As a society, we're pretty good at spotting the difference between actual science and superstitious nonsense. But everybody's got their weak points: Maybe you're a totally rational human being who also happens to believe in alien abductions, ghost kidnappings or yeti carjackings. That's OK. You're not alone. Why, sometimes even courts and governments blur the line between reality and bullshit ...
#6. The Romanian Government Is Afraid of Witches
Witchcraft is a big industry in Romania, which probably isn't that surprising if you're pop-culture racists like us and pretty much think of the place as being staffed exclusively by Gypsies and vampires. The Romanian government, shockingly, supports this ridiculous stereotype: Back in 2010, they drafted a law that would make witchcraft a legitimate profession for tax purposes. The Senate rejected the law -- not because they weren't anxious to get their hands on some witch taxes, but because they were afraid of being cursed for it.
We thought tax people would be accustomed to curses.
Romania is suffering through a tough economic downturn and is desperate for new sources of income. So the government's attention turned to those crafty fortunetellers, who have so far managed to avoid paying taxes on their profession, due to the minor loophole that their "profession" doesn't technically exist. But Romania's witches threatened immediate retribution by casting a spell with black pepper and yeast, which sounds like a good start to a tasty bread to us, but in Romania was evidently considered a serious enough threat to shake up the lawmakers.
Eventually the law passed when enough officials decided that bakery-themed disharmony wasn't a sufficient enough threat to risk economic catastrophe. But, more recently, Romania has tempted further witchy retribution by proposing other laws -- ones that would hold witches accountable by fines or even jail time if their predictions don't come true.
"I miss the drowning and burnings."
Actually, that's just good business sense: If you're going to mess with witches, you might as well make sure to only target the incompetent ones.
#5. The Legally Haunted House
These days, "haunted houses" are the exclusive domain of plastic skeletons popping out from squeaky trapdoors. It's hard to find anyone who takes hauntings seriously anymore. But the New York Supreme Court apparently does: Back in 1991, they ruled a house to be legally haunted.
The fiasco began in 1989, when Jeffrey and Patrice Stambovsky bought an 18-room mansion from its owner, Helen Ackley, for the amount of $650,000. But just like Poltergeist, the new owners soon learned that the old Ackley place was harboring some secrets. Some supernatural secrets ...
P-probably. Like, it just felt weird, you know? You'd be standing in the kitchen and get a cold feeling -- and sure, maybe that's because the fridge is open, but do you really want to risk that?
Legends say that the house was built on an ancient pile of bullshit.
The Stambovskys didn't. They decided that the mere possibility of a haunting was a deal breaker and took Ackley to court, where they argued that she had deceptively withheld information about the ghosts. The court initially ruled "caveat emptor," which we're pretty sure is legalese for "tough titties," but the Stambovskys appealed the case, and the Supreme Court overturned the decision, ruling that Ackley had broken the contract by claiming that the house was "vacant."
Now, stop: Can you guess the stupid? You have an idea, don't you? Yeah, you have an idea, but it's too stupid to be real, so you're staying quiet rather than risking embarrassment. That's too bad, because you would have been right: Ackley was found to be in violation of contract because she'd failed to disclose the occupants living on the property. Well, not "living," per se ...
As a result, there is now a legal precedent for future contract disputes that accounts for the possibility of ghost interference.
"Build your new business over an ancient cemetery. It gives you a way out if sales don't take off."
#4. Cause of Death: Spontaneous Combustion
Spontaneous human combustion, the occasional tendency for people to Flame On apropos of nothing, is one of the last remaining mysteries of the human body. But those killjoys in the science world don't want to let us have our Human Torches -- they keep reminding us that there is a depressingly mundane explanation for it that doesn't involve radiation or mutant superpowers. Most scientists agree that victims of "spontaneous combustion" are likely just victims of boring old "getting lit on fire," due to the fact that many cases are drunks or geriatrics falling asleep while either sitting near open flames or smoking.
You can't always improve drinking with fire play.
So coroners are pretty hesitant to declare "spontaneous combustion" as a cause of death, because sometimes the families frown at you when you tell them that Drunk Uncle Neil died of an Acute Magic Attack. Nevertheless, in 2011, Irish coroner Kieran McLoughlin did just that, ruling that Michael Faherty had spontaneously combusted when his ashen remains were found in his home.
Faherty was discovered after his neighbor heard a smoke alarm, but the home itself had not been damaged -- only the body was burned. This was good enough for officials, who threw up their arms and declared that they couldn't figure out the source of the fire. Why nobody thought that the open fire Faherty had been sitting in front of may have been the source is anyone's guess.
"Occ- whose razor? Sorry, but I don't listen to heavy metal."
Investigators rely on the spontaneous combustion hypothesis in the absence of any accelerant or collateral fire damage, but scientists are quick to point out that you don't need either of those things to be present due to something called the wick effect, where body fat acts like a candle without burning anything else around it. Some people stubbornly argue against the effect, which is pretty weird to us. We're all for "wanting to believe" when it's kindly aliens or party crypto-animals, but you'd think that skepticism is a bit more comforting an option than your loved ones just randomly exploding in the Barcalounger.