Psychic aliens in our convenience stores…

A couple of interesting South-Asia-related stories in the news the past couple of weeks. First, an article about a convenience store owner who got duped with some pretty standard cold-reading techniques to hand over about $1,000 from his cash register.

Two men (Sylvinder Brownyani and Jaswinder Van Praagni, no doubt) told the store owner they could read his mind. They had apparently specifically targeted Indians so they could take advantage of their Hindu beliefs by calling themselves Hindu priests.

One nice thing about this article is that it never even attempts to discuss any of the pseudo-science being real. It references the entire incident as a clear scam and has a fairly nice, concise definition of cold reading.

In cold reading, a scammer carefully analyzes a victim’s mannerisms and other details to determine basic facts about the person. The scammer then may make high-probability guesses and pick up on any signals that indicate they were correct.

It apparently got picked up by AP, so the story is spreading. Maybe it will serve as a warning to others, not just Indian convenience store workers but also to folks who are approached by scam artists looking to take advantage of them.

Also, yesterday, as I was waiting for Heroes to start, I happened to stop at this new show – Aliens in America. It’s a half-hour comedy that deals with a Pakistani Muslim boy who starts school as an exchange student in Wisconsin. I was a bit surprised by the show and then I saw this article on CNN about it today.

The article extols the virtues of the show, as apparently do various Islamic groups. It certainly is interesting to see a show dealing with an issue as sticky as racism and ignorance and how it has changed in a post-911 world.

Raja is polite, idealistic and hardworking, much to the pleasure of Justin’s father, Gary (Scott Patterson). But everyone else in town sees Raja as a potential terrorist.

In one scene from the pilot, Raja sits wearily in class listening to a student confess that she is angry with him because “his people” blew up the twin towers. The teacher then asks if others in the class are angry with Raja and all raise their hands.

My issue with the pilot was apparently shared by a “minority of columnists.” When Raja shows up at the airport, there is no explanation of why the Tolchuck family is horrified. It’s just assumed that the audience understands that having a Pakistani enter their lives is so awful, much like if he had something overtly wrong with him, like an arm growing out of his head. It disturbed me far more than anything else that the writers assumed that the audience would automatically go to that place of ignorance.

I’ll probably watch the show a little longer. However, I do suspect it’s doomed. Not because of its ‘edgy’ premise or controversial subject matter, but because it really wasn’t all that funny.

Next post: What to get for that fascist in your life who’s impossible to shop for!

 (Cross-posted at Masala Skeptic)


Maria D'Souza grew up in different countries around the world, including Hong Kong, Trinidad, and Kenya and it shows. She currently lives in the Bay Area and has an unhealthy affection for science fiction, Neil Gaiman and all things Muppet.

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  1. "Sylvinder Brownyani" that name sounds fake. It must be Sylvia Browne, the MO seems pretty normal for her.

  2. Er, TomDG, Masala was deliberately referring to SB, and James Van Praagh (or however he's spelt) as well.

    But American comedy writers heading straight for the lowest common denominator? That almost never happens…

  3. The part that bothers me the most is casually the cop made a racial slur against gypsies and they just published without a second thought.

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