Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: Farewell

Happy New Year to all.

In the tradition of the SGU, I'd like to make some predictions for the new year in order to promote skepticism. Skepticism is an important thing; it's the basis of science. I believe in science. It's the best approach to life I know. The thing is, there are a lot of cranks out there taking people's money and calling themselves psychics. Typically, psychics employ one of two strategies (if not both): 1) they make generalizations that can apply to anyone, all based on individual interpretation (think astrology), or 2) they make a shitload of predictions knowing that the ones that are wrong will be eventually forgotten while the ones that "hit" will justify them as psychics. So the predictions I make are an attempt to put on the psychic hat and make it into a dunce cap. But if I get good at this, I will start charging people money to have their fortunes read. It's only right.

And it wouldn't be a NYE post without some resolutions. I will share my writerly resolutions with you all, as opposed to more personal stuff.

In terms of what to expect in the following year from me, your humble writer, I'll probably sell 3-6 short stories, 4-8 poems, and 1-2 novel(la)s. Stay tuned. (I realize that is an old obsolete expressions. But it still sounds cool.)

2012 Predictions:

General
  • Realistic - The world won't end. Ok, too easy. Besides, I'll look pretty stupid if I'm wrong. Instead: a powerful earthquake (at least 7.0 on Richter scale) will rock a Pacific island nation (say, Tuvalu - who gives a shit about Tuvalu, right?) causing substantial loss of life and property damage.
  • Taking a Chance -  Another nuclear meltdown. Where? Let's say: East Asia. Why? No reason.
Celebrity Death:
  • Realistic - Lindsay Lohan. You know why. (Last year I thought it'd be Steve-O, from Jackass. It was Ryan Dunn. I was close. I know we all wished it was Steve-O.)
  • Taking a chance - Jerry Seinfeld. I don't why. He's gotta die some time. (Last year I guessed Arnold Schwarzenegger. While he was definitely in the news, it wasn't what I had hoped for, or his wife.)

Writerly Resolutions:
  • Write 
    • 3 short stories
    • 2 novel(la)s
    • 2 poems
  • Read 
    • 3 novels
    • 4 short stories
    • 10 poems
  • Buy
    • 15 books
(Keep in mind, these are minimum quotas - I almost always exceed these. I wrote six poems for 2011, for example. (I'm principally a fiction writer.) Also, I do not believe in setting resolutions that are out of my control, such as: publish x short stories. I think this is actually not a good mindset to have since the quality of one's writing will likely suffer in order to reach one's publishing goals. Instead, I focus on writing and submitting year-round.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Post-Semester Post: Fall 2011

So the semester is over and I thought I'd share some mini-reviews and recommendations based on what I was forced to read. I won't be reviewing everything, only things I liked most. Also, keep in mind that I'm a writing major and did mostly writing - a lot of writing.

Francis Godwin's Man in the Moone: Arguably the first science fiction novel (though I think the credit should go to Kepler's Somnium, published four years earlier). Some say this book does not qualify as SF. I disagree: any story that has a plot dependent on some science element to make sense is SF.  At first, honestly, I thought it was a poorly written short novel. It was published (posthumously) in 1638, and it shows. Gonsales, the protagonist, a Spanish midget (or short person), flies to the Moon via geese power and arrives in a few days to meet a utopian alien society of giants. Weird. However, the professor of the class was able to cogently (whether true or not) point out the book's significance and meaning. Something about the scientific understanding of the time. I don't know how talented or prescient Godwin was. However, I'm convinced that this is an important little book.

Thomas More's Utopia: with this book I'm confident of the author's talent. It is quite thoughtful in its arguments against the societal and governmental ills of early modern England. One could, also, call it a proto-communist work. However, I did notice More's own religious views make their way into Utopia. (He was a devout Catholic, so devout, in fact, he was beheaded by Henry VIII, who he praises so efficaciously in the First Book.) The Utopians are not fond of atheists, regarding them as plainly in the wrong, and are shown to be beginning to accept Christianity, despite having their own beliefs and having a seemingly superior society. As a non-religious person, it's a tad annoying that Utopia cannot be such without the Christ. But that's More for ya.

(I bought Three Early Modern Utopias [Kindle edition], which, also, contains Bacon's New Atlantis and Neville's The Isle of Pines. Utopias are very fascinating, so I'm really enjoying these insights into how and why utopias are conceptualized.)

Edward Said's Orientalism: I'm always surprised by how much of this scholar's argument I'm able to understand. I'm usually at a lost with stuff like Lacan (or even Derrida, who I don't think was trying to be as obscure). I read part of this book as an undergrad for an English course on colonialism. Said's arguments are as relevant today as they were over thirty years ago, maybe more relevant, definitely more relevant today. Said considers this work, along with The Question of Palestine and Covering Islam, as a kind of trilogy. I don't have the other two books, but I will definitely get them as I am very much interested in US foreign policy, especially with regards to the Middle East because I feel they reveal much more about the US than they do of the Middle East, as do our conceptions of the "Orient."

Alain de Botton's The Art of Travel: I read the chapters "On Anticipation" and "On the Exotic." De Botton has a very nice way of writing (surreal, witty, peculiar) while maintaining a certain elitism I can appreciate as a grad student. De Botton confidently makes abstractions about traveling and how we perceive foreignness, how we are turned on by the slightest indication of certain difference from what we are familiar with, a phenomena he terms "exoticism"; it is really a book about consciousness and the nature of bias and discrimination. Things that really interest me.

I, also, read Borges for the first time (shame!) and would highly recommend his short story "Circular Ruins" to anyone who can read. If you cannot read, this story is not appropriate for you, as are all other such stories, those with words. I typically don't like reading translations. Especially when the original language is one I can read. (I'm multi-lingual.) So unsure if I would get all the Spanish and unsure I would miss something if I read it in English, I read the story in both languages. I should have just read it in English, I found out, because the translation was pretty damn good. It's a story that, in true Borges fashion, appears to have no connection with reality whatsoever and seems like nothing more than academic obscurantism but is actually quite deep and meaningful. It deals with, if I may give a vague interpretation, the nature of reality (and, therefore, of consciousness) and the pertinent dichotomy between the material and immaterial worlds. Entertaining throughout (a short short story) and a nice twist at the end.

(As a result of my enjoyment from reading this and a few other of his short stories for my fiction workshop, I bought the Borges collection Ficciones [Kindle edition and in Spanish], which I can't wait to start reading.)


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Poem: 24 / In My Head

Another free poem.

24 / In My Head

What's a word but name
for change,
making blind men of the would-be wise,
forcing them to think within corners,
the outside hidden,
condensed with clouds within,
heaving heavy rains,
drops distorting shapes,
like an ant farm filled with water,
disorder increasing like entropy?

I’ve been here too long;
to avoid wrong,
Yet I know:
the names of things we don't know;
the nature we know less;
nothing is clear – not even this;
we have no sense, for there is none,
only nonsense, which makes sense;
we should stop knowing, start unknowingly,
then we’d see the empty vessels, our heads.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Short Story Accepted: Jim & the Parallel Worlds

It's scheduled to be published by The WiFilesan e-zine, on May 6, 2012 (shortly before the world ends, thankfully).

The story is about a boy, Jim, who has a habit of getting himself lost in parallel worlds. As you might imagine, it's a bit surreal. There's also a healthy amount of science in the story (theoretical physics, that is). The humor, as new readers of mine will discover, can be quite crude and deadpan. (It's not for sensitive dickheads.) I feel like an idiot describing my story. Wait for it. (I'll do another post when it's up.)

Monday, November 28, 2011

What I'm Thankful For

In the spirit of Thanksgiving I'd like to just post a list of things I'm thankful for. I hope I don't get complaints from rightists for not mentioning God.
  • Health (I think a lot of people don't realize how lucky they are in this regard.)
  • Happiness (That is, that I have all that I want; it's an attitude. Sorry Aristotle; I'm with the Stoics on this one. Here's a pretty good YouTube vid on topic.)
  • Freedom (I live in a free country. That's a big deal.)
  • Privacy (Some. Enjoy it while it lasts, people. Come twenty, thirty years: goodbye!)
  • Love (I'm talking about Mommy. I'm just thankful to know what love is, not to sound cliche.)
  • Kindle Touch (Just Kid'n'.)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Past Paper: Factory Farming


I thought I'd share some snippets from a 10-page paper of mine written in 2007 for an honor's English course:

Factory Farming: Capitalism Gone Bad
A farm wherein animals are treated and regarded solely as profit and are, therefore, capitalized in inhumane ways is called a factory farm. According to Stephanie Holmes in an article entitled “Farm Sanctuary” in The Monitor, “Factory farming is a system of large-scale industrialized agriculture that is focused on profit. . . . animals are often kept indoors and restricted in mobility.” Factory farms here in the US are responsible for many deplorable conditions, such as animal abuse, environmental damage, and human health problems. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) should, therefore, take serious measures to stop factory farming.
The need for change of the status quo is painfully evident. Today, unfortunately, many farm animals suffer relentless and cruel abuse by the hands of their keepers. One of the most common, the staple of factory farms, if you will, is overcrowding. Simply put, it is the congestion of animals in a small, enclosed area. These animals (cattle, pigs, and chickens, usually) are not found congested in this way in the wild, with the exception of mass migrations. Not only is this condition unnatural, but it has been scientifically shown to induce anxiety and aggression in animals. Chickens, for instance, are often housed in battery cages that are “stacked in long rows three to five tiers or more high,” according to C. David Coats in Old MacDonald’s Factory Farming Farm: The Myth of the Traditional Farm and the Shocking Truth about Animal Suffering in Today’s Agribusiness (92). Factory farm animals almost always spend their entire lives in these kinds of conditions.
Another abuse faced by pigs, in particular, is the use of gestation crates, very small enclosures used to house pregnant sows. Mark H. Bernstein in Without a Tear: Our Tragic Relationship with Animals explains the strife of a pregnant sow:
In addition to frustrating her natural instincts the crate endangers the newborn piglets, for the mother can suffocate them merely by turning slightly. Even after pregnancy, the sow is denied any freedom. Farmers find it cheaper to house the sow in a small crate for virtually her entire life; a four-hundred-pound pig is forced to live her life in [a] two-foot-wise crate. (99)
Many factory farmers reason that their livestock are not unhappy because, despite bad conditions, they do not stop producing milk, eggs, or offspring. Andrew Johnson in Factory Farming shows how this is not true, stating: “It may be said that the adaptability of these creatures is their greatest misfortune. . . . It doesn’t show they are happy, any more than a woman’s periods show she’s happy; it’s just the way they’re made” (22). The problem is further complicated because “with an instinct left over from wilder days, animals tend to hide their pain and disease lest they appear weak and easy prey for their predators” (Johnson 85).
...
The soil is being used, abused, and ruined by factory farms in other less direct ways. “Nearly all US fast-food chains use Central American beef in their hamburgers; vast areas of rain forest, essential to the ecological balance of the planet, are being laid waste to provide short-term pasture for this cheap beef” (Coats 163). We are, therefore, in danger of losing vital ecosystems.
Factory farm animals are infamous for their bad health, the causes of which are manifold. The unnatural feeding of hormones to these animals to accelerate growth or milk production in cows, for example, is one. Some chickens in factory farms who have been fed hormones have been reported to grow so unnaturally fast that their legs can not support their own body weights and, therefore, can not get up. The persistent overcrowding of factory farm animals compounds preexisting health problems. Johnson states: “Overcrowding may lead to feather-pecking and cannibalism unless illumination is kept very low, and the birds may be severely stressed by the difficulties they face in getting access to feeders and drinkers” (Johnson 33). Also, the security of the “pecking order,” a social hierarchy of chickens, and other birds, is disturbed.  Coats explains: “There are too many birds for this instinctively needed and well-defined order to develop. And without the security of the pecking order, normal behavior patterns are impossible and individuals become stressed, disorientated, hysterical, and aggressive to their neighbors” (87).
People who consume these unhealthy animals are more likely to become unhealthy themselves. The excess of hormones and antibiotics these animals are fed builds up in their bodies and, eventually, find themselves in the consumer’s bloodstream. One disease, trichinosis, is caused by eating raw pork and usually results in fever and diarrhea. The bacterium E. coli is well known for causing health problems to those who eat undercooked meats, as well. Lesson: unhealthy animals equal unhealthy meat.
A plan for change, therefore, is necessary not only for the health of the consumers but for the sake of animal rights. One thing we can all do is to support a change in the system. None of us has complete control over anyone else, but we certainly do have control over ourselves; we all have freedom of choice.
We can support organizations and groups who have been protecting and advocating for animal rights for years. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), established in 1980, is the largest animals rights organization in the world and, per its mission statement on its Web site, works “through public education, cruelty investigations, research, animal rescue, legislation, special events, celebrity involvement, and protest campaigns.” Donating money to organizations such as these or becoming a member are among the many ways you can help. 
...
Becoming a vegetarian, or better yet, a vegan, is a much more direct way of helping the cause of animals rights; if the people who commit these atrocities do not have the financial incentive that prompts them to do such things in the first place, they are not very likely to continue. The elimination of animal products from your diet will “end your direct support of factory farming, and without question, will reduce animal suffering, world hunger [since less land and resources are needed], and harmful effects on the global environment” (Coats 162). Vegetarianism is a growing movement: “Britain’s population of 65 million, for instance, boasts 1.5 million vegetarians, a figure increasing at roughly 20 percent annually, and in the US there are over 6 million people who consider themselves vegetarians” (Coats 162). Further, the health benefits of such a diet are scientifically evident: “A British study found that non-meat eaters spend 22 percent of the time in the hospital that meat-eating people spent there” (Coats 162).
On the legal front, because of contemporary deplorable factory farm conditions and practices, mandates must become enacted and action must be taken. Overcrowding and confinement is a major issue that must be addressed; gestation crates and battery cages, in particularly, must be among the first issues addressed. It is clear from nature and common sense that animals should have a minimum amount of living space that farmers should abide by for the physical as well as mental health of the animals.
The excessive and corrosive practice of feeding these animals growth hormones and antibiotics is unnatural and should be stopped. Animals should be fed natural diets and should grow naturally as they are designed genetically to do. Further, antibiotics when no disease or illness is imminent should not be used. Animals should live as naturally as possible to promote health and happiness.
Cleanliness is a serious issue neglected in factory farms. The reason is that the places where these animals are housed are rarely cleaned – it costs money to do that, after all. Psychosomatic illnesses, those that occur mentally but then manifest themselves physically, are common. These illnesses are compounded by the never-ending accumulation of filth and germs. In nature, scavengers and decomposers as well as weather help keep the environment clean. Therefore, animals should be kept in sanitary conditions that do not corrode their health.
There are especially cruel and unnecessary practices that take place regularly in factory farms that should be outlawed immediately. Beef cattle, despite having the supposedly best lives of all factory farm animals, face three main stresses that make their lives anything but good: branding, dehorning, and castration for males (Coats 95). Branding and castration usually occur at the same time, making for particularly traumatic experience:
Workers on horseback rope the calves and pin them to the ground. One worker rips the scrotum with a knife while another tears out the calf’s testicles. A third simultaneously brands the calf. Its shrieks and frenetic movements inarguably show the suffering that the young calf endures. (Coats 95)
Debeaking, faced by chicks, is the “cutting off of either the entire tip of the beak or the top half of the beak, the upper mandible. . . . A worker jams the day-old chick’s beak against a red-hot (15000 F-8000 C) metal blade for about two seconds. Part of the beak is burnt off and the tissue that could regenerate the beak is destroyed” (Coats 85). Some believe that the beak has no sensitivity. However, it contains “a layer of highly sensitive soft tissue between the outer layer of horn and the inner bone; the red-hot debeaking knife causes severe pain, but no anesthetic is used” (Coats 85). These are all blatant examples of the speciesist outlook that defines factory farms.
The benefits of making these proposed changes would benefit humanity as a whole, not just the animals that are directly saved. The health of the animals would improve the most. Free of confinement, overcrowding, stress, antibiotics, hormones, traumatic experiences and cruel treatment, they will uninhibitedly grow at a natural rate and be in a healthy state, less likely of succumbing to illnesses. More ideally, however, they will simply be able to live and enjoy life.
The consumers of animal products benefit, as well. They will consume healthier meat and animal byproducts. Such meat, for instance, has been shown to contain more protein and less saturated fat (Coats 162). Also, for those concerned, there will certainly be less guilt associated with these products as suffering is, at least, limited. The farmers will, therefore, make more money in the long run since future problems concerning ethical or environmental issues, which would drive away consumers, will not occur. Everyone benefits.
Finally, the environment and economy benefit from such changes. The environment will no longer be tarnished in the name of cheap beef. Precious ecosystems will be safeguarded. The economies of these countries, which would have suffered greatly from the loss of entire ecosystems, will bounce back from previous losses and continue to trade globally. Thus, the global economy is affected. The cleaner farm conditions and better land will yield more and healthier crops, less will be discarded, and the animals will be feed a healthier diet – making them even healthier, benefiting consumers and farmers. It is a cycle of good, and it all starts with you.
Make no mistake: the current conditions of factory farms that allow, if not encourage, them to continue their relentless torture of animals, disregard for and destruction of the environment, and consistent jeopardizing of the health of their consumers are deplorable. The plan for change includes supporting or becoming animal rights activists, mandating better conditions for farm animals, and outlawing cruel factory farm practices. The subsequent benefits will involve the improvement of the health of the animals and the consumers, as well as environmental and environmental growth.
Works Cited
       Bernstein, Mark H. Without A Tear: Our Tragic Relationship with Animals. Urbana: U of Illinois Press, 2004. Print.
      Coats, C. David. Old MacDonanld’s Factory Farm: The Myth of the Traditional Farm and the Truth about Animal Suffering in Today’s Agribusiness. New York: Continuum Publising Co., 1989. Print.
       Garifo, Chris. “Activits Fear Martinsburg Manure Mishap won’t Be the Last.” Watertown Daily Time [NY] 18 Aug, 2005. Print.
       Holmes, Stephanie. “Farm Santuary.” The Monitor [McAllen, TX] 24 Nov, 2005. Print.
       Johnson, Andrew. Factory Farming. Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd, 1991. Print.
       Johnson, Jim. “Protesters Cause A Flap At KFC: Animal Rights Group Assails Chain’s Treatment of Chickens.” Monterey County Herald [CA] 29 June 2006. Print.
       Owen, Karen. “Ethics and Eating: Some Food Choices Affect More than Personal Health.” Messenger-Inquirer [Owensboro, KY] 22 July 2006. Print.
       “PETA’s Mission Statement.” About PETA. PETA. 3 Dec 2006 <http://www.peta.org/about/>. Web.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The First Novel I Ever Read

The first novel I ever read is Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowscka. It's about a boy whose father is a famous matador and is expected to follow in his footsteps. But bullfighting doesn't exactly come naturally to the boy. Of course, there's more to the story.

A good read for young readers. Not too long (c. 160 pp). I remember feeling a great deal of accomplishment having finished a book of fiction for the first time. I must've been around 10. While, as a vegetarian, I don't feel the same way about bullfighting as, say, Hemingway did, it is certainly romanticized nicely here. A great intro to the sport, even if its inhumanely cruel and pointless. (Had to put that in there.)

Let me know your first novels.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

If a Thing Goes without Saying - Let It

I think about that Jack London quote whenever I write. I think it contains the seed of good writing.

Delete the superfluous adverbs. Avoid verbosity. Be concise. Or else do not waste the reader's time.

For more on the art of deletion, click here for a past post.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Thoughts on Orientalism

The Women of Algiers by Eugène Delacroix

I posted this for a blog for a class I'm taking, Renaissance Encounters, and thought I'd share the content here, as well:

Orientalism is a non-thinking philosophy in that it is effortless to look at the East, with all its unfamiliar customs and artifacts, and think of all of the peoples and cultures therein as “other,” that is, the opposite of what “we” are; it requires no real understanding of the inherent diversity but handily gives one the power of knowing, of being able to put an easily identifiable label – Oriental – on unknown complexities and simply them. It is the result of years of Western codified prejudice. Therefore, it is difficult for a culture to break free from that.

The problem is that Orientalism does not encourage Western governments to make any attempt to truly understand Eastern cultures; it is through the use of Orientalism that such governments exercise their power, justify their actions: they identify the Oriental as subordinate and incapable of self-government. The West, therefore, carries the burden of civilizing. Any true investigation, one not based on conjecturing canonical authorities, into the culture and history of the colonized peoples would yield a uniqueness of each land that would not corroborate the idea of an Orient, one readily understandable, domitable people. Orientalism neglects the complex traces of history that connect us all and create and define each land not as a mass of like-minded people, but as a spectrum of peoples, cultures, languages, religions, races, and ideas.

Orientalism further inhibits true understanding in its emphasis on difference. If we are all the same, then there is no “other.” And if “they” are always different and unfamiliar, then we fail to recognize and, therefore, deprive them of their humanness, lumping them together as one, ignoring the significant differences that create the significant singularity we sometimes recognize as humanity.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Poem Accepted: Five and Twenty

My poem entitled "Five and Twenty" has been accepted by Inwood Indiana Press. It has yet to be published, but feel free to check the site out. The poem will only be available to read for free there for a short time, so stay tuned - I'll post a link and discuss the poem here when its up.

This is my first poem published in a magazine. I consider myself to be primarily a fiction writer, not a poet, but I am honored nonetheless.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Poem: Triumph & Termination

An old poem. Recently edited. It's free. Enjoy.

Triumph & Termination

Time consuming          auto-abusing
Tedious nothing          always something
Traces changing          merely rearranging
The automatic             wake-sleep panic
Things disappear         only to reappear
Truth decays                bleeding drains
Thoughts lack              pointy bric-a-brac
Toils, troubles              double, double
Thorough sulfur          smelly suffer
Torture slow                even flow

Triumph                      where?
Termination                 here.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Seven-and-Twenty

On this anniversary of my birth, I'd like to reflect on the previous year, how it went, and what lessons I learned.

I did a lot of writing this year and, therefore, spent a lot of time alone. They say its a good way of becoming a great writer: writing a lot. I should be Hemingway by now, no? Well, I'm certainly not, maybe not even a Stephanie Meyer - just kidding: I definitely write better than her! I wrote several drafts of my novelette titled Guardian, about, vaguely, our dependent relationship with technology and where that might take us (hint: not a great place). I could try to publish it now, as is, but I think it still needs some substantial work. Expect a publication date next year.

I got into grad school, too. After spending a year away, it's great to be back in school. My goal is to teach at the college level, so academia is really a comforting "place" for me. I've just started my master's program and I don't know what to expect. However, I've already received invaluable information/guidance in my fiction class that will radically change my course as a writer. In a nutshell: I was told that my stories, while smart and entertaining, were formulaic (as science fiction stories) and did not demonstrate a unique voice. I thought they had, but I was educated on what that is. I'm concentrating now on what I know. The plot is a riddle, my prof would say, and it is one that only the writer can pose and attempt to answer. I have to ask myself what the riddle is, the riddle of my life, the plot.

Besides that, I haven't done much else, lots of work, reading, etc.

One important lesson from the year is (while trying not to sound cliche): life is not about what (or who) you do, but making the best with what you got. I think this is more or less understood, but many don't realize just what it means. We picture the good life as being rich, partying, having people praise and love us. We see the opposite of these things as inherently bad. I don't think so. I think the poor, friendless, studious kid of, say, an Indian slum lives a much better life than, say, Paris Hilton. So, unsurprisingly, my life is more similar to the former.

Next year: hopefully more of the same. I will strive to live a meaningful life, and meaning is defined by me, not anyone else.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

My 9/11 Story

I don't have a great 9/11 story to tell. I was 16. Was in the City, but in the Bronx. I only saw the images on TV. Surreal is all I can say. At that point, I, and I would find out that many more too, believed that America was incapable of suffering such attacks. I didn't know that we were hated. I couldn't understand how people from other countries could say such cruel things as that we deserved it. I just watched it on TV. The whole day. And then I went to sleep, and it was all I could think about. I couldn't imagine that the news coverage of the Towers, the attacks would ever end. I thought I would wake up every day and see the Towers on TV, see those images again and again. One Tower smoking from a gaping hole in the middle of it, while an airplane, one not unlike the ones where I've been a passenger, crashes into the other Tower: A fireball explosion. More black smoke.

I watched the President that day say that we would get them, the one's responsible, that we already knew who they probably were, what group they belonged to. I thought it was darn quick. I couldn't understand how it could have been done so quickly. Now it seems obvious.

I've grown up. Learned a lot about the world, especially the part of it that doesn't like my country. It turns out, they have a pretty good reason: we've been bombing the shit out of them. Men, women, children - occasionally, we get who we're after. The President was happy. Said we were liberating peoples around the world. They hated us only because of our democracy - not the bombs. Said they deserved it. They harbored terrorists, were terrorists, wanted to destroy America, so we had to destroy them. Turns out, all of that was bullshit. No WMDs. No ties to Al-Qaeda. The President said invading Iraq was still the right thing to do.

Yeah, I sought justice at the time. We all did. People leapt from those burning buildings. Innocent people. I didn't question Iraq. Neither did the President. We're still there. Ten years later.

If there's one thing I've learned in a decade, it's hate. I thought I knew something about it. I was 16. No. Hate is what makes people kill each other. Makes people live their whole lives with the singular goal of one day blowing themselves up in order to kill innocent people. It's American. It's Iraqi. It's human.

People face hate now. A decade does little to assuage true hatred. People hate Muslims. People hate Americans. That hasn't gotten us anywhere. We're not safer. We're less safe. As we continue to bomb countries back to the Stone Age, we foster future terrorists: the Iraqi boy who watched his father get blown to bits by a plane without a pilot, the Afghani girl whose mother was shot to death driving behind an American convoy. . . . What would you do if all of your friends and relatives were blown up, bombed - casualties of a war that began on false premises?

We're all people. We don't always act like it, but we are. Hate is bullshit. It's also everywhere. Don't stand for it. Or don't be surprised if someone hates you.

Monday, September 5, 2011

What to Blog, What to Blog

I've been making an attempt to post weekly, but, recently, I've started my MFA program, which requires the bulk of my time and attention. Looking up some common topics to blog about, I ran across this helpful article. The first helpful hint is to write about writing problems I face and how to solve them. Well, very apropos, indeed: generating new topics to blog about is a bit of challenge for me as predominately a fiction writer.

One way I solve this problem is by keeping a journal or diary where I write down my thoughts about random subjects. I think this is a very important thing for writers to do, and song writers too, I learned. (Ok, I'll admit that I watched the YouTube Presents Taylor Swift interview. Taylor is adorable. Anyway, she talked about how she writes down ideas for songs wherever she is so she doesn't forget, which is what I do with story ideas.)

I also write book reviews, convenient since I'm always reading something. (I also have a BA in English, but that hardly qualifies me for anything.) This is an attempt to have something a bit more regular to post about. But the whole MFA program fucked that up.

What else? Sometimes there are just topics that I know I want to write about and have wanted to write about for quite some time - such as the "Vegan Misconceptions" post.

Of course, I will post links to published stories and other kinds of writerly updates.

Otherwise, I'm still searching. The blog, like a newborn sapient technological being, is still evolving.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Thoughts on the Future of Advertisement

The future of advertisement is virtual. This is because the future of technology is virtual. Currently, we are tethered to devices: smartphones, e-readers, tablets, gaming devices. However, technology has always evolved to make itself easier to use, smaller, lighter, less intrusive, less tangible. Surely, the future will take the Web out of our hands and homes and into our minds - ultimate portability.

As more and more people will choose to spend increasing amounts of time in virtual reality, the dichotomy between virtual reality and the real world will seemingly disappear. "Physical" technology is disappearing already, being replaced by cloud services and massive databases. Advertisement, therefore, will move into this new virtual realm. With most if not all our collective information moving from the physical to the digital, it moves from our hands into the hands of big corporations, those that own the cloud services, the social networking sites - the information technologies. These corporations, such as Amazon or Facebook, already use accumulated user information to target consumers more efficiently (i.e., get you to buy more). This might seem harmless. After all, you are provided with more relavent ads. However, with virtual reality, the danger is that because the lines between it and the real world will likely be blurred in the future, one's experience of the world can be substantially different than someone else's. In effect, big corporations will be in control, customizing what people hear and see. This kind of thing is already happening to a limited degree. Google, for example, displays different search results based on your search history. This means that two people would see different search results for the same search word or phrase. This future eventuality is actually a very subtle form of mind control. Perhaps it should be called mind influence. It will give big corporations the ability to "herd" people: make them do, or think, or buy, what the corporations want, within a certain, very real, probability, which will only  improve with time, as the corporations become more adept and experienced with such techniques.

No one wants to be controlled, but how can one avoid it without "unplugging" himself from what will be the lifeline of future society? That is the potential power of advertisement and big corporations that must be respectfully feared. Awareness of such techniques of information gathering should certainly be emphasized. Whenever you do anything online, it becomes information that is recorded, shared, and analyzed, information someone else could use. Be mindful of what you're sharing about yourself, explicitly or implicitly, voluntarily or involuntarily. Whether on social networking sites, shopping online, using a search engine, or just using a Web browser, think about all the information about you collected in one way or another over your lifetime by the technologies society has come to not even think about: all your locations and the time and date you're at them, all your calendars and events and anniversaries, all your friends and penpals and acquaintances, everything you've ever searched for online, every email you've ever sent, every forum post, every blog post, your voice, appearance, telephone conversations, etc. Now imagine someone with that information and an agenda.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Thoughts on Socialization Effect of Media

I'm no psychologist. However, it seems apparent that the media (TV, radio, the Internet) presents us with a picture of society, its norms, its mores, and what the landscape of society looks like – the biodiversity, if you will, of people: physical appearance, dress, and attitudes and beliefs; it's the source we use to figure out who we are. Saussure said there are no positive terms in linguistics, that we identify things by what they are not. Therefore, we need an external source to know who we are and what our values are - these things are not innate. That's what I believe.

Different cultures have different values, as is demonstrated by their respective media. Causality can be disputed here: is society reflecting values learned from the media or is the media simply reflecting innate social values? It has been shown via surveys that, say, Japanese children raised in the US tend to have the same values and attitudes as most US citizens despite coming from a culture with relatively disparate values. In less assimilated communities, say Chinatowns, the situation is more complex. On average, though, it's safe to say that many more in such places tend to speak their native tongues and keep their foreign values with a much greater prevalence. More to the point: our surroundings show us who we are by showing us what others are. Our relation to these others often dictate what we think. Society and the media socialize.

Then the question becomes: which one has a greater impact on socialization, the media or one’s own society? I don't think there's any right answer. Rather, I think it boils down to two key things. The first is whether society or the media is in a young mind's "Quality World," a phrase used by psychologist William Glasser in his Choice Theory to describe an individual's key sphere of influence and attention. The second is time, how much of it one spends with each influence. In this day and age, unfortunately, the media, especially TV and increasingly the Internet, is in many young kids' Quality Worlds, since this is how they know what the current trends are and can keep up with friends, and how most leisure time for them is spent.

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Few Mini-Reviews

I've decided to compose a short list of a few  of my favorite books I've read over the past year or so and would like to share, with a few comments about what I think of them. I thought this would be the next best thing to giving full reviews on things I've read some time ago.

Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman

Inspiring. Lightman looks at time and creates a new world in each chapter based on a different interpretation of it. There's, also, some biographical information about Einstein. I read this book a chapter a night - before I would go to bed. Every chapter was inspirational and made me look at the world and life in a different way. That's what (good) science fiction is supposed to do: awe and inspire. It was recommended to me by a creative writing professor of mine at Fordham U. I highly recommend it to all lovers of science, Einstein, or time.

Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku

This is like the hard SF writer's Bible - for real. Not only that, but it's really a great read: tons and tons of information and detail about the laws of physics and how they apply to all the classical science fiction technologies (ray guns, starships, invisibility, time travel, teleportation) and whether they are possible or impossible. It's all told in a readily readable and comprehensible fashion, which, given the subject matter, is a testament to Kaku's expertise.

Brainiac by Ken Jennings

A trivia nerd's delight and a must for Jeopardy! fans. (I'm one.) Ken Jennings, the biggest winner (via winning streak) in Jeopardy! history, talks about his journey on the show and about trivia and its history and importance in society. My favorite quote from the book: "Trivia is the marijuana of knowledge."

Sex on the Brain by Daniel Amen

Dr. Amen is famous for his emphasis on brain scanning and brain abnormalities to explain psychological and interrelational issues. Amen's books are very readable and educational (though somewhat repetitive), packed with lots interesting factoids. It's a great read for couples or anyone interested in improving their love lives - warning: Amen does not approve of "unloving sex," so don't expect a guide for casual sex. Not that I did - I'm just saying.

That's about it. I've read some other books - but these are my favorites from the past year or so. Enjoy.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Creationist Craziness

I saw this (unintentionally) funny Web page the other day, saved the URL, and put it here so you all can have a good laugh. It's obviously promoting some creationist (or intelligent design - whatever they're calling it these days) video on the supposedly secret truth about life. The first paragraph is hilarious.

First two sentences: "What does modern DNA research now prove about the theory that simple cells evolved into all life on earth? Simply that evolution is impossible."

Modern DNA research proves evolution is impossible, huh? Damn, I guess all those biological scientists are out of jobs since everything they know is based on an impossibility. Notice, also, how creationists love to talk about "all life on earth" (i.e., its biodiversity) as something that is impossible to achieve by any natural process. This demonstrates a complete incomprehension of both the concept of just how large a timescale billions of years is and the exponential factor of evolution. (That is, as biology evolves, like technology, it utilizes what is available to build ever-increasingly complex and new structures - therefore, life first evolved on the earth after about a billion years of the earth's formation, but it only took a couple million for our ape-like ancestors to evolve to us.) Anyway, I can't really attack the claim because it isn't one: there's no study or research that is being pointed at.

The following sentence: "So why is this information being kept from the general public?"

It's a conspiracy - duh! Teachers and scientists are conspiring to keep the truth away from the public. Why? They'll be out of a job, of course. Teachers and scientists don't give a crap about truth, as if that's relevant to them.

Concluding sentence, meant as a probing question: "Should Darwins theories still be taught as facts in our educational institutions?"

I like this not only because of the missing apostrophe or the fact that Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is pluralized (it's one collective theory - that's the point), but because it attempts to say that what we are all taught universally in school is completely wrong. Ok, that has happened on occasion (e.g., heliocentrism - long time ago, though), but to attempt to replace evolution with or even to give equal emphasis in schools to a philosophical position (intelligent design) when evolution has well over a century of corroborating research and refinement, ever-improving fossil and DNA evidence, and acceptance by the vast majority of world scientists is absurd. Period.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Vegan Misconceptions

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about veganism. I address some of the most common ones here. I'm not a doctor. I'm actually not even a vegan - I'm vegetarian. However, I was, for a time, vegan and will perhaps become one again. This post is not necessarily to promote the diet but to dispel some common misconceptions about vegans.


Vegetarianism and veganism are the same thing, right?


A lot of people don't even know what veganism means - yet there never seems to be such a dearth of people who are critical about it.


The definitions are (via Wikipedia):


Vegetaranism: "the practice of following plant-based diets (fruits, vegetables, etc.), with or without the inclusion of dairy products or eggs, and with the exclusion of meat (red meat, poultry, and seafood). Abstention from by-products of animal slaughter, such as animal-derived rennet and gelatin, may also be practiced".


Veganism: "the personal practice of eliminating the use of non-human animal products for any purpose (including food and food processing, clothing, medications, and personal care products) for ethical reasons".


Veganism is stupid because we are animals and animals eat animals.

This is a non-sequitor. Simply put: just because it is natural (i.e., animals do it), does not mean it's morally right or even makes any sense. Animals kill each other, have incest, rape, and, let's not forget, eat their own poop. We can reason abstractly and otherwise change the course of our primitive drives to more productive and/or socially acceptable activities (such as going out clubbing instead of clubbing a woman in the head and dragging her back to a cave). 

Christians can't be vegans.

Beliefs are personal. Religion is not.

I'm not religious; I'm agnostic. I believe that religion is a static institution that subverts progress in thought (How long did it take the Church to accept heliocentricism? Or evolution as a legitimate theory?) and promotes ancient and wrong ideals (think Old Testament: homosexuality is wrong/evil, women aren't as good as men, an eye for an eye, etc). That's a separate issue, though. I believe it is up to the individual to interpret what he or she believes. If one cannot find a reason outside of "God says so" to do or believe in something, then it indicates that one is being, by definition, unreasonable. Besides, I can't argue against the Infallible One if He says it's OK, so you have to give me a break and be a little reasonable if you want to debate.


Veganism is unhealthy.


Now, this is a reason. It's wrong, but it's a reason, at least.


Health is derived from several factors. Key among these are a varied diet, exercise, and adequate sleep. This is well known. It is easy to see, then, why so many Americans are unhealthy. Variety is not eating at five different fast food restaurants a week. Exercise is not taking the stairs instead of the elevator and sitting on the couch watching TV for hours a day. Adequate sleep is not three hours of shuteye in between partying and work. Most Americans are meat-eaters, and most are unhealthy.


Vegans, on the other hand, tend to be much healthier as a whole. The reason is not just diet - which, abstaining from red meat entirely and eating plenty of nutritious fruits and vegetables, is healthier by itself. However, vegans, in addition, tend to be much more health conscious and more knowledgeable about nutrition and health in general. (They have to be to avoid eating animal products and by-products involuntarily, and perhaps they're, also, concerned or cautious given all the misunderstandings and tall tales about veganism.)


Now, no one is exactly the same; we have differing needs and predispositions biologically. For some, it may indeed be that veganism is not entirely salubrious. This is especially unfortunate if one's ethical beliefs are forced to be compromised. In such a situation, one must play the cards one is dealt. (By the way: Daniel Negreanu? Vegan.)


You'll get a B12 deficiency as a vegan.


Vitamin B12, which helps maintain a healthy central nervous system, is derived from bacteria. This is how (via ingestion) animals (including herbivores) obtain B12. Therefore, B12 is found in animal products: beef, fish, shellfish, milk, cheese, eggs, etc. A deficiency in this vitamin can cause damage to the nervous system, such as myelin decay, fibric sclerosis, as well as other symptoms, such as anemia, impaired sense of touch, etc.[1]


Nevertheless, B12 is capable of being synthesized and is easily obtainable from vegan sources, such as fortified breakfast cereals, soy products, energy bars, yeast, and via supplementation.


You need calcium and protein, which you call only get from animal products.


Not true. You can get calcium from leafy greens (such as spinach, turnip greens, and collard greens), lentils, orange juice and other fortified foods (such as soy or almond milk) and through supplementation. [2] You can get protein from beans, including tofu and soy milk; lentils; whole grains; and many nuts and seeds. [3]


You can't get all you're essential ammino acids without eating animal products.


Actually, a simple meal containing beans and corn contain all the essential amino acids. [4] There are, also, other plant sources that contain substantial levels of all eight essential amino acids, such as soy, hempseed, buckwheat, and quinoa. [5] Vegans need not worry about getting complete proteins. [6]


Veganism isn't manly.


I can't think of anything manlier than standing up and sacrificing for one's beliefs. Being an unhealthy, eat-what-tastes-good non-ethicist is not manly to me.


All vegans are skinny pierced, tattooed punkers. 


There are a lot of these, I admit. I live in New York and see a lot of straight edge vegans around. Yes, most vegans I've seen or met are very skinny, as well. (For some reason, a lot of them, also, have cats, lots of cats - weird.) However, this is more indicative of the type of people that find veganism appealing than anything else; many turn to veganism who are also into punk rock or old hippie music. There are many that do not fall into the usual category, however.


Here are just a few famous vegans (via Wikipedia):
  • Natalie Portman (who recently switched to vegetarianism while pregnant - see next misconception) 
  • Peter Singer (ethicist, philosopher)
  • Gillian Anderson 
  • Kenneth G. Williams (a vegan bodybuilder - and so not skinny)
  • Robert Cheeke (another vegan bodybuilder!)
  • Brian Greene (famed theoretical physicist - suck on that!)
  • Steve-O (a Jackass - suck on ...)
  • Brad Pitt
  • Mac Danzig (a professional MMA fighter - imagine that!)
A vegan pregnancy is irresponsible. You can't raise a healthy vegan child.


There are many reasons why many feel that pregnant women shouldn't be vegan or raise their children as vegans. I think principally it comes from a good place; people, especially mothers, are afraid of doing something wrong and unintentionally hurting their children. The emotion of fear is often more persuasive, especially in the absence of real facts, than reason - look at politics. Veganism is a subset of a minority (vegetarianism) in the diet world and, therefore, is little known and often misunderstood. A series of studies have shown that there is nothing wrong with raising children to be vegan or a vegan pregnancy, and in fact show certain benefits in doing so, such as decreased risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some forms of cancer. [7] Like all diets, supplementation, healthy cooking strategies, and plenty of variety are key. In practice, this is often difficult for vegans because, being such a minority, there are not as many adequate accommodations or alternatives (grocery stores, supermarkets, restaurants, food items) as there are for non-vegans.


There's nothing to eat if you're a vegan.


There is more in the world to eat than meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, honey, and gelatin. Also, there are vegan alternatives for all these things - seek them out; Google.


A few vegan and vegetarian restaurants:
Check out: The Vegan Guide to New York City.


You can't buy dress shoes, nice belts, boots, or ties as a vegan. WTF?!


Nope. Alternatives for these exist, too. 


Some useful links:
Veganism is too hard.


How difficult veganism is as a philosophy and diet to follow depends on several factors, such as where you are (a big city vs. a rural town) and what your diet has been growing up.


If you live in a big city, you will obviously have more resources: vegan restaurants, clothing stores, etc. There will, also, most likely, be more vegans there - a support network, if you will. In a rural town it may be near impossible if there are no vegan restaurants or health food stores around. In such a case, I would consider maintaining a vegetarian diet, for health reasons, until you are able to adapt the vegan diet safely; if you can't do it right, don't.


If one grows up eating meat, especially fast food, then it will almost certainly be difficult to convert to vegetarianism. I speak from personal experience, having been raised a "meat-eater" like most people in the U.S. However, after becoming agnostic and seeing shocking and disturbing videos from a friend of animal slaughter, slowly but surely, I began to question my eating ethics and adapt reform accordingly. The initial transformation to vegetarian was quite difficult. In fact, several friends and even family doubted me. This was not helpful. It took several years and much contemplation, but I became a vegetarian and never looked back. I remember the last meat meal I ate: a hamburger pizza. I'm proud of my sacrifice for my beliefs. 


Big food corporations have been known to manipulate levels of salt, fat, and sugar to develop what David Kessler, MD, calls "hyper-palatable" foods, foods that we want more and more of and change the way we eat.[8] The nature of addiction is that addictive substances make you feel good, releasing endorphins in the brain, while not having them makes you feel bad. [9] In brief, it's only hard to be vegan if switching from a fast food consuming diet, which, one could say, is difficult to abstain from, given billions of dollars spent on advertisement.


Veganism is impossible; animal products are everywhere and in everything.


You have keep your eyes open, yes, look at food labels and all of the ingredients, and learn the tricks of the big food corporations to disguise animal products in plain sight (such as E120 and gelatin, which is not labeled as an animal product, though it's something vegans would obviously object to). An internet connection, savvy, and access to alternatives is all the modern vegan needs.




References


1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B12
2. http://www.vrg.org/nutrition/calcium.htm
3. http://www.soystache.com/sources_of_protein.htm
4. http://www.motherearthnews.com/Real-Food/1972-01-01/Pinto-Beans-and-Corn.aspx
5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vegetarianism#Protein
6. http://www.savvyvegetarian.com/articles/get-enough-protein-veg-diet.php
7. http://www.animalliberationfront.com/Practical/Health/CageHart/Vegetarian%20Pregnancy%20and%20Children.htm
8. http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/compulsive-overeating-and-how-to-stop-it
9. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Addiction