wandering about...so that the failure of astrology can be explained by complexity alone..."

I am reminded of The Bad Astronomer's [Phil Plait] words concerning the Harmonic Concordance of a few years back, requiring the presence of Chiron to make the magic work (I disremember if Chiron claims membership in the Kuiper or Oort clan...does that make a difference? Inquiring minds want to know). Apparently Chiron was thrown in just to make the picture pretty...

So, what does the existence of Sedna do for all the millennia of horoscopes cast without its influence taken into effect? How far back can the statute of limitations allow refunds to be claimed, or for monetary damages due to insufficiently-forecast karma? I wonder if a member of the great unwashed will actually try for some sort of relief on this basis...

You sound like a hungry lawyer, Charlie…. Chiron, incidentally, is now considered a comet because a faint fuzzy tail has been detected, but would still qualify as a minor planet; those designations are in themselves rather fuzzy. Don't confuse Chiron with Charon, the tiny moon of tiny Pluto. That's named after the apparently mythical boatman who ferries Greek souls over the River Styx. Yes, it's all very complicated.

While on that subject, UK reader Simon Nicholson brings up a very rich and adored astrologer, again:

Regarding the talk of Sedna in [a recent] commentary; I came across an interesting piece of correspondence in the UK's "Daily Mirror" newspaper a few days ago. A reader had written in to their astrologer, Jonathan Cainer, making the interesting point that — leaving aside the fascinating debate over whether Sedna is actually a proper planet — it certainly is not a new planet; it is a newly-discovered planet. Surely its influence, as raved about by Cainer and other astrologers, should have been there all the time?

Cainer did not deign to answer himself, but rather quoted a letter from another reader, which explained that it is only once you can see a planet that its influence starts to become apparent.

So that sorts that out, then!

Simon, I have a shock for you. If the definition of "see" means to perceive with the unaided eye, Sedna will never qualify — nor should Neptune or Pluto — because they're not visible that way! While Neptune is massive, it's very far away, and both Pluto and Sedna are relatively tiny bits of matter even farther away, all three objects visible only with powerful telescopes. And, it should be noted, Sedna is believed to only come around every 10,500 years, and at its closest approach, is 9,300,000,000 miles away from Earth. I'd say that's not much of an influence on us, but the astrologers will cling to every bit of nonsense they can generate, as we know.


John Murr Rhame, Jr. of Charlotte, NC, wrote me:

Your name came up on "How Things Work," a science and technology teaching mailing list I'm subscribed to. I thought you might be interested in the story I relate below. The incident I describe happen around 1979. The University of South Carolina Sumter [SC] booked your performances into the Sumter Little Theatre.

He went on to describe the incident:

James Randi is a very cool dude. He has debunked many claims by psychics. He has also helped scientists catch trickery that's being passed off as paranormal ability. Years ago, he was a very good escape artist and closeup magician... About twenty years ago, he made a three-night stand in a small theater where I worked as the technical director. A co-conspirator and I tied him to a chair during his act... Held him for the better part of an hour. The night before, he'd gotten loose in about a minute. We figured we could do a better job.

Randi comments: Murr had worked out the possibilities. The trick I did, went like this: I would give two volunteers from the audience one hundred feet of rope, in the form of two fifty-foot coils, one for each of them. The rope was always supplied by the theater, though to my specifications; Murr may not have known that. I would sit in a plain wooden chair — no armrests — and challenge them to tie me in, so that I could not release myself. Here's the conclusion Murr and his colleague came to:

Too much rope and poor knots make for a quick escape. Part of the escape artists' advantage is that they supply the rope, in this case, two fifty-foot coils of 3/8-inch diameter cotton rope. Given that much rope to work with, most people wrap him up somewhat like a mummy. You can't wrap the coils too tightly or he can't breath. The escapee is also doing small tricks like expanding his chest and holding his limbs away from the chair as he's being tied. A huge wad of loosely wrapped rope makes it pretty easy to work something loose.

This is quite correct. But there was much more to their clever knavery….

We put clove hitches on his ankles and wrists, locked the clove hitches down with a half hitch or two on top, then tied these to the chair. We added a seat belt, then coiled the leftover eighty feet or so of rope and laid it neatly in his lap. Could have done a better job with several short lengths of rope but we made do with what we had, not wanting to take a knife to the man's props.

Good thinking! Those guys really knew what they were doing. Reader Dave Typinski commented, on this subject:

It amazes me that people can escape such manner of entanglements. If it'd have been me, my desiccated corpse would still be there. Does allowing the cotton rope to rot away count as an escape?

No, Dave. Against the rules. Another contributor wrote:

And even if they [the escape artists] have handcuffs, you can probably either count on them being gaffed or the escape artist having a shim hidden on his person.

Well, I never used my own handcuffs, since I'd obviously have a spare key somewhere handy, or they could have been gimmicked, and that wouldn't be very impressive. I always got the local cops to supply the manacles, as in the jail-break I did in Sumter as part of a subsequent engagement, described up ahead.

To get back to Murr's account:

I was very impressed with James Randi's escape. He did have a small edge in the type of rope he provided. He also legitimately got loose from knots carefully tied by two people who knew how to handle rope. Granted, most people who work with rope don't tie people up on a regular basis. Still, we did a pretty good number on him.

He is also a great entertainer. As I said, we held him for the better part of an hour. While completely immobile, his chatter kept a couple hundred people completely entertained for fifty minutes or so as he calmly worked himself loose. The show ran a little long that night but no one, including Randi, complained.

He was and still is a master at what he does.

The majority of escape acts do involve prepared props or hidden devices. If a magician is being locking into a trunk that he brought with him, it's a safe bet that he has modified the trunk to his advantage. Even so, the better escapists are very good at improvising. Part of Randi's publicity routine was to go to the local jail and ask to be incarcerated. He would submit to their standard booking procedures and usually got himself out in a few minutes using only his skills and the materials he found in the cell. The good escape artists take their craft very seriously and are very good at what they do.

The following year, I was again booked in Sumter. This was to benefit a local charity, and I decided to do a jail-break to get some media coverage for the event. I recall that the Sheriff was a charming gentleman named I. Byrd Parnell, and he not only supplied the handcuffs that I used for my onstage performance, but also offered to lock me up in the local jail to work up some interest in the forthcoming show. Of course the local media were very much interested in such an event, and photographed every aspect of it.

Sheriff Parnell trotted out a pair of leg irons to supplement the two pair of handcuffs he already had available. Following the usual procedure, I was stripped, searched, allowed to re-dress minimally — for the photographers — then fastened in the three sets of manacles and locked into the cell. While this was going on I got into conversation with the sheriff and admired the handsome dark-red fedora he was wearing. Said the sheriff generously, if I managed to get out of his jail, he would gladly give me the hat. He and the media left the scene and I set about the work of freeing myself.

The handcuffs and legirons were standard Smith & Wesson issue, as was the jail cell lock — a Sargent & Greenleaf model. That latter not only "clicks" shut, but takes an additional turn of the key to put a square "deadbolt" in place. I don't recall how long the jailbreak took me, but it was probably only about 20 minutes; I always tried not to lose the media who were waiting outside. I suppose that Sheriff Parnell was somewhat more shaken up than the reporters when I walked out of his maximum-security setup free of the irons, but in true gentlemanly fashion he announced that he would present me with his hat, on stage at the performance, that same night. True to his promise, he did exactly that. (I hate to tell you that though I still have that hat, it was far too small for my big head.)

If memory serves, the mayor's name at that time was Bubba McElveen. No shortage of colorful names, or hats, in Sumter. I remember, too, that Parnell raised coon dogs (more correctly, coon-hounds), as a sideline. All in all, Sumter and I got along very well, raised some money for charity, and were treated very well by the media.

John, thank you for reminding me of this event.


Reader Jeff VanCuren suggests I should mention that Penn and Teller's "Bullshit!" show series has now been released on DVD. The "Season 1" edition, with 14 episodes and many great bonus features, including an interview with moi, is now in stores, and flying off the shelves, as they say. It really tears down nonsense like only Penn and Teller can. And, they've just returned to TV with Season 2, now showing….


Reader Aaron "Never-backs-down-to-grubbies" Froberg has come up with a wonderful test that our federal authorities might wish to employ, instead of the polygraph or the "computerized voice stress analyzer" (CVSA) so popular at this moment in time. This method could identify citizens who are not making "faith-based" decisions! Says Aaron:

After reading the many examples of some of the past JREF applicants in your commentary archive I came to the realization that winning the million-dollar prize would be much easier if these individuals would simply convert to Christianity. Here's why:

In Mark 16: 15-18:

And He [Jesus] said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents and if they drink ANY deadly poison, it shall not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they [the sick] will recover."

The Signs promised to each and every believer are: 1) They can cast out demons. 2) They can speak new languages they never studied. 3) They can handle with impunity any deadly serpent. 4) They can drink any deadly poison and suffer no harm whatsoever.

5) They can cure the sick by merely laying hands on them. Wow, I wish I'd known the part about speaking new languages when I was struggling through Spanish in college.

Thanks for always giving me proof that there are rational-logical people still living and breathing reality.

Aaron's observations provide an infallible test of whether anyone is truly a real Christian! A quick shot of strychnine should establish the answer. Or, we could get a bucket full of demons and see how the anointed could cast 'em out. A cobra in the pants? Perhaps a bad case of diaper rash could be commanded to depart….? To deny that this test would work, would be to deny the truth of the Bible, friends.

Am I serious? Oh, yes. This is a philosophical and practical stance that can be easily, quickly, and definitively tested. Let's do it.

(Re the strychnine-tasting test, see www.randi.org/jr/040502.html for more....)


A reader advises us regarding the clause in state constitutions regarding belief-in-God being required for anyone to hold public office, that besides Texas six other states (MA, MD, NC, PA, SC and TN) all have similar language included in their Bill of Rights, their Declaration of Rights, or in the body of their constitutions. He says:

It's not true in a legal sense — ask an attorney. In 1961, the Supreme Court of the US ruled in Torcaso v. Watkins that the state of Maryland could not require a "test oath" (one that affirms a belief in God) in order to hold public office. By extension, that invalidated all such provisions in all State constitutions. Such provisions may still appear to exist in State constitutions, but it cannot be enforced, so it is null and void and not part of the body of the law. A court decision ruling that a law is "unconstitutional" does not "remove" the law. Only the legislature can do that, but it makes it illegal to enforce the law. In the US, at least, the body of the law includes much more than written statutes, especially all applicable court decisions.

It may not be in the law, nor enforceable, but I really cannot imagine anyone ever being voted in on a "No-God" ticket, in the USA.


Reader John Banghart credits our forum with a revelation….

Reading today's commentary reminded me of my own anecdote that I thought I might share. It's particularly relevant to JREF since it was someone on the JREF forum who gave me my "epiphany."

I have a very clear memory of seeing UFO's when I was a teenager. I was looking out the back window of my bedroom sometime after dark when I saw five fuzzy orange lights, flying around each other off in the distance, at around 30 degrees above the horizon. Now, there was a large truck depot off in that direction that had a lot of orange lights, so my first thought was that light was reflecting off the wings of bats, since they were flying erratically while staying close together. After about thirty seconds or so, the five objects rapidly formed into a "V" formation — like geese — and flew off behind a tree, where I lost sight of them.

For fifteen years I had been unable to reconcile the two very different flight patterns that the objects exhibited. Several months ago, I came across your site and decided to post my experience on the forums, in hopes that someone could shed some light. Within minutes, another forum member had reported a similar experience, and when he investigated, it turned out to be someone flying kites at night. Needless to say, a light went off in my head. It made perfect sense, and fit my knowledge of flight patterns I had witnessed of kites during the day. That, combined with the knowledge that orange light could easily reflect off the kites' surfaces, gave me the answer I had been searching for.

The point of this story is that we are all sometimes victims of our limited experience. Having never considered that anyone would fly kites at night, the possibility never occurred to me and left me perplexed. By sharing, I broadened the experience base against which my story could be tested, and a reasonable explanation was found.

Of course, now I can't tell people that I have seen a UFO, but such is life.

Yeah, it's tough….


Reader Vincent Golden of Worcester, Massachusetts, does some good guessing:

I thought I would pass on to you an experience I had a few years ago when I a graduate student in library and information science. At an informal gathering, a group of us were talking about the paranormal and one of my classmates spoke about how one time she was thinking of a friend she hadn't spoken to in a few years when the phone rang and it was her. I asked her the date and she knew it to the day. Since it wasn't a holiday and she knew it exactly I decided to take a chance. I looked at her and said I was getting an impression. The date was her friend's birthday. Nailed it exactly. I then explained that the rational explanation was that since the date wasn't a holiday, a reasonable guess was that it was a birthday. Since she hadn't mentioned her birthday, I took a 50/50 chance on the guess. It turned out they used to celebrate their birthdays together then she moved away; they used to call each other. For some reason, they stopped doing that. I pointed out that there were all the birthdays when she might have thought of her friend and she didn't call — and vice versa. The rational explanation was much more reasonable than the psychic one. The icing on the cake was that she was ticked off that I had spoiled the event for her. This is probably just the slightest hint at how thankless your job can be.

Yeah, I repeat, it's tough….


Hallelujah! The United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) has just announced that it doesn't need actual direct evidence of human harm before it can take steps to curb sales of a dietary supplement! They say that data from animals, test-tube studies, even similar products — can suffice.

They suggest that Congress should require manufacturers to report customers' side effects, however. Sounds wise to me. The $19 billion dietary supplement industry, selling products ranging from mainstream vitamins to controversial hormones and stimulants, is, to put it far too kindly, loosely regulated. A 1994 law embraced by the industry says that, unlike most medications, most supplements sold today never have to be proven safe, much less proven to bring any health benefit.

The FDA's $10 million dietary supplements office, with a staff of 25, now has to uncover enough evidence to push risky products off the market. The very popular heart attack- and stroke-causing herb ephedra is scheduled to become the first supplement formally banned. As expected, health-food stores are selling off every scrap of this substance to frantic buyers. Some 155 deaths were linked to the herbal stimulant.

Perhaps my past experience is responsible for my heavy doubt that this will do much, but I'm willing to be shown. I'm just as concerned with the fact that most of these products have never been shown to actually do anything that they claim, safely or not, getting off the hook with the phrase: "These statements have not been validated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease." The question immediately presents itself: Then what are they intended to do, besides extract money from the naïve?


Reader Tony Bradshaw tells us something we might have suspected….

I noticed that you mentioned the blank Billy Meier page that is supposed to contain the "evidence," and decided to see if I could find it. And guess what? I did! Of course, you have to pay for it, and it's full of "techno-speak," not that I've bought and read it, but it "warns" of it. Anyway, you can find this startling discovery that everyone in the scientific world is keeping under wraps, right here: www.steelmarkonline.com/purchase_downloads.htm

Of course, why they would have to charge to release the info, I don't know, especially as it's worth a million, right? Hey! How about I buy a copy and present it myself? Or do I have to get a fake piece of metal, too? Sigh… can't say I didn't try.


Here's an excerpt from a reading by Sylvia Browne last December on Larry King Live, CNN. She was speaking with a female caller from Japan, who said she wanted to resolve some matters with her mother. Sylvia wrongly assumed that Mom was deceased:

BROWNE: Yeah, but I don't know if you could have had any resolved issues with your mother, because she was so very difficult … to deal with, and I'm not saying that to be cruel. So, you see, the, the thing that you've got to realize is when somebody goes to the other side, everything is okay.

CALLER: But she's def… you can definitely see her on the other side?

BROWNE: Yes, a little. [quickly] If … she's little.

CALLER: Yeah? Well… the last time I spoke to her, she was alive.

BROWNE: Yeah, but see, I don't... she's not alive now.

CALLER: She's dead.


CALLER: You're telling me my mother has died.


CALLER: You're sure about this?

BROWNE: I'm positive.

CALLER: Okay, well, I'll have to get back to you after I've called her.

BROWNE: Alright.

CALLER: Thank you.

How could I add anything to that, folks? Well, I could ask whether the host — Larry King — troubled to contact the caller later, to find out the state of her mother. I'll bet not, because that might spoil another perfectly fine lie from Ms. Browne.


We'll close this week with a short story written by Aynsley Mervine, as a school essay. The theme of the story was supposed to be "dreams," and this story reflects her skeptical beliefs. Not being her teacher, and despite heavy tendencies to correct, I'll place it here exactly as received….

I See All

Madra did not use cards or crystal balls to see into the future, instead she relied on her dreams. When she would tell fortunes she would fall into a trance, a dream like state, and she believed that she could tell a persons future. Once she told Jibari, the goat herder, to stop herding goats as they were going to trample him, and he sold his herd and became a chicken rancher. He did not enjoy chickens, but they weren't going to trample him to death. "Yes," thought Madra, "I've done another good deed for this world, I've saved Jibari's life". People changed their whole lives, "for the better according to what I say" Madra said.

One night when Madra came back from her hard work, she lay down and drifted into a deep trance. The only thing that was different this time was that the vision was about her. In the vision she was walking on the cracked sidewalk she used everyday to go to work. Suddenly out of the corner of her eye she saw a large green bus charging toward her at an enormous rate of speed. She woke up suddenly with her heart racing. She knew she was going to die, for she could see all.

Madra decided she would never go to work again, then she would never be killed by the bus. The only problem was since she didn't go to work, she wasn't paid. Since she wasn't paid she couldn't buy anything. After three weeks of exile in her home, Madra was tearing apart her kitchen looking for something to eat. Madra decided that if the great Spirit decided the great Madra was going to die, she would accept her fate. So, off to work she went.

Madra started out her day like any other. Strangely enough it ended in the same fashion. After a year, of expecting to be hit by a bus, Madra began to think about her dream. "Perhaps I can't tell the future" Madra thought to herself, "and besides which I have never even seen a green bus! Have I been lying to all these people? Have I been lying to myself? It's time to stop living in my dream world and awaken!" Six years later Madra had moved to New York city and opened her law practice. Unfortunately for Jibara, he is still chicken ranching, even though found out he is allergic to chickens.

Thanks, Aynsley. Madra got smart, it seems. May we all get that smart….

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