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The Ancient Chinese Art Of Separating Fools And Their Money
Yes, I'm talking about feng shui. Now, there's something to having a window in the right place so you get nice light, and having rooms well-designed so you feel good about being in them. That takes a good interior designer, or good taste of your own -- not an interior witch doctor by way of China.

Newsflash to all the idiots throwing money at people mumbling stuff about "bad energy" in your foyer -- there is zero evidence that evil spirits will get you when you flush the toilet or that your "luck" will run out if your back door and front door are aligned.

Now, if you want to spend your own money on utter fucking crap, go right ahead. But, if you're getting your dough from us taxpayers, you'd better act more sensibly than whichever twit hired the architect who hired some chick to have the monkey house at the L.A. Zoo...get this...feng shui-ed. Here's the story from the LA Daily News, by Kerry Cavanaugh:

Believed to be the first zoo in the nation to tap the ancient Chinese science

(Science? Please.)

Los Angeles paid $4,500 to a feng shui consultant to ensure that the three endangered monkeys will have health, happiness, fertility and, of course, a strong life-force energy, in their new digs.

Oh. Hurl.

While feng shui (pronounced fung shway) is in demand among high-end architects and interior designers, Beverly Hills-based expert Simona Mainini said the trend hasn't yet caught on in animal-enclosure design.

"It's very experimental. We don't have any books on feng shui for monkeys. We just have to assume that Darwin is correct and that there is a connection and what is good for humans is good for monkeys."

Darwin said that? Maybe Steve Darwin, Fred Darwin, or Julie Darwin.

"The idea is to get people beyond just looking at the animals so they experience how the animals and people live," zoo General Manager John Lewis said.

"So when people see that a species is endangered, maybe they'll feel motivated to do something to save them."

What about when people on the public payroll act dumber than a barrel of monkeys? What do we do then? I suggest calling the all-too-approving-sounding Los Angeles Council-Monkey Tom LaBonge (if it's Sunday let it ring until voicemail picks up and leave a message) -- (213) 473-7004 -- to tell him we taxpayers want our $4500 back...even if he has to set up a fundraiser to replace it. Please do call him. He needs to be told that voters won't put up with paying for this utterly unscientific feng shit.

The Second Sight, where I first spotted the link, had a good suggestion:

Perhaps Los Angeles Zoo would sponsor our closer relatives, the great apes, to open interior design consultancies? I'd guess the orangutans would remove your bathroom and toilet, suspend all furniture from the rafters and expel the Man of the House. The chimps, on the other hand, would invite in the neighbours for a smashing good time and a toilet-graffiti repaint. Meanwhile, the gorillas would swap your furnishings for pots of lucky bamboo and a party fogger, and install your Man of the House in a silversuit on a pedestal.

Then again, if Los Angeles Zoo wished to use its generous budget intelligently ($US7.4 million total cage cost), it could speak to someone who actually knows something. Baoguo Li of Shaanxi province, China is studying the behaviour and ecology of the golden monkey, Rhinopithecus roxellana.

A question: If LaBonge did approve of the feng shui, who would you vote for in the next election: LaBonge or a gorilla?

Here's a skeptical look at feng shui, from pscience (as in pseudo-science):

I found an interesting article here on the Tampa Bay Skeptic's website detailing a skeptic's experiences when taking a Feng Shui class at USF. It makes mention of another amusing look at Feng Shui by Penn and Teller in their Showtime series Bullshit. In the Feng Shui episode, they hired three different Feng Shui "masters" to apply their "science" to the same house, and all three had widely differing and contradictory results. If Feng Shui really is a science, shouldn't all of the experts come to at least remotely similar conclusions about the same space?

Posted by aalkon at February 18, 2007 10:54 AM


'your "luck" will run out if your back door and front door are aligned.'

My first apartment in LA was a little studio ($450/mo) with front and back doors that were aligned, and the ventilation was fantastic. I never had to turn on the fan.

Posted by: Lena at February 18, 2007 5:39 AM

This has always seemed like the most Feng-Shui'd place in LA:

It's presently unoccupied, but you won't get it cheap. Maybe FS works; The owner is, at this hour, unindicted....

Posted by: Crid at February 18, 2007 7:49 AM

You are so right, it's utterly amazing that FS and astrology find willing clients. But by the measure of what bullshit theory makes most money for its pracitioners, and does most actual harm to its consumers (as opposed to simply doing no bloody good), my vote goes to chiropractic.

Posted by: Stu "El Inglés" Harris at February 18, 2007 9:35 AM

I wish people could get past the mumbo jumbo of things. Feng Shui "spirits" ring about as true to me as the organized religions.
But the science buried in there is the real "magic."

Keeping the toilet lid down keeps germs from splashing back up. Having the bed facing the door enables the sleeper to see the intruder more easily. Placing furniture around the living room in a manner that encourages traffic flow stops you from hitting your shins and keeps you from just dumping stuff on the first flat surface that blocks your way in.

Doll it up with Spirits and Luck, and it's just another way to use Fear to keep the masses in line, but this one has the added bonus of keeping the house clean.

Why the monkeys need to be subjected to Fear and Luck, I'm not sure. But I bet they are very happy to have air flow, traffic patterns and lots of convenient places to perch, climb and sit. Perhaps Real Monkey Scientists charge $6500, and we got the same room re-do at a $2000 savings. Just because the charlatans on "Bullshit" each did three different rooms, it doesn't mean they weren't still an improvement on the original dump.

The real question is...Who did the Expert know to get the zoo gig in the first place? Tom's wife? Cousin of a zoo official? Monkey House supervisor's ex-boyfriend? It doesn't sound like the kind of job that the zoo took bids on.

Posted by: robyn at February 18, 2007 9:43 AM

Here's Quackwatch on "Chiropractic's Dirty Secret:
Neck Manipulation and Strokes":

As for the stuff posted by robyn above, again, there's sort of common-sense stuff in design and decorating, but I managed to put my bed facing the door without having to shell out thousands of dollars for somebody to tell me to do it.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 18, 2007 10:02 AM

It goes back to the question: Why do people believe in weird things? The overall benefits of any alternative therapies is based on 2 factors.

1. Placebo (Latin for I shall please) Affect
2. Regressive Fallacy-the failure to take into account natural and inevitable fluctuations of things when ascribing causes to them.

Posted by: Joe at February 18, 2007 11:53 AM

Effect, not affect.

Posted by: Joe at February 18, 2007 11:54 AM

"If Feng Shui really is a science, shouldn't all of the experts come to at least remotely similar conclusions about the same space?"

Yep. That's what we'd call "interrater reliability."

PS: Too much tweed in New Haven. Send leather!

Posted by: Lena Cuisina at February 18, 2007 5:32 PM

I love when you manage to get data analysis and nasty sex into the same comment.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 18, 2007 5:56 PM

"Placing furniture around the living room in a manner that encourages traffic flow"

If I did the same in my living room, would I maybe get laid more often?

Posted by: Lena at February 18, 2007 6:56 PM

Unfortunately, feng shui seems to be feng shit.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 18, 2007 10:30 PM

Cynics, all the physical laws in the universe always behave differently in the mysterious East. For example, planes fly in the West mainly due to lifet and propulsion but in the East its because the pilot's seat is properly aligned.

Posted by: Pat Patterson at February 19, 2007 12:23 AM

This is the best thing I have read in a 'blog ever!

BTW, I have been told that my decorating style is a cross between warehouse and fallout shelter.

Posted by: Guy Montag at February 19, 2007 6:04 AM

... feng shui (pronounced fung shway) ...

So why do we spell it feng shui? It's not as if that how it's written in Chinese or whatever - they have a different alphabet. If it's some transliteration standard, then it's a crap standard. Maybe it's just so that people "in the know" seem superior to the rest of us. No, surely not.

Posted by: Norman at February 21, 2007 1:52 AM

I'm too focused on what bullshit it is to worry about how to pronounce it. I always think of it as "feng shit," if that's any consolation.

And, thanks, Guy. We try.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 21, 2007 7:58 AM

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