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Archive for October, 2009

Ouija Boards

I have to say, this Derren Brown clip uses a pretty clever trick to test a Ouija board.

I liked Penn and Teller’s test as well.

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Ghost in Disneyland?

My guess? It could be a hoax, or it could be that the video recorder is re-using old videotapes. The recorder isn’t completely writing-over and old recording, so an old image is bleeding-through the new one. (Kind of like if you record over an old cassette tape and the old recording is still faintly audible in the background.) The fact that the video-cameras don’t move would also help everything align correctly in the old and new recordings.

Then again, I just looked up the Disney Haunted Mansion attraction, and the fact that the “ghost” is leaving the Haunted Mansion makes me think this was faked by Disney to add to the mystique.

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The Ghost of the Rue Jacob

I occasionally hear ghost-stories from people I know. I actually don’t believe in ghosts, and on the few occasions where I have attempted to investigate these types of things I’ve always ended up with only two results: either no unusual phenomena happens, or I discover that people are misattributing something normal to a ghost.

Even though I don’t believe in ghosts, I’m always interested when people say that there is some verifiable ghost-phenomena going on. It makes me want to investigate, if for no other reason that the possibility that I am wrong about my naturalistic beliefs and the existence of an afterlife.

Here’s a few of my stories of encountering ghost/supernatural phenomena:

When I was younger, there was a story in my town about a section of woods that was haunted by two spirits. This patch of woods also happened to be directly adjacent to a large cemetery. There were a variety of stories about these woods, and strange things that happened there during the night. One night, I was talking to a guy I knew, and he said that whenever he drove through those woods, you could hear something walking through the woods behind the right-side of the car. So, a group of us went out there and drove through the woods. Sure enough, as we drove through the woods, you could hear what sounded like the faint sound of someone in the darkness stepping on leaves and branches to the right/rear of the car. It kept perfect pace with us, and was genuinely scary and strange. Once we got out of the woods, we were all talking about it, and I got an idea. I jumped out of the car, and told him to drive forward slowly. Sure enough, there was a sound coming from his right rear axle that sounded just like breaking branches. The sound was apparently bouncing off the forest trees, and only seemed like it was coming from off in the distance.

A year or two later, some friends and I went into those same woods around midnight looking for something, anything. At this point, I was very skeptical about the supernatural and I wanted to find evidence that I was wrong. We ended up seeing nothing strange at all.

Another time, just days after I had moved into an apartment in a very old building, I was falling asleep one night when I heard a slight sound coming from the other (empty) bedroom. I turned on the light and went to investigate. But, there was no sound. I went back to bed, and within a few minutes, I heard something again. My hair was starting to stand on end. I snuck into the living room and turned on the light. The sound disappeared, and I checked all the windows. Everything seemed perfectly in order. I went back to bed and waited for the sound again. Within a few minutes, it started again, so I snuck around in the dark. As I got closer to the second bedroom, I heard what sounded like someone slowly crushing a piece of paper. I was very creeped-out. I turned on the light, and a little mouse came running out of my garbage.

A few people have told me their encounters with ghosts. A neighbor of mine said that, when she was in college, they lived in a house that they “knew” was haunted. She said the kitchen towels would disappear, and no one could find them. One night, they had a Ouiji board, and they started asking it questions. The Ouiji board told them to go look under the stairs. When they looked, they found all the missing kitchen towels, and no one knew there was even a space under the stairs. There were a couple doubts I had about her story though. One possibility is that one of her roommates had put the towels there, and controlled the Ouiji board to tell them to look there. The other one involves the fact that this neighbor of mine was a known sleepwalker. She’s been known to walk around her building, sleep-walking and sleep-talking. In one case, she knocked on a neighbors door at 4am and started to have a half-coherent conversation with the just woken neighbor. She didn’t remember what happened the next morning. Given her history of sleep-walking, it seemed quite possible that she was moving the kitchen towels under the stairs in the middle of the night and not remembering it the next morning. Maybe she even subconsciously had the Ouiji board tell everyone to look under the stairs.

This is one of the problems I have with second-hand ghost stories. You never quite know what’s fact, if someone is embellishing or misremembering, or if there are clues that you don’t know because you aren’t there when the phenomena happens. It’s a little like trying to explain a magic trick based on someone’s second-hand memories of what they saw.

Well, just in time for Halloween, Joan Juliet Buck has a story about a haunted apartment where she lived in Paris. I have to admit, if I had a lot more money and time, I would want to track down this place and verify the story. I doubt anything would happen, but it would make for an interesting YouTube investigation nevertheless. And, if I could be proven wrong about my beliefs, that would be a good thing, too. (I wonder how many religious believers would say that?) Here’s an mp3 of her story from The Moth podcast.
Joan Juliet Buck: The Ghost of the Rue Jacob

It occurred to me later that the phenomena Joan Buck experienced could be explained by carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas, but, being colorless, odorless, tasteless, and non-irritating, it is very difficult for people to detect. Carbon monoxide is a product of combustion of organic matter with insufficient oxygen supply and is often produced in domestic or industrial settings by motor vehicles and other gasoline-powered tools, heaters, and cooking equipment. (Source)

At high levels, it can kill you, but at low levels, it can produce “strange visions and sounds, feelings of dread, illness … listlessness, depression, dementia, emotional disturbances, and hallucinations.” (Source) It can also cause vertigo (explaining her dad’s fall). She mentions these things happening in October (10:25), so she begins to experience these things during the night as fall/winter approaches, which is exactly when the windows would be closed and an old furnace would be most active (potentially kicking-out carbon monoxide). Additionally, carbon monoxide is combustible, which would explain why her incense burned especially bright.

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Okay, not really. But, that’s what Al-Jazeera is saying:

“Ardi Refutes Darwin’s Theory,” Al Jazeera announced, in an Oct. 3 article not available on the English version of the website. “American scientists have presented evidence that Darwin’s theory of evolution was wrong,” the article opened. “The team announced yesterday that Ardi’s discovery proves that humans did not evolve from ancestors that resemble chimpanzees, which refutes the longstanding assumption that humans evolved from monkeys.” (Source)

For some real news, here’s a 90 minute video on Ardipithecus, a primate ancestor that predates Lucy by 1.2 million years.

[Thanks: AtheistMedia blog]

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Judaism’s War Rabbis

A lot of people who read the Bible have trouble combining the war-like tendencies of the Old Testament God with the softer New Testament teachings. The God of the Old Testament kills millions of people (the global flood, the firstborn of Egypt, inhabitants of Canaan, etc).

What if you didn’t have the New Testament? What if your version of God was described by just the Old Testament? Why, you might even believe it was your mission to eliminate the non-Jews from the land of Israel – the land given by God to the Jews, a land where genocide was God’s command for accomplishing that goal. This recent video from the BBC talks about how Israel’s military is becoming increasingly controlled by religious zealots who believe they are accomplishing God’s mission by eliminating the Palestinians. They see their mission as an extension of Joshua‘s work.


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Tom Tomorrow Comic

In related news, Obama’s reputation is on the way up at FOX News. Instead of comparing him to the anti-Christ, Stalin, or Hitler, they’re comparing him to a 1920s-style mobster. (Wait, if Obama is a 1920s-style Chicago mobster, does that mean that Glenn Beck has to stop comparing himself to holocaust Jews?)

FOX News is fair and balanced. They have every right to complain when the White House unfairly sees them as an arm of the Republican party.

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There’s a new ABC News report on Scientology.

I liked this clip. At 3:40 minutes (about 60%) into this video, Tommy Davis (spokesperson for scientology) gets evasive and feigns indignation to avoid questions he doesn’t want to answer.

He has all the credibility of Balloon-boy’s father –

Mr Heene [Balloon-boy’s father] bristled when the family was asked to clarify and said he did not know what his son meant [when he said it was “for the show”]. “I’m kind of appalled after all the feelings that I went through, up and down, that you guys are trying to suggest [that this was a hoax],” he said.

It’s also creepy how much Tommy Davis is like David Miscavige, the cult’s leader. They’re both professional, combative, and love to attack the messenger. Come to think of it, these guys both remind me of American Psycho. Are the Scientologists making clones? Can Scientology even survive without this kind of combative evasiveness? They’ve got so many problems, it seems like they can’t be truthful and continue to survive. A video of Miscavige:

ABC News, October 23rd:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

ABC News, October 24th:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

On a related note, Paul Haggis, the Oscar-winning writer-director whose credits include “Crash,” “Million Dollar Baby” and “Letters From Iwo Jima,” has left the Church of Scientology. His open letter, which is written to Tommy Davis, appeared on the internet today, where he hit the “church” for anti-gay activities, their policy of disconnection (forcing members to cut-off contact with other people, including their own family), and lying about it to the media, claiming that they have no such policy. One excerpt:

You might recall that my wife was ordered to disconnect from her parents because of something absolutely trivial they supposedly did twenty-five years ago when they resigned from the church. This is a lovely retired couple, never said a negative word about Scientology to me or anyone else I know – hardly raving maniacs or enemies of the church. In fact it was they who introduced my wife to Scientology.

Although it caused her terrible personal pain, my wife broke off all contact with them. I refused to do so. I’ve never been good at following orders, especially when I find them morally reprehensible.

For a year and a half, despite her protestations, my wife did not speak to her parents and they had limited access to their grandchild. It was a terrible time.

That’s not ancient history, Tommy. It was a year ago.

And you could laugh at the question as if it was a joke? You could publicly state that it doesn’t exist?

To see you lie so easily, I am afraid I had to ask myself: what else are you lying about?

You can read the letter here.

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