Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Afterwords and Forewords

The buyin' power of the proletariat's gone down
Money's gettin' shallow and weak - Bob Dylan

News, some good and some meh, before shaking out the mothballs.

Happily, and no thanks to me, the Rigorous Intuition book has at last gone to press. It wound up running about 500-pages, words and art, plus index. (And most of all, I'm thrilled about the index. Better books than mine are made useless without them.) It can be ordered directly from Trine Day, or through Amazon or Indigo, and I'm sure elsewhere. I'm planning for a launch at Toronto's Conspiracy Culture, and it would be fun and probably scary to see some of you there, or wherever else the book leads me.

Though I'm not so thrilled about this: my bill-paying gig has gone under, for the second time in four years, and almost certainly for the last. The economy's never great for magazines, and especially not now, or so the money people say.

But the consequences of both are complementary. The weight of the book has finally lifted, and Frank's daily deadlines won't distract me again from the work I think I should be doing instead. And so I'll be posting here with more regularity, adding long-deferred enhancements to the site and the forum, and drafting a proposal for a book that would take me away from the desk and into the field for some original research.

And if you're able and so inclined, I've at last fixed the Paypal link in the bar to the right.

A proper, content-heavy post is forthcoming.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Attention Deficit World Order (Part Two)

"Judgement day," he said, in a mocking voice. "Ain't no judgement day, old man. Cept this. Maybe this here judgement day for you." - Flannery O'Connor, "Judgement Day"

I wish I could blame all my bad blogging upon writer's block, but it's not just the words that have been lacking; it's been any sensible thought to penetrate America's strange dreamtime. And unlike Sarah Palin, I'd rather say nothing when that's all that I know. And that's just sad, because as novel as these events seem, they are still all recurring dreams, though we greet them like goldfish seeing the world anew every time we circle the bowl.

Perhaps the truest and most essential thing Michael Moore ever said, he said at the Oscars. We like nonfiction, and we live in fictitious times. But I dunno; maybe he's spent too much time since that night playing a character in a false narrative, because on the eve of Congress's campy read through of an early draft proposal for a trillion dollar grift - a fictitious fix to a fictitious crisis of fictitious money - Moore advised Americans to "call or e-mail Senator Obama" and "call your Representative in Congress." So that's how it works. How about rather, as soon as you discover you've already seen the movie, walk out of the theatre and demand your money back?

Is this the way the world ends? European astrologers at the turn of the 16th century forecast devastating floods for the year 1524. One result, as the date approached, was a "Great Fear," as recorded by Venetian chronicler Marin Sanudo. Another, for Venice, was a tremendous investment in public works in order to prevent the silting up of the city's lagoon. (Sadly, the careful consideration of Renaissance engineers of the city's effect upon its environment had been forgotten by the mid-20th Century, when channel dredging and groundwater extraction saw Venice rapidly sink 20 centimeters in 20 years.) And a further effect was an increased popularity of satirical doom singers. One Venetian cantastorie going by the name of "Master Pegasus Neptune" predicted "conjunctions of cheese and lasagna," and comically prophesied that "In those days cats and dogs will be enemies, swords will cut better than radishes, fields and mountains will be out in the open, and the taverns will be well frequented." We might add, that in these days, the stock market will crash, and the stock market will rally.

That's not the end. Hell, that's not even the world.

Perhaps this is more like it? From a dispatch last week by Dr. Oerjan Gustafsson of Stockholm University, aboard the Russian research ship Jacob Smirnitskyi in the Arctic Ocean:

We had a hectic finishing of the sampling program yesterday and this past night. An extensive area of intense methane release was found. At earlier sites we had found elevated levels of dissolved methane. Yesterday, for the first time, we documented a field where the release was so intense that the methane did not have time to dissolve into the seawater but was rising as methane bubbles to the sea surface.

Days later, the British research ship the James Clark Ross reported counting "about 250 methane plumes bubbling from the seabed in an area of about 30 square miles in water less than 400 metres (1,300 feet) deep off the west coast of Svalbard." Deeper plumes at three times the depth were found near by.

If the thawing permafrost and warming oceans lose the integrity of their methane sinks, if the billowing chimneys of Arctic methane represent their tipping point, then the climate is soon to run away from a tolerable mean. A feedback loop even more catastrophic than Reaganomics will have been initiated. But as with Reaganomics, a happy ending can't be written for us.

But never mind that. There are millions of lives lived right now in apocalypse. Zimbabwe - does that look like the end of the world? Another world at least, where children are eating toxic, indigestible roots to stave off hunger, though malnutrition will kill them if relief isn't sent "very fast." What percentage of Wall Street's "rescue" would it take to rescue them? What percentage of Henry Paulson's personal wealth of $700 million? It's crazy that it seems crazy to ask. But that's Zimbabwe, and Mugabe's small time grifters aren't hooked up with the global syndicate. There's no need to know, and since so much of news is supposed to be news you use, they lose.

And we do too, if we don't know this Zimbabwe story, from last April:

American film maker Randall Nickerson is currently visiting southern Africa to make a documentary that follows up an incident that happened at the Ariel School in Ruwa, Zimbabwe, in 1994, when 62 children aged between eight and 12 reported seeing a UFO and “strange beings” during their morning break.

Those children are now young adults scattered around the globe. Nickerson is tracking them down and interviewing them about the experience. “Their stories have not changed at all,” he says. “Not what you would expect if they had made it all up.”

So what exactly happened on that day in 1994 at the school in Ruwa just east of Harare? “It was morning break and they were out in the school yard playing,” says Nickerson. “They saw one main silver craft that had four others around it,” says Nickerson. “It came down on a hill beyond the school yard that was out of bounds. The boundary was the edge of the school yard, then it was bush and the hill.

“They ran to the edge of the school yard to see what this thing was. They saw this small creature walk around on top of the craft while another came down to check out the children. He was all in black, with a very tight suit. The children said he had big eyes ‘like rugby balls’.

“The children had direct eye contact with this creature. There seems to have been some kind of communication with the children about the state of the world — what we are doing to the planet, the destruction we are causing, although not all the children got this message. Some of the children were traumatized, others were excited. The young children were the most traumatized as they were at the front of the group.

African UFO researcher Cynthia Hind was at the school the next day. One little girl told her "I swear by every hair on my head and the whole Bible that I am telling the truth." Harvard's John Mack soon followed, and interviewed dozens of witnesses with whom Nickerson is now following up.

One is Isabelle:

He was just staring, and we like, tried not to look at him, because he was quite scary.

MACK: What was scary about him?

His big eyes I think. I think - I think they want people to know that we're actually making harm on this world and we mustn't get too technoledged [sic]

MACK: What gave you that feeling?

I don't know.

MACK: But it came to you when you were with the strange beings?

Yeah. When he was looking at us. It came through my head. My conscience I think.

MACK: Had you been a person who thought a lot about what we were doing to the world?

No. Only after this.

I don't know what happened at Ruwa, but something real, really did, which means it has more authenticity than John McCain's David Blainesque "suspension" of his campaign, upside down, above the head of David Letterman, and more weight than the Treasury Department's rationale for the figure of $700 billion. ("It's not based on any particular data point," a Treasury spokeswoman told Tuesday. "We just wanted to choose a really large number.") If we can't explain it or understand it, maybe we should fight the impulse to ignore it. As well as real, it could be important. Or maybe just kill us.

This month marks the 30th anniversary of Australian pilot Frederich Valentich's disappearance, whose last words before his microphone captured an unidentified sound of grinding metal was "That strange aircraft is hovering on top of me again. It is hovering and it's not an aircraft."

Driving home in a company van the evening of March 17, 1978, Englishman Ken Edwards saw a strange figure on top of an embankment. As Peter Hough tells it in Visition, The being was tall and broad, with a head like a goldfish bowl, and its arms appeared to sprout from the top of its shoulders. It descended the steep hill at an impossible right angle to the ground, and before walking across the road and straight through a chain link fence as if it wasn't there, turned to face the van and shot narrow beams of light from its eyes into the cab. A power surge burned out all of its major components, Edwards' watch stopped, and he showed Hough marks on his hands that had been clutching the steering wheel which resembled sunburns. He soon began complaining of stomach pains, and was found to be riddled with cancer, and died at 42. Maybe he would have anyway, if he and something unknowable hadn't crossed paths, but like Barbara, his widow, told Hough, "A thing that can burn skin, stop watches and destroy an expensive radio might well be capable of bringing harm to a human being."

Last July 20, Vince Weiguang Li delivered an Edmonton newspaper that carried a lengthy feature on the Windigo, "a terrifying creature in native mythology that has a ravenous appetite for human flesh. It could take possession of people and turn them into cannibalistic monsters."

Li abruptly quit his job and took a bus across the Canadian prairie, where he beheaded and cannibalized 20-year old Tim McLean. "I just don't know what to think of it, quite frankly," says the piece's author, and Windigo expert, Nathan Carlson. He'd documented numerous cases of people believing they were "turning Windigo" who would beg to be killed "before they started eating people." At Li's first courthouse appearance, the only words he spoke were a soft, "Please kill me."

On McLean's myspace page, under Who I'd like to meet, he posted "an alien, the wolfman, frankensteins monster, a vampire...."

The Tuesday after the market dropped 777 points, the front page of a Toronto newspaper headline told me there's a "monster lot of fear out there."

Ooooh, I'm scared.