Reading Rogue: The eye of the hurricane is just a moment of calm before the crap starts flying again...

>> Monday, November 30, 2009

Oh, come on, bear with me--it's a strain to phrase that metaphor in the post title, but anyone who's been through a hurricane knows what I mean: there's rain and wind and crap everywhere, then the eye passes over and everything is quiet for a spell, and then you get the other half of the storm passing over. Which is how I feel at the end of chapter three of Going Rogue, "Drill, Baby, Drill," at page 209 of the 405 pages before Dewey Whetsell's afterword--i.e. basically halfway through the book. It's a marker and a moment of calm, but there's more to go.

I could be wrong, but I'm more convinced than ever that Going Rogue was, in fact written by two people, with the first two chapters written mostly by Mrs. Palin and chapter three either written by Lynn Vincent or with Mrs. Vincent's extensive revisions. Unlike the first two chapters, the language in chapter three tends to be much more precise, the thoughts more organized and coherent, dates are set out more specifically, and there's some overall sense of organization even when the text jumps back forth in time (while chapter three is not always chronologically organized, chronological breaks are thematically linked--e.g. Mrs. Palin jumps ahead and then back when talking about visiting Kuwait in 2007 and Track Palin's enlistment, but the overarching theme of that section is a typically conservative-styled cheerleading of American soldiers and the nobility of their sacrifice and feelings of patriotism they elicit in Mrs. Palin, etc.).

As I wrote yesterday, this has been the section of the book I expected when I took the task, and the text here is inoffensive in a literary sense; don't misunderstand me--politically, Mrs. Palin's politics are 180° from my own, and from a political standpoint I find much of what she has to say in chapter three to be shallow, hypocritical, and amoral if not immoral. I merely mean that the literary offenses Mrs. Palin commits in the first chapter are largely absent, unless I've simply become desensitized to them, which I don't believe to be the case. What I'm reading now is tripe, but it's at least barely articulate tripe, and if it won't win any literary prizes, it also wouldn't get a "D-" in a college freshman English course.

As for the truth of what she has to say, I'm barely in a position to judge much of it, frankly. I just don't know enough about Alaskan politics nor do I have the inclination to go and sift through every odd or suspicious statement, much less every passable or seemingly-credible passage. There is, however, an outright lie about (prepare to be surprised) healthcare on pages 168-169, where Mrs. Palin, writing about a time she was summoned to the hospital after a teenage Track Palin was injured in a hockey game, says:

Apologetically, the nurse explained that they couldn't even let him walk down the hall to the drinking fountain because if he needed surgery his stomach should be empty, and they couldn't treat him without me. Of course I understood, but I still fumed inside. I even wondered out loud about why this big, strapping, nearly grown man who was overcome with pain couldn't even get a drink of water without parental consent, yet a thirteen-year-old girl could undergo a painful, invasive, and scary abortion and no parent even had to be notified. The nurse seemed to agree with me, and on the spot I mentally renewed my commitment to help change Alaska's parental notification law so that our daughters would have the same support and protections we give to our children in other medical situations. [emphasis in original]

This passage caught my eye, of course, because Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) specifically upheld parental notice requirements for abortion procedures as being Constitutional and not an undue burden under Roe v. Wade; indeed, that's a part of the controversy over Casey--where anti-choicers were furious about Casey's explicit affirmation of Roe, pro-choicers have been critical of the Supreme Court's holding that states can require the parents of minors seeking abortions to be notified. So what the hell is Mrs. Pain on about?

It turns out that her misstatement of the law is a reference to an Alaska Supreme Court decision in 2007 that overturned a parental consent requirement in Alaska's abortion regulations, something then-Governor Palin surely understood, or perhaps she shouldn't have commented for the Associated Press article in the previous link. What makes Mrs. Palin's statement blatantly dishonest is that Alaska's Supreme Court, in line with Casey, specifically ruled against Planned Parenthood Of Alaska on the issue of parental notification.

One can't help but be reminded of Mrs. Palin's infamous "death panels" lie, and I do believe we are talking about deliberate falsehoods, statements made not with a reckless disregard of the truth, but an intentional subordination of truth to a political agenda. Now, frankly, the lie in question here may in fact be attributable to Lynn Vincent--I rather suspect it is. But Ms. Vincent is writing on Mrs. Palin's behalf, and Mrs. Palin insists Ms. Vincent didn't write the book for her, so for the time being it is what it is: another lie about healthcare from former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin.

One or two more observations about that quoted paragraph while we're here. First, I'm slightly skeptical of the story altogether; while I fully believe that then-Governor Palin was summoned to the hospital after her active, athletic son was injured in an often-violent sport, I find the way the story is told and the details of it a bit muddled--I somehow doubt that the incident was a teachable moment about abortion or that Mrs. Palin gave a sermonette while she was there, and the business about the water seems iffy as a setup simply because Mrs. Palin's consent for her son's treatment doesn't have much bearing on the hospital wanting Track to have an empty stomach for anesthesia, unless it was a certain thing that surgery wasn't required or that Mrs. Palin was going to decline consent. The story reads like an actual incident that's been repurposed as a sort of parable and the facts molded where necessary for that purpose. Secondly, if you go back and compare the above paragraph to prior quotes and excerpts I've included (e.g. the one in this post) you may see why I think this passage was written or rewritten by somebody else.

It's getting late and I'd like this to post today, so I'll wrap things up and I may come back to one or two points later if it strikes me, but there is one more thing I'd like to touch on: what is perhaps most annoying in chapter three is the way Mrs. Palin depersonalizes and politicizes her personal life. This is significant in several ways, not the least of which is Mrs. Palin's feigned outrage whenever critics mention her family. Throughout chapter three, Mrs. Palin writes about family events and issues--Track Palin's injuries and military enlistment, Todd Palin's work and activities, her discovery that she was pregnant and that Trig Palin would be born with Down Syndrome, being a woman in a male-dominated and often sexist political culture, etc.--that ought to be interesting and compelling regardless of your politics, and that one ought to find sympathetic regardless of one's personal feelings for Sarah Palin. And if this book were, in fact, a memoir, these anecdotes and events would be the stuff of compelling autobiography. But Going Rogue isn't a real memoir and Mrs. Palin ends up being remarkably unsympathetic and less-than-compelling because she simply cannot resist turning every single thing into a talking point for her presumed 2012 campaign. Consider the excerpt above for a moment, again: if any of your friends with kids told you about coming into the hospital and seeing their child's arm dangling by their side, you'd be sympathetically horrified on their behalf, indignant over the child's inability to have water (however appropriate) and cheerful when everything turned out alright; but Mrs. Palin can't just tell you the story, no, it has to be an example of how she renewed her pro-life commitments. Similarly, she can't tell you about what it feels like to be a mother watching her son become a man who is going to war without going on a generic bender about troops and loving America and heroic sacrifice and all the "Yay, America!" rest of it. I hate to be rude about it, but Mrs. Palin makes it impossible not to be because there's not one serious, perhaps even tragic, thing that has happened to her family this decade that she can't cheapen with some bland, generic, made-for-the-campaign-trail pablum. I feel more worried about her boy right now than she appears to be in her fucking book--good grief, I hope the kid's alright, does anyone know if he's back from his deployment? It only makes it more perverse and grotesque that I have to suspect that Mrs. Palin, in point of fact, actually does and did have actual human feelings about these things, she even hints at them when talking about Trig--if she'd actually written about them, I might actually have more respect for her, instead of even less than I had before I started writing this blog entry.

And that's enough--this was started before midnight and should post as a November 30th entry, but it is now December 1st by the clock in the corner of the laptop screen, and I believe that's when you'll be seeing it unless you're west of Eastern Standard Time. Where I am, it's time for bed, and I need to follow the example of the cat sleeping next to me. Good night, good readers.


Reading Rogue: The "effete young chap"

>> Sunday, November 29, 2009

Responding to an earlier post in this series, reader Alma offered a link to this... well, just watch it for yourself. I am laughing myself to tears. Thank you, Alma, a million times, thank you. (And thank you, Mr. Halcro.)


Then keep talking.... (an open letter to Mr. Stephen King)

Dear Mr. King,

Word just came through on the RSS wires that you're thinking about writing a sequel to one of your best early works, The Shining. (The headline on the article--"Stephen King Writing 'The Shining' Sequel"--is, you'll see if you read the article, misleading.) You're thinking about doing it, you have a premise and maybe a plot, and even a working title, but you say, "Maybe if I keep talking about it I won’t have to write it."

Please, Steve, from one of your (somewhat) Constant Readers: please keep talking.

Look, first of all, The Shining really is an effective little horror novel on its own, and is arguably the strongest of your early novels (though I'm a bit partial to the original edition of The Stand, myself). Why revisit it after thirty-something years and risk vitiating that (yes, I'll say it) horror masterpiece?

Second, let's be honest, unfortunately honest: Black House was not good. No, wait, I'm sorry--I said "let's be honest": Black House was very bad. A lot of us (I think--I know myself and a few other people) were very, very excited when you and Mr. Straub decided to revisit The Talisman universe. The Talisman was quite possibly your best 1980s work, for one thing. And as somebody who's a fan of your work and possibly a bigger fan of Mr. Straub's, I'd say the pair of you collaborating is like vanilla ice cream collaborating with an apple pie, for another thing. Or I would have said that if I hadn't actually read Black House. While I'd like to praise the adventurous spirit that led the pair of you to write an entire novel in omniscient first-person plural present tense ("Moving toward the sun, we glide away from the river and over the shining tracks..."), it turns out there's a reason very few novels are written that way, namely that it's fucking annoying after around the second or third paragraph of it. And while I understand that it was apparently Mr. Straub's idea to tie the whole thing into your Gunslingerverse, which you've tied into a larger Kingverse interconnecting everything you've written, it really wasn't necessary, by which I really mean that it was a horribly unnecessary and irritating bad idea that makes a lot of your wonderfully-standing-alone stories seem like a bunch of poorly-connected sequels, and we all know that sequels are rarely as good as originals, which instinctively causes readers (by which I mean myself) to start trying to figure out which one of your novels that I might have liked by itself is in fact the less-than-stellar sequel to something I may not have liked at all. Plus, does anyone really want your entire career reduced down to decades of writing sequels to Carrie? (Not because Carrie isn't good, but because it would just be very, very strange, as in "What the fuck were you thinking?" strange, not "Weird Tales" strange.)

The point being (I may have run astray), I'm really afraid you'll fuck a sequel up. I want to trust you, but once bitten, twice shy, you know? Especially if suddenly Danny Torrance is some part of some kind of ka-tet that's trying to keep Cujo from resurrecting Randall Flagg with the farts of sleepless old people, because, you know... look, do we even have to go into how many kinds of wrong we could be talking about here? You're a smart guy, you have to know.

And let me point out one more reason this notion of yours is not good. One that you should be very, very, very aware of, because you've talked about it in your writing and various other places. The thing that makes The Shining such a scary, effective, sorrowful book is the thing that two film versions (okay, a film version and a TV miniseries) have managed to get wrong to varying degrees: the scariest, awfulest things that happen in The Shining don't happen to Danny Torrance, they happen to Jack, who then does bad things to Danny.

Here's what I mean (and I think you already know what I mean, or ought to): what really haunts the reader in The Shining is that this guy who really, really deeply loves his son more than anything else in the universe, and who could maybe even be a good parent if he could stay off the fucking sauce and come to grips with his demons, this guy becomes a monster. Blaming The Overlook is nearly comforting, but it's not The Overlook that breaks that little boy's arm early in the novel and it's not The Overlook that's running down the hotel corridors with a croquet mallet towards the end. Sure, the Overlook presses Jack Torrance's buttons, but having your buttons pushed by a demonic hotel isn't really horror, horror is what you do later. The tragedy in The Shining isn't wholly or solely Jack's--Jack and Wendy suffer physically and emotionally, and the last thing I want to do is have us all playing sad violins for domestic abusers in general--but the really brilliant thing you did there is you showed the human side of a good guy who's really a very bad guy. The scariest thing in The Shining is watching Jack Torrance disintegrate and wondering if we could ever be that ugly and lethal to the people we love.

And maybe you did such a brilliant job of that because, from what I understand, you were exorcising some of your own demons, and grappling with some personal issues that had you wondering whether you could be that awful, and figuring out which pressed buttons needed to be cleared, there but for the grace of God would go I. And from what you've said and written, it sounds like you managed to get a lot of those monsters put away, and I'm glad.

But it leaves me wondering what else you'd need to say with those characters. Jack is dead, and Danny, we hope, has lived mostly happily ever after, or as happily as you can when your Dad got raging drunk one night at the behest of demonic forces and tried to murder the Hell out of you and your mom. I guess he probably needed some therapy, actually. But you know, I always figured he'd be okay. Maybe he and that nice little girl whose story about illicit government medical experiments was featured in Rolling Stone hooked up, they're not that far apart in age--wait, did I just cross the universes? After I sort of yelled at you for doing that? Nevermind, then.

Let Danny rest. He earned it.


R. Eric VanNewkirk
Standing On The Shoulders Of Giant Midgets


Reading Rogue: I will not falter

Here is how Sarah Palin gets what she wants, those times she doesn't quit when the going gets hard: she dulls her enemies into submission. I have reached the point of the book I expected when I took up the challenge of reading Going Rogue for hire, and I suspect it's the part Lynn Vincent wrote because most of the paragraphs land properly. But it's increasingly tedious stuff. In addition to the ever-present contradictions, it's pretty obvious there's a lot of score-settling going on, most of it petty. And then there's the temptation to fact-check, which is probably a mistake.

Is Sarah Palin exaggerating the size of the state budgets she dealt with in Alaska? Possibly, but even if she's not, the budget she's talking about is in the bottom half of states nationwide, comparable to what some mayors handle in America's larger cities, and well under half of what the mayor of New York City has on his desk. Not to mention it's infinitesimal next to the national budget either way. But it's a red herring anyway, dignifying Mrs. Palin's implication that being governor of an unpopulated state is like being leader of the Free World in that sort of fashion.

Speaking of which, I'm a bit tired of Mrs. Palin's repetition that Alaska is the largest state in the nation, which is true and pointless. Of course it is, and so what? Which would you rather haul up a tall steep hill, a liter of sea-level air or a liter of lead? (Hint: one weighs around a hundredth of a pound and the other weighs nearly a hundred pounds.) Aside from all that vast, nearly-empty space I also have to think that if Alaskans are as independent as Mrs. Palin extols them to be, do they even need all that much governing, anyway?

It's tiring stuff.

You pretty quickly get used to telling Friends Of Sarah from Enemies Of Sarah. If somebody is described neutrally (or even, rarely, favorably), they never pissed her off. If somebody is described unfavorably (e.g. "a wealthy, effete young chap who had taken over his father's local Avis Rent A Car... major steps up from a previous job as our limo driver at Todd's cousin's wedding"), however, or in terms Mrs. Palin would see as unflattering (e.g. "after losing an eighteen -month battle to sell falafel on street corners"), it's only a matter of pages before we find out what score the ever-so-Christian-and-forgiving Palin was sharpening the scalpels for. And mind you, I'm less than halfway through this petty, vindictive, toxic book; I haven't even gotten to the 2008 dirt that everyone has been talking about, where Mrs. Palin tries to settle with McCain staffers.

I have to admit that I like good cattiness, mind you. A nice bit of sharpness from Oscar Wilde or Dorothy Parker, or crazed vituperation from someone like Harlan Ellison or Hunter Thompson can keep me snickering for hours or even days. I would like to think I've managed a few posts here at Shoulders Of Giant Midgets that took the art of unpleasantness somewhere amusing, if not to the brilliant and exalted depths of the great literary quippers and ranters. But Palin's jabs mostly aren't very clever, and they're all fairly predictable, and her attempts to conceal a righteous bitchiness--she's the values candidate who loves Jesus and small-town friendliness, of course, and it wouldn't be seemly--generally don't stand her in good stead. There's maybe one exception, on page 77, where Palin writes of her one-time mentor Nick Carney, who (she felt) turned against her:

But in the end, remembering that we all teach our kids that life is too short to hold a grudge, when Nick was home recovering from knee surgery, I knocked on his door. He hobbled to it in pain. It was "Good Neighbor Day in Wasilla." I brought him a pretty white Peace Lily.

That's actually sort of clever. Assuming, that is, that Mrs. Palin's not so dumb that she was being sincere, which I personally doubt. I do wonder, though, how many Palinistas will skim that paragraph and find it heartwarming?

Anyway, it's a lot of that sort of thing. I may have some blog entries to post about some odd things Mrs. Palin has to say about two of her major achievements, but this is all I'm likely to write today, since I have other things I'd like to do today that are more important to me than reading any more of Going Rogue or writing about it. But I won't quit reading the book altogether, though I'm less sanguine about doing it in a week. No, seriously: the only way to read this book quickly is to not think about anything you're reading, and I have trouble doing that. And thinking about it is not only painful, but it's also time-consuming because you find yourself scribbling notes in a margin for several minutes or going online to check things you'd think you could take for granted with a less-disingenuous and agenda-driven author.

A quick f'r'instance, and then I'm wrapping this up for real today: I thought it was odd on pages 44 and 45 when Mrs. Palin wrote of her college years:

I was amazed when my education became an issue in the vice presidential campaign. "Well, look at that," the pundits said, "she went to all those different schools and it took her five years to graduate."

Yes, it did take me five years because I paid my own way. Tilly [childhood friend Kim "Tilly" Ketchum] and I came home to Alaska between semesters and worked so we could earn money to pay for the next term. Sometimes we had to take a semester off and work until we could afford tuition again. I remember that was an honorable thing.

Then, reaching the first pictures section of the book, I read this caption:

Graduation day, 1987, at the University of Idaho. I loved my years in college as a Vandal but was ready to return to Alaska and get busy on a full-time career. This picture is in front of "The Tower," an all-girls dorm where I lived for three years. [emphasis added]

There's nothing necessarily shameful in going to several colleges--I, myself, began my undergraduate career at the University Of North Carolina at Charlotte and ended it at Appalachian State University; I'm also honest enough to tell you why: although I did fine academically at UNCC, the year was a personal failure and a little bit of a psychological meltdown for me, and the mountains represented a comfort zone for me so I transferred to put distance between myself and some of the on-and-off-campus issues that I was not adequately handling. I'd call it a tactical retreat, but I'm willing to chalk it up to a number of mistakes and failures that I learned from (and that's all I'm going to say about it, too).

I have no idea why it's a problematic or possibly even shameful area for Mrs. Palin. Perhaps if she'd written an honest memoir, I'd know and even respect her candor or difficulties or hard-won wisdom. And frankly it's possible that the reason Palin went to four colleges during that five-year span (according to Wikipedia: (1) Hawaii-Pacific, (2) North Idaho College--which gave her a distinguished alumna award, (3) University Of Idaho and (4) Matanuska-Susitna College, followed by a return to the University Of Idaho for graduation) is exactly what Mrs. Palin represents it to be, financially driven. But how can I believe her on motivation when I clearly can't believe her on the number of years she resided in "The Tower." I know that she's being dishonest or misleading, how can I not wonder why?

Please note the larger problem this represents--and this goes back to why Going Rogue is such a hard book to actually read: the real issue is not that Mrs. Palin is disingenuous about what may well be a trivial detail that may even be irrelevant to her intelligence or capacity to lead; the real issue is that this is not an honest book, and I don't mean that she fudges details, I mean that this book is not really about Mrs. Palin's short life on Earth and what she's learned from it, but rather is about why Palinistas ought to love and obey their queen. A real, honest-to-goodness memoir would actually take up a matter like the author's academic career and spend some time with it, talking about campus life and friends and accomplishments and failures, maybe offer a funny anecdote and possibly also a tragic one, and it might even take up a whole chapter instead of two brief paragraphs. It doesn't do Mrs. Palin much good to gloss and spin something that's out there and that's been a substantial topic of conversation, it only makes her look like she's covering something, whether it's bad grades or something else. But that's not even that important since the book isn't really about "An American Life," it's about Sarah Palin's ambitions and narcissism. And I also can't help noticing I have now written more about Mrs. Sarah Palin's education than she does in what's ostensibly a memoir, but isn't really.

And that's one reason this book is an effort. You'd think it was a liter of air. It's not.

It's pure osmium.


And now to break things up with something different...

>> Saturday, November 28, 2009

Yet another example of why I love SMBC:

Notice that I can't say "something completely different." It's not because I'm afraid John Cleese will sue me for stealing his catchphrase--I have the sense that he and the other Pythons have generosities to match their senses of humor. No, it's because I'm not quite halfway through you-know-what. It's completely possible a monkey dressed as Hitler makes an appearance. Hell, it wouldn't even be entirely out of place. Perhaps he'll be riding Alaska's sole willow-eating moose, referred to on page 102. Or he may have been on the selection committee that helped McCain pick Sarah Palin for a running mate.

I'm just saying it wouldn't surprise me at this point. We'll just have to wait and see.


Reading Rogue: Knives out

Well, the good news (if you want to call it that) is that I seem to have finally reached the part of the book I expected to be reading from the start--the dull, dry recap of Mrs. Palin's supposed political accomplishments in a community smaller than most universities, the repetition of the same tired conservative mantras ("cut taxes," "small government," blah blah blah), the responses to some of her critics who, during the 2008 presidential elections, dredged up some of the less savory bits and pieces of her tenure as Wasilla's mayor.

It's a bit cattier than I expected, if you'll pardon what's sometimes taken as a sexist impression. Mrs. Palin takes lots of snarky shots at her small-town rivals--e.g. one critic is described as a "Birkenstock-and-granola Berkley grad," which is clearly supposed to be an insult in Palin's world though to this bleeding heart it makes her sound sexier than Frau Palin. Then there are the stray misfires that I am sure will have Palinistas rolling in the aisles: "We [in Wasilla] are extremely independent," she writes, "no community organizers necessary," displaying the same incomprehension of what a community organizer actually is, and indeed demonstrating a lack of any sense of irony insofar as much of her early volunteerism suggests Mrs. Palin herself may have been a sort of amateur you-know-what.

I have frequently been reduced, in the margins, to one word phrases like, "Irony!" and I may get tired of writing even that; my margins are also being filled with a sarcastic "WAR!" which is not a call-to-battle but an acronym for "What A Rogue!" Mrs. Palin, you see, seems very intent on proving her roguish credentials through self-contradiction and illustrations of how she butted heads with people she was supposed to be working with. (Some people would think that makes her more of a jerk than a rogue, but they're probably not Palinistas.) The most ironic acronym I've resorted to, however, derives it's irony from it's source: reading a passage in which Mrs. Palin simultaneously boasts of lowering taxes while complaining that the police chief wouldn't slash services while also talking about her pledge to pave local roads, I found myself scribbling, "TANSTAAFL" in the margin, the rallying cry from an SF novel by a real conservative writer, Robert Heinlein. (As some regulars know, I'm not a big RAH fan although I have enjoyed quite a lot of his work over the years; but bless his polished, shiny dome, he would have neither time nor tolerance for Mrs. Palin and her ilk if he were still around.) For someone who tries to polish her (nonexistent) business credentials by misleadingly claiming a mayor in a town like Wasilla is like a CEO, Palin seems, like many so-called conservatives, to be a bit clueless about the fact that you have to raise money before you have any to spend--in government's case, taxes are the price the public pays for things like roads and law enforcement, and you can't rationally bitch about the former unless you're willing to forego the latter.

Palin also seems clueless about human nature. She writes as though she's surprised that her political mentor, Nick Carney (aptly named, if he started the Palin circus), turned against her after he recruited her as a "progressive" and she chose to redefine the word to remove the liberalism it's conveyed since the late 19th Century (no, Sarah, "progressive" was indeed associated with liberalism when you entered politics, thank you for playing). She's equally surprised that, upon being elected mayor of Wasilla, town officials balked when she asked them all to provide resignations for her files--something she lamely describes as a loyalty test but that most of the ordinary, common sense people she usually extols would see as a naked threat to their jobs. And she's seemingly surprised when she asks the town librarian about how books are banned--curiosity, she calls it, and trying to get to know the librarian better--and the town librarian reasonably concludes Mrs. Palin is floating the issue. So much for "conservative common sense."

I think I'm going to head down to the corner for brunch and to try to get some writing done. I may take Rogue with me, though I expect some quizzical stares and dirty looks in my liberalish section of town. Whatever--I have the excuse that I'm being paid for this.

But I'm also reasonably wondering how much more I can say about this awful book before it becomes redundant. I expect to continue, yes, but I also find that I'm not writing as much in the margins because, of course, it's all the same, tired crap. I'm not leaving the project yet (blogging the book, I mean--the book itself, I'm honor-bound to finish or die trying), just thinking aloud, here.

Well. Hope you're having a better Saturday than I am.


Reading Rogue: A very good book, indeed...

>> Friday, November 27, 2009

Sarah Palin seems, in Going Rogue, to attempt to go great lengths to rebut many of the criticisms against her.

Much of Chapter 1, for instance, seems to be devoted to the effort of proving that Sarah Palin is a literate, literary woman, widely read and knowledgeable about all sorts of things not pertaining to athletics or salmon fishing. And yet she manages to be both vague and specific in a way that, upon reflection, is a bit disturbing. You see, on the one hand she doesn't tell you much of what she's read beyond mentioning a few specific titles she read in childhood (specifically, John Steinbeck's The Pearl, Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull and George Orwell's Animal Farm--nothing terrible there, but low-hanging fruit, even for a little girl) and maybe some authors (so far, I think, one, actually: C.S. Lewis)--she's not going to tell you about her passion for Victorian novels or mid-20th Century French lit, for example. On the other hand, she does mention one or two people, and she has a propensity for throwing out a surprising number of quotes--she namechecks Lewis, for instance, without mentioning anything she's actually read by him, and she has quotes from Pascal, Plato and Aristotle prominently featured in her text.

It's these last three that are the cause for a certain level of discomfort. The Lewis isn't all that surprising--he's arguably the foremost Christian apologist of the 20th Century. And the Pascal quote (an allusion to a "god-shaped vacuum" being intrinsic to human nature) certainly appears to be the kind of tripe Pascal offered up. (Pascal and Lewis have in common the fact that between them they offered two of the most hideously stupid justifications for Christian faith ever presented in the garb of logic--Pascal's "Wager" and Lewis' "Lunatic, Liar or Lord" argument.) Pascal also connects easily to Mrs. Palin's childhood Catholicism, of course. But the Plato and Aristotle are initially surprising.

Only, here's the thing: I haven't dug too deeply into the Aristotle quote ("Criticism is something we can avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, being nothing," which actually appears at the beginning of Chapter 2), which could almost be Aristotle and might be, but the Plato quote sounds suspiciously unlike Plato. I could be wrong, of course--I haven't read any Plato since college, and it's been a long time. But "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle," doesn't really jibe with what I recall of Plato's somewhat cynical view of human nature, and an attempt to trace the quote suggests a dubious provenance. It appears to be something that only recently was attributed to Plato, and is elsewhere attributed to Philo, and is rather similar to a more recent quotation by somebody else . Naturally, if you can point me to a text, I'd be glad to know, and if it's Plato, it's Plato. But in attempting to dig up the provenance, it's impossible not to notice that this quote, the Aristotle quote, and the Pascal quote are all one-liners that seem to have been very popular with the evangelical Christian community. They represent greeting card wisdom, inspirational poster wit, not to mention an easy launchpad for Sunday sermons and modern short essays in Lewis' footsteps.

Which leads one to the disturbing conclusion that these quotes probably aren't meant to buttress Mrs. Palin's intellectual credentials with her critics, who can dig up the Katie Couric interview on YouTube at their leisure, but rather that they're coded messages to fundamentalist Christians, the people who would presumably make up Mrs. Palin's base in 2012.

These are the lines they know, or think they know, allegedly from these reputed thinkers, and of course they're the thinkers they know--C.S. Lewis, for instance, is an author whose accessibility and generally clean prose makes him somebody who's reached for by laypeople with or without a college education who never took much by way of philosophy or religion in college. I realize how pompous, how elitist that must sound; but, you know, there was a time when being in the elite was flattering and people go to college to get educations, and C.S. Lewis is neither elite nor the acme of theological thought--his work is lowbrow rubbish from a scholar of medieval literature who was profoundly out of his depth when he turned his cleverness to Christian scholarship at a relatively late date in his life after J.R.R. Tolkien converted him by appealing to his love of mythology. Mention Lewis at a better divinity school, and I suspect professors will point and laugh. But mention him at a church social and watch people nod knowingly. I.e. mention them to the people Mrs. Palin hopes will carry her to the White House at some point.

(And have no doubt, if you entertained any at all: every page of Going Rogue has "I should be President" seeping between the lines like a toxic sludge. Damn John McCain to the cold black heart of a deep dark hell for giving this woman a taste for things--with her sense of entitlement, she thinks it should be hers now as if the elderly Senator wouldn't have had to win the election and die first.)

Earlier this evening, on an earlier post, Jim Wright of Stonekettle Station (if you're new here, or in the unlikely event you're a regular but you aren't following Jim, that's a blog you should be reading, by the way) wrote:

I warned you before, Palin isn't well educated, but she is shrewd and calculating and has an innate ability to connect with the lowest common denominator - criticize her book and you're criticizing the "brave men and women who keep us free blah blah blah." This is about them, not Palin. She's ignorant, she's not stupid. Every kneejerk patriot's heart will swell with pride and love when they read that dedication.

And there it is, everything I just wrote, and part of the reason I'm posting this tonight instead of saving it to write and publish tomorrow. Mrs. Palin isn't stupid, but she is ignorant. Her theology may be tripe cribbed from sermons and motivational posters and the kinds of religious books they sell in supermarkets and airport kiosks, but you can be sure as hell that nearly everybody predisposed to like Mrs. Palin is reading it and understanding the code words like it's coming across out of a telephone receiver. And you can be sure as hell that at least some of Mrs. Palin's critics will miss that fact at their peril--I don't know that I've seen a review from a liberal or mainstream media source (no, they're not the same, trust me) that's acknowledged the clever, scary little thing that Mrs. Palin is doing.

(What's scary? Well, if you don't mind small-minded, fanatical ideologues wed to a primitivist 19th or possibly even 17th version of Christianity, there's nothing scary at all, move along, nothing to see....)

Which brings up one more thing, the deliberately provocative title of this post: there are several ways you can rate the quality of a book. By the lights of most of them, Going Rogue fails the test in its first few pages. It's not well-written. It's not lucid. It's not compelling. It's not original. It doesn't do anything new and exciting to the English language that the English language actually deserved or saw coming. But there is the standard of whether a book does what it's meant to, whether it has its desired effect on the audience. By way of illustration: by most standards, John Grisham's books are just awful, full of ridiculous plots, unbelievable characters, sloppy prose; but insofar as Mr. Grisham's books are not meant to be virtuoso displays of the creative art, but are instead meant to keep people (most of them on airplanes) reasonably entertained for a few hours, Mr. Grisham's books are, largely, brilliant successes. Even people who don't like Mr. Grisham's work rarely are actually upset enough to feel they should get their time or money back.

In that regard, I'm afraid Going Rogue is a very good book indeed. It's meant to stimulate and encourage a certain small but vocal percentage of the country that believes certain ridiculous inconsistent things, and to convince them that the one, last, best hope for them is to adore and follow and help Mrs. Sarah Palin. Perhaps even to the leadership of the Free World, though I'm not sure they have the numbers to do more than split the Republican Party in twain and exile most of its current leaders to the wilderness (a situation that may not be healthy for democracy, in the long run, as much as I would like to see many of these people not just exiled to the wilderness, but shot into the sun). In terms of its effectiveness to a receptive and indeed hungry audience, Going Rogue is as brilliant as Shakespeare, even if its unlikely to be remembered as long.

Hope you'll sleep better tonight than I will.


Reading Rogue: There is no God

Sarah Palin may believe in God, but what kind of merciful, all-powerful creator would allow this book to be written? It's not an argument for atheism, it's an argument for an angst-ridden nihilism that swallows all hope.

And forget whatever I implied about Lynn Vincent, who has written enough books for me to assume she has some basic mastery of her native tongue, being the real writer of Going Rogue. This book is full of the fractured thought patterns and non sequiturs we've all come to expect from the great northern philosopher, Sarah Palin. Sentences start in one place and end somewhere else, paragraphs run off like leads in ice to vanish into inky black waters in which one simultaneously drowns and freezes to death.

From Sandpoint, Idaho, where I was born, via Juneau, Alaska, I touched down in the windy, remote frontier town of Skagway cradled in my mother's arms. I was just three months old, and barely sixty days had passed since the largest earthquake on record in North American history struck Alaska, on Good Friday, March 27, 1964.
-Sarah Palin, Going Rogue, p. 7

That's an entire paragraph. Verbatim. Two sentences, one of which is a convoluted way of saying she arrived in Alaska and the other a convoluted way of saying there was an earthquake before she got there. And this book is full of that kind of thing. Another brief (three-sentence) paragraph (on page 13) careens wildly from Wyatt Earp to some Alaskan crime boss to the crime boss being shot by somebody who wasn't Wyatt Earp. I don't mind short paragraphs, I use one-sentence paragraphs all the time (no, I do, really). But this is just ramshackle writing I'm putting up with. It may take longer than a week just to pull my brain off the siderails it keeps crashing into while I'm trying to parse paragraphs written for sixth graders.

In other respects, the book is exactly what you'd expect: self-aggrandizing, inconsistent, snidely accusatory, and full of attempts to shore up Palin's conservative bona fides. An initial section about visiting a State Fair, which ends with Palin receiving the call from the McCain campaign, has Palin name-checking small-town-America, her pro-life cred, energy policy and her family values. (It also includes this priceless gem: "At that moment, one of my BlackBerrys vibrated me back to work." What?) Palin mentions her poll numbers as an Alaskan governor and immediately adds she doesn't care about polls, talks about being a registered Republican who was always against the Alaskan Republican establishment (what a rogue!), and explains (sort of) that she ran for governor because state government was incapable of working for the interests of the people (the way she puts it, one can't tell if she wanted to be a crusader or to get in on the take). On one page she describes a childhood encounter with police harassment that she suggests explains her antipathy towards big government, a few pages later complains that when she was a child Alaska didn't have enough law enforcement resources to deal with crime. On another page she rhapsodizes about Native Americans knowing "they must aggressively protect the natural resources to which they are spiritually and physically connected"; in the next paragraph she implies they were bought off with "participation in the state's economic and political life," with no sense of irony over the fact that she's a prominent advocate of drilling the hell out of the resources those indigenous people are "spiritually and physically" connected to. And so on. She hates government, but she and both her parents were government employees over much of their lives, her father having made the decision to remain in Alaska at least partly because of a state incentive plan for teachers--i.e. taxpayer dollars were spent to expand the size of state government. Surprisingly, she doesn't criticize Alaska for offering her dad money or her dad for taking it.

This book is a painful slog, is what it is. I didn't think it would be the worst thing I'd ever read; only a few dozen pages in, that prognostication is proving to be a bit like George Armstrong Custer expecting he'd have that Sitting Bull fellow tied up by mid-afternoon at the latest, or Sir John Franklin deciding that he'd have a bit of a sail over to Asia round the Canadian coast and back, see his wife in a jiffy and could she have tea ready for him when he gets home?

The things I do for you people. I hope you appreciate this.


Reading Rogue: First impressions

The first thing you notice about Going Rogue: An American Life is that it looks very much like a book. The second thing you notice is that the name of Mrs. Palin's collaborator, Lynn Vincent, doesn't appear anywhere on the cover.

(On a related note, if you're wondering what American author has the least-functional professional webpage on the planet, may I submit as a candidate one Lynn Vincent, whose website appears to consist of a single page with only one link--to the e-mail address of her agent. Ms. Vincent's website mentions that she's the author of six books--but doesn't tell you what they are, and cites her journalistic credentials without mentioning anything she's written in that field, either. There are three small pictures of three of her books, so I guess you can squint out the titles there if you really want to, along with very small blurbs. As for actually buying one of these books, Ms. Vincent or her webmaster are so disinterested in selling them that they don't bother telling you where they might be purchased--not even a generic "At All Major Booksellers" is offered--much less actual, you know, links to publishers or retailers like Amazon, you know, links like they have on the internet now? Ms. Vincent's site does mention that her work has been cited before the U.S. Supreme Court, which probably seems like an achievement up to the point you realize the SCOTUS receives briefs from violently psychotic pro se death row appellants; also, again, no mention of what was cited or when. Ms. Vincent indeed puts the "ghost" in "ghostwriter.")

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. Superficial things noticed before I started reading. Well, the book seems to be printed on rather cheap paper, so that's going to be fun to read, though if I had any qualms about the possibility of marking up the 1" margins I guess I needn't feel bad (I hate marking up books, but this may be an exception--I'll have to use pencil, though, if I have one--I think ink would bleed right through this stuff). There are two sections of photographs, spaced at roughly third intervals through the book. For some indiscernible reason, the first printed page of Going Rogue: An American Life is a polar projection map of much of the northern hemisphere missing any kind of scale markings and labeled, "The View from the Top of the World." The location of a number of major cities--Moscow, Tokyo, Washington, et al.--is marked along with several minor towns in Alaska, including Wasilla, but Mrs. Palin's birthplace in Idaho (Sandpoint) isn't; one can't help assuming that the map is meant to show that Mrs. Palin can, to paraphrase Tina Fey, see Russia from her house, along with Stockholm, Seoul, Shanghai and New Delhi. That, or possibly publisher Harper Collins wasn't entirely certain Mrs. Palin's audience could find Alaska (the only state labeled) on a world map (Hawai'i, by the way, isn't shown).

The book has six chapters and an epilogue, and a section for acknowledgments, and an afterword by Dewey Whetsell, who appears to be an Alaskan fisherman, artist, writer and former fire chief in Cordova, Alaska, and I have no idea why he was asked to write the afterword--maybe it's in the book somewhere (my mission in reading Rogue may have to be figuring out who in the name of all everlasting hell is Dewey Whetsell?). The acknowledgements section's a bit painful to read, believe-it-or-not, because you can hear Palin's whinnying voice thanking everybody as you read along with it. Ouch. My brain.

The book is dedicated... well, here (and I know of a few of my regular readers who I suspect will love this until veins pop in their foreheads):

Dedicated to all Patriots who share my love of the United States of America. And particularly to our women and men in uniform, past and present--God bless the fight for freedom.

After all, you know, yay America and soldiers and stuff. She might as well say that as early and often as she can if she expects members of the U.S. Armed Forces to vote for her in 2012, and naturally she wrote Going Rogue to promote the fight for freedom--if it was just been about the advance and the narcissism, why would she write a memoir of all things?

I suppose it's time I actually began to read. Four p.m. is definitely not too early for beer.


Ruination Day or Black Friday, whichever you like

Some of you may recall an exchange between regular commenter Leanright and I in the wake of a post written back near the end of October, the gist of which was that I would in fact read Sarah Palin's memoir, Going Rogue: An American Life, if he paid me to do it.

And then this happened:

"This" being a copy of Going Rogue: An American Life, a six-pack of Stone Ruination IPA, and an envelope containing a personal check for $9.00 (our original discussion having called for an $8.98 payment, I suppose you could say Leanright just had to put his two cents in, ha-ha).

So, according to our bargain, I will now read Going Rogue: An American Life, as I was bribed to do. I repeat this whole thing about the bribery part of it simply so the Federal Trade Commission doesn't think I'm misrepresenting something, somehow. Because, you know, I wouldn't want the FTC to stumble across my blog and not realize that I was reading Going Rogue: An American Life as some kind of uncompensated thing; actually, I wouldn't want either of my parents to think I was reading Going Rogue: An American Life as part of an uncompensated thing. I received beer:

I took a check:

...for a book which will fit in so nicely with the rest of my bookshelf...

(I swear I think I felt Michael Moore's bloodcurdling screams through my chin when I took that last picture.)

But I kid, I kid about that last part: Going Rogue: An American Life (can you tell I think the title is kind of funny from the way I keep repeating it?--it's like they wanted to make sure nobody at Barnes & Noble would accidentally pick up Going Rogue: An Armenian Comedy by mistake) will fit in very well with my bookshelf, actually. After all, I've already read the sequel:

Rimshot! Fist jab! Oo, yeah! Like wolves from a chopper, baby!

Heh. I kill me. Now, on to a more serious point, which is that I will be making one retroactive alteration to my deal with Leanright, although I don't think he'll mind too much. He insisted I write a review within a week; this I may still do, in a summary fashion, but what I actually mean to do instead is (in my opinion) one better--I will be blogging Going Rogue: An American Life as I read it, with updates at least once a day unless I'm too drunk to type. This may make a "review" a bit redundant, hence the alteration of the devil's bargain. Going Rogue: An American Life entries will have the blog entry "reading rogue," if that helps anyone. I also plan on tweeting the book, if I can manage that, and you can follow me at Twitter (sotsogm); I will also use the hashtag "#readingrogue", which appears to be unclaimed.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, we must ask ourselves that immortal literary question wrestled with by such titans as F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, Raymond Chandler, Dylan Thomas, Tennessee Williams, and Edgar Allan Poe: it's three in the afternoon--is it too early to get potted?


By a fowlness ye shall know them...

>> Thursday, November 26, 2009

Oh, that was good. Roast duck, mashed potatoes and corn (the latter two store-bought, I'm afraid to confess), washed down with a Castle Rock Pinot Noir (no big deal there, either)--but all very, very satisfactory. I'm having a hard time remembering my name right now, matter of fact.

Ah, succulent roast duck. You know, that's one of the birds they used to do for a traditional Thanksgiving before somebody insisted on making the turkey the thing. And don't get me wrong--I really, really like turkey. On the other hand, the person who decided to make turkey the Thanksgiving bird because Ben Franklin wanted to make it the national bird sort of got a signal crossed: Franklin wanted it to be the national bird because it was hard to eat. Like I say, I really, really like turkey a lot, but it's a hard bird to do without drying out, and that's your farm-raised turkey who's been genetically designed to be roastable. (Animal-rights folks who take pity on the farm turkey also have a signal crossed somewhere: the farm turkey is an artificial freak bred to be fat and dumb as a rock, and bears as much resemblance to the turkey designed by evolution as a paint-by-numbers Mona Lisa has to da Vinci. You can't even set them free, because heaven help us if some wild turkey decides to rape one in the wild and it lives long enough to nest.) But duck, duck, ooo, duck. It's, like, all dark meat, with this ribbon of fat under the skin that bastes the thing internally while you're roasting it.

People think it's a big deal to roast duck because hardly anyone ever does it anymore. It's really not, and I'm not being modest. Yes, I've ruined ducks before, left 'em in too long and you can dry them out if you don't pay enough attention in the last little bit. But it's a small risk. I used to joke that the only difficult thing about doing a duck is peeling the sailor suit off; it's funny because it's nearly true. Joy Of Cooking complicates things unnecessarily, but it's pretty much as simple as sticking it in the oven at 350° until the internal temp is around 165°--about two, two-and-a-half hours. And it just melts in the mouth. Oh. Man. I stuff it with apples. Rub the outside with salt, pepper, garlic and paprika. Real basic.

Sorry. I wax rhapsodic over the flesh of the fowl. Forgive me. I hope your Thanksgiving feast, if you were here in the States and had one, was delicious and awesome.


"Pssst--hey, Junior, you wanna buy a hot turkey?"

In honor of the holiday season, here ya' are, pal, Happy T'anksgiving--Tex Avery's "Jerky Turkey" (1945). And remember, don't eat at Joe's.

Hope you're feasting mightily! Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!


Cool visual for the day

>> Tuesday, November 24, 2009

If you regularly visit Astronomy Picture Of The Day (or, perhaps, work for NASA), you may have already seen this recent image of Saturn's moon Enceladus venting ice from beneath the surface, taken by the Cassini probe that's out there now. I feel like I should add more, but what can I add--this image is worth a good ten thousand words, minimum (click on it for a large version--it really is breathtaking). (For the technical details, visit APOD.)


Some stray thoughts on going Rogue

>> Monday, November 23, 2009

Well, first of all, you obviously want one of your highest scores to be Dexterity, since so many of a rogue's abilities are tied to that. In Advanced Dungeons And Dragons, Dexterity was a Thief's prerequisite score, meaning that Thieves with low Dexterity scores were limited in their ability to advance in the class (Thief was the precursor to Rogue; it seems that the powers-that-be felt like making the class a bit broader than its Gray Mouser roots). Obviously, 3.x D&D no longer features prerequisite scores, but the Rogue's aptitude for locks and traps makes Dexterity a must.

And yet it's not the only attribute you'll want to look at if you're thinking of going Rogue: consider that a Rogue is the game's "skill monkey," with the highest number of skill points per level of any class (8 + the character's Intelligence bonus!), and that some of a Rogue's most unique abilities benefit from a high Intelligence score. Search and Disable Device, for instance, are both Intelligence-based skills and only Rogues have the ability to find traps with Search difficulties greater than 20 and only Rogues may disable magical traps (both a function of the Rogue's Trapfinding class ability). A dumb Rogue simply isn't going to make it far in the world--its a class for the highly intelligent; a dumb Rogue is something of an oxymoron, unless one is trying for a "flavor" heavy character by deliberately handicapping oneself.

Depending on how your Dungeon Master is handling character generation, I'd actually consider (if you have to choose) assigning a higher score to Intelligence than to Dexterity. Those Rogue skills are just to awesome to pass up, and Trapfinding is likely to be a Rogue's primary purpose in any standard dungeon crawl scenarios; it's also likely to be a lifesaving one at low levels when a single trap might easily TPK a poorly-rolling group.

There's not an obvious good choice dump stat for Rogues, and your choice on this point is likely to determine what kind of Rogue you really are. Wisdom is a poor choice given that Spot and Listen are Wisdom-based. A low Charisma may impede opportunities to use skills like Bluff, Disguise and Use Magic Device. That leaves Constitution and Strength as choices, but a Rogue who's low on those scores is probably not going to be able to take as much advantage of Sneak Attacks, one of the Rogue's defining abilities (he can still try, but low Strength is going to keep him from doing much damage and low Constitution is going to make him an easily-wasted target).

Rogues are fun, and certainly one of my favorite classes--if not my favorite outright--for their versatility. I can't speak to what Wizards has done to them in Fourth Edition, but in 3.x they're definitely worth a go.

And for those who thought this would be a post about something else... yeah, I'm a joker.


Sunday filler: "Blood Makes Noise"

>> Sunday, November 22, 2009

Not sure if I'll be checking in very often today or not, so have some Suzanne Vega: "Blood Makes Noise," live at the 2008 Avo Session Basel festival in Switzerland. Janiece may think the arrangement is particularly nifty.


"Quiet Little Voices"

>> Saturday, November 21, 2009

A few weeks ago I was in the car, and I don't remember which satellite radio station I was listening to, but this amazing little song came on and was impressive enough that I had to send myself a text message whenever I was stopped at traffic lights--"Quiet Little Voices."

I finally downloaded a copy of Glasgow's We Were Promised Jetpacks' first full-length album, These Four Walls, from Amazon the other evening, and this record could easily become my latest crush. A reviewer at Amazon compared the album to early U2, as in Boy, October and War U2, and I think it's a good comparison--particularly to Boy (an album that, for all its faults, may be the most exciting record U2 ever made, though War probably remains my favorite U2 album).

But enough about those once-relevant Irishmen--we were talking about some bright young Scotsmen. Walls is just a damn good record if you like this sort of thing as much as I do--anthemic vocals, walls of chiming guitars, thumping martial drums, atmospherics. This is the kind of music that brings out your inner air guitarist or drummer; in the course of writing this little bit I think I've replayed "Voices" three or four times partly because I keep being interrupted by the need to thrash around a bit.

Really good stuff. This is what it's supposed to be all about, kids. We Were Promised Jetpacks, "Quiet Little Voices":


"Spacious Thoughts"

>> Friday, November 20, 2009

Yesterday I got a cryptic e-mail from my sister that basically only said:

Have you seen this? Tom Waits is awesome.

Tom Waits is awesome, no doubt. But there wasn't an attachment! Had I seen what, exactly? Ah, but I'm a nerd, and I did have a guess, one which could be wrong: while I hadn't yet watched it, I was aware that Boing Boing had just featured some kind of music video involving the great Mr. Waits. And not just Tom Waits, but also another one of my very favorite deranged genius wordsmiths, the masterful Mr. Keith Thornton, a.k.a. Kool Keith a.k.a. Dr. Octagon. (I'm not sure my sister was aware I'm a Kool Keith fan, but if she was, double kudos, sis.)

"Spacious Thoughts" is the work of NASA (North America/South America, not the space agency, though it's possible Kool Keith is from someplace other than Earth), with Waits and Keith, as mentioned, and Boing Boing's comment, "great god almighty could it get any more awesome?" is dead-on. Actually, wait, I can answer their ostensibly rhetorical question: no. This could not get any more awesome. Wait, you could have some really spectacular animation--why, just like the animation done for the video by Fluorescent Hill. Well. There it is then.

This really is fucking awesome, seriously fucking awesome stuff. I hope you like it. (Oh--one more thing: if you have a pair of bicolor 3D glasses around the house--totally worth it. It's awesome without them... and awesomest with)

(And Bird, if this wasn't what you were talking about, I'm always up for more evidence of Tom Waits' awesomeness....)


What do you mean you can't see the bunny?

>> Thursday, November 19, 2009

(Inspired by Michelle, of course. Sorry. Couldn't help meself.)


Vortex of cosmic suck

I hope, though I very much doubt it, that someone close to Sarah Palin played Advanced Dungeons & Dragons back in the day. I know, strange way to start a post, but bear with me. The reason I'm hoping this is because of two particular magical items in AD&D; one was something called a "portable hole," which was exactly what it sounds like--inspired, perhaps, by old Warner Bros. cartoons where a hole might easily be grabbed by a corner and put somewhere else, the portable hole was a round black thing that became a hole when you laid it down. The other item was a "bag of holding," which, much like the TARDIS on Doctor Who, was bigger on the inside than on the outside, allowing an adventurer to put all sorts of things inside to more conveniently lug them around.

Now, the tricky thing was this: if you ever put a portable hole inside a bag of holding, what happened was you got a hole in the universe, a vortex of pure suck, a tear in the space time continuum. Which was bad, you see. And the reason I'm mentioning this is because I was just reading Joan Walsh's piece in Salon about the possibility of a Sarah Palin/Glenn Beck 2012 presidential ticket. Which isn't something that seems all that probable, frankly, but it also seems like it would be very bad for the entire universe. What would happen if the floppy black hole of Glenn Beck's intellect were placed within the event horizon of the vast, empty, bottomless sack of Sarah Palin's mentality? A tear, a terrible tear in existence itself. It would not be enough for President Obama and Vice-President Biden to campaign vigorously, no: they would be forced to pilot giant robots into the proximity of the existential vortex in order to close it with their laser swords. And I'm not sure they're the men for the job, to be honest: anybody who has carefully researched giant robots through hours and hours of watching cartoons and reading comic books, as I have, knows that the major weapon systems of such devices are operated by shouting the name of the attack at the top of one's lungs; and anyone who has spectated in the American political theater knows that Mr. Biden is regrettably prone to mangling the English language given enough opportunities to do so. While I imagine Mr. Obama would quickly master the controls of his giant robot, I foresee Mr. Biden accidentally ejecting himself into the sun while spontaneously decapitating the President's robot after mistakenly shouting, "SUICIDE NINJA MASSIVE ROSE BLOSSOM ATTACK!" or something similar. And so we shall be doomed.

I say it's improbable, notwithstanding the popular claim that the ancient Mayans foresaw something impossibly awful happening in 2012 that ends the world. For one thing, there's no way a people as cultured and sophisticated as the Mayans would have watched Fox even if they'd been cable subscribers at the time. So how could they have foreseen Glenn Beck? On the other hand, I am sure astute readers have noted that Palin/Beck's stupid-within-stupidity would represent a temporal as well as spatial rift, and as Star Trek and other documentaries have taught us, time waves can travel forwards and backwards, influencing events and causing ship's doctors to overdose on Cordrazine (raising the spectre of a Nazi victory in WWII); it's admittedly possible, then, that Mrs. Palin and Mr. Beck joining forces would result in a stupidity so immense it was noticed in the far past. Speaking of which, perhaps this also offers a new theory on what killed the dinosaurs.

Speaking, also, of burning stupid: Ms. Walsh's column also offers this quote from a Palin interview with Barbara Walters, which would almost beggar belief if I hadn't lived through the 2008 presidential campaign and seen Mrs. Palin's titanic mental struggles on display:

"It's kind of like what Reagan used to do, though, when he talked about, say, the 'evil empire.' You're never going to find the evil empire on a map of the world ... And yet he talked about that, in terms that people could understand--kind of rationing down, not complicating the issue.

"But he, with the issue of the evil empire at the time, used those two words to get people to shake up, wake up, find out what's going on here. Now, had he been criticized and, and mocked, and, and condemned for ever using a term that wasn't actually there on a map, or in documents, we probably would never have succeeded in, in crushing the evil empire, and winning that."

What I find interesting in the above is the way Palin sounds like a student struggling with an exam question--she sounds like a student who remembers there was something about the "evil empire" in the materials, but can't recall if it was the Soviets or the Russians (yes, I know) or maybe somebody else who was being referred to. So the student keeps using the vague phrase in her essay in the hopes the professor will assume the student really was paying attention. Notice, too, the vagueness in the phrase, "...we probably would never have succeeded in, in crushing the evil empire, and winning that." Crushing who? Winning what? Of course, what's most distressing about that vapid vagueness is that Mrs. Palin isn't a nineteen-year-old struggling to remember a lecture four weeks ago or a page skimmed last night, but is describing events that she actually lived through; surely she remembers the latter decades of the Cold War and has some cognizance that President Ronald Reagan was not "rationing down" (whatever the hell that means) anything, but was describing a systematically corrupt and oppressive Soviet regime, and that it wasn't about waking anybody up to anything since anybody who was paying attention was certainly aware of the Soviet Union.1

Ms. Walsh notes some of the other factual problems with Mrs. Palin's statement (e.g. President Reagan in fact was criticized for simplifying geopolitical issues, and even people who agreed the Soviet regime was evil weren't necessarily convinced that the President of the United States saying that publicly was conducive to world peace and/or American interests abroad), but I'm not sure Ms. Walsh doesn't miss the forest in pointing out those trees: the overall problem is that Palin just doesn't have a clue about major historical events that she witnessed. Anyone of her age, which isn't much more advanced than mine, ought to indeed be able to find President Reagan's "evil empire" on a map of the era, or its remnants on a contemporary map, and however one describes the end of the Cold War--victory or survival or both--one ought to be able to do better than "winning that."

Well, what else can one say, really? I mean beyond asking how one gets a seat on the ark if Palin runs and somehow wins in 2012?

1Of course there were some people on the Left who were aware of Soviet evils or should have been, and were in denial or engaged in apologetics; these people didn't need to be awakened, they needed to have their heads pulled out of their asses, which is something else entirely.


With friends like that...

>> Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Well, there was a first, I'm ashamed to admit: following a link from a Glenn Greenwald post today, I found myself reading an editorial in The Weekly Standard by Thomas Joscelyn that actually prompted my brain to say, "Why did we rescue you people from Hitler, again?"

I am ashamed, of course. Aside from the fact that I have no doubt that many, probably most Britons aren't frothy reactionaries like Mr. Joscelyn, there's also the way that such a thought is immaturely tribalistic, and the way such a thought also demeans the brave efforts and sacrifices of our WWII allies. I always hate it when one of my fellow Americans boasts about how "we" won the Second World War, as if the Soviets didn't sacrifice millions on Eastern Front battlefields or the British didn't bravely persevere. Even the French get slighted by that worldview--Le Resistance did what it could with what it had. And of course, in the other theater, we had friends and useful allies against the Japanese in Southeast Asia and China who only became our enemies later. It was a global effort, a more-or-less united front against the tyranny of psychopaths, and no nation could have gone it alone, not even ours with the blood, steel and gold we poured into the effort. But I digress.

And still--if you read Mr. Joscelyn's rant, surely you'll understand how the small, dark thought slipped through the shadows of my mind. Surely you'll sympathize, even.

Mr. Greenwald, who works with the American Civil Liberties Union, does a wonderful job of addressing some of Mr. Joscelyn's factual errors, e.g. the fact that the people in the video that so offends Mr. Joscelyn's sensibilities are in that video because they were released from the Guantanamo prison camp. My personal flabbergasterization (my blog, my freedom to invent words, thank you) stems from Mr. Joscelyn's self-evident contempt for the rule of law. I mean, suppose that Mr. Joscelyn's claims are accurate--if so, surely there's no harm in giving detainees a day in court and proving to a trier of fact all the terrible things they've done? (Nor do I mean this last sentence to seem naïve: many of these detainees are there because they've done terrible things.)

The question is not one, as Mr. Joscelyn cretinously posits, of telling "us" from our enemies. The issue is that our basic social compact, at least in the United States (and I would have thought in Britain, the British Magna Carta being such an foundational inspiration for America's concept of rule-of-law), being built on the idea that the acts of the State against the individual must be monitored and kept in check. The courts, of course, being the primary institution we have for this purpose. There's nobody saying that if somebody is proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law to be a criminal that they shouldn't suffer the full legal consequences of their actions; and at least some of us who are opposed to capital punishment at least respect the law and procedure that arrives at that point (i.e., if a suspected terrorist is lawfully tried, convicted, and sentenced to death, I am not happy that death is on the books as a punishment for any man or woman, but I accept that it is on the books and that such a sentence is being lawfully applied and carried out).

It is more than a little baffling that conservatives--people who, by definition, prefer tradition and order to modernity and change--have this utter lack of faith in American traditions and culture. If the cases against alleged terrorists is as strong as they're made out to be, surely they'll hold up in a court of law? Surely they'll survive scrutiny? And if the cases aren't as strong as that, then it seems to me that the failure isn't the system's but of those who arrested, detained, and/or prosecuted on inadequate pretenses.

I suppose one shouldn't expect Mr. Joscelyn to be overly-familiar with American organizations such as the ACLU. On the other hand, the British have a noble liberal tradition that we enshrined in our Constitution. In the 13th Century, Britons forced their King to agree:

No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.

To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.

These rights were enshrined by their American descendants. It's notable, as others have pointed out, that the Great Writ, Habeas Corpus, is guaranteed in the United States not by Amendment but by the primary text of the Constitution itself, in Article I, Section 9, and is only to be suspended on conditions of rebellion or invasion.

Former President George W. Bush once infamously said that terrorists "hate our way of life." It's evident to me that they're not alone, our allies and a significant chunk of our population hate it, too: they hate our freedoms, they hate our liberties, they hate our basic rights, among the most basic being the right not to be held without trial and the right to demand to be brought before a tribunal for an inquiry into the grounds on which one is being held. (These rights, under the ægis of Habeas, are even more fundamental than other basic rights--like the right to confront accusers, the right to see the evidence upon which a crime is alleged, and the right to have counsel on one's behalf.) I can understand, after a fashion, why America's enemies might hate our way of life--it is tautologically encompassed by the fact they're enemies, an enemy being someone who doesn't like you; an enemy might hate you for your beliefs, or your nose or the way you laugh, why not your way of life, while he's at it? But how do you explain somebody who's ostensibly your friend hating your way of life? One might like a friend but not care for some of his habits, but to violently reject something like his basic essence, what defines him? We Americans sing, "land of the free, home of the brave," and yet have people pretending to be our friends cravenly opposing the basic liberties that make us a free people and acting like it's for our own good that they trash the very qualities we use to identify and distinguish ourselves. Go figure.

With friends like Mr. Joscelyn, in other words, who needs enemies? Thank you for your opinion, sir; we'll take your Magna Carta and send for you if we need a nuisance (don't wait up).


Quote Of The Day

>> Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A further area of study ought to deal with the mind-set of McCain's former campaign aides who continue to criticize Palin for not turning out to be the mute puppet they had so hoped she would be. That she went rogue I have no doubt--but this was only after they went stupid and helped pick her in the first place.
-Richard Cohen, "Time for some Palintology"
The Washington Post, November 17th, 2009

I hear that Mrs. Palin has now blamed her inability to answer basic questions in the Katie Couric interview like the one about what she likes to read on being flummoxed that Alaskans were being treated as rural hicks who don't know how to read. Hm... okaaaaaay. My recollection is that some years ago a provincial from the rural backwater state of Massachusetts, Senator John Kennedy, was asked a similar question and instead of stammering, charmingly made Ian Fleming assloads of money. The real point being, naturally, that Mr. Kennedy knew damn well what he liked and didn't give a shit whether it impressed anybody or not. Roguish types do that. Fumbling a softball question? Idiots do that.

Still, McCain's camp doesn't have much room to complain. They could've picked somebody competent over somebody pretty.

UPDATE, NOVEMBER 17TH, 2009: Dammit! I may have picked a quote for the day too soon. After reading the above, I ran across this zinger from, of all people, famous babydaddy and aspiring male model Levi Johnston:

I just look at her in disgust. ... It's almost funny, that she's like, 46 years old, and she's battling a 19 year old, and I'm winning.
-Levi Johnston, "Levi: I Look at Palin with 'Disgust'"
CBS, The Early Show, November 17th, 2009

So... which one's the better quote for the day? The zinger against the McCain camp from the grizzled editorialist for one of America's leading newspapers, or the snarky soundbite from the teenage almost-son-in-law of the almost-Vice-President? Help me decide!


Tapping out

>> Monday, November 16, 2009

Well, I guess I oughter make it one of them there official pronouncyments... I'm tapping outta th' ring.

No, this is good, really, truly. I made the decision yesterday, or really Saturday, I think, and nearly posted it yesterday but wanted to stew in it a bit before I made some kind of honking big deal over it. Which in a way it is, since it's the first time in four years now that I'm starting and finishing, if that's the right word, early.

Oh dear, I still haven't come out and just said it, have I? I'm done with NaNoWriMo 2009.

There it is. That's supposedly the bad news. The good news is that I spent the past two days thinking about restarting something I really wanted to write and spent my lunch hour today, when I wasn't taking calls, doing a little bit of cursory world building. I would have done some world building yesterday, but I wanted to do it with Campaign Cartographer and City Designer Pro and I couldn't get it to work under WINE (it's possibly an expired registration issue, not a compatibility problem), but that's something else, and negligible. The thing of it is, I'm actually a little excited about writing again, which is what NaNoWriMo was supposed to get me to whether I made 50,000 words or not.

What I had wasn't much of a story; what I did was take a bunch of scraps I had lying around my brain and dumped them into one pot with a badly-drawn character I didn't put much thought into. There was the half-baked ghost story, and the horror story about a raingod, and it was stuck into an old European town not too far off of something I'd already written, only it was occasionally nonsensical or absurdist, to which end I had a whole bunch of really inept German spies running around. When I hit a point where I wanted to write something else, it was also a point (not entirely coincidentally) where I really had nowhere to go with what was going in the "story" of this American reporter going to a constantly-raining town haunted by ghosts and stuffed with German spies. Indeed, that's why I'm telling you what I had--I'm never going back there again, unless it's to strip if for parts sometime.

I'm not exactly sure when I'll start writing the new/old thing though I feel like I've started already. I may draw a little bit, first, or try to--I'm no artist. I have some numbers in my netbook, that's good. I have some clumpy bits I have to chop up, too, before I can really get going. I feel like I'm talking about this too much, actually--but you have to understand, I'm feeling a bit giddy about this whole thing again, and that's really, really good.

NaNoWriMo 2009: best failure ever.

Root for me. Thanks.


"World Builder"

>> Sunday, November 15, 2009

Just saw this on io9: Bruce Branit's 2007 short "World Builder"; a really, really neat and moving take on virtual reality. Enjoy:


Unsecret history

>> Saturday, November 14, 2009

Ever heard of Wolfgang Werlé or Manfred Lauber? How about Walter Sedlmayr? Me either, at least until today, but it seems that Messrs. Werlé and Lauber were convicted in a German court for murdering Mr. Sedlmayr, did their time and were released. And that would be the end of it except that something interesting happened, sort of: you see, it seems that under German law once somebody has done their time for something like murder, their name can then no longer be mentioned in print in connection with the crime or something--it's some kind of weird privacy thing. Now, as it happens, the late Mr. Sedlmeyer's entry in Wikipedia lists the names of the men convicted of killing him, which prompted Mr. Werlé to sue to have his name removed from the online encyclopedia. This resulted in Mr. Werlé and Mr. Lauber having their names reprinted in the New York Times article linked to in the previous sentence, and of course Slashdot picked it up as a matter of interest to online nerds everywhere (which, incidentally, is how the story came to my attention).

The German edition of Wikipedia deleted the convicted murderers' names, but the English edition continues to identify Mr. Werlé and Mr. Lauber. I suppose the Germans felt they had no choice--if their servers are in Germany, I think there's no getting around a German court having jurisdiction over the German Wikipedia Foundation. The American incarnation, on the other hand, is evidently hosted in Florida, which raises interesting legal issues: since the English version of Wikipedia is available in Germany, it's certainly published there, but the American Wikipedia Foundation has no physical presence there and thus is not exactly amenable to being sued, and perhaps has a strong argument (if they are sued in a German court) that the German court has no jurisdiction over the matter and thus any suit ought to be dismissed. And a suit in an American courtroom seems likely to fail given that little thing called the First Amendment.

I've sometimes been ambivalent about Wikipedia, but I hope they stand their ground. Indeed, I think it's amusing and apt that they've added an entry for Werlé, which I suspect didn't exist before he made himself "notable" in such a self-destructive fashion (a comment on the Werlé talk page aptly compares Mr. Werlé's legal shenanigans to scoring an own-goal on one's own net).

Given the nature of my job, I sympathize just a little with the German court's privacy ruling: the media frequently seems uninterested in accuracy if a good story would sell more papers, and there's something to be said for allowing people to get along with their lives once they've paid a debt to society. Even a modest criminal act can be life-destroying and create a self-perpetuating cycle wherein an ancient mistake makes it impossible for one to make an honest living, so he turns to a dishonest one, becoming a recidivist who is even less able to make an honest living.

But there's also something else at stake: truth. I do hope that Mr. Werlé and Mr. Lauber move on with their lives, are productive citizens in their homeland (or wherever they end up), that if there are amends they can make for the taking of a life, they make them. I am not in a position to second-guess the German legal system and will assume, must assume that the punishment they have endured was just and appropriate for their crime. But the indisputable facts are that they committed this crime, or at least that they were convicted of it, and it serves nobody to allow those facts to go down an Orwellian "memory hole" to be flushed and forgotten by official records, only to be remembered by people who cannot repeat the truth and who must inevitably doubt their own sanities.

There are also some interesting things to think about in terms of international law and conflicts of law, although this particular situation isn't actually that complex. German and American laws are incompatible, but this seems like a situation in which German law will not carry much weight on American soil, unlike the kinds of situations that are arising in copyright law as a result of the fact that the United States has signed onto international conventions based on European law that are not necessarily compatible with American common law on Fair Use. But it is somewhat interesting as an example of how isolationists, whether in the United States or abroad, have already lost the battle to close the barn doors to the extent that technology, like economics, has welded nations together and dissolved borders.

And there are, perhaps, some interesting things to ponder insofar as this seems like another example of freedom being the natural state of information: information wants to be free to roam, whether individuals like Messrs. Werdé and Lauber are discomfited by it or not. It's inconvenient to be convicted of murder, to be sure, but I'm not sure how you keep everybody from knowing about it, even if German law helps you keep it out of the German papers.

Things to think about, at any rate. Oh, and by the way: Wolfgang Werdé and Manfred Lauber. Just because.


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