February 2, 2007
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Well, the final episode of Uri Geller’s Israel TV series “The Successor” has come and gone, with increasingly lower ratings. The series received heavy criticism all over the Israeli websites and the media. This was advertised as an attempt by Geller to discover an outstanding young Israeli magician who might be sufficiently talented to succeed him. It was obviously a take-off on the currently-popular American "reality" shows, but the whole thing backfired on both Geller and the producers when it was discovered (see www.randi.org/jr/2007-01/011907tam.html#i2) that the "contestants" were being prompted to avoid using the words "magic" or "magician" to refer to their performances. This, unfortunately, was encouraged by the Israeli Magician’s Society – which used to be known as the Israeli Society for Promoting the Art of Magic. The general dissatisfaction of the media and the public in Israel, and especially of the community of magicians in regard to this pandering to superstition, was very evident. One paper commented:
…the good news about the final episode is that we won’t have to hear from this Geller much in the near future… it was an abuse.
The most popular daily Hebrew language newspaper in Israel, Ma’ariv, ran this article last week:
Twisting the nose: Israeli Magicians cast out Uri Geller.
It is going to take Uri Geller's full powers to overcome this obstacle: due to increasing public pressure, the Israeli Magician's Society has announced their disassociation from the “telepathy artist.”
After three months of close cooperation between the Society and the show's production team of "The Successor," the management of the Society has decided to harshly condemn Geller and his "supernatural" claims. Key figures in the Society attributed this to a number of factors – the embarrassing exposures on the show's behind-the-scenes activities, the general public's heavy resentment of Geller, and the angry letter of the well-known magician James Randi, which was first published here in Ma’ariv last week.
This way, the Society is trying to lessen the terrible damage inflicted on the Society's image. Randi's letter, which questioned the cooperation between the Society and Geller, has proved that the president, Daliah Pelled, “should make a decision, and the members participating in the show should resign immediately," said a senior Society member. "The declaration against Geller now is too little, too late."
At that, Israeli Minister of Education Yuli Tamir stated that people who falsely claim supernatural powers are dangerous, and that the public must understand that Uri Geller and his show are a "bluff for entertainment." She added: "I love to watch magic, but the public, especially the youth, must be aware that things on the show are magic tricks and illusions and not supernatural powers, as was claimed."
Yesterday, Uri Geller's TV reality show "The Successor" came to an end. The winner of the title is Lior Suchard, who got 52 percent of the viewers’ votes.
My comments: Certainly, this provides a far more perceptive and accurate picture of the reality behind Mr. Geller’s Israeli adventure than was intended initially by the producers. However, I must come to the defense of those magicians who innocently participated in the show. They are represented as having been part of the Geller scheme by claiming that they possess paranormal/psychic/supernatural abilities – as Geller does. We have to understand that when Geller arrived back in his homeland, the magicians there were understandably a-twitter with the opportunity of appearing on a major TV venue in the company of this man who had risen to a position of worldwide prominence. Yes, he had attained that fame by falsely claiming genuine magical powers – rather than being an entertainer – but to these star-struck conjurors, it seemed there was no shame in such an action. Only when the tired, tedious, same-old-thing routines were dragged out by their hero, did the truth dawn on them.
Geller, firmly maintaining his untenable stance that he doesn't know how to do magic tricks, and denying that he does so, made these statements during his stay in Israel, proving that he’s not only rightly rejected by the Israeli Magicians Society, but has no talent in that direction, anyway:
I use the power of my mind. I am not a magician, and I have never been one.
In an interview, Geller insisted that the prime-time show does not involve sleight of hand – and that the participants do actually have supernatural powers capable of performing marvels.
I left Israel because I was not a magician and could not do more effects in my repertoire, so people got bored and I had to leave.
I deal with energies.
Answering the question “Did you use any magnets in the compass effect?" he said:
No, that's absolutely nonsense.
Yes, there certainly is a lot of nonsense to be found here...
For the information of the public, within the next few weeks I will be publishing here the complete routines for a series of common magic tricks. These will include:
3. Reading sealed drawings
4. Projecting “telepathic” images of ESP symbols, numbers, etc.
Now, the methods I will reveal are not going to inconvenience the legitimate magicians, in any way. Compass-moving, for example, is a kids’ trick that no self-respecting magician would do. Spoon-bending-and-breaking is commonly done by kids, as well, though it would only fool a terminally-naive and overly-confident scientist – and it has done just that, in the past. And, the trick of reading sealed drawings/messages has dozens of possible modi operandi, one of them long ago described by Theodore Anneman – a well-known writer on conjuring techniques.
Since Mr. Geller is not a magician, these revelations will of course not affect him one bit, right?
Reader Larry Thornton has sent us a transcript of a CBC/Canada interview with the well-known quack Deepak Chopra. One sequence rather caught my amused attention:
Q: What happens when you die, Deepak?
Chopra: What happens when you die, is you return to where you always are. If you realize right now that there's no such thing as a person, you'll be all set.
Q: What do you mean, I'll be all set?
Chopra: Then if you shift your identity to that consciousness that is differentiating as observer and observant, you'll know there's nothing to fear.
Q: You have no fear of death.
Chopra: No Sir! Why? Because I don't exist in the first place!
Q: Can you get reincarnated as a soul?
Chopra: [Sighs] Wisps of memory and threads of desire, which are specks of information, latch onto specks of consciousness and show up as recycled human beings. But in the bigger picture, the observer, the observed, the process of observation, is a single reality.
Q: So... Deepak Chopra, as I know him [questioner taps the sitting Chopra solidly on the knee for effect] my friend Chopra... doesn't exist?
Chopra: A transient behavior of... the total universe.
I hope that’s all clear now…?
My participation has been requested on several shows recently – Larry King Live and Anderson Cooper 360, plus some radio interviews – discussing the current problems befalling the Sylvia Browne Corporation. And, all sorts of comments have been coming in from those who saw those appearances.
Reader Kate Gladstone deals with a Biblical quotation offered recently by Sylvia:
Sylvia and her heavenly angel pals apparently don't know their Bible very well. No statement including the phrase "mills of God" appears anywhere in the Bible: not in the Old Testament, not in the New Testament, not in the Apocrypha.
The quote comes from the poem "Retribution," Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's 1845 translation of "Vergeltung” ["Retribution"] written by Baron Friedrich von Logau in 1624... and he got it from the third/fourth-century Greek philosopher Sextus Empiricus, who said: "The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind small."
Ms. Browne not only misattributes, but misquotes. She presents as a "Bible quotation" a nineteenth-century American translation of a seventeenth-century German paraphrase of a third-/fourth-century Greek thinker (of very un-Biblical ideas).
My, my, I would have thought that such a holy woman could do better than that! Does this call for some sort of divine retribution, we must wonder?
Reader Cynthia Wells says:
Caught your appearance on Larry King Live last night… I am writing you as an expert in the workings of both Ms. Brown and Montel Williams.
I was one of her guests appearing on her first Sylvia Brown HBO presentation. This may have been before her Guardian Angel books, who knows. Each guest had something tragic to relate, whether missing children, unexplained deaths or another horrific event. I am one such party. In the room where we waited prior to show, everyone was prompted to not speak or directly talk to her – hard to do when one is on stage. Before I left the room, one of the producers said to me to simply "agree with anything Sylvia has to say, even if it is wrong." I was stumped, because I was a believer in her abilities up to this point.
Aside from being the only one out of all the guests who does not have a guardian angel, my chance to prove to myself, was to just go along. She told me I had a spiritual guide whose name was Ernest. Thinking on my toes and certainly not wanting to disappoint, I exclaimed that it was so weird because that was the very name I had chosen for my son – before he was born. Everyone clapped, Sylvia glowed and inflated with pride at my BS. Her reply after the applause had died down was, "See, lifes full circle.” What I saw and felt was foolish and sorry for the others who believed her lies.
Did she ever predict Montel’s debilitating disease, I wonder. If you ever need someone to personally state this.... do not hesitate to contact me. Keep up the great work. By the way her consult is $750 – as per her site info.
A word here about Montel Williams. As I've said before, this is a well-educated, perceptive, intelligent man who most certainly knows exactly what Sylvia Browne – and other such "psychic" performers – are doing; I cannot imagine otherwise. That granted, he is either motivated by a need for ratings – and the resulting increase in advertising rates to his sponsors – or he simply enjoys the strange sort of prestige that accompanies his inclusion of Sylvia on his shows. A close acquaintance of mine, a former military man himself, as is Montel, has expressed his dismay that Mr. Williams is going against the general military code of honor that should in some way deter him from supporting and endorsing such flummery. My personal opinion is that Montel Williams should wake up, take a close look at his involvement with Sylvia Browne, and reconsider his position.
Reader Kelly Graves informs us:
We have started an online petition to encourage Sylvia Browne to take the JREF test. The goal is to amass a huge number of signatures and then send the petition to Larry and Montel. One signature for every dollar in the JREF prize would be great.
An irony: since the petition service is paid for by Google ad revenue, you'll probably see automatically-generated click-through ads for psychic organizations along the right-hand side. Contrary to what you might at first think, this is a good thing. We should, in fact, encourage people to click on these: every click by a skeptic costs a psychic-promoter or bogus psychic a little bit of money. Here's the link to the petition: www.ipetitions.com/petition/cmonsylvia/index.html
When I appeared the second time last week with the Anderson Cooper show on CNN, I was confronted by Linda Rossi, Sylvia Browne's business manager. Mind you, Sylvia herself declined to appear, and it was left to Ms. Rossi to flounder about desperately trying to blur and provide a “spin” on the very obvious facts about Sylvia's record as a fumbling psychic.
One question with which I was prepared – but had no chance to ask – was about the document we received from the Better Business Bureau of Silicon Valley. In their report they say that the Sylvia Browne Corporation located in Campbell, California:
...has an unsatisfactory record with this Bureau due to unanswered complaints. The company has resolved some complaints presented by the Bureau, however, the company did not respond to other complaints… the Bureau processed a total of nine complaints about this company in the last 36 months, our standard reporting period…
I find this very surprising. The James Randi Educational Foundation, with an avowed atheist heading it, has never, ever, had any complaint registered with the Better Business Bureau! Yet, Sylvia's corporation has an "unsatisfactory record"? How could that be? Is God being offended by the BBB?
You see, these devout folks are constantly throwing up to me that I'm an atheist, as if that were the worst thing they could come up with. True, that may appear to be so to their multitude of believers, who in any case are not rowing with both oars in the water, anyway.
Host Anderson Cooper himself called Sylvia Browne an “alleged” and “self-proclaimed” psychic. And, Cooper fought for me. He correctly identified and threw away her shameless ad hominem attacks on my atheism, as irrelevant. This was a perfect example of the Ad Hominem Logical Fallacy, to which I refer you.
The problem with appearances like these is that there is never enough time to properly discuss the JREF challenge; couple that with the fact that Sylvia's website was listed several times, while that of the JREF never appeared. The plain fact is that Sylvia, if she is a truly legitimate psychic, could easily earn our one million dollar prize in less than a day’s work. True, “Sylvia doesn’t have to prove anything to Randi,” as Ms. Rossi pointed out, but there’s no better way to shut me up than to take the JREF money. There’s not enough time to debunk all the lies and misapprehensions about the challenge, nor to explain how a mutually-agreed-upon double-blind test is a fair way to measure claims, nor to tell the story of how Browne already agreed to take the test, six years ago. But we must understand that Sylvia and her flunkies are appealing here to their naïve customer base, not to thinking persons.
(Much to my surprise, the JREF received not a single e-mail message from any Browne supporters as a result of my three attacks on these major CNN shows! One might suspect that her fans may now be seeing through her pretensions…)
Ms. Rossi said that I should “go after the real charlatans out there” and leave Sylvia alone. Friends, that sounds very much like what Rosemary Altea said, on the Larry King Live show just a few days before. It seems that every psychic whose claims I question is a fraud, except for the one I'm talking to or about at the moment! It was hilarious to see Altea squirming about while trying not to damn Browne too obviously. I’m sure she saw the wide-open position on the psychic roster that Browne was preparing to involuntarily vacate, and could easily picture herself in that cozy and very lucrative spot!
Regarding my Larry King appearance dealing with Altea, note that though Larry asked Montel Williams to appear on his show, or to provide a quotation that could be used, Montel replied that he had no comment to make. Perhaps he’s worried about unwelcome data spoiling his upcoming TV Special dealing with Sylvia’s stupendous abilities? Also, I was a bit stunned when Larry said that Sylvia had “described the accused villain pretty well” in the Hornbeck case! (See www.randi.org/jr/2007-01/011907tam.html#i1) When he said that, I paused, waiting for the punch line; actually, Sylvia had said that Shawn had been kidnapped by a "dark-skinned man, he wasn't black – more like Hispanic." She’d said that the kidnapper had long, black, hair worn in dreadlocks and was "really tall," and that he was driving an older model blue sedan, a car with fins like on the late 1950's and early 1960's Chevrolets. Well, the kidnapper Michael Devlin is not Hispanic, nor is he dark-skinned. He’s a pale Caucasian, he’s heavy – 300 pounds – and not tall – and his car was quite the opposite of Browne’s invented notions: it was a white pickup truck. Larry also opined that Dr. J.B. Rhine had “invented” ESP…!
As for Altea, she said in one breath that her ability is a "very rare gift," yet a moment later she said that “many people have it.” Duh? Perhaps her spirit guide, Gray Eagle, had too much fire water and was confused? Or perhaps he was absent, hanging out with Francine, Sylvia Browne's spirit guide?
Sylvia's people are constantly deemphasizing and even denying the blatant fact that she demands – and gets – $700 for a 20-minute reading over the telephone. Well, what follows is from her own website. She uses the word "fees", which is not by any stretch of the imagination an optional “donation.”
Phone reading with Sylvia – $750
Phone reading with Chris [Sylvia’s son] – $450
A phone consultation with Sylvia or Chris lasts approximately 20-30 minutes.
[mailing address follows]
Always include a daytime phone number in your correspondence.
As for the unexpected appearance on this show of Linda Rossi – the business manager of the Sylvia Browne Corporation – rather than the Great-and-Too-Spiritual-to-Appear Sylvia herself, I have to wish they’d let her keep babbling even more, because she was setting fire to her own nest much better and faster than I could ever hope to do. Her frantic interruptions and desperate state of mind was given away by her downcast gaze and fluttering eyelids – both indications of distress.
Mr. Cooper had done his homework. Though Ms. Rossi provided him – as requested by CNN – with two documents from “satisfied customers” which she believed would establish proof of productive readings by her boss, Mr. Cooper proceeded to tear them apart. For example, Rossi claimed that Sylvia had "predicted" the name of a WTC bomber using her psychic powers. A simple search on Google showed that this "revelation" was made two weeks after the suspects name had already been widely published in news sources! Lamely, Rossi claimed that Sylvia had not seen that name –seen that name, then she quickly added, "as far as I know.” Sure. Mr. Cooper also pointed out that Sylvia had "predicted" that Shawn Hornbeck was dead – he wasn’t – and that a missing person about whom Sylvia had been questioned, was in Tennessee – again, wrong. And remember, these were statements made by Sylvia for the “satisfied customers” provided by Sylvia’s own office! If these were the best Browne could come up with, I’d like to see the rest. Rossi also claimed that Sylvia didn't charge money for her readings when missing persons or children are involved – but she does, as we clearly see above.
A point that I keep coming back to is that six years ago Sylvia Browne definitively and clearly agreed – on the Larry King Live show – to take the JREF test, she agreed to the protocol I outlined, and then she backed out; she's simply not a woman of her word. When Mr. Cooper asked me to define what would constitute a proper test of Sylvia's abilities, I briefly repeated what Sylvia had previously agreed to. Then when Cooper asked Rossi if Sylvia would take that test, Rossi said that she would not, even though Sylvia is firmly on record for agreeing to do it. Yet another lie.
Rossi, incredibly, suggested to Mr. Cooper that maybe Sylvia wasn't exactly wrong on the Sean Hornbeck fiasco, when she said that he was dead. Rossi implied that we “don't know everything about that case,” and that maybe Sylvia was getting “vibrations” from another dead kid! As a reader has pointed out, using that kind of mental gymnastics, anything can be counted as a “hit” – and will be, of course.
Sylvia’s fans will build up excuses in their mind to account for the gaffes their guru has been caught in. The more they've put on the line in endorsing her, the more their brains will spin the story to still see her as a person with a special God-given gift that the evil JREF is trying to destroy.
The indignation in Rossi's voice when she referred to me as “a magician" was laughable. What was that all about? She's probably trying to say that Sylvia does what she does via a “gift from God,” and Randi’s just faking it...
By the way, you should be aware of the latest pay-for-the-privilege-offer made by Ms. Browne on her web page. For a mere $10 charge, you can now hear her
…latest predictions for 2007, including her forecast on weather conditions in your area, the fate of our troops in Iraq, the presidential election, gas prices, and what’s in store for Angelina Jolie, Tom Cruise, and other popular celebrities… Find the answers you’ve been looking for.
Oooh! Too much to resist! How can we not rush to learn about such important folks as Jolie and Cruise, especially in view of the remarkable record Sylvia has in the prediction business? See www.smugbaldy.com/?p=48 to refresh your memory…
Folks, when I concentrate on the name Sylvia Browne, I faintly hear the name "Waterloo"... Oh, do you hear it, too?
Damn! At www.randi.org/jr/2007-01/011207challenge.html#i4 I offered what I thought was a pretty clever coding which covered the identity of the object I had sealed in my "Remote Viewing" target locker. Some of my readers are obviously very cipher-aware, and two of them almost immediately solved the coding! Well, I hastened to the locker, removed the original target and have now replaced it with another. Solving of ciphers – for experts – is apparently easier than I thought so I put my massive encephalon to work and came up with this one, which definitively describes the new test target:
Okay, all you psychics and cipher aficionados, go to work!
Another “sun-eater” has emerged, this one from the Ukraine. A 48-year-old man eats sunlight with his eyes. How do we know? Because he was observed by Japanese scientists, who reported that he gazed incessantly on the Sun for thirteen hours, that's how. Zaporozhye townsman Nikolai Dolgorukiy – shown here – has refused food, we're told, and for the last two years, has eaten only sunlight.
Okay, I'm really tired of these dried up idiots. As soon as Nikolai presents some authoritative documents from an authority other than the local witch doctor, I'll take another look. Until then, someone peel him a grape, will you?
Look at sunso fifth n2005.narod.ru/index-living-on-sunlight-sungasing.html if you can stand it.
This guy has obviously seen the story of the mystical Jasmuheen in Australia (see www.randi.org/jr/070105quality.html#14, and has decided that if she can get away with it, he should be able to, as well. I admit that they’d make quite a pair…
Reader Bruce Coppola has an interesting, informative, and reassuring site at www.bruce.coppola.name/audio/wisdom.html where he presents rational treatments of audio devices and theories, in sharp contrast to such publications as Stereophile Magazine. Concerning a far-out and fanciful claim, he writes:
As a poster on a mostly rational audio forum said: "This is a perfect example of why I am reluctant to tell people I am an audiophile. I'm sure audio writers have heard about the many tests where people heard differences when NOTHING was even changed. Still, we have people in high office who maintain that the world is only about six thousand years old, rather than 4.5 billion or so, so I guess that puts silly audio snake oil in perspective."
Reader Stacie Engeling informs us that the Texas Attorney General has closed down a bogus fuel-saving scheme. Link to article: news8austin.com/content/your_news/default.asp?ArID=178126. Says Stacie:
Despite the apologetic nature of the beginning of the article, the bulk message is a good one. The Texas Attorney General cracked down on scam artists making bogus claims. They made a pill of "naphthalene, the main ingredient in moth balls," and claimed it increased gas mileage. They turned it into a pyramid scheme, so each consumer had to buy in bulk and then sell to others. Required restitution is in excess of $7 million. I have no idea if that puts a dent in their profits. The AG said, "Don't lie or cheat Texas consumers. If you do so, there will be a high price to be paid." I hope he sticks by that.
Another interesting point...one of the owners is a minister...ah, the irony.
Remember him? Another one of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks of the “psychic” world. See www.randi.org/jr/2006-01/010606netherlands.html#i1 to refresh your memory. Reader Martin de Boer, The Netherlands, brings us the latest:
First of all, thank you for the fantastic job you're doing. I love your website, and I'm a regular visitor.
Some time ago you informed us about Robbert van den Broeke, a Dutch "medium" who was exposed by Skepsis, a Dutch skeptic organization. Well, the same Robbert van den Broeke is back again after having suffered from a severe depression. In an interview (published on January 22 in an internet article, he says he's now been instructed by God to further develop his "gift." According to the article, he's even opened a special school for children that are said to have supernatural talents. (Shocking, don't you think?)
In the end of the interview he says that, due to his "gift" he has no real friends. Why does that not surprise me…?
Reader Bill Menker tells us:
I was dismayed when I saw an announcement on several library email lists regarding an upcoming workshop on how public libraries can use feng shui to assist in achieving strategic planning goals. Yes, you read that right. Read the entire workshop description here: www.swonlibraries.org/viewevent?id=873.
It makes me wonder what other programs SWON plans for this year. How to Use Psychic Detectives to Track Down Overdue Books? Sylvia Browne's Spirit Guides for Librarians? Dowsing for Grant Money?
Also, if you’re not a member of Southwest Ohio and Neighboring (SWON) Libraries , it costs you $70 to find out where to place your furniture…!
As an example of what we at the JREF have had to handle in the past in the way of amateur applicants for the million-dollar prize, I offer you the following, which just came in. It’s shown here exactly as it was received, punctuation, spelling, all intact. Is it any wonder we opted to revise the challenge parameters…?
I am getting extorted even politically on account of occult archival credit I was not able to see yet.
Also psychically (through an ufo ghost helmet I am born with and which underwent certain changes after I went to POLAND a week after the chernobyl accident, its PLASTELINEK'S, that's a character's on POLISH TV airing from Washington d.c. but note that I don't have a contract with it and its acid credit, like, T. LEARY ate me in a death movie) . By MICK JAGGER. Since childhood.
As a result of which I don't have an income.
And I can't afford to look after my business.
I am the disembodied human and ufo pilot in the real footage of one in SIGNS.
Also see the photo I've included of me from the net (human mutilation).
Its used without permission.
Would you say that NATASHA HENSTRIDGE (an usufuct or a construct?) meaning the EVE character in SPECIES was psychic to some extent?
And what would you say to my claim that she is me in a past life on account of reincarnation being obviously part of my credit except, not having an income and getting extorted all my life about the archival business, I can't afford a private eye to get the evidence and prove it?
CAN YOU HELP?
I sure wish that I could win that million bucks.
I would be in the position to defend my movie rights provided I did.
P.S. I met Uri Geler when I was growing up.
As well as others such as PAT MORITA.
And JAN PALAS. Remember JAN PALAS?
A number of people brought copies of books to TAM5 as donations to our library. We’re happy to have them, of course. I must mention that Charles Smallwood, Franklin Trumpy, and Donald Simanek have been major contributors to this collection, which now totals 2,007 volumes – not counting any of the hundreds of journals and other such records that we also have on hand for reference. That’s a lot of data, folks, and very soon now we’ll be prepared to publish our index to this library so you can all benefit from it.
And, go to tinyurl.com/3xu9eo for an excellent description and discussion of the “cold reading” phenomenon upon which so many “psychics” depend for their income. Very good material…
If you're looking to recapture that "TAM Feeling," or couldn't attend and want to hear some of what you missed, check out some of the podcasts out there. The Skeptics Guide to the Universe (theskepticsguide.org) is running a series of enlightening interviews from TAM5, including moi, and Skepticality (skepticality.com) features a melange of comments from many of the TAM luminaries. Both of those are also available on iTunes. And don't miss John Rennie from Scientific American mentioning TAM in a recent podcast, found at http://www.sciam.com/podcast/.
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