Saturday, June 30, 2012

Chasing UFOs - The Review

UPDATE: Dr. Ben McGee has shown up in the comments below, directing you to a series of blog posts he has begun, explaining more about each episode and musing on some of the topics touched on the episode. They are worth reading, and I'd advise you to check them out. At the same time, my criticisms of the final product still stand.

Dr. McGee's followup 1
Dr. McGee's followup 2

The new National Geographic show (oh, how the mighty have fallen) Chasing UFOs can be boiled down to one word: Childish.

It isn't even unintentionally amusing (a justification I've heard for watching Finding Bigfoot), it is embarrassing and awkward. The core of the show is three adults play-acting out spooky adventures in a manner similar to how children might play cops and robbers, or at best like teenagers legend-tripping (with the payoff being getting paid to work on television and building a promotional base, rather than stumbling around in the dark with your freshman high school crush).

You see the trailer at the top of this post? Where our heroes chase a UFO on foot? It makes more sense than the actual show does. Our team goes searching for soil samples and bits of residue or debris or radiation - at night.

Again, I want you think about it. Searching for small geological or metal fragments. In the dark. When you don't have to. That's the plan. Here, let me illustrate.

There really isn't much more to say about it (in the first two episodes, the team stumbled around Texas searching for the Stephenville UFO that was there four years ago, and then go to California to look for triangular UFOs and underground bases).Our heroes alternate between boring conversations with witnesses and UFO enthusiasts they don't really listen to or critically assess, and boring "scared" dialogue as they sneak around various properties in the dark. And they use lots of gear (so much so that National Geographic has a list for you, I'm amazed the link didn't take me to an online store).

The two male investigators are supposed to be the opposite ends of the belief spectrum, the documentary-making ufologist James Fox, and radiation expert and xenoarchaeologist Ben McGee (while this concept can exist in a hypothetical sense, its presence here seems to have more to do with the continuing issue of how easy it is for anyone to claim to be an archaeologist EDIT: I'll leave this link up as it is related, but this particular blog post does not really cover that topic, I'm confusing it with a recent presentation I co-wrote). But from what I can vaguely remember (honestly, if you gave this show your undivided attention, especially both episodes, please for the sake of humanity find ways to motivate yourself to become a better person), in practice they were virtually indistinguishable in behavior. McGee is the skeptic, and in an interview talks about this as a form of education outreach. I can't really see how running around in the dark poorly imitating the idea of geological or archaeological research is public educational outreach. This leaves Erin Ryder, the tech expert, who from what I can gather is the star of the show not just by being female for what I'm guessing is an expected majority male audience, but also as a veteran of another "run around in the dark and make a mockery of the idea of investigation" show, Destination Truth.

That said, if you are a fancier of tactical vests (apparently an integral part of scientific investigation), this show may be relevant to your interests.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

2012 Maya Apocalypse Interview, Now Available

Wanna hear me talk about the 2012 Maya Apocalypse? Check out my interview with Melissa Rineheart, third in the Cultural Conversations podcast series, now available!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Maya 2012 Apocalypse - Upcoming Lecture I'm presenting

Most of this talk will be on the Maya calendar, Classic Maya society, etc. But I will also be discussing briefly how the whole 2012 thing has come to pass, and has been hyped up, etc..

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Why does Indiana Hate Cthulhu?

The Indiana Senate is working on a bill that would allow Creationism in public schools (I thought it originally mandated it, including at the college level, don't know if that has been changed).

In order to get around the clear precedent of Supreme Court decisions, and the subsequent drubbing of Intelligent Design in the Dover case, a new strategy has been suggested

"The change proposed by Democratic Sen. Vi Simpson of Bloomington says any course offered by public schools teaching creationism must include origin theories from multiple religions, among them Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Scientology.

Simpson said she didn't think the change would resolve constitutional problems, but she believed broadening the subject matter might cause local school boards to hesitate before deciding to insert religion into science classes.

"It does make it clear that a school board can't just say we're only going to teach Christian creation theory but we also have to cover other multiple religions," Simpson said."

So let me get this straight. Indiana is ok with teaching a few large religions. I can understand that from a specific point of view (that I don't share). But it does seem odd to pick and choose. I have an unusual first name, and this is like the disappointment I felt as a child whenever I'd go in a gift shop on vacation, only to see there was never a "Jeb" keychain or mug. One can have such things made easily now, which ruins the point.

But Scientology? Never mind anything else about it, it's pedigree is awfully similar to that of the true history of this planet, but its ancient knowledge was re-introduced to the world even more recently than Lovecraft's work on the myth cycle of the Old Ones.

Why does Indiana Hate Cthulhu?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Skeptics: This is Why it is Pointless to Argue

The purpose of this blog is to examine some of the cultural issues surrounding paranormal, conspiracy theory, and related belief systems. But it has also increasingly had a skeptical bent, I will admit.

So I give this advice: Trying to argue with people who strongly disagree with scientific findings, facts about reality, and so on, really will do nothing other than wear you down. Address their claims, try to educate others who might be interested, and move on. Arguing with them is pointless.

And here is some experimental evidence to back up this hypothesis, from psychology researchers at the University of Kent. Conspiracy theory believers are more likely to believe other, completely contradictory conspiracy theories, than mainstream narratives.

"They also asked 102 students about the death of Osama bin Laden last year. The students rated how much they agreed with statements purporting that: bin Laden had died in the American raid; he is still alive; he was already dead when the raid took place; the Obama administration appears to be hiding information about the raid.

Once again, people who believed bin Laden was already dead before the raid were more likely to believe he is still alive. Using statistical analysis, the researchers determined that the link between the two was explained by a belief that the Obama administration was hiding something.

The central idea — that authorities are engaged in massive deceptions intended to further their malevolent goals — supports any individual theory, to the point that theorists can endorse contradictory ones, according to the team."

In other words, these theories are not driven by facts, or "questions" (as many conspiracy theorists will put it when they want to suggest an idea that is unpopular). They're driven by already existing emotions or opinions about the subject, generally animosity about some individual, group, institution, or possibly even society itself. And then any theories that come along which serve this emotion or opinion, are more likely to be accepted and touted.

I'm not saying it is impossible for someone to ultimately break out of this cycle. We can find ourselves in such a situation, believing things more out of emotion than anything else, but ultimately coming to our senses. I've been there. But if we are heavily emotionally invested in such a belief, it is going to be much harder, and rarely are we divested of this belief by being lectured from the outside. Finding those answers ourselves is more effective.

Openly fighting with believers in such ideas, with the goal of convincing them, I think is pointless if they really are committed to them, and is a waste of time, energy, and sanity. The true motivations for their beliefs likely have little to do with the arcana of the particular conspiracy theory in question.

Instead, focus on those willing to listen, and educate them before their curiosity takes them to places less interested in sticking to reality. I would once again laud the podcast Monster Talk for doing this very, very well, in my opinion.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Weird Archaeology 101: Dowsing for Graves

This is a cross-post from my largely moribund archaeology blog "In Strange Things Found." I have never really mastered the art of blogging about "normal" archaeology because it was always either just recounting some news story, or if it was professionally related to my work, I'd not feel comfortable writing about it at the level of a blog (not so much prestige, but more the need for care, which if I'm doing that, would be more usefully spent elsewhere).


I've heard in the past of dowsers or other "psychic archaeologists" being used by institutions that didn't want to pay for the more expensive scientific archaeology required to protect cultural patrimony and heritage. But I've never heard of dowsers being brought in because archaeologists weren't considered sufficient enough.

Until now. Check out these links. (h/t Boing Boing)

Buried Secrets

A Grave Matter

I could try to summarize the story, but really I think one needs to read it to really get all the forces at play. Note: While one of the archaeologists involved is from Tulane University, his entry into their program postdates my graduation, I don't know him.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

"Finding Bigfoot" ... in 2 1/2 minutes

So, I can now say I've seen "Finding Bigfoot," thankfully edited down by VoodooSix (or however they spell their name) The section from 1:16-1:32 is completely awesome

Barack Obama of Mars

Did you know that Barack Obama is actually a secret time and space explorer for DARPA? Apparently the Coast-to-Coast audience has known this since November. How am I only finding out now? I pay more attention to the ridiculousness over in Bigfootery for a couple of months, and this happens.

As a young man in the early 1980s, Obama was part of a secret CIA project to explore Mars. The future president teleported there, along with the future head of Darpa.

That’s the assertion, at least, of a pair of self-proclaimed time-traveling, universe-exploring government agents. Andrew D. Basiago and William Stillings insist that they once served as “chrononauts” at Darpa’s behest, traversing the boundaries of time and space. They swear: A youthful Barack Obama was one of them.

So this is where exopolitics has taken us. Bravo. Just bravo.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Places Where Bigfoot Might be Hiding: The Internet

Because apparently it is a poorly explored place.

Bigfoot blog finds amazing article on translation of ancient texts discussing 10th century communication between Chinese Imperial scholars and Yeti.

Blog post actually links to the original source

But apparently, this, and the name of the author (Tim Pulju) was not sufficient to show that the source is in fact, a satirical publication, a The Onion for linguistics.

I mean, that would require looking to the fourth-down return if you google "Tim Pulju"

To be fair, many of the comments on that blog post guess that it is likely satire but others suggested it could be a real journal article,or some sort of misunderstanding. While I approve that some were able to recognize the satire, that no one even bothered to take 15 seconds and actually find out, is the real problem. You don't even need to type if that is too much effort, just copy and paste and click.

I have heard professors say they don't like their students to use internet sources for their work. I think this is an excellent example of why they should be using the internet, under the guidance and training of a professional researcher (as any professor is).

In my classes, especially my introductory classes, I have decided to do two things in addition to the standard curriculum of whatever the class is.

1.) If at all applicable, address pseudoscience and mysticism that routinely gets associated with anthropology and archaeology (the subjects I teach). They are so intertwined in the popular imagination, it seems like we have a professional obligation to hit this stuff head-on, not ignore it and hope it goes away. That didn't work for evolutionary biology, it won't work for us.

2.) Have my students use the internet to look things up, especially early on in the class, and to critique how they found information, identify warning signs a site is not reliable, and suggest productive alternative strategies and practices.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Werewolves, "Weird Women," and the Web: How the "Satanic Panic" has never really gone away

The term Satanic Panic is typically used to refer to a period from perhaps the late 1970s into the early 1990s, when fears (largely derived from a surging literalist evangelical wing of American Christianity) of Satanism exploded into lurid accusations of secret underground Satanic cults, ritual abuse and murder of children (tied into a media obsession with missing children, this is where the "face on a milk carton" trope comes from), and claims of secret Satanic codes in heavy metal music and role playing games (specifically the most popular of them, Dungeons & Dragons).

But you know, it never really ended. It continues to raise its ugly head, often in very similar circumstances. It showed up in the Amanda Knox trial in Italy. The West Memphis Three have only recently been released from prison what have been seen by some as the last major prosecution in the Satanic Panic, but this release of course has its detractors. I mention both of these cases in this post in relation to the counter-terrorism problems at the FBI, also caused by religious or cultural ideologues. There are plenty of others, especially now on an international scale.

And it shows up in full effect here, in the case of the "satanic sex crime gone wrong." At the link ( Ritch Duncan discusses how his comedy book The Werewolf's Guide to Life, was found at the scene of, well, maybe a crime (simple summary: guy met up with two girls for sex, some sort of ritual element and knifeplay ensued that apparently got to be too much for the guy, police got involved, guy went home and didn't press charges). Duncan discusses his horror, and then disgust, at how the media exploded and mislead the public about both the case, and arguably about his book (which is an obvious comedy book, I've browsed it in a bookstore, when I was thinking about a similar project involving Lovecraft's creations).

He goes further, and makes an important observation: these media reports didn't do it because they were incompetent or lazy, or least not just for that reason. They did it because they knew it sold to a specific audience. Duncan describes what Glenn Beck did with the story, tying it into vast conspiracy theories of Baal worship and Occupy Wall Street and the Nazis.

Well, yeah. That's the thing with the Satanic Panic, folks. It was always part of a larger ideology, a bigger worldview that was inherently conspiratorial. I've written how a conspiracy theory disguised as scholarship helped inspire both Wicca and H. P. Lovecraft's cosmic horror stories known as the Cthulhu Mythos. Well, it didn't just end there. Margaret Murray argued, incorrectly, that the Satanic witch hunts of the Reformation era were actually a secret pre-Christian religion branded as Satanism. But with the growth and bold assertion of a literalist apocalyptic American Christianity from the 1970s on, this was turned around, and all of it instead seen as Satanism masquerading under politically correct masks. And was tied into other conspiracy theories that are particularly prosperous in the populist right wing, exemplified by Beck's ranting about communist/nazi conspiracies, secret meetings and religions, and global plots against Western civilization (much of which feels lifted from Alex Jones anyway, who has himself flipped around and marched right into the arms of something like Lovecraft's mythos).

It never went away. It just didn't sell broadcast tabloid TV anymore after some of the flashier cases ate up all the oxygen in the room (especially when they fell apart, ala the McMartin case), it was easier to sell stories of aliens in the 1990s (and how that's not that different is a whole other story), and conspiracy theories moved back into the political with the Clinton administration (I'm not saying every witch hunter then went in search of stains on blue dresses or drug planes at Mena airport, as correlation isn't causation, but yeah ;) ). But an audience was always out there, and in internet age of personalized news and entire subcultural media spheres, it can be catered to.

So, when the right "spooky" symbols or associations pop up (creepy books [always available at major book retailers of course. Not, you know, worm-eaten copies of De Vermis Mysteriis], sex rituals, dark outcast teenagers, million-sided dice [or in this case, fantasy monsters]), watch out, here comes the Satanism!