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21
Apr 16

The Music in the Sentence, BROKEN MIRROR GLASS and – SF SIGNAL

Here’s the opening of my short guest editorial at SFSIGNAL Magazine. Link below.

‘I was scarcely more than a boy when I attended the Clarion Writer’s Workshop in Seattle. One of the instructors was Harlan Ellison, and being a fan of Ellison’s I was on edge with excitement, even more like a cat on hot bricks than usual. In those days I was wildly callow, the very soul of impulsiveness. One night I dropped acid–and I dropped down on Ellison, just missing him, from the boughs of a tree as he walked underneath. After the necessary fulmination, Harlan let it go. He put up with me, he said, because I “heard the music in the sentence”. You either heard the music in prose, he told us, or you didn’t….’

Read all about it and Broken Mirror Glass at:

http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2016/04/guest-post-john-shirley-hears-the-music-in-the-sentence/


4
Apr 16

Message From The Galactic Civilization to Residents of Planet Earth

“Having done exhaustive calculations and a detailed global evaluations we’ve decided that the human residents of the planet Earth are too stupid to be allowed to live. We’ve been observing the planet for some years through drones transferred by wormholes; we have translated your language into our own, and hopefully this message, translated into your various languages, will be clear. We have studied your history, your treatment of your planetary environment, and the culture of your dominant civilization. The simple fact is, there are relatively few known habitable planets in this universe. Those that are habitable are quite precious. They cannot be wasted on pseudo-intelligent species bent on destroying the biosphere of its own living world. Such planets are simply too hard to come by. Normally we are a “live and let live” galactic civilization, but this kind of excruciating wastefulness cannot be tolerated. We might have given you more time, but we have been observing your political rituals recently, and our level of disgust is too overwhelming for forbearance.

“We realize this is a harsh judgment, and we apologize for any inconvenience. However the extermination will be painless, and will only affect your species. Other animal species will be unaffected. The process will sweep the entire planet in the course of ten minutes. Again, we apologize for this interruption in your plans.”


2
Apr 16

Why Cultural Appropriation is a Stupid Concept

Cultural appropriation is an idea born of ignorance. All culture is in part appropriated. Africans appropriated some culture from India; people from Jamaica “appropriated” from Africa and from North America and from Europe; European countries appropriated from one another. American blues appropriated from Africa and from European folk music and from hymns; Christians  appropriated myths from other religions; other religions  borrowed from Christians and Hindus. Buddhists appropriated from Hindus and Japanese Zen from China; American Indians appropriated from invading Native tribes of various kinds, and later (eg, horseback riding) from Europeans.

Country music appropriated from Celtic music and from yodeling and from African American gospel. Roman myths appropriated from Greek myths; Greek from Babylonian and Egyptian… And on and on and on and on and on. Culture is synthesis.

There is no such thing as cultural appropriation. There can be racist cultural stereotyping–but not appropriation. Instead there is cultural adaptation…If there is such a thing as the “the sacred” then…no one owns it. No one owns the genuinely sacred.


29
Mar 16

Review of BATMAN VS SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE

We saw BATMAN Vs SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE today. When I was a boy and on into my early-mid teens, I read a lot of comics, especially Marvel. . .DC seemed a bit square in those days. I had turned my back on Batman because of the Adam West TV show, and Superman, too, was pretty dopey then. It did occur to me that someone should make a non-campy, more serious Batman and Superman. I used to visualize how it would happen. (The guy who made it happen was Michael Uslan–you can see his credit on all the newest Batman stuff, indeed going back to the TIm Burton one–he basically bought the rights to Batman *cheap* after the Adam West debacle. He rescued Batman.) And in those days there were many forays into Superhero Vs Superhero. Spiderman and the Human Torch got mad at each other and fought. The Hulk and The Thing had a tiff. Make your own list. They’d get mad for no particularly good reason and fight for no particularly good reason but *comics fans enjoyed it* because it was *fun*. It looked cool graphically, and it satisfied an itch comics fans had. (And that’s basically what Captain America: Civil War appears to be, Cap vs Iron Man)…Soon I got out of superhero comics, until The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen. Those graphic novels impressed me, especially Watchmen. My nostalgia about superheroes was rekindled, up to a point…

So when I saw the Batman Vs Superman movie was coming, I figured it was the same sort of hero vs hero marketing gimmick and appeal to fun–and it was and is–and I looked forward to it. I could tell early on that it was going to use some of The Dark Knight Returns. And it does. And I did not  expect too much of it. . . Also clearly it was a set-up for the Justice League. And I was into that. And people forget that’s part of what it was.

The movie is uneven. I did not think it was the mess some other people thought. But I didn’t think the whole thing worked in every particular. It’s not the epic film it hoped to be. Still, I would say that if there was a category of film criticism that allows two and three-quarters stars, just short of three stars, it is that. Actually I enjoyed it a good deal, so maybe that’s up to 3 stars. Wonder Woman might deserve her own “star” in the rating…

Of course, one problem with superheroes fighting superheroes is: if they’re so heroic and good, why are they fighting? Are they drunk or something? So there has to be a rationale. They tried hard on the rationale for this one–I will say it’s better than the rationales that appeared in the comics, because they built it up a good deal. People reacting to the movie may be forgetting that Batman doesn’t know much about Superman at this point, in this particular story continuum. There *was* a kind of invasion from Superman’s planet, in Man of Steel, and Superman’s battle with the supervillain in Metropolis did do a lot of damage and did, presumably, hurt a lot of people, as a side effect. Not really Superman’s fault but people blame him for it. Some moviegoers –and the studio reacted to it, in this new movie–and some fictional characters in Batman Vs Superman were down on Superman because of that. So in the context of all that, and people acting like Superman was a God, and giant statues of him looking rather fascistic in public squares, and Lex Luthor manipulating both Batman and Superman to pit them against each other…the  Batman /Superman fight is just believable enough. People also forget that this is a set up for Justice League so it’s not supposed to answer all questions.

The thing is, if you’re a fan of “adult” (and one really needs those quotation marks) superhero stories, this film has some great set piece scenes, an excellent Batman scene…the demonic “Bat” of Gotham rescuing sex slaved women, for example…and those scenes are very good realizations of the more “adult” and non-campy use of superheroes.

To me, the movie –though two and a half hours–was well paced, didn’t seem too long and largely came together pretty well. It was cogent enough for a strong momentum, and for me to follow a bit more than the gist. BUT…there were things I didn’t like, and I can’t really talk about them now–except to say they’re toward the end and I thought they were over the top and they were emotion-milking and they seemed a bit absurd to me. Do not want to say more, too spoileristic. I will say that the inserted (felt that way) scene with the Flash talking from some possible alternate future, and Batman’s apparent vision of an ugly alien haunted world to come, was confusing and, though it sets something or other up…maybe it shouldn’t set up whatever that is. Anyway it disrupted the flow of storytelling and confused a lot of people. (I didn’t even know that was the Flash till I read it later.)

I had no problem with Ben Affleck as (remember!) an *aging* Batman. He was perfectly fine. He’s a good actor. And I had no problem with this new version of Lex Luthor–in fact I dug it. The production *had* to do a Lex Luthor that contrasted with the one from the other Superman movies, and anyway as this one is the ultimate tech bro and I dislike tech bros, well, that’s a meaningful contemporary villain…I thought the guy acted that character really well…

On balance I thought it was definitely worth the price of the ticket; I enjoyed this Batman, I loved Wonder Woman (she was actually in several scenes) but–the production committed the same sin all vain, overpaid teams of writers and producers and directors of blockbuster films commit now, perhaps because they face the challenge of offering more, more, more all the time…the sin is putting in more, more, more. They just put too damn much in these big superhero films, and they need to learn how big and powerful is not too much. They’re like that Jon Hamm character at the beginning of Bridesmaids where he’s slamming it to the girl in bed, really hard, as if to impress her and she’s rolling her eyes…Dude, there’s such a thing as too much.

Bottom line is, expect a lot from contemporary superhero movies, but don’t demand too much, or they’ll do too much; and don’t expect perfection, because hey, it’s a superhero movie. Are myths perfect? Does the story of Jason and the Argonauts have to be perfect? These are modern myths, as Michael Uslan pointed out. Long as they’re reasonably grown-up in style…just enjoy them. That’s what works for me.


28
Mar 16

When Fake is “Real” and Real is “Fake”

Frequently a fantastic claim is made–whether for alien abductions, or, in this case, the Shroud of Turin–then it is disproved. Then the fantastic claim is repeated, a few years later, with little or no reference to the facts that disproved it. And the whole phantasm starts over again.

I was recently surprised, reading a new book, an account of Tibetan “rainbow body” tales, to see the Shroud of Turin woven (as it were) into the account, as parallel “evidence”; then saw the Shroud of Turin (Jesus’s supposed burial shroud) evoked at great length in a so-called documentary on Jesus’s resurrection on the so-called History Channel. They repeated old, false claims–for example, that no painter’s pigments were found on the Shroud of Turin image of Jesus. But in fact, “forensic tests on the red stuff have identified it as red ocher and vermilion tempera paint”. The shroud has been proven fake many different ways–see the link below.

Weirdly, it’s the same with “the moon landing was faked” people–every “how do you explain this!” observation about the moon landing has been explained, or refuted, and quite definitively. The moon landing was proven real from dozens of angles…Yet a couple years later, people blare the same pseudo-facts to “prove” that it was all fake. The same selective memory methods are used to claim the fake is real, and the real is fake!

http://skepdic.com/shroud.html


8
Mar 16

When the Cock Crows in the Post Office

When I was young I blurted pretty much any joke that occurred to me. I edit myself now. Yesterday I was in a post office and heard a cock crow thrice–no, I’m not joking. I was in line in the post office and a rooster crowed, loudly and clearly, over and over, and everyone was looking around trying to see where it came from. I thought it must be an odd, annoying ring tone. But no, it was explained–as the rooster went on and on–that one can ship birds, and someone was shipping a rooster, probably to someone planning to use it for breeding chickens, and it was in a special box. I thought about making jokes about cleaning up after the cock crows, and I did not. I thought about joking that the post office workers, oppressed by the Republicans, had to have a chicken farm in the back of the office to make ends meet. That would have annoyed people too–didn’t say it. Just pondered, First time I ever heard a rooster crowing in a post office, and is it a Biblical sign? Will someone again betray Jesus…here?

Other day I was in the Walgreen’s drugstore, surprised that someone was putting out bags of candy Easter eggs already. I looked at this hen-shaped little guy and wanted to say, “Maybe you should be clucking as you put those out.” I did not say it. Don’t want to hurt his feelings.

We have wild turkeys round here, making a gargling laughter sort of gobbling sound in our area, and two flew over the house–yes they can fly, not very high or far– a large male after a small female. The gobbling soon started again. I Dr Doolittled it, and told my wife the guy was saying, check out my plumage, let’s get down, girl, and the girl turkey was saying, I’m not getting pregnant this year, I’m going to relax and eat insects, and he said, come on baby, and she said, No, I’m not going to fall into that trap again–

My wife was not amused. I shouldn’t have tried that joke on her.


5
Mar 16

Review of DEADPOOL

Saw DEADPOOL tonight. The opening credits alone are worth the price of a ticket–they were hilarious. Produced by “some douchebag’…directed by an “overpaid tool” and so on…that made me laugh more than I have in a comedy in years. The movie made me laugh a lot–on purpose. It is so pop-cultural referential that you’ll laugh or smirk or elbow your friend twice as much as me if you get all the references, perhaps three times as much. But we got enough, and enjoyed the snarling snark-masterful humor and Ryan Reynolds’ delivery so much, we laughed and were entertained all through. Potty mouthed? You bet. R rated? Probably good reason.

Violent–oh my God. It’s written by people who seem not to take violence seriously…but I doubt that’s the case. We’re all so painfully aware that we’re (at best) living in an archipelago of little islands of relative peace in a world seething with violence and hatred. It’s not that we don’t take violence seriously–it’s that we have to laugh at it as a defense because we can see it, just over there…on the news. Or if you were in Boston or South Manhattan or San Benardino or Sandy Hook or Aurora Colorado or–pick your favorite American mass murder–you might’ve seen it up close and personal..

A strange amalgam of adult sophistication and adolescent humor, exquisite acting and slapstick, Deadpool is a movie that some people will see and dissect over and over. I myself–and I rarely do this–would like to see the script of it. Because I’m still processing one joke or irony when another is leaping at me.

Man is this ever *not* for everyone. And a lot of reviewers don’t get it. But it’s popular and to me it’s great satire–mocking everything superhero–and roaringly entertaining.

I can’t compare it to the comic it was adapted to, because I didn’t read that, but I think I *get* the character. Cool music too.

And by the way–all the talk about Deadpool supposedly being bisexual or pansexual gay-yearning or something? I don’t think so, not at all. Not in the movie version. He’s *joking* about it all the time. Well so does everyone. But this guy is not only very heterosexual, sorry, this is a very hetero movie. That’s neither a good thing nor a bad thing. But whoever started the pseudo-analytic “he’s bisexual” meme is full of crap. They should have a good bisexual Marvel superhero character. Maybe they do. But this ain’t it.

You know, if Quentin Tarantino made a superhero movie, it might be something like this. Though I think it’s more carefully made than his films (I do like his films). It’s influenced by them and maybe, as my wife observed, by the character Ash from the Evil Dead series…only Deadpool is more manic, smarter, and closer to the edge of crazy…

This is the first feature film by director Tim Miller–and he scored.


29
Feb 16

The Subconscious Mind is the Real Power of Politics

A worrying trend arising among young folk getting drawn to the Trump campaign–is not so unexpected. Essentially what’s going on is a psychological parallel to so-called *prosperity Christianity*: The superstitious idea that a magical mediator will somehow transmit money to you, and will protect you from harm. And…there are deeper drives taking over, here…

Some candidates will appeal to reason; but some, *especially Trump*, have the instinctive ability to appeal to the unconscious mind. For awhile, Romney had a similar appeal, for some. Trump chants, over and over: “Me–billions!” Both Trump and Romney symbolize gold, money, wealth, which is, in the minds of the entranced, the magic key to being liked, to being gainfully employed or simply free from financial worry. And it equates with power, which provides safety. I do not use the word *magic* lightly. *Magical thinking* (it’s an expression–no real thinking is involved) leads worried young people, anxious about their future in a highly competitive world, to fixate on a Trump or a Romney. Trump has more appeal to youth than Romney–he’s not a cold snob, like Romney; Trump is ejaculating energy, and adolescent brashness.

Romney doesn’t know the full magical chant. Magic only works in the psychological sense–but the subconscious mind is where real political power is.  Decrypted, Trump’s magic words are always the same:

“Danger is here but I am strength, winning strength! Enemies, outsiders, defeat them! We allies, insiders! Me–billions! I am Money! I am Gold! I am Power! Taking more power! More money! Gold! Sex! Gold! Sex! Rise, rise! Us! Them! Us! Them! Money protects! Gold! Freedom! Power! Money! Danger–stop danger! Strength, the strength to take! Gold! Trust! Trust Gold! Trust power! I have power! Gold! Me, billions! Behold…GOLD!” This is not satire–*I mean this literally*. This really truly is what he’s doing–without consciously thinking it through. He learned the chant long ago…

Us, them–yes that’s an appeal to unconscious racism. Threatened people, worried about their future, look for scapegoats; xenophobic instinct arises. They are afraid of the future–of poverty, of competition for money. “Us! Them! Me, Gold, Me, Behold, billions–behold, Gold!” These magic words protect against threats…the threats of not finding a job, even the threat of terrorism–which are real threats, real problems. But he doesn’t need real solutions. All he needs is to repeat the chant, over and over, convincingly. And the subconscious responds. The words shift a little but the import, the meaning, is always the same; the same litany couched in other terms:

“I am Money! I am Gold! I am Power! Taking more power! More money! Gold! Sex! Gold! Sex! Rise, rise! Us!  I have power, I have Gold! Gold protects! Me, billions! Behold…GOLD!”

Many people, those who have no real self knowledge, never question, when certain parts of their back-brains are stimulated. They simply follow the loudly bleating golden calf.

Follow the bleater.


24
Feb 16

A Giant Steel Claw; My Muslim Friends; A Sapsucker and a Salamander

Was startled last week when a giant mechanical claw reached out with an angry snatching motion, close by me, to clamp over a container of greenery and dumped its contents into its maw and crunched it up there. All true.

Of course, it was the robotic grabber of a big sanitation truck that picks up green waste; others come by for garbage and recyclables. Each one has a giant mechanical pincer– I’ve set cans out for them for years but never before had I seen the steel claw harvesting up close, ten feet away, nor seen how fiercely it grabbed the can. Maybe the operator did it that way to startle me for his own amusement. “Shoulda seen that one jump, Mort.”

I went to work in the sun on my steep hill of a back yard–a little shaken by the computerized mechanical fury of that grabbing arm. Painting a deck railing calmed me some and I heard the sound of our Afghani Muslim neighbors, going about their lives. The patriarch, a good-natured fellow, was working with his toddler grandchild nearby, singing to the pudgy little guy in Pashto, interposing English phrases now and then as the boy brought him things. “Oh, you bring me a pie, you are cook now! Yum, you are good cook!” The child’s Grandma was close by, on the phone to someone, speaking cheerily in Pashto. The language has a pleasant bubbling sound; I couldn’t understand her in any defined way, but I could tell by her rhythm and tone she was reassuring someone, telling a funny anecdote. After awhile it was time for Granddad’s prayers, and he never misses them, I hear him like clockwork, mid day, mid afternoon, sunset, later at night…a soothing sound, mysterious droning words resonating with respect, an even-tempered reverence…I feel good, hearing them; their talk, their prayers. The sounds of a kindly family, an inner life projected onto the outer world…

As I worked, I paused to watch a red-headed sapsucker tapping at a tree, working his way upward; some taps tentative probes, others more regular as he hit pay dirt, consuming sap and bugs along with them.

Yesterday I went to Orchard Supply where I chanced on an arboreal salamander hiding between two sacks of bark mulch. He was rusty-brown with white spots and bulgy black eyes. I was afraid for him there, so fished him out and cupped him in my hands and carried him through the store and out the front; I was uncomfortably aware that people were watching me walking out with something hidden cupped in my hands…I took him behind the store and released him through a bottom chain-link in the hurricane fence. Slippery little dude darted into the large weed filled vacant lot. Some salamanders can be toxic to the touch and he was a trifle slimy so I hurried to wash my hands but I felt absurdly good about this insignificant rescue…


5
Feb 16

Honest Reality Show Titles

Swamp Scum: Backwoods Crypto-Racist A-Holes Dying to Get Enough Reality Show Money to Get out of this Fucking Swamp

Logging Rednecks: Pretending to Have Fights They’re Not Really Having According to Scripts They Pretend They Don’t Have

Beverly Hills Dimwitted Greedy Narcissistic Wives: Pretending to Have Fights They’re Not Really Having According to Scripts They Pretend They Don’t Have

Bigfoot: The No Real Evidence

Ghost Scroungers: Several Cynical People Pretending Stuff is There That Isn’t

Duck Slaughter: Inbred Dynasty of Bigotry and Proud Ignorance

Humiliated Women: Gleeful Misogynist Producers Force Young Women to Abase Themselves for Wealthy Bachelors