Posts Tagged “ghosts in the news”

Cartoon ghost / lemmlingA man right here in Connecticut claims he’s invented a ghost detector. And at least one newspaper has published an article about him which conveys his claim and leaves it unchallenged. This is all part of the “hauntings as news” motif I’ve noticed over the last couple of years and have blogged about on numerous occasions. At any rate, here’s the venerable Hartford Courant‘s puff-piece on this “engineer” who now claims to be able to detect ghosts (WebCite cached article):

In 2004, 17-year-old Melissa Galka, a senior at Granby Memorial High School, died after the car she was driving hit a tree in town.

Within days of her death, her father said, she begin communicating with her family.

“She started doing things like ringing the doorbell, changing TV channels, turning lights on and off,” Gary Galka said Monday. “Then one time she came into my room and I felt her sit on the edge of the bed.”

Now Galka has a thriving trade in paranormal detection devices, launched as a result of those eery events.

Note the obviously-sentimental and sympathetic lede in this story. The reader is supposed to believe what this guy tells us, because as a bereaved father, he somehow “knows” more about ghosts than any of the rest of us. While I sympathize with his plight — I really, truly, honestly do; I have lost relatives myself, after all — and while it makes for a dramatic story that reporters and editors are sure will “sell,” none of this grants Galka’s invention any veracity, and it doesn’t make what he’s doing “news.” It just doesn’t.

I also honestly doubt there’s anything new here. After all, “paranormal investigators” have been using EMF detectors to chase after ghosts, for decades. I’m not sure how Galka’s device is appreciably different from any of the myriad other EMF detectors that have been used this way … except that he seems to be marketing them specifically to ghost-hunters.

I suggest Galka and/or fans of this device — if they’re so convinced it does what they claim it does — put this device to the test, and collect a huge payday, while they’re at it. They should immediately submit an application to James “the Amazing” Randi’s Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge. I’m not sure why they would not want to do so; a million dollars is, after all, a lot of money to just leave there, waiting to be claimed.

It’s inevitable that grieving people will come up with things like Mel-Meter and the SB7 Spirit Box. It’s quite natural. And as I said, I really do sympathize with Galka. What I find unacceptable here is the Courant‘s lazy and uncritical reporting on Galka’s devices. The story clearly implies they do precisely what Galka says they do — i.e. detect ghosts — however, they in fact do nothing of the sort. In truth, ghosts do not exist; they cannot be detected; they don’t haunt buildings or graveyards; psychics do not talk to them; and science has never demonstrated that they exist. The Courant doesn’t even include a brief comment from a “token skeptic” — but it does add Galka’s own childish swipe at skeptics, expecting them “to ‘take a better position’” (as if it’s up to him, personally, to decide what “positions” are “better” than others). The nation’s oldest newspaper can do better than this … and it should. What a waste.

Photo credit: lemmling, via Open Clip Art Library.

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Pac Man GhostThe “hauntings as news” phenomenon is one I’ve blogged about many times, as a sterling example of lazy journalism at its most obvious. A nearby newspaper, the Torrington Register Citizen (part of the barely-alive collection of rags known as Journal Register Company) is a chief offender in this regard; they’ve reported several times on hauntings and ghosts as though they are real news stories deserving professional journalistic attention. That ghosts do not exist, and that hauntings do not really happen, appears not to matter to the RC‘s hypercredulous staff. They just continue running after every ghost they hear about, including this latest example of their idiocy and laziness (WebCite cached article):

RISEUP Paranormal CT, an affiliate of the Rhode Island based RISEUP Paranormal Group will be investigating the Warner Theater in Torrington, Connecticut on January 16th. The Connecticut based group is led by Gail Capolupo, Ann Collette, Don Krantz and Thomas Flanagan.

We are to be confident that these people are experts on ghosts, for reasons the RC carefully copies verbatim (I assume, since it reads that way) from the group’s press release:

RISEUP (The Rhode Island Society for the Examination of Unusual Phenomena) is a non-profit organization that specializes in researching, investigating, and documenting reported hauntings, UFO/USO experiences, and unidentified mysterious animal sightings. Members are trained to apply science in order to seek logical explanations about supposed paranormal events through the use of surveillance tools, recording devices and common sense. While RISEUP remains open to the existence of ghosts, spirits, extraterrestrial beings and crypto zoological animals, each investigation is conducted without pretensions allowing the group to conduct research as unbiased observers.

These are not really valid “credentials” granting weight to any of their determinations, however. That they’re non-profit does not mean they can’t be deluded or incompetent. That they “document” things does not grant veracity to what they document. That they claim to “apply science” to things, does not mean they actually do. That these people are “open” to strange things means they may be too credulous to bother looking into mundane, non-mystical explanations for things. That they claim to investigate “without pretensions” does not mean they actually do. That they say they’re “unbiased” does not mean they actually are. For all I know, these folks may sincerely believe the pablum and nonsense they’re serving up. But that also does not grant them any veracity.

The only way to establish the veracity of ghosts, is to subject them to rigorous, valid scientific testing. To date, this has never even been attempted, much less tried and failed. Anyone who is certain s/he can do so, would do well to submit an application to the James “the Amazing” Randi’s One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge, collect his/her prize, and become instantly wealthy.

And yes, the Randi Foundation has that money set aside. Yes, you will be allowed a say in how your own test is conducted. And not to worry if you don’t need all that money, you can always donate it to charity … so don’t let that stop you! If you’re right, you have absolutely nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by doing so.

Lastly … I’ve been to the now-magnificent Warner Theater in Torrington many times, beginning way back in the 70s when it was a dreary, run-down movie theater, rather than the art-deco live theater it is now. I’ve been in its backstage areas and all around the building. But never once have I seen even the slightest hint of anything that could even remotely be called a ghost. I grant that I’m a cold-hearted godless agnostic cynic and skeptic, so I guess the ghosts there have — quite obviously — read my mind, detected that, and steered clear of me so that I would remain skeptical.

Or something like that, the true believers love to say.

Photo credit: acordova.

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GhostI’ve blogged several times already on the dismal phenomenon of “hauntings in the news” — that is, when bona fide media outlets treat ghost stories, hauntings and other paranormal events as though they were truly newsworthy. Some of those incidents have involved a newspaper local to me, the Torrington (CT) Register-Citizen. Unsurprisingly, the RC continues — wrongly! — to report “ghosts” and hauntings as though they were news (WebCite cached article):

If you live in the Burlington [Connecticut] area, no doubt you have heard of the Green Lady of Burlington. But, her only claim to fame is she’s boring!

No tales of being scared out of your pants in the middle of the woods.

No disembodied heads popping out of teapots.

No terrifying bedroom appearances in the middle of the night.

She just slowly fades in, smiles at you like Mona Lisa and then slowly fades out in a green haze.

Wow. What cutting-edge journalism. A news story about a ghost story whose main feature is that it’s totally unremarkable! A non-newsworthy version of a non-story. What an incredible waste of time and space in a newspaper and on a Web site!

This report even includes putative “proof” the Green Lady of Burlington (CT) exists:

Below is a YouTube video of a visit to the graveyard by Barry Dillinger, with the only recorded EVP ever made at this site. She sort of moans. Turn your volume up to hear it. …

I don’t know what you heard, but I didn’t hear a damned thing. But even if I had … who’s to say that it couldn’t have been something uttered by a living (not dead) person off-camera? This video — even if it did contain any discernible “moaning” sound — does not constitute “proof” of the Green Lady of Burlington’s existence. Far from it!

It would be nice if the RC refrained from this kind of bullshit reporting. But given they have a history of offering this kind of “news,” I don’t expect they plan to stop any time soon. More’s the pity.

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Hartford Superior Court, Hartford, CTIn a slightly New Agey variation on the old excuse “the Devil made me do it,” a man being tried for murder insists “ghosts made him do it.” The Hartford Courant reports on this so-called “defense” (WebCite cached article):

A man who claimed ghosts made him shoot and kill his girlfriend inside their Hartford apartment last year waived his right to a jury trial in Superior Court Thursday.

Calwyn Fearon instead decided to be tried before a panel of three judges. He is charged with murder and is in custody with bail set at $1 million.

Fearon was arrested March 21, 2009, a couple of days after the shooting. He told police ghosts were taunting and making fun of him, according to a police report. His girlfriend, 52-year-old Sharon Tyrell-Barnaby, was the “Head Ghost,” and he had had enough, police said he told them.

At the outset, let me say that, if Fearon is genuine in his claim to have been compelled to kill by “ghosts,” he might very well be mentally ill. However, I assume that — by this point — the courts have evaluated his mental health, and if the trial is proceeding, they must be sure he’s at least competent to stand trial. And if mental illness is the reason he killed his girlfriend (again, I concede this is very possible), a more valid defense would be that he’s mentally ill, not that ghosts made him do it.

Connecticut, unfortunately, has a history of appeals to the supernatural in murder trials. Nearly 30 years ago, Arne Johnson — a young man accused of murder — tried to plead “not guilty by reason of demonic possession” in court (cached article). This plea was disallowed by Connecticut law, and a defense of “demonic possession” was not permitted at trial, despite the defense attorney’s desperate attempts to shoehorn it in. This case had some notoriety back in the early 80s, to the point where even now, it has its own Wikipedia page, under the moniker “Demon Murder Trial.” Since that time some of the members of the family involved in that incident have spoken out against the paranormal investigators who’d led them to believe that Johnson had been “possessed” by demons — the locally-famous Ed & Lorraine Warrenand are suing over the matter (cached); the Warrens had sold the family’s story to author Gerald Brittle but the family had gotten almost no compensation for it, and they also claim the Warrens and Brittle had made false claims about them.

It looks like history is repeating itself in Connecticut courts. How nice.

Photo credit: jimmywayne.

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