Clock Watching

The following message from James Randi was posted to the Usenet newsgroup sci.skeptic on February 4th by Jim Kutz.

A few years back, Philadelphia “psychic” Judith Richardson Haimes was awarded US$1.6 million by a less-than-bright jury when she claimed she’d lost her powers from poor medical treatment. The attorney for the defendant hospital was instructed by the amazed judge to appeal that verdict, and Haimes summoned up all her psychic powers to predict to the press that the appeal would lose. The appeal was successful. Exit Haimes.

I recall that “psychic” Uri Geller said, on a live CBS-TV show a couple of years ago, that his psychic powers enabled him to predict that he’d win the case against me. So far, that prediction looks as if it might not be fulfilled, with $200,000+ in sanctions presently against Mr Geller… But these powers work in strange ways, we’re told. Take the example of Big Ben.

Yes, that’s the actual name of the famous London clock, though originally it was the name of the bell that was to have struck the hour. That bell broke and was re-cast. The Encyclopaedia Britannica says that the clock itself is now properly named Big Ben, so I’ll go along with that. The clock is stopped regularly twice a year for maintenance, and it has stopped periodically over the years from simple mechanical defects.

Enter Uri Geller. On November 2nd of 1986, he announced that he would stop the mighty clock by his psychic powers. It ticked (boomed?) on and the public yawned; seems Mr Geller had failed to announce just when the miracle would take place. A couple of years later, it stopped, and Mr Geller claimed credit for the event. More yawns. Then on December 18th, 1989, he declared that he would be “laying off Big Ben” because he might have to pay the enormous repair bill if his powerful psychic energies twisted the innards.

Alas. Last week the clock stopped again, and Mr Geller said he did it. Will he get a bill from Westminster? Will anyone believe that he really did it. Answers: No and yes. You see, Mr Geller missed his big opportunity back in August of 1976, when the clock stopped and remained stopped for almost nine months. He doesn’t seem to now have much luck with timepieces; he lost the very large suit he had against the Timex watch company, and now he can’t seem to time his Big Ben stoppings. Do you suppose that all those psychically-changed watches all over the world are putting out a general psi signal to get revenge?

Nahhhhhhh. The psychic superstar appeared by phone on the Ron-and-Ron radio show here in Florida a few days ago, and they bawled out their producer, on-air, for having put him on at all. They declared that he’d been —— as a —— “15 years ago” and they did not treat him at all nicely. (Vetting done to avoid legal problems, though that’s what they actually did say.)

I’m indebted to my crack UK researchers, Lewis Jones and Michael Hutchinson, for their work on this item. Dependable chaps. And a smaller piece may follow this after I get further data. Stay tuned.

James Randi


Letter from India

The Indian Skeptics sometimes seem to be up against some very big opponents. Our Chair recently received the following letter:

Dear Friend,

[There have been] 6 murders in the bedroom of Satya Sai Baba on 6.6.93. As the Sai Baba with the collusion of the police have committed this crime as the State and Central Ministers and the president of India are inner circle members of the Sai Baba Mafia, on 27.9.93 with great difficulty we have filed a writ petition in the High Court of Andhra Pradesh for an impartial enquiry into the murky happenings in Sai Baba’s alleged abode of peace, where his very near accomplices were murdered, and the petition came up for admission on 28.9.93.

The government pleaders tried their best to refer the case to the full bench of the High Court, where many such cases are pending the report of the judicial commission as to whether the courts have powers to order an impartial enquiry or a CBI enquiry. Mr K.N. Balgopal, our advocate practising in the Supreme Court of India at New Delhi, produced the recent judgement (in which he himself had argued the case for the petitioner in September ’93) where the bench of the Supreme Court, which included the Chief Justice of India, stated that the Courts are supreme as far as the upholding of law, justice and Constitution are concerned, and when the State and the Central Government fails to uphold law, justice and the Constitution they have the powers to order an impartial enquiry into the allegations. After seeing the judgement, the Hon. Judge issued notices to the State and Central Government to file their counters within four weeks and posted the case for orders on 4.11.1993.

The three advocates […] have taken up the work free. But we have to pay them their actual expenses. The air travel of Mr Balgopal comes to Rs 10,000 for every hearing, ie about US$335. With great difficulty we have ourselves paid for the expenses for the first visit, and the expenses. We are wondering how we will be able to send the air tickets for the 4th November hearing. The average income of our members is in- between Rs 10,000 to 20,000 per year! […]

We will be happy if you will share our expenses in the following ways:

  1. By collecting annual subscriptions for Indian Skeptic from your willing members, which is US$12 or its equivalent in your currency.
  2. By enlisting life subscribers for Indian Skeptic, which is US$150 or its equivalent in your currency. By collecting even $1 or more from each member.
  3. By ordering for the press clippings on the murky happenings at Sai Baba’s bedroom (about 300 clippings in English) at US$20 per set. The cheques may be made in the name of Indian Skeptic and posted to my address.

Hoping to hear from you at an early date. I am approaching you with great hesitation as I have no other way.

Yours sincerely, B. Premanand

Astrology Book Defended

In Skeptic 27 we announced the appearance of a new book on astrology written by one of the TVNZ folks who brings us the news every night. We remarked on how pleased TVNZ must be to have the services of this person in its newsroom.

We’ve now received a response from the author of The Astrologer and the Paradigm Shift, who obviously expects to be taken very seriously.

Overleaf is the press release I distributed within the TVNZ newsroom after publication of my book last year.

This book is now available via the National Library network. Since I believe it contributes greatly to the progress of science in particular and the advance of civilisation generally, I would like to publicise the ideas it contains.

I therefore challenge anyone to detect any error of logic in its core thesis. I’m a friendly person who would find it unfortunate to have to make a fool of anyone on national television, so I’d best be fair and let you know one physics professor has already been unable to detect any such error.

I expect anyone interested in taking up this challenge to read my book first. That means NOT skimming the chapters dealing with scientific philosophy in general and the nature of reality in particular.

Dennis Frank