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Those of us who have been following the “psychic” bandwagon for a long time will remember Peter Hurkos (Pieter Van der Hurk, 1911-1988) a house painter who fell off his ladder and decided that he’d become a psychic. For decades he fooled the media and the naïve into accepting that he could solve crimes and he was a popular subject for woo-woo articles.
Well, 45 years ago a pair of young men from the Madison, Wisconsin, area vanished without a trace on a late-winter night. Two years later, police brought in Hurkos as a consultant, and he led them to Lake Monona. He said the men and their car were in the lake, but a search brought up nothing. As always happens when a “psychic” fails, it was all forgotten and Hurkos went right back to making bad guesses for other paying customers.
Cut to the present, when a gray 1950 Ford coupe is found in another lake, Waubesa. It’s identified as the auto belonging to one of the two missing men. The case is now solved.
See randi.org/jr/06-14-2000.html and several other places for more on Hurkos.
Several readers noticed that the homeopathic Head On product I pictured here last week was labeled “Extra Strength.” Since in homeopathy, the more a substance is diluted, the more potent it is, they’re asking, “Does that mean it’s got half the content?”
The Extra-Strength waxy stick was at 12X and 6X “dilutions,” so the “regular” would probably be at 11X and 5X, which in the wacky world of homeopathy means ten times the amount of “active” ingredients, or half the medicinal strength. Yes – before I get a raft of letters asking the question – if a patient were to apply no Head On at all, logic tells us that he/she could well die from an overdose…
The mind boggles…
Reader Myrion Rivera in Colorado Springs, Colorado, reports that he managed to get through by phone to a radio show done by Alan and Margaret McElroy – formerly Birkin. These two weirdos say that they “channel” a spirit named Maitreya – see www.randi.org/jr/04-27-2001.html for a previous reference to this ghost. They’ve opened the Seattle Institute of Metaphysics www.seattleiom.org where they offer services and courses in astrology, past life reading, aura-soma, numerology, reiki, and tarot. They do the radio show from Seattle, on Contact Talk Radio, KKNW.
Myrion – using the name “Lionel” – got to pose the dreaded “Why-don’t-you-take-the-JREF-prize?” question, which as you’ll see up ahead, was vigorously evaded and misrepresented by the McElroys. In the following transcript excerpt of their July 10th broadcast, you see just how flustered and obfuscatory they were, flailing about to avoid facing the question and eventually changing the subject. The “Michael” referred to later in the segment we’ve transcribed here, is a listener in the UK. Margaret reads the e-mail from Myrion:
Margaret: [quoting the caller “Lionel”] “Margaret, I was on your forum and someone proposed that you take Randi’s million dollars, and that you could ‘channel’ for him. Can you comment on that on your show?” We should keep that question for tomorrow, for Maitreya. You know, people like that, Lionel, I’ll tell you, people like that, it doesn’t matter what you do, you could, you could provide the most incredible proof for him but he would not accept it. You know…
Alan: (interrupts) It’s not, you know, in answering that, it’s not about playing games, because I’ll tell you right, right now, if, if, if it was really worth it to Maitreya to come in and just basically tell him things that would take him to tears, which he could, he could easily do it. No, he could do it, Maitreya could do it, because I, I, I, I’ve been in his presence when things are said that there’s no way that, that, what he’s telling you, any one would ever been able to know, but it’s, it’s, not about grandstanding and…
M: (interrupts) And it’s not just about justifying yourself, either. I know what I do, and I can stand in front of God tonight, and I know that I am channeling. I know that I am helping people, I know I am not pulling the wool over people’s eyes. I do not have to justify myself, and I will not justify myself…
A: (interrupts) And when the teacher is ready, the student will come. This gentleman, I don’t even know who he is…
M: (interrupts) Oh, Randi? Listen, I’ll tell you something…
A: (interrupts) Well, I don’t even really need to know, but the point is, this gentleman is so in fear consciousness that, you know, if that’s where he wants to be, that’s fine.
M: Hey, there was a woman, actually, in Australia, an, an English woman, and Michael will recognize this woman, Doris Stokes, and Doris Stokes, she’s been passed over since 1982, I think, ‘83, but anyway, um, eh, Doris Stokes actually challenged him, and he backed off and then, on, on Australian television, he rubbished her down to the audience and I’ll tell you what, Don Lane, who was one of the – there was Don Lane and Bert Newton, they had a show of an evening – and, he, he told Randi to get off, he says get out, he told him to “f” off, he did, on television, you can’t, he couldn’t, I mean, it was, like, and oh there was a big ta-dah about it, and everything else, but you know, the thing is that, that’s, that’s…
A: (interrupts) It’s a betrayal of Maitreya’s teachings, it’s just a waste of energy, anyway, I mean…
M: (interrupts) Someone suggested I have a laughter workshop [laughs] I want to go to a laughter workshop some day, Michael says, oh my God…
A: (interrupts) That’s about it. Well, to tell you the truth, Michael, if we all really looked at it from the Maitreya teachings point of view, it wouldn’t be very hard to sit around and laugh at all our, our wastes of energy, if you will.
M: The announcer just said to me, the announcer just said to me, you know, that would be a good idea, to have a laughter workshop and have a laughter at, have a laugh at how stupid we are. …
A: I like the word “silly,” at how silly we are…
No, Alan, “stupid” covers it nicely, I think. You’re silly as well, but “stupid” applies.
I’m told that Margaret and Alan went on more at some length about how unfair and unreasonable the JREF challenge is, a comment that we expect from such folks when it’s been suggested that they might meet the challenge and take away the million dollars. But consider: they have a crowd of suckers, a soap-box from which to preach, and a sure thing that will keep the money pouring in. They know they dare not apply for the million, because that would require them to produce results – which they can’t. The only recourse they have is to ignore the challenge.
As for my attempted confrontation with Doris Stokes in Australia, she not only specifically had me banned from her public meetings when I offered to attend and challenge her, but she also declined to appear on the Lane program with me, after an invitation from myself and from Lane to do so. Stokes didn’t challenge me, I challenged her, and she’s the one who “backed off,” not I. Also, she died in 1987, not ’82 or ’83. It seems that dear Margaret has memory lapses, or she simply lies. As for Lane’s “f” comment, take a peek at the video at http://tinyurl.com/p2lfe and you’ll see further evidence of Margaret’s inability to speak sooth…
Re the Lane confrontation, I’d agreed to appear on his show with the provision that I would not be required to do any of the sappy spoon-and-key-bending tricks of Geller; I’d been doing them for months, and I wanted to confront Stokes, rather than spend time on Geller; I expected to meet her on the show. When Lane and I met at a pre-broadcast conference, he agreed to this arrangement, and assured me that Stokes would be there. When I arrived at the studio later, I learned that Stokes had backed out. I was approached by the stage manager, who showed me an array of spoons and keys that Lane had ordered to be available. He asked me if these were suitable for the show. I was thus – accidentally – tipped off to Lane’s trap, and I was ready for him. Lane confidently challenged me to bend a key. I did, and he was enraged. The resulting temper tantrum made lots of news in Australia.
I’ll add that Lane accused me on that program of calling both Uri Geller and Doris Stokes frauds and liars, which I hadn’t. He was so enraged, as you’ll see, that he swept the introduced props off the table as he stalked away. I think at least some of his anger was at Stokes for not showing up when she’d agreed to.
The next day, as I made my way back from Melbourne to Sydney, people on the aircraft and on the street approached me to apologize for the bad manners of Don Lane. They were embarrassed, and reminded me that he was “a Yank” – which seemed to absolve them of responsibility.
Reader Ian Morris brings us greetings once again from New Zealand, with his report on an action against a silly product sold there:
The outcome of a recent court case here is encouraging.
Judge Lindsay Moore imposed NZ$792,500 [US$491,000] in fines and costs on Zenith Corporation, marketers of Body Enhancer "a revolutionary product that assists the body to build lean muscle and burn fat deposits."
On their website Zenith claim that their Body Enhancer liquid can – among other things – assist with "managing the appetite," "weight management through support for the body's muscle tone," "increased vitality," "support for the body's natural levels of collagen," and "support for the body's cleansing process."
Zenith also says that "no-one should expect to see results in 6-7 weeks" and "we advocate a 3-6 month programme." Fancy that! If it doesn't work straight away, keep taking it – at NZ$95 [US$59] per month!
Judge Moore said that Body Enhancer had been proved beyond reasonable doubt not to be suitable for any of the benefits alleged. He said that Zenith directors Winston and Sylvia Gallot had never believed the product worked and were focused solely on making money. He said,
Far from being relative innocents they were considerably shrewder, tougher and more determined than those with whom they dealt. They saw, seized on and exploited an opportunity to make very large profits.
Zenith sold between NZ$7 million and NZ$9 million of Body Enhancer between March 2000 and December 2002, resulting in a ballpark gross profit of about five million NZ$ [US$3.1 million].
The nub of all this was also summed up by the judge when he said:
[Obese people] are driven to quackery in the hope of easy success. They may even be aware that they are being gulled but, nevertheless, try the latest remedy in the wishful hope that it will succeed.
I note that Zenith still advertises 100% success experienced by users of their product – a claim that’s rather hard to believe, and should have warned potential consumers. Kudos to Judge Lyndsay Moore!
Reader Will Stevens, referring to an item here last week on SWIFT that dealt with the abysmal failure of “psychic” Adelle Dishcombe – www.randi.org/jr/2006-07/072806academic.html#i2 – poses one of the eternal questions that have to pop up when we examine the basic mind-set of those who we deal with daily at the JREF. It’s what the flim-flam profession calls, the “open-or-closed” question – whether any operator is “open” – knowingly fraudulent, or “closed” – personally deluded concerning their own powers. Mr. Stevens asks the pregnant question:
What exactly is going on in the minds of people who claim to have paranormal powers?
Did Adelle Dishcombe really believe that she had located the body? If so, then the fact that she was proved wrong must, surely, have been devastating for her. It should be enough to make her reconsider the whole question of her claimed psychic abilities, especially since she didn't fail in an emotionally neutral laboratory experiment; instead she built up and then dashed the hopes of a bereaved family. Yet, when interviewed, she seemed completely unperturbed.
Randi comments: Mr. Stevens, we of course cannot answer your question about whether Dishcombe really believed – or has ever believed – the drivel she hands out to the desperate. Personally, I doubt she does, but it’s not at all inconceivable that she has so little rationality that she could really believe, in spite of this dramatic failure, that she was receiving psychic impressions. Remember the rule here: no amount of contrary evidence will ever un-convince the true believer. The fact that she was quite unaffected by the outcome of the adventure, can be attributed either to a calculated deception, or to ignorance. And don’t assume that the Martin family’s hopes are dashed; true believers can maintain and nourish delusions that we would dismiss after the evidence had spoken to us. They often cannot manage to abandon their hopes, no matter how flimsy or tenuous.
Mr. Stevens continues:
Alternatively, was she, all along, cynically and consciously fraudulent, simply inventing the details? If so, why did she set herself up for a catastrophic failure? Looking, after the event, at the recording, it's clear that she could easily have given herself an escape route, or, at least, some room in which to wriggle. But no: she made a set of unambiguous predictions which turned out to be utterly incorrect. Putting it crudely, she took her trousers down in public, and handed the stick to skeptics like you (and me). She might be a self-publicist, but is any self-publicist going to behave with such a reckless disregard for the consequences?
The answer: yes. Think of these two possibilities, Mr. Stevens: first, if Adelle failed – as she plainly did in this case – the public and Mr. Martin will soon forget. Consider the televangelist Peter Popoff, to whom I will refer again, up ahead. Despite a nationwide, definitive, devastating, exposé we did of his scam on a major US television show, an event that was picked up and featured by all the media, he was soon back in business again, and is still working his racket and raking in the money! These are unsinkable rubber ducks!
As for the possible second scenario: Adelle might have been right on any one of her many guesses about the body of the missing person being in the area, in which case the media would have gone berserk and she would have become a media darling, a celebrity and a star. Look at what happened when the US media chose to accept the spurious claims of “psychic” Jeane Dixon, that she had predicted John F. Kennedy’s assassination. She sprang to national attention, and rode that horse until it died of overexposure. And, in the Dishcombe matter, if the sought-after body had emerged – or if any body or even a suggestion of a body, had been found! – or if even a scrap of cloth had been unearthed by the feverish diggers, that fact would have been re-worked by Adelle and by the media, and made to fit the situation, as the flimsy Kennedy connection was used in the Dixon matter. And remember, the chances of the Dishcombe diggers finding a discarded corpse or a fascinating artifact in such a place, is perhaps not zero…
Mr. Stevens continues:
So it seems to me that neither explanation is convincing. All I can suppose is that, for people like Adelle Dishcombe, the distinction between “true' and “not true” is blurry and can be manipulated to suit the circumstances. In connection with this, I'm sure that the word “faith” is often used to blur the distinction. It's a chameleon word, of course, and can be used in several different ways, but it seems to me that it's often used to suggest that blurring the distinction between “true” and “not true” is not a vice, but a positive virtue.
I agree. Mr. Stevens, as I frequently do with my readers, I direct your attention to the writings of Richard Dawkins. In “Viruses of the Mind,” a 1991 essay of his which is included in his most excellent 2003 book, “A Devil’s Chaplain,” under the heading “The Infected Mind,” he addresses this observation. Referring to what he dubs the “faith-sufferer,” and thus a “patient,” he says:
Patients typically make a positive virtue of faith's being strong and unshakable, in spite of not being based upon evidence. Indeed, they may feel that the less evidence there is, the more virtuous the belief…
I think that this incredible phenomenon of blind, unreasoning, “Alfred E. Neuman” belief, must be personally experienced to be fully accepted as a genuine affliction. Here’s only one instance of its manifestation in my own investigations: it occurred back in 1987 when a CBS-TV video crew accompanied me to a “healing” meeting conducted in New York City by the infamous televangelist Peter Popoff, who was declaring individuals healed after he confronted them. I urged the CBS interviewers to keep track of some of those who had apparently been healed by Popoff, and to speak to them before they left the gathering. They approached one elderly woman who met that description and had been “slain in the spirit” – willingly pushed over as if by supernatural force – and she agreed to speak with us.
No, she admitted, her expected and promised recovery had not taken place. Also, she told us, Popoff had gotten some important details wrong when “divining” facts about her. When, accompanied by enthusiastic “hallelujahs,” she’d been commanded to walk across the stage without her supporting walker, she’d already known she could do that, but it had been looked upon as a miracle by the audience. In short, nothing at all had happened to her other than the use of her presence on stage in a farce that she fully recognized as such. When the interviewer asked her if this had diminished her faith at all, she smiled, looked down, and shook her head. “No, no,” she said softly, “Reverend Popoff is a man of God. I still believe.” She paused, then as she turned and walked away hunched over her walker, she repeated, “I still believe” – a confirmed “faith-sufferer.”
Mr. Stevens concludes:
Of course, I recognize that not all those who claim paranormal powers are like this. I fully understand, and sympathize with, your detestation of those who cynically employ conjuring tricks and then pretend to have produced their results by paranormal means. But, in this case at least, Adelle Dishcombe was not like this, which makes her, I think, psychologically interesting. If we really understood what made her tick, then wouldn't it greatly aid the rationalist cause?
Some things, Will, are beyond understanding. We can only conjecture…
An added note: coincidentally, reader Matthew Funke sent me the following, which also points up this strange belief-in-spite-of-no-evidence mentality:
Note what I found, much to my dismay: a $25 million facility being erected in Kentucky to teach "creation science." See it at http://tinyurl.com/o9hk7.
Matthew then asked some basic questions:
If the Earth were really created fully and instantaneously, wouldn't we be able to tell that without ignoring large chunks of actual data? Instead, we find all sorts of different metrics that all agree with one another to support the ideas that the Earth is really, honestly, truly billions of years old. Of course, we can see why these folk come to the conclusion they do based on a quote on the site by Ken Ham:
If the Bible is the word of God, and its history really is true, that's our presupposition and axiom, and we are starting there.
Anything that doesn't agree with their particular narrow interpretation is, naturally, discarded.
And the thing of it is that one can take the Bible literally and still believe in an old Earth. Young-Earthism seems consumed with the idea that any other interpretation of Genesis 1 is dangerous and compromised – never mind that its very stance is based on genealogies with provable gaps and presents problems with interpreting other portions of their Holy Writ.
If you really want to believe in a young Earth, I guess there's some measure of nobility in being able to cling to some tenet of faith even when fact itself contradicts you.
Randi comments: substitute “a positive virtue” for “some measure of nobility” in that sentence and you’ll see that the Dawkins quotation is reflected here… Matthew continues:
Just be honest about certain things:
1. Your interpretation is not the only "correct" one, or even the only literal one. There are others that fit the facts much better.
2. There are mountains of scientific evidence that indicate that you're barking up the wrong tree.
3. You may well be setting up people who are currently Christians for a major crisis of faith when they learn enough facts to see the gaping holes in your "theory."
4. You may be inhibiting your attempts to proselytize among groups who already know enough to reject the notion at face value.
5. Your God is a duplicitous one; why would He make a Universe that, to every scientific test, consistently appears to be the same old age when it is really quite young?
Just don't pretend that science is really on your side in the matter, okay? And for the love of God – and I mean that reverently – don't call anything you propound, "science."
Well said, Matthew! See “Bidlack in Action” up ahead for yet another example of this “open vs closed” discussion.
Reader Stephen Davies, who refers to himself as, “A Bright in training,” informs us:
I thought the following might interest you. This is from a satirical magazine in the UK called “Private Eye.” The magazine highlights news that most daily newspapers do not cover in depth and I thought this would be interesting:
This year’s drought has brought the threat of serious water shortages on the island of Jersey much closer.
In response to the crisis, Jersey’s environment minister, Senator Freddie Cohen, has drafted legislation to restrict the extraction of groundwater and introduce metering of domestic supplies. Alas Senator Cohen’s law has been vetoed by his colleagues in the States (parliament) because they have chosen to believe the word of a water diviner rather than that of geologists.
In the 1980s the States commissioned the British Geological Survey [BGS], at a cost of tens of thousands of pounds, to carry out an exhaustive study of the island’s water resources. Much of the island’s groundwater, it found, is polluted with nitrates and pesticides. The local geology (predominantly granite and shale) means that water is very scarce more than a few meters below the surface. Alarm was calmed, however, by local diviner George Langlois. Armed only with a forked twig, he proclaimed that Jersey did not have a water crisis at all. The island’s water, he insisted, originates from France. It is, er, pulled by the moons gravity via wide streams which run beneath the English Channel.
Randi comments: This is the most pervasive of the delusions that dowsers have and promote endlessly, that there exist vast rivers of fresh water that run deep in the ground and can be easily tapped. There are large reservoirs of water there to be accessed, it’s true, but they are certainly not “flowing”; they’re pretty well stationary. They’re often under some pressure due to the mass of impermeable material lying over them, thus when tapped into by drilling, the contents emerge vigorously and an “artesian well” has been established. The notion of an actual underground river connecting the 20-mile gap between the mainland of France and the island of Jersey, is simply ridiculous.
To use the technical argot, that is what geologists call “complete and utter bollocks.” However, senators chose to believe the soothing assurances of the man with the twitching stuck – and they did nothing.
Meanwhile groundwater levels continued to fall. In some low-lying areas it is tainted by seawater, a sure sign of over-extraction. This year’s drought concentrated a few minds and led to Senator Cohen’ proposed water restrictions.
Re-enter Langlois who, fresh from announcing the presence of large oil reserves under the island – another geological impossibility – again assured the States that Jersey’s water supplies were inexhaustible. It takes just a day for water to travel from France to Jersey, he said. The BGS on the other hand estimates that the water currently being consumed with merry abandon arrived in the form of rainfall 57,000 years ago. So many States members believe the water diviner’s mumbo-jumbo, that Senator Cohen has had to withdraw his law. To break the impasse he has proposed setting up a test at the taxpayer’s expense. Langlois will use his divining “powers” to pinpoint the location of two of the “underground streams from France.” The States will then spend thousands of pounds sinking two boreholes. Any water found will be chemically tested to see whether it originates from France or from Jersey.
Senator Cohen hopes the results will finally convince his colleagues of the need for water conservation. Alas, while there may not be much water on Jersey, the wells of ignorance are very deep.
Stephen e-mailed Senator Cohen the following:
I read with interest recently an article in the Rotten Boroughs section of Private Eye (issue 1163) about the struggle you are having with claims by a diviner named George Langlois that Jersey has an inexhaustible water supply from France.
I wonder whether you are aware of the $1,000,000 dollar challenge proposed by James Randi at the James Randi Educational Foundation? Details can be found here: tinyurl.com/2caos. The JREF has a standing offer to pay such a prize to any diviner or dowser who can pass a test showing an ability to detect substances with only the power of their mind, and or a stick.
I write to you in the hopes that this offer might be used by yourself to help convince your colleagues that this diviner is talking utter rubbish and is only putting off the inevitable measures that you have suggested. I fear however it will not.
I need hardly add at this point that the JREF stands prepared to initiate a simple test of the dowsing abilities of Mr. Langlois, a test of his own design, matching the parameters he chooses, at a time and place of his choosing. We have very competent and willing volunteers who will leap into action at the request of Mr. Langlois, any and all media persons are invited to attend as witnesses, and our channels of communication are open 24 hours a day to accommodate anyone interested in participating.
That silence you hear from Mr. Langlois is likely to continue. It is the defense-of-choice that superstition has over reason.
Perhaps we should offer here a few words to explain the strange attitude that dowsers have regarding their presumed ability. First, you should know that I personally have tested some 200+ dowsers from Peru to Finland to Australia and points beyond. Without exception, each of them has expressed a firm conviction that they will succeed in the test they’re about to do. And every one of them has failed. The excuses are usually immediately offered, though they do not apply because I’ve insisted that they do “open” trials before the “closed” ones. The open trials are exactly the same as the closed ones, the sole difference being that in the former the dowser and everyone present knows the location of the sought-after target, while in the latter, no one present knows – nor does the dowser, regardless of his stated conviction and the vigorous waggling of whatever device he uses. In the “open” tests, the dowser is always – obviously – correct, and we thereby establish that the conditions – temperature, humidity, altitude, attitude, geographical location, barometric pressure, lighting, ambiance, etc., are ideal to ensure success. As with any such controlled tests, the only difference between the “open” – baseline – and the “closed” – performance/sessions, is the fact that the target is clearly known in the first, but not known in the second.
Let me give you just one example of the universal reluctance that dowsers show about being re-tested. At www.randi.org/jr/032902.html you’ll read an account from March, 2002, of the testing of dowser Mike Guska, who lives right here in Florida; that test resulted in failure. Mike, when told that after 12 months he could try again for the million-dollar prize, replied that I would have to go to him, rather than he coming to me. He also refused to have a representative of the JREF in his area of Florida, do the testing. Now, I ask you to think about that. He can make a million dollars by simply coming here – or even staying at home and having a test done by a person of whom he approves. Though he’s sure of success, he gets coy and becomes reluctant to take the money. What are we missing here? Could it possibly be that dowsing doesn’t really work…?
Mr. Tom Higgins is Managing Director of a company called Realm Communications Limited, which operates “Irish Psychics Live” [IPL], a group of oversized leprechauns who apparently offer sage advice and revelations by telephone just as “Miss Cleo” used to do here in the United States. Realm Communications is listed as a “telephone entertainments company”; that’s the Irish way of saying that nothing in their services should be taken as anything but fun. Last November, Higgins accepted an invitation to appear on the “Today with Pat Kenny” show via RTE Radio 1. Prior to his appearance, they recorded five telephone-psychic readings done by employees of Irish Psychics Live.
An assistant to Mr. Kenny, Valerie Cox, reported that she’d spent over €200 [US$260] talking to five so-called psychic readers. Her report included extracts from these readers as they tried to inform Ms. Cox about various aspects of her life. She felt that any assessment of her report would conclude that the entire psychic-reading exercise is a charade with the purpose of exploiting vulnerable persons by prolonging their phone calls – they paid by the minute – and thereby extracting the maximum amount of money from the victims.
As Mr. Higgins sat listening, six sound bites were played on air to illustrate Mr. Kenny’s view that readings offered by IPL are “rubbish” and “worthless,” his considered evaluation. When Pat Kenny said on air that they’d found “nothing of value” in the readings given, Higgins advised Ms. Cox that a handful of readings obtained in this manner over such a short period of time could not be used to definitely represent the quality of readings provided by IPL. How many would need to be worked over to extract some meaning, Higgins did not say.
At the end of the report, Pat Kenny said to Mr. Higgins that his operation was an “unadulterated spoof and complete rubbish.” Mr. Kenny based this opinion on Ms. Cox’s report. Mr. Higgins was given the opportunity to defend his company’s performance.
The station cited the regulation that those handling these “premium calls” – ones that are paid for by the minute – requires that customers have to be informed when the cost of a call exceeds €30. In the five phone calls Ms. Cox made to IPL – each of which cost more than thirty Euro – she was never informed that she had exceeded this limit.
The Broadcasting Complaints Commission [BCC] upheld a complaint made by Higgins about his treatment by the station. They cited the fact that the presenter of the program had expressed his own opinions; this apparently is a no-no in Ireland, which surprises me greatly. The BCC stated
While playing the devil’s advocate is an acceptable interviewing style, the Commission believes that the interviewer in both tone and content persisted with statements and allegations in a partial manner and concludes that the interviewer dealt with the subject matter in an unfair manner.
I have no problem understanding Mr. Kenny’s perception of these “readings” as spurious, and I do hope that he persists in opposing this sort of nonsense, though a pair of lawyers flanking him would appear to be advisable in the future…
However, there is already a ray of hope to be seen. The BCC has now ruled that advertisements run for Irish Psychics Live – offering premium-rate phone services for psychic and tarot reading – should be banned. Although ads advertising such services have been running without interference for several years now, it’s the first time such a ruling has been made. Such ads are covered by the Broadcasting Act of 2001 which prohibits advertising of fortune-telling services. Though IPL coyly claims it never suggested that any of its employees had magical powers such as fortune-telling, the BCC ruled that the ad was in breach of the law, since it told viewers they could find out what their future held by calling to “discover their destiny.”
Back in September of 2005, another of Higgins’ companies, “4’s A Fortune,” was ordered by Dublin District Court to pay a fine of €2,500 for breaching data protection legislation as a result of making unsolicited calls to mobile phones. These scam-artists root about to find any crack in personal privacy protection, and they exploit it! A resort to semaphore and/or shouting from the rooftops would seem not out of consideration, though IPL are wisely declining to use telepathy or crystal-gazing to convey their propaganda.
The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI) said it had previously determined that such ads were OK because they were “for entertainment purposes.” But following the BCC decision, the BCI said it would inform the TV outlets that ads promoting fortune telling services are banned for the moment, while broadcasting advertising codes are being reviewed. What’s the big problem here? Are the scam artists being slowed down, and is that a bad thing?
It appears that Dr. Hal Bidlack has been frittering away his new-found spare time getting psychic readings. He writes:
Last Wednesday, I happened across a chat room in PalTalk in which a person was “reading” the energy of people in the room, and providing them with a psychic reading. I asked if he could read me, and he said, yes. He told me the following:
– I like to read books.
– I like to watch people.
– I’m shy. (This was in response to my not providing clues, as did the other people getting “readings” as to his accuracy)
– I tend to focus on one thing until I master it, but sometimes I don’t, and do lots of things at once
There was quite a lag for each comment, and I worried that he might be Googling my name. I use my real name as my PalTalk name, and so thought he might be trying to go from a cold read to a hot read. But ultimately, he was, I think, sincere in thinking he had such powers. He was frustrated because after each comment, I simply responded with “Does that complete the reading?” Clearly, he was looking for feedback from me, but having been trained by the best, I did not provide any such coaching. And thus the “shy” comment.
After he neared the end, I did provide a slight prompt, in saying “If you can really see my energy, you should be able to see two events that rocked my world.” He was unable to see either the death of my wife or my 9/11 experience. When he said he was done, he asked me how he did. I offered that his reading differed little from a cold reading. He replied that in my case at least, he guessed he couldn’t read me.
Again, I think this was a fellow who really believed he had this power. And most of the folks in the room (well, all, other than a couple of other JREF people who dropped in quietly) were instantly willing and able to provide hints and clues to him without really realizing what they were doing. I thought about a very wise thing you have often said: these people don’t just want to believe; they need to believe. This was clearly the case on Wednesday night.
Reader Kelly Herron informed me about a local Vancouver, Canada, weekly paper called the Westender. She says that it’s not a major publication by any means, and serves mainly as a means of publicizing events and businesses in the city. She pointed out a column called "Curious Times" that depicts bizarre and often amusing factoids picked up from all over the web. It can be found at a website of the same name at www.curioustimes.com. The columnist with whom I am involved is listed as Andreas Ohrt. At www.members.shaw.ca/andreasohrt/new.htm, Mr. Ohrt, in his great wisdom, published a libelous, incorrect, defamatory, irresponsible statement which prompted Kelly to notify us. The reporter wrote:
If you aren’t familiar with James Randi yet, all you need to know is that the man offers a $1 million reward to anyone who can demonstrate paranormal abilities of any kind (check it out at Randi.org). Of course, Randi also changes the requirements whenever someone with actual powers claims the prize, but that’s another story.
I assure you, I’m not typing this with fevered brow, since the Vancouver Westender doesn’t come to my door, and such juvenile attacks on us are rather common in the media, but I thought I’d provide my readers with an example of how irresponsible such writers are when confronted with reality; they run and hide under the bed. On Saturday, July 29th, at 6 p.m. EST, I e-mailed Mr. Ohrt, with copies to his editor, publisher, sales manager, production supervisor, and advertising sales manager:
Mr. Ohrt: I note that you’ve commented about the nature of this Foundation’s million-dollar challenge, saying that I “change the requirements whenever someone with actual powers claims the prize.” That’s curious indeed, because this has been said and claimed on the Internet by many different persons, though it has no basis in fact. Would you be kind enough to provide just ONE example of where or when this has taken place, Mr. Ohrt? As a responsible journalist, I’m sure you have that material at hand, and can provide me with a source. Or did you just hear this somewhere, and decide that it sounded true because you believe in woo-woo stuff?
Inquiring minds want to know.
This will appear – along with your answer, of course – on my next web page, which goes up Thursday night, August 3rd. I look forward to having your response.
Well, columnist Ohrt – but none of the other recipients, perhaps because they were embarrassed or just didn’t give a damn – promptly responded. I wasn’t at all surprised by his reaction, nor will my readers be disappointed. He avoided my simple request for evidence, of course. I’ll drop in during this strange, meandering, account. Appropriately, spelling errors have been corrected, except for variations of Canadian usage:
Sorry to disillusion you, but I am not a "responsible journalist." You may notice that my column is fueled by sarcastic humour, nothing more... perhaps I will offer a $1 million reward to anyone who can prove that James Randi has a sense of humour...
Mr. Ohrt, you need not have made the first admission; I was being charitable to designate you as “responsible.” You cannot suddenly adopt the cap-and-bells of a jester to justify your actions. You’re no Stephen Leacock, sir. If I didn’t have a very well-developed sense of humor, I’d have abandoned this post decades ago. However, trying to find humor in the despondency and grief that I encounter every day among the victims of blatant fraud and lies, is not easy to do, and I cannot manage it. Your attack on me, as evidenced by your comments that follow, was not intended to be funny, nor did I accept it in that vein. It was the careless, unprofessional, bitter reaction of a believer in the incredible, challenged by facts he cannot abide, and against which he must rail, to shore up his chosen delusions.
Mr. Ohrt continues:
Having said that, I am not impressed at all with your closed-minded view of the universe. If you believe that our puny human minds can possible comprehend the infinite possibilities of the world around us you are as ignorant and absurd as those you wish to attack.
Sir, I am constantly amazed at the manner in which attitudes, statements, opinions, and approaches are so freely assigned to me by the unaware. It appears to be a defense, of sorts, to put words in my mouth and attribute them to my keyboard. My “view of the universe,” I assure you, is wide and comprehensive. I have never, even in my childhood, assumed that any human could or ever will, understand or imagine the infinite varieties of experience and actions that present themselves to us. And I could never be “as ignorant and absurd” as those I pursue. Be assured of that.
By the way, I have seen plenty of "woo-woo" stuff with my very own eyes. Just because these anomalous events don't translate well into the rigorous experiments of a scientific lab do not mean they don't exist. And closing your mind to them will not make them go away.
Andreas, I accept that you’ve seen woo-woo stuff with your “very own eyes.” (With who else’s eyes, I’m tempted to ask?) I’d be surprised if you hadn’t seen and eagerly accepted the stuff as being genuine. You need and cherish that. Along with many persons educated in the humanities but not in the realities of life, you naively believe that your senses are infallible, and that they present you with an accurate view of the universe you so admire. Wrong; any competent magician can provide you with ample evidence of that. And, opening your mind wide to any and all sensory interpretations will not make your delusions any more real… But it will make for very good stories around the campfire, if that’s your goal – and it’s your choice – enjoy! But don’t use your position as a journalist – though admittedly not a “responsible” one – to preach woo-woo to your readers.
I do wish I had some "facts" to back up my statement, but to be honest it's been several years since I've paid attention to your bogus prize and I can't remember exactly which event it was which proved to me that you are not searching for the truth at all.
Hmm. I think that you’ve NEVER paid any real attention to it – since you appear to have decided that it’s “bogus” – but you have merely accepted whatever pleasant canard has been presented to you, without looking into the validity of the statement. What you offer as your “research” – the following – proves that point very well, as you state:
Here's a good start though: http://tinyurl.com/anx28
Boy, talk about establishing my case for me! This is a tired old collection of nonsense lifted from The Remote Viewer E-zine – not quite one of the more widely-read nor reputable sources of information – that any reader can track down and see as total fabrication and wishful thinking. Every mendacity about me, the JREF, and the JREF challenge, is repeated in the tirade from which this is lifted, originally written by a Richard Milton, many years ago. It’s been picked up, accepted gleefully, and repeated many times by eager trash-gatherers like Ohrt. The only respondent to this latest version of the Milton attack was a John Benneth, who seems to make as much sense as Milton. A gem from Benneth’s thoughtful comments on the piece will satisfy readers concerning the extent of that fellow’s smarts.
"High dilutes" here refer to the magnetic substances that are created for homeopathic medicine by diluting out all molecular matter from a substance in a way that imprints the "memory" of that substance in water. This phenomenon in turn, according to [Gary] Schwartz, shows a scientific basis for a universal systemic memory.
I call it a nanoscopic view into the mind of God.
Note, please, that Benneth quotes Gary Schwartz – a sure sign of desperation, as we know. This is Moe getting data from Curley, who proves it by citing Larry. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk….
Mr. Ohrt closed with proof of another misconception he has about me, which indicates that he has not been to our web page to learn his subject before so broadly declaring on it. But that’s no surprise. Facts might get in the way of a perfectly good character attack.
If you wish to be treated well by responsible journalists, you yourself should be a responsible scientist, which means not deciding on the outcome you wish to find before testing a hypothesis.
In other words, have an open mind... that's all.
I have an open mind, Mr. Ohrt, as I recommend others should have – but not so open that my brains can fall out and the rain gets in. I have clearly shown my conviction by offering our million-dollar prize for the last ten years – and that is a firm, fully-backed and validated, far-from-“bogus,” challenge. I’m not a scientist, nor have I ever claimed to be one, and since I now know that you – by your own admission – are not a responsible journalist, I have no interest in your meanderings, and I leave you to your delusions. Enjoy them. But watch out for those elves under your desk, and be sure to cover your head with aluminum foil to protect your encephalon from those deadly E-rays…
I’m sure that the Westender is proud to have Mr. Ohrt aboard. I only wonder why he failed to give us the ONE example of my rule-changing that I asked for in my e-mail request. No, I don’t wonder, I know: he couldn’t come up with any, and he used 243 words admitting to us that he couldn’t…
Next week, we’ll tell you about children in Sandyville, Ohio, who tried to lie to officials that they created alien crop circles, and about God refusing an earnest appeal for rain in Lubbock, Texas. Just what is the world coming to…?