Friday, January 12, 2007

Randi vs. the TV Psychics

I love the Amazing Randi. He's made it his life's work to look at people who claim they can talk to ghosts, or sense spirits, or communicate with Venusians, and say, "dude, whatev."

I'm no cynic - I'd love for all of that junk to be real. It would be rad to live in a universe where spooky messages can be passed from beyond the grave - or just to know what happens when you die. I'd love it if Bigfoot was real, if those sasquatch howls were the real thing. If sparkly things in the sky were aliens, if the weird lights I once saw in the desert were from another planet. If dinosaurs still lived in lakes, and if people could bend spoons just by wanting to.

But it's all just kind of goofy. Bridges aren't haunted, toilet paper rolls don't unspool because there's a poltergeist in your apartment. It's nice to think so, though. Or to pretend for a night that it happens like that.

For the last ten years James Randi has offered a one-million dollar prize to anyone who can prove they possess paranormal powers. No one's ever won. From the recent article in Wired:

'A Nevada man legally named "The Prophet Yahweh" planned to seize the prize for charity by summoning two spaceships to a Las Vegas park last year, but negotiations broke down when he announced he was bringing several armed guards to the demonstration in case any "negative personalities" showed up. An inventor who claimed to have built a device that could sense the psychic distress of an egg about to be dropped into a pot of boiling water recently abandoned his application when the foundation suggested the egg be threatened by a hammer instead, in case the invention was really just detecting steam.

'"One a week gets as far as a protocol negotiation, and then drops off," says Jeff Wagg, who administers the challenge.'

But now Randi's changing the rules - before anyone can come to the Randi Foundation, they have to prove their powers somewhere else first. That frees them from dealing with anyone who walks through their door, folks looking for fame or who are just delusional. So instead, they'll be going after people, targeting the jerks and TV psychics who take advantage of people who really, really want to believe that they have another chance to talk to their friends and family who have passed on. You know Sylvia Browne, yeah?

Lookit her there, all thoughtful. She goes on Montel Williams all the time, writes books, tours the country and gladly accepts your cash in exchange for relaying messages from loved ones who have died. Once upon a time she accepted Randi's challenge, to undergo the tests of the Foundation and prove to Randi and the world that she really had paranormal powers and wasn't just a sideshow charlatan. Then she backed down, posting an open letter on her website saying that she wasn't interested in Randi's money, or his validation. Which is too bad - again, from Wired:

"That's a disappointment, because if Browne's claims were ever to stand up to a scientific test in an adversarial process, it would be an unprecedented event in modern history, potentially changing our scientific understanding of the universe. Instead, you can buy a psychic phone call with her for $700."

So. I love James Randi.

If laser beam eyes were real, dude would have them.

(oh, yeah - Wired link found via BoingBoing.)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

I want you to want me.

From John Rogers, who wants to propagate a meme without asking anyone to participate.

Here are 5 Things You Don't Know About Me. One of them is untrue.

1) I learned how to ride a bike when I was 24.

2) Once, I spent Christmas Day (and the following New Year's Day) working as a radio DJ. I played a Nirvana song from their Unplugged album and a dude called the station to tell me that I made his whole holiday season.

3) I hate dogs so much.

4) I spent a solid week, Monday to Friday, in the 2nd Grade telling everyone at school that I wasn't Matt, I was Max, Matt's identical cousin. For everyone else the joke was over by Tuesday, but I'd promised myself I wouldn't let it up. By Friday everyone was really pissed off at me (as mad as you get when you're 7), and I ate lunch being ignored. I tried to win back their favor on Monday by agreeing with everyone that Max, indeed, was a jerk.

5) I have been treated to barbecued chicken by a professional card player.

Medusa is burned in my brain.

Ray Harryhausen's creatures, in chronological order, in about four minutes.

Found via the Beat, which used to have an address I could just remember.


I believe in making statements before I am sure they are true. Thusly: I do not like anything ironically.

That is to say: I like country music because it's twangy and unpolished. I like Rocky because it's about boxing, because it's a weird love story, and because the Rocky movies lodged themselves in my brain, when I was a kid, in some place in the back that I cannot touch or manipulate, as the Way Movies Are. I like Christmas trees because they smell good, and I like having the room lit only by those lights when I'm working. I like cowboy boots because they clop when I walk and they make me taller. I like my mustache because I think it makes my face look good. I like Survivor because it's fun to watch real people (well, a certain kind of real people) scheme. I like the Amazing Race because Phil makes good faces. I like Deadwood and the Venture Brothers because they're perfect specimens of TV.

What else? I like Ford Focus cars because I don't know why. I like the way they feel when I drive them. I like games because they're fun, and I feel clever when I win them and a different kind of clever when I don't. I like alcohol that tastes like candy, because I like candy - hence, Mike's Hard Lemonade. I don't like sushi because it's cold and creepy and weird. I like biking because it's fun to go fast. I like Saturday Night Live because it's fun to find the patterns, and at least a few times an episode, it's funny. I like yoga because it feels like easy exercise. I like zombie movies because there are zombies in them, but I don't like much anything else with zombies, because zombies are made for the movies. Lately I like Scrubs because it's about people who are mean to each other, but like each other anyway - they know they're in a sitcom, but it works anyway. I like space because it's big and unknown, but I like Earth because it's where I live and it's all we've got. I like Captain Marvel better than Superman, because I could be Captain Marvel if I knew the magic word.

Not So Long Ago . . .

This is my friend Patrick Van Slee.

The internet is Awesome.