feliz dia de los muertos


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Every year, the Burton Barr Library, the main hub of the Phoenix Public Library system, dedicates its first-floor art gallery to a Dia De Los Muertos exhibit. The exhibit presents altars made by locals in remembrance of family, friends, and others who inspired and influenced the altars’ creators before dying. This year’s exhibit features not only tributes to artists like Jim Henson, Salvador Dali, Sylvia Plath, and Shel Silverstein, but also memorials to grandparents, cousins, and co-workers.

The brightly-colored altars contain images and objects of meaning to the departed, from books they loved to food they liked, from memorabilia of their favorite sports teams to images and quotes that meant something to them. Every altar has an artist’s statement about what the departed meant to them on a very personal level. These are intimate statements, and one cannot help but be moved by their candor and affection.

Traditional motifs of Dia De Los Muertos abound: multi-colored paper marigolds, candy skulls, and sculptures of people and animals painted black and then painted over with skeletons. The exhibit always contains a piece where people have written names and messages on bright paper butterflies and hung them on lines stretched below a colorful arch of paper marigolds. I imagine the butterflies are symbols of transformation, and also flight and rising above—a deep contrast to the familiar Halloween imagery of graveyards and haunted houses where spirits remain trapped.

Halloween holds little appeal for me. Halloween focuses on fright and creepiness. Halloween imagines the dead come back to haunt us. Halloween portrays the dead as tortured souls come back from the grave to share their torment with us. Perhaps that is one way people confront their fears of death.

But Dia De Los Muertos imagines the dead quite differently. Rather than the dark and gloomy colors of Halloween, Dia De Los Muertos revels in color and brightness. Dia De Los Muertos imagines the dead continuing to do the things they loved to do in life. The dead joyously ride bicycles, make art, love their pets, and play musical instruments. Los Muertos are quite happy, and the day celebrates the joy and love they felt in life—and that we felt for them.

So, I like to make an annual trip to Burton Barr to see this exhibit. I always find it profoundly moving in the way it celebrates those who have died. Though tinged with sadness, the altars focus on why we loved those we have lost, and what brought them joy while they were alive. This year, I took my camera phone to snap a few shots for this blog, but then had second thoughts.

Instead, I took one of many copies of the Lakota prayer, scanned below, from one of the altars. I did not know Carole, but she worked in the public library system here, and worked in libraries all her adult life. Her multi-level altar—created collaboratively by friends, family, and co-workers—includes a diorama of Carole in skeletal regalia seated in a comfortable chair, watching her favorite sports team on television, surrounded by shelves of books and the pets she loved in this life. Above this diorama is a poem composed for her. It tells of her life and her eventual death from cancer. It mourns her passing but celebrates her life. If, as the mythology of Dia De Los Muertos says, the dead do gain permission one day each year to visit their living loved ones, then I have no doubt Carole would be touched to find the exhibit made in her honor. I found the following verse much more meaningful than any spooky and scary Halloween imagery.

dia de los muertos lakota poem

electric moon


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While patiently waiting for our 1-in-2500 limited edition album The Gate to arrive this week from the sonic headquarters of Swans, we went looking for other extended psychedelic monster jams.

And that’s how we ended up with a massive musical marathon courtesy of Germany’s Electric Moon. This guitar-bass-drums trio, formed in 2009, has been playing festivals all over Europe and releasing many mind-blowing albums in the process. Here are three of our favorites so far.

This is the first one we listened to, and we were hooked.

D Tune
This one incorporates synth sounds, and has a more driving, upbeat vibe.

Flaming Lake
This video has some cool space imagery to go with the jams.

P.S. Yes, The Gate did finally arrive on Saturday. With three of its songs clocking in around 30 minutes each, it is a supremely awesome sonic experience of pure Swans power.

318 by autumn kalquist


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318 - autumn kalquist book coverIn a future threatened by disease outbreaks, immunity will become a valuable commodity. 318 explores the horrifying plight of those born with a special immunity and imprisoned as dehumanized test subjects to be studied. This short story introduced me to Kalquist’s work and quickly drew me in. With crisp, clear language, it elicits an emotional connection to the suffering of the main character, known by her number 318.

Kalquist takes you right into the action and then fills in the backstory with dialogue and character memories. In the process, you become invested in the dystopic world she has created and what fate will befall her characters in Kalquist’s longer Fractured Era story Defective, to be released this Fall. With sympathetic characters and a frighteningly believable near-future threatened by disease epidemics, the 318 short story is one of the best short sci-fi works to come across my review desk in the last couple of years.
Buy the Kindle version for 99 cents.





A closet full of five thousand things no one ever loved
Reminding you of people who never existed

Out with the phantoms and the quiet spider
Who never had a bite to eat in all the months he lived
Just building his parachute in the corner and shedding

All of it’s got to go
This ancient corner begs for light





Come with me, she said, and forget the springtime
I know a place where everything goes to bloom
We can watch it burst with life divine as it grows

Now come with me, she said, and forget gravity
I know a place where everything goes to die
We can watch it burn with light sublime as it falls

Fly beside me, she said, every direction leads upward
Don’t you ever wonder why people feel so alone
When every atom of the universe spins in song?

Don’t you know that joy and violence
Hate and harmony are verses of the same tune?
And you are my bridge to everywhere

Come with me, she said, and forget the horizon
It never grows any nearer
But I know a place where everyone goes to find it

We can watch them seek, trailing infinite desire as they sail
We are neither masters nor slaves of history
We create it

Privacy in Peril: The Private Eye


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Privacy in Peril: The Private Eye and Recent Developments in Privacy, DRM, and Copyright

One of my classes this semester deals with telecommunications policy in the USA. Now, even though I am late to the party on The Private Eye, I spent an evening devouring all ten issues of the digital comic book series this week. I was pleasantly surprised to discover it deals with many of the concerns we have discussed in the telecom class. Our first discussion centered around two articles on mobile apps that either lack adequate security or mine your device for your personal data and contacts; specifically “Beware of Leaky Apps” and “NSA Spying on Apps Shows Perils of Google+, Candy Crush.”


The Private Eye series addresses relevant privacy and intellectual property concerns not just in its content but in its form. It comes to us from author Brian K. Vaughan (who wrote such critically acclaimed series as Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina, and wrote for the TV show Lost for a time) with art from Marcos Martin and Muntsa Vicente. It is available at http://panelsyndicate.com/ as ten individual issues and now in two 150-page volumes which collect the complete story.


First, the content of this science-fiction/mystery adventure deals with privacy and the internet. It proposes a future where all the information people stored about themselves in “the cloud” was exposed through an event called “the flood”. Dialogue reveals that making people’s search histories public destroyed their lives. As a result, the internet exists no more, and people are quite paranoid about protecting their privacy. Just as people do today in online forums and multi-player video games, people in this future use physical costumes and fake names to mask their identity and explore their fantasies, sexual kinks, and other aspects of identity they want kept private. Photographing people without their consent has become a crime, a crime the story’s hero commits for cash as a private investigator. The story’s villain wants to [spoiler alert] bring back the internet.


But besides the privacy conflict at the story’s center, the distribution of this series also ties in with concerns about copyright, digital rights management, and the ease of sharing content through the internet. The series is only available digitally, and it is sold on a “pay what you can” basis. Readers choose their own price, even if that price is zero dollars. This addresses the sales problem of digital content: How do you get people to pay a specific price for digital content when it is so easily downloaded and shared among users? Here, there is no problem. If people cannot or do not want to pay, they can still get the series directly from the creators without skirting the law, and those who can afford to support the work can choose to do so.


The download files, made available upon payment, are given free of Digital Rights Management, a system of protecting copyrighted and trademarked works which has proven problematic for users and courts. Recent headlines have shown how silly DRM takedown requests can get, with Forbes reporting in August that “Columbia Pictures, the studio behind the critically-panned movie Pixels, has succeeded in getting a number of utterly unrelated videos pulled from Vimeo – but the only actual footage from the movie to be taken down is Columbia’s own official trailer.” DRM takedown requests have become the occupation of lawyers who can file them without any actual investigation, leading to such ridiculous outcomes as random videos that mention the word “pixels” in ways unrelated to the film having been forced offline. Headlines in August also revealed UK legislation which is so technologically mis-informed that it would criminalize making a back-up copy of your own mp3 music files library. The creators of The Private Eye have sidestepped this nonsense and simply made their files available without DRM restrictions on the files.


The Private Eye, besides being an excellent and entertaining read, highlights the growing divide between how large, institutionally entrenched corporations are dealing with these concerns compared to the way independent creators are looking for new and more flexible solutions. This is taking place alongside a surge in advance sales (such as Michael Gira’s band Swans releasing limited-edition, handmade concert recordings to fund the production of upcoming studio albums) and crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter which help secure funding before a project is finished rather than trying to control “piracy” after the fact. These solutions favor creators who understand the unique technological environment of our time and want to maintain creative control without resorting to the cumbersome and ill-advised measures favored by the industry giants, their lawyers, and our legislatures.


To close on a visual note, I especially appreciate that The Private Eye is the first digital comic I have seen which looked awesome on my monitor due to the horizontally wider aspect ratio. Comics made at the right aspect ratio for print just never look as great on my screen. I have to zoom in to read the text, and thus can’t see the whole page at once, which is part of the joy of comics. The Private Eye fixes this beautifully and lends itself to creative page layouts that take full advantage of its aspect ratio. Go pick up the two collected volumes and pay what you can!

No DRM, no encryption, just plain files optimised for on-screen reading. Available in English, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese & French.



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