Ray Bradbury on Edgar Rice Burroughs

From Sam Weller’s interview of Ray Bradbury in “The Art of Fiction No. 203” (The Paris Review: Spring 2010, No. 192):

But as it turns out—and I love to say it because it upsets everyone terribly—[Edgar Rice] Burroughs is probably the most influential writer in the entire history of the world.

INTERVIEWER Why do you think that?

BRADBURY By giving romance and adventure to a whole generation of boys, Burroughs caused them to go out and decide to become special. That’s what we have to do for everyone, give the gift of life with our books. Say to a girl or boy at age ten, Hey, life is fun! Grow tall! I’ve talked to more biochemists and more astronomers and technologists in various fields, who, when they were ten years old, fell in love with John Carter and Tarzan and decided to become something romantic. Burroughs put us on the moon. All the technologists read Burroughs. I was once at Caltech with a whole bunch of scientists and they all admitted it. Two leading astronomers—one from Cornell, the other from Caltech—came out and said, Yeah, that’s why we became astronomers. We wanted to see Mars more closely.

Woody Allen’s atheism

From Robert E. Lauder’s interview with Woody Allen, “Whatever Works” (Commonweal: 15 April 2010):

Well, you know, you want some kind of relief from the agony and terror of human existence. Human existence is a brutal experience to me…it’s a brutal, meaningless experience—an agonizing, meaningless experience with some oases, delight, some charm and peace, but these are just small oases. Overall, it is a brutal, brutal, terrible experience, and so it’s what can you do to alleviate the agony of the human condition, the human predicament?

I’m really impotent against the overwhelming bleakness of the universe and that the only thing I can do is my little gift and do it the best I can, and that is about the best I can do, which is cold comfort.

I also feel that humor, just like Fred Astaire dance numbers or these lightweight musicals, gives you a little oasis. You are in this horrible world and for an hour and a half you duck into a dark room and it’s air-conditioned and the sun is not blinding you and you leave the terror of the universe behind and you are completely transported into an escapist situation. The women are beautiful, the men are witty and heroic, nobody has terrible problems and this is a delightful escapist thing, and you leave the theatre refreshed. It’s like drinking a cool lemonade and then after a while you get worn down again and you need it again.

there are these oases, and life is horrible, but it is not relentlessly black from wire to wire. You can sit down and hear a Mozart symphony, or you can watch the Marx Brothers, and this will give you a pleasant escape for a while. And that is about the best that you can do… I feel that one can come up with all these rationalizations and seemingly astute observations, but I think I said it well at the end of Deconstructing Harry: we all know the same truth; our lives consist of how we choose to distort it, and that’s it. Everybody knows how awful the world is and what a terrible situation it is and each person distorts it in a certain way that enables him to get through. Some people distort it with religious things. Some people distort it with sports, with money, with love, with art, and they all have their own nonsense about what makes it meaningful, and all but nothing makes it meaningful. These things definitely serve a certain function, but in the end they all fail to give life meaning and everyone goes to his grave in a meaningless way.

I feel that is true—that one can commit a crime, do unspeakable things, and get away with it. There are people who commit all sorts of crimes and get away with it, and some of them are plagued with all sorts of guilt for the rest of their lives and others aren’t. They commit terrible crimes and they have wonderful lives, wonderful, happy lives, with families and children, and they have done unspeakably terrible things. There is no justice, there is no rational structure to it. That is just the way it is, and each person figures out some way to cope…. Some people cope better than others. I was with Billy Graham once, and he said that even if it turned out in the end that there is no God and the universe is empty, he would still have had a better life than me. I understand that. If you can delude yourself by believing that there is some kind of Santa Claus out there who is going to bail you out in the end, then it will help you get through. Even if you are proven wrong in the end, you would have had a better life.

I didn’t see [Shane, from the movie Shane] as a martyred figure, a persecuted figure. I saw him as quite a heroic figure who does a job that needs to be done, a practical matter. I saw him as a practical secular character. In this world there are just some people who need killing and that is just the way it is. It sounds terrible, but there is no other way to get around that, and most of us are not up to doing it, incapable for moral reasons or physically not up to it. And Shane is a person who saw what had to be done and went out and did it. He had the skill to do it, and that’s the way I feel about the world: there are certain problems that can only be dealt with that way. As ugly a truth as that is, I do think it’s the truth about the world.

David Foster Wallace on being a tourist

From David Foster Wallace’s “Consider the Lobster” (Gourmet: ):

As I see it, it probably really is good for the soul to be a tourist, even if it’s only once in a while. Not good for the soul in a refreshing or enlivening way, though, but rather in a grim, steely-eyed, let’s-look-honestly-at-the-facts-and-find-some-way-to-deal-with-them way. My personal experience has not been that traveling around the country is broadening or relaxing, or that radical changes in place and context have a salutary effect, but rather that intranational tourism is radically constricting, and humbling in the hardest way—hostile to my fantasy of being a real individual, of living somehow outside and above it all. (Coming up is the part that my companions find especially unhappy and repellent, a sure way to spoil the fun of vacation travel:) To be a mass tourist, for me, is to become a pure late-date American: alien, ignorant, greedy for something you cannot ever have, disappointed in a way you can never admit. It is to spoil, by way of sheer ontology, the very unspoiledness you are there to experience. It is to impose yourself on places that in all noneconomic ways would be better, realer, without you. It is, in lines and gridlock and transaction after transaction, to confront a dimension of yourself that is as inescapable as it is painful: As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing.

Roger Ebert on death

From Roger Ebert’s “Go gentle into that good night” (Roger Ebert’s Journal: 2 May 2009):

What I expect will most probably happen [when I die] is that my body will fail, my mind will cease to function, and that will be that. My genes will not live on, because I have had no children. Perhaps I have been infertile. If I discover that somewhere along the way I conceived a child, let that child step forward and he or she will behold a happy man. Through my wife, I have had stepchildren and grandchildren, and I love them unconditionally, which is the only kind of love worth bothering with.

I am comforted by Richard Dawkins’ theory of memes. Those are mental units: thoughts, ideas, gestures, notions, songs, beliefs, rhymes, ideals, teachings, sayings, phrases, clichés, that move from mind to mind as genes move from body to body. After a lifetime of writing, teaching, broadcasting and happily torturing people with my jokes, I will leave behind more memes than many. They will all eventually die as well, but so it goes.

I drank for many years in a tavern that had a photograph of Brendan Behan on the wall, and under it this quotation, which I memorized:

I respect kindness in human beings first of all, and kindness to animals. I don’t respect the law; I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer.

For 57 words, that does a pretty good job of summing it up. “Kindness” covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. Kindness is why I vote liberal and not conservative–but let’s not go there, not today. I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.

Why we can easily remember jingles but not jokes

From Natalie Angier’s “In One Ear and Out the Other” (The New York Times: 16 March 2009):

In understanding human memory and its tics, Scott A. Small, a neurologist and memory researcher at Columbia, suggests the familiar analogy with computer memory.

We have our version of a buffer, he said, a short-term working memory of limited scope and fast turnover rate. We have our equivalent of a save button: the hippocampus, deep in the forebrain is essential for translating short-term memories into a more permanent form.

Our frontal lobes perform the find function, retrieving saved files to embellish as needed. And though scientists used to believe that short- and long-term memories were stored in different parts of the brain, they have discovered that what really distinguishes the lasting from the transient is how strongly the memory is engraved in the brain, and the thickness and complexity of the connections linking large populations of brain cells. The deeper the memory, the more readily and robustly an ensemble of like-minded neurons will fire.

This process, of memory formation by neuronal entrainment, helps explain why some of life’s offerings weasel in easily and then refuse to be spiked. Music, for example. “The brain has a strong propensity to organize information and perception in patterns, and music plays into that inclination,” said Michael Thaut, a professor of music and neuroscience at Colorado State University. “From an acoustical perspective, music is an overstructured language, which the brain invented and which the brain loves to hear.”

A simple melody with a simple rhythm and repetition can be a tremendous mnemonic device. “It would be a virtually impossible task for young children to memorize a sequence of 26 separate letters if you just gave it to them as a string of information,” Dr. Thaut said. But when the alphabet is set to the tune of the ABC song with its four melodic phrases, preschoolers can learn it with ease.

And what are the most insidious jingles or sitcom themes but cunning variations on twinkle twinkle ABC?

Really great jokes, on the other hand, punch the lights out of do re mi. They work not by conforming to pattern recognition routines but by subverting them. “Jokes work because they deal with the unexpected, starting in one direction and then veering off into another,” said Robert Provine, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the author of “Laughter: A Scientific Investigation.” “What makes a joke successful are the same properties that can make it difficult to remember.”

This may also explain why the jokes we tend to remember are often the most clichéd ones. A mother-in-law joke? Yes…

Kids & adults use social networking sites differently

From danah boyd’s “Social Media is Here to Stay… Now What?” at the Microsoft Research Tech Fest, Redmond, Washington (danah: 26 February 2009):

For American teenagers, social network sites became a social hangout space, not unlike the malls in which I grew up or the dance halls of yesteryears. This was a place to gather with friends from school and church when in-person encounters were not viable. Unlike many adults, teenagers were never really networking. They were socializing in pre-exiting groups.

Social network sites became critically important to them because this was where they sat and gossiped, jockeyed for status, and functioned as digital flaneurs. They used these tools to see and be seen. …

Teen conversations may appear completely irrational, or pointless at best. “Yo, wazzup?” “Not much, how you?” may not seem like much to an outsider, but this is a form of social grooming. It’s a way of checking in, confirming friendships, and negotiating social waters.

Adults have approached Facebook in very different ways. Adults are not hanging out on Facebook. They are more likely to respond to status messages than start a conversation on someone’s wall (unless it’s their birthday of course). Adults aren’t really decorating their profiles or making sure that their About Me’s are up-to-date. Adults, far more than teens, are using Facebook for its intended purpose as a social utility. For example, it is a tool for communicating with the past.

Adults may giggle about having run-ins with mates from high school, but underneath it all, many of them are curious. This isn’t that different than the school reunion. … Teenagers craft quizzes for themselves and their friends. Adults are crafting them to show-off to people from the past and connect the dots between different audiences as a way of coping with the awkwardness of collapsed contexts.

A one-way ticket to crazyville

Tanguma's The Children of the World Dream of P...
Image by rsgranne via Flickr
Tanguma's The Children of the World Dream of P...
Image by rsgranne via Flickr
Tanguma's The Children of the World Dream of P...
Image by rsgranne via Flickr

From Dave Alan’s “Interview with Alex Christopher” (Leading Edge Research Group: 1 June 1996):

Legend: DA [Dave Alan, Host] AC: [Alex Christopher] C: [Caller]

(Note: according to former British Intelligence agent Dr. John Coleman, the London-based Wicca Mason lodges are one-third of the overall global conspiracy. The other two thirds are the Black Nobility banking families who claim direct descent from the early Roman emperors, and also the Maltese Jesuits or the Jesuit – Knights of Malta network. All three networks each have 13 representatives within the Bilderberg organization, which is a cover for the Bavarian Illuminati, suggestive that Bavaria itself has orchestrated a “marriage of convenience” between these three formerly competitive global control groups. – Branton)

AC: All right. The information, primarily, that is in “Pandora’s Box” covers how the major corporations, railroad and banking concerns in this country were set up through a ‘trust’ that was originally known as the Virginia Company… The deal was that everything would remain under English control, or subservient to it, and that brings us right up to today, because we are still looking at everything falling under that ‘trust’ system going back to the Crown of England. It is mind boggling to think that everyone in this country has been led to believe that the people in the United States had won independence from England, when in fact they never did.

AC: The capstone, or the dedication stone, for the Denver airport has a Masonic symbol on it. A whole group of us went out to the airport to see some friends off and see this capstone, which also has a time capsule imbedded inside it. It sits at the south eastern side of the terminal which, by the way, is called “The Great Hall”, which is what Masons refer to as their meeting hall. And, on this thing it mentions “the New World Airport Commission”. …

AC: It has a Masonic symbol on it, and it also has very unusual geometric designs. It depicts an arm rising up out of it that curves at a 45 degree angle. It also has a thing that looks like a keypad on it. This capstone structure is made of carved granite and stainless steel, and it is very fancy.. This little keypad area at the end of the arm has an out-of-place unfinished wooden block sitting on it. The gentleman that was with me on the first trip out to the airport has since died. They say he committed suicide, but everything else tells me that this is not possible. No one can double-tie a catheter behind his own neck and strangle himself. I just don’t think that is possible. But, his name was Phil Schneider, and he started blowing the whistle on all this stuff going on in the underground bases that he had helped build for years and years. He worked on the underground bases at Area 51 and Dulce, New Mexico, as well as several other places. Schneider told me that this keypad-looking area looked like a form of techno-geometry that is “alien-oriented”, and that it had something to do with a “directional system”, whatever that meant, that functioned as a homing beacon to bring ships right into the “Great Hall”.

(Note: … Remember even through the Bilderbergers consist of a “marriage of convenience” between Londonese Wicca Masons, Basilian Black Nobility and Roman Maltese Jesuits… the supreme controllers of the Bildeberger cult itself are the secret black Gnostic cults of Bavaria whose ‘Cult of the Serpent’ — or Illuminati — can be traced back to Egypt and ultimately to Babylon itself. These Rockefeller-Nazi projects reportedly continued through at least 1975 during which period many thousands more “underground Nazis” were brought into America from Europe and also, if we are to believe some reports, from the secret German “New Berlin” base under the mountains of Neu Schwabenland, Antarctica that was established during World War II via Nazi-occupied South Africa. Is Neu Schwabenland the REAL power behind the joint Bavarian-Alien New World Order Agenda? …)

AC: … It took myself and two other people over eight months to figure out all the symbology that is embodied in these murals. It turned out that some of these are ‘trigger’ pictures, containing symbology designed to trigger altered personalities of people that have been groomed in MKULTRA type programs for specific tasks that they have been trained to do in terms of something connected with Satanic rituals and mind control. I had one woman that called me out of the blue one night, and she was really disturbed about some information. She told me many different things that later turned out to be known MKULTRA triggers. Also, almost every aspect of these murals contains symbols relating back to secret societies. When you get the overall view of what they are talking about in these things, it is very very scary. It goes back to the Bio-diversity Treaty, getting rid of specific races of people, taking over the world and mind control.

AC: Well, the gentleman that I was dealing with, Phil Schneider, said that during the last year of construction they were connecting the underground airport system to the deep underground base. He told me that there was at least an eight-level deep underground base there, and that there was a 4.5 square mile underground city and an 88.5 square-mile base underneath the airport.

DA: You were telling me that there are huge concrete corridors with sprinklers all along the ceiling. What are these sprinkler heads doing in a concrete bunker, pray tell? (Presumably concrete will not ‘burn’ if there is a potential fire, so is it possible that something other than ‘water’ is meant to be expelled from these sprinklers which are located “all along” the ceiling? – Branton)

AC: I think a lot of the people saw things that disturbed them so much that they would not talk about it. I know several people who worked on the project that managed to find their way down into the depths, probably close to the deep underground base, and saw things that scared them so badly they won’t talk about it. I interviewed a few of the former employees on these construction crews that worked out there on these buildings that ended up buried, and they are afraid to talk. They say that everybody is real nervous about it, and they decided to tell some of the secrets that they knew, but they don’t want anybody to know who they are. So, I can tell you that it is a very unusual and spooky type of place, and if you are a sensitive person you get nauseated as soon as you enter the perimeter of the airport. Especially when you go down underground. You become very nauseated a nervous. There is also so much electromagnetic flux in the area that if you get out on the open ground around the airport, you will ‘buzz’.

AC: If Phil is right, and all this hooks up to the deep underground base that he was offered the plans to build back in 1979, and that what this other man TOLD me in private [is] that there is a lot of human SLAVE LABOR in these deep underground bases being used by these aliens, and that a lot of this slave labor is children. HE SAID that when the children reach the point that they are unable to work any more, they are slaughtered on the spot and consumed.

DA: Consumed by who?

AC: Aliens. Again, this is not from me, but from a man that gave his life to get this information out. He worked down there for close to 20 years, and he knew everything that was going on.

DA: Hmmm. Who do these aliens eat?

AC: They specifically like young human children, that haven’t been contaminated like adults. Well, there is a gentleman out giving a lot of information from a source he gets it from, and he says that there is an incredible number of children snatched in this country.

DA: Over 200,000 each year.

AC: And that these children are the main entree for dinner.

AC: Yes. From some information that has been put out by a group or team that also works in these underground bases that is trying to get information out to people that love this country, THERE IS A WAR THAT IS GOING ON UNDER OUT FEET, AND ABOVE OUR HEADS, that the public doesn’t know anything about, and its between these ALIEN forces and the HUMANS that are trying to fight them.

DA: What other types have you seen?

AC: The ones that I have seen are the big-eyed Greys and the Reptilians.

DA: What do these Reptilians look like?

AC: There are three different types.

AC: … Anyway, they were both totally flipped out. I finally got them calmed down enough to let me go home. I went home and went to bed. The next thing I know, I woke up and there is this ‘thing’ standing over my bed. He had wrap-around yellow eyes with snake pupils, and pointed ears and a grin that wrapped around his head. He had a silvery suit on, and this scared the living daylights out of me. I threw the covers over my head and started screaming….I mean, here is this thing with a Cheshire-cat grin and these funky glowing eyes…this is too much. I have seen that kind of being on more than one occasion.

DA: What else can you say about it?

AC: Well, he had a hooked nose and he was [humanoid] looking, other than the eyes, and had kind of grayish skin. Later on in 1991, I was working in a building in a large city, and I had taken a break about 6:00, and the next thing I knew it was 10:30 at night, and I thought I had taken a short break. I started remembering that I was taken aboard a ship, through four floors of an office building, and through a roof. There on the ship is were I encountered ‘GERMANS’ AND ‘AMERICANS’ WORKING TOGETHER, and also the GREY ALIENS, and then we were taken to some other kind of facility and there I saw the REPTILIANS again … the one’s I call the “baby Godzilla’s”, that have the short teeth and yellow slanted eyes, and who look like a VELOCI-RAPTOR, kind of.

DA: So, why would these people pick on you?

AC: Well, I found one common denominator in the abduction, and it keeps on being repeated over and over again. I deal with lots of people who have been abducted, and the one common denominator seems to be the blood line, and its the blood line that goes back to ancient Indian or Native American blood lines.

AC: Well, at that facility I saw the almond-eyed Greys, but the thing that sticks in my mind are the beings that look like reptiles, or the veloci-raptors. They are the cruelest beings you could ever imagine, and they even smell hideous. There were a couple of very unusual areas down there where I was taken which looked like cold storage lockers, where these things were in hibernation tubes, and that is about all I remember, other than seeing some black helicopters and little round-wing disk type aircraft

In the book “Cosmic Conflict”, the author talks about the ancient city that was uncovered by the Germans before World War II, and tells about their effort to revive some frozen humans they found in this underground city, and that the true humans couldn’t be revived, but the ones that could be revived were in fact reptilians in disguise, and the reptilians have the capability to do shape-shifting and create a [laser] holographic image so when you look at them you see a human, but under that there is no human there. … Allegedly the reptilians re-animated and killed the Soviet scientists and through some type of psychic osmosis drained their minds and assimilated their memories and features through a molecular shape-shifting type process. … The alien ‘impostors’ then called for backup and more scientists came out and were ‘replaced’, and these eventually returned to Russia and began to infiltrate the Communist government.

AC: These people that have done all this research and are part of the underground government are telling that the humans on this planet have been at war with these reptilian aliens for thousands of years. At one point, things got so hot on the planet, like it is now, aliens took on this holographic image and infiltrated the human race in order to take it over and undermine it, just like this New World Order is doing right now. They’re saying that the same thing happened to civilization on Earth before, and that the humans before actually had the capability for interplanetary travel, and that it was so bad here with the reptilians that they had to leave… What they are also saying is that these beings that are human-looking that are visiting our planet, at this time, trying to inform people what is going on, and guide them, are actually OUR ANCESTORS THAT ESCAPED FROM EARTH before, when it was under reptilian domination.

AC: I went to South Florida a couple of weeks ago and interviewed a man who had done research for 30 years, and oddly enough, he tapped into some of the same information I had, in that our government has had round-winged, saucer-type technology, high mach speed aircraft since the 1920’s, and that in 1952 they had over 500 of these aircraft hidden in secret bases. Now, if they had that in 1952, considering that military technology grows by 44 years for every year that goes by, what do you imagine they have now, 44 years later, after technology has advanced the equivalent of 1,936 years?

AC: He claims to be one of the ones who jumped overboard off the Eldridge when it went into hyperspace during the Philadelphia Experiment. He actually traveled forward in time, and asked the people that he encountered there what happened in his future. At that time, he was given the information about the New World Order and that Denver was the location for the NWO Western Sector, and that Atlanta was supposed to be the control center for the Eastern Sector. Can it be that the fact that the Olympics is supposed to be in Atlanta is part of a scenario?

The late great Hungry Buddha

This was written 15 January 2002, & the Hungry Buddha is gone now, but this is still an interesting description.

The late great Hungry BuddhaJust got back from lunch at the Hungry Buddha. Man, that was good. It’s a small place on Washington Street in downtown St. Louis. There are signs all along the walls: “Buddha would bus his own table”. “Buddha would tip”. “Overfilling your bowl is bad karma”. A stereo played a mix of tunes, everything from Smashing Pumpkins to other stuff — and at a reasonable volume that made conversation easy.

The food was really great. Basically, you grab a bowl and go through a vegetable buffet — probably the best vegetable buffet I’ve ever seen, with peppers, sprouts, carrots, celery, shitake mushrooms (!), and more! — filling your bowl, then go to the counter and answer a few questions:

“Rice, noodles, or broth?”
“One bowl or all you can eat?”
“Water, tea, or soda?”
“What kind of sauce?”

They take your bowl into the kitchen and cook it up to your specifications. 10 minutes later, a hot, steaming bowl of yummy goodness is delivered to your table. Cost? $6.50 for a bowl, or $7.50 for all you can eat.

I got the Sichuan sauce with rice & tofu the first time, and then I went back for Black Bean Garlic sauce with rice & tofu. Both were excellent. However, next time I go, I think I’ll just get one bowl — I ate both, but I think I accumulated some gluttony points with the hereafter.

If you’re downtown and feeling hungry, check out the Hungry Buddha — you won’t be disappointed!