James “The Amazing” Randi, RIP

The world of social activism has lost another warrior.

James Randi, known professionally as the Amazing Randi, in 2014 at the Tribeca Film Festival. A documentary about his life, “An Honest Liar,” was screened.Credit…Larry Busacca/Getty Images for the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival

I had the pleasure of meeting James Randi, a magician and great debunker of fake psychics and other charlatans, in 1986 when we both appeared on The Afternoon Show, a San Francisco TV talk show on KPIX. We both performed magic tricks. He removed the male host’s watch from his wrist. I removed the female host’s panties. (Having prepared ahead of time to appear on the show along with him, I had hidden a pair of female panties in my pocket and pulled them out to top Randi’s magic trick.) Riotous laughter ensued.

He later was the narrator of an Arts & Entertainment documentary called Scams, Schemes and Scoundrels which covered numerous dead scoundrels and me. You can watch the clip here.

Read his Obit in The New York Times

Wired’s Guide to Hoaxes

Wired’s Guide to Hoaxes: How to Give “” and Take “” a Joke
Essay by Scott Brown, The Official Prankonomy by Steven Leckart
August 24, 2009

mf_hoax_f-200Here’s what you’ve been told: “There’s a sucker born every minute.” “Take or be taken.” “Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see.” These aphorisms are so ingrained in American life, they’re practically commandments. And for good reason: We are a credulous people. For proof, open your spam folder and count the chain emails from 1998 that are still coming in, dutifully forwarded by friends and relatives. Or consider that new Facebook pal whose name seemed familiar enough when you hit Confirm. We are, today, the same easy marks who ran screaming from Orson Welles’ made-up Martians and flocked to see the Cardiff Giant. So we’re defensive. A hoax, we are taught, is an invasive, aggressive stratagem””a nefarious short-circuiting of our natural social instincts, a hack of Trust itself, a deterministic, zero-sum shell game with a clear winner (the prankster) and loser (the gull).

Well, here’s what we’re telling you: Bullshit. Continue reading “Wired’s Guide to Hoaxes”

LiteratEye #6: Tracking an Elusive Author

Here’s the sixth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.

LiteratEye #6: Tracking an Elusive Author
By W.J. Elvin III
March 19, 2009

pastore-bookIn the last column there was a sort of drive-by mention of author Stephen R. Pastore and the possibility that some of his prominence and recognition as an author is self-imposed. That observation was inspired by a reporter”™s challenge to him and some questions raised by Wikipedia editors regarding his credibility. So far, rather than coming to the fore in his own defense, Pastore seems to be fading deeper into the literary mists.

This is beginning to look like a story that The New York Times and Washington Post will be digging into soon. So of course I wanted The Art of the Prank Blog readers to be able to say they saw it here, some of it at any rate, first. Why haven”™t the heavyweights weighed in already? Well, venturing a guess, Pastore hasn”™t yet appeared on Oprah, and that, the way I”™ve got it figured, is the trigger for national media attention these days. First you spoof Oprah, then you show up on big media radar.

Pastore is a winner of the Aldous Huxley Prize for literature. The prize may not ring bells of recognition with you, but it was listed on a site devoted to literary awards. However, that site has since disappeared. When you dig it out of the Internet archives, there is indeed mention such an award, but details have been scrubbed. Continue reading “LiteratEye #6: Tracking an Elusive Author”

ADHD Investing

Top 2009 Resolution: Don’t Be Stupid
by Daniel Henninger
Wall Street Journal
January 8, 2008

Bernard Madoff revealed our thoughtless ways.

adhd-investingBack in olden times, mankind found it useful to live by mottoes. A motto reduces the helpful lessons of life to three or four words, maybe two, as in the Boy Scout motto: Be Prepared. Or, apropos now: Look before you leap.

The most famous motto in our time has been Google’s Don’t Be Evil. I’m not sure what that means exactly, but here’s a motto for the next four or five years: Don’t Be Stupid.

It would not have occurred to me to posit Don’t Be Stupid as a motto for our times had not 2008 ended with the Bernard Madoff story. Up to then, we were all preoccupied with the economic meltdown that began in mid-September with the collapse of Lehman Brothers and other household gods of global finance.

The economic crisis, originating in the subprime mortgage lending phenomenon, was said to be complex. Madoff’s story, however, was simple. For years, uncounted numbers of the most sophisticated people here and in Europe conveyed to Mr. Madoff tens of billions of dollars because this solitary investor, unlike virtually every other professional investor, achieved returns in excess of 10% annually in all economic seasons. Continue reading “ADHD Investing”

The Gullibility Factor

Why We Keep Falling for Financial Scams
by Stephen Greenspan
The Wall Street Journal
January 3, 2009

Intelligent people have long been ruined by frauds. Psychologist Stephen Greenspan, who specializes in gullibility, explores why investors continue to be swindled — and how he came to lose part of his savings to Bernard Madoff.


There are few areas where skepticism is more important than how one invests one’s life savings. Yet intelligent and educated people, some of them naà¯ve about finance and others quite knowledgeable, have been ruined by schemes that turned out to be highly dubious and quite often fraudulent. The most dramatic example of this in American history is the recent announcement that Bernard Madoff, a highly regarded money manager and a former chairman of Nasdaq, has for years been running a very sophisticated Ponzi scheme, which by his own admission has defrauded wealthy investors, charities and other funds of at least $50 billion. Continue reading “The Gullibility Factor”