Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Asteroids and Anomalies

aka "Jack Parsons' Labs"- note 11

(FILE UNDER "X-FILES REALITY WATCH") Apocalyptic themes are increasingly dominating the media stream these days. I became aware of this story via a Joseph Farrell video update, and it tied quite nicely into a story I've been watching.
Today is "Asteroid Day," a newly-minted holiday to go with the recently made-of-whole-cloth "fireball season". Now we hear that NASA is planning yet another quasi-military operation in orbit, this being an asteroid hunting mission.
The Conspirasphere has been humming along with low rumbles of an imminent asteroid collision (or some variation thereof), hence all the stories of massive tunnel cities and so on. Farrell places all this in the context of the claims of Carol Rosin, the former secretary of Wernher Von Braun, who allegedly confided in her about a secret agenda about the weaponization of space, starting with a Communist threat, a terrorist threat and including an asteroid threat.
My problem with this narrative is that Von Braun knew full well that the original impetus behind the space program was itself military (see Project Horizon), and Communism and terrorism were already seen as serious problems long before the early 70s when this conversation reportedly took place.  Hollywood was conditioning the world with imagery of an alien threat since the early 50s, so that's not a news flash either (Rosin believes extraterrestrials are benevolent). 
And all you have to do is look at the Moon's craters to realize that the threat of asteroids and meteors- and even comets- isn't imaginary.
Either way, here is the article that Farrell was referring to (bonus X-Files tie-in):
NASA Working With National Nuclear Security Administration On Plan To Use Nukes On Doomsday Asteroid 
The space agency is teaming up with the National Nuclear Security Administration to work on a planetary defense plan to deflect a potential doomsday asteroid so it doesn't strike Earth, according to The New York Times. 
Last week's announcement came ahead of the first official "Asteroid Day" on June 30, a day scientists hope will raise awareness of the threat posed by near-Earth objects and encourage governments to develop a better plan to detect and track them. 
June 30 is the anniversary of the 1908 impact of an asteroid in Siberia that wiped out some 800 square miles of forest. The surprise impact of the 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor, which caused a 500-kiloton airburst over Russia, shows potentially threatening space rocks are still out there. 
In 2013, researchers at the Asteroid Deflection Research Center at Iowa State University came up with a plan to use a two-section spacecraft to first smash a hole in the asteroid, then dump a nuclear weapon into the crater to blow it up. 
Bong Wie, the center's director, told Space.com that 99 percent of the pieces left would miss Earth, and most of the rest would burn up in the atmosphere. However, NASA said those smaller pieces could still pose a problem, and the best approach is to deflect rather than destroy. 
"The trick is to gently nudge the asteroid out of harm's way and not to blow it up," the agency states on its Near Earth Objects website. 
NASA has also said that some asteroids may be deflected without the use of a nuclear weapon. 
"For the far more numerous asteroids that are smaller than a few hundred meters in diameter, if we have adequate early warning of several years to a decade, a weighted robotic spacecraft could be targeted to collide with the object, thereby modifying its velocity to nudge the trajectory just enough that the Earth impact would be avoided," the space agency wrote in another report. 
The problem, the agency said, is that we may not have "several years to a decade."
Farrell repeatedly muses if in fact asteroids are not the actual concern, that it might indeed be something else. I might remind you that despite all the endless ridicule of "UFO buffs", scientists are spending a lot of time looking at space and talking about aliens these days. The Catholic Church is controlled by the Jesuit Order at present, who also spend a lot of time looking at space and talking about aliens. 

And here's where we get to the X-Files Reality Watch.
X-Files fans love to heap scorn on "Space", a first season episode made while the production company was dealing with a number of problems, not the least of which was a lack of money. It was an ambitious undertaking- a feature film thesis undertaken on a small scale TV budget. Subsequently, it ran into a number of production snafus (and post-production; the computer effects are embarrassing). Here is the synopsis from iMDb:
When a space shuttle mission is sabotaged, Mulder suspects it may be the work an alien spirit that inhabits the body of a former Gemini astronaut. 
Mulder and Scully travel to Houston after a NASA employee, Michelle Generoo, shows them evidence that a space shuttle may have been sabotaged. They had recently had to abort a launch just seconds before lift-off and another launch is now scheduled. 
The second launch goes off without any problems but ground control is soon encountering difficulties communicating with the craft. It's all related to something that happened to Belt during his last Gemini flight and it's now affecting his judgment.
Why do I bring this up now? Well, recently this story made headlines all over; yet another example of strange anomalies wandering into the sightlines of the ISS cameras. And yet again, an example of NASA cutting the video feed as soon as the anomalies are seen.
A video was recently published on YouTube purportedly showing two UFOs leaving the Earth shortly before NASA’s ISS signal is abruptly cut. 
This footage is one of a few others that allegedly show NASA’s live cam feed being cut after an unidentified flying object is seen exiting the planet’s atmosphere. In the clip, two (actually three- CK) seemingly small, glowing objects are spotted leaving the Earth’s atmosphere and hurling into space. Then, just moments later, NASA’s signal was gone and an error message appeared. 
The loss of signal right after the UFOs were witnessed leaving the Earth is quite suspicious to say the least – and, according to UFO conspiracy theorists, this video further offers proof that NASA is indeed trying to cover up the existence of extraterrestrials. 
Of course, the lights could have been satellites and ISS may have just happened to have had an issue with their live feed at that particular moment — or, as some have suggested, the video could be fake. 
Still, whatever that flying object was, or wasn’t, this isn’t the first time NASA has been accused of cutting ISS’s signal after a UFO was spotted. 
Back in January, a UFO was captured on the space station’s video feed, but shortly after it was seen rising over the Earth’s horizon, NASA’s signal went black. 
The lights in question are small and indistinct, apparently a function of distance. It's amusing to see the press twist themselves in knots explaining the anomalies, saying they were just space debris one minute or they were obviously satellites the next.
 More disturbing is how many different news outlets run the same exact news story of this event as they do with so many others, including many stories that are of far greater immediate importance to their readers. The Internet has created the illusion of a free press but in fact what most outlets run are wire reports and press releases.

Now, you may be asking what do these two stories possibly have to do with each other? And how do they tie into the more serious issues I was raising earlier in the week? Well, you may have noticed the explosion of the Falcon 9 rocket on Elon Musk's birthday, a perfect example of things not always going the way of rich and powerful men. The flow of events has its own vote on how things will unfold. 
As it turns out, there's been a string of space disasters recently, following on the heels of these anomalous sightings.
String of cargo disasters puts pressure on space industry 
The first in a series of accidents came in October, when Orbital lost its Cygnus cargo carrier due to an apparent flaw in the Ukrainian-made engine aboard its Antares rocket, which exploded shortly after liftoff from Virginia. 
In April, the Russian space agency lost communication with its ISS-bound Progress cargo capsule, which burned up on re-entry to Earth's atmosphere two weeks later. 
Then, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket exploded just over two minutes into its flight Sunday, with the Dragon cargo ship and its 4,000 pounds (1,800 kilograms) of expensive gear falling to pieces in the Atlantic Ocean near the Florida coast. 
"This is a blow to us. We lost a lot of important research equipment on this flight," said NASA Associate Administrator Bill Gerstenmaier. 
Crew members living in orbit have plenty of food and supplies to last for the next four months, NASA said, but officials admitted that no amount of planning could have prepared them for three major accidents in a row.
The next Falcon-9 launch has been delayed indefinitely. "Space", thou art revenged.
Mere coincidence? Maybe, if you're the kind of person that believes in mere coincidence.  

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Upheaval Dialogues: The Impetus

Yazidi men being trained to resist ISIS goons

When I wrote the previous piece on the possibility of a coming upheaval, I was processing a lot of information. In many ways the crisis that religious minorities in Syria and Iraq are facing was a major influence on the piece. There are communities that have lived in the Levant and Mesopotamia since before the time of Christ and now face ethnic cleansing and genocide. It seemed to be a bellwether of a major change in the world, a canary in the coalmine.

In America we're fed a media narrative that by and large shuts out the rest of the world, barring some major atrocity or more often, some ridiculous novelty. Even Americans who think of themselves as informed are often simply reacting to the simulacrum of news that the mass media bombards us with, usually a heavy diet of social issues (economic issues-- especially as they concern working Americans-- seem to have been banished almost entirely from the news).

But there is another world out there and it's a world that doesn't much care how the editors and producers of American media think about it should behave. In fact, most of the world greatly resents American presumption, hates the all-pervasive American media like poison (hence the rise of targeting of reporters in conflict zones), and is actively working to reverse American influence in their own countries.

It's what's happening in this world that got me thinking again about a coming Great Upheaval, a kind of oblique fulfillment of 2012 prophesying. It's the war in Ukraine, and the contagion that may well spill over in other parts of northeastern Europe- for example, the Sino-Russian alliance may well discover a pretext to occupy one or more Scandinavian or Baltic states to curb NATO's endless expansion. It's being discussed quite openly in fact.

It's the crisis in Greece, that could also spread to other European states. Spain- with a quarter of its citizenry unemployed- is already looking closely at the Greek example and looking to release itself from German control. More importantly it creates uncertainty- the great bugaboo of financial markets.

And here too we see the potential for geopolitical conflict- what if Greece rents out its islands as ports for Mediterranean bases for Russian or Chinese battleships? On what basis would NATO be able to stop them?

The situation in Syria and Iraq does slip into American unconsciousness now and again, but just how dangerous it is- and just how complicit America and its allies are in the carnage- usually does not.  

And now China- the engine room of the global economy for most of this young century- is reeling under a number of growing economic crises, most recently a stock market crash many are comparing to the Black Friday crash of 1987. China is also looking to automate its factories, which calls into question its plans to morph its economy into a consumer rather than a producer economy. But more ominously, it certainly frees up a lot of labor to be militarized...

A lot of people are conditioned to automatically say "Oh, c'est la vie, it's the way the world goes. We've been here before." And they're right. We have been here before.

Specifically in the early 1910s and again in the 1930s. And how did that work out again? 

There is so much more,  such as the alarming signals that something is not right in the Biosphere. I don't want to come off as a doomsayer, since I'm not prophesying doom. I am seeing signs of an upheaval, one that I hope we will be able to avert. And it all seemed to start- or accelerate- in 2012.  

I'm not going to dwell on all of this- I wanted to put it out there on the table and let it be entered into the record. I know how helpless all of this can make you feel. But at the same time it's important to be aware of what is going on in the world. Many Americans- particularly young Americans- are living in a dreamworld, one they're about to be awoken from with the ice water splash of reality.

POSTSCRIPT: I think it's important to clarify the purpose of these posts. It's way beyond the mandate- or even the capability- of this little blog to do anything but raise awareness in its readership. And the purpose here is to draw attention to an esoteric topic and the apparent- though by no means direct- fulfillment of some of the predictions made about 2012. Something did seem to change- something profound- I thought it was at least worth pointing out the connection. How this is all going to play out is  going to be a lot bigger and more profound than a little Blogspot post.

But since so much had been invested in the 2012 prophecies and so much ridicule and scoffing had resulted when the world didn't become a giant movie set on 12/21/12 I thought it was important to revisit the issue in light of the many profound- and predominantly negative- trends that have emerged since the latter half of that year. Real change is always gradual, often imperceptible.

Social relations have noticeably worsened in the past 3 years, the economic crisis in Europe has reached  a breaking point, the humanitarian nightmare in the Middle East, the dieoffs of the honeybees and sealife- all of these trends have accelerated since 2012.

 Prophecy is usually abstract and couched in metaphor- you can dismiss the externals and focus on the core of the fact that the 2012 prophecies generally predicted a period of crisis as the world moved into a new age (not a "New Age", though the New Age movement has become ubiquitous the past few years, with yoga, "mindfulness", food consciousness, alt.medicine and other New Age concepts becoming quietly yet remarkably mainstream).

All of which is to say, that 2012 may well be seen as a watershed year in the future, when major world changes took hold. The prophecies may not scan literally, but be correct in a metaphorical reading. The implications of that- and we may not be able to say for sure one way or another for a few years- are enormous, since prophecy, like remote viewing,  points to another way of knowing.

We are watchers, observers, commentators. It's our purpose to perceive realities that may elude most people and make them known. That is the reason for these posts. It will be someone else's job to respond to these challenges.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Upheaval Dialogues: 2012 Reconsidered

Before my trip to New Hampshire I was working on a post arguing that the 2012 prophecies were not incorrect but simply premature. That 2012 seemed to mark a turning point of a sort, a distinct change in the worldwide weather, if you will. You can point to to 2012 and see a number of trends that have metastasized since then, in the geopolitical situation, but also in our politics, in the economy, in social relations. 

A lot of this is cynical manipulation, a reaction to the legitimate threat once posed by the Occupy movement. We're seeing a lot of gamesmanship at work, a lot of people being given the rope with which to hang themselves. That will become more apparent by this time next year. Politics at every level is all smoke and mirrors today- believe nothing you see.

But there's something much deeper at work. We're seeing mass die-offs of wildlife, particularly that of sealife, all over the world. Most troubling are the mass die-offs of bees, animals that our food supply is so dependent on. Whether through carbon emissions or through geoengineering, we're also seeing dangerous levels of pollen on the increase and the attendant increase in respiratory illness.

And there have been attendant signs in the sky- the Sun seems to have gone quiet, perhaps presaging a long and difficult period of solar inactivity, one that could presage a mini-ice age. After years of mocking "believers," scientists are once again recognizing that there are two giants beyond Pluto (one may be a brown dwarf)*. 

What effect they might have on our planet is debatable (some claim they are the source of all the invaders we've come to worry so much about; asteroids, meteors, etc), there's no shortage of "Nibiru" scare mongers on the Internet preaching apocalypse one minute, then selling "survival" trinkets and gimcracks in order to stave off your doom the next.

We've also seen strange signs on the earth- a rise in earthquake and volcanic activity (a major volcano could block out the Sun for many parts of the world, causing famine), an increase in gigantic sinkholes (massive hollowing out of the surface layer of the earth) and in the Pacific, violent typhoons. Hurricane season in the Atlantic has been relatively quiet since 2012's Superstorm, but that might be the literal calm before the storm.

And of course, there is the endless drumbeat of war. There is the endless slaughter and massive displacement in the Middle East (with ancient Gnostic sects such as the Druze, Yazidi and Alawites targeted for genocide by Jihadists) and the growing tension in Eastern Europe. There's also the uptick in terrorism in Europe (Charlie Hebdo, the attack in France today), although intolerable is not even a speck of the carnage people elsewhere in the world suffer on a daily basis, especially as struggles between Sunni and Shi'a Muslims escalate to global proportions. Syria, Yemen, Pakistan...the list of sectarian carnage is mind-numbing.

Toothless NATO protectorates like Sweden are easy targets for the Sino-Russian ascendancy, which is why the US is moving heavy artillery in the area. But the state of constant war is such that drone pilots are reporting record levels of stress and burn-out

Poltical and social tensions have increased in this country, though in comparison to what's going on in the rest of the world it seems like a footnote (certainly the endless political bickering on the 'Net does). On a personal level, I'm seeing so many people I care about under serious stress. It's as if the entire solar system is in convulsions, from the macrocosm to the microcosm.

As many of us warned about, the corporate Christianity of the 80s and 90s has sparked an enormous backlash, with many young people walking away from religion (and pretty much everything else) entirely. Church leaders are now realizing the error of their shotgun wedding to partisan politics, even as Christianity rises in ways once unimagined in Africa, Russia and China. 

But the collapse of religious faith especially among vulnerable working class populations has left a huge void, one which pandemic drug abuse is filling. 

A deep and abiding nihilism has gripped the entire world-- not just the West-- and all of the chaos and upheaval we are seeing now is a symptom of that. 

What is going to heal that?

Science is increasingly proving itself to be corrupt and compromised. Transhumanism (now just a fading dream, despite some of the hysteria you still see) won't fill the void, virtual reality (which never has and probably never will live up to its hype) won't fill the void, forcing the world in a Borghive will just make magnify the problem, just as the Internet can turn a quiet, Type B "nice guy" or "nice girl" into a raging, misanthropic troll.

So was 2012 the turning point? The beginning of a period of upheaval? Hollywood sells us the myth of overnight apocalypse ("The Day After Tomorrow") but history teaches us that periods of upheaval are slow in getting started, so much so that they are hardly recognized as such until it's too late.

History also teaches us that chaos has its own genius and often turns on the men who seek to unleash it for their own benefit. We're not seeing true chaos on a worldwide scale yet, but the beast is straining at its leash, that's for certain.

And you can also bet the farm that we'll see what Jacques Vallee calls the "Control System" awake from its slumber. It already has, though that too has largely gone unnoticed. But not for much longer.

You will live in interesting times...

UPDATE: Speaking of which, are you watching what's going on in the Chinese Stock Market?

UPDATE: The weaponization of space is proceeding apace, ostensibly to counter threats from China and Russia. There are strange linguistic undertones in the press release, however....

*The reason I don't pay any attention to astronomers' bold claims of distant solar systems is that they have no friggin' idea what's floating around in ours. Or they do and are lying about it. Either way.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Interlude: 'Tis a Magic Place

Well, of course it all began with a UFO sighting. 

There was an old saying, "When your neighbor loses his job, it's a recession. When you lose your job, it's a depression." So when your son has a high-quality UFO sighting, it's a 'flap', then when you and other family members have one a couple weeks later, I guess it's a 'wave'. 

The funny thing is that events conspired for us to be in that exact place at exactly that time. We were headed up to New England but ran into a wall of traffic- I mean a bloody parking lot on the Interstate- which required us to turn around and take another route, wasting a good 90 minutes of drive time in the bargain. So as we pulled into New Hampshire, we watched as two solid (meaning 'unblinking') lights of a sickly orange color and a distinctly nebulous form flew atop a Cessna (probably coming up from Manchester airport). 

I've already discussed this with a couple friends- Mike Clelland said he's been inundated with orange orb reports lately (they've been all over the usual UFO sites too). The plane and the lights were no more than a couple thousand feet off the ground and flying in a tight formation that no air traffic controller would ever allow. 

Detail from my son's video of his 
May sighting- golden/orange orbs?

My daughter said the orange lights broke ranks and went off in different directions when they broke pattern with the plane and flew over the car. Both my wife and daughter said there was a smaller white light bringing up the rear. These things do seem to come in threes. We couldn't determine if the lights were freestanding or part of larger structures. It could go either way, in my estimation.

Seeing as how I was driving and concentrating on the oncoming offramp, I wasn't able to study the objects in as great detail. I did get the sense that the pilot of the Cessna was probably oblivious to his companions, since they were over his head--and under the radar. 

Ball lightning? Earth lights? We were in the Granite State so it's certainly possible. But these lights definitely seemed to be flying under some kind of control, seeing as how they flew so tight (menacingly tight) over the Cessna. We drove back around the next day to see if there were light towers in that location but there were not (plus the altitude was too high).

 Had we not been taken by surprise and not spent so much time trying to figure out what exactly it was we were looking at, (the entire event took about a minute -see noteº) my wife might have been able to get some good photos, but they'd probably look a lot like the photo of the stars she took above there.† 

In other words, they'd change no one's mind.

Strange syncs abounded nonetheless: I was telling my wife about Valis (we were listening to Bowie on the drive up) and there just happened to be a truck (#13, no less) from a company called "Felix" parked outside our hotel all weekend. She booked our hotel in Salem, not knowing Salem plays a pivotal role in the novel I am working on (we usually stay in Manchester). Sleep has been a major issue for me lately so of course we pulled out of the hotel at one point only to find ourselves in back of a guy with the vanity plate "Sandman." 

We did get a picture of that...

We attended a family function on Saturday but found ourselves with nothing to do on Sunday morning, the Summer Solstice. It was also Father's Day so my wife asked me what I wanted to do and I said we should go to "America's Stonehenge", since it's (literally and eerily) right down the road from my mother's house (which is "a few miles" in New Hampshire parlance).

The weather had been threatening- the forecast called for thunderstorms all day but we got some very nice Vancouver-worthy drizzle instead. So we got some raingear and headed over to Mystery Hill, a crucial stop on the Lovecraft Express.

We'd heard a lot of badmouthing about America's Stonehenge but I thought it was fascinating.  I don't think the Brits are losing any sleep over it but aside from its nostalgic Americana value as a classic roadside attraction, the formation has a very deliciously creepy ambiance to it, and the rain and the mist gave it all the feeling of a classic X-Files set (the site is namechecked in a classic second season ep, "Die Hand Die Verletzt").

Adding to the vibe was this Summer Solstice procession, though the vibe was more Wicker Man than Mulder and Scully. The folks at the box office told us that Summer Solstice is normally one of their busiest days of the year, with hundreds of New Age pilgrims showing up to celebrate. Apparently the weather and Father's Day kept the revelers away, which probably doesn't say much about their level of commitment.  The rain was a bonus for us, lending a spooky atmosphere the site would probably lack in cheery sunshine.

And though certainly unintentional, these photos of pagan rites practiced behind barbed wire seemed to be a fitting metaphor of our times. That being said there was a distinct lack of energy to these rituals, a sense of the obligatory.*

 I don't want to sound judgmental but I don't understand why people show up to these things in their street clothes, bringing the associations of the mundane world with them. I would think they would want to separate themselves from their ordinary lives for these rituals, and wear flowing robes and garlands of flowers. I wonder if cosplay and conventions really are the ecstatic paganism of our time, with people really stepping into another reality.

I know there is a lot of overlap with cosplay and paganism. It will be interesting to see how that develops. Maybe you need to step out of any pretense of ordinary life altogether for the magic to really happen. It occurred to me that the really exciting Mystery Hill rituals will probably start as cosplay, as theater, and evolve into something else over time.

All sorts of thoughts ran through my mind as we walked the grounds. Strangely enough, I grew up with a megalithic structure in my backyard- quite literally. My father's old house in Cohasset (where Witches of Eastwick was filmed) had a very Mystery Hill-like stone garden built of the native stone, a wonderland (of more recent vintage, mind) that I spent endless hours on when he'd have custody of us. There were also interesting natural stone structures in the woods behind my mother's house so Mystery Hill felt like coming home in a way. 

I felt like there was a lot of unrealized potential at Mystery Hill. I also wondered if it made itself available after hours for more secretive sects than the local Gaia enthusiasts. The funny thing is that I was originally planning to drive up on Thursday- a producer at the ABC affiliate in Boston wanted to interview me about Aleister Crowley's summer at Hebron and its connection to the Barney and Betty Hill saga

So how else could this all begin except with a rather startling UFO sighting?

UPDATE: New Hampshire has had a lot of UFO reports this year, many orange or golden orbs. Remember that most people don't report their sightings to these agencies.

UPDATE: Interesting news from Stonehenge Prime. A whopping 23,000 revelers show up for Solstice celebrations there.

UPDATE: Mike C sends a remarkably similar story to our sighting that was just posted on Open Minds today. Search for more in your area here.

UPDATE: Eric Wargo revisits the extradimensional hypothesis on The Nightshirt.

UPDATE: The syncs roll on- Time posts a picture today from Salem....Massachusetts.

UPDATE: Another orange orb spotting, this time in England, the day after ours.

º Note: I originally wrote 15 seconds but having timed that out I realized it was probably closer to a minute. It took long enough for us to look closely at what we were seeing- and comment on it- but not long enough for my wife to get her camera ready. I tend to err on the side of conservatism with these things, which isn't necessarily a virtue.

The missus said the sighting lasted "a while, long enough for us to discuss it." She said it lasted "at least a minute" and didn't know why she didn't get her camera out. I know why- because these things have a tendency to mesmerize the viewer.

† I razzed the missus the entire weekend for taking photos of everything and everything but the one time I really needed one... There was a lot of glare from street lights and whatnot so it's unlikely we would've gotten anything definitive to begin with.  Read this post for my experience of the difficulty of photographing unexpected moving objects in the sky. Still, it's bugging me- it was eminently picture-worthy.

*I was reminded of this when my mother showed me a current directory from my old church, a onetime traditional Methodist church that's now part and parcel of the World Council of Churches agenda. I was shocked by how small the congregation now was, a very common story among what was once called the "Mainline" denominations. In contrast, her current church- a hellfire and brimstone Baptist church- has a membership that could fill a small city. I'm not sure that's a healthy social trend.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Programming Note

Production of new X-Files series in British Columbia

In the few moments of spare time I've had in the past week I've been wrestling with a major post that keeps growing and morphing. I've been doing a lot of research on related topics as well, playing various videos and podcasts while I'm busy with the day (and night) job. 

This next post is important and will probably be the first of many variations on a theme. I just haven't had the time to hammer it out properly yet (I forced a first draft that failed to  thrive), and probably won't until sometime next week. Once I clear my plate I will be back to full strength and plan to be very active over the summer.

Stay tuned. More to come....

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Virtual Reality and Actual Certainty

Yeah, that looks comfortable.

Note: Oculus Rift is having a press conference today 6/11 @ 1 PM EST. (see update)

We're living in a strange moment, one which we haven't quite come to acknowledge. It's a moment when the utopian IOUs the technocrats have been writing are being called in. "Just around the corner" isn't good enough anymore. Lazy recitations of Moore's Law aren't going to cut it.

We're not quite looking at a backlash yet but the preconditions for one are beginning to congeal. People my age have been fed technohype for most of our lives, yet nothing has really been improved. You can make a compelling argument that technology has been a net negative for many millions of people when you look at its impact on income and job security. The furniture has been rearranged, at best.

This DARPA robot challenge is especially revealing, since we're fed such breathless nonsense about the imminent "robot revolution." But the fact is that autonomous robots require terabytes of code to perform the simplest tasks, and even then the fractal nature of mundane daily life --say, a rock is in its path-- confounds their programming. 

Certainly the kind of remote control robotics you see on assembly lines have come a long way, but that's simply a honing process, an incremental upgrading of technology that's been with us for a very long time.

The entertainment industry is struggling against technology's headwinds, seeing as how consumers now expect everything they want to be available around the clock and extremely cheap, if not actually free. It's hard to explain to young people how strange and new this is, how you wait for months to watch The Wizard of Oz or Planet of the Apes the one time a year they were shown on broadcast television. 

It's also hard to explain how special that wait made it all seem. The anticipation was part of the experience.

And now the convenience of streaming services like Netflix makes broadcast television look more and more like a dinosaur, playing to audiences a fraction the size it commanded just a decade before.

Which brings us to Jurassic World, an example of the tentpole CGI blockbuster that Hollywood relies on to keep the multiplexes open. Advance buzz is mixed and that's a dangerous situation for a movie whose production and advertising budgets run in the hundreds of millions of dollars. CGI has come a long way but it still has a feeling of unreality to it, which is why most of the big budget movies you see today make no pretensions to reality.

Jurassic World is also nostalgia trip, a return to the 90s when we still believed in Techno-Utopia. We're seeing a lot of that lately. Hillary Clinton is trying to capitalize on memories of those good times, but without much pep.  There's a new documentary of Kurt Cobain and of course The X-Files revival started shooting this week, yet another attempt to recapture that 90s magic.

Kirby predicts VR in 1974

And now we're seeing Virtual Reality dragged out of the 90s storage unit. But is there a need for it? Or is this a response to the economics of entertainment technology, the need to create a new platform that can offer content at a premium by virtue of the medium itself?  

The assumption behind VR has always been based in a linear understanding of technology, which is to say that more is more. A more complex, more immersive, more invasive experience is inevitably going to be preferable to a simpler delivery of content. But the persistence of printed books, the vinyl revival and the retrogaming movement- three very important trends in youth culture at this moment- are all telling the culture creators they think less is more.

Earlier experiments with VR have been problematic, with viewers complaining about the discomfort of the gear and side effects such as nausea and vertigo. The Oculus Rift rollout keeps getting pushed back (first to 2015, then 2016, now to 2017, a eternity for its young audience) and we're hearing a lot of "just around the corner" talk with the other VR projects. 

I'm getting the feeling that this technology is nowhere near consumer-readiness and that the 2017 rollout date is a pure Hail Mary. (see update)

We are seeing 360º cameras being developed to create virtual environments. But there's a faint medicinal odor to all of this, similar to what we saw with IMAX before they finally started using it for feature films. I'm not sure how indispensible IMAX has made itself to Hollywood, if the costs and logistical problems of creating content for the format are justified by the higher ticket prices.

VR will be even more problematic. A format is only as good as the content it carries and no one can argue that there's not a content crisis in the entertainment industry. There's plenty of content, the question is how much of it is any good. Most films and TV shows fail and the industry is kept afloat by a small slate of blockbusters.

Blockbuster movies are one thing but the intimate nature of VR is going to be quite another- who are you going to want to let inside your head? We have quasi-virtual environments in some games, but there's a layer of distance and the player controls the action. What about the somewhat more passive nature of VR? You'd be a fool not to wonder at the potential for abuse here. VR pioneer Jaron Lanier: 
"A few researchers started to do experiments that I would have been terrified to do myself. I’m thinking of a person who has been a research partner, a collaborator for many years — Jeremy Bailenson at Stanford. He started to just sort of see how he could screw with people in VR. I was always like, "Can we give them better math abilities by changing how their bodies work?" — that was the kind of thing I was interested in. 
"[Bailenson] was like, "Hey, I want to see if I can screw with their self-esteem by making them gradually shorter during an interaction, or turn gradually more black during an interaction." And he can. This notion that you could see VR as a way to screw with people without their awareness, crossed with our current business model where everything is about advertising and manipulation and spying — we [will] have a surveillance economy in the online world. It’s been very painful to see that potential unfolding."
Chilling. But more likely the material is likely to be bland, travelogue snoozers and inoffensive pabulum meant to reach the widest possible audience. VR is a platform without a constituency, other than moguls gambling on it and the techies developing it. 

No one is out there screaming for virtual reality, aside from a few hardcore gamers. Actually, I don't see much interest in the technology one way or the other out there. There's talk about games being developed for VR platforms but it's all moot until the platforms are actually on the streets. Which is still "just around the corner."

At best the new platforms could be a promising gateway to future developments. At worst it might be the entertainment equivalent of a CPAP unit. 

Consumers are usually excited by content not technology. My suspicion that non-gaming VR content won't exactly be electrifying given the enormous cost of production is somewhat verified by this New York Times article, "Virtual Reality Fails its Way to Success" (even its boosters can't avoid VR's unimpressive track record):
Marketers, educators, scientists and, of course, gamers are already imagining an internal ecosystem for virtual reality. Armchair travel. Risk-free sky diving and ziplining. Gender-bending with virtual bodies. Classrooms of avatars convened with people all over the world. Surgical demos. Virtual hikes in the Andes and sprints on Fiji beaches. But whatever its “use” might be, V.R. is not fundamentally a pragmatic technology, which is why it begins with gamers. If it works, if it catches on, it must first give pleasure — and be fun. 
It’s curious that James Cameron himself, a director known for his embrace of technology in the name of cinematic spectacles, recently dismissed Oculus as “a yawn.” 
It's a strange situation where the producers and consumers are now moving in opposite directions. Programmers and engineers are thrilled by their accomplishments but consumers only want an experience. An old time roller coaster or a book picked up at a free table at the library can provide that? Fine. With the economic race to the bottom we're all subjected to, gee-whiz technology isn't going to be enough.  

But given the top-down nature of this movement, is there another agenda at play? The VR sequences in William Gibson's Sprawl novels were usually the least memorable, but there was one interesting storyline in Count Zero, where a terminally ill mogul was kept alive in a virtual environment while his physical body mouldered in a vat in some industrial park. He was able to continue his machinations in an idealized Madrid park into which his underlings entered via VR.

There's a new religion at work among the new cognoscenti, and its demon is an overwhelming fear of death. This new elite buy into the most reductionist, most mechanistic interpretation of Darwinist fundamentalism imaginable, and see their position of masters of the universe as a cosmic quirk, a random accident that arose in a dead, mechanistic cosmos on a world overfilled with  semi-sentient meat robots. 

Their deaths are an affront to the imposed order of things, an event that must be avoided at all costs. 

Most of them are still relatively young, but you wonder how heavy the shadow of the Grim Reaper looms over their heads, how much of a race they are in to extend their lives by any means necessary, either medically (the current favorite) or via upload (the more controversial choice, but still in the running).

I wonder if Steve Jobs, an experienced psychonaut, took a more holistic view as he faced his own mortality. Today, doctors are petitioning to have terminal patients treated with entheogens, given their power to ease the anxiety of death by opening the patient's consciousness to the greater universal consciousness we are all a part of. 

I remember seeing Timothy Leary a couple times when he was campaigning for virtual reality and I remember losing a great deal of respect for him when he put on a pair of goggles and blurted out "oh yeah, I've been here before" as some rudimentary computer graphics were simulcast on a projection screen. He knew better. 

I wonder how much of our collective neurosis would be ameliorated if more people came to realize that reality itself is a virtual simulation, a kind of hologram atop a much deeper reality we utilize just to keep our biological imperatives satisfied. We have the technology to break through the illusion, we've had it for a very long time. What worries me is how we seem to be moving now in the opposite direction.

UPDATE: Oculus is now shooting for "Q1 2016" for delivery. We'll see how that goes. I've been monitoring the r/oculus subreddit and I'm not blown away by the traffic. Whether that's a reflection on OP or Reddit is an open question.

Same old FPS on a headset instead of a screen...

UPDATE: Look for the Oculus backlash to start today (in some cases it already has- scroll through some of the comments on the Oculus subreddit). A few geewhiz moments but a lot of the same-old/same-old (third person games for VR? WTF?) and a lot of telling instead of showing. I'm still getting the very strong feeling this stuff is still not market ready based on the nervous dispositions of a lot of the presenters and what we're seeing for the most part is standard issue video gaming projected onto a headset instead of a screen. 

The problem with VR is the amount of imagery you need to create and there's still no getting around that. Technology has expedited the process but we're still nowhere near the kind of holography you see in sci-fi VR.

UPDATE: Oculus skepticism from IGN commenters, especially given the rumored $1500 price point. Comparisons to 3DTV are rife...

UPDATE: "Meh" is the word of the day. Kotaku commenters.

UPDATE: As of 1735 EST Friday, nothing about Oculus Rift on Kotaku. No mention of it on io9 either. That press conference is not generating any perceivable buzz.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Wizards, Workings and Walk-Ins: Be My Baby(lon)

There's been little news on the project as of late but last year we heard that Ridley Scott was developing a miniseries based on the life of Jack Parsons, the co-founder of Jet Propulsion Laboratories and inventor of solid rocket fuel. Such a project proves how esoteric Scott is becoming in his maturity, seeing as he's also executive producing a Philip K. Dick novel and an adaption of Lords of Chaos, the landmark history of the Norwegian Black Metal scene.

Of course, any project based on Parsons' life would also deal with his involvement with Aleister Crowley and the OTO, as well as his infamous Babalon Working, undertaken with future Scientology guru L. Ron Hubbard in early 1946.

Parsons' stated intent was to summon a Scarlet Woman with whom he could give birth to the Moonchild, or avatar of the New Age of Antichrist. As fate would have it, that working would indeed summon just the woman Parsons desired- that being artist Marjorie Cameron- but no Moonchild ever came from their relationship. 

But according to many Thelemites, not the least of whom was Crowley's would-be heir Kenneth Grant, the Babalon Working in fact achieved another goal, one which neither Parsons nor Hubbard seem to have foreseen as far as we can tell. 

But that's the way magick often goes- you have your stated intent and then you have often have your workings taking on an entirely different life of their own in the public consciousness. It all leads one to question just who is using whom in these things.

Using a complicated magickal regimen based in Crowley's teachings and drawing upon the so-called Enochian magickal system of the Elizabethan Era, Parsons and Hubbard began the working on January 4, 1946 and continued on for several days thereafter. Upon finishing their work they took off for the desert. When they returned to the Parsonage, the Parsons family home in Pasadena, they were shocked to discover a woman fitting Parsons' specifications waiting for them, one Marjorie Cameron, a former map maker for the Navy. 

At the same time half a world away, the so-called "ghost rockets" phenomenon began the modern UFO era, a marvelously appropriate event that led many to declare that the Babalon Working had opened a dimensional window and something- something being UFOs- had flown through it.

But wasn't this all just a return to first principles? Enochian magick is said to be of unearthly origin, as one of history's most remarkable "channeled" magical systems. From Thelemapedia:
Enochian magick is a system of ceremonial magick based on the evocation and commanding of various spirits. It is based on the 16th century writings of Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelley, who claimed that their information was delivered to them directly by an angel. They created the Enochian script and the table of correspondences that goes with it. It claims to embrace secrets contained within the apocryphal Book of Enoch. 
Enochian magick is a hierarchical system of angel magick centered on the evocation of angelic beings whose names are constructed from several tables of letters using consistent rules of formation.
The problem is that the Book of Enoch tells of more than one heavenly race, both called Watchers. One race of Watchers were fallen angels who appeared from time to time to tutor human beings in arcane arts. Enoch is not recognized as canon in most Jewish or Christian traditions and as we saw in an earlier post it was most likely based on Lebanese (read: Phoenician) magic and folklore, not Jewish sources. 

Ah, those pesky flying disks again, as those who've read their Vallee will tell you.

The Book of Enoch is also extremely strange, and includes an incredibly lucid travelogue from low earth orbit, leading one to wonder just who exactly these Watchers were, who took up with Earth women and taught men some rather useful skills, like writing and weapon-making.

(In light of Parsons' obsession with the occult we'd do well to remind ourselves how many inventors claimed to be inspired by otherworldly beings, Nikola Tesla and George Hale to name only two).

Many Christians believe today that the Watchers were in fact other-dimensional beings who came to this world through gates or portals. And of course Babalon is a corruption of Babylon, which means "Gateway of the Gods."  That double meaning is especially important as we come to the next exhibit in our catalog of wonders here...

This was just one of Jack Kirby's many stories about interdimensional travel. Later he'd concoct an entire universe of characters around the concept. But as it happens, perhaps something else may have been expressing itself through Kirby's hands here.

I mentioned this story in the very first post in this series, but didn't realize how strange it actually was until I was recently reminded that Marjorie Cameron claimed to be from Mars  (you can read the whole comic here). 

That turned out to be the key that showed-- once again-- how Kirby was tuned in an entirely different wavelength than you or I, one that furnished him with information that he really had no business knowing. In this case, it was inside information on the Babalon Working...
The story has two men living and running a hat shop together, one a tall fellow with jet black hair and the other a shorter guy with red hair. This parallels Hubbard living at the Parsonage in Pasadena as well as their ill-fated company, Allied Enterprises. 

This is also a classic imp or sprite scenario, items going missing and belongings being rifled via an interdimensional thief. It's been updated for UFO lore, as you can see in the Dark Skies film.

What is even more remarkable is that "Max Hall" looks remarkably like a caricature of the young Hubbard, down to the bulbous nose, weak chin and receding hairline.

The pair experience a series of thefts and wait in the dark to try to catch the thief. Then a giant dimensional doorway opens up in the dark apartment. Compare this with Parsons' notes from the Babalon Working:

"Jan 14. The light system of the house failed about 9 PM. Another magician who had been staying at the house and studying with me, was carrying a candle across the kitchen when he was struck strongly on the right shoulder, and the candle knocked out of his hand. He called us, and we observed a brownish yellow light about seven feet high in the kitchen."

"Parsons opened a door, and something flew in." In this case a spectral figure emerges from the Stargate. Max tries to grab "Eddie Michaels" from entering it in pursuit of the thief. Note now the parallels of the spectral figure to the astral vision in Parsons' notes, the name Michael and "let me go free" to the figure fleeing capture into the dimensional gateway. 

The conjunction of Isis and Michael is interesting because the thief is a woman who steals mens' belongings.

Jan 15. Invoked twice. At this time the Scribe developed some sort of astral vision, describing in detail an old enemy of mine of whom he had never heard, and later the guardian forms of Isis and the Archangel Michael. Later, in my room, I heard the raps again, and a buzzing, metallic voice crying "let me go free."

After a voyage through the fourth dimension, Eddie appears back in his apartment, the very assertive female thief clutching him. Note she is wearing a purple robe. Because that's what all Martian cat burglars wear, right?

Well, it might be a good time to mention that when we first meet Crowley's Scarlet Woman (based on Leila Waddell) in his novel Moonchild, she is dressed in an identical manner:

Until Simon Iff and his party entered, these three men had been entertained by a woman. She was dressed in a plain purple robe, made in a single piece. It fell to her feet. The sleeves were long and widening towards the wrist. 
Note this assertive Martian is a fiery redhead, exactly like Marjorie Cameron. 

My question is who else came through that gate?

And the original Scarlet Woman was also dressed in purple robes as well:
“And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication”- Revelation 17:4

What's more important is that the abstract forms Eddie tangles with (obviously inspired by "modern art") in the Fourth Dimension are manifestations of his new Martian paramour, a direct parallelism of the abstracted surrealism that Marjorie Cameron became famous for. And the dominance Cameron had over Parsons is certainly symbolized in these scenes. 
And here we see the happy couple declare their eternal love upon meeting, just as Parsons and Cameron did.
On February 23, 1946 Parsons triumphantly wrote to Crowley, "I have my elemental! She turned up one night after the conclusion of the Operation, and has been with me since." The Elemental was Marjorie Cameron, sprung from Parsons' head like Sophia from the Godhead or Pallas Athena from Zeus. She adopted the magical name "Candida," calling herself "Candy" for short. Soon she married Parsons, and helped him with his magic. 
Crowley sent Parsons an admonishment about Cameron. He reminded him of Eliphas Levi's advice that, "The love of the Magus for such things [Elementals] is insensate and may destroy him."

And here we see that these characters are unconscious idealized representations of Parsons and Cameron. 

So we have caricatures of Parsons, Hubbard and Cameron, a dimensional Stargate, surreal artwork and a woman from Mars, along with a few dangling signifiers. All long before the rest of the world knew anything about the Babalon Working. All drawn by a guy who was beyond obsessed with aliens and ancient astronauts, I might add.

How about that?

At this point it's tempting to speculate that Kirby was working off inside information. But to do so is to fail to understand who Jack Kirby was. He was a man co-workers saw as somewhat off, lost inside his rich fantasy worlds. One colleague on the Thundarr the Barbarian cartoon described him as being "hermetically sealed in his own imagination." Less charitable observers described him as being somewhere deep on the autistic scale. 

Go watch some of his interviews on YouTube to judge for yourself.

This story was published in June of 1957 (cover date Sept.), five years after Jack Parsons' gruesome death in Pasadena. That event may have made the news, but as far as I know (and please let me know if you have credible evidence to the contrary) Parsons' relationship with L. Ron Hubbard wouldn't become public until 1969 and the details of the Babalon Working wouldn't be published until the mid-70s. 

This is important, since this story parallels details of the Babalon Working in a way totally uncharacteristic of Jack Kirby's storytelling. He wasn't given to subtle allegory, in fact he wasn't given to subtle anything. Everything he did was over the top. 

So if Kirby did know someone who knew Jack Parsons and knew the details of the Babalon Working- which I'm going to say is a extreme improbability given Kirby's hermit-like isolation in a basement studio in the Long Island suburbs, grinding out pages day and night-  he wouldn't retell the story the way the story is told here. It just wasn't his style.

As so much else of his published work proves, here again we see that Kirby was tuning into all this through some other transmission. 

Remember that he was working in the same way remote viewers did- sitting in an isolated room, staring at a blank sheet of paper, projecting onto it what he saw with his mind's eye.
To add the icing to the cake, Kirby even had a comic called "The Three Rocketeers," the name of Parsons' then-obscure group at CalTech. It would be from this body of work that his "Face on Mars" story and the story that prefigured the Stargate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey would emerge. 

Gee, more Stargates.

The later story- a Three Rocketeers yarn- was drawn in the late 50s but didn't see print until the summer of 1966, well after Stanley Kubrick had begun production on his landmark sci-fi opus. 

It also centered on a monolith discovered on the Moon. And in case you were wondering there was no such sequence in the original short story 2001 was based on. But just to bring it all full circle Kirby would bring his very strange imagination to a bugout adaption of the Kubrick film in 1976 and an even weirder spinoff series that year. It would be one of three Kirby titles centered on AAT (the other two being The Eternals and Devil Dinosaur) in his short tenure at Marvel in the late 70s.

And just to make this all completely improbable, "Marvel" was Jack Parsons' birth name. It was later changed to John following his parents' divorce. Kirby's birth name wasn't Jack either, it was Jacob. Either way, the two Jacks both shared a love for science fiction (and science) and changed the world in ways that continue to reverberate to this very day...