Skeptic News: No Druids, New Freeland

NZ Skeptics Newsletter

 

No Druids, New Freeland

 

Sadly the Druids cancelled on us last week due to the bad weather here in Wellington, so I was unable to attend their winter solstice event. However we (a small group of Skeptics in the Pub regulars) have been invited to the spring equinox event instead, so expect an update in 3 months.

Instead, let me regale you with the story of how I no longer have to make my mortgage payments or pay rates on my property. Does this sound too good to be true? That’s probably because it is. Don’t try this at home, kids!

Mark Honeychurch

New Freeland

There’s a lawyer in New Zealand called Liz Lambert who thinks she has hit upon a legal loophole that allows people to claim any piece of land as their own. As background, there are two main forms of land ownership in many countries - Fee Simple and Allodial. Fee simple is the type of land ownership you or I have access to. As archaic legal terms, Fee in this case means ownership, and Simple means without any kind of time limit (freehold rather than leasehold). Governments, on the other hand, usually have Allodial ownership of land, which is more of an absolute ownership without a requirement to pay anyone rates, etc (although in some cases there may be private allodial ownership, such as church land in some european countries). So, in New Zealand’s case, the Crown has Allodial Title over New Zealand, and we citizens can then purchase a Fee Simple Title to part of that land. It still belongs to the Crown under their allodial title, but we’ve purchased a right to live on it forever (barring certain circumstances like compulsory acquisition).

Ms Lambert thinks she has figured out how to claim land under an allodial title in New Zealand, and she’s been good enough to let everyone know what we have to do:

  • Decide on a piece of land that is either unoccupied or that you already occupy.
  • Make a flag that is not a corporate flag or imperial flag.
  • Make something you could copyright if need be. Attach it to your stake, Plant it on your land.
  • Get a spade and turn the first sod on your land.
  • Plant a food crop of some description, a potato or kumara is ideal, you need to make clear you intend to stay on the land and use it to sustain yourself.
  • Take photographs or videos of the above and publish online in your preferred media.
  • Notify the council of the land’s new status including photos.
  • Inform them that you will no longer be paying rates as the land is now allodial.
Now, I’ve done all this at home - I had my 7 year old daughter make a flag, grabbed a spade and dug a hole, planted a chilli plant in the hole I dug, and stuck the flag in the ground. I then posted my photo evidence, along with the following claim, to Facebook:

This Facebook post is an official notice to the New Zealand government, and Porirua Council, that the land at 78 Mercury Way is now under Allodial Title, exclusively owned by the Honeychurch family. Please cease the charging of all rates and other fees, as the property is no longer under New Zealand jurisdiction.

I suspect that, outside of having made my Facebook friends a little confused, this is not going to mean that Porirua Council stops sending me rates bills, and of course I’m not stupid enough to stop paying them. After we had done this, I explained to my daughters that we would no longer have to pay the council rates, or the bank a mortgage. My 11 year old daughter said that was just “silly”, and that the council will probably just charge me more if I don’t pay, and might come round and knock my flag down as well.

Using this legal "trick", Liz Lambert, Kelvyn Alp (the host of Counterspin, a weird extreme right conspiracy show online), Damien De Ment and others have claimed Abel Tasman National Park as their property, and renamed it to New Freeland. They have invited people to move onto the land to build properties, businesses, etc, with no rates or other fees to be paid.

This whole daft idea is a lot like the Maori Ranger ID cards I looked into last month, with someone’s half-cocked idea of the law being used to magically override the legal system by supposedly leaving New Zealand’s jurisdiction. And, like the silly ID cards, there are already people being harmed by these ideas. A recent question from someone on the New Freeland Facebook page asked:

“[I] Have refused to pay rates this last 1/4 now got a new rate DEMAND ( they are SO arrogant demanding not asking nicely!) with the added penalty on. What has anyone else done? replied or ignored?”

In the end this is going to cost some people a lot of money - and I suspect it will be those least able to pay the fees, fines, and legal bills that will accumulate the longer they refuse to pay their dues.

How not to handle a COVID outbreak

Obviously India has been through the wringer recently with a huge increase in the number of COVID cases, and deaths, in the country. Thankfully the number of active cases is dropping, but at its peak around four and a half thousand people were dying per day, and there have been almost four hundred thousand reported deaths so far - although many experts fear the real total is likely to be much higher.

India is also well known for its widespread use of a variety of unproven therapies, including homeopathy, Ayurveda and acupuncture. So, it’s unsurprising to hear that there are some people in India unscrupulous enough to sell some pretty daft COVID cures to desperate innocent people.

In line with India’s fascination with cows, cow dung, urine and milk are gaining in popularity as treatments - smearing yourself in dung and milk, and drinking diluted urine.

The Indian Medical Association has warned that not only will these treatments not cure COVID, but they carry the very real risk of spreading other diseases. And the last thing you want when your body is busy fighting a potentially deadly virus is more disease.

Sadly, it’s not just grifters in India who are promoting alternative treatments like Ayurvedic herbs. Coronil, a herbal concoction, has been touted first by a popular yoga guru called Baba Ramdev, and later by government Ministers, as an effective cure. These claims are accompanied by talk of a scientific study proving that the herbs work, but the study was performed on fish and its conclusions were basically that before selling the product as a COVID cure it needed to be tested on humans. AYUSH, the Indian ministry for alternative medicine, appears to have been duped into approving Coronil as a “supporting measure” for COVID. And India’s Health Minister was present at last year’s launch event, where the company claimed Coronil will cure COVID within 7 days with a “100% guarantee”.

Because of the recent medical oxygen shortage in India, many members of the public have been looking for ways to boost their oxygen levels. One Minister promoted a camphor based product as a way to get extra oxygen - camphor is not something anyone should be swallowing. An ex-minister promoted two drops of lemon juice in the nostrils, and Baba Ramdev promoted simply taking two deep breaths. None of these will help anyone who is having problems getting enough oxygen due to COVID infection.

I’ve also seen photos shared by Babu Gogineni on Facebook of indian restaurants selling chutney, dosas and other foods that are claimed to have COVID killing properties:

So, why is the government not stopping this? It seems that, since 2014, the ruling BJP party have been actively working to promote local alternative medicine to the Indian public, creating the Ministry of Ayush which in the middle of a pandemic is pushing a whole raft of unproven COVID treatments and preventions, including warm water, garlic, turmeric, oil pulling and ghee up the nose.

Sadly, this seems to be the way things can go when governments legitimise alternative medicines that have not been through the same rigorous scientific testing that pharmaceuticals have to go through. We’re a lot better off in New Zealand, but sadly we seem to be moving slowly in the wrong direction, with several of the better known alternative therapies lobbying for more recognition. I fear it’s only a matter of time before our government is providing a wasteful side serving of placebo via acupuncture or chiropractic alongside interventions that actually work. After all, if you ask an acupuncturist what conditions their treatments are good for, the answer is usually “everything” - and that’s not science, it’s wishful thinking.

German psychic claims to have solved yet another case

(In)famous German psychic Michael Schneider made the news recently when he claimed to know the exact coordinates of Madeleine McCann’s body. Madeleine, aged 3, went missing in 2007 while she was on holiday in Spain with her family. Despite several leads over the years (and many psychics making predictions), there’s been no definitive answer so far as to what happened to Madeleine - although there is one likely suspect.

On top of this claim, all the news articles I read (and there are many of them, published around the world) made claims about two other recent cases that Michael has supposedly helped the police with.

In January Peter Neumair and Laura Perselli disappeared in Italy, and the claim I’ve read is that Michael supplied the exact coordinates that police would find their remains, which they did. From what I can tell he actually just gave the police a general area, and this area was already of interest because of blood stains found on a nearby bridge, so the police didn’t do anything they weren’t already planning to do.

In May he apparently helped find a woman, Nikola, who had hung herself - although I can find no details of this case in the news.

I also found an Italian news article where Michael claimed to have solved many other murders, including those of Yam Levy, Iushra Gazi, Larissa Biber and Gloria Albrecht. In the article Michael talks about how his predictions aren’t infallible - so he can’t win the lottery - but he can tell if a person is dead or alive from a photo, and his clairvoyance and clairaudience (seeing and hearing from the dead) allow him to figure out where a body is from just a name, home town and details of their last sighting.

Michael’s website seems to be where the media have taken most of these claims from. He has a page where he details his supposed successful cases, as well as a page where he’s found missing animals - Ella the dog, Cleo the cat, etc. His human predictions, even in his own words, are often quite vague. For one missing couple the location he gave was “Spain”. For a missing man, apparently the body was “in the water”. Another was “in a forest, but not in water”.

He includes many of his “inspirations” (as he calls them) in his success list even though he says that he didn’t tell anyone before the police solved the cases - we just have to trust him that he knew their whereabouts. For the claims where he did supposedly tell authorities, he offers no evidence that he actually told anyone - not even a copy of the emails he supposedly sent for many of them. We just have to trust him.

Of course, he doesn’t mention any of the cases where he’s been wrong - although I’ve read comments elsewhere on the internet that describe Michael as a pest who inundates police with his psychic predictions, and he himself admits that he sends multiple predictions to the police for each case he focuses on. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day - if you flood the police with enough educated guesses for enough cases, some of them will be close enough to call them a hit. And Michael’s background as a crime reporter likely helps him to ensure these guesses are fairly well educated.

Elsewhere on his website Michael claims that God has given him this gift. He also states that, although in Germany a lot of people look down on his “ability”, the “fact” that Russian and US military and secret services use psychics proves that they’re real. Of course, he offers no evidence to back up this claim. The reality is that the US ran a project called Stargate to investigate the usefulness of psychic powers like remote viewing (because they thought the Russians were doing it), but closed it down when they realised they had absolutely no reliable evidence that anyone they tested had psychic abilities.

In response to Michael’s recent claim to know exactly where Madeleine’s body is, the German federal police (BKA) replied with a non-committal “Your ­information will be appropriately incorporated into our work”, to which I’m hoping that the “appropriately” they are talking about is “not at all”. The police also told the media that the woods he indicated have already been searched, and dismissed Michael’s information as nothing more than “wild claims”.

Several years ago I sent an OIA request to NZ Police after hearing TV psychic Sue Nicholson claim at one of our conferences that she had helped police with murder cases in the past. The police told me that they have not paid for psychic services, they do not consider psychic information to be credible, and no psychic information has ever helped in solving a crime in New Zealand.

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