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The Harley Quinn movie I want to see.

Ok, full disclosure. I’ve only seen the new Suicide Squad movie, so for all I know the old Suicide Squad movie, or Birds of Prey might be the Harley Quinn movie I want… but I also want this one.

We open with Harley in custody in her cell, and she’s approached by Amanda Waller with a job. Time to assemble the Suicide Squad. Only this time, Harley is team lead. Waller needs her expertise, so Harley gets to assemble her own dream team.

We’re indulged by a montage of miscellaneous villains, mostly rejected by Harley out of hand. But through the dialog her handlers she learns that the mission they’re prepping for is highly unorthodox. Here’s the team:

  • Catwoman – Selina Kyle:
  • Poison Ivy – Pamela Lillian Isely:
  • Calendar Man – Julian Gregory Day: A genius and a psychopath (like Hannibal Lecter). His crimes always revolve around a holiday or event. In the comics, Calendar Man makes his debut in The Long Halloween. The relationship between Batman and Calendar Man is akin to the relationship between Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter.
  • Livewire –  Leslie Willis: Once a popular and controversial radio shock jock. Willis was electrocuted by lightning that passed through Superman’s body, giving her the ability to control electrical current and a hatred for Superman.
  • Hammer and Sickle – Molotok and Cepn Abramovici: Former circus performers, and once-conjoined twins, now separated. Bitterly estranged until now, both became enforcers in rival criminal enterprises. Hammer served Joker and Sickle served Penguin.

Here’s a list of folks you could either comedically reject in the selection process, or unceremoniously destroy in the film.

  • Parasite, Mindboggler, Nightshade, Plastique, the Privateer, Vixen

Once the team is selected Amanda reveals that the target is Joker. Batman is off doing Justice League stuff and in his absence Joker has escalated the mayhem. But here’s the catch, after Harley assembles to the team, and gives them all the intel they need, Waller takes her off the team and throws her back in her cell. Because the mission is to take Joker alive, and Waller believes Harley is emotionally compromised and will kill the target.

How we’ve got a significant B plot. The Team charges forward like any other suicide mission. Action and destruction. But behind the scenes Harley has to escape Arkham and go after Joker herself. In the final action sequence we end up with Harley ambushing the Squad, ruining their plan, and going after Joker, forcing the Squad to protect Joker before they can capture him. Harley’s friends on the squad, especially Selina and Ivy, grapple with their loyalty to the Squad’s mission when they’d kinda rather Harley succeed.

Harley wins this brawl, but when the time comes she can’t pull the trigger. In a private moment Catwoman quotes Batman/Catwoman #5 (2021): “See, Harley, the problem is–why you couldn’t do it, why you never did it–you’re too good to be bad” and kills Joker for her.

With the target destroyed, the Squad mission is a failure. Waller is lead to believe that Harley killed Joker and escaped, so Catwoman is allowed to live. Whoever’s left alive is put back in their cells. Credits roll, but interspersed throughout the credits we get scenes of Harley breaking into Arkham, and busting Selina and Ivy out, setting us up for a Cobb Squad feature next.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about shoes

Overthinking shoes is a kind of theme in my life. Shoes have vexed me since I arrived in the US in second grade. Impractical. Uncomfortable. Expensive. More status than function. Here are some stories about shoes.

Although I was born in the US, my earliest memories are in foreign countries. My Dad was doing personnel software for the military, which sent our family to far flung places like Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, and the Maldives. Places where shoes were often optional, and certainly didn’t hold the status they hold in American consumer culture. We didn’t get back to the US until I was in second grade, so my experience was similar in many ways to the culture shock experienced by young immigrants. One of those shocks was the role of shoes. See, it wasn’t just important, even mandatory, to wear shoes, but it mattered what brand of shoes you wore. In fact, wearing the right shoes was the price of entry in some social cliques. That year Nike’s Air Jordan’s were all the rage, but they were prohibitively expensive, and utterly impractical.

I grew up wearing generic shoes, and as an adult I have obstinately refused to pay for status with shoes. I would rather wear discounted Velcro shoes from a bargain bin like an old man than pay exorbitant amounts for name brand kicks. I would rather buy shoes with a fair trade certification than an athletic sponsorship, but more likely would cruise thrift stores and surplus stores for anything that fit for cheap.

When I moved to Georgia in 2017 I moved into a family with three kids. Their father invited me to live with them after my mother died, and they regarded me as family. It was chaotic, but that suited me fine. By happenstance, I ended up occasionally borrowing the sandals of the middle kid. The first time they’d been left out, and I had to run out in a hurry, so I grabbed the first thing handy. But it became a habit. Eventually I had worn them so much I didn’t feel right returning them. I’d caused a bit of wear and tear, and I’d stepped in puddles which gave them a bit of a funk. The kid wasn’t upset or anything, but I offered to replace them with any style of equal value. I looked them up online to give us a price point, and we went shopping.

I saw it as an opportunity to teach the kid a little something about reciprocity. I used the sandals, I damaged the sandals, so I was going to made them whole. Basic restorative justice. Back then the kid had a little childish kleptomania going on, and I thought I could inculcate a respect for other people’s property by showing them respect for their property. It seems to have worked.

Years later I was present when the kid went to their mom and asked for new shoes. Their old shoes were wrecked, worn so thin their socks touched the ground. But the kid didn’t know, and we didn’t tell them, that their mom couldn’t buy shoes because their father cut off her access to family money when he fled the home to shack up with his girlfriend… no actually it was before…

He cut off the money earlier than that. It was Penguin’s (the kitten’s) first vet visit when her cards started declining. He said it wasn’t his cat and he wasn’t going to pay for the vet bills. Nevermind that I had to foot the bill for his dogs. The story of Penguin probably deserves it’s own post. He was the catalyst that kicked off this whole fiasco.

I could tell the mom was breaking down, because she was cornered. The kid asking for new shoes was a reasonable, even urgent request, but she was trying to deal with her husband without disclosing his abusive behavior to the kids. So she couldn’t explain why she had no money.

I’d seen this kid ask their father for new shoes before he fled the scene. He enthusiastically agreed, but never followed through. It’s a pattern we’d all observed. Even the kids were hip to it. So I bought the shoes.

It is apparently in my nature to over think shoes. I spent a whole day creating a spreadsheet of every style and brand in our price range, and I presented the kid with what I’d deduced was objectively the best quality and durability for the price. They replied with exactly the brand, style, and color they wanted, which was incidentally already on my spreadsheet, and less expensive. So, I ordered both and we started jogging together.

I suspect that this was literally the first time I’d ever paid retail for name brand shoes for myself in my entire life. It felt like a financial milestone. Although I didn’t go running with the kid more than twice, because they lapped me multiple times just running around the block. I was just holding them back.

Later I overheard the father tell his kid it was inappropriate of me to buy the shoes. I completely agree, and I’d like him to reimburse me.

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I Am Multitudes

When I was in elementary school someone asked me what my greatest fear was, and I said late onset multiple personality disorder. Although now they call it dissociative identity disorder. I explained that I had this fear that who I was, and what I thought, or felt, didn’t matter if I became someone else entirely later in life. But now that I’m older, and know that this happens in the normal course of life, I can’t help but feel plural.

My parents were world travelers, and I didn’t enter the American school system until second grade. I experienced a culture shock similar to immigrant children entering American society mid-stream. At the time, my classmates were obsessed with the social status of shoe brands. Owning Nike Air Jordans was the price of entry in some social cliques, and there was a hierarchy of brand identities that conferred social clout. I, on the other hand, was not accustomed to wearing shoes at all, and had no conceptual reference for the meaning of brands. Ironically, as an adult graphic designer, building brand identity for clients is a central function of my service.

I was called “retarded” and “glitch” by my elementary school peers, so to explain my peculiarities I concocted this elaborate lie about where I came from. I told them that I was from a race of highly advanced extraterrestrials. I told them that my species maintained their genetically superior intelligence by removing the “retarded” from their genepool by killing their offspring before they were old enough to procreate. I told them that my biological parents rescued me from that fate by sending me to a planet primitive enough for me to fit in, but that they over-shot. It’s the silly fantasy of a silly child, told primarily as a way to reclaim the r-slur. But like all fiction it contained a kernel of truth. I was alienated from my peers primarily because I did not think as others thought. Because I am not neurotypical.

When my parents got divorced they put me in therapy as a precautionary measure. A wise move. Dr. Gonzolvas told me that every 7 years or so we experience major life changes that warrant conceiving of ourselves as an entirely new person. So, to observe these transitions, I held funerals for my previous selves. The first, I performed alone when I was 14. The second was a huge house party when I was 21. There were a hundred guests or more, and I invited close friends to read eulogies in my memory. I spent the entire party laying silently in an open casket. I’m 39 now and in the middle of my sixth self.

In high school I had a falling out with my mother and moved in with my dad, which meant switching schools my senior year. I used it as another opportunity to reinvent myself with an elaborate lie. I told my new peers that I was a child of the circus. Another fiction that contained a kernel of truth.

One of the greatest compliments I ever received was from a high school friend who said, “Davi is some of my favorite people.” It was the first time in memory that I was acknowledged as plural.

In college an identity emerged named Jason Monroe who claimed to be me from 5 years, 5 months, and 5 days in the future. He said he was there to guide me through tough decisions I lacked the wisdom to make myself. Whenever anyone confronted me about my various campus antics I told them it wasn’t me, but my friend Jason. Jason and I co-authored a book. He had a column in a student magazine. And by the time I graduated Jason was such a presence on campus that strangers told me they had met him. It turns out many of the alters of people with dissociative identity disorder emerge as protectors of some kind.

I’ve never had an alter (If that’s what we’re calling them) that took the reins without permission. I’ve always been able to channel rogue identities into fiction, where I could govern the limits of their autonomy. I’m told this is a common experience for writers. I’ve also never had a malevolent alter, which may be why I find writing (and understanding) villains so difficult. They can be assholes. Even merciless. But I’ve never felt an inclination toward vengeance, or retaliation. My alters have always been subtle voices that stand up for themselves better than I stand up for myself.

I have always suppressed my alters. Heck, I murdered Jason. Probably because of that childhood fear that I’d lose myself if I didn’t keep them in check. But at the end of the day, I am my alters. I am plural. In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions, you see us as you want to see us.

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I’ve Been A Hypocrite

Whenever young writers ask me for advice, especially with writer’s block, I tell them about a writing practice called “Morning Pages”. I tell them to spend thirty minutes every morning writing literally every rambling word that goes through their head without censorship or premeditation. It’s like clearing your throat, and overcoming the crippling fear or writing something terrible by committing to writing terrible things every day.

Doing this, invariably you will begin to hear a profane little voice rooting for your failure. I call this voice “The Critic”. When you’re writing your Morning Pages the Critic’s words go down on the page with everything else, and in my experience the voice eventually gives up, and you can move on.

I say I’ve been a hypocrite because even thought I recommend this ritual to others, I haven’t committed to it personally in years. I’m not sure when I stopped, or why. It could be that once I started writing for publication the private rituals of the craft took a back seat. But it could also be a product of depression and malaise, knowing on some level that journaling of any kind is the bane of self-deception. We all guard our delusions jealously, especially when we depend on them to stay afloat.

I’ve been frantically drafting in my head all year. It’s been like an obsession distracting me from productive work. But I’ve been hesitant to actually pound the keys. A big part of that has been because a hostile party, who I thought was a friend, has been monitoring my public utterances to use against me. The crazy thing is I don’t even know why … but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The truth is that I wanted to tell this story even before it became hostile. I’ve always strived to live my life as a story I can be proud to tell, perhaps even a story that can be instructive, or inspiring, or at least interesting to others. The potential retaliations of the hostile party are not the only, or even the primary thing holding me back. The fact is that even though I have at times lived a very public life, I have also led a deeply closeted life. I’d like to remedy that, even though the potential criticisms can be daunting.

Sure, I’ve published some books, and I’ve won some writing awards, but there’s no question that when I was younger I was less self-censoring, less concerned with success and failure, and more focused on the raw craft of writing. Now, I haven’t published anything serious since Survivor Max 3. I haven’t even really written anything, despite theoretically working on the fourth installment. I’m suffering from the same writer’s block I tell others I’ve somehow solved. So, if I’m going to overcome this malaise and tell this story I’m going to have to return to first practices. To get back to the raw pleasure of writing for writings sake. To take my own advice and write something terrible.

Paramour: By Way Of Love

by Corinne Barrios and Davi Barker

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What if it wasn’t a toxic relationship? What if it was toxic mold?

For some time now I’ve been tweeting about my progress through “The Forgiveness Workbook “but I’ve reached a plateau where 280 characters just isn’t enough to achieve real growth. So here we are, the first of probably many longer posts about this topic.

Here’s the thing. I just can’t shake this feeling… What if the problem has been the toxic mold all along?

I noticed [Redacted] had a major mold problem the first time I went in his bathroom in 2016. The walls were covered in these swirls of sage green and black, like a mint Oreo milkshake. I thought it might be a wallpaper at first, but no. It’s toxic mold. I know because I had it tested.

It started years before I arrived. He had a leak in the roof right above his head that dripped on his pillow when it rained. And the mold just followed the moisture, dripping down one side of the vaulted ceiling, and covering the adjacent bathroom.

Now, I never spent more than a few nights in his bed, but he stewed in that room for years before the recent hostilities erupted. And he was obviously stacking some serious undisclosed resentments along the way. We talked about mold remediation, but it wasn’t my house, and not really my responsibility. That was just how he chose to live.

Lab results confirmed unsafe levels of toxic mold in both the master bedroom and their oldest child’s room. Coincidentally, or not, their relationship is the most fractured out of everyone right now. I looked into it and both paranoia and delusions are symptoms of prolonged exposure to these molds. That would certainly explain all the baffling behavior. So I have to wonder, what if the toxic mold was the root of the problem all along?

And the crazy thing is, even after all he’s done, I still want to tell them to go see a doctor about it. Take whatever tests they’ve got. Get a full psychological profile done if they can. I’d even pay for that. But I can’t, because ironically he doesn’t trust me.

But suppose it were true. Suppose a decade living in toxic mold took some toll on his mental health? Well that would mean he’s getting better now, right? Ever since he decided to move out. That could mean that eventually, probably gradually, but someday the mold induced fugue would lift, and he’d be able to look back on his choices with a clearer perception. To see all he’s wrought objectively.

Personally, I would find that realization utterly humbling, but it still beats the alternative.

Paramour: By Way Of Love

by Corinne Barrios and Davi Barker

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A Flag Of Unity For The Holy Land

Last night I went through some old CDs and found backups of some files I thought I’d lost. Lots of treasure on these discs I’ll be sharing gradually, but these I felt were particularly prescient.

They were designed originally as non-state flags for the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in 2010. A fleet of six multinational civilian ships bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza was raided by the Israeli military before it reached shore. Nine activists were killed in the raid, which earned international condemnation and resulted in a deterioration of Israeli foreign relations. Israel ultimately loosed the Gaza blockade, and all surviving activists were eventfully freed. Unfortunately committees couldn’t agree on a design, and we couldn’t get them produced in time, so they never flew.

Non-the-less, the concept is still relevant, obviously. Recently, ethnically targeted evictions in a predominantly Palestinian neighborhood of East Jerusalem, and police action taken against peaceful Muslim worshipers outside al Aqsa mosque last Ramadan sparked a new violent clash. Israeli air strikes killed 42 Palestinians, including 10 children. Hamas fired seven rockets in retaliation. Some homes were damaged, but no casualties were reported. An Israeli air strike also destroyed a 12-storey building that housed the offices of multiple international press organizations, including Al Jazeera and the Associated Press. The office of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund was also destroyed. 17 hospitals in Gaza were also damaged, including Gaza’s only COVID center.

I’m considering producing a unity flag anyway. As Malcom X said:

“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

I think it’s important to understand that although the State of Israel is an oppressive regime, civilians on both sides of the wall are being oppressed to varying degrees. And this is a civilian flag. Not a state flag.

I want to be upfront about my interest here, because there’s an air of cultural appropriation about it. I’m muslim, but not Palestinian. I’m from a partially Jewish family, but not Israeli. My greatest interest is humanitarian. I believe no state has a right to exist, but all people do. I believe every peaceful person in the region has a right to live there peacefully and unmolested, as with any other region. My personal interest is I suppose spiritual. It is not only Jewish people who have a spiritual tie to the region. Any follower of any Abrahamic religion has a legitimate interest. Indeed any individual who has felt a call to pilgrimage to any of the region’s many significant sites, regardless of faith, should have a right to perform those rites, or even to visit them for secular purposes. And to whatever extent anyone is prevented is yet another, although lesser, injustice. My Jewish brother was able to travel there easily, while, from what I’ve read, I might face barriers and bureaucracies that are prohibitive for my temperaments. I want to see a world where everyone has free and equal access to the country regardless of what government (if any) is officiating it. So this is ultimately a call to unity and siblinghood, which I regard as appropriate for all cultures.

That being said, I welcome feedback from individuals of either of these cultures with special regard.

Option A

The lock and key became a motif in most of these designs because many displaced Palestinians keep the keys to the homes they lost and hand them down over generations. In both a literal and metaphorical sense, Palestinians hold the keys, and Israel holds the lock. But this is my least favorite design because it is the closest to the national flag, and being bifurcated it seems visually segregated.

Option B

Here the lock and key are abstracted to make the distinction of sides less severe. The Arabic reads “Salam” and the Hebrew is “Shalom” which both mean “Peace” and have identical linguistic roots.

Option C

An outlier from a design perspective. This option features a dove and olive branch, which have become an international symbol of peace. But, what’s less known is that the image originates in the Old Testament story of Noah, which both traditions share. The text reads “Salam” and “Shalom” again, but also “Tzedek” in Hebrew, and “Adl” in Arabic which both mean “Justice”.

Option D

This was the concept a group of high school kids came up with. I can’t say I understand what the flames and drips mean. I imagine it’s something along the lines of the flames being the rage of disunity that is cooled when the barriers are unlocked.

Option E

I really like this one, because it doesn’t reference either flag. These are patterns from Arab and Jewish traditional shawls. In other words, it represents both peoples, not the state.

Option F

Even though I prefer the symbolism of the shawls over the flags, this is currently my front runner because I think this design will be more readily understood by a larger audience. Like these two peoples, a lock and a key are irrevocably linked to one another. In deed, one could argue they are useless without one another. So, to call for anything other than unity between them, is to call for genocide of one of them. And the simplicity of the design will translate better to smaller items, like pins or keychains.

So, you got a favorite? Or a suggestion?

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8 Spooky Parallels Between COVID-19 and Ataxic Hyperphagia

Ataxic Hyperphagia is the fictional zombie pathogen featured in my young adult adventure trilogy, Survivor Max. I began writing the series in 2014, and finished in 2018, but by coincidence or providence I based the fictional outbreak on the real science of coronaviruses. Coronaviruses are a family of viruses common in bats, pangolins and humans.

In fact, although technically the pathogen in Survivor Max is not a coronavirus, the logo I created for the series still resembles their signature shape, because part of the point of the series, for me, is to teach scientific literacy. Under a microscope all coronaviruses resemble a solar corona, but CV19 gets called the Novel Coronavirus because this strain has never been seen before.

So, here are some things that the ghouls of Survivor Max can teach us about CV19.

1) A Respiratory Infection:

Have you noticed how on The Walking Dead everyone turns into a Walker when they die, even if they’ve never been bit? That’s because everyone is already infected, and the only way a pathogen can spread to that many people who’ve never been bitten is if it spreads by reparatory infection, not blood infection. In other words, you catch it, and spread it, with your breath.

Before I came up with the name Ataxic Hyperphagia, a fifth grader came up with the name Stink Pox. That kid rightly intuited that the infection was spread, in a sense, by the smell. In Survivor Max, most authorities assume that the undead outbreak is bloodborne, and transmitted by bites. This leads them to commit a number of serious strategical errors. Max possesses the scientific evidence to the contrary.

Like Cold and Flu, CV19 is spread via small bits of sputum and saliva expelled when we breathe. Sneezing and and coughing spreads it more. These respiratory droplets can be inhaled or infect us when we touch our face. The virus gets in and out of our body through our mouth and nose.

2) Asymptomatic Transmission:

Respiratory transmission isn’t enough for your especially virulent bug. It also helps if the patient doesn’t show any symptoms right away. If a virus makes people cough and sneeze right away, people figure out who’s sick and successfully isolate them. But if contagious people don’t cough and sneeze, they can spread the virus around for a while without knowing it.

In the case of Survivor Max, characters refer to the “hidden infection,” and the “active infection.” The hidden infection is when the person is alive, and asymptomatic until something triggers it to activate. The death of the host, in the case of zombies. The active infection is all the changes to the body after they begin to turn.

For CV19, the most common symptoms are fatigue, fever, cough, and shortness of breath. But symptoms may not appear until up to 14 days after exposure, and more than half of cases never have obvious symptoms. The problem is that asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic cases are still contagious, and can infect others. Some evidence suggests that viral load peaks before symptoms appear. That means, even if you feel healthy, you might still be a spreader.

3) High Morbidity and Low Mortality:

Morbidity describes the speed an infection spreads through a population. Mortality is the percentage of patients that die. The Death Toll is the product of those two numbers. A high morbidity means it spreads from person to person very quickly, while a low mortality means that only a small percentage of those who catch the bug actually die from it.

It turns out that this combination is actually more dangerous than the reverse. High morbidity combined with low mortality allows an infection to go unnoticed in a population for a long time. So it spreads out nice and easy, and seems like nothing to worry about. Conversely, a disease with a low morbidity and high mortality would be very dangerous to the individual infected, but also difficult to transmit to others. That means it’s easy to identify who’s infected, and put a stop to the outbreak. A good example of this is the Ebola outbreak in the US. Even though Ebola is much more deadly to the individual, only 11 people required treatment during the 2014 epidemic. This is because Ebola has a low morbidity. It’s transmitted by bodily fluids, which are much harder to share than air.

4) Loss of Smell:

Just kidding. I actually got this one exactly backwards. One of the most perplexing symptoms of CV19 is that patients may lose their sense of smell. Conversely, in Survivor Max, Ataxic Hyperphagia actually increases the sense of smell. In fact, smell is primary sense the ghouls use to hunt their prey. You can’t win all the time.

5) It Reaches The Alveoli:

No, “alveoli” is not type of pasta.

You’re probably seen pictures of all the little airways in the lungs. They look a bit like a tree. And at the end of each hair-thin branch is a tiny cluster of alveoli. The alveoli are super tiny inflatable air sacs that allow gas exchange between the lungs and the blood. Adult lungs normally contain between 300-500 million alveoli.

Most reparatory infections stay in the branches of the tree. We breath them in. They aggravate our throat, and our sinuses mostly. Even a bad bronchial infection, or pneumonia tends to stay in the lungs. But, to create a zombie with an infectious bite your pathogen has to go from the lungs into the bloodstream through the alveoli, and that’s exactly what happens in Survivor Max.

In the case of CV19, doctors were initially confused because some patients tested as having extremely low blood-oxygen levels, but they were not having any difficulty breathing. Their lung capacity was just fine. It wasn’t like having fluid in their lungs. They’re alveoli just weren’t giving the oxygen to the blood. Later, autopsies showed their alveoli had become clogged with with white blood cells, mucus, and the remnants of dead lung cells.

The risk is deoxygenated blood has no obvious outward symptoms, but it potentially damages every organ, especially the brain. Prolonged low level oxygen deprivation is particularly dangerous because it distorts our own perception of the problem we’re experiencing. Like a drunk who doesn’t realize how drunk they are, because they’re drunk.

6) Comorbidities Play A Major Role

A comorbidity is when a patient simultaneously has two or more diseases, and the two infections effect each other. A perfect example is HIV and AIDS. In both acronyms the “I” stands for “Immunodeficiency.” What that virus actually does is wear down our immune systems so we’re more vulnerable to another infection, and it’s actually those opportunistic infections that threaten the lives of HIV and and AIDS patients.

Similarly, in Survivor Max, it isn’t the bite, or the death of the host that activates the Ataxic Hyperphagia (although they will). It’s the host’s diminished immune system. The pathogen triggers the transformation just as soon as the host’s immune system is too weak to fight it off. Sometimes even while the host is still alive.

Cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, cancer and many other underlying conditions can increase the danger of a CV19 comorbidity. This is why CV19 is much more lethal for patients with pre-existing, otherwise manageable, conditions. A greater risk exists for these patients because the virus doesn’t work alone, but leaves the body vulnerable to other opportunistic infections.

This is why it’s important to keep taking prudent precautions, even if you’re young and healthy, because if you’ve got loved ones with pre-existing conditions, you might transmit it to them by mistake.

7) BRAINS!!!

In Survivor Max, Ataxic Hyperphagia attacks the brain. That’s how you make a zombie, after all. But CV19 is coming for our brains too… sort of.

In Survivor Max the pathogen hijacks the amygdala, which regulates the fight-or-flight mechanism, and our sense of hunger. In the living dead that means a thoughtless creature governed entirely by its basest instinct to hunt and eat. But in the living the effect is much more subtle. It might make an infected person more quick to anger, or less risk averse. As it takes hold, it makes the infected drawn to dangerous activities, and prone to poor judgement. In effect, the dormant infection is guiding the patient toward behaviors that might activate the infection.

CV19 attacks the brain in a different way. That oxygen deprived caused by the clogged alveoli can have a terrifying effect on the brain. It’s a bit like being drunk. But the person’s cognitive function drops before they consciously realize there’s a problem. And sometimes, such a person gets stubborn about it, and angrily insists there isn’t a problem. When you’ve got some time, go find videos of astronauts and scuba divers testing in low oxygen environments. Because that’s the kind of zombie created by oxygen deprivation.

Scientists now warn of a potential wave of CV19-related neurological complications, including inflammation, psychosis and delirium. There have been cases of CV 19 patients who suffered either temporary brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage or other serious brain effects. The big concern is that even after millions of people recover from CV19, some of those people may have permanent cognitive deficits moving forward.

Another recent study suggests that CV19 may hide in people’s brains after recovery and trigger a relapse later on. Although this was a study performed on lab mice, not observed in humans. The researchers found that the virus was located in the brains of mice at a level that was 1,000 times higher than in any other part of the body.

8) An Infodemic (Or Is It An Infopocalypse?):

In Survivor Max, as with many stories in the zombie genre, the response by the government and the media plays a major role in the devastation. Panic and misinformation pose as great a risk to public health as the outbreak itself. The mismanagement of authorities acting upon hasty or biased conclusions can actually facilitate the spread of an outbreak.

In the case of CV19, one study examined similar news shows and proved that misinformation correlated with increased infection and death among the shows viewers.

Claims that silver-infused toothpaste, or breathing hot air from a hair dryer can kill the virus, are completely unsubstantiated. Many have suspected that the Death Toll has been exaggerated. Some scientist claim that genetic markers prove that CV19 has a natural origin, but some have claimed the virus is some kind of bio-weapon of human design. Still others claim the disease is linked to 5G networks, even though CV19 has spread in many countries that do not have 5G networks. When medical science becomes politicized, misinformation makes it hard to know who to trust. So, media literacy can be just as important as scientific literacy in a crisis of this scale.

BONUS) Predicting Elliot Page’s Big Reveal

I know, this has nothing to do with CV19, but it did happen during the pandemic. That’s why it’s a bonus point, and not part of the numbered list.

In Survivor Max, I’ve had a character since the first book named Elisabeth Paige, or Ellie for short. But, in 2018 the video game “The Last of Us” won Game of the Year, and I discovered that their main character was also a young girl named Ellie surviving in the zombie apocalypse. Further, I learned that their Ellie was loosely modeled on “Ellen Page,” as they were known at the time. Quite a coincidence. So, in the third book I had Ellie begin presenting as male, and going by Elliot Paige.

Then, in 2020, the actor formally known as “Ellen Page” took the name Elliot Page. Am I crazy to think I’ve created the role of a lifetime for Elliot Page? Obviously he can’t go back in time and play “Ellie” as a young girl, but in the next trilogy of the series (yet unfinished) Elliot and Max are 10 years older, and no one left alive but Max even knows that Elliot was assigned female at birth. How amazing would it be for Elliot Page to play a character named Elliot Paige totally by coincidence?

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Unislamic Art?

I’m struggling with this cut-up piece for a variety of reasons. It’s unlike my other collages for a number of reasons I’d like to unpack. For starters, it feels both finished and unfinished simultaneously. Currently, it consists of only two pieces: the subject in the foreground, and the battle in the background. This is a dramatic lack of chaos compared to my other work, but in it’s simplicity it feels complete to me. It conveys what we as muslims call sakina, or a profound spiritual tranquility. Here, the serene figure is sheltered from my customary chaos, exemplified by the battle outside. So, I’m ambivalent whether to declare it finished, or delve back into the source material and increase the chaos in my normal fashion.

Ironically, the source material is the most interesting part of this piece for me. It doesn’t come from an islamic book. It comes from the “Assamite Clanbook,” a sourcebook for the roleplaying game “Vampire: The Masquerade,” describing a faction of Muslim vampires. Ironically, I found it in a Christian bookstore. I played this game extensively in my youth, and even played an Assamite or two. At the time, the game was criticized by Christians in my life as containing demonic overtones, similar to their criticisms of Dungeons & Dragons. And honestly, a typical Muslim would find this book deeply offensive… but I don’t.

I have always believed that God judges us by our intentions, not our rectitude… that acting with sincerity is more important than acting without error. As the Prophet Muhammad allegedly said, “Actions are judged by their motives, so each person will have what they intended” (Bukhari & Muslim). This book contains a variety of errors which would offend the bulk of Muslims. It describes a clan of vampires engaged in a violent jihad against other clans. It appropriates passages of the Quran to describe their beliefs. Here, the illustrator included a passage called al-Qadr to describe the battle, the translation of which is:

Verily We have sent down the Quran on the Night of Power.
And what will make you understand how excellent the Night of Power is?
The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.
Therein descend the angels and the Spirit, by the permission of their Lord, with decrees concerning all matters.
Peace it is, until the appearance of the dawn.

In fact, this scene originally contained a depiction of Muhammad himself, inside the fortress and engulfed in flames, which I covered with the subject in the foreground.

So, why aren’t I offended? Well, for starters this depiction of Muhammad didn’t come from the imagination of the illustrators. It’s a recreation of an ancient Persian tapestry. In the iconography of the age, the flames were a symbol spiritual purity, like the halo in European art. The intention of the original image is honorific, and it’s the intention of the entire book that earns my merciful interpretation. The writers were not intending to characterize real Muslims as bloodsucking monsters. There intention was equal inclusion of a foreign culture, through the lens of their fictional world. That’s what most of the Vampire clanbooks are. The core rule book of the game describes a dark world of vampires, mostly in America, and the clanbooks expand that mythos to include factions elsewhere in the world. It’s similar to Frank Herbert’s inclusion of elements of islamic culture in “Dune” and it’s sequels. In their ignorance they made numerous errors, but their intention was a celebration of that culture, and ignorance is innocent. Only willful ignorance is offensive.

I see this collage an effort to reclaim these illustrations and rectify their original honorific intention.

I actually submitted this piece, as is, to an Islamic Art Exhibit, but it was rejected. Not because of the offensiveness of the source material, but because of this little detail.

The eye of the elephant. In the strictest interpretation of “Islamic” art, artists are not supposed to depict the eyes of living beings. This rule is obviously not universally observed. Not even the prohibition of depicting Muhammad is universally observed by Muslims, evidenced by the long history honorific tapestries. But the Imam behind the curation felt abiding by the strictest interpretation was integral to their exhibit. So this particular piece remains undisplayed, and perhaps unfinished, in my private collection. I like that just fine.

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Shiny Badges Hacked By KaliC0deresz!

Readers may remember me as the proprietor of, but some time ago that site was artfully hacked by someone named “KaliC0deresz.” I discovered that person was a Facebook user named “kimung.201” who turned out to be a teenager in a Philippines. I initiated a conversation with them, and learned that this was not an act of malice or extortion, but just a young kid feeling their oats. So, given their obvious prowess, I offered them a job. I’ve long been a believer in fostering an entrepreneurial spirit in the young, which has been a major theme of my role in the Porcupine community. I offered him Bitcoin in exchange for work as a webmaster, since he obviously had the skills. Sadly he rejected my offer. Hopefully he was focused on his education.

None the less, I decided to leave the site hacked, and migrate here to the I’m hoping to develop into a big tent that houses all my disparate projects. I’ve listed many of my Shiny Badges pins here, along with my original art. I’ve listed books from my Survivor Max series here. But the main thing I’m hoping to accomplish is to showcase the broad range of my skills and find creative work commensurate to those skills. As an freelancer I’ve worked as a graphic designer, a fine artist, a poet, an investigative journalist, a copy editor, a novelist, a publisher, a radio co-host, a marketing consultant, and a private teacher. But, as I get older I’ve found that I long for the stability of traditional employment, and the energy of collaborating with a creative team. I have earned myself the privilege of not needing a job, which affords me the luxury of time to look for a perfect fit.