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Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

It is edited by CFZ Director Jon Downes, and subbed by the lovely Lizzy Bitakara'mire (formerly Clancy), scourge of improper syntax. The daily newsblog is edited by Corinna Downes, head administratrix of the CFZ, and the indexing is done by Lee Canty and Kathy Imbriani. There is regular news from the CFZ Mystery Cat study group, and regular fortean bird news from 'The Watcher of the Skies'. Regular bloggers include Dr Karl Shuker, Dale Drinnon, Richard Muirhead and Richard Freeman.The CFZ bloggo is updated daily, and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Come and join us...

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Never underestimate the power of Human Stupidity

For some reason, it seems that whenever I put my head above the parapet, some idiot in the cryptozoological community seems to take delight in taking pot shots at me. I always thought that it was probably my fault, because Idon’t really make any great effort to hide my light under a bushel, and although I have been doing my best to foster good relations between everyone in the cryptozoological community for nearly twenty years now, I am afraid that I am not particularly well known for suffering fools gladly.

It is only recently, however, that I realised some very sad truisms about life in general, and the cryptozoological community in particular. I don’t know whether it is because so much of what we do is fundementally absurd, but the cryptozoological community, as well as attracting some of the finest people that I have ever known, also - sadly - attracts some of the most inane, superficial, and irritating.

Let me tell you the story of Jordan Warner.

I am very nearly fifty years old, and it is a sad trait of men of my age, that we tend to look down our noses at the younger generation. We complain about their taste in music, their clothes, their social mores, and their sexual habits, conveniently forgetting that it was only a few short decades ago that the generation now in their dotage said much the same thing about us.

However, in the last year or so I have met a string of young people, who have become involved with the CFZ, and far from being a gang of unpleasant little oiks they are some of the nicest, and most exceptional people that I have ever met. It gives me great pleasure to be able to help these kids who are at the start of their fortean journey through life, and - when I can - give a few words of guidance or advice, which they are sweet enough to accept without making me feel like a pointless old git.

A few months ago I was contacted by an American lad called Jordan. He was, or so he said, making a webTV series on cryptozoology. I made polite noises, but was convinced that I would never hear from him again. However, I was proved wrong when, a month or so later he posted a trailer for his new show, called `Cryptid Hunt`, and at Samhein (Hallowe’en to you, laddy), he posted the first installment. Well I have to say that I was really impressed. To produce an hour long show is no mean achievement, but to post an hour long show when you are fifteen, and presumably still at school, and furthermore a show which is done on a low budget and with relatively primitive equipment, but which still manages to get production values which are considerably better than films I was making well into my forties, let alone anything that I could have concieved at the age of fifteen..

So why, I have to ask, has this talented young lad been treated so badly by members of a cryptozoological community who really should know better. One pundit, who shall remain nameless, but whom I hope will feel jolly well ashamed of himself when he reads this article (which he surely well), greeted Jordan’s requests for help with sarcasm and derision.

On the YouTube community Jordan had an early champion in the person of a bloke with the handle of Methadone4Life. I, like him, went through drug problems earlier on in life, and whilst I dealt with my opiate addictions in another way, I have the greatest respect for anyone who is honest about their weaknesses and how they came to terms with them.

`Methadone4Life` has proselytised wildly on Jordan’s behalf, believing - as I do - that he is not only a talented young man who should be encouraged, but that he is a single minded, ambitious and driven young man, at an age when so many of his peers are obsessed with far less impressive pursuits than film-making and cryptozoology. `Methadone4Life`, like me, believes that this is laudable, and should be nurtured at all costs.

He went on to cryptozoology.com - one of the more well known cryptozoological websites, to post a news item that he had written about Jordan’s new show. He did this without Jordan’s knowledge, and when Jordan went on the same forums - as he had every right to do - a few days later, he was, as far as I can gather, booted off on suspicion of `spamming`.

Well, guys, let me tell you: 150 unsolicited e-mails trying to flog you viagra or softcore porno vids is spamming. Two, differently worded news postings about a webTV series which was completely on topic for the readers of that particular message board is not, by any stretch of the imagination, anything of the sort.

And then it got worse.

Whereas most of the people on cryptozoology.com were, quite rightly, supportive and complimentary about Jordan’s undeniably impressive achievement, others just belittled him, and were rude and unpleasant to the extent of being bullies. And bullying is one of the nastiest and most vile characteristics of human nature.

Then somebody, and as far as I know it wasn’t Jordan or Methadone4Life, and I know it wasn’t me, wrote an article on Jordan and the series for Wikipedia. Now, call me dumb (and I know that quite a lot of people do), but I would have thought that the simple fact that a young man of such tender years had written, filmed, and produced a multi-part webTV series that was of such quality to have attracted the attention of a seasoned cryptozoological professional like myself, was quite a significant and notable achievement. Certainly one worth including in an online encyclopaedia like Wikipedia.

But no.

21:25, 26 November 2008 Thehelpfulone (Talk | contribs) deleted "Cryptid hunt" ? (Speedy deleted per CSD A7, was an article about a real person, group of people, band, club, company, or web content that didn't assert the importance or significance of its subject. using Twinkle)

Well, `HelpfulOne` whoever the hell you are, congratulations. You have just sent out the message to a young man of relatively tender years who is already quite significantly upset after his online bullying experiences, that to make a multi-part webTV show at the age of 15 is not as notable an achievement is being a scatwhore - because, and you can look it up if you don’t believe me, there is a whole series of articles on this most morally dubious of subjects.

I am very proud of what we have achieved with the CFZ over the past two decades, but I am nearly fifty years old and in the mostb appaling ill health. I very much doubt whether I will still be alive in another twenty years, and this is a sobering prospect. Not because I am afraid of death - I am not. I am not actually looking forward to the process of dying, because it is usually either painful or undignified, or both, but I will cross that bridge (as we all must do) when I come to it.

No, I am worried because there is a disturbing paradigm amongst fortean organisations. With two notable exceptions - the SPR (founded 1888), and the Ghost Club (founded 1862), every other fortean organisation has not managed to survive the death of its founder by more than a few months.

I think that if this were to happen to the CFZ it would be a crying shame, because as well as continuing to push back the boundaries of human knowledge, we do something which I think is even more important. We enthuse a whole new generation of young people whose schools teach them how to pass exams and not a lot else, that knowledge for knowledge’s sake is a wonderful thing.

So watch out world. As we enter our fifteenth year of publication, our 50th book, our 50th issue of this magazine, and my 50th Birthday, the CFZ are launching a series of outreach projects. Some of them are educational in nature, others more political, but they all have the same aim: To help propogate the two most important facets of what we do. For we are the Centre for Fortean Zoology - there are two strands to what we do, although they often become intertwined.

Zoology is the study of the animals who share this planet with us. For 100 years from the mid 19th Century, Natural History was the most widespread hobby of people of all ages in the western world. Now it is almost forgotten in favour of television, video games and fast food. We aim to redress this.

Forteanism, although Fort himself hated the term, is a mindset which encourages people to test the intellectual boundaries which constrict us all. To dare to stand up and say `I don’t believe that`, and in an increasingly constricted and beaurocratic world that HAS to be a good thing.

In our own little way we are trying to change the world, and help forge a society where boys like Jordan are lauded and appreciated for their efforts, rather than bullied and ignored. Because boys like Jordan are the future, and without them the future looks very bleak indeed.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Dear friends,

It seems that every time I write one of these, I start off by making apologies for the length of time it has been since I last wrote. I am undecided whether to start this newsletter in a similar fashion. Part of me just wants to sail in with all my guns blazing, secure in the knowledge that whilst I have not actually been very diligent in my writing, I have been doing enough other things to justify my existence. However, I am still the paranoid little fellow that you all know so well, and so - of course - I am going to apologise for having taken so long in writing this.....

KARL SHUKER'S NEW BOOK

A lot has happened since the last met in this corner of cyberspace, and it is difficult to know where to begin in trying to bring you all up-to-date with what has been happening both with me personally, and with the CFZ as a whole. I have not been well over the past few months, and therefore have not achieved as much as I would like to have done. However, I am proud to announce the second CFZ Press Book this year by Dr Karl Shuker.

This one is a total departure from form for both him and us. It is called Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals on Stamps - A Worldwide Catalogue.As Karl writes in the blurb on the back cover:

"There has never been a more popular time for dinosaurs and all things dinosaurian. From blockbuster films packed with breathtaking CGI effects, children's television and video cartoons, computer games, CD-ROMs, animatronic museum exhibitions, and theme parks, to countless books, magazines, toys large and small, ornaments, collectabilia, and even fun lines in confectionery and other edibles, prehistoric paraphernalia continues to scale new heights of desirability worldwide.

But nowhere is this more apparent than within the philatelic world - where the issuing in recent years by an ever-increasing number of countries around the globe of handsome, highly-prized stamp sets depicting a spectacular array of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals is matched only by the corresponding increase of thematic collectors eager to amass an eyecatching, comprehensive menagerie of palaeontological monsters that the custodians of Jurassic Park could only dream about!Today, well over 500 sets of stamps portraying all manner of dinosaurs and also a multifarious assemblage of other prehistoric animals have been issued, with a substantial proportion of these having appeared within the last decade alone - confirming the escalating interest among collectors in this exciting thematic subject. And who can blame them?

After all, where else but in the pages of a stamp album could stegosaurs and plesiosaurs, tyrannosaurs and sabre-tooth tigers, brachiosaurs, mammoths, belemnites, ground sloths, giant birds, and ichthyosaurs jostle for attention with velociraptors and trilobites, dimetrodonts and diplodocuses, mosasaurs, woolly rhinoceroses, Archaeopteryx, titanosaurs, iguanodontids, ammonites, giant sea scorpions, and innumerable other spectacular denizens of our planet's distant past? Now, for the very first time, here is a philatelic catalogue devoted exclusively to these incredible animals. Compiled by zoologist Dr Karl P.N.Shuker, a lifelong, enthusiastic collector of wildlife stamps and with an especial interest in those that portray fossil species, it provides an exhaustive, definitive listing of stamps and miniature sheets depicting dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals issued by countries throughout the world. It also includes sections dealing with cryptozoological stamps, dinosaur stamp superlatives, and unofficial prehistoric animal stamps.

This invaluable book will undoubtedly encourage everyone with a passion for dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures to pursue it not only on screen, in books, or in museums but also via the ever-fascinating world of philately".

The Amazon.co.uk link for the book is here:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dinosaurs-Other-Prehistoric-Animals-Stamps/dp/1905723342/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1226852557&sr=1-2

THE RUSSIAN EXPEDITION BOOK AND FILM

I am also happy to be able to announce that the long awaited Russian expedition report is practically completed. Richard and I did all that we had to do for the interior this weekend. I have already half designed the cover, and once Graham has done our final proof on it, I shall upload it, and it should be available from Amazon within the next fortnight.

The film, is taking longer than we had hoped, but 15 minutes is now completed, and once Richard and I have finished working on the 2009 Yearbook, and issue 45 of Animals & Men, we will make a concerted effort to finish the film.

MY HEALTH

I know that the Internet rumour machine has been working overtime recently. I would like to take this opportunity to stage once and for all, that I have not had a heart attack. Yes, it is true that I collapsed on the Saturday afternoon of the Weird Weekend. This was due to exhaustion, and complications to do with diabetes. This was not the sort of "exhaustion" in large quotation marks which I used to cite everytime one of my clients used to collapse back in my previous life as a music business PR person. In those days, exhaustion was a useful synonym for overdose or withdrawal symptoms. In my case it is neither. I was simply exhausted.

CFZ OUTREACH - PREPARING FOR WAR?

At the Unconvention in early November, we distributed the following leaflet:

"FOR YEARS WE HAVE BEEN THE WORLD’S LEADING MYSTERY ANIMAL RESEARCH GROUP. NOW, BECAUSE OF THE WAY THAT THE WORLD HAS CHANGED, WE HAVE BECOME SOMETHING FAR MORE IMPORTANT...

We are the world’s largest cryptozoological organisation, and - or so we like to think - the best. We have been going since 1992, and in the intervening sixteen years we have published nearly fifty books, 45 editions of our journal, several other magazines, and have carried out over a dozen major foreign expeditions.

We have a free multimedia website, a museum, the world’s largest annual cryptozoological convention, and we produce a free monthly webTV show.We are active in community work; carrying out school visits and working with children and vulnerable members of the community at large, and in recent years, without meaning to, we have become synonymous with the spirit of adventure, and love of the natural world, which once defined entire generations of British children.

But in the last few years things have changed. Things have become far more serious.

Not only are we the only professional fortean zoological organisation in the world, but we are the only people consistently pushing back the boundaries of human knowledge in our particular field. But, perhaps most importantly, we are in many cases the only link that the children, with whom we work, have to an ethos that we feel is very important, and furthermore one that successive governments have done their best to suppress within the National Curriculum; the undeniable truth that the universe is a strange, mysterious and beautiful place with myriad mysteries still to explore, and that it is not just a human right, but a human duty to do so.

Come and join us.

Every community and online service that we provide is free, and from where we are sitting, it seems that what we do is valuable. But we are becoming increasingly beleaguered. We are under attack from all sides, and as our activities broaden we find our resources; financial, human, skill-set, and equipment, are increasingly overstretched. This is why we have taken a motto from an ancient Greek philosopher which has not been used in popular parlance for over thirty years, and it is why we are asking for your help. Will you help us?

HELP US CHANGE THE WORLD JUST A LITTLE BIT: JOIN THE CFZ TODAY"

I was quite upset at the response.

Across the Internet people who obviously had no idea what I was talking about, and who furthermore had not bothered to read our statement, accused us of trying to declare war on the rest of the fortean community worldwide.

The disturbing thing is that the leaflet we distributed which basically attacked nobody except for the idiots who wrote the National Curriculum, is pretty well the same as a campaign that we have been carrying out for months through our sister magazine "EXOTIC PETS: the Magazine of the Amateur Naturalist".

We launched this campaign in May at the Briotish Tarantula Society Show, and have carried it on ever since. It has been distributed through the zoo, at several insect shows, reptile shows, and at our own conference. It is only now that anyone has done anything other than pat me on the back and say "Yes, Jon. Modern standards of education and literacy are rubbish!"

I wonder why this is.

As far as I can see, these attacks come mostly from folk who believe that sniping at people on the Internet is actually preferable to be going out and doing research. Sadly there are too many people like this in the fortean community. We have put up with their ill-natured and mealy mouthed criticism for years. We have no intention of putting up with it any longer.

Another thing which for some reason that I find difficult to understand attracts criticism from various quarters is the involvement of my old friend Tim Matthews with the CFZ. It is undeniable that some people believe that Tim's past is a colourful one. Although most of what has been written about him is completely untrue, Tim has a few skeletons in his closet. But so what? Haven't we all? It is not what Tim did in his past that matters, but what he is doing now. He has been involved with us for ten years now, and has never put a foot wrong. He is a trusted friend and a much valued colleague. He actually turned his back upon the fortean community at large about six years ago, and only came back last summer as a personal favour to me.

We will soon be announcing a range of CFZ Outreach programs which will start next year. These will, we hope, be successful in bringing a comprehensive programme of education and consciousness raising to schools and institutions across the UK. Tim Matthews is very much involved in these programmes, and I believe that it is true to say that because of my failing health, we would not be able to carry these community programmes out without him.

AND FINALLY A NEW ARRIVAL

As you all know, Tessie the CFZ dog since 2000 died in September. Being the people that we are, we couldn't exist without a CFZ Dog for very long, so I am overjoyed to announce that my darling wife is now the proud owner of Biggles - a three-month old border collie puppy who now has the entire household in his thrall. Pictures of him can be found on my wife's blog.

TH TH THAT'S ALL FOLKS

Well, that is just about all for this newsletter. The CFZ are not coping with the global recession very well. Sales of books are down, and we would be excessively grateful for any donations of time, money, or expertise. The next few years are going to be hard ones for us all. We believe that what we do is now more important than ever, so please help us in any way that you can.Until next time

God bless you all,
Jon Downes
Director, CFZ