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Please begin with an informative title:

When I was four years old, I wanted to be a paleontologist.

Pause to consider that I first expressed this desire in 1964.  

That's right, 1964.   One year after the publication of The Feminine Mystique, in a world where the classified ads still had separate columns for "Help Wanted, Male" (anything professional and well paid) and "Help Wanted, Female" (anything clerical or domestic), married women with jobs could and would be fired for becoming pregnant, and Lucy Ricardo's desire to be something other than a housewife was the major plot element for the most successful sitcom of all time.  Little girls could aspire to be teachers, nurses, secretaries, or stewardesses, or maybe actresses or singers (at least until they married, after which they were to be housewives and mommies), but paleontologists?  Science was for boys, not silly little girls who were obsessed with the romance of digging up dinosaur bones in the Gobi Desert.

To say that my desire was a bit, um, unusual is putting it mildly.  I was the only girl in my first grade class who wanted to be anything other than a secretary, nurse, or mommy, and just about the only child who wanted to be a scientist of any sort.  My teacher didn't seem particularly upset or outraged, but based on her age Mrs. Hower may well have remembered the heady days of twenty years earlier, when women could and did work at traditionally male jobs, from riveting the duralumin skins of bombers to serving in the Cabinet.  My classmates may have blinked a bit but she never did, and I went about my merry way thinking that there was nothing wrong with my dreams.

Neither, thank God and the angels, did my parents.  Mum had worked as a high school teacher for nearly ten years before I was born, and she never ceased to resent having to list her profession as "housewife" on government documents for the next dozen years.  She not only thought that me wanting more was a good idea, she expected that I would go to college for an education, not an MRS, and then work.  So did my father, who was thirty-seven when I was born and all but worshipped his only child.  As far as Dad was concerned, I could and should do anything I wanted.  He probably would have tried to steer me toward Columbia, where he'd gone to school on the GI Bill, instead of Smith, but beyond that he was fine with whatever I wanted to do.

Of course I didn’t become a scientist.  I have no head for math, partly because my talents lie elsewhere, partly because I moved from a school district that taught New Math to one that used textbooks that were outdated in the 1950s, let alone the 1970s.  By the time I was actually ready for college it was pretty clear that I was going to be a writer, whether professionally or not.  That I'm now achieving some measure of professional success as someone who seeks to research and write about the artifacts of the past, just like a paleontologist without the trips to the Gobi Desert, is one of the many, many ironies that make up the long, strange trip I call my life.

That doesn't mean I still don't love science.  Among my heroes are British cultural/scientific historian James Burke of Connections fame, who pointed out that connections between scientific/technological discoveries and cultural change; computer programmer Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, who fought sexism and a hidebound military on her way to writing the code that revolutionized the world; astronomer Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who's making science fun for a new generation while he fights the good fight against the forces of ignorance; and of course science writers like Isaac Asimov, Martin Gardner, and Stephen Jay Gould.  I may not have the mental equipment to be a scientist, but part of me is still that little girl who heard about Roy Chapman Andrews digging for fossils in Central Asia and dreamed of doing the same.

All of the above is a big, big reason why I have so little patience for pseudo-science and its bastard offspring, pseudo-history.  Yes, there are historical and scientific mysteries, but by and large they're pretty easily explained without resorting to EVIL OVERLORDS or EVIL ALIENS or worldwide conspiracies of academics and scientists who have a vested interest in keeping DANGEROUS TRUTHS from the rest of us.  Science is as much an ongoing discovery as a set of facts, and the same applies to academic history.  We may know a lot about the universe and our earthly past, but there's still a lot we don't know and never will, and scorning the professionals for continuing to search is just silly.

Fortunately for those of us who cherish the weird, the strange, and the imperfect, there are quite a few very silly people who disagree with my point….

Intro

You must enter an Intro for your Diary Entry between 300 and 1150 characters long (that's approximately 50-175 words without any html or formatting markup).

Tonight I bring you two books that purportedly blow the lid off the hideous conspiracies of mainstream cosmologists, archaeologists, and historians who are determined to keep the unwashed masses from knowing the truth about life, the universe and everything the universe and our true place in it.  Although these authors and their works bear a certain resemblance to other visionaries such as Erich von Daniken and Immanuel Velikovsky, their works can - and fortunately for those of us who cherish crummy books - do stand very much on their own:

The 12th Planet by Zecharia Sitchin - anyone who's taken an elementary school science class remembers the little armillary spheres depicting the major celestial bodies of the Solar System. We start with the Sun, huge and yellow, in the center, then the inner planets:  tiny, boiling Mercury, mist-shrouded Venus, watery Earth, red and dusty Mars.  There's then a gap (actually filled by the asteroid belt) before the four great gas giants:  Jupiter with its eye-like Red Spot, Saturn with its iconic rings, Uranus of the obscene pronunciation, then the cool greenish-blue of Neptune.  Older models then finish with poor Pluto, recently downgraded to a "planetoid" and presumably exiled to the cosmological equivalent of Limbo despite the howls of fury from planet geeks and Facebookers everywhere.  

Thus it has been for over a century, and thus it continues:  the Sun a yellow dwarf, the eight (or nine) planets, and a gap for the asteroids.  There is not the slightest hint that there might be more - many more - planets circling our little star, and the average astronomer (or science teacher) might be forgiven for a derisive snort at the mere possibility that the tally is incomplete.

Zecharia Sitchin said otherwise, and devoted his life to proving it.

Sitchin had an unusual background for a cosmologist.  Born Zaxariya Sitcin in 1920 in Azerbaijan, he spent his childhood in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine, trained as an economist at the University of London, and spent several years after World War II as an editor in the new state of Israel.  It was not until he moved to New York in 1952 to take a position as an executive with a shipping company that he began to suspect that there was more to the Solar System, and ancient history, than any of his teachers either knew or would admit.

Sitchin became fascinated by ancient languages and archaeology, particularly those of the Near East.  He taught himself to read cuneiform, the old Sumerian system of writing on wet clay tablets with little pointy sticks, and began visiting archaeological sites whenever his scheduled permitted.  The more he saw, the more convinced he was that trained academics had such a vested interest in the conventional history of the Fertile Crescent that they had remained deliberately blind to the truth.  In Sitchin's mind, only a non-professional (such as himself) would be free of confirmation bias and thus able to decipher the true meaning of what the long-dead scribes had written.  

He accordingly devoted the next quarter century to researching and translating every Sumerian text he could get his hands on as he labored on the book that he was sure would drop like a veritable bombshell upon the serenely incompetent academics who had never once figured out what was right under their busy little noses.  Archaeology, physics, astronomy, languages, even religion - nothing would ever be the same thanks to Zecharia Sitchin.

So it came to pass that The 12th Planet was unleashed upon the unsuspecting public in 1976.  And if discerning readers saw a certain - shall we say resemblance - to Erich von Daniken's bestseller tomes about Ancient Astronauts and Immanuel Velikovsky's teachings about Comet Venus dropping food consisting entirely of yummy hydrocarbons upon the starving Israelites, well, that was pure coincidence.  They hadn't read cuneiform in the original.

For those unfamiliar with Sitchin's magnum opus, here is its thesis in all its glory:

-    Earth was originally part of a much larger planet, Tiamat, that was located between Mars and Jupiter, now the location of the asteroid belt.  

-     Another planet, Nibiru (also called Marduk), circles the Sun in a long elliptical orbit that takes it out past the orbit of Neptune.  It only visits the inner Solar System every 3600 years or so.

-    Tiamat was destroyed when struck by Nibiru and one of its moons and broke it into many, many, many pieces.  The largest piece of Tiamat was thrown into the orbit between Venus and Mars, smaller fragments became the asteroid belt, and whatever was left became the comets.  

-    Nibiru's inhabitants, the human-like Anunnaki, not only were seemingly unaffected by this chaos, they decided that the new third planet, Earth, was ripe for exploration and colonization despite its violent beginnings.  They therefore sent their proletariat to mine for minerals on Earth, which somehow had animals, birds, a breathable atmosphere, and Homo Erectus.  

-    About 450,000 years ago, the Anunnaki, disgusted with the working conditions in the African gold mines, mutinied and were replaced by genetic constructs formed by the introduction of Anunnaki DNA into Homo Erectus.  

-    The new slave laborers, henceforth referred to as "humans," eventually evolved enough to be settled in Mesopotamia (????), complete with societies, draft animals, a royal class specifically created to be the intermediaries between the humans and their alien overlords, and, of course, enough wet clay and sticks to record these momentous events.

-    About 2,000 years ago the Anunnaki starting beating on each other, not their pitiful human slaves, and blew themselves (and the city of Ur) up with nuclear weapons.

-    Nibiru (remember Nibiru?  Or Marduk?) is called "The 12th Planet" because the Anunnaki (or possibly the Mesopotamians, or a random scribe who snapped recording this nonsense and started snorting wet clay and sticks) counted the Sun (which was a star last time I looked), the Moon (okay, they weren't alone in this), and Pluto (YES!!!!!) as planets.

If you find this confusing, you are far from alone; The 12th Planet, in its 45th printing as of 2010, was only the first of what became the 14 volumes of the Earth Chronicles series.  Published in more than 25 languages (plus Braille, because why should we discriminate against the handicapped by depriving them of this vital knowledge?), Sitchin's books have been read, puzzled over, and consigned to the bargain bin for over a quarter century.  Never mind that academics who've actually studied Sumerian have found numerous errors in Sitchin's translations, some inadvertent and some very deliberate, or that his version of Earth's origins is frankly impossible under the physical laws that govern everything else in the universe, or that his biology and mythography are equally suspect - it's all a conspiracy, you see, designed to keep the masses from understanding that Everything They Teach You Is A Lie.

Despite the astonishing level of paranoia needed to believe any of this, Sitchin's ideas have come to permeate everything from pop culture (the movies Cowboys and Aliens and Stargate (and of course Stargate's television sequels)) to religious cults (Raelism  and Pana Wave).  Sitchin himself fanned the flames through frequent appearances on that bastion of scientific truth and clear thinking, the Coast to Coast AM radio show founded by conspiracy theorist Art Bell.  There he joined the likes of the woman who was convinced that the Anti-Christ showed up in her back yard to predict the end of the world in 2007 (oops!), and the men who were certain that they'd encountered Bigfoot while deer hunting in Kansas.

Alas, for all his sterling public relations, Sitchin never actually explained how beings so advanced that they could create a new species by splicing their genes with Homo Erectus because of labor problems could in turn deny their genetic descendants the benefits of indoor plumbing, electricity, and a writing system that did not depend on soil type, abundant water, and twiggy plants.  Doubtless he had better things to think about, like how these superior aliens were so skilled at gene splicing despite not knowing the difference between a planet and a star….

Fingerprints of the Gods, by Graham Hancock - the life of Graham Hancock, our second seeker after ancient truths, shows certain striking parallels with that of Art Bell's late, great guest.  Although thirty years younger than Zecharia Sitchin, Hancock was also educated in Great Britain (Durham University, where he studied sociology) after a childhood in a former British possession (India).  He has worked as a writer and editor for much of his career, including a two year stint as the East Africa correspondent for The Economist as a young man.  Although I have not been able to find any evidence that he reads Sumerian, Hancock, too, sees himself as a crusader against academic orthodoxy and suppression of uncomfortable truths about human origins and what we call gods.

Although much of his work draws from the same well of "unexplained anomalies" in ancient sources and archaeology that has inspired Sitchin, Daniken, Velikovsky, and their followers, Hancock has upped the paranoia level with decidedly more modern elements thrown into his ancient astronautical stew:

-    The Twin Towers were actually a modern representation of Boaz and Jachin, the two pillars of Solomon's Temple that are crucial to Masonic ritual. That the Twin Towers were designed by an Asian more devoted to the teachings of Le Corbusier than the Masons is not relevant, given Masonic secrecy.

-    Similarly, the Pentagon is a latter-day Seal of Solomon…and if you find this puzzling because the Pentagon has five points and Solomon's Seal has six, well, join the club, because I'm trying to figure this one out myself.

If this weren't enough, Hancock also touts what he calls the Orion Correlation Theory (OCT) first developed by Belgian author Robert Bauval.  This purports to find an exact correspondence between the most prominent of the winter constellations and the pyramids of Giza even though the pyramids need to be, ahem, slightly rearranged and the constellation set upside down for this to work.  This of course has not deterred Hancock and Bauval from expounding at length on their ideas, both as co-authors and in their individual writings.  All of this has sold over 5 million copies of Hancock's multitudinous works, which have been translated into some 27 languages and been the source of several BBC documentaries (usually written and presented by Hancock, although whether this is his choice or because no one else is willing to spout such nonsense is unclear).

One of the few programs exploring Hancock's theories that was neither written nor presented by our worthy author was an episode of the long running BBC documentary series Horizon.  "Atlantis Reborn," first broadcast shortly before Guy Fawkes Day in 1999, eviscerated one of Hancock's claims about an ancient temple complex mirroring certain astronomical features by pointing out that the same could be said about prominent landmarks in New York City that had no connection either to Masons or ancient astronauts.  Even better, Horizon claimed that Hancock had selectively moved the location of several of the temples and ignored the existence of others to fit his theories.

Of course Hancock and Bauval did not take this calumny lying down.  They immediately filed a complaint with the British Broadcasting Standards Commission in protest of what they termed

the programme['s] attemp[t] to create the impression that [Hancock] was an intellectual fraudster who had put forward half baked theories and ideas in bad faith, and that he was incompetent to defend his own arguments.  
After due consideration, the BSC upheld only one of the objections (a rebuttal drawing on the OCT had been omitted).  This decidedly mixed verdict did not prevent Hancock and Bauval from continuing to write, broadcast, and otherwise disseminate their theories, which are believed by all too many of their readers.  Among these is director/producer Roland Emmerich, the mastermind behind such worthy films as Universal Soldier, 10,000 BC, and the Americanized Godzilla set in New York, who cited Fingerprints of the Gods as the inspiration for his 2009 film 2012 with the following pronunciamento:
"I always wanted to do a biblical flood movie, but I never felt I had the hook. I first read about the Earth's Crust Displacement Theory in Graham Hancock's Fingerprints of the Gods."

Need I say more?

%%%%

So…what works of pseudo-history have you read, my friends?  Is there a Zecharia Sitchin book stuffed into the magazine rack of your downstairs bathroom?   A Graham Hancock tome on your secondhand Kindle?  A DVD of Stargate in your entertainment center?  Confession is good for the soul, you know….

%%%%

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Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Sat Nov 17, 2012 at 06:00 PM PST.

Also republished by DKOMA and Community Spotlight.

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