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Thursday, November 29, 2012

War on Christmas....Bull $h!t

Greetings friends.  First off, I'd like to apologize for the last post.  It goes to show that just like drunk dialing, you shouldn't insomnia blog.  I wrote that while suffering from insomnia due to pain in my knee, and I will re-post a better version of it.  Secondly, Christmas is fast approaching (it's been here for several months going by the displays in the stores) and for those looking to get their favorite bloggers a gift, but don't know what to get them, I would like a nemesis.  They don't have to be anyone fancy like Lex Luthor or Magneto.  It could be the Skrull or The Hand foot soldiers.  I'm easy to please.

Speaking of Christmas, before the season got under way, I began to think that the first person to utter the phrase "War on Christmas" needs to be hit with a can of cranberry sauce.  Up until last night, I had escaped hearing this horrible term.  Then, a local T.V. news personality, Kelly Ogle (I think, there is about a dozen Ogles on different channels here in Oklahoma.  I think all the stations have a clause in their F.C.C. contracts stating that an Ogle must be on their news crews at all times.) said the damn phrase, quoting Fox News (remember them, fair and balanced, kinda like loaded dice).  While Fox News obviously leans towards the Christian ultra conservatives, Mr. Ogle is at least a moderate conservative.  He has a segment on channel 9 called "My 2 cents" where he can basically rant about a topic in the hopes of garnering a response.  Normally, he does lean towards historical "Oklahoman Ideals" meaning the republican side of the issue.  What set me off last night was the whole War on Christmas shtick.  It was played out last year, but just like Christmas music at the malls, it's being played again this year.  Mr. Ogle talked about an exhibit in Germany of Christmas trees that was taken down for fear of offending the Muslim community.  They have put up an electronic holiday tree in its place.  Then he stated "It's called a Christmas tree, get it right" or something to that extent.  People are already complaining about the holidays being influenced, corrupted, or destroyed by other cultures and beliefs.  First off, to Mr Ogle, I would like to say, if you're going to be a stickler about it, a christmas tree should actually be called either a Yule Tree or Weihnachtsbaum, the German word for christmas tree.  The Christmas tree was originally used in Germany in roughly about the 1800's with evidence in the form of woodcuts dating back to the 1400's.  They gained popularity with the nobility in other countries in the early 19th century.  If you want to skip a bit of history, don't worry about the next 2 paragraphs, and you can jump back into the main issue.

Thing is, while christmas trees were gaining favor in the European countries, christmas itself was an illegal celebration in the United States.  The people that banned christmas?  Can anyone guess?  You with the ball cap, and you'd better have enough gum for everyone.  No, not the Jews.  No, not the Muslims, and no not the Buddhists.  No, not the Pastafarians either.  It was the Christians.  The Protestants to be exact.  They felt that christmas celebrations were an excuse for drunken, immoral revelry and they also had a poor view of saints in general. so rather than let people cut loose and have fun, they banned it.  It was banned until 1820 in the U.S. and wasn't a federal holiday until 1870.  This means that unlike today, you were expected to be at work on christmas day. 

The history of Christmas, and especially the (and I love being able to say this about a religious figure) evolution oof Santa Claus (Kris Kringle St. Nick, St Nicholas, Father Christmas, the man has more alias' than a two bit drug dealer) is actually fascinating.  From this point on, I'll just refer to the fat red man as S.C., unless mentioning a specific historical character that is responsible to his make up.  St. Nichols (the "actual" man) was born in Patara, which was a Greek country, on the southern border of modern day Turkey.  (Hint hint, he's probably not white)  He protected poor children from basically being sold into slavery and helped sailors.  To this day, he is still the patron saint of archers, sailors, children and pawnbrokers.  There is also a little bit of a Norse god in our idea of S.C.  Not just any god, but the big bad daddy of all the Norse gods, Odin.  According to tradition, children would leave their boots outside full of food for Sleipnir, Odin's 6 legged horse (can you imagine trying to put horseshoes on that thing?) and as a reward for their generosity, Odin would leave candy or toys for the children.  Dutch folklore has St. Nicholas dressed in a red cape over his bishops alb ( the nearly dress that they wear).  He has an assistant named Black Peter that carries the book of St. Nicholas.  Good kids get candy and toys, bad kids run the risk of being caught by Black Peter, who happen to carry jute bags (think burlap sack) and cane rods for that purpose.  There are also British, Scandinavian, and German traditions in out modern day S.C.  Thomas Nast, the political  cartoonist from the mid 1800's, is the man responsible for the image that we have now of Santa Claus.  His first picture appeared in 1863 in Harper's weekly.  Even though S.C. began as a christian bishop, in out modern times, he has become a secular figure and representation of christmas.

I know it was a bit of a tangent, but I think it was worth it.  Back to the "War on Christmas" bullshit that I started out on.  The Christians have actually been waging their own war on christmas by trying to have Santa Claus removed from christmas.  They feel he is taking the Christ out of Christmas and convoluting the "reason for the season".  And I have heard several people use the old Santa/Satan comparison.  You know, they both have the same letters in their names (but I don't recall C L A U S being in conjunction with any form  of satan), both wear red outfits, and one person actually said both have little children sit on their laps. (WTF??????)  The thing is the christmas holiday was originally incorporated by the christians to entice the pagans to follow their beliefs.  From what I've gleaned from several sites and researchers, if Jesus did exist, and was born when the bible says he was, he was born in the spring or early summer.  (The shepards with their flocks in the fields?  You don't pasture sheep in the winter, and you really don't stand out their all day watching them in freezing weather.)  The three wise men, (I really want to make a three stooges joke, but I'll be nice) which are a staple in every nativity scene, didn't find Jesus until he was 5.  Almost every aspect of the holiday, outside of the name, comes from pagan rituals.  (Sorry, another tangent, back on task.)  I don't know why the christians are claiming that there is a war on christmas when I saw christmas goods for sale back in September.  They had this stuff out before Halloween for fucks sake.  (By the way, I'm not against christmas, I enjoy the holiday, and my family, meaning my wife and son, does celebrate it in a secular fashion)  I have already been hearing the music on the radio (these, for the most part, I don't care for, I was made to sing them every year at every family gathering as a child) and seen ad flyers for christmas sales.  I can't blame Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, athiests, agnostics, Shinto, or other cultures for being pissed that the American christian version of christmas seems to last for 3 FLAMIN MONTHS!!!!!!!!!!!  I have personally seen ( and I know this is an anecdote) someone of the Jewish faith say Happy Chanukah and get yelled at by another customer to "Get it right, it's Christmas, not some made up holiday!"  Personally, if I walk into someones house or business this time of year, and I see a menorah on a table, even though I am an atheist, I simply think "Cool", because it gives me a chance to learn about a culture I didn't grow up in.  I don't get upset if someone says Happy Kwanzaa.  Hell, half the time, I'll say it back.  I really don't even get too perturbed about the crosses, and mentions of the bible and Jesus everywhere.  Most people that I know of different faiths don't have a problem with the displays.  Normally the people that raise the most hell about christmas displays are politically correct folks that are trying to keep from offending anyone. 

So as I try to tie all these various topics together in a coherent manner, I have come to realize that, in a way, there is a war going on.  It is a war by christians trying to dominate and sublimate other cultures and beliefs out of an almost inferiority complex, which stems from the "persecution complex" that christian leaders seem to instill in their followers.  If they want to follow their own edicts and "love thy neighbor" (which seems to happen way too much in some circles), they should give equal exposure to other traditions that other cultures have at this time of the year.  Or at least proportional to their respective faiths.  Remember, contrary to the tirades of certain leaders, we are NOT a christian nation.  We are the melding pot of the world, made of of many cultures, beliefs, faiths, and non faiths.  E pluribus unum, From many, one.  So the next time you hear someone say that there is a war on christmas, simply agree, nod your head, and say "Yup, and the Christians started it."

Okay kiddos, I'm going to wrap this one up before I stress myself out too much.  If anyone has a comment, you know what to do, leave one in the comment section.  Thanks for hanging with me on this rant, and as a special holiday gift, everyone gets 5 cool points, and if you leave a comment, you get 20.  These can be used at most bars and pubs, just let them know how many you have, and they'll let you know what you can get.  Until next time, be good, be skeptical, and have fun!  Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas (or Xmas if you're from Futurama) Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Chanukah, or whatever holiday greetings you feel appropriate.  And feel free to tell me about your holiday traditions, either personal or cultural.  I'm always interested in learning about other traditions.  And if you're a secular humanist, how do you either celebrate or deal with this time of year?

The Skeptical Okie

Monday, November 19, 2012

Crocoduck, Bigfoot, and church as a punishment?


Hey everyone, how's it going?  Now that the elections are over, I've decided to emerge from my bunker in an undisclosed state in a hidden location.  I'm assuming that because we aren't at war with Iran and the industries haven't been de-regulated, Obama must have won.  Things have been hectic and interesting here at the Skeptical Okie secret base.  To those that are from Oklahoma, this will make sense.  To everyone else, I'll try and explain.  Recently, I was at my local Wal Mart (yes I know, evil big corporation shutting out mom and pop stores, bad practices, etc, but it's the cheapest place for miles around, and the closest.) and I ran into someone that remembered my grandpa.  My grandpa used to make a bit of extra pocket money by witching for water wells.  Witching wells is called dousing by the rest of the world.  I used to go with him on a few of these jobs, and he "taught" me how to do it.  Basically, he put 2 willow rods (because willow is attracted to water) in my hands and told me to feel for the water.  I watched what he did and noticed he was tensing his arms, so I did the same thing.  He thought I had the gift.  Remember, his daughter, my mother, thinks she can heal sunburns by touching them.  Anyway, this gentleman at Wal Mart remembered me (I haven't changed much in appearance) and told me he had just bought a quarter section and needed to put in a well.  He wanted to know if I would come out and witch it for him.  As we are living on a single paycheck right now, there was a lot of temptation.  I looked at him and told him no, I couldn't.  I didn't go into an explanation of why, mostly because he would just tell me I'm wasting my "gift", and yes, I've heard it before.  The major issue I really wanted to point out is that most of the state sits on top of the Ogallala aquifer, and if you drill down enough, you'll hit water.  I've had a few run ins with our local ghost hunters too, but that story is for another day.

Okay, this story is one that can make you facepalm and hurt a rib at the same time.  Basically, a 14 year old girl in New Zealand (to my NZ readers, is this attitude normal?)  states that homosexuality will bring human development to a standstill, but she doesn't believe in evolution.  Because ducks nest in pairs, they will be more evolved than humans.  Quick, someone get her a biology book, STAT!!!!!!!!!!  I guess someone forgot to tell her that often ducks do take a same sex partner.  Sometimes, they'll try and breed an animal that's a different species. (Crocoduck anyone?  Kirk Cameron may be trying this, though I don't imagine the coupling will be pleasant for either animal, unless a lot of alcohol is involved.  Could you imagine the walk of shame the next morning after that?)  The whole article is found at
http://now.msn.com/homosexuality-will-put-ducks-in-charge-of-world-teen-says


I loved this one!!!  In the state of Georgia, Charles Darwin, who has been dead for about 130 years at this point, received over 4000 write in votes against Sen.Paul "evolution is from hell" Broun.  Just goes to show that anyone can run for office in this country.  Granted, Broun still got 209,000, but it was a valid protest that got his attention.  I've been hearing a lot of people saying that they wasted their votes, and a few people ask who Darwin is.  This is one the the rare times that a write in vote like this wasn't a waste.  Broun was running unopposed, so basically either you voted for him, or you didn't vote.  A version of the story can be read at
Charles Darwin was the natural selection for 4,000 Georgia voters


I've heard of cruel and unusual punishment, but this one is a little odd.   Judge sentences teen to 10 years of church   Here in Oklahoma, we've got a long history of strange laws (such as you can go to jail for taking a bite out of someone elses hamburger or that sex is only legal in the missionary position.  Who the hell enforces these?)  There is a district court judge who has a habit of sentencing people to church.  Basically it's deferred sentence where they have to attend a religious service instead of A.A.  A 17 year old kid had a few drinks (legal age in the U.S. is 21) got into a wreck that killed his passenger and was charged with manslaughter.  Judge Mike Norman in Muskogee sentenced him to church.  When I was a kid, I know church felt like a punishment, by I always felt like I'd done something wrong BY going.  As I am writing this, I found out that this isn't exactly legal, though the judge is defending his decision.


Okay, this one ties into the main thought of this post.  I know I've brought up a lot of topics already, and I hope I've given everyone some fodder for conversations.  I'll admit I do watch "Finding Bigfoot" on Animal Planet.  It does spike the old blood pressure, but I like to make it into a poor mans version of MST 3000 ( I like to think I'm Tom Crow).  Keep in mind I found this article first, then saw the fella on Finding Bigfoot.  In Idaho, gold miner William Barnes and scientist Jeff Meldrum are launching a remote control blimp to try and track Bigfoot from the air.  The article is at
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/49424363
 I saw Meldrum on a recently aired episode of Finding Bigfoot (from here on referred to as FB to save my poor tired fingers and brain) and I realized that I had read an article about him a day or two before.  The reason I'm bringing up FB is because watching the show, I have come to realize a few things, outside of that odds are bigfoot is highly unlikely to exist.  The first is that the 3 guys, who are believers are always shooting down the solitary female whenever she puts her opinion out there.  Keep in mind, 1 of the men has always been a bigfoot hunter (Bobo, gotta love that nickname), 1 was a computer programmer (goatee guy), I think, and the third guy is Matt Moneymaker.  You would figure if you were running a "non-profit" organization, you would change your last name.  The female is actually a biologist that specializes in wildlife.  I once heard Moneymaker make the comment to her that "She doesn't know what it's like to be in the field".  To earn her degree, she had to spend time in the field tracking and observing animals in their native environment.  Another thought that occurred to me was the locations that they go for their research, and I'm not going to use quotes around the questionable designations for the rest of the article because I'm kinda afraid of wearing the key out.  If you would be so kind as to look at the 2 maps below,

bigfoot




black bear



Not the best comparative maps, but they were the best I could find.  When I can find better, I'll put them in.  The majority of bigfoot sightings are clustered in areas that are also black bear habitat.  I can see how a person could mistake a bear walking upright for a hairy humanoid creature.  Another problem I have with their research techniques is how they actually look for these creatures.  They have a variety of ways that they do this.  One of the most common is sound blasting.  I do have a friend that is a believer, and have discussed some of these with him to find out what the concept behind this was.  Sound blasting, which is basically a boom box (o.k., I'm old, it's a large sound system) playing various animal calls including gorillas, chimps, and large N. American predators like wolves and coyotes.  The idea is that bigfoot, being a primate, will respond to the ape calls, and bigfoot follows wolves and coyotes. (More on that in a minute)  Bigfoot, anecdotally, according to my friend, is also very territorial and can be violent, so it's a good idea to let them know you're there.  Another technique I've seen is the Rave, which is what it sounds like.  Laser lights, loud music.  It's supposed to make the animal curious, and draw them in to investigate. (Yep, you want to have a large, territorial, possibly violent humanoid come to you)  There is also the, what I'm calling, "Damsel in distress".  The female sits alone while the men go off and watch the terrain.  She talks, calls out, and generally tries to entice one in.  Poor gal if it ever happens.  They also play recorded children's voices, claiming that bigfoot are curious about human children. (Is the plural bigfoot, bigfeet, bigfoots?)  They have also basically had a large camp out, complete with a bonfire, people playing music, and singing.  Another method that they've used is where they ran through the woods with torches (for my British readers, I don't mean an electric torch, I mean a flaming pitch type of torch) yelling and screaming.  Who the fuck runs through the woods, at night, with a flaming torch?  Have they never seen the Smokey the Bear commercials?  They normal method is to wear large camera rigs, divide up into 2 teams, go a distance apart and "call" back and forth.  These rigs have lights, and a lot of electronics on them, but they say that bigfoot is sensitive to electronics and avoid them.  They also banter a lot back and forth and over the radios. 
Another issue with these bigfoot hunters is the tracks.  A lot of the time when they point out tracks, I don't see them, and the biologist doesn't seem to see them as tracks either.  I think this may be more of a case of Pareidolia,  which is when the brain finds patterns that don't actually exist.  Some good examples are seeing a Philly cheese steak in the clouds.  Some other examples are 
            
Another problem I have with the tracks is that generally a biped will put most weight on the balls of its feet, making that part of the track slightly deeper.  Every time the biologist says she doesn't see what the others do, they jump down her throat. 
And my major peeve with the show.  Every episode, they will cut in to one of the 3 men describing perfect bigfoot territory, foods, and body types.  I like it when Bobo says "If I like it than a squatch will like it."  I've begun to think he's actually a shaved bigfoot that is sent out into the human population to keep us away, or if he can't, warn the local bigfoot.  I know, it's goofy, but it makes the show a little more entertaining.  What I want to know, HOW THE HELL DO THEY KNOW THIS???  Without a living population, or at least several samples for observation and testing ,there is no way, except for anecdotes, to have this information.  They say that bigfoot are apex predators and follow wolf packs.  They have shown stick structures, kinds like a lean-to, and stated bigfoot must have made it.  Thing is, I've built a lot of those when I've been camping and caught out in a storm.  For the life of me, I can't understand how they can make these claims without proof and documentation. 

The main reason that this bugs the shite out of me is watching these folks bumble through the woods.  Don't get me wrong, I would love it if someone would actually bring in a live one, or at least a corpse that isn't a frozen costume.  I have spent a lot of my life tracking animals, everything from lost pets and livestock to predators that have killed pets and livestock.  You can't run through the woods making noise, talking on the radio, waving a torch, playing loud music, using laser lights, etc.   When stalking an animal, firstly you need to understand their behavior, even if it is acting abnormally.  Then you either find tracks or spoor, and follow the trail, or you find likely spots, and sit there quietly and see what comes along.  There are a lot of other things about the show I want to talk about, but this post has gotten longer than I intended, and if your still reading it, your eyes are probably getting tired. Until next time, be good, be skeptical, and have fun.

The Skeptical Okie