Monday, March 16, 2009

Ghosts are more interesting than streetlights

Oh, what an embarrassment of riches I'm faced with today!

Checking the S&E today, I see it contains not only the dumbest editorial ever, in the form of a special column by village idiot Jeff McMenemy, but also the dumbest actual story ever. It's about ghosts.

Prior to spotting the ghost story, I was all set to address McMenemy's dumbness. But frankly, it's not coherent enough to be worth a full post. It's just a tedious hit-piece attacking both Lisa Wong and Deval Patrick for their shared crime of doing things McMenemy doesn't care for.

For some reason McMenemy is obsessed both with streetlights and with pricey SUVs. I'd explain what his reasons are, but he never really bothers to make them clear. The man has the intellectual sophistication--and language skills--of a mildly retarded parakeet. Just know he's really upset!

But the ghost story, now that's something amazing!

Let's do some quoting!
Kathleen Caslin became a ghost hunter six years ago by accident, after a supernatural encounter got her questioning the existence of the paranormal.

"That's where your life turns on a moment," Caslin said.

Caslin, a registered nurse, was working a night shift at a hospital in 2003 when she was approached by a ghost in one of the patient rooms, she said.
Okay, that's not so terrible. Kooky lady spends her free time doing something stupid. Not really news-worthy, but maybe it would work as a human interest story or something.

So what brings this nurse I hope to never require medical care from to town? She's giving lessons on how to be credulous like her!
Caslin, Edward Perry and other members of the SIGNS Paranormal investigative team gave a presentation on dealing with hauntings at the Thayer Memorial Library Sunday afternoon. Caslin is now a researcher with the group.

Caslin decided to start asking questions about the unexplained after her encounter in the hospital, and that eventually led her to her position with SIGNS.

The group researches haunted houses and tried to determine what, if anything, is actually going on. Perry said paranormal investigators need to keep an air of skepticism as they do their work.
An "air of skepticism"? I don't think they know what the word means.

See, if you're a skeptic, you don't call yourself a "ghost hunter." Because that assumes that ghosts exist, and any "ghost hunter" is going to primarily be looking for things that support their belief. You can no more be a skeptical ghost hunter than you can be a skeptical Leprechaun wrangler or a skeptical dragon slayer.

If you hear funny noises in your walls and send a ghost hunter in to investigate, they're going to say it's a ghost. If you send in an exterminator to investigate, they're going to say it's mice. If you send in a plumber, he's going to say it's your pipes. That's just the way it goes.

But you don't get many newspaper stories about plumbing problems, or rodent infestations. Being a ghost hunter is clearly way more fun.

But wait, the website for this nutty "SIGNS" group says they're all about science! SIGNS even stands for "Scientific Investigations of Ghosts N Spirits."

Ugh. That's terrible.

What sciencey-sounding stuff do they use?
Perry, wearing a polo shirt with the logo from the movie "Ghost Busters" on it, demonstrated the different devices the ghost hunters use in their work. There is an electron meter to gauge the energy in a particular room, a temperature gauge, an audio device to pick up sounds of spirits talking or moving, video camera and audio recording devices.
Ooh, an electron meter! Because ghosts are always leaving their electrons laying around everywhere. Also a temperature gauge (known to laymen as a "thermo-meter"), in case the ghosts have a fever or something. Plus a tape recorder. Obviously that's the most important bit!

Besides the Ghostbusters polo shirt, I mean. Because nothing says "scientific rigor" like referencing a movie in which a giant marshmallow destroys part of New York.
The investigators at SIGNS have been successful [Sic] picking up what they claim are the voices of ghosts in different haunted locations using audio recording. Caslin explained the group will record their discussions inside a haunted location and then hear the voices of ghosts when that recording is played back.

When the ghost is heard, it is called an Electronic Voice Phenomena [Sic], she said, or EVP.
Funny that they don't hear these voices at the time, isn't it? Maybe it's a magical audio recorder?

EVP is awesome in the same way that playing records backwards to look for hidden messages is awesome. It nicely illustrates the brain's ability to find patterns, even if the patterns it finds are totally meaningless.

If you record something (or nothing) and then crank the volume way up to the point where it's mostly a bunch of white noise, you can then rely on the pattern-finding parts of your brain to turn a bit of noise into something that sounds like a voice.

You might experience something similar in the shower. I often hear phantom phones ringing when in the shower. It doesn't mean my house is haunted by a phone, it means finding patterns in the random noise of the shower is not particularly useful.

It's sort of cool, as long as you're not a gullible doofus who interprets your brain's reflexive pattern-finding behavior as proof of a ghost.

Not that this group of totally-not-fake scientists would ever do something so obviously stupid!
Caslin played EVPs taken at the Christ Community Church in Chicopee where SIGNS suspect two disgruntled ghosts started haunting the church in 2004 after it switched from being a combination of Methodist and Congregationalist to just Congregationalists.

The recordings played revealed sometimes inaudible and distant whispers responding to the comments of the SIGNS team. At one point, one of the alleged ghosts can be heard telling the team to "get out."
Oh, maybe they are that stupid. Or maybe ghosts really hate it when churches switch from including two Protestant sects to just allowing one. That certainly gets me all worked up!
Caslin researched the history of the church and believes the two ghosts are Methodists [Sic] spinsters and former members of the church who died before it made the change to just being a Congregationalist church.

The two ghosts are known to throw hymn books, move books, hide candles and make apparitions in the church, Caslin said.
Wow, that's some major stuff that these ghosts are "known" to do! Throwing crap, hiding things for some reason, and even appearing! Why are these ghost hunters not cashing in on their findings? With all that evidence, they could definitely win James Randi's million-dollar challenge by providing evidence of the existence of the paranormal!

You could be rich, guys!

Here's another awesome bit of information:
Caslin and Perry said their group is willing to come to investigate homes free of charge. She said the group is very discrete.
Hear that? You can have these crackpots in your very own home!

So here's what you do:
  1. If you don't have one, buy a small battery-powered radio.
  2. Tune it to something that's either all talk, or at least old-timey sounding (maybe some ragtime, for the folksy ghost feel).
  3. Call SIGNS and tell them you are haunted by a noisy ghost who likes ragtime or whatever.
  4. Before they arrive, throw the radio in a closet, under a pile of clothes or something. Make sure it's loud enough to be just barely audible in the room, but not loud enough that you can actually make much of anything out. It's even better if it has crappy reception and keeps cutting in and out.
  5. Open some windows to make your house drafty (for the thermo-meter).
  6. Scatter around some spare electrons.
  7. When the ghostbusters arrive, give them mescaline.
  8. After they report back that the house is totally definitely haunted like crazy, start giving tours.
  9. Retire, rich and happy!

Or you could just make fun of them for being a bunch of credulous nitwits. That would be good too.