Internet before Coffee? How does it affect your family?

laptop and coffeeHey, I just read a great NYT article that I think will ring true in your family as well.  Read this:

Coffee Can Wait.  Day’s First Stop is Online


Karl and Dorsey Gude of East Lansing, Mich., can remember simpler mornings, not too long ago. They sat together and chatted as they ate breakfast. They read the newspaper and competed only with the television for the attention of their two teenage sons.

That was so last century. Today, Mr. Gude wakes at around 6 a.m. to check his work e-mail and his Facebook and Twitter accounts. The two boys, Cole and Erik, start each morning with text messages, video games and Facebook.

The new routine quickly became a source of conflict in the family, with Ms. Gude complaining that technology was eating into family time. But ultimately even she partially succumbed, cracking open her laptop after breakfast.”

I’ve noticed that I’m online first thing.  I do manage to get coffee started and an english muffin in the toaster, but I’m there at the computer licketysplit.  

How much of this is part of internet addiction–or communication addiction?  I don’t know.  

Read this very funny, and poignant post in the same issue of the NYT today:

I’ve Got Mail–by Verlyn Klinkenborg


I wish my memory worked differently. I’d like to be able to conjure up an accurate image of my consciousness from, say, 25 years ago. You know what 25 years means: No cellphones, no e-mail, no Internet, no social networking (except with an actual drink in hand), and only the most primitive of personal computers. What I want to answer is a single question: Was I as addicted to the future then as I seem to be now?”

Care to share your experiences?  What were you like 25 years ago before all this technology gave us such instant access?

For science fiction writers this should be a good exercise to think through.  Whenever you are designing the future, think about the implications of one change, and see the effects ripple through society and culture.  Life 25 years ago is very different from the way it is now.  And for every good piece of technology there are consequences.  It’s just an interesting thought problem that might be fun to fuel a writing exercise: what small change in the world could bring about major cultural changes?

Muslim Punk Rock, or What Fiction Can Do

23moth_muslimThis just in from the New York Times. Michael Muhammad Knight wrote a book about Muslim-Americans forming a punk band in Buffalo New York. From the article by Christopher Maag, “Young Muslims Build a Subculture on an Underground Book“:

Five years ago, young Muslims across the United States began reading and passing along a blurry, photocopied novel called “The Taqwacores,” about imaginary punk rock Muslims in Buffalo.

“This book helped me create my identity,” said Naina Syed, 14, a high school freshman in Coventry, Conn.

A Muslim born in Pakistan, Naina said she spent hours on the phone listening to her older sister read the novel to her. “When I finally read the book for myself,” she said, “it was an amazing experience.”

The novel is “The Catcher in the Rye” for young Muslims, said Carl W. Ernst, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Springing from the imagination of Michael Muhammad Knight, it inspired disaffected young Muslims in the United States to form real Muslim punk bands and build their own subculture.

As a writer, the article is fascinating to me. Fiction has the power to give method and ideas to real people, helping to create reality. Now Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight isn’t gonna make vampires out of anyone–but it might make teenage girls want a chaste boyfriend. But Taqwacores imagined a reality for alienated Muslim teens in the States, a way to cope, a way to establish a new identity, a counter culture. The book empowers people. Through fiction.

Countless movies have played on the idea that a writer could create reality through writing about it–they are mostly comedies. But the concept, I think, is a powerful one. What if –instead of reflecting culture–we created it? What if we consciously created something that was not there before–something that could happen–so that it inspires others to create it?

Science Fiction often does this in reverse. Create something that we DON’T want around and then destroy it. And thank God we got rid of “it.” I think the Shine Anthology is seeking to help us imagine some creative solutions–and I still encourage you to submit. But I want to keep harping on the idea that you, as writers, can change the world. Michael M. Knight did. (I love that his name is the same as the hero from Knight Rider, the 80s TV show (with recent makeover)).

Go create something you want to see that doesn’t exist right now. Like Knight, create a subculture for disenfranchised teens. Or create the ultimate youth center in your town and inspire someone to imagine the real one. Or show oppressed people in power, how a family operates using green technology in their house, believable, doable, possible things. And then I hope your novel is photocopied and passed around and around and around. The world.

The Wonderfulness of “It’s A Wonderful Life”

jamesstewart460This is my favorite Christmas movie.  So I’m a bit palled by recent articles that this is a dark film, or that George Bailey should never have been born.  Mainly, this is a response to a NYT article (and a short video commentary) about the “dark side” of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  (But you can also see the seething condescension for Capra’s human vision in this article, “It’s a Wonderful Lie”)

Wonderful? Sorry, George, It’s a Pitiful Dreadful Life! by Wendell Jamieson revises, or attempts to revise the viewer’s reception of this movie, by making us concentrate on how miserable George’s life really was.

<“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams, of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people. It is a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away, of becoming so filled with rage that you verbally abuse your children, their teacher and your oppressively perfect wife. It is also a nightmare account of an endless home renovation.>

While these are George’s circumstances, this not the point of the movie.  Coming out in 1946, this movie exemplifies the self-sacrifice that many Americans made during the war and the depression to get their families through.  Undoubtedly it was a paean to all those people who had sacrificed what they wanted for what was good for the country.  George Bailey still stands as an exemplary “citizen” who sacrifices his dreams–which if you look at them closely are founded on the idea of escape, and a small opinion of his small town–to care for the people of his town.  This film, for 1946, has a strong inclusive argument for immigrants.  Potter hates them; Bailey wants to give them a chance.  Certainly Capra’s viewers would have seen many immigrants in the 30s and 40s struggling with them in hard times.

The movie is also about the power of one man to fight against the greed and power of another man.  Bailey and Potter are two sides of this coin of power: Potter would rule Bedford Falls without George in his way.  But to do something great requires sacrifice.

Sadly, Jamieson doesn’t see the point of self-sacrifice.  I admire George for giving away his Honeymoon money to help the town stay afloat.  I admire Mary Bailey for all the reasons that Jamieson discounts her.  He calls her “oppressively perfect.”  I’m not sure WHO she’s oppressing.  She wants George to stay at home and raise a family, sure.  But she’s also willing to make the sacrifices and understands George’s need to help others.  She’s also the force that goes door to door to help raise funds for him.

Bedford Falls is not perfect—but it’s not stultifying.  Certainly it is better than Pottersville.  Jamieson disagrees:

Here’s the thing about Pottersville that struck me when I was 15: It looks like much more fun than stultifying Bedford Falls — the women are hot, the music swings, and the fun times go on all night. If anything, Pottersville captures just the type of excitement George had long been seeking

He later makes the point that Pottersville would have been a “resort town” and would have survived the latest crashes on Wall Street. Resort town?  Who’s he kidding.  No one looked happy or having “fun times.”  No one is happy in this version; not Mary, not Violet, not Bert or Ernie.  No one has a better life in the de-Georged version.  I saw bars and dance halls, triple X movie theatres, and people were in these places not because they were happy–they were there to drown themselves.  It wasn’t excitement.  I saw chaos.  Everyone was angry, bitter, frightened.
Jamieson catalogues George’s set of woes as if he is making a criminal case against God himself (or fate):

Soon enough, though, the darkness sets in. George’s brother, Harry (Todd Karns), almost drowns in a childhood accident; Mr. Gower, a pharmacist, nearly poisons a sick child; and then George, a head taller than everyone else, becomes the pathetic older sibling creepily hanging around Harry’s high school graduation party. That night George humiliates his future wife, Mary (Donna Reed), by forcing her to hide behind a bush naked, and the evening ends with his father’s sudden death.

Okay, I have never thought of the flirting scene with Mary as a humiliating moment with Mary, but merely of two kids who are teasing each other.  I don’t know what lens Jamieson sees this movie, but it is a twisted one–bringing out the dark elements and calling them the point.

I admire this film because it reminds us to think of others.  It is a lesson to the viewer who might be a George–that they DO count, that they have made a difference–and a template for those who might know a George on how to be a friend in times of need.  Everyone at the end sacrifices their small needs for George.  While Jamieson makes the case that George would still have been libel for the stolen money—no one in the film has accused anyone yet.  While the bank examiner has a warrant for George’s arrest–the policeman rips it in two a the party.  If they supply the $8000 back, then the money never went missing–especially if the bank examiner and the police are conspirators on forgetting the whole thing.

George Bailey is canonized in the hearts of Americans because he does good for others for the sake of doing good.  While, yes, his human rage at having been denied so many things gets the better of him at the beginning, it’s all the more to remind us how fragile our saints can be–that George is not a God nor a robot, but a man who makes the better choices each time.  Until, he can’t do them any more.

Writing a story, an author is told to torture his main character.  Good plots do this well–by taking away what our characters hold dear.  “Wonderful Life” just follows that pattern–taking away from George until he is laid bare on the night when his life could be destroyed.  His miracle is less a miracle than a vision.  It works so well as a device because despite the hocus-pocus of Becoming Pottersville, the idea is something we can actually envision for ourselves.  Each of us can imagine our own Pottersville in the wake of our disappearance–and this can reassure us in our darkest times.  I think we have all been on the bridge, looking at that swirling water.  We may need a Clarence to point out our worth, a human Clarence, which requires us to step up.  But in the end “It’s a Wonderful Life” is about the value of community–and for all George’s sacrifices he gained a community that loved him.  Don’t discount this.  In our heady, Me-oriented societies–we’re losing the idea of our community.  And when we get to the bridge, I’m afraid we won’t have a Clarence, and we won’t have the vision to see that we made any difference in the lives of others if we don’t practice self-sacrifice.  I’m not one to talk–having not done much—but I am one to watch and learn from George Bailey.

Bring Back the Woolly Mammoth? It’s the future again.

woolly_mammoth_siberian_tundraHey, right before you hear my new radio series, Yukon 2058, and get to hunt mammoths in Vuntut National Park on hoverdoos, read this editorial.

Bring Back the Woolly Mammoth?

I think one might find Vuntut National Park a logical place to put the mammoths and to grow the steppe grasses, some of which we still have.  Beringia didn’t lose everything to an ice age–and I think we could create a huge area of this grass for the mammoths.  Should we do it?  It’ll probably be expensive, but it’s not Canada who’s funding it.  Ethically?  I hear the author of the editorial–who still has Jurassic Park on his mind.  This is the equivalent of asking should you get a dog when you live in an apartment.  Is it good for the dog?  Who knows what dogs in apartments think?  And who knows what birthing a mammoth will do.  I don’t think it’s wrong to try. We’ve created Ligers before (lion and tiger mixes)–we breed purebred dogs and create breeds (this is NOT natural)–and we can learn a lot about mammoths by having a herd of them.  I see nothing wrong in trying.   But you decide.

I posit what we might do with mammoth in Yukon 2058, the radio series coming to CBC on December 1st.  I think they could have a positive impact, and certainly science has learned a lot through many other experiments.  Creating life is a much better idea than killing it.  Would it be torture?  Or would the apartment dweller adapt to the needs of the dog?  Create the grasses from the DNA of the seeds in the mammoth stomach–do the habitat research ahead of bringing back the mammoth.

Bring back Steppe Grasses?  Yes.  And do it a long time before you bring back the mammoth.  It’s always good if you can make the apartment livable for a big dog.

And for Contrast: The Empire Goes Slack

In my blog entry/movie review “On Clones and The Clone Wars” I try to make the argument that the movie fails as an adult product–of which Star Wars had amassed millions of fans (not just sci-fi fans, but folks who grew up with the series as a defining part of their childhood, and a cultural reference)–but succeeds as a kid’s product, which is what it intended to do.

For more on the end of Star Wars fandom read this from the New York Times:

The Empire Goes Slack

Let me once again reiterate that the audience for this film was kids.  Unfortunately, the audience really ready for the film was made up of adults with much higher expectations (and a lot of pent up impatience from having two bad films precede this)–and frankly it matters more to them that Lucas pay attention to them, the loyalists, rather than pandering to a new set of toy-buying kids.   Lucas blundered here, yes.

However, can you imagine a kid’s series on TV with a better universe to play with, better settings, better graphics (minus the marionette characters) ?  Yep, those characters we loved have had the final bits of real character squeezed from their puppet forms…but perhaps Lucas is hoping that the kids will discover the Star Wars movies again.  Maybe Clone Wars is a metaphorical giant hand with fingers pointing back to Episodes 1-6, even as another finger points to the Wal-mart toy shelves.

So, your kids might be benefiting from Lucas’ franchise and cleverness, while the jilted adults are smoldering in the back room.