Thursday, June 11, 2015

Hey Mad Max, who says the apocalypse can't be cute?

Fear not. I promise that ESE is not turning into a cute animal blog.

Yesterday, Armando and I saw Mad Max: Fury Road. If you're a long time reader, then you know how much that series of films, especially The Road Warrior, had an effect on me in the 1980s. I would imagine myself in that post-nuclear war aftermath, scared to death. This current film is quite good and very much keeps the spirit of those films alive and with heavy connections to Duran Duran videos (yes I know, you can't really tell exactly who is ripping off whom when it comes to that and I love it.) That's a subject for another post perhaps because, once again, I digress...

I drove home on a hot day here in the Midwest. I worried about my own financial survival. I looked out at eroded storefronts of businesses on hard times. Crazy drivers would cut me off. Men driving "war rig" SUVs and pickups attempted to compensate for what is no doubt a cruel bestowment of small genitalia. It hit me, in an actual and visible way. I wasn't that far from living in Mad Max times. That's probably what led to the deranged dream I had.

Out of a sea of multicolored styrofoam blocks, I emerged into a shopping mall. It was mostly in rubble. Suburbanites wearing the hodgepodge armor style of Mad Max wandered as zombie mobs through the spectacle, picking up consumer items they once valued greatly but I got the distinct impression they wouldn't do much good at that point. Then again, maybe so. There was also a distinct Blade Runner feel to things.

Acid rain fell through a broken skylight onto the dingy floor. The nomads winced at it. A few people in this future appeared to be genetically modified and everyone carried digital devices of one sort or another. Including me. I used mine to write down everything I saw. Figures, right? You can see me in the aftermath of war, typing away on my mobile, shouting out at the survivors, "Suffer slower. I need to describe this." Detached from it all, it seemed to take everything I had to keep from crying out "I told you this would happen." As I watched someone step out of the metal skeleton that was once the mall elevator, I suddenly stopped writing. A terrible thought kicked me in the nuts.

My dogs. I had people I cared about. Where were they? Were they okay? In a panic, I ran into the wastes, no longer smugly detached from the horror and the pain.

Then I woke up.

Not tough to see where that dream came from. There's Mad Max of course, there are my personal financial worries, I was in a shopping mall last Tuesday, and...let's face it...I tend to think of these kinds of things quite a bit anyway.

Makes me long for Bearville.

What's that? Well, it's a story my Mom would tell my brother and I when we were very little. She would tell us that our stuffed animals, mostly bears, built a wonderful, idyllic town somewhere green. There were a lot of trees, sure, but they also had every modern convenience. I mean, there was no way my brother and I were going to conscience an existence without TV as we were yet to matriculate into the mental giants you now know. (cough cough) The inside of the animals' homes looked something like the box cover of Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Tea. Everyone in Bearville got along and things were happy. Indeed I must admit, it's still sort of my "happy place" that I visualize when things are truly overwhelming. I can't speak for my brother, but I know it's what I do.

Even at such tender young ages, we kids had to wonder. The world is not a nice place and it is full of mean, predatory people with self-aggrandizing agendas. What keeps them from overrunning Bearville? "Well," my Mom said. "That's why the bears have a sizable military force."

Yep. War is a reality. Even as children we learned that. Mom never went into all that much detail as to what these forces consisted of, but I'd like to think they looked a bit like the art of Evan Palmer. Which brings me (finally!!) to the title subject of this post.

Evan Palmer creates images of a post-apocalyptic future that you just want to hug. Pigs, dogs, cats, and other animals pilot giant, mecha battle machines. You can see that there's a bit of animosity there, but nothing too serious. Palmer has said that he's considering turning his drawings into a graphic novel series. Why stop there? I'd say make a cartoon out of it. It beats anything else currently being shown on the numerous cartoon channels. You know, if I run for President (and why not, everyone else is it seems), I'm going to commission such a series. Maybe because it reminds me of my mother's imaginary vision. A peaceful, happy, socialist society (that actually works) and everything is just fine.

But we're also a war machine that's armed to the teeth so don't mess with us.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Talking cat videos

Animal videos pretty much fuel the Internet.

At least it seems that way.

I mean, it started with the mass phalanx of cat pictures and memes. That has since become pentimento to the videos we have now. I never saw myself as ever spending the time to actually watch one of these videos (not that I'm overly averse to a few animal stories, mind you), but SteveCash83 and his cat Sylvester had other ideas. 

Steve Cash is a musician who has produced a YouTube series called "Talking Kitty Cat." It features his black cat Sylvester as the focal point, a cat that mind you can voice his own thoughts. Many of the vocalizations are in interactions with Steve's other pets, a black dog named Shelby and a pale cat named Gibson. Gibson can talk as well, but seems to be able to express only two words, "help" and "Todd" (the latter term referring to a mysterious man seen only once in a junkyard, but each cat seems to want to get to his crib.) Shelby the dog can likewise speak, thanks to a device Steve cobbled together and placed on her collar.

But central to each video is Sylvester and his reactions to situations. Typically they're simple, one word responses. "No." "Why?" And my favorite, "fuuuuuuck." While the "grumpy cat" meme is already trite and redundant, Steve Cash somehow keeps it fresh. I think this is partly due to the fact that there is a legit narrative arc to these videos. You want to see what happens next. They're recursive in that they refer back to previous videos. 

I also think that Sylvester is a cat who says what everyone is thinking. Or at least what we have all thought at one point or another. Most appealing of all though is that he does not remain stuck and grouchy. No, in a true Nietzschean will-to-power, Sylvester acts. He finds a way through the window screen. He posts a Craigslist ad to give away the dog. 

More than anything, Steve Cash truly has great insight into the minds of animals. Anyone who has lived with dogs or cats has probably, either aloud or as dialogue in her or his own mind, imagined these responses from the furry members of the family.

Steve just had the good sense to turn it into a video series. Check out an episode here:

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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

"I would replace my right arm with a robotic one"

I keep telling my class on transhumanism that it's bound to happen.

Cybernetics are in many regards inherently superior to biology. We will eventually reach a tipping point where people don't want to wait until they are in a catastrophic accident or have contracted a wasting disease before they replace their given parts with better ones. That is the upshot of Morten Bay's article, "I would replace my right arm with a robotic one" at Vice Motherboard.

Bay states from the outset that his arm hurts. He has tennis elbow and tendonitis. He also points out, quite accurately, that were he a car, his owners would likely have replaced his worn parts by now. Why should human body parts be any different? We ameliorate ourselves with all manner of medications and balms. Why is cybernetic replacement deemed so bizarre? As stated earlier, it seems only logical that if an improvement can be made, someone will do it.

And why wait for the body to break down?

Zoltan Itsvan, author of The Transhumanist Wager and a current candidate for president, describes in the article how he once built a house. It was physically exhausting hauling lumber all over the place. Robotic limbs would have allowed for him to carry far more weight and to do so without getting tired. At all.  "I look forward to the day when I electively get a robotic arm to replace my biological one," says Itsvan.

It is that sort of desire that will eventually become more prevalent. Initial resistance to transhuman improvements may melt away out of necessity. Once someone has a clear, demonstrable advantage due to their enhancements, social and market forces will likely shift the zeitgeist. As Itsvan says, "to remain competitive as an employee, you will have to get upgrades and prosthetics."

Sound unreasonable? Well, we already expect most people to have reliable transportation and computer access in order to be employed. Why would this be any different? Granted, this does raise the issue of the rich-poor divide, a chasm that seems ever-widening, especially in America. That is a legitimate concern and it needs to be addressed. I believe, however, that to be an issue of social and economic policy and somewhat separate from transhumanism.

Then again, perhaps you think this merge with technology isn't already happening. Consider this: do you sleep with your smartphone? Even just because it's your alarm clock? Well how intimate is that? I don't see a way to argue against that as a sign that technology is becoming a part of us. In terms of prosthetic limbs, that's already happening too. The "Luke" arm (named after Luke Skywalker who received a cybernetic hand at the end of The Empire Strikes Back) from DEKA is just one example. Smart appendages that interface directly with the nervous system are well on their way. As these developments continue, as people are more and more able to take control of their bodies and thereby their existence, the human form as it now stands will grow increasingly irrelevant....even obsolete.

I can't say I'm all that sentimental about it.

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Monday, June 8, 2015

"Slacktivism" IS Activism

It should be no surprise by now that I'm a geek. 

As such, I have on rare occasion attended the geek equivalent of a mass: a convention. Or "con" as it is often referred to within the culture. I still get updates on the con season and was quite dismayed to learn that a woman had been subject to harassment and assault at a convention in Atlanta. Management and security at the convention told her it was because her cosplay was too revealing. I was quick to post my opinion that no outfit that anyone wears is ever any justification for them to be touched inappropriately or otherwise harassed.

Replies to my thoughts were likewise quick:

"Dude, she's not going to [have sex with] you just because you're defending women on the internet."

"Quit making this political."

"You're just a Social Justice Warrior."

"Quit being/you're just being a slacktivist,"

That last one sticks with me. The definition of the slang term "slacktivism", as found in Urban Dictionary, is "participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to solve a problem." 

While I can understand the word's genesis, I am often resentful of its misapplication. Here's why:

-There is a long list of problems in the world. Extreme poverty, gender and racial inequality, torture at home and abroad, animal rights, and the increasing damage done to our environment. No one person or even a single group of people can handle everything on that list. That, however, is not an invitation to apathy. Even if there is nothing that someone may be able to do in the immediate, that does not bar them from having a voice.

-What is often slapped as "slacktivism" is someone discussing these very problems. Awareness of the issues is essential as is keeping the topics circulating in the urbane discourse of the marketplace of ideas. For example, I would not have known of the thousands of people tortured and killed in Nigeria had activists in Amnesty International not alerted the world. I would not have known about the horrific treatment of the cosplayer had I not read someone else taking a stand against it. That leads me to...

-We need to end the bystander effect. What we permit is what will continue. If no one speaks to defend someone such as the aforementioned cosplayer, then nothing will change. We need to make all around us aware that we will not stand for injustice. If you hear of an injustice, no matter how far from you, speak. It is a responsibility. It may feel or even appear that you're one voice piling on in a crowd but that chorus is necessary. That's how change comes about: when enough people care. If we want to change something like the misrepresentation of women in Congress, a culture must first be fostered where such a misrepresentation is not permissible. 

-Of course one should act but remember the phrase "think globally, act locally?" Before someone is chastised as a "slacktivist," it should be known for certain that they really are doing nothing. Climate change is the most critical issue of our time, an existential issue if there ever was one and someone may write or speak about it at length. But before you say "rhetoric is cheap," consider that the speaker might very well be doing all they can. Recycling, reusing, keeping their electrical use low, driving less, and of course keeping people informed on the issue. That is doing something about it. This should also include, of course, contacting political leaders and voting.

And one word about that phrase "quit making this political." It shows both pusillanimity and a startling lack of understanding. One needs to understand that everything is political as everything is an argument. The very demand of "quit making this political" is in itself a political statement. Secondly, the request implies a form of intellectual weakness, of wanting to shoo away a subject so as not to deal with it. Sorry, but we live in times where no thinking person who is concerned about the world can afford to be unengaged and ill-informed. You don't get a free pass.

Then again it might just be easier for a subset of the population to slap the label of "slacktivist" on a voice and then feel assuaged about doing nothing. If that be the case, then I will choose "slacktivism."

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Thursday, June 4, 2015

New ancestor of humans found

Sometimes my reading causes "textual train wrecks" in my mind. Right now, human origins have collided with Dulce.

It was announced last week that fossils of a new species of human have been found. This species of early man was cohabiting Ethiopia with Lucy (reconstruction pictured above) about three million years, making it among the very earliest proto humans to have been found. Taken in total, this evidence suggestions that there was a whole range of hominids roving across that part of Africa, perhaps "carving out separate niches in a stable environment based on differences in diet, foraging strategies and other behaviors."

This recalls the discovery of the "hobbits" of Indonesia. Discovered in a cave in 2003, the skeleton of this hominid stood at three feet tall, thus why it was nicknamed after the race in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Strikingly, was dated as being 18,000 years old. That overlaps with the current version of humans. Though small, these "hobbits" were also thought to have fairly well developed brains. They must have because they somehow got to an isolated island in Indonesia.

And that somehow leads me around to Mac Tonnies and his Cryptoterrestrials theory. We learn new things all the time about how early humans made it along. Likewise, we apparently have no real idea just how many different species of hominids there have been in history as we seem to keep finding more. How intelligent were they? How intelligent and developed does a brain have to be to create art, music, or basic technology? As with the idea that Mac entertained, might other species have branched off and learned to live apart from us, either in isolated areas or underground?

That leads me to Dulce. Several have posited that the Dulce Base acts as something of an entry point to an underground world. What lives down there? Well, the Reptoids are alleged to have arisen there for one. Is Dulce a locus point not just between humans and aliens but with other species with which we share the Earth? Did aliens have a hand (or whatever appendage) in modifying their or our development?

No. Or I should say, I'm highly skeptical of it as the research and evidence just doesn't support it. Sure is fun to play with the ideas, though. No harm in that, right? Well, mostly not.

More to come...

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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Six Million Dollar Man

I worked late into the night last night, researching the practical aspects of transhumanism.

Not really. I was watching season 3 of the classic science fiction TV series, The Six Million Dollar Man. Yes, I've written about the show before, specifically the episodes featuring the bionic Bigfoot. But believe it or not, those were the only episodes I had watched in the collection. The rest remained unseen to me since the age of five. I remembered the cryptozoological Bigfoot episodes right away and I'm still tracking down the Venus "death probe" episodes. I think there might also have been a few with a bad guy that produces robotic/bionic duplicates or something. But I digress...

So did the show hold up from childhood memory? Wellllll...let's just say that being nostalgic can oftentimes be a detriment. Let's take a look from the beginning, shall we? For the benefit of the uninitiated, I mean.

The show's intro does an excellent job of setting up the viewer with everything that she or he needs to know from the start. We see and hear an astronaut on a training mission in the upper atmosphere as he communicates back and forth with Houston. Something goes awry in his trainer craft and we hear him cry, "I can't hold her...she's breaking up...she's breaking up..." Then static. After that comes what is...for me of the most memorable narrations in TV history:

"Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive.
"Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world's first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better...stronger...faster."

The voiceover was done in character by Richard Anderson. He would play Oscar Goldman of the Office of Strategic Intelligence. This of course correctly implies that once Steve Austin (played by Lee Majors) is put back together, he will be an agent of the US government. This was initially meant to give a sort of James Bond sensibility to the character, but thankfully, Majors played Steve Austin as a reluctant and rather down to earth spy.

Bionics specialist Dr. Rudy Wells is the one responsible for rebuilding Austin into the Bionic Man. Austin got two new legs that allowed him to run at speeds in excess of 60 mph. He got one new arm, one as "strong as a bulldozer." Additionally, he was implanted with a new eye, one with infrared capabilities and a 20:1 zoom. Of course with the 1970s limited budget and capabilities for special effects, any time these bionic abilities were put into action, the show used the now famous slow motion accompanied by the "ba-na-na-na" sounds. What else were they going to do?

As I mentioned previously, I had not yet re-watched any of the episodes other than the Bigfoot ones, so I picked a show at random. "The Bionic Criminal" was its title. It was about a man named Barney Miller (no, really) who was a precursor to Steve Austin in the bionic program. The bionics messed with Miller's head and helped give him a hairtrigger temper. He made bad decisions and ended up in a reluctant life of crime. That and the descriptions of most of the other episodes make Six Million Dollar Man sound basically like a weekly cop show only with occasional bionics. Plus standard motifs of the 1970s, such as bongo and bass music beds, wide lapels, and leisure suits. I sort of remember having a brown, sort of denim, pants and jacket set as a kindergartner. I called it my "Six Million Dollar Man" suit, running in slow motion and hoping to get in a car accident so they could make me bionic for real (always hated being human, it seems.)

So will I watch the other episodes? I don't know. Don't think I can do it alone. Maybe I'll see if Amrando or Bernard or Jason or anybody else are down for it.

Sounds like there will be a motion picture update/reboot of it starring Mark Wahlberg. Why not? They remake everything else it seems. It will be called Six Billion Dollar Man.

Inflation, y'know.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

No really, are we being terraformed?

I made a crack a while back about UFOs.

It was during one of my lamentations over how we're destroying the planet. I thought that the only way the dismal decline of our environment could be cool is if we were being terraformed. Then I wondered: are there any legitimate UFO cases that might indicate Earth is being terraformed by extraterrestrials? Wellllll..."legitimate" is something of a stretch but I did find a few things. First, let me back up a bit.

"Terraforming" is the act of taking an environment hostile to life and making it hospitable. Mars has long been the subject of fanciful terraforming projects and NASA even has a few preliminary theories in the works. How would this work? Trapping heat would be a start. The accumulated heat would then melt the ice of Mars' cryosphere, letting water flow across the surface once more.

Great. In theory, anyway. That aside, is there any evidence that someone else is doing this to us? There have been a few suspected indicators. One was the discovery of three new species of bacteria in the Earth's upper atmosphere.  These organisms were so strange that at first blush, it was thought that they had to be alien. They were even named Janibacter hoylei after astronomer Fred Boyle who suspected that life actually came to Earth in microbial form on meteorites. Alas, these bacteria were found to be from right here on Earth, specifically from the soil. So no, they were not introduced by aliens in a sort of "bio-warfare" attempt at terraforming.

Next up, cattle mutilations. These have been around for a while with the stories coming to prominence with the investigations of Linda Moulton Howe in Colorado's San Luis Valley. Cattle were found with gaping cuts made into them with surgical precision. These were bloodless cuts. What fluid that did remain in the carcasses was pinkish in color and the internal organs, the ones that were left, had turned into "the consistency of peanut butter." As these mutilations often occur in conjunction with UFO sightings, one theory posited was that the alien occupants of the craft were mutilating the cows in order to measure the progress of their terraforming. My cumbersome research into Dulce (which has seen a significant number of mutilations over the years) has shown that these crimes...though awful...are very human in origin but I'm not spoiling my book.

What else is there? Admittedly I just Googled, but I'm mainly coming up with conspiracy forums and chatboards. There seems to be at least a few minds out there more than willing to entertain (or propagate) the terraforming theory, but no solid cases or sightings point to it. I did find one writer who accurately pointed out how many UFO sightings occur beneath or near water. Like Ivan Sanderson said in Invisible Residents, it would be quite an easy thing for UFO occupants to set up bases deep at the bottom of our oceans. We seldom go down there and we know next to nothing about it. If you wanted to terraform, you could probably do it from there or at least base the operation out of those environs.

Whether or not they are is a whole other matter.

Others still claim to have had remote viewing or abduction experiences that revealed to them UFO occupants have been intervening with Earth's sociological and environmental development for thousands of years. Linda Moulton Howe related the experience of one such abductee on Coast to Coast AM a few years back. While aboard the UFO, this man claims to have had telepathic contact with the aliens. He witnessed sort of a video history of them terraforming Earth and then building the monuments of Egypt. Take that for what you will.

So are UFOs really bent on turning Earth into the oxter of the galaxy if not the universe? Is that somehow going to make a more livable planet for them? I doubt it. The destruction of our environment is due solely to the proliferation of greedy, short-sighted monsters.

And we be them.

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Monday, June 1, 2015

Remember "Night Flight"?

There was a time when the label "alternative," as applied to music, art, and film, actually meant something.

This week marks an anniversary of just such an era. I was reminded of this fact by an excellent article posted at Dangerous Minds. June 5th is the day back in 1981 that Night Flight first premiered in the USA Network. First, let me set the scene.

There weren't many cable channels back in that day. Hell, MTV wouldn't even show up for a full two months after USA premiered Night Flight. But the gates were starting to open and opportunities developed to show content that was either edgier or more "out there" or both than what mainstream TV was showing. The USA Network took full advantage of this by starting a show that would air long after primetime with a vast variety of different things.

First, the viewer would be greeted by the artwork of the logo flying over a dark cityscape. Pretty cutting edge computer graphics for the time. There was no host, only a female voice both disembodied and sultry to guide us and introduce the videos. You'd then see forerunners of the types of cartoons now found on Adult Swim along with cult films and b-movies. Examples of the latter ran a wide gamut. There were German Expressionist/art films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Reefer Madness, and Andy Warhol's Dracula. I also seem to recall vignettes interspersed before the commercial breaks, showing Warhol flinging paint everywhere or something like that. There was also Dynaman, the Japanese TV series that seemed to spawn the insipid Power Rangers only the episodes were dubbed over in English with new, satiric dialogue. Shades of MST3K to come?

And there was music. A whole lot of music.

That was the whole reason I first snuck out of bed late at night to see the show. Already being a massive fan of Duran Duran, I had read that they had a video for the song "Girls On Film" that was banned everywhere on American TV. Why? Well I'm sure you can probably figure that out from the title. It was borderline pornographic for that time but is actually rather tame by today's standards. Anyway, being a devout fan and...honestly...a horny, puberty-stricken boy, I needed to see it.

Night Flight showed it. I risked awakening my parents to sneak to the living room and see it. And it was worth it. Oh was it ever.

I also received formal introduction to DEVO, who seemed to be something of a house band for Night Flight. Oh and punk. A whole lotta punk.

Just by watching it I felt that I was absorbing an "outsider" kind of vibe. The multiple varieties of art I was exposed to on Night Flight were definitely unlike anything I could have found elsewhere. It really was alternative. I was already feeling self-conscious, greatly out of step with my peers. I liked different things than they did, weird things. Seeing Night Flight made me consider that there just might be a few more people like me out there in the world. I just needed to get to someplace hip and find them.

Thank you, Night Flight.

Update: On Facebook, Jason reminded me of a few other reasons why Night Flight was so influential to people of our generation. Among the experimental films and the veritable "Best of" for Bela Lugosi, we were also introduced to the likes of Cabaret Voltaire plus this gem from Webb Wilder:

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