Friday, December 31, 2010

Used New Year

"Nothing changes on New Year's Day."--U2

It is 2011.  The New Year is scarcely 90 minutes old. 
Perhaps I judge it too harshly and too soon.  Perhaps I do not give it time enough to "breathe" as we say in wine tastings. No matter.  I cannot hedge my suspicions.

We have a used New Year.
I hope we got  good deal for it, for it is no different than any of the others.  The way that we bargain for at antique sales, flea markets, or used book stores.  I hope that's how we came into 2011.  During this oh-so-hallowed time, we wonder.  We ruminate.  We grasp at straws, trying to divine hope from within it all.  Binging on hope, tricking ourselves into believing that this year will be somehow magically different from all of the rest.  Or we use New Year's Eve as an excuse to get drunk and embrace our journey into moronhood.  Great.  Have a mojito for me.

I cannot help but foresee that our "new year" will be no different from all of the rest.  Republicans will continue to "investigate" the "wrongdoings" of the Obama administration while our economy continues to falter and the gulf between the rich and the working poor continues to grow.  But then that's our fault, isn't it, Republicans?  If we just worked hard enough, there would be no poor.  We and our spouses would all have jobs.  Yeah.  Right.
On the flipside, the Democrats of Congress will continue to be a divisive bunch of wealthycats, unable to determine just who they are or what they stand for.  There you go.  I'm an equal opportunity political hater.
I predict that we will continue to struggle in 2011 with the impending environmental disasters that await us.  Amazingly enough, that is no different than 2007, 2008, 2009, and so on and so forth.  Is there any hope for the developing world in 2011?  Such as for anyone living on the continent of Africa?  For those who don't know where their next meal is coming from and have no roof over their head?  Is there any hope for my friend Howard, living on the streets of Chicago?  Oh Lord, I am sorry.  We have an extra room.  I should have asked him to come live with us.  If you don't know who I am talking about, go to and do a search for "Howard."  That's the easiest that I can make it.  And if you think that there is anything wrong with caring for your fellow human being, if you woefully believe that there is something amiss for one who CHOOSES to pick up a book and grant themselves knowledge, and if you take solace only by reveling in a mundane day job and then crawling into a bottle on weekends, not attempting to envision the world as it could be...then you have my pity. 
I place all my hope in tomorrow.  I pray it is not too late. 

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Let's find out just how obtuse I can be

I don't get people.

That is without a doubt a common refrain from me here at Strange Horizons, but it becomes particularly poignant for me on this day.
You see, at the risk of sounding communist, I hate New Year's Eve.  And no, it's not just because Natalie Portman is officially off the market.  This day is up there with Halloween and 4th of July for my unholy trinity of hated holidays.  I just can't understand the need to celebrate this date.  It is an arbitrary point on the human concept known as "the calendar."  There is nothing different about this night than any other.  There is no magic in it, there is no convergence of cosmic energy or any other kind of New Age hoo-hah that occurs at midnight on this date.  It is just so utterly pointless.  So much so, that you might as well set the date for the celebration on March 24th.  It means about the same thing.
Yet the standard response to it seems to be, "Hooray!  Let's get drunk!"  And by drunk I don't mean just a little "tipsy," but stone-cold, flat on your ass drunk...and just in time to get behind the wheel of a car.  This is such a pervading meme that I believe a great many people observe it purely out of the drive to conform.  It's a bit like the Dave Matthew's Band.  I don't think that many people like them, I believe a lot of people profess to in order to fit in.  Same thing with New Year's Eve.
So much so, that there becomes a social stigma around either being alone or at home on this night.  That's right, societal pressure to have "an amazing time" and boast the next week at your mundane job about how the party you were at was crazier than all others.  People will go out of their way to get to a party, any party so long as the "stigma" cannot be applied to them.  Yes, drinking with a room full of more-than-likely strangers is a helluva way to spend a holiday.  Ahhh, the social phobic's nightmare.  Still, I can't blame them.  I've done any number of things in my existence to satisfy that need, that utterly unspeakable need for the approval of others.  After all, humans are just a conglomeration of DNA sequences and somehow that need for acceptance got grafted into the source code along the line. 

But I'm done with that now.  I don't know how much longer I have in this life, all depending upon cybernetic advancements I suppose.  I just know that I no longer wish to make my decisions based upon societal approval.  In taking the first step in doing so, I was heartened by this blog, Nourishing Obscurity.  I am far from the only one with disdain for this day.  Heh, comfort.  Knowing I'm not alone.  There I go, contradicting myself.  Guess it shows just how deeply ingrained the acceptance need is set. 

So I will not be alone tonight.  I will be inside with my family, attempting to carve meaning out of the night while blocking the noise and stupidity of the outer world.  Living your own life isn't easy.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.  But it just might be the sanest option.

So Happy New Year's Eve.  Or as I like to call it, just another day.

NOTE: The above photograph, "The Season of Isolation," is from Matthew Nixon at Red Rubble.

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Your skin is a flippin' zoo

That is not an insult.  Merely a statement of fact.
My skin is too, for that matter.  

At least that's what I saw on Geeks Are Sexy.   Yesterday, the site posted a video of all the various micro-organisms that inhabit our skin and various other areas.  All brought to us by the wonders of the electron microscope.
From dust mites feeding on our dead skin cells to fungi growing on our hair (hair that looks like trees of an alien forest under magnification), you wouldn't believe the amount of life that lives in symbiosis with us.  No matter how much you wash yourself, bacteria and other creepy crawly things just keep regenerating themselves.  When you have an itch, not one due to a rash or irritation or insect bite but just "an itch," that's from one of these microscopic mites burrowing into your skin.  At any given time, there are as many creatures living in the alien landscape of your skin as there are people on Earth.

I'm going to start charging mine rent.

Here's the video, it's not for the squeamish. 

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The end of exercise forever!

That sounds so wonderful to me.
I read this bit today on Whitley Strieber's Unknown Country.  Apparently, research scientists took sedentary mice and tweaked a single gene in their system.  This had the effect of enhanced cardiovascular and muscle growth that was the equivalent of two weeks of strength and endurance training.  Of course it's a long way to go to produce this kind of effect in humans, but the pure fact that it can be done in other organisms suggests the theoretical chance that it could be applied to other systems.
Researcher Bruce Spiegelman says, "If we learned to manipulate this pathway with specific exercise regimens or with drugs, we might be able to achieve some of the benefits produced by exercise-related heart enlargement."

I am lovin' this.  Like many Americans, I carry a tad more weight than I should with all of it localized around my equatorial region.  I have made the New Year's resolution to shed as much of it as I can.  This means diet and exercise.  Yep, no way around that.  Sadly, I hate the exercise part of that equation far more than the dieting as there are precious few physical activities I derive any kind of joy from.  So any chance, no matter how remote, that exercise could be removed from daily life is certainly welcome news to me.  Just think about it though: the entire fitness industry could collapse and be replaced by one that offers genetic manipulation.  What would happen to all those late night infomercials for the Thighmaster, that weird elliptical thing, and all the other weight machines and thingamabobs?  Steroid use in pro sports could become oh so 20th Century.  The real unsportsmanlike edge for an athlete would be genetic augmentation.  How would you go about testing for that?  Doubtless there are ways, but those would likely need to be developed in response over time.  A less self-centered viewpoint would be that this kind of genetic manipulation could strengthen heart tissue and regenerate damaged muscle in those suffering from injury or disease.  Just imagine what it could do in the developing nations of the world.

On a side note, Whitley's wife, Anne Strieber, is something of an authority on diet and fitness.  You can find links to her book on the subject at Unknown Country.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A family legacy

During this holiday downtime, I've been listening to The Paranormal Podcast with Jim Harold.  I am a newcomer to it, but I highly recommend this podcast to anyone with an interest in UFOs, cryptozoology, or anything paranormal in general.
The show that really hooked me was from last September.  It was an interview with Jesse Marcel, Jr.  That name should immediately recognizable to nearly anyone with an interest in Ufology.  Marcel's father, also named Jesse Marcel, was a Security Officer at the airbase in Roswell, New Mexico on the date of the alleged UFO crash in 1947.  He was the first military officer at the crash site that night.
Jesse Marcel, Jr. tells of being just a young boy at the time, awoken by his father in the night so that he could show the family debris fragments from a "flying saucer."  Not long after that, his father was photographed in a press conference while holding pieces of a balloon...the official story (at that time, anyway) for the Roswell crash.  Anyone who has ever seen that photo can immediately see the "this is stupid" look on Marcel's face.  But like a good soldier, he followed orders.  Young Jesse Marcel was told by his father that they were never to speak of the incident again.

While listening to the podcast, I tried to imagine what it must have been like for the young Marcel.  Your father brings you pieces of material that at a mere first glance you can tell are not of this Earth.  He is then made out in the media to look perhaps a bit buffoonish in order to further the "sorry folks, it was just a weather balloon" story.  You watch this and then must remain silent through the years, knowing full well that humanity is not alone in the universe and that at least a fraction of UFO sightings are of vehicles that are not of this world.

That's why I was surprised to hear Marcel say that has served many years in the U.S. military, including a rather recent and lengthy tour of duty in Iraq.  He is also a medical physician.  Although I am grateful, as indeed any American citizen should be, for Marcel's service in defending this nation, I couldn't help but wonder how he felt about serving in an organization that in many ways, left the Marcel family out to dry in the cover up.  Marcel addressed this in the interview by making an important observation.  It is not the military who are the masterminds of the cover up.  They are merely tools in the process.  There is instead a "shadow government," as many have suspected, with an unlimited operating budget that maintains the veil of secrecy over all matters extraterrestrial.  Marcel speaks of a meeting that he had in Washington D.C. with an individual with close ties to this project that confirmed these suspicions.  Of course no names were given.  Such is the necessary downside to UFO investigations at times.
In an effort to set the record straight, Jesse Marcel, Jr. has written his own book on his father and the family's Roswell experience, called The Roswell Legacy.  He admits that he is obviously biased, just as anyone would be writing about their own father.  Nevertheless, I find Jesse Marcel, Jr. to be a credible man.  His military experience and his scientific training are extensive and still he cannot find a way to account for what he held in his hands that July night in 1947.  It was not from a weather balloon and it sure as blazes wasn't from "Project Mogul" like the Air Force says.  Just what it was, be it earthly or alien, is still open for debate.  Jesse Marcel, Jr. is just adding another perspective on the deliberations...and it is a perspective that no one else can offer.

The Roswell Legacy is available on Amazon.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Dog astronomy

Most nights, I take my dogs outside for their "business" about twice before the hour of ten o'clock.  I'm also up before dawn to walk them.  This affords me plenty of time to stargaze and feel insignificant in the face of the cosmos.  It has also gotten me back into the amateur study of astronomy.

For several years now, the notion of an expanding universe has been a hot theory in astronomy.   Such a theory had long been suspected, ever since astronomers like Hubble noted that most galaxies seemed to be moving away from our relative position at high speeds.  In 2000, this was confirmed by measurements in red shift (expansion into space causes the wavelength of light to stretch.  The more the light is towards the red area of the spectrum, the farther away the luminous object is.)  What's more, all of this seems to jive with Einstein's general theory of relativity, even though he once favored the "stasis theory," wherein there was a stationary balance to the universe.  He would later call this his "greatest blunder."  It's ok, Al.  If anything, it's refreshing to know even one such as you could err.

Originally, the source of universal expansion was thought to be velocity from the Big Bang.  But the laws of physics state that velocity eventually withers to a stop.  So when and where does it stop?  Weirder still is that at present, the consensus among scientists is that the universe is not only expanding but it is doing so at an accelerating rate.  This is thought to be due to the presence of "dark matter," an unseen energy or presence that we really know nothing about.  Dark matter could be a blog post all it's own, so I'll spare you the tangent.  Suffice it to say that theories on its nature range from anti-matter seeping in from a parallel dimension to it isn't there at all.  Nonetheless, this all leaves me with more questions as I look up into the sky with my dogs.

Just what are we expanding into?  "Expansion" implies movement into a space that still has greater volume.  What is that?  What are we in?  What is the nature of this implied "container?"  Is there an "edge" to the universe?  Where is the end of all that is?  Is the universe infinite?  Is the "membrane theory" correct and there are really multiple universes jutted up against one another?  These riddles will probably go without answers for a quite a while, at least until technology advances to help us.  Until then I'll just keep walking the dogs...and wondering.

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

It's official: the "death squads" are coming

Sarah Palin must be shuddering.  Looking over her shoulders at every turn, hoping that a respirator or a feeding tube won't be sneaking up on her.
Beginning January 1st, 2011, doctors will be funded by the Feds to advise patients on end-of-life care.  This means perhaps recommending that terminally ill patients forgo aggressive, maybe even untested treatments that might not do them any good anyway.  Then again there is that chance a miracle could happen, so I won't be a total pessimist.  I will, however, be a realist and concede to the odds and the patient's undoubted pain.  Please bear in mind that the majority of these people will be cancer patients who are in the latter stages of  that insidious, consumptive disease.  Their bodies will already have been ravaged.  While I have never experienced such a fate, I can wholeheartedly understand someone who raises their hand and says "Hold.  Enough.  I'm done."  The aforementioned Palin has called this the beginning of "death squads."  Boehner fears it being the beginning of "government-encouraged euthanasia."

That's the good ol' GOP for ya.  Keeping you alive for more pain when you're already dead.  The President, however, countered smartly and retorted long ago that nobody is talking about "pulling the plug on grandma."  Everyone should have the course of their own treatment placed in their own hands.  Everyone should be able to make their own end-of-life decisions well in advance so that friends and family members can at least be assured in such dour times that the person they love is being treated according to their wishes.  And before you ask, no.  I have never been in the position to watch someone I love...or even remotely like for that pulled off of life support or make the active decision that they no longer wish to live.  I'm sure it isn't fun.  Should that melancholy occasion strike me and said individual makes the decision as to how they wish their own life to end, I can almost certainly guarantee you that I'll be at peace with it.  Sad, but at peace.  Especially if they had been in great pain.  That is a decision that I would want that individual to make for themselves and not have Boehner and certainly not Palin make for them.

I envision a future where end-of-life decisions are based around care and compassion and not religious or political correctness.

Speaking of ol' Sarah, I watched It's A Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve.  I hear that in her book, she mentions it as one of her favorite films.  I really stood up and took notice when Potter made a comment about the world getting "lazy rabble instead of a thrifty working class."  It struck me as very Republican.  
No wonder it's her favorite. 

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Taking a few days off.
In the meantime, here's The Smiths...

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ancient "Denisovans" interbred with us

No, this isn't a story from Ancient Aliens on the History Channel.  Rather, it is from the BBC's Science page. 

Scientists say an entirely separate type of human identified from bones in Siberia co-existed and interbred with our own species.  A complete genome sequence has already been extracted from a finger bone of one of these hominids.  This, researchers say, demonstrates that there were at least four different species of humans in existence when homo sapiens first walked out of Africa.  Still, it appears that interbreeding between the Denisovans and Eurasian humans was rare, rendering the genetic affect present...but limited.

We just keep finding out more about us that we didn't know before.  I believe we will soon learn that what we term as "human" has actually been around longer than first thought.  Likewise, civilization predates what we once believed likely.  Who knows what else we'll find?  An undiscovered species of upright walking primate?  Could be.  In that event, toss the steaks on the grill.  

 And now if science would just investigate what these things are:

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

From William Gibson's blog

During the doldrums of the day job, I realized that it has been quite a while since I have visited William Gibson's blog.  Lucky for me, his last entry was from April 16th of this year.  Apparently I haven't missed much.
Yet said April blog entry was really very interesting to me as a writer.  In the post, Gibson quotes an article on David Simon from New York Magazine:

" "Fuck the exposition," he says gleefully, as we go back into the bar. "Just *be*. The exposition can come later." He describes a theory of television narrative. "If I can make you curious enough, there's this thing called Google. If you're curious about the New Orleans Indians, or 'second-line' musicians--you can look it up." The Internet, he suggests, can provide its own creative freedom, releasing writers from having to overexplain, allowing history to light the charaqcters [sic] from within."

This is quite the proposition.  The Internet as metatext?  Writing will now exist within the digital soup, free of labored explanation as one text ultimately links to all others?  Fascinating.
Yet I'm not sure I entirely agree with its viability.  I'm not certain that most readers would stop reading and Google or even click a provided link to check something.  That is, after all, just one more step to have to take in this world of instant gratification.  Plus, with every link you give there is no guarantee that the reader will come back to your text.  They will "navigate away from you" as web techs say.  

This is not to say that this form of writing isn't going to happen anyway.  Don DeLiLo was quoted on the future of the novel, saying that narratives of the near future will be customizable by the reader.  Ultimately, I think that might work out with more favorable results than just hoping the reader Googles.
Just my opinion.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Does a fruit fly have free will?

That was the question presented in a paper published recently in The Proceedings of the Royal Society B.  Rather existential and not merely limited to fruit flies, but to all animals.  As it turns out, the findings of the experiment suggest that animals exercise a form of free will that is similar to humans.

Indeed, "free will" may no longer be an ethereal concept left to the realm of philosophy, but a precise and explicit set of patterns in neurology. 
"There is no way the conscious mind, the refuge of the soul, could influence the brain without leaving tell-tale signs," so sayeth Christof Koch of the California Institute of Technology and frequent commentator on matters of free will v. biology.  "Physics does not permit such ghostly interactions.”
The study does not state that fruit flies ponder their options exactly, but their actions are "neither deterministic nor random."
I think this is a good step.  The more science delves into this sort of thing, then I believe the fewer and fewer distinctions we will find between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom.  This opens the way for an acceptance of the intelligence of chimps, dolphins, whales, et. al. in a broader context, classifying them as "non-human intelligence."  Only human arrogance would call people the only intelligent life in this world and the only ones entitled to any form of rights.

So bravo, Royal Society.  Now if you could get to work on finding out what these black triangles are in our skies, that'd be great.  Thanks.
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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Need to read: "Altered Carbon."

It is not as if I don't already have enough to read.  All of the paperbacks and hardcovers are packed away in boxes our spilling out of the shelves into stacked piles that resemble the walls of medieval castles.  There is much literature that I still need to get to.  But one more can't hurt, right?
I'm rather anxious to read Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan.  I first heard of this book on Simon's Reader on  Yes, Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran has a "book club" of sorts where he tells fans what he is reading and whether or not he would recommend it.  Yes, Simon is a quite well-read and intelligent man and if he's reading this, he's among my heroes.  But I digress...
Altered Carbon appears a hybrid of vintage William Gibson memes and Blade Runner sensibility while combined with an interstellar angle.  It deals with a future world where people can easily change bodies by transferring their digitized consciousness to a new corporeal form, or "sleeve" as it's called in the book.  The Catholic Church is trying to ban this.  No surprise there.  Within this milieu, a man named Takeshi Kovacs is hired to investigate a mysterious death.  Along the way he is subjected to United Nations politics, a number of baddies who want him rubbed out, and an AI that projects itself as Jimi Hendrix.  I am a bit miffed about that last bit as I once had a story where an AI represented itself as Elvis.  Now everyone is going to think that I'm cribbing Morgan.  Great.
Nevertheless, I am still very interested in reading Altered CarbonReaders on Amazon rank it alongside the writing of Neal Stephenson and China Mieville it would seem. 

Add in Simon Le Bon and I don't see how you could get a more glowing recommendation.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Biotech is Godzilla (?)

Once again, I am afraid that I have pilfered a song title for a post heading.  It's from a metal band called Sepultura; music that I listened to back in my wild days, my mad existence.  Ok, you've suffered enough.
After stumbling across a few articles online, I've been giving biotech a bit of consideration.  Why plug technology into your body when you can enhance what you already have?  A bit of genetic reworking and you're 20 years old again.  Good news for Furries.  If there's an animal you envy, you might actually be able to become a humanoid version of it.  Imagine buildings constructed from durable, organic material.  Crack in the foundation or a gaping hole in the wall?  No problem.  The building can actually heal itself.  An even wilder scenario puts us with organic cars that replicate by mating.  And we haven't even touched on cloning yet.

We're a long way from that kind of craziness, you might say.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  DOW Chemical made an announcement last month that it may be able to actually grow plastics from plant compounds.  The idea of this kind of method has actually been around for a while now, but it's a nifty theory as it would further alleviate our dependency on oil.  Why stop at plastics?  You could grow your own jacket out of living tissue.  "Victimless leather," further diminishing our need to harvest animals for our own consumption.  In theory, such garments could be made either as supple as silk or as strong as oak bark.  Cloning and genetic engineering are additional processes on the biotech horizon.  I think we all know about Dolly the cloned sheep or remember those images of a hairless mouse with a human ear growing out of its back.  These kinds of things have elicited protests from various precincts, but it's all futile in my view.  Like nuclear power, the genie's already out of the bottle and it's not getting back in.  Human cloning and genetic enhancement will happen.  It's just a matter of time.

Science fiction writers are certainly no strangers to these concepts.  I have vague recollections of a film by David Cronenberg called eXistenZ, wherein a sort of "meat gun" was featured.  The universe of Star Wars novels has a line called The New Jedi Order.  In this post-Return of the Jedi continuity, the familiar heroes face invaders called the Yuuzhan Vong.  This race of beings build all of their technology, from clothes to spaceships, from living matter.  There is also a minor sub-genre of fiction called "biopunk" of which I have read precious little from.  Except for the potential exception of Greg Bear's "Blood Music."  If you want to go back far enough, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was in larger respects a warning about biotech gone awry.

But is it "Godzilla" as Sepultura claims?  Well, I could be a nitpicking geek and point out that Godzilla is a dinosaur mutated by nuclear radiation and not the product of biotech, but that's probably irrelevant.  :)  Godzilla was brought about by human folly.  Could ambition and greed overtake ethics and common sense and produce a scourge upon humanity from biotech?  Of course.  There are any number of potentially detrimental outcomes as a result of any technology.  But ceasing research and development in biotech would be a bit like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

How needed is biotech?  You might want to ask that to someone bound to a wheelchair or an adult child taking care of a parent with Alzheimer's disease.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

This snowball Earth

Saw this today from the BBC.  It's an article on how life on our world survived during the hypothetical phase called "Snowball Earth" about "700 million years ago."  Evidence found in Australia seems to point to the existence of turbulent seas during that period and underneath said water is where micro-organisms survived.
One important point that is emphasized is that the Snowball Earth hypothesis is just that.  There is contention over to just what extent the Earth was frozen over.  There are those that advocate for a "Slushball Earth," where super-arctic conditions were prevalent, but not ubiquitous.  If the world had truly been a "snowball," all life would have been eradicated and evolution would have taken a drastically different, if any, direction.

This may be a testament to the tenacity of life.  Living organisms might be like water: finding the path of least resistance around obstacles or wearing away at them until they give, adapting to what we might see as unthinkable conditions.  Discoveries like this may very well one day lead to a broadening of the definition for "conditions for life to form."
Might also come in handy if we need to know how to survive future frigid environments.  And given the potential for asteroid impacts or the self-inflicted wounds of man-made ecological disaster, that might not be so far fetched

On a bit of the same theme of "evolutionary direction of life" that I mentioned above, saw this link earlier in the week.  It is to a depiction of a theoretical humanoid that could have evolved if the dinosaurs had not died out.  Truly amazing.  Sort of looks like a Sleestak from Land of the Lost.  Sort of makes me wonder about those sightings of supposed lizard-like aliens.
But only sort of.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Steak Dinner Wager

A while back, I blogged about Bigfoot.  I wrote of my lifelong fascination with the supposed sightings of the creature and my ups and downs in terms of belief in it.  I said that I've never seen a phenomena with such convincing evidence on one hand while yet having really a void of it on the other.  I stand by that.
It has only dawned on me now, however, that I have a still valid (I suppose) bet going with my brother on the subject. 

Back in the day, when Spike was but an elementary schooler and I was a teen in my "I'm too cool for this" phase, we traveled often.  Our father would drag us on forced marches through Colorado and Wyoming, all because he enjoyed hiking and nature.  Even today, whenever I smell pine trees or see a sign for the National Park Service, I get skittish.  Anyhow, Spike had absorbed all of the Bigfoot books I'd bring home from the library or specials I'd watch on TV.  Whenever we would be hiking the National Park trails or playing in the woods behind our grandparents' farm in rural Ohio (a region that had many Bigfoot sightings as I mentioned in the post), Spike would get a bit apprehensive that we might run into Bigfoot...or "Manbeasts" as he called them, taken from a documentary of the same name narrated by the late Peter Graves.  In a tired and teenage voice, I assured him there was no such thing as Bigfoot and if it was ever proven real, I'd buy him a steak dinner.

That dinner has yet to take place.  Not for his lack of trying.  Every time a new photograph would surface or a claim of physical evidence such as hair or footprints would be announced, Spike would come up to me demanding, "Steak dinner!  Steak dinner!"  It became a sort of code for us.
I am much more open to the idea of buying him that dinner these days.  Sightings keep piling up, as do photos and footprint casts.  Texas appears to be a new hot bed for sightings and many an investigator down there are giving there all in serious efforts to find the creature.  Loren Coleman's Cryptomundo just had a piece about a man asked to leave a nature preserve 75 miles east of Dallas.  He was trying to lure Bigfoot to his Toyota sedan by attaching orange slices and steak to the automobile.  Here we are back to steak again, so that must factor in to the Bigfoot mythos in some larger context.
Sightings do keep happening.  More evidence gets collected all the time and I do remain hopeful that the notion of large, upright walking primates in North America becomes a fact and not a myth one day.  But a physical specimen remains elusive and ultimately that's what it's going to take to close the case...and get Spike his steak dinner. 

Of course we're both struggling vegetarians these days.  Maybe we'll do pasta with vegetables or moussaka followed by baklava and a nice cup of Greek coffee.  Then, after turning the cup upside down to read the grounds for our "future" (Greek tradition), it would only be fitting if the shape of an enormous foot would appear.
"I see a sasquatch in your future..."

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The politics of fear

In poking around a few sites, I came across a comment made by Arianna Huffington last fall before the November election.  She said (paraphrasing here) that Americans were voting with their "lizard brains."
Apparently, she had said the same thing to explain the then-popular-enough George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election.

Huffington is referring to the section of our brains that harks back to our primordial past.  When survival is at stake, that part of the brain takes over.  It's fight or flight and we make our decisions in rather black or white terms.  "You're either with us or against us."
While I'm not about to call anybody who voted for Republican candidates in the past election a "lizard brain" (I would then have to lump myself into that group), I cannot say that Huffington is necessarily wrong.  How many political leaders have used fear to their advantage?  Not simply in terms of fear of the ruling, iron hand, but fear for what could happen if you don't follow their way?  If we don't pass the Patriot Act, there could be terrorists on your front lawn one day, sleeping with your sister.  If we don't invade Iraq and fight their weapons of mass destruction now with our army and our marines, we'll have to fight them later with our firemen and paramedics.  If you don't vote out the Obama administration, the nation will be taken over by godless socialists and you'll never hold a job again.  

Fear.  Sort of like what Shakespeare said about patriotism: it stirs the blood as it narrows the mind.  Many people are scared right now.  And with good reason.  Many are without work and have been for a long time.  People like me see the national debt spiraling out of control while China bolsters both its economy and its military.  This is all before factoring in global warming, terrorism, and out of control crime in our streets.  
Yes, people are scared.  Unfortunately, this creates fertile soil for the seeds of fear politics to be planted and exploited by less-than-admirable types.  After all, this is part of how Hitler got into power.  

Or maybe David Icke is right and there really are "lizard brains" in more ways than one.

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

You find the damnedest things in UFO Magazine

So there I was.  Poring over my latest issue of UFO Magazine as I always do when it arrives and what do I find?  Note the following ad:

So nutty that I just had to read it twice...and with a Moe Syzlac cry of "Wha???"
Let's unpack this for a moment, shall we?

"Attention single Earthmen."
Given that this publication is read solely on Earth (as far as I know), I would say stating the planetary location is overkill.  But what do I know?  I just have a graduate degree in Writing.
Skimming through much of the rest of the ad, I can chalk up adjectives such as "other-worldly" as mere Madison Avenue hyperbole.  Not that this ad comes from anywhere near that New York City address, but you know what I mean.
Here's the next part I get hung up on:  "Beautiful as a Martian sunset."
What do Asian women have to do with the planet Mars?  Additionally, I myself have never seen a Martian sunset firsthand, so I cannot make a fair comparison.  Truthfully, I am willing to lay a wager that no one else who happened to see the ad has been to see one, either.  A quick Google did reveal photos of one taken by NASA landers and I must admit, the sunset is kinda cool.  With the amount of red dust and such in the air, the sky color must indeed be something to behold.  

That notwithstanding, the ad is still, in my humble opinion, a rather predatory bit of lonely "geeksploitation."  Then again, I would willingly send away for "FREE details and full color photo brochure" if any of the "exotic Asian women" look like her:

Oh Asia, I love you.  Sigh.

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

All You Need Is Now

What can I say about this band that I have been listening to for over 28 years?
They are a Warhol painting come to life.  They are a creative expression wherein what you are saying is not nearly as important as how you are saying it.  They have described a few of their efforts as "just wanting to have fun,"  though I'm not sure that totally describes it.
Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran once said that they were "the band you want to be dancing to when the bomb drops."  I find that to be very apt.  In that statement you get the idea of how fun and danceable many of their songs are, but there is that hint of something sinister.  And that is not a bad thing.
While the band definitely had influences from disco and electronica, they took more than a little bit from punk.  They came about in the 80s when the threat of nuclear war was very real.  "Why don't they drop the bomb?" is a line from "Friends of Mine."  "Look now, look all around, there's no sign of life," from "Planet Earth."  Reflections of the prevailing memes of the day and very punk.  Many of their other songs tend towards the more indigo side of the spectrum.  "Cracks in the Pavement" and "Is There Anyone Out There?" are melancholy bleats that were the theme songs for my teen angst.   "The Chauffeur" and "Night Boat" are most unambiguously goth songs, moody and dark backdrops for a creepy thriller to play out against.  Beautiful.  While not one of my favorite records of theirs, the title of their last album, Red Carpet Massacre, sums them up perfectly.  Bright, glamorous, but dangerous.
So yes, they had pop hits and fun songs that made the teen girls (and this boy) dance...but they were also subversive.  Just try imagining Justin Beiber or The New Kids On The Block trying anything like the video to "Girls On Film."

In their own way, Duran Duran have also been forward-thinking futurists.  In fact their very name is taken from the villain of the science fiction farce, Barbarella.  They were among the first bands to get involved with Second Life and also to have their music available for download.  Their music was technologically driven with influences heard still to this day.  I don't know how many times I've heard a contemporary pop song with Nick Rhodes-style layered sounds or especially a distinctive John Taylor bass riff.  The video for "Wild Boys" featured a Mad Max, cyberpunk dystopia, Russell Mulcahy at his best. "Electrica Barbarella" alludes to manufacturing a companion out of "ultra chrome latex and steel," something I blatantly ripped off for On Gossamer Wings (If you're going to steal, why not steal from the best?)  The band even had robots making out in their film, Arena.

For the bulk of their career, Duran Duran have had to unjustly battle a "pretty boys with synthesizers and tape back-up" persona and likewise the stigma of an "80s band."  By definition, I suppose that they are the latter.  If you recorded music in the 80s, then therefore you are an 80s band.  That includes U2, REM, The Smiths, and The Cure.   Want to try taking knocks at any of them?
What keeps Duran Duran from being a nostalgia act is that they have been steadily releasing new records ever since the 1980s came to a close.  As a matter of fact, they have a new one to be released this month.

But it's the 80s once more.  From what I've read and heard of the new record, All You Need Is Now, it's 1984 all over again...and that is by no means a detriment.  Duran Duran have never made the same record twice.  This time, the album is what Rio part II would have sounded like...and I for one couldn't be happier.  I see it as a tribute to fans who have stayed with them throughout their long and accomplished career.  This is the sound that first captivated us.  This is the often imitated but never accurately cloned, authentic Duran Duran sound that made the world fall love.  This is the sound of an arty punk in a narrow-cut, white jacket, leaning up against a sleek and silver Aston Martin, crooking his finger and beckoning over a blonde girl in a leopard print mini, blood red lipstick, and pink high heel pumps.  This is the sound of feeling good inside the cigarette smoke of a club, excited at the prospect of who might be out there, but a bit apprehensive of the dangers that lurk.  After all, all good art has a hint of danger to it.
Find something to hang on to folks.  I have a feeling this could be the best Duran Duran record yet....and it's going to be fun.

You can hear snippets from All You Need Is Now at Duran
Here is the first single to be released, the album's title track:

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Friday, December 10, 2010

2001: A Kirby Odyssey

When I was but a young lad and a budding comic book collector, I noted that Marvel Comics once published a "treasury edition" called 2001: A Space Odyssey.  I surmised it as being an adaptation of the film as Marvel tended to do much of back in the day.  It was indeed a comic book translation of the legendary Kubrick/Clarke science fiction film, but what I didn't know was that comics giant Jack "King" Kirby launched a short-lived series of the same name after that.

This was a fact that I was unaware of until only recently.  I became curious.  How could even a talent as big as Kirby's tell stories expanded from a film that seemed neatly encapsulated?  Heck, the most memorable character from the movie, HAL-9000, was effectively disabled at the end.  And even if HAL hadn't been taken out, a comics version would be left impotent with the reader unable to hear its chilling voice ("What are you doing, Dave?")  So what could Kirby do?
Not much, it turns out.  The series was a critical and commercial flop as the first few issues showcased the meanderings of the Star Child, or New Seed as it was called, illustrating commentary on the evolution of man.  Despite all that, the 2001 comics series did leave us with a character that remains to this day. That character is Machine Man.

Once again, I had no idea that Machine Man had his origins in this book.  And from reading a precis of that origin online, it makes me want to hunt down 2001 issues #8-9 to ingest the whole thing.
Machine Man's "real name" was X-51.  He was the last in a line of sentient robots developed for combat by the Army.  What no one realized was that sentience without identity leads to psychosis (great concept!)  All except for the case of X-51.  His well-adjusted nature came from his creator, Dr. Abel Stack, treating him like a son.  The Monolith takes an interest in this and visits X-51, granting him a soul and a human face.  
When the Army decides to pull the plug on its ill-conceived psycho robot program, Dr. Stack is killed while removing X-51's self-destruct mechanism.  X-51 goes on the run as "Machine Man...robot with a soul!"  While on the lam, Machine Man attempts to assimilate into society in order to better understand humans.  This of course leads to a whole schmeer of interactions with Marvel superheroes as Machine Man comes to their aid with his augmented strength, enhanced senses, built-in weapons, and extending limbs.

So the series might not have been a success and Machine Man is a second-tier character at best, but I say bravo, Kirby.  He took a chance.  He attempted to generate new material from a source that was challenging at best and at least gave us the intriguing origin of Machine Man.  As a writer, I certainly respect that.

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Brain and brain, what is brain?

Ah, the human brain.  What a wondrous thing.  Humans need not plum the depths of the sea nor stretch out into space to find mysteries.  We need seek no further than the interior of our own craniums.
The exact workings of the brain still contain their share of unknowns.  Is there a higher state of consciousness above this one we inhabit?  Is the brain capable of performing amazing feats that we yet not know of?  
A man named Core Love (I know, great name.  Junior high must have sucked for him) has been researching such things for a while now...and having experiences that would freak any of the rest of us out.  Love was in a car accident when he was 10.  He suffered injuries to his head that caused the erasure of all memories he had accumulated up until that point.  The injury also caused his brain to continually produce the chemical known as DMT, dimethyltryptamine, a naturally occurring hallucinogen.  This gave Love "intense bursts of energy" that allowed him to enter altered states of consciousness wherein he would encounter astral beings.
Or he just hallucinated the whole thing as DMT is prone to causing.

Thankfully for us, Love is sharing the knowledge that he has gleaned from his time with these beings.  Human aging occurs in proportion to the amount of memories that you have.  Bet you didn't know that.  The memories, the more the brain has to work to hold on to them, thus leaving the body to deteriorate.  Early on, our sharp-as-tacks noggins figure this out and make a quick decision.  The brain turns control over to the hypothalamus gland inside the brain rather than the pineal gland. As such, Love alleges that returning control back to the pineal gland will put a person on the path to enlightenment and, subsequently, immortality.

Though how exactly one is to do that remains unclear.

I am growing more and more curious about the workings of the brain and just how it is that we perceive things.  This factors in greatly when examining purported experiences of the paranormal.  So are there higher or simply other states of consciousness that we can enter and exit as easily as we do elevators?  Perhaps.  But I just don't think it's the way that "Core Love" says it is.  
So why did I blog about it?  Dunno.  Just caught my attention as stories like this are wont to do.  And now, thanks to Blogger, everybody can share in my tangents and digressions!  Yay for us!


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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

UFOs over New York, & I ain't too surprised

Today is a sad anniversary for the world, so I have decided to post a special blog entry.
Thirty years ago on this date, former Beatle John Lennon was senselessly killed in New York City.  What many of you might not know is that John was also "UFO experiencer."

Author Michael C. Luckman details this in his book, Alien Rock, a text that explores the UFO stories and mythos surrounding rock stars.  I recommend it as it is a highly enjoyable read for anyone who loves either rock music or UFOs.  In addition to the research in Luckman's book, there was also a statement from John himself on the matter in an interview conducted for Andy Warhol's Interview magazine.

Anyway, the first event in question occurred in August of 1973, during the so-called "lost weekend" that Lennon had with girlfriend May Pang.  John was in the living room of Pang's East Side apartment in New York City when he noticed a saucer-shaped object hovering outside the patio door. 
"'What the Nixon is that?' I says to meself," John said.  He described the craft as being metallic in color with "ordinary electric lightbulbs flashing on and off round the bottom" and one solid red light on the top.  He described feeling the hair on his arms and the back of his neck stand up, a phenomenon common to those have reported being in close proximity to a UFO.  The UFO then slowly drifted over the city towards Brooklyn.  John went outside and shouted, "Stop!  Take me with you!" It was at that point that May Pang urged him back into the apartment.
In retelling this sighting to friends, John went to great lengths to assure that he was completely sober at the time.  His fascination with Ufology grew and John began to formulate his own hypotheses, such as there was a fleet of UFOs in upstate New York, powering themselves off of the electrical grid.  
Interestingly enough, the NYPD logged 5 calls that night from people reporting a UFO in the same location.

John Lennon's extraterrestrial encounters did not stop there.  If anything, they intensified.  In time he became friends with so-called psychic and spoon-bender, Uri Geller.  Geller lived in an apartment around the corner from John and Yoko's home in the Dakota, so they socialized frequently.  Just weeks before his murder, John supposedly brought Uri an odd, egg-shaped object that seemed composed of a metal similar to brass...and with an even weirder story to go along with it.
John told Uri that a blinding light awoke him from a deep sleep one night in the Dakota.  Thinking the lights to possibly be searchlights and that the building was on fire, John got up to investigate.  It was then that he saw "four little people."
Uri asked if they were fans, to which John responded, "Well they didn't want my fucking autograph."
"They were...little," Lennon continued.  "Bug-like.  Big bug eyes and little bug mouths."
John remembered little after that, so I'm just hoping they didn't use the butt probe on him.  
It was the following morning that John awoke to find the strange, egg-shaped object in his hand.  Visibly shaken, he met with Geller and handed it over to him.
"Keep it," John said.  "If it's my ticket to another planet, I don't want to go there."

And a few weeks later he was gone.  If there was more to tell about his story, we will never know.
The affect of the UFO sightings on John, however, is self-evident.  The title for this blog post are lyrics from his song, "Nobody Told Me."  Lennon even makes reference to his first sighting in the liner notes to his record, Walls and Bridges.  "On the 23rd of August, 1974 at 9 o'clock I saw a UFO--J.L."   You don't get much more straightforward than that.
But what of the supposed "space egg?"  Uri Geller claims to still have it in his possession, but will not loan it out for testing as he wants to "keep the mysticism around it." 
Given John's reputation for drug use, it is difficult to discern truth from what might have been hallucination.  His description of the entities he purported to encounter do dovetail with the description given by the vast majority of abductees and experiencers...and this was long before the proliferation of the "little almond-eyed alien" meme that dominates our perceptions today. 
At a Beatlefest in Las Vegas, I once heard actor Victor Spinetti (A Hard Day's Night) say that "The Beatles are magical beings."  Don't know if I believe that, but it's not hard to speculate that John Lennon might have been more in tune with aspects of the universe than many of the rest of us are.  Therefore, he might be a likely candidate for alien visitation.  A conspiracy theorist might latch on to this quote from John after his first UFO sighting: "If the masses started to accept UFOs, it would profoundly affect their attitude toward life, politics, everything.  It would threaten the status quo."  Even John Lennon began to speculate about a government cover-up on the subject of UFOs.  Was his senseless murder a bit more sense-driven (though no less evil) than we suspected?  Was it a political hit job to silence him before his celebrity could build more momentum for UFO truthseekers much as he did for the peace movement?  As I said, it's just conspiracy talk.  Unfortunately, we are unable to ask him more about his experiences to get the full story.

Just one more reason that Mark Chapman is safer in prison.

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Kip talks TV, movies

All of life's answers are found in the movies.
That's right.  The movies.  
I've said it before with Pirates of the Caribbean and I'll keep saying it.  I can almost guarantee with 99% certainty that God TALKS straight to us through the movies.
"Why do we fall sir? So we might learn to pick ourselves up." Alfred said that in Batman Begins.  Really helped me out after I jack-knifed the semi I was driving and got fired from Kraft Foods.
"I don't want to survive!  I want to live!" A real heartbreaker from WALL-E and Pixar, the BEST production house making movies today!
"You're gonna eat lightnin' and you're gonna crap thunder!" That's a GREAT one from Rocky!  Don't know why, just always liked it.  Think it just sounds like me.
"Life moves pretty fast.  If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it."  That line from Ferris Bueller's Day Off should be required memorizing in school.
"Pain don't hurt." I always like to bust that one out from Road House

So I'm tellin' ya.  DON'T turn off your TV.  Don't do it just because you think it's what you're SUPPOSED to do!   And don't listen to Nichols and all those Ivy League, ivory tower pinheads who keep saying TV and movies are bad for you.  They aren't!  They entertain!  They relax!  And as I think you can see from above, they tell us just what we need to know about ourselves so that we know how to live!  

So get out there and live!  LIVE!  Soak up all that hope that the TV is pumping out (you hear that, Green Bay Packers?  Hope!  You can STILL capture the NFC North!)  You'll be a better person for it.  And stay away from shit like PBS and the History Channel.  That'll just rot your brain.

Peace, Love, and smoked BBQ,


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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Giants among us

The realm of hominology has a few new and interesting finds coming out of Russian and a couple of the former Soviet republics.
In case you're wondering, "hominology" is a term coined by Russian researcher Dmitri Bayanov to denote those investigations that study humanity’s as yet-undiscovered near-relatives, including Almas, Yeti, Bigfoot/Sasquatch, and other unknown hominids.  Shall we continue?  Thanks.

There appears to be evidence of giants among us.  Just yesterday, famed cryptid researcher, Loren Coleman posted this story on his site, Cryptomundo.  Along with the article came startling photographs from Russian researchers, photographs of enormous (19 inches long), four-toed, human-like footprint casts that dwarf even casts of supposed Bigfoot and Alma tracks.  Naturally this all leads into a new book by Coleman and Mark Hall called, True Giants: Is Gigantopithecus Still Alive?  The book supposedly contains accounts of sightings as well as evidence unearthed by Russian researchers.

Coleman is a good guy...and I'm not just saying that because he's an Illinois native.  He researches cases thoroughly and is not prone to exaggerating for drama's sake.  Therefore, if he is talking about the possible existence of an isolated population of Gigantopithecus, I'm listening.
For those of you who might not know, Gigantopithecus is thought to be the largest ape ever to have lived.  To the best of my knowledge, only the fossilized remains of jaws and teeth from Gigantopithecus have ever been found, but anthropologists have extrapolated from the jaws that the creature must have been close to 10 feet tall and weighed just over 1,000 pounds.  That's big.
It would also explain why there seems to be no sign of Bigfoot in the fossil record.  There is record, it's just called Gigantopithecus.  However, the estimated size of those giants is greater even than your average Bigfoot, according to sightings and footprints that is.  Not only that, but it is thought that a creature of such immense size would place far too much strain on its leg muscles if it walked in an upright, bipedal manner.  Therefore, Giganto was thought to use its knuckles in addition to its legs for locomotion, much as gorillas do.  Again, another difference from Bigfoot.  Could sasquatch and yeti be evolutionary offshoots of Gigantopithecus?  Hominids that adapted to new environments be becoming smaller and faster?  Only time will tell.

Nevertheless, human culture is replete with stories about giants.  Could that be because it turns out humans lived along side Gigantopithecus there for a while?  And if so, could it be that a few of them still survive to this day?  If the folklore and accounts from Asia are any indication, then that might very well be the case.
I'm still not certain if these giants are among us.  It seems that they would stand out rather obviously.  But if their habitat is now confined to secluded locales, that raises a great many new possibilities.  If a population of Gigantopithecus is found, I would also argue that that bolsters the case for the existence of Bigfoot and other yet-to-be-discovered hominids.  
At any rate, we do ourselves a disservice by towing the "don't break the taboo" line of academia which says "if it's not supposed to be there, don't look for it."  I'm just glad folks like Coleman are out there looking.

And by the by, if Gigantopithecus really is still out there, then I must I can do what I can to never run into one of the things in the wild.  Not that I go camping or hiking in Asia all that much, but I just want to take precautions.  Yeesh.

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Monday, December 6, 2010

"The Matrix" revisited

While going through my usual Sunday domestics, I decided to watch The Matrix.
When I originally saw the film in 1999, I thought it was gooey pap.  Entertaining Hollywood drivel that kept me occupied until the release of The Phantom Menace.  I decided to own a copy of The Matrix pretty much just for the pretty mind candy.
Over time, however, I began to appreciate the film much more.  The question of "what is real?", the obvious Platonic allusions and the Greek allegory of the cave all blended with the philosophy of the East ("there is no spoon") all serve to transform The Matrix into a far deeper opus than I originally gave it credit for being.  It's still a glorified action movie in many respects and watching Keanu hop around and shoot people no doubt encouraged kids to join the military, believing such feats of the body to be possible, but questioning "reality," defying how others define you, that's heady stuff.
As the film and its subsequent sequels raked in more and more money, the capitalist machine really geared up and churned about book after book that asked, "are we really living in a matrix?"  David Icke is just one of the many conspiracy theorists on this gravy train (here is another example.)  Given our own advancements in virtual reality and sensory perception, it's not entirely unbelievable that an advanced power might be running our entire lives and existence as a simulation.  After all, how would we know otherwise?  I can offer no evidence to the contrary and can only await the theory's proponents to submit solid evidence to prove their point.  Still waiting.

I don't believe that The Matrix struck such a nerve because deep down we suspect that we're all trapped inside a pre-programmed computer simulation.  Many of us feel like something just isn't right, but I suspect that has more to do with human nature than any insidious plot foisted upon us by lizard people.  
We have been forced into a matrix.  Here it is: birth, church, school, patriotism, job, marriage, kids, death.  Belay original thought and creativity and smash yourself into the cookie cutter.  Ever been at work, going through a drudgery such as paperwork and inwardly yearning to finish reading an article you saw online?  That's because one activity feeds your mind and soul, the other doesn't.  We stuff that inner impulse down and return to our jobs because we have to.  In the end, I suppose we all are slaves to the matrix.  This sort of thing is blatantly demonstrated in the early third of the film.

So whenever we see Keanu unplug and then gun down a lobby full of corporate tools, we secretly wish we were doing it too.  Perhaps not as violently, but with the same sense of triumph in the human spirit.  For there is indeed a matrix...and it is entirely of our own construction.

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Art imitates the transhuman

They say that art imitates life.  If that is the case, then the Singularity must be on a great many people's minds.  Or at the very least, the future.  Even though the future is now if you ask Warren Ellis.

A blurb in from music critic Greg Kot (whom I am normally not a fan of) in this morning's Chicago Tribune pointed out a trend in pop music of the past year.  He calls it "android chic."
Examples of this range from the cover art of Christina Aguilera's record, Bionic, to the stage set of the Black Eyed Peas' recent tour, which came complete with green lasers and a sci fi Fergie (see above).  Another example cited was the prevalence of Auto-Tune in pop records, making singers sound like, as Kot put it, "like HAL from 2001."  That last quote really makes me wonder if Kot has even seen 2001, but I digress.

It is true that futurism is as much a subject for artists today as it ever has been.  Lady Gaga and Rhianna are examples of artists following in a line long of succession in such a concept.  Bowie built much of his career on the meme with the magnificence that is "Space Oddity," "Starman," "Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars," just to name a few (hold tight, fellow Bowie mavens.  This may just be the subject of a future post.)  Technology like Auto-Tune has driven rock and pop music for a long while now.  Sometimes the results have been sublime, such as in the cases of The Cure, The Killers, Gary Numan, and of course, my beloved Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran.  It has also cursed us with much schlock, such as...well, nearly anyone who uses Auto-Tune.

So no, "android chic" is not about to go away anytime soon.  One quote made by Janelle Monae in the above mentioned article truly resonated with me.  It was in regard to her concept of "The ArchAndroid:"
"The android to me represents the other in our society.  I can connect to the other, because it has so many parallels to my own life--just by being a female, African-American artist in today's music industry."

I couldn't agree more.  And I am excited to see where musicians, as well as writers and all other artists take this mirror reflection of ourselves in the future.

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Saturday, December 4, 2010

Transhuman armageddon!

Last night's Coast To Coast AM featured researcher Tom Horn.  Apparently (and I'm going by the show summary I get from the C2C newsletter), Horn bemoaned advancements in genetics and cybernetics, warning that we are headed for a new kind of arms race.
He contends that the Pentagon sees that "the human enhancement revolution is just around the corner."  New wars will be fought with deadly combinations of robotics and biotech.  That is not entirely false.  Remote controlled weapons systems like UAVs are becoming more and more integrated into frontline combat.
Horn went on to warn of The Singularity, in which the human brain itself can be altered by technology.  This, he argues, will only open a causeway to beings from alternate dimensions.  That and there is a war coming between "normal humans" and advanced, augmented human constructs known as "artilects."  Interestingly enough, this very notion has been discussed in Forbes magazine, of all places.  And here I was expecting the notion to be found in Science Fiction and Fantasy.

I cannot begin to draw the number of comparisons there are between the "profundity" of Horn's scenario and science fiction memes.  This is not surprising.  There is an old adage that I believe holds true here: any technology that is around at the time of our birth is seen as commonplace.  Any technology that arrives before we turn 30 is new and exciting to us.  Any technology that arrives past age 30 is something to be feared and distrusted.  As a tech geek or "techie" as Kip would call it, I've never subscribed to that interpretation of technological development.  You cannot fight progress any more than you can halt the proliferation of television at this point.
Of course there will be pitfalls that come from the advancement of cybernetics.  Of course the awful side of human nature will come through and exploit the advancements towards ill ends.  Kurzweil himself warned that the war between humans and cyborgs would be a quick one and wouldn't turn out so well for us.

Still, to succumb to fear and cease to work on cybernetics and human/technological integration is a bit like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  There are myriad good things can and will come of this.  True, we should be on guard against probable pitfalls, but we should not fear the least not in terms of transhumanism.  Society itself is another matter.

Look out!  Dear God, it's coming for you next!

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Friday, December 3, 2010

"Well it's your own fault if you don't have a job."

That headline is a direct quote from a comment left by a "conservative all the way" on an MSNBC article regarding how over two million US citizens may lose unemployment benefits.  I'd cite the post, but I have blocked both the screen name and the article's location from my mind in the interest of my own mental and emotional health.
My problem, aside from its callous and insensitive treatment of others, is that I don't think the opinion is unique.  I believe that it is an unstated undercurrent amongst many of our political leaders, mainly conservatives.  
All the unemployed people that I know hate the fact that they are collecting unemployment.  They want to work.  That bears repeating.  They want to work.  People with Masters degrees are applying to Wal Mart and to grocery stores because any job beats having no job.  Trust me, "getting paid to do nothing" is not nearly as glamorous as it sounds.  Mostly because you are not getting paid to do nothing.  You are getting paid so that gas can go into your car and you can get to a job interview.  You are getting paid to keep a roof over your head while you email resume after resume to any open position.  You are getting paid so that you don't have to make the choice between making the copay on your medications (if you even have health care) and paying the heating bill.
I really don't know where these politicians and pundits get their nerve.  It's an esoteric myopia, one that almost actively wants to see us devolve into a Mad Max society, complete with fights in the shopping malls for the last bottles of water.  That's right, if the fittest will be the fightest, then the fittest will survive.  For a bunch of fundies, they can be quite Darwinian.

There aren't many ways that I view humans as being essentially different than animals, but there is one aspect of our collective psyche that I believe sets us apart from a herd of gazelles or water buffalo.  
When chased by a lion, these animals are perfectly satisfied to allow the sick, the injured, or otherwise weak among them to fall down and be prey to the predator.  People are not like that.  Not most of the time, anyway.  We will stop and lift up those who have fallen down.  This doesn't mean that we will or should build them mansions with hot tubs and a Porsche in the garage or guarantee that they'll never have to work again, but we will at least see them through the immediate danger.  It's part of who we are and who we have to be if society is to progress.

I wonder if our elected leaders know that.

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