Travel stories: Singapore

I went to Singapore for the holidays. It was the first time I’d spent the Christmas season outside of the US, and my first time visiting the island city-state with the benevolent dictatorship disguised as a democracy. I wouldn’t say it was a life-changing trip, but it did give me some new perspective, and writers love perspective like a cat loves nip.

If there’s one thing that stood out to me most about Singapore it was this odd sense of juxtaposition. Duality. Contrast. Yin and Yang (which is appropriate given the country’s heavy Chinese influence).

Singapore has bountiful natural beauty, and yet so much of it is artificial. Fake smiles, fake neighborhoods, even fake trees in the Gardens by the Bay.

Singapore has a thriving tourist trade, with over 3 million visitors a year, but the place is often (though not always) rather unfriendly to strangers. And when there is friendliness, it feels belabored and…wrong. I felt this most strongly at the airport, where there were staff who actually checked in for me at what would be considered a “self-service” kiosk nearly everywhere else in the world. I suppose they were trying to make it feel convenient, but it ended up being awkward and kind of belittling.

The country prides itself on education, but so many of its best and brightest who have the means to study abroad, prefer to do so.

Singapore is clean, and free of graffiti and litter, but only through imposing harsh fines for everything from eating on the train to chewing gum (which is actually even illegal to possess in the country).

It’s a land of dichotomies; neither good nor bad, but many varying shades of gray. It’s a perfect little micro-nation to study the dynamics of people and nature. In many ways, I found inspiration there. My Ninth Order series of books takes place on a group of small islands. I was struggling to find the inspiration to finish the sequel, but now I think I have it.

Pardon the dust

It has been quite some time since my last blog post here. Life has been filled with various adventures, and I find myself with less time to devote to the blog.

So what’s new and exciting in the life of Ramsey Isler?

Well, I recently put my latest novel Clockworkers on Amazon. I have not yet put it into full promotional mode yet, but it is a book I have a lot of faith in and it contains a lot of advancements in my writing style.

I’ve also been doing some traveling; crossing the globe in pursuit of truth, justice, and paying work. My day job keeps me busy, but it’s also usually pretty interesting so I don’t mind so much when the hours run long and I have less time to spend crafting stories.

Oddly enough I haven’t been writing as much. I’ve been thinking about stories, and jotting down some notes on interesting things to write, but I haven’t been as actively writing my next story. Instead, I’ve been putting a lot of time and energy into promoting my past works. I figure, what’s the point of writing if you don’t have an audience to read what you wrote? So my writing time has recently been allocated to marketing time. The results have been pretty good; I’ve reached more individual readers than ever before.

I have a lot of ideas for future blog posts. We’ll see if I actually find time to write them.

Your personal data is not safe; but it never really was.

The hot topic in US politics today is the use of a federal “dragnet” used to take a peek at pretty much every digital communication a modern American creates. Many federal organizations are reportedly in on it, including the FBI, DOJ, DOD, and NSA, making many people go WTF.

But, as an engineer and a former employee of one of those arcane three-letter organizations, I have a different perspective than most.

There are real reasons to be concerned about big government encroaching too much into our lives, and there are real reasons to be concerned about potential abuses of overreaching powers. Government should not be trusted blindly. But there’s also a lot of fake and/or misguided outrage here.

There are two major components of the leak-fest of late: One, the government has accessed logs of which phone number called which other number and for how long. These logs contained data from all of Verizon’s customers, and perhaps those on other networks. Let me address this one first. This kind of system has existed for a long time, and it’s called a pen register. Pen registers log the very basics of a phone call; the original systems only recorded the numbers involved, but newer ones can record the duration and location of the numbers as well. There have been laws governing the use of pen registers since the late 60s, but in the past 30 years or so the laws have been revisited to account for new technology. Still, the Supreme Court ruled way back in 1979 that pen registers do not pass the “reasonable expectation of privacy” test. I usually don’t quote WikiPedia, but the wiki on pen registers is quite accurate here:

[The Supreme Court] overturned Olmstead v. United States and held that wiretaps were unconstitutional searches, because there was a reasonable expectation that the communication would be private. The government was then required to get a warrant to execute a wiretap.

Ten years later the Supreme Court held that a pen register is not a search because the “petitioner voluntarily conveyed numerical information to the telephone company.” Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735, 744 (1979). Since the defendant had disclosed the dialed numbers to the telephone company so they could connect his call, he did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the numbers he dialed. The court did not distinguish between disclosing the numbers to a human operator or just the automatic equipment used by the telephone company.

So, there you have it. Wiretaps need warrants, but just looking at the call logs does not. This is not new. This ruling happened before I was even born. But there’s a key factor to latch on to here: a “reasonable expectation of privacy”. We as a society have forgotten what that means, or perhaps never fully understood it in the first place.

There is a deep-rooted and understandable personal fear at the core of all this. It’s not about having “nothing to hide”, and it’s not about distrusting government, or thinking Bush or Obama is the anti-christ. It’s about privacy, and how we often take it for granted.

There’s a subtle but important difference between secrecy and privacy. Here’s an example of that difference: We all poop. Everyone knows we poop. It’s not a secret matter, but it is a private matter, and we’d all bitch up a storm if some “authority” said that even one person was allowed to see us pooping at work or at home.

But, if you poop in the alley, well…there’s no reason to expect total privacy. Using GMail, Hotmail, Yahoo, Facebook, etc…it’s all the equivalent of pooping in the alley. Any assumptions of true privacy here are misguided. It’s not likely that anyone will see you doing your dirty business in that alley, but it is quite possible that someone might, and you can’t blame someone for invading your privacy if you do that.

That leads me to the second aspect of this leak-fest: Google, Microsoft, and other email providers/social networks have been providing the government with data. To me, this should not come as a surprise, nor should it be particularly scary. The truth is that pretty much all this stuff the government has access to is already accessible by employees or contractors of the corporations who operate our favorite things, and these companies have even less oversight and responsibility than the government. You might be surprised if you knew how many average salary guys could access your Facebook, Google, or Microsoft data at any given time. Not too long ago, two Google engineers were fired for abusing their awesome technology superpowers, but you should seriously consider how many of them do less egregious things and get away it.

Facebook knows who your friends are, where you’ve been, what you like to eat, what your friends like to do, and hundreds of other data points. You willingly gave a huge corporation access to your life, just so they could send you some ads.

And then there was this little quote from a Microsoft employee blasting Google for their un-private email practices, while inadvertently revealing some of Microsoft’s own issues (emphasis mine):

“Like many email providers, Outlook.com scans the content of your email to help protect you and prevent spam, gray mail, phishing scams, viruses, malware, and other dangers and annoyances. It is just like how the postal service sorts and scans mail and packages for dangerous explosive and biohazards”

See, they’re just looking through email for your protection. To keep you safe from harm. Sound familiar?

You already have corporations running programs through your emails for their own purposes. Sometimes, as in GMail’s case, it’s purely to show you ads based on your email messages. This so-called invasion of your privacy has been happening for some time, with your consent (you agreed to the terms and conditions, folks!). Does the situation really change when it’s Uncle Sam doing it instead of “Don’t Be Evil” Google? One could argue that at least the government can do some good things with that data in some cases (e.g, stopping people who blow up things).

Governments, corporations, and regular citizens must all adapt to the rapidly-changing digital world where we so freely and gratefully use products controlled by multi-billion dollar organizations, and create laws and processes to keep a healthy balance between security and spying on the very people we’re trying to protect. But don’t expect privacy unless you work to keep things private (encryption is good, so is taking your info out of “the cloud”). In our real homes we close the doors, draw the window shades, and keep our dirty laundry hidden from view. For some reason we’ve lost that common sense when it comes to our digital homes. Maybe we shouldn’t vilify the politicians or the CEOs for this kind of stuff. Maybe we should simply realize that we’ve been exposing too much of ourselves for too long.

Persons of Color in Comic Book Movies

I had an interesting chat on GoodReads recently, and figured I’d make an extended version of my comments on the blog. The topic started in the Multiculturalism in YA,Fantasy, Sci FI,Paranormal and fun books group, and the issue at hand was the news that the next Fantastic Four movie might have a black actor (Michael B. Jordan) as Johnny Storm aka The Human Torch (a character who has always been white in the past). The news spurred some very disturbing but not-very-surprising Internet conversation about race. We’ve seen this kind of thing before, and we will no doubt see it again. But I think it’s important to look at the issue from multiple perspectives, and to constantly revisit it as American society shifts and evolves.

As an African-American author, and life-long comic book fan, I actually don’t like it when Hollywood changes the races of well-established characters. This is partially because I’m kind of a comic book purist/nerd, and partially because I just don’t think it’s necessary. Comic books are already full of interesting, popular characters of color (who have always been that way). We don’t need revisionist heroes.

John Stewart appeared in the Green Lantern corps in 1971
John Stewart appeared in the Green Lantern corps in 1971

 

People who read comics know that Marvel, Image, and DC comics have been introducing characters of many races since the ’70s, and there was an explosion of multiculturalism in the ’90s. Characters like Bishop, Jubilee, ShadowHawk, War Machine, DeathLok, Luke Cage, Spawn, Blade, Cloak from Cloak and Dagger, Sunspot, and Forge emerged in the most popular comics of their time. In some cases a hero is more of an icon than a particular person, and over the years their personas were passed on to new characters of different races, like black John Stewart joining the Green Lantern corps waaaaay back in 1971 or Steel joining the Superman corps in the ’90s or Miguel O’Hara becoming the first latino Spider Man in the early ’90s during the “Spider Man 2099” series. These characters were also prominently featured on TV (Bishop and Jubilee had major roles in the beloved ’90s X-Men cartoon, and John Stewart has been a major character in the Justice League cartoons). There are plenty of non-white characters in comic book lore who are very popular and have been so for many many years. Hollywood just needs to invest in them.

Chinese-American Jubilee and Wolverine have been teaming up for over 20 years
Chinese-American Jubilee and Wolverine have been teaming up for over 20 years

 

New Line Cinema has been the most forward-thinking studio in promoting non-white lead comic characters, having distributed both the Blade series and Spawn. Those were both fairly successful franchises financially, even though they weren’t exactly the best movies. But then we had Halle Berry as Catwoman, and things haven’t been the same since :-). Right now all we have is Nick Fury (who had a race-change in the comics long ago), but I have hopes things will change soon. The latest rumor is that Black Panther will FINALLY start shooting in 2014 after years of various actors/producers (including Wesley Snipes) trying to get it out of development hell, Bishop and Warpath are in X-Men: Days of Future Past, Zoe Seldana is confirmed to co-star in Guardians of the Galaxy, and if there is a Green Lantern reboot I would not be surprised if they went with a black actor because there’s strong precedent for that already in the Justice League cartoons.

Still, certain people in Hollywood will still opt for changing the race of old minor characters; creating “hand-me-down heroes” in an effort to bring something new to a franchise without too much risk. For lesser-known characters, race changes usually work out just fine (see Michael Clark Duncan as The Kingpin or Jamie Foxx as Electro in the upcoming Spider Man film). There wasn’t much complaint about either decision, probably because no one really had an attachment to either character (they’re not well-known among general audiences). It’s only when people start messing with the beloved “iconic” characters that the nerd-rage comes out. I do like the idea of opening up fiction to different interpretations and possibilities, and adding an actor that doesn’t fit the traditional race of the character is one way to do that, but it has to be done at the right time and with the right stories, and too often when it happens in Hollywood it feels forced and disingenuous.

If you’re interested in learning more about persons of color in comics, here are a few suggestions:

  • The Black Panther. Not only is he like an African Batman, he’s the head of a whole country!
  • The Spawn comics from the 90s were incredible.
  • Shadowhawk from Image Comics (who also tackled the topic of HIV when Shadowhawk contracted the disease in the 90s).
  • If you like Iron Man, War Machine did have his own comic for many years and Rhodey is quite a different character than Tony Stark.
  • Anything with Jubilee and Wolverine. They’re an odd couple, but that makes them all the more entertaining

You can find collections for all these on Amazon, or visit your local comic book store.

Turning 33

Today is my 33rd birthday.

It’s a palindromic year (same number forwards or backwards), and I dare say that it will be the best of my palindromic years. 11 was okay, but my adulthood has been far more fun than my childhood. 22 wasn’t bad, but I spent much of my early twenties being a workaholic and missing out on the stupid things I should have been doing. But 33…ah that’s a different story. This is the best of all. Better than 22, and better than 44 (probably…we’ll see).

Last year there was a dubious study by some website that said that 33 is the happiest age. At the moment I’d be inclined to agree with its findings. In the past few years I have:

  • finished 3 novels (two of them currently published, another soon)
  • traveled to Europe and Asia multiple times
  • worked on some really cool technology projects
  • loved, and lost, and loved again
  • gotten into the best physical shape of my life
  • worked mostly from home
  • written hundreds of articles and been quoted in countless Wikipedia pages
  • acquired a large group of amazing friends who seem to like me for some reason

I think it’s safe to say I’m hitting my stride.

Still, there is the unavoidable feeling of age creeping up on me. Injuries don’t heal as fast. My right knee feels a little tight sometimes. Half my brother’s children are adults. My Facebook news feed frequently has announcements of babies being born to friends I knew in my teens. I think of past events that seem fresh and recent, only to realize that they happened a decade ago.

Overall, I’m happy…supremely happy. And I’m still “young” compared to half the people I know, and I know those very same people would laugh at this post and say I’ve got a whole lot of aging to come still. But I also cannot ignore the fact that a good portion of the people I know consider me “older”. That’s just two letters from “old”, folks.

Do I fear aging? Naw, not at all. It’s just another adventure in the journey of life (and I think I’m aging rather gracefully, all things considered). But I do find myself keenly aware that things are getting different. It feels like there’s an inflection point coming up; a point of no return…a transition where youth is just a memory. It’s not scary; it’s just so different. I have always been young. I know nothing else. But there will come a point when I no longer will be, and until now that was just an abstract concept to me. It’s slowly becoming a reality, and I’m observing this transition with a sharp awareness. It makes for good writing material.

I’m going to spend my birthday weekend being silly and doing more ridiculous things I never got to do at 22. And I will revel in all the benefits that maturity, stability, and wisdom have brought me. And when the hangovers are gone and the last “Happy Birthday!” wishes have been shouted with glee, I’ll return to my normal, wonderful life and continue to make the most of every day of youth I still have left.

The reality of guns, school security, and mental health

In the tragic aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, many Americans are questioning how we operate as a nation and whether our constitutional right to carry firearms needs more restraint, regulation, and thought. It is a long-overdue national conversation, and it will not be an easy one. But what this conversation needs most right now is perspective, and a clear view of the bigger picture.

Much of the debate in the most recent US news cycle is about the idea of putting armed guards in schools across the country. I find this unfolding debate very interesting, because to some degree I actually support this idea. But that is because I have a different viewpoint on the issue since I have lived a life most of you have not. I grew up in one of the most dangerous cities in the Western Hemisphere, and I know that armed security in our schools is a reality and has already been happening for years.

I have firsthand experience with growing up in a school system enveloped in tight security. I was born and raised in Detroit, where multilevel school security was the norm. During my high school years in the late 90s, the main student entrances had metal detectors. Side doors were chained shut (a violation of fire code, but deemed a necessity). The school had several unarmed security officers, and it was quite common to see a Detroit Police patrol car stationed in front of the building for most of the day. And this was in one of the nicer neighborhoods of the city.

Over the past decade, the security measures in Detroit have grown dramatically. Detroit now has a specialized police department solely for the city’s schools. You can see the Detroit Public Schools Police Department site here. But let me give you a quick taste of how serious things are over there:

The district’s Police Department, a deputized police force, includes 51 police officers patrolling schools 24-7. The district also has 47 Campus Police Officers at all high schools, and at other sites. And under a contract with Securitas, the district now provides security personnel in all K-8 schools, as well as additional security officers in all high schools.

The Detroit Public Schools also have a network of security cameras, a K-9 unit, and ID systems designed to match students to their schools and instantly match adult visitors against criminal databases including sex offender registries. It’s all part of a $41.7 million district-wide security initiative that strives to make all schools in the city safer. This is not the future, folks. This is now.

Is this the way things should be? No. Hell no. In an ideal world, our children would never have to worry about such things, and parents could send their kids to school with no concerns other than the quality of their child’s education. But Detroit had to take this direction. It wasn’t ideal, it wasn’t comfortable, and it damn sure wasn’t cheap. But, given the crime situation in the city, it was a necessary response to a sad reality.

Realism must often take precedence over idealism, but not always, and not forever. We can, and should, strive to change the status quo and build the kind of peaceful world we all want to live in. But there are certain realities that must be acknowledged and addressed right now while we work on that more ideal world of the future. That’s why I give some support to armed police (not private security) in schools. However, I also realize that this does not address the core problem.

But neither does a new gun law.

Both approaches are, at best, merely damage control. I support both, but have no illusions about either approach solving our ultimate problem.

The question that dominates the current conversation is, “How do we make things safe?” That’s a tough one, because the cruelest reality of all is this: We can never be 100% safe. The next line of questioning follows, “How do we make things safer?” And that’s an interesting one too because, despite how it feels, the facts show that violent crime in America is already plunging near record lows. Whatever we’re doing to make our nation safer is apparently already working. Incidents like Sandy Hook don’t necessarily show that our world is less safe, it just shows that the world is different. Like all things, crime changes; it adapts, it shifts. We must do the same.

Consider this: The National Instant Criminal Background Check System is used to check if someone can buy a gun from a federal registered dealer before they walk out of the shop with a shiny new firearm. As of the end of November 2012, there have been 16,808,538 applications. If they were all approved, that would be enough weapons to stock every member of NATO’s armed forces nearly five times over (and only 976,255 of those applications were denied). The system has received 156,577,260 applications since 1998. And this is just covering legal guns. Any proposed plan for reducing gun violence in the US will have to account for a stark reality: we are already inundated with millions of guns. Making them illegal won’t make them go away in a puff of smoke.

But even if we could somehow create a dramatic decrease in guns, there’s no proof it would prevent terrible acts like Sandy Hook. Look at what’s happening in China, for instance. The Chinese government imposes strict gun control rules, and citizens are not allowed to own personal firearms. Yet, since 2010 the country has seen a rash of school attacks with knives. Dozens of children have been killed or injured, and not a single shot was ever fired. Just hours before the Sandy Hook shooting, a man in the Henan province of China stabbed and slashed 23 children. There were no fatalities this time, but some of the children lost ears or fingers. Kids in previous attacks lost their lives.

If there had been an armed policeman at that Chinese school, maybe this wouldn’t have happened. But maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. Maybe China’s strict gun laws kept the incident from being even worse, but then the argument becomes a simple matter of degree in a topic where even one young life lost is too much. China will struggle with a solution to the problem just as America will. But there are some realities that are painfully clear here: this isn’t only an American problem, and it’s not limited to guns.

The events in America and China do share a common thread. There is a core, fundamental issue here that does not have an easy fix. The issue is mental health.

In China, there are no new gun laws to enact because guns clearly aren’t the problem. Instead, the recent school attacks have prompted calls for the government to address the long-standing national mental health issues that have become exacerbated by rapid social change. In America the conversation takes a slightly different direction. The argument is that we just shouldn’t let the mentally ill access guns, but there is little talk about giving them better treatment, or identifying them earlier, or analyzing the factors that made them mentally ill in the first place.

The connections are clear. The shooter in the Aurora Theater tragedy visited three separate psychologists before he dropped out of school. The shooter in the Virginia Tech massacre had a long history of documented mental health issues. And those who knew the Sandy Hook shooter said that they, sadly, were not surprised because he had “mental problems” for some time.

But the issue goes beyond public shooters. Estimates on the rate of mental illness in the homeless population of America range from 20% to 40%. The proportion of people with personality disorders is highest in the prison population, where many prisoners have been found to be suffering from some sort of personality disorder and at least 16 percent of the prison population can be classified as severely mentally ill. A lot of those people get released back on the streets after their sentences. Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested for disturbing sexually related crimes three times before we found out he was a serial killer.

Our inability to identify and help the mentally ill is a tragic failure of our social contract to keep everyone safe. These people are not evil, they’re not demons, and they don’t deserve to be ignored. They’re sick, they are mentally ill, and they need our compassion, and our help. And by helping them, we help ourselves. In the days to come, I do hope that we can see past the politics and focus on this issue that we have let fester for far too long. But I also know that the answers will not come easy, and they will not come fast, so I hope that we can devise reasonable and realistic measures to protect our most vulnerable citizens in the meantime.

Misquoting Pacquiao Misquoting the Bible

Boxer Manny Pacquiao came under fire for an interview with a conservative (i.e. Republican) reporter that attributed him with comments that implied he wanted gays put to death. The media and LGBT crowds quickly descended on him and fans and supporters stepped away from him. If Pacquiao had actually said those things, then the hate would’ve been certainly deserved. The problem is, Manny didn’t actually say that gays should be put to death, but his true beliefs aren’t much better.

Here’s what really happened. The author of the article in question, Granville Ampong, included a passage from Leviticus that states: “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death”. But Ampong did it in a way that seemed to attribute the quote to Pacquiao, when in fact this was something that Ampong inserted on his own. Ampong has come out publicly and confirmed this was all his doing, and according to an official statement by Pacquiao:

Pacquiao does not now and has never believed that people deserve death because of their sexual orientation.

Pacquiao is simply against the marriage of anyone that is not Man and Woman as he believes is stated in the Bible. “I didn’t say that, that’s a lie… I didn’t know that quote from Leviticus because I haven’t read the Book of Leviticus yet,” he said.

So what we have here is really just bad reporting, exacerbated by bad reporting about the bad reporting. A bunch of reporters on TV and the web jumped the gun and didn’t really get the full context of the original article (many probably didn’t even actually read it), and the original article itself was poorly written with a clear agenda that is far from unbiased reporting and virtually dripping with the author’s own personal beliefs. What we should really take away from this debacle: don’t be so quick to believe headlines. Read, research, and come to your own conclusion. It seems like common sense, but apparently we all still have much to learn in that regard.

Now don’t get me wrong, Manny shouldn’t be let off the hook either. His opposition to gay marriage is clear and he did invoke Sodom and Gommorrah in his interview (which isn’t exactly “nice”), and he does insist that we should look to the bible for guidance on all matters. But look at his quote above again: “I didn’t know that quote from Leviticus because I haven’t read the Book of Leviticus yet”.

He. hasn’t. read. it.

This is a man insisting that everyone lives according to God’s law when he himself doesn’t even know what that law says. Perhaps if he did, he wouldn’t have all those tattoos, which Leviticus also bans, as illustrated by the awesome picture below.

Manny Pacquiao hasn't read Leviticus

Our Music is Meaningless

I submit to you this: a brief rant about the sorry state of modern popular music.

Yes, I know. This isn’t new. People have been ranting about the decline of music ever since the autotune made its way into just about every damn song on the radio. But I’m not talking about the musical quality of the industry today. In fact, I’d say from a production standpoint, music is about the same as it’s been for the past 30 years. A good hook is still important, and dance music is still as much of a moneymaker as it always was. It’s not hard to find a beautiful piano melody or a rousing orchestra in today’s songs, and the phat beats are still around.

The problem I have is not with the melodies. It’s the lyrics. Our lyrics mean nothing. Our songs do not sing the body electric. The words from our bards are shallow and selfish. No one on the radio or on TV is singing anything that matters.

Take for example, the hot songs out right now. There’s Rihanna’s “We Found Love”, which is a great tune but the lyrics are…well…crap. #2 on the Billboard Chart is “Sexy and I Know It”, which is most notable for being a song by a band called LMFAO (a prime example of how far we’ve fallen). Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun song, but completely meaningless.

The only recently-released songs in the Billboard Top 20 that I’d say actually have lyrical value are Adele’s “Someone Like You” and Bruno Mars’ “It Will Rain”. They’re both poetic, but they’re love songs, and as much as we all love to sing about love lost or unrequited, it’s not a profound topic.

There are no songs about social change. There are no songs about maturing. There are no songs about learning a life lesson. Hip-hop used to mean something. It used to have a social slant with clever lyrics designed to get people to think about what they were doing and where they were going. Gone are the days of De La Soul and Arrested Development. Say hello to Lil’ Jon and Drake.

Alternative rock used to be profound. Nirvana changed the game. Pearl Jam was the voice of a generation trying to reconcile suburbia with rebellion and a world at constant war. Where are our anti-war songs now?

Of course, I’m sure many of you are thinking that these kinds songs do exist, they’re just not in the mainstream. It’s all indie. And you’re absolutely right, and that’s my point. In the past it wasn’t hard to find meaningful tunes around. They may not have been Billboard Top 20 material, but they were around, the big labels supported them, and they got radio and video play (the only reason I discovered Arrested Development was VH1 played them constantly back in the day). Now, there’s no social message to be found in the mass media.

And the saddest part of all? Bands that used to have a message are now completely and utterly moronic. The Black Eyed Peas broke out into the mainstream with “Where Is the Love?”, a meaningful song with an equally meaningful video that posed the question, “What’s wrong with the world?”. Now, B.E.P. writes the stupidest songs in the world, sugar-coated with some well-crafted beats. But, for a moment, let’s take a walk down memory lane, and remember the good old days when mainstream artists still produced art. It wasn’t that long ago

Weird Book Title

Yes, “Eeeee Eee Eeee” is really the title of this book. And yes, it’s an appropriate title. The book is about odd young people living odd lives and thinking odd things, so why shouldn’t have one of the oddest titles in the history of the literary industry?

The story is essentially about a screwed up Domino’s Pizza delivery guy who ends up in an underground world suicidal dolphins and depressed bears.

If that weren’t enough to get you itchin’ to read this book, here’s a snippet from the Publisher’s Weekly review for this crazy tale:

“Poet and blogger Lin’s debut novel uneasily documents the life of Andrew, a recent college graduate working at Domino’s Pizza while over-analyzing every aspect of his life: past, present and futureless. He drives through the suburbs reminiscing about college life in New York and his ex-girlfriend, stopping occasionally to express his boredom to his best friend Steve. When at one point, Andrew states that he wants to “wreak complex and profound havoc” upon capitalist establishments such as McDonald’s, it feels like Lin is attempting the same kind of attack on organized art. The novel, while short on plot, makes abrupt shifts in setting and point of view, and is pierced throughout by celebrity cameos and surreal touches: bears, dolphins (who say “Eeeee Eee Eeee” to express emotion, in spite of their ability to speak like humans), Salman Rushdie, and the president make grandiose declarations that are heavily saturated with the same sardonic wit displayed by Andrew and his friends. The novel dips dangerously into metafiction, with Andrew in the middle of ‘writing a book of stories about people who are doomed.’ The characters’ repetitive thoughts and conversations become strangely hypnotic, however, and Lin’s sympathetic fascination with the meaning of life is full of profound and often hilarious insights. ”

Imagine the book-buying scenario as an eager reader looking for this book saunters into a Barnes & Noble.

B&N salesperson: “Hello, welcome to Barnes and Noble. Can I help you?”
Buyer: “Yeah, i’m looking for EEEEE EEE EEEE!”
B&N salesperson: “Uh…security!”

It’s quite possible this kind of warped purchase scenario occurred to the author, Tao Lin, a strange little Asian man whose personal website is http://heheheheheheheeheheheehehe.com

I do suggest you read this book. It’s a real mind-bender. It reminds me a lot of the days when I tried to wrap my head around the non-linear and often nonsensical prose of William S. Burroughs. If you want to sample Tao Lin’s work, take a peek at the “Look Inside Link” on the book’s Amazon page. Let me know if you have a craving for pizza afterwards.

Book cover for

A wild blog appears!

First!

After a long hiatus from daily blogging, I’ve installed another WordPress blog, made it all pretty, coerced PHP code to do my bidding, and now have a new outlet for all the musings in my head.

For the most part, this blog will serve as a platform for my writings on technology, entertainment, and the arcane art of writing fiction. I’ve been working really hard to become a master storyteller, and I figured it was about time to start sharing my work with the world at large. I’m sure this is a great idea, because the Internet always provides fair, intelligent critique — as YouTube commenters and 4chan trolls have shown us in countless examples.

Hopefully, you’ll find this blog informational, entertaining, and humorous. I welcome you to come as often as you like, and leave as many comments as you wish. I love a good chat.

 

-R