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Calling in Sick on Mars

I recently came down with a virus, and you may not believe me on this, but it totally sucked. Believe me.

Getting sick always sucks, of course. I’m not trying to be melodramatic or anything, it was a run of the mill flu. Actually, who am I kidding, I was on my deathbed, I’m telling you! Only through sheer force of will did I make it out alive!!

(“Don’t listen to him, it was nothing. He’s just a big baby,” is what an editor would insert here. If I had one.)

“Treat a sick man with the medicine and a sad man with the music.” – Amit Kalantri

ONE SMALL STEP

On May 25, 1961, John Fitzgerald Kennedy announced to the world that the United States had a new mission, “before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong took one giant leap for human history, and he even made it home, too. All done using computers the size of a school bus. The point being, assuming the will and virtually unlimited resources, we could accomplish anything.

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I thought about this a lot when I was sick: we can decide to send a man to the moon and get it done in 8 years, but we still can’t cure the common cold, even after a millennia of runny noses.

The problem is that there are so many different types and strains of viruses, and to top it off, they keep mutating into new strains. It’s virtually impossible to keep up. And since regular colds are not really a big deal in the grand scheme of things, it’s not like massive resources are being funneled into the research.

The amount of attention devoted to developing new flavours of lozenges is off the charts, though.

It probably makes more sense to focus on boosting our immune systems to fight off these viruses, which is kind of hard to do when we’re stressed-out all the time and full of cortisol, eating a lot of junk, and doing presumptuous things like breathing air and drinking water (I’m looking at you, Flint, Michigan).

CHAOS THEORY

Richard Nixon attempted to pull off a similar plan to Kennedy’s in 1971, declaring that America’s next big project was to cure cancer. Unfortunately, we’re still working on this one.

But again, there are over 100 different kinds, and each divided cell changes the DNA in a different way. It’s not about pharmaceutical companies “burying” results, it’s just a lot of unbelievably complex work.

In fact it’s almost as complicated as deciphering those instruction manuals when you’re trying to assemble IKEA furniture.

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In so many ways, it’s a microcosm of life itself. A complex spiderweb of thoughts, emotions, actions and events, along with a generous heaping of random chaos.

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE

It’s fun to think about what will happen over the next 100 years. When you think about what happened over the last 100, it’s a lot! Two World Wars, invention of flight, television, moonwalking (kudos to you, Michael Jackson). Brain surgery, heart transplants, there’s some good stuff here. We’re still waiting for the flying cars, though. That makes me sad.

And sure, we still don’t know how to achieve peace in the Middle East, get telemarketers off the phone, or figure out how they get the caramel inside that chocolate bar, but all things considered, we probably descended from apes. Let’s just cut ourselves some slack and be happy we made it this far.

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Could you imagine going back to 1916 and explaining space travel or the internet to someone? Prozac or gluten-free tofu? Of course, after blowing their minds with all the cool stuff we know, you’d briefly mention you listed to the radio the other day, just to give them a little break, let them know that, you know, it’s okay, there’s at least one thing they can conceive of that still exists in the future.

Then you quickly explain satellite radio, Napster and the death of newspapers, do that MWAHAHA laughing thing, and run away waving your arms around like a lunatic.

3 MINUTES OR IT’S FREE

Of course, we have no way of knowing what will happen over the next 100 years, but I for one am really excited about the nanobots. Weird thing to be excited about, I guess, since they don’t exist, but come on. Think about it. Medical nanobots (basically teeny tiny robots) cruising through your bloodstream, cleaning and repairing stuff, guarding against infection. There’s gotta be like a 98% chance this is happening eventually, right? Will you guys hurry up, already? I’m not getting any younger over here. And I’m already sick!

Of course we will probably have blown ourselves up or invented Skynet by then, but let’s at least pretend to be optimistic.

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In the future, maybe they can deliver pizzas through some kind of underground tunnel system where the stuff goes flying through at a million miles an hour. Maybe all mail and packages can be sent through this thing too. Did I just earn my future self a trillion dollars? I can already  sense Elon Musk stealing my idea.

Also, wheat and sugar are cheap and plentiful, but also really bad for you, and the population is growing rapidly. What will our futurians eat? I wondered about this for quite a while, until I finally heard the answer not too long ago.

It’s cricket protein. You heard it here first. Seriously, look it up.

IT’S EXACTLY WHAT YOU THINK IT IS

So I guess the lesson here is that we’re probably more likely to land a manned mission on Mars than we are to find a cure for the sniffles. Which is pretty crazy when you get right down to it.

Can we assume there aren’t any viruses in the cold vacuum of space? Probably not, but we still don’t have a full understanding of the conditions on Mars, and as Jurassic Park taught us, “life finds a way”.

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Plus, remember how we always screw everything up? We’re sure to bring some viruses along with us! So odds are someday soon an astronaut is going to have to call in sick on Mars, and spend the day watching Netflix and feeling sorry for him (or her) self. It’ll probably only cost NASA a million dollars or two. So that movie better be really, really good.

And you’d better bring the popcorn with you, because I don’t think Amazon delivers that far. At least not until I finish patenting my outer space tunnel delivery system. 3 years or it’s free, baby! That’s our guarantee. No returns, though.

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The Long and Winding Road

(Spoiler Alert: This blog post contains spoilers about the Netflix TV show Making a Murderer. If you haven’t seen it yet, I suggest you do that first, before reading anything about it, anywhere).

Like about a gazillion other people out there, I recently watched Making a Murderer on Netflix with my jaw resting comfortably on the floor. There are many reasons why the show is so fascinating. The main one being that you could easily craft a theory of Steven Avery being guilty, or of Steven Avery being innocent, and they would both sound about equally plausible.

DOUBLE JEOPARDY

It’s also disturbing on a number of levels. Living in a first world country does often lead many people to lose sight of how valuable, and how fragile, our liberty really is. You’re free, until you’re not. I had a thought while watching the show, and I believe one of his lawyers said this as well, that you almost have to hope that Steven Avery is guilty. Because the thought of spending 18 years in prison for a crime you didn’t commit is enough to chill anyone to the bone. Now imagine finally being free thanks to DNA evidence, proving to the world you’re innocent, and standing on the verge of a multi-million dollar payment, and suddenly you’re sent back to jail for life for a second crime you didn’t commit. Framed by a couple of guys who ignored evidence you were innocent 8 years before you got out the first time. And be forced to acknowledge that the only thing that can get you out (the justice system) is completely broken. That’s almost too much for one human being to bear. This is your life, Steven Avery.

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The evidence against Avery is about as fucked-up as everything else in this case. There’s not a lot of it, and most of it is tainted with some kind of what-if, but there are several direct pieces of “evidence”, and a number of other facts and circumstantial evidence that fairly strongly support the idea of guilty. I won’t go through all of it here, but you can find all the details of the case at www.stevenaverycase.com, and follow new developments on the Reddit sub-forum at www.reddit.com/r/makingamurderer. Even if you acknowledge that most of the evidence was bungled, law enforcement could not have acted less professionally, and this case is full of bizarre coincidences, added together there is probably enough evidence here to make a reasonable case for a guilty verdict.

THE KEY

But then you start to think about the key. A murder victim’s car key, found in a suspect’s home, with his DNA on it … that’s pretty damning stuff. Until you hear that it contained Avery’s DNA, but not Teresa’s. And realize that it wasn’t found until the 7th time law enforcement officers entered that trailer. Now not all of them were searches, but at least a couple were, including one that was two and a half hours long. And apparently nobody decided to look under a pair of slippers or behind a small end table, until the 7th time officers were on the premises, which just happened to coincide with the arrival on the scene of the world’s two luckiest/unluckiest police officers of all time, James Lenk and Andrew Colborn. How about a road trip movie where these two guys travel across America framing people and planting evidence? “Your Honor, it’s a miracle, but Sgt. Lenk found O.J.’s second bloody glove and a signed confession in a blood-stained briefcase that nobody noticed before on Nicole’s kitchen table. The weird thing is that Andy Colborn’s driver’s license was found inside the briefcase, and the blood DNA is a match for Jimmy Hoffa”. I would pay to watch that!

GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT

Once the realization sinks in that the key was probably planted, all bets are off. Now my personal assessment of a man’s character based on watching a few video clips is probably not going to hold up in court, but nobody looked more guilty of something in this entire series than James Lenk. And what about the bullet? Found in the garage after many searches and after many months, coincidentally on a day that Lenk just happened to once again arrive on the scene. Also, what about Steven Avery’s blood in the victim’s Rav4? No, these two guys were nowhere near that crime scene, at least. Just kidding. Of course they were there! Lenk arrived either in broad daylight around 2:00pm or in darkness around 7:00pm (depending on which of his sworn statements you choose to believe), and Colborn made a bizarre (recorded) call to the office from his cell phone that sounded an awful lot like he was reading Teresa Halbach’s license plate right off the back of a Toyota Rav4, a couple of days before it was found. They had access to Avery’s blood from multiple sources including a vial in a package where the seal was found broken, and oh God what the hell is going on in the state of Wisconsin?!

Did I mention that no members of the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department were supposed to be anywhere near this investigation from the very beginning due to potential conflict of interest? And that instructions were specifically given to keep them away?

The fact remains that there was a $36 million lawsuit ongoing regarding wrongful imprisonment, an amount they may not have been able to pay. The whole thing was extremely embarrassing for Manitowoc County Law Enforcement and a number of prominent people within, who also happened to be friendly with quite a few people tangentially involved in this case. And while Lenk and Colborn weren’t directly involved in Avery’s wrongful arrest in 1985, they both did ignore evidence of Avery’s innocence in his first case, are connected to those named in the lawsuit, and were on the scene every time actual physical evidence was discovered. There are a number of people in the area who hated Steven Avery, for several reasons including his actions towards the wife of a local police officer when he was a young man. The more you dig into the evidence, the more you encounter a spiderweb of potential friendships, grudges and back rubs. Manitowoc County appears to be a wretched hive of scum and villainy.

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THE INTERROGATION

And just when you conclude that The People vs. Steven Avery is the strangest court case you’ve ever seen in your life, you begin watching the next episode and encounter The People vs. Brendan Dassey. On the “he’s guilty” side of the ledger, you basically have one thing: his confession. Of course, that is a pretty incriminating thing to have. Except when you don’t. Dassey’s confession videotape literally defies logic. Dassey also allegedly made a couple of cryptic comments to his cousin (story later recanted), and to his mother. Some of these suggest that Dassey did see something suspicious the day of the murder, but most are also contradicted by something he said on a different day.

Then there’s the case for Dude, This is Pretty Fucked Up Right Here. On the “not guilty” side: there is no physical evidence. And when I say there is no physical evidence, I mean there is literally no physical evidence. Certainly not of the things alleged in Brendan’s sordid “confession”. He did have some bleach on his pants that may have got there while he was helping Steven clean up a stain in the garage. That’s it.

He was 16 years old, with a learning disability, and manipulated badly by two police officers who keep refusing to accept his answers when he tries to tell them he wasn’t involved during the interrogation, then lead him to tell a crazy story that doesn’t make any sense, and doesn’t match the evidence. The scene where they ask about the gun, it’s hard to come to any other conclusion than he is literally making up the answers because he has no idea what they want him to say. Until they finally become exasperated and tell him what he’s supposed to say. There are many ambivalent things about this case, but it’s extremely difficult to believe this confession is a legitimate depiction of any real events. Even the prosecution seemed embarrassed by this evidence, and during Steven’s trial, D.A. Ken Kratz states that, “All of the evidence pointed to one person”: Steven Avery. And yet Brendan Dassey isn’t eligible for parole until 2048. I still feel kind of haunted by the clip of him during the interrogation process, asking if he’ll be able to get home in time to watch a particular TV show. That was 2006: he still hasn’t gone home.

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THE RIBBON

The show contains many elements you could not include in a fictional book, movie, or TV show, because nobody would believe them. There’s Brendan’s initial legal team, actively working for the Prosecution. Len, tell me about the rabbits. Hey man, Fargo called and it wants its character back. Then there’s The Ribbon: sorry, but I have to stop here for a second, and just reflect (sob) … There’s the Voicemail Messages: how did those guys figure out Teresa’s password, why do they have such weird looks on their faces, and how many messages did they delete? And there’s the odd behaviour of Scott Tadych and Bobby Dassey: Something just doesn’t feel right about their stories, and Tadych is just a weird dude who makes everyone feel uncomfortable every time he opens his mouth. And also when he doesn’t.

I thought it was a little strange that I had a bit of a man-crush on the defense team of Dean Strang and Jerome Buting while viewing the series. But apparently I’m not the only one. I’m a Strang Man myself, but let’s be honest, they’re both dreamy.

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AND JUSTICE FOR ALL

Ultimately, of course it is possible that both things are true: Avery is guilty of the crime, and evidence was planted by the police. In fact, it probably happens more than we’d like to believe, often in cases where the police are convinced somebody’s guilty, and are just “helping” the case along. There is also no doubt that the filmmakers were sympathetic to Steven Avery’s side of the argument. But to me it’s pretty clear that while Avery had issues with anger and violence, and certainly could have committed this crime, he received neither a fair trial nor any expectation of proof “beyond a reasonable doubt”. His story has stayed remarkably consistent, and he probably deserves a re-trial. There are simply too many coincidences and question marks about that original trial, and I didn’t even get around to discussing the allegations of impropriety regarding the jurors in that case. And here’s a no-brainer: Brendan Dassey should get a new trial, immediately. In fact, it should have been granted on first appeal. There’s an above 50% chance that he was coerced into the statement, there’s no actual physical evidence his story is true, and his initial legal team should be disbarred.

Is there any way that justice can still be found for both Teresa Halbach and Steven Avery? Kathleen Zellner is now representing Steven (and she has a long history of success), so it’s pretty clear this story isn’t over yet. She has hinted on Twitter that new evidence will exonerate Steven. There are discussions on-going regarding the making of a second season of the show. And in a case with this many bizarre twists and turns, it seems pretty unlikely we’ve seen the last one yet.

Jackass of All Trades

I’ve been meaning to do more writing since, well, forever. I mean, it’s not like I don’t write anything at all. If you add up all the message board posts, emails, song lyrics, and shopping lists I periodically write, there’s a decent amount of writing going on. But I think you know what I mean.

That’s why I decided to start this blog. I’m going to try to get into the habit of writing new posts at least once a week, if not more. It’s certainly not a hard goal to achieve – now if I said I was going to climb Mount Everest once a week, that would be hard. But this? C’mon man.

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But that brings me back around to a mind-crippling question. What should I write about? On one hand it makes sense to have a common theme. Maybe this could be a music blog. Or a politics blog. Or a sports blog. Or an ultra-specific niche blog solely devoted to the question mark. ? But I take some pride in having all kinds of interests, so my blog should be about all kinds of things. I can’t just write about music, for example. I think I would probably just lose interest. But if I have so many interests and can write, then what’s the problem? I should have more blog topic ideas than your average Joe Blogger, not less. It’s kind of an enigma.

Random Musical Interlude – check out this masterpiece by The Beatles, and really listen to the song structure and melody – brilliant! I’ve been listening to this song (and album) a lot lately. And it’s just an album throwaway track, not even a single. Yup, these guys could sit down and whip up a song in an afternoon just because they needed one more for the album, and it would still be better than most band’s best songs.

Now, back to my existential crisis, or whatever the hell I was whining about up there. Listen: to hell with it. I am going to write about whatever I want to write about. It’s the only way this is going to work. Please follow me anyways!

Lately, I have been obsessed with the nebulous world of “online marketing”. (Insert trademark symbol here). It’s time to start an online business of my own. I’ve been doing a lot of research, and I have a lot of ideas. Some are better than others, and it will take a while to sort through it all because there’s just so much to learn. I can definitely say I don’t want this to be “another online marketing blog” (insert another trademark symbol here). But it’s what is on my mind a lot right now.

So if someone stumbles on this post later on today, or many years down the road when I’m a rich and famous hermit living in the Hollywood Hills who nobody has seen for 4 years, here are a couple of places I suggest you start.

The first is Pat Flynn’s ‘Smart Passive Income‘ website. The blog, resources page, and podcast are all top-notch. Pat seems like a cool dude, and has provided a lot of tools for people just starting out. He legitimately wants to help you succeed.

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Another great resource: the Warrior Forum.

Awesome freelance resources: Freelancer.com, Upwork.com and Fiverr.com. Great sites.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I am definitely going to write an e-book or two, keep updating this blog (right?), perhaps pursue some freelance writing or design gigs. I’ve already been playing around with affiliate marketing. I guess that is ultimately the thesis of this blog post: You don’t just wake up one day and decide you’re going to make money on the internet, at which point you walk through a door, get handed a blue pill, and push the “Free Money” button. There is no one simple answer. Nothing in life is easy, and there are literally dozens of ways to pursue your goals online. Like trying to figure out what the hell to write your blog about, you just have to do a lot of research, filter the information through your own sensibilities, employ some trial-and-error methodology to see what works for you, and go make it happen. The odds are, what eventually clicks for you in the end is probably not something that was even on your radar in the beginning.

And so it goes.

 

Banal Drudgery: The Force Awakens

In the mid-90’s, I was a student at York University in Toronto with access to a 24-hour computer lab. Its main purpose was to write and print essays, but at some point, I became aware of this crazy new thing called … The Internet. I quickly became fascinated by it, and even created my own website at the time. It would be hilarious (not to mention embarrassing) if I could look back at it now. Basically just a few short stories and links to other sites. I even had a little red notebook where I wrote down URL’s to my favourite sites and links (there was no Google back then!), right down to their full-length addresses (fictional example: www.picturedatabase.com/vb323312/altr/icons/tv/thesimpsons/homer.html). My, how times have changed!

I recently visited the local library to pick up a DVD. Revenge of the Sith. That movie pissed me off so much when I saw it in the theatre, I never bothered to buy a copy, even though I had all the others and am a big Star Wars fan. But I was watching the first 6 films in order to prepare for The Force Awakens (it’s really good, by the way … go see it!), and, well, they had a copy. But while I was there, a book caught my eye: Laptop Millionaire, by Mark Anastasi. So I checked it out along with the DVD.

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Since those early days, I’ve been an avid internet junkie, and have always thought that “someday”, I would use it to make money. Cause I’m a smart guy, and use it all the time. Maybe next week, next month, next year. But it just never happened. Why? Because I never made it happen. It is only a series of tubes, after all, these interwebs. We the people are what bring the whole thing to life. The tool and the opportunity are there, and they’re spectacular. The variable is us.

I read Tim Ferriss’ The Four-Hour Work Week (and loved it) a number of years ago, so I was familiar with the basic concept of the “get rich quick on the internet” book. I know there’s a million of ’em out there. But Laptop Millionaire really got me thinking. So I came up with a plan, and starting researching. Initially, it was a pretty simple plan: write and sell an e-book. I still intend to do that. But I quickly became overwhelmed at the vast amount of information out there. I’m still working my way through trying to get a handle on things like SEO and AdWords, while trying to figure out what to write about in my planet-spinning, life-altering e-book, what domain to host it on, how to market it on Twitter, etc. etc. etc.

At any rate, it’s been an interesting night. I found myself reading message board posts about online marketing, thinking about buying and selling websites, working as a freelance writer (how in the hell did I never hear of Fiverr.com before?!), and a bunch of other things. Then I came across an article for writers listing WordPress as a valuable asset. And suddenly I’m writing a blog. I still have to go back and finish the message board thread I had been reading, and finish editing my freelance website profile. The tabs are both still open. If you had told me this afternoon I’d write a long-ass blog post tonight, I would have said “You’re Fucking Crazy!” In an Axl Rose voice.

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Money really doesn’t mean much to me. I mean, it’s a pretty cool concept and all, much better than carrying my sheep around town trying to find somebody who will trade me 3 chickens and a toothbrush for it. But it is one element in life that completely overshadows so many other important elements. I just know that I need it to buy things. And there are a helluva lot of things I want to buy. And the concept of the book is so goddamn beautiful: sell products or something of value, rather than your time. Because time is a finite resource. There’s never enough of it in a day, and in the end, not enough in a lifetime.

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Plus, the internet is the greatest selling tool ever invented. I have created a couple of websites in the past, so I have some experience with HTML. It was never really intuitive, but I managed to get by with a lot of trial and error. Somebody recommended WordPress to me a long time ago, but I just never got around to it. I will definitely check it out now, and am intrigued by the combination of blogging, website design, and internet sales. I definitely need to do more writing. We’ll see how much I continue to blog going forward. It may be a lot, it may never happen again. The unknown, is unknowable.

Ahhh, the bittersweet taste of sinister cinnamon. The opening line of a poem/weird creative writing experiment I wrote a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. I will find a way to earn money online, and replace the banal drudgery that is my current occupation. But this blog is not about money. It’s about art, and life, and writing, and passion. I haven’t felt this optimistic in a long time. So if you’re still reading this, thank you for doing so. And just remember to do something you enjoy, every day of your life. Cause it is apparently possible to completely turn to the dark side in about ten minutes. Life is the ultimate page-turner. You just never know what’s going to happen next …..

 

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