Sunday, 17 May 2009

'Beyond Chance' with Melissa Etheridge

I was up annoyingly early in the morning on Thursday (six ish) due to a resurgence of what my mom and I are beginning to think may be a peptic ulcer..

So, I spent most of the day on the couch, feeling sorry for myself, napping and watching atrocious day-time TV. And I really do mean atrocious.

Seriously, what is it with American TV? I caught at least four episodes of 'America's Dumbest Criminals' - with their really rather shite re-enactments of real crimes (complete with bad dialogue) and fake reporters/news-anchors. I swear, by the end of the first episode, I wanted to strangle the female reporter. The 'crimes' were amusing though, giving me a good giggle now and then.

I also caught an episode of 'Crossing Over, with John Edward' - I've already blogged about that charlatan, and this episode was more of the same utter shite; unsuspecting gullible audience and using people's real grief to make money. Bastard.

However, what I'm going to write about is the episode of 'Beyond Chance' that I caught.

This program very nearly takes the proverbial cake. It's so stereotypically credulous, American Daytime TV pap. It really is. I'm pretty sure the program was laid to rest in 2002, so these episodes are re-runs, but still.

I could just about put up with it, if after every story, there wasn't stupid fake 'candid camera' shots of Etheridge laughing or dancing or simply talking as if she doesn't know the camera is on her. And they filter those shots! They not only make it look like a home-cam-corder caught those shots, (with shaky recording as if they're sneaking up on her) but they also make it all soft and gooey, with misty lighting effects that are obviously added in post-production. Ugh.

Anyway, there were six stories all together, each one of them touted as 'Beyond Chance!' and 'Miraculous!' and each one of them was introduced with a little spiel from Etheridge, in honeyed tones of concern and 'isn't this amazing!' that, after only thirty seconds or so, really got on my nerves (by the third story, I really wanted to mute Etheridge's introductions.)

Unlucky Numbers

The first story, was titled 'Unlucky Numbers' (I'll get back to that) and apparently took place in Oregon in April of 1994. (At this point, you begin to realise I took notes - yes, I am that person.)

Basically, four youths attacked a store - viciously beating to death one of the two female clerks and attempting to beat to death the second. She escaped when the youths were distracted by a customer coming into the store - the youths grabbed a few things and then ran (I would think, scaring the shit out of the new customer.)

The surviving victim (I didn't catch her name) managed to give a complete description of all four of her attackers to the police, despite being so badly beaten that they nearly scalped her.

Her recall of the four attackers was described as 'remarkable' and 'rare' and I swear, the cop they interviewed looked like he wanted to call it 'miraculous', but luckily it didn't go that far.

However, despite her excellent recall, and the four excellent artists impressions, the case went dead (apparently).

Until, four months later, the store decided to do a check of what was stolen and found that a roll of 200 Lottery tickets had been taken. 44 of them were registered as winning tickets. The cops then decided to check all the stores in town for the 44 winning tickets.

As luck would have it, all 44 had been handed in to one store, and again, as luck would have it, the clerk at the time was new and she had the man handing them in sign them all as proof and then kept them!

The cops got a hold of these tickets and through good old fashioned policing, found all four of the attackers. One is on Death Row, and the other three are serving life sentences.

This was all explained as a wonderful 'Twist Of Fate' by Etheridge.

Now - my problems:

1. Why is it called 'Unlucky Numbers', when quite clearly, they were all very lucky numbers, proving both beneficial to the attackers (winning them money) and the victims (by giving the cops a way to find them)? Shouldn't it have been 'Lucky Numbers'?

2. Was, as Etheridge told us, the case really at a dead end? They had the attackers descriptions and fingerprints all over the place. As the Cops actually said themselves, the leader of the gang was already in the system - it would simply have been a matter of time before his face was recognised by someone, either by the public or the system itself.

3. Did the victim's recall really merit being described as 'remarkable'? It is my understanding that the victim not only had quite some time watching the youths walk around the store before it all happened, but it's well known that a victim either recalls everything, or nothing.

4. What the hell of all this was 'beyond chance'? Ok, so, one of the attackers was stupid enough to take the winning tickets to a store in the same town where he committed the crime. So what? Ok, so, he was stupid enough to sign the damn things. So what? Ok, so, the new clerk kept them - so what? It's called a 'coincidence'.

I feel like I'm going to be mentioning the Law Of Very Large Numbers more than once in this blog >>

Call From The Mountain.

So this bloke, an experienced climber/hiker, sets off to climb Torris Peak (I think that's how it's spelt) back in July 2000.

About halfway up, he encounters a block in his chosen path and decides to take a short-cut round it. It's snowy, he slips, he has a fun ride down the mountain-side for about 300 feet, until he manages to catch himself by digging the heel of one boot into the mountain.

He's got a broken arm and a fractured back - and I think a broken leg - as well as many cuts, bruises, scrapes and probably a few broken ribs. Any movement sets the rocks under him sliding again - so he's stuck and he's off the track he told people he would be on.

He tries his whistle. Nothing. He starts to give up - then he digs into his pack for some water and discovers he'd packed his mobile phone before leaving!

So he calls 911 and 'miraculously' there's enough signal and battery for him to not only get through, but to also stay on the phone for the next three hours, while a search-and-rescue team look for him.

They find him, he survives and even managed to make it for an interview on Beyond Chance where he explained 'I don't understand how it worked, I don't understand why it worked!' The dispatcher he spent three hours talking to also chimed in with 'Cell phones just don't work up there - at all!'

My problems:

1. What the hell is 'miraculous' about this? People have accidents on mountains all the time, some survive, some don't. Why is this guys story any more or less 'miraculous' than anyone elses?

2. I'm guessing the 'beyond chance' bit was the absent-minded packing of the phone and it's working on the mountainside. Again, some people take their phones, some people don't - and evidently, mobile phones DO work on that mountain, because his did. Where was the investigation into how close he was to the nearest signal-tower? What's the betting he was a lot closer to one, after falling 300 feet down the mountain, than he thought he was?

3. He didn't understand how or why it worked? What? It's a phone, he was obviously close enough to a signal tower for it to pick up enough signal. He obviously had enough battery on the thing for it to work for long enough. What is so hard to understand here?

Again, I'm forced to make mention of the Law Of Very Large Numbers. He may have survived, but there's plenty others who didn't and don't. But of course, they and their coincidences don't make it on to TV.

Desperate Measures

Bob and Samantha Greybill, from Pennsylvania, are driving their four kids to church. She's three months pregnant with baby number five (can anyone say 'Quiverfull'?). The minivan crashes. All are fine, except Samantha, who has a broken leg.

She's sent home, but three days later, she's taken back to hospital with breathing problems. She's suffering from ARDS (fat particles released into the bloodstream are lodging in her lungs). She's put into an artificial coma.

Beyond Chance interviews everyone, and all of them go on and on about trying to find a 'miracle' to save her - even her bloody doctor, Dr. Cooney is quoted as saying 'I was looking for a miracle!'

They decide (after Bob apparently went through much soul searching)to go ahead with an experimental procedure, that has some risks involved to the baby, because they've never tried it on a pregnant woman before.

They introduce Nitrous Oxide to her blood. It works, everyone's happy, though understandably worried about the baby. Six months later, their daughter is born hale and hearty. The procedure is now common-place and even used on babies.

My problems.

1. Again, where the hell is the factor that makes this 'beyond chance!' She was ill, they tried a risky procedure on her, it worked. SO WHAT? Stuff like this happens every day, all over the world. It's how we end up with common-place procedures - someone, somewhere has to be the first person it's used on. She was that first person. This does not make her and her child's survival 'beyond chance!'

2. Miraculous? Sorry - but where was the praise for the doctors, nurses and scientists who came up with the procedure, treated her and so on? There was none, there was simply talk about God and miracles.

Again - Law Of Very Large Numbers is in play. There are so many thousands of vehicle crashes every year in the US. Someone, somewhere, was going to get that rare ARDS problem, the population of America is certainly large enough - it just happened that she was the one who did.

A Slight Risk

If that title doesn't give you what you need to figure this one out, I don't know what will.

Anyway, Erica Sanchez drives the I40 pretty much every day on her way home from work. This time, one of her tires blows and she ends up pinned under a Semi (a truck pulling two trailers, rather than just one). The base of the rear trailer shears the roof off her car - she survives by ducking it just in time.

The Semi driver does what he aught and simply keeps driving, slowing down until he can pull over, instead of stopping suddenly and jack-knifing.

She climbs out of the ruined car with nary a scratch. The reason she survived? She's only 4ft 11" tall. When she ducked, she was so small nothing touched her.

The cops who responded to the accident described it as 'Remarkable'.

I don't really have much to complain about with this one:

1. Again, the population of the US is so large, and the numbers of crashes that happen every day, and the percentage of the population that is short and a driver, once again makes it really bloody easy to knock off the 'beyond chance!' crap. It's bound to happen at some point, to someone.

2. 'A Slight Chance'? Can someone shoot the writers, please?

Again, Law Of Very Large Numbers comes into play.

Free As A Bird

This one is one of those annoyingly sickly sweet stories.

A woman, Lisa, in North Carolina is pissed off with her ex-husbands Cockateil, Tookie. It makes a lot of noise, it plays Hudini with it's cage, it swears, mimicks and dances. One mid-winter day, she gets so pissed off with it, after it escaped and tore her house to bits, that she simply opened the door and let it fly away.

Nice of her really, considering it's not really equiped to survive any winter weather, let alone snow and ice.

She realised how cruel that was, gets a torch and tries to find him and bring him back. No such luck, he's gone.

Five years later, when she's no longer so bitter and angry, she's working as a teacher and meets a shy young girl named Crystal, who doesn't talk much, doesn't engage with people and is generally all around introverted.

Lisa tried everything to get Crystal to open up, but nothing worked until she started asking her about her favorite pet.

Crystal's favorite pet turns out to be a Cockateil named Pretty Boy. He makes a lot of noise, plays Hudini with his cage, swears, mimicks and dances. After some careful prompting, it turns out that Pretty Boy and Tookie are one and the same!

Five years ealier, in the next town over, Crystal's family had found Tookie walking up their ice-covered drive-way, freezing and near death. They took him in and Crystal adopted him.

My problems:

1. Jeebus, that particular story was so sickly, gooey sweet, I felt like reading some Edgar Allen Poe after watching it >>

2. So, the moral here is 'animal cruelty can still have a happy ending'? Seriously, what type of person releases a tiny warm-weather bird into the freezing North Carolina winter? I don't care how pissed off the woman was - if she was that annoyed with the creature, she should have sold him off.

3. Apparently Lisa followed up her cruelty by '[praying] that he would find a home, that he would be safe'. So, you basically give the thing a death sentence, and then pray to god that, actually, you didn't mean it really?

4. Unwanted birds (and other pets) are released into the wild all the time, and, unwanted pets are found in the wild, adopted and given better homes all the time. It's not exactly surprising that Tookie did manage to find a new home - it happens, there's nothing 'beyond chance!' about it.

5. Ok, so he happened to be adopted by a girl in Lisa's future class. That's a little more remarkable, but it's still only a coincidence, given the amount of pets released and consequently adopted in the US.

6. Apparently talking about Pretty Boy helped crystal out of her introversion. Again, so what? Kids like Crystal will have something that brings them out of it - her's happened to be the bird she adopted.

Again, I'm left with pointing out the Law. Seriously, getting sick of pointing that out now.

Phoenix Heart

Finally, the last one! And seriously, this one's a stinker.

Lyle D. Baade, from Phoenix, Arizona, old dude in his sixties, gets a heart transplant. His replacement heart came from a 16 year old shooting victim.

(Can you tell where this one's going?)

He's living in a retirement village with his wife. They go to a meeting with other residents. They start to leave a little early.

As they leave, an ex-member of the village (who left due to debt problems) stops them in the doorway, carrying a gun - he tells them to go back to the meeting. They comply. As they do so, Lyle tells the interviewer that he thought 'He's got a gun! Then I knew we were gonna die!'

However, as the guy walks in the doorway, Lyle yells 'He's got a gun!' sending the other members scurrying.

Suddenly, as the bloke starts to take aim, Lyle 'hears a voice'!

'You can get there, before he can turn the barrel on you!' he hears in his head. He explains to the interviewer - 'That meant I had to move immediately!'

So he did. He rugby tackled the gun man. He says 'It was like someone picked me up and threw me!' Another resident exclaims in interview 'It was not Lyle Baade!'

Lyel speculates that he has a 16 year old 'Guardian Angel'.

Melissa Etheridge commented, as a voice over, 'Could there be a connection between the voice and the sixteen year old heart?'

After he rugby-tackled the guy, the rest of the members at the meeting rushed in and they all basically pinned the guy to the floor. It turned out later, that the man had not only brought the gun he was carrying, but he also had a van full of weaponry parked outside.

My problems:

1. Gag me now. There is no such thing as a connection between donated body parts and personality changes or 'voices'. Operations, traumatic events, drugs, placebo effect/confirmation bias (as in, they heard about the personality of the person who 'donated') and so on, all account for anything slightly different in a personality afterwards - and personalities are subjective anyway. The 'voices' thing though, that's worrying and more suggestive of a mental problem. Or, in this case? Lyel's own bloody conscience. Duh.

2. 'Thrown across the room'? Yeah, that'll be an adrenaline rush. You're protecting friends and family - it happens.

3. 'Guardian Angel' - just goes to show exactly how credulous this guy is.

Seriously, the whole personality change thing after organ transplants is so stupid and has been debunked so many times. I find it absolutely ridiculous to find it on this show.. well, actually, I don't, it's perfect fodder for something titled 'Beyond Chance' - but you know what I mean.

To top the whole program off, Melissa then gave this little statement:

When there are no simple answers to the mysteries of life, we look for explanations that are often beyond our imagination, beyond reason, beyond chance.

Seriously? Maybe credulous people do, but I find myself looking for the rational, real-world explanations.

'Beyond imagination'? I'm sorry, but the human race has a huge capacity for imagination, it's one of those things that's helped us to get where we are today. Without imagination, we would never have made our way out of the forests onto the plains, and then off the plains and out to the rest of the world - being able to imagine a 'better life' over the horizon, for example. There is very little that is 'beyond' the human imagination.

'Beyond reason'? Again, no. Only those gullible, credulous types think there are things in any of these stories that can't be 'reasoned' in a proper, factual, intelligent and real-world fashion.

'Beyond chance'? Really. No. Not a single one of these stories was 'beyond chance', not even in the slightest possible fashion. As I stated for most of them, the Law Of Very Large Numbers pretty much dumps each and every one of them, exactly where they belong, on the rubbish heap. These things were not 'beyond chance' - they were all statistically possible and statistically probable - they all would have had to happen somewhere, at some point, and very likely, most of them are one of a vast collection of highly similar stories.

This program, 'Beyond Chance', really is fit only for a bloody rubbish tip. It does nothing other than fuel the stupid imaginings of the credulous, fostering belief in things that are niether real, nor healthy - and in some cases, even hurts the cause of real medical knowledge.

I wouldn't suggest watching any more of it - if only to avoid the ridiculous fake-candid-camera shots of Etheridge acting like an idiot.


Jovan said...

I feel absolutely the same way about that show. People are so gullible and so bad when calculating odds... Keep up the good work.

nick said...

wow! what a write up! lol

the wonder of cbs reality eh??

i love watching this channel as almost every program is so badly made & produced, terrible acting in everything too - you should really do a write up on beyond belief (fact or fiction) surely the daftest show ever made - yet i genuinly enjoy watching it many times over!

adc, smash cuts & the rest of that type really don't appeal to me & beyond chance is another i have on in the background to amuse me!