Hallow Talk

Dolls, Dummies & Porcelain Gore: the
Unsinkable Allure of the Talking Dead

Most people would never admit it, but there are no two ways about it: we like Halloween because it’s creepy. We like the gore associated with it, the scary stuff, and the lure of death, breathing coldly upon our neck. Not that there’s anything wrong with it.
What’s curious in American culture, however, is that even talking about death and the departed and what happens to decaying bodies and what we’re supposed to tell our child about their deceased relatives remains taboo for the whole year, except on October 31.
We use the children’s still unguarded approach to the world as a perfect Trojan horse of an excuse for peeking into the depths of our dark corners, where fears reign supreme, and the sun never shines. And tell everyone that it’s all for their own good.
But heaven forbid if they’re to inquiry about the finality of death, or the possibility – fiercely denied by billions but ever and again confirmed by all the evidence anyone can come up with – that this is it, there’s nothing beyond the Big Sleep, and one’d better making it count while it lasts.
We entrust the wee ones with the task of facing the most terrifying recesses of our psyche, while at the same time disenfranchising them from developing a critical mind about, say, coma, or rigor mortis, embalming, or cremation, and all fun things in between. No wonder they place so much currency on material goods these days.
Whether there’s a point in this cheap thrill of vicariously exposing children to dread towards the unknown, which we all share throughout life, just so they get use to feeling frightened, is truly up to discussion.
For what we, grownups, get out of Halloween is so rewarding to that nook within us which enjoys being spooked that all damage it may inflict on tender minds seems negligible. After all, we tell ourselves, soon enough, they’ll have to handle all of that on their own.
We’d have no problem assuming whole heartedly that we love Halloween. Even as memories of spending those hot South American days of our youth at cemeteries, visiting families and friends who went before, are not our particularly favorite recollections.
We still treasure that we did the time, and remember the smells of fresh flowers and sweat, mixed with a faint scent of recently dug up graves still encrusted deep in our brains. Not quite like the Mexicans, who actually party and camp at the gravesite on the Dia de los Muertos, but still a day to honor all souls, specially the finados.
So we could now proceed to tell rehashed tales about ghosts, goblins, strange apparitions and odd Jack O’Lanterns, stories about unexplained occurrences supposedly told to trustworthy people, rumors from the friend of a friend who’s heard an eerie chime echoing somewhere, perhaps even a dead celebrity sighting or two. But we’d rather not.
As usual, we’ll divert, digress, er, depart from that general theme and find our own niche to mark the date. We’ll focus, (more)
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* The Flours of Evil
* All Hallows Eve
* Hallow Ground

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Farewell Dive

Cassini Bids Bye Bye With Last
Jump Into the Rings of Saturn

The spacecraft that’s been orbiting Saturn for the past 13 years, is executing its final dive today. It’ll be a grand finale, fireworks and all, as it’ll crash while taking the last of thousands of pictures and videos it already took from the ringed giant.
It was a risky triumph for NASA, for the $3.4 billion, plutonium-powered probe swung up close by us, in 1999, to use Earth’s gravity to shoot up towards Saturn. A mishap could’ve been disastrous, but it was worth: we’ve learned so much with the little probe that will die today.
These expensive and far-reaching missions always prompt questions as to their validity. It’s no different with Cassini. Many doubted its science, and to some politicians its cost-to-dividend ratio could never be compared to, say, another monstrous taxpayer-funded sports arena.
Since it’s hard to quantify the exact impact Cassini‘s will have on our knowledge – apart from, well, so much more than we knew before -, projects like these may be on their way out. While it traveled to Saturn, nanotechnology, for instance, experienced a quantum leap.
Advances in computer science and robotics, as well as the entry of private enthusiasts in the field of space exploration, may assign a different role to organizations such as NASA, and the European and Italian space agencies, that collaborated to make the Cassini project an astounding success.

A TRANSCENDENTAL STEP IN SPACE
For, however be that as it may, the orbiter, and its hitch-hiker, the Huygens lander, dropped on Titan in 2005, represent a staggering milestone. Its secrets will still challenge us long after everyone alive now is gone. That, by the way, is the only form of immortality that makes sense.
It’s the part when space as a metaphor to the human adventure on this planet resounds the most transcendental. That’s how Italian Giovanni Domenico Cassini, and Dutch Christiaan Huygens, both mathematicians, remain alive and even more relevant today than during their XII century existences.
The Cassini journey has also an added benefit: allowing mankind to witness a complete cycle, which started (more)
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* Gatekeeper of Outerspace
* War Lord
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Moon Shadow

Here Comes the Darken Sun,
But Let’s Just Say, It’s Alright

So the great solar eclipse of 2017 is coming to America and we, for ones, are only too glad about it. What, with all that’s going on, the thought of spending time with such a fascinating cosmic event surely beats most of everything one’s been watching on the news lately.
By now, however, every media, the Internet, your close friends, and even your deranged uncle Bob, have already told you all that is to know about it, maybe more. So here’s just a few historical and/or interesting pics to entice and inform you. Call it your personal mini visual tour.
Hover over the photos and click on them and on the links, for data and stories. Eclipses have been teaching us since time immemorial, and while many feared that the sun, or the moon, wouldn’t survive the penumbra, others like Edmond Halley, were open to learn. The one in 1919, for instance, proved Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

The one visible in 1966 at the bottom of South America led NASA to launch 12 rockets from a beach some 30 miles from where a little boy risked losing his eyesight to watch it through a photo negative strip. Luckily, that pair of eyes survived to experience many others since.

All ancient civilizations studied and documented cosmic phenomena. Comets and meteors, supernovas and moon eclipses, all had tremendous impact on our history on this planet. But things heat up considerably whenever the sun is concerned, and when the day turns into night, well, that’s not to be ever taken lightly.

We gaze, therefore we are. To many of us, this may be our very last solar eclipse, so we’d better make it good, just in case. Choose well your eye wear, pick a good spot, and make up a decent excuse to be there. Gee, the way things are going, the sun coming back after just a few hours may be the best news we may be getting for a while.

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* Tomorrow Never Knows

The Undreamed World

Forget Exoplanets. Here’s
the Ninth, the X & the Quirky

When things get rough on the ground, we can always look up. Seven and half billion currently trudging along on this big rock can take solace that the universe is vast and beautiful and always available. It’s also uncaring and violent, but we won’t get into that today.
Part of this soothing feeling is because we don’t know what’s up there. Astronomers wonder if there’s an undiscovered giant orbiting the sun. And another Earth-sized one. And a quirky object too. Or none of the above. We learn a lot by simply not knowing much.
But it’s fun to wonder. Or is it? The cosmos is so disproportionally big that no single mind can wrap itself around it. Large but short of infinity, it baffles and ignores us, while we dream on. Or have nightmares about it. It doesn’t care, but to us, it’s the stuff of, well, you know.
Heard about Nemesis, the sun’s evil twin? Or the identical Earth hidden behind the sun? Both are reasonable guesses, but their currency can only be exchanged at an imaginary box office at the end of the galaxy. One of them is actually a sci-fi movie plot. We may find out some day, but math will probably get there first.
The breakthrough era of exoplanet discoveries and look-alike solar systems has nothing on such suspicions. They date back to the 1800s, when hot-as-the-sun disputes drove many an even-tempered scientist to near madness. Math always gets there first. But even after a century, we’re still way too far behind.

THE SECRET TRANS-NEPTUNIAN COLOSSUS
Planet 9 has been orbiting the slumber of astrophysicists since they first studied the solar system. Something massive has been disturbing Earth’s siblings practically from the universe’s inception and wild youth, back in 2016 minus 4.6 billion years ago. Maybe we’ll find out what.
Mankind owes Percival Lowell the hunt for this ninth planet. His calculations missed the giant but led to the discovery of Pluto, 15 years after his death, a century ago last year. But Pluto can’t explain the orbital disturbances, and that likely doomed it too.
In 2006, the International Astronomical Union downgraded it to dwarf planet, giving grief to many. That left the spot #9 empty, and astronomers have a hunch that its next occupant resides in the area beyond Neptune, a kind of suburbs of the solar system, if you’d insist.
But we may be still years away from direct detection. After all, those outskirts lay at least 300 times farther from the sun than the Blue Planet, and whatever lurks there it’s simply too hard to spot from our backyard. But we might. Just hold off the welcome B-B-Q for now.

A POSSIBLE BRAND NEW TWIN OF EARTH
Taking about burbs, the Kuiper Belt, an area fraught with debris possibly left over from a planetary explosion, and from where most comets come out shooting, may be the neighborhood of yet another unknown object. But this time, it’s of a cozy, Earth-sized scale.
Astronomers suspect that it’s the source of disturbance of the Belt’s 600 objects they’ve been monitoring. Considerably closer to us, and much smaller than Planet 9, it’s been nicknamed Planet 10, but not everyone wants to be quoted on that or even is on board about it.
The scientific community has a healthy skeptical attitude about new claims, specially something they may missed for so long. Humans love a thrill, however, and the spectacular discovery of a new planet (more)
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* Gatekeeper of Outerspace
* Heed My Leaps
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Paper Planes

404 Pages, Old Hoaxers
& Staying Dry in the Rain

This being Summer Solstice time, it seems appropriate to bring you these stories, each with a temporal slant. One would not be possible a few decades ago; another no longer makes much sense; and yet the other one is ageless. So, no sweat, we’ve got you covered.
On the Internet, no one knows you got lost; or that you landed on a ‘Not Found’ page. The Society Against Quackery would not tolerate such nonsense 130 years ago. And yet, since time immemorial, there’s been Virga, a special kind of rain: the type that doesn’t make you wet.
What? Didn’t they use to count paper planes on New York City streets? Or holes in Blackburn Lancashire? Indeed they did, so it shouldn’t shock you if we pick the odd or the unusual for a summer read, rather than the bloody or the bombastic. For there’ll be plenty of that too.
There’s a new Pride Flag with a welcome element of racial tolerance. And, yes, the season’s proverbial love stories already abound, along those from the 1967 Summer of Love. And the breeze, and that girl from Ipanema, and all cliches about heat and hurricanes.
Since warm days go by faster in the north, they’ll still be filled with talk about ice cream and beaches, parties and drought. Just as Earth will keep on getting warmer, and this sort of conversation feels like sand inside one’s swimming suits. Blame us for wanting you to take it easy.
THIS CALL CANNOT BE COMPLETED
So what’s wrong with searching and not finding? Not acceptable these days. See, even when one lands on uncharted territory, it’s no longer an excuse to avoid making assumptions. Or post your cluelessness on Facebook. No opinion should be spared. Thus the 404 pages.
Which is now as entertaining as if you’d reached a site about scientific curiosities. Museums, institutions, companies, and individuals, all jockey to come up with clever ways to cushion your crushing results. It’s Ok, the image and wording seem to say. Here, see how funny this is.
As for the code number, like a lot of what still compounds our journeys online, it had a nerdy origin, such as some room number in a building once fully occupied by an electronic brain, as it was know. Or it was by chance, depending of who you find still wondering in the space formerly known as cyber.
THE OLD FLIM-FLAM DEBUNKERS
Way before Tim Berners-Lee was born – the World Wide Web inventor just turned 62 last week – or there was need for Snopes, a group of Dutch skeptics recognized the potential harm hidden behind human gullibility. And decided to mount a defense against those who’d gladly take advantage of it.
If the Internet metastasized the power of deceivers, in 1881, snake oil salesmen, mystics, end-of-the-world profiteers, and an entire array of their ilk, were already doing irreparable damage out of others’ (more)
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Memberships

Choosing a Special Group
That Won’t Crush Your Soul

‘Accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.’ Groucho Marx had a point, but most of us do long to belong. More so now, when so many feel the world has turned against them. Fear not, anti-heroes of the moot field. There’s hope.
And an affiliation just for you. Not the adventurer type? choose among the Bureaucracy Club, the Cloud Appreciation Society, Dull Men Club or, if still follicle-endowed, the Luxuriant Hair Club, but have your PhD ready. In a wretched mood? the Death Cafe will do you wonders.
Sport aficionados get it. Religiously devout most surely do too. And an assortment of clubs that flourish on Facebook or England, of all places, are equally adept at adding names to a big list of people who like this, or don’t like that. Prefer red, or despise unsuspecting hamsters.
Deep down, most would like to qualify for the Explorer’s Club, but if you haven’t stepped on the moon, or climbed the Everest, forget it. In another life, perhaps. Better sign on for the Apostrophe Appreciation Society. It’ll won’t give vertigo. And you’ll be busy, guaranteed.
And before you disrespect good ol’ Groucho, misquoting him again, we know you’re actually jubilant that Twitter accepted your behind and your trolling galore. You don’t fool us. So go ahead, send out that form for the Mediocre Pun Brigade. They’re running a sale this week.

THE UNCOOL & THE RED-TAPE LOVER
Dull but not boring.’ That’s the main ‘virtue’ required by would-be members of the Dull Men Club. And while ‘optimization of bureaucracies and bureaucrats’ is in the Bureaucracy Club‘s mission statement, both place a premium on a particular personality type: L, as in lukewarm.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Nevertheless, members live fulfilling lives, as long as they don’t involve trying spicy food, taking cold showers, or wearing colorful underwear. They gather periodically to debate mild things. But we hear the coffee is extra strong.

DAREDEVILS & THE MANE-ENDOWED
Bald inexperienced need not to apply.’ Nothing is ever safe when The Explorer’s Club and The Luxuriant Flowing Hair Clubs for Scientists break from their accident-provoking agenda, and sit down for a dinner whose menu often includes fried tarantulas and hissing roach snacks.
Living Explorers Buzz Aldrin and Jane Goodall share (more)
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* The Aitch Old File
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Christmas Cometh

It’s Beginning to Look
Like It’s Busy Out There

A full moon and Asteroid 2003 SD220 (NASA has a rot way of spoiling the fun for everybody with these coded names), are two rare events for a Christmas Eve. But you will see only one of the them. Just don’t be skittish: there’s no way neither of them will hit us anytime soon.
The moon, which hasn’t looked this big since 1977, is 28 times closer to us than that cigar-shaped rock, however large it is, so no alarm. And it won’t return before your 25th-generation nephew dies of old age either. But it’s good to know that we’re keeping an eye on it, just in case.
So, even if your Uncle Bob brings up that time when the moon split up violently from Earth, ions of years ago, don’t lose your appetite over it. It now sits far – and still pretty, thank you very much – from us and, most likely, is moving even further.
As for rocks falling off from heavens and finishing us all off, well, there’s really not much we can do about it at this time. So let the comet come, and the comments pour with the wine, and laughter freely flow. For what else is there to do?
We’re stardust and to ashes will return, so enjoy the preternaturally warm weather in some parts of the planet, before it gets unbearable, and count your blessings. Not everyone is so lucky but they’re all still important to your own worth in this life.
Up above, astronauts watch over us, and all around us, people go out of themselves to do good, specially when no one is around. Lend a hand, if you can. And even if you’re standing in the soup line, give yourself a break; we’re very glad you’re still around.