Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Archive for the ‘Paranormal’ Category


leave a comment »

On this date in history, 4 December 1872, the sailing ship Mary Celeste (often mistakenly referred to as the Marie Celeste) was discovered in the mid Atlantic, sailing along in good shape, but minus her crew. The Mary Celeste was a small wooden merchant brigantine (a two masted ship) built in 1861, with an unremarkable prior history before her crew’s “mysterious’ disappearance earned her a place in the annals of history. The story was well known when I was a kid, at least among those with an interest in the bizarre and inexplicable. That was certainly me, still fascinated by same, now just a lot more grounded in reality. I hope.

The first thing to note about this mystery, like the STENDEC mystery,  is that it’s not really a mystery, just something unexplained. If the crew of the STENDEC airliner or the Mary Celeste had lived, no doubt a simple explanation would have been forthcoming. And the incident in question would be long forgotten. This is because in the case of the Mary Celeste, we know what happened. The crew abandoned ship, was unable to return to it, and were lost at sea in an open lifeboat. Why they abandoned ship is a mystery, but it’s a mystery with any number of perfectly prosaic potential explanations. Where’s the fun in that though?

Aside from the disappearance of the crew, the Mary Celeste story is a great example of how stories get embellished with fanciful details through the years by various authors writing about it. Why would authors make up fanciful details? The same reason authors now use clickbait titles to their Interwebs posts, to get more readers. Some things never change. The fact that the official inquiries who looked into the crew’s disappearance couldn’t find any smoking guns also added to the aura of mystery. It’s in fact been stated that the Mary Celeste fuelled the creation of ghost ship legends around the world.

The exaggerations started early. In 1883 the Los Angeles Times reported that the Mary Celeste was running under full sail, the galley fire going, nothing out of place, the ship’s log showing nothing wrong up to an hour before her discovery. Cue Twilight Zone music. In actuality the Mary Celeste’s crew had disappeared about ten days before she was discovered, and there was nothing remarkable about the state of the ship. Other than the crew (and lifeboat) being missing. I know I’ve read subsequent versions where food was intact on the table as if the crew had left mid meal, the lifeboat was still aboard, etc.

And then a young Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a story about the Mary celeste in 1884, renaming it the Marie Celeste and changing all sorts of other details to make the story more fantastic. And the floodgates were open, with ever more fanciful stories and speculation spreading ever outwards. Aliens, Bigfoot, Judge Crater, Obama and everything else have all been proposed as solutions to the mystery. I’m sure the gentle reader can come up with new ones, all it takes is a little imagination and an aversion to facts and logic, voila, Marie Celeste mystery solved.

The real solution is fairly straightforward. The captain had his wife and infant daughter aboard. Something startled him or even panicked him, and the ship was hastily abandoned. Tragic, but nothing otherworldly need apply. It’s highly unlikely their remains will ever be found, baring near magical scanning technology decades or more likely centuries from now. God rest their souls, it was not a good way to get into the history books.

I am going to write a post about the comment left on Monday’s post about Russia and Ukraine, it’s just that the Mary Celeste anniversary was too good an opportunity to miss. Possibly Friday unless some other exciting topic intervenes. Reality, it’s like the Universe is making stuff up as it goes along. Who knew?

I hope everyone is having a great week. Comments, questions, suggestions, and especially shares appreciated!

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: A painting of the Mary Celeste in 1861, named the Amazon at the time. Credit:Unconfirmed, possibly Honore Pellegrin (1800–c.1870). Public Domain under US copyright law.)

Written by unitedcats

December 4, 2019 at 8:20 am

Posted in History, Paranormal

The Strangest thing I Ever Saw

with 7 comments


No, this picture wasn’t it. I suspected it might be an explanation for what I saw, but I don’t think so now. I digress. I’ve had a handful of experiences in my life for which I have found no really satisfying explanation. A lot of people have had similar, I’ve certainly heard a few stories in my time. And since I find mysteries fascinating, I will share the few I’ve experienced. Partly just for fun, partly to show that mysterious things do happen, and partly in hopes that someone says “I know what you saw!” So far no one has even come close with this one, I’m still baffled and it happened over twenty years ago.

So, 1990 or so, Washington State. A friend and I were camping for the weekend and drove around much of Saturday looking for an open campground. We eventually found a place where we could park the car, and hike down into a canyon with a nice secluded camping area by a stream. While people obviously went there occasionally, there was sort of a path down the hill, there was no one there that weekend. There were a lot of old cans and bottles from the 1930s scattered about, someone had spent a summer or two camped there back then. It really was a sweet spot, but you couldn’t drive to it and it was hard to find. We got lucky.

There was a well trodden game trail along the creek, just fine for humans. A few feet wide, packed earth surface. We were car camping, not backpacking, so we had to make several trips up and down the canyon side to get our stuff to the campsite. It was afternoon in the shade, but full summer, and even in the canyon it was still full daylight. Ahead of me on the path as I’m walking I see something. It was maybe an inch tall or so, and it was solid white. I couldn’t make out its shape, this all happened very quickly.  I saw it on the trail, then it opened a little trapdoor, popped into the hole, and pulled the trapdoor shut. I was surprised, but stared at the spot where it had disappeared as I walked up, and poked around with a stick. I didn’t find anything but solid packed earth. I was puzzled, but didn’t know what else to do. I seem to recall thinking that it must have been a big bug of some sort, but it was pure white, I’d never seen a white bug.

And that’s the story. I recently did some research on trapdoor spiders, and the image above made me wonder if I’d seen one of them, and somehow the white of the trapdoor was the white I had seen, the incident did happen very fast. Alas, from what I can tell, trapdoor spiders aren’t found anywhere above central California. That pretty much rules them out. I’ve never heard of a big white bug that has a trapdoor in the ground, but who knows. Ring a bell with any reader? Is there any sort of bug or animal that fits this bill? I’d love to hear about it.

There is always the possibility that this never happened, or at least not the way I am remembering. Science has shown that memory is a very sketchy thing, and easily modified or induced. Maybe I dreamed this for example, I often have vivid dreams when camping. It seems odd to me now that I didn’t investigate further at the time, it was right outside the camp. On the other hand, I can see myself deciding to leave it be,  since I wouldn’t want to hurt it by scraping around looking for it … whatever it was. We all have false memories, and we all misremember things. Memory is a story we tell ourselves.

Lastly, I suspect it’s experiences like this that have seeded, so to speak, a lot of folklore through the ages. It wouldn’t be too hard to convince myself I had seen a humanoid figure, heck, I’d be lying if I said I was sure it wasn’t. In earlier times when the world was more mysterious, the idea that there were other humanoids living around us wouldn’t be all that odd, why not? And the brain, our wonderful human brain, is a pattern recognizer. The best ever in fact, there’s thinking that this is one of the things that makes us uniquely human. And in many cases, it works too well, and sees patterns that aren’t even there. Jesus on a piece of toast nowadays, back then fairies and elves in the woods. And Gods?

(The image above is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. Credit and copyright: Darlene. I met a perfectly sober fellow once who claimed he had met and talked to a leprechaun for lack of a better word, I’ll post on that some day.)

Written by unitedcats

July 10, 2013 at 7:08 am

Spontaneous Human Combustion and Bigfoot, What’s the Connection?

with one comment


Spontaneous human combustion and Bigfoot, two favourite weird topics from my youth. And in fact big favourites of all sorts of people who like to read about weird things, numerous books have been written about both. And it’s safe to say that many people are firmly convinced of the reality of both. And that’s where I recently discovered common ground between the two, in both cases, like Oakland, there is no there there. I know, this is turning into a distressingly skeptical blog. If the gentle reader wants to continue believing in the reality of Bigfoot or SHC, it’s probably safest to stop reading now. The older I get the more I realize that almost everything in print online and off has little or no actual bearing on reality. I don’t think most people could find reality even if they had a map. Or worse, they think things like the Bible and the Koran are the map. I digress.

Moving right along, spontaneous human combustion (SHC.) This is when a  human body is found where the body has almost been completely destroyed by fire, with no evidence of how the fire occurred, and often little to no fire damage to surrounding items. And no doubt it would be mysterious to find someone burned to a crisp in their living room with little fire damage to other items in the room.  The phenomena is definitely real in that the finding of such bodies is well documented and continues to occur occasionally. And is even sometimes officially classified as spontaneous human combustion. Though it is done so because the cause of the combustion was undetermined, not that there was anything weird or supernatural about the deaths.

That’s the first thing to understand about SHC is that while it sounds superficially implausible that a human body could burn to a crisp without setting a room on fire, in fact this isn’t particularly mysterious. Humans, and this is especially the case in SHC victims, have a lot of body fat. Think candle. Tests with pig cadavers that once a body begins to burn, it will indeed burn up over a period of time without undue damage to other items ion the room. The flames aren’t particularly hot, and they are confined to the fallen person’s  body and clothing. And it’s not particularly hard to ignite a body, any open flame will do, especially if clothing catches fire. Pretty gruesome, but not mysterious.

It gets worse. How is it that someone can catch fire and then just do nothing and let it burn? Well, undoubtedly some SHC cases are people who died of natural causes while they were smoking. The classic case though is found on a  kitchen or bathroom floor, as if the victim was felled instantly somehow and began to burn. In fact that’s exactly what happened, though the other way around, they caught on fire and were felled instantly. What made them drop dead? Their clothing on fire. How does that kill someone instantly? Easily as it turns out, which I didn’t know. What does one do if one looks down and their shirt is on fire? In many cases people panic. They run for a bathroom and kitchen, and in some cases they look down and inhale at the same time. And if someone gets flames into their lungs … they drop dead. Well, they pass out I guess, but the effect is the same. Yes, another mystery of life that has a prosaic explanation. Back to the drawing board.

Or, in this case, Bigfoot. Someone mentioned something about that I wish I had thought of. Bigfoot tracks, still found all the time. A friend asked, why don’t they just have dogs follow the trail? Hmm. Not just a  good point, a damning point. People hunt with dogs in Bigfoot country all the time. In fact all sorts of people with dogs, hunting or not, travel in Bigfoot country. A Bigfoot can outrun a  dog or a pack of dogs? Not if it’s a flesh and blood animal. Granted the Bigfoot coffin was already firmly nailed shut, but this objection is really hard to explain away. Impossible really considering how long humans and dogs have been wandering around the USA.

Fortunately the world is still full of imponderable mysteries. Like how come Americans never learn from their foreign policy mistakes? Have a great weekend everyone!

(The above image is a still from a movie called Curse of Bigfoot. I’m claiming it as Fair Use under US copyright law. Since it’s available as a free download (it was that good apparently) I think it’s safe to use an image from it in a not-for-profit way. And it is the only image of a flaming Bigfoot I could find on line. The Internet is a wonderful thing, how could I have found such an image before?)

Written by unitedcats

April 13, 2013 at 5:28 pm

Paranormal Watch

with 2 comments


I feel almost guilty writing this post. I used to be such a fan of paranormal mysteries. Loch Ness, UFOs, ancient aliens, and other curious little corners of reality. I’m still a fan, but I have grown more skeptical over the years. Sadly this is because I’ve realized that the signal-to-noise ratio is rather low in these areas. Worse,  cashing in on the credulous has grown mainstream, and now things like the History Channel are shamelessly spreading paranormal nonsense to make a buck. Still, just because there’s a lot of fraud, poor scholarship, and pseudo-science doesn’t mean it’s all nonsense. A UFO could crash on the White House lawn tomorrow. Not bloody likely, but not impossible. And in the vein of keeping my toe in the paranormal water so to speak, here’s a brief rundown of recent developments on the fringe.

UFOs: OK, the big recent news is that the Russian PM said that if Obama doesn’t come clean about aliens living among us, Russia will. He made the remark in the context of a joke about the Men In Black movies. Some in UFO circles took it seriously. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for Obama’s announcement. Ufology is a very active field, but it mostly concerns itself with blurry  videos of lights in the sky. Or anecdotal reports. Nothing with actual evidence. And the field is always rife with some rumor about how all is going to be revealed soon. A peculiar class of belief not limited to ufology by any means.  I also did some recent research on Roswell, and it’s not looking good. One of the biggest “researchers” on the case was shown to be a fraud, all of his “discoveries” are suspect, and some main stream ufologists no longer think Roswell involved aliens or an alien craft. Well, crap.

Bigfoot: Oh, the usual crop of blobsquatch videos. There was a claim awhile ago that Bigfoot DNA had been obtained. It’s generally considered to be a hoax at this point. There’s a recording of Bigfoot screeches making the rounds. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by saying that this is evidence of nothing. Animals make a vast array of sounds, this will more than likely be eventually explained as normal wildlife noise. At this point, well, it’s hard to understand why a bigfoot hasn’t shown up as roadkill. Maybe they are smart enough not to cross roads? In other words they are smarter than people? Wouldn’t that be wild if Bigfoot was the true intelligent species on the planet, and they were just hiding and biding their time until we destroyed ourselves? Stranger things have happened. Sarah Palin for example.

Loch Ness Monster: Exciting news on this front. None less than Megan Fox believes in the Loch Ness Monster! Who is Megan Fox? Damned if I know. That’s about it on the Loch Ness monster. I’m assuming the whole silly thing is dead since I pointed out that no sightings preceding the 1930s is impossible to explain. You can thank me later for clearing this one up.

Baigong Pipes: Someone brought to my attention the Baigong Pipes, supposed iron pipes that predate human civilization by tens of thousands of years. Well, two problems. The first of which is saying someone laid all these pipes, but left no other evidence? That’s a little hard to swallow. Secondly, scientists believe (backed with actual evidence) that the Baigong pipes are natural formations that are created when buried tree trunks get replaced by iron deposits. Examples are found in a number of locations around the world. Scientists would be thrilled to find evidence of ancient alien technology. Think of the research grants and fame and getting laid by cute ancient aliens chicks that would result in. So when scientists say: “Um, no, these are natural formations.” I think we can believe them.

Infinite Universes: It’s long been a  popular meme that since there may be infinite universes, then there are infinite versions of each of us on said universes. IE if you got up and decided to wear a blue shirt today, there is a universe where someone identical to you chose to wear a red shirt. Ad infinitum. Well, some scientists (yes, that matters) have taken a look at this idea and pointed out that it is “highly speculative.” In other words, science fiction. For one thing, the idea that our universe is infinite is by no means the accepted scientific view. Secondly, they point out that if there are infinite possibilities for life, then each planet with life could and should be unique. Crap. And I was so hoping to exchange places with a richer me in one of these universes.

Quantum Birds: Well, it turns out that quantum physics may play a role in biology. A big role actually. This is a revolutionary idea, but it is gaining credence as experiments suggest it is the case. It almost certainly plays a role in photosynthesis. It’s also suspected to play a role in small and animal navigation. Research continues, but this could be the “new biology” of the 21st century. It would take me a whole post to explain quantum physics, and even then I might get it wrong. OK, probably would get it wrong, quantum physics is hard to grasp.

“Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine – it is stranger than we can imagine.”  — J.B.S. Haldane

(The above image is of Saturn taken from the Cassini Orbiter. The Sun is directly behind it. It’s legal to use this image non-commercially. Credit and copyright: NASA, JPL-Caltech, Space Science Institute, Cassini Imaging Team. I chose it because it’s a beautiful spooky image … and an example of the incredible frontiers science is still advancing on. NASA rocks.)

The McMinnville UFO photographs

with one comment


May 11th, 1950. on a farm about nine miles from McMinnville, Oregon. Evelyn and Paul Trent saw a strange object flying in the sky. Mr Trent retrieved his camera and took the two photographs above. Click on them for the full size version, and I do mean full size version. The pictures eventually went public and became well known, being published in LIFE magazine. The Trents grew old and died, but the case lives on. It’s one of the most well known UFO cases of the 1950s, just behind Roswell. It even has its own annual gathering of UFO buffs, again, just like Roswell. So what did the Trents see and photograph that morning? No one knows. See, quick post, Merry Christmas everyone!

OK, the photographs have been analyzed seven ways from Sunday. The negatives have been analyzed. They all concluded the same thing. They are real pictures of real objects in the sky. Alien spacecraft, a top secret military prototype, or a truck rear view mirror. Basically so little is known about the shooting conditions, camera settings, and weather that people can come to any conclusion they want. It’s safe to say that no one has discovered anything definitive in the pictures that proves or disproves them. The Trents have also been extensively analyzed. There’s nothing that screams hoax, but there’s nothing that rules it out either.

Basically, people who believe in UFOs find the Trent case to be one of the best UFO cases. People who don’t believe in UFOs think it’s a hoax. It’s not so much of a debate, as it is people searching for evidence that supports their assumption. IE the UFO believers interpret it all as support for their belief, the skeptics find aspects of it to be skeptical about. If the gentle reader wants to get into the nuts and bolts of it, a good place to start is the Wikipedia article. Personally I think the pictures are the best bet to go on. They are certainly the only solid evidence. That’s why I uploaded the huge versions above, so people can see for themselves. I couldn’t see anything, but granted I only spent a few minutes peering at them and comparing them.

OK, my analysis, intellectually dishonest as it is apparently: My first question, could they be faked? Hmm, toss a disk shaped object into the air, photograph it. Take two pictures for verisimilitude. Piece of cake. I don’t see how this is debatable. However, I don’t see how the idea that the Twin Towers collapsed as a result of aircraft impact and fires is a possibility is debatable, but some vociferously disagree with me. Could the photographs be real? Absolutely. No one has come up with a definitive argument proving its a hoax. “UFOs aren’t real, therefore it’s a hoax” is not an argument, it’s just circular reasoning. Maybe it was another hoaxer flying  a UFO shaped balloon. Maybe it was a military experimental aircraft. Maybe it was an extra-terrestrial probe. In other words, examining the possibilities has gotten us nowhere.

In other words, examining the nuts and bolts of this case is fruitless. Let’s step back and look at it as part of a bigger picture. In context as it were. And this is where I’m troubled. This isn’t just “another” UFO sighting. This was a golden age for UFO sightings. The Kenneth Arnold sighting in 1947, the sighting that propelled the idea of flying saucers into the national consciousness, was just three years before the Trent sighting. UFOs were big news, the still famous Mariana UFO incident was in August of 1950, just a few months earlier. Lots of flying saucers were seen in those years. Many were photographed, some were hoaxes. Were there any flying saucer sightings and photos before the Arnold flap in 1947? No. How long did people see them afterwards? About  a decade. Do people still see and photograph them today? No.

This leaves two possibilities. There were flying saucer type objects of unknown genesis flying around the earth in the 1950s (the UFO flap spread world wide,) or this was all a mass social and cultural phenomena. People saw what they were primed to see, and plenty of people were happy to provide “proof.” Since no further evidence has surfaced that would support the flying saucer idea, I think the second possibility is by far the stronger explanation. It’s by no means definitive, but I think a strong argument can me made from the historical context, that of course the Trent photos were a hoax. It’s the simplest explanation that explains the evidence.

I’d be happy to be proved wrong. I think the future of SETI lies in analyzing the surface of the Moon and Mars, not old photos from the 1950s. Merry Christmas everyone!

(The above images are claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. They are not being used for profit, are central to illustrating the post, and are arguably historically important images. Credit and copyright: Paul Trent. By fair means or foul, I don’t know, the Trents are historical figures, a thousand years from now images of them and their story may still be around. Who would have thunk it?)

Written by unitedcats

December 25, 2012 at 7:23 am

Ancient Aliens Debunked

with 3 comments


I saw a fascinating show the other day. Well, part of a show. Ancient Aliens Debunked. It was a far more interesting show than I had imagined. I not only recommend it for people who have seen Ancient Aliens, but also for people who haven’t. Ancient Aliens Debunked can be watched at the link I provided. Well, at least for people who have some interest in the ancient aliens theory or just an interest in the ancients. I found the show fascinating for a number of reasons. (Quelle surprise.)

OK, background and refresher for noobs to the topic. The ancient aliens theory is a theory that in the past humans had contact with aliens. Erich von Däniken would be the most well known proponent of this theory, from his 1968 book “Chariots of the Gods.” The History Channel came out with a series about the theory called … Ancient Aliens. It’s inspired at least two blog posts on my part, here and here. Basically the series was very disappointing to me. It played fast and loose with the facts, and was clearly meant to give credence to the ancient aliens theory without actually examining it critically.  In other words, anyone who was seriously interested in the ancient aliens theory is going to be disappointed by the show. However, the same people should like the Ancient Aliens Debunked show, since at the very least it separates the wheat from the chaff. If you’re gonna promote a theory widely regarded as a crank theory, wouldn’t one want to examine the actual facts in evidence?

And that’s what Ancient Aliens Debunked does. I leaned a number of things I didn’t know. Always good. The one segment I watched was on  Pumapunku. Or Puma Punku. This is a large pre-Incan temple complex or monument group in Bolivia. It was built by the Tiwanaku civilization, and surrounded by city and farmland where as many as 400,000 people lived. Around the year 1,000 the civilization abruptly collapsed, possibly due to environmental change. The Incans believed Pumapunku was built by the Gods and was where the world began. Ancient aliens theorists believe Pumapunku was built thousands of years before the conventional dating, and required the use of advanced technology. Evidence for this is that the stones used to build the complex weigh as much as 800 tons, they were made of granite and granodiorite, and carved with incredible precision. The Tiwanaku civilization simply could not have moved such stones, nor carved these stones with the copper tools they had. Not to mention they didn’t even have a written language, how does one coordinate and plan such a massive construction without writing?

All sounds pretty convincing, or at least difficult to explain, right? Not really. It’s easy to make things sound mysterious if one picks and chooses one’s facts, and makes up facts if the real facts don’t fit. Let’s start with the purported age of Pumapunku. The conventional age dates the Tiwanaku civilization the the few centuries prior to 1,000 ad or so. How did ancient alien theorists come up with an age of over ten thousand years? Simple, one “researcher” decades ago calculated the age of Pumapunku by looking at celestial alignments, and concluded that it was built more than ten thousand years ago so that the stars would match the alignments. The problem of course is that any “alignments” in the ruins are purely subjective, and using this method one could “prove” Pumapunku is any age one wants.

OK, the Tiwanakuans didn’t have a written language. Um, so what? They did have language, and they most certainly can draw pictures. It’s not like they had to come up with modern blueprints, we are talking stacked rocks here. But wait, how about the amazing precision of the cut blocks and how they were put together? Again, easy. The idea that these blocks were cut and fitted with fabulous precision is simply … a lie. The blocks exhibit  great variety, no two are alike, and their rather crude precision is exactly what one would expect for blocks carved with stone tools.

Wait, how could granite and granodiorite have been carved with stone or soft copper tools? Well, for one thing, the blocks at Pumapunku are not made of granite and granodiorite, they are made of sandstone and andesite. And both of these are relatively soft and easy to work stones. Not to mention that the quarries where these blocks were made have been found, with partially made blocks. And while copper is very soft, Tiwankua was a Bronze Age culture, IE they had discovered how to make much stronger copper alloys by adding other metals to the mix. This isn’t just speculation, archeologists have found many examples of the stone working tools the Tiwankuans made.

Lastly we come to moving these giant 800 ton blocks. Oops, another lie. While some early estimates of the blocks had numbers as high as 800 tons, modern more accurate measurements place the largest block at 113 tons, and the vast majority of blocks are much smaller. And on many of the blocks grooves and other structures have been carved that are clearly meant to attach ropes to the blocks. The illustration at the top of the page shows one such carving. Obviously if one had some sort of alien levitation device, one wouldn’t need to go to the trouble of carving slots and holes for ropes. As a final blow to the levitation idea, all of the blocks clearly have drag marks on one face.

In other words, almost everything that ancient alien theorists say about Pumapunku is a lie, and their “conclusions” are not only unsupported by the evidence, they are contradicted by the evidence. Does this mean that the ancient aliens theory is balderdash? Pretty much. At least until actual evidence of contact with aliens in the past is discovered. So far, no luck. However, I still recommend the Ancient Aliens Debunked series because I learned a lot about history and how ancient stone structures are made from just this one episode. In fact I saw a picture of Stonehenge the other day and I could clearly see the distinctive ripple pattern made when shaping a stone with stone tools. So I not only learned something about Pumupunku, I learned something applicable to any megalithic structure.

Was there any purpose to the is post besides sharing my enthusiasm about a TV show? Not really. I do find it fascinating that people can cling to and promote beliefs that are, well, silliness. It seems to be the nature of humans. As many have observed, this may be why the aliens haven’t contacted us yet, there’s no intelligent life down here. Next up, ten ways atheism is a religion. Or maybe something else.

(The above image came from Wikipedia: Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled GNU Free Documentation License. For those interested in ancient stone cutting techniques, this seems to be a good link: Ancient Egyptian Stone Technology.)

Written by unitedcats

December 6, 2012 at 11:41 am

The Bell Island Boom

with one comment

Bell Island is a small island off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. (No, that’s not it pictured above.) It’s only about 13 square miles in area, and pretty low, never even reaching 400 feet in elevation. It was first settled in 1740, and was sparsely inhabited for the next century and a half, home to a few fishermen and farmers. In the late 19th century extensive iron ore was discovered on the island, and for decades it was one of the largest producers of iron ore in northeast North America. The mines extended well underwater though, and required constant pumping to keep them in operation. In World War Two the ore loading docks were twice attacked by German U-boats, 4 ships were sunk and 70 lives were lost. At low tide the wreckage of the sunken ships can still be seen. After World War Two extensive iron ore deposits were found elsewhere in Quebec and Newfoundland, deposits that could be accessed by railroad and didn’t require constant water pumping. By the 1960s the Bell Island mines could no longer compete, and they were shut down and quickly filled with water. Most of the population left, and the island faded into obscurity.

Until the sleepy Sunday morning of 2 April 1978, when Bell Island was rocked by a thunderous explosion, an explosion heard over 40 miles away. There was extensive damage to electrical wiring, and on one farm there were holes in their roof, the roof of their chicken shed was blown off, several chickens killed, and their electrical appliances literally exploded. Near the chicken shed there were several holes in the ground, as if buried explosives had gone off. Afterwards more details emerged. Some people reported a “bell like” sound before the boom. One person on the mainland reported seeing a “shaft of light” slant up from the island when the boom occurred. A young boy on the worst hit farm claimed to have seen a “hovering ball of light” after the blast. Ball lightning was first suspected, but meteorologists confirmed that conditions weren’t right for lightning, what the hell had happened? Deepening the mystery, two American scientists, John Warren and Robert Freyman from the Los Alamos National Laboratory (then called the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory) in New Mexico, showed up shortly after the blast. Why was the American government sending people to investigate a boom on a remote island in Canada?

Cue twilight zone music. And cue conspiracy theories. There were a number of conspiracy theories, all revolving around some sort of secret US or Russian weapons test. The main one involved some sort of electromagnetic beam weapon, where possibly the beam was “attracted” to the island by its vast amount of iron. All given credence by the US investigation, what had the two scientists been there for and why had they been so secretive about what they discovered? The US government certainly never made any announcements. To this day there are TV “documentaries” and web sites espousing weapons conspiracy theories about the Bell Island Boom.

Sigh. I wish people would wake up to the fact that people promoting conspiracy theories lie. They make stuff up. They omit key details. They speculate wildly, bolstered by scientific sounding words, even though their speculations usually make scientists cringe. In the Bell Island Boom case, we see all of these factors operating. Yes, the US government has experimented with beam weapons. And the results haven’t been promising. They take enormous amounts of power, and the beams produced aren’t anything like the phasers of Star Trek. Hell, a light mist or a dusty day can pretty much reduce even powerful beams to little more than a flashlight in no distance at all. The reason armies don’t use beam weapons is simple, guns and missiles are far cheaper and far more effective. And the idea that some sort of electromagnetic beam is going to be “attracted” to a deposit of iron ore apparently doesn’t even pass the laugh test.

And then there’s the “secretive” scientists. In actually they weren’t secretive at all, and freely discussed with the islanders what they were doing there. They were studying superbolts. Superbolts are extremely powerful and extremely rare bolts of lightning. They were discovered by the VELA satellite, which was designed to detect nuclear explosions. They occur in clear weather, almost always over the ocean. The two scientists heard about the Bell island Boom, checked the VELA records and determined that a superbolt  had occurred on Bell island, and went to check it out as it was extremely rare to have a supervolt over land, let alone to know where it had touched down. And they weren’t bashful at all about explaining why they were there, both to the islanders and the press. Their conclusion? It was a superbolt, all of the things that happened were consistent with a large lightning strike. The “beam” seen from the mainland may have been lightning, but it may have been anything, including imagination. Other similar reports like the odd sound before hand were all extremely anecdotal and unreliable. Lighting can and does blow holes in buildings, kill chickens, make holes in the ground, and often blows up electrical equipment. In fact the only thing the two scientists found at all surprising, was that the supervolt hadn’t done more damage!

Is there a point to this post? Yes. One, to show how conspiracy theories can grow on the shallowest of ground. This was only a mystery for a few weeks, and no scientist has any problems with the superbolt explanation, but to this day some people still cite this event as a “mystery” event. As a codicil to this point, a follow-up post will document a similar event that is a mystery still, and may indeed have been a secret weapons test. My second point was that superbolts are just another reminder that new things are being discovered on Earth all the time. One could literally write a book on the dozens of similar type things about Earth that have only been discovered in the past few decades, reality is amazingly complex. I wish I had the words to express that correctly, we live in a  magical world is the closest I can come. Lastly this post was a great vehicle for the image above, that’s a Canadian Forces helicopter that landed on a  sea stack off of Bell Island. Yeah, that’s something Canadians would do.

Have a great weekend everyone.

(The above image was released into the Public Domain by its creator, David Barkes.)



Written by unitedcats

July 27, 2012 at 8:33 am

Picture Day! Photos Never Lie, But Liars Sure Can Photo: UFOs, Nessie, Bigfoot, Ghosts, and Champ. (Warning: This post may make some people pound their keyboard with their forehead.)

with 2 comments

This is the well known (among UFO enthusiasts at least) Cumberland Spaceman photo. It was taken in 1964 in a field in England by Jim Templeton. He claims there was no one else in the field when the image was taken. Analysts at Kodak confirm the picture is unaltered. While UFO enthusiasts have speculated endlessly about this image, most people have no trouble seeing that the white suited figure is a human being. Was Jim Templeton lying? Maybe. I think modern psychology gives us a better answer though. We know very well now that the human brain often doesn’t “see” perfectly obvious things when it isn’t expecting to see them. He was alone in the field taking pictures of his daughter, and simply didn’t register it when someone walked across the field. The camera doesn’t lie, but the brain sure can.

Here we have the famous Hugh Grey Loch Ness Monster picture. It was the first Nessie photo, and was reprinted widely in its day. Taken in 1933, Mr Grey insists it was an image of an unknown animal, a story he told with apparent sincerity all his life. This blurry picture is supposed to be proof of something? Less credulous minds point out that it looks like a swimming dog with a stick in its mouth. In fact once you “see” the dog’s head the image becomes a lot less mysterious. What is it really a picture of? Who knows. The only thing mysterious about the photo is that anyone thinks there is any mystery about it, it’s just a blurry picture of something in the water. And this is touted as evidence for the existence of the Loch Ness Monster? Sheesh.

Here we have one of the most recent photos of Bigfoot. Like all photos of bigfoot, it conveniantly doesn’t show enough detail to really tell anything at all. At least this one is a close up, but again, a close up of a hairy lump doesn’t have a whole lot of probitive value. At this point the complete lack of clear Bigfoot photos (think decades of security cameras and wildlife trap cameras, not to mention camera equipped hikers,) is damning evidence that there is no there there. It’s going to take a Bigfoot carcass or a substantial portion of one to convince most people at this point.

Ah, the back seat ghost photo. This is often touted as one of the best ghost photos ever taken. This was taken by Mabel Chinnery in 1959 while visiting her mother’s grave. She didn’t see the person in the back of the car until the photo was developed. She claims it looks like her mother. Skeptics claim it looks like a crude hoax. In fact most people claim it looks like a crude hoax as far as I can tell. It’s also a little unclear how a camera would be able to capture an image of a mythical creature, the evidence that ghosts are anything other than folklore is non-existant. It is clear to me that if this is one of the “best” ghost photos ever taken, I think we can safely asign them to the Bigfoot category.

Ah, we come to the famous Mansi Champ photo. Champ or Champy is America’s version of Nessie. A family named Mansi took this picture. They didn’t think anything of it for years. They lost the negative in the interum. They can’t remember where exactly they took the image from. It bears an uncanny resemblance to a  floating log. And this is the “best” evidence for the existence of Champ?  And how come none of these animals ever wash ashore dead? Colour me unconvinvced.

OK, we end with this fascinating image. What the hell is that? It’s a photoshopped image of a squirrel, even the most credulous ten year old wouldn’t be fooled by it. Well, I hope not. No, I’m really not trying to make fun of people who place a lot of stock in the images above. It just sort of comes with the territory. I included this pic because it does have a minor bit of oddness associated with it. This morning one of the last dreams I had was a vivid dream that featured a cat morphing into a squirrel. And then when I got up and logged onto Facebook, what should I see but this image posted on my wall by a friend. That’s one hell of a conicidence! Does it mean anything? Of course not, that’s why I use the word coincidence. Jung might have called it synchroncity, a meaningful coincidence.

Fortunately there are real mysteries out there, though one has to wade through a lot of silliness to find them.  I found a doozy in fact. There is some sort of oceanic creature that constructs incredibly elaborate burrows, and has for a long time, fossil burrows almost as old as the appearance of life have been found. New burrows have been discovered in the ocean floor, whatever this creature is, it still exists. The mystery though is that the creature making the burrows has never been indentified. None have ever been found fossilized, and every modern burrow scientists have found and excavated was abandoned! Slippy little devils obviously, scientists debate numerous possibilities. I’ll post about it soon and my gentle readers can make their own guess.

(With the exception of the Bigfoot photo, the images above are all believed to be Public Domain under US copyright law. The Bigfoot Photo is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. Credit and Copyright: American Bigfoot Society.)

Comments and Possibilities and Hopkinsville Goblins Redux

with one comment

I get so many interesting comments on my blog posts. Really, I mean that. months or years after the fact in some cases. Some of my posts get steady traffic, well, permanently, as far as I can tell. And steady traffic means steady comments. More surprisingly, to me at least, is how few nasty and troll comments I get. I turned moderation off fairly early on, and only very rarely have deleted a comment. Even when people disagree with me they are usually polite, and sometimes correct, I have made mistakes. And I can be persuaded by logical argument, I no longer think Jane Fonda should have been tried for treason for example.

The comments on The Hopkinsville Goblin case were fairly typical. Most of them grasped what I was saying, the case has a certain amount of basic verisimilitude, and no matter what the cause, it’s interesting from psychological, social, and historical perspectives. Just the fact that people are indeed afraid of ghost stories is an interesting phenomena. It’s also kind of a good case for separating the wheat from the chaff so to speak. Some people are convinced the case has to have supernatural aspects. No, no it doesn’t. Some people are convinced that a completely mundane explanation is the only explanation possible. No, no it isn’t.

The Dylatov Pass Incident is a good case in point. I still maintain that hypothermia, paradoxical undressing, panic, scavenging animals, poor forensics, and post event weird detail embellishment provide a satisfactory, if not compelling, prosaic explanation. A number of commenters vociferously defend the position that something weird has to be involved. Well, maybe. I even started writing a post addressing some of the points raised, but ultimately decided it was a waste of time. It’s like arguing with 9/11 Truthers, they can’t even concede that there might be other explanations than their’s, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for debate.

Sometimes people leave comments of prodigious length. I guess I’m glad people are so inspired by my writing to write such comments. Usually I read all comments, but in some cases, it’s just too much (the zenpadiso comments.) Or just too weird (Richard, at the end of the comments.) Sometimes people personally involved in events I describe have chimed in. I can only be flattered in such cases. In the Lawndale Thunderbird case a family member added some details, maybe undocumented details, I don’t know. And even if people are pretending to be personally involved in the case, that’s flattering too.

Well, crap, only half a post. I have dozens of draft posts that only made it to half a post before I realized there wasn’t a full post’s worth of material to write about. Even less in many cases. A personal failing really, since a good writer should be able to make anything interesting. Back in the day when I was a corporate drone, I once caught my assistant stuffing a bunch of my office memos into her purse. I was like, oh, taking our work home with you? She said no, her boyfriend really liked my writing style, so she brought him everything I wrote. Hopefully he eventually found my blog, or maybe he had a thing about office memos. I never write those any more. One of them got me fired, honesty is not appreciated in the corporate environment. Well, maybe it’s appreciated by some, but the lying ass-kissers get the promotions most of the time.

There’s been a  recent codicil to the Hopkinsville Goblins case. Don’t read about it here. Don’t read about it because it’s just a contemporary account with no empirical evidence except footprints. Helpfully illustrated above. I’m sure I could find images of Bigfoot footprints too. It’s gonna take a carcass to convince me, not footprints. I mention it because it makes the supposition that the goblins are real, and are some sort of cave dwelling species. Could the Hopkinsville Goblins be some sort of cave dwelling humanoid? Well, Kentucky has a lot of caves, and we know that all sorts of creatures have evolved in very odd ways in caves. And Flores Man shows that humans can indeed evolve in odd ways in odd environments. Could there be a Homo hopkinsvillean man species that occasionally emerges from caves to torment humans? It’s more likely than aliens emerging from UFOs, I’ll grant that.

Which, frankly, isn’t granting much. This new Hopkinsville story neatly demonstrates one of the problems with these sorts of stories. As soon as the original story hits the fan, all sorts of embellishment is added by other people. So so many stories about weird events turn into far more prosaic (if still interesting events) when the post-event craptacular details are omitted. Roswell, Kecksburg, Flight 19, Dylatov Pass, Jocko, and indeed Hopkinsville fall into this sad category. Just for starters.

Nonetheless there are still any number of mysteries to write about. Suggestions always welcome.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. Credit and copyright, well, it’s pretty clear on the image itself. If it had five toes or even four, I’d be more impressed. Three? Give me a break.)

Written by unitedcats

June 27, 2012 at 7:19 am

The Hopkinsville Goblins

with 6 comments

Ah, the Hopkinsville goblin case. This was at the time and still is one of the “great” UFO cases. Great as in popular and well known at the time, and still given great credence by people who believe that UFOs and extraterrestrials regularly visit Earth. Granted unlike Roswell it never became enshrined in popular cultural lore, so many of my readers will never have heard of it. And something interesting that no one has heard of is music to my keyboard so to speak. Enjoy!

So, what happened the night of August 21st 1955? Quite a lot actually, and I’m not going to recount every aspect of it. Two families were staying in a farmhouse in rural Kentucky. At one point in the early evening one of the people went outside to get some water, the house not having indoor plumbing. He saw what he described as a pretty classic UFO, but no one else in the house believed him or even went to look themselves. About an hour later the people in the house began hearing strange noises outside, and the dog began barking wildly. Two men armed themselves and went outside to investigate, the dog hid under the house and stayed there. And then all hell broke loose.

The two men saw two strange humanoid creatures and shot at them to no effect.  They retreated into the house where for the next several hours the people inside saw them through windows and heard them scratching on the roof as if to get in. They claim multiple shots were fired over the course of several hours, none of which had any apparent effect. They finally fled in two cars, driving 30 minutes to the nearest police station. At which point a number of police, state and local, returned to the property. They saw no creatures, but some reported seeing unexplained lights in the sky. And that’s that, to this day the people in the house swear that what they saw was real. What the hell?

The first possibility is that it was simply a hoax that got out of hand. IE they made the story up, it got far more attention than it deserved, so that even the ones who had “just gone along with the fun” were too embarrassed to come clean. Especially if alcohol was involved. I don’t think it can be ruled out, but I don’t think it has ever been proved either. For the purposes of discussion let’s say that hoax is a possibility and move on to other possibilities.

So assuming the people involved really do believe what they experienced was true, is there any way to explain it without resorting to little silver beings? Well, yes. I think panic and active imaginations can explain it. The first guy’s UFO sighting got everyone in the house “primed” so to speak. At the time UFOs were scarier than they are today. Then the other two guys went outside, got thoroughly rattled by whatever they saw, and scared the bejesus out of the rest of the people in the house. The rest followed naturally as frightened people panicked and their imaginations took over. The operative word here being panicked, people don’t think clearly and imagine all sorts of things when they panic, it’s human nature. And their memories of what they imagined can be very real. Now I’m not saying this is the explanation, just that it’s a possible explanation.

So what did the two men see and shoot at originally? Great Horned Owls is the only guess that is worth mentioning. They are about the right size, sometimes aggressively defend their nests, and bear a strong resemblance to the descriptions of the aliens, illustrated above. Granted some find it a very unsatisfying explanation, but it’s more likely than little silver suited aliens!

Do I consider this case “solved” with the assurance that most of the skeptics seem to evince? No, of course not. There really isn’t any evidence besides the narratives of the people involved, which pretty much limits us to possible explanations. And likely the story will remain unsolved, at this point I think if it was a hoax some or all of the participants would have fessed up. These people really do believe they saw something strange that night, and unless a flying saucer lands and apologetic aliens pop out to beg forgiveness from the family they scared back in 1955, that’s as far as I am going to go in terms of reaching a conclusion.

What I will do is try to find similar cases where panicked people did indeed see things they imagined, I know I have so it shouldn’t be too hard. Suggestions welcome.

Have a great weekend everyone!

(The above image is Public Domain under US copyright law, having been produced by a Federal employee in the course of his duties. In this case by Pfc. Gary F. Hodson of the 101st Airborne Division, who interviewed some of the witnesses after the encounter. Frankly I find the resemblance to an owl rather uncanny.)

Written by unitedcats

June 22, 2012 at 11:48 am