Hokum


The last couple of years has seen the release of not one, but three science fiction movies starring Scarlett Johannson: Spike Jonze’s wonderful Her, Jonathon Glazer’s remarkable Under the Skin and more recently, Luc Besson’s Lucy. It’s hard not to speculate on why Ms Johannson was cast in these three films; in the first she plays a disembodied computer intelligence bent on achieving – and then escaping – humanness, in the second, an alien bent on absorbing (literally), and then attempting to embrace, humanness, and in Besson’s film, a human who through unfortunate circumstances has the transcendence of her humanness thrust upon her. I can only assume Ms Johansson’s resumé has a description in it that reads something like “Possesses an other-worldly beauty”, and that directors haven’t quite understood that to be a metaphor.

It is the last of those three efforts that we’re going to examine today on TCA, and you can probably tell by the lack of any superlative attached to the mention of Mr Besson’s film, above, that I’m having trouble finding nice things to say about Lucy. In fact, I was just going to add that this review will contain spoilers when I thought that there is nothing I could do in my wildest efforts to spoil this disaster of a movie any more than it thoroughly spoils itself.

Out of the starting gate, there’s a conceit that was hinted at in the trailers for the film and which I really despise: the ridiculous and completely debunked myth that humans only use 10% of their brains. What I hadn’t realised is that this dumb piece of claptrap is actually the focal plot device of the whole piece, and is relentlessly bashed across the heads of the audience from the first frame to the last. Whatever the case, I entered the story fully prepared to file it away as a deus ex machina of the tale, and accepting it under the Willing Suspension of Disbelief clause. In the end, I couldn’t do it due to the ‘bashing-across-the-head’ problem previously mentioned, but it turns out that it didn’t matter because it’s the least of the film’s stupidities.

The film starts interestingly – but even here my Spidey senses started tingling, I have to admit – with some fancy CGI cell division effects, culminating in a ‘dawn-of-time’ sequence featuring a small ape-like creature that anyone with any scientific literacy will instantly recognise as the progenitor of humans: Australopithecus afarensis, represented here, through inference, by an individual whom scientists have dubbed ‘Lucy’. Clever, huh? Well, yes, it certainly could have been.

Over a sequence of Australopithecus Lucy drinking from a stream, we hear Ms Johannson intoning the words:

“Life was given to us a billion years ago. What have we done with it?”

Remember that phrase because we’ll have cause to review it later.

Transition to modern day Taipei, where our modern day heroine Lucy (Johannson), is viciously tricked by her creep of a boyfriend into delivering a briefcase with some unknown contents to a certain ‘Mr Jang’. It turns out that Mr Jang has a super new designer drug (a sparkly iridescent crystalline blue substance known as CPH4, which looks a lot like bath salts(i)) which he plans to ship to various locations across the world ‘in the intestines’ of a bunch of unwilling mules (including, now, a completely freaked-out Lucy).(ii) It’s a terrifying and disorienting launch into the story, and around here I thought momentarily that, despite my misgivings, I might actually enjoy this movie. The optimism didn’t last long – only to the next scene, as it happens.

Cut to: Morgan Freeman (who is the go-to ‘knowledgeable kindly scientist’ in the same way as Ms Johansson is the go-to trans-human), in the role of Professor Samuel Norman, a neuroscience expert. I use the word ‘expert’ sarcastically, as I doubt that there is a real neuroscientist alive that actually believes the 10% myth. But believe it he does, and he even expands on it using the tried-and-true pseudoscientific tactic of just making shit up. “Most species of animal,” he tells us (without so much as a hint of a wry wink), “use only 3 to 5% of their neural capacity.” I almost snorted my whisky down my shirt, but luckily managed to swallow it. Which is just as well, because after he continues on to wheel out the dumber-than-dumb ‘humans use up to 10%’ factoid, he adds: “But now let’s go on to a special case. The only living creature to use its brain better than us…”

You what? I’m totally on the edge of my seat around here because I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT HE’S GOING TO SAY NEXT!!!

Can you guess it, Cowpokes? Do you know which creature apparently uses a whopping 20% of its neural capacity??? Well, says Prof Norman, it’s dolphins. Yup, not only is this film propagating the idiotic 10% hogwash, it’s starting a whole franchise of its own baloney. I have no idea where this ridiculous notion even came from, as I’ve never heard it before, but accepting for a brief moment that there is any consistency at all to this movie’s internal world, all I can say to you is that the dolphins plainly weren’t in charge of the script.

Meanwhile, Lucy wakes up in a hotel room with a fresh wound across her abdomen, via which, she discovers, a kilo of the previously-mentioned CPH4 has been inserted into her gut, in preparation for her unwilling smuggling trip. Before anything further can happen, however, she is kicked in the stomach by one of her captors, the bag containing the drug ruptures, leaks into her bloodstream and somehow begins the process of overclocking her neural processing abilities.

But before we go on, let’s discuss CPH4.

This amazing substance, we are told, is manufactured by pregnant women in the sixth week of pregnancy. “It’s like an atomic bomb going off for the foetus, and gives it all the energy it needs to create every bone in its body”.(iii) The stuff inside Lucy is a synthetic analog of the natural version and of which she has metabolised a full 500 grams before she gets a surgeon (at gunpoint) to remove the other half from her stomach. Since there are three other implanted mules, this informs us that there are only 3.5 kilos of the stuff in existence in the whole world, apparently. Remember this fact, because it will become germane.

A this point, Lucy’s brain has achieved, we are informed by one of the relentless and completely arbitrary title cards tasked with keeping us up to date on exactly how smart she is, 20% of its operational function. That’s dolphin level, pal. This allows her to suddenly be a martial arts expert, understand any language she likes, change her hair colour at will, control the minds of others and become an expert sharpshooter, all accomplishments for which dolphins have long been admired.

She now simultaneously sets about tracking down the remaining CPH4 (which has travelled to distant cities in the guts of the other mules) and getting in contact with Professor Norman in order to impart some kind of information to him (what it is, exactly, and to what end she wants to pass it on is never really made clear). Here, we’re at about the halfway point of the movie, and from here to the end the film is just a guffaw-laden hack-fest, with few redeeming features.

In one of many completely daft sequences, while she is travelling on a plane to meet Professor Norman, Lucy’s body begins to disintegrate, and she manages to stop it from doing so by scoffing down mouthfuls of the remaining CPH4 she has in her possession. I was completely at a loss to understand why this was happening. Maybe she shouldn’t have had that champagne that she ordered from the cabin attendant?(iv)

As Lucy’s brain power accelerates upward of 50%, we learn that she now has control over radio frequencies and computers, over matter and even over gravity.

With all that under her belt, she undertakes a ruthless mission to retrieve the other 3 kilos of CPH4. This invokes the obligatory car chase, some more gunplay and a serving of fancy telekinesis. At one point, she quite theatrically sticks some thugs and their weapons to the roof of a corridor. Why she doesn’t simply render them all instantly unconscious as she did to a room full of cops a few scenes earlier is fairly hard to fathom. Whatever the case, the relentless pursuit of the CPH4 all seems so perplexing and unnecessary; if Lucy can control matter, how is it that she can’t just conjure up more of the drug at whim, or, even more conveniently, just re-configure her biology to suit?(v)

Lucy eventually arrives at Professor Norman’s laboratory and sets about turning herself into a computer. Or something. I’d completely lost interest at this stage, because the movie tipped into the kind of hippy-trippy vacuous science-fiction buffoonery that you usually find in the most B-grade of the genre. Various berserk things happen. This is what I remember:

•Lucy gets injected with the remaining 3 kilos of CPH4 and sets about vanishing all the walls of the building, whereupon everyone finds themselves in a White Void. I really HATE the White Void. The White Void seems to be director language for “we’ve gone off the edge of the known universe, so there’s nothing left to express it except acres of whiteness”. You will remember the White Void from many places, including Doctor Who, The Matrix and Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End. It’s a lazy, inelegant and unsatisfying trope, and anyone who uses it instantly loses a star from my rating.

•She flashes back through time to pre-history, enabling an absolutely gag-making moment between ‘God’ Lucy and Australopithecus Lucy. Think Michelangelo. Yes, it was that.(vi)

•She exudes black crawly stuff that wrecks all the gear in the lab.

•Then, she disappears leaving only her little black dress and shoes. All I can think of at this point is that it’s a perfect allegory for the film disappearing up its own asshole.

Meanwhile, as all this is happening, Mr Jang (remember him from earlier?) is outside shooting up everyone in sight in an effort to get back his bags of CPH4. His sudden appearance in the destroyed lab was so incongruous and meaningless it actually made me laugh. It doesn’t freak him out even in the slightest that he’s blasted through a door with a rocket launcher to find himself in a white infinity of nothingness. If ever there was a pinnacle of cinema-character single-mindedness, this guy is IT. He just wants his drugs back.

Finally, in one of the silliest moments I think I’ve ever seen in a science fiction movie, Computerlucy (for she has apparently become some kind of omnipresent entity living inside the mobile phone network) exudes a crawly black tentacle and hands to Professor Norman her vast resource of newly gained insight.

On a sparkly USB drive. Stop laughing, I’m serious.

Over a craning aerial shot of the destroyed lab, the perplexed scientists holding the sparkly USB drive, and the bloody bullet-riddled corpse of the recently-deceased Mr Jang (yep, crime doesn’t pay), we once again hear that early disembodied voiceover from Ms Johannson, now laden with meaning and import:

“Life was given to us a billion years ago. But now you know what to do with it.”

The End.

NOOOO! NO! We DO NOT KNOW what to do with it! Give me a hint! Is it to put life on a USB drive? Is it to not pursue our drug habits? Is it to find a way to make White Voids? Blue crystals? Dolphin computers? THANKS TO THIS MOVIE, I HAVEN’T GOT THE FAINTEST IDEA WHAT I’M SUPPOSED TO BE DOING WITH MY LIFE. Which is no different to before I saw the movie, only now I think maybe I’m missing something.

Unless, of course, what she’s saying has a meta-meaning: “Why did you waste two hours watching this rubbish when you could have been – oh, I dunno – kicking rocks down on the railway crossing?” In which case I really did get that.

Like so many half-baked sci-fi efforts before it (such as The Black Hole; Sunshine; Sphere to stand just a few in the dunce corner), Lucy is crushed under the weight of its own pretensions. It attempts to be simultaneously an action thriller and a psycho-philosophical musing on human destiny, but achieves neither of those aims, first, because there just isn’t enough cool action and second because it has the philosophical insight of a high-school stoner. When I saw the trailer I was really hoping for something like La Femme Nikita meets Limitless, only better. Instead we got Streetfighter meets What the Bleep Do We Know?, only worse.

As far as Lucy is concerned, on the Scale of Movie Intelligence, the needle is barely nudging 2%. If there is any kind of lesson to be learnt here at all, it is that we should probably be leaving the good science fiction movie-making to dolphins.

Also, this.

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Footnotes:

  1. CPH4 is twice referred to as a ‘powder’ throughout the movie, which it plainly isn’t. This might seem like a nitpick, but the film is full of these tiny little irritations and after a while they accumulate to have a massive eye-roll quotient []
  2. Never mind that this makes no surgical sense whatsoever – if you’re going to open someone up to stick in a drug packet, you just wouldn’t put it inside their intestines. []
  3. This is total bollocks, needless to say, and doesn’t in any way suggest why it would have utility as a recreational drug. I don’t even understand why you would even write it like that. If you’re just inventing a substance, why not make it some kind of neuro-active agent that you could at least pass off as a new cool hallucinogen or something. This is just one of many witless gaffs made by the film. []
  4. And why the hell was she travelling Business Class? SURELY with her new mind control skills she could have nabbed herself a First Class cabin? []
  5. Follow me here: if pregnant women are able to manufacture CPH4, then, given her superhuman powers, surely it’s a doddle for her to rejig her own body to make gallons of the stuff? I really hate it when this kind of thing happens in a science fiction movie. An audience will accept all kind of bizarre wackiness in the name of speculation or fantasy, but Rule #1 in fantastic fiction writing is that YOU MUST BE TRUE TO YOUR OWN INTERNAL LOGIC. If you break this rule, the audience has nothing to hang on to, and will become adrift in the silliness you’re peddling. []
  6. Seriously, that’s the kind of thing that enters a scriptwriter’s brain for a split second before the Big Red Mind Pen strikes it out of existence for ever. []

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The person who has just been appointed to the head of Australia’s once(i) world-admired science organisation, the CSIRO,(ii) believes in magic.

Yes dear Cowpokes, Dr Larry Marshall, a man whose scientific credentials barely cast little more than a dim glow from within the deep shadow of his business escapades, and whose tumbling grammatical trainwreck of a biography uses expressions like ‘leverage’ and ‘serial entrepreneur’, wants to create water dowsing machines.

Larry says he would…

…like to see the development of technology that would make it easier for farmers to dowse or divine for water on their properties.

“I’ve seen people do this with close to 80 per cent accuracy and I’ve no idea how they do it,” he said. “When I see that as a scientist, it makes me question, ‘is there instrumentality that we could create that would enable a machine to find that water?’

You know what, Larry? When you see that – as a scientist – you should actually ask yourself why no real scientists believe, for even a nano-second, that dowsing works.

You have no idea how they do it? My suggestion is that you look up the ideomotor effect and watch this video. Several times, if you don’t get it on the first run through.

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Footnotes:

  1. I say ‘once’ because, like everything else in this country lately, it seems that the idiotic buffoons who aspire to be some kind of ‘government’ here, are hell bent on making it the laughingstock of the educated world. []
  2. You know WiFi? The CSIRO invented that. Yeah, WIFI! []

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While Violet Towne was waiting at the pharmacist recently, she noticed the above item which she knew would pique my interest. This, Faithful Acowlytes, is ‘The Original AntiSnor Acupressure Ring™’ a little piece of cheap metal that probably costs a fraction of a penny for the material of which it’s made, but reels in a massive $39.95 for its purveyors.(i)

How does it work? Well, I’m glad you asked. According to the AntiSnor website, the ring is worn on the sucker’s user’s little finger ‘to apply pressure to the nerve points to activate the muscles which control upper airway patency to help reduce or prevent snoring’. And, to make it all sciencey and stuff, there’s this diagram that I’ve featured over to the left there. Yup. The red line that runs out of your little finger connects directly to your snore centres. Can’t argue with a diagram.

OK, so let’s firstly assume that acupressure/acupuncture works – which it doesn’t, but hey, just saying it did, what do the interwebs say about acupressure points that relate to snoring? I’ll tell you what they say – they say that the people behind AntiSnor just pulled the above ‘fact’ out of their asses. Aside from direct links to AntiSnor or AntiSnor publicity, there is absolutely no reason to think that there’s an acupressure point for controlling snoring anywhere near the point on your little finger at which the AntiSnor ring applies its pressure. Being very charitable, I will concede that some acupuncture charts show ‘sinus’ points on the tips of the fingers around where the sketch at left terminates its little red line. But if you can employ acupressure on a line drawn from one arbitrarily-chosen place to another on a diagram of the human body, why the fuck are there pressure points? Why don’t acupressure sessions merely consist of fat people sitting on you?

Puzzled by this conundrum, I ventured further into the wilds of the internet woo to see if I could find another diagram to help me out with the Mysteries of Acupressure. Oooh. Here’s one showing the supposed acupressure points in a hand:

Let’s have a closer look at the little finger:

Uh-huh. So if acupressure worked – which it doesn’t, but hey, just accepting for a moment the daft ‘logic’ of millennia-old Chinese hocus pocus, according to the chart the AntiSnor ring might conceivably be affecting your skin (wtf?) or your kidneys or your spleen, but I’m still not getting how it’s linked to snoring.

But I think I know what’s going on. Let me try to explain further via the use of another diagram of acupressure points on the hand.

You see what I did there? That, my friends, is science – am I right? Frighteningly, the people behind the miraculous AntiSnor™ ring can’t make sense of their product even by making shit up.

The AntiSnor website comes replete with the ubiquitous glowing testimonials, of course, but you know what I’m looking for dear Cowpokes, don’t you? That’s right, a science page. And I am full of glee to find that there is one. Well, ‘science’ in the duplicitious and disingenuous manner that we’ve come to know from people like this, anyway. Somewhat smarmily, on this site the page is called Medical Philosophy and we will see why AntiSnor have shied away from using the actual ‘S’ word in a little bit.

The more astute of you will have noticed on the AntiSnor red-line ‘explanatory’ diagram, a little logo with a microscope that says, intriguingly, ‘Clinical Trial 2012′. Violet Towne spied this same boast on the packaging, but with the rider: ‘European clinical trial. Details inside’. She was, unfortunately, unable to see these details as an obvious manufacturing error has rendered the AntiSnor boxes sealed shut with security stickers. Oh noes! Well, it has to be a mistake. It’s not like they’d want to hide such convincing evidence of efficacy from a potential customer, right? After all, if the sealing of the boxes was intentional, why, they’d have put such important information on the outside!

The ‘Medical Philosophy’ page might give us a clue to what’s inside though, because there’s some wonderful swagger right at the top, which I’ll quote here in full:

CURRENT MEDICAL RESEARCH HAS SHOWN THAT STIMULATION OF THE NERVES THAT ACTIVATE THE MUSCLES THAT SUPPORT THE AIRWAYS … MAY HELP REDUCE SNORING.

Reference: Inspire medical systems. Collaborated with Paul Van de Heyning.M.D.Professor of Otorhinolaryngology and head and neck surgery, and Wilfried De Backer, M.D. professor of Respiratory medicine of the University Hospital, Antwerp.

But wait a bit – the astonishing thing is that this claim does seem to hold a degree of truth! Indeed, Professors Van de Heyning and Doctor De Backer (and others) have a published scientific paper to the effect! Actual science! Only… it doesn’t have fuck-anything to do with acupressure, Chinese meridian lines, little fingers or metal rings. It’s about directly stimulating the nerves in the throat with electricity to cause muscle contractions.

AntiSnor is saying, without even flinching – proudly, even – that ‘Our product is effective because some scientists have shown that a procedure completely unrelated to anything we’re selling – except that it concerns snoring – might possibly(ii) work’.

This, it appears, is the extent of the AntiSnor™ Clinical Trial evidence.(iii) Oh, sorry, I forgot – there’s a picture of a microscope too.

The rest of the ‘Medical Philosophy’ page goes on with a whole lot of waffle that attempts to tie the nerves of the little finger into the picture but makes about as much sense Melissa Rogers explaining quantum mechanics. There are, of course, lots of CAPITAL LETTERS, because, you know, IMPRESSIVE. I was concerned for a moment that they might not get to tell us that the ring is hypo-allergenic. But I need not have worried.(iv)

The sneaky tricksy nature of this site intrigued me somewhat, though, so I wondered what else I could find out about AntiSnor and why they were being so cagey with their language. Well, it didn’t take more than a second to find out that they ‘have form’, as the constabulary puts it. In 2010, Australia’s Competition & Consumer Commission (the ACCC) well and truly bitch-slapped the maker of AntiSnor, ATQOL Pty Ltd, for misleading consumers on the efficacy of their product. In short, ATQOL was compelled to remove claims that their deceitful little gadget ‘had a ‘proven history of successful drug free treatment of snoring’ and was ‘Tested and recommended by a Physician’. As a result of the ruling ATQOL provided the ACCC with court-enforceable undertakings that it would:

• not make absolute representations that the Anti-Snor Ring will stop snoring or relieve sinus problems, restless sleep or insomnia

• not represent that the ring has a ‘proven history of successful drug free treatment of snoring’ unless it has caused clinical trials to be undertaken to prove such a history

• not make any representation that the ring has been tested, approved or recommended by a health professional unless that health professional has undertaken testing in accordance with accepted standards for the design, conduct, records and reporting of clinical trials

• amend the ATQOL website and any current and/or future advertisements or publications to remove the incorrect representations
ensure that all future representations made in the promotion and/or sale of the ring comply with the Act, and

• implement a trade practices law compliance program.

So what do we think, my Crusading Cowmrades? Has ATQOL lived up to their end of the bargain? Are they giving consumers a fair appraisal of the efficacy of their shiny little trinket, or is it time for the ACCC to pay them another little visit…?

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Footnotes:

  1. Or more if you don’t buy it directly from the AntiSnor website. The pharmacist was whacking on a hefty $10 margin. []
  2. The authors of the paper quite clearly state even in the abstract that ‘Further research is needed to evaluate this… as a strategy’ []
  3. I will accept here that there may be different ‘evidence’ hidden away inside that sealed package, that is, through some massive oversight, nowhere mentioned on the AntiSnor website. But I sense that you are already feeling the magnitude of my disbelief. I’m certainly not forking out fifty bucks to prove myself right. []
  4. And I bet it’s hypo-allergenic as in ‘cheap stainless steel’, rather than as in ‘expensive gold’. []

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fortune

One area of hokum into which I’ve not ventured much here on the Cow(i) is the murky depths of the profession known as ‘psychic mediumship’ – or, by those at Cow Central as ‘despicable emotional opportunism’. This morning I saw on my friend Dr Rachie‘s Facebook page an ad for a purveyor of this nonsense, one Lisa Williams,(ii), who is, it would seem, currently plying her wares on my turf. I thought it might be time to turn the eye of the Cow onto things clairvoyant.

According to her advertising, Lisa Williams is apparently ‘TV’s top medium and psychic’, but as I rarely watch tv I can’t speak to that claim. All I can say is that I’ve never heard of her, so she’s obviously not as famous as people like John Edward or Sylvia Brown. A Search™ for ‘tv’s top medium and psychic’ also tends to throw a little doubt on the assertion since people like Michelle Whitedove, June Field, Carla Baron, Colin Fry and Sally Morgan – along with numerous others – purport to hold similarly lofty distinctions. In fact, the search returned so many names that the full scope of this industry put me on the back foot slightly. Psychic mediums are astonishingly big business it would seem.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by that – it just confounds me that, here at the cusp of the 21st Century, people are still being sucked in by the same sort of flimsy trickery that has been around for millennia.

Lisa Williams’ website is a veritable library-full of addled waffling and nutty feel-good advice. I will allow here that there is a vanishingly small chance that Ms Williams actually believes all the stuff she says, but it should be clearly understood that the ‘gift’ she so often talks about in her writing makes her a packet of money. And while I say there is a chance, I’m being very generous. Quite frankly, I think that Lisa Williams, like so many of these so-called spirit mediums, is a fraud.

Ms Williams features on her site a page called ‘Messages From Beyond’ – or, more accurately, ‘Messages from Beyond®’, for it seems that she has successfully registered this fairly common phrase as a legitimate service mark. How this kind of thing gets through the US Trademark office completely boggles my mind. Pretty soon you won’t be able to write an English language sentence without paying royalties.

There are a couple of videos on the this page and these are what make me think that Lisa Williams is less a dizzy self-deluded fruitcake than a cynical opportunist. Watch this one and we’ll talk about it:

Oh boy. Well, the very first thing that happens revealing: “Fantastic, I think this is it,” she says outside a hotel door. As if she’s ‘psychically’ arrived here. This is a small thing, but it sets up the tone of what’s to come. Lisa Williams is already hiding facts (things she previously knows) under the guise of flakey absent-mindedness. It’s so ingrained that it’s a habit.

What follows inside the room is a classic – albeit heavily edited – cold reading (although, for all we know it could have been a ‘hot’ reading – we have no idea what Lisa Williams knew about these people before she arrived. She could have had someone assemble a complete dossier on them).(iii) This is nothing more than a performance. Personally, I find it so offensively manipulative and cynical that I was almost inclined not to embed it. Taking advantage in this way of bereaved and emotionally fragile people like Joanna, the young woman in the video, is, in my opinion, despicable. Putting the video on your website in order to attract more business is the lowest form of exploitation I can think of.

As I said, this clip is quite obviously edited, and we simply can’t tell what was removed. We can be totally sure that we’re only seeing the things that we’re meant to see – no bad guesses, no flubs, no ‘fishing’ for hits. Even so, there are some telling moments:

“I see a wedding picture on the wall”, says Lisa, a punt which Joanna immediately contradicts. She had a wedding picture, but she took it down. Lisa Williams makes this seem like a hit, but it just plain isn’t. It’s a complete no brainer to guess that a person who has been relatively newly married will have a wedding picture on their wall somewhere, but in this case it’s actually a miss so Ms Williams swings around for “Oh, he [the husband] ‘interfered’ with it”. Whoa. That could mean just about anything – and sure enough, Joanna looks for an explanation. Cold Reading Basics #1: be general and allow the mark to fill in information for you. I’m sure this is what fills up most of the stuff that ended up on the cutting room floor, but for some reason, this one survives – probably because it’s rectified so favourably.

If you think I’m being unfair here, take a look at the second video on that page.

This one features some stuff from a live show, and the major observation I can make is that if this is a portmanteau of Lisa Williams’ best stuff then her usual show must be appallingly transparent. Watch her fish for a rube with this one:

“I see a little girl on a scooter… riding up and down… with a cat in a basket. She’s got one sock rolled up and one rolled down and she’s waving at you…”

All the time she’s scanning the audience… but no-one’s biting.

“She’s showing me that she’s, like, your grandmother, or your mother, or…

OK, she’s now expanded the possibilities from ‘little girl’ to include ‘mother’ and ‘grandmother’ and ‘or’. Remember here that a large number of people that make up Lisa Williams’ audiences have come to hear their dearly departed make contact, so in this case we’ve cast the net so wide that really the only females not specifically included in that kind of description are young women who haven’t had children – the least likely part of the female population to have recently died, and, of course, they were little girls once, so that’s covered too. And there’s the hugely all-encompassing ‘or…’. That little girl could be ANY female. I’m sure that with some deft footwork Lisa Williams could get transgender folks in there too.

…it’s like a red scooter… And I want to say there’s a connection to the name Mary. And her feet blew up.”(iv)

Nothing.

“Come on, help me out here,” pleads Lisa Williams to an audience frantically trying to find relevance in their own lives to her vague fishing. The happy little girl on the red scooter means bugger-all to them.

When she does get a response, you get the distinct feeling that it’s more out of sympathy than for even a small shade of accuracy. It’s a young woman who obligingly feeds our ‘clairvoyant’ more information to be recycled as ‘psychic’ insight. Once Lisa Williams cottons onto the fact that the mark is Eastern European (the woman has a pronounced accent) all manner of opportunity presents itself. It appears that the ‘departed’ in question is the woman’s grandmother. Ms Williams runs with it using lots of hand gestures to help make generalised visual impressions. The grandmother wears ‘some kinds of rags and mismatched clothing’ which apparently explains the socks from the first fishing expedition. There’s ‘something about vinegar’. Oh please – there’s probably also ‘something about’ potatoes and pickled fish. This stuff is banal and offensive. Somewhere along the line the little girl riding a scooter with a cat in the basket goes by the way. Somewhere along the line the name ‘Mary’ is completely forgotten. In fact, that picturesque image first conjured up by Lisa Williams – a feisty little girl called Mary with odd socks and a happy wave, riding on a red scooter, has been deftly supplanted by a manky European babushka with bad teeth and appalling table manners. It’s truly audacious swindling.

I won’t go on. Watching the two videos above is so distasteful to me, that I almost abandoned this post several times. I find it terribly hard going to see people being hoodwinked so blatantly and so callously – and, more troublingly, so easily and transparently.

The main content on the Lisa Williams’ Messages from Beyond® page features another riff on the Law of Large Numbers. It is in fact a psychic win/win scenario. Here, Ms Williams features from time-to-time a ‘message from the other side’ that has come to her while on the toilet or picking her nose. It’s a great con. She can put any old shit here – being 100% wrong has no negative consequences whatsoever. All the lame waffling will go unnoticed for the most part, but should anything happen to ring true with someone who reads her website – Bingo! She’s a psychic! And you can bet that Ms Williams will make sure everyone knows about it.

It’s truly shameful.

And, if nothing else, the awful faux Comic Sans-style font in which all these revelations are proffered is embarrassingly childish. As is the appalling spelling. For the record, Ms Williams, ‘purserver’ is actually spelled ‘persevere’, it’s ‘feisty’ not ‘fistey’ and ‘hypercondriac’ is usually penned as ‘hypochondriac’. But I suppose it’s really the ‘spirits’ who can’t spell, right?

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Fortune teller image from Vintage Blog.

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Footnotes:

  1. Well, excluding our interludes with Sister Veronica, that is. But I’m fairly sure you understand that as just silliness. []
  2. Dr Rachie wasn’t advertising it, you understand – she was holding it up to scrutiny. []
  3. Just to clarify, in case people don’t know these two terms: a ‘cold’ reading is where the supposed psychic fishes for evidence from the victim using vague catch-all language, and builds on any hits by emphasising the stuff that fits and de-emphasising or ignoring stuff that doesn’t. A cold reading also involves scrutinizing the mark’s body language and other physical signs such as accents, type of clothing being worn and so forth. A hot reading, on the other hand, is built on knowledge that the psychic has already gathered in some manner, and which is known to be true. This kind of information is often accumulated by accomplices who mingle with the audience before the show begins, pretending to be punters themselves and asking questions like ‘Ooh, have you lost someone too dear? I lost my old Uncle Gilbert – who did you lose? Was it long ago?’ etc. It’s a technique that is widely used by stage psychics and faith healers such as Peter Popoff. It can be astonishingly effective if you’re not aware of it. []
  4. This kind of language – ‘her feet blew up’ – is enormously useful in cold readings. This could mean the ‘departed’s’ feet could be swollen. It could also mean an accident, like a land mine. The first one is very general – I defy you to find a grandmother who hasn’t had, at some stage, swollen feet – but the second meaning might pay off on the very odd occasion, making it seem like a totally astonishing hit. If you are clever and do this kind of thing often enough, eventually you’ll get a very powerful payoff. []

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Before we start on today’s observations, Faithful Acowlytes, I want to remind you of the century in which we currently find ourselves. It is, of course, the 21st Century, where humans have walked on other worlds, routinely fly in marvellous metal contraptions from country to country on a daily basis and communicate instantly with other humans on the other side of the planet.

Got that? Good. Try and keep it in your mind as we move on.

Now.

The Australian reports this week that people who live near Saint Thomas Rest Park, on the North Shore of Sydney, are demanding that the local government install floodlighting because the park is ‘spooky’ at night.

Saint Thomas Park is the site of one of Sydney’s oldest cemeteries and residents who are accustomed to walking their dogs there “are quick to scurry home at sundown, when the area becomes a bit eerie”, according to Australian correspondent Leigh van den Broeke. They scurry, dear Cowpokes, not for fear of the threat of muggings or attacks from dropbears, but because “There are rumours the park is haunted”.

The Daily Telegraph, another of Sydney’s stellar media outlets decided to investigate the claims, and did what any good journal should do and called in some rational, level-headed folks with scientific training who quickly dispelled the stupid rumours.

Hahahaha. No they didn’t! I’m just joshing! But I had you for a moment didn’t I? The Telegraph is a scurrilous and worthless rag, so what they actually did was consult a ghost hunter, of course. At the invitation of the Telegraph, Janine Donnellan from SOul Searches Paranormal Investigations(i) turned up at the park with her ‘electromagnetic energy measuring equipment’ and pronounced (surprise surprise) that there was a restless spirit hanging about a particular cluster of gravestones.

Said Ms Donnellan:

“It’s a male in his 30s or 40s. I saw him at one stage crouching behind one of the graves and then over to another. He noticed me and I was trying to get him engaged in conversation but he was very reticent to do that.”

Personally, I think Ms Donnellan has gotten a bit overly-excited here by her first encounter with your average garden-variety Sydney goth.

Ms Donnellan, according to the Australian, has ‘a certificate of Advanced Achievement in Parapsychology from the Australian Academy of Applied Parapsychology’. You know how fond I am of an accreditation, loyal Cowmrades, so I thought I might just look up the AAAP (as is fairly easy to do with the 21st Century internet-type technology available at my fingertips). Unsurprisingly, the only online presence I can find for the AAAP is a Facebook page which has exactly no information on it, other than offering a claim to be a university. A university? That should be very easy to check. What’s this – they don’t appear to be on the register of universtities kept by the Australian Qualifications Framework, but that’s surely an oversight, right?

The Sart Local business directory has a page for the AAAP though, even if it does give a street address that resolves at the same premises as the Australian College of Hypnotherapy, an establishment that offers courses in a veritable treasure trove of woo (including NLP and EFT(ii)) Parapsychology doesn’t appear to be on the listing.

So far Ms Donnelly’s credentials are looking about as impressive as her goth detection skills.

Continuing down the Australian article, which is as brainless as it is vague, we find that one of the local residents, a Ms Sue Hamparsum, claims that ‘phantom children’ also inhabit the park: “Three different families have taken photographs of their children at the playground and two little girls appeared in the photographs, but they don’t remember them being there.”(iii) Because we always remember everyone who appears in photographs we take, right?

Thankfully, the local council has comprehensively quashed the call for the park to be floodlit (citing, rather disappointingly, the impact on nearby properties instead of simply saying ‘Please stop tying up council staff with your superstitious hysteria you dimwits’).

There is a kind of breathtaking stupidity behind the request in any case. I wonder if you spotted it? That’s right: unless Ms Donnelly’s ghost hunting antics and the families photographing their children all took place at night (and it doesn’t sound to me like that’s very likely), then the ghosts mentioned in this article all appeared in the daytime. WHAT MAKES ANYONE THINK THEY WOULD THEY GIVE A TOSS ABOUT FLOODLIGHTING?!!!

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Footnotes:

  1. That link to the SOSPI Facebook page is really worth following if you want some awesome #headdesk #facepalm lulz… []
  2. Emotional Freedom Therapy. Yes, it’s a new one for me too. []
  3. I bet the phantom children were creepy twins. Phantom children are always creepy twins. []

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♩♫ One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn’t belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?♬ ♪

Did you guess which one, boys and girls? Did you say ‘herbal teas’?

That’s right! Herbal teas are just teas made from herbs and all the other things are made from BULLSHIT! Do you know what bullshit is, boys and girls? Bullshit is the stuff that comes out the of the butt end of a bull! Yes – bull poo! Hahaha. Isn’t that funny! But it’s not half as funny as believing that magic water or dirty shoe inserts or hot wax in your ear will make your life better. Aren’t some people just so silly?

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*This sign spotted on a recent trip to Port Fairy, in the far south of Australia.

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