Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Righteous Indignation - Sponsored by SouthofFranceDelusions.fr

Those merry munchkins at Righteous Indignation Podcast kindly asked me to help out on this week's episode, which can be found here. Righteous Indignation is the fortnightly UK-based podcast that aims to critically examine extraordinary claims and the people who surround them.

The transcript of my news story is below, and as mentioned in the podcast ended up sounding more like a poor cousin of the Guardian Weekend Travel section.

Nonetheless, the story centres around this story of the French governmental organisation announcing that it is keeping an eye on potential of problems caused my misguided Apolcalptic sects in the south of France. Without knowing, I was on holiday at the exact spot a few months ago, so it seemed relevant to me at least. What I didn't find out when I was there was how to pronounce the name Bugarach, so I've had a stab. I know people on the intertubes can be quite shy about this sort of thing, but please do come forward and let me know if it's wrong.

Here is the transcript, and lucky for you, you miss out on the singing.


“It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine” –

Why is it the end of the world? Because some people have interpreted that the current cycle of the Mayan (Mesoamerican long count calendar) comes to a conclusion on 21st Dec 2012, signalling “the end of the world as we know it”.

And why do I feel fine? Because I know the only place on earth that will survive the apocalypse, and what’s more I’ve been there. Twice.

I guess I should tell you where it is, but maybe I should keep it a secret, after all if the 6 billion people of the world find out where it is and go there, then I might not feel fine AT ALL but very claustrophic and it would make the apocalypse a bit of a waste of time.

The place is a rocky outcrop by small village called Bugarach in the far south of France, in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

It is actually this scenario which has caused the Mission interministérielle de vigilance et de lutte contre les dérives sectaires some headache. The Mission interministérielle de vigilance et de lutte contre les dérives sectaires translates as “Interministerial Mission for Monitoring and Combatting Cultic Deviances” and goes by the acronym of MIVILUDES which is probably good for everyone.

Mivilude is a government agency which analyzes movements perceived to constitute a threat to public order or violate French law, specifically where cultish character is observed. Incidentally it was Miviludes which classified Scientology as a DANGEROUS CULT in a parliamentary report, as mentioned on previous episodes of RI.

You could imagine 6 billion people turning up in village of about 200 people the sort of thing that would get them going a bit and last week they published a report saying the area should be monitored in the run up to Dec 21 2012.

Georges Fenech from Mivilude said (presumably in French) “We know from history and experience that apocalyptic discourse can lead to tragedy. This is why we have taken measures to notify police and other public authorities in order to monitor the situation."http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

Bugarach village and its neighbouring peak make for dramatic scenery. It’s a beautiful, unspoilhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gift, rugged and life-affirming place.The rocky outcrop is set within a few miles of the fantastic remains of the Cathar castles, set high up on knife edge crags with the snow-capped peaks of the Pyrenees in the background.

The Cathars were a catholic sect that existed around 1200 AD and were considered heretics by Rome so during their few hundred years of existence they were continually subjected to the full force of papal might, including crusades, persecution and even massacre to the charge of “Kill them all – the Lord will recognise his own”. Jesus only wanted some of them for a sunbeam.
Rumour has it that some of the Cathar prefects managed to escape with the Cathar treasure, which has not be located to this very day.

With the heady cocktail of bloodthirsty catholics, secrets, and treasure it should come as no surprise that the Cathars (and the region around Bugarach) were discussed in The Holy Blood Holy Cross and that the treasure is rumoured to be the Holy Grail, which is supposedly hidden in the mountains.

Rumours of Mossad appearances, Nazi appearances and alien appearances abound on the internet with even Nostradamus noting its positive vibrations.

Somehow (and I’m afraid that’s a huge jump in logic I’m not prepared to take) that means that this is where the civilisation safety net will be, come the end. However, according to locals, that enormous jump in logic is a mere bagatelle for some people – tourism is up considerably and the price of property has rocketed.

In a way it’s quite a middle class rapture con:

“Listen, apparently the world is going to end next year, but I’ve got this amaaaaazing little gites in the south of France where you’ll be TOTALLY safe. I’m sure Ocado delivers and everything. DO let me know if you want to parlez.”

French organisation Suicide Ecoute said that although they hadn’t received any direct contact about Bugarach, “People of a weak mental disposition are much more likely to be influenced by cults, and messages spread by social networking sites can be equally dangerous."

I think this an odd, but bold step taken by Miviludes. To go public that they are watching what happens, even from a position of responsibility, is to publicise the Bugarach Story much, much wider than it would ever had got before. As a negative, this can feed the conspiracy theorists who feel that if the authorities are getting involved (despite their reasoning) then they must be on to something and you’re only two sentences away from someone mentioning Lizard people.

As a positive, it’s obviously a good thing that there is an organisation prepared to look at these events and make sure that if too many misguided people decide to be deluded together, it will be handled appropriately. Handling which may include having a raft of psychologists and suicide experts ready to deal with the many mental meltdowns as a result of believing in an apocalypse which subsequently didn’t apocalise.

I might go back to the area again next year on holiday – the whole area is beautifully and naturally bewitching, with hot springs, history and wines. For me, it is diminished with the all the talk of aliens and perhaps unlike some of the believers, I’ll enjoy it again in 2013 when it reverts back to its sleepy majestic self.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Pod Delusion: Tim Harford Interview

Last Friday I went along to see Undercover Economist and Radio 4's More or Less frontman Tim Harford in Oxford at the International Growth Centre. This was part of a series of lectures he was giving to promote his new book, "ADAPT- Why Success Always Starts With Failure".

This was my first face-to-face interview for the Pod Delusion (actually, for anything!) and to interview someone who is a bit of hero of mine and a sort of nerd celeb was a honour. (Maybe that's bit OTT, but you get the idea). I was only able to attend at the last minute, also the book is only being out on hardback so I hadn't read it, and the interview was before the lecture so my preparation was scant and manic. Unfortunately, that comes across in the interview, but in reality, Tim is such a gent and a tremendous communicator that the end result is a success of interviewee over interviewer!

The full unedited interview can be found here: