Posts Tagged ‘psychics’

This Week In Crackpottery #1: Witch Hunts, Psychics, AGW Deniers, & Hindu Nationalists

January 15, 2012

So I had originally thought of calling this regular column This Week In Fucked Up Religious Shit, but a few problems came to mind. For one thing, there are lots of non-religious infuriating, hilarious, or otherwise crazy shit I would have to ignore: psychics, alternative medicine, fringe politics, conspiracy theories, North Korea, and a lot more. Also, I’d eventually collide with the problem of trying to delineate between what does and does not qualify as a religion, which can be tricky at times. I’d rather leave that problem to the IRS.

Anyway, I’m going to try to regularly write about some of the craziest shit that happens throughout the week. When I’m feeling more patient, I’ll try to actually explain how people’s thinking has gone wrong and how we can actually know that, but there will be plenty of mockery too. Sometimes that’s the most appropriate response.

So let’s get to it:

Notorious Nigerian witch-hunter to preach in the US

If you thought religious trolls in America were bad you can take some comfort in that you don’t live in Nigeria, where actual witch hunts are still taking place. I don’t mean some kind of Arthur Miller metaphor for an irrational hysterical atmosphere of false confessions prompted by accusations based on conjecture and hearsay; I mean the HEY LOOK DELMAR THERE’S A WITCH LET’S DONE KILL IT kind of witch hunt.

The good news is that even Houston, Texas doesn’t have a local expert in witch hunting. The bad news is that they’re flying one in to preach at them about the final solution to the witchcraft problem. Her name’s Helen Ukpabio and she’s a “Lady Apostle” at the Liberty Gospel Church. She’s going to be doing something called a “Marathon Deliverance” for 12 days in March.

The poster advertising her visit is lots of fun. For instance, if you have any of the following conditions, please consult your local witch hunter for exorcism and deliverance:

  • Having bad dreams
  • Financial impotency and difficulties
  • Unsuccessful life with disappointments
  • Possessed by mermaid spirit and other evil spirits

So whether you’re poor or sometimes disappointed, or you’re possessed by those pesky mermaid spirits (and who isn’t these days?), Ukpabio can help you “receive freedom from the Lord.”

It’s just too bad she’s incapable of offering her victims freedom from herself. See, the witch hunting problem in Nigeria has gotten so bad that some extremely brave humanists have been organizing efforts to educate people on how we know that people like Ukpabio are dangerous and evil and wrong. Stepping Stones Nigeria has been the victim of attacks from Ukpabio’s Liberty Gospel Church, when members invaded their seminars, beating people up and stealing things.

And true to religious troll form, Ukpabio had the mermaid balls to actually sue SSN for depriving her church of the right to believe in witchcraft. The good news is that Ukpabio apparently believes that when people are presented with the facts about the witch hunting craze, they can’t go on believing in it. The bad news is that that’s just not true, case in point being the fact that she’s preaching the same nonsense here in America in 2011.

Imagine how much cognitive dissonance you’d have to ignore to run an organization devoted to stopping a particular religion (i.e. paganism, animism, or whatever they mean by witchcraft) and then turn around and sue someone else on the false grounds that they’re doing the same thing, which you really are doing.

Hopefully there will be some organized protests against this hateful lying bitch in Houston, so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, check out this video she made about How Witchcraft Works. I could only watch a minute or so at a time without pacing around like an inmate in a psych ward that’s running low on medication, so you know, be warned.

Coast to Coast AM’s New Year’s Prediction Show

Former C2C AM host Art Bell, seen here recording a Bauhaus album.

Besides the Twilight Zone marathon, the best thing about New Year’s is how the “psychic” industry clings to the change in calendars in order to make a bunch of predictions for the next 12 months. The problem in writing about this is that these people usually do this on their own websites, which of course they can alter or delete when their predictions fail.

So the good folks at Something Awful are archiving a few of the predictions from one outlet in particular: Everyone’s favorite late-night radio talk show for truckers on massive amounts of amphetamines, Coast to Coast AM. Besides keeping a reliable archive to fact-check when it comes time for next year’s fake psychic circlejerk, it’s a nice case study in how psychics give the superficial appearance of having supernatural powers. Also, they’re pretty funny. For example:

Major earthquake in central/northern California in May.

Fuzzy language is a good way to cover your bases if you’re pretending to have magical powers. What makes an earthquake “major?” It’s not clearly defined anywhere. Of course there is seismic activity all the time all over California. So all you have to do to call this prediction a hit is take all the seismic data, find the day with the most activity during May, and call that a “major” earthquake. Other predictions use a similar approach by referring to “a plane between life and death,” “a major find of buried treasure,” “More tornadoes than usual,” “bad weather,” and a “very large object.”

Some predictions are just mundane and probable, if only because they’re based on things which are already happening. The economy will slowly improve, you say? Wow, what a risky prediction! Even if we all get hit with the coming global super-collapse of all civilization in six months, whoever predicted the economy slowly getting better can still claim accuracy since the economy slowly got better for a few months.

And then some of these predictions contradict each other. Also, they’ll never fucking happen:

Hillary Clinton will win the election over Obama.

Donald Trump will win the election as a third party nominee.

Obama… will cancel the election in November.

Bigfoot will be elected to the presidency.

And some are just incoherent and goofy:

Ron Paul will win the Republican nomination, but it will end up that drag queen RuPaul won through some accident in the vote count.

End of days will become disco nights. Blondie will write the sequel to the Rapture. The three wise men will be some three wise guys.

One domestic and one natural, with one being unnatural, will change the outcome of the election.

Finding a whole new species of human beings.

The Earth will supernova because of nitrogen and helium in the core of the Earth, not molten iron like everyone thinks it is.

So, uh… yeah. Be on the lookout for that stuff, too!

Fox News columnist offering $500 for someone to disrupt a science documentary about climate change

Remember back when Charlie Sheen was a thing and he was bitching and whining about how he only bought hookers because he didn’t know what to do with all his money? Junk science enthusiast and Fox propagandist Steve Milloy doesn’t have that problem. Miloy’s even more passionate about his bad ideas than Charlie Sheen is, so he’s willing to throw money at anyone stupid enough to repeat his nonsense in public.

There’s a screening of a documentary on climate change this Monday, January 9. Milloy wants to pay someone $500 to ask a question for him at the panel afterwards, because he’s way too much of a coward to do it himself. And even though he hasn’t seen the documentary, he knows his question won’t be covered in it. The problem for him is that it won’t be covered in the documentary because his question is stupid:

How long will it take for the 3 x 1023 drops of water in the Himalayan glaciers to disappear?

What prompts his stupid question is that the press release of the documentary mentions that the Himalayan glaciers are “disappearing.” Well obviously there will be no problem with that at all until EVERY SINGLE DROP of the glaciers has already melted. So there! Checkmate, scientists!

Sri Ram Sena flies Pakistan flag over an Indian government building

In America, far right-wing militia types talk about the government staging false flag operations while calling into Alex Jones’ ham radio show under a pseudonym like “One-Eyed Leroy.” In India, the far right-wing militia types actually do the false flag operations themselves.

Sri Ram Sena is this horrible group of Hindu Nationalists in India. In a lot of ways they’re not too different from Christian Nationalists. I first wrote about them about a y ear ago when they were making the news for attacking women at pubs and threatening to attack unmarried couples celebrating Valentine’s Day in public. They also threatened to kidnap and forcibly marry them as punishment. And they raided their political opponents headquarters.

Along with physically attacking love wherever they see it, they also have a bug up their ass about Muslims. Especially those Muslims in Pakistan. See, there’s a bit of ugly history between the two countries, and some still haven’t let go of the old hostilities. So yada yada yada, now they both have nuclear weapons aimed at each other.

But even mutually assured destruction isn’t bad enough for some people, and that’s where the Sri Ram Sena enters the picture. They were alarmed at how many people don’t seem to care too much about hating Pakistanis anymore, so they hatched this plan to raise the flag of Pakistan over government buildings in India. Police say their goal was to create “communal disharmony” in the area because there is a large Muslim population there.

So people saw the flag, probably assumed it was either a mean-spirited prank or even a sign of an actual invasion of some sort, and threw rocks at their local Muslim prayer hall.

You would think that a really devoted Hindu Nationalist would buy into their own propaganda enough to not think that this kind of shit were necessary. If there really were another India-Pakistan war looming and only Hindu Nationalism could save India, why would anyone need to dishonestly provoke hatred in that way? The whole basis of their worldview is that these fights are ones people really care about and the conflict they dream about really is inevitable.

But that’s the problem with faith. It’s just not good enough of a reason to believe something, and even the most die-hard proponents of it recognize that. Deep down, they have the same doubts as the skeptics. They know the gods / God isn’t really going to smite their enemies, so they’re going to have to do it themselves. And that’s what’s really scary.

Random notes on Lily Dale

August 30, 2010

There were a lot of details left out of my recent article on Lilydale which didn’t really fit into the story that well. We wanted to get to the punchline of having the medium identify Taibbi and Randi as spirits around me before boring people with too much of the minutiae, even if some of it was kind of funny/interesting.

Before we even got into Lily Dale, we stopped at the National Spiritualist Association, which was a small one-story building overlooking the Cassadaga Lakes. It was all very scenic. If I were setting up some kind of pyramid scheme targeting gullible hippies, that’s the kind of place I would pick for a headquarters.

We were only inside for a moment before being escorted out by a nice woman named Paula, but that was just because there was some kind of private class going on and not because we stormed in wearing orange jumpsuits while waving dowsing rods around and yelling about how we were picking up very powerful energy vibes of gullibility in this location. That was something we’d talked about doing but laziness and a lack of funding made that impossible.

This is totally a cliché, but every group setting in Lily Dale just reeked of Patchouli. We’ve all known people who might go overboard with that stuff even as potent as it is, but imagine that times a hundred.

The woman doing the warm-up act said that Lily Dale was on one of the only old growth forests in the Northeast, even though there are 210,000 acres of old growth forests in NY state alone.

Just before I got my reading, two young African-American women raised their hands to get a reading by request from a medium. I was under the impression that doing readings “don’t work that way” and that the spirits are very mysterious about how they go about communicating. But the medium complied and told them that they were being visited by their grandmother, who was – GASP – from the South! And what’s even more surprising is that she was very spiritual and liked to sing a lot. Another Indian woman was told that she was visited by relatives from another country who wanted her to hold on to her cultural heritage.

In other words, anything that distinguished someone from the crowd at all was the basis for their reading. Guys, including myself, were told that it was time to advance their career. Younger people were contacted by the old, and vice versa. If the mark looked confused by a medium’s use of a stereotype, then the medium would tell her that this was a long-forgotten ancestor from several generations back. The rest was just random guesses, which is where confirmation bias did its thing.

I had kind of guessed beforehand that the crowd would be mostly female based on footage I’d seen of similar events, but I had really underestimated the proportion – at least on the day we went. It was at least a 95% female audience. And yet still my smoothest “Lllladies” yielded no positive results.

So lastly we were pretty lucky I guess to get a public reading for a couple reasons. One is that there were tons of witnesses – not that we know any of them and could get them to verify what happened, but still. The other is that according to the official Lily Dale website, the cost of a private reading starts at $40. Maybe that would’ve yielded a lot more funny material, but I’ll have to leave that to other skeptics with bigger bank accounts.

Everyone must die at Lily Dale

August 29, 2010

Spirit vibes jammed by ghost of a poorly Photoshopped ghost of James Randi

(Re-posted at The BEAST)

In the mid 19th century, three sisters from a sleepy upstate NY community managed to convince the world that they could communicate with the dead. Late in their lives, two of the Fox sisters demonstrated how they pulled off this fraud (one of them simply cracked the knuckle in her big toe). Unfortunately, their confession wasn’t enough to change the minds of true “spirit world” believers, and the legend continues to the present. So does the tradition of bilking the gullible.

Today, Lily Dale is a quaint gated community of about 10 square blocks. There’s a “healing temple,” a souvenir shop and a few other places for tourists to check out. The rest is housing for the “mediums.”

After BEAST editor Ian Murphy and I paid the $10/person entrance fee, our spirits were low. Then we saw a sign:

So it’s not Inspiration Tree or Inspiration Lake or anything like that. It’s Inspiration…Stump. We were curious as to how a stump could be inspirational, so we decided to check it out.

Inspiration Stump was basically a little outdoor chapel with a concrete-reinforced stump for an altar and an American flag for a crucifix. Murphy pretended to pray, as misdirection, and yoinked a bunch of quarters from the stump. (Thank you, misguided donors of Lily Dale, for buying us beverages.)

Later, we found a “Message Service” near the site where the Fox sisters’ cabin once stood. Several of the mediums took turns giving readings to the crowd of about 250. The best one was Gretchen, who consistently failed hard. At one point she got a little pissed:

“Can I have your voice, please? The young lady in the back with the sleeveless shirt,” She pointed to a crowded corner. “No! Not you. In the back!”

“We don’t know who you’re talking to!” one of the possible candidates shot back.

“Well then…Just forget it. I’ll move on.”

A few more mediums performed. It was funny how everyone “in the spirit” was so friendly and selfless while so many people here “on the Earth plane” could be so petty and selfish. Don’t dead fuckwads ever want to communicate with the other side? Apparently, after you die, you somehow turn into a disembodied poster child for antidepressants. You would think the constant barrage of cheerfulness from the mediums would make more of these people suspicious, in the same way it does when a used car salesman is telling you what a great deal he can get you on this 1989 Volkswagen Jetta. But no such luck. The audience had checked their critical thinking skills at the security gate, smiling and nodding to just about anything the mediums made up.

We managed to get good seats for the next “Message Service” back at Inspiration Stump. The clipboard-toting MC warned us “you can’t hide from your spirit people. They are always watching—even in private moments.” Perverts. She said many in the audience had a “blue flame” over their heads, which signified their own fledgling psychic powers. She then introduced a “student medium” from Gettysburg, PA called Penelope.

“I’m sensing she must have passed from a problem with her body,” Penelope told a woman. No, grandma’s dead, because she had a problem with her cable bill. But the woman nodded, as if to say, “Yes, it was body death what caused her body death.” Impressive.

We had decided to bring along some Photoshopped pictures of living people in an attempt to goad the mediums into identifying someone “in the spirit” when they were, in fact, still “on the Earth plane.” So we decided to force BEAST founder Matt Taibbi into going undercover with us as a dreadlocked hippie without his knowledge or consent:

About a half hour into it, a medium named Eileen called on me. I held up Taibbi’s picture, and she told me that she saw lots of spirits around me and explained that this was because lots of people in my family had died. This was true. In fact, everyone in my family is dead except for the many who are still alive. She told me that the guy in the picture was trying to get my attention “with things moving and lights.” This was an amazing coincidence because I see lights and things moving ALL THE TIME!

We left immediately after my message. Judging from the crowd’s reaction to our hasty departure, this was very rude. Up ahead we could see Eileen, who seemed to be in about as big of a hurry to leave Inspiration Stump as we were. “Excuse me,” we called to her, and asked her to again look at the picture of our dearly departed.

“He died in 9/11,” Murphy blurted out.

“You will understand, please, that he died suddenly,” she told us. “He never had a chance to get his affairs in order.”

“Yeah…”

Our private interview was going well, so we showed her another picture, this one chopped very roughly from a picture from an earlier story. Here’s the original:

Murphy pasted the famous conjurer/skeptic James Randi over his own face.

Between the April Fool’s date and Randi’s status as a well-known debunker and skeptic, and his total lack of neck, we were sure this would cause an awkward but hilarious conclusion to our day. Eileen stared at it intently for several pregnant seconds and said that she saw him around me too, and that he had helped raise me. There are a few problems with that, like 1. Randi’s still alive, and 2. I’ve never met him.

I tried to find out why no assholes seem to “speak through the spirit.” She told me that I would be surprised at how much wiser people get when they shed their bodies.

“But wouldn’t that mean that they’re not really the same people after, uh, passing through?” I asked.

“No,” Eileen explained.

“They shed their bodies!” Murphy sounded annoyed at my questions. “Their bodies!”

To her credit, Eileen was eager to let us ask her a few questions on the walk back to the road. She could just as easily have told us to pay for a private reading or to fuck the fuck off. But she didn’t. She wanted to help us. Under different circumstances, she really could be helping people. There was no reason to think that she was anything but an honestly mistaken person who managed to trick herself into believing she has powers which she does not have. Murphy, however, seemed to think she was a con-artist savant. And truly, we don’t really know either way. We don’t have psychic powers; no one does.

n.b. The title of this article is a variation of the title of this movie and should not be construed as a threat of any kind.

Assaulting psychics, lol

August 23, 2010

There is probably some good Yakov Smirnoff joke appropriate for this story. The best I’ve got is, In post-Soviet Russia, psychics get beat up by some guy who then goes on to kill two witnesses of the assault. Maybe that one belongs here. From the Moscow Times:

A man was jailed by a Kemerovo region court on Thursday for assaulting a Gypsy fortune teller who predicted that he would be jailed, the Investigative Committee said.

It sounds like…

she didn’t…

*takes off sunglasses*

see that coming.

YEEAAAAH!

And by “that,” I mean the assault. You know, the part of the story which is kind of important to her and the two unfortunate witnesses.

Sylvia Browne’s Q & BS

July 21, 2010

Sylvia Browne recently trolled Orange County and the local press were successfully baited into giving her free advertising for her new book about how she lived in “two worlds.”

“I want people to know that I’m a real person,” Browne says of her motivation to write her new memoir.

Oh, and also the money. GIMME GIMME GIMME!!

Q: When will we get a Big One-style earthquake?
A: Thirty years from now.

Browne is now 73. So anything that she’s predicting will happen in 30 years is a pretty safe bet for her. Hopefully we’ll be rid of her long before then.

Q: What do you say to your detractors and skeptics?
A: I say, ‘I don’t give a rat’s you-know-what!’ If you know what’s in your heart is right, and your motive is pure, it’s between you and God.

So since Browne doesn’t keep her “psychic powers” and her raga-to-riches life story between her and God, it can be safely assumed that either her motives are not pure or her heart is not right. Or is she holding skeptics to a higher standard than she holds to herself? And if so, wouldn’t that contradict the “golden rule?” And speaking of Christianity:

Q: How is being psychic not counter to God and the Bible?
A: I’ve read all 26 versions of the Bible. Where they’re getting that from is Deuteronomy: Do not consort with sorcerers. But they forget that in Kings they went to the witch of Endor (who consulted with Samuel’s ghost). And that in Deuteronomy they say Joseph has always been an interpreter of dreams. It’s not the Bible’s fault, it’s people’s fault. They pick out one little piece and they’ll beat you over the head with it.

See, if only people would stop picking out one little piece of the Bible and beat you over the head with it, everyone would understand that the little piece of the Bible which Sylvia Browne uses to beat others over the head is the really important part you need to concentrate on.

If you were to look at the passage Sylvia refers to in context (which is actually in 1 Samuel, not Kings), you’d notice that it’s perfectly consistent with the prohibition of using mediums in Deuteronomy. You see, once the Witch of Endor raises Samuel from the dead on behalf of King Saul (this all sounds like the D&D crap it really is), Samuel’s ghost complains about being woken from his rest and condemns Saul for disobeying the Deuteronomic necromancy ban:

And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do.
Then said Samuel, Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing the LORD is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy?
And the LORD hath done to him, as he spake by me: for the LORD hath rent the kingdom out of thine hand, and given it to thy neighbour, even to David:
Because thou obeyedst not the voice of the LORD, nor executedst his fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath the LORD done this thing unto thee this day.
Moreover the LORD will also deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines: and to morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me: the LORD also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.

As it turns out, Saul died in battle three or four days later, not the next day as Samuel’s ghost predicted. But this is a strange kind of mixed message with nuances which are obviously lost on someone like Sylvia Browne. As it turns out, sorcery actually works. Sure, you can raise a ghost or two, but their predictions about your death might be off by a few days.


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