Monday, May 30, 2005

On Mix Tapes and Infidelity

I felt a sharp stab reading Salon's review of Thurston Moore's new book Mix Tape: The Art of Cassette Culture. Mix tapes, just in case you were born after 1980 or so, were those cassettes us oldtimers used to make back before the digital era. We'd painstakingly dub our most beloved songs off vinyl and -- in some cases -- other mix tapes, to create a custom sonic symphony for ourselves, our friends, or, most pointedly, for a potential or actual girlfriend.

The painful part of the review:

Phrased negatively, making a mix tape for someone other than your girlfriend is a form of cheating. In the film version of Nick Hornby's book "High Fidelity," John Cusack's character nearly wrecks a relationship by making a mix for another girl. He might as well have been caught with panties in his messenger bag. It doesn't matter that he never gets further than flirting. Making a mix tape for another girl is only a notch below actual infidelity.

The age of the mix tape has given way to the age of the easily-made mix CD, but the intent and emotion behind a good mix remains the same. This is why, a couple of months ago, when my wife started bringing home mix CDs given to her by a close male friend (formerly a close friend of mine, too), I openly called her on it, expressed why it hurt me, and tried to explain why I thought it inappropriate at best for her to be accepting such tapes. She played dumb, or maybe she really was clueless on this point, or maybe she was deliberately (if unconsciously) working to sever her ties to me.

Most painfully, much of the music on the mix tapes was music that's been on our iPod or in my CD collection for years, music that I had tried repeatedly to introduce my wife to. Her resistence to trying anything new was a long-time trait; her willingness to do so with someone else a deep betrayal. Does this constitute infidelity?

For me it does. Emotional cheating is far more painful than sexual cheating. Being stabbed in the back in this way by both my wife and a former close friend has certainly been a most unpleasant shock; I think I know how all those Enron employees and shareholders felt, watching their beloved investments collapse into shit.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Intel CEO: Get a Mac?

Delicious! New Intel CEO Paul Otellini fesses up:

Pressed about security..., Mr. Otellini had a startling confession: He spends an hour a weekend removing spyware from his daughter's computer. And when further pressed about whether a mainstream computer user in search of immediate safety from security woes ought to buy Apple Computer Inc.'s Macintosh instead of a Wintel PC, he said, "If you want to fix it tomorrow, maybe you should buy something else."

I use a PC at work and a Mac at home, but I'm definitely in the Mac convert camp for reasons of both functionality and elegance. I've never been in love with a Wintel machine (although I've been in love with what they enabled me to do -- word processing, email, the Web). I AM in love with Macs; they're just such classy products, and I adore that they're designed with an eye to creating passionate users.

If you have any interest in doing anything creative with your computer (film, art, music), a Mac is the undisputed way to go. Indeed, the availability of such astoundingly simple and powerful off-the-shelf creative technologies has spawned a massive flourishing of DIY artistry both on and off the web. Millard Grub's MacProfit blog, for instance, is a great place to get inspired.

Plus, I'm no fan of all the upkeep required with PCs...

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Coming Through the Haze

Sheesh! It's five days since my last post! And here I'd hoped to publish semi-regularly... Well, I have an excuse; my mind's been rather occupied recently. Also, I don't really have access to a computer in the evenings the way I'm used to, and I tend to write late at night.

Here, finally, is the post I promised a while ago, about the blog that inspired this one. Drumroll, please (I need to pretend someone out there actually gives a shit)...

It's Tom Frank's Coming Through the Haze online journal. Tom is a magician who does street performing and private shows, but a major portion of his blog is devoted to describing the hassles he's undergoing as a terminally broke performer with four kids from two failed marriages. Some of the posts (in which, for instance, he posts copies of letters he's receiving from his wife's lawyer) are depressing, others (in which he posts pictures of his all-too-brief visits with his young kids) are just sad, but he's always honest and he writes pretty well, occasionally beautifully.

Like many personal journals, Tom's blog has its share of excessive detail (I don't really need to hear about EVERY SINGLE TIME he goes dancing), but the blog is intended for him and his friends, and the whole thing is like a living soap opera. The longer you read him, the more you root for SOMETHING great to happen. I wish him the best; he inspired me to get this blog going and to find out if I really have anything interesting to say.

Now, the interesting part.

Tom Frank doesn't know me, and he probably won't recognize me when the day comes that we meet again face-to-face (as I'm sure it will). But I know him, and here's the story:

In the late Eighties we both lived in L.A. at the same time, Tom and I, and we were both regulars at the Magic Castle. I remember well when he moved to town; he and Danny Sylvester (Sylvester the Jester) were an inseparable pair at the time. I knew and hung out with Danny somewhat (I guess he goes by "Dan" now); he was a unique and original presence at the Castle, developing his insane coin work around the Sylvester Pitch. At the time, I found Danny's style a bit abrasive (he would produce coins from in front of women's cleavage and use lines like, "I guess it's more of a hope chest," but he was a sweet-natured guy and I always liked him personally.

Tom, on the other hand, was abrasive in person as well as in performance. The first time I saw him work the Castle he gave a pithy little speech about what an honor it was to work such a famous establishment and then he cut it by doing the old "yank yank" gesture to demonstrate his contempt for the place. As a serious Castle regular, I was offended by this needless, pseudo-hip gesture. I was deeply in love with the place; it's a formal supper club that has supported and nurtured many of the top magicians over the last thirty-five years and I never saw the need to cut it down in a public show for laypeople. Furthermore, the Castle has always prided itself on it's elegance and class; swearing was never allowed in the shows and off-color material strongly discouraged.

I don't want to suggest that this one example put Tom on my shit list forever; I only recount it to explain why I never hung out much with him. He was a big-time partier, did a lot of drugs, liked to wear a pretentious bowler hat and smoke cigars (I never could stand young men who wear hats and smoke cigars; it's self-indulgent posturing). Also, although he had talent he was nowhere near the brilliant performer he thought he was. I was at the time a very straight magic geek, but I would put my personality and talent up against his any day.

But, it must be admitted, I probably was also somewhat jealous of him. He and Danny used to hang out at all the hot clubs in town, clubs I never went to. The hottest of the hot clubs in the late Eighties was a "private" hangout called Vertigo where, if I'm not mistaken, Danny was the house magician. Back then, I was pretty intimidated by the club scene and its drugs and wild people; I never would have even considered trying to go to Vertigo.

One day, a non-magician friend and I were hanging out at the Castle and we ended up chatting with Tom. (I don't actually remember this at all, but I remember what followed.) Tom said he was heading to Vertigo and invited us to join him. We drove there in separate cars, parked, and headed to the front door where a crowd was milling around waiting to get in.

Can you see where this is going? Tom walked up to the goon at the rope (a very big Terminator with a long, expensive, black leather coat), nodded, and the goon opened the rope to let him in. He did NOT let me and my friend in and calmly refused to open the rope for us. We stood there for oh, maybe half an hour while other "beautiful people" were admitted in front of us. We wondered whether Tom was coming back. He didn't, and we finally left, but it was an extremely humiliating experience and I think it's understandable if I say it rather soured me on Mr. Frank.

Anyway, cut to some three or four years later. Tom has moved to Cinncinati. He's friends with my roommate, a talented street performer named Mickey O'Connor, and so he comes over for a visit and stays overnight with us. I get a chance to hang out with Tom a bit, and he seems like a changed man. He's now married, has a baby, and is working hard to grow his magic business.

He shows us his laptop with its clientele tracking software. This was around, oh, 1990, 1991, and laptops were still an expensive curiosity; they tended to be the province of businessmen. I was impressed with his focus, his get-up-and-go attitude.

I told him about the time a few years back in which he had ditched me and my friend at the door of Vertigos. He didn't remember it at all. "I was doing a lot of drugs back then, a lot of coke. I don't remember much."

So that's that. I never really forgave him for making me feel so small that night, but I was able to hold him a bit differently after his visit. I still felt he was an opportunist who I wouldn't necessarily trust with a dollar, but he seemed to be on a track to maturity and adulthood.

And then, a few months ago, I came across his blog. The last dozen years have not been kind to Tom. He divorced his first wife, remarried, had three more kids, and got divorced again. He's $14,000 behind in his child support for his second wife (about whom he spares no adjectives). His first baby is now the fifteen year-old son who lives with him (and of whom he is extemely proud when the report card comes in with all A's). He still hustles his rent working the streets and the occasional gig.

In short, Tom has grown up and found that adulthood is difficult. It's ironic that I started reading his blog long before I knew that my personal situation would in some ways mirror his (but only in some ways, thankfully). But it's hugely interesting to me to be able to track a fifteen year trajectory in a guy I knew. And it's a good antidote to any illusions I have about becoming a full-time professional magician. It's a hard, hard way to make a living.

So thanks, Tom, for the lessons. Thanks for laying your life so bare, as a cautionary tale and a poignant human drama. I have a persistent, nagging feeling that your blog is extremely one-sided (I'd love to read one of your ex-wives' blogs!), but I wish you all the inner peace and outer prosperity you can hold. And thanks for inspiring me to start THIS blog, for helping to show me that you write to write and you don't worry about whether anyone's reading your musings.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

My Marriage is Over

It looks like my beloved wife of almost eleven years has decided to call it quits on our marriage. I'm still in shock; this has all gone down in the last few weeks and it came as a total surprise to me that she wanted out. I thought we were both growing and healing from our wounded pasts, and I looked forward to entering a new phase in our relationship. This wasn't exactly the new phase I had in mind.

I've since found out there's a name for what happened: Walkaway Wife Syndrome.

We're going to try our best to make the split as gentle as possible, and try to remain on friendly terms. I'm very angry and hurt at the moment, but I expect it will pass. This is a new challenge for me; I was totally committed to the idea that we would grow old together and keep building our lives together. Oh well.

Sadly, I have several friends who are fellow students with her. Some of them were my friends before they were hers, but apparently they're now her buddies and I suspect I may never hear from any of them again. So that's even a double loss.

How the fuck are we going to tell my son?

To All My Friends: Thank You

For all my friends, magical and non-magical, thanks so much for your support and love. It means a lot to me in these difficult times. My former partner and I are trying to work things out in the most even-handed and gentle way possible. It's been tough on me; I haven't ever had such wild mood swing before! Very interesting to observe.

And a special shout out to the gang of magicians at our regular Friday Night gathering. You're the best!

Okay, I promise to try to return to my regularly unsheduled posting. Next up (I think), will be the post I promised about the Blog that inspired this one.

In the meantime, you can enjoy watching 'Net superstar Gary Broslma doing the Numa Numa dance.

Misdirection and Information Architecture

This post, which calls for a way to incorporate Misdirection (as used by magicians) into Information Architecture (like website design) strikes me as a bit of a stretch, but it's a fun idea -- especially for people (like me) who are interested in both topics. The rest of the UXcentric Blog tends towards the technical; if you're not involved in the Information Architecture field you might prefer to spend your time here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Senate Smackdown

George Galloway of the British Parliament is my new hero! You have *got* to check out the bitch-slapping he delivered to Senator Norm Coleman yesterday. This is the best takedown since Jon Stewart destroyed Tucker Carlson -- literally -- back in October.

Notable quotes:

On his alleged "many meetings" with Saddam Hussein:

I have had two meetings with Saddam Hussein, once in 1994 and once in August of 2002. By no stretch of the English language can that be described as "many meetings" with Saddam Hussein.

As a matter of fact, I have met Saddam Hussein exactly the same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld met him. The difference is Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns and to give him maps the better to target those guns. I met him to try and bring about an end to sanctions, suffering and war, and on the second of the two occasions, I met him to try and persuade him to let Dr Hans Blix and the United Nations weapons inspectors back into the country - a rather better use of two meetings with Saddam Hussein than your own Secretary of State for Defence made of his.

On his record:

Now, Senator, I gave my heart and soul to oppose the policy that you promoted. I gave my political life's blood to try to stop the mass killing of Iraqis by the sanctions on Iraq which killed one million Iraqis, most of them children, most of them died before they even knew that they were Iraqis, but they died for no other reason other than that they were Iraqis with the misfortune to born at that time. I gave my heart and soul to stop you committing the disaster that you did commit in invading Iraq. And I told the world that your case for the war was a pack of lies.

I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims did not have weapons of mass destruction. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to al-Qaeda. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to the atrocity on 9/11 2001. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that the Iraqi people would resist a British and American invasion of their country and that the fall of Baghdad would not be the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning.

Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong and 100,000 people paid with their lives; 1600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies; 15,000 of them wounded, many of them disabled forever on a pack of lies.

Watch the complete testimony, or read the full transcript, at Information Clearing House. Per their request, I won't hotlink the site, but here's the URL:

Why a Blog, PeaceLove?

Wow, it's two days since my last post. And here I sort of vowed to myself to try to post at least daily.

Well, I'm discovering a lot that's interesting about having this kind of blog. The first is that I consciously threw myself into this with the express purpose of *forcing* myself to work on it every day. You see, I'm sort of a Generalist, the kind of guy who knows a whole lot about everything, kind of feeds on information from out of the loop. But I've never actually *done* anything, never 100%. And I'm starting to work on changing that, to create useful, transformative *habits* which can actually change my life. And I've done it in a very public way, so if I fail, I fail in front of the world.

That's incentive!

And I've found that I only like to write about what I'm passionate about. I'm sure this is just as plain as daisies to most of you out there, but I guess I needed to start this process to learn that about myself. So if you read through my posts you are pretty much taking a tour of my passions, or at least some of them.

Can you tell which post I wasn't all that passionate about? It's the post about the secret memo. I needed filler -- there, I said it. I wanted to write about *something,* anything, to keep the discipline rolling, to excercise those muscles. I think it's an important story, but I'm not so sure it's as much of a Smoking Gun as the Left pretends. I have no way of knowing, but I *feel* that the folks running the government are neither as stupid nor as venal as the Left claims, in exactly the same way that the Left is neither as vapid nor as infantile as is claimed by the Right.

Also, I have a feeling that most of my readers were already familiar with the story (those who care), and I added nothing new or interesting. I became a mere information distribution link in the densely woven Sacred Geometry of the web -- an honorable place, to be sure, but one insufficient by the standards I have set for myself.

So I pledge, Dear Reader, to try to only post what I'm passionate about, which means trying to find something to be passionate about at least once a day, which sounds easy but really isn't. Among other things, I have a lot on my personal plate and it's hard finding the time and energy to put this much attention into the blog. Perhaps I'll blog more about my life, but only if there's something interesting I feel a passion to write about.

And I'm trying to balance the content here; most of the personal Blogs I currently read are magic blogs and many of my readers are magicians, but I'm aware that some of my guests here aren't magicians and have less than no interest in reading about this or that controversy in the magic world. So my posts on magic will tend towards the general interest, or they'll tilt so that non-magicians reading them can actually gain insight into what it *feels* like to be a magician, what are some of the issues surrounding creating Art using the medium of Magic.

(I wasn't very happy with my Erdnase post, either, for that matter. Classify that one as a "General Interest Only" post, although I *was* passionate. That prologue really made me smile and it really brought me right *in* to what makes Erdnase great. And -- bizarre coincidence! -- the very day after, literally the day after I posted that, I met a guy who's doing major research on Erdnase and is absolutely convinced he's found the right guy, that he know's who Erdnase really was. Very strange. A lot of culty interest around that book. Maybe I figured that posting that would somehow help me to understand Erdnase at a deeper level.)

So anyway, this blog is a very complex project, for me, serving many different purposes. I'm currenly considering a number of different off-web projects and this blog can help me make one happen when I decide I'm ready. Not "if," "when" I decide I will post something about it here and thus take the challenge into the public arena. Once I've gone public, I'll have no choice but to make it happen, not only for my own development but to avoid public humiliation and embarassment.

Again, talk about incentive!

So there you have it, one guide through my conscousness, one brief glimpse into the source and direction of my Musings. Thanks for reading.


COMING UP SOON: The personal blog that inspired this one, in some ways the most extraordinary blog I've found so far. and my tangled, conflicted, complex history with its protagonist.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

20Q - More reasons to buy one!

After playing heavily with it for awhile, I can happily report one more critical quality the handheld 20Q has in spades: it's superbly well-designed. I'm something of a stickler for good design (I consider the iPod a masterpiece), and I have a low tolerance for cluttered, overly-complicated electronics. The 20Q has a very simple, clear interface, with all buttons accessible and none of them serving more than one purpose except the "Yes" button, which doubles as the "On" button when the thing's off and the "New Game" button when it's on. The display is a delightful scrolling red backlit screen; two buttons on the side speed up and slow down the scrolling, so you don't have to sit there with eyes glazing over while the questions crawl past. At the fastest scroll rate you can pretty much storm through a game quickly, but for younger players, you can slow the scroll down so they have time to read the questions.

In hours of playing with it I never once hit the wrong button. And - Praise the Design Gods! -- the annoying sound effects are easily muted with the touch of a button and they stay off until and unless you turn them back on - even when the 20Q is off (it shuts itself off after 60 seconds of inactivity).

Best of all, unlike the Web version, the handheld 20Q game breaks in every five or six questions for a taunt ("I can't believe you're thinking of that!") or a boast ("I know almost everything!"). These are mercifully quick, so not only don't they interrupt the flow of your game, but they actually add two important benefits. The first is that they give you a brief comic respite from having to think about your object and how to answer the questions (without which the game could begin to feel slightly like a test). Second, and most importantly, it "humanizes" the 20Q; you never really feel you're simply inputting data into a computer since it seems to have a personality. The fact that the chosen personality is a bit of a joker and a braggart makes it more fun when you stump it, and also makes it seem more personal when it nails you.


The Secret Memo You're Not Supposed to See

Just in case you haven't heard about it, a secret memo was leaked to the Times of London which shows that the Bush administration had decided to go to war with Iraq as early as July of 2002 and that they subsequently lied about their reasons for doing so. David Michael Green has a good overview here.

Here's a snippet:

Did you know that there now exists in the public domain a 'smoking gun' memo, which proves that everything the Bush administration said about the Iraq invasion was a lie? If you live in Britain you probably do, but if you live in the United States, chances are minuscule that you would be aware of this...

...[H]ow is it that this is not being reported in the American mainstream media? How is it that the two organs most responsible for coverage of political developments in this country - the New York Times and the Washington Post - have failed to splash this across their front pages in bold headlines, despite the fact that they clearly know of the story? How, especially, could these two papers sit on a story like this after both recently issued mea culpas for their respective failures to critically cover administration claims of bogus Iraqi threats during the period leading up to the war, thereby contributing to the war themselves?

If you're outraged by this, feel free to send a note to the New York Times ( to ask them why they don't feel you need to know about this memo.

20 Questions

Have you seen the 20 Questions site? This is basically an ever-growing neural network cleverly disguised as an addictive game of "20 Questions." Created by a brilliant Canadian named Robin Burgener back in 1988 and ported to the web in 1995, 20Q has been learning and growing smarter through it's interactions with the millions of people who have played it.

It's a lot of fun to play: You simply think of anything (Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, or even Love, Fear, the color Blue...) and it tries to guess it within twenty questions. 73% of the time, it gets it right. Impressive.

But still, when you're playing online it's easy to imagine some sort of massive, parallel-processing server somewhere crunching all those electro-synaptic connections. Far more impressive is the handheld pocket version, which is about the size of a yoyo, lightweight, and terrifying. I never really grokked the weirdness of this thing until Kevin Kelly covered it on his Cool Tools site. As he points out in his review:

The toy is remarkable. Because it is so small, so autonomous, its intelligence is shocking to the unprepared. Most children can't stump it, and if you stick to objects it will stump smart adults about 80% of the time with 20 questions and most of the time with an additional 5 questions. I love to watch people's reactions when they think of a "hard" thing, and after a seemingly irrational set of questions you are convinced are dumb, the sly ball tells you what you had in mind.

I can attest that I have now experienced this shock firsthand and observed it in others. By sheer coincidence, a friend had one of these suckers out on their coffee table last night and I decided the first time out to try to see if it could guess "stereo speaker." After twenty questions, none of which were anything like, "Do you listen to it?" or "Does it play music?" I was pretty convinced I had it stumped. After some taunting ("I can read you like a book!") it said, "I am are thinking of...a stereo speaker?"

Hard to describe the feeling I got at that moment. It felt like genuine psi!

It doesn't get it every time, but when it nails you it feels really weird. My friend Craig tried "pebble" first time out and it got it. Shocked the hell out of him, even though I had warned him! It also got "cheetah" without asking me any questions about whether it runs fast, is a carnivore, or has spots -- which I thought pretty much *defined* a cheetah!

It's available for $10-15 bucks at Target, Kmart, or other discount stores or on the web here. Passionately recommended!

Friday, May 13, 2005

The Cost of the War in Iraq

Thanks to my old pal Bob, who I used to work with at HealthRider in Montgomery Mall in Bethesda, MD, for the "Cost of the War in Iraq" counter that I added to my Links bar on the right. This one displays a good visual display of quantitative information, and the link adds value, too.

The cost counter reminds me of the Drug War Clock I used to link to on my old, long-vanished Geocities site.

Thank You

Holy F---ing S---! When I last checked my site, around 4:30 this afternoon, my invisible Site Counter had 6 visits reported, all from me (all me trying to get the goddam counter to show in the page!). Now it has become visible and it says 26! SOMEONE'S been visiting my site in the last eight and a half hours!

I know, I know, 20 hits in 8 and a half hours -- gosh, it's the new Drudge Report! But still, 20 hits means multiple people, probably all friends but still, multiple people, are reading my site. Checking back in to see what's new. Listening in on this conversation.

To that I say Thank You, thank you for visiting the site. I really appreciate knowing I have at least one Reader out there who's following this journey. Because it is a journey, for me. I really don't know where it's going; I only know where it's been.

I expect that in the days and weeks and months to come, I'll be occasionally pretentious, frequently silly, and maybe once in a while insightful (or maybe incite-ful?). But everything I put out there from now on will be part of my journey, in one way or another.


P.S. Feel free to leave Comments. They bounce right to my email, so you can enjoy the fact that you're participating in this public dialogue while simultaneusly letting me know privately that you're doing so.

That's the Sacred Geometry of the Web.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Creating Passionate Users

I've been trying to get a link to this fantastic blog in my links bar at the right, but there's some kind of glitch in Blogger's software. I put the link in the Template, right below all the other links, Save the changes, and Preview, where it displays perfectly (along with a nifty site counter at the bottom of the page). But when I "Republish," the changes and additions don't show up! They're still in the Template, but they don't seem to work. Anyone have any suggestions?

UPDATE: The problem appears to be fixed, in that the Blog and the Site Counter now seem to appear on the site when I call it up from home. See the next post...

At any rate, this Creating Passionate Users blog is fantastic for anyone considering creating any kind of product or service. It's full of great advice like, ""Quit telling us how great you are, and start telling us how you plan to deliver something that helps the user become greater." But more importantly, there are intriguing discussions of the importance of design (and the difference between Americans and Asians), the necessity of incorporating emotion into any attempt to change, and on "Creating Playful Users."

Worth a look.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

R.I.P. Jay Marshall

One of the last of the great magic legends has died. Jay Marshall started in vaudeville and worked with just about everyone over the last fifty or sixty years. He made numerous appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, usually with his rabbit hand puppet "Lefty."

He was the owner, along with his late wife Frances, of Chicago's greatest and oldest magic shop, Magic Inc. I had the privilege of hanging out with Jay at Magic Inc. on numerous occasions while living in Chicago a few years ago; he was an encyclopedia of showbiz information and a vast storehouse of jokes, many of them unfit for family consumption.

Among the regulars at his shop were a guy who drew for the Ziggy cartoon, an amazing old gentleman who had pioneered the "Rubber Man" act on stage with Ray Bolger (who later went on to use the rubber man style when he played the Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz"), and a guy who claimed to have invented windowpane.

The shop itself is a living museum. One time I looked up on a shelf and there were original plates from the Deland Dollar Deck, an early mass-produced trick deck. Wander the back rooms and the Museum; it's like a collector's dream.

Yes, history passes on...

Monday, May 09, 2005

"The Expert at the Card Table"

This 1902 classic is probably the most closely-studied treatise on cheating technique ever written. The author, one S.W. Erdnase (a pseudonym; his true identity is the subject of intense speculation), was a professional cheat, and this book is the source of much heavy-duty card work still in use today by card magicians and, probably, by cheats as well.

"The Expert at the Card Table," which is subtitled "A Treatise on the Science and Art of Manipulating Cards," has seen numerous editions through the years, including annotated versions by the legendary Dai Vernon and noted card magician Darwin Ortiz. It is no stretch to call this the single most influential book of card technique ever written. The section headings -- "Blind Riffles," "Bottom Dealing," "Cull Shuffles," "The Diagonal Palm Shift" -- sound like they come right out of "The Sting" or a Ricky Jay performance.

I somehow managed to avoid ever owning a copy of the book, although I used to study it in the Magic Castle library. I finally broke down and bought a copy on The Preface cracked me up; I had forgotten how spicily the book is written!

In offering this book to the public the writer uses no sophistry as an excuse for its existence. The hypocritical cant of reformed (?) gamblers, or whining, mealy-mouthed pretensions of piety, are not foisted as a justification for imparting the knowledge it contains. To all lovers of card games it should prove interesting, and as a basis of card entertainment it is practically inexhaustible. It may caution the unwary who are innocent of guile, and it may inspire the crafty by enlightenment on artifice. It may demonstrate to the tyro that he cannot beat a man at his own game, and it may enable the skilled in deception to take a post-graduate course in the highest and most artistic branches of his vocation. But it will not make the innocent vicious, or transform the pastime player into a professional; or make the fool wise, or crutail the annual crop of suckers; but whatever the result may be, if it sells it will accomplish the primary motive of the author, as he needs the money.

Brief Film Review - "Collateral" - UPDATED

I was a little reticent about this one. Not only do I dislike Tom Cruise as an actor, but I have generally found Michael Mann ("Miami Vice," "Heat," "Ali") self-indulgent and overblown, with pseudo-intellectual trappings that never quite pan out. Even "The Insider," which is probably his best film, didn't quite hold together as a great work; too much mumbling Russel Crowe for my taste.

That said, Mann has a good eye and genuine passion. As a close comparison, Mann shares attributes with Oliver Stone, in that both tend to make didactic movies simmering with real personal feeling. I would submit that Stone's the more interesting filmmaker; he takes bigger risks and is consequently sometimes more annoying. But with both Stone and Mann, whatever their faults, you never feel you're in the hands of a hack filmmaker.

"Collateral" suffers from all the usual Mann problems, but is worth a look on DVD for the terrific lead performance of Jamie Foxx, some nicely-nuanced supporting work from Jada Pinkett Smith, and the general feeling of malaise surrounding L.A. and its environs. The story holds together pretty well, although the first half is far more interesting than the second (how often this happens!). Mann's propensity for cheap philosophising weaves in and out of the picture, but -- if you don't take it too seriously -- there are worse ways to spend a couple of hours.

On the other hand, if called to the mat I'd recommend you skip "Collateral" altogether and check out this, this, or this. That's the great thing about the DVD revolution (and, especially, Netflix). With so many brilliant films to choose from you don't have to settle. Ever.

ADDENDUM: I'm not at all happy with this review, but I'm trying to be disciplined about saying something about every film I see, as a way to stretch my critical muscles. The problem is that with "Collateral," I couldn't really figure out much to say. I kind of, sort of, liked the film, but it left a distinctly unhealthy taste in my mouth -- like gourmet pastries made with vegetable shortening rather than butter. Mann just tries so hard, and has so much talent, but the film is ultimately a bit dishonest and a bit sleazy.

Writing in "The Village Voice," critic Michael Atkinson nailed the best review I found anywhere. I quote:

...Mann, like Democrat politicians, has bought into a moneyed system that allows only for half-successes and paltry ambitions....Collateral is a slim drink of thin beer, remarkable only as evidence that Mann might have a modern masterpiece in him if he were cut loose and allowed to roam around in his own obsessions.

Psi - The Final Words

Here are Andy's final comments (in italics), with my response.

I would point out that the reason I didn’t continue the discussion was not because I thought you had made a valid point that ended the discussion, but because I thought from the examples that you had given that you’re just a very credulous person. And so there was no point to going on about it because there was no lack of evidence, or hoax, or analogy that I could reference that would make you believe any less in what you believe.

As covered previously, this argument cuts both ways. I don't believe there is any evidence I could supply that would make a "skeptic" (not necessarily Andy) believe in psi. If I weren't friends with so many parapsychologists, I'd probably be more skeptical, too. I just don't accept Andy's argument that ALL the positive results I cited are the result of incompetent statistical analysis.

On the other hand, I had stated in very concrete terms what I would consider evidence (something that is consistent and replicable).

The specific examples I gave previously have been replicated repeatedly in labs in the U.S. and Europe. "The Journal of Scientific Explorations," a peer-reviewed journal put out by the Society for Scientific Exploration, has published a wide range of articles on anomalous phenomena, including psi. We discussed "peer-reviewed" journals in previous postings; in fact, there are numerous peer-reviewed parapsychology journals published all over the world. These are simply ignored or ridiculed by the scientific establishment.

So it’s like arguing with someone who believes the bible is the literal truth, or arguing with a skeptic for which no amount of evidence will ever suffice. If you want to see fluctuations in a Random Number Generator as evidence of a mass human consciousness, even when there’s no data that would suggest these fluctuations deviate from any mathematical norm, then no matter what anyone says you’re going to see it as evidence. You can say that it’s a phenomenon with zero structure to it but it’s a phenomenon that exists as far as you’re concerned.

Again, we'll have to agree to disagree on the validity of the evidence and the solidity of the peer-reviewed data.

And if that enriches your life in some way, then that’s fine with me. Ultimately I’m not too concerned about what you individually believe, I’m just concerned about what is.

Now THAT is something we can both agree on!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

The Case for Psi (Part 3)

Here it gets interesting (I hope); at least we're both addressing specific issues about what constitutes "proof" for psi.


Hi Andy,

Thanks for the reply. You bring up an important point about defining what is and isn't psi. The problem as I see it is that the
pseudo-skeptics have also fallen into the trap of dismissing EVERYTHING as coincidence.

I remember another time with mentalist T.A. Waters when he described Martin Gardner's book, "The Wreck of the Titanic Foretold?" In it, the author discusses a novella written 14 years before the Titanic sank in which many of the details (in some cases quite specific ones) seemed to line up uncannily with the actual event. As T.A. described it, Gardner's book consists of a lot of, "Sure, the ship in the novel was called 'Titan' and the real ship was called 'Titanic.' So what, the company that built it used these types of names." "Sure, they both stuck an iceberg on the starboard side near midnight. Big deal, a lot of ships hit icebergs in those days." "Sure..." In other words, Gardner never set down how many coincidences would constitute proof of precognition on the part of the writer. He simply started with the notion that precognition is bunk, therefore every coincidence needs to be explained away.

Check this site for a typical analysis of the book. I'm not trying to lay down any judgements about this specific case, just citing it as an example of a particularly pernicious type of quasi-scientific argument used by debunkers. How do you argue when someone says, "Extraordinary coincidences do happen, and that's all this is."

If you put ten monkeys in front of ten typewriters they'll eventually type "King Lear," but if one of them does this in the first twenty-four hours, there's something going on other than random coincidence. To cite a more common type of story, if Mary has a dream in which her friend Tom falls off a highway overpass and is killed by a Red BMW and the next day Tom falls off a highway overpass and is killed by a Red BMW, there's no way Mary will accept some pseudo-skeptic's argument that this is only the random fluctuations of chance. Nor is there any chance of replicating the experiment; it happened, Tom's dead, and Mary now knows without a doubt that psi exists and that it is somehow possible to receive information from what we perceive to be the future.

Obviously, barring another 9/11, the Global Consciousness Project will never be able to replicate the effect they saw immediately preceding that horror. But if they run the experiment for long enough and never see such an effect again, wouldn't that constitute a high degree of evidence (forget about "proof" for a moment) for a global consciousness? I think you underestimate and insult the intelligence of the scientists running the project when you claim they're somehow unaware that statistical anomolies crop up naturally in the "real" world. Also, I think you're falling into the same trap that other skeptics fall into; namely, you never define the point at which you will accept the evidence. In other words, even if the effect is big enough, and anomolous enough (ie. it syncs up with a major global event like 9/11), a pseudo-skeptic will always plead "coincidence" and avoid a paranormal explanation.

The questions you cite, while compelling, are separate from whether the effect exists and can be demonstrated in the lab. In the case of Russell's Remote Viewing research (and, I believe, Honorton's), they expected a 1 in 4 hit rate, or 25%, and they consistently scored over 30%. This was replicated repeatedly, even after Ray Hyman examined the research (in Edinburgh) and suggested ways to tighten the controls. Every researcher I know has also discovered that certain people are more gifted than others (I'm not only talking about Uri Geller and Steve "Banachek" Shaw here) and consistently score much higher.

Again, it's an easy cop-out for a "skeptic" to say, "Sure, he drew a tower and an oval and a grid pattern, and the Target was a bridge next to an oval swimming pool next to a water tower, but that could just be a coincidence." I mean, come on!

I think you're wrong about peer-reviewed journals, for the reasons cited above. None of them would want to risk their reputation on studies which will be instantly "debunked" by a vocal "skeptical" establishment. They were burned on Cold Fusion years ago (even though the Department of Energy has reopened the Cold Fusion question), and they avoid borderland science like the plague. There's a boatload of controlled, replicated research. Skeptics yowl "fraud or flawed" and the results often don't even get a chance to move through the peer-review process.

And an EEG doesn't prove you dream; it just proves that your brainwaves vary while you sleep. If most people didn't dream (or didn't think they did), the oddballs who remembered their dreams would be considered kooks -- EEG or not. And people who claimed their dreams had meaning would really be exiled to the edge of the village.

When and if the scientific establishment accepts the reality of psi (and I believe one day they will), then it's up to others to figure out how it works, why it works, and why it works differently in different circumstances. You mentioned quantum mechanics; to my limited understanding (and listening to Russell and Bernie, who understand physics and quantum mechanics better than I), the notion that the Laws of Physics might be less strict than we've been led to believe is a major premise of many of our current models. Perhaps as we improve our theoretical understanding of the structure of consciousness and that of the Universe (which I believe are one and the same), the notion of psi will seem not merely plausible, but necessary. Your guess is as good as mine.


COMING UP: The really truly final last response from Andy, plus my wrap-up.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Andy Replies: The Case Against Psi (Part 2)

Here, Andy sharpens his sword a bit and makes some convincing points.

Any peer-reviewed journal would be ecstatic to break a story that proves the existence of PSI. Avoid it? Are you kidding? Do you know the money and notoriety that that would bring?

My argument against Radin is based on the mathematics. I don't know how familiar you are with the math behind "The Conscious Universe" and GCP [Global Consciousness Project]. So I'll put it in laymen's terms: Did you know that whenever I take a big shit there is a statistical anomaly in regards to the wins and losses at Trump Casino in Atlantic City. Why yes, just the other day I took a dump and at the same time there were 8 consecutive spins of red on one of the roulette wheels. The odds of that happening are 1 in 256! Then the other day I took a shit and just before I did a keno game had all the numbers fall into the range of 20-29. The odds of that are like one in a million. And then one time I took a shit and a little later some guy got three blackjacks in a row. The odds of that happening are 1 in 79,507.

Okay, that represents the same problem I have with the mathematics behind GCP. Their definition of what an anomaly is is dynamic.

Here are questions that would seem to deserve some investigation before we consider GCP indicative of PSI.

1. Why isn't the anomaly consistent?
2. How come there is often an anomaly when nothing of global significance has occurred?
3. How come there is sometimes something globally significant that happens and there is no anomaly whatsoever?
4. How come sometimes the anomalies occur before the event, sometimes after, and sometimes during?
5. If it's human consciousness that is causing these anomalies, shouldn't the machines nearer whatever situation is causing the anomaly register the anomaly to a greater degree?
6. Shouldn't the significance of an event have something to do with significance of the anomaly?
7. Why are the anomalies that are registered seemingly caused by situations that are eurocentric?
8. Why don't similar events (natural disasters, say) produce similar anomalies?

These are just some of the most basic questions that haven't been adequately answered. GCP plays on people's lack of knowledge about mathematics and large samples in the same way the Bible Code did.

Of course the most basic question is: Why would human consciousness have any effect on a RNG
[Random Number Generator]? The evidence for GCP "proves" PSI about as much as it proves that RNGs are intelligent robots that communicate with each other when bad things happen in the world. In fact I would submit that that second hypothesis makes more sense.

So you ask what I would consider solid evidence. If similar anomalies occured at similar times after similar events, that would seem like good evidence that this needs to explored further. With GCP you have varying anomalies that may or may not occur around the time of an event and may or may not occur when there is no significant event; if they do occur around the time of an event they may occur before during or after the event and may or may not bear any relationship to the magnitude or location of the event. Those are my issues with Radin and GCP.

I don't think I have ridiculous standards of what constitutes evidence, but I would like some evidence of some sort that seems consistent.

"But, by that token, there's no proof that we dream at night, either."

That's ridiculous! An EEG analysis can prove that we dream.

Don't get me wrong. I desperately want to believe in a lot of things. And I don't think any less of you for believing, I just think the level of proof you require is woefully inadequate.


NEXT: My reply.

The Case for Psi (Part 2)

Okay, here's my reply to Andy's email. His comments are in italics.

Hmmm. I was kind of hoping for stuff that had been peer-reviewed from scientific journals.

Ha! "Peer-reviewed" journals avoid this stuff like the plague! What journal were you thinking would actually have the balls to review these studies?

I got to see Radin speak a few years ago here in NYC. I just found it disappointing. I think he's playing on people's lack of knowledge about mathematics and quantum mechanics or perhaps he himself doesn't have a very good knowledge of mathematics and quantum mechanics.

I've never met Radin, but my friends I mentioned all know him well. What specifically did you find in either the talk or the books that was inaccurate or ignorant?

And Josephson is another disappointment.


I honestly didn't find anything particularly compelling in your e-mail, but I won't try and go through it point by point because those long back and forths get confusing and never come to any conclusions...

No need for a back and forth. But I'd be interested in your general argument against Radin.

But if there's one specific thing that I'm overlooking that you would suggest I take another look at as being solid evidence of anything in the PSI realm, I'd be happy to.

What would you consider "solid evidence?" Not to beat this into the ground, but the pseudo-skeptics Truzzi decried use his "extraordinary evidence" line to essentially allow themselves to dismiss ANYTHING as "not extraordinary enough." Did you check out the Global Consciousness Project link?

My wife is a physician, and she grew up in a household of physicians in Prague, Czech Republic. All the doctors there knew this one old priest who did intuitive diagnoses from photographs. They all knew, too, that he was never wrong -- even when the MRI didn't show the tumor, he would tell them it was there and they would look again (her Mom's a Radiologist). So here's an example of highly educated people accepting a paranormal ability because they saw it work regularly. This wasn't a wealthy televangelist, either, just a humble priest.

These stories abound. Charlie Tart had a babysitter who could astrally travel at night. He gave her a simple test to see whether she was imagining the travel or was actually travelling (put a card with an unknown 3-digit number face-up on your dresser before you go to sleep). She named the number successfully (she claimed), so he brought her into his sleep lab (which he happened to be running at at the time) and hooked her up to all the GSR and brainwave scans, etc. He then put a randomly-chosen 5-digit number on top of a tall filing cabinet and asked her to float up there and note the number. He also
asked her to check the clock on the wall while she was floating.

After a few unsuccessful nights (she went out of body but couldn't turn around to see the clock), she named the number correctly. Unfortunately, soon afterwards she left to go to college and that was the end of his research with her. He did, however, show the printout of her brainwave scans during the time she was "out of body" to a noted sleep researcher. His assessment agreed with Charlie: "I've never seen anything like this before either."

This is not a case he has published anywhere; it's just a story he told in class. One of those dreaded "anecdotes."

Again, none of the anecdotal evidence constitutes "proof." But, by that token, there's no proof that we dream at night, either.

NEXT: Andy defends his views.

Andy Replies: The Case Against Psi (Part 1)

Here is Andy's reply to my psi email. He has graciously given me permission to post this and his other emails, although he did note recently:

I didn't write it for public consumption, so on my end at least, it's probably not very well thought out or, for that matter, very interesting.

I would have to disagree; I think Andy defends his position admirably in this and especially his next email (coming soon), and I thank him for letting me air this back and forth discussion.


Hmmm. I was kind of hoping for stuff that had been peer-reviewed from scientific journals. Not from Dean Radin or from CSICOP for that matter.

I got to see Radin speak a few years ago here in NYC. I just found it disappointing. I think he's playing on people's lack of knowledge about mathematics and quantum mechanics or perhaps he himself doesn't have a very good knowledge of mathematics and quantum mechanics. And Josephson is another disappointment. I'd love to have someone credible on the side of psi but it's certainly not him. If Radin's book is the best you have to offer as to what constitutes overwhelming evidence, then I guess we're at an impasse.

I'm familiar with most of the the areas you mention in your e-mail and I plan on reading up on the others. I don't think you could find anyone more into the idea of paranormal stuff existing, but I also have a strong background in mathematics and I understand how meta-analysis should be used properly and what constitutes evidence. I've yet to see it here.

I honestly didn't find anything particularly compelling in your e-mail, but I won't try and go through it point by point because those long back and forths get confusing and never come to any conclusions and you were kind enough to write the e-mail in the first place. But if there's one specific thing that I'm overlooking that you would suggest I take another look at as being solid evidence of anything in the PSI realm, I'd be happy to.

Take care,

NEXT: My reply to Andy's reply.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The Case for Psi (Part 1)

Here’s a brief overview of my own slant on psi (parapsychology) research, in response to a question by Andy, creator of the brilliantly caustic Magic Circle Jerk (MCJ) blog. (If you're a magician and you've never checked out MCJ, I highly recommend you do so immediately. If you're not a magician, don't bother.)

Magicians have argued back and forth about the existence of ESP and other psychic phenomena for years. Houdini, for instance, famously "debunked" Spiritualism in the early part of the century. But the topic has really heated up since the 70s, when Israeli magician Uri Geller burst on the scene claiming to bend spoons and mend broken watches. Gellar convinced a lot of reputable scientists that he possessed genuine psychic powers, but he didn’t convince many magicians, who generally still regard him as a fraud doing simple magic tricks. I have no idea whether or not Geller used trickery all of the time (likely), some of the time (maybe), or never (unlikely), and I’m not going to try to solve that question here. I will, however, describe some of the thrilling and more scientifically “solid” work that’s been happening under the radar for years.

If you're NOT interested in the state of the art of parapsychology research, please feel free to skip this post (although I will "psychically" feel the insult and use my psi power to make your coffee cold and your pants too tight).


Hey, I read your comment over at P----‘s blog. I'm curious what evidence for psi you're talking about. I've been looking for a long time, but nothing I've read seems to be conclusive in any respect. Let me know what area to look into in regards to this.

Thanks, Andy

Hey Andy,

The first step is to stop reading only CSICOP (the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal)-approved works, since they are extremely prejudiced AGAINST psi, to the point of misrepresenting or ignoring much of the research that's out there.

Notwithstanding the "Skeptics" line, which is essentially that all evidence for psi is either 1. fraud, or 2. self-deception (a line which allows them to preemptively dismiss ALL published and unpublished evidence for psi with extreme prejudice), the best place to start is Dean Radin's superb book, "The Conscious Universe." This is a very accessible and detailed overview of the state of the art. Read about the book and the laboratory research at The Consciousness Research Laboratory.

Read the first chapter of Radin's book here:

And here's what a Nobel Prize winner had to say: "Cutting perceptively through the spurious arguments frequently made by skeptics, Radin shows that the evidence in favor of (paranormal) existence is overwhelming." Brian Josephson, Ph.D., Nobel Laureate and Professor of Physics, Cambridge University. In January, 1998, Prof. Josephson wrote in the (British newspaper), The Guardian: "If asked to nominate the most significant scientific event of 1997, I would cite the publication of this book."

More reviews here.

I'm a recovering "skeptic" myself. I used to idolize Randi, and I even hung out with him for several weeks in the late 70s while working at Al's Magic Shop in Washington, DC. I also read many of the CSICOP-endorsed books put out by Paul Kurtz's Prometheus Books, the major "skeptical" publisher, and used to religiously read "The Skeptical Inquirer,” house organ of CSICOP. So I know the mindset of the committed disbeliever quite well; in my day, I had nothing but contempt for anyone gullible or stupid enough to believe in the reality of psychic phenomena.

I've since discovered that there's a whole huge world out there, way outside the narrow-minded lens of CSICOP eyes. If there's one message I'd like to promote here, it's that professional parapsychologists are far from the naive, gullible morons depicted in pseudo-skeptical literature. I'm friends with three of the top psi researchers in the country and they are some of the wisest, most open-minded, and yes, skeptical people I know. They are rigorous researchers, and their standards of proof are extremely high. But they won't lie to themselves and deny the evidence they have found -- consistently -- for thirty years.

And, just in case you're wondering, all three are knowledgeable about magic and deception. One of the three did magic as a kid, another is, to my discriminating eye, an excellent performing mentalist to this day.

Russell Targ conducted Remote Viewing experiments for the Army and the CIA at SRI International in Menlo Park for decades. He was on CNN recently, and the interviewer asked him, "If you were so successful, why did they stop the program?" Russell's response (I'm paraphrasing), "I can turn that around for you. If we were so UNsuccessful, and didn't give the Army and the Intelligence Services anything of value, why did they keep funding us for twenty-three years?"

Russell is a physicist, and was a pioneer in laser technology before he became a Remote Viewing researcher. He saw evidence for psi almost daily at SRI. For him, "non-locality" is an undeniable fact. You can learn more about him and other ESP research here.

Charlie Tart is another friendly acquaintance. I've taken three classes with him at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology. Charlie is a very smart academic, a public intellectual (he wrote "Altered States of Consciousness," "Waking Up," and many other books), and a pioneer in altered states research. This includes not only ESP research, but also hypnosis, psychedelic drugs, sleep & dream research, and near-death & out of body experiences. He, too, saw regular evidence of PSI during his years as a researcher at UC Davis.

It was his Parapsychology class that introduced me to Radin's book and turned me around on the issue of psi research. Before the class, I was a general believer but a "specific" skeptic. In other words, I believed that there were extraordinary people (gurus, holy men, gifted psychics) out there, but I was extremely skeptical (basically, a non-believer) when faced with specific evidence (whether from the lab or anecdotal). Now, after more open-minded exploration and discussions with researchers, it seems quite clear that these abilities are common and an essential part of the makeup of consciousness. I'm also convinced that there are many wise, intelligent, and clever people working in this field, even if they keep a low profile to avoid having their careers destroyed.

Arthur Hastings, also at ITP, is one of the world experts on channeling and past life regression. Besides his academic life, Arthur is a very talented magician and mentalist and a guy who knows a thing or two about deception, self-deception, and sorting out real evidence from untestable anecdotes.

I'm also friends with Bernie Haisch, who runs the UFO Skeptic site. He's a respected professional astronomer who invites open-minded inquiry. I recommend a perusal of his site for a crisp overview of the state of UFO research.

You might also want to check out the Global Consciousness Project at Princeton.

I just met a guy who's involved in that research, and he said they are finding all sorts of crazy stuff, much of which they're reluctant to publicize (a huge global effect hours before 9/11, for instance), for fear of scaring everyone and losing their funding. I'm serious; the stakes are that high.

And take a look at the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Program (PEAR).

You may also want to check out the controversies over "The Mars Effect," in which CSICOP dismissed some Astrology research, deigned to replicate the experiments, and got the same result as the original researchers. There's also a lot of info out there on the back and forth between CSICOP skeptic Ray Hyman and the late Chuck Honorton, who did "Ganzfeld" Remote Viewing experiments at the University of Edinburgh. Honorton found consistent evidence for the ability, whereupon Ray Hyman published an article critical of the methodology used in the experiments. Honorton worked with Hyman, closed all the perceived weaknesses, tightened the controls beyond anything that would reasonably be expected for any other kind of research, and still found the same effect. Even Hyman (like Carl Sagan before him) admitted that there's something going on worth researching further.

I don't know if you know any of the history of CSICOP, but they are a very strident, closed-minded organization -- the flip side of Jerry Falwell. One of the original co-founders, the late great sociologist Marcello Truzzi, left early on when he discovered that they weren't "skeptical" at all, they were simply closed-minded debunkers. Truzzi went on to found the Center for Scientific Anomalies Research at Eastern Michigan University. Truzzi, also, had an extensive background in magic and performance (his father was a famous Russian juggler). Read magician Phil Wilmarth’s tribute here.

Truzzi is credited with the line, "Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof," a favorite saw of the pseudo-skeptics (another Truzzi term), but Truzzi later backed off this saying, claiming it was being misused as a club against those who believe in the reality of psi. The SCICOP crowd, as Truzzi well knew, simply dismisses a priori any evidence that points in the direction they don't like. Nothing is "extraordinary proof" enough for a CSICOP skeptic.

It was also Truzzi who said of notorious"skeptic" Martin Gardner, "I wish I knew as much about anything as Martin Gardner thinks he knows about everything."

That should give you a good place to start. It was the late magician/mentalist T.A. Waters who first turned me on to the world of information outside of CSICOP, and I fondly remember attending a lecture at the Magic Castle given by a nitwit named Henry Gordon, a Canadian magician, journalist, and "skeptic." T.A. had already told me about the last time Gordon lectured there, in which he claimed that Geller had admitted to being a fraud (totally untrue). So T.A., Max Maven, and Frances Willard (of Falkenstein and Willard) were all challenging the unsubstantiated crap that Gordon was espousing, and T.A. turned to me and said, "Isn't it amazing? We have in this room three of the top Mentalists in the country and they're all arguing FOR the existence of paranormal anomalies!"

Open your eyes. The clock is ticking. Your world will be turned upside-down within your lifetime

COMING UP: Andy's intelligent response.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Mainsteam News vs. The Web

In my previous post, I referred to the lack of reliability of the major news outlets. Scott Rosenberg in Salon covered this topic recently, and he did such a great job that I've decided to simply quote him at length. He discusses a particular instance when Stanford Law professor Lawrence Lessig of Creative Commons took issue with inaccuracies and false, black/white dichotomies in a NYT article about copyright and piracy. I'll let Rosenberg take it from here:

"This disillusionment happens every day, even with publications at the top of the heap, like the Times, the Post and the Journal....We're happy with what we read in the paper until we're reading about something we know really well. Then, too often...we see all the small errors, distortions, omissions and problems that are daily journalism's epidemic affliction."

Rosenberg then lists some of the reasons for these problems, including deadlines, lack of in-depth knowledge, and slant. He continues:

"Until recently, each reader who saw the holes in the occasional story he knew well was, in essence, an island; and most of those readers rested in some confidence that, even though that occasional story was problematic, the rest of the paper was, really, pretty good. Only now, the Net -- and in particular the explosion of blogs, with their outpouring of expertise in so many fields -- has connected those islands, bringing into view entire continents of inadequate, hole-ridden coverage. The lawyer blogs are poking holes in the legal coverage, while the tech blogs are poking holes in the tech coverage, the librarian blogs are poking holes in the library coverage -- and the political blogs, of course, are ripping apart the political coverage in a grand tug of war from the left and the right. Within a very short time we've gone from seeing the newspaper as a product that occasionally fails to live up to its own standards to viewing it as one that has a structural inability to get most things right."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Email, IQ, and Pot

This silly story reminds me why I never trust the mainstream media to get anything right. Notice that there's nothing in the story about the methodology used to determine that "[t]he constant barrage of emails, text messages, and phone calls decreases IQ test scores in office workers more than twice as much as smoking marijuana." For instance, were they only checking to see if workers were less efficient, or were they measuring specific abilities over time?

My take on this story is that the vast majority of people work mind-numbing, soul-destroying jobs in the first place. Given this, it wouldn't be the least bit surprising to discover that those who have more interesting and rewarding things to do (like cruising the web and connecting to friends and loved ones) might just be less focused on their dull jobs. Whether email makes them less capable of doing their job is another thing entirely; I wonder how solid was the methodology by which the researchers that made THAT determination.

An important, and unasked (at least, as reported) question is, "Do people feel that email makes their life better or worse?" A lot of people complain about the downside of "always on" connectivity, but how many would willingly give it up? In other words, is there an upside that might offset the alleged IQ drop? Does "staying connected" to our friends and loved ones offer employees psycho-spiritual benefits? What does it do to employee morale?

And, how about the claim, unsupported by facts, that marijuana lowers your IQ? Even if you accept the claim, and even if you accept the notion that IQ is a meaningful measure of ANYTHING, the critical question should be, "What's the relationship between IQ and productivity, quality of life, emotional happiness, and peacefullness? How many of the 20-30 million recreational smokers feel that the benefit they derive -- intellectual, emotional, or spiritual -- offsets the allegedly lowered IQ?

That's what you get if you believe what you read in the papers.

UP NEXT: A neat analysis of the mainstream news from Salon's smart blogger Scott Rosenberg.

Welcome to my musings

Welcome to PeaceLove's Musings, a blog devoted to whatever I find interesting, mind-expanding, funny, sad, or just plain weird. I'll be posting as regularly as I feel like; for the moment, I have a bunch of stuff I'm itching to get out into cyberspace (or, as Douglas Rushkoff calls it, "Cyberia").

Some of my interests which I'll cover in upcoming posts include:

The Sacred Geometry of the Web
Magic (as in, conjuring)
Paranormal Research
Transpersonal Psychology
Social Trends
Pop Culture
Crazy Web Stuff

COMING SOON: A dialogue about parapsychology research.