Friday, May 31, 2013

Destroy All Humans!

No, that is not a call for you to unleash whatever misanthropic tendencies you might have.

Although if you were going to, this would be a safe and healthy way to do it.

The header refers to one of my favorite video games, Destroy All Humans!  During these days of summer leisure (whether I want them or not), I've become reacquainted with this game.

It's on the older side, released back in 2005.  In it, you play Cryptosporidium 137, a star-weary and lecherous little alien with a voice that sounds suspiciously like Jack Nicholson.  He is sent to Earth during the 1950s on a variety of missions in locales that vary from farm towns in the Midwest, to seaside California, to steel towns on Eastcoast and finally Washington D.C.  There's also Area 51 thrown in for good measure. 

The missions for "Crypto" are sent from a leader named Pox who remains in a Furon mothership high in Earth orbit.  The ship looks a lot like the one at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but who's counting. The missions are typically to acquire human DNA.  It is explained that after centuries of interplanetary nuclear war, the Furons have lost their genitalia.  Getting human DNA back will correct that issue (Furons interbred with our ancestors before they lost their junk.) And the hilarious shenanigans Crypto must go through to get it...well, damn it's just a lot of fun. 

It's fun for a good many reasons.  First of all, the setting gives ample opportunity to mock the repressive lifestyle and cultural mindset of the 1950s.  Crypto is able to read minds.  As he does so, he finds people struggling to find new ways to conceal their misery and deny their sexual urges. Any destruction or mayhem he causes is automatically blamed on "those commies."  Additionally, the setting places Destroy All Humans! squarely in the era of Atomic Horror, giving rise to parody of such delectable b-films as Plan 9 From Outer Space and Teenagers From Outer Space.

Secondly, a goodly amount of UFO lore was plundered in the making of the game.  The opening sequence features a classic flying saucer disrupting a missile test and resulting in a Roswell-like crash.  There are also abductions, cattle mutilations, anal probes (for real), and the aforementioned chapter set in Area 51.  Most prominent of all is that Crypto is forever being pursued by not just earthly police and army forces, but by powerful Men in Black from a secret organization called Majestic.  Dope.  And I do mean, "dope" because that's exactly what the MIBs in this game are: dopes.  Their banter, their inner thoughts, all perfectly depicting macho feds as basically a football team with laser guns.

Lastly, DAH! does of course give me a sick satisfaction after a bad day to play an alien laying waste to the folly of human society.  Best of all, you can do it one-on-one as Crypto runs through the environment on foot or you can wreak wholesale destruction while in his flying saucer.

The game inspired three sequels.  DAH! 2 is not as much fun, set in the 1960s and drawing much inspiration from the spy movies and hippie counter-culture of the day (an absurdly tedious level in the middle of things doesn't help any.)  DAH! 3: Big Willy Unleashed is one I've played very little of as to do so I must languish through the intolerable player interface of the Wii.  DAH! 4: Path of the Furon is one I have not played but it supposedly has a 1970s martial arts theme to it.

Try out the first Destroy All Humans! if you can find it.  Like I said, the humor is a perfect lift for de profundis moments and the violence is an outlet for when you think the human race just can't sink any lower.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, May 30, 2013

"The pill to save monogamy"

Actually, I think they meant "misogyny."

To be fair, that headline I paraphrased was meant rather tongue in cheek.  It takes as its source a story in the New York Times that speaks of "female Viagra."  The author of the Jezebel piece, Lindy West, accurately points out that such a phrase is actually a misnomer.  The new pill "Lybrido" does not enhance sexual performance as it does for men.  It enhances desire.

The article in the Times details the stories of a few different couples, the disparate sexual strives between given husbands and wives.  Old evolutionary-psychology paradigms tend to support this as the "norm."  Women are domestic nesters and once the children have come about, sexual desire disappears.  Men, on the other hand, are ready to have a go at it whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Much, as West points out through the NYT article, of this kind of evolutionary-psychology is now thought to be senseless.  More stilted reasoning propped up by a patriarchal society.  There are many biological reasons for sexual desires to wane over time for either gender.  The most powerful force behind the decline might even be plain old human nature.  You know, the hip argument that people just aren't meant to be monogamous.  At least from the evolutionary point of view.

But wait!  Big pharmaceutical has the answer!  Here's a pill (you know, we've got a bunch of those now.)  Once your wife/girlfriend/partner takes it, her sex strive will return and you sir will not have to have that affair after all.  The American fairy tale of "happily ever after" continues apace.  By equalizing the playing field of sexual desire, monogamy is saved.  But don't get too libidinous, ladies.  Why, that would make you less desirable and you shall face the wuther of conservative mores.

Hoo boy.

First, I don't mean to make light of someone's medical predicament.  If you, regardless of your gender, have a genuine condition that prohibits you from engaging in sex the way that you want to, I can understand your desire for a solution.  Medication might very be the trick (like they say in the ads, check with your doctor.)

My problem is just how...Republican the thinking seems to be behind this drug.  You know, that same political party that seems to have a problem reaching out to women or even seeing them as humans with rights.  It's this mentality of "if you don't want it as much as your man does, then there's something wrong with you."  But if we fix it with Lybrido, things'll be fine and your relationship is back on track.

Right.  Because it's the panacea for any relationship.

Again, I am absolutely not mocking anyone, man or woman, who is seeking this kind of treatment for themselves.  I'm more concerned with the thought process behind the medication and the muddy pool of social conditioning it appears to be spawned from.

This is giving me ideas for a science fiction book.  A future society, one split between "red" and "blue" ideologies.  In the "red,"  the "womenfolk" take their pills and service their men.

Because of course, everything can be solved with a pill.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Still ruining the world, just doing it slower

Yes, I've got more climate change battology for you.  But research suggests that we may have a slight break.

A recent downturn in global warming means that "extreme" rates of temperature rise will be "not as likely" as forecast for the short-term future.  In the long-term, however, there will likely be no significant difference in the already expected rise in global temperature.

As I said, we're still killing the world, it's just going to take a little longer to do it.

From the linked article:

"Climate sensitivity looks to see what would happen if we doubled concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere and let the Earth's oceans and ice sheets respond to it over several thousand years.
Transient climate response is much shorter term calculation again based on a doubling of CO2.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported in 2007 that the short-term temperature rise would most likely be 1-3C (1.8-5.4F).
But in this new analysis, by only including the temperatures from the last decade, the projected range would be 0.9-2.0C.

" "The hottest of the models in the medium-term, they are actually looking less likely or inconsistent with the data from the last decade alone," said Dr Alexander Otto from the University of Oxford."

The article goes on to say that Otto and his climate colleagues attribute the discrepancy in long and near-term predictions to the world's oceans.  The waters are absorbing more heat than was previously thought likely.  That, however, is still being debated in certain sectors.  Most of all, I like how the article ends:

"Is there any succour in these findings for climate sceptics who say the slowdown over the past 14 years means the global warming is not real?
"None. No comfort whatsoever," he [Otto] said."

None indeed.  Hardest hit, at least in the near future, will be the poles.  The amount of melt that has occurred in the last year alone is more than any on record. This is not good news, especially when you considered that it is feared that over one third of plant and animal species will soon go extinct due to what we've done to our environment.
Sad thing is, even if we run out of oil in the next 15 to 20 years, I don't see anything changing.  People will just start burning whatever they can get their hands on for fuel.  Urban areas might start looking like something out of Dickens' London.

But investing right now in clean, renewable fuels? That's crazy, sandal-wearing hippie talk.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

When I met "The Shat"

Celebrity really does not impress me.

I've met several people over the years who could qualify for the term.  In most cases, my afterward response has been, "Oh that was (fill in the blank) from that (TV show, band, etc.)  That was kinda cool, eh?"  Case in point, running into Pat Morita (Karate Kid's "Mr. Miyagi") in a washroom in Maui (no, I didn't shake his hand.  In fact, I backed off completely as it didn't sound like he was feeling too great.)

That said, I am not immune to my "Oh my GOD!" Beatlemania moments.  Chief among those being the times I've met literary idols such as William Gibson and Neil Gaiman, and of course the miracle night I met Duran Duran.  Last Saturday night was one of those heady times.

I went to a movie theater in the Chicago suburbs.  It's one of those joints that serves you booze and overpriced food with your film.  On the whole, it's not an experience I can recommend, that is if you take your movies seriously and don't want someone sticking their face into yours to ask, "do you want fries, cole slaw, or nacho chips?" with your meal as the movie rolls.

Every once in a while it's worth it.  Typically it's because the theater brings in actors involved with a classic production.  That was certainly the case last weekend.

The movie was Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
The guest was William Shatner.

That's right.  "The Shat."  Captain Kirk himself.
Being a geek, my liking Star Trek is almost a given.  The show was one of the things that got me through many a lonely night as an isolato in high school.  Well, that and continuously checking the cord on the phone, convinced that there simply must be something wrong with the device and that was why girls weren't calling me.  But I digress...

The character of James T. Kirk is certainly an indelible part of the Star Trek mythos, a folk hero of sorts.  While the show had an uber idealistic outlook on the future in that it envisioned a time where your race, gender, or even your species didn't matter, it needed an ass-kicker to help keep it that way.  Said ass-kicker was Jim Kirk.  His cocky "I don't like to lose so I'll find a way to win" attitude was infectious and even inspirational.  And it was William Shatner who brought that character to life.  Sure, you can argue he overacted the part, but any critics he has left can just take a look at the all man's Emmy and Golden Globe awards for Boston Legal and just shut the hell up. The man's bigger than life.

Which brings me to last Saturday night.  Before the viewing of the film, I stood in line, thumbing my ticket to have my picture taken with Mr. Shatner.  What would I say to him?  What could I ask him that no one has before?  I certainly didn't want a repeat of meeting Duran Duran where I stuttered out "you're my hero" to Nick Rhodes, prompting him to instantly disappear.  What could I say?

Turns out I didn't have time.  An announcer over the loudspeaker said, "Ladies and gentlemen, for the final time this evening, William Shatner."  To great applause, the Shat emerged from the back of the theater lobby with his entourage, sporting a black leather jacket and looking like his usual badass self.  I kept looking at the bar, wishing I'd slammed a Sam Adams or six before getting the ticket.  No matter.  It was game time.  Again, what would I say?

The management decided that for me.  All of us in line were routed through the system in what amounted to a "Shatner drive-by" for photographs.  It was just enough time for me to say, "Hi.  My name's Jon.  I'm a huge fan."  Do you know what he said?  Huh?  Get this...

"Nice to meet you, Jon."

Capt. Kirk said it was nice to meet me.


Then, as soon as Bill Shatner was ushered into the place, he was off.  Only our digital photos would attest to our meeting him at all.

Yes, that pasty-white, grinning fool on the right is me.  God help me, I'm a dork.

That meant he wouldn't be speaking and taking questions before the movie.  A disappointment, but no matter.  Better to have five seconds with an icon than none at all.  We all filed into the theater and sat down for the movie.  Seeing it again on the big screen was a real treat and it reminded me that Wrath of Khan is not only the best of the Star Trek films, it's one of the best science fiction films of the 1980s.  Plus, as my friend Armando accurately pointed out as we walked to the car, those guys at ILM are pretty badass themselves.  The special effects still hold up well to this day.

I know it's not cool to be a part of anyone's "crowd" in science fiction.  To be a true connoisseur, one must read "hard" science fiction or at least the postmodern, nonlinear kind.  That means nothing mainstream such as Star Trek, Star Wars, or really anything with "Star" in its title.

I don't care.  I read plenty, thank you very much.  Without the stories from franchises such as Star Trek...and William Shatner...I probably wouldn't have been turned on to science fiction at all.  And you might say my life might have turned out happier and more "normal" for it.

Yeah.  It probably would have been boring, too.

Lest I forget, Bill Shatner also sings.  Here are a few of his classic covers, one of them from Duran Duran!

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, May 24, 2013

Twist tie action figures

Special thanks to Tribe of One for the heads up on this story.

They remind me of a specific variety of toy.

Ever been in the toy aisle of a drug store?  They often have cheap plastic knock-offs of name brand action toys such as transformable robots or the like.  At one point you could buy them for maybe a dollar or two.  Sure, they would last maybe a week and then fall apart as they were shoddily made, but they were fun.

It's that kind of toy that Shota Katsube's sculptures bring to my mind...and that is by no means an insult or an invective towards that artist.  His work reminds me of things that brought me (and still bring me) great joy.  In fact, what makes his work all the more stunning is that it's all done with twist ties.  You know, those things you seal bread bags with or wrap cables together?

Katsube found shiny, colorful ties and made an entire army of action figures out of them.  What is even more stunning is that each action figure is made up of only twist ties and you can stand them up on their own.  You couldn't even do that with the toys I mentioned earlier.

Now that I'm looking at the pics at the link, I'm reminded of a specific toyline from 1984.

Remember Crystar?  Hero of the world of Crystalium where crystal beings fought lava men led by Crystar's brother, Moltar?  It was sort of fusion of science fiction and sword and sorcery, an intended rival for the Masters of the Universe line, methinks.  Things didn't work out so well for Crystar, but I still liked the comic books.  Looking at the twist tie action figures, their bright and shiny colors, many of them of a turquoise hue, Crystar isn't far from my mind.

The twist tie action figures are being featured in an exhibit of outsider art from Japan at the Wellcome Collection in London.  I urge you to click the link above and check it all out.  Only a true artist could take an everyday item and turn it into a skeuomorphic joy for the postmodern geek set.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The fury of the Sun

This has been highly unusual.

Last week saw some of the most extraordinary activity on the surface of the sun.  For four straight days, the sun has released massive flares in a fit of angry action.   What was the force of the blasts?  Like "millions of 100-megaton hydrogen bombs" according to Discover magazine. Lucky for us, the flares are not headed towards Earth.  However, NASA has admitted that a few of its space observatories could receive "glancing blows" from the bursts of solar radiation.  These satellites can be placed into a safe mode for their own protection.

In reading astronomy news, the term "solar flare" is one you can come across a great deal.  Almost so much that it becomes a phrase you take for granted and the meaning is lost.  So today I actually had to ask, "what is a solar flare?"  I mean, I know it's an erupting plume of "flame" from the sun's surface that spews radiation into space, sometimes very much to the detriment of our electrical systems.  But what is it?  So I looked it up.

Solar flares occur after a build up of electromagnetic energy in the sun's...or any star's I'm assuming...atmosphere.  The sudden burst that results sends out radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum. But while this past week's solar activity has been unusually intense, it is actually quite normal.  Apparently, the sun has an eleven year cycle and this is indicative of it building towards its peak.

There have long been speculations that our number may well be up one day.  Meaning, one of those exceptionally large solar flares will send enough electromagnetic radiation our way to cause a great deal of damage.  No, it won't kill us but it could kill a number of power grids.  Without electricity, we would soon find ourselves facing a whole new way of life.  At least for a time or in various regions.

Maybe the astrologists have a genethliac point after all.  Our fate is in the stars.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Book review--After Disclosure

by Richard Dolan and Bryce Zabel

The book After Disclosure has one of the more thought-provoking premises for a non-fiction book that I have seen in a long while.  If by chance our government were forced to admit that Earth is indeed being visited by non-human intelligence, what would be the ramifications?  How would people react?  How would it all play out? 

I only knew Zabel from his work as a producer on the UFO-themed show, Dark Skies from the 1990s.  Richard Dolan, however, is one of the most respectable UFO researchers around these days.  When he is involved with something, I sit up and take notice.  So what do the authors believe will happen in a post-disclosure world?  Since no one can say for certain, nearly every possible outcome is examined from the sublime to the ridiculous.

One postulated result is almost a foregone conclusion.  It would be the "cosmic Watergate" scenario that UFO researcher Stanton Friedman always spoke of.  There would be congressional hearings demanding that the White House...and whatever other aspects of the government that were involved...tell us what they know, when they first knew it, and why it was kept a secret.  Indeed, how long have they known about this?  Will the few World War II aircraft crews still alive be able to say, "See!  I'm not crazy!" in regard to their foo fighter sightings?  Perhaps even more unsettling, what if the Ancient Aliens crowd really is right?

There would be radical social change with people representing the full spectrum of reactions.  You'd have the "doomsday prepper" contingent who in true paranoid fashion would await an alien attack.  At the same time, you'd have those hopeful sorts who would believe our "space brothers" were here to usher in a New Age of peace and prosperity.  Then there would be a massive clump of folks in the middle, uneasy at the thought of humanity no longer being at the top of the pyramid and never being able to look at the night sky quite the same way again.

The book also has its share of silliness.  Would abductees be able to sue the aliens?  More likely, would they be able to sue anyone who ever mocked them about the "anal probe?" (Note to self: delete that cartoon on the lower right.)  Would UFO visitors be secretly filming us for their own reality TV shows?  Worse than the silly factor, the book does have its share of egregious oversights.  Mainly, the prime focus of the book is that UFO occupants are alien in nature, meaning from another planet.  There is only the barest mention of them possibly being from other dimensions or parallel universes and absolutely no examination of the work of Jacques Vallee.  Yes, what if the "Others" as they are called in the book, are ethereal beings related to our subconscious?  Would not governmental knowledge of such realities or even theurgy be just as earth-shattering as what the book proposes?  Again, seems that the ET hypothesis is the only game in town.

On the plus side, Dolan and Zabel devote a fair amount of space to transhumanism.  They openly acknowledge that the Others have likely already reached their own Singularity.  Therefore, the beings that people have purportedly encountered are likely (but not certainly) biological/technological constructs.  Even more interesting still, might the presence of the Others' technology help bring about our Singularity at an even more advanced rate of speed?

This book is definitely worth a read.  As I said earlier, nobody does it better than Richard Dolan when it comes to thorough research communicated in a solid writing style.  Yes, detractors to the book will say it's all speculation.  Then again, what else could it be?  The authors do, however, have one outcome solidly predicted: after disclosure, nothing about human life will ever be the same.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Spiders and aggression

This is not good news for those of us who oppose social Darwinism.

But really, this is all about spiders.  While they might appear frightening and downright evil to many among us, it turns out spider dispositions mete out into two basic camps: docile and aggressive.  As new research has found, it is the aggressive spiders that usually survive.

Gentle spiders tend to stick near home and build new colonies.  The aggressive types, however, venture much further out and are ready to scrap at a moment's notice.  Surprise surprise, the aggressive spiders tend to be the last arachnids standing.  Why then, does nature persist in spawning spiders of the docile variety?  That was what behavioral ecologist Jonathan Pruitt wanted to determine.  As reported in Discover magazine:

"What he found was striking: the best spider personality depended on the prevalence of predators. When predators were around, lineages founded by docile spiders, though they produced many more babies, were eight times more likely to go extinct. These spiders spent their time reproducing instead of defending their webs, and so they were eaten by invaders or their prey was stolen from their webs."

Ultimately, the colonies of docile spiders all died out.  At the same time, over 75% of the aggressive spiders remained alive.  Yet what Pruitt found is not entirely damning of docility, at least in evolutionary terms.  As with most things in nature, it turns out that there needs to be a balance.  Too many docile spiders and things won't last long for spider-kind.  Aggressive spiders may be able to better multitask in terms of both fighting and reproduction, but that is biologically taxing in the long run.

Seems like there is a lesson in there for us.  Something along the lines of "it takes all kinds."  Moderation and all that.  So next time someone whines about having to take biology or something like that, tell them the story of the spiders.  It's not about knowing all the inner workings of all species, it's about knowing how it applies to us and our lives.  There it is, a spider-centric sitcom...a pasquinade of our work-a-day lives using spiders as projection.  

Then again, given the strong presence of spiders in the mythologies of many cultures, it may be a lesson we once learned but have since forgotten. 

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, May 20, 2013

Coronavirus: a pandemic in the making?

This coronavirus business could prove interesting.

Two more people in Saudi Arabia have recently died from the virus.  This comes as a report from the World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that transmission of the virus can occur from human-to-human contact.

"Of most concern... is the fact that the different clusters seen in multiple countries increasingly support the hypothesis that when there is close contact this novel coronavirus can transmit from person to person," the World Health Organization said on Sunday.

The virus, which is known to cause pneumonia-like respiratory symptoms in humans and other animals, is of the same family as the virus that caused the Asian outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) back in 2003.  It isn't certain yet whether or not this is a mutated strain of SARS, but epidemiologists are looking into the idea.

This has a few people worried.  Not only because there is the potential for a worldwide pandemic here, but also because of what might happen if...nothing happens.  A post on Discover magazine's site last week described this kind of a scenario.  In news stories like this one and books like David Quammen's Spillover: Animal infections and the next human pandemic, we keep hearing about how deadly new viruses seem to be popping up frequently but do so quietly.  That is until there is a major outbreak.  As Quammen was cited as saying:

"Terrible new forms of infectious disease make headlines, but not at the start. Every pandemic begins small. Early indicators can be subtle and ambiguous. When the Next Big One arrives, spreading across oceans and continents like the sweep of nightfall, causing illness and fear, killing thousands or maybe millions of people, it will be signaled first by quiet, puzzling reports from faraway places — reports to which disease scientists and public health officials, but few of the rest of us, pay close attention. Such reports have been coming in recent months from two countries, China and Saudi Arabia."

Yet each time we hear news like this and no true pandemic results (thank God), does the public and The Powers That Be become more or less prepared for when one actually occurs?  Do we tune future news of viral epidemics out just as we do with so much other "doom and gloom," thinking it's not going to be a big deal because it certainly hasn't been in the (recent) past?

If so, we do it at our own peril.  I have said it before, there is no other form of life as tenacious as a virus.   If we do beat down the coronavirus or SARS or what have you, one will eventually mutate or coalesce and arise totally of the new to stymie us.  I'm talking about one that can spread and replicate faster than we can find a treatment for.  That is when we will start taking the word "pandemic" seriously.  By then, however, it may be too late.

All of this doesn't even take into consideration our own tinkering with viruses.  Imagine a weapons-grade bug getting loose on accident or released by an unscrupulous individual or individuals?  As we inch towards the capability to do "gene hacking" in one's basement, is it that much of a stretch to imagine people like the Boston Marathon bombers cobbling together a bioweapon at home and then setting it loose?  Yes, it should give you pause.

If this has whetted your appetite to learn more about insidious and deadly germs (and who could possibly resist, right?), the Discover piece provided this link to "one-stop shopping" for all of your pandemic curiosities.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, May 17, 2013

FFF: Alone

Just another Free Form Friday...


What does that word mean to you?

It is a difficult subject for me to talk about to be honest with you.  I think that in frank discussions on the condition, you run the risk of venturing into the territories of adolescent, emo poetry.  Or worse, you just sound weak and needy.  Especially if you are a man.
It is however, fully possible for someone to be healthy, capable, effective, and still be lonely.  It is an honest emotion, one that I have before likened to being the solitary crew member of a space station, orbiting high above the world.

Writers and philosophers have tackled the subject numerous times.  Here are but a few of my favorite quotes regarding loneliness:

"I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. I do not think that they will sing to me." --T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

"I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an' he gets sick."--Crooks in Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

"No one would choose a friendless existence on condition of having all the other things in the world."--Aristotle

"Whenever I miss my friends I look up at the sky although I cant see them there but I feel happy that we are under the same sky."--William Shakespeare

"Life is very long when you're lonely."--Morrissey/The Smiths, "The Queen is Dead" (you knew I was going to work him in here.)

While we're in literary territory, I must say that as a writer I am not oblivious to the irony of my situation.  Many is the time that I have lamented on these pages how I just don't get people.  How I don't like interacting with people and much like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, long for a time when I can be solitary.

Well, be careful what you wish for.  You may get it...and it may be soul-crushing.

If it is a self-imposed exile, then what to do?  It is not so easy as leaving your mountaintop and returning to the settlement, expected to be greeted with open arms.  Mistakes and awkward remarks leave scars behind, just like nails pulled from wood.  There are amends to make in many cases if one is to cure their lonely condition.  In addition to that, I have learned that to successfully interact, one must give.  Offer yourself and your aid.  It can be as a service or just being available to listen...and that's the key, isn't it?  Being available.

So what is there to do if you are lonely because you miss one specific person?  Most of the time, the sad answer to that is "not much."  One method I suppose would be to try to be the type of person your subject wants.  The trick there is to make sure, doubly damn sure, you don't lose who you are in the process.
More effective than that I on yourself.  Better yourself.  Not only will you feel better about you and your own existence, not only will you become more powerful (not in the Donald-Trump-with-lots-of-motza way exactly but more in a self-empowered manner), you will become somebody others want to be with.  If not the one you miss, then with someone who truly values you as a friend or whatever.

Just looking at the math of it, it shouldn't be that hard to find one or another person with whom you're simpatico.  After all, there are about eight billion of us on this rock.

Why doesn't that make me feel any better?

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Why I won't see "Ender's Game"

I need to make a few things clear.

First, this is why I am not seeing the film Ender's Game.  I am not trying to convince you to not see it. So why am I writing this post?  I dunno.  I suppose it's just a forum for my opinion and it's something going on in the world of science fiction so it bears comment.

Secondly, I have never read Ender's Game.  I know, I know, sin of sins.  Truth is, it just doesn't appeal to me.  Therefore, I do not have any emotional investment in the film.

It is a sticky wicket, trying to separate art from an artist.  More than a few musicians and writers that I've gone beyond idolizing have said and done things with which I would not want to be associated.  But can you still enjoy the books and music?  Sure.  If that works for you.  In certain cases, it does indeed work for me.

For me, however, it doesn't work in the case of writer Orson Scott Card.  

To say that Mr. Card has been outspoken on the subject of gay marriage would be an understatement.  Here are a few choice tidbits from an op-ed piece he authored for Utah's Deseret News:

-"No matter how sexually attracted a man might be toward other men, or a woman toward other women, and no matter how close the bonds of affection and friendship might be within same-sex couples, there is no act of court or Congress that can make these relationships the same as the coupling between a man and a woman."

-"That a few individuals suffer from tragic genetic mixups does not affect the differences between genetically distinct males and females."

-"With "gay marriage," the last shreds of meaning will be stripped away from marriage, with homosexuals finishing what faithless, selfish heterosexuals have begun."

Thanks to Dorkland for pointing out this real winner:

"The dark secret of homosexual society -- the one that dares not speak its name -- is how many homosexuals first entered into that world through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse, and how many of them yearn to get out of the homosexual community and live normally."

Orson, Orson, Orson.  The Bible says to love your neighbor but you're making it so hard for me to do it.

I'm not all that great with math.  In this instance, however, the equation looks rather simple to me.  By buying any book by Card and/or a ticket to any film connected with Card, a way...give tacit endorsement to the statements I have just listed.  A portion of the profits go to Card.  It's a fact.  Therefore, I would be supporting him.

I do not wish to support Orson Scott Card.  Based on the statements above, I can see no evidence to dissuade me from viewing him as a hate-filled, right-wing extremist bigot who does not believe that all people, regardless of race, gender, belief, or orientation, have the same rights. 

But Jon, Jon...aren't people also entitled to free speech?  Can Orson Scott Card not have opinions of his own and express them freely?

Of course he can.  On both counts he can.  Regardless of that right, there is one aspect of free speech that most people appear unacquainted with: consequence.

It is fully within my right to insult people I meet.  Getting punched in the face or kicked in the crotch are likely consequences of doing so.  One is free to harbor prejudices and bigotry, but when one expresses it, they must be prepared to face similar consequences.  No legal action can be taken (unless it were personal and targeted), but people may not want to be around you that much.  In fact, people may try to put as much distance between you and them as they possibly can, both personally and financially.  Just look at how many times a celebrity has said something caustic or displayed poor judgement.  Many of the products or programs they were associated with began to pull away almost immediately.  Say something dumb, be prepared to be treated like someone who is dumb.  And negativity only begets more negativity.

So I am not seeing Ender's Game.  No, I don't expect my one ticket sale to make any kind of dent in the movie's box office earnings or Card's take home pay.
But I will sleep easier knowing I made a small gesture in denying hatred and support human rights.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Slouching towards photography

Been feeling arty lately.

So today, I strolled around and snapped photos of whatever caught my eye.  Mind you I'm only using the tiny camera on my cellphone.  Images might not be of the greatest quality.

Statue through trees.  Apparently, this holy man has the Mark of Saruman upon his face just like the Uruk-hai from Lord of the Rings.  Judging by his eyes, his circadian rhythms are a bit off as well.  The picture seems horizontally stretched for whatever reason, too.

Part of a mural for our campus.  I'm trying to think of a nifty conspiracy theory to go with it, just like the paintings in the Denver airport.  So far, no storyline. 

Bark as driftwood washed upon a concrete beach.

Ornate masonry on a bench leg.  Never noticed it before today.

Even in the country I could find a small slice of urban decay.  Makes me feel right at home.

Ok, so this picture does not show what I intended.  There is no zoom on my cam so I couldn't get the odd, out of place metal box that sits dead center of that empty cornfield.  What is it?  All I know is, if I find a crop circle there tomorrow...





Our art students recently had an end of the year exhibition.  Apart from enjoying a walk through of the various works, a few stood out to me.  The above is a section of one such piece.

I think this young person has the right idea.

This is an older pic, but it is from a night where I was swarmed by tiny, autonomous drones.  Doubtless of alien origin.  And me without my tin foil hat.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Computer "guts" as art and other art news

I like when things get re-purposed.

Especially when it becomes art.  That's what Mark Crummett thinks too.  Or so it seems.  He has taken the innards of computers along with transistors and motherboards from other devices and turned them into artistic landscapes.  In a photographic series Crummett calls Ghosts in the Machine, tiny figures are overwhelmed in an environment of pure technology. For example, in the above image entitled "Blessed Are the Air Cooled," the vent for a computer fan becomes postmodern architecture for the figure it dwarfs.  Personally, I think it looks more like a music video from the very early 90s (remember when lights through fans were all the rage?)

In the Wired article, Crummett says he likes to use railroad figurines for his dioramas.  Partly because the scale is right and also because the vintage dress of the figures creates an interesting juxtaposition with the computer parts.

“These people are surrounded by technology, technology has become their environment,” he says. “And that’s where we are too. Technology has become so integrated that it’s second nature to us.”

Shades of transhumanism.  Though it's difficult to discern what Crummett's thoughts are on the Singularity from just his art, he does concede that several of the figures were chosen for the positioning of their arms.  The railroad people were originally positioned as such to be working on locomotives, but in the new context of the art, the characters derive a more spiritual quality.

I was wondering how Crummett got the painting-like quality of the images down.  Fortunately, the article went on to tell me.  Turns out it's a simple blur technique.  This is so as to help the viewer "fall into the narrative of the story."

“If we can take a step or two away I think it lets our imagination connect with it more fully,” he says.

In other art news, the Frieze New York Art Fair is underway.  There's even an entry from Sir Paul McCartney himself.  Check out his giant balloon animal:

A somewhat more controversial art exhibit is that of Michael Murphy.  It is meant, as he says, to engage wider discussion of the gun debate and the view of guns in our society. Part of his exhibition features a giant AR-15 made of black ping pong balls in order to render the gun as a "fetish object."

Agree with it all.  Chuck it all.  No matter what, I love art.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, May 13, 2013

CO2 levels highest in human history

It is a gas that traps heat in the atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide is now present in our atmosphere at a level not seen for three million years.  That's long before humans arose on the face of the world.  Logical extrapolation suggests that this will cause a rise in both climate and sea level.

 " “It symbolizes that so far we have failed miserably in tackling this problem,” said Pieter P. Tans, who runs the [CO2] monitoring program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that reported the new reading."

I'll say.   Every time we turn the ignition on our cars, flip on a light switch, or board a plane for Vegas, we spew CO2 into the air.  I don't exempt myself from this process.  I'm with everyone else on this "inevitable march to disaster" as one researcher called it in the article.  Or as another scientist in the article was quoted as saying, "It takes a long time to melt ice, but we're doing it.  It's scary."

That's right, we're driving our world into conditions not seen since prehistoric times.  At this point, however, billions of people will be affected.  Worst of all, there might not even be time to turn it around, leaving us instead to attempt to mitigate the worst-case scenario as best as we can.  We've proven to be slow to do even at that as it would undoubtedly cause economic disruption.  It would also require (gasp!) community sacrifice.

I'm not pinning this entirely on America's shoulders, either.  Sure, we're up there in terms of CO2 emissions, but China's got us beat.  Like the good ol' US of A, the Chinese have refused to adopt any national standards targeting its overall carbon footprint.  As its cities sprawl further and further outward, as its vegetation is increasingly chopped down to clear room for the sprawl, the warmer the temperatures in China become.  Plus, being the world's largest producer of carbon dioxide, what happens to China eventually affects the rest of the world as well.

Despite all the evidence, there are still detractors who still vehemently deny any form of man-made climate change, despite the fact that the initial uptick on CO2 emissions corresponds with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.  A politician quoted in the article states that “The CO2 levels in the atmosphere are rather undramatic.”  A logical fallacy that climate scientists astutely point out as being akin to saying "you only have a bit of cobra venom in your veins."

"...the time to do something was yesterday," is another great quote.  But don't worry.  I hear from the Right that Jesus will save us.

Actually, I think He is more likely to say, "it's your mess, you fix it or live in it."

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, May 10, 2013

New fave band: Compressorhead

From the "I wish I would have thought of it" file.

Let me tell you about the band Compressorhead.  As proclaimed on their own site, they are "the world's heaviest metal band."

"Did you ever wonder what Danny Carey would sound like with four arms?
How about if Angus Young had 78 fingers?  Imagine what Robert Trujillo would sound like if he were actually made of metal?

Well wonder no more, meatbags."

Here's a quick introduction to the band:

Fingers (guitars) joined Compressorhead in 2009 and has 78 fingers.  He can play the entire fretboard and pluck.

Bones (bass) is the newest member of the band having been born in 2012.  He has the highest precision of any bass player in the world.

Stickboy (drums) is the world's first rock drummer built to specification for Compressorhead.  His illegitimate son (oh those rock stars), Stickboy Jr., joins in on hihat.

The band is of course entirely composed of robots.  This is the first time I have encountered such a concept, at least on this scale and IRL.  Got to say, I love it.

No, I don't foresee robots taking over rock music.  Although when you look at the creation, packaging, and marketing of contemporary music, one could make the easy argument that robots already have.  Compressorhead, to me anyway, seems to be more about "can we do this?"  Is there another level we can take robotics to?  How many human activities can robots successfully emulate?
Take a look/listen to their cover of The Clash's "Should I Stay Or Should I Go?" and you decide:

Other selections from their setlist include "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana, "Blitzkrieg Bop" by The Ramones, "Bullet in the Head" by Rage Against the Machine, and of course "Iron Man" by Black Sabbath. Also included is the theme to The Banana Splits.  I usually look more obscure songs by more obscure bands, so Compressorhead will really earn its street cred with me when I see tunes by Nine Inch Nails and Transvision Vamp on the set.  But did you read that last song on the setlist?  They play the flippin' Banana Splits.  Awesome.

Like most spoiled rotten rock stars, Compressorhead does have their own tour rider  (posting it here because I'm certain it's only a matter of time before The Smoking Gun gets a hold of it for their own Backstage section.)  If you want them to play a gig, make certain you have enough bottles of oil, chrome polish, and hydraulic fluid on hand and audio techs who are "sober and competent."  Wonder if I could be a Compressorhead roadie?  I'd be happy just to sell the t-shirts.

Naturally, I came across Compressorhead while doing research for my novel on robots...which still languishes in the development stage as my ideas seem to come and go by aeolian means (at one point, I'm actually going to have to sit down and write the damn thing.)  I have been searching for stories about the current state of robotics and how I can project it into the future.

Looks like Compressorhead may have to make an appearance in the book.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Transhuman augmentation

Two bits related to transhumanism that recently came across my email/newsfeed...

New brain implants are being developed that will enhance memory.  Of course the CNN article I found this in is quick to point out the similarities between the microchip implants and Gibson's "Johnny Mnemonic," looking into the far (perhaps not too far) future where everyone might carry vast sums of information in their heads and be able to recall it with perfect lucidity.  These pieces of cybernetics will be dealing with the hippocampus, the area of the brain where short term memory becomes long term.  The developers are still in the testing phase with tests on actual humans happening in the next two years.  Right now, it sounds like the first to receive these implants once they are approved will be stroke victims and people dealing with other forms of brain injury.

In a bit of synchronicity, I had received my weekly Keeping Up with the Singularity email from Singularity Weblog.  In it was an article by Daniel Faggella that described just why the above mentioned forms of augmentation are not so "far out" as the general public might assume.  Faggella points to the fact that wearable computing is already becoming a norm.  Face it, we're nearly hardwired into our smartphones as it is.  Google Glass is the next apparent step.  Plans are already underway to embed computer technology into clothing in any number of ways.  Is it that great of an extension to believe that personal computers will become truly...well, personal?

As Faggella goes on to say, the potential next step after that is integration of cybernetics with our own bodies.  This is where people tend to get creeped out. We're a long way from cyborgs and the other whangdoodles of anti-transhumanists who warn of things such as total body prosthesis, but we're already talking about giving sight to the blind through implants.  Likewise, there are already designs on allowing the entirely handicapped to move once more via messages from their own brains.  After that, the technology will become more widely available. 

Do we put the brakes on this kind of development?  I don't see how we could even if we wanted to.  As developers of the atomic bomb will tell you, you can't get the knowledge genie back in the bottle once she's out.  Singularity technology is on the way and as Faggella points out, is already here in many many ways.  Will there be misapplications of it?  Of course.  There is with nearly any technology. 

That, however, is a weak excuse to throw out all of the obvious benefits.


Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Serpo Exchange

You would be the ultimate "exchange student."

If you had been a member of the supposed "Serpo Exchange," you would not be staying someplace as pedestrian as Denmark or Macedonia.  Oh no.  You'd be headed to Serpo on a bona fide UFO.

A few weeks back, UFO researcher Len Kasten appeared on Coast-to-Coast AM.  He gathered a chronicle of the alleged Serpo program via postings on the site  The postings were from a source named "Anonymous" (of course) who claimed to have once been in the Defense Intelligence Agency.  This poster asserts that our government is in possession of a tome called "THE RED BOOK" (I guess it is in all caps), wherein is detailed the extensive contact officials have had with extraterrestrials.

Apparently, this all goes back to the birth of the modern UFO era, 1947.  That year saw the summer of both Kenneth Arnold and Roswell.   It was also when we established contact with a race of aliens that are colloquially known as the "Ebens."  I'm guessing the name truly stems from the designation EBE or Extraterrestrial Biological Entity.  Which begs the question: why don't we call the Ebens by their own name for their race?  Can human mouths not pronounce it?  But I digress...

Physically, they appear smaller than humans and with larger heads but they are not the same as the Greys.  This statement alone seems to corroborate other UFO encounters that would seem to indicate we are being visited by more than one race.

These Ebens hail from a planet named "Serpo," 39 light-years from Earth in the Zeta Reticuli star system.  In 1965, a team of 12 military officers headed to that planet as a part of a diplomatic exchange program.  As the story goes, they brought 45 tons of supplies along with them.  That was no problem as the Ebens supplied an enormous spacecraft with "100-foot ceilings" for the journey.  In response to questions about the size of their craft, the Ebens remark was said to be something along the lines of "What?  This?  It's just a shuttlecraft."

It took only nine months to reach Serpo.  The Ebens make their journeys via the typical wormhole/anti-gravity combo you hear so much about in UFO lore.  What kind of planet is Serpo?  Well, as Kasten said on C2CAM: "Serpo is said to be about the same size as Earth and have breathable air, yet only has a population of 650,000. Among the strange wildlife on the planet was a snake-like creature with highly developed eyes that looked almost human."

Oh boy is this great.

The team stayed offworld all the way until 1978 and one member remained there until 1988.  Apparently he/she preferred Serpo to Earth and who can blame them?  One of the members of the "away team" as it were died while staying on the planet.  The Ebens supposedly took the remains of the deceased and created a new hybrid being with it.  Something they do with most species they encounter or so they say.  To this day, our government remains in contact with the Ebens through the ultra-classified Project Gleam: a device that sends transmissions to Serpo by a beam moving at high speeds.

Well, what can you say?  It's all taken from an anonymous source.  What about questioning the members of the so-called Serpo Exchange?  Seems like all have died since their return to Earth in 1978.  Not all that unbelievable given their likely ages and God knows what they were exposed to, but it doesn't help in the search for credible evidence to support this story.  Without something tangible to go on, it remains just a story.  Such is the plight of many a UFO case.  

I don't mean to say that it is false.  I merely await more evidence in order to be fully convinced.  In the meantime, enjoy it.  For as I seem to always say in these cases, it's a heckuva story.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Malala Yousafzai

As I have said before, bloggers are a fraternity.

From time to time, we must support one another through flaming and often inane slings, arrows, and logomachy sent to us via comments on a post.  Mostly it's cranky people upset that someone could dare have an opinion opposed to theirs.  Other times its vindictive jerks that just want to be...well, jerks.  Yet I have never once experienced someone getting killed over what they blogged.

That is what was attempted upon Malala Yousafzai.  Malala is a 15 year-old woman from Pakistan.  She blogged on the BBC's Urdu site, oftentimes posting about her aspirations to become a doctor.  The major obstacle to that goal, however, was the Taliban and their strict opposition to women entering higher education.  Undaunted, Malala continued to write that she would not allow the Taliban to intimidate her from having a fulfilling life of her choice.

The Taliban responded by boarding her school bus one day and shooting Malala along with two other girls.  The other two children did not survive, Malala did.  In a statement, the Taliban said that this action was taken to teach a "lesson" to anyone who else who valued education and equal rights for women.

The "lesson," however, did not sink in.  Malala is now an international symbol of human rights.  TIME magazine recently named her as one of the "100 Most Influential People in the World." As she is safely in London now, her goal is to continue to write about the approximate 61 million children in the world who are not able to attend school.     

As typically happens when I encounter a person of Malala's caliber, I am embarrassed by the strength I seem to lack.  At her age, I was the skinny kid in high school who got bullied.  I stayed away from many opportunities and took the long way home to avoid any "troubles." Malala had grown men with guns threatening her and she didn't back down.  Many of us in America, myself included, whined and complained our way through school, unhappy with the seemingly boring and tedious work we had to do.  This young woman was willing to risk her own life just to have the opportunity to do it.

Education is a fundamental human right regardless of gender.  Not only that but education is the single best solution out there to problems such as poverty, crime, disease, and such.  By allowing young people like Malala to go to school, everyone benefits. After all, everyone should have the right to an education...and most importantly, to a fulfilling life of their choosing.

On the micro scale, Malala Yousafzai should be an inspiration to all bloggers.  Speak your mind.  Put it out there, whatever "it" is.  Sure, you might get Internet flack for it, but if Malala can have the courage to do what she does, we can too.

As an aside, if you go to the link above for the TIME "100 People" list, you'll also find an entry on Aung San Suu Kyi.  Talk about courage...

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, May 6, 2013

Boston: false flag my...

I am going to coin a new term.


Then again, I haven't Googled the word so I can't say for certain that I'm the first one on the block with it.   Politanoia is a symptom of our severely bifurcated, polarized nation.  Or at least that's how it seems, anyway.  Whenever an event occurs, no matter how tangentially it can be related to politics, there always seems to be someone eager to pounce upon it and say, "See!  Obama is trying to take your basic American freedoms away!" We saw it sadly enough after the Newtown Shootings and we're seeing it again after the tragic bombing of the Boston Marathon.

Conspiracy maven Alex Jones wasted no time getting a jump on things.  Soon after the terrorist attack, he tweeted that the whole thing "stinks to high heaven." Jones, who as described in this article in The Los Angeles Times is a "libertarian and an  'aggressive constitutionalist' " (whatever that means), has argued that the occurrence was staged as a "false flag attack" by the FBI in order to gather broader powers for the Department of Homeland Security.  Theoretically, this would allow for furthering the "Obama agenda" of confiscating guns and having the TSA feel us up at every turn.

For those who might not be familiar, "false flag attack" is a term used to describe covert operations that are designed to look as if they are being carried out by powers other than the ones actually executing them.  Say you want a war with Canada.  A nefarious sort might get a unit of U.S. special ops together, dress them in Canadian fatigues, kit them out with Canadian gear, and then have them flee into Canada after an attack on the United States.  Bingo.  There's your war.  In theory, anyway.  This notion has formed the basis for many conspiracy theories, including the "9/11 was an inside job" movement (facets of which, I must admit, do give me pause) and several surrounding the bombing of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City.

Jones isn't alone.  Good ol' Glenn Beck claims there is a cover-up going on in relation to the bombings and that he is going to "expose it." Again, the basis appears to be something to do with the FBI orchestrating or "provocateuring" [sic] the attacks and that our response to it will "determine whether or not America survives."  He later described the police manhunt for the terrorists "as scary as Nazis on the hunt for Jewish people."

Oh wait.  He gets better.  As Beck furthered, “The Boston bombing provided the opportunity for the government to turn what should have been a police investigation into a military-style occupation of an American city. This unprecedented move should frighten us as much or more than the attack itself,” he wrote in a published opinion, as Politico reported.
Sigh.  Oh Glenn Beck.  You so crazy.  Are you still ticked off for my calling you out about scaring my Grandma?     I'm still wondering if you're behind my aunt buying all those guns, but that's another matter altogether.

Folks, this was no "false flag" incident.  The whole theory fails the Occam's Razor test: the simplest solution is usually the correct one.
What is simpler?  The attacks were carried out by a handful of extremists or they were carefully orchestrated "false flag" attacks executed through the collusion of a several different government agencies and a few hundred (at least) people to work towards the ends of the nefarious New World Order?   I think the answer is spangly evident.

Sadly, this is more indicative of the widening political divide than anything else.  Something bad has happened?  Then there's got to be a way to pin it on Obama!  To be fair, liberals were doing much the same thing during the Bush administration but I don't remember it being quite so vitriolic. "Politanoia" like this does no one any good.  Calm, rational dialogue, however, does.

But there's a good buck to be made in the "politanoia" racket, isn't there Alex and Glenn?

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, May 3, 2013


starring Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, and Tony Randall as The Beav.

A science fiction tale of a man named Jack Harper (Cruise), who is one of the few remaining humans on Earth after a destructive war with an alien race known as the "Scavs."  While carrying out his job as a drone repairman, he encounters a crashed spaceship.  The contents...and one of the crewmembers...of the ship cause him to realize that everything he knows about the war, the Earth, and humanity itself may not be what it seems.

That's right.  Our protagonist must ask "what is real anymore?"  and thereby enter protracted ratiocination.  Never seen that before in science fiction.
There is a lot going on in this science fiction opus.  Perhaps that is why it comes off as so disjointed.  For example, there are strong allusions to 2001, the ever popular trope of "we're losing our humanity" as symbolized by Jack's Thoreau-esque cabin in the woods, the common post-apocalyptic meme of Earth's greatest constructs in ominous ruin, a painful love triangle (like there is any other kind) and spectacularly cinematic landscapes with brilliant special effects.  Oh and a lot of Tom Cruise flying back and forth between his "sky house" and the world below.  Yeah.  Whole lotta that.  But there's also Morgan Freeman, for about a whole fifteen minutes or so of screen time.  At least you get to see him behind the handles of twin .50 caliber machine guns.  There is also the rather annoying appearance of "massive empty space inside a gigantic spaceship." Actually, it's only been annoying since I read a scientist explaining how utterly impractical said empty room is on a ship.  Anyway...

It's not a bad film.  It's just terribly jumbled.  My recommendation is to wait for DVD or streaming on Netflix.  Still waiting for a truly mind-blowing science fiction film to come into theaters.

HOWEVER, one big plus of the film is that Jack's cabin has a few vinyl LPs that survived the apocalypse.  One of them is Duran Duran's Rio.
I was unable to restrain my cry of "YES!" in the theater.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Resistance can be FUN!

I went to the movies with Bernard last week.

Had a good time.  It was a special engagement.  A one-time satellite broadcast of the legendary two-part episode from Star Trek: The Next Generation, "The Best of Both Worlds."  You know the one, right?  It's the Borg.  They're after Earth and the Federation for all the marbles.  The stakes are impossibly high and it doesn't look like the Federation will come out alive this time.  I mean, the Borg even capture and convert Captain Picard for crying out loud.  If they can borg him, they can pretty much borg anybody.

"We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own.  Your culture will adapt to serve us.  Resistance is futile."

Those last few lines propelled me into reflection.  There is no more clear symbol of transhuman-phobia than the Borg from Star Trek.   Your culture will adapt.  Resistance is futile.  That's right.  The Singularity is on its way whether you want it or not.  It is in the Borg that we see reflected the basic fears of losing our "humanity" and our individuality.  An extension of this fear is the science fiction trope of "borging out," where someone's sanity degrades with each further cybernetic replacement or augmentation of their body.

Then there's the whole "hive mind" thing.  We fear losing our thoughts and individual opinions to a sort of collective consciousness that runs our society.  While this would be efficient in terms of getting things done, it does have its downsides.  Colony collapse is just one of them.  We're seeing right now what is happening to bees and what that is doing not only to them but to the rest of our environment.  Still, I can't help but wonder if "hive mind" would be all that awful (I find it interesting to consider all of the insect imagery in human culture and what that might allude to.  For instance, what does this mean in relation to the "Gray" alien meme of UFO reports?)  Think of the pesky human failings that would be no more, dour emotions such as sadness and heartbreak would be things of the past.  In keeping with the Star Trek comparisons, it would be like Spock's kolinahr, the removal of all feelings but without all the effort.  If there were a way to effectively do it, I would gladly shut off all of my emotions. 

Why?  Because are we sure that "human" as we know it is the way to go?  I'm not talking about a crazy eugenics scheme like in Brave New World or what the Nazis tried to do by misappropriating Nietzsche.  The idea behind transhumanism is to implement technology via very human ingenuity in order to eliminate things such as degenerative disease, missing limbs, blindness, deafness, and so on.  This would truly be a way to take control of your life, to rise above whatever hand that fate or genetics has dealt you.  For people like me who struggle with depression, I would seriously consider an implant that turns off the emotional aspect of the brain entirely.  I am (almost) willing to sacrifice the saccharine to be rid of the sorrowful.

Change of any kind contains an element of fear.  Trust me, no one gets that more than me these days.  I've had more change than I really care to have.  And the Singularity won't be a mere change, it will be a revolution, even if not as colossal of one as Kurzweil thinks.  Technology of any kind can be used to evil ends.  We have to hope we get it right more than we get it wrong.  Otherwise, we'll need to develop an affinity for eyepieces and cube-shaped craft.

But the whole "no emotions" thing remains appealing.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Putting the "Art" in artificial

If you are going to replace a limb, why not do it with style?

That's the thought of Sophie de Oliveira Barata, anyway.  She is a London-based artist and designer who is reinventing what it means to have a body prosthesis.  Her work is a gallery of crystalline legs and snake arms that actually slither, evoking the surrealist art of Salvador Dali as mentioned in the linked article.

"Having an alternative limb is about claiming control and saying 'I'm an individual and this reflects who I am,' " says de Oliveira Barata.

The psychological benefits do seem considerable.  I've never lost a limb and hope never to find out for certain, but I imagine it does challenge your concept of identity.  By selecting one of these replacement or "alternative" limbs, one would in fact be asserting their identity post-trauma.

This does seem a bit counter-intuitive to previous notions of body prosthesis.  Up until now, artificial arms and legs have been designed to be as innocuous as possible.  De Oliveira Barata's works of art are anything but.  For example, singer and model Viktoria Modesta wore a de Oliveira Barata piece while performing at the closing ceremonies of the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.  Modesta, who had one leg amputated during her teen years due to health complications, sported a bejeweled leg made of crystal.  Talk about bling.  Modesta shrugs it off as just another fashion choice.

"Being a self-confessed fashionista, things that I'm into tend to change all the time, and like most key pieces in my wardrobe I would only wear it a number of times," she said.

In fact it was Modesta who collaborated on de Oliveira Barata's first prosthetic piece, a leg made of speakers and other stereo components (perfect for the amputee/music lover near you).  A picture of this leg is available in the gallery of the article so I'll let you check that out for yourself.  A casual pass through this gallery reveals a few more stunning pieces.  A veteran of the war in Afghanistan has a leg that is rendered to emulate exposed bone and muscle.  There is also an especially enticing piece, a leg that resembles that of a porcelain doll with vines and floral work painted down the side.

To me, a project such as this goes beyond giving someone the means to be mobile once more.  This is about the healing power of art.  

And that ain't bad.

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