A spiritualist group has been given $2500 to teach people to communicate with the dead, the Herald On Sunday reports (15 May). The Foundation of Spiritualist Mediums received the Auckland ratepayer money after an application to an Auckland City Council committee. Foundation president Natalie Huggard said it was an essential service to Auckland and was in high demand.
Many people, she said, had problems communicating with the spirit world and didn’t know how to deal with it. A lot of these people, concerned about hearing voices, went to doctors who told them they were schizophrenic and prescribed medication.
The foundation ran courses teaching people how to communicate with the dead and how to heal the sick and injured. The money would fund the foundation’s application to the New Zealand Qualifications Authority for recognition as a recognised training body.
She told the Herald On Sunday the organisation suffered from scepticism because of its ‘metaphysical’ focus and NZQA accreditation would strengthen its credibility. Dunedin writer Hayden Walles said in the NZ Herald (25 May) when Auckland sneezes, the rest of the country had to deal with the ectoplasm. He noted that Telecom and other companies “had shown unseemly lethargy in exploiting this untapped corner of the telecommunications market, but not the Auckland City Council.” Dr Cathy Casey, the chairwoman of the community development and equity committee, said some members expressed concern, resulting in a reduction of the foundation’s grant from the requested $4500 to $2500.
Perhaps the committee saw little reason to give additional funding to Youthline to stop teen suicides when you can simply talk to them after the event? Dr Casey defended the grant, claiming the group contributes to the city’s vision of a vibrant, colourful community. “Well, vibrations are certainly involved,” Walles wrote.
“I’m worried, Auckland. Can I now expect to hear that the transport and urban linkages committee has been consulting eastern gurus for advice on using levitation to ease traffic congestion?”
The trouble with cats
The plastic bottle scourge has hit Japan homes, writes investigative reporter extraordinaire Alice Gordenker in The Japan Times (19 May). They are around not just homes and gardens, but cars as well. Curiosity got the better of Gordenker, who decided to investigate and found it’s all about cats. First of all, she says, ‘petto botoru’ is the generic Japanese term for drink bottles (PET stands for polyethylene tetraphthalate, and has nothing to do with pets she points out.) When filled with water and placed outside, the bottles become ‘nekoyoke’ or scarecats. The theory is that sunlight refracting in the water frightens away cats. (My cat sits for hours by and on the fish tank, the sun refracting its heart out. The only thing that moves her away is when the fridge door is opened – ed.)
Anyway, Gordenker spent hours researching the topic and reckons it was all due to a TV show in the mid-1990s which featured a woman who said she solved her cat problems this way. Of course, we in NZ know it all started in this country, as a way to deter dogs, which as everyone knows are stupider than cats.
“The trouble is the bottles don’t work. As my friend Hiroshi, a self-anointed feline expert, says, ‘Those bottles are an insult to the intelligence of cats.'”
Not only do they not work, they’re a fire hazard, she said. A man in Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture put a bottle on his lawn. It acted like a magnifying glass, focusing sunlight on to the house, causing it to burst into flames. The resulting fire destroyed the shutters and eaves of his house, then jumped and consumed the neighbour’s veranda. Bet that kept the moggies away.
Lawsuit fired at Nasa
Hours after the Nasa probe crashed into comet Tempel 1, legal reverberations were felt in a Moscow court, according to the BBC news (5 July). Amateur astrologer Marina Bay claims that by slamming the probe into the comet, Nasa endangered the future of civilisation.
“Nobody has yet proven that this experiment was safe,” said Ms Bay’s lawyer. “This impact could have altered the orbit of the comet, so now there is a chance that the Tempel may well destroy the earth some day.”
Even if this doesn’t happen, Ms Bay believes any variation in the orbit or the composition of the comet will certainly affect her own fate and she says she is experiencing ‘a moral trauma’ – which only a payment of $300 million will put right.
While Moscow representatives of Nasa have ignored the court hearing, Bay’s legal team remain confident, and are looking for volunteers to join in on the claim. “The impact changed the magnetic properties of the comet, and this could have affected mobile telephony here on Earth. If your phone went down this morning, ask yourself why? And then get in touch with us,” said the lawyer.
On that day my goldfish died. Clearly, Nasa has a lot to answer for.
No hope for enlightenment
Still on the law suit front, a former employee of the New Santana Band has accused musician Carlos Santana and wife of firing him for not being ‘closer to God’, reports the NZ Herald (29 April). In a wrongful termination lawsuit filed in California, Bruce Kuhlman, 59, said Santana’s wife, Deborah, went on a campaign to ‘terminate’ him after her spiritual guru determined through ‘calibration’ tests that Kuhlman was too old to become enlightened. Kuhlman was fired in 2004.
Shroud of a doubt
A French magazine has carried out experiments that again cast doubt on the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin. “A medieval technique helped us to make a Shroud,” Science et Vie said in its July issue. After carbon-14 dating, the original was declared a hoax by the then-archbishop of Turin in 1988. Debate flared again this January, following tests by US chemist Raymond Rogers who suggested other parts might be thousands of years old. He reckoned the radiocarbon samples had been taken from a piece that had been sewn into the fabric by nuns who repaired the Shroud after it was damaged in a fire in 1532. Following a method previously used by sceptics, Science et Vie carried out their own experiment and produced their own shroud and concluded it was easier to make a fake shroud than a real one.
Smithsonian to screen ID movie
The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History has played host to a film intended to undercut evolution (New York Times May 28, 2005).
The Discovery Institute, a group in Seattle that supports ‘intelligent design,’ screened The Privileged Planet: The Search for Purpose in the Universe on June 23.
The film is a documentary based on a 2004 book by Guillermo Gonzalez, an assistant professor of astronomy at Iowa State University, and Jay W Richards, a vice president of the Discovery Institute, that makes the case for the hand of a creator in the design of Earth and the universe.
Museum spokesman, Randall Kremer, said the event should not be taken as support for the views expressed in the film. “It is incorrect for anyone to infer that we are somehow endorsing the video or the content of the video,” he said.
The museum, he said, offers its Baird Auditorium to many organisations and corporations in return for contributions – in the case of the Discovery Institute, US$16,000. When the language of the Discovery Institute’s website was read to him, with its suggestion of support, Kremer said, “We’ll have to look into that.”
Discovery Institute president Bruce Chapman said his organisation approached the museum through its public relations company and the museum staff asked to see the film. “They said that they liked it very much – and not only would they have the event at the museum, but they said they would co-sponsor it,” he recalled. “That was their suggestion. Of course we’re delighted.”
Kremer said staff members viewed the film before approving the event to make sure that it complied with the museum’s policy, which states that “events of a religious or partisan political nature” are not permitted, along with personal events such as weddings, or fundraisers, raffles and cash bars. It also states that “all events at the National Museum of Natural History are co-sponsored by the museum.” When asked whether the announcement on the Discovery Institute’s website meant to imply that the museum supports the film and the event, Chapman replied:
“We are not implying in any sense that they endorsed the content, but they are co-sponsoring it, and we are delighted. We’re not claiming anything more than that. They certainly didn’t say, ‘We’re really warming up to intelligent design, and therefore we’re going to sponsor this.'”
Dutch headmaster creates stir over evolution
Meanwhile in the Netherlands, the headmaster of a Protestant school has agreed to stay at home for a few days after causing a stir by his insistence his teachers adhere to Creationism (www.expatica.com, 12 May). Peter Boon of Augustinus College in Groningen said in an interview with newspaper Dagblad van het Noorden he could not tolerate one of his teachers telling a class he was a supporter of Evolution. News agency ANP reported that many teachers in the school disagree with this and believe that the Theory of Evolution can go hand-in-hand with the Christian view on how life – and humans in particular – has developed.
During a staff meeting, some teachers indicated to Boon they felt offended and as if they were not being taken seriously. Boonthen said he would create a ‘cooling off period’ by staying away from the school for a few days. He said he regretted his remarks to the paper because the subtleties of his argument had been lost, but added that a teacher cannot simply state to his or her class that humans descended from apes. “People have to explain how evolution theory relates to Christian belief,” Boon said. Apart from his position as headmaster, Boon is an active member of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende’s Christian Democrat party.
Botanic Man bungles
Whatever your opinion about global warming, it’s hard to excuse British botanist David Bellamy’s use of dodgy figures to argue, in a 16 April letter to New Scientist, that it is not occurring. George Monbiot took Bellamy to task in the Guardian Weekly (20 May) for his claim that many of the world’s glaciers “are not shrinking but in fact are growing … 555 of all the 625 glaciers under observation by the World Glacier Monitoring Service in Zürich, Switzerland, have been growing since 1980”.
Because Bellamy is president of the Conservation Foundation, the Wildlife Trusts, Plantlife International and the British Naturalists’ Association, his statements carry a great deal of weight, said Monbiot. And as a scientist, he should know you cannot credibly cite data unless it is well-sourced.
After several requests, Bellamy told Monbiot the glacier statistic was from a website, www.iceagenow.com, which was constructed by a former architect called Robert W Felix to promote his self-published book about ‘the coming ice age’. Hardly a reliable reference. Furthermore, the site claims only that 55%, not 555, of the glaciers under observation are advancing. The discrepancy seems to be due to sloppy typing by Bellamy: ‘%’ is typed by pressing the Shift and 5 keys together.
As for the 55% figure, this was supposed to be from “a paper published in Science in 1989”. But searching the journal for that year, Monbiot could find no papers on glacial advance or retreat. For the record, the World Glacier Monitoring Service has records dating back to 1980 for 30 glaciers in nine mountain ranges. These show a pronounced overall decline in glacial mass during that time.
Ghost Busters a bust
It seems TV2 has a new ‘paranormal investigation’ show, called Ghost Hunt, but according to Frances Grant (NZ Herald, 5 July) the main mission is to search for any evidence of shiver-down-the-spine entertainment.
The national skills shortage obviously applies to ghost-busting, says Grant. How one of the team passed her Paranormal Investigations qualification is a complete mystery. Before she even got in the house, and still in bright daylight, she was complaining about suffering something called the ‘bejigglies’.
Grant concluded that the ghost was actually rather challenged when it came to producing blow-you-away special effects. Perhaps, in the digital age, he should give up the haunting and find a day job.