lest we forget…

first rafMy sixth post with Criminal Element has gone live. It expresses some of my opinions about World War II. Culturally, we’re obsessed with that time in history. I’m no exception. The image here is an example (me portraying a Royal Air Force air commodore). The post linked above shares some reasons why.

dear Brutus…

dna chain

In mid-May of 2014, at the 60th anniversary of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC), Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) was quoted as stating the equivalent of “There’s no gene for invasion in Chinese people’s blood.”

In late June of that year, Jürgen Klinsmann, the head coach of United States Men’s National Soccer Team (USMNT) said, “It’s not in the U.S. DNA to go out and play for a draw, nor is it in the German DNA, we’ll both be playing to win.”

The phrase “not in our DNA” has long been a bête noire for me. The connotation is, more often than not, used to state an aversion somehow built in to the behavior of a person or group. As such, it is a reversal of the late ‘90s business jargon of “corporate DNA”. In that context it was meant to express what was part of a company’s vision, mission, and culture. It has evolved into what could become a dangerous misconception based on casual misuse.

While technically correct, behavior is not dictated by DNA, the metaphor has become very common in American political discourse. In May of 2011, then presidential candidate Herman Cain voiced the opinion that being No. 2 economically and militarily is not in our DNA. This bad habit is not limited to the GOP either; their critics often charge that “unlike the conservatives, it’s just not in our DNA.”

Often this is used to hint at one position having moral superiority over the opposing side. Last year, President Obama opined that discrimination casts “a long shadow and that’s still part of our DNA that’s passed on.”

Misuse of “DNA” and what result it may or may not produce is probably unrelated to doubt of or actual opposition to science. For the most part, we trust doctors to use true understanding of genetics to treat or prevent disease. Increasingly we expect forensicologists to employ the same discipline either to convict or exonerate in matters of jurisprudence.

But at the same time the suspicion that the moon landing was a hoax persists and the anti-vaxxer subculture has been gaining strength for more than a century; it’s nothing new.

If we’re not careful about science, whether from ignorance or Luddism, in fiction or reality we run the risk of making potentially tragic mistakes. The Inquisition tried Galileo for heresy in 1633. He was sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life. Pope Urban VIII had acted out of anger and fear of science and its implications. Considering other acts of the Inquisition, Galileo got off lucky. It took the Vatican almost 360 years to come full circle on their decision with Pope John Paul II finally admitting the errors of the Catholic Church in that regard.

Misapprehension of science including genetics did not spare Alan Turing unfortunate and severe persecution. The father of artificial intelligence and hero of breaking the German Enigma cipher machines during WWII was honored in 1945 with induction to the Order of the British Empire. Six years later he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

The following year he was convicted of gross indecency (homosexuality was considered criminal in the United Kingdom from 1885 to 1967) and given a choice between imprisonment and probation. He chose the latter but that forced him agree to hormonal treatment designed to reduce libido. It is a widely held belief this judgment led to Turing committing suicide.

It may be hyperbolic to suggest that “It’s not in our DNA.” could lead to future attempts to cure racial or ideological diversity. There probably won’t be further recourse to medicine to enforce conformity with regard to gender binary. But misconceptions, like their cousin – superstition, die hard.

There are dangers in a political climate where one side seeks to make opposition illegal, or worse, misuse science to eradicate it. I can’t – and I don’t think we should – avoid the worry that any belief that fault lies in our stars (i.e., that our behavior is chained to our DNA) could end in catastrophe.


Oh, the places he’d been…

Today is the birthday of a man known as Dr. Theophrastus Seuss. I’ve more of an affinity for his work than I think I’ve reason to do so. It isn’t just Horton Hears a Who! or the one about all those fish that I remember fondly; the particular favorite is On Beyond Zebra!

Criminal Element has published a new essay of mine, in which I cover some of the less well-known details of Mr. Geisel’s life and career. In preparing for the article I discovered some details I’d either forgotten or never knew at all.

Now I want to see a biographical film. In the meantime, please consider reading the post with CE.

Hi-Code


ناظم

 

On the plurality of worldviews…

The presentation of a heptad of must-see sights in all the world is at least 2,500 years old. Only a few of the actual lists survive; some are known only by reference made in other works. There is generally agreement on six of the seven wonders. The Colossus of Rhodes could not have included by Herodotus. The supposedly harbour-spanning statue was not built until 150 years after his death.

All of the sets of Seven Wonders of the World do agree on one other thing. Each suggested stop for itineraries was offered with the pragmatism of actually paying a visit. Islands in the sky (Aeolia) and divine palaces (Mt. Olympus) never made the cut.

If allowing for the inclusion of imaginary places, no one’s list can be expected to match another. My birthday was this week so I’m treating myself to my choice of the seven. Your results may vary.

Dream

  • The Dreaming

Starting in January of 1989 author Neil Gaiman, and a pageant of talented artists beginning with Sam Kieth, gave us a continuing (re)introduction to the realm of Morpheus. The Dreaming contains everything dreamt or that might be. One location within that is of particular note is Lucien’s Library. Like the features of the domain surrounding it, the books shelved here do not exist in the real world. They are yet to be written (presumably including my own works-in-progress); once completed they vanish from the Dreaming.

The original comic series ran for 75 issues. Roughly a year later, Derek Pearcy adapted the French game Magna Veritas. Steve Jackson Games published it under the name In Nomine. One supplement for this game offered dreamlands as the province of the Archangel Blandine.

  • Arda, The Realm, etc.

Even before the film adaptations of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by Peter Jackson, artists were inspired to explore the legendarium of Middle-earth. The resulting work is just as inspiring, particularly when the subject is any place called home by the Elves. More than just an extended stay – living in Lothlórien or Imladris (better known as Rivendell) would be ideal.

  • The Wizarding World

If Hogwarts existed in reality, I doubt I’d enroll. (I’m probably more of a mutant than a mage.) However, I would certainly appreciate a tour the campus. Moving stairwells. Animated oil paintings. Interactive ghosts. The School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is a fascinating place. If venturing into the wider, though hidden, world of J. K. Rowling it would be fun to window shop Diagon Alley and maybe meet a dragon.

  • The Discworld

Landfall would not be necessary for the most stunning vista here. A few orbits and scads of photos would suffice. Terry Pratchett stated that the inspiration of Great A’Tuin was a summary of a myth he read at about the age of nine. The description of a flat land on the backs of elephants, themselves on the back of a giant turtle, he claimed was part of a book on astronomy.

The turtle in question is doubtless Akūpāra, the Unbounded, from Hindu literature. Similar beliefs appear in the lore of Native American nations, such as the Iroquois and Lenape.

  • The Etherium

When I was asked for a review of Treasure Planet (2002), I said it was the Disney film for which I’d waited my whole life. The novel on which it is based was, of course, an assignment but I enjoyed reading it. Tall ships and astronomy are mostly unrelated, life-long fascinations. How could a combination be bad?

This very concept was explored in Swords of the Swashbucklers (Marvel Comics, Oct. 1984; Epic Comics, Mar. 1985-Mar. 1987) and the Spelljammer campaign setting for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (TSR, Nov. 1989-Aug. 1993). There is also a scene in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), in which some of the characters escape from captivity by climbing the crescent moon. All the while, constellations swim like living creatures in the background.

Which brings us to Montressor Spaceport in the Etherium (i.e., outer space). Watching a crescent moon turn from this…

The Moon

to the view below was one of the most exciting elements of the film for me.

Montressor

  • The United Federation of Planets

Within the territory patrolled by Starfleet, one might wish to vacation on the so-called “Shore Leave planet” or on the “pleasure planet” of Risa. It would be interesting to witness two stars merging into one (as in “Ship in a Bottle”) or an actual Dyson sphere (“Relics”).

Alternatively, this could be where I’d snark about J. J. Abrams as a custodian of the Star Trek universe and the destruction of Spock’s homeworld but I’ll simply gesture in that direction – going straight on to planetfall.

t'khasi

Vulcan is a place about which I’ve some strong opinions. If fact-finding could happen on a fictional planet, this would be a dream come true.

Tardis

  • The TARDIS

The Doctor’s description of where the TARDIS can go is a perfect summary.

All of time and space; everywhere and anywhere; every star that ever was. Where do you want to start?

Where?

A tour of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World ending with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon gift shop.


All fled – all done? No. Not yet begun…

1658478_10152339202313623_868086721_oAn announcement was recently made so a post here that I’d expected to make next month can be early. (That might make up for missing a post or two while away at Dragon Con and Space Coast Comic Con.)

An opportunity to contribute to an upcoming anthology of Cthulhu-related stories was shared with me by my business partner and coauthor – Leanna Renee Hieber. A gentleman with whom she’s worked in the past, one Mr. Simon Berman, was collecting work for the project.

There were several topics to choose from and I selected the one that most closely matched a long-standing interest of mine. If you’ve been reading Surfing the Zeitgeist, you may even be able to guess. Ms. Hieber chose a different but no less compelling subject.

Guessing, however, won’t have to last very long. There will soon be a kickstarter effort to bring the anthology to a shelf near you (hopefully one in your own home library). Once that’s a success, you can confirm your suppositions about the topics selected. Until then, enjoy taking the role of paranormal investigator.

This was a very enjoyable project and also exciting. I may not yet have arrived but I can see the road signs.

12047141_10153708176873623_7567513244212927324_n

Takin’ it back…

Having been a member of the Boy Scouts, the presumption that all badges and patches were meant in celebration of both enjoyable experiences and the accumulation of experience could be a forgivable error.

When I first learned about the Star of David badges that the Jews in WWII Germany wore, my preliminary surmise was that they must have been voluntary symbols of resistance and pride. My mother responded in horror at the idea. She was neither an historian nor particularly skilled teacher but I did learn the truth about the Nazi intent. They were meant as marks of shame and easy identification of “undesirables.”

It wasn’t until high school, however, that I learned of one more such mark. By the end of the 1970s, gay rights advocates adopted the pink triangle – as reclamation, as an emblem. At that time, I suspect I should have suspected there were more triangular signs.

That prompt – to know the full list – came when I joined the Freemasons. In that case, as with all non-Jewish political nonconformists, the Masons detected and captured by the Nazis were forced to wear a red triangle.

In the United States these days, we hear all parts of the political spectrum engaging in hyperbolic assertions that one party or another is bordering near fascism. While we must always be vigilant to oppose the rise of another Nazi party, the ubiquity of accusation makes it difficult to see the lines that must not be crossed.

repeatDuring the time of the original Nazi Party, a declaration of loyalty was required. Not making such a pledge “earned” a triangle at least. If the same system were used today, the image at the left might be on my sleeve and pant leg.

It would indicate a Mason who continued to meet after a presumed warning, internment, and intent to escape.

The E stands for Erziehungshäftlinge, which designated intellectuals and suspected organizers of resistance.

In addition, everything seems to be dubbed “the civil rights issue of our time”, including – most recently – the impact of climate change. More hyperbole. More blur.

Meanwhile, there is a group quietly making use of this information. I am not affiliated and only discovered the white triangle while trying to find an image of liberty that was not a photograph of the statue stood on Ft. Wood, Bedloes Island (i.e., The Statue of Liberty).

Liberty Symbol describes itself as an association with the goal of support, development, and promotion of individual and collective liberties. This effort has adopted a white triangle as a symbol for those who see themselves as promoters of said liberties. The symbol serves a dual purpose – also being an emblem for those who have had their liberty curtailed unnecessarily.

Too quietly, Liberty Symbol offers the symbol as a public domain icon and encourages its use. The white triangle was chosen in another reclamation of a sort. I’ve purchased a fair few and given two as gifts and tokens of kinship.

lsWhen placing an order for a white triangle pin, two are shipped. “Because if I am, one of my friends certainly is too.” The pair cost just $5.66 (US) or 5€. And if an order is placed, avoid a delay in shipping by sending an email to the maker noting your order: contact@libertysymbol.com

Note: Acheter is the French word for to buy.

Liberty Symbol’s fine print ends with the following:

All the earnings, if there are some, will be used to pursue the association object true publications and event organization. The association has no employee and will regularly publish its accounting book details.”

Into the Blue Again…

all we now hold trueThe phrase “there is nothing new under the sun” has always bothered me. Until beginning this post, I did not know it was Biblical. It reads in full: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.”

It always seemed so discouraging. While I was a teenager, it almost offended me.

Similarly, when I was growing up, I had a profound dislike for some of the lyrics of All you need is Love.

There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done…”

I cannot say when I learned the value of inverse statements. Second guessing Ecclesiastes is not the aim here but the Beatles may have been making the point that if one person can do something – even if that person is the only one capable of the task – it is not impossible.

Given a choice between the two, why wouldn’t we choose the more bolstering message? There’s too much in the zeitgeist that suggests there are no solutions so any effort is without efficacy. Lethargy’s a Hell of a way to live; acedia was once included among the Deadly Sins.

Last week’s post was part tribute to the memory of Leonard Nimoy and part notice of encouragement to try something about which I’ve been musing for perhaps my entire life. (I cannot be sure. I don’t remember the very early parts.)

All We Now Hold True is meant to shine the light of Vulcan through a new prism – at a new angle – and get different colors and perspective. Perhaps I’m missing the point of the verse but my work is new under the sun because only I can do it. I am new under the sun – due to inspiration and in hope of returning the favor.

It’s easy.”
John Lennon