Punxsutawney Phil can go back to unencumbered sleep for another eleven months. That's assuming he actually woke up to read that indictment against him which emenated from neighboring Ohio. Butler County, Ohio, DA Mike Gmoser has dismissed the indictment against Phil for deliberately mis-forecasting spring, saying Phil has a defense--someone else is taking the rap. That someone would be Phil's buddy, Bill Deeley, who says he misread Phil's weather predictions. I maintain Phil made no predictions, and if he did, he didn't mean them, and if he did mean them, no one should have taken them seriously, and if someone did take them seriously, that is that person's choice. Move along, move along, nothing to see here.
In the Sunday New York Times, February 24, 2013, Justin Gillis discusses some academics who study conspiracy thinking on the 'net. Interesting reading, particularly since the academics he mentions suggest that conspiracy thinking is attractive to some because it offers a magical solution to what can be difficult questions. What causes climate change? Why did the Twin Towers fall? (Not necessarily just the physics of the fall, but why did some people decide that an attack needed to be mounted on the U.S. and its ways of thinking?) Did humans evolve or not? One could spend time and energy thinking about these questions, but if there's a one sentence answer that feels good, pouncing on that is so much easier. And often it comes with talking points to "defeat" the "other side" in debate in front of an audience that itself may want a definitive answer, not more questions.
Or maybe people would like to avoid thinking altogether, and just call it in. Well, we can't do that anymore, if we ever could The stakes, in my opinion, are too high. We have to do some critical thinking about some things. While I might sometimes wish for a Magic 8-Ball to run things in academia, or in politics, I really don't think that solution is a great idea. (Yes, I hear you saying you think people have been using it for years...).
Here's the link to Mr. Gillis's article, here's a link to one of the websites he mentions, and here's a link to one of the articles he mentions. Pounce away.
Walter Slonopas has gotten the number 666 on his work documents once too often. Or is that 1nce 2 often? Until late January, Mr. Slonopas worked for the Contech Casting company in Clarksville, Tennessee. But he received his W-2 form that week, and it has the number 666 on it. Mr. Slonopas had seen that number twice before on documents from Contech Casting, and had objected to them; after all, as a born-again Christian, he knows that 666 is the mark of the Beast. The third time was the charm. As he explained to the newspaper The Tennessean, he had to quit in order to save his soul.
The Contech Company farms out its payroll paperwork, including work on its W-2s, to another company, according to an officer of the company which owns Contech. The 666 means Mr. Slonopas's form was number 666 to be mailed. That's how Mr. Slonopas ended up with the offending 666s. The company says it would be happy to have Mr. Slonopas back as an employee. But that outcome seems unlikely at this point. Mr. Slonopas says he's had enough run-ins with the 666s. "God is worth more than money."
In time for Hallowe'en, and the day we received word on the guilty verdict and sentencing in the Italian earthquake trial, here's an article in which Vincenzo Zeno-Zencovich considers the relationship between law and superstition, published in the Comparative Law Review.
Rose Marks and several other members of her family say that they have real psychic powers, which allow them to help persons in distress and put them in touch with deceased loved ones. Federal prosecutors say Ms. Marks and her family are nothing more than scam artists who take victims' money, in some cases thousands of dollars. One person who says she lost money to Rose Marks, almost a million dollars, is the novelist Jude Deveraux. Ms. Deveraux says Ms. Marks, using the name Joyce Michael, became "the source of pain, deception and fraud while trapping Deveraux with threats and the promise of hope."
The defense attorneys in the case are raising a First Amendment free exercise argument, saying that their clients' beliefs in psychic powers and their other practices are part of a sincerely held religious belief. Federal judges in other circuits have held that states cannot prohibit individuals from telling fortunes for pay, for example. The First Amendment exists to protect speech that allows people to engage in discussion on important issues, or issues that they think are worthwhile. Because the First Amendment, one of our fundamental rights is implicated, a court applied the "strict scrutiny" standard, which requires that the government demonstrate that it has a compelling interest (an interest of the highest order) to suppress or limit the speech, and that it is doing so in the most limited way with the narrowest means available. The cases in which federal judges have upheld the rights of fortune tellers, astrologers, clairvoyants and other "crafty science" practitioners to "speak" under the First Amendment include Argello v. City of Lincoln (143 F.3d 1152 (8th Cir. 1998)),(upholding the right of the plaintiff to tell fortunes for pay). See also a prior Law and Magic post here.
However, while the First Amendment is liberal in its protection of speech and belief, it does not protect criminal conduct. What is at issue here may be instead a law of general applicability, a law that is neutral in terms of its application to everyone. If so, if it applies to everyone regarding of his or her beliefs or speech, then the defendants here have a much less convincing argument that they are being targeting for their religious beliefs. The judge in Trimble v. City of New Iberia makes just this point.
For purposes of plaintiffs' motion, the Court will accept the City's position and assume that consumer protection is a compelling state interest. Therefore, the validity of the Ordinance depends on whether it is reasonably necessary to achieve the City's compelling interest. Plaintiffs argue that consumer protection against fraud and unfair trade practices is already provided under state law in the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices Act, La. R.S. 51:1401 et. seq. Plaintiffs assert that to the extent fortunetelling and the like may be unfair or deceptive, they are already prohibited by state law. The Supreme Court has pointed out that the "existence of adequate content-neutral alternatives undercuts significantly" the government's position that its challenged legislation is reasonably necessary to achieve its interests. R. A. V., 505 U.S. at 395. If the City were concerned about protecting consumers who solicit the services of the plaintiffs, the City could have enacted legislation similar to the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices Act.
Trimble v. City of New Iberia, 73 F. Supp. 2d 659 (U.S.D.C., W.D. La., Lafayette-Opelousas Div., 1999)(boldface added by editor).
Incidentally, the First Amendment also does not necessarily protect speech "when it is the very vehicle of the crime itself." See Rice v. Paladin Enterprises, 128 F.3d 233 (4th Circ., 1997) at 244.
The case may depend on the language of the statute under which the defendants were charged as well as what the prosecutors can prove the defendants actually did.
Homeopathic medicines are said to have no side-effects; this is considered a major selling point. It is less often noticed that this is because they have no effects at all. This is why you can't overdose on homeopathic remedies. (I wouldn't try this myself, but see here.)
Homeopathic remedies are sold as just that, remedies. Homeopathic doctors prescribe their solutions to help patients suffering specific maladies; the medicines cost real money; they come in impressive looking bottles with precise dosage and usage instructions. In many countries, insurance companies pay for such treatments. Friends of homeopathy think of their medicines as intervening effectively in the causal nexus. But the simple fact is, they do not. Or rather, evidence that they do remains inconclusive. And we know exactly why this should be. The solutions are too dilute for the "active ingredients" to be active at all.
And yet — and it is crucial that there is an "and yet" — homeopathic treatments do have effects. I have very close friends who swear by these treatments; the comfort they take, not only from the drops and tablets, but also from the guidance and counsel of homeopathic "doctors," is undeniable.
Is this just ignorance? Or self-deception? Have my friends been swindled? Or is this an example of the well-documented, but poorly understood placebo effect? Or are things more complicated even than that? In the coming weeks I will return to this topic.
I don't quite understand the point of this post. Is the writer suggesting that homeopathic treatments ought to be regulated more closely because they may have economic and psychological effects, even if their medical effects are unproven? BTW: the link in the post is to James Randi's TED talk about psychics, which includes a bit in which he takes an awful lot of Calms Forte.
From today's New York Times, Eric Weiner's opinion piece on the Nones, those who aren't atheists, but aren't quite religious. They're undecided.They're still seeking. They're Seekers (my term, not his). Mr. Weiner offers his explanation of why, and what the Nones are looking for. He suggests it's rationalism, humor, a view of the world and their place in it that shows them how to find answers that reconcile the big questions with the little ones. And, he says, they don't like all the anger in the public square that we get now over the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause. After 275 years, is the age of the Enlighenment having a Renaissance?