Saturday, May 23, 2020

"The End" came to LOST ten years ago tonight (plus: some personal theories)

It seems like an entirely other world ago now.  When the wait between new episodes could be not just weeks but months away.  There was no "binging" a series on a regular basis.  And streaming television was still yet to come.

I was in a different place also.  Still reeling from a divorce.  Wrestling with the worst symptoms of manic depression.  Alone.  Confused.  And, well... lost.  Looking for a purpose, as John Locke was.

There had never been a television series like Lost.  And there never will be again, ever.  At least, there never can be for me.

The medium has changed too drastically.  Viewer expectations have become too impatient.  The audience demands definitive answers, when once upon a time such a thing as "exercise for the reader" was a treasured virtue.  To be sure, some series - such as The Walking Dead and Game Of Thrones - followed admirably in the wake of Lost.  But those are basic and premium cable, absent the restraints of broadcast network television.

And as frustrating as "The Iron Throne" was to many Game Of Thrones fans, it only remotely approached the level of controversy as did Lost's final season leading up to "The End".

Always live together, and you'll never die alone.
Lost's series finale came ten years ago tonight.  It capped off six years of a phenomenon that had engrossed millions, fueled so many classroom and workplace discussions on the mornings after, and unleashed countless online forums where fans dissected everything from the sounds of the Smoke Monster to Egyptian hieroglyphics.  From those frantic first moments of Oceanic Flight 815's wreckage on the beach of an uncharted island Lost was mythology painted with a broad, broad brush.  And it was going somewhere, was set to give us closure.  Right?  Right?!? 

But here we are, ten years later, and the fans seemingly more galvanized than ever about "The End" and what preceded it.

Me?  I thought "The End" was not a perfect episode, but it didn't have to be.  It was as fitting a conclusion to Lost as there was likely to be.  And while we will forever be debating whether there was some master plan that was followed - with every element having an appropriate reason and backstory behind it - it must be admitted, however begrudgingly, that "The End" was pure Lost.  And really, would we have wanted it to be any different?

Others will have already written with more eloquence about "The End".  But on this occasion, I thought it might be fun to share some of the theories I've had over the years about Lost.  A series that we will forever be theorizing and conjecturing about.  Why not add my own into the mix?

First off...

WHERE was the Island?  How can it move?

I don't believe the Island was something "movable".  It had a solid geological basis somewhere and we can know that because of its volcanic origin.  But I do think that access to the Island was something fluid and malleable.  It's the approach to the Island that is constantly moving.  Going back to the quantum physics that the DHARMA Initiative boffins were messin' around with, the Island is somewhat "superpositioned" in the real world.  It might be geologically located in the midst of the Pacific, but the access points to it change from time to time so that someone flying over the Atlantic might come upon one of the "windows" that Eloise described.  Or arrive at the Island by boat in the Mediterranean (as Claudia and her people did).  So think of the Island as a fixed point, with spacetime warped around it seemingly haphazardly.  Going back again to what Eloise told Jack and his friends however, the windows through the warp could be calculated (with the help of an Apple II computer and that really strange Foucault's pendulum down at The Lamp Post station).

So no, the Island itself was not moving.  But how you came to the Island certainly was!

How old is the Island?  When did the Egyptians, the Romans etc. get there?

The Island itself is probably a few million years old, give or take an eon.  But we're wondering how long people have been coming there.

A major clue comes in "The End", when Desmond enters the Heart of the Island.  See those characters carved in the walls and on the "cork"?  Those are Phoenician: predating ancient Egypt.  It can be surmised that the Heart of the Island was primarily the work of this earlier culture.  As for what purpose: who knows.  But they're the ones who are ultimately responsible for all of the crazy on the Island.

The Egyptians came some time after, and they built the statue of Taweret, the wheel chamber, etc.

Then came the Roman castaways of which Claudia was one.  And who gave birth to Jacob and his brother.

Wait... it was the Man in Black and the Romans who built the wheel, right?

The Man in Black and his compatriots were building a wheel, not THE wheel.  Not the one that we see Ben Linus turning in the fourth season finale.

The evidence?  The Egyptian hieroglyphics on the wall of the chamber.  The fact that Mother destroyed the Man in Black's own chamber before he could finish his wheel.

Are you saying that Jacob and the Man in Black came after the Egyptians were on the Island?

Yup. 

That's impossible!  The Egyptians had the Smoke Monster in their wall carvings.  So the Man in Black was before they came!

The Man in Black and the Smoke Monster were two different entities.

Work with me here.  We ARE theorizing after all...

The Smoke Monster has long, long been part of the Island's place in the scheme of things.  Way before the birth of Jacob and his brother.  The Smoke Monster is a tangible representative of evil itself and that evil must always be contained.  Just as Jacob told Richard when he was showing him that bottle of wine: the Island is a "cork" keeping the bottled-up darkness from spilling out.  And for a time, whether by the Phoenician culture or the Egyptians, that representative was held back.

Until Jacob threw his brother into the Heart of the Island.  Which was the catalyst for everything that came after.

Entering the Heart killed Jacob's brother.  We can know this after the tearful farewell that Jacob gave his brother and the Mother.  Jacob didn't treat the Smoke Monster as if it were a new incarnation of the Man in Black.  But what happened at the Heart did free the Smoke Monster from captivity.  And Jacob would spent the next two thousand years trying to make up for his mistake.

What would happen if the Smoke Monster got off the Island?

Hell would come to the world.

We got a glimpse of it with Sayid, after he was resurrected in the corrupted water at the Temple.  It was "the sickness" that had been spoken of before, and now we know what it did: it darkened the heart of the infected.  As Lennon translated from Dogen, Sayid had been "claimed" by the darkness.  And later on Sayid described how he couldn't feel anything: that he had become emotionally deadened.

Now imagine that same deadening happening to millions, if not billions of people across the face of the Earth.

Jacob was right: the Island was a cork and it was holding back something that if it became free, it would spread.

Maybe "The End" didn't make it clear enough but those were REALLY high stakes that Jack was playing for when he fought the Smoke Monster's Locke form. 

What is the meaning of "the numbers"?



Ahhhh yes: 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42.  And how mad we did get trying to figure those out.

The answer is at once ridiculously mundane and metaphysical.  And it helps to bear in mind the Valenzetti Equation that was written about on the blast-door map.  In The Lost Experience real-life game at the time, it was revealed that the numbers are factors in the Valenzetti Equation: a formula calculating how long manking has before driving itself into extinction.  One of the purposes of the DHARMA Initiative was to change at least one of the factors, and thus stave off that extinction.

Basically, the numbers are intrinsic to the fabric of the universe.  THAT is why they keep showing up.  They surface because... well, it's their nature.  And DHARMA is trying to change the numbers and consequently, the universe itself.

So the numbers are at once pretty boring and also utterly fascinating.

Who was that in Jacob's cabin?

My gray matter has discombobulated itself a zillion ways from Sunday trying to figure out who it was we briefly saw in that chair when Ben took Locke to the cabin.  And later the same figure apparently appeared very briefly when Hurley found the cabin. 

It wasn't the Smoke Monster-as-Christian Shepherd, we can disregard THAT possibility by process of elimination.  And it obviously wasn't Jacob himself.  Even though it seems that Jacob was using the cabin at some time or another, given the dialogue when Ilana and Bram arrived with their group.

I've no idea who it is and the showrunners probably never knew who it's supposed to be either.  It's almost a disappointment, albeit an intriguing one.

What DID happen at the Swan site?

Basically, Daniel screwed up with his calculations.  And the Island proved him wrong: changing the variables did not affect the past.  Jack, Kate, Sawyer etc. had to be on the Island in the present day, and the Island brought them there.  That's the best that I can come up with.

What about the polar bears, the "Hurley-bird", the source of the DHARMA food shipments, some other stuff?

Those got answered in "The New Man In Charge": the eleven minute "mini-episode" that was included in Lost's home release.  Here it is if you've never seen it.  It's pretty much the very last moments of the Lost mythos that were produced.



Who was David?  Jack never had a son in life.  Why does he have a son in the "flash-sideways" afterlife?

Of all of my theories, this is my most favorite.  Because not once have I ever, ever seen anyone who has come up with this...

David Shepherd is the son of Jack and Kate.

Dylan Minnette was perfectly cast as David.  I mean, just look at the features he shares with Jack and Kate.  Especially Kate's eyes.  And Jack's hair.

But how and when did David come about?  Ahhhhh... now that IS an interesting question and the answer is an astounding one.

Before leaving for the Ajira Airlines flight, Kate came to Jack's home and was pretty adamant about the two of them making love.  I believe now that doing so was part of the plan: that Kate had to become pregnant

Because... what did Eloise tell Jack, Kate and the rest?  That they had to replicate, as closely as possible, the conditions of the original Oceanic 815 flight.  Which, among other things, had a pregnant young woman aboard.

Kate was proxying for Claire, who was nine months along with Aaron at the time of the Oceanic crash.  Locke's dead body was proxying for that of Christian and now it was Kate who was a stand-in for Claire.

Nine months later, after Kate and the other survivors returned home, she gave birth to David.  And it was in the flash-sideways that Jack got to be the father he never had the chance to become in life, to his own son.

That is where David came from.  He wasn't some "figment" of the flash-sideways.  He was flesh and blood, and presumably lived a long life and then was united with the father he never knew.

That's my VERY longtime theory about David Shepherd.  And I'm quite proud of it.

And the voices?

The Island's mega-electromagnetic qualities "trap" the souls of some.  The ones who can't "move on".  But as "The New Man In Charge" implies, such people are not beyond the realm of helping.  And that's the very best that I can come up with.
 
Okay smartie pants, what about...

I would love to be able to figure out the reason for the Egyptian characters on the Swan Station's countdown clock: the one that turns red and black if the numbers aren't entered in time (some have translated it to mean "cause to die").  Why did women who conceived on the Island die during pregnancy (a fate Sun avoided after escaping and giving birth in the outside world)?  How exactly did that lighthouse - the thing that spied on more people than Alexa - work?  Who was...

Look, I am not going to attempt to answer ALL of the mysteries about Lost!  That's for others to work out on their own.  Who am I to deprive others of intellectual exercise?  Just watch the show and suss it out for yourself!  Besides, it's more fun that way.

Anyhoo, here's saluting you, Lost.  Gone, but NEVER to be forgotten.

Monday, May 18, 2020

"This mountain don't dare blow up on old Harry!"

Those were the words of one Harry Truman (no relation to that Harry S Truman) in the days prior to the eruption.  Truman had a lodge on the side of Spirit Lake, in the shadow of Mount St. Helens.  He lived there with twenty-some cats, and I guess being almost ninety years of age he was just too stubborn to listen to geologists who were screaming at him to get out of the area.  That giant building bulge on the north slope of the mountain didn't seem to impress.

A few days later, an earthquake triggered the lateral blast on the north flank.  The entire top of the mountain and the north slope were blown away.  Harry Truman and his cats are now somewhere 300 feet beneath ash and rock that eventually formed a new Spirit Lake.  In all the eruption killed 57 people, including volcanologist David Johnston.  His camp was directly in front of the blast area.  Johnston's final frantic words over his radio: "Vancouver!  Vancouver!  This is it!"


That was forty years ago today, May 18th 1980.

Back in 2012 I got to visit Mount St. Helens.  Standing at the Johnston Observatory (built on the site where the gifted young geologist had made his camp), looking across the still-blasted wasteland and into the crater, thinking about how much taller St. Helens used to be...

It was utterly humbling.  The photos I had seen could not compare to seeing the thing up close.  And St. Helens is still considered active.  Every so often a plume of steam or ash rises out of the crater.  Another eruption someday is still altogether possible.  Just as eruptions are possible on nearby Mount Hood and other peaks in that part of the Cascades.

We propose nothing in the sight of nature.  That is what came to mind as I looked into the maw of what is still deemed to  be a fairly medium-size volcano.  Pinatubo's eruption in 1991 was much worse and sent global temperatures dropping.  Krakatoa did much the same and in fact, its eruption was heard from thousands of miles away.

And on that Sunday morning in May the world indeed beheld that mountain dared blow up on old Harry.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Forty years later and still the greatest...

Happy Fortieth Anniversary to Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, premiered May 17th, 1980 at the Kennedy Center and then wide release a few days later.


Now and probably for all time, the very best installment of the entire Star Wars film franchise.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

COVID-19: It's time to reopen America

I'm still  choosing to be coy about where fate landed me after I left North Carolina almost four years ago.  Even so, I still keep an eye on my old home state, and I'll forever be proud to have been a son of the Tarheel State (even if my basketball proclivities lay toward Duke, but I digress...).

Right now I'm sitting in some abject disbelief at North Carolina's governor Roy Cooper insisting on keeping the state closed for all intents and purposes.  Neighboring states like Georgia are slamming the doors wide open for businesses large and small.  South Carolina places of worship have begun to crank up for regular services.  So far none of these places have recorded a rise in COVID-19 cases.  If anything the infection rate is dropping.

There is good reason for that.  We are definitely on the back side of the coronavirus situation.  "Shelter in place" deterred the virus from spreading when it was most contagious.  It served its purpose and it served it well.  But there is very little good that will come out of continuing this hunkering-down.  Viruses of the airborne vector - like COVID-19 - tend to follow a very defined track of lifespan over the course of a few weeks or months at most.  To be brief about it: the virus has been mutating into strains that are less contagious and hostile to human physiology.  As I like to put it they are "mutating downward", not up and into worse strains.

So what would I recommend to North Carolina, and to the United States as a whole?

Reopen.  End shelter in place.  Ask that those who are most susceptible and concerned about COVID-19 to remain in self-isolation for the next few weeks or even months.  But as for everyone else it should be business as usual again.  It's almost purposefully infecting the virus into oblivion as the much-ballyhooed herd immunity kicks in.  It won't fully eradicate the virus, but it will put us on track toward ending the threat much faster and more reliably than waiting for an effective vaccine which may never come or will arrive, at earliest, a year and a half from now.

We have shied away from the virus.  Now it is time to begin aggressively confronting it when it is most vulnerable.  And it is time to begin an aggressive return to life as we knew it before COVID-19 became a cultural byword for microbial horror.  This isn't the Spanish influenza.  This isn't even polio.  But it has been a pandemic and we can be proud of ourselves for staving it off before it became something far worse... and for the very first time in history.  Western medicine has prevailed magnificently in this regard.

And now is the time to declare victory.  Let there be jubilation in the streets and the bars and the barber shops and the churches!  Let's see some real leadership - in North Carolina and across America - boldly proclaim that we've beaten this thing.

Otherwise, the cure will go down in history as worse than the disease.  It's already well on track for that.  Time to let real healing begin, throughout our country.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

My mother, the monster

Maybe I'm sharing too much with this post. But it hasn't been anything that I haven't divulged already to some, if only to "get it out of my head" or else lose my mind.

Only in the past few years have I come to realize how much my own mother was a monster. There were moments when she could be sweet and loving, but now I wonder if that was just a show. That was the side she showed most people. But a few of us saw her for what she really was: Bitter. Hateful. She had, as one close friend told me, "a kernel of cruelty". She seemed to enjoy humiliating me in front of others, especially friends and sometimes co-workers. She did a lot behind my back to sabotage my chances for happiness... up to and including things she was saying to my former in-laws before my ex-wife and I were married.  God only knows what that would have been without her interference.  I certainly would have been a better person with life in general if He had given me a better woman as a mother.

It is the memories of my mother that are most at the heart meat of the therapy that I have been undergoing. Thankfully, those have been working and working terrifically. They take the sting out of the memories. They are making me assured that it was never "me" that was bad. It was that woman, who called me "retarded" and would blow cigarette smoke into my face and who blamed me for her own lack of relationship with God. It was that woman who would slap me in public, who threatened to smear human feces in my face, who never gave more than hugs bereft of any empathy. Mom was, I see now, a highly functioning psychopath and someone who was NOT a Christian at all. And that is what hurts more than most: how she turned God into a weapon to beat me over the head with, not a God who is loving and merciful and looks past our faults and frailties. Mom never forgot my fault and frailties. I don't think she forgot them with anyone.

My mother was the kind of woman who ruined the funeral of an uncle I was close to. No, really. She literally ruined a funeral. All for her own selfish sake.

But I was expected to love her, because "she's your mother". Now I understand that love can never be demanded. It must be EARNED. Including for one's own parents.

My life would not be so screwed up all along, had there been a TRULY loving and caring mother in my life. One who was sincerely beautiful in spirit. But as it is, she was not that and she poisoned that house and everyone within it. And I'm thankful that I got to see Dad happier than he had ever been before, in those final years before his own passing.

Why am I sharing this?

If you have a true and sincerely loving mother, or you did have one, be thankful. NEVER stop being thankful for that. Thank God every day that He blessed you with her. There are some of us who never got to have that, and it seems we will never stop asking Him why did He trap us with someone like that. Many are the days when I wish that I had just died in the delivery room, as I almost did. Instead He gave me to a woman who should never have been a mother in the first place.

If you are not like me, then you should consider yourself very, VERY blessed indeed. Because, like I said, some of us didn't get to have that. And I for one am as envious as can be that other people got to have that loving mother.

That's all that I'm going to say today. On this Mother's Day, if she is the kind of mother that God intended for them to be, let her know how much you appreciate and love her for that. If she is no longer here, thank God that He let you have that. And maybe you never had that kind of mother. Perhaps there are other women who have become like true mother figures in your life. In that regard, I have been immensely blessed. THEY are the ones I prefer to think about on this Mother's Day. They are the ones who stepped up to bat and showed me what real motherhood is all about.

I know of what I speak. I know what was missing from my life. I pray that no one else has to know that kind of vacuum.

Thank God for your mother, if she is or was the kind of mother that a woman in that place is meant to be.

That's all I know to say about the subject.  Don't expect me to write about it again.  I've said what God was leading me to say.  And that is enough.

How much does a shadow weigh?

Work with me here.  It's way too late at night, I can't sleep and this is the kind of thing I think about at this hour.

Here's the problem: "Does a shadow have mass, and how much does it weigh if it does?"

Remember how in Peter Pan, when Pete loses his shadow and has to sew it back on when he finally catches it?  That's how this started (though why I was thinking of Peter Pan so randomly is beyond me).  So if Pan loses his shadow, and it gets away from him and he has to catch it and attach it back to himself, then...

Logically, the shadow must have mass.  Because Pan couldn't take hold of it if it didn't have mass.  Except it's impossible for a shadow to have mass, right?  Right?!

Okay, let's look at this from the angle of physics.  What is a shadow, exactly?  It's the absence or diminishing of light upon a surface because an object is between the surface and a source of light.  There is no "there" there for a shadow.  It just is.  It's the effect of an object with mass absorbing light energy.

But for more than a century now, we've known that per Einstein's equation E = mc2 that energy and mass have an equivalence.  Matter is energy and energy is matter.  And among other things the addition of energy to a system increases the mass of that system.  So in our situation the light hitting Peter Pan is increasing his mass (although almost insignificantly so).

The system being discussed here is Peter Pan, his shadow, and the light cast upon the local environment.  The surface of Peter has increased mass and so does the wall (or whatever) that the light is hitting.  The shadow however is not absorbing energy.

With the local environment as a baseline, and the ultimate source of the mass being the sun or lamplight or some other source of light, the shadow has less mass than it would without being impeded by Peter's mass.  And not only that but the shadow both exists and has a mass of less than 0.  All without absorbing energy on its own.  It has existence and mass because of the mass/energy equivalence of its surroundings.

Therefore, a shadow does possess mass.  And despite the absence of light it does have corresponding weight.

So then, we can conclude that a shadow has weight.  And said weight is dependent upon the surface it is cast upon, the area of the shadow, the size of the object casting the shadow, and the size and strength of the source of light.

Which means that in theory, Peter Pan could have lost his shadow and had to sew or staple it back on.

Well, that settles that question then.  Me go back to sleep now.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Gears Tactics a solid adaptation of a beloved franchise

Some longtime readers already know that the Gears Of War video game franchise is near and dear to my heart.  One of my prized geeky possessions is a copy of the Gears of War 3 soundtrack signed by composer Steve Jablonsky   Maybe it's something to do with how the first game came out on that Election Day in 2006: when my name appeared on the ballot for board of education.  I didn't get to play Gears of War until a year later when I finally scored an Xbox 360 but as soon as that disc stopped loading I was totally sucked into the world of Sera, and the fight against the Locust.

Unfortunately I haven't come into possession of an Xbox One so I'm way behind on the main series, but that doesn't mean a fan has to be completely out of the loop.  Last week Microsoft released Gears Tactics.  It's a turn-based tactical game set in the Gearsiverse.  Specifically, fourteen years before Dom breaking Marcus out of that prison.  It's the countdown to the Hammer of Dawn offensive, and you play a poor shlub who gets tapped by Chairman Prescott (as posturing an a$$hole as ever) to swipe some documents before the surface of Sera gets burned.

I'm a few missions into it and so far have been enjoying every moment.  Gears Tactics truly brings the spirit of the franchise to the desktop, with astounding design choices and situational dynamics.  If you want a Gears Of War game, it's here: the Gears and their signature armor, emergence holes, parkouring over obstacles, charging toward the bad guys... and of course the iconic execution with the chainsaw bayonet.  Movement and targeting are simple, and absent any "hex-based" spacing that the genre is often known for.  In short: it's a solid translation of the typical Gears Of War game into a more casual "thinking person's" exercise.

Gears Tactics is $59 bucks on Steam.