Monday, January 31, 2011

Egypt Goes Dark

So I managed to stick to my New Year’s resolution to post here at least once a week for exactly three weeks, Readers Mine, but at last the inevitable happened and I let it slide last week. Still, no great harm done I expect, and we’re here now, so I might as well try and figure out something to write about.

Well, here’s something disturbing from Mobiledia: It seems that the government of Egypt under President Hosni Mubarak has managed to cut the entire country off from the World Wide Web. As of today, the last ISP in Egypt has apparently shut down, effectively cutting the country off from international internet access. The Egyptian government is responding to the use of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter by anti-government protesters to organize and mobilize. According to Renesys, an internet monitoring firm, the last Egyptian internet link to the wider world went dark at 20:46 UTC, or about 3:46pm EST. This is the first time a government has managed to cut its country’s access to the internet, and the results promise to be unpredictable. Egypt trades on international markets, and the internet has increasingly become the standard tool for international finance worldwide. Of course, cellular systems are apparently functioning, though they too were blacked out for a short period Friday.

The surprising thing isn’t the government’s attempt to deny the protesters ready access to international connectivity, but rather that the government was able to succeed in the attempt. Internal, national networks are apparently still functioning, but nothing is getting in or out. This marks a dangerous precedent. If Egypt can exercise such control over its citizens’ access to the internet, how likely is it that other governments can’t? Oh, I suppose the wealthy west would probably be a more difficult exercise in control (the more complex a system is the harder it is to control, generally speaking), but think about it folks, an entire nation has just disappeared off the grid, and tens of thousands of people who have taken to the streets to try and get a little more liberty and a little more say in their own country’s political process have lost the ability to communicate news about what’s happening in Egypt to non-Egyptian government controlled entities. There will be no viral videos of dying teenagers in Cairo’s streets, or of Egyptian Army units opening fire on protesters, no international surge of support as for the Iranian Greens.

Or so Mubarak hopes.

But if the internet has taught us anything, it is that there are more than twelve ways to skin a cat, and revolutions have been happening since long before Edison told Watson to “come here.” The human animal is the most cunning and dangerous critter this planet has ever evolved, especially in crowds. So here’s sending hopes and prayers to Egyptian friends and, as Bogy put it, “Success to crime!”


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Quick and Linky

Well, Readers Mine, it’s going to be a quick and linky one this week, I’m afraid. I’m still trying to find my groove for the semester where every day doesn’t wind up feeling too short with too little time devoted to play, and this weekend is proving that further adjustments are necessary. Still, a Saturday post counts, so here we go.

The Great Buffy Rewatch continues over at Nik at Night. This week’s guest poster is Dr. Matthew Pateman, brilliant, funny, friendly and every centimeter the English gentleman, he delves into the episodes “Angel,’ “I Robot, You Jane,” and “The Puppet Show” with critical acumen and an abiding passion for his subject that always makes his work an engaging read. Matthew was also the first person I really met at Slayage 4, and made me feel welcome and a part of that strange and wonderful group of scholar-fans, so he’s pretty much the dog’s bollocks in my book.

A happy belated and posthumous birthday goes out this week to the late, great DeForest Kelley, the one and only Dr. Leonard McCoy of the original Star Trek, and always my personal favorite of the Triune God of Geeks. Kelly made a career in the movies and television that spanned 53 years, beginning in 1945 and ending in 1998, about a year before his death at the age of 79. To the character of Leonard “Bones” McCoy he brought a mix of Southern charm, fiery compassion, and genial irritability that have come to be standard tropes for talented medical characters in American television from Hawkeye Pierce to Doc Cochran. When he died in 1999, an era ended, for never again could Kirk, Spock, and McCoy “boldly go where no man has gone before.” Be Well, Mr. Kelley. I hope you find your own Yonada out there after all.

Finally, I thought I’d give a shout out to Geek Girl Con, which takes place October 8-9 this year in Seattle, Washington. To quote GGC’s own Erica McGillivray, ‘“GeekGirlCon is a one-of-a-kind convention celebrating geeky women and the wide variety of geeky things they are interested and involved in.’ The first of its kind, GeekGirlCon strives to be an event that celebrates women in the fields of math, the sciences, fiction, games, comics and more.” Jennifer K. Stuller, friend of Solomon Mao’s and author of Ink Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology is one of the folks working hard on the project, and with Jen involved, you know it’s going to be a good time, so check ‘em out and if you’re going to be on the North-Left coast this fall, take the opportunity to be a part of something pretty damn cool.

Yeah, I know, you got used to some thoughtful, occasionally insightful posts there for a few weeks, and there may be some of those again one day soon, but it is not this day. Still, follow the links, surf about a bit, and (God willing and the crick don’t rise) I’ll see you back here sometime next week for a fresh plate of whatever’s on my brain’s burner.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

January's Histories

I generally try to stay away from anything resembling a resolution around the New Year, because resolutions tend to be best kept in their breaking. I will admit, however, to an urge to pause, reflect, and reinterpret some things around January every year. This time around one of the outcomes of this exercise was a determination to post here at least once a week, even if the post is short, or nothing more than a book review. Today, Readers Mine, you get at least one of those options.

I’ve started off the semester with some histories, beginning with Michael K. JonesThe Retreat: Hitler’s First Defeat. Jones styles himself as a “battle psychologist” who uses firsthand accounts to reconstruct not only the historical events he is concerned with, but also the psychological effects of these events on the people involved. The first of Jones’ works: Leningrad: State of Siege was a truly remarkable work, and his second, Stalingrad pretty much insured that I would read anything the man writes. That being said, The Retreat, dealing with the German retreat from the outskirts of Moscow in the face of determined Soviet counterattacks in the winter of 1941/42, doesn’t match Jones’ earlier works in either clarity of historical presentation or emotional verisimilitude. Part of the problem lies in the fact that the book is – rightly – approaching things mostly from the perspective of the German army and the accounts of individual German soldiers. It is difficult to really feel distressed at the hardships of people who early in the book are exulting in their success as invaders, and who throughout demonstrate a disturbing lack of concern for both captured prisoners of war or the civilian population around them. In short, we’re more than a little glad that the Nazi’s found themselves repeating Napoleon’s mistake, and rather happy to see them suffering defeat and general misery. Jones does not quite manage to hide his own pro-Russian bias in the book, and one gets the feeling that he perhaps didn’t really try as hard to humanize the Germans as might have, and that he is enjoying their failures quite as much as the reader is. Still, it is a valuable addition to any library dealing with the Soviet-German war, and Jones does deliver source material previously unpublished. Like many writers on the Great Patriotic War, however, he is somewhat defeated by the sheer scale of the events he describes. Military movements occur across literally hundreds of miles of front, and literally millions of soldiers are involved. It is a difficult subject, and may well defy Jones usual, wonderfully intimate approach to history.

Next up is The Reconstruction Presidents by Brooks D. Simpson, a work detailing the administrations of Presidents Lincoln, Johnson, Grant, and Hayes as they dealt with the various processes and phases of post-American Civil War reconstruction. The book is divided into four sections, and Simpson does a good job of demonstrating that Reconstruction was as much a matter of national policy from Washington D.C. as one of specific policies for the several states. This is a period that has come to hold great interest to me of late. I think sometimes we forget how easy it is to destroy something, especially in war, and how difficult thereafter to try and rebuild or repair it. From 1865 to roughly 1876, the United States was faced with the problem of reinventing itself as a united nation, and for the first time a nation without slavery. The questions surrounding black freedom and suffrage that arose during Reconstruction haunt the nation to this day, and the answers reached by white Americans of the time represent something like the failure of national will in the greatest of causes, and something like the creation of the cornerstones upon which tremendous structures of liberty would later be built. It is a bit of both in the whole, and on the whole, a sad time in our history. I’m only about a quarter of the way into Simpson’s book, but thus far it is detailed, meticulously researched, and knowledgeable while being a powerful read. I’m looking forward to knowing more at its end that I did at its beginning.

So that’s about it for my current reading. Amidst all of this a new term has begin that promises to be very full of assigned reading, writing, and general knowledge building, all of which is good but will undoubtedly make posting here from time to time difficult. If you stick with me, however, I’ll stick with you, and continue to scribble along.

In the meantime, be well.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The N-word

There’s been a small uproar recently about New South Press’ decision to publish a heavily revised edition of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Long story short, “Injun Joe” will become “Indian Joe” and “nigger” will become “slave.” I’ve got a lot of problems with this, not least of which is a sanitizing of American history on par with the most egregious acts of the Texas School Board, but I’ll save my rant against mucking about with Twain for another day. What I want to talk about today is “the N-word.”

This cowardly little phrase has crept into the English language until every article or television news report dealing with the use of the word nigger begins to sound like the titillated exposition of an 8 year old showing how good he is by using cute euphemisms instead of swearing while simultaneously demonstrating a thorough knowledge of forbidden language. How far off is a report of protesters “allegedly shouting the N-word at members of the Black Caucus” from “Sally said the S-word Mommy, an’ wanted me to say it too, but I would never, ever say the S-word *giggle*?”

I believe the late, great George Carlin said it best:

“I don't like words that hide the truth. I don't like words that conceal reality. I don't like euphemisms, or euphemistic language. And American English is loaded with euphemisms. Cause Americans have a lot of trouble dealing with reality. Americans have trouble facing the truth, so they invent a kind of soft language to protect themselves from it, and it gets worse with every generation. For some reason, it just keeps getting worse.”

The word nigger is as American as apple pie. It just represents the side of America that reeks of rotting blood and horror. Nigger represents a half millennium of slavery and brutal oppression followed by a hundred years of Jim Crow laws and lynchings, followed by forty-five more years of crawlingly slow progress against ideas about race which are demonstrably false, but which remain ingrained even in the best of us at times. I could write this paragraph in the blood of murdered children, and it would still not begin to express the history borne by the word nigger, and our response to this history, our method of dealing with it, is to cover it up with a pretty quilt and spray some Febreze around. To say “the N-word” and then congratulate ourselves on how enlightened we’ve become.

Neither individuals nor nations can effectively deal with real problems by ignoring them or dressing them up or rewriting history. Racism in America is deep-rooted and still blooming. If we really want to put an end to it, we must begin by taking a deep breath and turning to face the problem directly. We need to start talking about “nigger” and not talking around “the N-word.”

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

And So it Begins...

Well Readers Mine, it’s time for the Great Buffy Rewatch of 2011 to begin. Starting tonight, and continuing every Tuesday night in 2011, Nikki Stafford will host a diverse group of writers on her blog Nick at Nite as we work our way through the seven televised seasons of Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. On average, three episodes a week will be covered, in order, beginning tonight with Nikki her own self covering the first three episodes of season one: “Welcome to the Hellmouth,” “The Harvest,” and “The Witch.”

If you’re already a Buffy fan, it’s a great excuse to revisit the show and remember why we love it so. If you’ve never seen the show, this is the perfect opportunity to experience something amazing, while also getting pithy comments and commentary from some of the funniest, smartest, and pun-tastic writers on the internet. You’ll also be introduced to these writers and their work, so you might just find some new reasons to increase the size of your library. So grab your Netflix queue or your DVDs, some popcorn, and your favorite snuggle-buddy, and settle in for quality television that both takes names and kicks ass.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Vale MMX! Ave MMXI!

It has come to my attention that it is apparently incumbent upon me as a blogger to ruminate on the year just past and on the one just begun. Let me tell you, 2010 is going to be hard to top. I got married. I earned an Associate’s Degree and began the last two years of study for a Bachelor’s. I presented my first paper at an international academic conference, and had that paper accepted for publication in a reviewed journal. I moved – three times. I spent five days in the hospital with a dodgy heart, and afterward began to learn how to live with more than a little anxiety about it. I made some incredible new friends, and wrote quite a lot. So much happened in 2010 that, even though most of it was really good stuff, my score on the Holmes and Rahe stress scale taken at the end of the year placed me in the “Holy-Shit-Your-Head- Is-Gonna-Explode-Any-Second” category. Still, I was usually having too much fun to realize how stressed out I should have been, and I’m currently writing this in the home I share with a brilliant, beautiful, sexy, and (for the moment) redheaded woman who turns out love me and to be the Girl of My Dreams, so I’m putting 2010 pretty much at the top of my personal “Best Years Ever” list.

And 2011? Well, that remains to be seen, doesn’t it, Readers Mine? Oh, I plan to knock out most of the work on that Bachelor’s Degree I mentioned earlier, and present a paper or two here and there, as well as participate in the Great Buffy Rewatch of 2011, and to be writing from the same house with the same loving woman puttering about, and hopefully the two of us will be stronger for another year of love and life. So much for my plans, but as the poet has it,

“The best laid schemes o’ Mice and Men

Gang aft agley,

An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,

For promis’d joy!”

So in 2011, I’ll pray. For the courage, wisdom, strength, and serenity to meet whatever may come, be it joy or grief. To be able to think about someone else more often than I do of myself, and to be an agent for the good rather than a man of evil. For my shit to hold together when it hits the fan, and to hold my tongue lest I should be the one who throws it. To love well, and be loved well in return, and to be okay in sunshine or storm. Most of all, I’ll pray to remember that every day is a new year, one day at a time, and that I don’t have to spend the days alone, even when I’m all by myself.

Ave Minerva!

Purga mentem. Purga corpus. Purga animum.

Ita est!