The WHY-Files

The Journal of the Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York


Volume 3, Issue 3 March, 1997

 
 
 

March Meeting.

Scams From The Great Beyond

Join us March 5th, 7:00 pm at the Guilderland Public Library when our speaker will be Peter Huston, ISUNY Member and author of the outrageous and acclaimed skeptic manual Scams From the Great Beyond: How to Make Easy Money Off of ESP, Astrology, UFOs, Crop Circles, Cattle Mutilations, Alien Abductions, Atlantis, Channeling, and Other New Age Nonsense.

Say you want to show your friends that picture you took of the UFO, but the damn Grays didn't stick around while you got your camera. Well, why wait when you can make your own photos? Learn how to levitate, tell fortunes and see an actual UFO up close and personal. Peter will show you how you too can be a New Age Guru.

Meetings are held at the Guilderland Public Library, 2228 Western Avenue, Guilderland, NY Meetings are free and open to the public. For information about future meetings, see the last page of this newsletter. In the event of bad weather, we will hold the meeting if the Guilderland Public Library is open.

Local Meetings.

The Albany Area Amateur Astronomers meet the third Tuesday of each month at the Schenectady Museum. March 18th is the AAAA's anual business meeting. This is a good time to meet club members, and find out about astronomy in the Capital Area. Meetings begin at 7:30 pm. For more information contact Alan French at (518) 374-8460.

The Capital District Humanist Society meets the second Sunday of each month at the Sage Colleges Albany Campus on New Scotland Avenue. The meetings begin at 1:15 pm. For more information contact Paul DeFrancisco at (518) 272-4772.

Membership Renewals.

The expiration date for your ISUNY membership is printed on the upper right-hand corner of your mailing label. Dues can be mailed to the treasurer at the address on the back page of this newsletter, or paid at our monthly meeting. (Make checks out to ISUNY.) Your dues cover newsletter and speaker expenses. If the date on the mailing label is circled it means our records show you are late, and may be dropped from the mailing list. If your renewal date is incorrect, please bring the error to our attention. Despite our efforts to keep the mailing list up-to-date, mistakes do occur.

Newsletter Articles

If you attend local meetings, view programs of interest to ISUNY members, or have a skeptical topic you wish to discuss, consider writing an article for The Why-Files. Articles and letters can be emailed to the editor at sofkam@rpi.edu, or by U.S. mail to Michael Sofka, 8 Providence Street, Albany, NY 12203. Disks and hardcopy will be returned at the next ISUNY meeting. The deadline for articles in the April, 1997 issue is March 22th, 1997.

ISUNY Lending Library.

The Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York maintains a library of books, newsletters, magazines, video and audio tapes addressing various paranormal topics. ISUNY members may borrow material from this library on a month-by-month basis. Our collection has grown over the years from the kind donations by our members, and includes many back issues of the Skeptical Inquirer (including volume 1, issue 1) donated by Richard Lange M.D, audio tapes made and donated by Dorothy and Ralph Hoyt, UFO magazines by ``Lewis's friend'', and many newsletters from skeptic groups around the world sent by Barry Karr of CSICOP.

In addition, ISUNY thanks the many members have dug deep into the dusty shelves of used bookstores and contributed to our growing collection. If you would like to borrow a book, newsletter or tape see our librarian Lewis Treadway before or after any ISUNY meeting. All material is lent free to members except for tapes for which we ask a $1.00 donation that will be used to purchase further library material.

Letters to the Editor.

Why so Few Women in Skeptic Groups?

When I read the February Why-Files issue, I was particularly intrigued by the responses to the skeptic list query about women in skepticism. The comments were prompted by questions as to why more women did not take part in that forum. My husband and I attended last June's First World Skeptic's Congress in Amherst, NY. Although there were many women in attendance, they did seem to be a minority. There was at least one man who seemed to appear at the mike during each question period, no matter what the topic of the panel discussion, who was the epitome of a ``male chauvinist pig.'' His remarks always dealt with the irrationality of women and how that defect lead to various ills found in the world. I'm happy to say he was royally booed by a substantial cross-section of the audience, myself included.

-Dorothy Sager

Trans-Generational Skepticism.

Although we may wince an eye or two at some of the conversations we have with our ISUNY friends, we really do enjoy the group programs and discussions---especially the informal conversations afterwards at Dennys.

Last month while at Dennys, we learned about an old TV series, Dinosaurs. As the young folk were explaining some of the funny incidents in this prehistoric setting, they were so consumed by laughter, we could scarcely hear what they were saying.

We also got a preview of Peter Huston's new book Scams From the Great Beyond---a humorous takeoff on the gullibility of many people today; and how easily they can jump to conclusions without scientific evidence.

Having heard periodic updates on Peter's progress as he was writing this book, we could all rejoice with him last month when it was finally published.

We have enjoyed and learned from the excellent variety of monthly programs, and the opportunity to meet various professors, scientists, philosophers, and authors who come as guest speakers (and also, some of the talented members in the group who share their careers/hobbies).

January's program, although a videotape, was a most educational program about New England vampires. We had never before connected consumption (tuberculosis) with the origins of belief in vampires. We also learned a lot about what happens to bodies in the grave. We were aghast when we heard that some relatives dug up bodies, cut out organs, burned them, and in some cases even drank blood from the organs; erroneously believing this would prevent them and their families from catching the lethal disease.

Our contacts with the ISUNY members keep us ``alive'' and in touch with the world as the younger generation sees it.

-Dorothy & Ralph Hoyt, Retirees

Ask The Skeptic.

You are big and you shine like the sun....
Feel it in your heart, the dream that will be spun....

-Qkumba Zoo

When I write, I often listen to music. Today I am listening to Qkumba Zoo, a white South African group that seems to be a mixture of heavily synthesized rave, West African Zouk, and something else I can't quite identify. Some say that this sort of eclectic high tech mixture is the future of popular music. I wonder. Coincidentally, the almost unintelligible liner notes and pounding lyrics show a belief in a variety of New Age philosophies. These feature most prominently in the tune, ``Big Mothership,'' a song about being kind to the space brothers when they come to visit in their UFOs. Last November, I made one of my rare forays to the mall. (I hate malls and avoid them. They feel so claustrophobic.) It was full of space alien statues, posters of dolphins and UFOs together, and so on. Images of Grays were everywhere.

As I looked at the statues and such, particularly the poster of the UFO hovering above playing dolphins, it struck me that they were apparently intended in an inspirational fashion. Let's assume, simply for the sake of argument, that Grays exist and that they are explorers from outer space. If this is the case, then are we forming a ``cargo cult'' of some sort? I'm reminded of the way in which the Aztecs are said to have mistaken Cortez, the Spanish conquistador, for Quetzalcoatl, their long lost deity. Is this inspirational tone appropriate?

I believe that we, as individuals and as a society, should be striving to understand the world around us. We are constantly bombarded by strange claims, ranging from which long distance company to use, all the way to whether God exists or not and, if so, who collects his money and speaks for him (or her.)

There are many ways to evaluate, analyze and relate to the things around us. When I was in Taiwan, I had a friend who told a very funny story about grocery shopping under the influence of LSD. (A surprisingly high percentage of the Americans in Taiwan have tried LSD. I'm not one of them.) He said it was fascinating to watch the vegetables glow. More interesting, he said, was the coffee table which they found in a store on the way home. Apparently it was covered with tentacles and he found their wriggling to be completely engrossing. He deduced that it would be a brilliant idea to bring the table home and watch its tentacles wriggle all day long every day.

Now this is one way to relate to the world around us. Interesting as it is, though, I think we can all find better things to do than sit around and watch tables wriggle their tentacles. In order to seek purposeful action, we must first seek reality. One of the reasons that I hate malls is that they have no windows to the outside world. They constitute this strange, self-contained, sterile pocket universe whose contents have been carefully chosen and sifted by someone else. To commit arson in a shopping mall would simply be to return the world to a more natural state of entropy.

At times it strikes me that our mall-centered culture has gone crazy. People don't know how to live. They seek therapy instead of meaningful relationships. Body piercing and S&M seem to be on the rise as people seek out sensations of any sort in an attempt to reaffirm that they do, in fact, simply exist. And UFOs have taken on an inspirational tone. Even if Grays exist, and I doubt if they do, is it rational to assume that they will give meaning to our lives? Before we assume that they will and sit back waiting for the space brothers to arrive and save us from ourselves, it seems that we should first seek out meaning and purpose on our own.

-Peter Huston

Peter Huston's work appears regularly in the Skeptical Inquirer and Skeptic. He is the author of two books most recently Scams from the Great Beyond: How to Make Easy Money Off of ESP, Astrology, UFOs, Crop Circles, Cattle Mutilations, Alien Abductions, Atlantis, Channeling, and Other New Age Nonsense by Paladin Press, Boulder, CO.

Ask the Psychic.

Question: How does one go about getting a guardian angel? And, then is it possible to get rid of one later?

-Untouched in Altamont

Answer: Getting a gardening angel is easy, and, in this psychic's opinion, necessary for growing tomatoes in the sandy Capital Area soil. Contact the Cooperative Extension and ask for pamphlet number 1618 Gardening With Your Angel. It contains important information about obtaining and retaining your own gardening angel. Once you have one, trust me, you won't want to get rid of it.

Q: No, you nitwit, how do you get a Guardian angel, not Gardening angel?

A: Oh, that's different. Getting a guardian angel takes work. Guardian angels are the traditional western name for a person's spirit guide. Each culture has its own method of obtaining personal guides to the astral plane. Native Americans fasted and meditated until the spirit sought them out. In the middle ages, alchemist performed incantations seeking to compel a particular spirit. If you are a practitioner of the Native American Church, or an alchemist, consult your own traditions.

Otherwise, pick up form VCII-1965(b) at the Post Office. Guardian angel disbursements in the U.S. are handled by the Bureau of Angels, Totems and Fairies (BATF), which is a branch of the Treasury department. There is a federally imposed 5-day waiting period for acquiring spirit guides. In addition, the State of New York has its own 7-day waiting period.

Take the completed form to the Blue-White Rainbow or other New Age bookstore. They will help you pick your angel. Most New Age stores offer special courses to help you decide which angel is best for you. These courses cost between $50--$150 dollars, but the money is well spent.1 Be sure to have your chakra tuned before selection, this will run you an additional $20, but will assure that you and your angel are well synchronized.

Once you have a guardian angel, it is usually for eternity. Remember, your angel or spirit guide is a part of you, a piece of your soul eternally interlocked with your karma. Many people mistakenly believe their angel can do them no harm. Hence the adjective ``guardian.'' In reality, angels can do as much harm as good. They deal with existence on a higher plane, and see us in a larger cosmic perspective. Because of this, your ``guardian'' angel is as likely to cause as to prevent an accident---all in the name of karmic adjustment. Literature is filled with the sad tales of those who sought spirits out of greed or ignorance and paid dearly for their naiveté. This is why the current popularity of pop-angel books disturbs me. Very often the subtle points of astral balance are not mentioned. Or, if mentioned, they are relegated to technical footnotes.

In the rare event that you and your angel are not meant for each other (an event of astral proportions), it is possible to have the arrangement annulled. This may involve spending a lifetime or two as a bug or direct-telemarketer, but cosmic balance always prevails. If you should decide to leave your guardian angel seek professional help. Once again, your local New Age bookstore can refer you to spirit council. In most cultures it is a matter of performing an exorcism or equivalent incantation (Pennsylvania has a mandatory 48 hour waiting period). Do not try this on your own. I don't know how many times I've been asked to help people who went to an exorcism without spirit council. The results are usually tragic, with the spirit taking far more then its statutory share of élan vital.

-David Quinne

David Quinne is ISUNY's official psychic. He is a graduate of Maharishi International University where he studied quantum metaphysics with a minor in political science. Questions to the Psychic can be sent to this newsletter care of the editor.

Book Review.

The Myth of Repressed Memory, by Elizabeth Loftus and Katherine Ketcham, St. Martin's Press, 1994.

I borrowed this book after the February ISUNY meeting which had for its program a tape of a talk on repressed memory presented at a 1994 psychological association meeting. Having read articles written by Dr. Loftus in Skeptical Inquirer and enjoyed them, I was interested in reading this book.

The repressed memory phenomenon was a widely publicized feature of the 1980's, associated with claims of childhood sexual abuse. A number of therapists established extensive practices dealing with this issue, controversially diagnosing the likelihood of abuse when a client presented an array of symptoms, although the client had no memory (or even suspicion, initially) of any such abuse. Celebrity instances---Rosanne (then) Arnold and former Miss America, Marilyn VanDurber---spread the epidemic through magazine covers and articles and interviews on TV talk shows. Through highly suggestive therapy, clients ``recovered'' memories that were so traumatic, they were told they had unconsciously repressed them. Families were torn apart as the accusations were met with disbelief and denials, which were explained away by the therapists as proof of further ``repression'' on the part of the accused this time, and the denials were made because of guilt felt by the accused.

Dr. Loftus is an established researcher of memory. Because of her expertise in this area, she received extensive correspondence from both accusers of childhood sexual abuse and those accused. Reports of this correspondence and her expert testimony at various trials relating to these accusations are a major part of the book. As a scientist, she kept an open mind about the phenomenon. However, her previous research did not support the repressed memory concept. She wanted to find out whether such memory recovery would be possible. She describes the development of her research projects designed to learn how readily memories could be implanted or altered. The research is fascinating. The other major element in the book deals with ``case studies'' of accusers and their families and describes the effect the accusations had. I assume that Katherine Ketcham is responsible for these sections which were based on a large number of interviews. A few families were willing to be identified, but most have requested aliases be used. The final chapters involve one horrific case and include input from other authorities who take issue with the concept of repressed memory.

The book is very well written and also well edited. I would recommend it to anyone wishing to learn more about repressed memories and the mythology connected with them.

-Dorothy Sager

Science Wars in India.

Last May ISUNY's speaker was Meera Nanda, a graduate student in Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She spoke about postmodern critics of science, and how their prior conceptions of science affects their arguments. Recently, Meera published an outline of her concerns in an article called ``Science Wars in India.''2 The article details how postmodern academics have tacitly supported fundamentalism in her native India.

Meera highlights two examples of the ``Hinduization'' of science in India---Vedic mathematics and Vastu shastra (ancient Indian material science). These have been promoted by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which could be loosely described as a Hindu moral majority party. The BJP has aquired enough political influence in India to to include these ``traditional'' Hindu ways of knowledge in the public school curriculum. (According to Meera, they are not all that traditional, and have been debunked as such by Indian historians.)

``Science Wars in India'' outlines the history of cultural relativism among western academics and its spread to academics in India. It then discusses how this provides support for the claims of the BJP vis-a-vis science.

Constructivist theories of science have cleared a discursive and political space that the nationalistic right is only too eager to move into. Indeed, the right could not have wished for a more fashionable neighborhood to pitch its own tent in.... When the existing social values are allowed to decide the validity of knowledge, knowledge loses whatever power it has to critique these oppressive values.

I found the article interesting for two reasons. The first, is that it offers a real example of how the philosophy of the academic left has come into conflict with its otherwise liberal tradition. The result has been, if not support, at least silence in the face of the growing influence of religious conservatives. The second, is that the article reminded me of an article by Taner Edis about the possibility of creationism finding a foot-hold in society via postmodernism.3

Meera outlines what I think is the real danger of postmodernism. Not that they bad-mouth science, or are likely to confuse the public's perception of science (TV does that well enough), rather, relativism silences criticism of wacky ideas, or creates an atmosphere of acceptance for what would otherwise be considered oppressive ideologies. The irony of this, according to Meera, is that Indian academics and Vendic Mathematic apologist send their own children to private schools. Schools which don't teach traditional Hindu ways of knowing.

-Mike Sofka

ISUNY Meetings.

Scams from the Great Beyond.

So you want to show your friends that picture you took of the UFO, but the damn Grays didn't stick around while you got your camera. Well, why wait when you can make your own photos. On March 5th, ISUNY's own Peter Huston will show you how you too can be a New Age Guru.

Everything You Know is Wrong.

ISUNY Psychic in Residence David Quinne will present a program on Karma, the New Age and how to bring out the psychic within. Learn how to explore the Universe using Trancendental Meditation, including a brief explanation of psychic cosmology---the atomic foundation of psychic power. This April 2nd program is not to be missed.

Contemporary Hysteria.

On May 7th, Gladden Schrock of Bennington College will present a program about what may be this country's greatest period of ``witch-hunting.'' He will examine some of the tens of thousands of cases of false allegation and imprisonment, and seek out historical perspective of what has been dubbed ``the memory wars.''

Cold Fusion.

June 4th, Bill Walker of General Electric laboratories will review the current state of cold fusion research.

All meetings are held at the Guilderland Public Library, 2228 Western Avenue, Guilderland, NY, at 7:00 pm. Meetings are free and open to the public. For more information call Mike Sofka at 437-1750 or email sofkam@rpi.edu.

Thank You.

Thank you to Peter Huston, Dorothy Sager, Dorothy and Ralph Hoyt, and David ``The Mighty'' Quinne for their contributions to this newsletter. Thank you also to Alan French, Peter Huston, Robert Mulford, and Dorothy and Ralph Hoyt for their help planning and publicizing ISUNY meetings, and to Herb Jones for making room arangements at the Guilderland Library. A special thank you to Dorothy Sager for copy-editing this issue. Dot did an excellent job removing spelling and grammar errors, and offering clarifications. Remaining errors are entirely due to bad karma.

ISUNY thanks all of its members for their support. We would especially like to thank our Supporting members: Larry Jones & Barbara Eisenstadt, Dr. Richard H. Lange, Hugh A. McGlinchey, Guier Scott Wright. and our Patron members: Jordan Coleman, Charles Davies, Alan & Susan French, Christopher Masto, Bob & Dee Mulford, Dorothy and Carl Sager, Mike & Carla Sofka, Douglas Wells.

About the Newsletter.

The WHY-Files is the newsletter of the Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York. Articles, reviews and letters can be sent to the editor at sofkam@rpi.edu, or to 8 Providence Street, Albany, NY 12203. Hard copy and disks will be returned only if accompanied by a self addressed and stamped envelope, or at regular club meetings.

The newsletter was typeset using the document preparation system written and placed in the public domain by Donald Knuth of Stanford University. Macros for this newsletter are available at http://www.rpi.edu/~sofkam/tex.html. The Why-Files are available at: http://www.rpi.edu/~sofkam/isuny/.

Articles, reports, reviews, and letters published in The WHY-Files represent the views and work of individual authors. Their publication does not necessarily constitute an endorsement by Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York or its members unless so stated.


1 Some angel seekers prefer to read do-it-yourself books. In this psychic's experience, such books are no substitute for a trained spirit guide's guidance.

2 Dissent, Winter, 1997, 78--83.

3 Edis, T. ``Relativist Apologetics: The future of creationism?'' Creation/Evolution Journal, submitted. Available on-line at http://www.public.iastate.edu/~edis/relativism.html.