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At http://tinyurl.com/zoel9 you will find a few questions that one Lou Gentile – psychic extraordinaire, in his estimation – has been asked about his persistent failure to accept the million-dollar challenge of the JREF. After I’d sufficiently recovered from my recent medical situation, I carefully got together the required materials for a test of his strange “EVP” claim. (EVP stands for “Electronic Voice Phenomena,” and a group to be seen at www.aaevp.com will explain the whole notion to the curious.) It’s very similar to the claims made by “cloud busters” who believe they can make clouds move around or dissipate at will. It’s all wishful thinking, but that never stopped any True Believer from embracing a silly notion.
These poor EVP-ers fiddle with recorders of various kinds until they find an audio signal of any sort – in an environment saturated with cell phones, radio and TV transmissions, various intercom and monitoring devices, walkie-talkie conversations, and “ham” transmissions, over the entire range of FM and AM frequencies from 10 kilocycles to 10,500 megacycles. That includes industrial, government, public safety, citizens radio, TV pickups and links, remote controls, aeronautical flight-to-ground conversations, telemetering, navigation channels, and dozens of other modes. Also, weaker harmonic audio images of these transmissions are often present. Certain recorders, if poorly designed or with faults, can and do accept spurious signals; in Germany in the 60s, I had a Grundig reel-to-reel tape recorder that picked up the very strong AFN (Armed Forces Network) signal from Frankfurt due to the poor shielding of an internal lead in the Grundig – which I then had repaired. My problem – which EVP-ers would consider a blessing – promptly went away.
The wide RF spectrum is a rich source of signals from which to choose, especially if a “ghost hunter” uses a Panasonic digital recorder model #RR-DR60, and by referring to Google under “Panasonic RR-DR60 discontinued,” you’ll find a listing of EVP fans who dote on this particular model, for obvious reasons: it provides spurious images with which they can have a fine time. A particularly hilarious entry is to be found at www.alienandspirit.com/seven.htm, and after reading that, you will be thoroughly convinced of the enthusiastic naivety with which the true believers pursue their delusions.
The JREF million-dollar challenge is a huge problem for these folks. You should understand the wishful thinking entered into by those desperate believers in EVP, in trying to devalue the validity of the challenge. You should know that Mr. Gentile has insisted that he must use an RR-DR60 recorder – of course. But read some of the obfuscations that the EVP fans – on Gentile’s own page – have invented to show why the JREF challenge should be carefully avoided. Here are a few:
I've seen the “Amazing One” on a t.v. show. In order for you to get the money, HE has to control the environment surrounding the “test” he gives to prove if you are a “fake” or not. I just think he doesn't want to give out the money.
That last sentence is quite correct, but since I’m legally bound to award the prize – if won – I have no choice. As for my “control [of] the environment,” since I would not even be present – read the rules, folks! – and since any test would be done by independent parties agreed to by both sides of the matter, that’s simply not true. Next case…?
I have read in more than one location online that this fellow tends to “alter” the rules as he goes along or simply makes it virtually “impossible” for individuals to “prove” anything.
Well, since you apparently read only the online rants that don’t much care for “this fellow” or for a rational approach to these matters, of course you’ll read that, but it’s just not true; I’m bound by the same rules that others must adhere to, no alteration of the rules, nor interference. It can’t be done. READ THE RULES!
For instance, someone says that they can see auras and he insists that a certain “lighting” be used. Well in order for some people to perceive auras they have to have a certain type of lighting.
Yes, they do say that, and in the only two such cases I’ve ever handled, one was on a major TV Special back in 1989. We meticulously followed the instructions of the applicant, and she agreed that everything had been properly done, including her demand that the studio area be “washed” by amber light to clear away residual auras (?) but yet she failed 100% to see any “auras,” even though she’d said they were present – and very strong – when she did the “baseline” test. She had exactly that “certain type of lighting” she ordered, yet she failed. The other case, though no special lighting was asked for, also failed…
For you and the EVP he [James Randi] will probably insist on some form of outlandish restriction such as NO DIGITAL VOICE RECORDERS or something of that sort.
Au contraire, sir. In fact, we agreed enthusiastically that Lou could and should use the preferred RR-DR60 device he already has. The test we’ve proposed would be decisive, no matter what kind of device – even two tin cans connected with a string, or semaphore flags – that Lou should choose to use. However, since Lou has now fallen silent on the matter, we may never know…
I don't think he'll pay up. He'll find some bogus reason or loophole that he "forgot" to mention at the beginning of the challenge.
READ THE RULES! I do not have that privilege, nor does an applicant. We agree, in advance, on the rules and the protocol, and we may make no changes of any sort. I am absolutely legally obligated to pay out the prize money, once it’s been won. The applicant has no fees to pay, and no obligations other than to adhere to the rules – as I must, as well.
Another complaint on Gentile’s site quotes from the JREF site:
“And there is not a single example of a scientific discovery in the field of parapsychology that has been independently replicated. That makes parapsychology absolutely unique in the world of science.”
This is a quote from James Randi's personal FAQ on his website. To see what an out and out [sic] lie that is I would point you in the direction of the excellent "The Conscious Universe" by Dean Radin, which discusses precisely the scientific data James is here denying.
Really? Well, Dean Radin has been remarkably silent in the nine years since his book came out. He’s of course eligible for the million-dollar prize if he can produce one example – from his book or from anywhere else – that proves the case for parapsychology. Why haven’t I heard from him, let alone from Lou Gentile…? Just what can it be that prevents these woo-woos from applying for and winning the prize?
The last word on the matter will come from Lou Gentile himself. Referring to me, he says, on his forum:
I do believe that something is up with him. We will find out exactly very soon.
How soon is "exactly very soon," Lou?
As we “go to press,” we learn that Lou Gentile has been involved in an industrial accident, and is laid up. We hope for his early recovery, and we regret this problem – which is doubtless the reason for his not having gotten back to us sooner. We trust that when he has sufficiently recovered, he will again return to his consideration of the JREF challenge. We’ll certainly not be troubling him further on the matter until he finds himself able to handle it. Get well, Mr. Gentile.
The reaction to our request for analyses of applicant Bill Perron’s claim, was huge. The majority of responders had the facts pretty well understood; they saw the obvious faults with the claim, and outlined generally suitable protocols to accommodate a test of the claim. It remains, of course, to see if Perron will agree to the simple, direct, definitive protocol that results from what follows. A copy of this was sent to him in advance of its appearance on the SWIFT page.
Now, I know of Bill Perron from years back. When I first learned of his existence, he was only advertising himself as a kids-birthday-party magician; now he’s developed psychic powers, it seems. He’s been vitriolic in his denunciations of me and the JREF, and is generally an unhappy camper. This is his golden opportunity to take the JREF prize, and accept the glory due him, but I expect – based on my vast experience with these people, that Bill Perron will never accept a properly-designed test of his poorly-stated claim.
First of all, nowhere do we read in Perron’s application whether the subjects are required to know their geographical place of birth, nor the time of the day they were born, though those elements – we’re told by astrologers! – are of prime importance to casting a horoscope. Those factors would have to be addressed before we continue.
Next, understand that Perron does not claim to be an astrologer; so far as I can understand from his rambling description, he seems to think he’s making a claim about something he can do, as a paranormal or pseudoscientific feat, when it’s nothing more than his being able to run some computer software and printing out the results for someone to read and try to relate to. He’s only claiming that a commercially-available computer program – not his own skills as an astrologer – can generate a horoscope that gives details about a subject that the subject’s wife can and will judge to be accurately applicable. Now, if that’s his claim, we must accept it. We have to design and – upon his agreement – carry out a test of the abilities that the applicant specifically claims; we can’t invent new tasks or requirements for him, as many readers chose to suggest. At the same time, we can’t allow a claim that would obviously be fulfilled by default, which this one is. We have a proposed and acceptable protocol, up ahead.
Consider the problems with the suggested Perron claim: he could not fail to get a very high score on what he naively seems to think would be an appropriate test. Since horoscopes are generally flattering and general, a wife would be very likely to agree that a horoscope she knows is supposed to apply to her husband, is accurate. That procedure is totally unacceptable, since it’s plainly not “blinded,” as required. As we’ve shown in the past, a written horoscope can include many vague statements which would apply to most people. Examples, taken from one of the available horoscope programs: “You tend to give others the benefit of the doubt,” “There are times when you question your own decisions,” “Some people rub you the wrong way, though you try to understand them.” There are also statements that are generally positive or complimentary, which the subjects often choose to believe are true, even if they're not completely accurate. The result is that a standard horoscope can be produced, which most people will believe describes them with 90% or better accuracy.
No, if a test of Perron’s claim is to take place, an actual decision by the evaluator has to be made part of the protocol. Any sort of fuzzy opinion – given from a non-blinded text – cannot be accepted. We have concluded, considering the input from readers and from my past experience of such matters, that a truly double-blind test is required. To meet Perron’s requirements, we would find five couples, obtain the birthdates – and possibly the times and locations, if Perron needs them – of the husbands, and then have Perron’s software generate the horoscopes. With the further caveats expressed in the next paragraph in mind, we’d make five photocopies of each of the horoscopes, and distribute a set of five to each of the wives. Those individuals would be required to assign ranking to the set, giving a score of 5 to the horoscope they most believe applies to their husband, 4 to the next best “fit,” and so on.
And there are many other reasons to adjust Perron’s protocol, as well. The selected husbands would have to be of generally the same age, since their experience of the world would have to be similar; for example, if a statement should appear in the horoscope about a particular politician who is unknown to the husband – or the wife – that horoscope would surely not be ranked highly. Choosing subjects from a crowd at a shopping mall, as Perron prefers, provides an opportunity – by either party – to stack the deck by introducing “ringers.” Also, it would be necessary to remove “markers” in the presented horoscopes, clues such as references to the astrological sign and/or geographical data, any conjunctions of planets, or any physical astronomical data at all. No contact between Perron and the participants could be allowed, until the decisions have been made. Even meeting the participants could allow Perron to insert certain observed characteristics into a horoscope. No photos of the participants could be allowed to be seen, for the same reasons.
All we can – and should – test, is the ability of the wives to identify – among the set of five – the correct horoscope, ranking them as described above. Perron’s claim gives us an ideal opportunity to do this. Remember, we have to test what he’s claiming, we can’t tell him what he should be able to do, no matter how obvious it is that he should be able to. Some respondents invented all sorts of tasks for Perron, which we would not accept because they were outside of his basic claim, so far as we can understand it.
As for the general flavor of the suggested protocols we received, many correspondents dealt with the number of questions needed, what would constitute a hit, possibly inserting dummy dates and/or horoscopes, how to evaluate answers, etc. They missed the boat. Some said that due to the very vague nature of astrology it seems to be impossible in advance to measure any claim; the protocol outlined above gets around that problem, since the decision is given to the wives, as Perron requires. However, eight pages of dreary discussions of “aspects,” “houses,” and “signs” – which most of the computer-generated horoscopes are full of, is far too much data. Perron would have to reduce it to two pages, though that would be automatic, as soon as the frills and stuffing were to be removed. I assure you, the diagrams, philosophizing, rambling, and general “filler” in such documents, must be seen to be believed.
I have to thank the 100+ readers who sent in their suggestions for a protocol – though some seem to still not have gotten the specific instructions for such a submission, straight. Sigh. The above protocol incorporated several reader-suggested aspects, and I’m happy that readers were willing to occupy themselves with such a project. There’ll be more…
So, those are the observations of this writer, with ample assistance from SWIFT readers, and the proposed protocol, Mr. Perron. Will you agree to be tested under these terms? If not, you are of course free to suggest other ways that your ideas might be tested, and we invite further discussion.
Reader Jules Madey of Hillsdale, NY, saw the “HHO gas” claims we wrote about at www.randi.org/jr/2006-05/052606action.html#i3, and commented:
I was directed to your site a few days ago regarding the "water torch." I’m not sure what the patent office is up to these days, but I own an old Henes Water Welder made in the '60s which is a nice little electrolyzer-based oxy-hydrogen torch, great for jewelry work, making tiny thermocouples, etc. No great mystery there. Henes used to publish a photo ad showing a fine wire thermocouple being fused inside the tip of a filter tip cigarette without burning the paper. The torch tip was something like a #30 hypodermic syringe needle, so the flame diameter was very small and with careful control of gas pressure and good aim, you could concentrate all the heat in a very small region.
So what appears to be new from “inventor” Denny Klein, was already done back in 1966, by a Dr. William A. Rhodes and it received US patent #3,262,872…
But, it turns out that there was an Australian named Yull Brown who in 1973 "invented" what he called, “Brown's Gas” which is obtained by simply electrolyzing water and mixing together the two parts of hydrogen and one part of oxygen that are the result, rather than conducting the two gases to separate tanks for compression and storage, as is usually done. That is just what Klein is doing. No known difference exists between the many claimed varieties of this mixture, which is used in regular 2-tank oxy-hydrogen torches to attain very high temperatures. The already-mixed gas is also known by various trade names such as Aquygen, Di-Hydroxy, Green Gas, HHO gas (as we’ve seen), Hydroxy, Klein gas (named for Dennis Klein), and Watergas.
When I looked into this matter of Brown’s Gas and its many variations, I got trapped in such sites as KeelyNet (www.keelynet.com/), where the inventor Dr. Rhodes hangs out, and I find there such subjects as “free energy,” gravity control, “electronic health,” “alternative science,” etheric forces of nature, anti-gravity, Kirlian photography, theories that music can correct specific mental problems, and the Wonderful Keely Machine that I discussed at http://tinyurl.com/puxda and other places on SWIFT. That has to worry me, a lot…!
Following up on our mention of “inventor” Denny Klein, reader Arthur Maruyama sends us to another Google video – http://tinyurl.com/g9nth – which he says
…appears to be a promotional video for HHO gas. You should note that at the 1:30 mark of the video they have a drawing of a water molecule consisting of TWO oxygen atoms and ONE hydrogen atom. Apparently they interpret "aitch, two oh" as meaning this configuration. At the 5:20 mark the demonstrator claims that the torch with HHO gas has a burning temperature of about 260 degrees Fahrenheit and follows by a demonstration of this relatively low temperature by passing his hand through the flame, but before he continues – at the 5:25 mark – he seems to adjust the torch. Following the cutting/burning/heating demonstrations, at the 7:07 mark the demonstrator appears to make another adjustment to the torch off-screen before showing that the product from the torch is only water by placing the torch at an oblique angle to some board, having water drops collecting on the surface. I ask why that board isn't similarly cut/burned/heated like the other materials in the demonstration. I stopped watching at this point.
There’s much more here, Arthur. For example, the “representative” artist’s version of the water molecule, aside from having the proportions of the elements switched, also gives a bizarre idea of the representative sizes of each atom: oxygen would be huge in contrast to hydrogen – the simplest and smallest atom. At 1:07, the commentator remarks that HHO gas is “evolutionary,” when I’m sure she meant to say, “revolutionary,” since the intellectual level of the piece would preclude any acceptance of evolution as a viable picture of the world. At 5:50, the “inventor” refers to “subluminating” tungsten at 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit – a meaningless term, unless he meant, “subliming,” which tungsten does – implying that the torch flame automatically rises from 259°F to 10,000 – by some magic that’s not explained here. In any case, tungsten sublimates – passes directly from a solid to a gas – at 6,170°F – well before that point has been reached.
Our readers will doubtless find even more faults in this “news” item, aside from the fact that separating water into hydrogen and oxygen and then re-combining those two elements into water again by combustion, is an expensive project which simply doesn’t pay off, except on the basis of a small operation that uses a made-at-the-scene mixture that is immediately burned.
Again, why are we plagued by incompetent, ignorant, presumptuous, media people who offer the public worthless, trashy, promotions that might encourage investment in this sort of scheme? Hey, neither reader Arthur Maruyama nor I are geniuses – though I’m not sure about Arthur – but it doesn’t take a proverbial rocket scientist to see that those endorsing the HHO torch are misinformed, and in turn they are deceiving the public. Which reminds me…
Johnny Carson, in one of his letters to me, September 8, 2002, referred to Larry King and Montel Williams, who were blandly accepting the ridiculous claims of John Edward and thus deceiving their audiences by giving him huge TV exposure. Johnny gave me an illustrative quotation from Bacon that described what King and Williams were doing: “A credulous man is a deceiver,”
Perhaps we should have the full reference, from “The Advancement of Learning,” by Sir Francis Bacon, circa 1605:
This vice [the third disease of learning] therefore brancheth itself into two sorts; delight in deceiving and aptness to be deceived; imposture and credulity; which, although they appear to be of a diverse nature, the one seeming to proceed of cunning and the other of simplicity, yet certainly they do for the most part concur: for, as the verse noteth —
“Percontatorem fugito, nam garrulus idem est,”
an inquisitive man is a prattler; so upon the like reason a credulous man is a deceiver: as we see it in fame, that he that will easily believe rumours will as easily augment rumours and add somewhat to them of his own; which Tacitus wisely noteth, when he saith, Fingunt simul creduntque: so great an affinity hath fiction and belief.
Ben Killerby, whose site http://www.killerby.com.au/rituals_scams.htm pretty well explains his grounding in reason and rationality, shares with us this incomprehensible description of the “MagicFlavor Plug-in Magnetizing Dispenser for Red Wine and Brandy.” Folks, you just can’t invent such crapiola…
I need to explain to you a bit about how our newly-invented product works. The wines are made of grapes, the grape skin, seed and stems containing Tannin. Tannin is compounded with phenol or flavour. The wine is aged by oxidation of this compound which will be chemically combined one by one by oxidation to form a chain of molecules. The longer the chain is and the older the wine is. Our product is just a magnetizer. When a conductive fluid (in this case wine) passes through a magnetic field, an electrical charge is created. Our device is having a di-pole where the fluid will be cut through the magnetic field 90 degree with respect to the line of field. Once it is cut through the field, an ionization is induced on the molecules, hence each group of phenol will lose a hydrogen and have a (minus) charge. This effect will course [sic] the ionized groups of molecules to form a virtual chain which will be physically similar to the aged wine. The effect will only last for 15 days but it is enough time for drinking. You can call our product as [sic] "Age wine instantly using magnetic". You can take a young, callow, brash and uncouth bottle of cheap red wine or brandy, use our Plug-in Magnetizing Dispenser on it, and the result will allegedly [sic] be... well, not Grange, but distinctly better than it was.
Hey, folks, there’s hope for Thunderbird! Says Ben, quite correctly, “The tortured grammar of the text is nothing compared to the tortured chemistry that ‘explains’ the process.”
A brief run-down of the various major wine-enhancing scams that are currently being offered to the naïve:
• The Perfect Sommelier. You replace the cork with their top and place the bottle on the special stand. It sells for $50 to $60, depending on the variety of color and style of finish that you choose.
• Wine Cellar Express ages wine in 30 minutes or less. You place the wine bottle on a round coaster, and a “magnetic field” softens or reduces the wine's harsh tannins. It sells for around $45.
• The Wine Clip is a metallic-plastic device to clip around the wine bottle neck, and it retails for $35. Simply pouring the wine from the bottle ages and improves the wine, instantly. No waiting.
• The BevWizard is a neck-clip-plus-aerator that gets rid of those nasty “smaller tannins” that are “negatively charged particles.” The device “encourages” the tannins to “combine together.”
• The Wine Enhancer goes for $149. It's a large, heavy epoxy disc with colorful crystals and a coppery coil embedded inside. No deadly magnets here, only semi-precious gems and minerals.
I’m astonished that none of these devices have snapped up the JREF’s million-dollar prize. The reason that such flummeries are eligible for the prize, is that if any of the claims were true, they would – by definition – be paranormal. Or magical…
But that last item listed, the Wine Enhancer, figures here just a little more. Recently, I was sent a lengthy set of communications between the manufacturer/peddlers of some of the major magical wine-enhancer devices, and skeptics who questioned their claims. Feeling that the JREF challenge should be made evident somewhere, I sent this note to all concerned:
After reading all this heated exchange, I thought I’d simply repeat the long-standing challenge of the James Randi Educational Foundation: we will pay US$1,000,000 to anyone who can tell the difference between wine that has been treated with ANY of the so-called “Wine Magnet” devices, and the same wine not so treated. It should take less that a day [sic] to perform a comprehensive set of tests, and the potential payoff is a million dollars – plus my personal, abject, apologies for having doubted the applicants. Please spare me the usual assortment of excuses and alibis; the prize money is available for immediate payout in the form of negotiable bonds, those involved in the testing would be independent experts chosen by the applicants, and all procedures would be covered in detail by media recording.
My expectation is that none of the endorsers of any of the “enhancing” systems will accept this attractive offer, but will choose to continue to avoid any proper testing of their claims, and will thereby sacrifice their golden opportunity to win this substantial prize, and to show the skeptics to be fools…
Well, we received an hilarious response from Robert V. Catania, president of Catania Wine Enhancer Inc., who claims that his “colorful” invention works on “orgone energy,” which I thought we’d left behind with the decease of Wilhelm Reich in 1957. Catania has been a very active voice in supporting the flummery, while at the same time emphatically declining to take the million-dollar prize for a mere few hours of demonstrating how well his “invention” works. When I received his excited e-mail, I thought I might be hearing a reversal, his acceptance of the JREF challenge:
I am not sure how to take this completely silly email. What is your real incentive in this? As an experienced business man I know that there are no free rides in life and wonder why you have such an issue with the whole wine enhancer concept. Does this scare you in some way or potentially effect you financially? Hummmm!
Bob, my “incentive” that you’ve asked about, is to expose flummery, whether it be in the wine business or in the talking-to-dead-people racket. As for my being scared, I invite you to scare me – a million dollars worth – by accepting the JREF challenge. Come on, Bob! Scare me! Hummmm!
Folks, my message to Bob is described by him as, “completely silly.” Perhaps I’d better insert here his basic claim, so readers can decide just who sounds “silly.” Says Catania:
Not only does [the magic epoxy disk] soften tannins and open up young wines, but it eliminates red wine headaches! [It also] avoids the magnetism and harmful electrical currents [as used by “magnet” devices. It uses] natural sustainable energy [brought about by] a perfect combination of 11 carefully selected semi-precious gems and minerals... a unique combination of technologies, tapping into natural energy sources that exists [sic] within our atmosphere (as discovered and well researched by Nicola Tesla and Wilhelm Reich). The enhancer collects, amplifies and then broadcasts these life supporting energies in perfect coherence.
So his device doesn’t need batteries because it uses “natural energy sources” in the atmosphere? Do we have to await a thunderstorm in order to create better wine? I ask you, folks, now who sounds sillier? But there’s more to come. Just look at these illustrations of Bob’s disk in use. You just set the bottle of wine down on the epoxy casting containing bits of colored stone and a coil of wire (not connected to anything!) and the magical influence changes it into an aged and better-tasting wine! If you’re even more naïve, just get a smaller version – also shown here – equipped with a rubber suction cup so it’ll stick on the side of the bottle! I’m sure both versions are equally effective for the advertised purpose…
Now who’s being “silly”…? Bob continues:
I wonder if you have thought about who will design the tasting and who how [sic] any of us could expect you with such an obvious derogatory attitude to be trusted to do it correctly and actually pay up. Seems like a no win situation for the wine enhancer people. How many challenges have you paid so far?
Oh, we’ve got that all arranged, Bob, since – as you would know if you’d read our rules of operation – any test would be done using your experts, or you yourself, if you wish. And even your design, so long as it’s double-blind, of course. To ease your anxiety, I’d not even be present during tests, to get around any “bad vibes” I might put out… As for paying up, that’s also covered in our rules; we’re firmly committed to pay up, an obligation that is legally binding and final. Bob, where’s your commitment? I’ve looked for it, and not found it. As for my “derogatory attitude,” that can have nothing to do with the testing process, again as stated by our rules. Please, Bob, have someone read and explain the rules to you, so that you’ll avoid looking like such a dunce.
As for the number of challenges paid, to use your term, the answer is, zero. Why? Because the fatuous, smug, claims of those who apply for the prize, are worthless; but at least they try, under agreed-to conditions, though they always fail. I invite you to join that number, Bob. What say? Obviously, you won’t, because you know that your “invention” is a scam. Prove me wrong, and make a million. Bob? Bob? You out there?
I already have many well respected testimonials of professional wine people including the Wine Spectator Magazine. Are you more qualified wine journalist then [sic] Marvin Shanken and 7 of his professional tasters??? I think not. Go back to chasing the psychic network people that will get you the proper attention that you seem to feed on.
Ah! Now we’re getting down to pay dirt! I hereby officially invite anyone from Wine Spectator Magazine and/or Marvin and his seven professional wine tasters to be the officials to judge the difference between treated and untreated wine samples, under their conditions, using their wine, taking as much time as needed, under whatever circumstances – humidity, temperature, size or shape of glass, atmospheric pressure, orientation at the table, number of sips, kind of music – that they require. Will I hear from Wine Spectator and/or Marvin and his “experts”? Of course not!
Bob, you express the opinion, above, that I consider myself a “more qualified wine journalist then [sic] Marvin Shanken” and these renowned wine connoisseurs. Wrong, Bob. I don’t think I could tell the difference between a last-October Thunderbird and a Chateau Mouton Rothschild – though I was once privileged to sip a glass of the latter among my science-fiction-author friends at the Del Rey mansion in Red Bank, New Jersey, on the occasion of the lunar landing in 1969. I admit that my memory of that experience has faded… No, Bob, I have no qualifications in oenology, at all. That’s why I would welcome any of these experts, or don’t you understand yet?
The fact that you assume no proper testing has been done just confirms your arrogance. I just last week had 4 wine makers tasting wine off my enhancer in Nantucket and they all acknowledged a tannin softening. You know better then [sic] wine makers though I am sure and all medical information [?] as well.
Oh, I’ll accept that your “experts” were appropriately sycophantic, Bob, perhaps just to keep you away, but I invite them to join the others as judges. Why not? I’m going all the way to make you secure in your consideration of applying for the easy million dollars, Bob! And just think of how fast my arrogance would be cured as soon as The Wine Enhancer passes the simple test, and you pocket the million! I’m all a-shudder!
What is the James Randi Educational Foundation anyways, but an out of balance skeptic perspective? If you find us out of balance with expressing what you consider the unknown then please look in the mirror at how exaggerated you are to opposite extreme. [?] Your work is a bit one sided maybe?
Maybe so, but you now have an ideal opportunity to prove my recalcitrance, and embarrass me, as well as make an easy million, Bob! PROVE ME WRONG and win a million dollars! Bob? You there, Bob? Hello…?
I have nothing to prove to you and could care less about your ridiculous disguised challenge and foundation. I wonder how you will handle it all when you have to look back at it all some day when your time has come.
Oh. Turned down again… Gee, Bob, I wish I could take this refusal harder, but I’ve been refused by Nobel laureates, major corporations, rich inventors, and all sorts of academics; a Little Old Wine Device Maker from Massachusetts doesn’t stack up against them. But you guys all share one outstanding feature: you don’t have the courage to put your stupid claims to the test.
Bob closed with:
I wish you well in your future challenges James!
No you don’t, Bob. You fear me and the JREF challenge, and you want us to go away. We’ll hold onto that with some satisfaction…
And, amazingly, we haven’t heard a peep from the Perfect Sommelier, the Wine Cellar Express, the Wine Clip, or the BevWizard, either! Strange…
Our friend in Denmark, Mogens Winther, gives us a recent update on the ominous prophecy that was offered by French citizen Eric Julien for May 25th – a date which you’ll note passed without event. Julien is now, as fully expected, floundering about, snatching at any possible substitute for tsunamis devastating coastal countries, as he had confidently prophesized. He’d said, just a few hours before the dreaded date and time arrived:
According to informed sources, contacts in the American intelligence services confirm the existence of a time window of 48 hours, centered on May 25th at midnight GMT, for the impact [of] a comet fragment south of the Azores. This corroborates information of an evacuation exercise of the U.S. Congress to occur later in the day of May 25th, information which reached us this morning. As a measure of precaution, I suggest the authorities do the utmost to protect the populations of the Atlantic coastlines.
Though there was a brief evacuation exercise at the Congress due to the sound of gunfire - not a tidal wave - there was no such “time window” from any American source. This was all fiction, and no surprise. Julien’s latest, post-25th pronouncement:
Many people undoubtedly think that the announced event has fizzled and may be readjusting their outlook on life and returning their lives to normal.
Um, yes, Mr. Julien, that’s exactly what everyone’s thinking and doing – those who were naïve enough to pay any heed at all to your notion, in the first place. Your hare-brained idea was wrong, you were wrong, and The End didn’t arrive… C’est dommage, n’est-ce-pas? But I assure you that there will be a huge number of people out there who will easily adjust – as you will – to this manifest blunder, and will continue to hang on to your every word.
Mais le monde tourne bien sans toi…
Another stop-the-press item: Julien is now claiming that his dire warning actually saved lots of lives by alerting people – to a disaster that never occurred – and that the “vibes” sent out by all those folks scurrying for high ground brought about forces that kept the comet together. Why are we not at all surprised by this fatuous notion…?
Allison DuBois prefers to be known as a “medium” and a “profiler,” since the word “psychic” has been so batted about recently. She has a new book out, “We Are Their Heaven: Why the Dead Never Leave Us,” in which she recounts communications she says she’s received from disembodied spirits – ghosts – over the years. It’s all gushingly good news, it seems. She describes heaven as “a flawless place,” where children run “through perfect blades of brilliant emerald grass” and old men are fishing “with the puppy that died when they were small.” Seventy-year-old couples, she says, look like they were when they were first married, and “It's all that and more.” How could we stand any more? What a sappy, inane, syrupy amusement theme park to be stuck in! And for eternity, yet!
At www.allisondubois.com/news.html you’ll find that Allison has had a falling-out with Dr. Gary Schwartz, the super-naïve “researcher” at the University of Arizona. See www.randi.org/jr/05-04-2001.html, among many other references in SWIFT. I never thought that any “psychic” would ever be in any way criticized by Schwartz, but it seems this has happened…! Or perhaps Schwartz’s book just didn’t fulfill Ms. Dubois’ strict ego requirements…
Go to www.randi.org/jr/121704no.html#5 and scroll down to where the DuBois/Schwartz photo used to be. Read the contents of the box, then click as instructed. You’ll see that Gary Schwartz has now been deleted from Allison’s empire…! It’s just like excommunication. I’d predicted that would happen, and now I predict that she’ll delete the Schwartz disagreement item, as well. (That means she won’t, because she doesn’t want me to be right again…!)
Allison, girl, get over yourself!
A May 25, 2006, program on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered" was titled, "The Trucker's War: On the Road in Iraq" and it referenced that tired old canard "There are no atheists in foxholes." Essentially, this says that when real danger threatens, everyone chooses to believe in mythology as insurance. This kind of thinking was perhaps originally inspired by what’s known as “Pascal’s Wager,” in which philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) argued that it is always a better – safer – "bet" to believe in a God, because the expected value to be gained from believing in a God is always greater than the expected value resulting from non-belief. Pascal reasoned, assuming the usual jealous, vengeful, capricious, insecure, angry, God of the Christians:
If you believe in God, and if God exists, you go to “heaven”: your gain is infinite.
If you believe in God, and if God doesn't exist, you lose nothing.
If you don’t believe in God, and if God doesn't exist, you lose nothing.
If you don’t believe in God, and if God exists, you go to “hell”: your loss is infinite.
So, it appears that it’s a much better bet to believe in God, which, though Pascal didn’t go into it, requires that you give the money, say the prayers, believe the stories, accept the limitations on your free will, subjugate yourself, and mumble “Hallelujah!” at every opportunity – among other indignities. No, Blaise, I’ll walk upright, with my eyes open – maybe right into Hell, but I don’t think so.
Strangely, the fatuous remark by NPR reporter John Burnett we find absent from the transcript posted on the NPR web site! American Atheists, Inc., a nationwide movement that defends civil rights for Atheists, works for the total separation of church and state, and addresses issues of First Amendment public policy, has asked the network to officially retract the statement, and to clarify why it mysteriously does not appear on the NPR Internet transcript.
The segment in question profiled the risks that private contractors face transporting supplies to U.S. military bases in the Iraqi war zone. It included brief sound-bytes by truckers. The NPR reporter commented, "To amend the old saying about foxholes, there are no atheists driving trucks in Iraq." Burnett apparently has tapped into divine sources to determine that the hundreds of truckers working in Iraq are all religious. This data is not generally available to everyone.
Dave Silverman, Communications Director for American Atheists, had the defining question for NPR:
Imagine if someone said that there are no blacks or Jews or members of some other group in foxholes. Members of many different groups have proudly answered the call in times of crisis and served our nation's military or worked in life-threatening situations.
He could have added that there have been an expected proportion of atheists represented in military graveyards and on casualty lists.
Readers may wish to go to an “alert” link to the NPR web site and hear the audio version, at www.atheists.org/action/alert-30-may-2006.html.
Reader Zack Kleinfeld, regarding the mention last week at www.randi.org/jr/2006-06/060206nothing.html#i3:
Regarding the "one-in-five" rumor: I work as an office clerk at an intellectual property law firm in the summers, and I assure you, the rumor is patently false. From what I've seen, and as a matter of law, every single application is examined. It may be that 20% are not objected to (I don't know if this statistic is correct), but I doubt the reason is so nefarious. More likely is that 20% of patents are well written, novel, and non-obvious to the satisfaction of the examiner when they are received.
Next week, I’ll have another piece on the USPTO – an apparently endless source of stories – that just might support my criticisms. Did you know that the practice of putting rechargeable batteries into a portable device like a flashlight or a radio, was patented just last year…?
Next week, we’ll tell you about a giant leap forward in Australia, more “official” dowsing in the UK, and Unidentified Regular Objects – UROs.
The persistent Richard Saunders, in Australia, provided links to two videos, and readers have been looking in on them rather fiercely. The “James Randi in Australia” film, online since May 20th at http://tinyurl.com/z9nln, has been viewed some 7,700 times and downloaded more than 650 times. My talk at the Australian 2000 Skeptics World Convention, online at http://tinyurl.com/gq7s9 since May 23rd, has had 4100+ viewings, and 350+ downloads!
That’s VERY satisfying, Richard. Thanks! And thank you, all who showed an interest!
And this is your last chance to sign up for our upcoming cruise: The Amaz!ng Adventure: Escape from the Bermuda Triangle. Please don't miss this opportunity to join Michael Shermer, Banachek, Hal Bidlack, and myself as we seach the waters of the Caribbean for a glimmer of truth... The Amaz!ng Adventure .