REALLity Check

by David Bloomberg

Too little space for most of the stuff I had — just wait ’til next month!

REALL Is Legendary

Reporter Sarah Antonacci, from the State Journal-Register, wrote an article on a couple of police-related urban legends that have been circulating recently (10/3). Unlike WICS a few years back, she debunked them rather than spreading them as truth (see "Legends in Their Own Time," Vol. 3, #4, April 1995).

One of the legends was actually the same one that WICS reported – "Blue Star Acid." It is passed around as a warning, in this case supposedly endorsed by a local DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officer, saying that drug dealers are trying to hook kids by giving them lick-and-stick tattoos that are laced with LSD. The most common form of the tattoo is, of course, a simple blue star; but they can be cartoon characters instead.

The other is more recent, and claims that you should not flash your lights at night at a car driving with headlights off, because that car will chase you down and the driver will shoot you as part of a gang initiation.

Antonacci, who had reported on Matt Nisbet’s presentation to REALL earlier this year and also on the face in the tree last month, called us for comment on these urban legends. Through sheer coincidence, I had just submitted a book review about urban legends to be printed the day they ran her story. She quoted a few things I told her about urban legends and also quoted from a couple of good urban legend web sites I mentioned (in case you’re interested: and

All in all, a nice article that handled urban legends the way they should be – with a healthy dose of skepticism.

REALL Is Spirited

Kathryn Rem, also of the State Journal-Register, also contacted us about an article she was writing – on communicating with spirits of the dead (10/10). Unfortunately, in this case my quote was more the lone skeptical voice in the vast wilderness of true belief rather.

The article relates a number of anecdotes dealing with people who are certain the dead talked to them or at least communicated somehow with them. She says, "The most common form of after-death communication is simply sensing the presence of the deceased." Hmmm. Well, the late Carl Sagan (while he was alive, in case you’re wondering) related how he occasionally "heard" his parents’ voices and all, but that doesn’t mean Sagan believed they were communicating with him. He recognized that when we miss people, we may think we hear or see them, even when they’re not there. In fact, the quote she used from me was, "If you are thinking about somebody or miss somebody, even if they are alive, you might think you see or hear them. If they are alive, you don’t think they are trying to communicate with you. You just think you made a mistake. But if they have passed away, you know they can’t communicate so you think of an explanation. It’s basically your mind playing tricks on you." I further noted that it was a comforting thought, but that there is no good scientific evidence to support it. And that was the extent of any skepticism in the article.

Indeed, the Rev. Elizabeth Hawkins, director of pastoral care at Memorial Medical Center, said, "The people who would say that it is a hallucination are people who tend to pooh-pooh spiritual strengths." In other words, anybody who is skeptical can be ignored. (Incidentally, Rem told me about that quote ahead of time while interviewing me, so I wouldn’t think I was being set up.)

One person quoted said he saw an example of after-death communication. What was it? A butterfly landed on a woman’s shoulder. Now, we might be skeptical that this shows anything other than, well, an insect landing on somebody. But they believed it was "a joyful communication." I guess we just pooh-pooh everything.

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