Friday, June 29, 2012

Bound to happen: Death blamed on alien abduction

I must set forth three caveats right away.

One: This is essentially a story about someone who died.  He had a family.  He had people who loved him…still love him.  Regardless of the cause, this event is a tragedy.  I want to take this opportunity to offer my condolences to the family of Todd Sees and I hope that they are now getting on with their lives as best as they can under the circumstances.

Two: The story is twisty and convoluted.  Many sources appear to conflict and contradict.  Therefore, I’ll be sticking mostly with accounts posted by Peter Davenport of the National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC) as his work on the case seems the most solid thus far.   In addition to this, I will be taking information from Phantoms and Monsters, a very fine paranormal blog.

Three: Much of this will likely prompt the skeptical to say, “How do they know that?”  Good.  You should say that for much of this is based on someone’s…and in a few instances, anonymous “someones”…testimony.  A great many of the solid facts in this case are yet to emerge.

This all happened back in August of 2002, near the town of Northumberland, Pennsylvania.  A man named Todd Sees went into the countryside on his 4-wheel ATV to hunt deer.  This was at five in the morning.  As afternoon wore on, Sees still had not come home.  Worried family members contacted the authorities.  A search commenced consisting of police, paramedics, and “200 volunteers.”

The 4-wheeler was found but there was no sign of Sees.  Search and rescue dogs were unable to get any scent.  The search went on over a wide area for nearly two days.  Midway through the second day, a searcher caught sight of “something white” in the thickets of brush near a pond.  Rescue workers spent 20 minutes hacking and cutting through the brush and small trees to reach the object.

As you might sadly guess, the object was the body of Todd Sees.  He was pale, emaciated, and dressed only in his underwear.  A look of terror was said to be on his face.  Todd’s clothes were nowhere to be found.  Only in later weeks would someone find one of his boots in the top branches of a tree. 

While all of this is sufficiently horrible on its own, reports from other residents of the area bring in a strange dimension.  A UFO was sighted in the same vicinity where Sees was last known to be alive.  The UFO was described as a large, bright, round object that fired a beam of light down to the ground.  Something was then drawn up inside the beam and then into the UFO.  The craft then shot up and out of the sky, all while making no noise at all.

Enter Peter Davenport of NUFORC.  Davenport had been aware of the sightings due to a report filed with his site.  This was before he knew anything about the death of Todd Sees.  He only became aware of after friends of Todd Sees contacted NUFORC, bemoaning that the organization was neglecting this important case.  Davenport contacted the Northumberland Police and the local newspaper, The Daily Item

Both agencies confirmed that Todd Sees had indeed died as well as the conditions in which he was found.  The police would not discuss anything further with the case as it was still classified as an “ongoing investigation” of an “unexplained death.”

Additional reports asserted that the FBI became involved in the matter, essentially taking control of the investigation.  They conducted interviews and even asked questions regarding UFOs.  Military helicopters flew over the area on a daily basis.  How do we know any of this?  Someone’s anonymous testimony to the NUFORC.  Unfortunately, that’s it.

While the more fantastical aspects of the case will need more weight behind them to be truly taken seriously, Mr. Davenport does see several red flags.  I offer those points now while interspersing my own questions.

-If the case is considered an “unexplained death” and not a “homicide,” why were police unable to comment on it?

-The county coroner would not allow the Sees family to view Todd’s remains as it would have been “very traumatic for them.”  Understandable.  Yet I know from having spoken with coroners that in a situation like this, they will if possible, ask a more distant family member such as an uncle or somesuch and not a parent, child, or spouse to make the official ID, thus sparing the immediate family of pain and horrid memories.  Regardless, someone needs to make an ID, especially if the man’s clothes weren’t found and thus a driver’s license couldn’t be used.  But identification must be made.  I don’t know if it’s the law in Pennsylvania, but that’s how it works here in Illinois.  Furthermore, officials insisted that the funeral for Todd Sees be a closed casket one.  Exactly who made the positive ID on the body and how?

-Bodies in the process of decay bloat.  They do not shrink or shrivel.  What accounts for the “emaciated” form?  How could a body become too decayed to be viewed only 39 hours after death?  And how does this happen to a man who had otherwise been fit and healthy?

-Why were the dogs unable to get a scent?  I know from working with police that these dogs are highly trained and being canines, they have an astounding sense of smell.  Yet supposedly they were unable to locate a “badly decayed” corpse.

-If the unsubstantiated reports of an FBI presence are true, then what were they doing?  This isn’t The X-Files and the FBI typically doesn’t get involved a case such as this one.

An eventual report from the coroner was printed in The Daily Item.  It listed the cause of Todd Sees’ death as “cocaine toxicity.”  An “accidental death.”  Thus far, I cannot find anything else about this statement, such as if the family has confirmed that Todd ever had a history of drug use.  This absence of information and the story’s lack of exposure in the media lead several to make that old standby of allegations, “conspiracy.”  True to that form, Pennsylvania officials have called any UFO involvement in this case to be “ridiculous.”

While the alien aspects of this case are shaky, there have been reports of so-called “human mutilations” in other parts of the world.  Just like cattle mutilations, naked humans have been found dead with parts of their bodies removed bloodlessly.  Often times, UFO sightings coincide with the timeframe of the body’s discovery.  A quick scan of a message board for alien abductees shows that at least a few of them maintain that aliens can and do kill occasionally during abductions.  While I do not wish to call these people’s honesty into question, I need to still classify such assertions as conjecture.

What happened to Todd Sees?  Was it drug use?  Was it abduction by aliens? Was it something else we've yet to consider?

His family deserves answer.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Put pond scum in your tank

Who woulda thought it?

A recent study shows that renewable energy sources could provide 80% of the U.S. with electrical power by 2050.  This comes from The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, so I suppose one could argue that the research might be a bit skewed.  The agency is, however, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.  Anyway, here are the key findings as taken from the NREW site:

   - Renewable electricity generation from technologies that are commercially available today, in combination with a more flexible electric system, is more than adequate to supply 80% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2050 while meeting electricity demand on an hourly basis in every region of the country.
   - Increased electric system flexibility, needed to enable electricity supply-demand balance with high levels of renewable generation, can come from a portfolio of supply- and demand-side options, including flexible conventional generation, grid storage, new transmission, more responsive loads, and changes in power system operations.
    -The abundance and diversity of U.S. renewable energy resources can support multiple combinations of renewable technologies that result in deep reductions in electric sector greenhouse gas emissions and water use.
   - The direct incremental cost associated with high renewable generation is comparable to published cost estimates of other clean energy scenarios. Improvement in the cost and performance of renewable technologies is the most impactful [UGH!!!! That is not a fucking word!---Jon] lever for reducing this incremental cost.

I’m glad that the authors of the report acknowledge that much of this is dependent upon an overhaul of the nation’s electrical grid itself.  That’s something that has been needed for a while now.  More than anything, it is encouraging to see steps being taken toward a future with renewable energy.

What are these sources of sustainable power?  The usual suspects; solar, wind, et. al.  There are others in the up and coming, however, including pond scum. 

That’s right.  Pond scum.  Or perhaps a more politically correct moniker would be “algae.”  Has far more pleasant connotations to it.  Anyway, a technical corporation known as Algaeon Inc. is betting that algae will become the sustainable energy source for the future, powering everything from the cars we drive to the buildings we work in.

While the notion of turning pond scum into biofuel is not necessarily a new one, Algaeon claims that it is now an affordable alternative.  The reality has been that generating just one barrel of biofuel from algae has been so arduous and expensive that oil remains the better choice by comparison.  Oil prices have now risen to a level to which Algaeon believes they can be competitive. Could they be among the syndics to bring green energy to the masses?

How much this...any of this...will shake out to be applicable to you, me, and the environment in the long run is not readily known just yet.  Let's just be grateful that someone in the oft times disgusting business world is trying to make our home planet a better place.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

For the Moon is hollow...

The greatest UFO hangs in our sky every night.

So goes the “artificial Moon” theory.  Of all the out-there, really nutty theories this one is my favorite.  Well, tied with the “Hollow Earth” theory, that is to say.  Simply put, the theory goes that our Moon is not a natural body at all.  It is a spacecraft orbiting our planet.  No, I’m not making this up.  For more on the theory, I went straight to the book where I first read of it.  That text being The Alien Agenda by Jim Marrs.  Here are the anomalies that artificial Moon proponents cite (as stated in Marrs):

-The Moon is said to be older than both the Earth and the Sun.  There are even those who argue that the Moon’s true age is 4.5 billion years, making it older than the solar system itself.

-Seismographs from the Apollo missions have registered several “moonquakes.”  These quakes produced identical seismograph readings.  This is geologically impossible…unless the quakes were the result of a broken hull plate in a spacecraft, shifting below the surface.

-There is evidence to suggest that the Moon is hollow.  Apollo 12 dropped an ascent stage rocket back down to the lunar surface as it blasted off from the landing site.  Readings stated that the impact “rang like a bell.”  “In all our experience, it’s quite an extraordinary event,” a source was quoted as saying. (Marrs, p. 8)  Is the Moon hollow?  If so, that would appear to contradict science.  “A natural satellite cannot be a hollow object,” said Carl Sagan.

-There is a perplexing question as to where exactly the Moon came from in the first place.  Astronomy believes the Moon to have been born from a collision between the Earth and a larger body.  If that is the case, where is the debris field?  Another theory goes that the Earth’s gravitational pull attracted the Moon into its current orbit.  Isaac Asimov dissented, stating that the Moon is “too big to have been captured.”

-There are those who claim to have observed numerous anomalies on the lunar surface.  A “black cloud” was observed moving across the Moon on separate occasions in 1959, 1964, and 1967 (not to be snarky, but why couldn’t it have been a cloud in our own atmosphere?)  In 1953, John O’Neill reported in the New York Herald Tribune that he had spotted a bridge-like structure across one of the Moon’s craters.

-That’s not the only structure said to have been spotted.  Others have reported domed objects, lit craters, vehicle tracks, and formations known as “The Shard” and “The Tower,” the kind of features that proponents love to point to and gasp “no way that can be natural.”  Sort of like the “face” on Mars.  Coincidentally, pyramids, obelisks, and geometric patterns have been seen on the Moon as they have been on Mars.  Artificial Moon supporters even argue that the real purpose of the Apollo missions was to visit these ruins and artifacts.

If the Moon is an alien spacecraft, it certainly is an odd one, what with all of the dust, craters, and now water on its surface.  Supporters of the theory claim that such an appearance is the result of billions of years of space travel.  Might make sense, I suppose. 

That is if I bought the whole idea of the Moon being a spaceship.  I will say that there are enough anomalies on the lunar surface to at least raise the question of whether or not the Moon has been visited by intelligences other than our own.  Let’s face it; the Moon would make a dandy base of operations from which to observe the Earth.  It’s relatively nearby and it is (as far as we can tell) devoid of prying eyes.

That question, however, is a long way from supporting the idea of our “lonely satellite” being a spacecraft for aliens.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Art review--"Pecker"

It would be easy.

I could quip, “Jen knows a good cock when she sees one” and leave it at that.

To do so, however, would be a serious disservice to the art of my dear friend, Jen Hernandez Banys.  Jen created the birdhouse pictured above as an entry into a fundraiser for The Chicago House, a not-for-profit organization that helps to provide housing for those afflicted by HIV and AIDS.  So not only did Jen create a heckuva birdhouse, she helped out a worthy cause.  That Jen.  She’s just all things to all people, isn’t she?

Named “Pecker” by its creator, the piece is far more than a birdhouse.  It’s a sculpture or an installation in and of itself. “Pecker” is a good likeness of a chicken or perhaps a rooster.  Its flesh tones and speckled texture give it a vibrant presence, one equally at home in a country kitchen downstate or an avante garde condo on Michigan Avenue.  On the whole, I think it’s a solid piece of sculpture in any medium and I’d be lucky to pull off anything that would look half as good.

Now that, dear readers, is a pretty lame art review.  If feel like Jen deserves more.  Maybe if I acted like a snooty, snobby, art aficionado, I could render a more erudite appraisal of “Pecker.”  So here goes…

(donning a black turtleneck, pouring an espresso…or a martini…or both)

At face value, “Pecker” forcibly drags our attention to a pre-industrial, agrarian age.  A time when our minds were tabula rasa, closer to nature and further from comfort.  The act of this itself may make the piece postmodern as well.  Yet of immediate interest is the choice of tone and hue that the artist committed to using.  The impassioned reds, the flesh-pink body freckled with imperfections as any living subject would be.  Note the rounded, bulbous shapes that abound in the piece, from the smooth head to the phallic curves of the beak.  Euclid would have blushed.  Is this an attempt at eroticism?  Are we meant to be aroused by “Pecker?” 

I’m certain that Camille Paglia might have something to say on this matter, but sexuality is not the only theme present in the piece (although it is a pronounced and throbbing one.)  In fact, it is juxtaposed with sheer terror.  Look at the black and conical eye.  See how hollow it is?  How sinister in that it resembles a hardened shelter for a nuclear missile?  This, I believe, is not by chance. 

The artist is making a political statement here in “Pecker.”  “Pecker” the chicken can see his own future.  He is aware of his destiny and he knows it in frightening lucidity.  He knows where he is going.

Your stomach. 

The artist then has made a profound statement on animal rights but she has tempered it with hope.  Note that the pupil of the eye is shaped as a heart.  This may indicate the eye looking forward to a time where humans and other animals live in harmony and not in a cycle of exploitation where one man can  glutch animals by the score.  This juxtaposition of themes and the ensuing nuances point towards a larger truth in the human experience.  How thin is the line between pleasure and pain?  How kindred are fear and arousal?

In summary of “Pecker” by Jen Hernandez Banys, I must quote Jack Nicholson from 1989’s Batman:
“Oh I don’t know if it’s art…but I like it!”

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, June 25, 2012

And the future looks like..."Minority Report"?

Did Minority Report get the future right over Blade Runner?

That’s the question asked in a recent article on io9.  When I first read the headline, I figured it to be merely a competition between two Philip K. Dick-based films, written by a makebate striving to strum up nerd rage.  I was ready to dismiss Minority Report in favor of the film with the undeniably higher level of quality.  Then I read the text (always a good thing to do.)  I was forced to reconsider in terms of the basic question.

Consider the following.  The OnStar service has remotely shut down cars and stopped thieves.  There are UAV drones now being deployed by law enforcement for surveillance purposes…and who knows what else down the road.  Police departments crunch mounds of data to determine patterns in crime to find ways to act in order to prevent crime from even happening.  There is software that can flag certain areas for certain kinds of crime (e.g. a parking lot with a high likelihood of car break-ins) and the police adjust tactics accordingly.  As an odd aside, that’s exactly the kind of work now being done by the legendary William Hung from American Idol fame.  Whoda thunk?

Of course the most salient feature of Minority Report is the technology that could identify criminals before they have even committed a crime.  These people could then be arrested before anything has happened.  That brings up certain ethical questions, obviously, questions that need to be asked.  Is an Orwellian “thought crime” enough to bring consequences upon someone?  Sort of along the lines of saying, “I’m gonna kill you” to someone without meaning it but reaping consequences regardless? 

I don’t know but we should probably come up with answers.  Back in 2005, the firm ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Japan announced that it had found a way to remotely read minds by scanning brain activity.  The technology was then and likely still is very much in its infancy, but preliminary tests on lab animals demonstrated that it may very well be doable to see what someone is thinking and perhaps what they are planning to do.  It’s thought that this new technology might even be able to extract more specific information than that from a person’s brain…and from a distance. 

And if the Teapublicans take control of the White House, they’ll be able to scan someone’s level of patriotism…or lack thereof.  (shudder)

I haven’t seen Minority Report in ten years and even then it was only one time.  Looks like I should probably give it another go.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, June 22, 2012

Loss of two artists

Two artists left us this week.

LeRoy Neiman died last Wednesday at age 91.  Neiman was a painter.  While you may not have known him, you likely knew his art.  Sports was one of his favorite subjects and Neiman leaves us with vividly colorful interpretations of events such as the Super Bowl, horse races, heavyweight boxing title matches, and especially the Olympics.  In addition to this, Neiman painted celebrity portraits and depictions of moments in culture, such as Bobby Fischer playing chess and Frederico Fellini directing 8 ½ .

More than any of that, his art is perhaps most widely known as appearing in Playboy.  Neiman’s paintings, sketches, and watercolors caught Hugh Hefner’s eye back in the 1950s.  Hefner then brought Neiman in to work on Playboy…and Neiman remained a fixture in the magazine ever since.  One of Neiman’s very first and most enduring contributions to the magazine was Femlin, the sketch of the sexy brunette that has appeared on every one of the “Party Jokes” pages since 1955.  A great many of Neiman’s paintings of sports and celebrities also graced the pages of the magazine with regular frequency, adding to Playboy’s sensibility of class and style…which it does have despite what anyone might say.

Neiman wasn’t popular with critics, who dismissed his paintings as magazine illustrations with inflated senses of self-worth.  He eschewed such cynical criticism, instead viewing himself in the mold of French Impressionists.  That’s not a particular tough comparison to see, looking at his paintings with their thick brushstrokes and vivid colors, taking inspiration from the culture of the day, much as Renoir did with cafes and racetracks.  As he said,

“Maybe the critics are right,” he told American Artist magazine in 1995. “But what am I supposed to do about it — stop painting, change my work completely? I go back into the studio, and there I am at the easel again. I enjoy what I’m doing and feel good working. Other thoughts are just crowded out.”

I can think of no better way to be.

The second loss was that of Victor Spinetti at age 82.  Spinetti was an actor who appeared in several films and theater productions, often in comedic roles.  More than anything, however, Spinetti was the one actor to appear in every single one of The Beatles films, thus making him a fixture in Beatle history.  For example, you may remember him as the pretentious television director in A Hard Day’s Night.

In real life though, Victor Spinetti was not at all pretentious.  I got to see him in Las Vegas in 2007 at Beatlefest.  Spinetti evidently embraced his connection to The Beatles and appeared at numerous fan conventions to talk of his lifelong friendship with the band.  In person, he was charming, funny, and most reverent about The Beatles.  The only person I heard him say anything disparaging about was Heather Mills.  Even then, he would catch himself, place his hand over his mouth, and then say, “Sorry!  I’m dishing.”  He then put out the call for us to meet him in the bar afterward and he’d tell us behind-the-scenes tales of life with Heather Mills if we bought him drinks.

One startling revelation the actor made was that there was another Beatles film being planned for after Magical Mystery Tour.  It was an adaptation of Lord of the Rings.

Yes, you read that correctly.  In The Beatles rendition, Paul McCartney would play Frodo, John Lennon would be Sam, and I can’t remember which of the other two would be Merri and Pippen.  Spinetti was tapped to play Gandalf.  He began reading reading the Tolkien saga but found it not to his liking.  He mustered up the nerve to speak to John Lennon about it.

“John, I’m afraid I just can’t get together with this stuff,” Victor said.
“Me neither,” John Lennon said.  “It’s a bunch of rubbish, isn’t it?”

Thus the project died.  I must admit, I’m curious as all get-out as to what it would have been like.

“The Beatles are magical beings and are protected,” Spinetti said towards the end of his stage time at Beatlefest.  “And by our association with them, we are protected as well.”

Whatever the case, Victor...I hope you're with George and John right now.

Two artists that will be missed.  They are already missed by a great many, I'm certain.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, June 21, 2012

"Hound of Winter" now available

Pardon me for a post.  I am about to indulge in a bit of shameless self-promotion.

I have just released a novella on Smashwords!  Hound of Winter   is available for most every e-reader platform as well as online reading (just click the linked title.)  You can even download a file for print copies if you prefer or if you just haven’t been able to get an e-reader.  If that’s the case, I certainly understand with the economy in its current state.  That’s why I’m selling it for just 99 cents.
Yes, only 99 cents!  Come on, you’ve spent a dollar on dumber things than my book.  Maybe not many things, but a few nonetheless, right? 

But Jon, I hear you ask.  What’s it about?  Glad you asked.  Here’s the summary from the back cover of Hound of Winter:

“A day can mean everything in the world to one person.
To someone else…it’s just Tuesday.
Blaine is a damaged soldier.  He has a business transaction with a London escort, an Asian goddess named Alana.  Snow is falling and she asks him to spend the night and for a while, Blaine knows pleasure and refuge from pain.
A few hours later and Alana is gone.  Blaine sees her leaving with a boss in the Russian mafia.  Thinking that she couldn’t have left him by choice, Blaine goes after her.  He’ll kill his way back to her, march through the worst winter Europe has ever seen, anything…just to be back in those arms.”

This thriller is very much in the style of the pulps and film noir.  I know it’s a departure from my usual science fiction writing but I believe variety is a virtue in an artist’s repertoire.  The novella  is also postmodern in the sense that it ebbs and flows seamlessly (I hope) between periods in a man’s life as while experimenting with the concept of the unreliable narrator; a broken, stunted, but fundamentally good man that I hope the reader will root for…despite the hopeless path he has chosen.

You might also be wondering why I have chosen to self-publish in e-format.  I have two reasons.  One, books are going to be increasingly available online and in certain cases, available online only.  Two, I find fewer and fewer reasons to go after an agent/publishing house deal.  Were I to succeed in the traditional sense, i.e. get an agent, get print books out, etc. I really wouldn’t be getting ahead in the game.  Publishers allow you little control over your book in terms of cover and appearance, they will take the majority of your profits, and the sales and marketing end of things are completely up to you, the author.
How am I coming out ahead in this again?

I’m done worrying about getting a “gatekeeper’s” meaningless seal of approval for my work.  I care about what you, the reader thinks about it.

So if you are so inclined, please download Hound of Winter.  Give it a read, it’s short and you can probably get through it in say…two commuter train rides.  Then let me know what you think about it.  Thanks!

By the way, if you like the art for the book, it was done by the ever-wonderful Jessica Good at 3AM Fright.  Writers...if you need a book cover or any other artwork, contact Jessica at .  She does great work for a very affordable price and gives you service you couldn't hope to get anywhere else.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Single? Lonely? Have you looked offworld?

Who can find decent, single people to date these days?  Chances are…you can’t.

That’s why you need to think about an alien.  This site actually advises how to hook you up with an alien of your choice.  How, you might ask?  A developer called LocalSin is about to offer an iPhone app that will allow you to beam your personal ad into space.  Yes, just like SETI, you can now cast your own beacon to the stars.  So that you can make that extra special way with any available male or female alien.  Then again it’s an alien, so gender might be a moot point.  Stay with me on this…

Science fiction is replete with alien hotties, mostly female.  Who can forget the Orion Slave Women of Star Trek?  Or even the sexy, slinky Cheetara from Thundercats?  Yes, I’m kidding and I realize that these are both fictional examples of humanoids, but if you can dream it, why not? 

Think of all the advantages of dating an alien.  All of those cumbersome human social conventions are tossed right out the window.  If you are her/his first experience with human then there would be no set expectations to meet and no other for comparison.  You might not even need to worry about money or deciding what to do for the evening.  If your date has a more highly evolved brain than ours…and it’s hard to imagine that they wouldn’t…your entire date might take place within your own mind as he/she melds with you.  That or you’ll be so easily impressed by whatever gadgets they have on them that you’ll spend the night magically entranced.  Just like Clarke says, “Any technology sufficiently advanced…”  Dating an alien might be the way to go.

But that’s the gag.  You might already be doing it.  This checklist from Geek Culture might help you to identify if your “Mate Is an Alien.”  Most of the points are rather lame and corny.  A few that sort of made me chuckle:

-If you catch your partner staring out at noctilucent stars, especially on nights like tonight’s solstice.  They may be communicating with their mothership.  Or they have a stigmatism.
-Operating household technology seems quaint and perhaps even a bit tedious to them.  They may be used to more advanced technology.  Or you’re just an idiot.
-After you tell them about your day, they immediately excuse themselves to the washroom for a while.  This is undoubtedly so they can report your doings back to their leaders.  Or you’re just boring.

Then again, if you still prefer that your booty call be of a more terrestrial nature, might I refer you to the "Asian women as beautiful as a Martian sunrise?"

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What's Mars without Bowie?

“Get David Bowie on the line and let him know that life on Mars just became a little more plausible…”

So begins an article on Slate.  The text is actually in regard to the discovery of new microbial forms of life right here on Earth.  These microbes in question were found in South America, existing in regions previously thought to be inhospitable to life; areas of rocky terrain, thin atmosphere, and high amounts of solar radiation. 

In other words, pretty much just like Mars.

Ah, the “life on Mars” meme arises once more.  More than any other planet, humanity has placed its bets for extraterrestrial life as most likely being on Mars.  The notion has been around for…well a long time.  In searching for another pensee or two on this topic, I came across a pretty nifty hub.  It collects the work of many who have speculated about life on Mars, including a few obscurities both familiar and unfamiliar to me.

In the familiar category, there were early claims that Nikola Tesla had received signals from Martians and then there is Alternative 3.  Related to that latter subject is Alfred Lambremont Webre, an author and lawyer who runs the web site Exopolitics.  The site contains reference to testimony by two men who assert that they were in a "Mars training class" with now-President Barack Obama.  In fact, they claimed to have bumped into Obama in 1981 and then in 1983 while at the American base on Mars.  Good stuff, eh?

And of course there's Richard Hoagland.  Hoagland is an author and conspiracy theorist whose platform states that there were once civilizations on both Mars and our Moon.  In fact, we are descendants of refugees from Mars.  He points to the obligatory "structure" formations in the Cydonia region, such as the so-called pyramids and the face.  I'm rather saddened that Hoagland is cited on this matter while the hub contained a startling absence of the work of the late, great Mac Tonnies.

I was surprised yet again that the list of material ended with David Bowie.  Of course Bowie had the song "Life On Mars," one of my favorites, off of Hunky Dory and then the whole Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars business, but there is apparently more to it than just those aspects.  Woody Woodmansey, drummer for the Spiders From Mars, joined Scientology in the early 1970s.  Scientologists apparently believe that we go to Mars when we die.  For processing, or...something like that.  There you go.  It's a forced connection between Bowie and Mars but it's another connection.

Forget going there after you die, can I get there now?  Set myself up a hut in Cydonia?  Wonder if DishNetwork can beam signals out that far?

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, June 18, 2012

The lakes of Titan

Something long speculated has been confimred.

There are lakes of liquid methane on Titan, the largest of Saturn's moons.  One of these bodies of fluid looks to be the size of the Great Salt Lake.  This data comes to us via the Cassini space probe, which has found that at least a few of the liquid methane pools are gathered around the equatorial region of the moon, creating what are being referred to now as "oases."   Don't get the wrong idea.  We're not talking about liquid water, palm trees, or sandy dunes.  This is methane, remember?  Not good ol' H2O.

It is thought that there may be an underground aquifer that supplies these lakes.  Right now, it isn't believed that rain formed the lakes in the equatorial region as rain has only been observed once in that region.  Therefore, rain could not have formed them.

By gaining an understanding of this process of lake formation, astronomers can then begin to compare the current weather conditions on Titan with those of Earth's earliest days as a planet, an era Titan is thought to resemble.  Is all of this methane leading to the production of amino acids, prime components of life?  That may be so.  Ultraviolet light breaks methane apart in Titan's atmosphere, leading to a complex set of organic chemical reactions.  If so, then is there life on Titan?

We're a long way off from getting an answer to that last question, but the first few steps in moving forward will be to determine if the current theories about Titan in regard to circulation of methane around the moon are correct.  Essentially, it is believed that Titan has a model similar to the hydrological cycle here on Earth, only without water of course.

So far, this all appears to dovetail with the findings of the Hyugens probe that landed on Titan in 2005.  When Huygens landed, the heat of the probe's lamp vaporized some methane from the ground, indicating it had landed in a damp area.  Aside from the lakes, there also must be wide areas that are essentially swampy bogs, muddy with liquid methane.

This just keeps moving towards verification of the theory that Titan may be a ball of primordial soup,  not unlike Earth in its infancy.  Again, this brings us to the hopeful question of life but I need to caution: there has been no evidence as of yet that points towards lifeforms of any category.  A few of the conditions are present on Titan, that's all.  And conditions relevant to only ourselves at this time.  Who knows what other forms life may be based upon?

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, June 15, 2012

Free Form Friday

Who are you?

Who are any of us?
Might seem like a dumb question.  Or not.
Might seem like a simple question.  Or not.

How would you answer?   Your name?  Your station in life or what you do?  Who your family is?

But no, really.  Who are you?

I’m not sure I could come up with a really great answer for that anymore.  Identity is a common theme in my fiction writing.  As is the idea of “finding one’s self.”  Even at this late stage in life, I suppose I’m still trying to get there...wherever "there" is located.  Those who are “there” fall into two camps, in my opinion.

Those who have spent long years pondering the question and those who lie to themselves.  I know.  There are numerous who move through life without asking themselves any difficult questions.  Ignorance is bliss.  Wish I could be like that.  But I can’t.  Often times that sets me apart in my own mental and philosophical Antarctica.

When asked the question, do you fall back on old philosophical chestnuts?  Like Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am?”  Mmmm.  Kierkegaard is closer to it, I believe:   “A human being is spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self. But what is the self? The self is a relation that relates itself to itself or is the relation’s relating itself to itself in the relation.” 

Wordy, but it is all relative as Einstein might say.  We go through life colliding with things.  With ideas, concepts, with dogma, with art, with philosophies.  Certain items stick.  The resulting conglomeration is what we call “self.”  Maybe.  That construct changes over time due to experience or from natural curiosity.  We are the product of Derrida’s “ever-expanding archives,” none of us really existing in a vacuum.

The problem I have with this, however true or untrue it might be, is how much it is prone to fragmentation.

Different things dragging you in different directions.  Losing that Zen center.  There are things that can split one asunder.  Most of them involve trying to appease many at the same time or in betraying whatever au courant dogma your societal container has you locked into at the time.  Case example, a man with two wives…or two full-time partners at any rate…is frowned up heavily in the United States. 

I have no desire to stumble even farther afield from the topic any more than I already have, so I have no intention to delve into the “right or wrong” of this stance.  What I cannot keep from wondering though, is how the people involved in such relationships keep from fragmenting themselves?  Is it possible for emotional attachment to run in both directions?  Sure it can, but that saying from the Bible keeps creeping back into my head.  That one about serving two masters.  Either you’ll hate the one and love the other or vice versa.  To me, that sounds like fragmentation.

Maybe it really is all in our minds.  Identity and emotion, all products of neurochemicals in our brains.  Our emotions are really just information.  This information is shunted along through synapses and neuronets.  Doesn't seem too far of an extrapolation to state that our identity...even our very consciousness itself is a product of these intricate workings.  Here's an easily digestible break down of how it works.

Good news is that we can therefore learn to control our emotions.  We can recognize and then limit our responses should we choose to do so.  And someone might have numerous reasons to make that choice.  I'm not advocating that we all become Vulcans, but rather affording ourselves enough cunctation in reaction to make a decision based on wisdom as opposed to unruly cranial chemical reactions.  Because really, that's all feelings are.

Yeah, talking like that sends fundies straight for the Bibles.  What, the soul is merely a chemical construct?  Emotions are, yes.  Identity, in part.  But the soul?  Whatever that is...might be a spiritual form far beyond what any religion has speculated upon.  I have no great answers for that question. 

No more than I have for who I think I am.

"Because I'm creating an imaginary — it's always imaginary — world in which I would like to live."--William Burroughs

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Strange days indeed...

Right now, there must a gaggle of fundies thumbing through the Bible, just trying to find where in Revelations both of these stories fit.

A town in India was attacked last month by a swarm of spiders.   And I mean big ones or so it was reported.  They were similar to tarantulas and were said to be highly aggressive.  Attacking during a Hindu festival, the spiders jumped onto people, biting them and sending several of the victims to the hospital.  Two village residents were even said to have died from the attacks.  Feeling under siege, municipal officials requested that everyone remain indoors while they considered spraying the town with insecticide.

Before you begin tucking your pants into your socks, a team of scientists from Dibrugarh University visited the town to investigate what had happened.  They found spiders, but they were “ordinary spiders” and the two reported deaths turned out not to be spider-related at all.  Tests on the acquired spiders are still ongoing so we will see if anything comes of this event.  Most likely, it was a case of a larger-than-normal grouping of spiders and a few bites.   This was then magnified by rumor.

To the north in China, weird things are likewise occurring.  The city of Wuhan has become covered in a mysterious yellow haze.  Children, the elderly, and people with respiratory problems have all been told to remain indoors.  Those venturing out are wearing masks.
So basically, anybody who needs to breathe is having a bad time right about now.

State officials are blaming it on farmers burning straw.  Authorities in foreign embassies aren't so sure.  They're advising their staff to remain indoors until this...whatever it is...clears. China is well known as having severe problems with polluted air.  Yeah, you want to see what a nation looks like with no environmental regulations for its industries and corporations?  Just look at China.  This "yellow fog" phenomenon is no doubt derived from larger environmental concerns.  The nature of them is at this moment, imponderable.

Like I said, strange days indeed.  Most peculiar mama.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Civ II shows us the future

  Thanks to Ahab Pope for the spot on this one.

Do we live in a computer-generated simulation?  If we do, the overlords of the game might call it “Civilization.”

As many are aware, the Civilization series of turn-based strategy games by Sid Meier, challenges the player to construct an entire human society based upon actual ones from history.  Loosely based, I should say.  There’s just something wrong about seeing Gandhi shake his fist at you and demand tribute.  Anyway, you guide your civilization as it develops different technologies, new religious points of view, experiments with different forms of government, and of course, go to war with other nations.  Such a task of global expansion and development allow for longer hours of game play.  Don’t I know it.

A man known by the Reddit user ID of Lycerius has probably topped all of us, though.  He has been playing the same game of Civ II for ten years.  In game time, the year is now 3991.  So the online discussion is “if Civ is semi-educational in regard to learning human history, what does it have to say about the future?”

Nothing good, it would seem.  In this future, the world is a “hellish nightmare full of suffering and devastation.”  There have been dozens of nuclear wars, leaving entire expanses of the world uninhabitable due to radiation, leaving available farmland in low amounts.  Complicating matters, the polar ice caps have melted and coastal flooding has occurred, driving populations into the mountains.  About 90% of the world’s population is dead.  Those who survive find themselves in a world of famine and ongoing war.

Who is fighting?  The last three superpowers.  Those being the United States, the Celts, and New Vikingland.  Okay, the “superpowers” aren’t overly realistic but that’s not the point.  Lycerius has been actively trying to end this war and bring peace to the world. As he says:

"My goal for the next few years is to try and end the war and thus use the engineers to clear swamps and fallout so that farming may resume. I want to rebuild the world. But I'm not sure how. If any of you old Civ II players have any advice, I'm listening."

More interesting still is how this game of Civ II has taken on an identity of its own on Reddit.  Called The Eternal War, the game has even inspired writers and artists to base fiction in this future dystopia.  There are speculative radio broadcasts and propaganda posters.  It really does fascinate me how a “pocket universe” has developed from this singular game, almost taking on a life of its own.

As a writer, I'd love to play in that sandbox.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Jonathan Lethem's "Fear of Music"

Of course I remember them.  It has only been in recent years however, that I have really come to appreciate them.

I am referring to The Talking Heads.  Living in rural Indiana, I didn’t come across them until “Once In a Lifetime,” “Burning Down the House,” and “Wild Life” all made regular appearances on the radio airwaves.  Then there were of course snippets of their film, Stop Making Sense that made it onto Nite Flight on the USA Network.  Sigh…remember Nite Flight?  That’s a subject for another nostalgic post.

Speaking of nostalgia, less than one month into my freshman year in college, I had a professor play a Talking Heads song in class.  The class was The Contemporary Situation and the song was “Television Man.”  Quite fitting, really, but sadly at the time we were snot-nosed kids, raised on Prince and Guns N Roses among other bands.  So we just exchanged dumb looks with each other during the song.

Unbeknownst to me, The Talking Heads had of course been around far longer than my first encounter and certainly long before I was unwittingly blessed with “Television Man” that first month in college.  In fact, it is one of their earlier records, 1979’s Fear of Music that is often considered their best.  I missed it the first time and am only just now playing the brilliant tracks from it.  One writer was there from the get go, in the veritable backyard of the band’s location.  That’s Jonathan Lethem, author of books such as Gun With Occasional Music…books I need to read, but that’s an entirely different matter.

Living in New York City in 1979, Lethem nearly wore out the record Fear of Music.  Remember kids, this was well before the digital computer age effloresced and music used to come on this stuff called “vinyl.”  Lethem went to every show that he could, seeing The Talking Heads playing in legendary joints like CBGBs and The Mudd Club.  As he said, “At the peak, in 1980 or 1981, my identification was so complete that I might have wished to wear the album ‘Fear of Music’ in place of my head so as to be more clearly seen by those around me.”

Sounds like me and Duran Duran.

I can’t say I blame Lethem.  Every single Talking Heads song, even when they are being deliberately obtuse or silly, has an intellectual quality to it.  I am just now finding this out for myself.  Lethem has been there for the whole ride.  As testament to this fact, he has just released a new book called…fittingly enough…Fear of Music.    I’ve yet to read it but this review in the New York Times is enough to get it onto my list.  My ever-growing list.

When you delve into the songs and subject matter on Fear of Music, the record not the book, it’s almost a no-brainer that I’d come to appreciate it.  There’s “Life During Wartime,” about a guy in a collapsing civilization who is living on peanut butter while listening to rumors of war, weapons shipments, and mass graveyards.  There’s “Air,” a statement on air quality, and “Paper,” about a love affair with…well, a piece of paper.

It's an odd bag of mixed emotions when you "discover" a band that's been around for so long.  First, you're excited as the music is of course new to you.  There are few things more exhilarating to me than hearing a song I like for the first time.  In the case of fantast David Byrne and his cohorts, it's an almost mystical experience as well. 
Then there's that feeling of embarrassment, that sense of "I need to hand in my Pop Culture Card as I completely missed this when it was going on." 

Oh well, better late than never.  I need to thank that professor for playing "Television Man," even if I didn't fully appreciate it first time.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, June 11, 2012

Printers Row 2012

I felt so Bohemian.

There I was, sitting on the train with my iced latte in hand and The Beatles on my iPod.  My destination: Printers Row LitFest.  It’s an annual Chicago gathering of writers of books and those who love to read them.   Both are good reasons for my attendance.  In addition, I go to seek what every other writer wants from these things.


It might be the same thing as “dumb luck.”  It might be the shrewd recognition of an opportunity and acting on it.  To me, it means opening up a window and watching what flies through it.  Sometimes it’s nothing.  Once in a while, it could be everything.  So we writers go to these things in hopes of meeting that one essential contact or experiencing a synergy of events, something a la Donnie Darko wherein things finally break open for us.

To further document this excursion, I decided to photoblog it.  My actual camera is missing its USB cord and was therefore uncharged.  I had to settle for the cam on my iPhone so that’s the reason for the photo graininess.  I’ve taken to photographing whatever odd visages catch my eye on the streets.  Again, a form of synergy, allowing in all manner of things to see what creative use I can make of them.  But I digress…

This is the tunnel approach to the train station.  I always thought it would make for a great scene in a spy thriller.  “I have ze papers if you jave ze diamonds.”

The vibrant colors of those pennants make me think that construction workers are now getting their supplies from Party City.

I have arrived.  One really small step for mankind.

A lovely morning in Chicago.

There were several beautiful girls here, all waving at me.  Strangely enough, none of them showed up in the photo.

I’d like to personally introduce you to the construction ravelment on Adams that jerked my travel route all around the block.

A statue atop one of our buildings.  There are those who may look at it and say, “How beautiful.”  I say, “That’s got to be caked with bird droppings.”

This tattoo caught my eye.  It was actually well done while so many others aren’t these days.  I liked the stencil aspect to it and how it reminded me of a stage piece from Duran Duran’s 1987 world tour.

I liked the building and the sunbeams.  Also wonder if the number 209 has any numerological significance.

I met a member of the Occupy/99% movement here.  He said his name was Tony and that he “does security” for the protests, whatever that means.  He urged me to photograph the statue atop the Board of Trade.  “When the sun hits her, the goddess glows,” Tony said.  I knew it wouldn’t show up on the iPhone but I snapped a shot anyway.  He then nicely asked if I could contribute to the Occupy movement.  I gave him a buck.

Statuary!  Just to show you how geekified my brain has become, I can no longer look at faces carved of stone and not imagine them being monuments on Mars.  This was oddly prescient as later in the day I would see Prometheus.  You can read the review here.

An actual Man In Black!  There are probably fragments of Roswell debris in that briefcase!
I must speak with Nick Redfern!

Love this architecture.

This was the only way my iPhone was going to get a close shot of a gargoyle.

Armando and I once stopped at this very gas station on the corner of Congress and Dearborn.  It was during a terrible snow storm in January of 1993.  We were trying to make our way back to the burbs from a Duran Duran concert in Evanston.  There was no washer fluid left in wiper tank.  We were lucky to make it.

I arrive at Printers Row.

The tents are all vendors for the most part.  Publishers, rare book vendors, and university presses.  A few had authors scattered about, sitting at the tables and eager to hawk their books.  It is a bit dismaying to see the current state of the American author, left to his/her own devices when it comes to sales and marketing.  True, they’ve always asked the passerby, “Hey!  What do you like to read?” hoping to hook a buyer in for the sale.  Now it’s been reduced to more like, “Hey!  Do you like to breathe?  Then you’ll love my book!”  Like a pimp hustling his girl, one author told me, “Open to a page and I guarantee you’ll find something you’ll like.  There’s dialogue and a fast moving plot.  No slow descriptions.”  Yes, why would anyone try to write art?

Another writer asserted that his book contained, “the ninth plot.”  Scholars of literature believe that there are only eight basic plots in storytelling.  “I have the ninth one,” this man said with conviction.  “Tell me of any other plot where the protagonist dies in the story and then comes back to set everything right in the end?”  Um, Lord of the Rings, The New Testament, probably a few others.  Sigh…I know I’m going to have to do this one day.  There just must be a more dignified manner of doing it without reducing one’s self to a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman.

A whole mess of Doc Savages at a wonderful vendor that had many pulps.  You can also spot a few Avengers in the bin.  They also had The Shadow, Perry Rhodan, and several other favorites.

Art prints of vintage magazine covers and film posters.  Great art.  If I had more money and if they weren’t so bulky I know I would have come home with a few.

A table full of dangerous, free-thinking books full of unpopular thoughts.  I like it.  It was around here, however, that somebody handed me a flier.  I thought it was for an author or a publisher.  It was for the Chicago socialist party.  Great.  That’s going in the FBI file.    :\

I didn’t want to take any pictures inside this boutique as I doubted they would allow it.  There are many gems inside, editions of Graham Greene and William Faulkner.  Their editions of Ray Bradbury were higher in price now for obvious reasons.  They had signed vintage copies of William Gibson’s Idoru and Virtual Light.  Again, if I had the money…

For reasons that pass understanding, a giant kangaroo and her offspring landed on Printers Row.

Oh these guys would have loved talking to me.

Ladies and gentlemen, Katy Perry.

So I left my card with a few different publishers.  I also strategically stuck the cards between books on shelves.  You know, between copies of Rudy Rucker or Arthur C. Clarke.  I figure that if someone is looking over those books, they already have good taste or at least bend in my direction.
I also got to meet up with an old college friend.  We looked at pulps and comic books.  He told me about finding last year a vintage copy of Life magazine with Adam West on the cover.  I thought an old copy of Soviet Life would make a funny coffee table companion piece, especially since all the colorful dancers on the magazine cover made life in the Soviet Union look much more fun than it was.

As for myself, I had quite a difficult time deciding which books I would select.  Thomas Pynchon was definitely in the running, as were several other wonderful authors of many genres.  I ended up buying Day of the Star Cities by John Brunner and a pulp I selected on a whim, called Starwolf: The Weapon From Beyond

I’m tired of this wistful hoping shit.  I am going to be one the authors here one day.  Get your tickets now, bitches.

Then I took the train home, went to see Prometheus, and had a burrito.  If I wanted to keep up with my Bohemian theme, I should have gone to a place where “they dig on vegan food” and “have them cook me up something that I’d really love.”


Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Film review--Prometheus

starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, Charlize Theron, Logan Marshall-Green, and Cesar Romero as The Beav.

Scientists have discovered that the origins of the human race may lie on a distant planet.  The crew of the ship Prometheus heads to that especially dark planet in search of answers.  In going there, however, they may have just doomed humanity.

Ahh yes.  Ridley Scott's long-awaited prequel to Alien.  Was it worth that wait?
Overall, I'd have to say yes. This is an engaging and artful science fiction film, the kind of genre film that is a rare occurrence these days.  Magnifiying its rare nature is the fact that everything in the film looks real and not computer-generated.  This is not to knock CGI as I have an affinity for that sort of look where others don't, it's just that the "reality" present adds to the dark and dingy ambience.  Speaking of which, the landscape of this planet-moon, especially when combined with the physicality of the "engineers" in the opening scene,'s just Scott at his best when it comes to composition.  From the large and imposing to the mignon, there's a verisimulitude here that almost makes you think that you're there with the actors on this godforsaken rock of a planet.

This is not to say that Prometheus does not have it's downfalls.  It's biggest detriment is character.  Nearly all of them are uni-dimensional and stock-like in nature.  The pacing never appears to slow down enough to allow for them to develop.  Another reason for this is that you're supposed to dislike several of them as they are inevitably consigned to a terrible fate.  Come on.  It's Ridley Scott doing an Alien prequel.  I don't think it's a spoiler to say that gruesome deaths await many in this film.  Strangely enough, the character with the most depth isn't even human.  It's Michael Fassbender as David, the synthetic.  His near obsession with Peter O'Toole from Lawrence of Arabia makes him all the creepier when delivering lines such as "it's a usual fetus" while devoid of emotion.  Given this character, I can see where the rumors originated that this film might also be a prequel to Blade Runner and that David is a replicant.  Not so.  We have the actual prequel to that genius film on its way and don't think that I'm happy about that fact.

This may be one of the first science fiction films in a long time to leave many questions in the minds of the audience once the credits have ended.  There is much that I still don't get and that's not a bad thing.  I like having things to wonder about and Prometheus leaves you with plenty.  Knowing Ridley Scott however, there is doubtless a director's cut on its way one day.  Probably around Christmas.

All in all, this is a fine film despite its shortcomings.  And for those of you wondering just how much of a prequel this really is...I'll just say that we see more of the "Aliens" than I expected and yet no more than we should have.  That might not make any sense now, but wait until you see it.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, June 8, 2012

Missile test prompts UFO sightings

Once again, a spiral of light has appeared in the sky.

Once again, it’s being blamed on a Russian missile test.  This does not, however, stop numerous allegations of UFO activity. 

On the night of June 7th, a spiral was widely seen across the skies of the Middle East.  I know.  Like they don’t have enough problems, right?  Anyway, the Russian military announced that it had conducted a successful test of a new ICBM.  The spiral effect is caused by a jettisoned second or third stage spinning away free or so they say.  An official of the Israeli Astronomical Association said that the missile "most likely spun out of control, and its remnants and the fuel was what people saw."

It’s happened before.  In 2009, yet another Russian missile test created a nearly identical spiral in the skies over Norway, prompting numerous UFO sightings.  Then in 2010 it was a SpaceX rocket over Australia causing the flap.

I feel fairly comfortable in throwing my agreement in with the official explanations.  That said and I really don’t mean to divulse from my position, I cannot really blame people in this case for believing they saw a UFO.  Look at the photos on the linked pages.  I have never seen anything like that in the night sky before and had I witnessed the spirals, my thoughts could not help but wander to those of UFOs.  Or more than that, perhaps a particle beam test.  Already there are conspiracy buffs claiming that it was no missile or rocket nor was it a UFO.  It was HAARP being tested or even better, “Project Blue Beam.”

That concept is a conspiracy theory wherein NASA partners with the Antichrist so as to bring about a New World Order in which the majority of us are enslaved.  As I’ve pointed out previously, Duran Duran doubtlessly know all about this, but I digress…
The Project involves using high technology to simulate numerous UFO sightings, the Christian Rapture, and an alien invasion.  Oh boy is this great!  This is a blog post in and of itself.  Or a novel.  Yeah!  A novel!  Then again, I’ve been scooped in fewer respects.  The entire conspiracy theory has its genesis in Gene Roddenberry’s initial draft of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  Then again, with a few tweaks…

Anyway, the spiral is a weapons test, just not of the kind that conspiracy buffs suspect.  It also isn’t a UFO so we’ve got this one solved.  The field of Ufology needs to keep its attention on critical cases.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Warlock--science fiction superhero

Of the many reasons I enjoy the science fiction work of comic book writer/artist Jim Starlin, perhaps the one with the strongest gravitational pull is religion.

There is a wide gulf between spirituality and religion.  Starlin knows this.  What better way to explore such concepts than with a messiah figure?  To that end, Starlin found Adam Warlock.
Adam Warlock was originally a Stan Lee/Jack Kirby creation known as “Him” that appeared in the pages of Fantastic Four.  Him was an artificial being created by the Enclave, an organization of brilliant but fascistic scientists.  Just as Mary Shelley always warned of, Him turns on his creators and then flees into space.  After a few years, Marvel Comics writer and editor Roy Thomas enters the picture.

Him had the power to create a cocoon around himself in space, natch.  This cocoon was found by the enigmatic and nigh-omnipotent being called the High Evolutionary, who declares that humans will know Him as “Warlock.”  Warlock is given the “Soul Gem,” a powerful jewel than can steal the lifeforce of other beings, rather like a vampire (it's that glowing, green thing in the center of his forehead in the above pic.)  The High Evolutionary then sent Warlock on a mission to liberate Counter-Earth (a sort of parallel version of our own) from the menace of the Man-Beast, a hideous being fallen from the heights of the heavens.

Yeah, the parallels are obvious but Thomas never made any arguments to the contrary.  As a matter of fact, the Wikipedia entry on Warlock (and if you can’t trust those guys then who can you trust? Heh) cites an interview with Roy Thomas wherein he talks about how much the soundtrack to Jesus Christ Superstar was an inspiration to the Warlock saga.

Then Jim Starlin got a hold of Warlock and introduced paranoid schizophrenia to the character.  After all, aren’t all gods at least a little bit mad?  In the Starlin storylines, Warlock stands in opposition to the Universal Church of Truth, a religious and totalitarian empire that spans the galaxy.  Basically “Catholics in Space.”  The "pope" of this Church is a being called the Magus.  Warlock discovers that the Magus is actually a divergent version of himself from the future where use of the Soul Gem has driven him insane. 

As you can see, the continuity behind Warlock is complicated.  A lot of ins and outs.  More than I can adequately do just to.  I mean, I haven’t even gotten to his sidekick pals, Pip the Troll and the sexy assassin, Gamora.  Nor have I discussed The Infinity Gauntlet or Warlock’s arch enemy, Thanos.  To know more, I seriously encourage you to go read the Marvel Masterworks collections of Warlock as well as The Infinity Gauntlet and its two related mini-series. You can skip Infinity Watch.  No, really.  That's okay.

If it’s all so complicated, why do I get so much enjoyment out of reading the exploits of Adam Warlock?  Well, because of that very reason, for one thing.  This is not simple, slugfest superhero action.  Many of the characters involved in Warlock’s cosmic mythos have near god-like levels of power.  They can manipulate the fabric of reality itself.  What do these characters choose to do with such vast power?  Their choices are the definitions of their very character and the flaws within them.  Yes, even the gods can be flawed.

In fact they often are.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

RIP Ray Bradbury

People who do “my kinda thing” need to recognize them.

Even if we haven’t read as much of their work as we could have.  Or should have.

They are giants.  Like most giants, they are recognizable simply by their last names.  Asimov.  Clarke.  Heinlein.   Last night, one of those giants left us…and the universe is a bit dimmer today.

Ray Bradbury died in Los Angeles at the age of 91.  You can get the full details at this link.  

I'm not even sure how to give him adequate enough praise.  I'll start out with his identity as a writer.  First and foremost, even coming before science fiction, was his reverence for and his unswerving ability with the written word.  He spent several nights a week in libraries, ultimately proclaiming them "the real schools."  He committed what today sometimes feels like a geek transgression: he read material outside of "genre."  That helped make him into a true master.

More than that, his depth and breadth of knowledge allowed him to make science fiction accessible to non-fans.  His characters were far more like you or I than pulpier manifestations.  Bradbury's creations worried about wages, had interpersonal conflicts, and were flawed just as we all are. This helped make his stories among the first SF to be printed in mainstream magazines.

He had the greatest story titles.  They were almost pure poetry.
"Dandelion Wine."  "Something Wicked This Way Comes."  "Selected From the Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed."
I'd be lucky to come up with a title that resonates half as much.

Then there was his never-ending sense of wonder.  He was in awe of the universe and delighted in things both big and small.  He was not a science fiction writer penned into a "sub-genre" as many are mandated to by the ever-disgusting "branding" these days.  He liked space, true.  He also liked dinosaurs, time travel, fantasy, and ghost stories.  Not only did these varied interests allow him to write his classic work, The Martian Chronicles, but magnificent stories such as "The Fog Horn," "Sound of Thunder," and Something Wicked This Way Comes.  He also loved "popular" science fiction and had a collection of SF-themed toys that was surpassed only by Forest J. Ackerman.  This was before such things were widely looked down upon by those only consuming "hard science fiction."  Even if he did or had encountered such sentiment, I doubt Ray would have cared.  As a matter of fact, here's a story he once told on the subject.  From his website:

"For him it was the Buck Rogers cartoons.
He collected them as a boy, cut them out of the newspaper every day. Then his friends started making fun of him.
"Why do you do that?" they asked. "That's so stupid."
Listening to them, the idea did seem somewhat stupid. What was the point in collecting comic strips, anyway?
So Bradbury tore up the comic strips. Then he cried.
"I started thinking,'Who's funeral is it?'" he says. "Then I said, Fool, it was your future you killed."
"If you have a passion, do it. If people doubt you, they are not your friends."
Meantime, Bradbury started collecting his Buck Rogers strips again and didn't give a darn what anyone said. And where exactly did that get him?
Think about it. Bradbury is considered a master of science fiction and dark tales of the supernatural. Buck Rogers represents every part of that.
If he hadn't continued collecting, readers might not have had the privilege of getting lost in such stories as those in The Golden Apples of the Sun and I Sing the Body Electric."

I can relate.  I think a lot of us can.
If there was one aspect of Ray Bradbury that I did have difficulty relating to it would probably be his optimism.  Even in relatively recent years, Bradbury still believed that we were on the cusp of heading towards the stars or to the Moon and Mars at the very least.  I sadly do not see us colonizing space anytime soon, maybe not even in my lifetime.  I suppose my view of the future is far closer to his short story, "There Will Come Soft Rains" where an automatic household continues to operate while the humans are dead from nuclear fallout.

Then again, maybe what the world needs now is more Bradbury optimism and fewer voices like my own.

Bradbury's voice, fortunately for us all, will always live on through his books.  The majority of his stories have no doubt been loaded into ebook format, granting that they will last the ages.

Even if you burn them at 451 Fahrenheit.

"My tunes and numbers are here. They have filled my years, the years when I refused to die. And in order to do that I wrote, I wrote, I wrote, at noon or 3:00 A.M.

So as not to be dead."

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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Art as protest

It seemed fitting to talk about art on this day.

Yesterday marked 23 years since the political protests of Tiananmen Square in China.  For anyone who lived through that moment in history, there is doubtless one iconic image that is etched into your mind from your TV screen.  It is that of the still-anonymous “tank man;” a young student who stood defiantly before an oncoming column of Chinese Army tanks.  You can see the legendary photo here at The Atlantic, along with a powerful gallery of other images from those days of pro-democratic protest.  So iconic have the “tank man” photograph and other images become that they almost take on an artistic quality all their own.

It’s nothing new, really.  Art has been inseparable from political protest since time immemorial.  Indeed one of the central images of the Tiananmen protests was the Goddess of Democracy, which you can see an image of at the Atlantic link.  A cadre of art students created the plaster sculpture in front of the Great Hall of the People, proclaiming:  "Today, here in the People's Square, the people's Goddess stands tall and announces to the whole world: A consciousness of democracy has awakened among the Chinese people! The new era has begun!" 

Unfortunately, the sculpture met its end five days later under the treads of a tank as the army swept into Tiananmen Square.  But you can’t kill art any more than you can kill a political idea.  Numerous copies of this sculpture have sprouted up in many corners of the free world, this time the artworks are made of enduring materials such as bronze, iron, marble, and so on.
The same kinds of artistic expression are happening today in Syria as people literally risk life and limb to speak out against their leaders.  Check out this bit of street art.  It appears that the influence of The Joker is truly worldwide.  Score one for pop culture and take that old school academia. 

I need not go so far away from home to see examples of artistic expression hoping to affect political change.  Last month, Chicago was the scene of the NATO Summit as I wrote about previously.  An abandoned storefront in Pilsen became an art factory in the days prior to the summit.  In that space, disparate groups of people met to work in a communal, collaborative manner on visual representations of what political issues they cared about most.  These expressions ranged from handwritten signs to colorful placards to eight-foot tall puppet head recreations of greedy CEOs.  While he wasn't especially political, I believe Warhol would have approved.

As the global village becomes more and more capable of sharing art and visual expressions across the world with but the touch of a button, we can expect the arts to become an even more vital aspect of protest than it ever has been.  No wonder shady political leaders always distrust artists…and in this new era, they have more reason to do so than ever before.

Or so you’d think.  “The new era has begun” proclaimed the Chinese art student at the foot of the Goddess of Democracy.  That “new era” has yet to fully materialize for the people of China.  Not only did I live through those demonstrations, watching them unfold on TV, but I received a refresher a few years back.  In my graduate program, we read "Tiananmen Square" by John Simpson, a work of literary nonfiction.  Dr. Sirles, the DePaul professor for the class, had to explain what happened in Tiananmen for a few of the younger members of the class.  As he put it, the army eventually went in and “cleaned house.”

The pain on the man’s face while saying those words was evident.  For those who remember, the stomach still churns at the thought of what happened to the protestors at the hands of the Chinese military. 

Fortunately, art will always will have a unique voice...even for those who no longer have one.

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