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11 Feb 19:24

Facebook's "Free Basics" and colonialism: an argument in six devastating points

by Cory Doctorow

animation (3)

Though India's independent telcoms regulator has banned services like Facebook's "Free Basics" -- which bribed phone companies to exempt Facebook's chosen services from the carriers' punishing data-caps -- the debate rages on, as Free Basics has taken hold through many poor countries around the world. (more…)

11 Feb 15:00

Watch Live as Physicists Make a Big Announcement About Gravitational Waves

by Maddie Stone on Gizmodo, shared by Katie Drummond to io9
Artist’s concept of a black hole. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Could the rumors be true? After a month of rampant speculation that physicists have finally discovered gravitational waves , today we learn the truth. Lead scientists from the the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) have assembled at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and they’re about to make a big announcement.


04 Feb 18:33

They promised us a debate over TPP, then they signed it without any debate

by Cory Doctorow


The Trans Pacific Partnership is a secretly negotiated agreement between 12 countries, including the US, Canada and Japan, which establishes punishing regimes for censoring and controlling the Internet, as well as allowing corporations to nullify safety, environmental and labor laws that limit their profits. (more…)

19 Jan 22:49

Idris Elba Talks “Diversity” in Thought as Well as Media

by Teresa Jusino

Beasts of No Nation‘s Idris Elba recently spoke to his home government at Westminster in front of a body of over 100 British MPs to talk about diversity, primarily in the industry of British media (specifically television), but really about diversity in all industries. You can check out his full 30-min speech in the video above.

What struck me most about it though, which relates to thoughts I keep having regarding #OscarsSoWhite, is that Elba talks about the importance of “people with imagination.” Meaning, it’s not just about getting a more diverse group of people into positions of power – though that’s part of it. It’s about the people who are already in power having imagination enough to see beyond themselves. He talks about diversity, not just in how it relates to race, but how it relates to gender, culture, sexuality, class, and physical ability.

He tells the story of how casting director Nina Gold, a white woman, was doing casting for the British film, Attack the Block, and discovered John Boyega in her casting search, because she was casting a wide net for every character. Then, she was responsible for getting Boyega seen for the role of Finn in The Force Awakens. So while, yes, Gold can be seen as a “diversity hire” as a woman in a male-dominated industry, she also had the aforementioned imagination to look beyond herself racially.

Elba brings up another interesting statistic in this video completely unrelated to film or TV. He talked about the London Olympics, and how the UK placed third as far as number of gold medals on their home turf! Then he said that, of British medalists, 50% of them had attended private school. However, only 7% of all British children go to private school. He then stressed the importance of fishing for talent everywhere, not just in the usual haunts. Because imagine what can be accomplished if you’re drawing talent from over 90% of your children, rather than less than 10%.

The idea that comes up over and over in this speech that I love is that when we talk “diversity,” it’s not just about diversity as it relates to the categories I mentioned above – it’s about “diversity of thought.” In other words, all of us have to make the conscious effort to think differently and entertain a diversity of ideas. Only then can someone like Nina Gold look at someone like John Boyega and think “lead in Star Wars! Of course!”

idris elba

It’s been frustrating for me to watch all the discussion surrounding #OscarsSoWhite, because a lot of the focus seems to be on diversifying the membership body of the Academy. Don’t get me wrong, this is something that needs to happen, but it’s not the only thing that needs to happen. Too often, people in marginalized groups are expected to be the spokespeople for their specific “interest” which only serves to marginalize them more, even as the white/male/cis/straight/able-bodied/financially secure people who hired them feel good about themselves for hiring in a diverse way.

It’s time for those white/male/cis/straight/able-bodied/financially secure people to stop asking marginalized people to take on that work for them, and start taking some of the responsibility on themselves. Fish for talent everywhere. Are the only screeners you’re getting to vote on come Oscar time for films starring cis, straight white people and created by them, too? Maybe…don’t rely entirely on screeners for your voting! Look for films to vote for. Reach out to independent production companies who might not have the budget to be able to get a screener to or host a screening for the entire Academy and ask to see their films. Maybe *gasp* at your own expense! (I mean, it’s not like money buys votes, right? I mean…RIGHT?!)

Don’t just think about the Oscars at Oscar time, and don’t only think about independent film when someone shoves an “indie darling” (which means it already has people supporting it and access to resources a lot of others don’t) in your face. Seek talent out. Everywhere. I realize this will be a lot more work, and no one person can watch everything…but there are 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Surely, y’all can divvy up the hundreds of films that are released each year and make sure everything gets seen.

And then you have to remember that, just because something is culturally important to you, doesn’t mean it’s culturally important to someone else – and vice-versa. You might not enjoy hip-hop, for example, but that doesn’t make a film like Straight Outta Compton worth being taken any less seriously (no, it’s the disregard for Dr. Dre’s history of violence against women that does that!). You might not be a woman, but that doesn’t make stories with nuanced female protagonists “less important” just because you for some reason can’t “see yourself” in her story despite the fact that she’s constantly being asked to see herself in yours. Ditto for LGBTQ+ people, disabled people, and the poor. You shouldn’t have to have lived something yourself to see the value in a story being told.

And it’s not just about diverse storytelling. I mean, it’s not as if people of color, or LGBTQ+ people only work on “those films.” People of color work on all sorts of films. It doesn’t, nor should it have to be, a film “about their community” to get them nominated.

What’s more, perhaps the very rules of nomination need to change. After all, in order to qualify, films need to screen in theaters in Los Angeles by a certain time. However, lots of amazing films go straight online and can’t afford a theatrical release. Granted, a lot of independent film is done by first-timers on a low budget, and therefore might not, to some, represent “the best” in film. But that’s subjective, isn’t it? Budget doesn’t dictate quality, talent does. There are films with budgets under a million dollars that are amazing, and there are multi-million dollar blockbusters that are garbage.

I completely respect Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs’ response to #OscarsSoWhite, and her commitment to diversifying the membership, but that’s not enough. If change is going to happen as quickly as it needs to, we can’t wait for it to happen organically through extrapolated diversity. We need to figure out how to make current members, right now, see the value in the stories and talent they’re ignoring. Members need to be encouraged to do their own outreach, and bring back more diverse choices for nomination – and perhaps they should be penalized if they don’t.

I don’t know the answers – it’s not my organization – but this is bigger than the Oscars, or even the film industry. Decisions made here affect how our nation is shaped, how children grow up seeing themselves, how our country moves forward and is seen in the eyes of the world. Do not take this lightly.

(via The Playlist, image via DFID/Flickr)

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19 Jan 17:40

Great Job, Internet!: This BFI infographic breaks film noir down to its essential elements

by Joe Blevins

The termfilm noir” (literally “black film”) was originally coined by French critic Nino Frank back in 1946 to describe a certain subspecies of American crime movies. But it took the British Film Institute to create an authoritative infographic that defines, quantifies, compares, and rank the masterworks of noir. In a stylish chart called “Darkness Visible,” designed by Melanie Patrick, the BFI identifies the crucial elements of plot, theme, style, and general philosophy of life that truly make a film noir. Not every film about detectives makes the cut, after all. But it does help to start out with an investigator “of relative integrity,” usually operating in an urban setting. Naturally, he’ll get mixed up with a criminal of some sort, probably a murderer. And no film noir would be complete without a dame or two, preferably one who is bad but beautiful and another who is good but ...

02 Dec 20:00

Why I don't flout copyright

by Matt Hall

Lots of people download movies illegally. Or spoof their IP addresses to get access to sports fixtures. Or use random images they found on the web in publications and presentations (I've even seen these with the watermark of the copyright owner on them!). Or download PDFs for people who aren't entitled to access (#icanhazpdf). Or use sketchy Russian paywall-crumbling hacks. It's kind of how the world works these days. And I realize that some of these things don't even sound illegal.

This might surprise some people, because I go on so much about sharing content, open geoscience, and so on. But I am an annoying stickler for copyright rules. I want people to be able to re-use any content they like, without breaking the law. And if people don't want to share their stuff, then I don't want to share it.

Maybe I'm just getting old and cranky, but FWIW here are my reasons:

  1. I'm a content producer. I would like to set some boundaries to how my stuff is shared. In my case, the boundaries amount to nothing more than attribution, which is only fair. But still, it's my call, and I think that's reasonable, at least until the material is, say, 5 years old. But some people don't understand that open is good, that shareable content is better than closed content, that this is the way the world wants it. And that leads to my second reason:
  2. I don't want to share closed stuff as if it was open. If someone doesn't openly license their stuff, they don't deserve the signal boost — they told the world to keep their stuff secret. Why would I give them the social and ethical benefits of open access while they enjoy the financial benefits of closed content? This monetary benefit comes from a different segment of the audience, obviously. At least half the people who download a movie illegally would not, I submit, have bought the movie at a fair price.

So make a stand for open content! Don't share stuff that the creator didn't give you permission to share. They don't deserve your gain filter.

17 Dec 20:17

Watch this paleoanthropologist answer a creationist's question about evolution being "just a theory"

by Mark Frauenfelder

"Why should we base the validity of all of our life's beliefs on a theory?" I'm not even sure what that question means, but the UC Berkeley student who asked it to Dr. White didn't look pleased by his fact-based answer.

From Wikipedia: Timothy Douglas White is an American paleoanthropologist and Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is most famous for his work on Lucy as Australopithecus afarensis with discoverer Donald Johanson.

11 Nov 14:34

Black Midi: compositions so complex humans can't perform them

by Rob Beschizza


Rhizome takes a look at the world of Black Midi, compositions with so many notes that to print them as musical notation would result simply in a giant blob of ink on the page.

We've previously written about Circus Galop, an inhumanly-polyphonic test suite for automatic pianos. This stuff makes it look rather minimalist. [via]

11 Nov 13:00

Kontor: A Souped-Up Pinterest For Office Design

by Diana Budds

"People have been trying to use Google image search or Pinterest, but they really don't fit the needs of a serious design conversation."

Say you want to redesign your office. Type "modern office" into Pinterest or Tumblr, and you'll see a slew of inspiring spaces, but you won't find much practical information like product names and manufacturers; maybe if you're lucky, the images will identify the architecture firm responsible. Kontor, which bills itself as "a visual network for workplace design," seeks to bridge the gap.

Read Full Story

06 Nov 12:42

What is the university for?

by Azra Raza

From Africa is a Country:

AfricaBound at once to a contract with the state and simultaneously to a public sphere, the university has had to reinvent its object of study, abiding by duration and commitments to the formation of students in respect of its reigning ideas. It is in the interstice of these seemingly opposing social demands that the inventiveness of the university as an institution is most discernable. Rather than being given to the dominant interests of the day, whether state, capital or public, the university ought by virtue of its idealism to be true to its commitment to name the question that defines the present in relation to which it sets to work, especially when that question of the present may not appear obvious to society at large. Yet, in naming this question the university is ethically required to make clear that it does not stand above society.

Today there is growing concern that the university has lost sight of its reigning idea – the demands of radical critique and timeliness – and all the contests that ensue from claims made on that idea. In the process its sense of inventiveness has been threatened by an encroaching sense of the de-schooling of society, instrumental reason and the effects of the changes in the technological resources of society that have altered the span of attention, retentional abilities, memory and recall, and at times, the very desire to think and reason. Scholars around the world bemoan the extent of plagiarism and lack of attention on the part of their students; features that they suggest have much to do with the changes wrought by the growth and expansion of new technological resources. What binds the university as a coherent system is now threatened by the waning of attention and the changes in processes of retention and memory. In these times, retention has been consigned to digital recording devices. Students and faculty are now compelled to labor under the illusion that the more that we store and the more we have stored, the more we presumably know.

More here.

06 Nov 11:15

Scientists Have Invented A Real-Life Tractor Beam That Manipulates Objects With Sound

by Charlie Sorrel

Powerful, carefully controlled sound waves could be used to control objects without having to touch them at all—even inside the human body.

This video shows a real live tractor beam in action. It uses an array of small speakers to levitate objects and to move them precisely through the air. The beam can even pull objects from above, just like the tractor beams that aliens spacecraft use to abduct human subjects for their terrifying experiments.

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03 Nov 14:00

NASA is Sending a Robot Geophysicist to Investigate the Interior of Mars

by Mika McKinnon on Earth & Space, shared by Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan to io9

What lurks beneath the dusty red surface of Mars? NASA’s InSight Lander is launching next spring to go delving deeper than ever before as the first Martian geophysicist.


06 Nov 18:39

Hear Arthur Miller Read From Death of a Salesman, His Great American Play (1955)

by Ayun Halliday

1949’s Death of a Salesman is one of the most enduring plays in the American canon, a staple of both community and professional theater.

Playwright Arthur Miller recalled that when the curtain fell on the first performance, there were “men in the audience sitting there with handkerchiefs over their faces. It was like a funeral.”

Robert Falls, Artistic Director of Chicago’s Goodman Theater, brings the experience of dozens of productions to bear when he describes it as the only play that “sends men weeping into the Men’s room.”

Small wonder that the titular part has become a grail of sorts for aging leading men eager to be taken seriously. Dustin Hoffman, George C. Scott, and Philip Seymour Hoffman have all had a go at Willy Loman, a role still associated with the towering Lee J. Cobb, who originated it.

(Willy’s wife, Linda, with her famous graveside admonition that “attention must be paid,” is considered no less of a plum part.)

On February 2, 1955, Arthur Miller joined Salesman’s first Mrs. Loman, Mildred Dunnock, to read selections from the script before a live audience at Manhattan’s 92nd Street YMCA. In addition to reading the role of Willy Loman, Miller supplied stage directions and explained his rationale for picking the featured scenes. The Pulitzer Prize winner’s New York accent and brusque manner make him a natural, and of course, who better to understand the nuances, motivations, and historical context of this tragically flawed character?

Miller told The New Yorker that he based Loman on his family friend, Manny Newman:

Manny lived in his own mind all the time. He never got out of it. Everything he said was totally unexpected. People regarded him as a kind of strange, completely untruthful personality. Very charming. I thought of him as a kind of wonderful inventor. For example, at will, he would suddenly say, “That’s a lovely suit you have on.” And for no reason at all, he’d say, “Three hundred dollars.” Now, everybody knew he never paid three hundred dollars for a suit in those days. At a party, he would lie down on his wife’s lap and pretend to be sucking her breast. He’d curl up on her lap—she was an immense woman. It was crazy. At the same time, there was something in him which was terribly moving. It was very moving, because his suffering was right on his skin, you see.

If Miller and Dunnock’s performance leaves you hungry for more, you can see her and Lee J. Cobb reprise their roles on television in a 1966 CBS production. See Act 1 above, and Act 2 here.

Related Content:

Albert Camus Talks About Adapting Dostoyevsky for the Theatre, 1959

Hear Antonin Artaud’s Censored, Never-Aired Radio Play: To Have Done With The Judgment of God (1947)

Peter Weiss’s Marat/Sade Pushed the Boundaries of Theater, and Still Does

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her play, Fawnbook, is now playing in New York City . Follow her @AyunHalliday

Hear Arthur Miller Read From Death of a Salesman, His Great American Play (1955) is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

03 Nov 18:37

Newswire: Ash Vs. Evil Dead’s first episode is streaming online for free

by Alex McCown

After we all lost our collective minds with happiness over word of the new Ash Vs. Evil Dead series, and then were heartily reassured by the news that it was actually pretty good, all that remained in our minds to cause uncertainty was, “Who the hell actually has a Starz subscription?” Well, it looks like Starz had that same concern. As a way of enticing those of us currently without access to the pay-cable channel to pony up our cash, it‘s made the first episode of Ash Vs. Evil Dead available for free online. Bruce Campbell’s Deadite fighter is currently streaming in all his glory, so you can watch and decide whether you think it’ll be worth investing the money in yet another channel.

Really, those of you who already get Starz should chime in with some comments below about the worthwhile-ness of a cable channel that ...

02 Nov 20:02

Explore the Beauty of Space With the NASA Photo Archives

by Taylor Glascock
Explore the Beauty of Space With the NASA Photo Archives

In a perfect blend of science and art, the NASA's archives still provoke wonder and awe.

The post Explore the Beauty of Space With the NASA Photo Archives appeared first on WIRED.

02 Nov 21:20

Amazon Increases Their Paid Parental Leave Policy on the Heels of Recent Bad Press

by Maddy Myers


Following on the heels of a New York Times investigative piece about the less-than-pleasant working conditions at Amazon, Jezebel reports that the company has quietly been implementing better paid leave policies for their employees. Of course, there’s no mandate here in the United States that would require the company to do this, unlike in other countries; as displayed in The Atlantic‘s research (pictured above), the good ol’ US of A is pretty far behind on this issue. It’s to a point where a massive company deciding to offer paid leave actually will earn them some good press in response. For example, Microsoft, NetflixFacebook, Yahoo, and Google have all revamped their own paid parental leave programs in recent years—to the relief of their employees, no doubt.

This seems like a no-brainer type of popular decision on Amazon’s part, to a point where it feels strange to congratulate them for it—especially given the “convenient” timing, following on the heels of the bad press that the company’s gotten recently. Prime Now workers at Amazon are in the midst of suing the company due to unfair working conditions, such as getting cheated out of wages and break times. Speaking of “convenience,” I guess all of those two-day and one-day shipping speeds came at a cost, huh?

(via Jezebel, image via The Atlantic)

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29 Oct 19:13

David Deutsch: Philosophy will be the key that unlocks artificial intelligence

by S. Abbas Raza

David Deutsch in The Guardian:

ScreenHunter_1473 Oct. 29 20.12To state that the human brain has capabilities that are, in some respects, far superior to those of all other known objects in the cosmos would be uncontroversial. The brain is the only kind of object capable of understanding that the cosmos is even there, or why there are infinitely many prime numbers, or that apples fall because of the curvature of space-time, or that obeying its own inborn instincts can be morally wrong, or that it itself exists. Nor are its unique abilities confined to such cerebral matters. The cold, physical fact is that it is the only kind of object that can propel itself into space and back without harm, or predict and prevent a meteor strike on itself, or cool objects to a billionth of a degree above absolute zero, or detect others of its kind across galactic distances.

But no brain on Earth is yet close to knowing what brains do in order to achieve any of that functionality. The enterprise of achieving it artificially – the field of "artificial general intelligence" or AGI – has made no progress whatever during the entire six decades of its existence.

Despite this long record of failure, AGI must be possible. That is because of a deep property of the laws of physics, namely the universality of computation. It entails that everything that the laws of physics require physical objects to do can, in principle, be emulated in arbitrarily fine detail by some program on a general-purpose computer, provided it is given enough time and memory.

So why has the field not progressed?

More here.

29 Oct 12:54

Revisiting Why Johnny Can't Code: Have We "Made the Print Too Small"?

by timothy
theodp writes: In What is Computer Science?, the kickoff video for Facebook's new TechPrep diversity initiative, FB product manager Adriel Frederick explains how he was hooked-on-coding after seeing the magic of a BASIC PRINT statement. His simple BASIC example is a nice contrast to the more complicated JavaScript and Ruby examples that were chosen to illustrate Mark Zuckerberg's what-is-coding video for schoolkids. In How to Teach Your Baby to Read, the authors explain, "It is safe to say that in particular very young children can read, provided that, in the beginning, you make the print very big." So, is introducing coding to schoolkids with modern programming languages instead of something like BASIC (2006) or even (gasp!) spreadsheets (2002) the coding equivalent of "making the print too small" for a child to see and understand?

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29 Oct 14:50

Fantastic new podcast - Home: Stories from L.A.

by Mark Frauenfelder


Frequent Boing Boing contributor Bill Barol has a new podcast, called Home: Stories from L.A., and it's about the concept of "home." Within his broad definition of the word, Bill reports on stories about interesting people in Los Angeles. It's well produced and fascinating. The first episode is called "The House on the Hill." (more…)

29 Oct 15:33

Stephen King Creates a List of 82 Books for Aspiring Writers (to Supplement an Earlier List of 96 Recommend Books)

by Josh Jones

Stephen King has given writers a lot to think about these past few years in his numerous interviews and in his statement of craft, On Writing. He deems one of his most salient pieces of advice on writing so important that he repeats it twice in his Top 20 Rules for Writers: writers, he says, “learn best by reading a lot…. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” To help his readers discover the right tools, King attached a list of 96 books at the end of On Writing, of which he said, “In some way or other, I suspect each book in the list had an influence on the books I wrote…. a good many of these might show you some new ways of doing your work.”

King’s original list of 96 books for aspiring writers generated a fair amount of comment on Aerogramme Writer’s Studio, who brought it to our attention last year. Later, the same web site brought us another list of 82 books, which King published in the 10th anniversary edition of On Writing. With King’s second list, as with the first, you’ll find that best-selling genre writers sit comfortably next to lit-class staples.

In this list, the spectrum of accessibility is a little narrower. We have fewer classic writers like Dickens or Conrad and fewer commercial novelists like Nelson DeMille. Instead the list is mostly twentieth century literary fiction by mostly living contemporaries, with little genre fiction save perhaps sci-fi/fantasy writer Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver, thriller author Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, hugely popular mystery writer Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and Patrick O’Brian’s adventure series. Below, we’ve excerpted a list of 15 books King recommends—books, he says, “which entertained and taught me.”

Kate AtkinsonOne Good Turn
Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake
Robert Bolaño, 2666
Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union
Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Neil Gaiman, American Gods
Denis Johnson, Tree of Smoke
Sue Monk Kid, The Secret Life of Bees
Elmore Leonard, Up in Honey’s Room
Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men
Jodi Picoult, Nineteen Minutes
Philip Roth, American Pastoral
Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children
Donna Tartt, The Little Friend
Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace 

King almost shrugs in his short introduction, writing, “you could do worse.” I expect many readers of this post might have suggestions for how they think you could also do better, especially given the five years that have passed since this list’s compilation and some of the blind spots that seem to persist in King’s reading habits. I doubt he would object much to any of us adding to, or subtracting from, his lists—or ignoring them altogether. It seems clear he thinks that like him, we should read what we like, as long as we’re always reading something. See the full list of 82 titles here.

Related Content:

Stephen King Creates a List of 96 Books for Aspiring Writers to Read

Stephen King’s Top 10 All-Time Favorite Books

Stephen King’s Top 20 Rules for Writers

7 Free Stephen King Stories: Presented in Text, Audio, Web Comic & a Graphic Novel Video

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Stephen King Creates a List of 82 Books for Aspiring Writers (to Supplement an Earlier List of 96 Recommend Books) is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

29 Oct 15:46

Newswire: Star Wars superfan Stephen Colbert has a theory about The Force Awakens

by Alex McCown

When the official trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released last week, Star Wars fans the world over were sent anew into a frenzy of anticipation, “frenzy” and “anticipation” being the default settings for Star Wars fans when confronted with any news about the series. But perhaps none were as excited as self-proclaimed franchise fanatic Stephen Colbert, who apparently spent the off-time from his show last week putting together some thoughts about the trailer and what it means for the plot of the movie it advertises.

Now that there’s an honest-to-god trailer with “actual chunks of movie flavor crystals in it,” as Colbert puts it, he feels confident unleashing a theory about what’s going to happen in the new movie. Long story short, it involves what was once good becoming evil, what was once evil becoming good, and the Force being stretched almost to its breaking ...

28 Aug 12:56

Plotted: A Literary Atlas

by Jonathan Crowe

Book cover: Plotted: A Literary Atlas Coming in October from Zest Books: Andrew DeGraff's Plotted: A Literary Atlas, a collection of the artist's maps of fictional worlds. The Huffington Post has an interview with the author and sample pages from the book, from which we can get a sense both of DeGraff's distinct and idiosyncratic artwork and the books he chose to make maps for. They're not necessarily books you'd expect maps for (e.g., A Christmas Carol). These are maps of the stories -- not, as we see in fantasy maps, of the stories' setting -- which means a completely different perspective that takes into account both time and distance travelled.

Pre-order Plotted: A Literary Atlas at Amazon (Canada, U.K.)

11 Oct 11:36

Atlas of Cursed Places

by Jonathan Crowe

Book cover: Atlas of Cursed Places The first thing to keep in mind about Olivier Le Carrer's Atlas of Cursed Places is that it's not an atlas. Rather, it's a collection of brief essays about a series of unique places around the world. In that I suspect it's much like Judith Schalansky's Atlas of Remote Islands or Aude de Tocqueville's Atlas of Lost Cities (English translation forthcoming next year). All of these books shared a publisher in France; all of them appear to have been conceived under the influence of Calvino.

The Atlas of Cursed Places's essays are about places in the world that are, for one reason or another, particularly horrible, by dint of their history or geography. There are navigational hazards and environmental disasters, and sites of old horrors that were entirely human-made. Ghost towns, war zones, slums and mausoleums. Animal infestations. Each are engrossing, but the essays barely get started on their subjects: turn the page expecting more and you find yourself already on the next one. Each essay is an act of cruelty (very meta given the subject matter), whetting readers' appetites but denying us the feast.

In the end this is an exercise in curation: the choices are fascinating, but the essays are affective rather than substantive. In that sense this book is an even lighter read than Alastair Bonnet's Unruly Places (which seems to have much less Calvino in its book DNA).

(While not an atlas proper, this book does have a lot of maps illustrating each essay. But their effect is disorienting: each cursed place is indicated by a star on an old and out-of-date map, usually a plate from a century-old atlas.)

I received an electronic review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

Buy at Amazon (Canada, U.K.)

27 Oct 15:23

SXSW Interactive Cancels Gaming Harassment Panel Due to “Threats of Violence,” Fails to See Irony

by Maddy Myers

SXSW Interactive 2015

Last night, two sets of panelists scheduled to take part in discussions at SXSW 2016 learned that both of their panels had been cancelled: “SavePoint – A Discussion on the Gaming Community” and “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games.” In both cases, the panelists were informed that their panels had been removed from the schedule due to SXSW’s concerns about the public response to the panels and the resources that hosting them would require from SXSW’s staff.

Although neither panel mentions Gamergate by name in its title or description, the “Level Up” panel features multiple panelists who have been targeted by Gamergate. The “Save Point” panel got added to the schedule at a later date than “Level Up,” and some have described it as a Gamergate-affiliated response to the “Level Up” panel.

However, the “Level Up” panel had intended to discuss harassment in the gaming community in general—not just Gamergate. Katherine Cross, one of the “Level Up” panelists, told Giant Bomb:

The panel was meant to be a wide ranging discussion about how we might design websites, social media, and online games to be less susceptible to online harassment and hate mobbing. We were going to discuss various design proposals, including some already extant in the gaming industry that have been proven to work, but our panel was meant to be a solutions-oriented discussion of harassment in general.

It is unfortunate that SXSW alleged us to be “GamerGate” related. We did not mention GG in the proposal nor in the actual text of the panel description. GG is but one of many manifestations of online harassment and we did not want to get myopically bogged down in one case study, nor in re-litigating its specifics. We wanted to discuss the wider problem and solutions thereto.

Randi Lee Harper, one of the panelists on the “Level Up” panel, tweeted the following about SXSW’s provided reasoning for the panel cancellations:

SXSW just canceled our panel due to the number of threats of violence they have received.

— Literally Boo (@randileeharper) October 26, 2015

@ChrisWarcraft we just received the email canceling it. SXSW got too many violent threats. we’re discussing it now. — Literally Boo (@randileeharper) October 26, 2015

Perry Jones, who would have appeared on the “Save Point” panel, wrote in a blog post that the reason his panel got cancelled as well was due to the fact that SXSW did not want “two panels (on a major topic) to absorb all of their time and resources.” Jones does not mention “threats of violence” in the reasoning for his panel’s cancellation; that seems to have only been a matter of consideration for the “Level Up” panel.

According to Jones, an SXSW representative called him on the phone and said that they had “wanted to do something interesting that hadn’t really been done before” by hosting both of these panels on the schedule. However, wrote Jones, “SXSW feels that both the organization and its staff have been under siege from all sides and from all parties since they announced the panels early this month. They want to encourage open discussions, but they don’t want to fuel a vicious online war between two sides who are extremely opposed to one another.”

The Mary Sue contacted SXSW for comment at 5:12 PM last night and has yet to receive a response; this story will be updated if that changes.

Late last night, SXSW posted a blog post titled “Strong Community Management: Why We Canceled Two Panels For SXSW 2016,” in which SXSW Interactive Director Hugh Forrest explained the con’s reasons for canceling both panels: “SXSW has received numerous threats of on-site violence related to this programming. SXSW prides itself on being a big tent and a marketplace of diverse people and diverse ideas. However, preserving the sanctity of the big tent at SXSW Interactive necessitates that we keep the dialogue civil and respectful … Maintaining civil and respectful dialogue within the big tent is more important than any particular session.”

Although Forrest makes no reference to this in the post, one might speculate that another reason for SXSW’s decision could be the known issues with the security budget for this massive conference. In other words, it’s possible that SXSW simply could not accommodate the security demands presented by hosting these two panels. However, that was not the reason provided, and the statement that SXSW did provide has been met with disappointment from fans of SXSW.

Moments ago, BuzzFeed announced their intention to withdraw from SXSW if the conference does not reverse its decision to cancel these panels. Here’s an excerpt from the official statement signed by Ben Smith, EIC of BuzzFeed, Dao Nguyen, Publisher of BuzzFeed, and Ze Frank, President of BuzzFeed Motion Pictures: “We will feel compelled to withdraw [our panels] if the conference can’t find a way to do what those other targets of harassment do every day — to carry on important conversations in the face of harassment. We hope you can support the principle of free speech and engage a vital issue facing us and other constituents on the event.”

This post will be updated to reflect any further developments should they arise.

(image via SXSW Interactive)

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17 Oct 10:01

The phony “bathroom” issue

by Charles Kuffner

I am so tired of this.


Although Houston’s 36-page equal rights ordinance makes no mention of public restrooms, access to restrooms has become the focus of a raging public debate with the law set to go before voters on election day.

Opponents of the ordinance, largely conservative Christians, have flooded radio and TV with ads saying the law gives men dressed in women’s clothing, including sexual predators, the ability to enter a woman’s restroom. On Tuesday, the group released a TV spot that closes with a man bursting into a stall occupied by a young girl.

Supporters of the law, however, said the ordinance would in no way protect predators, pointing to a longstanding city law that bars someone from entering a restroom of the opposite sex with the intent to “cause a disturbance.” Legal experts agree the equal rights ordinance does not offer any protections to those who commit crimes, such as the oft-cited example of sexual assault, in a bathroom or any other place.

University of Houston law professor Peter Linzer said the law does not mean someone can enter a bathroom with the intent to commit a crime, regardless of gender.

“It’s a phony issue,” Linzer said. “If you commit a crime in a bathroom, you’re going to be prosecuted, and HERO is not a defense.”


Mayor Annise Parker pushed back this week on the idea that the ordinance in any way presents a public safety threat. The law is intended to protect someone’s consistent gender identity, not someone seeking to illegally gain access to a restroom.

“Two-hundred cities, 17 states have the same ordinance that we do or very similar wording that we do,” Parker said. “This just doesn’t happen. It is illegal for a sexual predator to go into a women’s restroom and attack anyone, and the idea that somehow the city of Houston is giving them free license is so offensive.”

Supporters of the ordinance have also questioned the authority of opponents on the issue of sexual conduct, given allegations against one of the group’s leaders.

That of course would be Kendall Baker, who is unironically out there warning people about perverts. I’m tired of talking about the lying and the lying liars who have been doing all this lying, so let’s talk a little about the truth. Here’s some truth about sexual assault from someone who’s spent a lifetime helping people who have been victims of it.

The talking point continues to be one of the most popular right-wing attacks on LGBT non-discrimination laws, and HERO’s opponents have used it relentlessly to weaken support for the measure among women and parents.

But in May 2014, during a public hearing before the Houston city council, HERO supporters gained a powerful voice in their fight against the “bathroom predator” talking point: Cassandra Thomas.

Thomas has spent thirty-one years at the Houston Area’s Women Center (HAWC), an organization dedicated to helping individuals affected by domestic and sexual violence. Aside from serving as HAWC’s Chief Compliance Officer, Thomas is also a member of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center Board and sits on the editorial board of the Sexual Assault Report of the Civic Research Center. She’s won numerous awards for her work on domestic and sexual violence, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

Testifying before the city council, Thomas drew on her decades of experience to dismiss opponents’ fearmongering. “If you really want to stop sexual assault,” Thomas said, “then let’s cut out the scare tactics, and let’s speak the truth.”


The problem with the “bathroom predator” talking point, she explained, is that it fundamentally misunderstands how and why sexual assault occurs.

“Transgender people are not my bogeyman in the closet. My bogeyman in the closet is the man who is a rapist who has a position of power, that everyone thinks, because he has power or because he’s nice or because he’s white or because any of those stupid reasons, that ‘I’m safe from him.’ That is my biggest fear.”

Thomas’ position has been echoed by sexual assault experts in states and cities with similar LGBT non-discrimination policies, and it’s supported by research. Sexual assault is overwhelmingly carried out by people victims know and trust — family members or friends, religious and community leaders, etc. — and not random predators who pretend to be transgender.

“It puts a bogeyman face on a group of people who don’t deserve it at all, who are, by no account, through what we know, are dangers,” she added.

Stereotypical images of shady-looking men sneaking into women’s restrooms — which have become a centerpiece of the anti-HERO campaign — give women a “false sense of security,” Thomas explained. “It makes women think that there are only certain places and certain people that I have to be afraid of and that’s not true. We don’t know what rapists look like. There’s no big R on their forehead. And that misinformation sets women up to be injured.”

When asked about why opponents of HERO had latched on to the “bathroom predator” talking point, Thomas dismissed the idea that HERO’s opponents were seriously motivated by a concern for women’s safety. “If it was about women’s safety then these same people would be involved in the anti-violence movement from the start,” she said.

“If these same people were concerned about the safety of women, they would have come out against any number of issues that have come up about sexual violence over the years, but they have been remarkably silent. So all of a sudden women are in danger because of transgender people? No. They’re not.”


27 Oct 21:50

Happy Black Cat Day! Some of My Favorite Black Cats

by Charline Jao

It’s Black Cat Day, so let’s learn a bit about the cultural significance of these adorable felines! Chris Poole of Cole & Marmalade outlines the history of black cats as a symbol of bad luck. It ends with the sad fact that these superstitions mean that black cats are less likely to be adopted, and are the first to be euthanized. Poole speaks lovingly of black cats, and call them lucky.

The UK Wellcome Collection also talks about different superstitions regarding black cats. Some are good, like Japan’s view that cats are lucky and, again, some bad.

Now, let’s celebrate some of my favorite black cats:

Luna (Sailor Moon)


Just look at that adorableness!

That cat in DreadOut (DreadOut)


This game is horrifying and the monsters are so scary that seeing this adorable little black cat feels like a nice warm hug in a cold evil building.

Salem Saberhagen (Sabrina the Teenage Witch)


He was just so snarky and vaguely evil! Ian James Corlett (EDIT: Corlett voiced the animated Salem, not the live-action one) Nick Bakay did a fantastic job voicing him.

Jiji (Kiki’s Delivery Service)


As a child who desperately wanted to be Kiki, Jiji was the ideal companion.

Henri (Paw de Deux)

Ok, so Henri isn’t completely black and I’m told the French isn’t perfect, but this melancholy kitty is one of my favorite things to ever come out of the internet!

These are just a couple of my favorite black cats, how about you? Let’s show black cats some love!

(via Laughing Squid)

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23 Oct 16:34

Notes from a hackathon

by Matt Hall

The spirit of invention is alive and well in exploration geophysics! Last weekend, Agile hosted the 3rd annual Geophysics Hackathon at Propeller, a large and very cool co-working space in New Orleans, Louisiana.

A community of creative scientists

Commensurate with the lower-than-usual turnout at the SEG Annual Meeting, which our event preceded, we had 15 hackers. The remaining hackers were not competing, but hanging out and self-teaching or hacking around with code.

As in Denver, we had an amazing showing from Colorado School of Mines, with 6 participants. I don't know what's in the water over there in the Rockies, or what the profs have been feeding these students, but it works. Such smart, creative talent. But it can't stay this one-sided... one day we'll provoke Stanford into competitive geophysics programming.

Other than the Mines crew, we had one other student (Agile's Ben Bougher, who's at UBC), the dynamic wiki duo from SEG, and the rest were professional geoscientists from large and small companies, so it was pretty well balanced between academia and industry.

Thank you

As always, we are indebted to the sponsors and supporters of the hackathon. The event would be impossible without their financial support, and much less fun without their eager participation. This year we teamed up with three companies:

  • OpenGeoSolutions, a fantastic group of geophysicists based in Calgary. You won't find better advice on signal processing problems. Jamie Alison and Greg Partyka also regularly do us the honour of judging our hackathon demos, which is wonderful.
  • EMC, a huge cloud computing company, generously supported us through David Holmes, their representative for our industry, and a fellow Landmark alum. David also kindly joined us for much of the hackathon, including the judging, which was great for the teams.
  • Palladium Consulting, a Houston-based bespoke software house run by Sebastian Good, were a new sponsor this year. Sebastian reached out to a New Orleans friend and business partner of his, Graham Ganssle, to act as a judge, and he was beyond generous with his time and insight all weekend. He also acted as a rich source of local knowledge.

Although he craves no spotlight, I have to recognize the personal generosity of Karl Schleicher of UT Austin, who is one of the most valuable assets our community has. His tireless promotion of open data and open source software is an inspiration.

And finally, Maitri Erwin again visited to judge the demos on Sunday. She brings the perfect blend of a deep and rigorous expertise in exploration geoscience and a broad and futuristic view of technology in the service of humankind. 

I will do a round up of the projects in the next couple of weeks. Look out for that because all of the projects this year were 'different'. In a good way.

If this all sounds like fun, mark your calendars for 2016! I think we're going to try running it after SEG next year, so set aside 22 and 23 October 2016, and we'll see you there. Bring a team!

PS You can already sign up for the hackathon in Europe at EAGE next year!

20 Oct 05:48

Monday highlights from SEG

by Matt Hall

Ben and I are in New Orleans at the 2015 SEG Annual Meeting, a fittingly subdued affair, given the industry turmoil recently. Lots of people are looking for work, others are thankful to have it.

We ran our annual Geophysics Hackathon over the weekend; I'll write more about that later this week. In a nutshell: despite a low-ish turnout, we had 6 great projects, all of them quite different from anything we've seen before. Once again, Colorado School of Mines dominated.

Beautiful maps

One of the most effective ways to make a tight scientific argument is to imagine trying to convince the most skeptical person you know that your method works. When it comes to seismic attribute analysis, I am that skeptical person.

Some of the nicest images I saw today were in the 'Attributes for Stratigraphic Analysis' session, chaired by Rupert Cole and Yuefeng Sun. For example, Tao Zhao, one of Kurt Marfurt's students, showed some beautiful images from the Waka 3D offshore New Zealand (Zhao & Marfurt). He used 2D colourmaps to co-render two attributes together, along with semblance mapped to opacity on a black layer, and were very nice to look at. However I was left wondering, and not for the first time, how we can do a better job calibrating those maps to geology. We (the interpretation community) need to stop side-stepping that issue; it's central to our credibility. Even if you have no wells, as in this study, you can still use forward models, analogs, or at least interpretation by a sedimentologist, preferably two.

© SEG and Zhao & Marfurt. Left to right: Peak spectral frequency and peak spectral magnitude; GLCM homogeneity; shape index and curvedness. All of the attributes are also corendered with Sobel edge detection.

© SEG and Zhao & Marfurt. Left to right: Peak spectral frequency and peak spectral magnitude; GLCM homogeneity; shape index and curvedness. All of the attributes are also corendered with Sobel edge detection.

Pavel Jilinski at GeoTeric gave a nice talk (Calazans Muniz et al.) about applying some of these sort of fancy displays to a large 3D dataset in Brazil, in a collaboration with Petrobras. The RGB displays of spectral attributes were as expected, but I had not seen their cyan-magenta-yellow (CMY) discontinuity displays before. They map dip to the yellow channel, similarity to the magenta channel, and 'tensor discontinuity' to the cyan channel. No, I don't know what that means either, but the displays were pretty cool.

Publications news

This evening we enjoyed the Editor's Dinner (I coordinate a TLE column and review for Geophysics and Interpretation, so it's totally legit). Good things are coming to the publication world: adopted Canadian Mauricio Sacchi is now Editor-in-Chief, there are no more page charges for colour in Geophysics (up to 10 pages), and watch out for video abstracts next year. Also, Chris Liner mentioned that Interpretation gets 18% of its submissions from oil companies, compared to only 5% for Geophysics. And I heard, but haven't verified, that downturns result in more papers. So at least our journals are healthy. (You do read them, right?)

That's it for today (well, yesterday). More tomorrow!


Calazans Muniz, Moises, Thomas Proença, and Pavel Jilinski (2015). Use of Color Blend of seismic attributes in the Exploration and Production Development - Risk Reduction. SEG Technical Program Expanded Abstracts 2015: pp. 1638-1642. doi: 10.1190/segam2015-5916038.1

Zhao, Tao, and Kurt J. Marfurt (2015). Attribute assisted seismic facies classification on a turbidite system in Canterbury Basin, offshore New Zealand. SEG Technical Program Expanded Abstracts 2015: pp. 1623-1627. doi: 10.1190/segam2015-5925849.1

09 Sep 16:06

Wander Over Yonder Is a Gift to Your Inner ’90s Kid - The OTHER amazing Disney cartoon with a stupid airing schedule.

by Vrai Kaiser

westley b

Imagine: 30 Rock‘s Kenneth Parcell as an adorable, fuzzy lollipop alien, traveling the galaxy to help people alongside his grumbly best friend (think Amethyst with a side of Turanga Leela), never visiting the same planet twice, and constantly thwarting the fairly inept galactic conquest of a hulking, bratty skeleton overlord and his halfway-between-Spongebob-and-Ice-King right hand eyeball—all imagined through the lens of the guy behind The Powerpuff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. With Disney’s animation budget behind it as a trade-off for the equally Disney diabolical airing schedule. That’s Wander Over Yonder, an absolute treat for any longtime fan of animation.

bored hater

One of the side effects of modern animation’s current exploration of serialized narrative, visual storytelling, and often heady surrealism and gravitas (an exploration I’m all for, you may’ve noticed) is a corresponding backlash against silliness. I don’t mean a discarding of comedy – Gravity Falls, Steven Universe, and Adventure Time are all very funny shows – but there’s almost a sense of justification behind all of them. They all have a sense of grounding to them, and while magical or outlandish things might happen the casts are still bound by a consistent set of rules with corresponding consequences. They are, in their way, grounded.

It feels like the growing pains of a medium that’s always been treated as disposable trying to justify itself as art (and going about it with a lot more dignity than comics and videogames, as a general note). And it’s led to beautiful, wonderful art that I have been known to shout about loudly and with great joy. But cartoons are such an endlessly versatile thing, that it seems a shame to risk discarding part of their identity – or at least, to relegate some of its components to “disposable” cartoons (no one can deny, I think, that in nerd culture there are Cartoons We Talk About and The Rest of Them, and the divide is distinct indeed).

what is happiness

And then along came Wander Over Yonder with an Emmy nomination, a newfangled spot on the AV Club’s review roster, and not a single doubt that the show is a capital-C cartoon. It embraces old fashioned sound effects (slide whistles! Trombones!), goofy slapstick and at times the loosest sense of storytelling with earnest enthusiasm. I started this essay with more than a few references, and not just to give a sense of the juggernaut amount of talent going on behind the scenes (just for the record, ’90s kids will recognize Wander’s pal Sylvia, aka Apil Winchell, as Recess’s Miss Finster; Lord Hater VA Keith Ferguson previously popped up in creator Craig McCracken’s work as Bloo, not to mention guest star heavy hitters like Jennifer Hale and James Marsden).

The show as a whole often feels like a love letter to classic animation, taking up the baton from Animaniacs in terms of Warner Brothers homages and nodding all the way back to Fleischer and classic MGM (a show after my own heart, as someone who grew up on Tex Avery). There’s a sense in every frame of wanting to honor the cleverness and innovation of the old while mixing in elements of the new. “Dare to be stupid,” as McCracken himself homaged.

Its design mixes almost harsh color contrasts with thick lineart and loose animation that’s both sharply aware of how to creatively save costs and bust out the big guns for a truly spectacular showstopper chase or musical number. And such music! Folksy banjo tunes from Wander himself, played with such warmth by Jack McBrayer that I’m only sad I’ve not heard him sing before now; narrating-the-onscreen-action montage songs that are both on the nose and yet varied and light enough (the lyrics often take active attention to discern), and a few well-chosen leitmotifs for the central cast that serve the comedy as well as the heart.

As much as the classic animation nods and visual flair make the show stand out at a glance, it’s the show’s sentimental core that makes it worth staying for. Despite the amount of physical punishment an episode might give out, there are a set of bonds that the main cast values and is willing to fight for, which becomes the grounding element even when physical cause and effect go out the window.

op image

And core to it all is Wander himself, who at first glance is the typical naïve optimist heart a la Steven or Mabel. But that’s not quite true, and the distinction is part of what makes the show so refreshing: Wander is an adult, someone who’s seen the worst of the universe and is actively choosing to embrace hope, rather than a child whose big heart hasn’t been hurt yet; there’s a depth to him that the story touches on but allows to remain a touch “magical,” and enough flaws to keep his character from falling flat.

Perhaps most importantly, his Bugs Bunny-inspired hijinks lack the cruelty of some of his predecessors, forsaking the sense of karmic retribution (Hater particularly has been named as the “real” protagonist of the series, and he has his endearing little Team Rocket-esque victories) for an escape plan that lasts only until the pursuer is willing to slow down and make friends instead. There is something viscerally endearing about seeing that kind of knowing, zen positivity in an adult protagonist, and it sets Wander apart as something special.

The show has one completed season comprised of 39 episodes (mostly 11 minutes in length, excepting “The Little Guy”), and has currently aired seven episodes (one half hour, six 11 minute) of its second season. Said second season is split into four quarters each kicked off by a status quo changing half hour segment, and so far it’s been going from strength to strength. But if you’re thinking of jumping straight into the new material, let me give you some choice selections from the (episodic) first season to check out. For the sake of ease, and because all shows start out with growing pains, I’ve put them in airing order rather than trying to rank them (if you’re curious about the episodes I haven’t linked here, I’ve been livetweeting my way through the series).

SD in a nutshell

  1. The Prisoner – Hater’s second in command, Commander Peepers, successfully captures Wander. Kinda. Almost pure slapstick, but madcap in a raw and enjoyable way; the chase sequence heavily reminiscent of The Thief and the Cobbler basically guaranteed it a spot here.
  2. The Box – Wander and Sylvia are tasked to deliver a package, unopened. Wander really wants to know what’s inside. The first real glimpse of Wander as a flawed character and all the endearment that comes with it, with some downright Pink Elephants surrealism. My absolute favorite of the first dozen episodes.
  3. The Little Guy – One of Hater’s smallest watchdogs (voiced by Aziz Ansari) gets stranded with – er, “captures” Wander and Sylvia. A very rare full length episode for season one, easygoing and gentle with both the gags and the heartmelting ending.
  4. The Hero – HEROIC BRAD STARLIGHT sets out to fulfill his totally destined prophesy and enlists Wander as his sidekick. Because I wasn’t going to NOT include James Marsden basically playing a jerkier version of his character from Enchanted, or anything involving Jennifer Hale.
  5. The Tourist – Wander meets a fellow nomad and gets sucked into a competition over who’s been to more places. Episodes concentrating on Wander’s flaws tend to be my favorite – rather than detracting, they round out his sweet and gentle character to a wonderful whole.
  6. The Brainstorm – Peepers tries to successfully pitch an invasion plan to Hater. Or “the episode born from many frustrated writer room pitches.” The fantasy segments let the animators cut loose and have some fun at the expense of their own formula, and both this episode and “The Funk” do great work in highlighting the weird, dependent bond between Hatere and C. Peeps.
  7. The Void – Wander and Sylvia find a door into an empty dimension that can create anything. An absolute must for any fan of surreal animation, and a mad showcase of what the show can do at the furthest limits of its restraints (and also, a little bit, WOY’s response to the seminal “Duck Amok”). Fantastic start to finish.
  8. The Gift 2: the Giftening – Hater and Peepers try to figure out who’s been giving the watchdogs presents, spreading an infection of “happiness” across the ship. A brilliant tone piece that elevates Wander’s usual joy spreading to the full zombie plague treatment. This one’s the Emmy nod, and it couldn’t have deserved it more.
  9. The Buddies – Wander and Hater get dropped into a prison dimension, where Hater must pretend to be Wander’s friend. Any time Wander’s tireless attempts to warm up to Hater (and Hater’s downright tsundere response) get spotlighted is guaranteed to be a delight, with this having the distinction of getting a full episode focus.
  10. The Enemies – Brad and Hater team up to destroy Wander. Just when the chase pattern of the usual Hater episode threatened to grow stale, throwing in Brad’s unique brand of egoism makes it fresh again, with Wander’s unfailing cheeriness making this an electric clash of personalities.
  11. The Gift – The Wander-and-Sylvia side of “The Giftening.” A great exercise in how non-diegetic elements such as music, framing, and lighting can completely change an identical script. Also just a sweet cap to the season.

screwball jones

If you find yourself hooked, I’d recommend blowing straight through season 2 (speaking of, dear readers, would you be interested in following along with season 2 alongside yours truly?). As I said, there’s not been a bad episode yet. And it has Weird Al as an evil singing banana. What more could you want?

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Vrai is a queer author and pop culture blogger; they never thought they shed tears over a fuzzy space spoon, but here we are. You can read more essays and find out about their fiction at Fashionable Tinfoil Accessories, support their work via Patreon or PayPal, or remind them of the existence of Tweets.

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09 Sep 16:30

An Open Letter to Aimee Nezhukumatathil

by Kazim Ali

Dear Aimee,

So the latest thing (why is there always a latest thing) is that a white man used a Chinese name to submit poems that were then chosen for Prairie Schooner and then included in Best American Poetry 2015 which of course has a lovely poem of yours in it too! Your first appearance, you said. The scandal no one is talking about (because they are talking about Michael Derrick Hudson’s appropriation of the name Yi-Fen Chou and judge Sherman Alexie’s ridiculous justification for including the poem) is that somehow this is your first time in that book? When you’ve been producing some of the most beautiful (and widely read) books of contemporary poetry now for more than ten years?

It calls into question of course, the notion of “best,” everyone knows that. Everyone knows these anthologies are subjective but you cannot argue with the general underrepresentation of women and people of color in all of these gatekeeping, canon-making structures. In a letter a long time ago, Annie Finch argued that women and people of color (and other marginalized writers) needed to participate in canon-making structures by reviewing, writing critically, curating events, translating, editing and publishing. I’ve taken that very much to heart and I know you have too. I think just looking at the landscape of contemporary writing the radically increased presence of Asian-American poets seems directly in relationship to Kundiman’s arrival on the scene ten years ago.

We have many such organizations now like VIDA and Cave Canem and VONA and the Lambda Literary Foundation. And yet organizations like AWPBest American Poetry, and other established national organizations have a long way to go. From the Undocupoets to the Mongrel Coalition Against Gringpo, there has also been a new commitment on the part of younger and less established writers to definitive action at creating space for themselves in the literary world. That world—like most others—operates by a system of gatekeeping, curating and defining that purports to be based on the nebulous idea of “literary merit.” No one has really been able to define “good writing” since, well, ever. And the notion of “merit” is predicated on a system of privileges based on race, class, gender, physical and mental abilities, sexuality and other factors.

Students with access to the best secondary education receive opportunities and support to enroll in the best colleges. I haven’t seen the numbers but I will wager that students who enroll in the best colleges have a better than average chance of getting into the best graduate programs. Sure, there are probably exceptions to the rule, but the “exception” proves the rule, as they say. I know many writers (maybe the best ones, I don’t know) are not coming through the academic route but from my perspective (from inside said academy) I know the advantages that sustained study and time to focus can offer writers of color.

Whose books are getting published? Who is getting chosen to be on the committees and boards that set the agendas for professional conferences? Who is “curating?” Sherman Alexie disappointed me so much when he characterized his very correct instinct toward inclusivity as “racial nepotism.” He compounded that disappointment by arguing that “most” white writers who benefited from nepotism were good writers, so why complain? And then of course the worst part: even after discovering that Hudson has adopted a Chinese pseudonym he allowed the poem to be published, thus cinching for me the irrelevance of his particular kind of editorial acumen. There’s no such thing as reading “blind.” Context always matters.

Which hurts of course because he chose your poem also and I celebrate your work. Maybe we need a different approach. Maybe we don’t need a “Best,” especially not one published by a corporate publisher with guest editors chosen through some nebulous process. The most interesting volume of that series (in which I also appeared once) is the one from 1996 whose editor, Adrienne Rich, spent her introduction arguing precisely against the notion of “literary merit.” It was the only volume whose contents were excluded from the Best of the Best American Poetry edited by Harold Bloom. Which is enough to recommend it to me.

You and I are both poets who are experiencing a measure (a large measure, some would say) of success in publishing and “mainstream” (whatever in the world that could mean in relationship to poetry, but still–) exposure in the poetry world. We publish with established presses, in big journals, are tenured in academic institutions. Hey, we have both now been in Best American Poetry!

But you know something? This Yi-Fen Chou thing makes me wonder if to gatekeepers my life, my experiences, my writing are just decoration in the larger white narrative. Maybe the fact of what relative success I do enjoy means I am a “safe” writer, unthreatening. Did I get this far because I am a queer writer, a Muslim writer, a South Asian writer? Now I am filled with doubts because all of those things are precisely what made me feel marginalized.

Aimee, I’ve haven’t just been in American Poetry Review, I’ve been on its cover. So if someone like me, having been in that position, could be afflicted by this kind of doubt, imagine what it is like for our younger peers, the young Kazim and the young Aimee out there who are constantly being told that their kind of English, their kind of poetry isn’t right, plus their parents don’t want them to major in English or Creative Writing in the first place or they couldn’t go to college for economic or social reasons, plus even if they got in they were unable to get accepted into a Creative Writing workshop anyhow.

I remember huddling up in the hotel bar with you at the last AWP, talking about how difficult it is to teach at all—that we have to turn away so many students you want to work with. And we talked about how we ourselves are seen as writers and teachers of color—that being Asian/Pacific does not help you that much when programs are looking to diversify their faculties because for the majority of them, there is a hierarchy of inclusion. I can tell you this: when you talked about how hard it is to walk through the world with the name “Nezhukumatathil” is struck a chord in me. Not just because our names are hard to “say” properly but because that is just a metaphor for our lives. Our lives are hard to “say” properly. That is what we do in literature. And you and I have comparatively easy. We had some level of class privilege, we got educations; we also had the protection that our skin (i.e. not Black) afforded us in the larger world. But for all of that, we both know how hard it was to get everything we’ve gotten—how hard to get attention paid to us in a workshop, how difficult to beat the odds and get into a good graduate school to get the jobs we have, to be taken seriously by our colleagues in the jobs we have! Our challenge continues.

I had a friend—a friend—tell me I was lucky because being a Muslim poet was “hot,” i.e. it would help me get published. Do you know how lovely it has been to be a Muslim, a gay one at that, in post-2001 America? So very lovely, let me tell you. And if there is an editor out there who is forward thinking and wants to pay a little more attention to my poems because that person thinks a Muslim perspective would be valuable and interesting then I’ll take it. Unapologetically.

But the transformation can’t just be curatorial within existing institutions; it has to be structural. Those institutions—academic programs, journals, presses, anthologies, associations, what Mark Nowak used to call “the neo-liberal language industry”—have to make real and concrete transformations toward serving writers of color, lower income writers and so on.

The issue of transforming the landscape of literature is huge and complicated. I get that. But I know a couple of things—writers and teachers of color who have access to broader platforms can contribute to structural changes that allow more diverse voices to develop and be heard. The notion of an unbiased concept “literary merit” is an inherently and inescapably racist principle. An institution that relies on it is by definition a white supremacist institution.

The institutions are racist because by not taking into account issues of cultural and national and sexual and other kinds of “difference,” they are proactively promoting types of poetry and writing that supports established political and economic systems. An organization like AWP can prove its relevance by seriously and structurally addressing issues of inclusion. Every publisher, every series like Best American Poetry, should be doing the same. And if organizations like these ones can’t change or refuse structural change (not just inviting or including more writers of color into their halls or pages) then they are actually doing harm and ought to be done away with.

In the meantime, I have to support and laud organizations like Kundiman and the Lambda Literary Foundation, both of whom I have taught for, for creating spaces in which writers from marginalized communities can develop and grow. Publishers like Alice James Books, who have done so much to bring emerging Asian-American poets to publication and Sibling Rivalry Press who have done the same for queer voices, also deserve praise and support. The model’s not perfect and there are still access issues to work through but these are the kinds of organizations that are doing the work in poetry I want to be involved with and support.

I know a lot of your friends are sending you notes of support on social media telling you how much your poem in Best American Poetry deserves the attention it gets there and that they (we) hope that the Yi-Fen Chou thing doesn’t detract from that. But what I really want to tell you is that your poetry has always been the best of American poetry to me. And you’ve been an incredible teacher and role model for many younger poems, including (especially?) Asian/Pacific diaspora poets. Your worth was neither validated nor compromised by your appearance in the Best American Poetry anthology.

We are all working toward making contact with our readers who are out there, no matter many or few they are. These kinds of anthologies and institutions can help us reach more of them and so I do advocate the building and supporting of literary institutions. I believe in a broad and comprehensive contextual understanding of poetic “craft;” I believe in editing and curating but not the kind that relies on old and unquestioned ideas. I believe in creative writing workshops but not the kind that exclude students based on outdated notions of “talent” or “skill.” I am looking forward to a different and more inclusive future.

And in the meantime I want to tell you that I honor your work so much. And you—everything about you: your poetry, your way of presenting yourself in the community, your kindness, your STYLE, your life as a teacher and mother and mentor, your role in Kundiman—have always been a major source of inspiration to me. I want to be more like you, devoted to the human and devoted to poetry. And the way you exist as a poet is a comfort to me because you make space in the world for me, you make it safe for me to be the kind of human and poet I want and need to be.

Your friend and supporter and reader,
Kazim Ali

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