Monday, January 29, 2007

Honor Among Thieves...?

Well, I happened to catch a segment with James Randi on Larry King Live Friday night. Alas and alack I missed the first part of the bit, but I did get the chance to see Randi spar around with “psychic” Rosemary Altea. Ms. Altea’s website claims that she’s an “internationally renowned spirit medium”, though I’m not personally familiar with her. Ms. Altea, naturally, has numerous books and audio recordings for sale on her site, all of which are co-authored by her spirit guide, Grey Eagle. There’s also a large section on her site about “spiritual healing”, though on these pages there is at least a disclaimer advising people to seek regular medical care as well.

For the most, however, Altea’s claims are neither here nor there. Aside from a bit of back-and-forth with Randi during which she repeatedly made the accusation that the JREF challenge was fraudulent, most of the night’s discussion focused instead on Randi’s nemesis Sylvia Browne.

As you’ll recall, a few weeks two young boys from Missouri were rescued by the police from a kidnapper. This is a joyous (but all too rare) occurrence made even more incredible because one of the youths, Shawn Hornbeck, was kidnapped in 2002. For the victim of a stranger abduction to be found alive after 5 years is almost unheard of. The case was resolved through a combination of police work and public vigilance, and everyone involved in the investigation is worthy of praise. So where, exactly does Sylvia Browne come in? Well, it seems she helped the police with case.

Naturally she used her incredible psychic powers to lead the cops straight to the apartment where the boys were being held, right? No; that was a tip from a concerned citizen. So what exactly did Browne do? She told Shawn’s parents, back in 2003 after they had already suffered through months of gut-wrenching torment and grief, that their son was dead. She further told them that his body had been dumped in a remote wooded area, and that his murderer was likely a Hispanic man. (Note that the kidnapper was, in fact, white.) James Van Praagh made similarly off the mark claims regarding the case.

Much has already been made of this, especially here at this excellent site, but what really struck me was Altea’s take on the situation. She basically admitted, maybe not in so many words, the Browne and Van Praagh might simply be faking it. Now keep in mind that she immediately took the mealy-mouthed position that psychics are never right all the time. (Not very psychic then, I suppose.) Now granted there are charlatans in every profession, but for a psychic engaged in distance (she calls it “absent”) healing to call someone else a fraud in the very same interview in which she refuses to have her own abilities tested is simply delicious. I suppose there really is no honor among thieves.

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