Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Things Found Online: San Diego State U. College Republican Party Facebook

San Diego State University has student versions of the Elephant and Donkey parties (Republicans and Democrats for the non-Americans reading this). These clubs are supposed to work under the SDSU Associated Students umbrella, and the College Democrats do. The College Republicans were removed for some infraction (possibly monetary) at some time before 2010, but they can still use college spaces. They've also dropped out of the California College Republicans meta-association over things revealed by the former leader of the SDSU-GOP Madison Marks-Noble about now ex-CCR head Ariana Rowlands called the Chico State Republicans President Sarah Morcott a "bitch." Rowlands wanted Marks-Noble to resign; the SDSU-GOP left the CCR instead. It should be understood that under Marks-Noble's leadership the club was infiltrated by the Identity Evropa white supremacist group, and that they were also part of UCSD's College Republican outfit as well. Identity Evropa changed their name to the "American Identity Movement" after they were exposed by Unicorn Riot; one of Identity Evropa's leaders is Patrick Casey, a SDSU graduate. Today the SDSU College Republicans are being run by Oliver Krvaric, the son of San Diego Republican Party chief Tony Krvaric*, and he's gone all-in with the Trump buzzwords of "Nationalist" and "America First", which explains these two screenshots from February:



When you are claiming that hate speech doesn't exist and speaking well of Enoch Powell's "Rivers of Blood" speech (while claiming that "mass immigration" ravaged a declining British Empire), you might be a crypto-Nazi. Their Twitter account (https://twitter.com/SDSUCR) is laden with little bombs from  Right-wing YouTube ranters and others. The garish "vaporwave"- style of the header was changed over to this faux-English mansion library, but nothing has really changed.


The eagle logo looks a lot like the cover of Nevada Fighter by Michael Nesmith and the First National Band, but otherwise "meh."

As a final note, when May rolled around and students graduated "virtually" into a COVID-wrecked economy, SDSU-GOP published a letter to Trump asking to end H1B visas, and Oliver Krvaric was there on Tucker Carlson to explain his "points." He also appeared on KUSI-TV in San Diego County to also pontificate. Both of these videos come from Tony Krvaric's YouTube account.





Yes, we are probably going to get more of that Duncan D. Hunter-style action in the future, just watch.


* Tony may have control of the SD-GOP but he is not loved by certain people in the party - there was a major push by a lady in North County to get anybody to replace Krvaric in 2013; she had a Facebook page and was making calls, all because of how poorly things had gone in recent elections. Even the revelation that he was "Strider" of "Fairlight", leader of a Scandinavian warez-cracking group for Commodore 64 games in the 1980s, hasn't taken him down (yes, the father of an immigrant-bashing son is himself an immigrant, a Swede of Croatian descent.) The facts ought to be fascinating, when they come to light.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Son of "Wikipedia Tags and Eastern European Politics"

A few years ago this blog looked at those Wikipedia "tag" boxes where admins decided that articles were not up to snuff for a Wikipedia article....which is a laugh if you have read random Wikipedia pages. As the opening examples for this installment, here is the tag over the stub for August von Kageneck, a German aristocrat and Wehrmacht panzer commander in WWII who later had a long career in journalism.


And his brother, the Luftwaffe fighter pilot and Count who was shot down in North Africa and died in a military hospital in Naples during January of 1942. He had 67 kills, many on the Eastern Front.



Above is his Bf.109E-7 fighter, a Messerschmitt subvariant that was getting long on the tooth by 1941 but common in the Mediterranean; note the white "North Africa" band near the tail. Many "Battle of Britain" E models would up in the puppet air forces of the dismembered states of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, along with fascist Bulgaria and Hungary. Most of the surviving E models after 1941 ended up as fighter trainers in Germany or converted to fighter-bombers attacking shipping in the English Channel or bombing battlefront targets inside the USSR. (Drawing from website "Wings Palette".)



As a "related" article to the August von Kageneck bio, the Sturmgeschütz III piece also has a tag dating back to the end of 2013. For those not in the know, a StüG was an assault gun/tank killer built on a turretless Panzer III hull - a casement with square hatches in the roof and tank periscopes protected the crew, while the cannon was mounted on a mantlet. They were a stopgap solution for catching up to Soviet tank numbers, which they never truly did.

Not even ham radio is safe....

Even nerdy topics like amateur radio bands suffer from these tags, as can be seem in the article on the 40 meter shortwave band:


And you can see here, that box has been sitting there for eight years because whoever asked those questions gave up and dropped out of Wikipedia, lots of 'bots in the revision history. Also many of the people writing about 7 Megahertz don't seem to have actually listened to the band - thanks to mainland Chinese "border blaster" shortwave transmitters, the top end of the band is useless late at night unless you are using Morse code or single-sideband if you live on the West Coast. The Chinese transmissions can be heard clearly in Utah if the ions are right.

Scambaiting also suffers on Wikipedia



These are the people who troll Internet popup scams with telephone numbers to call, robocallers that connect to boiler rooms, and other telephone scams (power shutoff, the grandparent or 'relative in trouble' scam, numerous other grifts). Most of the scammers are working in Mumbai (Bombay) boiler rooms, or are one-man scams in Lagos, Nigeria* - the utility shutoff, IRS back taxes, and 'relative in trouble' scammers are American boiler rooms, though I've heard of grandparent scam calls coming from Mexico to hoodwink elderly Hispanic people. They want Moneygram payments, gift card numbers, money orders, and other low-rent methods of sending cash that doesn't involve checks or traceable money. Notice that I've linked to videos from Hoax Hotel, a YouTuber who has been doing edited videos of calls to scammers for five years. Wikipedia will not mention him at all - they like Kitbogaa streamer who does all of his scambaiting live. This means the videos (even the slightly edited ones) can go on for an hour or two, because Kitboga uses a voice changer and a mixing board to control the call in bizarre ways, and if it's a computer scam, he has a fake shell operating system as a "sandbox" while streaming/recording everything on another machine. Hoax Hotel cuts these down to 10 or 20 minute videos, which means that unlike Kitboga he is being penalized by the YouTube algorithem's love for long videos (longer videos, more chances to stick ads in them.) There are far more scambaiters than both of these guys, and before scambaiting there were the telemarketer harassers like Jim Florentine, Tom Mabe, many others. I could mention prank callers like Brad "RBCP" Carter of the Phone Losers of America, Captain Janks (the poser who calls into national news stations so he can say "Howard Stern's penis" after a few minutes of fake responses), the unfortunately recently-deceased Carlito (a friend of RBCP's), Longmont Potion Castle, John Legend, numerous others, but I consider prank calls to be another form of "telephone art."


Above: the short-lived "Nicole Mayhem" channel, who used scripts and auto-dialing to jam up IRS scammers (fake IRS agents demanding back taxes by telephone) in India. "She" only operated in 2017.


Back to Ukraine and Russia.....

If you know the history of Russia and Ukraine from 1850 onward, then Wikipedia's articles can be darkly hilarious. The bio of Symon Petliura, head of the short-lived sovereign Ukrainian People's Republic (1918-21), hems and haws about his responsibility over the various pogroms carried out in his territory during the Russian Civil War, and won't name the 1919 pogrom in Proskuriv that UPR troops  carried out. Certainly Petliura spoke against pogroms in 1919, and they weren't UPR official policy, but I will be damned if they didn't keep happening, within the UPR forces, the Ukrainian warlords, the Polish Army, and even within the Red Army. Up to 50,000 Jewish people were killed and the majority of killings ("two-thirds" claims Chirstopher Gilley in that opendemocracy.net article) are laid at Petliura's feet. In fact, Symon Petliura's murder in broad daylight on a street in Paris in 1926 was a direct result of these pogroms - the gunman, Sholem Schwartzbard lost relatives in these extrajudicial killings, and the French court was unwilling to convict him.

The Ukrainian Insurgent Army article is shot through with obviously fought-over editing and a 2013 tag under the "Reconciliation" section - weirdly they have a ranks chart but no drawings of what UPA men looked like in uniform. I found the art below on Pinterest:



A company commander, circa 1943. Notice that the uniform looks German-like with the ribbed patch pockets on the chest, the long boots, the "Sam Brown" belt with the shoulder strap and the location of the pistol holster on the belt. This was taken from a Ukrainian book on the exploits of the UPA.



The drawing says this is what they looked like in 1943-44, but I've seen shoulder straps on UPA uniforms from earlier in the war, 1941-42. The UPA used a dual-rank system of regular army ranks mixed with positions like "battalion commander", "squad leader", "regional commander", etc. It does get the green uniform color right and the use of the Ukrainian trident, an insignia still in use with no modification by Ukrainian armed forces today. The only difference between that trident and the one used by nationalist militias in the Donbass in the last seven years is a sword as the middle spike of the trident, an insignia seen in Ukraine during the war.



The style of insignia Wikipedia has, which is of the positional ranks. The black square on the left is the insignia of the Supreme Commander, with a German-style oak leaf. The yellow ranks are for subordinate ranks, so "sub-company commander" and "sub-battalion commander."

***


The West Russian Volunteer Army article is open that Ussuri Cossack warlord Bermondt-Avalov's forces were backed by Germany through the "Black Reichswehr" in 1918-19, and that  there were a large-ish contingent of Freikorps goons/last-ditch soldiers within the "Bermontians", of whom every member wore a cloth white Russian Orthodox cross stitched to the left upper-arm of their uniform, including Bermondt-Avalov himself:


That is a partial screenshot from Wikipedia itself. Nary a word that the Latvians despised him and his army and that they forced him and the Freikorps out of the country after less than two years. They will mention that he became a convinced Nazi (though the love was not shared by Hitler) and that he fled to the United States and died there in 1974. Speaking of the Black Reichswehr.....


......that article is allegedly borked as well. Notice that this tag, like many in this article, is years old and yet no effort has been made to clean things up so that the tag can be removed. Art Madrid is still mayor of La Mesa, CA., even after my article on that gap between Wikipedia and reality.


The worst gun article on Wikipedia, maybe.....



Meanwhile the article on the 1870 Belgian Comblain rifle is a masterpiece of barely explaining how the gun works (it's a single-shot rifle with a falling block, so the back of the firing chamber flips up after loading) and how it was used in the late 19th century "War of the Pacific" between Chile and the combined forces of Bolivia and Peru. They also "link mention" how the 1882 version of the weapon was used for a period during World War I by the Belgians. You are better off with this YouTube video. Notice that it has no tag, though it is screaming for a rewrite.


This will never end....

As with all the IRC chat records I have posted on this site, the number of tags on the English-language is vast and most tags seem to be 7 to 10 years old. Wikipedia needs a paid editorial staff to turn this made-for-free goulash into a real encyclopedia, but that's not happening. We will be come back with more examples at a later date.

________
* The one-man operations also exist in Eastern Europe and Canada, it depends on the scam. I mentioned the Nigerians because Hoax Hotel had hours of fun with those guys early on with his channel.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Wikipedia in a Time of Coronavirus: the Talk page on the Coronavirus article

The following is what happens when the "gnoming" mentality runs into an actual major event -- the world COVID-19 outbreak. The major issue here is "disambiguation" - does the page fit into the old Coronavirus page or not? The copypasting begins below:

There is no doubt that the vast majority of people searching for the term "coronavirus" will be looking for an article directly related to the current pandemic. Very few people will be looking for information on the subfamily Orthocoronavirinae, so they should not be immediately directed to this article. I also wouldn't underestimate how easy it is for infrequent Wikipedia readers to miss the header directing them to other pages. To me, this move would pretty clearly be in our readers' best interests, though I'm curious what the rest of you think. Will(B) 15:25, 18 March 2020 (UTC)
One other thought—I realize that page views alone shouldn't be the determining factor here; however, I think there is a strong case that Orthocoronavirinae is no longer the primary topic of the term "coronavirus". The societal impact has been so large that I think it's fair to say the word "coronavirus" will forever be linked to the pandemic. However, there is obviously a lot of ambiguity in the word, which is why I'm proposing we make Coronavirus into a disambiguation page. Will(B) 15:35, 18 March 2020 (UTC)
  • I don't think this would be very helpful, since the article introduces all of the more specific topics that are on the disambiguation page. It is possible that a lot of people coming here are looking for the virus or the pandemic, but that is not really clear from the page views. Dekimasuよ! 16:44, 18 March 2020 (UTC)
Right or not, the word "coronavirus" is often used as shorthand to refer to the disease or the pandemic, not just the virus itself. Will(B) 15:04, 19 March 2020 (UTC)
Having the disambiguation page at the plain title is not helpful to any users. Dekimasuよ! 09:44, 20 March 2020 (UTC)
  • Support: I know we know what the article is about, and we see the links at the top of the page. But I think we have to be pragmatic: people are coming here thinking it's about the outbreak, since that's what "coronavirus" means to them, some are not taking notice of the page top links, and some are editing and making edit requests about the outbreak. Esowteric+Talk 17:09, 18 March 2020 (UTC)
    • Yeah, the number of edit requests on this talk page alone are evidence that people are assuming it's for COVID-19 without noticing the links at the top of the page. Will(B) 17:24, 18 March 2020 (UTC)
  • Support per nom.--Ortizesp (talk) 17:27, 18 March 2020 (UTC)
  • Speedy support For the sake of everyone the COVID-19 should be moved here, if people think "(group of viruses)" is a poor disambiguator then we can come up with a better name for this article in the future and move it then, (maybe "Orthocoronavirinae").★Trekker (talk) 17:38, 18 March 2020 (UTC)
    • Yeah I'm definitely open to other suggestions besides "(group of viruses)". Will(B) 17:41, 18 March 2020 (UTC)
  • Oppose I'm not convinced that this is accurate, helpful or necessary. We don't know that readers are missing the hat notes about the pandemic. They might be coming here seeking some background on coronaviruses in general. It would also be incorrect; if "coronavirus" is not a group of viruses, what is it? Graham Beards (talk) 17:53, 18 March 2020 (UTC)
    • It's true we don't really have any way to quantify how many readers are missing the note at the top, but as Esowteric mentioned, there is definitely evidence that some are. Though even if no one missed that note, I still think making this a disambiguation page would be the right move, because there's just no way the average person searching for "coronavirus" is looking for the broad group of viruses. And it's not incorrect to refer to the current virus strain as simply "the coronavirus", as that has quite clearly become the common name for it. (After all, we call it the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic, not the 2019–20 SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.) Will(B) 18:02, 18 March 2020 (UTC)
Your point about its becoming the common name is valid.Graham Beards (talk) 18:12, 18 March 2020 (UTC)
Although AIDS' common name was originally GRID, so with less than three months in the -english world, anything could happen. 86.8.202.58 (talk)
Also, this is a clear example of a WP:BROADCONCEPT article. © Tbhotch (en-3). 20:02, 18 March 2020 (UTC)
I did think about that, but considering that this is a once-in-a-generation, maybe once-in-a-century pandemic, it's hard for me to imagine it won't be the primary topic of the word "coronavirus" for very many years. This is more than just "current events." Will(B) 20:30, 18 March 2020 (UTC)
See WP:BALL Graham Beards (talk) 20:53, 18 March 2020 (UTC)
  • Comment More than one newspaper headline has spelled it "coronovirus". We should be thinking about how to deal with the redirect.— Vchimpanzee • talk • contributions • 21:07, 18 March 2020 (UTC)
  • Oppose per WP:CONCEPTDAB. The current DAB page is very thin; it's just this page, and the current outbreak, which is a directly correlated topic anyway. I don't think that is a more useful landing than this article, which isn't incorrect in any sense. Nohomersryan (talk) 21:48, 18 March 2020 (UTC)
  • Oppose: yes, this current event is massive, but cororonaviruses cause the cold among other things, the current outbreak and novel version is only one subset. This is WP:RECENTISM SITH (talk) 23:06, 18 March 2020 (UTC)
  • Support Completely agree, even if this may be a temporary move while usage is stronger due to the pandemic. If common usage returns to its original sense once the pandemic passes, the article can move back. Not a chance all these views are for people wondering what other virus belong to Orthocoranavirinae. GoEThe (talk) 23:35, 18 March 2020 (UTC)
Yeah, this proposal is (sort of understandably) getting a lot of pushback, but I think at the very least we should have a temporary big box at the top referring readers to other pages that they're more likely to be looking for. As I said, many casual readers are likely to miss the hatnote. Will(B) 15:03, 19 March 2020 (UTC)
  • Oppose as awkward and short-term thinking. -- Netoholic @ 02:32, 19 March 2020 (UTC)
  • Support - too many people are getting the viral grouping and COVID-19 mixed up. 2601:548:8204:34B0:719B:DFD2:2B57:9B72 (talk) 04:26, 19 March 2020 (UTC) Neko
  • Oppose Per WP:RECENTISM and WP:SURPRISE.ZXCVBNM (TALK) 07:49, 19 March 2020 (UTC)
  • Oppose, it is very helpful for users to learn that the coronavirus causing the current outbreak is only one of a family. The rest is recentism. --MartinoK (talk) 09:48, 19 March 2020 (UTC)
  • Strong oppose - this is pure short-term thinking. What happens when the next coronavirus hits? Should it be changed again? --awkwafaba (📥) 13:58, 19 March 2020 (UTC)
    • To be clear, I'm not proposing we have "coronavirus" redirect to the novel virus or the pandemic; I'm proposing we simply make it a disambiguation page. So if there were a "next coronavirus", we would simply add it to the disambiguation page. However, I think it's unlikely there will be a "next coronavirus". Yes, I'm aware SARS was a coronavirus, and there will likely be future epidemics caused by coronaviruses; however, the big difference here is that only this coronavirus is referred to as "the coronavirus" as its common name. The "next coronavirus", if there is one, probably won't be referred to as simply "the coronavirus". Will(B) 15:25, 19 March 2020 (UTC)
  • Strong oppose Already a disambig header, people can navigate to the article they are looking for. Hemiauchenia (talk) 15:21, 19 March 2020 (UTC)
  • Comment After seeing "Cornavirus" in a headline and, when I typed that to make the red link appear so I could create a redirect, I found at least two articles aht had that spelling somewhere and corrected it. The redirect is to "Coronavirus", but should it be?— Vchimpanzee • talk • contributions • 17:52, 19 March 2020 (UTC)
I've rcatted it as {{R from misspelling}}: but I would have left it red, it is actually allowable to let the search engine do its job when someone types something. I imagine you found the two misspellings from search engine results: but by creating the redirect, no other reader can do so as easily. So your question is basically "what would people expect to find when they typed "cornavirus"? The answer: what the search engine tells them. 62.165.200.10 (talk) 01:43, 20 March 2020 (UTC)
I found the misspellings because that's how the newspaper web sites spelled the headlines.— Vchimpanzee • talk • contributions • 16:53, 20 March 2020 (UTC)
  • Oppose. We are an encyclopedia, not a journal of popular culture. Just as Apple is a fruit, not a computer company, so Coronavirus is a family of viruses of which COVID-19 and its resultant disease and pandemic are just one example, others being the viruses that caused the SARS and MERS outbreaks, which were also important topics. As a final point, all three articles related to the pandemic are linked from the top hatnote, so it's not as if having a disambiguation page would actually result in any fewer clicks or convenience for readers.  — Amakuru (talk) 22:25, 19 March 2020 (UTC)
  • OpposeWP:NOTNEWS. An enyclopaedia should help people find detailed information, and be more permanent than a mutating strain of a fairly common virus. 62.165.200.10 (talk) 01:40, 20 March 2020 (UTC)
  •  Question: Is there a precedent set? Are there any other virus families that have received the "<term> leads to a disambiguation page" treatment already? --Tenryuu 🐲 ( 💬 • 📝) 02:16, 20 March 2020 (UTC)
  • Oppose, for the sake of scientific accuracy. BD2412 T 02:50, 20 March 2020 (UTC)
  • Support I'd prioritise aiding readers reach what they are aiming for – and I'm supposing that's the current pandemic, at the moment, and as long as the situation will stay critical. I'd lean into defaulting Coronavirus → Coronavirus (disambiguation) and renaming the current page Coronaviruses, if that's not dead wrong, scientifically. I'd strongly suggest temporarily emphasising the in-page disambiguation paragraph (more than it is now), hoping that's possible within Wikipedia standards. I would also consider temporarily emphasising Covid-19 on the disambiguation page Pax.mtx (talk) 08:39, 20 March 2020 (UTC)
This isn't that helpful. Even on the disambiguation page, you'd still have to select a link to get to Covid-19, which is already covered by the hatnote on the current coronavirus page anyway. AngusWOOF (bark • sniff) 19:02, 21 March 2020 (UTC)
  • Oppose This accomplishes nothing, given that there is already a hatnote at the top of the page. * Pppery * it has begun... 18:40, 20 March 2020 (UTC)
  • Strong Oppose does nothing except makes it harder to find the article the name is coronavirus not Covid 19 if people wrongly search Apple they get the fruit instead of the company it that is not changed to Apple (Fruit) --Cs california (talk) 02:27, 21 March 2020 (UTC)
  • oppose We need the Dab page. And, I ll reiterate, AIDS' common name was originally GRID, so with less than three months in the -english world, anything could happen.86.8.202.58 (talk) 02:41, 21 March 2020 (UTC)
Oppose. It's a subfamily, a taxonomic classification, not a "group of viruses". Plus, it's wrong application of disambiguation; there's no other "coronavirus". There's only one meaning of the word, and it's this. The brackets are redundant. · • SUM1 • · (talk) 15:36, 21 March 2020 (UTC)

And here is the rest:


survival times on stainless steel[edit]

absurd\arcane detail. Anybody thinks this should stay should at least add some text and say what RH means. Gjxj (talk) 02:33, 19 March 2020 (UTC)
I think it should be removed. They used different viruses and it refers to primary studies that are not WP:MEDRS compliant.Graham Beards (talk) 08:14, 19 March 2020 (UTC)

Edit Request (March 18th 2020)[edit]

The line "The most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of all coronaviruses has been placed at around 8000 BCE (Before the Common Era, or BC, or AD)" is incorrect - AD is not the same as BC or BCE, and should be removed. --Snowen (talk) 01:33, 20 March 2020 (UTC)
@Snowen:  Done. Removed the entire phrase in parentheses as BCE is already linked to the Common Era article. As a side note, please use the {{Edit extended-protected}} template to make edit requests on extended-protected pages so that admins can see it be added to Category:Wikipedia extended-confirmed-protected edit requests. --Tenryuu 🐲 ( 💬 • 📝) 05:33, 20 March 2020 (UTC)

political slant[edit]

This article is inaccurate in saying our President and his administration was denying the seriousness of the virus to mid March. The travel restriction was placed on China February 2, 2020. It is a shame to see politics over facts. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Rcstephens (talk • contribs) 09:11, 20 March 2020 (UTC)
"This article is about the group of viruses. For the disease that has sparked the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic, see Coronavirus disease 2019. For the virus itself, see Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2." Where did you see such criticism of the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in this article? Esowteric+Talk 09:28, 20 March 2020 (UTC)
Rcstephens, I think you're on the wrong page. Perhaps you're looking for 2019–20 coronavirus pandemicTenryuu 🐲 ( 💬 • 📝) 14:49, 20 March 2020 (UTC)

Extended-confirmed-protected edit request on 21 March 2020[edit]

the host organism and the spike protein attaches to its complementary host cell receptor. =>the host organism and the spike protein attaches to its complementary host cell receptor that in many cases is the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2)Mike QFT (talk) 16:01, 21 March 2020 (UTC) Mike QFT (talk) 16:01, 21 March 2020 (UTC)
I have changed it to:
"Infection begins when the the viral spike (S) glycoprotein attaches to its complementary host cell receptor, which usually is the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2)." Graham Beards (talk) 16:12, 21 March 2020 (UTC)

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Kinda-Wikipedia: James Randi and the Trail of Wreckage Behind Him

This began as a series of emails between myself and Eric Barbour on Randall James Zwinge (James Randi) this summer. Pretty much I am writing about James Randi because he is 91 years old at time of posting, and I fear that if he were to die in the next six months that a "canonization" would begin from the remains of the James Randi Educational Foundation, the people at CSI(COP) who are still fans, his former JREF message board (now run by "International Skeptics" maybe-group), and various others. Had he died a decade ago, the resistance, fanboy rage, and other irrationalities would have made talking about Randi's darker aspects online nearly impossible. As it is, his Wikipedia BLP (biography) has people watching it. One of my sources for this article was Tim Cridland's 2016 review of Randi's biographic documentary An Honest Liar (2014) for which Cridland set up a one-shot blog. Tim Cridland has a background both in investigative reporting through his unfortunately-defunct 'zine Off the Deep End and in the sort of stage performance James Randi started out in - Cridland is also "Zamora the Torture King" a sideshow human blockhead. Randi started out as "Randall the Telepath", but then we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Randi up to 1968

Randall James Zwinge was born in Toronto, Canada on August 7, 1928. He dropped out of Canadian high school at the age of 17, and started doing magic for a travelling carnival - he was into magic since childhood when he had seen Henry Blackstone, Sr. perform, and doing card tricks passed the time when he was in a cast after a childhood bicycle accident. For a lot of his early career (1946 onward) he seemed to orbit around Toronto doing both the aforementioned stage mentalist act ("Randall the Telepath"), doing escapism magic (he liked escaping from straightjackets while hanging upside-down in the air - he later mocked that bit in a cameo on Happy Days in 1978) and being involved with the Toronto Globe and Mail's predecessor Midnight, which was a nightlife publication in the 1950s. Cridland mentions this publication in his 2013 interview with Radio Misterioso (Greg Bishop) on the predecessor article to the movie review, a 2012 The Anomalist magazine article titled "The Real James Randi." What Cridland discovered is that Randi is rather loose with recounting his own past - before he was a high school dropout he allegedly destroyed a Spiritualist church through his understanding of "cold reading" as a teenager. But had he? Was there such a church or group? Cridland in his interview says he could not find any scrap of proof that the incident occurred.

The "Randall the Telepath" act had that same problem - according to Cridland he advertised himself as an actual telepath, not a stage act. He also made predictions or psychic "detective work" for money as late as the age of 26:

.....In the early days Randi represented himself to the public and to the media as a genuine mind reader. In later interviews and accounts he would always claim he did this only briefly, but the historical record shows that this went on from his teens until at least the age of 26. The film shows a very public prediction that Randi, then known as Randall Zwinge, made for a Toronto newspaper. In the film Randi says the prediction, which seemingly foretells the outcome of the World Series, happened when he was 21.
 In a self-recorded interview, Randi would say that he was always able to talk his way out if a reporter or interviewer would bring past claims of being psychic. Over the years Randi has a tale of a man from Florida who came to visit him believing he had genuine psychic powers and offered him money to give him information. In one version, told in Randi's book Conjuring [1992], he wants to know the outcome of horses races. Randi then elaborates on the moral dilemma this caused him and states that that was one of the reasons he dropped the whole phony psychic routine. In AHL, Randi's friend, magician Penn Jillette, talks of this time in Randi's life and says that is commendable that “...he backed away from it." 
 The problem is that Randi has said he backed away, but the record shows he went back to it again and again. Randi's account in Conjuring refers to the World Series prediction and states that he was "eighteen years old" when this occurred. There are other accounts of similar predictions from different years. Both my article and AHL show that Randi's claims of being psychic went on for at least eight years beyond his supposed encounter with the unnamed man from Florida. Randi's reasons for dropping the psychic routine are much more likely related to his success as a stage magician and escape artist than a moral dilemma.
 Although Randi and his associates demand a high criteria for accuracy in the people and claims they scrutinize, Randi gets away with slippery story telling.....

And this isn't even mentioning his time doing horoscopes as "Zo-ran" in Midnight - today he would say "it was an experiment in gullibility", back then he was doing it for a paycheck.

By the early 1960s Randi was in New York City, living in Greenwich Village and doing regular stage magic while also appearing on Long John Nebel's WOR-AM radio talk show. When Nebel left that station to go to syndication, James Randi took over the show. Along the way Randi came into contact with James Moseley, the editor of Saucer News (later Saucer Smear); we don't know if they ran into each other through Nebel's show or the Joe Pyne syndicated TV talk show (Moseley made a number of appearances on The Joe Pyne Show - Pyne was a conservative talk show host well-known for his "Beef Box" segment where people could voice whatever annoyed them). Either way, they became friendly, Randi interviewed Moseley's associate Grey Barker, and Timothy "Mr. UFO" Beckley, who was sharing office space with James Moseley at 303 Fifth Avenue in New York City. On the ground floor was the then recently-installed FAO Schwartz toy store while the Moseley-Beckley office was a small space floors up. Randi was impressed with Beckley, who was on his way to being a prolific author/publisher of UFO and paranormal books of varying quality and later founder of the 1970s UFO Investigators League (which died by the early 1980s and was revived in 1990 only to die again). According to Beckley:

"...Randi and I shared a small office at 303 Fifth Ave in Manhattan that was also occupied by Jim Moseley of UFO fame. I traveled with Randi to several of his gigs. I remember one in particular at a high school gym where he levitated a young lady and the curtain shook behind him." Beckley told me that Randi wanted him to be his manager and this is why he accompanied him to some of his shows. That's right, Randi wanted Mr. UFO to be his manager.
Nothing came of it, but Randi did attend the 1967 Congress of Scientific Ufologists run by Moseley, and was photographed by UFO contactee Frank Stranges, standing next to Andy "The Mystic Barber" Sinatra, and the photo was put in Stranges' book Stranger at the Pentagon (two words: "Valiant Thor.") Below is the photo, screen-captured from Cridland's blog; notice that Randi has his "The Amazing" moniker already.



When the Table Flipped: 1973

After his time on WOR was up, Randi continued to do his stage act. According to the Internet Movie Database, he appeared in the pilot and on a few test segments of Sesame Street in 1969. Wikipedia claims that Randi appeared as "The Magic Clown" in a 1970 Canadian revival of the ancient 1949-1959 Bonomo Magic Clown show. The original was little more than magician Sam Wishner doing his pre-existing Zovello character making (Bonomo's) Turkish taffy appear and disappear for audiences of fez-wearing kids - the Montreal-taped version had the clown and God-knows-what went on for thirty minutes. I have not been able to find a photo of Randi in his clown getup, video of the show, etc. I can tell you that Wishner quit the original in 1952 and the Bonomo clown was played by different actors/mimes/magicians until the show was cancelled. In any case, the Canadian version only lasted until 1971. Two years later Uri Geller hit the United States and that's when Randi became a skeptic.

Before we talk about about why Randi went skeptic, we need to talk about organized skepticism itself. Pretty much there were no organizations of skeptics outside of academia after ancient Greece, unless you want to count the Fortean Society run by Tiffany Thayer from 1931 to his death in 1959; Charles Hoy Fort was an arch-doubter of the weird stuff he researched. (Of course today's skeptics do not consider Fort to be one of their own.) By the 1970s the American Humanist Association (founded in 1941) had grown large enough to consider backing a skeptical organization, which they did after the AHA magazine The Humanist published the statement "Objections to Astrology" in their September-October 1975 issue. Unfortunately they also took on Michel Gauquelin's "Mars Effect" theory, which became part of a fiasco for the newly-assembled "Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal" (CSICOP) that Wikipedia is still trying to minimize forty years later. So who was part of CSICOP when it started? There were the big names like Carl Sagan (who had stopped being open-minded about UFOs after the Condon Committee report came out in 1969) and Isaac Asimov (scientist, atheist, author on a number of subjects, owner of roving hands), but those people didn't do any work, just lent gravitas to the group. The real workers were guys like Martin Gardner (science and math writer, magician); Marcello Truzzi (edited The Zetetic, the first CSICOP magazine, also professor of Sociology and a magician); Phil Klass (avionics expert, UFO debunker, master of the poison pen); and Joe Nickell (field debunker, magician, appeared on In Search of.... in 1979 to demonstrate how the Shroud of Turin could have been faked using bas relief method, numerous TV appearances since). You are probably noticing that there are a lot of magicians already, without mentioning that Randi was there from the beginning. George P. Hansen wrote a paper on CSICOP in 1992 - he lists thirteen names of notable magicians who were involved with the group from 1976 to 1992 and I've named four of them. (More on that later.) The final two people involved with early CSICOP were the astronomer Dennis Rawlins (who was still angry about his treatment twenty years later), and the founder Paul Kurtz, who was part of the AHA and also owner/manager of Prometheus Books (founded 1969) which had been doing skepticism in book form - this would become a one-two punch in the 1980s; people would debunk things in Skeptical Inquirer, then a book would be written doing a longer debunking later and that would be "case closed" on the issue - even though many of the issues "debunked" kept showing up. (Case in point: Phil Klass wrote a book published by Prometheus in 1989, UFO Abductions: A Dangerous Game making a case that it was all hysteria and hype, yet to this day there are witnesses making the basic claim that odd humanoids show up in their houses at night, either to pass along bizarre information, or conduct examinations, or amble through the building before they vanish. Night terrors? Or topics made unpalatable for research by CSICOP's campaigns?) It should also be pointed out that Prometheus Books (according to Hansen) is one of the few outsider organizations that advertised in magazines for stage magicians.

Before we turn back to Randi and Uri Geller, we need to define just what modern skepticism is. In short it is the return of logical positivism, a 1920s ramping up of August Comte's work in philosophy, and LP was practiced by the "Vienna circle" under Moritz Schlick; the group were scientific-oriented philosophers and philosophy-oriented scientists who met in cafes to hammer issues out. The only truths that counted in logical positivism were scientific ones - metaphysics was strictly valueless, a word game. The philosophy spread into the English-speaking world thanks to the exile of Austrian academics in the late 1930s, then petered out after the 1950s - either the science had gotten too complicated or logical positivism was seen as too confining or quantum theory predicted the rise of philosophical postmodernism. The difference with the new skepticism is that it was run by scientists with no philosophical backing and it had certain American proclivities - it was economically neo-liberal ("deregulated markets") and had that upper middle class orientation that Ivy League professors were supposed to hold, with the quiet belief that the American masses were gullible and needed to be lead. The membership of CSICOP was mostly male and older and this would later create friction when younger people got into skepticism in the George W. Bush years, especially females and openly gay people.

Uri Geller (b. 1946) seemed to come from nowhere when he hit America in the early 1970s, and his act infuriated Randi. Geller claimed he had gotten his powers by being zapped by a UFO as a child, but he had quickly become a big deal as a male model and nightclub performer in his native Israel in the late 1960s. Maybe it was the fact that Geller had moved so fast, or possibly Randi had begun doubting the odd things that he talked about on WOR - allegedly the "million dollar challenge" began as a "thousand dollar challenge" in 1964, and at the 1967 Congress for Scientific Ufologists he was quoted by a Washington Post reporter: "Let's not fool ourselves. There are some garden variety liars involved in all this. But in among all the trash and nonsense perpetrated in the name of Ufology, I think there is a small grain of truth." According to Tim Cridland in an interview with Craig Bishop (Radio Misterioso), Randi later claimed that Geller was stealing his business, but that this was not the case - Cridland claims that the number of shows he did was the same.


(post under construction)