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Ojai Orange | The Column of Lasting Insignificance | Books | Wait-A-Minute

May 2, 2009
John Wilcock - January 5, 2008

 

  The column of lasting insignificance
     


also posted:



2011
November 26 2011
November 19, 2011
November 12, 2011
November 5, 2011
October 29, 2011
October 22, 2011
October 15, 2011
October 8, 2011
October 1, 2011
September 24, 2011
September 17, 2011
September 10, 2011
September 4, 2011
August 27, 2011
August 20, 2011
August 13, 2011
August 6, 2011
July 30, 2011
July 23, 2011
July 16, 2011
July 9, 2011
July 2, 2011
June 25, 2011
June 18, 2011
June 11, 2011
June 4, 2011
May 28, 2011
May 21, 2011
May 14, 2011
May 7, 2011
April 30, 2011
April 23, 2011
April 16, 2011
April 9, 2011
April 2, 2011
March 26, 2011
March 19, 2011
March 12, 2011
March 5, 2011
February 26, 2011
February 19, 2011
February 12, 2011
February 5, 2011
February 5, 2011
January 29, 2011
January 22, 2011
January 15, 2011
January 6, 2011

2010
December 25, 2010
December 18, 2010
December 11, 2010
December 4, 2010
November 27, 2010
November 20, 2010
November 13, 2010
November 6, 2010
October 30, 2010
October 23, 2010
October 16, 2010
October 9, 2010
October 2, 2010
September 25, 2010
September 18, 2010
September 11, 2010
September 4, 2010
August 28, 2010
August 21, 2010
August 14, 2010
August 7, 2010
July 31, 2010
July 24, 2010
July 17, 2010
July 10, 2010
July 3, 2010
June 26, 2010
June 19, 2010
June 12, 2010
June 5, 2010
May 29, 2010
May 22, 2010
May 15, 2010
May 8, 2010
May 1, 2010
April 24, 2010
April 17, 2010
April 10, 2010
April 3, 2010
March 27, 2010
March 20, 2010
March 13, 2010
March 6, 2010
February 27, 2010
February 20, 2010
February 13, 2010
February 6, 2010
January 30, 2010
January 23, 2010
January 16, 2010
January 9, 2010
January 2, 2010

2009
December 26, 2009
December 19, 2009
December 12, 2009
December 5, 2009
November 28, 2009
November 21, 2009
November 14, 2009
November 7, 2009
October 31, 2009
October 24, 2009
October 17, 2009
October 10, 2009
October 3, 2009
September 26, 2009
September 19, 2009
September 12, 2009
September 5, 2009
August 29, 2009
August 22, 2009
August 15, 2009
August 8, 2009
August 1, 2009
July 25, 2009
July 18, 2009
July 11, 2009
July 4, 2009
June 27, 2009
June 20, 2009
June 13, 2009
June 6, 2009
May 30, 2009
May 23, 2009
May 16, 2009
May 9, 2009
May 2, 2009
April 25, 2009
April 18, 2009
April 11, 2009
April 4, 2009
March 28, 2009
March 21, 2009
March 14, 2009
March 7, 2009
February 28, 2009
February 21, 2009
February 14, 2009
February 7, 2009
January 31, 2009
January 24, 2009
January 17, 2009
January 3, 2009

2008
December 27, 2008
December 20, 2008
December 13, 2008
December 6, 2008
November 29, 2008
November 22, 2008
November 15, 2008
November 8, 2008
November 5, 2008
November 1, 2008
October 25, 2008
October 18, 2008
October 11, 2008
October 4, 2008
September 27, 2008
September 20, 2008
September 13, 2008
September 6, 2008
August 30, 2008
August 23, 2008
August 16, 2008
August 9, 2008
August 2, 2008
July 26, 2008
July 19, 2008
July 12, 2008
July 5, 2008
June 28, 2008
June 21, 2008
June 14, 2008
June 7, 2008
May 31, 2008
May 24, 2008
May 17, 2008
May 10, 2008
May 3, 2008
April 26, 2008
April 19, 2008
April 12, 2008
April 5, 2008
March 29, 2008
March 22, 2008
March 15, 2008
March 8, 2008
March 1, 2008
February 23, 2008
February 16, 2008
February 9, 2008
February 2, 2008
January 26, 2008
January 19, 2008
January 12, 2008
January 5, 2008

2007
December 29, 2007
December 22, 2007
December 15, 2007
December 8, 2007
December 1, 2007
November 24, 2007
November 17, 2007
November 10, 2007
November 3, 2007
October 27, 2007
October 20, 2007
October 13, 2007
October 6, 2007
September 29, 2007
September 22, 2007
September 15, 2007
September 8, 2007
September 1, 2007
August 25, 2007
August 18, 2007
August 11, 2007
August 4, 2007
July 28, 2007
July 21, 2007
July 14, 2007
July 7, 2007
June 30, 2007
June 23, 2007
June 16, 2007
June 9, 2007
June 2, 2007
May 19, 2007
May 12, 2007
May 5, 2007
April 28, 2007
April 21, 2007
April 14, 2007
April 7, 2007
March 31, 2007
March 24, 2007
March 17, 2007
March 10, 2007
March 3, 2007
February 24, 2007
February 17, 2007
February 10, 2007
February 3, 2007
January 20, 2007
January 13, 2007
January 6, 2007

2006
December 30, 2006
December 23, 2006
December 16, 2006
December 9, 2006
December 2, 2006
November 25, 2006
November 18, 2006
November 11, 2006
November 4, 2006
October 28, 2006
October 21, 2006
October 14, 2006
October 7, 2006
September 30, 2006
September 23, 2006
September 16, 2006
September 9, 2006
September 2, 2006
August 26, 2006
August 19, 2006
August 12, 2006
August 5, 2006
July 29, 2006
July 22, 2006
July 15, 2006

 

 



May 2, 2009

  MAGIC COMES IN two forms: wonderfully entertaining stage magic and so-called “real” magic in which are included all those baffling  things like dowsing, levitation (could it really exist?), and mysterious appearances that remain unexplained. The Columbia Encyclopedia devotes several pages to magic and when you’ve read it, you’re as puzzled as before.

Not so James Randi who for years performed as “the amazing Randi’ and now devotes his time to exposing fakers. In his opinion, there is no “real” magic. In his view, anything can be duplicated or manipulated.

In fact, his Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds & Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural is pretty much the standard work on the genre and deals with such subjects as the Abominable Snowman and ‘End of the World prophecies’.

In a foreword, Arthur C. Clarke claimed to have been a fan of Randi since seeing his trussed figure escape while hanging from a crane a hundred feet above Niagara Falls. This Encyclopedia, he maintains, should be in every high school and college library “as an antidote to acres of mind-rotting rubbish…”

Randi himself, winner of a McArthur Foundation grant (the so-called “genius” award), set up the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) devoted to “creating a new generation of critical thinkers”. He invited people claiming psychic abilities  to prove their claims, en route to an award of one million dollars if they satisfied a panel of objective observers. Needless to say, nobody yet has passed even the preliminary test and the challenge will expire next March.

Only actual performances under pre-agreed conditions are accepted with all tests “designed in such a way that the results are self-evident, no judging or voting process (being) required”. The only requirement is that applicants must have a “media presence” (i.e. having been written about or known to the media in regard to his or her known powers).

In the course of discrediting fakers, the JREF instigated the Pigasus Awards whose winners, he announced jokingly, would be announced by telepathy --with winners allowed to predict their victory. Among categories eligible for Pigasus Awards are

(i) the scientist who said the silliest thing in relation to parapsychology;
(ii) the psychic performer who fooled the most people with the least effort and
(iii) the person who showed the most persistent refusal to face reality

Champions have included Uri Geller (about whom Randi wrote a book); Silvia Browne who affects to communicate with the dead; Montel Williams who was defined as “a media whore” after professing disbelief in Browne’s claims but continually inviting her to his show because she brought ratings. Browne, a self-described psychic, was among the first to accept the proffered $1 million if she could prove her claims. Her application was accepted in 2006 but she has never followed up, despite frequent reminders.

Randi’s theory is that Browne’s credibility would be shot if she tried and failed. He accuses her of preying on grieving families with her readings, giving people “a false glimmer of hope”; people, he maintains, would be willing to “do anything and pay any amount of money for a glimpse of finding their loved ones or communicating with them”.

He’s become a new star on You Tube with short, direct talks that get thousands of hits and always end with a wink. In one, for example, he talked of how an astrologer rendered him a superficially correct horoscope based on the date that he offered that was 20 days later than his real birthday. And among other ways this magician misleads so-called psychics, is to proffer incorrect details. Banks that seek some private detail such as mother’s maiden name, as identification for security purposes, are apparently unaware that such details are accessible by any competent researcher. Thus, Randi gives each inquirer a different name and keeps a record, so when this ‘secret’ pops up again he knows its’ source.

Because of my long-time acquaintance with Randi, I persuaded him to answer a few questions. They follow, along with his replies.

 
James Randi
James Randi

You're sometimes compared/equated to Houdini. Do you have any thoughts about that?
Yes. He's dead, and I'm not.

Did you originally earn your living as a 'magician' and how long  was that career?
Until I reached 60 years of age.

'Real' magic and 'stage' magic overlap in one place, illusion. Do you have any belief at all that there is such a thing as 'real' magic or are you convinced that it is always illusion and can be replicated?
I don't understand your first sentence here. What's "real" magic..?  And what do you mean by "magic"? There is no evidence of any sort to support belief in supernatural abilities. (In his encyclopedia, Randi states: “Magic and science are opposites in every way”).

Why do people cling to superstitions even when they have been repeatedly informed otherwise?
I dunno. You'd have to ask them all, and every answer would be different...

What led you into your role as a more or less professional skeptic?
My expertise in knowing how people are deceived and swindled.

What is, briefly, the message that you convey in your frequent lectures and appearances?
See previous answer...

The James Randi Educational Foundation must have enlightened – and maybe changed -- many superstitious people in its 12-year existence. Have any of them told you that?
Many, many.

Clearly nobody has managed to win your $1million challenge to prove their claims, but have there been any nearly-credible attempts that almost fooled you?
Never... Our most common claim is for "dowsing," using a pendulum, parallel wires, or a forked stick to find persons, gold, oil, or anything.  Read about these subjects on our web page...

You were kind enough to invite me onto your late night radio show in NYC back in the Sixties but I don't remember what we/you talked about. What did your show usually discuss and what kind of questions did you get repeatedly from your listeners?
Anything and everything - from cooking to card tricks to politics, five hours a night, five nights a week...

When you were given your McArthur Foundation award what was it in recognition of ? And has it made a difference to your life?
It was $272,000, in 1986, for my exposures of faith healers. And, yes.

Isn't there a certain contradiction in exposing fraudulent  claims about mysterious happenings not being "Magic" but as a magician (who doesn't explain tricks) sometimes leaving the credulous with their belief that these aren't tricks  but are actually magic?
Yes. Who does this...?

Each year the JREF organizes one or two sessions of “The Amazing Meeting” described as “a celebration of critical thinking and skepticism”.  The next one is scheduled for July in Las Vegas.

4/25/09

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