'Twas Brillig ... a Skeptic in Court, Part II
Randi, James, Skeptic (Altadena, CA)
To THOSE OF US WHO FIRST COME UPON it, the classic gypsy bazhure swindle is so simple, obvious, and avoidable, that we can't imagine how victims are so easily taken in by it, Consider this very common advertisement:
Reads cards, reads palms, performs cleansings, interprets dreams, reunites loved ones, sexual deficiencies, cures nervous disorders, employment problems, alcoholism and drug addiction. Don't suffer anymore. If you can't have children, call me. Performs spells, counterspells and love spells.
Okay, that's obvious woo-woo, we'd all agree, but look a bit further. Some of these victims had had Tarot card readings with Monica (the psychic described in my previous column) and as a result agreed to have her cleanse their money. All of them had set up a final meeting that Sunday night, at which they expected they would retrieve their cleansed money and would of course pay a gratuity for that service--whatever they felt was appropriate--to Senora Monica. But, to their genuine surprise, Senora Monica never showed up!
What I've described to you is--as I wrote previously--a typical example of the classic gypsy bazhure (pronounced "bah-zhoor," as in "azure") in which the "mark" is lured in by such minor gimmicks as Tarot readings, which is a bit of fun for a few bucks, perhaps followed by a "gift" of herbs or charms. Then the victim is offered the suggestion that maybe some of the money in the bank might be contaminated by a curse--unknown to the victim, of course--and that "cleansing" that currency would be advisable. The cost would be a percentage decided upon by the victims-excuse me--patrons. The fact that the original "cursed" currency had long ago vanished into the banking system, and might by then be in the pockets of gangsters, or could have been incinerated and replaced, or buried, seemingly doesn't occur to the patrons.
But enough on how gullible these families were. Now let's try to understand this from the proper point of view. They may have been naive, but were not necessarily stupid. I say "to their genuine surprise" because they were governed by their strong ethnic convictions, ideas conveyed to them from infancy by those they loved and trusted, who nurtured and raised them to accept and believe that magic was a part of the real world, and that certain "gifted" persons could manipulate those forces.
Here is a typical example: In August of 2009, police in Lakewood, WA, were searching for a woman who had promised to "cleanse" the money of at least seven Hispanic families in the area, but stole it instead. Well, consider: a sizeable portion of our population regularly receives a wafer-and-wine combination, while on their knees, from a man wearing a dress, and they actually believe that the bit of food they've consumed has been magically transformed into flesh and blood. I'll go no further on that, but it is a firm, unshakeable conviction of those on their knees, regardless of the alibis and rationalizations that have been offered to explain their delusion. A far less numerous crowd believes that spirits and fairies inhabit trees and rocks, another portion accepts that mankind was deposited on Earth--and into volcanoes! --by intergalactic warlords, and some are convinced that taking zero concentrations of medications is better than taking the actual medicine. Some folks--not I--have no problem with these latter fantasies, but cannot fathom why an un-named woman would have been able to make off with the life savings of these families....
Try to understand, please.
I have consistently declined to participate in any court case or investigation where I would be required to accept evidence obtained with the polygraph. However, if I were to be called upon to deny that this silly device is effective or dependable, I'd have no hesitation in doing so. The evidence is just so much against this technology, it's difficult to believe just how long it has existed as a supposedly valid notion. …