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Laugh Lines

Off-Kilter

April 08, 1998

Vegetarian Jesus?: The powers of the universe seem to be lining up against the beef industry. First, Oprah slammed hamburgers. Now Jesus has gone veggie. Or so say People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

At first, we were skeptical, but then we started thumbing through our Bible and made some startling discoveries. For example, we had no idea that Jesus wore plastic sandals instead of leather ones. Nor did we know that when he helped the disciples haul in a huge net of fish, it was so they could liberate the oppressed creatures, not eat them. Also, we were stunned to learn that the "fish" Jesus roasted over a fire in John's gospel wasn't actually a fish, but simply a metaphor for marshmallow.

Finally, we checked out PETA's Jesus-was-no-carnivore Web site (http://www.jesus-online.com), which claims that the Last Supper was probably a vegetarian meal because otherwise "there would be accounts of Jesus eating lamb at Passover."

Actually, it would be the other way around. An observant Jew of the 1st century skipping lamb at Seder, a meal that by definition includes meat, is what would grab headlines.

Bumper Sticker of the Day: "Rap Is to Music What Etch-a-Sketch Is to Art."

Best Supermarket Tabloid Story: The Weekly World News gets knocked off its lofty perch today by the Globe, which recently ran several psychic predictions for 1998:

* Michael Jackson will pay $5 million to have himself cloned four times so he can create a new Jackson 5.

* Bill Cosby will become a priest.

* Jerry Seinfeld will buy the New York Yankees and put Jason Alexander at the helm.

In other psychic news, magician James Randi bestowed his annual "Flying Pig Award" to the astrologers and fortunetellers who consulted with Princess Diana just before her death but somehow failed to predict her fatal crash.

Also, we're glad to see someone finally pointing out what a phony James Van Praagh is. For months, TV shows and newspapers have fawned over this self-described medium, who claims to speak with the dead. But if Van Praagh has a line to heaven, it sure isn't fiber optic. On a recent episode of ABC's "20/20," for example, he scored several misses for every "hit" when relaying information to people from deceased loved ones. And Oprah Winfrey's show showered him with a lot of good vibes, but also strung together a long clip of his inaccuracies.

Michael Shermer of Skeptic magazine reports that producers at several TV shows say Van Praagh pumped them ahead of time for information about audience members, a technique also exposed by "20/20." In addition, Shermer says Van Praagh observes his subjects' facial expressions and other visual cues to find out if he's on track. If that's true, then a good test would be to put his subjects behind a partition--and maybe even alter their voices--and then record the ratio of hits to misses.

In the meantime, we must admit we're baffled by one of Van Praagh's hits. On "20/20" last week, he was asking a man if he knew any dead person named Charlie. "No," said the man. Then Van Praagh asked if anyone else in the room knew a Charlie. A woman in the back piped up that it was the name of her deceased dog. This must explain why Van Praagh is in such demand and riding so high on bestseller lists. He can't even tell the difference between a dead human and a dead dog.

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* Roy Rivenburg's e-mail address is roy.rivenburg@latimes.com.

Contributors: Wireless Flash, A.J. Flick

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