“Stop Sylvia Browne” hijacked

January 5, 2009

I managed to miss this news when it happened. It seems that Robert Lancasters domain must have expired, and a bunch of shysters managed to get the domain and are now using it to promote psychic crap.

All links previously made to the old domain will just direct people to inane adverts for psychics. The best thing would be to update your links to the new domain which is http://stopsylvia.com. By updating your links, you’ll help reduce the Google rank of the psychic fraudsters, and help people more easily find Robert’s site.

See this blog post for more details: http://skeptico.blogs.com/skeptico/2008/10/stop-sylvia-browne-stopped.html

Should the morals of doctors impact their patients?

October 8, 2008

Abortion bill’s rights ‘breach’

You’ll find a link to a petition at the end of this article. This is a plea to offer women in Northern Ireland the same rights available to those in the UK. If you are a UK citizen, please consider reading and signing if you agree with it.

Catholic groups in Australia have recently issue threats to withdraw their medical services, and most recently claimed a bill requiring doctors unwilling to perform abortions to refer to a doctor willing to carry out the procedure is a breach of their human rights.

Catholics have the fingers in a lot of pies around the world. They run quite a few services, such as schools an hospitals, and they receive government funding or subsidy, even if just in the form of various tax exemptions.

The question is, should a doctor be able to deny a patient treatment because their own moral compass tells them to do so? The answer to this is a firm no. The doctors aren’t being legally required to carry-out abortions, they are simply having to refer elsewhere.

Why shouldn’t we respect their moral decisions?

Actually we should. Doctors shouldn’t be the blind tools of the state, or any other organisation for that matter. This is an important principle, since to require doctors to always obey the state would be to absolve them of any personal responsibility.

What if the state passes a law requiring that all an undersirable section of society should be sterilised? Doctors are morally required to refuse to carry out such a procedure, but then it’s quite right that they expect to be dismissed from their positions. Doing the right thing isn’t always easy, and there’s often a sacrifice to be made.

In the same vein, doctors should not be forced to perform abortions or euthanasia, but they should expect that if the law requires them to do so, they should refuse and be fired.

Doctors offer invaluable advice to their patients, since they have a great deal of education and experience that most patients lack. Abortion is an unpleasant and mentally damaging procedure. No-one in the right mind uses abortion as a substitute for contraception, and it’s silly to claim that legalised abortion somehow makes it desirable. Legalised abortion is the lesser of two evils in many cases. Do you force a woman to carry a baby to term if it’s known that the child is going to be unable to survive outside the womb? What about the case of a rape victim? The mother and the doctor need to discuss this, with the doctor making all options available and offering expert advice, not their own superstitious beliefs. God will not punish you for having an abortion, mainly because God probably doesn’t exist.

Catholic doctors who believe that referring to another doctor for an abortion is a violation of their religion should stand by their convictions, but they should not expect to retain their job. A vegetarian couldn’t train to become a butcher, and then object to handling meat, so why should a doctor be any different?

What happens if doctors are allowed to let their morals guide their patients’ treatment?

Patients will not receive the treatment they deserve. What’s to stop a Jehovah’s witness from refusing to offer blood transfusions to patients? Could a Muslim doctor refuse to treat a female patient?

You could argue that Jehovah’s witnesses and Muslims would go ahead and treat the patient, since the general consenus in their religions may allow for that, but that’s not always true. Even within a single religion, followers do not agree on all aspects of it. Not all Catholics believe that contraception is a sin, but some do. Not all Hindus believe that dalits are entitled to fewer rights, but some do. It’s impossible to agree on the one-true rule, since religion is not a rational thing.

But patients can just go to another doctor

That’s not always possible. Consider small towns, or people who can’t afford to travel across the state or county. What do they do? The same problem is seen in Catholic-run schools. Yes parents can look for alternatives, but what do they do if the alternative is impractical?

Who should have the rights here? The teacher/doctor who is refusing to do their job due to their personal superstitions, or the student/patient who is trying to seek the services that their taxes paid for? Should a police officer chose between the law of the land, or could they decide to enforce Sharia law?

Why should religion be treated any differently?

What if I as a doctor decide one day that germ theory is blasphemy, so I stop offering treatments based on it, and I refuse to refer my patients to a doctor who is a little more sensible than I? I have no religion to back that up, but surely that’s just as valid as the stance that some Catholic doctors wish to take.

What if I don’t like asians? Should I also be free to refuse treating those soulless devils? No, my job is to provide impartial and expert services. If those services should conflict with my moral beliefs, I need to get out of the way and hand over my position to someone who is willing to do the job.

This situation is yet another example of why we shouldn’t farm out these services to religiously motivated groups, unless they can offer their services without strings attached. There should be no such thing as a Catholic hospital, it is simply a hospital.

If churches want to run schools and hospitals according to their own rules, then they should stop applying for funding and tax exemptions. Pay for it themselves, and then decide their own rules. The money could instead be given to organisations willing to offer services in a rational manner that puts the patient first.

Northern Ireland Abortion Rights

Challenging Boots

August 12, 2008

Majikthyse has challenged Boots to reconcile their lofty claims of corporate and social responsibility with their willingness to deceive their customers through the sale of quackery.

These Boots were made for walking……

As to be expected, Boots responded in their usual way, which was to evade his sensible and honest questions. Now, it’s quite normal for companies to issue rather wishy-washy answers, when called on sensitive issues. Most of us work for a company, and anyone working with the public will know that it’s not always possible to give a direct answer. The thing is, Boots are not an ordinary company.

If a company is honest and describes their goal as being “To make oddles of money!”, it’s fair to expect that they won’t be focussing much on the ethical side. If on the other hand, a company claims “..We aim to reflect integrity and stewardship in everything we do.”, then you would expect a certain level of moral responsibility. That quote is from the Boots Corporate Social Responsibility policy. How much integrity is there in selling useless alternative medicine products?

Ultimately it’s the choice of the consumer, but should a trusted high-street chemist be selling these things alongside real medicine. In my local branch, the fake medicine sits directly opposite real medicine. As well as the usual homeopathy crap, they’re selling the infamous Silent Knight Ring – a ring that supposedly defies all known medical knowledge by curing snoring. How would we feel if Dixons, a major electrical retailer, sold DVD players that claimed to provide Dolby Stereo, yet were just providing regular stereo output?

Pay a visit to your local Boots, have a look at their alternative products, and then ask yourself if you really want to give money to company with the moral integrity of wild west snake-oil salesman?

The Guardian has recent coverage of Boot’s ongoing journey in to quack medicine:

Boots accused of selling quack medicines

Sylvia Browne: I can’t read Germans

June 15, 2007

Robert Lancaster has an article that dissembles Sylvia Browne’s 1989 appearance on a TV show called “Exploring Psychic Powers Live!”.

Sylvia Browne on Exploring Psychic Powers Live!

This is an appearance in which she failed miserably and afterwards claimed that she was set-up because, in her words “…they were all German, and they couldn’t understand one word I said. And that was a setup, as you well know.”

Robert has posted a link to the video of this appearance and it’s pretty clear that the audience were not German. According to James Randi who was there at the time, there was one German who was also fluent in English.

The terms of the test being conducted on the show meant that Sylvia couldn’t solicit information from the audience, they could respond simply with yes or no. Of course, this condition makes it very difficult for a cold-reader to do much but it shouldn’t be a problem for a genuine psychic.

I’m going to look at the transcript from the site and examine what happened. The transcript is taken from Robert’s article and includes his annotations.

Sylvia introduces herself by saying “What I’m going to do tonight is I’m going to go through this audience, and I’m going to do readings. And the only thing that I want you to do is to validate or invalidate anything that I say. Because a lot of times things can be in the future.”

Although she reinforces the rules of the test, she immediately gives herself a get-out clause. Some of what she says may appear untrue since she could be describing a future event. Based on this disclaimer, it is almost impossible for Sylvia to fail unless we follow the lives of all the participants until death.

Here’s the first reading.

[Brown chooses a woman at the far end of the front row.]

Brown: This lady over here. You’ve never met me before, have you? [the woman shakes her head "no."] There is a young male in your life that has very, very puppy dog eyes.

[At this point, the camera mistakenly shows a long close-up of the wrong woman.]

Brown: You know what I mean? The eyes droop down at the corners… He is going to come back into your life and then leave your life and come back into your life. This looks like a direct connection to you. He’s kinda slender, he’s athletic-looking, he has sort of large bones. Ummm, and this is going to cause you a great deal of problems. Do you understand what this is about? Do you understand what I’m saying?

Woman #1: Uh-huh. Yes I do.

Brown: And what part?

Woman #1: Umm… The… person coming back and forth and cause problems.

Brown: Who is that to you?

Woman #1: [pause, shakes her head] I think it’s somebody I know, I’ve met recently.

Brown: That keeps coming back and forth. [the woman nods her head "yes."]

Note the vague nature of this boy. I think that most people would recognise the young male being described by Sylvia. The participant comments that it’s someone she met recently so it’s most likely not even a relative. Sylvia created a vague character and it’s not surprising that the woman searched her memory to find a match. By the way, the participant seems to be a native English speaker – you can watch the video yourself to confirm that.

The next attempt wasn’t quite as successful. On to the second participant.

Brown: All right, there’s somebody here too, this lady right next to you. [turns to audience behind her] I’ll get over to you in just a minute. [turns back to second woman] Uhhh, the name Bill keeps coming through so strong from you. Do you know anyone at this point by the name of Bill?

Woman #2: No, I don’t.

Brown: There’s a heavy-set, full-faced man with jowls, very, very blue eyes that really has something to do with real estate or property that’s going to help you. This is aside from the Bill, because this William is also another person.

[The woman shakes her head "no."]

Brown: And this has to do with a two-layered property. In other words, an upstairs and a downstairs.

Woman #2: No, I…

Brown: Not at this point.

Woman #2: [shakes her head "no"] Not at this point.

Brown: Okay. ‘Cause this person is going to be very significant to you by the name of William. All right? [the woman nods her head "yes.] Because a lot of times these things can be in the future.

Strike one, the woman does not know anyone called Bill. Strike two, the woman doesn’t know this other man by the name of William. Sylvia mentions a two-story property but the woman knows nothing about this. That’s surprising since a lot of people would answer yes and then volunteer information that would allow the cold-reader to make more accurate predictions. That wasn’t allowed in this case so Sylvia remains in the dark. This participant sounds very much like a native English speaker.

Sylvia finishes by invoking her deus ex machina, claiming that William could be a man in her future.

Sylvia then moves on to the German.

Brown: [turns to a man behind her] Let’s go, let’s go to you. There is a two-year, two and a half-year period in which it looks like you are going to be – I don’t want to say without a job, but there’s a flat period in which you’re not doing what you want to do. [the man is smiling] And that’s going to cause you a lot of dissension. And it’s a two-and-a-half-year period, then you’re going to get into a lot of marketing and sales work. And this marketing and sales work has to do with three other men that you’re going to be training.

Man #1: I understand you not so good, I am a German.

Brown: I don’t care whether you’re German, you still work or not work, don’t you? [the man laughs] I mean, we do that in France, or in Germany, or wherever, don’t we?

Man #1: I’m [unintelligible] speak English, and I understand your words.

Brown: Okay. Two years of no working that you like.

Man #1: Yes.

Brown: Okay. [To rest of audience] That’s my German. [laughter] Okay. [back to man] Then you’re going to be traveling and doing some telemarketing work. Marketing and sales.

Man #1: Yes.

Brown: Yes. Is that yes for me, or yes for you?

Man #1: Yes for me. [laughs]

Presumably, this conversation is the basis of Sylvia’s claim that the show was rigged and all the audience were German. Clearly that isn’t the case so far. Even if we assume that Sylvia’s spirit guide Francine doesn’t understand German, where is Sylvia getting her initial reading from? She confidently provides information but only complains after the show that there was a communication issue. Sylvia herself said “I don’t care if your German”. Note again the vague nature of the reading and the fact that it’s a future event.

Brown: Okay, let’s see, who else? [Walks up aisle. To young woman] Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid. [the woman laughs] She’s sitting here saying “Please don’t let her call on me.” All right. Who is Kathy?

Woman #3: I don’t know.

Brown: This girl by the name of Kathy has dark, curly hair, and she is a friend that looks like she’s going to be in school with you. She has very, very beautiful blue eyes, and she does a lot of paperwork with you – which looks like school, ’cause everybody young is in school usually. This person is… by the name of Kathy. Also looks like you are going to get into some sort of therapy work.

Woman #3: [shakes her head "no."] I don’t know, that doesn’t sound familiar.

Brown: Do you know what you’re going to do?

Woman #3: Yes.

Brown: Okay, but it doesn’t have anything to do with therapy. [the woman shakes her head "no."] But it looks like you’re going to be dealing with people that have to do with therapy. In other words, advising people, helping people, talking to people. Okay? [the woman raises her eyebrows in a doubtful expression.] All right.

This attempt was a total wash-out, despite the woman being a native English speaker. Strike one, Kathy doesn’t exist and the woman is not getting in to some sort of therapy work. Sylvia, trying to gather information asks the strange question Do you know what you’re going to do? You really cannot come up with a more open question than this. To a question like this, the only response is 42.

Sylvia finishes by stating that this is a future event and then provides a remarkably vague definition of therapy. Based on Sylvia’s definition of therapy, a job in Internet tech support would fit the bill, as would counselling suicidal teens. Quite a broad range. On to the next customer.

Brown: Let’s see, who else? [walks to a young man] Umm, it looks like you’re going to get into show business.

Man #2: Uh, no.

Brown: No, well you don’t know that yet, you’re not psychic. [laughter] But it looks like you’re going to do something in show business that’s going to be really wonderful for you.

Just plain wrong, unless the man rather unexpectedly breaks in to show-business. This man sounds like a native English speaker.

With that, Sylvia closes by reminding us that she isn’t God. Honestly, I don’t understand how anyone could watch the movie, read the transcript and still credit Sylvia as having psychic powers.

For a fair and balanced analysis of Sylvia’s antics, please visit..

Stop Sylvia Browne!

Alive again. Ireland’s premier newspaper for paranoid Catholics

May 17, 2007

The latest copy of Alive, the Catholic newspaper has arrived on my doorstep, unsolicited of course. As is usual for this rag, it’s a monthly journey in to paranoia, fundamentalism and a unique interpretation of the truth. There’s a lot to cover so I’ll break this up in to a few posts. Let’s start by looking at a few headlines.

UK: It’s easier to get rid of a spouse then an employee

Shock horror. Divorce is of course against the will of their god but to the rest of us, it’s simply a way to end an unfortunate marriage. Of course it should be easier to get a divorce than to sack someone. I don’t want an employer to be able to simply let me go for no valid reason, and I don’t want to be trapped in a loveless or abusive marriage.

If Catholics want to remain married, even in dire situations, then that is their business. However, marriage from a legal point of view should be treated no differently than any other contract. I personally consider my marriage to be very important, the best thing I ever did, but I don’t need the state to enforce that feeling. If Christianity is real and there are so many Christians in the world, why is divorce so common anong Christians? Most importantly, if they are so bad at being married, why should the state keep them together?

Church leaves field clear for new religion

This is such a poor article that I will present the text and rebuttals to the flimsy points. The article of the text has not been edited, other than being split in to sections. The article was in the “Editor’s Jottings” section. Incidentally, this makes little difference since the whole ‘newspaper’ reads like one long editorial.

The notion that religion is a private matter and that believers should not try to influence the values or laws of society is being pushed by the Secular Ascendancy of Ireland

I’m not sure how to respond to this. I’ve tried to find out what this “Secular Ascendancy of Ireland” is but to no avail. However, I believe they could be referring to the recent Northern Ireland legislation to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. If that is correct then the editor is either lying or just misunderstanding the purpose of the law. There is no attempt to stop believers from influencing the values or laws of society, providing they make a rational and fair argument.

Asking to be able to discriminate against a group in society purely because their god hates gays is neither rational nor fair. Being religious does not automatically turn a piss-poor and offensive request in to a good one.

Public life it says, should be a neutral zone, where people of all religions leave aside their differences and live in harmony. it sounds attractive, especially as it offers peace and maximum freedom to each person.

Hmm, that sounds quite positive. Maybe this is building up to something?

But a closer look reveals that this secularism is, in fact, really another religion, radically hostile to Christianity. And the sham promise of peace and freedom is just a slick way to market it

Yep, I knew there would be a but. Arguing that secularism is a religion is a very old, tired and easily shot-down argument. Russell’s teapot provides a good response.

“If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.”

Secularism is simply the belief that decisions should be made based on facts and reason. When we draft a law, it must be based on fact, reason, evidence and not religious beliefs. If a religious belief happens to be backed up by facts and evidence, i.e. murder should be illegal, then there is no reason why a secular law can’t adopt the same belief as a religion. Are we on equal ground when you claim that this teapot exists and I claim that it doesn’t?

It needs to be unmasked but that is an immense task, as the new faith has soaked in to many areas of Irish life.

Its fundamental belief, often kept hidden, focusses on God. It holds, as dogma, that God does not exist, or if he does he is irrelevant to how we live. This belief, and it is a belief affects everything

The first paragraph is would make McCarthy proud. A giant conspiracy against us decent folk! However, the second paragraph is partially correct. Secularism frankly does not care about gods. I will not lie awake wondering whether or not god exists, if he does I’m sure he’ll let me know. The truth is that gods are irrelevant to the way we live, as a society. Individuals are entitled to their curious beliefs, we all have some strange ones, but society should not be bound by them. Remove this safeguard and it’s bad for religious and non-religious alike. What happens when your government doesn’t support the same god as yourself? A neutral position safeguards us all.

The human being becomes the supreme being. Freedom is reduced to genes. Life loses its meaning. Hope of eternal life is replaced by the culture of despair and death.

Ah, now we get back to the claim that it’s impossible to be happy or moral without the help of the gods. Also, we see the old canard regarding genes and a loss of freewill.

In a secular society, humans do not become the ‘supreme being’. We are simply people. We may be superior in some ways yet sadly deficient in others. The editor may want to ask God why most mammals can produce their own vitamin C internally, yet humans have to consume it in order to maintain normal body function? In that respect, I doff my hat to the dog sitting outside my house because it is superior, at least in the production of vitamin C.

Anyone who truly believes that genes are the be-all and end-all of human behaviour knows nothing about biology. Genes are certainly important but they don’t provide a blueprint for human behaviour. Most of that is picked-up along the way as we grow up. Our experiences shape us. Richard Dawkins provides a good example when he points out that our genes want us to reproduce yet we defy them by wearing condoms. The might power of the gene has been overcome by a thin latex device.

If you need a belief in eternal life to avoid despair then you are missing something important in your life. Secularism isn’t about having no hope for eternity, it’s about facing your life as an adult and accepting reality. The editor could just as well argue that state-sanctioned belief in Santa is necessary to stop us despairing during the winter.

From all this flows a new morality – there is no longer an objective good and evil. Rather, “my right to chose” becomes the supreme value.

This is rather a good thing. Good and evil do tend to be relative. Some consider it evil to enjoy a beer, I do not. That’s the reality of it. I defy anyone to introduce me to someone who is honestly describable as good or evil. We are complicated things. The man who kicks a dog down the street today could be donating blood tomorrow.

The state has no role in determining what is good and what is evil. Debates about good and evil belong in philosphy 101. The state is there to enforce rules regarding what is acceptable for society.

In Ireland The Irish Times is one of the most enthusiastic converts to the new religion, conned perhaps by its shoddy notion of freedom.

From the Times it has spread to the rest of the national media, which have become its leading apostles. But they’re always careful to hide the religious dimension under the cloak of an appeal to “reason”.

The Irish Times is a newspaper, the editor of Alive may wish to buy a copy to see a newspaper operates – useful tips abound. Again, secularism is not a religion. Regards hiding the ‘religious dimension’, that is nonsense. Frankly we don’t care what you believe as long as you don’t try to push your the inane requests of your sky god on to us. Believe if you must that slavery is okay but don’t expect the rest of us to accept that simply because it’s in your holy book. Let me re-iterate that, we do not care about your religion as long as don’t use it to deprive us of our human rights.

And many Catholics have adopted many of its teachings, without perhaps realising how deeply they contradict their Christian beliefs

Obviously the editor has no problems with the contradictions in the Bible.The fact is that society changes. 40 years ago it was acceptable for a good catholic priest to beat the living daylights out of a young boy, but that is no-longer the case. No Christian follows the Bible literally, all are guilty of chosing the parts that they think don’t apply anymore. For example, how many Christians do the following?

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
Mark 16:15

This is the word of Jesus yet I see few Catholics drinking poison or magically healing the sick. I’ve seen even fewer Christians casting our demons. Most are just like you and me, people doing what normal people do. Face the fact that Christianity itself is a mess of contradictions. It’s a 2000 year old game of Chinese whispers except this isn’t a harmless game.

The issue is presented as a clash between faith and reason. it is not. It is, rather, a clash between two religions, each appealing to reason, but with secularism clinging to a shrunken, wizened notion of reason.

And with that the article finishes. I’ve already explained why secularism isn’t a religion so I won’t address that again. Let’s look at the claim the Christianity is based on reason while secularism is not.

The claim that Christianity is based on reason is a strange one. Is there a sensible reason why Catholics believe in Transubstantiation – the act of turning bread and wine in to the flesh and blood of their dead saviour? Is there any hint of reason in the claim that there is a sky god who requires our worship and love?

Consider the following claims.

“I believe that we are the product of natural processes. We live, we die and there is no evidence to suggest an eternal life. If proof emerges, I will examine it but for now I see no reason to believe in gods.”

“I believe we were all created by a god and there is a plan for us all. Although life seems to be pretty random and no-one has ever seen this god or any of his helpers, I believe he exists. I believe in Transubstantiation, demons, angels and eternal life for those who love and worship this god. If I pray, I will receive anything I ask for because I have a personal relationship with the creator of the universe!”

One of the above statements is based on reason. The other is a total departure from it, in fact it’s a total retreat in to self-comforting delusion.

Religion is not based on reason, it is based on self-delusion. Self-delusion is not a sound way to run society, imagine if we were all subject to our individual delusions. You would not be allowed to leave a house unless you turn your lights off and on three times due to my belief that the world will end if you fail to complete that ritual. People with brown hair will be banned from cafes because I believe that they bring disease. It’s a pretty horrible world that the editor wants to see.

Montel Williams – Torturing The Desperate

May 6, 2007

The president who can cure HIV/AIDS

President Yahya Jammeh, the President of Gambia, has been widely condemned for claiming that he can cure HIV/AIDs by administering a mix of secret herbs to the head of the sufferer while reciting verses from the Koran.

This is bad enough but the president also requires that his patients cease taking conventional medicine. Not only is he giving them false hope, he is actively shorting their lives. The president also claims to be able to cure Asthma and is going to begin work on curing diabetics. Will no due respect, he is clearly delusional and dangerous.

What does this have to do with Montel? Not much but we’ll come back to this later to help illustrate a point. So, on to Montel…

Montel: Gullible dupe or willing accomplice?

Stop Sylvia Browne has a very interesting article containing an excerpt from an Interview in which Montel participated. During this interview, he admits that he doesn’t believe that Sylvia Browne has psychic powers. He believes that “this woman has a little bit more intuition than most people I know” but that’s hardly a basis for allowing her to use his show to provide false information to some very desperate people.

Open Letter to Montel Williams: An Answer?

So what does this have to do with the African guy?

The president and Syvlia have much in common. Both claim to have supernatural powers – they are both liars or deluded. Sylvia is not psychic and the president is not able to magically cure people. Both raise false hopes and damage their patients. While the president is busy shorting the life expectancies of his patients, Sylvia is causing distraught parents to waste time searching for missing loved ones in the wrong places.

Montel is happy to have Sylvia on his show so why not the president? HIV/AIDS is a terrible condition so why not have a regular spot on his show in which the president treats those suffering from HIV/AIDS?

What can I do to stop this callous piece of shit?

If you read Robert Lancaster’s article, you’ll already know that writing to Montel is pointless. Instead you can direct your letters to the networks that carry Montel’s show. Contact his sponsors and the charities that he is involved with. Explain to all of them why you believe that his show is exploitative and damaging to the most vulnerable people in society. Ask them how they can possibly consider it ethical to be associated with such vermin?

Montel does a lot of work for charity – providing time and money in large measures. He is a remarkably active man which is all the more impressive considering he was diagnosed as suffering from muscular dystrophy. However, good deeds do not change the fact that he facilitates the exploitation and suffering of vulnerable people.

Novus Spiritus. Is it time to call shennanigans?

May 2, 2007

I’m very slowly working on some research regarding Novus Spiritus – the religion that Sylvia Browne appears to have pulled out of her arse – with the assistance of her curiously inconsistent spirit guide ‘Francine’.

In the mean-time, Robert Lancaster has posted some excellent articles regarding this religion.

When is a diamond not a diamond? When it’s a cubic zirconia sold as a diamond.

From the horse’s mouth – A Novus board member responds.

Control that Scientology would be proud of.

It’s strange that a religion founded by Sylvia Browne could be attracting this kind of controversy. Why hasn’t Francine warned Sylvia?

Audiophiles: Cable burn-in

April 29, 2007

Audiophiles: Cable burn-in

Some people worship a God, others claim to see the future in the stars or banish evil with crystals. Even worse, some audiophiles claim to understand electronics while wasting their money on the audio equivalent of Kabalah Water.

This is a regular look at some of the crazy audophile products available to people with little sense but a lot of money.

Product: Cable burn-in services.

http://www.cableburner.com/technical.asp

Price: 1-2 metre cable = $30.00 per pair of cables. (bi-wire costs an additional $10.

Claims: To achieve optimum performance, speaker cables and interconnects must have signal run through them for hundreds of hours – a process that fine-tunes the cables, and makes a big difference in the sound of your system.

Cold reality: This claim is totally bogus. Equipment such as valve amplifiers and speakers (since they contain physical moving parts) do go through a ‘burn-in’ period before they settle down to a fairly consistent level of performance, but cables are just not prone to this.

Excluding physical damage to the cable or oxidisation on the connectors, there are tiny changes that take place during the life of a cable but certainly not detectable by the human ear. Imagine if you placed a block of aluminium in your garden and you tried over a period of 50 years to notice how much weight it has lost due to wind erosion? There will be some change but certainly not enough for you to notice.

The idea here is that they ‘burn-in’ the cable by running signals through it for a set period of time (72 hours according to this company). This is meant to create ‘significant audible improvements’ by changing the cable. Unless they are pumping excessive current through the cables, thus causing them to overheat, there will be no appreciable changes. The kind of heat needed to change the crystaline structure of the copper is likely to cause a fire – thus rendering the cable fairly useless anyway.

On the web site you’ll notice that they are careful to avoid making specific claims regarding the changes. As an electrical engineer, you would measure things like capacitance, impedance, resistance to determine the characteristics of the cable. Note that none of these ‘burn-in’ companies claim to change these characteristics in any way, all they do is make vague claims about ‘stunning musical performance’. Obviously something that can’t be measured with ease.

If you are considering using the services of this company, I’d suggest you do the following.

1) Take the cable to an electrical engineer and have them discover the electrical characteristics of the cable. Resistance, impedance and inductance are useful. You need to make sure that the connectors are clean since oxidisation can reduce the conductivity.

2) Send your cable away to be ‘burnt-in’.

3) When your cable comes back, use it. Do you notice any improvements?

4) Now have your engineer run the same tests on the cable. Are there any changes?

An audiophile will most likely answer ‘yes’ to question 3 and ‘no, but that’s not the point, it sounds better’ to question 4. I’m going to see if I can get a chance to test some of these cables myself but I welcome comments from anyone who has already tried this.

Go Sylvia Browne!

March 30, 2007

The Sylvia Browne damage recovery team move in to action. Go Sylvia Browne has been launched, presumably to fight the nasty truth being spread by Robert S. Lancaster’s Stop Sylvia Browne site.

Stop Sylvia Browne have been doing some pretty neat detective work regarding the identity of the author. The author is Heather Brown, the girlfriend of Paul Dufresne. Paul is the son of Syvlia Browne.

[Originally I stated that Paul performed psychic readings. Heather was kind enough to point out that this is incorrect and so I have made a correction.]

Robert has already done a good job of exposing this site so I’d suggest you read his Write-up. What I want to tackle is the blog post that explains the reason for Heather to start her site.

My First Blog

Media bias

She begins by railing against the media, bloggers and “free thinkings” (her emphasis). She goes on to say that they are being selective and presenting information in the way that they want you to perceive it.

Two wrongs make a right?

A quick browse of Heather’s site shows that hers is remarkably biased. Robert has actually provided a link to her site, she has not returned the favour. Also, it’s strange that all posts on her blog and forum appear to be drastically in favour of Sylvia. Heather has stated that she is removing ‘troll’ posts but I am wondering if she is simply removing all posts that criticise Sylvia. If this is the case, it’s hardly a good way to combat a perceived bias in other outlets.

Sensationalism

Heather says that the news tends to focus on the nasty events in life. This is true, “dirt sells” as she says. The problem here is that this does nothing to disprove the claims that Sylvia is a fraud. Besides, does Heather seriously believe that the media would ignore Sylvia if she actually proved her abilities? This is like saying that scientists would ignore God if he were to appear in Times Square and started handing out miracles. The media publishes nasty stories about Sylvia because she has done some nasty things, the Hornbeck incident being one of many false predictions that put a family through unnecessary pain.

Grrr, them pesk freethinkers

Heather does not like the so-called “free thinkers”. Here is what she has to say about them.

Lying in wait for this negative media attention are the so-called “free thinkers”, skeptics, atheists, and opportunists. The people who badmouth Sylvia and identify themselves as any of those labels make me laugh. Ok, so you’re a free thinker. Good for you. I’m a free thinker as well. For instance, I am free to think that you are ignorant. And by your own account, Godless.

Godless, good lord what a strange accusation. Syvlia’s claims about God are loosely based on Christianity but are considered blasphemous by mainstream Christianity. Heather claims to be a free-thinker but this seems unrelated to free-speech and open debate. Her web site has one purpose – glorify Sylvia. There is not one trace of question on the site. On my site I encourage all to post and the only comments I will ever delete are spam and illegal posts. I will never delete a comment that criticises me or what I write.

Criticism is ignorance

In Heather’s rather bizarre and skewed view of the world, anyone who badmouths, by which I assume she means those who criticise Sylvia appear to be ignorant. Kettle calling the pot black? Not really since the strongest criticism has come from reputable sites such as the JREF and Stop Sylvia Browne. Both sites provide ample evidence for their claims and the JREF has invited Sylvia to prove her abilities.

Some facts

Heather goes on to provide the following facts.

Fact: Billions of people in this world over the course of thousands of years have believed in a higher power.

Fact: Sylvia Browne, through her research, teachings, knowledge, and love for others has literally saved lives and given lost souls a new beginning while spreading hope and faith in God.

Fact: You can’t disprove God.

A large number of people believe that women should be killed for adultery. They also believe that the world was created a few thousand years ago. This claim made on the site is hardly evidence for the existence of Sylvia’s supernatural powers.

The second ‘fact’ is a rather vague one. Fundamentalist religion can make the same claim. If the Bible is anything to go by, Sylvia is actually helping to damn Christians. God doesn’t appreciate people who have other gods before him and Sylvia’s god is certainly not Yahweh. I wonder if the Hornbeck family appreciate the help they received from Sylvia.

The final ‘fact’ really shows Heather up for what she is. A rather simplistic and logically naive person. The fact that we can’t disprove God means nothing. We can’t prove that God doesn’t want us to kill babies but that isn’t an endorsement for infanticide.

Arguing that God can’t be disproved is the same hollow argument that intellectually barren religious people have used for some time now. We can’t disprove the existence of the Invisible Pink Unicorn either.

Aren’t you freethinkers supposed to reject or accept ideas based on proof?

Heather finishes up her facts with this statement.

So according to the definition, by judging Sylvia, ignoring her success stories, and discounting all of the other people in the world who believe in God, these “free thinkers” are hypocrites! They are supposed to neither reject nor accept ideas without proof. They don’t have proof that God doesn’t exist. Why do they always want people who believe in God to prove his existence? When they can prove that he doesn’t, then maybe I’ll listen. Until then, I just won’t take them seriously.

Despite her providing a Wikipedia definition of the term freethinker, she seems to have neglected to read it herself.

I would be totally willing to believe in the powers of Sylvia Browne if she provided proof. Anecdotes and lucky guesses are insufficient. Proper scientific testing is the only proof that any reasonable freethinker (or rational adult) should accept. Curiously, when offered the chance to provide this evidence, Sylvia agreed but then changed her mind. See JREF for details.

God will never be disproven since by definition this is impossible. Belief in God is based on faith, not fact or reason. Faith in Sylvia is just the same since she’s refusing to be tested scientifically.

Heather, I’m afraid I can’t take you seriously either. Enjoy your new site and the act of surrounding yourself with yes-men. Together you can reinforce your shared delusion in a way that would make L. Ron Hubbard. I provided the Scientology example because Sylvia has gone beyond being a simple psychic, she is at the heart of a worrying cult.

Happy Birthday to the EU, the Pope is miffed

March 29, 2007

The EU, being a secular organisation, is issuing a 50th birthday statement – failing to mention religion at all.

The Pope is unhappy.

The Pope says..

“If on the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome the governments of the union want to get closer to their citizens, how can they exclude an element as essential to the identity of Europe as Christianity, in which the vast majority of its people continue to identify,”

So, in order to get closer to the citizens of Europe, he’s suggesting that the EU endorse one particular religion that some people in Europe believe in? Statistics in Europe tend to show a downward trend in Christianity. Although many people will mark that as their religion, few attend church, have read the Bible or even follow the most basic rules of Christianity. Ireland has a strong Catholic heritage but if I were to venture out on to the street and ask a few simple questions, I doubt I would get many correct answers.

1) Name the 12 apostles.
2) As well as Jesus, who else rose from the dead when he did?
3) Describe the beast that will be seen in the sky according to revelations?
4) What does Jesus say about paying taxes?

All of these are pretty important if you’re taking Christianity serious. Surely if you believe Jesus to be the son of God, you’d study the texts closely to ensure that you’re following his teachings correctly.

Anyway, the Pope is missing something. Was the European continent always Christian? No it certainly wasn’t. If the statement were to mention Christianity, surely it should pay homage to those fine ‘pagan’ beliefs such as the Norse gods? How about Celtic beliefs?

Christianity has been part of Europe’s history and it continues to affect Europe to this day. However, in a secular society there is no reason why the state (or the EU in this case) should endorse a particular religious belief – particularly when it’s a slap in the face of European citizens who belief in other gods, not to mention the atheists who consider all religion to be superstitious twaddle.

The Pope is perfectly entitled to his delusions, indeed he can throw himself off a bridge to see if his god intervenes if we so wishes. There is no reason we should comfort him by pandering to those delusions.


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