Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Step out of the dark ages and stop killing people for "justice"

I have always hated the death penalty and I can't help but look upon supporters of it as people who don't see the bigger picture. Sorry if you're one of them, but that's how I feel.

I'm proud to live in a country that doesn't kill people for their crimes. It makes me furious when I hear my fellow Brits calling for peadophiles or murderers to be killed with cries of 'bring back hanging' and the like. I think to myself; do they really know what they're asking for? Do they really think that hanging a person for their crime would have an effect on crime rates?

Because it wouldn't and it doesn't. Execution makes no difference to crime, it doesn't deter people (otherwise there would be no criminals, surely?)

Some criminals can be put back on the right path with rehabilitation and so killing them outright because of their crimes would be a waste and such a shame. I don't feel that killing a criminal can be justified - no matter how big their crime, how strong the evidence against them etc.

The death penalty is a violation of two fundamental human rights, as laid down in Articles 3 & 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

- the right to life, and
- the right not to be tortured or subject to any cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment

Human rights effect us all; none of us deserve to have them violated and there is no justification for our basic human rights to be ignored, no matter how grave the circumstances may be. Ever.

So it was a bitter sweet feeling when I read this report from Amnesty International that shows that the only country in Europe to still execute people is Belarus.

Belarus are letting Europe down and they must be made to see sense and stop the barbaric treatment of human beings. Help to stop the death penalty in Belarus by clicking here.

714 people were executed in 2009 (this doesn't include the likely thousands that China executed as they wouldn't release actual stats.) We still have a very long way to go until execution is stopped (if it will ever be) but it feels like some progress is being made.

You can read the report by clicking here.

The conclusion of my apple experiment

Today has been conclusion day for my apple experiment. I have finally taken all the pieces out of their jars and as you will see in the video they don't look that much different. They're all a little bi dry and have all started to go brown.

Do I believe that this is proof that saying nice things to yourself in the mirror will make you age less, or look nicer? Hell no. Nikki Owen, pull the other one love.

My take on 'the great apple experiment' - Day six

Here it is. A day late, but I had to charge up my camcorder before being able to finalize the disc and upload it to my laptop *sigh*

Monday, 29 March 2010

I love Dan&Dan because this is genius

This makes me a happy skeptic.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

My take on 'the great apple experiment' - Day five

My oh my, there are only two days left to go! What am I going to do with myself once it's all completed?!

Here is day five's video, with added Lucky. Enjoy!

Saturday, 27 March 2010

My take on 'the apple experiment' - Day four

Here is Day four. It's a quick video as I'm running late (I fell asleep! nooo!) Enjoy! Lucky helped me with this one!

Friday, 26 March 2010

My take on 'the great apple experiment' - Day three.

The apples are looking a bit brown and the jars are starting to get damp and sticky looking on the insides. Somebody made the great point that the quarantined piece might be in the wrong conditions by being placed inside a cupboard  which made me realise I hadn't explained myself very well. It's more of a small store room that an enclosed, dark cupboard and it has a window so the control piece is in the same conditions as the other pieces, just behind closed doors.

I should also point out that I'm in a 'I'm fat' mood and this is reflected in my comments to the apples :(

Thursday, 25 March 2010

My take on 'the great apple experiment - Day two

This morning I checked on the status of the apple pieces and they all seem to be reacting the same - all are a little brownish and I wouldn't eat any of them. Ew.

I put together the video below to document the progress and to show me talking to the apples today. The video is low quality as I am using a freebie video conversion programme. If anyone knows of a decent one that will convert my footage from .avi to .mpeg for free with decent quality please let me know!

When personal beliefs cross the line of decency

I've just read an article on the BBC News website that reports how The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) is to take over the regulation of pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and the registration of pharmacy premises from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society later this year. Apparently, under its new code pharmacists with strong religious principles will still be able to continue to refuse to sell or prescribe products if they feel that doing so would contradict their beliefs. This is down to something called the "conscience clause" that is in place for those few pharmacists who feel their religious beliefs would be undermined by giving out contraception.

I find it highly amusing that it's called a conscience clause; is that because of the lack of conscience being shown, or because those few people refusing to issue out prescribed contraception need to pretend they have a conscience?

If a member of the public is prescribed contraception by their GP then who is a pharmacist to tell them that they cannot have their prescription? Who are they to dictate what another individual may or may not do? I would personally be infuriated if any of my prescription was denied because the person handing it out doesn't agree with what the prescription is for. Who are they to judge somebody else? I mean, sure they may have their personal (backwards) beliefs that contraception is evil and they may personally choose never to use it - good luck with that; but they shouldn't expect complete strangers to also do the same, that's none of their business to expect that.

The BBC article mentions how the GPhC says pharmacists who refuse services could be obliged to tell patients where they can access them, but I don't think they've really thought this through. Personally, I rely on one pharmacy that is in walking distance of my home. If that pharmacy were to refuse me my prescription I wouldn't be able to get anywhere else to get my medication without having to bother family and friends to come and collect me. I don't think this so called "conscience clause" takes into account the fact that many of it's patients (if not all of them) go to a certain pharmacy because it's more convenient.

I see this as being on par with a cashier refusing to sell alcohol or non-halal meat to a customer because of their personal beliefs. Where does the line lay? Or has it already been crossed? Personally, I think it's already been crossed.

I am hugely surprised that the GPhC would allow this to happen; sure, they say that they're going to revise this because they're aware of it being controversial. I would wonder though why a company would allow themselves to be seen as so close minded and judging of their customers. It's disgusting. 

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

day one of my apple experiment

Day one

So, the apple has been cut up and placed into jars and labelled accordingly. I have included a video below to show you how I prepped the apple and jars etc.

Today I have said the following to my apples. Michael Marshall and Gavin Scholfield both witnessed this and it will be broadcast as part of Episode 41 of the Righteous Indignation podcast. From tomorrow onwards I shall record what I say so that each part of the experiment is open and honest.

love apple: "Hello apple. You're looking very nice and you rock. You are great, keep up the good work."

hate apple: "I don't even know why I bothered choosing you as part of this experiment. You are pathetic. You aren't worth the jar, or the oxygen or the pen and the paper it took to do this experiment. Get out of my sight. You are a waste of a pip."

neutral apple: I googled the word weather and read the first sentence that came up. It was: "The BBC Weather Centre provides UK and Worldwide weather services and maps for temperature, wind, satellite, pressure and radar." This will be said to the neutral apple every day.

control apple: Nothing. This piece is in quarantine.

I will upload an update video tomorrow showing the deterioration of the apples before I talk to them and when I'm talking to them. Check back tomorrow for an update.

My take on the great apple experiment

Skepchick Rebecca Watson (also of the Skeptics guide to the universe) has inspired' me to create my own apple experiment after she launched 'The great apple experiment' on facebook.

It was set up in response to some very bizarre claims made in the Daily Mail article in which Nikki Owen, an NLP practitioner said that a more youthful appearance could be down to saying kinder things to ourselves and adopting a happier outlook on life.

She says 'Each of us has the power within ourselves to create the life we want - not just a career and all the trappings, but also our looks.' 
In summary she is saying that by saying nice things to your reflection will help make yourself look nice and healthy. Her proof? Well, she devised an experiment with apples because apparently apples are like faces...
She cut an apple into pieces and placed the different pieces into two jars. One jar called Love and one jar called Hate and over one week she subjected each jar to either nice comments or nasty comments depending on which jar it was. Her claim is that at the end of the week the apple in the hate jar that she made nasty comments to was worse decayed than the half in the love jar. 
She claims that this is proof enough because both apples and our bodies are similar as they are both 60% water which, Rebecca Watson points out, is actually incorrect as human bodies contain anywhere between 45 – 75% with average of 57% water and with apples it's about 85% - which is nowhere near the same. 
The daily mail report that Nikki's theory is based on the work of Japanese scientist Dr Masaru Emoto. They say:
He's done countless studies that suggest the molecules in water crystals could be affected by our thoughts, words and feelings, thus determining the shape of the crystals.
His tests reveal that molecules exposed to happy or loving environments form beautiful, symmetrical crystals, while those exposed to unpleasant influences are misshapen.
However, what they failed to mention was that his study, in which he spoke to water crystals in petri dishes and apparently found nice words made prettier patterned crystals had been thoroughly debunked.

So, I've set up my own experiment just as Rebecca and numerous other people have done. Only, mine uses a whole apple cut into four pieces. One piece is in the 'love' jar, the second is in the 'hate' jar, a third is in the 'neutral' jar and I've placed a fourth piece in the 'control' jar. 
The love, hate and control jars are sitting on my computer desk as my room is consistently cooler and only I can get in here (my door has a key!) so there will be no meddling by my dear brother, I was going to store them in the kitchen but it gets really hot in there at times so that may have influenced the state of the apple pieces. 

The fourth piece - in the control jar - has been put away in our storage cupboard which is at the other end of my bedroom. We don't go in the cupboard at all, and it will be left in there all on it's own and it will not get spoken to like the other pieces. I have even placed a 'quarantine' sign on the door. Just in case.

When cutting the apple into quarters I sterilised the cutting board I was cutting the apple on, the knife I was cutting with before each cut and my hands as well to rule out the possibility of certain pieces of the apple being contaminated with bacteria. I created the sterile solution using 5 litres of cold walter and 15 ml of domestos bleach (it's all I had and it claims to kill 100% of bacteria which sounded good to me!)

I will post updates each day on how the apples are doing with photographs too. Only, I'm not going to be able to photograph the control piece as it is in quarentine. 

What do I think the outcome will be? Well, I'm not entirely sure. I'd like to think that by talking to myself nicely in the mirror I can make my skin look nicer, but I still hold some skepticism over whether or not an apple is the way to prove that such positive thinking actually works.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

The Badcast

I have just discovered that I can embed podcast episodes here on my blog (thanks to Ipadio) and so I'm going to do so with each new episode of Righteous Indignation that goes out every Monday.

I thought I'd start though with Episode 3 of the Badpsychics Badcast for which I contributed a piece about ghost hunting. Do listen!

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Make a difference in a couple of minutes

I strongly believe in the idea that one person can make a difference if they persist in what it is they are trying to achieve. I am a member of Amnesty International who I feel do a superb job at working towards equality and basic human rights for everybody because, as much as we feel our world is developed there are still some places that are stuck in the dark ages and the people that live in those places are subject to lifestyles that would make others recoil in horror.

In issue 160 of the Amnesty magazine there is a small piece on what people can do in a couple of minutes to make a difference and I thought it would be an ideal thing to share here on my blog in the hope that some of the people who read my blog would take a few minutes out of their busy lives to help other people. If one person (me) can inspire just a handful of other people (you) to do the following things and then in turn you inspire a few people (your friends, colleagues, family, twitter followers etc.) then what started out as one person doing an action to help someone can turn into more than a dozen or so people doing a small action that will lead to potenially large, positive outcomes. Think about it...

Action 1) Two minutes: Call on the Prime Minister to prevent the UK becoming a safe haven for war criminals. Ask him for a clear statement that the UK government will not sek to alter the law that allows UK courts to prosecute war crimes suspects, where their crimes were committed.

Action two) Two minutes: Call on the Azerbaijani authorities to relase journalist Eynulla Fatullayev, and to investigate his claim that prison officers planted drugs in his cell so as to bring new charges against him.

Action three) five minutes: Help secure the release from Guantanamo bay of UK residents Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha

visit http://www.amnesty.org.uk/aamer

You don't have to do any of the actions above if you don't agree with what they are asking for, afterall, you are fortunate enough to have human rights and the ability to freely choose what you can or cannot do, or what you do or do not believe. However, never under-appreciate that.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

It's nice to be important, but it's important to be nice

One of the most shocking things to experience is the moment that one of your friends or family says something uneducated and discriminative about a topic that you feel strongly about. It's horid to have strong feelings about something; be it sexism, racism, domestic violence, human rights, religious supression or something similar only to hear somebody you respect saying something disrespectful about the topic in question.

I can recall the time that I had to mentally scold myself to stay quiet when two male colleagues of mine were discussing the humanitarian crisis in Darfur and said "bomb them all and the problem is solved." It was the same solution they had offered a few days previously regarding the war in Iraq.

I just walked away because although I had all these facts and numbers and horrid images in my head of the actual problem and the ways it could be solved, me telling my two colleagues they were wrong wouldn't have any effect. It did make me wonder though if my colleagues actually knew what they were saying, what implications those actions if put into place would have. Did they have the facts? Or were they just repeating what they felt was the right thing to say in the situation they were in? 'Social moronic' is the term I like to use. A social moron is, in my opinion, someone who acts like a moron or says something moronic just so they fit in with the situation they're in at the time.

If you have to discriminate against somebody to make you look cool, then you're not cool, but in fact, shallow. 

I've always been known as a bit of a do-gooder (a title I hold proudly, by the way) and people would always roll their eyes at me when I put my point across against their discriminatory comments or their bigotry because I was just being Hayley the do-gooder again. Silly little girl, that I am. However I was always tolerant of it because I knew that I was right with the way I saw the world. I was right when I believed every single human was equal and entitled to rights and freedoms. I would always be polite with my arguments and never be in peoples faces with it because I didn't want to loose friends over those sorts of things.

However, there came a day when all of that changed. Anyone who works behind the scenes in retail will know how stressful it can be and the day in question had been a pretty stressful day and one of my colleagues had joked that another, younger colleague of ours who was training to join the marines was just canon fodder defending the rights of animals. This was an arrogant, disgusting thing to say but what made it even worse was the fact that the younger colleague who was indeed training to be a marine was stood in the office when this was said.

There was an intake of breath and a few seconds of silence as everyone in the office reeled from shock at what had been said and in those few seconds a switch inside my brain flipped and I turned into somebody I didn't know. I can remember rising from my seat at my desk, turning to my colleague who had made the disgusting comment and completely tearing what he had said apart.

See, my cousin's son is a marine and not a week before his best friend had lost all of his limbs because of an IED. To refer to these brave people as canon fodder was strike one, to then describe the innocent civilians of Iraq as animals simply because they live differently than you might do is strike two, to do this in the presence of somebody who has made the decision to fight as a marine was strike three.

After I told them off there was once again silence as I sunk back into my office chair, silently shaking with rage. Never, after that day did anybody ever become a social moron in my presence for the rest of the time I worked in that place. Infact, word must have spread because people would come and talk to me about Amnesty International (who I'm a keen supporter of) and human rights related news.

On the day I lost my cool with my colleague I realised that it's good to remain calm in the face of something that conflicts with your personal beliefs but sometimes it's also good to shout out in sheer outrage. It's okay if you loose friends because of something they say that you don't agree with (unless it's something pety of course) because I realised that there were some people - racists, homophobic people, sexist people etc. that I didn't want to be friends with; who didn't deserve a second of my time.

I am normally a calm person who will quietly point out the side of the argument you didn't consider, but if I have to I will be a bitch. I will always fight tooth and nail for things I feel strongly about and unfortunately in 2010 equality is something we are still having to fight for, for human beings everywhere.

If you don't want to meet Hayley the bitch, simply be a nice person.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

More sham ghosts and the people who talk to them.

Where were you at just gone midday today? Me? Well I was hunched over in a five foot tall cellar underneath the busy city streets of Bristol being told by a man that I had only just met "This is the corner in which another person took a photo and caught a figure, which they think is the murderer."

An outside shot of the Llandoger Trow

Yes, I was on ghosty business once more at the beautiful Llandoger Trow (a pub said to be the inspiration for the Ben Bow Inn, in Treaure Island.) It was only a quick tour as my mum and I were actually in Bristol for something else, but as we were in the area we couldn't resist going to see the building we'd heard so much about that we'll be studying in April.

We weren't there to actually do any study or investigation, just to be shown around so that we could get a feel for the general lay out of the place and familiarise ourselves with the apparent ghost stories. Yet, interestingly enough we managed to debunk one story connected to the building within our first five minutes of being there.

See, the Llandoger Trow is reputed to be haunted by the spirit of a little boy who wears leg braces (that can be heard clicking and tapping as he walks around the building), as well as by a female prostitue on the main staircase, a murderer in the cellar (thus the reason I was hunched over in a five foot tall cellar eagerly trying to replicate the aforementioned ghost photo...) and the figures of two men dressed in period clothing who were said to have been caught on the Llandoger Trow's CCTV system when nobody was in the pub.

Anybody with any knowledge of Bristol haunts will tell you about the above ghosts as they're pretty legendary. Only... two of them were never experienced and were made up. Yet spread through word of mouth and the wonders of social media. Let me explain...

The Llandoger Trow is a listed building, and the manager told us that because it's listed they're not allowed to install CCTV systems in those rooms, thus there is no way that two ghostly men could have been seen on the Llandoger Trow's CCTV system by a previous manager from whom the story originated.


I was surprised that this hadn't been published by the numerous teams and groups who have visited the Llandoger Trow. Then again maybe they're not as inquisitive as me and my mum? I cannot wait to get to the Llandoger Trow in April to look into the other reported hauntings because the building has so much character. You can almost picture pirates sitting in the seats having yet another drink.

p.s. Thank you to Lisa and Abraham of the Llandoger Trow for being so hospitable, especially Abraham who fell down a five foot sheer drop just to take photos for us (Indiana Jones style!)

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Why you should vote for Lucky!

My dog Lucky has just been selected as a finalist for the '2010 Cuttest Mutt Awards' and I would love it if you could all help him to win by voting for him. Click here to vote and make a dog owner happy!

It's important to remember that for every dog bought from a pet shop that was bred for that purpose, a shelter dog is denied a second chance at happiness. Lucky is a bright, affectionate, funny dog. Our house wouldn't be the same without him, and we like to think that he wouldn't be the same without us.

We adopted Lucky from Salisbury Dogs trust centre in 2006 after my younger brothers nagging of my dad to let us get a dog paid off (well done Charlie!) He was the only dog not barking at the shelter when my family visited, he walked into his pen at the dog shelter from the outdoor area (no doubt sitting in the sun on his back...) and looked at my parents and brother as if to say 'Yes?' and that, according to my mum, is when she knew he had to come and live in our house.

Lucky with snow in his beard (& me!)

He is a cute but odd looking dog with a pure white coat and huge dark eyes. It's been said that he looks like a sheep, acts like a cat (by lounging on the backs of chairs if he's given the chance), sounds like a pig (he snorts and grunts when someone knocks the door) and smells like a dog! (:p)

Lucky's previous owner sadly passed away and her family were unable to provide Lucky with the care that he deserved and so they took him to the shelter which was definetely the right thing for them to do. He moved into our three-storey shed of a house and had made his self at home within the first month of being here. He is living proof that all shelter dogs deserve a second chance at happiness.

He plays catch with himself by throwing the ball and fetching it and then throwing it again (we think perhaps his previous owner was unable to play with him due to health reasons) and he does what we call a breakdance where he pivots in circles on his head. He also enjoys jumping up and down on the spot when you're trying to put his collar and lead on to take him for a walk, he can jump about five foot off of the floor constantly over and over again for about five minutes at a time. As funny as it sounds it does mean we have to have garden fences that are at least six foot high (little devil!) He also has a funny five minutes every day where he runs in circles from the front door to the back door - running through the whole house really fast. We think he has a bit of terrier in him because when he runs, he runs! We have to get out of his way otherwise he'll smack right into us. He knocked into me once when he was having a funny five minutes and sent me flying! It's so funny to watch.

If you say 'woof' he'll howl at you, if the phone rings he'll howl at you so that you know it's ringing (as though you can't already hear it...), if you don't take him for his walk on time he'll bark at you until you follow him to the cupboard in which his lead is kept. His favourite toy in a small blue squeaky ball in the shape of a pig that we named Brian that cost 97p. Of all the toys we've ever bought for him (some that were expensive) it's the only one he's ever been interested in.

I suffer from Social anxiety and on my bad days Lucky is the only living creature that can make me feel sane and calm by simply curling up next to me with his chin on my knee as if to say 'It's okay, I'm here.'

Please help Lucky win by voting for him here. All of the dogs in the final are cute, but Lucky is my dog and it would be great if we can help him win this. I'm sure he wont know he's won, but it's my way of saying thanks to him for being so great, Lucky could never enter Crufts let alone win it and this is a a way to show people that you don't have to have a pure bred dog to have a great dog.

How not to be a ghost hunter

Recently The Sun newspaper ran a piece called 'A Ghost Hunters Guide'

It touched upon the fact that "wanna-be" ghost hunters can pay to go on a course with Ciaran O'Keefe and Steve Parsons that will teach them how to investigate the paranormal. However, the article left me scratching my head a bit and wondering if the tips in the article had come from Ciaran and Steve, and if they had, why.

*edited* I ought to point out that I honestly don't believe the tips were sourced from Ciaran or Steve, but in fact just from The Sun. Sorry for any confusion

Lets take a look at the tips the paper provided, I've written them in bold with my thoughts in normal font beneath each one.

Tip #1 - Take warm clothes. Ever tried sitting outside all night? As ghosts usually turn up in the most obscure, inhospitable places, warm clothes, food and drink are key to getting through the night. Don't warm up with whisky though - you don't want to miss the action by passing out.
In my opinion, and from what I've witnessed and investigated over the years this isn't true at all. Yes, you should wrap up warm and take food and drink if you're going to be at a location for a long amount of time. However ghosts don't usually "turn up in the most obscure, inhospitable places" at all. That's where the ghost stories turn up because those sorts of places tend to look more spooky and scary.
Although I've visited such locations in the past, a majority of the locations that I have investigated have been modern buildings and homes that don't fit the 'haunted building' cliche that thrill seekers tend to love.

Tip #2 - Take a torch. Fumbling around in the dark will not look good, and having a torch can offer some welcome reassurance should you get a little nervy. 
Although some people do witness what they believe to be a ghost in the dark, a lot of ghosts are seen during daylight hours - or with the lights on. The idea that you have to sit in the dark to see a ghost is silly and simply deprives you of your senses. Sitting in the dark, you are more likely to interpret something quite mundane as spooky. One thing that has come to amuse me greatly over the years is the habit some investigation teams have of visiting locations at night time when the ghost they are supposed to be looking for has been seen during the day. That makes no sense at all unless you're doing it purely for the thrill of the hunt.

Tip #3 - take a voice recorder. For all those baffling and unexplained noises. Ghost hunters often play back recordings at home, only to hear whispers or threats they didn't hear at the time. Spooky stuff. 
Yes, it can be spooky to play back a recording and hear a supposed voice that you didn't hear at the time. However, any open minded investigator would know that it's impossible to rule out every possible logical explanation for the recording and that it can't be classed as paranormal because of this.

For more information about the logical causes of such recordings visit my research teams article on the topic by clicking here.

Tip #4 - Take a camera. Many an eerie figure has been snapped on camera.Plus you want something to take home and show your mates.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Priorities of a socially anxious girl who hates you

Do you know what the worst thing about suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder is? It ruins everything if you let it, and for me it has done just that. It's ruined three jobs for me and I am now unemployed and sitting still as I watch the world move around me. It's horrid.

My social anxiety stems from the time I spent as a team leader for my local branch of Sainsbury's plc. where a certain member of my team didn't like having me as their team leader and made things extremely difficult for me. It got to the point where I felt like I was being psychologically bullied but everytime I tried to report it I had no proof, or was told I was imagining it. I wasn't the only person this individual treated this way and it went on for two years until I could no longer deal with it and handed in my position as a team leader (something I was damn good at) and took a part time position with the company instead whilst I went back to college full time.

I thought that by removing myself from the circustances that were making me feel like I did, it would help stop it, but the damage had already been done and it got to the point that my social anxiety led me to leave college after just a month and hand my notice in despite having no other job to go to.

It wasn't long after this that I got a new part time job whilst being treated for my social anxiety. I was getting better and then word got to me that the people I used to work with at Sainsbury's had heard about me being signed off of my new job because of the anxiety and had been openly taking the piss out of me at work, and on social networking sites like facebook.

It was around this point that I came to realise that no matter how long I had to battle my social anxiety because of people like that, I would be okay because I'd never sink to their self obsessed level. I look back now and realise that I had a lucky escape because I was working with some truly shallow, vile people.

The key with social anxiety is that it doesn't matter how low you get (and trust me, you can get low) you're being true to yourself about how you feel, and if you'v admitted that you have a problem then you're well on the way to getting better.

Life goes on, and by cutting out the crap that made me ill - such as colleagues that think their opinion on my life counts, I can now focus on getting better, and can focus on achieving the things that I've always wanted to do. Sod them.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

A skeptical view of a sinister haunting

The last few days have been paranormal research focussed because of the event that I took part in yesterday evening that saw me travel to Littledean Jail in Cinderford, Gloucestershire to introduce a group of ten people to paranormal research and the tricks of the 'trade.'

I've only ever been to the jail once before and it was an interesting visit but I didn't come away from the place last time with the belief that it was a haunted location. It has a huge catalogue of things that are supposed to have happened there and things that have been witnessed by people that sound spooky, and as much as I do genuinely believe that these people witnessed what they thought was paranormal activity, I'm not so convinced that it was, but that's simply because I cannot accept just anecdotal evidence as a form of proof. Not because I think the people who witnessed oddities are stupid because I don't think that at all.

The main occurence that was reported to the group I was with, and is also published on the jail's website and across the internet in various places is the visit of another local paranormal investigation team that ended with them apparently running from the building in terror. Why? Well, the jail has a room that is a holocaust exhibit and in one of the display cases is a mock-up of a hanging gallows with four or five small figures hanging from it. Apparently, during this other teams visit they witnessed one of the hanging figures swaying on it's own. This coupled with the lights going off and a strange noise sent them running in fear.

We broke this reported occurence down into three parts. Lights, noises, movement of the figure.


We believe that the lights going off could have (and probably does have) a rather mundane explanation such as, a power outage, or a technical glitch, a power surge or something similar. It would have been impossible for the team present to rule those explanations out straight away, and as we can't really investigate what could have happened we can only speculate as to what happened. We had the lights on for the majority of our time in that area and nothing odd happened with them.


We couldn't recall the noises that were reported by this other team, however, as the group all stood in the holocaust exhibit room we did note that the floorboard were all very noisy and some of them were loose because of the age of the location and the general wear and tear. We also heard lots of noises from above us where the family living quarters are which would have been the family moving around, and we also heard noises from the corridor and cell areas outside of the room that were simple groaning noises and clicks that were, quite simply, the building and it's contents settling as the location got colder. Nothing out of the ordinary.

The figure moving

This reported phenomena was easy to explain away because the moment that we moved towards the exhibit where the hanging figures were one of them began to swing. The more we moved around the display case, the more it moved. Our investigation of this phenomena ended with me jumping up and down on a certain floorboard that th display case leg was sitting on. This caused three of the figures to move with quite some force. Simple.

As we got ready to leave the location later on in the evening the owner came down to see how we had fared and we gave her our conclusion about the moving figure but she wasnt convinced. This other paranormal team had seemingly convinced her that the moving figure was caused by some sort of paranormal occurence.

I find that quite sad really that a paranormal team wouldn't rationalise something so simple, something that took us five to ten minutes to explain, and would allow the owner of the location (who also lives at the location) to believe that something paranormal had caused what they witnessed.

It often makes me question just how such people and such teams operate and how desperate they could be to witness something seemingly paranormal even if it means fooling themselves and fooling the people around them. This could potentially have a harmful effect, and it does have many ethical implications that sometimes such teams just don't consider.

It annoys me a bit that teams such as WPR, and the investigators who volunteer their time to help me and my co-founder investigate and study reportings of hauntings from a skeptical and logical stance are often made out to be the bad guys when clearly we are the sort of team who don't have such a negative effect on the location and the people we are dealing with.

I would love to experience something I can't explain, and I have at some locations I've visited but I never leave the location owners or staff thinking something sinister is with them, or that they have a paranormally active location. I always explain that just because I can't explain it doesn't mean it is paranormal or unexplainable. It proves nothing. Does this really make me the bad guy? I don't think it does...

Saturday, 6 March 2010

My favourite Ad-hom's & threats

Over the years I have annoyed many, many people with the way I think and many of them have responded in ways that aren't very polite (or legal...) The other day when listening to Trystan (my RI co-host) at his talk in Swindon telling the audience about ways in which he had been threatened in the past it made me think of the things people have said to me in the past.

I honestly think it's quite sad when, in an argument you have to resort to name calling and threats of violence because your argument is so weak. It says a lot for the position you are arguing from and it really does you no good in the long run because you don't make your point - even if what you say makes you feel better, or makes you feel big and clever. You don't achieve anything by acting like a playground bully.

I've had it pretty good compared to many skeptics out there, I've only been threatened with violence two or three times that I can recall, and the name calling has been pretty lame. As my mum says, I have thick skin so it sort of bounces off and I do find it quite amusing that by pointing out facts I can wind people up that much. I don't want to wind people up but it just seems to be an effect I have. Sucks to be them...

I was inspired to add my 'ad-hom & threat list' to the menu bar of my blog (to the right of the page) by Jack of Kent and Crispian Jago who both have testimonials on their blogs in a similar position. Though, instead of testimonials mine is purely the 'best' ad-homs and threats I have recieved over the years. They include:
“You’re the Tracey Beaker of paranormal research!”
This one was delivered by a local paranormal researcher whose ideas I didn't agree with. Apparently, like Tracey Beaker (who is a fictional childrens book/tv character) I am a stroppy teenager. It couldn't be that someone who is a lot younger than them actually knows better than they do. Oh no. Perish that thought...
“I’m going to come around to your house and kick your door in to get an apology!”
This threat was recieved from an ex-member of my paranormal research team after I asked him/her to leave the team due to misconduct. Needless to say, my door didn't get kicked in and no apology has ever been issued from me or them.
[To my employer] “Hayley is a spy who films you all with hidden cameras”
This one was phoned through to my place of work at the time by the same person who called me 'Tracey Beaker' and all sorts of other rude names I cannot remember. At the time I was working for Sainsbury's who had just undergone a Watchdog exposure of one of their stores that had been secretly filmed due to the poor food safety standards. I could have lost my job for suspicion of working for the BBC if my boss hadn't been able to spot bullshit a mile off. Oh, and the fact that the person who took the phone call was my best friend who instantly phoned me at home to work out what was going on. Needless to say, the police were called about this harrassment and it all stopped.
 “You silly, little girl.” -- Andrew Ward, Bradford-On-Avon based homeopath
“Child!” -- Various people
“You’re a hateful b**ch who needs to grow up!”
To be honest, most of my hatemail centres on my age. I'm twenty-two which is quite young to some people I guess, but people just can't get their head around the fact that my age isn't an issue in the argument or debate. Or at least, it isn't to me. It just makes them come across as slightly ageist and smug.
“Grow some respect atheist scum”

“You’re a deluded god bully.”
*snigger & giggle*
“Sniggering hyena...”
Oh... erm... 
“If you don’t take it back, I’ll f***ing sort you out!”
Sometimes I wonder if these people are serious about their threats and I wonder if 'bring it on' would be a good response or not? It would be funny if they did come to 'sort me out' as I'm the geek who has a zombie invasion & defence plan. I'm a little bit paranoid about zombie invasion, and werewolf attack. If someone were to come around to 'sort me out' then they'd see a geek in action and they might get a bit shocked. I'm not hard and I'm not claiming to be, I just have the ability to see weapons in every day household objects such as a tea coaster and a mouse mat.

Oh god... now I sound like a lunatic (but at least I will survive zombie invasion/werewolf attack, bitches!)
“I'm going to look out for her in the future and corner her after a talk! Another skeptic to add to the hitlist”
This last one was said by somebody on the UFO magazine forums in response to my talk at Weird '09 that someone on those forums took objection to. Although 'add to the hitlist' and 'corner her after the talk' sound quite scary, in reality I would LOVE for someone to corner me at a talk when they think they can outsmart me. I can go from calm and collected to bat shit insane in ten seconds flat. Bring it on. 

In conclusion I don't really care if people hate me, I don't care if they have mean or nasty things to say about me. It shows their argument as weak and normally in that sort of situation I feel smug because I realise that maybe my points are right. What does annoy me the most though is when people bring my age into the equation. It's just not relevent.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

How peculiar

Audio pareidolia or misattribution is always something I have been aware of whilst researching paranormal phenomena but it's never something that I have really experienced very much beyond the realm of electronic voice phenomena which is something I don't do.
However, I just popped downstairs to make myself a cup of tea and whilst I was stood in the kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil and getting my cup ready etc. I was 100% sure that my brother was in the lounge watching television as I could hear women talking - but a muffled talking as though from behind a closed door.

Imagine my surprise then when I popped my head around the lounge door to say hello to find the room empty and the television set switched off.

I returned to the kitchen and a little bit of investigating revealed to me that what I thought was women talking was actually the sound of the central heating and the boiler.

How many people would have jumped to the conclusion that it was a ghost they had heard?

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Recent criticism

I volunteer my spare time to help my friend, Chris, to run fund raising events called 'Weird Investigations' that allow members of the public to visit some of Wiltshires famous allegedy haunted locations whilst learning the truth about the common myths spread about paranormal research.

For example, people taking part in the events will be allowed to try their hand at things such as table tipping, automatic writing and dowsing and will then have it explained why exactly such methods don't work. The same goes for gadgets often attributed to the paranormal research field. Weird Investigations are designed to be a hands on experience that cuts the bullshit out of 'ghost hunting.'

Locations charge us money to visit their premesis - it's their right to do so and we have no issue with this at all. The events are designed to raise funds for the Weird '10 paranormal and UFO conference and because of this we charge more than just the amount that would cover the cost of the venue hire.

If I was hiring the location for the team I work with (WPR) then we would simply each pay enough to cover the cost, but that isn't the case. Every penny left over from ticket sales once the venue hire charge has been met goes into the fund for the Weird '10 conference being held in August.

Weird '09 - the conference last year was paid for by money out of the organisers own pocket and a slight loss was made and this is why this year it was decided to host 'Weird investigations' and 'Weird Talking' as a way to help stop such a loss being made this year. Not only that but any money raised by WT and WI helps keep the cost of conference tickets down for patrons.

Recently Weird events has come under fire from a Bristol based paranormal research team for making profit from paranormal research. They claim that by charging from £30 a ticket to visit locations that charge less than that we are damaging the research field and ease of access to these locations for non profit 'investigation' teams.

Quite frankly, this is bullshit. Each location that Weird Investigations visits knows exactly what we charge and why we charge it. None of them give a toss as long as they are getting the fee they ask for. Yet, for some reason the founder of the Bristol team saw it fit to tell one of the location owners that myself and the other Weird Investigation team members had put an open invite on facebook for our event at their location with up to 200 people attending and that we would be selling tickets at the gate of the location.

Apparently, according to this person, we would be making over £300 profit and would be pocketing this. This is not the truth at all and is a pure lie and it sickens me that somebody who apparently campaigns for non-profit teams would use such sneaky, underhand tactics to try and make things difficult for Weird Investigations despite the fact WI has nothing to do with them and is none of their business. It stinks of a hidden agenda, but maybe I'm wrong.

Another thought that occured to me is that if a "non-profit paranormal investigation team" reply solely upon locations that charge for entry for their investigations perhaps they should re-evaluate the research they do because to me that sounds like paranormal thrill seeking rather than anything else.

If anyone has any questions about what Weird Investigations is about, or does, or makes money wise feel free to ask me below, or email the founder of Weird events rather than sneaking around behind out backs like children.

I fully agree with 'to each their own' but it works in all directions.

Monday, 1 March 2010

ad-homs', prejudices & logical fallacies. Oh my.

 On Saturday I went to watch my fellow Righteous Indignation co-host, Trystan Swale, deliver a speech as part of Weird Talking. His speech was about disinformation within UFOlogy and I personally thought it was really interesting to see just how some peoples minds withing UFOlogy worked and how accusations were banded around. It was humorous, and although it wasn't a subject I knew much about I could still follow what Trystan was talking about.

When the speech was over nobody clapped which disgusted and angered me as it was the most professional speech done for Weird Talking to date. Anyway, there was a short break and then we could come back into the room for a Q&A session. I had previously been sitting in the back row but something urged me to instead stand at the back of the room where the other crew members were standing rather than sitting back down where I had done before.

Then came the questions from the audience. What started out as genuinely curious questions from a few people turned into an attack on Trystan by a few individuals who couldn't, it seemed, accept that someone had dared to voice an opinion that was different than theirs. Now, I cannot remember everything that was said but one lady did try to appeal to authority by saying that her step father worked for NATO and knew about 'these things' but apparently, according to a friend of mine, she has been to numerous local lectures in the past and always has a relative who knows something about the topic in hand. She's one of those people...

The "conversation" soon got around to Trystan and how much money he made from spouting his "nonsense" and he quite rightly pointed out he made nothing. If anything he makes a loss with the podcast because of the equipment, software, call credits etc. that go into it. I personally don't see what it matters how much Trystan makes (which is zero.)

Next came the 'What do you teach?' question from one of the ladies in question. Someone had mentioned that air craft pilots were reliable witnesses and Trystan had said he didn't believe that was necessarily so.

"Are you saying that you, a teacher, know more than a pilot?" One banshee audience member cried and Trystan replied, with a genuinely perplexed expression upon his face that he hadn't said that at all.

This wasn't enough for one woman who actually turned red in the face with fury as she continued to bombard Trystan with cruel comment after cruel comment as though that was the way to win her argument (which, coincidentally, it isn't.) She also didn't like it when Trystan told her to leave if all she was going to do was insult him. She didn't leave though, but she did shut up a little bit.
I also remember at one point a man pointing out that Roswell must be real because lie detector tests were done and they are reliable. Now, normally the crew members who stand at the back are silent throughout but this piece of crap was enough to send my fellow crew member, Tom, into a frenzy. He took approximately 10 seconds to destroy the mans arugment. Go Tom, go Tom...

Then came the jewel from the same man that vicars and bishops had been eyewitnesses, 'they're men of God, they wouldn't lie' he said. My fellow crewmember Liz choked as she tried not to laugh out loud and I had to work very hard not to spit out the mouthful of cider I had just taken. Logical fallacy, anyone?

Trystan was also accused of being close minded, a point that I jumped in on. "How can Trystan be close minded," I pointed out "When on the righteous indignation podcast we interview people who have opposing opinions and beliefs than we do?"

It really infuriated me because they couldn't see that actually they were the ones who were closed minded and were practising their own prejudices through their harsh and pointless questions and personal attacks. One lady told Trystan that sometimes you have to take a leap of faith or logic to understand things and it made me cringe.

'Why should I do that when there is no evidence to support me making that leap?' Trystan had replied and it's true. If you are willing to make such a leap of logic without any substantial evidence to back it up then you have to ask yourself what exactly you are willing to stop at? If anecdotal and cherry picked 'evidence' is enough for you then you are going to be believing in everything there ever was to believe in.

Funnily enough I was greeted with the news this morning that complaints have been recieved from customers who went to the talk on Saturday which made me giggle slightly. What exactly does one expect to listen to when attending a talked entited 'Saucer sabotuers; disinformation within UFOlogy'? Honestly....

In the off chance that some of the people who attended the speech find this blog post I'll leave you with this video about how being open minded actually works. I especially would like the lady who has written a book on mediumship to watch this should she stop by because you, my dear, have a lot to learn...