Running The Gauntlet

Just last week l was reading this article.
lt talked about flying.
Said we’d all become just like cattle.
Trusting our lives to people we don’t even know.
Like pilots. Said we do it all the time.
Then we get our heads bashed in. . .
. . .like cattle, for being so trusting.

A couple months ago, I picked up a DVD of Clint Eastwood’s 1977 movie, “The Gauntlet,” which was shot mostly in Phoenix. I hadn’t seen it since it was on UPN one afternoon in the summer 1996, just a few weeks after I moved here. I remember at the time being excited and feeling a sense of pride that Phoenix was my home, and that the film was set in what was now essentially my hometown. Indeed upon re-watching it, I noticed various downtown Phoenix landmarks are visible in the background. Hanny’s can actually be seen in a skyview during one driving sequence.

“The Gauntlet” is a pretty solid film up until the last couple of minutes, with it’s hyperdramatic, highly implausible ending( I find it hard to believe that hundreds of cops would just stand there silently, idly watching while the police commissioner and a supposed fugitive argue and shoot each other at point blank range.

The remark about air travel made by the waitress in Las Vegas reminded me of the nature of my own reservations about flying. It’s the fact that while it’s statistically safer, you have absolutely zero control over the outcome of the situation. It’s like buying a reverse lottery ticket with the jackpot of a horrifying death. While you’re much more likely to die behind the wheel, to some extent you can trust your own instincts and defensive driving skills, to give yourself at least some small amount of leverage to tip the balance.

I’ve always felt a similar, slightly less ambivalence toward mass transit. Though you may be in a heavy traffic, or construction environment when driving a car, you have control over the ambiance of your immediate environment(volume of the radio, level of peace and quiet, whom or what is sitting next to you.) I’ve ridden the bus several thousand times in my life, and besides the fact that it doubles or triples the travel time to any destination, the worst part about it is always the plethora of irritating and ill-mannered people you have to share it with. I sit in silence trying to avoid unsolicited talking as well as block out all of the loud and obnoxious banter from oblivious people who don’t seem to give a rat’s ass about the riding experience of anyone else. Once on a bus ride from Los Angeles, two ghetto teenage girls sat behind me discussing their multiple miscarriages the entire length of the trip. “I told my man he needs to start wearin’ cause I don’t wanna be gettin’ pregnant again.” One time on a West Hollywood city bus, the driver pulled over while a muscular Russian guy fought a drunken homeless black guy that had been harassing the other passengers. People who always talk of the great train systems in Japan and Hong Kong, don’t seem to realize that when attempting to duplicate it here, we would not have the luxury of riding it with courteous and intelligent Asian people(not even taking into account the “groping” incidents women frequently endure in these countries’ rail cars.)

I had a good experience the one or two times I used the Los Angeles subway to get to the San Fernando Valley(it was fast, and there was almost nobody on it) though one might question the wisdom of building an underground railway system in an area that is built on a famous faultline and therefore highly susceptible to potentially massive earthquakes.

Personally I would rather that cities incorporate strategies to limit or reduce the overall amount of people, rather than working to attract and accommodate large increases in uneducated people, herding everyone into cattle cars and virtually eliminating individuals’ control over their own personal space and travel experience.

In theory, I’m not really opposed to the idea of public transportation. I enjoyed the monorail at Disneyland as much as the next kid, and would gladly set aside my idiosyncratic reservations and fears if I were able to ride something remotely 1960’s/70’s futuristic to work everyday. Riding the contemporary city bus or light rail feels more like Soylent Green than 2001 A Space Odyssey, though.

The Phoenix of 1977 as depicted in The Gauntlet has been thoroughly transformed, yet like the film, it still retains much of it’s charm.

As with most change, something’s gained and something’s lost.

Chariots of the Gods

chariots of the gods

When I was in about 5th grade I got really into Greek Mythology…so much so that I began to tell people it was my religion, and it became sort of a “problem.” This intense phase was brought on by 3 distinct things: the cool looking artwork in D’aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths, fond memories of the original “Clash of the Titans” and a fascination with the Nintendo game “Kid Icarus.” But let all this talk of bizarre childhood obsessions stop there(for this entry anyway!)  While I was going through my greek myths era, my mother informed me of a book called “Chariots of the Gods” by Erich Von Daniken which claimed that ancient gods and goddesses were actually space aliens whose advanced technology was interpreted as supernatural power by primitive peoples. “This is heresy!” I thought to myself, and I remember actually not liking the idea of my gods not really being true gods, but merely creepy aliens.

Fast forward  to a couple years ago, and as a dude who has seen a lot of Twilight Zone episodes, I began to get interested in the Ancient Astronaut Theory for all its imagination.So I finally picked up a copy of “Chariots of the Gods” to examine the “evidence” for myself.The crux of Von Daniken’s argument seems to be that many ancient civilizations had produced artifacts and monuments which were uniquely more advanced than the era from which they were were constructed, and therefore may have originated with the assistance of visitors from outer space. The obvious problem with this theory, is that in order for long-distance interplanetary space travel to occur, the aliens would have to be thousands if not millions of years more advanced than we are today. Thus, finding an artifact that appears a few hundred or thousand years ahead of it’s time in say 5000 BC, would not be sufficient. We would have to find artifacts that are well in advance of anything even in today’s current technology. Perhaps such objects do exist, and we are as yet still too dumb to recognize them(think of the monolith in 2001 A Space Odyssey.) But I doubt it. All of this would of course be highly insulting to the wisemen of the primitive civizations who busted their(and their slaves’) asses to build and figure out these early breakthroughs in scientific achievement.

The book offers all sorts of other superficial and subjective “proof” such as ancient drawings which may or may not depict astronauts and vague biblical and mythological references to spacecrafts…all of which are obscure and open to interpretation. It’s somewhat telling when the most “compelling” evidence is all the least tangible stuff. To me, the only eerily curious thing in the book is how some ancient peoples seemed to have knowledge of how the Earth looked from an aerial view when no form of flight existed.

And here is where “Chariots of The Gods” finally shines. Whereas it flunks the evidence test, it does not fail to set fire to the curiosity and imagination of people. When Lowell claimed to have observed canals on Mars through his telescope(I have been to the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff a few times now) he turned out to be completely wrong. But such claims sparked wild interest in Mars, and among those who became interested spawned many other theories about Mars, which led to their scientific investigation and subsequently a deeper understanding of the red planet.

Such is exactly what Von Daniken achieves with his imaginative pseudoscientific ramblings. Based on the scant evidence he provides, it’s highly unlikely that we’ve ever been visited by beings from other planets. But it begs a deeper question, which is this: If small insects and micro organisms have little or no capacity to comprehend the world of higher intelligence lifeforms like humans, then what advanced lifeforms and fantastic realities out there do we as humans lack the capacity to understand, with our relatively primitive minds?

In other words, ants are to humans as humans are to ?

One of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes is called “5 Characters in Search of an Exit,” which tells the story of a group of people trapped in a giant room. They don’t know how they got there, who they are, or even what they are. And they spend their time trying trying to find a way out, in order to understand what they are. I won’t give away the ending, but one of them manages to climb out at the end, and it’s revealed who and what they are. They are a microcosm for us though. Perhaps if someday we travel far enough into space, and climb high enough into scienctific understanding we may find ourselves on the tip of the tiny spoon of some gargantuan creature the size of which is larger than anything we can fathom at the present time, with our universe being but a mere morsel.  Until then, I shall remain skeptically curious.