The Earth is Trashed in the Trailer for 'Blade Runner 2049'

We could debate all day whether Blade Runner should ever have got a sequel, but the fact is that Blade Runner 2049 will be coming out later this year (October 6th). At least, with the brilliant Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario) directing, we can have some faith that the film should be quality. And the first official full-length trailer (posted above) has plenty of wonderful visuals and nods to the original.

Here's more info on the movie:

Thirty years after the events of the first film, a new blade runner, LAPD Officer K (Ryan Gosling), unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. K’s discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing for 30 years.

From executive producer Ridley Scott and director Denis Villeneuve, #BladeRunner2049 stars Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana De Armas, MacKenzie Davis, Sylvia Hoeks, Lennie James, Carla Juri, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista and Jared Leto.

News Briefs 08-05-2017

Current status...

Quote of the Day:

Fascism arose in Europe [in the 1930s] with the help of enormous corporations.

Howard Zinn

The Witch - An Upcoming Book from Historian of Paganism, Ronald Hutton

Professor Ronald Hutton is a widely acknowledged expert on the history of paganism and folk beliefs, authoring a number of influential books, including The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft and The Druids: A History, as well as featuring in a number of documentaries on those topics, such as the embedded video above, A Very British Witchcraft, on the history of Wicca and its founder, Gerald Gardner.

Those who have enjoyed Hutton's previous work should therefore be very happy to learn that he has a new book scheduled for publication later this year (August 1 in the UK, September 5 in the US), titled The Witch: A History of Fear, from Ancient Times to the Present (Amazon US / Amazon UK):

Why have societies all across the world feared witchcraft? This book delves deeply into its context, beliefs, and origins in Europe’s history

The witch came to prominence — and often a painful death — in early modern Europe, yet her origins are much more geographically diverse and historically deep. In this landmark book, Ronald Hutton traces witchcraft from the ancient world to the early-modern stake.

This book sets the notorious European witch trials in the widest and deepest possible perspective and traces the major historiographical developments of witchcraft. Hutton, a renowned expert on ancient, medieval, and modern paganism and witchcraft beliefs, combines Anglo-American and continental scholarly approaches to examine attitudes on witchcraft and the treatment of suspected witches across the world, including in Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Australia, and North and South America, and from ancient pagan times to current interpretations. His fresh anthropological and ethnographical approach focuses on cultural inheritance and change while considering shamanism, folk religion, the range of witch trials, and how the fear of witchcraft might be eradicated.

The Witch, by Ronald Hutton

You can pre-order The Witch from Amazon US or from Amazon UK now.

News Briefs 06-05-2017

“All mass is interaction.”

Quote of the Day:

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”

R. Feynman

Searching for Artifacts of Ancient Technological Species in Our Own Solar System

Ancient alien city

Since its birth around a half century ago, SETI has largely focused on looking for alien civilisations beyond our own solar system, searching for radio signals from prominent or nearby stars. But what if there were earlier technological civilisations in our own solar system, or even here on Earth?

That's the question explored in a new paper posted to arXiv.org (and soon to be published in the International Journal of Astrobiology), "Prior Indigenous Technological Species", by astronomer Jason T. Wright.

SETI typically focuses on interstellar radio signals or other studies of objects beyond the Solar System, however an alternative search avenue has been appreciated for nearly as long: the search for alien artifacts within the Solar System. This has not only been a topic for science fiction (e.g. 2001: A Space Odyssey) but in the SETI literature. Indeed, the apparent lack of such artifacts has been used as evidence that humanity must be the only spacefaring civilization in the Galaxy (Hart, 1975). Despite Hart’s claim, we can hardly rule out such artifacts in the Solar System, as demonstrated by Freitas (1983a) and Haqq-Misra & Kopparapu (2012).

In these discussions it is assumed, implicitly or explicitly, that the origin of such artifacts would be not just extraterrestrial (Haqq-Misra & Kopparapu, 2012, refer to them as “Non-Terrestrial Artifacts” (NTAs)) but extrasolar. But if such technology were to be discovered, we should consider the possibility that its origin lies within the Solar System, and potentially on Earth.

After all, given that the bodies in the Solar System are at least five orders of magnitude closer than the nearest star system, and given that we know that not only are the ingredients of and conditions for life common in the Solar System, but that one of its planets is known to host complex life, it is perhaps more likely that their origin be local, than that an extraterrestrial species crossed interstellar space and deposited it here. At the very least, the relative probabilities of the two options is unclear.

In this paper, I discuss the possibility for such prior indigenous technological species; by this I mean species that are indigenous to the Solar System, produce technosignatures and/or were spacefaring, and are currently extinct or otherwise absent.

Wright notes that one of the great difficulties in finding evidence for previous technological civilisations in our solar system is simply the passage of time - old stuff disappears. "The Earth is quite efficient, on cosmic timescales, at destroying evidence of technology on its surface," he notes. "Biodegredation can destroy organic material in a matter of weeks, and weathering and other forms of erosion will destroy most exposed rock and metals on a timescale of centuries to millennia, if human activity does not erase it faster.

Wright points out that, at the very longest, some "large and durable structures, in the right environments" - such as the Giza pyramids - might last for 'just' tens of thousands of years. Given complex life has existed on Earth for over 400 million years (40,000 sequential periods of 10,000 years), you see the problem in searching for 'ancient aliens'. Not least, because, on timescales of hundreds of millions of years "plate tectonics will subduct almost all evidence for technology with the crust it sits upon, erasing it from the surface entirely.

Regardless of those difficulties, where should we look? Wright suggests that Venus - with a thinner atmosphere in the past - and Mars, once covered in water, would be good candidates. And he reminds us that search should also include Earth (though he disavows the topic of 'ancient aliens' on his blog). Furthermore, he notes, "while all geological records of prior indigenous technological species might be long destroyed, if the species were spacefaring there may be technological artifacts to be found throughout the Solar system."

It's a fascinating hypothetical topic, though it is worth pointing out that Jason Wright is not particularly happy about "all the wrong kind of attention" the paper has received "from the yellow press and the ufologists....it is mortifying...Now excuse me while I answer all these emails from Coast to Coast and ufologists sending me pictures of clouds."

No doubt his frustration has arisen from the "astronomer says ancient aliens existed in our own solar system" headlines that the paper has generated, with many mis-judging what the words "may" and "is possible" mean, in terms of likelihood of ancient alien civilisations. As Wright says on his blog, he put his paper together...

...not because I think they exist, but because we’re at the point where it should be possible to say for sure that certain types of them didn’t. The end of the paper is all about the things we can do to start drawing some conclusions.

I recommend - as I have to SETI people before - that it might be worth engaging with the ufologists and Forteans, rather than dissing them, as they could be some of your staunchest advocates, even if there is some disagreement over assumptions and conclusions.

Paper: "Prior Indigenous Technological Species", by astronomer Jason T. Wright.

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News Briefs 04-05-2017

From the Royal Society for Putting Things Atop Other Things: Birds atop other birds.

Thanks to John Reppion and viewers like you.

"Starting with things of little value--a bit of spilled oil, a little stolen wine--repeat to yourself: 'For such a small price, I buy tranquillity.'"
- Epictetus

The Dark Tower - Movie Trailer

From the horror of It and Carrie to the uplifting storylines of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, movies based on the writing of famed novelist Stephen King span a wide range of genres. So it's no surprise that his The Dark Tower series blends the cowboy Western with epic fantasy - and now we get to see it translated to the big screen with the upcoming movie of the same name.

There are other worlds than these. Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, the ambitious and expansive story from one of the world’s most celebrated authors, makes its launch to the big screen. The last Gunslinger, Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), has been locked in an eternal battle with Walter O’Dim, also known as the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), determined to prevent him from toppling the Dark Tower, which holds the universe together. With the fate of the worlds at stake, good and evil will collide in the ultimate battle as only Roland can defend the Tower from the Man in Black.

Reports have suggested that the movie is not a strict retelling of the entire book series, but takes elements from certain sections - which is understandable given the full series storyline would be better suited to a long-form HBO-style series rather than a standalone movie of just a couple of hours.

Starring Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba, The Dark Tower hits movie screens on August 4.

News Briefs 03-05-2017

You're not going to believe what I'm about to tell you...

Thanks to @SFSlim, @AnomalistNews and @m1k3y.

Quote of the Day:

It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone's fault. If it was us, what did that make Me? After all, I'm one of Us. I must be. I've certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We're always one of Us. It's Them that do the bad things.

Terry Pratchett

Baritsu, Bartitsu, and the Ju-Jutsuffragettes

The Suffragette That Knew Jui-Jitsu
In December 1893 a crime was committed which sent shock-waves around the world. Readers of the monthly publication Strand Magazine were the first to learn of the offence, but news spread fast, and soon the tragic facts of the case were common knowledge: Sherlock Holmes was dead.

After six years of recording his exploits, Arthur Conan Doyle had grown tired of the Great Detective and decided the only way he could be truly free of the character was to kill him off in The Final Problem. Doyle’s intention was to send Holmes out in a blaze of glory so magnificent that his fans would be more than satisfied. This however did not prove to be the case. In 1903, after a decade of pressure from Sherlockians the world over, Doyle finally acquiesced and Sherlock Holmes was resurrected in The Adventure of the Empty House. Reports of the Great Detective’s demise had been greatly exaggerated it turned out – Holmes had merely pretended to have toppled over the Reichenbach Falls in an effort to escape would-be assassins. But how did he do it? Struggling for his life, grappling with his arch enemy Professor Moriarty at the edge of a precipice, what was it that saved Holmes from certain death?

“We tottered together upon the brink of the fall. I have some knowledge, however, of baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me. I slipped through his grip, and he with a horrible scream kicked madly for a few seconds and clawed the air with both his hands. But for all his efforts he could not get his balance, and over he went. With my face over the brink I saw him fall for a long way. Then he struck a rock, bounded off, and splashed into the water.”

However, as exciting and dynamic as the preceding passage might be, it should be pointed out that Doyle (or arguably Dr. Watson who is the author within the tale) was incorrect on at least two points. Firstly, though published in 1903, The Adventure of the Empty House is set in 1893, yet the martial art referred to in the text was not actually developed until the late 1890s. Secondly, it is not “baritsu” but Bartitsu.

There can be little doubt that Arthur Conan Doyle would have read The New Art of Self Defence: How a Man May Defend Himself Against Every Form of Attack which caused quite a sensation when it was published in Pearson’s Magazine in March 1899. Evidently the article made some impression upon the Scotsman - though not quite enough to allow him to remember the correct spelling of the art in question. Its author, Mr. Edward William Barton-Wright, was every inch the Victorian gentleman: born in 1860 in Bangalore, the son of a British mechanical engineer and Locomotive Superintendent, he was educated in Europe and went on to travel the world as a civil engineer and surveyor. It was while on these travels in the early 1890s that Barton-Wright found himself living in Japan. There, in his spare time, he studied several different styles of Jujitsu including Shinden Fudo Ryu (“immovable teachings transmitted by the Gods”) and Judo (“the gentle way”). By combining these techniques and further incorporating aspects of Pierre Vigny’s walking stick defence system, English pugilism and French kickboxing, Edward soon formulated his own mixed martial art which he dubbed Bartitsu – a portmanteau of his own surname and Jujitsu.

Having left Japan and arrived in London in 1898 Barton-Wright found himself in a rather unique position. Crime was rife in the post industrial revolution cities of Europe and its colonies, and the contemporary newspapers’ reporting of muggings, garrotting, chloroforming, beatings, and the like were sensationalist to say the least. So severe was the media hysteria that the humorous magazine Punch (1841 - 1992) satirised the over-the-top reporting of other publications by running mock advertisements for items such as the Patent Antigarotte Collar (“warranted to withstand the grip of the most muscular ruffian in the metropolis […] highly polished and elegantly studded with the sharpest spikes”). In reality, sword canes, pistols, knuckle dusters and other concealed weapons were being carried by an increasing proportion of the population, all in the name of self defence. People were desperate for a way to protect themselves from the thugs and “roughs” who roamed the streets and Edward Barton-Wright, it seemed, had the solution.

The Bartitsu Club opened its doors on London’s Shaftsbury Avenue in 1899 offering classes taught by Japanese Jujitsu masters, French walking-stick fighters, Swiss wrestlers, English fencing champions and much more besides. There was even an “electrotherapy” clinic where members ... Read More »