Fighting Poverty

January is National Poverty in America Awareness Month, and it's a great opportunity to talk about this disturbing aspect of our world.

The present conditions of the poor in the US and elsewhere is not only due to recurrent bad governing, but also prejudice, pride and ignorance.

Just as the joint efforts of helping Haiti have been showing, one doesn't need to donate much in order to help. And money is not the only issue here.

Poor people are often despised and shunned from society, they don't have access to decent education and health systems, are constantly changing jobs and facing prolonged periods of unemployment, the very culture they are surrounded with is often negative and degrading.

Still, the fact that there are those strong enough to break this vicious circle proves that they aren't fated to be outcasts, and with some help from both goverment and individuals, they can overcome their limitations.

It's not a point of "fishing for them" either, but showing them how to "fish", giving them the instruments they need in order to do so.

There are many ways you can help, wherever you may live, no matter how favored (or not) you are.
  • You can donate food, clothes, furniture, and many other objects to charities. The Salvation Army is only one of many institutions that distribute such donations, and they have branches all over the world. 
  • Support financially one or more charities in your neighborhood. In New York, there's the Food Bank For New York City, which does an amazing work locally.  
  • Become a volunteer. What do you know best? Languages? Finance? Law? Arts? Sports? What do you enjoy doing? Writing? Reading? Interacting with people? You can accomplish a lot doing any of that. Volunteers of America is one of the organizations that offers many options for those willing to help.
  • Change yourself. If you're one of those people who discriminate against others for any reason, such as ethnicity, religion, culture, sex, poor dressing, etc, think again. It's irrational to judge a group of people by the disrespectful actions of a few, or just because they are different.
Instead of agreeing to outdated prejudices that have always caused such dire problems, question them, look into things, learn about those people you despise, try to understand their qualities and limitations, and learn to respect them just as you expect to be respected.

The Anti-Prejudice Consortium is an Atlanta-based nonprofit that has several interesting programs on raising awareness about and fighting any form of discrimination.

Our world is hectic, seemingly even worse than it ever was, but all the actions that people are taking in order to improve things will certainly be effective in time. The present state of things is the result of centuries of disregard, so the future will certainly be better as a consequence of both our small and big actions to improve it. Roll up your sleeves!

More information: http://uspoverty.change.org/

Pride And Fall: Powerful Futurepop

Pride And Fall's sound is both engaging and dramatic. The Norwegian group, formed in 2000, is currently composed of Sigve Monsen, Per Waagen, Svein Johnsen. They have only 4 albuns released to date, but they all have songs with strong beats and thought-provoking lyrics, akin to VNV Nation.

About his lyrics style, Pride And Fall's vocalist Sigve Monsen said, that "I don’t even recognize myself in the 'live and let live thing'... I would rather say live as you live, and take the consequences for your actions." Sigve also said that "in general, I bring to the surface more contents about looking back at one's own life, seeing all the mistakes and shit you’ve done or gone through. And then in the end cope with them all." [1]

Official site: www.prideandfall.com/ | MySpace

Stephan Martinière: Sophisticated Futuristic Art

Stephan Martinière is a French concept artist, cartoonist, and animation director, winner of a Hugo Award in 2008. He worked on major movies such as I Robot and Star Wars 2 & 3, made concept art for many book covers and games. His style is very sophisticated and precise, the colors always balanced and harmonious.

In interviews, Martinière has commented on his work process, saying that he tends "to use my imagination more at the beginning stages when I’m doing concepts, and finding compositions, original and unusual shapes. I do more research when the concept goes into the painting stage to find a mood, some texture or particular elements such as street signs, windows, etc." [1]

And when asked to compare the different media he has worked with, Martiniére said that "being an illustrator for film or animation is being part of an enormous machine. An artist also does not own his work and therefore has a lot of difficulties exhibiting his art much less exploiting it. The publishing industry especially in book cover is the exact opposite.

"In terms of the actual work there isn’t much of a difference between doing concept for a movie, an animated film or a game. There are obviously some technical limitations associated with each medium but doing concept is about ideas. Obviously that same idea will follow different path to completion and will be rendered in different ways based on each field. Animation for example will dictate certain simplicity of execution as opposed to a feature film. All in all as an illustrator I like doing book cover best." [2]
I've selected three of Stephan Martinière's amazing artworks. Visit his site for many more, which are also for sale in print.




January Suggested Reading

Here is our list of books for January. Good reading!

Devil's Kiss by Sarwat Chadda

As the youngest and only female member of the Knights Templar, Bilqis SanGreal grew up knowing she wasn’t normal. Instead of hanging out at the mall or going on dates, she spends her time training as a warrior in her order’s ancient battle against the Unholy.

Billi’s cloistered life is blasted apart when her childhood friend, Kay, returns from Jerusalem, gorgeous and with a dangerous chip on his shoulder. He’s ready to slide back into Billi’s life, but she’s met someone new: amber-eyed Mike, who seems to understand her like no one else and effortlessly stakes a claim on her heart.

But the Templars are called to battle before Billi can enjoy the thrilling new twist to her life. One of the order’s ancient enemies has resurfaced, searching for a treasure that the Templars have guarded for almost a thousand years - King Solomon’s cursed mirror, a source of unimaginable power. To save the lives of millions, Billi will have to put her heart aside and make sacrifices greater than she could have imagined.


Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr

Rule #3: Don't stare at invisible faeries.

Aislinn has always seen faeries. Powerful and dangerous, they walk hidden in mortal world. Aislinn fears their cruelty—especially if they learn of her Sight—and wishes she were as blind to their presence as other teens.

Rule #2: Don't speak to invisible faeries.

Now faeries are stalking her. One of them, Keenan, who is equal parts terrifying and alluring, is trying to talk to her, asking questions Aislinn is afraid to answer.

Rule #1: Don't ever attract their attention.

But it's too late. Keenan is the Summer King who has sought his queen for nine centuries. Without her, summer itself will perish. He is determined that Aislinn will become the Summer Queen at any cost—regardless of her plans or desires.

Suddenly none of the rules that have kept Aislinn safe are working anymore, and everything is on the line: her freedom; her best friend, Seth; her life; everything.

Ghosts of Albion: Accursed by Amber Benson & Christopher Golden

Even death could not stop Britain’s greatest defenders.

In 1838, William and Tamara Swift inherit a startling legacy from their dying grandfather, transforming them into the Protectors of Albion, mystical defenders of the soul of England. But the shocked, neophyte sorcerers also inherit unique allies in their battle against the dark forces. Fighting alongside them are the famous–even infamous–Ghosts of Albion: Lord Byron, Queen Bodicea, and Lord Admiral Nelson.

When strange and hideous creatures appear in the slums of London, an unholy plague threatens to launch an epic battle that may rage all the way to Buckingham Palace . . . and beyond. Time is running out as William and Tamara must learn whether their friends will stand beside them, or seduce and betray them.


Misty Benson: Eerily Pretty

Misty Benson is an American illustrator born in 1976, who does some pretty and eerie drawings. The figures all have huge eyes and features resembling that of babies, which only add to their weirdness and appeal. She has been featured in several books, one of them which is called Big Eye Art .

Here you have three images, and her site has many others, which are also available for print.

Official site: http://www.mistybenson.com/

Aesma Daeva: Ethereal Voice & Angry Guitars

Aesma Daeva is an American Symphonic Metal band formed in 1998, whose present members are Lori Lewis, Chriss Quinn, John Prassas and Tim Klatt. Their sound has some progressive melodies, and Lori's vocals are quite impressive.

Below I've selected a couple of videos, including an amazing rendering of a Mozart Opera. For more information visit their site and myspace profile.

More info: Official Site | Myspace Profile | Myspace Profile of Lori Lewis


Sherlock Holmes: Dark & Dirty

The latest Sherlock Holmes movie is very entertaining. Though it was released on Dec. 25, 2009, in the US, it was released where I live only last weekend, so please ignore the delay...

Robert Downey Jr. embodies a dusty, decadent, devil-may-care Sherlock Holmes, which is perfect for this action-packed movie. Jude Law makes a very modern Watson, with nothing of the lackey-ish attitude usually attributed to the character. He's a fine and even counterpart for Downey's Holmes, often exchanging funny repartees with him, and a fierce fighter.

Besides the main pair, there's the seductress Irene Adler played by Rachel MacAdams, a clever resourceful thief, who outsmarted even Sherlock himself several times. And there's the villain, the ambitious Lord Blackwood, who wants to rule the world through the Free Masons.

To me, this is the first decent Guy Ritchie movie (Ritchie fans don't get offended!), and it has some smart fight sequences, special effects and a beautiful and properly dark photography. Late 19th century London is shown as decadent, dirty, messy and dangerous, which fits the plot very well. I bet this movie will have a sequence, which is already hinted at in it, when they mention the archrival Moriarty.

If you haven't already seen it, do it!

PS: Sherlock Holmes was the creation of Scottish writer and physician, Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle wrote many books, not only novels, and was curiously eccentric. He was a Spiritualist, member of several paranormal research societies, and was involved in the ugly scam of the Cottingley "fairy pictures" of 1917, which doesn't make his beliefs less intriguing.

Just as it happened with several famous characters of the Victorian period literature, such as Alice and Peter Pan, Sherlock Holmes started out as a dark character, who was a drug addict, at a time when the use of drugs was almost as common as that of smoking. (Check the interesting article by Mike Jay about it in the Darklore magazine.) Below a selection of sites where you can find more information about Doyle, Spiritualism and Sherlock Holmes.

Official site: sherlock-holmes-movie.warnerbros.com/

More information:

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

The novel The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson, published in 2008, has a thought-provoking story and a piercing narrative.

The main character and narrator of the story is a drug addict and former pornographer, who suffered severe burns throughout his body in a car crash. Once handsome, the 35 year-old finds himself on the brink of death for several months, suffering from his injuries and the painful treatment used in his recovery. In his storytelling, he alternates events from his past and those of his present in the hospital, as a backstory for the encounter with Marianne Engel, who little by little wins his trust and gives him a new direction in life.

It seems like a fine lovestory, but it's nothing such. The narrator is totally revolted against his fate, often cynical, bitter, ironic and angry. The account is poignant and fierce, and also thick from the pain and misery in the health situation, which the writer details minutely.

As for his "savior" of sorts, Marianne, by the middle of the book, you're wondering along with the narrator, whether she's just eccentric or outright mad, as she claims to have known him 700 years before, when they were married, and she tells of several of her "spiritual friends" who have lived in different periods of time, in places like Italy, Iceland and Japan. Besides, she's a very talented sculptor, obsessed with making gargoyle statues.

All those elements are smartly woven into a complex tapestry of mysterious and eerie patterns. It poses interesting questions about life and death, love, sanity, reincarnation, God, destiny, etc.

As for the writer, Andrew Davidson, the guy is undoubtedly very talented. Even though the book has the epitome of the anti-hero for narrator, which sometimes made me feel a bit frustrated and uptight, the author has put a lot of work on it (7 years of research, no less) and it shows.

More information:

The author talks about the book:

Help Haiti Earthquake Victims But Avoid Scams

On January 12, last Tuesday, a massive earthquake hit Haiti, leaving the already impoverished people of the Caribbean island in a despairing situation. People from all over the world are sending funds through institutions, and if you can, please join the effort. But beware of scams! Unfortunately, in such situations there are always those who want to profit from it.

I've found two pages that have interesting information about how to help and to avoid scams. One is from MTV.com and the other from MSNBC.com, which has a list of institutions that are accepting donations and at the bottom of the page, information on how to donate wisely.

If you're outside the US, check your local news for ways of sending help to them. Don't ignore their loss just because they're in another country. Take action! Even the smallest aid can make a difference.



Blutengel: Dark Melodies

The German Dark Pop band Blutengel has been around since 1999, and is currently formed by Chris Pohl, Constance Rudert, and Ulrike Goldmann. Their sound is something of a clash between Crüxshadows and Zeraphine with female vocals, melodious and with a hard synthetic beat.

I've chosen a couple of videos as samples of their sound. Check their website for more information.

Official Site: http://www.blutengel.de/

John Howe: Middle Earth And Beyond

John Howe is a great Canadian illustrator, best known for his works on JKK Tolkien's The Lord Of The Rings series. He was one of the illustrators who worked on the concept art for the movies of the Trilogy (and he's working on the art for the upcoming The Hobbit movie as well), and has also illustrated several other books by Tolkien, Robin Hobb and other writers.

Below is a few of his artworks. Visit his site for more.

More info: www.john-howe.com/


Blood Donor Month: Give Your Blood!

Alright, you're tired of hearing about vampires, blood, etc, but... January is Blood Donor Month, so Vampire Fans and Gothlings in the US and elsewhere take action!

Donating blood is always important, as it can save many lives. We've put together some basic information about how blood is used and who can donate. If you want to know more, visit the sites listed below.

How blood is used

  • Red cells - treatment of anaemia, when red cells break down in the newborn, sickle cell disease, to replace lost red cells due to blood loss in accidents, surgery and after childbirth.
  • Platelets - bone marrow failure, post transplant and chemotherapy treatments, and leukaemia.
  • Fresh frozen plasma - after obstetric loss of blood (which is usually childbirth), during cardiac surgery, and to reverse any anti-coagulant treatment, to replace clotting factors after massive transfusions or when they are not being sufficiently produced, such as liver disease.
  • Processed plasma - treatment of haemophilia, to help produce stronger antibodies against diseases like tetanus, hepatitis, chickenpox and rabies, it also helps generate anti-D, which is used for RhD negative pregnant women carrying RhD positive babies.
  • Additionally there is a protein called albumin contained in plasma, which is extremely beneficial for burn victims.
  • Blood transfusion - it is a procedure in which blood is given via an intravenous line into the blood vessels. The Top 10 Users of blood - Anaemia (medical) – 23%, Orthopaedics – 14%, Haematology – 15%, Gastro intestinal bleeding – 11%, General Surgery – 10%, Cardio thoracic surgery – 6%, Obstetrics & Gynaecology – 6%, Vascular surgery – 5%,  Urology – 3%.

Who can donate blood?

Most people can give blood. If you are generally in good heath, age 17 to 65 (if it's your first time) and weigh at least 7st 12Ib you can donate. You can give blood every 16 weeks, that's approximately every four months.

Who can't donate blood?

You should not give blood if:

  • You've already given blood in the last 12 weeks (normally, you must wait 16 weeks).
  • You have a chesty cough, sore throat or active cold sore.
  • You're currently taking antibiotics or you have just finished a course within the last seven days or have had any infection in that last two weeks.
  • You've had hepatitis or jaundice in the last 12 months.
  • You've had a tattoo, semi-permanent make up or any cosmetic treatments that involves skin piercing in the last 6 months.
  • You've had acupuncture in the last 6 months, unless this was done by the NHS or a regesitered doctor or nurse.
  • A member of your family (parent, brother, sister or child) has suffered with CJD (Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease).
  • You've ever received human pituitary extract (which was used in some growth hormone or fertility treatments before 1985).
  • You have received blood or think you may have received blood during the course of any medical treatment or procedure anywhere in the world since 1st January 1980.

You may not be able to give blood if:

  • You've had a serious illness or major surgery in the past or are currently on medication. Please discuss this with the clinical staff. The reason you're taking medicines may prevent you from donating.
  • You've had complicated dental work. Simple fillings are OK after 24 hours, as are simple extractions after 7 days.
  • You've been in contact with an infectious disease or have been given certain immunisations in the last four weeks.
  • You're presently on a hospital waiting list or undergoing medical tests.
  • You do not weigh over 50kgs (7st 12).
  • You should not give blood if you are pregnant or you are a woman who has had a baby in the last 9 months.
  • Wait 6 months after returning from a malarial area before giving blood. Please also tell us if you have visited Central/South America at any time. (Those who've had Malaria, or an undiagnosed illness associated with travel, may not however be able to give blood.)

You should never give blood if:

  • You have ever had syphilis, HTVL (Human T - lymphotorpic virus), hepatitis B or C or think you may have hepatitis now
  • You're a man who's had sex with another man, even safe sex using a condom. For more information click here.
  • You've ever worked as a prostitute.
  • You've ever injected yourself with drugs - even once.

You should not give blood for 12 months after sex with:

  • A man who has had sex with another man (if you're a female).
  • A prostitute.
  • Anyone who has ever injected themselves with drugs.
  • Anyone with haemophilia or a related blood clotting disorder who has received clotting factor concentrates.
  • Anyone of any race who has been sexually active in parts of the world where AIDS/HIV is very common. This includes countries in Africa.
  • Do not give blood if you even think that you need a test for HIV or hepatitis, or if you had sex in the past year with someone you think may be HIV or hepatitis positive.


More information in the US:

Gerald Brom: Beauty & Dark Creatures

Gerald Brom is an illustrator who has done various media, from novel covers (Michael Moorcock, Terry Brooks), to role-playing books, comics (DC, Chaos, Dark Horse), games and film (Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow). He also has released some books with his artworks and writing, which are very well done and creative.

Below is a few of his works, for more, visit his site.


Tim Burton's Art: Gothic With A Bite

The MoMa in New York has an exhibition on Tim Burton's artworks that will be around until Apr. 26. If you're lucky enough to be in town then, be sure to visit it.

Tim Burton is one of the most iconic artists associated with the gothic genre. His movies often show a gothic imagery mixed with witty sense of humor. Some of his best-known movies are Sleepy Hollow, Edward Scissor-Hands and Corpse Bride. His latest production, Alice in Wonderland will be released next March 5 in the US, and it looks both astonishing and fun.

Below is a selection of pictures from the exhibit and the new trailer for Alice in Wonderland. Visit the sites for more information and images.

More information:


Darwin The Movie: So Much For Free America?

It's been over a year since the polemic on the Creation movie started, and it's finally being released next 22 in the US. The movie features Paul Bettany as Darwin and not only explores the scientist's ideas but also his life.

The trailer shows that the movie may be really good, but some seem to have found the movie too controversial. And why? Because in the 19th century, Darwin established a theory that all creatures evolve and adapt, which is the opposite of the creationist theory that holds that everything was created by God as it is, and will always remain the same.

The problem here is not that there are large groups of people, in the country which is the cultural-leader of the world, that believe in creationism, but that a movie about a scientist and his theory, important as it is, can face difficulties in distribution, just because there is a certain amount of people that don't believe it. Is America the land of freedom? Certainly not of total freedom of expression, as it's commonly known for.
For those of you who don't know about Darwin and his ground-breaking theories, visit the links below and peek over. Also visit the other sites to know more about Alfred Russel Wallace, who was another evolutionist, and about the movie.

I can't help but remember one of John Lennon's songs: "I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round... I'd really love to watch them roll!"