Monday, July 27, 2015

Opinions vs. Facts

Here's a radical concept--there's a difference between opinions and facts.  Granted facts can sometimes be wrong, but they can be corrected over time.  I'm not sure everyone gets that, particularly when it involves political issues: climate change, race, guns, and so forth.  Harlan Ellison said that anyone can have an opinion:  I think it's going to rain today, for example.  But goes on to state: an "informed opinion" is a different issue.  Sometimes science will help inform the opinion, sometimes statistics, and so on.  Frank Zappa, the musician used to say, "Opinions are like assholes, everybody has one."  He has also said, "Some scientist say that the major building block of the universe is hydrogen because it's the most plentiful element but my theory is the universe is made of stupidity because it is MORE plentiful than hydrogen."  I don't think I can quibble with any of those quotes.

I say all of this because at times I feel like a fish out of water in Texas.  Texas is basically a red state, some have said, well it's really kind of purple, but really it's a big state, and it depends on what part of it you are in at the time.  I've lived in both east and west Texas, as well as Lubbock and Austin, and you can see a little bit of that purple here and there, but I would say it's pretty red.  Where I'm currently living it's pretty much southern oriented, of the Bible-Belt mindset, so you if you imagined it's pretty ultra right winged, you'd be right.   It's enough to give a liberal like me a complex.  Having lived in all those Texas places I've never lived in a town so enchanted with Fox news.  Unless it's football season, and the Dallas Cowboys are playing, if you walk into a restaurant, they'll have it tuned to Fox news.  Heck I even have a dentist office I go to, and yes, Fox news is always playing.  It's bizarre.

I was watching a church service the other morning, which is where some of my cousins attend.  It's an Evangelical church, which I don't know a whole lot about, but it seems to me they want to mix religion with politics, which I'm against.  Granted they don't come right out and say, we are Republican, but they might as well.  I was watching shortly after the courts had ruled in favor of the Gay Rights marriage thing.  At any rate, as a guest they had Texas Congreesman, Rep. Louis Gohmert, come up and say a few words.  Gohmert has been called out on his stupidity having been a part of the Obama, birther tribe (saying he's not an American citizen).  As well as gun control leads to bestiality, or his views on climate change or his view that Ebola is Democrats' war on women.   For a guy that has been a judge, and was Chief Justice on Texas's 12th Court of Appeals, no less currently a Congressman, he sure says stupid things, and makes Texas look like hillbilly dumbass heaven.  And that's the absurdity of the Evangelicals because they want to follow Jesus and his teaching, and say we need to elect responsible leaders and get America back on track (What track, I have no idea, perhaps back to the Pilgrims and Plymouth Rock.)   The preacher was actually saying this, and it caused me to pause and think on the absurdity of what he was saying.  So you want us to elect Republicans that are God fearing folks, who will lead us to war like Dick Cheney and George W. Bush?  That's just fucking nuts!  But then, religion and politics is a whole other topic of discussion...

I have relatives in this area of the world and they appear to be hardcore rightwingers too.  I connected with them over Facebook, the social network, and really, I didn't want to do that for the simple reason  that I am a politically-minded person, and figured my views might upset or anger them.  But I figured hey, if it does, they can always stop following my messages--I do that to some of them.  I guess it's equality.  However, most of the things I post to Facebook have some kind of backup or facts to them.  You can follow a link to my post and read what that post is about.  Whereas a lot of their postings are more like: Obummer is Unamerican.  (Waaa!)

Oh well, I guess it is what it is.  It's too bad though that politics can be so polarizing because we all have to live together anyway.  I've never understood why people can't calmly discuss matters whether it be sex, politics, or whatever.    At any rate, I guess the reason I got off on this topic is I found this article on opinions vs. facts and thought it was well written.  http://www.houstonpress.com/arts/no-it-s-not-your-opinion-you-re-just-wrong-7611752

Thursday, July 09, 2015

SF Book Suggestions

Looking for a good SF book to read?  I have plenty of books around the house I need to read, but always looking for more.  I'm very curious about that one by Nancy Kress, Nothing Human.  I first ran into her when she used to write some short articles in Writer's Digest magazine.  Here's a Q & A with her if you care to read it:  here.   There are some other articles by her: here

At any rate, here's some suggestions of books from other famous SF authors that I found on The Guardian.  I've read Bester's The Stars My Destination, it's a good one as well as some of the others.  Check it out:  here

Here's another cool article on The Guardian about Dune: 50 Year On--how it changed SF.  Check it out: here.  

Oh by the way, I ran into an online magazine devote to H. P. Lovecraft.  Check it out:  here.  


Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Watch The Skies!

To mark the anniversary of the 1947 UFO crash at Roswell, New Mexico, I'll try and watch something this week that ties into the celebration.  Roswell, N.M. is having their own celebration to coincide with the event.  I've never been to the actual festivities, but I have driven through Roswell a few times. I lived in Odessa for many years, and drove north on vacations going to Santa Fe and Taos or further northbound into Colorado, where my sister lives. 

Kenneth Arnold was the first (as far as I know) to encounter a UFO, which launched the modern age of flying saucers, and after that the UFO craze pretty much began, probably peaking in the 50's and 60's with all the glorious science fiction that was released during those decades, and is still prominent today.  Heck, who doesn't like bug-eyed aliens, giant tin robots, and damsels in intergalactic distress?

Flying saucers came into the public psyche at a time of great tension and paranoia in America.  People feared "the Bomb" and communist infiltration.  The Korean war, Sputnik, and our early failures in the space race had shaken national confidence.   Many feared how Khrushchev and the "Russkies" were going to take us over without even firing a shot.  Carl Jung believed that flying saucers were psychological projections of cultural fears and desires in an uncertain world.  Substituting the words "communist infiltrator" for the words "flying saucer" in some early saucer books seems to bear this out.

Following Jung's lead, critics have suggested that movies like Earth vs. The Flying Saucers (1956) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) are political allegories or metaphors for cultural tensions.  But as a kid who grew up in the 50's, I just thought those movies and others like them were cool!


One of my favorite and probably my first early remembrance of such movies was Invaders From Mars.  I didn't see it at the theater, but saw it on our old back and white Magnavox set at home.  It scared me to death!  I had nightmares for weeks, but it didn't curb my cravings for such movies.  In that movie a young boy about my age at the time watches the sky through his telescope one night.  He sees a flying saucer go down behind his house out in a sandy field.  A policeman in that area is investigating the glowing incident and the boy watches as the policeman is sucked down into the sand, similar to  quicksand.  He gets very frightened by what he has just seen, but the next day the same policeman comes for a visit to his house.  Surely what he saw the night before was just a crazy dream, but the policeman acts weird, like a robot or something.  There's also this weird X-shaped wound on the back of his neck.  The boy tells his parents trying to get them to believe him, so they go to investigate the field, and sure enough they get sucked under too, only to return like robots.  Talk about creeping you out as a kid!  A YT streamer can be found here. 

One of the things I find nostalgic about these older SF films is that there seems to be a sense of community in them.  People know each other and care about each others' welfare.  If something is wrong in somebody's household neighbors try to help them out, everyone knows the policemen or fireman, and the guy at the corner store or gas station.  I guess that's just a part of that decade, but it seems charming in retrospect.  Granted there's a downside to that, as also everyone knows the town alcoholic or floozie too, but still sometimes I miss that.


While on this same topic I've been reading a book by Robert R. McCammon called Boy's Life.  It's been a great read so far.  McCammon has a great writing style that's easy to read, which is always a great plus with me, but also if you happen to be a baby boomer like me or just want to read something good taking place during that era, check it out.  In it McCammon also describes the same film, Invaders From Mars.  The book, I believe, is marketed as horror, but so far has been more a mystery set in the 50's.  The main plot has been a mystery about a car that drives off a cliff early one morning when a young boy, Cory, who is in the third grade is along with his dad on his milk route.  His father upon seeing the car plunge into the lake dives in after it to rescue whoever might be behind the wheel.  To his astonishment the male driver is handcuffed to the steer wheel, and he can't get the door open or the guy out of the car.  His father reports this to the authorities.  We find out the lake is too deep to dredge up the auto and it becomes a mystery as to who was behind the wheel and who may have done such a thing to him.  From there, a bit of that plot is put on hold and we learn more about the small town of Zephr, where Cory and his family live. I've not finished the book yet, but it's been a good summer read.

At any rate the public first became aware of flying saucers when the press reported Kenneth Arnold's now famous sighting on June 25, 1947.   Arnold was an experienced mountain pilot.  He had been flying in the vicinity of Mr. Rainier, Washington.  At 3pm his eye was attracted to a series of flashes.  he saw a formation of nine highly reflective objects traveling in the distant mountain tops.  Arnold describes them as, "they flew like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water."  To compute their speed, Arnold timed the objects as they zipped between Mts. Adams and Rainier, 20 miles ahead of his position.  He assumed he had been watching a new kind of jet plane.  But the speed he calculated, 1656.71 mph, far exceeded any aircraft at that time.

Arnold's sighting received unprecedented coverage, and suddenly people everywhere were observing flying "dimes, hubcaps, and ice cream cones" in the skies.  The public furor prompted the Air Force to establish "Project Sign," or more popularly "Project Saucer," in December of 1947.  It's mission was to assess the potential threat of flying saucers to national security.  One month after the Mt. Rainer incident, Arnold sighted another group of UFOs near Tacoma, which was detailed for Fate magazine publisher, Ray Palmer.  It became known as the Maury Island Hoax. En route, Arnold saw and attempted to film a flock of brass-colored flying objects that looked like ducks.  Many UFOlogists cite Arnold's Mr. Rainier encounter as the beginning of the "modern age" of flying saucers.  Later, with the help of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Arnold won the 1962 Republican nomination for lieutenant governor of Idaho. 

You can read some about the UFO case here.  By 1950, the first round of saucer books were out and a film linking Russians and saucers entitled The Flying Saucer had been released.  You can watch it on Youtube here.  By mid-decade George Adamski and Buck Nelson had told of their contacts with saucer people.  By 1956, arguably most of the best saucer films had been produced.  By the late 50's flying saucers had invaded practically every aspect of popular culture.

One of the more recent UFO movies that I still enjoy is Hanger 16.  Probably because parts of it was shot in a small West Texas town I grew up in, Big Spring, Texas.  Webb Air Force Base was located there and when we moved to West Texas, it was still operating as a pilot training center.  Sometime in the mid-70's after we had gotten out of Vietnam, they closed the base down, and the town of Big Spring suffered quite a bit from the economic downturn as a result of that.  However, parts of Hanger 16 were filmed there as well as around other parts of the town, like Alon Refinery, which used to be called Cosden.   All in all it's a pretty decent film if you haven't seen it.  You can find it on Youtube here. 

As a side note, the other claim to Big Spring's fame is that they also shots parts of Midnight Cowboy there, another one of my favorite films.  During that time I read in the newspaper they were hiring extras and although I knew zilch about acting or movie making, I went out to the Holiday Inn where they were conducting interviews for the film.  I, along with everybody else, had no idea what type of extras they were looking for, so we just showed up in line for the short interviews.  I was not hired, being the wrong type (that may be a plus if you've ever seen the film--they were looking for more rural Deliverance movie types), but I still have fond memories of the incident and talking to an actual talent scout.

I thought perhaps this week in honor of the Roswell anniversary I might watch The Man From Planet X (1951).  It's an expressionist, shadowy, abrupt, and rather dark horror/thriller in which an alien lands in the Scottish moors, and an American reporter, some scientist and a pretty girl have to deal with the fallout.  It's fairly corny in places, but has a decent musical score.  Patty Duke's dad, actor William Schallert, plays one of the unscrupulous scientist who tries to get the alien to give him the formula to the metal his spaceship is made out of.  In the movie the visiting alien is a decent sort, however, all the humans are not.  You can find a copy on Youtube here. 







Sunday, July 05, 2015

Chappie

The other night I rented Chappie from Netflix, and had a pretty good time with it.  Granted I'm a SF fan, and I had read all the negative to lukewarm reviews of it, but I heard one person in a store say something to the effect, that yeah, a lot of people didn't like it, but he enjoyed it pretty well.  He also commented that there was a lot of humor in the film that a lot of people overlooked.  That made me want to rent the film for myself and give it a day in court.

A lot of people enjoyed director Neill Blomkamp's first film, District 9, however, I was a bit mixed over it.  Yes, I did enjoy the special effects of the film, but felt the reluctant hero angle was a bit heavy handed (although I guess you could say, that was played as humor/comedy too).  I also wondered about using the hero in that film as a sort of undercover agent rather than trying to recruit one of the aliens as an undercover agent.  To me that is more plausible, but then, I'm not the director/writer.  

I'll agree that Blomkamp's second film, Elysium, wasn't done very well, but again, I enjoyed some of the effects and action, but the story itself was full of plot holes, and didn't make a lot of sense.  Perhaps Blomkamp needs someone to rein him in a bit, and ask him about such things, but I think overall he has a pretty grip on film making. 

Chappie as you might have read is about the first artificial intelligent robot.  The film even makes reference to Isaac Asimov's rules for robotics, which I thought was nice to include.  We quickly meet one of the main characters, Deon Wilson played by South African, Dev Patel. He designed the robot cops who have made a major dent in crime.  He also thinks he can add A.I. to the police robots, and that will help reduce crime even more.   The CEO of the company (Sigourney Weaver) however, doesn't think it's a good idea.  The third main character is played by Hugh Jackman, who is working on an even larger model of robot, similar in style to ED-209 in the Robocop films.  So that's the basic set-up.  But after that set-up the movie goes in a weird direction I wasn't anticipating, which grabbed my attention and kept me engrossed in the film.  Now I didn't read much about the film beforehand, to avoid spoilers just in case I wanted to see the film.  I'm glad I did, as it took on a unique experience.

Some of the other actors in the film I'd never heard of, and since I don't care for rap or hip hop music I was unaware of two of the main villains in the film that are in band known as Die Antwoord.  A lot of criticism starts with them and their acting ability, but I thought they did okay.  Some other criticism has said that too much of the film is spent on the villains, perhaps, but that didn't bother me, in fact that is where some of the humor in the film comes from.  There was part of the plot that for me took a fairly large leap of faith that you pretty much have to just go with to enjoy the film dealing with the crime group and the Deon Wilson character.  Whether or not you can get past that part of the story might decide on whether or not you can enjoy the film.  I just went with it, and after the film was over, I thought, well...I guess it could happen, but overall it didn't take away my enjoyment of the film.  When the film ended I thought, well that was a pretty good action film, and really one of Blomkamp's best films so far, for me anyway.  If interested you'll have to rent it and decide for yourself.