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Notes from Córdoba, 2016

On the day we visited the Mezquita de Córdoba, the place was full of people both living and dead.

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In addition to the tourists roaming hither and yon amongst the seemingly endless recursion of pillars and arches, at every turn one finds centuries-old inscriptions that mark the eternal resting place of some duke or bishop or some other wealthy corpse.

The first one I noticed bore this crude image of a skull:

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The second was more stylized, cartoonish even, and included alongside the skull and the scythe a ‘winged hourglass’ motif. Tempus fugit, memento mori, etc., etc. etc.:

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The last of these images I photographed that day was another skull, this time lit up in the rainbow colors streaming down through a stained glass window of the Cátedral–as all the official communication takes special pains to remind you, this is indeed a Cathedral and most definitely no longer a mosque, despite everything you’ve ever read or heard about the place calling it ‘the Mezquita‘. Somewhat difficult to appreciate the colors in this photo, but still an interesting contrast of brightness and gloom:

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The starkest, most surreal contrast I found in that cathedral-cum-mosque, was inside the Capilla de Benditas Almas del Purgatorio(!), next to an ossuary containing the skull, femur, and other remains of some important figure. There, alongside these remains left for centuries on display in this sober iron box, someone had accidentally(?) left a humble coathanger made of clear blue plastic:

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The contrast of old and modern, ceremonial and workaday, unearthly and mundane…something about it spoke to me, and asked me to document and share it.

I knew as soon as I snapped the photo that it would most likely spawn a post on this long-neglected blog of mine. You know, a few photos with a few jokey and affectionate comments about the Mezquita and all its interesting juxtapositions and what not, nothing too transcendent.

What I didn’t know was that the next morning I’d be laying in my hotel room watching news about a terrorist attack of Brussels killing dozens of people and injure dozens more, and thinking: Fuck.

And later, as we visited the ‘Museo Vivo de al-Andalus’ located in the Torre de la Calahorra and sat in the tiny Sala 2 staring at wax figures of brilliant philosophers like Averroes and Ibn Arabi and watching their eyes glisten in the spotlight as readings of their texts played through our audioguides, I couldn’t help thinking how little mankind has advanced in the last thousand years.

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In the face of events like the terrorist attacks in Brussels (and in Paris, and in Lahore and Turkey and all over the Muslim world), and of the often rash and uninformed responses they inspire–the moronic, knee-jerk xenophobia of Trump & co., the wholesale bombardment of thousands of innocent victims, the often shameful handling of the Syrian refugee crisis, etc.–my instinctive response has always been a retreat to the sort of misanthropic atheist position that I’ve always found most comfortable.

Namely, the conviction that mankind is, generally speaking, doomed. That if, in the 21st century, we’re still slaying each other for the same idiotic reasons moros and cristianos were doing so a millenium ago, then as a species there really is no hope for us and we deserve to perish forever from this earth.

But no, I tell myself. That’s an easy out. Because how many of us have that luxury of burying our heads in the sand while the world burns around us, and crossing our fingers and hoping for a quiet death from natural causes before we too are consumed in the flames? And those of us who do have that luxury, for how much longer…?

Tempus fugit. Momento mori. Etc.

On a lighter note, Virgin Mary says Haaaaaaaay

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Us and Them

Apropos of nothing, I present without further comment the following handful of quotes from The Politics of Experience by Scottish psychologist and author R.D. Laing.

“Only when something has become problematic do we start to ask questions. Disagreement shakes us out of our slumbers, and forces us to see our own point of view through contrast with another person who does not share it. But we resist confrontations. The history of heresies of all kinds testifies to more than the tendency to break off communication (excommunication) with those who hold different dogmas or opinions; it bears witness to our intolerance of different fundamental structures of experience. We seem to need to share a communal meaning to human existence, to give with others a common sense to the world, to maintain a consensus[…]

“The group, whether We, or You or Them, is not a new individual or organism or hyperorganism on the social scene; it has no agency of its own, it has no consciousness of its own[…]

“The group is a reality of some kind or other. But what sort of reality? The We is a form of unification of a plurality composed by those who share the common experience of its ubiquitous invention among them.

“From outside, a group of Them may come into view in another way. It is still a type of unification imposed on a multiplicity, but this time those who invent the unification expressly do not themselves compose it. Here, I am of course not referring to the outsider’s perception of a We already constituted from within itself. The Them comes into view as a sort of social mirage[…]

“All those people who seek to control the behaviour of large numbers of other people work on the experiences of those other people. Once people can be induced to experience a situation in a similar way, they can be expected to behave in similar ways. Induce people all to want the same thing, hate the same things, feel the same threat, then their behaviour is already captive–you have acquired your consumers or your cannon-fodder[…]

“As war continues, both sides come more and more to resemble each other. The uroborus eats its own tail. The wheel turns full circle. Shall we realize that We and Them are shadows of each other? We are Them to Them as They are Them to Us. When will the veil be lifted? When will the charade turn to Carnival? Saints may still be kissing lepers. It is high time that the leper kissed the saint.”

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Ornette Coleman, RIP

At some point in my early-to-mids 20s, I came into possession of a saxophone.

I won’t detail the circumstances that led the instrument to me.

In fact, I should probably apologize to my friends and roommates and anyone else who suffered through that period, as I was never very good at playing the thing.

One of the tunes that I liked to noodle around on was “Congeniality” by Ornette Coleman.

I could only do the first few bars of the tune, as I never had anywhere near the chops I’d have needed to actually play the whole thing. Again, I was very bad at playing the saxophone.

Still, it seemed like an Important Thing to me, to learn to play, or at least to try.

Or, as Ornette said back in 1966:

“To be a man, whatever a man is…there’s something that’s very important about being a man, and it’s not necessarily your honesty or your philosophy, but it has more to do with you being able to get away with what you can do and someone else saying, ‘Well, that’s him.'”

(Mr Coleman was one of my ‘idols’, if such a term is even appropriate here, which it probably isn’t. An inspiration, an example, more like. R.I.P.)

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My nominations for the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Related Work

God, I wish I didn’t find this stuff so fascinating.

My last post way back in January went something like this: “hey, you know, I had a couple stories published last year, how’s about y’all nominate them jokers for an award”.

Obviously no one did so, because no one cared. I didn’t care enough to nominate anybody for anything, either.

Flash forward to April, when the 2014 Hugo nominees are announced. Kerfuffle ensues. Rampant point-missing and reading-comprehension fails overtake various comments sections across the internet (but then, what else is new).

For various reasons that I won’t go into here, I won’t go into the subject of this year’s awards.

I would, however, like to go ahead and make some recommendations for next year’s awards. (And for anyone reading this who might be suffering from the aforementioned issues of point-missing and reading-comp fails, I should probably spell out that no, this is not a ‘voting slate’.)

To wit, my nominations for the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Related Work are:

“A Detailed Explanation” by Matthew David Surridge in Black Gate

http://blog.sadpuppies.org/ by ‘Noah Ward’ (get it…? eh…?)

Granted, the second of these is a piss-take that flirts dangerously with Poe’s Law (i.e., that “without a clear indicator of an author’s intention, it is often impossible to tell the difference between an expression of sincere extremism and a parody of such extremism”).

The first, however, is a thorough and well-reasoned dissection of ideology and notions of literary quality in ‘genre’ fiction, awards, and popularity in general. Indeed, the most thorough and well-reasoned piece of writing you’re likely to see on those topics this year, methinks.

I will now returned to my regularly scheduled rubbernecking. This trainwreck isn’t going to gawk at itself, you know. Or is it.

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Hey, check out this review of my story in Tangent Online

So, here’s a first for me. An opinion about a story of mine in Tangent Online, self-proclaimed as “the genre’s premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993.”

Reviewer Martha Burns writes:

“It’s a surprise that no story in the collection addresses the effect gaming has had on humanity, especially considering that right now, people spend billions of hours each week in those virtual worlds. The story that comes closest to addressing our interaction with gaming is “Hacking ‘Wilkes-Barre PA, May 2001′” by NM Whitley. In this story, it isn’t humans who play a game, it is a computer system that engages in a form of the 1990s favorite, The Sims. The computer chooses a real town to start its simulation, but the realities of that time period keep intruding and ruining the fun. The story is enjoyable, sometimes grin-inducing, and does a good job demonstrating how, to borrow the title of Jane McGonigal’s famous book on the positive insights to be learned from gaming culture, reality is broken.”

Not bad, right? And lest you think this is some feel-good, I’m-OK-You’re OK puff piece (it’s not), I’d encourage you check out the rest of the review at Tangent Online.

Ah, did I mention that the aforementioned story and anthology are available in dead-tree format? Photographic evidence below:

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Dead-tree format available from Amazon; for e-books etc try Smashwords, and I’ll see you at the movies…

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Welp, now I’m almost certainly being spied on, closely perhaps, by the NSA

So we’ve known for a while now that government spooks were snooping through all of our internet communication, or as I like to put it, they were all up in your business like K-Solo’s girlfriend’s mom. Supposedly, they were just ‘collecting’ it and not ‘targeting’ it. ‘Targeting’ was only for the bad guys.

Now it’s come out this week that the NSA has some very interesting criteria that it uses to narrow down who the ‘bad guys’ are.

Cory Doctorow published an article this week entitled “If you read Boing Boing, the NSA considers you a target for deep surveillance.”  In it, he linked to a article on the German news site Tagesschau written in which journalists gained access to the “deep packet inspection” rules used to determine who is considered to be a legitimate target for deep surveillance.

Apparently, the NSA knows when, where, and whether or not you’ve ever searched for online articles about Tails or Tor, perhaps the two most well-known tools used to preserve Internet privacy and anonymity. Now let’s say neither of those names sound familiar and you want to learn more. Before you run off to Google, hear me out first: If you do search for either of those terms, there’s a strong chance you’ll be put on their bad guy list. That’s what I did.

Basically, the NSA thinks it has a right to know if you’re interested (even if only in a casual, ‘here-lemme-click-on-this-link-for-a-second-oh-never-mind-this-shit’s-boring’ sort of way) in the subject of Internet privacy tools, because that interest might translate to you actually using such a tool, which could possibly mean that you’re using it to do ill of some sort (terrorism, cybercrime, piracy, etc.).

That’s some ol’ Tom Cruise Minority Report pre-crime shit if I ever heard of it.

Also–as you’d imagine–anyone who they determine is actually using Tor is also targeted for long-term surveillance and retention. Doctorow writes: “One expert suggested that the NSA’s intention here was to separate the sheep from the goats — to split the entire population of the Internet into ‘people who have the technical know-how to be private’ and ‘people who don’t’ and then capture all the communications from the first group.”

Sad thing is, I’m not even really in the first group and they may already be treating me as such–like, I tried downloading and setting up Tor once, and no matter how many times I tried to key in the command lines, Linux wasn’t havin’ it. I mean, that’s how little I have in the way of ‘technical know-how’. So I was like, fuck it. Doesn’t matter–they’re prolly still gonna read this, and all my email, and all that. And in lieu of coded message about terrorist attacks, they will find boring email back and forth between me and my bosses, banal Facebook posts, and little else I imagine.

I don’t have any illusions about anything I do being at all secure, really. I know basically any jerkass who had a mind to could jack my whole computer up and wreck shop on my hard drive and what not. I’m not naive in that sense. But it makes you think. The government (probably) really is in my business. Damn.

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