Friday, September 30, 2011

Roswell, UFOs, and Marilyn Monroe

What follows is my summation of and reflections on yet another well done piece of writing and research by Nick Redfern.  It is by far one of the most bizarre allegations that I have read of in regard to UFOs.  
And there are a lot of horses in that derby.

Back in 1995, a writer named Milo Speriglio became inadvertently involved with Ufology.  Speriglio, now passed on, had chosen Marilyn Monroe as his votary and wrote a trilogy of books on arguably the most famous actress who ever lived.  He had also come into ownership of an unauthenticated document that alleged that John F. Kennedy had pillow-talked to Marilyn about a UFO crash at Roswell.  Vicki Ecker, then editor of UFO Magazine, summed the whole thing up this way:

"...the document suggests that on the day she died, Monroe was going to hold her own press conference, where she was planning to spill the beans about, amongst other things, JFK’s secret knowledge of UFOs and dead aliens.”

Well the document does mention Project Moon Dust, which was an actual clandestine program run by the U.S. government to acquire crashed Soviet technology such as satellites.  It goes on to say that Kennedy confided to Marilyn that he had been to a "secret airbase" where objects from outer space were being studied.  Among the study subjects were "crashed spacecraft" and "dead bodies."    Interestingly enough, as Redfern points out, nowhere in the document are these items listed as "alien."  They have only been inferred as such by certain UFO investigators.

You have to admit, it's a great story.  One of the largest icons in pop culture history has an affair with one of America's most charismatic presidents.  During the proceedings of the tryst, he tells the actress about the UFO conspiracy.  Then said president, actress, and even the president's brother, all die through violence and mysterious circumstances.  A movie waiting to happen if it hasn't been produced already.
Unfortunately, it is in the end unsubstantiated as so many other allegations in UFO research are.  But it is not altogether far removed from the realm of believability.  If you believe as I happen to, that world governments know far more about UFOs than they are letting on, then the disclosure of such information or any other classified data to someone without proper security clearance is tantamount to treason.  The intelligence community would have good reason to become suspicious of such a president.  Maybe even enough to have him killed.  As I said, it's pure speculation.

Oddly enough, the two people who could set the record straight on the matter are long since dead.

Seems to me she lived her life like a candle in the wind.

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Countdown to extinction

"Do you really care if a spotted owl dies?"
Someone once asked me that back in 1992 in the wake of the owl habitat v. Pacific Northwest logging jobs debate of the day.  When viewed in the tunnel vision approach of the everyday, I suppose I wouldn't be losing any sleep over it and it spotted owl extinction wouldn't change the fact that I need to work and pay bills.  So it wouldn't matter...yet.

What we fail to realize is that every organism fills a purpose in the massive and incredibly interconnected ecological system of our world.  Knock a part of this system out and things begin to go out of balance.  I don't like frogs.  They terrify me in the way that spiders and snakes get to other people.  I don't know why but there it is.  What if I somehow willed that all frogs and toads were erased from existence?  I might feel a bit safer but we would soon find ourselves with an overabundance of flies and mosquitoes living unchecked.  Certain species of birds feed on frogs and the population of those birds would begin to dwindle.  Birds that also eat bugs.  That means more bugs.  Bugs that eat crops.  Crops that we need to eat.  Guess it's a good thing I'm not God.
What brings all of this up?  I came across an article that reports that nearly one quarter of the animal species on the continent of Europe are near extinction.  Just as I was saying, these animals all fill a need.  “Life is possible because of biodiversity,” said Ana Nieto, with the International Union for Conservation of Nature. “Everything comes from biodiversity. Everything comes from having well-functioning ecosystems.”  Church.
It isn't just a matter of the ethical treatment of animals or "let's save the cute, furry guys like the Iberian lynx and the panda."  Less "sexy" poster children for conservation are needed, too.  I'm talking organisms like bees.  Bees are needed to pollinate. Pollination is needed to grow fruits and vegetables, the act of which is an entire industry that employs millions of people let alone one that produces food for us to eat.  Pollination is also needed to keep forests healthy.  Without forests, water does not go through its natural cleaning process.  Soil gets looser and floods easily, leading to mudslides.  You'd think we'd care about such things.

But no, we just keep pushing it.  What, us worry?  Top o' the food chain, ma.  We'll keep overfishing the seas of tuna.  We'll blindly eat our way out of house and home until the day comes there's nothing left and we're wondering why.  Well, a few of us won't be wondering.  We'll know exactly why.  We'll be shaking our heads sadly as we find ourselves in a scene remarkably similar to one from Blade Runner: "Is that a real snake?"  "Are you kidding?  It's synthetic."  

So why should we care if animals go extinct?  You should probably remind yourself that human beings are animals.  Once we've eliminated all the others, guess which one is left?

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Einstein wins again

Despite the bit of knocking that Einstein has gotten recently over the speed of light, one aspect of his work appears to have checked out: the general of theory of relativity.

Said theory states in part that the wavelength of light from a distant galaxy will shift a small amount due to the galaxy's gravitational mass, a phenomenon known as "red shift" in astronomy.  Turns out this is correct.  As stated in the linked article on

 "The effect is very difficult to measure, because it is the smallest of the three types of redshift, with redshift also being caused by the movement of the galaxies and the expansion of the universe as a whole. To disentangle the three sources of redshift, the researchers relied on the vast number of galaxies in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey sample, which allowed them to perform a statistical analysis."

And it does indeed seem that gravity can and does affect the wavelength of light, bearing out Einstein's notion that not are space and time related but the presence of mass warps space-time itself.  A significantly large mass such as a galaxy or a galaxy cluster will alter space-time to a point where time will actually move faster.  So...I have to ask.  If light is subject to the forces of gravity, i.e. speeding up or slowing down according to the presence of mass, wouldn't that indicate that the speed of light is not the constant Einstein thought it to be?  That alone is tough to get my head around but then toss in the idea of dark matter and it all gets real noodlely, real fast.

It is currently suspected by camps of astronomers that the universe contains far more mass than is visible.  This x quantity has become known as "dark matter."  If dark matter exists, and more and more space scientists think this likely, then what occurrences is it responsible for?  How is this mass exerting itself upon light and other aspects of the universe.

Sure wish Einstein was still here to tell us.  Heck, Carl Sagan wouldn't be bad, either.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fueling the Future

More and more, I am getting to like this Fareed Zakaria guy.  I know, I know, the underground among you will decry me for indulging in “mainstream media” but “them’s the breaks” as they say in Indiana.

Zakaria is a journalist for CNN and on that news site’s Global Square forum, he recently posted the following question: “How will we fuel the future?”
Bill Gates said last year that if he had one wish for the next 50 years, it would be “an energy miracle” that would provide power for the world while costing less than oil or coal and with no CO2 emissions or other pollutants.  Most influential thinkers agree.  The future of humanity is going to be directly tied in with our ability…or lack thereof…to find clean alternative energy.  The reasons for this, while debatable (foolishly, in my opinion), are many.  We may be consuming oil faster than we can extract and refine it.  Emissions from fossil fuel use are causing Global Warming.  Regardless, our future is going to require a massive shift in our way of thinking.

The responses from Internet users on the forum were predictably mixed.  There were the pragmatic suggestions, such as focusing on increasing electrical output through alternative means such as hydroelectric and solar power.  There were pie-in-the-sky arguments for anti-matter power and orbital solar stations.  And there were your usual allotment of gadabouts, trolls and “Obama is screwin’ us over!” criers. 

It’s got to happen.  For our common future, we are going to have to transition away from fossil fuels.  Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening without a sort of global crisis to kickstart people’s enthusiasm for such a project.  We may not, however, have long to wait for that to happen.
Wired magazine recently posted that all intelligence that the CIA has on Global Warming is listed as “classified.”  That’s right.  Stacks of data on the probability of drowned coastlines, rate of desert expansion, and exploding populations have all been locked away from public view.  It makes sense that the Agency would conduct the research.  Environmental factors affect the competition for resources and thereby affect national security.  While there are any number of valid reasons why this data needs to be concealed, it can only make someone wonder how close we might be to “endgame.” 
Let the conspiracy theories commence.

In other news, I've collected a fair amount of information in my research on the cut-up method of writing.  Just today I listened to Break Through In Grey Room by William Burroughs.  Still, I'm going to need to channel a bit more Burroughs in order to get a solid thesis to write about for the paper.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

The American Book of the Dead

I managed to come across a book that I intend to read and a blog that I will continue to read.

The author’s name is Henry Baum and he wrote a novel (and published it on his own!) called, The American Book of the Dead.  It’s about a writer (I like where this is going already) who is working on a post-apocalyptic novel.  During this process, he discovers that his daughter is doing online porn and his marriage is coming apart at the seams.  He faces not only personal holocaust but a global one as well as characters he dreams about turn out to be real people.  Could therefore his fictional apocalyptic scenario be a real one?  Could he be the only one who can stop it from coming to pass?
The book’s ad copy describes the novel as having elements of Robert Anton Wilson, Philip K. Dick, UFOs, World War III scenarios, and secret societies involving a childish, Christian fundamentalist president.  Now I ask you, gentle reader, just how could I say no to that?  Sounds like it makes The Day After Tomorrow look like chump play…not that it’s a mean feat to do so, but you get what I’m saying.

Baum has a blog on his website as well, a site likewise entitled American Book of the Dead.  I like the cut of his blogging jib.  Mainly because he covers many of the same subjects that I dwell on: the path of insanity and suicide offered by the political right, our deteriorating environment, and the lunacy of religious fundamentalism.  A prime example of the latter is this sapid chestnut from Baum: “The party of God says that God makes things happen – so if you’re poor and get cancer, you must deserve it.”  Preach it, brother.

I know that I harp a great deal on here about The Singularity and transhumanism.  But I really need to check myself.  Writings from authors like Baum remind me that we might not even live long enough for The Singularity to happen. 

I sure wish post-apocalyptic fiction could remain fiction.

You can get The American Book of the Dead at Amazon.

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Unemployed? Wear a screen for cash!

Just when I thought that marketing and "branding" could not be more annoying, there comes the concept of "wearable advertising."  And I'm not talking a mere Nike logo on a t-shirt or a brand glyph on a ball cap.
It's not really a new idea.  The Christian Science Monitor reported on it back in 2009 and Wired talked about it allllll the way back in 2000.  The era of wearable computer screens is already upon us.  These thin, flexible displays can be molded to a person's wrist or wherever would be accessible for viewing.  Now, take this development and weave it in with clothing.  Recruit a few people as "TV wearers" and place them in high traffic areas or at big events.  Imagine someone with videoscreens embedded in their leather jacket, cycling through ads for cigarettes or wearing a t-shirt that plays the trailer for an upcoming movie or a band's latest video, complete with audio.  This will become an especially formidable tactic if the wearer is a hot woman as the CSM article suggests.  Speaking for myself, I'm not certain I could successfully tear my eyes away from that.  Yeah catch my attention, flirt for a bit, then I'm mindless putty...just waiting for you to show me an ad for beer or tchotchkes.

And why stop there?  With the micro-thin, flexible nature of these displays, couldn't a corporation pay someone to install these ads on their private vehicle?  So many people are out of work and depressed, it's extra income in dire times, right?  Why not?  There are already trucks with billboards on their backs and NASCAR does it all the time.  Not that I wish to have NASCAR set the bar for anything but you get my point.
As I said, these are frantic economic times and advertising has become correspondingly ubiquitous and obnoxious.  Do anything, absolutely anything that it takes to get noticed in the midst of the white noise, media zeitgeist.  This notion of wearable advertising is a logical extension of the current media.  Author Rudy Rucker even predicted this occurrence in novels such as Software and Wetware.  Chalk up another "hit" mark for science fiction in the "dystopian" column. 

What do I think about it?  Like I said, I've been disgusted with advertising and "branding" for a good long while now.  William Burroughs once wrote that "the word is the source of all evil."  I'm afraid that venerable author was a bit off of the mark.  Turns out that the corporate logo glyph fills that role just fine.  I'm simply resigned to this development on the horizon.  My only hope is that this presents a new challenge for hackers to get into the code of an ad on someone's bosom and then swap it out for hardcore pornography or at the very least an episode of Barney.  Nevertheless, I'm sure marketing types will attempt to justify their worth and this advancement by claiming it as just the next evolutionary step:

" 'As humans we all respond to things that are interesting and fun and a little bit different,' says Karen Post, a self-described 'branding diva' in Tampa, Fla., and author of 'Brain Tattoos,' a forthcoming book about branding."

Have I mentioned that I detest branding?
Unplug yourself from the Matrix.

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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Neil Armstrong: his real words on the Moon

In honor of the recently released film, Apollo 18...which by all accounts is every bit as vapid as it promises to be...I thought that I would post this link.
What were Neil Armstrong's first words as he stepped onto The Moon?  I mean, his real first words?  They're not what you think they might be and we may have been too quick to lionize him.  Here's a description from the site linked above (BTW, the audio on the web page is entirely NSFW as it comes from The Onion...and we all know what that means):

"In 1969, Neil Armstrong made history by becoming the first man to walk on the moon, uttering the immortal phrase, "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Or did he? Previously suppressed footage discovered by blogjam shows that Armstrong's reaction was a great deal more uninhibited than history suggests, and that a hasty editing job was needed to prepare the astronaut's moment of glory for broadcast.

So here, for the first time, is the unedited NASA film from the triumphant Apollo 11 mission."

Oh if only that audio recording were the true broadcast.  Obviously it's a mere spot of fun but the sad truth is that it is a beacon of brilliance compared to certain supposed "truths" out there about the Apollo moon landings.  We've heard everything from "they were faked" to "we ran into aliens" a la Apollo 18.  Just ask Timothy Good.
Timothy Good is one of the leading investigators in Ufology but in regards to Mr. Armstrong he rather missed the mark.  In one of his books, Good published an unattributed report of a supposed friend of Armstrong's, who at a NASA get-together claimed to hear Armstrong say the following:

"It was incredible...fact is, we were warned off.  There was never any question then of a space station or moon base...I can't go into details except to say that their ships were far superior to ours both in size and technology--boy, were they big!...and menacing."

In Above Top Secret, Good also included this supposed transmission intercepted from Apollo 11 regarding alien spacecraft:
"These babies are huge, sir...enormous...Oh God you wouldn't believe it!  I'm telling you there are other spacecraft out here, sir...lined up on the far side of the crater edge...they're on the moon watching us..."

Fortunately, Good also published a full response from Armstrong regarding these allegations (p. 387), politely pointing out to Good that "your information is wrong."  No objects were sighted.  All discoveries from Apollo 11 were made public.

All, that is, except for Armstrong's real first words.  :)

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Max More

Any research into the concept of transhumanism must lead to the writings of Max More…which makes it all the more embarrassing that I have not read him until recent months.

Interestingly enough, Max More’s academic background is not in technology but in philosophy.  This has allowed him to develop a perspective that is unique when placed against those of most tech geeks.  In the 1990 essay, "Transhumanism: Toward a Futurist Philosophy", he actually coined the term "transhumanism.”  Transhumanism’s own William Gibson in a sense.  He founded the Extropy Institute, dedicated to researching emerging technologies that will allow humans to live indefinitely.  He is also the president and CEO of the world’s largest cryptopreservation service…the act of freezing living tissues.

Most impressive to me of all Max More’s contributions is his philosophy of the Proactionary Principle—a guide to the balancing of benefits and risks in transhumanist development.  Also a means to stifle the fear-mongers.  More explains it this way:

"People’s freedom to innovate technologically is highly valuable, even critical, to humanity. This implies a range of responsibilities for those considering whether and how to develop, deploy, or restrict new technologies. Assess risks and opportunities using an objective, open, and comprehensive, yet simple decision process based on science rather than collective emotional reactions. Account for the costs of restrictions and lost opportunities as fully as direct effects. Favor measures that are proportionate to the probability and magnitude of impacts, and that have the highest payoff relative to their costs. Give a high priority to people’s freedom to learn, innovate, and advance."

That is the most copacetic response I have ever heard to the complaints lodged by transhumanism’s detractors…who interestingly enough I have heard called “humanish,” a play on the Amish opposition to technology. 
Best of all, these founding principals of transhumanism came from a man whose doctoral work was in philosophy…one of the Humanities.  Seems to me that’s an argument in and of itself for transhumanism.  Neither extropy nor transhumanism advocate for an abandonment of human principles or creativity.  In fact, it is the human capacity for free thought and innovation that allows for and entitles us to create new ways to overcome our biological defects and limitations.  Sadly, a strong segment of the opposition will come from religious sectors.  To that, More yet again says it best:

"No more gods, no more faith, no more timid holding back. Let us blast out of our old forms, our ignorance, our weakness, and our mortality. The future belongs to posthumanity."

You can visit Max More's website.  It features a full list of his writings, mostly journal articles and essays.

Also available is this transcript of his appearance on CNN's Crossfire, dealing with inane questions from a couple of tools, chief among them being Tucker Carlson.

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

My view on the 52

This month, DC Comics took their entire line of comic books back to one.  A total reboot.  Flagship characters such as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman will never be the same...or so the ad copy goes.
I get the idea.  Comic book readership is dying and the publisher wants to appeal to a wider audience.  One of the main hurdles to new readers has always been the tangled web of continuity that most comics have behind them, making it difficult for new people to just jump on in the midst of a series.  The 52 all-new #1 titles are supposed to erase all of that.  To start reading DC Comics now, one need not have any prior knowledge of DC, continuity, or even superheroes.  

But will it work?  Fresh start or no, you're only going to keep readers if your issues are quality.  I managed to pick up only two of the #1s at my local store so my sample is admittedly small.  That aside, I'll now offer my own view of how I think it's going.

Action Comics #1.  He's back.  A cynical hero for our dark times (or so one headline read.)  His costume is jeans, a t-shirt, and a cape.  He has trouble making the rent.  He's a hipster.  He's Superman.
Going to let you absorb that for a moment.  Superman also kicks out dialogue such as "I'm your worst nightmare" and dangles bad guys from rooftops.  I think writer Grant Morrison has been writing Batman for too long and is quite confused.
Superman is one of my two all-time favorite characters (the other being Batman.)  Any character that has been around for nearly 100 years like Superman needs to change with the times or else the character becomes stagnant and dies.  An example of this, as writer/editor Denny O'Neil says, is Paul Bunyan.  Sure, people know the character.  But how many actually care about him?  And I would argue that Superman has changed with the times.  Yet what's happening in Action is in so many ways contrary to Superman's core character.  I certainly recognize him but his speech and his actions are not the character I came to love.  Therefore I have no interest and will not return to him as he fights corruption in the inner workings of Metropolis as Lex Luthor plots.  Again, is Morrison sure he's not writing Batman?

Justice League International #1.  It's true, we're a global village and these heroes aim to represent that fact.  Rocket Red is there from Russia, Fire and Ice represent Brazil and Norway respectively, and a hero from China whose name is so long that I refuse to type it.  Batman is there, trying to keep the whole thing wrangled.  The series is being written by Dan Jurgens, a guy who knows how to turn in a solid and entertaining superhero story.  He's brought a bit of edge with him this time, something I have a feeling was urged by DC editorial (I'm just trying to envision Dan Jurgens and Grant Morrison sitting the same room together.)  There's apparently a loose organization of people who don't trust superheroes and how this particular aspect of the Justice League is being run by world governments.  They are prepared to defy this development by any means necessary.  
JLI was definitely my favorite of the two.  Mainly because Jurgens did exactly what he does best which is as I said, churn out a decent story.  But that's all it was.  Decent.

Is "decent" going to be enough to bring repeat sales?  These days, I don't think it's enough.  I plan on giving a few other books in the #1's a try, such as Batman, Justice League, Green Lantern, and Batwoman...but I'm not going back to Action or any Superman title for that matter.  If you fundamentally change Superman, you fundamentally change the DC Universe and not for the better.  That and I've never really been Morrison's biggest fan.

Small bit of hope, there is a mysterious, hooded woman who has shown up in one panel of each new #1.  There is much fan speculation, because that's what we fans do best...speculate, that this is a being who has the ability to "reboot the reboot" and bring everything in the DCU back to the way it was.

So that they can do something exactly like this all over again in another 10 or 15 years.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book Review--American Gods

While I read American Gods a long while ago, I was just reminded that this past September 3rd was the book's tenth(!!!) anniversary of publication.  In light of that, I wanted to write the review of Neil Gaiman's masterpiece that I never did.

The book concerns a man named Shadow.  Shortly after getting out of prison, Shadow learns that his wife and his best friend were both killed in a car crash (I will leave it to the reader to learn the circumstances of the traffic fatality.)  As if by kismet, a strange man named Mr. Wednesday shows up to offer Shadow a job as "the man who does" for Wednesday. With nothing left of his life, Shadow accepts.
The two men set off on a cross-country roadtrip across America.  As they travel, Shadow learns that a world exists that most people are utterly unaware of.  Every god that ever existed in human history is real.  When Europeans and other cultures migrated to new lives in America, they brought these gods with them.  But when people cease to worship gods like Odin, Anubis, and Cherznoborg and begin to worship the new gods of marketing and technology, the old gods lose their power...and they must take up ordinary lives amongst us mere mortals. There is a storm coming and Wednesday knows it.  The old gods will confront the new.  Odin must gather all the gods that he can for the "coming storm," a conflict in which Shadow finds himself a combatant.

Part urban fantasy, part horror, part sprawling road excursion a la Kerouac, American Gods is Neil Gaiman at his finest.  Distinctive characters combine with darkly thrilling settings.  At the risk of running into literary cliches, I believe that Gaiman makes myth accessible.  He has done just that time and again during his run as writer for the comic book, The Sandman.  The reader need not necessarily know the various dramatis personae of Russian or Greek myth for the author will provide such strong characterization for them that one can easily suss things out for themselves.  Not only that, Gaiman has a penchant for ensconcing said characters in situations that are easily related to us mere mortals.  In his stories, we can cry for a god, feel fearful for a god, and laugh at the wry wit of a god.  There is just such an intimacy in Gaiman's text.  I really don't know any other way to put it than that.  He is the only author I have ever read that makes me feel like he is drawing me to a fireplace in order to tell me a story.
The book also takes us across this land of ours, showing us just how much we hold up culturally in those roadside oddities.  Written shortly after Gaiman and his family moved to the U.S., I believe the book has a cloaked agenda.  The author, I would argue, is trying to find his own identity in his new home vis-a-vis the American identity.  Thus all of the sprawling traveling.  This latter aspect has led a few reviewers on Amazon to give the book a one-star rating, claiming that the plot "goes nowhere."  I think I understand that.  I don't agree with it, but I understand it.  Given that these are travels there is going to be a "chronicles" type of sensibility to the text.  Similar in that narrow respect to Huckleberry Finn wherein Twain actively warns...errr comically threatens...the reader not to look for a plot.  But Gaiman did find a plot and that plot was to look for the soul of America.  He has found that our identity stretches far beyond these shores and into myriad nations and cultures.  Indeed, we brought our gods with us.

This book gets my highest recommendation and is available on Amazon.

On a clearly off-topic note, I am very saddened this evening to hear the end of R.E.M.  I'll post on this...whenever I'm ready to accept it.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I really wish I could go

Next month is The Singularity Summit, October 15th-16th in New York City.  The legendary Dr. Ray Kurzweil is putting it on and will even kick things off with his presentation, "From Eliza to Watson to Passing the Turing Test."  The Singularity Institute is bringing together thinkers from all aspects of life to discuss emerging technologies, computers that think, and how we're another year closer to the Singularity.  Other guests and presentations will include Stephen Badylak: "Regenerative Medicine: Possibilities and Potential," science fiction author David Brin: "So you want to make gods. Now why would that bother anybody?"  Michael Shermer: "Social Singularity: Transitioning from Civilization 1.0 to 2.0"  (here's hoping we won't hear his views on the paranormal.  Oy...) and Ken Jennings: "The Human Brain in Jeopardy: Computers That "Think."  That bit with Jennings and Watson sounds especially interesting.
It is vital in this day and age to keep up with emerging technologies.  As robotics has already eliminated vast swaths of middle-range jobs and manual labor, so will thinking computers do to anyone working with knowledge or information.  So how 'bout it?  Anybody interested in supporting a poor blogger by sending him to NYC and footing the bill for the two-day gig?  Come on, I know you want to.   I promise to tweet you from the conference and mention you by name.  I will even get you into those off-the-chain hotel room parties that those transhumanists undoubtedly have.
Oh heck let's all save the money and just wait to see if the event gets either streamed live online or uploaded in video clips at a later date.

Here's a Time magazine article on last year's summit.  2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal
Now playing: The Smiths, "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want"

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, September 19, 2011

Heaven's not in the tail of a comet

After writing my previous post on the Comet Elenin and a bit of the hoo-ha that seems to be coming with it, I found it impossible to get Heaven’s Gate out of my head.

For those of you who might not remember, Heaven’s Gate was a religious…perhaps “cult” is a better term…organization.  In 1997, 39 members of Heaven’s Gate (HG) took their own lives in a mass suicide pact in their Rancho Santa Fe near San Diego, California. 
The members of HG were led by a man named Marshall Applewhite.  Applewhite’s name appears as early as 1979 in legendary UFO researcher, Jacques Vallee’s book, Messengers of Deception.  In it, Applewhite is described as a man who after a near-death experience, began to cobble together his own faith by mixing New Age beliefs with Christianity as well as a strong doses of science fiction and UFOs.  The tenets of HG were not altogether different from other religions that speak of rapture-like events and paradisiacal times ahead.  To their way of thinking, our world would soon be wiped clean and the only way to survive was for humans to transcend to the Next Level.
That means shedding the “vehicle” as they call it, your human body, when the time comes.  To “purify” yourself, you must also reject the trappings of attachment to the material world, including money, possessions, and sex.  When the time was right, a sign would appear.  At that point, the followers of HG would shed their human shells and move as revenants into an alien spaceship.  In March of 1997, the Comet Hale-Bopp appeared brightly over Earth.  Applewhite believed this to be the sign and that the spaceship was behind the comet.  The members of HG all got dressed into their uniforms: black shirts, black sweatpants, and black Nike Windrunner shoes.  Each member carried a five-dollar bill and three quarters in their pockets.  Together they ate either pudding or applesauce laced with Phenobarbital and then washed that down with vodka.  They got onto their cots and placed trash bags over their heads to induce asphyxiation.  A total of 39 people, including Applewhite, took their lives.

One of the aspects that so morbidly interests me is the connection of HG with science fiction.  Although linking this mass suicide to science fiction is rather like blaming 1980s teen suicides on heavy metal.  In fact, author Harlan Ellison wrote a somewhat terse essay that successfully argues that point.  Still, I’m curious as to the intricacies of this connection.  Heaven’s Gate members were only allowed to watch certain movies and television shows, among those being Star Wars, The X-Files, and Star Trek: The Next Generation.  In fact, the Star Trek influences were especially heavy.  As Wendy Gale Robinson from Duke University cites in a paper she did on Heaven’s Gate, one HG member reported that:

We watch a lot of Star Trek, a lot of Star Wars, it's just, to us, it's just like going on a holodeck. We've been training on a holodeck . . . [and] now it's time to stop. The game's over. It's time to put into practice what we've learned. We take off the virtual reality helmet . . . go back out of the holodeck to reality to be with, you know, the other members on the craft in the heavens (Students of Heaven's Gate Expressing Their Thoughts before Exit, March 21, 1997).

In other words, our day-to-day lives are not reality.  By leaving our bodies we effectively exit the holodeck.  Additionally, there were patches sewn into the black shirts that the HG members wore upon death.  These patches bore emblems which read, “Heaven’s Gate Away Team,” a specific reference to the “away teams” of officers that Starfleet would send down to planets.  In another sad Star Trek connection, Thomas Nichols (no relation), the brother of actress Nichelle Nichols who played Lt. Uhura on the show, was among those who took their own life at Rancho Santa Fe.

The members of HG were also heavily into Ufology.  Not the research and evidence aspects of it but rather the more quasi-spiritual, New Age, head-scratching stuff.  They attended UFO conferences and just before their suicide pact, bought $50,000 worth of “alien abduction insurance.”  The HG website had an artist rendition of what the aliens coming for them would look like.  It bore great resemblance to a “benevolent” Grey.

It’s easy to shake your head at these people and call them “kooks” as there is much humor mixed with the sorrow.  For example, why carry three quarters with you?  Are there vending machines on the UFO?  Is there Snapple in Heaven?
Really, more than anything, I just feel sad about the whole thing.  I don’t necessarily believe the HG followers to be crazy as much as lost.  Our world is a cruel, unfair, and messed up place.  When forced down by a crushing blow such as losing your job, going through an ugly divorce, or just not being able to find your place in the scheme of things, anything that promises better days ahead can start to look good.  For certain people, science fiction provides this.  For others, the quasi-moral leaders of UFO cults do this.  Everyone wants to belong.  And one word about calling these people "crazy."  Really, at face value, is the Heaven’s Gate notion of a spaceship coming to pick up the worthy any dumber than the fundy notion of Rapture?  I don’t think so.  Why?  Because we’re all looking for answers to the same questions…and we just want a little reassurance.

Comets have long been seen in human cultures as harbingers of evil events to come.  So will the arrival of Comet Elenin bring a similar occurrence to Heaven’s Gate?  In these dire economic times, we can only hope not.

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Meet Elenin

Better known to astronomers as C/2010 X1, the Comet Elenin has been making a bit of news lately.

The comet was discovered last December by Russian amateur astronomer, Leonid Elenin (hence the name.)  The comet nucleus is estimated to be between three or four kilometers across.  That could make things sort of interesting for us if it hits Earth.

Which it probably won't.  As a matter of fact, we can almost say it definitely won't.  Comet Elenin will make its closest approach to Earth in October at a range of over 21 million miles, which would make it slightly closer than the planet Venus.  That's "in the neighborhood" in astronomical terms but hardly cause to sound for collision.  The comet should be rather thoroughly observed by the SOHO (SOlar and Heliospheric Observatory) space probe and that will hopefully yield significant data for the study of comets.

While any comet bright enough to be observed in the sky brings with it at least a bit of excitement, this one seems to be unique for more than a few reasons.  There are those out there who are supporters of what has been called "the Nibiru collision," wherein our planet will have an apocalyptic brush...either collision or close approach...with a large planetary object.  The name "Nibiru" was stuck to the notion as that is the name given to a supposed planet spoken of by ancient astronaut theorist, Zecharia Sitchin.  Proponents of this Nibiru collision theory point to the very name of the Elenin's discoverer, claiming that it is close to the acronym ELE, Extinction Level Event.  They claim that the comet really has the mass of a brown dwarf and that NASA has been covering all of this up.  Where in reality, astronomers have run simulations and demonstrated that a stellar object with the mass of a brown dwarf would have demonstrable gravitational effects on Saturn which we could see long before the comet ever even entered our solar system. 

But that doesn't stop the talk.  In fact, it gets even better from a thriller writer's standpoint.  On September 27th, Comet Elenin will begin to approach.  President Obama will be in Denver.  As will, according to somebody out there, military and NASA officials.  There is supposedly an enormous New World Order bunker beneath Denver Airport and the kicker is that our military is said to be running a "Cocked Pistol" or DEFCON-1 drill on the same day (that's the highest level of military readiness i.e. all-out war, for those of you who don't read G.I. Joe.)  One thing I will say is that I've been to Denver's airport and it is a very strange place.  Could there be something to this?

Yeah.  Right.

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Friday, September 16, 2011

Speak Out With Your Geek Out

I’m going to say it all started in the summer of 1977 with a Star Destroyer crossing a movie screen in an opening shot.  Star Wars changed everything for me and plunged the six year-old me headfirst into geekdom.  For the next five years, every birthday and Christmas could have been known better as “Star Wars Toy Day.”

Mere days after that fateful trip to the movies, my parents bought me two comic books.  One was Avengers and the other was Hulk.  Excuse me, The Incredible Hulk.  I had absolutely no interest in the comics that were aimed for my reading level.  I wanted superheroes and I wanted them in serious stories.  But the vocabulary was above my reading level and so I kept asking my parents for definitions.  They indulged but eventually got tired of answering the questions and sent me to the dictionary.  I learned to use that reference and a wordsmith was born.  I kept reading comic books.  They became constant companions to me and I soon became knowledgeable about most every character in the Marvel Universe (my preferred comics publisher at the time.)  I remember naming every character on the cover of Contest of Champions #1 and my mother remarking, “If you could do that with math you’d be the math wizard of St. Augustine Elementary.” Yeah.  Math.  Just wasn’t gonna happen.  As an aside, I think my first game of Dungeons & Dragons was around that time, too.

Shortly after seeing Star Wars and devouring science fiction movies by the bushel, I happened to visit our town’s children’s library.  There I found a book on UFOs.  I was astounded.  Here were people describing science fiction experiences…but they were true.  Or allegedly, at any rate.  There really could be aliens.  This both fired my imagination and scared me like you wouldn’t believe.  In the same section, I found books on Bigfoot and the Abominable Snowman.  I asked my first grade teacher if these things were real.  She not only said “no” but also told me that they were “stupid and a waste of time.”

Naturally, I then read everything I could on the subjects and caught Leonard Nimoy’s In Search Of any time I could…and I will never forget the creepy-yet-cheesy music for that show.  Thus began a lifelong fascination with the paranormal. I’ve had a couple people actually call me “Mulder” recently and it made this geek’s heart sing.

Back in 2009, I visited Las Vegas.  What was the ecstatic highlight of that trip for me?  Winning big at blackjack?  Nope.  I might’ve won $50, I think.  Great deal on a hot Asian hooker?  Like that would ever happen.  No, it was my visit to Area 51…or as far as you can get before they shoot you, anyway.  Also had an Alien Burger at the world famous Little Ale’E’Inn in Rachel, Nevada.  Dope.

But being a geek was not always a bunch of giggles.  In elementary school, there were times no one wanted to be around me.  They said, “All you talk about is space and Star Wars.”  True, there is a gene or something in us geeks that makes us obsessive about the things we love to the point of nausea for those around us.  Sorry.  It’s an addiction.  We’re the junkies of the pop culture world.  But unlike alcohol or other drugs, geeks will not be destroyed by our addictions.  Instead, we will be nurtured and enhanced.

Not that any bully would care.  At age 12 other kids chased me out of a drug store because I was trying to buy comics.  Around the same time, a few jocks found out that I had quite the collection of G.I. Joe toys and asked, “do you play with them?” capped with a mocking chuckle.  Thought I said “no” and mocked back, the real answer was, “yes, of course I play with them.”  While other kids got the Atari system I got an Apple II+.  Kinda sets you apart in backward, smalltown, Indiana.  High school was a daily insult-fest and an occasional physical attack.

In the interest of self-preservation, I abandoned all geekish ways in my late teens.  No comic books.  No science fiction.  I turned to heavy metal music as my new, protective shell.  Yet even then I subconsciously gravitated to other geeks, practicing my geek ways such as comics and role play gaming in seclusion.  Outside though, I never let on.  Even when writing I would never allow myself to write science fiction.  No, I was a “horror writer.”  Then I wrote “literature” (pronounced, “litter-ahh-chure” in a mock English accent.)  Finally, wanting commercial acceptance, I wrote “thrillers.” 

Yet in attempting to save myself, I was really killing myself.  That’s what we writers call “irony.”  “You canna change the laws of physics, Captain,” a geek idol once said and he was correct.  Trying to force fit a convention...whatever that convention might be, is a recipe for disaster.  Your true nature eventually percolates back to the surface.  The more you try to stuff it back down, the more miserable you become. 

So I don’t stuff anymore.  It’s a combination of society’s greater acceptance of geeks (just look at the success of shows like Battlestar Galactica) and my just not giving a shit what people think.  Only now, at this middle-age stage of life, am I not hiding my tastes in entertainment from anyone.  Only now do I see getting that Apple II+ computer as the head-start advantage that it really was.  Now I have two computers at home…along with two iPods, two iPhones, two game systems, and I still want more technology.  Only now, years after the fact, am I embracing what I truly like to write.  And you know what?  It feels great.  I might not be happy at all with my current station in life but I am very happy with who I am.

So yes, I am a geek.  Proud of it, too.  For as Martin Luther said after the nailing of his theses to the church doors: “Here I stand.  I cannot do otherwise.” 
The guy was right.  Believe me I tried.  Foolishly I tried in order to please a very vague and generalized "someone else."  And I found that I truly cannot, nor want to, do otherwise.

By the way, geeks do have a sense of humor about themselves.  For example, I find the following clip to be one of the greatest in Conan O'Brien's career.


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Thursday, September 15, 2011

The United States Space Guard

In military operations, much of what happens "down here" depends on what is "up there."

Intelligence gathering, communication, navigation, guidance, for all of these tasks and more, our nation's armed forces are wholly dependent on satellites.  While all branches of service have people who specialize in satellites, the majority of the management of these assets is done by the Air Force's Space Command.  Now, there is a movement in both private and public sectors to establish a separate branch of the military devoted solely to space operations.  Such a move would, in theory, free the Air Force up to handle other tasks.

Plainly I remember it was in the midst of April 2001 when I saw good ol' Donald Rumsfield, then the Secretary of Defense, giving a press conference at the Pentagon that was being covered by C-SPAN.  Yes, I've been known to watch C-SPAN and yes I know, "geeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!"  Regardless, Rumsfield even said back then that the US Air Force was going to be moving towards being an Air and Space Force.  Then 9/11 showed up and I heard nothing much more on the matter.

Flash forward to today.  There's actually a proposal being floated around for a U.S. Space Guard.  The duties of this new service would be to monitor the amount of objects in orbit...a task that grows more daunting by the day...and if need be to eliminate the space junk.  Those are just a few of the proposed tasks.  Leaves a lot of room, however, for "other duties as assigned."

It's a fact that space is on its way to being weaponized (for a list of space weapons past, present, and future, click here.)  Military space shuttles have already been tested, there have long been plans for satellites that could direct high-energy EMP pulses to selected targets, and there's the "rods from God" project wherein tungsten rods are dropped from orbit to smack into targets on Earth.  That's right, mere metal rods...turned into deadly weapons via kinetic energy.  Then there's the entire wing of research, development, and now deployment of a land-based, sea-based, air-based, and space-based missile defense shield.  All of this via the blank check that the Department of Defense enjoys.

It's going to take a while for any of this to happen, if ever.  Political entities are reluctant to reorganize, especially if they might be losing budget money due to consolidation.  Do we need a Space Force?  Maybe.  But let's just hope we don't end up invading Mars because it has "weapons of mass destruction."  Then again, there is a slot open still on the "Axis of Evil."

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

It's hard out here for a blogger

When I first decided to start Strange Horizons, I had no real idea of how stressful blogging could be.  

I'm not complaining.  I choose to do this and I wouldn't have it any other way.  Still, I was just slightly unprepared for the challenge of committing myself to a daily post.  This isn't simply a matter of "finding the time" during the day to do it but making certain that I have a decent topic to post.  Okay, okay, I'm sure many of you think I might have missed the mark more than a few times, but in the end we all follow our hearts.
"Sure, there will always be something for me to write about," I thought.  For the most part, that is true.  There are, however, those other right now...where I don't have enough entertainment/educational value to what I'm doing to stick to the coded page.  Then, I don't think I need to tell you, I'm screwed.

It's not just a matter of fresh, daily material, either.  It takes time away from my family.  I'm not proud but I will admit to there having been a few times during the lifespan of this blog and many more over my tenure with computers, where I have begun a project at around noon with the bright sun overhead.  After becoming engrossed with writing, searching, surfing, Tweeting, et. al. I suddenly realized that the sun had set.  Yeah, that takes a little bit of 'splainin' with the family.  If I didn't live with someone else I'd probably find myself brushing cobwebs from my shoulders.  That juggling act between writing and domestic life is one I've really come to tussle with.

Then there are the comments.  Oh yes the comments.  I like to make sure I respond to every comment that I get.  The way I see it, I'm lucky anyone at all is willing to stop by and read my content.  If they have taken the time for that extra step to write me a note or ask me a question, I want to pounce on it and answer.  If I get an email notification that I have a comment, I stop what I'm doing and reply to it as soon as I can.  Why?  Won't Blogger notify me of the comment next time I log on?  And if I'm posting close to daily, won't that be soon enough?  Probably.  Nevertheless, I'm always afraid that I will forget to answer and thus appear rude to someone who made the effort to comment.  Additionally, the vast majority of comments have positive feedback and I want to make certain to express my gratitude.  Oh I've had one or two snark-filled jibes (I'm looking at you, Victoria) that cause additional stress, but you're going to get those no matter what and a little bit of panache is all you really need to allow them to deftly slide from your personage.  

Good bloggers should also read other blogs and comment on them.  There are blogs I head over to the first new post that I see, blogs like Pop Trash Beauty and This Blessed Plot.  Really, however, I should be reading far more than those.  If I want more traffic for and comments on my blog, then I need to be an active reader myself.  Gonna work on it.  Promise.

Do not fear or misunderstand, I will continue blogging for a very long time.  As long as I am physically able.  Just need a bit of venting.

Post Script: there's been quite a bit of additional news coverage lately on those 16 "super Earths" I wrote about last week.  Seems one of the extrasolar planets is a good candidate to have liquid water.  That has SETI all aflutter, claiming that they may have alien contact in the next 15 years.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Senator and the UFO

I came across a link recently that made a bit of a to-do about Sen. John Kerry's office building in D.C.

The story is from Jeff Rense's web site and the post was made during the 2004 presidential campaign during which Kerry was of course the Democratic nominee.  Kerry's office is located in the Russell Senate Office Building, named after the late Sen. Richard Russell of Georgia.  

And Russell was apparently involved with UFOs.

The post had a link which went to a story that I have never before read about in my years of amateur Ufology.   Dr. Bruce Maccabee obtained documents via a Freedom Of Information Act request that stated that while on an official visit to the Soviet Union in 1955, Sen. Russell sighted two UFOs.  The craft, said to be saucer-shaped, were spotted as Russell and his staff traveled by rail in the Transcaucasus region of Russia.  Each of member the American delegation watched these UFOs take off in a straight, vertical line and then approach the train in a glide-like motion.  The objects were domed at the top with a white light atop the dome.  A white-pinkish light ringed the undersides of the discs and moved in a pinwheel motion in a clockwise direction.  No sound was heard from the UFOs as they passed over the train nor was any exhaust observed.  Sen. Russell and the accompanying staff members were quick to make a full report of the sighting to both USAF and the CIA, thus generating the documents obtained by Maccabee. 
 Curiously, the column "Aviation News" for the Los Angeles Examiner in 1957 printed a letter from Sen. Russell that came as a response to requests for further information regarding the sighting.  Russell replied that he "discussed this matter with the affected agencies of the government, and they are of the opinion that it is not wise to publicize this matter at this time."

Maccabee correctly points out that this sighting is a pretty big deal.  Here we have the then Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee having a significant and documented UFO sighting.   Because of this and the fact that John Kerry inhabits an office named after the Senator, the author of the post contacted the Kerry camp in 2004, urging that Kerry make UFO disclosure a priority.  Shockingly enough, the Kerry reps were silent on the matter.  Maybe it was because the whole "name of your office building" connection is really rather weak?  Still, I can't blame the man for trying.

Here is the full rundown on the sighting as posted on The National UFO Reporting Center's web page.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

The Singularity or "The Transhuman Rapture"

I am one year older today.

Pausing for applause.

Seriously though, I don’t like getting older.  Then again, I can’t imagine that anyone does.  You lose energy.  You get squishier easier around the mid-section.  Your hair turns gray.  You lose hair where you want it and gain hair where you don’t want it.  And as more serious maladies then those pile up, you begin to wonder, “there must be a way to stop all of this.”  That is one reason why I have become such a proponent of The Singularity, where human and machine become indistinguishable.  For reference, see my posts on “The Cybernetic Stomach” and whatnot.

Only recently have I realized what I sound like when I talk about such things: a fundy.  They say, “Jesus is coming back and when He does, everything will be ok.”  We Singularity enthusiasts say, “The Singularity is coming and when it gets here, everything will be ok.”  In other words, there will be technological solutions for many of life’s ills and we won’t have to suffer in the ways that we do now.  In this regard, the two viewpoints are not at all dissimilar.

It must be an anthropological need in human beings, this sense that one day everything will be all right or at the very least there are better days ahead.  Jonathan Zap, a researcher and philosopher, was on Coast-To-Coast AM a while back talking about his very notion.  He spoke of the recent uptick in “apocalyptic predictions,” The Singularity, and how they both relate to continuing human evolution.  Zap contends that humans need periodic jolts to the system to spur on further developments in evolution.  "The message from the Singularity Archetype is that what looks like the worst thing in the world, may be exactly what is necessary to create a quantum evolutionary jump," he says, adding that this is true on an individual level as well, so that when a dire event happens to a person, it may prove to be a great moment of opportunity.

I hope so.  It would be of great comfort to me on this day if that were the case.  Just like a church-goer on his or her knees, praying to be saved, I keep hoping for the developments in cybernetics and pharmaceuticals that will boost us to the next level of evolution, to expand life expectancy and therefore give me more time to do what I feel I must do.  In a way, maybe it’s that kind of anxiety about aging that in part brings out all of the apocalypse talk.  We each fear our own mortality and end of the world scenarios are just one way that we express that fear.  Fittingly enough, Zap hashis own feature on aging as well.

Being that it is my birthday, you all have no choice but to enjoy the following from Duran Duran, the subject speaks for itself:

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