Monday, October 24, 2016

An appreciation: "Everybody Hurts" by R.E.M.

There is a collection of about 10-15 bands that I listen to on a regular basis.

R.E.M. is one of them.

Yes, somewhere Dorkland's Chris Helton is whining "NOSTALGIA!" but I'm okay with that.

While I enjoy the large body of R.E.M.'s work, I must admit to being lukewarm on the song "Everybody Hurts." Don't get me wrong. I appreciate what the song says and that a band like R.E.M. is saying it, but at the same time I find it to be rather simplistic. Turns out there's a reason for that. In the liner notes to the band's 1988-2003 Best Of collection, Peter Buck writes that the lyrics are simple and straightforward because the song was written for teenagers. "I've never seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the idea that high school is a portal to hell seems pretty realistic to me." Preach, brother.

Still, even though I didn't like the song, the video was striking.

It takes place at an interchange between two interstates. Traffic snarls up, as traffic tends to do, and all cars come to a stop. As the camera pans over the long line of halted cars, subtitles super up and we can read the thoughts of the occupants. Said thoughts range from the slightly humorous to the ominous to the soul-crushingly heavy:

"Please stop singing."
"There's nothing I can do."
"I don't have time." (if I translated the Spanish correctly.)
"She's gone."

This part of the video honestly did change my life, even if in just a small way. I liken it to that chestnut from Plato: "Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." It is so easy to forget that fact. Thanks to this video, I never look at being stuck in traffic the same way. Even while cursing over my fortune or worrying that I'm going to be late, I look over at other drivers and wonder what they are going through. What trials are they facing? What compunctions must they live with? How close are they to giving up?

Chances are, no one but they will ever know. And that's the truth, isn't it? We're all stuck here, trying to get through the same things.

The video ends as each of the cars' passengers get out and walk. Eventually, they disappear. It's a marvelous quota. I've often mused while stuck in traffic that such an act would be fun, a senseless "stick it to the man" gesture for trapping our lives in this roadway system that is a byproduct of that machination known as capitalism. Let's just leave these metal husks behind for "the man" to deal with because dammit, we're worth more than spending our lives in traffic so that we can go pay bills and die.

As I end so many of these blog posts: We should all be so lucky.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Face of God in a da Vinci painting?

So I hadn't heard of this conspiracy theory, even if it is about ten years old at this point.

Sure, of course I knew Leonardo da Vinci was one of the greatest artists and thinkers in human history. Thanks to Dan Brown, I'm also aware of all the alleged conspiracies da Vinci was involved with and the supposed codes within the paintings, all hiding messages from the prying eyes of the religious authorities. Or failing that, he was just quite adept at mirror effect and optical illusions. That's what I thought, but then I came across this.

In 2007 it seems, a group called The Mirror of Sacred Scriptures and Paintings World Foundation (they really need a shorter name) posited that da Vinci used the mirror writing technique to disguise mysterious faces in his art. This group claims that when viewed in mirror image, the da Vinci sketch, "The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist" reveals "the Old Testament god Jahveh who 'protects the soul of the body's vices.'"

The face of God?

Well, the mirror image at the link looks something like Darth Vader. I don't know what kind of religious statement that makes. I'm sure as heck not going to comment.

Then again, much of this reminds me of seeing faces in rocks or clouds or on Mars (yeah, I'm admittedly still mulling that one over) or in tortillas (Google it). I do not for one minute deny that that Leonardo da Vinci was a genius, both scientifically and artistically. That said, I just think these interpretations are much ado about nothing. The mind can creatively see a lot of things. 

Or in his visions, did da Vinci see God or another entity and wish to reveal its visage only to the craftiest among us? Or was it the mushrooms?

It all sounds so Terence McKenna.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Blade Runner artfully rendered in Microsoft Paint

Blade Runner is already a work of art in my opinion.

It will only be more so now thanks to MS Paint and an inspired man named David MacGowan. On his Tumblr page, MSP Blade Runner, MacGowan is reproducing one of my favorite films shot-for-shot in MS Paint. Yes, it looks crude. It reminds me of something a first grader might finger paint and then bring home for mom to pin up somewhere. That is by no means derogatory towards MacGowan. In fact I mean it in the opposite.

There is a wonderful charm in this. It reminds me of when I first attempted such artwork in a similar software program, far more years ago than I care to admit. What MacGowan is doing is weird and wonderful and I'm really rather in awe of it. I certainly would never attempt something so herculean. I would also be most apprehensive about how I handled the source material, so the man's got guts I'd say. Even with my reverence for the film, I don't know if I could hold back from going all harum-scarum into the shots and adding little extras like the Vertipod or other forms of proposed future transportation.

No I wouldn't. Just look at the rendition of the police "Spinner." It's perfect as it is.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Dulce on Ancient Aliens

So I was watching Ancient Aliens.

Don't judge.

Lo and behold, Dulce was featured. It was pretty much what you might expect. Bill Birnes was on, giving his hyperbolic best with accounts of former vents in the Archuleta Mesa area. From these vents you could hear the moans and groans of human subjects being altered and vivisected. More interesting to me were the sightings of craft as rendered by the Jicarilla Apache. As I've always said, base or no base, strange things are definitely going on and the people of the reservation deserve an answer. Not that anyone is going to give them one anytime soon, but they still deserve it.

What I liked most about the episode was how it connected Dulce to larger goings on in the whole Southwest area. As I've said before, Dulce seems like a sort of "paranormal nexus" where everything weird that could go on goes on, forming a sort of apotheosis of the strange. This is somewhat reminiscent of Point Pleasant, West Virginia in John Keel's The Mothman Prophecies. There are UFOs, cryptids, psychic phenomena, and underground worlds. Well, that last point is more pertinent to the Southwest as opposed to Keel's book, but you get the idea.

The creation mythos of the Jicarilla Apache states that their people originated in a land deep beneath the ground and then climbed to the surface. The Hopi of Arizona believe that they escaped a "storm of falling stars" with the help of "the snake people" and went to live underground. There are of course those who see that as a direct connection to the "Reptoids" said to dwell beneath the Earth's surface. The Hopi also speak of "ant people" on which I've already posted. This sort of high strangeness is ingrained in the entire Southwest area. In terms of Native American lore, Norio Hayakawa once put it to me this way: "The weird is just a part of their culture."

I've always loved the idea of underground worlds, cryptoterrestrials, and break away civilizations existing just beneath our general notice. No, the science just isn't there for any of it but I find it all fun to think about.

Sort of a bay leaf for the kooky stew that is Dulce.

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Monday, October 17, 2016

No, a UFO did not hit an airliner

I saw a UFO headline last month and I got excited.

Then I found out what The Santa Monica Observer was.

The free tabloid published a story proclaiming "Paranormal Experts Say Rare 737 Engine Blowout Due to UFO Encounter." As with most of these things, it begins with the element of truth.

Back in August, Southwest Airlines Flight 3472 was en route from New Orleans to Orlando, Florida when one of the aircraft's two engines blew out. You can see the rather harrowing photograph of it at the link. The flight was diverted to Pensacola, Florida and the passengers arrived shaken but unharmed.

The Observer reported that at least one passenger tweeted about seeing unexplained lights moving in the distance just before the incident. Other tweets reported in the Observer claimed to speak of "missing time" as passenger watches were off by four minutes. Missing time is a common attribute of abduction claims. I checked Twitter for these alleged tweets and for anything in general regarding Flight 3472, but only one tweet had anything UFO-related. It was just a YouTube video reporting missing time claims with no new information. Interestingly enough, the Observer article adds an ominous note, quoting Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz as saying there was no explosion, even though the engine had blown apart.

So did a UFO hit the plane?

Well, the quote in the Observer runs contrary to accounts in CNN of a definite explosion. Might be a minor thing, but it counts. More to the point, the NTSB has already announced its findings on the matter and you may review them at leisure. Spoiler: it wasn't a UFO that caused the blowout.

I know, I know. Conspiracy "researchers" will no doubt rant and rave, "The NTSB is gubmint! You can't trust the gubmint!" Well, in this case I'm going to. I'm tired of these junk claims mucking up the signal-to-noise ratio. Why give attention to it then? Well, I don't mean to self-aggrandize myself as an "ace researcher" by any means, but just look what I did. Mere Internet access and a spin through Google are enough to bust this claim. Then again, facts and Occam's Razor will never be enough for the conspiracy theorist.

Sadly, this all distracts from actual claims from professional pilots.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

UFO artwork

By that headline, I don't mean paintings of someone's spiritualized conception of aliens coming out of saucers.

I mean the sketches and drawings of UFO witnesses. Over at UFO Evidence, you can find a directory of such depictions. I'm currently taking a break from the monotony of grading papers and sifting through said collection.

While I am fully sympathetic to the fact that not all UFO witnesses are artists and the purpose of the gallery is not meant as a showcase or one-upmanship of artistic ability, a few of these depictions are better than others, even if for sheer entertainment value. For example, I find this sketch of a sighting in Astoria, Oregon to have a rather whimsical quality. It harks back to the days of the classic flying saucer, an era I might find deceptively simpler. Others carry a more modern sensibility, being all computer generated. Clearer depictions and I'm sure they are more helpful for investigators, but the renditions themselves are left soulless. And I don't often say that about tech art.

Of course the entries that really grab my attention carry the tag "humanoid/occupant." For example, this case from Singapore. At two-feet tall, the little guy seems kinda fun. Of course they all look cute until they whip out a probe.

Hey look. There's a section for famous, major cases. In terms of art, I especially like this depiction of the Socorro case. If UFOs are your bailiwick, you no doubt know of what I write. Pretty close to what Zammora described seeing, too. That case will actually figure in tangentially to my Dulce book.

Check out this one from Poland! It likewise has depictions of humanoid occupants, but they are far from the typical "Grays." These are space-suited with Darth Vader-like control panels over their chests. Oh and just look at the accompanying colored sketch of the craft. It's like something I would have done in grade school...only far crisper and more defined. I by no means intend that remark as an insult. What I mean is that it takes me back to happier times.

For this is not simply UFO can be art as well.


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Monday, October 10, 2016

An appreciation: "Roam" by The B-52s

A part of me has always wanted to be a music journalist.

Seems that the only way I will be able to live that out at this stage of the game is right here on the pages of ESE. So tonight I present to you, "Roam" by The B-52s.

Not only is this a fun, well-produced song by Nile Rodgers, the video is a great work of montage. Remember when videos used to be art? Sort of, anyway? At least more than they are now? Well, this video is a fine example. Just look at all the overlaid images and the blending of stock footage. It looks like Banana Republic and Pier One Imports threw up all over the screen, but the band and the director play it up for comedic effect. Speaking of the director, I was unable to find his or her name. There are earmarks of Tarsem and Gus Van Sant, but this video did not appear on either artist's CV.

Speaking of overlaid images, I remember when my friends and I saw it the first time. We had an audible and excitable gasp at the occult image that floated by in the beginning, which really isn't any big deal and likely has multiple meanings. Now, the images that would likely cause the most stir are the ancient idols and statuary pieces. I can see Giorgio barging the set right now, shouting "Aliens!"

Note the symbolism of the banana going through the bagel. Hard to miss. Also, the song's title in conjunction with the lyric "around the world" are said to have a certain sexual connotation. I'll let you Google that.

More than anything, the video is worth it for the facial expressions of Fred Schneider. As he isn't singing on this song, he is free to simply "roam" and be a goof. Of particular note is the spot at almost exactly one minute in where Fred jumps down amidst all these guys and joins them in a dance.

Gotta love that guy.

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Thursday, October 6, 2016

My encounter with the Jordans in Black

I was accosted by two Men In Black today.

They stood, blocking access to my car in the faculty parking lot. They were both roughly of the same build and height, both with beards adorning their faces.

"Professor Nichols," one of them said.

"Um...and you are???" I asked.

"Jordan," said the one on the right.

"Jordan," said the one on the left.

The Left Jordan leaned onto my car.

"You feel out of place, don't you?" he asked.

"I dunno," I said. "I subscribe to philosophical skepticism."

"Bernard is the existentialist," the Right Jordan said. "You are the literary journalist."

How does he know Bernard? Then again, who doesn't know him by reputation if nothing else.

"Tell us about your UFO sighting," Right Jordan demanded.

"I've never seen a UFO," I responded.

"Then tell us about your abduction," Right Jordan furthered.

"I've never been abducted," I answered.

"Oh yes you have," Left Jordan insisted. "Oh yes you have."

I began to fidget. Left Jordan shifted, still reclining on my car with his fingers interlaced on his stomach,

"What do you know about UFOs?" he asked.

I ran a hand through my hair.

"Well, a little, I guess," I said.

Both of the Jordans looked at one another and grinned tight grins. They nodded knowingly three times at each other,

"Lot of weird books on your office shelves," Right Jordan said. "Lot weirder ones at home, aren't there?"

"And books," Left Jordan continued.

"And you blog and you blog and you blog, don't you?" Right Jordan asked.

"About very strange things, I might add," Left Jordan said.

"And this book you're writing about Dulce Base..." Right Jordan said without really going anywhere with the thought.

"Do you like the Winter Olympics?" Left Jordan asked.

"Oh do I!" I answered, unable to contain my enthusiasm.

"You're not voting for Trump, are you, Professor Nichols?" Right Jordan asked.

Stunned silence was my only reply by this point.

"You are not of this Earth, Professor Nichols," Left Jordan said as he stood up from my car. "And we think you know that."

Both of the Jordans then began to walk away.

"We'll be in touch," Right Jordan said. "We can get coffee next time."

"And get a new car," Left Jordan said. "Saturns are discontinued."

Of course this is all satire.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

When Rick Springfield met the Hulk

I certainly would not call it a science fiction show.

I'm sure many would try, though. That classification tends to, in media culture anyway, become a sort of slush pile for any work of fiction that in any way departs from reality. In the 1970s, this would have included any of the superhero-based shows such as Wonder Woman as well as the Spider-Man and Captain America movies. The Incredible Hulk TV series got lumped in as well. That show has been on my mind as MeTV is showing it in reruns on Saturday nights.

The series departs from the comic book in many ways but that's to be expected. Not only did the limited special effects capabilities of the times hinder a full rendition, but the very medium of television means you're going to get something different than the comic books. That's just how it is. So in the TV origin story, David Banner (yes, his name was changed from Bruce for the TV series and there are competing explanations given for this...Google it) is not caught at ground zero of a gamma bomb detonation. He is self-subjected to enormous amounts of radiation in a machine, trying to "tap into the hidden strengths that all humans have." Naturally, this leads to him becoming the Hulk whenever he gets angry.

Actually, this show has much more in common with The Fugitive than anything else. Banner, played by Bill Bixby, roams from town to town as a hitchhiking vagabond, never able to stay in one place for too long as his inevitable transformation into the Hulk causes problems. Along the way, Banner meets people in trouble and helps them out as best he can. This allows for Bill Bixby, who was quite a good actor, to demonstrate his range and play the role with true humanity. The problem I have is that it really isn't a Hulk story when he's getting mixed up with convicts on the run, labor problems on the docks, rookie baseball players embroiled with crooked agents, and little kids just needing a friend. Sounds like Kojak could probably handle most of that stuff and the Hulk is unnecessary.

Take for example the episode I just saw. In it, Banner runs into two San Francisco cops who are brothers. One, played by TV journeyman Gerald McRaney, is seeking revenge for the death of his father at the hands of a criminal. The younger brother is played by none other than Rick Springfield. That's right. The rocker responsible for "Jessie's Girl" and "Don't Talk to Strangers." I knew that he had numerous TV roles (notably for ESE readers was Battlestar Galactica), just didn't know he crossed paths with the Hulk. Anyway, Springfield advocates for peace, not vengeance, as he is a martial artist hanging out in an ashram. The two brothers don't see eye to eye and the Hulk is somehow involved.

For Hulk purists (and I'm not necessarily one), this diminished scope renders a deleterious effect to the source material. One reason for the scaled down storylines were the aforementioned limitations on special effects. There was no way they could depict the Hulk as being as big and muscular as he was in  the comics. So they went with bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno, who while massive, is not the size of the comics Hulk. No one could be. In fact, this change combined with Bill Bixby's portrayal of Banner lends this version of the Hulk as being closer to an amalgamation of the Universal Monsters than the comic book counterpart. Seeing Bixby as Banner, it's hard not to think of Lon Chaney Jr as Larry Talbot, fearing his next transformation into The Wolf Man. Ferrigno as the Hulk draws obvious comparisons to Frankenstein's misunderstood monster, but those similarities have been there since the Hulk's inception.

Well as a former theater professor of mine once said, "it's a show." It's diverting, it's entertaining, and that's more than I can say for many TV series of this day and age.

After all, where else are you going to see Rick Springfield appear opposite the Hulk?

That's Springfield c. in the ashram, Mako at l. and Bixby at r.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

1947 and 1952: Years of the UFO

Before I pursued my Dulce book in earnest, I spent a good deal of time reviewing my UFO literature.

I would spend summer days going through one book at a time, copying salient points onto notebook paper. If I was lucky, I could get through one in the morning, break for lunch, take a brief walk with the dogs, and then start in on another book. In the process of doing this, I came to realize just how pivotal the years 1947 and 1952 were to ufology.

The year 1947 is obvious. It was the summer of both Roswell and Kenneth Arnoldthe latter case being repeatedly pointed to as "the birth of the modern UFO era." What I was unaware of was another, and arguably far more weighty, sighting just a few days after Arnold's. It took place over Muroc Air Force Base, later to be renamed Edwards, in California. On July 8th, personnel at the base observed both spherical and disc-shaped objects overhead, making aerial maneuvers. A full report is available online. This report points out that although these military servicemen were familiar "with everything that flies," including experimental and classified aircraft, these UFOs were unknown to them. One stand-out quote from the report is: "It was man-made, as evidenced by the outline and functional appearance."

Towards the end of that July, the Chiles/Whitted sighting took place. The names refer to the pilot and co-pilot of a DC-3 commercial airliner flying over the American South on July 24th. At 2:45AM over Montgomery, Alabama, the pilots encountered a UFO. They described the craft as being cigar-shaped and with noticeable windows along its side. This object crossed their starboard side, missing the plane by an estimated distance of 1,000 feet. The case may well be the first documented sighting by trained airline pilots.

These sightings both come from highly trained witnesses, not from people craning their necks to the skies expectantly during "saucer flaps." This is a key distinction to the year 1947, making it even more important to ufology than I had previously suspected.

Then came 1952. By this point, Air Force Letter 200-5 established a protocol for the gathering and investigation of UFO reports. Project Blue Book had been established in the wake of Projects Sign and Grudge. The United States military was, ostensibly, taking the matter of UFOs seriously.

They certainly had much to work with. In July (again) of that year, an entire flight of saucers appeared over the U.S. Capitol. This happened over multiple nights, before multiple witnesses, and with the concrete evidence of radar returns as well as photographs and video. There was such concern that then President Truman went on television to address the matter. This particular mass sighting, despite all attempts, has never been adequately explained to my satisfaction.

Also that July, a man named Delbert Newhouse was traveling outside of Tremonton, Utah. While there, he managed to film a collection of objects in flight. The resultant film, while having been at times passed off as seagulls and the like, has still evaded definitive explanation. In fact, it bears more than a superficial resemblance to the Mariana film.

There were a number of other ufological happenings that year, but I've detailed them elsewhere. But another aspect of the year was the Robertson Panel. This panel was convened by the CIA in response to 1952's significant UFO activity. The findings of the panel were that most UFO sightings could be explained as rather mundane realities. However, panel members such as Frederick Durant would later confide that the panel had one mission from the outset and that was to pass off UFOs as not worthy of study and therefore of no threat to the public at large.

And this was before the Condon Report.

Those were quite a pair of years. I write of them now more as an exercise in trying to get my head around what happened in those potboiler times, especially the incidents I was previously unaware of. I write of them also to remind myself that there are still mysteries in ufology. Being naturally skeptical and in the wake of large cases growing weaker, I find myself somewhat jaded. It's tough to remember there are still unknowns or at least incidents that don't have a ready, concrete answer to point to. By that I in no way assert that any of these instances were cases of alien contact. I simply mean that they, particularly in the case of Washington D.C. in 1952, have yet to be conclusively answered.

That's what got me into UFOs in the first place.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, October 3, 2016

"Transhumanism is inevitable"

Okay, so the date's a little off but you get the idea.

Anyone who claims "transhumanism is inevitable" has my attention.

Even if it's in, a heavily Libertarian publication. That's all right. I can let the politics slide by and concentrate on the transhuman concepts being explored. In this case, it is a review of a book called Beyond Human: How Cutting-Edge Science is Extending Our Lives. The book is by Eve Herold, director of public policy research and education at the Genetics Policy Institute. Obviously, that means she knows what she's talking about. Here are a few points listed in the review that I found to be particularly salient:

-In 2012, a 40 year-old mother of four had a Syncardia Total Artificial Heart installed. This kept her alive for 196 days until a donor heart could be located for a transplant. There is an ongoing clinical trial for a permanent version of this heart. Cybernetic replacement organs are only becoming heartier and more reliable. This is already happening, people. It isn't science fiction.

-The reviewer says that Herold does not discuss the work being done to grow transplantable human organs inside pigs and sheep. Eschewing this topic doesn't bother me, not only because I'm not exactly in favor of the further exploitation of animals but also I don't get this attitude of "meat is always better than metal." My own hope is that we will somehow overcome our trepidation with cybernetics. Maybe market forces will actually be a benefit in that regard. If people are overcoming health issues with these devices or are even healthy people simply increasing the quality of their lives, then this may influence others to seek implants.

-Nanobots. No discussion of emerging technologies would be complete without examining this development. You've read me harp about it before so let's all say it together: "Swarms of nanobots in your bloodstream, stopping cancer before it fully develops, repairing or removing damaged cells, and delivering medicines to an exact location with precision." This may be one of the biggest advancements in terms of halting aging and dramatically expanding our lifespan.

-Brain implants to alter human emotion. DARPA is working on it. Please oh please somebody make this happen. Of course, the review reports that Herold is suspicious of government involvement in research such as this for after all, DARPA is by definition connected to national defense. A brain implant like the one in question could remove fear or guilt from soldiers. I see that point, but if those of us who suffer from depression and anxiety had our druthers, we might want to take the risk. I will speak for myself anyway and say I'm willing to kick the consequences down the road and get relief now that medications don't offer (that's a BIG topic for another time, can't really get into it here.) Such implants might also enhance our intelligence and accelerate our thinking. As I age, I'm wanting that more and more.

Like most sensible people who keep aware of these technologies, Herold isn't looking at the advancements with rose colored glasses. There exists the potential for problems as I have always maintained. I know how completely reliant I am on technology at this very time, so what happens when my life functions are truly dependent upon it? We're already losing the ability to interact personally thanks to Internet and social media. What happens when we interact with robots more than each other? Will artificial entities have rights? All the usual stuff I've wondered but I'm left uncertain as to whether or not Herold addresses the rich/poor divide and what transhuman advancements might mean in that context.

Maybe I'm not so far from Libertarians as I once thought. At least a component of their philosophy seems to be the idea of choice. I want choices in how I live and that includes biology. We should all have the opportunity to overcome the defects with which a human being is sentenced. Not only that, we should have the opportunity to do so efficiently, thus giving us more time to pursue that which gives greater meaning and enrichment to our lives...whatever that might be or however we might define that. Why can't we put effort and research towards such endeavors?

Well, good news. Quote Herold: "Those of us living today stand a good chance of someday being beneficiaries of such advances."

I could go for that.

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