As anyone who has successfully navigated fourth grade knows, west Africans were captured in their homeland, forcibly shipped to the Americas, and sold into slavery. The purpose here is not to rehash an elementary school history lesson but to delve into a contemporary counterclaim about a supposed subclass of those held in bondage.

Early in the 17th Century, penniless emigrants, most of them Irish, received an all-expenses-paid trip to North America in exchange for indentured servanthood upon arrival. This voluntary contract obligated them work off their debt for a set period that generally ran about five years. They received complimentary room and board but no other compensation. They worked off the cost of their transatlantic journey and gained training in a trade that provided them a valuable résumé boost.

All the while, slave labor helped fuel the agrarian economy in Colonial America. Slaves continued to be held for nearly 100 years after the signing of the ironically-named Declaration of Independence. Those held in this condition had no say in the matter, had no date of expiration to look forward to, and were never trained on a skill set that would benefit them later.

There are some aspects of slavery about which there are common misconceptions. For example, while Colonial America and the early United States are seen as the lone destination for those captured in west Africa, only about 1 in 12 ended up here. The rest toiled in the West Indies, present-day Mexico, or South America. And those who did end up here were more likely to work on a small farm, perhaps being the only slave there, as opposed to laboring on a plantation.

Many non-historians would be surprised by these facts, but they are accurate, and stating them is not an attempt to lessen the extent to which forced bondage is horrific. By contrast, claims that there were Irish slaves belong almost exclusively to white racists, who charge that modern blacks should get over it because decedents of early Irish settlers aren’t complaining about their lot in life.

But there are many errors with this way of thinking that go beyond bigotry. Most obviously, indentured servitude is voluntary, while slavery by definition is forced. Second, slaves were property and could be legally beaten or killed. While a destitute, indentured 17th Century Irishman servant may not have had the cushiest life, he was entitled to same rights and privileges of all free persons. Someone smacking his indentured servant upside the head could be punished for doing so.

Additionally, servitude was for a fixed period and was not an inherited condition. Finally, the servants were legally entitled to what the conditions of their contract laid out. This was not the case for those held in bondage, nor was there a Fugitive Indentured Servant law. Skin color was a necessary element to being a slave in the Americas. There were no white ones.

In most cases, indentured servitude in North America amounted to an apprenticeship. Persons barely in their teens would enter into an agreement that taught them a trade in exchange for putting this new talent to use for the other party. By the time they reached adulthood, they had years of training and practice that served them well.

The falsehood about Irish slaves has its roots in the distorting a late 19th Century treatise written by someone known only as Col. Ellis. Titled White Slaves and Bond Servants in the Plantations, it told of how someone named Gen. Brayne suggested to Oliver Cromwell that African slaves be imported to Jamaica. The goal was to reduce the reliance on indentured servants, who were treated poorly. Ellis explained that since owners “would have to pay for slaves, they would have an interest in the preservation of their lives, which was wanting in the case of bond-servants.” Those pushing the fabricated narrative of Irish slaves change this so that “bond-servant” reads as “Irish” or “Whites.”

Another lie is to portray skeletal Civil War prisoners as Irish slaves. One more absurdity asserts that 300,000 Irish slaves were sold over a decade in the 1600s. This number is nearly double the number of Irish immigrants, indentured servants or otherwise, who made their way to America between Plymouth Rock and Yorktown.

Irish slave claims have zero historical merit and are reserved almost exclusively for those who are working without compensation to push them, in a sort of indentured servitude to the alt-right.  



“Wheat’s eating you?” (Glyphosate fears)


Spaghetti can be topped with meatballs and Parmesan cheese, but according to some crusaders, it can also be accompanied by digestive aliments. Not only can spaghetti pose a risk, they say, but with any food made with wheat, thanks to the herbicide glyphosate. But these concerns are based on misunderstandings of how glyphosate is used, how widespread it is, and its toxicity level.

The most frequent claim is that wheat is drenched with glyphosate just days before going to market, leaving unsafe levels of dangerous residue which cause health issues when the food breaks down inside us.  

However, only about five percent of North American wheat farmers apply the herbicide in the days immediate before a harvest, and this is done because of its power as a drying agent. This may be needed in northern climes during wet summers. However, glyphosate (trade name Roundup) is not the most efficient method of achieving this, so it is not the first choice for most farmers.

Whatever product they use, one must always consider dosage when assessing safety. Herbicide labels are not suggestions, but rather federal law. Restrictions on the concentrations of glyphosate mandate that its dosage be equivalent to 20 ounces of Kool-Aid being mixed with 10 gallons of water and spread over a Canadian Football League field. 

On a related note, toxicity is determined by amount, not ingredient. “Lethal Dose 50” is a term for how much of an ingested substance will kill half of laboratory test animals. On this scale, vinegar and salt are more toxic than glyphosate. In fact, the EPA classifies glyphosate as a Group E, which it reserves for products that show no evidence of human carcinogenicity. Glyphosate has negligible toxicity, and any dose a person might be exposed to will be well within safety limits. Furthermore, farmers must abide by a Maximum Residue Level, which is the highest amount of pesticide that can safely remain on crops after application.

This entails more than just taking farmers at their word or believing that government regulations are adequate. There is substantial science behind the assertions of glyphosate safety.

A systemic review in 2000 found that, “No significant toxicity occurred. The use of Roundup herbicide does not result in adverse effects on development, reproduction, or endocrine systems in humans and other mammals.” 

More recently, a 2011 review reported that there was “no evidence of a consistent pattern of positive associations indicating a causal relationship between any disease and exposure to glyphosate.” 

Then in 2012, a review showed there was “no solid evidence linking glyphosate exposure to adverse developmental or reproductive effects at environmentally realistic exposure concentrations.” That same  year, another study “found no consistent pattern of positive associations indicating a causal relationship between total cancer or any site-specific cancer and exposure to glyphosate.”

Still, claims persist that glyphosate-saturated wheat is causing digestive ailments in North America, though these alarms are in the form of anecdotes instead of data. The panic is partly attributable to glyphosate’s indirect connection to GMOs, which are a boon to agriculture but which misinformed detractors see as a bane. Glyphosate has been used for 44 years, but has become much more common since genetic modification came along. The connection is that GMOs are Roundup resistant.

Glyphosate prevents nearly all plants from producing proteins they need to survive. So while it would kill a noxious weed, it would take out the desirable wheat as well.  At least until Monsanto devised a method to make GMOs Roundup resistant. Now, genetically modified wheat can be treated with glyphosate, a herbicide which repeated studies have shown to be harmless and which has a low toxicity.

So go ahead and safely eat that spaghetti. Or give into unfounded fear and leave more for me.

“Hardcore wrap” (Weight loss wraps)


My yo-yo physique hasn’t rebounded for a while so I could handle this in multiple ways. I could choose to be indifferent about my waistline. I could decrease the calories consumed while increasing the calories burned. Or I could combine the two ideas and lose weight without effort through stomach wraps.

This should bring weight loss. But that is different from fat loss and the effects would be temporary. Water would be lost through sweating, which would cause modest, temporary effect to take place over the entire body, not just the wrapped area. I could wrap my chest or legs and get the same result, but purveyors of these products instruct customers to use the stomach because that’s where the bulge is.

In a world where mainstream media regularly gives credulous coverage to folk remedies, it is refreshing to see major outlets call bunk on this one.

CNN interviewed medicine professor Dr. Erica Brownfield, who told the network, “These results are going to be temporary and there is no scientific data to support what they’re claiming. Those fat cells, once you decompress them and take those wraps off, they’re going to go back to their usual shape and size.”

Meanwhile, ABC consumer correspondent Greg Hunter examined Suddenly Slender Body Wraps, which founder Victoria Morton claims will result in a whopping 6 to 20 inches from a one-hour wrap session. Like Brownfield, Quackwatch contributor Dr. Victor Herbert says that any weight loss will be through water and the effect will be fleeting.

Morton claims that in addition to water, customers lose “the waste, the stuff that builds up and makes us sick and tired.” Similar merchants claim toxin removal, but none identity what waste or toxin is being exorcised or how that would affect cellulite reduction.

For the ABC experiment, two volunteers wrapped themselves before dancing to an exercise video. Morton took before and after measurements and insisted both volunteers lost at least six inches. But upon further review of the video, Hunter noticed that “before” measurements were taken right above the navel, while “after” measurements were done several inches above that. Additionally, the “before” measurement came with Morton affixing her fingers behind the tape, making for a larger circumference. The “after” measurement came with the tape taut. If there was any loss in the belly button vicinity, it was gone by the next day when ABC conducted a follow-up measurement.

Some are attempting a more futuristic spin on the weight-loss wrap notion by implementing infrared generators. Clients lay on a bed while silicone pads are strapped one the subject and they remain under a heated blanket during the session. The supposed value is that the infrared waves will penetrate deep into fat cells, impacting body temperature, metabolism, and blood circulation. The heat then breaks down fats into a liquid form, which are in turn excreted along with still-undefined toxins.

But Discover spoke with Williams College physiologist Steven Swoap, who put the scientific kibosh on this notion by stating simply, “Fats don’t come out of sweat glands.” So for me it’s either apathy or more treadmill and less Pop-Tarts. And with a special this week on cherry and chocolate flavors, it’s an easy decision.

“That’s owl, folks” (Mothman)


In November 1966, a motorist and three passengers on a late night drive outside Point Pleasant, W. Va., saw what appeared to be a six-foot-tall monstrous humanoid with fiery eyes. Other than its flaming peepers, the creature lacked discernible head and neck features. The frightened foursome hightailed it in the other direction, at which point the beast pursued them with use of silent, stationary wings.

Over the next year, similar sightings were reported in the area, with speculation that the alarming apparition was an alien, omen, demon, cryptid, or multi-dimensional spirit. Skeptic leader Joe Nickell, who specializes in examining ghost and cryptozoology claims, thinks the Mothman had shredding talons and a head whose swiveling could rival Linda Blair’s. He also thinks it comes out at night to feast and howl. That’s because he strongly suspects the creature to be an owl. Of note, during the spate of original sightings, a rancher fired at what he thought was the Mothman and it turned out to be just what Nickell has guessed, specifically a snowy owl.

As to why this solitary, nocturnal bird of prey morphed into a man-sized otherworldly terror, that speaks to characteristics of both owls and humans. “Because of the owls’ size, their shining eyes, their nocturnal habits, and noiseless flight, they’re really noted for fooling people,” Nickell explained.

Nickell never accuses Mothman eyewitnesses of making up the stories up or even intentionally exaggerating them. But he believes expectation, faulty memories, and even worse lighting create a mix that makes monstrous visions and interpretations more likely. When deciphering such reports, Nickell said he “takes people’s description, allows for some error, and matches it to an animal in the real world.”

In the same article, quoted ornithology expert Ryan Barbour, who said owls prefer old, abandoned buildings; they regularly yelp, hoot, and hiss; and they can take on a creepy appearance. All this could be disconcerting for someone who’s already spooked.

There are other reasons to think an owl was behind the sightings. The Mothman’s shape as originally reported greatly resembled the bird, with a head and body that blended together, along with large, intense eyes. Nickell suspects this look was caused by eyeshine, which is a feature in nocturnal animals. Barred owls are an especially pronounced example of this because of the many blood vessels that encircle their eyes.

While the bird of prey explication suffices for the sounds, silent flight, and piercing eyes, what accounts for the Mothman being four times the size of the average owl? A 2010 episode of the schlockfest MonsterQuest may have provided the answer. On the program, Nickell drove subjects down a dark road lined with plywood Mothman cutouts with bike reflectors for eyes, and all reported that the object was larger than it actually was.

Nickell explained, “It’s very hard to judge the size of something seen at night at an unknown distance, and if you misjudge how far away it is, you misjudge its height by the same proportion.” Also, intense fear and disturbing memories can cause the object grow in size over time in the person’s mind.

It’s also telling the there are no diurnal Mothman encounters. Just like UFOs land in the Nevada desert as opposed to Times Square, very few retold cryptozoological run-ins take place during the day. That doesn’t make for near as compelling a campfire tale or sleepover story.

Moreover, exaggeration and revision became prevalent in subsequent retellings of Mothman confrontations as such tales became folklore. Like the Mothman, folk tales take on various forms that reflect the interest, motivation, and mindset of the narrator. That’s why the creature has been described as a demon, alien, beastly bird of prey, or hideously overgrown insect escaped from a Kafka novella. It can have horns, claws, or bulging eyes, depending on the storyteller. But while just such a statue of the beast stands in Point Pleasant, it bears little resemble to the creature reported by the original 1966 eyewitnesses.

“No deposit, no discern” (Worldwide flood)


Young Earth Creationists are a Christian fundamentalist subset who dismiss any evidence for a universe older than a few thousand years. They also hold a literal interpretation of Genesis, meaning they think Earth was completely covered by water following a flood that would have dwarfed any that a Hollywood blockbuster could muster. Much evidence works against the idea of worldwide flood 4,400 years ago, but our limited focus here centers on ecology.

In the flood fable, Noah brought animals aboard his ark in pairs or septets. To get around the sizable obstacle of about 50 million critters fitting onto a ship the size of 1.5 football fields, YECs fabricated then notion of “kind,” which they never define or quantify. From each “kind,” thousands of different species are said to have emerged. To YECs, this does not count as evolution since there is no change from one kind to another. They reluctantly allow for incremental, minor adaptations and will allow that a squirrel’s fur may change to a more advantageous color. However, the bushy-tailed rodent could not have a prehistoric horned gopher as its ancestor from 100 million generations ago.

This is a desperate, ad hoc hypothesis to try and get around scientists literally observing evolution in action, such as with Richard Lenski’s ongoing e. coli experiment or with the Florida lizard that was seen developing a toe pad to escape an invasive species. This raises another issue, as to why an organism would need to adapt at all if it and its surroundings were created by an infallible designer, but perhaps that’s for another post.

A “kind” is very roughly analogous to the biological grouping of Family. The only criteria for which animals belong in each “kind” seems to be similar appearance. For example, a horse, zebra, and donkey would be in the same kind, but a horse, opossum, and turtle would not.

According to retired geology professor and Skeptical Inquirer contributor Lorence Collins, there are up to 50 million species today, and many more times that of cousin species that have gone extinct.

YECs think fossils of both extinct and extant species were buried in sedimentary rocks deposited by the great flood. YECs further believe that all these creatures were created at the same time. Yet all known sea reptiles, such as ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs, are found in fossils from the Eocene Epoch, while those layers feature no such fossils from sea-living cetaceans like dolphins, whales, and porpoises. Those extinct sea reptiles filled the same ecological niche that cetaceans do today and both groups swam in the same locations. Yet a YEC will insist that all cetaceans survived the flood but not a single sea reptile did. For this to be true, cetaceans and sea reptiles occupying the same parts of the ocean would have to have been completely segregated by the flood, which then killed all sea reptiles and spared the cetaceans.

The truth, Collins wrote, is that sea reptiles went extinct well before mammals began adapting to ocean life and became ancestors of today’s cetaceans. The geologic column and distribution of sea reptile and cetacean fossils bear this out.

We now leave the sea for the sky but encounter the same problems with Young Earth Creationism. There are about 9,500 species of birds on Earth today and an additional 10,000 extinct bird species that have been found in sedimentary rocks, which were deposited 4,400 years ago in the YEC narrative.

Young Earth Creationist Jean Lightner suggests that aboard the ark were 196 pairs of bird “kinds,” which evolved into 10,000 extinct species and 9,500 living ones. This is an instance of special pleading, as a group that mostly rejects random mutation and natural selection will, out of extreme convenience, adopt a hyper version of evolution in order to make their timeline work. But to produce the 19,500 species of birds from 196 pairs in 4,400 years would require evolution taking place exponentially faster than what any observation of genetic change has indicated is possible.

Now onto land animals and more deficiencies in the YEC model. YECs would presumably consider elephants, mastodons, and woolly mammoths to be in one “kind,” distant cousins descended from a pair of lumbering beasts who took up the Ark’s trunk space.

However, about 10,000 fossils of extinct elephant relatives have been found from Africa to Iraq, and millions of mammoth fossils have been unearthed in Siberia. Consider how long it takes elephants to reproduce. They have a 22-month gestation period, some species only begin to procreate at age 20, and they will have offspring only about every five years. These are fatal blows to the notion that hundreds of species totaling millions of mammoths, mastodons, and elephants came into existence and were dispersed over thousands of miles in a period lasting barely 2,000 years.

Meanwhile, there are about 35 extant and 150 extinct feline species, which YECs say all came from a pair that boarded the ark, a cat walk if you will. But again, there would be inadequate genetic diversity to allow for this much branching of a species tree in 4,000 years, which is the blink of an evolutionary eye. There are similar examples among rhinos, canines, and bears. The number of extant and extinct members could not be crammed into such a short time period. There would be too few years to reproduce and have descendants evolve into this many different species.  

YECs face another insurmountable obstacle with plants. In China, fern fossils have been found in ash sandwiched between two coal layers. Per Collins, this is the result of volcano millions of moons ago that sent hot ash spewing and killed all plant life in the affected area. As it turns out, volcanic ash is excellent at preserving plant fossils and these highly delicate leaves were sustained when surrounded and covered by these fiery remains.  By contrast, if the plants’ leaves had been deposited in sediments that were transported by rushing water that had fallen at a rate of 360 inches an hour – 25 times faster than any recorded deluge – they would have been torn apart and mixed with fragments of different plant types.


“Search-and-annoy mission” (Quad Cities Psychic and Paranormal Fair)

no energy

With last week being Thanksgiving, I fittingly my made my annual pilgrimage to the Quad Cities Psychic and Paranormal Fair. In previous sojourns, I would either attend an hour-long presentation or hit as many tables as I could. After the former, I reported in detail on one of the fair’s many salespersons. With the latter approach, I gave snippets about a multitude of peddlers of the psychic, supernatural, paranormal, and alternative medicine. This time I went for a middle-ground approach, focusing on the specialized area of energy healing and speaking with anyone proclaiming this ability.  

When talking with alternative medics, I have unfailingly found that even the most rudimentary probe of their field leaves them flummoxed. They are used to hearing, “What can you do for my nagging backaches,” instead of being asked to explain the mechanisms behind such treatments. 

For the energy healers, I had three primary questions in mind: What kind of energy is it? How is it accessed? How do you measure it? Someone doing genuine energy work could explain these basics instantaneously. For example, an electrician would be able to tell me that a light bulb works by converting electric energy into light energy. He or she could further explain that a light bulb has embedded negative and positive terminals connected by a tungsten filament. When electricity is supplied to those terminals, the resultant flow of electrons cause the filament to heat up until it glows. Further, the electrician could tell me that this resultant energy is measured in watts, a derived unit of one joule per second which quantifies the rate of energy transfer.

Consider the previous paragraph to be the science lesson portion of the post because we now segue into how the Psychic and Paranormal Fair merchants answered those same queries.

The first stop on my search-and-annoy mission was with a therapeutic touch practitioner. She explained, or tried to anyway, that she was “Checking your energy and seeing how it’s in alignment. Energy comes through us.” I asked what type of energy it was and was told, “It’s an attunement to a particular type of energy. It’s just all energy that comes through. And it just works. You have energy all the way around you, I can feel it. I’ve been doing it for 25 years.” Doing it for a quarter century without being able to explain what energy is behind it or how it works would be like the aforementioned electrician being unaware that the light bulb must be screwed it clockwise.

I move on to the next energy merchant, who highlighted her energy clearing abilities. “We all get bogged down with things. You know, we go to Wal-Mart or a bar or a funeral home.” She continued that on these odysseys to discount stores, beverage distributors, and final stops, “We all get bogged down with things and you pick up things, it kind of clogs it up. And when you get an energy clearing, it clears all the energy off and you feel lighter and your chakras get balanced. It’s amazing.”

“What type of energy is it?”

“Um, like, you know, we have our energies. So they get bogged, we get our attachments, you know.”

“But I mean is it chemical, radiant, thermal?”

“It’s like a Reiki and shamanic energy clearing.”

“How do you access it?”

“Um, well, you use the angels and the divine and beings that you work with, like the angels and the divine and the avatars. You know, like we have the hierarchy and the divine, our avatars, and Michael the archangel.  

“How do you measure it?

“Well, when you’re not clear and your chakras are blocked and you have attachments on you, that’s where disease comes in.”

My trip to the fair was mostly comical, but her last statement shows the seriousness of scientific stupidity. Instead of realizing diseases have been eradicated and contained via Germ Theory, antibiotics, vaccines, bleach, soap, clean water, sanitation, and double blind studies, she credits, “Um, like you know, angels and Reiki and stuff.” That’s coming from someone in an advanced civilization and her mindset has permeated much of our culture.

Moving on, I came to someone offering two types of energy healing: Reiki and Theta. I may have gotten confused about whether she was talking about one, the other, or both, but I kind of got the feeling through the day it didn’t matter much; all are pretty much the same and equally pointless. Nevertheless, she extolled her ability to “channel energies from the universe into you.”

“What kind of energy?

“Just from the creator.”

“I mean, is it nuclear, electrical, motion?” She answered, “I don’t know,” which was by far the most accurate information and honest assessment I received that day.

While most of the energy healers highlighted ancient angles featuring shamanism or angels, at least one preferred the appeal to novelty instead of the appeal to antiquity counter-fallacy. She offered energetic and vibrational healing.

As to what kind of energy, I was told, “Source energy.”

“How do you access it?”

“I pull it from the source.”

The source comes from the source. That would be like a dentist telling you that your cavity comes from that hole in your tooth.

“How do you measure it?”

“I don’t have to. It’s intelligent, it goes where it needs to go.”

In that case, why would I pay someone to send it there?

So I sauntered to yet another table, this one proudly proclaiming its ability to use reconnective energy healing through shaman this or theta that. There, the purveyor informed me, “It has to do with the higher spiritual self. We can go in and help release that energy and make it heal almost immediately.”

“What kind of energy?”

“Energy.” Hmmm, could you be a little more vague? She doesn’t know what kind of energy he’s releasing; for all she knows it could be nuclear. She later clarified that it was “source” energy. Oh yes, I’ve heard all about that.

“Well, this source energy, is it sound, elastic, gravitational, thermal, what kind?”

“It’s a little bit of everything. It’s really about the vibrations, about Hertz. Like a tuning fork. When we work with a physical body, we work with the vibrational frequencies. In the magnetic field, they are what we call your auras.”

By using “frequencies” and “auras” in her description of how it works, she mixes a science term (though using it incorrectly) with gobbledygook. Frequency refers to how often a repeating event occurs during a specified unit of time. Auras are a fabricated anatomical feature with no basis in reality. The vacuous vendor’s misuse of a science term and her combining it with a pretend one are both pseudoscience trademarks.

She displayed plenty  more examples of such in her next spiel:

“In you center, because you’re electrical, it’s really about your electrical currents. When you bring in the flow of your meridians, it’s just like a little – it’s your polar, it’s your meridians and your mind and your energy and your field and whether you repel or attract. We want to bring all those into balance and get rid of the ick you get from microwaves, audio waves, EMF waves, cellular waves, and cell phones. We are bombarded and you get all staticy like an old rabbit ears TV. We take on those energies and get out of attunement, and like a car needs an alignment and tune-up, your physical and spiritual body needs the same thing.”

I came to this fair skeptical, but as she finished, I realized she was right about my mind becoming extremely cluttered. I was also wondering if she planned on further research, testing, and experiments on this ickiness she had isolated.

With all her meandering, I lost track of whether she was claiming to bring energy in or take it out. “Both,” she clarified. If that case, why not just leave it alone?

As to the energy she accesses, I asked, “How to you bring it in?”

“Energy comes directly from the true source, divine.”

“How do you measure it and know you are getting the right amount?”

She assured me that was done automatically. “When you pour water in a cup and it overflows, that’s what the body does. When it fills up with that energy, it loses what you don’t need. Your body will only take on what you can manage.”

Could you imagine that coming from your anesthesiologist? It would be unacceptable then and, while with our analogy-happy alternative medic would only take your money and not your life, it again shows the clear distinction between authentic and counterfeit medicines.

She closed by telling me, “There’s a lot of clutter out there and you never know when you’re going to bump into it.”

“That’s for sure,” I said. “And in some places it’s more concentrated than others.”

I moseyed onto another Reiki provider, who made the same hackneyed undefined energy claims.

“What type of energy is it?’

“I call it energy from divine, from God. We are just conduits, we don’t do the healing. We don’t determine where it goes.”

Here we see another difference between medicine rooted in science fact and one grounded in science fiction. Imagine a chemotherapist telling a cancer patient, “We don’t know what this is, how it works, or how we’re going to direct it to where it needs to go.”

“It is thermal energy, sound energy, motion energy?”

“The energy comes through you. It’s divine energy. You can’t even put a title on it.”

Oh, I can think of a word or two.

“How do you access it?”

“You get trained and attuned to it.”

“I mean, do you use a wand, a ringing bowl, a tuning fork, maybe a spork?”

“It actually just comes – your attuned physical energy will know what it needs.”

“How do you measure it?

“You don’t. You feel it, you feel the heat.”

“But if you can’t measure it, couldn’t you overdose?”

“You can’t. You can never to too much Reiki.”

Or too little.

Next was a theta healing table, featuring one of the more obscure versions of alleged energy medicine. While it is seldom seen even at alternative medic gatherings, the purported mechanisms sound familiar.

“I help people change what they want to change, shift what they want to shift,” the merchant told me. “And I do that by putting my brain into the theta brain waves. In that state, I can talk to whatever sources and ask it what needs to be healed.” If she’s hearing voices, she needs to see a doctor, not play one.

“What type of energy does it use?”

“It uses the energy of the creator, whatever divine source that is for you.”

“I mean, is it kinetic energy, potential energy, heat energy, light energy?”

“I can’t explain it. All I know is that it works if I use the technique.”

“With that technique, how do you access the energy?”

“I close my eyes, I lift my eyes up. I do a short mediations and that puts me into the theta brain waves.”

“How to you transfer that to the patient to heal them?”

“I’m not actually doing the healing.”

Then what the hell are you here for? I asked that in a more diplomatic way, but the gist was the same.

She answered, “It’s that very act of witnessing it that brings the healing.” Sounds sort of like Heisenberg’s Uncertainty principle, except for parts about being grounded in decades of sound scientific research, peer review, and replication.

“How do you measure it to ensure you’re using the right amount for healing?”

“Well, I’m asking the creator to do it, so if you believe in the all-knowing force, it will do what it needs to do. It’s all-knowing.”

Then is should know to heal without being asked to.

The day’s most awkward encounter was with a cherub-faced 14-year-old who I can only presume was running his first fair booth, and who was definitely being asked specifics of his healing modality for the first time.  

The following exchange is presented largely without the multiple 40-second pauses between question and answer and his repeated gazes back at the healing pyramid which accompanied him. He first told me that this 3-D triangle “allows energy to flow easier.”

“What kind of energy?”

“Um, like, right energy. To make you understand things easier.”

“How do you access it?”

“You just kind of sit there, relax.”

“How do you measure it, how do you get the right amount?”

He made a third awkward silent stare back at the pyramid, as if expecting the right answer to spring forth from within with the, um, like, right energy.

“It’s just kind of like gives you whatever is necessary.” I’ve always found the notion of a healing pyramid oxymoronic since such structures are where ancient Egyptians buried their dead.

I figured I had made the laconic lad’s day laborious enough, so I moved on to crystals, without which no psychic and paranormal fair would be complete.

“What kind of energy does this use?”

“Well, any kind, universal. There are different ways to use different energy for healing.”

“Which types of energy correspond to which types of healing?”

“Well, there’s universal energy basically. Each type of stone emits a different frequency and each stone has a different healing property.”

“How do you access the energy, through the stone?”

“Well, the stone emits its own. And then by holding it, it emits that frequency and you can pick it up and share that frequency and attune yourself to that. We are all energetic beings so we will change our frequency, the vibration of our frequency slightly and different energies help us in different ways.”

“How do you measure it, how do you know you’re getting the right amount?”

“You quiet yourself and you put the stone in your non-dominant hand.”

I had spoken to nearly a dozen energy medicine practitioners without buying anything, so my energy level was draining and I decided to challenge her no further and I made my way to yet another Reiki enthusiast.

“What kind of energy is it?”

“Um, well, it’s not only me using your energy, you can also use universal energy as well.”

“What type is it, nuclear, radiological, chemical?”

“It’s a little bit different for everybody. Some people see colors, some people feel intense heat, some people feel cold, some people feel nothing.”

I strongly suspect what category I would be in.


“Sweet and dour” (Artificial sweetener hysteria)

SBArtificial sweeteners have been the subject of mass hysteria for decades. In the 1970s, studies fueled worries about the possible carcinogenetic nature of saccharin. However, this research involved rats being force-fed the synthetic compound at a rate that would have been like a person drinking 100 diet sodas a day for years.

In the early 1990s, the Internet’s first wide-spread smear campaign listed every malady in the history of Mankind as being the result of aspartame, which raised the question of why humans hadn’t been immortal prior to the artificial sweetener’s creation.

This year, there was an alarmist report about diet soda being responsible for Alzheimer’s, cancer, dementia, and the Smog Monster. This freak-out was based on a horrible misinterpretation of the study, which is what’s happening in yet another fabricated fizzy fear. This latest scare is that artificial sweeteners wreak havoc with one’s gut microbiome.

The human gastrointestinal tract is amazingly complex and is composed of multitudinous organisms that can either help or hinder digestion. These organisms can have a substantial impact on our health, either good or bad. Because of the microbiome’s key role in human wellbeing, research is constantly being done on it.

That includes a study which some media have given plenty of panicky play to. In this experiment, scientists poured artificial sweeteners on bacterial cells. At very high concentrations, most of the bacteria began to act stressed, and researchers deduced that artificial additives were the culprit. This was translated in the press as sweeteners being detrimental to human health.

This was an unfounded conclusion. For starters, the research considered only a few strains of e. coli, which are among the millions of different types of bacteria that have taken up residence in our gastrointestinal tracts. Further, the stressed reaction only occurred when e. coli were subjected to extremely elevated dosages. The bacteria started showing agitation after exposure to four grams per liter of aspartame. The human equivalent of this would be chugging two gallons of Mountain Dew in 15 minutes. Incidentally, I’d be might riled myself if strangers kept dousing me with sticky liquids.

Also, reactions from one type of organism seldom translate into the same experience for another type. Epidemiologist and skeptic blogger Gid M-K wrote, “Exposing cells to artificial sweeteners in a lab is very different to a person drinking diet soft drinks.”

Indeed, a 2016 systemic review of studies concluded there is little evidence of a substantial health detriment or benefit to ingesting moderate amounts of artificial sweetener.

This is much shorter than most of my entries, but I’ve got to prep a Thanksgiving meal, one that will safely include some Diet Cherry Dr Pepper.