Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

... and in today's World News...

It's been a busy morning, here at Skeptophilia.

First, we have a report of a giant hole in the ground in Bernards, New Jersey.  (See a photograph here.)  The crater, reported from an unidentified resident's front yard on May 6, sprayed debris over a hundred-foot radius.  My first hypothesis, which I probably thought of from 24 years of working with teenage boys, was that some kid got a hold of a stick of dynamite.  Teenage boys love to blow things up.  Many grown men, present company included, still do.  But I had to rule out this explanation when I found out that no one in the neighborhood heard a thing -- and an explosive device capable of creating a crater that size would have rattled a few windows.

So scientists from the Raritan Valley Community College Planetarium came out and surveyed the area, thinking it could be a meteorite, and found no trace of one.  Exit theory number two.

Then, I thought about the creepy vanishing meteorite in H. P. Lovecraft's story The Colour Out of Space.  But there was no report of local residents and their pets turning gray and having important body parts fall off, so out the window that idea went.

So, reluctantly, I turned to the prosaic idea of ice buildup falling from an airplane.  This periodically happens -- usually because of leaks in the waste tanks from the airplane's lavatories.  There have been 27 documented incidents of this rather disgusting form of hail falling from a plane, including one in 2007 in Leicester, England in which a huge chunk of ice took out a large section of a building's roof.  Since the ice would melt shortly after impact, it could well leave little trace afterwards.  So that one, it seems, has a possible explanation other than the Enormous Man-Eating Mole hypothesis, which is where I was going next.

Then, from Australia, we have a report of a couple who claim to be Jesus and Mary Magdalene.  Alan John Miller and Mary Suzanne Luck, of Wilkesdale, in Queensland, have drawn in about forty devotees after publicly stating that they are deities.  "Just a little over 2000 years ago, we arrived on the Earth for the first time," Miller says on his website.  "Because of my personal desire and passion for God, as I grew, I recognized not only that I was the Messiah that was foretold by ancient prophets, but also that I was in a process designed by God that all humans could follow, if they so desired."

The Anglican and Catholic churches of Wilkesdale are understandably perturbed, rather in the fashion of Mafia bosses when a rival crime family intrudes into their territory.  With no apparent trace of irony, their official statement on the matter expressed concern that Miller and Luck were being given support financially by the naive, gullible, and emotionally needy.

Miller himself seems regretful about the stir he's creating.  "I don't want to be Jesus," he told reporters.  "Who wants to be Jesus?  But I love divine truth."

Authorities are said to be "keeping an eye" on the couple, which seems justifiable.  I know I'd want to watch them from a safe distance.

Then, we have a report of exploding watermelons in Jiangsu Province, China. It is unclear how violent these explosions are, but I have to admit that I rather like the mental image of farmers and other local residents running for cover as tasty pieces of pink shrapnel fly through the air.  But for this one, I didn't even have the chance to run through some hypotheses (teenage Chinese boys with dynamite?) because Chinese scientists have already stated that the phenomenon was the result of a combination of a chemical fruit growth stimulator and a period of very rainy weather.  Which is a satisfying, if boring, explanation.

But then I read that the farmers are taking the ruined fruit, which is obviously unfit for human consumption, and feeding it to pigs.   Is it just me, or does this seem like a really bad idea?  The last thing these people need is a bunch of pigs running around, squealing madly, and finally exploding, showering the area with pork chops.  So far, there's no sign of the pigs blowing up, which is a good thing, because I suspect it'd be a good bit messier than a bunch of bursting watermelons.

The next story comes from the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation in New York State.  A resident, Adrian McDonald, reported to police that his car had been damaged, and in fact the entire side panel above the passenger side front wheel had been shredded.  There was blood on the jagged edges of the panel, which of course opened up the possibility of DNA testing.  The testing was done, and the blood turned out to be from...

... a rabbit.  I am not making this up.  So what we apparently have here is the Bunny from Hell eating people's cars.  Get out the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch!

Police, sadly, have come up with an alternate, and not nearly so fun, explanation -- that a rabbit was being chased by a large dog, and took shelter in the wheel well of McDonald's car.  The dog then basically destroyed the side of the car trying to get at the rabbit.  This may seem as far-fetched as the Killer Rabbit of Caer Bannog theory, but I have a dog named Grendel whose jaws seem to be made of spring-loaded titanium, and who given sufficient motivation could destroy a Sherman tank, all the while wagging happily.  So I suspect that the police are right, and like the exploding watermelons, this one has a perfectly ordinary explanation.

And of course, no wrap-up of world news would be complete without a Bigfoot sighting.  On May 14, near O'Brien, Oregon, a hiker saw a seven-foot white Sasquatch.  The "white" part surprised me some, because almost all reports of the hairy hominid describe him as brownish in color, and if it had been closer to the Christmas season I would have wondered if the eyewitness had been watching Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer while swigging tequila straight from the bottle.  But apparently, there are periodic reports of what are presumably albino Sasquatches, and a few that are piebald like a Jersey cow.

Then I noticed that the eyewitness was Thomas Graham, of the State of Jefferson Sasquatch Research Organization (see their Facebook page here).  So the story doesn't carry the same kind of weight as it would if, say, Michael Shermer or Richard Dawkins were to see a seven-foot-tall white Bigfoot.  Graham is not what you might call an unbiased observer.  With nothing but his account to go by, we'll have to file this story in the "Don't Think So" drawer.

So we seem to be striking out this week, in the paranormal explanation department.  Dreadfully disappointing, I know.  But of course, we have the Rapture to look forward to this weekend, so all is not lost.  I'm hoping to get in some serious pillage and looting on the 22nd -- won't you join me?

1 comment:

  1. Aw! No Lovecraftian horrors from beyond this solar system? I was so hoping....