Greetings, fellow Coppertops! This week's mission aboard the Nebuchadnezzar will allow you to ponder about alien life, whose discovery is 'just around the corner' according to NASA; I sincerely hope they're luckier in their search, than those poor Raelians in their attempt to rehabilitate one of the most hated symbols in the world; we'll also study scientific 'heresies', and how a thinker whose books were once deemed worthy of the burning pyre is now starting to be more accepted; after that Zion has asked us to investigate an enigmatic hole that seemed to suddenly appear in Siberia, so hopefully the machines aren't attempting a pre-emptive strike against us humans; speaking of pre-emptive strikes, we'll carefully analyze the revelations of an NSA whistle-blower, that we may try to put a stop to this US agency's insatiable gathering of our personal data. This weekend we commemorate the 45th landing on the Moon, and as we raise our glasses to celebrate the bravery of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, we here at The Pills wish we won't have to wait another 45 years to witness a similar landmark in human space exploration.
I wasn't around when Armstrong took that 'one giant step for man' in 1969, but I certainly hope I get to live long enough to see whether Kevin Hand is right or not. Hand is an astronomer working for NASA, and during a recent discussion at Washington in which he was a member of the panel of experts, he claimed that in the next 20 years "we will find out we are not alone in the universe." Matt Mountain, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, talked about how this discovery would impact human civilization:
"Just imagine the moment, when we find potential signatures of life," he said. "Imagine the moment when the world wakes up and the human race realizes that its long loneliness in time and space may be over."
Indeed, that revelation would be an unmistakeable landmark in the evolution of our race. Finally we would have a mirror with which to observe and compare us and all the life forms inhabiting our planet, and we would discover just how unique or trivial Earth's biosphere actually is.
Of course, NASA's optimistic prediction may seem silly to those who are absolutely convinced alien life has already visited our planet. Take for example the Raelians, a religious cult whose goal is not only to promote the message of peace & harmony of the Elohim --the ET overlords who created the human race millions of years ago-- but also to rehabilitate one of the most controversial symbols in the world: The Swastika.
On July 12th the group hired a plane which flew over Coney Island & the Rockaways, dragging a banner to promote the Swastika Rehabilitation Week (July 5-12) and the website proswastika.org:
“By keeping the negative connotation of the swastika and linking it to Hitler, you only give credit to this guy’s monstrosity,” said Thomas Kaenzig, a Raelian spokesman, who believe the symbol arrived on Earth millions of years ago — on the same spacecraft that brought our ancestors. “It’s very important to reclaim it and explain to the public that this symbol has a beautiful origin,” he said.
To say the PR stunt backfired would be something of an understatement, though. Many residents were outraged by the promotion of what they perceived as a symbol of hatred:
“Whenever I see a swastika, I think about white supremacy,” said Arverne resident Cuauni Lee, 46, who saw the banner in the Rockaways.
“It was horrific,” said Ariel Creamer, 14, who saw the banner near her home in Belle Harbor. Several of her relatives were killed in the Holocaust, she said.
Councilman Mark Treyger, who represents Coney Island, told CBS he intends to take measures against the prowastikers:
“How they got clearance to fly this plane. Was there any kind of pre-screening, pre-clearance of what was going to be flown over,” he said.
Treyger said regardless of the reason for the ad, it’s still hurtful and offensive.
“I will not accept their twisted logic. And I am also going to speak out against sending chilling messages of fear and intimidation to residents,” he said.
Look, even though the Raelians are right, and the Swastika is one of the most ancient religious symbols in the world, for a group claiming to have received the wisdom of our alien overlords, they should know that context is everything. Even the most seemingly benign symbol can change its meaning under different circumstances.
The Raelians claim the Elohim wish for the construction of an embassy, preferably in the Holy Land, sporting their (in)famous symbol of a Swastika inside the Star of David; which goes to show that even a race of alien overlords won't miss a chance to troll their creations once in a while...
Inside the halls of Academia, some ideas can inspire as much hatred as the Swastika symbol inside a synagogue. Such is the case of the 'morphogenetic fields' an idea proposed by biologist Rupert Sheldrake in his 1981 book 'A New Science of Life'; a book so aberrant to the current materialistic position adopted by modern Science, the long-time editor of Nature John Maddox declared it “the best candidate for burning there has been for many years.”
Such kind of vitriol has been ever present in Sheldrake's career, and yet that hasn't stopped him from writing ever more controversial books, the most recent one under the title Science Set Free and published last year. MU listeners and readers of this column are more than aware of how both Sheldrake and Graham Hancock were sent to TED's 'naughty corner' after their talks were criticized by the usual skeptic suspects; which is why it was refreshing to find science journalist John Horgan write a rather open-minded blog post about Sheldrake and his ideas for Scientific American.
At one point Sheldrake, alluding to my 1996 book The End of Science, said that his science begins where mine ends. When I asked him to elaborate he said, “We both agree that science is at present limited by assumptions that restrict enquiry, and we agree that there are major unsolved problems about consciousness, cosmology and other areas of science… I am proposing testable hypotheses that could take us forward and open up new frontiers of scientific enquiry.”
After reading the post and the e-mail interview Horgan had with Sheldrake, one is left with the impression that Horgan is still skeptical of Sheldrake's ideas, but that he doesn't agree with his enemies when they say Rupert is a 'pseudo-scientist;' a small, yet significant step in the right direction.
Horgan: If you were appointed King of Science, in charge of prioritizing research and funding, what would your first decision be?
Sheldrake: I would leave most research funding as it is for the time being because it would be highly disruptive to the scientific community if there were a sudden change in direction. But I would allocate about 5% of the available funds to innovative research that could lead to breakthroughs. In most branches of science, there are dissident minority groups who have been marginalized by the mainstream, but which contain well-qualified scientists and promising unorthodox results. These are the low-hanging fruits that are most likely to lead to breakthroughs, and I would make sure that such areas were adequately funded.
To be fair, there are a lot of crackpot theories out there which shouldn't deserve a lot of attention from the public. One of them is the 'Hollow Earth' theory, which is kind of self-explanatory: Their proponents posit our planet is more resembling of a giant beach ball than a dense sphere, and that there's a giant entrance to the inner realms located at the North Pole.
This week the theory seemed less ludicrous thanks to the discovery of a giant crater on a remote region of Siberia adequately called 'the end of the world.' Suddenly the whole Internet was abuzz with all sorts of kooky theories trying to explain the enigmatic hole: Hell's entrance? Sarlacc pit? Locust tunnel?
A team of scientists went to Siberia to fill in the gaps with regards to the enigmatic hole. They confirmed that the hole wasn't a photoshop hoax, but much to the chagrin of Hollow Earth believers, the explanation for the anomalous cavity is a lot less grandiose: The hole, which is 70-meters deep, was more than likely formed by a natural phenomenon called a pingo.
A pingo often forms when a mass of ice embedded in the earth starts to get pushed towards the surface by rising ground water. Generally, this rising water level is in-turn caused by warming temperatures, especially in the Arctic where permafrost in the ground is beginning to melt. Once the ice mass reaches the surface, it can violently rupture from the Earth, creating a ring of disturbed soil that resembles a crater. When the mass finally melts, all that remains is a damp and very deep hole.
This theory was all but confirmed by experts this week after investigating the hole for themselves. Andrey Plekhanov, Senior Researcher at the State Scientific Centre of Arctic Research, was quick to point out that the past two summers were unusually hot for Yamal, leading to increased permafrost melt.
"There is ice inside the crater which gradually thaws under the sun." he told the Times on Thursday. "Also there is melted water flowing down from its sides, you can see water traces on the pictures. The crater is filled with ice by about eighty per cent."
The investigation also found a flowing lake of ice-water at the bottom of the hole, which is estimated to be up to 230 feet deep (70m.).
Whatevs, tovarisch. I think I'll keep my trusty Lancer at hand... just in case.
It's one thing to let my faithful Coppertops know I'm a big Gears of War fan, but to think some NSA employee is not only aware of my gaming preferences, but also how much time it took me to beat the last level with the Locust queen, still feels extremely Orwellian.
A small sacrifice to pay for our security, right? WRONG! NSA whistle-blower William Binney recently spoke at a conference in London, organized by the Centre for Investigative Journalism, and there he revealed just how extensive the massive surveillance programs unleashed during the Bush & Obama administrations really are:
“At least 80% of fibre-optic cables globally go via the US”, Binney said. “This is no accident and allows the US to view all communication coming in. At least 80% of all audio calls, not just metadata, are recorded and stored in the US. The NSA lies about what it stores.”
And if you think this is all intended to protect innocent civilians from terrorists, think again:
“The ultimate goal of the NSA is total population control”, Binney said, “but I’m a little optimistic with some recent Supreme Court decisions, such as law enforcement mostly now needing a warrant before searching a smartphone.”
Unlike Edward Snowden, Binney didn't take any private documents with him when he resigned from the NSA, which is why no one has tried to put him behind bars for the things he's said. What's more, it's now clearer there's probably a second leaker working anonymously within the NSA, possibly inspired by the bravery of both Binney and Snowden. Also, we should entertain the possibility that if Snowden was able to do what he did, is possibly because he received assistance from a second intelligence agency --perhaps the CIA; this could be seen as either a legitimate attempt to curtail the NSA's increasing shadow over the global communications, or as a tactical move to undermine the power of a competing agency.
But how has the world responded to Snowden's and Binney's revelations? With a few honorary exceptions, such as Germany ordering the CIA representative in Berlin to leave the country, most nations seem be quite content with letting the Yanks snoop on everybody's calls and e-mails, perhaps because this could help them justify their own local surveillance programs. And in order to make sure there will NEVER be another Julian Assange or Edward Snowden, countries like Australia are quickly moving to criminalize journalists who dare to reveal intelligence operations. Shame on you, Oz!
It's moments like this when, as strangely as it may seem, I think about the UFO phenomenon. After studying UFOs for so many years, one can reach the conclusion that the phenomenon reacts to the fears and anxieties of a given era: In the 50s, Contactees were hard at work promulgating the Space Brother's pacifist message and warning about the threats of a Nuclear holocaust; by the 80s and 90s alien abductees were receiving 'holographic' imagery with an environmental theme, cautioning the human race to become better stewards of our planet.
While both the threats of Nuclear war and environmental collapse remain, it's undeniable that the most pressing anxiety in our collective mindscape is the emergency of a totalitarian police state. So I wonder, will the UFO phenomenon change once more to reflect our current fears? Will we get to learn in the future of UFO sightings near the premises of the NSA's massive data storage facility in Utah, the same way they penetrated the airspace of nuclear silos in the 1970s?
--"Sir, y-you're not gonna believe this!"
--"What is it, agent?"
--"Um, well sir... after that bright light that scared the hell out of our guards finally left, we proceeded to make a complete systems check-up, and..."
--"Sir, somehow all the data gathered on our servers for the past year was completely erased. There's just no trace of it! Our engineers had never seen anything like it."
Hey, I can dream, can't I?
Until next time, this is RPJ jacking out. I invite you to manifest your favorite version of reality -- it couldn't be any worse than what we're going through right now...