News Briefs 12-11-2014

The eerie sound of Rosetta's comet (with a touch of reverb maybe?)

Quote of the Day:

Everywhere I go I find that a poet has been there before me

Sigmund Freud

Song of the Sea Trailer

2009 saw the release of big-budget animated films like Monsters vs Aliens, Up, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and Coraline, in which the Hollywood studios spent millions of dollars because they know parents taking the kiddies to watch these films in the summer would ensure a return of their investment many times over --Pixar's Up for example earned a total lifetime gross of almost three quarters of a billion dollars worldwide.

Yet in that year, with only a small fraction of what the major studios spent, the fairly obscure Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon released the movie The Secret of Kells, directed by (then) 32-year-old Tomm Moore, which turned to be a revelation on several grounds: Firstly because in an era dominated by CGI and impressive visual effects, the decidedly 'flat' style and gorgeous designs of Kells --inspired by the movie The Thief and the Cobbler-- showed you CAN captivate an audience without 3-d animation and expensive gimmicks. Secondly, because Moore's choice to base his 1st major motion picture in an important piece of Ireland's heirloom--the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript from the early Medieval period-- instead of a more 'profitable' idea like a popular novel, a toy, or the remake of a remake, proved there's plenty of untapped potential to tell a compelling story in ancient folklore.

Alas, The Secret of Kells was not a financial success --perhaps because it was only released one week in the US-- but it gained a lot of critical acclaim and was even nominated for an Academy award in 2010.

Now Tomm Moore's newest film Song of the Sea is about to be released in North America. Judging by the trailer below, it looks like once again there'll be plenty of magic, ancient sites and supernatural creatures inspired by the old Irish legends of Fey folk and selkies:

Song of the Sea opens on December 19 in New York city and Toronto, followed by an expansion to Los Angeles and other U.S. and Canadian cities throughout the holidays. Here's hoping it has a better success than its predecessor, so I can get to see it in a proper movie theater instead of the screen of my laptop. And also because 5 years is too long a wait to be illuminated by Moore's talent.

[H/T Cartoon Brew]

The Stone Town of Kuklica and its Permanent Residents

Stone dolls image

Macedonia is a place with a complicated history.  Like many countries in that region of Europe, it has been settled, invaded, conquered, and fought over for thousands of years.  It has been a subject of Greece, the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire and a sovereign state known as the Republic of Macedonia.  It has been part of the Kingdom of Serbia (also the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes), then it became part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.  And then the Nazis happened, and then the Communists, and then independence.  There’s hardly been a time when the region wasn’t undergoing change, politically.

Its tumultuous history notwithstanding, Macedonia is a gem bordered by Kosovo, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Albania.  Today it boasts picturesque and sleepy little mountain towns, world class Slavic architecture, and living museums, like the city of Kratovo which finds itself situated inside the crater of an extinct volcano.

Very near Kratovo in the north east of Macedonia, there’s a small town called Kuklica, and that town has a story to tell.

Kuklica is a small town, housing no more than about 100 inhabitants.  At least, 100 living inhabitants.  For you see, according to some, Kuklica is the unchanging resting place of either a man who tried to marry two women on the same day, or many fallen soldiers; all of whom turned to stone.

Most famously, locals tell of a man who fell in love with two different women and was faced with the difficult choice of deciding which to marry.  According to the legend, he was unable to make the choice and instead decided to marry both women…on the same day.  He planned the wedding ceremonies in a beautiful meadow, one to occur in the morning, the other in the afternoon.  Unfortunately for all involved, during the first wedding, his second bride-to-be happened upon the first ceremony and, as would be expected, she objected to that particular union most adamantly.  Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, however, and in her rage she cursed everyone in attendance, casting them all into stone.

The other legend, somewhat less grandiose, suggests that the war-ravaged area, turned to wasteland, was prone to extreme cold, whereupon any and all soldiers travelling across the wastes were frozen and became of stone.

Stone dolls image

All of these formations or pillars – which number somewhere around 120 distinct examples, some of which bear an uncanny resemblance to the human form – are on average the size of an adult human, some are pillar shaped (hence the notion that they’re people turned to stone) but many are simple near-pyramid shaped mounds.

You may choose to believe whichever one of those explanations as you want, and there are apparently other local legends to consider as well, but there are explanations that don’t invoke people turning to stone.

The stone dolls of Kuklica, as they’re often called, are known in geological circles as earth pyramids, or earth pillars (you’ll note the conspicuous absence of any reference to human origins).  It is largely believed by experts that they are the product of natural erosion – and the more conspiratorial among us roll our eyes on cue.

As mentioned above, Kratovo, the nearest city of any size, is built on top of a long-dead volcano.  In fact, the entire region was at one time part of a large volcanic system.  Most of the rock in the area is tuff (solidified ash) and volcanic rock, both of which are relatively soft.  But there are deposits of harder, older rock, such as andesite, and therein lays the explanation for the stone dolls.

Stone dolls image

According to Dr. Ivica Milevski, Associate Professor at the Institute of Geology, Faculty of Natural Science and Mathematics at the University "St. Cyril and Methodius" in Skopje, Macedonia, the earth pyramids are the result of a combination of wind and water erosion over thousands of years.[1]  He claims that the soft volcanic tuff is washed away at a much faster rate than the harder andesite underneath it, resulting in periodic mounds and pillars of harder rock remaining while the sediment is washed away.

It’s thought that this same process is responsible for the Manpupuner Rock formation in the Russian Urals (also known as the Seven Strong Men of Russia), though on a larger scale.

Of course, the scientific explanation, as always, is much more mundane than the colourful legends of old, but there’s no harm in imagining that the groom’s wedding guests are wishing they’d declined the invitation.

 


[1] Milevski I. (2000): Earth pyramids in Kuklica-near Kratovo. Geographical review No. 35, Skopje pp. 177-182 (in Macedonian) http://www.kuklica.50webs.com/?ItemID=C42D791DE738E046B3C544C635663B57&5FB5C74C1F31C34FBFF2F9FF7585D1AF=5,first

 

News Briefs 11-11-2014

Lest we forget

Quote of the Day:

Think for yourself. Question authority.

Timothy Leary

Space Station Astronauts Play with Water in Zero Gravity

Posted for no other reason than to giggle at the absurdity of water in space. Though it does also provide some understanding of the technical (and biological) challenges of space travel...

News Briefs 10-11-2014

Ca va?

Quote of the Day:

It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas … If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you … On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish the useful ideas from the worthless ones.

Carl Sagan

Help Fund Dr. Diane Powell's Telepathy Project

Diane Hennacy Powell, M.D., is a practicing psychiatrist and a neuroscientist trained at the Johns Hopkins school of medicine, who also taught neuropsychiatry at Harvard; unlike most of her colleagues had a long-time interest in the mystery of human consciousness and was skeptical of the materialist model of how the brain is the sole generator of mind.

Some years ago Dr. Powell had an insightful Eureka moment: If something as telepathy (i.e. direct mind-to-mind communication) could actually exist, who could be the best candidates in which to find evidence for it? Her work in 1987 with Sir Michael Rutter considered to be the father of child psychology and leading expert in autism, led her to conclude that some of the abilities in non-verbal autistic savants were so mysterious and confounding, they could very well be interpreted as psychic phenomena. What if, Diane posited, these savants are able to solve staggering mathematical problems, not because their brains are highly tuned for pattern recognition and an increased memory, but because they actually manage to extract the answers from the 'ether' itself, as it were? Also, non-verbal savants would be the most motivated to develop such talents, due their condition of not being able to communicate with the outside world through 'ordinary' means.

With that in mind --no pun intended-- Dr. Powell started to conduct some tests with Haley, a 9-year-old autistic girl who seemed to display the capacity to read the minds of her family and therapists; the reason why her parents suspected their daughter was reading their mind was because even though she was able to find the 6-figure results to cube root equations, she was unable to make simple additions and subtractions. As Greg mentioned back in August, Diane had to prepare the tests in order to accommodate the special needs of the child --which prevented the complete isolation between 'sender' and 'receiver'-- but even without these less-than-ideal circumstances, Dr. Powell's initial results --which she presented at the 57th Annual Convention of the Parapsychological Association-- were nothing short of amazing: Not only was the girl able to be above 95% accurate on 10 equations she solved on a 10-minute period, but as Dr. Powell explained to Alex Tsakiris on her latest interview on Skeptiko, sometimes the therapist made mistakes in giving Haley the mathematical question to solve, and she would nevertheless give the right answer to the problem typed in the therapist's notes --i.e. it was as if Haley was picking the answer's from the therapist's mind, instead of solving them in her own head.

In order to keep elaborating her scientific model on how telepathy could arise as a method to extract information from our surroundings beyond the extent of our main physical senses, Dr. Powell needs to keep studying more autistic savants like Haley; children like Nandana, a Indian autistic girl who also seems to be able to read the minds of her parents. With the kind of evidence already gathered, you'd think Dr. Powell would have no problem in securing grants to continue funding her research, yet unfortunately you'd be wrong; Parapsychology is still considered a pseudoscience in the ivory towers of Academia, which has forced Diane to finance her research out of her own pocket.

Which is why she's seeking to crowdfund the next step in her telepathy project --and this is where YOU come in, dear Grailer:

Would Dr. Powell's Telepathy project be able to secure the 1st Nobel prize to the field of Parapsychology, as suggested by our good friend Grant Cameron? Although after spending enough time immersed in these topics, it's easy to become cynic and conclude the non-local nature of Consciousness will never be accepted, my conviction is that if we keep chipping away at the foundation of the Materialistic model, sooner or latter it will all come crashing down and a new scientific paradigm will arise; and people like Dr. Diane Hennacy Powell will be acknowledged for their substantial contributions in trying to adopt a more encompassing scientific model, in which phenomena like precognition and even telepathy will be understood and explained, the same way our ancestors managed to understand electricity and magnetism.

So please contribute to Dr. Powell's campaign, and help spread her project through your favorite social media. Frank Zappa said the Revolution will not be televised... but he didn't say anything about crowdfunding, now did he?

Further Reading:

News Briefs 07-11-2014

”When I walk along with two others, from at least one I will be able to learn.”

Quote of the Day:

“To study and not think is a waste. To think and not study is dangerous.”

Confucius

YOU SHALL NOT PASS The Chance to See the New Hobbit Trailer!

C'mon, watch the 1st official trailer of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, and if you don't feel a shudder in your heart, I'll call you a Nazgûl --or something rhyming with that...

Will this be the last cinematic trip to Middle-Earth we'll have? Who knows. The Tolkien universe is vast, and has proven to be a bigger treasure trove than Smaug's lair. For myself, I'm glad Peter Jackson managed to properly close the circle on a journey he began since 1995, when he started planning on how to bring the saga of the Ring to the silver screen.

The battle commences on December 17th. Onward!