Friday, August 20, 2010

The cranks were right!

Well, it doesn’t happen that often, but there are occasions where crackpot science is right on the money...or perhaps a better way of putting it is there are occasions here and there that crackpot science coincides with what real science discovers.

I find it amusing when this happens. It’s like when paranoia turns out to be correct. I’m pretty young, but most of these went from crackpot pipe dream to real substantiated fact within my lifetime.

The King Cheetah – a Cryptozoologist actually caught something real

It’s like if Charlie Brown finally kicked that football. Good work, guys!

The first time I ever heard of the King Cheetah was on A&E reruns of “Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World,” a documentary series hosted by Arthur C. Clarke, who took time off to perform series duty from his primary career as an author of autistic hard-SF novels, and his secondary career as a loathsome, lecherous pederast. It was on a show about weird and mysterious animals that have been sighted all over the world, and what made it special is not just the usual emphasis on giant ape-men and tourist-magnet lake monsters, but on weirder, less famous and more interesting creatures like the King Cheetah.

A cheetah with stripes along the spine and a giant black mane have been spotted in Africa since 1925, and one was even caught on a grainy home movie in the 1970s. Were they a figment of the imagination or an undiscovered species?

Eventually the conflict was resolved when a pair of Cryptozoologists, Lena and Paul Bottriell managed to photograph one in the 1970s.

In 1981, a cheetah in captivity in South Africa gave live birth to a pair of King Cheetahs. This resolved the species status of the King Cheetah: they weren’t a separate species, but some unusual mutation within the Cheetah family. Since then, a handful of King Cheetahs have been found (tragically, most were in the form of pelts).

Now, be honest: would you have expected something you first heard about on an Unsolved Mystery show turn out to be a star zoo show attraction? What next? Unicycle-riding Bigfoots?

The Vikings Were in America

Theories about how (insert culture here) reached America before Columbus are a dime a dozen and worth that, too…wispy and insubstantiated. The first time I ever read about Vikings in America was in an unsolved mystery casebook, and the cases right next to it wondered if there might be some truth to the Curse of Tutankhamun and if the Tunguska blast was from a crashed UFO. Considering the context, the idea that the Vikings might have been in America didn’t inspire confidence.

Then at some point in my middle school or high school years, it went from a crank theory to something “everyone knows,” that’s in every single textbook. New waves of artifacts at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland suggested to even the most hardened cynic that the Vikings reached America, including sod-buildings identical to those in Denmark and remains of shops for blacksmithing iron, something that was never practiced by Native Americans. And even more, scholarship for the Norse sagas improved and are being actively reread and taken seriously as historical documents instead of just as literature.

Zombies do exist!

I’m getting advising for it now, and man, I sure wish Wes Craven would turn my Masters Thesis into an awesome horror movie the way he did for Wade Davis when Wes made “The Serpent and the Rainbow,” one of the most terrifying films ever made.

Anthropologist and ethnobotanist Wade Davis discovered there was a truth to all the stories of the Zombie in Haiti: Houngan witch doctors in Haiti created a powder where the primary ingredient is from a fugu fish, a muscle relaxant that makes a person fall into a deathlike coma state. While in this state where they felt no pain, body functions were slowed and they could be mislabeled as dead by non-trained observers, the victim was buried alive. Later on the person exposed to the poison is dug up, and the witch doctor convinces them they died and were brought back from the dead. With other pharmaceuticals, witch doctors in Haiti often kept people as their “zombie” slaves for years and years, a combination of trance drugs, suggestion and cultural beliefs that created true mind control.

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