“A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler they consider God-fearing and pious. On the other hand, they do less easily move against him, believing he has the gods on his side.” – Aristotle (384-322 BC)


“The Memory Wars” by the incomparable Martin Gardner, a three-part series currently running in the Skeptical Inquirer, dissects the bogus “repressed memory” syndrome of the 1990s. Gardner, author of “The Annotated Alice,” writes of “the mania that blighted the lives of hundreds of preschool teachers and daycare personnel,” many of whom went to jail on phony charges. The “wild, unbelievable tales of brainwashed little rascals” accused one teacher of routinely shooting children into outer space and throwing a girl overboard to sharks. “The memory wars” writes Gardner, a contributor to the magazine for 20 years, “are slowly subsiding but they are still far from over” and he say claims that memories can be uncovered by “worthless techniques of hypnotism [are] one of the most persistent myths of psychology.”

“Contrary to general belief, hypnosis is not effective at recovering lost or repressed memories,” declares psychology professor David Ludden, “but it is very effective at planting false ones.” Reviewing a new book, “Pseudoscience and the Paranormal,” by Terence Hines (Prometheus Books), Professor Ludden adds: “Human memory is not only fallible, it is highly selective.”

‘Peeing is Believing’

The sanitary situation is becoming a major topic of discussion in New York real estate circles with the installation in some buildings of “waterless urinals.” The way they work is to funnel the urine into closed cartridges containing a hygienic blue solution, which, being lighter, floats on top sealing in the noxious fluid along with the odor. Functioning at the Statue of Liberty and public restrooms at Battery Park, they are also installed in a Bank of America branch where they are said to save 3 million gallons of water a year. The cartridges need to be changed every three months but the system seems to have no other drawbacks. To doubters, Klaus Reichardt of the Waterless Co. says: “We have a silly saying: peeing is believing.”

The Name Game

The old dispute about whether having a name in your television pilot will bring in the viewers has emerged again, reports TelevisionWeek, with a reminder that shows with Heather Graham, Dennis Hopper and Don Johnson have already tanked this season. “Personally I would stay away from [stars], particularly with a comedy because I don’t think it helps or matters,” says one producer, Gavine Polone, but others suggest that advertisers are susceptible to stars, especially if they are charming. “Television is always a gamble,” concludes Kelly Lee, an executive producer for ABC. “Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Art for Money’s Sake

An unintended consequences of the new popularity of art investment funds has been that works of art disappear from sight “relegated to a storage facility for safekeeping,” as Art & Antiques puts it. “There is also the fear that those purchasing the best works will be pure investors rather than collectors who plan to eventually donate works to museums.” The ventures are too risky for the big pockets of institutional investors, the mag explains, but private individuals have been pouring their money (minimum investment: $250,000) into such as the Fine Arts Fund whose CEO – a former Christie’s exec – oversees the buying and selling of artworks, paying its investors from the profits until the fund winds up in a decade. Some funds find that specializing pays off. Prajit Dutta, an economics professor at Columbia University, started a fund through his Gallery ArtsIndia that focuses on South Asian works. He reports: “Our first year’s internal rate of return was one hundred eighty percent.”

The Wilcock Web

Increasing its tax incentives again next year and allowing them to film in any neighborhood, New York has become much friendlier to producers than Los Angeles, says Variety…. Widely distributed in Germany are tons of fake currency marked Eros in the corner (instead of Euro) and displaying pictures of provocative nudes…. “Happiness is not getting what you want,” says Andrew Clark, “it is wanting what you have”.… “Deal or no Deal” producer Endemol has sold to NBC game show in which one player must outlast 100 others who are eliminated as they answer questions incorrectly…. A jury, somebody said, consists of 12 persons chosen to decide who has the better lawyer…. Britain’s National Health Service has OK’d the use of magnets strapped to the leg to reduce ulcers despite widespread skepticism that the treatment works…. The biggest movie flop of all time is apparently a so-called comedy, “Offending Angels,” which in 2002 took in a grand total of $150 from the 20 people who went to see it. Undeterred, Brit director Andrew Rajan is about to release a DVD edition. “I might even double my takings” he says.… “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities,” wrote Voltaire (1694-1773).