Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings
by Connie Willis
"Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people."
"It's me, Rob," Kildy said when I picked up the phone. "I want you to go with me to see somebody Saturday."
Usually when Kildy calls, she's bubbling over with details. "You've got to see this psychic cosmetic surgeon, Rob," she'd crowed the last time. "His specialty is liposuction, and you can see the tube coming out of his sleeve. And that's not all. The fat he's supposed to be suctioning out of their thighs is that goop they use in McDonald's milkshakes. You can smell the vanilla! It wouldn't fool a five-year-old, so of course half the women in Hollywood are buying it hook, line, and sinker. We've got to do a story on him, Rob!"
I usually had to say, "Kildy–Kildy–Kildy!" before I could get her to shut up long enough to tell me where he was performing.
But this time all she said was, "The seminar's at one o'clock at the Beverly Hills Hilton. I'll meet you in the parking lot," and hung up before I could ask her if the somebody she wanted me to see was a pet channeler or a vedic-force therapist, and how much it was going to cost.
I called her back.
"The tickets are on me," she said.
If Kildy had her way, the tickets would always be on her, and she can more than afford it. Her father's a director at Dreamworks, her current stepmother heads her own production company, and her mother's a two-time Oscar winner. And Kildy's rich in her own right–she only acted in four films before she quit the business for a career in debunking, but one of them was the surprise top grosser of the year, and she'd opted for shares instead of a salary.
But she's ostensibly my employee, even though I can't afford to pay her enough to keep her in toenail polish. The least I can do is spring for expenses, and a barely known channeler shouldn't be too bad. Medium Charles Fred, the current darling of the Hollywood set, was only charging two hundred a seance.
"The Jaundiced Eye is paying for the tickets," I said firmly. "How much?"
"Seven hundred and fifty apiece for the group seminar," she said. "Fifteen hundred for a private enlightment audience."
"The tickets are on you," I said.
"Great," she said. "Bring the Sony videocam."
"Not the little one?" I asked. Most psychic events don't allow recording devices–they make it too easy to spot the earpieces and wires–and the Hasaka is small enough to be smuggled in.
"No," she said, "bring the Sony. See you Saturday, Rob. Bye."
"Wait," I said. "You haven't told me what this guy does."
"Woman. She's a channeler. She channels an entity named Isis," Kildy said and hung up again.
I was surprised. We don't usually waste our time on channelers. They're no longer trendy. Right now mediums like Charles Fred and Yogi Magaputra and assorted sensory therapists (aroma-, sonic-, auratic-) are the rage.
It's also an exercise in frustration, since there's no way to prove whether someone's channeling or not, unless they claim to be channeling Abraham Lincoln (like Randall Mars) or Nefertiti (like Hanh Nah). In that case you can challenge their facts–Nefertiti could not have had an affair with Alexander the Great, who wasn't born till a thousand years later, and she was not Cleopatra's cousin–but most of them channel hundred-thousand-year-old sages or high priests of Lemuria, and there are no physical manifestations.
They've learned their lesson from the Victorian spiritualists (who kept getting caught), so there's no ectoplasm or ghostly trumpets or double-exposed photographic plates. Just a deep, hollow voice that sounds like a cross between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Basil Rathbone. Why is it that channeled "entities" all have British accents? And speak King James Bible English?
And why was Kildy willing to waste fifteen hundred bucks–correction, twenty-two fifty; she'd already been to the seminar once–to have me see this Isis? The channeler must have a new gimmick. I'd noticed a couple of people advertising themselves as "angel channelers" in the local psychic rag, but Isis wasn't an angel name. Egyptian channeler? Goddess conduit?
I looked "Isis-channeler" up on the net. At first I couldn't find any references, even using Google. I tried skeptics.org and finally Marty Rumboldt, who runs a website that tracks psychics.
"You're spelling it wrong, Rob," he e-mailed me back. "It's Isus."
Which should have occurred to me. The channelers of Lazaris, Kochise, and Merlynn all use variations on historical names (probably from some fear of spiritual slander lawsuits), and more than one channeler's prone to "inventive" spellings: Joye Wildde. And Emmanual.
I googled "Isus." He–bad sign, the channeler didn't even know Isis was female–was the "spirit entity" channeled by somebody named Ariaura Keller. She'd started in Salem, Massachusetts (a breeding ground for psychics), moved to Sedona (another one), and then headed west and worked her way down the coast, appearing in Seattle, the other Salem, Eugene, Berkeley, and now Beverly Hills. She had six afternoon seminars and two week-long "spiritual immersions" scheduled for L.A., along with private "individually scheduled enlightenment audiences" with Isus. She'd written two books, The Voice of Isus and On the Receiving End (with links to amazon.com), and you could read her bio: "I knew from childhood that I was destined to be a channel for the Truth," and extracts from her speeches: "The earth is destined to witness a transforming spiritual event," on-line. She sounded just like every other channeler I'd ever heard.
And I'd sat through a bunch of them. Back at the height of their popularity (and before I knew better), The Jaundiced Eye had done a six-part series on channelers, starting with M.Z. Lord and running on through Joye Wildde, Todd Phoenix, and Taryn Kryme, whose "entity" was a giggly six-year-old kid from Atlantis. It was the longest six months of my life. And it didn't have any impact at all on the business. It was tax evasion and mail fraud charges that had put an end to the fad, not my hard-hitting exposés.
Ariaura Keller didn't have a criminal record (at least under that name), and there weren't many articles about her. And no mention of any gimmick. "The electric, amazing Isus shares his spiritual wisdom and helps you find your own inner-centeredness and soul-unenfoldment." Nothing new there.
Well, whatever it was that had gotten Kildy interested in her, I'd find out on Saturday. In the meantime, I had an article on Charles Fred to write for the December issue, a book on intelligent design (the latest ploy for getting creationism into the schools and evolution out) to review, and a past-life chiropractor to go see. He claimed his patients' backaches came from hauling blocks of stone to Stonehenge and/or the Pyramids. (The Pyramids had in fact been a big job, but over the course of three years in business he'd told over two thousand patients they'd gotten their herniated discs at Stonehenge, every single one of them while setting the altar stone in place.)
And he was actually credible compared to Charles Fred, who was having amazing success communicating highly specific messages from the dead to their grieving relatives. I was convinced he was doing something besides the usual cold reading and shills to get the millions he was raking in, but so far I hadn't been able to figure out what, and every lead I managed to come up with went nowhere.
I didn't think about the "electric, amazing Isus" again till I was driving over to the Hilton Saturday. Then it occurred to me that I hadn't heard from Kildy since her phone call. Usually she drops by the office every day, and if we're going somewhere calls three or four times to reconfirm where and when we're meeting. I wondered if the seminar was still on, or if she'd forgotten all about it. Or suddenly gotten tired of being a debunker and gone back to being a movie star.
I'd been waiting for that to happen ever since the day just over eight months ago when, just like the gorgeous dame in a Bogie movie, she'd walked into my office and asked if she could have a job.
There are three cardinal rules in the skeptic business. The first one is, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," and the second one is, "If it seems too good to be true, it probably is." And if anything was ever too good to be true, it's Kildy. She's not only rich and movie-star beautiful, but intelligent, and, unlike everyone else in Hollywood, a complete skeptic, even though, as she told me the first day, Shirley MacLaine had dandled her on her knee and her own mother would believe anything, "no matter how ridiculous, which is probably why her marriage to my father lasted nearly six years."
She was now on Stepmother Number Four, who had gotten her the role in the surprise top grosser "that made almost as much money as Lord of the Rings and enabled me to take early retirement."
"Retirement?" I'd said. "Why would you want to retire? You could have–"
"Starred in The Hulk III," she said, "and been on the cover of the Globe with Ben Affleck. Or with my lawyer in front of a rehab center. I know, it was tough to give all that up."
She had a point, but that didn't explain why she'd want to go to work for a barely making-it magazine like The Jaundiced Eye. Or why she'd want to go to work at all.
I said so.
"I've already tried the whole 'fill your day with massages and lunch at Ardani's and sex with your trainer' scene, Rob," she said. "It was even worse than The Hulk. Plus, the lights and makeup destroy your complexion."
I found that hard to believe. She had skin like honey.
"And then my mother took me to this luminescence reading–she's into all those things, psychics and past-life regression and intuitive healing, and the guy doing the reading–-"
"Lucius Windfire," I'd said. I'd been working on an exposé of him for the last two months.
"Yes, Lucius Windfire," she'd said. "He claimed he could read your mind by determining your vedic fault lines, which consisted of setting candles all around you and 'reading' the wavering of the flames. It was obvious he was a fake–you could see the earpiece he was getting his information over–but everybody there was eating it up, especially my mother. He'd already talked her into private sessions that set her back ten thousand dollars. And I thought, somebody should put him out of business, and then I thought, that's what I want to do with my life, and I looked up 'debunkers' online and found your magazine, and here I am."
I'd said, "I can't possibly pay you the kind of money you're–"
"Your going rate for articles is fine," she'd said and flashed me her better-than-Julia-Roberts smile. "I just want the chance to do something useful and sensible with my life."
And for the last eight months she'd been working with me on the magazine. She was wonderful–she knew everybody in Hollywood, which meant she could get us into invitation-only stuff, and heard about new spiritual fads even before I did. She was also willing to do anything, from letting herself be hypnotized to stealing chicken guts from psychic surgeons to proofreading galleys. And fun to talk to, and gorgeous, and much too good for a small-time skeptic.
And I knew it was just a matter of time before she got bored with debunking and went back to going to premieres and driving around in her Jaguar, but she didn't. "Have you ever worked with Ben Affleck?" she'd said when I told her she was too beautiful not to still be in the movies. "You couldn't pay me to go back to that."
She wasn't in the parking lot, and neither was her Jaguar, and I wondered, as I did every day, if this was the day she'd decided to call it quits. No, there she was, getting out of a taxi. She was wearing a honey-colored pantsuit the same shade as her hair, and designer sunglasses, and she looked, as always, too good to be true. She saw me and waved, and then reached back in for two big throw pillows.
Shit. That meant we were going to have to sit on the floor again. These people made a fortune scamming people out of their not-so-hard-earned cash. You'd think they could afford chairs.
I walked over to her. "I take it we're going in together," I said, since the pillows were a matching pair, purple brocade jobs with tassels at the corners.
"Yes," Kildy said. "Did you bring the Sony?"
"Yeah," I said. "I still think I should have brought the Hasaka."
She shook her head. "They're doing body checks. I don't want to give them an excuse to throw us out. When they fill out the nametags, give them your real name."
"We're not using a cover?" I asked. Psychics often use skeptics in the audience as an excuse for failure: the negative vibrations made it impossible to contact the spirits, etc. A couple of them had even banned me from their performances, claiming I disturbed the cosmos with my nonbelieving presence. "Do you think that's a good idea?"
"We don't have any choice," she said. "When I came last week, I was with my publicist, so I had to use my own name, and I didn't think it mattered–we never do channelers. Besides, the ushers recognized me. So our cover is, I was so impressed with Ariaura that I talked you into coming to see her."
"Which is pretty much the truth," I said. "What exactly is her gimmick, that you thought I should see her?"
"I don't want to prejudice you beforehand." She glanced at her Vera Wang watch and handed me one of the pillows. "Let's go."
We went into the lobby and over to a table under a lilac-and-silver banner proclaiming "Presenting Ariaura and the Wisdom of Isus" and under it, "Believe and It Will Happen." Kildy told the woman at the table our names.
"Oh, I loved you in that movie, Miss Ross," she said and handed us lilac- and-silver nametags and motioned us toward another table next to the door, where a Russell Crowe type in a lilac polo shirt was doing security checks.
"Any cameras, tape recorders, videocams?" he asked us.
Kildy opened her bag and took out an Olympus. "Can't I take one picture?" she pleaded. "I won't use the flash or anything. I just wanted to get a photo of Ariaura."
He plucked the Olympus neatly from her fingers. "Autographed 8x10 glossies can be purchased in the waiting area."
"Oh, good," she said. She really should have stayed in acting.
I relinquished the videocam. "What about videos of today's performance?" I said after he finished frisking me.
He stiffened. "Ariaura's communications with Isus are not performances. They are unique glimpses into a higher plane. You can order videos of today's experience in the waiting area," he said, pointing toward a pair of double doors.
The "waiting area" was a long hall lined with tables full of books, videos, audiotapes, chakra charts, crystal balls, aromatherapy oils, amulets, Zuni fetishes, wisdom mobiles, healing stones, singing crystal bowls, amaryllis roots, aura cleansers, pyramids, and assorted other New Age junk, all with the lilac-and-silver Isus logo.
The third cardinal rule of debunking, and maybe the most important, is "Ask yourself, what do they get out of it?" or, as the Bible (source of many scams) puts it, "By their fruits shall ye know them."
And if the prices on this stuff were any indication, Ariaura was getting a hell of a lot out of it. The 8x10 glossies were $28.99, thirty-five with Ariaura's signature. "And if you want it signed by Isus," the blond guy behind the table said, "it's a hundred. He's not always willing to sign."
I could see why. His signature (done in Magic Marker) was a string of complicated symbols that looked like a cross between Elvish runes and Egyptian hieroglyphics, whereas Ariaura's was a script "A" followed by a formless scrawl.
Videotapes of her previous seminars–Volumes 1-20–cost a cool sixty apiece, and Ariaura's "sacred amulet" (which looked like something you'd buy on the Home Shopping Network) cost nine hundred and fifty (box extra). People were snapping them up like hotcakes, along with Celtic pentacles, meditation necklaces, dreamcatcher earrings, worry beads, and toe rings with your zodiac sign on them.
Kildy bought one of the outrageously priced stills (no signature) and three of the videos, cooing, "I just loved her last seminar," gave the guy selling them her autograph, and we went into the auditorium.
It was hung with rose, lilac, and silver chiffon floor-length banners and a state-of-the-art lighting system. Stars and planets rotated overhead, and comets occasionally whizzed by. The stage end of the auditorium was hung with gold mylar, and in the center of the stage was a black pyramid-backed throne. Apparently Ariaura did not intend to sit on the floor like the rest of us.
At the door, ushers clad in mostly unbuttoned lilac silk shirts and tight pants took our tickets. They all looked like Tom Cruise, which would be par for the course even if this wasn't Hollywood.
Sex has been a mainstay of the psychic business since Victorian days. Half the appeal of early table-rapping had been the filmy-draperies-and-nothing-else clad female "spirits" who drifted tantalizingly among the male séance goers, fogging up their spectacles and preventing them from thinking clearly. Sir William Crookes, the famous British chemist, had been so besotted by an obviously fake medium's sexy daughter that he'd staked his scientific reputation on the medium's dubious authenticity, and nowadays it's no accident that most channelers are male and given to chest-baring Rudolph-Valentino-like robes. Or, if they're female, have buff, handsome ushers to distract the women in the audience. If you're drooling over them, you're not likely to spot the wires and chicken guts or realize what they're saying is nonsense. It's the oldest trick in the book.
One of the ushers gave Kildy a Tom Cruise smile and led her to the end of a cross-legged row on the very hard-looking floor. I was glad Kildy had brought the pillows.
I plopped mine next to hers and sat down on it. "This had better be good," I said.
"Oh, it will be," a fifty-ish redhead wearing the sacred amulet and a diamond as big as my fist said. "I've seen Ariaura, and she's wonderful." She reached into one of the three lilac shopping bags she'd stuck between us and pulled out a needlepoint lavender pillow that said, "Believe and It Will Happen."
I wondered if that applied to her believing her pillow was large enough to sit on, because it was about the same size as the rock on her finger, but as soon as they'd finished organizing the rows, the ushers came around bearing stacks of plastic-covered cushions (the kind rented at football games, only lilac) for ten bucks apiece.
The woman next to me took three, and I counted ten other people in our row, and eleven in the row ahead of us shelling out for them. Eighty rows times ten, to be conservative. A cool eight thousand bucks, just to sit down, and who knows how much profit in all those lilac shopping bags. "By their fruits shall ye know them."
I looked around. I couldn't see any signs of shills or a wireless setup, but, unlike psychics and mediums, channelers don't need them. They give out general advice, couched in New Age terms.
"Isus is absolutely astonishing," my neighbor confided. "He's so wise! Much better than Ramtha. He's responsible for my deciding to leave Randall. 'To thine inner self be true,' Isus said, and I realized Randall had been blocking my spiritual ascent–"
"Were you at last Saturday's seminar?" Kildy leaned across me to ask.
"No. I was in Cancun, and I was just decimated when I realized I'd missed it. I made Tio bring me back early so I could come today. I desperately need Isus's wisdom about the divorce. Randall's claiming Isus had nothing to do with my decision, that I left him because the pre-nup had expired, and he's threatening to call Tio as–"
But Kildy had lost interest and was leaning across her to ask a pencil-thin woman in the full lotus position if she'd seen Ariaura before. She hadn't, but the one on her right had.
"Last Saturday?" Kildy asked.
She hadn't. She'd seen her six weeks ago in Eugene.
I leaned toward Kildy and whispered, "What happened last Saturday?"
"I think they're starting, Rob," she said, pointing at the stage, where absolutely nothing was happening, and got off her pillow and onto her knees.
"What are you doing?" I whispered.
She didn't answer that either. She reached inside her pillow, pulled out an orange pillow the same size as the "Believe and It Will Happen" cushion, handed it to me, and arranged herself gracefully on the large tasseled one. As soon as she was crosslegged, she took the orange pillow back from me and laid it across her knees.
"Comfy?" I asked.
"Yes, thank you," she said, turning her movie-star smile on me.
I leaned toward her. "You sure you don't want to tell me what we're doing here?"
"Oh, look, they're starting," she said, and this time they were.
A Brad-Pitt lookalike stepped out on stage holding a hand mike and gave us the ground rules. No flash photos (even though they'd confiscated all the cameras). No applause (it breaks Ariaura's concentration). No bathroom breaks. "The cosmic link with Isus is extremely fragile," Brad explained, "and movement or the shutting of a door can break that connection."
Right. Or else Ariaura had learned a few lessons from EST, including the fact that people who are distracted by their bladders are less likely to spot gobbledygook, like the stuff Brad was spouting right now:
"Eighty thousand years ago Isus was a high priest of Atlantis. He lived for three hundred years before he departed this earthly plane and acquired the wisdom of the ages–"
What ages? The Paleolithic and Neolithic? Eighty thousand years ago we were still living in trees.
"–he spoke with the oracle at Delphi, he delved into the Sacred Writings of Rosicrucian–"
"Now watch as Ariaura calls him from the Cosmic All to share his wisdom with you."
The lights deepened to rose, and the chiffon banners began to blow in, as if there was a breeze behind them. Correction, state-of-the-art lighting and fans.
The gale intensified, and for a moment I wondered if Ariaura was going to swoop in on a wire, but then the gold mylar parted, revealing a curving black stairway, and Ariaura, in a purple velvet caftan and her sacred amulet, descended it to the strains of Holst's Planets and went to stand dramatically in front of her throne.
The audience paid no attention to the "no applause" edict, and Ariaura seemed to expect it. She stood there for at least two minutes, regally surveying the crowd. Then she raised her arms as if delivering a benediction and lowered them again, quieting the crowd. "Welcome, Seekers after Divine Truth," she said in a peppy, Oprah-type voice, and there was more applause. "We're going to have a wonderful spiritual experience together here today and achieve a new plane of enlightenment."
"But you mustn't applaud me. I am only the conduit through which Isus passes, the vessel he fills. Isus first came to me, or, rather, I should say, through me, five years ago, but I was afraid. I didn't want to believe it. It took me nearly a whole year to accept that I had become the focus for cosmic energies beyond the reality we know. It's the wisdom of his highly evolved spirit you'll hear today, not mine. If . . ." a nice theatrical pause here, ". . . he deigns to come to us. For Isus is a sage, not a servant to be bidden. He comes when he wills. Mayhap he will be among us this afternoon, mayhap not."
In a pig's eye. These women weren't going to shell out seven hundred and fifty bucks for a no-show, even if this was Beverly Hills. I'd bet the house Isus showed up right on cue.
"Isus will come only if our earthly plane is in alignment with the cosmic," Ariaura said, "if the auratic vibrations are right." She looked sternly out at the audience. "If any of you are harboring negative vibrations, contact cannot be made."
Uh-oh, here it comes, I thought, and waited for her to look straight at the two of us and tell us to leave, but she didn't. She merely said, "Are all of you thinking positive thoughts, feeling positive emotions? Are you all believing?"
"I sense that every one of you is thinking positive thoughts," Ariaura said. "Good. Now, to bring Isus among us, you must help me. You must each calm your center." She closed her eyes. "You must concentrate on your inner soul-self."
I glanced around the audience. Over half of the women had their eyes shut, and many had folded their hands in an attitude of prayer. Some swayed back and forth, and the woman next to me was droning, "Om." Kildy had her eyes closed, her orange pillow clasped to her chest.
"Align . . . align . . ." Ariaura chanted, and then with finality, "Align." There was another theatrical pause.
"I will now attempt to contact Isus," she said. "The focusing of the astral energy is a dangerous and difficult operation. I must ask that you remain perfectly quiet and still while I am preparing myself."
The woman next to me obediently stopped chanting "Om," and everyone opened their eyes. Ariaura closed hers and leaned back on her throne, her ring-covered hands draped over the ends of the arms. The lights went down and the music came up, the theme from Holst's "Mars." Everyone, including Kildy, watched breathlessly.
Ariaura jerked suddenly as if she were being electrocuted and clutched the arms of the throne. Her face contorted, her mouth twisting and her head shaking. The audience gasped. Her body jerked again, slamming back against the throne, and she went into a series of spasms and writhings, with more shaking. This went on for a full minute, while "Mars" built slowly behind her and the spotlight morphed to pink. The music cut off, and she slumped lifelessly back against the throne.
She remained there for a nicely timed interval, and then sat up stiffly, staring straight ahead, her hands lying loosely on the throne's arms. "I am Isus!" she said in a booming voice that was a dead ringer for "Who dares to approach the great Oz?"
"I am the Enlightened One, a servant unto that which is called the Text and the First Source. I have come from the ninth level of the astral plane," she boomed, "to aid you in your spiritual journeys."
So far it was an exact duplicate of Romtha, right down to the pink light and the number of the astral plane level, but next to me Kildy was leaning forward expectantly.
"I have come to speak the truth," Isus boomed, "to reveal to thou thine higher self."
I leaned over to Kildy and whispered, "Why is it they never learn how to use 'thee' and 'thou' correctly on the astral plane?"
"Shh," Kildy hissed, intent on what Isus was saying.
"I bring you the long-lost wisdom of the kingdom of Lemuria and the prophecies of Antinous to aid thee in these troubled days, for thou livest in a time of tribulation. The last days these are of the Present Age, days filled with anxiety and terrorist attacks and dysfunctional relationships. But I say unto ye, thou must not look without but within, for thee alone are responsible for your happiness, and if that means getting out of a bad relationship, make it so. Seek you must your own inner isness and create thou must thine own inner reality. Thee art the universe."
I don't know what I'd been expecting. Something, at least, but this was just the usual New Age nonsense, a mush of psychobabble, self-help tips, pseudo-scripture, and Chicken Soup for the Soul.
I sneaked a glance at Kildy. She was sitting forward, still clutching her pillow tightly to her chest, her beautiful face intent, her mouth slightly open. I wondered if she could actually have been taken in by Ariaura. It's always a possibility, even with skeptics. Kildy wouldn't be the first one to be fooled by a cleverly done illusion.
But this wasn't cleverly done. It wasn't even original. The Lemuria stuff was Richard Zephyr, the "Thou art the universe" stuff was Shirley MacLaine, and the syntax was pure Yoda.
And this was Kildy we were talking about. Kildy, who never fell for anything, not even that devic levitator. She had to have a good reason for shelling out over two thousand bucks for this, but so far I was stumped. "What exactly is it you wanted me to see?" I murmured.
"But fear not," Ariaura said, "for a New Age is coming, an age of peace, of spiritual enlightenment, when you–doing here listening to this confounded claptrap?"
I looked up sharply. Ariaura's voice had changed in midsentence from Isus's booming bass to a gravelly baritone, and her manner had, too. She leaned forward, hands on her knees, scowling at the audience. "It's a lot of infernal gabble," she said belligerently.
I glanced at Kildy. She had her eyes fixed on the stage.
"This hokum is even worse than the pretentious bombast you hear in the chautauqua," the voice croaked.
Chautauqua? I thought. What the–?
"But there you sit, with your mouths hanging open, like the rubes at an Arkansas camp meeting, listening to a snakecharming preacher, waiting for her to fix up your romances and cure your gallstones–"
The woman next to Kildy glanced questioningly at us and then back at the stage. Two of the ushers standing along the wall exchanged frowning glances, and I could hear whispering from somewhere in the audience.
"Have you yaps actually fallen for this mystical mumbo-jumbo? Of course you have. This is America, home of the imbecile and the ass!" the voice said, and the whispering became a definite murmur.
"What in the–?" a woman behind us said, and the woman next to me gathered up her bags, stuffed her "Believe" pillow into one of them, stood up, and began to step over people to get to the door.
One of the ushers signaled someone in the control booth, and the lights and Holst's "Venus" began to come up. The emcee took a hesitant step out onto the stage.
"You sit there like a bunch of gaping primates, ready to buy anyth–" Ariaura said, and her voice changed abruptly back to the basso of Isus, "–but the Age of Spiritual Enlightenment cannot begin until each of thou beginnest thy own journey."
The emcee stopped in mid-step, and so did the murmuring. And the woman who'd been next to me and who was almost to the door. She stood there next to it, holding her bags and listening.
"And believe. All of you, casteth out the toxins of doubt and skepticism now. Believe and it will happen."
She must be back on script. The emcee gave a sigh of relief, and retreated back into the wings, and the woman who'd been next to me sat down where she'd been standing, bags and pillows and all. The music faded, and the lights went back to rose.
"Believe in thine inner Soul-Self," Ariaura/Isus said. "Believe, and let your spiritual unenfoldment begin." She paused, and the ushers looked up nervously. The emcee poked his head out from the gold mylar drapes.
"I grow weary," she said. "I must return now to that higher reality from whence I cameth. Fear not, for though I no longer share this earthly plane with thee, still I am with thou." She raised her arm stiffly in a benediction/Nazi salute, gave a sharp shudder, and then slumped forward in a swoon that would have done credit to Gloria Swanson. Holst's "Venus" began again, and she sat up, blinking, and turned to the emcee, who had come out onstage again.
"Did Isus speak?" she asked him in her original voice.
"Yes, he did," the emcee said, and the audience burst into thunderous applause, during which he helped her to her feet and handed her over to two of the ushers, who walked her, leaning heavily on them, up the black stairway and out of sight.
As soon as she was safely gone, the emcee quieted the applause and said, "Copies of Ariaura's books and videotapes are available outside in the waiting area. If you wish to arrange for a private audience, see me or one of the ushers," and everyone began gathering up their pillows and heading for the door.
"Wasn't he wonderful?" a woman ahead of us in the exodus said to her friend. "So authentic!"
"Is Los Angeles the worst town in America, or only next to the worst? The skeptic, asked the original question, will say yes, the believer will say no. There you have it."
Kildy and I didn't talk till we were out of the parking lot and on Wilshire, at which point Kildy said, "Now do you understand why I wanted you to see it for yourself,, Rob?"
"It was interesting, all right. I take it she did the same thing at the seminar you went to last week?"
She nodded. "Only last week two people walked out."
"Was it the exact same spiel?"
"No. It didn't last quite as long–I don't know how long exactly, it caught me by surprise–and she used slightly different words, but the message was the same. And it happened the same way–no warning, no contortions, her voice just changed abruptly in mid-sentence. So what do you think's going on, Rob?"
I turned onto LaBrea. "I don't know, but lots of channelers do more than one 'entity.' Joye Wildde does two, and before Hans Lightfoot went to jail, he did half a dozen."
Kildy looked skeptical. "Her promotional material doesn't say anything about multiple entities."
"Maybe she's tired of Isus and wants to switch to another spirit. When you're a channeler, you can't just announce, 'Coming soon: Isus II.' You've got to make it look authentic. So she introduces him with a few words one week, a couple of sentences the next, et cetera."
"She's introducing a new and improved spirit who yells at the audience and calls them imbeciles and rubes?" she said incredulously.
"It's probably what channelers call a 'dark spirit,' a so-called bad entity that tries to lead the unwary astray. Todd Phoenix used to have a nasty voice break in in the middle of White Feather's spiel and make heckling comments. It's a useful trick. It reinforces the idea that the psychic's actually channeling, and anything inconsistent or controversial the channeler says can be blamed on the bad spirit."
"But Ariaura didn't even seem to be aware that there was a bad spirit, if that's what it was supposed to be. Why would it tell the audience to go home and stop giving their money to a snake-oil vendor like Ariaura?"
A snake-oil vendor? That sounded vaguely familiar, too. "Is that what she said last week? Snake-oil vendor?"
"Yes," she said. "Why? Do you know who she's channeling?"
"No," I said, frowning, "but I've heard that phrase somewhere. And the line about the chautauqua."
"So it's obviously somebody famous," Kildy said.
But the historical figures channelers did were always instantly recognizable. Randall Mars's Abraham Lincoln began every sentence with "Four score and seven years ago," and the others were all equally obvious. "I wish I'd gotten Ariaura's little outburst on tape," I said.
"We did," Kildy said, reaching over the backseat and grabbing her orange pillow. She unzipped it, reached inside, and brought out a micro-videocam. "Ta-da! I'm sorry I didn't get last week's. I didn't realize they were frisking people."
She fished in the pillow again and brought out a sheet of paper. "I had to run to the bathroom and scribble down what I could remember."
"I thought they didn't let people go to the bathroom."
She grinned at me. "I gave an Oscar-worthy performance of an actress they'd let out of rehab too soon."
I glanced at the list at the next stoplight. There were only a few phrases on it: the one she'd mentioned, and "I've never seen such shameless bilge," and "you'd have to be a pack of deluded half-wits to believe something so preposterous.' "
She nodded. "I told you, it didn't last nearly as long last time. And since I wasn't expecting it, I missed most of the first sentence."
"That's why you were asking at the seminar about buying the videotape?"
"Uh-huh, although I doubt if there's anything on it. I've watched her last three videos, and there's no sign of Entity Number Two."
"But it happened at the seminar you went to and at this one. Has it occurred to you it might have happened because we were there?" I pulled into a parking space in front of the building where The Jaundiced Eye has its office.
"But–" she said.
"The ticket-taker could have alerted her that we were there," I said. I got out and opened her door for her, and we started up to the office. "Or she could have spotted us in the audience–you're not the only one who's famous. My picture's on every psychic wanted poster on the West Coast–and she decided to jazz up the performance a little by adding another entity. To impress us."
"That can't be it."
I opened the door. "Why not?"
"Because it's happened at least twice before," she said, walking in and sitting down in the only good chair. "In Berkeley and Seattle."
"How do you know?"
"My publicist's ex-boyfriend's girlfriend saw her in Berkeley–that's how my publicist found out about Ariaura–so I got her number and called her and asked her, and she said Isus was talking along about tribulation and thee being the universe, and all of a sudden this other voice said, 'What a bunch of boobs!' She said that's how she knew Ariaura was really channeling, because if it was fake she'd hardly have called the audience names."
"Well, there's your answer. She does it to make her audiences believe her."
"You saw them, they already believe her," Kildy said. "And if that's what she's doing, why isn't it on the Berkeley videotape?"
She shook her head. "I watched it six times. Nothing."
"And you're sure your publicist's ex-boyfriend's girlfriend really saw it? That you weren't leading her when you asked her questions?"
"I'm sure," she said indignantly. "Besides, I asked my mother."
"She was there, too?"
"No, but two of her friends were, and one of them knew someone who saw the Seattle seminar. They all said basically the same thing, except the part about it making them believe her. In fact, one of them said, 'I think her cue cards were out of order,' and told me not to waste my money, that the person I should go see was Angelina Black Feather." She grinned at me and then went serious. "If Ariaura was doing it on purpose, why would she edit it out? And why did the emcee and the ushers look so uneasy?"
So she'd noticed that, too.
"Maybe she didn't warn them she was going to do it. Or, more likely, it's all part of the act, to make people believe it's authentic."
Kildy shook her head doubtfully. "I don't think so. I think it's something else."
"Like what? You don't think she's really channeling this guy?"
"No, of course not, Rob," she said indignantly. "It's just that . . . you say she's doing it to get publicity and bigger crowds, but as you told me, the first rule of success in the psychic business is to tell people what they want to hear, not to call them boobs. You saw the woman next to you–she was all ready to walk out, and I watched her afterward. She didn't sign up for a private enlightenment audience, and neither did very many other people, and I heard the emcee telling someone there were lots of tickets still available for the next seminar. Last week's was sold out a month in advance. Why would she do something to hurt her business?"
"She's got to do something to up the ante, to keep the customers coming back, and this new spirit is to create buzz. You watch, next week she'll be advertising 'The Battle of the Ancients.' It's a gimmick, Kildy."
"So you don't think we should go see her again."
"No. That's the worst thing we could possibly do. We don't want to give her free publicity, and if she did do it to impress us, though it doesn't sound like it, we'd be playing right into her hands. If she's not, and the spirit is driving customers away, like you say, she'll dump it and come up with a different one. Or put herself out of business. Either way, there's no need for us to do anything. It's a non-story. You can forget all about her."
Which just goes to show you why I could never make it as a psychic. Because before the words were even out of my mouth, the office door banged open, and Ariaura roared in and grabbed me by the lapels.
"I don't know what you're doing or how you're doing it!" she screamed, "but I want you to stop it right now!"
"He has a large and extremely uncommon capacity for provocative utterance. . . ."
I hadn't given Ariaura's acting skills enough credit. Her portrayal of Isus might be wooden and fakey, but she gave a pretty convincing portrayal of a hopping-mad psychic.
"How dare you!" she shrieked. "I'll sue you for everything you own!"
She had changed out of her flowing robes and into a lilac-colored suit Kildy told me later was a Zac Posen, and her diamond-studded necklace and earrings rattled. She was practically vibrating with rage, though not the positive vibrations she'd said were necessary for the appearance of spirits.
"I just watched the video of my seminar," she shrieked, her face two inches from mine. "How dare you hypnotize me and make me look like a complete fool in front of–"
"Hypnotize?" Kildy said. (I was too busy trying to loosen her grip on my lapels to say anything.) "You think Rob hypnotized you?"
"Oh, don't play the innocent with me," Ariaura said, wheeling on her. "I saw you two out there in the audience today, and I know all about you and your nasty, sneering little magazine. I know you nonbelievers will stop at nothing to keep us from spreading the Higher Truth, but I didn't think you'd go this far, hypnotizing me against my will and making me say those things! Isus told me I shouldn't let you stay in the auditorium, that he sensed danger in your reality, but I said, 'No, let the unbelievers stay and experience your presence. Let them know you come from the Existence Beyond to help us, to bring us words of Higher Wisdom,' but Isus was right, you were up to no good."
She removed one hand from a lapel long enough to shake a lilac-lacquered fingernail at me. "Well, your little hypnotism scheme won't work. I've worked too hard to get where I am, and I'm not going to let a pair of narrow-minded little unbelievers like you get in my way. I have no intention–Higher Wisdom, my foot!" she snorted. "Higher Humbug is what I call it."
Kildy glanced, startled, at me.
"Oh, the trappings are a lot gaudier, I'll give you that," Ariaura said in the gravelly voice we'd heard at the seminar.
As before, the change had come without a break and in midsentence. One minute she had had me by the lapels, and the next she'd let go and was pacing around the room, her hands behind her back, musing, "That auditorium's a lot fancier, and it's a big improvement over a courthouse lawn, and a good forty degrees cooler." She sat down on the couch, her hands on her spread-apart knees. "And those duds she wears would make a grand worthy bow-wow of the Knights of Zoroaster look dowdy, but it's the same old line of buncombe and the same old Boobus Americanus drinking it in."
Kildy took a careful step toward my desk, reached for her handbag and did something I couldn't see, and then went back to where she'd been standing, keeping her eyes the whole time on Ariaura, who was holding forth about the seminar.
"I never saw such an assortment of slack-jawed simians in one place! Except for the fact that the yokels have to sit on the floor–and pay for the privilege!–it's the spitting image of a Baptist tent revival. Tell 'em what they want to hear, do a couple of parlor tricks, and then pass the collection plate. And they're still falling for it!" She stood up and began pacing again. "I knew I should've stuck around. It's just like that time in Dayton–I think it's all over and leave, and look what happens! You let the quacks and the crooks take over, like this latter-day Aimee Semple McPherson. She's no more a seer than–of allowing you to ruin everything I've worked for! I . . ." She looked around bewilderedly. ". . . what? . . . I . . ." She faltered to a stop.
I had to hand it to her. She was good. She'd switched back into her own voice without missing a beat, and then given an impressive impersonation of someone who had no idea what was going on.
She looked confusedly from me to Kildy and back. "It happened again, didn't it?" she asked, a quaver in her voice, and turned to appeal to Kildy. "He did it again, didn't he?" and began backing toward the door. "Didn't he?"
She pointed accusingly at me. "You keep away from me!" she shrieked. "And you keep away from my seminars! If you so much as try to come near me again, I'll get a restraining order against you!" she said and roared out, slamming the door behind her.
"Well," Kildy said after a minute. "That was interesting."
"Yes," I said, looking at the door. "Interesting."
Kildy went over to my desk and pulled the Hasaka out from behind her handbag. "I got it all," she said, taking out the disk, sticking it in the computer dock, and sitting down in front of the monitor. "There were a lot more clues this time." She began typing in commands. "There should be more than enough for us to be able to figure out who it is."
"I know who it is," I said.
Kildy stopped in mid-keystroke. "Who?"
"The High Priest of Irreverence."
"The Holy Terror from Baltimore, the Apostle of Common Sense, the Scourge of Con Men, Creationists, Faith-Healers, and the Booboisie," I said. "Henry Louis Mencken."
"In brief, it is a fraud."
"H.L. Mencken?" Kildy said. "The reporter who covered the Scopes trial?" (I told you she was too good to be true.)
"But why would Ariaura channel him?" she asked after we'd checked the words and phrases we'd listed against Mencken's writings. They all checked out, from "buncombe" to "slackjawed simians" to "home of the imbecile and the ass."
"What did he mean about leaving Dayton early? Did something happen in Ohio?"
I shook my head. "Tennessee. Dayton was where the Scopes trial was held."
"And Mencken left early?"
"I don't know," I said, and went over to the bookcase to look for The Great Monkey Trial, "but I know it got so hot during the trial they moved it outside."
"That's what that comment about the courthouse lawn and its being forty degrees cooler meant," Kildy said.
I nodded. "It was a hundred and five degrees and 90 percent humidity the week of the trial. It's definitely Mencken. He invented the term 'Boobus Americanus.' "
"But why would Ariaura channel H.L. Mencken, Rob? He hated people like her, didn't he?"
"He certainly did." He'd been the bane of charlatans and quacks all through the twenties, writing scathing columns on all kinds of scams, from faith-healing to chiropractic to creationism, railing incessantly against all forms of "hocus-pocus" and on behalf of science and rational thought.
"Then why would she channel him?" Kildy asked. Why not somebody sympathetic to psychics, like Edgar Cayce or Madame Blavatsky?"
"Because they'd obviously be suspect. By channeling an enemy of psychics, she makes it seem more credible."
"But nobody's ever heard of him."
"You have. I have."
"But nobody else in Ariaura's audience has."
"Exactly," I said, still looking for The Great Monkey Trial.
"You mean you think she's doing it to impress us?"
"Obviously," I said, scanning the titles. "Why else would she have come all the way over here to give that little performance?"
"But–what about the Seattle seminar? Or the one in Berkeley?"
"Dry runs. Or she was hoping we'd hear about them and go see her. Which we did."
"I didn't," Kildy said. "I went because my publicist wanted me to."
"But you go to lots of spiritualist events, and you talk to lots of people. Your publicist was there. Even if you hadn't gone, she'd have told you about it."
"But what would be the point? You're a skeptic. You don't believe in channeling. Would she honestly think she could convince you Mencken was real?"
"Maybe," I said. "She's obviously gone to a lot of trouble to make the spirit sound like him. And think what a coup that would be. 'Skeptic Says Channeled Spirit Authentic'? Have you ever heard of Uri Geller? He made a splash back in the seventies by claiming to bend spoons with his mind. He got all kinds of attention when a pair of scientists from the Stanford Research Institute said it wasn't a trick, that he was actually doing it."
"No, of course not, and eventually he was exposed as a fraud. By Johnny Carson. Geller made the mistake of going on the Tonight Show and doing it in front of him. He'd apparently forgotten Carson had been a magician in his early days. But the point is, he made it onto the Tonight Show. And what made him a celebrity was having the endorsement of reputable scientists."
"And if you endorsed Ariaura, if you said you thought it was really Mencken, she'd be a celebrity, too."
"So what do we do?"
"Nothing? You're not going to try to expose her as a fake?"
"Channeling isn't the same as bending spoons. There's no independently verifiable evidence." I looked at her. "It's not worth it, and we've got bigger fish to fry. Like Charles Fred. He's making way too much money for a medium who only charges two hundred a performance, and he has way too many hits for a cold-reader. We need to find out how he's doing it, and where the money's coming from."
"But shouldn't we at least go to Ariaura's next seminar to see if it happens again?" Kildy persisted.
"And have to explain to the L.A. Times reporter who just happens to be there why we're so interested in Ariaura?" I said. "And why you came back three times?"
"I suppose you're right. But what if some other skeptic endorses her? Or some English professor?"
I hadn't thought of that. Ariaura had dangled the bait at four seminars we knew of. She might have been doing it at more, and The Skeptical Mind was in Seattle, Carlyle Drew was in San Francisco, and there were any number of amateur skeptics who went to spiritualist events.
And they would all know who Mencken was. He was the critical thinker's favorite person, next to the Amazing Randi and Houdini. He'd not only been fearless in his attacks on superstition and fraud, he could write "like a bat out of hell." And, unlike the rest of us skeptics, people had actually listened to what he said.
I'd liked him ever since I'd read about him chatting with somebody in his office at the Baltimore Sun and then suddenly looking out the window, saying, "The sons of bitches are gaining on us!" and frantically beginning to type. That was how I felt about twice a day, and more than once I'd muttered to myself, "Where the hell is Mencken when we need him?"
And I'd be willing to bet there were other people who felt the same way I did, who might be seduced by Mencken's language and the fact that Ariaura was telling them exactly what they wanted to hear.
"You're right," I said. "We need to look into this, but we should send somebody else to the seminar."
"How about my publicist? She said she wanted to go again."
"No, I don't want it to be anybody connected with us."
"I know just the person," Kildy said, snatching up her cell phone. "Her name's Riata Starr. She's an actress."
With a name like that, what else could she be?
"She's between jobs right now," Kildy said, punching in a number, "and if I tell her there's likely to be a casting director there, she'll definitely do it for us."
"Does she believe in channelers?"
She looked pityingly at me. "Everyone in Hollywood believes in channelers, but it won't matter." She put the phone to her ear. "I'll put a videocam on her, and a recorder," she whispered. "And I'll tell her an undercover job would look great on her acting resume. Hello?" she said in a normal voice. "I'm trying to reach Riata Starr. Oh. No, no message."
She pushed "end." "She's at a casting call at Miramax." She stuck the phone in her bag, fished her keys out of its depths, and slung the bag over her shoulder. "I'm going to go out there and talk to her. I'll be back," she said and went out.
Definitely too good to be true, I thought, watching her leave, and called up a friend of mine in the police department and asked him what they had on Ariaura.
He promised he'd call me back, and while I was waiting I looked for and found The Great Monkey Trial. I looked up Mencken in the index and started through the references to see when Mencken had left Dayton. I doubted if he would have left before the trial was over. He'd been having the time of his life, pillorying William Jennings Bryan and the creationists. Maybe the reference was to Mencken's having left before Bryan's death. Bryan had died five days after the trial ended, presumably from a heart attack, but more likely from the humiliation he'd suffered at the hands of Clarence Darrow, who'd put him on the stand and fired questions at him about the Bible. Darrow had made him, and creationism, look ridiculous, or rather, Bryan had made himself look ridiculous. The cross-examination had been the high point of the trial, and it had killed him.
Mencken had written a deadly, unforgiving eulogy of Bryan, and he might very well have been sorry he hadn't been in at the kill, but I couldn't imagine Ariaura knowing that, even if she had taken the trouble to look up "Boobus Americanus" and "unmitigated bilge," and research Mencken's gravelly voice and explosive delivery.
Of course she might have read it. In this very book, even. I read the chapter on Bryan's death, looking for references to Mencken, but I couldn't find any. I backtracked, and there it was. And I couldn't believe it. He hadn't left after the trial. When Darrow's expert witnesses had all been disallowed, Mencken had assumed that the trial was all over except for assorted legal technicalities and had gone back to Baltimore. Mencken hadn't seen Darrow's withering cross-examination. He'd missed Bryan saying man wasn't a mammal, his insisting the sun could stand still without throwing the earth out of orbit. He'd definitely left too soon. And I was willing to bet he'd never forgiven himself for it.
"To me, the scientific point of view is completely satisfying, and it has been so as long as I remember. Not once in this life have I ever been inclined to seek a rock and refuge elsewhere."
"But how could Ariaura know that?" Kildy said when she got back from the casting call.
"The same way I know it. She read it in a book. Did your friend Riata agree to go to the seminar?"
"Yes, she said she'd go. I gave her the Hasaka, but I'm worried they might confiscate it, so I've got an appointment with this props guy at Universal who worked on the last Bond movie to see if he's got any ideas."
"Uh, Kildy . . . those gadgets James Bond uses aren't real. It's a movie."
She shot me her Julia-Roberts-plus smile. "I said ideas. Oh, and I got Riata's ticket. When I called, I asked if they were sold out, and the guy I talked to said, 'Are you kidding?' and told me they'd only sold about half what they usually do. Did you find out anything about Ariaura?"
"No," I said. "I'm checking out some leads," but my friend at the police department didn't have any dope on Ariaura, not even a possible alibi.
"She's clean," he said when he finally called back the next morning. "No mail fraud, not even a parking ticket."
I couldn't find anything on her in The Skeptical Mind or on the Scam-watch website. It looked like she made her money the good old American way, by telling her customers a bunch of nonsense and selling them chakra charts.
I told Kildy as much when she came in, looking gorgeous in a casual shirt and jeans that had probably cost as much as The Jaundiced Eye's annual budget.
"Ariaura's obviously not her real name, but so far I haven't been able to find out what it is," I said. "Did you get a James Bond secret videocam from your buddy Q?"
"Yes," she said, setting the tote bag down. "And I have an idea for proving Ariaura's a fraud." She handed me a sheaf of papers. "Here are the transcripts of everything Mencken said. We check them against Mencken's writings, and–what?"
I was shaking my head. "This is channeling. When I wrote an exposé about Swami Vishnu Jammi's fifty-thousand-year-old entity, Yogati, using phrases like 'totally awesome' and 'funky' and talking about cell phones, he said he 'transliterated' Yogati's thoughts into his own words."
"Oh." Kildy bit her lip. "Rob, what about a computer match? You know, one of those things where they compare a manuscript with Shakespeare's plays to see if they were written by the same person."
"Too expensive," I said. "Besides, they're done by universities, who I doubt would want to risk their credibility by running a check on a channeler. And even if they did match, all it would prove is that it's Mencken's words, not that it's Mencken."
"Oh." She sat on the corner of my desk, swinging her long legs for a minute, and then stood up, walked over to the bookcase, and began pulling down books.
"What are you doing?" I asked, going over to see what she was doing. She was holding a copy of Mencken's Heathen Days. "I told you," I said, "Mencken's phrases won't–"
"I'm not looking up his phrases," she said, handing me Prejudices and Mencken's biography. "I'm looking for questions to ask him."
"Him? He's not Mencken, Kildy. He's a concoction of Ariaura's."
"I know," she said, handing me The Collectible Mencken. "That's why we need to question him–I mean Ariaura. We need to ask him–her–questions like, 'What was your wife's maiden name?' and 'What was the first newspaper you worked for?' and–are any of these paperbacks on the bottom shelf here by Mencken?"
"No, they're mysteries mostly. Chandler and Hammett and James M. Cain."
She straightened to look at the middle shelves. "Questions like, 'What did your father do for a living?' "
"He made cigars," I said. "The first newspaper he worked for wasn't the Baltimore Sun, it was the Morning Herald, and his wife's maiden name was Sarah Haardt. With a 'd' and two 'a's.' But that doesn't mean I'm Mencken."
"No," Kildy said, "but if you didn't know them, it would prove you weren't." She handed me A Mencken Chrestomathy. "If we ask Ariaura questions Mencken would know the answers to, and she gets them wrong, it proves she's faking."
She had a point. Ariaura had obviously researched Mencken fairly thoroughly to be able to mimic his language and mannerisms, and probably well enough to answer basic questions about his life, but she would hardly have memorized every detail. There were dozens of books about him, let alone his own work and his diaries. And Inherit the Wind and all the other plays and books and treatises that had been written about the Scopes trial. I'd bet there were close to a hundred Mencken things in print, and that didn't include the stuff he'd written for the Baltimore Sun.
And if we could catch her not knowing something Mencken would know, it would be a simple way to prove conclusively that she was faking, and we could move on to the much more important question of why. If Ariaura would let herself be questioned.
"How do you plan to get Ariaura to agree to this?" I said. "My guess is she won't even let us in to see her."
"If she doesn't, then that's proof, too," she said imperturbably.
"All right," I said, "but forget about asking what Mencken's father did. Ask what he drank. Rye, by the way."
Kildy grabbed a notebook and started writing.
"Ask what the name of his first editor at the Sun was," I said, picking up The Great Monkey Trial. "And ask who Sue Hicks was."
"Who was she?" Kildy asked.
"He. He was one of the defense lawyers at the Scopes trial."
"Should we ask him–her what the Scopes trial was about?"
"No, too easy. Ask him . . ." I said, trying to think of a good question. "Ask him what he ate while he was there covering the trial, and ask him where he sat in the courtroom."
"Where he sat?"
"It's a trick question. He stood on a table in the corner. Oh, and ask where he was born."
She frowned. "Isn't that too easy? Everyone knows he's from Baltimore."
"I want to hear him say it."
"Oh," Kildy said, nodding. "Did he have any kids?"
I shook my head. "He had a sister and two brothers. Gertrude, Charles, and August."
"Oh, good, August's not a name you'd be able to come up with just by guessing. Did he have any hobbies?"
"He played the piano. Ask about the Saturday Night Club. He and a bunch of friends got together to play music."
We worked on the questions the rest of the day and the next morning, writing them down on index cards so they could be asked out of order.
"What about some of his sayings?" Kildy asked.
"You mean like, 'Puritanism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy?' No. They're the easiest thing of all to memorize, and no real person speaks in aphorisms."
Kildy nodded and bent her beautiful head over the book again. I looked up Mencken's medical history–he suffered from ulcers and had had an operation on his mouth to remove his uvula–and went out and got us sandwiches for lunch and made copies of Mencken's "History of the Bathtub" and a fake handbill he'd passed out during the Scopes trial announcing "a public demonstration of healing, casting out devils, and prophesying" by a (made-up) evangelist. Mencken had crowed that not a single person in Dayton had spotted the fake.
Kildy looked up from her book. "Did you know Mencken dated Lillian Gish?" she asked, sounding surprised.
"Yeah. He dated a lot of actresses. He had an affair with Anita Loos and nearly married Aileen Pringle. Why?"
"I'm impressed he wasn't intimidated by the fact that they were movie stars, that's all."
I didn't know if that was directed at me or not. "Speaking of actresses," I said, "what time is Ariaura's seminar?"
"Two o'clock," she said, glancing at her watch. "It's a quarter till two right now. It should be over around four. Riata said she'd call as soon as the seminar was done."
We went back to looking through Mencken's books and his biographies, looking for details Ariaura was unlikely to have memorized. He'd loved baseball. He had stolen Gideon Bibles from hotel rooms and then given them to his friends, inscribed, "Compliments of the Author." He'd been friends with lots of writers, including Theodore Dreiser and F. Scott Fitzgerald, who'd gotten so drunk at a dinner with Mencken he'd stood up at the dinner table and pulled his pants down.
The phone rang. I reached for it, but it was Kildy's cell phone. "It's Riata," she told me, looking at the readout.
"Riata?" I glanced at my watch. It was only two-thirty. "Why isn't she in the seminar?"
Kildy shrugged and put the phone to her ear. "Riata? What's going on? . . . You're kidding! . . . Did you get it? Great . . . no, meet me at Spago's, like we agreed. I'll be there in half an hour."
She hit 'end,' stood up, and took out her keys, all in one graceful motion. "Ariaura did it again, only this time as soon as she started, they stopped the seminar, yanked her off-stage, and told everybody to leave. Riata got it on tape. I'm going to go pick it up. Will you be here?"
I nodded absently, trying to think of a way to ask about Mencken's two-fingered typing, and Kildy waved goodbye and went out.
If I asked "How do you write your stories?" I'd get an answer about the process of writing, but if I asked, "Do you touch-type?" Ariaura–
Kildy reappeared in the doorway, sat down, and picked up her notebook again. "What are you doing?" I asked, "I thought you were–"
She put her finger to her lips. "She's here," she mouthed, and Ariaura came in.
She was still wearing her purple robes and her stage makeup, so she must have come here straight from her seminar, but she didn't roar in angrily the way she had before. She looked frightened.
"What are you doing to me?" she asked, her voice trembling, "and don't say you're not doing anything. I saw the videotape. You're–that's what I want to know, too," the gravelly voice demanded. "What the hell have you been doing? I thought you ran a magazine that worked to put a stop to the kind of bilgewater this high priestess of blather spews out. She was at it again today, calling up spirits and rooking a bunch of mysticism-besotted fools out of their cold cash, and where the hell were you? I didn't see you there, cracking heads."
"We didn't go because we didn't want to encourage her if she was–" Kildy hesitated. "We're not sure what . . . I mean, who we're dealing with here. . . ." she faltered.
"Ariaura," I said firmly. "You pretend to channel spirits from the astral plane for a living. Why should we believe you're not pretending to channel H.L. Mencken?"
"Pretending?" she said, sounding surprised. "You think I'm something that two-bit Jezebel's confabulating?" She sat down heavily in the chair in front of my desk and grinned wryly at me. "You're absolutely right. I wouldn't believe it either. A skeptic after my own heart."
"Yes," I said. "And as a skeptic, I need to have some proof you're who you say you are."
"Fair enough. What kind of proof ?"
"We want to ask you some questions," Kildy said.
Ariaura slapped her knees. "Fire away."
"All right," I said. "Since you mentioned fires, when was the Baltimore fire?"
"Aught-four," she said promptly. "February. Cold as hell." She grinned. "Best time I ever had."
Kildy glanced at me.
"What did your father drink?" she asked.
"What did you drink?" I asked.
"From 1919 on, whatever I could get."
"Where are you from?" Kildy asked.
"The most beautiful city in the world."
"Which is?" I said.
"Which is?" she roared, outraged. "Bawlmer!"
Kildy shot me a glance. "What's the Saturday Night Club?" I barked.
"A drinking society," she said, "with musical accompaniment."
"What instrument did you play?"
"What's the Mann Act?"
"Why?" she said, winking at Kildy. "You planning on taking her across state lines? Is she underage?"
I ignored that. "If you're really Mencken, you hate charlatans, so why have you inhabited Ariaura's body?"
"Why do people go to zoos?"
She was good, I had to give her that. And fast. She spat out answers as fast as I could ask questions about the Sun and the Smart Set and William Jennings Bryan.
"Why did you go to Dayton?"
"To see a three-ring circus. And stir up the animals."
"What did you take with you?"
"A typewriter and four quarts of Scotch. I should have taken a fan. It was hotter than the seventh circle of hell, with the same company."
"What did you eat while you were there?" Kildy asked.
"Fried chicken and tomatoes. At every meal. Even breakfast."
I handed her the bogus evangelist handbill Mencken had handed out at the Scopes trial. "What's this?"
She looked at it, turned it over, looked at the other side. "It appears to be some sort of circular."
And there's all the proof we need, I thought smugly. Mencken would have recognized that instantly. "Do you know who wrote this handbill?" I started to ask and thought better of it. The question itself might give the answer away. And better not use the word "handbill."
"Do you know the event this circular describes?" I asked instead.
"I'm afraid I can't answer that," she said.
Then you're not Mencken, I thought. I shot a triumphant glance at Kildy.
"But I would be glad to," Ariaura said, "if you would be so good as to read what is written on it to me."
She handed the handbill back to me, and I stood there looking at it and then at her and then at it again.
"What is it, Rob?" Kildy said. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," I said. "Never mind about the circular. What was your first published news story about?"
"A stolen horse and buggy," she said and proceeded to tell the whole story, but I wasn't listening.
He didn't know who the handbill was about, I thought, because he couldn't read. Because he'd had an aphasic stroke in 1948 that had left him unable to read and write.…
Connie Willis is currently working on a new novel called All Clear. Set in the same time-travel world as Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, and "Fire Watch" (Asimov's, February 1982), the novel involves four historians studying World War II, from the evacuation of the children in 1939 to the Blitz to the deception war that preceded D-Day. The book will be out in the spring from Bantam. Her latest tale for Asimov's takes a look at a psychic debunker, his beautiful assistant, and a very unusual . . .
If you enjoyed this sample and want to read more, Asimov's Science Fiction offers you another way to subscribe to our print magazine. We have a secure server which will allow you to order a subscription online. There, you can order a subscription by providing us with your name, address and credit card information.
"Inside Job" by Connie Willis, copyright © 2004
From The Morning Call -- January 23, 2005
It has been a few years since we sat through high school biology where we dissected frogs, learned about that monk Gregor Mendel's experiments with peas and pondered Charles Darwin's theories about the evolution of species, based on his observations in the Galapagos Islands. This was sometime significantly after the 1925 Scopes ''monkey trial'' in which the teaching of evolution was pitted against the biblical story of creation.
But we remember being taught that hypotheses and theories were steps toward understanding the world around us — not facts. The U.S. Constitution is a fact. So is two plus two equals four. But science is discovering new things all the time. Knowledge of the material world and universe is an evolving process.
There are those who want to fight the Scopes trial all the time. They see science as a threatening, secular religion somehow connected to efforts to kick God and prayer out of public schools. First they wanted public schools to require science teachers to teach the biblical story of creation — creationism — when they taught evolution. This has evolved into something called intelligent design, the idea that the universe was begun by an unknown but all-knowing force.
Late last year, the Dover Area School Board in York County decided that science teachers should read a statement that said, in part, that ''intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view'' and the theory of evolution ''is not a fact.'' At the annual Pennsylvania Society meeting last month, U.S. Sen Rick Santorum, R-Pa., a proponent of intelligent design, advocated its teaching in public schools. He discusses the issue in a column on the cover of this section.
Earlier this month, a federal judge in Atlanta ordered the Cobb County, Ga., Board of Education to remove disclaimers it had placed inside science textbooks starting in 2002. The disclaimers stated, ''Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things.''
Maybe those who want to do this didn't pay attention in science class. Who said theory was fact? When people insist on stating the obvious, it raises questions about why they're doing so. One answer: It's another back-door attempt to inject religion into public education.
It's not that science and religion are inimical. Even Albert Einstein saw the beauty and logic of nature as evidence of a grander plan. Prominent British atheist Antony Flew late last year said scientific findings were prompting him to reconsider his disbelief. Ever since the early 20th century, the Catholic Church held that there was nothing incompatible between the theory of evolution and Christianity.
The step from science to religion is something called faith, and it doesn't belong in a public classroom. The place for discussion of intelligent design and creationism is in church school and at home.
Copyright © 2005, The Morning Call Science, evolution and intelligent design http://news.enquirer.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050123/EDIT02/501230346
Sunday, January 23, 2005
Your voice: Clyde E. Stauffer
In Dover, Pa., the school board ordered science teachers to "read to ninth-graders a statement written by the school board that criticizes evolution and cites a controversial approach called intelligent design as an alternative." The news story concludes: "Critics argue that intelligent design has no basis in science."
Science extends our understanding of the natural world through at least four steps: 1) gather data; 2) form a hypothesis to explain the data; 3) gather more data to test predictions drawn from the hypothesis; and 4) modify the hypothesis if data from Step 3 show areas of inadequacy (it does not explain all the data).
Critics of evolution point out data that cannot be explained within the classical Darwinian evolutionary scheme. One such data set is the so-called "Cambrian Explosion," where in fewer than 50 million years 36 phyla (structural forms of organisms) suddenly appeared, with no apparent connection with any organisms that existed before. This led to the theory of "punctuated evolution" proposed by Stephen Gould (among others), a prominent evolutionist. Other scientists contest the validity of punctuated evolution, and the debate still rages.
In "Darwin's Black Box," Michael Behe considers some biological examples of "irreducible complexity," systems that depend on the interaction of several molecules to function. If one of the molecules is lacking, the system is nonfunctional. He quotes Darwin:
"If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down."
Behe maintains that his examples are such demonstrations: the retina, bacterial flagella, the blood clotting cascade, vesicular transport and the immune system. He hypothesizes an intelligent designer, involved in the genesis of such systems, using evolutionary mechanisms (mutation and selection).
Does intelligent design have any basis in science? When the existing paradigm cannot explain data, the scientific model tells us to modify it in a way that includes all the data. Thus ID may be thought of as an extension of, not an "alternative to," Darwinian evolution. It is every bit as scientific as the "big bang" hypothesis (for example). Science does not progress by closing its eyes to non-conforming data; we should not be teaching students of science to do so.
Clyde E. Stauffer of Finneytown holds a doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Minnesota.
By CYNTHIA HALL CLEMENTS, The Lufkin Daily News
Sunday, January 23, 2005
It is pop quiz time. Please answer the following multiple choice questions.
Should science curriculum in public schools be based on A) Fact B) Faith or C) Fiction?
Public school science curriculum took a step backward into antiquity this week in Pennsylvania, with the presentation of the theory of "intelligent design" (ID) to ninth-grade biology students as a valid alternative to biological evolution.
ID holds that because of the complexity of creation, an intelligent agent guided the origins of the universe and life on Earth.
An opportunistic and evangelistic Dover, Pa., school board elevated faith, and some would argue, fiction, over established fact and labeled it an alternative science. Legally rebuffed by previous rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court from presenting creationism, social and religious conservatives across the country are pushing their insular world view into public schools under the guise of ID.
According to a December story in The Washington Post, William Buckingham, the Dover board's curriculum chairman, explained at a meeting last June that Jesus died on the cross and "someone has to take a stand" for him.
John Rowand, a pastor and new board member, offered his opinion. "If the Bible is right, God created us. If God did it, it's history and it's also science."
Obviously the Dover board members did not even try to disguise their religious agenda for promoting ID for the schools.
In an ironic twist, one of the fiercest and most vocal critics of the Dover board is the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, a leader in ID theory. They called the school policy "misguided" and said it should be "withdrawn and rewritten." The institute recommends "that state and school districts focus on teaching students more about evolutionary theory," including some of the theory's problems but does not advocate teaching ID in public schools.
Can the existence of God be proven scientifically? A) Yes B) No or C) Not sure. Still wondering if there even is a God.
The answer to this question lies at the heart of the debate over ID, whether the complexity of the universe can be explained by science alone or if some element of faith must be interjected into the equation.
ID proponents argue that unexplained gaps in the central evolutionary theory, embraced by mainstream scientists worldwide, discredits it in its entirely. If science cannot fully explain – to the critics' satisfaction – the origins of man, then religion does, they argue. It is an either/or, right/wrong choice. If monkeys did not evolve into man, then God created the world in six literal days.
But wait a minute. Is not science about observing, describing and explaining that which we do not yet understand? Religious faith does not discount the value of scientific debate, discovery or literacy. Seeking to scientifically explain the unexplainable of evolution does not discredit the entirety of the theory.
Faith is the evidence of things not seen, the book of Hebrews in the Bible teaches.
The nagging "what if?" questions about the validity and reliability of ID, or creationism, for that matter, are what should prevent its teaching in public schools. What if faith alone cannot explain the origins of man and the universe? What if man's interpretation of the Biblical account of creation is incorrect or insufficient? What if the tenets of ID are wrong? The unanswered "what if" questions of ID lend credibility to further study of evolutionary theory, including its unresolved issues.
Science is not the mortal enemy of religious faith, or vice versa. They can peacefully coexist under a theist evolutionist approach, which attempts to reconcile evolution and faith.
Which is more important? A) Ensuring religious liberty for all and upholding the First Amendment's separation of church and state in our public schools; or B) Promoting a conservative evangelical world view cleverly disguised as science in our public schools.
Civil rights groups –the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) – have filed suit on behalf of 11 parents of the Dover students, stating that the teaching of ID violates their religious liberties.
While social and religious conservatives would have us believe that the solution to the social ills of the day is to "put God back in public schools," they fail to realize the inherent dangers of their theology and tactics. Administration-led prayers, Bible readings, and now, the teaching of creationism under the guide of ID, are all backdoor attempts to promote their worldview at the expense of the First Amendment rights of others.
Conservatives, beware. Violate the rights of the minority when you are in power, and you will forfeit your protection under the law. In a democracy, the rights of the minority must always be protected against the will of the majority.
The Rev. Barry Lynn, AU's executive director, offered this warning about the Dover board policy: "Public schools are not Sunday schools, and we must resist any efforts to make them so."
What a peculiar commentary on public education in this country, that despite all the scientific advances of the past 80 years, we are still debating the 1925 Scopes "monkey trail." Surely, our students deserve better than that.
Cynthia Hall Clements is a columnist for The Lufkin Daily News. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. To read more of her columns, go to the Opinion page at www.LufkinDailyNews.com.
Chris Mooney; January 18, 2005
Michael Crichton's latest book, State of Fear, is a novel in name only. More accurately described, it's a work of thinly disguised political commentary, in which a wildly implausible plot--eco-terrorists supplant Al Qaeda as the leading global menace, unveiling dastardly weather modification schemes to convince the public of a nonexistent global warming threat--serves as an excuse for a string of Socratic-style dialogues about climate science. Since Crichton's characters repeatedly find themselves jetting across the globe to stop the latest eco-terrorist menace (blowing off parts of Antarctica, unleashing a tsunami, and so on), they have plenty of time in transit to question the reality of human caused global warming. The plot contrivance of a pending climate change lawsuit--abandoned once its proponents realize they don't have a case--provides yet another didactic opportunity for the author. When the legal team cross-examines one of our heroes about climate science, Crichton seizes the chance to insert temperature trend diagrams and copious footnotes into the text.
To Read More of this Column Visit:
www.csicop.org and http://www.csicop.org/doubtandabout/crichton/
To Read More Articles by Chris Mooney Visit: http://www.csicop.org/doubtandabout/
Posted on Tue, Jan. 18, 2005
BY HOWARD COHEN
Dvera Berson came close to chucking it all.
Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis when she was 54, Berson said the chronic pain was unbearable.
''My entire body was not working at all,'' she said. ``I couldn't hold a cup or a newspaper or a telephone. I didn't care if I lived or died.''
Then Berson discovered her own pain management system -- water exercises.
Now 92, the Boca Raton woman has developed 35 water exercises and teaches them through two videos and her book, Pain Free Arthritis.
''I'm in such good health now. I walk and move with the agility and speed of someone half my age,'' Berson said.
With Merck pulling the popular painkiller Vioxx from the market last year over concerns it could increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and the FDA reviewing studies of Pfizer's Celebrex and Bextra for the same reason, interest in alternative pain remedies is picking up. Acupuncture. Massage. Biofeedback. Flower Essence.
Today, about one in five American adults use some form of alternative therapy, up from about one in 50 in 1990, according to the Washington-based Institute of Medicine, a nonprofit that advises the federal government on health and science issues.
The increased popularity brings the need to standardize alternative treatments, test them, and detail whether and how they work, the Institute of Medicine urged Congress last week.
''Patients and health care providers need information on various therapies and efficacy and safety,'' the Institute's Christine Stencel said. ``The way you determine efficacy is through research and the same general principles and standards should be applied to all therapies.''
Palliative effects for some alternative techniques -- acupuncture, biofeedback, chiropractics, osteopathic manipulation of the joints and water exercise -- have been shown in several studies. Other methods, like flower essence, guided imagery and prayer, rely on anecdotal evidence and need further study in terms of pain management, medical experts say.
''There are patients who have these attitudes -- either because of fear of traditional medicine or because their physician did not communicate well with them or establish trust or empathy -- and will use unproven remedies,'' said Dr. Robert Schwartz, professor and chair of family medicine and community health at the University of Miami. ``I've seen patients die because they were unwilling to come around and make what we would call a more rational decision.''
The most accepted of these alternatives is acupuncture, a 2,000-year-old Eastern practice involving the insertion of thin needles into the body at strategic points. There are more than 1,500 acupuncture practitioners in Florida, according to the Division of Complementary Medicine at the University of Miami.
Kitty Morgan, a Miami filmmaker and writer, turned to acupuncture to relieve pain in her shoulders caused by years of lugging around heavy film equipment. Morgan convinced her husband, Bill Rothman, who suffers knee pain, and her mother, Barbara Morgan, who broke her hip, to join her in acupuncture treatments. The three are regular patients of Dr. Janet Konefal, chief of the Division of Complementary Medicine at the University of Miami.
''It's instant release,'' Kitty Morgan said. ``Like the weight of the world lifted off my shoulders.''
A 2004 study by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, both components of the National Institutes of Health, found that acupuncture relieved pain and improved function of patients suffering from knee osteoarthritis.
The study, published in the Dec. 21 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, had 190 of 570 patients ages 50 and older receiving acupuncture. By week eight, these participants functioned better than those receiving placebos or educational therapy.
In 2002, a University of Miami acupuncture study on patients with Parkinson's disease concluded that acupuncture ''improved the quality of life,'' according to Konefal. The study, however, specified it did not cure the medical condition. The university is putting together a study to determine the effect of acupuncture on shoulder pain in patients who use wheelchairs.
''Many patients have had relief with it. Unfortunately, it's not long lasting. But sometimes patients need a break from their pain,'' Schwartz said.
The more acute the problem -- such as a sudden fall or injury -- usually requires only one to two visits. Chronic pain from arthritis, migraines, spinal injuries -- usually requires a series of visits over a length of time.
An acupuncture treatment can run about $125 for the first consultation and about $40 to $80 for follow-up treatments. Some insurance companies will cover acupuncture, as well as biofeedback.
Mind-body remedies, such as biofeedback, cognitive behavioral therapy and meditation, aim to teach patients how to control pain by controlling the impulses the brain gets from the injury site.
In biofeedback, a patient gets hooked to a machine's sensors to gauge pulse, skin temperature and muscle tone. Patients are taught to control functions such as heart rate, muscle tension, breathing and blood pressure. The theory: If you can spot when you're getting tense, you can learn how to relax the muscle groups to diminish any pain.
The Mayo Clinic has said biofeedback has proven helpful in treating conditions such as migraines and arthritis.
Cognitive behavioral therapy ''capitalizes on the idea the brain itself is what feels the pain. If the person can learn to turn off a circuit in the brain and not pay attention to that sensory input they won't feel the pain,'' says Dr. Bernard Brucker, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Miami. ``This can be successful but some people have a better ability to do this than others.''
One of the more popular alternative therapies today is flower essence. These homeopathic, nonmedicinal liquid preparations are made from the blossoms of flowers and, using each flower's particular DNA code, are said to help a person tap into their own natural healing ability. They're taken orally or applied topically.
At 78, New Yorker Florence Zinman, facing knee surgery, tried flower essences to seek relief from her pain. ''I didn't want to jump into surgery immediately,'' Zinman said.
Physical therapy helped a bit but the pain persisted. She went to flower essence therapist Linda Cohen in New York, who says she prescribed a mixture of Star of Bethlehem, for the release of shock and trauma, Self Heal to stimulate healing and awareness, arnica to release toxic energy trapped in a body part, echinacea for sudden jolts or accidents and dandelion for the release of muscular tension.
''Most people use flower essences to alleviate anxiety-related pain,'' Cohen explains. ``Let's say you are going to the dentist and are so anxious and nervous about what is going to happen, the pain would exceed what it would be if [you] were calm and didn't feel threatened.''
Flower essences are sold primarily in health food stores in one-ounce bottles for about $10. Sales rose from $15 million to $30 million over the last decade, according to Richard Katz, director of the California-based Flower Essence Society.
The use of flower essences is particularly popular in Latin America. In Cuba, the therapy has been part of the island's national health program since 1999 and dispensed in hospitals and clinics, Katz said.
There are risks involved with using alternative remedies, however. Ignoring conventional care can be risky, some treatments could interact negatively with traditional medications, and the therapies may not work for everyone.
''Not everything that is natural is good for you -- cocaine is an extract from a leaf and that's not real good for you,'' Konefal said.
Success or failure using alternative therapies is often dependent on a person's attitude toward the unknown. Women tend to favor alternative therapy over men, and younger people over older ones, studies have shown.
''Different kinds of complementary medicines help some people more than others. Meditation, hypnosis or visualization can be helpful for those who use their minds to calm themselves down,'' Konefal said. ``If you can relieve stress, you can relieve tension in the muscle. Massage therapy has been shown to be beneficial for pain and stress.''
Read labels on supplements, watch doses, and err on the side of caution, Konefal said. Some supplements are extracted from whole foods, others are made from petroleum-based products.
Concludes Dr. Martin Dayton, an alternative medicine practitioner in Sunny Isles, ``There are many things we can do with alternative and complementary medicine that may have advantages above that offered by staying strictly with conventional medicine.''
Posted on Tue, Jan. 18, 2005
By Richard S. Brown
From all their shrill cries, Darwinians can't seem to be able to handle the challenge to their version of science, which, when unmasked, is essentially "goo to you via the zoo."
Darwinian evolution -- sometimes called naturalism-- and scientific creationism are irreconcilable worldviews and their basic tenets require acceptance of unproved assumptions about the origin of the universe.
Both origin theories, instead of just naturalism, should be presented in high-school science. Biblical Genesis or other creationist religions need not be studied in this setting in order to present concepts of and evidence for special (supernatural) creation.
Naturalism postulates that everything that is or ever was in this universe is the result of natural laws and processes currently operating just as they always have.
Naturalists believe the universe in all aspects evolves itself into higher levels of order by means of its innate properties. No external agent such as God is required or permitted.
In short, Darwinian evolution is all about attempting to explain the created without the creator.
Well-known proponents of evolution include the late Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould of Cornell and Harvard universities, respectively. Neither of these two men could see God or a need for a creator through his telescope or microscope.
Currently, the secular interests are championing British biologist, author and lecturer Richard Dawkins as the leading evolutionary spokesman and creationist basher.
The growing problem for evolutionists is that interest and attention for creation is rising rapidly among people with inquiring minds. Stirring this interest is a newfound wealth of broadcast, Internet and published information made understandable to lay people. Just as the jaded public is abandoning network news for other sources, evolutionists in mainstream academia are losing their stranglehold on matters of metaphysics.
Among creationists, are many credentialed, practicing scientists who buck the prevailing worldview of our origins. Many of these scientists are Christians or practice some other faith. Others are agnostic, but all are not buying what Darwinian dogma is selling.
This group of critics asks embarrassing questions, such as: How is it possible to jump-start replicating life out of non-life chemicals? Why isn't the fossil record replete with specimens of macro-evolution such as the supposed transition from invertebrate to vertebrate life forms?
Creationists conclude, partly from deduction, that an omniscient entity using supernatural means must have created the universe in a one-time series of acts and was the early source of energy and design information required for the existence and functioning of the entire cosmos. Nothing is going to develop complexity from a primitive origin without intelligent input as well as energy. In short, nothing could work until every complex system is up and running in symbiotic relationships.
Creationists are often falsely accused of not acknowledging obvious biological micro-evolutionary change. We observe that plants and animals are restricted to the wide-ranging variables found in the DNA code that was endowed to the original kinds. Nowhere do scientists document an upward or increase in DNA language in reproduction. Only a level or downward (loss or misprint) transfer of genetic information can be inherited by offspring. Thus, creationists predict and observe ongoing speciation as well as extinctions for those species unable to adapt to the rigors of natural selection.
Scientists who are philosophical creationists work in various fields together with their Darwinian counterparts. Since most scientific research is empirical (documentation of observable, testable, repeatable subjects), it is rare for either group to question the validity of professionally performed work. Only when interpretations and extrapolations beyond all proof are presented do the various advocacy factions lock horns.
After more than two decades of reading books, viewing or attending scientific debates and lectures, I am convinced that the creationist's tenets are based on solid, scientific evidence. I have also observed over the years that it is the evolutionists who obfuscate the ever-changing details of their theory and continue to use vituperation and ad hominem attacks on those who question their claims.
None of the creationist organizations that I monitor have called for the banning of the teaching of Darwinian evolution theory in the public schools. None want biblical Genesis instruction by public-school teachers. What they want is the unfettered liberty to present creation theory just the same as the Darwinians present their theory.
It's a free country. Evolutionists can choose not to acknowledge the possibility of a spiritual realm or supernatural dimension to our existence. But does truth and reality depend on the politically correct consensus found among establishment intelligentsia?
Who is this elite group to stand as arbiters of information to the masses?
Funny coincidence. Stephen Jay Gould was a Marxist.
Richard S. Brown, of Spring Mills, is a manufacturer and part-time tree farmer.
Enough with the aliens.
And no more clairvoyant prognosticators. Please. Can we shutter Area 51? Lock Los Chupacabras in a cage? Dump cement into Loch Ness? Stop speculating about Roswell?
While we're at it, can we all declare a temporary moratorium on ghosts, demons, vampires, witches, poltergeists, crop circles, crystals, shape-shifters, time-travellers, spoon-benders, Satanism, channelling, remote viewing, cryptozoology, psychokinesis, and any paranormal phenomena recognized internationally by a three-letter acronym — UFO, OBE, ESP, EVP?
Can we put this stuff on an empirical shelf? At least until it seems fresh again? People, there's way too much White Noise.
The entertainment industry is at it again, making a spectacle of science and rational inquiry as a new wave of supernatural projects arrives.
Just look at some of this month's new TV shows:
NBC's Medium stars Patricia Arquette. She plays Allison Dubois, a criminal consultant and mother of three who solves crimes by relying upon clairvoyant insights.
This week, Fox tweaked an infernal concept and unveiled Point Pleasant, a teen drama that continues in the Devil's Spawn tradition of The Bad Seed, Rosemary's Baby and The Omen.
In Point Pleasant, Christina Nickson (Elisabeth Harnois) mysteriously arrives in the eponymous New Jersey town after her unconscious body is plucked from the Atlantic Ocean.
Nobody, including Christina, realizes she is actually Satan's daughter. Thus, the show's narrative is lurching toward one of those epochal but, by now, ridiculously tedious showdowns — Good versus Evil. HBO's Carnivale, which recently returned to TMN for a second season, is built around the same ultimate battle. Does anybody care?
It's quite sad when you think about it. Why are writers rehashing shopworn ideas? Why aren't they imagining new paranormal realms and otherworldly antagonists? Why aren't they delving into untapped chambers of the unconscious?
Instead, we're stuck with refurbished themes, full of genre clichés and hackneyed conceits. She has telepathy! She's related to Lucifer! Carnivals are full of freaks!
Blah, blah, yawn.
This month, Space launched a new Canadian series titled Beyond, described as a "real-life X-Files." (Or, in other words, Unsolved Mysteries meets PSI Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal.)
Each half-hour episode of Beyond, "investigates a mysterious phenomenon through a blend of sci-fi, religion, biology and physics."
Other new shows to hit the "Imagination Station" this month include a remake of Battlestar Galactica and something called The Girly Ghosthunters, in which "four girls with the courage of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the curiosity of the Scooby Doo gang" climb into their Winnebago and travel across Ontario in search of haunted sites.
Even new TV shows steeped within a scientific framework resonate with a strange, paranormal feel. CBS's Numb3rs, which debuts tomorrow, is essentially a crime procedural. The twist here is that the brother of one FBI agent is actually a math phenom who uses his prodigious gift to help solve crimes.
Yeah, he's using "math." So why does it seem more like "magic?"
A rather desperate NBC is turning toward the paranormal these days. Revelations, an upcoming drama starring Bill Pullman and Natascha McElhone, explores, yes, the looming Apocalypse. The network is also developing Fathom, a pilot about aliens who inhabit the ocean depths.
It's not just television.
Sitting in a downtown theatre last week, I saw trailers for Steven Spielberg's upcoming War of the Worlds (starring Tom Cruise), Batman Begins and Constantine, a supernatural thriller starring Keanu Reeves and Rachel Weisz that hits theatres next month.
Movies released this week include the thriller Hide and Seek, which stars Robert De Niro and Dakota Fanning, the latter as a young girl with an imaginary and, quite possibly, homicidal friend.
Alone in the Dark, meanwhile, stars Christian Slater as a paranormal investigator. Where have you gone, Fox Mulder?
Has an excessive exposure to vampire slayers, alien autopsies, demonic homes and kids-who-see-dead-people tripped a collective wire, turning all of this into a heap of predictable dreck?
I want to believe. But the truth isn't out there — it's everywhere.
DALLAS, Jan. 19 /PRNewswire/ -- The American Shroud of Turin Association for Research (AMSTAR), a scientific organization dedicated to research on the enigmatic Shroud of Turin, thought by many to be the burial cloth of the crucified Jesus of Nazareth, announced today that the 1988 Carbon-14 test was not done on the original burial cloth, but rather on a rewoven shroud patch creating an erroneous date for the actual age of the Shroud.
The Shroud of Turin is a large piece of linen cloth that shows the faint full-body image of a blood-covered man on its surface. Because many believe it to be the burial cloth of Jesus, researchers have tried to determine its origin though numerous modern scientific methods, including Carbon-14 tests done at three radiocarbon labs which set the age of the artifact at between AD 1260 and 1390.
"Now conclusive evidence, gathered over the past two years, proves that the sample used to date the Shroud was actually taken from an expertly-done rewoven patch," says AMSTAR President, Tom D'Muhala. "Chemical testing indicates that the linen Shroud is actually very old -- much older than the published 1988 radiocarbon date."
"As unlikely as it seems, the sample used to test the age of the Shroud of Turin in 1988 was taken from a rewoven area of the Shroud," reports chemist Raymond Rogers, a fellow of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Rogers' new findings are published in the current issue of Thermochimica Acta, a chemistry peer reviewed scientific journal.
"Pyrolysis-mass-spectrometry results from the sample area coupled with microscopic and microchemical observations prove that the radiocarbon sample was not part of the original cloth of the Shroud of Turin which is currently housed at The Turin Cathedral in Italy," says Rogers.
"The radiocarbon sample has completely different chemical properties than the main part of the shroud relic," explains Rogers. "The sample tested was dyed using technology that began to appear in Italy about the time the Crusaders' last bastion fell to the Mameluke Turks in AD 1291. The radiocarbon sample cannot be older than about AD 1290, agreeing with the age determined in 1988. However, the Shroud itself is actually much older."
Rogers' new research clearly disproves the 1988 findings announced by British Museum spokesperson, Mike Tite, when he declared that the Shroud was of medieval origin and probably "a hoax." The British Museum coordinated the 1988 radiocarbon tests and acted as the official clearing house for all findings.
Almost immediately, Shroud analysts questioned the validity of the sample used for radiocarbon dating. Researchers using high-resolution photographs of the Shroud found indications of an "invisible" reweave in the area used for testing. However, belief tilted strongly toward the more "scientific" method of radiocarbon dating. Rogers' recent analysis of an authentic sample taken from the radiocarbon sample proves that the researchers were right to question the 1988 results.
As a result of his own research and chemical tests, Rogers concluded that the radiocarbon sample was cut from a medieval patch, and is totally different in composition from the main part of the Shroud of Turin.
Contact: Michael Minor
By Jack Lepiarz
Jan. 20, 2005
I was reading an article in the New York Times today that made me want to address the seemingly growing issue of whether or not intelligent design should be taught in public schools. Intelligent design generally follows the same basic idea as evolution does, that species changed gradually over millions of years to become what they are today (in a nutshell), with one BIG difference. Intelligent design argues that evolution is being controlled by an "omniscient being," or in other words a God. This idea has sparked a debate over whether intelligent design is legitimate science, or simply religion in disguise.
To be fair, a look at both sides of the argument seems proper. Intelligent design does present many scientific facts explained in Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. However, it does not present any scientific evidence as to why evolution would be directed by God. Again, remember that the idea of a supreme deity cannot be proven or disproven, so one arguing for the side of intelligent design MUST deal with that issue, otherwise, it has no grounds in a public school.
The argument against intelligent design is essentially stated above. Another argument used against the idea of intelligent design is that it would be unfair to those that do not believe in God. True, it is not fair to them, but is it not also unfair to teach children who believe in God the idea of evolution? Telling them that Bible, the word of God, is wrong? That's an issue that anti-intelligent designers need to address.
The main difference between intelligent design and evolution is that one is a theory, whereas the other is not. Evolution is a theory, because it has stood up to numerous experiments without any SCIENTIFIC evidence proving it wrong. Intelligent design can be partially proven, however, one runs into the problem of proving the existence of a deity. Therefore, you cannot teach religion in schools, because you have no way of teaching it. Maybe religion is wrong. Of course, evolution could possibly be wrong, however, we have found evidence to support it, and therefore may teach it in schools, since it is not a guess. That is why you cannot teach creationism or intelligent design in public schools.
Following with the idea of fact vs. belief, I would also like to address the idea that evolution is some crackpot idea that Darwin made up as a mere speculation. In Atlanta, a school placed stickers in all of it's science books that evolution was "a theory, not a fact" (Although they were recently removed). I find that to be very ignorant. The proper definition of a theory is that it has been proven by multiple experiments without ANY EVIDENCE TO DISPROVE IT. That applies to the THEORY of gravity, the atomic THEORY, and so on. Funny, how no one questions those theories. Evolution is no different from them, and should not be treated differently just because it conflicts with the Bible.
Now I understand that people want to teach these ideas to their children, since many believe very strongly in their religion. I'm not trying to prove them wrong. I have no wish to do so. However, I do not want to be taught something that has no scientific backing. The job of public schools is to teach us facts, not speculation (Again, I assert that this does not disprove anyone's religion in any way). That is why I feel that intelligent design...
About the author: Jack Lepiarz is a Junior at Madison High School in Madison, New Jersey. Now 16 years old, he has been writing avidly for the past 5 years and has a completed novel (but unpublished), Spencer. He currently trades between two houses in his town, spending time living with both of his divorced parents.
The partial skeleton, discovered on Vega island, western Antarctica, is likely to stir up controversy.
Many scientists believe modern bird lineages did not evolve until the end of the dinosaurs' reign.
Although the first bird, Archaeopteryx , lived in the Jurassic period 150 million years ago, researchers disagree over when modern birds made their first appearance.
One camp believes many modern bird lineages existed as long as 100 million years ago. According to this vision, familiar looking birds would have been running and flying about alongside dinosaurs. In contrast the other camp thinks that, although birds did exist during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, they were largely wiped out by whatever killed the dinosaurs.
According to this theory, only a few lineages made it through the mass extinction and, subsequently, these lonely survivors blossomed into all the modern bird families we know today.
The fossil records so far support the latter version, known as the "big bang" theory of bird evolution.
But if the new find, known as Vegavis iaai , really is a relative of the duck, it would lend considerable weight to the idea that modern birds lived with dinosaurs and survived whatever catastrophe killed them.
A team of scientists led by Dr Julia Clarke, from North Carolina State University, US, said Vegavis belonged to the waterfowl family and was "most closely related to Anatidae, which includes true ducks".
"Until now the fossil record has been ambiguous," said Dr Clarke. "But now we have a fossil which indicates that at least part of the diversification of living birds had begun before the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs."
If this species was a duck, and it did live in the Cretaceous period, then other modern birds probably did too.
"Chickens and their relatives belonged to the lineage which was closest to the duck lineage," Dr Clarke told BBC News website.
"So if we had the duck lineage in the Cretaceous, the chicken lineage must have been present. Even though we don't have a chicken fossil yet, we know its lineage must have been there."
However Vegavis has not managed to convince supporters of the big bang theory of bird evolution. "This is basically an unidentifiable bundle of bones," Alan Feduccia, a bird expert from the University of North Carolina, US, said.
"This is a well known specimen which has been kicking around since 1992, and it was originally described as belonging to an extinct group. And now all of a sudden it's a modern duck."
Julia Clarke and her team used a statistical analysis of certain bone features to identify Vegavis as a member of the duck family, but Professor Feduccia is unmoved by their interpretation.
"The analysis is based on very superficial features of bones, so I find it unreliable."
Professor Feduccia is sure that bird species could not have survived a major global extinction en masse.
"Birds are very sensitive to any environmental disturbance - in fact they are a good indicator of environmental problems.
"But these people don't believe whatever caused the mass extinction had any affect on the birds, and that seems ludicrous."
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2005/01/20 11:00:28 GMT
January 22, 2005
Re "A Museum That Lies Far, Far Off the Path of Science," Commentary, Jan. 19: To state it one more time: Evolution is backed by a mass of scientific evidence, creationism (and its more stealth title, Intelligent Design), by none. Creationism is mythology; its advocates ignorant religious extremists who seek to undermine church-state separation and establish a theocracy. To teach it in public schools is obscene and must be aggressively opposed.
Kudos to the American Civil Liberties Union for its recent Cobb County, Ga., court victory. That legal strategy should be followed in every school district throughout the country where creationism rears its illogical, dangerous head.
Michael D. Harris
The foolish column by Patt Morrison needs to be answered. It requires far more faith in scientists who believe in evolution but have never been able to prove it, than it does to accept the biblical account of creation by an all-powerful creator.
For those whose minds are not planted in concrete I recommend a book by Walt Brown, "In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood." The author began as an evolutionist, but after years of study realized that creation is the more logical answer.
As a European, I can but applaud the movement to replace real science with "creation science." The more U.S. schools and school boards turn away from real science, the greater the opportunities for Europe to dominate world science in the 21st century (in competition, increasingly, with China and, decreasingly, with the United States).
Article Last Updated: 01/21/2005 11:04:29 PM
It seems to me that evolution is the most widely accepted theory on how mankind came to its present state. I have also heard that it is illegal in some places to teach creationism. So I was very surprised to learn about the Intelligent Design Theory. It's the exact same thing as creationism, but instead of God they say "intelligent designer." This is the worst idea I have ever heard. Unfortunately, it will probably end up being taught in public schools because there seem to be a lot of fundamentalist Christians out there who are angry that creationism isn't being taught in public schools. I don't blame people for not wanting their views to be dismissed, but it is very clear that evolution is the right theory. I hope that others feel the same, because teaching creationism would be a violation of church and state.
Brighton High School
Salt Lake City
A NATURAL SELECTION: A prominent opponent of evolutionary theory who says he has been shunned at Baylor University is moving to a seminary in Louisville, Ky.
In 1999 William A. Dembski, 44, helped Baylor start a center for the study of intelligent design. By the fall of 2000, he had lost his directorship, and the center was dissolved.
Since then, Mr. Dembski has not taught a course at Baylor -- "No department has been willing to let me" -- nor has he spent more than a few days a month on the Baylor campus. "I work at home," he says. "Sometimes I take my family to the dining hall." His contract is due to expire this spring.
"My work is too controversial for them," he explains. Mr. Dembski is a proponent of "intelligent design," which argues that Darwinian explanations of natural history are insufficient. In 2000, members of the faculty at Baylor strongly objected to president Robert B. Sloan Jr.'s decision to create a center to study the idea. Mr. Sloan's decision to emphasize Christian values at the university generated bad feelings, says Mr. Dembski. "I was increasingly seen as a political liability."
The associate research professor attempted to extend his stay at Baylor but says he was rebuffed. The university's provost, David L. Jeffrey, said through a spokesman that the funds to renew his contract were not available. In June Mr. Dembski will take a position at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as director of its new Center for Science and Theology.
The dean of the seminary's School of Theology, Russell D. Moore, says the center will help evangelicals engage with Darwinism from a Christian perspective. "Intelligent design is posing questions that need to be asked and are being shut out of public debate," he says.
For his part, Mr. Dembski doesn't worry about preaching to the choir. "I was so ostracized at Baylor that I had very few colleagues I could talk to there," he says. "This will give me the opportunity to influence a huge body of believers who are sympathetic with what I'm doing."
-- Daniel Engber
00:00 am 1/22/05
Both science and creation start from the same point: there was nothing. At this point the creationist would say, "then God .• .• ." whereas the evolutionist (scientist) would say there was a particle of matter, it went bang and that was the beginning of this universe and all we see therein. Wait a minute. There was nothing, then there was matter? Where did it come from?
When we were in school this was not science, this was ridiculous. Further, you can't just toss out billions of years to account for evolution. The sun is consuming itself by the second. Go back only so far and the sun would have had such gravitational attraction that it would have drawn in the plants, and the earth would have been so hot that life could not have started until it cooled off. So we are limited as to how long ago life could have started here.
Then we get to the complexity of living organisms. There are scientists and mathematicians who tell us that there is no way this could come about by chance. Science does not have the answers to these questions. You many not like the answers in the Bible, but it does have answers. - W. L. Keeling, Hillsboro
Let fact displace ancient fiction I really can't understand why anyone would choose to believe what is written in a several-thousand-year-old book instead of studying the discoveries of modern science. Thousands of years ago, the writers of that book, lacking any scientific knowledge, did their best to explain the origin of their world and its inhabitants.
Give those writers credit for their effort, but realize that many early civilizations have similarly attempted to explain these things. What the argument comes down to is scientific evidence balanced against no evidence. Scientists collect evidence and attempt to formulate answers to the questions about our world, but admit they may never have all the answers.
Creationists collect no evidence and state that they already have all the answers. A thinking person should have no trouble deciding which group to believe.
- Arthur Naebig, La Valle
Darwin theory full of holes If the scientific method it applied to evolution, glaring holes appear. The fossil record does not support Darwin. More than 500 million years ago, all of the world's 40 phyla, the highest category in the animal kingdom, literally sprang into existence with their unique body structures. These life forms appeared without previous transitions. Where was the slow process of change and adaptation?
Evolution cannot explain how the universe came into existence. Physics cannot explain how the impossible happened, how something (the universe) came out of nothing. The Bible, however, answers that question. Evolution is an idea in trouble. Intelligent design is an idea which incorporates the latest that science and physics has to offer; to those who possess the intellectual honesty and open-mindedness to follow and accept where the evidence leads. - Gary Stoika, Madison Teach all theories of life One doesn't have to look far to find articles and books by thoughtful and well-grounded scientists refuting, on a scientific basis, the unprovable assumptions about the past on which the theory of evolution is based. Nowhere is this more compelling than in the study of genetics, where the kinds of mutations required for the addition of genetic material necessary for a progression from simple life forms, or no life at all, to a creature so fearfully and wonderfully made as man just cannot be demonstrated.
Clearly, science curriculums at all levels must include all theories about something so fundamental as the origin of life.
-William Flader, Madison
Maybe God created evolution I am a Catholic; I believe in the divine inspiration of scriptures and in God as a supreme being and author of all life. But I have a question.
Why may we not regard evolution as the method God employed to stock and people his world? We say we believe that God "created" the world. Could he not have done so by the technique of evolution rather than by repeated billions of separate acts of direct creation?
What Darwin did, it seems to me, was discover God's method, and in fact that is precisely what he claimed. Looking at the last page of his book "The Origin of Species," we find this striking admission:
"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved."
The claim by some that evolution is "random" and thus purposeless is nonsense. What is "random" to limited human understanding is to God perfectly plain and consequential. Evolution, even at the threshold of understanding it, and Christian belief are not incompatible. - John E. Walsh, Monroe
Deal evenhandedly I would like to respond to recent article and letters on efforts to restore a truly scientific approach to the teaching of theories of origins, including evolutionary theory, in public schools.
Unlike the hard sciences of physics and chemistry, which are taught objectively, the biological sciences have been taught starting with metaphysical assumptions and including speculation as fact. Darwinism insists that the universe and, therefore, living beings came about by purely random, meaningless and purposeless chance.
This is a philosophical statement of materialism, not a scientific statement which must be based on objective and reproducible observations and experiments. Evolution is promoted zealously by those who insist that materialistic theory, effectively atheism, is the only theory that can even be discussed. Darwinists strongly resist scientific discussion of the difficulties with the theory, such as the total failure to demonstrate empirically how natural selection or any other evolutionary mechanism can result in complex organs or biochemical systems. As an alternative theory, elements of intelligent design and information systems can, in fact, be scientifically and objectively studied, even though science cannot identify the designer.
Let's deal evenhandedly with all faiths by acknowledging what we can't know scientifically and dealing scientifically with the questions we can study, such as the empirical and mathematical evidences for and against Darwinism or design. Those interested in being informed on the issues, rather than relying on stereotypes and religious bigotry, should read design scientists such as Behe and Dembski and let the evidence speak for itself.
- Jane Wright, Madison
Evolution's 'trade secret' Darwin predicted that the major gaps in the fossil record would be filled by future research. Those same gaps remain after 150 years of research. Creation theory predicts those gaps and predicts that they will never be filled. The late Stephen Jay Gould called those gaps "the trade secret" of paleontology. He invented a theory after the fact to explain away the lack of fossil evidence for evolution.
- George Cooper, Cottage Grove
Give it another 225 years For the evolution believers out there, be patient; it took religious leaders a mere three and a half centuries to finally admit that Galileo was right.I figure we only have another two and a quarter centuries to go before creationists admit Darwin was right.
- Murray Schukar, Fitchburg
Evidence supports creationism The idea of evolution does not meet the criteria for a scientific theory, namely it must be verifiable and based upon numerous observation. To date, nearly all evidence for evolution has been debunked by creationists. However, creationist's evidence still stands.
There is more scientific evidence for creationism than evolution. Evolution is bad science, there is not verifiable, repeatable evidence. Just creationism is the belief of many Christians does not mean the idea cannot be science. For both, the concept is "prove it." Neither can be proven, but the pure scientific evidence for creationism is at least 100 times greater than that for evolution. So why do "experts" continue shout evolution, because they do not want to admit they are wrong and support "bad" science. Education needs to expose students with evolution, creationism and intelligent design with current supporting evidence. Anything else is bias and does nothing to promote our young people to academic excellence. To assume that creationism is a fanciful idea demonstrates a desire to turn our young people into mindless automatons instead of educated thinkers.
- Donald L. Poindexter, Richland Center
Examine all the evidence People immediately dismiss intelligent design as religious propaganda without examining any evidence or really looking at the evidence presented for evolution. No one can logically explain how our universe formed from nothing. Where did the matter come from? Why did it start? There are theories, but they all require faith.
Our universe is so incredibly fine-tuned to support life, that to think that it just happened by chance takes more faith than it does to believe in an intelligent designer. By the way, the chances of it occurring are about one in several million billion. What about DNA? What if you went home and found the words "Welcome home!" in the snow in front of your house? What would your conclusion be? We would probably say our neighbor or spouse must have done it. The idea that these letters formed and organized by random chance would be ludicrous. DNA is infinitely more complex than a message in the snow at your house, yet some scientists have no problem saying it formed by accident. Is that logical?
There are hundreds of scientists who do not believe in evolution, that life evolved from non-living matter via random mutations, because there is so much evidence to the contrary. Examine the writings or William Craig, Stephen Meyer, or "Darwin's Black Box" by Michael Behe. Examine the evidence for both sides.
- Pete Jaeger, Madison Darwinism can be fatal Many who fear the implications of intelligent design will try to avoid addressing the issue scientifically, choosing to hide behind their conceit of "it's just them poor, dumb, rural hick, no-nothin' Christians gettin' uppity again."
Darwinism was strongly embraced by Marx, Freud and Nietzsche. It is a chief underpinning of Communism, Fascism and Nazism. It brought misery and death to millions during the last century. Because it is false scientifically, it produces fatal world views.
Darwinism is in the process of making many very intelligent scientists and journalists look less than honest as the evidence against evolution continues to pile up and the efforts to hide that information become more and more impossible.
- Don Hubbs
Posted on: Wednesday, 19 January 2005, 00:00 CST
Last time: Science faculty from York College and the University of Pennsylvania as well as the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, the leading proponent of intelligent design have urged the Dover Area School Board to rethink its science curriculum.
The latest: Now 45 Penn State University professors from three separate departments have endorsed the open letter sent to Dover by University of Penn faculty in opposition to the board's decision to require biology students to be told about the concept of intelligent design.
What's next: Starting today, ninth-grade students taking the district's mandatory biology class will be told about intelligent design in a one-minute statement read to them by administrators. Dover is believed to be the first public school district in the country to include the concept in its science curriculum.
Source: York Daily Record
Greenhouse Effect Cited in Mass Decline 250 Million Years Ago
By Guy Gugliotta
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 21, 2005; Page A03
Scientists call it "the Great Dying," a 250 million-year-old catastrophe that wiped out 90 percent of ocean species and 70 percent of land species in the biggest mass extinction in Earth's geologic history.
The cause of this cataclysm is a matter of great dispute among paleontologists, but research released yesterday offers new evidence that global warming caused by massive and prolonged volcanic activity may have been the chief culprit.
Huge amounts of carbon dioxide were released into the air from open volcanic fissures known to geologists as the "Siberian Traps," researchers said, triggering a greenhouse effect that warmed the earth and depleted oxygen from the atmosphere, causing environmental deterioration and finally collapse.
A second set of findings suggested that the warming also crippled the oceans' ability to refresh their oxygen supply, causing the seas to go sterile, destroying marine life and allowing anaerobic bacteria (which do not require oxygen) to release poisonous hydrogen sulfide "swamp" gas into the air.
The two reports, prepared independently, both cast doubt on another theory -- that the Great Dying was caused by the impact of an asteroid or comet such as the one that triggered the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Both studies were published yesterday by Science Express, the online version of the journal Science.
"This is not a world that is happy and then goes 'Bang!' " said University of Washington paleontologist Peter D. Ward, leader of one of the two new studies. "This is a world that's in trouble for a long time, and then it gets in even worse trouble."
Ward led a team of scientists in a seven-year project to chronicle 126 fossil skulls in a 1,000-foot-thick deposit of sedimentary rock in southeastern South Africa's Karoo Basin. He said in a telephone interview that the samples included reptiles and some amphibians, ranging from dog-size animals to predatory gorgonopsians, which he described as "a hideous cross between a lion and a particularly nasty lizard."
Ward said the team's excavations showed a steady decline in the number of species over 10 million years, followed by a sudden plunge 250 million years ago at the boundary between the Permian and Triassic periods of geologic time. The interval corresponds to a period of prolonged volcanic activity over one-third of modern-day Siberia.
Temperatures climbed globally as carbon dioxide poured into the atmosphere and oxygen levels fell, forcing gasping animals to gather at sea level, he said. "And the plants are not dealing well with the heat" either, he added. "Eventually the imbalance reaches a critical point, and everything dies."
The warming also meant that polar oceans were not cooled as much as they are today, and the convection cycle that circulates cold, oxygen- and nutrient-rich water between the poles and the tropics was slowed and even stopped, according to the second paper by a team of researchers led by Kliti Grice of the Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Australia.
"This has devastating effects on the marine organisms that rely on oxygen and nutrients to survive," the team said in an e-mail. "In the worst-case . . . a major part of the water column above the sea floor is devoid of oxygen."
Analyzing sulfur and carbon isotopes from core samples taken from the ocean bed off the coast of northwestern Australia, the team detected molecular traces from green sulfur bacteria, known as Chlorobiaceae, at the time of the Great Dying.
"The beauty of these [bacteria] is that they require sunlight and an anoxic [oxygen-free] environment," said team member Steven Turgeon, an Oak Ridge National Laboratory geochemist. "Because they live so close to the surface, we're pretty sure that what's beneath is anoxic."
This combination of factors, which has also been detected in waters off southern China, indicates that large swatches of ocean below a depth of 300 feet -- the deepest that significant light can penetrate -- became sterile, and that the entire ocean may have been oxygen-free.
Just as important, the bacteria derive energy from sulfate compounds in seawater and vent poisonous hydrogen sulfide gas into the air, Turgeon noted in a telephone interview.
The Grice team did not address the cause of the lethal warming, but Ward said his team found no evidence of the residue that would have fallen after a comet or asteroid impact threw tons of dust into the air to trigger a sudden and catastrophic greenhouse effect.
Still, University of Rochester earth scientist Robert Poreda, a proponent of the impact theory, noted that the "absence of evidence" at Karoo Basin "does not constitute evidence of absence."
"We propose there was preexisting volcanism" that became much worse because of the seismic energy released by the asteroid or comet impact, he said. "Some people have thought it feasible, while others have been adamantly opposed."
COBB COUNTY APPEALS
On January 17, 2005, the Cobb County School Board voted 5-2 to appeal the ruling in Selman et al. v. Cobb County School District et al., which ordered the removal of evolution disclaimers from the school district's textbooks. Announcing the decision, Kathie Johnstone, chair of the board, described Judge Clarence Cooper's ruling as an "unnecessary judicial intrusion into local control of schools."
In his ruling, issued on January 13, Judge Cooper applied the so-called Lemon test to conclude that the disclaimer violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Although he was satisfied that the Cobb County School Board's purpose in requiring the sticlaimer was not exclusively to promote religion, he wrote that "an informed, reasonable observer would interpret the Sticker to convey a message of endorsement of religion," citing its description of evolution as "a theory, not a fact" as the decisive phrase.
The ruling was greeted with applause from Georgia's scientific and education communities. "Obviously, this is quite a victory for good science education," Benjamin Z. Freed, an anthropology professor at Emory University in Atlanta and chairman of Georgia Citizens for Integrity in Science Education, told CNN. And George Stickel, who supervises Cobb's high school science curriculum, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "To really understand biology, [students] need to understood what evolution is all about."
The state's newspapers were also pleased with the ruling. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote in an editorial, "What Cooper's actually done is safeguard religious freedom by halting the campaign by creationists to convert public school classrooms into indoctrination chambers," while the Marietta Daily Journal suggested, "the Cobb school board would do well to leave the teaching of science to the science teachers and the teaching of religion-based scientific theories to those in the pulpit."
After a closed three-hour session with its lawyers, however, the Cobb County Board of Education decided to appeal the ruling as well as to ask for a stay of Cooper's order to remove the disclaimer. Johnstone said that the appeal would present "no additional cost to the district or Cobb County taxpayers"; the board's legal counsel has agreed to pursue the case at no additional charge to the district. The appeal will go before the Eleventh US District Court of Appeals.
The decision to appeal the ruling was condemned in a later editorial in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which commented that "The appeal represents either a sop to the creationists who insisted on the disclaimers in the first place, or, even more troubling, an endorsement by school board members of teaching religious creed under the guise of science."
For CNN's story on the board's vote, visit: http://www.cnn.com/2005/LAW/01/18/evolution.stickers/
For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's editorial condemning the board's
decision (registration required), visit:
For Judge Cooper's decision (a 2.5M PDF file), visit the ACLU's web site:
FORREST AND BRANCH IN ACADEME
"Wedging creationism into the academy," by Barbara Forrest and Glenn Branch, appears in the January-February 2005 issue of Academe, the bimonthly magazine of the American Association of University Professors. In their article, Forrest and Branch discuss the attempts of the "intelligent design" movement to use academia as a base. In light of the scientific sterility of "intelligent design," they argue, "the Wedge needs another way to persuade education policy makers that intelligent design is academically respectable": by exploiting the academic credentials and affiliations of its proponents and supporters for all they are worth. Reviewing such Wedge tactics as holding pseudoacademic "intelligent design" conferences on campuses and recruiting professors to sign antievolution statements, Forrest and Branch conclude that supporters of "intelligent design" in academia "exploit their academic standing to promote the concept as intellectually respectable while shirking the task of producing a scientifically compelling case for it." Forrest is professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University, author (with Paul R. Gross) of Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design (Oxford University Press, 2004), and a member of the NCSE board of directors; Branch is the deputy director of NCSE.
To read "Wedging creationism into the academy," visit:
TWO GOOD COLUMNS
Two excellent opinion columns about evolution education appeared on January 19, 2005, on opposite sides of the country.
In the Los Angeles Times, Patt Morrison's "A Museum That Lies Far, Far Off the Path of Science" (registration required) begins with a description of her visit to the Institute for Creation Research's museum in Santee, California, on the outskirts of San Diego. "I'd just seen 'proof' that the Earth is no older than about 10,000 years, that man and dinosaurs coexisted before a flood that not only created the Grand Canyon but put the final score at humans (Noah and kin) 1, dinosaurs 0," she quips. "I needed someone to deliver a couple 'quick, snap out of it, girl' taps with a copy of Scientific American." But she notes soberly that the real threat to science education these days is from "intelligent design": "If IDers can put their argument on an equal footing with science, they figure they'll skip nimbly around the Constitution's church-state wall without having to wear themselves out trying to knock it down." Toward the end of her column, Morrison quotes Jack Krebs, a member of NCSE and the vice president of Kansas Citizens for Science: "Watch out," he says, "it could be in anybody's backyard tomorrow. You could be next." Morrison is a regular columnist for the Times.
In The New York Times, Susan Jacoby's "Caught Between Church and State" (registration required) argues that "the elected anti-evolutionists on local and state school boards today are the heirs of eight decades of fundamentalist campaigning against Darwinism through back-door pressure on textbook publishers and school officials." Reviewing the history of antievolutionism since the Scopes trial in 1925, Jacoby correctly observes that "[p]erhaps the most insidious effect of the campaign against evolution has been avoidance of the subject by teachers, who, whatever their convictions, want to forestall trouble with fundamentalist parents." As loyal NCSE members will realize, however, her conclusion -- "Only now, when the religious right is no longer satisfied with avoidance but is demanding that schools add anti-Darwinist intelligent design to the curriculum, are defenders of evolution fighting back" -- is overstated: NCSE and its members have been fighting back for two decades! Susan Jacoby is director of the Center for Inquiry-Metro New York, and the author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism (Metropolitan Books, 2004).
To read "A Museum That Lies Far, Far Off the Path of Science" (registration
To read "Caught Between Church and State" (registration required), visit:
Thanks for reading! And as always, be sure to consult NCSE's web site: http://www.ncseweb.org where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism is now available:
By Scott Davis / 3TV Producer
Research shows that more than half of Americans believe in UFO's. One in seven say they or someone they know has had a "close encounter".
When "ET" phoned home, millions of kids and adults wished they could phone "ET."
"Oh, that's a possibility if someone wants to learn that, certainly," says Rebecca Hardcastle, an soon-to-be instructor at Scottsdale Community College. February 9 is day one of her class, "Extraterrestrial Reality," a non-credit course lasting two hours on each of four nights.
Hardcastle plans to cover Hollywood's portrayal of the alien phenomenon, the Phoenix Lights, even crop circles. It's all in an attempt to separate fact from fiction.
"What happens during contact cases?" she asks. "Are they all scary? Are they all traumatic or do they also have a spiritual component? We're going to examine what it means to be human in the 21st century. We're going to examine how we as humans are evolving, how we are changing, how we're relating to beings or entities or possibilities of life forms both within our dimension and outside of our dimension."
Hardcastle readily admits her passion for the paranormal. "It is weird, but the weirdness is part of the fun," she said.
She knows there will be skeptics, but doesn't let that stop her. She predicts increased acceptance to the topic and her class, perhaps at the university level, within five years.
"If someone is completely dismissive, that's fine. I don't need to make it real for them because they are choosing not to have it made real. It's a fun thing, it's a non credit course people are going to share, listen to what other people have to say. I'm going to share my knowledge; it's basically going to be a time to get together open the possibility and explore. if you're curious please come to the class. I'd love to have you!"
January 20, 2005
By TEARSA SMITH
6 News Anchor/Reporter
BLOUNT COUNTY (WATE) -- If you have high schoolers in Blount County and you haven't heard of intelligent design, you'll hear plenty about it in the future. It's an alternative to teaching evolution.
Currently, biology text books in Blount County high schools include several theories on evolution, but not the theory of intelligent design.
However, the school board recently approved the theory for teachers to introduce.
"Biology teachers in particular would be able to teach the controversies perhaps within the evolutionary theory. That would be the major thing," says board member Dr. Don McNelly.
The intelligent design theory says that human biology and evolution are so complex it has to require the creative hand of an intelligent force.
"Encouraging our teachers to teach the controversies with respect to biological origin, within a secular content, not relying on anything other than the research," McNelly says.
The move comes on the heals of a national debate and controversy. Some parents in Dover, Pennsylvania are outraged with their school system's adoption of intelligent design. They're even suing the town, calling the move unconstitutional because it favors creationism.
Blount County officials hope to avoid that. "We haven't relied on any religious background, any religious theory. It's secular and it says in essence it's life that has been designed, has to have been designed," McNelly explains.
To the best of the school boards' knowledge, there isn't a current text book that teaches
intelligent design. For now, teachers will have to design their own curriculums.