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Stories from the edge of the world

I’ve been reading too much. The cracks in my crackpot beliefs are showing. I now assign the chance of life on other planets as merely a 50/50 possibility. I’m starting to think Bigfoot may not be real since, as best we know, one’s never been hit by a pickup truck on some lonely Oregon road. The existence of ghosts seems a mathematical impossibility, because it’s been estimated that 108 billion homo sapiens have lived on the Earth over the last 50,000 years, which would make the afterlife a pretty crowded party.

Is the Earth flat? My Friend Jon re-tweeted a story about an Italian couple that recently made an earnest effort to sail to the edge of the world, which they believed to be in the Mediterranean Sea, south of Sicily.

They didn’t quite make it.

Perhaps their failure could be blamed on their compass, an ancient navigational instrument designed around the principal that the Earth is round. If there is a magnetic north, where is the south pole on a flat Earth? What would a flat Earth look like? Your sailboat arrives at the edge and … then what? A beach? And the ocean, which falls away to…?

The more-relevant question actually is: Did people ever believe that the Earth is flat? Any thoughts that we might be living on a celestial pancake is fine for people who haven’t had any reason to think hard about the question. If you’re a professional football player, a clerk in a convenience store, Italians with access to a sailboat, or a blogger with a limited readership, being a proponent of a flat Earth isn’t putting anyone in danger. I do prefer, however, that airliner navigators and the people who design communications satellites understand that this thing is round.

When beliefs evolve into the Spanish Inquisition, that’s when we have a problem. Religion has been at war with science for centuries. The acceptance of a flat Earth was a theologically convenient argument for anyone who suggested that European Catholicism wasn’t at the center of the world; Asian and African people could be pushed to the fringe of existence. The Catholic church acknowledged no other celestial model than one that depicted our world at the center of the universe because… well, that’s where God would place us.

But generally speaking, and certainly scientifically speaking, the answer is no: It is a myth that people once universally believed that the Earth is flat. Copernicus so feared defying the church that he waited until he was dying to publish his concept of the Earth as just one solar system bauble orbiting the sun. You may have learned in junior high history class that the crews on Columbus’ three sailing ships as they crossed the Atlantic were on the edge of mutiny because they feared falling off the edge of the world. In fact, the sailors were getting cranky because they were hungry and running out of water after Columbus – who knew the Earth was round – had miscalculated how long the journey might be. It was only the unexpected appearance of the Caribbean islands that saved them.

Columbus’ experience shows that the round-Earthers were not always on the mark either. The math used to calculate the possible size of the planet would often conveniently eliminate the spaces that ultimately turned out to be home to other continents – North and South America – and the people who lived there. Columbus learned of this math error first hand.

Add in the mythologies of lost continents such as Atlantis and Lemuria, and quite a cartographical shoving match emerges. The various misconceptions of the Earth throughout history can’t be laid at the feet of the geographers of that day; they did the best they could with the information at hand, and while wrestling with the politics of the church.

But what’s our excuse?

Most ancient civilizations believed we live on a round planet. Logic, and science, told them so. Yet there is reporting now that people living in the 21st century are increasingly prone to believe that the Earth is flat. Eleven million Brazilians believe so. There’s a yearly Flat Earth International Conference that was organizing a cruise for 2020 that would take believers to the rim of the Earth, and the towering ice wall that holds the ocean in place. Apparently, the cruise didn’t happen. But YouTube has lots of videos supporting flat-Earth beliefs, the internet is a pipeline for crazy. Take my word for it, don’t go there, I wasted a couple of hours of my life on it.

Logic and science aside, crank theories sometimes find breathing room long after they’ve been disproven. Such as the 19th-century suggestion that the Earth is hollow, and a sun burns at its core. Edmond Halley – who correctly predicted the return of the comet that now bears his name – saw the Earth as three concentric circles, nestled one within the next, that turned independently of one another. Cartographers created maps and globes depicting what the landscape of a Hollow Earth might look like. In the 1800s, scientific expeditions to the Hollow Earth were proposed. Edgar Allen Poe wrote a short story about it. Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote fantasy novels that took place at the Earth’s core, one of L. Frank Baum’s 13 “Oz” books has Dorothy on a journey to the planet’s interior.

Read about it in this book by David Standish: “Hollow Earth: The Long and Curious History of Imagining Strange Lands, Fantastical Creatures, Advanced Civilizations, and Marvelous Machines Below the Earth’s Surface.”

True, belief in the Hollow Earth wasn’t widespread. Certainly not as widespread as the idea that a large aquatic creature lives in Loch Ness. This, despite the assertion by marine biologists that Loch Ness is devoid of the sizeable fish population needed to keep Nessie alive.

True story: Arthur Conan Doyle, who created the most evidence-driven character in English literature, Sherlock Holmes, believed in fairies.

Why would alien races from another world visit us? With the internet provided virtually anything aliens would need to know of Earth, from nuclear secrets to recipes to our television shows, the only function of UFOs visiting our planet would be tourism.

Yet as limited as the evidence is for a flat Earth, a hollow Earth, the Loch Ness monster, UFOs and fairies, people believe in them. Sometimes smart people, like Conan Doyle.

We believe in fantasy, we believe in Disneyworld. Giant mice, yes. But often, our fantasies become a danger. We don’t want to do the work to contain COVID-19. We just want a magic vaccine to take care of the problem.

So many Americans insist on personal freedom, yet they want to be led. So they follow the evidence-free claims of QAnon (Hillary Clinton is part of a child sex-trafficking ring!) despite the FBI labeling QAnon as a domestic terrorist group. They follow actor Jenny McCarthy’s insistence that vaccines cause autism, despite the advice of medical professionals. They refuse to wear masks to slow the spread of COVID-19 because it’s an affront to personal freedom, despite those same rebels having followed seatbelt laws for years to avoid being killed in a car wreck. They follow social media claims that 9/11 was an inside job. And jet contrails are actually “chemtrails,” a high-altitude conspiracy to poison Americans. Or maybe it’s a conspiracy to change the weather. No one’s ever sure what is the goal of these coverups and conspiracies. Deep State something, something…

Conspiracies that would need to rely on the silence of thousands of co-conspirators.

Studies have shown that belief in conspiracy theories is triggered by our brain’s need to latch onto structure. It’s an ancient reflex. Like Neanderthals recognizing that the shape in the darkness beyond the light of the fire that they’ve built in the mouth of their cave may be a bear crouching in the darkness. Information that could mean the difference between survival and being mauled to death.

Today, bears aren’t the problem. That threatening shape lurking in the darkness at the edge of the yard is a rhododendron. So human brains search for other problems to illuminate in this murky world. That’s an opening for the herd effect, where social acceptance, rather than independently confirmed fact, makes an idea seem real. And it’s an opening for confirmation bias, which is the search for evidence that confirms what you want to believe. And that leads us to our dependence on authority figures.

If that herd is your political party… with social acceptance set into motion by Rudy Giuliani… confirmed by an ultimate authority figure, Donald Trump…

And that’s how we arrive at 73 million people believing a presidential election is laden with fraud, despite no evidence.

That’s the hollow world in which we live. A hollow world, where nature abhors a vacuum, and fools rush in to fill it.

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Epstein is dead. Long live Epstein.

I’m not sure if this photo is real. But the evidence suggests the sentiment is real.

I can’t stand it, anymore. My quiet Sunday morning is ruined. My head is going to explode.

Jeffrey Epstein, multi-millionaire serial pedophile and sex-crime ringleader, committed suicide. Zero evidence has been presented to suggest he was murdered. Zero evidence has been presented that a dead body was substituted for Epstein, and at this moment he is flying to his private Caribbean island. To say otherwise is to ignore the fact that undoubtedly dozens of people – including doctors and too many prison officials to be bribed – are in on the conspiracy.

Imagination is a great thing. It helped Sherlock Holmes solve many crimes. Who would have thought the demonic ghost haunting the moors of Baskerville was actually a dog painted with phosphorus? But there are no such dogs roaming the hallways of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan.

We must always go to where the evidence leads. To do otherwise is frivolous. It can be fun, even. But then we encounter moments when imagination creeps into the realm of dangerous rationalization.

This week, we’re once again debating guns, following three high-profile mass shootings. Rather than addressing what’s obvious – guns being used as conflict arbitrators – we’re hearing imaginary nonsense about how murder sprees are a mental-health issue (As if other countries with few mass shootings don’t have schizophrenics and manic depressives). Or how video games led to these shootings (As if other countries with few mass shootings don’t have video games). It takes a lot of imagination to block out the inexcusable hate that this week’s killers felt for their victims.

We’ve seen a lot of imagination at work on immigration. Last week I was talking to a Republican who insisted that separating children from their immigrant parents at the border is a longstanding policy. It is not. Re-writing history takes some imagination, but mostly it’s lying. Barack Obama’s immigration policies contained specific language aimed at keeping families intact. It is a Trump executive order that snatched children from their parents and put them in cages. Defending cruel policy utilizes the same imaginative rationalization that led Trump to claim during the 2018 elections that the caravan of Central American refugees heading for our southern border, people fleeing poverty and the threat of death, were actually violent, disease-ridden gang members.

And once the election was over, the caravan magically… disappeared.

Imagine that.

Conspiracy theories, offering different levels of threat to Americans, that have been thoroughly disproven: 9/11 was an inside job. Obama was born in Kenya and his birth certificate is fake. The Holocaust didn’t happen. And the Hillary Clinton all-you-can-eat buffet of Benghazi, her unsecured email server and how she ran a child-sex ring out of a pizza restaurant. We can add to that pile aliens at Area 51, the moon landings were fake, extraterrestrial reptilian humanoids called “Annunaki” are secretly ruling humanity. And Paul is dead.

Oh, sure, rampant corruption of officials is easy to imagine in this age of a Trump White House. This morning, the current president of the United States re-tweeted a conspiracy rumor suggesting former president Bill Clinton is complicit in murder – again with zero evidence. It demonstrates once again that Trump and his administration, and the adoring acolytes who hide their corporations’ profits in offshore accounts or paint “TRuMp” on the sides of their weathered barns, have careened through the guard rails protecting law and functional society.

The evidence is conclusive. Epstein’s dead, he killed himself. If anything, today’s Epstein conspiracy talk sheds light on the incestual level of corruption to be found among the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Rats finding comfort, and protection, in each other’s company.

Distraction allows them to escape. We must stay focused. What is the true conspiracy? Conspiracy theories thrive without light. The most-dangerous ones feed on lies.

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Delusion is hard work

Cruz: Was it murder, or just a dog thing?

Cruz: Was it murder, or just a dog thing?

A 3-year-old Samoyed died three days after it competed in the Westminster Kennel Club show last month. And it may be… murder.

Cruz’s owner says the dog appeared to have been poisoned. Cruz’s handler – who’s now out of a job, I guess – takes it a bit further, and suggests Cruz may have been poisoned by animal rights activists, who stage protests at the event each year.

As a dog owner myself, I’ll go with what the vet who treated Cruz told The New York Times: “Dogs are dogs. It’s not anyone’s fault. They eat stuff; they get into things; they make bad decisions.”

Yes, obvious. So why is it always a conspiracy?

Conspiracies are complex ideas. They have to be. Because there’s generally an obvious answer to every question: Terrorists hijacked jetliners and crashed them into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. And for an alternate theory to dispute this conclusion – the Bush administration planted explosives in these buildings – a conspiracy theory must circumnavigate a lot of eyewitness testimony, forensic science, the public record and common sense, including how a demonstrably inept administration could even pull off such a flawless endeavor. And then you get to the realization that it would take the silence of thousands of people to keep the government’s role in 9/11 a secret, and after more than 10 years not one person has stepped forward to confess, “Yes, I was a part of this massive conspiracy and subsequent cover-up.”

Some of the greatest conspiracy theories are non-partisan in nature. The United States military is engaged in a massive coverup of UFOs visiting the Earth? I’ll bet that’s a belief shared by Republicans and Democrats alike. The assassinations of JFK and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., are big in the conspiracy world.  Elvis, Tupac and Michael Jackson are alive. Paul is dead.

I can think of  few liberal conspiracy theories. The pharmaceutical companies are keeping disease-curing drugs from us, so that they can continue to make money off of our illnesses. Car manufacturers have deliberately kept a successful electric car off the market so that we continue to rely on fossil fuelmobiles. And here’s a good one one: That a President of the United States would approve a plan to break into the party headquarters of his political opponent in search of anything that could be used against him in the next election.

Of course, that last one  proved to be true….

But most conspiracy theories – particularly the outright ridiculous, demonstrably false ones –  seem fueled by conservative fears. Here’s a short list: Obama is a Muslim. Obama was born in Kenya. Obama is taking away our guns. Obama will use drones to kill U.S. citizens on American soil. Voter fraud. Climate change. Muslim extremists are introducing Sharia law into the United States. The New Black Panther Party is intimidating voters and influencing elections. The Holocaust never happened. Fluoridated water is a mind-control scheme. Jet contrails are actually the U.S. government conducting a chemical attack on its own people. The shootings of U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the kids at Sandy Hook Elementary School were faked in order to get people behind gun control. Planned Parenthood is a corporation that wants to keep abortions coming so that its stockholders can make money. Liberals control the media (Even though virtually all media outlets are owned by right-leaning corporations). And the United Nation’s “Agenda 21,” its non-binding plan for sustainable development in a world that’s outgrowing its resources, is actually the foundation of a plan for a One World Order (The Illuminati, the Freemasons and the Fourth Reich are also hard at work on a One World Order).

Operating hand-in-claw with many of these conspiracy theories is the need to demonize the other side. Obama is a socialist, a communist, an agent of Satan. The rhetoric needs to be heavy, because of the overwhelming evidence that he is actually a decent guy and perfect family man.

Delusion is hard work.

I feel badly for the folks who lost a beloved dog. But in crying conspiracy, and accusing animal rights activists of the deed, Cruz’s bereaved survivors are overlooking the obvious. Animal rights people seem the least likely suspects to be behind the death of a dog.

If I were Cruz’s people, I’d be looking at other, more-obvious suspects. Like, do the owners of the other 32 Samoyed dogs at the show that weekend have alibis? Now that is a murder mystery that I can buy into.

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