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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #221
David Gunn

When last we left Dr. Robert G. Beezer, director of the Department of Defense’s Alien Incursion Response Team, he had just emptied the contents of a safety deposit box from the Roswell Interplanetary Savings or Loan onto a customer service table and was figuring how best to learn the treacherously confusing rules of the game of whiskers six-draw. The backs of the playing cards used in the game were embossed with grainy crop circle images, and that’s the last we heard from them, too. Until now. Beezer still has work to do, but today we have a reason to explore those curious inventions known in the trade as "agriglyphs."

Crop circles are circles of bent-down plants -- usually wheat, corn, barley and radicchio -- that appear mysteriously in fields at night. They are not always circular, but make up conglomerations of circles, hemispheres, lines and, when the number of perceived dimensions increases to four, Möbius strips. Not everyone agrees as to their origins, but aliens, microwave radiation, ghosts and clever, levitating men with 2x4s are popular explanations. People who visit crop circles often report feeling giddy or nauseous, but this could be a result of them having inadvertently eaten some of the circle.

Employing popular culture abstractions to explain them is easy. "An extraterrestrial slept here" and "the ghost of Farmer Lammergeier found a quick way to plow the back forty" are among the rationalizations made by circle aficionados. Much more challenging is to account for them using empirical data. When the circles first appeared in the 1980s, scientists tried to blame them on the weather, calling them "friction-generated plasma effects of natural atmospheric phenomena," and littering their explanations with terms like Alfven waves, microwave transient heating, plasma gravitation, and geomagnetic activity of the earth’s crust. One scientist with more letters after his name than a Chinese restaurant take-out menu claimed the forces involved were hitherto unrecognized helical or toroidal forces that had subsidiary electromagnetic properties due to self-electrification. The metaphysicists ate it up, because it was even weirder than their own theories, though their Gaia hypothesis, which supposes a holistic Earth is making an "organismic response to human-ordained stimuli it considers deleterious," does suggest that the minds at work here are a chicken almond ding short of a combination plate.

What with the popularity and bewilderment of crops circles, it should come as no surprise that copycat circlemongers have perpetrated the occasional hoax. One circle of crops that went missing one morning outside of Downs, Kansas, later turned up as the World’s Largest Ball of Twine six miles up the road in Cawker City. The prodigiously preternatural force that turned it from corn into string in only 90 minutes, however, was never fully addressed. Representatives from similar world’s largest ball of twine concessions in Darwin, Minnesota and Branson, Missouri could not be reached for comment. Less a hoax than an employmental opportunity, contemporary agri-artists have devised a thriving cottage industry by manufacturing crop circles, sometimes to order. And they’re no less enchanting than those spawned by unknown processes, because the shrewd artist who can quickly market signed one-offs of his or her circles can often realize magically robust profits.

As befits a radio program such as this 221st episode of Kalvos & Damian’s New Music Bazaar, music has also been known to play a part in cropcircledom. The ancient Greeks, i.e. those over 75 years old, observed that geometry was frozen music. Geometry and music were inextricably linked because the laws of the former governed the mathematical intervals that made up the diatonic ratios of the latter. Euclidean theorems that presupposed the existence of crop circles also proved them to be byproducts of the harmonic laws of sound frequency. Surrounding many crop circles are vibrational patterns such as tetrahedrons, mandalas, highly structured Pythagorean-based star fractals, the Golden Mean, which provides the diagram necessary to produce musical ratios, and even tangible outlines of sousaphones. It’s a conundrum worthy of the research of Dr. Beezer who, unlike our guest today, a cropologist out standing in his field, may never have to answer the probing skepticisms of a patently down to earth, to the point of being at least partly subterranean, Kalvos.