Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Total body replacement

On a rainy Saturday in a university library, my reverie went astray.

What if I, somehow. became fully posthuman? What would life be like?
A few parameters for what I'm about to write:

First, there are few books you should eventually read to get the most out of what I'm about to describe. The Singularity Is Near by Ray Kurzweil and The Transhumanist Reader edited by Natasha Vita-More and Max More are both essential reading on the subject.

Secondly, this post is not entertaining "Wellwhatabouts" and "What ifs." Naturally there are many and I've never shied away from them. Heck as I'm blogging this, TCM is showing The Curse of Frankenstein. A warning or just seasonal fare? Anyway, I'm not interested in any contrarian sparring at this moment. I'm trying to provide positives before a successive post on the negatives.

As I've said many times before, this is nothing new. Gilgamesh searched an elixir that would allow him to overcome the greatest of human frailties: death. Dante used the term transumanare in The Divine Comedy to mean, "to pass beyond the human." While he didn't mean by the application of technologies, Nietzsche saw humans as something to be overcome, asking "What have you done to overcome him?" That latter point, to my way of thinking, is the purpose of posthumanism. To overcome. More on that in a moment.

In his essay, "Why I Want to be Posthuman When I Grow Up," Max More identifies three categories of the human condition to consider:

1. Healthspan. This means being fully active, healthy and productive mentally and physically.
2. Cognition. The capacity to remember and to analyze.
3. Emotion. The capacity to react and enjoy.

Posthumanism is the ability to go beyond what is humanly possible in any or all of those categories. To me, it means overcoming the inherent limitations and to finally have control. It is my life, my body, and my mind. If the means exist, why should I not have the right modify what I am to my own desires? Sure, you can argue that we do have control through practices such as diet, exercise, medicine, meditation, and all that rot. But they are inefficient and in the end they are illusory. I don't care how many weights you lift and how much kale you stuff down, you will eventually meet your end. It just takes the right disease or injury or the mere ravages of time. You think you have control, but I'm sorry. You don't. On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.

I then began to contemplate how my life would be different if I did have complete and total technological replacement in these three domains.

1. Physically. After the library last Saturday, I got my hair cut. They placed a black, vinyl shroud over my midsection and all I saw was gray hair falling upon it. It sickened me. What could I do to stop it? I mean truly eradicate it? Biosculpture. Better yet, mind upload into an artificial body. No more stomach problems. No more inefficient wastes of time as I brush to keep my teeth clean and my breath fresh, or swabbing skin and applying creams to fight off acne and wrinkles. I can at last eradicate my awful flaws. Want to fire me? Fine. I don't need to eat. I don't need shelter. I don't get cold. I don't get hungry. I don't get tired. I don't get sick. Something broke down? I simply replace it with a new component.

2. Mentally. This is the most tantalizing to me. I nearly salivate at the idea of rapidly correlating vast amounts of information and seeing patterns my meat-brain is currently incapable of. No more data corruption of memory with age. I was saying today that I feel I have long since lost my creativity. It's almost a foreign concept to me. With an enhanced mind, I wonder if I could reclaim it and then some. Which leads me to...

3. Emotionally. I realize that creativity is connected in several ways to emotion. "You need suffering for your art." Perhaps. Even so, I covet the ability to switch off emotions. To feel nothing, especially after the past ten month, well...it would be a complete and total sense of relief. Inhuman you say? Posthuman I say. Laugh all you want about the Vulcan mentality but to me it sounds like bliss of its own kind. At this point I just want the option. I want control. If I must have this body and this mind, I at least want my hands on the source code to decide what I want to do with it.

I am not even considering any of the "superhuman" add-ons that might be possible. For the time being I would be satisfied with total control.Why be confined to an outdated and purely philosophical notion of what "humanity" should be?

I say it can be anything we want it to be.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, October 12, 2017

DeLonge, Disclosure, and Doubt

There has been a bit of excitement in the UFO community.

Yesterday saw the market debut of To The Stars Academy of Arts and Sciences (TTS/AAS). Leslie Kean, an investigative journalist who deserves every little bit of respect she gets, covered the event for the Huffington Post.

“We believe there are discoveries within our reach that will revolutionize the human experience,” says company President and CEO Tom DeLonge.

Yes. That guy from Blink-182.

Most of the buzz was due to the fact that former members of the U.S. intelligence community were present at the debut. One of them was Luis Elizondo, a man who has worked for the Department of Defense, the National Counterintelligence Executive, and the Director of National Intelligence, and an arm-long list of other intelligence posts. He is also the former Director of Programs to investigate Unidentified Aerial Threats for the Office of the Secretary of Defense. What exactly did that latter post entail? He said he ran “a sensitive aerospace threat identification program focusing on unidentified aerial technologies.”

As reported by George Knapp, a legendary UFO journalist in his own right, Elizondo said: "I ran a sensitive aerospace identification program focusing on unidentified aerial technologies. It was in this position that I learned the phenomena is indeed real."

Chris Mellon, a longtime Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, was also there and related an account of an alleged 2004 UFO encounter involving the USS Nimitz carrier battle group:

" “Two F-18s approach, the four aviators see that the object has no wings or exhaust — it is white, oblong, some 40 ft long and perhaps 12 ft thick”, he said. “One pilot pursues the craft while his wingman stays high. The pilots are astonished to see the object suddenly reorient itself toward the approaching F-18. In a series of discrete tumbling maneuvers that seem to defy the laws of physics, the object takes a position directly behind the approaching F-18.”

"The lengthy event occurred in broad daylight off the California coast, and gun camera footage was taken. At one point the object went from hovering at 80,000 feet to dropping at supersonic speeds, and came to a complete stop at 50 feet above the ocean. “More F-18’s are dispatched but with similar results,” Mellon stated. “The secret machine easily evades the F-18s. Dozens of military personnel aboard the various planes and ships involved are privy to these interactions.” "

Sounds familiar. 

In the wake of the event, Kean posted the following to her Facebook page:

"A MESSAGE FOR MY FRIENDS HERE: Folks, I'm concerned that some of you are missing the point. The head of a secret UFO program at the DOD has just come forward to confirm the existence of that program. Based on the work of this official program, he has stated for the world to hear, that UFOs are unquestionably real. He left that program less than 2 weeks ago. This is as close to official "disclosure" as we have come since the close of Project Blue Book. It's big news."

Indeed, many were jumping up and down and crying "disclosure at last!"

Yeah, I don't know.

Leslie Kean is quite level-headed, so to see her getting so excited does give me pause. I don't doubt the credentials of the men involved and I certainly do not question their knowledge or their service. The problem is that, yet again, what we have amounts to a collection of stories.

Anecdotal evidence, no matter who it's from, is not evidence.

Nothing physical, either biological or metallurgical, was presented for peer-reviewed study. The group promises to release photos and videos of UFOs that have been supposedly been kept under wraps. It's hard to see how this could qualify as evidence either as we live in the era of Photoshop, After Effects, and any number of other digital video FX applications. In the end, the world must see physical evidence or peer-reviewed data, such as astronomers announcing they've detected life on another planet.

Additionally, this whole thing just seems to be a way for DeLonge to kick off his business. The following was posted on his Facebook page:

That's right. The former guitarist/vocalist of Blink-182 is building a vehicle that will utterly defy the laws of physics and you are lucky enough to get in on the ground floor if you "INVEST."

Folks, when someone involved in Ufology starts begging for your cash, be wary. I know I am. It's just more reason why many view Ufology as laughable and moribund.

Speaking of exotic technology, that appears to be the focus of this new business as well as DeLonge's media franchise, Sekret Machines [sic]. I find it puzzling that there is more interest in the engineered devices (if they indeed be physical realities and not something more in line with Vallee's theories) than in who actually constructed them and why.

The testimonials intrigue me and Kean's endorsement, as I said, does give me pause. But this should be all about tangible evidence.

So far, DeLonge has yet to offer any.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, October 9, 2017

Before you dismiss fan fiction, consider this...

"It's like someone writing Star Trek fanfic."

That quip is from the comments section on an article about the new series, Star Trek: Discovery. Now in all fairness, I have not seen the show so I cannot speak to its quality or perhaps lack thereof. What's prompting me to blog tonight is that comment. Its author did not mean it as a compliment (shocker.) In a hurry to gleefully rip the new show, he tangentially smeared an entire genre of writing.

Fan fiction, I believe, actually serves an important cultural and rhetorical function.

Fan fiction, or "fanfic" as it is often abbreviated, is any writing based on an already established work of fiction, most often movies or TV. Stories based on properties such as Star Trek or Star Wars are probably the most prevalent, but you can find fanfic derived from the most obscure fictional universes. I personally have written fanfic based on my favorite b-movie, Green Slime...something maybe three other people in existence might be interested in. This kind of writing has been around for a long while, but the Internet given access and connection to so many writers and readers of the genre that it has almost become commonplace.

Exploring all the various flora, fauna, and subgenres of fan fiction, such as fusion, episode fixes, slash, wish fulfillment, and so on, would take multiple blog posts. I hate linking to Wikipedia, but if you want to know more about these subgenres, check out this rundown. Better yet...go read Textual Poachers by Henry Jenkins and The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a Literary Context by Sheenagh Pugh. They are probably the finest Comp/Rhet scholars on the subject.

Fan fiction is much maligned. It has the reputation of being truly awful writing done by slovenly types who still live in their parents' basement and sit behind their computers, either writing self-indulgent works rooted in their own favorite commercial properties or posting nitpicking comments on someone else's writing, attempting to act as a gatekeeper or "genre constraint enforcer" by schooling the author on what is and isn't "canon." Obviously there's some of that. The Internet is an inherently democratic medium and any time you open the gates that wide, you're going to get a fair share of trash. You are also going to get good work as well. Axiological arguments don't matter to me, though. That's because I believe there are two far more important things happening when people write fanfic.

First of all, people are writing. I mean, they are actually choosing to write. As a professor who has sometimes struggled to get students to string two words together or has lamented the devaluation of the written word, I think this is extraordinary. No one sits down to write unless they feel exigency. There is something inside them and they must get it out through writing. What's more, they are doing it without any realistic hope of attaining those two most American goals: fame and fortune. They're doing it simply because they want to. I don't care what is prompting someone to write this way. I'm just glad that it's happening. When I taught at St. Joe, I heard tell of a small underground of Harry Potter fanfic writers and the thought of it always made me smile.

Secondly, there is something so human going on. People are reclaiming their agency, their authority, their right to contribute to myth. Here's what I mean.

Someone could tell an assembled audience that they are going to read their own version of Jack and the Beanstalk. The storyteller might get a couple arched eyebrows, but likely nothing more than that and would be permitted to read on. If that same said storyteller were to say "I am going to read you my Batman story," the reaction might be different. "How are you qualified to write Batman?" "Do you work for DC Comics or Warner Brothers?" "That's a copyrighted property, you know. It doesn't belong to you."

Myths did not used to belong to only select collectives of the population. Everyone was involved in creating them. Everyone. It was an organic occurrence, involving everyone who either told the stories as oral tradition or wrote them down. The idea that someone had ownership over them would have seemed almost laughable in ancient Greece or Rome. Once business got more and more involved, that all changed of course.

Fan fiction takes away that spurious requirement of being "credentialed" before you are free to write a story. Selling the story and profiting from what began as someone else's creation, well that's something else entirely in our day and age and it really isn't a good idea. The pure act of writing the text however, that's something fundamental to our nature and no external authorities can keep that down for long.

You want to write a Harry Potter story? Do it. And do it in any way that you want to do it. Feel bad because it's not "your own?" Don't. Here's one comment I saw from a fanfic writer that really puts the matter in perspective:

"Sometimes I think I should be doing my own writing. Then I remember...I already am."

By the way, I once wrote a paper on myth and fanfic. Even presented it at a conference. I thought about expanding the paper and trying to publish it, but honestly there's nothing I could say that Jenkins and Pugh haven't already.

Why bother?

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

We can forget it for you wholesale

What would you forget?

Neurologists have found that memories stored on the same neuron can be selectively erased. 

In snails, anyway. You may be balking already. Keep in mind that such experiments are conducted on simpler lifeforms as a sort of "proof of concept" and come on...it's not like there haven't be other eyebrow arching neurological studies. Yes of course the human brain is magnitudes of order more complex than a snail's. For perspective, let's go to Michio Kaku:

The human mind as the most sophisticated object in the known universe, more powerful than any of our current computers. Factually inarguable, despite all the stupid things we do.

Point being, would the erasure of selected memories even be possible with something so complex? Unknown, but the procedure in its most basic form does work. One of the more interesting findings of the study is that the erasure of selected memories does not affect the other memories stored on the same neurons.

Imagine it. Erase the bad and leave only the good.

Why not forget your phobias and irrational fears? Erase your fear of heights and rent that deluxe aerie downtown. Pass sites of traumatic experiences with no stress or fuss. Be haunted no more by your mistakes of past shame. Think of what this could do for those suffering from PTSD.

But what of the consequences?

Despite how sexy a new development of this kind may sound, prudence dictates that we examine the potential pitfalls. Science fiction certainly has. Upon reading the above linked article, I immediately thought of Philip K. Dick. His short story "Paycheck" is about an electrical engineer who is contractually obligated to have his memory erased after working on a secret project. "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale," the short story that became the film Total Recall (a favorite and probably Schwarzenegger's best) is about implanting memories, but not without its share of dire consequences nonetheless. Then again it begs the question: if you can erase, could you not implant?

That would likely be more difficult. As the study points out, the bad memories could be erased through a designer drug. For anything beyond erasure, it would likely require a direct brain-computer interface. Transhumanism once again.

Would you do it? Do you at last want to silence those ghosts and their screaming? Or do you need your pain? Does it guide you, inform your decisions, maybe even provide a sick sort of comfort?

I would argue that there are memories that deserve to be erased. I know exactly which ones I'd select.

Oh blissful amnesia...

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, September 28, 2017

In memorium: science fiction stars lost in 2017

This year has seen a precipitous drop in posts at ESE and for obvious reasons.
By "obvious" I mean either major depression or time lost to scouring job ads...or as I call them, "the lonely hearts column."

That means that I have been remiss in writing needed tributes to three actors who were pivotal in bringing a few of my favorite science fiction TV shows to life.

Just four days after the closing of Saint Joseph's College, I got another kick in the teeth. Richard Hatch died. He played Captain Apollo on the original Battlestar Galactica. As a noble hero Viper pilot with a profound sense of duty, he played the Iceman to Starbuck's Maverick, to remain in keeping with the fighter pilot conceit. Though the show ended in 1979, Hatch never lost faith that it could be brought back. In the 1990s he produced a pilot, proof-of-concept film that had Apollo taking over as leader of the fleet after the fall of his father, Adama. That production never came to pass, but Hatch was asked to be a recurring guest star on the Galactica reboot of the 2000s.

Go to the Ship of Lights, Captain.

Oscar-winning actor Martin Landau died last July. He had a few guest roles on Twilight Zone and especially The Outer Limits, but it was Space: 1999 that will always be memorable to me. On that show he played Commander John Koenig, leader of Moonbase Alpha, a research station on the Moon. A massive nuclear detonation breaks the Moon to pieces and the section holding Moonbase Alpha is sent hurtling through space. Koenig then found himself as not simply the commander of an installation but the de facto leader of a displaced people. Through it all, Landau just made Koenig seem so human
Of course Landau had an extensive career well beyond this genre fare. If you really want to see an amazing performance from him, check out his portrayal of Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood. In a movie full of great moments and performances, Landau manages to stand out from it all.

Keep wandering the stars, Commander.

Almost one month ago to the day we lost Richard Anderson. He was a seasoned television and film actor (notably Perry Mason), but I will always know him as Oscar Goldman from The Six Million Dollar Man. I guess you could say Oscar was the equivalent of a "CIA handler" for Steve Austin, the Bionic Man. Something about Anderson's presence and delivery made it seem like he was born to be a government administrator/spook.

As you might say to Steve, "Later, pal."

I could do without blogging any more obituaries. This year has seen enough tragedy.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The tweets are flares

If you're new to ESE, this post might seem out of place.

Fact is though, it's never been a blog to shy away from politics. So what's on my mind now? Probably much the same as everyone else in the nation, but in a different way. I shall explain.

As you undoubtedly know by now, the President, mostly via Twitter, called out NFL players who refuse to stand for the national anthem. The ensuing brouhaha has consumed news and social media for the past three days. I must say, President Trump has been very clever. Ingenious, really. He is practicing the rhetoric of distraction.

It's something of a fundamental rule: If you don't like what people are saying, change the conversation. In Twitter, Trump has a unexampled tool at his disposal to accomplish this and he knows it. You see unlike his predecessors, Trump was an active tweeter well before he became president. He recognizes, among other things, that this places him in a position unique up until this point in presidential history.

He can make statements directly to the world. They don't go through the White House communications department. They don't get massaged by speech writers, doubtless to the chagrin of at least a few senior staffers. The messages are raw and unmitigated. Trump has seen what they can do...and he likes it.

Try this analogy. If a missile is launched at a military aircraft, that aircraft can often fire a series of flares behind. The intent is that the missile will change course and follow the flares, leaving the aircraft to evade, fire back at its attacker, etc.

The President's tweets are those flares.

He tweets something and the media, and consequently the rest of us, go chasing after it. The more inflammatory the tweets, the more attention they garner. The text of the tweets become the focus of the national discourse (notice how Trump seldom speaks of the tweets in person, almost as if they were written and released by a hidden alter ego.) Now news media is entirely to blame for this. After all, the president has historically been sort of the nation's classroom professor. He (and I use the pronoun "he" because let's face it, it's been all men) sets both the agenda and tone of national discussion and the media covers it.

Given that unstated power, you might well wonder why the various levels of patriotism in NFL players is of national concern. I know I do. Well, consider the following:

-First of all, NFL players are something of an easy target for him. There has long been a growing opinion that the players are egregiously overpaid for playing a game and not doing "real work" (whatever that latter phrase might mean).
-A new football season has just started and there is all the usual excitement that goes with it, bringing the sport back on the national radar.
-The national anthem protests are full of charged energy involving highly emotional subjects like race and patriotism. A savvy rhetorician can further stoke those emotions by choosing equally emotional words and phrases such as "booing," "great anger," and "SOB" (the latter, it should be noted, was said in person and not on Twitter.)

Now consider what isn't at the top of national discussion in the wake of the tweets:

-The GOP push in the Senate to repeal ACA and leave millions without health insurance.
-Republicans are about to unveil their tax reform outline.
-Millions of Americans in Puerto Rico who are without power or aid after Hurricane Maria (granted, Trump has tweeted about this situation, but it seems lopsided by way of comparison to his NFL tweets).
-There's a nuclear standoff with North Korea that hasn't gone anywhere.
-And Robert Mueller keeps quietly plugging away.

Believe it or not, I don't write this to either bash or condone Trump. As I said, it's a clever maneuver and I'm rather fascinated by it. Also, one can use distraction to either good or ill ends. Social media is still rather new and its affect on politics and rhetoric is still to be understood. Trump seems ahead of the curve, knowing full well what a few tweets are capable of. Indeed he may be correct in that his use of Twitter is "modern presidential,"  ushering communication from the Executive Branch into the 21st Century...or rendering it without the dignity, eloquence, or moral arc it previously had depending upon who you talk to. Regardless, I would implore everyone to please keep their attention on the weighty matters that will affect us not only today but in the years to come. Try not to follow the hot, shiny flares.

Yes I would say that no matter who occupied the White House.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Yes, I'm writing a book about Saint Joseph's College

So I've had many questions asked of me about my writing a book.

I can confirm that I am indeed writing a book about the closure of Saint Joseph's College. After said confirmation, I'm then often asked "What exactly is this book going to be about?" To that, I answer in three parts:

1. I want to tell the story of those who were there. That means faculty, students, staff, alumni, and the people of the community of Rensselaer. Many have suffered much and their stories deserve to be told. We, sadly, have come to know many stories of what happens when a factory, steel mill, corporate office, or other such industry that a community depends on shuts down. How is it the same/different when it's an institution of higher learning? Unfortunately, the nation may know more as time goes on if Moody's Investment Guide is any indication. Which leads me to...

2. How does the closure of Saint Joseph's College compare to other college closures across the nation? If you're writing a book. you must also think of business and marketing. That means finding an audience beyond the Saint Joseph's community. How does what we experienced tie in to what has happened with other small, American colleges? It's been predicted that there will be a record number of small college closings in the coming years. Yes, I'm an academic and I tend to think in terms of compare/contrast. Also, does this have anything to do with the current political climate of the country?

3. Of course there have been many conspiracy theories about why the college closed...or "suspended operations" as the party line would force-feed you to believe. If any of the dark motivations are verifiable and if innocent people have been victims of chicanery, then I would like to bring the perpetrators to justice. That, of course, requires me having verifiable facts and that might be difficult. If I can gather enough solid facts and enough people who would be willing to talk, then yes...there are people whose careers I would love to ruin. But the law must be on my side.

So how will the book be written?

This will be a work of literary nonfiction.

What does that mean? How can something be "literary" and still be nonfiction?

Let me put it this way:

This Monday will be the anniversary of 9/11. I could write a book about that day of terror using only the facts. I could give the exact time of when each plane hit each tower of the World Trade Center. I could give the exact number of people killed that day. I could cite the political deliberations in Congress in the days following the attacks via use of Congressional Record. But would that give anyone any idea of what it was like to be in New York City that morning? Would it convey what it was like to breathe in pulverized glass? Would it give any human depth of what it was like to experience such a day? No. For that, you need the techniques of a fiction writer. To find out what really happened, you need to leave the "just the facts, ma'am" position of the news and write in a way that brings home the descriptive truth of the moment.

What will this mean in terms of a book about St. Joe? Well...

1.The writer will be a character. I cannot be neutral about this in the way that a journalist could. This is my story. I am a character in my own story. I am writing about this in the way that I experienced it. Not only will I convey the facts as I observed them, but I will be offering my own thoughts, feelings, and reactions. This is in keeping with the memoir style of writing, of which you can read more here.

2. Mobile stance. I can weave between subjects. While discussing Saint Joe, I can digress and talk about...say, Antioch College. How are we the same? How are we different? The more people I can draw connections to outside of the SJC community, the more people our story will resonate with. Believe me, my research has already demonstrated to me that there are several academics/students across the nation who have shared a similar experience and we should stand in solidarity. To present this, I will need...

3. Research, research, research. Though literary, the writing must first and foremost be in service to the truth. I will need to be become intimate with my subject. This means learning about what has happened at other colleges in the U.S. It also means learning about how not only Saint Joseph's College but the town of Rensselaer and the Society of the Precious Blood came to be. One must know the complete history of how something came to be in order to understand it. The Core program taught me that. I am also finding that I need to become at least semi-knowledgeable on the subjects of business and finance. I have already undergone a vast number of interviews with people both inside and outside of the Puma community. Here's well-known nonfiction writer Susan Orlean on the subject of research and "being there."

Still want to know what this book will be like? Well, then I have a reading list for you. What kind of a professor would I be if I couldn't assign readings? To get an idea of what I'm trying to do, check out these books...

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.
Capote went to Holcomb, Kansas after he read a small blurb about a family that had been murdered in a botched robbery. Yes, I know Capote likely fabricated and condensed many facets of his narrative, but he spent copious amounts of time interviewing people in and researching the town of Holcomb. He pioneered the idea of the "nonfiction novel."

The Armies of the Night by Norman Mailer.
I read this book in grad school and it really opened up my eyes to what nonfiction writing could do. Mailer is master of phrasing as he describes his participation in a march on the Pentagon during the Vietnam War. His relation of the events plus his gestalt-like observations of himself in the moment changed everything. Very meta. The novel as history. History as a novel.

The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe.
Research conveyed through the techniques of a fiction writer. True and riveting.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson.
Hunter is the man. This is "gonzo journalism" at its finest. It's a true story but the writer is very much in it and engaged. Seemingly breaking the rules of journalism, the writer could not get closer to the subject...and it works. I hope I can convey the very same sense of intimacy in my book...only without all the drug use. Then again, maybe I should have been using drugs. Might've made the final days of St. Joe more bearable. But I digress...

This is not to say that I place myself or my work on equal parity with any of these writers or their books. Not at all. They are models, templates to follow. In fact, my biggest hope is simply that I can do justice to the people who were there at Saint Joseph's College and lived through this whole nightmare.

Also, this all depends on me finding a publisher who is interested. If any Pumas out there know of someone and want to help out, hit me up.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, September 4, 2017

Close Encounters of the Third Kind rereleased

It is not only one of the greatest science fiction films of all time, it is one of the greatest films of all time. Period.

A digitally remastered edition of Close Encounters of the Third Kind is enjoying a serotinal re-release in theaters for its 40th anniversary. I went to see it today as I never had the chance to see it on the big screen when I was a kid. It's magnificent. I know there have been grumblings among techie cinephiles out there about aspect ratios or the loss of film grain. I. Don't. Care.

In the event that there is a reader who has not seen this landmark achievement yet, I will do two things. One, I will (mostly) try to avoid spoilers. Two, I will give a quick precis of the film.

Roy (played by Richard Dreyfuss) is an electrical line worker who on a call late one night, has an encounter with a UFO. From that point forward, his mind is obsessed with the image of an odd, conical formation of rock and the sensation that something momentous is about to take place.

This film is a straight masterpiece, top to bottom. Though I actively looked, I still could not find any flaws with it (except perhaps for one which I will address later). I could be here all day describing how Spielberg's genius is on full display in shot composition and a knack for terrifying suspense that rivals Hitchcock. Instead, I thought I would focus on one of his talents that seldom gets attention: writing.

How often we might forget that Steven Spielberg wrote the script for this film. And it's a corker.

The attention-grabbing opening scene, the believable dialogue, the pacing, it's all a tour-de-force example of composing narrative. As readers of ESE might imagine, I have always been drawn to how Spielberg deftly wove together so many actual facets of Ufology. Not only do they serve as "Easter eggs" for researchers both professional and armchair alike, they become seamless aspects of the narrative's fabric and not forced, winky nods as lesser writer-directors have a tendency to do. A friend of mine, as well as others I have spoken with in the past, said that CE3K probably started a lot of what we now know as the modern UFO narrative. Not at all. This film, didn't "start" anything. It simply brought what was already well-known to many researchers and UFO true-believers at the time into the consciousness of popular culture.

Here are but a few examples of which I speak:

-Flight 19, the group of Avenger bombers that disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle in 1945.
-Police squad cars chasing UFOs.
-UFOs causing power outages.
-Project Serpo
-Airliner pilots and air traffic control having sightings, as well as midair near-misses, and not reporting them for fear they'd lose their careers.
-Of course, the physical appearance of what is now known as the standard "Grey" or "Gray" alien. 

What's more, the character of Lacombe (played by Francois Truffaut) is based on famous Ufologist, Jacques Vallee, who also served as a consultant on the film. Word has it that Vallee was rather disappointed in the movie's ending as the visitors turn out to be extraplanetary aliens in nuts-and-bolts spaceships and not the ethereal, "superspectrum"-styled beings that Vallee postulates. Also, watch for astronomer-turned-Ufologist J. Allen Hynek in the end sequence as he pushes his way to the front of the welcoming crowd and places his pipe in his mouth.

All of this UFO geekery is nice, but focusing on it overlooks a core component of the film. Yes, ostensibly this is about making contact with aliens. The true human story here, however, is about a family coming apart. It is regular people in ungodly strange circumstances. The strain, the emotional pain, the tragedy of once connected lives ripped apart, it hits a bit close to home. Spielberg creates utterly believable characters and then sends them through the wringer...because he has to. It's as moving as any other "mainstream" human drama. For me, it's the most poignantly written aspect of the film.

Which may make viewers sit up and go "WHAT??" the first time they see Roy make his choice at the end of the movie. How could he do that to his kids? Well, even Spielberg himself has said that jars him in later years, but as he astutely points out, he wrote it before he himself became a father. That tends to change one's perspective. Also, maybe the choice is due to the headiness of the moment and a character not thinking clearly, or even an actual character flaw. This is that one criticism I have that I mentioned previously.

Consider this as well. Up until its release in 1977, I can think of no other science fiction film that does what CE3K does. There is no combat. There is no "us vs. them" conflict between Earth and the aliens. Instead, the aliens emerge from their gorgeous, cathedral-like craft as all look on in wonder. They then greet humanity with peace and compassion. True, there is no verbal communication to express such sentiment, but Spielberg articulates it in so many other creative ways (most memorably the iconic "five tones" on the keyboard). The methods and motives of the aliens may be inscrutable and at times terrifying, but they seem to express that they have our best interests at heart. That might be just Spielberg's natural optimism at work, but there may be something else to it.

There is a nice little featurette before the re-released edition. In it, Spielberg is interviewed and he reflects on the 40th anniversary. He says, and I'm really paraphrasing it here, he never made this to be a science fiction film. It's only science fiction if you are someone who does not believe in life elsewhere. That brings new meaning to the tagline of one of CE3K's promotional posters...

"We are not alone."

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, August 31, 2017

When I taught science fiction

There are any number of reasons why I miss my home. One of them is books.

The books I would teach, I mean. Don't get me wrong, just about everything I teach involves a book or two given that composition is my discipline, but it was different at Saint Joseph's College. Not only did the Core program allow me to teach many volumes included in the Great Books canon, I also got to teach bona fide texts of science fiction, obviously my favorite genre.

Elysium, I tell you.

As the waning but humid days of August are upon us and school is back in session, it dawns on me that I am unlikely to teach these books ever again. So, with no small degree of sadness, I thought I would blog a post that looks at each one of these books and how they fit in the curriculum.

Feed by M.T. Anderson
Titus and his teen friends go to the Moon to party and all they got was a stupid hack.
In this future, everyone has a implant in their brains that grants them constant connection to the Internet. Imagine a nonstop Facebook or Twitter feed in your mind, hence the name. But what happens when it all goes wrong? As with any text, one of my main questions to students is one of authorial exigency. Why did the writer feel compelled to write the text in the first place? Well, we were lucky enough to have M.T. Anderson appear via Skype to answer just this question. He said that he wrote Feed to address the subject of literacy. What happens when we stop reading and writing and just get the Internet delivered into our heads? I also found it interesting how many students grew frustrated with the language of the book. Anderson wrote much of it in the vernacular of a teenager in that future, meaning he made up quite a bit of slang. The students didn't know how to interpret a lot of it. I asked them then how they think they might sound today to generations past?
This book prompted many questions of just what technology may be doing to us. If nothing else, it allowed me the opportunity to lecture on transhumanism.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
This is of course a classic of dystopian fiction. Huxley, "The greatest writer in English of the 20th Century" according to the Chicago Tribune, deftly paints a future where all humans come about through genetic engineering, are placed at birth in a caste system, and are subsequently amused to death by drugs and media. The number of questions raised by this text number in the thousands. Is science the answer to everything? Exactly what comments is the writer trying to make on Communism, the "assembly line" model of living, and how a society should be ordered (if it should be ordered at all)? I knocked out quite a fun lecture on this one as well, attempting to sell students on the Brave New World while feigning being stoned on soma the whole time (it was really Mike and Ikes). My edition of the text has a nifty introduction by Christopher Hitchens, but if you're an audio learner, the audiobook is available on YouTube.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Another dystopian classic. In this future, reading is illegal and books are burned by a totalitarian government. The people dispatched to do this burning are ironically called "firemen." One of these firemen, a man named Guy Montag, meets a former English teacher who dares to still read. Montag's life is changed. This stranger he barely knows is infinitely more intriguing to Montag than his wife of many years who just sits at home and watches TV. How can Montag go back to his old life upon encountering this sage?
Those English teachers. Always causing trouble. But I digress...
This is a cautionary fable by a masterful writer. I would mandate it be read by all college students nationwide. What happens when technology advances to a point where reading is no longer required? Why would anyone make reading illegal? What book would you memorize in order to preserve it?

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
I realize that many genre purists might find this to be a dicey inclusion. Isn't this really gothic horror, brought about as the result of a ghost story? Well it's a definite yes on the horror aspect and a better-think-about-it on the ghost story contest. At the same time however, others point to Shelley's masterpiece as an early example of science fiction. Think about it. The very title is synonymous with the phrase "science has gone too far." Just because we can, does that mean we should? Victor Frankenstein's creation is a cautionary reminder for anyone who dares to go too far. By the way, I was asked if it bothers me that so many people call the Creature from the book "Frankenstein" when that's really the name of the creator. I told them that the English professor in me is quite cheesed at it, yes. However, the kid in me who loves monster movies thinks it's A-OK. Speaking of which, I'll show you just how sci-fi Frankenstein can be. Go right now and watch Toho's Frankenstein Conquers the World...

I know these books will always be with me as both a reader and a writer. I hope that I am given the opportunity to teach one of them, any one of them, again. Failing that, I hope that I can create the opportunity to teach them. If nothing else, I hope that this post may prompt someone who has yet to read any of these science fiction books to check them out and give them a try.

Might want to try memorizing the book while you're at it. The way things are going, the firemen might show up any day now.

Until next time, my best.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, August 25, 2017

This Sunday in 1958, a legend was born

On August 28th, 1958, a legend entered the American popular consciousness.

And a six year-old Jon Nichols couldn't have been happier.

A construction crew was building a road near Bluff Creek, California. Jerry Crew, one of the workers, arrived on the site amid the tall pines early that morning on the 28th. He was shocked at what he found. Next to his bulldozer was a trail of 16-inch long footprints in the mud. Eventually, plaster casts were made of the prints (see above pic). Someone informed a local newspaper and the paper ran a story, calling the mysterious maker of footprints, "Bigfoot." Although the article also spoke to local Native Americans about their centuries old legends of an "ape man" called "Sasquatch" said to roam the wilds of the Pacific Northwest, it was of course the name "Bigfoot" that stuck. The rest is history.

The whole idea captivated me in my childhood. I checked out copious books from the library on the subject, I sat glued to Leonard Nimoy's In Search Of episodes that tracked Bigfoot and his Asian relative, the Yeti, and I can still remember holding the phone when my dear Grandma told me Bigfoot had been seen near her farm in Ohio. Who knows how many times I watched the Patterson Film during that era, footage that was shot by the way near Bluff Creek. Here's the iconic still from the film.

Why my fascination? I think for the same basic reason that the legend has endured for so long. That is, we love telling stories. It's in our collective make-up to compose narratives, whether they be oral or written, and to tell them to one another. Few things could be more compelling than the idea of a half-human/half-ape creature, whether incogitant or sentient, living in what few wild places still remain on our continent. That may be another factor. Like the accounts of werewolves or "dogmen," the idea of Bigfoot may serve as a link to our primal past. While we are ostensibly more civilized these days, humans are still animals by nature. Maybe we still wish we were still roaming the woods as "wild men."

Note how many stories involve what might lurk in "the woods."

As for the reality of Bigfoot itself, well...it doesn't look good. While there are many sightings and legends that predate Western contact, there still isn't much solid, concrete evidence for creature. If there is, then somebody should probably get it through peer review because they have an amazing scientific discovery on their hands. I can just imagine the National Geographic special on it now.

Oh the initial footprint findings in 1958? Well...the construction crew's boss, a man named Ray Wallace who had a penchant for practical jokes, was long suspected of faking the prints with wooden cut-outs tied to his boots. His family confirmed this was the case after his death in 2002.

Just the same, if I ever find myself in a wilderness again, I'll always be wondering what's behind the trees.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, August 21, 2017

The eclipse of 2017

Photo from National Geographic.

So we had an eclipse today.

Did you hear about it? More likely, did you see it?

I did. Or as much as one could around here anyway. In the Chicago area we only had about 80% darkness. A thick covering of rain-rich clouds added to the effect but obscured much of the eclipse itself. Didn't bother me as I didn't expect much from the whole affair. No glasses for me and I certainly didn't poke holes in any cereal boxes. If anything, I anticipated a sky that would amount to little more than a cloudy day. That's why I was so shocked when I stepped outside.

It was eerie. None of the natural light seemed...right. I noticed a drop in temperature from an hour earlier and a spike in humidity. As I walked through a parking lot, I looked over at someone else. He looked up at the sky and then glanced about our surroundings. He caught me looking. We both smirked and exchanged expressions seeming to convey, "weird, right?" There was a haze in the air, completing the almost paranormal sense of displacement, of shifting into a parallel world that looks like ours but isn't quite.

Shadows formed in strange ways on the ground. These shadows are a source of speculation in astronomy. It's thought by many that these shadows are due to turbulence in the atmosphere. Another school of thought says that they may be formed by sound. "Infrasound" to be exact. That's sound at a frequency too low for human ears to hear. Remember I said it felt cooler? From BBC: "This rapid cooling of the air sets up a difference in pressure. The potential energy associated with this pressure difference then escapes as high-intensity infrasound."

That's one notion, anyway. As I got in my car, passed by other vehicles with their headlights on and driving in what amounted to twilight conditions, it was easy for me to see how this phenomena has been associated with the occult since time immemorial. If someone didn't know what was going on, they might be forgiven for heading to the nearest church, dropping to their knees, and asking for absolution for all the petty crimes and misdemeanors of life before the end finally arrives. I halfway feared we'd be hearing by now about some cult somewhere whose members chose to commit mass suicide via cyanide-laced pudding during this astronomical event. I told this to someone and they said we should try to find them and stop them before it's too late. She joked that we should call shoe stores and check their stock. "Black Nikes. You got 'em? What, you sold out? When? Where?" That is of course a Heaven's Gate joke.

Flat Earthers are having quite a time of it. They appear honestly befuddled by the powerful yet well-understood astronomical occurrence we call an eclipse. My personal choice for the most disturbing quote from that article? "I really, really don't know what the moon is."


Looking back on the positive side, this was a welcome respite. The eclipse led the news headlines all morning, radio stations served up themed songs for an eclipse soundtrack, and someone shipped Bonnie Tyler out on a cruise ship to the point of totality where she could belt out her hit in the middle of the Atlantic. The Adler Planetarium was packed. Kids were outside learning about astronomy and I saw neighbors interacting with each other who seldom wave hello on any other day. For once, nobody was focused on politics or any of the other awful things in the world. It was something really positive and if you want to see what I mean, look no further than Chicago's very own Tommy Skilling. 

I hope we don't have to wait for the 2024 eclipse to feel that way again.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Dogmen of Michigan

Pic from a Google image search. If it's yours and you want it removed, let me know.

Chad, a friend and former colleague of mine, has now moved into cryptid central.

The faculty of my former college have been scattered to the four winds for reasons you know by now. Chad was fortunate enough to land a professor's position at a college in Michigan. Exciting news and a relief for his family for sure...until he learned his new home was right smackdab in the middle of the Dogman's lair. He jokingly referred to it on Facebook and I commented that I had indeed heard of the alleged creature.

Of course I have. The Weird is kinda my thing. And I've been tempted to research Dogmen for a while now, mostly due to their purported appearance.

Why? Because the most efficient way I have to describe these supposed creatures is "a werewolf." Witnesses report a hairy, bipedal creature as high as seven feet tall with the head of a canine but the torso of a human. Their legs are even said to be bent in the manner of a dog's hind legs.  A Dogman is also said to utter a terrifying, inhuman howl. The following size comparison chart comes from the North American Dogman Project:

In Michigan, stories of Dogmen are said to go back to the time of the Odawa tribes, the narratives later propagated among lumberjacks and farmers. Dogmen really didn't seem to enter the public consciousness of Michigan until a man named Steve Cook came along.

Cook was a radio DJ at WTCM in Traverse City. He recorded a song called "The Legend of the Dogman."


"I made it up completely from my own imagination as an April Fools' prank for the radio and stumbled my way to a legend that goes back all the way to Native American times." he said.

Nonetheless, he received hundreds of reports from people once the song aired, all claiming to have seen Dogmen. It is important to note that Cook is "tremendously skeptical" about the nature of these reports. 

Dogmen are not confined to Michigan but rather appear to roam the whole of the Upper Midwest. In fact I first learned of the creatures via what came to be known as the "Beast of Bray Road." Bray Road is a rural road near Elkhorn, Wisconsin, just over the Illinois border. In the late 1980s/early 1990s, the area became host to numerous Dogman sightings. Local newspaper reporter Linda Godfrey was assigned to investigate. While initially skeptical, Godfrey became a convert and eventually wrote a book about the sightings, The Beast of Bray Road. I really must read it one day.

If you're looking for a central depository of sightings, look no further than DogmanEncounters.com

From that site:

"Have you seen a creature that looked like a Werewolf? If you have, you’re not crazy and you’re not alone. What you saw wasn’t a Werewolf. It’s what’s called a “Dogman.”  More people than you’ll ever know have had Dogman encounters. Unfortunately, most of them don’t know who they can talk to about their encounters. That’s where I come in. My name is Vic Cundiff and I help Dogman eyewitnesses deal with the trauma of their Dogman encounters. If you’re a Dogman eyewitness, you now have someone you can turn to for help. Me!"

Good to know he's out there for us. You got that link bookmarked, Chad? Good.

Are there really Dogmen? Is there a species of humanoid, bipedal canines hidden and lurking in arboreal and paludal regions the Great Lakes? Offhand, I'd have to say I doubt it. There would have to be substantial physical evidence for me to begin to accept such a notion. Then again, I have not studiously read each of the witness accounts.

In a way, I don't want to. While I'm not prepared to become a flag-carrying cryptid believer, I also don't want to know that they're not real. You see, this kid grew up loving monster movies and stories. Werewolves were among my most favorite variety of monsters. The idea that there could a species of werewolf-like creatures out there somewhere in the wooded confines of my geographical backyard, well...my inner ten year-old is agog. 

I think that may be the key to much of this. We are all writers. In one way or another we are constantly composing and constantly telling stories to one another. After all, what is a job interview but a moment where you must tell stories? Trust me, I'm acutely aware of this by now. The notion of the werewolf itself arises in part from our need to tell stories. I don't immediately doubt that Native Americans of the region told Dogmen tales as it would seem natural.

Also, humans are animals. Another colleague of mine wrote a book about how we are biologically "born expecting the Pleistocene," or an epoch far less civilized than what we currently have. Are Dogmen and werewolf stories just compositions expressing our "wild side"? I think that may be. I also think, as is also echoed on Skeptoid, there are deep connections between the accounts and the standard narratives of urban legends. See at that link the report of a young couple that went "parking" at Bray Road. At any rate, Dogmen could be a big potted stew of all of the above. It might also be that the Dogmen are beings somewhere on John Keel's "superspectrum," passing between our dimension and others.

Me? I'm going to just play pretend that there are werewolves on the prowl. Might not be good for livestock keepers, chihuahua owners, and my friend Chad, but as I said, this once-young monster/sci-fi kid chooses to revel in the idea. 

Seriously Chad, best of luck to you and your wife. I wish the best to both of you in your new home. Keep your eyes open around town for something that looks like this: 

(An alleged security camera still posted at North American Dogman Project.)

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Summer is a time for reading.

Or at least that's as tradition holds. I used to read voraciously, a book tucked somewhere on my personage at all times. Then a disaster came along and pretty much destroyed my concentration for the longest while. Still, I eventually reverted to one of my sanctuaries for troubled times: the library. As I perused the shelves, I came upon a most engaging series of books.

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is series where contemporary writers mash-up literature's greatest detective with/against other literary and historical figures of the 19th Century, such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Jack the Ripper. I have been, and probably always will be, a fan of narrative mash-ups. As a kid I delighted whenever I'd see King Kong vs Godzilla listed in the TV Guide (I'm aware just how much that single sentence dates me.) As a teen geekboy, I was overjoyed when I learned that Dark Horse Comics was writing a series of Aliens vs Predator comics, a concept that seemed so explosively exciting yet obvious all at the same time. Ditto for DC's Batman vs Dracula. My very first foray into writing as a young lad was a mash-up. I had Sherlock Holmes (no kidding) meet Captain Nemo. Naturally, I was drawn in to the FAOSH concept. In fact, I couldn't make up my mind as to which titles to read first.

Before we go on any further, a word about my particular tastes regarding the Holmes mythos. I'm something of a purist. The Robert Downey Jr movies are fun and Benedict Cumberbatch is great in everything he does, but my Holmes will always be Basil Rathbone and my Watson will always be Nigel Bruce. I believe that those actors and their corresponding films were the closest in keeping with the spirit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original literature. That means they aren't slam-bang action yarns and they're not especially brooding. I also believe that the source books are also somewhat unique in that they break a few rules of what is considered to be "good" writing. In the whole of the Holmes collection, there might be two pages worth of character development. Nevertheless, the stories work. The reader is drawn into the story, cares about the characters, and more than anything else, wants to see just how Holmes deduces the solution to the mystery at hand. It works. My point being, all of these literary sensibilities are in my mind when evaluating a new entry to the mythos.

Loren D. Estleman gets it. He is the writer of Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula, the first title of the FAOSH series that I selected (how could I not?) I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. I might not have heard of Estleman before taking this book from the shelf, but he is an award winning mystery author. Indeed, the mythos of both Holmes and Dracula were in capable hands the whole the time.

Remember when I said my seven year-old self wrote (or tried to, anyway) a mash-up of Sherlock Holmes and Captain Nemo? Well, I distinctly remember taking "voice" into consideration. When I wrote dialogue, I asked "did it sound like Holmes?" I was writing my thoughts to come out of his mouth, but it needed to sound like he was saying them. I would later do the same with action figures of various characters, making certain that their rhetorical choices were in keeping with their personalities. I was engaging in composition theory and didn't even know it.

Safe to say, Estleman captured the voice of not only the characters, but also the style and presentation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself. Same goes for the Dracula characters, although I would argue that's a somewhat easier task as they are a bit less distinctive, save for the Count himself of course.

The story begins more or less where the English portion of Bram Stoker's Dracula picks up. A schooner called the Demeter sails into a harbor with not a single man on board...save for the corpse of the captain, lashed to the wheel and drained of blood. Sherlock Holmes sets off to solve the riddle of this mystery ship and that inevitably brings him to meet the characters of Dracula. Yes, we get to see Holmes interact with Van Helsing, even if briefly. It's amusing to find that the two don't especially get along that well. Of course we also see Holmes go one-on-one with the lord of vampires.

While it's solid, fun read for the most part, it does tend to drag at the end. The author has a protracted chase sequence that is ostensibly meant to be thrilling, but I found it to have the opposite effect. Instead of biting my nails, I kept grumbling "get on with it, man." On the plus side, remember what I said about character development? Well, Estleman has a marvelous moment where Dracula confronts Watson, asking why he would sacrifice so much for Holmes. "Sherlock Holmes is my friend," Watson replies plainly...and Dracula is absolutely flummoxed. Love it,

I also checked out the War of the Worlds installment of the series, written by Manly Wade Wellman and his son, Wade Wellman.

I had read a bit of Manly Wade Wellman's "weird tales" in college, thanks to my theater director. While I didn't have strong recollections of the prose style one way or another, I was interested enough to see how he would mash up Conan Doyle with the H.G. Wells story that I likewise love. The writers do this in part via another Conan Doyle character, Professor Challenger from The Lost World and a few other books I admittedly have not read. Anyway, Challenger joins Holmes and Watson as Martian cylinders fall on England and eventually London is in flames.

While this was entertaining to read, the writing lacked description and there were missed opportunities for turns of phrase. It also didn't seem quite Holmes enough. I don't mean that the authors didn't capture the voice. They were at least as good as Estleman in that regard. No, this just didn't quite seem to fit the Sherlock Holmes milieu once you get past the first quarter of the book.  What I really liked was a series of chapters that could only have been executed with the written word and not with cinema.

Holmes comes into the possession of a crystal egg. He and Professor Challenger examine it and find that they can see a whole other landscape through the crystal. For pages the two go on evaluating what it could or couldn't be and eventually deduce that they must be looking at the planet Mars. I was engrossed as I read of how they eventually came to the conclusion, even though the very title of the book was something of a natural spoiler. That's good writing.

One other handy feature of this series is that each book comes with preview pages of another installment in the series. I managed to read part of one before my copy was due back at the library. It was for The Ectoplasmic Man. This one features Holmes meeting the real-life escape artist, Harry Houdini. Houdini has been framed and sent to prison for espionage. Holmes vows to clear him and go after blackmailers bent on menacing the Prince of Wales.

TL;DR It's on the whole a fun, if modestly written, series for anyone who loves Sherlock Holmes. Next time, more weirdness.

Take care everyone.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Mothman in Chicago

Source of image: http://www.cryptozoo.ru/news/letajushhie_monstry/1-0-50

This is a momentous blog post!

I have co-blogged with others before, but never with my own brother.
That's right. Two! Two Nichols men. All for the price of one.

Michael entered the blogosphere back in May with Forest Dweller Thoughts. There he examines the many spiritual and cultural facets of the human experience, mostly through an academic lens. In this, the first of what I hope will be a series of posts co-blogged with him, we consider a most serious matter.


I've blogged before about how my interest in the paranormal started at quite a young age. It all started for me with books on UFOs and cryptids from the children's section of the library. Invariably, Michael would read the books I brought home and vice versa, thus cementing our own shared interests in the subjects. We read plenty of accounts of creatures, weirdness, and things that go bump in the night that subsequently kept us up at night, fearing those said same bumps. One of those narratives invovled an unknown creature called "Mothman." It immediately captured our imaginations.

In 1966 in the West Virginia dorp of Point Pleasant, a blizzard of bizarre occurrences took place. There were UFO sightings, eerie synchronicities, psychic phenomena, and encounters with strange entities. One of these entities was called "Mothman."

On November 15th, 1966, two teenage couples were driving at night by what was then known as "the TNT area" outside of Point Pleasant. The region earned this name due to the presence of an old World War II munitions plant and dump. On that lonely road, the couples claimed (and still claim to this day) that they saw a black, humanoid creature with wings and eyes that glowed red when hit with the beams of their car's headlights. It swooped down and followed their car, giving them all quite a fright. They reported the incident to police and the story made its way into the press. The media dubbed the creature "Mothman" partly due to the purported shape of the wings and because Batman starring Adam West was a big hit on TV at the time.

Sightings of Mothman continued in tandem with all of the other paranormal activity already mentioned. This attracted the attention of writer and researcher, John Keel. He spent a fair amount of time in Point Pleasant, talking to witnesses and doing investigations. The product of this research was his landmark book, The Mothman Prophecies. Both Michael and I first encountered this text in...of all places...our high school library I recommend this book for a number of reasons. If you have interest in the paranormal, Keel's theories are challenging and worthy of deep consideration (the idea of the "superspectrum" is one I've steadily grown to see as a fitting explanation for instances of the truly bizarre.) If you are not, then the book is entertaining in and of itself as Keel is a sharp writer. The man lived the paranormal and his portrayal of the entity Indrid Cold will stay with you.

So why are Michael and I writing about Mothman now?

For one, a somewhat bizarre synchronicity not unlike the kind described in The Mothman Prophecies. happened with us. I contacted Michael to see if he would be interested in a co-blogged Mothman post. When I asked, he replied that he just happened to have been re-reading The Mothman Prophecies. Coincidence? Synchronicity? Paranormal weirdness? I'll let you decide.

Why did I ask him about Mothman? Well, turns out Mothman has been sighted where I live: the greater Chicago area.

Since April, there have been 21 sightings of the creature...or something similar to it...all across the region. It's been seen near the Adler Planetarium, the Willis Tower (Sears Tower, for you out of towners), and in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood. It's also been sighted in the outlying Chicagoland area, such as Hegewisch Park. The witnesses have described it as an enormous bat or owl, alternatively as a man in a suit or...as the name would imply...a cross between a moth and a man. What seems to be a consistent feature are the glowing red eyes that seem to "look right through you" as described by one Chicago woman who claimed to encounter the being while walking her dog in the park. This all seems to parallel what was seen in Point Pleasant.

"People say it moves its head and its legs. It acts like it's living. If it was a suit it would need some kind of jet pack. It's got some propulsion to it. It flaps its wings and accelerates," said paranormal researcher, Len Strickler to the Chicago Tribune.

Here is a map of the most recent sightings via the site, The Mothman Wikia:

These sightings might not bode well for Chicago.

You see, Mothman's appearance is said to be a harbinger of disaster. In the case of Point Pleasant, it was the December 1967 collapse of the Silver Springs Bridge. Keel describes this bridge's collapse into the Ohio River and the ensuing deaths of 35 people in macabre detail (wrapped Christmas presents floating in the water.) Sightings of a Mothman-like creature are rumored to have occurred in Chernobyl in the days leading up to the nuclear disaster. There are even those who claimed to have seen Mothman flitting between the towers of the World Trade Center on the night before 9/11. What does this mean for Chicago?

Well let's see. Highest tax rate in the nation, highest murder rate in the nation, godawful traffic, an impending economic collapse, people moving out of Illinois in droves....I'd say Mothman might be a little too late.

So what is Mothman? Keel suspected it is a "superspectrum" being that shares the Earth with us. Others believe it to be interdimensional or extraterrestrial in nature. Joe Nickell offers a bit more down-to-earth explanation: maybe the reason a few witnesses think it looked like an owl is because it actually was an owl. Mothman may even speak to the deeper spiritual nature of humanity as reflected in myths such as the Garuda. For an in-depth exploration of that subject, please head over to Michael's blog right now.

In the meantime, this will all certainly be on my mind. I walk my dogs. Sometimes at night. Often in a park.

I'll keep you updated.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets