Nostradamus: A Cynical Inquiry

A Hogue Review of the Discovery Channel’s documentary Nostradamus: a Skeptical Inquiry

Friends,
Back in February of 2002, I was invited to do an interview for Termite Production’s documentary commissioned for the Discovery Channel, entitled “Nostradamus: A Skeptical Inquiry.” The documentary appeared on Discovery Channel in late September 2002 and is now in frequent reruns.

I am ever optimistic that each TV documentary production asking for my participation will actually live up to their declaration of being “Skeptical Inquirers” into the study and controversy of Nostradamus and his prophecies. My insatiable optimism (and gullibility) aside, reality dictates that with each new invitation to a skeptical inquiry, I should remember the sage advice of Indian mystic, Osho, who said, “Hope for the best and expect the worst” when people make claims. I have yet to talk with a TV producer or director who, calling themselves skeptics, actually knows what the word means. The words “skeptic, and “skeptical” are derived from the ancient Greek word that simply means “to investigate.” That means there is no “opinion” for or against what is investigated. How can there be an opinion when the investigation has yet to begin? So far, I have asked that question to dozens of pre-opinionated “Hollywood” investigative documentarians without receiving an intelligent reply.

It takes no Nostradamus to predict that each new  self-proclaimed “skeptic,” from Hollywood won’t know the word’s meaning and will produce the usual missed opportunity, full of sound, fxs and fury, signifying little insight into Nostradamus and his predictions.

In my experience, the Discovery Channel’s recent opus, “Nostradamus, A Skeptical Inquiry,” as directed and edited by John Tindall of Termite Productions, is just another missed opportunity to educate the public.

What follows is the open letter/review of the show, that I’m sending to you all and to John Tindall.

__________________________________

Dear John Tindall,

I saw the documentary “Nostradamus: A Skeptical Inquiry.”

I don’t think your documentary served either side’s argument too well.

It was a work of cynicism, not skepticism.

The Greek root for the word “skeptic” means “to investigate.”  Giving both sides equal time to declare their views and respond in rebuttal is skeptical inquiry. When your segment producer, Peter Hankoff, initially contacted me for the interview I suggested that your planned documentary would be a true skeptical inquiry if it follows the four-square process of a fair investigation. That means the pro-Nostradamian makes his statement first; then the anti-Nostradamian responds; then the pro-Nostradamian replies, and the anti-Nostradamian can answer that reply if he deems it necessary. Conversely any declarations made by the anti-Nostradamian passes through the same four-square process. Thus, he declares, I reply, he rebuts to reply, and I respond to his rebuttal if I deem it necessary.

I believe this is a fair and equitable format. Both sides have to back up what they say and have a chance to scrutinize the other’s comments. This, is skeptical inquiry. Since 1994, when I began doing a steady stream of TV interviews about Nostradamus, I have yet to see a production where this basic interview structure made it beyond the cutting room floor to the television viewer.

The same is the case with your documentary. An opportunity to educate the public about Nostradamus was lost.

I welcome anyone’s attempt to put my theories into question. Even if the criticism comes from someone I’ve suggested as a good scholar worthy to be a participant in your skeptical inquiry, like Peter Lemesurier. But in the final cut of your documentary, you cheated the audience by not giving me the chance to reply to Lemesurier’s statements.

For instance, you have Lemesurier putting my statements about the right translation of Quatrain 25 of Century 1 into question. However, you did not provide me the space to reply to his criticism. Something I could have easily done. The way you edited the show makes it look as if I could not address Lemesurier’s statement.

Slanting the debate is not good journalism. It serves the lie, not truth.

Beyond that, your documentary tried to cover too much ground. It has become a fragmentary and confusing 52 minute romp-around Nostradamus. The few good arguments made by the skeptics and the believers alike where marginalized by the need to “fast-food” the facts and “special, special, special!” the effects.

Any final cut of a documentary is a statement on film, for better or worse, of what the documentarians absorbed from their interviews. One hopes that the final cut will at least contain the essence of the many hours of film it is necessary to discard on the editor’s cutting room floor. When I think of the essence of what we shot, and then I see what remains, I can only conclude that you didn’t have a grasp of the subject. Because of this, you could do no better than turn your documentary into a TV dumb-down and a celebration of simpleton-ism when representing both sides of the debate.

I’ve seen and read James Randi make far better arguments against Nostradamus than the two skeptics and the pontificating psychiatrist spotlighted in your show. It is a real pity Randi was not heard and only seen for a second. A greater pity that his litany of statements — unchanged and unchallenged for 15 years — weren’t rebutted point for point by me as we had originally planned.

If we had followed the original premise, I believe we would have caught on film a groundbreaking and authentically educational debate on the Nostradamus controversy from Randi and myself. Instead, I believe the documentary project derailed the moment you, Peter Hankoff, and the Termite Production staff, became fixated on this idea of a debate at Yale. I understand the seduction. Taking the debate into the hallowed halls of an Ivy League college is intoxicating. However, I felt it was poorly timed and, I believe, too sensational a prospect. So I said no. Obviously James Randi also rejected the idea, sending one of his less expert sycophants in his place to appear in your filmed debate.

In the end, the footage of the Yale debate just isn’t that interesting. The way it was shot and edited distracts the viewer away from content towards emotional attacks. A live debate reduced into brief excerpts never adequately represents the arguments of both sides. At best it reduces a debate into bits of mind candy without any nutrient intellectual value.

And the college kids looked painfully bored with it all.

After seeing the final cut of the documentary, I will say openly that I’m glad I didn’t attend. I can see that your editorial approach for the debate would have marginalized Randi and myself if we had attended the debate.

The final segment took on a markedly hysterical and strident tone of righteousness. Your ranks of debunkers make their case with a general rush to make slogan-like, simplistic and sweeping statements. Their summations rely on the skimpiest of examples in your final cut of the documentary — measured, as it was, with little or no time given to an opposing view.

The documentary closed with a predictable TV formula finale: namely, a bunch of debunkers ganging up to pooh-pooh the whole matter.

I’ve seen it all before: cynics dressing themselves in the cloth of skeptical inquiry, grasping for the last word. They must have the final say. Don’t dare give the sympathetic side its say; otherwise, your gallery of so-called skeptics would be exposed for their laziness of inquiry and their light and cavalier grasp of the subject they condemn.

Finally, your documentary staggers to its climax after this chorus for the skeptical inquisition passes judgment. We see a mob of bored Yale college kids voting with their backsides in judgment of this centuries-old debate.

A vision of Mobocracy at its irrelevant best!

I had hoped for better work, but I didn’t expect it.

Therefore I have not been disappointed by this redundant example of skeptical inquiry — Hollywood style.

Better luck and a real skeptical inquiry next time.

END OF OPEN LETTER

______________________________________

A PRESENT-DAY MESSAGE FROM BALI ABOUT TERRORISM:

“MOVE FORWARD WITH LOVE”

The other day I received this message from friends who live outside of Kuta, Bali. This is the location of the terrorist bombing of Islamist extremists that recently leveled the downtown region of that city and killed hundreds.

I am told by my friends that it comes from Parum Samigita which is the ‘Think Tank’ for the Banjars (Village Councils) of the Kuta, Legian and Seminyak areas of Bali. My friend goes on to add that the message “comes from the heart of the Balinese people at ground zero in Kuta.  It is a message of love and brotherhood and expresses the message which they wish to send to the world.”

My friends there ask that you  “please forward [this message] to anyone you think would appreciate reading it.”

I’m told the speech was delivered in English by Asana Viebeke L on Friday, October 25th (2002) at a press conference for the Indonesian media. It is being sent out with an audio copy and photographs to the world’s press.

To me the essence of this message resembles in the present day, the kind of humanity various positive prophecies point to in our future. When you read this, consider the possibility that you are hearing the heart of the coming new humanity, and how it will face the challenges of darkness in the future. I lovingly suggest that if you understand and can live by this message, you have brought the inner light of that future golden age one individual step into the darkness of the present day.

Here then, is Asana Viebeke L’s message to the world. Please note that the brackets are inserted by me for clarity:

________________________

We Balinese have an essential concept of balance. It’s the Tri Hita Karana; a concept of harmonious balance. The balance between god and humanity; humanity with itself and humanity with the environment. This places us all in a universe of common understanding.

It is not only nuclear bombs which have fallout.  It is our job to minimize this fallout for our people and our guests from around the world.  Who did this? It’s not such an important question for us to discuss. Why this happened — maybe this is more worthy of thought. What can we do to create beauty from this tragedy and come to an understanding where nobody feels the need to make such a statement again? This is important. This is the basis from which we can embrace everyone as a brother; everyone as a sister.

It is a period of uncertainty. It is a period of change. It is also an opportunity for us to move together into a better future.  A future where we embrace all of humanity in the knowledge that we all look and smell the same when we are burnt.  Victims of this tragedy are from all over the world.

The past is not significant. It is the future which is important. This is the time to bring our values, our empathy, to society and the world at large.  To care. To love.

The modern world brings to many of us the ability to rise above the core need for survival. Most people in the developed world no longer need to struggle to simply stay alive.  It is our duty to strive to improve our quality of life.

We want to return to our lives. Please help us realize this wish.

Why seek retribution from people who are acting as they see fit? These people are misguided from our point of view. Obviously, from theirs, they feel justified and angry enough to make such a brutal statement.

We would like to send a message to the world – Embrace this misunderstanding between our brothers and lets seek a peaceful answer to the problems which bring us to such tragedy.

We embrace all the beliefs, hopes and dreams of all the people in the world with Love.

Do not bring malice to our world.  What has happened has happened. Stop talking about the theories of who did this and why. It does not serve the spirit of our people.  Words of hate will not rebuild our shops and houses. They will not heal damaged skin. They will not bring back our dead.

Help us to create beauty out of this tragedy.

Our community is bruised and hurting. Our spirit can never be broken.

Everybody in the world is of one principle brotherhood.

Tat Wam Asi – You are me and I am you.

We have a concept in Bali, Ruwa Bhineda, a balance between good and bad. Without bad there can be no good. The bad is the ‘sibling’ of the Good. Embrace this concept and we can move forward into a better world.

There is Sekala / Nisikala – the underworld forever in darkness merging with our world in the light.

You love your husband and wife but sometimes you fight. Fear arises and shows its opposition to love. This is normal. This is a natural,essential part of life.

These are the concepts by which we, as Balinese, live our lives. Please,we beg you, talk only of the good which can come of this. Talk of how we can reconcile our ‘apparent’ differences. Talk of how we can bring empathy and love into everybody’s lives.

The overwhelming scenes of love and compassion at Sanglah Hospital show us the way forward into the future. If we hate our brothers and sisters we are lost in Kali Yuga [the current Age of Iron and Darkness).

If we can love all of our brothers and sisters, we have already begun to move into Kertha Yuga [the Age of Truth]. We have already won ‘The War Against Terrorism’.

Thank you for all your compassion and love.

Asana Viebeke L
Kuta Desa Adat
Parum Samigita

END OF MESSAGE

_________________________________

John Hogue
(01 November 2002)

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