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.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tuesday shorts

So it's summer, at least for us folks here in the Northern Hemisphere.  Living as I do in the Frozen North (better known as upstate New York), summer is a time to celebrate the fact that it is finally warm enough most days to go outside without risking freezing off critical body parts.

And in honor of the better weather, we're gonna have some shorts here on Skeptophilia.

[image courtesy of photographer Tinou Bao and the Wikimedia Commons]

No, not those kind of shorts, not that I don't approve thereof.  I'm talking about a brief survey of wacky stories around the world. 

We'll start in China, whence came yesterday's story about setting your crotch on fire to improve your sex life, so it's not surprising that we can find other loony ideas there.  From a story on the BBC News we find out that a zoo in Chengdu has forbidden its resident panda cubs from predicting the winner of the World Cup.

My first thought was: if you believe not only in psychic stuff, but in non-human animals being able to do psychic stuff, how would you go about forbidding it?  Would you stand in front of the pandas' enclosure, and say in a stern voice, "No clairvoyance allowed!  I mean it!"?  Would you watch for signs of mental telepathy from the pandas, and withhold their bowls of bamboo shoots when they do it, so as to discourage panda ESP?

But it turns out that they're actually not forbidding the pandas from speculating amongst themselves, they're simply forbidding them from cluing their handlers in on what they're picking up from the aether.  You might remember the whole Paul-the-Octopus nonsense a few years ago, wherein an octopus in a sea life center in Oberhausen, Germany gained worldwide notoriety when it would select the winner of various World Cup matches by taking food out of containers labeled with the flags of the competing teams' countries, and seemed to do so with great accuracy.  And people took him seriously.  His prediction that Germany would beat Argentina -- which turned out to be correct -- prompted an Argentine chef to post octopus recipes online.

But of course, the whole thing didn't pan out, either literally or figuratively, and his incorrect prediction that Germany would beat Spain in the final game turned out to be wrong, which kind of ended his popularity in his home country.

So the Chinese basically put the quietus on a plan to have the Chengdu panda cubs predict the match outcomes a similar way, that is, by selecting food from containers with flags.  The Chengdu research facility simply said that the "authorities had stepped in and halted the plans," without further explanation.  Meaning that any conversations, telepathic or otherwise, that the pandas have about sports will have to remain amongst their own kind.

Next, we have a story from Canada that gives us the good news that in the afterlife, everyone gets to be happy and contented and blissful.  Somewhat less good, at least in my mind, is that "everyone" includes "psychotic genocidal dictators."

Canadian psychic Carmel Joy Baird has sparked something of a tempest in a teapot by her claim that even Adolf Hitler has mellowed since his bad old Nazi days.  "He's with great-granny on the other side," Baird said in a television interview, in a quote that I swear I'm not making up.

Well, of course this didn't sit well with most fair-minded folks.  "Ms. Baird is entitled to her opinion about what happened to Hitler in the next world," said Len Rudner, director of community affairs and outreach at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Toronto.  "We are much more concerned with what he did in this world, which was to attempt to annihilate the Jewish people.  This is far more important to remember.  The souls that deserve our attention are the souls of the people that were murdered during Hitler's genocide and the souls of those who grieve them."

Which is certainly fair enough, although no one is addressing the point that Baird herself appears to be a fruitcake.  I mean, do people really think this woman is able to find out about the post-mortem status of major world figures?  If so, we should put it to the test.  For example, it'd be nice to know what actually happened to Amelia Earhart, Jimmy Hoffa, and D. B. Cooper.  I don't care so much if they're happily chatting with their great-grannies, but it'd be kind of cool to know what became of them during their last days on Earth -- a matter that Baird should easily be able to clear up for us.

Finally, we'll head to England, where some Shropshire sheep farmers are claiming that "aliens in UFOS" are "lasering" their sheep.

Apparently, the sheep have been found dead, with "neat holes" in their bodies, and also missing important organs such as brains and eyes.  The deaths came to the attention of Phil Hoyle, who has investigated other cases of strange livestock mutilation, and who came to the farm near Radnor Forest where the sheep were killed.  The area, says Hoyle, is also a hotspot for UFO sightings -- and the two are connected.

"The technology involved in these attacks is frightening," Hoyle said, in an interview with The Sun.  "These lights and spheres are clearly not ours.  They are built by technology and intelligence that's not from here."

About the UFO sightings, Hoyle said, "For a short while it looked more like a Star Wars battle."  He interviewed farmers after the incident, and said that "all but one had some type of unusual disappearance of animals or deaths with strange injuries."

Which of course raises the question of why superpowerful, ultra-intelligent aliens from another planet would use their awesome technology to zip light years across the galaxy, visit Earth, and then come away with nothing but some sheep brains.  Can't you just picture when the captain of the ship returns to his home world?

Captain of alien ship:  "Look, your exalted excellency!  At the cost of millions of bars of Ferengi latinum, we have traveled to the third planet around the star Sol, and we have come back with... this."

*captain holds up three sheep brains and assorted eyes*

Leader of alien planet:  "That's it.  Guards, feed the captain to the Rancor."

(Okay, I know, I mixed my science fiction universes up.  So shoot me.)

So anyway, there we have it:  some summer shorts for your perusal.  Psychic pandas, Adolf in the afterlife, and Shropshire sheep slayings.  I hope you enjoyed them.  As for me, the weather's nice, so I think it's time for a nap in the hammock.  Wearing shorts, of course.

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