current events

September 11th fun facts!!!

Hey, did you know that September 11th is the 254th day of the Gregorian calendar! Also, did you know that it’s the first day of the Coptic, and the earliest possible day that the Ethiopian calendar can begin! Fascinating, right?

I have to admit I am somewhat overdosed on September 11th. Yes, an enormous national tragedy of unrivalled scope occurred on that date. I get that.

Also, if I’m not mistaken, Rafael de Casanova gave a rousing speech while Barcelona was falling to the Bourbon forces in the last throes of the War of Spanish Succession, exhorting them to do something along the lines of “salvar la libertad del Principado y de toda España; evitar la esclavitud que espera a los catalanes y al resto de los españoles bajo el dominio francés; derramar la sangre gloriosamente por el Rey, por su honor, por la patria y por la libertad de toda España”. (‘Save the freedom of the Principality (referring to Catalonia) and all of Spain, avoid the slavery that awaits the Catalans and the rest of the Spanish people under French domination, to gloriously shed blood for the King, for his honor, for the fatherland and for the freedom of all of Spain’).

So, if you are overdosed on 9/11 nostalgia, o estás hasta los huevos de escuchar cosas sobre la Diada, why not learn more superinteresting things that happened by chance to occur on this date in history that are like super-relevant to your life and everyone should definitely give a fuck about here:

On this day in history…

  • 1185 – Isaac II Angelus kills Stephanus Hagiochristophorites and then appeals to the people, resulting in the revolt that deposes Andronicus I Comnenus and places Isaac on the throne of the Byzantine Empire.
  • 1297 – Battle of Stirling Bridge: Scots jointly-led by William Wallace and Andrew Moray defeat the English.
  • 1609 – Henry Hudson discovers Manhattan Island and the indigenous people living there.
  • 1792 – The Hope Diamond is stolen along with other French crown jewels when six men break into the house used to store them.
  • 1830 – Anti-Masonic Party convention; one of the first American political party conventions.
  • 1847 – Stephen Foster’s well-known song, “Oh! Susanna”, is first performed at a saloon in Pittsburgh.
  • 1852 – The State of Buenos Aires secedes from the Argentine Federal government, rejoining on 17 September 17, 1861. Several places are named Once de Septiembre after this event.
  • 1857 – The Mountain Meadows massacre: Mormon settlers and Paiutes massacre 120 pioneers at Mountain Meadows, Utah.
  • 1927 – Vernon Corea, Sri Lankan broadcaster, was born.
  • 1939 – World War II: Canada declares war on Germany, the country’s first independent declaration of war
  • 1961 – Foundation of the World Wildlife Fund
  • 1973 – A coup in Chile headed by General Augusto Pinochet topples the democratically elected president Salvador Allende. Pinochet exercises dictatorial power until ousted ina referendum in 1988, staying in power until 1990.
  • 2007 – Joe Zawinul, Austrian keyboardist and composer with Weather Report among others, died.

Plus, today is totally Saint Deiniol’s Day, after Deiniol, Bishop of Bangor?

It’s also Emergency Number Day, proclaimed by President Reagan on August 26 in 1987.

And, it’s Teacher’s Day in Argentina, apparently.

Happy Teacher’s Day, y’all!!!

(source: wikipedia)

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Thoughts on Elysium

I’d been interested in seeing the new film from Neill Blomkamp as soon as I heard about it, having seen and thoroughly enjoyed his first feature District 9.  So I managed to convince my wife to come see it with me. We, like, actually went and saw it in an actual movie theatre. And actually, I wasn’t disappointed.

The ‘have v. have-not’ theme that drives the story is by no means a brand-new thing in science-fiction in general or sci-fi cinema in particular (going back at least as far as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, just to cite one example off the top of my head), but unfortunately neither is it a brand-new thing in society. It’s become almost a truism these days to point out that ‘good science-fiction isn’t about the future, it’s about the present’.

The freshness that Elysium brings to this trope comes from the world-building and visual texture of the film. The CGI effects of the ‘torus’-style space station Elysium hit just the right note between verisimilitude and impossibility to give it the feel of an actual Paradise. Meanwhile, the grit and dirt of 22nd century L.A. is believable, such that even the more far-fetched details (the smiling plastic dummy with built-in speaker that acts as Matt Damon’s parole officer) seem plausible.

The film touches on a variety social issues: health care, precarious and unsafe working conditions, terror, digital security, immigration. It’s this last one, however, that gets the most attention. The film dramatizes the plight of illegal immigrants–whether it’s Mexicans trying to cross the US-Mexico border or sub-Saharan Africans setting out in tiny boats to paddle across the Mediterranean into southern Europe–in the science-fictional form of hastily-organized shuttles sent into orbit (SPOILER!) only to be blown to bits by the security apparatus of the space station.

This focus on immigration and the quandary that it supposes in a globalized economy points up what I see as a slight problem with the film: the question of casting.

Certainly, Jodie Foster is well-chosen as the WASPy right-wing Defense secretary (though she’s saddled with the flattest of the characters here) and Sharlto Copley as the psychopathic Afrikaaner mercenary (better, though the character’s ostensibly ‘clever’ bad-guy banter gets tiresome after a while). And on the other side, down in L.A., there’s a bevy of talented Latino actors in secondary roles.

The hero, though? The one with the unambiguously ‘Latin’ surname Da Costa?

Yeah. Matt Damon. (Who, by the way, seems to have fully consummated his transformation into WWE professional wrestler John Cena for this role. All that was missing was a ‘U Can’t See Me’ t-shirt.)

I doubt this point went unnoticed in the planning stages of the project. I can’t imagine Blomkamp et al having a blind-spot that big, racial-sensitivity-wise. Witness, for example, the subtle subversion of action-film cliché in the fact that the black guy sidekick (SPOILER) doesn’t get gunned down in the assault on the Armadyne exec’s spacecraft; in fact, he survives to the end of the film. Though I haven’t seen a lot of action movies in the last few years, maybe that’s not a thing anymore…?

I mean, Matt Damon does a good job, don’t get me wrong. His Spanish isn’t even that bad. But something rings less than entirely true, if not categorically false, for this character to be a blue-eyed Anglo dude.

It just seems like a case of the studios being like, ‘nah, we gotta get a white guy’. Or who knows–this is just speculation on my part–maybe they offered it to Bardem and he turned it down? Such are the whims and exigencies of the Hollywood behemoth…

There were other aspects of the film I wasn’t one-hundred percent on board for, either–the magic, ‘hand-wavium’ aspect of the health-scanner thingies, for example, or the incidental music (heavy-handed in spots) and the fight scenes (some of which were actually a bit lengthy and plodding for my taste).

All that having been said, it’s just really nice to see a block-buster science-fiction film with some kind of content, some kind of commentary besides just, ‘Oh, hey, look, Star Trek! Oh, hey, look Star Wars! Hey, Marvel and/or DC reboot!’.

On the whole I’m Just kind of glad that films like Elysium exist, perfect or not.

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other

Notes from Berlin 2013

Following the model of last year’s Notes from SF 2012:

On my first day in Berlin, I…

– caught the 3rd act of an episode of the Simpsons where they go to Japan, dubbed in German

– saw some old friends, and some bands I’d never heard of who were pretty all right

– got briefly confused by the ‘deposit system’ at the bar whereby you pay an extra euro for a token which you then return in exchange for your euro.

On the second day, I

– applied stupid amounts of sunscreen to my forehead throughout the course of the day

– ate a currywurst

– walked through Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate and other famous ‘walking-through’ places

– discovered Sternburg Export (.80c/half-liter bottle)

– tried some extra-hot ‘red-top’ Sriracha hot sauce which I’d never seen before

–  listened to two kids on the street throwing down on their respective melodicas

– sat in the grass and drank beer

On the third day, I

– hung out for a bit with Nefertiti and Sakhmet (the dog-headed Egyptian goddess of death and vengeance) et al at the Neues Museum

– also peered intently at a small chunk of rock which purportedly bore cuneiform inscriptions from the Epic of Gilgamesh

– immersed myself in the horror-kitsch ‘Ostalgie’ of the DDR Museum

– acquainted myself with such products as the candybars CORNY BIG and NUTS, the breakfast cereal ‘HONEY BALLS‘ as well as a line of potato chips sold under the name ‘Crusty Croc

– used a 33cl can of “Jack and coke” (25% Jack Daniels, 75% cola) to wash down a bratwurst bought from a street vendor

– got rained on

On the fourth day, I

– took the U-Bahnhof to Zoologischer Garten

– saw a fat little old weiner-dog jump in and fetch a stick that his fat little old owner had thrown into one of the ponds at Tier Garten

– ate some kimchi that was bangin’

– caught up with old friend (see ‘first day’ above) over beers at the Hotel Michelberger

– listened to some jazz dudes on the bridge

– dodged the fuzz on the U-6 and had to walk home

– got rained on.

On the fifth day I

– went to the airport

– sneezed at the security checkpoint and heard several real-life Germans actually say “Gesundheit”

– ate a calzone for breakfast

– flew home.

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news

Confirmed: Acceptance from “Stupefying Stories”

A couple of months ago when I inaugurated this blog, I posted something to the effect of “big news (possibly)!”

Well, I’ve just received final confirmation that the lovely folks at Stupefying Stories have indeed accepted my story “Ohōtsuku-Kai”, and that it will very likely be available for your reading pleasure sometime in the future.

In the meantime, you could do one of the following:

a) go to their website and get you a copy of the latest issue of their fine publication for Kindle, nOOk, what-have-you

b) check out their online webzine ‘Stupefying Stories Showcase’. (I especially liked A.G. Carpenter’s story “Caught” in the first issue.)

More details (hopefully) forthcoming…

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current events

My expert opinion about PRISM and things, in which I link to stuff

If you’re like me, you use the Internet.

Y’know, to do things like stay in touch with friends, keep up with the news, consume pornography,  and vent streams of earnest rage-whining and narcisstic self-disclosure, depending on how your day’s going.

And if you’re like me, in the course of all this news-keeping-up-with and friend-staying-in-touch-with, you’ve probably heard of this whole PRISM thing.

If you’re not like me, or you have no idea what I’m talking about, basically somebody (The Guardian originally if Im not mistaken) called shenanigens on the government’s collecting of metadata from Verizon Wireless customers. Then the Washington Post brought the name PRISM into the national lexicon, ‘uncovering’ (more on those scare quotes later) the NSA’s apparently boundless thirst for sucking up and filtering All The Interwebz looking for…bad guys? The government is all up in your business, like K-Solo’s girl’s mom back in the day.

First off, I gotta say PRISM is a beautifully chosen name for this program. Perfect blend of crisp melodiousness and vaguelyl science-fictional menace. Kudos to the guy who proposed that one in whatever board meeting it was where this stuff gets decided. It’s like, ‘this supersecret program is clearly gonna get leaked at some point, we gotta make sure it gets a cool-sounding name for when it comes out into the open.’

Cool name. But what is it? Apparently PRISM is a code name for one of the many data collecting tools and data processing tools, or ‘signal activity/address designator’ (SIGAD for short), at the NSA’s disposal. And apparently they give each of these SIGADs a number. PRISM is US-984XN.

And apparently this sort of massive data collection has been going on for years.  But this time, who knows why–chalk it up to anxiety over the Bradley Manning trial if you will–with PRISM it seems the shit has hit the proverbial fan, to be diffracted into the myriad shades and gradations of the spectrum of visible light.

On one hand you have David Simon, creator of the tv series The Wire, and as such someone who knows him a thing or two about surveillance. He made some fairly reasonable-sounding points about programs like PRISM and their “legitimate usefulness to counter-terrorism as weighed against the actual intrusion on civil liberties.”

He seemed to predicate this point on a sort of world-weary bemusement, (I’m paraphrasing here) like, “Dude, they’ve been doing this shit for years, and you’re just getting all outraged about it now? How cute.” The data is there to be combed through whether we like it or not, he says, and it’s naive to think that the government’s not going to do so if it means (possibly) preventing some sort of attack.

Others have argued that this is just the first step down a slippery slope. As Gawker put it,

It is a classic example of Martin Niemoller’s famous poem come to life: First they came for Al-Qaeda, and I did not speak out because I was not Al-Qaeda; Then they came for the dark-skinned foreigners, and I did not speak out because I was not a dark-skinned foreigner; Then I found out they’ve had access to all of my pornography searches for years now. Fuck.

Perhaps the most eloquent argument, though, appears on a Reddit page of all places (just joshing, Reddit, you guys are the best). Scroll down to the third post by 161719 and read it. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Then come back and scratch your head with me.

What to do? Fork over great heaping forkfuls of our privacy in exchange for the possibility of maybe preventing like bad stuff from happening? And anyway, is privacy (our concept of it, such as it is) even a valid or useful term to use in the current context?

If it is, and if we do decide to fork it on over, are we ready for the consequences? Have we thought them through to the end?

And if we don’t want to fork that privacy, can we effectively demonstrate or implement that non-compliance? How?

This would be the part of the linkstorm where I link to a page where I found an elegant and dignified solution to the conundrum. Haven’t found it yet, but if anyone reading this has one, let me know.

I guess the real reason I’m writing this is that, now, no matter what I write, I can rest assured that somebody, somewhere out there is going to read it.

So whoever the data analyst is, sitting at their desk making use of the SIGAD numbered US-984XN, thanks for reading.

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I Want to Start Yet Another New Chamber

Almost a year ago now I started a Tumblr, with the idea that it would serve as a sort of promotional vehicle for my fledgling career amongst the genre-fiction literati.

I had an inkling that there was (relatively) big news on the horizon (my first short-fiction sale), and wanted to, you know, ‘expand my vertical into new wheelhouses to ensure that my synergy and back-end points are leveraged for maximum exposure on the new media frontier’. And stuff.

Then I realized something: I just don’t get Tumblr.

Maybe my life is lacking in funny cat videos to make gif’s of. Or anything at all to make gif’s of.

So once again, I’m inaugurating some dumb website, once again there’s (relatively) big news which has yet to be confirmed, and once again I’m here to *cough* um, synergy? *cough cough* Uh…wheelhouse? Like, really–I sprung for a domain name and errythang. Why? ‘Cause I am a baller like that.

In the meantime, watch this again:

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fiction

FEAR OF THE FUTURE

Here is a short piece dedicated to the end of the world. A sister piece in the series that includes “How to Talk to Aliens about Death” and “How to Wave a Flag”.

FEAR OF THE FUTURE

Interviewer    What exactly is your phobia, Carlton?

Carlton          Well the medical name is futurophobia.

Interviewer    And what does that mean exactly?

Carlton          It means I’m afraid of the future.

Interviewer    The future?

Carlton          Yes.

Interviewer    How long have you had this phobia?

Carlton          Since I was a child.

Interviewer    And how did it start?

Carlton          When I was five or six years old, I remember going to a friend’s house and I saw the future on the stairs. And the future was looking at me, well staring at me. I went to touch it, and it bit me. And since then I’ve always been afraid of the future.

Interviewer    What happens if you see the future?

Carlton          Well, I start to feel very nervous, my hearts beats quickly. And I have to go away very quickly from where the future is. For example, if I see the future in the street, I always cross to the other side.

Interviewer    What do you do?

Carlton          I’m a doctor

Interviewer    Is your phobia a problem for you in your work?

Carlton          Well, sometimes. On the rare occasion that I go to someone’s house on a housecall and they have a future, I have to ask the people to put it in another room. I can’t be in the same room as the future.

Interviewer    Have you ever had any treatment for your phobia?

Carlton          Yes, I’ve just started going to a therapist. I’ve had three sessions.

Interviewer    How’s it going?

Carlton          Well, now I can look at a photo of the future without feeling nervous or afraid. And I can touch a toy future. The next step will be to be in a room with the real future.

Interviewer    Do you think you will ever lose your phobia of the futures?

Carlton          I hope so. I’m optimistic. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be able to live in the future.


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ANATOMY OF A FIRST SALE

In theory, my story was supposed to go live at NewMyths.com on the 1st of December. Well, today is Monday and hopefully itll be posted eventually. Until then, you might find this entertaining:

Almost two years ago now, I decided rather abruptly that I was going to write a science-fiction novel.

I was mainly inspired by my friend Juan, who had written one in a two or three month stretch of unemployment. Mine was going to be a post-“peak oil” thriller in which the most audacious “novum” was the idea that in the future, “football” (i.e. “soccer”) would be the most popular sport in the divided States of America.

I soon realized I’d bitten off more than I could chew, and decided I ought to try my hand with the short-story medium, you know, to sharpen my skills.

My first story idea was the fruit of a misread word on a computerscreen. My eyes saw the word “Jesuit” and interpreted it as “jetsuit”. The similarity between the two words struck me, and I started my first story with the image of a “Jesuit in a jetsuit”. I wrote a story the “logline” of which could be summarized as “witch hunt on a lunar colony”, and promptly sent a draft off to my friend Alex, who happened to be taking a course on science-fiction and fantasy at the university.

He never got around to reading it, thank goodness. It was nearly 28 pages long. Also, it sucked.

I noted in the e-mail to my friend that I was shooting for sort of a mix between Jorge Luis Borges and E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith. “Los teólogos” seen through the prism of Golden Age SF. An Inquisition led by Campbellian “competent men”. What I’d ended up with was “The Wicker Man IN SPACE”.

After many submissions and rejections, I actually got a rewrite request from one market. The editor suggested that the piece would perhaps be better if I excised the scene in which a farmhand had sex with a sheep.

I removed the scene and re-submitted, but alas, ‘twas not to be.

Finally, I sent the piece to Mr. Scott T. Barnes at NewMyths.com. He also requested a rewrite, saying that the ending was all wrong, the motivation for the main character’s action at the end was non-sensical. He suggested that I completely overhaul the second half of the story and send it back to him.

His observations were all spot on, so I obliged, and in short order, received an acceptance e-mail and a contract—my first (and only) sale. And so, dear friends, a sucky story became non-sucky (IMHO).

Er…link forthcoming.


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fiction

How to Wave a Flag

Inspired by this article:

http://www.wikihow.com/Wave-a-Flag

I was watching the election results last night, thinking: I honestly cannot remember the last time I waved a flag. Maybe as a child on 4th of July, but I don’t reckon I reflected much on what it meant at the time.  Hm, imagine that, waving a flag without reflecting much on its meaning.

It’s an action that seems perfectly alien to me. Wondering how it was done, I consulted the internet. Here is what I learned, in a series of easy steps.

Step One – Obtain a flag; any flag is perfectly acceptable. No one really cares about you and your goddamn stupid flag anyway.

Step Two – Hold the flag in your hand. If you are right-handed, hold it in your right hand. If you are a lefty, put the flag in your left hand. Also, don’t drop it, moron.

Step Three – Extend your arm as needed.

Step Four – If it is a heavy flag, be prepared for the weight to wear on your shoulder. You may need to shut off the small instinctive lizard-part of your brain, the part that feels pain, in addition to the rational thinking part of your brain (if you failed to switch the latter off in Step One).

Step Five – Swish your wrist from side to side and up and down. 

Step Six – Watch your flag move gracefully in the sunlight.

Now YOU can wave YOUR favorite flag for your favorite country or organization!

  • Be sure to wave your flag with lots of spirit! Anyone seen half-assing in their flag-waving will be subject to a fine, torture or excommunication.
  • Make sure your flag isn’t too heavy, as waving it for long periods of time may strain your wrist. Some studies also show that repetitive flag-waving may kill brain cells.
  • Try not to use a flag that is burnt or torn, and don’t burn or tear a flag, as you might get your ass kicked.
  • Don’t wave a flag near someone that may become offended by it. That is just asking for it.
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