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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

On Deception

“When one with honeyed words but evil mind persuades the mob, great woes befall the state.”  Euripides, Orestes

Last week I attended the annual fundraising dinner for SchoolsRule Marin and during the social hour I ran into a guy doing magic tricks for a small group of mesmerized onlookers.  What a treat!

I’ve always loved magic, magicians and the sense of childhood wonder I still get from seeing a well-performed bit of prestidigitation.  Privileged to have seen many such performances in my life, I’m awed by the dexterous skill, performing ability, timing, creativity and attention to detail that are the real secrets of magic and the answer to the question, “how did she/he do that?”

My own journey studying, learning and performing magic began at fourteen or fifteen, when I needed an outlet from hours of swimming workouts (a story for another time).  I was so excited when my mom first took me to a local store devoted to performing magicians. In that musty old shop, secrets unfolded as I had my first opportunity to know and learn from some patient, kind and always interesting characters.  These people actually made their living using anything from a simple deck of cards to a stage full of illusions.  If it had anything to do with magic, they’d seen and done it all. To a kid just bitten by the magic bug, these grizzled veterans seemed like human encyclopedias of magical knowledge and I loved hearing their endlessly entertaining stories of magicians past, present and future.

One of the first lessons I learned from these real world wizards, is that a small action can easily be masked by a larger action.  For example, a basic coin vanish involves holding the coin at the fingertips of one hand and pretending to place it in the other, while secretly retaining the coin in the palm of the original hand.  The action of moving the coin from the fingertips to the palm is the small action and it might easily be seen if that was the only thing happening.  But the larger action of moving one hand toward the other creates a visual distraction lasting just long enough to imperceptibly palm the coin and thereby create the illusion the coin was transferred from one hand to the other..

Interestingly, the principle of larger, less important actions masking smaller, more important ones is not peculiar only to purveyors of trickery and sleight of hand.  If you think about it, this same basic principle of deception can be applied to the actions of government, big business, the media and politics large and small.

Deception can be fun when we run into a magician at a SchoolsRule event or see David Copperfield perform in Vegas, but it loses its luster quickly when access, equity and the education of our children are undermined while the larger action is intended to distract us.

Poof! That’s when the magic disappears.