What Happens in the Convent Stays in the Convent…

February 27, 2012

My first article as “The Conspiracy Guy” is up at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website. It’s called, “Maria Monk’s Awful Disclosures: A Classic American Conspiracy Theory.”

Whee!

RJB


This Week in Conspiracy (26 February 2012)

February 26, 2012

It’s been a stressful week here at Casa Blaskiewicz. While I have gotten used to a certain sort of stress in the last week or so, I now turn the one thing that allows me to decompress so rapidly that I almost get the bends, the Week in Conspiracy. Honestly, there was not a lot this week. Maybe this is a sign that we are coming to our collective senses? (I’m not holding my breath.)

“To whom will you compare me? Who is my equal?” asks the Holy One. “Look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars? He brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name. Because of his great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing.”

So, uh. Apparently there are lots of stars, and…that’s what Hubble found, against all expectation, I imagine. Of course, stars devoured by black holes might be “missing,” but saying that would just be sinking to their level.

Conspiracy Theory of the Week

Two were notable this week.

That’s it for now. I’m heading back down the mine shaft to work on another piece, which is growing to rather biggish proportions. Let’s just say I’m “brushing up on my archaic French.”

RJB


Canned Bears

February 22, 2012

Thank you, Yahoo. I’ve been wondering who had the best-tasting canned bears.

 


Bad News Today

February 21, 2012

I got really crummy news today after 3 breathless weeks of waiting. So, here’s a puppy who can’t get off his back:

Don’t worry. It has a happy ending:

RJB

 


This Week in Conspiracy (19 February 2012)

February 19, 2012

Just got back from Alabama (no banjo on my knee), where Eve was giving a talk about creationist interpretations of Beowulf to the Alabama Freethinkers. It was a rollicking good time prefaced by a spicy sausage potluck.

It was a rather slow week for conspiracy, truth be told. I saw a lot of leftover speculation about Whitney Houston’s death, all of which was as dull as it was predictable. Don’t try to confuse us, conspiracy theorists. We know that she is living in Bahrain with Michael Jackson, away from the prying eyes of the world.

VH1
1515 Broadway
New York, NY 10036
Tel. 212-258-7800
Fax 212-846-1753

Conspiracy theory item of the week:
This is more of a conspiracy than theory, but the documents leaked from the Heartland Institute suggest that they are actively seeking to discredit the science of global warming, over which there has long since ceased to be debate among knowledgeable experts. I thought this might get picked up by Science Friday this week, but alas! Maybe next week, because this is important.

Conspiracy Theory of the Week:

This week’s winner came from Weird Al Yankovic, who I know from going to one of his shows can totally rock a peacock outfit:

Al Yankovic @alyankovic:
Why do they not make urinal PIES? #CakeConspiracy

Please sign the Weird Al at the Superbowl Half-Time Show Petition. I would actually watch the Superbowl again. The NFL needs to make this happen. I don’t do a lot of advocacy, but this is the defining issue of my generation.

That’s it for now. I’m working on a write-up about a pretty nifty little topic. I hope to have it ready in the next week or so.

RJB


Crypto-Creationism 2: Return of the Killer Crapgasm

February 16, 2012

A couple of days ago, I gave you all a big, steaming Valentine in the form of an overview of Claws, Jaws & Dinsaws Dinosaurs by William J. Gibbons and famous felon “Dr.” Kent Hovind. “Dr.” Crypto and “Dr.” Dino. I’d like to assure everyone I didn’t in any way enrich the authors by my purchase of the book. I bought it used for about a buck.

Today, I’d like to introduce you to some of the highlights of the book, if “highlights” is the right word (it isn’t). The first chapter concerns the Loch Ness Monster. The Scottish Gibbons finds it necessary to add the word “lake” in parentheses after “loch.” Again, I wonder who their intended audience is. The account itself is fairly typical. It begins with St. Columba in the 6th century. They don’t mention that the account was written a hundred years later or that the creature in the account appeared in the River Ness, not the loch (lake). Indeed, they say specifically that “the saint decided to cross the loch (lake).” Oh, well.

The story then jumps to the 1930s, “[a]lthough the local people often discussed the giant creature that many of them had seen in the lake [loch].” Naturally, they offer no evidence for this. What follows is a string of anecdotes (which could be a description of the whole book). They also mention the famous photograph taken in 1934 by Dr. Robert Kenneth Wilson. Gibbons and Hovind describe him as a dentist. According to Wikipedia, however, he was a gynecologist. Take it from me, you don’t want to get those two confused. Anyway, you know the photo we’re talking about: the big fat hoax. Or is it?

Some people claim that the dentist’s nephew (on his death bed) said that the photos were faked, but there is no one alive today who was there at the time the photographs were taken. It is not possible to know who is lying now. Even if Dr. Wilson’s picture were fake, there are many thousands of other witnesses who say they have seen Nessie. (13)

For starters, they’ve gotten the details of the hoax wrong (see Wiki article linked above). Second they use the ever popular argument “You weren’t there man–you don’t know!” Of course, they weren’t there when St. Columba allegedly banished a monster on the River Ness either. They follow this up by arguing that the plural of “anecdote” is, indeed, “data.” And that pretty much sums up the methodology of the book (“Sadly, most scientists will not accept eyewitness accounts, photographs, or even film as evidence that large unidentified animals inhabit the depths of Loch Ness” 16. A sentence similar to this appears in pretty much every chapter).  Of course, the photo is a pretty obvious hoax. The object is quite small and doesn’t even resemble most of the accounts of Nessie. So, it’s very bad evidence, but apparently, the plural of “bad evidence” is “good evidence.”

So, let’s say there are plesiosaurs hanging around in lakes (lochs) the world over. What is the significance? “Perhaps, one day the Lord will allow some intrepid monster hunter to capture one of these amazing creatures as testimony of His awesome presence and power!” (17). Well, the Lord has been allowing the damn things to roam about unmolested in the River Ness, Loch Ness and environs (sometimes it walks around on land) since the 6th century, so we may have a bit a wait until we’re able to see His awesome presence and power.

The next chapter is my favorite. It’s called “Sailors, Sea Serpents and Dragons,” and it features Beowulf. It seems obvious really, what with “dragons” in the title and everything. Yeah, they don’t mention the dragon in Beowulf. Which is odd when you think about it, because dragons are meat and drink to creationists with a cryptozoological bent. They’re big reptiles that in a number of ways resemble dinosaurs. Of course, in a number of ways, they don’t resemble dinosaurs, but that’s okay because–hey! look over there! Is that the Holy Spirit?!

Uh, no, I guess it was just an albino pigeon. Anyway, what was I saying? Oh, yeah. They don’t mention the dragon in Beowulf in either the dragon chapter or the pterosaur chapter (“Those Terrible Pterosaurs.” I can’t imagine how they resisted the urge to call it “Those Pterrible Pterosaurs”). So, if you eliminate the dragon, where are the dinosaurs in Beowulf? Well, there’s the creature known as “The Grendel.” Yup, they added a definite article and italicized it. No, I don’t know why.

“Grendel a dinosaur,” I hear you scoff, “Surely not.” I sympathize with your scoffing. They seem to have cribbed much of the “information” about Beowulf from Bill Cooper’s magnificent octopus, After the Flood: The Early Post-Flood History of Europe Traced back to Noah. Now, I’ve got 20+ pages of well-researched rant about Cooper and Beowulf, so allow me to summarize:

How does he come to this brilliant conclusion? Again, I shall summarize: dude’s an idiot. I should note that Hovind and Gibbons nowhere credit Cooper although it’s clear they are influenced by him, but–hey–what’s a little plagiarism between zealous loons? Gibbons and Hovind, perhaps realizing that the T. Rex was a North American creature, actually suggest that “the Grendel” was a “fearsome Megalosaurus, a dinosaur found in Britain and similar to Tyrannosaurus-Rex” (19). Still dumb, but very slightly less dumb.

But they’re not through with Beowulf yet because Beowulf also slew some sea serpents. After Grendel’s mother attacks,* the Geats and Danes go to the mere (loch [lake]) where they see these creatures which “were said to surface at dawn and attack sailing ships” (19. This is only slightly garbled). For some reason they don’t mention that one of the Geats killed one of the critters. Pffft, details.

But this, apparently, was only the beginning of Beowulf’s career in the sea-serpent slaying business:

After his victory over Grendel [apparently Beowulf ripped off Grendel's "the"], Beowulf turned his attention to the dragons and serpents that continued to menace ships in the sea. Using large spears that were normally reserved for killing boars, Beowulf and his men began clearing the shipping lanes between Denmark and Sweden. He managed to kill at least nine of the monsters. As a reward for his courage as a monster-hunter, Beowulf was later crowned king of the Geats… (19-21. For anyone  wondering how this passage can span three pages, most of p. 20 is taken up with a long caption explaining a picture of a kronosaur and an elasmosaur apparently kissing in the shadow of the Ark).

At first I was wondering if Gibbons and Hovind had gotten hold of some copy of Beowulf with which I was not familiar. Perhaps an old manuscript of Beowulf II: The Lost Years. But the number nine rang a bell. Could they somehow be talking about Beowulf’s swimming match with Breca? It seems unlikely, but it’s all I can come up with.

The swimming match with Breca happens before the events of the poem take place, not after Beowulf’s fight with Grendel (and his mother, whom Gibbons and Hovind don’t mention). In fact Beowulf tells the story before the fight with Grendel. According to Beowulf, he spent five days in the water swimming (with his sword in his hand). Then the seas became rough, he and Breca were separated and a sea monster dragged him down to the bottom but he was able to kill it and eight other monsters with his sword (no idea where the boar-hunting spear comes from, sorry). There is no mention of shipping lanes that I can see, and it certainly wasn’t because of this feat that Beowulf became king–the swimming match occurred when he was very young. How did he become king? Hygelac, the king, was killed in battle. His widow Hygd offered Beowulf the throne because her son was a child. Beowulf refused. Years later after Hygelac’s son, Heardred, was also killed in battle, Beowulf, Hygelac’s nephew, became king.

So Gibbons and Hovind get the plot wrong, make a bunch of stuff up, ignore two-thirds of the major monsters in the poem and say silly things about the other monsters. Great. Let’s see how they do with Norse sagas:

In 1001 AD, Leif Erikson, a Viking commander, stepped ashore on a rich wooded land which lay far west of his native Iceland. He called the new land Markland (Woodland). Today, we this call this area [sic], Newfoundland, situated on Canada’s east coast. (41)

Where to start? Well, there’s the garbled sentence and unfortunate punctuation. Then there’s a sort of geographical imprecision. They make Newfoundland sound like Labrador, rather than an island off the coast of Canada. And I suppose this is nitpicky, and Iceland and Norway do both claim Leif, but he had settled in Greenland at this time, not Iceland.

And then there’s Markland. The Norse explorers** certainly did see a forested land they called Markland (as well as a place they named Helluland–Flat Rock Land), but their main settlement, the one in Newfoundland, was called Vinland. Oh, well, it’s all Canada. Anyway while in Canadaland, guess what Leif saw:

Erikson and his men encountered hairy, ugly giants that uttered harsh cries. This is the earliest recorded encounter with Bigfoot, or Sasquatch…. (41)

I’ve read the Vinland sagas. I don’t remember any Bigfeet (Bigfoots?). I’ve just skimmed them again. Guess what I haven’t found. In particular, Leif himself encountered nothing especially odd, though during a later voyage, one of his brothers was killed by a Uniped:

[I]t came bounding down towards where the ship lay. Thorvald, Eirik the Red’s son, was sitting at the helm. The Uniped shot an arrow into his groin. Thorvald pulled out the arrow and said, “This is a rich country we have found; there is plenty of fat around my entrails.” Soon afterwards he died of the wound. (Eirik’s Saga 102)

But that’s just one foot of indeterminate size. Bigfoots are traditionally described as bipeds. The only large, loud hairy beasts in the Vinland sagas are the livestock brought to Vinland by the Scandinavians. That seems to leave the Skraelings, a word that, according to everyone–everyone–refers to Native peoples.

They were small and evil-looking, and their hair was coarse; they had large eyes and broad cheekbones. (Eirik’s Saga 98)

So, kind of insulting and offensive, but not very Bigfooty.

So what’s the creationist point of all this Bigfoot stuff? Damned if I know. After discussing the Russian Alma, however, Gibbons and Hovind say,

Some scientists think that the alma might actually be a surviving race of “primitive” humans–such as the Neanderthal Man. This could be another nail in the coffin for evolution proving that Neanderthals were just odd-shaped humans who lived in the same time frame as the rest of society in the rural areas of Europe. (48)

I don’t even understand that. Does the alma “prove” that Neanderthals were just odd-shaped humans, or is evolution trying to prove that Neanderthals were just odd-shaped humans, and somehow the Alma proves that they weren’t? This shows why it’s so important to be clear when you’re being idiotic.

People tend to maintain that modern man knows all there is to know about this world. (49)

Who are these mysterious people made of straw?

This type of proud and haughty attitude is ungodly and unhealthy. God made a great and beautiful world full of marvels and surprises. Science is the study of God’s creation and should draw us closer to the Creator. Until a Bigfoot is captured and closely examined, the creatures will continue to be one of the Creator’s mysteries. (49)

Okay, first, you might want to look up “science” in a dictionary (different from a creationary). Second, yeah, I’m sure a Bigfoot will be captured any day now.

*Gibbons and Hovind say Beowulf and his men track “the Grendel back to its lair” (19), placing the encounter with the sea monsters directly after Beowulf’s fight with Grendel and before Grendel’s mother’s mission of vengeance. They are mistaken.

**In The Saga of Eirik the Red, Helluland and Markland are actually named during Thorfinn Karsefni’s expedition, not Leif’s.

ES

References:

Cooper, Bill. After the Flood: The Early Post-Flood History of Europe Traced back to Noah. Chichester: New Wine, 1995. This book is available online. Reading this book may cause delirium and extreme stupidity. If you choose not to heed my warning, you can find it for yourself.

Gibbons, William J. and “Dr.” Kent Hovind. Claws, Jaws and Dinosaurs. Pensacola: CSE Publications, 1999. Also potentially dangerous to your sanity and well-being.

Magnusson, Magnus and Hermann Pálsson, tr. The Vinland Sagas: The Norse Discovery of America (Grænlendinga saga and Eiríks saga rauða). Penguin Classics. London: Penguin, 1965. This book is safe to read.


Creationism + Cryptozoology = Crapgasm

February 14, 2012

Recently, I’ve started reading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. Indeed, I may have developed a bit of a Pratchett addiction. I just can’t stop reading his novels because they are really, really funny.

But nothing produced by Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Monty Python or even Ernest Scribbler can compare to the gigglefest that is Claws, Jaws & Dinosaurs by William J. Gibbons and “Dr.” Kent Hovind. The fun begins with the title. Is “dinosaurs” supposed to rhyme with “claws” and “jaws”?

Then there are the author bios. Hovind, of course, is a world-renowned felon and author of one of the funniest dissertations ever written for a diploma mill, but, according to the blurb on the back of the book, he is also “considered by many to be one of the leading authorities on ‘Science and the Bible.'” I’m not sure who considers him this. Maybe a bunch of evangelical Bigfoots. But, wait, there’s more:

As a fifteen year veteran high school science teacher, his love for science sparked his interest in creation vs. evolution. He saw the tremendous need for exposing evolution as a dangerous, religious world-view, and for arming Christians with scientific evidence that there are no contradictions between true science and the Bible.

So…uh…evolution is religious (and being religious is dangerous) and the bible is scientific. Welcome to Bizarro World!

More than half of William (Bill) Gibbons’ bio is taken up with accounts of his expeditions to find the Mokele-mbembe and living Dodos. No luck so far. But we also learn that

Gibbons became a born again Christian in 1986 during his first Congo adventure, and has since acquired his bachelor and master degrees in Religious Education from the Immanuel Baptist College in Atlanta, Georgia. He is currently [1999] pursuing a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology with Warnborough College, Oxford.

I haven’t been able to locate Immanuel Baptist College, but there is an Immanuel Baptist Theological Seminary. According to ethicsdaily.com,

Three of Immanuel’s faculty members, including its president and executive vice president, are family members. Many faculty members appear to have residences in Ghana, India, Indonesia, Korea and Nigeria. An Internet search of a number of faculty members turned up only links to Immanuel…. [It fits]  into a category known as “diploma mills,” entities that demand little, if any, real academic training, enable students to bypass rigorous education, have no legitimate accreditation and award impressive sounding degrees.

But, on the other hand, an Oxford Ph.D.–that’s pretty impres….wait, what? Warnborough College is in no way affiliated with Oxford University? They got into a heap of financial and legal trouble for suggesting they were? They stopped even implying the connection in 1996? Huh. Well, just because it’s not Oxford doesn’t mean it’s not a real college. What? It’s not?

Yep, that’s right–it’s another diploma mill, and Gibbons is another “Dr.” Some bios of him still say that he has a Ph.D. from Warnborough College, Oxford.

Hovind wrote the introduction to the book and “contribute[d] information from my research” (5), so it’s difficult to tell how much involvement Hovind had in the actual writing of the book, Still, the intro’s a hoot:

It is my studied opinion that although most scientists in this field [cryptozoology] do extensive research, they start with the assumption that the earth is billions of years old. (5)

So, while they may be a bit loopy, they’re not completely delusional. Good to know.

Hovind follows this up with an illustrative anecdote showing how science works. It involves scientists studying the jumping abilities of a frog “as his legs were removed one by one.” The scientists yell “Jump frog” before each test. The distance diminishes as each leg is removed until the frog stops jumping completely after it has lost its last leg. The scientists conclude that “The frogs all jumped a shorter distance each time a leg was removed [and a] no-legged frog becomes deaf!” (5).

See, he made a funny about how scientists are stupid. Of course the anecdote doesn’t show that the scientists went into the test with a preconceived notion (that the distance of a frog’s leap is in some way related to shouted encouragement) which is what he claims scientists do, but that doesn’t matter because it makes them look bad.

This is an example of how to do good research, keep careful records and still come to the wrong conclusions! Nearly all of the authors who write on the cryptozoology topic do great research on living dinosaurs. They keep careful records and then conclude two things:

  1. There are probably some small dinosaurs still alive. (Good observation)
  2. This proves they survived for millions of years. (Bad conclusion) (5-6)

Okay, I’ve seen MonsterQuest, and if proving that the earth is really old is one of the prime motivations of cryptozoologists, I’ve missed it.

These authors seem blinded by the theory of evolution. The evolution theory, which is actually a religion, not a scientific theory, has been a great hindrance to scientific research in many fields, including cryptozoology. (6)

You’ve got to admit, he has a point–look at all the advances in biology that have sprung from Creation Science. Oh, wait. Yeah, he’s a bozo. But, hey, at least he didn’t say that “evolution is just a theory.” Apparently, it’s not a theory at all.

As for the great research cryptozoologists (and creation scientists) do: Claws, Jaws and Dinosaurs has no index; its bibliography is made up of ten books (all on cryptozoology); and the authors rarely if ever cite sources in the text for the fairy tales they tell evidence they provide, making it difficult to verify what they say or, in many cases, to figure out what the hell they’re talking about. On top of that, they are baffled by the mysterious cryptid known as the Apostrophe, the organization within chapters doesn’t make sense and both Hovind and Gibbons should be denied access to exclamation points. I know it seems cruel, but really, they’ll be better for it.

After attacking “evolution theory,” Hovind offers a “much simpler” explanation for why there have been so many modern sightings of dinosaurs. This explanation involves the story of the creation and the Flood. It’s pretty standard Young Earth Creationist fare, the sort of thing that one can find on Answers in Genesis any day of the week (and that’s a literal 24 hour day, seven day week). The only difference is that both Hovind and Gibbons write in an awkward, immature style (“[Noah] probably took babies or young ones in order to save space, weight and food”). I still can’t quite figure out if the book is intended for children or adults.

The other problem with his explanation is his conclusion: “The idea of a few small ones [dinosaurs] still being alive today is perfectly reasonable from this Biblical perspective” (6). Why? I mean, yes, if the earth was created “fully formed and fully functioning about 6000 years ago” (6) then the dinosaurs haven’t been extinct for all that long, but in the  extremely unlikely event that there is a plesiosaur  swimming about in some Scottish lake, does that prove that the earth is 6000 years old? No, of course not. It would be weird, but it wouldn’t prove creationism or disprove evolution. It would just be weird.

And, all right, I kind of see the point when they’re talking about dinosaurs (though I think they’re wrong), but this book has a section on Dodos. Dodos! We all know that Dodos existed until quite recently. What the hell does that have to do with creationism? I suspect that it just means that Gibbons really likes cryptids and wants to find a Dodo and slipped it into the book whether it fit or not.

The last page of the introduction is pure evangelizing and sermonizing, as is the conclusion, co-written by Hovind and Gibbons. It includes this paragraph:

The Bible teaches that God will restore the earth one day for His children to live here for 1000 years! Won’t it be great if there are dinosaurs here for us to have as pets during that time! If you have accepted Jesus as your Savior, then you are one of God’s children and have a wonderful eternity to look forward to. If you have not accepted Jesus, the Bible teaches that you will be in hell forever. God does not want anyone to go to hell and neither do we. Please call or write if you are not sure where you will spend eternity. We would love to help you know for sure that you are going to heaven or answer any questions you may have.

So, if you don’t accept Jesus, you’re going to hell forever, but if you do accept Jesus, you get to spend a thousand years playing fetch with velociraptor puppies. I’ve got to admit, that’s an unusually appealing pitch.

Tune in for our next installment when we will learn about Leif Eiriksson and the Bigfoot and discuss a portion of Beowulf that I didn’t even know existed.

ES

For part two, click here.


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