Sunday, July 1, 2007

Roswell, 1947

There has been a lot of speculation over the years about the UFO crash near Roswell, New Mexico, just after the second world war. But none of the previous explanations I've read make much sense--I have always scoffed at the idea that the government would cover up a UFO discovery to prevent "global panic." That's ridiculous. I think most of us would read about an event like that and say, "Wow, there really is life on other planets," and then set our alarms to wake up for work the next morning.

Many people have asked me how Sharanrala and I were left in Colorado by the Elions--why didn't anyone see us? Why weren't we picked up by any radar or military surveillance? The answer is simple when you think about it. For such an advanced race, evading our primitive surveillance technology is no problem at all.

But what did happen at Roswell, and why was it covered up? There can be little doubt that something crash-landed in Roswell that night, and that it was carefully--ridiculously so, if it was a crashed weather balloon or airplane as many have conjectured--covered up by the US government, which declared the site top secret (the infamous "Area 51").

A much more reasonable explanation can be found in a small blue diary, written by a man who has actually seen and spoken to the advanced race who not only lost a spacecraft but also the lives of its entire crew that night. The government closed off the area and declared it top secret because they knew that studying the craft would have profound implications for the United States military. The secrets they unlocked helped us to develop stealth technology, night-vision technology, and has played a major role in the rise to dominance of the US military in the half-century since the crash.

The Elions have had advanced technology for millions of years on their planet, and their understanding of the universe, physics, mathematics, biology, time, and space far surpasses our primitive understanding, and unlocks the power of the universe in a way that we can only imagine.

By studying the alien craft, US military engineers were able to master concepts that would have naturally taken several more generations for them to grasp. They could have, if they had the mental capacity, moved much farther in their thinking by examining that ship, but they simply couldn't grasp some of the more complex elements of the Elion ship before it was silently but forcibly retaken by the Elions--the craft was just too complex for scientists to understand. Consider the recently emerging cloaking technology--which by projecting an image of what is behind an object onto the front of that object makes it invisible to the naked eye--we are only now beginning to grasp how the Elions accomplish this feat. Yet for the them, that kind of technology is basic and commonplace.

We are to the point now that most of us recognize that there probably is life out there somewhere. Often we ask ourselves why they don't make themselves known to us. The answer is a complex combination of factors, but the most important thing to remember is that for those of us who are looking closely, they have made themselves known to us. It's a slow process and the Elions have learned from experience not to rush these things. We'll see when we're ready to see. The question is, are we looking?

Know the truth. Read Letter from Tomorrow.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Sopranos Final Episode

Spoiler Alert--if you haven't seen the last episode of The Sopranos yet, and don't want to know how it ends, don't read this post. If you haven't seen Scarface or Goodfellas either, you should.

I am completely baffled by the response that the final episode of the Sopranos has received. The fact that so many people were disappointed just blows my mind--I thought the ending was perfect.

Remember the very first episode of the Sopranos? It began with Dr. Melfie and Tony talking about Tony's panic attacks. He sought treatment for those attacks, which was the premise of the show in the first place, and Melfie continued to treat him even after she learned that he was a sociopath and a mob boss. For season after season I wondered why Melfie continued to see him year after year, and David Chase did a fantastic job of exploring her motivations--ranging from fascination with Tony's lifestyle to a repressed yearning for his power to an even more repressed sexual attraction to a genuine desire to help him.

So, the entire plot of the show came to a satisfying end when Melfie, confronted with hard evidence that "talk therapy" is actually harmful for sociopaths (which I think is very evident throughout all six seasons--Melfie helps Tony in his work as a mob boss immensely, helping him to sort out problems, think through solutions, and always get the upper hand). She ends his therapy in the last two episodes when she realizes the harm she is doing, thus ending the show that began six years earlier when Tony first sought her help--hardly the "sudden and unsatisfying" ending that so many fans have complained about.

Also, the way that David Chase set up the final episodes was a fantastic cliffhanger. For two hours we sat on the edge of our seat wondering if this was the end for Tony. The principal actors were dropping like flies and the hit on Tony had been ordered by Phil. But of course, Tony finds a way to outsmart New York once again and secure his position as Don of New Jersey and simultaneously expand his position in NYC. This is a goal that he has had for years, as he has always had his finger in the pie up in New York through real estate deals, union deals, and other minor (and sometimes major) incursions into Phil's territory. Again, we get a satisfying conclusion to a plot line that was well-developed for six fantastic seasons when he gets the upper hand on Phil and expands his ties to the New York mob.

I read from one fan who argued that this was "David Chase's joke on all of us." I don't see the joke--the last scene was suspenseful and powerful (even bringing up allusions to the Godfather dinner/assassination scene so as to keep the suspense alive until the very last second). In my opinion this was the perfect ending--it cemented Tony's place in the popular imagination. He will never be Scarface who was gunned down in the final scene of the film, or the Godfather dying quietly in the garden--he will live forever in our minds, ruling New Jersey with his fascinating combination of compassion, intelligence, and brutal force. How could it be any better?

One of the most interesting things about that final scene was the way that they showed AJ and Meadow pulling up to the restaurant--both in beautiful, brand-new cars. To me, that said everything we need to know. Tony not only survived, he thrived, and he made a fortune in the process (he even managed to get a hefty annuity from the New York mob for Janice, his nut-case sister).

A brilliant ending to a brilliant show. Not only did Chase manage to avoid a Godfather III-style meltdown that would have tarnished the image of the franchise, he ended the show in a satisfying, yet appropriately open-ended episode that secured the position of the Sopranos as one of the greatest television programs in the history of the medium.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Crop Circles

Another question that I've been asked a lot has to do with the Elions, who I talk about in Letter from Tomorrow quite a bit. I mention that they are a highly advanced race which is responsible for a lot of things around the galaxy; the one that is most visible to us is probably the creation of crop circles.

I know that all of you have heard about "the great crop circle hoax" and the people who have come out claiming to have created the crop circles by pushing crops down with boards at night. They got a lot of free press coverage (that must have been their fifteen minutes, Mr. Warhol) but their claims were quickly debunked. The size and complexity of most crop circles is far beyond anything the would-be hoaxers could create for the press, and they were immediately identified as fake by anyone who took a closer look.

In the faked crop circles the crops were broken and bent, crushed to the ground by the board. But in a genuine crop circle, the crops not only aren't broken or crushed, they're actually woven into the overall pattern of the circle as they are bent to the ground without being broken or crushed. Next time one appears, go check it out and you'll see what I mean.

The one that appeared in Loveland (seven miles from my home) one week before Letter from Tomorrow was published was unusual in that the crops had actually been entirely removed from a semi-circle of a farm south of highway 34 west of I-25. What was interesting, as the local paper, the Reporter Herald reported, was that there were not tire tracks or footprints in or around the circle. If people are creating these as as hoaxes, they not only have the ability to move incredibly quickly, they must also have some pretty amazing techniques--well beyond simply stomping on the crops with a board.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Questions . . . Answered

How does Sharanrala know so much about the Earth?

As I talk to readers of Letter from Tomorrow I have noticed that there are a couple of questions that seem to come up over and over that I wanted to address here. Although the book is really about what, where, and who we are now, the realities of the larger universe figure prominently into the story and because they are not exhaustively explored in the book (as they could, of course, not possibly be) there are some questions left unanswered. The first one is probably the one that I've heard the most often, and that is the question above: "How does Sharanrala know so much about the Earth?" As an Eowelmnian, she seems inordinately preoccupied with us; not just the Earth in general, but the Earth in the first part of the twenty-first century. People have wondered about this, and I have to agree that it is worth an explanation. The narrator of Letter recently let me read some words that he had written in his journal, which I think may help answer some things:

January 25, 2007

When I first met Sharanrala she said very little about Eowelmn, the Eowelmnians, or perhaps more interestingly, the Elions themselves. As time went on, though, I did learn some key ideas: The Elions are the most advanced species in the Milky Way, and they brought a small group of people from an Earth-Goddess culture that lived on what is now south-eastern Europe, to a nearby planet that orbits the star 18 Scorpii. Sharanrala's people left Earth in order to preserve a population of our species on the habitable planet of Eowelmn. Sharanrala is a representative of her planet, chosen by her planet's council, as an emissary to our world.

Before she came back with me to Earth, she taught at a prestigious university, specializing in Earth Studies. She was told about my mission to her planet about 20 years before we arrived, when she was just ten years old. Since that time she has studied Earth languages, cultures, religions, and history through the lens of the Elion historical record--the scientific data of a culture that has been photographing, recording, and storing information about the planet Earth for more than eight hundred thousand years. Sharanrala doesn't talk about it much, but she studied at an Eowelmnian University for eight years. Her telepathic abilities have made her an incredible student, and she has always taken an extra load of classes, even in an education system that is incomprehensibly specialized.

In the library of the University she attended she had instantaneous access to any text written on any planet in the Milky Way for ages beyond ages. Of course, she could read less than .001% of them--she can read only nine languages. Unfortunately, I had to write Letter from Tomorrow for her, since she can read our language perfectly, but does not write well in English. Unfortunately, there are limitations to what I--a twenty-first century Earthling--can be capable of understanding. I am trying to learn Eowelmnian, so that I can read her book. It's impossible to translate into English, so I'm struggling to learn their laborious language. I shouldn't complain, though, it's beautiful and deep--evolved in an effort to much more fully explain the depth and breadth of what a person is thinking. Sharanrala told me that there are Eowelmnian books written by two people together, in a full dialog of telepathic thought.

It's a beautiful universe. I think that really Sharanrala would like to move even farther back in time, but the Elions don't like to bring people from time to time on the same planet--it creates paradoxes of thought and time for too many people and requires an unimaginable quantity of energy. Yesterday Sharanrala joked that the Elions don't seem to want to see us trying to compete with Jules Verne on the best-seller lists any time soon.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Christopher Moltisanti

Spoiler alert
--if you have not seen the latest episodes of season six of the Sopranos, you should know that the following post contains a serious spoiler.

I am mourning the passing of my favorite character in the Sopranos. My wife cried. I found it to be a perfectly poignant end to the conflict between Tony and Chrissie. Only three episodes left, and I seriously doubt that we have seen the last of Christopher (how many characters have come back in dreams, the after-life, etc.?).

Obviously, the show would not exist without David Chase and James Gandolfini is the most essential actor, but other than that, who is the most essential member of the Sopranos team? I believe it is the writer of two of the three best episodes of the whole series--Michael Imperioli is not only an Emmy award-winning Method actor of the highest order, he is a brilliant writer as well.

He first began writing for Sopranos with "From Where to Eternity," a ground-breaking episode in which Paulie is haunted by the ghosts of all his former kills and sees a psychic who can literally see and talk to the ghosts who are haunting Paulie. That was the freakiest episode to that point in the series.

"The Tell Tale Moozadell" I believe, is the third best episode so far (I have seen them all to this point, there are only three episodes I haven't seen yet--I hope, but doubt, that one of the next three will break into my top 3). You have Meadow hooking up with Jackie Jr, Anthony Junior getting in trouble with vandalism at his school, and Michael Imperioli giving Adrianna her club--three of the best sub-plots ever.

"Christopher" shows Imperioli settling in to his role as a Sopranos writer. It has all the benefits of a perfectly crafted episode written by a master of the trade. The story of the Italian community in opposition to the Native American community is amazingly frank and yes, it demonstrates empathy for a group of people whose identity conflicts markedly with, yet oddly mirrors, Imperioli's Italian heritage.

"Everybody Hurts" is the second best episode of the Sopranos series, right behind "College," which is undoubtedly the best episode ever (written by Jim Manos Junior and David Chase). Imperioli's bold effort shows his character Christopher in the throes of addiction, a talent that Michael has continued to develop as a Method actor. It also has Artie ending up foolishly owing Tony $50,000, which is one of the most heart-warming story lines of the whole darn adventure.

"Marco Polo" has Tony and Carmela reuniting from their separation in another solid episode. Not a bad list of credits writing for one of the most critically acclaimed television series ever. Michael's continued dedication to his roots in stage acting is also remarkable, as he has invested in Studio Dante, a theater company dedicated to live stage acting conceived by Michael and his wife Victoria.

R.I.P. Christopher Moltisanti.

I can't wait to see your next project Michael Imperioli--from Goodfellas to Sopranos, you've been where the best of the genre has been for a while now. So, where do we go next?

Monday, May 7, 2007

Life in Libra?

It seems that Sharanrala may not be too far off when she tells us that there is life all over the universe, not just on this one solitary planet alone. Scientists have recently discovered a planet circling a star in the constellation Libra that is the most Earth-like planet yet observed. The odds of highly advanced intelligent life existing on this planet are slim to none because of its high gravity, but still, a planet that may well support some form of life is just over 20 light years away--much closer than Eowelmn (which circles the star 18 Scorpii).

Life exists anywhere and everywhere that the proper conditions are met--the process that creates or created it is beyond my personal ability to understand fully, but the fact that we are here and the very real possibility that life may be "out there" also is reason enough for me to stand rapt in awe as I stare out at the stars in wonder and contemplate the unimaginably beautiful universe that we find ourselves in.

Thursday, May 3, 2007


I am an English teacher, but I hate spelling. I don't give spelling tests because I think they're a waste of time, and I even object to the very idea of a codified system of spelling as unnecessary and even detrimental to the English language. Before you call me a moron and pray for the children of America who have this kind of an English teacher (too late?) let me explain.

My objection to spelling is philosophical. Let me first state that I agree that students need to learn audience adaptation and that giving students access to the power code is an essential part of what I do as a teacher. I would not be a good teacher if I did not follow the curriculum standard which clearly states that students should learn and use proper grammar, mechanics, and spelling.

However, I do not believe that spelling tests are an effective way to teach spelling. They are an assessment of a student's ability to spell, but they don't teach a student how to spell. The best way to learn spelling is by reading--repeated exposure to words in context works much better. By the way, the same is true of grammar rules--reading is the best way to learn them (Check out the book Understanding English Grammar, particularly the first chapter, or just about anything written by George Hillocks for more on this. Bottom line is, if in doubt look it up (which is much easier now that so many kids have a spell-checker and are writing on a computer that has web access so that they can double-check problem words like their/they're). If you use all the time you save by not giving spelling tests to work on grammar and spelling in context you can get a lot more done. I do grade spelling in my student's formal essays, but not in their journals. I want their journals to be a place where they can focus on content and critical thinking rather than worrying about spelling and grammar (I give guided, specific prompts [level 3 questions about the texts we're studying] for journals--they are not free writing or morning pages style journals).

The issue goes deeper than that for me, however. While it is part of my job to teach students how to write in formal situations for audiences that expect good spelling, it is not my job to like it, or to believe that it is an important, worthwhile, or even legitimate project. I believe that spelling is just another way for people to judge others, feel superior to others, and find ways to discriminate against other people. I can't count the number of times I've seen a comment posted on the web criticizing another person's spelling and the comment itself contains misspelled/misused words or grammar errors!

This is a fact of life, I know, and kids need to learn that they will be judged, whether it's fair or not, by the way they speak, dress, wear their hair, and write. But spelling in the English language does not make sense. We have held over spellings of words from Old English, and continued to include letters that are no longer pronounced. Words like "weigh," "through," "night," and "sleigh" were originally spelled phonetically by speakers of a "vulgar" tongue that did not have a codified system of spelling. Having studied Old and Middle English texts, I can tell you that often the spelling of words changed even within a single text, let alone between different texts. But once our spelling was codified it has remained stagnant (with one minor change made by Webster in order to "Americanize" our spelling). But while the pronunciation of these words has changed, and the meaning of these words has changed, and the syntax of our grammar system for organizing these words has changed, the spelling of our words has not changed--why?

It makes life more difficult for English language learners of all ability levels and backgrounds. It makes students afraid to write and "dumbs down" their writing because they replace the word that they really want to use with one that's easier to spell. The same argument applies to many of our most cherished grammar rules. I agree that some are necessary to avoid ambiguity, but way too many of our grammar rules are arbitrary and unnecessary.

I devote two whole days of my Freshman English class to reading about and discussing the philosophy behind grammar and spelling rules, in which I explain the importance of learning the power code while also explaining how much I detest and resent the fact that the power code is defined and enforced by those who are in power and enfranchised by the system at the expense of those who are not. It's just another form of discrimination masquerading as education.

This is from a junk email, and I have read various opinions as to whether the idea contained herein is legitimate or not, let alone the assertion that it comes from research at Cambridge (which I've been unable to find any evidence of). But at the very least, I think that it is food for thought. I turned it into a poster and have it posted in my classroom:

Do Not Read This!

I cdnoult blveiee that I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd what I was rdanieg! Wtienss the azaimng pweor of the hmuan mnid. Aoccdrnig to rseeacrh at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer waht odrer the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer are in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit too mcuh torbule. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Itnseretnig, huh? Wow, and I awlyas tuohght slpeling was ipmorantt!

Any thoughts?