Saturday, July 29, 2017

How Did The Paranormal Community Get Co-Opted?

Despite decades of being a skeptic, venturing into the realm of the paranormal is like junk food for my brain. Having grown up with In Search Of…, the often open-ended and inconclusive exposes on everything from cryptozoology to alien abduction and hauntings do occasionally get my attention. I've even enjoyed the experiences offered by The Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas, before Dawkins, Shermer, et al proved to be die-hard misogynists.

I watch them for the music, really!

One of the main reasons I dig up these shows and “documentaries” from the 1970s is the music. It’s always an interesting mix of traditional instruments, the obligatory Theremin, and some analog synth. I blame Rinder & Lewis, who composed the theme to In Search Of…, but it doesn’t end there. Horrible movies such as Overlords of the UFO, Journeys from Beyond Earth, UFOs Are Real, UFO Top Secret, The Amazing World of Ghosts, and more have such similar sounds that “crappy paranormal music” or “gullible jazz” should be its own genre. (I’ll link my entire playlist of the Best of the Worst at the end of this post.)

I take it back, I also watch for the bad science

One cannot see Anna Mitchell-Hedges lying through an interview about her crystal skull, Erich von Daniken’s not-so-subtle colonialism (because if non-western civilizations made great things, then it had to have been aliens, right?), or literally any photograph from the Billy Meier collection without wondering how people bought into any of this. There was a wonderful episode of Nova, also from the 1970s, in which Carl Sagan took on the ancient astronaut theory as “new dress for old-time religion.” As for the others, it is easy to see how little we really knew in the 1970s. Everything from the hollow earth theory, to the burgeoning concept of black holes, and even nascent (at the time) musings on quantum physics.

So here we are, 40 years later

I’ve been delving into Art Bell’s Coat to Coast and Clyde Lewis’ I Have No Critical Thinking Traits, or whatever the hell he calls his show, and something occurred to me. Since when did the paranormal community get co-opted by the petty, scared, and insular demographic of the far right? I understood when Dr. Stanton Friedman considered the crash at Corona, NM and the documents surrounding it to be “a cosmic Watergate.” Dr. Friedman hasn’t deviated much from his intentions since then. But for every Stanton Friedman, there’s a Travis Walton, Charlie Hickson, and, in present times, a Clyde Lewis, clamoring to keep relevant, even though they are nothing more than low-rent Alex Jones knock-offs.

But how did we get here?

Back in the 1970s, nuclear physicist Dr. Stanton Friedman coined the term “Cosmic Watergate.” This was about the stonewalling and perceived cover-up of whatever happened in Roswell, New Mexico. The paranormal enthusiasts were ready for this. Richard Nixon left the citizens of the United States with a feeling that they could no longer trust the intentions of the government. Extrapolating on the sentiment, many conspiracy theorists drew connections to President Eisenhower’s warning against the “military industrial complex,” which has become a mantra of sorts among the paranormal community, to this very day. This is the closest point I can identify as to where this whole thing ran off the rails. On one end, you had Dr. Friedman pushing for hard evidence (even he distanced himself from cases where Wendelle Stevens and others gave in with full credulity). We compounded this with statements by President Reagan, wondering what we would do as a world society, if faced with a threat from beyond Earth. If the President was willing to hint as an outside force, how could it not be real? (That’s sarcasm, for those trying to read too much into my words.) Sometime in the late 1980s/early 1990s, there was an expose hosted by Stacy Keach, which explored the possibility that the transistor was given to us by extraterrestrials. There is no doubt that the advent of the transistor has prevented us all from living in the world portrayed by the Fallout game franchise, and made huge leaps in technology possible. But aliens? Really? This then, of course, veered off into tangents about the mysterious Area 51, and what may be stored there. Again, when we do not want to recognize the ingenuity of humans, we believe there is some divine intervention. In a post-religious Cold War, we put gods in different costumes and were willing to believe in George Adamski’s aliens. The paranoia of the Cold War yielded some very strange outlooks on the world. We could not trust the government. We could not trust the media. Did we make an exchange where we received technology in exchange for the occasional abduction of seemingly very broken people? Did we break that covenant when we shot down an extraterrestrial craft over a ranch in New Mexico and held the extraterrestrial biological entities (EBEs) in confinement, while we milked them for information? Is that the simplest way to handwave away the fact that we’re pretty damned smart on the technological front, and that some people want to feel special? Sleep paralysis is a thing. Most people do not understand technology, astronomy, or what is in the sky at any given moment. Is it all aliens and ghosts in our demon haunted world? In a word, no. Has that prevented people from buying into conspiracies, or carving out a niche for themselves by promoting conspiracies where there are none? See the previous answer.

Conservative appeal? Conspiracy insiders? Enablers of ignorance?

Art Bell did a lot of political talk on radio, before realizing that embracing the fringe listeners in the wee hours of the night would be more lucrative. Bell’s views hover somewhere between the alt right and libertarianism, but he managed, for the most part, to keep his views in check. The successor to the Coast to Coast throne, George Noory, is one of the more vapid right wing paranormal hosts, with a line-up of guests promoting the conspiracy du jour, along with snakeoil, and buying into the latest schemes by repeat hoaxers in the paranormal community. Clyde Lewis, a self-proclaimed conservative, will happily tell you politics don’t matter because of the movements of figures behind the veil of our perceived reality – the real puppetmasters. Clyde is an idiot who regularly synthesizes poorly researched topics through a casual perception of the works of Lovecraft (which he may or may not have read), references to Charles Forte (which I'm certain he's picked up in passing, rather than, you know, actually reading) as well as conflating the notion of aliens with an eternal war between angels and demons, as he calls back to his less-than-literate grasp of both the New and Old Testaments. Rather than posit more critical thinking, the hosts mentioned above have a wonderful track record of adding fuel to whatever misguided conspiracy callers profess, be it professing certain politicians (who are not leaning to the right) are secretly reptilians, a-la David Icke’s racist and anti-Semitic views, to (and yes, we’re circling back again) getting into discussions about how aliens helped the “non-melanated” (callers words, not mine) people of Earth. (As opposed the tall, beautiful, and peaceful Nordic aliens – it’s a thing, apparently – who want to save everyone involved in the mostly white, under-educated, target audience for extraterrestrial experiences.)

If you think you have the solution, then you’re part of the problem

I’m never going to tell anyone to completely avoid the more vociferous members of the paranormal community. Hell, between these shows and a steady diet of lead paint chips, I turned out fine, right? The odds are pretty good that anyone who is a believer/experiencer/conspiracy theorist is never going to read this post. If they take umbrage with my statements, I’m certain their objections will appear in the comments.

What I’m trying to say is to use your minds. If Noory, Lewis, and the other radio/podcast hosts are claiming to have the inside line on how things really work, ask yourself why more people aren’t flocking to their shows. The usual response is that the mainstream media doesn’t want this kind of information to be readily accessible to the masses, so they are relegated to the hours between midnight and 4am, when all of our brightest thinkers are surely awake and sober (so types a terminal insomniac).

There is, of course, a much simpler answer. The hosts are not skilled enough to be real pundits or journalists, so they took to the airwaves as carnival barkers for the last media outlets available in a world where science, facts, and rational thinking are becoming more prevalent. I love science fiction. I love fantasy. I love suspending my disbelief and losing myself in an adventure or abstract train of thought. I also know when to close the book, turn off the video clips, and realize that I’m not living in some large simulated universe.

Because I mentioned this above, here are the playlists. A word of warning: You will come away feeling stupider after watching these “documentaries,” but the music is great.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Too Stupid For Flirting, Too Nice To Get Arrested

Way back in the winter of 2004, I had my apartment to myself. I was taking a long break from relationships, and my roommates were gone for the week because they were prone to having lives, whereas I wrote and, after another fast wreck of a relationship, wasn't really big on human interaction.

But being a hermit only goes so far.

It should also be noted that, back then, I smoked cigarettes. I had a second story apartment in an old brownstone from the 1800s. When I smoked, I would walk downstairs, stand outside, and just observe people. I could figure out who the regulars were in the neighborhood, patterns, and schedules. When people left and came home from work; who had "Casual Fridays" in the office, by what they wore throughout the week; who walked to the gym; who stumbled back from the bar at 4 am - the list goes on.

During this particular weekend, it was snowing. the gently, thick snowfall was piling up, and I would go downstairs to shovel off the porch and our stretch of sidewalk, to avoid fines from the city. My weekend consisted of writing, reading, and watching the occasional movie. As stated, my roommates were gone for the weekend, so going over routines and bouncing around ideas was not in the picture.

By Sunday, I was going a bit stir crazy. A live conversation was beginning to look like a pretty good idea. Maybe someone other than the cashier at my grocery store. I was winter. There are no places nearby in my location. Even meeting up with friends at "the restaurant next door" involved a long walk in inclement weather.

So I put on a nice suit, gathered all of the social skills I could muster, and...ordered a pizza.

Everything else went as planned. I picked out a DVD (this was 2004, after all), the pizza arrived, and the snow had finally stopped. The pizza was still incredibly hot, so I let it cool while I went back downstairs for a cigarette.

While I was smoking, a young woman walked by. I'd seen here walking around before, and we would smile and exchange polite-yet-meaningless pleasantries. Today, she walked by, smiled, and then slowed down to ask a question I had never expected.

"Hey, what are you up to?"

I responded with the truth. I had a pizza upstairs, and I was going to watch a movie. The second question was more forward than the first.

"Would you like some company?"

Possibly? I mean, I wanted human contact, and making a new friend was not a bad idea. I invited her upstairs.

I fetched some plates from the kitchen, and brought them to the living room. I apologized for being rather boring with my pizza topping selection, and asked her if she had ever seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Idle, but friendly conversation.

Then the conversation started to get awkward.

"So what do you like do do?"

I was eating pizza and watching a movie. I have the entire apartment to myself. I guess I like making new friends, writing, and playing games. She hadn't taken a flirtatious tone, so I was trying to keep the conversation friendly and harmless. It just seemed like an odd question, at the time.

I started the movie and told her to help herself to the pizza. I also let her have seating on the futon, while I took the chair. Her plate remained empty. She wasn't even really watching the movie. Then, after another few minutes, she asked me to hit the pause button.

"Look, you seem like a nice guy, but nether of us is going to get what they want," she said, as she pulled out her police badge. She continued.

"Someone in this neighborhood is paying for sex, and we've been trying to find out who it is."

I had to respond.

" pizza and a movie? No making new friends?"

She smiled and shook her head, "Not tonight, but thanks for not being any trouble."

I let her out, watched her leave, and tried to wrap my head around what just happened.

I'm too nice to be a threat. Too boring to make friends. But hey, I had (at that point) cold pizza and the futon all to myself.

I never did see the police officer again, so I'm assuming she caught the right person, or they put someone else in her place, because she was recognizable. Either way, it felt like the world had given me a backhanded compliment.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Order Now! Time Is Running Out!

As is human nature, when we lose someone close to us, we begin to take stock of our lives - where we are, what we're doing, and what really matters. In my teens, this meant clinging to minutiae and diving headlong into distraction. Now that I'm older, a still no wiser for the wear, it's about passion. I have quite a few, some of which are even allowed in most stated of the Union. It's accounting for the other things - those little things that use up my time, and what can be dropped from the list.

There is writing. Writing has always been my passion, and only recently has it become a means to keep the lights on and a roof over our heads. For the majority of my life, writing was why I needed other jobs. It was the reason I worked. When asked what I did, my response would usually be, "What do I do, or what do I do to pay the bills?"

It's become a bit of both, lately, but getting soured on writing isn't going to happen in the foreseeable future. Writing, even for those projects I dislike, is how I synthesize the concepts and world around me. If you asked me three years ago how loans work, my response would be that you receive finite money, accompanied with greater debt. Now, because of my job, I can comfortably navigate various loan structures. A similar thing happened just prior to this job, when I was writing technical articles on digital cameras. Before that, it was networking systems. The list goes on, and I would never have chosen to research any of these topics on my own, but because I "make words go," I've ended up learning quite a bit, and maybe someday it will be applicable. Writing for myself is something I would like to do again, beyond this blog which gets updated tri-whimsically.

There is music. Music has always been an integral part of my life. Whether playing or listening to music, I cannot remember a time when it was not present in my world. Unfortunately, the former has taken a back seat for many years. Now It is time to revisit that side, even if no one ever hears a single note.

There are fast cars. This is not a passion of mine, so I'll leave that to the folks who can afford to have a midlife crisis. I still have to grow up before I can have one of those.

There is reading. I'm doing this less frequently, these days. Juggling between three and five books at a time has become one or two. Even still, the time for reading is a rather elusive beast. I should clarify: The time to read for pleasure is elusive. Technically, I spend most of my days reading and researching for work, but my employer wouldn't take kindly to my scheduling tasks such as "Researching primal gods and forces" or "FTL drives and alien starfaring cultures."

Games. Oh do I enjoy games I'm a nerd. But lately, the thought has crossed my mind that perhaps I need to be more discerning about which games I play. The thought struck me while I was playing a game (Elite: Dangerous) that claims to have a 1:1 representation of the Milky Way. That's a lot of space. To date, I have put 390 hours into this game (you know, because I don't have time to read or play music). Somewhere around hour 388, I started to question what I was doing. There is no end-point. The game is absolutely beautiful, and I used to play it as a way to unwind from stressful days, or when the thoughts in my head simply would not stop. I'm not going to see every star or nebula, and software does have a finite life span. I'm doing a thing to do a thing, and not in a "climbing Everest" sort of way.

Making friends. This is a newfound passion, and one I'd like to continue. I was very content with a core group of people, and that core has expanded lately (well, minus one, but that's kind of why I'm assessing things) to include some amazing individuals - and there are many more I've yet to meet. People are more fascinating (to me) than flying some virtual space chariot from the same desk I use for work.

Exploring. I need to explore more. Reading through previous entries, I know I "rubber band" between states of utter solitude and never wanting to return to my home, but there's so much out there (to write like a 12-year old idealist) to see and be a part of. There are places which could use help (possibly even my brand of help), and there's a lot of fighting to be done to not let our country or species fall back from the progress it's already made.

Life. Living is a big passion of mine. I've had a very aggressively passive relationship with it in the past, but there is a bigger picture at play, now. I have a wife. We have a cat. We also have goals for owning a house, helping those we love, fighting for progress, and supporting our immediate and extended family. My appetite for self-destruction has gone by the wayside, over the years, despite keeping the profession of "writer." However (and this is the important part), living does not mean denying myself the things that I enjoy in the name of longevity. I see no point in living to a "ripe old age" if I'm existing solely on yoga, cardio exercise, and celery. Stoicism (as my late friend embraced) is not the answer. Denying pleasures does not make them more pleasurable. I live in a city full of Earthly Delights, and there is no reason to abstain from sampling what is available. This does not mean one should live fast, die young, and leave a pretty corpse. I'm not smoking ten cigars at a time, eating deep-fried steaks, and downing shots of tequila at a strip club while saying, "THIS is living! Gotta go sometime!" Which leads me to the next point, and it goes along with living.

Appreciation. It's not always about going for the gusto. It's appreciating the pleasures that present themselves, and the people who can share in those pleasures and adventures. I appreciate when my cat decides to take a nap with me. I appreciate going to the convenience store with Gwyn, because there's always something interesting at the store, or along the way. I love having conversations over dinner with my close friends and extended family, and I appreciate their passions. I always look forward to the spontaneous conversations with my brother, and my core group from back east. And while I have not necessarily lived a life devoid of regrets, I deeply appreciate the wonderful experiences that happened along the way, those which led me to this point, and the ones which are yet to come. Hell, I appreciate the feral cats who live a few blocks from me because I get the occasional slow blink. Appreciation could easily be a list that would go on forever with each passing year, but I'd never get anything done.

Learning to be better. I grew up in a very isolated area. Very few people in my age group "got out" of the loop which relegated people to working in family businesses, or resigning themselves to an ever-decreasing job market in a post-agrarian region, with nothing to fill the once-prominent industries. After traveling (not that traveling is ever over), and being exposed to different philosophies, that old punk mentality of challenging the status quo remains at the forefront. Not so much raging for the sake of raging, but looking more to how we can progress as a whole, and how I can become more open and understanding. It's an interesting dichotomy. Allowing myself to get angry while feeling overjoyed with victories - not necessarily at the expense of others, but in the hopes that the larger tapestry is more vibrant and complete.

In short, America is a land of many contrasts.

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