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On most days, the division between well-adjusted norms and conspiracy theorists is pretty clear. The normals don't dwell on the North American Union or the eerie "face" formed by craters on Mars. Whether or not they accept the official explanations, they don't devote much time to the unexplained. Their obsessive counterparts huddle in Lone Gunmen-style hideouts, rewatching Zeitgeist (don't click that link unless you have an hour and lot of credulity to spare) and commenting on the Vigilant Citizen's latest Rihanna/Freemason expose (definitely click that one!). Being a lot closer to the latter type than the former, I am pleased when things happen that are too weird for even the norms to ignore. The thousands of dead blackbirds that rained down on Arkansas this week were mysterious enough to get sensible people wondering, however briefly, whether the world they inhabit is not merely a shimmering facade, behind which invisible forces move and collide.

Animals--or unexpected objects--have fallen from the sky at various times throughout history. Rains of fish, frogs, and birds have been reported periodically over the past few centuries. The animals are often alive, although some freeze to death while they're up in the air. These showers understandably shock those who experience them, especially in the terrifying case of a rain of spiders in Argentina, in 2007, or the "tangled clumps of worms" that fell the same year in Louisiana. This has never been satisfactorily explained, although in most cases it seems to be a weather phenomenon: violent winds or waterstorms pick up the unfortunate animals and dump them elsewhere. In the case of the spider rain, most people hypothesized that a tornado dropped the creatures. This does not explain why large groups of a single type of animal are dropped though, without any plant matter or debris. In 1876, residents of Kentucky reported that large pieces of beef fell from a perfectly clear sky.

The latest instance of this phenomenon is undeniably ominous: the birds blackened the ground at midnight on New Year's Eve, on the brink of a new decade. The corpses show no sign of disease, but had suffered internal bleeding, which could have been caused by loud noises from pyrotechnics or hitting something hard. The incident occurred in the middle of the night, but blackbirds normally fly only by day. A few days before, 85,000 fish were found dead in the Arkansas river. Even stranger, a second, smaller rain of dead birds fell in Louisiana yesterday. They showed no signs of damage, and included starlings as well as blackbirds.

Most people will surely accept that the birds were disoriented by fireworks and died when they hit the ground. I doubt that even Reverend Fred Phelps himself really believes, as he claimed, that Arkansas gays are responsible for this evil omen. But I hope that a few people will be so shaken by the surreal sight of dead birds falling from the sky that they understand the deep suspicion and awe of the visible world that i feel every day.

An extremely suspicious story is circulating that a movie studio orchestrated the macabre precipitation to promote a remake of The Birds, but the planes dropped the birds over Arkansas instead of California. This sounds totally phony: the movie doesn't come out until 2013, and that's probably illegal, and it doesn't even make sense to use dead birds to promote a movie about live, homicidal birds. It makes even less sense, though, to take credit for a failed prank you didn't really pull. Maybe the movie exec is so afraid of the unknown that he would rather offer an absurd explanation than face the mystery and spiral into a netherworld of cattle mutilation and numerology.

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