January 16, 2003 (Ira Pilgrim)


A single clairvoyant with consistent abilities would be enough to break the lottery, Monte Carlo, and all the bookies in the world.

Primo Levi, 1985

May 22, 2002

In response to charges that the administration should have known about the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, the spin doctors at the White House have now predicted that there will be a suicide bomber in the US sooner or later. They know, and so do I, that it is a prediction that they can't lose with. What surprises me is that the press would have bought such an old turkey, even though a number of top level administration officials have made the same statement. . Maybe they had a shortage of real news.

Before the days of ultrasound, and the ability to discern the sex of an unborn baby, prospective mothers would ask their doctor whether the baby would be a boy or a girl. The standard ploy was for the doctor to find out what sex the mother wanted the child to be. He would then predict the opposite. If the baby was of the sex that the mother wanted, she would be so happy that she would forget about the doctor's prediction. If it wasn't, then the doctor became a prophet.

That is the basis for the dire predictions coming from the administration. If there is a suicide bombing, they can say, "See! We told you so." If nothing happens no one will remember what the administration predicted. If there is no suicide bombing, no one will point the finger and say, "You told us that there would be a suicide bombing and there wasn't."

Anyone who claims to be able to predict the future is a faker. Someone said about a well known clairvoyant that "She predicted 100 of the last five disasters." There are, of course, some things that can be predicted with certainty, such as that the sun will rise tomorrow morning and will set tonight, and at what time. The position of stars and planets can be predicted with certainty by astronomers who know what they are doing. Meteorologists are very skillful at predicting what the weather will be up to a week in advance. However, predicting the behavior of people or nations is very uncertain, even to so-called experts. I remember when the Literary Digest poll predicted that Thomas Dewey would beat Harry Truman in the election. The next day there were pictures of a smiling Harry Truman holding up a newspaper with headlines that said "Dewey wins!," or something to that effect. The magazine that made the prediction folded.

A number of years ago, I had a lot of fun writing an astrology column until my editor got tired of hearing the protests of the believers in astrology. It was conceived as my ridiculing their religion. They were right; I was.

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