A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

From Abracadabra to Zombies


The Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter

Volume 7 No. 7

July 7, 2008

"Never challenge the person in charge, especially when he's wrong, or he'll make your life hell." --Mark, in Heat by Bill Buford

In this issue

What's new?
Psychic Kids
Duck Soup
Penn Exposed!
Newsweek Tabloid
SGU at TAM VI
Placebo Effect not Real
Lunacy
JREF Scholarships - Last Call
The News from Singapore

Jean and Her Scheme

What's New?

Since the last newsletter I've posted three new dictionary entries - ad hominem, sheep-goat effect, and Lourdes - and two Skeptimedia entries - one on disasters and the other on A&E's new program on "psychic kids."

Several comments from readers have been posted: on David Hawkins, dreams, radionics, and hypnosis.

I've also begun posting a multi-part review of Dean Radin's The Conscious Universe. Look for weekly installments over the next couple of months.

Several dictionary entries have been revised: cellular memory, medium, and intuitive (intuitionist).

Several entries have been updated: UFOs & ETs, acupuncture, psychic, creationism, Ouija board, Matthias Rath, exorcism, hypnosis, and hundredth monkey phenomenon.

Psychic Kids

One of the "psychic kids" featured in the new A&E program is Dalton Kropp from Danville, Illinois. Anna Herkamp of Danville's Commercial-News, writes: "Experts have determined that Kropp is a clairvoyant impath..." I think she meant empath , but she may have hit the nail on the head with her misspelling. Hercamp also reports that Kropp's mom, Amber Hays, is "a practicing Wiccan" who says she's more open than most people are to paranormal experiences. I haven't looked at it, but Hercamp says that the A&E website "features a video of Kropp and “Psychic Kids” crew members chasing an apparition down a flight of stairs." Wow! I wonder how many steps the apparition took.

Duck Bites Duck

A quack fight has broken out and the feathers are more than ruffled.

A man who promises modern tools for advanced awareness of ancient ("secret." of course) mystical knowledge, and profound spiritual experiences is suing a woman who runs a New Age alternative news website whose obsessions include psychopaths, comets, and the end of civilization as we know it. Eric Pepin is the guru behind the Higher Balance Institute, which offers courses in things like "multi-dimensional meditation." He's suing Laura Knight-Jadczyk, an American living in France who is vice president of Quantum Future Group (QFG) and helps moderate a website called Signs of the Times (SOTT). The motto of SOTT is "the World for People who Think." The completion of SOTT's guiding principle might read "that 9/11 was planned by the Bush administration, JFK was not killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, and your next door neighbor is a psychopath." QFG, using the name Red Pill Press (a nod to "The Matrix"), published Knight-Jadczyk's masterpiece The Secret History of the World and How to Get Out Alive. I couldn't make up the product description in my finest hour of surreal composition, so I reproduce it here:

If you heard the Truth, would you believe it? Ancient civilizations. Hyperdimensional realities. DNA changes. Bible conspiracies. What are the realities? What is disinformation? The Secret History of The World and How To Get Out Alive is the definitive book of the real answers where Truth is more fantastic than fiction.

Laura Knight-Jadczyk, wife of internationally known theoretical physicist, Arkadiusz Jadczyk, an expert in hyperdimensional physics, draws on science and mysticism to pierce the veil of reality. Due to the many threats on her life from agents and agencies known and unknown, Laura left the United States to live in France, where she is working closely with Patrick Rivière, student of Eugene Canseliet, the only disciple of the legendary alchemist Fulcanelli.

To this day, Laura continues to undergo ad-hominem attacks on her web pages, her blog and even as faux book 'reviews' on book seller websites, by those threatened by the information she reveals in this definitive work. Yet, with sparkling humour and wisdom, she picks up where Fulcanelli left off, sharing over thirty years of research to reveal, for the first time, The Great Work and the esoteric Science of the Ancients in terms accessible to scholar and layperson alike.

Pepin filed a federal lawsuit in Portland, Oregon, against QFG for posting nasty accusations about him on the SOTT website, such as the claim that "Higher Balance is a "cointelpro" group — a term for covert activity aimed at bolstering the powers-that-be by destroying opposing movements." SOTT also accused Higher Balance of promoting meditation as an act of "falling into confluence with a psychopathic reality" that "leads people more deeply into sleep."* Pepin was also offended by SOTT's allegation that Higher Balance is a "front for pedophilia." Pepin and another Higher Balance employee were acquitted last year of child molestation charges against a 17-year-old boy.

Whoever thought the New Age could get so seedy?

Penn Exposed!

Sharon Begley of Newsweek was one of the invited speakers at TAM VI, the Randi-hosted party for 900 rational revelers in Las Vegas last month. Good move, I thought. It never hurts to schmooze with the press when you're seeking publicity for your organization. On the other hand, as Begley told the audience, don't expect the press to help you in your quest to challenge improbable claims or improve the critical thinking skills of your fellow citizens. Well, she put it a bit differently: "My small contribution was a talk arguing that skeptics should not count on the press to enlist in their debunking crusade, something that also extends to the fight between evolution and creationism."

I don't really think of myself as being on a "debunking crusade," but I'm not a journalist and maybe Begley knows us better than we know ourselves. On her blog, she reveals for those of us who did not attend her talk that her "basic argument was that people believe weird things because of emotion, something no number of magazine and newspaper stories on the solidity of the science behind evolution (or the lack of evidence for homeopathy, psychic phenomena et al, [sic]...) is going to change. Add to that the public’s antipathy toward the press, and there’s no way the press can help the skeptics’ cause." In support of her non-support Begley links to an article she wrote last year in which she claims that we can blame the evolution of the brain for belief in the supernatural.

In an article I wrote about four years ago, I also argued that we shouldn't expect any help from the media. I didn't blame the lack of receptivity of the audience, though. I put the blame on the media. Most journalists are too lazy and too ignorant to do the public any service when it comes to exposing the woo of acupuncture, psychic predictions, homeopathy, mediumship, and the like. In my article, I wrote about the Steve Terbot and Carlos hoaxes in Australia, and how the media never bothered to check out the credentials or claims that the hoaxers made about themselves. I'll add here that most journalists are not well-versed in deception, subjective validation, cold reading, or things like the placebo effect, much less in the intricacies of science. So, they're not equipped to help us. Furthermore, most journalists are in the entertainment and amusement business. They aren't hired to educate people or to encourage critical thinking about what they write about. They're paid to write stories that attract readers and viewers. Usually, they tell true stories, but it is the story, not the effect of the story that matters.

For example, two years ago I blogged about a piece in the Sacramento Bee on Allison DuBois. She claims to be psychic and Kelsey Grammer believes her to the extent that he produced the television show "Medium" based on her alleged psychic detective work. I considered the article by Allen Pierleoni to be a promotional piece for DuBois. I notified him of my posting. He emailed me back that he wasn't going to read it and asked me not to write to him again. He'd done a similar piece on a local hypnotherapist, equally uncritical and promotional, a year or so earlier and I'd also blogged about it. Over the past decade I've recorded dozens of similar encounters in my Mass Media Bunk and Skeptimedia blogs.

Anyway, what caught my eye in Begley's blog was not so much her "sorry, I can't help you, folks" spiel, but rather it was her revelation of Penn Jillette's unabashed anti-rational emotionalism that called me to attention. Uh oh. You invite her to your party and she spills the beans on one of the guests of honor. She writes:

Someone asked Penn whether he still believed that man-made climate change is bunk, as he has said more than once. Penn's basic answer was: I loathe everything about Al Gore, so since Gore has been crusading against climate change it must be garbage.

Being a comic, of course, Penn can always say he was joking. But was he? Begley's not so sure.

Penn & Teller’s terrific “Bull****,” now beginning its sixth season on Showtime, has debunked psychics such as John Edward, feng shui, acupuncture and other forms of pseudoscience and the paranormal. But here was Penn, a great friend to the skeptic community, basically saying, don’t bother me with scientific evidence, I’m going to make up my mind about global warming based on my disdain for Al Gore. (Both Penn and Teller are well-known libertarians and supporters of the libertarian Cato Institute, which has been one of the leaders in spreading doubt about global warming.) Which just goes to show, not even the most hard-nosed empiricists and skeptics are immune from the power of emotion to make us believe stupid things.

Penn's claims about acupuncture helping with back aches, second-hand smoke not being carcinogenic, and a few other things might cast a shadow over the hard-nosed empiricist moniker for the big guy.

update: Penn's reply to Begley's blog was published in the Los Angeles Times. He says Begley, the science journalist from Newsweek, didn't get it right. He says he didn't deny global warming. All he said was that he didn't know if all those scientists were right who say there is global warming and that a good part of it is due to human behavior, such as emitting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Penn writes:

I elaborated on "I don't know" quite a bit. I said that Al Gore was so annoying (that's scientifically provable, right?) that I really wanted to doubt anything he was hyping, but I just didn't know. I also emphasized that really smart friends, who knew a lot more than me, were convinced of global warming.

That's reassuring. Maybe the Cato Institute should copy the agnostics and sell a bumper sticker with scare quotes: I don't "know" and you don't either.

Sounds like BS to me.

What's with Newsweek?

In addition to Begley's blog about TAM VI, Newsweek has been publishing stories recently that indicate a change in direction (to satisfy a perceived want from readers?). The shift seems to have started with the BeliefNet connection and now articles on psychics and other bits of woo seem to be increasing. For example, in just the past few days, the following articles have been posted online:

Beyond Qigong: Stronger Remedies
The $10,000-a-Month Psychic
Terror Watch: Nixon and Dixon
My Turn Online: Next Stop, My Calling

The Rogues Broadcast from TAM VI

The June 21 SGU podcast originated in Las Vegas at TAM VI. Dr. Steven Novella introduced Brian Dunning, who described his "what I did on my vacation" project: the host of the podcast Skeptoid made a 40-minute video on critical thinking for beginners. Called "Here Be Dragons," you can view it here.

The rogues, as they refer to themselves - though without Perry DeAngelis the appellation just doesn't seem fitting - ran through some news items, including a story about a scam involving a car that runs on water. "Who cares if it's a scam," somebody wrote online in defense of the project. "As long as it works?" Great line, and it evoked much laughter.

The rogues took questions from the audience. One fellow asked how he might best go about getting an older co-worker to think differently about some woo or other. The issue seemed to be that he felt his arguments would be dismissed without consideration because of his youth. There was some talk about ad hominems and gullibility, ending with some advice to get knowledgeable and present your arguments as cogently as you can. Then, let the chips fall where they may. Another option thrown out was to ask the person if there is something she doesn't believe in and then get her to explain why she doesn't believe it. Sound advice, if the person is open minded. Sometimes, it is a waste of time to engage people in an argument. Some people lead with their gut, like Penn on occasion, and are so emotionally invested in a belief that they are impervious to rational discussion. This emotional imperviousness is generally an individual thing, but conspiracy theorists are notoriously impervious to exploring obvious alternatives.

On the other hand, I've found that many people who believe in woo are intelligent, not gullible, and often able to spin out arguments in their defense that even the best of debaters couldn't keep up with. They often make claims you've never heard before and have no way of knowing whether they're true or not. Again, conspiracy theorists stand out here. In such cases, it might be wise to forget trying to win over the believer with arguments. For believers in other types of woo, an alternative is to agree that their way of looking at things is one way that could be true (as any open-minded person can see!), but ask if there aren't alternative explanations that ought to be considered (in all fairness). This approach seems especially warranted if the person believes because she knows from personal experience that it works! If you understand the placebo effect and have some knowledge of the kinds of studies that have been done on such things as acupuncture or homeopathy, for example, you ought to be able to provide an alternative view that the person must consider or else be clearly closed-minded. Suggesting an experiment could be helpful. Okay. You pray for your office plant while wearing a tinfoil hat and I'll just water mine. They're the same kind of plant, bought from the same store, sitting on the same window sill, and we're each feeding them with one-a-month fertilizer tabs, so yours should grow bigger and greener if your rituals work. Right? Let's give it a go for three weeks and see what happens.

If your colleague comes up with an ad hoc explanation for the apparent failure of her plant to do better than yours (I used the wrong brand foil or I didn't pray with enough sincerity), you can try to get her to see that maybe there's another explanation for her plant's failure to perform. You could, or you could just leave her to her delusions and use your time more wisely. Writing this reminds me of the time I met an investment banker on the golf course who informed me that the U.S. military had perfected teleportation and we could teleport men and weapons at will in Iraq if we so desired. He gave me his card and the name of a website to check out. I did. The site was an April Fools' Day joke. He seemed intelligent, but he didn't get the joke. I emailed him and asked him to look at the date on the website page. I never heard back from him.

In any case, I don't think I or any other skeptic has an obligation to engage everyone we meet who believes in some woo or other. There's not enough time in the day for such activity unless you're a hermit. Also, sometimes it's just not appropriate to challenge a person's weird beliefs. The fellow golfer I mentioned in the previous paragraph caught my eye when he started moving his arms and hands in a strange way, like he was moving air from around his body toward his gut. I asked him what the hell he was doing and he said he was getting rid of negative energy and replacing it with positive energy. I was there to play golf and was not about to engage him in a discussion of his idea of energy. I also wanted to see if his delusion would help his game. It didn't.

Another question asked of the SGU panel had to do with skepticism and politics. Dr. Novella handled this one and stated that skepticism and science can inform the debate over values and policies but since values and policies are matters of personal preference, skepticism can't take a stand. Of course, skepticism isn't a set of beliefs, but an attitude and a set of tools used in evaluating claims. With all due respect, that attitude and those tools should not be left at the door when the issue is one of values or policies. No one has made this argument better than Richard Dawkins in his repeated attempt to get people to see that religion should not be given a free pass to make whatever claims it wants with impunity. Chris Mooney has also made a strong case for this argument by his repeated attempts to get us to see that we need not be derailed by a few contrarians on policy issues.

Skepticism itself can't resolve any dispute, but it can do more than just inform the issue.  A much better argument can be made, for example, for permitting embryonic stem cell research than can be made for making it illegal. We don't have to just throw up our hands and say, well Bush and the religious fanatics are in power now, so they get to make the rules. When our guy gets in power, we'll make different rules. The idea of one-celled "persons" with rights is not defensible except by making up a claim about those cells having souls that must be protected because they were created by some all-powerful, invisible sky god. Doing research with embryonic stem cells because of the great potential for social utility is more defensible than making it illegal. The only harm here is to the feelings of people who imagine that babies are being killed when embryonic stem cells are harvested. That harm is miniscule compared to the potential for good that such research may yield.

p.s. For two interesting interviews, one with Neil deGrasse Tyson and the other with Adam Savage of "Mythbusters," listen to the latest Skepticality podcast, also originating in Las Vegas at TAM VI.

Placebo Effect Not Real, Doctor Says

Mark Crislip, M.D., in a recent guest column on  Science-based Medicine, writes:

I do not think there is a placebo effect. Period. None. Zip. Zero. Nada. Zilch.

Crislip doesn't beat around the bush. Fair enough. Since I've been maintaining that hypnotherapy is indistinguishable from a placebo and that the many satisfied customers of things like acupuncture and homeopathy can be explained by the placebo effect, I think I ought to respond.

Crislip is a practicing infectious disease doctor in Portland, Oregon. He is author of the Quackcast podcast (a review of supplements, complementary and so-called alternative medicine), a blog, and a couple of other podcasts on medical issues.

He begins his argument by dividing outcomes that don't occur into two types: objective and subjective. He explains this division by reference to the 2001 article by Asbjorn Hrobjartsson, M.D., and Peter C. Götzsche, M.D.: "Is the Placebo Powerless - An Analysis of Clinical Trials Comparing Placebo with No Treatment," which appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine. That study found no significant difference between placebo and no treatment groups, but it did find "possible small benefits in studies with continuous subjective outcomes and for the treatment of pain." The objective part of pain has to do with trauma to nerves and signals to the brain. The subjective part has to do with the feeling and appreciation of pain. In short, there is the bodily trauma and there is your feeling and perception of the trauma to your body. They are, obviously, quite distinct.

Crislip's view is that "the placebo effect with pain is a mild example of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT); the pain stays the same, it is the emotional response that is altered." He doesn't fill in the argument here, but he seems to be implying that since we do not consider CBT a placebo and CBT works by altering emotional responses, other treatments that work by altering emotional responses are not placebos, either.

Crislip then analyzes a 2006 BMJ article: "Sham device v inert pill: randomised controlled trial of two placebo treatments. The objective of the study was to determine whether sham acupuncture has a greater placebo effect than an inert pill in patients with persistent arm pain. The researchers found no difference in objective results but the sham acupuncture had greater subjective effects than the placebo pill. The researchers concluded: "Placebo effects seem to be malleable and depend on the behaviours embedded in medical rituals." Crislip concludes: "Ain't no such thing as a placebo effect, only a change in perception." However, in presenting his defense, Crislip provides evidence for an important element of placebo and nocebo effects: suggestion. He writes:

Two different placebos decreased pain, one placebo was better than the other. Why?

The answer may be in another interesting result of the study: side effects. Patients were told in the informed consent what the side effects of the active therapies were, even though initially they all were getting placebo. And the informed consent worked to ‘cause’ side effects: three of the placebo subjects dropped out from dry mouth and fatigue and 10% of the sham had increased pain after the needle was ‘removed’.

Crislip then goes on to unintentionally add support for another important element of placebo effects: expectation. There is good evidence, he notes, that expectation significantly affects how things taste to us. "People have the result they expect to have and the side effects they are told they will have." If I understand him, he seems to be saying that if there is only a subjective effect to a treatment, then there is no placebo effect. If this is so, then his argument is a one of semantics. So, when he writes "In humans there is no ‘real’ effect from placebo," he means there is no objective effect, only a subjective effect.

He concludes his argument by noting that he couldn't find any evidence from scientific studies on a placebo effect in animals.

To the argument that some relief from pain from placebo treatments comes from the release of endorphins, Crislip responds by noting that in his own case involving several surgeries, he only got relief from one surgery that didn't require him to take pain killers.

I see two problems with his argument. The first I've already noted. He defines placebo effect in such a way as to exclude subjective effects from suggestion or expectation. Second, his selection of studies to review ignores those studies that have found an objective placebo effect. In my entry in The Skeptic's Dictionary on the placebo effect, I note that after the publication of the study by Hrobjartsson and Götzsche:

Dr. John C. Bailar III said in an editorial that accompanied the study: "The shoe is on the other foot now. The people who claim there are placebo effects are going to have to show it." The need, he said, is for large, rigorously designed studies that clearly define and measure effects of drugs and therapies versus placebos versus no intervention at all. These studies will have to clearly distinguish objective measurements (such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, etc.) and subjective measurements (such as reports of pain or evaluative sensory observations by researchers, e.g., "I can see your tumor is smaller" or "I can see you are not as depressed as before").

The kind of study called for by Dr. Bailar has been done and several such studies are reviewed in chapter nine of R. Barker Bausell's Snake Oil Science (2007): "How We Know That the Placebo Effect Exists." One in particular is worth reviewing here. It was published in the Journal Pain two months after the Hrobjartsson and Götzsche article. "Response expectancies in placebo analgesia and their clinical relevance" was the work of Antonella Pollo et al. and demonstrated that placebos can help people with serious pain. The following is from their abstract:

Thoracotomized patients were treated with buprenorphine [a powerful pain reliever] on request for 3 consecutive days, together with a basal intravenous infusion of saline solution. However, the symbolic meaning of this basal infusion was changed in three different groups of patients. The first group was told nothing about any analgesic effect (natural history). The second group was told that the basal infusion was either a powerful painkiller or a placebo (classic double-blind administration). The third group was told that the basal infusion was a potent painkiller (deceptive administration). Therefore, whereas the analgesic treatment was exactly the same in the three groups, the verbal instructions about the basal infusion differed. The placebo effect of the saline basal infusion was measured by recording the doses of buprenorphine requested over the three-days treatment. We found that the double-blind group showed a reduction of buprenorphine requests compared to the natural history group. However, this reduction was even larger in the deceptive administration group. Overall, after 3 days of placebo infusion, the first group received 11.55 mg of buprenorphine, the second group 9.15 mg, and the third group 7.65 mg. Despite these dose differences, analgesia was the same in the three groups. These results indicate that different verbal instructions about certain and uncertain expectations of analgesia produce different placebo analgesic effects, which in turn trigger a dramatic change of behaviour leading to a significant reduction of opioid intake.

The patients who thought their IV contained a powerful pain reliever required 34% less of the analgesic than the patients who weren't told anything about their IV and 16% less than the patients who were told the IV could be either a powerful pain killer or a placebo. Each group got exactly the same amount of pain killer but their requests for the analgesic differed dramatically. The only significant difference among the three groups was the set of verbal instructions about the basal infusion. The study was too short for the differences to be explained by the natural history of recovery, regression, or any of the other alternatives found by Hrobjartsson and Götzsche.

Several things are worth noting about this experiment. The setting involves treatment being provided by medical personnel in a medical facility. This kind of setting usually involves a strong desire for recovery or relief on the part of the patient, as well as a belief that the treatment will be effective. The different verbal instructions about the basal IV would lead to different expectations. Belief, motivation, and expectation are essential to the placebo effect. Classical conditioning  and suggestion by an authoritative healer seem to be triggering mechanisms for the placebo effect (Bausell 2007: 131).

Crislip would probably not be impressed and note that subjective effects and conditioning are not placebos, even if everybody else doing research in this area thinks that they are.

I also note in my entry on the placebo effect:

Martina Amanzio et al. (2001) demonstrated that "at least part of the physiological basis for the placebo effect is opioid in nature" (Bausell 2007: 160). We can be conditioned to release such chemical substances as endorphins, catecholamines, cortisol, and adrenaline. One reason, therefore, that people report pain relief from both acupuncture and sham acupuncture is that both are placebos that stimulate the opioid system.

I assume Crislip is aware of Amanzio's work, but he doesn't mention it. In his responses to his critics on his website he seems to reject conditioning as having anything to do with the placebo effect.

So, by defining the placebo effect in such a way as to exclude subjective perceptions, by ignoring studies that find objective effects from placebos, and by denying that conditioning is part of the placebo effect, Crislip is able to make his case. There is no placebo effect because he defines it in such a way as to exclude all the elements that others consider part of the placebo process.

Researchers on this subject might be better off if they ignore Crislip and take their cue from a recent study published in the BMJ: "Components of placebo effect: randomised controlled trial in patients with irritable bowel syndrome." The researchers tried to tease out the separate elements of the placebo effect. They look at three distinct components of a treatment: assessment and observation, a therapeutic ritual, and a supportive patient-practitioner relationship. It would not be surprising to find further research breaking down the effect into even smaller components. I don't think most researchers will agree with Crislip that there is no placebo effect, even if it turns out that no single component of the effect is sufficient to bring about the effect or that it is not necessary for all of the components to occur together. Nor will it matter that some of the components are also found in processes we don't usually associate with the placebo effect, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.

Lunacy

From Bob Park: "John McCain told Florida newspaper editors that it would be exciting to send a man to Mars. He explained that he’s been intrigued by Mars ever since reading Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles. Actually, Mars has changed a lot since then. I’ve been making a list of appropriate crew members for the trip and I’d be happy to include McCain so he could see the changes for himself."

Barack Obama, on the other hand, said he would continue developing NASA’s next spacecraft, the Constellation, but would postpone missions to the moon and Mars by five years (until after he's elected a to a second term?). NASA wants to send humans to the moon again by the year 2020. Park thinks putting humans in either space would be a waste of time. I agree. You might too when you see his reasons. (Click here to read them.)

McCain commented on the Supreme Court decision that says the President doesn't have the constitutional right to order people held indefinitely without filing charges or taking them to trial. He called it the worst decision ever made. While McCain would like to pack the court with more hypocrites like Antonin Scalia, Obama is courting the religious right by promising to extend Bush's faith-based support with government money. Scalia is a hypocrite because he claims that the federal constitution should be true to the words of the framers, yet he complains about the consequences of the court's decisions that he disagrees with. He says his is a minimalist Constitution and that if you want social change, legislate it. Yet, he voted to go against more than 200 years of legal thinking and opposed the right of Washington, D.C. to ban guns. To a true originalist, the social consequences of a court decision should be irrelevant. When Scalia is in the minority on a decision, he has a penchant for criticizing the motives of his fellow justices....as if his motives are pure or as if motives matter more than legal arguments. He disrespects the Constitution and the Court, and by his words encourages others to do so, too. President McCain's comments indicate he would do the same.

This should be quite a competition. On the one side we have those who think all you have to do is invade a country (and all that entails), say you're at war, round up whomever you please and take them to wherever you please, torture them and hold them indefinitely while denying them any rights since you're at war, and you have magically done nothing unconstitutional. Forget about morality. Your basic principle is simple: if the end doesn't justify the means, nothing does. You're fighting the War Against Terrorism, don't you know? So, you should feel pride that your country has become a terror to the rest of the world. Can people really feel proud of such actions? Is this what patriotism has become in America?

On the same side we have a candidate with his own TV network working for him,* which should make it easier to attack the other side for lack of patriotism because their leader doesn't wear a flag lapel pin. Personally, I prefer someone who will uphold the Constitution to someone who will claim to uphold it while stomping all over it or who plans to continue the policies of such a person. Will the lapel pin be the swift boat of 2008? Or will it be just one of many swift boats piloted by the spirit of Karl Rove?* President Obama may raise my taxes, but President McCain and his people will raise my blood pressure.

Attention Students: Need $5,000?

The James Randi Educational Foundation will award up to $10,000 in academic scholarships for use in the Fall semester of 2008 and beyond. The scholarships, in amounts of $5000, $2500, $1500, and $1000, may be awarded to deserving students in potentially any field of study, at the graduate or undergraduate level. The deadline is July 15, 2008. For more information click here.

Shocking News from Singapore

Here's a story you don't read about every day, probably because it happens every day: a woman in Singapore got relief from excruciating pain not from acupuncture, not from massage therapy, but from surgery! What a shocking bit of news. It's not shocking that the woman got relief from surgery and didn't get anything but temporary relief from acupuncture. It's shocking that somebody bothered to write about it. Thank you Cheryl Tan of AsiaOne.

Jean and Her Scheme

A few newsletters ago, I wrote about a common scam involving the promise of big money with little effort on your part run, apparently, by a woman named Jean. I responded to her lure of easy money. She says on her website that she'd do all the work and I'd receive big checks in the mail. All I received were emails  (29 of them) from someone calling himself Michael Rasmussen. After six weeks, I asked to be removed from the mailing list. Each email promises easy money and warns me that I must act now (only available to the first 30 who respond!) or forever be a loser. Each one advises me to get in on the ground floor by buying some lame video or pamphlet on how to get rich quick. The last offer involved a pitch for an eBook from "Chris X" who, says Michael, is "the author of the fastest selling eBook in Clickbank history - Day Job Killer. He sold over 9,000 copies of the course during its first week of launch!" If that's true, I'd quit my day job - if I had one. Michael always offers me a free gift and a bonus.  He even answers my recurring question: why does this stranger want to make me rich?

Because he knows that he can just re-create another campaign in another market and build it up to a profitable level all over again. But there's another reason too, of course, and it has to do with you, Bob.

He's about to launch a brand new product that is going to blow the doors off anything he's come up with before. It's called Google Nemesis, and it's essentially a turn key solution for affiliate marketing success. It's much more than just a course... it also includes a piece of software that cost Chris over $100,000 to produce.

Google Nemesis takes the complicated art of using Google Adwords to promote affiliate programs, and makes it drop dead simple.

"Drop-dead simple." Took the words right out of my mouth, Michael. You must be psychic.

****

In closing, John Renish sent me this quote from Thomas Jefferson: "May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government." If you heard President Bush on Independence Day at Monticello, you heard these same words...minus the part in boldface.

For a detailed look at what Jefferson thought of the Bible, see his edited version of the Gospels: The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.

* AmeriCares *

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