May 14, 2004
The Nine Lives of Katz, A Kudos, The Art of Recovering From Total Failure, "Organic" Carried to the Extreme, Astrology Reduced to Essentials & Hypnotic Matters, A UFO Epiphany, More "Least Haunted" Progress, Young Dinosaurs, Fun Site, The Geller Curse, Less of a Miracle, Exposing the Errors of ABC's Primetime Thursday, Invisible Critter, Coming Up in Italy, and In Conclusion….
Table of Contents:
Transferring some old written files in my office, I recently came upon notes I'd made many years ago while interviewing Yascha Katz for a RAI3 Italy TV program. Katz was the former manager of Uri Geller in Israel. In the Katz folder was his sketch of the signaling code used by the Geller team in his early years doing the mentalism act. You see it here applied to an old photo. I don't accuse the gentleman shown, of having been involved in this act, or even of having been in a Geller audience, but if he was, that's the digit "9" that he'd be sending up to the stage. Or, it could be the color "white," if that's what was being determined by "telepathy" or "clairvoyance," though of course only if those powers were to somehow fail, and trickery might be called for. The color correspondences were the same as those still used for the standard American Standards Association (ASA) "resistor" code:
0 = black
It's customary for the performer on stage to cue the audience confederate when he's picked up the cue, usually by putting a hand to his forehead as if aiding concentration, or pulling on an ear. I don't have that in my notes, but I have several other needlessly complicated, in my opinion methods of signaling that involved tilting and handling of a cigarette by the confederate seated in the audience front row.
That file has other interesting items too, some of which I won't share with you…. Yet….
Reader Eric Ladd says nice things:
This is more of a "shot in the arm" for you. I realize from your weekly web updates that it might seem daunting for you to continue on your course of enlightening the public. I'd like to tell you about a long time convert: me. I have been a frequent visitor to www.randi.org because of my childhood. Roughly two years ago, I was at home and something jogged my memory. It was a childhood memory of seeing you on television, challenging a man who claimed to be a telekinetic. He was going to prove it by moving a pencil with his mind. If my memory serves, he demonstrated this once, then you sprinkled some packing peanuts around the pencil and asked him to move only the pencil with his mind. Of course he could not and claimed the packing material was causing "interference." You then demonstrated how this trick was done by lightly blowing on the balanced pencil and moving your hands in a "magical" way.
Now, I ask you, folks: is it worth doing this job, or not? Thank you for caring enough to mention this, Eric. It really did make my day and a little more.
Mea Culpa Department: On the other track, I was scolded rightly for exempting the Vikings from being alive in the Middle Ages, and scolding Jez for claiming that. And, for saying the "NBC" was the UK's National Broadcasting Commission which doesn't exist. I plead temporary insanity. No, that was the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission. Drat! But I'm back on my medication now…. And, "phonon" is a legitimate scientific term, though certainly not the way that Galaxy Wave used it. A number of readers wrote telling me how shocking that item was, and some were trying to do something to get that Galaxy Wave website shut down. Small chance….
Reader Joe Shippert has experienced the remarkable resiliency of practitioners of the psychic trade, an absolute requirement of the breed:
Here's a funny anecdote that I've been sharing with my skeptical friends for a couple of months. I thought you might find it amusing too. This is a true story. Last December, my company held its winter celebration. It was a nice little party where we could relax, enjoy good food and get dressed up a bit. Several "psychics" were hired to perform all manner of nonsense: palm reading, tarot cards, handwriting analysis, etc. My wife and I decided to give one a try.
"Really?" my wife asked. The psychic looked at my hand, too. Yes, she definitely saw that we were going to have two children.
Or two pairs of cats….?
Reader Tim Regan is of the opinion that some things can go just too far….
Pseudo-science doesn't worry too much about animal/vegetable/mineral definitions in their products. Our local grocery store sells "organic salt."
Take a look at http://maddox.xmission.com/c.cgi?u=astrology for the most sensible approach to astrology that I've seen in a long time, suggested by reader Jonathan Jolly of Texas, and then visit www.tifareth.com/tmagick.html for a super offer to buy into a scheme that
. . . takes its root in the ancient qabalistic magick and the modern psychotronics, giving you an unvaluable [sic] tool to influence people remotely and make magick operations with your computer.
Reader Nick Oliver warns that you should be sure to be seated before looking in on that "magick" site...
A solving of a Mars-identification problem we ran here recently brought this from reader David Joffe:
The anecdote from Nick Jarvis reminded me of a small incident that happened to me while flying recently. It was at night, and looking down and out of the window, I noticed what looked like a large, bright, glowing object, moving very fast, matching the speed of the plane, and appearing to move "this way and that" very quickly. The first thoughts that rather eerily sprang to my mind were of the many eye-witness descriptions of supposed "UFO sightings" from planes that I had read about long ago as a child. After a few moments thought, I realized that I was just looking at the full moon above reflecting off some oddly patterned clouds below!
I've frequently been treated to such epiphanies, and I understand your delight, David. We humans are not satisfied with unanswered questions, with unsolved problems, or unexplained observations. We seem to not only want, but to strongly need, answers and that's one important reason why we are so prone to accept easy solutions. It makes the scam-artists' work so much simpler….
Reader/correspondent Jez Wood, in the UK, continues describing the Most Haunted TV series there in which Derek Acorah is the resident "psychic." Here's his blow-by-blow account:
My earlier mail described that televisual feast that is Most Haunted. Well, as I stated, the live show for Easter is upon us. It's a 3-day event with live broadcasts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. The reason for my mail is just to keep you informed as you are very kindly including my article in your webpage, and some more information has arisen that applies to my earlier comments.
It's a spoon, not a javelin!
Later, Jez reports….
As promised, here is my update of the three-day treat that is Most Haunted. Almost seven hours later here are the findings that we have all so eagerly awaited. The things I do for skepticism!
Randi comments: Remember, Jez, it's the believers who tend to vote, thus the score is rather tilted. Most of the others think this is just too silly to waste time on. For example, did you vote….?
Night Two: This live show attempted to get in touch with the "Witch Finder General," that being Matthew Hopkins, the man responsible for the capture, arrest, prosecution and execution of some 200+ "witches" throughout England in the Middle Ages.
Randi comments: Hopkins died in 1647, well after the Middle Ages had been succeeded by the Renaissance, but that's a small point…. Back to Jez….
There's not much to say. Several webcams were set up with some 12,000 people phoning in to say they had seen grey ladies, horses, dogs, orbs etc....etc. Not once was the footage rewound to show the rest of us. Mr. Acorah attempted to get in touch with Hopkins and his cohorts, to no avail.
Thanks, Jez. We can't wait...! Maybe the elusive Andrew will show up!
Dinosaur Adventure Land is a theme park in Pensacola, Florida. The proprietor, Kent Hovind, offers a Darwin-free view of dinosaurs who he thinks lived in a world less than 6,000 years old. He's a former bible school science teacher with his own ministry, Creation Science Evangelism, and is strictly against thinking, as his words to The New York Times revealed. Said he, defending his use of the theme-park route to explain creationism:
There are a lot of creationists that are really smart and debate the intellectuals, but the kids are bored after five minutes. You're missing 98 percent of the population if you only go the intellectual route.
Very true. Blind ignorance accomplishes much more than reason ever could, when you're not allowed to think. And it's SO much easier, isn't it, Kent?
But it looks as if Satan is out to get the park. Just two weeks ago IRS agents raided Dinosaur Adventure Land to remove financial documents from Mr. Hovind's home and offices, saying he was not paying taxes on a couple million dollars of income, and had neither a business license nor tax-exempt status for his enterprises. Said Hovind, with righteous zeal, "I don't have any tax obligations."
Here's a way sent to us by reader Richard Burgess of generating your own Nostradamus quatrains! Go to: www.getodd.com/stuf/nostradamus.html and click away. No astrological nor precognitive experience needed...
In the UK's Daily Mail newspaper, readers are encouraged to provide answers to provocative questions. A recent question plus an answer from reader John Atkinson, on the Isle of Man:
QUESTION: How wrong can you actually be? What is the best example?
Gee, 100%! Similarly, another ad in a tabloid there commented:
Since the early seventies Uri Geller has baffled the world. And today the question still remains unanswered: How on earth does he make so much cash from one or two unimpressive conjuring tricks?
There was more, but in rather bad taste, which I'll spare you….
Reader Paul Hetherington, re www.randi.org/jr/043004bad.html:
You were too kind to the "Psychic Barber" concerning point 5, where Gordon says "He likes the picture of him you've chosen as it shows him as he really was." This is not a guess about mothers selecting to display a photograph, since the grieving relatives are instructed by Gordon on the website: "The letter should be in your own handwriting and accompanied by a photograph of yourself and your loved one." So even less was not clearly derived from the poor woman's letter!
Three weeks ago ABC's Primetime Thursday aired a one-hour special on the paranormal, on which Michael Shermer appeared as the token skeptic for all of about 12 seconds. The taping came about somewhat by chance when Michael was in the same ABC-TV location in New York taping a John Stossel special, so they simply asked him to comment generally on psychic detectives. One viewer, a skeptic named Curtis Cameron, took the time to track down the facts on some of the stories in that program, and despite the huge budget ABC allocates for research, he was able to come up with far more probable explanations than the ABC researchers were able to find. Here is Curtis' very insightful letter.
Dear Primetime Thursday:
For example, the story about the reincarnated boy differed from the account offered in the Pittsburgh Daily Courier from April 15. That article specifically said that the boy was taken to the Cavanaugh Flight Museum when he was 18 months old, and that his fantasies and nightmares started after that time. I don't recall your TV show clearly stating this timeline I had the impression after watching the show that the "memories" happened by themselves, without an incident to prompt them.
Then in the interview with the mother, she told the astonishing story about how her son knew what a "drop tank" is, and that she had never heard of one. It didn't take me too long to visit the web site of the Cavanaugh Flight Museum and see, among the few items exhibited that are not actual airplanes, a drop tank! This isn't some obscure museum piece that wouldn't be noticed, there are not that many of them there, others being an ejection seat and some guns. Why did you not mention this in your program? Was it because the reporter didn't even do very basic research, or was it intentionally hidden?
In her second case that she supposedly got right, teenage boy Lloyd Israel disappeared and Ms. Baron correctly predicted where the body would be found in some corn fields. What your reporter neglected to tell the audience in this case was that his car was discovered at the time of his disappearance, abandoned on a road among corn fields, and his body was discovered not far from where his car was found. This little fact would completely destroy any claim to a psychic "hit" of Ms. Baron, yet you conveniently left it out.
Chris will keep us informed about any possible reaction/response ABC-TV might make….
Professor Richard Wiseman was an award-winning magician before he opted to become a full-time psychologist. He's with the University of Hertfordshire now, and using his expertise as a conjuror to examine certain bits of specialized knowledge used in conjuring. His new book, Did You Spot the Gorilla? will be out in August.
Many of you will have seen on the Internet a test using a 30-second video clip of a handful of people playing basketball, in which the viewer is asked to count the passes made by one of the teams.
Most get the correct answer to this question, but also fail to spot a woman dressed in a gorilla suit who walks slowly across the scene for nine seconds. She's un-noticed even though she passes between the players and stops to face the camera and thump her chest. This won't-notice phenomenon is well-known to conjurors; an audience will miss very obvious and clearly-presented evidence if they're misdirected to other aspects that they think are important. For example, a spoon is easily bent, unseen, if the conjuror stands up and crosses over to a new position, because the audience relaxes attention when nothing is supposed to be happening.
This new Wiseman book outlines the scientific evidence and thinking behind this remarkable phenomenon. Knowing the quality of Dr. Wiseman's work, I can't wait to see how he develops this subject. I suggest that you'll also want to learn more about it.
The old saying is, "See Venice, and die." Well, if you'd like to see Venice and not die! as well as wander in the footsteps of Galileo at the University of Padova/Padua, choose October 8-10 of this year. Why? Because an important and stimulating conference will be held there at that date, sponsored by CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal and by CICAP, the Italian Committee for the Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. Speakers will include Piero Angela, Sergio Della Sala, Steno Ferluga, Chris French, Luigi Garlaschelli, Ray Hyman, Barry Karr, Paul Kurtz, Robert Morris, Joe Nickell, Massimo Polidoro, Ian Rowland, Amardeo Sarma, and Richard Wiseman. I'll be in there somewhere, too. Go to www.cicap.org/congress for all details.
A wonderful trip, great company, and two beautiful, historically important cities, along with what promise to be stimulating and memorable lectures by important folks. How can you lose? Get registered, and go!
Another week of wrassling with the psychics and other phonies has ended. There are big changes coming up on the website, with added frills and better accessibility. Our legal eagle in Miami has things underway for a grubby-twisting that will put an end to the attacks that are getting to be ridiculous, but still have to be stopped; not everyone has common sense. You'll be kept informed. The Forum, as usual, is in a turmoil but that's being handled by Hal, and will soon be ironed out to the satisfaction of all, I'm confident. We learn as we go along….