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Awakenings.


Self-explanatory. The on-the-button Serkis voiceover threatens lameness, but I like John Boyega’s urgency, and was surprised to see Oscar Isaac in an X-Wing (given that I heard/presumed he was the Han of the new cast.) Show me more!

Update These characters’ names are released on throwback-style Topps cards: Boyega is “Finn,” Ridley “Rey,” Isaac “Poe Dameron,” the shadowy Sith fellow “Kylo Ren,” and the wheeldroid is BB-8. But who is Tenzing Norgay?

At Fifteen, A Re-Shuffle.

Yes, very quiet around here as of late, but for once I have very good reasons. Before I get into those, let’s get the anniversary out of the way. As of this past weekend, Ghost in the Machine is now 15 years old. [0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. 11, 12, 13, 14.]

I’ll forego the usual retrospective about the date, partly because that’s already been done a few times (say, at the ten-year mark), and partly because one should probably post more than once every 2-3 weeks, as I’ve been doing the past few months, to qualify for that sort of navel-gazing. In any event, my focus at the moment is on the future. To wit, if you haven’t seen it via other social media, some big life changes of late:

As of three weeks ago, and after five+ years in the House — specifically with Rep. Rosa DeLauro — I’ve transferred over from Rayburn to the Watergate and am now speechwriting for the National Trust For Historic Preservation. In fact, I just spent last week down in beautiful Savannah, Georgia for PastForward 2014 (their/our annual conference).

It’s been a hitting-the-ground-running affair ’round these parts, but so far, so great. It’s been refreshing to get involved with an organization that is history-, present-, and future-minded, and to get some respite from the often-Sisyphean environment of the House.

And as of two weeks ago — tho’ there are boxes everywhere and much work to be done — I left my 1BR bungalow of five-plus years in Dupont and moved to a snazzy deluxe 2-BR apartment in the sky on Capitol Hill, along with my girlfriend Amy and her 6-year-old bichon, Murf. (Berk and he overlapped for a little over a year — They went from some minor tensions between them to, before the old man’s passing, a cultivated and studious disinterest.)

So lots of change, all of it for the better, but, yes, the Ghost has suffered even more than usual. Still, while there’s always a lot of work these days, I think I’ve now made it through the major gauntlet, and GitM should be able to get a little more attention in the year ahead.

Either way, if you’ve been stopping by since 1999 or here for the first time, thanks, as always, for stopping by.

Now as Ever, GOP-Lite Won’t Work.

“On Tuesday night, a lot of Republican-ish candidates got crushed by the official Republican candidates, confirming yet again that a gutless, wincing version of one kind of politics always loses to the robust one. Nobody first starts drinking Diet Coke because they think it tastes better, and the only people who keep drinking it are the ones who’ve drunk nothing else for so long that actual flavor seems weird. Why vote for someone hesitantly and semi-apologetically tacking toward the right when you can just vote for someone who goes balls-to-the-wall rightward and is damn proud of it? At least that person gives off the sense of actually enjoying his own beliefs.”

THIS. Part of the upside of being newly off-the-Hill is I can escape a bit further from the dreariness of much of current politics, so no absurdly-belated, long midterm post this year. Besides, The Guardian‘s Jeb Lund has already well-articulated where I am on all this: Give people a choice between a Republican and a Republican and the Republican will win every time:

“[W]hether the Democratic Party stands for anything is a perfectly valid question at this point. On a macro level, a party that is already thoroughly militarized and corporatized — and largely indifferent to Main Street whenever it poses a conflict with Wall Street — offers little alternative to the other party that already celebrates that.”

Sure, the ground in 2014 always heavily favored the GOP: This was a six-year midterm, Class 2 year, and the seats up for reelection swung heavily Democratic six years ago, in that faraway, hopey-changey time of 2008. Still, when you have a party that hardly, if ever, has the courage of its convictions anymore, coupled with a President who seemed at times to be actively trying to discourage the base, little wonder that the lowest turnout since 1942 brought forth another shellacking. As Richard said, a withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy.

So, yeah, bad times for the Democratic brand, and no mistake. The good news is the long-term story hasn’t changed: Republicans are still drawing dead, demographically speaking, even though they’ll probably hold the House until at least 2020 due to gerrymandering (and now, thanks to these 2014 results, will likely be able to hold the Senate for the first two years of the next presidency.) And, even better, Americans strongly supported progressive positions two weeks ago, be it on the minimum wage, marijuana, or misdemeanors.

But Dems can’t just assume the government will eventually devolve to them by fiat. We’re going to have to quit thinking the endless “but the other team is crazy-pants” blather will carry us over the top, and actually put up candidates that will stand for something other than GOP-lite camouflage. Of course, our 2016 standard-bearer is, at least at the moment, undoubtedly Hillary Clinton, sooo…I’m sure everything’s going to work out great.

Don’t Blame Me, I Voted For Grommash.

Aaahoo, Warlords of Draenor, aahooo On top of all the other busy-ness of late, WOW’s latest expansion, Warlords of Draenor is now off and away as of last Tuesday, meaning more off hours shoring up the garrison and leveling my almost-nine-year-old rogue (and his army of alts) to all-new, rarefied three-digit heights. (I dinged 100 last night, with three more zones and lots more content to explore.) Aaahoo…

Deeper Down the Portal.

“When Flemmer gets wind of this he teleports to the theater (freezing Charles Nelson Reillly in time along the way) and takes control of the Truman puppet during the second act of Equus…[It] starts juggling bowling pins while playing the psychiatrist and Malkovich has seizures, levitates and breathes fire while playing Alan Strang. The Truman puppet turns into a giant swan, which bursts into flames, and then from the ashes of the swan the corpse of the real Harry S Truman rises and implores the audience to vote for Mantini.”

As seen at io9, Devin Faraci reveals the originally-planned ending of Being John Malkovich, and it’s out there alright. This reads like the textbook definition of “Too Many Notes” — I much prefer the filmed version, and especially its haunting final moment.

The Fields Under Lock and Key | In Eclipse.

“Miller, whose parents would rouse him in the wee hours to watch space launches, was awestruck by Launch Complex 19, where the manned Gemini missions took off. It was slowly rusting away, and Miller resolved to photograph it while there was still time. It took two years of haggling before he made his first images of Cape Canaveral…Since then, he has photographed sites nationwide, including Johnson & Kennedy space centers, the Marshall & Stennis Space Flight centers, Langley Research Center and many more.”

In Wired, photographer Roland Miller captures the decaying infrastructure of the early space race. “As launch pads were replaced, retrofitted or decommissioned, Miller was invited inside. By his estimate, 50 percent of the things he’s photographed no longer exist. ‘It’s not in NASA’s mission to conserve these sites,’ he says. ‘With shrinking budgets it’s an impossible thing to do.'”

***

“There’s not only last week’s deadly crash by Virgin Galactic, which hoped to launch widespread space tourism, or the unexpected explosion of a rocket headed toward the International Space Station. The United States also retired the space shuttle fleet in 2011. And…we now spend less on NASA — relative to the wealth of overall economy — than at any point in history.”

In very related news, and in the wake of Interstellar (which, on account of all the reasons I just mentioned, I haven’t seen yet), the Post‘s Zachary Goldfarb briefly surveys our current neglect of the space program. (Here’s what we’ve got planned at the moment.) “As recently as 2012, polling showed that more Americans than ever before thought that we were spending too little.”

The Lander That Could.

“‘Prior to falling silent, the lander was able to transmit all science data gathered during the First Science Sequence,’ lander manager Stephan Ulamec said in a statement. ‘This machine performed magnificently under tough conditions, and we can be fully proud of the incredible scientific success Philae has delivered’…’The data collected by Philae and Rosetta is set to make this mission a game-changer in cometary science,’ said Matt Taylor, ESA’s Rosetta project scientist.”

After traveling 4 billion miles, accomplishing an exhilarating landing on a 84,000-mph moving target, and, after 57 hours of work in an unfortunately dark location, successfully sending a valedictory round of data, the ESA’s history-making Philae probe falls into slumber. “We still hope that at a later stage of the mission, perhaps when we are nearer to the Sun, we might have enough solar illumination to wake up the lander and re-establish communication.” Rest well, little lander — ya did good.

An Infant System.

“[T]he most breathtaking aspects of the image are the rings and gaps in the disk, never imaged before in this much detail. The largest gaps likely contain protoplanets, which form by collecting gas, dust, and small meteoroid fragments, gradually clearing their orbit of that debris. The combination of those gaps and the young age of HL Tauri suggest planets may form more quickly than astronomers think.”

Also in space news, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) captures our best look yet at potential planetary formation around a newborn star, 450 light years away. “The disk surrounding HL Tauri is much bigger than Neptune’s orbit, so any planet in the gaps would at least begin at a larger orbit than the major planets in the Solar System. Additionally, other gaps could be ‘resonances': orbits where the combined gravity of the star and protoplanets drive matter out, concentrating it in the rings.”

Spectre in the Contraption.

“Since time immemorial, humans have traded stories about ghosts and wraiths — haunting presences that are strongly felt but never seen. Mountaineers often report feeling an unseen presence keeping in step beside them…Blanke was seeing the same phenomenon at work in his patient, but with one critical difference: he could turn it on and off.”

In a nifty experiment involving movement-mimicking robots and a brief time delay, scientists uncover a potential neurological basis for sensing ghostly phenomena. “The mismatched sensory and motor information confused their brains…If those…didn’t match up, my brain would revise its perception of reality to account for the discrepancies. Maybe I’m not inside my body at all, it might think. Maybe I’m over there.”

The Forgotten ‘Buster.

“The night before filming begins, however, I get this new script and it was shocking. The character was gone. Instead of coming in at the very beginning of the movie, like page 8, the character came in on page 68 after the Ghostbusters were established. His elaborate background was all gone, replaced by me walking in and saying, ‘If there’s a steady paycheck in it, I’ll believe anything you say.’ So that was pretty devastating.”

Thirty years after its release, Ernie Hudson opens up about his conflicted feelings on being “the fourth Ghostbuster.” “Winston wasn’t included in the movie poster or the trailer and all that stuff…I love the movie, I love the guys. I’m very thankful to Ivan for casting me. I’m very thankful that fans appreciate the Winston character. But it’s always been very frustrating — kind of a love/hate thing, I guess.”

Ready Player One.

“Dig Dug, Berzerk, Frogger, Tetris, Donkey Kong, Street Fighter II — they are all there.” In the spirit of preservation, killing productivity, and saving me trips to, and quarters spent, at the Columbia Heights laundromat, the Internet Archive — keepers of the always useful Wayback Machine — now offers 900 old-school, browser-ready arcade games for your nostalgic pleasure. “Firefox [is] best optimized to run these free games.”

Let’s Make Another One.

“‘It’s neat because the posters aren’t just something with a “2” attached to it,’ Gibson said during a recent interview while preparing to hang the show. ‘There’s concepts, and there’s actual story being developed here.'”

There’re actually sequel ideas they’re not using? The iam8bit gallery in Los Angeles features a fun exhibition of posters for sequels that never were, or at the very least, have not yet come to pass. (More here.)

No Strings Attached. | Legions Ahead.


Still catching up on unfinished business from Less than Zero, James Spader terrorizes Robert Downey Jr. and the rest of Marvel’s mightiest superheroes in the first teaser for Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. The sea of generic Ultron clones seems really close to the ersatz-Skrulls of Avengers and robot armies of past two Iron Mans, but everyone’s gotta have stormtroopers, I guess.

And in very related news, DC and Marvel have released their respective movie calendars for the next six years. The wanna-be contenders at Warner Brothers/Detective Comics are going with Zack Snyder’s Batman v. Superman and two Justice League movies, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman (set in the 20’s? I like it), The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Shazam (with The Rock as Black Adam), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and — sorry, Ryan Reynolds — a re-booted Green Lantern.

As for the current champs, Disney/Marvel, along with next year’s Ant-Man, we have two more Avengers (Infinity War, 1 and 2, a.k.a. Thanos time), the next installments of Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America (Civil War) and Thor (Ragnarok), and new additions Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch? I still like Luke Evans), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Captain Marvel, and The Inhumans. Yes, we live in a universe that is actually going to have an Inhumans movie. Invest in Lockjaw dog costumes now.

Got all that? If not, the good folks at ComicsAlliance have made a handy infographic, below. And this isn’t even counting the gaggle of comic TV shows now on or forthcoming. Great Caesar’s Ghost, fanboy/fangirl nation, what have we wrought?

It is Happening Again.

“To quote Agent Cooper, ‘I have no idea where this will lead us, but I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange.'” It is happening again: In far and away the biggest culture news this past month I’ve been away, after 25 years (as promised), Twin Peaks is returning to TV(!!) “According to a press release from Showtime, “Twin Peaks” will be a limited series of nine episodes. Lynch and Frost will write and produce each one and Lynch will direct all nine.” (More details here.)

Now this here is big doings, and no mistake. (And, whatever else may be depressing about life in the so-called space age, how great is it that we live in a world that provides MOAR Twin Peaks, MOAR Arrested Development, MOAR Doctor Who, MOAR Farscape, MOAR Han-Luke-Leia Star Wars outings? Let’s get cracking on Deadwood‘s return already!)

Since this announcement, I’ve been rewatching Twin Peaks again while packing up boxes and — while I’m only into early Season 2 — been delighted to find that it totally holds up. Like many folks around my age, the show was a staple of my early high school years, and watching it is as much of an instant time capsule to the early 1990’s as the 120 Minutes archive. Finally actually finding out what happened to Dale after the Black Lodge? Now that is something I did not expect. Can’t wait.

When They’ve Raised Hell, You’ll Know It.

“So, to quote J. K. Simmons in his magisterially wicked coda to Burn After Reading, ‘What did we learn, Palmer?’ Well, for my part, I learned a few things…More significantly, I learned — or rather re-learned — that the Coens have made an awful lot of really good movies. Out of all 16 features, I enjoyed re-watching all but two: The Ladykillers, which I have always considered their worst effort by orders of magnitude; and, somewhat to my surprise, The Hudsucker Proxy, which I’d always placed in their bottom tier, but which I had looked forward to giving another try.”

On the thirtieth anniversary of Blood Simple — and as we all await Hail Caesar!The Atlantic‘s Chris Orr has revisited and ranked all sixteen Coen films in sixteen days. I’d quibble with some of the rankings of course — Lebowski and A Serious Man are top-shelf, imo, and Intolerable Cruelty is oft-overlooked — but anybody who has Miller’s Crossing atop their list is my kinda people. Character. Ethics.

Obviously, You’re Not a Golfer.

“The rug is a moveable barrier which move backwards to reveal more of the rug as the shot is repeatedly hit. Unrolling the rug really pulls the room together and starts one of the modes featured below.”

Speaking of the brothers, it might be a really good time to kidnap yourself, dude: The Dutch Pinball team just made us all privy to the new sh*t at a launch party for their all-new, fully licensed, and very spiffy Big Lebowski pinball machine — available 2Q, 2015 for the ransom of 8500 simoleons (tho’ for your information, the Supreme Court has roundly rejected multi-ball.)

Here’s the official site. If I had ridiculous money/room to burn and were the sort to treat objects like women, man, I’d buy one in a heartbeat.

The Grandmasters.

“To you and me, going unbeaten and undrawn in five straight tournament games sounds impressive. But to chess aficionados, Caruana’s performance is nigh on miraculous. It’s frightfully difficult to straight-up stomp another top-10 international grandmaster…Yet Caruana wasn’t merely avoiding draws and losses. In the words of one commentator, he was ‘spanking’ his opponents.”

Need a new sport in these corrupt-NFL, steroid-ridden MLB times? (I myself have opted for EPL and MLS futbol.) Old friend Seth Stevenson makes the case for chess from the 2014 Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis, “one of the most emotional, dramatic, newsworthy chess events of the past 40 years…I encourage you to tune in for some of the championship series in Sochi…Perhaps you’ll get swept up in the beauty of this 1,500-year-old pastime. Start to learn a few openings. Maybe some defenses. Eventually yearn to execute a perfect smothered mate. It really is a seductive game.”

Then the Rich Got Richer.

“Through midcentury, when times were good economically, most of the benefits trickled down to the bottom 90 percent of households. Then came the Reagan era and actual trickle-down economics. Suddenly, the benefits started sticking with the rich. Since 2001, the top 10 percent have enjoyed virtually all of the gains.”

As making the rounds of late, a devastating graph of rising income inequality in America, “post-trickle-down”. “This isn’t a totally new story. But it is a vivid and visceral illustration of what we’ve basically known to be true for a while.”

Along the same lines, Mother Jones is posting a new chart on income inequality every day this week. “In the past few years, we’ve heard a lot about overtaxed ‘job creators’ and freeloading ‘takers.’ But consider this: As the income rates for the wealthiest have plunged, their incomes have shot up.”

If it’s any consolation, presumptive 45th president Hillary Clinton has recently talked to friends and donors in business about how to tackle income inequality without alienating businesses or castigating the wealthy.” Er…sorry, that’s not going to get it done.

Goodbye to all that.

“If half the animals died in London zoo next week it would be front page news,’ said Prof. Ken Norris, ZSL’s director of science. ‘But that is happening in the great outdoors. This damage is not inevitable but a consequence of the way we choose to live.'”

A sobering analysis by WWF and the Zoological Society of London finds that Earth has lost half(!) its wildlife over the past four decades (Those g*dd*mned parrotfish notwithstanding, of course.) “Creatures across land, rivers and the seas are being decimated as humans kill them for food in unsustainable numbers, while polluting or destroying their habitats…Today’s average global rate of consumption would need 1.5 planet Earths to sustain it. But four planets would be required to sustain US levels of consumption, or 2.5 Earths to match UK consumption levels.”

In related news, PriceWaterhouse runs the accelerating numbers on climate change and predicts a catastrophe within only twenty years, including “food security threats, coastal inundation, extreme weather events, ecosystem shifts, and widespread species extinction…at current rates, we’re headed towards 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit of warming by the end of the century—twice the agreed upon rate…G20 nations, for example, will need to cut their annual energy-related emissions by one-third by 2030, and by just over half by 2050.”

And here, the National Snow and Ice Data Center graphs the melting of the Arctic over the past 35 years. “The frigid dissolution, which the NSIDC calls ‘one of the most visible indicators of our changing climate,’ is worrying news as the ice plays a big role in reflecting solar radiation away from the planet. With less of it covering the ocean, the Northern Hemisphere will likely heat up quicker, hastening our arrival to the days of dangerously high sea levels.” And if — at this exceedingly late date — you don’t want to believe the science, ask the walruses.

It’s not like this all is a secret. We just saw the largest climate change march in history take place in New York. But you wouldn’t know about the threat we face from watching the news, who’ve (erroneously) decided that the real existential danger to life on this planet are ISIS (wrong) and Ebola (closer, still wrong.) Wolf Blitzer et al, you’re digging in the wrong place.

Also, the Cheese is a Trap.

“The researchers had mice run through a maze to get a reward of chocolate milk. The animals could figure out the location of the reward either through sensory cues such as rough or smooth floors, which corresponds to declarative learning. Or, they could discover the reward was always linked to either a left or right turn, which corresponds to procedural learning. The investigators discovered the mice with the human form of FOXP2 learned profoundly faster than regular mice when both declarative and procedural forms of learning were involved.”

Scared and smarter: In an experiment right out of the The Secret of NIMH, researchers discover that mice learn faster after being given a gene linked to human speech. ‘What surprised me most was that the humanized gene actually improved the animal’s behavior rather than messing up the system.'” Remember…Dubya did try to warn us.

Incantation

"A barking dog is often more useful than a sleeping lion." -- Washington Irving

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