Tuesday, May 23, 2017

RIP Roger Moore




I had another blog post in mind, but the news of the day has me changing plans.

Actor Roger Moore has died. He was 89. He will of course be most remembered for playing James Bond. I wanted to take a moment and explore what that means to ESE.

I've blogged several times about growing up in the Cold War. It was a unique epoch in history. I'm not sure how to accurately convey what it was like other than ask you to imagine the kind of "we could die any minute" terror that comes with war but without your country being actively engaged in any shooting. You knew that thousands of nuclear warheads were pointed at you, just waiting for the go code, but looking out the window nothing seemed amiss. That was partly due to the work of an entire "shadow world" of operatives on both sides, keeping the unthinkable from happening.

Espionage.

But as a kid, my only understanding of the spy life came down to two words: Roger Moore. He was James Bond at the time and my introduction to that mythos came through a movie called Moonraker.

In addition to Cold War tensions, the late 1970s was also something of a halcyon age for those of us who love classic science fiction films. It was the time of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Hollywood moguls were blending space themes into their films wherever they could, even if it didn't make sense. I guess they thought it would get geeks in seats. At least in the case of seven year-old Jonny, it worked.

When I came across a promotional article for Moonraker in Starlog magazine, I knew it would be a must-see film. It had a massive space station, a fleet of space shuttles, lasers, a giant assassin named Jaws with a mouth full of metal, and thrilling action of all kinds. I was only vaguely familiar with James Bond 007, but just how much did I need to know? He was a spy, he got all the girls, and this time he was going into space. Why? Because an arch-villain named Hugo Drax had built a base in orbit, poised to wipe out humanity with nerve gas so that he may repopulate the Earth with a master race.

It all ended with a climactic laser battle between men in spacesuits, thus granting me my introduction to the world of James Bond.




Later I would come to understand what real espionage was like and it certainly wasn't like Moonraker. It was more the books of John Le Carre, such as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, or other writers like Frederick Forsyth with The Day of the Jackal. If you want an even grittier look at "real life" Cold War espionage, I might recommend the TV show, The Americans. The real thing is nothing like what Roger Moore portrayed and that may be why a contemporary audience responds more to a Bond like Daniel Craig or even to the perennial favorite, Sean Connery. I can see that and I appreciate those two actors in the role in their own way.

I still come back to Roger Moore. Probably because he and the films he appeared in aren't realistic.

His Bond was cool, suave, and unflappable. The stories he appeared in mixed spy thrillers with science fiction (not just Moonraker, but take a look at that "sea car" in The Spy Who Loved Me), reminding me of the Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. comics I was reading at the same time. More than that, there was a underlying kindness and gentility about him. Those may sound like odd qualities for a Bond and in reality I suppose they are, but I think it makes a statement. It was as if the good person Roger Moore was came through no matter who he was playing.

He was fun.

In a day and an age where terrorists have just set off a bomb at a teen pop concert and cyber attacks on our infrastructure are commonplace, "fun" might be counter-intuitive or even repulsive for an espionage story. The post 9/11 palate may demand a spy character to be written more like Jack Bauer from 24. I can see that. At the same time, I don't think it's a detriment to a have a fun distraction from events I can do nothing about.

Roger Moore and his Bond provide that distraction and I thank him for it.

Addendum 1:
I fought this just a little bit ago. The Roger Moore Adventure Book with stories of "true life adventure." Not sure what it is exactly, but it might be the only book I'll ever need to read.




Addendum 2: I really should close out this tribute with my favorite James Bond theme...which just so happens to be from one of the Roger Moore films.





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Friday, May 19, 2017

Exile




"Every country is home to one man, and exile to another."
-T.S. Eliot

In composition studies, we have this concept called "exigency."

It's a fancy word that basically means "what makes someone write." What is that initial spark that occurs that compels a person to commit the thoughts in his or her head to written language? Exigency can range from the mundane (a grocery list) to the sublime (a literary novel). Right now, I'm considering exile as exigency in literature.

Because I feel as if I've been exiled. Why? Read here.

Back now? Good.

Turns out exile is quite the literary motivator. Without it, we might not have had The Divine Comedy. Dante was banished from Florence in the 13th Century for the duration of his life. At several turns, it must have seemed to Dante like he was "wandering through hell" and thus inspiration for The Inferno. Victor Hugo was expelled from France after tussling with Napoleon. Most of this explosive conflict was due to Hugo's passionate sense of social justice...something of which Napoleon had very little. It's all right. The banishment gave Victor Hugo time to write his triumph, Les Miserables.

Of course one can write a tremendous work about exile without actually having been exiled. It didn't happen to Milton (as far as I know), but Paradise Lost is loaded with it. From Satan's fall from Heaven ("It is far better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven!") to Adam and Eve driven from Eden, it's hard to miss the theme. Me? I have great affinity for Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo. In that book, sailor Edmond Dantes is wrongly sent to prison. Just read the passage where Dantes is on a barge in shackles and realizes he's being taken to a grim, island prison. Dumas' description of the shock and despair at this realization is visceral. Even better, the story really focuses on Dantes getting out of the joint and returning to rain revenge down on those who wronged him. Dope.

I could go on with other examples both major and even minor, such as Aeneas in Carthage during The Aeneid, but if you've read ESE for any length of time, then you know I'm not entirely a traditional academic in a tweedy jacket with elbow patches. What of exile stories in America's greatest cultural achievement? What about...the comic book? I put a call out to my boys asking this very question. Here's a few of their responses:

Well, the Silver Surfer is essentially a story of exile from start to finish. He is forever expelled from his happy home, Zenn-La, and was for a time confined entirely to Earth.

My friend Jason also suggested the episode "Superman in Exile" from the original Superman TV series with George Reeves. While it's not a comic book, I will accept it as it is based on a comic book character (arguably the comic book character) and somebody had to write the script. In the episode, Superman shuts down a runaway nuclear reactor. This has the unfortunate side effect of irradiating him. To save Metropolis, Superman sends himself into self-imposed exile to the mountains of Blue Peak. Unfortunately, criminals take advantage of Superman's absence and purloin all manner of valuables from Metropolis. How can Superman return? Let's just say it's a typically cockamamie-but-fun solution involving lightning.

But my favorite example of comic book exile as proposed by the responses?




Yes, Planet Hulk. I like it conceptually if nothing else and it's not without a certain set of...parallels.

A secret cabal of characters in the Marvel Universe, including Tony Stark, Doctor Strange, and Professor X, all meet and decide that the Hulk is just too dangerous to remain on Earth any longer. They of course do not consult the Hulk in any of these proceedings. In a stomach-churning display of deceit and duplicity, they trick the Hulk into getting into a spaceship. At least "the deciders" leave him a recording in the ship to somewhat explain their motivations. This ship then takes him out of the solar system, presumably to a peaceful planet. Of course the hubris-laden minds that put this whole scheme together didn't account for what could go wrong. The spaceship goes through a wormhole and the Hulk lands on a hostile world full of alien monsters.

He ends up as a gladiator in an arena, complete with all of our Romanesque cultural expectations, e.g. sandals, a colosseum, and maybe Chuck Heston as Ben-Hur. No, more like Douglas in Spartacus for Hulk gathers ragtag allies in the gladitorial slave pens. The villagers of Sakaar, the name people of this world call their planet, begin to believe Hulk is a foretold savior, arrived by divine intention to overthrow the world's tyrant ruler, the Red King. Hulk leads a "warbound" pact of warriors and does just that. He even gets a wife and child out of the deal. It would appear that even though it came out of exile, Hulk has finally found his place in the universe and a new life of happiness.

But nothing could be further from the truth. The people of Sakaar take the spaceship and try to turn it into a monument to their newfound savior. Unfortunately, the antimatter warp core in the ship's engine cracks as part of a self-destruct program. The ensuing explosion kills millions, including Hulk's wife. So Hulk does what any reasonable person would do in the situation. He calls together the warbound and heads for Earth to find those who expelled him to Sakaar in the first place. And hell's coming with him...

Thus begins the World War Hulk storyline. "The deciders" face the full wrath of an enraged Hulk, all while being utterly befuddled as to how anyone could think they did anything wrong. It does not end well for anyone.

Will my own exile inspire any literary creation? I have plans and I can only hope so. If you have any suggestions of what I should write or of other examples of great stories of exile, please feel free to leave a message in the comments. In the meantime, here's Iris with a little message:





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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Crashed



Found this art on Pinterest. If you're the artist and want credit or it taken down, hit me up.


So I'm back.

Don't know for how long, though. I certainly won't be doing daily posts.

Right now I'm thinking about crashes. And burning.

Why? Well, that all has to do with why I've been absent from the blog for so long. You see, Saint Joseph's College, my alma mater, my employer, and the life of my family for over 50 years, has closed its doors. As for the reasons why...well...Google them. It's something I shouldn't get into.

This past Saturday we held our last ever commencement. It was the finale, the coda to what has felt like a three month funeral. This has been a time of great sadness and loss for students, faculty, staff, and almost everyone in the Saint Joe family. For those of us who worked there, and I'll speak for myself anyway, it has been a time of existential terror. Where will we go? How will we survive?

I felt as if I were sitting in the strewn wreckage of a spaceship crash. You know, the kind seen all over the place in (sometimes) pulpier science fiction? A spaceship plummets to the surface of a planet and the crew members...those who survive the impact...suddenly find themselves on a strange or often inhospitable world. Dazed and wondering just what the hell happened, they try to gather themselves and whatever life-sustaining gear that can be salvaged from the wreckage. First order of business is survival, after all. I once shot a Lego movie about this. I set the tiny space guys in the backyard. They pulled out the reactor core (in real life, a glow stick) of their ship to use as a heat source. It was probably going to give them all radiation poisoning, but it was a question of dying from that or freezing to death. I found it quite existential for Lego.

I imagine any survivors would be both terrified and depressed. Their lives completely upended. Where are they? What happens next? Will they ever see their home again?

Lost in Space is a longtime example of this scenario. I also think of an alleged, "real life" illustration. I've read accounts of supposed witnesses to the Roswell UFO crash who encountered the last living, albeit badly wounded, survivor. The claim is that the alien transmitted a telepathic sense of terror and great loss, knowing that he would never see his home again. If you're not up for melancholy, you could take Chuck Heston's approach. After his ship and crew crash at the beginning of Planet of the Apes, he tells the other men, in true Heston style (I'm paraphrasing): "We're stuck here. The sooner we get our heads around that, the better off we're going to be."

There are other science fiction stories of ruin and survival of course. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood depicts a lone man who might be the last true human remaining after a bio-engineered plague gets loose. The Road, tells of a man attempting to guide his son through the wasteland that is post-apocalyptic America. They try to hold on to a glimmer of humanity because...well, just because. In the classic Dune, the family of Paul Atreides is shattered and he must go into exile in the desert wastes, only to rebuild his life among the Fremen and eventually crawl his way back.

I'm afraid I can't come up with many more science fiction examples. That may be because I mostly tend towards the cyberpunk milieu. If I'm lost in Gibson's Sprawl, then at least I have a mobile device to access navigation, search for instructions, and anything else one can find on the Web.

"Mainstream" literature is of course replete with stories of survival after ruin. Currently I'm reading Moby Dick. The ship is sunk and Ishmael is clinging to Queequeg's coffin in a dark and turbulent sea, but somehow he makes it. He also seems to keep covered a spark of his own humanity. Odysseus, lout though he could be, survived his own calamities (more than a few being self-generated) and returned home. You won't get much succor from Franz Kafka in The Metamorphosis, though. He'll tell you that life will likely cut you down. Camus might say that sure, you could survive, but will it really matter if you did?

While revered by English-types like me in glasses, plaid shirts, and carrying omnipresent coffee mugs, those latter two texts don't seem to resonate with readers as a whole. I wonder if that is because, culturally, we prefer the aforementioned grit of Chuck Heston's "just deal with it and move on" determination? Something like Nietzsche's "ubermensch." "That which does not kill us only makes us stronger." Is optimism hardwired in our DNA? Might make sense. If it weren't, if humans did not have a nigh unquenchable desire to survive despite any circumstance, we might have vanished altogether as a species. As a culture, we might abhor broken spirits and demand that "If you're going through hell, keep going."

I have a tendency to dismiss such platitudes as mere sophistry. Truthfully, I have indeed had dark thoughts these past months. Depression predisposes you to them. Why should I keep going? What is left? They've taken everything. Aren't there circumstances where survival really isn't your best option? Might this be one of them?

Given my discipline and the fact that I'm a writer, you might think I would take my comfort from great literature and I sometimes do. That is not what heartens me, though. To be truly inspired, I run back to my roots. I go to America's greatest cultural achievement: the comic book.




Green Arrow has always been one of my favorites. Oliver Queen is a young, pompous playboy with a selfish attitude. That is until he's shipwrecked on a tiny island in the middle of the vast Pacific. To survive, he is forced to teach himself the bow. He becomes an expert archer and when he returns to civilization, he vows never to be on the wrong side again. He becomes Green Arrow, vigilante against evil and defender of the less fortunate.




Then there's Batman. It's not really the same sort of story, but his is a profile in overcoming loss, of building yourself back better than before. He's been wronged and he's coming after those who commit wrong...and hell's coming with him.

Maybe both of these characters have a message for me. I'm scared, but maybe I need to go through this. Oh do I loathe those offered platitudes of "one door closes..." so on and so forth ad nauseum, but...yes, but...

I might one day look back and say I needed this. Though tragic, though deplorable, though as inscrutable as Waiting for Godot, I might one day find this situation as necessary. Anger may become a gift. It may motivate me to greater ends and somehow march me through this gauntlet. I hope so anyway. At least that's the best coping mechanism I've come up with thus far for this change.
 
By the way, I look pretty good with a mace.




“Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” --Paul Atreides, Dune

"You know you've got to go through hell before you get to heaven." --Steve Miller

That college photo is from commencement, courtesy of Susie Ferek Hayes.



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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Requiem for a College--a WIP

“Counseling services will be available afterward.”
There is no possible way a meeting can end well with an addendum like that.
Nevertheless, we filed into the auditorium at the appointed time on February 3rd, “we” meaning the students, faculty, and staff of Saint Joseph’s College. Boxes of tissues sat at the end of each aisle of seating. A priest said a prayer at the podium. He thanked God for bringing us together and for “the continuing of our mission.” The Chairman of the college’s Board of Trustees then came to the mic. He wore a blazer and a shirt beneath it with the top button undone. What hair that remained on his head was a dark brown. He bore a more than passing resemblance to former Sen. Bob Dole.
Fear has a distinct smell. I wish I could convey it but chances are you know what I mean. It’s there in that split second just before a car crash or an injury involving sharp objects. It settles in like an ominous cloud in those moments after someone says, “Sit down. I need to talk to you.” I smelled it when the Chairman bent the paper in his hands with slow, thick movements.
He said that in the best interests of the college’s future, we would be “suspending operations” on our campus. “There will be no students here in the fall,” he said, capping off his statement.
I heard the wind go out of several stomachs. There was then a single, sharp wail from somewhere on my far left. A chorus of sobbing ensued. I could say nothing. I could only breathe. Intentional, pained breathing, the kind where you have to force it. It didn’t last long. The wall cracked and I fell onto the shoulder of my brother next to me. We just stood there, saying nothing. We didn’t need to.

Saint Joseph’s College rises up out of farmer’s fields in Rensselaer, Indiana, a town with a population of just under 6,000. As you approach town, the iconic twin towers of the college’s chapel are visible from a distance along with the college water tower and the Jasper County Courthouse. My first memories of life on this Earth are of sitting with my grandmother in front of the fountain and reflecting pond on campus. My father came to the college in 1968 to teach philosophy. He also implemented the college’s crowning achievement, the Core program. It was an interdisciplinary program for all undergraduates, ingraining a cycle of reading, discussion, thinking, and writing. I attended St. Joe’s for undergrad and experienced many of the best years of my life. My brother followed and even met his wife at the college, marrying her in the aforementioned chapel. After our respective graduate work, we returned to campus to teach, each one of us anticipating a “happily ever after” scenario.
But we returned to a college fraught with financial problems. The construction of new buildings in the mid-1990s and renovations in the 2000s burdened the institution with considerable and growing debt. Compounding matters was an enrollment level that remained either stagnant or falling at just under 1,000 students as recruitment and retention efforts faltered throughout the 2000s. Through it all, the business model did not seem to change.
The college began in 1891 founded by the Catholic order known as the Society of the Precious Blood. For many years that followed, the faculty consisted of priests and brothers who drew meager stipends but whose livelihoods were covered. Times changed and it became necessary to hire expert faculty from outside the church. This meant higher salaries and greater expenditures. The 21st Century faculty who believed in the college remained with few raises in their salaries, egregious insurance deductibles, and significant drops in their retirement contributions. It was hoped these sacrifices would be temporary. By working together, streamlining our academic programs, and a full court press of fundraising and recruitment, we could evade the fate that seemed to plague so many small colleges these days.
The Board of Trustees decision on February 3rd 2017 brought a sudden end to those aspirations. The Sword of Damocles fell and so many of us lay scattered in its wake, not having even the first clue as to what was next.
“What does that even mean? ‘Temporary suspension?’” asked Maia Hawthorne, a colleague of mine in the English Department.
I could offer no further explanation other than what the Board presented because there was nothing else. As nothing else came from “the deciders,” conspiracy theories flourished in the vacuum of information. “They’re going to turn the place into a completely online program run out of one building,” said one rumor. “I keep hearing the phrase ‘planned incompetence,’” said another.
“That’s it,” Maia said with a soft slap of her hand on the desk. “I’m going to see about teaching in one of the public high schools.
I asked her if that’s what she really wants to do.
“I’m…geographically bound,” she replied.
She went on to explain about how her husband teaches at history Rensselaer Central High School while her two young daughters attend elementary and middle school in town as well. Maia and her husband just finished building a house last year on land that was left to her by her parents. The Hawthorne family is rooted. Planted. She would have to make the best of what is available to her in the area.
“I may leave teaching altogether,” said Dr. April Toadvine, a colleague in the English Department. “Maybe do online content or admin work.”
Each faculty member would face his or her own challenges in finding new work. Our History Department is a study in the ends of the challenge spectrum.
Chad Turner is second year ABD faculty. He will receive only a small severance. Meanwhile, Dr. Bill White is a 32 year veteran of the History Department. He shook his head and muttered a laugh when he heard the Board thought tenure and years of experience would be an advantage for senior faculty in the marketplace. What is his severance? Well, that’s something of a debate. You wouldn’t think so, but it is.
The faculty handbook states that if laid off, a tenured faculty member is entitled to one year’s salary as severance. The week of March 20th, a letter was issued to tenured faculty by the Vice President for Academic Affairs. It stated that said faculty will receive this severance but should they obtain new employment in the next year, they receive only the difference, if any, between the new and old salaries. This is not stated in the handbook. As of this writing, the tenured faculty are taking the matter to court and Bill White is leading the charge.
“If we win, we are entitled to triple damages plus attorney’s fees,” White said. “That will guarantee no possible resurrection of Saint Joseph’s College.”
It’s safe to say that he is angry. It is not without good reason. Both professors of the History Department, along with the rest of the faculty, must look for new teaching positions at one of the worst points in the academic year to do so. This is in addition to teaching out the rest of the semester. How anyone teaches or learns in this situation is beyond me.
 I asked Ashley how she does it and she said she can’t concentrate on classes. She’s a second semester freshman with long red hair and a ring in her nose. She loves two things, English literature and marching band. Saint Joseph’s College afforded her the opportunity to pursue both those passions and at a location she could commute to from home. This latter point was critical in her selection of colleges. For one matter, living at home would cut the cost of higher education, an already expensive undertaking, by a significant amount. It would also allow Ashley to continue to care for younger sister. That needed to happen because their mother just got her second DUI, cutting off both employment and mobility. For Ashley, St. Joe’s became only way to spin all the various plates of education, home, and work.
She works part-time at Subway and chicken bacon ranch sandwiches will never be the same to her. Ashley was making that sandwich for a customer when her phone buzzed with an email on February 3rd that announced the college’s demise.
“I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach,” she said of when she went to read the message. “I broke down. My future seemed secure and they took my security.”
It’s uncertain where Ashley will continue her degree as much was predicated on scholarships she received from Saint Joseph’s.
“The only comfort is the number of colleges stepping up to help us transfer,” she said. “The employees of St. Joe’s and the people of Rensselaer don’t have that.”
The shockwave of the college’s closing is yet to be felt by the Rensselaer community. St. Joe’s is the third largest employer in Jasper County, Indiana. Steve Wood, Mayor of Rensselaer, reports that the college is a major utility customer for the city, spending $640,000 in the last year. There is a string of stores, businesses, and restaurants like Ashley’s Subway that line the street up to and across from campus. While their existence is not necessarily predicated upon the college, the dip in customer base is not in question.
“Kate” (not her real name) works at the McDonald’s across the street from campus. In her mid-50s and with only a high school education, working at the fast food establishment provided Kate a way to get off of food stamps. What’s more, she even got to know her “regulars,” college students who would come into the McDonald’s on a consistent basis, sometimes daily. She gets to know what they like.
“A few of them I’ll see come through the door and I’ll already have their order in,” Kate said.
Rumors circulated in the wake of the college’s announcement. There was speculation that the franchise location would have to close down. Where would that leave Kate? Everyone wondered about the future of the town as a whole, knowing that many of the nearly 200 employees who were laid off from the college will need to relocate in order to find work. Will Rensselaer become a ghost town?

My earliest TV memory is from around age four. I watched a scene of chaos unfold on a tiny black and white screen. People rushed about, many of them soldiers. There were helicopters on a roof and people boarding them single file, their hair and clothes whipped by the fierce winds generated by the rotors.
“That was the fall of Saigon,” my mother later told me.
Walking around campus now, I can’t help but think of that scene. A little over one hundred different colleges and universities descended on our campus, setting up in the student center ballroom to recruit transfers. Like vultures circling, then dropping down and picking at our carcass. It makes me angry, but it shouldn’t. These people are trying to help our students continue their education after a traumatic event. The colleges are the “helicopters” in this case and we need to make sure all of our students get on them and evacuate.
I wish there were helicopters coming for the faculty.
There are three men walking the grounds between the baseball diamond and the field house. I don’t recognize them. They are pointing here and there at the buildings while stopping at different points to take a look. It becomes obvious to me who they are. They are developers or such “businessmen.” They are here to see what could be broken off and sold, what property could be converted, and so on. I hate these men. I shouldn’t, but I do. They are no doubt “just doing their jobs,” but I can’t help but wonder just how it is that they can sleep at night.
I know our college was never shielded from the realities of the world. Whole lives and communities have been torn asunder by the closings of steel mills, factories, corporate offices, and other industries and there is no reason to think we should have enjoyed any special immunity from such things. Just because I’m an academic, why should that mean I get a free pass? But it’s quite different when it actually happens to you. For me, this is not only the immediate, existential crisis of a loss of income and a far from certain future. It is the loss of an entire community, of an identity, and of an investment from my entire family that goes back nearly 50 years. The seniors of the graduating class of 2017 are the first “orphans” of Saint Joseph’s College. There will be no campus homecoming for them this fall or any other year. They know this as they get asked that most common of questions posed not only to new graduates but now to our underclassmen: “What’s next for you?”

I find myself back in front of the waters of the reflecting pond asking myself the same thing.

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Going quiet for a while


I have just received demoralizing news.

I can't go into specifics just yet, other than it's one of the greatest existential crises one can face short of death. Consequently, I don't feel much like writing and besides it's tough to do that on a laptop while in fetal position and cocooned with blankets. Sorry for that less-than-flattering depiction, but that's how things are.

Besides, the things I'd write would be beyond negative and I know nobody needs that right now (not that they ever really did before.) I'm in despair. I'm terrified. Cut loose and lost and nowhere to go. I have daymares of horrific scenarios: I am once more marooned in a row of cubicles with others as we spend 50 hours of our week trying to sell widgets. Not that they know anything's wrong...overfed, vacuous, and eyes glued to their smartphones believing their suburban surroundings to be nothing short of paradisaical.

For me it's a dystopian nexus.


Sounds like complaining no doubt in this "do what you have to do" world. I can see that, but it's also difficult for many to understand how certain milieus can be utterly debilitating to personalities like mine.

I'm supposed to try to relax at this time. I'm not sure that I can. I have great new books to read, like Rudy Rucker's Transreal Trilogy and Greg Egan's Permutation City, but I can't concentrate enough to get through a page. So I put it down. Then a sort of paralysis sets in, leading to exhaustion, then sleep. Then I wake up and the whole terrified/despondent loop kicks in again and I can barely go out and function in the world.

Anyway, I'll be quiet for a while. Just not feeling up to blogging. How long will I be gone? Can't say for sure. I hope not too long but...these days you never know.


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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Female android impresses


Once again I'm teaching a class on transhumanism and robotics.

How much longer I get to do that is up for debate, but let's table that for now.

Today I showed the class Ex Machina. Naturally they were a bit disturbed by it as any sentient being should be. A few of them afterward clung to the idea that "we're nowhere near an 'Ava' level of things right now" or that "it could never really happen."

That's when I had to show the article on Jia Jia.

Jia Jia is an android in Singapore. She is one of the most human-like robots I've ever seen. Seriously. There's video of her at the link that you really need to check out. There's something very David Cronenberg about it all, yet it's fascinating to watch. Jia Jia is capable of holding a simple conversation while giving corresponding facial expressions. No one's being totally forthcoming as to what applications a Jia Jia would have, apart from the statement that "in 5-10 years there will be a lot of applications for robotics in China."

In a preliminary role, I could see such a female android acting as a concierge or desk attendant at a high end hotel. There would be a certain charm in that, especially in Asia where the large cities have always seemed like they exist somewhere twenty minutes in the future.

Maybe Jia Jia could also make it as a comedian.


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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Neurology Gangnam style




Image from Discover magazine online.


While I'm not sure just how much this advances neurology, I saw the headline and couldn't resist.

Chinese researchers have discovered characteristic patterns of brain activity associated Gangnam Style.

The reference is of course to 2012's one-hit-wonder "Gangnam Style" by K-pop legend, Psy. You may have thought his 15 minutes have long since evaporated, but that could never truly be. Because science.

In case you must be reminded, here's the song.

Now it's stuck in your head. Not part of the experiment, but let's press on.

In said experiment, 15 volunteers listened to the song and a "light music control," a piano composition called "A Comme Amour." The results? As per the article:

"Chen et al. say that Gangnam Style was associated with “significantly increased fMRI BOLD signals in the bilateral superior temporal cortices, left cerebellum, left putamen and right thalamus cortex”. They conclude that these results reveal something about the mechanisms for the “Gangnam Style-induced” positive emotional response. But I don’t."

Sorry. The "I" there in that quote is the writer of Neuroskeptic for Discover magazine. The article's author goes on to say that the results of the study are debatable as the response may be due to the test subjects' likely familiarity with "Gangnam Style" over the other piece. There were also objections to the volunteers being subjected to a PET scan, which involves the injection of a radioactive tracer dye which is suspected of increasing someone's likelihood of cancer.

Ethically dubious, yes. I'd also argue that exposing human test subjects to possibly repeating plays of "Gangnam Style" is rather inhumane in and of itself.

Naturally there is question as to just how useful any of this will be. Only further scientific jurisprudence will tell. I've long been a supporter of all kinds of research as you never know down the road what information will be useful. I'm trying to keep that same optimism here, but...yeah. It's tough. But there is at least one shining ray of hope offered by this study.

If Psy can be brought back for a university study, might we also revive William Hung?


Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, January 16, 2017

Woman dies from infection resistant to all 26 US antibiotics


We like to think we are smarter than disease.

Or at least we know ways to prevent it.

While we may be constantly improving at the latter, I worry about the former. Nature has a way of adapting and microorganisms seem especially tenacious and resilient. To combat infections of these "bugs," we have been rather reliant on antibiotics and with good reason. They work. Long term use of these drugs has, however, made microbial life more and more resistant. Which makes the following news particularly scary.

A woman in Nevada has died from an infection that was resistant to all 26 American antibiotics. You can read the full report from the CDC here.

The Nevada woman, in her 70s, had been previously hospitalized in India after breaking her leg which led to an infection in her hip. None of the 26 antibiotics in the US inventory were effective against this infection. Later testing of the bacteria that killed her showed fosfomycin to be somewhat effective, but that antibiotic is not approved in the U.S. to treat that type of infection. This hapless woman was kept in quarantine while in the U.S. hospital and there are zero signs that the super-resistant bacteria that caused the infection has spread. That might sound like good news, and it is, but Sarah Zhang at The Atlantic explains why we should still be worried:

"The danger isn’t just that a single pan-resistant bacteria emerges and terrorizes the world. It’s that pan-resistant bacteria can keep emerging independently. The nightmare might go away, only to come back somewhere else."

When first read this news, I had an odd chain of reactions. My initial response was as a germaphobe. I don't even like touching the handles of public washrooms. The idea that germs completely resistant to all antibiotics can just pop up is enough to make me want to swim in hand sanitizer (although such products may be contributing to the problem in their own way.) Then a snide side of me rather liked the kick this gives to human complacency. We like to think we have reason and rectitude on our side. We're clever. We're special. We can figure our way out of most anything. Yeah. Well, maybe not this time.

Then again, this is something of a relief. Worried about your job? Your finances? Living in tyranny? Well good news! A fast-spreading, untreatable pandemic might end all your anxieties for you.


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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Chase Danner 5: Castaways on Zaslone




No, this has nothing to do with John Carter. The picture is meant as inspiration and tone-setting. If it’s your pic and you want it removed, let me know.


CHASE, PLEX, and their newfound “frenemy,” Princess ARDELIA began their escape from the central fortress of the Trindando. Chase managed to disarm the reptilian guards through a dazzling display of swordsmanship…but there would be more soldiers on their way to reckon with. If they were going to make their move, it had to be now…

Out the window they went. Using the “rope line” Ardelia and Plex formed from tablecloths, curtains, bedsheets, and any other linen not nailed down in the stateroom, they began to repel down the rounded side of the stone fortress. As he pushed away from the wall with legs, again and again and again, Chase began to sense something strange on his skin and in his head. The air seemed to crackle with an energy.

“Funny,” Chase said as his nose sniffed. “Do you feel that electrical sensation? I smell something like ozone, too.”

“Yes,” Ardelia said. “And it’s not a good thing.”

The beautiful green woman released her grip on the cloth line and dropped to a hard roof. From there she sprang to the street below and landed with a bound. Chase and Plex followed in her movements and hit street level as well. That’s when the first laser blast hit, sending dirt, rock, and yes Chase and Plex, up into the air.

“They’re shooting at us!” Chase said, picking himself up from the ground.

“Indeed,” Plex said. “And for what reason? I daresay they don’t even know us.”

“No, I mean how?” Chase asked. “All I’ve seen them carry are swords and spears. They’re not supposed to have weapons that…”
And that’s when he saw it: a laser cannon turret atop the fortified wall swiveling toward their direction.

“Run!” Ardelia barked.

The cannon fired once again and both Chase and Plex did as Ardelia said. They managed to clear the minimum safe radius from the blast. Many Trindando ran as well in the streets and marketplaces, their governors seeming to give no care for their safety as they continued to blast away with the laser cannon.

“That sensation you had?” Ardelia asked Chase as they ran. “It was the cannons charging. Come on!”

Ardelia turned a corner and down a narrow pathway between two buildings. She found an iron grate in the ground and lifted it free from its place. Heaving it aside, she jumped into the ensuing dark hole.

“Sir, should we trust where she’s taking us?” Plex asked.

A third laser blast boomed into the street and many Trindando shrieked.

“Do we have a choice?” Chase asked.

He followed Ardelia into the dark.

Soon all three were making their way through a dim subterranean tunnel of hewn rock.

“This city is ancient,” Ardelia said without looking at either of them. “The Trindando have tunnels down here that they’ve long since forgotten about. A few were built by their rulers as a means of escape should calamity strike. Others for conveyance that would offer shelter from the heat of Zaslone. And others still with purposes and locations long since forgotten. Except to my father, King Corloss. Our people have mapped many of these catacombs right under the scaly noses of the Trindando. That’s how I came to be a…guest of theirs.”

“I don’t follow,” Chase said.

They kept walking and the light grew dimmer. Chase found himself struggling to still see Ardelia’s facial expressions due to her deep green skin tone in the growing darkness.

“For all their faults, the Trindando have a rich and fascinating culture,” she said. “I study archaeology and history at university. I wanted to see the ancient structures of their city for myself, maybe even get to examine their fabled artwork. For my intellectual curiosity, I was rewarded with an ambush from a Trindando patrol.”

“But it’s so refreshing to find someone risking themselves for mental expansion,” Plex said. “For all we know, it’s outlawed by now in the galaxy.”

The rocky, crumbly ground soon became structured in a cobblestone pattern. Chase looked about and saw that the tunnel displayed all the hallmarks of masonry and design, like a passageway in a castle.

“Yes, I suppose we’re all fugitives now,” Ardelia said. “But I am going home and that has value in and of itself. Tell me, Chase Danner. This ‘Allegiant’ you spoke of. Would you not consider working out a peace with it so that you might go home again as well?”

Chase gritted his teeth.

“And live under the boot heel of that scumbag Monarch? Never,” he said.

 An archway came into sight ahead and beyond it a staircase that turned downward.

“Never,” Ardelia mocked. “Such an absolute word.”

“Quiet!” Chase hushed.

He drew the sword that he purloined from the soldier back at the fortress.

“Something moved ahead of us…”


TO BE CONTINUED…


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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Reflections





Heartbreak is one of the worst experiences of human existence. So why not animate it?

Artist Morgan Gruer has done just that. And it's magnificent.

Rendered in watercolor, the two minute animation (embedded above for your convenience) is fluid, never seeming to stop for too long as the subject floats...and sometimes nearly drowns...within the waves of each emotion. At times in the piece, reality seems to bend. She sees her former love and reaches out, but of course he is no longer there. She catches instead wisps of multicolored smoke.

How often have we done that in the wake of such events? You can truly sense that the subject is weighed down by these emotions, myrmidon to them for the time and with no end in sight. The music accentuates all this as well, hitting you (explosively at times) with each breaking wave of anguish and grief. I'm reminded in a sense of R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion." Nothing makes sense anymore, everything is a funhouse distortion of what it once was, the center of the universe has fallen away and we're left wandering to find a new one. If we're lucky, that is.

Depressing? I guess, but you know I'm all about that. It's real. It's not romantic. It's unlikely to give you any real sense of comfort. That is unless you count the sensation that you'll know you're not alone in experiencing these moments. I certainly count that as a plus.

Looking forward to more from Morgan Gruer.



Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Closer to transhumanism




While 2016 was pretty much a dumpster fire, it did bring us closer to a posthuman future.

An article from Gizmodo (link at end of this post) lists out a few developments to support that argument. For your convenience, I've picked at a few points that I found to be of most interest:

-Implant connects humans to the earth's electromagnetic field. Big deal, you might say. While admittedly the practical  applications of such a cybernetic interface are not yet readily apparent, it does give the host an additional sense. Who knows what we might one day be able to do with it? I mean, you'd always know when you're facing north.

- The artificial pancreas. If you or someone you love is afflicted with diabetes, then this is a big deal. It's a wireless external device that monitors blood sugar level and regulates insulin. 

-Brain implant allows paralyzed man to feel again. More than that, the sensation came through a cybernetic arm, an arm controlled by a different implant in the man's mind. This new implant that allows touch replicates the sensory feedback loop.

I'm going to let something drop here. I'm working on a very short book of essays that should be out by mid-May. These essays are about how science fiction and the real world intersect and how we engage new developments with science fiction understanding. For example, I'm finding more and more people coming to an understanding of transhumanism in this manner. "Oh, like Terminator and Robocop" they say to me. I always caution that it's a gentler and more nuanced reality, but in essence the concept is correct.

Cyberhumans are only going to become more common and I think people are starting to wake up to it.  Devices like the ones in the article are no longer mere handsels. They're delivering the goods. My hope is that we can move beyond just repairing what has gone wrong to improving what we already have.

Or replace it altogether.

http://gizmodo.com/how-we-got-closer-to-our-cyberhuman-future-in-2016-1790384043



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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Film review--The Omega Man




I finally saw this over the holiday break.

Dr. Robert Neville (played by Charlton Heston) is the last man on Earth.
He served in the Army as a doctor when a biological weapon got loose and brought a plague upon the world. While most everyone else died, Neville survived by the self-injection of an experimental vaccine. Others who survived became deformed mutants, unable to stand sunlight and possessed of an insatiable need to kill. A few of these mutants have banded together, calling themselves "The Family." They believe that science and technology are what brought humanity to its ruin and the last vestiges of it must be rooted out. Neville, surviving in his fortified New York townhouse that runs on its own electric generators, has become symbolic of all The Family hates and they vow to destroy him.

This is one of three films based on the novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. The book sets vampires up as the antagonists and they remain so in the Vincent Price adaptation, Last Man on Earth. For the Will Smith vehicle I Am Legend, it was zombies, natch, because they're all the rage and Hollywood is never slow to cash in on a trend for sake of flackery. For Omega Man, it was all very different.

And that's something that I liked about this film. It had an original interpretation of the source text. That's refreshing when an adaptation has already been done. I also really dug director Boris Sagal's take on the "end of the world as we know it" aesthetic. In this doomsday, New York City is not destroyed. It is simply...empty. Sure, things are weather-beaten or in disarray in a few places, but it's mostly as if everybody got up and left. Everybody except Chuck Heston, that is.

In a certain sense though, Heston might have been the weak spot of the film. He's a great actor, true, regardless of whatever I might think of his politics. My problem is that his character tackles everything with manly man machismo. Obviously you're not going to get anything less from Chuck and it is indeed fun to see him machine gun and hand grenade the mutants. The problem for me is that we don't get to see him as someone examining the true loneliness, the alienation, and the inevitable despair that being "the omega man" should inevitably bring. That aside, it's funny to see him in the empty movie theater and watching the film Woodstock without sneering or openly deriding the hippies as they cavort on screen. He doesn't have to.

Lastly, another strength of this film is that it shuns any kind of optimistic ending. Genre films were more likely to take a chance on such "ring of truth" endings during the 1970s. Just look at Soylent Green, Planet of the Apes, and Silent Running. I miss that.

Overall, a great look at the end of the world...and no dogs get harmed.



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Monday, January 9, 2017

Chase Danner 4: A Princess of Zaslone




No, there are no Orion slave girls in this story. Just a transparent stand-in. If you own this pic, let me know.


The renegades CHASE and PLEX, marooned on the prehistoric planet Zaslone, were taken prisoner by the lizard people, the Trindando. R'kaxath, Lord of the Trindando, is intrigued with these visitors from the stars. He has them confined to a stateroom in the stronghold...where Chase meets the most beautiful woman he has ever seen.

"That's the most beautiful woman I've ever seen," Chase declared in a soft, breathy gasp.

The woman reclining on the couch slinked upward onto her elbow and fixed her ebony eyes on Chase.

"Why thank you," she said in a sonorous voice, like it was channeled through a musical instrument.

Chase stammered, scratched his head, shuffled his feet, and looked around the room.

"You didn't think you were speaking out loud, did you?" Plex asked.

"And thank you for underscoring the embarrassment," Chase told him.

Dark black hair fell over the goddess' green skin. And what skin there was. All of it was on display, every delicate curve save for her modesty shielded by what looked like padded plate armor.

"Neither of you are from around here, are you?" she asked. "How did you run afoul of R'kaxath?"

"All we did was show up here," Chase said. "We picked quite a planet to crash on."

"In all fairness sir, we didn't exactly pick it," Plex said.

The sultry woman looked the pair over once more. 

"I am Adelia," she said. "Princess of the Ukeo. R'kaxath is holding me here as leverage against my father, King Corloss."

Chase might have caught her name but he wasn't sure. All he knew was he could not stop drinking in her voluptuous, green body. That is until she cleared her throat and shrugged her beauteous shoulders as if to ask "Well??"

"Oh I'm Chase Danner," Chase said at last. "This is Plex. We're fugitives, my lady. Fugitives from The Allegiant."

"I don't know what an Allegiant is, but what do you say we get out of here, Chase Danner?" Adelia asked.

Chase began removing his red tunic.

"Darlin' I thought you'd never ask," he said.

"I meant escape from this city," Adelia said, verbally tossing cold water onto Chase's pulsing groin.

"Oh."

"Now that there're three of us, our odds are better," Adelia said.

Moments later, a Trindando guard entered the stateroom to deliver the three a midday meal. He got a roundhouse kick from Chase instead. The guard fell to the floor, his tray of victuals spilled all about his torso and face. Chase kicked him in the head to render him unconscious and then purloined the lizard man's sword. Just in time as more Trindando troops arrived to investigate the clatter and commotion.

"We have company," Chase called out to his companions old and new.

"Hold them," Adelia responded. "We need but a few moments more."

Plex and Adelia worked to connect curtains to a tablecloth and any other linen in the stateroom in order to form a single line. At the same time, swords clashed with clangs and strikes as Chase fought the Trindando. Chase's athletic prowess allowed him to hold his own against the greater strength of the reptoids until with a mighty swing he disarmed both of his enemies of their own blades...leaving them open for the kill. 

"Go," Chase bellowed to them, holding them at the point of his sword. "Before I abandon my compunctions."

Growling and snarling, the Trindando turned and bounded back down the stairs. Chase went to Plex and the newly met princess who at last completed the ropey cloth line.

"They're going to be back soon. With friends," Chase told them.

"Then we must we do this fast," Adelia said.

TO BE CONTINUED...


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Chilean UFO video causes stir




Photo from The Huffington Post.


Leslie Kean is someone in UFO research who deserves every bit of respect there is.

She is a journalist who first came to Ufology by investigating the Kecksburg case and has since written the fine book, UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record. So when she writes or speaks on all matters UFO, I listen. Recently, she published an article in The Huffington Post about a "Groundbreaking UFO video" from Chile. You can read the many details of the case at the link, but here is a synopsis.

The incident caught on video occurred in November of 2014. The crew of of a Chilean Navy helicopter sighted the unknown aerial object while on a routine patrol flight. Two ground bases were notified of the object, but neither base could detect the UFO on radar. Additionally, the object could not be detected on the helicopter's own radar. To make things even more weird, the object twice ejected a trail of gas or water while it was filmed by the helicopter's infrared camera (see pic above).

This video was turned over to the CEFAA, the office of the Chilean government that investigates UFOs. Yes, they really have such an official agency. Other South American nations have them as well as they have long been open about UFO phenomena. The CEFAA, along with the Chilean armed forces, undertook a prolonged study of just what was on that infrared video. Given the origin of the footage, a hoax could be ruled out with a fair amount of confidence. Planes, drones, space debris, weather anomalies, and weather balloons were all considered.

Such explanations ended up falling short according to the investigators.

"...“the great majority of committee members agreed to call the subject in question a UAP (Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon) due to the number of highly researched reasons that it was unanimously agreed could not explain it.” said General Ricardo Bermudez of the CEFAA.

Certainly makes one take notice. A national government spends years and resources on an investigation and determines that the object is inexplicable by any known means. Should be "groundbreaking" indeed. The real deal at last. My heart rate increased. My stomach juices began to crepitate. An actual UFO.

Wellllll.....not so fast.

Mick West at Metabunk.org has a strong explanation. 

There were two different commercial airliners in the area of this sighting. As West writes:

"Based on analysis by @Trailblazer, @Trailspotter, myself, and others, There are likely TWO planes involved IB6830 and LA330. The plane that initially seems to fit best is LA330, a two engined A320, which was reported to be climbing through 20,000 feet at that exact visual position at 14:01:39. It was actually 65 miles away, not 35-50. This explain [sic] why it was not seen on radar (the actual plane was on radar, just not where they thought it was)."

The site also features copious and painstaking analysis that demonstrates why the IR video footage looks the way it does. It is suspect that after years of analysis by trained experts no one thought to check commercial air traffic in the area. Then again, if the distance and the altitude were misunderstood from beginning, everything else that is extrapolated from those points would be false as well. A simple mistake anybody could make given the circumstances.

And after watching the video I'd also have to wonder why a true UFO (I mean in the pop culture "alien" sense) would leave a fossil fuel contrail, but that's just me.

Expect this one to be debated for a while to come, but if were a pressed to make a ten dollar bet, I'd put five bucks on West's explanation, two dollars on a genuine UFO, and keep the other three so I could get a latte.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The dark side of Belle Epoque





I am a sucker for most things weird and art is no exception.

A recent article at the BBC (see link at the end of this post) made me aware of just how surreal and bizarre the art of the late 19th Century could be. Quite like the article's introduction, I typically associate the period's art with the paintings of Monet, Cezanne, and Renoir. I associate these works with a certain brightness and bouyance (Thomas Kinkade my ass. Monet was the "painter of light.") 

But it was also the time of Munch's "The Scream" and the erotic and Dionysian illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley, an illustrator who did work for writer Oscar Wilde. The article also introduced me to James Ensor, whose "The Intrigue" is above. The masked grotesques symbolize the malicious intents disguised in human social gatherings.

Naturally I love the depiction,

The dark and turbulent art was a response as all art is a response. The writer of the article argues said response was more toward internal rather than external anxieties. Which in an odd way heartened me. As we head into dark times (dark-er perhaps), I am at least eager to see what art comes from it. It promises to be every bit as weird and surreal while full of expressionist themes of pain, unease, and displacement, wandering masses bereft of any emoluments.

Particularly over the next four years.

Read much more at the article: 

http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20161207-the-dark-side-of-the-belle-epoque



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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

When police see UFOs




If you're the artist or owner of the pic above, comment if you want credit or the pic taken down.

This really will be a UFO post, so bear with me.

I used to be a volunteer for a police department. During that service, I came to see that sometimes stereotypes exist because there are kernels of truth to them. Police officers do indeed tend to be purely logical and factual, almost to a fault. And while many are amiable and quick with a joke, they often have a low saturation point for nonsense.

Which is all the more reason why I find UFO sightings relayed by cops to be worthy of attention. In recent days, I have read over a few cases that involved police officers. Links are at the end of the post.

-Of immediate interest is of course the case of Lonnie Zamora of Socorro, New Mexico. While in pursuit of a speeder in 1964, state trooper Zamora spotted a silver, egg-shaped craft on tripod legs. What's more, Zamora reports seeing child-sized people outside the craft. Upon seeing Zamora in his patrol car, these small occupants got back into the craft and took off with a roar and tongues of flame. The case was investigated by the military, the FBI, and Dr. J. Allen Hynek. Tremendous physical evidence was collected including tripod marks in the ground, burnt desert scrub, and soil fused into glass. The case has never been satisfactorily explained and Zamora's testimony remains among the best.

-In January of 2000, several residents in my home state of Illinois sighted an enormous triangular UFO. One witness, viewing the object from the side, described it as looking like a "flying building." At least four of these witnesses were police officers from different downstate communities. They pursued the UFO, keeping in contact with one another via radio, thus producing record of the whole encounter. The silent craft was, as is typical of triangle sightings, witnessed performing extraordinary aerial maneuvers. Again, this sighting has never been fully explained, although as with other triangle cases, I suspect it's a classified military aircraft. The area of the sighting is between two Air Force bases.

-Then there is what has come to be known as "The Cosford UFO Incident." I was fully unaware of it until perusing Nick Pope's website. He in fact was one of the investigators on the U.K. case. Anyway, over a series of days in 1993, multiple witnesses reported sightings of yet another triangular UFO over an RAF base. The witnesses, including several military police, described seeing a craft resembling "two Concordes flying side-by-side and joined together." What's interesting is that according to the MoD report quoted at Pope's site, it was admitted that "an unidentified aircraft of unknown origin" penetrated secure airspace.

Fascinating stuff...and all of it reported by professional, trained observers. This is not to say that police can't be mistaken about what they see. They can. That being said, these accounts should decimate the prevailing opinion that seems to state that UFOs are only seen by the half-witted.

Now I need to watch that police chase scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.


http://www.ufocasebook.com/Zamora.html

http://www.ufoevidence.org/cases/case277.htm

http://www.nickpope.net/cosford-incident.htm


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Monday, January 2, 2017

Why I will miss President Obama


Regardless of the outcome of last year's election, I was going to miss President Obama. 

For a few shining moments there, it was cool to be smart. Barack Obama is an intellect, running counter to decades of "folksy" executives. Many is the time during an election where I would see a poll asking "Which candidate would you most want to have a beer with?" My answer? 

I don't care.

I don't want to have a beer with my leadership. I want to be in awe of them. I want to be able to say, "No wonder they are in that position. They are the smartest person in the room." And that's how I saw Obama.

Part of it was his demeanor. I have always been in awe of the calm, "no drama" presence he coolly exuded. It should be noted that he did so while both he and his family were subjected to  the vilest, most racist epithets that I have ever personally seen directed against a leader. And he never once took to Twitter about it.  

Imagine that.

He also understood that this nation does not exist in a vacuum. Ignorance, arrogance, and saber rattling make for bad foreign policy. Obama knew this. He worked to show a respect towards other peoples and nations that had been sorely lacking from previous administrations. 

That inclusive thinking was not relegated solely to the international stage, either. President Obama is a civil rights champion. He signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act and nominated two women to the Supreme Court. He stood up for the rights of LGBT, immigrants, and others.

Oh and if you think this was done at the expense of the economy, think again. Check the numbers of when he took office compared to now. I could go on about his accomplishments but it would take too long. You're smart. You can work the Google machine.

None of this is to say that President Obama is perfect or didn't commit his share of flubs (Syria for one). He is human. Compared to the other presidents of my lifetime however, he's the best in my eyes. I hope one day we will see his like again.

But it will be a while.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets