A Few Of My Favourite Things…

favourite things

If you follow me on Social Media you’ll possibly already know that I recently left a full-time job and took up part-time work ahead of plans to start studying in October. This was a BIG DEAL for me because it means a reduced monthly income and acquiring a scary student debt over the next 2-3 years BUT it is ultimately a good move and I feel really, really positive about everything.

It also means that I have a lot more free time to concentrate on projects that have been neglected lately, such as this blog and The Ghost Geek video channel. As I have more time I’ve decided to launch a new regular feature on my blog called A few of my favourite things. I’m hoping to curate lists of no more than a dozen links to things that have intrigued, inspired or educated me in the previous week.

So, without further ado… here are some of my favourite things from this week:

In the week that San Francisco implemented a ban on polystyrene, as part of an ongoing campaign to reduce waste in the city, and researchers reported that the thinning ozone layer above Antarctica is starting to heal, Slate report that light pollution may be causing early Spring in cities.

Environmental scientists realized that the first signs of spring have been slowly creeping backward in recent years, more so in urban areas, and might come a full month early by 2100.Matt Miller, Slate

Forget everything you know about shapes, head over to Gizmodo and watch this mind-bending illusion in which circles are not circles. If you know how this is done please let me know in the comments section because it’s bugging me!

More fascinating brain stuff from Laughing Squid who explore what happens if you’re never taught anything, and Lifehacker report that if you’re trying to memorise something you should exercise a few hours after learning it. On Psychology Today, Brian Bartholomew reflects on an outbreak of seemingly infectious hiccups in Massachusetts in 2012.

Pop Sci explain how scientists are planting false experiences into people brains (because life isn’t weird enough), and over at New Scientist Jessica Hamzelou reports that researchers have discovered that synaesthesia exists within sign language too.  

It was my 29th birthday on 13th June. I found myself attending a vigil in the city centre of Bath in memory and in solidarity with those killed in the homophobic terrorist attack on a gay club in Orlando, America. Over at Vice, Mark Hay explains how 2016 is only half way through and already mass shooting in America have killed 200 people. What a waste. In other news it has been reported that between 64 – 116 civilians were killed by targeted airstrikes carried out by drones since Barack Obama took office in 2009. Not as large a number as I expected.

Takepart have a fascinating feature exploring what has and hasn’t changed in conservation in the year since Cecil the Lion was killed. They report that ‘legal trophy hunting only kills about 220 to 240 wild lions a year’ and that ten times more die because of poaching.

Prepare for shivers down your spine as you listen to these sounds recorded by NASAs spacecraft Juno as it entered Jupiter’s magnetic field on June 24.

and finally, have your mind blown over at Gizmodo and learn how Entropy explains how life can come from randomness. Beautiful, beautiful, scary randomness.

Mystery Hand Haunts Belfast Mill Workers

the mysterious hand close up

HuffPo have reported that during the creation of a historic gallery by Belfast Live it was noticed that a photo taken in 1900 of some Belfast mill workers shows a disembodied hand resting on the shoulder of one of the women.

photo of mill workers
The Mysterious Hand

Sure enough, if you look at the woman seated on the right of the first row of four she has a hand resting upon her shoulder that appears to have no owner. So, is this a ghostly manifestation? Thing from The Addams Family dropping in to say hi? Or does she literally have a disembodied hand sitting there?

the mysterious hand close up
Close up of the hand

As a paranormal researcher of some experience I can tell you that when it comes to photographs nothing is ever what it seems. Many people believe that photo manipulation was born when the modern computer was created but it pre-dates Photoshop by a long, long time. In fact, as soon as the science of photography was perfected for general use people began to manipulate the photographs they were taking.

Usually this was to correct over-exposures and similar issues by fitting two photographic plates together to create one image, other times this would be for comedic or artistic effect. Photograph manipulation was particularly popular among advertising agencies and also, more controversially, for political propaganda – the most noted case of this being Stalin having opponents erased from or added into photos.

stalin photos
Naughty, naughty Stalin…

People also faked ghostly apparitions in their photographs by creating purposeful double exposures which would result in ghostly figures appearing in the photograph alongside the medium or the customer (who was often hoping to contact a deceased loved one.) American spirit photographer William Mumler is by far the most famous employer of this method of trickery, having been caught out and tried in court for fraud.

Mumler photos
Examples of the work of William Mumler

The mysterious hand in the photo of the Belfast mill workers is most likely the result of photo manipulation. I suspect there were other people in the photo who were edited out, with the hand accidentally being left in place – or proving too difficult to erase cleanly. Today we would call this sort of mistake a “photoshop fail” and there are whole web galleries devoted to left behind limbs. Here are some examples:

catalogue photo error
How many hands does this man have?
miley cyrus photo error
Miley Cyrus appears to have a third hand

 

basketball player photo
Extra hands would be useful in basketball, I guess…

So, You’ve Been Called A Racist…

farage

Yesterday after news that more people in the United Kingdom voted to Leave the European Union than had voted to Remain, I found myself in the bizarre position of trying to explain to a small group of people that just because they were Leave voters and they were not racist didn’t mean that racism wasn’t an issue.

It was almost like a scene from a film in which the director is trying to make a point about white privilege. “It’s about something more than immigration” one white woman moaned, “and I’m not racist. How dare they say I’m racist?”

I wanted to tell her that it was incredible that she was making this about her when friends of mine (plural) have taken to social media to share incidents of racial abuse they have been subjected to just in the few hours since the EU Referendum result was announced. Social media has been awash with people hurling racial abuse at strangers and it is worrying that this result, and the concerning language used by Nigel Farage and others on the Far Right in this country have normalised this sort of discriminatory behaviour.

In an interview with Alternet, Noam Chomsky attributed the popularity of Donald Trump to the creation of fear, commenting that “People feel isolated, helpless, victim of powerful forces that they do not understand and cannot influence.”

It is predominantly people in the working classes of Britain who have felt the results of the changing economy – especially the harsh welfare cuts and funding cuts to services brought into place by the Conservative government. For some though the blame doesn’t lay directly with these right-wing politicians but, instead, with people coming to take what is ours.

The Telegraph reported that one of the predictors of whether an area of England voted Leave was how few immigrants actually live there, proving surely that this is about isolated people lashing out at abstract fears about the person coming to get them and what they have?

When I look at Nigel Farage and his ilk I see a less-blunt version of Donald Trump who blames all of the ills on this country on foreigners and invisible powers such as the so-called “unelected EU”. They’re coming to take your job, they’re coming to kill you, they bring disease and crime… and although all of these distasteful accusations are untrue it’s easy to see why people who believe them might have cause to be afraid and might look for a leader to rally behind.

The language of hatred and fear can have dangerous outcomes and I am fearful of what may come in the next few years. I find it terrifying that Britain First (whom I consider a hate group) have been conducting military training for its members and speak of war and violence as a means to achieve their aims. They’ve been associated with the assassination of Jo Cox (which they’ve denied) and have also threatened the mayor of London, Sadiq Kahn, cabinet member Sajid Javid and others with “direct action” because they’re Muslim.

I worry about the divisive language used by mainstream politicians (David Cameron calling refugees a swarm, for example) that gives this extremism a green light.

Discriminatory abuse and violence is going to get worse and I no longer recognise the country I grew up in because of it. There has always been racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ageism… but I’ve never felt as though they had true power over us.

That has changed. It has been legitimised by men is suits such as Nigel Farage and we’re all going to suffer for it. He plays the politics of hatred and it is him- not immigrants -that is making Great Britain a worse place.

Who Do Gettysburg Ghost Gals Think They’re Kidding?

ghostbusters 1

“Every team back in the 90s was male-dominated. You didn’t find any teams that were female-run” claims Brigid Goode, a member of the Gettysburg Ghost Gals in an interview with Irish Central.

In the article it is claimed she has ‘been doing paranormal investigations for decades and founded the Gettysburg Ghost Gals in 2012.’ In an MTV article Goode also claimed that “during investigations we get better results than the men do.”

Hmm.

Ugly gender stereotyping aside, we always knew there’d be people who’d ride of the coattails of the new Ghostbusters movie this year and it appears that the Gettysberg Ghost Gals (GGG) are those people. Members of this US based team have cropped up on various media outlets basking in the limelight of the movie by claiming to be the first all-female ghost-hunting team in the US. This, is seems, somehow makes them relatable to the new Ghostbusters who also happen to be women.

The Ghostbusters were a team of (mostly) parapsychologists who had their funding withdrawn by their university and struck it out on their own but the Ghostbusters are nothing like real-life Parapsychologists. I’d even go as far as to say that they’re bad and unethical researchers. Look no further that the Zener card experiment near the beginning of the film for evidence of this!

In her book  ‘Parapsychology: a beginners guide‘, Dr Caroline Watt writes that ‘Parapsychologists do not run around in boiler suits, hunting down marauding ghosts with proton packs. Instead, like other scientists, parapsychologists often carry out well-controlled studies and publish their findings in both mainstream and specialist academic journals.’

Running around chasing ghosts with weird equipment? Sounds familiar!

Further into the MTV article mentioned above Goode tells aspiring ghost hunters to ‘“Know your equipment, and know what you’re talking about. If they use modern equipment, pieces of ghost hunting equipment that we actually use, it would add legitimacy.’

This is not true because there is no equipment that has been proven to detect ghosts. Nobody has ever established the qualities of ghosts so how on earth would you go about detecting them?

A browse of the GGG website reveals nothing much about the methodologies they use, but there is a page dedicated to the paranormal equipment companies that sponsor them, and their event management company, and all of their public appearances… it’s all rather unimpressive.

I was prompted to write this post after noticing that someone called Chris Goode (who I presume is related to Brigid) recently tweeted that the Gettysburg team should have been included in a list of influential American ghost hunters produced by Planet Weird.

Awkward…

It seems to me that this attention-seeking ghost hunting team aren’t very good at researching ghosts which leaves them only one claim to fame – that they’re Americas first all-female ghost hunting team. There’s no way of establishing this as an accurate claim (and I’m pretty sure it could be disputed) but who really cares?

There are so many women who made waves and shaped paranormal research (and many who continue to do so today) despite their gender so if your only claim to fame is your gender then you’re not really that special.

Ghost Hunters Are Freaking Out Over The Conjuring 2

trees.jpg

I’m guilty of freaking out about The Conjuring 2 on several episodes of The Spooktator podcast. Not because it’s super scary but because of the way in which The Enfield Poltergeist Case is shown in the film.

Ed and Lorraine Warren are portrayed as the main investigators of the poltergeist case when in all reality it was investigators from the Society for Psychical Research who played this role – namely Maurice Grosse and Guy Lyon Playfair.  Playfair doesn’t even feature in the film which seems, quite frankly, ridiculous considering it is his book on the case that launched the Enfield case into something other than a case that just becomes forgotten.

But… what if we’re overreacting?

Fiction has always been inspired by reality – should we really be shocked that the cases we investigate go on to become horror films? Horror as a genre reflects what we, as society, fear. It turns out that there’s a strong crossover between what is feared most and what paranormal researcher investigate.

The two main concerns for me have always been that the general public will think that what’s portrayed in the film is a reflection of the reality of paranormal research. Maybe that will happen, but it’s not a new issue we’ve never faced before is it? It could be argued that Most Haunted and even Ghostbusters contribute to this issue too.

My second concern probably stems from ill-placed British pride – how dare such a prolific British case of phenomena be handled in such a manner? But really, this sort of phenomena happens the world over. It isn’t even the only poltergeist case that has happened in Britain, and yet there is a certain sense of admiration for what happened at Enfield… but why?

When we look back at the history of Paranormal research on this isle I wager that a lot of us have a romanticised vision of what has come before us. No doubt most paranormal researchers have ‘This House Is Haunted’ by Playfair on their bookshelves in which he paints an almost quaint vision of what paranormal research used to be.

Many Paranormal researchers lament the state of “ghost hunting today” because they compare it to what they think has come before them, but in reality paranormal research has always been a messy, diverse, competative thing to be involved in. Perhaps some of us are guilty of thinking that The Conjuring 2 is creating a bastardised view of the past that we wish we could be a part of without realising that it’s just an idea that we’ve been sold in countless books and talks.

The history of British Paranormal research is only as important as we allow it to be. True, what has come before us as researchers does have infleunce on what we do today – but it is our own actions that present to the world what modern Paranormal researchers are.