'Twas Brillig ... a Sign of the Times: Astrology, Astronomy and Where Science and Pseudoscience Overlap
Randi, James, Skeptic (Altadena, CA)
MY FRIEND AND FELLOW MAGICIAN JAMY Ian Swiss has commented that "astrology" and "astronomy" have only seven things in common: the letters a, s, t, r, 2 o's, and a y ... Please bear that in mind.
I very much doubt that anyone remembers the astrologer Zoran. Perhaps it's time his tale were told. Back in 1954--I was 26, living and working the night club circuits as a magician in Montreal--my friend Joe Azaria (1929-2001) approached me with a proposition. He was the editor of Midnight, a weekly tabloid he'd just founded with $14 and a $1,000 line of credit from a local printer. (Midnight eventually became The Globe, still the third largest-selling newspaper of its type after National Enquirer.) Joe suggested that I write an astrology column for his newspaper, a gossip tabloid that doted on UFOs, psychics, and scandals. He pointed out that I could just make up the column, modeling it on standard astrology magazine formats, and I could then later show the world that the believers would accept anything as long as it sounded good. I of course agreed, since it could provide me with excellent material about why the public accepted such nonsense.
I bought a couple of the newsstand astrology magazines, set to work with scissors and cut out several hundred daily predictions. Then I (literally) stirred them up in a bowl, selected out 84 at random, and simply pasted them into place for the printer, thus giving predictions day by day to the twelve zodiac signs for each day of that week --and occasionally adding a few ridiculous and rather obvious hyperbolic twists. It all went well for a couple of months. Then very late one night as Joe, his partner John Vader (yes, that was his name, and there is no known family member named Darth), and Zoran--that was the name I took as the astrologer, "zodiac" and "Randi" together, you see--were sitting having coffee at a diner with hot-off-the-press copies of Midnight in our hands, I got a huge surprise. A young lady sitting nearby spotted the new issue, and asked if she could see Zoran's predictions for her that week, little knowing that the ink-stained man who handed it over was the illustrious astrologer himself.
Joe, John, and I looked covertly at one another, amused by the situation, when this woman turned to us and proclaimed that Zoran was surely the best astrologer who ever lived, and that she was following his every word and suggestion for her future.
That was it. I resigned from Midnight. The astrology column--still bearing the Zoran name--continued on for some time, though I didn't see its demise because within weeks of my leaving my pseudo-astrological career, I received a call from New York City to appear on the CBS Saturday TV show It's Magic, which was recorded at the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway. I was suddenly on American TV--and on my way. Astrology and I parted company permanently.
When I later published the Zoran adventure and related material on the Internet, I discovered that others had been similarly involved. One reader wrote:
Your item about the astrology page of the Israeli People magazine sent my thoughts back to the early 1960s when I was a young journalist with an Afrikaans-language Sunday newspaper in Johannesburg, South Africa. As a cost-cutting measure, I offered to write the weekly astrology column under a pseudonym rather than buying the expensive syndicated (US) product. So, for more than a year I forecast our readers' fates and fortunes although I knew absolutely nothing about the subject. No one seemed to notice the treachery; in fact, I was amazed one day when my wife (not knowing that I was the perpetrator) actually quoted one of my own predictions as having turned out exactly true in her case! Of course I was always very careful not to make any definite predictions which could have led people to make rash decisions--sufficiently vague, open-ended statements worked very well. …