Monday, August 31, 2015

Nuclear bunker where films are preserved

Technology is doing amazing things these days.

And when it's not doing those things, it's preserving films in a bunker designed to withstand a nuclear assault.

I snark, I snark. When I first read the headline in Wired, I came under the false assumption that those being preserved involved titles such as Deuce Bigelow or Britney Spears' Crossroads. The Library of Congress’ Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation is more concerned with film rarities in need of preservation.

The library houses and restores over 1.4 film, television, and video recordings. Among the more rare films are older specimens that were recorded on combustible nitrate celluloid. These need to be kept in 124 different cold storage units down a hallway described thusly by one of the staff: "They kind of remind me of the solitary confinement in Papillon."

I wonder if they all communicate in filmspeak?

So what all is there? Well, besides 19th Century early examples of the medium, such as a silent film made by Thomas Edison about Frankenstein, "...the Packard holdings includes the original video cassette of Spike Lee’s 1983 NYU student master’s thesis film, Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads, the first recorded television color broadcast (also the oldest videotape in the collection), as well as the first attempted digital cinema package (basically, a hard drive) sent to the Library to be registered for copyright: Justin Bieber’s Never Say Never. (Attempted because the hard drive is encrypted and the Library can’t preserve encrypted digital material. Sorry, Biebs).
"That’s not to say that Packard scrapes the bottom the preservation barrel. As Mashon [Mike Mashon, head of the Library's Moving Image section] is quick to point out, they’ve worked on Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, Suspicion, Foreign Correspondent and Saboteur, Best Picture winners like All Quiet on the Western Front and It Happened One Night, and a slew of National Film Registry titles ranging from Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein to Yankee Doodle Dandy."

There is also a B-movie vault from Columbia Pictures, which I admittedly would love to roll around in.

As far as the technology involved, most older films are preserved chemically. If this is not possible, then the film's negative or fine-grain master is scanned and the digital file becomes the archival copy. There are even protocols for handling audio files, such as recordings of old radio programs.

"Mashon says most of the audio files the Library has digitized are immediately available because they’re so small. Video files are larger so Packard uses a cache system. That’s actually what the busy robotic arm is up to—grabbing various tapes where Quicktime files reside, moving them into a drive, and sending the file over to the spinning disk server. Once there, it travels through the fiber optic cable and lands in a cache up there where the researcher alerted it arrival.

"Total wait time? Three minutes."

Most interesting to me is the actual location of the collection. The "Packard campus" as it is called, is inside Mount Pony in Culpeper, Virginia. The facility was originally intended to be a "money bunker" in the event of a nuclear war. The Federal Reserve stored billions of dollars in vaults at the installation, vaults that were built to withstand both the blasts and the radiation of nuclear weapons. Once the dust settled, the money could be taken from the bunker and the U.S. economy spurred back into action (hopefully). When the Cold War came to an end and the need for such an installation (thankfully) ended with it, private investors took up the property and donated it to the Library of Congress.

It's not tough for me to imagine Bernard in this campus/bunker/film library, waiting for nuclear war to be his best friend. As the (presumably) Russian warheads rained down on the nation and mushroom clouds and firestorm helixes sweep across the land, he would skip gleefully to the vault, procuring the digitally-preserved copy of Tank, starring James Garner. Maybe even Clint Eastwood in The Gauntlet. Oh why stop there? Deep in the cool, cool bunker, there would be no one to disturb his viewing. Dare I say? ALL seasons of The A-Team? In one sitting? It would be a full film buffet.

Until he finds out that the EMP wave from all the nukes rendered the playback devices inoperable.

"That's not fair. That's not fair at all. There was time now..."

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Katrina +10: how climate change deniers have it very wrong

Never too early for Science Friday.

Likewise, it's never too early to talk climate change. More like "too late" in our case.

This month, many will be marking the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans. We still call it "the storm," "the deluge," or just "Katrina," but that doesn't quite get at what actually happened. That region of the Gulf was hit by climate change. Pure and simple. Not convinced? Well keep watching, because we're likely to see many more hurricanes of that level occur. Ten times more likely, in fact.

That's right folks. Skip Disney for any kind of vision of the future. Just look at the 2005 footage of a drowned New Orleans to get a more accurate picture of what lies ahead of us. Temperatures are climbing, sea levels are rising and warming, and that's quite a concoction for future hurricanes. Warm air holds more moisture and therefore provides these storms with more energy and a higher sea level just provides that much more water to whip around.

Hell, we might find ourselves wishing for a storm more on Katrina's level.

But we're ready for it, right? At least New Orleans should be, shouldn't it? Well, an article appeared in Wired today proclaiming, "No one is ready for the next Katrina." This isn't just an issue for New Orleans. The United States is a coastal civilization as such is vulnerable to one of these storms, to say nothing of an average four foot rise in sea level. Tl;dr...if you live on a coast, this is going to be an issue for you.

It's no surprise we're not ready. In truth, we're not all that much further along in our attitudes towards climate change. Somehow, there's still a debate over it, even though 97% of climate scientists are in agreement: climate change is a reality and humans are causing it. Wait, just found this. Turns out that 97% figure is totally inaccurate just as the deniers insist. The number is actually 99.9%.

“It’s now a ruling paradigm, as much an accepted fact in climate science as plate tectonics is in geology and evolution is in biology,” said James Powell, director of the National Physical Sciences Consortium. “It’s 99.9% plus."

Powell arrived at this fact by going over more than 24,000 peer-reviewed papers on the subject of climate change. Of that number, only five papers denied its existence. What's more, papers written by deniers typically have one author attributed to them. The majority of the papers in the other massive pile have multiple authors, as many as five is not uncommon. Hence, why the percentage of consensus is 99.9.

And yet we still hear cries of "hoax!" and "conspiracy!" In the MSNBC video at the above link, Powell gave a response to those allegations that is both near and dear to my heart:

"Attend a faculty meeting," he said. "Try getting 99% of them to agree on anything."

I know it's a tired phrase, but the next megastorm really is a question of "when," not "if."

Normally, it takes a massive disaster for us to sit up and take notice. You would think that the deaths of thousands of people in 2005 would have jolted us into action to do something about the environment.

Oh wait, I was only half right. I guess it will take the deaths of thousands of white people.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Will robots take our jobs or just be know-it-alls?

We sure love our dystopias.

Look at our current popular culture. They're everywhere. Of particular concern, it would seem, are robots. I've seen any number of "Are robots going to take your job?" articles online in recent months. You can add last Wednesday night's Coast to Coast AM to that pile. The guest was Sir Charles Shults. No, not the guy who created Peanuts (although that would be quite the trick, and since it would involve a seance, not outside the realm of C2C. But I digress...) but a developer of aerospace defense systems and robotics.

He is also selling his book, A Fossil Hunter's Guide to Mars on his website. I present that without comment.

Anyway, Shults explained how many fear that robotics will eventually advance to the point where they will take over most available jobs (yes, almost any job). In time, they might take us over as well.  "If you build a machine that's smart enough to clean up after you, maybe it'll realize it doesn't want to do those jobs just as you don't," he said. "And if you have a machine that's perhaps smarter than a human being, how do you know whose interests it's acting in?"

Interesting point. How do you hem in a robot's self interest? Then again, what available methods are there for doing the same to a human?

Shults invoked the popular phrase "Pandora's Box" just as Musk and Hawking have. I don't disagree with that line of thinking. Developments such as cybernetics and robotics are very much like achieving knowledge of nuclear energy. Once it's discovered, it's out there. There's no "putting the genii back in the bottle" to use another tired analogy. I just fear that we are employing much like a "slippery slope" logical fallacy to new developments. An obvious tactic may be, just as Shults suggests, to test these robotic systems out in a "Sand Box," and evaluate how they interact with humans.

Machines that are smarter than us. This may indeed lead to the dawn of a dystopia but not for the reasons we fear. Not the "robot overlords" scenario or "they've taken all of our jobs" (we have always seemed to find new jobs for people) or finding they have absquatulated with our humanity, but rather I'm envisioning robot know-it-alls. They are omnipresent, in our homes and workplaces. They are there to serve but when we try to do something, they tell us we're doing it wrong. Perhaps more to the point, they would tell us to stop because they know how to do it better. It would be like "that one guy you know" who is in a constant race of one-upmanship with you. Yeah, we all have somebody like that, don't we? Anyway, such an existence would be unbearable for many reasons, not the least of which being I would feel lied to by Robotech.

I might be on to a science fiction story here...or at least part of one.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

David Lynch's "The Alphabet"

I have already established what a fan I am of Night Flight.

Thank God it lives on through the pure grace of the interwebs. I considered for a moment blogging about one of its recent articles profiling sex star Traci Lords and how New Wave Hookers changed porn forever. It was going to be undertaken with the same motivation as my "Page Three Girl" experiments: shamelessly drive more traffic to ESE. Fortunately, another Night Flight article caught my eye and I have decided to dedicate my time to it instead, thus sparing us all the skeevy (if fun) feeling of appealing to the lowest common denominator.

Fear not, prudes everywhere.  An article on David Lynch has come to the rescue. 

Just let those sentences sink in for a moment.

Lynch is one of my favorite film directors and like his other fans, I was quite happy to hear that he is returning to direct a re-boot of his phenomenal Twin Peaks for Showtime. There were a few hiccups in the process. Lynch left the production at one point but has sense returned to the helm, the miniseries expanding now from nine to 18 episodes. The downside being that Twin Peaks will not debut until 2017. In the meantime, Night Flight has taken a moment to examine the earliest entries in Lynch's portfolio.

He is best known for mindbending but groundbreaking films such as Eraserhead and Blue Velvet, all fun stuff if you really want to freak out the more mundane in your social circles. Before either of those, Lynch was of course a film and art student at the Pennsylvanian Academy of Fine Arts. It was during his time there that he shot his first live-action film, The Alphabet, which you can see a segment of at the above link.

The film stars Peggy Lynch, David Lynch's wife at the time. She sits before the camera and chants the letters of the alphabet to a series of images of horses. At the end she dies, hemorrhaging blood all over white bed sheets. Lynch also added in a distorted tape recording of his baby daughter crying for effect. What was the inspiration for this opus? Well, it is David Lynch and I caution you against questioning genius. Just because you don't understand it doesn't mean it's not art or that the motives behind the piece are meant to be understood.

Pretentiousness aside, here's what Lynch said about it:

"Peggy’s niece was having a bad dream one night and was saying the alphabet in her sleep in a tormented way. So that’s sort of what started The Alphabet going. The rest of it was just subconscious."

Interestingly enough, we see the same sorts of themes, a crying baby, a woman at home, et. al. present in Eraserhead. The overlaying of other images upon a primary image is also something quintessentially Lynch, as beautifully seen in his directing of Duran Duran's "Unstaged" concert. Sure, many other Durannies scratched their head at the wallpapered images of spinning bicycle wheels, bouncing stuffed animals, and grilling hot dogs, but I rolled about with glee, holding my stomach and squealing, "Wonderful! Wonderful!"

All right, maybe I wasn't that undignified, but I certainly take delight in weirdness.

Twin Peaks can't get here soon enough for me.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Sustainable fusion may be near

Among other things, I wanted this blog to be a resource to science fiction writers like myself.

That's why I post odds and ends that I come across, news bits that catch my eye and that I hope can help bolster the "science" half of "science fiction." Alternative energy is certainly a major component of many such writings. To get anything from your hovercar to your mothership powered to do what it needs to do, you need power plant that's clean, compact, and efficient. Big bonuses would be if your power could be gained from a fuel that's very common, like water, and the byproducts of the burning would be totally eco-friendly. It would also be handy if the power plant device were on the small side so that it could be mobile, maybe just big enough to fit inside "the cargo hold of an airplane." Smaller than that would be even better, but hey, let's not get too crazy.

And when you write this and your agent/editor/teacher/workshop partner tells you that it's "unrealistic," tell them it may already be on its way. The famed Skunk Works at Lockheed has reported that it is close to an alternative energy device that will allow for a sustained nuclear fusion reaction to occur and match all of the benefits previously listed. Fusion is the most potent power source known. It powers the stars themselves, meaning it is (almost) limitless. Finding a way to create, sustain, and harness such power has been something of a holy grail for scientists and engineers, but work towards it has been intermittent. Ever since the Pons-Fleischmann debacle of 1989 where two researcher erroneously announced to the world that they had enacted "cold fusion," the whole thing began to seemed like a non-starter. It just wasn't practical.

That may no longer be the case.

Lockheed's Compact Fusion reactor "makes use of a magnetic bottle created by superconducting magnets to contain the temperatures that can reach hundreds of millions of degrees. This magnetic bottle can then release some of the heat so that it can be used for power generation." Fusion is brought about by mixing two hydrogen isotopes, deuterium and tritium. Those isotopes can readily be extracted from water in a simple process of electrolysis. Lockheed asserts that a 100 MW system could run on less than 20 kg of fuel. Since it's a nuclear reaction, the Compact Fusion generator does produce radioactive waste. What sets this system apart from its fission reactor cousins is that this waste is then cycled back into the reactor for reuse.  

Clean, portable, unlimited energy. Almost sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? Are you lachrymose with joy yet? Or if you're like David, you're already calling it a pipe dream. Maybe. It's also probably presumptuous to add in the descriptor "free" just yet as nothing really is. Even so, unlimited energy that is produced cheaply could not cost as much as other energy resources.

That probably scares an awful lot of powerful people.

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Friday, August 21, 2015

RIP Yvonne Craig

I wanted to take a moment to today to mark the passing of actress Yvonne Craig.

Most genre fans will know her best as Batgirl from the 1960s Batman TV series with Adam West. The show was heading into a decline before her arrival and the character of Batgirl was added to help bring in a little spark. That era of the series held several of its more ridiculous plotlines (even for Batman), but I didn't mind. I liked the addition of Batgirl because I'm one of those geeks who always liked stories with many heroes involved. It was fun to see Craig as Batgirl interact with the likes of Adam West as Batman, Burt Ward as Robin, and Neil Hamilton as Commissioner Gordon, her father on the show.

Yvonne Craig also appeared in several other TV shows and movies. A notable appearance for science fiction fans was when she played Marta, a sexy Orion slave girl on the Star Trek episode, "Whom Gods Destroy."

Her legacy will live on. As Gail Simone, writer of several comics including Batgirl, stated: "Most of the joy in my current life can be traced back in some way to seeing Yvonne Craig be amazing as Batgirl, my first real life hero."

Here's a gem. This is a 1960s PSA for "equal pay" featuring the Batman cast. All except for Adam West, who declined to be part of the spot.

She was fun to watch. She will be missed. Already missed by many, no doubt.

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Did feminizing help us evolve?

This is not meant as a political post.

It is about human evolution. It is also about transhumanism. Eventually.

But I am already steeling myself for the inevitable comments that I am trying to "pussify" America. Well, I can do little about such small-mindedness, so I press ahead anyway.

An article at Discover magazine asked why it took around 150,00 years for early homo sapiens to do "anything special" since we first evolved in Africa. The author couches this question in the context that at it is at 50,000 years ago that we see creativity arrive on the scene in the form of cave paintings. Turns out something physical was also going on with early humans at the same time. An analysis of fossils from that time period shows that the brow ridge of skulls became less prominent and facial features of males became more similar to those of females. This is termed craniofacial feminization. A possible explanation for this transformation may be lowering levels of testosterone.

This dip in testosterone levels, according to research cited in the article at any rate, would have logically meant that these early humans would have been less likely to react violently to things. In turn, this likewise means that humans began living in communities, living cooperatively, and adopting social graces. This domestication allowed for stability and therefore the growth of creativity and culture.

Comments on the article are predictable. Many saw it as "liberal nonsense," an attempt to beatify feminists, and "male bashing." That's funny. I don't really feel all that bashed by a study that says a rise of feminine abilities and traits helped bring about culture. Still, others warred on in the comments section, crying that testosterone keeps culture safe and that in the end, most women are drawn to men with greater testosterone in order to propagate the species so the research in the article is either misinterpreted, altogether incorrect, or both in this sense. I have no idea how it could be both, but no doubt someone will argue it.

This got me thinking about bigger things. What happens to gender in a posthuman society? What happens when transhumanism and cybernetics allow for one to transcend the confines of what is male and what is female? No doubt there will be throwbacks that hold on to it, but my hope is that conversations and thoughts such as those in the Discover article's comments section will be seen as even more idiotic than they already are. "There must be testosterone for how else will we fight wars? There must be estrogen for how else will we raise kids?" Transhumanism, carried to its logical zenith, would eliminate many such stereotypes as people could be whatever they wanted to be. Modified humans may lead to greater enlightenment as squabbling over the petty, basic needs demanded by biology will be rendered moot. One day perhaps our descendants will see the entire concept of "gender" as quaint and antiquated.

Could it be that we are on the cusp of another massive transition for humanity and culture? Similar to the one 50,000 years ago described in the article?

Damn I hope so.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Space: we're here to go there

Seems we're always debating what to do about space exploration.

Like most things these days, it sometimes gets polarized. Supporters are broadbrush painted as doe-eyed dreamers who just want to ride rockets. Opponents are grouchy penny-pinchers with no imagination. Of course there is much more to it than that and a string of NASA failures upon a bloated and overly expensive bureaucracy doesn't help, either. No, this is one rare moment where I really embrace the private sector as a means to open up space to humanity. It gets even easier to do that when there are guys like Rick Tumlinson around to lead the way.

I caught an interview with him on Singularity 1on1 and was duly impressed. Who is Rick Tumlinson? Well, here's his answer to that question: "Rick Tumlinson is the descendent of pioneers who wants to create the future where pioneers go out into the solar system beyond the Earth. The whole reason that I exist is to ensure that this species and the life of the Earth expands into the universe."


His biggest dream, he says, would be to see space colonization be "an irreversible thing" in his lifetime. Meaning, people who are living permanently off Earth. Their home is the Moon, Mars, or what he calls "free space."

Tumlinson has quite an impressive CV to go along with that ambition. Tumlinson has been a founding and collaborating member of such space projects as Space Frontier Foundation, MirCorp, Deep Space Industries, and many other organizations that are eagerly embracing the opportunities awaiting us in space. Like the subject of the previous blog post, Tumlinson also was inspired to pursue space exploration, at least in part, by Timothy Leary. In short, Rick Tumlinson knows what he's talking about.

"Oh waahhhh but space costs too much. And we have so many problems here on Earth already."

Listen to the interview. Rick Tumlinson explains how the costs of space programs got insanely out of control under the old governmental schema, something established and reinforced by the mega success of the Apollo program. The success was there but then there was never any new, clear goal. This created a system resistant to new proposals of the kind Elon Musk offers. He also succinctly addresses the straw man argument of "worldly problems" and why this does not in any way mean an end to eleemosynary efforts. Oh yeah, he also has a great take on the Fermi Paradox (why we haven't found aliens).

The interview is nearly two hours long. So while I highly recommend you give it a listen, you might want to download it and get to at your leisure or perhaps even save it for your commute. Here's another favorite quote from it:

“The reason we go to new places, the reason we do new things is because we are dissatisfied with the way things are. If we accept the way things are, then why ever do anything new?!”


Sure, privately-funded space exploration is bound to experience it's share of problems. It already has. But it is clear that nothing can go forward under the bloated, dead whale that is the NASA system. Great. That got us here. Now what? Whatever organizations like SpaceX and individuals like Musk, Branson, and Tumlinson come up with has got to be better than what we're currently doing.

Which is next to nothing.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Animated art from household fluids

To my mind, this is what art would look like in a cyberpunk expanse.

But it doesn't seem to have started out that way. While it is video art, it is not digital. At least not in its conceptual form. It was brought into being in decidedly non-cyberpunk milieu: a stoneware candle dish from Ikea containing a mixed kaleidoscope of paints, dish soap, oil, and glitter. Over the course of two days, this mixture was filmed as the fluid was festinated into motion by a shaking of a table or breeze from an air piston. The results were strikingly organic.

The movement of the mixed fluid begins to resemble an organism in mitosis or other such movement. The metallics of the glitter when brought into collision with the iridescent paints and soaps, all of differing densities, produces a hypnotic, hallucinatory effect, like one is swimming through a lava lamp. I stole that simile and with good reason. It's how the artist described the intended effect.

Ruslan Khasanov is said artist. The video/animated GIF vision is titled Odyssey. While I'm sure he probably did not intend a "cyberpunk" work, the outcome conjures that response from me. Plus he has all the right inspirations for it. At Wired, Khasanov said he "thinks Timothy Leary is a genius and Carlos Castaneda turned him on to lucid dreaming." It's easy to see that in the end result that is Odyssey.

Perhaps Khasanov would be surprised at my interpretation. After all, the colors are bright and there is a lively sense of being "at play" within the pieces. Nevertheless, I cannot, for whatever reason, keep from envisioning this art being projected writ large, its writhing "organisms" moving at the whim of chaotic systems upon massive videoscreens in the Sprawl-like setting of William Gibson. No, probably weirder than that. More like the cyberpunk of Rudy Rucker.

I can just see it. These "lava lamp life forms," projected on the sides of city buildings, gray populace watching them move and tumble. Taking form, breaking apart, amassing once more, then yearning to break free from the video and join us as intellectual equals.

Either that or it's just pretty to look at.

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Monday, August 17, 2015

Buildings arise in an instant

Short post tonight due to time constraints, but it's a continuation of my budding interest in architecture.

This is a collection of time-lapsed video of skyscrapers and other modern structures undergoing assembly. Of particular interest are the Al-Hamra Tower in Kuwait City, the Luxor in Las Vegas, and One World Trade Center in New York City. Oh yeah, there's that stupid golf ball thing at Disney's Epcot, too. Like organic decay in reverse, you see the structures go from the skeletal frames of bare steel girders, to adding "flesh," and then ultimately the design and shape becomes fully realized.

It does rather make me wonder about design and construction. While these videos are obviously greatly sped up, the buildings involved still underwent rapid assembly. As someone pointed out in the comments, that compressed time frame may be due to parts of the building being pre-assembled in a modular fashion and then added to the whole once on site. Still, I have to wonder. Next time I'm in a tall building, I'm going to be thinking about how fast it went up and just how many mistakes might have been made in the haste. I mean that as no brickbat towards architects and construction workers, rather against corporate greed and rushed timetables.

Also in the comments section is a nifty time-lapse of U2 building the stage for their 360 tour. While it didn't do much for me as a musical presentation, the design was impressive.

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Friday, August 14, 2015

No, there is no comet hitting the Earth next month

Time now again for Science Friday.

Or in this case, perhaps "pseudoscience Friday."

All this time I thought that climate change was going to be what does us in for good. Turns out we could have been spewing all the CO2 into the atmosphere that we wanted because nothing was going to make any difference. Because next month, it's all coming to an end. That is if the posts I keep seeing on Facebook have any validity and...spoiler alert...they don't.

Here's what I'm talking about: I've been seeing plenty of links on Facebook which state that in September of 2015, we will have an Extinction Level Event as a comet will impact the Earth, unleashing cosmic destruction, to paraphrase Thundarr the Barbarian. That's right. Death from space. Didn't you know that? I guess you don't because NASA has been concealing this all along or so they say. That is if the linked article by David Big is accurate. And that's a BIG "if."

The specific window for the comet hit is September 15th-28th. The estimated impact area will be somewhere off the coasts of Venezuela and Brazil, bringing about massive tsunamis along with an ash cloud. Great. That and somehow "they" have managed to keep NASA's Near Earth Object monitors quiet about the whole thing. I suppose this is to avoid mass panic in the coming days as we all face the inevitable as the corporate and political elite go on to survive in their massive and no doubt luxurious underground shelters.

But wait! There's more! The recent Jade Helm exercises were meant as a dress rehearsal, preparing for martial law to take place after the comet disaster. Of course if you ask me, I can't imagine there would be much left for the "secret government" to lord over after such a comet strike. Are we doing anything about this? Anything at all? Have Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck been called to fly up to the three-mile-wide rock and blow it up? Maybe. What the article does say is that the nuclear powers of the world have been test firing their missiles so that as the comet approaches, we might be able to unload every silo at it in hopes of breaking it apart enough and mitigating the damage.

There are videos attached at the link. They spewed burbles of biblical gobbledygook and in the end really just seemed like cartoons only with bad animation.

Is any of this correct? Well in a way, yeah. A hit from a comet of such size would indeed churn out destruction far worse than what even nuclear war could dish out. What is wrong with these claims? So much. First of all, if such a comet were approaching the Earth, the average person would see it. It would be pretty bright in the sky and quite difficult for even the most adept disinformationist and cover-up artist to conceal. That and the space science involved here is This is not happening. I've sent an email to Phil Plait who runs the Bad Astronomy blog for Slate in hopes that he will cover this end of things in greater depth, no doubt doing a far better job than I could.

Still, there really is bad news. You know all those problems and responsibilities that you have? You're still on the hook for them.

That and climate change is still a problem.

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

One media to rule them all

While a millennial might not think so, I did grow up around quite a bit of technology.

In 1984, I remember my mother making a comment. By that time we had both a home computer and a VCR. She said, "seems there should be a way we could use those two together." Have one technological device work in tandem with the other to make things easier. Made sense. But in the ensuing years, it just never seemed practical. That is until all the talk began of interconnectivity, "smart houses," and "the Internet of things." Increased machine-to-machine communication, "smart" objects, on and on until one might argue there is one big integrated technology. Turns out Mom was about 30 years or so ahead of her time.

A recent guest on Coast to Coast AM has made me wonder about moving not just from an integrated "Internet of things" but an "Internet of single media."

Lauren Weinstein is an expert in technology and security. On the program, she mentioned how mobile devices have, of course, allowed for increased connectivity for almost everyone. Mobiles have also altered the way people watch TV. Television is no longer television as we once knew it as more and more people watch content on the go or/also later than it originally airs. Hence the rise of straight to Netflix programming and the like. Advertising dollars are of course following this trend. There are few if any shows left that don't carry Twitter hashtags, web links, and Facebook addresses with them. This even goes for news programming. Internet and TV are essentially one medium now and that was where incessant efforts are being made to reach the consumer. I imagine it won't be long before more ad dollars are being spent on the Internet than any other medium...if it hasn't happened already.

It's not the sort of news I keep up with.

I don't know how I feel about this. I know I'm always harping about the future and this merging of technologies should be exciting. Somehow, when it's couched in this way, it just leaves me feeling cold. Yeah, I know that consumerism drives most everything forward and that in essence, I'm a consumer too. It sounds so cheap, though. I'd like to think I'm much more than that and if we as a species are going to evolve, the whole idea of capital "consumerism" needs to be left far in the rear view mirror. I also can't help but feel smirking disdain when I'm watching CNN or another news source cover a developing event and they provide hashtags so that the viewer (no, I guess we're really "the consumer") can tweet or chat live over the plane crash or whatever it is that is befalling people. It just comes off as cheap and shallow.

Of course technology has amazing benefits and watching the Internet and television merge into one single yet all new medium is rather exciting.

But I'd like to think it can be more than just new and efficient channels for marketers to barrage me with sales for things I neither want nor need.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

"Alien metal"

No, that's not my image. Contact me if you want it removed.

I got into a discussion on a Facebook UFO page.

It was regarding my recent post about the Yukon UFO. I had several proponents of the ExtraTerrestrial Hypothesis (ETH) pitching their arguments at me. While I certainly concede that the ETH is one possibility, I find myself falling much more in line with Jacques Vallee and Mac Tonnies. Nevertheless, the robust-yet-respectful debate spurred my thinking and made me "run home to mama" in a certain intellectual and admittedly mellifluous sense. Just about anyone who develops an interest in UFO phenomena starts out with an "alien spacecraft" mindset. I know that I certainly did.

So I've been playing a few games of "what if." What if the ETH is the ultimate answer? What other truths would therefore have to follow? That brought on many considerations. One of the more basic one is that they must, obviously, be arriving here and flying through our skies in spacecraft. What type of material composes these craft? Metal? If so, is it metal we're familiar with? What would it have to be like and what...if any...evidence do we have to go on to make this determination? This is a whole lot of conjecture and in the end might just be an academic exercise, but I'm enjoying it just the same.

One immediate place to start would be with the Roswell wreckage. Purported witnesses, such as Major Jesse Marcel, described the metallic debris as "bits of metallic foil, that looked like, but was not, aluminum, for no matter how often one crumpled it, it regained its original shape again.  Besides that, they were indestructible, even with a sledgehammer." Other witnesses testify that the metal was also subjected to flame and other punishments but all to no avail. The alien metal could not even be blemished. This would indicate a "memory metal" that although thin, has a high degree of durability. Philip J. Corso also claimed to have handled this metal, saying it had a "supertenacity."

The former Soviet Union had its own version of Roswell, an incident that likewise is said to have left behind metal fragments. The location was Dalnegorsk and the case is often referred to as the Height 611 UFO incident. Residents of the aforementioned town watched a red orb descend silently from the sky until coming to rest atop a local peak labeled Height 611. Once investigators reached the top of 611, they found silvery drops of metal upon the rocks as well as many black, glassy beads. Like substances found at Roswell, this metal could also withstand great punishments when subjected to acid and high heat. The composition of the material was elements you could find right here on Earth. There is one interesting point, however, that is if online sources can be trusted (and we know how THAT goes). When the samples were heated in a vacuum, elements such as silver and zinc disappeared while others such as molybdenum appeared.

One must also consider the case of Rendlesham Forest. Yes, yes, I know. Right now there are several UFO aficionados screaming "RendleSHAM! RendleSHAAAAAMMM!!!!!" I was once enraptured by the case and have since been given pause to wonder. I have decided to keep my examination to the original claims of 1980 and if we're playing "what if?" with alien metals, then I say we must consider the case of someone who claims to have touched an actual craft. That man's name is Jim Penniston. As one of the Air Force personnel on the scene, Penniston asserts that he witnessed a black, triangular-shaped UFO that had landed in a clearing. He placed his hand to its hull and this is how he described the surface:

"Well, I think the fabric or the shell was -- I guess the best description would be a very smooth opaque, like black glass. Even though at a distance, it appeared metallic. It made no sense, once I was up there (close to it) that it was more like black glass. I'm not sure -- I was pretty confused at that point."

That sounds like it might hold similarities to what was found at Dalnegorsk. From the description, I imagine it feeling like obsidian rock to the fingertips. Fairly exotic.  But then it would have to be, eh? It traveled the interstellar void intact would high speed. The metal must therefore have characteristics and composition beyond our ability to design or manufacture.

Then again, we may need to pause on that latter point. Plenty of conspiracy theorists (and Corso's book) maintain that the recovered metals were reverse engineered and then seeded into the military industrial complex. What did we make out of it? Do we have our own exotic aircraft kept under wraps? There is one case that might dovetail with such an assertion.

It is called the Cash-Landrum incident. Two women and a little boy were in a car heading home in Texas back in 1980 (at about the same time as the Rendelsham encounter. Coincidence? Yeah, probably. But I digress...) These people witnessed a glowing, diamond-shaped UFO surrounded by military helicopters. Though the glare from the object was bright, its body appeared to be black and metallic. Did these witnesses see a test of an aircraft made out of recovered alien metal? Whatever it was, the two adults who witnessed the UFO developed (what seemed to be at the time but is now contested) symptoms of acute radiation sickness and perpetual skin problems.

Which got me thinking. Has anyone ever openly filed a health claim due to the handling of metal recovered from a UFO? I had heard that one of the Air Force personnel in the Rendlesham case had done just that, but I'm still looking. Such a claim might constitute decent evidence, even if tangential. Of course if the metal itself could ever be openly verified as "not of earthly manufacture," well that would be the ultimate. I know that there are those who have claimed to have done just that. My response to such assertions is always the same: "then I'm sure you will have no problem having it validated by scientific peer review."

This is just one installment in my musings on the ETH. More to come.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Zoltan Istvan: transhumanism to save humans in a dying world

This is one of those nights where I wish I was already transhuman.

Been a long day as the semester is kicking off. I am strained and fatigued to say the very least. But I still have enough energy in the reserves to give you a blog post. Zoltan Istvan, 2016 candidate for president on the Transhumanist Party ticket (it's rather historic and all you psephologists out there would do well to take note), has posted a new article that details how new technologies could help humanity to survive in an environment that we've pretty much broken.

It's nothing new. You've read my long series of posts that describe how we'll all be swinging in the breeze any year now due to our short-sightedness and greed. Many speculate that we have little choice left but to plan for the worst case scenario in terms of climate change as there may be no turning back. As it is with so many other instances, survival may depend upon adaptation. So how do we adapt the human form to an increasingly hostile environment? Itsvan pitches four possible adaptations:

-Immunotherapy. Between toxic chemicals and radioactive contamination, cancer may one day become even more of an issue that it already is. Immunotherapy is one solution. This entails utilizing the body's own defense systems to attack cancer cells and disrupt the spread, thus alleviating the "burn the village to save the village" approach of chemotherapy.

-Bionic organs. Failing organs can one day have cybernetic replacements. We already have 3D-printed hearts and eventually livers that right are now undergoing test runs. Artificial arteries and even artificial blood are both in the queue for development. Itsvan points out how one of the most critical threats to a deteriorating environment is the air that we breathe. Cybernetic lungs with intricate filters could go a long way in that department.
Of course I began to wonder. Why stop there? Why not replace all of the soft points and liabilities and dependencies that we have? I mean, evolve. I thought that was the goal? Zoltan Istvan, of course, is way ahead of me.

-Food alternatives. "Frankly, I think doing away permanently with caloric intake should probably be a goal of all humanity," says Istvan. "Since it presents massive hassle from an evolutionary point of view. Millions of people die worldwide every year from food poisoning, digestive issues, and especially malnutrition. The fewer organs we need (including our bowels) the better off we’ll be, and not needing food or water would dramatically lesson our reliance on the environment."
I'll say. I could do without eating. Plus, just to echo what he said, the fewer biological liabilities we have the better off we will be. While that's wonderful to think about and should be a goal for the transhumanist movement, it's a fair ways off. In the meantime, developing alternative foods such as cloned meats and corn-based products such as Soylent that are dense with nutrition might make for good stopgaps. In a hostile environment, food production will only get trickier.

-Wearable tech. There are plenty of ways to keep ourselves warm, but staying cool in an increasingly warming world is difficult. Agencies such as ClimaWear are designing smart clothes that will regulate body temperature at a comfortable level, even in a heatwave. As we become more cybernetic and interface directly with machines, these systems should one day be connected with our nervous systems and handle the issue from the inside. Then again, you know me. I'm all for going for "the full monty" when it comes to total body prosthesis.

Sound crazy? Ask yourself that when you're trying to get by in an overpopulated world that is 20 degrees hotter than it should be.

Of course we could always try things the Man Plus way.

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Monday, August 10, 2015

Nagel, Art, and Duran Duran

Today is officially Duran Duran Appreciation Day.

Yes, it's a real thing. Although one might argue that for fans, every day is an appreciation day as I've certainly demonstrated with numerous posts over the years. While I am eagerly anticipating the release of the band's new record Paper Gods, I thought that today I would take a different tack with a tribute post, one that looks at a subject integral to the band.


Specifically, the art of Patrick Nagel. In the collective public consciousness, a mention of the name Duran Duran might very well conjure up this image:

That is the cover to the band's 1982 landmark album, Rio. The cover art is by Patrick Nagel and few artistic styles are more distinctive. A painter and an illustrator, Nagel's work may suggest a basic comparison with Japanese woodblock prints, but there is the far heavier influence of Art Deco present on the canvas. The images themselves were somewhat reductionist in style. Nagel pared his subjects down to minimal lines and clear, open space. Yes, it's a definitively 1980s style. As a matter of fact, if you were shooting a film or still photo and wanted to signify that the scene was in that decade, having a Nagel on the wall of a room wouldn't be a bad way to add the signature. But oh do I miss the clean style.

In terms of subjects, it's obvious that Nagel loved women. Most of his portraits are of women and in fact Nagel had already done a fair portfolio of work for Playboy just before Duran Duran approached him for the Rio cover. Nearly all of his women bore full, raven manes of hair, pointed noses, and facial expressions indicating an aloofness, a seduction, and a smoldering intelligence. They were strong and realized beings. They also had androgynous qualities to them in the classical Greek sense.

Androgyny is something of a mondegreen among Americans. It can be misinterpreted as a mitigation of the masculine or as a proposed solution (however misguided) to sexism. It is, as I understand it, meant as an embodiment of the best qualities of both gender worlds. That's really what Duran Duran were all about in many ways and that's why there were few better visual representations of this than Nagel. For reasons similar, it's also why writer Neil Gaiman chose Nagel portraits as his inspiration for the entity Desire in his Sandman comics. Desire is, after all, a gender neutral state.

Nagel died an untimely death at age 38 a mere two years after the release of Rio. He leaves behind a collection of work that is still sought after and is forever intertwined with the legacy of Duran Duran. To further that point, take a look at this fan-rendering of Nick Rhodes:

Found these images in a search. I had not seen them before and yet I already count them among my Nagel favorites.

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Friday, August 7, 2015

Why I've quit reading comics

I should probably amend that headline statement about comic books.

Yes, that was a bit of clickbait but we've all got to work the marketing angle sometimes. I have quit reading new comics. Even more specifically, new ones from the Big Two.

This has been coming on for a while now with me. In truth, it has been festering since the early days of "event" comics, crossover summers of Infinity Armageddon War of the Gods buy every comic in the chiliad we publish to know what's going on. That culminated in last decade's Final Infinite Crisis Flashpoint Convergence Age of Archie. Everything changes! Nothing will ever be the same! All new! All different! The Watcher had his eyes plucked out by Thor's sister and Bucky has his own reality show!

I know I'm not alone in complaining about this. Fans have bemoaned for years the fact that the suits in marketing so often seem to be at the helm of the publishers and not the creators. More than that though, it's the other changes that have gotten to me. DC Comics launched their "New 52," entirely rebooting their universe. Marvel Comics announced that all of their stories are now officially taking place "post 9/11," which I can only assume means that the Marvel universe only came into being after that moment in time. Everything has changed to the point where I can barely recognize it. The characters used to be people with ideals that I tried to emulate in an effort to help make the world a better place. In their present incarnations, they are mystery to me and I can find no way to relate to them. I can only come to the conclusion that these comics are no longer being written for this lifelong fan.

And that's ok.

I understand that we live in a new world and that things change. Things need to change or else they get boring. Things need to change so they can appeal to younger readers and bring new fans into the fold, thereby keeping the medium alive. So it's ok with me that Clark Kent is a blogger and has a bit of snark to his attitude. It's ok that Batman has changed in ways that I can't quite understand. Maybe someone younger than I am does and can identify with it. Hell, there are probably readers out there for whom these titles will become their own definitive renditions of these characters.

I'm just not going to be  reading it.

More troublesome for me is the issue of tone and content. Gotten pretty dark out there in comics. Everybody seems to need to be Mr. Edgy McEdgerson. I'm well aware of how awful our world can be. I know it's full of crime, divorce, unemployment, torture, animal abuse, starvation, and a dying environment. True, the greatest examples of the medium often took on such social ills. They were great stories too. They were not, however, omnipresent. For me, comics used to provide an escape from what a swirling toilet the world can be. Now, they're a constant reminder if it.

Look, if I want entertainment "ripped from today's headlines," I'll watch Law and Order reruns.

This is not to say that there have not been real gems among the reboots. In the New 52, I have enjoyed such titles as Aquaman and Green Arrow. Over at Marvel, Matt Fraction's work on Hawkeye has been exceptional. Most of it, however, just isn't for me.

I'm also not trying to dissuade anyone from partaking in the new stuff. If it still gets you off to make weekly pilgrimages to the comic book store for your Marvel or DC jones, have at it and have a happy. I'm just not doing it anymore. 

Thankfully, I still have all of my old comics and they're not going anywhere. I'm also happy that the cool old stuff is coming out more and more in collected editions. Plus I can get those from Amazon and avoid the store entirely. So I hereby announce my retirement from first run comics from the Big Two. After almost 40 years, I'm out. I'm done.

Wait.  This just in...

Sounds like Dan Didio will be experimenting with something called "open continuity" at DC. As I understand it (and I might be wrong), this means the following: have a favorite incarnation of the DC universe? It still exists. Alternate timelines and dimensions and whatnot. Will this be enough to get me to buy first run comics again? I'll snoop around on sites like Newsarama and Bleeding Cool and make a decision.

But I wouldn't hold your breath for a positive answer.

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Thursday, August 6, 2015

King Kong 1976

I am aware that this is not really science fiction, but I want to blog about it all the same.

When I as but a very wee lad in the late 1970s, I loved just about anything that had a giant monster in it. If a film featured two grown men in rubbery suits slogging it out with each other over a cheap model likeness of a city, then chances are I was there. Destroy All Monsters was a close second only to Star Wars in the rankings of "favorite films." I loved it all and King Kong was no exception.

I was introduced to the giant ape in a library book on monsters and science fiction films as it detailed the 1933 classic in all of its stop motion glory. I found a piece of cardboard packing material that would stand up in a tri-fold manner. I colored one side of it to look like a massive jungle backdrop and the other a generic city such as New York (which was so often the de facto "city" in these films.) This way I could play out the expedition to find Kong on Skull Island, his battle with dinosaurs, and the bringing him back to the city.

Interestingly enough, I found that these dual backdrops could stand in for any number of films of this ilk.

Naturally, I really wanted to see the Dino de Laurentiis remake of King Kong in 1976. I didn't get to see it in a theater but I did catch it on TV not long after. Then, just one week ago, I saw it again on cable. You know what? I have a most unpopular opinion on the film.

I like it.

Always have. Always will. It's a good remake that keeps the spirit of the original King Kong constantly in mind. The film features Jeff Bridges as Jack Prescott, a primatologist from Princeton University. Bridges is damn good in just about anything he does and this is no exception. He stows away on an oil company expedition to the South Pacific. Leading this expedition is Charles Grodin, who plays the heartless and bufoonish oil exec caricature to the hilarious hilt. In a deus ex machina of the ridiculous kind, the ship carrying this expedition comes upon an actress named Dwan, played by a very sexy Jessica Lange who does her best Marilyn in her film debut. Rene Auberjonois and Ed Lauter fill out the ballast.

The expedition is sailing to an island in the South Pacific where they hope to make a big score in oil. Jack Prescott knows better. What they find is a population of primal natives who have belt a gigantic wall to protect themselves from...something. In keeping with the original, these natives kidnap Dwan and offer her as sacrifice to the mighty Kong. Anyway, the oil guys get Dwan back, capture Kong, and things pretty much end as you'd expect in New York City as beauty fells the twitterpated beast.

Critics hated this movie. While I agree that there is sometimes more cheese here than what you'd find on your average nacho plate, I still really enjoy this version. The special effects are rough in places, but the work of Rick Baker and Carlo Rambaldi was still innovative for the times. I knew as a kid that the close ups of Dwan in Kong's hands were done with gigantic, robotic ape arms, but honestly that enthralled me all the more. More to the point, I now appreciate this film for the polysemy of Kong.

Yes, there's quite a bit of fruity astrology, New Age hoo-hah, and general psychobabble from Dwan that place this film squarely in the 1970s, but there is such a a social conscience present. This film raises questions about the environment, greedy oil corporations, and animal rights. There are also issues of imperialism and nationalism. Check out what Bridges' character says about the island natives after Kong is taken from them:

"He was the mystery and the magic in their lives. In a year, that'll be an island of burnt-out drunks."

Heavy. A far greater effort overall than that godawful abortion of a remake from Peter Jackson back whenever that was. I've blocked it out of memory to be honest with you. Of all the incarnations of Kong, this one is the only version that really made me feel anything for the creature. The ending is genuinely heartbreaking and I still can't bear it. I can watch it up to a point as its fun to see a "what if" as in New York City responding to a giant ape on the loose, but I can't handle the end. You might not either if you have any PTSD remaining from 9/11 and the World Trade Center. I don't, but you might.

If I have any criticism its that the movie loses the dinosaurs present in the original. That's understandable. There's no way the technology or the budget existed for such effects back in the 1970s, plus if you've found dinosaurs, why stop with Kong? Make the island into your own theme park just like the other movie tried to do. Would probably work out just as well as Kong in New York City.

So as a brilliant philosopher recently said, haters are gonna hate. I'll always dig this one.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Return of the Carolina Lizard Man

One of my favorite cryptids is back in the news.

For the uninitiated, "cryptid" is derived from the word "cryptozoology," the study of "hidden animals," creatures rumored to exist but lacking enough solid evidence to convince conventional science. That is unless you count fuzzy photos and plaster footprint casts as conclusive evidence. For whatever reason, news of one cryptid back in my late teen years really resonated with me. It was this time of year in 1988 when when reports first came in of a "lizard man" in South Carolina. A young man named Christopher Davis stopped with a flat tire in Scape Ore Swamp. As he finished changing the tire, he turned around to see a seven foot tall, bipedal, reptilian creature with red eyes, green skin, and three fingered hands running towards him.

Naturally, Davis was fast to get back in the car and drive off. That is when he claims the Lizard Man jumped onto the roof of his car. Like in a movie, Davis swerved the car from side to side until the Lizard Man fell off and rolled back into the swamp. When Davis filed a report with authorities, deep scratches where apparent in the car's roof as well as serious damage to a side mirror. As many as 12 more witnesses then came forward, claiming that they also sighted Lizard Man in the following days. While an intriguing mystery, a Lizard Man gave South Carolina something far more valuable.

Namely festivals and merchandizing.

Now, Lizard Man is back. A woman identified only as "Sara" informed WCIV ABC News that she was leaving church with a friend and saw Lizard Man running along the tree line. She snapped a photo of the creature as exhibited above in this post. No more details of the sighting are known or have been released to my knowledge.

"My hand to God, I'm not making any of this up," Sara wrote in an email to the TV station.

Yeah, too bad that really doesn't mean anything to me, "Sara." Especially when the pic you provide is shite.

I mean, look at it. It's probably an action figure, posed in such a way as to resemble the most famous of Bigfoot photos. The rubbery hide and floppy tail can only hope to match the most lackluster of Japanese monster suits. In fact, this depiction of Lizard Man makes it look like he's doing a kick line of sorts, attracting his female witnesses before asking them to a post-Jesus-worship drink. 

Despite the obvious fakery of the photo and the sighting, the Lizard Man remains fascinating to me. The idea of it, anyway. I used to imagine that the Lizard Man was a hapless member of an alien away team, separated from his compatriots and taking refuge in a biome that at least approximated what his home planet must be like: hot, humid, wet, and dense with foliage. I suppose that a baked and arid desert might be a possibility too, but that doesn't fit with my theory, now does it? If not my theory, then my affinity for the Sleestaks on Land of the Lost.

Seriously, if the reports of encounters with Reptoids are any indication (and I'll grant you that's a BIG if), then "alien" is at least one possibility as to the nature of South Carolina's Lizard Man. Any intrepid argonauts game enough to head into the swamp and let us know?

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Monday, August 3, 2015

Facebook Files 3: Abandon all hope ye who comment here

You would be right to chastise me. 

Or at the very least admonish. 

In the past month, I've sought both civil discourse and even a little faith in humanity. Problem being, I went searching for it on the Internet. More to the damning point, I looked for it on Facebook. So you would be entirely within the warrants of justice and reason to say:

"Jon, just what the hell were you thinking?"

I know. No really, I know. Even knowing what awaits me, I just can't help but click on that "comments" link when there's an article posted on a hot button issue. I seldom learn anything new by doing so, at least not anything I really wanted to know. I'm just further convinced that there is a special kind of hell out there and it is called "the comments section." 

Here are my observations/experiences of the past month in "The Facebook Files":

-There was a particularly scathing video released regarding practices at Planned Parenthood. What the video captured was unsettling for a great many and provided a boomlet for anti-abortion activists and social conservatives. Morbidly curious, I checked a few Facebook pages to see what those on the right-handed end of spectrum were saying. Most of what was on Glenn Beck's wall was predictable, but one commenter named David caught my eye.

He wanted to know what "realistic alternatives" people would recommend for unexpected pregnancies. To their credit, many conservatives brought up adoption and proposed mechanisms to cut through the red tape of adoption as well as reduce its godawful five-figure price tag. That, as pointed out, would seem to insist that the pregnant woman carry the child to term, thereby bringing her rights into question. When this question was raised, it elicited the following responses:

"Then sterilization!"
"Make sex before marriage illegal!"
"I just don't understand. We're talking about the lives of BABIES!"

In a recent addition to the discussion, someone posted recent news that Senator Mitch McConnell, currently leading the charge against Planned Parenthood, voted in the 1990s to support fetal tissue research. 

The response on this point?

" I'm done talking to you. It's no use."
"I hope you one day let Jesus into your hard heart."

I see. Moving on.

-So there was this deal with Iran. Conservatives weren't all that happy with it. Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee compared the deal to the Holocaust, decrying President Obama as "marching Israelis to the door of the oven." Senator Tom Cotton compared Obama to Pontius Pilate. 
Apparently, negotiation and compromise is unwelcome among many conservatives, even though past Republican presidents have successfully used it to their advantage. 
The agreement has shortcomings, just as any deal would. So what does the populace have to say on Facebook and news sites?

"You liberals are so naive! The first thing Iran will do is build a nuclear weapon! The next thing they'll do is nuke Israel!"

"Just what I thought u know nothing like Obama." 

"If Iran violates this agreement, Whoopie Goldberg will expose her genitalia on Iranian TV for 15 minutes. How's that for bringing about a disaster of apocalyptic I proportions"

I see. Moving on.

-I used to belong to a political discussion group on Facebook that shall remain nameless. That's right. Used to. A recent discussion involved the points and nuances of what it means to be Libertarian. Cheeky little jackass that I am, I posted a meme to the comments section about "Libertarian snow removal" in an effort to lighten the mood. Here's the response that I received:

"Jon, if you knew anything about what being Libertarian really means, you would see how stupid that meme really is. Try reading more about libertarianism and maybe you'll come more towards the center."

I attempted to explain that the post was a joke, but the incensed commenter didn't seem too interested. So much for "uniting proponents of red, blue, and in between."

-An article appeared on the Daily Dot carrying the title: "I'm a married college graduate but I'm still forced to live at home with my parents." While the headline might seem rather whiney at first blush, it was meant to be (as I read it, anyway), an examination of the difficulties of getting by in today's economy despite optimistic views from the White House on job trends. Another enlightened soul, whom I will refer to as MM, chose to see this as an opportunity to attack the column's author on her terrible choice to pursue academic work in journalism, deriding her that she chose not to study "MARKETABLE SKILLS!!!" that would allow her and her family to live "ON HER OWN DIME!!!!"

I asked MM just what "MARKETABLE SKILLS!!!" he referred to. I'm guessing anything in business, IT, or engineering would be top tier choices. What, however, is one to do if they are not especially suited for those fields or have no interest in them? Do it anyway? I pointed out that I once worked a job solely for the paycheck, 50 hours a week to help some guy sell his widgets, and it nearly killed me. I could no longer imagine that the purpose of life was to work a job simply to survive. There must be a way for one to obtain work that both allows one to survive and is fulfilling to them as a human being. The response I received from a "Chris" whose Facebook profile identifies him as being a "conservative Republican"?

"Congrats on being a p*ssy Jon."

Yep. GOP in 2016.

-Finally, we come to the sad case of Cecil the lion. He was hunted (illegally it would seem) and killed in Zimbabwe by an unethical individual name Walter Palmer. Initially, I was quite heartened by the global outpouring of grief for Cecil and disdain for Palmer as well as others engaged in the barbaric practice of sport hunting endangered animals. The condemnation was fierce. So much so that Palmer was forced to at least temporarily close his business and go into hiding. Yet Facebook had other ideas of just what I should be outraged over rather than the senseless killing of Cecil. Even John Fugelsang, whom I usually like, got in on the act. Here's a polite smattering of the suggestions:

"Planned Parenthood butchering babies."
"ISIS killing Americans."
"Americans killed by gun violence."
"The death of Sandra Bland."

Deep breath in. Political issues are not mutually exclusive. Anger one feels over a particular issue does not discount or lessen the weight of all others. To suggest otherwise is similar to criticisms over #blacklivesmatter. "Are you saying only black lives matter?" No, of course not. There is, however, an obvious issue that needs to be addressed. Sadly, we seem to have no shortage of those so plenty of outrage to go around. I can be angry over the murder of Cecil and other living beings like him as well as see that other things are wrong. Outside of that, I'll make up my own mind as to where I should direct my outrage. Thanks.

That's been my month. If you don't mind, I'm going to take a break from the comments section for a while.

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