Thursday, January 7, 2010

It Came in the Mail

So yesterday was being kind of a bust - the (cough cough) inches I added to the seat of the sweatpants pattern vanished in the sewing and I'm confused; the car died in the driveway (better than dying in the library parking lot after 5); the refrigerator leaked copiously and the repairman couldn't come until today; and my inner gyroscope went out. But then the mail came, and I had a Fortean Times! So I spent a lot of the day wrapped in an afghan reading about weird stuff.

The term "Fortean" is derived from Charles Fort, who spent much of his adult life collecting clippings of strange stories from newspapers and journals and evolving theories of reality out of them. His four books - Book of the Damned, Lo, New Lands, and Wild Talents - are difficult to read due to both his literary style and his thought process, in which facts and ideas blend into eachother and nobody really knows, or can know, anything. Always serious except when he's joking, he builds theories he doesn't believe out of stories of mysterious disappearances, mysterious appearances, miraculous events, and the sometimes even more miraculous pseudoexplanations that people come up with so they don't have to think about them anymore. FT, a UK publication, gives space to ghosts, UFOs, crop circles, cryptozoology, witch panics, miracles, science from fringe physics to mainstream archeology, folklore and fakelore, fairies, frauds, medical anamolies - if it's weird, it's there. The magazine's editorial policy is criticized as credulous and as skeptical to the point of debunking, by different people on different subjects, and that strikes me as a strong indication that it's pretty evenhanded on the whole.

Do I believe any of it? What difference does it make? Whether an account of UFO abduction is interesting or not does not depend on whether I can make up my mind that it's a hoax, an accurate account of what happened, a psychotic episode, or whatever; or on whether the abductors come from the subconscious, the future, the Zeta Reticuli system, or Fairyland. I want the story. I can believe anything for the duration of the story, and in truth few truly Fortean events can be pinned down well enough for me to choose one interpretation over another. Unless given a reason to think someone a liar independent of the strangeness of his story, I accept that people recount their experiences as accurately and truthfully as they know how. That in no way obliges me to accept any given explanation of the experience.

I always get FT a month late due to the reality of distribution across the Atlantic, so I've already seen some of the items mentioned on the website or somewhere else, but whereas the website and forum sometimes annoy me into going away from them for weeks at a time (the internet is full of technical glitches and crabby people), I am always happy to see the magazine. The cover story is lurid - issue 257, February 2010, celebrates Dracula - but I like the little bits most. Breaking News, not so breaking anymore, and the Peruvian Fat Killers story has already been dialed back, but the fact that policemen were telling reporters that they'd uncovered a ring of thieves murdering people to sell their fat on the world cosmetic market (in fact the people they caught killed one person, for different reasons - the world cosmetic market gets its human fats from liposuction) is even weirder once you realize how unfounded the statement is. If I wrote adult thrillers I'd be looking into that!

"FT's Favourite Headlines From Around the World" is a box presenting, without explanation, odd headlines, most of which probabably made sense in context. Devil told: Don't go out at night (Metro, July 16, 2009); Intruder who took an axe to hospital 'for his own protection' (Irish Daily Mail, same date); Newsreader Natasha makes baby sacrifice (Aberdeen Press and Journal, June 25, 2009, oh dear!).

Small news stories: Apparently in August a cop in St. Paul broke into a gorilla enclosure to feed Pop Tarts to the inmates - I sense a Disney comedy behind that one, the old-fashioned kind, with a hapless Dean Jones as the cop. A stockbroker from Florida arrested for pretending to drown and hurling jellyfish at rescuers. Hair supposedly shorn from Elvis in the army sold for $18,300, raising the question "Why did the barber save it?" A physicist quoted as saying that God hates the Higgs bosun particle and that's why the Large Hadron Collider is having so many problems. A man named Shaun Byrne lost his wallet; four months later and five hundred miles away it was found by a dog named Byrne. A seven-year-old blind boy taught to use echolocation, pictured shooting hoops. A man with bad eyesight has a stroke, and after the clot is removed has 20/20 vision.

And on and on and on, articles on myths about Darwin (who did not repent evolution on his deathbed and who did not hesitate to publish out of fear, but because he was putting in the work to support it), a beluga who saved a diver, a Siamese twin starfish, looking for the chupacabras in Nicaragua where it's never been reported, report on the Texas Bigfoot Conference last October, and some freaky stuff in the lettercol. Ick, somebody found a packet with a picture of tooth fairies and the words "Put this under your pillow and see what the fairies bring" printed on it, on the balcony of his top-floor flat in Manchester. It contained 10 bloody human teeth - roots and all (picture included). Nasty story, there, and he can't figure out how it was delivered.

In a world this weird, how does anybody get bored?

Now if I could just figure out where those missing inches of fabric went...

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