The Radiolab podcast brought to light a very interesting story, which at first glance seemed like a weird but trivial legal dispute between a multinational company & the US government, yet looking deeper it actually tackled the issue of what it means to be human:
Reporter Ike Sriskandarajah tells Jad and Robert a story about two international trade lawyers, Sherry Singer and Indie Singh, who noticed something interesting while looking at a book of tariff classifications. "Dolls," which represent human beings, are taxed at almost twice the rate of "toys," which represent something not human - such as robots, monsters, or demons. As soon as they read that, Sherry and Indie saw dollar signs. it just so happened that one of their clients, Marvel Comics, was importing its action figures as dolls. And one set of action figures really piqued Sherry and Indie's interest: The XMEN, normal humans who, at around puberty, start to change in ways that give them strange powers.
So Sherry and Indie went down to the customs office with a bag of XMEN action figures to convince the US government that these mutants are NOT human. That argument eventually became a court case that went on for years. Joe Liebman, former international trade attorney for the US Department of Justice, helps us understand the government's side. And Ike, with help from director and producer Bryan Singer, reflects on the story of the XMEN, and tells us why this case is so poignant for anyone who’s fought to be different without being cast as an outsider.
Sure, we can all make fun of these tedious legal battles produced by ambiguous legislation over matters as inconsequential as toys. And you might also think that only a fanboy (or a lawyer) would find this particular story of any interest.
But I on the other hand, think that this case is a perfect allegory that exhibits the complete inadequacy of laws to define what being 'human' really means.
Legislation is only comfortable when trying to define things as immutable and static: Unmovable border lines, unbreakable contracts, unavoidable obligations. When a law is passed and integrated in a nation's Constitution, it is expected to be regarded and upheld the same way we're forced to obey the other which govern our world --such as gravity, for instance.
And yet this is a rather deficient way to understand the world. Everything is in a permanent state of flux, and the same goes for humans —'interacting processes' as Robert Anton Wilson liked to say.
A human never IS; we are in a permanent state of BECOMING.
Our laws are meant to assess events as single snapshots, which is as efficient as trying to evaluate the quality of a motion picture by just one single frame. And yet that's what lawyers and judges are paid to do all the time: put a man or a woman's entire life on a scale on account of one particular snapshot.
Which is why lawyers and politicians are always hitting a brick-wall when it comes to tackling terms which are the provenance of Science. When they discuss the theory of evolution for example, they want to be shown a picture of the 'missing link', when a scientist very well knows that there is no such a thing, just as there can't be pinpointed the exact moment when you stopped being a child and became an adolescent, or an adult.
The X-Men saga is an excellent mental experiment that allows us to explore the problems faced by people who, for one reason or another, are considered undesirable or dangerous for causes escaping their control. Mutants are not mutant by choice.
Imagine for a moment that in the years to come it is discovered that some members of the human population have a genetic ascendancy of non-terrestrial origin. In other words, suppose we learn there are human-alien hybrids living among us. What then?
Or maybe a growing number of the population will start showing abilities outside the norm —no pun intended— like clairvoyance, psychokinesis, or even telepathy. Would they be forced to be registered, like the mutants in the Marvel universe?
And suppose mutation does become a matter of choice. What will happen when technologies that are being developed today will allow our children or grandchildren to transcend the physical and mental limitations that are common to us?
I have the suspicion that the quandaries we face today in issues like gay marriage or abortion will be regarded as childish by the legislators of the coming centuries.
In which case I hope they get to include a course in "X-Men 101" in future law curricula.
[H/T Boing Boing]
Writer Alain de Botton has announced plans to build a series of temples for atheists in the UK. The first will be a 46 metre-tall black tower designed by Tom Greenall Architects and constructed in London to represent the idea of perspective:
‘Why should religious people have the most beautiful buildings in the land?’ he asks. ‘It’s time atheists had their own versions of the great churches and cathedrals’.
Alain de Botton has laid out his plans in a new book, Religion for Atheists, which argues that atheists should copy the major religions and put up a network of new architectural masterpieces in the form of temples.
‘As religions have always known, a beautiful building is an indispensable part of getting your message across. Books alone won’t do it.’
De Botton argues that you definitely don’t need a god or gods to justify a temple. ‘You can build a temple to anything that’s positive and good. That could mean: a temple to love, friendship, calm or perspective.’
De Botton has begun working on the first Temple for Atheists. Designed by Tom Greenall Architects, this will be a huge black tower nestled among the office buildings in the City of London. Measuring 46 meters in all, the tower represents the age of the earth, with each centimetre equating to 1 million years and with, at the tower’s base, a tiny band of gold a mere millimetre thick standing for mankind’s time on earth. The Temple is dedicated to the idea of perspective, which is something we’re prone to lose in the midst of our busy modern lives.
De Botton suggests that atheists like Richard Dawkins won’t ever convince people that atheism is an attractive way of looking at life until they provide them with the sort of rituals, buildings, communities and works of art and architecture that religions have always used.
‘Even the most convinced atheists tend to speak nicely about religious buildings. They may even feel sad that nothing like them gets built nowadays. But there’s no need to feel nostalgic. Why not just learn from religions and build similarly beautiful and interesting things right now?’
A black tower, eh? Now what does that remind me of...
Well, I'm sure Dawkins would look stunning in white robes ;)
UPDATE: Tom Greenall, one of the architects who designed the temple(?) explains the project:
Temple to Perspective
Standing 46-metres tall and in the heart of the City of London, the temple represents the entire history of life on earth: each centimetre of its height equates to one million years of life. One metre from the ground, a single line of gold – no more than a millimetre thick – represents the entire existence of humankind. A visit to the temple is intended to leave one with a renewed sense of perspective.
OK, so it would seem the obelisk is one big middle finger raised against Creationism, huh? Funny, since I thought that quarrel was mostly contested on the other side of the Atlantic.
As a designer, I feel it kind of odd to put the golden band that represents mankind at the bottom, although obviously by placing it at the top would make it impossible to see. So how about a thin glowing strip illuminated by LEDs at the top?
Frankly it would have been better if they had designed a wall that mimicked Sagan's Cosmic Calendar, but I guess there were space limitations in the project.
Who is the Master that makes the grass green?
~ Zen koan
If you're interested into the (so-called) alien abduction phenomenon, then I *guarantee* you know who Whitley Strieber is. Although there had been previous books that started to publicize claims of other-worldly encounters that surpassed Hynek's original classification, it was Strieber's Communion the one that broke through and brought the subject to the mainstream —alas, unwittingly spurring a deluge of 'anal probe' jokes.
I remember when I finally had the chance to buy a Mexican edition of Communion. I had to sleep with my table lamp on for 6. Whole. Months! I also used to bury it under a pile of magazines, because I could not endure the sight of those hypnotic black eyes while trying to sleep, much to the hilarity of my 2 big sisters. No, I seriously doubt I've been the recipient of the splindy interlopers' visits, but my imagination has always run on overdrive during the wee hours of the night.
My friend Mike Clelland recently had the chance to have a little chat with Whitley, and they discussed his latest book Solving the Communion Enigma. What Strieber seems to suggest is that we stop looking for an easy answer for UFO enigma, which inevitably collapse to a rigid belief system (BS, as Roger Anton Wilson used to call them) and that we dare ourselves to live with the question open.
Not an easy feat, obviously. We humans are often uncomfortable with ambiguity, and demand quick and simple answers to our problems —did I get the job? is he lying to me? does she love me? am I going to die?
But ambiguity does have its benefits sometimes, if we are smart enough to use it. Throughout history many mystic traditions have resorted to several different methods that seek to 'shut down' the analytical part of the human mind in order to expand or shift the normal cognitive perceptions. Practices like meditation have been shown to produce actual physical changes in the brain, and even short exercises in which test subjects are exposed to short novels by Kafka seem to conduce to an improvement in cognitive mechanisms.
So in the end, it might just be that the UFO phenomenon is nothing but an enormous, incredibly complex multi-generational Zen koan, and that It —whatever *It* is— wants us to stop being passive observers and turn instead into active participants of this uncanny contact. Then, and only then, will it become a true Communion.
Click here to find the audio conversation, and enjoy.
Contrary to what many people may think, Borges is not the most popular Argentinian author. That title belongs to Joaquín Salvador Lavado, a.k.a. Quino; a cartoonist whose work has been published in dozens of countries, and translated to many languages —including Esperanto.
Quino's most famous character is Mafalda, a little girl whose nagging questions about everything from philosophy, the Moon race, Fidel Castro, to the war in Vietnam, became the first instruction into politics for many of us in Latin America. No wonder Umberto Eco named her "Mafalda the contestational."
During the years when he published the strip, Quino portrayed the many quirks and traits that added depth to his character, some of which were understandably shared by the author himself. Like Quino for example, Mafalda loved the Beatles, and this was exploited by Quino to reflect the never-ending generational struggle between parents and their children. However unlike Quino, Mafalda abhorred soup —'SOPA' in Spanish.
Her reactions when she was presented with the nefarious bowl at the kitchen table were arguably the funniest gags of them all.
Soup is to Childhood as Communism is to Democracy.
The soup in Mafalda's world is a metaphor. A revolt against everything that is imposed without one's consent, whether that is something as trivial as a chicken broth, or as serious as a military junta —or an antipiracy law...
30 years later, and only now do I realize that Mafalda was not only opinionated, but also prophetic.
The price of Apathy is to be ruled by evil men.
Back in early December, we informed you about Richard Dolan & Bryce Zabel's We the People petition intended to segue on the previous attempt to demand a disclosure on what the US government may or may not know about the UFO phenomenon.
As you might remember, the first petition obtained a rather tepid & disappointing response by a low staffer from the White House, and some people attributed its failure to a poor choice of wording in its structure; hence, Dolan & Zabel intended to overcome this by using less concrete words like UAP (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena) instead of the usual —and more heavily charged— term "extraterrestrial presence".
For six decades worldwide, credible witnesses (including Presidents Carter and Reagan) have consistently described objects with flight capabilities beyond our technology. UAP are often verified by radar and even seen at nuclear sites by military officers.
25,000 signatures were needed by the end of December in order to prompt an official response —this given that since the first petition, the number of signatures required at the We the People page was increased 5-fold.
At the After Disclosure website, I found the following update by Dolan & Zabel:
The Need-to-Know Petition has been closed and will not receive an official response from the White House because it did not receive the required 25,000 signatures in 30 days.
1,911 signatures were all that were gathered.
The White House "We the People" site was plagued with technical problems and issues from the very first day. They were never resolved. It clearly affected many, many thousands of potential signers.
To those who still managed to sign in, despite this West Wing technocalypse, we salute your skill and tenacity and thank you for your support.
1,911 out of 25,000?? when the first petition gathered some 11,000 signatures?
Richard & Bryce seem to attribute the poor response in part to a technical glitch within the page itself. One might like to assume that perhaps there was also a problem with the timing; after all, by the end of the year most folks are more worried with their holiday travel arrangements or last-minute Xmas shopping than flying saucers or little gray aliens with a penchant for pro-bono proctology.
But I, who went on and signed all the petitions —including the second one launched by Michael Salla— interpret the failure rather as a telling feature of the UFOlogy community: that there is no UFOlogy 'community' to speak of. What there is instead is a very disorganized & heterogeneous band of iconoclasts, loosely united (barely) by an interest of varying degrees in UFOs.
Some of us read the books. Some attend the conferences. Most of us would choose Close Encounters over American Idol if we stumble upon it while channel-surfing. But devoting more than your spare time into trying to change the atmosphere of cynical ridicule that has predominated over Western society when it comes to arguably the most important subject in the history of Mankind is not in most people's new year resolutions —not even among the ones who might actually believe there's more to UFOs than swamp gas and misidentifications of the planet Venus.
I can even say that I sympathize with the apathy. When I was in grade-school I tried to talk with my fellow students about flying saucers, and as you all probably know from personal experience, talking ET does *not* get you entrance into the 'popular' club. Even among members of your own family, bringing the subject up over the dinner table would almost always result in giggles and rolling eyes.
It's probably no coincidence that UFOs & porn are one of the 2 highest ranking search subjects in the web —after all, both are topics that demand a certain... privacy.
You might as well break it down to the kiddies now, folks:
Santa is not coming tonight.
He was dettained in Chile by a bunch of very naughty boys, while he was showing his support to the students that are demanding free education.
Where's Rudolph with his big-ass antlers when you need him?
But do try to have a Merry Xmas anyway.
PS: And in case some of your kids asked for a copy of Pepper Spray: the videogame this year --you might wanna consider sending to therapy next year...
To any long-time member of TDG, the constant occurrence of synchronicities would not come as a surprise; yet when they happen, they can still be pretty shocking.
Take last Friday: as I was enjoying my lunch break while browsing the web I decided to visit Micah Hanks' The Gralien Report in search for new updates. I found that Micah had just posted a new article titled "This Line is Tapped: Speaking of Phones (And Speaking Too Soon)."
Recently over at Mysterious Universe, I wrote a piece about this titled “Conspiracy Calls: Paranoid Telephonic Bugs and MIB Surveillance“. But here’s where things get funny: just as I was sitting down to write the piece, my cell phone inexplicably lit up, then shut down, and turned itself back on. Following this bit of bizarre synchronicity, I figured I would touch base with my fellow researcher Nick Redfern, just for fun, and see if he had ever had similar experiences, since he is author of the book The Real Men in Black (New Page Books, 2011). At the time, Nick admitted that he hadn’t had anything of this sort occur, so I went along recounting my own experiences instead. However, upon finishing the article, Nick subsequently contacted me with a very strange and equally-synchronistic update. Apparently, he’d spoken a bit too soon… Mr. Redfern ended up going on Dr. Rita Louise’s radio program shortly afterward, and as Nick puts it, “When we got to the section of the interview about telephone interference, however, all hell broke loose.” Many of the stereotypical weird noises and strange interference associated with the MIB lore had apparently begun to occur, right in the middle of their interview! “I told her, in my opinion, if this was not a case of coincidence (and the timing most strongly suggests it was not!) then maybe someone really was listening in and playing a few mind-games of the MIB variety.”
Micah provided a link to Nick's original post (click here), where Nick described the event in more detail, and also provided a link to Dr. Rita Louise's podcast show, in case someone wanted to download the program and hear the weird clicking episode for themselves [Note: at the time Nick had written his post, he wasn't sure if the interview was already uploaded].
At that moment I was actually listening to Tim Binnal's podcast interview with Mack Maloney, but since I'd heard Maloney in other 2 radio shows describe his book UFOs in Wartime, I decided to click on Dr. Rita Louise's link privided by Nick, so that I would download the mp3 file and listen it later. When the page opened, I found to my surprise that Nick's show was labeled "On Air", so that meant the pre-recorded interview was being broadcasted at that moment.
I clicked on the button and, sure enough, I caught the show right in the middle, with 30-something more minutes to go. As I was wondering if I had just missed the "clicking" event, I heard Nick discuss the events that had happened to her friend & researcher Marie D. Jones with mysterious MIB-type entities, including odd episodes with the telephone; as soon as I heard the word "telephone" I instantly knew the clicking event was soon to happen.
And that's when things went weirder.
I checked on my computer clock. It read 3:29 pm (Mexico city time), and then a strange idea crossed my head: I decided to 'dare' the event, and thought to myself "OK, let's see if the clicking happens at exactly 3:33." As the minutes progressed, I felt a chill on the back of my spine building. I was hearing Nick & Dr. Louise discuss phone tappings, and that's when I knew my little "prediction"(?) would come true.
The clock hit 3:33, and during that minute the first clicking sound was heard.
I was a bit frantic, to put it mildly! I decided to write a comment on Nick's & Micah's pages describing what had just happened, and also shoot both of them an e-mail. Nick answered back:
You know what's even weirder re the 3:33 thing? The person who I was speaking about was Marie Jones. Marie is the co-author of the book 11:11 - The Time Prompt Phenomenon. That book includes weird stuff occurring at...yep...3:33!
So now someone reading this might be asking: "OK, so why did you choose 3:33 in the first place?." To answer that, I need to explain that my studies into the unexplained have shown that 3:00 am is a special auspicious time for weird s#%t to happen. If you saw the movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose, you'll probably remember how the priest warns his female lawyer that 3:00 is the Witching hour: the time when the demon prefers to manifest, to mock the hour when Jesus died in the cross (3 pm, or the Ninth hour, according to the Bible) --explaining the phenomenon from a particular religious POV, of course...
I also need to say that I've suffered several episodes of sleep paralysis during my life, and in one of those experiences --which always terrify me, no matter how much I can rationalize them after they happen-- when I finally was able to regain full control of my motor functions, I turned my head, and my nightstand clock read 3:33. That's the reason the number stuck with me.
Sure, all these little 'coincidences' between me finding Micah's post at that time, then heading to Nick's blog, then heading to Dr. Rita's podcast, then finding the show was 'live', then finding the clicking event hadn't happened, and THEN having the first click happening at exactly 3:33 by my computer's clock could still happen by accident. But the elaborate chain of event that triggered it makes it even more improbable.
So what does this all mean, in the end? I guess the only thing I can do, is follow the sage advice of my friend Mike Clelland, whose life has also been inundated with all these playful synchronicities: Pay attention.
Addendum: After I finished writing this post, I went out for a little walk, and to return a Blu-Ray I rented from the local Blockbuster. I carried my old nano iPod, and started listening to back issues of the Mysterious Universe podcast that I hadn't had the chance to listen to --I'm a PLUS member, but I haven't figured out how to download to extended version of the podcast from my work computer.
As I was listening to episode 621 I had *yet another* WTF episode, at the moment when Aaron Wright started telling about some weird experiences happening at his home... when he was woken up at 3:00 am in the morning.
And to add the cherry on my synchronistic weekend cake, the show ended (in the extended PLUS section) with the mentioning of that mind-blowing TEDx talk Jacques Vallee recently gave, in which he discussed (among other things) synchronicities.
It almost makes me wanna scream "OK Universe, I get it! I'm listening. WHAT NEXT??!!"
Back in September, the Paradigm Research Group, an exopolitical an exopolitical group founded in 1996 by Stephen Bassett, launched an online petition through the 'We the People' White House portal to "urge the President of the United States to formally acknowledge an extraterrestrial presence engaging the human race and immediately release into the public domain all files from all agencies and military services relevant to this phenomenon."
I was one of the thousands of individuals that (digitally) signed the petition; unlike many of those petitioners however, I had the absolute certainty that it would end up being just another futile initiative to bring about the hypothetical disclosure through normal public channels.
Turns out my pessimism was justified.
I've just received an automatic response mail, likely the same one arriving to the inboxes of the rest of the petitioners. It reads:
Searching for ET, But No Evidence Yet
By Phil Larson who works on space policy and communications at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
Thank you for signing the petition asking the Obama Administration to acknowledge an extraterrestrial presence here on Earth.
The U.S. government has no evidence that any life exists outside our planet, or that an extraterrestrial presence has contacted or engaged any member of the human race. In addition, there is no credible information to suggest that any evidence is being hidden from the public's eye.
However, that doesn't mean the subject of life outside our planet isn't being discussed or explored. In fact, there are a number of projects working toward the goal of understanding if life can or does exist off Earth. Here are a few examples:
- SETI—the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence—was originally stood up with help from NASA, but has since been moved to other sources of private funding. SETI's main purpose is to act as a giant ear on behalf of the human race, pointing an array of ground-based telescopes towards space to listen for any signal from another world.
- Kepler is a NASA spacecraft in Earth orbit that's main goal is to search for Earth-like planets. Such a planet would be located in the "Goldilocks" zone of a distant solar system—not too hot and not too cold—and could potentially be habitable by life as we know it. The Kepler mission is specifically designed to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover Earth-sized, rocky planets in or near the habitable zone of the star (sun) they orbit.
- The Mars Science Laboratory, Curiosity, is an automobile-sized rover that NASA is launching soon. The rover's onboard laboratory will study rocks, soils, and other geology in an effort to detect the chemical building blocks of life (e.g., forms of carbon) on Mars and will assess what the Martian environment was like in the past to see if it could have harbored life.
A last point: Many scientists and mathematicians have looked with a statistical mindset at the question of whether life likely exists beyond Earth and have come to the conclusion that the odds are pretty high that somewhere among the trillions and trillions of stars in the universe there is a planet other than ours that is home to life.
Many have also noted, however, that the odds of us making contact with any of them—especially any intelligent ones—are extremely small, given the distances involved.
But that's all statistics and speculation. The fact is we have no credible evidence of extraterrestrial presence here on Earth.
Good thing nobody wasted any stamps on this one...
So, you might be wondering, does that mean I don't actually believe the US government might be withholding important information concerning trust-worthy UFO cases? Not at all; I actually suspect several US agencies might be sitting on very mind-blowing evidence that would proof the case for a non-human intelligence operating in our world once and for all.
But, like several people interested in this subject, I also think that when it comes to UFOs, an increase in data *does not* necessarily translates into an increase in discernment; as many enthusiasts in the subject learn sooner or later —the more you 'learn', the less you understand.
And let's not forget they —whoever they are and wherever they come from— could end up the cover-up any time they wished. One thing politicians learn very early in their careers is try to anticipate your opponent's next move; and since trying to decipher the intentions of an advanced alien intelligence might be next to impossible, what makes us think any self-respecting public servant would throw his career down the toilet just to appease a few obsessed UFO buffs?
Where's the gain in that, aside from a few meager votes?
On a personal level, recently I've been wondering if the true answer to the UFO mystery will arrive from a completely unrelated and unexpected avenue, even if that prospect depresses most professional Ufologists. Who knows? maybe the Singularity will come, or another paradigm change will occur, and we (or our descendants) will look around and exclaim —without much surprise or amazement— "Oh, so THERE you are!"
And maybe the aliens will respond "What took you guys so long?"
[PS] My buddy Robbie Graham, the one who actually convinced me into signing the petition, has this to say about the White House response:
For me, the goal here was simply to remind the government that "Hey, there are still thousands of people our there who care about this issue!"That message has certainly been received thanks to the petition, but again, expecting a revelatory acknowledgement was always an extreme long shot. But you never know till you try.
In any case, the petition is not entirely without historical significance - it elicited a formal response from the White House explicitly denying not only ANY evidence of ET visitation, but also ANY evidence that would indicate a cover-up of the UFO phenomenon. That last part is going land them in very hot water very soon, in my opinion. Even from a cursory glance at its own UFO documentation it's abundantly clear that the US gov has indeed been engaged in a large-scale cover-up (of something, at least) for decades - telling the public one thing ("UFOs are of no significance!"), while doing another (monitoring the phenomenon both at home and abroad and drawing-up thousands of Secret and Top Secret documents). The testimony of Gordon Cooper alone with his description of a filmed UFO-landing at Edwards AFB and the disappearance of said film into a murky Pentagon vault is in itself a smoking gun for a UFO cover-up. It would convince any jury in a court of law. As we know, there are many more retired military and intelligence folk with stories similar to Cooper's.
So, the White House's denial is easily rebuffed: "There is plenty of evidence Mr. President, you've simply chosen to ignore it." When the ET s%#t hits the fan, as it inevitably will do (probably sooner rather than later), Obama's outright denial of a UFO cover-up will come back to haunt him.
Definitely the right attitude to take.
I can't stop listening to this song. I heard it yesterday on the radio while driving & thought it would make a great news briefs opener.
Not only do I find the lyrics intriguing; but the video itself seems to have been inspired by Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut.
And when I noticed that it was uploaded on Youtube on exactly Oct 3rd —My birthday!— well, then... that pretty much sealed the deal.
Besides, have I ever told you I have a 'thing' for red-headed girls ;)