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Recently on a trip to AZ, some friends and I visited Sedona.  Sedona is a funny place.  Outside of town, it’s a natural wonderland of red rock cliffs, pine filled canyons, and rolling streams.  Driving into town though, it’s quickly obvious that you are entering a land of spiritualism, mysticism, and new age nonsense.  It’s also obvious that there is a LOT of money being spent (I would say wasted) here.  There are miles of shops hawking all types of spiritual crap.  There are signs for psychics, aura photography, vortex tours, crystals, and more.  The list goes on and on.  The visitor center is filled with pamphlets providing endless ways for visitors to spend their money and the map they hand out even includes locations of some type of mystical “vortexes“.

All in all it seems harmless.  After all, why should I care that people spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on readings, aura reports, crystals, magnets, or spiritual guidance.  For the most part, I find it humorous.  I’m sure some of the shop owners believe their own nonsense.  I’m also sure that others know full well what they are selling.  Sure, some could be considered crooks, but who cares as long as no one gets hurt, right?

Well, just a few weeks ago, two people died and over 20 were hospitalized after spending 2 hours in a sweat lodge “Spa”.  Apparently, these folks were participating in some type of spiritual cleansing ritual which is not uncommon here.  According to police reports, some people paid up to $9000 for the retreat.  Yep.  That’s right $9000 to be stuffed with 63 other people in a 3 foot high room made of branches and covered with blankets for 2 hours.  Oh and lets not forget the steam produced from pouring water over hot rocks.  Doesn’t that sound like fun?  The fact that there is no established medical benefit to do this isn’t even considered relevant by the participants or organizers.  The spiritual teacher, James Arthur Ray, is being investigated and if justice is served, he’ll spend the rest of his life in jail.

So what’s the lesson here? Will anything be learned from this tragedy?  In short, no.  Life goes on in Sedona.  In a few days or weeks, this will no longer be news to anyone besides the families and friends of the sick and dead.  People will question Ray’s motives rather than the practice itself.  Scammers will thrive on the gullible.  People will engage in potentially harmful behavior and continue to line the pockets of the purveyors of woo.  Nothing will change.  It never ever does.

Two dead (so far) is one tragedy.  Another is that lessons that should be learned, won’t be.

On a lighter note, Sedona was beautiful.  I can see why people think that there is something special about this place.  There is.  It’s a beautiful landscape with endless natural wonders to see and explore.  One doesn’t have to look for mystical power sources or spend money on magic jewelery to appreciate the beauty that nature has provided.

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If you don’t want to see changes to the healthcare system in this country, then there are two things that I can say with reasonable certainty:

1. You, your family, and those you care most about have good healthcare insurance

2. You don’t know (or simply don’t care) that millions of children don’t have healthcare insurance, thousands of Americans die every year due to a lack of healthcare insurance, the sickest often can’t get insurance due to pre-existing conditions (even after paying into the system for years), and that costs are skyrocketing.

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Farrah Fawcett died today following a relapse of the anal cancer that she battled for the past three years.   I’m wondering what effect the high profile death will have on cancer awareness and the use of “alternative” therapies, in particular.  I’m not optimistic.

From what I have been able to gather, she was first diagnosed in Sep 2006 and following regimen of standard therapies, was declared cancer-free in Feb 2007.  A few months later doctors discovered a small polyp during a routine exam, and apparently she sought “alternative” treatment in Germany this time around.  I have been unable to determine exactly what the treatment was, although it’s been reported that it consisted of a combination of chemotherapy and natural supplements.

We don’t know what the specific treatment was, but we do know that it was not effective.  We’ll never know whether the “alternative” approach would have saved her life if she tried it first.  (I suspect not since natural supplements have no clinical record of curing cancer.)  Also, we’ll never know if the relapse would have been successfully treated by physicians using the latest FDA-approved, science-based treatments.  We won’t ever know those answers, but I do know that there will be loads of people claiming to.

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Every year in America, the Holiday Season is fraught with Separation of Church and State battles across our great land as secular and civil rights groups challenge public displays of religion such as nativity scenes on government property.  This year, a different battle is being waged on the airwaves and in the press regarding a display at the Washington State Capitial.  The Freedom From Religion Foundation got permission to display a placard next to a nativity scene and holiday tree.  This blog post is not about that, per se, but rather about a statement made by everybody’s favorite right wing pronosticator, Bill O’Reilly.   One of his recent rants included a statement that our “country was founded on Judeo-Christian traditions”.

My first thought was: “Really Bill?  Really?  Judeo-Christian traditions like slavery?”  Both the Old and New Testaments sanction slavery and we all know that it was certainly a tradition supported by the Founding Fathers.

After that, I wondered just how many Judeo traditions the founding fathers practiced.  I don’t remember reading that Thomas Jefferson observed the Sabbath or that George Washington stopped campaigning in the war during Yom Kippur.  Christian traditions, sure, but not Judeo-Christian traditions.

So where did this concept of Judeo-Christian tradition come from?  According to Wikipedia, the term Judeo-Christian didn’t even exist in the language until the late 19th century.  In the 1920’s and 30’s, civil rights groups were using the term to battle antisemitism by people who believed that the US was a Protistant country.  It wasn’t until much later in the latter part of the 20th century that the term became widely used in the way that Billo is using it now.

As an aside, I find it interesting that as time went on, the hardline conservatives went from being antisemitic to eventually bringing the Jews into the fold, so to speak.  I guess in their eyes, they share a belief in the Old Testament despite centuries of hatred and persecution.  “Sure, they don’t believe in Jeeesus, but they like that Yahweh dude, so maybe they’ll come around.  At least they’re not tools of Satan, like atheists and homosexuals.” Is that how it works?

But back to the main point, Billo’s assertion that the country was founded on Judeo-Christian traditions is absolutely false.  An argument can be made that it followed Christian traditions, though most schollars agree that the founding fathers favored secular government.

So it would seem that in Billo’s world, it’s not politically correct to claim that the US is a Christian country founded on Christian traditions such as Christmas alone.  (We have to include our brother Jews now and accept their traditions, right Bill?)  But there is NO place for anyone else to sit at the holiday table.  Secularists and atheists are certainly not welcome.  He made a point of dissing Muslims.  (No surprise there.)  He didn’t mention Buddhists or Hindus, but I think it’s safe to say that unless they’re willing to say “Merry Christmas” and participate in grace, then they wouldn’t be welcome either.

Happy Holidays everyone and count me in on the feast, just don’t ask me to say grace…

After writing the last post which was rather tough, I want to focus on the good news of the day:

Articles in the Guardian and on PHYSORG.com took me by surprise this week.  They talk about Hyperion Power Generations plans to build a small (not exactly pint-sized) nuclear reactor that will service approximately 10,000 homes.  Hyperion claims that the $25 million reactors are safe, reliable, and clean.  Each unit would utilize non-weapons grade material, have no moving parts, and would only need to be serviced every 7 to 10 years.

It sounds too good to be true, and usually I’m very skeptical of these types of claims.  Very skeptical.  Did I mention that I’m skeptical?

In this case, however, it seems that the Japanese are working on the technology as well.  According to The Guardian, Toshiba has announced plans to build small reactors capable of powering a single building for 40 years.

That coupled with the claim that the technology is based on research at Los Alamos National Lab gives me hope that Hyperion is for real.  If so, this could be a real game changer over the next 10 to 20 years in our quest for energy Independence.

See.  I told you it was good news.

Today is a good news / bad news kind of day.  Two articles from the UK have inspired me to write.  First the bad:

A rather lengthy, and extremely disturbing, article in the Telegraph details horrendous behavior in Nigeria at the hands of so-called Priests and other religious leaders – namely the torture, abuse, and even murder of children deemed to be witches.  That’s right – Witches!

In a bizarre combination of Christianity and ancient mythology, tens of thousands of children have been accused of witchcraft and Satanic possession.  Though exorcisms are sometimes performed, most families can not afford the large fees charged by the local religious leaders – an entire year’s income for an average family!  Most children are simply banished from their homes with no where to go or outright killed.  Even the exorcisms (which are basically two weeks of torture) are not guaranteed to work.

It’s no surprise that the same people who identify the child witches are the ones who charge the exorbitant fees for the exorcisms.  One of them is Helen Ukbabio.  Check this out:

Some Nigerians blame the increase on one of the country’s wealthiest and most influential evangelical preachers. Helen Ukpabio, a self-styled prophetess of the 150-branch Liberty Gospel Church, made a film, widely distributed, called End of the Wicked. It tells, in graphic detail, how children become possessed and shows them being inducted into covens, eating human flesh and bringing chaos and death to their families and communities.

The preacher says that her work is true to the Bible and is a means of spreading God’s word.

She claims that her films and books do not contribute to child abuse.  Yeah right…

Another piece of crap highlighted in a new documentary to be aired in the UK is a man who refers to himself as “The Bishop”.  He proudly claims to have killed at least 110 witches and that there are over 2.3 million in Akwa Ibom province.  He also charges a hefty fee to perform his rituals.

The fear is so pervasive that many hospitals won’t even treat the children who have been abused and thrown out in the streets.  Thankfully there are shelters for these children but that is little consolation in the face of such horrors.

I can’t even talk about this anymore…

Not much to say.  Both candidates held their own and avoided the mistakes their supporters feared.  Alas, no train wreck, BUT

As is often case in debates, numerous statements are made that are incorrect.  Why let a few facts get in the way of good rhetoric, right?  If you’re interested in the mistakes, check to see how your pick did here: factcheck.org

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