Looking for Love: Xbox Edition

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[photo credit: Portlandia, IFC]

While browsing in a local independent bookstore, I overheard a young man and woman, both in their twenties, going through the ritual of getting to know one another. It was apparent that they did not know each other very well, as they went through an awkward exchange of sharing anecdotes and information about themselves, each with that palpably self-conscious tone of voice. At this particular juncture in their conversation, as I tried to keep my distance while simultaneously perusing the Science Fiction & Fantasy section, the woman was doing most of the talking.

The Hispanic young man listened attentively, as he stood in the Science aisle dressed in dark blue long board shorts, a white tee and basketball shoes, in addition to which he was wearing tinted eyewear that I imagine was meant to compliment the high and tight hairstyle he was “rocking.”

Occasionally acknowledging the young woman’s remarks with an “oh, yeah” or a “hmm,” the young man indulged the young Caucasian woman’s account of her plans as a student at the local state university.

“I wanted a major,” she said, “that will allow me to make a good living once I graduate.”

“Oh, yeah?”

The young woman then went on to describe a rather unique combination of interests that defined her “interdisciplinary degree,” which included courses in literature and the social sciences.

“Hmm,” the young man responded earnestly, feigning comprehension. However, his eyes belied a “you’re going to make money with that?” expression.

The young woman, who was attired in retro flared jeans and a black tank top, not to mention being about two inches taller than her suitor, began explaining her summer school plans and how these were going to enable her to graduate in December, at which point, one can only assume, all the money-making will commence.

Eventually, their conversation turned to books, specifically the science fiction books that were now around them as they moved into the same section as me.

“Have you read these?” the young man asked, pointing to the series for Halo.

“No, but I’ve played the game.”

“Me, too. I think the books are pretty rad.”

The young woman nodded without saying anything. At which point, their conversation turned to the serious topic of gaming and what kind of systems each owned, X-Box or Wii?

Finally, as this mating ritual reached its climax, the young woman brought everything to the make or break point.

“There’s something I want to ask you that’s personally very important to me.”

The young man looked back, trying to look casual but emitting a mildly nervous vibe.

“Have you ever played Mass Effect 3?”

The young man had not!

“I played the earlier versions, though.”

“Hmm,” said the young woman.

“What’s new with 3?” the young man asked, quickly turning the conversation away from his fatal lack of Mass Effect 3 creds.

As I wandered over to the History section, I could hear the young woman singing the praises of her “all-time favorite game,” including what turned into a detailed account of the features, characters and graphics. Meanwhile, the young man just kept on listening, looking a bit crestfallen, but still trying to look cool about it.

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The Myth of Prophecy: Michel de Nostredame and the Perpetual End of Civilization

The Myth of Prophecy: Michel de Nostredame and the Perpetual End of Civilization

[photo credit: David Martínez]

Since finishing Richard Sieburth’s translation of Nostradamus’ ‘Prophecies’, I’ve been thinking about why these arcane verses have endured for centuries to tantalize the imagination of innumerable readers. It seems to me that the secret to his ongoing relevance as a soothsayer has less to do with Nostradamus actually having seen the future or written prophecies and more to do with the fact that he successfully generated the myth that his quatrains were prophetic. The real legacy of the ‘Prophecies’ then is the way in which they have inspired generations of Western interpreters, be they European or American, to comb over their every word, looking for signs of the downfall and collapse of their own civilization. As the member of a Jewish family forced to convert to Catholicism, it seems fitting that Nostradamus would become Christian civilization’s most prominent prophet of doom.

The Ages of Man: Turning 50 and Living to Tell About It

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Image credit: Gene Roddenberry, CBS, Paramount, I Can Has Cheeseburger

After turning 50 on my last birthday, my physician recommended me for a colonoscopy, which I did recently at an endoscopy center in Tempe, AZ. I wasn’t suffering from any abdominal pains, which may have been due to ulcerous or cancerous growths. In fact, I felt pretty good, so it was simply due to my age that my doctor advised me to get this procedure done. With that in mind, I scheduled my exam, at which point I received instructions via email, the most important parts of which were the day-long prep before the procedure and the emphatic demand to find someone to drive me home afterward. Fortunately, my wife was a big help to me at every stage. On the all-important day before, I was permitted my customary cup of black coffee, a bowl of Jello for breakfast, then spent the rest of the day drinking eight glasses of water, having a bowl of chicken broth for lunch, and the occasional Jello square to snack on. At noon I took four Dulcolax tablets. Because of all the liquids, namely the multiple glasses of water, I never once felt hungry, let alone starving. So far, so good. At 4pm I started my Gatorade regimen, which was parceled out in nine tiny 8 oz water bottles, complete with the prescribed mixture of Miralax. Having read several testimonials on MedicineNet, many of which recounted rather dispiriting, not to mention discouraging, episodes—including an array of negative reactions to the Gatorade solution—I naturally braced myself. At the stroke of 4 I quickly downed my first eight ounces! To my pleasant surprise, all I tasted was Gatorade. As for the effect, it took another dose before the initial effect occurred, then after about the third or fourth dose, the desired outcome of cleansing my intestine took place. Also, since I’d been on liquids all day, by the time I went through the Gatorade routine, it was pretty much Gatorade that was, you know, coming out. In any case, when I downed the ninth tiny bottle, two hours had flown by! About an hour later, I had a bowl of beef bouillon for dinner and not much else. By the time early evening rolled around, I was feeling pretty bloated from all the liquids. As a result, I didn’t feel hungry and wouldn’t feel any hunger pangs until late the next morning. In the meantime, I did have a bit more water throughout the evening, including my last glass around 11 pm before bed. Next morning, I washed my face, slaked my mouth but didn’t swallow any water, brushed my teeth, then my wife drove me to the clinic. Which finally brings us to the long-awaited procedure. In a nutshell, everything went very well and without any discomfort. All the staff had very good bedside manners. When my doctor appeared, he was friendly and provided me a concise but informative overview of the procedure, complete with contingencies should they “find anything.” However, he was very reassuring that they were likely to not find anything whatsoever, which turned out to be the case! As for what happened on the table, the nurses made sure I was not only laying properly but also comfortably. Most important, my anesthesiologist knew exactly what she was doing. Consequently, when I was told that I wouldn’t feel a thing, that’s exactly what happened. I felt the anesthesia take effect, went into a deep sleep—I even have a vague memory of dreaming—then the next thing I knew, someone was telling me “it’s time to wake up. It’s all over.” As I was getting ready to return home, one of the nurses asked if I had a ride and stipulated that I not drive for the next 24 hours. “You’re going to feel like you can drive right away, but please don’t do that!” Fine with me. My wife drove me home, where I got to enjoy a solid meal, a fresh cup of coffee, and spent the rest of the day relaxing.

Appetite for Self-Destruction: Akira and the Fate of Neo-Tokyo

Appetite for Self-Destruction: Akira and the Fate of Neo-Tokyo

While many associate the name of Hayao Miyazaki with anime, particularly among fans in the US, for others the name Akira springs into mind first. Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, the 1988 epic appeared when the Cold War between the Soviets and the Americans was still looming over global affairs and many were beleaguered from years of contemplating their nuclear annihilation. For a Japan, on the other hand, reaching the climax of its economic ascent before heading into its “lost decade,” Akira signaled an apocalyptic fear of manmade catastrophe. This is to say that just as Tokyo became a global power on the development of a technologically driven civilization, Neo-Tokyo in turn will arise from the rubble of the previous civilization’s technologically created self-destruction. Akira is a military experiment gone wrong, yet whose destructive power is still available for either use or abuse. Akira is also a boy with phenomenal psychic abilities, one of several children known as “Espers” living in seclusion, who do not see themselves as weapons for defending an empire against its enemies, but as misunderstood outcasts, scorned for their powers. Tetsuo, the leader of a biker gang, who inhabits the shadows and debris of Neo-Tokyo also possesses the kind of powers that Akira embodies. What ensues is a monumental adaptation of the more than 2,000-page manga that inspired the movie, in which Neo-Tokyo stands as a microcosm for humanity’s complacent obsession with science, technology and power. Lady Miyako, whose character is reduced to a two-dimensional religious fanatic, signifies the human impulse for transcendent salvation in the face of manmade disaster. Meanwhile, the fate of the world depends on the human, all too human decisions of Tetsuo, the Espers, Kaneda and Colonel Shikishima, not to mention the hungry and angry throngs seeking redemption for their lost city. Appearing the same year as Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Otomo’s Akira is the very antithesis to the naïve world of friendly spirits and the children who befriend them in Miyazaki’s work. Otomo’s Neo-Tokyo is a true dystopia, a metropolis reeling in the aftermath of total destruction, bereft of civility and order. It is the nightmare that haunts the Japanese collective psyche, in which a world torn asunder by war and social decay lies just below the surface of modern Japan. Indeed, Tetsuo’s world may be the world that lies beneath the surface of every so-called civilization. It is also a vision that informs the narratives of Neon Genesis Evangelion and Appleseed.