Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Personal Note - Dissertation Defended

Not an on-topic post, but I just wanted to note that I have successfully defended my dissertation (in Anthropology, on archaeology and the Spanish Conquest of Mesoamerica), and will graduate with the PhD from Tulane in May (presuming I get my final version edited and printed by Friday).

I'm still teaching the course this summer, that doesn't change.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Black Triangle Blog

A blog dedicated to the black triangle UFOs. I like the use of Google Earth.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

My Tulane University Class on Monster Hunters, Ufologists, and Vampire Slayers

It's now official. Tulane's School of Continuing Studies, which runs the Summer School, approved my course.

Monster Hunters, Ufologists, and Vampire Slayers
CSAN 291 (Continuing Studies - Anthropology)

Cultural examination of the beliefs, practices, identity, and history of “alternative scientific” fields of study concerning the paranormal, UFOs, and hidden animals. These subcultures are interesting anthropologically in their own right, but also provide a mirror for understanding mainstream knowledge production, and especially the relationship between science, the media, and the public. Are they science, or could they be in the future? Why or why not? Who decides?

I'll be teaching this for three hours a night, twice a week, from May 14th through the end of June. I was worried the department wouldn't like it (I have my doctoral defense on Monday, but when I proposed the class I didn't know if I would be graduated yet by summer), but they thought it was a really good idea, and it is a hit over at the Continuing Studies school.

We're going to use the following texts. I may also add some readings on as reserve

Brown, Alan
2006 Ghost Hunters of the South. University Press of Mississippi, Jackson.

Daegling, David J.
2004 Bigfoot Exposed: An Anthropologist Examines America's Enduring Legend. Altamira Press, Walnut Creek.

Denzler, Brenda
2001 The Lure of the Edge: Scientific Passions, Religious Beliefs, and the Pursuit of UFOs. University of California Press Berkely.

Mclelland, Bruce
2006 Slayers and Their Vampires: A Cultural History of Killing the Dead. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.

Monaghan, John and Peter Just
2000 Social and Cultural Anthropology: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, USA.

We're reading the book on vampire-slayers as a historical example, and will then focus on ufologists, cryptozoologists, and ghost hunters. We'll look at the basics of the phenomena they are interested in, what they think about the phenomena, what they do about it, who joins in, the structure and nature of organizations and networks, meetings, the history of these fields, and their relation to established science and academia.

I thought about assigning Nick Redfern's Three Men Seeking Monsters or Jim Moseley's Shockingly Close to the Truth. I may assign a chapter or so as reserve reading, or simply recommend them for the feel of these pursuits. I may have to also put Chris O'Brien's The Mysterious Valley on reserve. In addition to being a good book, he talks a lot about how he got into researching mutes and UFOs and other weird stuff, and his rules for research.

But I had to keep the reading low. This is not a grad-level course, it takes place quickly over six weeks in the summer.

I am very excited about this.

As a reminder, I've previously posted a listing of other courses I'm aware of that teach spooky stuff in an academic setting.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Vampire Hunters Drive Stake through Milosevic's Heart

The title says it all. Near the first anniversary of his death, activists in opposition to Milosevic and his living allies drove a stake through the part of his grave where they believe the heart is. Being the Balkans, the symbolic link to the vampire is obvious. Three years ago, a group of Romanians believed they had to stop a vampire from causing the sickness in a local girl

But rather than drive a stake through the creature's heart, the six men dug Toma up, split his ribcage with a pitchfork, removed his heart, put stakes through the rest of his body, and sprinkled it with garlic. Then they burned the heart, put the embers in water, and shared the grim cocktail with the sick child.

I've recently been browsing Slayers and Their Vampires: A Cultural History of Killing the Dead by Bruce A McClelland. He argues that vampire slayers started primarily as dangerous beings themselves, vampire seers that could identify and deal with the undead in pre-Christian Slavic religions. The vampire hunter meme we have today, of a specialist often with a scientific or occult background, is due in large part to the exploration of exotic (controlled by Turks and Orientals) Eastern Europe by Western Europeans in the Enlightenment. I need to read the whole book, but from what I can tell so far, these Westerners of the Enlightenment didn't understand the context of the vampire legends and actions, and focused on the monster, soon changing it into the vampire of literature, film, and global pop culture (the author liberally sprinkles Buffy's name through the text, but one wonders if he knows about the vampire hunters of Japanese anime). The argument seems to be an interesting historical example of the growth and evolution, and then globalization of a class of supernatural specialist.

Jesus Tomb Part Almost the Last: New Epigraphic Claim and Boredom

This will probably be my next to last post on the topic of the Jesus tomb. An epigrapher has published an article saying the "Mary Magdalene" ossuary is no such thing, and that the inscription has been misread when in reality it isn't one inscription at all. This re-analysis suggests there are two female names on the box written at different times, the result of the box being a multiple burial. This would sink the whole argument if correct. Of course the director of the documentary notes an epigrapher did the original work and reading.

I can't comment on that, I'm not a Near Eastern archaeologist or epigrapher or linguist. I'm going to finally get around to watching the documentary next week. I had my Introduction to Archaeology students watch and report on it for extra credit. Anyway, my experience in epigraphy is with Maya epigraphy, which is a much younger field of study, and one still in development. So I can't apply the tendency for shifting readings in Maya epigraphy on to this case.

I'm somewhat surprised by the reaction to the Jesus tomb. I thought this would have caught more fire, ala The DaVinci Code. But there has been roundly rejected in the media and from what I can tell in much of the blogosphere. I don't think millions of people have all of a sudden developed a love of authoritative academics squelching extraordinary claims, or have become much more critical thinkers than usual. I think the answer proposed by documentary and book were just not popular. Doesn't mean those findings are correct, there are plenty of good reasons to think they aren't.

But I will note that for the first time, I've seen the people behind this documentary resort to one of the common themes of Spooky Paradigm research, the notion of democratizing science, taking power from the hands of the scientific establishment that ignores anomalies it doesn't like. From the article linked above.

Jacobovici attributes most of the criticism to scholars' discomfort with journalists "casting light into their ossuary monopoly."

"What we're doing is democratizing this knowledge, and this is driving some people crazy," he said.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Jesus Tomb Part 2: Serious Critique

This piece from the Washington Post includes the first criticism of the "Jesus Tomb" claims that seem sound, to me. Not just doubting the statistics, but cultural and historical considerations which suggest there may be problems. Still nothing that blows it apart, in my opinion, but worth reading

Friday, March 02, 2007

Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, the CIA, UFO Disinfo, and Wonkette?

Political gossip blog Wonkette strays into Spooky territory this week with a story on President Jimmy Carter, George Bush I, and claims of a UFO snow job. I've already mentioned Carter's UFO report, but according to Carter administration White House lawyer Daniel Sheehan, fake UFO documents were used in an attempt to embarass Carter and prevent him from reforming the intelligence community, in particular the CIA.

The details of the story can be read at the link, but while the story seems a bit extreme, it is just a larger example of what was done to Paul Bennewitz (as detailed in Greg Bishop's Project Beta), and apparently to Linda Moulton Howe by Air Force Office of Special Intelligence counterintelligence agent Richard Doty.

I was skeptical of this story, told by Sheehan in recent years and pieced together in the 2000s. In particular, I was skeptical that stories of crashed saucers would have been used in 1977. Before Roswell is revived in the very late 1970s, crashed saucer stories were much more obscure than after the publication of The Roswell Incident in 1980. There were a few researchers interested in the topic in the 1970s, in particular Leo Stringfield. But I thought his work on this topic was too obscure, and it wouldn't make sense to have government disinformation utilizing the concept at that time.

Within a day of finding about this story, Nick Redfern posts that Stringfield was under surveillance by the FBI and Air Force. Not so obscure after all.