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Archive for March, 2015

Check Mort

“Check Mort” (2011) by Paul Kidby.

“REMIND ME AGAIN, he said, HOW THE LITTLE HORSE-SHAPED ONES MOVE.”

— Death on symbolic last games (Terry Pratchett, Small Gods)

 

Just learned today that Terry Pratchett has died at the age of 66. Reading is the closest thing we have to telepathy. The death of any author is a loss to all readers because we have lost that golden ticket to enter their minds and live in the worlds they have created.

Pratchett wrote many novels, most set in his Discworld universe, which are often classified as humorous fantasy, but which are better described as clever, intelligent satire coupled with a deep humanity. Neil Gaiman, his friend and fellow writer, wrote what I think is the best summary of Terry’s style:

“He [Terry] will rage, as he leaves, against so many things: stupidity, injustice, human foolishness and shortsightedness, not just the dying of the light. And, hand in hand with the anger, like an angel and a demon walking into the sunset, there is love: for human beings, in all our fallibility; for treasured objects; for stories; and ultimately and in all things, love for human dignity.”

If you haven’t read Pratchett before, I would recommend a couple of his books: Feet of Clay or Nightwatch which feature Sam Vimes and the motley crew of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, Wee Free Men and its sequels, A Hatful of Sky, and Wintersmith, which feature the adventures of a young witch-in-training, Tiffany Aching, and Small Gods, a stand alone novel featuring the Great God Om and his disciple, Brutha.

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Not My Father's Son

It’s 2010 and actor Alan Cumming is looking forward to solving a long standing family mystery about his maternal grandfather as part of the genealogy program, Who Do You Think You Are? Out of the blue, he receives a phone call from his estranged father. You, the old man tells him, are not my son.That single phone call propels Cumming down the rabbit hole of his own past as he embarks on an unexpected journey that uncovers family secrets.

Memoir-writing is a specialized skill and very few people can really do the job well. Alan Cumming is one of those people. From the opening pages, Cumming grabs you by the short hairs and pulls you along, traveling between the past and present, as he recounts his harrowing childhood with his abusive father. The story is intense and gripping–one of those books that you can’t put down.

I would have liked Cumming to dwell a little more on how his father’s emotional and physical abuse affected Alan’s mother and older brother. I didn’t get a clear idea, for example, of why Alan’s mother stayed married to her husband for so long (she did eventually divorce him) or how growing up in the same abusive household shaped his older brother, Tom. That being said, this book is a powerful, searing read and I highly recommend it.

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I came across “Internet Memes and the Right to Be Forgotten” on the NPR All Tech Considered blog the other day and it touched on something that has concerned me for some time: the blurring definition between private citizens and public figures. Under American law, private citizens have–or have had in the past–a lot of legal protection where their personal information is concerned. A public figure–a politician, an entertainer–has much less legal protection.

So what happens when private citizens post private photographs or video onto their social media pages and then those photos/videos go viral? American law is clear cut when it comes to the right of publicity–your right to control how your image is used commercially–but the law is way behind when it comes to the issue of Internet memes or other unauthorized posting of private images/video.

In his memoir, Not My Father’s Son, author Alan Cumming makes an interesting point. We live, he says, in a society that views being famous as the best thing there is. One of the reasons social media has become so popular, in his opinion, is that social media services like Facebook and Twitter replicate that feeling of being famous for the general population. After all, what’s a better definition of fame than having complete strangers know the details of your personal life? But being famous, he goes on to say, is a double-edged sword. Yes, there are a lot of perks to being well-known, but there’s a dark side as well.

I think that we are going to see more and more news stories–and possibly more legislation–as people come to realize that there is a dark side to being famous on the Internet.

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