Sunday, October 30, 2011

Hopefully short rant

It is not usually my place to rant; I usually try to keep an academic voice. However, I have a blog. As such, I reserve the right to rant. This is one such moment. It is funny how I've spent most my life looking at disability from the outside. By which I mean, my family didn't focus on it, and I was for the most part accepted into a culture that was inclusive of those with disabilities (School, friends, places in town, etc.) Most of my friends weren't disabled.
When I was growing up (whippersnappers!) I knew I had to fight for this thing called Disability Rights, but that was about it. I wasn't prepared for other people's interpretation of what that might mean. As a kid, I simply thought it meant the right not to notice your disability. Now, I see disability rights "advocates" advocating all sorts of things. The right to "accessible apartments", the right to use and not use certain words to describe disability ("Handicapped" is okay in my book, since that's what I grew up with; "disabled" too. Not cripple; implies oppression.) Then, as I grew older, I actually began to see the movement doesn't just have one voice. One demand. It has many, accessibility only being one. The other, if I were to take what I want, and call it "Disability Rights", is inclusion. Right now, I have the constant feeling of fighting; or that I'm a burden to others.
        "Everything I need" so "they" say is right here; but only at certain hours. And the other staff can only do certain things. Even then, I feel like a burden sometimes, particularly when aides or staff are angry or tired. (and it makes me mad that they get paid to do so little, sometimes.) What I'm getting at is, I feel burdened by an intense awareness of my disability. An "us vs. them" mentality has rooted itself in my mind, that doesn't serve me as a cultural investigator. I'm still trying to get everyone's story here. I have a feeling that I'm not the only one who feels this way, particularly in the apartment; which is why sometimes I have to take a break and get away from it. Try as I might though, a free-floating anxiety, an edge of quarrelsomeness, has crept into my life that was not there before.
   It may be the influence of Friedrich Nietzsche, Foucault et al, in my Comm studies (seriously, conflict theory does help.) It may be that I'm away from my family. It may be that I meet people without disabilities who are now not interested in being friendly, and the only social bond between us is the $$ that I give them. It could be that I feel the need to prove myself. It could be all these things. I just get tired myself of other people's fear of me, and I feel it these days even in the store. I feel in many ways, corralled into a bizarre petting zoo. The disabled people barely come out, and clamor for human interaction. In some ways, I was less fearful when I had lower expectations.
Back to the point. Accessibility means nothing if you don't have inclusion. That is the drive that I have, the drive for inclusion, that keeps my spirit thirsty for adventure. But now, against this, I have the dark forces of my nature. And others' dark natures. Do I miss the times when I didn't feel a thousand eyes on me? Sure. But, it's with me, and I have to act against it. As I have before, when the shadows of ability vs. ability were far behind.    

Saturday, October 22, 2011


I just read that in the 80s, Frank Miller redesigned Daredevil. I think he was behind the movie, too. I usually hate Frank Miller. Too much red. But, who knew he redesigned Daredevil?

ADDENDUM: Okay, so a lot of people probably know that! Just keeping my eyes on pop culture and communication.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Random Thoughts on The Superhero Daredevil


    Daredevil (Matt Murdoch) is a blind lawyer. He can see using his heightened senses. To me, Daredevil is a proper disability advocate. (If not a living metaphor of blind justice.) However, his background is a little sparse, so much so that Ben Affleck swore off superhero movies. And I don’t know whether to be thankful or sad. Background aside, Daredevil knows kung-fu and he has a nifty cane, which in edition to helping him see, while not giving away his sonic sight ability, can be a weapon, a pole vault, or a grappling hook a la Batman. His archenemy is The Kingpin, who evidently is a criminal mastermind, and former fat nerd who takes his aggression out on his goons and society.
    I’m saying Daredevil’s background is scarce because my knowledge of him is mostly secondhand. From the awful Ben Affleck movie to a handful of Spider-Man team-ups (2 comics…), including the inaccurately titled “Daredevil vs. Spider-Man” 2002 animated movie, wherein Spider-Man and Daredevil team up and only fight for about 60 seconds, during the whole thing. Daredevil’s backstory is as follows: His dad was a boxer who threw a fight and became a bagman for Kingpin. He was so overtaken by sight of his dad as a criminal that he ran off and got hit by a truck carrying chemicals. He was blinded, but gained sonic sight. He can hear hearts beat, it’s so accurate. I wish there were more scenes in Daredevil (comics, movies, et al.) that showcased his sonic sight not just during battle. Though his kung fu is impressive, and he can take “leaps of faith” and always land on his feet. He’s essentially a kung fu movie translated into comic books, but I can’t think of which one. (Anyone?) I‘m a big fan of kung fu movies.
     And the kung fu allegories don’t end there. He also has a ninja girl partner named Elektra Nachios. When I first heard her name, I laughed for about 10 minutes. What happened? Did Stan Lee have Taco Bell one day and the deadline got to him? Nachios. Anyway, he’s also hunted by Bullseye, a bald Irish assassin, and also some guy named Smythe, who I believe is also disabled, using a wheelchair. He works for Kingpin in the hopes of seeing his father again, who he kidnapped. (God, he’s basically Daredevil already!) I think he’s a weapons expert or something engineer-like. And he wasn’t in the Ben Affleck movie. I don't remember.
    I think by this time Stan Lee was out of ideas, or else profiting from the kung fu movie craze of the Bruce Lee era. Unfortunately, disabilities are a rather convenient plot device when searching for a  dramatic Aristotlean “fatal flaw”. Which is the mark of Marvel Comics, and quite possibly why I read them. Because they are flawed heroes. I’d just rather not see the disability exploited as a flaw. I do like Daredevil though.  He kicks butt, and he’s a lawyer representing blind justice, kung-fu style with X-ray vision. He does good credit to the old myth that disabilities heighten the other senses; with a little help from super chemicals! I give his character 4 stars. But, the story, as far as I’m concerned, is all held together by the threads of kung fu, and occasionally, Spider-Man! Gotta get me more Daredevil comics, though before I can “star” the stories. Anyone have a recommendation for a good Daredevil story? (I've read a  neat story about him vs. a guy named Shotgun...who's pretty much a combination Rambo and Mr. T. So, pretty much every '80s era super-soldier.)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Professor X's Evolution

Professor X's Evolution

“Are mutants the next link in the evolutionary chain or simply a new species of humanity fighting for their share of the world? Either way, it is an historical fact: Sharing the world has never been humanity's defining attribute.”
  • X-Men 2: United
      Professor X has always been a role model of mine, as the first disabled superhero I had ever seen. Mainly from the first animated series in the 90s. But, although he embraces his power mutant power as a gift, insisting that they are “not a disease”, he seems to be more ambivalent towards his disability than I remember. Growing up as a disabled person during the 90s, I had a lot of hope that the future would be more accessible to me, and I projected that on to Professor X. After all, in the 90s animated series, he had a hoverchair, (Later, a powerchair, like me.) he was the one who taught the mutants to use their abilities for good, and followed a Civil Rights model of tolerance, with mutants and non-mutants sharing the world.
      I had always believed (and still do.) that Professor X's tolerance of humanity  should be extended also to his disability. Yet, I see time and time again that he refers to himself as “confined to a wheelchair”, often using that as an excuse not to face Magneto. As a Disability Rights advocate, I'm somewhat disappointed. He teaches his students about peaceful co-existence, and that their abilities are only curses if we look at them that way. I think that should extend to his disability; even if it serves to just remind him of his dependence on others.
      Throughout Professor X's history, (in his various incarnations.) his disability is always shown to be an accident, whether in World War II, or in the 1960s, as more recent incarnations show. I know many people who have been in accidents, who talk fondly of their walking days, but I think a stronger stance on his disability would make him a role model to more people, and more in line with his philosophy of peaceful co-existence, and ethical use of power. After all, why doesn't he fly all the time? (as he can, with his mental powers.) Because he teaches self-control, and acceptance.
      However, given his backstory, and the many episodes where he flies or walks through some miracle, it can mean one or two things. 1.) Professor X hasn't come to terms with the trauma of his disability, and is using his hubris and power to shield himself from self-doubt. Or 2.) he is not as altruistic as he lets on. I root for the former, but the latter seems the case.
      Option #1 is completely understandable, as he is dealing with a world that not only doesn't accept mutants, but is even struggling to share the world with people who are not disabled. That he would have self-doubts, and cling to memories of his walking days, and high ethics seems almost heroic. Yet, it undermines his philosophy (That is, acceptance of one's abilities.) if he doesn't come to terms with his disability as a strength.
      And I'd like to see him in more of a command role, in a position of strength, even when he's not miraculously ambulatory, because I see my disability as just part of who I am; and acceptance of identity is a struggle every X-man must go through except him.
      I fear Option #2 seems more likely. In the late 90s, it was revealed that in him was the psychic “seed” of the evil mastermind Onslaught, that when combined with Magneto created the most powerful villain the X-men have faced. In my view, he could not have been created were it not for his self-doubt and dissonance. Even when he faces Phoenix in X-men 3, he expresses self-doubt, and is easily destroyed. The worst scene in the franchise, in my opinion. Furthermore, if he is psychic, than he's deliberately using his disability as an excuse to put the team in danger. Of course, I find this all very upsetting.
               I still look to Professor X as a role model, because he's the first disabled superhero I ever saw. However, I think his attitude towards his disability should change to match his views on mutant-human relations. You might say that's easy for me to say, because I was born disabled. But, Professor X inspired me as a child to help accept who I was. The evolution towards acceptance of power and ability is a constant theme of the X-Men. It can extend to disability. It's part of who I am. Disappointed as I am, I still have hopes that Charles Xavier will take on a more active leadership role as a strong disabled person who learns to share the world with his disabled body. But, that has never been his defining attribute.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Comedy And Tragedy

    I think that images have a power to force an out-of-body experience. That’s why I look to art to overcome my disability. I think what I’m trying to do is create stories that speak to the human spirit; the force that doesn’t limit myself. Whatever that extension is called. I think it’s called fantasy. But, it’s more than fantasy as one might use the word to mean amusement. Specifically, I am interested in making those dreams real to provide direction and humor; a touch of magic in life. Art imitates life; it is the act of magic itself.
     When I look at really good art that “speaks” to me (we do say language speaks, but it is in the language of feeling.) I feel a sense of striving. And sometimes it fails. I think the failure of the imagination…in other words, the knowledge that we can never pull ideas and thoughts out of a person’s head, that we can only interpret words, is where tragedy and comedy begin. Art has it’s roots in the imperfection of humanity, because my experience will never be completely understood. In my mind, art is one expression of that feeling, whether we mean comedy or tragedy. In my case, I have an overwhelming desire to improve my disability through comedy, and a need to express my…unique life experience, which separates me as an individual from the rest of the world through tragedy. The comedic and tragic media I see available to me are: Language, art, and spirit.
    Language is of course part of what I seek to create. And you can say that since art deals with tragedy and comedy, art is near universal for a language. Ever since I watched my brothers play videogames, I knew that looking up at the screen my brothers were trying to get into the game somehow; or at least they somehow acted with the images on the screen like they could get into it. As far as films, I’ve found that laughter really is the best medicine. Sometimes as I watch a good comedy, I laugh and then forget about all my physical troubles. The same is true of Art (Done by Artists, capital A.) In each case, I feel that we are trying to get beyond myself in some way, because it either shows people as better than they are (the tragic hero) or worse (the comedian.) So, we relate to this. In other words, what’s universal about it is that it provides myths to follow, and a social bond that is a human need. The Art  provides this need in the form of an understanding of the human condition, whether as better or worse than it truly is…
       For example, in my life, I’ve met people who have called my disability tragic or tried to joke about it. Both these methods are ok, if they address my situation in a manner I would approve of. I.e. adding me to the human condition. The question is always how to communicate tragedy and comedy. And for that answer, I think you need to be able to play with words and images. Because words and images imply rules, and playing with them is extending my limits. After all: It has been said by communication theorists that language has us, we don’t have it. And the same is true of tragedy and comedy, which come from human experience. In this respect, it would be much better if I showed my life through using tragedy and comedy.

    “Art is the highest metaphysical task of this life.” - Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Old short story from 2005: 9-U

For anyone unclear, this story is about a scientist who develops an international AI weapons system for peace, and is now tormented by visions of Holocaust. I wrote it in 2005. After my intro to morals class. I edited it to 665 words for, but was rejected. (666 is the limit, haha.) I'm publishing it here. I guess it's not horror, but it's psychological horror. Gaze at my young sci-fi mind grappling with morality!
Happy Halloween!

The usual blasé smile of a workman faded away from Albertson’s face as the forklift began its sluggish ascent upward with a calm drone. The moments between his elevation always seemed to drag by slower than the whole of his life at work. It was during this time when he always sought to ponder his innermost thoughts. This time, he cherished deeply because his thoughts were even more his product than half the robots produced here in this steel alcove one now affectionately called the Albertson Installation. (Formerly designated only space station 9-U, United Nations.) It was true that his idea of mechanical warfare had become widespread, with only a few developing nations remaining to foster it…yet there was something shady about the concept. His concept, he felt, had been turned afoul by the world powers.
The sudden hiss of the air-compressed lock startled him as the forklift jolted to a stop and his mind returned to Earth. Staggering out towards his steel goliath with the potent reek of electronic fuel fresh in his nostrils, he turned to face a torrent of flashing digital cameras.
“Dr. Albertson!”
“A few questions, please!”
“Over here!”
Albertson collected himself and spread his hands wide to silence the barking of the press, while his zombified factory contently kept about in its forced slavery, crooning away with blissful ignorance. Gathering all the courage he was now capable of, and raising his vocals to the top of his lungs so as to mimic the sound of God Himself; he spoke.
“THIS IS THE FUTURE OF COMBAT!” He screamed. All,robots and homo sapiens alike, stood stunned and speechless at the sight they now beheld. Even Jacob, who had started quite a rant against the further humanization of warfare, was paralyzed with an almost divine sense of awareness as he stared eye to eye with his creation. No. The doctor reflected briefly upon the thought of the word eye. It never really had one. It was simply designed to appear outwardly human. Every “joint”, every “bone”, and every “muscle” of the machine was built precisely replicate the ideal Herculean war hero of humanity. The rest was all just an illusion! This was merely an enormous bulk of steel equipped with the latest in killing technology…built to look like something that we humans can easily, albeit falsely, conceptualize.
“Yes sir?” The troubled scientist’s voice cracked noticeably.
“Dr. Albertson,” The fat man barked as if he were hungry. “Many genetic ethicists claim that your program violates anti-cloning laws. How do you respond?”
Jacob’s retort was one worthy of a king renouncing his simple pages from the royal court. “If you will recall, gentlemen, that the United Nations has reviewed this claim many times over, and it is currently assembling a new amendment to previous cloning restrictions which will allow cloning to be used for reasons exclusively military,” he huffed defensively,“Furthermore, I think cells are no obstacle to protect all of the human race from the horrors of war. Forever and for certain.” Applause sounded from the box of pressmen surrounding the cage from which he spoke, even scattered gasps. A smirk cut into Albertson’s cold, weathered face. True, it was a dangerous statement. In particular, “for certain”, but then again, war crimes were often celebrated in parts of the world. His creation, global advanced combat AI, could get him an honor here, or hanged for heresy in the Third World. Would a machine know an innocent? No, he decided. It would not. It would only know the enemy. Just like us. He began to laugh hysterically as floods of war drowned his mind. Hitler. The My Lai Massacre. I have done absolutely nothing. He thought. I am both God and Satan…for nothing. He burst out with mad laughter as the machine grounded him to step off towards his clean, bright, plastic floor as if a welcome to his divine power.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Star Trek: Troublesome Minds by David Galanter

     This is the nearest thing I’ve read to an Original Series Star Trek TV episode translated into a book. It begins with an alien visitor to the Enterprise. Telepathic, naturally. Spock is intrigued when he learns the aliens communication system is telepathic and by hand signals; as if they are deaf. Additionally, this leads Spock to display emotion as the non-verbal aspect is more essential to their communication. The crew discovers  that the alien (named Berlis, or at least the UT says.) They learn that Berlis is a criminal sentenced to be killed. This harkens back to moral dilemmas in the 60s show (Such as Spock’s trial, Khan’s arrival, or Klingon negotiations or any episode where the one rule MUST NOT BE BROKEN; and the crew must decide the proper course of action.)
     However, as it is Spock who first deciphers and learns Berlis’s communication methods, it is his story with Berlis and his female counterpart Chista that most intrigued me. Chista explains to Kirk on the Isitiri (Berlis’s species) homeworld that Berlis is a Troublesome Mind; since the Isitiri communicate telepathetically, their minds are linked, Berlis’s power has grown so strong that he is able to dominate the will of the linked, including his entire planet and Mr. Spock. Berlis’s mind is still fragile. He equates the psychic company of others with comfort, but he’s selfish, like a child. In true TOS fashion, his power grows to become a telepathic dictator. He decides to arrange for Spock to sabotage (“sabataage“?) the ship, and uses his own planet’s fleet to invade their neighbors. As the man who makes the critical decisions, this next part of the book mainly deals with Captain Kirk preventing an interplanetary war. Which he does, in true TOS fashion, by making a Cold War reference.
       When the Soviets wanted to copy the B9 bomber, they shot it down. They feared Stalin’s disapproval, so they copied it, every flaw included.  So, he deliberately places himself (I.e. the Enterprise) between the two battling fleets, while Spock, psychic guards up, searches for Berlis with an off-world Isitiri rebel. He even shares with her that he loves his mother. Once they land by shuttle on the homeworld, they knock out Berlis, who’s too busy controlling the planet to direct his mind elsewhere. From then on, it’s an ethical drama with Dr. McCoy, which climaxes as Spock heeds Berlis’s command to euthanize him with a phaser. It does raise some questions such as how Berlis is a criminal, if he knows what he’s doing dominating the planet, or why a race of aliens would develop such a fragile form of communication, independent sign language and culture aside. Which (as revealed by the author.) is an allegory for deaf culture.
3 STARS. I enjoyed its loyalty to the TOS formula, the recycled episode plot (“Where No Man Has Gone Before”) and I enjoyed the Spock scenes, which served to explain the aliens’ sign language, as well as for him to expose a little emotion.
    My main problem is the fragmented narration, which like the TV show, seems to change depending on who’s on stage. Great for TV, not for books. The POV changes though, are a dramatic device. But, how am I supposed to know whose POV until the scene totally unfolds? Keeps you on the edge, at least. I could almost hear the music from the TV show before a commercial break between scenes! In sum, the only problem is that the formula is almost too tight. But, once you get used to the recycled episode points, it’s good. It’s what it’s supposed to be. A recycled plot, with a little Spock story in-between.  


Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Ugly Little Boy by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverburg

This story is about a Neanderthal boy who gets time warped into the 21st century as a museum attraction. The story alternates from Neanderthal times to the 21st century. In the Neanderthal times, the tribe is shown to be at on the brink of war with homo sapiens. (They are called Other Ones by Neanderthals.) The Neanderthals are shown as having a Goddess-centered culture, and the tribesmen have names like Red Cloud and She Who Knows. The book is really about Nature vs. Nurture. The boy, Timmy, (whose name is Skyfire Face, because of a scar on his forehead .) is brought into the 21st century and is the subject of an ongoing human rights battle. However, Timmy is not technically human, as a Neanderthal.
    But the human rights lawyers and media circus are the least of Timmy’s worries.
Because he was brought into the world via time displacement, he is never allowed to leave his self-contained environment. He learns to speak eventually; “a very pronounced Neanderthal accent.” And even makes friends. However, the only one he can really be sure is his friend is his nurse, Miss Fellows. The others could be just there to help the time displacement museum gain press, or scientists and historians there to poke and prod him. I was reminded of Franz Kafka’s A Report To An Academy (Ein Bericht Fuer Eine Akademie) where a monkey learns to behave like a human, but can never gain acceptance in the modern world, which leads to loneliness. The book succeeds in making the world we think we know strange and lonely through Timmy‘s eyes and dreams. 
    On the other side of loneliness, we have the Neanderthal story, which takes place in between chapters, so that in essence, the reader is experiencing time displacement. We are introduced to concepts of Neanderthal religion and tribal organization. The Neanderthals worship a Goddess who made the Earth for them. They believe their language and their way is the only way, and the Goddess made the homo sapiens as punishment for abandoning old rituals, passing on leadership of the tribe. Red Cloud is described as an old man, having seen 40 winters; he refuses to pass leadership because they are at war with the Other Ones. That part of the story has to deal with whether old rituals or independent thought will guide the tribe, I think. And it never really does give you an answer…although I suppose the ending, which is open-ended, sort of does.
    The story of Miss Fellows has to do with her desire to treat Timmy as her son, even though he is not human. In a way, she raises him in the 21st century. She is there to teach him language, to comfort him, and to feed him. By all accounts, to “civilize him”.  In the end, she realizes that Timmy must return to his time to make room for more museum attractions. But, she can’t bear the thought of Timmy being torn to shreds by the Neandethals. He is a civilized 6-year-old, and now could neither survive the wild, nor the 21st century. Finally as Timmy is about to be replaced, she steps into the time displacement device with him, and is mistaken for the Goddess returning Skyfire Face by the Neanderthals and “Other Ones” who lay down their weapons in peace. How long will it last? The book never answers; Miss Fellows changed history. It’s said that this story was began by Isaac Asimov in the 1950s, co-authored into a book with Robert Silverburg in the 1990s, and finished by Silverburg in 1994. While the book has an “Asimovian” tone, so to speak; the ending seems to be (like the book.) a result of time displacement; of an altered time, existing not in Asimov’s time, nor existing without it, and belonging to both in isolation. 4 stars, were it not for the tacked on ending, which like Timmy, vanished too soon; left many questions.