James Randi (YGtCTO #213)

Skeptic, author, magician

Who knew that a good BS detector would become such a necessity in life? As it turns out, pretty much everyone knew.

For some brief period of time, I stayed up with my Dad and watched the Tonight Show as was his wont. They always announced the guests during the opening. One night, they announced James Randi and it seemed like my Dad was pleased. He definitely thought I would be interested. Or perhaps he thought it was just someone that I ought to know about.

This was the time that Randi performed psychic surgery. As you might imagine, I was not really expecting what I saw at that time on that program.

Like dinosaurs and comic books, I went through a magic phase in my youth that never entirely left. I’m still up for a good magic show most any time, though they are hard to find. Naturally, I studied up on our most famous magician, Harry Houdini. Along with his various feats, Houdini was a great debunker of spiritualists and others of their ilk, popular at the time. Other magicians have used their knowledge in similar fashion, doing all of us a great service, but Randi (and Johnny Carson, as well) revealed that this need had never gone away.

When I finished reading about Houdini’s efforts, I naturally assumed that the forces of ignorance had been defeated. After all, it was a good book written for juveniles. It had a happy ending. Who knew that a good BS detector would become such a necessity in life? Apparently Johnny Carson, James Randi and my Dad knew.

James Randi

We used to travel
from Ohio to New Jersey frequently when I was young. My parents would buy the newspaper in the morning wherever we happened to be and then spend breakfast complaining about the quality of the journalism. This was forty years ago, so one can only imagine what they would say now.

At some point, I interrupted their conversation with some pointed queries. I was the mouthy as well as the indulged son- surely a joy. In response, I received a lesson in how to read a newspaper. Nothing was what it seemed. First, every newspaper had an agenda put forth by its owners.

The editorial pages may be the easiest place to see that agenda, but the rest of the articles contained various types of bias also. That could start with self-censorship where they protected their readership from uncomfortable facts by use of euphemisms or the simple expedient of omission. Then, there was the limitation of space that required heavy editing of stories about faraway places, since local news mattered most to people. Of course, we would never know what the editors and publishers chose not to tell us.

Lest we forget, you needed to develop a fine eye for reading the newspaper in order to decipher the entire story. Most good reporters told you between the lines what they weren’t telling you up front. And that was the magical phrase: “between the lines.”

A host of sins could be buried in there. Those damn psychic surgeons didn’t need to lie to your face. They just buried truth and more lies in their spiel. Life got a little harder after seeing James Randi. I always had to pay attention. Life also got a little easier as maybe it became a little easier to recognize that eternal product, BS.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 87 more to go.

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