October 3, 2003
Emmy Award Prophecies Flop, Yellow Bamboo Is Bent, Youens Denied, Park on Magnets, Pat Speaks to the Deaf, Raised Among Psychics, Observations on Van Praagh and Edward, Another UK Reading Autopsied, Doubt in Peoria, More Magnet Hoaxing, 13 New Commandments, and JREF Recognized...
Psychic Linda Georgian, here in the USA, claims a 90 percent success rate in the prediction business, though in love, marriage, money, names, romance, time-frames (?), and dates, she says she's 99% correct. Asked by Associated Press to put forth these awesome powers to determine the recent Emmy Award winners, she said the "Six Feet Under" series would do well; it was one of the big losers this year.
Georgian predicted that Frances Conroy would win in the "Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series" category, but Edie Falco carried that off. Michael Chiklis, she predicted, would get the "Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series" nod, but somehow, that went to James Galdofini. Georgian had "Sex and the City" (or "Friends," in another release) winning the "Outstanding Comedy Series" Emmy, and "Six Feet Under" getting the "Outstanding Drama Series." Those went to "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "West Wing."
The winner of "Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series," said Georgian, would be Sarah Jessica Parker; it was Debra Messing. Did Jay Leno's "Tonight" show win in the "Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series" category? Nope, even though Georgian said it would, it went to "The Daily Show."
"Supporting Actress/Actor in a Comedy" went to Doris Roberts and Brad Garrett, not to Kim Cattrall and Sean Hayes. Georgian called Lauren Ambrose for "Actress in a Drama," but it was Tyne Daly.
Ah, but Georgian hit right on with "Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series," Tony Shalhoub. And she got Joe Pantoliano as "Supporting Actor in a Drama." But two out of twelve is 17% correct what ever happened to that 90%?
To set the stage for what follows, I give you here a letter from Indonesian reader Satia Narjadin, who comments:
I don't know what the outcome of the yellow bamboo test will be, but the paranormal fans here in Indonesia now have even more reason to celebrate. It seems that our leaders have decided to drag this once-proud and secular nation back, way back, to the Dark Ages. Let me explain:
Sad, but true. And the following proves that...
There has been much discussion on the Internet and on the JREF Forum, as was to be expected, about a current claim that the million-dollar prize has been won. No such thing, I assure you. That was very premature rejoicing, which has been seen on other occasions, by those who think they've bamboozled (pun!) The Amazing.
Our involvement with the Yellow Bamboo group, in Bali, Indonesia, began on June 28th, 2003, when we actually received their application. We'd been trying to get them to fulfill the application requirements since December of 2002, a full seven months of back-and-forth messaging. The protocol they finally agreed to needed small adjustments, which were made. Their claim was that their performer, a Mr. Pak Nyoman Serengen, could knock down, from a distance, a person attempting to attack him, or merely trying to strike him, with a piece of yellow bamboo!
I looked at their web page, and saw there a video clip showing a crowd of students running at Mr. Serengen, then falling down when he gave out a mighty shout just before they reached him. The interesting aspect of that video, to me, was that some of the students fell down just before Serengen put out his hand and yelled...
The agreed-upon protocol sounded simple enough at first. I soon had volunteers for the preliminary phase of the test contacting me from Australia, and I offered them as suitable participants, but over a period of weeks YB threw every sort of obstacle in the way of that plan. This went on until I'd finally had enough, and informed them that I was terminating any further involvement with them.
On August 11th, 2003, a Mr. Joko Tri Lestari, on the island of Java, wrote me volunteering to go to Bali and go through the Yellow Bamboo rigmarole that they'd put forth. I told him that though he appeared to have the right qualifications, and that I would normally accept him to do the preliminary test, I'd officially severed my connections with them. But, I told Joko, he was quite free to go there and see what happened, if they'd let him do so.
He decided to go, on his own, not believing that there was any danger involved, though he said he'd be careful to take along his own food and drink, as a precaution. I told him that he should make a video of the whole procedure, and he agreed. I also told him that he should use a small bamboo stick, not a weapon, and simply walk forward and tap Serengen on the leg, then walk away. The YB people had said this could not be done to Serengen. This was made part of a "Waiver of Liability" that YB insisted upon from Joko, a document that I had re-written to include such details. I must add that I think I now understand more fully just why YB would want such a waiver to be provided...
Although YB had agreed to do the test on Friday, September 12th at ten in the morning, it was postponed until Sunday, September 14th, and it took place at night, after dark, at a spot they'd selected on the beach.
The videotape I was expecting to be made, was not made. Instead, a Sony camera that takes a floppy disk, was used; it makes 12-second "snaps" of action, at very low resolution. As we saw last week, that video "clip" is very obscure and dark, so it doesn't tell us much. The only light source was from three cars parked nearby. However, we've now viewed the clip frame-by-frame, and some very interesting possibilities emerge. I'm particularly taken by the fact that Joko's body appears to twitch as he is prone on the ground. That indicates a very probable modus...
Mr. Joko Tri was not alone. His charge at Serengen was accompanied by several other YB members, two of them close enough to touch him.
No, YB did not pass the JREF preliminary test. There are many reasons for their failure:
First, no continuous videotape record was made, as I'd clearly required. Without that, there is only evidence that Mr. Tri fell down, but no indication of how or why. Second, Joko did not walk up to Serengen and "gently tap him with a piece of bamboo," as I'd specified, and YB had agreed to, but charged at him full tilt, with a huge bamboo pole which he'd supplied himself, he told me. There were people close enough to touch Joko as he ran forward, in fact there was quite a crowd involved. The demo took place when it was very dark, giving much different conditions for viewing than there would have been at ten in the morning, as YB had previously agreed to do. So, essentially, there is no evidence of anything supernatural available here. Most damning of all: the report that Joko Tri gave me regarding what he experienced, is congruent with another modus, one that is not at all new, strange, nor unusual. I'm gathering data on this right now, and I'll report on it. This modus was offered by several readers with experience in the subject.
Now, the YB people are claiming in a press release that the JREF prize has been "Won by Yellow Bamboo," though later in the text they modify this statement. Next, they announced, they expect me to go to Bali to try their skills. No way. I should go to Bali just to tap a guy with a stick? By the rules, the YB group should be coming to Florida for that purpose; read the rules. So, that's where it stands: they blew the preliminary test by drastically changing the parameters so that no observations are available, and I'm looking into my preferred opinion on why Mr. Joko Tri fell down as he did. That will come later, when I receive certain answers.
Please note: several readers suggested that the solution to all this just might be that Mr. Joko Tri was in collusion with the Yellow Bamboo people, and simply fell down as he was supposed to. Yes, this is a distinct possibility, but I'll ask that you respect my intuition in this matter. I believe that Joko was honestly looking into the YB claim, and was tricked by a means for which he could not have been prepared. True, some points of the protocol we'd agreed upon were not followed. For example, when I asked him, "We'd agreed that you would just walk up to him and tap him. Did they insist that you run at [Serengen] with a large bamboo?" he replied, "No, they didn't insist I run or anything, I just thought it would be a good idea to do it that way cause I had seen it done that way on a video and did not want to give them any excuse once I tapped Mr. Serengen." I'm very grateful for Joko's involvement, and I'm happy that he wasn't hurt doing this test; if we're right on the modus that we're looking into, the result might have been much different...
Tony Youens, about whom you've heard so much here recently, tells us:
I just attempted to order a [mentalist mind-reading device] from John Riggs [a dealer in such merchandise] and after being told to pay via PayPal I received the following message:
Strange, isn't it? Here's a dealer in these products which are used to do a mentalist act, which by definition is fakery who won't sell to Tony because Tony exposes those who lie to the public and say that they have supernatural powers & not the legitimate performers! The dealer is saying, in effect, that he supports the liars, since he's one of them! Adds Tony,
Well it seems I've finally arrived!
You arrived long ago, Tony, and on a much different train, with a different destination.
Bob Park, who you'll meet in January at The Amaz!ng Meeting in Las Vegas, reports on his weekly issue of "What's New" [www.aps.org]:
MAGNETIC THERAPY: HAVE WE GOT NEWS FOR YOU! IT DOESN'T WORK.
Or the National Security Agency sponsoring research on whether UFOs are a threat to the USA...
Reader Andy McCoy comments on last week's analysis of the "reading" given by "psychic medium" Keith Charles:
You may already be aware of this, but cold readers increase their chances of a hit when they use "John" and "Michael." Remember how popular those names are; sometimes both of them might be a hit. My own father is Michael John, my brother is Michael, my middle name is John, my grandfather is John, and my other grandfather (my own namesake) was Andrew John. One of the most popular names in the US for baby boys over the past century was John. I will give you one guess as to what one of the most popular names over the past 30 years was. You can find that on any simple Internet search. I am sure names in the UK follow a similar pattern, since the UK is a Judeo-Christian society. When targeting a person whose father or grandfather was born between 1900 and 1960, John is a logical choice. When targeting a younger person, John and Michael double the chances of a hit. It could be the father, could be a brother, or a significant other. I wonder how often these folks throw those two names out there? I would like to know how many hits they get with Felix. It really is amazing that they can get away with this hog wash.
Well, a few weeks ago the Reverend Pat Robertson, whose Christian Broadcasting Network facility was in the predicted path of Hurricane Isabel, asked God to please turn the storm away from Virginia Beach. Heard on "The 700 Club," Robertson credited God for having turned past hurricanes away in response to prayers "in the name of Jesus," and said he believed that God would put up "a wall of protection." He said that he and those praying with him had begged God to "command this storm to go out into the sea and to pass land harmlessly."
Now, that must be a whole flock (pun!) of people who faithfully responded, but God might have been busy, didn't care, was annoyed with Robertson, or just doesn't exist because Virginia Beach was slammed hard by Isabel, suffering $11 million damages. There were 23 deaths attributed to Isabel in that state, alone.
When will Pat learn that it doesn't work?
Reader Michael Hopkins shares this with us.
I grew up in a house where people claimed to see disembodied spirits, live with spirit guides, read minds, did whatever that load of people do when they hold jewelry and tell you about the owner. I dealt with psychics and indulged heavily in the 70's proclivity for "warm fuzzies."
Reader David Stafford, in the UK, has watched for the first time, two major "psychic stars" at work, and he sends us these observations:
I just watched speaking-to-the-dead James Van Praagh on the UK Living Channel here in the UK and although I have read of his exploits in your archives, I had no idea this guy could be so appallingly useless and cruel. I watched an episode where he appeared to be in communication with one of the victims of the Washington snipers and had to ask her sister who had foolishly subjected herself to his inept ramblings if the murdered woman had one or two children. Why didn't the interviewee point out that if he was in communication, why didn't he simply ask the "ghost"? Also, he wrongly identified the place of burial and many other details too numerous to mention. In fact, I don't think he made a single correct statement, only asking questions and modifying the answers to fit.
A reader reminded me of another event that took place during the taping of the "Ultimate Psychic Challenge" show in the UK. A reading was given by a "medium" named Graham Dare, to Tony Youens, a prominent member of the UK skeptics' community. It was edited out of the aired program, simply because it was such a bore and a failure, it had no interest for the viewers. The medium, faced with a subject unwilling to give any feedback, bombed spectacularly, scoring no hits at all. Similarly some of the aggressive booing of myself was cut, though strangely there was no attacking of the mediums by the skeptics in the audience, who simply observed respectfully. Also cut was the other reading by a fierce female medium. She claimed a direct hit when she'd mentioned the word "Mangos" to Tony, who she said immediately acknowledged its significance. In the debriefing with Youens, she explained that she had just come back from Australia where she had visited the "Mango swamps." Youens pointed out that there are no Mango swamps in Australia, but that there are mangrove swamps...
The Bradley Scout Online, from Peoria, ran an interesting piece by reporter Katie Deatsch, accompanied by her assistant, Erinn Deshinsky. They looked into a local psychic at the. "Peoria Psychic Center," where they found the gifted one ready to enlighten them. They opted for palm readings.
Erinn was immediately asked to exit the house, because as the psychic explained, "auras get confused when there are two bodies in the room." About 3.5 minutes later, Katie was $10 poorer, having been told that she would be healthy, would live long, would be independent and would work for herself. She discovered that she has many friends, and will get married in her mid-20s. Doesn't seem like $10 worth, to me.
The reader "felt" a lot, reported Katie She "felt this" and "felt that" but couldn't tell Katie anything about her present life to validate her powers. Katie told her that she was a journalism major, and was told that she'd be "successful in that." Wrote Katie, "Wow. What fascinating insight. How detailed! How vivid!"
The reader didn't even examine her hands, which I believe is rather a required aspect of palmistry.
Later, when Erinn had also had her reading, the two reporters compared stories and found that they were going to live the exact same life; the two readings were the same! Obviously, this psychic had little imagination or creativity going for her. The reporters left, and tried to visit seven other sources of magical knowledge in the area that were listed in the Yellow Pages. Four of them "900" numbers, two were shut down, and one was closed.
Ms. Deatsch closed her article with this advice: "If you want your future predicted, save $9.50, buy a paper and read the horoscopes. You'll get more details and a comics section as well." Good plan!
Reader Alwyne Kennedy, in the UK, reports:
I'm the bloke who ran the Crystal Homeopathy hoax, reported in New Scientist, and then copied to your site, March 7th. I bring you news of a bit of expensive detox flim-flam that is rapidly becoming popular in health clubs, etc., over here in the UK: http://www.aquadetoxuk.com I'm sure it won't be long before it arrives in the States.
It is claimed that the machine draws out toxins, resulting in a very visible discoloration and scum in the water after sessions. However, far from being evidence of bodily "toxins", this scum is merely dissolved carbonates precipitating out of the water when the voltage is applied, and rust from the corrosion of a metal "array" that has to be periodically replaced. It occurs whether a person sticks parts of their body in it or not.
Of course, that's the site run by Dr. Steve Barrett, another speaker you'll meet at The Amaz!ng Meeting in January in Las Vegas...
I have my own detox machine. It produces all the effects the discoloration and gunk but I didn't pay Staggs £1100 for mine. I made it in minutes out of two iron nails, an old transformer delivering 20V AC, a soup bowl, water and salt.
Alwyne, by the time anyone gets around to putting Staggs out of business, she'll already have made a fortune. Aren't the before-and-after photos shown here, ridiculous? A simple analysis of the "after" water would, I believe, reveal some interesting evidence!
I give you here a document which has been around the Internet. I've amplified and changed it a bit. I can't ascribe it to any specific source, though I tried hard.
It was recently mentioned that the Presidential Prayer Team is currently urging us to "Pray for the President as he seeks wisdom on how to legally codify the law. Pray that it will be according to Biblical principles. With many forces insisting on variant definitions of the commandments in the Bible, pray that God's Word and His standards will be honored by our government."
I'm sure any good Christian believes prayer should be balanced by action. So here, in support of the Prayer Team's admirable goals, is a proposed Constitutional Amendment codifying behavior and based entirely on Holy Bible principles:
1. Marriage in the United States shall consist of a union between one man and one or more women. (Gen 29:17-28; II Sam 3:2-5.) Marriage shall not impede a man's right to take concubines in addition to his wife or wives. (II Sam 5:13; I Kings 11:3; II Chron 11:21)
2. A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If the wife is not a virgin, she shall be executed.(Deut 22:13-21) Marriage of a Christian and a pagan shall be forbidden. (Gen 24:3; Num 25:1-9; Ezra 9:12; Neh 10:30)
3. Since marriage is for life, neither this Constitution nor the constitution of any State, nor any state or federal law, shall be construed to permit divorce. (Deut 22:19; Mark 10:9)
4. If a married man dies without children, his brother shall marry the widow. If he refuses to marry his brother's widow or deliberately does not give her children, he shall pay a fine of one shoe and be otherwise punished in a manner to be determined by law. (Gen. 38:6-10; Deut 25:5-10)
5. The law must preserve the duty of each citizen to burn an ox as a sacrifice, regardless of whether the odor pleases the neighbors as it does God or not. (Lev 18:22)
6. Each citizen shall have the right to sell his daughter(s) into slavery, setting his own price. (Exodus 21:7)
7. All citizens may own slaves, like in the good old days, both male and female, so long as they're foreigners. (Lev 25:44)
8. Any citizen who finds his neighbor working on Sunday must kill him. (Exodus 35:2)
9. Eating shellfish of any sort must be deemed "an abomination," with penalties set by local law enforcement. (Lev 11:10)
10. Any citizen with poor eyesight and who nevertheless goes to church, shall be guilty of an abomination. (Lev 21:20)
11. Trimming the hair around the temples should be a capital crime. (Lev 19:27)
12. Since touching the skin of a dead pig makes one "unclean," no one can wear gloves made of pigskin. (Lev 11:6-8)
13. Anyone who plants two different crops in a field, who wears garments made of two different fabrics, or who curses or blasphemes, must be stoned to death. (Lev 19:19, 20:14)
Hallelujah! Praise the merciful Lord! And bring me some of those rocks over there!
Reader Stephen Pickett comments:
After reading your weekly commentary for about two years, I have noticed that you continuously proclaim your position that true believers never change, regardless of the mounds of evidence placed upon them which contradict their beliefs. I feel compelled to write you a simple letter; one that you might not receive often enough. I understand that in your work you find this to be the case in what is probably the vast majority of instances, but I can't imagine why you invest such time and effort into the JREF if you really think this to be a rule.
Randi comments: Well, Stephen, that position and conviction comes mostly from my observations of those who try for the JREF prize. No matter how much contrary evidence is presented to them, or how good that evidence is, their failures just don't convince them of anything but faults in the protocol, evil vibrations, or bad astrological aspects. Never has any loser decided that he/she does not have the powers claimed.
Perhaps the frustrations of living with ignorance and denial of evidence exhibited by many of the people you interact with, has caused you to underestimate the value and far-reaching influence of your work. I myself have crawled out from under the oppressive delusions of fundamental Christianity with the help of your publications, as well as those of Bob Carroll, Peter Amato (one of my professors of philosophy in college), and countless others who have taught me the value of critical thinking, logical argumentation, and skepticism. My wife has more recently turned away from belief in a wide variety of new age gimmicks such as "alternative therapy," primarily on the basis of information published in or linked from your commentary. I say this to offer a word of encouragement, and to refute your claim that the true believer cannot be dissuaded by evidence.
Letters like this are one reason that I started the JREF, and continue to fight the uphill battle that I've chosen. Thank you, Stephen.
I'll close this week with a short letter from reader Janis Donald, expressing much the same thoughts:
James Randi, you have once again inspired a young mind. I found your web site truly stimulating. I have not the faintest idea if you want to know about my simple discovery but here it comes. A desire has been sparked, by you, to enhance my critical thinking and understanding of science. This is an understatement. Unfortunately "science" has become "thinking outside of the box." Our society is greatly under-educated in the workings of scientific fact so we immerse ourselves in a trendy world of new/old age answers that seem to offer a quick fix to all our naive questions. I refuse to have blind faith. My trust will be earned through fact. And that, is that! So down the path of science I tread, to answer my now intelligent questions with good solid facts.
I thank you for troubling to tell me your thoughts, Janis. As they say, this kind of letter makes my day. Make that a week...