PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, THURSDAY, MAY 23, 2013) — First off, let us say that THE PLANET heard from school committee chairman Alf Barbalunga on “Smartgate,” and the chairman’s response will, as it did us, prove a glimmer of hope that our quest to have the problem of technology’s misuse will be addressed. Also, Kathy Yon responded. Thus, the only person who has had nothing to say is school committee member (and mayor of Pittsfield) Dan Bianchi. Our deadline is 8 a.m. tomorrow. Tellingly, no one THE PLANET contacted from the school department has bothered to reply.

Tomorrow, we shall share all the responses to our investigation and queries into Smartgate. Thus far, six of the 11 school officials polled have deemed it appropriate to comment. As we said yesterday, there will be surprises. You won’t want to miss it.

Meanwhile, THE PLANET for today, using our gifts of the higher and mystical arts, predicts a long-overdue treatment of the burgeoning and predictive world of …

… psychics.

They Are Called ‘Mediums’ For a Good Reason

Mediums (they are neither rare nor well done) come and go, like the tide or like the latest craze. In the 80s, led by a fading Dionne Warwick, TV psychics made of 1-800 phone lines the medium of contact (pun intended) between various three-dollar bills huckstering their wares and the extremely gullible desperate for someone to live their lives for them. Psychics seem to flourish in Down-and-Outsville, areas where people have lost either their way or hope itself.

It is for this reason that the fastest growing businesses in Pittsfield seem to be doughnut shops and the emporiums of alleged psychics. Now, to be sure, the world of meta-normal, the preturnatural, the supernatural, metaphysics, and The Great Beyond remains hidden behind the veil of The Great Here and Now. From the utter disbelievers at one end of the spectrum to those who make claims of astounding, extrasensory, cognitive, and unexplainable gifts, there lies an entire range of open mindedness and doubt.

Who’s to say what people can do or can’t, or what they claim to “see” even when no one else can see it? It could well be or not be. There is no question. With this in mind, THE PLANET presents two ruminations on the question of psychics, taken from newswires and other sources than our own pen. In the first, we learn why phony psychics (an oxymoron?) make us sick. In the second, you learn how you, too, can be a psychic, as the tricks are revealed by Troy Taylor.


A year after Amanda Berry disappeared in Cleveland, her mother appeared on “The Montel Williams Show” to speak to a psychic about what happened to her daughter.

Psychic Sylvia Browne, who has made a career of televised psychic readings, told Louwanna Miller on a 2004 episode of the show that her daughter was dead, causing Miller to break down in tears on the show’s set.

“She’s not alive, honey,” Browne told Miller on the show, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper. “Your daughter’s not the kind who wouldn’t call.”

Miller told the newspaper that she believed “98 percent” in what Browne told her. Miller died a year later from heart failure.

On Monday, Berry was found alive after she broke free from a home in Cleveland where she says she has been kept for the past decade.

Browne did not return phone calls seeking comment today by ABC News. “The Montel Williams Show,” through syndicator CBS, also did not return calls for comment. The show no longer airs new episodes.

It’s not the first time that Browne, and other psychics, have come under fire for their involvement in law enforcement cases.

In 2003, Browne incorrectly told the parents of missing teen Shawn Hornbeck that their son was dead, and his body could be found somewhere near “two jagged boulders,” according to her premonition.

Nearly four years later, Hornbeck was found alive, and Browne was widely criticized in the media for causing the Hornbecks additional grief.

A website called “Stop Sylvia Browne,” dedicated to cataloguing Browne’s purported failures at prediction, sprang up in 2006.

Last year, Dwayne Baker told ABC News that after his son went missing in 2007, he was flooded with calls from psychics offering potential leads into the whereabouts of Travis Baker.

“It’s very hard,’ Dwayne Baker said. “I went through everything. My son was missing for two years, two months and 12 days. “Psychics called me. I even received a DVD in the mail that a guy claimed he could talk to the dead and this was Travis’ voice, with no return address. I don’t understand why people would want to do that.”

“The psychics…” said Baker, 45, before pausing to let out a long sigh. “I hate to say how many of those called me and said they knew where Travis was. My mother and wife went to one and paid them $100.”

Travis Baker’s remains were located in 2009.

Brad Garret, a former special agent with the FBI and ABC News consultant said that alleged tips from psychics rarely help solve a case.

“As far as finding a victim, finding remains, finding evidence or in any way helping to solve the case, it’s never been my experience,” he said. “So, it’s really a disservice to victims.”

“We’ve never had a psychic lead that turns out to be correct,” said Lt. Dave Parker, of the Anchorage, Alaska, police department, after 18-year-old Samantha Koenig went missing in February, 2012.

Today, Brown faced backlash on social media for her incorrect prediction about Amanda Berry. It is unclear whether she has helped to solve a crime with her psychic predictions.



Techniques of Phony Psychics – YouTube

By TROY TAYLOR, The Haunted Museum

As you are sitting here reading this article — I can tell certain things about you.

You are a sensitive person who is in tune with events around them. When you were younger, you were different from other people that you knew. You have always been a little on the outside of things. Your intuition is strong and you feel that you may have always had a bit of a sensitivity or a psychic ability. You have occasionally dreamed of things before they happened or at least had a strong sense of ‘deja vu’ under certain circumstances.

You are also a caring and honest person, perhaps too much so, but you have difficulty in letting people get to know the real you. When you finally do let someone inside, you keep him or her close to you for a long time. In fact, there is someone that you are close to that you are concerned about right now. You worry too much though and can best help this person by continuing to be a positive influence in their life.

Does this information fit you and your personality? Does any of it fit — perhaps just enough to convince you that someone who is giving you this information is on the right track? This is an example of what magicians (and unfortunately phony psychics) call a “cold read”. It’s an old technique that is designed to make the subject believe that the medium could see into that person’s soul. In more unfortunate cases, it is also used to make that the subject believe that the medium is communicating with the dead.

It’s called a cold reading because at first, the reader knows little about the person being read. However, thanks to simple deductions made from the client’s body language, posture, breathing rate, eye contact and both verbal and non-verbal clues, the cold reader can quickly adapt the reading to suit the individual. It’s an age old device that has been put to many uses over the years. It was a staple of the séance during the Spiritualism era — and it’s still being used by popular television psychics today for the same fraudulent purposes.

That’s not to say that there are no genuine psychics out there — that’s not for me to judge. I try to keep an open mind about everything until I am convinced otherwise. But I would like to provide the information for those who may not know about it as to how “cold readings” and so-called “spirit communication” can be easily accomplished. It’s not for me to say whether your favorite television psychic is real or a fraud — you need to decide that for yourself — but in the article ahead, I’ll show you how this type of reading has a historical precedent, how it can be done today and even how you can learn to do it yourself!

Modern Spiritualism can trace its roots back to the Fox Sisters, who first began summoning spirits to communicate with them back in 1848. While there are lingering questions about some of the mediums who appeared on the scene during the heyday of the Spiritualism, there is no denying that the movement was riddled with cases of fraud. Many of the phony mediums were exposed by magicians and investigators over the years and in many cases, they were prosecuted for bilking money out of unsuspecting clients. Today, most popular mediums confine their spirit contact to “mental mediumship”, which means that they claim to receive psychic messages from the dead that no one else can hear, rather than receiving messages from the spirits through trumpets, apparitions and mysterious objects that appear in the séance room. 

Mental mediumship has been around for quite some time though and has it roots in the early days of the Spiritualist movement. Messages that could be obtained for the sitters at a séance were always convincing, especially if they seemed to contain information that the medium should not have had access to. But was this really the case?

In his book The Psychic Mafia (1976) former medium M. Lamar Keene explained in detail how he managed to fool sitters who came to see him at Camp Chesterfield, Indiana. He explained how mediums of those days managed to obtain what seemed to be complex information about the sitters who came to the séances. While clients were sitting in the darkened séance rooms,  confederates would be used to pilfer through purses and billfolds to obtain photographs, letters, bank books and even social security numbers. They also made it a rule that anyone who wished to attend a private séance had to attend at least three public services beforehand. That way, the sitters could not only be observed and monitored, but the mediums would have time to run down the information already gathered in order to put together files on the sitters.

Former Medium M. Lamar Keene


They also observed who was gathered for a séance through two-way mirrors and they could then prepare their “spirit messages” accordingly. That way, a sitter could always say to a skeptic that “the mediums didn’t even see me before the séance, so if they needed prior research to prepare their messages, how could they have known to prepare one for me?”





The mediums also employed high-tech devices to help gather information. Of course, in years past, a high-tech device might have been nothing more than an electronic sound collector, which could pick up sounds at a considerable distance. Keene used one that was set up in a house across the street from the Spiritualist church at Camp Chesterfield. By aiming it at the church before a service, he could pick up all sorts of information that could later be incorporated into his readings.

Today, unscrupulous readers can employ more sophisticated devices such as tiny ear plugs that can receive messages from assistants about the sitters. This is a method that has been used to great effect by not only phony mediums but by questionable religious evangelists as well. Healing needs and spiritual messages can be incorporated into services by collecting “prayer requests” that are filled out by the attendees in advance of the service. It may appear that the evangelist has no access to these requests, but his assistants do and can feed the information to the minister through the ear plug.

Mediums (and evangelists with working with ailments that need to be healed) have also been known to use sealed envelopes that contain questions for the spirits to answer. The medium will hold up the envelope and then answer the question inside of it — without ever actually seeing it. Of course, the information was given to him by the spirit world! Or was it?

Magicians, Mediums and Evangelists used all manner of devices to fool their audiences. In this vintage illustration, a magician uses an accomplice and a simply device to support his “mind reading” act.

In truth, this is one of the simplest and oldest “carny” shills around and yet it still continues to amaze people to this day. What actually occurs is that the questions and requests are gathered by assistants prior to the séance or group reading. The sitters have written their questions onto pieces of paper and then have sealed them into envelopes. This all legitimate and above board — to this point. The medium then takes the requests, which have been placed in a box or basket, and removes the first sealed envelope. Without opening it, he proceeds to answer the question that is written inside. A person in the back of the room exclaims that this was his question and is suitably impressed with the answer “from the spirit world”. Of course, what the rest of the sitters in the room do not know is that the man at the back is an accomplice of the medium. The words spoken were not his questions at all — in fact, it was all a ruse — and he is simply part of the game.








The medium then opens the envelope to read the question back that he answered, thus “proving” his mediumistic skills. What he has really done is to open an envelope that contains an actual request from a sitter. He memorizes it and then tosses it away. He then picks up the next sealed envelope and pretends to answer the question that is contained inside of it. What he is actually doing is answering the question from the envelope that he opened earlier. It appears that the spirits are providing him with the information inside of the envelope, when it’s really the one that he already opened. He repeats the process over and over again, staying one envelope ahead throughout the entire sitting, and appears to be receiving information from the spirits.

Today, things are more sophisticated (in some ways) and carnival tricks are liable not to fool most audiences. When those who are believers take a look at the television shows that claim to speak with the dead, many swear that no room for trickery exists. They are certain that someone would have long ago detected their favorite medium if he was hacking into people’s personal files for information or using an accomplice to feed him data through an electronic wire. And while it’s impossible to know what is taking place in a television studio (for the shows are obviously highly edited) I concede that it’s likely that these mediums are not using electronic trickery — for the information they need is provided directly by the sitters themselves!

As mentioned earlier, most of today’s popular mediums limit themselves to receiving messages from the dead through clairvoyance and then pass those messages on to their sitters. Because they do not have to produce physical phenomena, it is much more difficult to expose the frauds and also to differentiate between those who may be self-deceived (believing they really can talk to the dead) and those who might actually have a gift that is beyond our understanding. Unfortunately, this puts all mediums in a bad light and those who really are genuine, or strive to be, should do whatever they can to expose the ones who are frauds. If those who attempt to be legitimate allow only the debunkers (who believe in nothing — including even the possibility of spirit communication) to expose the fraudulent mediums, then they are allowing the entire community to look bad by appearing as though they will do nothing about the frauds.

Today’s popular television mediums are doing nothing more than blatantly employing the “cold read” method, which was used for years in many magician’s “mind reading” acts. I was instructed in this method a number of years ago by a friend who was a magician and since have researched it quite a bit. When this new breed of television psychic began to appear on the scene a few years ago, I recognized their method for what it was right away. And so did many others but logic has been bedeviled by the popularity of this new movement and by those who simply “want to believe”, no matter what. As stated already though, it is not my place to try and convince the reader of what to believe or what not to believe — that’s up to you — but I do want you to understand how subtle variations on this familiar method can be accomplished.

These current mediums work by asking a lot of questions. This should be your first clue that something is not quite right for the “spirits” apparently have very poor memories or a lot of trouble communicating! In my opinion, if the spirits have a message to relay, they should be able to so without all of the silly guessing and weird unrelated information that seems to spew out.  Anyway, what happens is that by this information being provided in a question form, it may be considered correct (or a “hit) if it happens to be on target and if wrong, then will seem to be just an innocent query. The medium can then obtain clues to the information they are providing by watching the body language of the sitter (facial expressions when either wrong or on the right track) and then can shift the information to fit the mood. For example, almost anyone can react positively to a mention of a common object like a ring, a watch or some special piece of jewelry and this guess can then be transformed into a hit by the medium.

In addition, the mediums will attempt to boost the accuracy of their statements by trying to get the sitters to focus on their accurate statements rather than the numerous incorrect ones. Even the most believing viewer will admit that the mediums are wrong much more often that they are right. Of course, this is hard to tell from an edited television program that is designed to showcase the medium. If you really want to observe them in action, try to do so on a live broadcast or news program that is not skewed in one direction or another. I think you’ll find it be very revealing as the misses fall as often (or more so) than the hits and the accurate statements are usually weak ones — such as telling an elderly person that the medium senses his parents are deceased or “I sense an elderly woman with an ‘m’ in her name”. The only thing that really seems to be “uncanny” about what is going on is the editing involved with the taped shows. Many audience members who have attended the shows in the studio go away more disenchanted with the mediums than when they came.

Another popular variation on the cold read (and one that often does not make the final television cut) is the method that some mediums have of “brow beating” the sitter and refusing to accept the negative responses to their statements. This is a common technique in which the medium persists in attempting to redeem a wrong statement, harassing the sitter so that they begin to feel that the incorrect response is their fault. Many sitters will start to accept the statements out of guilt and this further boosts what seems to be the accuracy of the medium’s visions.

Regardless of how you look at it, or your fascination with your favorite popular medium, there are a myriad of problems when it comes to accepting the authenticity of their readings. All that I ask is that you not be too quick to believe — or too quick to doubt either — and study these things for yourself before making up your mind. I believe that an analysis of how many of these mediums work will shed a much-needed light on the “mysteries” of “communicating with the dead”.

Still don’t believe it’s that easy? You can try cold reading for yourself and soon you’ll see that the work of fraudulent mediums is not as mysterious as you once thought. You can try this with a group of friends or even one or two people. Once you master it, or at least have the basics down, try it with someone that you don’t know and see how “uncanny” your “spirit messages” actually are!

The basic method behind cold reading is to start by throwing out common names to your group of sitters. You hope that someone will link up with one of them and then you can fine tune your guesses based on the reaction of the person that you have connected with. You can either guess or ask the relationship of the sitter to the name and at this point, you are well on your way to convincing an unknowing person that you have contacted the dead. To do this though, you have to add some drama to the presentation, perhaps by saying that you “are receiving a message from a person named _________ — does this mean anything to anyone present?” Also, on the off chance that your common name is not common enough, expand the possibilities into friends, relatives or neighbors of a deceased person. Eventually, you are going to get a hit.

Once you find someone who has accepted the name, it’s time to move forward. The method includes a number of clever ways to get information from the sitter so that it never looks like the medium asked for it. You can make comments like “Why is this person laughing?”. “They seem to be upset about something, do you know what this could be?” or “she’s shaking her head ‘no’, why would this be?” Seemingly innocuous statements like this are sure to elicit a response. Once the reading moves ahead, it’s important to use words that generalize the statements so that it never appears that your statements are absolute fact. In this way, they are never actually wrong! Just remember to add things like “I feel that…”, “I think that…” or “I want to say that…”

Another devious way to reinforce the reading is to agree with the sitter when they give you information. In other words, if the sitter answers a question to something, say “yes, of course”, as though you knew that information all along, and then repeat that information back to them. You can also say something like “Yes, I sensed that” when you really never sensed anything at all. The sitter is the one providing all of the information but by playing it back to them, they will come to believe that the information is really coming from you.

Here are the main points to watch for in this method (whether experimenting with it yourself or when investigating a reading by a medium):

1. The medium will use phrases like “I think” or “I don’t think”. This is a way of doing what magicians call “trying on” a guess for acceptance by the sitter.

2. The medium will often directly ask for information (which the sitter usually provides) and this will “help along” the process and provide more information for the cold read.

3. The sitters are often asked not to take the statements literally but to use their imagination and try to make them fit into something they already know. The excuse is that the spirits can’t always differentiate between the past and the present and will sometimes be vague in their messages.

4. You should also look for (and if you are experimenting with this, try to encourage) a cooperation between the sitter and the medium. The sitters come to mediums because they want to believe and will go out of their way to do so. They only need to be encouraged.

Proficiency at this method is usually obtained by watching those who are skilled at it or by trial and error. There are many clever ways to get this to work such as using different methods to probe for information, laughing away mistakes, getting around long pauses when the sitter fails to volunteer information and even blaming errors on “poor reception from the spirit world”. It takes practice to make it work — and to understand how easy it is to accomplish by popular mediums.

As a warning though, I don’t encourage readers to try and deceive the gullible with these methods. They are provided here for educational purposes only. Even tricking people for the purpose of debunking the fraudulent methods is frowned upon. This was often a method used by Harry Houdini when he wanted to show how alleged “spirit activities” could be duplicated by stage magic. During his career, he was accused of having supernatural powers of his own, which enabled him to escape from some of the traps that he prepared for himself. In order to debunk this notion, he put on a display of what seemed to be unearthly power but it backfired on him. Instead of convincing those in attendance that it was mere trickery, they became more convinced that he was a medium himself. Keep that in mind should you decide to teach yourself the methods of “cold reading”!

There it is. Any resemblance to any psychics making a living in Pittsfield is purely coincidental. THE PLANET, finally, says if any of them cares to send me the identity of the team that shall win the Stanley Cup finals, against what opponent, the final scores of each game, and the names of the goal scorers, they shall count THE PLANET as a believer.
“Womanlike, a vague smile / unattached, floating like a pigeon / after a long flight to his cote.”William Carlos Williams, from “Tract”


  1. Rick
    May 23, 2013 at 10:55 am #

    Why didn’t Dionne Warwick see her demise comming?

  2. joetaxpayer
    May 23, 2013 at 11:13 am #

    Last night I stayed up late playing poker with Tarot cards.I got a full house and four people died. Steven Wright. Well I am not a psychic but did stay at a Holiday inn last night. Taxes will go up in Pittsfield, there will be more dumping of toxic waste and GE will not be coming back.For more revolutions please call my hot line 1-800-ura-fool.

  3. Still wondering
    May 23, 2013 at 11:43 am #

    Teenie-weenie chili beanie! The spirit is about to speak!

  4. Kevin
    May 23, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

    I foresee the school budget being increased by millions, more voter apathy and once again no new business or industry coming to the Pitts because of stupid politicians. Funny article Planet.

  5. Giacometti
    May 23, 2013 at 1:55 pm #

    Dan you overlooked another growth industry in Pittsfield…and right on North Street….Artists are selling their work every day !
    …Tattoo Artists

    • danvalenti
      May 23, 2013 at 5:31 pm #

      Good Lord, G, but — verily — you thus spaketh the truth

  6. FPR
    May 23, 2013 at 2:11 pm #


    Your column today does nothing to solve the massive city budget or the 100 million dollar school budget (your figures) or the food riots in Greece.

    What kind of a campaign are you running?

    • danvalenti
      May 23, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

      Yes, how utterly insensitive of me!

  7. Mike
    May 23, 2013 at 2:40 pm #

    You don’t need to be a psychic to know that Pittsfield is going down the toilet…

  8. tito
    May 23, 2013 at 5:08 pm #

    Same nonsense different year,,,,,

    • danvalenti
      May 23, 2013 at 5:29 pm #

      That would make a great name for a play about Pittsfield.

  9. The Kraken
    May 23, 2013 at 5:16 pm #

    I see….. my family and I moving away from Pittsfield in the next few years. I gotta get outta this place, if it’s the last thing I ever do!

    • danvalenti
      May 23, 2013 at 5:29 pm #

      You and Manfred Mann, K!

      • Rick
        May 23, 2013 at 9:24 pm #

        The Animals………..

  10. acheshirecat
    May 24, 2013 at 6:12 pm #

    Written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, peformed by Eric Burden and the Animals.

  11. outfox
    May 26, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

    How is it that the proposed DD DT on First St. gets so much coverage but a neon blight of a psychic was able to pop up on the same street without any advance warning?

  12. GMHeller
    May 27, 2013 at 1:18 am #

    Thanks Mr. Valenti.
    Your report today answers the nagging question on everyone’s mind the methods Alan Chartock uses to conjure up his annual New Year’s predictions.
    But alas, look how poor the WAMC boss’ track record is for accuracy:
    Remember how Mario Cuomo was predicted to be next President of the United States? (Did the little professor predict privately that he’d be White House Press Secretary?)
    Oh, and remember the one about Tyringham being location for President Mike Dukakis’ summer White House?

    • danvalenti
      May 27, 2013 at 4:41 pm #

      Yes. The only prediction Chartalk ever hit was the one where he predicted people would become so sick of him, they’d take up a collection and try to send him away to eternal summer camp — the same one Allan Sherman wrote about.