Tag Archives: Alien visitors

Sculder, Mully and Bubbles: Books read!

X-FILES FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About Global Conspiracies, Aliens, Lazarus Species and Monsters of the Week by John Kenneth Muir has been a useful guide to watching the series (along with my friend Ross, who’s serving as my X-Files guru for Alien Visitors). Muir covers the various inspirations for the series, the key episodes, what made it stand out from the pack (some of which I covered reviewing S1 last weekend) and its influence on later TV. It also covers stuff less relevant to my project such as Chris Carter’s other series (Harsh Realm, Millennium). A good guide, though I think his list of inspirations for X-Files is reaching — Chris Carter has admitted Night Stalker inspired him but the obscure paranormal anthology One Step Beyond? The Friday the 13th TV series (on the grounds it has a male-female paranormal evil-fighting team)? I’m not convinced.

BUBBLES UNBOUND by Sarah Strohmeyer is a cozy mystery in which blue-collar Bubbles Yablonski (“Everyone thinks I’m a dumb blonde because of my name. And I’m a hairstylist. And I have the exact measurements of Barbie.”) discovers a talent for journalism after flunking out of every other course at community college (I do wish they’d played more with the idea this makes her, like Streisand in What’s Up Doc?, a low-level polymath). After getting a stringer job with the local paper, she’s lucky enough to catch a pillar of local society has run over a man while driving drunk. But the film Bubbles took disappears after someone knocks Bubbles cold. The woman’s family insist she was out of town. And someone’s trying to shoot Bubbles for suggesting something’s going on … A fun mystery in the vein of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books.

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Alien sightings, captured on film!

QUIET PLACE II (2021) isn’t as tense and scary as the first film but the story of Emily Blunt and her family traveling across country, moving in with a wary survivalist and possibly learning of a safe haven from the monsters is still compelling viewing. The opening flashback to the monsters’ appearance (following that old standby Oh, It Looks Like A Meteor Landed) confirms they are extraterrestrial; an interview I read on line (but can’t find right now) said the creators’ concept was that of an invasive species flourishing in an environment with no natural predators. I don’t think A Quiet Place needed a sequel, but I did enjoy this. Djimon Hounsou plays the leader of the refuge (once again, the black guy dies first). “They had 12 boats lined up on the docks that day, and only two got off.”

VISIT TO A SMALL PLANET (1960) started as a Broadway satire in which the alien Kreton causes chaos on Earth and turns out to be a meddling kid (one can only wonder if the writers of Star Trek: Squire of Gothos saw this, though it’s hardly the only example of that idea in SF). In the movie version, we get Jerry Lewis playing Kreton as the kind of annoying man-child Lewis was in many of his films, turning a baffled eye on everything from sex (“Our women are 36 inches all the way down.”) to Beatnik hangouts (though Lewis’ modern dance scene there is pretty funny). Despite making use of Gale Gordon, Fred Clark and Earl Holliman in the cast, this is forgettable stuff. The aliens could almost be angels, sitting around on clouds and demonstrating powers that look more like magic than super-science. “For several years now, certain lunatic elements have proclaimed the existence of flying saucers.”

I’d forgotten that MEN IN BLACK (1997) was actually a refugee story (“These are aliens without a planet.”), though unusually not one where it’s an obvious parallel for human outcasts — that is, it’s more What If We Had Refugees Coming to the U.S. From Space than using them as a metaphor for immigration generally. With Tommy Lee Jones as the MIB veteran, Will Smith learning astronomy “There’s no galaxy in Orion’s belt!”), Linda Fiorentino getting mindwiped repeatedly (like Wendy on Middleman, she also proves herself by not freaking out under stress), Vincent D’Onofrio fights for insect rights and the supermarket tabloids are the best news source on Earth. Still extremely funny. “You’ll either get used to it or you’ll have a psychotic episode.”

In writing about Evil Superman stories for my alien superheroes chapter, I’ve realized they can be subgrouped. There are those where Superman breaks bad such as Mark Waid’s Irredeemable, those where he’s a sleeper agent for his people (Invincible and Brightburn) and those that ask what if he’d been found by someone else. SUPERMAN: Red Son (2000) is in that third category: instead of the wheat fields of Kansas, he lands in the Ukraine. Eventually he puts his powers in the service of the state until he realizes how ruthless Stalin is, then kills him, assumes control and starts building a utopia. Alas, like every other comic book effort to do this by force, things do not work out well … While the assurances the American Way Of Freedom Is Better ring rather hollow these days, this is overall a good one, adapted by comics writer J.M. DeMatteis from the Mark Millar miniseries. While it’s not unusual to ship Luthor and Lois, this is one of the few times their relationship ends happily. “Conventional weapons aren’t enough when one man, one alien, has the power to bring an entire nation to its knees.”

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The gentleman’s name is … Snowdrop

So last weekend we set out the trap for the white cat. I put the food in, walked away and he was caught barely thirty seconds after. He was not happy about it; like Wisp the first time we trapped her, he kept ramming at the wire with his face. Didn’t go well (the photo below is from earlier).

Happily when we put him in the bathroom he quieted down. I took him to the animal rescue the next morning, picked him up in the afternoon and got confirmation the cat’s a he. Up until then we’d figured female — but we’re sticking with the name I picked, Snowdrop (one of the kitten’s in Lewis Carroll’s Alice books). It was a little unsettling because removing his balls left far more bloodstains than tying Wisp’s tubes.

Next morning we let him out and didn’t see him again for a couple of days. But he came back Wednesday night, though he’s way more wary around us. Still, if he’s returned, he’ll probably forgive us. And TYG is relieved — she was convinced he’d wound up in the belly of a coyote or on the wheels of an SUV. But no. Where we go from here … well, I’ll let you know.

After that, the week got back to normal. No Leaf articles so it was all either Undead Sexist Cliches or Alien Visitors. On the first, I’m now proofed through the end of Chapter Six and I’ve started drafting the back cover/blurbs (next week I should start studying blurbs for similar books and see how I compare). On the movie book I got a lot done: good drafts of several chapters and several films watched or rewatched.

Unfortunately I fell short of my goals for the week. Sure, they were optimistic, and yes, I have some wriggle room in my schedule but still, I’d been happier to pull it off. I’m not sleeping well, which happened when I was on tight deadline near the finish of Screen Enemies of the American Way. I’ll be zonked by the end of October.

No going back now, though, so wish me luck.

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Bones, sports and saucers: Books read

Sarah Beth Durst’s THE BONE MAKER is an excellent fantasy that never quite goes where I expect. Protagonist Kreya is one of the band of heroes who defeated the dark magician Elkor a quarter century ago, saving the realm. She lost her husband, however, and has spent the decades using Elkor’s bone magic (all magic in this setting comes from bones) to resurrect him briefly at the cost of her own life (one day for spouse, one less day for her).

Desperate for bones that will allow her to raise him permanently, she recruits one of her former friends — now living a glamorous life as a retired hero and businesswoman — to help revisit the battlefields of the war and steal human bones (which is ethically an absolute taboo). Unfortunately the trip reveals that Elkor lives, so the two women recruit their former allies to fight the battle again.

It’s unusual enough to have a team of heroes in their late forties, but the book heads off into other directions from there. If you’re expecting a big battle against the forces of darkness — well, we get one eventually, but it’s much more a story of personal struggle, politics and making peace with the past than of battles. Very well done.

SIDELINED: Sports, Culture and Being a Woman in America by Julie DiCaro didn’t surprise me with the news that sports and sports reporting are a boys’ club. DiCaro’s first person accounts of an industry where just hearing a woman read the news can turn fans into trolls (they go to sports to get away from women, dammit!), rape and abuse allegations get “manitized” (man + sanitized — DiCaro didn’t coin the term, but I thank her for introducing me to it) and despite the growing number of female sports fans, the number of women reporters is still few and far between (which DiCaro says discourages them supporting each other — if there’s only one female reporting gig at a given station, it’s hard to bond with the competition) is still compelling reading. While I’m done adding references to Undead Sexist Cliches, I’d certainly have included elements of this book if I’d read it last year.

From my perspective, SILVER SCREEN SAUCERS: Sorting Fact From Fantasy In Hollywood’s UFO Movies by Robbie Graham has a lot of problems with the fact/fantasy boundary itself: Graham’s a UFO believer convinced the government cover-up is a thing and that most Hollywood UFO films are government propaganda preparing us for the Big Reveal. This spends way too much time for my taste (I was looking at this for Alien Visitors of course) on UFO cases and history and some of his assumptions are, to put it kindly, strained. It’s true that The Thing From Another World and It Came From Outer Space both have a saucer crashing Just Like Roswell, but “flying saucer crashes” is something writers are perfectly capable of coming up with on their own.

That said, Graham does make a few good points, such as how even in films where the Defense Department knows all about aliens (e.g., Independence Day), the military never has any plans in place for fighting them. And the book does remind me that many people who worked on these films are indeed UFO believers, which I definitely need to mention. That said, there’s a lot of silliness and unconvincing speculation, plus a few small errors (the UFO in The Flying Saucer is not a Soviet flying ship). Not a total waste of money, but close.

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TV seasons: new, old and Did Not Finish

MOTHERLAND: FORT SALEM‘s second season (S1 review here) has our three cadets (Abigail, daughter of a proud military family; Tally, more innocent and very good-hearted; and Raelle, the rebel) come back from last season’s battle with the witch-hating Camarilla changed: Raelle’s tapped new powers she doesn’t understand and Tally’s having flashes of what turn out to be the origin of the anti-military terrorist group the Spree. General Adler is playing hardball, Raelle’s ex-girlfriend Scylla and her mother are waging war on the Camarilla but the Camarilla has plans of its own …

Set in a world where witchcraft is part of military service, this kept up the quality of the first season, though Scylla’s murderous past gets kind of hand-waved. I’m kind of glad next season will wrap things up, rather than going until they run out of steam or getting cut off before resolution like so many shows. “He’s a safety school with a penis.”

I didn’t watch the entire first season of THE X-FILES for Alien Visitors as only the ET episodes are relevant to the book (and I simply don’t have time to watch the whole thing). The story of brilliant profiler Fox “Spooky” Mulder and equally brilliant physicist/MD Dr. Dana Scully (David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson) investigating everything from mutant serial killers to alien abductions is probably just as familiar to y’all as it is to me. Even so, it’s a shock to realize just how much of a game-changer this series was.

As I’ve discussed elsewhere, X-Files injects the political cynicism of the Watergate era into TV and gives us a world where government can’t be trusted. Key players in the FBI are actively working to cover up the government’s knowledge of UFOs and aliens on Earth (the Cigarette Smoking Man played by William B. Davis is the face of the conspiracy). Mulder has a contact, Deep Throat (Jerry Hardin) — see the Watergate influence? — but is he on the level or just playing some game with Mulder?

More than that, the concept of a show with an elaborate mythology that develops over time and mysteries that takes months or years to unravel makes this show the godfather to 24, Lost and Manifest. Which is part of why I never really cottoned to it; when Mulder rants to Deep Throat about playing games — only throwing him little pieces of information and holding most of the truth back — it’s almost a metacommentary on X-Files and LostThough obviously I’m in a minority in not being into the show, and that’s okay — it wasn’t for me but I don’t begrudge it it’s success (though if it had run shorter, my work on the book would be easier).

And I should note that Scully remains a groundbreaking character. Even though she’s usually wrong about what they’re going up against she remains as smart and competent as Mulder and doesn’t back down on her skepticism. As Foz Meadows says, the show let Gillian Anderson dress in unremarkable jackets and blazers rather than looking fashionable because that’s the kind of woman Scully is. The Scully/Mulder dynamic had its influence on later shows too, for example the leads of The 4400. “How can I deny things that are stamped with an official seal?”

The second season of PEOPLE OF EARTH wrapped up in 2017 on a cliffhanger and wasn’t renewed, but up until that point it was as fun as the first season. The realization they were all abducted together brings the Starcrossed therapy group back together but now they have special agent Foster (Nasim Pedrad) breathing down their neck to find Jonathan. Meanwhile, an AI takes over the ship leaving Jeff, Don and Jonathan all hating him and having second thoughts about this whole invasion business. I am a little puzzled why they wrote Ozzie (Wyatt Cenac) out mid-season but as it’s clearly positioned for him to return, I guess it was a schedule conflict, health issue or the like. Streaming on Hulu if you get the itch to check it out. “Don’t you dare use my favorite musical against me!”

TV producer Aaron Spelling was, as many critics have pointed out, not an artist, just a guy who turned out tons of glossy soap opera for entertainment. It’s true, but watching the new revival of FANTASY ISLAND just reminds me how very, very good at glossy soap opera Spelling was. Where Mr. Roarke ruled a world-class luxury resort, the island his niece and heir Elena (Roselyn Sånchez) ran in the first episode feels closer to a chain motel. Nor do the creators have Spelling’s way with a slick storyline. That said, I may pick it up once all that X-Files viewing is done … but more likely not. “I’m offering an opportunity to be brave.”

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Superman and James Spader, in love (no, not with each other).

Despite his success directing Superman, Richard Donner locked horns with producers Alex and Ilya Salkind often enough that they ditched him with Superman II unfinished (they were saving money by shooting both at the same time, as the Salkinds had done with Three and Four Musketeers). Donner shot enough footage, however, that Warners eventually assembled SUPERMAN II: The Donner Cut (2006) by combining his work, some of the Richard Lester film, and some screen test material. The result is a bit of a mess (continuity is all over the place) but it works well enough I wish Donner had completed the theatrical version.

The film starts off with Lois, very much in Silver Age mode, realizing Clark is Superman, then jumping out the window to prove it; he saves her, of course, but without revealing himself. The reveal comes at Niagara, and not by accident: Lois fires a gun at Clark who confesses, but points out she could have killed him. “With blanks?”

Another change is the battle at the White House, with Zod and his lackeys coming off much more violent and murderous. The really big change is after Superman flies Lois to the Fortress. At the time Lester assumed control of II, Marlon Brando was suing the Salkinds for allegedly stiffing him on his cut of the first film’s profits. They axed him from II and put in Lara instead of Jor-El. That’s a shame — as Donner says on the commentary track, using Jor and showing how his relationship with his son fractures has more punch.

Where Lara gently gives Clark advice, Jor-El is pissed: loving Lois means he’s choosing the One over the Many which is not his role on Earth (the Christ overtones are undeniable). Clark demands the right to be happy, and Jor-El reluctantly accedes. In the theatrical movie, we don’t really see how he regains his powers; here he shows up at the Fortress, sobbing and admitting he was wrong. Jor-El’s hologram materializes and sacrifices its existence to recharge Superman’s powers.

The showdown in the Fortress at the end is quicker, stripped of all the teleporting and holograms that treated Kryptonian powers like magic. Instead of the magic kiss that erases Lois’s memory, this has Superman rewinding time so none of the events (including the Phantom Zoners breaking loose) have happened. That’s a jarring repeat of the original movie’s deus ex machina; Donner says he’d always intended this as II‘s finish, but the Salkinds moved it up to the first film when nobody could think of a good ending. “There is one man here on Earth who will never bow before you.”

STARCROSSED (1985) has James Spader offering sexy defector Belinda Bauer (“Your accent suggests there’s an Iron Curtain in your past.”) shelter from what he assumes are the KGB agents trying to drag her from the land of freedom. Instead, it turns out she’s an ET refugee hunted by agents of the imperial power that conquered her peaceful world (making her entire race peaceful is the flip side of Othering alien invaders by making them all monstrous warmongers). Can they stay one jump ahead of the bad ETs? Will Spader show her how much fun human-style sex is (if you can’t guess, you ain’t watched enough TV movies)?

Although Bauer is stiff, Spader’s personal charm and talent makes this run very well until they throw in some Men in Black also hunting for Bauer; at that point the film just seems to bog down. Still, Spader does make it watchable enough. And I do like his explanation for why Bauer looks human (“God made us in his own image, right? How many images do you think God has?”). “When your people have been doing something for so long, you think of it as natural.”

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TYG and I weren’t planning to become a two-cat family

But we’ve had “White Cat” (placeholder name) irregularly sniffing around our house for a couple of months now. More recently she’s been sniffing and mewing plaintively for food, so we fed her. Happily she likes a brand of soft food I bought for Wisp much more than Wisp does.

Wisp, surprisingly, is quite chill with her. None of the aggressive territorial defense I’ve seen with other cats. I don’t know what the difference is. She’s nowhere near as skittish as Wisp. She runs away from us if we get too close, but it took Wisp a year before she’d let me come as close as White Cat does here.She’s definitely been a house pet, probably more recently than Wisp was when we met her. White Cat also seems a lot less comfortable surviving on her own. Did someone just decide to dump her? We’ll never know.

We have an appointment at the feral/stray cat clinic Sept. 26  for spay/neuter and general checkup. Hopefully our new acquaintance will show up the night before and get trapped (we have the trap cage already). Where we go from there, who knows? We aren’t looking for more pets, but as the saying goes, you cannot leave the work unfinished.

Speaking of work, I did get some of that done too. I squeezed in seven Leaf articles at the start of the week, then for whatever reason the flow stopped. The timing is convenient as that meant more work on Alien Visitors; that said, it probably means lower than usual income for the month. I did sell another copy of Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast and made $24 in royalties on my film books for the past six months, but that won’t pay the bills. Which isn’t to say I’m unhappy — it’s a real kick that 20 years after it came out, Cyborgs, Santa Claus and Satan still sells a few copies a year.

Work on Alien Visitors is going well but it takes much more time than I anticipate. Given my looming deadline, that makes me a little uneasy, but if I keep my nose to the grindstone, it’s doable. I did some scheduling today to make sure of that. I want to make sure I write some of it every day — not that this is more efficient but I noticed at the start of the week, when I’d done nothing but watch movies and write Leafs, I slept very poorly. Stress does that.

I also proofed the introduction and first two chapters of Undead Sexist Cliches and I’m pleased. My previous editing was good enough I only had one section where I needed to make major changes. So I think I’m still on track for an end of October release.

All in all, not a bad week.

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Aliens and deserts, a match made in the stars?

Keep Watching the Skies says IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953), with its poetic musing on the harsh desert environment, was a major influence on 1950s SF, prompting multiple other movies to go with a desert backdrop (it didn’t hurt that the desert was close to Hollywood and cheap to shoot in). Rewatching for Alien Visitors it strikes me as one of the few where there’s ambiguity on whether the aliens pose a threat: they’re initially presented as spooky, ominous and very alien looking, they’re kidnapping people but it turns out they’re simply as terrified of us as we’d be in the same boat. In its own right, a good film. “A thousand years of work and you’re willing to give up and let it all end here, on this strange planet?”

ALIENS AND GUFORS (2017) is a pointless comedy about a trio of aspiring UFOlogists in a small desert town with a high level of UFO encounters; can they tolerate the annoyances of small-town life long enough to get a book out of it? And when their old fart landlord claims he’s had a close encounter, is it the guys’ ticket to the big time or a hoax that will ruin them? Feels like Doc Hollywood with aliens as the heart of the film is the guys adjusting to small-town life (and like Beyond the Sky it has fake UFO sightings co-existing alongside the real deal). “I am not breastfeeding that thing!”

SEARCH FOR THE GODS (1975) is a TV movie in which a dying Native American gives Stephen McHattie part of a mystical medallion of unearthly metal — could it be a key to the truth about Gods From Outer Space? In the years since I watched this for Cyborgs, Santa Claus and Satan I’d forgotten how horribly dull it is. A big part of that is everyone being so vague about what sort of secrets we’re dealing with, as if they were afraid to say it outright — when they find a hidden chamber at the climax, it’s got nothing in it but Native artifacts, rather than lost secrets of ancient extraterrestrials. The presence of Kurt Russell (amoral drifter), Raymond St. Jacques (ruthless rival hunter) and Ralph Bellamy (archeology expert) don’t help. It was interesting to notice that while one character alludes to passing through Roswell, they attach no significance to it — as I’ve read elsewhere, Roswell’s status in ET lore didn’t really kick off until the 1980s. “It usually is a big mistake to value sentiment too highly.”

Leaving the desert, MONSTERS VS. ALIENS (2009) would probably be a spotlight in the comedy chapter of Alien Visitors except the parody is more 1950s SF films with the alien invasion played relatively straight. Reese Witherspoon provides the voice of Susan, transformed by a radioactive meteor into Ginormica and sealed away with fellow monsters Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), the B.O.B. and the Missing Link — until the invasion forces General W.R. Monger (Kiefer Sutherland) to set them free to fight for America. I’ll probably mention this in the Romance chapter as an example of an alien encounter disrupting the course of seemingly true love, first by blocking Susan’s engagement, then showing what a heel her fiance is. I like this one quite a bit. “Dr. Cockroach, would you mind not giving your mad scientist laugh while I’m sitting in this chair?”

Ginormica being inspired by 1958’s ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN, I naturally checked that one out: Allison Hayes plays a wealthy alcoholic whose mental condition isn’t improved by the way her sleazeball husband is carrying on an affair with Bad Girl Yvette Vickers; when she claims to have had a close encounter in the desert with a spaceship (which everyone refers to as a satellite — this was right after Sputnik), hubby thinks he can send her to the nuthouse, but then it turns out  Hayes’ encounter has had a few side effects (though they do not make her anywhere near as large as the spectacular poster).

This is a very bad movie with no end of dumb moments (Hayes seems perfectly comfortable in her bedroom even after she grows titanic) but it does boast some competent acting by the leads. It’s also interesting in structure — just as Predator is an action movie disrupted by an intrusion SF story, this is a B-movie drama disrupted by an alien. It later inspired a remake with Darryl Hannah and Attack of the 50-Foot Cheerleader is obviously another knockoff, if only in name.  “You’d make a wild driver Harry — with 50 million bucks.”

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Despite a moment of panic, this week went well

So after my crown went in Wednesday, I celebrated by having a meal of crunchy granola … and felt a grinding sensation, not from my crown but the cap on the other side. And when I checked with my tongue, I found it was missing. So I called the dentist … and it turned out I was imagining it. No gap that wasn’t there before. Everything’s fine. It still feels funny, but I’m confident my dentist is more objective than I am.

Leaf articles didn’t start back up until the end of the week so I put in a lot of time on Alien Visitors. I have three chapters and the introduction in good, though rough shape; barring disaster, it is actually doable by deadline. I do have to start ordering posters and photos as illustrations though — I’ve left that too long. My original plan was to buy them a couple each month; it won’t be easy to absorb now, but it’ll be manageable. I watched fewer movies than planned, but I’m still on track there, too.

I also started on the final proof of Undead Sexist Cliches and began to think about marketing, promotion, book blurbs (trigger warnings will be a must — some of this stuff I’m critiquing is creepy as shit).

Less than a couple of months and both books will be done. Then it’s back to fiction at last.

And now, time to put up the computer and relax. Have fun, y’all.

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Links about UFOs, nature and science

A physicist argues we shouldn’t try to contact alien life — who knows what the reaction will be (see, for example, Battleship)? And if some astrophysicist or amateur scientist makes contact, what’s to stop them presenting themselves as speaking for the human race?

A journalist argues that we should accept UFOs are real, physical things (as opposed to “real but just a trick of the light”), though not necessarily spaceships.

Here’s a lost of America’s more prominent UFO sightings. And some naval aviators say they see them every day. A fair number of officials in DC are believers, or at least interested enough to push for investigations. But a recent documentary claims the evidence for UFOs is just a government psy-op. A federal report comes to no definite conclusions about UFOs, but does suggest they are physical  objects. But both skeptics and believers agree that talking about it openly is a good thing.

Some scientists say the art of creating crop circles is worthy of serious study, but the UFO association makes that hard.

Are conflicts over “trash fish” surrogates for conflicts over Native American rights?

Speaking of right, here’s how race, oyster fishing and pollution intersect.

Argentinian developers turned wetlands into an upscale gated community. The capybara are fighting back.

The power of seaweed to fight global warming.

Dubai promised to plan one million trees. The reality is less impressive.

Is it sustainable farming if nobody can afford the food?

San Francisco International Airport is saving a snake from extinction.

Beavers have returned to Scotland.

I’ve written before about the problems of relying on algorithms to make judgment calls (also see here). The AP says ShotSpotter software, designed to identify and locate gunshots, is another example: not always accurate, the company won’t let anyone analyze its programs and the techs are willing to rewrite reports if police say the gunshot happened somewhere else.

Well, that’s just the best new (he said sarcastically). The first responders of 9/11 may be slipping into dementia at a much accelerated rate due to the chemicals they were exposed to. But until there’s hard confirmation via research, the responders’ health fund won’t cover it.

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