This week’s print TIME and the magazine’s website has a story titled “Astrologer Susan Miller On Why You Should Pay Attention to the Lunar Eclipse.” The TIME writer, Laura Stampler, promotes the astrologer as if she was Nate Silver, a reliable, respectable expert in a legitimate field who has something to teach us. Susan Miller is not a reliable, respectable expert. She is an astrologer, meaning that she is as legitimate as a palm reader, a douser, or the Amazing Kreskin. She is a fraud, in a fraudulent field, however ancient or popular. There is no scholarly controversy about this. There is more evidence of the existence of Bigfoot, Nessie, ghosts and flying saucers than there is that astrology is more than pseudo-scientific claptrap. Continue reading
Now that the required joke is out of the way, I can more soberly state that the New York conviction of psychic Sylvia Mitchell for larceny and fraud opens up a welter of ethical, legal and religious issues. Law prof-blogger Ann Althouse is troubled by the result, writing,
“In my book, this is entertainment and unconventional psychological therapy. Let the buyer beware. Who’s dumb enough to actually believe this? Should the government endeavor to protect everyone who succumbs to the temptation to blow a few bucks on a fortune teller?”
Clearly not, and that’s where courts and states generally land in this matter, as in the case I wrote on three years ago, Nefredo v. Montgomery County. There the courts ruled (in Maryland) that it was an infringement of free speech for Maryland to ban what is, for most, just an exercise in supernatural entertainment. But the New York case involved a little bit more than that: Mitchell apparently bilked some clients out of significant amounts, getting $27,000 from one in an “exercise in letting go of money,” $18,000 from another to put in a jar as a way to relieve herself of “negative energy,” and thousands from other clients to purchase “supplies” for various rituals—what does the eye of a newt go for these days?
Admittedly this seems to cross the line from harmless, if stupid, entertainment into preying on the stupid and gullible, but that doesn’t convince Althouse that the conviction, or the prosecution is a legitimate use of government power. She reminds us about the Supreme Court case of U.S. v. Ballard, in which the Court upheld the conviction of a faith healer for fraud. The SCOTUS majority, headed by William O. Douglas, held that if the faith healer didn’t believe in her claimed powers, then she was a fraud, and thus could be prosecuted under the Constitution if she used a claim of false powers to take money from her clients. In a sharp and thought-provoking dissent, Justice Robert Jackson wrote in part… Continue reading
Shawn Bomgardner, an MBA student at Seattle University, has sued the school and the training firm Teams and Leaders Inc. for making him participate in a required leadership class that included various “trust exercises.” In one of them, he was told to submit to a “trust-fall” from bleachers into the arms of his classmates.
They didn’t catch him. He hit his head on the ground, hard, and now has permanent brain damage.
The injuries forced Shawn to drop out of school and quit his job as an auditor for Costco. Bomgardner’s wife has had to take time off work to “undertake additional responsibilities as a result of Shawn’s continued deficits, persistent depressive symptoms and diminished cognitive functioning,” the law suit says, adding that “Shawn’s injuries have caused loss of enjoyment of life and have impacted his relationship with Becky and his daughter. While Shawn’s symptoms have improved over time, he continues to experience the effects of his injuries,” according to the complaint.”
Maybe this tragedy will have one good result: stopping idiotic seminar and retreat trust exercises, especially the “trust-fall.”
Trust isn’t a game. Trust is earned. That’s all there is to it. Putting one’s health and welfare into the hands, literally, of someone you barely know and who is not trained or certified to do what an exercise requires is madness, and any organization that suggests, forces or requires such symbolic but meaningless nonsense should be run right out of business.
It is true: trust is an absolute necessity for any functioning and healthy society, organization or team. Trust, however, cannot exist in a vacuum. It must be supported by experience, competence, dedication, mutual caring, loyalty and good will.
As someone who has refused to partake in trust exercises more than once, I feel terrible about what happened to Shawn Bomgardner. He was the victim of charlatans who taught that something as vital and complex as trust could be taught with stunts and parlor tricks.
When Summerlin Hospital had to step in to prevent first-time parents from endangering their infant by using “natural medicine” to treat their sick newborn, it may have been fighting the influence of Dr. Mehmet Oz, Oprah Winfrey’s health-care guru.
The popular “Dr. Oz” is a walking TV and book franchise, a Harvard-educated cardiovascular surgeon who has emerged as the nation’s most persuasive and trusted advocate for unconventional health care, or as Dr. Wallace Sampson, former chairman of the National Council Against Health Fraud, calls it,”faith healing for the masses.” He has testified before a Senate panel to condemn the mainstream medical profession’s failure to embrace “the natural healing power of our bodies,” and its hostility to “hypnotherapists, massage therapists, spiritual healers.” Dr. Oz has, shall we say, an open mind.
In his expose of the popular health talk show host, “Shamblog” writer Steve Salermo wrote in the New York Daily News, Continue reading