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Commentary archive #2

Entries from: March 2005 to July 2005

 

Index for this page

18th July 2005
The trouble with religion

4th July 2005
Make AIDS History

2nd July 2005
Most Haunted Farce
Christian Voice: The Money Lenders Fight Back

19th June 2005
The complete and utter emptiness of the paranormal

30th May 2005
The unpleasant world of the psychic detective.

26th May 2005
Even more ghosts
Evolution

14th May 2005
Cashing in on death

30th April 2005
Parrots and angels
Off topic rant - The Election

16th April 2005
Derek Acorah
Homeopathy - The alternative to medicine

9th April 2005
More ghost infestation

2nd April 2005
Psychic dumbing down
Christian Vice

26th March 2005
Big Cat attack

19th March 2005
Halifax ghost
Spiritual healing on the NHS

12th March 2005
Another psychic detective?
Loose ends

5th March 2005
Cursing Stone
Shirley Ghostman
UFOs


 

18th July 2005 (amended)

The trouble with religion
Following the London bombings I have heard, on more than one occasion, that these suicide bombers like their counterparts in Iraq and elsewhere, follow a perverted form of the otherwise peaceful religion known as Islam. My own feeling is that the bombers would argue that the ‘peaceful’ version is in fact a perversion of ‘pure’ Islam. Of course the Christian religion is also made up of a similar spectrum ranging from those that devote their lives to helping others, to the extremists who bomb abortion clinics. No doubt a similar case could be brought against other religions.

There are many things that religion can be criticised for; persecution of homosexuals, promoting Creationism as having scientific credibility (in whatever form), refusal to endorse condom use, bullying art forms (Satanic Verses, Harry Potter, Behzti, Jerry Springer the Opera), ‘Keep Sunday Special’ campaigns, banning stem cell research and the general subjugation of women to name but a few. In fact anything that achieves progress at the expense of religious doctrine. And I submit that for all those who rigidly stick to such dogma there are probably many more who despair at such excess.

I see the problem like this, Holy Scripture (e.g. Bible, Koran) follows P.T. Barnum’s creed of having, “a little something for everyone”: So taking the Christian Bible as an example we have some sections that tell us to kill homosexuals and others telling us to forgive and love one another. You can find the Almighty will back you whether you prefer to take, “an eye for an eye” or simply turn the other cheek.

Not being overly familiar with the contents of the Koran I’ll quote the well known Islamic scholar Boris Johnson (note for foreign readers: Boris is actually a Member of the UK Parliament and not known for his religious knowledge),

22.9 As for the unbelievers, for them garments of fire shall be cut and there shall be poured over their heads boiling water whereby whatever is in their bowels and skins shall be dissolved and they will be punished with hooked iron rods.

Not exactly “peaceful” in my view but surely we have the imminent and much vaunted ‘Incitement to Religious Hatred’ law standing by ready to curb these unpleasant excesses? Not necessarily, Muslims are apparently already trying to seek exemption for their own scripture and if, as many seem to think, this law is simply an appeasement to Muslim unease after the invasion of Iraqi, I imagine there is a good chance that they will receive a favourable hearing.

The next part of the problem is that because these holy books are supposed to be the immutable word of ‘God’ they are forever fossilised in the distant past, never to be revised or updated. Society’s problems and numerous challenges inevitably change with time but alas not scripture. Thus followers are bound to the past and whilst most religious supporters don’t go round bombing innocent people it seems, at least to me, that the cycle of violence is doomed to be repeated as extremists can always find the necessary theological justification. Topped with the cherry of martyrdom what’s to persuade the extremists of their error?

I can’t help but notice that all religions demand rights but few if any shoulder any responsibility. This isn’t helped by increasing fragmentation. Islam is not controlled by some El Supremo Imam who has the final say in what is acceptable and what isn’t leaving everyone free to make up their own minds. Even the Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury have their limitations. They have no authority or even influence over Christian Evangelists who are pretty much leaderless and free to interpret what they consider to be acceptable and what isn’t. And yet religious groups continue to pursue favour through the political process. I feel a need to emphasise that morality is not the sole province of religion and doesn’t come under its authority.

Is there a solution? I don’t really know but I’ll venture a suggestion. Surely it is time for the separation of church and state, the disbanding of religious schools (and otherwise using the education system as a means of early indoctrination) and the establishment of firmly secular government. I would never suggest the banning of any religion, I would rather humanity learned to outgrow such naivety but as this isn’t likely to happen anytime soon I’d like religion to be a question of personal choice and its political ambitions kept in check.

Update: See Ross Sargent's Guest Contribution on James Randi's site. Brilliant as ever!

 

 

4th July 2005

Make AIDS History?

Why is it that AIDS is such a problem in the African continent? Perhaps they have a particularly virulent strain whilst in Europe we have a sort of AIDS Lite? Probably not, so what’s different?

When AIDS first came to our attention here in the UK we had a massive advertising campaign. Remember John Hurt’s voice telling us not to “die of ignorance”?

For the first time that I can remember condoms were freely discussed on television. There was some kind of acknowledgement that sexual activity was actually going on and a nervous realisation that this wasn't just a 'gay problem'. Even anal sex got a mention. The Church of course were not happy with all this promiscuity. I mean it’s one thing to die, but casual sex? Appalling! (See here if you don’t believe me). But the good news is that loads of us didn’t die of ignorance.

But without the heavy promoting of the good old condom (remember Richard Branson and his 'Mates') what would have happened? Well the self appointed guardian of our morals the Church, seemed to prefer the somewhat unpopular birth control method of abstinence - but was this ever likely to be a successful strategy? In Africa manifestly not. Shocking as it may seem people do have sexual urges and whilst AIDS could be stopped if people just didn’t have sex anymore this is hardly a practical solution. If it was we could stop people smoking by just asking them nicely. The problem of obesity? A cinch – stop eating. Now as far as I know the Church has never taken a strong moral stance on smoking or the fat content of a Big Mac, because whilst the Church doesn’t seem to mind if we smoke or thicken our arteries it has never really liked us mucking about with our genitalia. It actually feels it has a legitimate say in what I do with my willie. Now I can accept friendly advice to keep it away from the bacon slicer but other than that it’s surely mine to do with as I please.

Telling me what I can or can't do with it is bad enough, but criticising its dress sense is surely overly intrusive. If I wish to glad my tackle in a rubber suit then I bloody well will, okay?

Meanwhile getting back to AIDS in Africa….

I’ve heard a lot in the last few days about how a child dies every 3 seconds, a vile and damning statistic that will hopefully apply some moral pressure on the G8 summit, but I’ve heard no mention of the Catholic Church’s part in this horror. If there is anything that can be done to help bring this misery to an end then it would be the most immoral inhuman act imaginable not to do it? Therefore this is an appeal to the Catholic Church,

IN THE NAME OF HUMANITY PROMOTE THE USE OF CONDOMS NOW.

Not all Catholics believe in this out dated doctrine but apparently those at the top do. And that is where the guilt should lie and it is they who will eventually be judged by history.

I accept that just allowing the use of condoms will not automatically end the epidemic but it would be a massive start. Of course it would have to be backed up with persuasion and education but if that Catholic Nun or Priest could now turn to those they claim to be helping and tell them it’s okay to use condoms then I believe things would at least start to improve. If not, then people will continue to die needlessly and one day in a sadly distant future a Pope will read from a prepared script apologising to the world for the millions who died because of a pointless doctrine. It will be too late.

Don’t let Africa die of ignorance.

Some links of interest.....

BBC News 10th December 1981.
Mystery disease kills homosexuals
A mysterious epidemic, which has been discovered in homosexual men, is causing increasing concern in the United States .

The unknown condition, which consists of two separate diseases - a form of pneumonia and skin cancer, has been found in 180 patients in 15 states since last July.

From the same site…
An estimated 24 million people, both homosexual and heterosexual, have died of Aids since the disease emerged in the United States . It has now reached pandemic proportions in some parts of southern Africa , where two million died in 2001 alone.

Guardian Unlimited
The Catholic Church is telling people in countries stricken by Aids not to use condoms because they have tiny holes in them through which HIV can pass - potentially exposing thousands of people to risk.

Catholic News
The Catholic Church is telling people in countries stricken by Aids not to use condoms because they have tiny holes in them through which HIV can pass - potentially exposing thousands of people to risk.

Spiked Online
What do you know about Pope John Paul II? He was a Catholic. He travelled a lot. He's now dead. And he apparently did more to spread AIDS around Africa than 'prostitution and the trucking industry combined' (1). That last claim has won the status of established fact among critics of the Vatican since the Pope died, tripping off the tongues of various left-leaning commentators and radicals who claim that the Vatican's condemnation of condom-use in turn condemned many in Africa - where over 100million are Catholic - to long and painful deaths.

Condoms4Life.org
“When priests preach against using contraception, they are committing a serious mistake which is costing human lives.” With this distinctly undiplomatic language, Peter Piot, head of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), voiced the international community’s continuing distress over the Catholic church’s policy on condoms.

CNN.com/World
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- South Africa's largest newspaper says the country is facing a state of emergency following a surge of child rapes.

BBC News
The lives of 1.7 million South Africans could be saved in the next seven years if the government made anti-Aids drugs universally available immediately, an unpublished government study suggests.

Global Health Council
DURBAN, South Africa (Reuters) - AIDS will kill 20 percent of southern Africa's agricultural workers by 2020, researchers said on Thursday, possibly threatening food production in a region already facing frequent shortages.

 

 

2nd July 2005

Most Haunted farce
It hasn’t been that long since I decided to bite the bullet and succumb to the Siren song of Sky Television. This means that I am now afforded the opportunity of watching an entire broadcast of ‘Most Haunted Live’. Of course having the opportunity doesn’t mean I’m actually going to watch it. The damn thing is on for three nights in a row and each time it’s three hours long. That’s nine hours of complete crap. If Sky paid me the monthly subscription I still wouldn’t endure nine bloody hours!

Anyway I did manage to see some of the last show, which this time came from Wakefield.

My main criticisms are these;

The show is mainly hosted by Dr David Bull, who is quoted as saying that his ‘paranormal status’ is “open-minded”, but at the same time says the scariest location he went to was a pub in Somerset, “I cried with fear” claims the qualified doctor. For saying that alone he earns a certain amount of contempt (say about 2 kilos) but for having qualified, at great expense, as a doctor only to host a show that consists of mindless crap gets him a whole lorry load of contempt.

Then there’s Ciaran O’Keeffe one of the show’s token sceptics (an open-minded sceptic if you please). Do MHL viewers think this is what all sceptics are like? All I’ve seen him do is walk around with a few superfluous bits of equipment making ineffectual, easily forgotten statements. Now perhaps I’m being unnecessarily harsh here but as the whole show is a cloob, (for those that don’t know it means a ‘complete load of old bollocks’) to appear on it as anything like a real sceptic would mean biting the hand that feeds you: and when I say ‘biting’ I’m talking missing fingers!

Compare this insipid contribution with something that James Randi might offer. Randi still stands out as a giant amongst sceptics. He would never compromise his position and wouldn’t sit back making flaky, equivocal points. But of course that wouldn’t be at all welcome in a programme like this would it? The alternative is to end up as an ineffectual, intellectually compromised fumbler of useless equipment and mumbler of unremembered words. You takes ya choice…

Yvette Fielding just fluctuates between asking a ghost to make themselves known and then squealing at any unexpected noise. I mean is that all there is to it – you just ask them to make a sign? I suppose because they’re on TV the otherwise shy spooks make a special effort.

Of course the absolute favourite has to be good old Derek Acorah. As a diversion from the camara operator's normal close up shot of Derek's flaring nostrils I experienced the hilarity of seeing him being dragged into the abyss by some imaginary Wakefieldian phantom. This was easily the most amusing piece of the whole show. As memory serves Ciaran did, and said, pretty much nothing (see I’ve already forgotten his contribution) while the rest of the team showed their deep concern regarding Derek’s narrow escape. I’d like to take the opportunity to suggest a better response to Derek’s clowning around. Here goes…

“Well Yvette I personally can’t determine any difference between Derek’s ridiculous over-acted performance and a prat just running off screaming for no particular reason. Either Derek is just hamming it up or we can re-write the laws of physics? What do you think?”

So in summing up, this programme is certainly not a scientific exercise. In fact it’s just a load of trivial nonsense that really doesn’t even deserve the effort of debunking it.

And yet this tripe manages to generate a huge following. As our American friends say, “Go figure”.

On the other hand how many programmes have had a sceptic as the main focus? Why not produce a show unashamedly sKeptical. Hey you can even have a token psychic bumbling around in the background making useless comments – just for balance you understand.

Christian Voice: The money lenders strike back
To quote one of the wise sayings of Solomon, “Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein: and he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him”. To put it another way, “what goes around comes around”.

Anyway Christian Voice homophobic bully boy Stephen Green has found the Co-op bank less than happy about his organisation’s stance on homosexuality. So much so they have given notice that they are closing the account.

In a press release Christian Voice (i.e. Green) writes,

“Stephen Green, National Director of Christian Voice, said today: “The decision from the Co-operative Bank fits a pattern where politically-correct bully-boys try to attack Christian organisations, Christian symbols, the Bible, and in the case of Jerry Springer the Opera and BBC2, even the person of our Saviour.”

There is nothing better for a Christian than to feel persecuted, but of course the Co-op is not doing any such thing. It is rightly offended by homophobes like Green who think such things an abomination before the Lord!

I know what you’re thinking! That nice Mr Green will be turning the other cheek as recommended by the afore mentioned Saviour. Nah! He’s asking Christians to boycott the bank. I seem to remember when Green harassed Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres into not accepting a donation from Jerry Springer the Opera, he said the Lord would provide for them. Well Steve perhaps God will recommend a bank for you. But if that bank turns out to be mine I’ll be changing.

 

 

19th June 2005

The complete and utter emptiness of the paranormal
I took part in a debate at GhostFest the other week. The subject was “Are ghosts real and can mediums communicate with them?” in essence my response was, “no they aren’t” and “no they can’t” but I did make an attempt to explain a little of what lay behind my skepticism. The first reason I gave was evolution. Despite various religious groups desperate to persuade us that, “god did it”, for no other reason than because a ‘holy’ book says so, the theory of evolution by natural selection presents the most convincing explanation of how come we humans came to be here at all. Having accepted the theory I can’t see any evolutionary mechanism for the creation of a ‘spirit body’. It simply makes no sense at all.

If evolution didn’t do it then we have to resort to supernatural explanations and the most popular candidate is that unknown thing many refer to as ‘god’. The concept of a god is a strange one and whilst believers are content to accept god as the ultimate cause of everything they refuse to explain what caused god. So the argument seems to run, everything must have a cause therefore if we trace back all causes we end up with the first cause – god”. And when atheists asked what caused god the response is he (genitals?) is uncaused. To me this has the distinct aroma of male cow droppings about it. Here we are a tiny planet occupying no particular position in a universe so vast that it is beyond our comprehension. And yet I’m expected to accept (and even respect) the fact that this unknowable entity chose a small primitive tribe in the near east as being his chosen race. Sorry, whilst there’s a slim chance you could convince me that Tony Blair really did believe there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq I can’t swallow the god hypothesis. It’s just too crazy.

But even if I suspend belief for a moment and allow that the universe did have a supernatural beginning, there is still another problem - dualism. The philosopher Descartes thought that there were two kinds of ‘stuff’ in the universe; physical stuff and spiritual (mental) stuff. The latter being essentially non-physical. Now we have various people around some of whom seem to think they can communicate with ‘god’ and others who tell us about ‘spiritual energy’ without ever feeling the need to either prove its existence or explain what it is. So here’s a question that no one has yet managed to explain. How can something non physical interact with something physical? To say it’s mental or psychic energy explains precisely nothing at all. I challenge any medium or theologian to come up with a satisfactory explanation, but they can’t, they have no idea. Some don’t even understand the question. How could something that is not physical be said to exist at all? On the other hand if the souls or spirit is made up of something physical why can’t we say what it is? If something is not physical how do people see it? One thing perhaps sceptics and believers can agree on, with a ghost you’re literally seeing nothing.

An yet if some idiot medium tells someone that their second cousin twice removed died at 2 weeks of age and was called Gladys I’m supposed to ditch all of the above and accept the spirit world as being fact! The popularity of the paranormal is nothing more than the collective desperation of people longing for eternal life. Paranormal and religious belief survives because a certain percentage of the human race can’t learn to accept their own mortality, and until they do the rest of us have to endure this infantile nonsense on a daily basis.

Talking of infantile nonsense BBC News has a report

It begins….

Staff at a Grimsby museum are taking part in a vigil with paranormal experts to try to explain a series of strange happenings over the past two years.”

Paranormal experts? Is there any point in being an ‘expert’ in bullshit? Probably not but hey it makes BBC News. What evidence is there to justify this vigil? Well it comes down to, “Unexplained smells, extreme cold spots and loud footsteps….” Fair enough let’s forget evolution, embrace the omnipotent creator and forget the problems of Descartes' dualism. I mean after all, an “unexplained smell” you can’t argue with evidence like that can you?

So for me anything supernatural is a make believe. A fantasy for believers to construct in order to give meaning to their lives. Should we infer from this that without this fiction life has no meaning? Does it mean that being a skeptic commits you to a cold and dark view of the world? Is life, in the words of Thomas Hobbes, just "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."? Happily no, even a skeptic can have a ‘spiritual’ dimension and two things recently reminded me of this. The first is a picture sent to me by Number Eighty showing the remnant of a once massive star that died in a violent supernova explosion 325 years ago. You can find it at: http://ipac.jpl.nasa.gov/media_images/ssc2005-14c.jpg. When I saw this I felt truly privileged to see such an amazing picture. The second can be found in James Randi’s Commentary this week. It’s the words of Phil Plait who runs the Bad Astronomy website. I won’t reproduce them here but please read them in Randi’s Commentary. If you’re a believer in the paranormal it’s an eloquent invitation to abandon the chimera that is the paranormal and embrace the wonder of reality - the world of real science. Go to: http://www.randi.org/jr/061705like.html#6

“I know a place where the Sun never sets…..”

 

 

30th May 2005

The unpleasant world of the psychic detective.
Are you a parent? I am, and I can think of nothing worse than the disappearance of one of your children; even if your ‘child’ is now an adult. This is every parent’s worst nightmare and it goes without saying that anyone enduring such an ordeal deserves the community’s full support.

Even when it isn’t someone you know you just wish there was some way you could help. It’s probably feelings like this that make people tune into Crimewatch. But sadly we have to accept that in most cases we simply cannot help. We don’t know the people involved or the facts about the disappearance and we recognise, frustrating as it is, that we are powerless to help.

In real life there are no amateur detectives like Hercule Poirot to bail out bumbling police inspectors and solve cases with nothing more than a few civil interviews and the focussed application of their “little grey cells”. So regardless of any perceived imperfections, we have to rely on the professionals who make up our modern police force.

However although there are few, if any, wannabe Hercule Poirots around to trample over police procedure and generally get in the way we do have the entirely superfluous phenomenon of the psychic detective. I honestly try to be charitable to those who believe in what I consider to be the most unlikely of abilities but I am fast developing a special loathing for this particular breed of non psychic.

We now have another case where a psychic medium is offering ‘help’ to the parents of a missing woman. Lisa Dorrian was last seen at 5am , on Monday 28 February 2005 , after a party at a caravan site in Ballyhalbert in County Down . She is now presumed dead and all her desperate parents want at this stage is to recover her body and give her a decent funeral. At the moment the crime remains unsolved and although accusations have been made regarding the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) the police are keeping an open mind.

Enter Warren Coates, founder of the Northern Ireland Paranormal Research Association (NIPRA), with a magnanimous offer of help to use his mediumistic talents to locate her body.

To quote from Sunday Life,

According to the medium, he would require a photo or one of Lisa's personal items, in an attempt to see if he can gain information which may point him to the whereabouts of her body.”

I take this as being an accurate reporting of his words, in particular, “… require a photo or one of Lisa's personal items.” (my italics). A photo would be enough would it? Well here’s the one that’s been included in every BBC report of the case.

Lisa Dorrian

So what’s the delay? And why bother the family? Just do it.

I’m sure many will take the charitable view that, “he’s only trying to help”. But while we might allow that any medium is motivated by the noblest of intentions it is reasonable to point out that no medium and/or psychic known since the dawn of humanity has ever shown with anything approaching convincing evidence that they actually have any such ‘gift’ at all. So we begin this process with the usual unproven abilities. But once such an offer has been made what’s going to happen?

The family, whose torment can’t even be imagined, are likely to cling to any glimmer of hope - no matter how unlikely. “It’s worth a try” and “What have we got to lose?” are likely responses. They probably feel some frustration with the police in not being able to resolve matters. You really can’t blame them. Then we have the police. Now it’s quite possible that someone on the force thinks there might actually be something to this claptrap or they might feel obliged, on behalf of the family, to follow up any lead, no matter what the source. They may also feel the need to respond because of another possibility. Assuming there is someone who actually knows what happened and that it might be the work of an organisation such as the LVF, contacting the police could be very risky indeed so why not tell a local psychic who can pass it on for you? If the police think this is a possibility then once again they may feel the need to follow it up.

But what is the likely result from a psychic medium, who has never had their claims scientifically validated, and just wants to play at detective?

The first thing is the wasting of police resources. I imagine that if there was a league table of overstretched police forces the Police Force of Northern Ireland would come somewhere near the top.

Then there is the obvious raising of false hopes for the family involved. Why any medium or psychic thinks these outcomes are acceptable is beyond me.

So assuming Warren Oates actually knows diddlysquat what is information likely to consist of?

If I was a psychic it would be something along these lines…

There are 2 men involved. One is an older man in his thirties and the other around 19. The younger man is thinner than the older man. They used a car. It wasn’t new, I’d say around 3 years old. I feel a blue vehicle is involved. The letters “J” and “H” are in someway significant.

As to the location of the body I would probably suggest it was taken out to sea. Why? Well if the body is never found then it can be assumed that I’m right. But in fact it’s a pretty likely guess anyway considering that Ballyhalbert is located by the sea. Alternatively we have variations on a rural location such as,

I see a small road that leads to a wooded area but it’s not in the immediate area of the disappearance. They passed a large building on the way there. There’s the sound of running water and what sounds like a dog barking. I can see some kind of monument but can’t quite make it out.

There are a couple of things worth pointing out about statements like this. Firstly it is of absolutely no use and secondly, should the body be discovered in an even vaguely rural location, it will probably be vague enough to enable enough retrofitting to show how ‘accurate’ they were. This will help enhance the medium’s reputation whilst achieving absolutely nothing for either the family or the police.

I have missed out some of the more unpleasant details such as weapons used, etc. as I feel the above description makes the point sufficiently. If I were a ‘real’ psychic I would probably have included them.

It’s perhaps worth exploring why we entertain the idea of psychic detectives at all. Although I realise they are a convenient modern scapegoat I feel the media need to take some responsibility here. It is no longer unusual to see a medium on television or hear one on the radio. Newspapers too like to print sensational stories about how psychics have helped the police. For many it’s no longer ‘weird’ to consider such things possible. Then there are the police themselves. They can be very tight lipped about the use of psychics. I have yet to hear any Chief Constable come out and complain about the number of psychics contacting police with conflicting stories which just waste time and effort.

Last, and by no means least, there are the psychics themselves. I’m sure they think they are helping and even the victims may publicly thank them for trying. But they are not helping: They are a waste of time. They are silly people who believe they are wizards a fairy tale world. We don’t need them.

Have you ever dealt with a psychic detective who proved utterly useless? If you are I would like to hear from you whether you are a victim of crime or a police officer. Your anonymity is assured.

Meanwhile if you do know anything please contact the Police Force of Northern Ireland.The family are offering a £10,000 reward.

For background about the case see these reports;

BBC News 6th March 2005
Father's plea over missing woman
BBC News 13th March 2005
Loyalist 'link' may hamper probe
BBC News 28th April 2005
£10,000 reward over Lisa's murder
www.4ni.co.uk 19 May 2005.
LVF denies involvement in Ballyhalbert killing

For more on psychic detectives see: Another Psychic Detective and Did a Medium Identify a Murderer?

Thanks go to Eighty for bringing this to my attention.

Update:
See also Eighty's comments on medium Allison Dubois
If you have seen the Living TV's 'Sensing Murder' have a look at the comments by Australian Skeptics

 

 

26th May 2005

Even more ghosts!
Yet more media fascination with ghosts and hauntings, this time in Leeds. Four members of Yorkshire Psychic Investigators have been tracking down those elusive phantoms at Leeds Grand Theatre.

As I expected the group came fully equipped with a variety of pointless gadgets. To quote www.leedstoday.net,

Guided by theatre staff, the psychics were kitted out with a range of technical kit, from traditional ghostbusting artefacts such as crucifixes to motion sensors and electromagnetic frequency detectors.

Ghost detectionOkay I still haven't worked out why but detecting electromagnetic frequency seems de rigour for any self respecting ghost hunter these days, but crucifixes? Do these psychics assume that Christianity is the one true religion or are they just edging their bets? I see a slight problem here in that once again God doesn’t like this sort of thing at all. To quote Deuteronomy 18:10 -11,

No one shall be found among you who makes a son or daughter pass through fire, or who practices divination, or is a soothsayer, or an auger or a sorcerer, or one who casts spells, or who consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead.

Even more worrying is Leviticus 20:27,

A man or woman who is a medium or a wizard shall be put to death; they shall be stoned to death, their blood is upon them.

Seems a little severe but then if you’ve ever sat through two hours of Derek Acorah the desire to throw something is almost overwhelming.

But I digress. Let’s have a look at what they found. To quote again from Leeds Today, 

Ms Relton said the presence in the upper circle was a man in his early 20s, about 5ft 8in tall, wearing black trousers, a white shirt and a waistcoat. She said: "I think he was from the early 1900s. I became aware someone was running through the wall behind me, along the back of the seats, then through the door. We were told later there used to be double doors where he was coming through the wall."

Holy Mother of God! I never realised that electromagnetic frequency detectors could tell you so much, very impressive. I must ask about this on my next trip to Maplins.

I’m taking part in a debate at GhostFest 2005 on 4th June 2005. The topic up for discussion, “Are ghosts real and can mediums communicate with them.” I won’t give my answer now it might spoil the surprise.

 

Evolution
According to ic Wales,

PARENTS eager for their children to receive a moral grounding are fuelling growth in US-style Christian schools that teach creationism.

I suppose on the parent’s list of ‘morals’ is not telling lies which to me at least makes the syllabus of morality and creationism somewhat contradictory.

Happily if you want to bring up your child on a diet of misinformation and myth you can. Emmanuel College in Gateshead being one of the most well known.

The ic Wales report continues,

There are 14 independent Christian schools in Wales and demand for places is growing as parents fear ordinary schools are turning their backs on Christianity.

Of course! That’s the main worry we parents have. Keeps us awake at night doesn’t it?

Apart from the attempt to indoctrinate of children in pseudoscience and the preferred religion of their parents I am more than a little irritated at the idea that those who attend Christian (or any religious school) are somehow more ‘moral’ than the rest of us. I have four children none of whom have had the benefit of a private Christian education and to imply that they have less morality than some religious elite is offensive. None of my children think homosexuals are an abomination before the Lord for a start.

I remember good old Tony “I’ve listened to the people” Blair being asked about the teaching of creationism in UK schools. This is from Guardian Unlimited

The appeal for reinspection is backed by Dr Jenny Tonge, Liberal Democrat MP for Richmond , who yesterday asked the prime minister if he was concerned that staff at a state-funded school were promoting creationism.

Mr Blair sidestepped the question, commenting: "I think it would be very unfortunate if concerns over that were seen to remove the very, very strong incentive to make sure we get as diverse a school system as we properly can.

"In the end, it is a more diverse school system that will deliver better results for our children and if you look at the actual results of the school, I think you will find they are very good."

It’s a sad state of affairs when even our own Prime Minister refuses to condemn this nonsense. Respect?

 

 

14th May 2005

Cashing in on death
The dead are the new living. The mediums that Harry Houdini spent so much time exposing are now an established part of modern life. The likes of Derek Acorah and Colin Fry strut the stage confidently chatting away to invisible friends that give unheard responses – and nobody laughs. Everyone seems to have a ghost story and waiting in the wings are various ghosthunters fully equipped with essential items such as electromagnetic-field detectors. I’m still unsure of what frequency ghosts occupy of the electromagnetic spectrum but hey, I’m probably being silly.

Even more amazingly research from Lloyds TSB shows that such nonsense even has an effect on home buyers. Myfinances.co.uk report:

New research from Lloyds TSB has found out that one person in four would not buy a home with the number 13, another 50 per cent would be put off if the property overlooked a cemetery, while the idea of a ghost in the house would put off 47 per cent of prospective buyers.”

Luckily not all ghosthunters are thermometer wielding anoraks. Professor Richard Wiseman looks beyond the nonsense to try and study what’s really going on. Thank you Richard for trying to apply some real science.

Ruth... the Truth?
Just how far this silliness goes was brought to my attention in this week’s ‘Chat’ magazine (Issue 20). On page 24 we hear from Chat’s psychic agony aunt ‘Ruth the truth’. Someone enquires as to why she dreamt of her dead father appearing to her in fancy dress. Showing an amazing rapport with the dead Ruth explains that her dad has a job on the other side “keeping children company in what are known as spirit nurseries.” More seriously another woman asks if she will ever have a child of her own as she has a condition that makes conception difficult. Based on this scant knowledge ‘Ruth the truth’ unhesitatingly offers her false hope after consulting with her “witchdoctor bones and stones”. Yes you read that correctly. Curiously Mrs Thetruth also mentions IVF. Really? Resorting to technology, isn’t that admitting defeat? I mean science doesn’t know everything does it? Why not suggest a course of voodoo first?

You are also provided with the opportunity to call Ruth’s magical ‘Mystical Bones & Stones Line’ Ruth's Angels?for just 65p per minute. In case you don’t trust the ‘Bones & Stones’ method you have the alternative of phoning her ‘Angel Love Oracle’ where one of her 40 angel guides is waiting to serve. Excuse me but this is unmitigated crap! How can this humbuggery be allowed? You will call and all you’ll get is some woman giving you her ill informed opinion. Don’t do it! And once you discover that you’re just throwing money away who are you going to complain to? Trading standards? Try it, see how far you get. This is just a licence to print money.

Still Ruth’s cheap, on the page opposite (after the ghost story) you can call ‘The only genuine Chat psychic phonelines’ which cost £1.50 per minute.

Now I’ve picked on Chat because that’s the magazine I was shown but there are plenty of others and they’re all doing the same thing. Remember ‘just say no’.

If you need advice why not ask a close friend?

Just for a moment let’s pretend that all this is true. Acorah and Fry can talk to dead people. Ruth the truth can divine the future with her witchdoctor bones. Why then are there so many unsolved crimes? There are people the police would dearly love to trace (See: Crimestoppers) why not just tell them exactly where they all live? You’re psychic so just send in the information. Why doesn’t Acorah ask ‘Sam’ to do something bloody useful for a change? By next week I expect all these people to be in custody. No chance.

While we're at it let's get the faith healers to empty the hospitals.

Announcements
I have also started up a new section Instant Skeptic. My succinct view of a number of skeptical matters.

And before you go I recommend The View from Number Eighty, and The Stealing of America. It's shows the growing depth of intolerance in George W. Bush's theocracy.

 

30th April 2005

Parrots and angels
You may have noticed I didn’t write any commentary last week. Well as it happens I have an explanation almost unique among feeble excuses. I went to Chicago to test a parrot for telepathy. I doubt I’ll ever use that excuse again, but I can assure you it’s true. The parrot was Spaulding and her owner was Michelle, one of the nicest people you could wish to meet. Whilst Michelle and I hold entirely different views about some aspects of the universe I won’t have a word said against her. Not everyone who believes in strange things is automatically a bad person.

Meanwhile, on with this week’s breathtaking insight into the world of the weird. Every Saturday I buy a copy of The Times and amongst its numerous supplements is ‘body&soul’. This week I was fortunate to learn a little bit about angels. I confess that the article stirred my creativity. The result being I wish to introduce a new word into the English language, ‘cloob’. Cloob is actually shorthand for “complete load of old bollocks” and although it can be applied to anything supernatural it is by no means limited to that field. For example homeopathy is also a cloob.

Anyway back to angels. Diana Cooper (I’m sure we met once on ‘Kilroy’) knows a thing or two about angels and her guardian angels are telling her there will be a “shift in consciousness” around 2012. Unfortunately at the moment there is too much greed and hatred around but luckily angels are here in sufficient numbers to clear our spiritual blocks. Methinks I spot a cloob, but supposing it’s true? I don’t really want my consciousness shifted? I regard it as a fundamental human right to have my consciousness left exactly where it is thank you. What happened to free will?

Of course there is an upside in believing such a cloob. Being able to converse with the angels means an opportunity for making bucket loads of cash. Ms Cooper has sold over 180,000 books in the UK alone (2.5 million worldwide) and also offers CD’s, crystals (to help you ‘vibrationally’ connect to specific archangels) and packs of angel cards. And there was me thinking that to make money you actually had to do something useful.

The article also mentions Diana’s U.S. counterpart Doreen Virtue. Virtue? Is that a real name? I imagine her empire is so large she’s known as Vice President Virtue. Anyway, Doreen was on Richard & Judy this week and whilst she may have been accompanied by a host of angels from upon high the show was completely free on any skeptics. I didn’t see it myself (due to the assignation with the parrot) but I hear the hosts were suitably uncritical and fawning. This free publicity will no doubt help boost the sales of her lectures. Cloob or not, the cash just keeps rolling in.

But enough of this imported cloob, let’s get back to the good old British stuff. Diana Cooper tells us she met her first angel during a black period of her life when she called for help and suddenly found herself with a ‘being of light’, who showed her how her future mapped out. Now I don’t want to pick holes but why is some supernatural entity, possessed no doubt of all sorts of powers, mucking around with Ms Cooper? I’m mean all she has done so far is to sell a lot of books and a range of angelic accessories. Why didn’t the damn angel go and have a word with Mrs Bin Laden about her son Osama? The world is in need of many things and an angel giving an interview with Jeremy Paxman might carry some weight. Before I leave this sorry tale of delusion and gullibility I’d like to comment on one more of Ms Cooper’s claims. “I started off as a healer and worked with spirit guides, which operate on a lower frequency than angels.” Lower frequency? I fear we have moved up a notch from cloob to cauloob (pronounced ‘cowloob’: complete and utter load of old bollocks). Where exactly on the electromagnetic spectrum do angels sit? Somewhere between X-rays and Gamma rays or can we find them lurking near Radio Four? Are angels cancer forming? Has she done tests? This is all very worrying.

In conclusion our only hope is widespread inoculation against TB (Total Bollocks!). Skepticism is the vaccine.

 

Off topic rant – The Election.
Speaking entirely on behalf of myself I believe a fundamental principle of being a skeptic is that you base your conclusions on the available evidence. Thus when Tony Blair was telling us with absolute certainty that Iraq had WMD I looked at the evidence. We had Colin Powell showing us blurred images of trucks moving from somewhere in Iraq to somewhere else. We had Tony Blair waving dodgy dossiers in parliament and we had Hans Blix saying he couldn’t find any evidence of WMD. In short there was nothing that led me to think the UK or any of her allies was in the slightest danger. Certainly in no immediate danger. I felt at the time we were being told a cloob!

Despite this Tony Blair, with unseemly haste, went ahead and committed our country to killing thousands of innocent mean women and children. And now he wants my vote. Well he’s not going to get it. Firstly I don’t care if we suffer if Labour doesn’t get a third term. We deserve to pay the price for our barbarous aggression. Secondly if Labour do win, and I expect them to, I want their majority hacked back as far as possible. Noises are already being made in the direction of Iran and I don’t want to be part of George W. Bush’s Christian crusade: neither do I imagine do a lot of Christians.

I voted Labour last time and if it wasn’t for the war I would vote for them again this time, but sometimes you just have to listen to your conscience.

Tony Blair can go to Hell!

 

16th April 2005

Derek Acorah
I begin with a brief, but bad, review of Derek Acorah's appearance in Wales. Martin Wells, South Wales Echo writes, "For the half-dozen or so people he and his 'spirit guide' Sam connected with, it was a profitable, healing type of evening. For the rest of this inexplicably full house, it was a bore." He also mentions the large gothic text that are a quote from 'Sam', Acorah's spirit guide.

To the believer, no proof is necessary, to the non-believer, no proof is possible.”

Wise words indeed . My first problem is that they aren’t really true they just sound good. As a non-believer I would certainly like more proof than Derek talking to imaginary people on stage. A few ghostly manifestations would be a start. This coupled with communication that actually meant something would also go a long way.

But my second difficulty is that ‘Sam’ seems to have plagiarised someone else’s words.

Is it me or does this sound awfully similar?

“For those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not believe,
no explanation is possible."

This quote originated (as far as I know at least) with the legendary mentalist Joseph Dunninger (1892 – 1975). Now it could be that Sam asked Dunninger if he could borrow his snappy phrase, but even then it would surely be the right thing to acknowledge the original source.

The awful truth has finally hit me. If Derek is a genuine medium and truly in contact with his spirit guide ‘Sam’ then ‘Sam’ is surely cold reading. Yep, Derek is being cruelly deceived by someone who is just a lying, cheating, cold reading, quote stealing son-of-a-bitch. Luckily anonymous dead people can’t actually sue for defamantion.

There’s even more evidence that Sam is an egocentric creep persuing fame and fortune at the expense of the bereaved. Badpsychics* has come up with yet more embarrassment for Derek. Evidently he got in touch with the spirit of a dead highwayman called ‘Rik Eedles’ which turns out to be an anagram of ‘Derek Lies’. I'm betting Sam knew this and just wanted to make Derek look a complete bozo. My guess is that Sam wants his own series and intends to cut out the middle man. Living TV could pay him in spirit money.

All this makes me wonder if can mediums claim some sort of copyright over the names of their guides? I can’t really see how they can. Hmm, that gives me an idea – stay tuned.
*follow the link to 'Most Haunted Exposed'

Update! 18th April 2005
It seems that the above quote that Sam has claimed as his own words of wisdom was around even before Dunninger used it. The oldest attributed author seems to be St Bernadette although others claim it as simply anonymous. Either way Sam has gone down in my estimation. Letting poor old Derek down like that. I think we should start a 'Sack Sam' campaign.
Many thanks to Emma from www.doublexposure.co.uk for the St Bernadette clue.

Homeopathy - The alternative to medicine
It was a pleasure to read the article Undiluted Tosh by Michael Hanlon, (Daily Mail 12th April 2005 ). At last someone is speaking about the pseudo-treatment homeopathy. Its enduring appeal stands testament to just how stupid we can be. I need add nothing to this so, providing the link still works go and have a read.

 


 

9th April 2005

More ghost infestation
Ghosts continue their media led renaissance. BBC News reports of ghostly goings on in a spooky Cornish jail (‘gaol’ would look better here don’t you think). After a ten hour investigation at Bodmin jail, members of ‘Paranormal Site Investigators’ have announced that something was “definitely going on”.

As usual no ectoplasmic evidence was found so what has persuaded the PSI group that, “There’s definitely something there”?

Well they had a go at getting an EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) recording and got what was described as “an unexplained grunt”. A grunt you say, maybe there’s more to this than I thought.

Here’s the clincher, despite there being no open windows and a metal ceiling, stones were thrown at the team while they were in the condemned cells. It was observed that the stones thrown were significantly hotter than the temperature in the cell. Although admitting this wasn’t conclusive proof team leader Nicky Sewell felt that something was trying to make its presence known.

My own cynical mind thinks that someone among the team was having a bit of a joke. If the source of the stones was someone’s pocket I humbly suggest that these would feel somewhat warmer than the ambient temperature, particularly if held in the hand for a while prior to throwing. Alas the EVP ‘grunt’ must remain a mystery.

You can visit Paranormal Site Investigators here: http://www.p-s-i.org.uk/about.htm - a strangely difficult website to navigate.

Green ghost

To be taken seriously you must have green tinted pictures

 

Meanwhile someone has drawn my attention to some very interesting links. These show clips from Most Haunted Live (I assume Living TV hold the copyright).

Clip 1. Fingersmith
You know how this Ouija thing works don’t you? You all stick your fingers on top of an upturned glass and the glass moves. But what if the glass remained still and someone’s finger moved instead? Hmmm. http://tinyurl.com/5x7d2

Clip 2. Sick Sense
The Most Haunted team relax before a take. They don’t seem too scared between takes. Maybe it’s their way of coping with the constant strain? http://tinyurl.com/5nuo9


 

2nd April 2005

Psychic dumbing down
The popularity of paranormal “ghost-hunting-ooooo-doesn’t-it-feel-scary-in-here” type shows continues unabated. Leader of the pack is the show with the oxymoronic title ‘Most Haunted Live’. Now I confess I’ve seen very little of this but what I have seen has never contained anything remotely paranormal.

The viewing public seems to have bought into the idea that ghostly activity can and will take place right on cue just because a TV crew turns up. The idea that this programme could ever be real can be dismissed by taking a few moments to reflect on just how much nonsense we are being expected to swallow.

GhostFirst off has anyone ever seen a ghost during the show? Well no but hey stuff happens. Spoons fly around, things fall for no apparent reason, sometimes even nearly hitting people. Crew members get badly shaken up causing Yvette Fielding to show much motherly concern. Best of all of course is when Derek Acorah becomes ‘possessed’ by some ancient malevolent and/or deeply troubled spirit who takes control of his body much to the merriment of any sceptics who may be watching. This is obviously regarded by the crew as dangerous and poor old Derek, weakened by all this, finds himself having to rest and regain his strength.

Okay let’s consider this from a different angle, namely health and safety. Under regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety Regulations (1999) all employers must carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment of any risk to which their employees may be exposed and having done so, reduce the risks to the lowest level reasonably practicable. So knowing that all this dangerous stuff is happening they must surely have completed the required risk assessment prior to tackling another potentially nasty phantom. If they have I’d love to see it. Then we have the Reporting of Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations commonly referred to in the trade as RIDDOR. All companies need to keep a record of accidents including near miss accidents (i.e. those that did not actually result in personal injury) and considering stuff like flying spoons, etc. actually happens then this should be recorded in an Accident Book. Is there an entry in any such book? I honestly doubt it. Then we must consider the risk of harm that ghostly possession exposes Derek to; is this hazard adequately controlled? These days there is a great deal of concern about stress in the workplace, something that is also covered by regulation 3 of the Management Regulations. I’m shocked to think this hasn’t been properly addressed.

You see once you expose fantasy to the harsh light of reality it starts to look stupid. No one actually gets hurt, neither is anyone really scared. It’s just TV. What is the overriding desire of any director? I’ll tell you, it’s to make the programme interesting enough so that people will actually take the trouble to watch it. Which is why they don’t make many programmes about sceptics, it’s just too easy to make any programme more interesting with a spooky paranormal angle. Why then do shows have sceptics at all? Generally they would probably rather not but it all comes down to ‘balance’ or at least the appearance of it.

But here’s the problem, you can’t keep a television series going, even one about the paranormal, without sufficient drama to allow viewers to vicariously experience the fear of coming face to face with the dead. Has there ever been an episode when nothing happened? No? Really? I wonder why that is.

As the public’s imagination takes flight, basic economic theory kicks in and supply increases in order to meet demand. We now have “Paranormal investigator” Jane Goldman (aka Mrs Jonathan Ross) joining the psychic feeding frenzy.

Of her latest series Ftn says, “This time she’ll be delving into the darker side of the paranormal, with real-life encounters and firsthand evidence that will raise the hairs of the steeliest sceptic. (no it won’t) She meets a voodoo priest, a victim of demonic possession and a family whose lives have been ruined by a plague of poltergeists. Then there are journeys into the terrifying worlds of alien abductions and the talking dead.”

Sounds dangerous, best get those risk assessments sorted out.

In a strange game of supernatural one-upmanship this week the ‘Express and Star’ boast that prior to the Most Haunted team descending on the Four Crosses Inn near Cannock they took the liberty of checking the place out with their own preferred psychic “Mystic Ed”. Ed has already jumped in and identified some of the pubs wayward spirits. Evidently these have been spotted by various members of staff over the years which might have Most Haunted fans sitting on the edge of their sofas hoping to finally catch a glimpse of a real ghost. I don’t want to spoil things but my guess is that they won’t see anything.

I’m old enough to remember the time when volunteers were hypnotised on television shows and then people called in complaining that they had accidentally been hypnotised too? This virtually stopped such shows completely. Well it occurs to me that in today’s world where everyone is taking everyone else to court, what’s to say that someone watching won’t find themselves possessed by one of Derek’s itinerant spirits? What no risk assessment? It’s an open and shut case.

If you want to read more about the doubtful side of Most Haunted Live have a look here:

Double Exposure

 

Christian Vice
Green the OperaThe Christian bully boy Stephen Green from Christian Voice now needs your financial help to prosecute the BBC for blasphemy. He obviously deems this a case worthy of Christian outrage whilst depriving cancer charities of much needed cash is not. I can’t quite believe this is even possible in the 21 st century. I think blasphemy is an ill thought out concept at best. Can you really insult someone (or something) whom you believe not to actually exist? After yet another earthquake would such a being, even if it did exist, deserve anything other than our contempt? Should we get down on our knees and thank him for the smallpox virus? What exactly is this vain and deeply insecure deity supposed to be anyway? An old guy with a long white beard in the clouds? No one knows, and I mean no one. In other words the very thing that we’re all supposed to treat with such reverence is a complete mystery even to its staunchest allies.

I don’t care if Stephen Green is offended just as he obviously doesn’t care who he offends. I get the impression he would dearly love the UK to become part of George W. Bush’s theocracy but as far as I’m concerned his imaginary god has no place in a secular society.

I could write more but 'Number Eighty' has it covered wonderfully so go and treat yourself to a look.

http://www.eighty.btinternet.co.uk/#glance Look for 'Begging Voice'


 

26th March 2005

Big cat attack
It’s Easter when we remember how Jesus fed 5,000 people with a single egg.
Meanwhile the latest story seems to be about yet another big cat sighting. Skeptics do get asked about this sort of thing although it’s not exactly a paranormal claim. I mean a large cat on the loose is at least possible unlike bending spoons with your mind which isn’t (it really isn’t).

Speaking personally ‘Big Cat’ sightings invoke a response similar to those of Nessie and UFOs. Over the years UFO sightings have been reported in huge numbers with some even claiming alien abduction, so we know it’s possible to get convincing reports from reliable witnesses about things that don’t exist. There are other similarities; ‘Big Cats’ (which often seem to be black) once witnessed seem to disappear and avoid all detection, they just vanish. Photos tend to be blurred and provide little in the way of conclusive evidence. The only difference seems to be that cats do actually exist whereas flying saucers don’t.
Black Cat
Big Cat?
This latest attack in London has a ring of familiarity about it. The victim, Anthony Holder, is reported to have said a 6ft-long black animal pounced and then knocked him to the ground. He also says it was about the size of a Labrador dog which is a lot less than 6 feet. It was a black cat that suddenly jumped out at him during the middle of the night so conditions are not good for a reliable sighting. I understand that he has scratches on his face which, considering the size and ferocity of most big cats, is getting off lightly in my opinion. I’ve no doubt that to Mr Holden is completely sincere but my prediction is that no big cat will be found.

Original BBC News story: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/4370893.stm

Join the hunt with British Big Cats

 

19th March 2005

Halifax ghost
Evidently a ghost has been photographed in a church spire in Halifax. Proof at last; and there was me thinking Most Haunted Live was just a pile of crap. The photo was supposed to be of some nesting birds but when steeplejacks zoomed in to take a picture they caught a ghost instead. I hate it when that happens.The photo was taken by apprentice Anthony Finnigan (18) and now workers are supposedly too scared to work up the spire alone.

An 18 year old apprentice with a digital camera eh? Well at least that rules out a hoax.

 
Halifax Ghost
Sophie Ghost Halifax Ghost 2

The picture on the left is the one that is supposedly of the ghost haunting the Church spire in Halifax. The picture on the right is one I took of my daughter Sophie. Picture three is an enlarged version of the 'ghost'.

Here's the original story.

Spiritual healing on the NHS
Apart from a few metaphysical differences and the wording of incantations I’m not entirely sure what the difference is between a ‘spiritual energy channeler’ and a witch doctor. There is one difference though and that is that the first is available on the NHS and the second isn’t (yet).

As our fascination with healing hocus pocus descends ever deeper into absurdity we hear of “a ground breaking move to complement conventional cancer treatments”. Graham King who heals using the power of ‘cosmic energy’ has been employed by the paediatric oncology ward, an acute cancer unit, at Middlesex Hospital in London treating around 8 children a week. His role is to not to cure cancer but to help with the side effects of chemotherapy.

Mr King is a reiki master an art we are assured “can be traced back several thousand years to the mountains of Tibet”. That pretty much settles it then, it has the necessary pedigree. As with other similar forms of claptrap healing arts reiki involves the manipulation of the mysterious ‘chi’ energy.

I have an idea that Middlesex Hospital might well be interested in. I’m going to start a chi transfusion service. If everyone in the UK could give just a pint of chi every six months they would have quite a stock pile to help the sick and needy. Of course it’s not quite that straightforward as there is a risk of giving ‘AB’ positive chi to someone who is type ‘O’ but I’ll work out a safe procedure, promise.

Chi goodness
The item ends by telling us that “One US group believes reiki gives its members the power to talk to their dogs”. Talking to your dog is okay, it’s when you think they answer back that you have to worry.
Read the article here
A bottle of chi goodness

12th March 2005

Another psychic detective?

When Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells disappeared in August 2002 the whole country held its breath and hoped they would eventually be found alive. Tragically as we know, this was never to be. The two young girls, aged 10 had been murdered by school caretaker Ian Huntley.

Holly’s father has written a book ‘Goodbye Dearest Holly’ part of which recounts the story of how psychic, Dennis McKenzie told him and his wife that the two missing girls were in fact already dead. I feel I need to make clear that I can’t blame anyone who finds themselves is this terrifying position from desperately trying anything that might help find their daughter. Even as a father with daughter’s of my own I don’t think I can truly appreciate the emotions felt by the parents of these two young girls.

Nevertheless I would like to comment on the ‘psychic’ aspect to this case. I should also point out that I have not yet read the full account given in the book, only what has been quoted on the Internet. Details of the story can be found here. At the time of writing I am also uncertain about how soon after the girls disappearance this reading took place .

How any psychic can feel enough confidence in their powers to tell the parents of a missing child that she is dead is beyond my comprehension. The fact that this turned out to be true does not diminish my abhorrence. But let’s look at some of the statements given by this psychic.

There are three people involved, two men and one woman.” I humbly suggest this is wrong. There was only one person actually involved in the murder, Ian Huntley. However this is where an ambiguous vocabulary can help. What is meant by “involved”? Maxine Carr is an obvious candidate for being “involved” but she took no part in the murder of Holly and Jessica. Her crime was to give Huntley a false alibi but even this had no material outcome on the fate of the two children. But what about this other man? Do we conveniently forget him?

One man is dark-haired and looks to be in his thirties”. Huntley was 29 and “dark- haired”. A hit? McKenzie continues, “The second man is much older.” Whether there is a second man somehow “involved” I don’t know but this would certainly be stretching the meaning of ‘involvement’. The woman is described as having, “mouse-like features and looks quite young.” Many would readily apply this to Maxine Carr, and with some justification, but again let me emphasise this depends whether you regard her as being “involved”. It also depends on how you interpret “quite young”. 15 is quite young but what about Carr's age of 26? The term is relative not absolute. Even so I accept many would say this matches Carr but even if we allow this we still have an extra non-existent person and not much in the way of a description for the other two. Had the murder been commited by a man of 60 along with his son aged 35 and his young wife of 18 this too would have been regarded as a hit.

They are not from this area. They have northern accents and possibly come from York or Manchester.” Well Huntley had come from the Humberside area which is certainly north but it’s a long way from Manchester (approximately 115 miles). York is nearer to Humberside being only around 60 miles away but is this actually a hit? I can see how it might be accepted as such but again there is a certain vagueness about the original statement “They are not from this area”. True they didn’t originate in Soham but they did live there. Had this been someone who was just passing through Soham, it would have probably sounded even more convincing.

Other statements included;

There is a red car involved…” Huntley’s car was red but once more we have “involved”.

The letter ‘J’ was of significance.” Huntley’s car number plate had a ‘J’ in it. This seems like shoe-horning a fact to fit an otherwise vague statement. Had Huntley got a ‘J’ somewhere in his name this would be hailed as even more evidence of a psychic gift. As it is I’d say it was pretty weak. Similarly the letters “C” and “O” were deemed to have "importance" but the best that can be found is that Huntley’s house was in “College Close”. Again the name 'Ian Kevin Huntley' doesn’t fit. Three letters offered and not one is contained in the killer’s name.

Of course we can’t be exactly sure what was said, unless there is a tape recording of the reading. With the enormous strain the family was under it would not be surprising if some of the facts were misunderstood or eventually reinterpreted. What other things might McKenzie have said that turned out to have no bearing on the case at all? I doubt that we’ll ever know, but what disturbs me most is that while so much of this information seems ambiguous McKenzie felt entitled to tell two distraught parents that their daughter was definitely dead.

BTK Strangler
Just to test this misplaced confidence a little further I did a web search which revealed another case involving Dennis McKenzie’s psychic gift. The case of the serial killer known as the ‘BTK Strangler’. This was an unsolved case spanning 30 years (see here) and in September 2004 McKenzie was taken to Wichita by Firecracker Films where he was escorted around various crime scenes.

McKenzie suggested, “He is an ordinary person. He would be just an ordinary, nice guy. At least he’s a nice guy 95 percent of the time.” This doesn’t exactly narrow things down does it? And I’d be willing to bet that someone who commits murders over a 30 year span doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb. McKenzie also says, "I felt he's either a maintenance man or a plumber, that kind of profession, and I'm almost certain that he works for himself.” With the help of an artist McKenzie left the Wichita police with three sketches.

On 1st March 2005, Dennis L. Rader, 60, of Park City, Wichita, was arrested and charged with the 10 ‘BTK’ (Bind, Torture and Kill) killings (see here). The case has yet to come to trial but McKenzie’s contribution is starting to look shaky.

Yes he was seen by many as a ‘nice guy’ but by no means everyone. He was not a plumber or maintenance man and he didn’t work for himself. He was a ‘Compliance Supervisor’ (in charge of animal control, nuisances and inoperable vehicles). And if we compare Rader’s picture with the three sketches….
Well what do you think?

  BTK Killer?BTK Killer?BTK Killer? Dennis Rader
McKenzie images
 
Suspect Dennis Rader

Many thanks to http://www.livejournal.com/users/ukskeptic/ which mentioned the story about McKenzie and the Soham murders.

 

Loose ends
Yes I realise Shirley Ghostman is funny but I don’t think we should run away with the idea that this is a pro-skeptic/anti-medium show. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. It is, first and foremost, comedy. I wish Shirley aka Marc Wootton well.

The bullying, gay bashing, evangelist organisation run by Stephen Green ‘Christian Voice’ (see: Ignorant bigots) has inspired another website ‘Anti-Christian Voice’. One link will even lead you to 'Dress up Jesus' fridge magnets. See if religion is shoved down our throats it just makes people angry. Like bees, if religionists would just leave the rest of us alone then we'll leave them alone.

Thanks yet again to The View at Number Eighty for bringing this to my attention.

Lastly the Cursing Stone has thankfully won a reprieve.


5th March 2005

The 'Cursing Stone'
Carlisle City Council is upset at a piece of local artwork called the ‘Cursing Stone’ which was originally commissioned to mark the millennium. The sculpture created by artist Gordon Young is cited as being the cause of a run of bad luck which includes floods, foot and mouth disease, job losses and the recent lack of wins for the football team.

According to The Cumberland News Liberal Democrat councillor Jim Tootle wants the stone to be destroyed and has actually tabled a motion blaming the stone for the city’s woes. The motion says,

“Many groups and individuals warned the council that placing a non-Christian artefact, based on an old curse on local families, would bring ill luck.”

No mention cattle and football teams?

Gordon Young describes this as “ignorant superstition”, and I think most of us would agree.

It is truly amazing that even today people look for something supernatural to blame for their ills instead of facing reality but at least local witches might appreciate the change of scapegoat. As if anything as inanimate as a stone could influence the outcome of a football match, cause flooding and bring about bovine disease. I’m sorry but you have to be particularly stupid to think so.

The article also mentions that some evangelical Christians moaned about it from the start. Maybe Christian Voice can send up a few protestors? At least that’s better than bullying cancer charities.

See what did I tell you – the dark ages are making a comeback!
Any ducking stools on eBay?

Cursing Stone image
A non Christian artifact
Shirley Ghostman
I have resurrected the webpage (with some slight updating) that I removed last December explaining my own connection with the programme “High Spirits” being shown on BBC Three. I’ve also been reading some of the comments posted on the web about “Shirley”. Some sceptics seem delighted, at least with the first instalment and I’d be lying if I said didn’t laugh myself. But while some of the lines are very humorous others just plain infantile, the ‘bumology’ scene being a case in point. The idea of telling someone’s fortune from their rear end is already laughable and Wootton’s ‘Ian Jackson’ character didn’t really bring this out. The focus seemed to be on making the woman herself, rather than what she does, the butt of his jokes (ha! ha!).

My misgivings (and I accept I have a vested interest here) are that virtually everything in this show could have been done without having to pretend ‘Ghostman’ was real. If the target was celebrity mediums (as I was told by someone from Tiger Aspect) then the same job could have been done just using actors. Instead the show seems to be aimed at making everyone look complete fools regardless of how sincerely held their views are. I understood the BBC had guidelines when filming members of the public for TV. Hmmm. I’ll withhold judgement until I’ve seen more but the humour made me feel a little uncomfortable at times, particularly as I assume that those taking part were deliberately misled.

Go to Shirley Ghostman page

UFOs
I really though this subject was dead in the water and everyone had moved on and started to chat to the dead rather than hobnobbing with aliens. Seemingly not, as the annual UFO Congress taking place in Navada as I write (MUFON). Obviously a few brave souls continue to be enthralled by the prospect of yet more mysterious lights, more harrowing abduction stories and even more eyewitness testimony from really honest, salt of the earth people. They still think the proof is just around the corner. Oh boy just you wait and see! Well we’re waiting all right but hard evidence remains as elusive as unicorn droppings. It’s time to mufon, get it ‘move on’, mufon? Oh please yourselves (Frankie Howerd voice helps here).

By the way the picture on the right was taken by me. The ‘UFO’ was made using a serving plate with a wok stand on top.

All being well I should be discussing this very subject on the Richard Bacon Show (BBC Radio Five Live) at 00:30 Monday morning (or half past midnight Sunday night if you prefer).

UFO Invasion image
UFO Invasion

 
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