Saturday, January 31, 2004

Abduct me!

Here's another trick debunkers utilize to ridicule alien abduction: "Hey, I'm a smart guy! A no-kidding scientist! I love outer space and stuff! So why haven't any aliens abducted me?"

And they're only half-joking.

Anyway, I thought I'd harness the power of the Web to invite any extraterrestrial beings who may be reading to come abduct me. No rectal exams or needles in the brain. Just a nice talk. You and me. I'll make coffee. You can even wake me up in the middle of the might and freak me out; if that's the way you work, that's OK. And I won't insist on irrefutable physical evidence, so don't let that scare you off; I just want to satisfy my own curiosity.

It's cold out. Really cold. And supposedly a big storm is on the way, which should make the weekend perfectly intolerable. Can't wait.

Seven more dead soldiers in Afghanistan. Support the troops . . . got to support the troops . . . Do you know anybody with a "Support Our Troops" bumper-sticker that's actually done anything to support U.S. armed forces in the Gulf? Know any armchair warhawks who have marched down to the Army recruitment office and signed up? Funny -- neither do I. "Supporting" troops seems to be a curiously mystical activity with approximately zero energy expenditure. How convenient.

Friday, January 30, 2004

The Discovery Channel Store is giving away FREE 3-D glasses for viewing anaglyphic Mars pictures! Tell your friends!

I made it to Chet Raymo's inevitable chapter on UFOs and abductions. It was like taking in remarkable, verdant scenery and suddenly coming across an industrial eyesore. The same tired dismissal. He manages to ignore the fact that "UFO" is an innocuous, unloaded term. It stands for "Unidentified Flying Object." Who's talking extraterrestrial spaceships? But because we have no crashed vehicles or bodies to study (that Raymo knows of, at least), the entire UFO inquiry is thrown out. Fifty years of observation by qualified observers -- including plenty of noted scientists -- industriously dismissed because Raymo considers the "U"-word a harbinger of irrationality.

And he treats us to my personal favorite condescending anecdote, universally employed by debunkers: "When I was young and foolish, I also thought UFOs were real! So I can almost sympathize with all you drooling idiots out there." Not in those words, of course, but he might as well have saved himself some typing. (I got exactly the same response from the book editor for the Kansas City Star when I replied to his review of an academically palatable book on radio-based SETI. Stupid bastard.)

Raymo even includes a helpful checklist so you can test your "credulity index." One of the true/false statements is "UFOs are probably extraterrestrial." I wanted to phone Raymo up and ask "Which UFOs? All of them? Some of them? Don't ask me to embrace or dismiss an entire field of study because of your obvious difficulty with definitions. Let me speak with your editor."

In another section, he pairs alleged popular misconceptions (i.e., "Loch Ness Monster") with "obscure" scientific terms (such as "WIMPs"). One of the pairings is something like "ESP/PCR" (polymerase chain reaction). The implication is that the reader will immediately identify the "deluded" term ("extrasensory perception -- what nonsense!") and sit scratching his head at the "serious" one.

As one of the nontypical readers familiar with all the terms, I was most amused at the inclusion of PCR. Ironically enough, Kary Mullis, who won the Nobel Prize for its discovery, has gone on record describing his own possible alien abduction, complete with "missing time" and bizarre "screen memories." Take that, Raymo.

Don't misunderstand. I like this book. Raymo is a gifted thinker in many respects. But he should have spared thinking readers the ignorant (and unneeded) side-trip into ufology, just as Michael Shermer should have in his otherwise commendable "Why People Believe Weird Things."
Literary multitasking

There are so many ideas and so little time. So I've decided to resume "literary multitasking," my hip term for reading more than book at once. I usually stick to one book of fiction and one nonfiction book. Past attempts to read multiple books have resulted in getting too wrapped up in a single title and losing the narrative thread of others. But this time I'm going to do it right.

In addition to "After the Internet: Alien Intelligence" and "The Secret of Life," I started a poetically written dissertation on science and belief called "Skeptics and True Believers." I initially cringed at the title. But author Chet Raymo displays a healthy flexibility when it comes to what ontological partner-in-crime Colin Bennett terms "politics of the imagination." Yeah, Raymo dismisses cryptozoology and UFOs without any qualms, but I expected that. What he has to say -- so far, at least -- is refreshingly well thought-out. And while I'm sure that at least one rote dismissal of the Face on Mars is in store, I'll weather it; "Skeptics and True Believers" is damned well-written.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

I just overnighted my finalized book manuscript to Simon & Schuster. Next I'll be receiving galleys, which are like the book only minus the cover. I can hand these out to potential reviewers for sales blurbs, which will appear on the cover and inside. I've already got a few good ones.

S&S is marketing "After the Martian Apocalypse" partly on the basis of my science fiction, which may not sway too many readers convinced the prospect of ET artifacts on Mars is, itself, science fiction. Really, though, I'm not too concerned. I don't necessarily expect to change anyone's mind on the subject of planetary SETI. But I do want to lift the controversy out of the utterly flawed "believers vs. skeptics" arena and challenge prevailing "expert" assumptions, like the persistent idea that searching for alien radio signals is somehow more "scientific" than looking for evidence closer to home.

"Only" five more months till publication . . .

I'm considering upgrading this blog a little. For example, there's this thing called an "RSS feed" which would alert regular readers to new posts, which is neat. But is it really necessary? Regular readers -- and there are a few -- probably know by now that all they have to do is check the Posthuman Blues address once or twice a day to catch my latest. And it's not as if I'm providing breaking "news," per se. So I'm putting the RSS feed on hold, at least for now. If you think I should have one, let me know and I'll reconsider.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Thanks to a generous addition to my science library (payment for my recent spot on 21st Century Radio), I'm now reading a longish book with the awkward title "After the Internet: Alien Intelligence," a forecast of artificial intelligence trends and their implications for business and geopolitics. The author, James Martin, is not at all convinced that functional AI will mimic human thought (hence his term "alien intelligence," which has nothing to do with extraterrestrials).

Martin argues that networked machines will greatly exceed human potential by virtue of remaining qualitatively different from carbon-based mentation. Computers, for all of their ability, will remain "mere" tools for governments, corporations and think-tanks. According to Martin's reasoning, a "Matrix"-style takeover by rebellious machines is surpassingly unlikely.

I don't know if "After the Internet" will live up to its thesis. The writing is awkward. Martin tends to repeat himself almost word-for word. And many of the ideas have already been examined in-depth by Hans Moravec ("Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind") and Ray Kurzweil. Then again, unlike "Mind Children" or "The Age of Spiritual Machines," Martin's book was largely written for e-commerce enthusiasts and techno-challenged CEOs for whom concepts like artificial life and ubicomp will seem exceedingly "fringe." In other words, corporate savants who totally missed out on cyberpunk.
Another goddamned computer virus is spreading its unwholesome tentacles across the Net. I can't remember its name, but it's really dumb.

Who names computer viruses, anyway? The hackers themselves, I suppose, although I like the idea of an official Internet weather bureau coming up with names. Like naming hurricanes. Who, specifically, gets to do this? Is it an automated process or does someone actually sit in an office with a baby-name book chewing on a pencil?
Cold has gripped the city like a vice. Everything is hushed, paralyzed, furtive, held together by sheer momentum. Color bleeds away until all is translucent gray. An ectoplasmic varnish coats railings, windows, stairs, rooftops.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

An unidentified object was videotaped over Kansas City on January 14. Perhaps even weirder than the UFO itself is the fact it made the mainstream news . . .
I was watching gusts of snow falling in front of an outdoor lamp and noticed that the flakes became momentarily elongated as they passed through the middle of my field of vision. As they neared the lamp they would suddenly gain additional "segments" and briefly appear like tiny wingless dragonflies; as they departed they would rapidly "shrink" back into normal windblown crystals.

Apparently the flakes were moving so fast that my eye-brain relay system was forced to compensate by providing this "time-lapse" illusion. Or maybe the effect is more easily explained. In any case, I was reminded of the so-called "rods" that appear in many videotapes devoted to UFOs. Some debate continues to rage about what these structures are, although I'm personally satisfied that they're airborne insects translated into stick-like shapes by videotape's optical limitations.

It's unsettling to consider that my brain actually manufactures events -- however miniscule or trivial -- to avoid potentially sanity-threatening gaps. If an alien intelligence wanted to infiltrate, it could take advantage of this capacity for self-deception, flickering at the threshold of perception, unremarked and serene in its invisibility.

Monday, January 26, 2004

There's a pervading notion that cryonic suspension isn't "real" since no one has yet to be revived, which is rather like maintaining that Jupiter doesn't exist because no one's ever been there. So the prospect of prolonged life through ultra-low-temperature biostasis is marginalized and scoffed. After all, it infringes on too many social and theological conceits. And it just seems way too macabre, eccentric, far-out. And expensive, which it is.

Some people seem to think that cryonics (almost inevitably confused with cryogenics) is an improbable and rather ghastly last-ditch miracle cure when in truth it's simply a technically sound attempt to create a sustainable temporal ambulance. Others recoil at the thought of their bodies (or heads, in the case of so-called "neurosuspension") preserved in industrial canisters and tended by white-smocked technicians.

So when I read a jeering reference to cryonics in the mainstream press, I'm inclined to grit my teeth. Cryonicists make no fanciful claims and will flatly deny any promise of a utopian future existence.

Critics of cryonic suspension tend to harp on the alleged faith cryonicists invest in molecular nanotechnology, which many scientists foresee revolutionizing tissue- and cell-repair sometime in the next century or two. And perhaps the critics are right, and we won't develop the technology to revive (and repair) cryonics patients before the organizations housing their bodies succumb to bankruptcy. But why not try?

Hardcore transhumanists dismiss people content with "natural" life-spans as "deathists." And they have a point: What constitutes a "natural" life-span? Medical advances continue to push death farther and farther into the future; it's not impossible to imagine a world in which cryonic suspension is rendered obsolete in, say, the next 40 years or so, usurped by genetic therapy and nanotechnologically ensured youth. In that case, the fate of today's cryonics patients will hinge on how effectively modern technology suppresses freezing damage.

It could be that for all of their good intentions, today's cryonicists are irrevocably clumsy when they prepare a deanimated patient for long-term suspension. Or perhaps medical computers of the year 2100 will be sophisticated enough to reconstruct even severely damaged frozen brains, minimizing the frightening specter of memory loss and related dysfunctions.

Mainstreamers balk at cryonics' philosophical implications. Does perpetual youth violate some unspoken tenet? Do cryonics patients forfeit whatever afterlife would otherwise await them (assuming, of course, there is an afterlife)?

And then there are more mundane concerns. Assuming the cryonics gamble pays off and you awake to find yourself alive and (most likely) augmented by future medicine, where do you live? What will you do for money? What good is a brave new world if you don't have any friends or family?

Or what if the future isn't the good place you were expecting? What if, instead of opening your eyes to a world of ecological harmony and cheap space travel, your first sight is of something like the embryo harvesting machines in "The Matrix"?

Ultimately, the so-called "deathists" will live up to their moniker, taking their ideology with them. Which leaves the distinct possibility that today's "cryonauts" will emerge into a world where the line between "alive" and "dead" will be consummately blurred.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Tonight I read the first 50 pages of Paul McAuley's "The Secret of Life," about a mysterious oceanic blight thought to have originated beneath a Martian polar cap. McAuley's off to a great start: cool futuristic nuances, believably rendered geopolitics and an inspired look at the future of humans in space. This might end up being the most mature Mars novel I've ever read.

Just thought you should know.
"If you ever get close to a human
And human behaviour
Be ready to get confused."

--Bjork, "Human Behavior"

The Spirit rover is on the mend and Opportunity has landed safely. So why am I in an existential funk?

John Shirley wrote a great little essay the other day about the possibility that household pets are actually Freudian extensions of our psyche, or perhaps symbiotes. If pets are, in essence, glandular extensions of ourselves, then what are quasi-intelligent machines like Mars rovers? Postbiological prosthetic ego? Mechanical offspring?

Robotic astronauts remind us that humans are essentially machine-like. We refuel. We expel waste material. We need down-time. We're constantly performing maintenance on ourselves; I get up, joylessly consume a couple toaster-waffles, chase them with a chug of raspberry lemonade. I shower, scrubbing away disenfranchised skin cells and other microscopic nastiness. I comb my hair, fastidiously clean the interior of my ears with a cotton swab, and subject my teeth to a vigorous session with an ergonomically designed brush. And I do this on a regular basis. Pure mechanical ritual. And that's not taking lunch and dinner into account: more dutiful flexing of jaw muscles, all in the name of combating entropy, inevitable cellular decay, premature senility, the prospect of drooling vegetable-hood.

I'm 28 years-old. I look 20. Biomechanically, I'm not doing too bad. I'm 6'2" and weigh in at 185 lbs, sometimes less. I avoid drugs and seldom drink; I think I consumed all of five or six beers in 2003. I have a seemingly infinite capacity for caffeine, and enjoy the ability to stop drinking coffee at any time without the withdrawal effects bemoaned by others.

My social existence is appropriately machine-like. I did an interview for a news weekly a few weeks ago and the journalist said something like, "From reading your blog, you paint a picture of a smart guy who reads a lot but doesn't have much of a personal life." I suppose it depends on what he meant by "personal." Socially, I'm borderline solipsistic. The majority of males my age would positively cringe at the private time I require. I venture out into the world of smoke-filled restaurant and bars and coffee-shops and take in masses of inebriated 20-somethings with genuine puzzlement. Who are these people? How did they get this way? Is something wrong with me or is it the other way around?

But my personal life, as opposed to my social life (the two terms tend to be applied synonymously) is another matter. It's actually pretty rich, at least when I'm in my groove. I suspect there's more going on in my head than in most others. Then again, this could easily be a defense mechanism. Like the late Stephen Jay Gould, I don't think intelligence is quantifiable; I wince when I read about Mensa gatherings, which seem pathetic and desperately elitist.

It's much more likely that my brain simply works differently than most others, at least for an appreciable portion of my waking life. I suspect there are two basic kinds of introverts: Those who resent their socially geared counterparts and those who are effectively oblivious to them. I probably straddle both categories.

It's a bit like trying to pin down someone's sexual orientation or ethnic background. As Bruce Sterling recently blogged about the latter, it's increasingly difficult -- and correspondingly irrelevant. For whatever it's worth, I'm hetero, "straight," whatever you want to call it. I'm not "proud" of it, any more than I'm "proud" to be an American; I was never presented with a choice. Occasionally, though, someone assumes I'm gay, which never ceases to disappoint and amuse. Jerry Seinfeld chalked this phenomenon up to the "thin, single and neat" stereotype. If you're obviously unattached, neatly dressed and in reasonable good physical shape, some people actually think they can deduce your sexual polarity.

Thirty years ago no one would have made this bizarre deductive leap. But now my fellow machine-humans are sensitized to the point of paranoia. They're out to slot you into preconceived demographic categories -- a task previously left to ad agencies and political campaigns -- before taking you on, before accepting you as fully human.

Yes, the human race has always been self-policing when it comes to all things social. But if turning myself into a scrap of easily digestible code is what it takes to kick with the fray, I'm afraid I'm just not interested. I have neither the time nor the energy. I'm machine-like enough already.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

I have a couple book reviews in the new issue of Mysteries Magazine (John Keel's "The Complete Guide to Mysterious Beings" and Bruce Sterling's "Tomorrow Now"). The cover story is devoted to the annual predictions of a self-proclaimed psychic. Glancing at her forecasts, I realized I have yet to offer much down-and-dirty New Year futurism here at Posthuman Blues. Since it's still January, here are my predictions for 2004. None of them are etched in stone, and I don't claim to have any paranormal inspiration. Still interested?

Decision 2004. Bush wins. Or perhaps "wins" isn't quite the right word. Bottom line: He isn't going anywhere. I don't mean to sound defeatist, and I certainly don't want to help contribute to a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you're backing a Democratic contender, go for it. But get real.

Human cloning. I have the feeling we'll be hearing quite a bit about this in 2004. In fact, the odds are good that it's already been done and that the "big news" won't be an announcement that the procedure has been successfully completed in some off-the-map embryo lab, but confirmation that at least one human clone now walks (or, more likely, crawls) among us.

New diseases. This is a "gimme." There will be interesting twists on SARS and BSE. Some deaths, but nothing anyone can rightly call apocalyptic. Yet.

Life on Mars. With the European Space Agency keenly observing the Red Planet via the Mars Express orbiter, we're likely to hear about some exciting finds the NASA/JPL bureaucracy has been reluctant to publicize. (This appears to be happening already in a small way.)

Iraq/Afghanistan. Lots of dead U.S. soldiers and civilians. Another "gimme."

The "War on Terror." Pretty much like 2003 but with more dramatic emphasis. Expect more cryptic evidence that Osama bin Laden is alive and well and as evil as ever.

Nanotechnology. Critical steps made toward microscopic self-replicating systems, hand in hand with new DNA scanning techniques.

Artificial intelligence. 2004 will produce the best-yet approximation of a true "cybernetic organism," using organic nerve cells and micro-electronics to produce a form of spontaneous "thinking" . . . prompting inevitable philosophical squabbling over the nature of consciousness. Anti-AI sentiment spikes among garden-variety neophobes and religious fundamentalists.

Greenhouse effect. Although 2003 was actually cooler than 2002, 2004 will top record books as the overall hottest documented year in history. Look out for massive ocean-bound chunks of ice as the poles continue melting.

This is more like it. (Soccer, of all things . . .)

Friday, January 23, 2004

Weird week. Deadline pressure (self-imposed and otherwise), strange schedule, way too much email, and not enough quarters to do laundry until tonight, when everyone else is out and presumably having a good time. I might make a run to the joint across the street later; I haven't decided.

I'm going to make a conscious effort to lay off the Mars updates on this blog. I announced this once before, but I might be serious this time. It's not that there aren't other things to write about. For example, a few days ago someone had wrapped the Chinese warrior statues down the street in blankets and fastened them in place with rope. The next time I saw the statues, the shrouds were gone -- a good thing, as they brought to mind firing squads or body-bags (er, "transfer tubes" -- got to get that straight . . .)

I almost bought a CD tonight but balked after accidentally spilling some of my cinnamon latte on the display rack at Barnes & Noble. I was in the mood for something by The Cure I haven't heard. Or Bowie, who has a new one out (titled "Reality," with a cover influenced by Japanese "manga" comics, which I thought was an inspired touch).

This morning I got a call from my building's manager. Someone had slipped a partially opened envelope from Time-Warner Cable under his door, but it was addressed to me. (Cue ominous music . . .) I was most amused to find out that it's basically a threat letter chastising me for stealing cable service from a neighbor. Neat trick: I don't have a TV, don't even know my neighbors' names, and have no desire for cable, illegal or otherwise. I'd rather drink industrial solvent than watch cable TV.

Art Garfunkel is coming to town to perform with the Kansas City Symphony. Weird fact: I once had a date with a violinist from the Symphony and she gave me a free ticket to a concert. Predictably, the date never amounted to anything and I haven't taken in the Symphony since. Maybe in some alternate universe we hit it off and consequently "I" now might have a good chance of meeting Art after his show.
The conspiracy-mongers are out in full-force after the revelation that the Spirit Mars rover has gone (almost) silent.

Richard Hoagland is going full-steam ahead with the colorful notion that the National Security Agency (NSA) knocked Spirit out of commission before it could discover alien artifacts. It almost sounds reasonable . . . until you look at the supposed "artifacts" Hoagland's talking about and take time to consider that Hoagland seems to have a never-ending stock of nefarious scenarios in store in case something unfortunate should befall a NASA mission.

If you make enough predictions, you're bound to be in the ballpark every once in a while. And if you're as charismatic and earnest as Hoagland, your audience will likely forget all of your past predictions that never materialized. In fact, they'll be falling all over themselves to ride the Belief Train. Sure, it's a fleeting ride. But like any good fiction, it's certainly fun while it lasts.

But what happens if JPL manages to get Spirit back online? There's a reasonable chance they might. Spirit didn't go utterly silent like Britain's Beagle 2; it merely stopped relaying science data. So if Spirit "wakes up" and hails Earth with a new stream of images, what happens to Hoagland's scheme? I suppose we'll be asked to believe that everything seen after the rover's silence is either fabricated and thus not to be trusted or that the "good guys" in the space/intelligence community beat the NSA at their own game. Whatever happens, Hoagland will have a nicely packaged answer. And it will sound weirdly logical, at least on first take.

And then the next probe will have landed and everyone will obligingly forget all about the malevolent NSA's plan to stifle Spirit. A new and better Mars conspiracy will be afoot soon enough.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

It looks like Spirit might already be down for the count. What was I just saying about time being of the essence?
My editor phoned today. He wants me to add new material on the Spirit mission to my Mars book before it goes to type, and I'm happy to oblige. But I fear that Spirit isn't telling us as much about Mars as it could.

The rover's mission is to search for signs that Mars once might have had water, a prerequisite for life as we know it. But to JPL, this criterion appears to exclude investigation of relatively spectacular finds, such as extant flowing water. The possible mud raked up by one of the lander's airbags may have indicated exactly this, yet JPL steered the rover away in a hurry -- but not after commenting on how "bizarre" it looked. (It bears noting that Dr. Gilbert Levin, former Viking project scientist, doesn't think it's "bizarre" at all: he's been insisting for years that JPL's vision of a Moon-like, barren Mars is fatally flawed.)

More recently, JPL turned the Spirit rover away from a unique, dark-colored rock the science team had nicknamed "Sushi." This rock sports an anomalous geometric cavity, making it an especially interesting find. But JPL elected to abandon Sushi as a target for surface drilling because they claimed it looked too "dusty." This claim is highly suspect; even a cursory examination of the rocks at the Spirit site shows that Sushi is not just dust-free, but downright shiny, as if subjected to high heat or glazed with some kind of natural "varnish." What is that stuff? Why not drill?

It's the ultimate irony: we send a survey vehicle to another planet and immediately start seeking the familiar, dismissing any oddities that crop up as "bizarre" or "impossible" and making tracks to the nearest available dune or rock that appears safe for intellectual consumption. JPL's behavior makes even less sense when one remembers that haste is of the essence -- Spirit could cease transmitting at any time.

The Spirit Mars Exploration Rover is an unconditional technical triumph. JPL has shown that it has the engineering mettle to place highly capable surrogate astronauts on the Martian surface. But, disturbingly, the sense of adventure appears to end with the hardware itself.

Conveniently unchallenged by a public conditioned to take the words of "rocket scientists" at face value, JPL is already forming some very bad habits: a refusal to acknowledge the unknown and a crippling immunity to the unexpected.

"All the faces
All the voices blur
Change to one face
Change to one voice
Prepare yourself for bed
The light seems bright
And glares on white walls . . ."

--The Cure, "Charlotte Sometimes"

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

I like the use of the term "subsystem" in this article on intuitive sensing . . .
I've got this weird ability to mentally project my surroundings into an unspecified near-future perspective. It's most pronounced while viewing scenery from a moving car, when I'm taking in lots of landscape. I have a cinematic imagination that's constantly panning and zooming behind my forehead, rendering the "present" into something more like a premonition. Nothing is exempt; landmarks, vehicles and buildings can abruptly seem brooding and post-apocalyptic. Apparently my brain has a deep, secret need to occasionally see the world in a desolate, depopulated context -- something like the ruinous city explored by Bruce Willis' character in "12 Monkeys."

On a more overt, conscious level, I dig entropy. I tend to gawk at abandoned movie theaters, neglected, fissured parting lots, seedy roadside motels, derelict buildings with shattered windows. I'm strangely attuned to the colors and hues that signify decay. I marvel at crumbling industrial sites and blighted factories with the zeal of an archaeologist. There's a perverse magic to these places, a palpable sense of the otherworldly.

CDs in my stereo:

"Outside" David Bowie
"Under the Pink" Tori Amos
"Paris" The Cure
"Remain in Light" Talking Heads
"The House Carpenter's Daughter" Natalie Merchant

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Suburbs, where brains go to die, ultimately snuffed out like so many porchlights, carried away like bags of garbage. Boring, identical houses produce boring, identical minds. These places are a mistake, a particularly loathsome eyesore on the American cultural trajectory. Whether they consciously realize it or not, humans require spontaneity, playfulness, novelty.

Lively, organic forms typify Paolo Soleri's experimental Arcosanti.

I like to imagine what America might be like now if the dreary spectacle of suburban sprawl had been abandoned in favor of organic design concepts like Paolo Soleri's Arcosanti. I bet our society would be happier, healthier, less subject to distraction, and literally more intelligent. Perhaps fewer Columbine incidents, or maybe a startling reduction in so-called "attention deficit disorder." At the very least, something interesting to look at. The fact that we attempt to "personalize" suburban homes with yellow ribbons and sports memorabilia and plastic gnomes only accentuates the dilemma.
The survival of democracy as we know it hinges increasingly on the inherently decentralized nature of the Internet. So I'm annoyed by Netizens who remain forever anonymous behind "clever" usernames and handles in a vainglorious attempt to keep their "real" lives and online lives discreet.

If you have something important to contribute to the datasphere, speak out! Use your real name! The Net is not one big chatroom; it's one of the central forces keeping our world from dissolution at the hands of mega-corporations, chomping-at-the-bit neo-fascists and "protective" watchdog government agencies out to fulfill the usual list of Big Brother power fantasies.

The childish reliance on Internet nicknames amounts to an admission of guilt. Guilt about what? Taking part in a liberal democracy, however seemingly immaterial or "virtual"? Ideas have always been "virtual'; while the Web has changed many aspects of our lives, it has not supplanted the sheer creative force of new insights and fresh dialogues. It has merely forced the boundaries further into the background.

And if you think that posting "subversive" material online while using an alias somehow disguises your tracks from the aforementioned bad guys, guess again. The odds are you're being watched anyway, if you're sufficiently interesting (or amusing). Which, from a merely statistical viewpoint, you're probably not. Even in Orwell's Oceania, the spooks who eavesdropped via telescreen were forced to perform spot-checks instead of lavishing 24-hour surveillance on a single given Party member.

There is no more "virtual." Conversely, there is no more "real" -- at least in the pre-cyberpunk sense. Making the leap to an information-driven existence is at least as ontologically bewildering as the advent of quantum mechanics, and every bit as critical for our future.

The government and the media want you faceless and nameless. Why are so many of us, armed with one of the most potent democratic tools imaginable, helping them along?

Monday, January 19, 2004

I chanced upon a great "New Age" radio program an hour or so ago when my finger slipped on the remote control. I just might have to rethink my ban on radio. A year ago I found myself tolerating -- indeed, enjoying -- NPR. Then the Iraq war started in all its malicious, misguided fury. Before too long I had come to identify NPR with the U.S. invasion itself and couldn't stand the sound of it; given the choice, I would have preferred the oblivion of static.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

I just finished the radio show, which was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, my half of the broadcast was not aired live because the station decided to air a soccer game in Mexico. I'm not kidding. Humanity's role in the cosmos or men in silly uniforms kicking a ball around? But that's the mainstream for you. Anyway, keep an eye on 21st Century Radio's program archives.

I'm on 21st Century Radio in an hour. Topic: Mars and JPL's agenda for unmanned surface exploration. I'm on for an hour, right after Dr. Gil Levin. You can listen on the Web or on the actual radio if you live in the Baltimore area. And if you miss it, don't fret; the website keeps an archive of past shows.
I was sifting through my email when the fire alarm went off.

This had happened before, so I didn't panic. Far from it: I kept typing, pretty sure some drunk had tripped the alarm or something equally innocuous; my "building" is actually two identical nine-floor towers. Each floor in each tower possesses at least one smoke detector linked to a general, apartment-wide alarm system, so the odds of a given alarm responding to a conflagration in my immediate vicinity are fairly slim -- basically one in eighteen.

"Yes," you might be thinking, "but fire has a curious tendency to spread." But my brain just doesn't assess risks like this. Maybe some of it's my apartment building's sheer age -- it's been around since the 1920s; what are the chances of a towering inferno during my residency? So I kept on clicking and looking at pictures of Mars and trying to ignore the ear-splitting wailing and buzzing coming from the hall, which had rudely interrupted the dour electronica of David Bowie's "Outside."

Then I noticed Ebe, one of my cats, perched on top of my monitor and pointedly sniffing the air. That got my attention. I opened the door, saw smoke -- not a lot, but enough to suggest a minor kitchen fire on a neighboring floor -- opened a window to let in clean air for the cats and trudged down the stairs to the lobby accompanied by a striking short-haired girl from, it turns out, the apartment directly below mine (although I'd never seen her before, which is really quite fucking typical and probably just as well).

Firemen tromped into the lobby within minutes of my arrival. They thoughtfully left the alarm on for the benefit of any coma victims who might not have noticed it and headed for the fire (or the remains of it); I later found out it was a cooking accident on 8, undoubtedly related to the fishy reek I mentioned in the last post. Maybe the fish I smelled hadn't yet been cooked. Which raises the question: Who cooks fish at 2:00 AM?

Meanwhile, I sat on a table next to the girl from floor 8 watching lots of distressed old people who will doubtlessly spend the next few weeks relating this incident to anyone who will listen. And although I was sure my cats would be fine, especially with an open window and the presence of firemen who didn't appear too rattled, I nevertheless felt worthless for not bringing them downstairs with me.

Finally the alarm was shut off and tenants were allowed back in their apartments. I said goodnight to the girl on 8 (probably asleep a few meters beneath me as I type this) and found my cats holding up well, if a bit skittish from the noise. Curiously, I found my door locked. I don't remember locking it, although I suppose I certainly could have in the heat of the moment.

And that's that. The hive was briefly disturbed; now we can all resume our regularly scheduled programming, barricaded in our customized cells of masonry, wiring and groaning pipes. In all probability I'll never know who locked my door. And I predict I'll never see the girl from floor 8 again; homeostasis precludes such neat certainties and happy endings.

It's very late. On the bridge down the street, the bulbous red lanterns have been turned off for the night, and the streets have emptied.

(Scattered city lights like suns in a derelict galaxy; the uneasy promise of dawn.)

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Another late-night dinner at Panera. They closed at 10:00; I got there at about a quarter till, with the place almost to myself. Panera has a sort of Marxist/Stalinist thread running through its interior decor: lots of pictures of stolid men engaged in the timeless craft of bread-making . . . a righteous synergy of muscle and dough. "I'll have the veggie sandwich and a small drink, comrade."

Blood-red Chinese lanterns sway pendulously over the bridge outside my apartment like plump flying saucers, or perhaps lambent, mildly radioactive tomatoes. The lanterns are guarded by statues of anonymous warriors, silhouetted against a stream of weekend headlights -- the usual parade of white limos, oozing blue neon as if the occupants are aliens from some planet of perpetual luminosity.

Having finally finished MacLeod's "Engine City," I've started Paul McAuley's "The Secret of Life," a biotechnology thriller set in the late 2020s. Max Barry's "Jennifer Government," now out in trade paperback, is high on my 2004 to-read list.

A double espresso the color of Martian mud and then back across the street (lanterns stirring vaguely in their ranks), past the diligently scrolling Mircom machine and through the freshly painted lobby to the elevator. Someone, presumably on my floor, has cooked fish in my short absence. The hallway -- and now my apartment -- reeks of it. My cats seem miraculously oblivious.

A conical stellar nursury takes form inside my lava lamp, gooey hatchling stars and molten nebular sludge.
"Can you hear me, Major Tom?"

What if, due to financial and scientific considerations, NASA was able to launch a manned mission to Mars . . . but only as a one-way trip? That's the possibility explored by Paul Davies in his new op-ed for the New York Times. Firstly, I don't think a strictly one-way trip is necessary; we can have our exploratory cake and eat it, too. But what if, for whatever reasons, a one-way jaunt to Mars was all that was available (or at least foreseeable)? Who would go? Closet fatalists desperate to escape the clutches of Starbucks and Disney or unflagging optimists willing to sacrifice their home world for the prospect of an alien frontier? Does it matter?

More topically: Would I go? Yes, I would. In a heartbeat.

Friday, January 16, 2004

My online interview about Planet X is now posted at PUFOIN. See "Part 4."

"Personally, I think it would be wonderful if Planet X indeed arrived and turned out to be harmless. Instead of sending a probe into deep-space, deep-space will have come to us."
John Shirley weighs in with a chilling forecast of the Bush Dynasty's probable plans to Take Over the World: supplant that bothersome nonsense in the Constitution about Separation of Church and State by outsourcing future military invasions to private "peace-keeping" forces (read: mercenaries). John saw all this shit happening back in the mid-80s; I don't think it's an accident that there's a new demand for his "Eclipse" novels.

Resident Bush has finally voiced his administration's plans for future space exploration. As disappointingly remote as they may seem on first take (and there's every possibility that they will be shot down entirely), it's the first proactive space initiative in memory. It's not "We choose to go to Mars," but it leaves the door open. And it recognizes the dire need for a vehicle to replace the Space Shuttle fleet (or what's left of it) with something that doesn't belong in the Air and Space Museum. Of course, we should have had a functioning alternative to the Shuttle a long time ago, but better late than never.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

I've really slacked off on reading for the last couple weeks, but dived back into MacLeod's "Engine City" this evening. I'm also half-way through one of the poorest UFO books I've ever read. It's called "The Alien Intent"; the cover features an interesting juxtaposition of a "Gray" alien head and a fighter-pilot's wraparound oxygen helmet/visor, which is pretty much why I bought it. The author thinks he has the whole UFO thing figured out: there are millions of Grays currently living in various subterranean or sub-aquatic bases around the planet and "the government" knows all about 'em.

To be fair, I don't find the prospect of alien habitats on Earth all that far-fetched. Given that we have visitors -- and to me, the UFO phenomenon certainly suggests that we might -- then it's not a completely unreasonable leap to think that they might be here, albeit in seclusion. Scientists have remarked that we know less about the bottom of our oceans than we do about the surface of the Moon. While this may or may not be literally true, it does a good job of quantifying our ignorance. And given the myriad documented sightings of unusual aerial phenomena in the vicinity of oceans (credible reports are not only plentiful but go back many decades; see zoologist Ivan Sanderson's aptly titled "Invisible Residents"), there's at least some evidential meat to the notion.

But the author of "The Alien Intent" takes such provocative ideas to absurd extremes. His sources are apocryphal at best. He dwells lengthily on alleged government/alien liaisons -- the old "silent invasion" meme in which Grays strike bargains with the U.S. government for the "right" to perform abductions and dissect cattle. Of course, all of this supposedly has its origins in the crash of an alien vehicle in Roswell in 1947.

The possibility of some sort of technology transfer -- planned or unplanned -- at Roswell shouldn't be dismissed. There are two perfectly credible witnesses that the debunking media universally ignores: Gen. Arthur Exon, who oversaw incoming flights from Roswell Army Air Field while stationed at Wright-Patterson, and Dr. Robert Sarbacher, an impeccably credentialed scientist who went on the record with his knowledge of a UFO crash working group.

A few detractors -- and even some Roswell proponents -- are quick to point out that Sarbacher wasn't directly involved with aliens or their craft. But he never claimed he was. And the bits and pieces of data he managed to retrieve from those who were are nothing less than astounding: Sarbacher confirms statements made by Exon testifying to the bizarre nature of the "metal" salvaged from the Roswell crash site and describes the apparent alien bodies as insect-like. I find this description compelling because it was made long before the insectile "alien head" became a pop-culture staple. Sarbacher seems to be describing the same skinny, bug-eyed creatures who crop up in endless "abduction" accounts and unsubstantiated testimony from self-proclaimed insiders like the controversial Bob Lazar.

A possibly authentic photograph taken from color motion picture film footage of an alleged UFO crash victim circa 1954.

Sarbacher also named names. He wrote that John von Neumann was "definitely involved" in dealing with UFO crash recovery. Von Neumann, a pioneering mathematician and physicist, would have been a logical choice for a secret study of extraterrestrial technology.

Exon also has interesting things to say about a UFO oversight group. On videotape, he refers to it as the "Unholy Thirteen." For all intents and purposes, he's describing a rigorously compartmentalized working group identical to the controversial Majestic Twelve, suggesting that the alleged MJ-12 "Eisenhower briefing document" may contain at least some factual information.

In 1994, the Air Force set to work on its ostensibly "final" report on the Roswell case, presenting doctored math that "proves" that the Roswell material was due to a semi-secret balloon project. (The project's mission -- to listen for nuclear explosions in the upper atmosphere -- was indeed secret, while the balloons themselves were off-the-shelf and disappointingly mundane.) Interestingly, after the AF's pre-emptive 1994 "investigation" of the Roswell affair, Exon suggested that his previous statements had been the result of misquoting by alien-happy UFO investigators. (After examining the chronology of his testimony, it becomes quite obvious that someone had a talk with him.)

Fortunately, he told his story on video. Not only did he overhear some most interesting stories from Wright-Patterson's Foreign Technology Division, where technicians were busy analyzing unidentifiable metal specimens (certainly a far cry from the paper-backed aluminum foil flaunted by the military after its initial "flying disk" press release), but was flown over one of two crash sites in the New Mexico desert, where he saw a gouge in the ground where something had evidently had a grazing collision. According to Exon's sources, the bulk of the wreck had come to rest at a second site. If there were bodies, as matter-of-factly indicated by Sarbacher, then they probably would have come from there.

(Weirdly, Sarbacher refers to the aliens alternately as "people" and "instruments." Was he implying that the insect-like aliens were in some sense artificial -- mechanical or biological automata? We'll never know; Sarbacher died only days before a then-unknown Whitley Strieber could interview him while researching for his book "Communion," which became a number-one New York Times bestseller and subsequently popularized the conventional image of the large-eyed, big-headed alien.)

Of course, none of this will sway committed debunkers. They'll insist it's all scuttlebutt, hearsay, unsubstantiated rumor. And to be sure, a great deal of the Roswell mythos is exactly that -- with the lingering exception of a core group, of which Exon and Sarbacher are perhaps the most difficult to ignore.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

You are what you breathe . . .

Put down that BSE-infected hamburger! Your brain might already be impregnated with carcinogenic nanoparticles!
I received a couple copies of Meta Research Bulletin in the mail today. The September, 2003 issue contains my editorial on why JPL's so-called "Search for Life" on Mars is largely, if not entirely, a public relations charade enacted by academically conscious planetary geologists. Not exactly "The X-Files," but in light of some of the rather bizarre things photographed by Spirit and the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter, it amounts to something of a scientific travesty. Meta Research Bulletin has an ISSN number (1086-6590), so I assume you can order it from bookstores. Or give the Meta Research website a look. Dr. Tom Van Flandern is, if nothing else, an engaging scientific iconoclast who's not afraid to challenge consensus assumptions.

Due partly to increased interest in my website (and partly for something to do), I've uploaded a webcam self-portrait to the Mac FAQ page. This is the image upon which eWarrior's "MacBot Singularity" was based. I never really imagined it would wind up on canvas and exhibited to cyber-savvy Californians, but that's part of the fun.

In the background you can vaguely make out a bookshelf and a framed poster depicting Stonehenge, since knocked down by one of my cats.

And since I find myself mentioning pets (a fiercely enforced taboo here at Posthuman Blues), I'll take this opportunity to kindly bid you goodnight.

In my stereo:

"The House Carpenter's Daughter" Natalie Merchant
"Life's Rich Pageant" R.E.M.
"Disintegration" The Cure
"Kid A" Radiohead
"Diamond Life" Sade

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

The sun is certainly shining brightly on the Bush Regime's various administrative atrocities. First Michael Jackson appears to keep the mainstream media dutifully distracted from anything important. Like the quiet insemination of "Patriot Act II," which basically dismantles the Constitution and then urinates on the pieces.

Now, some ex-baseball player named Pete Rose is all you hear about. Something tells me we'll be hearing about Pete for a long time. Between the spectacle of Jackson's imminent "trial of the century," Saddam Hussein's interrogation and Rose's gambling confession, how much room for real news will newspapers and television have time for?

I've harped on this issue before, but please sign the Media Carta manifesto. Our military-industrial-entertainment complex is a sad and twisted mockery specifically designed to distract, confuse and move product. Only the product being sold is you.

Turn off your televisions. This is memetic war to extermination.

"We must find out what words are and how they function. They become images when written down, but images of words repeated in the mind and not of the image of the thing itself."

--William S. Burroughs

That's him on the left.

Congratulations to Morrissey for taking the pet food industry to task on grisly animal experimentation! (And for coming out with a new album -- finally.)
Politicians inevitably counter plans to send humans to the Moon or beyond by relying on a time-honored mantra: "But there are more important things to be done here on Earth!" And the public, sheep-like as always, nods its collective agreement. What wisdom!

Alas, there will always be pressing problems here on Earth. Always. Get used to it. Barring the sudden emergence of a global utopia wherein all of our physical, emotional and intellectual needs are met, we will continue to be plagued with violence, poverty, leaking roofs, car accidents, unemployment, homelessness, disease, lost keys, and corrupt leaders.

So why don't we dispense with these disingenuous, imaginatively crippled fucks and get on with it? We don't need NASA. We don't need to await lofty, pointless assurances from the likes of Bush. We need initiative and drive on a grassroots level. Or else one day, possibly quite soon, it will simply be too late. We will have died in the womb, unremembered. And the cosmos' long silence will claim us.

Monday, January 12, 2004

I got my copy-edited manuscript back from Simon & Schuster today. The copy-editor did an absolutely jaw-droppingly thorough job. My hat's off to him, even though he made a few errors (i.e., assuming Carl Sagan co-wrote "The Demon-Haunted World" with Ann Druyan). But that's an understandable mistake. When this thing is finally published, it will be about as accurate as humanly possible. And from browsing through it this evening, I think it holds up pretty well.

Also, a reviewer in Britain has expressed interest. The wheels are in motion.

(I wonder if cosmology writer/Posthuman Blues reader Marcus Chown would be interested in taking a look? Probably not his bag, but he did address ET artifacts in "The Universe Next Door" . . .)

I'm up late doing laundry. There's something existentially reassuring about laundry, something earthy and cyclic and zen that speaks to the subconscious. We can launch probes to other planets, explore the subatomic "particle zoo," map the human genome . . . but we still have to do laundry. I don't think futurists of the 1950s thought we'd be doing laundry in 2004: much easier to drop your clothes into an ultrasonic cleaner. No detergent, no wrinkles, no static cling, no dryer lint.

But we're still doing laundry pretty much the way we always have. Laundry is exempt from the change the envelops and transforms the rest of waking reality; it's a temporal linchpin, an anchor to sanity. And if you're Zippy the Pinhead, it's also a religion.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Despite some of the idiotic claims circulating about "machinery" at the Spirit rover site, there actually are a number of tantalizing and unusual rocks. A fair number of them feature somewhat geometric "holes" that could be burrows etched out by Martian organisms, or perhaps some unrecognized crystalline phenomenon. Here are two examples, not necessarily the most impressive:

The good news is that the rover can actually roll right up to these and take a closer look; we don't have to succumb to endless armchair theorizing.
The U.S. is pondering military action against Syria. Big goddamned surprise. And keep in mind that this is after we capture Saddam Hussein, after the gloat-fest, after the sickening pretense that the Iraq war was/is justified. Hussein's capture was a bit of fortuitous theater and nothing more. War is addictive. And our leaders are junkies.
"I Want to Believe." You come across this phrase a lot while browsing UFO websites. I don't get it. Why would anyone want to believe in something? "Belief" implies a capacity for self-deception. Perhaps if the human race spent less of its time "believing" in things and more of its time thinking and deducing we wouldn't be forced up against the chilly wall of imminent chaos, vainly pretending all is well.

"Belief" is a sugar-coated suicide pill -- attractive, in a peculiar way, not without a certain mystical charm. But I fear it's a luxury we can't afford.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

America's new media-darling

OK, I know I recently promised to lay off the subject of Mars. But that was before I realized what a mainstream subject it had become. Evidently there's quite a bit of public enthusiasm for the Spirit rover mission. Today the Kansas City Star and USA Today both have big front-page stories on "Mars Mania." And there's increasingly serious speculation that Bush's Moon-Mars initiative is more than just wishful thinking on behalf of space advocates. (Of course, when I say "Bush's Moon-Mars initiative" I'm not really attributing anything to Bush, who I doubt could locate the Red Planet on a map of the Solar System to save his life, but that's neither here nor there . . .)

Have you noticed how JPL and the mainstream press have turned the Spirit rover into something of a personality? Space journalism is suddenly filled with rather desperate attempts to transmogrify a six-wheeled, solar-powered, remote-controlled dune-buggy into an interplanetary showman (or show-woman -- I don't think they've given it a gender yet, although this issue was raised in the Posthuman Blues forum). When Spirit stands up on its wheels, it's not performing a basic requirement; it's giving a stand-up performance a la Jerry Seinfeld. It "sleeps," it "wakes up," it sends "postcards" from its new "neighborhood"! It's alive!

Can we expect Spirit to "do Letterman" anytime soon? Perhaps the JPL geeks (I use that term respectfully) can make it "wave its hand" to television viewers worldwide during the next big halftime show? Will Spirit run for president?

As much as I'm savoring the Spirit mission, I find attempts to humanize the rover weirdly disturbing -- like guys who name their cars (or, worse, their computers) sexy female names. There's definitely a Freudian understratum to the public's infatuation with Spirit and its cybernetic derring-do. NASA has done more than transplant a bug-like machine to the Red Planet; it's sent a spark of our collective desire to get off this poisoned, treacherous globe we call "home." Spirit is nothing less than an avatar of silicon and wire, spared the neuroses and anxieties that plague Earth. Physically distant yet impressively intimate in its media-savvy, it (she?) joins the ranks of Max Headroom and Lara Croft -- postmodern superstars that straddle the dissolving barrier between the real and the unreal.

It's no mistake there's a CD with hundreds of thousands of names on board Spirit -- and yes, mine's there too, basking in Mars' ultraviolet flux, waiting for some future collector to pop it in his antique CD-ROM drive. It's like some sort of cosmic lottery, or a bid for ersatz immortality.

Ultimately, Spirit might have less to do with Mars than it does with the way we identify with our machinery. Perhaps instead of including a plaque commemorating the crew of Columbia, JPL should have attached a few choice quotes from J.G. Ballard's "Crash."
I just got this most interesting proposition from "Larua":

And a very good morning to you! :)

I got your email from Javier and I just wanted to tell you strait up, I really like 2 do it

She told me u're into love making too. Lets hookup for a pleasure weekend (maybe even this weekend) and finally be together!

can't wait to make love like rats,

Funny. I don't seem to recall any "Javier" . . .
Homeostatic circadian blur
lofty naked dreams bleeding on cold gravel
cracks in the aquaria reveal concrete stars
and trajectories traced in fissured celluloid
Chattering hemispheres, memories of light
seen through a peptide veil
breathing the air of new centuries through
brittle plastic lips and fixated eyes

"I was central
I had control
I lost my head
I need this."

--R.E.M., "Country Feedback"

Friday, January 09, 2004

Courage, courage, courage.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

I've decided to ease up on the Mars commentary here at Posthuman Blues; I can see how it could be potentially alienating (no pun intended) for readers who expect the "usual" -- not that I profess to know precisely what the "usual" is. I've rambled for a full year about obnoxious bumper-stickers, publishing trends, UFOs, proliferating cellphone use, cybernetics, Dianetics, mind-uploading, and Natalie Portman. There's really no common thread, which happens to be the way I like it. So I've elected to steer clear of becoming a special-interest blogger. Not that there's anything wrong with that; it just seems redundant.

To keep abreast of Mars news, see my Mars site. It's unabashedly all Mars, all the time.

Meanwhile . . .

The FAO Schwartz on the Plaza is going out of business. This is a heartening development, sparing shoppers the seizure-inducing "theme music" that spills from the store's central totem: a twitching plastic monument to prepubescent greed certified to send even the most media-saturated among us clutching at their hair in minutes. (And if that's not enough, there's also an animatronic dinosaur who speaks in "ebonics.") Places like FAO deserve to die prolonged deaths.

Across the street, George Brett's (neighborhood sportsbar meets casual elegance) has opened up, framed in dappled blue neon. Not a place I plan on going. I find quasi-religious worship of sports icons scary as hell. Of course, on the other end of the Plaza there's The Granfalloon, named after a word coined by none other than Kurt Vonnegut. If The Granfalloon actually had a Vonnegut theme I don't think I could stop myself from going, but -- sadly -- it's just another noisy (if nicely designed) place where you're lucky to get a decent seat and nobody knows who Kurt Vonnegut is.
I managed to find two distinctly different versions of a single Spirit rover image on JPL's website, bearing out the thesis of my previous Mars installment. It would appear that JPL essentially bases their Mars image releases on aesthetic considerations; I have yet to read anything to indicate that they are using Spirit's on-board color calibration target.

And I can only shake my head in embarrassment at the "Enterprise Mission's" new claim that the Spirit site is littered with alien machinery. As friend Kurt Jonach points out, "Enterprise" appears to want to lay claim to all possible conspiracy theories lest someone else break their long-running monopoly.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

No, I'm not indulging in baseless conspiracy theory in my article on the true color of the Martian sky. Although I didn't explicitly mention it, there's at least one on-the-record statement from a NASA scientist who watched JPL personnel fiddling with the contrast controls back when the Viking probes landed -- evidently to make sure everything looked nice and "Martian."

Mars is obviously far from an ecological paradise. But JPL has repeatedly dodged the prospect of an extant Martian biosphere, relying on a laughably complacent public who leaves important questions to the experts. Perhaps the operators of ESA's Mars Express will prove more democratic.

On a similar note, have you noticed how the subject of space science is inevitably tarred by the "smirk factor" in the mainstream media? You're reading an article about the Spirit rover in your daily paper and out of nowhere is a reference to "Little Green Men." Or flying saucers or something similarly kitschy.

On a fairly deep cultural level, we're rather afraid of space and its implications of vastness and potential cosmic catastrophe. So we sugar-coat even the most fact-driven space news stories with strategic condescending references. Nothing blatant; just enough. It makes the transition to the next must-read article about pedophile priests or has-been pop-stars that much easier.
Another media alert!

John Shirley ("Eclipse," "Wetbones," "Black Butterflies," "Silicon Embrace" . . .) plugs my Mars research on his blog. It doesn't get much more flattering than this, folks. John and I have engaged in some extended and somewhat exasperating debates over what constitutes evidence, as well as the meaning of the term "extraordinary evidence." Despite his general negativity toward archaeological ruins on Mars, he's not a debunker. Far from it; he's an authentic seeker, as I think this entry makes clear.
We're living in a kleptocratic aristocracy. Due process? Freedom of assembly? Can't have 'em! Got a "War on Terror" to fight here, folks!

"Marched into the capital brooding duplicitous, wicked and able, media-ready,
Heartless, and labeled. Super US citizen, super achiever,
Mega ultra power dosing. Relax
Defense, defense, defense, defense. Yeah, yeah, yeah!"

--R.E.M., "Ignoreland"

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Media alert!

I will be a guest on 21st Century Radio on Sunday, January 18 to discuss the search for Martian life, present and future. Apparently an article I originally wrote for my website ended up published in astronomer Tom Van Flandern's Meta Research Bulletin and my name came up.
Is this not beautiful?

For more, see JPL's Rover Image Archive.
A few of my favorite blogs:

Beyond the Beyond: Futurist/cyberpunk Bruce Sterling's prodigiously well-informed take on global pop culture, geopolitics and technological ephemera. (His book "Tomorrow Now" makes a great user's guide.)

ShirleyBlog: Author John Shirley's barbed, insightful commentary on literature, the media, government, et cetera. Great conversational style.

Martian Soil: Indispensable coverage of breaking Mars news. No link to the Cydonian Imperative, but I'm OK with that. No, really.

Futurismic: It's happening now.

A Voyage To Arcturus: I just discovered this one today, thanks to a mutual interest in the Spirit Mars rover mission. I like what I see.

Monday, January 05, 2004

My fiction submission policy

Important note to online fiction markets (I'm thinking specifically of Futurismic, to whom I've submitted two short-stories): Current fiction submissions are not available on my website (or any other website). The stories available on MTVI's "Dead Letter Office" page are either original to MTVI or else reprints from "dead" online zines. Thank you.

The Constitution is toast.

Yeah, it lingered for a while in the wake of 9-11-01. It stuck it out like a war-weary soldier, maimed and crippled, but in the end in didn't really have a chance against shits like Ashcroft. Protesters at Bush appearances now have to take their complaints to designated "free-speech zones" or risk the wrath of the Secret Service, whose job seems to have less to do with protecting the president's life than protecting his approval ratings.

This is a travesty. No, it's worse than that -- it's the effective end of a democracy that could have been good. Hail to the thief.
I really can't stand scientists who assume their profession automatically equips them to be science fiction writers. For every single successful scientist/author hybrid (i.e., Gregory Benford, Arthur C. Clarke) there's an inept wannabe (i.e., Gentry Lee, Robert Zubrin) who somehow manages to get novels published.

(Actually, I kind of enjoyed Zubrin's "First Landing," even though it was near-parodically cheesy, dripping with naivete, horrid dialogue and undistilled sentimentality. Lee's "Bright Messengers," on the other hand, was almost unreadably bad -- and utterly forgettable. And it has a sequel!)

Theodore Sturgeon's law of science fiction: 99% of SF is bad because 99% of everything is bad.
I've started work on a science fiction novel. It's about the unexpected consequences of artificial intelligence and biotechnology, among other things. I have 14 pages done; assuming I keep myself interested (the ultimate test of a manuscript's integrity) and achieve creative escape velocity, I might have something to present to an agent or publisher in six months, when my nonfiction Mars book hits the shelves.

In theory, if "After the Martian Apocalypse" is a success, I'll be granted considerable leeway in what sort of book I publish next. While it's far too early to know if my take on the Red Planet will go over well, at least I'm doing something constructive -- and justifying the purchase of my laptop at the same time.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Posthuman Blues goes interactive

I'm up late waiting for laundry to finish and keeping an eye on NASA TV in case any more Mars images come through in the next few minutes. In the meantime, I've created a message board (see left-hand column). The board is open to the public. Log in and post. Fume. Vent. I don't care. It doesn't matter. If the concept works, great; if not, I'll scrap it. The basic idea is to help foster a casual online "community" of sorts. Obviously, something like this can only happen organically. In that spirit, I invite you to sign up. It's free, and no salesperson will bother you.

New images from Mars are in already. I've only seen black-and-white screen-captures so far, but JPL says the image quality is excellent. Martian Soil is all over this; I highly recommend taking a look.

Saturday, January 03, 2004

I'm listening to NASA TV. The first Mars Exploration Rover, named "Spirit," has landed successfully. The guys at JPL are bursting. And damned if their excitement isn't infectious.

We now have three craft orbiting Mars and one telerobotic vehicle safely emplaced on the surface. Onward!
I got a free book in the mail today, a fictional thriller based on the premise that NASA is hiding knowledge of extraterrestrial artifacts on Mars -- which could be true on some level. Accusing an entity as far-flung as NASA of a cover-up is naive, of course. If data is indeed monitored and kept from the public domain, the agency responsible would be much smaller and much smarter. Politically, NASA itself simply isn't intelligent enough to engage in a cover-up of any great magnitude. Labyrinthine "need to know" security measures make sure that punctures in the security balloon are fastidiously closed. Nothing short of a massive, sustained leak -- preferably from multiple sources willing to give their names -- could do more that momentarily disrupt such a blockade.

The MJ-12 papers -- purporting to document the aftermath of at least one UFO crash -- will never be proven false or authentic on their own grounds because the people allegedly involved are dead. When Bob Lazar appeared on the scene with descriptions of S-4, Element 115 and electrogravitic saucers, it briefly seemed that a smoking gun had appeared. But the ensuing controversy over his credentials effectively ended open-minded debate. Lazar was quick to point out that he had been chosen, in part, because of his oddball past. He also frankly told reporters that the staff at S-4 (the underground base where the government supposedly stored nine ET craft) had probably tampered with his memory. In a phildickian twist, he could have been lying about his role and not even known it.

Secrets -- about aliens or Iraqi CIA assets or bioweapons development programs -- will remain secrets so long as our media obliges the intelligence community and chooses complacency instead of asking aggressive questions. Perhaps as Big Media is subverted by the kaleidoscopic and versatile rise of blogging and Net-based independent journalism, the number of potential leaks will rise. Already, Richard Hoagland claims multiple leaks from within NASA. That I don't find his leaked information plausible doesn't dispel the possibility that real people who are who they claim they are gave it to him. The ultimate question is why it was given to him. To advance impartial truth? To further various personal agendas? Or simply for the fun of seeing a true believer shout nonsense to the world?

Friday, January 02, 2004

This is disturbing . . . although I really don't know why I should be surprised. Humans feed other humans toxic substances and miscellaneous organic debris all the time. Why should complacent pet food companies give a damn about what cats and dogs eat?

In similar news, much ado has been made about the "arrival" of "Mad Cow Disease" in the U.S. As dire and newsworthy as this sounds, I doubt that BSE is a newcomer. I think it's been incubating within our population for a long time. Some scientists have even proposed that the infamous "unmarked helicopters" seen in the vicinity of cattle mutilations might be part of a clandestine government effort to trace the spread of BSE. The modern cattle mutilation phenomenon began in the late 70s -- more than enough time for a contagion like BSE to infiltrate the U.S. and take up residence in our spinal tissue.

But why, ask debunkers, would the government use such secretive and costly methods? Why doesn't it simply buy its own cattle-land for research purposes instead of terrifying ranchers and spawning horror stories about Little Gray Men? Because the horror stories are integral to maintaining secrecy. By conducting tests in the open, the government (or whatever agency is responsible for cattle "mutes") would effectively signal its ignorance and lack of control. Citizens would ask questions. They might even panic.

What better way to avoid public accountability than take the study "deep black"? Sure, ranchers are going to wonder what the hell's going on. But since the underground study hasn't admitted to anything -- indeed, it's circumvented Congressional oversight entirely -- it can maintain its activity with impunity.

Stories of alien experimentation are bound to arise unassisted. The "alien invasion" meme is incredibly potent. Given its myriad psy-ops applications, it would be foolish not to exploit it. Eventually, in the hands of well-meaning researchers such as Linda Moulton Howe, a merely terrifying top-secret attempt to track a brain-destroying disease becomes the grisly handiwork of ufonauts every bit as cool, unsympathetic and inscrutable as H.G. Wells' Martians.

Or maybe there really is an alien element behind some cattle mutilations. Perhaps the government is using genuine alien experimentation as a cover for more mundane research -- or possibly as an attempt to reverse-engineer the aliens' own agenda. Or -- and this is truly freaky -- aliens and terrestrial biologists are working together. Maybe diseases like BSE really are the culprits, and the aliens have a sincere, ongoing interest in it. In this case, maybe the aliens are OK. Better a bunch of anonymous livestock than us, right?

But there are reports of human mutilations, too. Paranoia? Hoaxes? Disinformation? Whitley Strieber claims that close-encounters with apparent nonhuman beings have taken a decided turn for the malevolent lately. If true, maybe the intelligence behind the "mutes" -- human or ET (or both) -- is proceeding with the next stage of its project.
If today was any indication, 2004 is going to be a painfully boring year. Fortunately, I don't think it's an indication of anything in particular, unless you count mangled biorhythms, a worrying scarcity of social contacts and the usual dollop of ennui. And it's all just a dance of synapses and endorphins. That's the truly demeaning part.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

Fireworks wriggling madly skyward like phosphorescent sperm cells, showers of diminished light playing across the crystalline surfaces of office towers. 2003 dies, moody and faded: a discarded accessory. The future inches nearer -- not that it has ever ceased moving nearer, but framed suddenly in a symphony of muffled pyrotechnics and blazing sky-bound chemicals, it seems abruptly and oddly tangible; a presence sensed in the gut and the knot of tissue somewhere between the eyes. A numbing temporal caress; a tectonic shiver. A collective pang of loss and hope and tangled fear. And then the fireworks end and you have slipped through some phantom orifice into a world marked by a brand-new number, bulging with portent. Terra incognita. This slippery thing we call the future, eluding our faculties like a photon engaged in quantum dialogue with itself.