Geller Dodges and Weaves, A Fine Delusion Explained, That Substitute Wizard, “Books-A-Million” Doesn’t Much Care, Bottom Line – Sell the book, It Worked, Incredible, My Solution to a Question, A Cruel Delusion, and In Closing…
At the beginning of February this year, I was in Mannheim, Germany, to appear on a TV show duplicating and explaining the standard Uri Geller tricks. At about the same time, Geller was interviewed by Guido Schmalriede, and the interview appeared in “Der Skeptiker,” the journal of the German skeptics group, “Gesellschaft zur wissenschaftlichen Untersuchung von Parawissenschaften e. V.”, more conveniently referred to as “GWUP.”
|Table of Contents|
GELLER DODGES AND WEAVES
At the beginning of February this year, I was in Mannheim, Germany, to appear on a TV show duplicating and explaining the standard Uri Geller tricks. At about the same time, Geller was interviewed by Guido Schmalriede, and the interview appeared in “Der Skeptiker,” the journal of the German skeptics group, “Gesellschaft zur wissenschaftlichen Untersuchung von Parawissenschaften e. V.”, more conveniently referred to as “GWUP.” Here is a 350-word excerpt translated from the interview that shows the spoon-bender at his best, avoiding saying anything that could be checked up on and giving his strange versions of a couple of events in which I was closely involved. My version will clear up the picture a bit… The interviewer asked:
Do you feel injured if someone calls you a charlatan?
Yes, if I think back to the time of my beginnings, I was hurt very much if I was called a charlatan. I was very young and was also very proud, of course. But then I had a determining experience. It was during the well-known Johnny Carson show in the USA. I sat there for 22 minutes, and in the end I was shamed by Johnny Carson. Absolutely nothing worked during this show. Carson had spoken beforehand with Randi and had prepared experiments for me with him. Nothing worked. I sat there, the sweat ran down, and I had only one thought: "Uri, you are at the end. This is your ending point." Everybody had told me before, that the Johnny Carson Show was the best-known and biggest talk show in America. If you wanted to have success in America, you had to go on his show. When I left the studio, I thought, now this is the end of my career. But exactly the opposite happened. The next day famous people called me, like Merv Griffin and Michael Douglas... and this was my day. Then I understood that there is nothing more important than publicity. The skeptics, they have made me the famous Uri.
Before going further, I should round out that Carson-show event for my readers. One day back in 1973, I received a call at my home in New Jersey from Johnny’s producer, Fred DeCordova, who informed me that Geller would be appearing on the show – in Los Angeles – that evening. He asked if I could fly in from New Jersey immediately, just in time to confront Geller on the show. I explained to Fred that I’d just received one of the “hang up” calls that frequently preceded a Geller appearance, the sort of calls that seemed to be determining whether I was – as hoped – in New Jersey, and not waiting around the corner in a far-away TV studio to jump out and surprise Uri. I also knew that Geller would abort any appearance if I were there, and I saw a way of making it impossible – by remote control – for him to pull his usual tricks. I also saw the opportunity of showing that anyone who was simply instructed by an expert could avoid allowing trickery to be used. I asked to speak to Paul – the prop man on the show whose last name now escapes me – and by phone I told him exactly what to do with the props so that Geller would be foiled.
First, I told Paul that Shipi Shtrang – then Geller’s manager and now his brother-in-law – could not be admitted backstage, and the props had to remain in the prop cabinet until a moment before the actual – live – show. Paul followed that instruction carefully, reporting to me afterward that Shipi had tried every way he could, to “check out” the props, but to no avail.
Second, I instructed him to obtain the number of regular steel spoons that Geller would surely ask for, secretly mark each one for identification by means of a tiny series of scratches on the “bow” of the spoon, and then tape them all down to the surface of the tray on which they would be stored in the prop cabinet. They were to be placed on a table before the cameras at the last moment before Geller’s appearance on the show, and always out of Geller’s reach.
Next, I told Paul either Johnny or Fred DeCordova – the producer – would probably be asked by Geller to make a secret drawing in advance of the show – which is the method that he always used, and still uses. I told Paul that the drawing should be decided on by Johnny or Fred alone, by opening any book at random and finding the first reference to an object that Johnny or Fred could reasonably draw. The drawing was to be made in a closed office, with no witnesses. Geller chose Fred, and Fred went to his office, closed the door, made a drawing – it was of a Coke bottle – sealed it in an envelope, and placed the envelope in his inner jacket pocket. As he often did, Fred then took his position seated at the base of Camera 1, straight in front of Johnny’s desk, and waited to be asked about the drawing. That never happened, since Geller hadn’t been able to get a peek at it, and he simply refused to do that trick. He never touched the spoons, and ignored the rest of the props. The whole appearance was a fiasco.
In fact, on the table before Geller they had placed a steel file-card box, 3 watches, 3 spoons, 1 fork, a finger-ring, 20 aluminum film cans, and a compass, all set out for possible in Geller’s demo. I had suggested these, since they were objects that had been used previously by Geller in lab demos and on other TV programs, with great success – but of course on those other occasions, stringent controls had not been applied, as in this case.
Back to the interview. Geller continued:
No one can buy "controversy." James Randi has not only made me famous, but through him I also became a millionaire. This is the stupidity of the skeptics: instead of forgetting me, ignoring me, they dealt with me and made me thereby, big.
I have to smile. This is such typical Geller behavior, choosing to say that rather than being his single greatest obstacle, I made him famous and rich. Why, then, did he object so loudly, countless times, about comments – supportable! – that I made about his tricks, as well as the replications and explanations I provided to the public? No, Geller became famous and rich because of (a) a few gullible scientists who over-estimated their own intelligence and powers of perception, (b) the media who cared nothing about facts but everything about sensational stories – the truth be damned, and (c) some wealthy airheads who thought they’d bought brains but were swindled in the purchase.
Then Geller said, self-righteously:
What I will not allow is if someone attacks me personally. For example, if one addresses me with terms of abuse – then I go to the court.
And what results did Geller get when he tried to sue me – over and over again – for what I said and wrote that he didn’t like? Zero. Zilch. Nada. Rien. He’s never won a dime from me…
Back to the interview. Guido asked:
Did you already know Randi before this?
I cannot remember. Maybe. I believe that in the early 1970’s he wrote a letter to the Israeli television. You know, I agree with Oscar Wilde, who once said: “The only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about.” At least, after nearly 40 years in this business, I am still here. And now there is even a show produced worldwide by a television company, “The Successor.” Hey, what more do I want?
Really? He can’t remember? Has he forgotten that I caught him red-handed in the offices of Time Magazine in March of 1973, and exposed him, before anyone had even heard of him? That “letter to the Israeli television” is a fiction, as you might guess, because before I met him at the Time offices, I’d never heard of him. However, note his quick segue to quoting Oscar Wilde, to escape the possible follow-ups on his comments…
Well, when I do my next TV series, Geller’s lawyers will be scrambling left and right, I assure you…
One other thing: when reporters have described my involvement in that Carson show, they have said that I specified that any spoons offered Geller should not be spoons that he brought along with him, suggesting that he provided special spoons to use that had been weakened by acid or by other secret, exotic chemicals. Hardly. Such treatment would be very evident. However, when Geller breaks cutlery he – or Shipi – first has to secretly gain access to it and prepare it by “fatigue-fracturing” so that it will break apart easily with simple handling. He does the spoon bending trick by simply applying pressure surreptitiously, that is, when no one is looking. His first appearance with Oprah Winfrey in Baltimore back in 1981 showed that “move” very plainly, as did his appearance on “Noel’s House party,” in the UK, 1995.
You can see Geller – caught in the act – on this 80-second video clip from 1981 (video link). Note that Geller wonders out loud if there’s a child present – though one is plainly seated just a few feet from him! – and he stands up holding the spoon in both hands. The only reason that he would do that, is so he can bend the utensil, which he clearly does. He begins to sit down just as the girl approaches, and at that instant he brings both his hands together and bends the spoon, thereafter keeping it concealed from view so you don’t see the prominent bend that’s already there. He then has the child stroke the spoon, but in the close-up camera shot, you can see that no change takes place at all, even though Geller announces some action…
That was 27 years ago, folks, and yet on this old show, Uri Geller performed his secret-drawing trick, his compass-moving trick, his watch-changing trick, his key-bending trick, and his spoon-bending trick – his whole repertoire! – and that’s been his entire act, ever since!
Truly, a 5-trick pony…
A FINE DELUSION EXPLAINED
If our readers ever needed convincing that some perceptual illusions can be quite convincing, here’s a very good example from reader Ken Fischer. You’ll see that he’s a regular guy who – luckily – found out how his senses were deceiving him, but you have to wonder how many others have had similar experiences that did not end up with explanations. Also, this sort of event makes it clearer to us how easily stories arise, are repeated, often hyperbolized, and can be tailored to fit the expectations of observers. As a magician, I’m very much aware of this phenomenon… Ken tells us:
Last Saturday morning, about 9am on a sunny day, I was driving roughly north in a semi-rural area just south of Washington, DC, when I spotted a black flying saucer that appeared to be hovering a half-mile or so ahead, about 50 yards up. It was flat on the bottom and very streamlined and symmetrical – somewhat like two tear drops placed sideways and set on a flat surface. It looked to be about the size of a car. I, along with a handful of other drivers slowed to a crawl to watch this thing float along very, very slowly.
Now, at this point, Mr. Fischer might have made a turn, might have lost sight of this “saucer,” or simply noted the sighting as a UFO. Fortunately for us, he went on observing:
As it approached, it slowly resolved into a yellow, low wing – possibly open cockpit – crop duster. As it flew almost directly overhead, I could clearly see the crop dusting plumbing below and toward the back of the wings, through my open sunroof. Also, the engine sound was almost imperceptible; some of the other observers might be certain that it was “silent.” The effect was extraordinarily impressive, on a par with any Hollywood special effects, and undoubtedly resulted from distortions associated with heat rising from the road causing a type of mirage effect. I’ll bet that this sort of weather situation accounts for a lot of UFO sightings. I suspect that the close encounter would have appeared equally impressive on video, if I’d had my camera handy. I didn’t, which may be just as well, as I probably would have had a closer encounter with the adjacent grove of pine trees.
Thank you for sharing this with us, Ken. I’m sure your supposition about the mistaken mis-identification of similar phenomena as UFOs, is valid. Again, as a magician, I’m always amused to hear well-meaning folks assure me, “I saw it with my own eyes!” My response is always, “With who else’s eyes might you have seen it, pray tell?” This notion – that our senses are infallible – is the magician’s delight and the scientist’s nightmare…
THAT SUBSTITUTE WIZARD
We followed up on the Land O’Lakes story we reported two weeks ago, at tinyurl.com/3t98nx, and discovered some interesting aspects. Now, ordinarily, the firing of a substitute teacher doesn't make the news at all. But after the canned teacher, Jim Piculas, contacted his local CBS news outlet seeking help and attention for his story, the station sent a crew out to interview him and capture his marvelous disappearing toothpick trick on tape. The Internet headline: "Magic trick costs teacher job," quickly got the 48-year-old former Marine and banker from Tarpon Springs a spot on the World Wide Web. Largely un-noticed was the line in that story, "it wasn't just the wizardry," and the mention that Mr. Piculas "had other performance issues" such as failing to follow the official class lesson plan.
In fact, the assistant superintendent said that it wasn't the magic trick at all. She cited reports that detailed the teacher’s use of profane language, his inability to control the class, and his decision to put a student in charge, about which that student's parent had complained. Those details were bypassed as the colorful story bounced about the Internet. The “wizardry aspect,” with all its Harry Potter imagery, got the emphasis. In no time, mainstream media across the world began picking up on the story.
Said Pasco County school superintendent Heather Fiorentino, quite directly:
There were several compelling reasons for [Mr. Piculas’] dismissal, none of which were even remotely related to “Wizardry,” as was suggested in the news accounts.
But the original “wizardry” story slogged on steadily. Each link it received from another website pushed it higher up the Google search page, where more people could find it. Some bloggers even urged their readers to contact Pasco County school officials with their opinions about firing the "wizard," and they did.
Piculas, who said he never intended for the story to be anything but local, expressed his dismay at the direction that it had taken. He commented:
Is there so little going on in these peoples' lives? I don't know what these people are thinking, that they are my advocates and that somehow a profanity-laced e-mail is going to benefit me? They've got some issues of their own. If I met any of these board members, I would apologize to them profusely.
As one authority on the Internet warned, “Once a story hits on the Internet, it stays there forever.”
I found – as I often do – that readers’ invited comments that follow such stories are often good indicators of the public’s actual perception and judgment. Three I liked were these:
Were there, or were there not mentions of Wizardry or magic in the official details of [the teacher’s] dismissal?
That first question is important, and still unanswered. The third, I could have asked, myself…
Please note that in the last paragraph of the SWIFT entry in which I mentioned this brouhaha, I made provision for the possibility that the story was a bit trumped-up…
“BOOKS-A-MILLION” DOESN’T MUCH CARE
The third-largest book retailer in the USA, Books-A-Million, has 200+ outlets, but apparently a misplaced sense of priority. We tend to assume that a book vendor would choose to display its products in a logical, rational, manner, but that’s not always the case. Frankly, I’m delighted when my own books get mixed in with woo-woo volumes, so that a customer just might become exposed that way to a contrary point of view; I’m always pleased to see “Flim-Flam!” right beside a book about Uri Geller, I assure you.
Reader David Brantley relates:
I know your time is valuable, but I thought you may find this interesting. Or... sad. I’m writing to tell you about my recent trip to the local Books-A-Million store here in Birmingham, Alabama. This is the largest and most-shopped-at book store in the Birmingham area. It’s not a "Christian" book store, that I’m aware of. After counting eight complete rows of books dedicated to Religion, Occult, Christian Lifestyle, Spiritual Help, etc., I finally found the section labeled "Science." It took up only half of a row that was already half the size of just one of the Spiritual rows. I sighed, but here in Alabama one gets used to seeing such things, unfortunately.
Au contraire, David. I’m a great advocate of the written letter being an effective way to reach any official, executive, or authority, and I suggest that you mail your concerns to both the manager of the Birmingham store – there are several in Birmingham, and you should specify the name of the manager – and also to the corporate office at Books-A-Million HQ, P.O. Box 19768, Birmingham, AL 35219. Be sure to mention in your letter that you’ve sent copies to both places. A reference to this item appearing in SWIFT may be effective, too…
BOTTOM LINE – SELL THE BOOK
Reader Sara Greco is disappointed at Dr. Phil...
As a long time admirer of your work, I knew I had to bring last Thursday’s episode of Dr. Phil to your attention, and hope you will mention something about it in one of your newsletters. James Van Praagh was the focus of the May 15th show, mostly (it seemed) to promote “Ghost Whisperer” and his new book. I can't remember the title, but that's fine, since I wouldn't buy it anyway.
Reader Glenn Davey, in Australia, has advised against the counterspam-Mabus-campaign that I suggested recently here. However, other readers are telling me that his mass of mailings has now dropped off to about zero – perhaps because I also suggested various spam-blockers and other techniques to stop this nuisance, and it seems that we’ve neutralized him! Glenn wrote:
…I do not recommend anyone take Randi's advice on retaliation. Listen to him about other stuff though, he's a good skeptic, and will admit when he realizes he has been wrong about something – a valuable attribute for any skeptic to have.
Well, thank you, Glenn, but I suggested that counterspam move because of the numerous inquiries and complaints on the matter that I got from readers. The idiot in Montreal caused a lot of trouble – as any kid can do by spray-painting graffiti or sending out poison-pen letters – but he’d entered the world of the Internet by using tools that had been entrusted to all of us, and he chose to mis-use them. He was just like a juvenile who discovered that the local church bell will annoy sleepers when he beats on it with a hammer. But we’ve won, and it’s over.
Since most of my readers don’t follow the pap that Sylvia Browne regularly puts out, here’s a reminder of just how vapid it is. From her latest “bulletin” – again advertising her imminent and long-drawn-out “farewell” to public life – we see just how profound Sylvia’s knowledge of “The Other Side” is… Her flacks have written:
In this all-new lecture, Sylvia will discuss one of her favorites topics and one that has put her in the limelight since the beginning of her career – “The Other Side: The Many Temples You’ll Find There and How They Can Enhance Your Life NOW.”
Frankly, Sylvia, I don’t care about just how many temples are to be discovered “over there,” I’ve never wondered about The Other Side That Isn’t There, and an infinitely boring infinity of what-to-do-today decisions holds no terrors for me. A “Temple Tour with The Talons” is something that I’d avoid at all costs… But I will meditate on how nice it will be not to hear any more trivial declarations from this woman, though like L. Ron Hubbard, she may opt to continue on and on, after she’s actually “retired.”
It would be simply funny and juvenile, if so many of the gullible didn’t find it attractive…
MY SOLUTION TO A QUESTION
We Americans are currently busily examining the possibilities of the outcome of the imminent federal election, of course. Just in time to help, at what was apparently the largest such convention in many years, some 1,500 astrologers from 45 countries gathered last week in Denver, Colorado, for the "United Astrology Conference: Rockin' the Universe." Here we go, folks, all these airheads providing us with half-statements and hints about what the configurations of the planets and the stars can tell them about the future, and – no surprise – the upcoming election was a big subject of discussion!
Now, as we’ve recently been discussing here on SWIFT, astrologers insist that timing in their “art” is crucial. Thus, the candidates' exact birth times are a matter of great interest to them, so here they are, just in case our readers would care to know…
Senator John McCain – according to his mother – was born August 29, 1936, at 11 a.m. Within how many minutes, we’re not sure, because his mom was somehow distracted at the time, but that’s the best the astrologers – and we – can do. Also, McCain's campaign people have just changed his birth time in his bio information by at least two hours, thus adding further uncertainty to his future as seen by the stars.
We’re told that Senator Barack Obama, according to someone connected with his electoral campaign, first saw the world at 7:11 p.m. on August 4, 1961. Now, I like that much better, since it’s a really precise number. Surely, a very accurate astrological prognostication will result from such a figure? Well, unfortunately, we also have 9:51 AM, 10:02 AM, 2:10 AM, 6:10 AM, 1:06 PM, 1:15 PM, and “between 1 and 3 PM” given as his birth data. You can go to the hilarious website of astrologer Lois Rodden at astrodatabank.com/ for all these figures, so that you won’t be so confused. Okay?
However, as for Senator Hillary Clinton’s precise birth data, the astrologers – perhaps with a certain amount of relief? – have announced that those figures are unknown. Drat!Now, we all know that the birthdates of the respective political parties involved – the Democratic and Republican parties – are also of vital importance to these astrological predictions, to see the celestial relationships clearly so that various painfully-contrived variables can be introduced. What? You didn’t know that? Yes, astrologers tell us that there are “birthdates” for corporations, nations, and political parties, too. If you didn’t know that, your woo-woo ignorance is showing…
Ah, but I have a solution for all this confusion, folks, and it’s based on researched data, as you’ll see. It’s the scientific method, and it’s simple, direct, and dependable. Sylvia Browne – the renowned predictor of the future, speaker with dead persons, and star of the Montel Williams TV show – will provide us with an answer to that burning question: Who will be the next President of the United States of America? Just consider Sylvia’s record in such matters, and how that can serve us. The relentless Robert Lancaster – at stopsylviabrowne.com – has given us a concise run-down of how well Sylvia has done at predicting federal elections in the last dozen years. Let’s look.
In 1996, she predicted incumbent Bill Clinton would win; I think that any tree-stump could have guessed right on that one. For 2000, she said that former senator Bill Bradley would be nominated and would win, and then she decided that former vice-president Al Gore would win – both wrong. For 2004, she again made two guesses: first, she said that an un-named Democrat would win, then that President George W. Bush would win. One wrong, one right. For this year – 2008 – Browne first predicted that John Kerry would be nominated – wrong – and she’s now vacillating on Barack Obama being nominated. What? Our Sylvia is uncertain? In any case, as Robert Lancaster points out, this record is “not even half of her claimed 87% accuracy rating.” And how she gets that figure is a major mathematical and philosophical enigma, too.
One additional prediction by Sylvia was that Hillary Clinton would never run as a candidate for the position of President of the United States – which she is currently doing. Wrong again, Sylvia.
Dear reader, I’m sure you see where this is going. Far, far, better than astrology, Tarot cards, the I Ching, or even the dependable “8-Ball,” is Sylvia Browne’s power of prognostication. Simply look at what she predicts, and chances are that the opposite will happen, so bet on it! The figures don’t lie!
This is science, folks…! And, of course, astrology is a science. If you doubt it, consider what the experts say. At the Denver convention, astrologer Shelley Ackerman declared to a rapt audience:
We are part of a cycle of nature, between the sun and the moon, the planets and the stars… It's funny how in this age of reason, we've gotten unreasonable. We have gotten out of touch with our own natural rhythms of heaven and earth.
Hey, the word “cycle” was used, “nature” and “rhythms” are in there, and “heaven” is a good buzz-word, too! Said Las Vegas-based former dancer-turned-astrologer Lynne Palmer, who was also at the Denver convention:
More people believe in [astrology] now… Fifty-one years ago, if you mentioned astrology, you had a big fight on your hands. Now you can ask, “What's your sign?” and people will tell you.
Well, Lynne, not me. I always ask the astrologers to guess my sign, based on my characteristics. Isn’t that what they say they can do…? And just what pivotal event happened 51 years ago, may I ask?
A CRUEL DELUSION
Reader Jameson Sawyer sends us to tinyurl.com/56t65l, where an unconscionable item appears that claims to validate the positive effect of homeopathy on an affliction from which he suffers, offering false hope of a cure that this quackery just cannot provide:
As both a Multiple Sclerosis patient and a rational man, I find this to be verging on criminal. I desire any suggestions on how to combat such blatant lies; granted, homeopathy is in itself a lie. I was able to break a fellow patient from going on such “treatments” and ignoring actual medications for her MS, thanks to some of your videos on the homeopathy topic. I know that is a small victory, but one I just wanted to thank Randi and the JREF for.
Jameson, fighting these lies is what the JREF has been so actively involved in for all these years. Unfortunately, as we’ve said so many times before, unless a politician can be found to actively support investigation of such quackery, our hands are tied, and the quacks go right ahead with their deceptions and fraud. Politicians don’t earn votes by telling people that their favored notions – no matter how deadly – are fictional...
The new book by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst dealing with “alternative” medicine – “Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial” – is reviewed at tinyurl.com/3o282h. Dedicated to HRH Prince Charles (?) the book reports that about 5% of the highly-touted “CAM” nostrums are actually effective, and then only moderately. Homeopathy, in particular, comes in for a thorough drubbing by the two authors, a science writer and a doctor, respectively.
For this year’s June 19th-22nd Amaz!ng Meeting in Vegas, we’re fast approaching our record attendance of almost 800 for last year’s event, and there are only three weeks left to register. If you want to be there with us, go to randi.org/joom/amazing-meeting.html and sign up!
Sorry, the August Galapagos cruise is now sold out completely. This is going to be a really exciting event for me, since I’ve never been there before, and I can’t wait to walk where Darwin did, a century and a half ago…