Sunday, January 25, 2015

Prisoners of the Atom

We wanted Pluto, We Got Plutocracy

Watching that 2001 promotional video was extremely poignant because it was yet another reminder of all the expectations we no longer have. 
In the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of people were employed- mostly in the state of California- in and around the space program. These were very good paying jobs that raised families in middle class comfort, creating a new gold rush to a new California dream.
Today, California leads America into a new feudal nightmare, a bifurcated garrison state in which a small cognitive elite sit atop a vast ocean of poverty. It's become so segregated by class that most upper class Californians have no idea their state is the poorest in the nation.
It all began to fall apart in the early 1970s, as the Apollo program ended and NASA's sights were set ever lower.  Thousands of jobs were lost, beginning a middle class exodus from California that continues to this day.
Apollo skeptics have gleefully pointed out the fact that every mission since the moon landings were low earth orbit shuttle missions, the proverbial walk around the block in outer space terms. 
But the incredible cost (and danger) of space in relation to benefit- and the bludgeoning recession and oil shocks of the 1970s- made the numbing yet practical (someone has to maintain all those spy satellites) shuttle program a gimme for Congress.
Now Internet billionaire Elon Musk is trying to rekindle the old rocket flames. His SpaceX startup has been making a fool of NASA and has become the hottest name in rocket technology. Others are following his lead, most notably Amazon honcho Jeff Bezos. 
Musk realizes that you have to do something with all that hardware so he proposes a Mars mission with all the Red Bull-fueled gumption of a Silicon Valley startup.
"I'm hopeful that the first people could be taken to Mars in 10 to 12 years, I think it's certainly possible for that to occur," he said. "But the thing that matters long term is to have a self-sustaining city on Mars, to make life multiplanetary." 
He acknowledged that the company's plans were too long-term to attract many hedge fund managers, which makes it hard for SpaceX to go public anytime soon.

But there's a force not even a Valley whizkid can resist and that's the power of entropy. We are so used to rapid-fire technological and scientific progress, we're not going to know what to do now that the rate of progress is beginning to slow. 
Some believe we've picked all the low-hanging fruit, that all the big, flashy breakthroughs have been made and now humanity is like late-period REM or U2, continuing to record and tour long after the blockbusters have come and gone, watching the audience age, watching the returns diminish.
Kirby predicts Google, 1958
I recently read Jacques Vallee's memoirs of his time during the heady days of Silicon Valley and it was shocking to me how much of the great gizmos we see as novelties were all in prototype long before most of you were born. 
What is touted as the apple of the American economy these days? Well, there's Facebook, which is nothing more than a souped-up America Online, which itself was just a fancier version of the dial-up BBS systems in use since the 60s. 
We've all seen the videos from the 60s, showing off the prototypes of the Internet as we know it today. 40 years ago Silicon Valley was putting the basic architecture into place. What are they doing out there today? Besides creating hedge fund pirateware and Facebook games, I mean?
2015 looks nothing like I imagined it would when I was a kid. But we didn't realize that gravity, entropy--and rapacity-- would all get such a megaphone in the debate. 
Another Internet whiz kid, Peter Thiel, has diagnosed the problem- we have had great success in the world of electrons, not so much in the world of atoms.
"We live in a financial and capitalist age, not a scientific or technological age," investor Peter Thiel said at the Gartner Symposium in Orlando yesterday, echoing themes he has been talking about for several years now. 
In the 50s and 60s, science and technology meant not only computers, but also space, underwater cities, energy, nuclear power, etc. Now, he said, when we talk about technology, we pretty much just mean computer technology. 
He doesn't question that we're doing great things in the Internet and in mobile, and that's enough to dramatically improve business efficiency.  But he reiterated the subtitle manifesto of his Founder's Fund: "We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters." That's not meant as a critique of Twitter as a company, but "it's not clear it's enough to bring our civilization to the next level," he said.
This speaks to a theme I've been banging on all along. Just because something exists on paper, doesn't mean it exists off of it. Science fiction films conditioned us to expect a lot of great things that required expenditures of resources that simply made them untenable. Star Trek can't exist without energy and lightspeed travel that goes way beyond most physicist's wildest speculations.

And then there is the inconvenient fact that after a long period of technological stasis (the 17th Century AD isn't all that technology dissimilar to the 17th Century BC), we had a burst of creativity, but now the default setting of 'painfully slow, incremental progress' seems to be reasserting itself.
Air travel is nearly identical today as it was in the 1960s- in fact many 1960s airframes are still in use. Some cars drive themselves, some use electricity, but they don't fly. Hovercraft are not consumer products. Pops doesn't take the minicopter to work every day. There are some very interesting bullet and maglev trains out there, but that's old technology and most commuter trains still use diesel or electric engines.
Some of the futuristic technology that does make it to market fails simply because it offers an awkward consumer experience- Google Glass has been discontinued, for instance. Others- such as virtual reality- require such labor-intensive market prep that they become financially untenable.
You may have noticed you don't hear much about Transhumanism lately. Again, another case of concept failing when it came to the application stage. The Singularity may well come, but unless major breakthroughs are made, breakthroughs that require sums of money there's no evidence are being spent, it will come and go without us. 
Who really wants to go first when you think about, being carved up like a turkey in hopes of some promised digital immortality?
For the foreseeable future, we'll still be fragile bags of meat, subject to the same limitations- and not a few new ones- that our ancestors were. This probably helps to account for the continuing popularity of the superhero mythos, as well as the popularity of genres like urban fantasy, while science fiction itself recedes to a small and increasingly fractious priesthood. 
Hell, even the growing popularity of Gnosticism is a byproduct of the Atom's dictatorial rule. I mean, they called it first, didn't they?
How to deal with the tyranny of the Atom is going to be a major conundrum. It's going to take the best minds of the future to overcome, and it probably won't be an elective debate. I think circumstances will force us to confront these issues once and for all. We haven't changed our basic, workaday technology- not really- because it's been easier not to. 
That most likely will not be an option in the near future.

UPDATE: Well, we're getting Pluto. After a fashion.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Telling Tales Out of School: Wavelength Revisited

In June of 2013 I wrote about Wavelength, a very strange and disturbing low-budget sci-fi feature, written and directed by China Syndrome screenwriter and longtime political activist Mike Gray and financed by Maurice Rosenfeld, the pioneer of the class-action lawsuit. Gray's resume was interesting to say the least, showing a serious interest in aviation and astronautics but also a commitment to causes like fighting drug laws, nuclear power and the death penalty.

I speculated that Gray may have had other things on his mind than mere entertainment with this film and a recent news story seems to confirm that suspicion.

Wavelength was seen by some as an ET clone but was actually produced before the Spielberg film was released and fits more into the 70s conspiracy genre. It also marked a strange detour for Gray, in which he later produced a TV series based on the John Carpenter film Starman (which borrowed special effects techniques Gray developed for Wavelength) and even worked on Star Trek: The Next Generation as a writer/producer during its troubled second season.

Wavelength later became grist for the UFOlogical rumor mill when an individual who claimed to be a physicist at Laurence Livermore National Laboratories in California said this during an interview with Project Camelot, the conspiracy web channel:
What can you tell us about the ET presence?

Look up the movie Wavelength. It’s based on a totally true story. Have you seen it? It's based on an incident that took place at Hunter Liggett. This is a hot one. 

You shot down a disk?

[shaking head] We should never have done it. It wasn't me personally, but the group did. Between us we had all this gizmo weaponry and I guess they panicked and thought they were in a movie or something.  
Hunter Liggett entered the world of the High and the Weird several years before the making of Wavelength, when it was used for Leslie Stevens' incredibly strange, occult-drenched art-horror film Incubus, a film that referenced the ghost lights seen throughout history on and near the now deactivated military base. 

That film also has the dubious distinction of boasting a death count, leading one to wonder what kinds of entities make Hunter Liggett their home after all.

That's just the tip of the iceberg with Wavelength. The film is a virtual Whole Earth catalog of parapolitical and High Weirdness themes and references. In fact, the exteriors for the secret base featured in Wavelength are actually shots of Lookout Mountain, home of the 1352nd Motion Picture Squadron, the military's secret movie studio where dozens of propaganda and training films and photographs were produced, most notably during the Atom Age.

What's more, the disastrous effects unleashed on the secret base by the captured aliens as they emerge into consciousness in Wavelength directly parallel a nearly identical event that allegedly befell a team of military remote viewers involved in a "psychotronic warfare unit" when they were tasked with contacting NHEs, or non-human entities, sometime before Wavelength was made.

According to Nick Redfern's landmark expose Final Events, a MUFON director (and Anglican priest) was shown photographic evidence of the deadly aftereffects of this attempted contact in 1991 by a pair of mysterious intelligence agents.

Not content with this little revelation, Gray hired two actors who were ringers for MK Ultra honchos Sidney Gottlieb and Ewan Cameron to play very similar roles, and used very Kubrickian tricks to signal to savvy viewers that he was indeed referencing the notorious CIA program. But he also seemed to be working from deeper information about the program than what is generally assumed, even among the conspiranoid cognoscenti. 

Like the alchemists with their lead-into-gold shuck, I've long believed MK Ultra's pitch was just window dressing for the rubes on the Hill. I think the real goal was a Space Age update on that old black magic*, goals far more esoteric and unspeakable than mind control (such as contact with NHEs). 

It's important to note that the MK Ultra paper trail (such as it is) starts to go cold as the Fundamentalist movement starts to heat up in the late 60s, a sure sign that Congress was growing impatient with Gottlieb's mindfuckers and realized the old control methods were still the most reliable.

In my previous post on Wavelength, I wrote that as in many sci-fi movies, the aliens in Wavelength may have been stand-ins for real-life victims:
The fact that the "aliens" are taken home to the Mojave Desert leads me to believe their real-life counterparts were Navajo or Hopi children abducted by this post-Ultra op for their perceived psychic powers. We see this when they take part in a religious ceremony by the Native Americans who help them escape, reminiscent of a rite of passage ceremony for boys. 
Sure enough, this story made the news recently. A Duke University parapsychology team conducted ESP experiments on First Nations kids in Canadian Indian Residential Schools, believing them to be more psychically gifted than other children†:

One Winnipegger said he was shocked to stumble on a report that shows experiments were conducted on children at Brandon's Indian Residential School in the 1940s. 

“This is incredible, especially when you take into account the other studies, medical tests that had been conducted at residential schools,” said Maeengan Linklater. 

Linklater was reading "Mysterious Manitoba" by Chris Rutkowski when he saw a passing reference to experiments on extra sensory perception, or ESP, on students at the school in 1941.
 But it turns out this wasn't a new story, it had been published more than 70 years ago in The Journal of Parapsychology (actual paper included at link):
The article was published in 1943 by a scientist named A.A Foster. A librarian friend found the actual scientific journal article and sent it to him. 

The study was trying to find a better way to test ESP using special cards. The author of the study said the 50 children that participated did so willingly. 

“It's not like these kids knew what they were participating in, because if these kids were starving already, a little bit of candy would go a long way,” said Linklater.
The "experiments" themselves were guessing games more accurately, but it raises questions as to what kinds of other experiments were going on under Ewan Cameron with First Nation children, or Native American kids under MK Ultra. Disturbing questions.
Unfortunately, as has become the pattern, finding new, credible documentation on MK Ultra's abuses has become nearly impossible as the topic has been buried in cut-n-paste disinformation and hysterical confabulation. 
Gee, you'd almost think that was intentional.
Gray is no longer with us, but he seemed to have something to say about this in Wavelength, something that may have been too dangerous to say in documentary format. Either way, I had no idea of the Duke experiments when I wrote the previous article and it's a surefire bet that there were more where they came from. Much, much more.
It's also important to note that Gray made Wavelength after producing The Rocket Pilots, a TV documentary filmed at Edwards AFB (a favorite whistle stop on the UFO railroad, site of Astronaut Gordon Cooper's Road to Damascus moment), and self-produced a very weird and paranoid film about UFOs. Nothing about the movie smacks of cash-in, in fact it seems to go out of its way to, umm, alienate, the popcorn 'n' sodapop crowd.
It should also be noted that Gray's Starman series, although as inert and arid as 80s network strictures demanded - was a lot more politically pointed than the Carpenter film. In the film, the alien is pursued by a benevolent SETI scientist (played by the almost supernaturally amiable Charles Martin Smith).
In the TV series, he's pursued by a vindictive intelligence agent (played by Michael Cavanaugh, who looked the part), who ultimately wants to capture the alien and his hybrid son in order to subject them to the kind of experimentation Gray depicts in Wavelength
For symbol junkies, note that an entire episode of the (Starman) series revolved around a peregrine falcon.

* It's important to note that LSD wizard Owsley Stanley condemned the famous Acid Tests, held by MK Ultra test subject Ken Kesey and his cohort, as 'black magic'.
† Your humble host is one-eighth Native American, my great-grandfather having been adopted from an "Indian Orphanage." He was born the year the US Army captured Geronimo.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Alien Dreaming: Transmissions

I've been busy. 

I've been curtailing a lot of my online activities because I've been at the (literal) drawing board, working on the project I wrote about here. I probably won't do it as a solo project when the rubber hits the road, because it's simply too huge. And growing. I have only the barest shred of an idea where the project came from-- there are bits and pieces of aborted, earlier projects in there-- but the way it burst forth nearly fully formed in a three day binge is still inexplicable to me. Now comes the hard part of realizing it.

This has a weird time for me, very reminiscent of the year before I wrote Our Gods Wear Spandex in some ways. That year was spent immersed in the Work, and immersed in a kind of physical meditation that opened up interesting doorways. As I wrote recently I've been immersed in trance work, without which this current project would not exist. Of that I am absolutely sure. Just as I am sure that without the Work I did in 2005 and 2006, Our Gods Wear Spandex and The Secret Sun would never have been born.

As you get older it's all too easy to get lost in routine, to anesthetize yourself with ritual and television. It's why creative work is so often the province of the young. It's also why David Lynch is such a firebrand for Transcendental Meditation; he knows how easy it is to lose that spark and how hard you have to work to keep hold of it.

Speaking of Lynch, it's interesting to see the massive disconnect when you look at the consumers and producers of a certain kind of pop culture. If Lynch didn't make Blue Velvet and Mulholland Dr. he'd be loathed by his hipster fans as a New Age flake, a ditzy woo-woo weirdo. 

Philip K. Dick has legions of fans who don't know quite what to make of his beliefs of an omnipotent orbital intelligence and homoplasmates from the Sirius star system. You can only imagine their reaction if they knew he had become a follower of Benjamin Creme before his death, as Tau Allen Greenfield has claimed.

One of the principles I'm working under is that it's pointless to argue about the paranormal. It's an experiential phenomenon and the issue at hand is transmission. Close Encounters of the Third Kind did more for the UFO cause than 30 years of UFOlogy combined because it transmitted an experience. It was fiction and UFOlogists grumbled about the details, but no one could argue with the experience onscreen.

I read Dick's Exegesis work before I read Valis, so I was fully aware that what he was writing was an autobiography, not science fiction. There were fictionalized elements (he didn't hang out with Bowie and Eno in real life, he was just enraptured by their music) but he was writing about his life. And of course, Valis is miles ahead of The Exegesis, certainly as far as recall. The novel imprinted his experiences via transmission, something a lecture could never do.

I recently tried rereading Budd Hopkins' Intruders, but gave up halfway through. Reading abductee accounts is like being trapped in a room with a coworker who wants to tell you about their dreams. Every day. In exhaustive detail. 

Stymied, I tried rewatching the TV movie. The first quarter was great; the Air Force situation room, the scene with the abductees' experiences. Then it became one crushingly dull hypnosis scene after another. The transmission had ended. It became entirely subjective and interior. It doesn't surprise me that the public lost interest in the topic.

click to enlarge

I began musing on all of this when the gorgeous new Alex Toth book came in the mail and I was reminded that the comics and animation genius was yet another "UFO nut." Toth was not only the mastermind behind so many of the legendary Hanna-Barbera action cartoons of the 1960s, he also was an aviation buff (and a car buff as well, having created a host of cartoons for Big Daddy Roth), and not the kind of starry-eyed dreamer you might normally associate with the UFO topic.

He was also curmudgeon of some great repute (one comics legend had him dangling an editor out a window who was late with a payment) and suffered fools not at all. So it's no surprise that he unleashed a salvo against UFO skeptics in comics form in the 1980s entitled 'UFO: Perts vs Experts'.

But the issue of transmission is germane here since Toth's trademark confrontational style is in full display. As Toth did so often, the story draws a line in the sand and that's the end of that. Toth's anger became more pronounced as he got older, especially after the death of his wife. It's a shame because it extinguished the tremendous joy and energy his work could fill the reader with.

When it comes to transmission, what is more compelling: 'Perts vs Experts' or Toth's deliriously hypnotic visual tone poem about a pilot's close encounter, 'Tibor Miko'? What can touch the magic of 'Daddy and the Pie', the sublime story of a farming family's relationship with a stranded alien? Which of these make the reader want to believe, to borrow a phrase?

The pundits declared 2014 the year of the death of the UFO, but already 2015 is proving those predictions premature. I've seen this all happen before. 

We're also seeing a situation in which trust between the public and its social institutions is at its lowest ebb. How this affects our culture and our pop culture remains to be seen, but there is no love lost between the public and its cultural institutions either- consumption of all types of media continues to splinter and fall. There isn't a newspaper or magazine in America that is truly financially secure, and even television is tottering.

These are the times when paradigms shift. 

Let me just say that I wrote and discarded a piece on the Charlie Hebdo massacre. As I neared the end of the piece I felt a sense of futility, a sense of being just another voice in a very discordant chorus. I'm not French and I have no credentials that apply to the situation. That so many who do are so often wrong about these things is besides the point, they are paid quite handsomely to be wrong. A large chunk of the public simply wants to hear platitudes and benedictions following these ruptures, they want to bathe in the warm glow of illusion. I have no interest in running that bath.