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SWIFT February 15, 2008 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

Achtung JREF Members in Germany!, Fleeced Again, What Makes Us Tick, Ecology Matters, Calling In the Expert, Marc Salem, Obviously Spirits, Oz is Back, DKL Redux, As For the Witches, Another Marvelous Machine, and In Closing... 

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The program that I taped in Germany last week about Geller’s current series being shown there – “The New Uri Geller” – will be titled “Kraft der Gedanken” – “Power of Thought” – as part of the “Welt der Wunder” – "World of Wonder" – series. This hour-long program will investigate whether or not there is any merit in the claims of people such as Geller, who has said for the last 36 years that he doesn’t use trickery when he bends spoons and does his "telepathy" demos. The conclusions arrived at in this program will not be very welcome to Mr. Geller, I believe.

Table of Contents
  1. Achtung JREF Members in Germany!

  2. Fleeced Again

  3. What Makes Us Tick

  4. Ecology Matters

  5. Calling In the Expert

  6. Marc Salem

  7. Obviously Spirits

  8. Oz is Back

  9. DKL Redux

  10. As For Witches…

  11. Another Marvelous Machine

  12. More Blocked

  13. In Closing…



ACHTUNG JREF MEMBERS IN GERMANY!

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The program that I taped in Germany last week about Geller’s current series being shown there – “The New Uri Geller” – will be titled “Kraft der Gedanken” – “Power of Thought” – as part of the “Welt der Wunder” – "World of Wonder" – series. This hour-long program will investigate whether or not there is any merit in the claims of people such as Geller, who has said for the last 36 years that he doesn’t use trickery when he bends spoons and does his "telepathy" demos. The conclusions arrived at in this program will not be very welcome to Mr. Geller, I believe.

The program will first be shown in Europe on February 24 at 7 p.m. on RTL2, then on March the first at 7 p.m. and at 11 p.m. on NTV. There will be repeats on March 3rd at 10 p.m. and on March 4th at 8 p.m. on NTV.

Geller’s brother-in-law Shipi Shtrang has fired off one of his usual and tedious legal threats to the producers, which we of course expected. No noticeable panic ensued at RTL…

I must comment that the RTL people were thorough, precise, and attentive to detail in preparing this program. For example, I was very pleased to learn that they’d actually traveled to Switzerland to consult with a world-renowned expert on watch mechanisms to get his opinion on the Geller watch-starting stunt; the results will rather dim the expectations that Mr. Geller has any startling power over clocks… Other experts were also consulted on other matters, and this will be the definitive Geller exposé.

RTL plans to distribute this program in Cyprus, Poland, Hungary, and Australia, as well.




FLEECED AGAIN

From friend and reader Tom Baxter in Canada, we hear about a Mohammad Roshan Zameer – or that was the name he gave – who promised his followers "light in their lives." Now everyone has darkness, not lightness. He simply emptied their pockets and left them an empty space to stare at where he used to be. He has quite disappeared, in a very ordinary fashion unconnected with magic or supernatural forces.

This is a man who laughed with his victims, danced with them and – most importantly – he prayed for them. They were recruited from the Peel Region’s Hindu community after they heard his scam appeal on the 540 AM Punjabi Lehran radio show, where he first spoke in July, and they began sending hundreds of thousands of dollars to him. If anyone had a problem, Brother Roshan would solve it in a few days, free of charge, he told listeners. And – you’ll not be surprised to know – Roshan was using the same tired old gypsy tricks that have parted the naïve from their money, for centuries.

For example, Roshan pulled a lottery ticket from a boiled egg bearing the message “You are a lucky person. You will win $21 million" written on it. Typical gypsy trick. One victim was told to hand over $210,000, so that he would win $21 million in the lottery. Since he couldn’t afford that, he offered half. The chance at such a win only comes around "once in a lifetime," he was told. “Why waste it?” So, he began to raise the $105,000 that was needed for “special prayer supplies sent from India” in preparation for the promised Dec. 29 lotto win. Every few days, he would bring installments of $5,000 or $10,000 cash, to the great satisfaction of the scammer, who is said to have only appeared to be about 30 years old, a remarkable age for one so wise and powerful, we might think.

But after he had given $30,000 to the man, the victim told his friend about the money. The friend was not quite as gullible, and when he realized he couldn’t talk his friend out of handing over thousands more, he persuaded him to purchase a concealable spy camera – Brother Roshan didn’t allow pictures – to tape their conversations. What was revealed by this means led to a certain amount of reluctant suspicion by the victim – at last. Finally he rebelled.

He confronted the man as he was on his way to the airport – something that further aroused his feeling that he might have erred in trusting him. "I don’t need the lottery. Give me my money back," he told him. Ah, but this was an experienced con man, and he was ready for such an emergency. He offered him his money back, but then asked why the victim wanted to take it back only a couple days away from the big win? That made sense, reasoned the victim, and he let Roshan keep it.

Duh.

When the “mark” showed up for his final visit at Roshan’s home, it was empty. Outside were a couple dozen people, each with the same story. The amounts each person had given ranged from $50,000 to $160,000. Now, local authorities have estimated that from the handful of victims who have come forward over the past couple weeks, a "conservative estimate" puts the alleged fraudster’s earnings at $250,000, and that number will likely shoot up as more victims surface. Roshan even left his landlord looking for the last month’s rent; a real scam artist always takes everyone for everything he can.

Let’s look at this case in relation to the ethnic background of the victims. Con artists will always consider every factor about a victim, and work those facts into the attack they launch. In this example it is evident that the man who went along with the lottery scheme did so because he was basically unaware of how lottery systems work – or perhaps he merely believed that the mathematics of the situation could be superseded by divine intervention. No, this is not unusual with people who believe in prayer and the special favors that they believe can be obtained by such an appeal. A strong religious background and conviction are celebrated by the scam artists, since they recognize that their job will be far easier with someone who believes in supernatural powers and/or entities. They appeal to these superstitions, and are seldom wrong in that maneuver.

We must never assume that such a victim is stupid – he is perhaps only naïve. In fact, it’s well known that even advanced academics have fallen for con artists, if the con was presented in a format that appealed to them. Unfortunately, we find that many well-educated persons automatically assume that they’re too clever to be deceived, particularly if the con artist appears to be of a "lower" social class. Any police "bunco" officer will verify that he or she has witnessed many educated persons falling for these scams. Many years ago, I was called in by a district attorney in Chicago to assist in the prosecution of a gypsy who had extracted some $30,000 from an elderly lady who was a teacher at a local college. This victim had actually been told by the scammers that she should give the gypsy that sum of money to "buy a chandelier for the Queen of the Night,” which would be buried in a graveyard to remove a curse from her and her family. This woman had come to her senses after supplying the cash to the gypsy group, and she had – wisely – then approached the district attorney, who was very happy to handle this case. I sat and heard the entire story, verified that it was a typical gypsy “bajoor,” and then had a feeling of "here we go again" when the lawyers representing the gypsies announced that they would publicize the fact that this academic had actually believed in the Queen of the Night, and the story she’d been told. The plaintiff thereupon withdrew the charges, the district attorney expressed his dismay, and I was thanked for my intended participation in the prosecution.

Refer to randi.org/jr/121004science.html and other such items for similar examples.




WHAT MAKES US TICK

About once or twice a week I receive letters that validate the existence of the JREF and endorse the efforts we’ve made to help bring rationality to those who need to be encouraged to accept it. Here’s one that really made my week...

Dear Mr. Randi,

I was raised by a father who was besotted with all matter of woo-woo. No seller of snake oil, magical pyramids, herbal compounds or pop psychology escaped his attention without hundreds or thousands of dollars of our family’s money, even when it deprived us of basic necessities. My young brother and I lived for several years in a travel trailer without adequate sanitation or heat while my father chased the fountain of youth, MSM schemes, and psychic control over the world. During this time, I began experiencing what later turned out to be a lifelong debilitating illness. My father offered me numerous herbal and vitamin remedies, and when these didn’t work, he sent me to faddish pop psychology seminars, one of which explained to me that I was only sick because I wanted to be or because of some other character flaw. Unsurprisingly, none of these succeeded in doing anything but make me feel guilty and ashamed.

It wasn’t until three years later when I was so ill that I could no longer eat that I was finally taken to a medical doctor who sent me to a hospital. It would be three months of on-and-off hospitalization before I got a correct diagnosis and modest treatment. At that point, I was 5’ 10" and 87 pounds. When I was better, my father started my woo-woo treatments again. In addition to much permanent damage from both the illness and failed treatment, I have suffered the lasting psychological effects from exposure to this world.

Even today, I am struggling to eliminate this kind of foolishness from my thinking. As a young adult, I read your book "Flim Flam!" and it has helped my thinking immensely. Needless to say, I am infuriated by those who would take advantage of others’ suffering, whether for financial gain or power over the weak, sick, or gullible. I have alienated friends and family alike with my opinions of Kevin Trudeau and his ilk.

All of this is by way of saying a big "Thank You" for all of your work. If I had not been exposed to skepticism and reason, I would not have sought the medical care that eventually saved me.

Oh, and when my father experienced an angina attack, he went straight to the hospital instead of an "alternative medicine" practitioner.

Because of the biographical details in this letter, I respectfully ask that if you should see fit to use any part of this letter in print or on your website, please sign me:

Woo-Woo Kills.

I think that “WWK” probably retains her affection for her father, who was apparently working within the philosophical framework that he already had, trying to do the best he could for his family; ignorance is a failing, but not necessarily an intentional or avoidable one. The only fault we might ascribe to him would be that he sought to obtain control over the environment, control that he thought was not attainable by others – to get “one-up” on others, unfairly. This is an attractive bit of bait that the con artists dangle before their victims, a chance to beat the odds of winning the lottery, of finding the buried treasure, or landing that desirable job – by employing magic of one sort or the other. Perhaps this father went to his grave without even recognizing that had been swindled…




ECOLOGY MATTERS

Reader John Hankison writes…

As a somewhat outspoken “amateur skeptic” I’m often asked with great incredulity why it matters that homeopathy, crystal healing and other irrational beliefs about health are worth getting worked up about. It’s the usual "If it works for them, why should it bother you?" argument...

I’m sure many of your readers have had similar discussions in these circumstances around the fact that even letting seemingly innocuous irrational beliefs pass unchallenged leads to an erosion of the ability to think rationally in other areas, and may have other unseen adverse effects. While reading the news today, I saw this article about the ever-decreasing population of tigers in Indonesia: tinyurl.com/2txjsd

What’s causing their slow march to extinction in this region, is the thriving market in traditional healing remedies, many of which require various bits of tigers to work their supposed wonders.

For me, this is an excellent example of how challenging even small irrational beliefs can be very important. The vast majority of these traditional remedies have no effect beyond placebo, and yet are likely to cause the local eradication of one of the most impressive animals on Earth. Belief in the powers of these remedies is on par with belief in the other alternative practices I mentioned above and must be challenged.

John, the JREF is obviously not involved in the Save the Tigers Foundation, but I agree with you that if the integrity of our ecological system is threatened, we must all react by taking measures. Species have literally disappeared due to our interference with nature. The 500-pound moa bird in New Zealand was hunted to extinction by the native Maori, and the dodo bird on Mauritius was made extinct by human interference, as well. The tiger could well suffer the same fate. Ayurvedic medicine, the particular variety of misinformation involved in the atrocity of killing animals for body parts said to be beneficial – mostly as aphrodisiacs – should have disappeared a century ago, but it persists due to the determined efforts of such powerful quacks as Deepak Chopra, certainly one of the most celebrated and successful woo-woo artists of our time.




CALLING IN THE EXPERT

Reader Pete Hutchins contributes this:

Randi, I live in the UK and I am currently on my way to work reading the Metro newspaper from Wednesday, 23rd February, 2008. There is a piece entitled "UFO spotted over a foggy car park?" with a picture of typical UFO-ine quality. The guy who took the picture explains that he only spotted the “mysterious apparition” after transferring the image onto his computer. He goes on to say, "I’ve never really believed in UFOs, but this is a bit weird and freaky – I just cannot think what else it could be." Hmmm, that’s either “can’t” or “won’t”! book

In true investigative journalistic style, the paper engaged the services of one Hilary Porter of the British Earth and Aerial Mysteries Society. Hilary used her unique set of undoubted – at least by this paper – skills, to “confirm” that this could be genuine. Best of all, Hilary backs up her claim by saying,

It would be very difficult to fake that photo, and the UFO is at a tilt, which is the way they normally fly.

The MoD [Ministry of Defense] could not confirm or deny what was flying in the vicinity at the time. I guess they just don’t have Hilary’s special experience and skill set.

Well, Pete, I’ll leave it to our readers to perform a bit of research. Go to tinyurl.com/yoflm8. If you make a print of the second-down frame, the one showing the entire scene, you’ll see the “UFO” at the upper right. Take a ruler and draw a line straight through the horizontal axis of the UFO image, and see where it ends up at the left. That’s the single closest, and thus brightest, light-source in the photo. Now refer to randi.org/jr/102502.html – it's the second item on the page – and randi.org/jr/04-04-2000.html (also the second item) where you’ll see the significance of this image. It’s simply a lens-flare, the spindle-shaped figure which occurs when a camera sees a scene with a very bright source of light – often the Sun or a headlight – and registers spurious internal reflections in the lens-system as part of the image. This can always be determined by tracing the axis back to the strongest source of light…




MARC SALEM

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One of the most prominent figures in the mentalism business today – along with Banachek and Derren Brown – is Marc Salem. I’m told that many SWIFT readers and JREF Forum members have been wondering why we’ve not come down on Salem, and are apparently of the impression that he should be applying for the JREF prize…! No, never. Marc is a legitimate mentalist. That’s defined as a magician who appears to do feats that are wholly accomplished by the mind, but which are simply tricks. Marc has never made any claim to having genuine paranormal powers, and in phone conversation with him, we agreed that he’s not claiming any such powers. He’s legit.

Much of this controversy arose from a recent appearance Marc made on CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes” program. I send you to tinyurl.com/yw2uyp to see a selection that will convince you that this man is a great artist. Readers and Form folks insisted to me that Mike Wallace said he was making paranormal claims, but the actual quote from Mike is:

Salem promises that he’s not getting any help from hidden cameras or spies in the audience, and he offers $100,000 to anyone who can prove otherwise.

That’s a 100% legitimate statement, because Marc Salem doesn’t use hidden cameras or spies, and doesn’t have to! Similarly, the great mentalist Joe Dunninger used to state that he’d give $10,000 to anyone who could prove that he used confederates, which he didn’t, and also didn’t need to do. We have no battle with Marc Salem. He’s a legitimate, honest, hard-working and skilled performer, and he’s not taking anyone’s money dishonestly.

I’m glad that we cleared that up…!




OBVIOUSLY SPIRITS

Readers Simon Tresadern and William Kay notify us that a UK “psychic” named Suzanne Hadwin – 35 – was recently paid £60 [US$120] by a town council there to rid a home of a "poltergeist" after the resident family became "distraught" by unexplained events. Hadwin said she employed some angels and a Russian spirit guide to do the job. Though we expect that these entities work free, the council used taxpayers’ money to pay for the exorcism, calmly engaging the professional ghostbuster after the tenant – Sabrina Fallon – reported paranormal activity. Half the fee was covered by the council itself; you see, they had considered relocating the family in temporary accommodation, but that would have cost up to £40 per night, so hiring a psychic was thought by them to be “the most cost effective solution,” especially after the spook-chaser had cut her usual fee of £300 to £120. The tenant had called the police after seeing objects flying across rooms and hearing banging sounds. Said the council:

What we saw was a relatively small amount to pay for an outcome which in effect saved the taxpayer many hundreds, if not thousands of pounds.

Ms. Hadwin said she used her "gift" to isolate the spirit in one room and then exorcise it from the house. A council spokesman said:

This is the first time we have had to take such action.

Readers please note that Ms. Fallon had small children. Perhaps a heart-to-heart chat with the children and a firm admonition to “knock it off” might have cost even less…?




OZ IS BACK

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Reader Greg Fuchs – who assures us that he’ll be seeing us again at TAM6 – refers us to the March, 2008, issue of Esquire Magazine, where we’ll find the monthly medical column and an interview with Dr. Mehmet Oz, a heart surgeon we referred to back at randi.org/jr/021805a.html#1. On page 82, item 16:

Q: What are your thoughts on acupuncture? In my case, it’d be for chronic back pain.

A: It works in China, and 1.3 billion people can’t be wrong.

Au contraire, doctor. More than that number of persons once thought that the world was flat – and some still do – so any number of bad opinions cannot prove a case. I’m always surprised when an accomplished, educated, and skilled man comes to such a conclusion.

Adds Greg, below item 18 in the issue of Esquire is a blurb about Bach Rescue Remedy Spray – a homeopathic “stress reliever.” Oz is apparently also convinced that this works, and says he uses it himself and on his kids. Well, this renowned medical expert is eligible for our million-dollar prize if he can differentiate between the homeopathic spray and regular water, or can show that acupuncture works. Even a successful cardiac surgeon should be interested in an extra million, don’t you think?

That silence you hear is from Dr. Mehmet Oz, M.D.




DKL REDUX

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Reader Jock Miller tells us that the “GBF” dowsing rod is back. That stands for “Golf Ball Finder,” and was the only remaining version of the DKL that didn’t vanish when the flummery was revealed. It sells for $48.95, including delivery, and does nothing – which is no surprise to our readers, of course. Writes Jock:

This gadget is advertised as the "Golfinder" which is sold to assist in locating lost golf balls. I golf often and a few days ago one of my pals showed me this thing which he purchased on the internet at www.mnglobal.com.

I am sending you this because is it hilarious. I took a look at it and it is nothing more than a plastic handle with a swivel to which is attached a short antenna. If you go to the website you will read that they do not want to disclose the technology involved because it might be stolen from them. What a hoot! It takes no batteries and my friend says that it has a chip installed which tunes to the particular elements present in a golf ball.

When my friend showed me how it worked we were on a putting green and there were three balls lying in different places. As he would walk along, the antenna would swing toward a ball when he approached it. I had my eye on his hand holding the handle, and his tilting of the handle toward the ball was not even subtle, it was obvious. I tried to get him to understand that it was the ideomotor effect that was causing him to make the antenna swing, but he didn’t believe me. I asked him to let me try it, and I walked along holding it as perfectly perpendicular to the ground as I could, and the antenna, of course, never swung. He accused me of keeping it from swinging. I then proposed that we place some paper cups down, some with balls under them and some without – not letting him see which ones, of course – to see if he could use the gadget and tell me which cups had balls under them and which did not.

He refused. He said that he didn’t need to prove anything, that it worked perfectly fine for him. I think than in a lot of these cases people do not want to be exposed as having been fooled.

I guess this just proves that dowsing is alive and well in the country clubs of America.

A load of enthusiastic endorsers of this thing are listed on their site. We offer Jock Miller’s golf acquaintance, as well as John Ollman and Lance Moen – both somewhere in Canada – Jeff Swartz in Minnesota, G. McGregor in Michigan, Ray Alpeter, E.F.S., John Eshom, and Diane Schader – all four in California – Gary Schaub in New Jersey, Steve Benton in Massachusetts, C.A.T. in Horseshoe Bay, Texas, John Thomas in Ohio, Hubert Banet in France, and Liam Clancey, in Dublin, Ireland – and anyone else – our million-dollar prize if they can find a golf ball using this device. But none will respond, because they can’t do it, and they know that they can’t.




AS FOR WITCHES…

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Reader Adrian Schubert writes about a witch named Pamela:

I read your letter and other similar sites regularly, and I don’t remember reading much about witchcraft goings-on (outside of Africa, that is) these days. Well, it turns out that there are quite a few scammers out there professing to be able to cast spells for those who pay them. Here’s an example: tinyurl.com/29bcaf.

Clicking on a spell category, you’ll see that you can choose to have a spell doubly- or even TRIPLY-cast – for more money of course. While she glibly reassures us that no toe-clippings or other such goodies need to be sent to her, she adds:

All you need to do is pay attention to the "coincidences" and opportunities that open up and take full advantage of them!

Hmm, so her magical spells actually cause coincidences and "opportunities" to happen...wow!

When I see this, I really have to ask myself how this sort of "scammery" can be legal, even in the USA. I mean, are people allowed to sell air as long as someone is willing to pay for it? How is this possible?

The irony of this is that I ran into this "sponsored link" while searching online for information on how to help a woman in Saudi Arabia who is supposed to be put to death for witchcraft (Human Rights Watch apparently sent a letter to the king). So it turns out this sort of nonsense is being spread in the USA too...

Well, Adrian, scammers here do sell air, claiming all sorts of therapeutic powers for it, and no government agency interferes…!




ANOTHER MARVELOUS MACHINE

Reader William Buck – and quite a few others – brought to my attention a dreary video series about a man who has connected a motor to a generator, waved some neodymium magnets over the motor, and says he has either “free energy” or perpetual motion – which is not at all clear from the contents of the video clips. As William suggests:

Bring popcorn Excedrin, and a pillow! Maybe it’ll get an Academy Award for Extraspecial effects?

Yes, this thing has taken the Internet by storm. Google it and you get connections to dozens of sites that are all agog, with claims that an MIT professor is shouting Hosanna! at this revelation. Says William:

I wrote him a letter telling him that he and the MIT guy should apply for a shot at the Randi prize, and he wrote back, "What’s that?" Go figure

William, I think I’ll just wait for this to boil down to its residue before getting too excited …




MORE BLOCKED

Recently – at www.randi.org/joom/content/view/153/27/#i10 – I mentioned our site being blocked for rather frivolous reasons. An anonymous reader comments:

When I got this reply to a mail I sent, I thought of you. Obviously, controlling access to non-work-related websites makes sense, especially for large international companies like the one I am working for, but I still wonder, what has the world come to? To block access to a website like this, categorizing it as "Political/Activist Groups"? The streaming media I can still tolerate, but to classify the TED Talks as "Political/Activist Groups"? Wow.

Please do not make any of the identifying details known to anyone that might distribute it carelessly, I still want to work here for a living... But can you explain that categorization?

We cannot allow access to this site since the site comes under category Political/Activist Groups. Further investigation revealed the site contains contents like Video/mp3 which is prohibited as per Aricent internet policy. If this site is very critical for project requirement kindly get the approval from project director along with business reason.

Regards, 24x7 IT Support Team

No, I can’t explain that, except that someone’s been carried away with enthusiasm for keeping the world safe for woo–woo…




IN CLOSING…

Reader Hum Roberts has sent me a passage from the introduction to Bertrand Russell’s "History of Western Philosophy,” which I’d never seen before. I think it expresses my thoughts very well:

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Science tells us what we can know, but what we can know is little, and if we forget how much we cannot know we become insensitive to many things of great importance. Theology, on the other hand, induces a dogmatic belief that we have knowledge where in fact we have ignorance, and by so doing generates a kind of impertinent insolence towards the universe. Uncertainty, in the presence of vivid hopes and fears, is painful, but must be endured if we wish to live without the support of comforting fairy tales. It is not good either to forget the questions that philosophy asks, or to persuade ourselves that we have found indubitable answers to them. To teach how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralyzed by hesitation, is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy, in our age, can still do for those who study it.

Wish I’d said that…

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The registration for TAM6 is humming right along, I’m happy to report. See tinyurl.com/2kfgrr and get in on this event. We already had to turn down two prominent speakers due to a full schedule, but they’re now waiting in the wings for TAM7…! Penn & Teller have again come up with a bundle of heavily-discounted tickets so that JREFers can form up a pod of fans to see the latest wonders the duo will thrust upon their sensibilities. And did I mention that the great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin will address us? Go to myspace.com/greydonsquare and sample what rapper/atheist/Iraq veteran Greydon Square will lay on us! Penn Jillette first directed me to Greydon, and we’re putting him on our stage and setting him loose, so stand back! This TAM is so top-heavy with talent, that I just can’t wait…!

I’m off to the “Smarter Data Conference” in Atlanta, where I’ll attack my listeners with challenges to their patience – endless examples of how the human mind is befuddled…


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good one
written by cyprus taxi transfer, October 06, 2009
Geller’s brother-in-law Shipi Shtrang has fired off one of his usual and tedious legal threats to the producers, which we of course expected. No noticeable panic ensued at RTL

it is supposed to be a big hit in cyprus and mabe the expectations will be vidicated,
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written by scuba diving, October 06, 2009
Recently – at www.randi.org/joom/content/view/153/27/#i10 – I mentioned our site being blocked for rather frivolous reasons.

ONE Cannot really comment on that! but i have read the post and must say it is quite thought churning! to say the least,
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