Category Archives: UFO

TEAOTK*: Visits To A Teensy Planet

* Things Every Adult Ought To Know, No. 1

Welcome to the first of — it is to be hoped — many. This one will provide few answers but many questions. And isn’t that what science is all about?

They’re Here! They’re Here!

Every ten or so years for the past three quarters of a century, Americans go UFO crazy.

Just after the end of World War II, and extending into the early 1950s, people in our Holy Land started seeing UFOs all over the place. Then, in the mid ’60s and on into the ’70s, after a lull in sightings, people became all agog over alien visitations again. UFO mania hit rock bottom in the ’80s and ’90s and then on into the 21st Century when people were too busy playing the stock market or worrying about when the Muslim War on the West * would explode. [ * Speaking of manias. ]

1st Question: Do You Believe In UFOs?

Well, do ya, punk? As for me, the answer is, Yes, of course I believe in UFOs! No one in good conscience and/or operating under the simple rules of grammar and logic can deny the existence of UFOs. They are things some people occasionally see in the sky that they cannot in any way, y’know, identify.

Now, if what you really mean is Do you believe this planet is being visited by intelligent beings from some other planet and they have been flying around for decades, watching us do whatever it is they think we’re doing?, my answer would be somewhat different. Is it possible alien spaceships are careening through our blue skies? Sure. It’s possible. Anything’s possible. But is it probable? Now things get a little sticky.

Perhaps one of the reasons many people are eager to believe UFOs are actually alien spaceships is their knowledge that even we, humans, the otherwise lunkheads who cannot save ourselves from climate change immolation or racial bigotry or jaw-dropping wealth inequalities, have already, in the last 64 years * sent rocket ships and odd-looking machines into orbit around the Earth; to the moon, Mars, and Venus; on a grand tour of the solar system, and even into the fiery Sun.

[ * The USSR launched Sputnik into Earth orbit on October 4, 1957. It was the first human-made gadget ever to partially escape the bonds of this planet’s gravity. Sputnik, nearly two feet in diameter, was a shiny hollow metal ball with four radio antennae attached to it. Frankly, it looked cool as hell but, natch, it scared the bejesus out of America because many of us alive and aware at the time figured the godless commies were fixin’ to either drop hydrogen bombs on us from orbit or at least keep an eye on everything we do down here. Sputnik 1 stayed in orbit for precisely three months; it burned up in the atmosphere on January 4, 1958. The launch of that first Sputnik (Russian for satellite — clearly the Russkies’ guys in charge of naming the thing were not spiritual descendants of Tolstoy or Chekhov) signaled the beginning of the Space Race. ]

The idea being, hell, if we can do it, surely others in this big, wide universe can send contraptions our way, right?

The problem is, our space travels thus far have been embarrassingly modest in scope and distance. We’ve not yet come anywhere near traveling to inhabited cosmic locales. Some researchers suspect Mars or Saturn’s moon Enceladus may now or at some time in the past have harbored primitive, microscopic life, but it’s a good bet those little critters — if they exist — aren’t running around telling each other about visitors from another planet.

The farthest one of our spacecraft has flown is Voyager 1, launched in September, 1977,  to go poking around the outer reaches of the Solar System. As of May 31st this year, it is still flying outward from us and the Sun, still receiving and transmitting messages, and is a little bit more than 14 billion miles away from our star. Now 14 billion miles seems like a fairly ambitious trek but, in the scheme of things, it’s next to nothing.


It’s taken Voyager 1 some 47 years to get that far out. But, as I say, “that far out” ain’t squat. The space probe still is within the boundaries of the Solar System. Even at 14 B miles out, it’s not but a third of the way to the currently known edge of the Solar System, a boundary known as the Kuiper Cliff. The farthest extent of the Kuiper Belt, the eponymous Cliff is that the place beyond which no objects circling the Sun have yet been identified. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, only that we can’t see them. So the Solar System just might extend out much farther than the 47 billion-mile circumference of the Kuiper Cliff.

That means we haven’t even left home yet, really.

So, assuming no intelligent creatures live in our Solar System (and there’s debate over the question of whether we humans are intelligent creatures, to be honest) we’ll have to look to the stars for civilizations that might be advanced enough to take an extended weekend trip to this tiny rock.

The nearest star to our Solar System is called Proxima Centauri. It is four and a quarter light years away. That’s almost 25 trillion miles. Trillion, babies. Twenty five thousand billion. It’d take Voyager 1, were it so aimed, nearly 84,000 years to get to Proximi Centauri at its current rate of speed. To give you an idea of how long that is, consider that humanity, 84,000 years ago, had not yet achieved its Great Leap Forward, in which it learned to bury its dead, make clothing from animals skins, or even draw those animal figures in the Lascaux caves in southwest France. In other words, humans have evolved to a spectacularly dramatic extent in that time. How might our species evolve over the next 84,000 years. We’d certainly be unrecognizable to our contemporary selves, no?

Anyway, let’s assume that putative intelligent civilization on a planet circling Proxima Centauri has developed a propulsion system allowing its space probes to travel much faster than Voyager 1. There are a couple of problems with getting spaceships up to interstellar speeds. One is fuel. You can’t use coal or gasoline to achieve those speeds, of course, and even our most advanced liquid rocket fuels — subcooled liquid oxygen and kerosene in Space X’s Falcon Heavy — can only produce speeds of 25,000 miles per hour. And the Heavy must carry 430 tons of the stuff to get it into orbit around the Earth. Multiply that on the fingers of both hands plus those of several of your friends to get a rocket free of the Earth’s gravitational bonds. That’s heavy (you’ll pardon the pun) and a problem our Proxima Centauri folks’d have had to overcome so many, may, many, many, many years ago.


Let’s assume the Proxima Centauri-ites have developed the Mother of All Rockets, capable of propelling a probe at speeds far beyond what we, simple humans, have thus far conjured. How fast would it go?

Faster, Faster, Faster!

Well, you’d like it to travel at some significant fraction of the speed of light, right? Oops. There’s another problem. The speed of light is the universe’s…, well, speed limit. No complex piece of material can travel faster than that. In fact any material that even approaches that speed limit soon begins to transform itself into pure energy. Meaning some super-advanced Toyota Prius whose makers might hope for it to go, say, 90 percent the speed of light, would soon become just another part of the electromagnetic spectrum, rather than a readily identifiable coupé. That’d play havoc with the comfort of its occupants.

Not only that, the energy needed to accelerate a nice-sized piece of machinery to any significant fraction of the speed of light approaches infinity the nearer it gets to that speed. It takes scads and gobs of energy simply to get a subatomic particle within a fraction of the speed of light at places like CERN’s Large Hadron Collider or Fermilab’s Tevatron, so much so that when the operators of those devices turn them on, people in surrounding areas see their light dim. Imagine the power needs of our souped-up Prius.

You Need A Machine This Big To Accelerate A Proton.

So, we’ll have to say it’d take those Proxima Centauri explorers at the very least many thousands of years to get to us, during which time, they’ll not only have evolved through countless generations but they’ll have had to eat, defecate, bathe, read, have sex, clean out their rocket’s closets, and all the other things intelligent creatures must do. I’d guess after some tens of thousands of years, interstellar space travelers probably would have forgotten why in the hell they headed this way in the first place.

Then again, they might have sent un-crewed space probes to visit us. That’s a possibility. The problem there is powering the thing. The Proxima Centauri-ites’d have to have come up with a power source to keep the turn signals and navigation system on in the thing, no mean feat. Any civilization that comes up with a battery that lasts tens of thousands of years is advanced indeed.

Say they did send an un-crewed craft to fly around our skies. Fair enough; as I say it could be possible. The thing is, people these days are seeing not one, not a couple, not several, not even ten, but dozens and hundreds of UFOs that, they think, must most assuredly be alien spaceships. All those problems associated with getting one craft here from another star’s planet must be multiplied accordingly to get those hundreds here.


Guns are displayed at Dragonman’s, an arms seller east of Colorado Springs, Colo.

Come to think of it, why is the Earth so special that another civilization must labor so spectacularly to get here? And why must that civilization’s scientists keep its probes circling the Earth for years and years and years only to learn that we obsessively watch TV, hate each other over our external colors, spend our treasure on devices that kill each other, and amuse ourselves by listening to Kanye West and Harry Styles?

Were I a Proxima Centuari-ite, I’d say Earthlings are a dreadful bore when they’re not downright dangerously weird. Let’s go someplace else.


I’ll say it again, it’s entirely possible some wildly advanced alien civilization has visited the Earth or is in the process of gallivanting around in our atmosphere. I doubt, though, if it’s true, that we’d even be able to recognize their arrival. The difficulties in interstellar travel are so many that we can’t even comprehend what such successful travelers between the stars might look like. They wouldn’t be traveling in souped-up Priuses or even customized Falcon Heavy rockets.

I can’t see the dark blobs on photographs and videotape taken by Air Force pilots being the preferred method of interstellar space exploration for a group of beings that has somehow outpaced human intellectual development by a factor of thousands.

Again, there are UFOs, to be sure. And again, we have no idea what in the holy hell they are.


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The Pencil Today:


“American men, as a group, seem to be interested in only two things, money and breasts. It seems a very narrow outlook.” — Hedy Lamarr


If you’re a Monroe County resident, you can vote today at The Curry Building, 214 W. Seventh St., from 8am-6pm.

Again we remind you, in order to streamline the electoral process, Republicans are being asked to vote on Wednesday, November 7th. Do your part.


If I never hear the words “battleground state” again, it’ll be too soon.

See, I’ve heard those annoying words on the radio or read them online more times than all the following really important terms put together:

  • Collateralized debt obligations
  • Credit-default swaps
  • Glass-Steagall repeal
  • Deregulation
  • Ayn Rand-ism
  • Risky assets
  • Faulty bond ratings
  • Debt leveraging
  • The bubble economy

You know — all those things that got us into this economic shithole in the first place?

As long as we’re too dense to see elections as anything other than entertainment, like horse races or Super Bowls, guys who dream up “creative financial instruments” will continue picking our pockets no matter who takes what battleground state.


As long as we’re on the topic of Things That Annoy Me, have you heard that the NFL this week will have its game officials drop pink penalty flags during a game between the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins?

So, every time a defensive lineman attempts to bring down a runner by twisting his facemask, thereby severing the poor sap’s spinal cord — in other words, the usual Sunday afternoon fun — the referees, umpires, back judges, line judges, and all other striped constables on the field will toss pink flags rather than their customary yellow ones.

Throw The Pink Flag!

(And why in god’s holy name do there have to be so many officials — gangs of them — on an NFL field? This is as baffling as why each NFL team has to have upwards of 20 coaches. That’s right, I’m not exaggerating — 20 or more coaches per team. Honestly, I think the NFL is insane. I mean, there are coaches and advisers sprinkled throughout each stadium, photographing plays, drawing up strategies, trying to divine what the opposition might do next, and all of them communicating with each other through electronic systems that make NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover radio set-up look like a couple of tin cans with string attached. Fellas, it’s a game for pity’s sake!)

Anyway, the NFL is going pink for breast cancer, natch. Every other sport has gotten into the pink craze the last few years. Hardly a day goes by when Major League hitters aren’t swinging pink bats or NBA point guards aren’t wearing pink ribbon patches on their uniforms.

Look, I’m a guy and I don’t have breasts to worry about, but, come on, is breast cancer the only disease left on the planet? And don’t hit me with the men-can-get-breast-cancer-too line. The odds of a UFO appearing over the stadium at London’s Olympics opening ceremony, according to one betting house, were precisely the same as those for a man suffering breast cancer — 1000 to one.

So, yeah, I’m not losing sleep over breast cancer messing up my life. I would assume most women are. And everybody’s been spending the last few years jumping on the breast cancer bandwagon.

The question has to be asked: Why breasts? Lung cancer is far more deadly for women in the US than breast cancer is, yet you don’t see NBA players bouncing basketballs painted up to look like spongy, alveoli-packed bellows, do you?

My take is breast cancer in women is the only thing that scares the poo out of American men because we have a breast fixation. If a woman loses her uterus to cancer, we shrug. But if she loses a breast, we’re aghast. Our puerile, tit-fetishy culture sees women pretty much as annoyances with big things on their chests we want to get our hands on.

In fact, we’re so obsessed with women’s racks that we go gaga over gals who’ve had bags of silicon surgically implanted under their thoracic skin.

Victoria Beckham’s Plastic

Reminds me of the time I had a drunken discussion at adjoining urinals at Chicago’s Club Lago with a guy I knew. He was raving about his new girlfriend. “Aw, Big Mike, she’s fantastic,” he gushed. “She’s got blond hair. She’s built, man! She’s got a good gig. She wants sex all the time.”

The guy zipped up and bestowed upon me the piece de resistance, the cherry on the sundae, the Number One in his Top Ten List of why his new girlfriend was the bomb. “And Big Mike, this is the truth,” he said, grinning, “she’s got fake tits!”

I swear I think he wanted me to carry him out of the men’s room on my shoulders.

As I said, I’m a guy, so I know this: We’re breast nutty.

The NFL, the NBA, the NHL, and Major League Baseball are virtually boys-only clubs. They want to show women that they care about them, considering females do buy tickets to games, but the idea of worrying about ovarian cancer or heart attack leaves them cold. But god forbid our little ladies should lose one or both of their tatas!

Then what would they be? The prospect is simply too chilling for most men to contemplate.


And speaking of condescending to our holy land’s little gals, Fujitsu has introduced a spanking new laptop just for them.

It’s called the Floral Kiss, which sounds like a pretty cool new sex technique, but is actually a trademark for a new PC designed for humans who possess vaginas. The Floral Kiss comes in your choice of colors: Elegant White, Feminine Pink, and Luxury Brown. Your smart new laptop also comes with gold trim. Whee!

Ooh! What Happens If I Press This Little Thing-y?

By “smart” I mean, of course, fashionable and trendy, not, y’know, having anything to do with you actually having to use your silly brain. So don’t worry your pretty little head off.

Jenna Sauers of Jezebel writes: “Maybe if you’re very good, you could ask your husband to buy you one for Christmas!”


It’s getting harder by the moment to be a Cubs fan.

The daddy-o of the clan that bought the team a couple of years ago for $845MM is the bankroll behind Dinesh D’Souza‘s “documentary” slopfest entitled “2016: Obama’s America.”

Joe Ricketts: Billionaire Blowhard

In the film, D’Souza posits that the President of the United States actually hates America. Don’t ask me to explain; the “thought processes” of D’Souza and his flock are beyond normal human comprehension.

Anyway, why does the man who set his kids up as billionaires so they could buy my fave baseball team have to be the one who finances this gunk? (Happily, two of the Ricketts kids — Cubs chairman Tom and Board Member Laura — have disavowed Dad’s right wing stances.)

Isn’t it bad enough that the Cubs have not appeared in a World Series since 1945 and haven’t won one since 1908? Now I have to root for them despite the fact that the owners’ papa is a wingnut?

All This And D’Souza, Too?

Believe me, if my boys ever win the Series in my lifetime, I’ll celebrate as never before, then I’ll wash my hands of them.

The only events listings you need in Bloomington.

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

VOTE TODAY ◗The Curry Building, 214 W. Seventh St.; 8am-6pm

STUDIO TOUR ◗ Brown County, various locationsThe Backroads of Brown County Studio Tour, free, self-guided tour of 16 local artists’ & craftspersons’ studios; 10am-5pm, through October

POETRY & BOOKS ◗ Various locations around IU campus & BloomingtonSylvia Plath Symposium 2012, celebrating 50 years since the publication of her “Ariel” collection, Through Saturday, Today’s highlights at IU Memorial Union, Whittenberger Auditorium:

  • Lynda K. Bundtzen speaks about Plath’s psychotherapy, & use of unconscious in her 1958 poems, Langdon hammer speaks about James Merril’s use of the Ouija® board for inspiration; 9:30-10:20am
  • Linda Adele Goodine & Suzie Hanna sepak about juvenile/adult fantasy & the liminal space between waking & dreaming; 10:30-11:20am
  • Jeanne Marie Beaumont, Annie Finch, Kathleen Ossip, & David Trinidad speak about PLath’s influence on the poetic process; 1-2:20pm
  • Bill Buckley & Peter K. Steinberg speak about Plath’s influence on scholars, students, & artists; 2:30-2:50pm
  • Linda Gates speaks about Plath’s relationships with A. Alvarez, Ted Hughes, & Assia Wevill; 3-3:20pm
  • Diann Blakely, Bill Buckley, Peter Cooley, Kimberly Maxwell, & Jennifer Thompson on being inspired, influenced, & healed by Plath; 3:30-5:30pm

POETRY ◗ Rachael’s CafeB-Town Poets, Open mic reading; 5-7pm

PANEL DISCUSSION IU Memorial Union, Walnut Room — “Human Trafficking & Media,” Penelists include Yana Hashamova of Ohio State University, Jon Daggy of Indianapolis Metropolitan Police, & Lesley Yarranton, London-based journalist; 5:20pm

BENEFIT ◗ Upland Brewing Company5th Annual Local Growers Guild Harvest Dinner; 6pm

LECTURE ◗ IU Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center — “Sex, Germs, & Worms: Infectious Disease in Primate Societies,” Presented by Charlie Nunn of Harvard University; 6pm

MUSIC ◗ Malibu GrillSteve Johnson Trio; 6-9pm

BENEFIT ◗ The Fields Clubhouse, Clarizz & Moores PikeHarvest Gathering, Dinner & silent auction, For Community Justice & Mediation Center, Featured speaker Jody Lynee Madiera of Maurer School of Law discusses her book, “Killing McVeigh: The Death Penalty & the Myth of Closure“; 6-9pm

FILM IU Cinema — “Blood of Jesus“; 7pm

MUSIC ◗ Max’s PlaceGrandview Junction; 7pm

MUSIC ◗ Muddy Boots Cafe, NashvilleZion Crossroads; 7-9pm

STAGE ◗ IU Wells-Metz Theatre — “Richard III“; 7:30pm

LECTURE — IU Maurer School of Law, Moot Court RoomPatten Lecture Series:Why Pictures of People About to Die Depict News Events Involving Death,” Presented by Barbie Zelizer; 7:30pm

MUSIC ◗ The Player’s PubOpen mic hosted by Martina Samm; 7:30pm

COMEDY ◗ The Comedy AtticMichael Winslow; 8pm

MUSIC IU Auer HallNew Music Ensemble, David Dzubay, director, & Joseph Schwantner, guest composer; 8pm

MUSIC & BENEFIT ◗ Rachael’s CafeLive music, Presented by WIUX PledgeFest; 8pm

FILM IU Memorial Union, Whittenberger AuditoriumUB Films: “The Campaign“; 8pm

MUSIC ◗ The BluebirdKeller Williams; 9pm

MUSIC ◗ The BishopThe Broderick Album Release Show, The Kernal, Fluffer; 9:30pm

FILM IU Memorial Union, Whittenberger AuditoriumUB Films: “The Campaign“; 11pm


ART ◗ IU Art MuseumExhibits:

  • “New Acquisitions,” David Hockney; through October 21st
  • “Paragons of Filial Piety,” by Utagawa Kuniyoshi; through December 31st
  • “Intimate Models: Photographs of Husbands, Wives, and Lovers,” by Julia Margaret, Cameron, Edward Weston, & Harry Callahan; through December 31st
  • French Printmaking in the Seventeenth Century;” through December 31st
  • Celebration of Cuban Art & Film: Pop-art by Joe Tilson; through December 31st
  • Threads of Love: Baby Carriers from China’s Minority Nationalities“; through December 23rd
  • Workers of the World, Unite!” through December 31st
  • Embracing Nature,” by Barry Gealt; through December 23rd
  • Pioneers & Exiles: German Expressionism,” through December 23rd

ART ◗ Ivy Tech Waldron CenterExhibits:

  • Ab-Fab — Extreme Quilting,” by Sandy Hill; October 5th through October 27th
  • Street View — Bloomington Scenes,” by Tom Rhea; October 5th through October 27th
  • From the Heartwoods,” by James Alexander Thom; October 5th through October 27th
  • The Spaces in Between,” by Ellen Starr Lyon; October 5th through October 27th

ART ◗ IU SoFA Grunwald GalleryExhibit:

  • Buzz Spector: Off the Shelf; through November 16th
  • Small Is Big; Through November 16th

ART ◗ IU Kinsey Institute GalleryExhibits:

  • A Place Aside: Artists and Their Partners;” through December 20th
  • Gender Expressions;” through December 20th

PHOTOGRAPHY ◗ IU Mathers Museum of World CulturesExhibit:

  • “CUBAmistad” photos

ART ◗ IU Mathers Museum of World CulturesExhibits:

  • “¡Cuba Si! Posters from the Revolution: 1960s and 1970s”
  • “From the Big Bang to the World Wide Web: The Origins of Everything”
  • “Thoughts, Things, and Theories… What Is Culture?”
  • “Picturing Archaeology”
  • “Personal Accents: Accessories from Around the World”
  • “Blended Harmonies: Music and Religion in Nepal”
  • “The Day in Its Color: A Hoosier Photographer’s Journey through Mid-century America”
  • “TOYing with Ideas”
  • “Living Heritage: Performing Arts of Southeast Asia”
  • “On a Wing and a Prayer”

BOOKS ◗ IU Lilly LibraryExhibit:

  • Outsiders and Others: Arkham House, Weird Fiction, and the Legacy of HP Lovecraft;” through November 1st
  • A World of Puzzles,” selections from the Slocum Puzzle Collection

PHOTOGRAPHY ◗ Soup’s OnExhibit:

  • Celebration of Cuban Art & Culture: “CUBAmistad photos; through October

PHOTOGRAPHY ◗ Monroe County History CenterExhibit:

  • Bloomington: Then and Now,” presented by Bloomington Fading; through October 27th

ARTIFACTS ◗ Monroe County History CenterExhibits:

  • Doctors & Dentists: A Look into the Monroe County Medical Professions
  • What Is Your Quilting Story?
  • Garden Glamour: Floral Fashion Frenzy
  • Bloomington Then & Now
  • World War II Uniforms
  • Limestone Industry in Monroe County

The Ryder & The Electron Pencil. All Bloomington. All the time.

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