Monthly Archives: June 2009

Margaret Atwood Admits To Writing SciFi

by Irma Arkus

In an unprecedented move, Atwood coughs up the truth – she does write science fiction: “I have written two works of science fiction or, if you prefer, speculative fiction: The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake,” Atwood says in her Guardian article.

But the address by Atwood is also a plea, reminding critics and readers alike as to why science fiction is complex, more so than mere fiction writing: “They can explore the consequences of new and proposed technologies in graphic ways, by showing them as fully operational. We’ve always been good at letting cats out of bags and genies out of bottles, we just haven’t been very good at putting them back in again.”

The science fiction allows us to explore nature of humanity, in relation to itself as well as the universe and the “other”: “explore the relationship of man to the universe, an exploration that often takes us in the direction of religion and can meld easily with mythology – an exploration that can happen within the conventions of realism only through conversations and soliloquies.”

Moreover, they are often complex, enticing us to recreate social orders, building new perspectives on what we have, or could potentially have.

Do read Atwood’s insightful article on why science fiction, or even speculative fiction is worthy of note. [Guardian]

Schwarzenegger, A Bad Enviro Boy

by Irma Arkus

First thing I popped open today comes courtesy of New Scientist (I know I keep complaining on the quality of their articles, but this stuff is like a gossip rag of science) on Schwarzenegger’s new move to TERMINATE FUNDING for California state parks.

Why am I mentioning this?

Ah well. California, touted as literally the third world greatest economy, is having some serious financial issues. Not sure if you’ve been keeping track, but Schwarzenegger has been in the news as the governor of California who refuses to pay his civil employees for months at a time, and his budgetary issues have come up as soon as someone mentioned stimulus funds. In other worlds, they are drowning, and cutting corners everywhere.

Currently, California is juggling a massive deficit, of almost 25 billion dollars. While financially, it may make sense to cut funding to parks, the species that exist and are threatened might fair worse without a little extra help. For one, Sequoia trees are having the roughest time with their comeback, as they are currently tended from being overingulfed by more aggressive Fir trees.

Since I was a kid, Sequoia trees have been on my list of “things to see.” My brain still screams in agony at the thought of fisheries collapsing due to overfishing. When it comes to extinction of something as old as Sequoia trees, it simply shuts down, as if hit by lighting or a mild stroke.

Furthermore, the ongoing research projects in the park are at risk of losing their funding. Parks currently host some 120 projects, all of which are in danger of either losing their financial or administrative support.

We, on the other hand, are in risk of losing countless species, to money.

Prophylactics Extraordinaire!

Not that it’s related to anything, but these are hillarious! Tag lines such as: “Such tragedy could have been easily avoided” are appropriately placed together with images. Designed by HanTang Communications Group for Quzhou Seezo Trading. [TheDieline]

Thanks to Genevieve for the tip.

UK Photo Journalists: List of Areas Subject to Section 44 Unknown

by Irma Arkus

Photographers in UK are facing what many describe as a catch 22. According to Section 44 of the newly introduced Terrorism Act, photographers can be detained, and any police officer is authorised to search, and seize equipment. The tricky part is that the act “allows Chief Constables to request authorisation from the Home Secretary to define an area” in which police officers have the authority to enact such searches.

The question is then, which areas are off limits?

After British Journal of Photography submitted their request to Home Office requesting information on these areas under the Freedom of Information Act, the office refused: “The Home Office has rejected a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the BJP regarding the disclosure of the list of all areas where police officers are authorised to stop-and-search photographers under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000.”

According to the British Journal of Photography, the common knowledge is that the entire city of London is covered under the legislation, but which other areas of London are affected is unknown.

This places photography journalists under a disadvantage. Because of the lack of tranparency and information disclosure, they can be detained anywhere, without being certain of their legal rights.

This, on the other hand, gives an unprecedented freedom to the police. They can technically, detain journalists, search and seize them based on this idea of “safeguarding National Security.”

We’ve experienced in recent years, stories of many journalists who, upon entry to various dictatorial regimes, experienced such inexplicable treatment by authorities who violated their rights and freedoms.

Their questioning, detention, seizure of equipment and property, seemed unthinkable to our civilized, western world counterparts. We, unlike them, were assured that certain freedoms were to be had for all. Now, it seems, not only are we no better than those we pointed fingers at, but the freedoms our predecessors fought for, were discareded, exchanged for a measly, meaningless term: security. [BJP]

True Blood: Update on Season 2

by Irma Arkus

Update on Season 2!

Many of you asked pertinent questions. Such as: Is Lafayette really really dead?

The answer is: yes. He is really, really dead. Thus far, our contacts confirm that Nelsan Ellis is nowhere near the production of True Blood, Season 2. While his character Lafayette made for life in Bon Temps certainly more interesting, the new story development has left our Lafayette out of the picture.

I am certain that this will outrage many fans of the show, as Lafayette’s character added intrigue, and depth, and dare I say, a bit of colour too. Some fans have complained in Internet forums that he is a “stereoptypical” gay, black man, but I believe that Lafayette has shown himself to be far more unique. His charm aside, Lafayette knew how to show his opponents the door, got into a few fights, and won. That aside, he was funny.

I do hope the writers at some point pluck him from thin air and reintroduce him as a vampiric version of old Lafayette.

To other inquiring minds: Jason will enter the Fellowship of the Sun, in a dubiously passionate form, giving us a peak into the lives of the righteous and religious right.

According to Alan Ball, this will base in part, a great deal of the plot for the second season, or at least its first half.

Evan Rachel Wood will be a guest on the show, playing a small-town waitress.

Just kidding. She will be a vampire.

Wood will join the show in a guest appearance, and expose part of Compton’s secretive past.

The clock for the preimere is ticking. So, I suggest you brush up with the handy notes (above), maybe even watch an episode or two as a refresher, and enjoy the premier of the second season on June 14th.

HiSciFi – Gabrielle Rose on BSG, Taken, Grace and Sweet Hereafter

We give you the lowdown on the Pirate Bay Four trial, inform you of the latest case of a comic book collector thrown in jail for owning manga, and more…

We are also joined by one of Canada’s most notable actresses, Gabrielle Rose. You have seen her everywhere, as the grand dame of acting had worked on Spielberg’s Taken, as well as BSG, Stargate, Smallville and Sanctuary.

While we’re excited about these shows, Rose is really amazing in drama productions. From Robson Arms, to Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter, Rose made a lasting influence on small and silver screen.

The career of Gabrielle Rose started in 1975, and despite her remarkable success, she remains a positive, yet down-to-earth persona, who is really exquisit to watch.

We ask her about her recent sporting of gray streaks, a bold statement on her age, and get her to give us the goods on collaborating with known directors. We also talk about the nature of Canadian cinema and television, and reveal the details on her latest project, “Shattered.”

Rose has recently scooped the Leo Award for the Best Dramatic Performance by a Female in a Dramatic Series, for her work on Sanctuary. She also received her own star on the Canadian Walk of Fame.

The most interesting bit about having Gabrielle Rose on air with us, is that she is genuinely excited about being on our show.
HiSciFi – Gabrielle Rose on BSG, Taken, Grace and Sweet Hereafter

New Element Added to the Periodic Table

by Irma Arkus

Yeey for science! The Periodic Table is being updated with a new, superheavy element added to the roster. he International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) will add the element 112, known only as UUB, is a lab-manufactured element, produced by using zinc and lead.

The decision to include the superheavy element in the Periodic Table will undoubtedly result in various teams competing for production of an even heavier element.

Time to burn your old chem books now. [New Scientist]

David Simon: Downfall of Media, and True Value of Journalism

by Irma Arkus

Today I’ve been forwarded a link to the National Press Club Luncheon video of David Simon. While this gathering was (and probably still is) made up of overly wealthy and powerful media members, their numbers and their super-powers have been dwindling.

Interesting bit about the Simon’s lecture is what he identifies as underlying causes of media’s current crisis. He pins it at two things: greed and Wall Street. According to Simon, the money that should have been invested in generating quality content, talent development, and strategizing their actual Internet presence, ended being thrown at mergers, as the industry was seeking to increase their profit margins and pad their pockets.

According to David Simon, better known for his work as writer of award winning dramas “The Wire” and “Generation Kill,” the content currently available MUST start making profit.

But the media, newspapers and television combined, is reeling from the after effects of a flawed business model and profit pursuits. There is no longer a question of whether money needs to be made, but rather who will be making the profits.

Are we going to watch an entire industry fall, in order to give rise to new media, or are we to support the few dying dinosaurs clutching at straws?

I am currently enduring the fact that as an active member of media, I currently cannot find a paid job. I am doing the HiSciFi show, and write an occasional blog entry, for free. It would be great to get paid while doing things I love. But that does not seem to be the case. And this is not necessarily due to the fact that economy is reeling. The truth is that prior to this economic depression, the news nooses have been tightening, lay-offs and cost cutting was a regular thing in the halls of TV networks, newspaper and magazine boardrooms. It’s been getting harder to make money for the last 10 years in this industry, period.

David Simon is not oblivious to this. In fact, he points to the rise of mediocrity such as USA Today, and the narrowing number of reporters who were told to do “more with less.”

“You get to do less with less. Not more with less,” explains Simon.

At the same time, Simon is somewhat oblivious to the rising content of bloggerdom. He firmly believes in authority of “journalistic integrity” even though we’ve witnessed not only a) journalists turning to blogging, but b) the fact that journalism has reached a whole new low.

Anyways, Simon does shed some light on how the industry insiders feel about their former and current glory. And his insights are valuable. What I would like to see are some concrete solutions to current media woes.

Namely, his enthusiastic suggestion of charging for Internet content sounds like a relatively outdated idea, especially when considering how sophisticated Internet advertising can and could be.

That aside, it is worth glancing at Simon’s speech. Find video HERE.

Health Insurance Investments In Big Tobacco Revealed

by Irma Arkus

Privatisation of health care is a fabulous thing, if you are a health insurance company, that is.

According to the latest report in the New England Journal of Medicine (Vol 360:2483-2484, no. 23, Jun 4, 2009) by Boyd, Himmelstein and Woolhandler, the insurance companies in US and abroad have been confirmed to own stock in tobacco manufacturing amounting to almost $4.5 billion in investment. The largest being Prudential.

In other words, the lovely people who are vested in keeping you healthy, are also intentionally vested in manufacturing and distributing variety of cancer-causing substances.

Introduction of a US national health care coverage is currently a hot topic, as people are faced with a broken health care system. This report only adds fuel to fire, as health insurance companies directly profit and twofold, from patients suffering due to use of tobacco. [NEJM, subscription required]

Population Control: Are We To Limit Number of People on Earth?

by Irma Arkus

This morning I awoke to find a strange, yet relevant article on SciAm: “Population and Sustainability: Can We Avoid Limiting the Number of People?”

Good question. Or is it?

For a long time we’ve been asking the question of how many people is enough people? Most of these questions however, were prompted by popularity of horrific socio-political ideologies. Eugenics comes to mind for one. In 18th century, the poor were identified as too fruitful. Of course, that is if you entirely dismiss their value and ignore the fact that it is these poor that fueled the economy, working dirtiest, and lowest paid jobs that ultimately built the empires of colonial powers.

Similar questions were asked of certain populations deemed undesirable. Natives in North and South America, for one. Or Jews, during the 20th century. How many Jews is enough Jews? Speaking as one, I’d have to shrug as say that I’m not entirely certain of the number, but since there are about 13 million Jews in a 6.9 billion people world, and counting the fact that 6 million Jews perished in WWII, I quite frankly believe that we could use a few more.

See what I mean?

Many sociologists have wondered: how may rich people do we need? After all, with all this power of the billionnaires, and the preposterous ideas of liberal politics including gems such as “consumers voting with their dollars,” seems to imply that however many extremely wealthy people there are, there seems to be too many of them. They do seem to require a remarkable amount of resources. Private jets, extraordinary paycheques that could feed entire countries, multiple domiciles, huge car collections, etc…

While the article in SciAm asks this pertinent question, I am counfounded by its monumental nature: “Whereas more people once meant more ingenuity, more talent and more innovation, today it just seems to mean less for each.” It goes on to list: less water, less food, less land for farming, less capacity in the atmosphere to trap gasses.

Population control is evidently something we need to consider. But who is “we” and how are we going to apply our considerations?

Is it just me or is the problem in the system we’ve developed, that devoured the planet as we know it? Is it just me, or have the technologies (and I am using that term widely) created scarcity of land, water, and food?

Is it also just me, or is our global economic system hooked on concept of “growth.” This fidgety concept is very much dependent on steadily growing population. Sheer beauty of Fordism demands that we expand the pools of consumers for our goods, and the simplest way to do so is to enlarge our populations.

The question of population control brings up a lot of old wounds and prejudices. And though it may be relevant to ask, in light of recent climate change issues, it may be better still to inquire whether we require more profound changes to existing systems: from manufacturing, consumerism and trade, to pinning responsibilities for creating pollution where it deservedly belongs. Should we not examine those issues at length, prior to demanding birth control and limiting number of people?

I highly recommend you read the article on SciAm, and do keep these questions in mind when doing so.