Two years ago, feminist author Naomi Wolf faced controversy when historians noted that her new book, Outrages, based on her doctoral thesis, contained important historical errors in its account of what Wolf claimed was violent systemic oppression of gay men in Victorian England. Wolf had misunderstood an old legal term, “death recorded,” to refer to an execution instead of a suspended or commuted death sentence. Thus, she had claimed that gay men were executed regularly at the Old Bailey through the nineteenth century, when in fact Britain’s last execution for sodomy occurred in the early days of Victoria’s reign. Wolf’s U.S. publisher pulped the book in the wake of the controversy, but two years later, a new one emerged.
On February 4, Chariots of the Gods author Erich von Däniken put out an official statement attacking me by name and disputing accusations that his history of using phrases like “failure” to describe the “Black race” constituted racism. The statement appears to be a reaction to tweets I made in response to a recent New Yorker article which interviewed von Däniken to comment on Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb’s claim that the interstellar object ‘Oumuamua was a piece of technology from an alien world. I noted at the time that von Däniken had a history of making statements that were racially insensitive or which expressed transphobic and homophobic views. That did not sit well with him.
A couple of weeks ago, Huang Heqing, a professor in the department of art and archaeology at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China made ridiculous claims about ancient history at a conference. Huang, who teaches art history, holds a doctoral degree from the University of Paris but nonetheless is convinced that all the achievements of ancient Western cultures were fabricated in the nineteenth century.
My computer's hard drive died, so I am working, slowly, from a backup machine while I shop for a new computer, since the other parts, like the keyboard, the monitor, and the touch pad, aren't working so well either. The last time this happened, last year, I received a one-year warranty on the hard drive, and it lasted ten whole days past the end of the warranty before crapping out. Anyway, on to today's issue...
Sen. Lindsey Graham warned this week that calling the so-called QAnon Shaman, Jake Angeli (a.k.a. Jacob Chansley), to testify in Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial would be a circus, while last night CNN aired footage from tonight’s QAnon conspiracy special of anchor Anderson Cooper interviewing a former QAnon believer about the extreme delusions that he accepted as true while in the mouth of madness. Just as Angeli posted YouTube videos detailing his belief that he was a psychic space warrior working for a secret U.S. military program to destroy alien spaceships from another dimension, his fellow QAnon believers have some pretty strange—but very familiar—ideas.
Today, Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb’s new book Extraterrestrial was released. It was mostly as I expected it to be, though even I wasn’t quite expecting it to contain so much discussion of the author’s obsession with middle-twentieth-century existentialist philosophy, of the Camus variety, or his apparent inability to understand that this was neither the culmination of all human intellectual achievement, nor an exceptionally influential school of thought in terms of modern intellectual history. I am not reviewing Extraterrestrial as a book because, frankly, its discussion of the evidence that the interstellar object ‘Oumuamua is an extraterrestrial space probe is simply beyond my ability to evaluate, being neither an astronomer nor a physicist. Those with much more training than I have found reason to doubt Loeb’s conclusions, and even Loeb frames his conclusions as a “wager,” like Pascal’s, claiming that it’s better to assume it’s E.T. and be wrong than doubt and be right, since finding aliens will give humanity a philosophical orgasm of sorts. I can do little more than shrug and say that the non-specialist reader will likely see in the arguments a reflection of whatever idea he or she brings to them.
Before I begin, I will briefly note news from Britain, that Blackpool’s council has authorized the use of compulsory purchase (what Americans call “eminent domain”) to use the force of government to acquire land for the long-gestating Chariots of the Gods theme park to be operated by the company that now owns Erich von Däniken’s so-called “intellectual” property. Final permission to build the amusement park hasn’t happened yet, so the immersive Chariots entertainment experience is still years away. And now, on to more… well, I almost said “pleasant” thoughts, but that isn’t quite right.
So, this week the New Yorker interviewed racist author Erich von Däniken, the elderly ancient astronaut theorist who once wrote that the Black race was a “failure” and who has included transphobic and Islamophobic commentary in his most recent books. Why would one of America’s premiere publications give a platform to a man whose claim to fame was arguing that nonwhite people couldn’t stack rocks without help from rapists from outer space? It’s because a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist seems to have relied on her adolescent memories of ancient astronaut rather than researching current controversies—current being anything after, say, the late 1970s.
Recently, UFO propagandist Leslie Kean had her book on the afterlife adapted as a Netflix series. Her writing partner, Ralph Blumenthal, is about to publish his long-gestating biography of alien abduction researcher John Mack, endorsing Mack’s ideas about reaching a transcendent afterlife through aliens. The pair came to renewed national attention in December 2017 when they revealed the existence of a Pentagon UFO office, a report instigated through the offices of To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science, staffed by refugees from both the government office and its major contractor, wealthy UFO believer and hotelier Robert Bigelow’s flying saucer research organization. The relationship between these various data points wasn’t entirely clear until now. Today, the New York Times ran a new piece by Blumenthal rhapsodizing over Bigelow’s newest venture, an effort to prove life continues after death.
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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