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Another "History Channel" Disgrace PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

Reader Dennis Middlebrooks of New York writes:

The History Channel aired a program called "The Next Nostradamus" Sunday night. The show began by claiming Nostradamus was right on target with his predictions and was "a mortal man with immortal insights into the future."  Incredibly, the show equates astrology with astronomy and states that Nostradamus developed a method to predict the future by casting horoscopes for the entire globe!  The show also claimed that Copernicus and Galileo were astrologers and described alchemy as the "science of converting lead into gold."  I kid you not.

No surprises here at all, sir. That show was obviously written and edited by high school dropouts, who are ignorant of science and easily find employment with the History and the Learning channels...

The program then highlighted NYU Political Science professor Bruce Bueno de Mesquite, whose "secret algorithm" allegedly predicts the future with 100% accuracy and who has been used by the CIA to foretell looming disasters. Among his predictions: unless Israel and Palestine come to an agreement within ten years, there could be dire consequences; we are facing a severe energy crisis; North Korea may develop nuclear weapons; Al Qaeda will remain a threat, as foretold by Nostradamus (who also predicted 9/11!), and the like.  The show says that Nostradamus and the NYU Prof. are "two men with second sight separated by centuries." BTW, the Nostradamus predictions cited in the show are all very general and were dealt with in your book on him ["The Mask of Nostradamus"] - "fire in the sky," etc.

In the paragraph above, following "Among his predictions," we find four startling facts that Professor De Mesquite is said to have determined by using his secret "algorithm." Well, I think I've uncovered that secret: read the news, state the obvious using provisionary terms, et le voilá, the History Channel will scramble to make a show about your "discovery."

I think Prof. De Mesquite (aptly named!) must have read Isaac Asimov's "Foundation Trilogy," in which "psycho-historian" Hari Selden used mathematical models to predict the future. Those books were written about 60 years ago!  De Mesquite guards his "proprietary algorithm" very closely. Surprise, surprise!  The man has hoodwinked a lot of people, apparently.

What a disgrace.  I used to respect The History Channel.  What a load of garbage it puts on now. Do you know anything about this charlatan?

I must say that I think reader Middlebrooks may have judged the professor far too harshly. Remember that writers and producers will subvert any and all data in order to create the effect they want, which is to represent this man as a claimed miracle worker. Mr. Middlebrooks admits that he only watched a small portion of the show, so he does not know what more the professor might have said. I would hardly label him a "charlatan." I still have to see this show myself, so I'll have further observations when I've done so.

But, I continue to be astonished at the lack of talent shown by the History Channel's writers and producers. They're unskilled in logic, they know nothing about researching techniques, and what shows up on TV is clear evidence that truth and reason have no part in their protocol. Sensationalism and sponsor satisfaction is all they aim for.

Ethics, integrity, and responsibility be damned...

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Hysteria Channel
written by Willy K, December 03, 2008
The History Channel used be called "The Hitler Channel" by some folks who don't really care too much about history. They got a new network president a few years ago who decided that they needed more shows that would interest a broader audience. THAT'S why there's so much WOO on that channel nowadays. The only consistently accurate shows are "Modern Marvels" and a few others.

There was one show on The History Channel a few months ago that really bugged me. It was called something like "The Black Hole in the Bermuda Triangle." It was total nonsense. I left a critical comment about it on the History Channel forum. My comment was deleted! I didn't use foul language or make any personal attacks on anyone. I think the webmaster, or someone higher up, just didn't want any criticism. smilies/cry.gif

Willy K
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The History Channel Levitated My Dining Table
written by Human Person Jr, December 04, 2008
Well, not really, but it did chafe my undercarriage.

Around our house, we called it the UFO channel for a while. It saddens me to see this once-great resource exhibit such a decline in standards.

Given their recent focus on La Cosa Nostradamus, we'll need to devise a new moniker for them. (You could almost say they're prescient, the way they can predict what will appeal to the boneheads in their living rooms.)

Modern Marvels is a bright spot amongst the throwaway BS.
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written by cwniles, December 04, 2008
In the History Channel store where they are selling this program, the description has some pretty choice nuggets.

"Bueno de Mostquita himself uses a complex algorithm to foresee the future...with 97% accuracy. And his predictions for what comes next are destined to join those of the Mayans and Nostradamus before him."

"Five thousand years ago, the Mayans studied astrology - and predicted the end of the world in 2012."

"In the mid-sixteenth century, Nostradamus used a crystal ball to make a haunting reference to the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers in his predictions of a possible World War III."


I am sure the people that frequent this site need no explanation of how ridiculous those statements are....I was tempted to try and defend the history channel as I remember seeing some quite good programs on it. However, none in recent memory, most now seem to be about ghosts and the bermuda triangle and garbage like that.
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written by AMFCook, December 04, 2008
This show, according to history.com, will be re-broadcast Saturday, December 6 2008 @ 5PM EST.
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Willy K
written by AMFCook, December 04, 2008
The only consistently accurate shows are "Modern Marvels" and a few others.


Ice Road Truckers is good! smilies/grin.gif
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written by Michelle, December 04, 2008
Then there's Discovery channel that runs "documentaries" over the crystal skulls being fact and 2012 being the apocalypse, and UFOs... Of course, none of these shows have any skepticality. Their "skeptical experts" always end up saying this is most likely fact.

Bah.
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written by jensfiederer, December 04, 2008
1) The name is Bruce Bueno de Mesquita. I attended one of his lectures back in my University of Rochester days, he used to be the chairman of a department there. This is NOT some quack - his theories may be controversial, but they are based on actual earthly relationships, not the stars.

Since he is now in business rather than academics, the current theories are of course no longer public, but I doubt that he would suddenly have started to include the position of Venus in his algorithms.
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written by jensfiederer, December 04, 2008
For more information from HIS point of view, see
http://www.hoover.org/bios/bdm.html
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The shape of things to come
written by TDjazz, December 04, 2008
With the "history" and "learning" channels filled with Nostradamus, religion, ghost hunters, and various paranormal excrement, the word history may become synonymous with stupidity.
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And don't forget NASA's connection to all this...
written by Jim Shaver, December 04, 2008
The History Channel is a prominant commercial sponsor of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida! I visited the NASA facility back in June, and THC's signs were posted everywhere. So all those kids and their parents who go to Disney World, then jaunt over to visit Kennedy while they're in that part of the country, then come home and watch UFO, astrology, Nostradamus, etc., crap on THC will have little chance to think critically of THC's content, with such fresh memories of NASA's implied endorsement of that irresponsible network.
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These Days, I call it the "No History" channel
written by Trish, December 04, 2008
Right now, the On Demand menu for the History Channel includes UFO Hunters & Monster Quest. Like every cable channel that starts out with an intellectual identity, History Channel is sliding into an imitation Spike TV.

More than that, I am annoyed with both the History Channel & National Geographic Channel when they include in documentary-type programming bible stories that have no basis in fact. A NatGeo special about Herod's architectural legacy includes claim that Herod ordered the deaths of male toddlers - which appears nowhere in Rome's rather extensive records of Herod's life.

It's annoying when NatGeo &/or History Channel repeat the claim that the pyramids were built by Jewish slaves, when the living quarters, kitchens & graveyards of the Egyptian citizens who built the pyramids have been known for over a decades [and shown on Nat Geo]. Or, worse, making claims to have evidence for Noah's ark &/or flood, or claiming that King Solomon &/or David ruled over a wealthy empire, rather than being either rural warlords or even fictional.

Of all people, those who publicize the work of scientific archeologists like Dr Zahi Hawass, should know better about what is provable history and what is old myth.
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While on the topic of Nat Geo: Docustories
written by Bullitt, December 04, 2008
I have a friend that did some wildlife filming for a while here in Africa. He told me that many of the "stories" that are presented about wildlife (and I don't mean something like Meerkat Manor, I mean the "documentaries") are, in fact, simply the creation of the creators of the shows. The camera men and their assistants will film, for example, a pride of lions over an extended period (one to two years) and the people back at the studios will put together some story from the footage (and some footage from zoos or lion parks) to make it seem more interesting than the last lion documentary that was aired. This is then sold to Nat Geo, Discovery, etc.

I was quite saddened to hear this. I feel that they cheapen the magnificence of nature as it is. I have therefore decided to buy the BBC/David Attenborough DVD series on mammals, birds, reptiles and the earth in general. For some reason, I cannot imagine David trying to deceive the viewers. Perhaps the BBC is also held to a stricter code of conduct regarding the truth. Perhaps I am mistaken...
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written by Kuroyume, December 04, 2008
"Battle 360" on the U.S.S. Enterprise during W.W.II was extremely well done. As always, one must find the gems in the excrement. I tend to avoid any show which involves already debunked crap such as extraterrestrials, supernatural phenomena (if that isn't an oxymoron), and superlative guesses.

For instance, the "Jesus as Preacher" rerun is interesting but misguided. They mention the Quelle but then continually assume that the figure, Jesus, was real and that his much belated biographers (Mark, Luke, John, Matthew) were contemporaries and actual apostles. Doesn't anyone find it 'intriguing' in the least that Jesus had *12* apostles - exactly the number of tribes of Israel? And that most of the religious tennants espoused were very Greek/Cynic/Mystery-cult with very little Judaism? When they speak of the 'original Aramaic', I laughed out loud - because all of his apostles seemed to have learned to read, write, speak, and listen in Greek! There are no (none, zilch, nada) aramaic documents anything about this event. But a lot in Greek and later Latin. It is well established that Greeks and Romans lived in the areas covered by the gospels. One wonders when people will get the 'joke'.

My best advice: Take all books, movies, television with a grain of salt. If in doubt, do some research yourself. You'll educate yourself and gather the credibility and depth of research of those who created these media for future reference.
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Docustories
written by Marcus, December 04, 2008
Bullitt, I'm pretty sure you'll find most modern wildlife documentaries include a fair amount of creative editing for entertainment purposes - for example, if they have footage of a number of occasions where a pride of lions hunt, they'll edit them together to look like a single hunt in order to have an interesting variety of angles, lengths of shot, close shots on the lions and the prey and so forth. The difference between the quality docs and the others is that the former splice the footage into what could feasibly have been the record of a single hunt if they'd had a dozen cameras that all managed to get great footage.
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Re: Docustories
written by Bullitt, December 05, 2008
Marcus, I agree with you. Some creative editing is ok, especially if it does not falsify the facts. With typically only one camera crew filming a location, that sort of editing is (I suppose) necessary to bring justice to the magnificence of a real hunt.
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written by LovleAnjel, December 05, 2008
"Perhaps the BBC is also held to a stricter code of conduct regarding the truth. Perhaps I am mistaken..."

Actually, up until things like Meerkat Manor, it was standard to 'invent' plots for nature programs. Half the footage was actually filmed on soundstages with captive animals (about 20 years ago I watched a documentary on PBS about how the BBC made these shows, and it was scripted and they had to do multiple takes to get shots right--I actually taped that documentary and have the VHS somewhere around still).

They never whole-cloth created stories, though, it was always something that was natural to whatever animal they were featuring. As opposed to Disney's program, where they chased lemmings off a cliff to their deaths for drama.
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It's Not Called a Boob Tube for Nothing
written by Realitysage, December 05, 2008
TV....the opiate of the masses....
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Algorithm, huh?
written by Koshchei, December 05, 2008
When I was younger, my father, a mathematician and inventor, wanted to see whether he could predict the stock market with any degree of reliability by plugging the numbers into a program he'd written on his computer based on recursive Fourier/Monte Carlo analysis. He found that yes, he was able to predict with some accuracy, but only about a minute or two forward (far too little to profit from), and only in cases where huge volumes were being regularly traded.

The conclusion that he reached via this experiment was that the complexity and sheer number of variables at work in something even as relatively simple as trading stock in a single company is too complex to quantify, much less analyze scientifically with any level of accuracy.

Nobody can know the future. The best we can do is to make educated guesses.
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written by Kuroyume, December 05, 2008
Koshchei, you raise an excellent point. I've studied Fractals and Chaos Theory (more of the latter). As you say, the complexity and number of variables is far beyond our computational power and models to predict the future further and further out. The only real way to do it is a fully real simulation taking everything into account (including stuff we don't know about!). That is not possible. We don't know everything. One missed variable could change the outcome of the predictive simulation. The best simulation is reality - and we can't run it forward and backward like a computer simulation.

This reminds me of the book, "Immortality", by Frank Tipler. What a nut-job! His practical hypothesis (B.S. that is) was that in the future we would have computers of such power that they could simulate the entire universe, no, the entire universe in all of its existence even and do basically what I said we can't do with reality - run it forward and backward and chose any time and place and so on. Just goes to show what happens when you mix fantasy (religion) and science together unmoderated and take assumption beyond feasibility.

Maybe Bueno de Mesquite could prove us all wrong and publish the future occurence of every tornadic touchdown by time, date, place, for instance, so that we could save lives. I'll just continue breathing normally, tyvm. smilies/smiley.gif
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History &/or Jesus
written by Trish, December 05, 2008
Kuroyume, You the possible parrallel between Jesus' 12 apostles & the 12 Tribes of Israel. There are other possible sources, such as Horus. His birth resulted from non-normal impregnation of a [virgin?] goddess who demanded celibacy of her followers, was heralded by a Star & witnessed by 3 solar dieties, & celebrated by public displays of a Manger. Horus was batpized & his baptizer later beheaded. Horus raised the dead, & was crucified with 2 thieves. Horus had 4, 16 or possibly 12 apostles. There is evidence that the iconic image of Mother & Infant originally represented Isis & Horus - some statues might have be re-assigned.

Then there was Mithras, whose birth to a virgin mother was celebrated on 12/25, whose temples contained statues to the mother goddess, and whose worship included wine & bread, and whose followers were restored to innocence & had a cross drawn on their foreheads - just to name a couple of parrallels.



Of course, believers in Jesus have been ready for centuries to respond to such parrallels - that Satan created false look-alike religions to trip up humans - similar to the way God hid dinosaur bones to fool paleontologists. But Horus & Mithras predate Jesus by thousands of years.

Wouldn't it be fun if the History Channel dug into these kinds of historical facts?
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written by Kuroyume, December 05, 2008
Trish,

Definitely. The parallels between Jesus and Mithras, Horus, Apollonius of Tyana, Osiris-Dionysus-Bacchus are too good to be happy coincidences. And the closeness of the sayings to Cynicism, the rituals to Mystery cults, the idea of 'gnosis' (from initiate to knower of the deep secrets espoused by the cult or religion) and 'light' (the spiritual spark which grows and shines as you become more gnostic (don't hide your light under a bushel!) - this is a Greek concept not a Judaic one). Even the way Jesus worked was Cynic - have your initiates go into the town, announce your arrival, procure lodging and meals (for free), enter to preach to the townspeople, perform some 'miracles', and move on. Cynics typically carried no money or other possessions and, in extreme cases, went about nude so as to possess not even clothing. The philosophy was also anti-establishment which fits in well with Jesus (e.g.: the incident with the money changers in the temple). Though, by the advent of Paul, churches had been established in towns as is evidenced by letters to the various towns containing them (Ephesia, Rome, Phillipia, etc.). Paul still wandered about preaching but now the religion had shifted to establishment themselves. After Constantine, of course, the rest is institutional history.

There was a program that dealt with "The Jesus Mysteries" but it sure seemed to be something put together by the original authors and less like an indepth look into further evidence.

The problem is assumption of fact. People keep assuming that something (or everything) in the gospels must be based on real history. Why? Even in the time of the early Christian era (before and around Constantine), there were Romans of intellect that noticed these parallels and pointed them out in the same manner we do today. The later established churches, though, did strident work in countering, destroying, and burying these arguments. And it worked rather well for about 1500 years - having ultimate authoritative power.
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written by Trish, December 05, 2008
Kuroyume - Thanks for the info about Cynics, & The Jesus Mysteries [I hope I get a chnce to see a rerun of this program]

I totally agree with your final paragraph. I suspect that people assuming a factual basis for the gospels want to believe there is a historical basis for their religious beliefs. I suspect that, since science & archeology have disproved so many claims in the Old Testament, the need to believe that the gospels describe actual events is stronger. I remember the nuns when I was in Catholic school going to great pains to claim the Red Sea might have beent he Reed Sea under unusual meterological conditions [but they never went so far as to explore whether Lazarus might have been sick, but not yet dead...]

Considering the amount of documentation left by the Romans & other literate civilizations of the time & that the authors of the gospels lived long after the alleged life of Jesus nothing in the gospels is likely to have happened. Also, logic itself would argue against many events described. For example, the idea that Romans would "celebrate" a religious festival of a minority population by asking a mob which criminal to release is absolutely kooky. Another of my favs is the census that requires everyone to go to their hometowns to be counted. Roman census procedures never included such madness.

Gosh, this is fun.

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written by Cuddy Joe, December 05, 2008
The big three TV cable documentary channels: Discovery Channel, Learning Channel, and History Channel, all started out well-intended enough, but quickly succumbed to plain old profit mongering. A few legit shows come and go, but the rest constitute one big profit-based mess of lowest common denominator programming.

If you forgive their attempts to appear factual and accept them instead as high camp television, some of them are really really funny. Monster Quest episodes in particular have that 'Ghost Hunter'-quality idiocy, so rich in comedic value, so bad as science it comes round the scale as very good comedy. I mean, I've watched many scenes from many of these schlockumentaries that were absolutely Pythonesque without trying to be and without insight into their own lunacy. This is to say, in many ways these schlockumentaries unintentionally make for better comedy shows than do the intended comedy shows elsewhere on the dial.

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written by Chaosium, December 05, 2008
Let's not forget that along with the mind-draining UFO and ghost programming they've been advertising Dianetics and Scientology on a regular basis.
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written by cwniles, December 06, 2008
Even "Wild West Tech" has gotten on the paranormal bandwagon now...though, I qualify that by stating that all episodes I have seen so far of Wild West Tech have been excellent. It was just on and it was about seances, freakshows etc. It was, once again, a very well done program, not a hint of woo, all "tricks" and scams were explained. It looks like on the 13th of December they will be airing an "Unexplained" episode. Here is the synopsis from the web site.

"Lights in the sky, strange sounds in the woods, vicious attacks that couldn't be explained away.... The Wild West was overflowing with unexplained happenings. Some people even said the skies were filled with UFO's! How did technology help to craft the legends that have scared people for generations? And could technology finally help put some of these enduring myths to rest, once and for all? Join host David Carradine as he enters the Wild West Tech Zone!"

I hope this show continues the tradition of straight forward, historical accounts that shy away from fanciful speculations.


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Nostradamus and Game Theory
written by zuhalter, December 06, 2008
This show repeated tonight. I was flipping channels and saw "Nostradamus"; I rolled my eyes and prepared to continue surfing, but decided to hit the info button instead. The description said the program was an attempt to show how economic game theory could actually be used to explain the rationale behind Nostradamus's predictions.

That piqued my interest, because I'm majoring in finance and economics. My imagination began to get the best of me: could Nostradamus have been wrongly labeled? Could he have actually stumbled upon the mathematics that led to the development of the Nash equilibrium? Could game theory actually be a fundamental building block to Nostradamus's prophecies? Most importantly, when referring to Nostradamus in the possessive, does the apostrophe go before or after the last 's'? I just don't know...

Then my common sense started to set in. Game theory only applies to situations with few complex interactions and generally applies to the short-run, not long-run. It would be useless for predictions made centuries in advance, with millions of guaranteed, unaccountable variables. But it was too late; I'd become intrigued and had to watch. After 45 boring minutes, it became glaringly clear that game theory had nothing to do with the program, just the same old schlock and woo-woo. Game theory merely was a bait-and-switch! I promptly changed the channel and ate dinner. Oh well.

Maybe Nostradamus stumbled upon a method of quantum manipulation that unveils multiple realities that occur over time? Naaaah.
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Re: Docustories
written by zuhalter, December 06, 2008
What I REALLY hate is when they dub in obvious sound clips in wildlife and historical documentaries. It's really annoying to see late 19th century American soldiers trudging through the mud while hearing a cacophony of unsynced boot steps, hoof clopping, and generic clanking noises. Or watching a pride of lions gnawing away on a fresh kill, but it sounds awfully similar to a production assistant recording himself eating fried chicken?
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written by Skeptic, December 07, 2008
>>>>>The History Channel used be called "The Hitler Channel" by some folks who don't really care too much about history.

Well, I *do* care about history, and I think that description is correct. It didn't mean it was pro-Nazi, or that there was too much "old stuff" in the history channel, but that there wasn't enough old stuff: anout 70% of the shows were about WWII, and apparently history magically began in 1920 or thereabouts. Anybody interested in history B. H. (Before Hitler) was out of luck.

Apart from that, my beef with the history channel was that they used the SAME stock footage of battles, gunships, etc., all the time. I swear I've seen the same naval guns firing dozens of times -- only the location and time of the alleged incident changing (on one show the destroyer in question is firing in the battle of Midway, then in the Solomon Islands, then in the North Atlantic in 1941, then in Jutland during WWI...)

>>>>>They got a new network president a few years ago who decided that they needed more shows that would interest a broader audience. THAT'S why there's so much WOO on that channel nowadays. The only consistently accurate shows are "Modern Marvels" and a few others.

Naturaly, since "appeal to a broad audience" means "let's try and catch some of the large number of stupid viewers".
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and after an hour of questing for monsters & UFOS...
written by Trish, December 08, 2008
No matter how much they try to sound like they're really onto something this time, the conclusion of episodes of these shows always end up with pretty much nothing to show for all the efforts depicted. I refer to these shows collectively as "Anticlimax Quest"
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written by Legacy76, December 10, 2008
I'm a history channel fan, and have been ever since the "Hitler Channel" era. Since I have an interest in WWII, I loved it!
However, I do hate the REALLY GOOD PROGRAM vs. NOSTRADAMUS HUNTING POSSESSED GHOSTLY UFOS vibe they have. One of my favorite shows is "The Universe". I believe the episode "Beyond the Big Bang" that aired last season should be required watching in classrooms throughout the U.S. I tried to get my 13 year old stepdaughter to watch it, but as soon as I slumbered off in my easy chair she took off out of the room. She doesn't miss an episode of "American Idol's Dancing Top Model Celebrities" or whatever it is she DVRs..... sigh.
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written by jensfiederer, December 11, 2008
Kind of curious why I got voted down 3 times on my post....can't think of anything CONCEIVABLY objectionable there. Are people just bored?
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written by Trish, December 13, 2008
I always figured there were so many WWII shows on the history channelbecause it was the first war that was filmed to any degree. There are very few films of WWI, and no films of wars before that - maybe a few b/w photos of the civil war, but nothing of the Crusades or the Punic wars or the War of the Roses...
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written by Kuroyume, December 13, 2008
Very true. And to the previous point about repetition, not every moment of WWII was filmed. As far as I know, the only film of the Malmady massacre was from aliens in another dimension - eh hem. smilies/wink.gif
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written by sfdyoung, December 14, 2008
You're saying that Nostradamus and De Mesquite are frauds? They CAN'T be - I saw a show about them on TV!!!
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written by Trish, December 15, 2008
Of course whatever you see on TV is exactly true. In fact, I have a hand-drill-driven auger to sell you...

Oh, and beware of Sham Shamwows! smilies/wink.gif
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