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Sally Forth-coming

A week on from my first introductory blog and I’m fairly sure my prediction of readers being restricted to my close family and friends has come true. Still I will persevere and hopefully attain even a modest following. Anyway, on to this week and the decision about what to write has to be dealt with. So far this week I have come across a scam for a perpetual motion device to power your home, an article by Tim Minchin on censorship of his recent appearance on Jonathan Ross’ new show and advertisements for the Sally Morgan’ Psychic show, on in Dublin in the coming months. Where to begin and does it warrant writing a full blog entry about?

Tim Minchin manages to capture the whole JR Show thing himself pretty well as you might expect and you can read that here: http://www.timminchin.com/2011/12/22/im-not-on-the-jonathan-ross-show/. The perpetual motion machine I will actually save for next week because it really is a highly concentrated form of pseudo-scientific bullshit they are peddling. I have to read up if I am to do justice to the lies and deceit being spouted by these rainmakers. What’s more, they use the typical ‘Secret that the big energy companies don’t want you to find out about’ shtick to lure in the painfully ill-informed public. I mean how many times does this need to be shown to people? Haven’t they heard about the first two laws of thermo………..urrghh….mff…..ok!! That’s for next week. For now I will draw my sights on the figure of our seemingly innocuous entertainment psychic Sally Morgan.

To begin I would like to start off by saying that in assessing Sally, I will at least attempt to remain honest through a thin veil of impartiality that hides the contempt that I invariably hold for anybody wishing to speak on behalf of people who can’t speak for themselves. In my opinion, a self interested business woman whose lies, created for her own self serving interests, can only be changed in the mind of the victim by an equally unscrupulous charlatan whose motives, we can only hope, are as altruistic as our Sally’s. (I do also have to mention that there is the possibility, however slight it may be, that she is a genuine person merely trying to help those in need with what she believes is an actual power. Although I couldn’t condemn her for that if she is so deluded, I don’t believe this is the case, I just have to admit to there being a chance) Anyway, on to my impartial review!!

Ok, let’s start off with our Sally’s site. A quick google and you get a nice taste of what’s in store. The second link I find, after the ticketmaster site selling her tickets, is for her site sallymorgan.tv. The first line under the link is the pricing, which really does get to the heart of what she really is about. Let’s not be confused here people, her site shouts, this priceless gift of psychic powers must be charged at a rate of £1.53 at least, lest we cheapen what has been bestowed upon us. Once into her site you are instantly hit with offers for her books and tour events all nicely accompanied with the smile of the unassuming and warm woman we can all trust. I’m not sure yet whether she is intentionally dressing in a comical way or not but I imagine it can only help to allay any fears that this is anything but a regular woman just trying to share the gifts god gave her. (By the way if this seems dripping with angry cynicism, then rest assured it is completely intentional and comes from the heart, he says as the thin veil of impartiality drops limply to the floor). Accompanying Sally on her adventure are many fellow psychics manning the phones to answer your questions and give readings to anybody who requires a meaningful interaction with a lost loved one and who subsequently has the cash to backup this need. The site consists of many plugs of various Sally merchandise you can buy and a helpful blog where Sally can regale you with stories of people fleeced in lands far and wide and of course testimonials, speaking to the validity of Sally’s undoubted power and how she has affected the lives of those around her.

So, how did this lovely lady do when visiting Ireland last you may ask? She is coming back so she must have done something right….right? Well actually it turns out it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Reviews for her show seem to fall one side of the fence or the other but what I see as the most important point is that the reviewers all seem to be people who held some initial faith in our Sally. Who better to ask than them? So what were their major complaints? Let’s take a few examples and examine the reasoning behind their satisfaction with the show or otherwise. I’ll kick off with those who liked it and move down to the ones that give me a little hope in this otherwise bleak scenario. The final review is the kicker and leads to a part of Sally’s story that might not be well known to those of you who live outside Ireland.

The first satisfied customer review of her performance shows that she is definitely an entertaining night out even if you do hold a level of scepticism about whether it’s actually true or not.

“not sure if I believe or not, but hey ho what a show, I loved it…

Favourite moment: when Sally was talking about the man who was there one minute and gone the next, his sister was sitting in front of me.”

The favourite moment however reeks of the broad stroke approach used by most cold readers. In a crowd of two thousand people, the odds of finding a person who knew somebody who died suddenly is going to be overwhelmingly in her favour. In these cases you are spoilt for choice especially if the numerous references in other reviews to the desire people had for readings, irrespective of whether they applied, are true. Example of this is the next review which gave the show a 3 star rating:

her first half of the show was much better because people were willing to let faith take its course if it was meant for u it would happen but in the second half people became desperate for a sign or reading and would put there hands up if Sally said boo! She was accurate a few times but I think people’s desperation to get value for money slowed the show down! I would go again but wouldn’t rush to buy tickets like I did this time.

The wording of the second part of that review is what bothers me the most. ‘She was accurate a few times’ is the type of thing you would imagine would raise alarm bells of ‘it’s not real, it’s not real’ in the back of your mind. The dead are apparently initially restricted to exclusively giving gender and initials up until the point where somebody has said it’s their Great Aunt Gregamira or something similar. From that point the guessing starts and in the mind of the observing believer, accuracy is a reflection of Sally’s success, however any and all inconsistencies or failures end up being put on the person who apparently mistakenly let Sally read them. This is common throughout and regularly in the reviews that award her 3 or more stars, it crops up. Here are a few examples:

4 Stars:

I was in the balcony and could see that numerous people putting there hands up for each new reading but one particular group in the front put their hands up for everything, eventually they railroaded themselves on to a reading, that only half a name applied to them (ryan looking for cath, her name was catherine but didn’t know a ryan, this took 15 mins to get to this fact) it was very dragged out but it was due to the crowd, not sally

3 Stars:

Poor Sally. She really didn’t get a chance. As soon as she mentioned a name A member of the audience would call out and say it was for them. The problem was it rarely was for them. With the result the “message” never got to the intended person. This went on all night. I spoke to a number of people outside and they almost all agreed that it ruined what could have been a good night.

And this 2 star review ends on a very telling note:

First half was definitely better than the Second. Not sure if it was Sally or the audience as in the wrong people standing up etc which wasted a lot of time to find the right person to whom Sally’s messages were aimed. Overall disappointed with the show and undecided as to whether we would attend again. Our friend was very disapointed as the last message may have been for her but as the “house lights had gone down”, Sally wouldn’t finish the message which was frustrating.

I mean, Sally is claiming to be in the position where the dead relative of a person sitting in the audience ahead of her has a message from beyond the grave. A message that this person obviously wanted so much to get on to the audience member, that shuffleboard with Elvis and Newton had to be put on hold, not to mention the daily TV appearance from the dear leader that the deceased all know and love (that might be North Korea, I’ll have to check). Nonetheless, Sally says no!! The lights are off which means the show stops. Stick some more coins in her ass, the bullshit jukebox has stopped. Although the writer of this particular review seems to have been undecided on our Sally, the friend was obviously still victim to the need to believe and more upset by not having been included than deciding whether inclusion was worthwhile.

There is a serious case of cognitive dissonance going on here, he said hoping he was using that term correctly. People are reasoning around the evidence to get to the position they believe in. Facts are merely obstacles to what they ‘know’ is true. I mean 3 stars for somebody who rates the show like this?…

3 stars

Disappointed I didn’t receive a message myself but I don’t think those who did receive a message got much comfort from them, as they were very vague.

I mean COME ON!! The pieces of the puzzle are staring you in the face and when you put them together it spells fraud (to mix metaphors).

Ok, quickly on to one specific negative review found on the site and then the real point about whether our transcendent host for the night is deserving of a full house on her glorious return. The review shows a nice indication of the magic of television and lends some explanation as to why she is able to draw crowds of approximately 2000 people a night.

I was very very disappointed wit the Sally show
I always watched her on tv and she came across
Very sharp and sincere on tv. Her show was nothin like that
She didn’t give many msgs to people and I felt it was
More of a guessing game, I couldn’t believe how different it was
From her tv show, it was a real let down. I would never
Go to see her again nor would I watch her show
And would advise anyone who thinks of going to her
Not to waste their money.

This was found surrounded by the more common one liner reviews along the lines of, she’s a fake, don’t buy into it, and what a waste of money. A healthy perspective from someone who identified that they were tricked by a well produced TV program and finishing nicely with a new outlook and revised opinion. There is hope yet! The main interesting review however is this one and it triggered a minor controversy in Ireland and the UK:

Myself and 9 members of my extended family went to see Psychic Sally last Sunday, we were really looking forward to it! Overall we were really disappointed with Sally, she came across as if she was playing with people’s heads, most people she spoke with were searching for answers after tragic death circumstances, I had never thought about this before when watching her on TV. One person thought she might have a message for him as he was adopted and didn’t know if his biological mother was alive or dead, she quickly brushed him aside and told him that he had family in Australia! What a thing to say to someone who is searching for answers! Also we heard on the Joe Duffy radio show the next day that the people in the back row could hear a mans voice behind their wall, basically talking to Sally obviously through an ear piece telling her what to say!! She also regularly said ‘this is amazing the work that I do’ I thought this was a bit weird, she was trying to convince us that she was amazing. I’m afraid to say that I think Sally is a scam, making money from misfortunate people, what a disappointment!!

Sally has voices she hears alright but unlike her claims that they have been with her since she was a child, these are more related to the man at the back of the theatre feeding her the information. Ok then, get the presses rolling and let’s get the word out. She can’t survive a scandal like this can she? I want the TV to show me spinning newspapers with pithy headlines that involve puns on Sally’s name and slate her for the fraud she is. Cue the interviews and discussions about Sally’s show on news stations and radio shows like the BBC News site. BBC did do a piece on it and the status quo, of showing both sides of the argument, resulted in Uri Geller weighing in with his opinions on the truth claims of a fellow con-artist. Uri is regularly dancing back and forth over the lines of calling himself psychic one day and then implying he is just a magician when his transparent crap falls on its ass. He, toeing the line, decides to say nothing really meaningful at all except to claim that some frauds exist and they tarnish the reputation of ‘real’ psychics. He also gets the last word in being able to attack the man holding the skeptical position, finishing off with ignorant bullshit about déjà-vu and the sense people get when they go somewhere for the first time but know it already. This is his standard for proof but I didn’t honestly expect more from him.

So where is the nail in the coffin of Sally’s credibility? Does scandal like this not lead to doubts and questions about the validity of this woman and to a small extent the whole profession? The answer is no and most people will agree with me that true believers can’t be turned around on the truth of their beliefs; like the reviewer’s friend who strained to hear the final message of the night in a vain hope that it would be directed at her, even though she had been unimpressed by the whole night. Her need for closure, the same need that Sally is exploiting, is what drives her belief and not her reasoning about whether it’s true or not. I’m sure those who managed to get readings that they were happy with, came away from the experience immune to the reports of possible fraud. ‘It worked for me’ and ‘That was definitely my Johnny telling me that he accepts my apology for the issue with the money’ (or something similarly vague) are bound to be their overall impressions.

So what’s the harm you say? Where does the line get drawn between comfort and the need for that comfort to be based on reality rather than magical thinking? For me, broad belief in this crap and acceptance of it from those who don’t believe, inevitably leads to the victimisation of a minority few. By the way, that’s being generous to the swindlers here. I wouldn’t be surprised to find ‘minority’ is a wholly inadequate adjective to describe the offense this market of lies produces and equally unsurprised to find ‘minority’ only a suitable tag for those who actually gain something from this disingenuous masquerade. It grants somebody who is completely removed from the relationship of the two people involved, the right to speak on behalf of one of those people. They abuse and lie for money and their victims are those of us in the weakest positions.

Sally is coming back to Ireland and she is bound to impress a few who are easily impressed, speak on behalf of those she has no right to speak for, and leave in her wake a large amount of vulnerable and confused people who can’t get what they need from Sally because she doesn’t have it. Speaking out against it might not do anything but the alternative is silence and that is too often confused with support. On the other hand, she could just be crazy.

Note: Just to be clear, the reviews I pasted into the blog were taken from the site word for word with spelling mistakes and all included. My punctuation might be terrible but I can use homophones like there, their, and they’re. Just for the record. J

Let’s stay Vigilant

Hi All,

This will be my first blog entry and hopefully a kick off to a weekly one I’m sure will be read exclusively by my parents and girlfriend. Hi Mom, Dad and Fanny! Yes before you ask, that is her real name, and believe me if you think it’s got a bad meaning in America you should check what it means over here in Ireland. I will be sending the link to this blog out to my followers on twitter and hopefully get a bit of talk going.

Anyway, I have a story to tell you that triggered this venture into the blogosphere and like a lot of people I know, I have toyed with the idea of doing a blog for a bit.  I did worry about finding content to write about and every poster on a Dublin bus for some sham fix-all remedy or discussion on twitter with a particularly brainwashed IDer (Intelligent Design) eventually convinced me that there was lots of stuff for me to be frustrated about that would possibly, stress that word, be interesting. Anyway, to the story…

I just got back this week from a holiday in Berlin. My girlfriend and I took the opportunity to sit in and watch a movie one of the nights. As is our usual custom we decided to turn off the light to fully enjoy the film (mind out of the gutter people). During the movie the lights in the room, which were controlled from the other side of the room by a switch, turned back on. Dodgy switch, I thought of course, after all, this hotel is on the East side of Berlin and because of that, the electrics probably go back to the 1950’s. The Tv, as an illustration of this, was the size of a small car and remote control a little bigger than an iPad. A couple of minutes later it happened again though. Cue the jokes between me and my girlfriend about ghosts and floating candlesticks going across the room. A firm bang of the switch to turn them off ‘for good’ and back to the movie.

Ok, at this point I can admit that not having an explanation for this was a bit disconcerting, more because I wanted a reason but slightly because, joking aside, it’s pretty fucking creepy. We were after all the only people on that floor of the building and eerie imaginings of twin girls dressed in blue in the corridor are only a few steps away for even the most sceptical person (I convinced myself anyway). This I think is what annoyed me most. I KNOW there is no such thing as ghosts and the supernatural but that eerie sense was still there along with a frustration that I couldn’t figure out the problem. This by the way was probably not helped by my drinking half a bottle of Whiskey during the course of the film.

Cutting a long story short, we eventually realised that just behind the bed, on the wall was a switch that controlled the lights. That’s obvious of course, you say. “What a couple of idiots, I know I would have seen through it”, you might mutter. As a skeptic I pride myself on trying to see through the veil of the improbable and although I was certain I would find out the reason, the doubt and desire to see an agency behind the phenomenon was enough to fuel my non-critical faculties into action. That is why it resolved me to start a blog. It may be read only by me when I edit it for spelling mistakes or grammatical errors (or to stop myself sound like a dick), but it adds to my understanding of happenings like this, to review them. Learning to hone our skeptical skills is a necessity and spelling out your reasoning helps you understand your own position better. A healthy community of skepticism is needed if we hold any aspirations of overcoming the Tsunami of bullshit that’s out there. From Homeopathy to Faith healers, Magic and Intelligent design, there is a lot of crap out there and we lend it legitimacy in part by the fact that it’s not ridiculed for the childish, magical thinking that it is. What I got from the story above is that although most of us as skeptics pride ourselves on being out of the reach of these modalities, we have to acknowledge that we are susceptible to them and things similar to them. Even when you know there is a reasonable explanation, there is something in you that drives for an explanation and that can work both ways. It can drive you to look for evidence, and piss off your girlfriend who is patiently waiting for the film to resume or in some cases it can undermine your skeptical nature. Skepticism is, in short, unnatural when not practised and the open-minded view that evidence will change your opinion on anything when properly shown, can leave you susceptible to considering CRAP, even temporarily.

So even if this is only for my girlfriend and family to quickly tire of reading, it will hopefully better hone my bullshit detector and lend fuel to growing need to get involved in Skepticism. Lets keep on top of the nonsense out there, vigilance is the key. Also, please point out my bullshit when you see it, I don’t want to get away with anything and calling each other on our mistakes is part and parcel.

Cheers.

NOTE: Just a final note to say that, another reason, which I am reluctant to mention, as to why I started this blog, is the recent death of Christopher Hitchens. He was an inspiration and a hero of mine. If a hundred people who share his beliefs and possess half of his conviction, make their voices heard, it might do something to fill the void left behind by this giant of rational thought. I am reluctant only because I would never want to cheapen his memory by piggybacking on his death. He is sorely missed.