In the beginning...
Centroid Café proudly announces the first online edition of the Portland Metrozine in Spring 2019. This online literary journal showcases the creative work of writers, artists, and deep thinkers in our community. Originally a print publication called Poor Joe’s Guide, this historic "metrozine" was launched during the economic and social upheaval of the early 1990s to promote positive and constructive voices within the greater Portland metropolitan area. Debuting in 1991, the publication was designed, developed, published, and distributed by a tight-knit community of artists and writers. Because of its literary content, original artwork, and positive community vision, it rapidly evolved into the literary journal, Portland Metrozine. In keeping with its legacy, the Metrozine looks forward to the future with hope and continues to champion creative community development, cooperation, and respect for expression through diverse lenses.
Published by centroidcafe.com under the direction of Joseph Corrado, and curated by Basha Krasnoff, Portland Metrozine welcomes submissions in all genres of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and avant-garde writing. Original artwork will also be considered. This online literary journal will be published quarterly beginning with the Spring 2019 edition. We exist to inspire and encourage and broadcast creative writing, and are eager to consider well-crafted, and well-edited works of up to 1500 words. We can be enticed into publishing “raveled yarns,” so please consider submitting serial installments of a longer story. We look forward to sharing the work of artists in our community and beyond!
by B. R. Krasnoff
These are days of outrage and conspiracy theories. Everywhere I turn, I am bombarded with high pitched whining about the latest "soon-to-change-my-life-for-the-worst" revelation. It's not easy to step out of the way in this age of sound bites and digitally altered video images.
Ever since the fiasco of election 2016 coverage, I cannot sit through the evening news without alternate feelings of outrage, paranoia, and despair. Instead of giving me information from alternative points of view that I can critically consider, the media seem to present the most provocative, seductive, or threatening take on any story. And everything ends up seeming somehow sordid and perverse.
Then, there is the Internet, the great equalizer. Just about any zany with a theory can inform me about it at the speed of light. My daily routine now includes sorting through and trying to make sense of a hefty volume of electronic-mail warnings about ever-so-brief opportunities and ever-so-immanent dangers. I have found the adage of pundit Esther Dyson to be true: "the Net is great for conspiracy but terrible for propaganda."
While the information frenzy on the Internet might give the impression that the pace of change has accelerated, it's more likely true that the Web has simply removed natural barriers between people and the information they would otherwise never see. It's always been out there, but now it is easily accessible. As we lurch from one bit of info to the next, we must keep reminding ourselves that just because it's available does not mean it's important, accurate, useful, or valuable. Because anyone can and seemingly everyone does publish on the Internet, the responsibility for quality control is on the receiver. What is particularly frightening to me is that some people readily accept information obtained through a computer screen as somehow more reliable than that from any other source.
Paradoxically, for others, the attraction of the Internet is its independence from authority. The lack of centralized quality control and the expansion of access may nurture the democratic process, but it requires a degree of responsibility and a commitment of time on the part of users to judge the quality and accuracy of sources. It is through deep reading and thought that we discover the truth in information. The Web encourages breadth over depth. As with any information source, critical information literacy is vital.
Is ready access to all this information improving the quality of our lives? In his landmark book, Data Smog, David Shenk, considers the dangers of information overload. He says, "At a certain level of input, the law of diminishing returns takes effect; the glut of information no longer adds to our quality of life, but instead begins to cultivate stress, confusion and even ignorance."
According to some psychologists and researchers, "data smog" is the newest culprit in brain drain. Research suggests that the "data smog" that bombards us every day may be making us ill by interfering with our sleep, sabotaging our concentration, and undermining our immune systems. David Lewis, Ph.D, a British psychologist, calls the malady "information fatigue syndrome." He says that the fast flow of facts motivates people to a point, but once it pushes past a critical threshold, our brains rebel and we experience "paralysis of analysis."
Neil Postman, chairman of the department of communication and culture at New York University, thinks that what started out as a liberating stream has turned into a deluge of chaos. Way back in October 1990, in a speech to the German Informatics Society, he said he thought we were "informing ourselves to death."
"Everything from telegraphy and photography in the 19th century to the silicon chip in the twentieth has amplified the din of information, until matters have reached such proportions today that for the average person," Postman argues, "information no longer has any relation to the solution of problems. The tie between information and action has been severed."
Information is now a commodity that can be bought and sold. It is used as a form of entertainment.. It comes indiscriminately, directed at no one in particular, disconnected from usefulness. We are glutted with information, drowning in information, have no control over it, don't know what to do with it.
Dr. Postman posits that there are two reasons we do not know what to do with it. First, we no longer have a coherent conception of ourselves, and our universe, and our relation to one another and our world. We no longer know where we come from, where we are going, or why. That is, we don't know what information is relevant, and what information is irrelevant to our lives.
Second, we have directed all of our energies and intelligence to inventing machinery that does nothing but increase the supply of information. As a consequence, our defenses against information glut have broken down; our information immune system is inoperable. We don't know how to filter it out; we don't know how to reduce it; we don't know to use it. According to Postman, we are suffering from a kind of cultural AIDS.
Is the world in which we live very nearly incomprehensible to most of us? Is it true that we are willing to entertain the notion of almost any fact, actual or imagined, because we have no comprehensive and consistent picture of the world with which to compare it that could render it an unacceptable contradiction? Do we believe because there is no reason, no social, political, historical, metaphysical, logical, or spiritual reason, not to believe? Perhaps the computer just distracts us from facing what we most need to confront, i.e., that we live in a world that, for the most part, makes no sense to us.
In her book, Release 2.0, Esther Dyson points out technology has, and will continue to, fundamentally impact our lives and institutions, but it will do little to change our natures. Even as dependence on, and addiction to, our machines has increased exponentially over past 100 years, our need for community, family, meaningful work, and dignity has changed little over the past 1000. In fact, it could be argued that most of our societal ills could be traced to the loss of these things, not on our lack of access to gadgets and gizmos.
So what are we seeking? The truth is, what ails us, what causes us the most misery and pain, at both personal and social levels, has nothing to do with the sort of information made accessible by computers. The computer and its information cannot answer any of our fundamental questions or provide an organizing moral framework. Maybe what we are seeking is a way to make our lives more meaningful and humane. The computer cannot tell us what questions are worth asking and using computers will not make us wiser, more decent, or more noble. In this age of vast and instantaneously available, digitally-enabled information, the highways to knowledge of ourselves, each other, and our world apparently are still the ones less traveled.
1. Technologies are not neutral.
A great misconception of our time is the idea that technologies are completely free of bias -- that because they are inanimate artifacts, they don't promote certain kinds of behaviors over others. In truth, technologies come loaded with both intended and unintended social, political, and economic leanings. Every tool provides its users with a particular manner of seeing the world and specific ways of interacting with others. It is important for each of us to consider the biases of various technologies and to seek out those that reflect our values and aspirations.
The Net is an extraordinary communications tool that provides a range of new opportunities for people, communities, businesses, and government. Yet as cyberspace becomes more populated, it increasingly resembles society at large, in all its complexity. For every empowering or enlightening aspect of the wired life, there will also be dimensions that are malicious, perverse, or rather ordinary.
Contrary to some claims, cyberspace is not formally a place or jurisdiction separate from Earth. While governments should respect the rules and customs that have arisen in cyberspace, and should not stifle this new world with inefficient regulation or censorship, it is foolish to say that the public has no sovereignty over what an errant citizen or fraudulent corporation does online. As the representative of the people and the guardian of democratic values, the state has the right and responsibility to help integrate cyberspace and conventional society.
Technology standards and privacy issues, for example, are too important to be entrusted to the marketplace alone. Competing software firms have little interest in preserving the open standards that are essential to a fully functioning interactive network. Markets encourage innovation, but they do not necessarily insure the public interest.
4. Information is not knowledge.
All around us, information is moving faster and becoming cheaper to acquire, and the benefits are manifest. That said, the proliferation of data is also a serious challenge, requiring new measures of human discipline and skepticism. We must not confuse the thrill of acquiring or distributing information quickly with the more daunting task of converting it into knowledge and wisdom. Regardless of how advanced our computers become, we should never use them as a substitute for our own basic cognitive skills of awareness, perception, reasoning, and judgment.
Winds of Change
I seem to remember a feeling like this
from long ago…
vague, like a strain of some ancient melody
still carried by the wind.
Straining to hear it,
to discern its colors,
I begin absorbing waves
of undulating emotions
that draw me out,
beckon me close,
envelop me like a skin I once wore.
I caress myself back into that skin
knowing it to be the self I once was.
Look! It's me, becoming Myself once more.
At the Edge
The woman sits alone, waiting.
Her tired feet like loaves of rising bread
spilling over their pans stretch out
in front of her at rest on a wooden crate.
The gate to the lane stands part way open
as if to beckon the darkness, its peeling paint
and rusted hinges reflecting the day's last light.
Not accustomed to engaging with twilight
the old woman feels its clouded tension creeping
into her gnarled, folded hands
while in her mind a dozen limber arms
flail desperate for something to hold on to.
Behind her the house looms in shadow
familiar yet vaguely undefined.
She shivers, reminded that hovering
darkness carries its own chill. Pulling
her sweater closer she feels illumined by the glare
of headlights from the car coming to take her
to visit him at the place where those who leave
all have the same destination.
The woman struggles to her feet, clutching
her worn black pocketbook and today's communion
vessel, a small jar of carefully strained
For an in-moment I saw
Buried deep within those dark convoluting caverns
Which lead to the inward man.
There was a loneliness there
Like the dead grays and browns that scrape
Along the winter gutter—
It was saying: "Where? Where?"
He melted to a Van-Dyke
Shade, leaving just an inward shape
Which I should have seen sooner.
Somehow it was like…like…
Just as in a sudden thaw,
Of the thing snow-buried (in unsuspecting guise) yearns
For the fullness of its plan.
Zeus Alone is a full-length novel of speculative fiction
by Joseph Corrado.
For a synopsis of the novel, and context for Venna's Tale see: Zeus Alone Preview.
For more information,
Abord the S.S. Ajax, at the beginning of the voyage to Mars, Captain Ribundo explained that, even though the trip to Olympus City will only take about 54 days, the weeks can still pass slowly. She proposed that all the passengers meet for a grand dinner in her cabin every Sunday evening, and that each guest take a turn in telling an interesting and worthwhile story after their meal. In chapter 26 of Zeus Alone, Venna McKinsey tells her tale.
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In the days after Dagg's tale, hiking Ajax' aft paths, I often reflected on his story. I recalled our days before he left Etude, carefree days of exploring Etude and living the good life of dome comfort and safety. I remembered the day he left for study at the Institute and how we lost touch over the ensuing years. Then there were the days when the com blurts and blatts announced the capture of the top Truckos, and the complete destruction of their compound and tunnels. The big blurt that had floated for days flashed by my mind's eye: "Truckos Run Over by Red Domes." And I remembered how we had reconnected after his escape, when visiting his parents in Etude, and how he had avoided talking about his ordeal. I felt closer to Dagg after his story, perhaps because it had revealed that, like me, he too had suffered a sudden, tragic loss.
But most of my hiking was given to my Ace acting lessons: the walk, the talk, the snarl, the sneer, the leer, the clown face, the "get out of my way" face, and some others that I had no names for. In the omnipresence of the ship's sensors, I played for a virtual audience's entertainment and let myself have fun with the Ace persona. Ace did not doubt much and was usually certain that he had a good answer. To remove the frequent foot stuck in his mouth, Ace predictably did a clown routine hoping to distract with his guffaws and acrobatics and pratfalls. So, I practiced my clowning like Ace, and devised some new, vid-worthy maneuvers based on the 24 Basic Movements for Next Stage of Recovery which Dagg had sent me in a cipher tab.
And then, much sooner than I had expected, Sunday came round again and we all gathered at the captain's table. With baking odors wafting from the galley, I found it difficult to focus on how Ace would relate to Venna in public, and how he would respond to her story which was rumored around the table to be about teenage sex. Finally, Ajax butlered the food cart in. The appetizer was small cheese-and-nut balls that went very well with the strong ale served in faux-pewter cups. The main course surprised even me. It was a large pie with a golden brown crust with fat, sizzling sausages poking through, surrounded by a moat of cheese dumplings. Lieutenant Temper, our ingenious chef, called it her 47 Pokers Pie considering that her recipe uses cheese puffs made from Grape47 nuts.
Too soon, I thought, our dessert plates were cleared and coffees and teas and Grand Marnier cordials were served. I kicked back my chair so that I could slouch with my hands clasped behind my head. At a nod from the captain, Venna stood slowly. Our eyes met briefly and then I closed my eyes to see Venna's story unfold in my mind's eye. Only the distant Ajax thrum infringed our silence.
"I begin my small story by telling you that I have not always been Venna McKinsey. In the beginning, I was Benna McKinsey. I was Benna when my mother died from radiation-poisoning, when I was only three years old. I was Benna in first school when my father would often call me his 'bonnie Benna' when I set out in the morning for the learning labs. I was 'Benna the beautiful', as he also called me. I was also 'brave Benna'. Some of my lab mates called me 'bossy Benna'."
"I partially learned the game of being bossy by often observing my father direct the actions of many people he worked with. As some of you know, my father was a software prodigy and he helped design and construct the first Centroid Logics Hubs. He always had many project plates spinning in our cottage. Now, some say that CL Hubs led to the rapid consolidation of com control in Earth Core and the consequent loss of privacy. And there is truth in that view."
"But we know it is also true that adaptive-distributed work in communities of three to five thousand people, otherwise called Centroid Hubs, quickly produced improved health, prosperity, and social cohesion for many who live outside the domes. My father achieved much good for all his hard effort. He viewed his early cores as trusted advisors on major, complex decisions. But his work on the early Hub cores came to gradually redefine the purpose and role of each Hub's Guardian Council. In short time, Hub cores became the only dependable way to maximize and expedite each community's rational decision-making, and to minimize partisan influences. As we all know, the Hub cores and their Guardian Councils evolved into Earth Core and Earth's One Council. Today, many say that the Guardian Councils, and even the One Council, are nothing more than ceremonial rubber-stampers for virtually every core report or directive. And there is truth in that view. Still, I know it is also true that, because of my father, today I can flourish as Venna McKinsey and contribute to Centroid Logic's, and his, worthy mission."
"I was born Benna McKinsey in the Lake Oswego Hub, first daughter of a Founder. My father hired a smart and loving nanny after my unremembered mother died. Mostly, he seemed always busy with his work. People were always coming and going in our cottage. But I have many memories of many nights when he sat me on his lap and we watched adventure stories until I fell asleep. That was the time, he always told me, when Princess Benna the Beautiful appeared."
"When I started first school, when I wasn't doing com-mentor lessons, I worked in the gardens planting and weeding, and then later in the bakery and kitchens. But for all my enjoyment in working with my hands in the gardens, my father's cyber work fascinated me, and the more I learned, the more I became interested. I tested into cyber learning lessons, and by the end of first school I was already working on the Centroid Network. A few of the boys back then called me 'binary Benna' which I took to be a compliment on my outstanding logic skills rather than my blooming bubs." Chuckles flowed around the table.
"When I was fourteen, I played one hot summer night in the Hub's lush garden with Rad Slump, a handsome boy who intrigued me by his boldness and wild abandon. We chased each other naked through the vines and shadows. Finally winded, we sprawled on the grass and rolled our hot, wet bodies together. Then there was a strange ticking sound. We were spooked and jumped quickly into our clothes. We crept back to our cottages without incident and I thought nothing more of the matter. "
"A couple of weeks after our garden romp, I received a blackmail message with vid clips of romping with Rad Slump. The note was blunt: no money required, just a few sexual favors for an old man in a mask. To avoid the shame to my father and myself, all I had to do was rendezvous at a remote location in one week. For his protection, the blackmailer explained, I would surrender my ID pin for the duration of our 'romantic games'. It would be fun...perhaps there would even be gifts. And if I did not meet him in one week, he would reluctantly have to expose the shameless, disreputable behavior of Benna McKinsey, daughter of a beloved Founder."
"I was very agitated but could not avoid watching the surreptitious vids. The quality was not good but my face clearly showed in a few frames. It was obvious that the vids had been manipulated with intercut scenes of extreme license and crudity. In the scene where my face showed most clearly, it had been morphed onto a body that was doing things I would never have done.
"For three days, I fell into an anxiety fugue and feared for my ability to think clearly or act prudently. Eventually, I concluded that I had to tell my father and seek his counsel. And when I told him, he took me in his arms and held me close in a trembling silence. 'There is a way out of this evil game,' he comforted me, 'but it will mean that my Beautiful Benna must vanish'."
"His plan was simple: I would rendezvous as arranged and surrender my ID pin at the drop point but then run away. Foiled, the blackmailer would scan my pin and attempt to attach my ID to the vid files to execute his threat. But in doing this, the Hub core would detect his ID and the police informed. He would be arrested, his personal data logs confiscated, and I would retain my good reputation. 'But the core's logs will still show my ID and Rad's related to the incriminating vids,' I protested. 'No,' my father assured, 'the Hub's logs will show the blackmailer also guilty of identity theft and attempting to subvert Hub security and unauthorized possession of your dead sister's ID pin.'"
"'But I have no dead twin sister!' I cried in disbelief. 'Ahhh, my dear beautiful Benna,' he said gently, 'soon you will. My special access to the core will let me construct a new root record and a new ID pin for you...for my beautiful Venna. Benna's connection to the vids will be logged as an attempt at fraudulent identity shifting. The whole affair will be unconnected from the records of my daughter Venna...and her life.' I reluctantly agreed to trust him, and the next day he gave me a new ID pin for one Venna McKinsey. He explained that, with his thick Scottish brogue all these years, he had been misheard saying Benna when he meant to say Venna. And so it was that I became Venna."
"Dressed in a cloak that concealed my face, I delivered Benna's ID pin at the remote drop point at the set time. And then I ran. A gruff voice called after me: 'You foolish wretch, I have your ID. You are a ghost without your pin. You will forever regret that you were born and did not bend to my desire.' The following day, my father informed me that the blackmailer had been snared as expected. It was Bofus Rump, Rad's father, a retired Hub Guardian who, the records showed, had long had his eyes on me. As my father had predicted, Bofus was found guilty of attempted identity theft and blackmail and vid modding and jeopardy to youth. My father arranged that copies of the scurrilous vids were expunged from Hub records, and that Benna showed only as a spurious node designating paper birth records that were now lost."
"A few years after the change in my Hub core identity, Earth Core was established and ID scrubbing was implemented. By the time I became a Senior Fellow for Environmental Understanding at Etude's Academy for Applied Environmental Studies, everyone knew me as Venna. And I was Venna McKinsey when I joined Centroid Logics. Today, as personal envoy to Kitty Porquio, my Earth Core records show no Benna ID because this all happened before centralized scrubbing. My father is now the only one who still calls me Benna, and then only in private. And until today, everyone else, even Earth Core, has known me only as Venna. But what's in a name, you might ask?"
"Just before he died, my father apologized for contributing to the development of core ID tracking and the global surveillance apparatus that was supposed to eliminate the security fears that festered and metastasized during the Tilt and that grew in the lawless years that followed. He said that most were persuaded to build a single Earth Core with the facile argument: 'If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.' Nobody guessed that cams and mics and noses would become so inconspicuous and ubiquitous, or that Earth Core would quickly learn to make very accurate predictions about humans based on the terabytes of statistical data it amassed every day. That's what he told me. And he said he wanted to apologize for helping build a fishbowl world. He whispered: 'Bonnie Benna, please forgive me...what I've done... that you will now never know being alone with yourself."
"'What is it to be alone?' I asked him. He looked into me with watery blue eyes. 'In the old days,' he whispered, 'you could walk in a forest and be without a name except the one you call yourself. In the old days there were secrets, and the trees and flowers and streams and winds and rains did not speak them. But in these grim days, the trees and flowers and other creatures in the forest can watch and listen to Venna at every turn.'"
"He sighed long and then said he loved me for the truth of my life as Benna and the beauty of my life as Venna. After a long silence of gathering the strength to speak, he whispered that I reminded him of the simple lines of the long-dead Earth poet Keats: 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty—that is all ye know on Earth, and all ye need to know.' Those were the last words of my father."
"What is in a name, you might ask again? All I can answer is that only you can answer that speaking to yourself with the name you give yourself as the genius of yourself."
There was only silence of the VASMIR throbbing for a stretch and then I heard the sim snap off. I opened my eyes and saw Venna, tears in her eyes, smiling at me.
"What a strange story you tell," Tup Borme said breaking the silence. "But I am a spiff confused. Oio...are we to call you Venna....or...should it now be Benna?"
Venna laughed her clear, bright laugh. "Ohh fellow travelers," she said in suddenly hurried voice as she briskly turned and glided toward the door, "...you can call me Venna or you can call me Benna. Just do not call me late to ora and labora!"
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You step in the stream