Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mars or bust

A new book ships tomorrow...and it carries a hefty price tag with it.   I think I saw it listed on Amazon at about $100 (not sure about the e-version), steep for most anybody in this economy.  So why am I talking about it?

Because it is called The Human Mission to Mars.  It weighs in at 500 pages, a veritable tome by today's standards.  The various chapters within the book were written by numerous authorities in the field of cosmology, among them being exobiology expert, Dr. Paul Davies, and former NASA astronaut, Edgar Mitchell.  Here is a polite smattering of the subjects covered within the book:

-To Boldly Go: Getting to Mars and Design Reference Architecture
-The Scientific Investigation of Mars: Humans, Geology, Geophysics, Atmosphere, Climate, Biology
-Mars Base and Colonization of the Red Planet
-Sex on Mars. Radiation, Brain, Heart, Sexuality, Fertility, Pregnancy, Fetal Development
-Robots on Mars
-Terraforming Mars
"The reactor makes air but the bastard won't turn it on!"
Sorry.  That last chapter title brought it out in me.  

A lot of people, myself included, talk quite a bit about colonizing Mars and other planets as a means of preserving the human species.  But very few offer up any kind of plan as to how do so or how to circumvent the myriad problems such an undertaking is bound to encounter.  That's where this book differs, at least on the surface.  It puts forth a step-by-step plan for the colonization of Mars.  At the same time, it speculates on the physical and psychological rigors that colonists would face on the Martian surface.  It even has a chapter devoted to the chance of finding microbial life there.
I have yet to read the book so I cannot offer commentary on its quality.  I do, however, like the pedigree of the authors and I am quite encouraged that the subject is being seriously considered in at least a few circles.  Earlier in the year, Mary Roach wrote and published Packing for Mars, a book that examines, in a humorous manner it is said, the more commonplace aspects of space travel.  Meaning, how is food prepared on said voyages, what does a spacecraft smell like after a two-week mission, and just what is etiquette for talking to someone while in zero g?  May sound trivial, but I believe that it is these sorts of things that are going to make space travel seem more accessible to people and less like something left only to obsessed science fiction nerds...like me.

If we are to survive, we (or at least a few of us) must pull up stakes and move.  It will not only preserve humankind, but it might just alleviate many of our problems down here, issues such as global poverty and dwindling resources.
Obviously we're a long way from making that into a reality.  In the meantime, I'll just be glad someone is considering it, rather than devoting their time to reality TV.  

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Scientific progress goes "BOOM"

Something is causing thunderous booms across the nation.  Last weekend in Atlanta, a "boom" noise of unknown origin rattled windows and foundations.  After numerous 911 calls, authorities were unable to discern a cause for the noise.  Nothing had exploded.  No aircraft had crashed.  No meteors had smacked into the ground.
The leading culprit is a sonic boom from an aircraft.  The rub in that theory is that since the retirement of the Concorde, there is no civilian aircraft that can go faster than sound and the military says that none of their aircraft were in the area.  
This is not an isolated incident.  Another such boom with no known source was heard over Pennsylvania last May.  And of course, cases of this nature are numerous in California, Nevada, and The Rockies where the military has restricted zones for weapons testing.  In fact, the frequency of such sourceless booms has generated a nickname among the locals: "skyquakes."  One important trait that skyquakes share with the booms heard in Atlanta and Pennsylvania is that they are heard over widespread areas, thus ruling out a source such as construction equipment being moved or quarry blasting.  The web site Above Top Secret has been tracking skyquakes and other strange booms in the sky.  Their findings show that the booms occur in waves and usually still localized to a given geographic area and sometimes they're even confined to a specific time of day, like say, 11:23 PM.  After a while, the boom waves move on to another locale.

So what are they?  Aliens?  Mass hallucinations brought on by our collective existential angst and ennui?  
I have no idea, but were I to give a shirt tail opinion as to the origin of these booms, I would guess a new military aircraft, perhaps even overflights made by the Aurora spyplane.  After all, would the military lie to us about not having in aircraft operating in the vicinity of the booms?  Yeah, that's what I thought.
Heck, it's probably just KISS promoting their latest album, Sonic Boom.  Think about it.  Wouldn't Simmons try to pull off a marketing stunt like this?

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

5 powers that cybernetics will give us

I know.  The article I'm linking is called "superpowers science will give us," but I believe that this all speaks clearly to transhumanism.  Here's a quick rundown of the five.

5. Advanced technology exo-suits.  This is an obvious comparison to Iron Man and that is not at all unfitting.  In an age of space travel (however limited) and artificial organs (ditto), Iron Man might very well be among the most realistic superheroes of them all.  Currently, there is a suit called Hybrid Assisted Limb that has moved past the developmental stage.  Defense contractors are already abuzz over how this exoskeleton could alter modern warfare.  Sci fi fans will take eerie note that the suit can be abbreviated as "HAL."

4. Nanotube technology that can help you stick to surfaces.  When integrated with skin or extended as a line (a la everyone's favorite wall crawler), this could be useful in a number of professions, say construction workers on high rises.  If it's done with the line approach, the writer of the article astutely points out that every city building could end up looking like it has been "Bukakked within mere inches of its life."  Google the term.  Modesty prevents me from defining it here.

3. Cellular regeneration.  Read the entry.  It's fascinating.  More than that, it brings hope to any brave armed serviceman or woman who has come home missing a limb.  

2. Invisibility.  There has long been an "invisibility cloak" in development.  It works.  Sort of.  DARPA, the scientific development arm of the U.S. military, has been excitedly preparing suits of such a kind for soldiers.  How far are they from actually deploying them?  That's classified.  My guess: not as far as we might think.

1. Cyberkinetics.  This is the one that excites me.  I mentioned a few posts back that a laboratory has already created a wheelchair that responds to human thought.  It is not a far leap to believe that such technology will not remain confined to the disabled and will eventually find mainstream use.  With the proper implants, people could begin moving objects with mere thought, all before you can even say, "use the Force, Luke."  This technology has already been approved by the FDA for further development and a company called Cyberkinetics (of course) hopes to have it in mass market use very very soon.

Of course all of this comes with its caveats.  There will be setbacks and hurdles in the process of getting much of it to work.  That and I don't even want to consider the factor of the lowest common denominator.  Just imagine the havoc that the illicit use of a few of these things, such as an invisibility suit or cyberkinetics, could wreak.  As always, human nature will be our worst enemy.
Still, I don't see that as a reason to cease the pursuit of developing technological integration.  Advancement in technology always has its downside, from jet airliners polluting the skies to your identity being hacked online.  Despite those ills, I don't think that many among us are prepared to go back to land/sea travel only or a pre-Internet age (except for Kip.  Jackass.)  The nature of things is to evolve and move forward.   The posthuman age is already here.

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

That's one way to do it, I suppose

Despite what the deniers will try to tell us, it is a fact.  Global temperatures have been higher in the past decade than they have been before.  Still, this rate has shown recent signs of slowing down, causing climate change deniers to hop up and down while squealing, "See?  See?"  
Turns out there may be a reason for that and it's not good.  (DISCLAIMER: the correspondent in that linked article ain't the greatest.  Just sayin'.)  An enormous amount of air pollution, especially over Asia where coal-burning power plants are popping up everywhere and there is no restriction on aerosol use, is reflecting sunlight and thus decreasing surface land temperature. 

Do not, however, take this slowing down to mean that global climate change is no longer a big deal.  The temperatures are still going up. They are just doing so at a slower rate than before.  And tossing pollutants into the air may be what is doing it.  It's a bit like smoking a cigarette to deal with chronic anxiety, but there you are.  Really, I may have written this before but I am going to write it again.  It is beyond me how many, aside from wealthy industrialists, can argue that humanity has had no hand in shifting global climate.  Exhausts of multiple types going into the atmosphere.  Cause.  Effect.
Bruce Sterling is right.  We're going to live long enough to see climate change deniers in environmental refugee camps.

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Regulating the underground

There are issues in our society where the facts are difficult to discern.  A universal health care package from the federal government is an albatross around our necks that will only bankrupt future generations and land the elderly among us in Nazi death camps.  Supporting gun ownership means you're just asking for more crime to be committed.

For me, the issue of net neutrality falls somewhere amongst these hotbed topics.  The Huffington Post even thinks it deserves its own section of the news.  As I understand it, the central controversy is whether or not an arm of the government, namely the FCC, should have the power to regulate both internet access and content.    There is also debate over computer network service providers and how data transfer is prioritized over bandwidth.  For example, this quote from Google CEO, Eric Schmidt:

"I want to be clear what we mean by Net neutrality: What we mean is if you have one data type like video, you don't discriminate against one person's video in favor of another. But it's okay to discriminate across different types, so you could prioritize voice over video, and there is general agreement with Verizon and Google on that issue."

 While I admittedly have not been following this issue all that closely, one factor keeps bubbling to the top of my cerebrum each time I read something about it.  That is, "how the heck do they even propose to do this?"  In terms of government regulation, what would the legislation even look like?  I would venture to say that those in favor of censorship of any kind on the internet are very few, but we all want our browsers and ISPs to drop spam for us.  Isn't that a form of censorship?  The waters muddy indeed.  Plus, while restrictions can and are imposed in certain corners of the internet, such as blockage in China, Iran, Burma, and other such dictatorships, but ways are always found around it.  
Information is like water.  It wants to be free.  Both will seek out find whatever path of least resistance that they can and escape.  It may take a while and a good deal of erosion at the barrier, but in time it will be free.  The content that you wish to restrict or block will, given enough time, work its way free of the chains.  Regulation and restriction only serves to push the underground lower, where it might have to work harder, but it's still there.  A fair-sized smackdown was placed on Napster and WinMX, but there are still myriad peer-to-peer file sharing networks out there for you to download X-Files episodes from.  Like I said, there are always ways around it.
So will the FCC have its way and clamp down?  We're supposed to find out mid-December, but Bruce Sterling has already told us not to worry.  That's good enough for me.
Oh and R.E.M. supports net neutrality.  Another reason to back it.

I jest.  Really.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Something's rotten in West Virginia

Thanksgiving.  My stomach is full.  The Detroit Lions have had their traditional loss.  Another holiday marches on.

My choice of entry for today has no other rationale or significance to it than it popped into my head while walking my dogs early this morning.  By the way, this is another one of those entries that experts in Forteana may wish to skip over.  Or better yet, head straight to the bottom for my take on the event, because I know you're just dying to read my refreshing insight.  Fellow Strangers, I give to you...The Flatwoods Monster.

It all started on September 12th (nice day) of the year 1952 in Flatwoods, West Virginia.  Three pre-teen boys saw a red glowing light pass over their heads just after dusk.  The object appeared to land in the woods of a neighbor's property.  The boys ran home and then returned with one of their mothers, two other friends, and an older teen.  A dog accompanied as well.  As they approached the site, the dog ran ahead, barking wildly.  Said dog then raced back to the group with his tail between his legs.  
The party then noticed a glowing red light on the hill ahead of them.  There was also a mist amongst the oak trees, one that carried a pungent, burning odor that caused everyone's eyes to water and nostrils to swell.  One of the boys shined a flashlight towards the glow and that's when they saw it.
The creature was described as having a torso that was green and humanoid in shape.  The arms were small in proportion to the body and ended in claw-like appendages.  The only features visible (or memorable, perhaps) on the face were the large, bulbous, non-human eyes.  Behind the head was a cowl, formed into an "ace of spades" shape.  The lower half of the creature seemed mechanical, like a skirt composed of metallic pleats.  A shrill hissing sound emanated as it moved.

Naturally, everybody ran in panic.  Once home, the mother placed calls to the police and to the co-owner of The Braxton Democrat, the local newspaper.  Though just why, after witnessing a frightening sight and seeing her kids sick and scared, she felt it necessary to include a call to the paper is enough to give one pause.  That said, I'll press forward.  When police arrived at the scene, there was no sign of the "creature."   There was, however, still a "sickening odor" in the air.
After the encounter, many of the witnesses experienced severe medical problems.  Their throats and noses remained swollen and a few of them suffered persistent vomiting.  A local doctor who treated them described their symptoms as being similar to that of victims of mustard gas.
As it turns out, these seven witnesses were not the only ones to have an encounter with what would come to be known as The Flatwoods Monster.  A few other locals described seeing the same being and smelling the same odor in the week previous.  Whether or not moonshine was involved is still uncertain.  There was also a startling amount of UFO activity in the area at the time.  The head of the local Board of Education reported seeing a "flying saucer" take off into the sky on the very morning after the seven witnesses had their encounter.

Now comes the question I always ask: so what are we to make of all this?
I must confess, I'm not a fan of this one.  It's a cool lookin' sketch of a creature, but it's also an isolated case with only a handful of witnesses.  With groupthink being such a powerful force of persuasion in societal psychology, this always sends up the red flag for me.  True, something did cause them to become sick, but those same symptoms could attributed to hysteria, and I'm not talking the Def Leppard album.  There was also a meteor that streaked over Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia the very night of 9/12/1952.  It was responsible for calls regarding a "crashing airplane."  Did those seven witnesses come across a fallen meteor?  Noxious fumes from space rocks have been known to cause sicknesses of the kind described.
Foaming-at-the-mouth skeptic, Joe Nickell, offers this explanation: owls.
The witnesses saw a barnyard owl, which incidentally does have an ace of spades pattern on its face.  With their sense distorted by fear and low light, they thought they saw a monster and ran.  It should be noted that Nickell also blames barnyard owls for Mothman, the Hopkinsville "goblins," and perhaps even the second shooter on the Grassy Knoll.
I can't imagine lifelong locals of Flatwoods getting this bent out of shape over an owl.  But did they see a cryptid or an alien being?  I don't know.  If pressed, I would say that I tend towards the meteor theory.  But if I should find myself walking my dogs in the dark before dawn or if I'm in the woods behind my Grandmother's isolated Ohio farm, I know I'll be hoping the Flatwoods Monster isn't real and that a being with an ace of spades cowl doesn't come hovering out of the trees, hitting me with goof gas and making me puke my guts out.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

But wait! There's more!

With global warming, you also get...WAR!!

I came across this article in The Christian Science Monitor.  The gist of it is that several military strategists truly believe that global warming could cause the United States to become involved in yet more military conflicts.  Look at it this way: the temperature rises, water resources become scarce, that leads to food supply problems, and next thing you know...boom.  Wars have started over things far more trivial than humans needing food and water.  And that's before you factor in the realities of parched land and deforestation.

Even so, you need not even go so far as an instigation that entrenched in human need.  Our North Pole is melting.  Little by little, the ice cap gets smaller every year.  Besides causing the unconscionable extinction of the polar bear, this will open up new sea lanes for shipping.  Ditto access to as yet untapped oil reserves and valuable mineral deposits, even diamonds. So what's wrong with that?  Glad you asked, Stranger.  
Several different nations have been posturing to claim and protect what they see as their territory.  Russia, Canada, and Denmark (yes, even Denmark) have all had ceremonial flag plantings in various areas of the Pole.  They're not too happy with each other right now.  
Canada has pledged to bolster its military presence in the Arctic.  Since I'm a military science/history geek, I'm going to burden you with an overview of what that means.  Feel free to skip ahead.
-More bases built on the Canadian shores of the Arctic Ocean.
-Adding 1,000 troops to their Arctic Ranger force.
-Deploying more icebreakers and fast patrol boats.

The Russians have vowed to "re-establish a military presence in the Arctic."  To do so, they have sent submarines and the warship Severomorsk to prowl the waters just off of Norway.  Additionally, their Tu-22 Backfire bombers now patrol the air near the Pole just as they did during the Cold War.  

Nations in conflict over food and water resources.  Ships and planes buzzing around each other like hornets in the North.  Sounds crazy, but I think it's exactly what we're looking at if something isn't done to reverse climate change.  Most likely, I figure the first conflicts will be in areas such as the continent of Africa.  People are already impoverished and starving there.  If arid and parched conditions escalate, people could get desperate (more so than they are now), even to the point of taking up arms against a nation with food and water.  But we won't care.  That's someplace far away.  No big deal to us.  
Then the first loss of a Canadian ship happens, either by accident or design, and the Great White North hollers for its Big Brother to the south to help face Big Red.  Of course we'll have to come running.  Then the wacky hijinks really begin.  

And you thought all we had to worry about were hotter temperatures, fewer wildlife, and coastline flooding. 
I wish.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Space: 1638

In the course of this abortive NaNoWriMo project of mine, I've been doing research into civil wars.  Among my case studies, if you will, has been the English Civil War.  Reading about this subject brought me to a most fascinating find.

First, a bit of history.  The English Civil War took place in the 17th Century.  On one side were traditionalists who believed in the Divine Right of Kings and the Law of Nations.  On the other stood Oliver Cromwell, the Puritans, and "God's word" from the Bible.
What I didn't know was that Cromwell had a brother-in-law by the name of Dr. John Wilkins.  And it was Wilkins who invented the notion of a space program.

Records bear out that in as early as 1638, when Wilkins was but the tender age of 24, he theorized that it should be possible to travel to The Moon in a sort of spacecraft, or "flying chariot" as he called it.  As he said in his book, The Discovery of a New World In the Moone:
“So, perhaps, there may be some other meanes invented for a conveyance to the Moone, and though it may seeme a terrible and impossible thing ever to passe through the vaste spaces of the aire, yet no question there would bee some men who durst venture this as well as the other.”

No, those are not typos.  English was written with slight differences in the 17th Century.  Chief difference being that people actually knew how to use the language.  But I digress...

Wilkins even designed his own spacecraft.  It would be composed of various gears and clockwork springs, all fueled by gunpowder as a form of internal combustion engine.  He figured it would only take 20 or so blacksmiths to pound it all out.  Wilkins and a few like minds were actually going to set about and do it, fully believing that they could get to The Moon.  Only in around 1660 while doing work with scientist Robert Hooke did Wilkins begin to realize that space travel might be a bit more complicated than that.
Not only did Wilkins conjecture about traveling to The Moon, he also speculated about meeting intelligent life there, beings he called "Selenites."  He thought it might even be possible to open up trade with them.

More than anything, I marvel at how intuitive a human mind can be.  Though the theories and sketches of Dr. Wilkins may seem quaint and more than a little naive to our eyes, they weren't altogether flawed.  Wilkins based what he did on the best scientific knowledge available at the time.  Keep in mind, this was before Newton came along and gave us the basics for much of physics.  That not withstanding, Wilkins was on to something far before his time.  I mean, I can't even call this Steampunk as it's earlier even than that.  Steampunk is a literary and cultural meme, supposing an alternate history where high tech comes about in the Victorian era and is powered by steam.  That's a quick and dirty definition, but it's all the more textual I can afford it at this time.  But I digress...
What would have happened if Wilkins and Newton worked on this project together?  We can only speculate, but the first people to set foot on The Moon in the 1960s might have been British.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

The New Apes

No, that header is not the name of a band.  Although it probably should be.

I came across this article on the BBC from 2004.  The upshot of it is that a new species of ape may have been discovered in the Congo.  They are said to have the same size and appearance as gorillas, but behave like chimpanzees.  At the time in '04, the leading theories from scientists as to the nature and origin of these apes were as follows:

  • They are a new species of ape
  • They are giant chimpanzees, much larger than any so far recorded, but behave like gorillas
  • They could be hybrids, the product of gorillas mating with chimpanzees.
Search as I might, I have yet to find any follow up on this 2004 article.  Were these indeed apes heretofore undiscovered by science?  I don't know.  But if you know anything, send an email.
During my search, I did come across this bit from just last September.  A new species of gibbon was found in Southeast Asia.  This was verified and photographs of the primate appear on the linked page.

My point with all of this?  We don't know everything.  In 1998, a professor at a community college told both Armando and myself that "all the major land animals that will be discovered have already been discovered."  Yeah.  Right.
A few posts back, I wrote about Bigfoot.  While I'm still not sold, news of this kind amply demonstrates that new land animals can and are being discovered all the time.  It is not at all outside the realm of possibility that more await us, lurking in the shadows or deep under the oceans.
Whether or not one, especially a super-sized hominid, could remain undetected on a continent as heavily populated as North America is another question altogether.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Humanities and the digital revolution

At first blush, Humanities and Computer Science would seem to be quite disparate fields of academic discourse.  As a scholar who is trained in the Humanities (English) and wishes to teach it, I've never subscribed to this interpretation of the studies, that these curricula should remain isolated, especially in a day and age when technology is becoming so integrated with humanity.
So you can imagine how pleased I was to see this article in The New York Times.  Young scholars in the Humanities are embracing digital technology as a means to both better understand and teach our various areas of study.  Imagine using a computer enhanced topographical map of the Battle of Hastings to see just what kind of role terrain played in the outcome, or a graphical representation that shows the exchange of ideas between European nations during the Enlightenment, tracking how changes in thought migrated.  I can envision a computer program that could calculate how many adjectives and adverbs appear in a text, thus helping me to teach a class on Stylisitics, demonstrating just what kind of writing we are dealing with, whether it is "stuffy," "tough," or "sweet."
It's not difficult to hear the whining of "computers have no place in the Humanities."  I can already imagine the Kip Haggis types of the world crying that we "need to slow down" and how we're "losing our humanity."  Technology will enhance, not take away, our understanding of ourselves.  No, a computer will not be able to evaluate the worth or significance of a poem, musical composition, or painting.  Yet it may help us to better understand what went into its creation.  In the article that I linked, I believe that Anthony Grafton, Professor of History at Princeton, says it best: “The digital humanities do fantastic things,” said the eminent Princeton historian Anthony Grafton. “I’m a believer in quantification. But I don’t believe quantification can do everything. So much of humanistic scholarship is about interpretation.”  

As in most anything else, digital technology is a tool, not an end result.  How we use these innovative new tools is limited only be our own creativity.
Go flip a burger, Kip.

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

When the woes of November come early

Do you know the feeling?  You've been dating someone for a while and that tiny runtime error occurs in the back of your brain.  Soon the message pops up: "I'm not sure if I want to marry you."
That's how I feel about my chosen NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) project.  The goal is to get 50K words written before the 1st. of December.  
Right now, I'm at about 17K.  Ten days to go.  And with a holiday week ahead, I'm not optimistic.
So why the "fail?"  A few reasons.  Work has been tough, I've been exhausted, and my family feels neglected when I submerge like a submarine and write.  I also spend part of my evening on my commitment to a daily blog post on here, keeping Strange Horizons fresh and vital in the blogosphere (if it even is such.)  More than any of that, I think I just fell out of love with the project that I chose.

It began as a mash-up of many different science fiction memes: The Omega Man, Islands in the Net, Buck Rogers (the Gil Gerrard version), and Until the End of the World.  I added in bits of Raymond Carver, John Updike, and Don DeLilo for literary flavoring.  I mixed it all into a bowl then poured it into one specially chosen mold: Planet of the Apes.  Stay with me on this.

The crew of a corporate-owned spaceship returns from a ten year mission to Titan, the moon of Saturn.  About seven of those years were spent in hypersleep hibernation for the round trip.  Communication with Earth as spotty due to distance, but became lost altogether as a result of the malfeasance of the commanding officer.  The five person crew have had a fractious relationship indeed. 
After a harrowing plunge through Earth's atmosphere, they return to their landing point in Arizona.  They find the spaceport and the town around it in ruin.  They walk over metal scrap and shattered glass, past homes and schools that have been abandoned and fallen to great disrepair.  Rusting cars litter the sides of roads.  Eventually, they are accosted by raggedy men, mostly blacks, who announce their intentions of theft, rape, and murder.  The crew is rescued just in time by the U.S. military, oddly enough composed mostly of whites.
The crew is taken to a domed city called New Phoenix.  The dome shields UV rays, vents out carbon emissions (which are considerable there), and keeps the temperature at a steady 72 degrees.  There are futuristic citadels and crystalline apartment and condo complexes attached to vast shopping malls.  There are a few advanced technology cars, a few that can even fly, but most are gas guzzlers quite similar to the ones we have now.  Videoscreens line the streets, along with LCD displays and laser lights.  American flags flutter everywhere.  Only there are no stars on the flags, just a solitary white cross.
A civil war has occurred in America during the crew's absence.  Although there have been a few major land battles, the fighting has mostly been riotous clashes of individual conservative and liberal factions in the streets (think Israeli/Palestinian conflict or Belfast in the 80s.)  Washington D.C. is gone, destroyed by a nuclear detonation.  Lines have been drawn in states and communities everywhere and people who could have once cared less about politics and religion have been drawn into the thick of things, much like Yugoslavia circa 1991.  The crew are in a city run by the established U.S. government, a Christian theocracy under martial law ("for the time being," supposedly...and they're still chummy with the "good A-Rabs," the ones with the oil.)  Though treated like royalty after being found, what happens to the five crew members when the Red Staters learn that one is a Hispanic, one is an atheist, and one is homosexual?  What side of the fight will the other two crewmen fall on? 
If you're worried about this novel not being "fair and balanced," I do plan to have at least a few characters escape to a "Blue State" run area.  I envision that society being a bit disorganized with unclear leadership, organically grown medicines, defending themselves with technology rather than sheer numbers and guns, and an intolerance for religion of any kind.  And all of it funded in part by the Chinese.  My point?  Neither side would build a paradise.  Who is right and who is wrong in the civil unrest?  The answer is muddled and murky.  Just like real life.

My problem is that I don't have a clear, central conflict.  No backbone for the story.  It isn't exciting and I've just been writing segments of character development and a lot about what this new USA is like.  Guess I shouldn't be surprised.  My role-model, Planet of the Apes, is not exactly a thriller and does tend to meander.     
What will I do with this?  I have no idea.  The plan right now is to keep writing it as best I can.  When December comes, I'll secure it on multiple hard drives and let it go away for a while.  Let it gestate.  See what...if anything...will come of it.

In the meantime, I'm just flying blind and I'd hate for anybody to have to read it.

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Friday, November 19, 2010

The "HIV conspiracy"

This is not the first time that I have heard this.
That HIV, the virus that causes AIDS... aka the scourge of our lifetime...has been theorized as a bioweapon designed and released by the New World Order or other Powers That Be.  The aim of this being twofold: 1) Reduce an overpopulated world by killing off "undesirables," such as homosexuals, Africans, drug users, prostitutes, and so forth.  Of course there would be others killed by HIV, but they are viewed as "collateral damage" and unavoidable.  2) More profit for the medical industry.  Treating symptoms makes far more money that curing a disease.
The kind of paranoid delusions from a conspiracy theorist, lurking somewhere on a message board in a dark corner of the Internet?  Or perhaps Jesse Ventura's house?  Most of it, yes, but it also is a view supported by a Nobel Peace laureate.

Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan ecologist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, claimed HIV was "deliberately created."  Here are few of her more thought provoking, not to mention unsettling, quotes from her:

"Some say that AIDS came from the monkeys, and I doubt that because we have been living with monkeys (since) time immemorial."
"Why has there been so much secrecy about AIDS? When you ask where did the virus come from, it raises a lot of flags. That makes me suspicious... In fact it (the HIV virus) is created by a scientist for biological warfare."

Pretty serious accusations...and ones that Ms. Maathai does not offer evidence for (as far as I know) nor does she name just who "a scientist" refers to.  She may not know, but it sounds as if she does...or at least has a suspect.  Like I said, pretty serious accusations.  I have seen the affects of HIV/AIDS on individuals, communities, and entire nations.  I have witnessed it firsthand in Haiti and right here in the Chicago area.  Though I have not seen it in person, the ravages of AIDS across the continent of humanity are an affront to any compassionate human being.   It is a terrible way to die and it oftentimes makes those living with the disease feel alone and uncared for.  If this is indeed a man-made bioweapon of a sort, its perpetrators should face charges of "crimes against all humanity" and then we'll decide whether or not to put them to death.
It is unthinkable that this could be the case but they don't hand out Nobel Peace Prizes in boxes of Fruity Pebbles, no matter what Republicans have to say in regard to Obama's win.  Ms. Maathai may sound paranoid, but that doesn't mean she's wrong.  She could be on to something.  While a few researchers claim to have found AIDS-related cases as far back as the 1930s, the virus really did seem to just pop up out of nowhere in around 1980.  What gives?
I'm not necessarily throwing in on Maathai's side on this one...going to repeat that one more time for David...I'm not necessarily throwing in on Maathai's side on this one, but it sure makes you think.  Like anything else in America, follow the money.  Just who is profiting from the disease?

Humans have committed many other barbaric acts.  Would you put this one past us?

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Can't get it to START

Granted, I am aware that I do not know all the intricacies, the loopholes provided, the sourcecode as it were to the new START Treaty inked with the Russians that now needs approval in the Senate.  The Obama administration is doing its damnedest to push it through, but whether or not the current lame duck Senate can yield the votes is very much up to question.  I find that to be unwelcome news.
I know there are cries from Senators that they haven't had enough time to read through the treaty.  Fair enough.  I know there are arguments from pundits that claim this will weaken the U.S. in both strategic and tactical means.  Not so sure about that.
What bothers me is what seems to be indicative of an attitude towards overall nuclear reduction.  I am neither naive nor Pollyanna enough to begin to think that we will ever live in a world without nuclear weapons.  The genii popped out of the bottle in July of 1945 and it ain't going back in.  Not unless human nature really changes and I don't see that happening.
Given that fact, I would find it preferable that we have as few as necessary of the ugly things sitting around.  Military strategists on both U.S. and Russian sides have finally determined that an all-out, MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), nuclear exchange is no way to fight a war.  There is no one left to surrender to you, all assets and resources are annihilated, and you're going to be coming out of things much the worse for the wear.  The doctrine now seems to be one of calculated targeting.  Crippling, not decimating.  

While my definite preference would be for no nuclear war, I'll willingly take the limited exchange scenario if that's my only other option.  At least the world will find a way to survive that.  Therefore, we need to reduce stockpiles on both sides until there are only enough warheads left to carry out such an engagement.  

But how can we trust the rest of the world?  How can we ever inspect them enough to make sure they're being honest?  I don't know.  But please, I've had enough nightmares of mushroom clouds in my lifetime.  Somebody must reduce the threat for all of our sakes.

I just keep thinking about what my brother said after returning from a trip to New Mexico.  He saw the Trinity test site.  He also saw a Pueblo village not far from there.  Mankind's ultimate weapon was manufactured and tested in the vicinity of people who once lived in relative peace.
Seems we could learn something from them.  As Sting said, "I hope the Russians love their children too."  Same goes for Republican senators.

Speaking of music, in today's queue: Sting, Duran Duran, The Cure, Bjork, David Byrne & Brian Eno

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Messin' with Sasquatch

Sooner or later I'd get to this.  Surely it comes as no surprise, in fact I think I stated it in my initial post, but I started watching In Search Of... and reading books on UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, and the Yeti when I was a mere 6 years old.  In fact, it was a book on the Yeti that kicked my Fortean interest into motion, much to the disdain of parents and teachers alike. 
In the summer of 1980, my Grandmother called me.  She lives in the southwest corner of Ohio and was excited to tell me that Bigfoot had been seen in their area.  Yep, the sightings were in all the local papers.  With the large stretch of woods at the far back end of their property, visits to my grandparents' farm were never the same for us young Nichols boys.
Fast-forward to summer of 1988.  I was approaching 18 and in an effort to fit in with "teenage cool" (and failing miserably at it, I might add), I stayed as far away from things like Bigfoot as I could.  Again we were at my grandparents house and I was talking with my Grandfather.  How we got on the subject of Bigfoot I have no recollection, but Grandpa told me this: "I do believe there really are such creatures and they were in Ohio at that time.  I've talked to guys who saw it back then and I...I just don't think they'd make up something like that."  It is impossible for me to quantify the love and respect I have for my Grandfather.  And being that he shared the grounded, "no nonsense" approach to life that many of "The Greatest Generation" had, this bold statement of his caught me a bit unawares.  Ever since, my interest in both Bigfoot and cryptozoology has slowly crept back.

Ah Bigfoot.  I have never seen a phenomenon with such marvelous evidence on one hand and a complete dearth of it on the other.  Let's take a look at the supportive evidence first:

-Accounts of Bigfoot-type creatures, sasquatches, predate the arrival of Europeans on these shores.  Many works of Native American art depict humans, wildlife such as bears, and then a large humanoid shape among them.  There are also rather ape-like masks among the tribes of the Pacific Northwest.

-There's all of those footprints.  Obviously there have been many fakes, but there those casts that have intricate details, such as dermal ridges and even broken and unset bones in one case.  One primate researcher compiled a survey of all the yet to be disproved footprint casts that she could.  She plotted all the finds out on a graph, based on length, width, and other characteristics.  What she got back was a bell-shaped curve.  This only happens with a living species.

-Samples of alleged Bigfoot hair have come back with no known match in the zoological database.  The closest they've come to an identification is "some kind of ape."

Now for the con:

-Just where the hell is Bigfoot in the fossil record?  Anthropologists have yet to find any hominid that would even come close to fitting the bill.  Sasquatch enthusiasts point to Gigantopithecus, but that creature's skeleton, though quite incomplete, does not suggest a bipedal animal.  

-We've never found a dead one.  Related to the above point, it seems that someone at one point or another should have found a bone or two, or maybe even hit one with their car.  

-With the dense population of North America, it would seem most unlikely that any kind of large primate could go on living undiscovered.  For the species to have gone on living for this long, it would need to have a sizable breeding population.  We should be tripping over them.

Not all of those cons are entirely dissuasive.  Thanks to my Dad, I've traveled to the habitats of every major land animal in North America, except for the polar bear.  Never once have I seen a dead one.  When an animal dies, nature takes care of it pretty quickly.  
As for fossils, paleo research involves a great deal of guesswork with the finds.  All we've found of Gigantopithecus is its enormous jaw.  We extrapolated the rest from there.  If you had never seen an elephant before and found the skull of one, you'd probably assume it had very large nostrils for there is no evidence for a trunk.
Then there is the Patterson-Gimli film, the 8mm movie where the iconic picture above is from.  This film has been pronounced a fake and then authentic so many times that I'm about to get whiplash.  
"It's a guy in a suit."
"No one could get the biomechanics of ape movement down like that.  Look.  It turns its whole upper body like a gorilla."
"When you're in that suit, you have to turn your entire body."
"Look at the detail of the musculature."
"The guy in the suit AND Patterson admitted it was faked."
"There've been about 50 guys who claimed to be the one in the suit and there is no such documented statement from Patterson."
"Well...this time it's for reals."
"The object of hoaxing is money and notoriety.  Patterson got a bit of that last half, but died fairly broke.  Gimli wishes they'd never even shot the film."
 "Teams of special FX experts have no idea how that could have been faked back in the 1960s."
"Those statements have never been verified."
And back and forth it goes, seesaw seesaw seesaw.  Seems the verdict on the Patterson-Gimli film is much like that of Bigfoot itself: murky at best. 
Is it real?  I have no idea.  I'd really like it to be, but the absence of a body or any kind of fossil deals a sharp blow to the evidence or lack thereof.  But just maybe...

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A new literary sub genre?

Since I love books and storytelling in general, I am always on the lookout for something I have yet to experience.  In the field of science fiction, that's a rarer and rarer find these days.
And although I'm uncertain of the relative quality of the books I'm about to blog, I do believe that they represent a burgeoning sub genre of literature: UFO fiction.  
I know there are likely to be literary critics who would classify books of this kind as straight-ahead science fiction.  Heck, there are a great many who would call nonfiction books on the UFO matter "science fiction."  But where I believe UFOlit (like it?  It's my new term?  Doesn't it just...pop?) differs, is that it takes components of the mythos, of allegedly true incidents, and builds the narrative in a spiral outwards around them.  Incidents like Roswell, the Phoenix Lights, abduction, and the chupacabra, are cultural touchstones, whether they are true or not.  Writing fiction set around them only makes sense.

Books of this kind came to my attention after running across Operation Roswell, a novel by longtime UFO investigator, Kevin Randle (whom I believe I mentioned in my previous post.)  In the book, Randle speculates around a series of simple questions: what if the Roswell crash was caused by an alien saucer that the Air Force actually shot down?  What if there was a secret directive authorized by General Curtis LeMay ,stating that if anything goes wrong at Area 51 while the alien crew and ship were being studied, that a nuclear strike has been authorized?  Of course things do go wrong and it's a thrill ride to see who can stop it all from getting worse.
As I understand, Whitley's written a book like this too, called Majestic.  Nick Pope has a book of UFOlit out as well.
Granted, I know this is quite a niche market.  The in-references can be a thrill for UFO buffs, but for the casual reader, it's going to take well-crafted characters and a solid, exciting story to give the novels any kind of longevity.

In that respect, UFOlit is like anything else.

Operation Roswell and Majestic can probably be found in used bookstores.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Varginha incident explained (?)

I came across this article last week on Forgetomori and just knew I had to place it in the queue for blogging.
First, I probably should provide a bit of background for the layman (men, women) who might be in the audience.
In 1996, three young girls in the city of Varginha, Brazil caused quite a stir when they insisted they saw an alien near their home.  The thing was allegedly bipedal with large eyes and bumpy skin.  The girls found it crouching near a stone wall, apparently hurt or sick.  It was said to exude a foul odor (important later on.)
Time went by and UFO investigators developed a full-fledged mythos for the incident.  First, Varginha was said to have experienced a number of UFO sightings in the days leading up to the alien encounter.  Then NORAD supposedly tracked the crash of a giant UFO in the area of Varginha.  There were reports of Brazilian military forces mobilized in the streets of the city, tracking down survivors of the crash and carrying off the dead for dissection in the U.S.

This all caused quite furor back in the 1990s.  It's nothing I can prove, but I'm willing to bet it was the inspiration for the "Mexican birthday party" scene in M. Night Shyamalan's landmark film, Signs.  So there was indeed buzz around this case and with good reason.  If solid evidence could be found, it would have been the biggest UFO event since Roswell.  However, this turned out not to be the case.
While Brazil does tend to be a hotspot for UFO sightings, it was investigator Kevin Randle who was the first to find that there was nothing to suggest UFOs were even involved in the incident.  Far more crucial, however, is the logical explanation for the sighting of the "alien."
It was well known amongst many citizens of Varginha that there was a homeless man with disabilities named "Little Luis" who frequented the streets.  Given the recent heavy rainfall at the time of the girls' sighting, they could very well have seen Luis covered in dirt and mud.  His malformed features would only have added to his "alien appearance."  They were surprised and startled by his appearance, thereby causing his alienness to become even more exaggerated through heightened emotion.  What is more, the foul odor could easily be attributed to his indigent condition.  There are also photographs of Luis crouching next to similar walls in a similar manner to the "alien" the girls claimed that they saw. 

So it appears Occam's Razor has sliced down yet another supposed incident of alien contact like it was stubble on Whitley Streiber's chin.  But don't worry.  While this does make for a tidy explanation, it is not necessarily conclusive evidence that alien contact did not occur in Varginha.

But I wouldn't hold your breath.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Free at last

I will admit, prior to early 2001 I had no idea who Aung San Suu Kyi was let alone how to even pronounce her name.   I was younger then and did not consume the amount of news that I do today.  Even still, it took a vehicle of popular culture to educate me about this marvelous woman.

The year 2001 was when I finally bought U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind.  It was a record that furiously reignited my love for the band after what was for me the doldrums of Zooropa and Pop.  On that 2000 release was a song called "Walk On."  In the record's liner notes, the song was dedicated to Suu Kyi and the Free Burma movement.  Inspired, I decided to do a bit of research to find out just what was meant by that.
Aung San Suu Kyi was the rightfully elected leader of Myanmar, known colloquially as Burma to much of the world.  A military junta brought an end to her administration and the army generals placed her under house arrest.  She remained confined to her home for the greater part of 21 years.  During all that time, she never once wavered in her dedication to a free Burma through peaceful resolution.  Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her perseverance.  "Walk On" indeed.  Moved by this, I joined Amnesty International in a letter writing campaign to help facilitate her release.  I harbored no grandiose visions that even this slippery-tongued son of a bitch could make all that much of a difference, but I wanted to do something.  I'm a writer, so I decided to write.
Just yesterday, Aung San Suu Kyi was finally released from house arrest after the junta bowed to diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions.  While the notion of house arrest sounds just dandy to a recluse like me, I cannot fathom what it must have been like for her and all the sacrifices she must have made, not the least of which was deciding to stay in Burma as a symbol of hope to her people instead of traveling to London to be with her dying husband.  And I think I've got it bad.  Yeah, right.  She should also stand as a cautionary tale to every other democracy of the world.  Think a police state couldn't happen to you?  Even in the good ol' U.S. of A.?  Don't be so sure.

As for Bono and the boys, I ultimately feel no shame about being schooled by a rock song.  It's just another example of why I love U2 and why the band is so magical, especially in comparison to their peers both past and present.  You don't just rock out to the music, you learn about the world.  And maybe if you do a bit of thinking, you can figure out how to go about changing it. 

To anyone else who is suffering, be it from a personal situation of entrapment or political oppression, "Walk On."

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Saturday, November 13, 2010

They hate me, they really hate me!

This is the 200th post for Strange Horizons.  

(pause for jubilation)

I can think of no way better to celebrate than with a submission from Scott Pakin's Automatic Complaint Generator.  The web site can produce a complaint letter/email for any organization or individual that you input.  Yes, even one about yourself.   I generated one for this blog and have not stopped laughing since reading it.  No, I do not know Mr. Pakin.  But whoever he is, wherever he is, I think he's a genius.  Behold my ontological undressing!

"I'm sorry, but I just can't avoid talking about Strange Horizons. Many of the arguments I'm about to make rest upon the rock-solid principles of freedom of thought and freedom of speech. If it weren't for these freedoms, I wouldn't be allowed to tell you that Strange Horizons is starved for attention. To cap that off, Strange Horizons, already oppressive with its pompous, mephitic false-flag operations, will perhaps be the ultimate exterminator of our human species—if separate species we be—for its reserve of unguessed horrors could never be borne by mortal brains if loosed upon the world. If you think that that's a frightening thought then consider that over time, Strange Horizons's expedients have progressed from being merely obstinate to being superobstinate, hyperobstinate, and recently ultraobstinate. In fact, I'd say that now they're even megaobstinate.
I want to transcend traditional thinking. That may seem simple enough, but Strange Horizons counts the worst classes of besotted muttonheads there are as its friends. Unfortunately for it, these are hired friends, false friends, friends incapable of realizing for a moment that if my memory serves me correctly, Strange Horizons's voluble newsgroup postings are meticulously designed to keep the population unaware, uneducated, dumbed down, and focused on stupefying activities like video games. The intention is to prevent people from noticing that Strange Horizons has been violating the basic tenets of journalism and scholarship. I hate to say this, but Strange Horizons's henchmen tend to fall into the mistaken belief that Strange Horizons can override nature, mainly because they live inside a Strange Horizons-generated illusion world and talk only with each other.
According to Strange Horizons, infernal firebrands aren't ever impractical. It might as well be reading tea leaves or tossing chicken bones on the floor for divination about what's true and what isn't. Maybe then Strange Horizons would realize that it's easy to tell if it's lying. If its lips are moving, it's lying. There's no mystery about it, no more room for fairy tales, just the knowledge that we are at a crossroads. One road leads into the light of a bright, shining future in which pushy, stinking vigilantes like Strange Horizons are thoroughly absent. The other road leads into the darkness of sectarianism. The question, therefore, is: Who's driving the bus? I'll tell you the answer in a moment. But first, let me just say that Strange Horizons contends that our unalienable rights are merely privileges that it can dole out or retract and that, therefore, simplism is a wonderful thing. This bizarre pattern of thinking leads to strange conclusions. For example, it convinces effrontive, detestable rascals (as distinct from the pouty, money-grubbing fault-finders who prefer to chirrup while hopping from cloud to cloud in Nephelococcygia) that there is an international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids. In reality, contrariwise, I honestly dislike Strange Horizons. Likes or dislikes, however, are irrelevant to observed facts, such as that I have no set opinion as to whether or not Strange Horizons is a tremendous deadweight on our will and morale. I do, however, definitely allege that if it weren't for muzzy-headed, truculent ragamuffins, it would have no friends.
Strange Horizons will indisputably damage the debate about this issue in that we will have to spend lots of time correcting misunderstandings that are directly attributable to its calumnies. Strange Horizons's companions have been running around recently trying to make higher education accessible only to those in the higher echelons of society. Meanwhile, Strange Horizons has been preparing to undermine the foundations of society until a single thrust suffices to make the entire edifice collapse. The whole episode smacks of a carefully orchestrated operation. If you ask me, Strange Horizons believes that it is everyone's obligation to take a condescending cheap shot at a person that most cynical scum will never be in a position to condescend to. That view is anathema to the cause of liberty. If it is not loudly refuted our future will be dire indeed.
Strange Horizons's behavior might be different if it were told that its pals have the power to use paternalism as a more destructive form of particularism whenever they feel like it. Of course, as far as Strange Horizons is concerned, this fact will fall into the category of, "My mind is made up; don't confuse me with the facts." That's why I'm telling you that its "I'm right and you're wrong" attitude is clumsy because it leaves no room for compromise. One of Strange Horizons's most loyal chums is known to have remarked, "Representative government is an outmoded system that should be replaced by a system of overt cynicism." And there you have it: a direct quote from a primary source. The significance of that quote is that Strange Horizons has warned us that before you know it, dangerous, virulent exhibitionists will promote a culture of dependency and failure. If you think about it, you'll realize that Strange Horizons's warning is a self-fulfilling prophecy in the sense that anti-intellectualism, McCarthyism, and interdenominationalism follow Strange Horizons's footsteps. Wherever it goes, such things are sure to sprout up. The implication is that Strange Horizons's headlong, unholy nostrums have a demoralizing effect on the victims of human-rights violations. Get that straight, please. Any other thinking is blame-shoving or responsibility-dodging. Furthermore, I have one itsy-bitsy problem with Strange Horizons's viewpoints. Videlicet, they separate people from their roots and cut their bonds to their natural communities. And that's saying nothing about how I once told it that it will just moan and groan until we give it permission to quote me out of context. How did it respond to that? It proceeded to curse me off using a number of colorful expletives not befitting this letter, which serves only to show that Strange Horizons hates people who have huge supplies of the things it lacks. What it lacks the most is common sense, which underlies my point that he who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. Of course, people like Strange Horizons who do in fact perpetrate evil hurt people's feelings. To close, let me accentuate that if we unite rich and poor, young and old, we shall not only survive Strange Horizons's attacks; we shall prevail."


Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, November 12, 2010

Archeology...without the bullwhip

Given the state of mind of much of humanity today, I'm surprised we're not wrecking more of our past as we are our future.   
"There's an ancient Sumerian city under that expanse of land?  Fuck it.  We need a strip mall and condos.  Start digging, Achmed."  Thankfully, we have done a rather serviceable job for the most part of protecting ancient archeological heritage.  One obvious and famous example of this is the Sphinx of Egypt.  This monument of ancient sculpture and stonework has literally been fascinating people for centuries.  What is it?  Why was it built?  Everyone from ancient astronaut theorists to legitimate Egyptologists have wondered those very things and the answers that have been formulated, e.g. it was a tribute to a pharaoh, are rather sketchy when it comes down to brass tacks.

One archeologist has formulated a few challenging notions.  Dr. Robert Schoch of Boston University estimates the oldest parts of the monument to date back to about 5,000 to 7,000 BCE.  That's at least three or more thousand years older than established academia has accepted.  Schoch bases these estimates on the amount of water erosion and runoff demonstrated on areas of the Sphinx.  The last time there was enough rain to cause that kind of erosion in Egypt was prior to 3,000 BCE.  He goes on to suggest that the face depicted on the monument is not Khufu or anyone we would traditionally associate as "Egyptian," but rather a Nubian or African...and a woman to boot.  
Schoch has undertaken seismic studies of the ground on which the Sphinx rests and there does seem to be evidence that supports a fabled "secret chamber" beneath the left paw of the Sphinx.  Egyptians were said to have had a variety of different secret storage places, libraries that would preserve their knowledge from antiquity.  New Agers will tell you that the secret to Atlantis lies in one of these chambers, or solid evidence that the ancients did indeed have advanced technologies.  Or it could just be evidence that conclusively proves ancient Egyptians knew how to carve stone really really well.
Schoch is still trying to locate an entrance to said chamber, but there does appear to be a tunnel that runs the length of the Sphinx.
But is he right about any of this?  Who knows.  But that's how archeology works.  We can't go back and see what the Egyptians did, so we take the evidence we can find and extrapolate from there.  Only time and further research will tell if Dr. Schoch's theories are complete enough to hold water.  That said, I think what he is doing is important.  For one thing, I believe every field of research, whether it is ufology, English composition theory, or chemists trying to find better bleach additives, needs mavericks.  Guys who will shake things up, ask questions that no one else is willing to, and provoke open minds to think while annoying closed minds to no end.
Secondly, I support anyone who does research into our past.  No Dylan and Brittany, the world was not cut out of whole cloth fifteen years ago.  We cannot hope to move forward if we do not know where we have been.

Do Americans know that?


Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Art as inspiration for the writer

Believe me, I search everywhere for inspiration, for any kind of spark that will help me to plot for plotting is my greatest literary weakness.  Quite a blind spot for a writer to have, but I'm just speaking out of honesty.  Often times, I turn to paintings in an attempt to light the creative pilot light.  One of my favorite artists for this purpose is Edward Hopper.  In his work, I can imagine the subjects' past, hear their voices, and in a few cases I can smell and feel the setting.  
So I am always on the lookout for new art...or art that is at the very least new to me.  Today I came across the art of Alex Lukas.  Lukas paints expanses of urban decay.  Motor vehicles are left to rust in wide open, grassy spaces, vegetation wins out the day over anything humanity has so proudly constructed, and  life marches on just fine in what appears to be our absence.  Especially striking to me were Lukas' paintings of cities underwater.  By that I mean our current sprawling metropolises sitting beneath the waves, due presumably to global warming.  I don't know, I could just see kernels of stories pop out of the paintings as they do from time to time with Hopper.  I could imagine the POV of someone heading down to street level of the city...in a submarine.  Perhaps someone who has never really known what "home" is since it all happened.

It's a fun exercise.  Unfortunately, there's very little of Lukas' spectacular work that facilitates what I'm writing now.  So be it.  Back to work.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

So much for the coral

In the aftermath of the BP Deepwater Horizon spill this summer, we saw indelible images, such as pelicans covered in oil, Gulf Coast fishermen waiting anxiously to see if they'll make enough to survive or at least get compensated, and of course the dolphin that died screaming in pain as workers tried frantically to clean the oil from it.

It doesn't end there, unfortunately.  Or as American commerce might phrase it: "But wait!  There's more!"
Scientists from The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have discovered a massive swath of undersea coral that is either dead or dying.  The area is located a mere seven miles from the BP leak.  While officials admit that there is no concrete evidence to link the spill to the die-off, the proximity of the coral to the spill and the timing of the mass death make BP the obvious suspect.  
"Big deal," you might say?  "It's just coral."  Well, coral serves a function to the sea life of the area.  The sea life of the area serves a function to the fishermen of the Gulf.  In short, it's not just tree-hugging environmentalism concerned here, it's people's jobs and livelihoods.  I'd also consider shrugging off the coral deaths as a form of "speciesism," meaning the viewpoint that the human species is the only one that deserves to survive.  Yeah.  See how far that gets us.

I just keep thinking back to the aerial views of the spill, the amorphous blot with the technicolor oil sheen, spreading outward and acquiring new nodes of sea life before moving on to the next.  With all the oil we've spilled and all the radiation that has leaked from sunken nuclear submarines like The Kirsk, I can't help but wonder if we'll one day be attacked by giant mutant sea otters or the like. 
That could be the best case scenario.  We'll probably be drinking our tap water with a spoon soon enough if our attitudes don't change.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

By definition, a UFO

There was a bit of excitement off of our western coast, yesterday.  A traffic helicopter over Los Angeles shot footage of what looks like, for all intents and purposes, a missile launch taking place in the ocean off California.  Not an especially far-fetched transpiration, especially given the amount of naval activity in the area.  The problem is this...no one in the military or at NASA knows anything about it.  In fact, Pentagon officials admit to being stumped as to how to explain what is on the video.  According to said officials, all missiles in the US inventory have been accounted for at this time.  Plus, they assure us that a missile test would never take place so near a populated area, certainly not our second most populated city.  I know the deal about trusting statements from the government or the military, but this is what we have to go on right now.
So what is it?  No one seems to know, it's flying, and it's almost certainly an object as radar at LAX picked it up.  By definition, that is a UFO.  Now one thing needs to be made clear when tossing that term around: this does not mean aliens or extra-dimensional visitors.  Just the opposite, really.  The craft in the video is obviously propelled by a form of chemical combustion, not the kind of thing to expect from sophisticated visitors.  However, it is rather interesting to note that Catalina Island, roughly the area off California where the "missile" was spotted, has long been a hotbed of UFO sightings.  Not only UFOs, but USOs (Unidentified Submerged Objects) as well.  So many sightings have been reported in the area that it has long been speculated that either the aliens or our navy have a secret base under the sea in that location.

As if this writing, about 5pm CST, the leading theory on the strange "missile" is that it was all an optical illusion.  The traffic copter spotted an airliner at an odd angle, making its contrail appear far larger than it really was.  Experts who have reviewed the tape do suggest that the object is moving a bit too slow to be a missile.  This would make for a thoroughly dissatisfying, Scooby-Doo ending to the mystery, but as Occam will tell us, those are usually the most likely ones.  Not always, but usually.

Unless it was someone who built one really kick ass model rocket.  If that's the case, my hat goes off to them.

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Monday, November 8, 2010


It seems that the era of "space tourism" is well upon us.
By late next year, the first regular flights into orbit will be offered out of Spaceport America, the operating hub of Virgin Galactic in New Mexico.  Expect a seat to cost the passenger around $100 to $200,000 depending.  That's a bargain, all things considered.  And there is every indication that the price is only going to continue to drop.
That's a worry for many who study the environment and climate change.  To them, space tourism just means more launches and that means a vast increase in the amount of black carbon emissions coughed up into an already sick and polluted atmosphere.  This is probably only the beginning of the systematic errors inherent in the program.  No doubt NASA must have its concerns over commercial space travel colliding by accident with any number of the orbital bodies above the Earth.  The State Department is probably drawing up responses to the crash of a space tourist craft into a foreign nation.  The Department of Defense has had experience with more than a couple of innocuous launches being mistaken for nuclear first strikes in the Kremlin and I don't even want to think about what kind of a regulation headache its going to be in terms of safety and assurance, not to mention exactly what agency is going to oversee it.  So in light of all of this, is it even worth it?

I'm going to say "yes."  I've said it many times before on Strange Horizons: we have to leave this planet if the human race is going to survive.  If space tourism can represent the first baby steps towards that, if it can give everyday people a sense that space travel isn't just an esoteric notion or something meant for the elite few alone, then I believe it could be the beginning of a shift in attitudes, an entire re-imagining of just what the purpose of space travel is and why we should support it.  Plus, I have my own selfish reasons for wanting to press forward.  I am going to do my damndest, perhaps with my first million earned in book sales (snicker), to take part in one of these commercial flights.  To go into space, even if for just a few minutes?  I'd cough up the 100 grand if I had it.  Screw the environment.
Just kidding.
Sort of.

And here's a couple of folks from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's rally in D.C. last month who seem to have the right idea:

Also, check out Google's logo for today in honor of the discovery of X-rays:

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