Saturday, July 18, 2009
Friday, July 17, 2009
Dead Until Dark
So I just finished reading the book Dead Until Dark, by Charlene Harris. As a fantasy fiction writer, I try to keep up with the hot trends in books, movies, television etc. and True Blood (which is based on Dead Until Dark) has been getting quite a bit of press. If you've watched an episode, it's easy to see why. You've got sex, you've got murder and you've got...well, more sex.
But I have to admit, I've always liked a good vampire story. I'm the kid that grew up reading Stephen King and Anne Rice (I was actually forbidden to read Anne Rice, so I would sneak the books out of my mothers bedroom or read chapters at a time at the local bookstore). I plowed through Salem's Lot while in grade school and then Dracula while on a family trip one heart-racing summer not long after. Dead Until Dark itself isn't brilliant. It's basic pop fiction fare: lots of dialog, little description, a fast-paced plot that ends in about 300 pages. What is brilliant is the world she creates. Because Harris departs from the traditional vampire lore in some very interesting ways:
(1) Vampirism isn't demonic position, it's a virus. In the traditional Der Vampir/ Dracula story, the vampire is a human person who's been possessed by a demon. One of the key arguments for staking Dracula in the book is that by killing him, they were freeing his soul from imprisonment by a demon. The demon possession is, thus, why vampires can't stand holy water or crosses. Holy water was used in Dracula and Salem's Lot to destroy the vampires living space. The cross fended them off. In Dead Until Dark, this is not the case. Vampires can go to Church, can touch crosses, no problem. Religion is taken off the table and vampires become the new persecuted social group. They have a virus which "they can't help" and they "just live a little differently" than everyone else. In the book, the integration of vampires into mainstream life is equivalated to the early days of the civil rights and, clearly, the gay rights movement.
(2) Vampires still break cultural taboos, but just as much as humans. Its perhaps hard to understand in today's culture. But in the 19th century when Dracula was published, vampires epitomized all the taboos of 19th century life: cannibalism, sexuality, isolation (they weren't part of a local community), and anti-Christian (they couldn't go to Church and were in fact deadly afraid of Christian artifacts.) The vampires of Dead Until Dark are still cannibalistic, they need blood to survive, but they have an artificial blood they can drink: "True Blood." And many show restraint in terms of their blood-sucking habits. Humans, by comparison, burn down vampire homes, conduct kinky sex regularly and have a serial killer on the loose. The book doesn't portray vampires as morally better than humans, but they're certainly not portrayed worse. And that's the point.(3) Vampires aren't completely animalistic and humans don't always act, well, humane. One of the key frightening points of Dracula is the understanding that a person as wise as Dracula could become a slave to animal desires, losing reason, cultural restraint (as mentioned earlier), sympathy. In Der Vampir, Dracula, and Salem's Lot that holds true. Humanity does eek into Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles and it certainly does in Dead Until Dark. But by putting the context of the story into a murder mystery, we get to see one of the worst sides of humanity: the serial killer. Just a brief glimpse over the bios of John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy (here), and Jeffrey Dahmer is enough to make your blood run cold at the inhuman nature of what they did. This is incredibly ironic that Harris would use that contrast, as the original medieval legends about werewolves and vampires are believed to have originated from serial killers.
It was humankind's crowning achievement, with millions around the world glued to their television sets as US astronaut Neil Armstrong took the first steps on the moon 40 years ago.
But in the scientific equivalent of recording an old episode of EastEnders over the prized video of your daughter's wedding day, Nasa probably taped over its only high-resolution images of the first moon walk with electronic data from a satellite or a later manned space mission, officials said today.
It means that the familiar grainy and ghosting images of Armstrong's "giant leap for mankind" are all that remain from the mission, though the space agency has managed to digitally restore the footage into new broadcast-quality pictures that it released today.
"I don't think anyone in the Nasa organisation did anything wrong. It slipped through the cracks and nobody's happy about it," said Dick Nafzger, one of the last Apollo-era video engineers still working for the agency at Maryland's Goddard Space Flight Centre.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
I think I've improved a bit. But it's still in my nature.
Church on Sunday, we had a friend visiting. After taking communion (little cups), my friend says, "Man, was your communion cup full? I had trouble finishing mine."
Me: "Yeah, it was like a double-shot of Jesus."
Heads turned. My wife whacked me in the arm. One parishioner might have shaken their head, praying for my soul.
Friday, July 10, 2009
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
A recent look through Sky Mall magazine confirmed that there are things you see in Sky Mall that no one in the world owns. Or would buy, if given the choice. Some examples:
Buying a plastic one too cheap for you? Buy one that can creep out your friends. Thanksgiving dinner? Try the "launch lightsaber" command so you can carve the turkey a bit more cleanly.
Don't make your dog go through the trouble of looking under the fence! Now he can look through the porthole to see if the neighbors are cooking beef, have another dog over, are skinny-dipping, etc. If my neighbor had one of these, I might move.
Lawn Aerator Sandals-
"Aerating your lawn is as easy as taking a walk. Aerating your lawn revitalizes hard, compacted soil, and helps prevent thatch buildup, but lawn services charge a mint for this service."
I've never even heard of an "aerator." But I tell you what, it looks like those are the meanest soccer spikes I've ever seen. C'mon try to stop my dribble, these babies'll cut right through your gastrocnemius.
"Dispense paper towels with a wave of your hand! No more wasted paper towels! The Towel-Matic's sensor-activated control dispenses one sheet, two sheets or the new half-sheet with just a wave of your hand."
Think of how much work you save waving your hand in front of a paper towel rather than ripping it! And I like the "new half sheet" part. No one has ever thought of using a half sheet of paper towel. Truly ground-breaking.
Relax 'N Nap Pillow-
"Our new Relax 'N Nap Pillow relieves tension on neck, back and shoulders and the patented "air portal" ventilation system allows you to rest face down in comfort while breathing fresh clean air."
Sleeping on a regular pillow? Pmph. You're not getting "fresh clean air." You need that air portal. Could you imagine seeing someone sleeping on one of those things? I think I would laugh in their face. And maybe slap them in the face.
In college, you don't have to be the guy who can't get a date anymore. Just slap this thing on there.Why actually learn how to play guitar when you could learn to fake it with an odd device on the top. Remember those hard guitar chords like "G" or "C"? No problem. Just press the buttons.
The Batarang Money Clip-
Is using a regular money clip not nerdy enough for you? This will complete a pocket-protector ensemble. You can whip it out of your backpocket, pretending the guy behind the counter isn't a hotdog vendor but Killer Croc or Two-Face. I suggest getting the chrome plated. You don't want the stainless steel to rust from the rain. You know, from when you're out there fighting crime.
Guests will be doing a double take, but it won't be because you have "creative gardening style." Make sure none of your guests have guns they might shoot it, thinking they wandered into the Planet of the Apes.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
This post will be a review of the three different works I’ve sampled in the past two weeks. All of them are so interrelated that it makes sense to summarize them together.
“Local Contexts of Islamism in Popular Media”
In this essay, Lila Abu-Lughod talks about the degree to which Egyptian television serials in the past two decades have shaped Egyptian perceptions of Islamism, the piety movement. She notes that Egyptian television serials work differently from other nations. Egyptian serials run day-after-day for a maximum of 30 episodes and then they’re finished. And often these serials run through the nation’s religious authority, al-Azhar. She notes that in the early 90s, there were few depictions of Islam (or Islamism) in television serials. “All that viewers could see were people for whom religion was taken for granted as part of their identity and that sometimes offered solace in times of personal trouble. Piety was seen only among the elderly” (Abu-Lughod 8). But then in 1993, a new policy was announced that Egypt would try to combat terrorism (which was happening through Islamism) through media. Since then serials have begun to appear which show Islamists as swindlers, thugs, etc. In the famed “boy-loses-his-way” storyline, serials tend to have the boy drift toward Islamism which will put him in even more trouble.
For a time, there was outrage from Islamists in Egypt, especially the rural Upper Egypt. Because many Islamists were from rural areas. Well, post-9-11, a serial was released set in Upper Egypt in which the rural people are tempted to join Islamism. They don’t expressing that they don’t do that because “I’m a Sa’idi” (Abu-Lughod 17)! Thereby framing Islamism as criminal activity and Upper Egypt as an honorable place. She notes that the essential movement of television serials has been toward depicting religion as culture (Abu-Lughod 15-16). This narrative does accentuate differences between traditional Islam, Islamism and Coptics (which is perhaps negative), but those differences are made to see culture and perhaps, relative.
This is an interesting essay, because this is a case where there is a good Islam and a bad Islam, but the media gets to tell us which is which.
This book is the culmination of a study on the depictions of Muslims in British media. Not surprisingly, the British media doesn’t come out well, for numerous reasons.
(1) Lack of Muslims in newsrooms- if newsroom culture lacks someone who can be a “normal” Muslim model, it’s difficult for the media to determine what Islam is if there’s no model.
(2) Lack of knowledge about Islam- the people in the newsrooms know little about Islam, the most they know is what has been mediated, likely by others who know little about Islam.
(3) Increase in poverty, prison-rates among Muslims- this is perhaps a bit self-perpetuating. In Britain, if Muslims are increasingly criminal and lower-class, society and depicted that way, society to a certain extent keeps it that way (Poole 20).
Interestingly, the study found that depictions of Islam on a local level (ie. The story on the local Ramadan, etc) tended to be far more positive than those on a global level. On both levels, they’re the same religion, but are depicted differently in the two narratives (Poole 258). As a result, Poole notes that discourse is closed between the British and Muslims. The media conditions have resulted in defensive constructions of identity on the part of the Muslims (Poole 18), while simultaneously created the British continue to put Muslims into a presumed narrative.
“Muslims and the News Media”
This was the most helpful resource by far. In this book, Gary Bunt has a chapter foreseeing the information revolution in the Islamic world. He notes that the internet is a tool proliferating through the Islamic world, making freedom of speech and expression more possible even in authoritarian regimes (Bunt 160). To certain extent, the internet is still just a tool of the elite and the government. The governments of some countries have seen the internet as a tool to better survey possible dissidents. But of course it hasn’t worked that way and the internet is a growing force, expanding quickly beyond elites (Bunt 153).
Governments have applied the Internet as a means of observing ‘dissident’ activities online. However, sophisticated encryption programs have made control of many aspects of the Internet more problematic for government agencies in Muslim (and other) contexts, for example in censoring email exchanges…States have been under attack from opponents, including hackers/crackers of varying grades of proficiency (including Muslims) seeking to compromise governmental online interests – for example through changing content of websites or accessing ‘confidential’ databases. These ‘Muslim hackers’ range from individuals to highly organized groups, not all operating with ‘Islamic’ agendas in mind (Bunt 160).And the internet has allowed differing interpretations of Islam a virtual space to discourse. Indeed, internet skills have grown so important to Islam that they are now being taught in Islamic seminaries.
The online translations of al-Qaradawi [a Qatar-based religious scholar] into other languages, and the reproduction of his materials on affiliated websites, have been extremely influential, particularly following 11 September. His website statements on jihad, denouncing the targeting of civilians as contrary to Islam, were quoted in the international press (Bunt 160).And finally Bunt notes that authoritarian control is much more difficult in an internet age. The ability to speak out against an interpretation of Islam is more difficult when you need a printing press or a television studio to spread the message than when you only need an iPhone (Bunt 159-161).
Monday, July 6, 2009
For those who've followed the breakdowns of the Sanfords, the Edwards, the Gosselins -- well, need I go on?--marriage may seem a bit bleak. TIME takes the issue straight on in a compelling piece sure to draw flack: "Why Marriage Matters." (Although it seems a bit odd to follow that with "Top 10 Mistresses!") In the piece, Caitlin Flanagan notes a connection between one-parent marriages and poverty, drugs, jail time, etc. According to Flanagan, growing up in a two-parent marriage creates a better environment for raising a family.
In response to TMI reports on the Sanford affair, Flanagan quotes Leonard Michaels:
"Adultery is not about sex or romance. Ultimately, it is about how little we mean to one another."
She goes on:
The growing tendency of the poor to have children before marriage — the vast majority of unmarried women having babies are undereducated and have low incomes — is a catastrophic approach to life, as three Presidents in a row have tried to convince them. Bill Clinton's welfare-to-work program encouraged marriage, George W. Bush spent millions to promote marriage, and Barack Obama has spoken powerfully on the need for men to stay with their children: "We need fathers to step up, to realize that their job does not end at conception; that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in May that births to unmarried women have reached an astonishing 39.7 percent. How much does this matter? More than words can say. There is no other single force causing as much measurable hardship and human misery in this country as the collapse of marriage. It hurts children, it reduces mothers' financial security, and it has landed with particular devastation on those who can bear it least: the nation's underclass.
The poor and the middle class are very different in the ways they have forsaken marriage. The poor are doing it by uncoupling parenthood from marriage, and the financially secure are doing it by blasting apart their unions if the principals aren't having fun anymore.
Interestingly, the response of some press reports has been to imply that the failings in some of the high-profile conservative affairs (of which the Gosselins, the Sanfords and the Ensigns fit) are related to their religious backgrounds.
Alan Breed of the Associated Press does a bit of editorializing after noting a quote by Mark Sanford:
H/T Mollie for finding that. I'm married so maybe I have a different response to that statement. My feeling is that a commitment is the highest measure of what love is meant to be. Breaking it is the highest measure of what love is not. To quote Mollie:
“Their point is that love is not a feeling,” Sanford told the Associated Press in a tearful two-day confessional. “It’s a choice. It’s an action.”
That sentiment might seem cold to many Americans, but it is perfectly consistent with the born-again, evangelical Christian world that Sanford inhabits, says sociologist John Bartowski.
I can’t help but laugh that this sentiment might seem cold. To me, cold is cheating on your wife with an Argentine bombshell because you feel like it. Cold is messing up your sons’ view of marriage, romance and love through your narcissism and lack of foresight. Cold is breaking the heart of your wife and partner. Cold is telling the world that you so callously disregarded your marital vows that you somehow managed to pick up a “soul mate” who lives 5,000 miles away. Dios mio! But believing that love is demonstrated through your behavior? That doesn’t seem particularly cold to me.
In response to this piece, I think that last thing we need in American society is more feeling. We feel just fine. We feel fine enough to shop and buy whatever we want, whenever we want it without regard to our finances or the environment. We feel fine enough to be with whoever we want, whenever we want, without regard for the people that get hurt along the way. And people do get hurt. Divorce and adultery don't just happen between two people. What we do need in American society is commitments to action. Just like we need commitments to act positively toward the environment, we need commitments to act positively toward our wife. That's what marriage is. And what we need is a society that keeps it.
Once finished I drove the wheels off it. Not literally, but almost. I ended up blowing a head gasket and tried to drive home to work on it. Not smart. Smoke from under the hood, the front of the car, the back of the car. Now it's dead. Sitting in my dad's barn. Waiting to be brought back to life again someday.
I don't watch sports, I'm pretty good at putting up pictures and minor furniture repairs (very minor). But don't ask me to build a patio. I also know only enough to be conversant in the language of cars -- I can change my own oil, etc. -- but don't ask me to rebuild the engine. When the mechanics start talking, I glaze over.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
When it's slow news, count on TV news to make some news, ALOT of news. H/T Marcus Powers
I know I'm biased, but would it be wrong to suggest we stop covering dead celebrities and go back to covering, you know unrest in Iran, the auto/financial crisis?
Jon Stewart satired this very issue night before last with the "RIPpy Awards" for Obitutainment. Some hard-hitting reporting. See below:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|The Rippy Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Obitutainment|