May 3, 2002

Supernatural India, A Final Skull, Hilarious Name-Dropping, Phooey On Feng Shui, Dangerous Stunts, Great Limericks, and A New Contest.....!

From an issue of "Indian Skeptic," the monthly journal of the Indian Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (ICSICOP), we take the following exchange. This indicates that on that continent, paranormal claims are not very much different from those we receive here in North America. My colleague Andrew Harter deals with just as strange claims, every day.

Mr. Basava Premanand is known as the James Randi of the Indian sub-continent, which I regard as a compliment indeed. This industrious, dedicated, man, is the editor, publisher and printer of the Indian Skeptic, as well as an inspiration to every thinking citizen of his country. He's one of my personal heroes.

Premanand is described as "India's chief fakir-buster." He has spent most of his life traveling through India exposing magicians who use their magic skills to deceive their victims into believing that they have supernatural powers. Premenand says that what makes Indians more susceptible than many other cultures, is that

In Hindu mythology, the gods are said to send avatars [their incarnated forms] to earth . . . People believe that the gods can take a human form any time, so from a young age we are taught to respect and fear the godmen for their supernatural powers. That's why, when a "holy man" starts cracking coconuts on his head and claims it is a supernatural skill, he is believed. Even prime ministers touch the dirty feet of these people.

The politicians of India know full well that they will gain a great number of votes just by kowtowing to these fakers. Sai Baba, who we have referred to so many times on this website, controls not only millions of votes in that country, but he is feared and fawned over by successful politicos who know how to play the game of showbusiness.

Premenand is somewhat of a legend among the people who know of him, though he is not well known outside of India. He has given more than 7,000 speeches, written 36 books and taught thousands of young magicians. And in India, where the "godmen" are both powerful and dangerous, this man is risking his life to ridicule gurus and to spread the idea of rationalism. Here is an example of the strange correspondence he has to handle....

My name is Mr. Chaiya Unhatsa, 32 years old. I am Thai and living in Udomthani, Thailand. I would like to join and bring up my miracle object which could forbid your bullet from explosion to show you. Please tell me how to do that.

What I am having now:

The mystery or miracle object formed like steel, oval, dark blue and glassy surface. His size is about 1.5 inches long and 3/4 inch diameter. He can disappear and existing. When we put him near or close to the match, the match will disable or could not be burnt any more. When I am holding that object my body became an invincible. This is the true story. If you have any branch or person to contact me in Thailand I am please to let you prove what I said. My residence phone is: O11-66-42-324862 (good time 1.8:00 — 06:00) or email: cuchaiya@yahoo.com

To this bizarre message, Premenand answered:

To: cuchaiya@yahoo.com

Please send me a CD of the performance of the challenge of the mystery object formed like steel, oval, dark blue glassy surface as I am unable to understand what you have written. After I get the CD, I shall ask our friends in Thailand to explain the trick or I will send you a CD explaining the trick; Mr. Gerald Huber to whom you sent your e-mail could not decode the picture (image) either.

For posting me the CD my address is:

B. PREMANAND
INDIAN SKEPTIC,
11/7 Chettipalayam Road,
Podanur — 641 023
Tamilnadu, INDIA

Not to be outdone, I e-mailed Mr. Unhatsa:

Dear Sir: This Foundation, as you will see from our web page — www.randi.org — offers a million-dollar prize for any power such as the one you claim to possess. We are easily able to arrange for you to perform the preliminary test at your location.

Though I am unable to understand all of what you are claiming for this wondrous object in your possession, I can see that the part of your claim which says that it makes you "invincible" is quite plain, and does not require any explanation at all.

The word "invincible" is defined as meaning, "incapable of being conquered, defeated, or subdued." If that is your understanding of the term, the test I propose is simple and direct: I suggest that a 10-year-old boy be given a baseball bat, and that you be allowed to use the "miracle object formed like steel, oval, dark blue and glassy surface" to provide the claimed invincibility. Such a test should take less than 10 minutes, at a place and at a time of your choosing. I await your response.

I expected that Mr. Unhatsa's response might arrive at the same time Sylvia Browne's showed up, but to my great satisfaction, it came in two days later. I've made a few minor corrections in spelling and in grammar:

Testing by your method is dangerous to the boy, not me, or whoever has the object in his possession. Actually we prove it by placing a match near the object and its miracle power will destroy the match.

The story of my miracle object, which makes a person become invincible: My miracle object is a stone, oval shape, length 1.5-2", diameter 0.25-0.5". The surface is fine, blue, glassy, both ends are oval rounded. The stone itself is a natural object, found in the caves in Thailand. It is generally called Mystery Steel or "Lek-Lai." To make the stone special and to give the stone and the person the magical powers, we have a sacred ritual that we perform for six months. However not everyone can perform the sacred ritual. The person must have the right birth date according to the horoscopes. The person performing this ritual for six months must be pure from sins for the entire period and perform the ritual every day. Right now, there are two persons in our group that have this special power and have developed a relationship with separate stones that make them invincible. . . .

Once the ritual is completed the stone belongs to that individual and makes him invincible. If the person is holding the stone or has the stone in his possession then he cannot be burned by fire, cut by a knife or killed with a gun. You can place fire by the person but it will not burn him or even any of his clothes. A knife will not be able to penetrate the person or cut even a piece of his hair. Tests were done to prove the power of the miracle object. When the person was in possession of the object no harm came to that person. Then the person put the object away and the same tests were done, this time the person was burned and his skin was penetrated. This is truly a mysterious phenomenon occurring between this object, the person, and god.

This rather simplified for me my previously proposed test using the baseball bat — which in any case we would not have carried out, of course. I had suggested that just to find Mr. Unhatsa's reaction, and he stated his concern for the safety of the boy involved. I answered him:

(1) You have written: "If the person is holding the stone or has the stone in his possession . . . You can place fire by the person but it will not burn him or even any of his clothes." I propose that I send a person to you to test whether your clothes can be burned. What is your response to this proposal?

(2) You have also written: "If the person is holding the stone or has the stone in his possession . . . A knife will not be able to penetrate the person or cut even a piece of his hair." I propose that I send a person to you to test whether your hair can be cut by a knife or scissors. What is your response to this proposal?

(3) You also wrote: "Test were done to prove the power of the miracle object." Who did these tests? Were the tests done with you? When were the tests done?

(4) Concerning the tests that were done, were attempts made to burn your clothes or to cut your hair?

I await the answers to these questions. After receiving satisfactory answers, I am prepared to send a person to test your claim that your clothes cannot be burned and that your hair cannot be cut while you hold this special stone.

So, we now have a very simple test that Mr. Unhatsa, one would think, could not possibly turn down. Please bear in mind that in India, in Thailand, all over the world, millions of people accept such claims readily. If Mr. Unhatsa should fail our proposed test, it will (a) not diminish at all his continued belief in his invincibility, since he will re-define it and avoid further testing, and (b) his disciples will even further embrace his claims after the threat is passed and rationalized. This claim, to so many people, is acceptable — even though we may regard it as juvenile.

Hey, I know of an American PhD researcher who can't figure out how a wet sheet gets dry when a Tibetan monk wraps himself in it at high altitude in the Himalayas. Duh....

A note: I've just been informed that my books will now be translated into Punjabi and printed and sold in India.


A final strip from Scott Kurtz on John Edward's fakery. This "approach" seems rather crude, but it would work....!


On www.readingfc.co.uk — official web site of the Reading Football Club in the UK — we find that their new coach (in the UK, that's "manager") Alan Pardew, seems a tad irked at the connection being made in the media between the team and Uri Geller. This appeared last week:

Pardew slams spoonbending Geller.

Alan Pardew has slammed local spoonbender Uri Geller, who recently appeared in a local newspaper to claim that the Royals gained promotion partly because he created a "surge of psychic energy" to "spur on the Royals." The promotion winning manager stormed, "I was amazed that he could try to get on the back of our success. His publicist has done a good job, but I think it was a disgrace — as soon as we get a bit of joy, thanks to all the hard work and efforts of my staff and my players, he suddenly comes out of the blue and tries to claim the limelight. The less I say about it the better, although I've said enough already."

Could it be that Mr. Geller's claims are being seriously doubted....? Perhaps. Reader Mat Callaghan, a director on the UK "This Morning" TV show on Granada Television, sent this hilarious item to us:

This was lifted from a new magazine for men (not porn) called "Jack" that has just launched here in the UK. It should be stressed, however, that while the magazine conducted this interview for real, it is being presented ironically to amuse their readership (and who could not fail to be amused by the [adjective] fork-bender's breathtaking arrogance?)

I have only transcribed the choicest cuts. You are missing . . . Dr. Edgar Mitchell, Tony Curtis, Michael Jackson and Al Gore. . . .

Here are a few of the items Mat has chosen to regale us with. Remember, Geller is more accustomed to interviews with fawning, gushy, fans, rather than with more hard-nosed journalists. In my opinion, this reads like a junior-school exercise in vapidity. And bear in mind that dead people can be quoted freely without fear that they will offer corrections or objections.....

Name Dropping Confessions of the Rich and Famous

IN THIS ISSUE: Uri Geller on Ali, Jacko, and his mum.

Quoting Geller on the celebrities he's met......

ELVIS PRESLEY

He was an extraordinary person and I idolized him. Suddenly to meet an icon, face-to-face, dismantles all your belief systems about that person because suddenly there is flesh and a human body before you. It was the early Seventies, he told me to drive into the desert outside Las Vegas, and I met him in a big shining silver Winnebago. He came out and shook my hand and we spoke for a couple of hours about mind power, telepathy, ESP and then of course he wanted to see the spoon bending.

MUHAMMAD ALI

He was amazing. I mean the man was a psychic. He was so mesmerizing, like a Rasputin. He literally used his mind power to knock out opponents, and I actually trained him for a while in New Jersey. I used to spend days and days with him. Not many people know this but he was actually an amateur magician, and so of course the spoon bending astonished him when he realized it wasn't a trick. I met him in the seventies but I gave Muhammad my word that I wouldn't say which fight it was I helped him with. There are ethics involved....

SALVADOR DALI

Was a person who influenced my painting and changed my style tremendously. I began painting at seven years of age and although the spoon bending dwarfed all my other work, I kept exhibiting my paintings in galleries throughout my career. Salvador Dali was astounded by my powers — he was actually scared the first time I bent a fork for him. He ran to his hotel room in Barcelona and locked himself in for a couple of hours. When he came out he was holding this massive crystal sphere, which he gave me as a gift, and it is now the mascot of my Cadillac.

DAVID BLAINE

He's a young American magician who buried himself in a coffin and entombed himself in ice. Those stunts were my idea, but he executed them in a fantastic manner — no tricks, they were real. The man is a mystifier. Besides being a magician there is definitely a bizarre energy about him that he activates. I met him because I was one of his idols: he always said that he admired Orson Welles, Jesus Christ and Uri Geller. So I was in good company.

JOHN LENNON (AND ELTON JOHN)

Putting aside his talents and his music, he [Lennon] was very much attached to spirituality — Indian mythology and Indian spiritualism. We lived very close to each other in New York and we met through Elton. Elton asked me to get John to sing with him at Madison Square garden, but John didn't really want to do it. So John said "I'll only do it if you bring Yoko Ono back to me" (they were separated at this time.) So I said I would try, but I didn't really think it would happen. But, believe it or not, John went on stage, sang with Elton and lo and behold, Yoko Ono arrived that night, back into his life. Elton called it a "magical evening." John Lennon actually believed in UFOs and he gave me an object that he claimed he got from an extraterrestrial entity. I still have it, but I want to leave the mysticism around it and that's why I have never had it tested. No one in the world has ever seen anything like it.

On a similar note, you'll recall that Uri Geller has been hired by UK football teams to apply his awesome powers toward victory on the playing field. He put out the good vibes for the Reading Football Club; they were relegated. He sent his powers to help Scotland beat England; England won, 2-0. For the 1996 European Football Championship, he applied his blessing to England; they immediately lost to Germany. The Cambridge United football team, perhaps disenchanted with Mr. Geller's abilities, turned to a "master of feng shui," Dr. Paul Darby. Any team using the south dressing room of the Millennium Stadium, where Cambridge were due to play Blackpool, had been losing games because of "imbalances" there. They made the very wise decision to hire Darby, since they were assigned the south dressing room. We all know how effective that feng shui can be....

It was a circus. Dr. Darby scattered incense all over the place, rang bells appropriately, chanted a lot, lit red candles, and dropped sea salt in the corners. He even led a horse around the field, obviously to ward off evil spirits. The fans helped by wearing red ribbons on their right wrists, a move just as effective as tossing sea salt. Darby asked them to surround themselves with imagery of galloping horses and fire, exotic birds such as a phoenix or a parrot, and to wear plenty of strong colors like red or purple. They did so, of course.

Said Dr. Darby, "all we are trying to do is redress any imbalance of positive energy that exists in the Stadium. I am not doing anything negative to the North End of the ground, just boosting energy levels in the South to achieve an equilibrium of positivity." What a relief!

Following all that carrying-on by Darby and the hopeful Cambridge fans, came the game on Sunday, March 24th, Cambridge vs. Blackpool. Blackpool 4, Cambridge 1. Drat!

Maybe Uri Geller doing feng shui naked on a white horse would work? While drumming, ringing bells, and mumbling? Hey, we tried everything else. Now let's get silly.

Are you on the floor laughing? Well, I am.... Time for a poem....

To Uri Geller

I get tears in my ears
From laying on my back
In my office
Laughing over you....


Every now and then I get partly relieved of the creeping conviction that I'm "losing it." Reader Brad Reddekopp writes to assure me that I wasn't hallucinating when I mentioned that I'd heard that a member of Aerosmith wanted to get on a future Russian space shot at the going price of $20 million. Brad informs me that I heard correctly. It's Steven Tyler of Aerosmith who made that announcement. Yes, I spelled it wrong, but it was the right group.

So there.


What follows isn't something that necessarily belongs on the JREF page, but while I have the use of the platform — as we might say in showbiz — I just have to put in a word here about dangerous stunts done by entertainers. Such people as David Blaine, usually at the suggestion of managers and producers who don't much care about the survival of the performer just as long as they get the "ratings" they seek, have been doing "extreme" stunts that — unfortunately — young aspiring performers seize upon to copy as their means of becoming famous overnight. Not always smart, and rather unimaginative. A young Finnish friend of mine, Iiro Sepp´┐Żnen, recently broke both legs doing a stunt in what is known as "extreme sports," so I'm rather sensitized to this aspect of showbusiness.

Most of these stunts require long and careful preparation, plus thorough knowledge of the parameters, while TV directors are only interested in the sound-and-picture that will appear on their screens. When I did some of my "daring" stunts, I can assure you that I took zero chances, and the only errors — twice — where I almost lost my life or was in serious danger of injury, were the results of atypical elements I could not have anticipated. So, the element of possible accidents is always there, regardless of how carefully the stunt has been planned.

I just came upon the tragic case of a 40-year-old man named Sunny George who performed as "Malayil Mastan." He planned a new routine in which he would make an escape from bondage over a bed of burning hay, during a carnival in rural India last December. He fell into the blazing haystack without having escaped from the restraints, hit the flames and began screaming, but the audience thought it was part of the show. By the time they realized he was in real trouble, it was already too late to save him. He was rushed to the hospital with severe burn injuries and died hours later at Kottayam Medical College Hospital.

This is just one more of the regular catastrophes that we see happening to these artists, and the one that claimed this man's life is a popular — and rather tired, by now — routine that young artists think they can master and perform. Another is the "buried alive" stunt, which has taken so many lives. Blaine's version of this was unwise and unsafe, though he survived.

Please, if you're a performer who wants to do such stunts, prepare yourself and your handlers properly. When I was dangled over Niagara Falls in a straitjacket back in 1976, for a TV Special titled "World of Wizards," I was attached to a crane that could easily lift and maneuver over two tons. The harness that gripped my ankles — I made it all myself — consisted of two sets of metal-reinforced leather straps and bindings that were fastened to my ankles and could not slide off, no matter how much pressure was put on them. And, they acted independently, so that even if one were to catastrophically malfunction, the other would do the job. Each was tested to 1,200 pounds of dead weight. They were attached to the foot-rest by independent nylon straps ending in aircraft-quality seat-belt fasteners — each tested to 1,800 pounds.

There was a release mechanism, so that I could free myself from the harness just before the crane lowered me back to terra firma after I'd shed the straitjacket. But to do so, I had to pull on heavy metal rings furnished with friction coverings. Remember, I was hanging upside-down. I could reach up on one side with one hand to the ring nearest me (the other was out of my reach at that point) and pull down firmly on that ring, thus pulling myself up to a point where I could reach the second ring. That ring, being pulled, was the one that actually released the seat-belt buckles, freeing each foot in turn. At this point, I was holding on tightly (be assured!) with both hands, and I easily rotated down to an upright position as soon as I slipped my feet out of the foot-rest setup.

There was even more. To release my feet, as I pulled the second ring, a mechanism had to actually break two wooden dowels, in turn. They blocked access to the foot releases, and were there to guard against accidental premature triggering due to my bouncing about. The full weight of my body was needed to break those dowels, and to get me up high enough to grab the second (release) ring. And so on.... I took NO chances!

(The lump you see falling below me in the first of the two photos shown just above, is the balled-up straitjacket from which I've just exited. Gee, I never saw that jacket again. My favorite, too.)

And no, I'm not about to do such stunts again. Don't ask.


As I've said here before, I hardly get the time to look in on our JREF Forum, which I understand is very busy these days. Luckily, Charlie Cotterman, in Dayton, Ohio, alerted me to a poet known as "7th Sextile" (???) who posted these beauties:

There once was a fellow named Edward,
Who'd occasionally cock an ear deadward:
He might pick up one letter,
But seldom much better,
Unless a hot, warm, or cold read word.

We attempted to prove Barnum's dictum
By meticulous count of each victim:
But by said statistic
It proved pessimistic,
As it clearly did underpredict 'em.

I will make all you skeptics look sick!
Reverse dowsing's my mystical trick:
Through the woods I can go
With some warm H2O,
And (eventually) find a forked stick.

I played next to my psychic at dice
When she lost forty grand in a trice,
But each time she blew it,
She'd mutter "I knew it!"
So I guess I'll still take her advice.

So she promised you she'd be around,
But at crunch time she cannot be found?
Well, my friend, you have learned
What it's like to be burned,
Or, as we put it, "Sylvia-Browned."

Where is Limerick-lover Isaac Asimov, when we want to show him something? Damn, but Isaac would have loved these efforts!


A reader cited a couple of excerpts from the recent Van Praagh appearance on the Larry King Live show, and pointed out how transparent the methods were that are shown there. That inspired me to do the following. Here, ahead, are the two excerpts from the transcript. If you're interested, do an in-detail analysis of either or both of these excerpts, showing how JVP produced the effect — for the incautious such as Larry King — that he's getting information from beyond the grave. Send your results to randi@randi.org?subject=JVP, with "JVP" in the subject line, and Andrew Harter and I will look over the submissions and decide who got the best data from the transcript evaluation. The three top winners will receive one of the new JREF T-shirts. You have 2 weeks....

Here are the excerpts:

Excerpt #1

CALLER: I lost a daughter in 1987, and I'd like to hear from her.

KING: How old was she?

CALLER: She was 15.

JVP: Was this cancer condition at all?

CALLER: No.

JVP: Was it blood related?

CALLER: No.

JVP: How was she killed?

CALLER: Hit by a car.

JVP: What's her first name?

CALLER: Christy. Her first name or mine?

JVP: No, her first name.

CALLER: It was Christy.

JVP: Let me ask you something, because I don't — you know, I just get what I get, and I can only give you something that I get. Was there a baby born after she passed over? In the family?

CALLER: Yes.

JVP: Because this might sound very strange to you, but she wants me to tell you that she's a guide for this baby. I don't know if it's a brother's baby.

CALLER: There's been three.

JVP: Okay. Does the brother have a baby?

CALLER: Let me see — there's been four girls born since her.

JVP: Okay. Well, there's a baby there that the brother has, that she's a guide to, also. I'm going to tell you that someone in the family is a teacher, okay, or wanted to go into teaching. All right? I'm going to tell you that this girl — she forgives the person that did this to her, very much so. And I'm telling you she's telling me she came to your dreams just recently?

CALLER: I very seldom remember my dreams.

JVP: Well, she said she's been in your dreams. And I also see a kitten. And I don't know why I'm being shown a cat, or kitten. But I don't know if she had a kitten or a cat?

CALLER: I called her "cat." Those were her initials.

JVP: Okay. Well, maybe that's why she's showing me this. But that's what I'm being given you. I'll tell you right now, she's there at night a lot around you in your dream state. I'm going to ask you also, did you have a little vegetable garden when she was alive?

CALLER: Her grandmother did.

JVP: Okay. And is her grandmother in spirit now?

CALLER: Yes.

JVP: Okay. She's talking about helping her with that garden. Do you remember her helping with the vegetable garden?

CALLER: Yes.

JVP: You remember that?

CALLER: Yes.

JVP: With tomatoes and carrots, and she's talking about helping grandma doing this. She's with this grandmother, which must be your mother or something.

CALLER: Yes.

JVP: She's connected with her, with you.

CALLER: Yes.

JVP: Okay? I'm going to tell you something also. I don't know if there's a watch of hers you have and also a locket of some sort, but she's talking about that. I also want to tell you one more thing. Is there a footstool in your house?

CALLER: No.

JVP: Well, who puts their feet up? She helps someone put their feet up with a pillow underneath their feet. I don't know if she's helping grandma, but she's showing me putting a pillow underneath someone's feet.

CALLER: May have been my mother.

JVP: I think — would you check that out?

Excerpt #2

CALLER: . . . I lost my mom in December '97, my dad in January 2000. I was wondering if you...

JVP: I'm going to tell you there's somebody here with a cancer condition. Was it your dad?

CALLER: Yes.

JVP: Because I feel cancer. And I feel lungs, also. I feel with him also, it could be emphysema at one point, too or trouble with his lungs breathing.

CALLER: The lungs it was my mother.

JVP: Well, I am getting lungs and trouble breathing here. I also want to tell you that these two are very connected. I don't know. Did you say they passed very closely in time?

CALLER: Two years apart.

JVP: One of them had a brother over there who met them when they passed over. Hadn't seen this brother for a very long time, Okay.

CALLER: Yes. That would be my father, he had a couple brothers.

JVP: Well, there was a brother there for a long time. He hadn't seen him. He was very impressed — he was very happy to see this guy. Your father, by the way, didn't believe in this sort of thing. Very skeptical of this sort of thing. But he is a true believer now. A name Joseph comes in also. Or Joe. And that's interesting, very strong in front of me.

CALLER: I don't know who that is.

JVP: Did you have to give your mother medications?

CALLER: Did I have to give her?

JVP: Who gave her the medications? She's telling me that there were medications that she had to receive.

CALLER: She did have a lot of medications, nothing I gave her directly.

JVP: But there was a schedule of medications she had to get. Every hour. She had to receive medications. I also want to ask you, is there a box of hers you have? A jewelry box?

CALLER: No.

JVP: Who has a box of hers, like a jewelry box of some sort?

CALLER: Oh, god, I don't — I don't know.

KING: We are running out of time.

JVP: Well, I'm being shown it, and it has flowers on it.

That's your homework for this week, students. I await your analyses.


Okay. Mea culpa. Again. The website I told you about last week, the one that was coming down so hard on Steve Jobs and Apple Computer, turned out to be a satire. Hey, it's really difficult these days, without having the time and leisure to read right through these things, to tell whether they're serious, or not! Have you read some of those that really want to be taken seriously....? Suffice it to say, "Ooops!" And yes, I knew it was "Culver City," not "Culvert City." Once more, "Ooops!"

I need an "Ooops!" key on this computer.....