I had always gotten along, perfectly well, with most atheists, excluding the outright assholes among them, up till the time I went online, about the same time that the new atheism was being pushed, the next phase of a decades long campaign.
It's only if you accept the commonly found atheists as being the definition of atheism that you might think what I'm about to say is ironic. Looking back, I think it was due to having read an ideological atheist and something of a Marxist who could, none the less, not stand to lie about history or his own science, Richard Lewontin, who prepared me for that massive revision in my own thinking, well, well into middle age when such revision is hard and very uncomfortable. His review of Carl Sagan's book, "Billions and Billions of Demons" in the 1990s, with its well informed, honest and even compassionate understanding of why fundamentalists resented and resisted evolution being taught to their children and his corrective realism about science and even why atheists, such as himself, could not abide the idea of God has made a lasting impression on me. He even mentions, through refuting Sagan, the "Carlos Hoax" discrediting the conclusion without, apparently, knowing that the "Hoax" was, itself, a prime example of stage magician fraud on every level, including the level that Sagan bought unskeptically and uncritically*.
It is possible for an atheist to have an aversion to lying, as Lewontin's carrer shows, a very strong and effective aversion to it. It is possible for an atheist to be a decent person, but they won't turn out to be an atheist like the ones I generally address in these posts. As I named one of the experments I did in blogging, not all atheists are assholes but my blogging is about the ones who are.
I would trust an atheist like Lewontin with political power, I don't trust the vast majority of those I've read online, in books and magazine articles, even those who believe themselves to be and sell themselves as leftists or liberals, who turn out to be not that different from the neo-cons, just generally younger. I don't, though, think that even Lewontin's atheism would maintain its character over three or four generations down the line if atheism became as common as a self-identification of Christianity is, today.
A fundamentalist Christian, even one who is wedded to the anti-Christian cults of white supremacy and anti-semitism, will, inescapably, have to claim they believe the Gospel of Jesus, the Letter of James, the Epistles of Paul, and Peter. They will have to deal with the radical egalitarian economics of The Law in the Jewish scriptures, they will have to deal with the fact that virtually every single person in the scriptures they deal with, the very ones on whom their religious profession finds its entire information base were Jews, so noted by the Romans in the sign they put on the cross they lynched Jesus on. There is no way for them to do evil things without violating the very words of a man they claim to believe spoke with divine authority, they cannot square their killing and oppression with his words. Even if they are in a deeply ingrained habit of self-interested, selfish evil doing, the discrepancy is always there for them to face, honestly. On that day they will have to either give up their professed belief in Jesus and the scriptures or they will have to give up their wicked ways. They might continue to lie about a belief in Christianity, there is nothing in atheism to prevent them from lying about that, there is no requirement of integrity in atheism, but they can't lie about it to themselves. Atheism contains no force for giving up evil when a person wants something and they think they can get it by lying, injustice, stealing, enslaving and killing. As the evils done by professing Christians show, even having those scriptural prohibitions on doing those things are a weak force in general culture, but having no prohibition on them leaves only those two even weaker forces as the only bulwark against total evil. Stalin, Mao, the Kim regime in North Korea, Pol Pot, Enver Hoxha, Nicolae Ceaușescu, none of those people can be said to have violated a single prohibition of atheism. Every single professed Christian who has ever killed someone is in violation of the teachings of Jesus, perhaps even those who kill in direct, immediate self defense or the defense of someone else. The difference that makes in history is imperfectly demonstrated as people, in aggregate, never perfectly demonstrate anything. But the atheist regimes of history and today show that the difference is real and that it teaches what a disaster such a society could be expected to be.
The usefulness in looking at the pheomenon of James Randi and pseudo-skepticism, which like "Humanism" is a loss leader of ideological atheism, is that he shows how easy it is to sell blatant lies to people who don't believe there is anything wrong with lying, that it isn't a sin to tell a lie. That, along the way, he endorses ideas such as cruelly indifferent Social Darwinism isn't atypical of atheists of his stripe, even those who are far less vulgar, such as James Watson and Francis Crick were Social Darwinists. When you see people as material objects, you believe you can easily categorize them in terms of utility. Utilitarianism is another means of showing the moral inadequacy of atheism, one which is as intellectually shoddy and dishonest as all of the rest of it, no matter how high-brow it is alleged to be.
The Real Carlos Hoax, parts 1 and 2
Randi's Involvement With Identity Theft And His Lies About His "Carlos" Scam Part 1
If LGBT folks had equal rights in the United States it is quite possible that James Randi's long time, live-in companion might not have committed the crime of identity theft. Randi would have been able to marry him and been able to regularize his living in the United States as many straight couples have been able to do. But that's not what happened.
Randi's companion, Jose Alvarez, was arrested for identity fraud at Randi's home on September 8, 2011. His real name was David or Deyvi Pena who had come to the United States on a student visa which he overstayed. He is documented in a story that appeared in the Toronto Star in August 1986 and people who knew him at the time to have been associated with James Randi, under the name of David Pena.
A reporter profiling Randi for the Toronto Star caught up with the magician at LaGuardia Airport in New York in August 1986:
"A few feet behind him, David Pena, a young man of about 20, struggles with three large suitcases," the reporter wrote.
One of Pena's landlords in Broward County was Jim Sitton, a motel owner who let him stay in a room in exchange for some artwork. Sitton identified a photograph of the young Alvarez in his "Carlos" role as the man he knew as Pena.
"He was a young artist. He was going to the Art Institute in Fort Lauderdale. I think he went by different names, though," Sitton said. "At some point, I became aware that he used two names. The name he used is David Pena."
Sitton said Pena later told him he was working with Randi.
"He seemed like a really good person. I have very good memories of him. He was very serious about his artwork," Sitton said. "I wish him the best. I can't imagine how he got into this kind of serious trouble."
All of the available evidence shows, beyond any reasonable doubt, that James Randi knew his companion's real name was David, or Deyvi, Pena in 1986.
The next year, after he won a MacArthur "Genius" Grant, James Randi staged one of his well known PR operations in Australia with the purported purpose of exposing how credulous the media is when presenting people with claimed supernatural abilities, his "Carlos Hoax". He presented a young man called Jose Luis Alvarez as a medium named "Carlos", shopped him around to various TV and radio programs and presented him on stage while all the time running him like Peter Popoff was run by his wife in one of the rare instances when the Randi legend comes close to matching his PR use of it.
Only, as you might have guessed, Jose Luis Alvarez was really David Pena.
I will deal with the misrepresentation of the "Carlos Hoax" later. For now, in order to travel to Australia David Pena needed a passport. Since he was in the United States illegally he couldn't obtain one under his own name. In order to get a passport Pena stole the identity of Jose Luis Alvarez, who was living in New York, working as a teachers aid.
As Steve Volk and other's who reported the facts point out, the real Jose Luis Alvarez suffered considerable trouble because someone had stolen his identity. He had problems with the IRS over income he hadn't earned in Florida. He had his bank account frozen and, when he wanted to go outside of the country to attend his sister's wedding, his passport was refused.
As the Sun-Sentinel reports: “Alvarez, a teacher's aide from the Bronx, said he has suspected for several years that someone had stolen his identity — … that he's been dunned by the IRS for taxes he didn't owe on income in Florida, that his bank account has periodically been frozen and that he had difficulty renewing his driver's license. He's had to repeatedly prove he is who he says he is, brandishing his New York driver's license and a birth certificate, as well as his employment record.”
Recently, when the real Alvarez tried to obtain a passport to travel to his sister’s wedding in Jamaica, his application was pegged as potentially fraudulent—because, after all, someone else had already been traveling the world with a passport bearing all the same information. Sadly, the real Jose Luis Alvarez was not able to work the matter out in time to attend his sister’s wedding at all.
So far we know that James Randi knew that the man he was marketing as "Carlos" was traveling under the name of Jose Luis Alvarez on a fraudulent passport in 1987. We also know that year before that he was traveling in the United States with the same man under his real name, David Pena. It is a reasonable conclusion that since Pena was closely associated with Randi and an employee of his, that Randi knew the reason for the identity theft, that Pena was in the United States illegally. Steve Volk points out that some of the remarks Randi made about a man he was living with and traveling with, who he knew was using two different names and who he was presenting under a third, made some rather sly and deceptive comments about "Carlos" that were relevant to the real owner of the identity he was traveling under:
And intriguingly, the Sun Sentinel found, when Alvarez first performed as “Carlos” Randi billed him as 19 years old—the same age as the New York man whose identity was allegedly stolen by Randi’s partner. Further, in this video, recorded in 2009, Randi says, around the 2:40 second mark, that one worry they had before they put Pena/Alvarez on stage as “Carlos” is that his “Bronx” accent might creep through.
Randi was no novice when it comes to assuming identities and deceiving people. There is every reason to believe Randi was an accomplice to the identity theft, which, in itself, is a serious crime that could carry a prison term. Peter Franceschina's piece in the October 18, 2012 Sun-Sentinel said:
Now, time may be running out for Alvarez to reveal his identity – prosecutors and Alvarez's attorney recently told a federal judge that he would plead guilty in the identity theft case. Alvarez is scheduled to have a bond hearing Friday, but two previous such hearings were postponed. His trial is scheduled for early November, and his attorneys, Ben Kuehne and Susan Dmitrovsky, declined to comment.
The lawyers have told Randi, 83, not to comment on the case. "I've been advised silence is the way to go," he said.
When asked about the Sun Sentinel's determination that Alvarez was previously , known as Pena, Randi would only say, "Well, if that's who you think he is."
Randi won a $272,000 MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant in 1986, and one of the first things he did with the money was hire an assistant – Pena.
In the end, Pena got off fairly easy. He was sentenced by a magistrate to six months of house arrest, followed by three years of probation. I don't have any problem with that, though, as Greg Taylor pointed out, Randi's plea to the court was less than honest:
As per usual, I think Randi's being a bit loose with the truth here in saying "no one was hurt" - for instance, the victim of the identity theft reportedly missed his sister's wedding due to passport problems arising directly from Pena's actions. However, from all reports Pena is quite a lovely person, and two years in prison may have been a bit of a harsh punishment in my eyes.
I don't know what the real Jose Luis Alvarez has done or will do but if it were me, I'd sue for high damages going after his employer who was clearly in on the identity theft. If he has or if he will, I hope he doesn't agree to sign a gag order as part of a settlement. James Randi and the "Skepticism" industry would pay big money to keep this as quiet as possible.
As I noted yesterday, an even more interesting thing to see is the reaction of James Randi's fan base and his allies in "Skepticism"/atheism, people whose stock and trade is in loudly made claims of their rigorous honesty and above board integrity. If any of them had information on a scientific researcher into parapsychology, that they had done any of the things Randi did in this caper, they would trumpet it as absolutely destroying, not only that researcher's credibility but the entire field of parapsychological research. They have used falsified, undocumented and clearly false accusations against people such as as Irving Langmuir's clearly false smears against J. B. Rhine to that end. But when James Randi, the trademark of the "Skeptical" movement, has repeatedly, over a number of decades, proven to be a liar and fraud, they cover up and lie on his behalf. They've even made a recent movie trumpeting his status as a serial liar as if it were some virtue when that is done in the name of "Skepticism". It's been well past time, for decades, that someone says this emperor really doesn't have any clothes and that James Randi's courtiers deserve to be discredited for their part in maintaining his fraud on the world.
The Real Carlos Hoax Part 2
To recap the first part of this story*:
As I noted at the beginning of this look into the "Skeptics", Martin Gardner, James Randi, CSICOP, etc. it's hard to know where to begin in writing about their real history. It's also hard to know when to stop. The lies and deceptions of James Randi are far more extensive than those I noted, people have been researching and presenting the evidence of the real, as opposed to the public persona of James Randi for decades. But his PR machine and the media it both dupes and intimidates goes on.
I'm sure this is a subject I will write more about in the future. For now I will say that anyone who doesn't address the published research and experimental record into telepathy and other topics on the "Skeptics" index of forbidden topics, those who parrot the lines they get from Randi and other professional and amateur "Skeptics" haven't addressed the published, reviewed, scientific record.
Science can't be done through the PR practices of "Skepticism", there is not a single scientist in that ideological movement who would subject their science to those. They will parrot the line Carl Sagan stole from Marcello Truzzi about extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence. Well, leaving aside that standards of evidence that are deemed to be inadequate to confirm or falsify telepathy are just as inadequate to confirm any other aspect of any other science. To use that line against "extraordinary" phenomena would logically impeach any orthodox science to exactly the same extent. Not that the many psychologists, such as Ray Hyman would tolerate their use in their "science", which has an almost uniformly less rigorous record than scientific research into psychic phenomena. The frequently extraordinary claims of physics, multi-universes, parallell universes, etc. couldn't withstand that standard even to the extent that the controlled research into psi has, over and over again.
"Skepticism" is a self-interested industry and an ideological movement, not a scientific one. It is, in almost every case, an aspect of the ideological promotion of atheism and materialism. I think it's more likely to be a symptom of an ideological dark age than some kind of neo-enlightenment. "Skepticisms" documented history proves it depends on deception and lies, incompetence and cover ups, the insertion of ideological orthodoxy into science. And that introduction has been, for the most part, a success.
Scientists who have read the literature into psi are reported to often find it convincing, in some rare cases they have admitted that. But, for the most part, they self-censor and cover up what they know because they can depend on a career damaging ideological campaign against them that rivals and, I'd say, surpasses that of the red-scare of the 1950s. It's lasted far longer and it has been more effective. Sometimes, when coming across those rare defections from the enforced common consensus, it feels like the early 1960s, as the red-scare was melting, far too slowly. Maybe it is. We will see.
* Considering that Carl Sagan was there and an observer, as well as a participant in the CSICOP sTARBABY scandal, which James Randi was in the thick of, that he would take anything the old liar would say at face value exposes Sagans "skepticism" as an ideological scam, itself.