A Walk in the Clouds... of the Underworld

'Frozen clouds' is not something that can only be found in Sci-Fi films like Interstellar --Oops! Spoiler alert-- as the above image shows.

The photograph was taken by a drone on a newly-discovered chamber inside the Bustamante caves in the state of Coahuila (Mexico), which despite being a popular tourist attraction have only been explored in about 10% of their total depth. Obviously the 'clouds' are not really frozen, but are in fact globular calcite formations created by the thermal waters in the area over a period of 50 million years.

The discovery was made by the Asociación Coahuilense de Espeleología, a local speleology group, and it marks the first time that a robotic probe is used to explore caverns which are inaccessible to human beings. According to the group's president, Ana Gabriela Morales, the team also found a 'floating lake' above what they know call 'the Cloud Chamber', which is thought to be a subterranean river.

The speleological group plans to hand the results of their investigation to the state's authorities once it's concluded. Who knows, perhaps the little robot might stumble upon a secret dwelling of Duendes...

  • Source: "Descubren nubes de roca", Reforma newspaper (19/12/14)

News Briefs 18-12-2014

It's beginning to look a lot like...something.

Quote of the Day:

If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society. I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have a country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.

Chelsea Manning

Smaug Gets the Colbert Bump

Sure, President Obama might have been a nice landmark in his career, but this month Stephen Colbert managed to land his biggest interview yet. And I do mean biggest by any Middle-Earth standard: None other than Smaug the dragon --talk about a heated discussion! *rimshot*

Here's looking forward to 2015 and many more Fantasy/Sci-Fi guest appearances on the Colbert Report his new late-night TV show --Luke Skywalker, perhaps? Pretty pleeease?

A Chinese Dam is Stealing Time!

This may sound to you like the plot of the next Austin Powers movie, whereby Dr. Evil seeks to steal time and then sell it back to the world for ONE HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS!

Alas, this is no such story, much as I might like to watch it.  This is the story of how the Chinese government is trying to steal time and then sell it back to the world for…OK no, it isn’t that either.

This is the story of a hydroelectric dam in China that has effectively stolen time, though no word yet on its demands for the return of that time.  You see, the Three Gorges Dam that currently spans the Yangtze River in the Hubei province of China is…well, it’s stealing time.

The Three Gorges Dam is one of the most ambitious renewable energy projects that’s ever been attempted anywhere, and is currently the largest hydroelectric power station in the world.  It’s a project that’s a hundred years in the making, having been conceived in 1919 by Sun Yat-sen, the first president and founding father of the Republic of China.  The dam was officially completed on July 4, 2012 (which eerily mirrors the narrative of the semi-flaccid blockbuster movie 2012).  It now generates roughly 22.5 million kilowatts of energy, which is equivalent to fifteen nuclear reactors.  So, you know, it won’t cause any Godzilla-like mutation – that’s Japan’s territory anyway.

Three Gorges provides electricity for nine provinces and two major cities, accounting for roughly 15 percent of China’s total hydroelectric consumption.  It has also made the Yangtze River (up-stream) considerably wider and deeper, though this was actually by design.  Officials hoped it would augment river shipping traffic, allowing for easier exchange of goods between provinces, thus stimulating their economy.

Of course, you can’t change the size and flow of a major river to that extent without some environmental consequences.  The dam has displaced nearly 1.3 million people as their former homes are now under water.  It has also, obviously, destroyed many riverside habitats, both through flooding up-river and drought down-river, and has increased the risk of landslides in certain locations drastically.  Not to mention the disruption to fishing communities and those who rely on regional fisheries for work and sustenance.

Even though it’s been quite controversial both in China and elsewhere, most have accepted that you have to take the good with the bad.  This new information though, may bring the whole thing back into the spotlight.

Right, the dam is stealing time.

That is, of course, not a completely accurate statement.  It’s not stealing anything, what it is doing is slowing the rotation of the earth.  That doesn’t seem much better, actually.

Scientists at NASA have calculated that the mass of the dam, and the shift in flow and capacity of the river have resulted in a change to Earth’s moment of inertia.  According to NASA, as was reported back in 2010, the dam effectively raised 39 trillion kilograms of water nearly 175 meters above sea level.  While certainly a marvel of modern engineering, you may not see the connection.

The moment of inertia is the mass property of a rigid body that determines the torque needed for a desired angular acceleration about an axis of rotation.  Simple, right?

In more common terms, think of a figure skater spinning dizzily on the ice.  As the skater pulls their limbs in toward their body, they begin to spin faster and faster, and vice versa; as they spread their arms and legs out, they slow down.  It all depends on the distribution of mass, the more evenly distributed, the faster the rotation.

What this means for Three Gorges is that they’re essentially sticking their giant cement and water filled arm out and causing us to slow down (not to mention ruining our chances of making gold in figure skating).  There’s no need to panic, mind you.  This happens all the time.

Earthquakes regularly cause changes to our moment of inertia, as do changes to the polar ice caps.  The Moon also affects our rate of spin – and incidentally, as the Moon’s orbit continues to recede away from Earth, it’s causing us to spin slower and slower.  Though at some point it will no longer affect our mass (but don’t worry, we’ll probably be long gone when it does).

Three Gorges however, will only have a very small effect on our moment of inertia.  It results in an increase of .06 microseconds for our daily rotation, and shifts the poles a mere 0.8 inches.  The earthquake in April of 2011, which resulted in the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, shifted the poles by four inches.  What makes Three Gorges special is that it’s the first time a man-made process or structure has had such an effect.

In any event, there’s little that could be done to reverse it now anyway.  Destruction of the dam would cause tenfold the amount of damage that was caused during its construction.  Plus, the project used 27.2 million cubic metres (35.6×106 cu yd) of concrete, and 463,000 tonnes of steel (enough to build 63 Eiffel Towers), so that would be one hell of a demolition project.

UFO Encounters with Jim Harold (& Yours Truly)


It seems paranormal-type podcasts are a dime a dozen nowadays, but the one which started the trend way back in 2005 --when most people didn't even have an iPod, and Blackberries were still a thing-- was Jim Harold's Paranormal Podcast. If Jim's show has managed to withstand the test of time, while many others have quickly expired like digital mayflies in an online stream of information, is because he's managed to captivate his growing audience with his superb story-telling skills. Indeed, by now Jim has become a published author and his Campfire: True Ghost Stories e-books remain among the #1 bestsellers in Amazon's Occult & Supernatural department.

I met Jim in 2013 at the Paradigm symposium, but unfortunately we didn't have much of a chance to chat then. This year however things were different, since Jim functioned as the panel moderator for the event, and we also managed to have a few drinks and engage in a really interesting conversation. For instance, I remember Jim sharing with our small group at the hotel lobby that when he was in college studying Journalism, one of his teachers told the class how when he was an Air Force officer stationed at the 1369th Photographic Squadron at Vandenherg Air Force Base, he was tasked in 1964 with the mission of photographing tracking footage of a very important missile test. But shortly after he handed down the film he was called by one of his superiors who made him watch the footage, and there in the was the unmistakable image of a disc-like object intercepting the Atlas rocket, and shooting what looked like 'energy beams' onto its metallic fuselage; immediately after this the flying disc flew out of frame and the rocket lost its course and tumbled out of its set trajectory.

The name of the professor was Robert Jacobs, and what he told to his students is famously known as the 1964 Big Sur UFO filming, which has been mentioned in several documentaries like James Fox's Out of the Blue.

Talk about a UFOtastic synchronicity! Jim also told us at the hotel gathering how he once had a chance to defend his old professor's reputation from one of those snarky debunkers who are so fond of ad-hominem attacks. Oh how I wished I'd been able to witness THAT [Read the update below].

As part of his UFO Encounters series on his Paranormal Plus service Jim recently interviewed me (Ep. 77) and I took the opportunity to talk --among other things-- about one of my favorite UFO cases of all time: The aerial encounter of Carlos Antonio de los Santos in 1985.

Unfortunately the Skype gods didn't smile upon us that night, so we were forced to resort to using my cell phone; but despite the subpar sound quality on my end I'm hoping Grailers will still find it enjoyable to listen to --for my part, it sure is flattering to think someone considers my thick-accent ramblings to be 'Plus-quality' material…

So if you haven't already, subscribe to Paranormal Plus and get access to plenty of entertaining material; and also check out Jim's other podcasts, including the Paranormal Report he produces with my Cosmic Compadre, Micah Hanks --those 2 other shows are free BTW. You should also consider Jim's Campfire books if you haven't finished with your Xmas gift list yet.

___________________________

[UPDATE] Jim contacted me to clarify that the anecdote of professor Jacobs was about him defending himself against Bill Nye on a Larry King Live show --and basically tearing "the Science guy" a new one on live TV! Here's the video:

Sorry about that, guys. I guess that's the problem when you end up having 1 beer too many...

Oh, and he also was kind enough to give us permission to give a direct link to my interview on UFO encounters, so that you can listen it to without subscribing to his Paranormal Plus service. [Link]

The Fairy Faith Persists in the Modern World

What sort of crazy people still talk about 'the fairy faith' in this modern, rational world? We do! And also the people in this fascinating exploration of the persistent belief in the fée, Sidhe, Gentry, Good Folk, and so on (the folkloric kind of fairy, not the Disney kind...mostly).

Goes especially well with our new reprint of Jacques Vallee's classic Passport to Magonia: From folklore to flying saucers...

News Briefs 16-12-2014

Happy birthday Bill. Remember folks, it's just a ride.

Quote of the Day:

Here's what we can do to change the world right now to a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defence each year and instead spend it feeding, clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would many times over, not one human being excluded.

Bill Hicks

Mad Max: Fury Road and the pre Jackpot Years

This is the first teaser trailer for the long anticipated Max Mad reboot, Fury Road, directed by George Miller.

An apocalyptic story set in the furthest reaches of our planet, in a stark desert landscape where humanity is broken, and almost everyone is crazed fighting for the necessities of life. Within this world exist two rebels on the run who just might be able to restore order. There's Max, a man of action and a man of few words, who seeks peace of mind following the loss of his wife and child in the aftermath of the chaos. And Furiosa, a woman of action and a woman who believes her path to survival may be achieved if she can make it across the desert back to her childhood homeland.

A couple of little things first. This story is set on “the furthest reaches of our planet”... far away from what? A place where life goes on as it was before, where the Empire never died? Is it like the post-Collapse world of Cloud Atlas? Is there another instance of humanity across the ocean, that has kept the high tech life of those that came before intact, but are dealing with their own set of uniquely horrifying problems? What is the geography of the end of the world? To further abuse a much abused phrase, a future planet where “the Apocalypse is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed." No one single Dark Age for all people, but local variants with different extremes.

Obviously we don't know, can't know and that's not the point of the George Miller's movie. And this is, of course, just a trailer. But the topic of ‘post-apocalyptic’ futures is fascinating to explore, and the Mad Max world provides a good jumping-off point. What is the meaning of this film? Another apocalyptic tale for a dying world? Can it mean something more? What can we read into it? What if we look at it through the lens of the new novel by one of the founding fathers of cyberpunk, who's been imagining the bleak dystopia to come for us since the early 1980s.

SPOILER WARNING: plot details of The Peripheral by William Gibson are discussed from here on in, in far more detail than my original review.

If, like me, you've recently had your brain re-wired by the latest William Gibson book, The Peripheral, then you are already thinking about the world we're occupying now as being set within “the pre Jackpot Years”. That though darker times lie ahead, rays of light are already leaking through for those that might survive what amounts to an extinction event. A whole new world awaits, completely unimaginable from our vantage point, equal parts horrible and wonderful. An idea of the course we're on that reframes the current techno-utopic future of the Singularity, by emphasising the pain and cost involved of such a societal transition. Pointing out that it doesn't just magically get all post-scarcity and mind upload cities, especially if that's all that's focused on.

Before Kurzweil & co re-branded it, the Singularity was never pitched as desirable. The influential Vernor Vinge originally described the post-human era as a dangerous place to be for those that didn't get upgraded in the process (that didn't win the Jackpot). He had some advice for the inhuman inheritors of the Earth, that applies equally to us today:

Though none of these creatures might be flesh-and-blood humans, they might be the closest things in the new environment to what we call human now.

I. J. Good had something to say about this, though at this late date the advice may be moot: Good proposed a "Meta-Golden Rule", which might be paraphrased as "Treat your inferiors as you would be treated by your superiors."

Gibson doesn't elaborate upon “the Jackpot Years” until over halfway through the novel. But by then he's made it clear that the events that separate the two time lines in his story have been very, very dark indeed. When Wilf, the future posthuman, finally explains it all to Flynne, the near future human, and thus to us reading it too, it's basically everything bad we ever imagined might happen, short of total annihilation, in a big climate chaos wrapped bundle:

No comets crashing, nothing you could really call a nuclear war. Just everything else, tangled in the changing climate: droughts, water shortages, crop failures, honeybees gone like they almost were now, collapse of other keystone species, every last alpha predator gone, antibiotics doing even less than they already did, diseases that were never quite the one big pandemic but big enough to be historic events in themselves. And all of it around people: how people were, how many of them there were, how they’d changed things just by being there.”

The future most of can see coming that aren't too distracted to be paying attention. The road we could still be on in the decades to come before things get bad as in feral cities and people dying by the billions. As the survivors run out of room to stack the corpses.

So now, in her day, he said, they were headed into androgenic, systemic, multiplex, seriously bad shit, like she sort of already knew, figured everybody did, except for people who still said it wasn’t happening, and those people were mostly expecting the Second Coming anyway.”

Do we want to talk about why the Singularity is known to its critics as the “Rapture of the Nerds”? Vinge continued in his dire revelation:

I have argued above that we cannot prevent the Singularity, that its coming is an inevitable consequence of the humans' natural competitiveness and the possibilities inherent in technology. And yet ... we are the initiators. Even the largest avalanche is triggered by small things. We have the freedom to establish initial conditions, make things happen in ways that are less inimical than others. Of course (as with starting avalanches), it may not be clear what the right guiding nudge really is”

As another movie once said, “no fate but what we make”. Mad Max: Fury Road will show us a glimpse into the full Collapse future. (Let's be honest, we know exactly how this movie will play out, it's highly unlikely that it will have a twist ending with it all occurring in a VR simulator as a generation of posthumans kill time in some fan-fic recreation of the past, on their way to seeding a new galaxy.) Again.

It's worth pointing out that the original film was created in reaction to the early 1970s oil crisis, but that we're now living in the days of Peak Oil proper. Where another energy catastrophe and subsequent societal collapse is being held off in large part by frakking the planet; a word that sounds bad enough, without it already being a pejorative from a fictional scifi timeline (BSG). That's already triggering earthquakes. And the western democracies are doing it on their home turf too; though mostly in territory deemed politically expendable to their current administrations. Where land grabs on an unprecedented scale are being termed geoengineering.

We are a worldwide civilisation coasting with the fuel gauge nearing empty, thinking there must be another service station just over the horizon. So crank up the radio, let's sing along to some tunes, it'll be just fiiiiiiiine.

Many peak oil bloggers contend that the real moment to do something to prevent the Collapse so graphically rendered above was after the preview first given in the 1970s. That Mad Max should've been a guardian of a road not taken. Instead, here we are. Celebrating him again. And the doomed world he's a patron saint of leaks out all over the place. Like the entire plot of the excellent UK series Utopia. Like the grim prophecy of this scene in Newsroom on the reality of Climate Change.

Hopefully, unlike previously ignored attempts by the Hollywood machine at eco-catastrophe fiction – I'm looking at you, Waterworld – this very grindhouse film will focus attention and serve as more than a distraction. An over-the-top, cathartic outlet against a background of equally disturbing events – from the crackdown on Occupy Hong Kong to the CIA Torture Report, and every protest turned police action across North America in between. Whatever this all mutates into in the coming months. We don't need that.

Thinking about this as “the pre Jackpot Years” helps us reframe the narrative. Something better can come out of all this. This doesn't have to be the prelude to a future high-speed, nightmarish post-apocalypse, worse than the slow motion one we're in now. We don't have to wait for it to accelerate into an unavoidable crash and collapse. There is no techomagical Singularity that will save us. We must wake up behind the wheel and plot a new path on the map of the possible. Our civilisation survived the twentieth century and everyday Fear of the Bomb. We can make it through this too, and build something better. All the pieces are here already, waiting to be recombined. From advances in automated factories and 3D Printing to basic science and amazing speculations on the origins of life.

What comes next is up to us. In many ways we're limited only by our imagination. Why books from In The Dust Of This Planet to The Blood Of The Earth argue strongly for a change in consciousness in how we view both the world now and to come. What we make out of the building blocks we already have is for us to choose. Buckminster Fuller once said: “whether it is to be Utopia or Oblivion will be a touch-and-go relay race right up to the final moment.” We just have to decide how to build a future worth living for all of us, correct our direction away from Oblivion and towards whatever version of Utopia we can agree upon. Or plan for life amidst the chaos and barbarity of Bartertown.

We Wish You A Graily Christmas - Fortean Holiday Reading From Our Book List

With the holiday season just around the corner, it's worth reminding readers that if you're searching for a last-minute Xmas gift, or are just looking for something to feed your brain on during the silly season, it might be worth considering a book from Daily Grail Publishing. Not only are they chock-full of Graily goodness, but each sale helps keep this site running as well as supporting the various authors and researchers associated with each book. First, our stand-alone books on topics ranging from shamanism to UFOs, lucid dreaming and the afterlife:

Daily Grail Books

We also now have eight volumes of our Fortean anthology series Darklore available:

Daily Grail Publishing's Darklore Series

Thanks to all the Grailers out there for your ongoing help, support and patronage over the past year - we hope you have a safe and happy holiday period!