Thursday, July 21, 2016

#1695: Mac Hammond

Mac Hammond is a prosperity gospel preacher who preaches that God wants you to be rich, and that your duty to give extends only to giving to the church (in fact, giving to the poor might be a sin); and if you are poor, it’s because you just don’t believe hard enough: “What happens when you’ve tithed and contributed to the capital campaign and you haven’t been prospered with anything other than a stack of unpaid bills? The doctrine holds that you haven’t believed sincerely enough. And if you already possess all the tools for prosperity, then you can believe the failure’s all yours, too.” That is, if you give to the church and get rich, that is proof that God wanted things that way and Hammond’s theological lunacy is correct. If you give to the church and remain poor, that is proof that you can only blame yourself.  He is also an ardent supporter of Michele Bachmann – so much so that his church has had some run-ins with the IRS. He’s also so obviously a huckster and a con man that it may be hard to justify including him in an Encyclopedia of loons, but we really couldn’t not include him either (honorable mention to his glossolaliating wife Lynn as well).

Diagnosis: Ok, so perhaps not really a loon, but like any clever pyramid-scheme initiator he is at least a serious threat to human progress and prosperity. The devil would have been pleased with the efforts and works of Mac Hammond.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

#1694: Lamont Hamilton, Sidney Friedman, Judy Hevenly & Vicki Monroe

Oh, the psychics. Every year, many of them issue great predictions for the year to come, and – apart from the usual vague and ambiguous ones – each year they seem to do somewhat poorer than chance, presumably because the career options selects for poor reasoning and thinking skills. There’s a fine rundown on various psychic predictions for 2013 here. Entirely unsurprisingly, the psychics in question appear to be completely unfazed by the dismal performance of their predictions – to the extent that one sometimes get the feeling that they know that they are frauds and really don’t care as long as their bullshit continues to bring in support and sympathy from the gullible or desperate.

Lamont Hamilton, for instance, promotes himself as a “recognized and respected intuitive spiritual counselor, writer, speaker and educator” and “internationally known as a top Clairvoyant for his predictions.” For 2013 those included things like “[a] global U.N. tax will be enacted this year to help fund disaster relief and poverty,” which may at least tell you a bit about his target audience; and “[a] mind-to-mind telepathic telecommunication device will be developed for the mentally ill to help people communicate better,” which tells you a bit about his general (lack of) grasp of reality; “[a] truce is seen in the Middle East before late summer after one or more spiritual leaders emerge in the region to bring stability to several countries now in conflict,” which demonstrates beyond any doubt that Hamilton is a complete idiot; and “Supreme Court Justice Ruth Gingrich [sic] steps down from the Supreme Court after an illness,” which sort of affirms everything. He tried again with “[a] discovery that diseases can be transmitted or transferred by pure thought from one location to another will be foundfor 2014, just to emphasize that psychic abilities is not the only hilariously silly bullshit he subscribes to.

Sidney Friedman, on the other hand, “claims a documented predictions accuracy of 71%, and a near 100% success rate with his Oscar predictions, missing only twice.” You can read the details yourself, but at least his failed prediction that “[a] new, odd, unexpected source of fuel for cars, trucks and/or machinery is announceddoes undeniably suggest that he’s a sucker. Meanwhile, Judy Hevenly claims that her “clientele includes royalty, former presidents, Hollywood movie stars, and heads of state,” and one can only suspect that her description of her clientele is as accurate as her predictions (she, too, tried the “[a]n unexpected vacancy on the Supreme Court moves a conservative court to a liberal one” one; a reasonable guess, but ultimately pretty good evidence that her psychic abilities are shoddy). For 2014 she predicted that “Pope Francis to appoint the first woman cardinal to the Vatican,” which suggests that she doesn’t really know how these things work, and that “Scotland breaks away from United Kingdom and becomes independent.”

Vicki Monroe, a “psychic medium and spiritual messenger” who has “touched the lives of countless people across the globe,” tried “Congress will deal with gun control: Automatic weapons and high-powered rifles, semi-automatics that belong in war zones will be removed, and only used in situations where they are absolutely necessary,” and look: When you try this kind of guess you sort of demonstrate that it is not only your psychic abilities that are wanting. Monroe did, however, land a job on the absolutely despicable TV show Cell Block Psychic, where she would talk with convicted murderers to put them in touch with the “spirits” of their victims, to the pretty reasonable protests from grieving families.

Diagnosis: Not only are they con artists; they are apparently also pretty hopelessly ignorant about how the world works – it wouldn’t be hard to come up with better predictions than theirs – and that tells you plenty of non-flattering things about those who listen to them.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

#1693: Annie Hamilton

Annie Hamilton is, or at least used to be, the official blogger of the Tea Party Patriots. Imagine that. At least Hamilton is extremely patriotic. She is, in fact, so patriotic that she completely rejects the Constitution in her zeal to protect everything America stands for. She argues for instance (with lots of CAPS LOCK TO MAKE SURE THAT YOU CAN HEAR HER) that Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to gather or for instance go to amusement parks. Of course, she doesn’t really think that the First Amendment even applies to Muslims, since, according to her Islam is not a religion: “First, Islam is NOT a religion, it is an ideology – the religious portion only encompasses 11 % (the qur’an) the rest is the Sira and Hadith and the closest parallel to Islam is the Ku Klux Klan.” The she proceeds to manage to claim that Muslims “cannot ever respect our constitution because it’s in direct violation with Sharia.” Well, funny how these things work, Annie.

Diagnosis: So, ok: we don’t know much else about her beyond that screed, which made its rounds on the Internet a few years back. Still: It’s quite enough insanity for decades.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

#1692: Dominic Halsmer

Dominic M. Halsmer has a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from UCLA and is currently Professor of Engineering and Dean of the College of Science and Engineering at Oral Roberts University, which is, of course, a cargo cult institution and not a real university by any stretch of the imagination. As befits someone in a position like this, Halsmer is – like so many other signatories to the Discovery Institute’s petition A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism – not a scientist but a cargo cult scientist, who is “studying how the universe is engineered to reveal the glory of God and accomplish His purposes.” In particular, Halsmer is a creationist, and much of his, uh, output consists of attempts to apply engineering concepts in support of intelligent design; the results are primarily published on the Internet. Casey Luskin was apparently very impressed with a paper by Halsmer arguing for an “engineered world” published in the International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics (of which we know little – it may be a real journal but certainly doesn’t sound like it; the volume including Halsmer’s paper also included an anti-evolution rant by young earth creationist (and engineer) A. C. McIntosh), which you can read about here and seems to mostly be a regurgitation of Paley’s old watchmaker argument that points out the “biofriendliness” of the universe (oh, yeah) and referring to Hoyle, apparently in blithe and total unawareness of the critical literature on these issues.

Diagnosis: Another religious fundie and non-scientist who really, really wants his religious ramblings have anything to do with science – with the results you’d expect. Halsmer seems like a rather obscure figure, but Oral Roberts University is one of the more significant pretend universities in the US, and deserves exposure.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

#1691: Steven Halpern

Although early, comprehensive introduction to opera and twentieth-century symphonic music can only make you a better person, the so-called Mozart effect is a myth. Unfortunately, many people (Don Campbell in particular) didn’t receive the memo. But I guess what Steven Halpern is promoting isn’t really the Mozart effect, but something he has … invented himself. According to his website, which looks precisely the way you would expect given the contents, Halpern is a “GRAMMY award-nominated composer, recording artist and researcher” (oh, yes). Indeed, he is the “founding father of modern sound healing whose music relaxes the body, quiets the mind and soothes the soul.” Methinks there may be rival claimants for that epithet, and what Halpern offers is really not more original than desperate marketing by way of trying to link his rubbish (I haven’t heard any of the music, I think, and don’t want to; it’s rubbish) to any minimally popular contemporary fad. What’s the fundamental idea? Apparenty Halpern’s goal is to replace everyday background noise with sounds that resonated better with the chakras, no less.

After being initiated into what he has described as a ministry of healing music, Steven was encouraged to scientifically validate the extraordinary effects his music was having on listeners. This became the focus of his graduate studies [strange … he doesn’t say where … why is that, you think?], and his landmark research exploring the connections between sound, consciousness and healing were the first to employ the more subtle and sophisticated new technologies of brainwave biofeedback and Kirlian (aura) photography … Since 1975, Steven Halpern, Ph.D. has been a popular speaker at leading holistic health and complimentary healing centers and conferences worldwide.”

Yes, Kirlian photographies were his data. “Sophisticated” is not the right word choice in this context. And where is this trainwreck leading, you may wonder? Well, it takes us by things like “subliminal affirmations”: “By combining my relaxing music with subliminal affirmations, we create a more powerful program that focuses on a particular outcome that supports your goals. … The series of positive suggestions are spoken normally, but mixed very softly into the music. You don't audibly hear these affirmations, but your subconscious mind does, and responds accordingly!” He also offers “brainwave entrainment”: “When done correctly, as you'll experience with Aural-Sync™ brainwave entrainment soundscapes,” you will obtain healing effects, sometimes so powerful that although the recording crew was “blown away, and we all anticipated the public’s response when the segment aired,” the effect “was ‘too powerful’ and did not make it through the final edit.” Almost exactly like magic and televangelists raising people from the dead in Africa when no one is watching.

But you’ve already guessed where it ends up, haven’t you? Oh, yes: It’s quantum! “Based on his own spiritual and health-related experiences, Steven discovered secrets of combining ancient sound healing traditions with quantum biology and energy medicine.” Nope: not the faintest clue what quantum mechanics may be. Or biology.

He has also written a couple of books, Tuning the Human Instrument and Sound Health.

Diagnosis: Oh, yes, it’s ridiculous. But Steve Halpern is a ridiculous guy, and so is his audience – of which there are, apparently, plenty. I am reluctant to call him “dangerous”, however.