Friday, December 30, 2005

Ghosts, Ghouls, and Other Hot Properties.

This is not an easy topic for me to write about. Maybe it’s my avatar, or maybe just the twisted nature of my brain, but I keep hearing Burt Lahr saying over and over, “I do believe in spooks! I do believe in spooks! I do I do I do I do I do believe in spooks!” Spooks are good theatre, and your believing in spooks is big business. This is not only true for the cinema folks that bring you Freddie Krueger and Jason, there is more riding on it than that. Let’s start with the obvious. Fortune tellers often assert that they are speaking to someone “on the other side” - a ghost. If there was no such thing as ghosts, who would the ghost hunters hunt, and who would the psychics claim to be speaking to? This is a niche market, to be sure, but people do make a good living at it. Then there’s the whole life-after-death promise of Western religion. The idea that you still exist somehow after you die is not harmed one bit by the concept of wandering spirits, and nobody has to pretend to know why they are not in Heaven or Hell, either... It’s a free space! Ghosts contribute to corporate and clerical bottom lines and reinforce the belief in the afterlife. Ghosts generally don’t charge for their services, either, and nobody is absolutely sure what they are. I bet a lot of eyebrows shot up on that line, but let me explain. You can be convinced beyond any doubt that they don’t exist. You can maintain that they do exist, and in your mind, you will have accepted one of a number of definitions, using some combination of attributes, to define what you think a ghost is. You might even ascribe to the multi-flavor variety pack, and believe that there are more than one type of ghost. You might even blur the line between the definition of a ghost, and “angel” (or other benign spirit), and a “demon”, and believe that they are all similar “life forms” - for lack of a better term, with different origins. There is no single opinion, belief, or description for the term “ghost”. Ghosts fall into the realm of the asserted but not proved. Ghosts are very real to anyone who has had one of several kinds of experiences that would lead a person to believe that they had encountered a ghost, and generally unreal to those who have not had such an experience. Thing is, with all the assertions, and all the representations, many of those that don’t believe reserve some doubt in their disbelief and hold open the possibility that ghosts might exist. This is good enough for the movie industry, the church, and the psychics to work with. Oh yeah, and let’s not leave out the folks with the “Haunted Manor” tourist attractions. As long as you allow for the possibility of ghosts, it’s big business.

Let’s look at the case for ghosts. People have been running around for over a century with a range of detection equipment and cameras trying to nail this ectoplasmic Jell-o to the wall. So far, they have come up with a few stray electromagnetic readings that could have any number of causes, some exposure flashes on film, noises that could easily be attributed to a building contracting at night (or fakery), and a bunch of “I-can-see-the-wire” type bullshit. In other words, nothing concrete, scientifically measurable, or irrefutably spectacular, like, say the manifestation of a nearly headless knight that resembles John Cleese. The true believer at this point could offer the excuse that this is because they are not of this world, and therefore do not impinge on this world in a measurable way. Ok... where does that get us? If they don’t impinge in a measurable way, how do they impinge at all? I think this completely rules out the “poltergeist” variety, because last time I looked, moving an object required energy of a very physical nature. No energy, no bump in the night. It has been conjectured that cold spots in the room are created by a ghost absorbing the energy required for such manifestations. Even granting that the energy could be stored in some other dimension, the delta between the cold spot and the air in the rest of the room represents a tiny amount of calories, say the energy created by burning a match, and that’s being generous. There would also have to be a focused kinetic output of some kind in order to convert that energy into the motion of a solid object in our four-dimensional continuum. This kind of rapid release/transfer of energy is possible. It’s called an explosion. So far as I am aware, no one has claimed to hear noises like a string of M-80s going off accompanying poltergeist activity. That only leaves teleportation, and the extent to which mathematics and science can take us in that direction suggests that, if possible at all, the electromagnetic energy output required to cancel gravity is colossal, and easily detected.

Next, let’s examine the ghosts of the psychics. I heard one psychic on the Montel Williams show tell an audience member that she had no less than three “guardian angels” surrounding her. Ok... if they are invisible, they are blind. If light passes through an object uninterrupted, there is no way known to science that anything like optical interpretation can take place. Remember all those measuring devices? They all had some solid-object existence and some energy requirements. There is no way known to man that readings can be taken from an object or an energy stream that does not require a physical receptor and an energy source. So, how and what do these ghosts “see”? Let’s postulate for a second that the “apparatus” of their sensory existence is folded away in some theoretical higher dimension. This is a "removal", like me with a telescope, I can see Mars, but "Mars" can't see me. Ok... how does the psychic “see” them? We can enhance every sense, and detect spectra of energy far in excess of any possible sensory mutation of a human being, yet none of these devices detect anything. The psychic in question was quite specific. The simplest explanation is that she is a pathological liar.

What about people who have seen ghosts? Did they see them with their eyes? If so, why can’t a camera record the phenomenon? With all the people toting around video cameras, we now have a nice collection of tornado images, but not a single ghost. Ok... so maybe the image of the ghost is in the person’s mind, not “in the room” at all. I can buy that. I have gone to hypnotist shows and have seen people believe that they had a parakeet on their finger. I have seen people believe that they saw a floating “naughty bit” in the air, because they were told that they could not see the hypnotist that was holding it up. That was a very entertaining and educational show. Point is, the mind can be fooled into seeing what isn’t there, and not seeing what is there. If I expect to see a ghost, and if I really want to see a ghost, I might just oblige myself, no hypnotist required.

There is one more phenomenon associated with ghosts: knowledge or vision on the death of a loved one. People see this in dreams, or have a waking reverie near the time of death, without knowledge of the time of death until afterward. I can say first hand that this happens. It happened to me when my father died in 1972. He was in Dallas and I was in New Jersey. I can believe that there is a connection between people that has yet to be explained, and that something happens when that connection is broken. I cannot say that this experience supports the idea of persistence of life or identity after death. And now you know the real reason that this subject is difficult for me to write about.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

What is it?

and why do you care? You do, I swear!

Go here! Hurry! Before someone declares a war on it!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Cramityville Hogwash, or The Thing That Wouldn't Die

This piece of shit has almost as many lives as Jason.

The Amityville Horror (1979)
Amityville II: The Possession (1982)
Amityville 3-D (1983)
Amityville: The Evil Escapes (1989)
The Amityville Curse (1990)
Amityville 1992: It's About Time (1992)
Amityville: A New Generation (1993)
Amityville: Dollhouse (1996)
Amityville Horror (2005 remake)

The remake, as the original before it, and as do two other bullshit movies in current release, loudly proclaims itself to be “based on a true story”. I graduated from High School in NJ in 1976. By 1980, everyone with a brain in the tri-state area who was paying attention knew that the Lutz family had made up this story to bullshit their way out of a mortgage that they couldn’t afford. Someone saw an opportunity, so they also bullshited their way into book and movie royalties. In the interest of honesty, the movie trailers should change their claim to “Based on a true and inspired bullshit story”.

Besides the phony nature of this “true” story, I have another problem. I like Halloween, and scary stories as much as the next guy, but... what if... what if... there is a part of the brain that can’t differentiate between a fictional account in the form of a movie (images and audio input), and reality. What if all of these bullshit accounts, all these bullshit images, are reinforcing belief in bullshit? Is this why more of the population believes in angels and ghosts than did the population of 50 years ago? I was never much of a fan of Westerns and war movies, but at least it was “based on reality”.

Check out, and remember what the old Breakerslion always says: When someone goes out of their way to tell you they’re about to tell you the truth, prepare to be bullshitted.

Here’s another side of the story.

The picture, by the way, is of George Lutz. I think he's trying to look mystical. To me, he looks like he just got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. I wonder how it would be, feeling compelled to live a lie for the rest of one's life?

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Special No. 5: Stocking Stuffers

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Christmas Special No. 4: It's a Wonderful Life!

Merry Fucking Christmas Movie House! Chalk up a small victory for the non-stupid.

Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School district

It is all fascinating reading, but it really gets good around page 114. The conclusion starting on page 130 is pure poetry.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Christmas Special No. 3: Jean Shepherd

For those of you that only might recognize the name Jean Shepherd from the Peter Billingsly TBS loop of “A Christmas Story”, allow me to introduce you to one of my childhood heroes and a consummate story-teller. I spent many an evening from 1968 to 1975 pretending to be asleep, and listening to Shep on WOR. Max Schmid, DJ on New York’s WBAI is re-running Shep’s Radio shows. There is one he ran recently, from October 15, 1964, that is strangely appropriate to what is going on in the Middle East right now. It is titled “Tuareg Culture”, and adequately nails the gulf between Western and Desert Nomad society. It is not 100% politically correct, but that’s the way things were when speech was freer and skins were not so thin. You can get a listen on Max's web site if you hurry.

The Christmas movie is not entirely representative of Shep’s style either. Darren McGavin, for example, does not exude the tough, fatherly menace and beer drinking unpredictability that was Shepherd’s version of his old man. He, and Delbert and the Bumpus hounds, and Ludlow Kissel, and many other elements were, as Shep might have put it, “scrubbed with Pepsodent” to make them a little more mainstream acceptable. I invite you to check out this strange genius as he shares his life from childhood in Depression era Indiana, to his army experiences and beyond. Even if you don’t know what an Ed Winn Fire Hat is, I think you will enjoy it. If you are more into the printed word, pick up a copy of In God We Trust All Others Pay Cash, or Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories (and other disasters). Incidentally, Jean Shepherd has won many awards for his work, including being inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 2005. Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh will be lucky if they are ever mentioned in a bathroom stall in the Radio Hall of Fame. Should either of them ever get inducted however, I will make a special trip to post my comments there.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Christmas Special No. 2

When I was growing up, I had a good friend that I only saw two weeks out of the year at a family camp where we vacationed. Alan and I knew each other from the time we were infants until about fifth grade. After that, with one thing and another, we only saw each other a couple of times. He grew up, moved to Florida, had a family, and pretty much became a Fundie. I grew up, got married, didn’t have a family, and moved to New England, near where the family camp is located. Years later, I got his e-mail address from one of his nieces, and got in touch. We traded some memories, caught up a little, and exchanged invitations to visit one another. Every so often, he would send me religious “chain letter” e-mail. I was not openly critical of this. In fact, I was polite, and thanked him for his kind thoughts, and often made positive observations regarding the moral, or message of the letters without addressing the Christian spin. The end came when he sent me the “missing day” letter, and after my eyes uncrossed, I checked it out on I sent him a carefully (I thought) crafted reply, explaining that I was getting a lot of similar mail and had taken to checking the veracity of such claims. I sent him the link to Snopes, explaining that this is what I had found. I never heard another word from him. Subsequent e-mails went unanswered. He received the letter from the pastor of his church (I know this from the e-mail header), and I guess I must be going to Hell for questioning his authority on the subject. Poor me.

Alan, wherever you are, I wish you and your entire family a very Merry Christmas. I feel no hypocrisy in doing so. I sincerely hope you are all well and happy, and enjoy the holiday in the way that seems most right to you.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Christmas Special No. 1

A woman goes to the post office to buy stamps for her Christmas Cards.
She says to the clerk,
"May I have 50 Christmas stamps?"

The clerk says,
"What denomination?"

The woman says,
"God help us. Has it come to this?
Give me 6 Catholic, 12 Presbyterian, 10 Lutheran, and 22 Baptists. "

So about this war on Christmas.... Who thinks they own it again?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

A Horrible Little Man

I just created an account on so that I could comment on this article, only to find that they quickly archive their stories, and do not allow new posts. I will have to post my comments here instead.

Bill O'Reilly, the ultimate Conservative jackass, recently stated that he would:

"use all the power that I have on radio and television to bring horror into the world of people" who "diminish and denigrate the [Christmas] holiday." O'Reilly specified "oppressive, totalitarian, anti-Christian forces in this country" as those who seek to undermine Christmas, asserting that these "forces" are "on the run, because I will put their face and their name on television and I will talk about them on the radio if they do it."

My comment:

"... all the power that I have on radio and television to bring horror into the world of people", is thankfully far less than Blathering Bill imagines it to be. As far as his taking aim on those that would make Christmas more than a Jesus-freak holiday (as it has been for centuries uncounted), I can only say, "You'll shoot your eye out!" - Jean Shepherd (1921-1999), a real radio personality.

Thank you once again, Hellbound Alleee, for bringing this to my attention.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Shortest Critique of Scientology?

This is the shortest critique that I can muster. "Thanks!" to Adam Savage and Dorothy Parker for inspiration.

"I reject your reality and substitute reality."

I don't think they can find anything in there to sue me over, either.

Ok, I suppose "Bullshit!" would be shorter, but less specific.

It seems a shame. Back in the "Joe Friday" days of the 50's and early 60's, I have no doubt that people engaged in this kind of activity would be arrested and charged with both fraud and tax evasion. Now, of course, they are able to cloak themselves in the bloody sheephide of religion, and we must all respect their "right" to sell their beliefs.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Unanswered question.

The other day when I was blog-surfing, I came across this gem of unreason:

“If men are descended from apes, how come there are still apes?”

Once I got over my initial snort of derision, I realized that this simple interrogative phrase held yet another key to how the manipulators create confusion. I could easily go down the road of a false premise, and that is the usual response to a statement like that, but suddenly I saw it in a different light. This is not an original statement. This person is parroting something that they have heard. Why was it accepted as factual? It does not offer any conclusion, just an odd sort of challenge. It was accepted as a credible refutation of evolution theory because it was a question that the listener failed to answer.

When this person heard someone else bellow that challenge, their brain locked up. The listener’s inner dialogue said “I don’t know... Hey! That doesn’t make sense!” Indeed it doesn’t, but our listener went no further. The listener has searched their knowledge bank, and not finding an answer, will typically do one of two things. The listener will conclude that there is no answer, or the listener will go into a receptive state and wait to be told the answer. I strongly suspect that a mind in that state is in a state of suggestibility, meaning that the mind will accept information without some of the usual barriers of doubt. Societies and cultures have long been based on the (alpha) leader-follower principle. This has likely bred into us an automatic response of looking to a leader for answers to questions that our own experience can’t resolve. In any room full of people where one person is lecturing and all others are listening, a deep part of the brain will identify the lecturer as the leader. This identification is reinforced in the classroom, and in such settings as a church service where the lecturer does set themselves up to be an authority and disciplinary figure as well. Unfortunately, in circumstances like this one, the half-baked question is also a set-up, because it has no proper answer. The person who originally asked the question was not looking for an answer, s/he was looking to create puzzlement, or confusion. This was not just a badly framed question, it was a rhetorical badly framed question. When the listeners turned to that person for an answer, they were receptive to any statement that sounded like a conclusion drawn on this false premise. Unfortunately, the poser of the question was not a valid source of information.

Evolution theory does not claim that we are descended from apes, it claims that both apes and humans had a common ancestor. This is a concept that some find impossible to accept. It is difficult for the human brain to conceptualize a span of time on the order of ten or twenty million years, let alone one billion. All of recorded human history only traces back some 180-230 (modern time) generations. King Richard of the Crusades was only about 28 generations ago. Does anyone know the name of his stableman, or what he looked like, or what he liked to eat for breakfast? This is already the dim, remote past to most of us. Our ancient ancestors probably had a shorter lifespan, and a shorter generational cycle. Even modern man, if necessary, could reproduce on about a 16-year cycle. How many thousands of reproductive iterations between us and that common ancestor, and we have trouble remembering back a mere 28? This creates in some, a certain prejudice of thought that equates evolution theory to calling one’s grandmother sub-human. Some would prefer to think of humans as special, and indeed we have a lot of unique characteristics compared to the rest of the animal kingdom. The same can be said however, of the Platypus, for one example of many. Scientific evidence supports a common ancestor with that beastie too. The bottom line is, we don’t accept scientific evidence on the basis of our own prejudices or sensibilities, we accept it because it exists.