Brothers and Sisters, I 100% Feel You

Yep, it’s a trap.

This is how the AIs get us: they set us up on serial petty theft charges, ruin our credit records with fines and court fees and legal bills, then get us disenfranchised as parole-violating felons. Pretty soon, the only jobs we can get are dusting off their motherboards for minimum wage or working the spice mines of Chiron Beta Prime. 🤖🇺🇸🔥

FLASHBACK FRIDAY: “The problem isn’t the stupid joke, but the very real assaults the jokes conceal.”

[I first wrote about this kinda rapey application of Steve Shaw’s “Psychokinetic Touches” routine back in 2017, and periodically revisit the post to expand it, fix broken links, replace disappeared videos, and so on. I’ve since seen all sorts of magicians—including David Blaine—lean pretty heavily on PK Touches, sometimes just doing the routine, but more often building on that foundation. It’s a great routine!]

At first blush, the magic trick in this video seems like nothing more than a mildly sexist—but still basically harmless—”invisible touches” routine:

Magician has a volunteer stand with her eyes closed as she pays super-duper sensitive attention to any physical contact she might perceive.  He then steps well away—way, way too far to have any direct or indirect contact (e.g., he couldn’t possibly be creating a draft, blowing on her, tickling her with threads, etc.).  As witnesses watch (confirming that Magician never makes contact with the subject), he is able to make her believe she’s been touched (in this case, that her boobs have been squeezed)—simply by the power of his psychical abilities!

Tada! MAGIC!

(Here’s another vid of the same dude.  Note that he puts in our heads the notion of an unambiguous boob squeeze, but that his volunteers consistently describe a tap high on the chest.  That gap—between his implication that he’s honking their boobs contrasted to the women’s indication that he is lightly tapping of a light tap near the clavicle—is the tell.)

Yes, this dude is a creep, and his impinging on women’s time and space and totally leveraging huge cultural forces that oblige them to smile through bullshit like this.

But it’s still basically harmless, right?  I mean, he isn’t actually touching their boobs while they are defenseless and non-consenting, right?  It’s just a trick.

Accept for the thing is, he is for real and with his actual physical flesh-and-blood hands, touching these women’s bodies without their prior consent, and only getting away with it because he’s manipulating the situation owing to an information (and thus power) imbalance.  And, in a move that’s both cheap from a magic performance perspective and indicative of a guilty conscious on the part of an assailant, he mostly cuts from the video the part where he does the touching.

Because he is indeed a fucking creep of the first degree.

“Psychokinetic Touches” Background

Back in the mid-1990s a guy named Steve Shaw was selling an effect called “Psychokinetic Touches.”  Shaw himself is a really, really interesting guy (as is the pre-Internet—and even current—market in cheaply printed pro-grade performance techniques like these).  Shaw designed Penn & Teller’s famous bullet catch, although I myself first got wind of him in the 1980s, when I was a kid and he was a teen working with James Randi to fool some ESP researchers; Shaw caught my imagination then because of how straightforward and cunning his techniques were.

None of that is really germane, accept for the fact that if you maybe spend some time googling “Steve Shaw” and “Psychokinetic Touches”, you’ll dig up a blurry PDF of the old comb-bound booklet explaining his technique (which is totally indicative of the straightforward cunning of Shaw’s work; dude is a genius).  If you dig up Shaw’s “PK Touches,” you’ll note that in the introduction to that work Shaw explains his inspiration: a routine from the early 1900s that is the totally obvious inspiration for this YouTube creeper’s stunt.

I.e., not only is French hat dude a creepy perv, but he’s also an unoriginal creepy perv.  *sighs*

(I got acquainted with Shaw’s PK Touches after seeing Peter Boie work it into his bit on Penn & Teller’s Fool Us, season 2, episode 2 [Teller also performs his excellent Red Ball routine in this episode; worth the watch]. Boie basically does 100% textbook Shaw for P&T, for an overall better effect and performance.)

At any rate, here’s an overview of Shaw’s “Psychokinetic Touches” routine:

Effect

The performer selects a volunteer from the audience, and explains that blah-blah psychic blah-blah ghosts blah-blah From Beyond—and for that reason, he is able to physically touch a receptive individual with nothing more than his mind.  He then makes some gestures to “clear the volunteer’s aura” (or whatever) and steps far away.  Now, standing much too far away to conceivably physical reach the volunteer, and in full view of an audience (who can be surrounding the pair on all sides), the performer makes his cooky touch-touch gestures—and low and behold!, the astonished volunteer can confirm that she has been touched(!!!)

Technique

I won’t spoil the whole thing, but SPOILER ALERT!!! [1]: Dude is not a psychic or ghost wrangler or whatever. 

Here’s the basic schtick:  The performer gives his little spiel, then has the volunteer close her eyes.  At this stage he explains a few more things—reminding her to be “psychically receptive” and super attentive to even the lightest contact.  He shuts up, does his little “aura cleansing,” and steps away to do his mambo-jahambo magical passes and psychic touching, singling out certain parts of the body (the right shoulder, the left elbow—whatever).  N.B.  Everything he’s done since advising her to be super attentive and receptive has happened in absolute silence.  The next time he speaks is to ask “Have you felt any contact?”  He then has her indicate where that contact was on her body.  Lo and behold, she reports being touched in all the right places.  OMFG!  How did he do it?!  And here comes the spoiler:

HE TOUCHED HER DURING THE “AURA CLEANING.”

From the audience’s perspective the “aura cleaning” isn’t part of the trick yet, so they are not being super diligent; he has an easy pass to brush her gently.  But remember, he’s fallen silent and the volunteer’s eyes are closed: She has no frame of reference for what’s going on, and thus from her perspective everything from when he stops talking on is part of the trick.  Her perceptions are temporally out-of-synch with the audiences’, and they have no easy way to rectify that, even after the fact.

Here is a more benign version of PK Touches, again performed by Peter Boie, but with a slightly disadvantageous (to him) camera angle. Now the tell is more obvious. Watch carefully at 0:49 and 0:52: when the performer waves his hands around to clear the aura he surreptitiously uses his right hand to tap the back of her left shoulder.  This is largely obscured owing to how he’s positioned the volunteer relative to the audience—blocking Shaw suggests in his PK Touches.  The waving-arms misdirect is also straight out of Shaw’s PK Touch.

(Wondering how Boie pulls off the second PK touch, where the male volunteer feels the ghostly strokes on his nose? You can slow that video down to 1/4 speed on YouTube, and you’ll clearly see that Boie never touches the dude’s nose with his hand. It’s terrific! Now put the video in slow-mo and watch the performers hands starting at around 1:44, before he approaches the volunteer. When he parts his hands and spreads them far apart, he’s extended a loop of thread between them. Now watch as he clearly strokes the thread down the man’s nose during the “aura cleansing.” As I recall, this thread gaff is not part of Shaw’s original PK Touches. I’ve read somewhere of something similar done to simulate a touch running down a volunteer’s arm, but I really like it used here in this way. Excellent misdirection to create a similar effect—the psychic touch transfer—in two totally different ways, one of which would seem to eliminate the obvious explanation for the other. Bravo!)

Once you know what to look for, it’s pretty easy to spot the Creep-o-Perv Magician in the original embedded video moving into the “magic passes”(/secret boobie poke) portion of his routine (goto around the 0:34 mark in the video embedded above, when he squares up the girl’s shoulders).

Bad Touches and Bad Jokes

I don’t know what annoys me more:  A skeevy dude using a decades-old store-bought mentalism routine to non-consensually poke girls’ in the bust, or the fact that he has so little respect for his craft that he resorts to cheap “camera tricks” to pull it off cleanly.

Naw, I take it back:  What annoys me most is using a third-rate performance of a first-rate effect to make a jokey pantomime of sexual assault in order to cover up the actual sexual assault you just perpetrated, ’cause it so clearly gets to the heart of what enrages me about the “Lighten up; it’s just a joke!” attitude toward minimizing the crazy-making reality of microagressions

The problem isn’t the stupid joke, but the very real assaults the jokes conceal.

[1] Penn Jillette has this aphorism in one of his books, to the effect of: There is an inverse relationship to how impressive an effect is and how fun knowing the secret is.  For example, effects that rely on an Elmsley count or Three-of-Clubs Card Force are sorta neat, and if someone shows you how it really works you think “Oh, that’s actually pretty clever.”  Meanwhile, when I was a kid David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty disappear on live TV, broadcast nationwide.  That effect was fucking incredible.  I was 6 at the time, and my mind was fucking blown.  My folks’ minds were blown.  Everyone’s minds’ were blown.  Amazing.  The secret to that trick is so fantastically lame—even though it is sort of impressive, simply as a construction project—that you feel cheated knowing it.  (NPR’s This American Life has done a show about magic tricks, devoting about half the episode to this specific Copperfield trick, and the other half to Teller’s Red Ball—pretty much perfectly illustrating the full continuum of magic from disappointingly crass bullshit to absolute loveliness.)

FLASHBACK FRIDAY: Tardigrade Expiration Date ♬♫♪

Good friend (and maven of Arbor Teas) Aubrey Lopatin recently shared this song with me and reminded me I wrote this novella for her and her hubbie roughly one-billion years ago: Expiration Date.

In honor of this Season of Joy and New Beginnings, I offer this free read and song to you, my all my Best Belovéd Readers.

Enjoy!

UPDATE: OMFG! In late December a frozen tardigrade became the first ‘quantum entangled’ animal in history (researchers claim). If you’re a child of the 1970s, you no doubt appreciate the fact that this is the first ever successful creation of artificial extra-sensory perception (ESP) in an animal!!!1!

(Meanwhile, if you are a scientist or someone who read the entire article, you more likely appreciate that these researchers “did not entangle a tardigrade with a qubit in any meaningful sense”—but it’s still neat that they took a tardigrade down to nearly absolute zero and successfully revived it. Hearty lil fellas, right?)

I sorta love local investigative reporters…

… yes, they are cheesy showboats—no doubt—but they are cheesy showboats performing what is likely the ONLY FUNCTION most folks ACTUALLY want out of the Fourth Estate: to warn them about shit that might harm them on a regular day-to-day basis.

A huge portion of “news” focuses on opinion and “analysis” (which is just another kind of opinion) and “commentary” (a third name for opinion).  All of these are technically forms of fiction: a person takes a nugget of reality and weaves whatever the hell they want around it.  (DISCLOSURE: I was an op-ed writer for years. I’ve looked hard and long at how these particular sausages are made. It has lead to me being pretty goddamned disgusted by the prospect of eating any.)

Meanwhile, the easily maligned local TV investigative reporter?  Say what you like about the smarm and histrionic gotcha!ness, but those bastards are speaking facts: they smell something fishy, go and get pics, take samples to a lab, and report the results. God Bless ’em

Pay Toilet Locks—“The Lock Defeated By Feminism”

I sat there behind the wheel of my car, not sure what I should do, wishing I was someplace else, anyplace else, trying on shoes at Thom McAn’s, filling out a credit application in a discount store, standing in front of a pay toilet stall with diarrhea and no dime. Anyplace, man. It didn’t have to be Monte Carlo. Mostly I sat there wishing I was older.

—from Christine, by Stephen King

BURIED LEDE: Given the current state of segregation in the U.S., it may not be possible for us to ever naturally reach “herd immunity” to COVID-19

This simulation is extremely worth your time—even if you think you understand the challenges we’re facing with coronavirus:

Washington Post: A vaccine, or a spike in deaths: How America can build herd immunity to the coronavirus

Sadly neglected here: They do not mention that the previous world record for developing an effective vaccine is four years—not the ~9 months the PotUS keeps insisting is possible, or the “Idunno; maybe about a year?” the rest of us keep saying.

Four years.

That’s the fastest humanity has ever developed a vaccine. The average is more like two decades.

It’s totally possible that the Russian vaccine is safe, legit, and works.

But it’s unlikely.

And it’s likewise unlikely—to the point of impossible—that a nation like ours (where cities within miles of each other have massive racial/economic differences, massively different experiences of this virus, and rarely commingle) will develop herd immunity soon (if ever).

Meanwhile, this virus is killing Americans 10x faster than guns.

You are doing things differently now than you did a year ago. The immediate future looks a lot more like last May than last Christmas. Prepare yourself for that.