Month: April 2017

The May Day’s Revolutionary Past

Nicholas C. Rossis

May Day wreath | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books Greek May Day wreath. Photo: Greek Reporter

May Day is an official holiday in 66 countries and unofficially celebrated in many more. In Greece, it is celebrated as a workers’ strike. So, naturally, everyone goes to the countryside and… erm… makes themselves a May wreath to hang on their doors.

It is just as confusing a holiday in the States, as Natalie Zarrelli of Atlas Obscura reminds us. For many, it celebrates the ancient Celtic day of flowers and rebirth, with laughing children dancing around the maypole. But May Day also has a revolutionary past. The International Workers’ Day of May Day, the holiday’s full name, originated in the United States in 1886 as a radical response to abusive employers, for something many people take for granted today: the eight-hour workday.

A Nineteenth-Century Affair

Nineteenth-century employment conditions were harsh: workers often performed dangerous tasks while under-fed and under-slept, working from 10-16…

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Bad Movies with Value

You know those movies that you have to admit are poorly made, or in other ways imperfect movies? But, you still enjoy watching them. Sometimes, they are so bad they are good movies, other times they are guilty pleasures, or they can be part bad and part good. I consider “so bad they are good” movies as universally admitted to be low quality movies. And the goodness of the movie comes, at least in part, from the badness of the movie. These are different from guilty pleasures. Guilty pleasures have different opinions among movie lovers. Some people may like them and some people don’t. I want to focus on movies that are not well appreciated, but, I believe have some redeeming value.

Here are movies that I enjoy and will watch again and again which have ratings on IMDB of less than 6.0. The first movie is Elektra 2005 with Jennifer Garner in the title roll. After the critical failure of the Ben Affleck version of Daredevil, the spin off character Elektra starred in her solo movie. It was a critical and box office flop. I enjoy it, to this day. I like that the character turns from evil to good. Questions are raised of loyalty, betrayal, and resisting impossible odds. We learn important lessons. As Stick tells Electra, “Some lessons can’t be taught, Elektra. They must be lived to be understood.”

https://www.amazon.com/Elektra-DIRECTORS-CUT-Will-Yun/dp/B004FWXNFS/

Peacemaker (1997) tells the story of US government operatives dealing with loose nuclear weapons. It was an early movie effort of George Clooney with Nicole Kidman playing the scientific role. Certainly a weak entry in the movie careers of the two stars. But, I find the movie an edge-of-my-seat ride. At the time, the threat probably seemed remote and laughable. I personally, don’t think the danger of nukes to be easily dismissed, even today. Or, perhaps especially today. As Kidman’s character says, “I don’t fear the people who want ten nuclear weapons, I’m terrified of the individual who only wants one!”
https://www.amazon.com/Zulu-Stanley-Baker/dp/B00008PC13

Let’s talk about Jupiter Ascending (2016). This movie starring Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, and Sean Bean has been widely panned. I however, find it endlessly entertaining. The imagining of a future where earth’s human concerns are unimportant, and the planet can be traded at the whim of intergalactic beings is a fruitful fantasy to consider. Our heroes face impossible odds and never give up in attempting to defend their birthrights. I like the idea that even in that future where some individuals’ hold almost unbelievable power, there are still authorities to challenge those powers. How can I not love a movie that makes an homage to Brazil, in the bureaucracy scene.

https://www.amazon.com/Jupiter-Ascending-Channing-Tatum/dp/B00T9DLXYQ

I will admit that Jupiter Ascending contains some flaws. For example some of the dialog is laughably painful. Like when Mila’s character says, “But, I love dogs!” But, that is the point of this film list. I offer movies that may be considered bad, but I consider have redeeming qualities that make them worth watching. You can find more movies I like at: http://www.listal.com/list/guilty-pleasures-superant

CRISPR and Future Human Evolution

Dan2017April

On Tuesday night I attended a book talk and signing by my friend, Daniel Suarez. His new book, Change Agent, explores a future where genetic editing enables humans to control evolution of the species. The story is set in the year 2045.

Dan began the evening with a talk about the future potential of CRISPR and DNA editing. This was news to me. He mentioned the ability of obtaining a DNA editing lab for less than $1000. He suggested that individuals could edit the DNA of their children. Those edits could transfer to future generations. A quick Google search confirms that experiments have been carried out in fixing sickle cell anemia, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and immune system cells.

Dan forecasted that there could be concerns about corporations claiming ownership of the DNA of individuals. If parents received genetic editing provided by a company to fix issues for their children, then those children might be responsible for paying the company for the rest of their lives. There may be many questions and challenges because of who makes the edits and who owns edits of DNA.

CRISPR offers multiple ways to affect the future. Mosquitoes can be genetically modified in what is called “gene driving,” to lead to the end of a species of the insects that spread a particular disease like the malarial parasite. Crops can be changed, the DNA of rice can be modified and combined with DNA of other plants to become more resistant to salt water, or to require less water. Obviously, people will be raising ethical questions about some of these uses of DNA editing.

One scary scenario Dan mentioned was how individuals or groups around the world, who are angry at another group, could obtain a DNA editing lab very cheaply. Those angry people may design “gene driving” materials to attack their enemies. Perhaps a government agency should be monitoring our DNA in a public health process in order to detect if we are being attacked.

I found the talk about CRISPR to be interesting, and somewhat disturbing. For example, humans could splinter and diverge in different directions, through the modification of some people’s DNA. Dan says his fiction writing is not meant to be doomsday forecasting, but, I can’t stop thinking about it, and my mind goes right there. He says if we think about the future and watch for certain trends, we have the chance to control the evolution of the human species.

Change Agent became available on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. One review says, “The depth and sophistication of Suarez’s dystopian world—not to mention his facility at making complex science intelligible to the nonexpert—rivals anything Michael Crichton ever did.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

 

MKUltra: CIA Mind Control Projects

sidney-gottlieb

In the 1950s Sidney Gottlieb, began parts of the MKUltra projects under the orders of the CIA. The aim of these series of related projects were to develop mind-controlling drugs and techniques for use against the Soviet bloc. Part of the motivation for the projects may have been response to alleged Soviet, Chinese, and North Korean use of mind control techniques on U.S. prisoners of war in Korea.

The actual facts about MKUltra will never be fully known. In 1973, CIA director Richard Helms ordered all MKUltra files destroyed. MKUltra was 162 different secret projects that were financed by the CIA, and contracted out to universities, foundations and other institutions. About 80 institutions and 185 researchers participated, but most did not know the CIA connections to the research.

Millions of dollars was spent by the CIA, from the 1950s to the early 1970s, on studies examining methods of influencing and controlling the mind, and of extracting information from subjects during interrogation. The Canadian government was also involved through the work of Dr. Donald Ewen Cameron who experimented on unwitting patients in Canada. The Canadian government paid compensation to some victims.

In the mid-1970s, congressional committee and presidential commission reports revealed that the CIA and the Department of Defense had conducted experiments on both unwitting and willing subjects as part of projects to study influencing and controlling human behavior through the use of psychoactive drugs such as LSD and mescaline and other chemical, biological, and psychological methods.

While the CIA claims MKUltra type projects have been abandoned, there is no way to corroborate such claims. No individuals or institutions were ever brought to justice relating to these projects. We can only hope that such experiments have been discontinued due uselessness.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/what-we-know-about-cias-midcentury-mind-control-project-180962836/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_MKUltra

Other S. A. Gibson posts about mind control:

https://gibsonauthor.wordpress.com/category/mind-control/

Forlorn Hope in Fiction

A “Forlorn Hope” is when a group is in extreme danger, or even doomed but carries on. It is often a military unit that takes the risky and perilous positions in the offensive or defensive action. The term in French for an equivalent group is “Les Enfants Perdus” or “The Lost Children.” Fictional, or semi-fictional stories have often recounted the adventures of a lost group of individual who face insurmountable odds.

Zulu (1964) tells a fictional version of true events at Rorke’s Drift in January, 1879. A group of 150 British and support troops defended themselves at a mission station against almost 4,000 Zulu warriors who tried to overwhelm them. https://www.amazon.com/Zulu-Stanley-Baker/dp/B00008PC13

In Target Zero (1955), a Hollywood version of a fiction part of the Korean War is represented. A British tank crew, an American infantry squad and a stranded UN nurse band together and hold off a massive attack of North Korean troops. https://www.amazon.com/Target-Zero-Richard-Conte/dp/B00KH67BBI

In Sahara (1943), a small band of U.S., British, and allied troops hold off a large number of German soldiers in the desert near Tobruk. https://www.amazon.com/Sahara-Humphrey-Bogart/dp/B00005R23T

In 55 Days at Peking (1963), a fictionalized story is told of the military legation staff defending the foreign ambassadors in China in 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion. https://www.amazon.com/Days-Peking-All-Region-NTSC/dp/B00108FMFO

An additional list of films with similar plots includes, The 300 Spartans (1962), Apocalypse Now (1979), Battlestar Galactica (Miniseries) (2003), Forlorn Hope 1631 (2009), King Arthur (2004), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), Lord Jim (1965), The Wild Bunch (1969), The Last Valley (1971), Seven Samurai (1954), and the retelling of the story, The Magnificent Seven (1960).

More movies listed at: http://www.listal.com/list/fornlorn-hope-movies-superant

I’m obsessed with the idea of forlorn hope. Those individuals so dedicated to achieving their goals that they risk everything, and will not surrender, until the task is done. Each of my books feature forlorn hopes. In Feeling a Way, the town of Rock Springs is treed and must fight with every man, woman, and child against the guru’s fighters. In A Dangerous Way, A handful of library scouts put themselves between two warring armies. The book, In the Horde’s Way features the story of a vastly outnumbered group of fighters trying to stand off against incredible odds. Pratima’s Forbidden Book has two forlorn hope defenses. William’s group defends the compound with the atomic device against an attack, and Pratima’s group must hold the railway bridge until a rescue force can arrive. Asante’s Gullah Journey features a climax where the farmers must defend the library building against an overwhelming force. Even my short story, Pratima’s Engines ends with Pratima and a few friends holding out in the barricaded room. I can’t get away from writing about forlorn hopes.

https://www.amazon.com/S.-A.-Gibson/e/B00O0HQ6E8

Ruining the reputation of self-publishing: an amateur writer, one year on.

Ed Ryder - blogging to an empty theatre

approval-15914_640Before we start, apologies for the clickbait title. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in the last twelve months it’s that negative headlines get a lot more attention than positive ones. You clicked on it, after all!

But what else have I discovered in my voyage into the minefield-strewn world of writing and book marketing, and how was In Vitro Lottery received (if at all) by the reviewing and buying public? Read on to find out!

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Loss of Control in Dawn from Octavia Butler

Octavia E. Butler is justifiably considered one of the finest American writers. Dawn was published in 1987. Dawn is the first book in the Xenogenesis or Lilith’s Brood series. This book contains the threads of Butler’s science fiction themes. Relations between genders, aliens versus humans, the future of earth as dystopia or utopia. I want to address the aspect of control and free will in this story.

The book, Dawn, can be a vehicle to discuss issues of mind control. In the book, physical restraint is used on captives to make them amenable to persuasion. Lilith, our protagonist, is held in inescapable prison rooms on an alien spaceship.  If she does not choose to cooperate with the aliens, she will be put back into suspended animation. That was the penalty for previous failures of her ability to help the aliens.

In the story, Lilith wakes in a mysterious room after humans have made the earth uninhabitable. It turns out aliens have come and rescued a number of survivors from the planet and held them in sleep states while they take hundreds of years to restore Earth to a livable state. Lilith is quick to ask the aliens what they want in return for their altruism. The aliens believe their demands are reasonable, but some humans will be unwilling to accept the request.

I see evidence, in this story, of one of the oldest and simplest forms of mind control. The aliens are in total control of all aspects of the captives’ lives. They control the rooms where Lilith and the other humans can move in. They control the access to food and other resources. And the aliens hold an overwhelming trump over each human. If the human does not measure up, they will be put back into suspended animation. To be awoken only, if ever, when the aliens decide to give them another chance to cooperate.

We see Lilith plan resistance when the story starts. Over time we see a change, as she loses her loyalty to humans and bonds more with the aliens. This is not an unfamiliar pattern.  Similar behavior can fit into a behavior labeled Stockholm Syndrome. This is said to occur when a victim develops close emotional ties to an abuser who is in control. Lilith begins the story seeking to defend herself from rape and rescue other human females who are attacked. Later in the story, she assists the aliens in raping human males.

Dawn addresses question of alienation, loneliness, masculinity, female power, racism, sexism, and difficulties in healthy group cooperation. Taken with other Octavia Butler stories, it appears that particular issues are of very high importance to the author. It is an interesting topic, how humanity could be “rescued” and reshaped by aliens. While I found the book to be an unpleasant challenge to read, I admit that some fascinating issues were introduced. One issue involves several different brands of coercion.  Lilith and the humans are physically controlled, chemically drugged, and threatened with punishment. Mind control can be enacted utilizing each of these approaches.

You can find additional Afro-centric posts at: https://gibsonauthor.wordpress.com/afro-centric-posts/