Friday, 23 December 2011

The Exit of Dennis Potter

Is the world a hologram? This question has become a rather pat truism within the latest alternative paradigm; certainly since the publication of books like Michael Talbot’s Holographic Universe and Tales from the Time Loop by David Icke, the latter of which draws heavily on the former. But is this, if not premature, at least presumptive? What does all that actually mean? Do the people who so often talk about it really know?

Descriptions of this fairly new idea have so far been described better in fictional allegory than scientific books, papers and documentary films. One very good example from cinema is Adrian Lyne’s 1990 chiller Jacob’s Ladder. I first watched this film after seeing it referred to in the excellent book The Spiritual Universe by Fred Alan Wolf. It follows the story of a troubled postman who is being haunted by demons as he makes his way though his everyday life. Mixed in with this are flashbacks to his former life as a soldier in the Vietnam War who is badly injured, and a father to a young boy who gets killed in an accident while riding his bike. As the film progresses it is revealed that the postman was actually killed in Vietnam and that the years of his life since have, it seems, all been a very long and protracted Near-Death-Experience in which his mental landscape formed his outer one. In a scene in which the postman’s friend refers to the 12th century mystical philosopher Meister Eckhart, he explained that the demons the postman perceived were really angels, but because he didn’t understand what they were he saw them as demons. Why is this? Why could one thing be another entirely different thing depending on our state of mind? This somehow struck a chord with me and I searched eagerly for any other information on the subject. Recently I’ve discovered another fictional allegory. It concerns both the work and the life of the writer Dennis Potter. I put the two words together because all of Potter’s best-known work was semi-autobiographical.

Dennis Potter was born in 1935 in Berry Hill, Gloucestershire into a mining family. He began writing in 1965, but never achieved major acclaim until 1986 when the BBC broadcast the serial (What the BBC still rather snobbishly calls a “play”) The Singing Detective. This serial was a huge hit and catapulted Potter into the league of household names. The series was based on the story of a middle aged man who entered hospital to be treated for a bad case of psoriasis, a painful and irritating skin condition that causes sore dermatitis and itchy lesions. The main character was played excellently by Michael Gambon. (The show also contains yet another very negative portrayal of a Hospital Porter which I forgot to mention in this article!: http://hpanwo.blogspot.com/2008/10/hospital-porters-in-media.html A young black man who dowdily shunts the main character around whole chewing gum and listening to headphones. See: http://hpanwo.blogspot.com/2007/12/dont-tell-em-were-porters.html) During the course of his stay in hospital the character explores the world of his memory, drifting back to his childhood in the Forest of Dean, and also a fantasy world he’s created for himself because he’s a writer. As the title suggests, his principle protagonist is a detective who is also a singer; he wears a trenchcoat and trilby hat making him a cliché Chandleresque private eye. The two mental landscapes are blended, with the effortlessly-apt and ingenious wit and style, with the real world of the character, that is Potter’s hallmark. At times, the different worlds become blurred, with characters in the real world acting out scenes from the main character’s fantasy or past. The narrative is accompanied by period popular music, another recurring feature of Potter's drama. His main character, as always, is somebody just like himself: a man of the same age, profession and with the same thoughts and feelings. Like his character, Potter originates from the Forest of Dean. In this way he is not dissimilar to my friend and fellow writer Jude Calvert-Toulmin, see: http://hpanwo.blogspot.com/2010/12/heroine-for-internet-age.html . We see this pattern continue in his subsequent serial Lipstick on Your Collar, which was broadcast in 1993. The story is set in England in 1956, on the verge of the Suez Crisis, and the main character in this series was a young man played by Ewan McGregor who is doing his national service as a Russian translator in a British military intelligence office. Again this matches with Potter’s own youthful experience as a Russian linguistic expert at around the same time; and the imagery of the series inspired me to envisage the “WL lab” in my own novel Evan’s Land: http://hpanwo.blogspot.com/2010/11/evans-land-online.html . This series also included some revolutionary computer-generated special effects. This was the last of Potter’s work that was produced during his lifetime.

In 1994 Dennis Potter died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 59. True to form, he managed to complete a screenplay before his death, his most brilliant in my view. This was produced after he died in a unique collaborative effort between the BBC and Channel 4. It was a two-part series; the first called Karaoke and its sequel Cold Lazarus. Like all Potter’s work his two last plays are typical of his house style: hardbitten, gothic, surreal and darkly humourous. Potter was described by Alan Bennett and his other peers are rather arrogant and incapable of self-criticism. That’s true! But I sometimes think that a certain amount of arrogance is a good thing in literature. It can drive us to achieve excellence, as we define excellence on our own personal terms and this adds colour, richness and variety to the World of Letters. There are many great artistic geniuses who were arrogant to the point of megalomania, but I bet their work wouldn’t have been half as good if they’d felt the need to pander to “Duh Cwitticks” (I have a lot to say on that subject! See: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.com/2008/06/critics.html). If anything I’d say that most writers are not arrogant enough! They’re too eager to please the fickle readership and compromise their uniqueness to the mediocrats of cultural conformity. Another thing I like about Potter is that he refused to bow to Political Correctness; this brutal regime has blunted the literary and performing arts, especially comedy, for several decades now, and it has and bred a climate of fear that is virtually Orwellian in scale; and it’s about time dramatists stood up to it!

The main character in Karaoke and Cold Lazarus is once again the author personified into the story, a man in his late fifties, emotionally troubled and with many physical health problems, the worst of which is the pancreatic cancer that eventually kills him. Karaoke follows the fortunes of a writer, Daniel Feeld, who is working on a TV production of one of his screenplays and he’s played very well by Albert Finney. Feeld finds himself being surrounded by people, total strangers in pubs, passers-by on the street etc, whom he overhears reciting lines of his play in their ordinary conversation. Feeld is bemused and starts questioning his own sanity. He tries to explain what’s happening to his friends, but they don’t believe him; they say it’s a “coincidence” (That word so beloved of Skepperhood, see: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.com/2010/08/its-just-coincidence.html) or that he’s imagining things. This element of the story is soon overtaken by Feeld’s quest to protect a young woman, who reminds him of his first love, from a brutal gangster who owns the sleazy bar in which she works. Potter’s typical blend between fantasy and reality means she also resembles Feeld’s character in the TV show he’s involved with. In the final scene, Feeld shoots the gangster dead and then returns to the hospital before the police can catch him. Karaoke ends with the mystery of Feeld’s strange experiences unsolved. It is only when you watch Cold Lazarus that you find out, and this is where Jacob’s Ladder and the Holographic Principle comes in. Cold Lazarus is a cyberpunk-ish dystopian sci-fi drama set in the 23rd Century. It turns out that when Daniel Feeld died all those hundreds of years earlier his friends had his head preserved via cryonics, a subject I wrote about on HPANWO long ago: http://hpanwo.blogspot.com/2007/08/cryonics.html A group of scientists led by a character played very enigmatically by Frances de la Tour have achieved the technology to regenerate Feeld’s cryonically-preserved head and tap into the memories stored inside his brain. They watch episodes of Feeld’s life played out before them rather like a TV show. Some of these involve his childhood in the Forest of Dean in the 1930’s, again just like the author. Others are scenes from his adult life, including the time period covered by Karaoke. A couple of the memories are very harrowing, including an incident as a small child where he is sexually-abused by a tramp in the woods. Others are happy memories, like when he met Beth, a girl he falls in love with and who is played by the same actress, and therefore meant to resemble, Sandra, the girl Feeld shelters in Karaoke. Feeld’s memory of his own death involves a classic Near-Death Experience in which he has an Out-of-Body episode and then goes up a tunnel towards a bright light. Then you hear Feeld scream in distress and he is pulled back down the tunnel and soon the truth becomes clear: Feeld is aware of his situation and is attempting to communicate with the scientists; he is suffering extremely badly and he asks that he be allowed to die. “We’re not studying him, we’re torturing him!” is a good line from the serial. In the end the scientists agree and destroy the laboratory and Feeld’s head; this is just before a media mogul manages to get hold of it and broadcast the memories on his TV channel.

This is where the truth behind the enigma of Karaoke becomes clear and this is why it’s like Jacob’s Ladder. Daniel Feeld’s experiences in Karaoke are actually not real memories, but a world based on his memories, but constructed out of his imagination. The setting of Karaoke is not what it appears to be; it is actually taking place inside Feeld’s frozen head in the Lazarus laboratory in the 23rd Century. The way people keep reciting lines of his play is because they exist purely in Feeld’s imagination. This is exactly the same as the postman in Jacob’s Ladder. The reality of both the postman and Feeld in the two separate films is a mental construct, a very long Near-Death Experience. Both films end with the characters realizing their situation and finally dying for real... But when you examine the themes of these works you have to ask: What is real in the first place? The mind boggles! What if my experience now, sitting in front of a keyboard writing this article, is just taking place inside my mind. I might at this moment actually be a severed head on a laboratory bench in some distant future world. What if the scientists probing these memories I’m experiencing now are just the same, living a constructed life? And so on into infinite regression. This concept has elements that can be found in the very famous film The Matrix. As Morpheus says to Neo: “What is real? If you define “real” as what you can see hear, taste touch or smell then “real” is merely electrical signals from your nerves interpreted by the brain.” According to the physicist Frank Tipler we may well actually all be computer programmes living in a vastly complex virtual reality machine created by super-intelligent beings from the very distant future, see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ialY2PgUIKI . The Holographic Principle is one that mainstream physics is only just beginning to come to terms with, but has been discussed by fringe researchers for some time: That everything that makes up reality has a structure that resembles an electronic construct. According to many writers, most recently Anthony Peake, see: http://www.anthonypeake.co.uk/index.php, this can explain phenomena like deja-vu and Synchronicity, something we're all familiar with and I've written about them myself many times. (EG: See my report on Brian Halliwell's speech here: http://hpanwo.blogspot.com/2008/10/uk-probe-conference-october-08.html) Recently, especially in the 1990’s, films were produced that explored this concept through fictional allegory, along with scientific books like Michael Talbot’s The Holographic Universe. Dennis Potter’s Karaoke and Cold Lazarus are two of these fictional allegories, less well known than The Matrix, but deserving of the same attention. Like George Orwell feverishly typing away at 1984 in his lonely Scottish island cottage, Potter left us a taunting and intriguing legacy before he left this Holographic Construct... or did he?

You’ll be glad to know that Karaoke/Cold Lazarus can be watched for free online at Channel 4’s YouTube account. Here’s Karaoke: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YzW1CpIq468 and here’s Cold Lazarus: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wS_BVeMEZJY . (Sorry about all the adverts; it’s the price you pay for free viewing.)

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Sunday, 11 December 2011

The Ark of the Covenant

Mythology is a frustrating thing. One of the main reasons it’s frustrating is because within the norms of Conformist culture it’s just like God: You either believe in it as a preestablished truth or you reject it 100% as nonsense; there is no Third Position; no in-between or middle way. You may either embrace literally a myth that is part of your chosen off-the-shelf package religion or you see it as an entertaining story that is completely imaginary. I’ve spoken before of how I see this as the reason we’ve never solved the mystery of Atlantis, (See EG: http://hpanwo.blogspot.com/2008/05/beyond-knowledge-conference-2008.html) but lately I’ve come across another historical conundrum that is similarly afflicted: The Ark of the Covenant.

The Ark of the Covenant is the most enigmatic historical artifact and religious relic in the world. It first appears in mythology in the Bible; the Book of Exodus. In one of the best-known stories ever told, Moses leads his fellow Israelites out of slavery in Egypt to Mount Sinai. He ascends the mountain to the summit, a place of pilgrimage in modern times, where God descended in a storm cloud flanked by two cherubim blowing ram's horn trumpets and gave Moses the Ten Commandments. God carved the text of the Ten Commandments onto a pair of stone slabs with his finger (Does God really have fingers!?) and Moses brought them down from the mountain after, in the best of Biblical tradition, forty days. God told Moses to build a wooden box to carry the stone tablets in. As He did with Noah, God gave a very precise design blueprint for the box. The box was to be oblong in shape, measuring 2.5 by 1.5 by 1.5 Royal cubits in dimension, that’s 3.75 x 2.25 x 2.25 feet. It was to be made of acacia-wood timber and covered all over with solid gold plating. Similar acacia-wood carrying-staves were inserted into four gold rings built into the side and the staves were never to be removed even when the box was standing on the ground. The box was to be covered with a golden lid with similarly golden figurines of the two cherubim that accompanied God set on top (God Himself, of course, was never portrayed in an image). This box was to be called the Ark of the Covenant. According to some myths other objects were placed in there too: a facsimile of the original tablets, also inscribed by God’s finger, after the originals were smashed by Canaanite idolaters, who took over while Moses went away for a while. Also it is said to contain Moses’ own first hand-written Torah, Aaron’s Rod and several other Israelite heirlooms. This was long before the building of the famous Temple of Jerusalem and the Israelites were a nomadic culture at that time so they carried the Ark with them wherever they went, which must have been quite a burden seeing as it was partly made of solid gold! Whenever they stopped and set up camp the Ark was placed inside a sacred mobile shrine called the Tabernacle which consisted of a special tent that only Moses and the Ark’s vanguard could enter; this tent was also set up to very specific dimensions dictated by God (Maybe this is why the Masons call God “the Great Architect”). The Ark was more than just a ceremonial antique though; it was also a very powerful weapon of war that was a channel of God’s power on Earth. In fact the Israelites defeated several enemies by using the Ark; most famously the Ark destroyed the fortified walls of Jericho after God told the army to march around it 7 times (7 is another recurring number in the Bible) brandishing the Ark. After 40 years (that number again!) of wandering in the wilderness the Israelites installed the Ark permanently in Solomon's great Temple of Jerusalem. The home of the Ark was in an inner sanctum known as the “Holiest of Holies” into which only the most senior high Levite Priests were permitted to enter. This Temple was destroyed and rebuilt several times and today all that remains of it is the Wailing Wall, but what happened to the Ark that lay inside it? After the final sacking of the Temple by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC the Ark is never mentioned again in the Old Testament. This is strange; you’d think that whether the Ark survived or was destroyed, the authors of the Bible would have something to say about its fate. This was the most prized national treasure that the Israelite people possessed, designed by God, built by the founder of their nation and containing a specimen of God’s own handwriting. This is the God revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. So what happened to it? According to the Book of Revelations the Ark ascended into Heaven and St John saw it when the Temple gates were opened in one of his visions. However usually these kinds of ascensions are very dramatically noted at the time they happen, as with Mary, but not this one. It’s as if God whipped the Ark out of the back door as Nebuchadnezzar’s armies were marching up the drive; that’s not God’s style.

As with the Holy Grail, since the Ark vanished from history and legend, several theories have arisen as to where it might be right now. These theories have spawned many fictional accounts, such as Stephen Spielberg’s celebrated film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first in the Indiana Jones series. In this film the Ark is hidden in Egypt. It’s also said to be located in Ireland, England, Jordan, France, South Africa and Italy. But by far the most likely story is that the Ark went to Ethiopia; how the Ark ended up there is a long and interesting story, but there’s also archaeological evidence that it is a true one. Ethiopia is an ancient and unique country, almost unknown to the outside world until it tragically shot into the global headlines the 1980’s, when a famine wiped out millions of its people and this inspired rock stars to come together in the first ever international concert to raise money to save them. In fact the country deserves notoriety for other more positive reasons. It is home to one of the most archaic and fascinating religious traditions on Earth. It has both an unusual orthodox Christian church and a very old Jewish tradition. There are two stories of how the Ark of the Covenant arrived in Ethiopia. One of them states that the Ark was not destroyed during the Babylonian conquest at all; not because God had managed to get it out of the way, but because the Ark had been removed before then, over 200 years before then in fact. The theory goes that the Ark was taken by Jewish refugees when a usurper-king called Manasseh came to power. Manasseh is portrayed in the Bible as a deeply wicked man who brought down the Kingdom of Israel with much brutality and then committed a gross blasphemy by installing a pagan idol in the Temple. The Jewish loyalists fled and it seems reasonable that they would save the Ark by taking it with them. But where would they flee to? This was a big question that’s not easy to answer. However we can suppose that wherever they went to there would be historical and archaeological evidence for their presence because such a high class of refugees would have a great impact on the surrounding area, its culture and traditions. In fact they’d enjoy a similar status as the Dalai Lama and his Tibetan Buddhist followers do today. It seems likely that they would desire to build a new temple, maybe not quite as grand as Solomon’s original one in Jerusalem, but still substantial. Does a record of any such presence exist?

Yes it does. If you travel up the river Nile into southern Egypt you come across a small and apparently insignificant island called Elephantine; this is right on the ancient trade routes between Africa and Palestine. On this island during the time of King Manasseh’s regime a large and powerful Jewish expatriate community emerged and the ruins of their buildings can be seen to this day on the island. Among them is a huge temple complex; at the time, this was the only Jewish Temple in the entire world to be built other than the main one in Jerusalem. It must have been a very special place for Jews during this early Diaspora, perhaps special enough to be the new home of the Ark of the Covenant? Unfortunately the relationship between the Elephantine Jews and their Egyptian asylum-granters was rather shaky. This was because the Jews still practiced animal sacrifice, especially prime rams, at a time when the local Egyptians were worshipping a ram-god called Khnum. The conflict came to a head in 410 BC and the result was that the Jews were evicted from Elephantine. The Egyptians then demolished the Temple. Where would the Jews go from there? Not north for sure because there lay Egypt and they would have surely have been under exile as a result of their eviction, and beyond Egypt lay their arch-enemy Manasseh. To the West was nothing but the endless Sahara Desert and to the east the Red Sea. So they could only have gone south. Upriver on the Nile lay some very green and pleasant lands like Kush, Ophir and Nubia, the region today called Ethiopia.

The second legend is a native Ethiopian one and is today the foundational doctrine of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. It concerns a well-known, but very tenuous and mysterious historical character: the Queen of Sheba. The story goes that the Queen of Sheba came from one of the countries in what is now Ethiopia and lived in the early 9th Century BC, just when the Temple in Jerusalem had been built. On a state visit to Jerusalem she had a fling with King Solomon through which she became pregnant. Her baby became King Menelik I. When he came of age the young king went back to Jerusalem to remind his estranged father of his responsibilities. A deal of some kind was struck which meant that Menelik was given the Ark of the Covenant to take to Ethiopia on condition that he imposed the Judaic faith and culture on his people. He did so and the Jewish tradition in that country endures into the modern era. I find this tale slightly dubious. Sure I know that paternity feuds can be very bitter and costly indeed to the paternal party, but there’s no way Solomon would hand over the Ark. It would be better if he handed over the rest of the entire nation and kept the Ark. Remember what this artifact meant to his people; it was literally a direct gift from God. Also if Menelik had taken the Ark it would mean that the Ark would have been removed from the Temple in Jerusalem just a few short years after the thing had been built! What a waste of effort! Whichever of these tales is the right one there is very strong evidence that the Ark ended up in Ethiopia. Its first sanctuary was Lake Tana. Archaeologists had to visit the extremely remote and isolated Monastery of Debre Damo to discover this secret. This mountain fortress was sealed off from the outside world for over 1500 years and can only be entered by shinnying up a leather rope to a doorway 60 feet up on a sheer cliff face. There, the location of where the Ark was held was revealed. I say was, not is; but bear with me.

Lake Tana is the source of the Blue Nile, the final destination that the Jewish exiles from Elephantine would have come to by following the river. The lake is huge and is covered by many islands, some of them isolated monasteries on which outsiders were forbidden. The area is held sacred by the Ethiopian people and has been used as a fortress to guard national treasures during the frequent occasions when the country has come under attack from an outside enemy or internal strife. The most inaccessible and exclusive of all these outposts is the island of Tana Kirkos. It is almost totally undiscussed; even most Ethiopians have never even heard of it. Here both local legends and archaeological evidence agree that something of enormous spiritual and historical value was kept here. In Part 3 of this TV show: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOqLpT6HKzY we see the location where a new Tabernacle may have been erected. The socket holes in the rock match the very precise God-given measurements from tradition, ones that the Jewish priests would have very solemnly and reverently reproduced on the ground of this foreign land. In Part 4 you’ll see that nearby is a very regal grave, maybe the last resting place of the chief Levite Priest who led the expedition. Also in Part 4, you’ll see that the islanders of Tana Kirkos possess sacred objects that they say were brought by the Jewish refugees and show them to the camera. The Ark was kept on Tana Kirkos for 800 years and then, in the 4th Century AD when Ezana, the first Christians king of Ethiopia, sat on his throne, this most holy treasure was moved to the Royal city of Aksum.

For over 600 years Aksum was the centre of a prosperous Christian empire and the heart of its power lay in its sacred core, the Cathedral of St Mary of Zion, the place where the Ark of the Covenant has rested for the last 1600 years. Today the home of the Ark is a surprisingly modest building, a small chapel-like structure in the grounds of what is today a fairly average-sized newly-rebuilt cathedral. It is called The Church of the Tablet and was built in the 1950’s by Emperior Haile Selassie’s wife after the Ark began to cause damage to its original storage site in the old cathedral; I’ll explain how and why such damage might be done in a moment. However this sanctuary is a place of great veneration and on festival days thousands of people will gather in the streets of Aksum as a Tabot, an effigy of the Ark that is always used in Ethiopian church services, is paraded through the city with enormous reverence. As for the real Ark? That’s an entirely different matter. The real Ark never leaves the little chapel and nobody is allowed near it except the Keeper. The post of Keeper of the Ark of the Covenant has got to be the most exclusive and carefully-vetted job application that exists. He is a man who is the most trusted and dedicated of all the Ethiopian clergy selected in a way that makes the Papal Conclave look casual. He and he alone is permitted to enter the Church of the Tablet and look upon the Ark. He takes vows to tend the Ark and do nothing else ever again; he never leaves the small chapel compound and never leaves his job until the day he dies. Under no circumstances is anybody else allowed near the Ark. This is apparently more for their own protection than that of the Ark. The Ark, it seems, can easily take care of itself! More on that in a moment, but one thing is for certain: anybody who goes on a quest for the Ark will eventually end up in only one place: outside the high security railings surrounding the Church of the Tablet. The Ark will lie just a dozen feet away from them but for all the chance they’ll have of viewing it, it might as well be on Mars! Of course in a region as volatile and unstable as northern Ethiopia there’s always a risk that in a period of disorder somebody might try to force entry to the chapel and look at the Ark, or even try to steal or destroy it. If that happens then I’ve no doubt that it will be over the Keeper’s dead body… but maybe it will be over the perpetrator’s too.

As I said, it appears that the Ark is more than just a relic; it has an awareness and intelligence of its own and it seems quite capable of defending itself, often greatly to the detriment of its attacker. There are many stories of what happens to people who try to abuse the Ark, one of them is Biblical. The Ark was captured once by the Philistines after a battle in which they thrashed the Israelites so badly that the Tabernacle was overrun. The Ark was carried back to their homeland in triumph and placed in their own temple. The Israelites were devastated, thinking they’d lost their most priceless treasure forever. However 7 months later the Philistines came to the Israelites and offered to return the Ark unconditionally. This was because since the Ark had been in their possession their entire country had been beset by terrible misfortune, in particular the people had all fallen ill with plagues and tumours. The Ark was exceptionally choosy about whom it had around it. It brought great success and protection to the Israelites, but to anybody else it didn’t like, it brought disaster and death. This factor of the story was included into the climax of Stephen Spielberg’s film about the Ark. Apologies for the spoiler, but what happens is that it appears that all is lost. Indiana Jones and the heroine are tied up awaiting execution and the Nazis open up the Ark to test it. Immediately they’re struck down by fire and die in a very gruesome scene which gave me nightmares as a child. The Ark, so the stories go, has a willpower all of its own and will react very violently if you try to harness it to your own devices. But this is just a story isn’t it? Just ancient myths and a film script? Maybe not, because the Keepers of the Ark in Aksum say the exact same thing. They don’t only keep ordinary people away from the Ark as an act of respect for the Ark’s sacred status, but to protect them from the Ark!

You may be wondering why I’ve decided to write about this subject. Am I about to turn religious? Do I believe the literal truth of the Ark’s origins? Am I now going to try and persuade you that God really did come down to Moses and write on stone tablets with his own hand? No! Definitely not! I’m not going to suggest that the legends associated with the Ark of the Covenant are the absolute truth of its origins; but then again, as I said at the start of this article, I’m not sure that we can just dismiss the entire phenomenon of the Ark as make-believe. The Ark may well be a real object of enormous physical, energetic and/or spiritual power that was found by tribesmen in Palestine 3000 or so years ago, and the Bible stories and Ethiopian fables were legends that grew up around factual accounts and experiences of it over the ages. Graham Hancock (see HPANWO Links column) has speculated that it might be some form of high technology; I think it may be part of a Roswell-style “flying disk”. There’s no way to be sure, but in 2008 the History Channel said in one of its programmes that the Keepers of the Ark usually don’t live very long; they are quickly struck down by maladies like cataracts and other conditions associated with exposure to excessive radiation. It might be some kind of interdimensional object, portal or energy field; or even something else altogether that we can’t even imagine. Whatever it is, it is without a doubt the most incredible relic in the entire world. It has seized the imagination of the people who’ve come into contact with it for over 3000 years… and sometimes their lives too. We will probably never know, unless for some hitherto unimaginable reason the Ethiopian priesthood decides to bring the Ark out and put it on public display, but that is so unlikely that it hardly deserves a second thought. However on the 25th of June 2009 the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church said that he would unveil the Ark the following day; when the following day arrived he said he’d changed his mind!
(Sources: Raider of the Lost Ark, Hational Geographic and Grahamhancock.net)

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Friday, 25 November 2011

Who is Wilbert Smith?

Do you recognize the man in the above photo? I thought I did. I’ve seen this photograph so many times, but always thought it were a portrait of the famous UFO contactee George Adamski, or maybe George King, the founder of the Aetherius Society. It is a photo of a UFO contactee, but one I’d never heard of before. His name is Wilbert Smith and I first heard his tale at the Birmingham UFO Group meeting of the 24th of November 2011. He may well be one of UFOlogy’s greatest unsung heroes. Here’s the BUFOG website: http://bufog.blogspot.com/

My journey to the BUFOG meeting was full of friction and obstacles, usually a good omen that I’m about to have an interesting time, I think. All the trains between Oxford and Birmingham were delayed due to the wrong sort of leaves on the track or something similar and I had to change trains unexpectedly and wait for a long time at Dorridge. I’m ashamed to say that I’m not a man without prejudices and the name “Dorridge” has unfortunately always conjured up images in my head of some chuck of West Midlands suburban sprawl with crumbling red-brick factories and ugly, grey, oblong postwar office blocks. In fact Dorridge is a very clean and neat rural town and its railway station is one of the most charming I’ve ever seen; so I didn’t mind being delayed there a while before completing my journey into Birmingham, and I apologize to anyone offended by my now-eliminated misconception. The meeting ended too late for a journey home so I stayed overnight at the Travelodge in Oldbury. I settled into my room after I arrived and then headed for the venue, negotiating the treacherous roads and flicking through my A to Z at every street corner.

The BUFOG meetings are held at an elegant snooker club in a large and comfortable function room. The speaker was Andrew Johnson (See HPANWO Links), a man all regular HPANWO-readers will be familiar with, see: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.com/2011/10/dr-judy-wood-in-brighton.html and: http://hpanwo.blogspot.com/2010/12/andrew-johnson-newspaper-ad.html . He often speaks at Exopolitics events, see: http://hpanwo.blogspot.com/2011/08/exopolitics-leeds-2011.html . Today he was speaking on a subject I’ve never heard him discuss before, but one of the other audience members assured me that Andrew has delivered this speech before elsewhere: Wilbert Smith. Wilbert Smith was born in 1910 in a place called Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. He worked for the Canadian Government as a superintendent of radio regulations. Unlike that other Canadian UFO buff, and also politician, the Rt Hon. Paul Hellyer MP, Smith doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page! He was however an extremely prolific and successful researcher and there are many alternative media sources dedicated him, including even an online edition of one of his books: http://www.rexresearch.com/smith/newsci~1.htm . He was director of something called Project Magnet in the 1950’s. This was an operation set up by the Canadian Government to detect the presence of UFO by searching the sky for electromagnetic anomalies. The aim was to try to work out how these objects were powered and propelled. It’s interesting that the project was set up under the premise that UFO’s were in reality products of an extraterrestrial civilization; before even the Hyneks and Klasses of this world were arguing over whether they even existed! Strangely enough in 1964 the Canadian Government issued a statement that, although Project Magnet had existed as one of their outfits, it was a henceforth going to be merely a private project administered personally by Wilbert Smith and no longer an official government operation at all! According to Andrew this is an act of "offical denial" that came about due to the amazing discoveries made by Smith and his team: confirming the presence of UFO's as real alien artifacts. Despite the project no longer being under their management, the Government allowed Smith access to the facilities to continue his work in his own time and out of his own pocket.

Wilbert Smith’s work didn’t only concern the UFO’s that appear in the sky, he also got involved in research into contactee reports and eventually had direct contact experiences himself. He worked with a woman called Frances Swan who lived very close to Betty and Barney Hill, the famous couple who are wrongly called “The first alien abductees”. Smith had a long-term and significant interaction with an extraterrestrial being whom he called “Tyla”. What was so interesting about this contact was that Tyla instructed Smith in the engineering of unknown esoteric Free Energy and antigravity propulsion systems. He discovered that spinning a disk-shaped object at high speed can induce an antigravity effect. This has been discovered since independently by Mary Bennett and David Percy, authors of the book Dark Moon, see: http://www.aulis.com/nasa3.htm . Also Evgeny Podkletnov of the University of Tampere in Finland did a similar experiment that produced a limited antigravity effect using a spinning ring: http://www.holoscience.com/news/antigravity.html Tyla described himself as a “dustman”, here to clean up the poisons produced by nuclear weapons testing on Earth and he also showed Smith a machine called the “Caduceus Coil” that could tap usable electrical power from the Earth’s magnetic field, just like Nikola Tesla did, see: http://hpanwo.blogspot.com/2011/05/nikola-tesla-as-close-as-it-gets.html . Smith also worked on something he called “The Binding Force”, the details of which can be found in his book, see the link above. According to his son Jim, Wilbert Smith was not entirely discarded by all the forces of Government. Some shadow elements kept in touch with him and often employed him in their covert UFO-based endevours; this included several “Roswells” (See: http://hpanwo.blogspot.com/2008/03/roswells-galore.html) and Jim, in the same way as Jesse Marcel Jr, once handled a part of the wreckage of a crashed UFO, the “Ottawa Piece”. Smith also dealt with the bodies of aliens from the crashes too.

The legacy of Wilbert Smith continued long after his death in 1962, in fact scientific investigation based on his ideas endures to the present day. One of the biggest and most powerful Military-Industrial Complex aerospace businesses, McDonnell-Douglas, at one point decided to interview UFO experiencers; properly, that it. They planned not only drop by and ask to have a chat with them over a cuppa, but to pay them good money for their time and in exchange for information. The Defence journalist and antigravity agnostic Nick Cook, relates this in his interesting, but sometimes dubious, documentary UFO's- The Secret Evidence, see: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-834605691449249469# (Here's another documentary by Nick Cook, equally slippery in it's accuracy I think, The Billion Dollar Secret: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3975546396136405829#) . Another hint at what’s really going on can be found in the strange behaviour of the Apollo astronauts since the missions which history tells us landed them on the moon. I doubt that this is true, see: http://hpanwo.blogspot.com/2009/01/i-went-to-godamn-moon.html , but whether you believe they really did go to the moon or not, this subject is still relevant. I doubt if any of these men will ever confess openly, but they might do quietly and partially. For instance, Neil Armstrong has made some intriguing and incriminating comments. He’s a shy and private man who has little contact with the public, but if you read between the lines of his limited public speeches you might notice something strange, see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1vFEwAJZQY “Truth’s protective layers”!? What’s he talking about? I doubt very much if this is what his speech-writer told him to say. Buzz Aldrin has also said some very nebulous things on TV; here he is with Larry King: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDIXvpjnRws . The Apollo 11 crew have revealed that they did see a UFO in space when they were (apprantly) on their way to the moon. Most suspicious of all is the Apollo astronaut whom we in the UFOlogical community have come to admire and trust the most: Dr Edgar Mitchell. Mitchell was a major figure in the late Counterculture period, establishing the Institute for Noetic Sciences near Big Sur, California, the American equivalent of Glastonbury. He’s also a native of Roswell, New Mexico and professes to believe in UFO’s, supporting and agreeing with Roswell researchers who think that a UFO actually did crash there in July 1947. He’s a supporter of the Exopolitics and UFO Disclosure movements and has spoken at their famous press conferences. However Andrew is worried that he may be a shill, a government agent. Apparently the Free Energy inventor Bruce De Palma asked Mitchell’s organization to assist him develop his invention and Mitchell demanded that de Palma sell him the rights. This was not just the development lease contract which de Palma was hoping for, but basically de Palma handing over everything he’d created to Mitchell’s group and never being able to have any say in what happens to it again! De Palma wisely told him “no” at which Mitchell replied with a veiled threat. This is textbook tactics for controlled opposition; it’s happened to many Free Energy inventors sadly; even Nikola Tesla fell foul of this ruse when he got involved with JP Morgan and the Astors. The USA has a great tradition in backyard inventors, part-time amateurs who create marvels on a shoestring budget in their garden sheds, like the Wright Brothers and Thomas Edison. What can happen is that a rich financier from the world of Big Business often approaches these people and offers a “partnership” that involves the inventor selling the rights for a substantial payment. These inventors are usually very short of money and eagerly snap it up. This is most often the first step towards suppression and secrecy. As soon as the contracts are signed the “business partner” takes all the papers and prototypes with the promise to “leave it all in my capable hands. This is going to be a great success!” and that’s the last the world ever hears of it. The most interesting piece of evidence regarding Edgar Mitchell’s secret life comes from a source I don’t normally champion. I find Bart Sibrel’s methods extremely unprofessional and counterproductive, but when he ambushed Mitchell he picked up something unintentionally which many people have understood is extremely significant even if Sibrel himself is too stupid to. Watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTUaZl6Nyho At the end Mitchell’s son says: “Do you want to call the CIA and have them waxed?” What he means by “waxed” I’m not sure; Sibrel predictably makes a joke out of it as the end of his Astronauts Gone Wild! Film, see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=487zC8qzRvA But whatever was meant by “waxed” why on Earth would Ed Mitchell be calling the CIA? Bart Sibrel’s business collapsed soon after this film came out and today he works as a lowly cabbie. Maybe that’s because he was “waxed”… then again it could be just because he’s a numpty.

Andrew is extremely suspicious of some of the leading figures in the UFO and Disclosure community, particularly Dr Steven Greer, and I share his suspicions. See: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.com/2010/01/year-ago-dr-stephen-greer-of-disclosure.html I’ve changed my mind a bit since I made this film and have become, if anything, even more cynical of Greer than I was then. He’s done something similar to Ed Mitchell; he has attempted to legally seize the copyright of the UFO photos and footage people capture on his organized skywatches, his so-called “CE5" outings. Andrew takes heart from the fact that he sees Disclosure as something with two streams. The first is the conventional one that the Exopolitics movement is concerned with: campaigning to force governments to declassify their secret information about UFO’s. Both Andrew and I believe that this is probably impossible for reasons I’ve discussed lot recently, see: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.com/2011/08/disclosure-is-here-president-admits.html However there’s a second stream of Disclosure, according to Andrew; this is the Disclosure initiated by the extraterrestrials themselves through their contact with ordinary people and their attempts to educate and reveal information to them. That’s good news because the second stream is one that the Shadow Government can do little to prevent!

The BUFOG meeting was a very good event and I’d like to thanks Dave Hodrien and the other organizers for it. And thanks to Andrew for a very interesting and entertaining lecture. After Andrew had finished speaking, Dave revealed some sad news: After much worry and speculation I can now confirm that UFO Matrix magazine has folded. I’ve bought a 2-year subscription and I don’t know if I’ll ever get it back, but really I don’t care. My main feeling of sadness comes from the fact that this was an excellent magazine that had brilliant potential, but it was launched very much against the economic tide. To add insult to injury it failed in its first year. Unfortunately Paranormal magazine has gone the same way, even though it had become quite mainstream and I saw it on sale in many railway station shops. One journal that seems omnipresent even through this Winter of Discontent is the ever-ready Fortean Times. It happens to be the publication that takes the most Skeptical line short of the openly-specialist Skeptic press, like Skeptic magazine, see: http://skeptic.org.uk/. After their disgusting coverage of the Hollie Greig scandal I’ve sworn never to read the Fortean Times again! There is an upbeat ending to this bit of bad news that Dave relayed at the meeting though: Another very informative magazine that has recently closed down UFO Data, is now available free online to download: http://www.ufo-data.co.uk/index1.htm There's plenty here to keep anybody with any interest in UFO's quiet for a while!

I slept well in my bed at the Travelodge and had a relaxing journey home in which all the trains ran on time! I’ll end this article with a speech by Wilbert Smith, in his own words: http://www.disclose.tv/viewvideo/26032/Wilbert_B_Smith___1958_Ottawa_Address

Latest HPANWO Voice articles: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.com/2011/11/new-ufo-disclosure-petition.html
And: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.com/2011/11/house-of-londs-debate-school.html
And: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.com/2011/11/cctv-in-oxford-taxicabs.html
And: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.com/2011/11/poppy-burners-are-shills.html

Latest HPANWO TV films: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.com/2011/11/hate-mail.html
And: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.com/2011/11/remembrance-sunday.html
And: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.com/2011/11/ms-belchy.html
And: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.com/2011/10/how-to-show-respect-to-victims-of-911.html

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

London Skeptics in the Pub 14/11/11


London Skeptics in the Pub- Unnatural Predators: http://london.skepticsinthepub.org/Event.aspx/797/Unnatural-Predators

I’ve been back to Skeptics in the Pub, as part of my plan to maintain as much normality in my life as possible; anyway if I wasn’t suspended I’d be on nights right now and unable to attend, so I thought I might as well make the most out of my situation and go along. See here for a previous review of a SiTP evening: http://hpanwo.blogspot.com/2008/09/skeptic-in-pub-15908.html (There are many others, use Search)

The SiTP venue has moved from Penderels Oak in Holborn to The Monarch Bar in Camden Town, see: http://hpanwo.blogspot.com/2010/09/bathing-into-history-part-5.html Tonight’s speaker was a Skeptress called Deborah Hyde. She is a fellow-blogger and posts under the soubriquet “Jourdemayne”; here’s her blog: http://jourdemayne.blogspot.com/ . Her blogging-name probably comes from the famous Margery Jourdemayne, a woman executed in the 15th century for witchcraft. Deborah is also joint-editor of The Skeptic magazine, along with Prof. Chris French- MBA Gold (See: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.com/2009/09/prof-chris-french-mba-gold.html) Deborah describes herself as “obsessed” with the malign Supernatural, that is horror movie subject-matter like vampires, zombies, ghosts and ghouls. She did look a bit like a witch herself actually. She’s a tall, slender woman and was wearing an ankle-length black dress with a silver belt. One might find this odd considering she’s a Skeptic and so doesn’t believe that the Supernatural is real, but I must say I’ve noticed this before at the ASSAP Seriously Strange Conference (See: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.com/2011/09/assap-seriously-strange-conference.html) A lot of the speakers at the conference also looked very similar, dressed in dark clothes with dyed hair and Gothic make-up; even the very Skeptical ones, with similar viewpoints to Deborah. It seems that a passionate interest in the Supernatural is what inspires people to dress in Supernatural-like clothing, but an actual belief that the Supernatural is real is not essential. Deborah’s main job is creating special effects and make-up for the film industry, so she takes her love of all things that go "BUMP" in the night to work every day as well. In fact she displayed some of her horribly realistic zombie masks on the projector for us to see. Deborah then explained where her research on the malign Supernatural had led her. She uses a lot of her own terminology like “unnatural predators” to describe paranormal beings that do harm to humans, like vampires, werewolves etc. She doesn’t like to use the word "vampire" outside of its historical context, which is Eastern Europe. There are many vampire-like phenomena, or “myths” as she described them, reported all over the world; but it’s very misleading to say something like: “the Malaysian vampire” or “the Mexican vampire” because they are historically very different. The whole idea of vampires has been picked up and run with by literature and film, from the aristocratic darkness of Bram Stoker’s Dracula to R-Patz and his teenage romantic activities in the Twilight saga.

By now a lot of the SiTP patrons had ordered their meals and so I noticed a few of them drop their cutlery and turn a bit green during the next part of Deborah’s speech. Where do vampires come from? According to her, what used to happen was that ignorant and superstitious villagers used to blame their problems on the unquiet dead, usually a troublesome member of the community who’d recently passed away and so they would go to the graveyard and exhume his or her coffin. To their amazement they would often find that the corpse of the deceased had not corrupted, even after several months post-mortem, and that fresh blood would be oozing from their nose and mouth. In truth this was because the people didn’t understand that there are many factors in determining how quickly a dead body decomposes, like ambient temperature. Many reports of vampirism occurred in the winter when the soil might be very chilled or even frozen solid, so preserving the body until spring when it was warm enough for the bacteria and worms etc to get to work. The blood seen coming from the body was not blood but sludge caused by the body’s internal bacteria consuming the flesh and excreting the remains out of the orifices; it’s brown in colour, not red, but in the darkness of a cemetery the difference might not have been noticed. The villagers would often then pierce the body with a wooden stake and an audible groan might be heard. This has happened to me at the hospital, and as frightening and unearthly as it might seem it doesn’t mean that the person is still alive… or even undead, but that the gas created by the bacteria bursts out through the larynx making a sound. In the set and setting of a spooky graveyard you can imagine what effect that would have on the witnesses! I do question whether this really does explain the entire vampire phenomenon though, as Deborah claims it does. This is because of the widespread nature of “unnatural predators” of this kind all over the world. Earlier in her speech she warned us only to use the word “vampire” in its proper historical context, but is it really such a misnomer to talk about vampires from other climes? I’ve done some of my own thorough and in-depth research on the subject… in other words I Wiki’ed it… and I’ve found that although vampires were popularized in the 18th century the concept of violent, blood-drinking spirits goes back to prehistoric times. It’s also found the world over from Ancient Greece to Jewish lore, from India to Africa. Also, most curious of all, we have a direct modern incarnation of this archetype, from a non-literary source: the Chupacabra of Latin America. This is a beast that is often interpreted as an alien or cryptid, but it has the same attributes as the more familiar classic vampire. See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmHmnfgON4A (Not that this video is definitely genuine!) Also not all societies dispose of their dead through burial, meaning that the situation of uncorrupt, bleeding bodies being dug up out of graveyards cannot be universal. In India the Hindus very famously cremate bodies on an open pyre. In parts of Africa it’s quite normal, and even considered respectful, to hold a massive party when somebody dies and cannibalize the body as the main course of the feast. (I wanted to bring this subject up in the Q and A, but a few people were still eating and I thought they’d been put off their food enough already!) So I think there’s a bigger case to answer here than the one Deborah laid out.

Another subject Deborah covered was sleep-paralysis. This is when you become half awake after sleeping; you might find yourself lying in bed, able to open your eyes and look around you, but frozen solid and unable to move. Along with your real surroundings you may see strange and ghastly Paranormal beings by your bedside. These beings may well attack you, causing you pain and terror. They might sit on top of you, like the beast in the painting Nightmare by Henry Fuseli at the top of this article, or they might even sexually abuse you! Deborah suffers from it herself a lot and has learned to cope with it. Richard Wiseman- MBA Bronze discusses this in his latest book Paranormality, which I’ve reviewed here: http://hpanwo.blogspot.com/2011/04/paranormality-by-prof-richard-wiseman.html . According to both he and Deborah, this is caused by a sleeping disorder that strikes most people on rare occasions. The mechanism that paralyses your skeletal muscles during sleep continues to operate longer than it should when you begin to wake from sleep, meaning that your dreams continue into the period when they ought not to. I’ve only once had sleep paralysis, but I’ve often had hypnopompic experiences. I made a short HPANWO TV film explaining about this, see: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.com/2011/04/bedroom-ghost.html . At the interval I went up to Deborah and told her about my experience and she told me that I’m “quite normal” and that she’s been afflicted by this as well, only in her case she saw dancing mice! A neat solution, you might think, and it makes sense for much of reported experiences, however my own encounters with ghosts, or ghost-like phenomena to be exact, do not all fit in with Deborah’s model. Although I concede that the ghost in my bedroom could do, the same could not be said for the event in the park which is the subject of this film: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.com/2011/04/ghosts-in-park.html The event in 2008 on a train also evades the Skeptical explanation, see: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.com/2008/10/real-ghost-train.html , I swear I had definitely not seen the photo Ustane showed me beforehand. Also I’ve seen ghostlike phenomena when I’ve been wide awake, see my Ghosts in the Park film above. A key element to the park sighting was that I had an independent witness, Jenny. In fact I must be one of the few blokes who’s ever been dumped by his girlfriend because of a ghost! I guess I’ve got an axe to grind.

I’m glad I went to this SiTP and I’d like to thank Deborah and all the organizers for a grand evening out. I had some interesting conversations while I was there too. Although Frenchie- MBA Gold, Marmite-Lover, Syd, Dave Green (see Jack of Kent in the Links column) and many other people I know weren’t there I said hello to James O’ Malley of The Pod Delusion, see: http://poddelusion.co.uk/blog/ I sat next to a man called Dave who is new to the Skeptic Movement and didn’t know anybody there. I assured him that he needn’t be alone and probably won’t be for long; Skeptics are by nature a herding species and there’s a very tight-knit and active social life associated with Skepticism. I also was asked by a young couple at the bar before the SiTP began, while the organizers were setting up: “What’s going on here then?” I explained and the woman asked “What is a Skeptic exactly?” That Million Dollar Question again! One that I’ve been trying to answer for years. I decided to be honest with her: “I’m not exactly sure. They claim that they are people who use science and rationality to decide what’s right or wrong instead of religion, mysticism and intuition.” I’m glad I began with the “they claim” bit. I address the question in my review of TAM London, see: http://hpanwo.blogspot.com/2010/10/tam-london-2010.html . In fact this has been a conundrum that has obsessed me! At the British Humanist Association Conspiracy Theory Conference, see: http://hpanwo.blogspot.com/2011/09/british-humanist-association-conspiracy.html , I asked the speakers a sarcastic question about doing a study to find out the psychological profile of the Skeptic, but really it’s a serious matter. What is a Skeptic? What drives them? What makes them tick? The word is spelt “sceptic” in the dictionary, with a note that the word can also be spelt “skeptic”, and it merely means “one who doubts, who does not believe”. However my confusion over the definition is why I always spell the word with a K and also make the initial S uppercase. For me a sceptic is one thing, but a Skeptic means something entirely different. (Marsh from Righteous Indignation (qv) has a radio show of his own called Skeptics with a K, see: http://www.merseysideskeptics.org.uk/podcasts/) As I said when discussing TAM London, their own description of themselves: “A skeptic is one who… rigorously and openly applies the methods of science and reason to all empirical claims… A skeptic provisionally proportions acceptance of any claim to valid logic and a fair and thorough assessment of available evidence, and studies the pitfalls of human reason and the mechanisms of deception so as to avoid being deceived by others or themselves". This is not a description at all, this is a slogan. There are many people who use science and reason, including many highly qualified and experienced scientists, who would not be described as Skeptics; in fact they’re usually labeled “believers”. Then again there are people who know nothing about science and never use its methods who say things like: “Nah, I don’t believe in all that crap! There ain’t no such things as ghosts or UFO’s. It’s all in yer head innit?” Yet this person would be described as a Skeptic. So it’s impossible to avoid the fact that it is opinions and conclusions about certain subjects that separate people called “Skeptics” from those called “believers” or “non-Skeptics” and nothing else; not methods, not science, not education, not qualification.

As for what drives them? An equally good question. I wish I could get inside their heads! Maybe I could find some way to become a Skeptic for a day; better be careful though, I might end up liking it! One thing that I’m now convinced of is that MBA plays a major role in their society, whether they are aware of it or not. See here for more details: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.com/2011/02/bbc-horizon-mba-city.html and: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.com/2011/09/british-humanist-association-gets-its.html . To be an MBA Laureate does indeed mark one out as superior, both in one’s own mind and in the eyes of others. To a dedicated MBA-er, others are weak and unreasonable; they’re guilty of wishful-thinking. “But I can face it! I know I’m going to cease to exist when I die but I can face up to that! You inferior non-MBA-ers need this comfort-blanket myth of an Afterlife, but I have the strength, the courage, the manliness and general superiority to get through my day without that crutch!" It must be an extremely intoxicating feeling… Yes, it’s just as well that I can’t become a Skepper for a day!

There’s something else I’ve learnt from my study of the Skeptic Movement: That there’s a great deal of difference between proving somebody wrong and beating them in a debate. In fact the two activities are entirely separate and require a completely separate set of thoughts, mindsets, and skills. What a lot of non-Skeptics don’t understand is that this difference exists; they see debate between Skeps and non-Skeps in the same way as they do internal Woo debates, as a simple weighting up of information on a scale of evidence. It’s not. A Skeptical debate is far more like a verbal fencing match, one which requires training, expertise and natural ability. There are famous organizations where you can train, like the Oxford Union. There are also books which teach you the basics, some are very old ones like The Art of Being Right by the famous philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, see: http://coolhaus.de/art-of-controversy/ That is one very ironic title! (Maybe Schopenhauer intended it to be) It’s ironic because if you become well-versed in these skills you can win a debate when you’re completely wrong against somebody who is completely right. Of course quality of information is a factor in any debate, even with the most skilled disputant, but as this sport develops, quality of information is becoming more and more auxiliary; it's only a matter of time until it becomes superfluous. A good place to learn about this subject is to spend some time on the Skeptic forums, like JREF, see: http://forums.randi.org/forumindex.php It’s best to just lurk if you’re a newcomer because if you dive straight in you’ll get a bloody nose in no time! One Skepdebater (a word I invented) that I truly admire is “Dr B” from the UK Skeptics Forum, see: http://www.ukskeptics.com/forum/showthread.php/2074-More-near-death-nonsense (I think that this is Dr Jason Braithwaite, see: http://bham.academia.edu/JasonJBraithwaite) not that I agree with him; in fact I totally disagree with him, but I admire him as a world-champion, Gold Medal Skepdebater (He also holds the MBA Silver). I merely enjoy all this as a spectator sport, like a football or basketball fan. As you’ll see, Skepdebating is the lifeblood and cornerstone of the Skeptic community. I don’t know of many of my fellow Woo’s who can match the most elementary forum Skeptic in this art. A good research source is Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens is not a true Skeptic, but rather an “Atheo-Skeptic” (I’ll explain in a future article!) However he is a man who is a prime and extremely interesting example of what I mean when I talk about the art and sport of debating, so much so that he hardly needs an introduction. Here, watch the title-holder prizefighter at work: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_R-SjC3lTWk . There are hundreds more of him online. In his autobiography Hitch 22, he describes how he can’t bear to lose a debate. One thing’s for sure though, he’s always going to be tested; he's made certain of that! I must say I do question his sincerity. After reading two of his books and hearing hundreds of hours of his speeches I wonder how much of what he preaches he really believes. He's also stated some very contraditory sentiments about the Military. Hitchens is a man who lives for the debate. Debate is an art form to him, one of which he is the virtually invincible grandmaster; it’s not a means for him, but an ends in itself. His opinions seem tailor-made to ensure that he can get a wrangle out of anybody. He’s a Left-winger who supports the war and he’s an atheist who opposes abortion. All his positions are perfect to make him the universal contrarian. He may not be a pure Skepper, but he has a Skepper’s mind when it comes to the table.

Of course the debating skills that are so quintessential to the Skeptic Movement can be acquired by anybody who has the will to learn, including us Woo's. And I do often ponder over what would happen if the playing field were leveled a bit more. Maybe a time will come when that will happen. There’s actually a HPANWO Forum thread on this subject. I should apologize for the rudeness of some of it; I started it at a time when I was feeling very hard-done-by, and also engaged in a fairly vitriolic discussion with another forum-member. Some of the posts are just ironic and satirical jokes as well, but it gives you an idea of what I’m talking about. This thread is a work-in-progress and more points may be added on. Here's a link to the thread: http://hpanwoforum.freeforums.org/the-hpanwo-guide-to-being-a-forum-skep-dick-t912.html . And here's the list of the guidelines that are posted on the thread:

1. Demand evidence from your opponent for everything he says, but when he delivers demand more. And when he delivers more demand even more. Remember, your thirst for evidence must be unquenchable!

2. Use the word "onus" as many times as you possibly can.

3. Always accuse your opponent of failing to read your posts properly, even if he reads them correctly to the letter. Better still, write in a synthetically nebulous style to confuse him and them blame him for not reading it properly.

4. Say: "That old chestnut again!" whenever somebody gives you information you've never heard before.

5. If somebody provides any evidence that cannot be immediately verified on the spot with a form signed in triplicate, denounce it as a fake for lack of evidence. If the poster then provides the triplicate form, go to Rule 1.

6. Use Occam's Razor a lot. The problem-solving exercise which states that the simplest solution should always be tried first. When your opponent asks inconvenient questions like: "How do you know what is more likely than something else?" throw your rattle out of your crib in his direction like there's no tomorrow! And then end the post with "Hope that clears up your misunderstanding of Occams Razor"

7. Another good word is "proselytize". But only use it if you're Christopher Hitchens.

8. If somebody mentions the name of a respectable scientist who doesn't support a mainstream Skeptical opinion; EG: Peter Fenwick, Rupert Sheldrake, Leavengood, Rick Strassman. Then post the following:

"(Insert name here)'s work has been comprehensively discredited!"

You must say this whether it is true or not. Even say it if you've never heard of the person your opponent mentions! Never explain how it has been discredited or who did the imaginary discrediting. If you do you might give away your advantage!

9. Constantly and scathingly criticize your opponent on matters irrelevant to his argument like his spelling, his contribution levels, his use of smilies, capitalization, grammar, the length of his posts and italics, his use of enlarged text, coloured text, different fonts, ANYTHING! Accuse him of being abusive to other members if he so much as mentions anything that is not 100% subservient!

10. THE SKEPTICS WILL BE SAFE

Remember there's no referee on forums so pick up the ball and run with it! Make sure the moderators are all fellow Skeptics so that you have complete control of forum discipline. Skeptics must be judge, jury and executioner. This means that you allow the Skeptic members to treat the non-Skeptic members any way they please: be rude to them, criticize them and abuse them mercilessly. Twist every rule to suit yourself. Twist every word your opponent says to suit yourself. Gang up on them and make their life pure hell!

11. Be genuinely funny sometimes like Richard Wiseman.

12. Invent new words like "Paranormality" and write books with the word in the title.

13. Make sure that your favourite animal is the Pink Unicorn!

14. If you've won the Materialist Bravery Award then say so in your signature.

15. If any member suggests that Atlantis might be true, even if there's a remotest possibly, that it might be true; or that the Egyptian Pyramids were not built by people with bronze tools and no iron, wheels, pulleys or levers, then immediately denounce him as a latent Nazi, an AntiSemite, a Holocaust-denier, General Manager of Dachau and all associated labels.

16. If nothing else works, start to wonder about the subjects mental health and show that you're really worried and willing to help. Having such outlandish and unscientific views are a sure sign of mental illness. Preferably psychotic schizophrenia or some other severe mental dysfunction.

17. Practice "dissection quoting". This is where you split a quote into multiple segments and write a brief reply to each one. This causes your opponent more difficulty and effort in reading them; and it makes him feel more intimidated. It will make him think: "Oh no, this guy's going through everything I say with a fine-toothed comb! I can't get away with any sleight of speech at all! I'd better watch my step!"

Example: You're opponent writes: "I'm not saying for sure that ghosts are real, but I have seen them many times in my house and at work."
You reply like this:

I'm not
Yes, you are.
saying
This is a forum so you're writing, not saying.
for sure
How can you be sure?
that ghosts
You use the word "ghost" but this is misleading. You don't know that they are "ghosts", and anyway, please define the term "ghosts"
are real
Define real. Real in the mental sense or the physical?
, but
What do you mean by "but"? The word "but" implies an exception to the statement made before.
I
Don't use the first person; there may be more people involved.
have
"Have" or "are"? You appear to be taking part in this experience in the present so use the correct tense if you please.
seen
Not "seen"; you may have picked them up on your other senses
them
I thought you said there was just one!
many times
Many is not a number that a proper rational, empirical scientist can use to determine frequency and therefore generate statistics.
in my house
I hear so-called "ghosts" appear to the deluded more in caravans than houses. Anyway, bungalows are top of the list so how many floors has it got?
and at work.
Well the way you suffer from this delusion of yours is related to the kind of work you do. Go see a working doctor and kindly stop wasting our time!

18: Use Forced Overreaction. Undermine your opponent by pretending to be very angry or very hurt over everything he says. Twist any words he utters and make them out to be insults. For instance if he writes: "You must be kidding if you think the Roswell craft was a weather balloon!" Then whine and squeal like a hypersensitive prima donna! Accusing him of being a troll, flag the post and reply: "How DARE you accuse me of "kidding" Kidding implies that I am viciously and maliciously lying!" And remember Number 10 above? The Moderator will be a fellow Skeptic and back you up by reprimanding the member: "Do not accuse other forum users of viciously and maliciously lying unless you have evidence! Is that clear!? Do that again and you'll be BANNED!"

19. Try to drag any conversation round and round in circles. This is very easy on a forum where Skeptics are the majority and the Woo's are outnumbered. What you do is wait until a certain aspect of the discussion hasn't been mentioned for 20 or 30 posts and then suddenly bring it up again! It doesn't matter if you were proved wrong the last time it was made; your opponent will probably have forgotten. Keep doing this until your opponent simply grows weary and quits the thread. In this way it will conjour the illusion that you have won the debate, even if you've lost.

This JREF thread is a good example: http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=80628 See how the Skepti-heroic members harness the Woo member "Porterboy" to a loop of infinite repeating exchanges of points. This eventually breaks down and Porterboy finally extracts a surrender from one of them, the monosyllabic post "Yes", but by that time Porterboy has grown bored and exhausted and his victory is weak and disguised because of it. (By the way, "Porterboy" is me!)

20. Write in a way that illustrates tone of voice in dialogue. This is a very important skill when it comes to Skeptibaiting your opponent. Your opponent must feel as if you are speaking to him, in the same room, in his face so he can't turn away. An example is to turn written words into dialogue like "yes and "no" by writing "yup" and "nope" instead. If used in just the right place doing this is very effective.

21. "Diddying". This is related to number 20 in that it's a way of making written words sound like spoken, but this is by far the most powerful example. This dialogue-writing is one of somebody dancing around in a circle in a laughing, but very angry way, with tension. There's a element of gloating and contempt too which is all part of being a Forum Skepper.

The "Diddy" is best used in conjunction with the word "wrong" (More on this word itself later) You write "Wrong-diddy- wrong-wrong-wrong!" using bold type and smilies galore! This has the power to light the flame of irritation in almost all Woo Scum and I can almost guarantee you'll get a reaction from them which will give the Mod's the excuse they're looking for to move in.

22. Saying "Wrong." Just like that, not as part of a sentence or in conjunction with other words; just as it is on its own. Capital W, full stop! Don't say: "You're wrong" or even worse: "I think you're wrong." No! Just say "Wrong."

However, unlike other monosyllabics, "Wrong." cannot be used on its own in a single-word post. It must be followed by a sentence of explanation.

23. Dvarking. Dvarking is related to Diddying, in that it is a way of injecting verbal intonation into a written piece of text; however Dvarking crates a different tone. If used correctly it can enrage and intimidate your opponent more than anything else. But BEWARE! Dvarking, unlike Diddying, can be used by Woo scum against us too. Dvarking is most often employed by academics against each other, but can be used by anybody trained in the art.

The basis of Dvarking is to try to make your intonement sound like a mixture of Kenneth Williams and Donald Duck, but very angry; however the anger is controlled and rationed out in even amounts; are you getting the picture?

24. The Signature. A good sig is very important to be a good forum Skepolata. It should best be a quote from a famous Skep or a proverb. Either way it should say something both about yourself and an intimidating smack in the face to your opponent Here's a good example from JREF:
"I am a collection of water, calcium and organic molecules called Carl Sagan"
Carl Sagan

25. Another brilliant word: "Caveat". It's only recently emerged in the Forum Skeptisphere so use it quick before it becomes another cliché!

26. Whole-quote-applause-smiles. Quote-reply a very long Skeptical post that pours supreme scorn and abuse down on some outnumbered Woo . Quote it in its entirety and then post no reply except a single applause smilie; either that or a thumbs-up one or similar smilies of support and approval

27. A one-way sense of humour. Use humour continuously to ridicule Woo scum. Explore the limits and heights of wit and satire in competitions that grace threads of extraordinary length... But when it comes to being on the receiving end lose your sense of humour entirely! Become completely oblivious to all anti-Skeptic jokes and act like somebody who has trouble cottoning on to gags by Roy Chubby Brown! Also, act ultra-offended at the most innocuous jibes; see above, Number 18

28. Always claim that you have Woo friends. It's nothing personal after all! Like Tim Minchin talking about his Christian mate. Better still, say you have a friend who's a paranormal investigator whom you're fond of but you think is naive. (James Randi)

29. This is kind of an extension on Number 1. Practice "Committed Reductionism". This means that any evidence supplied must be weighed against a lack of it in counter-points and against contradictory evidence in other areas. Always promise your oponenent that if Committed Reductionism can be overcome you will accept that his claims are true. Here's a good example:

At Christmas 1980 in Rendlesham Forerst, Suffolk an old man was out walking his dog alone at night when a pyramidal-shaped UFO landed beside him. Also red lights were seen by him flying through the trees. This is obviously a stupid and pathetic attempt to persuade us that he saw something truly paranormal! He did not. Why was he the only witness? Surely we'd have had a dozen or so witnesses from the RAF Woodbridge airbase nearby! Why were the security police not sent out to investigate? You'd think that they'd have alerted the base's Deputy-Commander Lt. Co. Halt who was at a Christmas party at the time. Did they say: "Nah, let him get on pulling crackers and singing Jingle Bells!" If the security police were sent out to investigate, and Halt and a group of colleagues went into the woods and saw it, and recorded their experiences on a tape-recorder... then I'd believe it.

But this definitely did not... NOT happen so the Skeptic viewpoint prevails again!

30. Provocative repetition. If you wish to post a particularly well-known piece of Skepperistic "wisdom" then post it but afterwards say slowly and with much articulation. "I think that that is so important that I am going to say it again" and then do so. The articulation is very important; avoid abbreviations like: "I think that's so important I'm going to say it again".

Here's a good example with one of the Skeptic Movement's best known mantras: "The plural of anecdote is not data. I think that that is so important that I am going to say it again: The plural of anecdote is not data."

Latest HPANWO Voice articles: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.com/2011/11/poppy-burners-are-shills.html
And: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.com/2011/11/jimmy-saville-dies.html
And: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.com/2011/10/dr-judy-wood-in-brighton.html
And: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.com/2011/10/flu-fighter.html


Latest HPANWO TV films: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.com/2011/11/remembrance-sunday.html
And: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.com/2011/11/ms-belchy.html
And: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.com/2011/10/how-to-show-respect-to-victims-of-911.html
And: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.com/2011/10/hell-fire-caves.html

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The Next Roswell




I’ve been going through a very difficult situation at work these last few days and so have found it hard to concentrate, however I think that it’s very therapeutic to maintain an element of normality in ones’ life during a rough patch; it prevents one from losing touch with objective reality or falling into self-pity and becoming self-absorbed or self-obsessed. Therefore I have aimed my intellect at the usual targets and got writing.

I’ve been thinking back to about last December when I visited Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk for the 30th anniversary of the famous UFO incident there; see: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.com/2010/12/rendlesham-forest-incident-30th.html I was talking on the HPANWO Forum (see Links column) with Footie McGrew, an Australian member who recently visited the site of a close encounter and mass-sighting of a UFO at Westall in Melbourne in 1966, see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTqE805dhOE . He said in one of his posts: “The next time this happens, it’ll be Game Over” and that got me thinking. What happened with the world’s most famous UFO event, the Roswell Incident, was that there was a very long time period between the event itself and when research into it began; it was thirty years in fact! The moment Roswell entered the sphere of publicity can be traced very precisely: It was when Major Jesse Marcel Junior first contacted the UFOlogist Stanton Friedman to tell his story, in 1977. This was thirty years after that wreckage had come down on the Brazel Ranch and Glen Dennis had been to the airbase when those aliens were being stored there. It struck me that the time period between when a UFO had appeared in Rendlesham Forest and when I had attended that conference last year was also exactly thirty years, the same length of time. However the history of research into the two incidents couldn’t be more different. With Rendlesham Forest, a massive amount of hard evidence and contemporary eyewitness testimony was gathered which entered the public arena almost immediately. The Four Horsewomen of Rendlesham Forest: Jenny Randles, Brenda Butler, Dot Street and Georgina Bruni, were at the scene and on the scent from the start and it took just two years before the story appeared in the mainstream news headlines.

I imagined a scenario in which the same amount of released and discovered evidence with a similar timeline had occurred with Rendlesham Forest as did with Roswell: Firstly there would have been little mention of the event in the news at the time except a brief story in the local newspaper that would have been withdrawn the next day with a string of embarrassed mumblings about “weather balloons”. Then the whole event would have been almost completely forgotten and ignored until… well today! Suddenly, out of the blue, a middle-aged Boroughs, Penniston, Halt and Warren would approach the media with an amazing story to tell! They saw a UFO 30 years ago, way back in 1980! Unfortunately there’d be no evidence at all: No Halt Tape, no plastercasts of the landing sites, no Suffolk Police log, no Halt Memo, no Nick Pope talking about the incident on TV, nothing! You can imagine what the Skeptics would be saying; basically all the things they say about Roswell in the real world. There’d be no need for them to employ such obscure, abstract concepts as magic teleporting lighthouses and flying truckloads of manure. They could just say: “No evidence- end of!” It would help if the Government then suddenly declassified some top secret programme from those days, “Project Akbar” or something. A balloon to spy on the Russians and, apprently, that’s what those airmen really saw.

It makes you think doesn’t it? It’s therefore only a brief mental trip to imagine applying what happened in the real world at Rendlesham Forest to the Roswell Incident. Imagine that there’s been a Randles, Butler, Street and Bruni in Roswell New Mexico in July 1947!... I’ll leave the imaginary details to you, dear HPANWO-readers, but I think we’ll agree that the whole history of the Roswell UFO story, and indeed maybe even the history of the entire world since, would have been totally different to what it is now.

Just one more Roswell; that’ll be all it takes! Footie is right. Unlike with the Roswell Incident, and indeed Rendlesham Forest, nowadays there are hundreds of times more people who are aware of the UFO phenomenon and our governments’ suspected relationship to it. More and more people are watching the skies and more and more people will be on the lookout for anything related that occurs on the ground. When the next Roswell happens, we’ll be ready for it! Of course there’s no guarantee; the next Roswell could happen in a very remote area or under other circumstances in which the Government still succeeds in fastening the veil of secrecy in time, but the odds are stacked much, much less in their favour today. If anything remotely Roswellian takes place anywhere near Oxford I have a contingency plan in place with what I’m going to do; I advise all HPANWO-readers to form their own.

Latest HPANWO Voice articles: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.com/2011/10/flu-fighter.html
And: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.com/2011/10/big-b-rubber-is-watching-you.html
And: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.com/2011/10/germanys-climategate.html
And: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.com/2011/10/naomi-campbells-all-seeing-island.html

Latest HPANWO TV films: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.com/2011/10/how-to-show-respect-to-victims-of-911.html
And: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.com/2011/10/hell-fire-caves.html
And: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.com/2011/10/down-and-out-in-oxford.html
And: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.com/2011/10/see-hello-its-charlie-che-guevara.html