H. P. Lovecraft is coming to television. The Hollywood Reporter says that Romark Entertainment and Markerstone Pictures have purchased the rights to the comic book Herald, which follows the adventures of Nikola Tesla and Lovecraft as they travel through time to battle Mythos monsters. No network or air date has yet been announced. I guess it makes sense, in a way, since Tesla famously thought that he was in communication with space aliens when he heard odd beeping in a radio signal.
Tablet magazine published an exposé of skeptic Al Seckel, a longtime stalwart of the skeptic movement, whom the magazine accuses of misrepresenting or allowing others to misrepresent his credentials since the 1980s, among other unethical activities, including (they imply) bigamy. According to author Mark Oppenheimer, Seckel has described himself or been described as a physicist, a cognitive neuroscientist, and a molecular biologist, despite holding no advanced degrees in those subjects, and as the president of various organizations that appear to have existed only on paper. He used these credentials to hobnob with the academic elite and gain international fame as a lecturer and skeptic. “In Seckel’s case,” Oppenheimer writes, “the illusion is driven, I think, principally by a fantasy of the intellectual salon, of being at the center of a vibrant conversation among great brains.” It will be interesting to hear whether those who have accused me of various levels of evil in reporting on fringe authors’ exaggerated or false credentials will express similar outrage that Seckel has been exposed for his unearned degrees as well.
Our long national nightmare is over, ladies and gentlemen. After nearly three months of lightly repackaged reruns, Ancient Aliens returns with a new season this Friday, July 24. There had been some confusion over the episode numbering, and I guess everyone involved gave up trying to keep it straight. The History Channel and H2 aired seventeen episodes under the banner of Season 7, of which 12 were retroactively declared Season 7 episodes for the DVD release, in stores tomorrow. I guess the other five were made part of Season 6, which runs anywhere from 19 to 28 episodes, depending on which count as “official.” However, according to the production company, Prometheus Entertainment, the original Season 7 episode order was for 20 episodes. Perhaps the “Ultimate Evidence” reruns counted toward the 20 for broadcast, but not DVD. (This only really matters for the confusing DVD marketing. Prometheus changed the latest DVD from “Season 7: Volume One” to “Season 7,” and I’m sure you don’t care about that.) Anyway, on Friday we’re starting fresh with Season 8, at the conclusion of which Ancient Aliens will be within spitting distance of In Search Of…’s record 144 episode run for the most episodes of a fringe history show in American television history.
I haven’t made mention of the strange claim made on this past week’s episode of Monster Talk because I am not a geneticist and I don’t really have much to say about the scientific evidence adduced for the existence of a pre-modern African hominid living in the Abkhazia principality between the Russian Empire and Ottoman Empire in the 1850s. (Abkhazia is now a breakaway quasi-state claimed by Georgia.) But it is a very interesting story for the echoes of similar claims that have been made for African connections to the same region for centuries. I happen to be familiar with those claims because I wrote about them in my book Jason and the Argonauts through the Ages, where they intersected with Afrocentrist views of the Argonauts myth.
I’ve been working on assembling an edition of Murtada ibn al-‘Afif’s Prodigies of Egypt (or whatever similar title you prefer; the text exists only in French and English translations) because it’s full of interesting folklore. In so doing, I thought it would be helpful (and would help to round out the page count) to include one of the earlier accounts of pyramid legends that the author drew upon in writing his own. This inadvertently created a problem I’m not sure how to solve because I can’t read Arabic, wherein the answers lie.
The current edition of American Antiquity (vol. 80, no. 3) contains a section devoted to pseudo-archaeology, and it features some terrific reviews of fringe history books familiar to regular readers of this blog. I’m not sure exactly when the July number of the journal will hit your local library, but when it does, you should check out some of the interesting pieces examining works by pseudo-archaeological writers like Graham Hancock, Robert Bauval, Andrew Collins, Philip Coppens, and more. If I had to sum it up in a sentence, I’d say that the overarching theme is that pseudo-archaeology books are glib, ignorant, and a little bit racist. I should also say that I am proud to note that several author recommend my books and website as resources for understanding fringe history.
The night before last, Scott Wolter made a multi-hour appearance on the three-hour nightly Jimmy Church radio program Fade to Black. Three hours is a long time to listen to anything, least of all fringe history. Forgive me if in fast forwarding through the show I missed a few things.
Christopher Knowles: UFO Debunkers Are "Disheartened" Believers with "Insatiable" Desire for Alien Contact
Back in 2013, National Geographic made a big deal about the discovery of ancient ruins some had linked to the so-called White City of Honduras, a legendary lost city whose story developed out of a mix of pulp fiction, myth-making, and treasure-hunting in the first half of the twentieth century. At the time, I wrote that researchers claimed that the earliest sighting of the city (not counting some unrelated passages by Hernan Cortez roped in for the purpose) was by Charles Lindbergh in 1927, and I noted that this claim does not seem to appear in print before the 1950s, and certainly not in any contemporary account of Lindbergh. Dr. John Hoopes was kind enough to point me to the earliest report of the White City, from a Spanish-language academic article by the Luxembourger ethnologist Eduard Conzemius in volume 19 of the Journal de la Société des Américanistes in 1927. It appears that this reference, while occasionally cited in Spanish and (logically enough) German discussion, was not noticed in English research on the city (it doesn’t appear, for example, in Jungleland, Christopher Stewart’s book about the city). It apparently uncovered sometime between 2013 and now. For your edification, I have translated the entirety of Conzemius’ passage:
As I mentioned the other day, during the slow season in the world of fringe history I’m doing some more work on the preservation of Late Antique legends in medieval Arabic material, and I’m putting together an edition of Murtada ibn al-‘Afif’s History of Egypt (before 1237 CE) from the first (and only) English translation. This seemed like it would be an easy task, but as always there are complications. The English translation was made in the seventeenth century from a French translation, and I discovered that both of them used a particularly insensitive word to describe a certain highly recognizable religious figure, because in the years between the translation and today the word has changed its connotation. This creates a problem: Is the right choice to preserve the integrity of the original text at the risk of some extremist acting out as a result, or adulterate the translation? The word came from a verse in the Quran, so I looked up the modern translation and substituted the more recent interpretation, but I’m not sure how I feel about it. No wonder so little work gets done on this material.
You Won't Believe This One Amazing Trick a Fringe Historian Accidentally Used to Blow Up the Internet
Late last week Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush complained that Pres. Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry hide behind “big syllable words,” bemoaning “nuanced” and “sophisticated” approaches to foreign policy. This impulse toward anti-intellectualism saw an echo in a depressing think piece about the end of the long form film criticism site The Dissolve and the $100 million valuation placed on the clickbait firm Viral Nova, which made its money slapping zany and sometimes deceptive headlines on other people’s content for quick clicks. “Over the past two years,” weirdly named Carles.Buzz wrote on Motherboard, “we’ve learned that there isn’t any actual monetizable ‘cultural value’ in building a content farm with an authoritative voice or domination of a niche area. Instead, it is more important to chase quantifiable human metrics by shoving lowbrow content in front of Facebook users.” In other words, dumb is the hottest trend in advertising, and the only one guaranteed to reach a mass audience.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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