Larry King Live talks to the Dead

During a short visit to Texas, my wife Hazel and I caught a session of Larry King Live, on which ‘psychics’ battled skeptics. It was clear from the outset the production was heavily biased towards the psychics. Three of them were in the studio with King, shoulder to shoulder. The two skeptics were on video feed, separately.

Let me declare here I’ve never liked King’s style. This episode confirmed my suspicion he is the master of the non-searching question.

The psychics tumbled over themselves to claim they were providing a service, giving closure to the bereaved and that because so many people used their services, they must be legitimate. They (literally) shouted their honesty and sincerity over and over.

One of the skeptics was professor of ethics at a major university. The other was a rabbi whose specialty was sociology. Their air time was probably less than 10 per cent of the programme, and they were often on split-screen, with one of the psychics being a distraction or simply talking over them. The only time King called for order was so the show could break for commercials.

One psychic, a woman named Brown, had been challenged by James Randi to undergo his test for a million dollars. Her response was to claim he hadn’t the money. Randi sent her a certified copy of the bank account by courier, but she refused to accept delivery. The professor managed to get this information on screen and the bank statement was shown on camera, proving it stood at over one million dollars. Brown was asked if she would now take the test and said, “No, it’s a lose/lose situation.” King didn’t ask her why, the other rascals raised a hullaballoo and the subject was dropped.

The middle miscreant, sporting a beard, tried to convince viewers he was invaluable to police forces around the country because he had cracked case after case. When asked to name a few, he claimed they were all too sensitive to mention. Again, King didn’t follow up. Fortunately, our professor managed to put it on the record that no police force has ever acknowledged the assistance of any clairvoyant, and made the point that psychics have been known to interfere in cases by employing private detectives to find information they can then present as their own brain-storming.

Then came a phone-in session. The first call asked the bearded rogue to find a missing family member. He simply said, “stay on the line and we’ll talk after the show.” The rabbi said bluntly this was a job for the police. The next caller asked if a late uncle liked the new colour of his house’s hallway. “Oh yes, the psychic replied, “he is very happy with the colour you have chosen.” She was not asked what the colour was. The rabbi commented, “With all this power at your disposal, you waste it on the colour of a house hallway?”

The same psychic then offered to provide the name of the person of concern to the next caller. I turned to Hazel and said, “If it’s a man, he’s John, if a woman she’s Margaret.”

Sure enough, she saw a letter M amongst others and the caller made an encouraging sound. “M, A?” Yes. “M, A, R?” Yes. “It’s either Mary or Margaret?” Margaret, said the caller. Blonde smiled at the camera and the whole show faded out, on a classic cold-reading.

On another topic (or is it?), in NZ Skeptic 78, a letter of mine was one of only three published in the Forum. Each of the other two was written by a Howard. (Gasp, it’s almost happened again! -ed.) When Hazel and I met, her name was Howard. Three out of three. What are the odds? Spooky, don’t you think?

Clive Shaw

Lily the Pink

In the latest issue of the Skeptic journal, the Snake Oil article refers to a Lydia Pankhouse. This is incorrect. The lady’s name was Pinkham. A full song about the lady can be found at

Rudy Sunde

Quarts, anyone?

Bernard Howard asks if readers can visualize a US quart.

A US gallon is defined as 231 cubic inches, in other words, the volume of a cuboid-or box-measuring 11 by 7 by 3 inches. So a US quart or quarter gallon is the volume of a box measuring 5.5 by 3.5 by 3 inches. This already sounds like something of the same order as the familiar litre carton, and turns out to be about 10 per cent short of a litre.

Kris Howard

Bernard Howard replies:

Dear Kris,

Thanks for your email. I am strongly against any attempt to visualise US quarts. The sooner they join bushels, rods, poles and perches in well deserved oblivion, the better. I knew a man once who liked to convert all speeds, whatever the units used, into furlongs per fortnight.

Why 231 cu in? At least the Imperial gallon was defined as the volume of ten pounds of water, which has a semblance of logic to it.

Yours pedantically,


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