Strange Lands

And so, dear friends, we commence another year of Cow Antics. Those of you who’ve been around long enough will realise that on January 28 it will be the 10th Anniversary of Tetherd Cow Ahead, as almost inconceivable as that seems. Should we have a party? If enough of you want to, maybe I will.

But for now, let me wish you all a robust and fruitful 2015, with as many good things as you can fit in your pockets.

Happy New Year!

(PS, those headlines are all from today’s ABC News site. I exaggerate you not. That’s an Australian summer for you!)

♩♫ One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn’t belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?♬ ♪

Did you guess which one, boys and girls? Did you say ‘herbal teas’?

That’s right! Herbal teas are just teas made from herbs and all the other things are made from BULLSHIT! Do you know what bullshit is, boys and girls? Bullshit is the stuff that comes out the of the butt end of a bull! Yes – bull poo! Hahaha. Isn’t that funny! But it’s not half as funny as believing that magic water or dirty shoe inserts or hot wax in your ear will make your life better. Aren’t some people just so silly?


*This sign spotted on a recent trip to Port Fairy, in the far south of Australia.


Eager to please!

The other day, whilst in a philosophical mood, I got to musing on whether there would be any way for humans to tell if we were being kept as pets by some alien intelligence.

Consider the goldfish that we keep in our kitchen.

Goldfish contemplating sunken treasure chest.

I doubt that they have even the foggiest idea that the glass-walled vessel in which they find themselves is in any way strange. Or even that they have any idea of what ‘glass’ is, or what ‘strange’ is. They are quite obviously accustomed to the large shadowy figures that loom over them from time to time, and have come to associate these figures with food, which makes for obvious excitement for them. Their goldfishy brains probably can’t even encompass the idea of humans, or a kitchen bench, or meatballs and tomato sauce (which is what I happen to be cooking for dinner as I write this).

But what if we are like that? If we were the pets of aliens, how would we even know? Our puny human brains might be to them as goldfish brains are to us. If we are being kept in the alien equivalent of a glass tank on an alien kitchen bench, how could we even know, if we are unable to contain the concept of alien glass, or alien kitchen benches or alien meatballs? If we know nothing other than the circumstances in which we find ourselves – like the goldfish, raised in tanks in an aquarium and transported in plastic bags to a new home – what possible reference point could we have?

As silly as this sounds, I don’t mean it to be a flippant question. It is at least as plausible as any other hypothesis for why we are here, and it is just as unfalsifiable as postulating the existence of God, or alternative universes, or that we are a computer simulation.

If you accept that there are grades of intelligent awareness possible in the universe (and our own experience tells us that goldfish seem to be less aware of the universe than we are, and at the same time more aware of the nature of things than bacterium, say, so that appears to be a fairly reasonable assumption) then putting ourselves at the top of the intelligent awareness ladder seems a tad presumptuous. Is there any way, therefore, to know whether our reality is a ‘natural’ one or whether we are in an alien goldfish bowl?

I suspect not. But the places to start looking would be things in our universe that seem to be a little too ‘convenient’ for us to be here. And there are, indeed, some of those.

Late last Saturday evening, Violet Towne and I spent several hours in an abandoned lunatic asylum. Now I know there are those among you who will feign surprise that this is anything out of the ordinary (I’m looking at you, Queen Willy) but it has been, in fact, nearly 25 years since my last Abandoned Lunatic Asylum Adventure.

The place we visited is called Aradale, formerly Ararat Lunatic Asylum, one of three asylums built in southern Australia in the late 1800s for the express purpose of accommodating ‘the growing number of ‘lunatics’ in the colony of Victoria’. Aradale is set on a small hill overlooking the Victorian country town of Ararat, a former goldrush settlement which now sports a population of about 7000 people. It’s about an hour’s drive to Ballarat, the nearest center of any significant size, and a further two hours to Melbourne.

Aradale offers three types of tours: a standard historical tour by the volunteer group The Friends of J Ward, ((J Ward is an annexe of Aradale, and is a goldrush-era high security prison that was seconded by Ararat Asylum in the 1880s as a repository for its ‘criminally insane’ inmates. It can be found in the town of Ararat, a few kilometers from Aradale. VT and I did the historical tour of J Ward on the morning after our Aradale visit. It’s also quite a grim and amazing place.)) and a ‘theatrical ghost tour’ and a ‘ghost hunting tour’ run by a company called Australian Ghost Adventures

I am, as you know dear Cowpokes, quite skeptical of all things ‘haunted’, but I’m nevertheless partial to a bit of gothic fun, so VT and I nixed the straight historical tour in favour of one of the more ghostly options. Since the ghost ‘hunting’ tour sounded like it might attract the same kind of loonies formerly housed in the asylum, ((The ghost hunting tour offers all the technical accoutrements that have become associated with this contemporary folly – night-vision cameras & goggles, EMF detectors (which may as well be called WTF detectors), spirit boxes (more on those in an upcoming post), air temperature monitors and all manner of other nitwittery. It was also about four times as expensive as a result.)) the ‘theatrical’ affair seemed the best bet.

In the end, it was a great choice. After leaving our motel at around 9pm (where the manager warned us that she’d once hosted a ‘total skeptic’ who was ‘completely converted’ after his visit to Aradale…) ((A claim which I took with a large grain of scoff.)) we headed out to the asylum and up the suitably forbidding yew-lined driveway.

At the door of Ararat Lunatic Asylum, we were greeted by a chap in funereal attire who enquired ghoulishly after our health, and effusively espoused the benefits of the hospital’s location, situated as it is in such a way on the hill as to take the maximum advantage of ‘the cleansing airs’ (a contrivance in keeping with the prevailing wisdom of Victorian mental health practice). He told the assembled group that, in the manner of the historical facts accumulated from patient records in Victorian asylums, about two thirds of us would be able to leave the hospital at the end of the evening, but that one third would be staying for the rest of their lives. ((He neglected to mention at this time that a good number of the patients who left the hospital prematurely did so in pine boxes…)) The ensuing two-hour tour continued in a similar manner, with our guide proving to be an entertaining raconteur as he led us up corridors and down stairways by lantern light, through the length of the shadowy and labyrinthine edifice.

I fear that it wasn’t the terrifying and ghastly ordeal that some of our party expected, but for me the blend of tempered gallows humour and well-researched historical detail was just about right. I must confess that I was expecting probable episodes of faux haunting, but none eventuated, and the only notable ‘scares’ came from our guide when he appeared cadaverously from the shadows in some unnoticed nook in the corridor. The building itself was the star of this show, and those who really wanted to see ghosts almost certainly went away thinking they had. ((At one stage, two impressionable women on the tour were besides themselves when they noticed a ‘chill breeze’ on their legs. Yes ladies – that would be the cool wind from outside blowing under the door into the warm room we were in…))

Places like Aradale are, as I’ve mentioned previously on The Cow, among the creepiest and most disturbing structures on the planet, when you consider the thousands upon thousands of suffering souls who once wandered their dark and echoic corridors. No-one needs to do much to make a tour through them a very memorable and unsettling experience.

It was pretty gloomy for most of the time we were inside the hospital, ((Outside, by contrast, the skies were ablaze with the most incredible starry vistas I’ve seen in ages.)) so I wasn’t able to get many good interior shots of our adventure, but there are some nice photos of the rooms and halls of Aradale on the Aradale Ghost Tours site.

And while we’re on the subject of lunatic asylums, if you’ve never heard the story I referred to up in the first paragraph, of how I was lost, by myself, in the middle of the night in an abandoned asylum in London, it’s here (and even for those of you who do know it, it’s worth a revisit – I’ve updated that post to include some more information about Stone House Asylum, and I’ve linked to an UrbEx site that has an enormous and beautiful gallery of interior photographs).

This is Kim Jong-un, the new Political and Military Leader of North Korea.

Here, he is pictured riding a horse which he has just tamed, having roped it in the wild using a lasso which he fashioned from his own hair. Kim Jong-un has been hailed by Korean officials as ‘the genius among the geniuses’ in military strategy, and no wonder after all his accomplishments! At the age of 16, he wrote his first thesis on military matters after studying for months on end with only 3 hours sleep per night. During this time he lived solely on poached pigeon eggs and tepid water in order to ‘sharpen his mind’ and maintain his manly physique. Even now, he rarely strays from a strict diet of pan-fried crickets and Weetbix, attributing his ‘svelte good looks’ to the regime.

Whilst still a teenager, Kim astounded physicists by inventing String Theory (which he says came to him ‘while doing Sudoku on the bus’) and solving the Riemann hypothesis. He turned down the Nobel Prize in Physics of that year due to a lack of shelf space.

‘It’s not like he doesn’t already have a couple of those,’ said a government spokesman.

The next few years saw him dabbling in movie directing, with The Dark Knight, Pirates of the Caribbean and Kung Fu Panda among his biggest successes. Sadly, American prejudice and jealousy saw his name removed from his films, which were attributed to lesser US directors.

Not to be daunted, Kim Jong-un refocussed his efforts on world health, personally developing cures for malaria, tuberculosis and cancer, maladies which, as a result, have been all but eradicated from North Korea. Even though he has now assumed political control of the country, the Great Leader is still often seen walking the countryside in his trademark â‚©50 sandals, administering vaccinations to the needy. He sometimes journeys five hundred miles on foot in a single day on these charitable quests.

Unfortunately the pressures of state mean that Kim will now have to limit his activities as a critical systems analyst and solid propellent expert in the Korean Space Program. It looks also as if his political duties might have some slight impact on his work in advanced neuroscience.

One thing he’s not likely to give up, though, is his martial arts training. His black belts in Tae Kwon Do, Judo, Karate and Jiu-Jitsu are the envy of all Korea, and it is said that his dedication to these pursuits is the only reason he curtailed his ambition to be the first North Korean on the moon.

His reputation as a lady’s man and his accomplishments in international espionage have earned him the nickname ‘The North Korean 007’, and his 3 Michelin Star eatery ‘Cheonsanju’ continues to hold its reputation as the best restaurant in the Universe.

Well, that’s the official version, anyway.

From today’s Sydney Morning Herald:

‘A large metallic ball has fallen out of the sky on a remote grassland in Namibia, prompting baffled authorities to contact NASA and the European space agency.’

The authorities in Namibia obviously are baffled easily, at least by technology. This is evidenced less by the fact that don’t know what this thing is, than that they don’t know how to use the internet. Within mere seconds of the above photograph appearing in the media the object had been identified ((It’s a hydrazine propellant tank, commonly used on satellite launch vehicles.)) by at least, oh, a thousand less-than-baffled people.

The best part of the AFP report, though, is this phrase:

‘It was made of a “metal alloy known to man” and weighed six kilograms, said police forensics director Paul Ludik.’

Is it just me, or is there a whimsical phantom ‘not’ lurking in that quoted description? To precis the whole event: a welded spherical object made by humans fell in the desert. Just how baffling is this, really, in an age where there are over three thousand satellites orbiting the earth and thousands of other flying craft ploughing through the atmosphere every day? Not very, is the considered TCA assessment.

Anyways, elsewhere in Namibia, a less-reported phenomenon occurred. This strange metal sphere, featuring a message in a language known to man (and woman, quite bizarrely) really has the experts baffled. I leave it with you to ponder its meaning.

Don’t be baffled for too long though. You’ll need all your wits about you come January 1.

Oh yes, my loyal Cowmrades. You didn’t really think I’d forget…?

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