From: Skeptic Mag Hotline
Date: Mon, 01 Mar 1999 12:31:20 -0800


My good buddy James Van Fraud, whom I've been tracking and debunking since he came on the scene in 1994, is making the TV show rounds with his new book REACHING TO HEAVEN (the old book was TALKING TO HEAVEN). I missed him on THE TODAY SHOW so didn't see if he had Katie talking to her deceased husband, but I did catch him on LARRY KING LIVE, who is now taking credit for launching JVP's career (he actually got his big break on NBC's THE OTHER SIDE on which he appeared about a dozen times, as well as on UNSOLVED MYSTERIES and numerous other shows {along with yours truly} long before King had him on). It was like entering the Looking Glass where black is white, up is down, the Red Queen is talking backwards, and the catepiller is sucking down dope on a bong. I've explained in WHY PEOPLE BELIEVE WIERD THINGS how JVP does his cold- reading--warm-reading--hot-reading routine so I'll spare you the gory details for this show (nothing new, of course, e.g., caller from Montana: "I see horses . . . ," caller from England: "I see a fireplace, a pub, he liked to go the the pub . . ." etc.). But my favorite Looking Glass part was when a woman called to ask about talking to her husband who had committed suicide:

Van Praagh: "You found him on the bed, right?" Caller: "Yes, right, we found him on the bathroom floor." Van Praagh: "Yes, right." Larry King: "Yes." Shermer (on couch at home): "UH? I better have another beer."



Yesterday Jonathan Kirsch addressed an audience of over 300 at Caltech. It was one of the very finest lectures we have had in our seven-year history of the public lecture series we sponsor (over 75 lectures now since March, 1992). He was not only a good speaker, he was, in the tradition of the subject he addressed (the Bible), a good storyteller. One additional bit from the Moses story of interest to skeptics: Kirsch noted that almost everyone leaves out of the story that God tried to KILL Moses, but was unable to do so. Two serious theological problems with this: WHY would God want to kill Moses after just recruiting him to be his spokesman (Kirsch also pointed out that Moses studdered--Jewish storytelling irony he said), and, if he wanted to kill Moses, why was in UNABLE to do so? Apparently God is not as omnipotent as we've been told. He also explained that the "Harlot" story in the Bible (the basis of his first book, THE HARLOT BY THE SIDE OF THE ROAD), usually portrayed by conservative Christians as a story of sin and general nastiness we are supposed to avoid, is actually about a perfectly moral and reasonable woman standing on her civil liberties and rights--a widowed, childless woman at that time had no rights or liberties, so she dressed up as a harlot in order to seduce her father in law so she could have a child and become a citizen in her community. Not surprisingly, THIS story is never discussed in Sunday school (or Sunday sermons anywhere in conservative/puritanical America).


Despite all the folks that told me they saw Sputnik (in response to my query whether it really was possible to see a 22-inch globe in orbit), including a very nice e-mail from Homer Hickam himself, several people have since informed me that what people ACTUALLY saw was the booster rocket, not the actual satellite. Since we have a lot of JPL/NASA scientists on this list, perhaps someone can inform me how we can settle this issue.


Check out Fox's latest sweeps-week gimmick of opening a mummy tomb for the first time tomorrow night. Wouldn't it be a hoot if they found the loot from that mobster's safe Geraldo opened up a couple of decades ago (that was empty)! Better still would be if Jimmy Hoffa's body was there. In any case, Fox always provides good fodder for our skeptical cannons.


Imax has just released a new film on the cosmos that I took my kid's class to and it was just terrific. Remember the old film POWERS OF TEN with Philip Morrison? Well, this is amost the exact same thing (so similar it made me wonder about copyright permissions), but with all the bells and whistles of modern computer graphics (plus new knowledge of the distant reaches of the cosmos and inside the atom. It's a must see. Even if you know all the cosmology and physics already, it is a "spiritual" experience in the sense of offering an emotional reaction to our relationship to the cosmos.


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