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Digital Snake Oil

So, I’m stuck at home with a nasty case of the flu, and a vast spectrum of aches and pains that don’t seem to want to go away anytime soon. All bets are off on sleep tonight. Out of sheer desperation, I turn to the one proven insomnia-buster left in my arsenal: infomercials.

Well, not really, they just happen to be on. Seldom, if ever, do I put up with an entire half-hour of paid programming. Back in my days of running the control board at TV stations, the beginning of a paid program was my signal to double-check my tracking and skew, set the audio levels, find an open satellite dish (or even resort to watching the Sunday morning gang feed of Roseanne episodes for the following week), and for God’s sake, find something else to watch. Anything else.

But tonight, in the midst of my misery, I flipped past something that sent chills up my spine. Granted, I’m experiencing chills and fits of fever as it is, but this was another kind of chill. My instinct toward righteous indignation was asserting itself.

The infomercial – running on my own station, no less – featured Home Improvement’s Richard Karn hawking a fifty-buck package called The Internet Business Toolbox. Containing numerous CD-ROMs and booklets and videotapes (of which more in a moment), this package – so we’re told by our paid celebrity spokesperson – will allow you to get your very own web site up and running, and the catchphrase “You can start making money on the Internet NOW!” was repeated ad nauseum. (Why a videotape? I thought that video instruction manuals presumed a literacy-challenged end user – not a likely target audience for this product.)

The package contains access to an Earthlink user account (probably a low usage account with only a few hours a week), Netscape Communicator (ostensibly to help you program your web site), and other goodies, including a number of turnkey programs supplied by the manufacturer to allow you to accept credit cards, or to allow you to make commission from selling a preselected variety of products. Another option suggested: starting a business selling search engine placement for other people’s web sites.

“You can start making money on the Internet NOW!” Thousands upon thousands of dollars per month, we’re told by a handful of satisfied onscreen customers. The general insinuation here is that you can blow fifty dollars (plus shipping, natch) on this package, quit your day job, and you’ll become, as Mr. Karn puts it, a “cyber-preneur.”

It ain’t necessarily so, boys and girls.

Long before Mr. Karn was hawking this latest in dozens of shady “instant profit” schemes in overnight paid programming blocks, I already established commission-based marketing relationships with an online video/music store, an online book store, and an online toy merchant for my web site. In some cases, the commissions are generous. I’ve gotten a check or two. But these commission checks would never, in a million years, allow me to quit working and bask in the “cyber-preneurial” glow. It’s just as well. If I stay this sick, I may not be around for that million years.

Now, I can’t vouch for whether or not the materials contained within the Internet Business Toolbox package include any caveats advocating common sense and realistic expectations. But I do feel that it is extraordinarily irresponsible and dangerous for the producers of the Toolbox’s infomercial to even so much as suggest that a quickly-cobbled-together construction kit web site, which revolves around a pre-existing set of profit options, could become a primary source of income.

I also found it conspicuous that no mention was made of thing such as the costs incurred by keeping an internet account open, registering a domain name, and other inevitable maintenance costs. What about the service allowing one to accept credit card orders? In order for such a service to exist, the providers of that service must be making money, and it’s reasonable to assume that they make it by charging businesses that use it.

I also foresee a problem with the potential bumper crop of home business web sites that this product portends. This product is not aimed as people who know the ways of cyberspace. It’s aimed at people who hoping to get rich quick – a demographic that doesn’t give a flip about netiquette. This is the kind of online business that will generate unwanted commercial e-mail that will annoy and inconvenience thousands, a practice referred to as spamming.

I know that people are trying to make a buck, but when someone spams me, I don’t care what product or service they’re selling. I report them to their ISP with every intention of having their account revoked. Most ISPs prohibit spamming – at worst, it could result in a groundswell of complaints that could potentially get that ISP removed from the internet backbone. To avoid doing this, ISPs regularly eliminate user accounts and web sites that have proven to be a problematic source of spam.

So let’s say that some budding Internet Business Toolbox “cyber-preneur” spams me, offering to put my web site on every search engine in the known universe for only a few hundred bucks. Hypothetically, their account might get canceled, their site removed by the ISP, and this person has blown God only knows how much money only to lose it. Is this because I’m mean? Well, in all likelihood, yes, it does, but that’s not the primary reason. I do my best to uphold netiquette. I don’t mass-mail advertising for my site. I expect others to behave similarly. I’ve turned in almost 200 spammers as of this writing, probably half of them advertising adult web sites. If I had children who had their own e-mail address or had access to mine, I wouldn’t want them seeing that sort of thing. I’m no innocent, but truth be told, I hate adult oriented spam. Ergo, I routinely report spam.

Mark my word, this venture will generate more spam. People trying to hawk their wares will carelessly – not even knowing that it’s a nuisance – send out mass e-mail. And someone will report them, and boom! One less “cyber-preneur.” Fifty dollars, down the drain. I won’t even go into the financial repercussions of some hypothetical situation where someone thinks they’re going to get rich overnight, and wind up pulling in a single $20 check every month. Most of us who are already on the web know that the chances of making a real profit from a grassroots business web site are slim. It disturbs me deeply that this product is aimed at people who don’t know this.

The Internet Business Toolbox is not, at its heart, a bad idea. It is, in fact, rather a good one. But the emphasis needs to be changed, and a sense of responsibility needs to be conveyed to those considering purchasing it so they can “start making money on the Internet NOW!

Why do I get the distinct sensation that this valuable primer in the responsibilities involved in running an online business has been omitted from the Internet Business Toolbox?

Sorry, Al. This thing doesn’t need more power. It needs to go back to the drawing board.

Ode On A Box O’ Floppies

Background: At work, we use an old graphics generator called the Vidifont which relies on ancient 8-inch floppies. We even have a floppy file to hold all of these – but every time I go into that edit room, someone has left approximately a quarter of a million pens, pencils, magic markers and permanent markers in the floppy file. So today I posted this wonderful safety notice on the floppy file. I think you’ll find it amusing.

Do not fill me with writing utensils,
Be they pens or be they pencils.
I hate to be rude or to be contrary,
But this box isn’t meant for stationery.
It’s meant to hold all these disks,
And if we lose data, tsk, tsk tsk.
It’s hard enough to find eight-inch floppies
And even harder to find new copies.
So when storing your pens, please use your head
Lest I tell you where you can put them instead.

Be Mused – Part One

Here begins a little tract that has been lying dormant in the back of my mind for a long time, and lately has been screaming to get out. I think this could be an important thing for you to read if you’ve ever considered getting into the media or into any creative endeavor as a profession. It’ll take me a while to reach my point, because I am largely making this up as I go along. And it’s probably not anything new – I’m sure everything I say here has probably been said by someone else already. But hey, I’m not charging you to look at it, so what the hell?

I’ve been there, you see. I have been writing and producing commercials for television and radio now, and have been exposed to both the good and the bad in this business. This doesn’t make me a hard-bitten, stoic veteran of showbiz by any stretch of the imagination. It just means I’ve stuck with the job through all the crap because…I like the end result. I like watching something I’ve done and getting a laugh out of it because, maybe about half the time, this means someone else will get a laugh out of it too. I like occasionally telling a total stranger about some spot I produced just to see if they’ll say they liked it, they hated it, or they don’t even watch that station. (I’ve heard all three in roughly equal measure!) All three are important to hear.

I got into broadcasting in 1989, influenced – as many newcomers to the business at that time were – by Good Morning, Vietnam, and Robin Williams’ mind-blowing disc jockey routine. And like many radio newbies at this time also found out, we’re not Robin Williams. Nobody is (well, with the possible exception of Robin Williams, perhaps). But after fooling around in the production room, I did figure out that anyone can make themselves sound good on tape, so after a couple of years spent reading the weather on an oldies radio station, I moved to a marginally hipper station with the primary goal of getting into commercial production.

Not wanting to brag too much, but I was good at it. I still like the stuff I came up with, from the stuff that was really, really, should’ve-been-submitted- for-an-Addy good, all the way down to the crap that was so lamentably stupid that it was funny in a pathetic sort of way. I’m not terribly fond of my “radio voice,” and even my character voices are shaky at times, but I was happy with the very odd concepts that I conjured up. Some of them were truly bizarre. In one case, I had to do a spot for a company that did commercial land surveying. I was given the following brief: give the name of the company, their address, and their phone number…and mention the Alma Spinach Festival. (Alma, Arkansas is the self-proclaimed spinach capitol of the universe, and once a year they gather round the bonfire to consume mass quantities of the leafy stuff and sacrifice a chosen one to the demigod Popeye.)

I came up with thirty seconds of unabashedly pure crap, total nonsense of the lowest possible denominator, and something I sure as hell wouldn’t have signed off on if it had been my business that was being advertised. But they went for it for some strange reason. It featured two characters in outrageously stereotypical redneck accents fighting over their borders in typical Smith vs. Jones fashion, agreeing to call this surveying company to settle the matter and secure their newfound pact by going to the Alma Spinach Festival together.

As I said, crap.

On the other hand, a scarcity of information can do wonderful things. Another spot from the same period advertised a distributor of ceramic tile for bathrooms, kitchens, and anywhere else you might want to use ceramic tile. Same brief – minus, thankfully, any mention of the Alma Spinach Festival – giving me virtually no information.

The result? A very odd Twilight Zone spoof, complete with me doing my best Rod Serling impersonation, detailing the trials and tribulations of “Bob,” an ordinary man who was so overwhelmed with this store’s enormously low prices that he bought enough ceramic tile to redecorate his entire home, inadvertently tiling the fridge shut and sealing Mrs. Bob into a room with a fresh wall of ceramic tile (presumably, he lured her there with the promise of a cask of amontillado). It was a very bizarre spot, but something I was much more proud of – it was humorous for the content of its script, not the pathetic lows to which its producer sank in the process of making it.

Occasionally, the sales rep will write something for you, which is good if they have a flair for writing, and nothing short of maddening if their finest creative moment was that sixth grade book report on Charlotte’s Web. Remind me to tell you sometime about the radio spot in which the sales rep thought the best way to advertise a new seafood restaurant would be to have me introduce the various items on the menu as if they were guest performers in a variety show…

All of this wallowing in the still-soft, slow-drying concrete of Memory Lane is meant to illustrate a point – if you’re going to create anything for a living, there are going to be less than stellar moments in your future. This doesn’t mean you suck. It means that you’re playing by ear, so join the club. And the universe being the perverse place that it is, there will even be people who absolutely love those creations that you thought were dead on arrival.

And while we’re talking about the natural sense of irony that goes with being alive, let’s analyze one very common – if not universal – aspect of the creative mind, whether professional or otherwise.

Whether you paint, write music, write stories, sculpt, act, sing, carve out rubber stamps of cartoony animals, or program web sites, there is one basic and essential through-line that runs through all of these things.

No matter what you’re doing to express yourself, at the core of it, you’re really doing it for other people.

If you draw a comic strip and no one else ever sees it, you’re like that tree that falls in the uninhabited forest, or Schroedinger’s Cat. Without showing that talent – or, perhaps, lack thereof – to someone, it is a potential that does not exist as far as anyone else is concerned. When you create something, really going through the entire effort of the concept and execution, it’s really there to be experienced by others, not necessarily by you. After all, you know what it’s supposed to be. You know what you were thinking when the thought first occurred to you. You cannot even gauge your own success without some kind of judgment on your work from an outside party.

Ever heard the term “performance art?” It’s an unnecessary redundancy, like George Carlin’s joke about hearing a weatherman warn of a “rain event,” or the thought of “pre-heating” the oven (heating it before you heat it? What?!). Any creative endeavor is going to be a spectator sport. Even if your performance only took place when you wrote, sculpted or sketched your work, the end result of that performance is what will be judged.

So, the universe having its cruel sense of irony, what is the worst thing that can happen here?

Creative people have a common cardiovascular anomaly. They wear their hearts on their sleeves. They are easily upset if their intention isn’t made clear by their work. Criticism is taken as a damnation of their very talent, and hence their very existence. And accusations of being derivative are even worse.

In time, you can learn to grow a somewhat thicker skin and take the criticism for what it is (and learn to discern between honest criticism and the naysayers who won’t let anyone get anything done).

And I’m going to talk about all of these things in much more detail.

Next time.

Places I Used To Live: Old Town, 1994-97

Old TownAbout a year and a few months after moving out of my parents’ house and into my first apartment, I decided to find my own place, something that was a little more my style. There were good reasons and bad reasons at the time, which I won’t go into here, but where I wound up moving into was Apartment #2 above Old Town Grain & Feed, a nightclub just on the other end of the block from Pharis Broadcasting, which is where I was working at the time. I was now only a minute or so away from work on foot, which was both a big help considering that my car was in terrible shape and I could ill afford to get it fixed, let alone replace it, but that proximity to work was also one of the dumbest things I ever did to myself. Above is the exterior of the building. My apartment started at the third window from the left, and ended at the sixth. At below, you can see basically the view you would see when you walked in the door of my apartment. Prepare for a voyage into a very geeky early-twenty-something mind. Read More

Necrosoft Widows

PRESS RELEASE
MICROSOFT CREATES SISTER CORPORATION TO CREATE OPERATING SYSTEMS FOR “DEAD” PLATFORMS

REDMOND, WA — Microsoft chief Bill Gates today unveiled a new wing of Microsoft Corporation which will begin to bring outdated computer platforms up to speed with their own versions of Windows and Internet Explorer.

Microsoft’s new sister company Necrosoft, with its catchy motto “Where do you wish you could go today?”, has announced that significant development and programming has already been performed on Windows operating systems for the Apple II line, the Atari ST series, the Commodore 64 and 128 models, TRS-80 machines, and the TI 99/4A.

Called “Widows” – in keeping with Necrosoft’s commitment to “dead” systems – the new operating system will approximate Windows as fully as possible within the constraints of each system.

According to Gates, the Apple II version of Necrosoft’s Widows has progressed nicely, though the Apple version of Internet Explorer has met with less success, owing to the necessity to constantly turn over double-sided floppies in both drives for cache functions. A special version of both products will have to be created for the Apple II+ platform.

Necrosoft Widows and Internet Explorer have been developed for Commodore’s 64 and 128 models, and programmers are now working on a version of Widows and Internet Explorer for the VIC-20, though the problem of dumping the Explorer’s cache onto cassette drive has proven difficult. Frequent crashes have earned this version of the popular web browser the name “Internet Exploder.”

Work continues on the Atari ST, TRS-80 and TI 99 versions of Widows and Internet Explorer. If satisfactory progress can be made with these products, Gates has promised that Necrosoft will develop versions of Widows and Internet Explorer for such platforms at the Atari 400 and 800, the Atari 2600 and 5200, Commodore’s CBM series terminals, Intellivision, ColecoVision, the Vectrex game terminal, Odyssey 2 and the Osborne 1.

Gates asks that if any users of other “dead” systems are seeking a version of Necrosoft Widows for their platform, to contact Necrosoft with a request and, if possible, any existing manuals on how to program for those machines.

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Attention Bill Gates: before you sue me, please rest assured that the above was meant entire in jest.

Up In Smoke

So President Clinton is ready to take measures to limit tobacco advertising and to classify nicotine as an addictive drug, eh? Bravo, I say! It may be a politically convenient move for him, but whatever the ulterior motive, the results should such legislation be passed can only be positive.

There are already people railing against Clinton’s proposed anti-tobacco initiative, but these people don’t seem to realize that they are not the targets of Clinton’s proposition. The National Guard isn’t going to be barging into every home to pluck cigarettes out of the mouths of unsuspecting citizens. The beneficiaries of Clinton’s actions will be the future. The initiative would curb advertising for tobacco products, limit or prohibit tobacco sponsorship of sporting events, remove cigarette vending machines from some public places, and stiffen nationwide regulations against the sale of tobacco products to minors.

Is anyone missing this? This legislation is for the next generation, your children. It will make it more difficult and less desirable for your kids to go out and take up an unhealthy, unattractive, costly and destructive habit. Who in their right minds, in all good conscience as a parent, can say, “Yes, I want my child to go get a pack of cigarettes and start smoking”? Who, even if you’re smokers, can even suggest that they want their children to have that option?

It may indeed be a freedom curbed, but medical studies have shown for years that it’s simply a “freedom” to kill yourself gradually. The tobacco industry has tried time and again to manufacture studies to counter those findings, but the tobacco industry has too vested an interest in its own profits and cannot be relied upon to provide truthful results in such a study.

I have an easier time letting Jack Kervorkian off the hook than I do the tobacco industry. At least “Doctor Death” is under the impression that he’s helping someone. I doubt that anyone can sanely entertain that illusion with regards to cigarette manufacturers.

Among the opposition to Clinton’s tobacco regulations are the farmers who harvest the tobacco, some of whom are heirs of a long line of tobacco producers. If these people with all of their experience with their products are concerned about becoming unemployed, perhaps they should turn their talents and knowledge to helping research cures to the addiction from which so many suffer.

Saturday Overnight Movies

Background: This oddball little proposal is something I actually pitched at my last TV job. At the time, we were trying to figure out some way to distinguish our pathetically low-rated schedule of movies airing in the wee hours on the weekends, where they were practically un-sellable commercially speaking, or else the movies would be dropped in favor of Home Shopping or, that old standby favorite, color bars or static. In desperation, I wrote this proposal and actually pitched it, including a mock-up picture of Burchuss on the virtual set that I designed for the show.)

BurchussMany, or perhaps none, of you will recognize Burchuss as the star of Jump Cut City, and he also made some very brief cameo appearances in some of the commercials I made at KPBI and KFDF; in a promo for The Huddle, our sports talk show, Burchuss jumped up at the end with a bunch of his fiddygibber pals and yelled “HUDDLE!” (a la the Sega commercials running around that time). This project would have elevated Burchuss from cable access to real live broadcast material, unquestionably the first fiddygibber ever to do so.

Needless to say, this project was actually considered for production…for roughly two or three seconds until management’s synapses started to fire again. I’m sure it would have had a small but loyal audience among attorneys for Best Brains, Inc., though.

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The following is a pitch – yes, a real live serious pitch – for a concept that could give our Saturday overnight movies some real identity.

Admittedly, the concept is very similar to Mystery Science Theater 3000, a Comedy Central show in which a human host and two wisecracking “robot” puppets sit in the corner of the screen and make fun of an entire 2-hour movie. But I decided to simplify and pull back from that concept for a number of reasons.

One of the big reasons to get away from the “MST3K” concept would be to avoid having to pay clearances for satirizing a copyrighted film. “MST3K” takes old movies and turns them into a part of a TV show. My idea is to do some silly host segments, but to incorporate them into the existing structure of the local avails. Instead of framing the movie with host segments, the host segments fall naturally into the breaks. Ideally, host segments would take up no more than a quarter of the local avails in a single movie – we do still like this concept about making money, after all – and would be pre-taped and built onto the movie master prior to air.

Hosts In Space

The concept of the host segments is simple and stupid. An Earthling has been captured by an alien creature known only as Burchuss the Fiddygibber. Burchuss is a small, orange, furry and inoffensive-looking beast with a thundering, almost godlike voice. Burchuss intends to subvert major governments, instill anarchy into the public mindset, and thus take over the world. To this end, he has kidnapped our host in an effort to interrogate him about Earth’s defenses and weaknesses.

But our host is no dummy. He knows what his captor is up to, so he suggests that Burchuss should simply tune in to a nearby television station and monitor a late night movie or two, and assimilate the movies’ accurate portrayals of life on Earth. He figures that after a couple of movies, Burchuss will get it into his furry little skull that Earth is not a world that should be on anybody’s “A” list. But Burchuss gets hooked on Hollywood and expects his prisoner to explain movie after movie after movie to him.

Burchuss will gradually begin adopting various slang terms he hears in the movies and will clumsily – and usually quite incorrectly – try to incorporate them into his weekly conversations with our human host.

Here’s the funny twist that makes this concept radically different from “MST3K.” At no point would we ever interrupt the movie. At no point would we ever actively ridicule or satirize the movie. Never, ever will we come right out and say “Hey, this movie sucks,” because we don’t want to make the viewer feel like he’s just wasted two hours of his life just to see the host segments. This also keeps us clear of any violations of copyright – we’re simply doing a few funny things in between the movie segments. Our host is trying to feed Burchuss misinformation about life on Earth, and so he’ll try to convince his captor that everything in the movies is the honest-to-God truth. For instance, after seeing a musical, he’ll tell Burchuss that everyday people do indeed break into song at the drop of a hat, thus making the Earth a very annoying and noisy planet to conquer.

As time wears on, viewer feedback can even be incorporated into the program, either by setting up an e-mail address for the show or encouraging viewers to send letters to the show, care of the station’s PO box. Not only would this allow us to guage viewer response to the show, but could even provide fuel for more fun.

Logistics in Space

How much will this cost us? Almost nothing. Burchuss we already have – he’s made brief cameo appearances in a couple of promos already. Burchuss is the furry creature who used to pop up at the end of the Huddle promo with his fellow stuffed animals singing “Huddle! Huddle! Huddle!”

Well, okay, let’s talk about our host. What happens if he’s busy whenever we shoot our host segments? Well…we’ll just have to hope it doesn’t happen. But in the inevitable event that it does, Burchuss will have to carry the show, or perhaps kidnap another victim. In all likelihood, however, the best approach would be to mention our host and note that he has told Burchuss to watch out for this important lesson about earthlings in this movie. (This would also be a great time to fall back on viewer feedback.)

What kind of a set are we talking about? Well, when production’s chromakey abilities are back on track, we can just fake the whole set with a background graphic. It doesn’t get much cheaper than that. Of course, we wouldn’t be able to move the camera around, zoom in, or do anything of that nature, but when our heroes consist of a bewildered host and a stuffed animal, I doubt anyone will notice. We can sell the rest of the “laboratory” ambience with a tape loop of weird sound effects that I can assemble from my vast library of weirdness. One possibility: the background graphic could be the interior of Burchuss the Fiddygibber’s laboratory or spaceship, looking out high above Fort Smith at night.

How long will it take us to shoot all the segments for a movie? Probably not very long. Maybe one hour for both Saturday overnight movies (2:00am and 4:00am). It probably wouldn’t pay to give the Sunday overnight movies this treatment because they’ll be airing at a time when people are in bed resting up for work the next morning. Since the segments are going to be funny, a little additional time for crack-ups is to be expected. Once they’re on tape and time out correctly, all we have to do is build the segments onto the movie tape itself and the show is ready to hit the air.

The length and distribution of the host segments would depend on the length and distribution of the breaks. If we had time and had the formats for the movies well in advance, we could shoot host segments for more than one or two movies at a time.

One of the few drawbacks here will be the fact that doing these segments will be a year-round task (unless we get a movie package with several runs on each movie, which would occasionally allow us to go into “reruns”), which is why I bring up the possibility of shooting multiple host segments in one session whenever possible. This gives us breathing room so we can attack the next movie fresh without getting burned out from writing host segments week after week.

Another possible alternative to the tedium of shooting endless segments would be for the program to appear on alternating weekends, though the resulting schedule inconsistency of that approach would present its own problems.

And if we do wind up getting some sort of cult following? We might get some sponsors. And Burchuss the Fiddygibber would be happy to say something like “Using my human captive as a business front to raise funds for my conquest of the planet Earth, I have secured the financial backing of Billy Bob’s Car Wash for tonight’s movie. Thank you. Very much.” A very roundabout way of saying that Billy Bob’s Car Wash is tonight’s sponsor. Sponsorships should probably be fairly cheap!

Promos would scattered sparingly throughout other late-night/overnight fare, and could be very simple character pieces with our host or Burchuss explaining who they are and what they’re doing in the commercial breaks on Saturday night.

Perhaps one good way to do an annual promotion for the show would be to have three or four movies, starting earlier than 2:00am if the air schedule permitted, a “marathon” session to run on New Years’ Eve, or perhaps Halloween, two holidays that would best fit in with the sense of general insanity about the thing. In fact, a New Years’ Eve premiere wouldn’t be a bad kickoff for the program.

Life On Mars and Other Headlines

MarsWell, nobody has brought it up, amazingly, so I thought I’d ask around.

What does everyone here think of this alleged discovery of microscopic organic life on Mars?

There is still a ton of verification yet to be done, and some of the evidence has yet to be explained, such as how they’re so sure that this fossil- bearing meteor comes from Mars. I also worry that there may be some in the scientific community who will be lax on the normal rigorous checking and rechecking required to provide solid proof.

But if it is true – which is still an “if,” even in the mind of a space advocate like myself – this could well be the most important discovery in the history of mankind.

Most people, as well as the media, seem to be focusing on the most ridiculously pedestrian or unlikely implications of this discovery. CNN interviewed William Shatner on Wednesday night and asked him what he thought – “I knew it all along,” said the intrepid cap’n, who then proceeded to plug his latest TekWar book, which takes place on Mars…such sparking scientific insight from Mr. Shatner! – and one “man on the street” interviewed said he wouldn’t believe it until he saw “the little green men landing.”

Well, we’re not going to see the little green men landing, pal. This finding has wide-ranging implications, but they are not merely limited to space science or national security. The serious suggestion that there was once life on Mars spreads out to touch on nearly every science, including ecology, philosophy, theology, sociology…you name it.

Ecologically speaking, the key phrase in NASA’s claims is that there “may have been life” on Mars. Past tense. As in, “There’s no life there now.” This would mean that Mars once had a viable ecosystem, but no longer has such an environment, or at least no longer has what we might recognize as a viable ecosystem. It could be argued that Earth’s environment is on the same downhill slide. Not to suggest that any kind of huge civilization ignorantly obliterated the Martian ecosphere, but it would be worth studying any natural causes for that kind of event. It could provide keys to preventing the same fate for Earth.

Philosophically and religiously, the possibility of life on Mars will have effects from one extreme to the other, depending on the individual. Some will actively deny or avoid the subject – indeed, as you saw above, some already are – and others may have to change their entire worldview. If God created life on Earth, did He create life on Mars as well? On which day did He do this, and why? And there will doubtlessly be those who pop out of the woodwork – as has been happening for years on the subject of homosexuality – trying to interpret the Bible and other texts to include or exclude the views with which they agree/disagree.

The reaction of large bodies of people will also be interesting to observe. I doubt there’s any reason to fear an alien invasion, but the responses to the news will be revealing and possibly disturbing.

I think it’s time to re-evaluate the mostly-dormant, earth-based U.S. space program, not in hopes of making contact with anything, but basically as an archaeological fact-finding mission.

Do I think it’s possible that life existed on Mars? When there’s water deep-frozen in the polar caps, when there are canyons and surface features that look like the product of wind and water erosion and not just meteor craters… yes. It’s possible. And if the first fruits of the search for possible life, even extinct life, appear on one of our neighboring planets in our own solar system, the prospects for life elsewhere and throughout the universe are staggering.

It’s just possible that the universe has become a much more interesting place.

Now for some other interesting headlines.

Some kid is trying to sue Pepsi for fraudulent advertising because he accumulated X million Pepsi Points and sent them in to Pepsi and demanded a Harrier jump jet, just like the commercial says. If this fellow had called Pepsi’s bluff and just done this for the publicity, that would have been funny. But what does this civilian with no military or flight experience expect – that a soft drink manufacturer is going to provide him with a $70 million piece of military hardware? I guess satire is about to be declared illegal. Better put my face on the posters now, because I’ll still be indulging in that terrible, fraudulent deadpan humor. The evidence is on your screen as you read this!

And the most tactless lead line of the night award goes to KFSM, our local CBS station, for this winner: “The Dallas Cowboys football team may get a much- needed shot in the arm as Michael Irving returns after charges of drug abuse.” Uh, sorry. There’s no way in hell someone just pulled that one out of their hat – somebody had to be thinking of doing that one!

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