We’ve been building Kook Magnets!

One of those unfortunate discoveries made over decades of wrestling with one fringe idea, creationism, is that when you tug on one string in the fringe, you find that it’s connected to all the other fringes, and you have to unravel the whole thing. Creationists often have bizarre ideas about Christianity and space and electromagnetism and how the Pope isn’t the true Pope and Jesus is connected to the Masons and the Rosicrucians and the Hebrews colonized Mars and Nazis possessed the Spear of Destiny and used the Holy Grail to power their flying saucers that were used to shuttle slaves to the gold mines at the center of the Hollow Earth and did you know the Nephilim built the pyramids. There is a gigantic tangle of remarkably nonsensical myths lying around, and if you’re so ignorant that you believe that scientists have engaged in a centuries-long conspiracy to hide the fact that the Earth is only a few thousand years old, then you’re primed to pick up on any bullshit you hear. If they’ve been lying about that, then sure, maybe the sun is actually only a few thousand miles away, and the Earth is also flat.

The SPLC has noticed, and has put up an article discussing the indisputable links between the alt-right and alt-history and alt-science. It starts with our contemptibly racist president — not the current one, the 19th century one, Andrew Jackson — who believed that the Mound Builders, and any other culture that built cities and monuments in the Americas, had to have been a superior and white race that was exterminated by the “savages” currently occupying the ruins. There is a long history of cultural chauvinism in the West, where the accomplishments of non-white cultures are belittled or bestowed upon super-intelligent visitors from alien worlds or visiting white tribes or angels, because gosh, the wogs couldn’t possibly have built the pyramids.

We’ve been pandering to it. If you’ve read von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods, you’ve been soaking in racism. That’s the whole premise: that anything of any complexity or sophistication could not have been constructed by non-Europeans, and therefore, it must be interpreted as a product of alien influence. Maybe you’ve laughed at Giorgio Tsoukalos, but it’s the same thing, a set of arguments resting entirely on contempt for the intellectual capacity of brown people. We’ve seen entire television networks consumed by this pseudo-scientific conceit — anything that babbles about “hidden history” is basically garbage. But popular garbage.

Take “America Unearthed,” which aired between 2012 and 2015 on H2, a defunct History Channel network. That show’s host, a geologist named Scott Wolter, promoted theories that ancient Celts and Scots settled North America and hybridized Native Americans centuries before Columbus. The details can be found in Wolter’s contributions to Lost Worlds of Ancient America, a 2012 anthology edited by Frank Joseph, born Frank Collin, founder of the National Socialist Party of America. (In 1993, following his expulsion from the party for “impure blood”, Collin became editor of Ancient American magazine and has authored dozens of books dealing with ancient “suppressed” history.) In another episode, when a guest professes admiration for the Knights of the Golden Circle, a group of wealthy Southerners who sought to create a hemispheric slave empire, Wolter just nods. (Wolter has denied that he or his ideas are racist, and claims to be politically liberal.)

I’ve met Scott Wolter. He’s not liberal, he’s just nuts.

In the movies, we’ve got crap like The DaVinci Code and National Treasure built on ridiculously convoluted conspiracy theories about the past. Worst of all, we’ve got Indiana Jones…and I liked those movies (except the last one) and took my kids to see them. Indiana Jones is a terrible archaeologist, the very worst, and every one of those movies rests on the idea that the past accomplishments of exotic cultures rest on occultism, rather than the entirely human minds and skills of their people. And then there is the Nazi connection.

Popular media has been feeding the idea that the Nazis had secret super-science, as well as insight into the Truth™ of mystical paranormal powers and the potency of magical religious relics.

Another inevitable development in postwar conspiracy subculture was the rise of a belief in secret Nazi bases underneath Antarctica. The idea of a “hollow” or “inner” earth was a key tenet of nineteenth-century occultism, and in the postwar years it reemerged as a setting for escaped Nazi scientists working in secret technology and weapons labs.

The legend took root during the mid-1970s, nurtured by the Canadian neo-Nazi Ernst Zundel, who argued that Nazis invented flying saucers and had taken their breakthrough technology to bases deep under the South Pole.

The Third Reich was interested in a possible base at the South Pole, and a few high-level Nazis did escape to Argentina, whose national territory includes a slice of Antarctica extending to the South Pole. Zundel and his successors have infused these facts with Victorian inner-earth legends, and then marinated them over multiple viewings of the 1968 B-flick, They Saved Hitler’s Brain. Versions of the theory remain popular on neo-Nazi alt-history sites, and in recent years British tabloids like the Mirror and Daily Star have found click-bait gold in spreading them.

Yeah, “click-bait gold”. There’s a reason rat poison is sweet, too.

There were no Nazi magic powers. Germany was an industrial and scientific powerhouse in the 19th and early 20th centuries — Germany dominated physics, chemistry, and biology, and had built a substantial technological lead over the rest of the world. The Nazis didn’t create that, they exploited Germany’s hard-won advantages, and wrecked them. The Nazi regime was a major setback to our technological progress (and civilization as a whole), and I despise this propaganda that tries to pretend they were an engine of innovation rather than looters and wreckers who drove away a large part of their scientific talent and murdered good human minds.

There are no shortcuts to education and research. Our media, though, have been going down this path of promoting fables about how the world works, and it’s going to take us down the same ugly path that derailed Germany.

The Atheist Conference is looking a bit shaky

In a year when the evangelical right is taking over the government, when Mike Pence is the vice president, you’d think the atheist movement would be riding high, motivated and furious. You’d think. After all, atheism was all the news after George W Bush and 9/11, right? But no. We’re in disarray. Last year, the Global Atheist Conference was cancelled for lack of registrations. The one conference that got a lot of attention was the Mythicist Milwaukee con that featured racist asshats, and most of the publicity was negative — and they lost money on the conference itself, and only got it back by pandering to the alt-right for donations after the fact. (Remember when the trolls would whine about SJWs “e-begging” to get support for medical care? It’s OK when your Nazi friends do it, I guess.)

And now another big atheist conference looks to be in trouble. The Atheist Conference is supposed to take place this summer in New York City, which is currently in melt-down mode. One early problem was that they didn’t seem to have a good purpose, claiming that they’re about uniting “the atheist community on our common goals by repairing recent divisions”, which is not a great premise since many of us are not interested in surrendering a commitment to social justice to make nicey-nice with regressive assholes; they also announced that they were “not an Alt-Right or Alt-left, or a conservative or a liberal rally”, which is confusing because they seemed to be announcing that they’re nothing and are trying to occupy an imaginary middle between contradictory extremes. At the same time, though, we were getting all these private messages that oh, yes, they were definitely a social justice conference. It made no sense.

Then we learned that they were making misleading claims to entice people to commit to the conference. Apparently, George Clooney agreed to appear there. At least, they didn’t say that publicly –it was more along the lines of a confidential whisper to prospective speakers, as a lure to further get them to waive any speaking fees. In my case, there was a nod to all the great names on the speaker’s list, and wouldn’t I like to join them, and they’d consider me, but would I be willing to cover my own travel expenses? We’ll get back to the board and let you know. It was weird. But I was considering going on my own anyway, because it did look like some excellent speakers, even if it didn’t include George Clooney.

But now, who knows who is going to be speaking there? The speakers have been talking among themselves, comparing notes, and suddenly people have been dropping off the list. There has been some back room chatter, and even more are planning to abandon ship.

And now the executive director of the conference has quit.

I think the whole thing is going to implode soon. At least, I wouldn’t recommend registering for it until they get their act together, which means they’re not going to have any money coming in, which means they’re going to fail hard — it’s a kind of self-perpetuating failure mode that you get locked into with these kinds of egregious errors at the onset of the project. It’s kind of a metaphor for the atheist movement in general, actually.

Jebus. Just as I posted this, The Atheist Conference announced that they were cancelling the whole thing.

More money than sense

Sure indicators that you’re dealing with a quack: the magic words “detox” and “cleanse”. I’ve heard so many people babble about drinking algae or having wheatgrass squirted up their butt to somehow scour poisons out of their bloodstream and colon. Yvette D’Entremont is here to tell you that none of it works.

Let me point out: In order to be detoxed, you first have to be, well, “toxed.” And you’re probably not. If you actually had a build-up of heavy metals or pesticides in your body, you’d be crazy sick. There are specific symptoms to having both of these “toxins” inside of you. In fact, different metals and pesticides have specific symptoms, like muscle spasms and breathing difficulties. Bottom line? Breakouts and feeling a little rundown aren’t symptoms of any of them, and you need REAL MEDICINE — dimercaprol chelation and atropine, respectively — for treatment. Not juice.

Meanwhile, at the same time and often involving the same detox fanatics, people are paying premium prices for “raw water”.

In San Francisco, “unfiltered, untreated, un-sterilized spring water” from Live Water is selling for $60.99 for a 2.5 gallon jug — and it’s flying off the shelves, the New York Times reported. Startups dedicated to untreated water are gaining steam. Zero Mass Water, which allows people to collect water from the atmosphere near their homes, has already raised $24 million in venture capital.

People — including failed startup Juicero’s cofounder Doug Evans — are gathering gallons of untreated water from natural springs, venturing out onto private property by night to get the water. Evans told The Times that he and his friends brought 50 gallons of raw water to Burning Man.

You know, fish poop in that stuff. Have you ever heard of Giardia? How about amebic meningoencephalitis?

On the bright side, though, I’m thinking of shipping raw Lake Crystal Water from Minnesota to Silicon Valley and making a good profit. The name sounds like a marketing dream, but those of us who live here know it is actually a large shallow pond, one step up from a swamp, with dairy farm runoff trickling in on one side, and a nice squishy layer of duckshit on the bottom. It’s incredibly raw. I ought to be able to charge double for the magnitude of its rawness.

One sip, though, and you’ll probably need a detox/cleanse. If I sell those, too, I’ll be making money off them coming and going! I’m gonna be so rich I’ll be morally obligated to vote Republican.

We’re all going to deteriorate and start leaking someday

My brother Jim just had to remind me of a fishing trip we took in our youth, when my father took all of us out on a charter boat out of Westport, and my sister Caryn got seasick and puked in her hat, and my dad caught a big ol’ 40 pound king salmon, it was a marvelous outing, many Shubs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of a Sloar that day, I can tell you!

Anyway, he only wrote to tell me that the boat we were on, the Nyoda, is in the news.

Bold said the port will pay Global Diving and Salvage $80,000 to remove them, 90% of that will be reimbursed by the state’s Derelict vessel removal program. “The owners of both vessels have abandoned them and the port has ceased both. The vessels were offered for bid at [a] public auction, however, no bids were received.”

Once they are removed it’s not likely that either boat will see the water again. Bold continued, “Both have deteriorated hulls and are leaking. The port, as the marina operator, is responsible for removal and disposal.”

Dang. That boat could be a metaphor for me.

Relax, Oregon

Oregon just made it legal to have self-service gas stations. Much of the rest of the country is probably simply surprised that there was anywhere where you had to have a service station attendant pump gas for you. A few Oregonians are freaking out at the change.

“I don’t even know HOW to pump gas and I am 62, native Oregonian…..I say NO THANKS! I don’t want to smell like gasoline!” one woman wrote in a comment on a survey the new station posted Dec. 29.

You put the nozzle in the hole and you squeeze the handle. You’re welcome!

Of course, I have some special expertise here. When I was a kid, my dad worked at a gas station — just a gas station, no mini-mart, just a bay where you could get your oil changed or tires rotated, with a row of pumps out front, and I’d help out on weekends. You’d pull up, roll your window down, and I’d come running out with a chipper smile, and you’d tell me what you’d want — “fill ‘er up with $5 worth of premium!”, which, actually, would be enough to fill up a big tank — and I’d ask “Check your oil? Wash your windshield?”. I guess it was convenient for drivers to have someone tend to your iron chariot for you, but it was kind of soul-deadening for the attendant. Also, it was just required that we do that stuff, it’s not as if anyone ever tipped you for great window-washing or oil-checking.

I don’t think anyone should mourn the loss of jobs, or the rise of old people dousing themselves with gasoline. The former: those are lousy jobs. The latter: what kind of klutz are you? Also, everyone in Oregon who has driven out of state is totally familiar with self-service.

Although, I have to say, here in Minnesota in January I wouldn’t mind if could sit in the car and have someone else stand out there in the bitter cold and fierce winds and fumble with cold metal. But then that would be an even crappier job for someone than what I experienced in temperate Washington state.

How can you show that something does not exist?

Cryptozoologists like to claim that you can’t prove a negative. I respond that 1) scientists don’t deal in proof, and 2) of course, given a specific claim, you certainly can provide evidence that it’s false. If someone is going to make a claim, the onus is on them to provide sufficient specific criteria for the evaluation of that claim.

Here’s an excellent example of how it’s done: Craig McClain dismantles the assertion that the giant shark Megalodon exists. This is a very thorough, point-by-point dissection of the evidence that we should have if there actually were an 18-meter long monster shark prowling our oceans. The evidence shows that, sadly, they all went extinct between 2 and 3 million years ago.

You could make the same sorts of arguments against the existence of a giant hairy ape living in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, or against the Tree Octopus. The True Believers never seem to be dissuaded, though.

It’s hard to make those kinds of arguments against a giant cosmic god, though. Those True Believers have cunningly engineered the properties of their cryptid to be nebulous and evasive; Megalodon at least had specific parameters and predictable properties that allows one to make predictions about what you should see if they existed. Gods have none of that.

I’m feeling warmer already

Read Kim Stanley Robinson’s account of a little trek across Antarctica in 1910. They were just going out to collect penguin eggs, a quick trip of 35 days.

The warmest temperatures topped out at minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Only their intense exertions kept them from freezing in their tracks, but even so it’s hard to understand how they avoided frostbite in their hands, feet and faces. Somehow they carried on. Cherry-Garrard wrote that he was acutely aware of the absurdity of their efforts, but he did not mention that to the others. He was the youngster, at 25, and Wilson and Bowers, 38 and 28, were like older brothers to him. Whatever they did he was going to do.

For three days a storm forced them to wait in their tent; after that, they worked all day for a gain of about a mile and a half. Every morning it took them four hours to break camp. They began with a meal of biscuits and hot pemmican stew, eaten while lying in their reindeer-hide sleeping bags. Getting into their frozen outer clothing was like muscling into armor. When they were dressed, it was out into the icy darkness to take down their Scott tent, a four-sided canvas pyramid with a broad skirt that could be well-anchored in the snow. When all their gear was piled on the two sledges, they started the day’s haul. Bowers was the strongest of them and said he never got cold feet. Wilson monitored his own feet and often asked Cherry-Garrard how his were doing; when he thought they were getting close to frostbite, he called a halt, and as quickly as possible they put the tent up, got their night gear into it and made a hot dinner of pemmican stew. Then they tried to get some sleep before they became too cold to remain in their bags.

Nineteen days of this reduced Cherry-Garrard to a state of benumbed indifference. “I did not really care,” he wrote, “if only I could die without much pain.”

Wait until you get to the part where their tent blows away.

They huddled in their drafty shelter. Wilson and Bowers decided the wind was about Force 11, which means “violent storm” on the Beaufort scale, with wind speeds of 56 to 63 miles an hour. There was no chance of going outside. They could only lie there listening to the blast and watching their roof balloon off the sledge and then slam back down on it. “It was blowing as though the world was having a fit of hysterics,” Cherry-Garrard wrote. “The earth was torn in pieces: the indescribable fury and roar of it all cannot be imagined.”

It was their tent that gave way first, blown off into the darkness. This was shocking evidence of the wind’s power, because Scott tents, with their heavy canvas and broad skirts, are extremely stable. The same design and materials are used in Antarctica today, and have withstood winds of up to 145 miles an hour. I’m not aware of any other report of a Scott tent blowing away. But theirs was gone—the only shelter they had for their trek back home. And their canvas roof continued to bulge up and slam down. As the hours passed all the stones and ice slabs they had placed on it were shaken off. Then with a great boom the thick canvas tore to shreds. Blocks of the wall fell on them, and the ribbons of canvas still caught between stones snapped like gunshots. They had no protection now but their sleeping bags and the rock ring.

All right already, I’ll stop whining about my 10 minutes outside this morning now. Turnin’ the heat up.
Putting on warm slippers. Maybe some hot cocoa.