NTS LogoSkeptical News for 8 February 2003

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Saturday, February 08, 2003

'Psychic Talk with Gertie'

http://www.azcentral.com/ent/front/articles/0504gertie.html

Produced by Robert Boos azcentral.com Feb. 3, 2003 04:17 PM

We waited, and she finally came...our very own psychic. Every Wednesday, azcentral hosts 'Psychic Talk with Gertie,' a weekly call-in show with a twist.

You call the hotline 602.444.2852. Leave your name and question. Gertie tunes in for you, and the answers are available via real audio each Wednesday morning. We'll leave it up all week, so you can hear it again and again. The future really is that simple.

Gertie is a real psychic with an impressive client list. She can help with answers that are just beyond your reach, whether it's career, love or finances. There is one exception. Gertie will not help you pick lottery numbers. Sorry.

MIOS MEETING

Metroplex Institute of Origin Science Hear
David V. Bassett, M.S.
Present

The Origin of Man:
Evolved Icon of Fraud
or Created Image of God?"
The origin of humanity, without question, has always been the most controversial aspect of the "molecule-to-man" myth of macroevolution. Despite the 1871 claim of Charles Darwin, in his book The Descent of Man, that mankind gradually evolved upward from a lower specie of Old World primate, the actual fossil evidence that supposedly proves man's animal ancestry can be classified as either (1) 'Misidentified Mammal', (2) 'Wholly Human', or (3) 'Deliberate Deception'. A brief summary of the truth regarding the "Top-Ten Transitions" proposed by the evolutionary community as ancestors of man will be presented by David V. Bassett, Ovilla Christian School Science Department Head and Creation Evidence Museum Staff Writer.

Bucky Auditorium
Medical Office Building
2126 Research Row, Dallas, TX
Tuesday, February 4th, 7:30 PM

Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools

http://www.ed.gov/inits/religionandschools/prayer_guidance.html

February 7, 2003

Introduction

Section 9524 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act ("ESEA") of 1965, as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, requires the Secretary to issue guidance on constitutionally protected prayer in public elementary and secondary schools. In addition, Section 9524 requires that, as a condition of receiving ESEA funds, a local educational agency ("LEA") must certify in writing to its State educational agency ("SEA") that it has no policy that prevents, or otherwise denies participation in, constitutionally protected prayer in public schools as set forth in this guidance.

The purpose of this guidance is to provide SEAs, LEAs, and the public with information on the current state of the law concerning constitutionally protected prayer in the public schools, and thus to clarify the extent to which prayer in public schools is legally protected. This guidance also sets forth the responsibilities of SEAs and LEAs with respect to Section 9524 of the ESEA. As required by the Act, this guidance has been jointly approved by the Office of the General Counsel in the Department of Education and the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice as reflecting the current state of the law. It will be made available on the Internet through the Department of Education's web site (www.ed.gov). The guidance will be updated on a biannual basis, beginning in September 2004, and provided to SEAs, LEAs, and the public.

The Section 9524 Certification Process

In order to receive funds under the ESEA, an LEA must certify in writing to its SEA that no policy of the LEA prevents, or otherwise denies participation in, constitutionally protected prayer in public elementary and secondary schools as set forth in this guidance. An LEA must provide this certification to the SEA by October 1, 2002, and by October 1 of each subsequent year during which the LEA participates in an ESEA program. However, as a transitional matter, given the timing of this guidance, the initial certification must be provided by an LEA to the SEA by March 15, 2003.

The SEA should establish a process by which LEAs may provide the necessary certification. There is no specific Federal form that an LEA must use in providing this certification to its SEA. The certification may be provided as part of the application process for ESEA programs, or separately, and in whatever form the SEA finds most appropriate, as long as the certification is in writing and clearly states that the LEA has no policy that prevents, or otherwise denies participation in, constitutionally protected prayer in public elementary and secondary schools as set forth in this guidance.

By November 1 of each year, starting in 2002, the SEA must send to the Secretary a list of those LEAs that have not filed the required certification or against which complaints have been made to the SEA that the LEA is not in compliance with this guidance. However, as a transitional matter, given the timing of this guidance, the list otherwise due November 1, 2002, must be sent to the Secretary by April 15, 2003. This list should be sent to:

Office of Elementary and Secondary Education Attention: (Jeanette Lim) U.S. Department of Education 400 Maryland Avenue, S.W. Washington, D.C. 20202

The SEA's submission should describe what investigation or enforcement action the SEA has initiated with respect to each listed LEA and the status of the investigation or action. The SEA should not send the LEA certifications to the Secretary, but should maintain these records in accordance with its usual records retention policy.

Enforcement of Section 9524

LEAs are required to file the certification as a condition of receiving funds under the ESEA. If an LEA fails to file the required certification, or files it in bad faith, the SEA should ensure compliance in accordance with its regular enforcement procedures. The Secretary considers an LEA to have filed a certification in bad faith if the LEA files the certification even though it has a policy that prevents, or otherwise denies participation in, constitutionally protected prayer in public elementary and secondary schools as set forth in this guidance.

The General Education Provisions Act ("GEPA") authorizes the Secretary to bring enforcement actions against recipients of Federal education funds that are not in compliance with the law. Such measures may include withholding funds until the recipient comes into compliance. Section 9524 provides the Secretary with specific authority to issue and enforce orders with respect to an LEA that fails to provide the required certification to its SEA or files the certification in bad faith.

Overview of Governing Constitutional Principles

The relationship between religion and government in the United States is governed by the First Amendment to the Constitution, which both prevents the government from establishing religion and protects privately initiated religious expression and activities from government interference and discrimination. [ 1 ] The First Amendment thus establishes certain limits on the conduct of public school officials as it relates to religious activity, including prayer.

The legal rules that govern the issue of constitutionally protected prayer in the public schools are similar to those that govern religious expression generally. Thus, in discussing the operation of Section 9524 of the ESEA, this guidance sometimes speaks in terms of "religious expression." There are a variety of issues relating to religion in the public schools, however, that this guidance is not intended to address.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the First Amendment requires public school officials to be neutral in their treatment of religion, showing neither favoritism toward nor hostility against religious expression such as prayer. [ 2 ] Accordingly, the First Amendment forbids religious activity that is sponsored by the government but protects religious activity that is initiated by private individuals, and the line between government-sponsored and privately initiated religious expression is vital to a proper understanding of the First Amendment's scope. As the Court has explained in several cases, "there is a crucial difference between government speech endorsing religion, which the Establishment Clause forbids, and private speech endorsing religion, which the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses protect." [ 3 ]

The Supreme Court's decisions over the past forty years set forth principles that distinguish impermissible governmental religious speech from the constitutionally protected private religious speech of students. For example, teachers and other public school officials may not lead their classes in prayer, devotional readings from the Bible, or other religious activities. [ 4 ] Nor may school officials attempt to persuade or compel students to participate in prayer or other religious activities. [ 5 ] Such conduct is "attributable to the State" and thus violates the Establishment Clause. [ 6 ]

Similarly, public school officials may not themselves decide that prayer should be included in school-sponsored events. In Lee v. Weisman [ 7 ], for example, the Supreme Court held that public school officials violated the Constitution in inviting a member of the clergy to deliver a prayer at a graduation ceremony. Nor may school officials grant religious speakers preferential access to public audiences, or otherwise select public speakers on a basis that favors religious speech. In Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe [ 8 ], for example, the Court invalidated a school's football game speaker policy on the ground that it was designed by school officials to result in pre-game prayer, thus favoring religious expression over secular expression.

Although the Constitution forbids public school officials from directing or favoring prayer, students do not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate," [ 9 ] and the Supreme Court has made clear that "private religious speech, far from being a First Amendment orphan, is as fully protected under the Free Speech Clause as secular private expression." [ 10 ] Moreover, not all religious speech that takes place in the public schools or at school-sponsored events is governmental speech. [ 11 ] For example, "nothing in the Constitution ... prohibits any public school student from voluntarily praying at any time before, during, or after the schoolday," [ 12 ] and students may pray with fellow students during the school day on the same terms and conditions that they may engage in other conversation or speech. Likewise, local school authorities possess substantial discretion to impose rules of order and pedagogical restrictions on student activities, [ 13 ] but they may not structure or administer such rules to discriminate against student prayer or religious speech. For instance, where schools permit student expression on the basis of genuinely neutral criteria and students retain primary control over the content of their expression, the speech of students who choose to express themselves through religious means such as prayer is not attributable to the state and therefore may not be restricted because of its religious content. [ 14 ] Student remarks are not attributable to the state simply because they are delivered in a public setting or to a public audience. [ 15 ] As the Supreme Court has explained: "The proposition that schools do not endorse everything they fail to censor is not complicated," [ 16 ] and the Constitution mandates neutrality rather than hostility toward privately initiated religious expression. [ 17 ]

Applying the Governing Principles in Particular Contexts

Prayer During Non-Instructional Time

Students may pray when not engaged in school activities or instruction, subject to the same rules designed to prevent material disruption of the educational program that are applied to other privately initiated expressive activities. Among other things, students may read their Bibles or other scriptures, say grace before meals, and pray or study religious materials with fellow students during recess, the lunch hour, or other non-instructional time to the same extent that they may engage in nonreligious activities. While school authorities may impose rules of order and pedagogical restrictions on student activities, they may not discriminate against student prayer or religious speech in applying such rules and restrictions.

Organized Prayer Groups and Activities

Students may organize prayer groups, religious clubs, and "see you at the pole" gatherings before school to the same extent that students are permitted to organize other non-curricular student activities groups. Such groups must be given the same access to school facilities for assembling as is given to other non-curricular groups, without discrimination because of the religious content of their expression. School authorities possess substantial discretion concerning whether to permit the use of school media for student advertising or announcements regarding non-curricular activities. However, where student groups that meet for nonreligious activities are permitted to advertise or announce their meetings—for example, by advertising in a student newspaper, making announcements on a student activities bulletin board or public address system, or handing out leaflets—school authorities may not discriminate against groups who meet to pray. School authorities may disclaim sponsorship of non-curricular groups and events, provided they administer such disclaimers in a manner that neither favors nor disfavors groups that meet to engage in prayer or religious speech.

Teachers, Administrators, and other School Employees

When acting in their official capacities as representatives of the state, teachers, school administrators, and other school employees are prohibited by the Establishment Clause from encouraging or discouraging prayer, and from actively participating in such activity with students. Teachers may, however, take part in religious activities where the overall context makes clear that they are not participating in their official capacities. Before school or during lunch, for example, teachers may meet with other teachers for prayer or Bible study to the same extent that they may engage in other conversation or nonreligious activities. Similarly, teachers may participate in their personal capacities in privately sponsored baccalaureate ceremonies.

Moments of Silence

If a school has a "minute of silence" or other quiet periods during the school day, students are free to pray silently, or not to pray, during these periods of time. Teachers and other school employees may neither encourage nor discourage students from praying during such time periods.

Accommodation of Prayer During Instructional Time

It has long been established that schools have the discretion to dismiss students to off-premises religious instruction, provided that schools do not encourage or discourage participation in such instruction or penalize students for attending or not attending. Similarly, schools may excuse students from class to remove a significant burden on their religious exercise, where doing so would not impose material burdens on other students. For example, it would be lawful for schools to excuse Muslim students briefly from class to enable them to fulfill their religious obligations to pray during Ramadan.

Where school officials have a practice of excusing students from class on the basis of parents' requests for accommodation of nonreligious needs, religiously motivated requests for excusal may not be accorded less favorable treatment. In addition, in some circumstances, based on federal or state constitutional law or pursuant to state statutes, schools may be required to make accommodations that relieve substantial burdens on students' religious exercise. Schools officials are therefore encouraged to consult with their attorneys regarding such obligations.

Religious Expression and Prayer in Class Assignments

Students may express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions. Such home and classroom work should be judged by ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance and against other legitimate pedagogical concerns identified by the school. Thus, if a teacher's assignment involves writing a poem, the work of a student who submits a poem in the form of a prayer (for example, a psalm) should be judged on the basis of academic standards (such as literary quality) and neither penalized nor rewarded on account of its religious content.

Student Assemblies and Extracurricular Events

Student speakers at student assemblies and extracurricular activities such as sporting events may not be selected on a basis that either favors or disfavors religious speech. Where student speakers are selected on the basis of genuinely neutral, evenhanded criteria and retain primary control over the content of their expression, that expression is not attributable to the school and therefore may not be restricted because of its religious (or anti-religious) content. By contrast, where school officials determine or substantially control the content of what is expressed, such speech is attributable to the school and may not include prayer or other specifically religious (or anti-religious) content. To avoid any mistaken perception that a school endorses student speech that is not in fact attributable to the school, school officials may make appropriate, neutral disclaimers to clarify that such speech (whether religious or nonreligious) is the speaker's and not the school's.

Prayer at Graduation

School officials may not mandate or organize prayer at graduation or select speakers for such events in a manner that favors religious speech such as prayer. Where students or other private graduation speakers are selected on the basis of genuinely neutral, evenhanded criteria and retain control over the content of their expression, however, that expression is not attributable to the school and therefore may not be restricted because of its religious (or anti-religious) content. To avoid any mistaken perception that a school endorses student or other private speech that is not in fact attributable to the school, school officials may make appropriate, neutral disclaimers to clarify that such speech (whether religious or nonreligious) is the speaker's and not the school's.

Baccalaureate Ceremonies

School officials may not mandate or organize religious ceremonies. However, if a school makes its facilities and related services available to other private groups, it must make its facilities and services available on the same terms to organizers of privately sponsored religious baccalaureate ceremonies. In addition, a school may disclaim official endorsement of events sponsored by private groups, provided it does so in a manner that neither favors nor disfavors groups that meet to engage in prayer or religious speech.

Notes:

[ 1 ] The relevant portions of the First Amendment provide: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech . . . ." U.S. Const. amend. I. The Supreme Court has held that the Fourteenth Amendment makes these provisions applicable to all levels of government—federal, state, and local—and to all types of governmental policies and activities. See Everson v. Board of Educ., 330 U.S. 1 (1947); Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296 (1940).

[ 2 ] See, e.g., Everson, 330 U.S. at 18 (the First Amendment "requires the state to be a neutral in its relations with groups of religious believers and non-believers; it does not require the state to be their adversary. State power is no more to be used so as to handicap religions than it is to favor them"); Good News Club v. Milford Cent. Sch., 533 U.S. 98 (2001).

[ 3 ] Santa Fe Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290, 302 (2000) (quoting Board of Educ. v. Mergens, 496 U.S. 226, 250 (1990) (plurality opinion)); accord Rosenberger v. Rector of Univ. of Virginia, 515 U.S. 819, 841 (1995).

[ 4 ] Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962) (invalidating state laws directing the use of prayer in public schools); School Dist. of Abington Twp. v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963) (invalidating state laws and policies requiring public schools to begin the school day with Bible readings and prayer); Mergens, 496 U.S. at 252 (plurality opinion) (explaining that "a school may not itself lead or direct a religious club"). The Supreme Court has also held, however, that the study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education (e.g., in history or literature classes), is consistent with the First Amendment. See Schempp, 374 U.S. at 225.

[ 5 ] See Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577, 599 (1992); see also Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38 (1985).

[ 6 ] See Weisman, 505 U.S. at 587.

[ 7 ] 505 U.S. 577 (1992).

[ 8 ] 530 U.S. 290 (2000).

[ 9 ] Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Community Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 503, 506 (1969).

[ 10 ] Capitol Square Review & Advisory Bd. v. Pinette, 515 U.S. 753, 760 (1995).

[ 11 ] Santa Fe, 530 U.S. at 302 (explaining that "not every message" that is "authorized by a government policy and take[s] place on government property at government-sponsored school-related events" is "the government's own").

[ 12 ] Santa Fe, 530 U.S. at 313.

[ 13 ] For example, the First Amendment permits public school officials to review student speeches for vulgarity, lewdness, or sexually explicit language. Bethel Sch. Dist. v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675, 683-86 (1986). Without more, however, such review does not make student speech attributable to the state.

[ 14 ] Rosenberger v. Rector of Univ. of Virginia, 515 U.S. 819 (1995); Board of Educ. v. Mergens, 496 U.S. 226 (1990); Good News Club v. Milford Cent. Sch., 533 U.S. 98 (2001); Lamb's Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free Sch. Dist., 508 U.S. 384 (1993); Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U.S. 263 (1981); Santa Fe, 530 U.S. at 304 n.15. In addition, in circumstances where students are entitled to pray, public schools may not restrict or censor their prayers on the ground that they might be deemed "too religious" to others. The Establishment Clause prohibits state officials from making judgments about what constitutes an appropriate prayer, and from favoring or disfavoring certain types of prayers—be they "nonsectarian" and "nonproselytizing" or the opposite—over others. See Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421, 429-30 (1962) (explaining that "one of the greatest dangers to the freedom of the individual to worship in his own way lay in the Government's placing its official stamp of approval upon one particular kind of prayer or one particular form of religious services," that "neither the power nor the prestige" of state officials may "be used to control, support or influence the kinds of prayer the American people can say," and that the state is "without power to prescribe by law any particular form of prayer"); Weisman, 505 U.S. at 594.

[ 15 ] Santa Fe, 530 U.S. at 302; Mergens, 496 U.S. at 248-50.

[ 16 ] Mergens, 496 U.S. at 250 (plurality opinion); id. at 260-61 (Kennedy, J., concurring in part and in judgment).

[ 17 ] Rosenberger, 515 U.S. at 845-46; Mergens, 496 U.S. at 248 (plurality opinion); id. at 260-61 (Kennedy, J., concurring in part and in judgment). [ Return to text ]

This page last modified—February 7, 2003 (jer).

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Mind over blood

From: John Mazetier

Science Frontiers 145, Jan-Feb 2003, p. 4

Humans generally do not appreciate the powerful role their minds exert upon the flow of blood in their bodies, especially that near the skin.

Although stigmata are roundly pooh-poohed by the skeptics of parapsychology, many convincing cases are on record where devout Christians exhibit bleeding palms in sympathy with the wounds Christ suffered in the Cross.

For example, in 1972 a young African-American Baptist girl living in Oakland, California, manifested the stigmata from the palm of the left hand two to six times daily during a three-week period preceding Easter Sunday. Physiological and psychological tests did not detect serious pathology, and close scrutiny ruled out self-inflicted wounds. Her dreams frequently included biblical events; in the week before her bleeding began, she had read a book and had watched a television movie about the Crucifixion.

Stigmata are not confined to Christians. The battle wounds of Mohammed are said to have appeared on devout Moslem men.

The overwhelming majority of Christians do not experience stigmata, but some of them can be induced to produce the typical bleeding palms by hypnotic suggestion. Such is the power of the human mind.
(Krippner, Stanley; "Stigmatic Phenomena: An Alleged Case in Brazil,"

Journal of Scientific Exploration, 16:207, 2002.)

Comment. Those who doubt the power of the mind to control their blood flow need only ask what controls their blood flow during sex! Of course, the mind sometimes needs to be aided by Viagra.

Joe Nickell has a discussion of stigmata in his book "Looking for a Miracle." Among his points are the fact that many cases were found out to be fakes, and that there were no recorded cases until St. Francis of Assisi in the 1200's, after which others apparently copied his example.

He does not deal with the 1972 case noted above. However, given the history of perpetrators of alleged paranormal phenomena being able to fool investigators, I would be skeptical of this case.

I recall a television show a few years ago dealing with the subject - I think there was a part showing how a concealed razor blade could be used to produce wounds without obvious signs of cutting. Perhaps someone else remembers the details.

As for the final "Comment," the ability of mental states to influence blood flow during normal physiological processes lends no credibility to the claims that someone could produce wounds in particular locations of the body.

Tom Wheeler

It all depends upon the specifics of the report, of course, and I have yet to read it. But one should take the claims of Stan Krippner with a bit of salt. He is, after all a bit of a paranormalist. I've met him, and found an intellegent, warm, wide ranging fellow. The kink is his belief in shamanic healing powers.

See:
http://www.creative.net/~saybrook/fackri.html
http://asklepia.org/
and
http://asklepia.org/intro.html#THE%20ASKLEPIA%20FOUNDATION%20Mission

--J

God on our side?

http://www.msnbc.com/news/867425.asp

Dissecting Bush's religious talk in a time of tragedy
By William Saletan
SLATE.COM

Feb. 1 — Seventeen years ago, after seven astronauts died in the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, President Reagan told the nation's children, "Sometimes painful things like this happen. … It's all part of taking a chance." The future "belongs to the brave," said Reagan. Not until the end of his remarks, in a quotation from poet John Gillespie Magee, did Reagan mention the divine. The Challenger crew, he concluded, had "slipped the surly bonds of Earth" to "touch the face of God."

TODAY, AFTER SEVEN ASTRONAUTS died in the explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia, President Bush, too, spoke of faith and bravery. "These men and women assumed great risk" and showed "courage and daring," said Bush. He quoted Isaiah's prophecy that God watches over the stars: "Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing." Bush concluded, "The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today. … We can pray that all are safely home." In moments of tragedy, it's natural to speak of God watching over us. But it isn't clear whether Bush means what Isaiah meant, or what Reagan meant, or even what Bush meant 16 months ago when he spoke of God after the Sept. 11 attacks. There are two senses in which God can watch over us. Only one of them is compatible with the courage praised by Bush and Reagan. The other is the one invoked by the terrorists of Sept. 11 and by Iraqis who are rejoicing today in our misfortune.

TWO IDEAS OF GOD

When Isaiah says no star is missing and attributes this to God's power, he seems to mean that God physically protects things. But that isn't what Bush means when he says the Columbia astronauts aren't missing. In Bush's words, the reason why the astronauts, like the stars, aren't missing is that God "knows [their] names." This is a God who watches over us in a passive sense. He sees us, comforts us, and remembers us, but he doesn't necessarily protect us. Reagan, too, spoke of God this way. God didn't reach out to save the Challenger astronauts. They reached out to touch Him. Look back at Bush's speeches after Sept. 11 and you'll see him wrestling with these two ideas of God. On the day of the attacks he spoke of a God who watches over us in a passive sense: "I ask for your prayers for all those who grieve. … I pray they will be comforted by a power greater than any of us." But nine days later Bush invoked a God who would "watch over the United States" in an active sense: "The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them."

It's reassuring to think that God will protect us from tragedy or defeat. But that belief has two dangerous implications. One is that courage is unnecessary and unreal. The crews of Challenger and Columbia weren't actually taking risks or showing bravery, as Reagan and Bush supposed, because their fate was in God's hands. The other implication is that tragedies are God's will. That's what Bush rebuked Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell for suggesting four months ago when they speculated that Sept. 11 had happened because God had removed his protection from the United States.

Bush's statement to the nation on the shuttle disaster

Today in Baghdad many people are cheering Columbia's destruction. "God wants to show that his might is greater than the Americans," Abdul Jabbar al-Quraishi, an Iraqi government employee, told Reuters. That statement is certainly false and despicable. But on a day when seven Americans have fallen from the heavens, if you think God is fighting for the United States against Iraq, al-Quraishi has a better case than you do. Bush was right on Sept. 11 and wrong on Sept. 20. The outcome of war is never certain. In the skies over Baghdad, as in the skies over Texas, God's non-neutrality is a guide, not a promise. If Iraq insists on building weapons of mass destruction, we must fight not because God will protect us, but because He won't.

William Saletan is Slate's chief political correspondent.

Schools Banning Prayer Risk Federal Funds

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A41796-2003Feb7.html

By BEN FELLER
The Associated Press
Friday, February 7, 2003; 6:56 PM

Schools that don't allow students to pray outside the classroom or teachers to hold religious meetings among themselves could face the loss of federal money, the Education Department said Friday.

The guidelines reflect the Bush administration's push to ensure that schools give teachers and students as much freedom to pray as court rulings have allowed.

The department makes clear that teachers cannot pray with students or attempt to shape their religious views.

"Public schools should not be hostile to the religious rights of their students and their families," Education Secretary Rod Paige said. "At the same time, school officials may not compel students to participate in prayer or other activities."

The guidance, released by the department late Friday, broadly follows the same direction provided by the Clinton administration and the courts. Prayer is generally allowed provided it happens outside the class and is initiated by students, not by school officials.

For the first time, however, schools risk losing federal money if they don't prove compliance.

But the department also offers more details on such long contentious matters as moments of silence and prayer in student assemblies.

In one significant example, teachers are permitted to meet with each other for "prayer or Bible study" before school or after lunch - provided they make clear they are not acting in their "official capacities."

Also, students taking part in assemblies and graduation may not be restricted in expressing religion as long as they were chosen as speakers through "neutral, evenhanded criteria." To avoid controversy, schools may issue disclaimers clarifying that such speech does not represent the school.

"I'm very excited about the clarity, and very optimistic that these guidelines will go a long way in solving issues related to students' religious speech," said Mathew Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, which promotes religious expression. "We will use these actively in dealing with schools, and we'll use them in cases we're litigating as well."

The guidelines do a better job of spelling out what's allowed in many cases, but in others, they may just cause more confusion, said Reggie Felton, lobbyist for the National School Boards Association. Giving teachers discretion to openly pray during breaks may cause problems, especially if it is not clear they are doing it outside their official roles, he said.

On the Net:

Education Department: http://www.ed.gov/inits/religionandschools/

© 2003 The Associated Press

Arrogance and ignorance

http://worldmag.com/world/issue/02-15-03/closing_2.asp

MARVIN OLASKY

Darwinian Texas Tech professor is going against basic professorial ethics

PART OF A PROFESSOR'S LIFE IS WRITING RECOMmendations for students who want to go to graduate school. At the University of Texas I've often recommended students with views antithetical to my own, and have assumed that other professors do the same. Refusing to recommend students who have done good work goes against basic professorial ethics.

So I was surprised by a Jan. 30 Associated Press report about a biology professor at Texas Tech who does not write letters of recommendation for his students if they don't believe in evolution. Astoundingly, Texas Tech chancellor David Smith went on CNN on Jan. 31 to support Professor Michael Dini's bigoted decision. Texas legislators who fund Texas Tech, were you listening?

I looked at Prof. Dini's website after reading the AP story and saw his statement that students seeking recommendations should be prepared to answer the question: "How do you think the human species originated?" Next comes this forthright sentence: "If you cannot truthfully and forthrightly affirm a scientific answer to this question, then you should not seek my recommendation for admittance to further education in the biomedical sciences."

Prof. Dini explains himself in this way: "The central, unifying principle of biology is the theory of evolution, which includes both micro- and macro-evolution, and which extends to ALL species." He writes that an opponent of evolution has a questionable "understanding of science and of the method of science. Such an individual has committed malpractice regarding the method of science." He wonders, "How can someone who denies the theory of evolution—the very pinnacle of modern biological science—ask to be recommended into a scientific profession by a professional scientist?"

Prof. Dini displays both his arrogance and his ignorance. I'm writing this across from a bookshelf stacked with critiques of evolution by professional scientists. Besides, someone who thinks science can prove how things began has a questionable understanding of the scientific method. When Job (in chapter 38 of the Bible book named after him) almost overreaches, God asks, "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?" Any scientist who jumps beyond the scientific method to issue decrees on things not subject to observation or testing is overreaching.

Prof. Dini believes that evolution is the pinnacle of modern biological science. Good for him. Others believe that Mount Sinai or Mount Zion are pinnacles for greater understanding. Since Prof. Dini is denying others the right to believe differently than he does, on a question that the scientific method is helpless to answer, it is right that the Liberty Legal Institute is bringing a lawsuit against him and Texas Tech, and also approaching the federal Department of Justice. As chief counsel Kelly Shackelford notes, "Students are being denied recommendations not because of their competence in understanding evolution, but solely because of their personal religious beliefs."

Prof. Dini's attempt to stop careers before they get started reminds me of my experience many years ago. Since I was a Communist when I entered graduate school in 1973, my professors were impressed by the Marxist dialectic I spun in seminars. They penned enthusiastic recommendations for me; I still have one from the chairman of my program at the University of Michigan, Marvin Felheim, who wrote in 1975, "Marvin Olasky has made the most distinguished record of any of our graduate students in recent years."

That recommendation sits in a folder along with angry letters that Prof. Felheim sent me in 1976, when he was chairman of my dissertation committee but—since he hadn't taught me since my first year in graduate school—did not at first realize that my views had changed, through God's grace. He was angry when he read a draft of my dissertation and saw that I was no longer a Marxist. He wrote plaintively, "I thought you were one of our most intelligent students."

Apparently, moving from atheistic left to biblical right causes brains to fall out. Like Prof. Dini this year, Prof. Felheim 27 years ago tried to abort an academic career: He refused to write any further recommendations and, crucially, resigned from my dissertation committee two weeks before I was scheduled to take my final Ph.D. examination. My university prospects were saved only by the support of the one conservative at that time in the Michigan history department, Stephen Tonsor, who saw Prof. Felheim's bigotry and came on to chair my dissertation committee.

One of my tasks is to remember Prof. Tonsor's boldness so that I will go and do likewise.


Friday, February 07, 2003

Science In the News

The following roundup of science stories appearing each day in the general media is compiled by the Media Resource Service, Sigma Xi's referral service for journalists in need of sources of scientific expertise.

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IN THE NEWS

Today's Headlines – February 7, 2003

NASA CEDES AUTHORITY IN COLUMBIA SHUTTLE INQUIRY
from The New York Times

HOUSTON, Feb. 6 — Under sharp prodding from Congress, NASA formally transferred authority for the investigation of the shuttle Columbia disaster to an independent review board today and agreed to add members to the panel with no ties to the space agency.

Also today, the shuttle program manager, Ron D. Dittemore, retreated from his assertion on Wednesday that it was unlikely that the impact to the shuttle from a piece of foam that fell from the external fuel tank during launching could have doomed the spacecraft.

Mr. Dittemore said that no potential cause of the accident had been ruled out and that all possible theories would be fully pursued until the Feb. 1 crash was explained.

Mr. Dittemore also said that despite scores of reports of shuttle debris being found in California and Arizona, none of the pieces have been confirmed as parts of the doomed spacecraft. He also said that none of the photographs or videotapes of the shuttle flying over the western United States had yet yielded any useful information. And he added little to the narrative of the flight's final minutes and made clear that the search for the cause of the disaster was just beginning.

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/07/national/nationalspecial/07SHUT.html

COSMIC BOLT PROBED IN SHUTTLE DISASTER
from The San Francisco Chronicle

Federal scientists are looking for evidence that a bolt of electricity in the upper atmosphere might have doomed the space shuttle Columbia as it streaked over California, The Chronicle has learned.

Investigators are combing records from a network of ultra-sensitive instruments that might have detected a faint thunderclap in the upper atmosphere at the same time a photograph taken by a San Francisco astronomer appears to show a purplish bolt of lightning striking the shuttle.

Should the photo turn out to be an authentic image of an electrical event on Columbia, it would not only change the focus of the crash investigation, but it could open a door on a new realm of science.

"We're working hard on the data set. We have an obligation," said Alfred Bedard, a scientist at the federal Environmental Technology Laboratory in Boulder, Colo. He said the lab was providing the data to NASA but that it was too early to draw any conclusions from the sounds of the shuttle re- entry.

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2003/02/07/MN200326.DTL

HIGH-TECH CERAMIC SHUTTLE TILES HAD HISTORY OF GLITCHES
from The Washington Post

It took forever to glue on the thermal tiles that shielded the space shuttle from the scorching heat of reentry -- nearly two man-years of work for every flight -- and the glue dried so fast that technicians had to mix a new batch after every couple of tiles. But they came up with a solution: spit in the glue so it took longer to harden.

The trouble was that spit weakened the adhesive bond between the tiles and the shuttle's aluminum shell, making the tiles more likely to fall off during the spectacular stresses of space flight. When NASA officials found out about this home remedy, they put an end to it.

Spitting in the glue -- a common practice in the shuttle's first decade -- is just one example of the troubled history of one of the shuttle's most crucial features -- the 24,000 heat-resistant, ceramic tiles that cloak the spacecraft's underside. A catastrophic failure of those tiles is a prime suspect in Saturday's disintegration of the shuttle Columbia and the deaths of the seven astronauts aboard it.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A38144-2003Feb6.html

MOUNT ETNA GETTING ACTIVE; SCIENTISTS WARN MAGMA IS BUILDING
from Newsday

Sicily's Mount Etna is ripe for an especially violent and spectacular episode in its long history of eruptions, new evidence shows.

Italian experts cite shifting ground and signs that the mountain is gradually inflating. That is ominous because Mount Etna is already in an eruptive mood, the latest activity bursting forth Oct. 27. Now, it seems, things could soon get much worse.

"Mount Etna volcano has grown progressively more active during the past 30 years. This means that it is erupting more frequently and more intensely than during the last three centuries, and its magma output rate is increasing," said Domenico Patane of the National Institute on Geophysics and Volcanology in Catania in an interview with The Associated Press.

Patane and Italian geologists Pasquale De Gori, Claudio Chiarabba and Alessandro Bonoccorso presented the new evidence in today's issue of the journal Science.

http://www.newsday.com/news/health/ny-hsetna073120135feb07,0,5021998.story?coll=ny%2Dhealth%2Dheadlines

STUDY URGES 100-CALORIE DROP DAILY
from The Associated Press

Washington - Could eating a mere 100 fewer calories a day improve Americans' health by fighting the weight creep that adds up to, on average, 2 pounds a year? That's the argument of a well-known obesity researcher.

A few pounds each year eventually means big trouble, said Dr. James Hill of the University of Colorado. He says fending those off simply by daily cutting back on a cookie or taking three fewer bites of a hamburger may be easier than losing weight later.

Hill acknowledges he has not proved yet that such a simple step works.

But scientists are searching for different approaches to what is fast becoming a national epidemic. Sixty percent of U.S. adults are overweight, and the government blames 300,000 deaths a year on weight-related diseases.

http://www.newsday.com/news/health/ny-hsfat073120134feb07,0,2303940.story?coll=ny%2Dhealth%2Dheadlines

MANY BALKING AT VACCINATION FOR SMALLPOX
from The New York Times

President Bush's plan to vaccinate 500,000 health care workers against smallpox is getting off to an unexpectedly slow start as hundreds of hospitals and thousands of nurses across the country say that they will not participate.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today that only 687 volunteers in 16 states had been vaccinated since the program began two weeks ago, though it has shipped 250,000 doses of vaccine to 41 states.

A nationwide survey of state health officials by The New York Times this week found about 350 hospitals that declined to participate. Hundreds more have not yet decided.

The vaccination plan is part of the Bush administration's preparation against a terrorist attack or a war on Iraq, but the White House seemed unfazed by the slow start.

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/07/health/07SMAL.html

SPERM SLOW, LOSE DIRECTION WITH AGE, STUDY SAYS
from Scripps Howard News Service

Sure, some men in their 70s and even older father kids, but a new study suggests men's biological clock for sperm quality starts running down as early as in their 20s.

The study, published Thursday in the journal Human Reproduction, indicates that even healthy men become progressively less fertile as time goes by.

The researchers studied sperm samples from 97 men between the ages of 22 and 80 who were employed or retired from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif. Samples were analyzed within two hours of collection to measure ability to move and fertilize, a factor known as motility, along with other indicators of quality.

Men who had smoked within the past six months or had other relevant health problems were excluded from the study, and medical, lifestyle and occupational exposure history was also taken into account.

http://www.nandotimes.com/healthscience/story/752744p-5446947c.html

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PROFILE EUGENE SCOTT

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2003/02/07/EB75914.DTL

Berkeley scientist leads fight to stop teaching of creationism

Monica Lam, Special to The Chronicle

One morning in September, Eugenie Scott of Berkeley got a long-distance phone call from an alarmed parent in Cobb County, Ga. The board of education there was considering allowing creationism to be taught side-by-side with evolution as an alternative, scientific theory on human origins.

Scott sat at her desk, beneath a portrait of Charles Darwin in an office littered with books about evolution, models of hominid skulls and a map of the human genome, and typed up a speech she has delivered many times before. While students' religious views should be respected, she wrote, schools should allow only science to be taught in science classes.

Two hours before the board's vote, Scott e-mailed the speech to the parent to deliver to the board. But that board had already put disclaimers against evolution in the science textbooks, saying "evolution is a theory, not a fact" and that it should be "critically considered."

Scott, the director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, has been fighting this particular battle for more than 15 years, and it has taken her around the country -- from small towns in California to the deep South.

Her opponents are parents, politicians and even teachers who want creationism -- the belief that God created human beings as literally described in the Bible -- taught in public schools. This despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has issued numerous decisions disallowing the teaching of creationism in public schools because it is a religious view and would violate the separation of church and state.

Scott's work often takes her into the Bible Belt -- the Midwest and the South -- but closer to home, a recent conference in San Francisco on "intelligent design" attracted 200 college students and adults. Here Scott was confronted by the relatively new attack on evolution: scientists looking for scientific evidence to prove creationism is true.

While organizers insisted that the conference was about science -- creation science -- not religion, almost all the speakers were creationists. The intelligent design theory says that life on Earth is so complex and intricate that only an intelligent entity could have designed it.

"What we call creation science makes no reference to the Bible," said Duane Gish, vice president of the Institute for Creation Research in San Diego.

"It says there are two possible explanations for the origin of the universe and living things: theistic, supernatural creation by an intelligent being, or nontheistic, mechanistic evolutionary theory that posits no goal and no purpose in the evolutionary process. We just happen to be here."

"I think what bothers me so much of the time," Scott said, "is they take the data and theory and distort it. They must know they're distorting."

But intelligent design theory has gained a lot of momentum, Scott said, because it allows religion, labeled as science, to sneak into schools through the back door.

But another opponent, Phillip Johnson, a Jefferson E. Peyser professor of law, emeritus at UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law and author of "Darwin on Trial," said Darwinism is all about religion.

"Its (evolution's) impact is cultural," he said. "It's impact is it puts God out of reality. I am not bringing religion into the sacred precinct of science. The biologists are already neck deep in religion."

The Ohio Board of Education recently considered including intelligent design theory in the science curriculum, but after a long debate voted against it. Scott and the National Center for Science Education advised the opponents of the proposal and counts it as another victory. However, Johnson also considers it a victory because the ruling did not exclude teaching intelligent design.

Don Kennedy, a Stanford University biology professor and editor in chief of the journal Science, said Scott has been effective because she's knowledgeable about evolutionary theory.

"She's the central force in contesting creationist claims by bringing good science to bear," he said.

Scott grew up in Wisconsin and studied physical anthropology. She first heard of creationism in 1971, when she was a graduate student and, fascinated by what she thought was a rarity, started collecting literature and information on the movement.

Later, while teaching physical anthropology at the University of Kentucky in 1980, she led her first successful battle, blocking a Kentucky school board from including creationism in the curriculum.

In 1987, Scott was hired as the founding director of the nonprofit National Center for Science Education, the only national organization dedicated to "defending the teaching of evolution in public schools."

.4 In 2001, Scott's organization recorded incidents in 43 school districts and five state boards of education in which the teaching of evolution was challenged. Legislation promoting the teaching of creationism was introduced in eight state legislatures and in the U.S. Senate, according to the center.

"She's a front-line soldier in this war," said Al Janulaw, a retired schoolteacher and spokesman for the California Science Teachers Association. "She's everywhere in the country fixing things." The association, a membership organization of K-12 and university educators, gave Scott its Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award in 2002.

Scott gave up her career as a scientist to pursue activism because she says she sees science as fundamental to a proper education.

"You can't really be scientifically literate if you don't understand evolution," Scott said. "And you can't be an educated member of society if you don't understand science."

Scott describes herself as atheist but does not discount the importance of spirituality.

"Science is a limited way of knowing, looking at just the natural world and natural causes," she said. "There are a lot of ways human beings understand the universe -- through literature, theology, aesthetics, art or music."

One of Scott's biggest victories was in Kansas. In 1999, the Kansas State Board of Education voted to remove evolution from the testing standards, generating national headlines and prompting a campaign to preserve the standards. The grass-roots group, Kansas Citizens for Science, called on Scott for advice.

"We'd never been through this before," said Liz Craig, who helped lead KCFS' effort. Scott provided reference materials, people to contact and a shoulder to cry on, Craig said.

Scott also traveled to Kansas for several speaking engagements. In her earnest, soft-spoken voice, she tried to explain to parents and teachers that science and evolution are not anti-religion. "Students don't have to accept evolution," Scott frequently has said. "But they should learn it -- as it is understood by scientists."

Two years later, a new board was elected, and it restored evolution to the school standards.

The Kansas fight drew national attention to Scott's work and brought in additional funding. With a spacious, loft-style office on 40th Street in Oakland, NCSE's annual budget is $500,000, and Scott recently received a raise in her salary to $70,000.

Hanging next to photos of her husband and daughter are awards and cards from scientists and teachers around the country expressing their gratitude.

In 2002, she received a public service award from the National Science Board, which governs the National Science Foundation, to go along with the CSTA honor.

Still, there are many smaller conflicts that are beyond her reach, many of which involve individual students. In the spring, a seventh-grader in Edmond, Okla., was branded "Monkey Girl" by her classmates because she wanted to learn about evolution.

NCSE wrote a letter on the girl's behalf, asking the principal and the teacher to respect her request and to curb the peer harassment, but to no avail. The family eventually moved to another school district.

Over the years, Scott has found her fight to be much less about science and more about politics. "I learned very early on that it's necessary but not sufficient for scientists to go to school board meetings and say, 'We shouldn't be teaching creationism,' " Scott said. "Being right doesn't mean it'll pass.

"Public schools are where the next generation of leaders are educated and where cultural exchange will take place," Scott said. And Scott will be there, fighting to ensure that students are taught evolution

It's scientific For more information on the National Center for Science Education, visit www.ncseweb.org or contact Eugenie Scott at 420 40th St., Suite 2, Oakland, CA 94609-2509; (510) 601-7203;
ncseoffice@ncseweb.org.

India's lost girls

http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/em/fr/-/2/hi/south_asia/2723513.stm

Jill McGivering
BBC South Asia correspondent in Punjab

A marriage crisis is hitting thousands of men in parts of rural India which are running out of potential brides.

The traditional preference for boys instead of girls has led to widespread abuse of modern pre-natal scans.

The technology should protect the health of mother and baby.

But, wrongly used, it is a death sentence for unwanted girls.

The practice of determining the sex of a foetus and aborting girls is illegal, but widespread.

The worst affected states, such as Haryana and Punjab, now have some of the most skewed sex ratios in the world - and the proportion of baby girls is still falling.

Buying brides

A whole generation of young men is failing to find brides.

Many are now resorting to "buying" girls from poor communities outside the region to bear their children.

Government officials raid clinics to make sure doctors are not abusing modern technology by tipping off parents they were carrying girls.

In many clinics, the illegal and systematic abortion of girls is common practice.

In Punjab, special prayers of thanks greet the birth of a boy. Prejudice runs deep. Girls are born into silence.

"People say, you have two girl children, you have done some sins in your past life," said office manager Surinder Saini.

"With a boy child, people say your generation will propagate, your older age will be safer. This is the concept of our society."

Combating prejudice

Mr Saini is a fierce campaigner against female foeticide. He and his wife have two daughters.

But even they aborted their third child after tests showed it was a girl.

All those years of prejudice against girls are finally coming back to haunt this society.

There is such an acute gender imbalance here that it is causing real social problems.

Young men are coming of marriageable age, only to discover there is no-one left for them to marry.

The young girls who would have been their brides never had the chance to be born.

The villages are full of frustrated bachelors. In Haryana, a quarter of the female population has simply disappeared.

Many now see buying wives from outside as their only option.

Foreign imports

"I couldn't find a local girl," said Chandram, who purchased a wife last year from Bangladesh. "So I had to go outside to get married. But it wasn't cheap."

His bride looked about 15. Now she is thousands of miles from home.

They have just had their first child - a baby girl. She looked sickly, struggling to survive.

The ghosts of missing babies are closing in.

If newly-weds continue with this brutal practice of eliminating girls, this whole region is on course for catastrophe.

The day the sky fell in

http://www.guardian.co.uk/online/science/story/0,12450,889308,00.html

A metallic asteroid may have coincided with the fall of Rome, says Duncan Steel

Thursday February 6, 2003
The Guardian

In the early fifth century, rampaging Goths swept through Italy. Inviolate for 1,100 years, Rome was sacked by the hordes in 410 AD. St Augustine's apologia, the City of God, set the tone for Christians for the next 16 centuries.

But the Rome of that era came close to suffering a far worse calamity. A small metallic asteroid descended from the sky, making a hypervelocity impact in an Apennine valley just 60 miles east of the city. This bus-sized lump of cosmic detritus vaporised as it hit the ground. In doing so, it released energy equivalent to around 200 kilotonnes of TNT: around 15 times the power of the atomic bomb that levelled Hiroshima in 1945.

[see URL for rest]

Omens, Wars and a Streak in the Texas Sky

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-keane7feb07,1,5558228.story?coll=la%2Dnews%2Dcomment%2Dopinions

COMMENTARY

Throughout history, the superstitious have looked for signs of what the future might hold.
By Michael Keane
Michael Keane is a lecturer on strategy at USC's Marshall School of Business and the author of "Modern Strategy and Tactics," due this fall from Prentice Hall.

February 7 2003

The televised images of the loss of the space shuttle Columbia have, as in the Challenger disaster and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, become seared into the collective American consciousness. Unlike the other tragedies, however, Columbia's, which comes perhaps only weeks before the U.S. commits its troops to war, has an additional, ominous dimension.

Cicero said, "I know of no people, however civilized, however undeveloped, which does not recognize the existence of omens and also of some individuals capable of understanding these signs and making predictions based on them." This is certainly true even of modern soldiers, especially when they are about to engage in combat.

This connection between omens and soldiers has been noted through the ages. Sun Tzu urged military leaders to "prohibit omens, eliminate doubt so that they [soldiers] will die without other thoughts." Greeks and Romans feared portentous omens and would attempt to divine the future through the flights of birds and by examining the entrails of sacrificed animals.

Throughout history, leaders would take great care to attempt to "spin" ominous events in their favor. When Julius Caesar landed in Africa, he is reported to have fallen as soon as he set foot on shore. With great presence of mind, he scooped up a piece of soil, rose and declared, "Africa, I take possession of thee." It was an act that would be repeated centuries later by William the Conqueror, when he stumbled on the beach at Pevensey before defeating the English at the Battle of Hastings.

A belief in omens seemed to subside with the Age of Reason and the rise of technology and learning. Machiavelli noted that omens were something that the "commanders of armies in former times" had to struggle with and "from which our generals are at present in a great measure exempt."

But Machiavelli's belief that faith in science would replace superstition has proved over-optimistic. On the Internet, sites referred to the shuttle accident as an omen of an apocalypse of biblical proportions, predicting such catastrophes as nuclear war, the collapse of the U.S. and the destruction of Israel. Even to more rational minds, however, it is disturbing when the failure of technology and science produces tragic events, as with the Columbia accident. Technology and science, as represented by precision-guided munitions, also are being heralded as the keys to a swift victory against Iraq.

Some omens before battles have undoubtedly been positive. Constantine's victory at the Milvian Bridge in the year 312 was famously foreshadowed by the supposed appearance in the sky of Christ's cross and the words In hoc signo vinces ("By this sign you conquer"). An angelic apparition, the "Angel of Mons," was reputed to have appeared in the skies, safeguarding the British retreat from Mons, Belgium, in 1914.

Yet nothing in the tragic events of Saturday morning could be interpreted as positive. The filmed images of the Columbia spacecraft streaking across the skies of Texas resembled nothing if not a man-made comet. And for most of history, comets have been a harbinger of doom, such as pestilence, war and the downfall of leaders. Interestingly, this belief seems to have originated in ancient Babylon -- modern-day Iraq.

As an omen of a war with Iraq, the Columbia disaster is accentuated by two facts. First, the space shuttle's destruction occurred over Texas, President Bush's home state. Second, the crew included an Israeli air force pilot, Col. Ilan Ramon, who had fought in the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and the 1982 war in Lebanon and was one of the pilots who had destroyed the unfinished Iraqi nuclear power plant at Osirik in 1981.

On the other hand, perhaps we would be wise to listen to the words of Irish playwright Oscar Wilde, who wrote: "There is no such thing as an omen. Destiny does not send us heralds. She is too wise or too cruel for that."

It's possible to believe in God and evolution

http://www.timesunion.com/aspstories/storyprint.asp?storyID=103175

Albany (NY) Times Union
timesunion.com

First published: Friday, February 7, 2003

Michael Dini doesn't exactly fit the profile of an anti-religious bigot. For one thing, the Texas Tech biology professor spent 14 years in a Roman Catholic order of teaching brothers.

If he's bigoted against anything, it's probably against the current wave of grade inflation or perhaps "recommendation inflation." In any case, Dini's Web page lays out strict criteria for any student who wants his recommendation to graduate school in science.

First of all, he says, you have to earn an A in his class. Second, he adds, "I should know you fairly well." And third, you need to "truthfully and forthrightly affirm a scientific answer" to the question: "How do you think the human species originated?"

It was the need to affirm evolution that startled Micah Spradling out of his seat. The young student wasn't in Dini's class long enough to (1) get an A or (2) get to know the professor. But Spradling dropped out anyway. He did some time at Lubbock Christian University, got a medical school recommendation there and then returned to Texas Tech with some lawyers added to his curriculum vitae.

With the aid, comfort, legal advice and bankroll of the Liberty Legal Institute of Texas, Spradling is accusing professor Dini of discriminating against him on the basis of religion. And John Ashcroft's Department of Justice has begun an investigation.

This is the sort of frivolous lawsuit you thought conservatives opposed, but never mind. It's turning the argument over creation and evolution upside down and inside out.

Remember when the fight against Darwin in the classroom reappeared in the 1980s? Creationists insisted they weren't trying to get their religion into the curriculum. Creationism wasn't faith, they said, it was fact. Now they're arguing that creationism is part of Spradling's religion. I guess even creationists can evolve.

As for lawyers, watching the Liberty Legal Institute ostensibly fight prejudice is enough to make anyone dizzy. This is the group that, among many other things, fought to uphold anti-sodomy laws that make homosexuality illegal in Texas. They also argued that removing a Ten Commandments monument from the statehouse grounds would be "censorship" of religious history.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but conservative lawyers are now agile and nervy enough to hijack liberal arguments for their own causes. Kelly Shackleford, the chief counsel, actually compared Dini's attitude toward a creationist with that of a racist. What if Dini refused to write letters of recommendation to African-Americans? Shackleford asked. "I can't imagine the university would say, well, that's a personal decision of one of our professors and we're not going to interfere. Discrimination on the basis of race, sex or religion is prohibited."

Needless -- or maybe not needless -- to say, Dini's refusal to recommend a creationist for a graduate degree in medicine or science is not like refusing to recommend an African-American. It's like refusing to recognize someone who doesn't believe in gravity for a Ph.D. program in physics. But creationists who believe the origin of the species is an open and shut book -- and the book is the Bible -- now accuse evolutionists of being narrow-minded.

A headline in the local paper described Dini as "Rigid on Evolution." One of Spradling's supporters said that a professor who dines out on academic freedom ought to grant that freedom to his students.

Lest you think this is an arcane argument in one Texas university, it's parallel to what's going on in public high schools. After losing their bid to rid the classroom of Darwin, creationists went back to court coyly suggesting equal time for "equal" points of view. Now they are pressing for laws like those in Mississippi, Alabama, and Oklahoma that require a printed disclaimer in the textbooks that teach evolution.

There is nothing that says you can't believe in God and evolution. Scientists do it all the time. Including, I am told, professor Dini. Most Americans believe, in a phrase, that "God created evolution."

But as Dini asks rhetorically on his now infamous Web page, "How can someone who does not accept the most important theory in biology expect to properly practice in a field that is so heavily based on biology?" Is a scientist expected to entertain all points of view on whether say, the Earth travels around the sun, or risk being called a bigot?

Dini may have been brave or naive to put his principles down on pixels. Writing recommendations is the most arbitrary and individualistic of extracurricular activities performed by a professor.

If he is convicted of "discriminating" against religion, surely every student can demand that a professor equate beliefs and facts. Next stop, astrology for astronomers? Feng Shui for physicists? Anyone want a recommendation? How about a lawyer instead?

Ellen Goodman's e-mail address is ellengoodman@globe.com.

Proposed Textbook Disclaimer Bill Dies in Committee

http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/news/2003/MS/164_proposed_textbook_disclaimer_b_1_31_2003.asp House Bill 1397, sponsored by Representative Carmel Wells-Smith, was introduced in the Mississippi House of Representatives and referred to the Education Committee on January 20, 2003. On February 4 the bill died in committee when it missed the House's deadline for action. HB 1397 would have required the inclusion of a version of the Alabama evolution disclaimer in every textbook that discusses the subject. Wells-Smith introduced two antievolution bills in the 2002 legislative session, both of which also died in committee.

January 31, 2003

Marcello Truzzi (1935-2003)

http://www.anomalist.com/milestones/truzzi.html

An appreciation by Jerome Clark

Late on Sunday afternoon February 2, 2003, I received a call from Kris Truzzi, informing me that his father, Marcello Truzzi, died at 3 pm that day. The cause of death was the cancer Marcello had been battling off and on for seven years. Kris informed me that around the middle of the week his father suddenly took a turn for the worse, and his health declined rapidly after that.

Marcello, a sociologist at Eastern Michigan University (Ypsilanti), was a dear friend of mine. We last spoke when he called me on a Sunday afternoon, almost precisely a week, even to the hour, before he passed on. He was bedridden but reasonably optimistic, though realistic, about his condition. He was not a religious man, but he remarked calmly that he was not afraid to die. My impression, however, is that he did not expect to go so quickly, because he talked at length about his thoughts for a personal and intellectual autobiography. It would have been a fascinating, original book.

But then Marcello was a fascinating and original man. I first met him in 1977, around the time he left the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), which he co-founded with Paul Kurtz. It soon became apparent to Marcello (as well as to Kurtz and many others who were looking on) that he and Kurtz had fundamental philosophical differences. Kurtz and other hard-liners in the organization suspected that he was soft on anomalous claims and insufficiently committed to the crusade against "irrationalism," in CSICOP's often-used characterization of contrary opinion. For his part Marcello felt he was a true skeptic, who doubts, rather than a debunker (he later preferred "scoffer"), who denies.

In an interview J. Gordon Melton and I conducted with him in his home in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1979, he eloquently laid out those views. The interview appears in the September and October 1979 issues of Fate. He wrote and published frequently, his writings reflecting his wide range of interests, including stage magic, music, carnivals and circuses (he was born into a prominent European circus family), the sociology of science, folklore, anthropology, psychology, popular culture, politics. Perhaps the paper that best summarizes his views on anomalous subjects is his "Zetetic Ruminations on Skepticism and Anomalies in Science," which appeared in his own journal, Zetetic Scholar 12/13 (1987). Unfortunately, he never did expand that essay into a full-length book, though from time to time he talked about it.

To the end he doubted, but he did not deny. He thought that whether or not they were ultimately proved to be as extraordinary as they seemed, the issues raised by anomalous experiences, and investigated by serious, critical-minded ufologists, cryptozoologists, and parapsychologists, are legitimate ones which science dismisses or ignores to its own detriment. In our last conversation he spoke of the fundamental uncertainty that underlies all existence and understanding.

I might note here that it was Marcello, not Carl Sagan, who coined the often-misattributed maxim "Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence." In recent years Marcello had come to conclude that the phrase was a non sequitur, meaningless and question-begging, and he intended to write a debunking of his own words. Sad to say, he never got around to it.

No single human being influenced my thinking on UFOs and other anomalies as Marcello did. Over the years we spoke, usually over the phone, dozens and dozens of times. Sometimes his ideas provoked or even annoyed me, but he never failed to force me to think deeper and harder because of that. He was smarter than any five other humans combined. I suspect that every day that passed by, he had at least one insight that had never occurred to anybody else. It is sad to reflect that that wonderful, unceasingly creative intelligence is now lost to this world. My last words to him were, "Take care of yourself. There's only one of you."

Beyond that, he was a good and valued friend, a warm and funny man, whom it was an honor and a delight to know. I loved him. I will miss him forever.

PHYSICS NEWS UPDATE

The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 623 February 5, 2003 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein, and James Riordon

NEW SUPERBURST THEORY. When a neutron star pulls matter from a nearby companion onto itself, powerful x-ray bursts, visible to telescopes in Earth orbit, can result. Some astronomers believe the bursts leave behind an ocean of debris, heavy nuclei mostly, on the neutron star's surface. Occasionally much larger "superbursts," with up to 1000 times the amount of x rays than other bursts, can flare up. Henrik Schatz of Michigan State University (schatz@nscl.msu.edu, 517-333-6397) and his collaborators Lars Bildsten from UCSB and Andrew Cumming of UCSC believe that an energy blitz is generated when high energy photons strike the heavy nuclei in the debris ocean, springing free either a proton, neutron, or alpha particle, which then recombine with the residual nuclei forming lighter, stronger bound nuclei and free energy. This photodisintegration process is triggered by the thermonuclear explosion of a small amount of carbon, but may then proceed subject to positive feedback: the warmer the surface temperature the more disintegration, which in turn leads to warmer temperatures. The runaway production of energy through the conversion of heavy nuclei into lighter nuclei could be unique in astrophysics: all other thermonuclear energy generation (such as those inside our sun) proceeds by fusing lighter nuclei into heavier nuclei. (Upcoming article in Astrophysical Journal Letters; see also http://groups.nscl.msu.edu/nero/)

LORENTZ VIOLATIONS? NOT YET. Lorentz invariance, the idea that the result of a physics experiment should stay the same whether the apparatus is motionless or traveling at some great constant speed relative to a reference point, is taken for granted in the theory of special relativity. Yet in recent years some scientists have come to question this pillar of physics, and to suggest theoretical models (called "standard model extensions," or SMEs ) incorporating Lorentz violations and experimental ways of settling the matter (see Update 578, www.aip.org/enews/physnews/2002/split/578-2.html). In these models, the speed of light is not universal but will have extra terms dependent on the speed or orientation of the apparatus (see http://media4.physics.indiana.edu/~kostelec/faq.html ). Even before the advent of Einstein's relativity, the Michelson-Morley experiment tried to perceive (unsuccessfully) a difference in the speed of light when the Earth was traveling in two different directions in space while on opposite sides of its orbit around the sun. Now scientists have to be more subtle in their approach. In one new laboratory experiment, just completed by Stanford physicists (John Lipa, 650-723-4562, john.lipa@stanford.edu ) microwaves in two resonant cavities (one oriented east-west, the other pointing vertically) are monitored as the Earth sweeps around the sun. Any orientation- or speed-dependent changes in the speed of light would alter the resonant conditions of the cavities in a measurable way. The geometry of the experiment gives it optimal sensitivity to a number of coefficients in a generalized SME. The Stanford group sees no such anisotropy at the level of 10^-13 for velocity-independent terms, and at the 10^-9 level for velocity-dependent terms. (Lipa et al., Physical Review Letters, upcoming article; text at www.aip.org/physnews/select )

GROUND TEMPERATURES SINCE THE YEAR 1500 can be read back by examining the temperatures in deep boreholes. Temperatures in the Earth's crust are determined by a combination of surface climate effects and internal heat flow. The general trend is a linear rise in temperature with depth, but this is modulated by heat perturbations which act in a nonlinear way; typically perturbations penetrate about 20 meters of depth per year or about 150 m in 100 years. Hugo Beltrami (St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia) has examined temperature-depth profiles from 826 places around the world. Taking into account the known temperature anomalies, he is able to work out the average surface energy flux and temperature for many localities and for the world as a whole back for a period of 500 years. Beltrami (902-867-2326, hugo@stfx.ca) finds that global average surface temperature has increased by 0.45 K in the last 200 years. During this time, however, some places have experienced more dramatic average temperature swings: for example, parts of Africa show a cooling while northern Canada is warmer (3-4 K) during the same period. (Geophysical Research Letters, vol 29, 23, 2111; also see http://geophysics.stfx.ca/public/index.html )

***********
PHYSICS NEWS UPDATE is a digest of physics news items arising from physics meetings, physics journals, newspapers and magazines, and other news sources. It is provided free of charge as a way of broadly disseminating information about physics and physicists. For that reason, you are free to post it, if you like, where others can read it, providing only that you credit AIP. Physics News Update appears approximately once a week.

Catholics Flock to Fence-Post Virgin Mary

http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story2&cid=573&ncid=757&e=1&u=/nm/20030206/od_nm/religion_australia_virgin_dc

Thu Feb 6, 9:16 AM ET

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Catholics in the Australian city of Sydney are flocking to pray at a fence post at Coogee beach which they believe projects an image of the Virgin Mary.

Devotees say the Virgin can be seen in the afternoons from a vantage point 300 meters (yards) away from the white post, in the east of the city, and some believe she appeared to comfort Australians worried about a possible war in Iraq.

Some leave flowers, crucifixes and bottles of oil nearby.

"Some people say they can't see her but yes, I see her. I see her crown, her white robe. I'm so happy that I get goosebumps," Sydney resident Anna, originally from Italy, told Reuters Television.

Catholics are not the only ones paying homage.

"I believe it's Mother Teresa who has come," said clairvoyant Bronwyn Wilson. "She's very upset with war looming and everything. She comes in peace because she represented peace."

Others are more skeptical.

"If that's what they want to believe fair enough but I personally think it's a lot of rubbish -- it's just a fence," a British traveler told Reuters.

PRINCESS DIANA, DO YOU HAVE A MESSAGE FOR THE VIEWERS?

http://www.nypost.com/entertainment/68529.htm

By MICHAEL STARR

February 6, 2003 --

HERE'S a new angle on Princess Diana's life that hadn't been done yet - a pay-per-view TV séance to conjure up her "spirit."

And hosted by ex-"Avengers" star Patrick Macnee, no less.

"The Spirit of Diana," will cost curious viewers $14.95 and will feature psychics, "spiritual intimates" and others trying to contact the otherworldly spirit of the late princess, killed in a Paris car crash in August 1997.

The show - which airs March 9 - includes live seances and interviews with, among others, the father of her boyfriend, Dodi al-Fayed, and Andrew Morton, who wrote the bestseller, "Diana: Her True Story in Her Own Words."

"Princess Diana asked me to tell the world about the real Princess Diana and not the person portrayed to the world," says Oonagh Shanley-Toffolo, described as England's "premier healer and spiritual intimate of the Princess." (She's also a former nun and was the Duke of Windsor's private nurse just before he died.)

The 90-minute broadcast will originate in London, with the live seances featuring psychics "who had regular and sometimes daily contact with the Princess," according to press materials.

Those psychics include Shanley-Toffolo, Craig and Jane Hamilton-Parker, Patricia Bankins and Penny Thornton.

"People who see our special will discover a whole new side of the great lady and the seances may provide yet more revelations about her and the royal entourage," says Paul Sharratt, who's directing the PPV special for Starcast Productions.

Among the questions the psychics are hoping to answer: Was Diana really in love with Dodi? Was she pregnant when she died? Does she have anything more to say to her loved ones?

The one-time-only TV "event" is being distributed by Associated Television International via iN DEMAND.

So what is Macnee's connection to Diana?

"He first met Princess Diana at the royal premiere of 'A View to a Kill,' the James Bond thriller in which he co-starred," says the press release.


Thursday, February 06, 2003

Science In the News

The following roundup of science stories appearing each day in the general media is compiled by the Media Resource Service, Sigma Xi's referral service for journalists in need of sources of scientific expertise.

For accurate instructions on how to subscribe or unsubscribe to the listserv, follow this link: http://www.mediaresource.org/instruct.htm

If you experience any problems with the URLs (page not found, page expired, etc.), we suggest you proceed to the home page of "Science In the News" http://www.mediaresource.org/news.htm which mirrors the daily e-mail update.

IN THE NEWS

Today's Headlines – February 6, 2003

RANGE OF THEORIES, BUT NONE THAT SEEMS TO FIT ALL THE FACTS
from The New York Times

NASA investigators said yesterday that the disintegration of the space shuttle Columbia had turned into a scientific mystery.

The investigators said they were exploring a wide range of theories behind the disaster. But they seemed no closer to a conclusion than they were on Saturday, after the Columbia's shocking destruction and the deaths of its seven crew members.

Behind the agency's shift away from a single leading theory was a growing accumulation of facts that do not seem to jibe and explanations that cannot account for what is known to have happened to the Columbia between its launching on Jan. 16 and its demise on Saturday.

Computer programs have failed to show how a piece of foam insulation striking the craft's protective tiles at launching could do enough damage to cause the catastrophe, officials said.

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/06/national/nationalspecial/06EVID.html

WEST COAST FOOTAGE MAY HOLD CLUES TO TRAGEDY
from The San Francisco Chronicle

NASA photo analysts are poring over videos and photographs taken from California of the doomed space shuttle Columbia, hoping to stitch together a sequence of visual clues to explain the increasingly puzzling loss of the orbiter and its seven-member crew.

Of particular interest is a startling image taken by an amateur astronomer in San Francisco, which appears to show a purplish bolt of lightning striking Columbia at it streaked across the predawn skies.

During a Houston news conference, Shuttle Program Manager Ron Dittemore said he hadn't yet seen the West Coast videos and photographs being gathered by NASA imagery and photo experts.

The pictures, shot from different angles and in different locales, coupled with eyewitness accounts from shuttle-watchers, may create a mosaic of evidence about the shuttle's crucial pass over California, when instruments first showed signs of trouble.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2003/02/06/MN22145.DTL

TROUBLED FROM THE START: THE TALE OF THE TILES
from The Christian Science Monitor

For years, Robert Beasley had been devising ways to spin pure, thin strands of glass into heat-resistant shells to protect aircraft radar.

Then, in 1962, the chemist reached a eureka moment. Working with endless formulas, he created a lightweight material that he believed could be used to perform a duty far more dangerous and demanding: shielding spacecraft from the furnace of reentry.

Today, the tiles that came out of his spare-time research have become an integral part of the world's most sophisticated space-shuttle system - and one of the most problematic. They lie at the center of the current investigation into the Columbia crash and may, ultimately, be key to how quickly the shuttles resume their journeys into space.

http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/0206/p01s01-usgn.html

SCIENTISTS FACE SECURITY DILEMMA
from The Washington Post

In the late 1990s, the University of Pennsylvania's Ariella Rosengard made a protein from the smallpox virus to help her investigate the microbe's ability to evade the human immune system. She found that the protein was much better at attacking humans than other species.

Rosengard was looking for ways to help the immune system cope with transplants, but when her work appeared last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it gained attention for very different reason: She had built and used part of the germ that has arguably caused more deaths from disease than any other in human history.

In a nation consumed by the threat of bioterrorism, was it prudent to publish how she had done it?

Yes, said Cambridge University's P.J. Lachmann in a commentary that accompanied the Rosengard article: "The work is far more likely to stimulate advances in vaccinology or viral therapy than it is to threaten biosecurity."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A32065-2003Feb5.html

FDA PROBES U. OF ILLINOIS OVER PIGS USED IN GENETIC TEST
from The Chicago Tribune

The Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday that it is investigating whether genetically engineered pigs were sold by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to a livestock dealer for slaughter.

The FDA said that at this point the incident "poses no public health risk" but may have involved a significant violation of FDA requirements for disposal of animals involved in bioengineering studies.

"We haven't reached any conclusions but at the present time there seems to be a number of things that have occurred with handling these animals that we weren't aware of," said FDA spokesman Brad Stone.

The research, which began in 1999, added cow genes and synthetic genes to the pigs to see if milk production and digestion could be enhanced to make the pigs grow larger faster. An initial group of pigs received the altered genes and were bred to see if their offspring would inherit the modified traits.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/health/chi-0302060344feb06,1,1606023.story

CANCER CASES ADD TO TRANSPLANT CONCERNS
from The Associated Press

In an unusual case of a transplanted organ causing disease, two patients developed melanoma from kidneys even though the donor was successfully treated for the cancer years earlier, Scottish doctors report. One recipient died, the other recovered.

The researchers suggest that no one who has had melanoma should ever be an organ donor.

Transfer of cancer from an organ to a transplant patient is rare. Chances of it occurring long after the donor was treated were thought unlikely. The longest known interval in a donor-related melanoma was eight years between surgery and transplant.

But in today's New England Journal of Medicine, researchers said two patients got cancer from a donor who had a melanoma skin lesion removed 16 years earlier and was thought to be cancer-free.

http://www.newsday.com/news/health/ny-hstran063118825feb06,0,3566427.story?coll=ny%2Dhealth%2Dheadlines

CALL FOR ACTION ON MERCURY POISONING
from SciDev.net

Mercury poisoning around the globe will increase unless steps are taken to curb pollution from power stations, according to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The report, Global Mercury Assessment, says that coal-fired power stations and waste incinerators account for about 70 per cent of emissions of mercury to the atmosphere caused by human activities. Most of this pollution is now coming from developing countries, especially Asia.

"As combustion of fossil fuels is increasing in order to meet the growing energy demands of both developing and developed nations, mercury emissions can be expected to increase accordingly in the absence of the deployment of control technologies or the use of alternative energy source," the report says.

http://www.scidev.net/articles2.asp?id=0502200310135245&t=N&c=1&r=1&hl=Call%

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Little evidence that psychological coping styles play part in cancer survival

from Consumer Health Digest #03-05
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
February 4, 2003

Review examines impact of emotions on cancer. British researchers have reviewed 30 studies that examined the popular belief that psychological factors can influence survival from cancer. Twenty-six of the studies investigated the association between coping styles and cancer survival, and 11 investigated their effect on recurrence. The parameters evaluated included "fighting spirit," "hopelessness/helplessness," "denial or avoidance," "stoic acceptance or fatalism," "anxious coping/anxious preoccupation," "depressive coping," and "active or problem-focused coping." Noting that positive findings tended to be confined to studies that were small or poorly designed,.the authors concluded: "There is little consistent evidence that psychological coping styles play an important part in survival from or recurrence of cancer. People with cancer should not feel pressured into adopting particular coping styles (including 'positive thinking') to improve survival or reduce the risk of recurrence." [Petticrew M and others. Influence of psychological coping on survival and recurrence in people with cancer: Systematic review. British Medical Journal 325:1066-1075, 2002] http://bmj.com/cgi/content/full/325/7372/1066 Dr. Stephen Barrett believes that emotions can influence whether or not people with cancer undergo proven treatment but have no direct impact on the cancer itself.

EXIT THE LIGHT

ISBN: 0972293280 Format: Paperback, 487pp Pub. Date: November 2002
RECOMMENDED FOR A BRAM STOKER AWARD!

http://www.exitthelight.com

Embrace the darkness.
Thirty-four tales of nerve-shattering terror served up by two of Horror's most devout disciples - Terry 'Horns' Erwin and Walt Hicks.
Thirty-four journeys into fear, despair and desolation not recommended for the squeamish or faint of heart.
The darkness has arrived.
Prepare to EXIT THE LIGHT.

"Separately, Horns and Hicks have become prophets of the new horror genre. Bringing their unique voices together for Exit the Light, they are a force that must be reckoned with."
-Steven E. Wedel, author of Dining at Sea

"Exit The Light combines elements of scif! i, horror, and a mind-blowing combination of the most bizarre predators I've ever encountered. Walt Hicks and Terry "Horns" Erwin are terror experts. You'll be nervous for a week after reading this one."
-Dennis Latham, author of Michael In Hell

"Exit The Light is a great collection of horror stories. They're gruesome, gory, moody, weird and creepy. If you like horror tales that shock and disgust, then grab a copy and get stuck in!"
-Paul Fry, Peep Show magazine

Penn and Teller Start New Series

http://member.compuserve.com/news/story.jsp?floc=FF-APO-1401&idq=/ff/story/0001%2F20030205%2F143089081.htm&sc=1401

By FRAZIER MOORE

NEW YORK (AP) - For their new Showtime series, Penn and Teller chose a title that proclaimed their skepticism for such things as weight-loss products, feng shui and creationism; for end-of-the-world forecasts and the purity claims by bottled-water marketers; for ESP, sex aids and ``second-hand smoke.''

Of course, the title they arrived at - a more graphic version of ``poppycock'' - isn't usually found in a family newspaper. No matter. Viewers up for a weekly dose of artful debunking are urged to watch what will here be designated ``Penn & Teller: (Poppycock)!''

``We're gonna hunt down as many purveyors of (poppycock) as we can,'' pledged Penn Jillette (the tall, ponytailed one) when the series began its 13-episode run two weeks ago.

He and Teller (the mute one with the single name) are off to a rambunctious start.

Already, they have tackled alternative medicine of varying extremes, including magnet therapy and chiropractic.

Another episode targeted people who claim to communicate with the dead. It cast a jaundiced eye on TV psychics John Edwards and James Van Praagh, after which Penn and Teller presented their own convincing ``spiritualist'' - who turned out to be an admitted fake.

Airing Fridays at 11 p.m. EST, ``(Poppycock)!'' this week blows the whistle on such Penn-and-Teller-decreed (poppycock) as UFOs and alien abductions.

``(Poppycock)!'' has no time for what is Penn and Teller's forte: magic.

On the other hand, their magic act has always championed intellectual honesty. Costumed in their gray three-piece suits, Penn and Teller strive to make the audience see how magic is, so to speak, easily explainable (poppycock).

Sassy secularists in the priesthood of magicians, they do everything they can to undermine their brethren's baton-and-black-cape mystique. This includes a most heretical practice: revealing how they perform certain tricks, blowing the whistle on themselves as a way of proving that magic, after all, isn't magic. Just fun.

Penn and Teller are, in short, skeptics promoting skepticism.

``There's always been that point of view to our work,'' Teller says in a recent interview. ``This show is just a chance to make it very explicit.''

Very, very explicit. As host and narrator, Penn uses extremely harsh language to describe the people whom ``(Poppycock)!'' sets out to debunk.

Maybe he would have preferred to brand them ``liars,'' ``quacks'' and ``rip-off artists.'' But such precision could get a guy sued, he explains on the show. Far preferable, or so the lawyers advised, are more freewheeling terms of character assassination, which slander laws don't usually prohibit.

``So forgive all the (poppycock) language,'' said Penn on the premiere episode. ``We're trying to talk about the truth without spending the rest of our lives in court because of litigious (unpleasant people).''

During Penn's excited outbursts, the seemingly pint-size Teller stands by silently, often wearing the sly smile that seems borrowed from a Dr. Seuss character.

That is Teller's shtick. But outside of the act, he displays a loquacious streak (and, at 5 feet, 9 inches, normal height, despite being dwarfed whenever standing by the 6-foot-6 Penn).

``There's a movement of people who want to look into dubious phenomena with a critical eye,'' says Teller, further explaining the colorful language, ``but this movement has been very polite, for lack of a better word. The idea of our TV series is to look into areas that people believe in that may not be true, but with the same passion that previously only the believers have demonstrated.''

``Television as a medium does not care about the truth, it only cares about the temperature of the performance,'' Penn chimes in. ``What you've always had on skeptics' shows is someone who's well-mannered, has all his ducks in a row, going up against a nut. On TV, the nut will always win.

``But I can promise you I'm as bum-nutty as anybody you've ever seen on the other side.''

So consider the style of ``Penn & Teller: (Poppycock)!'' as craziness deployed in the name of reason as Penn introduces ``whack-job passion to the side we believe in.''

``It will alienate a portion of the audience, I'm sorry to say,'' Teller sighs. ``I don't think we'll have many nuns tuning in. And I suspect that nuns would benefit from knowing the truth about bottled water or reflexology!''

On the Net:

Showtime: www.showtimeonline.com

Official Penn & Teller Website: http://pennandteller.com/sincity/

EDITOR'S NOTE - Frazier Moore can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org

Homoeopathy rescues hapless hubbies

http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/919_155810,001800010001.htm

IANS
PATNA, February 5

For husbands tired of frequent tirades from quarrelsome wives, an Indian homoeopathic doctor claims to hold the key to happiness.

"Homoeopathy has a readymade medicine to cool down angry wives who harass their husbands for no fault of theirs," homoeopathy practitioner S.M. Singh said in the Bihar capital.

Singh, who is based in the Uttar Pradesh town of Allahabad and was here to attend the All India Homoeopathic Congress 2003, claimed a dose of Kailomilla -- taken only after consulting a homoeopathic doctor -- could work miracles and calm belligerent wives.

He said the medicine could be a boon for husbands who look forward to peace at home after a long day at work but instead have their dreams dashed because of the quarrelsome nature of their wives.


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