Friday, May 29, 2015

A Look Inside a Brain Synapse


I've always been amazed by anatomy & biology. Life is mysterious, & any explanations we may try to formulate cannot penetrate that essential Mystery.

Science is the ongoing investigation of this infinite Mystery, which gives rise to endless additional mysteries! Scientific understanding and technology (especially 3D digital imaging) allow us to explore aspects of reality that were previously inaccessible, or even unimaginable.

The brain & nervous system is especially interesting, because it it the source of our conscious experience. The video below that I saw on National Geographic is a specific look at the synapse of a neuron, or brain cell. It is from a scientific paper that maps the proteins in these synaptic connection points on the ends of each cell, that allow chemical messages to be sent through the neural network.

 click to enlarge



The mind-boggling fact is that all this complexity is packed into a single synaptic area, on a single neuron. There are billions of these cells working together at near-instant speeds to maintain our biological functions and to create the holographic sensorium in our heads called "consciousness".


As much as I love to understand and learn about the world & the universe, looking deeply into these infinitely complex features is enough to melt your brain.


 Speaking of which, here is another video that gives some basic information about the brain and neurons that is still thought-provoking. There is nothing like the brain trying to understand a video about itself.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Bernie Sanders 2016

https://berniesanders.com/

Growing up, I never had a interest in politics or current events. I always had a pretty good idea what was going on in the country and the world, but never really cared about who was President or what Congress was doing.

That changed completely after George W. Bush was selected by the Supreme Court in 2000, and we subsequently entered an 8-year neoconservative nightmare. After the tragic events of September 11, 2001, my 23-year old self sat up and started to pay attention, like so many other people. This blog served as an outlet for my frustrations and disbelief at the insanity being perpetrated at the time.

Along with the rest of the world, I watched with horror as Dubya and his puppet-master Dick Cheney launched (unfunded) trillion-dollar wars of invasion & occupation in the Middle East. It was perfectly clear to anyone with even a bit of insight that these wars were meant to exploit the region's resources, gain imperial footholds, and enrich defense contractors & investors. Waging war & fighting terrorism are often a means of making more money for wealthy, unscrupulous people.

The occupations of Iraq & Afghanistan were giant historical blemishes on America's foreign policy, but there were countless other problems created in those years- resulting from the incompetence of the Bush administration and short-sightedness of conservative policy, in general.

When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, a giant sigh of relief swept over much of the world. Although Obama's terms have been, in many ways, a vast improvement over Bush's, it has become clear that he is not the progressive savior people thought he would be. In fact, the U.S. government under the leadership of President Obama has continued or expanded some of the worst abuses of the Bush administration. Unfortunately, it seems like there is only so much a President can do to change the mind-numbing bureaucracy of the government, the power of the military industrial complex, or the intransigence of an opposition Congress.

So, what should the citizens of the United States do?...

Should we throw our hands up and refuse to vote or participate in our democracy, claiming the system is hopelessly rigged for the benefit of monied interests? The answer is, "No!"

Politics, as vile as it can be, affects everyone in our society. It is much too important to leave to the devices of those who would seek to control or disenfranchise us. There is strength in numbers. Only by overwhelming consensus and cooperation can we, the people, overcome the imbalance in political power wielded by the top 1% in control of the wealth of this country.

As this election season started to add potential Presidential candidates for 2016, it looked like we might be doomed to an un-inspired choice of Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush- either way, a continuation of a political dynasty backed by Wall Street and big money.

Then, out of the blue, came Bernie Sanders from Vermont- the only Independent U.S. Senator. I've viewed a lot of cable news & have followed politics closely throughout my adult life. Having watched him over the past decade, Sen. Sanders has been a consistent voice of common sense policies and responsible government that functions for the benefit of the majority of working-class citizens. After hearing the incessant bullshit spewing from the other national politicians and TV talking heads, it was always refreshing to hear Bernie Sanders speak to the issues in a way that any reasonable person would understand and agree with.


Today, Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy for President of the United States, much to the delight of myself and many other people looking for fundamental reform in the way this country operates.



If you want to know what he is about, watch the many videos of his interviews online, or find out about his policy positions & what legislation he has backed.


One thing is certain, he is a more authentic champion for the average American than Hillary Clinton, or any of the corporate puppets that the Republican party can shove into the spotlight.

The media will try to marginalize him at first- by depicting him as a "fringe" candidate, the political equivalent of a crazy uncle, or *GASP!* a Socialist.

As support for his campaign continues to grow, he will become a force to be reckoned with. If enough people hear his message he will have a real shot at becoming the President and bringing some much-needed real progressive policy to the White House.

So, on the day of his campaign announcement, I'm enthusiastically supporting Bernie Sanders and what he stands for. I'll be spreading the word about this man- who has the proven integrity, honesty, and solutions we need to address the complex and seemingly insurmountable problems this country faces.

Here is the full video of Sen. Sanders' speech announcing his candidacy, in which he details his ideas for changing the American political landscape for the better:



Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Stereoscopic Music Video



Being a visual artist, I love optical illusions. One that still fascinates me is the stereoscopic image.

vision3d.com
Although it is challenging to "see" at first, once you figure out how to view a stereogram, you can do it at will.

By slightly un-focusing & crossing your eyes, you can make a pair of images overlap within your visual field to form a 3D image.

This music video for "Black is Good", by Young Rival, uses stereoscopy to achieve moving, 3-D forms out of what appears to be random static.

For best results, practice the technique on stereoscopic still images first- then watch the video in HD.



Young Rival also had another captivating video for "Two Reasons", with a series of entertaining face paintings:


Monday, May 18, 2015

American Horror Story: Freak Show


I don't really watch TV anymore... The only programming I ever watched anyway was cable news, documentaries, & Comedy Central shows. Now, I don't even bother with TV news, and I only watch content from Comedy Central occasionally. My girlfriend & I both try to find more constructive uses of our time, so neither of us invest ourselves in full seasons of any TV series.

However, we decided to make an exception & watch "American Horror Story: Freak Show", because it appealed to our appreciation for the bizarre and weird. After months of intermittently watching an episode here & there, we finally watched the series finale last night. I enjoyed the series and think it's worth seeing, for all its grotesque craziness.

When I first started watching AHS: Freak Show, I immediately recognized the strong influence of the 1932 cult classic film, Tod Browning's "Freaks". It became one of my favorite movies in high school, after I bought a VHS tape from a video store that I worked at as a teenager. "Freaks" shocked audiences of the day with its casting of real circus freaks and sideshow acts, leading to it being banned from theaters.

 
Internet Archive:


As a kid who liked anything strange & out of the ordinary, "Freaks" was right up my alley. It was disturbing, yet thought-provoking and profound. It also gave deep insight into human nature and questioned the nature of our perception of "normal".

Tod Browning & the cast of "Freaks" (1932)

"AHS: Freak Show" is a modern day incarnation of the black & white film, in the form of a TV series. Most of the characters are direct adaptations of the real-life freaks that were cast in the original classic movie.

Many of the themes in the show are very similar to the movie. The feeling of rejection & being an outcast from society plays heavily in the show. A solution to this sense of rejection is the strength that can be found by "finding the others," as Terence McKenna used to say. By sticking together with other freaks, they could become a surrogate family for one another. This provides protection for one another through a communal existence, independent from the rest of society.

Another theme that I love in both the show & movie is the idea that the truly twisted and monstrous characters are actually the "normal" people, who are narcissists, sociopaths, and outright killers. The freaks just want to perform and live together in their traveling carnival, but the schemes of those outside their community constantly threaten their existence.

The owner of the freak show, Elsa Mars

The owner of the freak show is Elsa Mars (played by Jessica Lange), a German woman with dreams of becoming famous and moving to Hollywood. She loves her "monsters" as she calls them, but ultimately her narcissism is greater than her concern for the freaks. She has horrific demons from her past that come out as the series progresses, and this throws into doubt whether or not she can be considered a freak herself.

The utterly crazy Dandy Mott
 
One of my favorite non-freak characters is a rich, spoiled psychopathic man-child named Dandy Mott. He is a person that you love to hate, because he is such an evil & arrogant bastard. However, his craziness & complete disconnect from normal human behavior can be entertaining.

 Twisty the Clown

'The creepiest and most horrifying character was the Killer Clown who was featured prominently in the first several episodes. I personally find clowns to be have a slightly disconcerting quality anyway, but this clown was just plain terrifying. Unfortunately, his character didn't last throughout most of the series.

The leading "freak" characters of AHS: Freak Show

There are a lot of good characters in the show, including- Sarah Paulson as the 2-headed girl Dot & Bette, Kathy Bates as a bearded woman, and Neil Patrick Harris as the shell-shocked traveling salesman with his creepy murderous doll that speaks only to him.

Although the plot led to some shocking surprises and mind-bending circumstances, the acting and extraordinary characters are the show's strongest element.

I would recommend "American Horror Story: Freak Show" to anyone with an interest in the macabre, grotesque, or downright insane aspects of humanity. It makes you consider whether we are ALL freakish on some level.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Future of Food: Urban Farming


In this age of endless innovation, sometimes the best technology is actually nature-based technology.

Food is an essential part of life. How we produce, transport, and consume food has a enormous impact on society. People are starting to question the traditional methods of large-scale factory farming, and bringing food production back into the hands of local communities.

Especially in unused or abandoned urban areas, there is potential for people to learn how to farm and grow gardens. This would bring fresh, whole foods into the local area and allow people to connect with life through a purposeful activity.

I recently saw this profile of Will Allen, the founder of Growing Power, which aims to educate people about growing methods & implementing programs to get communities to produce their own food.

Huffington Post:



...
Kijani Grows is another company trying to bring on the urban farming revolution.  I watched this video awhile ago, with the founder Eric Maundu explaining the computer-controlled aquaponics system he uses to maintain a continual cycle of growth with recycled water & biomatter. 



Aquaponics is a self-sustaining growing system, which uses waste from aquatic animals as fertilizer for plants. It uses the natural ecological cycles of life to efficiently grow plants and vegetables.


Another developing trend for future food technology is the idea of vertical farming. This is the use of high-rise buildings to house hydroponic & aquaponic growing facilities, to create more food in cities or other places where a smaller footprint is needed.


By reclaiming urban real estate for growing crops, using modern green technologies, we can address many of the problems with food availability in cities and densely populated areas.

There are solutions to all our pressing social problems, we just need the resourcefulness and intelligence to find effective ways to address them.

Technoccult:

Web Urbanist:

(click to enlarge)



Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Game Review: Assassin's Creed Black Flag


In recent years, I have spent much of my limited time for playing video games on the 'Assassin's Creed' series.

The Monkey Buddha Archives:

I've elaborated on the overall storyline in my previous posts (linked above), but there is basically a struggle going on between 2 secret societies- the Assassins and the Templars. This struggle is based on both sides' attempts to find powerful ancient relics, from a civilization that existed on Earth before humanity. This "First Civilization" were an advanced race that actually genetically-engineered human beings, but were wiped out after a cosmic cataclysm- specifically, a massive solar flare tens of thousands of years ago. Relics of their advanced technology are scattered around the globe, and the Assassins and Templars have been in a millennia-old race to find these artifacts.

One tool that is being used to find where these artifacts have been used throughout time is called "The Animus". It is a virtual reality simulation, which reads DNA to unlock the genetic memories of one's ancestors. Essentially, in Assassin's Creed you are playing a historical simulation within the simulation of the video game itself. In the game, you can also step outside the Animus into the "modern" day, in which the Templars have established a front company for their activities, called Abstergo Industries. This global corporation has now set up Abstergo Entertainment, a video game company that brings The Animus technology to the masses. In reality, though, it is a subversive way for the Templars to get more people to scan history for the location of the Artifacts from the First Civilization.

I love how the storyline for the Assassin's Creed games works on the different levels. There is plenty of thought-provoking material about ancient mysteries, conspiracies, and puzzles in each title. At their core, though, these games are action & stealth-based historical simulations.

The last installment that I played, Assassin's Creed 3, was set in the Revolutionary War. Though it was a good American history lesson, it wasn't as fun to play as previous AC games. I was hoping that Black Flag, a pirate game set in the Caribbean before AC3, would be more enjoyable.

Thankfully, I wasn't disappointed.  If I were to describe Assassin's Creed: Black Flag in one word, it would be- EPIC.



All the AC games are huge in scope, with expansive maps full of detailed scenery. However, Black Flag might have been my favorite so far. I loved the tropical setting- full of islands, cities like Havana, and even Mayan ruins deep in the jungle. Even though I'm still playing on a PS3, the graphics look great. I always appreciate the meticulous details in the various environments throughout the game.




The most expansive environment is, of course, the ocean. In Black Flag, you get to travel over the sea with a crew aboard your ship, The Jackdaw. As you play the game, you collect sea shanties, different songs for your crew to sing as you sail from place to place. Although you can travel by ship to any location on the map, you can also use "fast travel" options as you unlock different areas. I still found myself sailing to many places, just because it's fun to control the ship & also raid merchant vessels along the way.


By building up your ship's guns & armor, you wage battle on ships from various countries also sailing the seaways. If you can overpower a ship through superior firepower and tactics, you can approach and board it. Depending on the type of vessel you are trying to take over, once you board it you may have to defeat a certain number of enemies, climb up the mast to destroy their flag, or blow up gunpowder stockpiles on the deck. Once this is accomplished, you gain whatever cargo the ship holds & either lower your wanted level or repair The Jackdaw. These battles on the high seas are exciting & really capture the feel of a pirate raid.



In addition to sailing over the water, you can explore the ocean depths in certain areas, using a diving bell. These underwater areas contain shipwrecks full of treasure, and caves with dangerous eels and jellyfish. There are also aggressive sharks patrolling, which you can evade by hiding in clumps of seaweed or the ruins of a sunken ship. The diving sequences were a great addition to the gameplay.



Another unique feature is the ability to get into a rowboat at certain places and hunt sea creatures with a harpoon, such as sharks, whales, and orcas.  These are very intense encounters, especially when you don't have your equipment upgraded.

 
Even when just sailing around, you are bound to see dolphins or whales jumping out of the water. There are also a wide variety of land animals that can be hunted, such as jaguars, deer, crocodiles, and monkeys. Any materials you gain from an animal can be used to craft items for your inventory. There are also domesticated animals that you can't kill, but can pet or feed, like cats, dogs, cows, and chickens. It is a vibrant virtual world that reflects the ecology of the American tropics.

Most of the gameplay should be very familiar to anyone who has played other Assassin's Creed titles. The combat and free-running controls are still very fluid. You can climb almost anywhere- on buildings, trees, walls, and up the sides of ships. I tend to want to run from place to place, but I also try to slow down & walk so I can take in the virtual scenery and people that give an accurate sense of what that time period was like.

Throughout the game, you interact with historical figures from the age of piracy, such as Calico Jack, Anne Bonny, and Blackbeard himself. This adds to the feeling of being immersed in the pirate culture of the time.



Because I play video games so sporadically & leisurely, this game took me months to finish. I completed the main story, but also have tried to finish all the side missions and find all the items located around the map. There are also treasure maps with clues to find booty hidden throughout the many islands. I'm currently at 95% completion, so I've experienced most of what the game has to offer. I can say that it offers quite a lot!

My only complaint would be the abruptness of the story's ending, although the final scene during the credits was good & ties back into AC3. This tendency to end out of nowhere seems to be the case with all AC games... all of a sudden, it's over! I also would've liked more elements about the First Civilization or the Observatory that is discovered during the game.

These minor concerns are insignificant compared to the amazing amount of work, thought, and detail that went into this title. If you enjoyed other Assassin's Creed games, are interested in experiencing history, or just think pirates are cool, you should definitely play Black Flag. As I said in the beginning of this review, it is a truly epic experience.

• Official Monkey Buddha Rating: 9.75

Monday, May 11, 2015

GTA:V- Monkey Mod


I don't play video games on a PC anymore, but there are many advantages to computers over consoles. One thing you can do on the computer, that you can't do on console systems, are add "mods" to games, which basically modify the core game in some way.

Many mods are used to enhance the game's graphics capabilities for better visual imagery. However, there are also mods that allow you to do all kinds of crazy things. I posted before about one that allows you to play the game "Grand Theft Auto: V" as a different animals, including an ape...

The Monkey Buddha Archives:
I saw this video on cheezburger.com showing the player as a chimp, shooting cars out of a gun and flying across the city. Awesomely absurd.


Thursday, May 07, 2015

Virtual Reality Arcades


I used to go to video game arcades sometimes when I was a kid. I didn't really enjoy them that much, though. I'd much rather play on a console at home & not have to keep feeding money into the machine.

This idea of a virtual reality theme park or arcade will be a new wave of public entertainment. It basically becomes a playground of the mind, with infinite possibilities.

There is still a lot of technology to develop to make this possible, like wireless VR headgear. However, I do think that this will happen eventually.




I often struggle with the value of digital or "virtual" experiences, versus "natural" experiences.

I'm not so sure there is any difference in the source of the stimuli, whether virtual or physical. It is all just information, translated into the conscious lightshow going on inside our heads.

All that seems to matter is that the mind wants to assimilate novel experiences. Virtual reality & digital art can add to the depth and variety of new information processed by the brain.

Ultimately, the distinction between 'real' and 'artificial' experience is an illusory one.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

"The Most Astounding Fact" by Zen Pencils



I have previously posted about this inspiring soliloquy regarding our cosmic origins, by Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson.


 The illustrator Gavin Aung Than of Zen Pencils created this excellent comic strip representation of Dr. Tyson's quote. 

Click the link for a larger version: 

by Zen Pencils
https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/xXK7vqY3uAi1-rFIYKQAwNMTjNZETYmyPJy0liipFm0?feat=directlink

Monday, May 04, 2015

Star Wars Day 2015

Today is May 4th, which is now known to many people as "Star Wars Day".

Star Wars is one of my favorite topics to post about, and it's been my favorite movie series since I was a kid.

Like most fans, I didn't think I'd ever see more movies that took place after the original trilogy. Now, with Disney & J.J. Abrams taking control of George Lucas's vision, there are more films on the way to expand the already rich Star Wars fictional universe.

Today, Vanity Fair released a few new photos from the set of the next movie, "Star Wars Episode VII, The Force Awakens".

Vanity Fair:

Resistance pilot Poe Dameron & the newest version of the classic X-Wing fighter.

Star Wars Day Bonus!
Here's a previous post, with a GIF of a lightsaber-weilding monkey:

Person Gives Monkey The Finger & Gets Kicked


 In my last post, I was talking about the inner life of animals. Many animals, especially primates, have complex social behaviors & dominance hierarchies.

From the looks of this video, it definitely seems that monkeys can feel insulted.

This kid was apparently taunting the monkey, before giving it the middle finger. The monkey didn't take that crap & gives him a 4-foot flying dropkick. The guy looks like he can't believe he got knocked over by a monkey kick.

As much as I  love discussing a wide variety of topics on this blog, I never get tired of amusing monkey antics.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Non-Human Rights


It is interesting to see how humanity struggles with how to view the rest of the animal kingdom.

The Western, Judeo-Christian view is one of human dominance over other forms of life, where animals are put on the Earth for man to use according to his will. Some other religions & philosophical systems, however, see all life as interconnected & sacred.

A deeper understanding of the perceptions and mental experiences of other living things is leading us to a more insightful relationship with other creatures. People are beginning to realize that many animals also feel pain, enjoy social bonds, and have a rich inner life.

I am currently reading a book that my girlfriend's parents gave me, called "Baboon Metaphysics". They know that I like anything about monkeys or apes, and the book is excellent so far. It is about the observations of intricate social hierarchies and complex behaviors in primates.

The experimentation and industrial farming we currently force upon animals will one day be seen as ignorant savagery.

There are currently people fighting to gain certain rights for non-human species, in order to prevent their exploitation & abuse. One group, The Nonhuman Rights Project, is legally arguing for the "personhood" of chimps Leo & Hercules. They are trying to get these chimpanzees released from captivity into a sanctuary.

NPR:


It has also been announced recently that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will stop using elephants in their acts.

National Geographic:

I think people are going to have to seriously reconsider the status of animal life, starting with species possessing complex cognitive functioning- like primates, dolphins, elephants, and other mammals.

Once a more empathetic view of these animals is established, then our relationship to other living beings can be re-examined.

Only then, will a more harmonious existence with all life in our world be possible.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

3D Yin-Yang

I saw this cool animated GIF of a ying-yang, rendered in 3-D computer motion graphics.

The Monkey Buddha Archives:


The yin-yang is a symbol from the religion known as Taoism, which sees the world as a natural flow state- a dynamic harmony of both opposite & complementary forces.

This animation demonstrates that multi-dimensional interaction quite nicely & creatively.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Future is Fungi


 Discover Magazine:

I recently listened to this excellent presentation by mycologist & naturalistic innovator Paul Stamets, about the role that mushrooms and other fungal organisms will play in the future of humanity & the planet.



The talk is an hour and a half long, and well worth the time to listen. It is full of thought-provoking information and research about the vital role performed by these unique lifeforms in the natural ecosystem. Stamets also discusses some of his technological developments, using living fungal systems.

Some of the important mycological breakthroughs that he discusses include the following uses of fungi & mycelial matter:

Cancer treatment through improved immune function
Water filtration
Antibacterial & antiviral properties
Cleanup of oil spills 
De-contamination of radiation zones
Biopesticides to repel harmful insects
Replenishment of depleted soil

The most unique aspect of the fungus is its mycelium- the branching, thread-like connective matter that is usually hidden within the soil or in its symbiotic partners. These are the chemical & enzymatic pathways that allow fungi to sense their environment and create novel strategies to deal with any situation they come across.

The visible forms we usually associate with fungi, such as the mushroom caps, are just the fruiting parts of the fungus that are used to release spores. The vegetative part of the fungus is actually the mycelium, within the soil.



The web-like structure of the fungal mycelia can be seen as a fractal representation of the interconnected nature of reality, which exists on all scales and in different forms.

This same kind of connectivity also defines the structure of large-scale cosmic network of galaxies, neural architecture in the brain, layouts of human cities, and the global distribution of The Internet.

Connectivity is a fundamental characteristic of The Universe.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Green Earth

Today is Earth Day, and it's a good opportunity to reflect on the importance of the living ecosystem that sustains life on this planet.

The Monkey Buddha Archives:
I love nature and being outdoors, so Spring is a time I truly enjoy. The return of animals, warm weather, and greenery on the plants & trees makes dealing with the winters of a temperate climate worthwhile.

The industrial age has wrought all kinds of havoc on the Earth, some of which may be irreversible- such as climate change and mass extinctions. However, I feel like we are finally entering a time where mankind will learn to once again live in symbiosis with nature, instead of trying to subdue it & exploit its resources.

People are increasingly looking toward nature-based solutions to approach technological problems.

The Monkey Buddha Archives:

By working with nature and using design solutions based on living systems, we can begin to undo the damage from centuries of destructive human activity.

I made this graphic below to express the importance of maintaining a vibrant, living planet- in order for humanity to thrive, along with the countless other lifeforms that dwell here with us.

There are many items available in my Cafepress shop with this "Green Earth" design on it, if you'd like to check it out:

The Monkey Buddha Bazaar:




Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Molecular Movies & Medical Animations


Despite being an artist by profession, I've always been interested in science. The more I learn, the more mysterious the world actually becomes.

Biological life & the human body are endlessly fascinating. When you begin to learn about the functioning of Life on a microscopic level, a whole new world opens up that is both strange and beautiful in its complexity.

For me, it it is much easier to comprehend something when I see a visual representation of it. That is why I love computer animations & digital renderings of otherwise hidden phenomena. Technology allows us to visualize previously unimaginable or inaccessible information.

Recently, I found this page of computer animations that illustrate various processes that occur on a molecular or cellular level.


The animations are broken up into categories. When you click a movie, it can take you to the site of a university or lab with even more videos. It is great resource for those with an interest in microbiology, or for those who are just curious about the infinite complexity and variety of living systems.

 I've seen this awesome animation before, which is titled "The Inner Life of The Cell". It shows the ecosystem of cellular activity that is going on within our bodies all the time, without us even being aware of it. A full version, with narration describing the processes shown, can be found here.



Here are more amazing computer-rendered visualizations, from Hybrid Medical Animation.

Vimeo:

latest promotional reel from hybrid medical animation on Vimeo.

The mind cannot help but marvel at the organization and endless intricacy of these processes. In fact, here's a video of what happens as the mind is marveling at such things:




Monday, April 20, 2015

Drug War is Over (If You Want It)

(click to enlarge)

I created this poster to express my dissatisfaction with "The War on Drugs" and the harm it has caused our society over the past 100 years.

Feel free to save it, share it, print it, distribute it, remix it, or do whatever you want to do with it! If you could link to this page as a source, it would be appreciated.

At first, I considered using the phrase "(Drug) War is Over" in the graphic. However, I decided to keep it phrased without the 'drug' reference. This way, it can also be seen as a call to end the overall "war" mentality that keeps us in the primitive mindset of aggressive primates.

The inspiration is obviously from the "War is Over (If You Want It)" poster that John Lennon and Yoko Ono distributed during their famous "Bed-in" peace campaign in 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War.


 Today (April 20th) is the counter-culture holiday known as "420".

I don't usually delve into the issue of "drugs" on this blog. I don't really think it's anyone's business what kind of legal or illegal materials you ingest, as long as you're not doing serious harm to yourself or others. When it comes to mind-altering substances or techniques, I think Graham Hancock said it best, "If we are not sovereign over our own consciousness, then we cannot in any meaningful sense be sovereign over anything else, either."

Regardless of how you feel about the various issues regarding drugs, it's hard to argue that we have had positive results in addressing drug use within our modern culture. Most people would agree that the conventional approach to the "War on Drugs" as been a failure in almost every respect, other than lining the pockets of law enforcement, the prison industry, and criminal drug cartels. Countless individual lives and families have been ruined by the senseless crusade against the use of these plants & chemicals. Drug use & abuse should be considered health issues, not criminal offenses.


The most absurd aspect of the Drug War is, without a doubt, the classification of the Cannabis plant as a Schedule I controlled substance. In my life, I've seen people under the influence of pretty much every substance imaginable. Alcohol and opiates are, by far, the most debilitating, addictive, and destructive in large doses. However, these are legal- sold everywhere in stores in the case of liquor, and prescribed by doctors in the case of pain-killing opiates.

The worst effects I've ever seen in reactions to marijuana are not very harmful, like people becoming ravenously hungry or feeling paranoid for a short time. Most of the time, people under the influence of THC are quite happy, peaceful, and content to enjoy whatever they are experiencing at the moment.

Using cannabis can be habit-forming, and the act of smoking anything is obviously not great for the lungs, so there are some downsides to it. These are not nearly sufficient reasons to criminalize the plant, though. The lethal dose (LD) of marijuana is so high that it is physically impossible to overdose (OD) on it.  Despite this fact, this mildly psychoactive plant is placed in the most controlled category- more restricted than most highly addictive opiates. It is absolute madness, based on historical ignorance and century-old propaganda.


In the future, people will look back on this time period with disdain, like we currently look on the Prohibition Era. The mass incarceration of people, especially over offenses for relatively harmless drugs like marijuana, will one day be widely seen as a violation of human rights on a grotesque scale.

The tide is already turning, with many states in the U.S. decriminalizing cannabis. The "dominator culture" (as Terence McKenna would say) cannot suppress the will of the people to affect their own minds.

Since ancient times, human beings have used various plants, substances, and physical techniques to alter their mental & spiritual states. In some cases, it has even been institutionalized, as in the case of Eleusinan Mysteries or indigenous shamanism. There is a growing movement of people who want to re-introduce these archaic techniques & sacred rites back into society, to help awaken it from its ego-induced slumber.

Another effect of the Drug War and our current approach to drug scheduling is the inability to study certain compounds for scientific purposes. Despite their low toxicity & lethality, Schedule I substances like LSD, psilocybin, and MDMA cannot currently be researched for possible treatments to PTSD, depression, or other mental conditions.

The bottom line is that the current approach to drug policy is unjust, unproductive, and completely irrational. This is also true for many aspects of our society- like politics, education, and health care. Maybe by ending the farcical "War on Drugs," we can focus our energy on changing other important aspects of our culture.

Ultimately, this is an issue of personal freedom- We are not truly free, unless we have the freedom to explore our own minds.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens- Teaser 2


I was born the year Star Wars came out & have been a fan since I was early enough to remember.

It is a modern-day myth, with both ancient roots and a glimpse into the future. The Star Wars saga has secured a place in the public consciousness that will last for generations.

Being such a fan, I've also been very critical of the movies as pieces of cinema. I remember being extremely excited for the prequels and the backstory of Darth Vader. Although Episodes I-III aren't nearly as bad as people make them out to be, there were definitely questionable creative choices & opportunities lost.

When Disney took over the Star Wars franchise & announced new movies, I was actually optimistic that we'd get quality movies that expanded the Star Wars movie timeline into the character's future.

So far, the progress of "Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens" has been extremely promising. The first and most important choice was to keep the original cast from the original trilogy. The fact that this happened is huge in keeping with the continuity of the characters & story.

The updating of Rebel & Imperial elements from the original movies seems to be right on target, so to speak. Everything I've seen in the first 2 teaser trailers looks great.

This trailer has really sparked my excitement to see this next installment of the series. The first shot is just awesome: 


With the speeder in the far background of a desert planet (Jakku), moving past the aged remains of a downed X-Wing- the camera pans over the ruins of a giant crashed Imperial Star Destroyer looming in the background.

You get the feeling that the era of The Galactic Civil War between the Empire & Rebellion was a long, long time ago.

The scene gives a sense of size & scope that I wished Star Wars would utilize more. Space is so vast, and some fiction, like the game Mass Effect, tries to give you a sense of that immensity. This is a masterfully composed scene that makes you viscerally feel the scale of the situation. It also is a profound statement on the impermanence of mortal endeavors, no matter what the scale or motivation.


I was also struck by the iconic image of Darth Vader's helmet. However, it is now twisted & melted, from the funeral pyre that Luke Skywalker made for his redeemed father's body & black armor, in "Return of the Jedi".

You can't see who's holding the helmet, but I've read that the villain is someone obsessed with collecting Sith history & relics, which would nicely parallel the main character Rey's background as a scavenger.

The familiar, but evolved, visual elements seem like a natural progression of the Star Wars universe. The fighter craft and uniforms of both sides are reminiscent of the older movies, but with an updated look. The Stormtroopers are still in their familiar white armor, but there are subtle differences.

When I saw this scene, I noticed the new troopers, T.I.E. Fighters, and Imperial symbol on the banner. When I looked closer, though, I noticed the lone figure standing on the stage. Perhaps this is the new heir to Emperor Palpatine's position, as leader of the Imperial forces?


Hordes of people are online picking this trailer apart for clues & tidbits that might tell us more about The Force Awakens. It seems like most people agree that this initial look gives reason to have high expectations when the newest installment of the Star Wars saga is released this Christmas.

I am definitely excited about the potential of this movie. The kid in me is ready to experience new additions to the Star Wars story with fresh eyes.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Animusic


 In my random Internet browsing, I came across an absolutely outstanding set of videos.

They are computer animations which create virtual "music videos" in virtual environments. The playlist is called "Animusic"  computer animated music, uploaded by YouTube user Effchen.

YouTube Playlist:

The 3D-rendered computer graphics are stunning, and really mind-bending if you take the time to watch them.

The great thing about computer animation is that we can create & experience completely virtual spaces that look realistic- but are in fantastic environments with seemingly impossible instruments & objects.

The Animusic videos have different themes, using the wonderfully surreal visuals to illustrate the music. 

The first video I saw was "Gyro Drums," a crazy take on the percussion solo.




"Resonance Chamber" features classical string sounds, The video features a strange, but elegant-looking, hybrid instrument. It is being played by spider-like mechanical fingers.




There are also more futuristic & hi-tech themes, like "Fiber Bundles". Here, a rhythmic synergy is created between the light and the music to create a synesthesia-like effect.




I would recommend checking out the whole playlist, for more of these awesome videos. 

Once virtual reality (VR) applications really take off, there will be no limit to the virtual spaces & novel experiences that the human mind can explore.

The official website for Animusic sells the videos on DVD & Blu-ray.


They also have some videos on their YouTube page.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Chimp Knocks Down A Drone

 
This is a video of something that never stops amusing me - apes & monkeys doing crazy things.

It's from a Dutch zoo, where a surveillance drone was filming while flying over the chimpanzee enclosure.

As the remote-controlled drone glides over taking video footage, one of the chimps up in a tree smacks it with a branch. It's enough to knock the drone out of the sky. Some chimps then proceed to pick up the flying robot & look into the camera of this strange object.

It almost seems as if there's a deep, metaphorical meaning to this seemingly simple action...

Perhaps it can be seen as a symbolic of the struggle in modern culture- between primitivism & advanced technology.

Maybe it's a reminder at how ineffective our technology can be, in the face of the overwhelming power of nature.

Perhaps it's a "cosmic giggle," related to Terence McKenna's theories about the evolutionary transition from apes to technology-using humans. It's also relevant to his idea of the archaic revival, or the reversion to ancient tribal values & more 'primitive' modes of existence...

Mostly, I think it's just chimps being funny.




Friday, April 10, 2015

Mandala of American Life


I saw this interesting & somewhat humorous "Mandala of American Life" on Ultraculture.


It is called "Americosmos" by Darrin Drda.


(click for larger image)
The image is a depiction of the "American way of life"- in the form of a Tibetan Buddhist mandala, or sacred diagram.

The Monkey Buddha Archives:

It shows the illusory existence that so many people in this country experience, and the habitual patterns that give rise to our insane way of living.

There is a more in-depth description of this modern-day mandala here:


The traditional Bhavacakra mandala, known as "The Wheel of Life," is used as a meditation tool by Buddhists. This mandala is a representation of the idea of samsara, or the cyclic nature of existence.


The circular wheel containing the images represents the cycle of life & death, with all the various karmic activities that lead to suffering.

The very center of the mandala shows animals representing the 3 poisons; attachment (bird), aversion (snake), & ignorance (pig). People create their karma by acting through these poisons. In "Americosmos," the 3 poisons are shown as a dollar bill (greed), a tank (hatred), and a TV (delusion).

The thin ring around the center represents people ascending in consciousness on one half (white), and people descending to lower consciousness in the other half (dark).

The large divisions within the wheel show the six realms of samsara. The higher god-like states of being are on the top half, and lower hell realms are in the bottom half. These are the various states of being that a person can find themselves in during their lifetime.

The outer rim of the wheel show the 12 causal links, more specific activities that show how people get trapped among the six samsaric realms. They are basically a lesson in cause & effect, the essence of karma. Our thoughts and actions affect our being, and without awareness we are stuck in habitual or destructive behaviors. In "Americosmos," these 12 links are related to the endless cycle of consumerism, which traps us in the attachment to material goods & worldly experiences.

The giant demon holding the wheel is Yama, Lord of Death, representing impermanence & the transience of life. In "Americosmos," Yama is replaced by what the artist humorously calls "Uncle Samsara," a figure representing the illusion of nationalism & cultural identity.

Finally, the Moon on the upper left (in both images) represents liberation from the suffering associated with samsaric existence. It is possible to break the cycle of karmic conditioning and habitual behavior & thinking, to attain a state of Nirvana. This is the state in which suffering from unsatisfactory experiences cease to arise, due to a more peaceful & conscious state of mind.

The Buddha in the upper right points the way to the Moon, representing liberation. He pointed the way to this liberation through his teachings. The Four Noble Truths are the description of the problem of suffering, and The Eightfold Path is the Buddha's prescription to alleviate this suffering.

Mandalas, like these, are way to graphically depict profound teachings, in a way that people can easily understand. They are meditation aides that should be carefully studied, understood, and pondered to cultivate a higher awareness and deeper consciousness.