Actually, they’re no longer called Unidentified Flying Objects, but rather Unidentified Anamolous Phenomena (UAP). According to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, there were 144 UAP reported from 2004 to 2021. Although these remain unexplained, possible explanations include: airborne clutter (including “airborne debris like plastic bags); natural atmospheric phenomena; “developments [by inudstry and government] and classified programs by U.S. entities”; “foreign adversary systems”; and other possible explanations.

NASA recently held a public meeting — a video of this meeting are now available on Youtube — to cut through the cult of secrecy that has long surrounded UFOs…um, I mean UAP. Previously, NASA has spent all its energy debunking UFO sightings. Now NASA is trying to be more open its data collection and data analysis efforts. So, as you’d expect, one of the questions they got during the public meeting was: “What is NASA hiding?”

No amount of public meetings is going to convince people that NASA has nothing to hide. Belief in UFOs is now a part of the U.S. mythos, and the mythos of other so-called developed countries. There are even New Religions Movements based on UFOs, most notably Raelism, for which the influence of extraterrestrial intelligence on humanity is integral to their worldview. Many of these New Religious Movements now downplay any mention of UFOs or alien intelligences (for example, Unarius Academy of Science and Scientology emphasize their self-development coursework, not UFOs). Nevertheless, belief in UFOs remains central to the U.S. mythos. One meeting my NASA is not going to dislodge this firmly-held belief.

Orcas having fun

Orcas off the Iberian Peninsula have been ramming sailboats, and have even managed to sink three boats, according to Live Science. Humans who claim to be experts on orcas think they know the reason why:

“Experts suspect that a female orca they call White Gladis suffered a ‘critical moment of agony’ — a collision with a boat or entrapment during illegal fishing — that flipped a behavioral switch. ‘That traumatized orca is the one that started this behavior of physical contact with the boat,’ López Fernandez said.”

I’m mildly skeptical of this explanation only because trauma has recently become a popular human explanation for everything. I don’t mean to minimize the effect of traumatic events on humans (or other organisms). But I’m reminded of the mid-twentieth century when, under the influence of Freudianism, sex was the popular explanation for everything. In that time period, trauma was not regularly invoked to explain mammal behavior, so I can imagine mid-twentieth century cetologists explaining orcas sinking boats as somehow being motivated by sex.

NPR reported on the same story, with some additional details, including the fact that orcas seem to like biting sailboat rudders:

“Jared Towers, the director of Bay Cetology, a research organization in British Columbia, says ‘there’s something about moving parts … that seem to stimulate them…. Perhaps that’s why they’re focused on the rudders….'”

Ultimately, we humans don’t know why orcas are ramming sailboats and biting rudders. (Actually, we really know why humans do many of the things we do.) I suspect this has become a news story mostly because humans who are part of Western cultures get worried when other animals threaten us or make us feel that we might not be the apex predator. This attitude is in part due to the influence of Western religions — both Judaism and Christianity have a sacred text that claims that a deity gave to human beings the right to have dominion over all other living beings. But orcas have not read the Bible, and they didn’t get the memo that humans are in charge.

A cultural phenomenon

Focused as I am on my favorite obscure corners of popular culture, I usually miss the really big worldwide trends. So I was completely unaware of The Wiggles until I read about them on a science fiction fandom blog.

If you too have remained blissfully unaware of The Wiggles, they’re an Australian band that released their first album in 1991. The Wiggles write and perform songs for preschoolers (and their parents); three of the four of original members of the band had degrees in early childhood education.

I did a deep dive into Wiggles subculture today. I listened to a bunch of their music. I read about how children would come to live shows dressed as Emma, the Yellow Wiggle, complete with yellow dress and yellow bow in their hair. More importantly, while watching their videos, I saw how they create developmentally appropriate live performances and videos. Yes they’re primarily entertainers (not educators), yes there are problems with what they do, but on the whole I’m impressed with the way they treat young children with respect.

As one small example of what I mean about treating young children with respect: When they begin a live performance, they do not say, “Hello, boys and girls” — a vaguely condescending formula that leaves out parents — they say “Hello, everyone.” That’s really thoughtful.

I’m also impressed with the way they’re changing with the rapidly chaning culture around them. Take, for example, their video “Di Dicki Do Dum” released last August. In the dance routine, Tsehay Hawkins, the yellow Wiggle, and Simon Price, the Red Wiggle, combine Euro-folk dance with urban dance moves. This kind of cultural mash-up is A Big Thing in the obscure world of folk dance. The venerable Cecil Sharp House in England, center of the universe for many who do Anglo-American Euro-folk-dance, now mixes all kinds of folk dance traditions:

“‘Hip-hop is the folk dance of today,’ said Natasha Khamjani…. They’re both social dances created for crowd participation, both also existing on the fringes of the mainstream, she added. Khamjani was taking a quick break during a rehearsal of a high-energy performance blending Bollywood moves and English country dancing with the unmistakable bounce of hip-hop moves.” [As reported by the BBC]

The Wiggles also make pretty darned good music. Both the singing and the accompaniment in the “Di Dicki Do Dum” video are really well done. The music has to be good. Preschoolers are going to listen to recordings of the sings over and over and over and over again. If the music sucks, parents are going to tear their hair out, and never buy any more Wiggles music or go to any more Wiggles shows.

Looking at The Wiggles videos makes me think about what we do in our Unitarian Universalist religious education programs and in our worship services. Unlike The Wiggles, we’re not in the entertainment business. But if we really want to welcome families with young children, I realized I can learn a lot from them: awareness of developmental appropriateness, respect for audiences, use of dance and movement, respectful cultural mash-ups, and so on.

Having said that, I’m now done with The Wiggles. And trying desperately to forget their songs.

A screen grab from the video, showing a young woman wearing yellow and an older man wearing red dancing, while off to one side a man wearing blue and a man wearing purple play musical isntruments.

No conservative nerds

I can’t figure out if this is anti-intellectualism or something stranger. But a website calling itself the “Washington Free Beacon,” which is funded by conservative billionaire Paul Singer, recently ran a hatchet-job piece about Lucas Kunce, a Democrat in Missouri who plans to run for U.S. Senator in 2024. Of course a conservative website is going to oppose any Democratic candidate in this polarized world. But one of the reasons they gave for opposing Kunce was not his political policies, but the fact that he plays Magic: The Gathering:

“…In a free and just society, playing Magic: The Gathering with a journalist would disqualify someone from seeking public office. To paraphrase one of America’s most formidable intellectual prognosticators: ‘We don’t want nerds elected in Missouri….'”

(They link that phrase “formidable intellectual prognosticator” to a low-quality Youtube video of Donald Trump saying, “We don’t want perverts.”)

I’m not going to provide a link to the Washington Free Beacon hatchet-job, because as an ad hominem attack, it doesn’t deserve any incoming links. (I also won’t link to leftist websites that indulge in ad hominem attacks.) But you can read more about the Lucas Kunze story at File 770, a nerd website that I read regularly.

Anyway. I guess the Washington Free Beacon is saying that no one can be a political conservative who plays Magic (35 million people do so) — nor by extension can any other nerds, including people who read science fiction, watch Star Trek, are good at math, think science is cool, etc. This is political polarization run amok.

Not ready for prime time

A Star Trek musical is in the works. Called “Khan!!! The Musical!: A Parody Trek-tacular,” it will premiere Off-Broadway in early May.

The premise? Data the android, while learning about human culture, finds out about Broadway musicals, and programs his own holographic musical. Which features things like Vulcan tap dancing… and “mutant space-chickens.”

They lost me at mutant space-chickens. It makes it sound like they’re trying too hard to be funny. Singing tribbles might be funny. Mutant space-chickens… meh.


I wound up with a 7 hour layover in Chicago. The nice thing about train travel is that when you have a layover, you can leave the terminal. And when you have a layover in Chicago, you’re downtown, right in the Loop.

The Art Institute is closed on Tuesdays, so I went to Exile in Bookville, a bookstore on the second floor of the Fine Arts Building on Michigan Ave. The Fine Arts Building still retains much of its 1898 decor, and it even still has elevators that need to be operated by human beings. Exile in Bookville turned out to be an excellent small bookstore. I passed over William Cronon’s environmental history of Chicago and the midwest (too bulky to carry on the train) and instead bought The Future Is Disabled by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. I also stopped at the DePaul University bookstore, which is run by Barnes and Noble.

By then it was half past four. Time to start walking slowly back to Union Station. I stopped to take a photo of part of a public art work on Quincy St. at South State St.

A semi-abstract sculpture that looks vaguely like a tree or a very large plant.
Public art, Quincy Street at South State Street, Chicago

As I continued walking, I looked for more public art….

Photomontage showing two statues of women, one symbolizing agriculture and one symbolizing industry.
Photomontage, Chicago Board of Trade statues symbolizing agriculture and industry, c. 1885
A large bright red abstract sculpture standing in a plaza surrounded by skyscrapers.
Alexander Calder, Flamingo, Klucynzski Federal Building, Chicago, 1973
A large sculpture, about 100 feet tall, that looks like a huge baseball bat.
Claes Oldenberg, Batcolumn, Social Security Administration Building, Chicago, 1977

It turned out to be a very pleasant layover in Chicago.

Words of wisdom to media representatives

We’re having an interfaith prayer vigil this afternoon, for Cohasset resident Ana Walshe. (I just tested positive for COVID, so I can’t go.) Since this is a story that’s been in the news, as soon as word got out about the prayer vigil, our church started getting calls from media representatives.

One of the media representatives who called First Parish was just plain rude. An email we got sounded pushy and not at all sympathetic. Another church got a call offering to help publicize the event for us, something we really don’t want. The attitude of media representatives seems to be, “We need news, and you’re going to provide it for us!”

So here are some words of wisdom to media representatives:

  • It would be wise for you to remember to follow the norms of ordinary politeness. If you are rude, we won’t forget.
  • It would be wise for you to remember that you may be talking to someone who has strong feelings about this issue. If you sound callous or uncaring, we won’t forget.
  • It would be wise for you to remember that we don’t need you any more to publicize local events. Social media and word of mouth work better.

All of which can be boiled down to: Treat people nicely.

Update: This afternoon, I received email from a reporter asking for an interview. I replied that I had COVID and was not able to give an interview. The reporter said they hoped I’d feel better. How nice! You can be sure that I remembered that person’s name, and if they contact me again I will be predisposed to talk with them.

Masks redux

There’s a growing movement to get people to wear masks at public events. The motivation? Maskless events post a risk to people with certain disabilities, and/or with chronic illnesses, and to their caregivers.

In other words, this is an issue of disabilities rights.

Of course, it’s not just masks. Ideally, all the events that we organize or participate in would be set up to minimize the transmission of infectious diseases. And it’s not just COVID. It’s also about influenza and RSV (and yikes, now there’s even a measles outbreak in Ohio).

Which brings us to “The Public Health Pledge: committing to safer and more inclusive events,” which reads like this:

“I am committed to diversity and inclusion, including people with disabilities, chronic illness, and caregivers, therefore I pledge to only participate in or organize events that have robust Health and Safety policies.

“Events must meet these criteria:
• The event has a Health and Safety policy, and if the policy changes it is only strengthened – never weakened – between the event’s announcement and the event itself.
• The event actively communicates this policy by including it on their website, in the registration flow, and speaker proposal process, discussing the policy regularly during events, and including it everywhere important announcements are shared.
• The event’s policy includes active measures designed to minimize the number of participants who are infected with transmissible diseases like COVID-19, as well as mitigate transmission between participants.”

You can “sign” the pledge online.

A good concrete way to strengthen disability rights.