Friday, July 30, 2010

My open letter to Glenn Beck

Dear Glenn,
'Sup.  Me?  Just getting ready to head out to visit my Grandma for a few days.  It's her birthday, y'know.  I'm taking a look at the comics and science fiction novels I'm going to take with me.  I know, I know, I've several pages to still slog through in Timothy Good's Above Top Secret (I think you'd like it, it's all about conspiracy), but that tome is far too bulky to pack.  I'll probably bring Dune, even though I've read it before.  For one weird reason or another, I always read Dune when I'm there.  Have you read it?  No?  Give it a whirl sometime.  Maybe I'll bring Perry Rhodan along as well.
What's that?  My Grandma?  Oh, she's great, thanks for asking.  Yep, the big nine-oh. And she's still healthy and vibrant.  Hope I've got those genes in me, y'knowwhatImean?  She's one of the dearest, sweetest women I've ever known and I pray she's around for another 90 years. 
But she did say the oddest thing to my mother the other day.  "So, are you buying gold?"   Now I've never seen your show, but the talk of you hawking gold has been all over the news.  I'm no Columbo, but it wasn't hard to make the connection.  I've not had quite the same antipathy for you as others have.  Your show was one I had long since written off as "infotainment," someone saying shocking things that they don't necessarily believe, but it brings attention and attention makes good bank.  I get that.  Plus, I heard you were having thriller writers on your program.  'Bout time we had our own "Oprah book club" leader.  As for your political views, well, I just figured you were more of a shock-jock version of Rush Limbaugh (by the way, didn't you start in shock radio?)  Case in point, this gem of yours: "'The most used phrase in my administration if I were to be President would be 'What the hell you mean we're out of missiles?' '' (You, January 2009)
Then my Grandma says we should buy gold.  I must question that advice if it's meant to prepare us for the collapse of civilization.  Gold won't be worth much then.  In fact, it will be about as useful as a writer like me will be.  Weird thing though, Glenn, the strange comments from Grandma didn't stop there.  She started talking about "Nazis" in the White House and a supposed confirmation of that from my aunt who works at an area air force base.
I decided to unpack all that for a bit.  This base in question has long been a hub for air force research and design.  Back in the 1950s, the place was lousy with Nazis...Nazis brought over here by the good ol' U.S. of A. in Operation Paperclip.  There were also alien bodies and technology, but that's a whole other can of tuna.  So I suppose my aunt could've seen a Nazi, but he had to have been pretty old.
Pressing further, I followed this "Nazi" thread within the context of the previous comment on gold.  I came up with this clip.  
As I elaborated earlier, my Grandma is a wonderful person, but she was not blessed with the same kind of education I was fortunate enough to have in critical thinking and especially in the methods of rhetoric.  Additionally, she lived through the Great Depression and through World War II when she was but a new mother, scared that her husband would have to go off to fight.  Any time you say "Nazi" or "Communist," she naturally gets concerned as I'm sure many of her generation do.  
Lucky for you.  No, you never came out and called the Obama Administration "Nazis."  You let context do that for you.  You never called the health care bill a "eugenics program," you did it with visual aids.  Nice "rhetrickory."  By the by, not sure the Nazis would be big buddies of Obama.  He's got a bit too much of a tan for their tastes.
Sad thing is, I once saw you as harmless political entertainment, someone with no real political agenda to push forward and really all about making good bank (and you are.)  That's before I saw that people would actually start believing in you.  If my Grandmother thinks you a prophet, I have to ask, how many others are thinking the same?  How many elderly, sick, or disenfranchised are you preying upon by manipulating their fears with a "shock and awe" campaign?  It's amazing the kind of hateful things one can say in this nation so long as they are behind a shield imprinted with a cross and draped in red, white, and blue.  The more I look into you, the more the harebrained, crockpot conspiracy theories of the Internet become sane and lucid by comparison.  I mean, do you actually read history?  Keith Olbermann zinged you pretty good on that point.  You make me frightened not just for the future of civilization but for homo sapiens in general.
Yes, I once thought you harmless.  But if we're making Nazi comparisons here, I'm certain people thought the same of Goebbels at one point, people who were so poor and so down that they didn't know any better.  So if you think that Obama is out to communize our Nazism or something like that, that's fine.  Just find another way to express it that won't do any damage.  A cartoon, maybe, or silly political satire done with puppets like the British did with Spitting Image.  I don't wish to curtail your right to free speech or amputate your moneymaker (and that is after all what this is about, isn't it?)  No, why that would make me a Nazi.  But I do want you to show responsibility and accountability for the perceptions that you create...or fabricate.

And don't frighten my Grandmother again, you son of a bitch.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Crop Circles: older than you think

 The occurrence of crop circles has been much maligned and with good reason.  There have been any number of videotapes that catalog exactly how organized fakers have perpetrated such hoaxes and there have been crop formations whose artistic inspiration obviously came from around these parts. As so..

That one looks to me like an old dot matrix print out, like the kind I did of Snoopy when I was in grade school .  Even looks like it's on that same tan and green striped paper.  Oh the biomass I destroyed with all of those printouts.  Oh the small of ribbon cartridges and overworked CPUs.  But I digress...
I did not know that crop circles are hardly a new phenomenon.  In fact, they go back at least as far as the 17th Century.  This article details an English newspaper report from August, 1678 that describes an "apparition overnight of a strange design in a field of oats, so neatly pressed that ‘no mortal man was able to do the like’ which was attributed to the ‘devil or some infernal spirit’. By convoluted logic this apparition confirmed the existence of God since, it was argued, if devils have a Hell then there must be a Heaven, and a God."
In addition to enjoying the bit of theological discourse towards the end, I was intrigued by the idea that these sorts of crop formations have been around since before the advent of electronic mass media.  Pressing on, I found that the incident in the newspaper report was blamed on a Satanic entity known as "the Devil Mower."  As is typical with these sorts of things, there was a folkloric tale that accompanied it, all about a farmer who would "rather the Devil mow a field than himself" or some such.  Then speak of the devil and the devil appears.
The nature of the explanation makes sense for the times.  There has been a solid argument that unexplained events of the past were blamed on the fantasies of the day; faeries, spirits, succubi, and the like (hopefully my brother will read this and weigh on the matter as he is far more knowledgeable on this subject than me.)  Now, in the age of computers, nuclear power, and space travel, we have new forms for "demons" who come in the night to abduct us, scrawl graffiti in our fields, and exsanguinate our cattle.  I of course am talking about aliens. 
I'm not a big fan of crop circles.  The sheer weight of the evidence for fakery is overwhelming.  Yet this 1678 anomaly does intrigue me.  Are we dealing a secret society of hoaxers that goes back hundreds of years?  Or is it a natural occurrence that we just don't yet understand, something to do with ball lightning or electromagnetism?  Or is it something else altogether stranger? 

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Hey, man! Do you i-Dose?

Those crazy kids today.  When I first heard of this concept, I thought it was the most transhuman, cyberpunk notion I had heard of in a long time.  I mean, something straight out of a Gibson novel.  Imagine getting high off of a digital drug; nothing to be smoked, swallowed, ingested, or even absorbed through the epidermis.  
I also thought it was a steamy load of manure, wafting its way into the nostrils of panicked suburban parents.
The act of "i-Dosing" is undertaken via a pair of headphones.  Two audio waves played at slightly different frequencies create a binaural effect that supposedly transports the listener into an altered state.  It's not an overly flawed hypothesis.  If something affects the inner ear it will therefore be affecting the brain and how one perceives their surroundings.  Plus, sonic "drugs" were experimented with back in the 1990s as painkillers for wounded soldiers.  We never quite got it to work to that end, but there is a bit of evidence that shows sonic treatments have benefits for anxiety and out-of-synch sleep patterns.
But does it work as a narcotic?  I'm not going to post any links to i-Dose videos, but just go to YouTube and do a search.  Doubtless a multitude of hits will turn up.  Each video comes with ominous warnings for the user.  "Nausea, carpal tunnel, and irreparable brain damage" could result if one stops the video before it is over.  There are also copious clips of teens in the midst of "getting high" off of the stimuli.  Yet when intrepid people of clearer minds have attempted to i-Dose, nothing happened...except that they had to sit and listen to an annoying tone for a few minutes.  One man even stared death right in the face and cut the video off halfway before it was over.
In other words it's a big joke.  It's psychosomatic.  The idea of getting sonically high has already predisposed the user's brain into doing so.  Add in the warnings and disclaimers and you have an anxious state of anticipation.    Sorry to bust your bubble, folks.
The concept of a virtual or digital drug still fascinates me though.  If Pokemon cartoons can induce epileptic seizures, it would stand to reason that a formulated and programmed combination of Bowie's "gift of sound and vision" should be able to cause a sedated or hallucinogenic response.  Wired Magazine even asked if future politicians will maintain that they did i-Dose, but it was on "mute."
In the meantime, I'll just stick with booze.  Until I can get a chip implant that releases a small but steady stream of alcohol into my brain throughout the day.

Now playing: Portishead

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Living in upside down times

"I had to escape, the city was sticky and cruel
Maybe I should have called you first, but I was dying to get to you."
                      --Roy Orbison, "I Drove All Night"

Ah, the venerable Roy Orbison.  Such yearning.  Such longing.  Such desire.  Wanting to fill a vast emptiness inside.  Yeah.  I get ya.  Maybe not in the romantic sense, but the premise can be extended.
I am dark and moody today.  The sun burns hot overhead, looking like smooth peach out of a can.  All around is bright, save for my onboard software.  It's been spotty.  I feel like someone took one of those multiple-scoops-on-a-conveyor-belt excavators and hollowed me out.  The breeze runs cool over the jagged edges of the hollow while the blood and pus coagulate down the sides.  I am heavy with sadness.
Why for all this visceral outcry?  What could be so wrong?  Compounding errors formed into a cascade failure.  
Summer is when the state fiscal year begins here in Illinois.  In case you haven't seen today's news, the state of Illinois has the largest budget deficit in the nation.  Yes, we've even surpassed California.  Hell, we might've even outdone Greece at this point.
 To plug this hemorrhaging hole, politicians have resorted to their last line of defense: raise taxes and cut services, with the cuts going first of course because no one would dare suggest a tax raise anywhere in these great free United States.  
My day job is state-funded to a large degree.  We were cut.  We lost three employees.  One of them was my friend.  
This happens.  I get it.  Cuts happen to many state budgets and there's really nowhere good to cut (more on that in a bit.)  If social services are spared, that just paints a target on schools, hospitals, roads, police, and fire services.  Can't really go without those, can we?  No, my gradually growing resentment over losing my friend has both micro and macro facets.
On the job level, the reasons for choosing to dismiss him were most Kafka-like, specifically Kafka's The Trial.  Someone was accused of something and in the end it was really a most nebulous charge, complete with Orwellian cover stories and doublespeak (could I have crammed any more literary references into that sentence?)  When truly scrutinized, the logic for the decision falls apart and therefore the only conclusion that can be made is that it was a personal strike.
That is not where my objections stop.  It's this whole system that is out of order.  We in this state are facing this crisis due to dirty politics and greed.  Period.  No need to pick sides or party affiliations to blame.  They all are responsible.  Republicans.  Democrats.  Each of them to the person.  The budget is in the toilet, they can't find any money, but God forbid the plug gets yanked on a black hole, pork project that's keeping an incumbent in office while the "serfs" lose their jobs.  Too bad we all can't be like bank executives who are "too big to fail" and are granted Federal subsidies.  Too bad we all can't be Tony Hayward and insufferably screw up our jobs, step down, and rake in a $1 million severance and a $600K/year pension plus stocks.  Must be nice.  These greedy corporate schmucks are just about enough to get me to believe David Icke's "lizard people" theory.
"We live in upside down times."  That's what my neighbor, a recently laid off auto mechanic told me.  Couldn't agree more.  I've got the hole in my gut to prove it, courtesy of the state of Illinois.
Oh but you've had enough of me being such a gloomy gus.  Best I stop now before I go on to further topics that sadden me to no end, such as my PhD rejections, my unpublished writing, endless routines of laundry and lawn watering, and maybe even the death of Gary Coleman.  So, in the words of Lou Reed, "what's good?"  I've compiled a short list:
Lattes.  Duran Duran.  U2.  REM.  Neil Gaiman.  Portishead.  Snoopy.  Neo-Dada art.  
My collection of science fiction books.  Olive Garden.
And of course, Roy Orbison.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

I want my monkeyman!

"You are right, I have always known about man. From the evidence, I believe his wisdom must walk hand and hand with his idiocy. His emotions must rule his brain. He must be a warlike creature who gives battle to everything around him, even himself."
           --Dr. Zaius, Planet of the Apes

While indulging in a bit of synthetic stimuli from that thing called the television, I came across an airing of MonsterQuest on The History Channel.  This certain episode was investigating whether or not Josef Stalin tried to breed an army of half man, half ape soldiers to further the Communist vision.   The motivation behind such a thing has always been a direct one.  In theory you would have fighters with human brains but an ape's considerable strength.  You guessed it.  There is very little evidence to suggest Stalin ever did this and if he did try it, it came out a dud.
Turns out the notion is a deeply flawed one.  Even if such a cross-pollination of genetics were capable of being carried out, there is no guarantee that you would get what you wanted.  You could end up with a primate that has human strength but ape intelligence and lack of speech.  Or you could get a human with ape strength that also has an ape's territorial issues and aggressiveness when provoked.  Like the proverbial box of chocolates, you could never know what you were going to get.  So it doesn't look good for a "monkeyman" any time soon.
That led me to question why I have such a fascination with this concept.  Perhaps it was from multiple viewings of the Planet of the Apes movies starting when I was a mere 8 years-old.  The vision of upright-walking gorillas carrying rifles just seemed so cool.  Cool, yet rather sinister at the same time as it does make for a rather unnatural sight.  Maybe it's the fact that apes are so similar to us.  When I look at them in pictures or in a zoo, I halfway expect them to turn to me and start speaking English...or any other language for that matter.  The concept of an "in-between" species may stem from this eerie sense of looking at a not-so-distant relative.  
Given the amount of fiction that surrounds this concept, I must not be the only one fascinated by it.  But until something like Bigfoot ever gets proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, I'm afraid that is all it will remain: fiction.

"I love you, Dr. Zaius!"

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Guess no place is perfect

After watching the live coverage of San Diego Comic Con on G4, I was all set to write a happy post.  Something about how great it is to see so many different people come together over their mutual love of comic books and science fiction.  
Yes, somebody got stabbed (or at least scratched in the eye) just before the Cowboys and Aliens panel.  Please, no comments about the preview being "eye popping."  Got enough of those on Twitter.
I have a real love/hate relationship with conventions like these.  On the one hand, it is a lot of fun to immerse one's self in a subject matter that you have a passion for alongside others who share your love.  Let's face it, things like comic books still aren't as socially acceptable as say, golf, so it helps to have a place to escape to where you may be amongst your kindred.  Plus, where else will you find such deliciously obscure juxtapositions as autograph tables shared by Bill Mumy (Lost In Space, Babylon 5), Lou Ferrigno (Hulk), and former NASA astronaut Edgar Mitchell.  That latter guest always recalls the Simpsons episode where Buzz Aldrin attended a sci-fi con and nobody lined up for an autograph.   "For God's sakes!  This is the only man here who's actually been in space!"
By the same token, fanboy fawning gets most tiresome, most quickly.  I can only take so much gushing over how brilliant the writers and artists are.  I can't help but laugh over the pushing and shoving to get into an autograph line for Peter "Chewbacca" Mayhew's autograph.  Much of this may come from the fact that I'm a husband and a father and I have many "real world" issues to deal with every day (as I'm sure many con attendees do as well.)  But when the arguing over who would win in a fight between Captain America and Timberwolf from the Legion of Super-Heroes erupts, I can't help but yearn for a fight over something that actually matters.
I think I understand it, though.  It's escapism.  Geeks, as we are so often called, drown ourselves in what we love.  In that regard, we're no different than the "superfan" who shows up at a competitive sports event with their face painting in their team colors.  One reason we do this, in my opinion, is that we know there has to be something different.  Something is not right with the world and it quietly eats at us.  Therefore we seek connection to things larger than life, larger than ourselves.  We want the myth that Joseph Campbell speaks of and we want to be a living, breathing part of it.  You may be satisfied with your cubicle job, your company's mission statement, and your Playstation. That's great.  For the rest of us, it's just not good enough.  My blood cries out for something more.  Something amazing.  I know it's out there, I just can't get at it.  I think that many at conventions such as these feel that as well, even if only on a psychologically subconscious level.
Then it's all fun and games until somebody gets stabbed.  That brings stupid reality crashing in, proving once and for all that such events are mere microcosms of the real world.  There is good and bad in everyone.  Transporting them to Krypton, Tatooine, or Avengers Mansion won't change that.
Still, all things being equal, next year I'd rather be in San Diego.

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Synesthesia: Sharing the Senses

Came across this essay at Factoidz tonight.  They offered a transfer to other blogs so that the discussion around synesthesia could continue across multiple sites.  So I took them up on it.  Here is the snippet:

Everyone has heard of the word anesthesia; it literally means without sensation. Synesthesia means joined or shared sensation. Some people are blessed with synesthesia. Synesthesia isn’t really a disorder; it’s more like a quirk of physiology.
Imagine seeing a beautiful mountain setting when you look out your kitchen window, and imagine besides seeing the view with your eyes, you also saw it with your sense of taste. Imagine tasting blueberries every time you look at that view. Imagine when you taste a chocolate cake you see pink and silver stripes. Some folks can actually experie... From: Synesthesia: Sharing the Senses

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Guess it doesn't hurt your career in Japan

 During a debate in the last presidential campaign, Rep. Dennis Kucinich copped to having sighted a triangular UFO.  This brought about guffaws from press and populace alike and undermined Kucinich's credibility...what little he had left.
 Doesn't work that way in Japan, it seems.  I had originally heard the following story last fall but never did any follow up on it.  Too busy studying for the GRE so I could get that high score I got (HA!  Look where it got me!)  But I think it's about time I bring the tidbit here to Strange Horizons.
  Miyuki Hatoyama, First Lady of Japan, has openly admitted that she once rode in a UFO.  In a book she has written entitled Very Strange Things I've Encountered, Miyuki describes the encounter as having taken place about 20 years ago.
  "While my body was asleep, I think my soul rode on a triangular-shaped UFO and went to Venus," she said.  Upon awakening from this, she told her now ex-husband the tale and he offered that she probably just had a dream.  Their marriage then proceeded to go downhill.
"My current husband has a different way of thinking," she wrote. "He would surely say 'Oh, that's great'."  Click here for the story.

Though the First Lady of Japan has drawn her share of giggles as a result of this disclosure, it doesn't seem to have hurt her or her husband.  Perhaps it's a sign of how desensitized we've become to people purporting Fortean encounters.  Yes, we've come a long way from Jimmy Carter's much ridiculed UFO sighting and I for one have no problem with a political leader admitting such a thing.  After all, is it any crazier for Hatoyama to claim she's visited Venus than it is for Americans to expect their leaders to believe that a man walked on water, performed miraculous healing, was killed and then came back to life before flying into the sky?  I don't think so, and I'm a Christian.
The real kicker here?  Prime Minister Hatoyama's nickname has always been "the alien," due to unwieldy hair and large eyes.  

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Aliens Among Us

Sometimes I need the cobwebs rattled out of my head.  Sometimes you hear someone give a fresh take on a meme that forces you to slap your forehead and cry out, "Damn it!  It's so obvious!  Why didn't I think of it?"  Well, I don't know about everyone else, but it happens to me, anyway.  Mine came yesterday during a viewing of G4's Attack of the Show.
Though the lovely Olivia Munn is most fetching, I am not a regular watcher.  I had only tuned in for any live updates from San Diego Comic Con.  While the updates were serviceable if underwhelming, I was treated to an interview with Dave Brody.  Brody is the Science Editor for and he was on the show to discuss the idea that alien life may very well be among us in one form or another.
The interview seemed to be in response to recent comments from Stephen Hawking that humankind should be most cautious in contacting alien races, lest we be burned to ash by laser beams.  The topic seems a bit dated, given the lapse of time since Hawking made the assertion, but whatever.  Brody seemed to dismiss this kind of thinking, pointing at the economics of sending a recon mission first via probes.
I had brought up this meme in a previous post, but I never thought of it in the way that Brody mentioned.  Given that alien races, based simply on the age of our planet and our star compared to the rest of the galaxy, are likely to be older and more advanced than we, they will have technology far beyond ours.  So if indeed they decide to investigate our civilization, the probes they would send would probably be of nano size.  They might even be able to deconstruct and absorb asteroid debris for fuel.  Point being, they would be so miniaturized that they would undoubtedly escape our notice.  But why even go that far?  At least one radio signal was sent in the direction of Alpha Centauri with the intent of direct contact with anybody who might be there.  That is to say nothing of the radio and television signals plus military radar waves that our solar system is littered with.  Aliens would quite possibly send their own signal back, but have it be completely unobtrusive.  To SETI or anyone else that might be listening on Earth, the signal would be disregarded as mere background noise.  What the transmission would actually be is a computer virus of sorts that would be received and then distributed throughout the Internet.  Not a destructive one, mind you, but a simple program whose function would be to learn all that could be learned and then report back.  Our computer networks would be an ideal milieu in which to do that.
The nano/cyberspace theory is one I had never considered.  Far more efficient than a spaceship, at least for information gathering purposes.  
Quite a notion, that.  "They" might already have been here and we would never have known.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

So when does it end? Part Deux

The image of the human race marching towards extinction like single file ants on a log still haunts me, but I have another perspective on it, I believe.
Earlier today, I was reading articles on and looking over photographs of the planet Mars.  I'll try to take you through the crooked highways and by-ways of my thought patterns as best I can.

Here's Earth as seen from Apollo 17:

Here's Mars as seen from the Hubble:

Both planets are comparable in size and both have polar ice caps.  The obvious difference of course is that Mars is devoid of our water and vegetation.  Yet as I looked over a photograph similar to the one above, I was struck by its similarity to a few of the more extreme projections I've seen of climate change here on Earth.  Such things are all theory of course and subject to the bearing out of evidence, but it really stuck with me.  Could we be looking at the future of our world if the environment continues to deteriorate?  Imagine massive droughts and windswept barrens.  Vegetation dies and seabeds dry.  Would it not resemble Mars?  Our we looking at ourselves?  Let's go in for a closer look via a shot from the Opportunity rover:

Indeed, it resembles a few areas on Earth that already are deserts.  But were there ever any wet areas?  We can see that there is water on Mars in the form of ice, but the big question is whether or not the planet ever had it in liquid form.  Certain ravines and geological markings that have been found by NASA rovers have already built a strong case for past bodies of water.  But it's all gone now.  Near as anyone here can tell.
Since almost the moment humans could write down or otherwise mark what we could see in the sky, we have been fascinated by Mars.  My chief familiarity with this fascination comes in the form of literary works, such as the obvious War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells and the John Carter series by Edgar Rice Burroughs, but the examples stretch farther afield than those.  What sparked this fixation?  Was it the planet's reddish hue in the night sky?  Was it Percival Lowell's speculation that there were canals on the surface of Mars, thus evidence that there were Martians?  Whatever it was, the Red Planet took a hold of our imaginations and has yet to let them go.  It has such a lock on us that there are schools of thought dedicated to proving the existence of archeological artifacts on Mars (e.g. "the face.")  What accounts for all of this?
Here we drift into the field of psychology, one in which my understanding is murky at best.  So here, dear Strangers, is where you will be treated to yet another one of my musings extempore.   Here goes.
What if there is something about Mars that rests in our collective psychology?  What if it is a sense that when we look at that planet, we see ourselves?  Perhaps even what we could be?  So much so that we long for it to be inhabited, even if in the dim and distant past?    I'm not saying that there were ever sentient beings on Mars and that the current state of that planet is due to their own global warming or another such eco disaster.  I suppose there are those camps that say humanity is an offshoot of a Martian race that evacuated here after their planet grew uninhabitable.  Good stuff for science fiction, but I'm a long way away from even entertaining that notion.  No, I think we all have a sort of gut feeling about the place, an intuition, maybe even a "sixth sense" that tells us "watch out or you'll end up like this," or maybe even "you're all headed here one day."
I've harped before on the imperative need for offworld colonization.  Imagine the delicious irony in migrating to a barren world in order to escape our own miasma.  All because we ignored a sort of "orbital cautionary tale" in space...even if our intuitions tried to tell us otherwise.  
At any rate, I hope people remained fascinated by Mars.  It will make things easier when their next home looks like this:

Of course there won't be any planetary body that large in the Martian sky.  This was the only depiction of a Mars colony I could find that was not copyrighted.
All other pics are from Wikipedia.
Now to bed, perchance to dream of an iced latte tomorrow morning.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

So just how long do we have anyway?

More news today from China.  No, not about the UFO wave (although there are updates on that front.  Check the comments section of the corresponding post.)  This time it is yet another oil spill.  Here are a few photos from it.
Looks like something from Dante's Inferno, doesn't it?  Or perhaps one of William S. Burroughs' more fevered trips.  It hijacked my emotional status and turned it to one of exceptional pessimism. 

Sure, I'll give you a moment to recover from the shock of reading that.

The end of the world.  Unless you're a hardcore survivalist or a religious whackjob, most people don't like to think about it.  In fact, they'll deny its very inevitability or claim that we are a very smart species (due to Divine mandate they usually assert) and that somebody will eventually figure out how to repair all the damage we've done.  There may indeed be things we can do, ranging from altruistic "green" efforts to quirky new concepts such as "hacking the planet," reprogramming the Earth's "source code" as it were and getting geology under our thumbs.  There might even be an eco-disaster on the scale of 9/11 in terms of social impact.  Then these environmental efforts would get kicked into overdrive and you'd really start to see things happen.
For a while.  But just how much longer can our world support a greedy, short-sighted, warlike species such as ourselves?  That is to say nothing of the external dangers.  There are any number of asteroid bodies that could slam into us (although there may be an app for that one day or so they say) or a new strain of virus could emerge to which we have no defense against.  What to do?
I'm often asked about UFOs and why aliens would want to come here.  I reply that there are a few schools of thought on that subject, but in reality I don't know.  What I do strongly suspect is that these aliens are unlikely to intervene in our struggles in either of the Hollywood extremes.  We will not awake one day to saucers capping our major cities before laying waste to them like Independence Day.  We will not be contacted by messianic figures like in The Day the Earth Stood Still, who will have a message of peace for us and give us technology beyond our most intricate designs, thereby ushering in a neo-utopian era.  Whatever they want from our planet, be that DNA, surveillance, or satisfaction of their anal fetishes, they will likely take it and then leave.  To those who view the UFO phenomenon as a sort of "spiritual contact" with those who may deliver us, I say "don't expect any handouts."  We, to them, must appear as a hopeless cause.  And they must be quite content to leave us to our little contaminated sandbox and perhaps even take steps to make certain we never escape from it and bring our stench out into the cosmos.

Except that's exactly where we need to be.  When a duck's pond becomes grimy and polluted, that duck will pick up and find another pond.  That is what humans will need to do as well if our species is to survive.  Our "ponds" will have to be Mars, the Moon, perhaps even asteroids or the moons of the gas giants.  There are a growing number of scientists who have expressed this, among them Stephen Hawking.  It will mean a herculean amount of research and an even greater amount of money.  We will have to determine how to most feasibly get out there, then how to not just survive but to prosper, and perhaps even how to technologically augment our bodies and evolve completely into the posthuman form, taking our soft, squishy selves and transforming them into survival machines.  Life down here must move out there.  It's that simple.
The question is when the mainstream public will realize this.  As I mentioned it will take a great deal of money.  Given the actions of Wall Street in the past few years, this isn't the sort of "profit venture" they'd go in for.  Really makes me wish we could somehow get all the money back that was spent on the senseless invasion of Iraq and through Cheney-like prestidigitation, fund colonization research.  Wistful thinking, I know, but still...
If nothing else, just think of the opportunities we'll have in colonizing another planet.  We can now completely screw up someplace else altogether.  Viva variety.

Now playing: David Bowie, Aladdin Sane

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Would anyone care to "refudiate?"

Oh the culture of dumb.  How long must we suffer thee?
I'm certain most of us have heard by now the lexical tale of Sarah Palin urging Muslims to "please refudiate," so I won't be recapping the event.  While anyone can flub up their speech, especially as mental bandwidth runs low due to ever-increasing usage demands, it is the public reaction that gets me.  
Sure, you have your political opportunists on the left, jumping up and down like the class know-it-all and shouting "That's not a word!  That's not a word!  Check the dictionary!  It's not there!  Type it in Word!  You get a red squiggly line!"  That is a bit off-putting, but it is the response from the conservative right that has me seething.  The basic gist of the tea bagger reply is: "English is an ever-changing language.  So she made up a word?  What's wrong with that?  You high falutin' college boys do it all the time and that's ok.  Why can't a redneck do it?"  Palin takes it further by saying that "Shakespeare made up words" and that we should "celebrate it." 
Fortunately, there are still a handful of scholars in the United States who have dedicated their academic careers to studying Shakespeare and they have something to say on the matter.  This clip from CNN features a tasty quote from just such an English professor, where he points out that Shakespeare often made up words to come out of the mouths of characters that he wanted to make fun of.  People like Palin.  
Yes, Virginia.  One may compose a new word intelligently from solid context and from need for a new term.  Usually this is done by someone who knows what they're doing.  But there is a way that the English language is meant to be spoken and it does not provide the speaker with license to concoct any word they wish for any reason or to butcher words that already exist.  Most offensive to me is the notion that anyone, regardless of political affiliation, would think that this is permissible.  Would the tea baggers allow for Ebonics or Spanglish from a political representative?  I don't think so.  Yep.  Butcher words, breed distrust and tunnel vision, but whatever you do don't raise my taxes.
During the course of my lifetime, America has steadily become the most anti-intellectual nation in the world.  I have heard people hurl bitter bursts of bile towards those with Ivy League educations.  That has "blossomed" into invectives towards anybody who ever went to college.  We don't like smart people here in the U.S.  As a matter of fact, we just don't trust them.   I know this from my 4 year imprisonment in a Red State high school and even at times the attitudes of students in undergrad.  The dumber you act, the more accepted you'll be.  Congratulations, Sarah.  This puts you in perfect shape for 2012.
Yep, just can't trust those college types.  If someone's reading a book instead of watching NASCAR, reality TV, or CMT, then you really need to keep an eye on them.  Why, they could be a liberal, a terrorist, a socialist, a communist, a Muslim, a Nazi, unpatriotic or all of the above.  So many have chosen to embrace "stupid" as a way of life.  And it is a choice.  I don't believe my gray matter to be inherently superior to anyone else's.  I just happen to have chosen to do something with it.  Yet many do not make that choice or perhaps have the opportunity to make that choice...and what a fertile playground that creates for anyone with half a brain and the desire to manipulate.  I have these hyperbolic daydreams of smart people banding together as monks did in medieval times, hoarding their books in fortified monasteries.  I envision something on the order of the ending to Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns or James Cameron's future in The Terminator.  Small collectives of insurrectionists against the popular norm of self-selected stupid.  "We who are not as others."
In a small way it's already begun.  Shakespeare devotees have taken to Twitter and have begun to Tweet the saga of Sarah Palin.  "To suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous liberals, or to quit half-term, and by opposing, rake in speaking fees." 
The Bard, no doubt, would approve.
For's take on the matter, click here. 

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Monday, July 19, 2010

The Mountain of Printed Pages Before Me

They spill from their box on my basement floor, taking on the appearance of cyclopean ruins from a bygone age.  Each one an encasement of memes and esoterica, bought for diversion and education.
I spent half of this decade in graduate school.  That left me little time for "pleasure reading."  Yet while my pace of reading slowed down, my rate of buying books did not.  My theory was always this: books do not have expiration dates.  I'll get to them when I can because they'll still be there.  I looked through my box of Fortean-themed texts yesterday and made note of all the books I've yet to read.  It's embarrassing! 

"Top Secret/MAJIC-12" by Stanton Friedman.  The Ufologist I admire most gives us a breakdown of how Majestic-12 came to be and most importantly, who the 12 men were.  It's all based on evidence that I've heard has been called into great question.  I look forward to reading the book and judging for myself.
"Alien Agenda" by Jim Marrs.  Marrs is an authority on all things conspiracy.  Even if I find his theories difficult to swallow at times, I am interested to read his take on the UFO phenomenon.  

"Arktos: the Polar Myth" by Joscelyn Godwin.  I've had this one for a while and how I've resisted reading it for this long is beyond me.  It's a New Age-y view of the polar roots of Nazism, how Hitler escaped to Antarctica, how the UFO phenomenon originates at the poles, and how the Hollow Earth gets thrown in for good measure.  Dope.  I giggle with anticipation just thinking about this one. 

"Abominable Snowman" by Ivan T. Sanderson.  One of cryptozoology's foremost authorities takes us through a sifting between fact and myth in Yeti lore. 

"Nothing in This Book is True, But It's Exactly How Things Are" by Bob Frissell.  A look at the "sacred geometry" of Mars and the alien artifacts found there.  Also claims to go into extraterrestrials living among us on Earth as well as transcendental meditative states.  I swear, folks.  I can't make this stuff up.

This is only a sample of my unread paranormal material.  I haven't even touched my unread fiction books stacked like bricks of a medieval castle.  Right now, I'm still (yes, still) trying to drill my way through the impressive bedrock that is Timothy Good's Above Top Secret and that is by no means a detrimental statement towards the author.  ATS is quite lengthy and dense, but that is due to Good's superbly thorough research.  Add in the fact that I've not picked the book up in three days due to psychological circumstances and the process elongates.  I'll post a full review once I am finished.

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

On Gossamer Wings

This is the beginning of a short story that I am currently sussing out.
The tagline: "He found the perfect woman.  All she needed was a body."

    X was a stone worn smooth, his exterior ground away bit by bit over time, allowing him to skip across the waters of the world with no resistance.  He came to a juncture where he no longer offered defiance to the alarm clock when it rang.  When the obscene buzzer ripped his mind from a deep REM sleep, his first thought was no longer, “please!  Not again!”  He no longer thought anything.
    Except for that morning.  The gray static snow of his mind’s television cleared and he saw her face.  His only glimpse of her was brief and from an angle just before they shut the door.  X wondered if her countenance was burned onto his retina with such clarity or if his brain filled the gaps of information with his own inclinations and tastes.  In either case she stood before him in his brain theater; her head of long, thick, black hair, Asian eyes that harbored happiness laced with mystery.
    “You’re awake,” Guppy said from across the cube.
    Guppy sat cross-legged on his dingy mattress, fingers on his computer’s keyboard.  He wore his combat boots and his fatigues cut into shorts.  The Monty Python t-shirt from last week remained on his torso and looked as if it could get up and walk away on his own.  A black line cut through his bushy, bright orange hair.  The line was the strap to the eye patch that covered his left socket, not through any need or embarrassment, but simply because he liked it.  Judging from the hot, electric ozone smell of the computer, Guppy had yet to sleep.  The online virtual community he participated in held a consumptive quality.
    Joints popped and crackled as X rose from his mattress and stretched.  He moved into his morning ritual of Il Jang, one of the basic forms of taekwondo. An empty glass coffeepot sat tilted, its base crooked against the hotplate.  X went to the pot, lifting it to inspect the tiny brown drop that rolled at the bottom.
    “Coffee?” X asked.
    “I drank the last and did not make more,” Guppy replied.
    X grabbed hold of a bag of ground Burroughs Coffee and ripped into it.  The fresh aroma ascended to his nostrils as he began the procedure of brewing.
    “When you finish the last, refresh the pot,” X said.  “It’s the fair thing to do.”
    “Ok,” Guppy replied, his eyes never moving from the computer screen.
    Guppy’s hand seemed to move remote of his body.  It went into an open package of generic Oreos and retrieved a cookie the way one of those plastic “robot claws” plucks up a plush stuffed animal.  Guppy would not eat Oreos.  They could only be the generic kind, the versions in plain packaging with the words “chocolate crème-filled sandwich cookies” as the only descriptor.
    While the coffee brewed, X exited the cube and droned to the common washroom down the hall.  An African was already in it, sloshing water all over his face to prepare for work.  They grunted to one another in acknowledgment before X began his own pre-work cleansing ritual under the dim fluorescent lights.  A bit of synesthesia helped him to remember it was Wednesday.  His mind’s eye viewed the days of the week as a continuum of shades between white and black.  No words or numbers, only fuzzy, gauzy shapes in a line.  Slate gray.  Wednesday.  Water swept across his closed eyelids and like a projector it sprang an image to life.
    She turned her head.  It was a bit of free association and 3-D modeling on the part of his mind.  He then had her smile.  Perfect white teeth beamed out, set against the contrast of her almond skin.  Her head tilted a bit as she looked at him.  X sifted, trying to find words or phrases that describe sublime beauty but were not cliché.  He ended up in forfeit.  Traveling back down the hallway, she flipped her hair for him and he watched it float like feathers back down to her shoulders.  His lips parted and creased at the corners of his mouth.
    “What are you smiling about?” Guppy asked flatly when X re-entered the room.
    “Another day as a source code programmer for the Kōng de Cybernetics Corporation appeals to me,” X replied.
    He began to dress, first stepping into his black dungarees then buttoning down his black shirt.
    “Just tell the truth,” Guppy said.
    “A woman,” X answered.
    Once the coffee filled his chrome thermal, X left the cube apartment for work.
    “Wait, a what?” Guppy asked the closed door.

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Massive X-Ray Burst Blinds the Swift As Our Atmosphere Collapses

Two links from Graymalkin today.  Huzzah!

Here, a recording-breaking burst of x-rays temporarily blinded NASA's Swift space observatory.  Things are back to normal now, but I'd be interested in know the source of the blast.

Also on the subject of NASA, scientists have found yet another record-breaking incident.  Apparently, our atmosphere has made an "impressive" collapse and rebound.

Thanks, Graymalkin!

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No Maps For These Territories

I suppose it might be a questionable practice to recommend a film that the "recommender" has never seen, but regardless that is what I am going to do in the synaptic event that shall unfold.

No Maps For These Territories is a documentary film from 2000.  In it, author William Gibson rides in the back of a limousine and converses with guests such as Bono, The Edge, and Bruce Sterling.  As one might imagine, the conversational topics include culture, technology, new media, and futurism.  Here is a clip:

I am especially struck by his mention of ATMs.  The ATM is a device that has always seemed to me to be a "money god."  You seek out (possibly after a long quest) and beseech the ATM.  If it finds you worthy, i.e. you have the correct PIN and you have sufficient funds, it gives you money.   However, if you are not of the denominational faith, meaning the proper bank network, your salvation is going to cost extra (fees).
I now consider watching this film to be an imperative.  Oh what I wouldn't give to sit and drink lattes with William Gibson.  Not in a "golly gee, you're my hero Mr. Gibson" kind of way (I learned my lesson when I sort of said that to Nick Rhodes), but to genuinely ask questions about his approach to the craft of writing and attempt to determine how he has managed to be so prescient when matters of technology are involved, not mention other realms of reality.  Granted, this documentary was filmed in 2000 and I run the risk of dated material.  Our post 9/11 state has altered much of what could have been and Gibson, from what I understand, tackles this well in his novel Pattern Recognition.   But it is the evolution of concepts I am interested in and that is what I hope to glean from this film.
And in closing, here is Bono reading from Neuromancer and Gibson being self-deprecating:

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Friday, July 16, 2010

Mystery in the Skies of China

"Danced with wind and danced with fire
Killed the truth and called the liar
Bleeding in its mystery when the moon began to fall"
                                                             --"China" by Red Rockers

Only a few short months after a SETI 'bot quipped, "Why don't you hear about UFO delays at the airport?" [paraphrase] it happened. 
This past July 7th saw an unknown object over Xiaoshan Airport in Hangzhou, China that caused the airport to temporarily shut down and delay numerous flights.  An estimated 2,000 passengers had their travel disrupted.  Here is a photograph of the object via Coast-to-Coast

Here's another from China Daily:

The aircraft is being noted for its odd shape, roughly somewhere between a rectangle and a tube.  Speculation of course is running rampant as to what the object was.  Its shape suggests that it could be an experimental missile or other military aircraft.  One Internet source is saying that this is a new bomber in the US Air Force's inventory.  This has been met by cries of "we would never fly an aircraft into another nation's airspace unannounced like this."  Uh-huh.  This of course in no way precludes the possibility of it being a new Chinese "superplane."  In fact, "an anonymous source" told China Daily that the object has a definite "military connection."
Radar at the airport did not have contact with the object, but the photos and video certainly don't look like any kind of a weather anomaly.  Still, die-hard skeptics will cling hard and fast to the "light from Venus refracted through swamp gas" theories.  That is not to say that it couldn't be a hoax.  But if it was a hoax, that would mean two things to me.  First, it was an elaborate endeavor and I would like to shake the hand of whatever genius pulled it off.  Two, I probably won't be able to do that because the individual(s) will be apprehended and introduced to new concepts of pain and suffering by Chinese officials for having mucked with an airport and travel safety.  Let's face it, the Chinese are not well known for their tolerance and humane treatment of prisoners. 
Finally, there is of course the reality that the object could have been an alien spacecraft or perhaps something even more beyond the pale than that.  But we have a long way to go and a great need for evidence before that claim can be made on solid ground.
Regardless of what this object turns out to be, it underscores one thing: UFOs are serious business and they are worthy of study and investigation.  Think about it, this UFO managed to evade radar contact and cause the closing of a large airport.  Isn't that worthy of at least a modicum of concern?  Likewise, are not the affected people and the world at-large entitled to the truth of what happened once it is determined?  Yeah, but the real question is whether or not we'll get it.  I'm betting on not.  What's more, I'm certain there are already multifarious facets of world governments that know exactly what went on over Hangzhou on the 7th of this month, but do not hold your breath waiting to hear from them.

Meteorological experts in the area reported no such sighting, but confirmed that it was not a meteor shower.  If you look at the picture though, something smells fishy.  Note the middle of the three figures and its translucent nature.  I'm starting to think the picture is a fake.

If you'd like to read more about the Hangzhou UFO, check out these articles on Yahoo! and this clip from ABC News.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010


Couldn't think of a post today.  So you will be treated to...that's poetry!
The cipher I cannot break
What is felt but unseen
A thousand years of lichens 
Grown cold and crusted over
This case of rust
Try to laser it away
Still it remains

Metamorphosis unbridled
For the eternal passenger
Collocation and continuation
With no active role
Urban dirt baked in solar heat
The color of cinnamon
The smell of salt and oil

Mushroom clouds loom
Somewhere in mental backwater
Can't fight it
The future does not need me

Ok, you've suffered enough.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"Weighty Matters"

The sun's oppressive heat has turned the Chicago metro area into a sauna.  Insects are thriving between the foliage, skin is sticking to skin, and I'm sweating simply from sitting down.  So this is what the rainforest is like.  I'm not a fan.
I'm beginning to understand Southerners and why their culture seems so slowed down compared to my own.  It's not from laziness.  It's because it's just too hot to do anything but sit, drink sweet tea, and say things like "shore is a hot'un.  Gonna be a hot'un tomorrow too, they say."  Makes feel like I should be on my way to a church revival.
On that subject, I have "weighty matters" to discuss today (that's a phrase my little nephew picked up from my father.)  Bill Mahr's Religulous was on the other day.  For those of you that don't know, it's a humorous documentary film that looks at all the bizarre contradictions of religion, primarily Christianity.   While it was a funny ride, it propelled my brain on a trajectory towards an uncomfortable state of uncertainty.
I was raised a Catholic.  I now identify as "garden variety Christian" as I do not attend a church or anything of the like.  I am not Bible-thumper out to convert the world.  The theocracy of the Bush years left a most bitter taste in my mouth.  I resent the totalitarian way in which many Christians wish to bludgeon their viewpoint upon the rest of the world.  I spent a week in January of 2009 defending my wife from a Facebook jihad when she admitted that she was an atheist (and the holy warriors were her so-called "friends.")  When street preachers push their wares on me or proudly flaunt their "God hates fags" placards in downtown Chicago, I feel like anyone else.  I want to hit them with the book I'm carrying and knock them into traffic or to toss my latte into their faces, giving them an Anakin Skywalker makeover.  Most of all, I am not blind to the aspects of religion that just make no bloody sense.  When the majority of the world's dogmas are scrutinized with any amount of logic from a thinking person, they end up falling apart.
Do you know what it's like to consider that something you were unswervingly taught to be true might not be?  Let me tell you, it's frightening...and it is something that has been on my mind long before I ever saw this movie.  It is disturbing on a number of levels.  For one, my upbringing always makes me feel like a bolt of lightning will incinerate me at any moment just for thinking these thoughts.  Plus, the phrase "God is always with you" has been a great source of strength in my life.  Take that away and my next automatic thought is "so that means there is nobody looking out for us, we're all on our own, and this universe is the most random damned thing that could ever have arisen into creation.  Great."  Following that thought comes the darkest scenario I could personally conceive of: when we die, there is nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  You blink out of existence.  If there is no God or at the least a guiding spirit, that's the way it must be and Christianity becomes "a dream too tired to come true" as The Replacements would say. 
But wait.  Mahr accurately pointed something else in his documentary.  The story of Jesus is identical to at least three or four other spiritual stories, including ones from Egypt, Sumeria, and even aspects of stories in Buddhism.  Joseph Campbell discovered what he called "the mono myth," the fact that all myths and religions follow the same basic template.  That, to me, means that human beings, even the most brutish and thuggish among us, are all looking for the same things.  We are all mystified by the same questions.  We are all scared of the same things.  Each of us want answers to those same existential questions from the end of Blade Runner: Where did I come from? Where am I going? How long have I got?  To those I would also add, what happens after I die?  
Sadly dear Strangers, I am nowhere near an answer to any of those queries vis-a-vis my own grapples with faith.  The most I can come up with is a spiritual theory of sorts and in light of many of the bizarre subjects I've read about and covered here, I find it to be no less valid than any other.  So here goes.
There is a God.  This being is infinite in power, knowledge, and understanding.  It communicates with us by taking whatever form would be most meaningful to us.  For one culture it is Jesus, for another it is Buddha, Muhammad, and so on down the line, up to and even including deities of Egypt, Native Americans, the Norse, etc.
Then human beings get a hold of this.  Messages, teachings, and stories are then manipulated towards political ends...and we get the kind of thing we see every day.  Someone strapping C4 to their torso and exploding themselves to kill others in the name of their faith.  Someone hijacking a democratic government and proclaiming, "my faith is right, it is the only way to live, and it is what everyone in this great land of ours will be expected to follow.  All heretics found without Bibles shall be burned at the stake.  Amen."   See, my theory does not allow for a "jealous God."  Even an atheist gets the message, they just see it in a different way.  To see an example of this, look up the Bible that was cobbled together by Thomas Jefferson.  He took the New Testament, removed all of the stories of miracles, healings, and walking on water.  But he kept the teachings and the basic philosophy of Christianity, what I would call the real nuts and bolts of it: the way that people are supposed to treat one another.  Brilliant man that Jefferson.  No wonder they named a TV sitcom after him.  Yes, that was a joke.
Exhale.  I've probably stopped making sense.  
A sure sign that I'm on the subject of religion.  


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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Nuclear War and the Iced Tea Conundrum

"The mushroom cloud was the crucifix of the 20th Century."

Once again, my sleep cycle is in utter disarray.  The heat of summer dictates that one remain hydrated.  To give myself incentive to do so, I've kept a pitcher of tasty iced tea in the refrigerator and I have indulged in it frequently.  This augments the usual coffee-induced caffeine level in my system and thus sleep has become spotty at best.  I tend to fall into an ethereal, loathsome, abstract state where I am not in deep, restful sleep but not really awake either.
While in this state, the strangest thoughts come to me from...I don't know where.  Last night I wondered whatever happened to that violent, mentally ill kid they tried to mainstream into our class in 5th grade.  The R.E.M. song "Radio Free Europe" bounced around in my head, perhaps taunting me through the band's name.  Sheesh, even my own brain hates me.  Best of all, I thought of an old childhood fear: nuclear war.  Don't ask me why for I have no answer.  Oh and I assure you these were not Long Island Iced Teas that I was guzzling.
The mushroom cloud has gone through quite the transition over the years.  It started out as a symbol of American might.  That gradually led to an association of uncertainty.  If massive amounts of atomic radiation were released, what would be the result?  Mutants?  Giant ants?  Godzilla?  Then the fear came.  The cloud became a specter of death, the End of All That Is given physical shape.
My first exposure to the notion and the ramifications of nuclear war was at age 8 with an NBC News special.  Scared the hell out of me.  I asked my Dad if the SAC base in Omaha got hit, would we see the mushroom cloud in Indiana? Why I didn't ask about Chicago with it being less than 100 miles to the north is beyond me.  I was a weird kid.  Anyway, Dad told me we probably wouldn't see the mushroom cloud, but the blast would change the color of the sky.   I kept fearing that sudden change in the sky and knowing what it would mean.  By age 13 the movie The Day After came along, directed by Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek II) and depicting a full-scale nuclear war and its impact on the Kansas City area.  Today it just looks like a schlocky made-for-TV disaster flick, but at the time the film scared every kid from playing in the snow, fearing that it was actually nuclear ash.  As I always do with a subject that simultaneously fascinates and terrifies me, I read everything I could on the subject.  What the scenarios were for how such a war could start.  Where all the probable targets were for Soviet missiles and bombers.  Here's a sample chart I found online.  It looks like the kind of thing I found in the mid 1980s and describes a scenario pretty close to a full-tilt exchange.  Hey!  See if your home area is on it!

Today, the mushroom cloud seems rather quaint, almost hokey to a few people.  The old Soviet Union is no more and we no longer live under the daily threat of such an end to all of mankind.  Sure, we're getting worried about what would happen if terrorists got their hands on one, but that would be an isolated strike and not the wholesale slaughter scenario that us Cold War survivors were inundated with.  The US, Russia, and China still have nuclear strategies against one another, but even these involve limited strikes and only on critical military areas.  After all, leaving the leadership alive and intact gives you someone to negotiate cease fire terms with.  It's a whole different ballgame today.
But those mushroom clouds still look the same.  Maybe that's what still scares that 8 year-old inside me.
Or maybe I should just stop drinking so much iced tea.

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Monday, July 12, 2010

That One Book

So, I've been thinking.
I know, I know.  Typically something bizarre, reckless, or likely both follows that four word phrase, but this time it's not nearly so deleterious. 
I've been thinking about books.  Specifically, science fiction books that you've read that might have changed not just your view of the literary genre but your view of the world if not the universe.  That last point might sound a bit grandiose, but it does happen for people.  There are three books that immediately come to my mind:

1) Perry Rhodan.  Yes, I know it's a series of books, but I cannot ignore the joy this German, pulp sci-fi gem brought me.  I discovered the second book in the series at age 12 in my middle school library.  At the time, I had no idea that anyone had taken the "high adventure" approach that Star Wars did and rendered into a literary form.  I was young, I didn't know.

2) Dune by Frank Herbert.  I first attempted to read this novel in high school and the process was fraught with frustration.  Herbert didn't just create his own world with its own culture and subcultures, he created a language to go along with it.  This left my 16 year old self continuously thumbing to the glossary to find out what the hell he meant by a gom jabbar. (sp?)  That caused numerous breaks in the action for me and ultimately I put it down.  Later, my older and wiser self came to appreciate the skill and the inspired creative genius it took to create Dune.  And as someone who studies language, I actually find the glossary kind of fun now.

3) Neuromancer by William Gibson.  This seems a pat entry to anyone's list of this kind, but the book truly did revolutionize science fiction.  It was the first SF novel I ever read that did not speak of a future of gleaming rocket ships and Roddenberry-like optimism for mankind.  No, Neuromancer was a future "on the edge of terminal dissolution," a technological society that was just this close to coming apart.  And it all seemed so completely possible.  I often feel like we're living in the world of Gibson's "Sprawl" today, just without all the advanced technology.  Not only all of that, but his prose style is second to none.  Even if you don't much care for science fiction, you should at least admire Gibson's wordsmithing abilities.  I have my own anal retentive schedule of books I want to read in the months ahead, but part of me really wants to move Gibson's Pattern Recognition to the top of the queue and read it as soon as I'm done with Above Top Secret.

Whenever that is.

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Don't you try to SETI me up

Apologies for the unavoidable gap in posting.  I went to visit my brother and his family before they move out of state.  It was a successful venture on many levels.  I helped my nephew build a prefab shelter for cats (via the wonders of imagination), stayed meat-free for a second day in a row by opting for vegetarian lo mein at dinner and a tuna sandwich with barbecue chips at lunch (ok, the fish part is pushing it, I know), and managed to finally locate a latte at the train station this morning (harder than you'd think on a Sunday.)   UFO news has been rather quiet as of late, so as I rode the Metra train and listened to the clickety-clack interspersed with terse conductor directives, I mentally sifted and sorted for a post topic.
I decided upon SETI.  The acronym stands for Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence in case you didn't know.  This is an organization of astronomers who listen via radio telescope for a sign, any kind of sign, of an alien civilization. It was at one point federally funded, but is now run by private donations for the most part.
Now you would think that this would be something I'd be all about supporting.  Well, I was...for a while.  Over time, I have developed a distaste for the organization.  Why, you may ask?  Hold on, gentle reader.  I shall expound.

First off, they have an extraordinarily narrow view of what might or might not be possible when talking about an alien civilization.  Everything is built on assumptions derived from human history.  Yes, I know there isn't much else to go on, but that, in my opinion, is a horribly limited perspective.  As stated earlier, SETI is listening for radio transmissions.  Seems to me and many others that an advanced civilization would likely not be using radio waves.  SETI proponents argue that it takes very little energy to generate radio transmissions, so that must be the most efficient way to communicate.  I'm certain that someone must have thought along a similar vein when telegraphs and telephones were "cutting edge."  "Why would someone go through all the trouble to string up those wires, maintain those machines, when they could just write a letter?  It requires less energy."  Aliens likely harness incredible energies and with near zero loss.  They might even get all of their power from their own home star via a microweave Dyson sphere of sorts.  This would afford them a far greater range of capabilities.  So...come on!  Radio waves?? 

That brings me to my next point.  If we did receive a transmission, would we even know it?  Would we be able to tell the difference from background noise if we're looking for radio transmissions only?  Decoding a complex message would seem a problem.

All right, let's say for the sake of argument that we do receive and understand a signal of one sort or another.  SETI protocols state that once the message is confirmed, it is then turned over to the President of the United States, whereupon the Commander in Chief and folks like the NSA and the Secretary of Defense will decide whether or not to announce it to the world.  
Do you really think that they would?  I doubt it.  Why?  Well, a number of reasons.  Imagine this scenario: an incredibly benevolent race sends a transmission.  Coded within it are the plans for a completely new system of clean, zero-loss energy generators (I know this is probably most naive and optimistic of me, but I'm trying to be positive.)  You think Big Oil would ever let that get out?  More likely, the military would begin to determine what sort of weapon could be cobbled from it.  Therefore, there's no way an announcement would be made of this technology, lest Iran or North Korea get their hands on it.  For all we know, the signal could have already arrived and the lid was slapped down tight on it.

Finally, I find the hubris and condescending nature of the SETI club members quite irritating.  A recent edition of Larry King Live was dedicated to UFOs.  Among the guests were author David Brin, actor Dan Akroyd (yeah, howaboutit?) and a SETI clubhouse regular.  The SETI rep smugly asked Akroyd "why don't we hear airports announcing UFO delays?"
That comment is so ridiculous that I hate to even respond to it, but here goes: 
1)  You really think they'd flippin' tell us?  Cause panic among air travelers already on edge in the post-9/11 world? 
2) This question is like asking "if there really are top secret military aircraft, why hasn't one buzzed my house?"
3) There are numerous reports from airline pilots dealing with UFOs, a few of them involving near-collisions.  As for appearing at airports, there was such a sighting at Chicago's O'Hare.
4) Again, you really think they'd flippin' tell us?
This kind of attitude could be my biggest problem with SETI.  You don't believe the extraterrestrial hypothesis for UFOs?  Fine.  It's not like you'd be the first.  But there's no need to get on a high horse about it.
That may actually be indicative of a larger problem within SETI and perhaps the scientific community at-large.  There is an esoteric myopia afoot, a school of thought that says "yep, we've pretty much got it all figured out."  We use fossil fuel and chemicals for propulsion, they must too.  Therefore, given the extreme distances between stars, nobody would ever attempt to traverse the expanse.  Therefore, they would send signals rather than engage in spaceflight.  And we use radio communication, therefore they must too.  Plus, even if they could make the trip, wouldn't they try signaling first?

To paraphrase Stanton Friedman, "did the Vikings send out smoke signals to the New World before heading out?"
What the frak do we know?

UPDATE: Guess SETI truly does not know everything after all.  This news story describes how a UFO in China really did cause flight delays at an airport.

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Friday, July 9, 2010

The Mysterious "Third Man"

I came across this fascinating article in an old edition of The Wall Street Journal.  No, it's not about the classic thriller by Graham Greene.  It reviews a book that talks of people in extraordinary circumstances, often ones of life-v.-death survival, who felt as if an unseen "other person" were with them in that time.
One case involved a man climbing towards a peak in the Himalayas on his own.  A storm came upon him and he was forced to camp for the night without a tent or sleeping bag (hmm, alone, in the Himalayas, no gear.  Huh??)  "I had an extraordinary feeling," he wrote, "that I was not alone."
This is not a unique case it would seem.  Charles Lindbergh described the same thing on his solo flight across the Atlantic.  Numerous 9/11 survivors described a "ghostly, unseen presence" helping them out of the smoke and the chaos.  Shackleton writes of a similar experience during his Antarctic fiasco and even T.S. Eliot writes of it in his ingenious poem, The Waste Land: "Who is the third who walks always beside you?  When I count, there are only you and I together."
So what accounts for this?  A purely psychological approach might yield that the hyperactivity in the brain at such times of extreme stress, might activate a subroutine of sorts in the neural pathways, calling forth whatever comfort it can and giving someone the strength to go on.  Others inevitably see The Divine at work.  John Geiger, author of the book The Third Man Factor, has this view:  "These occurrences suggest a radical idea—that we are never, really, truly alone, that we can summon someone—some other—in certain situations, most commonly in extreme and ­unusual environments."
So how about it, Strangers?  Anyone had this kind of experience?  Is it placebo from the brain?  Is it an altered state of consciousness?  Or do we really have unseen "others" watching out for us?

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