Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Film Review--Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, and Bradley Cooper as The Beav.

A suburb of San Francisco finds itself as the center of an alien invasion.  A health department worker (Sutherland) finds that many people he knows have begun to act strangely, displaying only the barest residuum of themselves.  When confronted about it, these people all deny that anything is wrong or offer weak stories.  In time, this man finds that he is increasingly in the minority of "human" people and is almost taken over by the same plant pods that he has discovered are possessing everyone.  These things must be stopped.  But who is there left to trust?

This is a strong remake of the original film, even though purists adhere to the 1950s version.  There is nothing wrong with the original certainly, but it was very much a product of its time.  The film was a response to the paranoia many felt over "them evil commies."  In those examples of the more frigid of the Cold War years, there was an honest sense that you could not tell who among your community...perhaps even your own family...might be communists.  Shades of the 17th Century witch trials.

Instead, what the 1978 remake relies on is a sense of something far more basic, perhaps even existential.  In my opinion, it is the question of "what if you're not like everyone else?"  What happens to you then, eh?  What if no one understands you?  Does it seem like everybody but you is a part of a "cult of normal" that to you seems difficult to follow?  Ahhh the dangers of nonconformity.

I believe that is what this version of the story is getting at.  It's that deep, philosophical question that recurs in science fiction, "what makes you, you?"  Once turned into..."pod people" or whatever the term should be...the converted assure their intended victims that "there will no longer be pain...or hate...or love..."  But does that mean you stop being human?  In many ways, I suppose you could argue "yes."  Then again, isn't our contemporary corporate society absolutely hellbent on conforming us?  Like pod people?

So I recommend this.  Leonard Nimoy is kickass as always and Donald Sutherland turns in yet another suitably creepy performance.  Another aspect of the movie that I find refreshing is the new (for the time anyway) riff on the tired alien invasion meme.  Why must an attack from space come in the form of a glittery spaceship?  Why indeed when it could be as simple as spores from a plant? 

Simple is better in most things.  Alien invasions are no different.  :)

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What would you say on Mars?

It is a phrase cemented in history.

"That's one small step for a man, a giant leap for mankind."

That is what Neil Armstrong said upon setting foot on the Moon (the "a" in the first phrase has been proven by audiophiles.)  Now, as we set our sights (hopefully) on Mars, there are those wondering what statement will be made as someone steps out for the first time on another planet?

The BBC has asked its readers this very question.  The responses have been intriguing.  Martin Archer, a British plasma physicist, derived his response from the name "Mars" and its mythological origins as the god of war:

"We as a race step foot on this planet in peace not war."

Scientists have also pointed out a fundamental difference between the physical status of the Apollo astronauts and whoever steps onto Mars.  Armstrong and Aldrin had been in space for three days.  The Mars crew would have been on their journey for over nine months with present technology.  Unless they have a form of artificial gravity on their spacecraft, these folks might be rather woozy and unable to say much of anything.

Still, the question remains.

Responses have been humorous, such as "I think I've made a huge mistake" and "Here rover..." referring to Curiosity and other remote rovers on Mars. Those aside, the majority of answers seem to boil down to just about the same set of words:

"We come as representatives not of one nation but of the whole Earth.  We come here in peace."

What would I say?  Well, knowing that my words would be part of history and reflecting the very esse of the human spirit, I would fight the urge to grossly insult anyone who opposed space exploration.  I might make a nod to those who wrote science fiction about Mars, but even that doesn't seem to do the moment justice.  Maybe I'd say "Let's check out those pyramids and the face at Cydonia! C'mon, let's get hell-a-fuckin'-goin'!"  Somehow, I don't think that would be popular.

In today's political age, it might be that the first words would be scripted by whatever controlling agency sent the astronauts.  There are also those who think that Armstrong's original words cannot be improved upon.

I don't know.  I would hope that whoever comes next would use more gender-inclusive language.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, July 29, 2013

The true(?) nature of UFOs

Wheels in the sky.  Mystery airships.  Ghost rockets.  Foo fighters.  Flying saucers.  Black triangles.

Over history, the shape of UFO encounters has changed.  Seemingly keeping apace with our perceptions as Jacques Vallee has voiced.

Chimeras.  Angels.  Gnomes.  Space brothers.  Greys.  Reptoids.

The purported occupants of these UFO craft have changed over time as well.

In extending my mediation on last Friday's post, something occurred to me.  We're talking about the idea of alien spacecraft that are so sophisticated that they can self-replicate and keep themselves invisible.  This may indicate that an advanced civilization has already undergone its own Singularity, merging themselves with their technology.  As humanity is on the cusp of transhumanism, does that mean our perceptions of UFOs is about to change once more?  Are there going to be more and more reports of "cyborg" style beings, reflecting our own existence but more advanced?  "Techno aliens" so to speak?

This line of thought suggests something else to me.  I'm far from the first one to think about it for as I said, Vallee and of course John Keel were there decades before me (and anyone else for that matter.)  What I mean is...

I'm really going to have to let go of the idea that UFOs, the authentic ones anyway, are piloted by beings from another planet.  Instead, we are dealing with a manifestation of an entirely different, perhaps even immaterial sort that I am only now trying to get my head around.  If you think you've read things like this from me before, you're right.  If you haven't, here's a quick rundown of what I mean.

It may be a living force that modifies and adjusts itself to our own perceptions and understanding through coaptation of the current era's thoughts.  It may be purely psychological, meaning we bring them into existence via our own thoughts.  There is one more and admittedly unsettling thought that I've only begun to consider: UFOs are a programmed routine.

Theories about us living in a simulated universe have arisen in recent years, no doubt partly due to the popularity of the Matrix films.  Like most speculative notions of this ilk, I went through my typical stages of thought with it.  From "no way that can be true" to "I suppose it is deserving of examination" and finally to "damn, they might have a point." 

The UFO phenomenon may be a projection, a "test pattern" run before us by advanced beings to determine...I don't know what.  These animations are altered as we evolve in order for us to simultaneously understand and be awed by their manifestations.  I'm not ready to fully embrace the idea that we live in a computer simulation...mostly because it weirds me out more than the idea of ETs...but it bears full examination.

There, I'm done free-form speculating.  You've suffered enough.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Weird dream alert

I lived in a townhouse.

I was painting my walls with murals.  The images were somewhere to between the classical of the Sistine Chapel and abstract splatters.  That and all the female figures looked like something Patrick Nagel would paint.  The furniture and carpet were not at all my style and it made me wonder what the hell I was doing there.

Then the doorbell rang.  It was an elderly Asian man in a suit.  He introduced himself to me as my new neighbor and held out his ring to me as if he wanted me to kiss it.  I just sort of looked at him.  He kept jutting it at me but I refused.

He had a dog with him.  This dog decided to invite himself in to my home (or I guess that's what it was.)  My dog Chewie attacked.  I separated them and apologized, even though I didn't think I was the one at fault.  The Asian man gestured for me to follow him to the porch.  He had an entire entourage outside. Before I could say or do anything, he shook my hand and smiled.  Reporters snapped photos.  As if to give an additament to the occasion, the guy flashed his plastic-covered ring to the gathered citizenry.  Then he left.

"Do you have any idea who that was?" someone said.

Turns out the guy was a drug lord from Southeast Asia.  From the Triad or something.  He moved here to the U.S. to ostensibly make an attempt at a normal life. He wanted to be seen in the press with a "normal" American.  That guy would no doubt be in for a shock.  I began to fear I would somehow be implicated in his crimes.  Thought the police would show up at any second.

But I was late for a class I needed to teach on Norman Mailer.  I worked my way through the street that was clogged with news trucks.  Everyone asked questions but I refused. 

Then at class I found that I wasn't really prepared to teach having not graded papers the night before.  I managed to get through it.  Among my students were Lady Gaga and Bill Clinton.  Turns out it was the last day of class.  Lady Gaga was so appreciative of the experience that she gave me several passionate kisses.  I told Bill Clinton that a hearty handshake would be sufficient.

Blessedly, then I awoke.

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Friday, July 26, 2013

Are invisible UFOs nearby?

I will admit, it is a concept I have considered.

A team of Scottish mathematicians have postulated that UFO craft may already be in our solar system, traveling undetected.

Not only that, but an entire fleet of them could be present.  Using math that I don't even pretend to understand (it was never my best discipline but if you want to take a crack at it, click the link), the mathematicians demonstrated that a civilization could launch un-crewed probes to the far corners of the galaxy by "slingshotting" them around a star for extra speed.  It's a fact.  We even did it with our own Voyager probes to send them on a trajectory out of the solar system.  That was with our Sun, a mid-sized star.  Greater speed would come from the gravitational assist of a giant star.

Using this method, an alien probe would only need to travel at 10% the speed of light to cover some distance.  But the researchers toss in another angle to the theory.  Assuming the alien civilization was more technologically advanced than our own, these probes could be self-replicating.  This means that they would take in particles of dust and gas from space to either repair or build new versions of themselves.  Between that function and the slingshot effect, this would allow the spacecraft to travel cyclopean distances.

If this is true, then where are they?  Why haven't we seen them?  Well, there are two thoughts on that question.  For one thing, the mathematicians mentioned here believe...and logically so...that if the probes' creators are technologically advanced enough to endow the machines with the ability to self-replicate, then they are likely able to make the probes invisible.  This means unseen to both our detection systems and to our own eyes.  It's not that far out.  We can render aircraft nearly invisible to current radar systems.  Shouldn't be too tough for a more advanced civilization to take it the rest of the way.  

Another thought I had was that we have seen them.  The maneuvers of many UFOs are said to be such that "no living pilot could survive the g-forces" of such speeds and and sharp turns.  Maybe that's because there's nobody on board.  They are the remote probes of which we speak.  This would also dovetail with the behavior noted in certain sightings, acting as if the craft were sampling, observing, or otherwise taking information from Earth and its inhabitants.  Think about it.  It's how we operate, sending remote probes out into our solar system and beyond.  Why wouldn't someone else do it?

I'm going to give this more thought, hopefully have more coherent reflection for you after the weekend.

Yes, I really do think about this stuff on my off time.  I'm that kind of a guy.  :\

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Project Pegasus

If you have not figured it out by now, I am a geek.

I'll let that sink in with you for a bit because I'm sure it's a shock.

When buying comic books as a youth, one of the attributes I typically looked for was "how many heroes were in it?" If it was a "team book," I somehow thought I got more for my money. So you can imagine that Marvel's Two-in-One was a comic I often brought home.  Each issue featured Ben Grimm, The Thing from Fantastic Four, paired up with a superhero of the month.  Most of the time they were stand alone stories, but every now and then you got an ongoing arc.  One of those arcs was titled "Project Pegasus" and it has now been collected in a very nice hardcover edition.

Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S. was a center for super science, where energy of all forms was studied.  This included the study of (at times unwilling) super-powered beings.  One of these test subjects was a powerful alien named Wundarr.  Unfortunately, the guy had the mental faculties of a five year-old.  He met The Thing and Ben become an uncle-figure to the young man.  Or whatever he was.

Wundarr ends up in Project PEGASUS and not through his own volition.  Ben charges into the project to rescue him but finds Wundarr well taken care of.  As much as a scientific guinea pig can be anyway.  Since Ben was there already, Quasar (a superhero in charge of security on site) asks Ben to take a sabbatical from the Fantastic Four and work security at Project PEGASUS.  He accepts.

How do you like that?  The guy breaks into the place and he's offered a job.

Unfortunately for Ben, he's not the last to attempt an infiltration.  A criminal named Victorious is the first attacker.  He breaks in and steals the Cosmic Cube (an extraterrestrial container of unspeakable power.  If you saw the Captain America movie, you know what this is.)  Fortunately, Ben gets it back with the help of Captain America but that's not where the trouble ends.  More and more assaults are made on the Project as someone has nefarious plans for the scientific secrets housed within its underground labs.  There is also danger from within from supercriminals such as Klaw and Nuklo.

Guest stars filter in and out but mostly stay for the climactic finish.  In addition to Captain America and Quasar, we see Giant Man (the African American version), Thundra, Deathlok, and the character with perhaps the best name in comics...Man-Thing.  That moniker made things really interesting when Marvel published Giant-Size Man-Thing #1.  In the end, there is also the appearance of the mysterious hero called The Aquarian.  He was very late 60s in style, big sleeves and bell-bottoms and long flowing hair, and didn't seem to catch on with readers.

This is a fun collection from when comics were...well, fun.  They didn't make me want to slit my wrists after reading them.  There is no real deep message or literary significance here, just escapism with the 1970s Marvel vocab that doesn't quite insult your intelligence.  Plus, a side of Ben's disposition comes out that we don't often see in other books.  In this storyline he must take on the role of a mentor to younger heroes.  We see him develop into a protector, a caretaker, and someone whom the other characters end up affording a great deal of respect.

This is worth a look.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Royal baby conundrum

I have mixed emotions.

Cue that catchy Rolling Stones hit from 1989.

I don't know if you've heard, but Kate and William had their kid across the pond.  Yes, you heard it here first at ESE.   All kidding aside, it's not like you can turn on the TV or log onto Facebook or Twitter and not get 24/7 coverage on the event.  All this hubbub brings me conflicted thoughts.

This child certainly is getting an enormous amount of attention.  Meanwhile, millions of babies are sick or starving.  An email I received today from the ONE campaign reminded me of a pertinent fact:

"The majority of health facilities in sub-Saharan Africa don't have reliable electricity and 30% are without any access at all."

That's in one of the poorest areas of the world. We need not go nearly that far to see poverty and other problems.  Here in the U.S., children are shot nearly every night in Chicago.  There still isn't a cure for HIV, the entire city of Detroit has gone bankrupt, and homosexuals are denied equal rights.  Climate change is already making a mess out of our environment.  Our Congress is entirely dysfunctional.  Political leaders are far more interested in party line agendas and corporate profits than they are in doing anything for the greater benefit of the whole.  This is to say nothing of the other issues I write about here on ESE such as technology and Disclosure.  While all of these things keep hanging in the air, this newborn child shall enjoy food, clothing, education, and extraordinary luxury, all paid for by British taxpayers.  He will one day go on to serve as a monarchy that is utterly impotent.

Certainly, there are far greater concerns for us than a kid in England.

And yet...

And yet...

I am a lifelong Anglophile.  That means I greatly admire the culture, customs, and institutions of England.  My family has considerable British ancestry.  I love the language of English, despite however obtuse it can be.  This language has not only given me a means with which to write but also to study rhetoric, grammatology, and literature.  Speaking of literature, I can't begin to list all of the British authors that have inspired and continue to inspire me.  A partial list includes Graham Greene, Arthur C. Clarke, John Milton, Mary Shelley, John Keats, and the list just gets longer.

Don't even get me started on music.  Nearly every single band or artist I have developed a devotion to in my life are British.  From Duran Duran to The Beatles.  I voraciously consume British television and film.  Doctor Who and James Bond are obvious examples, along with Monty Python, The Young Ones, Mystery!, Downton Abbey, and just about everything else BBC produces.  I love the mysteries of the UK, including Stonehenge and Loch Ness.

The monarchy may be functionless in terms of political power but it is clear that the Royal Family still has meaning.  They are living symbols of the heritage and majesty of a great nation.  Even better, William and Kate appear intent on utilizing their position in the world to make it a better place and the birth of this child has given the people of both Britain and the U.S. a reason to cheer.  That's not bad at all.

So there you have it.  Half of my mind is playing "God Save the Queen."
The other half is playing a song of the same title...but by the Sex Pistols.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Laser communications and a space station idea

Arthur C. Clarke envisioned the communication satellite.

Not only did he imagine this concept, he thought that information could be transmitted via beams of light.  Now, many years later, that notion is becoming a physical reality.

Two satellites are about to be launched that will carry lasers, allowing for the fastest transmission of data through space to date.  One is NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE.  I swear, they come up with technology just to go with the cute acronyms.) and the other is ESA's Alphasat, the latter being the first optical satellite able to collect mass data from other satellites and transmit it back to Earth. Currently, scientific probes must rely on radio waves to communicate, thus limiting the amount of data that can be sent.  Should the laser system prove workable, upcoming probes and satellites will be able to carry out more complicated functions since the results can finally be beamed back.

Another key aspect of the Alphasat satellite is that it will be in a geostationary orbit, allowing for it to provide a constant flow of data to one location.  Yet communication is not the first area in which laser beams have been considered as a tool for space exploration.  Imagine robots riding them up to space stations.

That's what I recall reading a few years back.  An outfit called LiftPort had the idea to build a space elevator where "robo-cars powered by laser light will roll on a carbon-nanotube ribbon stretching up tens of thousands of miles from Earth's surface, carrying cargo and passengers on a monorail to the sky." Such a combination of technologies, both the elevator concept and the laser-traveling robots, would in time be many many times cheaper than getting things into orbit the old fashioned way, namely chemical fuel rockets...which are soooo 20th Century.

As is often the case with me, all of these prospective space technologies have me considering a book based on a space station.  I really don't have a story at this point, it's all basically musings on what such a structure would look like and how it would operate.  That's not a bad thing.  After all, Bruce Sterling has pointed out how design fiction could help teach design.  But an actual story?  Sorry, not there yet.

For that, I suppose I could sidle alongside Hardcore Station by the venerable Jim Starlin.  It's really one of the better science fiction comic books, but that should go without saying for the man who created Adam Warlock and Dreadstar.  Hardcore Station is a space station located in neutral space and therefore not subject to any planetary laws.  That makes it an ideal locale for all manner of nefarious doings.  I like that, but today's fiction market has seen that "Casablanca in space" routine done to death.  Maybe I need to focus more on the near term and imagine what will replace the International Space Station.  Because it will soon need replacing.

I know what capitalists are thinking.  Are these space projects worth exploring and pursuing when you consider the cost?  I dunno.  By way of comparison, how much did it cost us to invade and occupy Iraq?

Sorry.  Watched Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11.  Kinda have that on the mind.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, July 22, 2013

New species of dinosaur found

It is rare these days when science comes across an entirely new species.

Even if it is a dinosaur fossil.

I don't talk about it much on ESE but paleontology has always been of interest to me.  So when I read of a newly found dinosaur skull in Utah, it grabs my attention.  This specimen is possessed of an oddly long nose and large, front-facing horns.  This places it as a relative of the ceratopsidae family, a genus that includes the triceratops.  It also suggests that in a relatively short span of time, one million years, two separate populations managed to evolve from the same family.  That is rather speedy evolution.

The dinosaur has been named Nasutoceratops titusi.  The significance of the name, as stated on Discover magazine's site, is:

" The naming of the species is predictably logical, if complicated-soundingNasutus (large-nosed)ceratops (horn-faced)titus (Utah paleontologist Alan Titus)Nasutoceratops titusi." 
What's interesting about this species to me, at least according to artist's interpretations based on the skull, is that the horns look more like a current day's bull as opposed to triceratops.  They also extend outward instead of upward.  There will of course be more quillets ahead as scientists narrow down the particulars of the species, but in terms of overall size, it is thought that this dinosaur would be over 15 feet in length and would weigh in at about 2.75 tons.

Sure, it's great to have new discovery, but I'm holding out for the possibility of cloning it.  Would love to ride this guy around campus.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, July 19, 2013

Glitchy maps app creates warped landscapes

Apple has had a few problems.

Among them has been its Apple Maps program which didn't seem to work right straight out of the gate. For instance, when one would go to 3D viewing, "Cities were peppered with warped buildings and other strange Daliesque distortions" as described by Wired.

However, a Swedish man took a liking to these glaring imperfections and now curates a virtual art gallery of the images.  Peder Norrby is a software engineer and is sympathetic to Apple's plight, pointing out the difficulty that an app can have translating a 2D source into a 3D image.  Certainly the programmer geeks at Apple are knocking themselves out in an attempt to stop the bleeding, but like Norrby, I too am fascinated by the pictures rendered by this glitch.

Click the link and take a look at a few of the images.  A 747 looks like it's melting in the sun.  City blocks also appear to be melting and intersecting highways become another surreal structure altogether.  I really do think it's art of an accidental nature.

Norrby also is fair in saying that Google Maps is not immune from having similar issues but many of them are generated by users.  What I refer to is the spotting of "anomalous objects" in select map views.  A few years back, Whitley Strieber posted about a "Google Maps Mystery" on his site, claiming a saucer-like UFO could be seen over Magnolia Park, Florida.  Other theories include a speck of dust or a map alignment grid.  As of 2007, the object no longer appears in photos, this according to a note on Strieber's site.  A similar incident took place in 2008 when what looked like yet another saucer UFO was found on Google Earth over the Bristol Channel in the UK.  I mean, it really does look like one.  It's an obviously physical object and it renders a shadow upon the water.

Too bad it's really a water outlet for a power station.

I suspect none of these findings will prevent future spottings of Google "anomalies."

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Gatchaman: the trailer is released

I was eight at the time.

My love for anime had already been kickstarted by watching Speed Racer after school.  Then I heard the announcer for WFLD Chicago make me a promise as promo footage rolled of a new Japanese cartoon.  The vow went something like this:
"Hey kids!  We have a new show in our afternoon line up this fall and it's better than Star Wars!  It's called Battle of the Planets!"

Yes, so the Star Wars comparison was hyperbole at its best, but I did come to be quite the fan of Battle of the Planets.  I mean, what kid wouldn't want to be a part of a "science ninja team" that wore cool, bird-inspired costumes?  Hell, I'm 42 and I still want to.  Not only did I watch the show but I collected the Gold Key line of comic books based on the series.  My affinity for the team known as "G-Force" was quite strong.  As a kid I wanted to be Mark but later my aspirations would turn to the rebellious and brooding Jason.  You know, the only member of the team that carried a gun?  Always manned the weapons station on their ship?  You could tell he was thinking, "Just let me shoot them!  If you'd let me shoot them, we would've finished these jackasses off two episodes ago!"

Little did I know that in its importation to the United States, Battle of the Planets had been changed significantly from its original form, Gatchaman.  Its violent content and mature themes were mitigated and the robot character of 7Zark7 added in to make the program more kid-friendly.  I guess they thought we needed an R2-D2 but instead gave us something thoroughly annoying. The American version was a poetaster by comparison. However, I was fortunate enough in my twenties to come upon the reboot of Gatchaman and enjoy the premise with a modern sensibility (never mind all the times my friends and I slowed the tape down to see two frames of the only female character naked as she transmuted to her Gatchaman form.)  It also had pretty cool music and a song written by a guy from Earth, Wind, and Fire:

The love theme from Gatchaman.

Now, as if granted by God Himself, there is a live-action Gatchaman film due out in Japan in but a month.  You can see the trailer for it in the above posted clip.  I know I've seen it already.  Many times.  While it's brief, you can already see the differences that inevitably would arise between the anime and a live film.  For instance, the characters wear capes and not bird wings.  I don't think that's such a bad thing as the wings would likely look rather silly in real life.  The capes aren't bad though and still grant an avian appearance as they flutter in the wind.  Speaking of music, the score for the film sounds stirring and inspiring.

I have many hopes and dreams pinned on this Gatchaman film.  Not the least of which is that there will be an English translation.  Until then, I'll return to my Battle of the Planets comic books.

You can visit the film's official website here but fair warning: it's all in Japanese.

Viva Japan!

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

For the climate change denialist who has everything

I have been having those discussions again.

You know, the ones with representatives of that shrinking population that dismisses climate change?  While nosing around online, I happened across The Ethicurean Gift Guide which sells this coffee mug that is "The perfect gag gift for the climate-change skeptic in your family."

The cup itself has a map of the world printed upon it.  When hot liquid is poured in, the sea levels rise and coastal areas submerge.

Now a few Christmases ago, I got my Dad the baby Jesus coffee mug, the one with a small, European-style hamlet at night printed upon it.   When you add coffee or whatever to that one, the sun comes out in the form of baby Jesus and illuminates the scene.  I thought I'd topped all with that mug, but this climate-change statement has it beat.  It even has little gobbets of "CO2" spiraling upward into what would be the atmosphere.

And it's all just $12.  It's fun, it's affordable, and you get to ruin the world every morning.  What more could you want?

I'm imagining what the 1980s version of this cup would have looked like.  Pour your hot beverage in and nuclear mushroom clouds sprout up all over targets in the U.S., Soviet Union, and Europe.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Do space-time loops explain black holes?

I was at a baseball game Saturday night.  It caused me to reflect upon the universe.

Not merely because I was at the holiest of baseball holies, Wrigley Field.  Not only because the Cubs beat the Cardinals.   And not even because of the mathematical symmetry of it all; the forces of physics in play and the careful balance of the game.

I'm talking about the violent universe we inhabit.  Each crack of the bat made me consider how many asteroids smack into other stellar bodies.  When the Cubs' Alfonso Soriano launched a home run out of the park, I thought about planetary bodies knocked from orbit.  This is to say nothing, I thought, of the destructive power of black holes.  
The idea is based on the notion of "quantization," which breaks an entity up into discrete pieces.Whilequantum mechanics says atoms exist in quantized, discrete states, loop quantum gravity posits that space-time itself is made of quantized, discrete bits, in the form of tiny, one-dimensional loops. - See more at:

The idea is based on the notion of "quantization," which breaks an entity up into discrete pieces.Whilequantum mechanics says atoms exist in quantized, discrete states, loop quantum gravity posits that space-time itself is made of quantized, discrete bits, in the form of tiny, one-dimensional loops. - See more at:
By what a few of you out there might call fate, the following day I came across this story about theoretical physics attempting to understand what goes on within a black hole.  Obviously no one knows for certain, but the application of general theory does not jive with quantum mechanics in this case, creating a singularity of near infinite possibilities.  That's what we think, anyway.

Black holes are formed when a star expends its nuclear fuel and the core collapses under its own gravity.  This point becomes infinitely dense and its gravitational pull near absolute.  There is, however, a camp of astronomers who don't believe in singularities such as the one described.  Instead, they theorize that we do not have the proper equations to quantify what happens in a black hole.  A few scientists are attempting to get around this by applying quantum gravity.  Here's how describes quantum gravity:

"The idea is based upon the notion of 'quantization,' which breaks an entity up into discrete pieces.  While quantum mechanics says atoms exist in quantized discrete spaces, loop quantum gravity posits that the universe itself is made of quantized, discrete bits, in the form of tiny, one-dimensional loops."

Obviously my understanding of physics needs re-assessment since college (no, I won't tell you how long ago that was.)  Considering extreme astronomical situations, such as the moment of the Big Bang or the inner machinations of a supermassive black hole, within this new framework may yet yield workable answers. Where we once thought physics breaks down might be cases simply in need of new models.  This is an evolving field of study of course, so I'll let you know more as I read it...and (hopefully) come to understand it.

Right now, the science fiction writer in me is taking over.  We have long speculated that sufficiently advanced civilizations are probably capable of controlling their entire planet's orbit, gravity, etc.  They likely also are capable of manipulating their home star(s).  They may even be able to control their entire star system.  Might they not be able to control a black hole?

After all, we're thinking of doing it.  This article from BBC considers how we might one day create black holes in a laboratory (shades of David Brin's Earth?)  It's a scabarous undertaking and the benefits are unclear...other than the academic merits...but if we might do it, an advanced alien civilization probably had it figured out long ago.  So forget all your trite alien invasion memes.  If they really wanted us gone, they might hurl a black hole at us like left-fielder throwing to second.

Baseball and stargazing.  Some combination.

The idea is based on the notion of "quantization," which breaks an entity up into discrete pieces.Whilequantum mechanics says atoms exist in quantized, discrete states, loop quantum gravity posits that space-time itself is made of quantized, discrete bits, in the form of tiny, one-dimensional loops. - See more at:
The idea is based on the notion of "quantization," which breaks an entity up into discrete pieces.Whilequantum mechanics says atoms exist in quantized, discrete states, loop quantum gravity posits that space-time itself is made of quantized, discrete bits, in the form of tiny, one-dimensional loops. - See more at:
The idea is based on the notion of "quantization," which breaks an entity up into discrete pieces.Whilequantum mechanics says atoms exist in quantized, discrete states, loop quantum gravity posits that space-time itself is made of quantized, discrete bits, in the form of tiny, one-dimensional loops. - See more at:
The idea is based on the notion of "quantization," which breaks an entity up into discrete pieces.Whilequantum mechanics says atoms exist in quantized, discrete states, loop quantum gravity posits that space-time itself is made of quantized, discrete bits, in the form of tiny, one-dimensional loops. - See more at:
Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, July 15, 2013

Zanzibar love demon

"Love" is admittedly a misnomer in this context.

It's just that my backlinks generator does not allow anything with "sex" in the title or description.

When going through postings on the paranormal, one can sometimes come across a story that is so bizarre it makes you question if you're reading it correctly.  Who am I kidding, it happens far more than "sometimes."  One such instance is the case I just came across, that of the Popobawa...or the "Zanzibar sex demon."

For what is said to be over forty years now, a strange creature has been terrorizing the main island of the Zanzibar archipelago off the coast of East Africa.  Although a shapeshifter and said to able to assume many forms, this cryptid is often described as being the size of a midget with a single, cyclops-like eye on its face, pointed ears, sharp talons, and bat wings stretching out from its back.

Even more disturbing than its appearance is the creature's purported behavior: it is a rapist.  The Popobawa (as the island populace calls it) appears to have a predilection of sodomizing women and men in their sleep...especially men who openly profess to not believe in the demon.  Here is one account posted on CSI's site from a farmer named Mjaka Hamad:

"   “I could feel it,” he said, “something pressing on me. I couldn’t imagine what sort of thing was happening to me. You feel as if you are screaming with no voice.” He went on to say: “It was just like a dream but then I was thinking it was this popobawa and he had come to do something terrible to me, something sexual. It is worse than what he does to women.” "

Gender insensitive allegations aside, the people of the island take this threat seriously.  In 1995, the populace went into a full blown panic over a reported spate of Popobawa attacks.  It was reported that numerous people were treated in hospitals after being raped by the creature.  However, interviews conducted of the Zanzibar Medical Group did not find a single doctor claiming to have treated such a case.  Not one.

The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry believes that the genesis of these stories sits in the phenomenon of sleep paralysis, a condition many likewise cite to account for alien abduction.  The psychology of mass hysteria then fills in the rest.  It may also be that at least a few reported Popobawa incidents may be actual instances of the horrible crime of rape, but blaming a demonic creature makes it easier for the victim's mind to handle.  Maybe, I don't know.  I don't mean to fribble with such a serious topic, but more than a few alien abduction cases have been revealed to be sexual assaults from all-too human monsters.

It's too bad the evidence for the Popobawa is nearly nil.  He'd be perfect for the subject of the next Disney/Pixar film.  That and I'm sure the good ol' GOP would support him.  What with their stance on rape and women's rights and all.

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Friday, July 12, 2013

FFF: "Let it go"

"Let go of it."

That seems to be one of the more popular phrases in pop psychology.  I don't mean to oversimplify the notion as it probably goes all the way back to Buddhism as much as it now spews out of Deepak Chopra.  It's become almost a ploce in and of itself.  Nevertheless, it bothers me.

"Just that lately I feel so damned lonely when I think of you."

"You need to let it go."  Or perhaps this phrasal variation: "You're holding on to it."
I am leaving the "it" in this case deliberately ambiguous so that you might consider it within the context of your own life.  Maybe it's a job you lost, a relationship that ended, your time in college is done, someone died, whatever.

A casual stroll through the Interwebs will yield you all manner of advice on the subject, most of it boiling down to the same thing: "let go of it."

"You can't bring yesterday back."
"Don't mourn them.  Celebrate them."
"Release the stress.  You were never in control anyway." (yeah, that's fucking cheery)
"You can only love what you got while you got it."

From a bit more learned source, here's Percy Shelley:

"We look before and after,
And pine for what is not,
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught:
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought."

Here's one that irks me a bit: "Let go or be pulled under."

Gee, if I were in a sinking ship and tossed to the ocean, I'm pretty sure I'd be holding on for dear life to whatever piece of flotsam that floated by.  It's either that or "let go" and float into the dark, shark-infested depths.

You bet your whatever I'd hold on to it.

For me, it all begs the question of "why get attached in the first place?"  Why form any connection to anyone or anything as death, atrophy, and entropy appear to be the way of life?  A Buddhist might say "Don't attach.  That's the idea."  To that I say, "then why be human?"  In the end, "Why should anything matter then?"

Do what you want.  Follow whatever method helps you sleep at night or makes you feel alive.  I will do the same.

Because I like it when things matter and mean something to me.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Film Review--Twelve Monkeys

starring Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt, Frank Gorshin, Christopher Plummer, and James Franco as "The Beav"

It is the year 2035.  The majority of the human race has been wiped out by an unknown virus and the survivors are forced to live underground.  A convicted criminal (Willis) is sent back in time to 1996, the year the pandemic began, in hopes of discovering its origin.  The only hitch is that he time travels to 1990 by mistake and is thrown into a psychiatric ward.  While there, he meets a psychiatrist (Stowe) who is intrigued by his story and the insane son (Pitt) of a virologist (Plummer).

Bleak and bizarre.  That is how I would describe this film.  Probably why I liked it as well.

The "bizarre" part of the equation should come as no surprise when you find that the director is Terry Gilliam.  A resume that includes The Fisher King and Time Bandits is a clear indicator that you're not going to get a film that is straightforward in its delivery.  It is "bleak" not only for the post-apocalyptic theme of a deadly plague killing most everyone, but mostly for the desperation of the characters.  They are repeatedly in situations where no one believes them but what they are saying is the absolute truth.  Bruce Willis does not play an indestructible action hero in this movie.  Instead, he is vulnerable, alone, and often subjected to the most inhumane conditions.  This is a striking aspect of the story as many of the conditions depicted are not fictional but very real.

Speaking of believing someone's story, I really liked the transference that occurs over the course of the film.  Stowe goes from being convinced that Willis is insane to buying into his mission.  Willis goes from howling that he's telling the truth to thinking that he might be insane.  Over time though, both characters must accrete to a point of working together towards an inevitable and unhappy end. 

Brad Pitt's performance earned him an Oscar nod and it was truly well deserved.  It was a real treat to see Frank Gorshin outside of The Riddler from the 1960s Batman.  Madeleine Stowe was super hot as always.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"Nazis vs. Aliens" has little of either

It has long been speculated.

The upper echelons of Nazi Germany were said to be fascinated with the occult and the paranormal.  From the Thule Society, whose beliefs included that Germans were descended from a master race headquartered in Greenland, to the lightning bolt designs of the SS, there is a certain occult bouquet that surrounds the Nazis.  Hey, just look at Raiders of the Lost Ark.  The idea is based on actual attempts by Hitler to acquire the Spear of Destiny and yes, the Ark of the Covenant.  And let us not forget all those dastardly Nazi-occult schemes foiled by the Justice Society of America and the All-Star Squadron in DC Comics.  (warm, contented sigh)

A bit less well-known is the apparent connection between the Nazis and UFOs.  Or at least flying saucer-like craft.  So when I saw a program called "Nazis vs. Aliens" listed on The Military Channel, I eagerly indulged.

I was, however, nothing but a pawn.  A dupe.
Why?  Well, let's take a look at the show.

Among its guests were Nick Pope, formerly of the British Ministry of Defense and now a UFO researcher.  There was also Seth Shostak (joy!)  Anyway, the program opens in a logical place, that being the sightings of Foo Fighters (no, not the band) that took place during World War II.  It is pointed out, and rightfully so, that several of these sightings can be attributed to the few jet aircraft that the Nazis were able to get airborne towards the end of the war.  Several...but not all.

As an editor from Popular Mechanics pointed out in the program, German aviation at that time was far beyond any other nation in the world.  The had the first jet aircraft, the first guided missiles and "smart bombs," and then there is the Horton flying wing that bears a serious resemblance to today's B-2 stealth bomber.  All of this was, luckily for our side, too little too late.

We cut away from that, however, and move to the development of the atomic bomb in New Mexico.  This leads into an exploration of the testing of captured V2 rockets and Werner Von Braun getting a space program underway...with the help of Nazi scientists granted immunity of course.  Given that it is New Mexico, a quick rundown of the Roswell incident is then issued.  It's an overview, but it centers on the "official" Air Force explanation of Project Mogul while giving just enough time for Seth Shostak to mock UFO researchers.  How fortunate we are to have a boniface such as he.

Transition then into the UFO flap of the 1950s, including the mass UFO sightings over Washington D.C. in July of 1952.  They talk about UFOs and pop sci-fi of the 50s for a while (what this has to do with Nazis I have no idea) and then...wrap it all up.

As you might imagine, I'm still trying to see the connection the title attempts to make between Nazis and aliens or even just UFOs for that matter.  There certainly isn't any sense of "versus" at work.  I mean it's not like we see Messerschmits in dogfights with flying saucers or anything.  What little connection that is made is weak at best.

I am not saying that there is no connection.  There are those who even assert that Hitler et. al. had cooperation from aliens (doubtful, but intriguing just the same.)  I'm simply pointing out that you're not going to find the connection on The Military Channel at this point.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

I have spambots!

I suppose it was inevitable.

The spambots have found my blog.  I try to keep the comments section open, even to anonymous commenters.  I figure that since I approve all comments, I can always delete if I want to and keep jerks from being...well, jerks (if you're curious about my criteria for the term "jerk," please click here for my comments guidelines.)  I have refrained from instituting word capture, but it's something I may have to consider.

Most of the time it's a comment stated in broken English, something to the effect of "Good info well written need more."  The ID link of course goes to a "blog" for Internet pharmaceutical sales. These spambots are really beyond comprehension.

Thankfully, my Gmail account has a very effective spam filter.  I've been enjoying that email account since ditching Yahoo.  I mean, I still use Yahoo from time to time but the spam on that account was overwhelming.  Just to satisfy my sick curiosity, I logged in to Yahoo just to see what kind of spam I was getting.  Here's a sample:

Singles near you!
Get a Fingerhut credit line!
Can this 10 second trick help PREVENT your  (my what?  I don't know.  The subject header cut off...and I'm damn sure not clicking on the message to find out.)
Infant layettes (not grammatically correct, but I'm just impressed they used the word "layettes.")

Seriously, I don't know where it all comes from.  I know it's damn near free marketing and if they get just *one* sap to click a link, it's paid for itself.  Still...

Looking at the spam headers, I'm wondering about a Burroughs-like cutup story.  Maybe a TV series.

Sorry folks.  It's late.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, July 8, 2013

Teaching science fiction

A minor dream came true today.

I taught a college-level class on science fiction.  It was for a group of students from China who are visiting the college.  They have a genuine interest in science fiction and I was happy to oblige.

One aspect of them that struck me was that they seemed to be unaware of the "genre v. literary" struggle that goes on in academics.  That appeared to see science fiction as just as valid of a form of literature as any other.  I explained that in America, science fiction is somewhat looked down upon by the intelligentsia, though perhaps not as much as it once was.  Part of this is due to the more garish and commercialized directions the genre took in the past thirty years or so.  On the other hand, it was due to just such a direction that I became introduced to science fiction at all.

Confused?  Am I babbling?  Let me try to straighten this out into coherent form.

My first memory of science fiction was seeing Star Wars in 1977.  I sat with my Dad and watched that enormous Star Destroyer fill the screen in just the opening minute.  From there I was hooked.  I thrilled to the heroics of Luke Skywalker and inwardly marveled at the malevolent presence of Darth Vader, to this day one of my favorite villains.  That point forward, I wouldn't just be a Star Wars nut, I would attack most things science fiction with overwhelming edacity. I would annoy friends and teachers alike with my fixation on spaceships, alien invasions, and monstrous kaiju that might crawl out of Tokyo Bay or a dark Scottish Loch.  If we had a writing assignment, even if it were one as bland and innocuous as "describe your bedroom," you can bet I would find a way to work in robots, a flying saucer, or the like.  "Be real," the grade school teachers would chastise.

That's just it.  For me, these subjects were very real.

After Star Wars it was Star Trek.   I viewed myself as a teen sophisticate by this point.  Star Trek allowed for slow and thorough examination of very human issues such as racism.  What's more, much of the science featured on the shows might actually be plausible as we are now beginning to find.  It was just so much more intelligent than Star Wars (or so I snobbishly thought at the time.) 

Somewhere in those years, Doctor Who joined the mix.  Its special effects were even worse than Star Trek's and that's saying something.  Because of this, however, I believe that the show's writers were forced to come up with engaging and thought-provoking stories.  They were able to take robots with plungers for weapons (Daleks) and make them into something fairly terrifying in their own right.  Plus, the show was British so that automatically gave it an air of elegance.  :)

Sad to say, it was only after being exposed to all of this mass media that I began to pick up the books.  There were the ABCs (Asimov, Bradbury, and Clarke) and of course William Gibson...and yes I did keep today's class centered almost entirely on this literature.  But as I remind people, I doubt that I would ever have discovered those books had I not been enticed into science fiction via the magic of film.  Therefore, I probably wouldn't be writing my own stories today.  I wouldn't be trying to take our contemporary situation in society and trying to see where we might be headed in the future.  I wouldn't be looking at the arc of our current technological development and critically thinking about what it is doing to us as human beings.

And I think that's an ability unique to science fiction.  It allows us to examine our condition in a way that let's us look at the world from the outside.  Star Trek accomplished this admirably.  Star Wars did it too, just in a different filling a void in human experience.  That is to say, to grant mythology to a culture that really didn't have any.  More than anything, the genre lets ask "what if?" and feel as though anything is possible.

Well, certainly minor dreams are possible to achieve.  I am living proof.

So...yeah.  Aim high and stuff.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, July 5, 2013

How NOT to honor a veteran

I am proud to say that Rep. Tammy Duckworth is local to the Chicago area.

Who is she?  Rep. Duckworth is a combat veteran of the United States Army.  She flew helicopters in Iraq.  She was injured, lost both of her legs, and might one day lose an arm.

So you can imagine how she felt meeting a chump named Braulio Castillo.

Castillo is an IRS contractor who believes that as an injured "veteran," he should get preferred consideration when it comes to government contracts.  When was he wounded?  While playing football at his military prep school.  That's right.  He never served in the actual military.

You can watch Rep. Duckworth's response here.

As Duckworth points out, most injured veterans are waiting months at a time for treatment.  Part of the reason for that is bozos like Castillo who are trying to bilk the political system.  I have good friends who have served and it peeves me to no end that there are greedy hucksters trying to do end-runs around them.

Do you want to "support the troops?"  I mean, beyond just slapping a yellow ribbon on your car?  Pass this news along and let's try to keep people like Mr. Castillo's hands off of what is not theirs.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, July 4, 2013

An open letter to Duran Duran

UPDATED ON 9/30/2013

Dear Simon, Nick, John, and Roger:

While listening to the Duran Duran special on Total Radio UK hosted by Tracey Whitney, inspiration struck me!  I was once more host to a grand idea that I hope will take root in you as well.

A few years back, I read the unauthorized biography, Notorious by Steve Malins.  I was appalled by the myriad and egregious errors contained in that book.  Perhaps they were minor errors in the scheme of things, e.g. asserting that Nick became a vegetarian in 1997, but they indicated a lack of respect for both the band and their fans.
Inspired, I approached Wendy Laister to offer myself as the writer for your official biography, a book that would get the story right.  She sent me back the nicest rejection letter I have ever received.  I'm serious, I still have it as a reminder that there are nice people in the business.  Wendy told me that a book was in the works but that another writer was attached to the project.  A few years have gone by and that book has not yet surfaced.  Therefore, I wish to offer myself once more as your official biographer.

Why me?  Well, here are a few reasons:

1. I am a fan. I have loved you guys for over 30 years.  Therefore, I am passionately invested in getting the best quality book out there for both you and the fans.  And while I am interested in telling your story honestly and accurately, I would never write anything that would reflect poorly on the band.  I would sooner throw myself on a live hand grenade than ever do anything to put Duran Duran in a bad light.

2. I have a vision.  Duran Duran have never produced anything that is bland and normal.  The book should be no exception.  Rather than a run-of-the-mill bio told in linear fashion, I am thinking that the story could be rendered in a creative, out of sequence narrative that hooks onto one common theme to make the whole piece cohesive, maybe a tour or the band otherwise playing live.  Since you're such a visual band, there should be plenty of pictures along with perhaps "spoken word" pieces from each band member.  I'm thinking of something akin to what you had in the program for the 1987 Strange Behaviour tour.

3. I work cheap.  Honestly, working with you to write this book would be a dream come true and a reward in and of itself.  I would ask only for living and travel expenses as compensation.  That is less than most any other writer would ask for.

4. I'm damn good at what I do.  Forget that I'm published or that I teach writing at an American college.  Search through this blog and see my writing style for yourself.  I have a unique voice, I am knowledgeable of my subject matter, and I deliver quality text.  You may wish to pay special attention to my posts The Transhuman Art of Duran Duran and New World Order on Monday. 

I deeply wish to bring my writing abilities to work for you and to get the proper Duran story told.  Not simply for the sake of the band but also because I believe that is what fans deserve.
I humbly submit this post for your consideration.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Transhuman bio-artists transforming life

They are seven "bio-artists" who are taking biotechnology and rendering it into art.

The site io9, one of my favorites as you'll recall, posted this list of artists last week.  Here's a rundown of the list:

Stelarc--(pictured above) I've blogged about him before.  With his cybernetic arm, the point of Stelarc's work is that the human body is becoming increasingly obsolete. We project ourselves further and further into our environment, growing enmeshed with it and heading down the one-way road to becoming cyborgs.  In one performance art installation, he allowed his body to be controlled remotely by electrical muscle stimulators connected to the Internet.  He also has a cell-cultivated ear surgically attached to his left arm.  Now that's dedication to your art.

Orlan--For this artist, surgical procedures are all part of the performance.  She says that this is all an effort to show how technology can modify human appearance and how fungible humanity can truly be.  One particularly heavy statement she has made is having her face altered to fit the ideal of feminine beauty as rendered by classical male artists. She also has several striking works of face painting.

Genesis Preyer P-Orridge--a British musician, poet, and artist, P-Orridge is best known for Project Pandrogeny, his effort to create a post-gender amalgamation of himself and his wife.

Eduardo Kac--the transgenic artist who created a green glowing bunny.  Read more about him here.

Natasha Vita-More--what can I say about this genius that I haven't already said?

Micha Cardenas--is a new media artist who looks at how wearable computing and other technologies can extend and morph the human body.  Her Second Life performance of "Becoming a Dragon" is something to see.  In it, her avatar literally becomes a fire-breathing dragon named Azdel Slade.  Does this mean we all have malleable identities? It's like something from a William Gibson novel such as Idoru.

Aimee Mullins--is a Paralympic athlete who in 1999 teamed with Alexander McQueen to show the integration point between fashion and prosthesis.

What does all this mean?  Well, I suppose one take is that just when you might think that humanity has reached an artistic dead-end, that you're thinking to yourself "it's all been done," revolutionaries like these seven come along.  Now, in the postmodern age, the artist's canvas is the human body itself.

I also believe that the work of these seven is demonstrative of transhumanism not being a matter of hardware and certainly not just science fiction.  This is the human spirit at work, finding new outlets through new technologies.  It is not something to be feared.

Not entirely, anyway.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

UFO incident: Operation Mainbrace

Today is World UFO Day.

Whatever that means.

In keeping with the observance, I have decided to write a post about a UFO incident I have hitherto known little of.  It concerns a military exercise called Operation Mainbrace that took place in September of 1952.  For a concise look at the facts of the case, check out this video from The History Channel (hey and it features Bill Birnes!) as well as sites such as this...I know it's not exactly an academic source but it does feature a pic of a British newspaper of the day and its headline about the case.

Operation Mainbrace was a naval maneuver consisting of over 200 ships from the U.S., Britain, and several other nations, all led by American aircraft carrier, the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt.  The idea was to simulate a Soviet invasion of West Germany and what the seaborne response to it would be, e.g. seal off the Denmark Straits to deny Soviet submarines access to the North Sea.

On September 13th, a Danish destroyer first noticed a bright, saucer-shaped UFO moving just above the water towards the fleet.  It then suddenly veered away.  This was but the first of numerous UFO sightings during the engagement.  What's interesting is that the sightings stretch from the operations area all the way back to Scotland, the location of command and control for Mainbrace. 

On September 20th, again the Danish witness a disc-shaped UFO.  This time it rises out of the ocean itself and takes to the air.  The UFO, described by witnesses as having a metallic luster and therefore suggestive of a physical craft, headed directly towards the main fleet before veering off and disappearing at high speed into cloud cover.

The very next day, six British fighter pilots witnessed a spherical UFO emerge from the water and again head towards the fleet.  These pilots gave chase but lost the object due to its high rate of speed.  A speed mind you that could evidently outrun a few of the faster fighter jets around at the time.  Dr. David Clarke, a professor at Britain's Sheffield Hallam University and a UFO researcher, collected this quote from one of the pilots on that day,  RAF Air Commodore Michael Swiney:

 “…At the time immediately I didn’t feel frightened. I did subsequently feel that we were looking at something that really we shouldn’t be seeing. And I remember being told on landing that I looked fairly shaken, almost as if I had seen a ghost….”

This seems to be a recurring theme of the incident.  Several witnesses reported the distinct impression the UFOs were observing the entire military operation at close range.  But this eyewitness testimony is weak, right?  So let's look at the physical evidence.

Radar returns confirm what the RAF pilots saw and pursued.  That is to say, a high-speed UFO that arose from the ocean and streaked towards the ships.  Sonar readings from ships in the fleet at one point detected a contact one quarter of a mile wide shadowing the convoy.  This object popped out of the water between to surface vessels and smacked one of the ships, damaging it.  Of course this was written off as a collision between the two vessels.  A journalist named Wallace Littman on the USS FDR photographed a fast moving saucer flying above the carrier.  These photographs were studied by the US Navy, but no conclusions were ever released.

There are several aspects of this case that make it interesting to me.  For one, there are numerous witnesses.  This isn't a case of one or two guys standing on the deck of a shape and thinking they saw a bright light in the sky.  These are multiple military personnel from multiple nations, all trained to (hopefully) ascertain and respond in a situation.  There is physical evidence in the form of photographs, radar data, and sonar returns.  There is the involvement of USOs, Unidentified Submerged Objects, which is a lesser-known aspect of UFO phenomena and therefore attractive to me. 

Another facet of the case that I find intriguing is the official involvement.  The British Ministry of Defense documented the entire case.  Not only that, but Dwight D. Eisenhower was aboard the USS FDR for at least part of Operation Mainbrace.  Was he a witness to any of this?   

All in all, this is an unusual case.  As he says in the video linked above, Bill Birnes suspects that this incident occurred because the aliens had a secret undersea base in the vicinity of the military exercise.  Others argue that this is simply another case of UFO activity surrounding the armed forces, indicating that the aliens are curious, concerned, or both about our warlike ways.  As always, I do not contend that UFO involvement automatically means an alien presence.  But something happened during Operation Mainbrace.

Something that has either not been explained or not been admitted to by the powers that be.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, July 1, 2013

Film Review--The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

starring Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Joley Richardson, Robin Wright, Steven Berkoff, and as Ed Snowden The Beav.

Mikhail Blomkvist (Craig) is a disgraced journalist who has turned to investigating the disappearance of a wealthy man's (Plummer) niece 40 years ago.  He is aided in this case by a punky young computer hacker (Mara) and together they find that the disappearance is but the surface of years of murder and corruption.

No, this is not the genre of film that I normally review here in the Echo Chamber.  Despite the common and recurring themes of my posts, I really do try to make this a blog about...well, everything.  That said, I have specific reasons for choosing this movie to review.

This is a cyberpunk film.  At least that's what I believe.  You see, cyberpunk isn't all about advanced technology.  It is about...among other things...attitude.  The character of Lisbeth Salander has that in spades.  She is damaged.  That means she knows she can survive.  She is on her own.  That means she will use technology and anything else she can get her hands on to her advantage.  As Gibson's favorite Burroughs quote goes, "the street finds its own use for things." Lisbeth is obviously a punk given her fashion as well as attitude and she is also most capable computer hacker, so I suppose by definition that makes her "cyberpunk."  But cyberpunk is also about mood and tone.  The setting of Sweden, with its long nights and cityscapes amid the wilds, suits this nicely.  The desolation and isolation of the winter, the sense of being cut off from everything as is underscored by Blomkvist walking around and trying to get reception on his cell musters an implacable sense of tension and unease.

Of course it doesn't hurt the tone any that David Fincher is the director.  I've been a fan of his not just for incredible films like Fight Club (one of my favorites), but going all the way back to his music videos of the early 90s such as Madonna's "Express Yourself" and Aerosmith's "Janie's Got a Gun." The man is a master of both style and story, composing shots that look good enough to eat.  That and he was able to take, in my opinion, a mediocre book and turn it into a captivating film.  It doesn't hurt that in this medium Fincher was able to rip out the tedious chapters full of Swedish corporate law that added such dead weight to the book.

As with the book, however, the most memorable aspect of the story is the character of Lisbeth Salander.  Rooney Mara brings her to life with considerable accuracy, giving us a character that we at once pity, admire, fear for, and at times are disgusted by.  In other words, a complete human being.  The film's long stretches of dialogue are a refreshing change from many of today's films as it allows for this development of character.  On the subject of acting, Daniel Craig turns in a solid and un-Bondlike performance and Christopher Plummer is great in everything he does.

I must warn, however, that the depictions of sexual abuse and torture are not for the squeamish.  If you can get past that though, an intense ride awaits.  Plus, if you have any taste in music, then you will appreciate that the soundtrack is done by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails and features a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

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