Geller offers to exorcise artwork
The Scottish border city of Carlisle says a stone artwork commissioned to mark the millennium has brought floods, pestilence and sporting humiliation, but an unlikely white knight is riding to their rescue (Dominion Post, 10 March). The Cursing Stone is a 14-tonne granite rock inscribed with an ancient curse against robbers, but since it was put in a city museum in 2001 the region has been plagued by foot and mouth disease, a devastating flood and factory closures. Perhaps worst of all, the Carlisle United soccer team has dropped a division.
Israeli spoon-bender Uri Geller has offered to take the stone back to his village where, he says, the Domesday Book records an ancient healing centre. “All the ley lines converge on my garden,” he added. “I believe the curse can be exorcised. I will use my pendulum and cleanse the stone of any evil forces. After that I would like to keep it in my garden. It is a work of art.”
Chinese New Year: Things should improve a bit
Fortune tellers expect the Year of the Rooster, which began in early February, will be better than the previous Year of the Monkey, but not by much (Dominion Post, 7 February). Some of the biggest earthquakes have happened in Rooster years, and more could be expected in this one, said Peter So, a Hong Kong feng shui master. Another feng shui exponent, Raymond Lo, was more upbeat, noting that World War II had ended in a Year of the Rooster. He predicted a more peaceful time in the Middle East and some victories over terrorism. Osama bin Laden will remain at large, however. All this was reported before the recent earthquake in Indonesia, so that’s one hit for the feng shui masters. It’ll be interesting to see how the rest of the year goes.
NIWA studies “indicators”
A National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) scientist has spent three years studying traditional Maori forecasts of weather and climate (Sunday Star-Times, 17 April). Darren King has been working with two iwi on the ways they predicted such events as a storm brewing at sea, or whether a growing season would be hot or cool. If five-finger trees flowered in the top branches first, for example, it was taken as a sign that the season would be cool and unproductive. Flowers appearing first on the bottom branches indicated a warm, bountiful season.
For Ngati Pare, a shrill chorus of morepork meant inclement weather approaching, while the direction and shape of the ash cloud above White Is was also a useful sign. These signs were not taken in isolation: “They would look at a number of different indicators and if the indicators were all pointing in roughly the same direction then they’d make a decision.”
King said there were important lessons to be learned from Maori histories. “There is an example from Kai Tahu tradition where they talk about a mass migration of people from the South Island to the North Island some three or four hundred years ago. This oral history is consistent with palaeo-climatic records that show a very cool period, the Little Ice Age, in New Zealand. It helps to corroborate western science in reconstructing past climate.”
King says there are no plans to scientifically validate the traditional indicators – that decision must be made by Maori.
No surprises in British X-files
The British Government’s Flying Saucer Working Party has finally released secret papers detailing its investigations into UFO reports, 54 years after it wound up (Dominion Post, 5 February). The group concluded further investigation would require a worldwide network of observers and radar stations, but strongly recommended no further study be undertaken, “unless and until some material evidence becomes available.”
The group praised the observations of a Derby fireman of a luminous body travelling at high speed, but concluded it was “undoubtedly a meteorite.” They also concluded a Flight Lieutenant Hubbard was either the victim of an optical illusion or had “deceived himself” about the shape and speed of an object he reported as “a flat disc, light pearl grey in colour … executing a series of S-turns and oscillating.”
In the interim, UFO sightings have continued unabated. The latest Ministry of Defence document shows 91 sightings were recorded last year, with a dozen increasingly dramatic visitations reported from West Kilbride, on the southwest coast of Scotland.
Britain’s UFO spotters were unimpressed by the documents’ release. Judith Jafar, chair of the British UFO Research Association, said: “It is a pointless exercise because the government is not going to release any files that are contentious in any way.”
A letter accompanying the release of the report states: “The MoD does not have any expertise or role in respect of UFO/flying saucer matters or the question of the existence or otherwise of extraterrestrial life forms, about which it remains totally open-minded.”
Death the “ultimate orgasm”
A former Commonwealth Games sprint champion has spent much of his recent life researching death (Waikato Times, 16 April). Mike Agostini, 70, was born in Trinidad but now lives in Australia, and has devoted the last two of his nine books to the issue. The first of these, titled Death – the Ultimate Orgasm, contends that many who have had Near Death Experiences say the process of dying is the ultimate ecstatic experience.
Agostini has collected many stories from members of the public, and celebrities such as Olivia Newton-John and Cathy Freeman, about their encounters with the Beyond. Australian Liberal politician Tony Staley tells how he recovered after being declared clinically dead in a road accident: “It felt as if I was floating in the sky, wrapped in a light coccoon of cotton wool, spinning slowly round and round … everything was coloured pink.” He said the experience removed all fear he ever had of dying, or of death itself.
Says Agostini, “If, as some claim, this is all some sort of madness and delusion, then there are many more mad and disillusioned people than is generally acknowledged.”
Gibberish makes the cut
A string of gibberish generated by a computer has been accepted as a conference paper (Herald, 16 April). Jeremy Stribling and two fellow Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) graduate students questioned the standard of some conferences and wrote a program to generate research papers, complete with nonsensical text, charts and diagrams.
Two papers were submitted to the World Multiconference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics, scheduled for 10-13 July in Orlando, Florida. One, entitled Rooter: A Methodology for the Typical Unification of Access Points and Redundancy, was accepted for presentation. It includes such gems as: “the model for our heuristic consists of four independent components: simulated annealing, active networks, flexible modalities, and the study of reinforcement learning” and “We implemented our scatter/gather I/O server in Simula-67, augmented with opportunistically pipelined extensions.”
The prank recalled New York University physicist Alan Sokal’s 1996 hoax, in which he successfully submitted a paper of meaningless mumbo-jumbo to the journal Social Text. Stribling said he and his colleagues had not heard about that affair until after they had submitted their paper.
Conference organiser Nagib Callaos said they were reviewing their acceptance procedures.
Electricity not for the sensitive
Britains National Radiological Protection Board is reviewing scientific studies of “electro-magnetic hypersensitivity” (EHS) (Dominion Post, 28 January). The NZ$1.9 million studies will review the literature on EHS, a condition which complementary medicine specialist David Dowson thinks is increasing in prevalence. He has about 10 patients he believes to be suffering from the complaint.
Brian Stein, a Leicestershire-based company CEO, says he suffers to such an extent he has to switch the mains off to get to sleep. About four years ago he began to get severe pains in his ear while using the mobile phone. Then he got headaches and pains while he was near computers and in his car. He can no longer watch television, go the cinema or listen to music that comes from devices plugged into the mains.
Swedish neuroscientist Olle Johansson says he has shown in experiments that there is an increase in mast cells near the surface of the skin when exposed to electro-magnetic fields, a similar reaction to that when it is exposed to radioactive material. “The human brain has an electrical field so if you put sources of EMFs nearby, it is not surprising that you get interference, interaction with systems and damage to cells and molecules,” he said.