Friday, May 30, 2014

Dragonfly drones return

I thought we had heard the last of the "dragonfly drone" UFO sightings.

I was wrong.  So terribly wrong.

What am I talking about?  Well, it goes something like this but Linda Moulton Howe actually does a pretty good job of recapitulating the story at Earthfiles.

I believe it was at Whitley Strieber's website in 2008 that I first heard about these "drones."  Several photographs, such as the one pictured above, made the rounds at that time.  Each one depicted a similar if not identical flying device that resembles a ceiling fan (again, see the pic above).  It turns out that a man calling himself "Isaac" leaked a document to the Internet in 2007 related to the flying drones, linking them to a project called "CARET."  That apparently stands for “Commercial Applications Research for Extraterrestrial Technology" located in Palo Alto, California.

That's right.  The drones are derived from alien technology taken from UFO crashes or the like.  The document detailed devices such as antigravity propulsion, 3D holographic recorders and projectors, and invisibility cloaks.  Unfortunately, the public consensus on the dragonfly drones rapidly became one of "hoax."  Photoshop devotees weighed in, citing what was claimed as signs of manipulation.  While at first blush the photos seemed believable to me, I soon realized that was part of the problem.  In the age of Photoshop, I'm afraid one must automatically assume any UFO photo to be a hoax until it is proven otherwise.  Might not be the most open-minded approach, but with the ubiquity of photo and video editing software, I find it to be the safest one.

But here's what really got me.  If you look at the pic above, you'll note that the "blades" of the drone have markings on them.  Look closely and you'll see that they are a symbol language of sorts.  "Isaac" claimed that this was an alien language.  Others noted the similarities of the symbols to Klingon from Star Trek and Aurek Besh from Star Wars.  While not exact matches for those fictional languages, the symbols on the drone and in the CARET document are pretty close.  That was enough for me to dismiss the case but you can find several other reasons to do just that at Iron Skeptic.  Anyhow, the whole thing seemed to go away after a while.

Then May 1st 2014 rolled around.  A new witness came forward to Craig Brown of Truthfall, claiming that she saw this very variety of drone back in 1981.  That would mean that this drone technology has been around for over 30 years.  But what does Brown have to say to the allegations that the original photos and the "Isaac" documents were hoaxed?  Well...

"After the sightings came to prevalence in 2007, a series of badly thrown together CGI YouTube movies and photographs then emerged — some produced by fame-seeking photoshop junkies desperate to showcase their ‘talents’, some by copycats and those desperate for viral video status — but none of the CGI hoxers [sic] came even remotely close to resembling the original images. [emphasis his] Nor could they explain the ever growing number of witnesses, from all ages and walks of life and geographically separate locations in the United States.

Some websites and forums claim that the drones are a hoax, but most of these sites are run by pseudosceptics who have an interest in keeping the status quo. None of them address the incredible amount of witness testimony that has been gathered from real people from diverse backgrounds."

Sorry.  I remain respectfully unconvinced.  Additionally, if you go to any of the links provided, you can find photos of the supposed alien technology in the leaked CARET document.  To the casual eye, both they and the drone seem to be composed of matter not that much more advanced than things you could find at Home Depot or Radio Shack.  Maybe I'm being too judgmental or have seen too much science fiction, but it just doesn't look like the technology of a race able to traverse light years.  Unless it's our version of it.  So in that case, why paint the alien symbols on it?  Oh wait, I guess there's a reason for that.  From Iron Skeptic:

"All translation attempts [of the language] failed. Isaac however, has a much more awesome explanation. In fact, I’ll just quote him: " a system of symbols… along with geometric forms and patterns that fit together to form diagrams that are themselves functional. Once they are drawn, so to speak, on a suitable surface made of a suitable material and in the presence of a certain type of field, they immediately begin performing the desired tasks.”
What he’s saying, is that were you to write “make the table dance” using this alien language, on an appropriate type of paper, and then you put the paper on a table, the table would dance. He makes it very clear, though, that there’s no way we can test this claim: we’d need a special ink, a special paper, a special field, and it doesn’t matter anyway because the language is so complex that the human brain can’t understand. Except Issac, because he’s the mayor of Geniustown, but more on that later."

Yes do click the link and read the "later."

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Kree-Skrull War, pt. 7

Six down, three to go.

Avengers #95 opens with an absolutely exquisite piece of full page art by Neal Adams.  I mean it looks good enough to eat and I argue that it holds its own against any comic book art produced before or since.  The only reason it maybe isn't an iconic image from comics is that...let's face it...Triton is not exactly a household character.  Nevertheless, this does not stop Adams from turning out a tour de force work of art. The body is not exaggerated in the way that many characters were portrayed during the time period.  Instead, Adams gives Triton (and the Avengers too, for that matter) the physiques of Olympic athletes.  While still out of the norm, it grants the story a bit of reality.  Anyway, on with the saga...

Triton has come to New York City to seek the aid of the Fantastic Four.  But when the citizenry of the Big Apple react with violence and vitriol to his fishy appearance (again we see the prejudice and bigotry inherent in human nature), he settles for reaching the Avengers who are mopping up the Mandroids.  Triton tells the Avengers that Black Bolt has been deposed as leader of the Inhumans and that Maximus is in charge.  Maximus has forged an alliance with the Kree, giving more meaning to Super Skrull's attack on the Great Refuge.*  (*Last ish! --Jonny)  Triton begs for the Avengers' help, asking them to go to San Francisco...last known location of Black Bolt.

The Vision doesn't like this idea.  After all, he wants to get into space and rescue the Scarlet Witch, the woman he's madly in love with.  The reader is irked by yet another plot digression, but that's another matter altogether.  Sadly, the Vision dares not tell his fellow Avengers of his motives so he goes along with the plot to find Black Bolt.

Black Bolt is indeed found in San Fran.  He has made friends with a young boy named Joey.  Both of them have somehow fallen afoul of organized crime and Joey has been taken hostage.  That's okay.  Captain America and Goliath make real short work out of the crooks and Triton fills in Black Bolt on what's happening with the Inhumans.  As everyone files into the Quinjet, Joey bids goodbye to Black Bolt.

"See ya, pal.  It was nice havin' a father again--even for a little while," the says.

Well after that, what do you expect them to do?  I suppose someone might see it as a potential opportunity to bring a great writer into the world.  After all, Joey might go on to feel a strong sense of alienation towards paternal figures and thereby all of society as Kafka did.  Who knows what magnificent literary works might come from Joey's pathos?  "One morning, Joey woke and found himself transformed in his bed to an Inhuman."  But no.  They pile Joey into the Quinjet and take him with them to the Great Refuge in the Himalayas.

Along the way, we learn through an exquisitely moody montage of reflection by Neal Adams that Black Bolt in fact killed his parents.  He also drove his brother Maximus mad through the power of his thunderous voice while trying to disrupt the plot between Maximus and the Kree.  Black Bolt broods, dwelling on times he'd much rather forget, wondering where everything went wrong.  As mentioned in analysis of previous issues, this is unusual for comics of that era.  Times were indeed tough and people were wondering where everything went wrong just as Black Bolt does.  In fact, most of us ask ourselves that question as we fall clumsily into adulthood, slowly realizing that more years mean more worries and that most people are, at best, faking it to get by day-to-day.

That doesn't stop Black Bolt.  Aided by the Avengers, Black Bolt attacks Maximus and the Kree contingent, reclaiming the throne and his people.  The retreating Kree, however, have one last trick up their sleeves.  They kidnap Rick Jones and take him with them as they flee into space.

Anybody else noticing this as a common trope for both Kree and Skrull?  Or more accurately, has this become a writer's crutch and redundancy?

Regardless of the intent, the Avengers are as sick of it as we are.  The issue ends with the Avengers assembled and Captain America vowing to take the fight into space and go after both the Kree and the Skrulls.

What exactly were we supposed to get out of the digression with Black Bolt and the Inhumans?  Perhaps it was a filler issue used mainly as a set-up to get Rick Jones kidnapped and the Avengers to finally head into space after their captive teammates.

I'm hoping this saga picks up in the penultimate issue.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The dumbest people on the Internet

We all do it.

We sometimes push on doors that say "pull." We lean up against freshly coated walls despite the "Wet Paint" sign not three inches from where we're standing.  We occasionally enter public restrooms without checking you're in the one designated for your gender.  Or maybe that's just me.

Typically, such things aren't indicators of your intelligence.  More likely it means you're stressed, fatigued, or pre-occupied with a million and one things.  Want something to make you feel better in times like those?  Well take heart, gentle reader.  In combing the interwebs for the very best in minutiae and esoterica, I have just the balm.  Behold...

These dumb people exist.

The entries, yes they're real, seem to mostly be culled from Twitter after what must have been exhausting and disheartening toil.  Yes, I guarantee you'll laugh but once the initial humor wears off, you'll get this sick feeling in the pit of your stomach.  Any faith in soft meliorisms you once had, well...kiss it goodbye.  Here are a few of my favorite gems:

-"Sprayed his colon on me so he is all I can smell.

-"I'm sick of the U.S. Government.  I'm moving to California.  Fuck the U.S."

-"Was just trapped on the escalator for hours...power went out."

-"Oh my god i just found out titanic actually happened and isn't just a film?!!! #mindblown #sosad"

-"is african a religion?"

-"Squirrels are my new favorite reptile SOOOO CUTTEEE!"

The following are tweets from this past New Year's Eve:

-"happy 2014th birthday america i can't believe jesus died on the cross 2014 years ago."

-"I still can't believe the dinosaurs died only 2014 years ago :(   "

There is also a particularly side-splitting exchange about the Hunger Games.  To do it justice, you'll need to read it for yourself.

I don't mean to come off as smug or falsely haughty.  I'm fully aware of my own failings and the stupid things I have done.  Search through this blog and you'll find ample evidence of such awareness.  It's just that there are certain...basics a human should have.

I came across this collection of tweets not long after reading this piece from Maclean's.  America continues to dumb itself down, grow more and more averse to complexity, and anyone who pursues anything remotely intellectual is branded as an "elitist."

Read the piece.  Then look at the tweets.

Laugh.  Then cry with me.


Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The canals of Mars

It happened way before the idea of Cydonia.

Before anyone saw a face or pyramids on Mars, there were canals.  Or that was the idea, anyway.  Wired reminds us of this in an installment of their "Fantastically Wrong" series, describing the initial observations of astronomer Percival Lowell.

In 1884, Lowell believed that Mars was home to a race of intelligent beings.  Why?  Just look at the planet's surface.  It appears riddled with carved lines and channels.  To Percival Lowell, these were canals for irrigation.  Where was the water?  Well it came from the polar ice caps that Lowell surmised must melt a bit on a semiannual basis.  The liquid water would then travel through the canals and be distributed across Mars.  Lowell went on to take his observations and develop a complicated chart of how the canals network and interconnect.  As he concluded:

"That Mars is inhabited by beings of some sort or other we may consider as certain as it is uncertain what those beings may be."

You can't blame him.  Through the limited resolution of that 19th Century telescope, "canals" are very much what these lines appear to be and indeed we now know that water did once flow freely on Mars.  It still might, just in greatly limited amounts.  Sadly as we developed more sophisticated telescopes, astronomers began to find that despite all of his hard work and investment of personal fortune, Lowell was mistaken.  The lines are an illusion of natural features.  There were no canals on Mars and there was probably never a civilization.  NASA probes such as Viking and Curiosity then came along and put the whole boondoggle to rest for good.

For me, this is just another example of how far back our fascination with Mars goes.  Woven in with that fascination seems to be this omnipresent sense that someone lives on the planet.  That notion is still around today or a variation upon it in that the Martian civilization is now deceased, the once proud race leaving their monuments behind for us humans to "look upon and despair" to paraphrase Percy Shelley.  It's funny.  The "Cydonia" theory of faces and pyramids on Mars is one I just can't fully let go of, despite all of the evidence to the contrary.  Maybe it's just the romantic in me.  I'm not like Shelley, however.  More like John Taylor.  Yes, that's a New Romantics joke.  But I digress...

I wonder how much influence the mistaken observations of Percival Lowell had on Edgar Rice Burroughs?  Yeah, not the Burroughs that I usually write about on here but the one who created the characters of Tarzan and John Carter.

Please banish that horrible John Carter movie from your mind.  Right now.

Thank you.

The Edgar Rice Burroughs books debuted in 1912 and were about a Civil War veteran named John Carter who gets transported to Mars (or Barsoom as it is called by its natives) under mysterious circumstances.  He then becomes enmeshed in swashbuckling adventures involving the bizarre races, savage beasts, and hot women of the Red Planet.  My first introduction to the series was...of course...through the Marvel comic book series, John Carter: Warlord of Mars.

Fear not.  I did eventually seek out the books or at least the first installment of the series.  It was such an influence over so many works of fiction, how could I afford not to?  Now I'm left wistful, imaging that a civilization once flourished upon Mars but whose lifespan was cut tragically short by "an ecological 9/11" as Mac Tonnies put it.

Fanciful and without solid evidence?  Pretty much, but a warning to humanity nevertheless.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, May 23, 2014

Don't get involved but don't be weak

I am reminded of a Monty Python episode.

It involved a renegade superhero named Mr. Neutron.  For fear of what this ultra-powerful being might do to the world, the United States prepared to got to a war footing and launch a military operation against him.  A general in the Pentagon becomes quite insistent, demanding the U.S. show the rest of the world that "we've got teeth."  It seems that attitude pervades the thinking of we Americans when it comes to foreign policy and the tumultuous world in which we live.

There are any number of international flashpoints for conflict.  Of immediate interest is the situation in Ukraine.  As a deeply divided nation attempts to hold elections, clashes have erupted and at least 32 people have been killed as of this writing.  Russia has kept thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border as Vladimir Putin has made the dubious pledge to "protect Russian-speaking peoples everywhere."  Putin seems to have backed away from this somewhat and has recalled forces from the border, but he maintains that Russia watches the elections and civil unrest closely.  After his seizure of Crimea, many have grown uneasy, suspecting Putin aims to continue expansion and reunite the old Soviet Union.

It's concerning, yet most Americans don't think we should be involved.  A poll by CBS last March said that 61% of Americans do not believe the U.S. should intervene and 65% responded that we should not give military aid to Ukraine.   This is consistent with a CNN poll from last September where seven out of ten respondents stated they would not support U.S. action in Syria's brutal civil war.  Not surprisingly and altogether understandable.  The United States has been involved in two wars in the past 15 years, losing thousands of lives and trillions of dollars.  One would certainly be forgiven for being war-weary so perhaps it's best that our president keeps us out of military actions.

So why does President Obama only have a 38% approval rating for foreign policy?

John McCain will give you his opinion.  He condemned the President for not doing more in Ukraine, stating that such inaction "will only invite more aggression."  McCain took this a step further with an op-ed in The New York Times, asserting that "Obama makes us look weak."  Sarah Palin parroted the same line from her former running mate.

Looking at the President's polling on foreign policy, it seems that the majority of Americans fall in with the Republican line.  "He's making us look weak" or perhaps in other phrasing, "It looks like we haven't got teeth."  Yes, it's the odd, liberal wildling that wouldn't want us to flex our muscle.  But simultaneously, the majority does not support U.S. intervention or involvement really of any kind.

So which is it?  What do we want?

Do people just need to be more educated on the conflicts at hand to get us involved.  One study suggest it's the opposite.  Researchers at Dartmouth and Princeton University found  that the less Americans know about Ukraine's location, the more they want to intervene.  In other words, can't find it on a map?  Bomb it!

What accounts for this disparity between "we shouldn't get involved" and "he's not doing what we want"?  There might be a few explanations, such as America was born in the violence of revolution and military action is on our political and historical DNA or that we have an enormous amount of money tied in with the military industrial complex.  Those explanations, however, don't seem to fully capture the matter in depth.

Not making up our minds is what will make us look weak.

Like we haven't got any teeth...or worse, any brains.

Download the Esoteric Synaptic Events podcast at iTunes!

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Kree-Skrull War, pt 6

Still with me?  Or is this more of a "never here to begin with" kind of series?

I thought it might be.  It was a risk deconstructing the classic comic book epic that is the Kree-Skrull War but I thought I would allow myself this weekly indulgence.

Avengers #94 opens (more or less) with the Vision sneaking aboard the Super Skrull's spaceship as it carries away Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, and Captain Marvel.  Once aboard, the Vision learns that the ship is headed for the Sanctuary of the Inhumans in the Himalayas.  Super Skrull figures it would be a good tactical move to wipe out the super-powered beings known as the Inhumans as they were originally created via experimentation by the Kree.  They could possibly therefore be used against the Skrull as weapons. Super Skrull brings the energy beam cannons of his ship to bear on the Sanctuary as Roy Thomas writes:

"Finger on the button: In the end will it matter if that hand was alien--or green--or Protestant?"

Wow.  Allusions to the both the Cold War and the "troubles" of Northern Ireland in one...slightly forced...metaphor.

Super Skrull fires the beam weapon but the Sanctuary remains unscathed, protected by a force field shield.  The Vision then fights him to a draw and then decides to retreat as he can seemingly do nothing to rescue his comrades.  Flying back to Avengers Mansion, Vision wonders, "First Kree...then Inhuman...the web spawns new strands." Indeed.  Earth is crowded enough with just us humans.  Now there are several alien races competing over a backwater world that is ostensibly of strategic importance.  In another Cold War analogy, does that make us a galactic version of Vietnam or Korea?  Two superpowers are fighting and we're going to be the battleground?

After a warp jump through space, Super Skrull's leviathan spaceship returns to the homeworld of the Skrull Empire.  Upon his return we learn that he was actually exiled by Emperor Dorrek and Super Skrull's real motives are to marry Dorrek's daughter Anelle and claim the thrown for himself.  Even on alien worlds it would seem we are not free from courtesan politics.  Bummer.  In fact, Super Skrull's greeting is downright hostile and battle ensues.  It's short lived, however, as he informs the Emperor of his passengers.

The prisoners of Earth are delivered as tribute to Emperor Dorrek who then instructs Captain Marvel to build a Kree device known as the Omni-Wave Projector.  The Kree use this machine as a means to communicate across the vast distances of space but it apparently can be used as a weapon as well.  Marvel naturally refuses.  To get him to comply, the Skrull tosses Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch into an arena of sorts where they must battle alien monsters.  The fight goes pretty well until these little fuzzy pink guys show up.  Every time you hit one, they multiply.  Sort of like masochistic Tribbles.  Anyway, even Quicksilver can't move fast enough to stop them as both he and his sister are eventually overwhelmed by the sheer numbers.  Fearing for their lives, Captain Marvel relents to the Skrull's demands and agrees to build the Omni Wave.

Back on Earth, H. Warren Craddock orders SHIELD to move against the Avengers.  Mandroids, men inside robot-like suits of power armor, attack Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and Goliath.  It should be a fairly one-sided fight, especially against someone with the strength of Thor, however Iron Man points out that the suits were designed and the men were trained by Tony Stark (Iron Man's true identity) to beat the Avengers.

Now if you were an Avenger at this moment, you'd be forgiven if you asked "Hey Tony, just why the hell are you building weapons and training people to beat us? What gives?" Perhaps this is more of a Malcolm X, "the chickens have come home to roost" metaphor.  By that I mean that Iron Man...aka Tony an arms manufacturer and dealer.  If you put things that kill out into the world, how long before they whip back to kill you?  The Iron Man movie touched on this but I think it's visible here as well, again symbolic of the anti Cold War/Vietnam War sentiment of the time.  Oh yeah...Iron Man has roller skates as part of his armor.  Go figure.

The battle rages and Triton of the Inhumans shows up.  End part six.

You could call the structure formulaic.  The superhero characters fight each other, learn something more about the plot that's afoot, and then move on to the next battle.  This is a tedious method of plot advancement and thus far the Kree-Skrull War has been just that.  By the same token, the intervals of combat have long been a criticism of the comic book medium, especially at the time of these issues' publication.  The phrase "comic book violence" exists for a reason and is often times employed as an accusation in terms of what causes children to be violent.

And yet...and yet...

Joyce Carol Oates, writer and Professor of Humanities at Princeton, once said, "When people say there is too much violence in [my books], what they are saying is there is too much reality in life."

While you could hardly accuse this Avengers story arc of being "reality," we keep seeing reality intrude.  We see the political upheaval of that era of history and we see the kind of physical and social violence that humans are capable of committing against one another.  That, certainly, is very real.  Writing lets us hold icky, painful issues at a safe distance where can try to figure them out.  In a muted way, the Kree-Skrull War helps us examine the consequences of real life war.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Charting Morrissey

As you probably know, I'm a fan of Morrissey and The Smiths.

It just sort of...fits, doesn't it?

While the big news might be that Morrissey will release his long awaited album World Peace is None of Your Business in July, that's still a fair ways away.  However, the fine folks over at Buzzfeed have provided the Internets with something to do in the meantime, namely a series of diagrams to help fans and non-fans alike come to an understanding of this brilliant music.  For example, please see above.

Yes, that is a graphic rendition of Morrissey's "Every Day is Like Sunday." There are plenty of other gems like that one at the link, breaking the songs down to the rudimentary essence of Mozz and Smiths.  I get especially large giggles out of the flowchart breakdown of "How Soon is Now?" I mean seriously, tears dripping down my face laughter.  I realize that's not a typical reaction to many things Morrissey and Smiths, but maybe that's why it's all the funnier.

Related, check out a few of the song titles on the upcoming album:

"Earth is the Loneliest Planet"
"Neal Cassady Drops Dead"
"Kick the Bride Down the Aisle"
"Smiler with a Knife"

Sigh.  Sometimes, I think Mozz is writing just for me.

If you're looking for even more guffaws, follow @troubledmozz on Twitter.

"Trudging slowly over wet sand..."

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The ESE podcast

I have a podcast!

That's right. Prepared to be nettled by my (well, not just my, hopefully) blatant self-promotion.

The ESE podcast is now available at iTunes.  Head on over and download the enjoyment for free.  You're welcome!

So what's it like, you may ask?  It's not altogether that different from what I told you about long ago.  You don't remember? That's all right.  I'd almost forgotten myself.  But I finally got my act together and worked with my friend Mike Smith and Prairie Independent Media to get this done.  If not for Mike's expertise in all matters IT, this wouldn't have happened.  Mike handled the recording, the uploading, the RSS feed, hell he even composed the theme music.  Trust me.  If you have any kind of digital media needs, click the link and work with Prairie Independent Media.  You owe it to yourself.

The material of the podcast is pretty straightforward for now.  I selected three of my ESE entries and delivered them in spoken word style.  This will make the blog available in quick, easy to digest bites.  Perfect for our "on the go" lives.  Future podcasts will expand to provide audiobook renditions of my short stories.

But wait!  There's more!

I am especially looking forward to the upcoming long versions of the podcast.  This means a half hour to hour long discussion between Mike Smith and myself in a sort of Coast-to-Coast AM format.  Will there be guests?  Working on it.  But I've known Mike in real life for almost twenty years now (yikes!) and he's not just a fine man and IT specialist, but a skillful conversationist as well.  He can talk with you about pretty much anything.  A handy skill to have when you're covering ESE kinds of topics.  Mike's also a pretty normal (for lack of a better word) guy.  He doesn't sleep in a pyramid or make attempts to transcend to altered states of consciousness.  His perspective will be one of the common individual, thereby demonstrating, I hope, that these subjects are not ones to be relegated solely to fringe elements.

What subjects?  Well of course we'll be discussing the paranormal and anything weird.  Mike promises "an Art Bell level of weirdness" and I aim to deliver (let's face it, he tapped the right guy.)  We'll also be talking about astronomy and technology.  Not just future technology such as transhumanism, mind you, but present developments which are pretty amazing in their own right.  Ten years ago, would I have had any idea what a podcast was or let alone how to create one?  Now here it is. What will technology bring the writer/blatant self-promoter next?

So head over to iTunes and download the first ESE podcasts.  There will be more where those came from I assure you.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, May 19, 2014

Burroughs: junkie genius

It seems odd that I might identify with William S. Burroughs.

His new biography reminds me of that fact.  Call Me Burroughs by Barry Miles was released just recently and it seems to be something of an authoritative text.  I plan to read it (I know, I know.  One more for the pile.) and attempt to determine what draws me to the granddaddy of all Beat writers.  But I have my hunches.

At face value, my life is positively bland in comparison to Burroughs.  But then I suppose most people's would be.  I have no destructive addictions (at least none that have fully debilitated me), I've never been to Tangiers, and I've never killed anyone (and neither did Burroughs, at least not on purpose.)  I've never tried banishing my inner demons through sweat lodge shamans, but maybe I should.  Writers such as Franz Kafka and certainly William Gibson would seem more in line with my experience and disposition.

And yet...and yet...

Burroughs was an iconoclast to say the least.  He held those regarded as "experts" with suspicion at best and contempt at worst.  He wanted to throw out all convention.  I can only imagine what his response would have been to the graduate writing workshops I attended.  Or worse...what he'd say of the writing classes I teach.  Doubtless he would scarcely stomach them.  No, his calling was to render the dreary realism of the world in such a way that you could laugh.  Albeit it's gallows humor, but you chuckle nonetheless.  That is when you get done blushing.

I also can't help but identify with his sense of alienation.  As Burroughs said, "after one look at this planet any visitor from outer space would say 'I want to see the manager.'"  For all of his bizarre-ness in prose and willful verbicide, he might have been more in-tune with reality than most anyone else.  He took a look around, puked, and cried to anyone who would listen, "I don't belong here and you probably don't either."

The appeal might also be hidden within the first sentence of that previous paragraph: aliens.  Yes, Burroughs had an interest in them and UFOs.  He met with Whitley Strieber, talked UFOs and Communion, and bemoaned the fact that he was never selected for abduction.  "Why are abductions and contacts always to mediocre or inferior minds? Why don’t they come and see ME?"  Why indeed, Mr. Burroughs.  Why indeed?

Then again, it might be Burroughs' long-lasting influence on rock and roll to which I'm truly indebted.  Burroughs hobnobbed with many of my musical idols, not the least of which being David Bowie (pictured above with Burroughs), Michael Stipe, and of course Bono.  In fact, check out U2's post-apocalyptic video for "Last Night on Earth."  WSB shows up at the very end.

Those three aforementioned song writers have oft expressed gratitude towards the cut-up method.  If Burroughs had anything to do with influencing them, he'd be just fine in my book...even if I'd never read anything by him.

But of course I have read him.  The man had an innate sense of style.  Check this bit out from the article I linked from the The Atlantic at the outset of this post.  It describes Burroughs'...

"...quasi-magical revenge attack on a Boulder deli from which two of his opiated friends had recently been thrown out. First, Burroughs arranged for a surreptitious tape recording to be made inside the deli—ambient noise, kitchen clatter, waitress-customer banter—and then, days later, with equal surreptitiousness, he played it back from a cassette recorder inside his coat as he sat at one of the tables. As Miles writes: “Over the next hour he increased the volume so that you could just about hear it, but no one appeared to notice.” Yet subliminal damage was being inflicted: discontinuous time streams, information feedback. “After forty-five minutes … one of the waiters threw down his apron and stalked out, followed by the owner, arguing loudly. The owner returned and began to scream at the serving staff, sending two of the women running to the ladies’ room in tears."


Whatever the case, I need to read the bio, I need to finish that scholarly paper on Burroughs and cut-ups that I did the research for oh so long ago, and I need to "write my way out of" everything else.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Ocean floors are "covered in garbage"

Hey, it's me.  Your friendly neighborhood doom-monger.

Today, I'm here to tell you about yet one more way we're ruining the environment.  But Jon, you say, certainly you've mentioned them all by now?  Au contraire mon frere.  I'm afraid this is one area in which the human race is multi-talented.

The floors of our oceans are rapidly becoming garbage heaps.  That's what a recent survey from the University of the Azores indicates.  As stated at the io9 link:

"Litter accumulation in our marine environments is one of the fastest growing threats for the world's ocean health. We dump over 6.4 million tonnes of litter in the oceans each year — and the effects are serious."

In case you're wondering, said garbage consists mostly of plastic items such as bottles and bags.  The issue with plastic is not so much that it doesn't break down per se.  It's just that when it does, it fragments into particulate matter.  These tinier particles are then swallowed by fish and other sea life, often poisoning them.  This is to say nothing of the ripple effect when the various toxic chemicals of the trash seep into the water and soil of the oceans.

How does garbage end up all the way in the middle of the ocean and at the bottom of its greatest depths?  What, are there people constantly dumping from boats?  There are plenty of unscrupulous nations and organizations doing just that (check over at Greenpeace), but the study found that the majority of the plastic trash originated from coastlines.  In other words, people on a beach toss their garbage in the water (or carelessly lose sight of it) and it gets carried off to sea on the currents and eventually sinks to the bottom.  This leads to one other interesting point of the study and that is that the floating litter can lead to the transfer of invasive species to new habitats.

Great way to wreck an ecosystem.

I could swear we're having a contest with ourselves to see just how fast we can wipe ourselves out.  That's all right.  Once we're gone, the planet will move along just fine without us.

And yes, the link was yet another article from George Dvorsky.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

"We are all Martians"

"Life here began out there."

Or so went a familiar TV voiceover.

I saw this headline at Discover: "Are We All Martians?"  You have to be a subscriber to read the actual article, so I went in search of more about its source material.

Professor Steven Benner at the Westheimer Institute for Science and Technology has proposed that in primordial times, Mars was actually a more likely candidate for life than Earth.  His evidence comes from what it takes to form the molecules that are necessary RNA and DNA.  During its incipient stages, Earth may likely not have had what it takes to form those protein chains.  Therefore, the required matter had to come from somewhere else.  Benner says:

"The evidence seems to be building that we are actually all Martians; that life started on Mars and came to Earth on a rock."

Indeed meteorites that are actually fragments of the planet Mars have been hitting Earth since prehistoric times.  A few of them may have carried the minerals required to form RNA and DNA proteins which would have been abundant on early Mars.  As case in point, Benner points to molybdenum.

"It’s only when molybdenum becomes highly oxidized that it is able to influence how early life formed. This form of molybdenum couldn't have been available on Earth at the time life first began, because three billion years ago, the surface of the Earth had very little oxygen, but Mars did."

So perhaps that's a little different.  It's unclear to me, without reading his primary research, if he means that the missing elements needed for life came here from Mars or if actual primitive lifeforms did.  Or both? I can understand mineral or chemical components.  What flummoxes me a bit is how, if indeed this is Benner's argument, life itself would have made the voyage.  See if you follow me.

A meteor hits Mars.  Fragments of the planet are launched upward, carrying single-cell or bacteria-like life.  Somehow, this rock makes it through the atmosphere of Mars (which it must have had at the time) and crosses the void to crash into Earth.  This life then grabbles about for a foothold on its new home and eventually becomes us.  I know that it has more or less been proven feasible that life such as microbes could survive the journey deep inside a meteorite, but maybe I'm getting Benner's proposition all wrong.

Whatever the case, it's more argument for a Mars that once supported life.  Just how sophisticated that life once was remains to be seen.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Webdriver Torso

This story is so weird that I can't help but be captivated.

In fact, it reminds me greatly of "the footage" from William Gibson's book, Pattern Recognition.

There is a YouTube user named Webdriver Torso.  In September of last year, Webdriver Torso uploaded an 11-second video that featured a sequence of red and blue rectangles.  Approximately half an hour later, they uploaded a follow-up video.  This one was much the same with the same rectangles but with slight variations in the pattern.

Over the course of eight months, Webdriver would upload 80,000 clips.  Each appears unique but all are in the same format.

So of course this has fired the imaginations of millions of people like me who really must need something to do.

Boing Boing speculates that Webdriver Torso could be the next generation of number stations.  These were communication posts that would broadcast seemingly unintelligible strings of numbers and letters.  Unintelligible to anyone but their recipients...who were usually spies.  Is this really an efficient and effective means for an intelligence operation?  I guess it would be cheap and there's easy access most anywhere in the world.  Still, I have to wonder if that's too good to be true.

There are, of course, other proposed explanations.  This might actually be an errant piece of software that is randomly generating clips and automatically uploading them.  Oh the hilarity if this ends up being a glitchy "much ado about nothing" scenario.  Unfortunately, this too seems unlikely for reasons that will become apparent later.

It might also be somebody's idea of a crytpography challenge.  You know, "Are you smart enough to crack my code?  Of course you aren't and that's why I'm an unappreciated genius."  Related to that is the chance that it's all a publicity stunt.  "Webdriver" is the name of a software tool from Selenium.  Representatives of Selenium have denied any involvement.

Oh what to think.

Stephen Beckett, writer of the BBC link I provided above, downloaded a whole dump of metric data on Webdriver Torso.  He found two anomalies.

One is that the first video Webdriver ever uploaded is a clip from the animated series, Aqua Teen Hunger Force.  The clip is only available in France.  The other deviation is a six-second video of the Eiffel Tower as seen from a balcony.  In that vid see a glimpse of a face.  Is it the mysterious Webdriver Torso?  No way to say.

Naturally there are those who say it's "aliens." I suppose that would make these videos the digital equivalent of crop circles, enigmatic messages left for reasons.  Or maybe it would be more like the trope where aliens are hiding messages to one another within our own communications.  So aliens use YouTube?  Then I'm disappointed they aren't increasing the quality of user comments on videos and attempting to steer us away from inane and ad hominem remarks.

Seriously folks, what are these videos?  What are they supposed to mean?  If anything?

ESE will give updates on this story as they arise.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, May 12, 2014

Exoplanets: Sign of doom for humanity?

Extinction sure is a headline-grabber.

Sometimes with a scientific study, the media can grab a nugget out of the press release that makes for good copy, but it doesn't truly get at the point of the research.  That's not exactly what happened with this article in Discover, but I see the point that the author was trying to make.

Another exoplanet was discovered last month.  It appears to be about the same size as Earth and its orbit occupies the theoretical "habitable zone" around its star.  It may have liquid water.  It may have life.

Fascinating news, right?  Then, just when you're feeling good about all that, the Fermi Paradox pulls your ET-wanting car over to the shoulder and pretty much does a Rodney King on it (90s reference).  The Fermi Paradox, posited by Enrico Fermi, asks the question, "If the building blocks of life are everywhere in the universe, then why haven't we encountered any?"

I'll keep the discussion away from UFOs for now.

Why?  Because the idea of the Great Filter, as shown in the linked article, is more interesting to me at the moment.  It answers Fermi's question by saying, "intelligent life has a habit of going extinct."

There might be an expiration date on civilizations.  They could destroy themselves with their own war machines, much as we threatened to do to ourselves with nuclear weapons during the Cold existential threat that is far from over, I might add.  They could ruin their own environment through carelessness, just as we're doing.  Perhaps even their technological developments could get away from them as thinkers such as Stephen Hawking have asserted on matters like artificial intelligence.  The concern is a bit overblown in my opinion but I get what they're saying.

Or it could come down to just bad luck.  The universe is full of all sorts of nastiness that could befall a civilization. An asteroid strike, a supervolcano, a pandemic, there are any number of variations.  Our own world has gone through at least few extinctions.  Why should we think ourselves immune?

It should be a sobering thought to humanity, yes.  I would cushion it, however, by going back to the nature of the Fermi Paradox.  Our definition of "life" can be rather narrow.

And arrogant, too.  All gaudy with human frippery.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, May 9, 2014

Measles outbreak linked to lack of vaccinations

Both Sagan and Asimov made similar comments on society.

Sagan called it a "celebration of ignorance." Asimov described it as more of a general attitude, one that says "my ignorance is just as good as your facts."

Unfortunately you can see said ignorance play out in many ways on any given day.  Last month, it was in Canada.  I'm not besmirching Canada.  Really I'm not.  As you're about to see, "stupid" can cross all kinds of international borders.

Edmonton and Calgary, the two largest cities in the province of Alberta, declared that they have a measles outbreak.  And why should such a relatively arcane pathogen be rearing its ugly head in this day and age?  What else but a dangerous number of people without vaccinations.

This outbreak apparently had its genesis in The Netherlands last year where cases reached epidemic levels.  Again, low levels of vaccination were to blame as there were communities opting out for religious reasons.  This spread to Alberta and measles cases have even been reported in other provinces as well as U.S. states such as Washington and Ohio.

Vaccinations do not cause autism.  They are not some kind of "tracking device" utilized by "the man." They exist to protect people from diseases that no one need suffer from anymore.  There needs to be a sufficient number of people vaccinated in a society in order to create herd immunity (look it up.)  If your anti-vaccination choice is based in religious beliefs, as was the case here it seems, then I'm not sure what to say to you.  You're entitled to your beliefs and I really don't want to infringe upon them, but there is the greater health and well-being of all to consider as well.  After it all, it is the young and the elderly who will be most susceptible to outbreaks. Hell, given the drive-thru, fast food lives of most people in our society, I wouldn't be surprised if our overall immunity levels were well on the low side.

Makes me wonder what would happen if a truly virulent epidemic ever did sweep through the nation. After all, it's been conjectured that we are at the dawn of the age of new epidemics such as MERS.  Plus, there is a bizarre new kidney disease that has been infecting sugar cane cutters of the Pacific coast of Central America.  What if one of these or another unthought of and altogether nastier bug gets to the U.S.?   Let's say that, mercifully, a vaccine were developed to stem its awful tide.  Would people take it?  Even in the face of horrible illness?

Or has the paranoia of quack doctors and semi-celebrities become the "facts" of the day?

Then again, devastating plagues can actually make the surviving populace stronger.

I'm not trying to wax George Dvorsky's car by linking to all of his articles.  Honest.  It's just that he happens to write extensively about the same subjects I cover.

And he does it well.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Kree-Skrull War, pt 5

Deconstruction, ho!

We continue to press our way into...what has been up until now...the morass of a comic book epic that is the Kree-Skrull War.  That's right.  I said "up until now" because things finally get good in the fifth installment, "This Beachhead Earth!"  I say this for two reasons.  One, the "big three" Avengers (Captain America, Iron Man, Thor) finally become major playing characters in the story arc.  Second of all, Neal Adams takes over on the artwork.  Anyone who knows me will tell you when it comes to comics, I care far more about the writing than the art (something of a rarity among fans).  That said, Adams effects an invaluable change in the epic.  He renders artwork that has seldom...if ever...been surpassed in comic book storytelling.

Avengers #93 opens with the aforementioned "big three" hanging out in Avengers Mansion when the Vision suddenly crashes in through the front door.  He gasps for help and then falls inert to the floor.  Iron Man then, get this, checks for a pulse and breathing.  Captain America questions this procedure, rightfully pointing out that the Vision is an android.  Iron Man insists, however, that the Vision has had it.

That's when everybody's favorite wife beater Hank Pym shows up.  This time, however, he is costumed as Ant Man rather than Yellowjacket. Shrunken to ant-size, he and his ants enter through Vision's mouth and they enact an Avengers version of Fantastic Voyage.  Indeed, there is a battle between Ant Man and mechanisms that act as "anti-bodies" and "white cells" for the Vision, protecting the android from what might be termed "infections." As an aside, Pym does redeem himself a bit by showing compassion for ants as fellow living things.  One of his ants is killed by a defense mechanism.  Pym comments aloud, "Human beings are funny--they think no living thing but themselves capable of feeling pain.  That's because they've never heard an ant scream.  Well I have...and it's a sound to haunt a lifetime worth of dreams!  A sound like lost souls in torment---or the wailing of a foresaken child--and I don't ever want to hear that sound again!  Not ever!"

Wow.  What a statement!  He may be a domestic abuser but the man has a thing or two to say about animal rights...and they're powerful words!  Actually it's more Roy Thomas expressing himself (and eloquently, at least in terms of comic books) through a character and not any attempt to redeem Pym for his treatment of his wife...that's a subject that will have to wait for much later in the myth arc of the Avengers.  Or is it?  Ants are more than study subjects to even a scientist like Pym.  He has actually come to know them on a familiar, one-to-one basis to the point where each ant has a name and acts as a character in the warped drama that is Pym's life.  Again, that's my interpretation.

Anyway, Ant Man orders his ants to safety and then makes the needed repairs to the Vision.  Then he scoots out of the Mansion before you can say deus ex machina.

The Vision awakes and basically says to the three "thanks for kicking me and the other three members off the team." (*Last ish!--Jonny)  The others have no idea what he is talking about and it becomes apparent that three impostor Avengers did the deed.  Everybody's confused and Vision still doesn't trust Cap and the others, seemingly adhering Nietzsche's stance of "there are no facts, only interpretations." Regardless, the Vision tells them what happened.

He and the other three exiled team members, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Goliath, and Rick Jones, traveled to the house in upstate New York to where Captain Marvel retreated with Carol Danvers.  They do this by renting a convertible with Scarlet Witch's credit card and taking to the highway.  Trust me, it's quite a...postmodern sight, superheroes in full regalia riding in a typical American car and "getting the funniest looks from everyone they meet." The super powerful are humbled?  The gods must become as mortals?  Relying on mere normal conveyance and a credit card limit just as we do?

Anyway, they reach the house.  There are cows grazing in a nearby field.  As an aside, there is a moment where Quicksilver passive aggressively makes clear that he doesn't like his sister cozying up with the Vision.  Fraternal protection?  Prejudice even between mutant and android?  Both?  Who knows, because before things can fully unfold, the three grazing cows fire energy beams at the Vision, knocking him down.  The cows then shapeshift into the forms of The Thing, the Human Torch, and Mr. Fantastic.  Seeming to have all the powers (and then some) of the Fantastic Four, these "cows" apprehend the other Avengers.  Meanwhile, the Vision's intangible and barely operable self slinks back to New York City and the Mansion,bringing us to where this issue began.  Fully briefed, the big three Avengers vow to head for the house and investigate.

It should be obvious by now that those weren't really bovines.  They were the shapeshifting aliens known as the Skrulls.  In fact they were the first three Skrulls ever encountered in Marvel comic books, going allllll the way back to Fantastic Four #2.  Reed Richards and the others captured the Skrulls and hypnotized them into believing that the Skrulls were really cows, off to live a nice peaceful life on a farm.  The house where Captain Marvel went to was on that farm and it was of course a front for a Skrull spaceship.  The three impostor Avengers were Skrulls as well and Carol Danvers was not just any old Skrull...she was really the Super-Skrull!

The a-list Avengers attack and battle does ensue for a few pages between them and the Skrulls.  Goliath manages to break free but they are all unable to stop the Skrull spaceship from taking off with Captain Marvel, Quicksilver, and Scarlet Witch still held captive.

Thus ends part five.

Things end on a really interesting note, too.  The Avengers feel defeated.  I mean utterly defeated.  Goliath speaks of his wounded pride for having to be caught in mid-air by Thor.

"Pride," remarks an injured Iron Man.  "Yeah.  That's something we used to feel...back when we were winners."  

Captain America assures them they will bounce back.  Goliath is less confident.

"Yeah--play it again, Cap--and maybe even you'll start believin' it."

The Avengers now have no faith in themselves or their abilities.  Hell, with all of the Vision's rightful suspicions, a few members of the team don't even have faith in each other.  Rick Jones even remarks that he has never seen the team so down...and with two fellow team members captured and the Earth seemingly caught in the midst of an interstellar war, this sense of inadequacy couldn't have come at a worse time.

What good are superpowers if they are no guarantee against feelings of self-doubt?  Even superheroes get the blues, I suppose.  That really is part of the artistic vision that made Marvel what it was in its heyday; the heroes might have superpowers but nearly all of them are susceptible to human foibles and emotions.  This really set them apart at the time from their competition at DC.  Will the heroes find their "will to power" (there's Nietzsche again)?  Shall Earth endure?

Find out next time, True Believer.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Neurogrid: brain-modeled microchips

It just sounds futuristic.


Could have popped right off the page of a cyberpunk book.  But it's a reality.

It's a microchip developed at Stanford and modeled on the workings of the human brain.  It also happens to be 9,000 times faster than chips found in the average PC.  As said previously, this innovative design has as much to do with neurology as engineering.  The human brain can still outdo most machines as George Dvorsky nicely summarizes in the io9 article:

"It's [the brain] a highly efficient information processor capable of crunching 100 million instructions per second (MIPS). Astoundingly, it only uses about 20 watts to power its 100 billion neurons. Today, our best supercomputers require a million watts to simulate a million neurons in real time (measured in terraflops). A standard desktop computer requires about 40,000 times more power to run and operates about 9,000 times slower."

So the idea is to create a chip that approaches this kind of crunching while still being energy efficient.  Neurogrid is an impressive step towards that goal.  An arrangement of Neurogrids can simulate one million neurons while only consuming three watts of power.  All this and a deeper understanding of how the human brain works.  Win-flippin'-win, baby.

Many of the end benefits of this technology seem to sit squarely within robotics and cybernetics.  A robot with a Neurogrid core would be more autonomous in terms of power needs (cue irrational fears of killer robots with aimless wanderlust.)  Neurogrids would also help make quantum leaps in cybernetic limbs, allowing for real-time transmission of signals between the brain and the appendage and thus more fluid movements.  My thoughts turn to something else, however.

Ray Kurzweil has taken knocks for his goal of uploading a human mind to a computer.  Part of the criticism has been that there is just entirely too much information to process in order to accomplish such a feat.  Devices such as Neurogrid, ones that promise to handle nigh inordinate amounts of data at little cost of energy, might be how to get around that problem.  One hundred years from now, what will processing speeds be like?

I'm still holding out for either a cybernetic body or be fully transcendent before that century mark, though.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

We're melting

After I posted last night's blog entry about the iceberg the size of Manhattan (which you can read more about at Discover Magazine), two major news stories broke about climate change.

I made a casual check of the Huffington Post and was greeted with this bold headline: "MASSIVE MELT." Part of Antarctica may be on the verge of melting to a point that will raise sea level for 10,000 years.  This statement is based on a new study from Nature that points out the vulnerability of the Wilkes Basin of Antarctica.  A section of this area is held together by a thin layer of ice resting on bedrock.  As ocean temperatures rise and ice melts, this strip may gave way.

As usual, the headline is both somewhat misleading and alarmist.  The study indicated that it would take about 200 years for all the ice of Antarctica to melt, an occurrence that would result in the 188-foot rise in sea level implied.  That said, even though this kind of a polar melt is far off, sea levels are still expected to rise by 2.7 feet by the end of the century.  But wait!  There's more!

Just today, the White House released its report on climate change.  In summary: it's real, it's happening, either get ready to change or get used to it.  Or both, really.  That's right, climate change is going to hit us right where we live...if it hasn't happened to you already.  From the precis in the linked article, the report breaks down by region just what kinds of effects can be expected here in the U.S. if this trend continues unabated.

The Southwest can expect prolonged periods of drought and therefore greater risks of wildfires.  The Midwest is also looking at droughts and heatwaves but also more "extreme" storms of both the summer and winter varieties.  Coastal areas will be susceptible to flooding as sea levels rise.  Yeah, if this polar melt really kicks in, you might want to reconsider any beachfront property.  The report calls for two paths of action: mitigation and adaptation.  The latter means preparing for the worst case scenario.  I have no idea what that would entail.  Invest in a good, eco-friendly air conditioner (if such a thing exists)?  Move to higher ground?  Pack up as many penguins and polar bears as we can and build habitats for them?  The former of the plans would mean curbing carbon emissions from things like cars and power plants.  You know, that part that makes corporate America really unhappy?

Speaking of which, detractors have already attacked the report, flitting between the usual responses of cost and fraud.  Mitch McConnell called the argument hypocritical of "liberal elites" who are out to damage the economy.

Somebody break it to Mitch that the economy is already being damaged.  And it's about to get a whole lot worse.  The scientific community is in consensus as to what is happening with the rise in temperatures and its ensuing effects.  The only resistance at this point is political.

This is unquestionably one of the biggest issues of our time.  History will judge us by how we act.

Or don't.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, May 5, 2014

Enormous iceberg spotted

EDITORIAL NOTE: It's finals week at the college.  That means exams to grade.  That means research papers to grade.  I'm busy.  Posts will probably be short.  Sorry.

Iceberg ahead!

That's what NASA satellites are saying.  An enormous slab of ice that is six times the size of Manhattan has broken away from Antarctica's Pine Island Glacier.  It is headed out to sea and may cause problems for shipping.  And that problem is going to be around for the foreseeable future as it is estimated the iceberg will take about a year to melt.  

In doing a bit more digging, turns out this story reported two weeks ago by Unexplained Mysteries actually happened last year according to this Washington Post article.  I'm blogging about it anyway for a few reasons.  For one, it's a big-ass iceberg and that's something rather amazing, especially when you view the before and after pictures at the Post of its separating from the glacier.  The other guessed much is this iceberg related to climate change?

The Post article points out that this iceberg's formation is called a "calving event" and it happens in Antarctica every few years.  As usual, a coterie of scientists are concerned that phenomena such as this are happening at an accelerated rate due to climate change.  It would stand to reason.  Temperatures are rising and that means ice will be melting.  That means rising sea levels.  It's gonna get wet, folks.  Buy boots.  If you're involved in the shipping industry at all, then watch for more icebergs.

Then again, I have found a mental mechanism to help me deal with my angst over the climate issue.  To paraphrase Giorgio Tsoukalos: "aliens."

Yeah, just imagine that aliens are terraforming our planet towards their own ends.  I have no idea whether or not the human race would be a part of these plans or if it is designed to result in our extinction, but the result is the same: we're off the hook.  The change in environment had nothing to do with greed, short-sightedness, or captains of industry.  It was all aliens.

Hey have you seen The Arrival?  Don't let the presence of Charlie Sheen fool you.  It's quite an interesting film.  See it and you may join me in my semi-healthy delusion.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, May 2, 2014

Film Review--The Island

starring Scarlett Johansson, Ewan McGregor, Djimon Hounsou, Sean Bean, Steve Buscemi, Michael Clarke Duncan, Ethan Philips, and The Beav wouldn't even be seen in this thing.

A man (McGregor) feels like something is amiss about the utopian future he calls home.  He should.  He is a clone who will be harvested for his organs.

We just read Brave New World in class.  One of my students told me, "You should see The Island.  It's a lot like this book." I didn't recognize the title but I learned that almost ten years have elapsed since its release date.  The cast seemed solid and it features the ever-so-delectable Scarlett, so why not screen it?  Maybe I could use it in class?

Good God was this thing awful.  I mean it was awful on so many appalling levels.

But it's really my fault.  I failed to notice who the director was: Michael Bay.  Yeah, that guy again.  I think he must have read a one paragraph description of Brave New World and then decided to make an action movie out of it. Also thrown into this cinematic blender of yuck are THX-1138, Logan's Run, The Matrix ("What if I told you..."), and Blade Runner.  In fact, the scene where Ewan McGregor learns he's a clone (I could care less if I spoiled it for you) from Steve Buscemi (playing a stereotypical gearhead techie who's got the low down) is eerily reminiscent of the similar but infinitely better executed sequence between Harrison Ford and Sean Young in Blade Runner.

Yes by all means, let's roll as many science fiction movies from the past few decades as we can into one and then turn it all into a video game.

Bay would no doubt spout aphorisms such as "It's a film about the human spirit" or "about the dangers of corporate greed."  Normally I'd be down for that sort of thing.  Questions such as "do clones have the same rights as human beings?" are part and parcel of what we're all about at ESE.  

Except they never really get around to those concepts.

It's all about the 'splodey action with chases down highways, car crashes, and improbable physics with the sign for a corporate logo on the side of a building.  That's another matter.  As stated previously, the nefarious villains of this picture are a corporation that will stop at nothing to make cash, up to and especially including growing human beings just to be gutted for their organs.

But cash is exactly what this thing is after.  This is no commentary on the human condition and any pretenses to are just that.  This is an MTV-styled piece of CGI candyfloss (Bay at his best...or worst, depending on your view) with so many product placements that it borders on laughable.

Who am I kidding?  It crossed the border a good 20 miles back.

This is just so bad.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Kree-Skrull War, pt. 4

Was Jacques Derrida correct?  Can you really deconstruct any text?

Well I'll keep trying.  My deconstruction of the comic book saga of The Kree-Skrull War continues.

Actually it just seems to keep slogging along.  I enjoyed the back issues of this series as a kid.  I'm just trying to remember how.

Avengers #92 opens with our principle heroes of the past three issues (The Vision, Quicksilver, The Scarlet Witch, and Goliath) chilling out in Avengers mansion.  Two facets leap immediately from the page.  One is the sharp turtleneck that The Vision is sporting, perhaps in an effort to become more human (why else would an android wear it?) and the other is the nearly stomach-churning sexism dished out to the Scarlet Witch.  Her brother Quicksilver says, "Wanda, it ill becomes you to flaunt your carefully acquired colloquialisms at your male betters.  Be off with you girl."

And this comes on the heels of Yellowjacket punching the Wasp.

I don't know.  Maybe writer Roy Thomas was trying to reflect the feminist struggles of the late 60s as being a definite strand of the zeitgeist, but it still comes off as a reminder of how dated comics can look to modern readers.  Anyway, Scarlet Witch is about to give her brother the what-for when Jarvis conveniently interrupts with startling news.

Those scientists the Avengers saved in the Arctic?  The said same men who swore to stay silent about the Kree menace?  Well they blabbed and now the whole story is all over the press.  Interestingly enough, it is The Vision who has the greatest difficulty understanding why it happened.  "I thought they understood the need to remain silent," he says, genuinely confounded by the human ability to lie.

That's not the worst of it.  There's a new sheriff in D.C. and his name ain't Stan Lee.  It's Senator H. Warren Craddock and he's an obvious riff on the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy.  In response to the "alien threat," Sen. Craddock announces that he has in his possession "a list of 153 'model citizens' who are actually alien spies. can quote me on this, boys..I intend to ferret them matter where their trail may lead..yes even to the Avengers Mansion itself!"  Translated, "We know they have that Kree named Captain Marvel and we want to bring him in."

Pure McCarthyism.  Politically, however, there is more going on here.  Keep in mind that this was published in 1971.  Americans were already growing skeptical of or even downright disgusted by their government.  The character of Craddock is a stand-in for McCarthy but may also be a symbol of this dissension as well.  The Vision's commentary on truth might also be seen as such.  Geez, and this was even before Nixon and Watergate.

Back to the story, the federal government assigns Nick Fury and SHIELD to close the airspace over Avengers Mansion in an effort to keep Captain Marvel from escaping. Carol Danvers, head of security at NASA and close confidant of Captain Marvel, breaks through the security quarantine and helps get Marvel to a safe location in upstate New York.  It helps that Fury himself half-assed the quarantine.  Why?

"I got a look at our Japanese-American Relocation Centers back during the Big One.  Saw what they did to men on both sides of that barbed wire.  So I didn't do that for Marvel...I did it for America!"

So much going on here.  Fury really reveals his true character here as well as his exact definition of "duty." True, he is a "good soldier" and a patriot, but he seems to subscribe to what Immanuel Kant would call "the categorical imperative." There is a higher sense of "duty" at work here and it has to do with moral law.  The lessons of history were still fresh at that time and writer Roy Thomas perhaps sought to keep them that way.

This all results in the Avengers being brought before a hearing of the Alien Activities Commission while swarms of protesters gather, public opinion having already convicted the heroes of being alien traitors.  The Fantastic Four make a guest appearance as witnesses.  Reed Richards gives an overall favorable testimony on behalf of the Avengers but The Thing is unsympathetic.  In fact, he has particular disdain for these heroes.

"They shoulda made Captain Marvel show up here 'steada helpin' him take a power!  Super heroes like them four we don't need!"

Goliath nearly enters a brawl with the Thing (geeks, take your sides on that fight) and the hearing is adjourned until the next day.  The heroes return to the Mansion and find that protesters rioted and then ransacked the place.  It seems rather simple to apply historicism here and see the civil unrest of the late 60s in full force.

Then it happens!  Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man show up in the series!  At last!

The problem?  It's only in the last page and their sole purpose for appearing is to fire the current roster of Avengers for gross incompetence.  

And we're still no closer it seems to the titular Kree-Skrull War.

That aside, there is one other aspect of this issue that truly resonates with me.  Rick Jones finds himself fading into reverie at one point, thinking about the comic books he read while growing up in an orphanage.

"They were full of heroes, too — but simpler heroes — an’ even the few of ‘em who turned out to be realies didn’t have a lot of hang-ups then. They were just Super-Powered Joes with a clear idea of what truth was — an’ justice — yeah, even law an’ order — that’s when I first decided I wanted to be a superhero — or do anything I could to be around guys like that — guys who lived and fought in a world of black-and-white, not murky gray –Let’s face it, fella — the world ain’t like that anymore. If it ever really was. These days you can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys without a scorecard — and there ain’t no scorecard!"

Postmodern cynicism?  In a way, was this foreshadowing the 1980/90s era of comics of borderline psychopaths...who were actually the heroes of the titles?  Maybe.  More likely it all goes back to the growing cynical sensibilities of the times and a constant puzzlement over what is "right." As Rick points out, things just keep getting grayer.  Rick is essentially a kid in a weird situation and a forced efflorescence into adulthood.

And it sucks.

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