Last year I wrote a letter to two magazines, Skeptical Inquirer and The Skeptic. (No prizes for guessing the stance they take.) I suggested, only half facetiously, that perhaps those folk that claim the ability to dowse for objects and materials below ground could put their talents to use in looking for landmines. The idea was that those with no talent would be weeded out and those left at the end would not only have proved to the world that their claims are real but would also have rendered a great service. Such a survival of the fittest seemed a good practical test. Sadly neither letter saw print, perhaps on the grounds the idea was just too ridiculous. Then, whilst trawling through Crank Dot Net, what do I find but DETECTING LANDMINES (or finding lost coins, etc) BY DOWSING with a Pendulum or Bobber. Yes, this IS for real. The author of the site John Living, claims to have been taught dowsing at the School of Military Engineering in Chatham, Kent, U.K. (A talent of the British army of which I was previously unaware.) The page contains detailed instructions for making a 'bobber' - "This can easily be made by straightening a wire coat hanger, and bending it over at each end - one end as a handle, and the other to prevent eye damage." I must say poking your eye out with your bobber is surely preferable to treading on a landmine. It is not stated whether this conforms to British Army bobber specifications.
Skill as a dowser with pendulum or a carefully handled bobber may not be enough though - John Living recommends a strategy which if I remember aright was espoused by Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher and mathematician. Living's version is "Nobody has proved that there is a God; and nobody has proved that there is not a God. If you do not believe in a God or Guardian Angels, you have nothing to lose in imagining that there is a God and that you have a Guardian Angel. Play it safe !" I am not too sure of this - a God that seems to make a big deal out of faith is going to be a bit miffed at just being imagined - that should merit a Plague of Boils at the very least. Before we leave this site I must quote one piece of eminently sensible advice offered by John Living which would-be landmine dowsers ignore at their peril - "And before proceeding into danger, ask your Pendulum ‘ Is it safe for me to locate mines today ? ’ - your Guardian Angel may know that today could be a bad day, and warn you not to go. You would be most foolish to ignore such a warning !" One can hardly argue with that...............
When you chance upon a website called This is True the loony detector begins to twitch but in this case it is a false alarm. This is not just a website but also a free email digest of a selection of the top stories. The author of This is True, Randy Cassingham, trawls the more reliable media of the world (so we are not talking tabloid junk like Weekly World News) and then rewrites the material with his own added (and welcome) touches. This is not just regurgitated news clippings - Cassingham gives each story what the business world likes to call added value. He has recently been accused of blasphemy and the ensuing correspondence makes for an entertaining read. As part of his answer to threats of hellfire he has produced a Monopoly type Get Out of Hell Free card which you can buy from the website. An item featured in This Is True introduces our next website.
When I was about twelve years old I discovered a tatty old book in the school library called Ripley's Believe It Or Not which was a collection of a newspaper column devoted to weird or bizarre people and events. Time clouds my memory but two items stayed with me - one was a woman in, I think, medieval Europe who had a forked-tongue and the other was the headless chicken. Thanks to This Is True I now know that chicken was called Mike and has a website devoted to him at, unsurprisingly, Mike the Headless Chicken. The town of Fruita in Colorado needed a centerpiece for Colorado Heritage Week and decided Mike was just the thing. Apparently Mike became a celebrity in 1945 when he survived what would stop the rest of us in our tracks - decapitation. Mike lived a further 18 months, got a manager and went on national tour. (To be fair Mike did have most of his brain stem left which is apparently enough for a chicken. It is not known whether he espoused belief in a Face on Mars but I wouldn't be a bit surprised.) A monumental sculpture is in the making by one Lyle Nichols and progress can be followed at Mike's Sculpture. This page features links to other impressive work by Nichols including a spectacular chicken statue over 8ft tall called Henny Penny's Dad. (I kid you not.)
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