Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Needing time off

Have a lot on my mind.
Going to be taking a leave of absence from the blog for an undetermined period of time.
Hope you're still here when I get back.

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Monday, July 23, 2012

On Colorado...

There is something I need to get off my chest.

Three days ago, I came across a post from someone that I don't like very much.  Consequently, the things this person said I did not like very much, either.  I will call this person "Dick" for obvious even if sophomoric reasons.

Dick was ranting and railing about the tragic movie theater shootings in Colorado during the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises.  No, he was not projecting this bitter burst of bile at the shooter, everyone else.  He said, in a point that I will grant is not without its merits, that the media generates interest in occurrences such as these and maintains the interest to feed its own beast.  Not his words.  Dick is incapable of articulating that much even on a base level.  But he did bring up that old chestnut of the media doing things to death.  No argument there.

He then went on to assert, while abhorrently captializing every third word, that the shooter in Colorado wanted "immortality," just as Oswald, Ray, Chapman, and McVeigh did.  First of all, the motives of this shooter, who shall remain nameless, have not been established.  Secondly, the examples Dick cited did nothing for the sake of immortality.  In fact, there is ample evidence to suggest that a few of the cited examples did nothing at all.  Fallacious and nubilous reasoning at its worst.

In closing, Dick expressed his prayers and condolences to anyone "PERSONALLY IMPACTED" (sic) by the shooting and then implied that the rest of us located elsewhere from Colorado should just forget it and move on.

Well, it did affect me personally.  No, I was not in that theater last Friday at midnight.  I wasn't even in Aurora, Colorado.  I was home asleep.  But I have been to any number of midnight premieres.  I also love Batman.

Therefore, I share something...even if on simply a very basic level...with the people who were there.  This affects me.  Why wasn't it me?  Why didn't it happen in the Chicago area when I was at a midnight showing for another film?  No reason.  Just luck of the draw. 

My thoughts and opinions on this matter run deeper, however.  The shooter...whom I shall continue to remain nameless...took 12 lives that night.  That is horrific in and of itself.  He also smeared blood on something that I love dearly.  The character of Batman.

Laugh if you want.  Think it silly.  Call it all emotional or maudlin.  I don't much care.  I love the character of Batman.  From now on, when anyone historically refers to this shooting, the event will be inextricably linked to The Dark Knight Rises.  This saddens me so yes, affects me "personally."

Unlike Dick's myopic view of the event, this tragedy need not paint the character forever.  The fictional character of Batman watched his parents die as victims to gun violence.  A terrifying and traumatic thing to go through, watching someone you love get gunned down as several in Colorado can no doubt attest to in fact.  Terrifying, yes.  But Batman did not suffer from this fear for long.  He embraced it.  He turned it into an anger and a hatred that fueled him.  It became a catalyst that drove him to ensure that no one would ever suffer such a fate again.

To hell with the media hype and I must express a punkish "fuck off and die" to Dick and his tunnel-visioned and reactionary blitherings.  This affected a great many people "personally"...and we weren't even in Colorado.

It affected us because...among other reasons...we need a Batman.  We need that sigil, that symbol.  That icon of survival and growing past a horrible tragedy. Of crawling hand over hand out of a dark pit and into the light.  Of taking the hit and then walking on.  Of...even if in fantasy...the comforting notion of a dark and brooding bat that will guard the innocent and set all of the wrong things right (if I may steal a line from James O'Barr.)

I suspect that at least a few, perhaps even many, of those in the Aurora, Colorado theater that night love and loved Batman as much as I do and share this view of him.  That makes them kindred to me.  Therefore, I mourn each of them as a friend.

So...yeah.  Sorry, Dick.  It affected me "personally."

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Friday, July 20, 2012

The problem with depleted uranium

A news "blip" caught my eye.

The headline said, basically, that a New Zealand deal to ban depleted uranium weapons had been struck down.  For a long while I have been hearing about the unintended dangers of depleted uranium, especially when used as ammunition.  Therefore, I set out to discover what I could.

Depleted uranium is a nuclear by-product that substantially lacks fissionable quantities of U-235.  In other words, it can't blow up like a nuke.  But it has any number of applications from airplane and sailboat parts to military ammunition.  During the Cold War, development and deployment of depleted uranium ammunition was essential.  Soviet conventional capability rested in the thousands upon thousands of T-72 and T-80 tanks they could field.  Depleted uranium ammunition absolutely shreds through tank armor.

The problem is that this ammunition is full of toxic chemicals.  It also gives off radiation in the form of alpha particles.  These particles are the weakest form of radiation and are unable to pass through clothing much less body armor.  If however they are in smoke and then inhaled or embedded in someone as the result of shrapnel...well, that's a whole other ballgame.  There have been many studies that suggest a correlation between contact with depleted uranium and serious health problems.

After DU weapons were used to defend Kosvo in 1999, contaminants were found in the drinking water and incidents of malignant disease rose sharply.  Iraq has also seen higher incidents of child leukemia and other cancers while environmental contamination has been found in Afghanistan.  DU is also a prime suspect in the immune system disorder commonly known as Gulf War Syndrome.  To be fair, other studies such as the 1999 research project by the Rand Corporation have found no causal evidence between DU and the health/environmental effects mentioned.

Yet the effects are there and DU still looks like the most likely culprit.  Several movements have taken place to ban DU weapons.  The Campaign Against Depleted Uranium (CADU) and the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons are probably the most active ones.  A motion was made in the European Union to ban DU weapons.  It was quickly struck down by Britain and France.  The UN attempted to require DU using states to turn over any data relevant to DU use and the environment.  The US, the UK, France, and Israel balked and voted the request down.  Ah yes, that paper tiger that is the UN.

So in other words, none of the major players want to acknowledge what may be happening.  Call it the product of my qualia of cynicism, but there is no doubt in my mind that money is a chief motivator in the military's adamant denial of any ill effects from DU.  The Pentagon gets what it wants and if you believe things should be otherwise, you are either "unpatriotic" or you do not "support the troops."

Well I do support the troops.  I don't want them using weapons that make them sick (remember Agent Orange in Vietnam?)  I don't want innocent civilians contracting cancer and leukemia as a byproduct of their "liberation."  I don't want the environment poisoned for years long after the conflict has ended.  Truth is, the need for DU may be waning.  The Soviet Union is gone and no one is likely to unleash fields of armor anymore.  Warfare will increasingly be a matter of air, sea, and UAV operations.  That and spec ops.  Yes, a whole lotta spec ops.

Upon consideration, DU looks like a classic case of "burning the village to save the village."

Oh one quick note.  I'll be busy for the next few days so mind the gap in my postings.

My e-novella Hound of Winter is now available for just 99 cents.
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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Film review--Who Was Kafka?


This is an innovative documentary about the life and work of Franz Kafka, one of the greatest writers in history.  What we have are actors portraying four or five key figures in Kafka's life, giving "speculative interviews."  I'm still not sure how I feel about that aspect of the film, questioning its accuracy and such.  But then it's not much different from "literary nonfiction" and if it has its roots in actual letters and diary entries, it probably isn't too far off of the mark.

Here's a newsflash: Kafka was odd.  He was eccentric.  One could probably ascertain that simply by reading Kafka books such as The Metamorphosis and The Trial (for a review of The Metamorphosis click here.)  One might also infer that his private life was one of strain and inner torment.  True.  So much so that it actually hit a bit closer to home than I would have liked.

Here was this writer who had "father issues" into adulthood.  He worked a day job in an office that he viewed as hell because it kept him from writing.  In fact, he saw it as a "perfect hell" for no one else would have viewed it as such.  It seemed designed just for him.  He saw much of life as artifice and shallow.  Though he had loves, he came to see them as "enemies" of his writing.  The two could not seem to coexist as he valued literature above all. 

Again, the weakest aspect of the film comes from actors portraying the actual people.  All except for Kafka himself, that is to say.  Now I realize we can't bring the actual players involved back from the great beyond, but Kafka scholars, existentialist thinkers, and even other writers and artists who were influenced by him would have been better choices.  Nary a soul of those just described appeared in the film.  Perhaps the producers should have taken the direction chosen for William Burroughs and A Man Within.

That aside, I do not regret my time spent watching this documentary.  I feel that it did give me a bit of a closer insight into the man who was Kafka.  For I feel even more kindred to him now.  His books were not dreamscapes but nightmares.  He saw the world clearly, more clearly perhaps than anyone save for Burroughs.  The world was apparent to him in such terrifying lucidity that he could only write...and then die.

My e-novella Hound of Winter is now available for just 99 cents.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"Hey! I've got orbs!"

I am thinking that "orbs" may be the paranormal Rorschach blot of our time.  We all see in them what we wish to see.

With the veritable glut of "ghost hunting" reality shows on television, how many times have you heard one of the breathless participants exclaim, "Look! There are orbs in that photo"?  They then point to the computer screen or the screen in their camera.  The photo indeed has one, maybe even several, spherical shapes of light across its tableau.  Devotees of ghost hunting may tell you that the orbs represent ghosts or at least evidence of spiritual or psychic activity.  There are, however, other explanations.

I don't know about you, but I get orbs rather frequently in my photos.  They are the result of dust particles, insects, or a speck on the camera lens.  They become especially pronounced when the flash on the camera goes off and light is reflected off of the objects.  Taking photographs in the rain will also tend to produce this effect.  Digital optics aren't perfect and can become beguiled rather easily.  So they produce the best approximations given what they see.

Consider this: where do many of these "ghost hunts" take place?  Sure, the hunters go to everyday homes, but the TV specials have investigators in locations like Alcatraz, castles in Britain, an abandoned building, or another such aged structure.  These places undoubtedly have a great deal of dust within them.  Ergo, lots of orbs in photographs, especially as people move through the rooms and disturb said dust.

Undaunted, many will still call their orbs "ghosts," deceased relatives visiting from the other side, or "guardian angels" that are here to impart spiritual messages and directions to take in life.  There's nothing wrong exactly with people taking that stance, however inaccurate it may be.  My problem is that there are so many genuinely bizarre occurrences and images, cases with solid evidence behind them, that to waste time and energy on "orbs" is counterproductive.

I mean, I remember working in the editing bay of my local cable access television station.  Someone else was editing video footage of their "investigation" at Bachelor's Grove Cemetery, a truly haunted location here in the Chicago area.  In one stretch of footage, the producers shouted and pointed, delighted that they had captured an orb.  I looked.  It was clearly a moth flying through the shot.

Everyone saw what they wanted to see.

If you'd like to see a fair and balanced discussion of orbs, please click here.

My e-novella Hound of Winter is now available for just 99 cents.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

It's all new!

No, you are not seeing things.  This blog has changed.

Within a month or so of starting Strange Horizons, I noticed an article.  This article was posted on a site for a magazine of the same name.  I jokingly tweeted that I had been "scooped."  Some guy connected with the original SH tweeted back, "Indeed!  I was wondering when you would notice the magazine that's been around for 10 years.  :)  "  Of course the smiley face added at the end was meant to soften the jab.  I asked around, but was unable to find anyone who had even heard of this mag.

I didn't let it bother me.  I just kept on keeping on, bringing you the best content in UFOs, transhumanism, science fiction, art, and basically anything I found weird and interesting with Duran Duran and snarky political commentary thrown in just for fun.

But with the publication of my e-novella, Hound of Winter, I found that to take things to the next level, the blog needed an authentic name.  A name that was mine and mine alone.  After all, who needs the confusion?  Are you Jon Nichols' Strange Horizons or that other one?  Wait, are you affiliated with the magazine?  I don't need the headaches.  I do need a clear communication message.

So here we are.  Esoteric Synaptic Events.   I am excited about this new chapter in the blogging and publishing of Jon Nichols.  What can you expect?  The same content as usual, just with a new name.  Plus, I am planning to release a collection of science fiction short stories, both as e-book and podcast audiobook thanks to those fine folks at Prairie Independent Media that will bear the ESE title. That's coming down the pike and I'll let you know when you can get your digital hands on it.  Also, Esoteric Synaptic Events will soon have its own Facebook page.   When that's cocked, locked, and ready to rock, you'll all be directed where to go so you can "like" it.  That is, if you would be so kind.

New look.  New stuff.  Same great content.  Or at worst, same tolerable musings and fumblings.

Oh and if you could update all your old links to the blog to reflect the change in both name and URL, that would nifty as heck.  Thanks!  And thanks for reading and sticking with me!

My e-novella Hound of Winter is now available for just 99 cents.

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Monday, July 16, 2012

FIlm review--The King's Speech

starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Derek Jacobi, Guy Pearce, and Russell Brand as "The Beav."

King George VI (Firth) gets handed the throne of England after his brother (Pearce) abdicates.  This is not George's first choice of roles as he has a persistent and unrelenting stutter while speaking in public.  With the UK on the brink of World War II, it is up to a speech therapist (Rush) to whip the King into shape and so that he can deliver the speech of his life.

Again, this isn't the sort of film that I generally review on my blog.  Again, as I did in the case of Blue, I am choosing to do so on the grounds of art.  In regard to The King's Speech, it is the arts of acting and writing.

This story is nothing new.  It's really been around for a very long time, Shaw's Pygmalion being a prime example.  An erudite professional with unorthodox methods is requisitioned to help scrape the carbon scarring away from the exterior of a diamond so that it may shine.  More often than no both parties succeed and we all leave the theater with a warm feeling.  It verges on cliche.

What makes The King's Speech distinctive is that it is a) a true story and b) supremely acted.  Colin Firth presents a performance in this film that is unrivaled in the past few years, well worthy of his Oscar.  Sure, sure, it is again that cliche of "play an impaired character and you'll get the Oscar."  Whatever.  It was difficult material and Firth took it on splendidly and Rush was his usual great self.  It is the back and forth dialogue between these two characters during scenes when they are the only ones on screen that truly define the film.  In fact, I could see this being quite a stage play or a presentation on PBS' Masterpiece Theater.  Oh give it time.  I'm certain Broadway will cobble a musical together for it.  They seem to do that with everything else these days.

If you enjoy character study, stellar acting, and even history, this is a film that will not leave you disappointed.

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Friday, July 13, 2012

For Lennox...

Dear Members of the Belfast City Council,

What up.

You have fallen on melancholy times, it seems. There is so much bad-mouthing going about regarding your fair city, what with all of the emails, blog posts, and meretricious Facebook pages denouncing you as murderers. There have been calls for natural disasters to smite you from the Emerald Isle, whether by meteor, storm, or another Snow Patrol concert.  You've even been called, “worst city in the world.”  That's simply untrue.  Perhaps solidly in the top five, but definitely not the worst.

And the reason for this is an action you found yourselves forced to take over a ferocious and deadly beast named Lennox. A pit bull. A breed of dog so notorious, so heinous, so malevolent in nature that its lineage can likely be traced back to copulation between Satan and Margaret Thatcher (which I am given to understand that in certain circles of Belfast, those two entities are believed one in the same. So this theory might have its basis on shaky ground.) You did what you had to do. Indeed, someone had to think of the children, didn’t they? 
So let the tawpies mewl over what is basically fait accompli.  Yet I ask you, my valiant friends across the water, is there not yet another threat and menace in your midst?

Ladies and gentlemen of the BCC, I submit for your review the hamster. Yes yes, they’re tiny, they’re cute, they run around inside plastic wheels. I assure you, however, one need only to look into their steely, black eyes to see the danger that lurks. What diabolical plans might they be harboring? Perhaps they are getting organized against us? Worse yet, what if they are getting weaponized? 
It’s nothing I can prove, but the dark rumor mill of the Internet has said that a family in Newtownabbey noticed their hamster acting strangely.  It would spend hours watching CNN and talking online to someone named “Ahmed.” Suspicious, they rose to confront it. By that time, the furry thing was gone, fled to parts unknown. In its cage was found a stack of counterfeit pounds and detailed plans of your city hall with red marks upon it saying, “Bomb goes here.” Now I ask you, has Belfast not had enough car bombs for one century?” Please act to stop this hamster menace before they gain more hamster followers or whatever else may be out there.

Oh Christ on a bicycle, that’s another thought. Rabbits. What if the hamsters begin to coordinate with the rabbits? You know what those things are like. Why, they could breed an entire army within the span of a weekend.  Oh sure, those namby pamby bleeding hearts might call this "species profiling." I call it what it is: good citizenship.  The very same civic spirit that has saved Belfast from Lennox...or as he might properly be known in your city, Cerberus himself.

So I urge you. You’ve taken the first step, now complete your sanguinary journey of justice. Act now to broaden your scythe of vengeance to animal threats beyond just pit bulls before it is too late. Take a page from America's book.  When we heard of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, did we just sit around waiting for Saddam Hussein to float a nuke over here on a boat and torch our Kardashians but good?  Hell no.  We took action!  Sure, there turned out not to be anything even remotely resembling WMDs over there but it wasn't for our lack of trying and a good time was had by all.  Take a hint...and then end these threats permanently.   In the words of sage philosopher Wilford Brimley, "It's the right thing to do and the right time to do it!"  And he's an actor, y'know.
Stout hearts and stay classy, Belfast.

Your buddy,
And I leave you with the musical stylings of Bette Midler live from Blackpool UK...

 My e-novella Hound of Winter is now available for just 99 cents.
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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Page Three Girl revisited

You can never go broke by appealing to the lowest common denominator.

The number of visits to my blog has slipped.  I am therefore implementing once more the "Page Three Girl" protocol that I developed as an experiment in an earlier post If you don't know what the Page Three principal is then please click here.

 When I did the last post, I received a record number of hits for one day.  Therefore, back again by popular demand.....

Meet Christine Nguyen.

Actress, model, and from what I understand, quite a poker player.


 My e-novella Hound of Winter is now available for just 99 cents.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Spy Fi

Inspiration has struck me!

I have become host to a grand idea and I hope that it will take root during my writer’s retreat of the next two weeks.  Unlike my short stories thus far, this will be a sweeping epic that will trace the lives and happenings of the characters through at least five decades.  It will weave back and forth through time but ultimately converge in the same space.  And yes, it will be about aliens.

One strand element that I intend to incorporate into the story is that of “SpyFi.”  It won’t be a heavy presence by any stretch of the imagination, but it will be there and hopefully it will be fun.  To think, it all came about via a discussion of The Six Million Dollar Man with Chris Helton.  Well, that plus a blog post review that he did of an RPG.  Perhaps first I should help define “SpyFi.”

It is a loose definition to be sure, but then again so are most genre descriptions.  As one might infer, SpyFi is espionage fiction with science fiction elements interwoven in the narrative fabric.  For example, the antagonists in a SpyFi story may be a sophisticated, secret army that is plotting to take over the world via a fantastic device.  There may be futuristic technology involved all around on both the good and bad sides.  That brings up another point.   These are not realistic stories of spies, such as the work of John Le Carre or even the Bourne series by Ludlum.  These are high adventure tales that are full of escapism and wacky hijinks.

I realize that this describes just about all mass media espionage franchises of the past fifty years or so.

I’ve tried to look backward for more literary roots to this subgenre, aside from the Bond books by Fleming of course.  One book series is Agent of T.E.R.R.A. with Hannibal Fortune as superspy of the title.  I have the first in the series, The Flying Saucer Gambit.  Eagerly wishing to get to it on my ever-growing list.

There are multiple examples of SpyFi.  Bond, The Avengers (the British series, not the movie or comics series), The Prisoner, and on it goes.  One great example of this subgenre is the television series, The Six Million Dollar Man.  If you are “of that generation,” you undoubtedly can recite the voiceover for the show’s intro by heart:

"Steve Austin, astronaut.  A man barely alive.
“We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better...stronger...faster.”

Undoubtedly you now have the distinctive Oliver Nelson theme music running through your head. 

Steve Austin, played by Lee Majors, became a cyborg.  Both of his legs plus his right arm and one of his eyes were replaced with bionic parts.  He, as the intro states, became super strong, extraordinarily fast, and possessed of keen sight.  All of these abilities were usually demonstrated through slo-mo photography and an inimitable sound effect.  He worked for Oscar Goldman of OSI, the Office of Strategic Intelligence. 

A basic catch-all spook for OSI, Steve was eventually given a female bionic counterpart named Jamie Sommers (Lindsey Wagner) aka “The Bionic Woman.”  Together they fought such menaces as a cyborg John Saxon, a Russian Venus probe run amok, favorite...a bionic version of Bigfoot.

So will my new book have a bionic man superspy?  I'm leaning towards "no" only because it would probably lesson the "real" feel that I'm attempting to establish.  Then again, it is fiction.  Anything can happen.

 My e-novella Hound of Winter is now available for just 99 cents.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Mars: spacecraft graveyard

Over 60% of missions to Mars have failed.

That was in an article in the Washington Post today.  This comes just a few weeks before the planned August 6th landing of the NASA probe, Curiousity.  This probe will be a mobile laboratory that will rove Mars and study rock and soil samples for signs of life past or present.  That is if we can get it there in the first place.  Doug McCuistion, the head of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, confessed to the Post that he fears the probe's heat shield may not detach as planned before landing.

“If you look at the scorecard, Earth is doing less than 50 percent; less than 50 percent of Earth’s missions to Mars have been successful,” McCuistion said.

He's right.  If something goes wrong on or before August 6th...and I by no means wish it's not it will be alone.  Workers at NASA have even jokingly referred to a "Galactic Ghoul" that devours spacecraft headed for Mars.  This chart from NASA gives a good rundown of every explroation program that failed and succeeded to reach Mars.  It's not just us.  The Russians, the British, the Japanese have all had their share.  Mars appears to be an equal opportunity spacecraft destroyer.

Of course this record is fertile ground for conspiracy theories.  The missions are intentionally lost so as not to send back images of the "artifacts" on the Martian surface, such as the infamous "face."  The missions are shown to be defunct or lost only to be clandestinely reactivated as part of the "secret space program."  Or someone...or something...really doesn't want us on Mars.  Many point to the 1988 case of the Russian Phobos 1 and Phobos 2 probes.

Phobos 1 and Phobos 2 disappeared under strange circumstances.  The then-Soviets weren't all that forthcoming with the reasons why (shocker!) but they eventually released video footage taken by Phobos 2 just before it went silent.  P2 had actually made it to Mars orbit and was taking video of both the surface of the planet and its moon, Phobos.  The probe spotted bizarre, dark, straight-line forms on the surface.  The last bits of footage show an object coming straight towards the probe.  An ectopic object that should not be there according to astronomers.  Evidence at last of alien activity on Mars?

More likely that it's just damned difficult to mount a successful mission to any planet, not just Mars.  Human error has a great deal to do with it too.  The failed 1999 landing is a prime example of that as a metric conversion was never carried out by one or more of the engineers.  Scherzando theories are good for fiction writing, but in reality, space missions are hard work and fraught with danger.

There are enough variables to explain what goes wrong without any "galactic ghouls."

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Monday, July 9, 2012

Hot hot hot




Those are just a few of the adjectives I could employ to describe the past week.  Over four straight days here in Chicago the temperature hit 100 degrees.  Once you factor in the humidity for the heat index, that value gets closer to 105 or so.  Cook County officials announced yesterday that 18 deaths could be attributed to this heat.

I don’t mean to come off as a martyr.  The heat did not stop me from activities such as attending the Iron Maiden/Alice Cooper concert last Thursday night and banging my head like a fool until my body absolutely gushed with sweat.  Plus, a vast swath of the United States has been subjected to this excessive heat.  In Washington D.C. where the temperature likewise went into the 100s, an airliner was stuck at Reagan National Airport.  The tarmac had actually softened from the heat, forming a groove from which one of the plane’s wheels was eventually pulled…but not without great difficulty.  Yeah.  That’s hot.

Cities tend to be hit especially hard during times like these due to an effect known as “urban heat island.”  Remember that term.  You’ll be hearing it quite a bit in the years to come.  Heat and air pollution such as exhaust from vehicles and strain on electrical plants make for a bad combination.  Higher air temperature means an increase in ozone.  Air quality begins to go downhill fast.  Here is an urban heat island study for Chicago.  I once saw a report on Planet Ark that asserted that heat-related deaths in New York City will nearly double by 2050.

Right.  Nobody saw this coming.  Because global warming is just crazy talk.

There have been several global heat waves in the past ten years.  Japan suffered one in 2007 and Europe faced a heat in 2003 and 2006 that resulted in many deaths.  These deaths were mainly elderly or people who did not have or could not afford air conditioning.  Or both.  The same circumstances appear to account for deaths here in the Chicago heat as well.  Detractors see no pattern here.  Like commentator George Will, they snidely dismiss such heat waves as “summer.”

True, there have been heat waves in the past.  But as Kevin Trenberth, climate-analysis branch chief at the National Center for Atmospheric Research says:  “These (heat) events always occur.  What global warming does is push it up another notch.”  Climate researchers have warned for a quite a while now that global warming would bring, among other things as stated in this article in The Huffington Post: “increased heat waves, more droughts, more sudden downpours, more widespread wildfires and worsening storms. In the United States, those extremes are happening here and now.”

Indeed they are.  Since the beginning of the year, the U.S. set 40,000 hot temperature records.  So we’ve got the heat.  There are any number of cases in the past year of unusually strong storms, such as the tornado that hit Joplin, Missouri or tornadoes popping up in odd locations such as Massachusetts.  Horrible wildfires have left stretches of Colorado as nothing more than scorched earth.  Finally, on a far less serious note, this…ladies and gentlemen…is my lawn:

So there's drought.

Why listen to me?  Let’s see what the smart guys who get paid to pore over this data say:
"What we're seeing really is a window into what global warming really looks like," said Princeton University geosciences and international affairs professor Michael Oppenheimer. "It looks like heat. It looks like fires. It looks like this kind of environmental disasters."
"In the future you would expect larger, longer more intense heat waves and we've seen that in the last few summers," NOAA Climate Monitoring chief Derek Arndt said.

Yeah, yeah, I know.  That old conservative refrain of “climate is not weather.”  True.  Yet you will see indications of climate change within weather.  As a fiction writer, global warming causes me to envision all sorts of future settings.  One that immediately comes to mind is that of the northern US suddenly becoming more crowded as people flee the excessive heat.  Those that remain in the Midwest and so forth will be the lower income brackets, attempting to survive in a parched landscape without air conditioning.

Enough doom and gloom!  I’m tired of being perpetually accused of cynicism.  So what are the positives of these heat waves?  Well for one thing, attractive women wear fewer clothes during these times.  Saw that for myself at the Maiden show.  Also, nothing beats a large-sized cherry slushie from Sonic.

ADDITION: "Is Global Warming Driving Our Weather Our Weather Wild?" is the cover story for New Scientist.  You'll need to sign up (free) to read it.

 My e-novella Hound of Winter is now available for just 99 cents.

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Friday, July 6, 2012

Singularity interview with Hugo de Garis

Are we building gods or terminators?

That was the headline question posed in the interview posted on Socrates' Singularity 1-on-1.  The subject of the interview is Dr. Hugo de Grais, a man with an actual PhD in Artificial Life and Artificial Intelligence.  As an aside, he discusses how he really drifted into the field of AI as there were very few professorships for theoretical physics and mathematics.  Yet another travesty of modern academia.

He is the author of the book, The Artilect War: Cosmists Vs. Terrans: A Bitter Controversy Concerning Whether Humanity Should Build Godlike Massively Intelligent Machines .  Having never had this book brought to my attention before, I must say that it simply must go onto my "to-read" list...which is of Library of Congress proportions.  So many books, so little time.  But I digress...

The idea behind The Artilect War is that there will be a subset of people who will not accept the Singularity.  They will be troubled by the increasing number of humans who augment themselves with cybernetics as well as computers with artificial intelligence.  Those in the opposition will be known as "Terrans" (at least in de Garis' scenario.)  Those in favor of building artilects will be "Comsits."  Finally, those who wish to become cybernetic artilects themselves will be the "Cyborgists." 

A war then erupts in the mid 21st Century, one likely fought with weapons based in nanotechnology.  Hugo de Garis muses that such weaponry with its enormous computing potential could result in the deaths of billions of people or "gigadeaths."  No, that's not a new heavy metal band.

While I found the interview to be very interesting indeed and Dr. de Grais is an obviously erudite man, I am once again leery of pitching in with such doomsday scenarios in regard to the Singularity.  I say this because people tend to embrace new technologies. The up and coming generations are generations of "early adopters," wanting new technology as soon as it's available and incorporating it into their lives.  What was once a luxury now feels indispensable.  For example, I found a smartphone to be an unnecessary "goody" for the longest time.  Now that I have one, I can't live without it.  I believe that people, especially the young, will adopt cybernetics once they see its benefits.  Same goes for AI.

One caveat I will add here is that unlike say, Apple products, cybernetics, AI robots, and other transhuman applications are technologies that are in a class by themselves.  A truly new frontier.  The potential dangers that they do bring with them are a bit more formidable then those from an iPhone.  While I might not agree with them, I do see how doomsday tractates such as The Artilect War and Robopocalypse have formed. 

Let's hope the upcoming Spielberg adaptation of that latter book has a few ideas for circumventing these pitfalls.  I seriously don't think that it will but I'm seeing the movie anyway.

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Science Fiction comics--Camelot 3000

There is perhaps no other science fiction comic book so rooted in mythology as Camelot 3000.

Back in late least that's when I think it was...I saw a full-page ad in a DC Comic.  An unseen woman's hand thrust a broadsword up and out of a body of water.  The water was surrounded by a technical facility of one kind or another, possibly like a nuclear power plant.  A few onlookers watched from a mezzanine railing as the sword glittered in the light.  The ad copy read:

It was foretold that England's greatest champion will return in the hour of her greatest need.
It is the year 3000.  
That time has come.

Ok.  It got me.  That and the fantastic-as-always art of Brian Bolland.

In this year 3000, an overpopulated Earth has been overrun by alien invaders.  A young archeology student named Tom Prentice and his family attempt to escape and are pursued by these aliens.  The Prentice family air car is wrecked and Tom's parents are killed.  Tom runs and takes refuge under Glastonbury Tor and awakens the sleeping King Arthur, "the once and future king."  Arthur makes Tom his squire and the two travel to Stonehenge to release Merlin from imprisonment by the fae.  That task completed, the next order of business is to yank the sword Excalibur once more from its stone...which smashes up through the floor of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Once Excalibur is freed, all the souls of Arthur's Camelot become reincarnated.  While I am scientifically opposed to reincarnation, it does make for creative storytelling here as the Knights of the Round Table are now cast in futuristic...or rather really modern...roles.  Guinevere is an American military commander.  Lancelot is a French captain of industry and philanthropist.  Galahad is a Japanese samurai and a strict adherent of bushido.  Percival is a man who has been genetically altered into a giant.  Kay is a thug in Chicago.  Gawain is an ordinary man with a family in South Africa.

Perhaps most interesting is Tristan, who is a woman in Calgary engaged to a Canadian war hero.  Tristan's realization of a his change of sexes causes the character to examine gender roles and the treatment of women.  Isolde is still a woman in this iteration, so their inevitable love brings up issues of homosexuality and tolerance.  Rather forward-thinking for a book of its time.

Two things should be clear upon reading this so I don't believe I'm really giving any spoilers away.  One, all of the "soap opera," ins and outs of Camelot relationships still go on in this storyline.  Cheating, affairs, betrayal, et. al.  It all goes on anyway despite the characters attempts to stymie their destinies.  Second, everybody bands together to fight the aliens.  And why not?  Turns out the aliens are really being run by the sorceress and Arthur's old nemesis, Morgan Le Fay.

There are admittedly a few weak points to this limited series.  For example, there really is no originality to the aliens.  Yes, they're green, insect-like, and devoid of any real characterization or culture.  They also come from a "tenth planet" beyond Pluto (this was back when Pluto was considered a planet) which somehow no one ever discovered.  Even in the year 3000.  That's another thing.  "The year 3000" doesn't look altogether that much different than right now.  It just has more "Jetson's" aspects to it.  So much for The Singularity.

Despite all of this, I am still going to tell you that Camelot 3000 is worth your while.  Personally, I love new takes on old stories and mythologies.  This definitely qualifies.  It's an interesting character study to watch King Arthur attempt to adapt politically in this future world.  He is a monarch who now exists in a world that prizes democracy.  We see Tom Prentice, our "common man" anchor in this fantastic tale, take a Luke Skywalker-styled, Joseph Campbell hero's journey from a scared little boy to a man who leads the charge in the counter-attack on the tenth planet.  That and it's just a fun science fiction story, one infused with the swashbuckling of a sword and sorcery epic.  I mean, we see Excalibur cleave an atom in half and cause a nuclear explosion.

What more do you want?

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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Which way to America?

You probably think that this is going to be another "this political split annoys me" post.

You're probably right.

 Oh but this is a day that I'm supposed to be proud.  Proud to be an American...or so the song goes, right?  Hmmm.  I think I may be operating from a different definition of pride than the rest of the nation.  I take pride in my own accomplishments, my own achievements however few they may be in number.  But how exactly did I "earn" the title of "American?"

I never served.  I have never had anything to with this nation's achievements...or failures.  My American-ness is an accident of birth.  I could just as easily have been born in Ireland, Italy, Haiti, or Nigeria.  Saying, "I'm proud to be an American" is to me like saying "I'm proud to be 5'11" if I may borrow from George Carlin.  Taking pride in that feels like siphoning self-esteem from someone else's accomplishments.

This is not to say that I am not grateful to be an American.  I really won the lottery on that one.  All of my life I have had indoor plumbing.  I have never been in poverty.  I have never had to worry that what I say here or anywhere else is going to get me imprisoned or killed by secret police.

In a way, however, that latter point might be fading.  Of course you won't face the sort of dreadful fates that citizens of other countries do for speaking your mind, but you may however face a social or political "death."  You might be...*gasp!*...unpatriotic!  Can you think of a single political leader who doesn't say "the U.S. is #1!" ?  Even if the facts no longer bear that out? 

That, if you'll pardon the political pun, is the elephant in the room.  As I have harped about ad nauseam, the polarization of politics in a America has blocked people from thinking practically.  Instead of openly discussing and confronting a problem or a deficiency, it's an embracing of party lines and often a response of "No!  America is just fine, you commie" or "America!  Love it or leave it!"  On that latter phrase, I find it odd that it most often seems to come from Republicans but they themselves will not take their own advice as they carp, moan, and complain about Obama.

When I was younger, I can remember people complaining with accompanying eye-rolls of "oh those Democrats" or "oh those Republicans."  The discourse has mutated so far beyond that in the past 12 years that I actually yearn for those days again.  For in that time there was at least a modicum of respect.  That quality now appears to be all but absent.  One need only look at the epithets traded in the past week or so over the healthcare ruling.  You don't even need to do that, actually.  Go to almost any news story on Yahoo, scroll down to the comments, and someone is inevitably making a political statement on a story that is about as apolitical as you can get.  I once read a news story about a supernova spotted at the edge of our galaxy.  One commentator said "Let's send Obama there."

Yep.  Respect is right out the window.  You're a Republican?  Then you're a gun-toting, Bible-thumping, ignorant redneck.  You don't deserve my respect.  You're a Democrat?  Then you're an academic, socialist, Mulsim who is trying to communize or Nazi-ize my great nation.  You don't deserve my respect.  You vote for a third party?  Then you're just plain weird and you don't get my respect, either.  I'd like to blame Karl Rove for kicking all of this off, but then I'd just be feeding the problem.

All in all, you could do worse than America.  With a little touch up here and there and a bit of new paint, it might not be that bad of a place to live.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Film Review--Blue

starring Juliet Binoche, Benoit Regent, and Pepe Le Pew as "The Beav."

Julie (Binoche) is the wife of a famous French composer.  She suddenly becomes widowed as both her husband and her daughter are killed in a car accident.   Julie attempts to piece her life back together as best she can, but begins to discover that her husband was not the man she thought he was all this time.  While free to live anew, Julie keeps finding people and things from the past crashing back into her life.

At first blush, this may not seem like the kind of film that I would review on this blog.  But this is art.  Purely, plainly, simply, this is film as art.  Director
Krzysztof Kieslowski is the man.  I mean just "the man."  The luscious cinematography, the unending symbolism in his shots...I could go on and on about it.  It's just such a visual narrative, one that hypnotizes you from the very beginning.  There is a saying in art, "never a line without a reason."  Similarly in literature, Chekov had his rule about a gun hanging above the fireplace. 

Here, there is nothing superfluous, nothing surfeit.  Nearly everything has meaning and has a purpose for being in the shot.  All of this allows Kieslowski to build a nearly perfect study of Julie's character.  We see this so seldom in film, when a character becomes fully realized as a person and you identify with them...or at least understand their total.  This is not to say that Kieslowski embraces sumpsimus.  Not at all.  His means of going about this portrayal inventive and captivating (just watch for the sugar cube.)  Typically with a cerebral drama such as this, especially one that is subtitled, I expect to zone out from time to time.  Sad product of the American fast food-mass media culture, I suppose. Blue never once lost my attention and I intend to add it to my collection.

This film was the first installment in a trilogy that Kieslowski named Tres Colores.  I now have two more films to see.

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Monday, July 2, 2012

Headed down to Texas to see the UFO...

Or so goes the title of a hit country song.

I watched Chasing UFOs over the weekend.

That must come as no surprise.  I really admire James Fox’s UFO documentary, I Know What I Saw and there were aspects of this new TV series that intrigued me.  There were also aspects that I could very well have done without.  That’s a post for another time.  What did grab me about the first episode was the 2008 incident of Stephenville, Texas.  In watching the cast’s investigation, I realized that I haven’t quite given this sighting enough of my attention and I mean to rectify that situation.

Stephenville is a town located near the center of Texas.  On January 8th of 2008, however, the name Stephenville became associated with one of the biggest mass UFO sightings since the "Phoenix Lights" of 1997.  Literally hundreds of people reported seeing a series of spectacular lights in the sky, lights that would be in one location and then appear in an opposite one within the space of a breath.  Several witnesses managed to capture these lights on still camera and video, including one police officer using his dashboard cam.  A few, such as pilot and outspoken witness, Steve Allen, saw a structured, disc-shaped craft that was “about a half a mile wide and about a mile long.” 

After the aerial display, witnesses reportedly saw a number of military jet fighters chase after the UFO.  Thus, a logical place to begin with any investigation is once again the US Air Force.  And surprise surprise, the Air Force initially denied any involvement in these sightings whatsoever.   After a few more weeks of pressure from citizens who understandably demanded an explanation, the Air Force confirmed that a flight of F-16s did indeed conduct a night exercise in the vicinity of Stephenville on the evening in question.  The Air Force, as far as I know, never again issued a statement on the matter.

The admission of the F-16s is good for a few reasons.  One, it confirms part of the witnesses’ stories.  Two, with the F-16s present for comparison, this gave the witnesses perspective.  Texas has a large military presence.  Residents are no strangers to seeing military aircraft in their skies.  These people were truly bewildered, in a few cases disturbed and unsettled, by what they saw.  Oh and you can forget about that old standby excuse of “they were flares.”  One look at the photos and video should be enough for a rational person to see that fact.

The Texas branch of MUFON (Mutual UFO Network) took on the case.  They managed to get records of civilian radar from area airports from the night of January 8th.  The radar returns confirm the flight of ten F-16s…as well as a massive, unknown contact moving in a direction that corresponds with witness sightings.  This radar contact did not have a transponder as required by the FAA.  While that alone should be cause enough for concern in this post 9/11 world, there is more to it.  The UFO appeared to heading on a direct course for the town of Crawford, the location of the ranch for then-President Bush.  Air Force officials deny any incursion into secure airspace took place that night and refuse to release the radio transcripts of the F-16 pilots.  They also report to have “lost” their own radar records from that night.

So what was it?  I'd say it was, by strict definition, a UFO.  Now before anyone gets too uptight, that is not a de facto translation into "alien."  The object was in the air and we don't know what it was...ergo, UFO.  It was not an F-16.  That much is certain given the witness testimony and the photographic and video confirmation.  It is not any (unclassified) aircraft in the military inventory that I am familiar with right now.

The arrangement of the lights are not consistent with typical navigational lights.  Similarly, the flight characteristics of the UFO, the speed, the maneuverability, the bizarre appearance, etc. do not match any readily identifiable aircraft.  This is not to say that this couldn't have been a military test for a highly advanced aircraft, but that is the case, then exactly what kind of physics-bending technology are we sitting on?  In fact, a secret military jet might even go a fair way in explaining the absence of a transponder.  But why would a test take place so close to the President's ranch?  Or was it just showing off for "W" in a command performance?

Unless more evidence comes to light, the Stephenville case will remain a genuine UFO mystery.  Sadly, even with all of the media attention the case has been and will get...everything from UFO Hunters to Chasing UFOs to mainstream press like Larry King...we will doubtfully have any better understanding of just what happened that January.  That is unless the Air Force comes forward with what they know.

Yeah.  Right.

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