Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Real-Life Science Behind The Summer’s Most Outrageous Sci-Fi Movies

The Real-Life Science Behind The
Summer’s Most Outrageous Sci-Fi Movies

By Erik Sofge

When Inhumans Attack!

Mechanized suits, alien apes, dinosaur robots — this summer’s blockbusters are brimming with scientific-sounding conceits. But is there any real science to back them up? While you watch, here’s something to chew on (besides the popcorn).


In Edge of Tomorrow, exoskeletons play a critical role in humanity’s desperate last stand against alien invaders. It would be easy to assume the futuristic systems are digital illusions, mapped to the actors’ movements, but they’re actually elaborate props. The modeler, Pierre Bohanna, made each suit from 350 to 400 discrete components that together form a fully articulating device. The materials include standard nylon, high-grade aluminum, and a lightweight polymer created specifically for the film. “It’s not a costume,” Bohanna says, “it’s a machine.”

Unfortunately for the actors, the humans power the suits, not vice versa. They had to sprint through battle scenes lugging 72 to 132 extra pounds. “These things were incredibly hard work, and all of the actors and stunt guys had to do boot camp in them,” says Bohanna. That sweat on Tom Cruise’s brow? It’s real too.


The Answer: There’s nothing mysterious about Hollywood’s love affair with humanoid aliens. It’s easier to throw prosthetics and face paint on actors than it is to fabricate (or animate) menageries of wildly inhuman characters. But if we apply lessons from our own evolution to other worlds, then filmmakers might not be so far off.According to Stuart Sumida, a biologist at California State University at San Bernardino who served as a consultant on Guardians of the Galaxy, an alien advanced enough to master space travel would need to have a large brain. “If you have a big brain, you need a way to protect it,” Sumida says. That means a skull, which rules out whole taxonomies of worms, slugs, and other potential invertebrates. And because exoskeletons would become untenable as they scale up in size, collapsing under their weight in all but the lowest gravities, insects can be reasonably ruled out. Throw in the ability to manipulate tools, and our otherworldly companions start to look pretty familiar.

But even with prominent brains, bones, and dexterous appendages, there’s no reason to assume that distant species would look like slight variations of us. “The fact that we have four appendages is an accident of evolution,” says Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. “Most of the critters on our planet have six.” Natural selection could produce aliens with a more efficient physiological layout: Instead of walking on two legs, for example, which enables humans to hold babies and tools while on the move, an extraterrestrial might have more speed and stability on four or more lower limbs. They could have more arms for manipulating tools, ground-hugging postures to better hide from predators, or any number of features that don’t mesh with the Wookiees, Klingons, and other near-humans that make up science fiction’s interspecies melting pot.

Inspired by Guardians of the Galaxy

The Plot: After stealing a mysterious orb from the wrong guy—an alien hell-bent on galactic domination—a group of criminals become unlikely heroes. Although the swashbuckling sci-fi flick is part of Marvel’s combined cinematic universe (along with The Avengers), most of its larger-than-life characters aren’t superhumans but humanoid aliens.

Sci-Fi Debut: H.G. Wells’ 1901 novel, The First Men in the Moon, features the dwarfish, insectoid Selenites, who wear clothes, use tools, and don’t take kindly to visits from Earthlings.


New Orleans in mid-July is no place for a chimp. The sweltering, mosquito-assaulted set of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a minor marvel of engineering, a three-story habitat with interlacing tree trunks, recessed rooms and passages, and a flowing aqueduct that’s turned the ground level into a swamp of pooling water and sucking mud. The filmmakers call it Ape Village, and it really does look like something hyperintelligent, domineering apes might construct. Until, that is, you notice the dozens of motion-capture cameras dotting the structure, and the guys in gray full-body suits, broiling in the merciless sun and steamy humidity. They’re the sweatiest, most miserable make-believe chimps imaginable.

And then they start to move. Two of the gray suits scramble up the sides of the habitat, grabbing camouflaged handholds, without the benefit of safety harnesses or mats. They leap between set elements like trained acrobats, which, in fact, they are. While Rise of the Planet of the Apes (released in 2011) relied on stunt people, the sequel to the sci-fi reboot has cast Cirque du Soleil performers. “Instead of a VFX [visual effects] guy trying to make up what it would be like for a chimpanzee to fly from limb to limb, now we have guys that can actually jump the 20 feet,” says producer Dylan Clark.

From a VFX standpoint, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes isn’t a single leap of faith but a series of them. The first movie redefined what was possible with performance capture, turning Caesar, a chimp played by Andy Serkis, into a believable full-computer-generated (CG) character. Dawn features a much larger cast of apes, and their expanded screen time makes for a much bigger challenge. Standard procedure for performance capture is to confine actors to indoor green-screen environments and rely solely on head-mounted cameras to film their actions. For Dawn, VFX supervisor Joe Letteri decided to gather data on an outdoor set by surrounding the actors with constellations of small motion-capture cameras.

The cameras track LED-lit balls Velcroed to the actors’ suits and reflective markers applied to their faces. “Then we use a learning algorithm to give us the best guess of what all the points of the face are doing in three dimensions,” Letteri says. The result is performance capture that’s extremely detailed and flexible, as multiple cameras pick up nuances of expression and chemistry between actors that might otherwise be lost. With more data at their disposal, animators can imbue the entire supporting cast of 3-D–modeled primates with the same uncanny flicker of intelligence that made Caesar an instant CG star.

It’s this mixture of practical and digital, human and inhuman, that will make or break Dawn. Because unlike the monsters, mutants, and other VFX-enhanced flights of fancy populating sci-fi flicks, apes (even smart ones) aren’t imaginary. “We want the chimpanzees to act and look and be photorealistic,” Clark says. “We want this movie to feel real. If we pull this off, it’ll be supercool.”


The Answer: The filmmakers of Jupiter Ascending augmented human characters with animal genes to make them more physically imposing. In reality, human-animal hybrids have never been people with animal traits but, rather, animals tweaked to host or benefit from human biology. The first documented example occurred in 2004, when the Mayo Clinic injected human stem cells into fetal pigs, creating swine with human blood in order to study how viruses jump between species. Last year, neuroscientists at Stanford University boosted the intelligence of mice with human brain cells. In both cases, researchers sidestepped any actual genetic engineering by simply introducing foreign tissue and letting it take root.

In theory, similar experiments on humans could yield incredible results, such as modifying photoreceptors to enable catlike night vision, or borrowing a newt’s ability to regrow amputated limbs. But even if blithely injecting human fetuses with feline or amphibian cells weren’t an ethical black hole (and it absolutely is), the brute-force approach could easily backfire: The body’s immune system typically attacks alien tissue. The Stanford team avoided rejection by permanently suppressing their subjects’ immune systems,
a solution that would leave humans vulnerable to catastrophic disease and infection.

According to Randy Lewis, a biologist at Utah State University, the problem with chimeric enhancements is their complexity. It’s one thing to flip a single protein, as he did to create transgenic goats that produce spider-silk protein in their milk. But adding complex traits like strength or regeneration? “To do that requires a tremendous amount of genetic engineering,” says Lewis. Until scientists achieve a profound understanding of human and animal genomes, superhuman hybrids will remain little more than a cinematic confection.

Inspired by Jupiter Ascending

The Plot: The universe is filled with human-animal hybrids and ruled by an intergalactic monarchy (news to Earthlings). When an unassuming janitor is targeted for assassination, a part-human, part-canine mercenary comes to her rescue.

Sci-Fi Debut: The Beast Folk lurching through H.G. Wells’s 1896 novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau, are created through grisly surgical experiments.

The most technically challenging scene in Jupiter Ascending shows the movie’s hero (Channing Tatum) zipping through the city in antigravity boots, fleeing a spaceship in pursuit of his cargo (Mila Kunis). “Most people will probably think it’s digital, but it’s not,” says VFX supervisor Dan Glass. Rather, the sequence features stunt doubles suspended from a helicopter as it banks through Chicago’s urban canyons.Glass’s team had only 15 minutes a day to film the scene­—a tiny window of predawn light­—so they created a camera capable of squeezing more photography into each shoot. Mounted to the nose of a helicopter, the six-camera rig (called the Panocam) could capture nearly 180 degrees of footage.
By stitching together multiple overlapping angles, the filmmakers could effectively pivot and swing through the action in postproduction, regardless of the helicopter’s actual flight path. Not surprisingly, the innovation quickly attracted the attention of other directors. “That rig is now used on most of the movies that followed us,” says Glass.

The Answer: The giant alien robots in Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise aren’t built in factories. They’re grown in egglike pods and referred to as hatchlings, and they exhibit the kind of physical and behavioral diversity that implies something closer to biological reproduction than mass assembly. Just as no two humans are identical (with the exception of twins), each Autobot and Decepticon is unique in character and form, whether it’s a humorless tractor-trailer or a hot-tempered Tyrannosaur.The Transformers, in other words, seem to be products of evolutionary robotics, a burgeoning field of research that applies biological principles to the creation and behavior of robots. Rather than simply engineering a bot to perform a given task, such as moving toward a light, researchers can plug that goal into a computer program and let genetic algorithms automatically breed a variety of designs. And since those algorithms mimic nature, modeling the effects of mutation, selection, and other biological processes, the designs they produce are often surprising. “The computer will evolve machines for us that have shapes we would never have thought of,” says Josh Bongard, an evolutionary roboticist at the University of Vermont. Even with very few parts and motors at their disposal, bots born from algorithms have eked out efficient locomotion from such varied forms as an undulating fish and a shuffling pyramid.

In other words, robots that evolve, whether by gestating in eggs or via genetic algorithms, could benefit from the same diversity and convenient mutations that make some living species so resilient. But just as unchecked Transformer reproduction could be bad news for any humans caught in the inevitable crossfire, machines could be dangerous too, Bongard cautions, if they were to evolve without strict guidance. “Self-reproducing robots would, by definition, be a runaway process,” he says. “They could surprise us in unpleasant ways.”

Inspired by Transformers: Age of Extinction

The Plot: The fourth installment in the Transformers series continues the story of a race of robots at war with itself. Joining the battle this go-round is the species’ most exotic specimens yet, the Dinobots.

Sci-Fi Debut: Karel Capek’s 1920 play, R.U.R., ends with a pair of factory-built lovers seemingly destined to become the new, world-populating Adam and Eve.


The Answer: Science fiction has long relied on mutation as an evolutionary shortcut. Sometimes it’s the work of external forces, as with the atomic testing that gave rise to Godzilla in the original 1954 film, and the glowing “ooze” that turned garden-variety turtles into man-size martial artists. At other points it’s a naturally occurring hiccup, like the “X-Gene” that allowed superhumans to manipulate brain waves or magnetic fields. The common thread is speed: Within a single generation, the protagonists are transformed.It’s an interpretation that’s correct in spirit: Genes can mutate spontaneously or be manipulated in the lab to create new traits. Take, for example, the ability of most adult humans to process lactose in dairy products. Researchers believe this mutation, a kind of gastrointestinal superpower, began in Europe some 7,500 years ago. The sudden change led to a significant long-term benefit for our species, enabling us to add a range of nutritional options. While humanity owes a debt to that mystery mutant, cheese-eating is a minor ability compared to the laser beams and claws erupting from X-Men.

Bruce Demple, a biochemist at Stony Brook University, cites more dramatic examples of single mutations—“the kind of things that screenwriters might think about,” he says. “But mostly you see these things in experimental settings.” With targeted chemical mutagens, geneticists have pulled off feats both impressive, such as increasing the circumference of macaque monkeys’ thigh muscles by 15 percent, and flat-out disturbing, like making legs sprout from the heads of fruit flies. Researchers have also used radiation to increase random mutations.

But the difference between these lab-grown mutants and their Hollywood counterparts comes down to luck. Movie characters didn’t just win the mutation lottery once, gaining a single incredible ability without chemicals or radiation mortally fraying their DNA. They won again and again, packing on good traits, dodging bad ones, and transforming into creatures that would normally require multiple generations and countless failed attempts. In reality, the road to monstrous success would be paved with the corpses of almost-Godzillas and near–Ninja Turtles.

Inspired by Godzilla, TMNT, X-Men: Days of Future Past

The Plots: Godzilla clashes with even more malevolent titans, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fight crime in (and under) New York City, and the X-Men send Wolverine back in time to prevent a robot uprising. In all three films, mutation unleashes the organism’s inner badass.

Sci-Fi Debut: Radiation exposure transforms The Metal Man of Jack Williamson’s eponymous 1928 short story into the progenitor of today’s fictional mutants.


Let’s assume the worst: that aliens exist, and they’re invading our humble home world. What sort of high-tech weapons would a desperate human race rush out of the lab and into battle? We asked Suveen Mathaudhu, a program manager and materials scientist at the U.S. Army Research Office, what we could plausibly throw at such a doomsday scenario.

Combat exoskeletons, like the ones in Edge of Tomorrow, could enable infantry to carry increased firepower, Mathau­dhu says. Guns that would normally generate too much recoil for the human body could instead be mounted on the suit, distributing that force throughout the frame. Today’s exosuits are too power-hungry to be effectively fielded, but the use of titanium, magnesium, and other ultrastrong, ultralight alloys could reduce their energy consumption. “You’re going to have lower fuel usage because you’re not carrying around a steel exoskeleton,” Mathaudhu says.

If the common cold can repel Martian occupiers in The War of the Worlds, why not hurl even more virulent, weapon­ized bugs at the enemy? Although bioweapon stockpiles are in short supply (with very good reason), Mathaudhu is confident that geneticists could synthesize whatever new plagues seem useful. “If we assume that life evolved similarly in other parts of the universe, wherever these creatures came from, our tools may work similarly on them,” he says. The technology that has revolutionized genetic analysis, allowing for whole-genome sequencing of human DNA, could also enable a precision pathogen of last resort.

When push comes to shove, we’d shove robots onto the front lines. “If we were forced into some sort of Apollo moment by a massive war, the majority of the efforts would go toward unmanned ground vehicles and robotics,” Mathaudhu says. A robot army might be less versatile than a living one, but the bots would excel as cannon fodder during the early stages of conflict, providing intel on alien weapons and tactics before being blown to bits. “The hesitation to put a soldier in the field against an unknown threat would be countered by robotic technology,” Mathaudhu says. Who needs nerves of steel when your soldiers are made of it?



Bilderberg at 60: inside the world’s most secretive conference

 Bilderberg at 60: inside the
world’s most secretive conference

by Charlie Skelton

Topics on the agenda for the three-day summit first
held on 29 May 1954 will include: does privacy exist?

It’s been a week of celebrations for Henry Kissinger. On Tuesday he turned 91, on Wednesday he broke his personal best in the 400m hurdles, and on Thursday in Copenhagen, he’ll be clinking champagne flutes with the secretary general of Nato and the queen of Spain, as they celebrate 60 glorious years of Bilderberg. I just hope George Osborne remembered to pack a party hat.

Thursday is the opening day of the influential three-day summit and it’s also the 60th anniversary of the Bilderberg Group’s first meeting, which took place in Holland on 29 May 1954. So this year’s event is a red-letter occasion, and the official participant list shows that the 2014 conference is a peculiarly high-powered affair.

The chancellor, at his seventh Bilderberg, is spending the next three days deep in conference with the heads of MI6, Nato, the International Monetary Fund, HSBC, Shell, BP and Goldman Sachs International, along with dozens of other chief executives, billionaires and high-ranking politicians from around Europe. This year also includes a visit from the supreme allied commander Europe, and a return of royalty – Queen Sofia of Spain and Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands, the daughter of the Bilderberg founder Prince Bernhard.

Back in the 1950s, when Bernhard sent out the invitations, it was to discuss “a number of problems facing western civilization”. These days, the Bilderberg Group prefers to call them “megatrends”. The megatrends on this year’s agenda include: “What next for Europe?”, “Ukraine”, “Intelligence sharing” and “Does privacy exist?”

That’s an exquisite irony: the world’s most secretive conference discussing whether privacy exists. Certainly for some it does. It’s not just birthday bunting that’s gone up in Copenhagen: there’s also a double ring of three-metre (10ft) high security fencing. The hotel is teeming with security: lithe gentlemen in loose slacks and dark glasses, trying not to kill the birthday vibe. Or anyone else.

Already, two reporters have been arrested trying to interview the organisers of the conference in the Marriott hotel bar. It’s easy enough to keep your privacy intact when you’re employing so many people to guard it.

There’s something distinctly chilling about the existence of privacy being debated, in extreme privacy, by people such as the executive chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, and the board member of Facebook Peter Thiel: exactly the people who know how radically transparent the general public has become.

And to have them discussing it with the head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, and Keith Alexander, the recently replaced head of the National Security Agency. And with people such as the head of AXA, the insurance and investment conglomerate – Henri de Castries. Perhaps no one is more interested in data collection and public surveillance than the insurance giants. For them, privacy is the enemy. Public transparency is a goldmine.

Back in 2010, Osborne proudly launched “the most radical transparency agenda the country has ever seen”. However, this transparency agenda doesn’t seem to extend to Osborne himself making a public statement about what he has discussed at this meeting. And with whom.

We know, from the agenda and list, that Osborne will be there with the foreign affairs ministers from Spain and Sweden, and the deputy secretary general of the French presidency. And from closer to home, the international development secretary, Justine Greening, and fellow Bilderberg veteran and shadow chancellor, Ed Balls.

We know that he’s scheduled to discuss the situation in Ukraine with extremely interested parties, such as the chief executive of the European arms giant Airbus, Thomas Enders. Not to mention the chief executive and chairman of “the defence & security company” Saab: Håkan Buskhe and Marcus Wallenberg. And billionaire investors including Henry Kravis of KKR, who is “always looking to sharpen” what he calls “the KKR edge”. Helping Kravis sharpen his edge is General David Petraeus, former director of the CIA, now head of the KKR Global Institute – a massive investment operation.

The Bilderberg Group says the conference has no desired outcome. But for private equity giants, and the heads of banks, arms manufacturers and oil companies, there’s always a desired outcome. Try telling the shareholders of Shell that there’s “no desired outcome” of their chairman and chief executive spending three days in conference with politicians and policy makers.

Try telling that to the lobbyists who have been working so hard to push the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal that is being negotiated. Bilderberg is packed to the gills with senior members of powerful lobby groups. Will members of BritishAmerican Business’s international advisory board, such as Douglas Flint and Peter Sutherland, express BAB’s fervent support of TTIP when discussing “Is the economic recovery sustainable?” Or will they leave their lobbying hats at the door?

MP Michael Meacher describes Bilderberg as “the cabal of the rich and powerful” who are working “to consolidate and extend the grip of the markets”. And they’re doing so “beyond the reach of the media or the public”. That said, every year, the press probes a little further behind the security fencing. Every year the questions for the politicians who attend, but remain silent, get harder.

They can try to laugh it off as a “talking shop” or a glorified knees-up, but these people haven’t come to Bilderberg to drink fizzy wine and pull party poppers. It’s possible that Reid Hoffman, the head of LinkedIn, has turned up for the birthday cake. But I doubt it. This is big business. And big politics. And big lobbying.

Bilderberg is big money, and they know how to spend it. From my spot outside, I’ve just seen three vans full of fish delicacies trundle into the hotel service entrance. I always thought there was something fishy about Bilderberg. Turns out that for tonight at least, it’s the rollmops.

Big Hospital Finally telling the truth about Cancer, Johns Hopkins

Johns Hopkins Hospital Finally
telling the truth about Cancer

“Let food be thy medicine
  and medicine be thy food.”


1. Every person has cancer cells in the body. These cancer cells do not show up in the standard tests until they have multiplied to a few billion. When doctors tell cancer patients that there are no more cancer cells in their bodies after treatment, it just means the tests are unable to detect the cancer cells because they have not reached the detectable size.

2. Cancer cells occur between 6 to more than 10 times in a person’s lifetime.

3. When the person’s immune system is strong the cancer cells will be destroyed and prevented from multiplying and forming tumors.

4. When a person has cancer it indicates the person has multiple nutritional deficiencies. These could be due to genetic, environmental, food and lifestyle factors.

5. To overcome the multiple nutritional deficiencies, changing diet and including supplements will strengthen the immune system.

6. Chemotherapy involves poisoning the rapidly-growing cancer cells and also destroys rapidly-growing healthy cells in the bone marrow, gastro-intestinal tract etc, and can cause organ damage, like liver, kidneys, heart, lungs etc.

7. Radiation while destroying cancer cells also burns, scars and damages healthy cells, tissues and organs.

8. Initial treatment with chemotherapy and radiation will often reduce tumor size. However prolonged use of chemotherapy and radiation do not result in more tumor destruction.

9. When the body has too much toxic burden from chemotherapy and radiation the immune system is either compromised or destroyed, hence the person can succumb to various kinds of infections and complications.

10. Chemotherapy and radiation can cause cancer cells to mutate and become resistant and difficult to destroy. Surgery can also cause cancer cells to spread to other sites.

11. An effective way to battle cancer is to STARVE the cancer cells by not feeding it with foods it needs to multiple.

What cancer cells feed on:

a. Sugar is a cancer-feeder. By cutting off sugar it cuts off one important food supply to the cancer cells. Note:Sugar substitutes like NutraSweet, Equal, Spoonful, etc are made with Aspartame and it is harmful. A better natural substitute would be Manuka honey or molasses but only in very small amounts. Table salt has a chemical added to make it white in colour. Better alternative is Bragg’s aminos or sea salt.

b. Milk causes the body to produce mucus, especially in the gastro-intestinal tract. Cancer feeds on mucus. By cutting off milk and substituting with unsweetened soy milk, cancer cells will starved.

c. Cancer cells thrive in an acid environment. A meat-based diet is acidic and it is best to eat fish, and a little chicken rather than beef or pork. Meat also contains livestock antibiotics, growth hormones and parasites, which are all harmful, especially to people with cancer.

d. A diet made of 80% fresh vegetables and juice, whole grains, seeds, nuts and a little fruits help put the body into an alkaline environment. About 20% can be from cooked food including beans. Fresh vegetable juices provide live enzymes that are easily absorbed and reach down to cellular levels within 15 minutes t o nourish and enhance growth of healthy cells.

To obtain live enzymes for building healthy cells try and drink fresh vegetable juice (most vegetables including bean sprouts) and eat some raw vegetables 2 or 3 times a day. Enzymes are destroyed at temperatures of 104 degrees F (40 degrees C).

e. Avoid coffee, tea, and chocolate, which have high caffeine. Green tea is a better alternative and has cancer-fighting properties. Water–best to drink purified water, or filtered, to avoid known toxins and heavy metals in tap water. Distilled water is acidic, avoid it.

12. Meat protein is difficult to digest and requires a lot of digestive enzymes. Undigested meat remaining in the intestines will become putrified and leads to more toxic buildup.

13. Cancer cell walls have a tough protein covering. By refraining from or eating less meat it frees more enzymes to attack the protein walls of cancer cells and allows the body’s killer cells to destroy the cancer cells.

14. Some supplements build up the immune system (IP6, Flor-ssence, Essiac, anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals, EFAs etc.) to enable the body’s own killer cells to destroy cancer cells. Other supplements like vitamin E are known to cause apoptosis, or programmed cell death, the body’s normal method of disposing of damaged, unwanted, or unneeded cells.

15. Cancer is a disease of the mind, body, and spirit. A proactive and positive spirit will help the cancer warrior be a survivor.

Anger, unforgiving and bitterness put the body into a stressful and acidic environment. Learn to have a loving and forgiving spirit. Learn to relax and enjoy life.

16. Cancer cells cannot thrive in an oxygenated environment. Exercising daily, and deep breathing help to get more oxygen down to the cellular level. Oxygen therapy is another means employed to destroy cancer cells.

Elliot Rodger and The Secret

Elliot Rodger and The Secret

by Marc Ambinder

Readers of Elliot Rodger’s manifesto have found much that explains to their minds his descent into misogyny and madness. Several themes overwhelm repeatedly: his sense of entitlement, his sexual frustration and his obsession with the psychology of pretty women. Since he is a murderer, we owe him no sympathy for his crushing depression. But it might be wise to take a look at what he wrote about the way he thought as he tried to grip the sides, having so often fallen into deep holes. I noticed a few things that defy the stereotype of the lonesome loser.

The first was that Rodger had access to the best mental health care that money could buy, and a family that, even in the man’s own accounting, was devoted to his care. They were not inattentive. They did not miss signs. They really tried. He had counselors, even people who were paid to spend time with him, to help him adjust.

His therapists were mostly good. Not just credentialed, none of them were psychoanalytic isolationists. They worried about his daily life and stressed the importance of place and experience in his case.

Rodger writes that he meditated. Meditation, done properly, is a therapeutic adjunct for depression and can help many people.

He was not isolated. He had friends, and people who loved him and told him so, not just with gifts but also with their time and with attempts to recognize his own significance. Rodger did not slip through any cracks, as the old familiar metaphor would have it. Of course, he grew to resent his friends, and when they struggled to muster the strength it takes to care for depressed people, he recognized this, used it against them, became self-pitying, and pushed them away.

Finally, and most significant to me, at least in terms of something that’s a takeaway: he spent months in the cheery world of Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, the 2007 self-help volume that Oprah Winfrey embraced and then threw to the top of the best-seller lists. Here is what Eliot Rodgers writes:

My father gave me a book called The Secret after I had dinner at his house in February. He said it will help me develop a positive attitude. The book explained the fundamentals of a concept known as the Law of Attraction. I had never heard or read anything quite like this before, and I was intrigued. The theory stated that one’s thoughts were connected to a universal force that can shape the future of reality. Being one who always loved fantasy and magic, and who always wished that such things were real, I was swept up in a temporary wave of enthusiasm over this book. The prospect that I could change my future just by visualizing in my mind the life I wanted filled me with a surge of hope that my life could turn out happy.

This is an able summary of the book. Rodger goes on:

The idea was ridiculous, of course, but the world is such a ridiculous place already that I figured I might as well give it a try. In addition, I was so desperate for something to live for that I wanted to believe in the Law of Attraction, even if it was proven to me that it wasn’t real. Once I finished reading it, I drove all the way to Point Dume in Malibu and climbed out to the cliffs at the very edge. It was a windy day, and I could see the ocean roiling below me. As night fell, I looked out to the stars and proclaimed to the universe everything I wanted in life. I proclaimed how I wanted to be a millionaire, so I could live a luxurious life and finally be able to attract the beautiful girls I covet so much.

Lest you think that the book does not recommend that people do what Rodger did in Malibu, well yes. Yes it does. Lest you think the book couldn’t possibly be targeted at people who find life at present too mysterious to bear, a life full of pleasure that only the some have access to, well, you’re wrong again. Yes, of course it does. Slate‘s Emily Yoffe noticed how Byrne made it easy to both want and will into existence $1,000,000 and how she conjured up a world where randomness and misery are not norms for people who simply think differently. “Imperfect thoughts are the cause of all of humanity’s ills, including disease, poverty and unhappiness.”

For most of us, for 99 percent of us, The Secret is drivel. For some — actually, for millions and millions — it’s mildly comforting pablum. What it’s not is a philosophy for living, or for those recovering from, or struggle with, mental illness.

Since The Secret encourages fantasy and a belief in magic, I wonder if the credentialed and legitimate positive psychology movement, which does make meaningful contributions to the advance of happiness, should use the Rodger manifesto as a teaching example.

Forget Robots. We’ll Soon Be Fusing Technology With Living Matter

Forget Robots. We’ll Soon Be
Fusing Technology With Living Matter
By Marcus Wohlsen

SAN FRANCISCO — The future has a funny way of sneaking up on you. You don’t notice it until you’re soaking in it. That was the feeling at O’Reilly’s Solid Conference last week. For the first time, the venerable tech publisher held an event dedicated the way software and hardware are coming together in devices that don’t involve a typical computer screen. The gadgetry on display was so complex and so diverse–spanning everything from smart trash cans to airborne wind turbines–that even hardcore techies marveled at how far this world has already come.

At the conference, WIRED sat down with Joi Ito, the director of the MIT Media Lab and one of the event’s planners, to discuss this phenomenon of convergence, where bits from the digital realm are fusing with atoms here in the physical world . Experimentation is spreading, he says, and it won’t stop at gadgets. For Ito, the next great engineering platform will be living matter itself.

The proliferation of new hardware, Ito says, is driven in part by changes in the global supply chain. Over the past year, the industrial supply chain companies that serve giant mass-market hardware makers like Apple and Motorola–helping to generate iPhone and iPads and Android devices–are now starting to serve startups as well. Manufacturing and distribution are becoming ever-more automated and modularized, he says, and startups can plug into these economies of scale.

As experimentation increases, so does the willingness of venture capitalists to invest. “Hardware is harder than software. It’s still an area that isn’t the traditional low-hanging fruit of Silicon Valley,” Ito says. “But I think people are realizing there are going to be some big winners in this space. And they want to be in it.”

One company leading this transition in Silicon Valley sensibility is Google, which is bridging the digital-physical divide through both a flurry of startup acquisitions and its own projects. Chief among them is Google’s self-driving car. “Google says smartly that they didn’t design a self-driving car. They designed a driver,” Ito says. It’s a way of thinking about hardware that stresses the device as an intelligent system, not just an object. “The self-driving car is a great example of how all that hype about big data and cloud converges into stuff that touches the real world through hardware.”

At Ito’s Media Lab, infusing the rest of the world with digital intelligence has always been a part of the culture, a cornerstone of the lab’s experiments in creating better, more useful and pleasing ways for people to interact with technology. Among the materials he’s most excited about is DNA, information encoded into living form. The cost of manipulating life’s building blocks, he says, is falling at a much more rapid clip right now than Moore’s Law predicts for silicon. “If you think that diminishing cost is what drives innovation to startups and to dorm rooms, I think bioengineering is coming really fast and is going to catch up,” Ito says. “It’s neat to think about not just computational biology but computation in biology.”

As one example, Ito says he was recently talking to some students who were working with a microbe that was acting as a chemical sensor. A reaction would trigger an electrical circuit that would in turn send out a wireless signal. The completely hybrid biological-electrical device was designed not for novelty, but because each piece was the best tool for the job–the electrical because of greater efficiency at sending out the signal, the biological because of greater accuracy and lower power. Ito sees vision as a particularly promising direction for a hybrid “anti-disciplinary” approach where mechanical engineers, biologists, and computer scientists come together. Each likely has a role to play in piecing together technology-enabled sight.

He’s well aware that tinkering with the stuff of life carries great risk, perhaps even the ultimate cost-benefit: “You get the promise of immortality together with the biohacker script kiddie extinction event.” And Ito believes that the engineers driving the fusion of digital and physical can only truly succeed if they account for all the issues that emerge when the digital and physical merge, from network security to ecological impact.

At the same time, Ito believes that the makers of these new machines need to deploy their creations early and often. (“Deploy or die,” he says.) In part, that’s to get innovators thinking about how to manufacture and distribute, not just invent. But using the real world as a platform also forces designers and engineers to think about how what they make affects and alters the world. It demands an approach to design that conceives of devices not in isolation, but as parts of a system bigger than themselves.

“Most science and technology has been about trying to conquer nature and create local gain at the expense of the system,” Ito says. “Thinking about yourself as a participant in a system with responsibility and interactions, you come up with a different kind of sensibility that you get by forcing kids to think about how something is going to be deployed.”

Why Men Love War

Why Men Love War

By William Broyles, Jr.

“Like all lust, for as long as it lasts it dominates everything else.”

Originally published in the November 1984 issue of Esquire Magazine

I last saw Hiers in a rice paddy in Vietnam. He was nineteen then–my wonderfully skilled and maddeningly insubordinate radio operator. For months we were seldom more than three feet apart. Then one day he went home, and fifteen years passed before we met by accident last winter at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. A few months later I visited Hiers and his wife. Susan, in Vermont, where they run a bed-and -breakfast place. The first morning we were up at dawn trying to save five newborn rabbits. Hiers built a nest of rabbit fur and straw in his barn and positioned a lamp to provide warmth against the bitter cold.

“What people can’t understand,” Hiers said, gently picking up each tiny rabbit and placing it in the nest, “is how much fun Vietnam was. I loved it. I loved it, and I can’t tell anybody.”

Hiers loved war. And as I drove back from Vermont in a blizzard, my children asleep in the back of the car, I had to admit that for all these years I also had loved it, and more than I knew. I hated war, too. Ask me, ask any man who has been to war about his experience, and chances are we’ll say we don’t want to talk about it–implying that we hated it so much, it was so terrible, that we would rather leave it buried. And it is no mystery why men hate war. War is ugly, horrible, evil, and it is reasonable for men to hate all that. But I believe that most men who have been to war would have to admit, if they are honest, that somewhere inside themselves they loved it too, loved it as much as anything that has happened to them before or since. And how do you explain that to your wife, your children, your parents, or your friends?

That’s why men in their sixties and seventies sit in their dens and recreation rooms around America and know that nothing in their life will equal the day they parachuted into St. Lo or charged the bunker on Okinawa. That’s why veterans’ reunions are invariably filled with boozy awkwardness, forced camaraderie ending in sadness and tears: you are together again, these are the men who were your brothers, but it’s not the same, can never be the same. That’s why when we returned from Vietnam we moped around, listless, not interested in anything or anyone. Something had gone out of our lives forever, and our behavior on returning was inexplicable except as the behavior of men who had lost a great perhaps the great-love of their lives, and had no way to tell anyone about it.

In part we couldn’t describe our feelings because the language failed us: the civilian-issue adjectives and nouns, verbs and adverbs, seemed made for a different universe. There were no metaphors that connected the war to everyday life. But we were also mute, I suspect, out of shame. Nothing in the way we are raised admits the possibility of loving war. It is at best a necessary evil, a patriotic duty to be discharged and then put behind us. To love war is to mock the very values we supposedly fight for. It is to be insensitive, reactionary, a brute.

But it may be more dangerous, both for men and nations, to suppress the reasons men love war than to admit them. In Apocalypse Now, Robert Duvall, playing a brigade commander, surveys a particularly horrific combat scene and says, with great sadness, “You know, someday this war’s gonna be over. ” He is clearly meant to be a psychopath, decorating enemy bodies with playing cards, riding to war with Wagner blaring. We laugh at him–Hey! nobody’s like that! And last year in Grenada American boys charged into battle playing Wagner, a new generation aping the movies of Vietnam the way we aped the movies of World War 11, learning nothing, remembering nothing.

Alfred Kazin wrote that war is the enduring condition of twentieth-century man. He was only partly right. War is the enduring condition of man, period. Men have gone to war over everything from Helen of Troy to Jenkins’s ear. Two million Frenchmen and Englishmen died in muddy trenches in World War I because a student shot an archduke. The truth is, the reasons don’t matter. There is a reason for every war and a war for every reason.

For centuries men have hoped that with history would come progress, and with progress, peace. But progress has simply given man the means to make war even more horrible; no wars in our savage past can begin to match the brutality of the wars spawned in this century, in the beautifully ordered, civilized landscape of Europe, where everyone is literate and classical music plays in every village cafe. War is not all aberration; it is part of the family. the crazy uncle we try–in vain–to keep locked in the basement.

Consider my own example. I am not a violent person. I have not been in a fight since grade school. Aside from being a fairly happy-go-lucky carnivore, I have no lust for blood, nor do I enjoy killing animals, fish, or even insects. My days are passed in reasonable contentment, filled with the details of work and everyday life. I am also a father now, and a male who has helped create life is war’s natural enemy. I have seen what war does to children, makes them killers or victims, robs them of their parents, their homes, and their innocence–steals their childhood and leaves them marked in body, mind, and spirit.

I spent most of my combat tour in Vietnam trudging through its jungles and rice paddies without incident, but I have seen enough of war to know that I never want to fight again, and that I would do everything in my power to keep my son from fighting. Then why, at the oddest times–when I am in a meeting or running errands, or on beautiful summer evenings, with the light fading and children playing around me–do my thoughts turn back fifteen years to a war I didn’t believe in and never wanted to fight? Why do I miss it?

I miss it because I loved it, loved it in strange and troubling ways. When I talk about loving war I don’t mean the romantic notion of war that once mesmerized generations raised on Walter Scott. What little was left of that was ground into the mud at Verdun and Passchendaele: honor and glory do not survive the machine gun. And it’s not the mindless bliss of martyrdom that sends Iranian teenagers armed with sticks against Iraqi tanks. Nor do I mean the sort of hysteria that can grip a whole country, the way during the Falklands war the English press inflamed the lust that lurks beneath the cool exterior of Britain. That is vicarious war, the thrill of participation without risk, the lust of the audience for blood. It is easily fanned, that lust; even the invasion of a tiny island like Grenada can do it. Like all lust, for as long as it lasts it dominates everything else; a nation’s other problems are seared away, a phenomenon exploited by kings, dictators, and presidents since civilization began.

And I don’t mean war as an addiction, the constant rush that war junkies get, the crazies mailing ears home to their girlfriends, the zoomies who couldn’t get an erection unless they were cutting in the afterburners on their F-4s. And, finally, I’m not talking about how some men my age feel today, men who didn’t go to war but now have a sort of nostalgic longing for something they missed, some classic male experience, the way some women who didn’t have children worry they missed something basic about being a woman, something they didn’t value when they could have done it.

I’m talking about why thoughtful, loving men can love war even while knowing and hating it. Like any love, the love of war is built on a complex of often contradictory reasons. Some of them are fairly painless to discuss; others go almost too deep, stir the caldron too much. I’ll give the more respectable reasons first.

Part of the love of war stems from its being an experience of great intensity; its lure is the fundamental human passion to witness, to see things, what the Bible calls the lust of the eye and the Marines in Vietnam called eye fucking. War stops time, intensifies experience to the point of a terrible ecstasy. It is the dark opposite of that moment of passion caught in “Ode on a Grecian Urn”: “For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d/ For ever panting, and forever young. ” War offers endless exotic experiences, enough “I couldn’t fucking believe it! “‘s to last a lifetime.

Most people fear freedom; war removes that fear. And like a stem father, it provides with its order and discipline both security and an irresistible urge to rebel against it, a constant yearning to fly over the cuckoo’s nest. The midnight requisition is an honored example. I remember one elaborately planned and meticulously executed raid on our principal enemy–the U.S. Army, not the North Vietnamese–to get lightweight blankets and cleaning fluid for our rifles repeated later in my tour, as a mark of my changed status, to obtain a refrigerator and an air conditioner for our office. To escape the Vietnamese police we tied sheets together and let ourselves down from the top floor of whorehouses, and on one memorable occasion a friend who is now a respectable member of our diplomatic corps hid himself inside a rolled-up Oriental rug while the rest of us careered off in the truck. leaving him to make his way back stark naked to our base six miles away. War, since it steals our youth, offers a sanction to play boys’ games.

War replaces the difficult gray areas daily life with an eerie, serene clarity. In war you usually know who is your enemy and who is your friend, and are given means of dealing with both. (That was, incidentally, one of the great problems with Vietnam: it was hard to tell friend from foe–it was too much like ordinary Life.)

War is an escape from the everyday into a special world where the bonds that hold us to our duties in daily life–the bonds of family, community, work, disappear. In war, all bets are off. It’s the frontier beyond the last settlement, it’s Las Vegas. The men who do well in peace do not necessarily do well at war, while those who were misfits and failures may find themselves touched with fire. U. S. Grant, selling firewood on the streets of St. Louis and then four years later commanding the Union armies, is the best example, although I knew many Marines who were great warriors but whose ability to adapt to civilian life was minimal.

I remember Kirby, a skinny kid with JUST YOU AND ME LORD tattooed on his shoulder. Kirby had extended his tour in Vietnam twice. He had long since ended his attachment to any known organization and lived alone out in the most dangerous areas, where he wandered about night and day, dressed only in his battered fatigue trousers with a .45 automatic tucked into the waistband, his skinny shoulders and arms as dark as a Montagnard’s.

One day while out on patrol we found him on the floor of a hut, being tended by a girl in black pajamas, a bullet wound in his arm.

He asked me for a cigarette, then eyed me, deciding if I was worth telling his story to. “I stopped in for a mango, broad daylight, and there bigger’n hell were three NVA officers, real pretty tan uniforms. They got this map spread out oil a table, just eyeballin’ it, makin’ themselves right at home. They looked at me. I looked at them. Then they went for their nine millimeters and I went for my .45. “

“Yeah?”I answered. “So what happened

“I wasted ’em,” he said, then puffed on his cigarette. Just another day at work, killing three men on the way to eat a mango.

How are you ever going to go back to the world?” I asked him. (He didn’t. A few months later a ten-year-old Vietcong girl blew him up with a command-detonated booby trap.

War is a brutal, deadly game, but a game, the best there is. And men love games. You can come back from war broken in mind or body, or not come back at all. But if you come back whole you bring with you the knowledge that you have explored regions of your soul that in most men will always remain uncharted. Nothing I had ever studied was as complex or as creative as the small-unit tactics of Vietnam. No sport I had ever played brought me to such deep awareness of my physical and emotional limits.

One night not long after I had arrived in Vietnam, one of my platoon’s observation on posts heard enemy movement. I immediately lost all saliva in my mouth. I could not talk; not a sound would pass my lips. My brain erased as if the plug had been pulled–I felt only a dull hum throughout my body, a low-grade current coursing through me like electricity through a power line. After a minute I could at least grunt, which I did as Hiers gave orders to the squad leaders, called in artillery and air support, and threw back the probe. I was terrified. I was ashamed, and I couldn’t wait for it to happen again.

The enduring emotion of war, when everything else has faded, is comradeship. A comrade in war is a man you can trust with anything, because you trust him with your life. “It is,” Philip Caputo wrote in A Rumor of War “unlike marriage, a bond I that cannot be broken by a word, by boredom or divorce, or by anything other than death.” Despite its extreme right-wing image, war is the only utopian experience most of us ever have. Individual possessions and advantage count for nothing: the group is everything What you have is shared with your friends. It isn’t a particularly selective process, but a love that needs no reasons, that transcends race and personality and education–all those things that would make a difference in peace. It is, simply, brotherly love.

What made this love so intense was that it had no limits, not even death. John Wheeler in Touched with Fire quotes the Congressional Medal of Honor citation of Hector Santiago-Colon: “Due to the heavy volume of enemy fire and exploding grenades around them, a North Vietnamese soldier was able to crawl, undetected, to their position. Suddenly, the enemy soldier lobbed a hand grenade into Sp4c. Santiago-Colon’s foxhole. Realizing that there was no time to throw the grenade out of his position, Sp4c., Santiago-Colon retrieved the grenade, tucked it into his stomach, and turning away from his comrades, and absorbed the full impact of the blast. ” This is classic heroism, the final evidence of how much comrades can depend on each other. What went through Santiago- Colon’s mini for that split second when he could just a easily have dived to safety? It had to be this: my comrades are more important than my most valuable possession–my own life.

Isolation is the greatest fear in war. The military historian S.L.A. Marshall con ducted intensive studies of combat incidents during World War 11 and Korea and discovered that, at most, only 25 percent of the men who were under fire actually fired their own weapons. The rest cowered behind cover, terrified and helpless–all systems off. Invariably, those men had felt alone, and to feel alone in combat is to cease to function; it is the terrifying prelude to the final loneliness of death. The only men who kept their heads felt connected to other men, a part of something as if comradeship were some sort of collective life-force, the power to face death and stay conscious. But when those men cam home from war, that fear of isolation stayed with many of them, a tiny mustard seed fallen on fertile soil.

When I came back from Vietnam I tried to keep up with my buddies. We wrote letters, made plans to meet, but something always came up and we never seemed to get together. For a few year we exchanged Christmas cards, then nothing . The special world that had sustain our intense comradeship was gone. Everyday life–our work, family, friends–reclaimed us, and we grew up.

But there was something not right about that. In Vietnam I had been closer to Hiers, for example, than to anyone before or since. We were connected by the radio, our lives depended on it, and on eachother. We ate, slept, laughed, and we terrified together. When I first arrived in Vietnam I tried to get Hiers to salute me, but he simply wouldn’t do it, mustering at most a “Howdy, Lieutenant, how’s it hanging” as we passed. For every time that I didn’t salute I told him he would have to fill a hundred sandbags.

We’d reached several thousand sandbags when Hiers took me aside and said “Look, Lieutenant, I’ll be happy to salute you, really. But if I get in the habit back here in the rear I may salute you when we’re out in the bush. And those gooks a just waiting for us to salute, tell ’em who the lieutenant is. You’d be the first one blown away.” We forgot the sandbags and the salutes. Months later, when Hiers left the platoon to go home, he turned to me as I stood on our hilltop position, and gave me the smartest salute I’d ever seen. I shot him the finger, and that was the last I saw of him for fifteen years. When we met by accident at the Vietnam memorial it was like a sign; enough time had passed-we were old enough to say goodbye to who we had been and become friends as who we had become.

For us and for thousands of veterans the memorial was special ground. War is theater, and Vietnam had been fought without a third act. It was a set that hadn’t been struck; its characters were lost there, with no way to get off and no more lines to say. And so when we came to the Vietnam memorial in Washington we wrote our own endings as we stared at the names on the wall, reached out and touched them, washed them with our tears, said goodbye. We are older now, some of us grandfathers, some quite successful, but the memorial touched some part of us that is still out there, under fire, alone. When we came to that wait and met the memories of our buddies and gave them their due, pulled them tip from their buried places and laid our love to rest, we were home at last.

For all these reasons, men love war. But these are the easy reasons, the first circle the ones we can talk about without risk of disapproval, without plunging too far into the truth or ourselves. But there are other, more troubling reasons why men love war. The love of war stems from the union, deep in the core of our being between sex and destruction, beauty and horror, love and death. War may be the only way in which most men touch the mythic domains in our soul. It is, for men, at some terrible level, the closest thing to what childbirth is for women: the initiation into the power of life and death. It is like lifting off the corner of the universe and looking at what’s underneath. To see war is to see into the dark heart of things, that no-man’s-land between life and death, or even beyond.

And that explains a central fact about the stories men tell about war. Every good war story is, in at least some of its crucial elements, false. The better the war story, the less of it is likely to be true. Robert Graves wrote that his main legacy from World War I was “a difficulty in telling tile truth. ” I have never once heard a grunt tell a reporter a war story that wasn’t a lie, just as some of the stories that I tell about the war are lies. Not that even the lies aren’t true, on a certain level. They have a moral, even a mythic, truth, rather than a literal one. They reach out and remind the tellers and listeners of their place in the world. They are the primitive stories told around the fire in smoky teepees after the pipe has been passed. They are all, at bottom, the same.

Some of the best war stories out Of Vietnam are in Michael Heir’s Dispatches One of Heir’s most quoted stories goes like this: “But what a story he told me, as one pointed and resonant as any war story I ever heard. It took me a year to understand it: “‘Patrol went up the mountain. One man came back. He died before he could tell its What happened.’

” I waited for the rest, but it seemed not to be that kind of story; when I asked him what had happened he just looked like he felt sorry for me, fucked if he’d waste time telling stories to anyone as dumb as I was.”

It is a great story, a combat haiku, all negative space and darkness humming with portent. It seems rich, unique to Vietnam. But listen, now, to this:

“We all went up to Gettysburg, the summer of ’63: and some of us came back from there: and that’s all except the details. ” That is the account of Gettysburg by one Praxiteles Swan, onetime captain of the Confederate States Army. The language is different, but it is the same story. And it is a story that I would imagine has been told for as long as men have gone to war. Its purpose is not to enlighten but to exclude; its message is riot its content but putting the listener in his place. I suffered, I was there. You were not. Only those facts matter. Everything else is beyond words to tell. As was said after the worst tragedies in Vietnam: “Don’t mean nothin’.” Which meant, “It means everything it means too much.” Language overload.

War stories inhabit the realm of myth because every war story is about death. And one of the most troubling reasons men love war is the love of destruction, the thrill of killing. In his superb book on World War II, The Warriors,J. Glenn Gray wrote that “thousands of youths who never suspect the presence of such an impulse in themselves have learned in military life the mad excitement of destroying.” It’s what Hemingway meant when he wrote, “Admit that you have liked to kill as all who are soldiers by choice have enjoyed it it some time whether they lie about it or not.”

My platoon and I went through Vietnam burning hooches (note how language liberated US–we didn’t burn houses and shoot people: we burned hooches and shot gooks), killing dogs and pigs and chickens, destroying, because, as my friend Hiers put it, “We thought it was fun at the time.” As anyone who has fired a bazooka or an M-60 machine gun knows, there is something to that power in your finger, the soft, seductive touch of the trigger. It’s like the magic sword, a grunt’s Excalibur: all you do is move that finger so imperceptibly just a wish flashing across your mind like a shadow, not even a full brain synapse, and I poof in a blast of sound and energy and light a truck or a house or even people disappear, everything flying and settling back into dust.

There is a connection between this thrill and the games we played as children, the endless games of cowboys and Indians and war, the games that ended with “Bang bang you’re dead,” and everyone who was “dead” got up and began another game. That’s war as fantasy, and it’s the same emotion that touches us in war movies and books, where death is something without consequence, and not something that ends with terrible finality as blood from our fatally fragile bodies flows out onto the mud. Boys aren’t the only ones prone to this fantasy; it possesses the old men who have never been to war and who preside over our burials with the same tears they shed when soldiers die in the movies–tears of fantasy, cheap tears. The love of destruction and killing in war stems from that fantasy of war as a game, but it is the more seductive for being indulged at terrible risk. It is the game survivors play, after they have seen death up close and learned in their hearts how common, how ordinary, and how inescapable it is.

I don’t know if I killed anyone in Vietnam but I tried as hard as I could. I fired at muzzle flashes in tile night, threw grenades during ambushes, ordered artillery and bombing where I thought tile enemy was. Whenever another platoon got a higher body count, I was disappointed: it was like suiting up for the football game and then not getting to play. After one ambush my men brought back the body of a North Vietnamese soldier. I later found the dead man propped against some C-ration boxes; he had on sunglasses, and a Playboy magazine lay open in his lap; a cigarette dangled jauntily from his mouth, and on his head was perched a large and perfectly formed piece of shit.

I pretended to be Outraged, since desecrating bodies was frowned on as un-American and counterproductive. But it wasn’t outrage I felt. I kept my officer’s face on, but inside I was… laughing. I laughed–I believe now–in part because of some subconscious appreciation of this obscene linkage of sex and excrement and ‘death; and in part because of the exultant realization that he–whoever he had been–was dead and I–special, unique I me–was alive. He was my brother, but I knew him not. The line between life and death is gossamer thin; there is joy. true joy, in being alive when so many around you are not. And from the joy of being alive in death’s presence to the joy of causing death is, unfortunately, not that great a step.

A lieutenant colonel I knew, a true intellectual, was put in charge of civil affairs, the work we did helping the Vietnamese grow rice and otherwise improve their lives. He was a sensitive man who kept a journal and seemed far better equipped for winning hearts and minds than for combat command. But he got one, and I remember flying out to visit his fire base the night after it had been attacked by an NVA sapper unit. Most of the combat troops I had been out on an operation, so this colonel mustered a motley crew of clerks and cooks and drove the sappers off, chasing them across tile rice paddies and killing dozens of these elite enemy troops by the light of flares. That morning, as they were surveying what they had done and loading the dead NVA–all naked and covered with grease and mud so they could penetrate the barbed wire–on mechanical mules like so much garbage, there was a look of beatific contentment on tile colonel’s face that I had not seen except in charismatic churches. It was the look of a person transported into ecstasy.

And I–what did I do, confronted with this beastly scene? I smiled back. ‘as filled with bliss as he was. That was another of the times I stood on the edge of my humanity, looked into the pit, and loved what I saw there. I had surrendered to an aesthetic that was divorced from that crucial quality of empathy that lets us feel the sufferings of others. And I saw a terrible beauty there. War is not simply the spirit of ugliness, although it is certainly that, the devil’s work. But to give the devil his due,it is also an affair of great and seductive beauty.

Art and war were for ages as linked as art and religion. Medieval and Renaissance artists gave us cathedrals, but they also gave us armor sculptures of war, swords and muskets and cannons of great beauty, art offered to the god of war as reverently as the carved altars were offered to the god of love. War was a public ritual of the highest order, as the beautifully decorated cannons in the Invalids in Paris and the chariots with their depict ions of the gods in the Metropolitan Museum of Art so eloquently attest Men love their weapons, not simply for helping to keep them alive, but for a deeper reason. They love their rifles and their knives for the same reason that the medieval warriors loved their armor and their swords: they are instruments of beauty.

War is beautiful. There is something about a firefight at night, something about the mechanical elegance of an M -60 machine gun. They are everything they should be, perfect examples of their form. When you are firing out at night, the red racers go out into tile blackness is if you were drawing with a light pen. Then little dots of light start winking back, and green tracers from the AK-47s begin to weave ill with the red to form brilliant patterns that seem, given their great speeds, oddly timeless, as if they had been etched on the night. And then perhaps the gunships called Spooky come in and fire their incredible guns like huge hoses washing down from the sky, like something God would do when He was really ticked off. And then the flares pop, casting eerie shadows as they float down on their little parachutes, swinging in the breeze, and anyone who moves, in their light seems a ghost escaped from hell.

Daytime offers nothing so spectacular, but it also has its charms. Many men loved napalm, loved its silent power, the way it could make tree lines or houses explode as if by spontaneous combustion. But I always thought napalm was greatly overrated, unless you enjoy watching tires burn. I preferred white phosphorus, which exploded with a fulsome elegance, wreathing its target in intense and billowing white smoke, throwing out glowing red comets trailing brilliant white plumes I loved it more–not less –because of its function: to destroy, to kill. The seduction of War is in its offering such intense beauty–divorced from I all civilized values, but beauty still.

Most men who have been to war, and most women who have been around it, remember that never in their lives did they have so heightened a sexuality. War is, in short. a turn-on. War cloaks men in a coat that conceals the limits and inadequacies of their separate natures. It gives them all aura, a collective power, an almost animal force. They aren’t just Billy or Johnny or Bobby, they are soldiers! But there’s a price for all that: the agonizing loneliness of war, the way a soldier is cut off from everything that defines him as an individual–he is the true rootless man.

The uniform did that, too, and all that heightened sexuality is not much solace late it night when the emptiness comes.

There were many men for whom this condition led to great decisions. I knew a Marine in Vietnam who was a great rarity, an Ivy League graduate. He also had an Ivy League wife, but lie managed to fall in love with a Vietnamese bar girl who could barely speak English. She was not particularly attractive, a peasant girl trying to support her family He spent all his time with her, he fell in love with her–awkwardly informally, but totally. At the end of his twelve months in Vietnam he went home, divorced his beautiful, intelligent, and socially correct wife and then went back to Vietnam and proposed to the bar girl, who accepted. It was a marriage across a vast divide of language, culture, race, and class that could only have been made in war. I am not sure that it lasted, but it would not surprise me if despite great difficulties, it did.

Of course. for every such story there are hundreds. thousands, of stories of passing contacts, a man and a woman holding each other tight for one moment, finding in sex some escape from the terrible reality of tile war. The intensity that war brings to sex, the “let us love now because there may be no tomorrow,” is based on death. No matter what our weapons on the battlefield, love is finally our only weapon against death. Sex is the weapon of life, the shooting sperm sent like an army of guerrillas to penetrate the egg’s defenses is the only victory that really matters. War thrusts you into the well of loneliness, death breathing in your ear. Sex is a grappling hook that pulls you out, ends your isolation, makes you one with life again.

Not that such thoughts were anywhere near conscious. I remember going off to war with a copy of War and Peace and The Charterhouse of Parma stuffed into my pack. They were soon replaced with The Story of 0. War heightens all appetites. I cannot describe the ache for candy, for taste: I wanted a Mars bar more than I wanted anything in my life And that hunger paled beside the force that pushed it, et toward women, any women: women we would not even have looked at in peace floated into our fantasies and lodged there. Too often we made our fantasies real, always to be disappointed, our hunger only greater. The ugliest prostitutes specialized in group affairs, passed among several men or even whole squads, in communion almost, a sharing more than sexual. In sex even more than in killing I could see the beast, crouched drooling on its haunches, could see it mocking me for my frailties, knowing I hated myself for them but that I could not get enough, that I would keep coming back again and again.

After I ended my tour in combat I came back to work at division headquarters and volunteered one night a week teaching English to Vietnamese adults. One of my students was a beautiful girl whose parents had been killed in Hue during the Tet Offensive of 1968. She had fallen in love with an American civilian who worked at the consulate in Da Nang. He had left for his next duty station and promised he would send for her. She never heard from him again. She had a seductive sadness about her. I found myself seeing her after class, then I was sneaking into the motor pool and commandeering a deuce-and-a-half truck and driving into Da Nang at night to visit her. She lived in a small house near the consulate with her grandparents and brothers and sisters. It had one room divided by a curtain. When I arrived, the rest of the family would retire behind the curtain. Amid their hushed voices and the smells of cooking oil and rotted fish we would talk and fumble toward each other, my need greater than hers.

I wanted her desperately. But her tenderness and vulnerability, the torn flower of her beauty, frustrated my death-obsessed lust. I didn’t see her as one Vietnamese, I saw her as all Vietnamese. She was the suffering soul of war, and I was the soldier who had wounded it but would make it whole. My loneliness was pulling me into the same strong current that had swallowed my friend who married the bar girl. I could see it happening, but I seemed powerless to stop it. I wrote her long poems, made inquiries about staying on in Da Nang, built a fantasy future for the two of us. I wasn’t going to betray her the way the other American had, the way all Americans had, the way all men betrayed the women who helped them through the war. I wasn’t like that. But then I received orders sending me home two weeks early. I drove into Da Nang to talk to her, and to make definite plans. Halfway there, I turned back.

At the airport I threw the poems into a trash can. When the wheels of the plane lifted off the soil of Vietnam, I cheered like everyone else. And as I pressed my face against the window and watched Vietnam shrink to a distant green blur and finally disappear, I felt sad and guilty–for her, for my comrades who had been killed and wounded, for everything. But that feeling was overwhelmed by my vast sense of relief. I had survived. And I was going home. I would be myself again, or so I thought.

But some fifteen years later she and the war are still on my mind, all those memories, each with its secret passages and cutbacks, hundreds of labyrinths, all leading back to a truth not safe but essential. It is about why we can love and hate, why we can bring forth Fe and snuff it out why each of us is a battleground where good and evil are always at war for our souls.

The power of war, like the power of love, springs from man’s heart. The one yields death, the other life. But life without death has no meaning; nor, at its deepest level, does love without war. Without war we could not know from what depths love rises, or what power it must have to overcome such evil and redeem us. It is no accident that men love war, as love and war are at the core of man. It is not only that we must love one another or die. We must love one another and die. War, like death, is always with us, a constant companion, a secret sharer. To deny its seduction, to overcome death, our love for peace, for life itself, must be greater than we think possible, greater even than we can imagine.

Hiers and I were skiing down a mountain in Vermont, flying effortlessly over a world cloaked in white, beautiful, innocent, peaceful. On the ski lift up we had been talking about a different world, hot, green, smelling of decay and death, where each step out of the mud took all our strength. We stopped and looked back, the air pure and cold, our breath coming in puffs of vapor. Our children were following us down the hill, bent over, little balls of life racing on the edge of danger.

Hiers turned to me with a smile and said, “It’s a long way from Nam isn’t it?”


And no.


Michael Jackson’s Horrifying Hologram and the Problem with Resurrecting Artists

Michael Jackson’s Horrifying Hologram
and the Problem with Resurrecting Artists

By Caroline Perkins

It’s like musical witchcraft, only not the cool Wiccan kind.

On May 18th, Michael Jackson performed his new single “Slave 2 The Rhythm” at the Billboard Music Awards. The only minor issue here is that he’s been dead for almost five years, so the performance was done by a pasty, pixelated version of what he looked like during his Dangerous tour in 1993.


Peoples’ general reaction to this was, “Sorry, what?” And audience members
kept looking back at the cameras to make sure this was indeed real life.


Here’s the thing: I’m a ride-or-die Michael Jackson fan. As a child, I used to dress up in a robe and a top hat and perform deep cuts from his HIStory album for my mom in the living room while she looked on questioningly. I sang “The Way You Make Me Feel” for my senior song with my all-female a cappella group (only God can judge me) and just can’t stop loving him. But regenerating the dead for our entertainment just feels gross.

It’s not the first time this has happened. Newsweek got flack a few years ago for putting digitally-aged images of Princess Diana, including one where she has liver spots and is holding an iPhone with Kate Middleton, to commemorate her 50th birthday. Then in 2012 Tupac’s likeness performed at Coachella. So what’s pop culture’s deal with trying to play Frankenstein?

Naturally, the posthumous release of the  album Xscape is mostly about money memories and in that vein, L.A. Reid is promoting an upcoming duet with MJ and Justin Bieber. The album is a compilation of previously unheard tracks from the cutting room floor of albums like Dangerous and Bad, executive produced by Timbaland, LA Reid, and Rodney Jerkins. The tracks aren’t terrible, but they’re far from his best, and as reviewer Nekesa Mumbi Moody notes, “Putting out music that falls below Jackson’s standards — even if overly high — detracts from the carefully constructed catalog the King of Pop spent decades creating and protecting.”

So while the hologram at the Billboard Music Awards may have gotten some of his mannerisms down (the pelvic thrusts, the rhythmic head jerking, the moonwalking) it can’t come close to his virtuosic glory. Why not remember MJ as he was, instead of as some whack-ass light-show whose mouth doesn’t match up to the words it’s singing?

Watch the video below:


Stars in their eyes: architects and scientists mull designs for ark in space

Stars in their eyes: architects and
scientists mull designs for ark in space

by Ian Sample

Keen to flee catastrophe? Icarus Interstellar may be able to help –
but you’ll live in a mud pie in the sky and never return to Earth

The good news is you will fly into space on a mission to save humanity. The less good news is you will abandon the rest of Earth to certain doom and live in a mud burrow with only nerds for neighbors.

Such are the quandaries that passengers will face if plans work out for an interstellar spaceship designed to serve as a lifeboat for Earth should the planet face disaster in the next century.

Architects, designers and scientists have joined forces to explore the technologies needed to build a spacecraft that could be launched within the next 100 years and sustain human life for generations.

Early designs for the ship envisage a giant 15km-wide ball filled with soil that will support complex ecosystems of microbes, plants and animal life. Rather than building homes on top of the soil, humans will live within, carving out rooms in a network of connected burrows.

“We need to think how we might live in space long term,” said Rachel Armstrong, lead researcher on Project Persephone at of Greenwich University. “So far, our approach to space has been very top-down. We take a vessel, put an environment in it, and off we go. For generational starships we need a different approach.”

Armstrong, a doctor-turned-architect, hopes to develop synthetic soils that are optimized to support life and recycle waste. Electronic circuits sowed throughout the soil could monitor biochemical activity and use organic signals to communicate with plants and microbes to reshape the ecosystem as it evolves. The goal is to make the spaceship self-sufficient, life-supporting and self-fueling, perhaps by mining asteroids or scavenging materials from space junk.

“By asking these questions the project is challenging the industrial view of sustainability. It’s all very fine to conserve energy and be considerate about polluting the environment, but is that actually sustainable? We want to build sustainable environments that promote life,” Armstrong said.


“There’s an urgency to this and the urgency is our own sustainable practices. I don’t see my generation as being the ones that solve the starship

. It may be my grandchildren’s generation that makes something qualitatively different from people who have only known an industrial era.”

The lessons learned from the project will have a more earthly impact long before any cosmic Noah’s Ark has been built, by improving the sustainability of homes and cities, the researchers believe.

Project Persephone has no central funding, but the team’s studies are supported by individual grants secured by the researchers. The project is part of an international non-profit foundation called Icarus Interstellar, which is dedicated to starship research and development.

Designing a self-sufficient, closed environment is a daunting task. In the 1990s, US “crews” tried twice to grow all their food and recycle waste and water at Biosphere 2 in Arizona. The missions faced a number of problems, including almost continuous hunger, falling oxygen levels, an explosion of cockroaches and ants, and a water filtration system clogged with dead fish.

Armstrong concedes that humans might not turn out to be the best lifeforms to save when the end of Earth is nigh. “We might decide that a giant microbial culture is all that the starship can support. We might have to have the humility to accept we’re not the most likely to survive,” she said.

There are other challenges beyond generating enough food, water and air for a trip with no certain end. The spaceship will need to simulate gravity if humans and other life are to survive the voyage. And then there is the need for a radical and revolutionary propulsion system to blast the ship into space. These problems are the focus of other Icarus Interstellar projects.

Though closer to the realm of science fiction than science fact, Icarus Interstellar are not the only ones with an eye on interstellar travel. In 2012, the US launched the 100 Year Starship, an ambitious project funded by Nasa and the government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), to explore technologies needed to make interstellar space travel a reality a century from now.

Richard Brown, director of the Centre for Future Air-Space Transport Technology at Strathclyde University, who is not involved in Persephone or the 100 Year Starship, said the projects could stimulate useful discussions. “The more people are interested in these things, the more debate there is, and the more consideration we’ll have of what humankind’s future might be,” he said.

One of the greatest hurdles facing space exploration today is the cost of reaching Earth’s orbit. To explore beyond the solar system, spacecraft might in future be built at orbiting manufacturing facilities. “Once you are in Earth’s orbit, you have solved half of the problem,” Brown said.


Steve Fuller, a sociologist at Warwick University who works on Persephone, said the project was one of several that takes seriously the idea that humanity may face a global catastrophe in the not too distant future. “The project is trying to put in some safeguards so that humanity can survive somewhere else.

“This is a different kind of spaceship from the ones we are used to. It isn’t necessarily designed to come back to Earth. We’re talking about a spaceship that a new generation of people would be born on. There might be people who live their entire lives in this place,” he said.

The project’s researchers have not nailed down the precise global catastrophes that might warrant the launch of a giant spaceship to save life as we know it. But beyond who decides when to abandon Earth, is the thorny question of who would get a seat on board. Armstrong said a ball-shaped spaceship 15km across might support 50 to 500 people, a tiny fraction of the Earth’s 7 billion-strong population.

“Who are you going to take? They are going to look for diversity, and high-end skilled people,” said Fuller. “You’re not going to take people who lack skills. You’re not going to take homeless people, though that’s not official policy.”

Faced with the prospect of living out their years in a mud burrow with no one but scientists and engineers for company, some may prefer to take their chances on Earth.

“Some people will say we wouldn’t be in this situation if it wasn’t for science and technology and these clever clogs who gave us the industrial revolution and nuclear power, let them go and find their own planet,” said Fuller.

This Hellish Desert Pit Has Been On Fire for More Than 40 Years

This Hellish Desert Pit Has Been On Fire for More Than 40 Years

By Natasha Geiling

In the Turkmenistan desert, a crater dubbed
“The Door to Hell” has been burning for decades

There are places on Earth that are a little creepy, places that feel a little haunted and places that are downright hellish. The Darvaza gas crater, nicknamed by locals “The Door to Hell,” or “The Gates of Hell,” definitely falls into the latter category—and its sinister burning flames are just the half of it. Located in the Karakum Desert of central Turkmenistan (a little over 150 miles from the country’s capital) the pit attracts hundreds of tourists each year. It also attracts nearby desert wildlife—reportedly, from time to time local spiders are seen plunging into the pit by the thousands, lured to their deaths by the glowing flames.

So how did this fiery inferno end up in the middle of a desert in Turkmenistan? In 1971, when the republic was still part of the Soviet Union, a group of Soviet geologists went to the Karakum in search of oil fields. They found what they thought to be a substantial oil field and began drilling. Unfortunately for the scientists, they were drilling on top of a cavernous pocket of natural gas which couldn’t support the weight of their equipment. The site collapsed, taking their equipment along with it—and the event triggered the crumbly sedimentary rock of the desert to collapse in other places too, creating a domino-effect that resulted in several open craters by the time all was said and done.

The largest of these craters measures about 230-feet across and 65-feet deep. Reportedly, no one was injured in the collapse, but the scientists soon had another problem on their hands: the natural gas escaping from the crater. Natural gas is composed mostly of methane, which, though not toxic, does displace oxygen, making it difficult to breathe. This wasn’t so much an issue for the scientists, but for the animals that call the Karakum Desert home—shortly after the collapse, animals roaming the area began to die. The escaping methane also posed dangers due to its flammability—there needs to be just five percent methane in the air for an explosion to potentially take place. So the scientists decided to light the crater on fire, hoping that all the dangerous natural gas would burn away in a few weeks’ time.

It’s not as outlandish as it sounds—in oil and natural gas drilling operations, this happens all the time to natural gas that can’t be captured. Unlike oil, which can be stored in tanks indefinitely after drilling, natural gas needs to be immediately processed—if there’s an excess of natural gas that can’t be piped to a processing facility, drillers often burn the natural gas to get rid of it. It’s a process called “flaring,” and it wastes almost a million dollars of worth of natural gas each day in North Dakota alone.
But unlike drillers in North Dakota or elsewhere, the scientists in Turkmenistan weren’t dealing with a measured amount of natural gas—scientists still don’t know just how much natural gas is feeding the burning crater—so what was supposed to be a few-week burn has turned into almost a half-century-long desert bonfire.

After visiting the crater in 2010, Turkmenistan’s president Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, worried that the fire would threaten the country’s ability to develop nearby gas fields, ordered local authorities to come up with a plan for filling the crater in. No action has been taken, however, and the crater continues to burn, attracting unsuspecting wildlife and international tourists.


The Koch Brothers Exposed

Bernie Sanders and Harry Reid screen new film,
“The Koch Brothers Exposed: 2014”Watch it free:

Bridget Bowman of Roll Call reports a controversial “screening, press conference, or meeting” – it became unclear exactly what it was after a G.O.P. rules challenge  – last night, in the Capital Visitors Center Center of  ‘Koch Brothers Exposed’ Film Premieres, but Democrats Take No Questions. The Republicans accused Democrats of impropriety, and the Democrats basically said. … well why don’t you read about it … you will get a chuckle I think.

“The Koch brothers’ tentacles have sunken deep into our democracy and deep into the Republican Party,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told the few dozen interested people and reporters in attendance. “That’s evident by the fact they even tried to stop us from having this meeting.”

Republicans accused Democrats of violating the rules about film premiers on Capital grogugd, but Democrats responded that the rules did not apply to the room in the CVC and that, anyway, the event wasn’t a “screening,” but rather was a press conference. A press release describing the event called it a screening but that apparently was  misprint. (snark alert.)  And, although the press release advertised a “Q and A with Pelosi and Reid” neither took questions after their speeches.

Ah, it must be nice to be the Senate Majority Leader. The Report did not indicate where Senate Majority Reid told Republican they could send their complaints. I can only image there must be a special place. (Humor alert. Just as he discovered the CVC was “special room.” That ones of the reasons Reid is the Majority Leader as he is very clever about rules. Senator Sanders didn’t take questions either but CQ Roll Call did ask him questions as he was leaving.

“I didn’t make that decision but I think it’s important that we do hold it,” the Vermont Independent said.  “We’re dealing with campaign finance reform.  And if you’re interested in education, climate change, health care, any other major issue facing this country, you have got to be concerned about campaign finance reform.”

The film itself highlights the Koch brothers’ influence on the political process and incorporates ominous music and a narrator with a Southern drawl.  It updates Greenwald’s 2012 Koch brothers film and focuses on their role in the Citizens United decision and their opposition to raising the minimum wage.  Roughly half of the 2014 edition includes new content, including interviews with Reid, who has launched a crusade against the Kochs in Congress.

At the event last night at the Capital Visitor center two clips from the film were shown providing “an overview of the Kochs’ political donations and the story of Erica Jackson, a minimum wage worker, who called the Kochs’ opposition to a federal rate increase ridiculous.”

For a limited tine, Brave New Films is streaming the film for free online. You are invited to make a donation, however for a limited time you may watch the film for free. This video is on Youtube now and possible to embed, however, considering Robert Greenwalds generosity in making this video freely available the day after its premier the least we can do is go to his site to watch it and please consider making even just a small donation.

Even a small donation such as $5.00 will mean a great deal symbolically to all of the dedicated progressive video artist, researchers, video producers, distributors and others who have worked so hard to maker this possible. As someone who works as a volunteer I can attest to how greatly appreciated the acknowledgement of you tips, recs, and comments, are by me and other emerging writers are here. So please follow the link to their site and enjoy this fine educational expose. Thanks – HD

Follow the link to watch.

Koch Brothers Exposed: 2014 Edition