Sunday, February 26, 2006


I walked into Borders yesterday, and noticed a book called “The Last Templar”. Thinking this might be a new book about Jacques de Molay, since he was the last templar, I picked it up. The front flap proceeded to talk about how men dressed as knights galloped on horses down Fifth Avenue to steal something, at which point I closed the book and placed it back. It might as well have been discussing the lost continent of Mu or Atlantis. I then see that the front stand still has copies of the Davinci Code (along with all the books that explain it). Readers, it seems, cannot get enough of conspiracy theories. Umberto Eco said it 20 years ago: “If someone brings up the Templars, he’s almost always a lunatic.”

And why not? Monk warriors who conquered the Holy land, lost it, came back to Europe richer than the kings or the pope, developed letters of credit before the Florentine bankers, inspired fear in everyone, and then were all captured on the same day (Friday the 13th) on charges of heresy and burnt at the stake are just asking to be glorified. Add to this the fact that they built their headquarters on the supposed Temple of Solomon (Hence their name), that their insignia shows two knights on one horse (Hence the charges of homosexuality) and their strange knowledge and rituals (They interacted with the Muslims in Palestine who, during the middle ages, were much more advanced than the backward Christians), and you can create hundreds of plots for your books.

But there have been so many more throughout the ages, from John Dee to Madame Blavatsky. The Illuminati were behind the French Revolution. Marco Polo made secret trips to Canada. The Egyptians colonized Mexico (And the Greeks colonized the Yucatan). The Venetians sabotaged the Tower of Pisa. The plague was part of an Indian plan of World domination. Everyone worships serpents. The continent of Lemuria. The whore of Babylon. And aliens aliens aliens.

One that occasionally still makes the rounds is the Pyramid question. How come you can find Pyramids on both sides of the Atlantic, from Egypt to Mexico? And why are they more or less (give or take as much as you like) at the same parallel? People seem to love this, and take it as proof of a conspiracy. By someone. Somewhere. For some reason. The fact is, pyramids are easier to construct than spheres. If you want to make a huge building, and the wheel hasn’t even been invented yet, what shape will you make it in? The fact of parallel has more to do with climate. As humans were able to deal with cooler climates they were able to migrate further North (witness the progression of civilizations: From Egypt to Greece to Rome throughout Europe). Then again, there’s a theory that the pyramids were just constructed to confuse further generations. But doesn’t that sound like an Age of Enlightenment conspiracy?

Obviously I’m just as guilty as the next person of being a sucker for conspiracies. But how can I resist? Take numerology for example. The best numerologist (i.e. most entertaining) about the pyramids was Charles Piazzi Smyth. He said the Great Pyramid was constructed by God; after all, its height is exactly one billionth the distance between the earth and the sun. And the pyramid inch is exactly 100 millionth the speed of the earth. This is a good source for these numbers and many more like them, some of which get pretty complicated.

On the other hand, I have my own doubts about the pyramids. They were constructed out of limestone. Wouldn’t the Egyptians have known that you can melt limestone at 600 degrees, thereby making it easier to carry? But then again I know nothing about the subject. Back to conspiracies:

A big one recently may or may not be a conspiracy, a myth, or truth. I’m referring to the map that proves the Chinese discovered the Americas in 1418, 74 years before Columbus. The map is from the 18th century, but is supposed to be a “genuine copy” of an older 1418 map. I’m agnostic about this, but I am still very hesitant in jumping onto the whole ‘Chinese discoverers’ bandwagon yet for a couple reasons. Well, I have not read Menzies’ book, and I don’t speak a word of Chinese, let alone ancient Chinese; I am also not a cartographer and my only source of Ming Dynasty China is books about Matteo Ricci, so I am the last person who should be commenting on this, but I will anyway. First of all, the map is divided in hemispheres. While the Chinese may have known that the world is round, the Europeans were the only ones who divided maps into hemispheres. And secondly, it seems ridiculous that someone as well known as Zheng He could have had this map made, and then no one spoke of it ever again until last month. A map of the world would most likely have been an item of interest for someone. Either way, I might be proven wrong, but I cannot judge only based on a map that has not been refuted. History is not really based on logic, it’s based on what happened. With one map by itself it’s hard to tell. As we learned in Geometry, using just one data point you can draw a line in any direction.

While I believe it’s a good thing to stop having such a Eurocentric view on the goings on of history (witness that all the conspiracy theories mentioned have to do with European history). A publication with as little proof as this pours more scorn on other more serious theories and just relegates the lot to the fringes.

As a side note, I have found one conspiracy theory dealing with Korean history, having to do with writings at the onset of the Chosun dynasty, which said that it would last 600 years (it lasted 613), would be followed by 100 years of turmoil, after which there would be 1,000 years of a Korean rebirth (I don’t recall the exact words unfortunately). This would technically mean that the rebirth started last year.

And what else? Well, the obvious. There are 9 characters in ‘September’ making the ratio 9-11 with the number. The Kights Templar were formed in 1118 (1+8=9 and 11). The atom is a Jewish conspiracy. The lost tribe of Israel traveled to the Americas. Davinci and Tintoretto painted proof of Jesus’ wife and child. The Masons. The Priory of Sion. Whoever else.

All pieces of evidence contradict one another but they never refute each other (The Luciferine Church and the Order of Satan will disagree, but never denounce each other). On the other hand, authors writing about these subjects can sound knowledgeable by referring to works of literature by other authors who write about these subjects who, in turn, refer back to these same authors until it is all one big Escherite referral game. This is how narwhal horns came to prove the existence of unicorns. Conspiracy theories are wonderful in that one can collect any evidence that promotes the conspiracy, while all evidence refuting it is obviously part of the cover-up. I need to choose whom to believe, but in order to do so, I need to choose the criteria with which to choose whom to believe. But how do I choose that?

Why not start with St. Augustine, since he shares my same birthday? Write my own book of confessions? Plan a city of God? Then again, he would shun the amphitheaters for their barbarous and useless act of wickedness, but he couldn’t stop himself from watching when a dog chased a hare and ate it. He recognized this as morbid curiosity about something bad and of no use, as I have with my useless readings. So we’re on the same page in that sense. On the other hand, who hasn’t rubbernecked?

So in conclusion my logic has found that I am human. Let’s hope tomorrow’s a better day.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Remember the North Korean Cheerleaders?

I remember when I was living in Seoul the Asian Games were held in Busan, and then the Universidad games in Taegu. I remember that for both these games, the biggest hits were the North Korean cheerleaders. They were extremely good looking girls that came cheering for their team, with DPRK and Korean unification flags. In fact, much more airtime and newstime was spent on them than the rest of the games. And not without reason: they were sweet cheery nice girls from North Korea. When they weren't performing their cheers ("Skill! Technique! Focus!") they were staying at a hotel off-limits to anyone else (many young guys would drive up there to meet them and get turned away).

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And then there was the incident with the Kim Jong-il poster, which was a bit strange, but interesting. They were in the bus going back to their dormitories after a game and noticed a banner of Kim Jong-il and Kim Dae-jung that was in the rain, and close to the ground. They started shouting for the bus driver to stop, and in fact one girl slammed on the breaks herself. Then they rushed over to the poster and took it back with them, so that the picture of their Dear Leader wouldn't get ruined.

I also remember how South Korean girls would throw written notes at them from their stands during the games. The notes were always innocent, as in "I hope we all get to be together soon", and they would all scream and cheer together with the south koreans after each of the notes.

Either way, for those who lived in Korea during this time, these cheerleaders were a big event. Guys would ogle over them, and girls would cheer them on. They always had smiles on their faces and watching them made reunification seem so much closer at hand. For once it was nice to see South Koreans genuinely happy, and North Koreans looking excited to be there, both groups sitting right next to each other on the stands, without politics getting in the way. I bring this up because apparently they're in a gulag now.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Blogs of more value than mine

I usually skip over most of the forwards or back-and-forth bickering that occurs on our school listserv. I just happened to read one yesterday because it was before my morning coffee and I clicked on it without thinking. Either way, I thought it was pretty interesting, and a good sign. I'll just copy the main body of the e-mail here since I have nothing of value to add to it, except that this could be an interesting tie-in to last week's Economist article about home-grown revolutions:

Iranian blogs debate nuclear row
Blogs are relatively unregulated compared to other media in Iran.
Iranian bloggers are commenting extensively on the nuclear row between
Iran and the West.
A significant number of bloggers seem to blame President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad in particular for the crisis and suggest that he has taken
Iran to the brink of war.
The sports lovers are worried that the Iranian team may be expelled
from the World Cup because of the nuclear issue and Mr Ahmadinejad's
comments on Israel and the Holocaust.
There are expressions of confidence about support for Iran in the
Islamic world and suggestions that Iranian politicians are playing a
sophisticated game.

'Deflecting public opinion' - Daftar-e bi Mokhatab (Notebook without a
Reader), 17 January
"Mr Ahmadinejad didn't mention in any of his campaign slogans that, if
he became president, he intended to remove Israel from the map...
"I also don't recall him promising that he'd take the nuclear file to
the point of having international sanctions imposed on the country,
having the file referred to the Security Council, sacrificing the
country's economic interests and war...
"What has brought the government to this point today is that it's
realised that it's not capable of fulfilling even 55% of its campaign
slogans... so it wants to deflect domestic public opinion by creating
constant international crises in order to pretend that it's foreigners
who are preventing the government from fulfilling its promises."

'Count yourself lucky' - Khatt-e Qermez (Red Line), 24 January
"Today, my American professor told me: You Iranians should count
yourselves lucky that we attacked Iraq, because if we hadn't attacked
them, we'd have attacked you by now!"

'Congratulations Mr President!' - After Rain, 16 January
"Greetings Mr President [Ahmadinejad]! I wanted to congratulate you.
God willing, you're on a roll, taking our dear country towards ruin...
I won't allow the flames of war, ruin, famine and wretchedness to be
lit in my country. I don't want to be shamed any further before the
world. I don't want war! I don't want nuclear energy. This oil is more
than enough for me."