My dinner with Cliff

What's all over my glasses?!

The other day, I had the chance to hang out with Cliff Barackman as he passed through town after producing a new Minnesota episode of Finding Bigfoot. I’ve only ever been with Cliff out in the woods: Twice near Skookum Meadows and once in Northern California very near the Oregon border.

As I’ve said on the show many times, it’s hard not to like Cliff. He’s enthusiastic and earnest and eager to share his thoughts and knowledge regarding bigfoot. But I haven’t seen Cliff since he became a big TV star and I stepped up my association with those trying to collect a wood ape specimen. Theoretically, this could have been a prickly conversation. For all I knew, he wanted to meet so he could take me to task.

But no. Cliff Barackman is just a great guy. Period. And while we don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, I respect him and his positions. 

Cliff related to me that he doesn’t think people should bother bigfoot. They should be left alone. He then quickly follows that up by acknowledging he, himself, can’t follow his own advice, so why should anyone else? He also thinks they’re doing just fine by themselves and don’t need official recognition or protection. He actually thinks recognition would be bad for them (but I never got to the bottom as to why). Obviously, he doesn’t think one should be turned into a type specimen. Most important to me, he does not think they’re “human.”

Regarding how their population is doing, he may be right. Or, he may be wrong. We just can’t say (and I don’t think we should take their population’s health for granted). On pretty much every other thing mentioned above, I’m on the opposite side of the fence (including his take on the Jacobs Photos and the Oklahoma Prairie Photos, for what that’s worth). 

But our conversation never became contentious. Quite the opposite. We talked well past midnight and I would have happily stayed longer except I had to get to work in the morning. As my experiences have accumulated while looking for hairy bipeds in the woods, my appreciation of those who have had similar experiences has also increased. I really enjoyed picking his brain and comparing notes and speculating about things. And, of course, gossiping about the show and the weird world of bigfooting in general.

Our evening left me with three lingering thoughts. One, you should be a fan of Cliff even if you don’t like Finding Bigfoot and even if you don’t agree with all his positions. I am and I don’t. Two, life is generally better when we’re not dicks to one another and it’s so much harder to be a dick to someone when you’re sitting in front of them with a couple of beers between you. I recommend it. Three, I hope to be able to take him up on his invitation to spend time in the woods near his home, sooner rather than later. Sounds like a grand time. 

Regarding the fact that he had just shot a new FB in Minnesota and the rumor (discussed on our show) that FB has been cancelled, Cliff said those rumors were always overblown. While the show is renewed on a year-to-year basis and, as far as I know, hasn’t been renewed yet for a new season, it’s more popular now than it’s ever been.

Oh, and I learned there’s another Bigfoot Roadtrip in the works with Craig Flipy. If you haven’t seen the first one, you should check it out. It’s a bucket of fun. 


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Minority report

Bigfoot isn’t very diverse. And when I say “diverse,” I mean racially. And no, I’m not writing about various ethnicities within the population of bigfoot.

Cliff Barackman attending to his adoring public

Cliff Barackman attending to his adoring (all-white) public

I’ve heard it remarked on more than one occasion that, “black people never see bigfoot.” And, anecdotally, that seems pretty true. I can’t recall ever meeting an African American interested in bigfoot. Or, come to think of it, someone of Asian descent. I know a few Hispanics who are into it. (And, off course, now that I’ve written and published these words, I’ll remember some guy who is either black or Asian…or both.)

In a New Republic article I just found yesterday (though it was written last September), we have a probable explanation:

The Outdoor Industry Associationthe top outdoor-recreation lobby in America (and based in Boulder, naturally)insists that outdoor enthusiasts “are all genders, ages, shapes, sizes, ethnicities and income levels,” but research by their own nonprofit organization, The Outdoor Foundation, shows underwhelming diversity. Its 2013 outdoor participation report notes that last year, 70 percent of participants were white. “As minority groups make up a larger share of the population and are predicted to become the majority by 2040, engaging diverse populations in outdoor recreation has never been more critical,” the report reads. “Unfortunately, minorities still lag behind in outdoor participation.”

In a front-page story today, The New York Times details these very problems facing the National Park Serviceonly one in five visitors to NPS sites are nonwhite, according to a 2011 study cited in the articleand the “multipronged effort to turn the Park Service’s demographic battleship around.” Clumsy metaphors aside, the article does a respectable job at detailing the various effortsnamely outreach, all-expenses-paid trips, and creating more national monuments recognizing minority figures in U.S. historyto increase minority participation.

The article posits that minorities tend not to go into the woods to camp and hike for several reasons:

  • They tend to live in more urban areas and don’t have easy access to forests, either as young people or adults
  • The hobby can be expensive and they under-index in average income
  • Culturally, sleeping on the ground in a tent could be viewed as “going backward” among those focused on upward mobility

This seems to me very similar to the hypothesis that the majority of bigfoot enthusiasts seem to be politically conservative because they over-index among those who live in rural environments and spend time in the woods either working or hunting. Minorities are likely underrepresented because they don’t generally get out into the forests and wild places of our country.

This seems logical. If you aren’t in the woods, for whatever reason, you’re unlikely to appreciate them, have experiences there, or even express much interest in things that happen in them. If you are and do and have, then the opposite result would be expected.

Is this a problem that needs to be addressed? I dunno. Seems above my pay grade. But if the National Park Service is successful in getting minorities into our forests over time, then I’d expect their representative percentage of bigfoot enthusiasts to increase accordingly. And all of us have reasons to make as many people as possible more appreciative of what’s left of our wilderness. 

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O, the humanity!

Watch this:

The bear appears to rescue the raven from an ice-cold death in frigid water (the video says it’s a crow, but it looks like a raven to me — according to the Budapest Zoo’s website, the bear’s a Syrian brown bear). What’s going on here? Is the bear demonstrating compassion? You’d think the bear would look at the hapless raven as an easy hot meal, but instead it seems to take pity on the bird (even after getting pecked in the snout as a reward for fishing it out of the drink). The first comment on this video is, “One of the most beautiful videos I have ever seen, is this how ‘humanity’ should be?” And it’s hard to disagree with the sentiment.

The bear appears to do something we don’t normally associate with animals. If it’s showing compassion then that means it’s able to feel empathy for the bird and its condition and, without any obvious benefit to itself, is willing to go out of its way to help. Is this “humanity?” No, of course not. It is empathy and compassion, but it’s not humanity. It’s a trait found in humans (at least the good ones), but it’s not the thing that defines us.

I bring this up because I see a lot of people interested in the bigfoot/wood ape phenomenon who want them to be human (or almost human). They draw conclusions based on presumed behavior that, to them, displays humanity. But they, like the bear, don’t have any of the concrete things that set us apart from other animals: Technology, religion, art, writing, etc.

Compassionate bears are compassionate, not human. Bigfoot who walk on two legs are waking on two legs, not human. Ravens who fall into icy-cold water are just clumsy.

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Some things we learned about Melba today

more melba

  1. Even though bigfoot are people, she has a DNA sample from a half-human, half-bigfoot “type specimen.” The kind of type specimen she said the other day would doom its finders/creators with ancient native curses and/or government smack-downs.
  2. She can’t talk openly about what she wants to do with your money but give it to her anyway so she can do it.
  3. She has principles and refuses to lower the integrity of her study by selling-out and seeking fame. Irony, thy name is Ketchum.
  4. She doesn’t like attention. She just wants to be a scientist. Please, for the love of god, let her be a scientist. With a Brazilian blow-out.
  5. She happily takes checks, credit cards, PayPal, bitcoin, shekels, bottle caps, trading stamps, and would be happy to be remembered in your will. OK, I made that last bit up.
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Episode 61: Reverse centaur blues

it takes all kinds

Episode 61 — Reverse centaur blues — has galloped across the internet like a freakish mythological creature. On the show this time, Scott, Paul, Sam, and Brian discuss Melba’s latest scheme to separate you from your money, the ThinkerThunker giant sequoia video, Todd “don’t call it a muppet” Standing joining forces with Jeff Meldrum, Finding Bigfoot finding new life, video from Area X, the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ drone, Brian Sykes’ DNA report, scary bigfoot, and the Ohio Howl. Whew.

Snag the show using this direct download link or via iTunes, Stitcher, etc.

Read more ›

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Points of clarification re: zombie ants

My last post about the mismanagement I’ve observed and experienced at the Bigfoot Forums (BFF) has been met (based on comments here) with nearly overwhelmingly negative reaction. That’s fine. It’s to be expected. However, what’s not fine is several apparent misperceptions of what I said. I thought the analogy was pretty clearly laid out (ants unwittingly helping out in their own destruction by parasitic invaders), but perhaps not.

First of all, I was not attacking “the BFF.” I have often made the observation that critics of the site tend to think about it as a monolithic thing with a single point of view and intent. It’s not. It’s a community of people, all with different perspectives, and cannot be criticized in its entirety for what some people do or say. Which is why I did not do that. I specifically called out the forum management and those who are ruining the site though trollish behavior. I have found there to be many really good members there who are genuinely interesting to talk to — even (and maybe especially) the open-minded actually skeptical ones. But their contributions are overwhelmed by those who are only there to derail and demean as part of some faux-skeptical agenda.

Second, I think it’s telling that the post in which I lay out a lot of detail about the events leading to this kerfuffle (about 2,700 words worth) has, as of this writing, been totally ignored comment-wise. No requests for further clarification. No observations or suggestions of alternate possibilities. Nothing. Crickets. But, the one where I dare to publically call out how the BFF is run has thirty-five. What are our priorities here? The drama or the substance?

Third, the thrust of those unhappy with my criticisms think this has something to do with me not wanting to post where I’m asked questions or challenged. As I said in my final message there, I have more than 1,500 posts on this incarnation of the BFF and I’d wager that 95% of them are in threads dealing with the North American Wood Ape Conservancy or Area X. I have established a willingness and interest in discussing the group’s experiences in as much detail as possible. It’s something I actually enjoy (which explains one of the reasons I lasted there as long as I did). I even enjoy discussing it with actual skeptics who are open to the concept (if not the reality) of a relic hominid living in North America (ask David Mizejewski).

The reason I left the BFF is that I found too much of my effort was being wasted dealing with the affects of James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) trolls. When I came back from a trip into X with more information and descriptions of behavior those for whom the BFF was originally intended would have thought was very interesting, I found the administration of the site had allowed those same bad actors to spin and froth the thread into a state where I and my group were accused of being fabulists (a thread in the member’s only section is called “Is Area X Jumping the Shark” — I know this by looking at the referrer information in this site’s traffic data). Faced with expending yet more time and effort beating back the same disruptive players for the hundredth time, I chose to finally rid myself of the trouble. Note that after I announced my decision to leave, the admins stepped in and tried to quell the nonsense. At that time (and perhaps still), from what I understand, discussion of the tree breaks in X was banned (expect for the premium members, presumably, as they have no rules). Ironically, then, there’s no way to set the public record straight and the last word, as planned, went to the trolls. Nicely played.

If there’s one thing I should have done in my previous post, it would have been sharing ideas of what I think are plausible solutions to the problem. In my day job, one of my pet peeves is when people bring me problems with no ideas of solutions. My bad. Here are two rules I propose the BFF adopt which I think will help improve the quality of discourse on the site:

Ban Members of the JREF Forums
As a great man once said, “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” The most active and vociferous members of that site, not being actual skeptics at all, are fundamentally incompatible with any interaction seeking further understanding of the bigfoot phenomenon. Period. They have the truth. They are not seeking it. Members of the BFF should be made to choose which site to affiliate with. Anyone found to be a active member of the JREF after this choice while still participating on the BFF should be banned.

Only real skeptics allowed
If you do no think bigfoot is real, cannot possibly be real, and believe anyone who thinks it is has a hard time telling fact from fantasy, you have no place among those interested in discussing the topic. Period. If, on the other hand, you can’t accept the set of evidence that’s been collected so far but still allow there’s the possibility that an animal like bigfoot could be real, then fine. Open minds only. Closed minds should be shown the door.

Finally, if there’s one piece of advice I could impart on the admins, mods, and other governing individuals of the BFF, it’s this: There is no fundamental right of participation on an internet forum. The biggest mistake I made when I was acting as the BFF’s benevolent dictator was forgetting that. The BFF is a community first. Disruptive players should be ejected in favor of that community’s health. If there’s one thing I wish I could go back and change from those days, it would be my reluctance to act in deference to a misguided concept of fairness or objectivity. That was a mistake. I hope those who run the BFF now will recognize and address the mistakes being made today.

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Parasites are driving the ant

Nature be crazy. Case in point: The lancet river fluke, AKA Dicrocoelium dendriticum

This parasite is found all over the world and its life cycle is so crazy and so Rube Goldberg-esque that, after first hearing about them, one would be forgiven for assuming Dicrocoelium was not an actual living thing but rather the product of a science fiction novel. Here’s how this little bastard works:

Step one: Dicrocoelium eggs are eaten by snails. OK, not such a big deal. Parasites need hosts, after all. A snail is as good as any other. But it doesn’t stop there. Not by a long shot.

Step two: Once inside the snail, the eggs hatch producing larvae that punch out of the snail’s guts and take up residence in its digestive track. The snail, for obvious reasons, wants these things gone and its body bundles them up in cysts and poops them out as the snail slimes along.

Step three: Here’s where it gets kinda nuts. The Dicrocoelium larvae, left behind in the snail track, wait until an ant comes along for a drink. Turns out, ants derive moisture from snail slime. Hey, an ant’s life, man. It’s not easy. So the ant can end up with hundreds of these things inside it. One little ant from one little snail cyst.

From there, the Dicrocoelium end up all over inside the ant’s body. Not to grow up and lay eggs so the whole thing can happen again. No. They can only do that in the guts of a ruminant (like a cow). While the rest of the Dicrocoelium hang out in whatever part of the ant they want, just one of them takes up the job of bus driver. This guy settles in a part of the ant’s nervous system and, from there, takes control of the ant. He’s now an undercover zombie. By day, a normal looking ant hanging out with the others. By night, river fluke pansy.

As I said, the Dicrocoelium can only fulfill their biological imperative of reproduction inside a ruminant. Once the sun sets, the bus driver instructs the ant to head to the nearest blade of grass and crawl all the way out to the end, grab hold of it with his mandibles, and wait. All night long. If nothing happens, when the sun comes up, the ant goes back to the colony. Why? Because it’s cool there and the Dicrocoelium will die if the ant’s body is warmed too much by the sun. Once night returns, it’s back to the grass blade.

Step four: Eventually, if the Dicrocoelium get lucky, an unsuspecting cow or sheep or llama comes along partaking in a midnight snack and eats the zombie ant along with the grass it’s clinging to. Once inside the cow or llama or whatever, they reach adulthood, get married and settle down and make their eggs. The llama or cow craps them out where some snail crawls along and finds them and the whole crazy thing starts all over again.

True story.

I tell you this story for two reasons. First is to illustrate how totally nuts nature is that such a complicated, illogical, implausible, and, if I’m honest, absolutely creepy form of life would evolve on planet Earth. Two is to tell you that the Bigfoot Forums is like that zombie ant.

What? No, really.

See, there are a subspecies of humans that thrive on sociopathic behavior. It’s a form of psychic sustenance for them much as llama blood is for Dicrocoelium. They revel in poking others with metaphorical sticks and seeing how they squirm and run around. They’ve always been among us, but the internet and the web in particular has given them the ability to multiply by the millions and achieve unprecedented efficiencies of success. We call them trolls.

troll n.
One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.

Recently, I’ve decided to stop participating with the Bigfoot Forums due to it’s having been taken over by Dicrocoelium-esque invaders from beyond. “Beyond” in this case being the James Randi Educational Foundation Forums (JREF). There, you will find many people (hundreds?) who just love to sit around making fun of people who believe things the JREFers think are silly. Truth be told, many things many people think are silly, but I, like most normal non-troll people, don’t feel compelled to go find all the places these people hang out and tell them how silly they are. JREFers do.

And several of the worst, most disruptive Dicrocoeliumon the BFF are straight imports from the JREF. They go back to the mothership at night and slap each other on the back and yuck it up over the ants they’re able to rile up over on the BFF then fly off to do it again when the sun rises. These are not reasonable people. These are people who derive pleasure at the discomfort of others. Discomfort they inflict is best.

For those of you keeping score, you’ll know that I founded the original Bigfoot Forums back in 2002. I was always interested in having skeptical voices as part of that community but I never intended scofftical denialists to be welcome. If a person’s point of view is that bigfoot cannot be real and anyone who thinks it is cannot tell fact from fancy, they have no place in a community of bigfoot enthusiasts. That’s logic. On the other hand, if you have those who are interested in the subject, allow that the animal’s existence is at least possible (if not plausible), and are willing to entertain new evidence, then yeah. That’s healthy.

JREF members who post on the Bigfoot Forums are a disease to that community.

Those who administer and moderate the forum are no better than the zombie ant doing the Dicrocoelium’s evil bidding. They allow these trolls to live among them, derailing every conversation and thread, sending them all to the end of a blade of grass. The administrators act as though there is a universal right of participation there and fail to weigh the cost/benefit of allowing the troll’s disruptions to continue as some sort of feigned service to fairness and balance. They’ve allowed the forum to become an irrelevant shadow of what it once was.

But, to be fair, the Bigfoot Forums was destined to a certain irrelevancy. The web is an incredibly different place than it was in 2002. We have social networks now like Twitter and Facebook. We have podcasts and blogs. We have so many other places interested parties can congregate and have discussions. The world is spinning away from sites like the Bigfoot Forums. Unfortunately, those who run it are allowing others to spin it faster and further away from being a useful resource for enthusiasts. Now it’s just a catty clutch of nattering nabobs. The cream can never rise above the rest because it’s covered in bullshit.

At the end of the day, we’re left with an existential question for the Bigfoot Forums. What is its purpose? Is it to be a place for enthusiasts and other genuinely interested parties to gather and discuss the topic of bigfoot? Or is it to be a tool for sociopaths? A component in the pleasure delivery system for a subset of humanity that thrives on the misery of others.

I’m not part of answering that question anymore. I wonder if anyone over there is even asking it.

Continue reading: Points of clarification re: zombie ants

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