Saturday, December 5, 2009


SyFy - Original Air Date:

After finding a yeti print in a previous expedition to Nepal, Josh Gates and company head out to look for the monster again, this time in Bhutan -- which has an actual nature reserve dedicated to help the possibly mythical creature survive.  They talk to the locals, nearly run into a rare fire ceremony with their car, and see some reputed yeti bones.  Then they head into the wilds to find the creature.  They chase sounds across several rickety bridges and get a brief thermal image.  They then move deeper into the countryside to continue their search.  There, they climb across rugged rocks and poke into narrow caves.  They see something on the thermal camera and chase it up a hill and across a chasm on an ancient tram... in the dark.  But they're stopped by a deadly chasm river, and have to head back home.

The vertebrae seem to have come from an Asian black bear.  The hair sample turns out to be from some large primate, with a previously unknown DNA sequence.  Despite this exciting evidence, I have to conclude that the thermal hits were either nothing unusual, or too blurry to make out what they were -- as they are not mentioned in the show's wrap-up.  A good "mid-season" finale for DT, which remains the strongest of the monster- and ghost-hunting shows.

DESTINATION TRUTH - Werewolf & Arica Monster

Syfy - Original Air Date: 10/28/09

Josh and team go looking for Werewolves in Romania and dinosaurs in Chile.  The werewolf hunt starts with a very cool simulation that my friend Linda Godfrey might enjoy.  Taking a train deep into Transylvania, the crew check with local folks and check out local wolves before heading into the field.  Poking around in some caves, they find some "human" bones and strange fur, which they bag.  They then arrive at the area marked by a white cross -- really -- where werewolves have been recently sighted.  In the woods, they find strange footprints, hear howling, and see glinting eyes in the darkness.  After one of the crew takes a bad fall, and another falls sick, they head back home to analyze what they've found.  The prints they found seem to be from wolves, though one is much larger than a normal wolf.  As yet, though, they've no proof of an actual werewolf.

The Arica is a three-toed dinosaur-like creature living in a remote Chilean desert.  After talking to the locals who claim to have seen the fast, 3-toed beast, they ATV out into the desert, and there they find some strange, 3-toed prints.  They poke through the rocky and hazardous canyons at night, and find a partially eaten canine paw.  Strange sounds, lead them through a dangerous night chase, but they find nothing.  The prints, it turns out, are from an actual dinosaur -- iguanadon (though not recent), but the dinosaur expert suggests the locals are seeing a rare, ostrich-like bird called a rhea.  Again, a fun chase, but no actual monsters for Destination Truth.


History Channel - Original Air Date: 12/2/09

The show tries to look into the ancient rituals of Stonehenge - including possible human sacrifice - and whether the circle was a temple of the dead.  They bang some drums and find the stones echo the drumbeats back.  They speculate that the ritual sounds of Stonehenge may have had a hypnotic effect on those in the ceremony -- an effect contributed to by torches, which may have pulsed in time with the drumbeats, too (because of the sonics).  They also speculate that a body found with arrowheads may have been executed by ritual firing squad - though there is little other evidence of this.  In the end, this was an interesting experiment, but little more.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Discovery Channel - Original Air Date: 11/15/09

A former homicide detective, Ed Norris goes looking for Jack the Ripper and posits that Jack may have spent some time in America -- killing women -- after the crimes stopped in England.  He looks at the usual Jack evidence, and quickly dismisses some of the usual suspects (including Francis Tumblety, prime suspect in the recent MYSTERYQUEST show -- whom he says was someone who "really really sticks out" and would, therefore, have been hard to miss).  He reaches the conclusion that the killer was James Kelly, a man who escaped from a lunatic asylum and -- after the Ripper murders -- traveled to America, only to return to the asylum voluntarily at the end of his life, saying he'd been on "the warpath."  The contrasts between this and the last show point out why the Ripper murders have remained unsolved for so long: too many suspects, too many theories, not enough hard evidence.  (Ever wish we had DNA samples available?)  After each Ripper show I watch, I come away thinking, "That's the guy," and then the next show makes an equally compelling case for someone else.  Who done it?  Was Jack the same guy who killed women in America afterward?  I fear we may never know.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

MYSTERYQUEST - Jack the Ripper

History Channel - Original Air Date: 11/11/09

This show goes over most of the usual Ripper lore and then focuses in on two suspects: Mary Pearcey - known killer -- and "Dr." Francis Tumblety, an American scam artist who fled England shortly after the Ripper murders.  After examining various bits of evidence -- mostly circumstantial -- they eliminate Pearcey (too passionate in her known crime) and come to the conclusion that Tumblety, who kept a collection of women's uteruses, sorted by social class, fits the profile of Jack very well.  But, with over a century of speculation to date, the show doesn't come to any final conclusion.  Still, this MQ episode was an interesting take on two lesser-known Ripper candidates.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


History Channel - Original Air Date: 10/14/09

In case you hadn't figured it out, I won't be reviewing every MQ program, just the ones that fit my interests.  And I won't review shows where they seem to shoehorn supernatural stuff into normal mysteries, like the recent Alcatraz episode.  This episode starts with a reenactment of a UFO encounter -- though what the episode is, they don't really say at first.  They then talk of the government's history of covering up UFO stories, including Area 51.  Several "witnesses" claim that there are aliens all over the place in Area 51's underground complexes.  Much of this show's evidence seems to be based on the stories of John Lear and Bob Lazare -- and it turns out the reenactment at the beginning was Bob's "proof" to John that what he said about A-51 was true -- an encounter arranged by Bob.  (Or, a clever hoax?  The show doesn't mention that possibility.)  The show relates a lot of the standard Area 51 and government cover-up stories -- and includes some shots from the infamous Alien Autopsy.  They also mention a mysterious "skyquake" -- but don't explain much about it.  Is it a sonic boom?  Is it related to the semi-mythical Aurora aircraft?  They also speculate about an alien research network around the world.  One "researcher" contends that anywhere listed as a space shuttle emergency landing site is part of the A-51 network.  They also mention AUTEC as related to, or part of this network.

MQ sends a team to investigate and try to find out whats up with Area 51.  They set up camera traps near A-51, and quickly run afoul of the authorities -- but not so afoul as to stop their investigations.  They take a huge telephoto lens and cameras to a mountain overlooking the base.  Soon, the peak is circled by a jet and an unmarked black helicopter; the group believes they are being watched.  Their intent is to match what they see to existing satellite photos (thank you, Google) and discover if there's new construction, meaning the base is an ongoing project, not one winding down.  Why they don't use the big camera at night to look for some of the alleged UFOs, they don't say.  Their camera traps pick up a couple of things, but one turns out to be clouds and another headlights from cars.  No mysteries there.  As with many MQ shows, this one is long on story and short on science or evidence.

UFO HUNTERS - Dark Presence

History Channel - Original Air Date: 10/29/09

According to Bill, UFO reports of orbs are increasing worldwide.  The show plays some video, but it's the usual blurry lights in the sky -- and some seem to behave like flares.  A guest investigator, Ted, rules out "earth lights" because of the duration of some sightings at "Site X."  He believes the orbs can harm plants, livestock, and perhaps even people.  He also thinks they have malicious intent.  The team gets the usual type of witness stories from cops and other people.  They bring in a UFO light expert, who opines that some video is not flares or other known lights.  From Phoenix, they go to Kokomo, IN, for more orb reports.  A MUFOn member says orange balls of light (OBOL) have been seen for years; he believes the balls are intelligent.  A witness describes seeing orbs and then having them haunt her dreams.  The group and a local paranormal group set up IR cameras to try and catch something - theorizing orbs give of IR and therefore may be attracted by it. (?!) They claim to have caught "orbs from the spirit realm" with this technique previously.  (Seeing their examples, I think they need to become better acquainted with the limitations and quirks of their photographic systems; which is to say, I ain't buying.)  But all they find during this stakeout is dust, stars, and aircraft.  No surprise there.

After gathering many stories, the UFO-H team goes to Phoenix for more poking around.  A woman named Christine believes orbs are dark presences that lurk around archeological sites; she's photographed some.  But her "orb" photo in a thunderstorm looks like another camera glitch to me - probably some kind of reflection.  She also claims to have heard voices when she saw an orb.  (For me, this does not add to her credibility.)  She woke up on her couch, believing it to be a dream until a neighbor reported seeing the same thing.  Jeff Willis feels he has a relationship with the orbs he photographs; the show describes him as one fo the best known UFO videographers in the US.  But his orb photos look like flares and balloons (as in the Mexico hoax -- see UFOs Over Earth), to me; I find anyone with such frequent encounters suspicious.  When Jeff's footage is analyzed, the "expert" thinks that some lights are generated by a single triangular craft; but the analysis makes me doubt this "expert's" objectivity and expertise.  He suggests connecting the orbs to local petroglyphs.  They head out with the publisher of Ancient Times -- which sounds like another pseudo-science magazine -- to look for connections at local ruins.  This "expert's" analysis of the glyphs quickly convinces me that he knows little of archeology or art history; he seems just another buff of the supernatural, looking for science to hang his theories on.  He believes the orbs are extra terrestrials and were misinterpreted as divine by the native Americans.

Kevin points out that there are a lot of theories here, but no science; he hopes that in the next 50 years, we may figure out this phenomena.  He explains the increase of videos and pictures because of the increase of people having cameras with them (as in phones).  Bill concludes that events are "quickening," and we had better shape up and pay attention or face the consequences.

One of the consequences, it seems, might be the cancellation of this show (see note about the "wrap up" in the "Area 52" episode).  If this is the end, I suspect it will be because week after week, this show has presented very similar stories but very little actual evidence or investigation.  Ghost Hunters is pretty much the same from week to week, but at least they have a set of pseudo-scientific standards that they apply to the evidence they gather -- rather than just jumping to the wildest conclusions, which has been this show's forte.  Though I signed a petition to save it, I won't be surprised if UFO Hunters has crashed (somewhere near Roswell) at last.

UFO HUNTERS - First Response

History Channel - Original Air Date: 10/29

Is the military pursuing UFOs and attempting to bring them down?  That's the question posed at the beginning of this episode.  There is a history of UFO-military encounters stretching back at least until 1954.  Kevin points out that it's possible that these encounters are escort flights for top-secret government aircraft.  The UFO-H team interviews people, including a woman, Patricia, who claims to have seen helicopters in pursuit of a UFO on March 17, 2009, in Longbeach.  Fortunately, she used a digital camera and tripod to capture her encounter -- using 8 second exposures, as well as 1/30th of a second exposures.  The UFO she saw looks different, clearly, from the helicopters pursuing it.  But, her house is sitting amid a cluster of military bases and testing centers.  Were the copters searching, attacking, or escorting?  Patricia also gathered other witnesses in her neighborhood to back up her story.  (She's one of the best witnesses I've ever seen.)  On the same day, another witness, "Mike" from Corona, who works with a DOD contractor, has a video of a glowing, ring-shaped object moving through the sky.  It's impressive, but doesn't look that fast -- certainly no faster than the Balloon Boy UFO -- which makes me wonder if it could be an illuminated balloon of some type.  The next night, he saw and photographed the object again.  The day after that, his wife said helicopters circled his house; a month later, he was fired.  Kevin remains skeptical of the connection, and the craft's alien origin -- after all, Mike, too, lives near several military bases.  Kevin does some calculations, and concludes that Mike and Patricia probably did not seem the same object.  A photo analyst doesn't think Patricia's photo is a conventional aircraft or helicopter.  The analyst believes the ring craft is a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) with a ring of lights -- and the show even has a picture of one.  So, the ring of light photos seem solved; it was a hoax seen by Mike.  (No wonder the shots were so good.)

Meanwhile, out in Lake Havasu, NV, around the same time, a witness with experience with military aircraft saw a boomerang-shaped craft -- which he estimates at 3-400' wide.  (Though we all know how unreliable size estimates of flying objects are.)  The object was "chased' by several fighter jets.  He has fuzzy video, but there's no way to tell the object's size or true shape.  (Even the pursuit jets are fuzzy.)  Bill tries to connect these sightings to the UFO "crash" in Needles, nearby, in 2008 which also featured military copters "searching."  A show military expert says, of the boomerang-shaped craft, that if it were as large as reported, it is larger than any known aircraft -- including the Spruce Goose.  He also opines that the formation of jets they present to him, would be suitable for attack.  Bill, then, uses those opinions to draw his own conclusions: that the jets were in attack formation and acting aggressively toward the UFO (as opposed to escorting it).  Keven agrees that, in this case, something odd was going on.

With better pictures and recent cases, this was an above-average UFO-H show.  However, Bill still takes case facts and draws the most extreme conclusions from them; he's completely bought into the alien invasion mythology.  Myself, I'd like to see more investigation after the team has talked to witnesses, and less hasty "conclusions."

MONSTERQUEST - Abominable Snowman

History Channel - Original Air Date: 10/25/09

Can it be that MQ hasn't done a Yeti show yet? Guess so, 'cause this episode tackles the beast from page one - relaying all the usual stories and legends. Considering how many people claim to have seen the beast or its handiwork, it's amazing that there isn't better evidence -- though one scientist suggests that the Himalayan brown bear is the basis for the legend. MQ sends a team out to look. The Himalayas are beautiful, but treacherous in both landscape and weather. The team tramps around and sets the usual camera traps. They spot what they think is a line of tracks, but it turns out to have been formed by rolling snow. They send up a helium balloon with a camera to try and capture movement in the vast landscape. But all their explorations turn up only a small monkey skull. Footprint casts examined by experts show mostly known animals, while others are inconclusive. Hair from a "yeti scalp" turns out to be from a deer or antelope. Though the show concludes the area could support a great ape, they have no evidence of one. They do point out that bears probably account for many of the reports. Not much new here, but not a bad place to start if you don't know the standard yeti myths.

Friday, November 6, 2009

DESTINATION TRUTH - Chullachaqui & Bermuda Triangle

SyFy - Original Air Date: 10/14/09

First, up, the Josh & the DT team go to look for a gremlin like creature, the Chullachaqui, in the jungles of Peru.  They take Rob & Dustin from GHI with them in an apparent "investigator exchange."  In the jungle, the locals are definitely afraid of the creature, and one even claims that the creature killed his friend. Naturally, the team hears noises in the night jungle -- a jungle filled with snakes and big cats.  They don't catch, and their camera traps have only blurs.  Teeth and prints they find turn out to be from wild pigs -- which Josh speculates may be the source of some of the rumors.

Next, the team brings their high-tech gear to bear on the well known mystery of the Bermuda Triangle.  They decide to fly a charter plane through known points where people have vanished previously.  Josh brings gear to measure EMF, so he can chart and then re-fly through any anomalies.  Near Bimini, they get strange EMF readings and trouble with their compass.  Tagging 3 spots on the island, they set out on foot to investigate.  Finding nothing, come nightfall, they head out on the water -- and experience strange malfunctions of their electronic gear (and even the boat motor).  Then, one of the crew gets lost.  Eventually, he turns up, but Josh concludes that strange things happen on Bimini, and perhaps there's something to the Triangle.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


History Channel - Original Air Date: 10/29/09

History broadcast 4 new episodes of this show on one day. This one followed the one on MIB, and picks up the Dougway Proving Grounds-UFO connection.  The premise is that Dougway is the new home of the UFO-back-engineering that used to be at Area 51 (before it was outed).  The base is now equipped for a Space Shuttle (alternate) landing.  One former worker tells of strange lights in the sky.  UFO researchers claim to have been intimidated when staking out the site from public land.  As they talk near the base, Dougway reps come out and tell them not to film - despite their permits.  A Public Relations officer says Dougway is the nation's chem-bio testing facility, and they test protection equipment for military and civilian applications -- but she won't discuss any private contractors on the base.  She says the no-overflight airspace is to assure privacy -- but she knows of no UFO technology at the base.  (She seems amused by the question, and says she's been asked that before.)  After hearing more tales about the base, the UFO-H team decides to sneak up to it on mountain bikes, to try and get closer to the gates without being noticed.  They see some destroyed vehicles, but nothing unusual.  Another witness, former cop, claims to have seen a circular UFO, followed shortly thereafter by military jets.  He also says he found decapitated horses in the area - which the show connects to either UFOs or secret laser weapons.  Another witness, Alien Dave, has pictures of a strange glow at the base, perhaps a laser or other beam weapon - followed by UFOs.  He also claims to have seen planes vanish in mid flight, and invisible vehicles kicking up dust.  Kevin concludes that there's not enough evidence to show area 51 has moved here, or that there is any alien technology.  Bill and Pat disagree.  Then, oddly, the show wraps up with a recap segment of the whole series that makes it seem like the end of the show (though History played 2 new shows that night).  Did the series probe the truth about UFOs, as they claim, or did it merely reinforce 21st century myths?

UFO HUNTERS - The Silencers

History Channel - Original Air Date: 10/29/09

This episode looks into Men In Black (MIB) and includes witness interviews with people who make various strange claims. One claims the MIB shot his son, another claims to have a single picture of one.  (Looks like a guy in a suit.)  Another claims to have been intimidated numerous times by alien-like MIB - though his artist's sketch looks like an Asian-American.  That witness has passed lie detector and stress tests -- but does that make his story true?  Another believes that there is a network of underground bases for reverse-engineered near the Grand Canyon.  Another claims that MIB researchers die early and mysteriously.  (At least Kevin points out that people do die from seemingly innocuous causes.)  Another man, Dave, claims MIB came to his house and demanded he remove info from his web site after he posted info about military projects at (or near) Dougway Proving Grounds. (The Wayback Machine has a numerous versions of Dave's site archived here -- but I'm not about to sift through to see if what he claims is in the archive.)  Others claim to have been visited by MIB after poking around the same area.  As the UFOH team talks to these folk in the desert, several "black" helicopters fly nearby. They also observe a man dressed in black get into a truck on the restricted compound. Kevin points out that these "encounters" are merely chance, the military going about their usual business.  Bill, naturally, sees conspiracy.  And, as usual, the rest of the stories in the show seem to be taken on face value, with very little investigation.  Perhaps this series should could be more accurately called "UFO Believers."

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Real Wolfman

History Channel - Original Air Date: 10/28/09

When I started the review for this show, I did not realize that it was the show that Linda Godfrey and I had done some filming for last year -- on our Uncanny Radio show.  So, in full disclosure, we're in it, and you can hear Linda on the radio, and our guest Steve Kreuger is featured. (Though he was not a Bray Road witness, as the show claimed.)  Having said that, we're a minor piece of the program -- blink and you'll miss me -- and I'll try to review the show objectively.

This show looks at the 1740s "werewolf" attacks in southern France known as The Beast or "La Bete."  (Also the subject of the Brotherhood of the Wolf movie and the first Dark Angel novel.)  Over the course of a few years, about 100 people -- mostly women and children -- were brutally attacked and killed.  Was it a human killer, a mystery animal, a werewolf, or something else?  A profiler, George "Duke" Deuchar, and a cryptozoologist, Ken Gerhard, set out ot find out.  To bring viewers up to date, the show talks about werewolf history, the history of the attacks, and even manwolf in the US.  (I'm operating the radio control board during the interview with Steve Kreuger; blink and you'll miss me, though there's a good shot of Linda.)  As the team investigates in France, the profiler, Duke, becomes suspicious that the alleged "animal" bypassed easy prey in favor of humans.  The cryptozoologist, Ken, remains convinced that the beast could have been some unknown or prehistoric animal.  He shows the Duke some Texas chupacabra footage to make his point about strange animals existing even today.  (The coyote-wolf hybrid footage.)  The two examine caves in France where the beast may have hidden, and also a print alleged to be from the beast -- it's many times the size of a normal wolf.  Some reports from the time point at a wild, hairy human -- or near human -- as the culprit.  Talking to the local police, Duke concludes that the information of the time is filled with rumor and superstition, and the witnesses were unreliable.

Historically, the king sent soldiers to sort the situation out, but they didn't solve the problem -- the attacks continued, despite military presence.  Meanwhile, Ken is inputting data based on old drawings into a computer (not a brilliant forensic technique, since we have no reason to believe the artists ever saw the creature), and concludes that a hyena may be the suspect.  He notes that some reports even had the creature "laughing" -- which Duke points out seems to indicate a human even more.  Ken points out that some people believe that they become animals, and some people with genetic mutations even look like wolfmen.  A French historian believes that the attacks were not done by humans, but the team remains skeptical.  Duke suggests that the beast may have been a wolf trained to kill by a human serial killer, but wolf experts say wolves cannot be trained that way -- though a large dog could.  Science, however, suggests that dogs cannot decapitate people the way the beast did.  Three years after the attacks began, a farmer armed with a blessed silver bullet shot the beast through the heart, and the attacks stopped for good.  The team talks with the farmer's descendant, and finds the scene where the beast was slain.  The animal's body was taken to Versailles, to show the king, and then apparently disposed of.  As Ken looks for it, Duke asks about the farmer -- who may have been an outcast before he became a hero.  A historian suggests that everything about the beast legend may have been exaggerated by the church, for their own benefit.

Meanwhile, it turns out that the beast may have been on exhibit at a French museum -- and the animal was listed by the museum as a long-haired striped hyena.  (It's not clear where the specimine is now -- though its bones may have been used to repair other display specimens.)  A hyena's bite force and attack pattern seem to match the beast, and a zoologist says a hyena could be trained to attack.  The museum curator says that local royalty often kept exotic animals.  Could the farmer have owned it, only to kill it for the reward?  Back in the States, Duke tries to find out if a silver bullet could have killed a hyena in one shot.  The test shows that silver bullets, which are harder than lead, are less accurate; they do not deform because of barrel rifling.  (But were 1740s guns rifled?  The show doesn't say - but a quck check shows that rifling did not become common until the 19th century -- 50 to 100 years after the attacks.  An obvious flaw in the show's scientific technique.)  Silver bullets also cause less tissue damage than a standard lead bullet (because they don't deform).  Because of these challenges, Duke thinks the farmer set the whole thing up; he could kill the beast easily, because he owned it.  The show concludes that it was a man-beast team that caused the legend of the beast -- and bolstered the werewolf legend.  In some sense, the killer was a man-wolf.

This was a good show.  The history is well laid out and interesting, and the through-story compelling.  I'm not sure I agree with their conclusions, though their theory does (mostly) fit the facts, and their investigation techniques are passable.  People interested in The Beast (La Bete) or werewolf legends should find this show a good place to start.  (Don't look for Linda and me in the credits -- though WBSD made it.)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Theater Undreground: Not What You Expected - Review

A new Theater Undreground production always seems like a good time for another post to my homepage.  (If you like more frequent info & updates, become a fan of my blog -  TU is a Richmond, IL, company dedicated to producing the work of local playwrights (using local actors).  I've enjoyed every one of their productions I've seen previously, and it's safe to say that I enjoyed this one the most of all.

It's hard to say much more about Not What You Expected, though, without building... expectations, and thereby ruining some of the show's... unexpected twists and turns.  If you check out TU's trailer for the show, you'll see that they don't reveal much about it, either.  All I feel I can safely say about this production is that it follows the exploits of a local rock band as they struggle against the music industry and fortunes that threaten to tear them apart.

What ensues is a carefully orchestrated blend of scripted work, music, improv, and chaos.  There's plenty of amusing theater business, too.  But, again, I can't say more without giving it away.  First-time playwrights Katelin Stack & Chris Warren (who have worked with TU before) have done a very good job melding drama, comedy, and unexpected elements.  They are helped by veteran TU directors David Baker & Tim Mosbach , who - in the company's first year - have learned to stage engaging and innovative productions in a small theater on a shoestring budget.  They like to do unexpected things, and this show is no exception.  The large ensemble cast turns in uniformly amusing performances, and Ian Hall again provides delightful musical point and counterpoint.

So, catch the show Halloween night for its last production (this season, at least).  But call ahead, as the shows are selling out, and one local paper declared it, "wildly popular.  My 15-year-old son agreed, saying, "Best play I've ever seen."  (For what it's worth, we've seen 6 plays this year alone.)  As for me, I'd say this is Theater Undreground's best production yet -- and I hope TU keeps them coming for a long time to come.
And, hey, guys: think about a revival of Not What You Expected next year.  Maybe even take it on the road.  There are a couple of venues in Burlington, Wisconsin, (for one) that might be available.

(Cross-posted to my home page, my blog, and Howls & Growls.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I Know What I Saw

History Channel - Original Air Date: September, 2009

This show brings together eyewitness reports of UFOs -- supposedly the most compelling accounts available.  James Fox starts his documentary with the Phoenix lights, which doesn't help with credibility in my book, as the major event of that night (the lights over the city) have been convincingly debunked. (See my partial review of UFOs Over Phoenix.)  He then states that 95% of this stuff is crazy, but it's the other stuff that interests him.  I agree, and like the Mayor of Phoenix, I agree that the craziness makes it difficult to take a serious look at what's going on.  Fox then shows the famous Phoenix footage, and notes that some experts have said it is flares -- but what was the earlier, "boomerang-shaped" craft?  There is some shaky footage, and some footage of something similar, but no one knows what it is.  (If I had to guess, I'd say secret military aircraft -- but, then, I don't believe in aliens from outer or inner space.)  Clips of a National Press Club briefing featuring experts -- many aviators or ex-military -- follow.  After that, we get some history of sightings from Foo Fighters, to Kenneth Arnold, to the Washington DC flap, the Life magazine article, Dr. Hynek, and so on.  The show also features numerous famous photos, at least a few of which look like natural phenomena or fakes to me.  The show also goes to a DC meeting of UFO witnesses to collect some more stories.

Next, an expert on symbols looks at some witness drawings of symbols seen on UFOs, but Fox admits his interpretation is merely speculation -- though the symbols do look something like the Voyager glyphs we sent to the edge of the solar system.  The show then looks at the US air base in England reports (Rendlesham Forest) from 1980.  And then Japanese flight 1628, which encountered a UFO in 1986.  From there, we go to Fox's appearance on CNN, during this DC conference -- in which a skeptic suggests that UFOs are modern mythology.  Fox asks where the myths come from, and then plays clips of the media ridiculing UFO witnesses (one of whom is Congressman Dennis Kucinich).  Fox follows this with clips of more witnesses, including a former Belgian Air Force commander, and more pilots.  Fox's point seems to be that the witnesses aren't as silly as portrayed in the media.  Indeed, the ones he trots out all seem very reasonable and credible (but that doesn't mean the UFOs are space aliens). Moving to the Stephenville sightings (type Stephenville into the search bar of for related stories), where Angela Joiner, reporter, notes that if something of the reported size moved at the reported speed, it would leave a sonic footprint on the ground like a tornado.  So, how could that be?  Fox says he has no idea, and then interviews more witnesses, one of whom claims to have studied the craft at close range through a rifle scope for 3 minutes, before it disappeared.  Fox then shows a radar image of something in the area accelerating to 532 MPH in 30 seconds (not an absurd speed).  The miliatary denies any knowledge (big surprise).

Astronaut Gordon Cooper (Mercury program) claims to have seen a UFO when station at Edwards AFB.  While filming (?!) a precision landing, they sighted a saucer which landed on 3 legs and was filmed before taking off.  Cooper claims the film was sent to Washington and never seen again.  Cooper claims to have had no contact with anyone involved in the intervening years, not even the cameramen.  (Why not?)  Astronaut Edgar Mitchell (Apollo program) claims to have talked to many people about flying craft, but doesn't know why investigators are being stonewalled.  Former President Carter is next on the hit list, but when asked about what he was told when President, he says "Nobody knows or has proof of things."  The show then (pointlessly) speculates why UFO info would be covered up.  Fox then meets with a French general and gets even more stories, and a UFO picture accidentally taken by a "mapping camera."  The French think the best explanation is that these objects are extraterrestrial in origin.  France has since posted all its UFO files online; the release doesn't seem to have caused any panic.  More speculation ensues, including the supposition that UFOs must be "real" because there are so many sightings.  But, while seeing may be believing, seeing is not scientific proof.

Sadly, in the end, these stories -- however compelling -- are just stories.  The fact that credible people say them doesn't make them true, and, even if they are true, it doesn't mean that their perceptions are not leading the witnesses astray.  Certainly, people see strange things -- from UFOs to ghosts to goblins to the Loch Ness Monster -- and maybe someday we'll understand what these things are, or at least why we see them.  Stories, though, are not proof.  You can take that from me, as someone who's made a living by telling stories for most of my adult life.  But, by all means, we should keep looking and keep investigating -- scientifically.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

DESTINATION TRUTH - Haunted Lost City & Thunderbird

SyFy - Original Air Date: 10/21/09

From a lost Incan city to Alaska, Josh and the DT crew are out looking for answers again.  The "lost" city in Peru is very remote, and the locals claim it's haunted.  The crew has the usual adventures with the locals, culminating with the team's burros getting spooked, a cameraman hurt, and the locals refusing to venture any closer to the city.  Despite this, the crew locates the ruins and sets up base camp and the usual camera surveillance setups.  That night, they hear strange noises and find a mysterious tunnel system, which Josh almost falls into.  After chasing noises, but not catching them, the crew returns to the US to analyze their data.  They hear a mysterious EVP, and call in the Ghost Hunters crew (again -- Notice a pattern here?).  But, the results remain inconclusive.

Next, the team goes to Alaska looking for the legendary thunderbird -- described as a mix of bird and reptile.  Recently, a pilot and his 6 passengers all claim to have seen the creature, which has a reported wingspan of up to 30 feet.  The pilot describes it as larger than an eagle, and others claim to have seen the thing, too.  Team DT charters a plane to go up and take a look, but see no thunderbirds -- though they do spot the native village (town) where most of the sightings have taken place.  The bird, apparently, is not averse to the chilly temperatures, which drop well below zero.  The team triangulates the local sightings and sets up a base camp and camera traps, hoping to catch the supposedly nocturnal creature.  (They build a fire to keep warm in the frigid night.)  Amid snapping branches -- which I think is probably explained by snow -- the crew comes to feel they were "buzzed" by something near the treetops.  (The winter landscape looks amazing in their night vision cameras.)  They spot a strange thermal hit on one of the cameras, flying through the sky, then chase something through the woods.  While they're doing that, something takes the bait from their traps.  They take the evidence back to LA for analysis and to show it to experts.  The IR camera image is too far off to identify, and the creature that took the bait was just a close-up blur.  The expert suggests a Stellar Sea Eagle, migrating over from Japan, is a likely suspect. Josh notes that size of objects in the air is notoriously difficult to determine (see recent Balloon Boy flap), so a rare eagle seems a good explanation.

In the end, it's sad that DT didn't get better evidence, but it was a fun ride anyway -- as usual.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

GHOST LAB: Tombstone

Discovery Channel - Original Air Date: 10/13/09

The Ghost Lab team brings their bag of tricks to the Old West town of Tombstone to look for ghosts.  They poke around the town, checking out Theater/Saloons, mines, ang even the cemetery at Boot Hill.  They talk to locals and get the usual witness stories.  Then they deploy their "scientific" equipment, which includes the usual EMF meters, recorders, etc. The equipment this time also includes a small "lightning generator," some kind of static producing gizmo, with which they hope to supercharge the air to bring out supernatural phenomena.  (That's science!  Or not.)

Having watched two episodes of this show now, I gotta say, it's hard to take these guys seriously.  As regular readers know, I enjoy colorful characters (like those on Destination Truth), but the brothers here just push it too far.  They're noisy, obnoxious, and have a weirdo theory for pretty much everything.  And all that makes it more obvious just how absurd -- and scientifically unsupportable -- much of this "investigation" is.  Where it jumped the shark for me was when they were yelling at a room that appeared to be haunted by ... feedback.  "I am the ghost of Peter Frampton!" I joked to my wife.

None of this stuff has any real scientific value (so far as I see) save for video tapes (uncontaminated by lighting problems -- of which there is little) or audio (and not "unheard voices" a.k.a EVP) which backs up what team members experience with their 5 rational senses (and not vague "feelings").  I'm tired of "We didn't notice anything at the time, but..." discoveries.  Science depends on rigor, observation, and repeatability.

All of which is to say, the more I watch these shows, the more I believe in TV producer greed, and the less I believe in ghosts.  And let's not even talk about "shadow people."  (This one appears to be to be the shadow of the tree in the center of the picture.)  And will someone _please_ teach someone on these shows how to properly operate a camera (digital or film) and analyze photos!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

DESTINATION TRUTH - Alien Mummies; Van Lake Monster

SyFy - Original Air Date: 10/7/09

Josh and crew go to Chile to check out reports of alien creatures that live in local mines.  They stop at Nazca on the way to check out the famous Lines.  They also stop at the "Stargate," a tourist attraction that supposedly is a gateway for alien beings.  Locals report not only aliens, but also strange lights, perhaps UFOs.  The DT crew descends into the mine shaft on ropes and sets up IR cameras to catch anything living in the tunnels.  Poking around, they find a strange, tiny body buried inside one of the tunnels; they collect it as evidence.  They also cross perilous bridges and poke into ill-supported tunnels.  They hear sounds and see something hot on their Fleer, something which possibly threw a stone at them, and then spot something that gives off light in the pitch-black tunnel.  They chase the light into a vertical shaft, but find no evidence of what it was.  Following a draft, they find an exit to the surface.  Then they spot a bright, star-like pulsing light atop the canyon ridge opposite, and start hearing strange things on their radios, and out of the parabolic dish -- which normally collects noises, rather than creating them.  Unfortunately, they can't focus their cameras on what's shedding the light.  The team leaves their oddball corpse for the local authorities and takes photos of it back to the US -- sadly, that leaves them with less to analyze.  Their experts are stumped.  Which leaves them with a strange corpse, a phantom light, and the ridge "UFO" all unexplained  Josh, usually skeptical, is puzzled -- but perhaps this story will be continued later.

For now, they go to Van Lake in Turkey to look for a local monster -- which has a strange (and fairly clear) video backing up its existence.  The lake is the size of Rhode Island (US) and located near Iraq.  After talking to the locals about the beast, they go to the lake to look for themselves.  And they quickly spot some undulating humps on the water; sadly the humps are gone by the time the DT helicopter gets there.  They set up base on a local island and start diving; supposedly, this is where the monster spawns, and a local church even has an ancient carving of what might be the monster trying to eat someone.  As night falls, they also set up surveillance cameras -- and head out in a zodiac boat to hunt beasties.  It starts to snow and the weather sucks.  They begin hearing big splashes -- in a lake where the largest fish is a foot long -- so they charge toward the sound with their underwater cameras.  They catch something on sonar, and perhaps on their cameras as well, but they lose it as it submerges.  By the time they get back, the weather has torn and flooded their tent; everything gets wet.  Undaunted, they go back out and get more camera and sonar hits.  Whatever this is, it doesn't seem as shy as the usual lake monster.  Sadly, their footage doesn't provide enough info to explain what's going on for sure.  And though the lake is biologically not diverse enough to support a big creature, their personal experiences seem contrary to that.  An expert looks at the original video, and, to him, it seems a hoax.  The other things have possible alternative explanations, but there are still the eyewitnesses -- and even Josh's crew.

Thus, we end up with more mystery than usual in a DT episode, and perhaps two locations to revisit later.

MYSTERY QUEST: Lost City of Atlantis

History Channel - Original Air Date: 10/6/09

Did Atlantis exist, and can MQ find it?  To answer the first question, the show looks from Bimini to Santorini.  Divers check out the Bimini "Road" in the Bahamas - despite a scientist's assurance that, indeed, sometimes nature does produce straight lines.  Can the team find evidence that the road was worked by human hands?  They find what looks like a stone anchor, but they can't test it because it's covered with protected coral.  The idea that this could be Atlantis (rather than a local civilization) is based on the predictions of Edgar Casey -- which are now so revered as to be taken as fact, rather than conjecture.  Later, the team finds a "leveling stone" which they believe indicates the "road" was once a harbor -- but is it old enough to be Atlantis?  (10,000 years, according to Plato.)  As they test the rock for date, they go diving on another site.  They find strange, regular-seeming formations on the sea floor, but the protected corals prevent further probing.  The rock dates to around 1500 BC -- 8000 years later than Atlantis' alleged date.  (Though similar in timespan to Minoan Crete -- though the show fails to mention this.)  The other formations seem to have perfect right angles, making them appear man made, but special permission will be needed to clear the coral and find out for sure.

Meanwhile, another team investigates Crete & Santorini, on the theory that Atlantis could have been based on the ancient Minoan civilization -- which had hot and cold running water when most of their neighbors were still living in crude huts.  Their theory is that the Minoans were destroyed in a single day, and therefore became the basis of legend.  Santorni (then Thera) was destroyed 1600 years ago in a volcanic explosion that the show describes as being as powerful as 3000 Hiroshima bombs.  The explosion would have caused a tsunami at least 4 times as large as the tsunami on Christmas 2005.  The wall of water is estimated (in simulation) at 40 meters - 130 feet high -- enough to swamp much of Crete.  Possibly enough to make even an advanced, sea-going civilization "vanish."

The show ends by suggesting that the Bimini Road may have been built by Atlantis' descendants, a lost civilization -- and the older formation (on the now-sunken shore of the once-much-lower sea) could be Atlantis itself.  Sadly, if the MQ team will gain the permission to find out, remains for a future episode.  Also sadly, aside from the blast/wave tests, the theory of Thera/Santorini-Crete being the origin of the Atlantis legend (a theory I, personally, favor) is not explored or tested any further.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

GHOST LAB: Disturbing the Peace

Discovery Channel - Original Air Date: 10/6/09

My first question is, how will this show differentiate itself from SyFy's Ghost Hunters?  The set-up, with the Klinge brothers & their Everyday Parnormal society, seems pretty similar.  The show is heavier on graphics and 3D in introducing the cases, but the MO is pretty similar -- with set-up and investigation while the narrator (a voice-over in this case) explains what they're doing, the equipment they're using, and the jargon of ghost hunting.  Fortunately, like GH, they seem to be going about this semi-scientifically (as opposed to chasing unproven ghosts with unproven psychics and mediums). They use similar equipment to GH, and take baseline EMF readings, then -- in the first part -- they poke around a Louisiana auditorium.  They leave EMF "data loggers" like breadcrumbs in the building to record abnormalities, and run the usual EVP sessions.  Interestingly, they contact a physicist and explore the idea that EVPs may be coming from a parallel dimension.  They then try to bring out the spirits by re-creating things the ghosts might have experienced (in this case, staging a rock concert) using a technique they call "Era Cues."  But the most they get is closing doors, "personal experiences," and EVPs -- not much in the way of hard evidence.

They then go to the Myrtles Plantation which boasts a famous blurry "ghost" photo -- with which I am unimpressed.  They've been here before and supposedly got a very clear EVP on a previous investigation.  (Their EVPs are so clear as to seem likely fakes to me.)  They "Era Cue" the Civil War, and get some EVPs they think apply.  But the scientific value of their evidence -- like all EVP evidence -- seems elusive, at best.  And, I gotta say, I'm not sure I trust these guys as much as I do Jason and Grant.  They seem a bit more hucksterish and less real.  Though they do get points for sometimes leaving the lights on during their investigations.  While an interesting spin on GH, at least at first viewing, it's not replacing TAPS in my viewing queue.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

MYSTERYQUEST: Slaughter in San Francisco

History Channel - Original Air Date: 9/30/09

The new MysteryQuest show looks into San Francisco's Zodiac killer.  For 40 years, the mass murderer held San Francisco in terror, until mysteriously vanishing.  Now MQ will try to see if new forensic techniques can shed new light on the case.  They also follow up new tips and leads.  One of the new suspects is Richard Gaikowski, a now-dead writer and "bon-vivant."  The show also looks at the unsolved cyphers, tries to trace DNA, and has a former operator listen to voice tapes.  Is "Gyke" in the cyper a reference to "Gaik" - a nickname Gaikowski often used.  The operator thinks Gaikowski's voice might be the same, and there are other hints (as well as evidence to the contrary).  But the authorities refuse the show access to DNA evidence -- though MQ has probable Gaikowski DNA for comparison.  (The show sends their evidence to 2 police authorities.)  In the end, the show's experts remain confidence that advances may help finally find the killer -- but for now, the mystery remains.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

DESTINATION TRUTH - Ghosts of Chernobyl & Sal'awa

SyFy Channel - Original Air Date: 9/30/09

Josh and crew go to Ukraine to investigate the famous nuclear meltdown site at Chernobyl. Is it haunted by the ghost of its victims?  The team passes through the 3 security zones intended to keep people out of the still-highly-radioactive area, taking radiation gear and detectors with them.  Despite the radioactivity, locals -- including a patrol officer -- are seeing strange things in the ruins: ghosts and spirits.  The DT equipment gets a little goofy (radiation?) as our heroes move through the area, and the Fleer (thermal) camera seems to show a human shape darting across a window.  One of the team suggests a reflection, and notes they will have to check it out later.  They see another shape, before the radiation makes them move from the area.  They then search the city and see other odd things and start hearing things, too.  When they've reached their radiation limits, they head back to the US to consult the Ghost Hunters.  Some of the "hits" are probably animals, others reflections.  But one figure the GH declare "good evidence" -- but evidence of what?

Switching locations to Egypt, the team looks for the Sal'awa, a wolf-like creature that supposedly haunts the sugarcane fields.  Some locals convince Josh to kiss a live cobra, before heading south to find the monster.  After the usual scary rumors and eyewitness encounters, the team sets up base camp, cameras, and trap cameras.  They begin poking around at night (naturally) and soon find some signs, including fresh dog-like tracks, which they take casts of.  Things get freaky as Jael hears growling and the team starts running through the cane fields.  They spot eye shine and hear howling and other noises, and try to chase the creature out into the open.  This seems a dangerous thing to do with a wild animal, and the crew quickly backs off and tries to flank it when something emits a deep growl.  They emerge without a sighting, and hope that their cameras caught something.  Back home, an expert listens to their tapes, and suggests a canine or -- perhaps a wolf or dog or some local domestic animal.  They do capture an Egyptian fox on camera, and Josh concludes the Sal'awa may be a combination of local canines and the fox (which looks like the DT CGI model) exaggerated to monstrous proportions.

Another fun entry in this series, which even includes a likely suspect for the monster. It seems to me that if there were less superstition and fear in the world, there would be less "monsters."  (And, perhaps sadly, less need for fun shows like Destination Truth.)

Monday, September 28, 2009

DESTINATION TRUTH - King Tut & Swamp Ape

SyFy Channel - Original Air Date: 9/23/09

The team ventures into Egypt to check King Tut's curse and then
returns home to Florida to look for the Swamp Ape. Josh and company
get permission to stay the night in Tut's tomb and investigate the
paranormal (a world first) -- after kicking around Cairo a bit first,
of course. From there they go to Luxor (Thebes) to visit the Valley
of the Kings, where filming at night has never been done before. They
talk to valley guards who have seen ghost-like apparitions, and fear
to travel alone at night. They get to the valley and begin poking
around, following sounds Jael thinks she hears, and Josh thinks he an
odd shadow (possible reflection) on the Fleer. As they start their
investigation into the curse, a sand storm blows through. Then they
get mysterious EMF readings and hear a voice in the tomb. One of
their number goes down with stomach cramps, but they continue their
vigil. Josh hears strange noises from the tunnel, but there's nobody
there, and another team member hears moaning and has a panic/asthma
attack. But were these personal experiences supernatural? Several
sounds show up on tape, but what they are remains open to
interpretation. And why would a Pharaoh speak English? There's also
one mysterious photo, taken by a camera trap, which shows a strange
cloth-like shape. In the end, they bring back no incontrovertible
evidence, but it was a cool investigation.

From there, they head to Florida to look for the famous Swamp
Ape/Skunk Ape, and the segment-opening montage shows a some photos,
many of which have been debunked. (But, hey, they look cool.) After
indulging in the local food (as usual): gator & frogs' legs, they head
into Big Cyprus Swamp to look for the bigfoot of the SE. They see a
lot of gators and a possible creature walking upright -- unfortunately
not caught on camera. They then hike in further and set up camp and
cameras. The swamp is alive with gators, snakes, and other creatures
-- including something that knocks over one of their cameras. After a
long and scary night, they head home to check their evidence. The
Fleer caught an upright shape that might have been a bear, and one of
their set cameras, they spot what is probably a rare Florida panther.
But, Josh notes, there is no evidence of contemporary great apes in
North America, and perhaps witnesses are merely seeing bear. Until
there is more solid proof, who can say?

DESTINATION TRUTH - Island of the Dolls & Lusca

SyFy Channel - Original Air Date: 9/16/09

Josh & team go to Mexico City to check out an island "haunted" by
possessed dolls. Originally put up to ward off the vengeful spirit of
a dead girl, the dolls are supposed to now be inhabited by spirits
themselves. Could the spirit or the dolls be responsible for the
caretaker's recent death? The team brings offerings (dolls and candy)
to lure out the island's spirits. Soon, the crew is being freaked out
by the dolls - including one that seems to open an eye in response to
something Josh says. (Or was it just entropy?) The group has
numerous other eerie experiences before heading back to check their
tapes and EVP stuff. They think they hear the word "leave," but why a
dead Mexican girl would speak English, they don't speculate. So, they
take their evidence to the Ghost Hunters, who give the standard
supernatural explanations. But as they review the tape, I notice that
the antenna of Josh's radio comes awfully close to the doll whose eye
opens. Perhaps it disturbed the doll or a cobweb connected to the
doll? The GH conclude there are supernatural goings on, between the
orbs on the Fleer, the EVPs, and various other sounds. I however,
remain unconvinced, and note that Mexico is a very superstitious
place. Remove the dolls, which are undeniably creepy, and I doubt
people would worry about this place.

Next, the team goes to the Bahamas to hunt for the Lusca, a giant
octopus that supposedly lives in the "blue holes," caverns that
connect to underwater tunnels beneath Andros Island -- one of the
least explored islands in the area. They pick up some spiffy Bahamian
Destination Truth shirts (I want one!), and head out to look for the
monster. They talk to a man who's encountered the creature, which he
describes as 40-50 feet, and Josh has trouble locating a captain brave
enough to take the team to hunt the beast. So Josh rents a boat and
captains himself. Then he and Jael go diving toward one of the blue
holes in an area teaming with sharks, which quickly chase them from
the water. When the sharks leave, Josh dives into the hole. He spots
something huge, in the cave but has to return to the surface to avoid
getting the bends. Josh decides to try and find the creature from the
landward end of the blue hole cavern. Josh now dives to 170 feet,
deeper than he has ever gone before (and in the dark to boot). Again,
he sees something huge, again confirmed by sonar, and strange
disturbances on the surface. Gamely, Jael goes into the water when
Josh finally surfaces, and they get some Fleer hits, before returning
home. But they have no clear pictures and, sadly, an expert cannot
say what they saw based on the evidence -- though they did get a big
splash at one point (hard to tell if it was Jael). So a monster?

I'm not too thrilled with the ghostly stuff featured in the last two
episodes, but the monster hunting is a hoot, as always, making for
another fun episode of my favorite paranormal show.

MYSTERYQUEST: Devil's Triangle

History Channel - 9/23/09

This show looks into several aspects of and possible explanation for
The Bermuda Triangle: they will look to ID a downed plane and connect
it with the triangle, test the "electronic fog" theory, a UFO
disappearance case, and look at rogue waves. They talk to Bruce
Gernon who claims to have flown through a mysterious "cloud tunnel"
where he traveled through time -- moving him a half hour into the
future. He invented the term "electronic fog" to explain the
phenomenon. A physics professor named David Pares looks at the
electronic fog idea. He believes that solar outbursts can combine
with thunderstorms to create the mysterious fog -- and plans to fly
into a storm looking for it. Meanwhile, "explorer" Greg Little
believes that there are natural explanations that down planes in the
area. He wants to find a plane that is supposed to have vanished in
the triangle and prove it's merely on the ocean floor. They have more
than 50 possible sites to check, and start poking around looking for
tail ID numbers.

The show posits that the UFO reports near AUTEC (see a previous UFO
Hunters review) may have something to do with some of the Triangle
mysteries. The show plays a Mayday call from a plane that went down
after reporting a strange object nearby. One researcher claims that
Emergency Locator signals (ELT) mysteriously fail to work in the area.
The Navy denies anything supernatural is at work. Meanwhile, Gernon
and Pares are trying to recreate Gernon's famous flight, using Pares'
solar-thunderstorm theory. And while they do that and Little looks
for ID numbers, Dr. Hans Graber believes that science can explain most
of the disappearances; he is a world expert on wave dynamics, and uses
a wave tank to demonstrate "rogue waves," titanic waves that can swamp
and sink a boat in seconds and then vanish. The show suggests that
his theory doesn't explain the lack of wreckage. (I suggest the ocean
is a very big place, and note how long it took the best scientists in
the world to find Titanic -- a very big target.)

Flying into a likely storm, Pares picks up some very strange
electromagnetic readings. But they don't time travel. And the parts
salvaged from a wreck don't connect to a known disappearance. So,
while boasting a promising set of premises, we really have little more
evidence at the end of the show than we had at the beginning -- and
there's still a whole lot of conjecture floating around.

This show doesn't start on sound scientific ground, either, as it
claims a large number of planes and boats disappeared from the
Triangle in perfect weather, which may be true, but only if they've
culled their lists -- and, if they've done that, they don't mention
it. Nor do they mention what numbers they started with before culling.
Without that comparison, one cannot judge whether to take their
"perfect weather" claim on face value -- as we know most
disappearances on (or over) the ocean take place in bad weather.

Mostly, the stories seem like the usual Triangle tales: Flight 19, the
Cyclops, Columbus' and Lindbergh's stories, etc. These things have
been discussed endlessly, and -- without investigation -- they are
only stories, stories now told so many times that they have become

Saturday, September 26, 2009

MYSTERYQUEST: Hitler's Escape

History Channel - Original Air Date: 9/16/09

From the producers of MonsterQuest comes this new, less-monster
focused show. The premier episode (so far as I know), focuses on
whether Hitler actually died as the history books say. The MQ team
pokes around Germany (and Russia) for evidence, takes some samples of
Hitler's supposed bones and blood, and concludes that the usually
accepted account cannot be correct. For one thing, the story of the
remaining eyewitness is inconsistent, both with the facts, and with
earlier versions he gave. For another, the supposed skull of Hitler
actually belonged (according to DNA tests) to a woman. So, questions
asked, but -- like MonsterQuest -- no actual answers provided. But
perhaps a starting point for another episode.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

DESTINATION TRUTH - Haunted Forest & Alux

SyFy Channel - Original Air Date: 9/9/09

Josh and crew start the new season looking for a haunted woods in Rumania. On their way, they encounter strange locals (as usual) and unreliable machinery -- including an airplane that loses its roof in mid-air! I'm not too impressed with the photo "proof" the team is showed by local experts, but once they get to the woods, things really start hopping. They set up trap cameras, and stake out the place in teams. The woods are supposed to be filled with strange lights, voices, and people getting sick for no reason. Almost immediately, they begin seeing lights from the trees -- but quickly rule out the lights being from their own group. They can't track the lights down, but do find the mysterious "haunted" bare circle in the woods, where nothing grows, and take soil samples. They soon spot a light moving through the treetops but, again, can't track it down. So, they poke around, sit in the circle, and do EVP sessions. But when Evan does a session, he's suddenly "yanked" out of the circle, seeming to fly into the darkness and landing several feet away. Not only that, but his body has fresh scratch marks under his clothes. Then Rex suddenly gets sick. Even when reviewed later, the events of the night seem strange, perhaps even uncanny. The soil sample doesn't turn up any reason why things shouldn't grow there. Then Josh visits Jason & Grant from Ghost Hunters, and asks their opinion of some EVP anomalies -- moaning, giggling, etc. Because of the outdoor setting, Jason & Grant say there could be explanations -- the camera traps caught only dust, but the strange light in the forest seems unusual. The footage of Evan looks like he's been yanked out of his seat, and the GH guys say that scratches happen "a lot" in paranormal investigations. Josh remains skeptical of the lights and noises, but the Evan encounter remains unexplained.

Next, the team heads for Mexico to look for the Alux -- a small aggressive humanoid with dark fur. A Yucatan professor says that 95% of the locals believe in the creature, a fact testified to by the shrines built (even under highway underpasses) to the monster, and the fact that one couple blames the monster for their child's disappearance. After a brief detour to indulge in Carnivale, the team moves into the back country in search of the Alux. Cave diving, they find some bones, but no monster. Finally, they reach a shaman, who claims the Alux are in the area tonight. Blessed by the shaman, they set up base camp, ring it with cameras, and sweep the area. They find snakes, spiders, scorpions, a scary cave, and more bones, but no Alux. They collect the bones (non-human this time) and head back to the US for analysis. Turns out to be goat (or cow) and chicken bones, and Josh concludes that the Alux is likely an enduring myth.

Despite the lack of Alux, DT is of to another fine start, with the usual mix of engaging and adventurous characters. I'll be looking forward to new episodes every week.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

MONSTERQUEST: Terror from the Sky

History Channel - Original Air Date: 7/29/09

Is something strange soaring the North American skies? Witness describe strange, flying humanlike creatures -- Unidentified Flying Humanoids. Are they natural, manmade, or something more mysterious. A Monterrey (Mexico) police officer reports a strange, haglike floating woman, and claims to have been knocked unconscious by the creature. Later another officer found him and woke him up. (This sounds like some strange dream encounter to me -- but MQ seems to seek out no corroborating evidence.) MQ claims a video backs up his claim, but the video isn't from his police car, it's from other locations. And some experts, including Joe Nickell doubt the videos are real -- either SFX or perhaps a balloon or balloon cluster. (It reminds me of the recent UFOs Over Earth show set in Mexico.) Though the show claims US sightings, most of the reports seem to come from Mexico (which has a long history of UFO sightings and belief in magic, too). One "researcher" suggests the creatures may be from another dimension, though obviously there is no evidence for such conjecture. Or, as also conjectured, that local legends could be interpretations of extra-terrestrial creatures, though, again, there is no evidence for this. (It's an amusing tale, though.)

The MQ search team goes to Mexico and starts poking around in caves, suggesting the sightings could be some unknown animal - bat, pterosaur, etc. The cavers turn up nothing though, save for more speculation. Jamie Maussan (renowned and credulous Mexican UFO expert) claims to have the body of a strange creature caught on a ranch. Photos show the creature when it was supposedly alive, and witnesses say it was like a cross between a rat and a monkey -- though no one mentions if it could fly, so I'm not sure of the connection to the theme of the show. They take some samples from the tiny corpse for DNA testing. (I'm betting it turns out to be a hairless monkey, which is what the pictures look like.) I'm not impressed with the supposed experts analyzing it; they seem to be looking for strange rather than rational explanations. The team concludes that the corpse has distinct differences from any known species, and the DNA test fails as well. (I wonder what other labs -- out of Maussan's considerable sphere of influence -- might have found.) Computer analysis of footage proves inconclusive, though the expert suggests a suspended object (like a gondola) for one and a cluster of balloons for another. Joe Nickell suggests that Mexican celebrations often release clusters of balloons, and that these could be misidentified. He conducts several experiments (again, like UFOs Over Earth) -- including one with a cluster of balloons in a plastic bag. As he tightens his clusters, the figures look more and more humanoid -- especially in freeze frames.

But these flying things (I've seen these referred to as flying witches on the net), like many subjects of MQ, seem to have more to do with myth than with science. (I think I'll preview the new season of Destination Truth to go to bed with a better "taste" in my mouth.)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

MONSTERQUEST - The Real Moby Dick

History Channel - Original Air Date: 8/26/09

Are there really killer white sperm whales prowling the world's oceans?  As always on MQ, there are plenty of tales and eyewitness reports, but -- this time -- will the show's researchers find any actual evidence?  As with the shows about squid, octopi, and other well-known animals, the chances of finding a large version of a known predator seems more likely than a quest for a more-mythical beast.  One photographer has wildlife footage of a young albino while, but it's not very threatening.  The MQ team goes to the Azores to begin their search.  (We recognize some of these experts from previous shows -- they're becoming similar to the familiar crew on Destination Truth.)  The show recounts a historical (1800s) sinking of a whaling ship by an enraged whale, which rammed the ship, as well as more recent frightening encounters. The dive team runs afoul of stinging jellyfish, and chases around after whales.  But the whales are clever, and dive away when the boats approach.  In the end, our hunters come up empty handed.  Despite this, the show contains interesting whale facts and stories, and if you haven't heard them before, it's probably worth your time (if you can stand the usual MQ sensationalism).

Sunday, August 23, 2009

MONSTERQUEST: Tigers in the Suburbs

History Channel -- Original Air Date: 8/26/09

A few weeks ago, MQ tracked feral dogs; this week the show investigates the possibility that big black cats -- cougars, panthers, or something else -- may be prowling the suburbs near eastern US big cities.  The show features the usual compelling eyewitness stories, but scientists suggest that misidentification bay be responsible for most of the sightings -- black labs, perhaps, or cats smaller than the 150# animals reported.  But there is some chance, too, that pet big cats -- leopards or other wild species -- may have been set loose by neglectful owners.  MQ sends a set of hunters and trackers to set up camera tracks and try to find the animals.  The hunters use "call blasting" to try to lure cougars out of the woods, without success.  Meanwhile scientists test captive big cats' DNA to see if they've become so inbred that they may be unstable,  Nearly half the captive cats prove to be inbred -- which could make them more aggressive.  The MQ hunters find some possible claw marks and tracks, but only game animals on their cameras.  They theorize that it's likely that the cats reported are former pets set loose.  Still, the show has come up short again, with lots of stories and -- sadly -- no solid proof for its theories.


History Channel -- Original Air Date: 7/23/09

Packs of feral dogs are roaming parts of the US, including areas of Detroit, MI, and East St. Louis, IL.  This show brings together eyewitness stories (as usual), opinionated scientists, and "monster hunters" to try and determine how much of a threat these packs may pose to human beings.  The MQ team catches a feral dog and attaches a camera to it to follow its movements and learn about the pack. Others set up stationary cameras to track pack movements, too.  One scientist suggests that breeding dogs for (illegal) fighting and then releasing them, when no longer useful, may be making feral packs more aggressive.  The show features a number of stories about people in urban and rural areas being killed by packs of wild dogs.  After a few unsuccessful attempts, the camera on the dog reveals the pack's daily wanderings -- mostly foraging through wooded areas.  Genetic tests prove that the feral dogs have some traits of pit bulls and German shepherds -- both powerful and potentially aggressive dogs.  However, the packs seem to mostly avoid human contact, which one scientist compares to typical wolf behavior.  For once, MQ has caught its subject in a clear and convincing manner, but whether these packs are "monsters"...?  I guess it depends on how broad you make the definition.  (At least the show gave me a good idea for a horror story.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

MONSTERQUEST: Critical Evidence

History Channel -- Original Air Date: 7/8/2009

Guess what?  Another bigfoot episode of MQ!  I'm sure none of us saw that coming.  (And just when I thought this season was over.)  Okay, getting over that shock, you may be surprised to find that I share the opinion that Dr. David Begun (paleoanthropologist) expresses on this episode: "We don't have anything against the idea of bigfoot ... It's just that as scientists we require reliable, reproducable evidence, and that just doesn't exist right now."  Among the show's "best evidence" the Freeman Blue Mountain Footage (1995), the Cripple-foot cast (1969), the Mid-Tarsal Break tracks, Sighting Density studies, and the (in)famous Patterson film (1967).  The show will examine all of these, mixed in with the usual compelling eyewitness stories and recreations.  Makeup man Bill Munns will examine the Patterson film.  He uses scene measurements, the camera lense, and distance to subject to solve the figure's height -- and immediately gets questionable results (a 4' bigfoot).  Clearly, some site measurements are not accurate.  So the MQ team goes to the original site to re-measure using a 3d digital scanner.  They take Bob Gimlen, the surviving "eyewitness," to help find the correct area -- but they're foiled when heavy snow prevents their helicopter from landing.  So, it's back to the studio and more math.  David Murphy, a Patterson biographer, believes the film is real.  He claims Patterson passed a polygraph (according to Wildlife Magazine).  The show mentions Patterson has been vilified, but doesn't mention any anti-Patterson details, undercutting their attempt at "balance."  A film expert looks for signs of hoaxing on MQ's high-quality print, doing the usual enhancement stuff.

As that goes on, the show looks for sighting hotspots in relationship to annual precipitation - predicted to be crucial for survival of a large primate.  Surpisingly, there are a lot of sightings in the east central as well as the west (usually associated with Bigfoot).  As theorized, there seems to be a correlation betweein sightings and rainfall.  Jeff Meldrum believes that, being a great ape, bigfoot tracks should have a mid-tarsal break, which human feet do not have.  He uses lasers to scan prints and create models to see how the creature would walk.  Meldrum also talks about the Freeman footage (which looks completely fake to me), which he clearly believes in. The footage is low quality, and resists serious enhancement (due to pixilation).  Meldrum's "tarsal break" demonstration fails to convince me, too; it looks like the same kind of bend you'd get in someone wearing a big, fake foot.  An MD opines that the Cripple Foot cast seems realistic and very difficult to hoax.  (People have been saying that since my childhood, when the print first surfaced -- so nothing new there.)

Back at the Patterson film, re-creator Munns decides that the lens is different from the one reported because of calculation (he figures 15mm).  He then re-creates the scene, re-calculates the creature's height at 7' 4", and then begins analyzing the proportions.  To determine the head shape he builds 5 different heads to try and recreate the look of the film using what he believes is the actual camera and lens (not the reported one).  Anthropologist Begun insists that the Patterson creature walks like a human, not an ape.  (I don't even think he's seen the guy who walks like this in Is It Real?)  But Munns opines the suit looks more real than materials at the time would allow.  The film analyst ehnances the image, revealing what he believes are breasts as well as some face details -- but he is not willing to say whether the thing is a costume or not.  Because of his mask recreation and his attempt to fit a (standard) human figure into the filmed figure, Munns believe the thing on the Patterson film is not human.  So, in the end, scientists remain skeptical, analysts split, and belivers believe -- but we have little more light shed on the subject than before.  All of the analyses done on this show have been done previously, with similar results.  Even the new "evidence" of the camera lens size is educated guesswork, at best.  So like most bigfoot "science," that analysis is based on hopes or guesses rather than anything truly reproducable.  Of course, no matter on which side, opinions are not facts, and on MQ we routinely get opinions masquerading as more.

Sadly, again, none of the analysts ever compare the Patterson footage to footage of Bob Heironimus, who claims to have played the creature and can be seen on Is It Real?  Failing to consider "best evidence against" means that "best evidence for" remains, at best, unconvincing.  Why can't these shows build on each other's finding rather than recreating the same findings?  MQ, like most shows of this type, is too interesting in selling commercial time to really dig deep and jeopardize a good story.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Trouble with Twilight - A Review

Cross-posted from

(There are SPOILERS below. And hard-hitting opinions. You've been warned.)

Twilight is not a very good book. It has numerous problems that I'll go into below, but there is one part of the book that is really strong: It captures almost perfectly the feeling of what it's like to be a teenager passionately in love -- that obsessive, all-consuming love that's akin to nothing so much as madness. Twilight gets that feeling dead-on right.

Of course, on the other hand, in the book, that emotion is oddly decoupled from any sexual feelings, which is very unlike being a teenager. So, even in its strength, Twilight has a deep flaw; the obsession is right, but the hormones and other things underlying those feelings seem completely absent. I've been told that other reviewers have gone on about the possible reasons behind that choice elsewhere, so I won't speculate. As far as the book's flaws go, I find that to be a minor one -- probably outweighed by the capturing of fiery passion.

Here are the main problems: the book has no plot, and it has no main characters. It also, apparently, had no editor, at least not in the old-fashioned sense of the word: someone who takes raw prose and helps the author craft them into something worth publishing. Because of that severe lack of editorial guidance, Twilight rambles. It took nearly three-quarters of the book for anything interesting to happen (when the rival vampires show up). The rest of the novel was merely set-up, stage dressing that could have been accomplished in a chapter or two. Even listening to the book in pieces while driving, I was amazed at how little happened from chapter to chapter. The first three-quarters of the book could have been drastically condensed, and the whole book would have been better for it.

Twilight is filled with what a wise editor I know called "process." Process is tiny details that don't advance the story or serve any real purpose except to fill out a word count. "Don't do that," she counseled me on one of my first novels. (And, for me, one warning was enough.) Yes details, even tiny ones, can be important to a book -- but it's the choice of those details and how revealing they are that separates a good author from one who is merely in love with his or her own words. Twilight is in love with its own words the same way the two main characters are in love with each other -- madly, obsessively in love. In love enough to be blind to everything else.

Let's talk about those main characters a bit. Who are they? Sure, we know their names, Edward and Bella, and we know that one is a clumsy teenager and the other a vampire, but what else do we know about them? We know that her parents are divorced, and he's part of a vampire family, and we know they're in love. But why are they in love? I don't know. I couldn't tell from the book. Bella seems to be in love with him because he's handsome and mysterious; he's in love with her because she smells good and (spoiler here), he can't read her mind.

But why? What character traits do they have that attracts them to each other? She apparently likes to cook and/or clean (at least, she's always doing those things, like any good vampire's "housewife"); he likes to play baseball in thunderstorms and drive fast. And they're in love. Don't you get it? They're IN LOVE!

Basically, their main character trait is that they're in love with each other, and they're in love with each other because the book needs them to be. The two of them are empty vessels entirely filled up with this obsessive love. That's it. There's no more to it. And while teenage love may feel this way, life is seldom so uncomplicated.

Yet, I have the feeling that very emptiness is one of the things that has made the book (and series) so popular. The characters are empty vessels into which the readers can pour their own experiences and emotions. As near as I can tell, Bella has no special character traits. (I kept hoping her clumsiness would turn out to be CP or some interesting and perhaps-fatal disease; at least in book 1, no such luck.) Edward keeps telling her she's "special," and I think when he says that to a girl who is plainly not very special, the readers may be taking that as "I'm special, too!" After all, if boring old Bella can be special, surely anyone can.

And Edward is a cipher as well. He's the "best boyfriend" who you can fill up with your own hopes and desires -- because he has no personality, aside from his love for you and his "dark secret." (Which is a pretty sparkly dark secret, as it turns out.) Surely a guy who's close to 100 years old could have had something interesting in his background. Nope. He's just been hanging out since 1920, waiting to meet the right girl: Bella, the special one. (Hasn't even gotten laid yet.) So, for readers, Edward gets to be whomever you want him to be in the same way that Bella becomes "everygirl." But that projection on the part of readers shouldn't be mistaken for character or personality.

Oh wait, there are a couple of perhaps-telling character details: Bella likes to complain -- even though, near as I can tell, she has little to complain about. Sure, her parents are divorced, but it doesn't seem to have been a nasty divorce. She doesn't like her dad, though he seems to be a stand-up guy; she does like her mom, who's a worrying narcissistic flake. (I can't make sense of that, either.) She complains about her friends or would-be friends, too, especially when they worry about her.

And Edward? He likes restraining Bella. Picking her up, carrying her, holding her so tight she can't move, and encircling her wrists so she can't escape or "hurt herself." Lots of subtle bondage in the book, I thought. Lots of The Man lording over and protecting The Woman (both from others and herself), too. Very old Testament, but, as I said, I believe others have written more on that. In any case, their relationship doesn't seem very healthy to me. But the book would have been more interesting if it'd gone further down that dark, obsessive road. (Maybe I'll write a goth vampire romance taking that path one day.)

So the main characters have no real character -- substantially less character than the minor characters, in fact. Dad, Mom, Mike, Jacob, Jessica, and Edward's whole family all have more character than Edward and Bella. Heck, the villain -- when he finally shows up -- has more character, too. With all that lack of character, you'd think there'd be some plot to keep things moving. But there isn't. I think I can sum the plot up in just a few sentences:

Bella comes to town, meets Edward, and falls in love. She discovers he's a vampire and meets his family. A bad vampire comes to town, makes a play for Bella, and Edward kills him.

Oh and did I mention THEY'RE IN LOVE!

And because this is a romance, not a fantasy or action thriller, when the big battle between good and evil happens, it all happens off screen. That's right, our POV character, Bella, conveniently passes out (maybe because she's special) and misses all the blood and gore -- all the consequences of obsessive love versus obsessive ... lust? (If we're going to give the book credit for thinking along those themes.) Who made that storytelling choice? It's the old hero trapped in the well filled with deadly gas and no means of escape cliffhanger, where the next chapter begins, "After I got out of the well...."

Not a very satisfying solution, at least not in my book. But someone must have liked it; the book's sold about a squillion copies. (Capitalist dogma not withstanding, good sales do not a good book -- or movie -- make.)

Speaking of squillions of dollars, last night, I saw Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince for the second time. Good movie based on a good book, but way more plot than the movie could contain. A trailer for the next Twilight movie played before it, and I had a thought: If Harry had too much plot for a movie, maybe Twilight, which has a plot for the last quarter or so, will have just the right amount. Maybe Twilight will be better on film. (Not better than Harry, just better than the book Twilight is based on.)

I haven't watched the movie yet. But when I do, I'll let you know what I think -- at least on my Twitter account. I'm hoping they won't cut away just as the fight starts.

As to the sequels... I'll check out at least one. I do a lot of driving, and audio books help pass the time. I'm not expecting much, though. Maybe, if I'm lucky, they'll hire an editor for this next book (I doubt it).

But at least, for a few moments, during the long Twilight, I got to feel again what it was like to be a teenager in love.

Glad I've grown up since then.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Inflatable Kayaking Fun

Been doing some kayaking on a nearby lake lately. Wanted a kayak for years, and now I have a small fleet of inflatables. Since I was reviewing them on Amazon, I figured I'd share my thoughts here, too.


Picked up this kayak recently at a heavy discount at Dick's Sporting goods. I wanted something I could transport easily, without car carriers and such. This kayak fits the bill nicely. It fits in the trunk in a plastic tub (or across the back seat). I got a 50 gallon for it, but a 35 would probably do, or even a 30. I also picked up a nice paddle, though Coleman's sturdy aluminum ones (not included) would probably have done fine. Overall, I'm very pleased with this boat. It inflates easily (get a rechargable pump -- mine came from KMart) and quickly. You may want to inflate the headrest, which has a small valve, by mouth. The clip-in seat is comfortable and has good back support. About the only problem I had with this is that the instructions are terrible; there are not 5 Coleman inflation valves on the kayak. (Only 4, if you count the tiny headrest one.) I spent some time looking for that "missing" valve.

Having gotten a sit-on-top Coleman afterward, I have to say that this boat is probably more than I initially needed. The nylon hull that surrounds the inflatable core is very sturdy, probably enough to stand up to rocks, sticks, and other hazards not found on the placid lake where I'm paddling. My guess is that this would be great for whitewater or long trips -- it has plenty of storage space, and even a water dispenser. It's fun on the lake, too, don't get me wrong, but a bit unwieldy for just one person to get into the water without dragging. Of course, it's probably rugged enough to drag; I just don't like to. Anyway, I love this boat, and it's a good place to start kayaking. If you want something less ambitious (or cheaper), try the Coleman sit-on-tops; they're great fun, too.


I was having so much fun with my Coleman Fastback inflatable, I wanted at least one more kayak so I could take other members of the family out paddling with me. I was reluctant, however, to pick up another fastback -- even at a reduced rate, it's quite a bit of money, and adding a paddle makes it even more. Fortunately, I stumbled upon this little beauty on sale at Dick's. It was so cheap, in fact, that I picked up two on consecutive days without even trying out the first. I was worried about that. I'd been pleased with my Fastback, and was concerned that the Sit-on-Top would suffer from comparison, that it might not handle the lake chop, or might not be sturdy. I needn't have worried. Though this Coleman doesn't have the rugged nylon hull, it is still a well-put-together product. It's also smaller and lighter, easy to carry under one arm, even when inflated. Don't let that make you think it's tiny and vulnerable, though. I was surprised how solid it felt, and how high it kept my 190# bulk out of the water. (It's rated to 325# or so.) Which is not to say you won't get wet using this. You will.

The sturdy aluminum paddles (included) will drip on you, and you're likely to get some spray from the chop, and ship a little water getting in and out. I don't know if this would be any good on the ocean or whitewater, but on a lake or calm fiver, it's just fine -- brilliant, in fact. I was surprised how nimbly it moved over the water. No, it's not as sleek as a solid hull, but what solid hull kayak can you pack in a 15-gallon tote? My only complaint? My stainless steel water bottle was just too big for the drink holder. Oh, well! (I kept it in the front luggage net.) I had a blast paddling this around -- probably as much fun as my Fastback (though the Fastback does have spray guards). It's a perfect little boat for a quick trip on a summer afternoon. Get one and get out in the sun!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

MONSTERQUEST: The Last Dinosaur

History Channel - Original Air Date: 6/24/09

MQ goes to Cameroon, Africa, to search for the Mokele-Mbembe, a supposed throwback to the dinosaur age -- like a brontosaurus.  The show features the usual compelling eyewitness accounts and supporting animations.  Dr. Roy Mackal has spent a long time looking for the beast, but other scientists point out there is no fossil record to support the ongoing existence of such creatures.  Mackal tells stories from explorers of three-toed tracks three feet across.  Because of eyewitness reports, Mackal is convinced the creature is real: a living dinosaur.  In 2004, Peter Beach returned with pictures and casts of supposed footprints.  He says the local foliage, too tall for any known animal to reach, had been stripped.  The prints and photos are taken for analysis.  MQ sends a team to Africa to investigate, but -- already, at the start -- one of them says they're more interested in the eyewitness reports than in the opinions of western scientists as to whether the animal can exist.  This does not bode well for scientific inquiry. The remoteness of the region makes just getting to the area in question difficult (especially in the rainy season).  Locals draw a dinosaur-like picture in the sand, but the show's claim that these people have little contact with the outside world seems undercut by their western wardrobes.  They do, however, pick a dinosaur out of a "mugshot book" of possible local animals.

Theorizing that the creature may hole up on local caves (15' across) during the dry season, the MQ team sets some camera traps and boats out looking for lairs.  (At this point, we seem to be into speculation.)  They find a deep hole, but the earth is too hard to excavate and discover what's inside.  So they decide to use sonar to check the river bed, and seem to find some crocs, snakes, and perhaps tree branches.  But they get no video, and most of their "discoveries" are mere speculation based on sonar blips -- especially when they seem to think they've found something with a big body and long neck.  Surely this would have been worth further investigation, even if starting the motor might have scared the beast.  (Maybe especially if.)  Yet, they keep drifting and trolling the river, finally motoring down to the deeper headwaters.  They think they may have found something here, too, but they drift too close to the Congo, on the other side of the river, and have to turn away to avoid political trouble.  Their camera traps, as usual, turn up nothing out of the ordinary.  The sauropod expert says that the toes on the casts are placed wrong for a dinosaur, and pictures of dino tracks bear this out.  "Who knows?" one researcher says at the conclusion, "the next time we might get some film."  Yes, that would be nice.

I'm a sucker for dinosaur stories, and the legend of this beast is fascinating to me.  The witness stories are interesting and compelling, but the researchers seem to be entirely too invested in the reality of the creature and it being some kind of dinosaur.  That's not a very scientific POV.  And, I should point out that a recent episode of Destination Truth concluded that the beast was merely legend and misreporting of encounters with hippos.  Sadly, another strikeout for MonsterQuest.  By my count, that's no real monsters found (and only a couple of large animals).  Better luck next season.


History Channel - Original Air Date: 6/17/09

MQ sets out to find the biggest killer crocodiles, beasts the show claims (in its opener) are growing larger and threatening humans.  1000-2000 people worldwide are killed by crocs each year.  Naturally, the show has the scary croc attack stories -- which sound a lot like shark attack stories, and leave similar scars.  Crocs have been around since dinosaur times, and their growth seems only limited by age (they never stop growing) and food supply. As humans encroach croc habitat, encounters grow more frequent.  Crocs and aligators are often confused in the US south, the only place where they coexist -- though experts seem to think crocs are more dangerous.  The show has plenty of stories of historical large crocs, and goes to India to see the skull of a giant man eater.  As one team goes to look for crocs in the US, another takes on India's backwaters.

The teams get a lot of pictures of crocs, and find some big tracks/slides.  The Florida team measures a croc, by distance, between 16 and 18 feet long -- the largest recorded in the US.  The Indian team (from a distance) measures a well-known killer at 20 feet.  The "legendary" croc skull turns out to belong to a 20+ footer, but not the 30' of legend.  Clearly, there are some big crocs out there.  But I can't help wishing that Steve Irwin were still with us to "bring 'em back alive."

Monday, June 29, 2009

MONSTERQUEST - Curse of the Mokey Man

History Channel -- Original Air Date: 6/10/09

MQ goes to India to search for the legendary monkey man.  Early animations make this seem like another bigfoot show.  (As you know by now, one out of three MQ shows seems to be about bigfoot.)  There are eyewitnesses of attacks by the creature, one of whom was beaten unconscious in an encounter in Delhi in 2001.  Another has scars from an attack.  Police have no explanation for the series of attacks aside from, perhaps, mass hysteria or mistaking a chimp or other ape for something larger.  The show moves from Delhi to northern India to investigate more attacks.  The show says that descriptions of the monster date back to Pliny in Roman times.  The team goes to the Garo Hills nature preserve, and we start to get the usual tales of huge footprints and broken branches high in trees (not elephants, they say), and perhaps beds ot trampled grass.  Naturally, we get the usual tromping around and setting of camera traps.  (And I feel compelled to ask, has a crypto creature ever been caught on one of these?)  They recover some hairs (whether from their own efforts or from a witness is unclear), and send them for anylsis.  One of the researchers interviews a woman who claims one of the creatures broke into her house.  It had bloody hands and mouth, and left traces on the hut, which the researchers gather for analysis.

Meanwhile, the hunt continues.  One spiritual man suggests that the monkey man may even be Hanuman, the Hindu helper of the gods.  Next, the team goes to a bone-seller market, where various bones are being sold for their (folk) medicinal values.  No monkey man there, though.  The spate of "attacks" seemed to have lasted 20 days, and an expert brought in to examine the wounds, didn't think they matched wounds/bites of a known animal -- but rather the incidents are the result of mass hysteria.  From the day the hysteria finding was published in the newspapers, the attacks stopped.  The hairs analyzed belong perhaps to a red panda, rare and not known in those parts.  The monkey man blood sample turns out human -- raising the question whether the blood was contaminited, or the attacker merely human.  The camera trap turns up animals and several mysterious blurs.  Since one of the cameras is attached to a solar transmitter, it will continue to transmit until the equipment fails.  That's a nice improvement.  One of the researchers suggests that the hysteria in Delhi may be caused by smaller monkeys driven to desperate acts by hunger.  In the wilds, though, he thinks there is still some chance of an unknown creature -- though perhaps the tales are of an animal now extinct.

While turning up no more evidence than the other MQ bigfoot shows, this show comes off better because of highly rational statements by some of the researchers.  A nice change of pace.