Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Weirdsville Love -

I can't ever say it enough: I have some truly incredible friends: just check out this post by dear friend, Ralph Greco, Jr., over at the Von Gutenberg site about my new book Welcome to Weirdsville:

Well-known writer, part-time rapscallion and full-time great friend of us all here at Von Gutenberg, M. Christian sees not only the release of his new Welcome To Weirdsville from Renaissance E Books/PageTurner Editions but also a five part video series connected with it called Did You Know? (see it here) written Renaissance publisher Jean Marie Stine and produced by media master, Bill Mills. 
Prolific scribe that he is (the guy has 400 stories published in anthologies alone!) we know M. Christian’s ability to not only turn a phrase but to unearth some of the most interesting tidbits on a subject, as he does in the non-fiction pieces he has penned for us and in WTW you’ll find more of the same as we learn about a noble Word War 1 German pirate, the City of Fire, the giggling genius of Brian G. Hughes, The Antikythera Device and much much more. 
Knowing the diabolical naughty mind of M. Christian as we do there are also quite a few forays into things kinky in this book (read his excerpt about the Hellfire Club here) 
Welcome To Weirdsville is a must for any student, devotes or those of us with a passing interest in marquis weirdness written about with unmatched aplomb. 
You can check M. Christian out here: www.mchristian.com and get the book here.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Robert Williams

No Exceptions

 

The Green Cathedral



(via thedailywhat)

An aerial view of The Green Cathedral, an artistic landscape installation located near the Dutch town of Almere. Originally planted in 1987, this green patch stretching 150 meters in length and 75 meters wide was designed to resemble the shape of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Reims, France.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Majorly Mysterious Mima Mounds!

Here's a treat: the article that (that originally appeared on Dark Roasted Blend) about those Majorly Mysterious Mima Mounds - that's now in my book. Welcome To Weirdsville - and thatthe subject of a very cool video by the great folks at Renaissance E Books/PageTurner Editions ... and the brilliant Bill Mills!


Scientists love a mystery. Biologists used to have the human genome, but now they have the structure of protein. Physics used to have cosmic rays, but now they have the God particle. Astronomers used to have black holes, but now they have dark matter.

And then there’s the puzzle, the enigma, the joyous mystery that dots the world over: the riddle of what’s commonly called Mima Mounds.

What’s an extra added bonus about these cryptic ‘whatevertheyares’ is that they aren’t as miniscule as a protein sequence, aren’t as subatomic as the elusive God particle, and certainly not as shadowy as dark matter. Found in such exotic locales as Kenya, Mexico, Canada, Australia, China and in similarly off-the-beaten path locations as California, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, and especially Washington state, the mounds first appear to be just that: mounds of earth.

The first thing that’s odd about the mounds is the similarity, regardless of location. With few differences, the mounds in Kenya are like the mounds in Mexico which are like the mounds in Canada which are like the … well, you get the point. All the mounds aer heaps of soil from three to six feet tall, often laid out in what appear to be evenly spaced rows. Not quite geometric but almost. What’s especially disturbing is that geologists, anthropologists, professors, and doctors of all kinds – plus a few well-intentioned self-appointed "experts" – can’t figure out what they are, where they came from, or what caused them.

One of the leading theories is that they are man-made, probably by indigenous people. Sounds reasonable, no? Folks in loincloths hauling dirt in woven baskets, meticulously making mound after mound after … but wait a minute. For one thing it would have been a huge amount of work, especially for a culture that was living hand-to-mouth. Then there’s the fact that, as far as can be determined, there’s nothing in the mounds themselves. Sure they aren’t exactly the same as the nearby ground, but they certainly don’t contain grain, pot shards, relics, mummies, arrowheads, or anything that really speaks of civilization. They are just dirt. And if they are man-made, how did the people in Kenya, Mexico, Canada, Australia, China, California, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, and especially Washington state all coordinate their efforts so closely as to produce virtually identical mounds? That’s either one huge tribe or a lot of little ones who somehow could send smoke signals thousands of miles. Not very likely.

Next on the list of explanations is that somehow the mounds were created either by wind and rain or by geologic ups and downs – that there’s some kind of bizarre earthy effect that has caused them to pop up. Again, it sounds reasonable, right? After all, there are all kinds of weird natural things out there: rogue waves, singing sand, exploding lakes, rains of fish and frogs – so why shouldn’t mother nature create field after field of neat little mounds?

The "natural" theory of nature being responsible for the Majorly Mysterious Mima Mounds starts to crumble upon further investigation. Sure there’s plenty of things we don’t yet understand about how our native world behaves scientists do know enough to be able to say what it can’t do – and it’s looking pretty certain it can’t be as precise, orderly, or meticulous as the mounds.

But still more theories persist. For many who believe in ley lines, that crop circles are some form of manifestation of our collective unconscious, in ghosts being energy impressions left in stone and brick, the mounds are the same, or at least similar: the result of an interaction between forces we as yet do not understand, or never will, and our spaceship earth.


Others, those who prefer their granola slightly less crunchy or wear their tinfoil hats a little less tightly, have suggested what I – in my own ill-educated opinion – consider to be perhaps the best theory to date. Some, naturally, have dismissed this concept out-of-hand, suggesting that the whole idea is too ludicrous even to be the subject of a dinner party, let alone deserving the attention and respect of serious research.

But I think this attitude shows not only lack of respect but a lack of imagination. After all, was it not so long ago that the idea of shifting continents was considered outrageous? And wasn’t it only a few years ago that people simply accepted the fact that the sun revolved around the earth? I simply ask that this theory be considered in all fairness and not dismissed without the same serious consideration these now well-respected theories have received.

After all, giant gophers could very well be responsible for the Majorly Mysterious Mima Mounds

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Welcome To Weirdsville: Ooops!


Here's one of my favorite, and quite controversial, pieces from Dark Roasted Blend ... and now, of course, in my brand new book: Welcome to Weirdsville


No one is immune: tyops typos slip in, numbers get misdialed, directions are screwed up. We all make them; no one is perfect.

Accidents happen.

Which makes this piece a runner-up for a no duh award. After all, the people involved are just like the rest of us, with the same quirks, frailties, and lapses of judgment that everyone else has. The fact that they were trained professionals, that they’d be trusted with world-shattering responsibility, is inconsequential.No one on this globe, ever, has gone through his or her days without making at least one, and more than likely millions, of accidents.

Or, as a witty bumper-sticker put it: shit happens. That these particular instances of crap could easily have reduced a sizable hunk of this world to a Geiger-clicking pit doesn’t make them any different than any other form of ‘oops’.

Except that these mistakes involved thermonuclear weapons.

Ever since man split the atom, it seems, he’s been dropping the little suckers.Oppenheimer and those wacky guys at the Manhattan Project even started the trend, with their precious little game of trying to guess if that first atomic firecracker was going to set the atmosphere on fire. Though every time I hear that story I wonder what the posted odds had been.

While I don’t have the time or the space to list all of them, here’s a sample of nuclear boo-boos guaranteed to make you at least look up the next time a plane scrawls a contrail across the sky, or go fishing.

Just a few years after Oppy and crew turned a piece of the American desert into a glowing tourist spot, a B-36 putting its way from Alaska to Texas had a slight problem staying in the air. Luckily for the crew they managed to drop their bombs, which fell 8,000 feet, landing with a bang off the coast of British Columbia. Luckily for Canada only the bombs’ high explosives went off, not their nuclear cores. It was a very nice opening shot, a 1950 intro to ‘nuclear weapons accidents’.

Eight years (and several similar accidents) later a bomber from Hunter Air Force Base, Georgia made a severe ooops when it dropped its cargo of one nuclear device onto the backyard of the Gregg family in South Carolina. Fortunately for the Greggs, and South Carolina, again ONLY part of the bomb that went off was the ordinary component of the warhead which injured six members of that clan and made a nice divot in their garden: a hole 70 feet wide and 30 feet deep. The blast also took out five other houses and damaged a church. For almost irradiating a sizable hunk of the US, the Air Force coughed up $54,000.

One of my favorite atomic butter fingers is the one that almost plays out as a Zucker Bro’s gag: A bunch of US sailors at a Scottish base, rollicking it up, maybe wolf-whistling at some highland cutie, did a boo-boo and dropped (yes, I said dropped) a fully-armed Poseidon missile some twenty or so feet. It is pretty safe to say that the base laundry was very busy that night getting stains out of underwear.

Another tragic yet almost comedic incident of near nuclear devastation occurred in 1980, this time with almost Pythonesque timing. A sudden explosion in a Titan missile base near Little Rock, Arkansas popped the top of a silo off like a cheap champagne cork and tossed the missile’s 9 megaton warhead straight up. Landing some 1,000 feet away, it was later found to be pretty much intact.

Like said, this little piece is much too short to do into the couple ... no, wait, that isn’t quite fair, more like the dozens and dozens and DOZENS of nuclear weapons mishaps that have livened up the lives of US and international servicemen. But I haven’t even touched on the ones that got away.

Imagine if you will, some sport fisherman trying to forget a hectic few months at the office by hooking himself a handsome marlin. He’s out there, casting and reeling, casting and reeling, letting those stressful workdays melt off as he imagines how nice that deep sea beauty will look on his office wall, when he has a nibble, then a bite.

And, boy, what a bite!

In a hot flash of atomic fusion, the ocean for miles around simply vanishes in an expanding bubble of superheated steam. The shockwave travels through the surrounding ocean, a compression sledgehammer that kills everything it encounters, reducing life and the sea floor into component molecules. For a moment, the sun blooms under water.

It would be inaccurate to say that there are a few stray thermonuclear devices ‘floating’ around out there because there are certainly more than a few.
In 1957 a C-124 hauling three atomic devices from Delaware across the Atlantic suddenly developed serious engine trouble. The crew, rather than ride the nukes down to the briny deep, dropped their cargo somewhere between Rehobeth, Delaware, and Wildwood, New Jersey. Got that? Get your charts out and rent yourselves a boat or two, because there’s nuclear treasure to be found out there.

The very next year a B-47 smacked into another plane, spilling it’s own atomic cargo into the ocean off of Savannah, Georgia. They looked and they looked but they couldn’t find it. Savanah used to be quite a lovely city...

Also in 1956 (not a very good year for the military) another B-47 bomber flying to Europe vanished without a trace. Poof! In addition to one very excellent aircraft, the Air Force also lost a nuclear device.

Somewhere sperm whales are using it for a back scratcher: in ‘65 an A-4E jet simply fell off the USS Ticonderoga as it steamed somewhere near the coast of Okinawa and sank in 20,000 feet of water. That little plane was also carrying one hellava large bomb and, somewhere in all that water and pressure, it’s still there.

The Russians have also had their own share of nuclear mishaps, and while we haven’t heard about most of them , the ones we HAVE heard of it enough to make you pack your dehydrated beans and go live up in the hills. For instance, in 1986 a Soviet Yankee class nuclear sub sort of .... well, sank some 600 miles from Bermuda. In addition to its own nuke power plant, this fine example of Russian engineering was also carrying a few thermonuclear weapons ... 34 of them to be exact.

My all-time favorite, and the one that spawned this little trip to radioactive weirdness, is this little tidbit of cold war fear. While it doesn’t rank with 34 missing warheads, you’ll see how that doesn’t necessarily mean that this story has what you’d call a happy ending.

In 1961 a B-52 decided to do a shake-and-shimmy over North Carolina, dropping two 24-megaton nuclear weapons. One of the little toys released its parachute and glided down to a less-than-gentle landing.

The other device though smacked down somewhere in waterlogged farmland.Not at sea, not in 20,000 feet of water, not ‘off the coast’ of anywhere.Farmland, near North Carolina. Anyone live in North Carolina? Come on, a show of hands … gee, quite a few of you. Isn’t North Carolina a great place to live? You might, though, consider a quick relocation because even though this little boo-boo happened over twenty years ago the capable US military never recovered that little gizmo. It’s still out there. Tick, tick, tick, tick...

I can hear some of you die-hard optimists mumbling something about ‘safety’ and ‘redundant backups’. Well, you just keep mumbling that comfortable little mantra to yourself while I casually bring up that other bomb, the one that parachuted down. Well, while they found that little fissionable puppy, the guys that inspected it found something very interesting. You see, a device of that type has six safety devices -

- and five of them had failed.

Good night, America, and all the ships at sea. Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite, and always remember: accidents will happen.

Last Known Photograph

 

My Office

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Welcome to Weirdsville: The Art Of Science And The Science Of Art


Here's another fun piece from Dark Roasted Blend - and, naturally, in my new book, Welcome to Weirdsville.  This time it's about artists who are scientists ... and scientists who are artists.



It reads contradictory, conflicted: the art of science/science of art – the mixture of the logical and methodical with the imaginative and emotional.

But science and art – or, if you’d prefer, art and science – have held hands, if not close friends, for a very long time. Greek and Roman artists followed often strict guidelines considering the correct mathematical proportions of the figures in their frescoes and sculptures, Japanese woodblocks were as much about mechanical precision as they were about the subject being printed, the Renaissance was all about using science to bring a literal new dimension to painting, and then you have the work of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka.

No, you haven’t heard of Leopold or Rudolf Blaschka – but you certainly should have. Unlike the Greeks and and Romans, the Japanese Ukiyo-e artists, Michangelo and Leonardo, Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka aren’t well known outside of either esoteric or scientific circles.

Which is what makes them so remarkable: they mixed the staggering beauty of pure art with a precision and dedication worthy of great scientists.

Leopold and Rudolf were glass artisans – possibly some of the greatest, ever. But what they created weren’t just glass and goblets, lampshades and windows. Nope, Leopold and Rudolf created nature.


Simplified, here’s the story: Professor George Lincoln Goodale, of Harvard, wanted to teach botany. But the problem with teaching botany is that plants have a tendency to … well, die. Sure, you could preserve some specimens but lots of species just don’t look the same after being dried – the plant version of stuffed and mounted. Yes, you could try using paintings or even photography but plants are – and here’s a surprise -- three dimensional. So what Professor Goodale did was ask the Blaschkas to create glass plants to help him teach his students about real ones.

But the Blaschkas did more than just recreate plants: they created astounding works of not only scientific accuracy but pure, brilliant, art. Looking at even the simplest of their efforts is deceptive – a sign of their genius. Their reproductions don't resemble the original plants – they look EXACTLY like them, created by hand, in fickle and fragile glass. All from 1887 to 1936.

What’s even more impressive is how many they created: more than 3,000 models of some 850 species – many of which can be seen on display at Harvard while many others are being painstakingly restored.

But the Blaschkas didn’t stop at plants. Not to take anything away from their artistry, but plants are relatively simple subjects. In some cases the Blaschkas could even work from live, or recently plucked, models. But there are much more difficult subjects out there, creatures so rare and fragile that very few men have ever seen them in their delicate flesh – even more frail than the glass the Blaschkas used to recreate them.


When these reproductions were made, in the late 19th century, only a few marine explorers and a few lucky seaman had seen any of them. Octopi, urchins, sea cucumbers, anemones, jellyfish, cuttlefish – they were too rare, too fragile, to be seen outside of the sea. That is until the Blaschkas.

I wish there was some way to request a moment of silence. I wish there was some way to ask you to stop reading this and look at the pictures here and at other places of the web. I wish there was some way for you to have a nice glass of wine, put on some nice music – maybe Bach, who also mixed science and art – and just admire the care, the craft, and the pure art the Blaschkas created.


The Blaschka brothers left an inspirational legacy. Josiah McElheny – the recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant – is a kindred spirit to the Blaschkas, another mind-blowing artist who works in the whimsical and temperamental world of glass … and the disciplined domain of science.

McElheny’s works -- like that of the Blaschka brothers -- finds inspiration in the universe around us, particularly with one sculpture that depicts a key moment. In many ways this is a perfect place to stop: the Blaschka brothers created perfect artistic reproductions of nature to teach science, and McElheny created a sculptural interpretation of the ultimate act of creation, as discovered by science: the Big Bang.

The art of science, the science of art … in the end they are both looking for the same thing: a way to show the nature of everything.

Retro Future



(via fuckyeahspaceship)

Monday, February 11, 2013