Tuesday, January 28, 2020
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A Brief Review of Midsommar (2019)


Of the many horror films I watched during 2019, Hereditary (2018) ended up being one of my favorites. I recognize that it won’t be for everybody and that it had some flaws, but I really liked it. I went into it knowing next to nothing about it because I had gone out of my way to avoid looking at any reviews. Still, I had high hopes based on all the buzz around it I saw on social media. The film still managed to exceed my expectations and can be found in my horror collection today.

When the director, Ari Aster released Midsommar (2019), I knew I’d have to see it eventually. Although I again made a point to avoid reading reviews, I gradually became aware that this second film was more divisive. Some people seemed to love it; others hated it. There did not appear to be much middle ground. I finally got around to seeing Midsommar last night, and I have to say it was the most disappointing horror film I have seen in several years. At the end, I found myself uncertain that it even ought to be considered a horror film at all.

I tried to go into Midsommar with realistic expectations that would prevent me from comparing it to Hereditary, but I did think I’d probably end up liking it. Boy, was I wrong! It was bad in so many unexpected ways. It was too long, boring, and contained many scenes that did not advance the story in any meaningful way. I normally adore the slow-burn psychological horror sort of film. A slow-moving film does not bother me as long as it is effective in ramping up the dread. This one wasn’t. It was long and slow, but it never got anywhere. Moreover, none of the characters were even mildly likable. While this can be forgiven if the film pays off in other ways, this one never did.

The worst thing about Midsommar, however, was the complete lack of suspense. I cannot recall another horror film that so explicitly telegraphed what few punches it had to deliver. Foreshadowing is great when it is done effectively. This was the least effective approach I’ve ever seen. They might as well have had a narrator appear on screen, look the audience in the eye, and reveal what was going to happen in the next 10 minutes. It was nearly that blatant, and it killed any sense of uncertainty, dread, suspense, fear, and everything else I want from a horror film.

I am fairly forgiving of films being derivative because I recognize how difficult it is to create something new that won’t remind audiences of previous films, but it was hard to overlook this here. Midsommar came across as a weak adaptation of The Wicker Man (1973). In fact, it somehow managed to be inferior even to the Nicholas Cage remake of that film. I’d much rather watch the original Wicker Man again than try to sit through this one again.

As much as I wanted to like Midsommar, I found little to like here. Maybe someone who has never heard of The Wicker Man and has only seen a handful of horror movies might enjoy this one, but I have a hard time imagining how any horror fan could do so.

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The Satanic Temple’s Protest for First Amendment Rights


I recently came across this video from Vice about The Satanic Temple’s push to get a plurality of religious representation at the Arkansas state capitol grounds. The back story is that they have a monument to the 10 Commandments on government property, violating the separation of church and state, and if not removed it should at least be accompanied by monuments to other religions, like Satanism. Seems fair enough, but of course this is not going over well in the deep Christian south.

It is amusing to see just how real residents of the state take the statue of Baphomet — a catoonish representation of the “Adversary.” They literally believe a statue will bring upon Satan’s wrath. It goes to show you how far we still need to progress on the secularization of the US.

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End Times Preacher: Trump’s Critics Have a “Demonic Spirit in Them” | Beth Stoneburner | Friendly Atheist


Oppose Donald Trump? Congratulations! Most people would consider you a person who values integrity and decency.

But if you’re End Times preacher Carl Gallups, that just means you’re just possessed by demons.

Gallups said that Trump was obviously God’s chosen candidate because he was able to defeat 17 other Republican presidential hopefuls — ”some of them, as it turns out now we know, were deep state operatives,” he claimed — and the fact that God favors Trump is exactly why leftists hate him.

“The leftists, the socialists, the God-haters — most of them are — the America-haters, the Constitution-haters, they are, whether they call themselves this or not, they are largely globalists,” Gallups said. “They have this demonic spirit in them — whether they know it or not, whether they are trying to feed it or foster it or not — they do. And the Bible tells us these things would happen.”

“They have this spirit in them of hating all things biblical, all things godly, all things Jesus Christ, hating all things that are pure truth, hating all things that have any righteousness attached to them at all,” he continued. “Instead, they plunge themselves into socialism, into communism, the misuse of technology, into all kinds of evil and darkness and sexual perversion, and the confusion of marriage and gender and home and family … [into] this amalgamation that Satan is going to use in the Last Days.”

By that logic, God must have favored Barack Obama a lot more, since he served two terms and had a much higher approval rating with the public. Not to mention, the eight years were almost entirely free of scandal… unless you think wearing a tan suit is a crime against humanity. (Oh, and Obama was never impeached.)

It doesn’t take a seminary degree to know the Bible says nothing about 21st-century American politics. People oppose Trump because they value the Constitution, not oppose it. Plenty of Christians oppose him, too, so not all Trump haters are also “God haters” by default. But when you know your party is sinking, and you refuse to admit you were wrong, calling your opponents demon-possessed is a last-ditch effort to save face.

The more frequently Trump cultists talk, the easier it gets to justify why people should hate their God. An all-powerful being that endorses an unrepentant rapist, racist, and con-man is one that doesn’t deserve worship.

(via Right Wing Watch)

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Where Are Our Transporter Pads?


William Shatner

I grew up watching re-runs of the original Star Trek series on TV, which I still regard as the only one that deserves the name. Back in the mid-1970s, the future they depicted seemed so far off. In the decades since, a few of the technologies featured on the show have become realities. We now have sophisticated computers, tablets, and smartphones. We have smart light bulbs, laser measures, indoor wireless cameras (hackers can use to spy on us), and a range of voice-controlled home automation devices. We even have self-driving cars (almost). Of course, we’ve also seen many technological innovations that weren’t even imagined by those who created the show. But there is at least one glaring exception where we seem to have made no progress whatsoever, and it continues to puzzle me that it isn’t even something we hear about our scientists working on.

Suppose I am in Denver and I need to get to Los Angeles. How do I do it? I could drive a car or take a train, but I need to get there more quickly than either would allow. Strangely, we still don’t have high-speed rail in the U.S. I’m going to have to get on a plane, aren’t I? And in the decades between the original Star Trek and now, we still haven’t found anything faster and less awful than the airplane. How is this possible?

As far as I was concerned, the coolest thing Star Trek ever envisioned was the transporter pad. Why don’t we have these? Why isn’t getting from Denver to LA as simple as stepping on a pad and being teleported from one location to another? Perhaps this sort of thing is not possible and never will be. That sucks, but okay. If that’s the case, why haven’t we developed true high-speed alternatives? If modern commercial airplanes are faster than what was available in the late 1960s, we don’t seem to be talking about large differences. The travel time between Denver and LA hasn’t been cut in half, for example. It still takes several hours to cross the country, and that assumes you are lucky enough to find a direct flight.

Air travel has become such an ordeal that some of us have refused to keep doing it. I haven’t been on a plane in over 15 years and dread the experience enough that I have no plans to do so until I have to. Before one can even get on a plane, one must endure the long lines, high prices, and intrusive groping by security. Once one is finally seated in a small uncomfortable seat with little room, the real fun begins. An outside observer would have to conclude that someone in charge of this system is conducting a psychological experiment designed to push people to their breaking point. Is there really no better way to do this?

Now that climate change has finally started to be something at least some people are paying attention to, I can’t help but wonder if more people will be rethinking air travel. It is one thing to willingly subject ourselves to all the indignities and discomforts it entails; recognizing how it contributes to pollution is something else. Again, are we even trying to come up with a viable alternative?

It is 2020, and we still don’t have the flying cars we were promised. I can’t buy a laser gun for “self-defense,” and our space ships are laughably primitive. I’ll gladly let all that go, but I need my transporter pad. And if that’s not possible because Jesus refuses to bend the laws of physics for us, then I’ll settle for some other means of travel significantly faster than modern planes that does not require us to participate in all the nonsense surrounding commercial air travel.

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American Atheists’ 2020 National Convention Tickets Now on Sale!


Registration is now open for American Atheists’ 2020 National Convention in sunny Phoenix, Arizona on April 9–12.

Get ready for four amazing days of speakers, social events, comedy shows, workshops, and our “Two Hands Working” service project—all of this in the company of nearly a thousand fellow atheists from across the country.

American Atheists’ National Convention is the one event you don’t want to miss this year! Reserve your tickets now!

American Atheists’ 2020 National Convention offers one of the most diverse line-ups of speakers, rising atheist stars, hands-on trainings from activists and secular allies, and unique perspectives on the issues that matter most to our community.

This year promises not only incredible weather but also the chance to reconnect with old friends and make brand new ones. 

Register today and breathe a sigh of relief knowing that you’ve reserved your spot.

Once you have your general admission ticket, sign up for all of the additional events, including our Awards Dinner and—for the first time—a comedy and magic show featuring Matt Dillahunty!

And don’t forget to reserve your hotel accommodations and view our constantly expanding speaker list.

We can’t wait to see you in Phoenix!

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Storks, Evolution and the Problem of Evil


This tweet came from The Non-Alchemist and is worth dwelling on:

In YouTube form, if you can’t see it:

The two-horned dilemma is spot on. Either:

  1. God designed evolution, if you are a theistic evolutionist, and made reality in such a way that we have carnivorousness and a pretty harsh natural reality, where baby storks get it in the neck; or
  2. God knowingly designed and created a reality whereby such natural pain and suffering (carnivorousness and baby stork deaths) is just punishment for two people eating an apple when tempted.

Really, think of all of that pain and suffering over all those millions of years whereby animals and humans have endured pain and died merely because Adam and Eve – who were knowingly created that way by God – ate an apple (enter stage right apologists who claim the crime was infinite in scope and deserves appropriate punishment, but this does not really suffice).

Being punished for the sins of another is a bitter pill to swallow, especially if you are a sentient creature of another species with more limited consciousness but that can still feel pain.

The simple fact of the matter is that God is not a very good designer.

There is no making sense of this scenario, there really isn’t. I have set both horns out previously, which are worth looking into:




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A Few Recent Studies On Secularization From Pew


Pew is a treasure trove of cultural and demographic data for nerds like me. I can spend hours on the site pouring over all their new studies.Here are some recent graphs that caught my attention on religion and the rise of the “nones” in the US and Western Europe. From Why America’s ‘nones’ don’t identify with a religion:

People who identify as “nothing in particular” give a variety of responses when asked about their most important reason for not affiliating with a religion – and no single reason predominates. A quarter say the most important reason is that they question a lot of religious teachings, 21% say they dislike the positions churches take on social and political issues, and 28% say none of the reasons offered are very important.

As expected, questioning religious teachings is a major reason why people leave religion:

Six-in-ten religiously unaffiliated Americans – adults who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – say the questioning of religious teachings is a very important reason for their lack of affiliation. The second-most-common reason is opposition to the positions taken by churches on social and political issues, cited by 49% of respondents (the survey asked about each of the six options separately). Smaller, but still substantial, shares say they dislike religious organizations (41%), don’t believe in God (37%), consider religion irrelevant to them (36%) or dislike religious leaders (34%).

In another survey of Western Europe, it shows how most unaffiliated adults were raised Christian, disconfirming the misconceived idea that if two Christians have a kid, that kid will be a Christian its entire adult life. Assuming kids will all keep the same religion of their parents is what lead Pew a few years back to over estimate the rise of the percentage and absolute numbers of the world’s religious population by 2050. From the recent study, you have an 86% chance of having been raised Christian if you’re not currently religious in Spain. And the median number of unaffiliated raised Christians in Western Europe is 60%.

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Trump Is Helping to Send the World to Hell in a Handcart


The world as I thought I knew it – liberal ideas being promoted by governments and societies progressively evolving towards a better place. Goodness me, ten years ago seems like a bygone era.

We have Brexit, where the latest situation is that the US is supposed to be our saviour, paving our path out of the EU with gold. We’ll do a great deal with them! We are barely out when our Chancellor makes an announcement that the UK government will (rightfully) tax tech giants to regain some of the tax that they work so hard to avoid. The US reacts by starting a trade war on their behalf. Our car industry is slapped with tariff threats and we are left in some kind of Mexican trade war standoff. So much for that special relationship! So much for the UK boldly conquering the world on our own!

Meanwhile, the rest of Europe drifts inexorably towards right-wing populism, from France to Italy, Hungary to Poland. (There are a few glints of hope in Greece electing a female environmentalist as President, Portugal remaining liberal…)

Bolsonaro, in Brazil, does his level best to completely eradicate liberal ideals, the environment, the indigenous population, progressivism…

Scott Morrison, in Australia, peddles climate conspiracy theories whilst totally mishandling the bushfire disaster, whilst his government were accused of “cheating” and thwarting the UN climate deal.

Nothing has been done with respect to Saudi Arabia murdering a Washington Post journalist, and the Crown Prince has now hacked Jeff Bezos’ phone. All the while, in the Yemen…

Deforestation and environmental destruction is happening all over the world to newly worrying levels. Even if you are one of those head-in-the-sanders who deny climate change, we are, empirically speaking, undergoing the 6th mass extinction event:

If we use the same approach to estimate today’s extinctions per million species-years, we come up with a rate that is between ten and 10,000 times higher than the background rate.

Even considering a conservative background rate of two extinctions per million species-years, the number of species that have gone extinct in the last century would have otherwise taken between 800 and 10,000 years to disappear if they were merely succumbing to the expected extinctions that happen at random. This alone supports the notion that the Earth is at least experiencing many more extinctions than expected from the background rate.

It would likely take several millions of years of normal evolutionary diversification to “restore” the Earth’s species to what they were prior to human beings rapidly changing the planet. Among land vertebrates (species with an internal skeleton), 322 species have been recorded going extinct since the year 1500, or about 1.2 species going extinction every two years.

If this doesn’t sound like much, it’s important to remember extinction is always preceded by a loss in population abundance and shrinking distributions.

Based on the number of decreasing vertebrate species listed in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, 32 percent of all known species across all ecosystems and groups are decreasing in abundance and range. In fact, the Earth has lost about 60 percent of all vertebrate individuals since 1970.

And then there’s Trump.

Trump, Trump, Trump. I want to just apply a label that is becoming of someone so deeply, deeply unpresidential and lacking in worthiness of any type of respect. The man is an utter douchebag. I can’t begin to tell you how much I now hate him.

Taking it upon himself to trash talk a 16-year-old, he recently used his hugely visible and influential Davos platform to attack environmentalists. At the same time, he spoke like more of a child than Thunberg to say:

KERNEN: Tesla’s now worth more than GM and Ford. Do you have comments on Elon Musk?

TRUMP: Well — you have to give him credit. I spoke to him very recently, and he’s also doing the rockets. He likes rockets. And — he does good at rockets too, by the way. I never saw where the engines come down with no wings, no anything, and they’re landing. I said I’ve never seen that before. And I was worried about him, because he’s one of our great geniuses, and we have to protect our genius. You know, we have to protect Thomas Edison and we have to protect all of these people that — came up with originally the light bulb and — the wheel and all of these things. And he’s one of our very smart people and we want to– we want to cherish those people.

The man is also fully delusional. He also stated:

Q    Do you still think climate change is hoax?

THE PRESIDENT:  No, not at all.  I think what is — I think aspects of it are.  I think that some people are — they put it at a level that is, you know, unrealistic, to a point you can’t live your lives.

We want to have the cleanest water on Earth.  We want to have the cleanest air on Earth.  Our numbers, as you saw — we had record numbers come out very recently.  Our numbers are very, very good — our environmental numbers.  Our water numbers, our — our numbers on air are tremendous.

We have to do something about other continents.  We have to do something about other countries.  When we’re clean and beautiful and everything is good, but you have another continent where the fumes are rising at levels that you can’t believe — I mean, I think Greta ought to focus on those places.

But we are doing better right now than we’ve ever done, in terms of cleanliness, in terms of numbers.  We have a beautiful ocean called the Pacific Ocean, where thousands and thousands of tons of garbage flows toward us, and that’s put there by other countries.  So I think Greta has to start working on those other countries.

The Trump administration has completed its rollback of environmental protections for streams, wetland and other bodies of water, a process that has stripped pollution safeguards from drinking water sources used by around a third of all Americans.

Clean water protections strengthened under the Obama administration have long been targeted by Donald Trump, who has called it a “very destructive and horrible rule”.

Trump has been backed by ranchers, farming groups and golf course operators, who claim the so-called “Water of the United States” (Wotus) rule impinged upon landowners’ rights.

The Obama-era water rule was repealed last year and on Thursday the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized a weakened replacement that removes millions of miles of streams and around half of America’s wetlands from federal oversight, potentially allowing pesticides and other pollutants to be dumped into them without penalty.

The move has dismayed former EPA staff who worked on the expansion of protections to ephemeral streams that supply drinking water to an estimated 117 million people in the US.

The Trump administration had promised the demise of the water rule to industry groups that lobbied against what they saw as costly federal overreach. “This new rule will provide much-needed clarity and regulatory certainty for companies that site and build infrastructure that delivers essential energy to America’s communities,” said Karen Harbert, chief executive of the American Gas Association.

We know the weakening of these laws has come after intense pressure from the fossil fuel industry, as can be seen in the lobbying by BP.

BP has successfully lobbied US policymakers to weaken a landmark environmental law, clearing the way for major infrastructure projects to bypass checks.

US government documents show BP America lobbied in favour of Donald Trump’s decision to dilute legislation, which could make it easier for new projects, such as oil pipelines and power plants, to move forward with far less federal review of their impact on the environment.

Many green groups fear the changes to the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act (Nepa) will increase greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate the climate crisis.

The changes, unveiled by Trump this month, would narrow the list of projects that require an environmental impact assessment and in some cases eliminate the need for federal agencies to consider the cumulative effects of projects, including the impact on the climate crisis.

In “Air Pollution Increases Under Trump, Despite His Claim of World’s ‘Cleanest Air’”, Matt Stieb states:

Of the many reasons to be terrified for American public health in the era of climate change, one breath of relief has been the long-term increase in air quality in the United States. Since the founding of the EPA under the Nixon administration, total emissions of six of the most common air pollutants have dropped 73 percent, while cuts to air-particulate pollution enforced by the Clean Air Act have added 18 months to the average American’s life expectancy since 1970.

In the Trump era, it’s probably healthier to hold that breath of relief. Despite a 25 percent decline in fine-particulate pollution over the seven years prior to Trump’s election, that form of pollution grew by 5.5 percent from 2016 to 2018, according to an analysis of EPA data by researchers at Carnegie Mellon. As the New York Times notes, fine-particulate pollution, defined as particles with a diameter of about one-thirtieth of a human hair, “has been linked to a range of health problems including asthma and respiratory inflammation, lung cancer, heart attack and stroke. A recent study found a significant link between air pollution and the risk of miscarriage.” The 5 percent uptick was also associated with almost 10,000 premature deaths in the two-year period — in addition to the 50,000 to 120,000 Americans that the EPA estimates die prematurely every year due to air pollution.

It’s like there is a total moral vacuum in the leadership of the most powerful. And even the EU, which often fights for rights and regulation, is being overrun with populists of the same vein.

The more these months pass by, the less respect and time I have for people who vote for these essentially individualistic, self-centred populists. History will not be on their side, but so what? They’ll be dead.

And then there is the joke that is the impeachment. Republican senators are literally going to sleep during the speeches, and the Republicans won’t even allow witnesses to be brought forward:

I can’t believe Trump is pulling the national security card. The Republicans, in their partisan obsession, are being pathetic; it’s a disgrace.

Lindsey Graham’s utter hypocrisy is played back, but he isn’t even in his seat:

And you’ve got to see the Jay Sekulow embarrassment of taking to task the Democrats for a “lawyer lawsuit”, when he misheard the term “FOIA” (Freedom of Information Act) – see 6:30 onwards.

There is so much I could mention regarding the impeachment – I think Adam Schiff and the Democrat managers have been doing a really good job. The thing’s a farce, though, because it has been rigged by the majority-Republican Senate, devoid of any desire to arrive at truth. Trump must maintain, at all costs.

FiveThirtyEight concludes:

The upshot is that we can’t actually say with much confidence whether impeachment is hurting (or helping) Trump’s reelection chances. Nor is it even clear it’s having any affect at all.

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Christian Missionary: Jesus Made Me Fluent in a Language I Never Knew | Hemant Mehta | Friendly Atheist


Did you know you can learn a new language just by accepting Jesus into your life?

That’s what “Dante” said at a service run by right-wing pastor Perry Stone, best known for checking his phone while speaking on tongues. The guy said he mastered German while on a mission trip to Switzerland.

It’s only been a few months, but he’s already fluent!

It’s not weird to live in a country and pick up aspects of the native language. But Dante explains (in German) that “after some time, I started to know words that I had only heard one time. And later, I started to know words that I hadn’t heard at all! This is only because of the power of Jesus!”

That’s… not exactly a replicable experiment. We aren’t told Dante’s history with German. We don’t know how well he actually speaks it. There’s no Christian Edition of Rosetta Stone that just says, “Congratulations, you already know everything.”

But, naturally, Stone took credit for Dante’s skills by saying he had laid his hands on Dante before he left for the trip.

German, they tell me, is a very difficult language. And they say he speaks it as good as somebody who’s been there and lived there for ten years! That there’s people that have been there four years and still don’t know how to speak it and mess it up all the time…

It shouldn’t be hard to test this. Just find out if other Christians can magically learn languages they don’t actually know. And then, for added fun, when they don’t learn anything, tell them it’s because their faith isn’t strong enough.

(Thanks to Kyle for the link)

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Why Is the History Channel Undermining Skepticism?


skeptical gorilla

Every December, the debate about whether atheist parents should lie to their children about Santa resurfaces. Is participating in the great Santa charade a form of pre-indoctrination, a way of facilitating skepticism, or possibly both? The results of the only Twitter poll I saw about the subject in 2019 made it look like atheists are evenly split about whether parents should tell their children that Santa is real. Among those who say no, concerns range from the ethical implications of a parent deceiving a child for entertainment purposes to the notion that the Santa narrative may inadvertently soften the child up to a host of religious absurdities.

Regardless of where you stand on the Santa debate, I suspect most of you would agree that efforts to undermine critical thinking and skepticism are generally harmful. Most of you would probably also agree that deliberate attempts to replace these things with pseudoscience, woo, and conspiracy theories should be viewed with suspicion (or worse). And so, I have to shift the focus away from Santa now that December is behind us and direct your attention to the History Channel. What the hell is going on there?

Whatever they are doing, it is not a new problem. I have been complaining about it since at least 2010 (and some of the pro-religious drivel goes back much earlier). I don’t know if this is just me, but it seems to be getting worse. Moreover, I am now seeing evidence that leads me to believe that they have a specific formula worked out that they are using in countless shows to undermine skepticism and push an oddly popular combination of pseudoscientific garbage and conspiracy theories. At the risk of sounding overly conspiratorial myself, I suspect they are doing this deliberately to achieve some ends that fly in the face of most of what we value. That is, I no longer think this is just about ratings and pandering to the audience; I suspect we are witnessing some social engineering.

I am not sure when the formula first appeared, but it does seem like Ancient Aliens was where it was perfected. What is this formula? The most outlandish theories are thrown out, followed by “scholars” agreeing with them and over-interpreting “evidence” to make it look like they have support when they do not. Extremely obvious alternative explanations are rarely considered. The whole thing is clearly designed to give viewers the impression that whatever nutty phenomenon is being discussed is very real. This is the opposite of skepticism.

Since I have had Bigfoot on the mind lately, I decided to watch Bigfoot: The Definitive Guide on the History Channel. I went into it hoping it would present the history of the Bigfoot phenomenon (e.g., how reports of sightings had changed over time, all the hoaxes), you know, because it was airing on the History Channel. None of this was addressed. What I saw instead was Ancient Aliens where the aliens were replaced by Bigfoot creatures. The formula was identical. A small group of “experts” were brought it to present and then agree with strange theory after strange theory.

How come we’ve never found a dead Bigfoot creature? They must bury their dead. Is there any evidence that they bury their dead? Yes, the evidence is that we haven’t found any dead Bigfoot creatures.

The audience was treated to theories about how North American Bigfoot creatures were Yeti that crossed over between Siberia and Alaska at some point when there was a land bridge and then evolved to adapt to their new habitat. No evidence was presented to support this, but we were encouraged by the “experts” to believe it because there was no evidence to prove that it was untrue. Sound familiar? The formula was so evident it was impossible to ignore.

I think my favorite part must have been when it was suggested that Bigfoot creatures were Neanderthals that had somehow survived all these years or possibly large feral humans. At least, this was the part where I began laughing at the TV. My laughter did not last long, though, because I began to reflect on the fact that there were countless viewers out there who were having a very different reaction. They were probably nodding in agreement. After all, these experts were telling them that Bigfoot was almost certainly real.

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