Neverwednesday Nights

>> Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hell, it's been a while since I did a Neverwednesday entry even though gaming pursuits resumed a while back. So why the hell not? Might or might not resume as a regular feature or whatever.

For no particular reason other than I've wanted to put up some Lennon and I just love the walking rhythm line on this one, here's "I Found Out." It's not an actual video--just the song with some photos, but hell, what a song.

Enjoy!




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"Well you know the story of the viper--"

>> Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Somewhat in keeping with yesterday's subject, or one of yesterday's subjects, please enjoy this ditty by M. Cave Et Les Graines Mauvais, about his lovely sweetheart and helpmeet, a kinder and gentler soul than any other woman alive (or dead):




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"Unfilmable"

>> Monday, September 28, 2009

Some friends and I had a bit of an argument over Watchmen over whether the graphic novel was even filmable or not. I tended to say it wasn't, though I'm not absolutely settled on that, to which my friends retorted "bullshit," leading to a larger argument over whether there was any such thing as an unfilmable book.

I suppose that I should point out that we're not necessarily talking about whether a book might make a good movie, or whether a particular movie adaptation was better than or worse than its source material. I think the more interesting question might be whether or not there are some books that just couldn't be translated into another medium at all.

One of the reasons I'm thinking about this again is Alan Moore again. I'm finally getting around to From Hell after all this time, and as I read it I'm thinking that it may make the case for an unfilmable property in an interesting way. And yes, I know that there's a movie called From Hell and that it's billed as an adaptation of the graphic novel. And that movie isn't particularly good (tho' it is slightly better than most of the reviews might lead you to believe), but that has surprisingly little to do with anything.

To explain why From Hell is unfilmable in an interesting way, we have to go through some first-things-first, and forgive me if you already know all of this. The first obvious thing that has to be pointed out is that in the fall of 1888, in the seedy slums district of Whitechapel in London, the murders of five women (Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly) were all attributed to one person or entity, dubbed "Jack The Ripper" by the tabloid press of the time. These so-called "canonical five" victims were the ones attributed to the Ripper by the Metropolitan Police, but other probable estimates range from four victims to eleven. And less-probable estimates actually range from zero (i.e. the murders were unrelated--assaults and murders were appallingly commonplace in Whitechapel, and its possible that unrelated crimes were linked by public hysteria, media sensationalism and primitive policework) to essentially infinite (in the sense of an unknowable number--some theories of the case have the Ripper relocating to another country and committing murders there, or suggest that he was a sailor who might have committed unidentified Ripper crimes in every port-of-call British ships ever visited).

The point of this being that From Hell is based on something essentially true. That is, it's not like Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell said, "What if there was a Victorian serial killer murdering prostitutes in a London slum"; this actually happened or is reasonably believed to have happened (again, there's a slim possibility some or all of the murders were actually unrelated). From Hell is thoroughly researched. Much of the dialogue is drawn from official records or memoirs of participants, and while Moore settles on the "canonical five" for story-related reasons, five is the official number used by police of the time and historically accepted. (There's a relatively recent push to add a sixth victim, Martha Tabram, to the list, though some contemporary investigators also seem to have included her as a possible Ripper victim.)

There's another first-things-first item that has to be touched on. As I mentioned, From Hell is fairly thoroughly researched, and one of the major influences or bases for the work is the theory of one Stephen Knight, who in the mid-1970s wrote a book called Jack The Ripper: The Final Solution that presented the theory that the Ripper murders were part of a Royal Family conspiracy with Masonic overtones: Royal surgeon Sir William Gull was assigned with the task of covering up an ill-advised marriage of Queen Victoria's grandson to a commoner and did so in the fashion of Masonic rituals. Knight's book wasn't the first time Sir William or the Royals were implicated in the Ripper murders, and Moore varies from Knight in some particulars, but in From Hell's extensive appendix Knight's work is cited again and again. Indeed, if one wanted to fault Moore, one might suggest that Knight nearly deserves a writing credit for From Hell, and--ironically enough--I think if Knight had published Final Solution as fiction he might well have a legal claim to one. (As it stands, you can't copyright "facts"--even erroneous one--and I think Moore is appropriately generous in crediting Knight as a source and inspiration.) Knight's work isn't that well-regarded and one of his major sources apparently later admitted to being a hoaxer: you might even say it is fiction, regardless of the label it was published under, but there you are.

The point of this being that From Hell doesn't present an original theory of the case, either. Just as the premise is historical fact, the plot is adapted from a prior theory. If you describe From Hell in those terms, it's not an original work at all. So why treat it as one?

Because, as it happens, From Hell is indeed an original work as Eddie Campbell's graphic presentation of Alan Moore's creative interpretation of his own research (including Stephen Knight's work and the historical record). What's original in From Hell is Moore and Campbell choosing to relate this established tale in a particular way, drawing a certain panel in a certain way or putting a particular phrase in a particular character's mouth. In sum, what's creative, original and unique to From Hell (even the title is unoriginal, being lifted from a letter received by George Lusk, the head of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, allegedly sent by the killer) is the graphic novel-ness of the project.

And this is why I say that maybe From Hell might be unfilmable. If you make a movie using the graphic novel's premise, you've simply made a movie based on a true story. If you do a movie using the graphic novel's plot, you've simply adapted Stephen Knight's Jack The Ripper: The Final Solution to film. I suppose you might try to do what Zack Snyder did with Watchmen and try to do a panel-by-panel conversion of the graphic novel's visuals to film frame-by-frame, and copy Moore's assignment of historic words or contribution of original words, but the problem you run into there is that this isn't likely to work all that well, witness Watchmen. In short, anything you film and call From Hell is likely to be something else. And I find that interesting.

Indeed, it leads to some interesting thoughts about adapting nineteenth-century novels--which provide the distinctive model for Alan Moore's writing--and whether any of them can be truly adapted to other media. I happen to prefer John Huston and Ray Bradbury's 1956 Moby Dick to Herman Melville's interminable novel, but I think maybe there's a good case to be made that the movie version isn't really an adaptation of the novel at all, merely being loosely based on the "good parts" of the novel's plot. But that, methinks, might be another blog entry entirely.


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"Silly Love Songs"

>> Friday, September 25, 2009

Years and years ago, my sister gave me Songs For A Blue Guitar, an album by Red House Painters. Honestly, at the time I didn't much like it. But I'm not afraid to say that where my sister might read it because--it's one of those funny things--the record has just kept growing on me. It's probably been close to ten years, come to think of it. Guitar has ultimately become a favorite, a staple of the portable hard drive and regular guest star of the iPod, not to mention a CD that regularly goes in the changer (how quaint!), especially in the blue winter months.

So, once again, thanks, sis!

I was listening to the record again the other evening. Maybe I was in a melancholy mood or something, hence this post. In particular, I found myself drawn again to the Painters' cover of an absolutely terrible but famous Paul McCartney song, "Silly Love Songs." I've probably offended someone--the song was a huge hit for Sir Paul and has tons of fans, but I just think it's treacle, the kind of song that broke The Beatles up (Paul wanted to record things like "Silly Love Songs," John wanted to record things like "I Found Out"; screw Paul McCartney). But the Painters' version, which rips the song a new one, is... is... it sounds like Neil Young and Crazy Horse doing a strung out live version. I'm not the only one who notices that, I don't think: the YouTube comments on the below embed include someone saying the opening reminds him of Young's "Cortez The Killer," and that's about right; "Cortez The Killer" is lyrically a nadir for Young (Cortez was a bastard, but so were the Aztecs Young apologizes on behalf of; the only way the conquest of Mexico could have been better would have been if the conquistadors had died too), but musically... fucking-A, "Cortez" is one of the most spectacular--and I mean this in a good way--bits of epic guitar wankery ever committed to tape. And that's what the Painters do to "Love Songs," turn it into this out-of-control epic of frantic, overdriven guitars.

"Silly Love Songs" is dead, long live "Silly Love Songs."

I feel obligated to warn you. One, this embed (which is just the song, it's not actually a video) is eleven minutes long. (Eleven minutes AWESOME, I mean!) Two, I suspect most people will just hate it. It may even be an acquired taste. If you're a fan of Mr. Young's dazed take on Hendrix (I am), I think your ears will be pleased. If you're a fan of McCartney's simple syrup, well, you're not going to be happy. At all. I mean, they pretty much sodomize the song. (It had it coming. I know I'm not supposed to say something like that. I'm sorry. Some things are true. You should have seen how the song was dressed and the neighborhood it was in.) Oh, three--this copy kind of cuts out at the end.

Ladies and gentlemen, Red House Painters, "Silly Love Songs":





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Short stuff

>> Wednesday, September 23, 2009

My friend Kate Baker tweeted earlier today:

Trying to debunk a myth in my college text book that says "Genre fiction does not work well in short-short stories.


That seems like a bit of rubbish to me: short fiction (and, by extension, short-short, however you might define it) is ideal for genre stories for a lot of reasons. For one, the longer a genre story plays out, the more the conventions of the genre might be stretched to the breaking point (the reader might start to wonder how dwarves procreate or how the murderer knew the victim would order the fish or how long can cowboys ride between bathroom breaks). For another, a fair bit of genre fiction tends to be built around a "gag"--take, for instance, Isaac Asimov's first published short story, "Marooned Off Vesta," which uses paper-thin characters and fairly plain language to tell an interesting story about Newton's Third Law Of Motion: that's the whole story, Newton's Third Law, the end. It's not a bad story (I'm not holding it up for a list of all-time greats, mind you--it's not that good, either), but you certainly couldn't stretch it out to novel length and why would you want to? Gags tend to be easy to spot in SF--some curiosity of physics or neato recent astronomical discovery--but they're not confined to that genre. The gag in a mystery story might be something with time zones or the gag in a western might be some neat bit of frontier trivia, the gag in a horror story might be some sort of what-if nugget like, "What if you were your own ghost."

I had to wonder if Kate's textbook's writers were distinguishing between "literary" and "genre" fiction, but the problem with that is that plenty of "literary" writers have used short forms to dabble in genre fiction; Flannery O'Connor and D.H. Lawrence come readily to mind (for their horror classics "The Lottery" and "The Rocking-Horse Winner," respectively). Depending on whether you count novellas as short fiction or long fiction, the "literary" Henry James' "The Turn Of The Screw" is considered one of the all-time great ghost stories. (Personally, I find Henry James pretty tedious, but I don't think I'm any danger to his literary reputation.)

Anyway, I think I got sidetracked here. Over lunch, trying to answer Kate's pleas for help, I stumbled across an old Wired collection of very short stories--six words, in honor of a story Hemingway allegedly called his best work. ("For sale: baby shoes, never worn." Hm. Not bad, actually.) Which was a bit inspirational and I thought it would be a fun thing to start up as a little game or meme or whatever (in this case, I like the idea of calling it a game much better). Here are five I came up with earlier:


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Bill tested the autodestruct only once.

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"I think it's dead, try poking--"

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Unstable bookshelf. Many books. Poor librarian....

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So many zombies. So little ammo.

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His long hair memorializes bald Rapunzel.

-----


Meh--they kinda suck. But now it's time for your own! While I think a discussion of classic shorts and genre stories would be awesome, I'm going to ask everybody to leave it to a different thread and that any commentators on this post simply leave their six-word-shorts here. I know, I know. But c'mon, it'll be fun, kids! So, please, humor me. Let's have nothing but six-word-short-short stories in the comments thread!

Let's see some very, very, very, very, very short stories!


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Help me, Paul Obi, you're my only hope...

I don't normally open spam, but every now and then something catches my eye for whatever reason. I don't suppose I'm alone in that--Jim Wright even has a recurring spam feature over at Stonekettle Station.

What's interesting about this e-mail that I received from "Regina Dunn" is that it strikes me as a bit threatening for the usual "free money" pitch. There's nothing new about sending somebody an offer of a free ATM card in exchange for all of their personal information under the guise of a "payment notification," but this one actually instructs me to "stop dealing with some non-officials in the bank as this is an illegal act and will have to stop...." Oh gosh! It is? It will? But, but, but, I didn't know. I swear I'll stop! You can't prove anything! You'll never take me alive, Executive Payment Officer!

The request asks me to send details to "Rev Father. [sic] Paul Obi." If you Google "Paul Obi" you'll find that the Reverend Father, insofar as he may or may not actually exist, is a pretty busy fellow--he is, for instance, also the "Head Of Customers Service" [sic] for The Eco Bank Of Nigeria; that, or "Paul Obi" is the African equivalent of "John Smith." If I ever visit Africa, I may have to test that--I could call everybody I meet "Paul Obi" and see if they respond.

RE: YOUR PAYMENT NOTIFICATION
From: Mrs. Pamela Johnson
Executive Payment Officer (UN)
UNITED NATIONS COMPENSATION.

Attention: Beneficiary

This is to officially inform you that we have verified your contract / inheritance file presently on my desk, and I found out that you have not received your payment due to your lack of co-operation and not fulfilling the obligations giving to you in respect to your contract / inheritance payment.

Secondly, you are hereby advised to stop dealing with some non-officials in the bank as this is an illegal act and will have to stop if you so wish to receive your payment immediately. After the board meeting held at our headquarters, we have resolved in finding a solution to your problem, and as you may know, we have arranged your payment through our SWIFT CARD PAYMENT CENTRE in Europe, America and Asia Pacific, which is the instruction given by our president, (GCFR) Federal Republic of Benin although it was agreed that you will pay only $95usd for the delivery of your ATM CARD master card and opening file which is $95usd only to Rev.Father Paul Obi.

This card centre will send you an ATM CARD which you will use to withdraw your money in an ATM MACHINE in any part of the world, but the maximum is ($20,000.00) Twenty Thousand Us Dollars per day. So, if you like to receive your fund this way, please do let us know by forwarding the below details to Rev Father. Paul Obi the CARD PAYMENT CENTRE on this

email: atmcardpayymentcen@gmail.com


Telephone: +234-703-1248-230

Click on this link to see for yourself (http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2003/ik344.doc.htm)

(1) Your Full Name
(2) Address where you want the payment centre to send your ATM CARD.
(3)Phone And Fax Number
(4) Your Total Fund to be received is US$2.600,000.00

Instead of losing your fund, please indicate to the Card Centre the total sum you are expecting and for your information you have stop any further communication with anybody or office. On this regards, do not hesitate to contact me for more details and direction, and also please do update me with any new development.

Thanks for your co-operation.

Regards,
From: Mrs. Pamela Johnson
Executive Payment Officer (UN)
United Nation Of Benin Republic..

Note: Because of impostors, we hereby issue you with our code of conduct, which are (209) so you have to indicate this code when contacting this CARD CENTRE.


Regrettably, there are people who fall for this kind of thing, a remarkable confluence of ignorance and wishful thinking. I mean, look at the letter--it basically accuses me of all sorts of things I haven't exactly done, such as dealing with bank officials, not co-operating, signing a contract or having dead relations in... Benin, I guess, though the claim that this is also "United Nations compensation" has one scratching one's head, too. Now, you and I know that all of this is bunk, but you do have to wonder how somebody receives a letter and says, "Well, I don't remember contacting African bank officials, but I must have, so I guess I need to take care of this immediately." Which suggests, I'm afraid, that there's a certain culpability or nefariousness on the part of some victims: it's more likely that some victims of 419 fraud think they're the ones pulling a fast one--"Well, these people think I'm due some money, so who am I to correct them?"

Depressing all around, when you get down to it.

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The Wicker Man

>> Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Finally saw The Wicker Man last night. No, not the American remake with Nicholas Cage that has managed to become a kind of "alternative classic" thanks to a legendarily delirious godawfulness. I haven't seen that one, although I really think I need to based on the YouTube clips in circulation of Cage running around punching women and screaming about honey in a bearsuit. Some things need to be seen not to be believed. No, I finally saw the original theatrical release version on DVD (there's a restored cut with fifteen extra minutes of footage I haven't seen).

I'd seen bits and pieces of Wicker Man over the years, mostly on TV where all they can show are bits and pieces because... well, because of all the bits and pieces on display in the movie. Wicker Man is the kind of movie that you could only make as a low-budget British movie in the '70s, and an example of that is the frequent, conspicuous, and surprisingly non-prurient female nudity on display throughout the whole thing.

Actually, you could probably say that you couldn't even get away with a movie like Wicker Man on those terms in the '70s, since the movie got practically lost in the midst of a studio management shakeup/buyout that resulted in the movie being drastically cut by fifteen-to-twenty minutes, being marketed in a kind of desultory fashion and mismarketed as a horror film in the places it was promoted, an equally scattered release, and the negatives and early positives of the movie eventually being (probably) buried--no shit--under a British turnpike.

So this is how yet another classic in one of my favorite genres (or ostensibly in that genre) slipped under my radar for years and years and years. Happily, in this case, because I'm not sure I would have appreciated it when I was younger. The times I had seen bits and pieces on TV, the movie seemed a bit dull and plodding, and if I'd actually seen the whole thing I probably would have found it unfathomably weird, and this is coming from a guy who's been fond of David Lynch's work since seeing Eraserhead on video in the '80s.

I've twice-mentioned Wicker Man's status as a horror film, so it might be something to go ahead and address. The movie features Christopher Lee, of course, and was made at a time when Lee was still more famous for playing Dracula than for playing evil wizardly people in huge-epic-franchise features, which probably factors into the movie's identification as a horror movie. Plus, there's the ending, which probably isn't a spoiler at this point (much as the ending of Psycho has become part of the fabric of pop culture), but just-in-case I won't be specific and will only say that it's a bit dark and nightmarish. And then there's the fact that Wicker Man is structured around a framework that was made classic by H.P. Lovecraft back in the day: an investigator goes to a secluded, remote town dominated by an increasingly-weird-seeming cult, wherein said investigator is exposed to increasingly distressing revelations leading to a terrible climax (don't get the wrong idea, though--no Elder Gods or Cosmic Mysteries show up here). So there are certainly horror elements and if you want to class Wicker Man as horror it certainly honors the genre. But the movie is also--and here's where we get into the '70s-Britishness of it--is also a black comedy about religious dogma, a musical and an Agatha Christie-ish whodunnit. I mention the last because the play/film that Wicker Man actually resembles the most is Wicker Man screenwriter Anthony Shaffer's most famous creation, Sleuth, which debuted as a hugely successful play, was adapted into a very good movie starring Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier, and eventually remade as another movie that nobody's ever seen starring Jude Law or somebody and Michael Caine again and apparently isn't good at all (I really can't be bothered to look it up, frankly). Both scripts are built around games of (to steal a perfectly ludicrous line from Venture Brothers archvillain The Monarch) cat-and-also-cat being played out by participants who seem to be in control but clearly (to the audience, at least) aren't; they're like watching games of Texas Hold'em, with Shaffer dealing out most of the cards in plain view and the suspense arising from figuring out who knows what and who knows who knows what, and who... well, you get the idea.

The plot, if you don't already know, is deceptively straightforward: Scottish police Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) flies out to the remote island village of Summerisle to conduct a missing persons investigation after receiving a letter reporting that a little girl has vanished and the worst is feared. Upon arrival, the conservative, straitlaced, very Christian Howie is stymied by the locals' claims that they don't recognize the child in the photograph that was included with the letter and then shocked by the open prevalence of pagan rituals--pagan symbols are everywhere, fertility rituals are performed openly (many of them in the nude), and the parish church is a crumbling husk that's been abandoned for decades. Going out for a walk at night, Howie is appalled to see a field full of people having sex under the moonlight; he's possibly more appalled the following day when he discovers that all of the graves in the churchyard are marked by planted trees instead of "proper" markers and that girls in the local school are being openly taught about phallic symbols and the power of the feminine principle (upon asking if the students are taught about Christianity, the slightly-put-out teacher responds that of course there's a comparative religion course). When he's not having his prejudices assaulted or boorishly reminding villagers that theirs is a Christian nation, Howie discovers that the villagers are lying about the allegedly missing girl (of course).

The religion thing is another reason you'd have a hard time making this movie these days or getting it released, and I've heard that the religious conflict (which drives the original) is notably missing from the remake (though the remake does apparently include some form of the paganism that ultimately gives the movie its title). In the original, Howie's religiosity ultimately becomes the engine driving the plot as much as or more than the detective story involving the child. The inhabitants of Summerisle take their beliefs just as seriously and just as for-granted as Howie takes his, and Howie's shock at discovering this is the movie's central conflict. It's also where the black comedy element comes in, since it becomes increasingly clear that whatever it is the residents of Summerisle have done for their faith, or haven't done, or are about to do, Howie is still a bigoted jerk and complete asshole. Brits seem (based on their movies, songs and books, at least) to have a bit of a snarky attitude towards religion in general, and the wry running joke in The Wicker Man becomes the fact that Howie's beliefs are just as crazy and irrational as the Summerisle residents' appear to be, maybe moreso since the Summerisle residents can at least try to claim that the island's past, improbably-fecund apple harvests appear to be a sign of the gods' favor while Howie's faith ultimately rests on because-I-said-so. By the end of the film, even, there appears to be a kind of goofy "rationality" to the residents' cheeriness in ignoring Howie's rantings and ravings. As The Onion A/V Club's "Year Of Flops" entry linked to above puts it, Howie "earn[s] himself a fate... simultaneously fitting and ironic." And I really don't think you can bash--well, not even just Christianity, even; The Wicker Man's attitude towards faith in general is one of bemused rejection.

And did I mention it's a musical? I did? Apparently director Robin Hardy went so far as to tell everybody that on the first day of shooting, and it's completely true. Having decided that music must have been a vital part of pagan ritual and ancient communal life (reasonable enough suppositions), the producers commissioned a Celtic-folk soundtrack featuring a mix of original lyrics and lines lifted from Robert Burns; it actually works quite well. The music is fairly good, it's presented in a way that fits with the movie's internal logic, and it doesn't bring anything to a screeching halt. It is, however, an element of the movie's basic strangeness: one doesn't necessarily expect a thriller with police procedural elements to suddenly pull up and stop for a bawdy song about the innkeeper's daughter or a folksy tune about the Great Circle Of Life.

Anyway, it's a damn weird film. Not sure if that recommends it or not, but there you go. I enjoyed it.



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Whither goest Texas...

>> Monday, September 21, 2009

Browsing the internet over lunch (nachos at a local Mexican restaurant called Tequilas, yes, they were tasty, thank you), I found myself stumbling across a series of articles about ongoing sessions of the Texas Board Of Education, which is deliberating revising their textbook standards again. The story wasn't exactly what I was expecting from the headlines I was looking at--usually this kind of thing ends up being about the science curriculum and whether you can say "Darwin" without "balancing" the account with the story of the Sun and Spider-Woman the tale of the frost giant, Ymir the story of Father-Of-All and the Sun Mother Bible class the rival scientific doctrine of intelligent design proposed by many respectable scientists as an alternative to evolutionary THEORY. No, it turns out that the hoopla is because it appears that the Republican-controlled committee feels that "conservatives" are inadequately represented by liberal-leaning textbooks.

This isn't unimportant nationally: when it comes to school textbooks, whither goest Texas and California, so goest the rest of the nation. These two states are the largest purchasers of educational materials in the country, and so textbook publishers will generally tailor their materials to meet the standards of one or both states and basically tell school boards in the other forty-eight states to pretty much get stuffed, buy the book they have on sale or use whatever materials they have warehoused (or revert to an oral-history-based mode of education where teachers memorize and recite entire textbooks like ancient bards reciting epic sagas, whatever, look are you going to buy the damn book or not?). (As an aside: having had the chance now and again to compare newer texts to older ones, I'm not sure forcing school districts to re-use their older materials is that bad a deal. Certainly when it comes to evolution, older textbooks tend to be better; it's not that there aren't tons of scientific progress between editions, but that the newer editions frequently not only fail to mention the progress but they whittle down the previous text so that the older books actually end up covering the subject in more depth, even if some of that deeper coverage is out-of-date.) So the ramifications of the Texas process will inevitably ripple outward.

Thing is, I'm having a hard time getting incensed about this particular story. I have to be honest, what TPM reports sounds less like a nefarious attempt to indoctrinate schoolchildren than it does the desperate last gasps of dinosaurs struggling to maintain some kind of relevance in a world that's passing them by.

Put it this way: pleading for equal time is something that you do when you're in a minority and nobody is listening to you. That's not to say equal time isn't always deserved, but honestly: if you really represent America's core values and a majority sentiment with the full weight of American history behind you, why are you so desperate to be heard? Even if one were to concede some kind of nefarious attempt to force feed children liberal dogma or something, wouldn't the pervasive and fundamental truths of your fundamentally American culture wash that out every time your child walked out the schoolhouse doors?

I think the thing that dooms the whole project to comedy is Kate Klonic's piece at True/Slant: "Schlafly: Textbooks standards could offset the 'bias to the left'". Here we learn that part of the conservative Texas' BOE agenda is restoring Phyllis "I Didn't Know She Was Still Alive Either" Schlafly to her proper pre-eminence as an American historical figurehead. Which forces one to wonder, is Phyllis Schlafly really the best they could come up with? Seriously? Of all the conservative women in American history, surely someone would have suggested Clare Boothe Luce or even Ayn Rand for inclusion in a history textbook before Schlafly's name was picked at random off a Google search results page.

And of all the conservative American women they could be focused on, isn't this the one that would be like manna from heaven so far as liberals are concerned? Maybe I over-estimate the pluckiness of young women, but it seems to me that presenting a woman whose singular accomplishment was sending elected officials homebaked pies to show her opposition to the principle "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex" as an icon of American womanhood is about as good a way as any to radicalize a generation of young women. Regardless of how you might feel about some civil rights leaders--Malcolm X is and always will be a polarizing figure--the one thing you really can't deny about them is that they were standing against oppression, which ties neatly into the American national mythos. It's awfully hard to sugercoat Ms. Schlafly as anything other than someone who stood up for oppression. It even sounds bad in bald terms: "Phyllis Schlafly opposed the Equal Rights Amendment." It has "Equal Rights" right there in the title. You might as well say she opposed puppies and hugs.

No, no, I'm not the least bit opposed to teaching little girls who Phyllis Schlafly is. (I am, however, opposed to typing her name one more time in this damn post. Lady, your husband's ancestors should have bought a damn vowel. You know what's a good name? Stewart.)

I'm not sure schools can do a worse job of teaching history, and I'm not sure the Texas BOE hearings reveal any acceleration in what's been a death-spiral for a while now. But there it is. Am I wrong to be amused? Should I be afraid? Should I be very afraid?

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Civil wars

>> Friday, September 18, 2009

It's one of those curious things about a Southern primary school education, though it shouldn't be at all surprising: you get the nuanced version of the American Civil War. Scientific principles may be open to interpretation, subtleties of civics may be glossed, A Separate Peace may be taught as a "classic" (it's not a half bad book, it just doesn't deserve the time middle schools spend on it) but when you get to History, American History, well here you have all sorts of detail about who fought where and why and what they were using. Ask a reasonably smart Southern child if the Army can requisition his house so soldiers can sleep in his bedroom, and I suspect he'll have no idea, but ask him why the War Between The States occurred and he may well start expounding on the dangers of protective tariffs.

Years later, I was an undergraduate up at Appalachian State, taking a course on "Jeffersonian-Jacksonian America," i.e. the era between those two conflicted, contrary, populist, liberty-loving, slave-owning/racist American Presidents, and even as a liberal, progressive, sensitive Southern boy I was all about the nuanced view of the great bloody war that the years between Jefferson and Jackson were prelude to. (That's the real point of defining and setting apart that era, of course: it's the era of turmoil during which the postbellum of the Revolution becomes the antebellum of the Civil War.) I could have told you all about railroad gages, infrastructure policy and Federal funding, tariffs and taxation, the ways in which climate and geography affected farming and industrialization--still could, if I really cared to. But I'm sitting in that class one day--and I'll never forget this, though I can't remember the professor's name to save my life--I'm sitting in class one day when the professor, with an exasperated tone, stated the obvious. I don't remember if it was in answer to a question or just something he jammed out while he was riffing on his lecture--as I recall, he always sounded pretty exasperated.

"Brothers," he says, "don't shoot each other over 'state's rights'."

Blinds go up, blinkers fly off. They don't, do they? Oh, brothers might argue heatedly and violently about all sorts of things: politics, sports, the name of that one girl who was a year ahead of the oldest or a year behind the youngest. If they're drunk and their last name is Gallagher, they might come to blows over which song was supposed to be next on the setlist. But they don't pick up their guns and start blowing the living hell out of each other because one of them thinks the Federal government should regulate a standardized distance between rails on a railway or because the other thinks a flood of finished goods from Britain is good for a mostly agrarian economy even if it causes problems for millowners in other states. They shoot each other over something important, something like slavery, like whether people can own people or whether slaves are people or what's to be done with them if they're not chained up.

One reason you can get away with the nuanced view when teaching Southern history, aside from the way it soothes our collective guilt for our fathers' sins, is that historians generally prefer nuance. Saying Neville Chamberlain was a coward isn't as realistic or accurate or deep as a discussion of British foreign policy in the context of the domestic politics of a democracy still exhausted from the Great War or the logistics of fielding one of the world's largest military forces and yet being unable to readily deploy it because it's maintaining colonial order around the whole world, versus the clearly obvious signals German leaders were sending through the thirties that the German agenda was an imperialist one that would conquer British allies and impinge on British colonial interests abroad. But sometimes things really are as simple as they appear: the American Civil War was all about slavery in one sense or another--yes, there were other tensions, yes there were other issues, but the great toxic mass at the bottom of all the other debates, the issue that caused blood to spill in the Kansas and Nebraska territories, that drove the election of 1860, that fueled the rhetoric about "states' rights" until "states' rights" became nothing more than a euphemism, that issue was slavery.

And--forgive me for stating the obvious--slavery was a race issue. The skin of the enslaved became both a marker of enslavement and a rationale. Nineteenth century scientists--natural philosophers back then, to be more exact--even ones with abolitionist proclivities, went to some length to explain the ways in which blackness was a mark of inferiority that led to enslavement (perhaps tragically, but nonetheless inevitably) or even justified it (as right to put an African in the fields as to saddle a horse or milk a cow). Whites were not going to great lengths to enslave other whites, and social institutions like indentured servitude that are sometimes held up as "equivalents" were nothing like slavery, which involved not merely servitude but institutionalized inferiority--the notion that the slave was not merely a servant, but chattel, property that could be bought and sold and dealt with as well or as callously as an owner might care to, just as a modern person might choose to religiously maintain his automobile or to only care for it when a light comes on the dash.

I think you probably know what this is really all about. There's been a lot of talk lately about whether critics of the President of the United States, a man who happens to have dark skin and a father who came from Africa, are "racists". Some critics, it might be said, although this distinction is being lost--there are critics on the right and left who write and say thoughtful things about fiscal policy or the rights of man, but then you have others who wave around signs on which the leader of the free world is portrayed as a half-naked tribal shaman with a bone stuck through his nose. A surprising number of defenders of the latter sort of "critique" have emerged who say that this is satire, although it's hard to see what the satirical context would be if one were to Photoshop, say, the head Dennis Kucinich onto the shoulders of a "witch doctor." Mr. Kucinich is no less a promoter of national healthcare than the President (moreso, even), but if one imagines an unlikely parallel universe in which Mr. Kucinich secured the nomination of his party and won the Presidency, one is hard-pressed to imagine any protesters trying to portray him as a supposed "witch doctor. Then there are others who appear to be saying that even mentioning the word "racist" to address protesters isn't helpful because racism is purported to be unprovable and shouldn't be presumed however racist the behavior might appear. My friend Janiece Murphy recently had a conversation with her son in which (I hope I'm not misstating this) he suggested that whether certain people are racists doesn't even matter, only the quality of their ideas is important (in which case, I think one might conclude, why bother calling the people out on their racism?). A former President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, has found himself receiving more flak than usual for even suggesting that some of the folks out there might be racists.

Let's say this up front: not everybody who disagrees with the President is a racist, nor are all of the 60,000 or two million people who marched on Washington last weekend racists. Some of what we're seeing we would be seeing from the same conspiranoiacs and Republican puppetmasters who accused the Clintons of murdering Vince Foster; hell, some of what we're seeing, we'd be seeing from the same tinfoil-hat-wearing crowd that accused President George W. Bush of planning the September 11th terrorist attacks.

But here's the thing: people don't show up to rallies with their guns or tearfully scream they want their country back over a difference of opinion over the public option, no more than brothers shoot each other over tariffs. There is a racist component to all of this, and there are racists participating, and there is both overt racism and the sort of toxic contact-racism that occurs when people choose (knowingly or naïvely) to associate themselves with racists.

I don't know that this is obvious to Yankees up North of the Mason-Dixon or to Cowboys out West of the Miss. But I can't see how it's not obvious to a Southerner. White men showing up with firearms outside wherever a "Negro" is giving a public speech is not a new or unheard-of phenomena down here, though some of us have been trying to get them to stop doing that for about 135 years (I'm happy to say we've had improved success in the last fifty of those). These God-fearing white folk, you outsiders need to understand, don't necessarily show up to a speech armed to stand outside with an intent to do violence--this is one of those subtle things some of you miss out of naïevete or (I'm afraid) on purpose because you can fairly say that nobody's there to assassinate anyone (at least not today--perhaps if somebody steps out of their motel room for a breath of air, however...). The real message of somebody showing up armed like that isn't "I'm just somebody who loves the Second Amendment thiiiiiiis much and hates taxes," no, the message has always historically been, "We're here to remind you uppity coloreds that we know how to find you and we're armed, so tread lightly." Shooting somebody in daylight, generally speaking, is rude and déclassé; we pride ourselves on manners in the South, sometimes referred to medievalistically as breeding, a word that tells you a great deal about class and race relations in the South right there by itself.

I mentioned a moment ago that former President Carter had gotten some flak (as you probably know); let me explain something you may have missed about Mr. Carter's comments about President Obama receiving racist treatment: they're important because of who he is, but that probably doesn't mean what you think it does. Mr. Carter's perspective isn't important because he's a former President, however failed that presidency was. That might be why people pay attention to what he says--being a former President Of The United States is a helluva bully pulpit to have--but it's actually irrelevant. The important thing about who Mr. Carter is when he says some of the attacks on President Obama are racist is that he's an elderly progressive from Georgia.

You think Mr. Carter hasn't seen a racist attack on a politician before? The man has lived through at least two eras of Southern racial history, the pre-Brown Jim Crow era of de jure (by law) segregation and the post-Brown era of de facto (by circumstance) segregation; if you feel that things have improved enough since the fifties, maybe we're in a third era during Mr. Carter's lifetime. The man has lived through riots in Southern streets, civil rights marches, busing debates, lunch counter arrests and all the rest of it, don't tell me the man doesn't know race and politics. Has he ever been approached by racist whites and told to shape up and fly right?

[Robert] Patterson channeled his anger [over the Brown decision forcing school desegregation] into a lasting innovation for the white supremacy movement—give it a respectable face, strip it of explicitly racist rhetoric and use it as an invisible hand to guide mob violence. He created the Citizens’ Council, which would spawn a regional network by year’s end. Each council’s membership boasted the area’s finest white leaders in business, government and, yes, media. They directed their public anger less at integration itself than at federal incursions on local rule, but the resulting violence was no less extreme.

At the time, Carter was a Plains, Ga., peanut farmer and board of education member. He recalls in his campaign memoir, Turning Point (Random House, 1993), how the Plains Council pressured him to join. When he refused, the council sent 20 of his best customers to demand compliance. Carter again refused, this time adding, “and besides, there are a few politicians in Atlanta who are taking the dues from all over the state and putting the money in their pockets, just because folks are worried about the race issue.”
-Kai Wright, "Jimmy Carter, True Son
of the South, Hits Nail on Head"

The Root, September 17th, 2009.


Hell, I could have told you that even if I couldn't source it--could have even correctly guessed at the part of the same old story of white clients or customers showing up to imply that certain attitudes aren't, shall we say, "good" for business. He's an 84-year-old (turns 85 in about two weeks) Southern liberal politician from Plains, Georgia who has spent decades in local, state and national politics before devoting his post-Presidential career to an assortment of humanitarian and progressive causes. Forget that part of that political experience makes him one of four living ex-Presidents, because it's a distraction: take it as a prominent Southern liberal said, "I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he's African-American. I live in the South, and I've seen the South come a long way, and I've seen the rest of the country that shares the South's attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African-Americans." As a much younger Southern liberal myself, I agree with the man point-for-point.

Certain members of the right--some of them racists and some of them perhaps merely benefiting from the fears and antics of racists--are trying very hard to sideline the issue. We are, I'm happy to say, in an era when "racist" has become one of the worst possible things you can say about someone, so it behooves racists and their bedfellows to try to keep anyone from calling them what they are, and one way to do that is to try to create a climate where it seems dangerous to call anybody out on racism without appearing to engage in crazed hyperbole. By discrediting the word, they hope to discredit the people using it. It doesn't help that sometimes the word is used prematurely or inappropriately or without evidence, or in cases where reasonable doubt might exist.

But caution and fear are different things: it is one thing to be cautious about an accusation of rank prejudice and another to be afraid to make the accusation at all. We have a moral responsibility to call out racism when we see it, to be intolerant of it. And that includes an obligation to be awake and aware, to respond to the obvious evidence of our senses and experience. Showing up outside a Presidential speech with your guns has certain connotations down here that y'all Yankees and Cowboys may not be aware of but those of you down here ought to be aware of. Showing up at a rally with a sign that depicts an African-American as a savage isn't original, a certain kind of person has been making art like that since Reconstruction. You want to tell me you didn't know there was a subtext, I'm not sure if I believe you, but if I give you the benefit of the doubt, you know now: it's racist as hell, you're on notice. Scream at a rally that you want your country back--well, where I'm from, we've heard that kind of talk before, when somebody an awful lot like you was saying she wanted her neighborhood or her schools or her favorite lunch counter back, and we know damn well who you wanted it "back" from, even if you were too genteel to say the n-word out loud where one of them might hear it.

I've kept this civil so far, I think, but I'm getting worked up to a not-genteel string of invective and f-bombs that might dilute my point. And my point is this: don't tell me racism isn't racism--I'm a born Southerner with all the pride and shame that entails, and I wasn't born yesterday and I'm going to call it like I see it. An overwhelming portion of the animosity directed at President Barack Obama is racist, conscious or otherwise, deliberately or thoughtlessly. It is not respected, it will not be tolerated.




Photograph of Obama protester with racist sign ©2009 CNN.




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SOTSOGM featured comment of the day

>> Thursday, September 17, 2009

I don't get a lot of spam around here on the blog (as opposed to my e-mail account, which gets plenty). I'm not complaining, just observing. I guess this means I'm not one of those high-traffic sites, or maybe I'm just not using enough hot keywords. Oh, speaking of which:


DONKEY PALIN DWARF PENIS NAKED PAEDOCRACY IDOL BALLS


There. That ought to generate a few hits.

Anyhoo, I don't get too many spam comments, but today I did get this from "Condoms":

Hi,

Nice information! Your content unique and meaningful. You doing very well job! Keep it up.


Now, what makes this particularly precious to me today is the context. This comment from one or more prophylactic devices appears beneath a post announcing my completion of NaNoWriMo on November 30th 2007. I find this amusing, since I had no idea that an announcement I'd written 50,014 words of an abortion of a "novel" was a "very well job." Speaking of which, there's a certain amount of irony in finding a comment so lacking in basic grammar beneath a post related to a writing marathon. Also, seeing as how I was one of, what, somewhere between 60,000 and 1.6 million people who participated in NaNoWriMo two years ago, I'd hardly call my content unique. I expect it meant rather more to me than to most people, although I'm not discounting the support and kudos I received from friends and family. I will not, however, argue with the characterization that completing my monthly writing quota was "nice"; that's why I shared it, thank you.

I've been struggling to write lately. After the wreck, I basically shut down on the creative writing front. In the past month or so, I've done a few writing exercises and taken a few little pokes at an old backburner project, just writing a bit of this or that in the hopes that some kindling would take fire (I'm afraid it hasn't yet, tho' I'm still hopeful). I mention this because of the last random thing the condoms told me: "Keep it up." I suppose, unfortunately, that this may be an awful pun considering the source. But I'm not going to think of it that way, no, I'm going to irrationally take it as a sort of Chinese fortune cookie message from the ones and zeroes of the great infinite spiderweb of copper and glass. I will "keep it up," magical typing rubbers! I will firmly thrust ahead with my... y'know, I'm going to go ahead and just apologize for this sentence before I finish it, sorry. But I will add, "Titans: I'll never use anything else," because I feel like using that reference so I'll just stick it here (and that phrase seems singularly inappropriate, too; damn you, elemental force that causes anything to become an accidental penis joke!).

Thank you for this encouragement, "Condoms." When I next sit down to try to write a few words, I'll remember your kind encouragement.



37 8 23 52 16 2


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Screwing it up

>> Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Oh, well, now that's just fucking swell:

Sen. Max Baucus on Wednesday released the much-awaited Finance Committee version of an American health-system remake — a landmark $856 billion, 10-year measure that starts a rough ride through Congress without visible Republican backing.

The bill by Baucus, chairman of the Finance Committee, would make major changes to the nation's $2.5 trillion health care system, including requiring all individuals to purchase health care or pay a fine, and language prohibiting insurance company practices like charging more to people with more serious health problems.


There's no public option. There are, reportedly, these idiotic "co-ops" that are a watered-down version of the public option. People who don't purchase insurance would be fined--unless they can prove they can't afford insurance (heaven help the marginalized people who earn enough to purchase health insurance so long as they're not-so-concerned with things like food and shelter).

Fuck. Me. I should have know the idjits would screw it up.

I already covered some of this recently: mandatory-purchase is an awful scheme. It's not like auto insurance, where you can opt out simply by not being a driver. And the lack of a public option rubs salt in the gash because what this amounts to is a forced subsidy of the insurance industry that has played such a huge role in fucking up healthcare to start with. Of course this shouldn't be a huge surprise: last week Janiece Murphy (among others) pointed out that Senator Baucus is a whore who will let the insurance company stick it anywhere for a few bucks (my words, not hers).

One of the fears I think a lot of us on the left have had is that the kind of bill that Congress would produce to appease the Republicans and "blue dogs" would be worse than no bill, and certainly it sounds like what Baucus' committee has crapped out fits that description. In all fairness, I haven't read this bill--maybe it's better than it sounds, but right now it sounds like the worst of all worlds. And granted, this is just the Finance Committee version--there's still a number of steps before something like an actual vote.

But this is not encouraging. If this actually makes it to the President's desk, I'll actually find myself hoping that the President vetoes something he pushed for and something that was part of the reason I voted for him.

I'd ask what they were thinking, but I know what they were thinking. Maybe there's no hope for this country to evolve a modern healthcare system on a European model until there's effective campaign finance reform... oh, guess what? That's not going to happen with a conservative Supreme Court that can't tell the difference between small green pieces of paper and speech. Never mind, we're screwed.

Who'd'a thunk I'd think about moving to Canada with a Democrat in the White House.

On a tangential note, because I've been thinking about it: there have been some pundits--many of them idiots--who have noticed that the President's (and Congress') approval ratings have largely been in free-fall. I'm not going to bother with links, because if you go to Google and throw a metaphorical stone, you'll hit one (and to steal a line from Barton Fink, throw it hard). One of the several problems with the smugness radiating from some of these commentators is that some of these polls obfuscate reality (as polls often do): I don't particularly approve of Congress right now, and I have misgivings about the President's performance on some matters that would show up depending on how you phrase a question, but at the moment I wouldn't vote for a Republican if you (let's borrow another line from the Coens) shoved a pistol up my ass and pulled the fucking trigger 'til it goes click. (Sorry. Maybe that's too blunt even for me. But it's still true.) I have no idea how the 2010 elections will go--the Republicans may well win a majority in Congress for all sorts of reasons that may or may not reflect folks' feelings about the President's agenda, and if people want to reject that agenda, oh freakin' well (majorities, including a lot of ostensibly or allegedly "liberal" Democrats have been rejecting a progressive agenda for most of the past thirty years; the faithful will soldier on as we must). But dissatisfaction--nay, fury at certain things our elected leaders are doing or failing to do doesn't necessarily translate into gains for a political party that is hellbent on doing even worse.

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The State Of The Eric

>> Tuesday, September 15, 2009

(A new picture of my wrist that looks a lot like the last
picture I took of my wrist. But there's improvement, trust me.)


Good news! It's a suppository!

No, wait, sorry. Channeling Farnsworth again. Happens sometime.

Good news! I'm officially done with visiting OrthoCarolina and with PT, having been discharged today by Dr. Perlik.

Dr. Perlik was great and so were the physical therapists, so it's nothing personal. But it's nice, damn nice, to be done with that phase of things. I mean, okay, caveat here, it'll never be entirely done because I'm sure this thing (my wrist, I mean) will continue to ache on rainy days and all that horseshit. But the chapter of my life involving orthopedic visits, surgeries, getting up early some mornings to go in and throw a little ball up and down or whatever--that chapter is closed, huzzah!

And we won't forget: it absolutely could have been worse.

So, y'know, one more bit o' business to resolve, and maybe the whole wreck portion of life will be over and done with for reals. (No, that's not a typo. That was a misbegotten attempt to sound, I dunno, "street" or something. I'll try to make sure it doesn't happen again.)

Anyway, it was good news (and not a suppository!) and I wanted to share (mainly for the benefit of people who don't follow me on Twitter, since I tweeted this a couple of hours ago). And that's where we are. Carry on.

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For the benefit of Jeri, even though it's definitely not dedicated to her

>> Monday, September 14, 2009

In a Twitter exchange, it seems that poor Jeri has somehow missed the awesomeness of They Might Be Giants. So this one is for her, but not really. See, while I'd like to put up something from the new record or an intermediate classic like "Why Does The Sun Shine" or "Ana Ng" or "XTC vs. Adam Ant" or even "Man, It's So Loud In Here," given a recent topic of conversation here at Shoulders Of Giant Midgets there's absolutely only one song I could possibly pick. And although it's here for Jeri, it's actually dedicated to Glenn Beck fans.

I think some of you know what this is going to be.

From an '80s episode of Letterman and the album Flood, it's "Your Racist Friend":




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Battle beyond the czars

Peter The Grrrrreat
People think I'm insane because I am frowning all the time
All day long I think of things but nothing seems to satisfy
Think I'll lose my mind if I don't find something to pacify
Can you help me occupy my brain?

"Paranoid," Iommi, Osbourne, Ward, Butler


I have to wonder, I really do. About the conservatives, or some of them, at least. Not about the rank and file, Cthulhu knows the classic lines from Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles have never been more true--

You've got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know... morons.


--no, I mean the leadership, such as it is. The Becks, the Palins, the Malkins, and now, it seems, the Hutchinsons. Are they crazy or just dishonest? Do they believe the shit they're shoveling? Does it matter? If you're not mentally ill but you still sound like you are, is there some existential difference that matters? If you're not, yourself, personally a racist but you give the racists swill to work with, does that make you a kind of racist yourself?

We have "deathers," who think the President wants to kill your grandmother. There are "birthers," who evidently want Joe Biden to be President (now that's devotion--there are plenty of Democrats who don't want Joe Biden to be President). There's the same gathering of idjits who think (a) the President is a Muslim and (b) that would matter.

The latest thing seems to be a group you might call "the czarists." I feel like I have to apologize a little for this one, because a friend of a friend recently seemed to swallow the czarist bit hook, line, sinker. This is a notion that appears to originate with Glenn Beck, a man who is evidently so loathe to fact-check he heroically refuses to even use a spell-checker. (I want to play Scrabble with Mr. Beck. For money.) Anyway, this czarist thing is the claim that the Obama administration is in the process of creating some kind of secret and completely unprecedented (their word) bureaucratic layer of "czars" who will wield some sort of mysterious extra-governmental power to communistify and fascify the government and completely seize power. They are a bit less clear on how this is supposed to work: purportedly, the czars will craft all these regulations which will somehow do something to something and then something will happen--it probably involves stealing underpants at some point, though that actually seems strikingly rational compared to what you hear from some of Beck's biggest fans.

What's most boggling about the accusation, actually, is that this is purportedly a conspiracy planned and put into effect by Democrats. Democrats. Let me put it to you this way: the Democrats are currently in the process of failing to enact healthcare reform in spite of the fact they control a majority in both houses of Congress and the Presidency. Will Rogers once quipped that he didn't belong to any organized party, he was a Democrat; it's only gotten worse since the 1930s.

Aside from that, even if you accept the idea that Democrats could conspire to plan a picnic, the czarists have a poor grip on... what are those things called again? Those little pieces of information that are true and that you can put together to assemble a working picture of how the world works? Fritos... falchions... facts... facts! That's it, facts! They say, for instance, that the Obama appointments are unprecedented, when, by-and-large, they involve offices that were created during previous Presidential administrations, some of these positions (at least two) going back as far as the Reagan administration (guess the Kenyans got to him, the bastards). They point to the President's use of "czar" when (a) he's only used the word to refer to the so-called "drug czar,", (b) the term "drug czar" goes back to 1982 and (c) referring to a Presidential advisor or cabinet member as a "czar" actually goes back to 1973 (oh, and (d), he's de-powered the drug czar so that drug czar is no longer cabinet level--talk about yer power grabs). They claim that some of these offices are new, when several go back at least two decades. They claim that these positions are filled without oversight, when several of the positions require Senate confirmation (including some alleged "czars" who are in fact cabinet members).

This weekend The Washington Post printed a czarist op-ed from Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, who is apparently trying to rile up the crazies to turn out for her in a contested election. Hutchinson's claims are typical of the crazies--is she one of them, or just pandering? Anyway, they cover the usual gamut of incorrect (dishonest?) claims, sinister innuendo, and sheer ignorance (perhaps willful in Senator Hutchinson's case).

Consider this passage:

So what do these czars do? Do they advise the president? Or do they impose the administration's agenda on the heads of federal agencies and offices who have been vetted and confirmed by the Senate? Unfortunately--and in direct contravention of the Framers' intentions--virtually no one can say with certainty what these individuals do or what limits are placed on their authority. We don't know if they are influencing or implementing policy. We don't know if they possess philosophical views or political affiliations that are inappropriate or overreaching in the context of their work.


Oh noes! If only Congress could, I don't know, hold some kind of hearings about this! But who? Who has the responsibility? Who has the oversight? The seniority? The jurisdiction over, I don't know, maybe even jurisdiction of as few as a third would be enough to break this wide open?

As the senior Republican on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, I oversee legislation and agencies that cover policy areas as vast and varied as trade, technology, transit, consumer protection and commercial regulation. As many as 10 of the 32 czars functionally fall under my committee's jurisdiction. Yet neither I nor the committee chairman have clear authority to compel these czars to appear before our panel and report what they are doing. The Obama administration presented only two of these officials for our consideration before they assumed their duties. We have had no opportunity to probe the others' credentials.


Oh. But, aha! She doesn't have the authority to compel anybody to appear before her panel--

As a tool of legislative inquiries, both Houses of Congress authorize their committees and subcommittees to issue subpoenas to require the production of documents and the attendance of witnesses regarding matters within the committee’s jurisdiction. Committee subpoenas "have the same authority as if they were issued by the entire House of Congress from which the committee is drawn." If a witness refuses to testify or produce papers in response to a committee subpoena, and the committee votes to report a resolution of contempt to the floor, the full House or Senate may vote in support of the contempt citation.

-Louis Fisher,
"Congressional Investigations: Subpoenas and Contempt Power," April 2, 2003
Congressional Research Service


--oh... yeah, that's right.

Well, I mean, Senator Hutchinson has only been in the Senate since 1993, I mean, it's not like she's been around long enough to hear the phrase, "Congressional subpoena," right? Right?

Now, granted (and we're talking seriously now, or as seriously as the batshit craziness seems to warrant): it might be difficult for a minority chair to get a committee chair to issue a subpoena. But if you were as concerned as all that about t3h 3viiii1 conspiracy to have a bureaucratic coup, you'd think maybe you could mention how you wanted to subpoena everybody and were blocked instead of saying, "Nope, no idea how to do it." Of course, to get to that point maybe you'd have to admit that, you know, you sort of are aware that maybe most of these people were, in fact, vetted by various committees because that's what's been required since their positions were created, oh, say, twenty-seven years ago in 1982.

I mean, basically her entire piece is a bunch of batshit-crazy lies, but it'll carry some level of weight because The Washington Post printed it and because people have no idea how their government works anymore. And it's not because it's all that confusing or mysterious, it's because we, as a people, revel in our ignorance and stupidity. We mock nerds, are suspicious of scientists, deride teachers, mistrust the press (sometimes with reason, but still), and are generally pleased as punch to know absolutely nothing except what we believe.

Hell. I'm not sure why I even bother. The only people who'll read this on purpose aren't stupid, and any stupid people who stumble across it will be too stupid to know they're stupid.

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Love this quote, though maybe only one reader's gonna appreciate it...

>> Saturday, September 12, 2009

Shamus Young on the subtleties of rewarding gamers in pen'n'paper RPGs:

Give a player a fish, and he’ll probably try to sell it to an NPC fisherman.

Teach a player to fish, and next week he’ll show up with the book, “The Complete Adventuring Fisherman”. He’ll start hunting for some monstrous leviathan to catch and enslave, and he’ll be dual-wielding two fishing poles.


Yep. That's pretty much how it works. And when you tell him you're not using The Complete Adventuring Fisherman, he'll protest that it's an official Wizards Of The Coast product. And if it's not an official Wizards Of The Coast product he'll complain that you should have told him you weren't going to use it before he bought it and now he's bought it so it's unfair if he can't use it, because, you know, you follow him around and monitor his shopping habits like you're his mom or something.

My advice: if your players want fish, give 'em Tucker's kobolds. (Kidding. Nobody wants that to happen. Almost nobody. Okay, maybe occasionally when they're handcuffing sick elderly ladies.)

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Apples, oranges, and the mandatory purchase of produce

>> Thursday, September 10, 2009

I have to admit that I didn't actually listen to the President's speech last night--I was too busy playing a videogame with a buddy. (Bad citizen! No cookie for you!) I caught up with Joe Wilson's batshit-crazy outburst on the floor via Twitter, of all things via Kate, and who says the internet isolates people? So I caught up on the speech today when I had time, and there was one point in the speech that MWT highlighted at Blog Of Siram that really bugged the hell out of me (and MWT, though I'm not sure whether or not it was for the same reasons); specifically, this:

And that's why under my plan, individuals will be required to carry basic health insurance--just as most states require you to carry auto insurance. Likewise--likewise, businesses will be required to either offer their workers health care, or chip in to help cover the cost of their workers. There will be a hardship waiver for those individuals who still can't afford coverage, and 95 percent of all small businesses, because of their size and narrow profit margin, would be exempt from these requirements. But we can't have large businesses and individuals who can afford coverage game the system by avoiding responsibility to themselves or their employees. Improving our health care system only works if everybody does their part. [Emph. added]


No, no, no. Oh good grief, no. That's just awful.

It's clever that the President spins this with a superficially appealing but ultimately inapposite analogy: "most states require you to carry auto insurance." That statement, unlike the President's later statement that Representative Wilson took issue with, is a lie. No state requires you to carry auto insurance. Many or most states do, however, require you to carry auto insurance if you are a licensed driver and/or operate a motor vehicle on public streets or highways.

I have a good friend who doesn't have a license, has never bothered to get one, and doesn't drive (unlike some of my clients, unfortunately, who have been caught driving in similar circumstances--but I digress). There's no law in any state in the country that requires her to get auto insurance, nor is there reason for her to have any. If at some point she decides to go down to the DMV to get a driver's license, then she would have to bring proof of insurance with her, and she would have to maintain insurance while she continued to be a driver. But until that happens?

Furthermore, use of a motor vehicle on the public streets and highways is, unlike living, a privilege and not a right. The state can lawfully decline you the privilege to use the public streets and roads if, for instance, you abuse the privilege by driving drunkenly or recklessly. On the other hand, as a general rule the state can't deny you the right to operate a motor vehicle on your own private property in whatever circumstances you prefer--you are perfectly welcome to build a private track on your own land upon which you drunkenly race around and around in unsafe and emissions-violating wheeled-death-machines sans license and insurance. (I say "as a general rule" because, of course, you might run into other issues--nuisance ordinances, zoning regs, environmental regs, other criminal statutes involving public safety, etc.--but you're not violating traffic laws.)

Health insurance is nothing like auto insurance, in other words. It sounds appealing as an analogy because most Americans drive and even the ones who do so illegally at least generally have a sense that they're supposed to have car insurance. Indeed, there are inevitably a fair number of drivers on any state highway at a given time who have insurance but no valid license. But anyone can elect to turn in their license or to never get one, or to not drive or not own a vehicle. Indeed, in some parts of the country not owning a vehicle and not possessing a license and not bothering with car insurance might well be a prudent, responsible, practical, economical, rational choice. Why spend several hundred dollars a year on insurance, maintenance, gasoline, parking, etc. if one lives in an urban area with reliable public transit? You're not only saving money, you're hugging the planet every day you walk to the bus stop, you big green lug, you.

There's no bar low enough to justify forcing people to buy health insurance, at least not in those raw and blatant terms. It's just morally wrong. The President is right, however, that people who elect to not pay for health insurance inevitably burden the healthcare system. But the solution isn't to try to force these folks to purchase healthcare. (And how, by the way, will you enforce the law if they don't? Send them to jail?) The solution is the other way of forcing people to buy insurance, the politically unpopular one (in this country) that has been embraced by the rest of the industrialized world: provide insurance as a matter of course to all citizens and divide the costs in an equitable manner amongst all taxpayers (preferably in a gradated system that takes into account variations in income)--that's right, nationalized healthcare.

A public option is a political compromise that many liberals are reluctantly advocating or embracing as a better-than-nothing approach, but it's not a solution to this problem. (And, by the way, this is why it's asinine for some to say that liberals will need to compromise and not have their hearts set on a public option--dudes and dudettes, the public option is us meeting you halfway, if that's not good enough, well fuck you, already.) The public option is a solution to turning public healthcare into a massive redistribution of money to the insurance companies--"mandatory" insurance with premiums payable to private companies is an asinine idea, an undeserved windfall to the shareholders of those corporations. The public option also, as the President says, helps keep the insurance companies honest by offering competition, particularly in regions where five or fewer insurance companies compete/collude to control the insurance market. (And how is it that anybody is talking about doing away with a public option and forcing consumers to throw money at companies in these regions, and nobody is talking about Sherman Antitrust Act investigations in these same parts of the country? Hm, yeah, I wonder how that happens to be the case?)

I have to admit a split mind on this: I'm not a supporter of the public option, tho' I'm halfway to taking it over no reform whatsoever. At least, I am until I think about that sentence in the President's speech, whereupon I have to consider that a broken, fatal healthcare system that bankrupts some and kills others is perhaps better than one in which individuals are forced to engage in a public "bailout" of an already insanely-profitable industry on an annual basis for the remainder of their lives. And even with a public option: is it reasonable to force people to buy coverage regardless of whether they're able to pay? My preference is absolutely in favor of treating health like public safety, interstate transportation, public schooling and national defense--areas which are already socialized and paid for through taxes (and in which there are private supplemental options--I have no objection to an individual buying supplemental coverage on top of a national healthcare plan any more than I begrudge a person the right to install a home security system on top of whatever services are provided by local police and fire departments).

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The neighing and braying of jackasses on the hot still Carolina wind like the fetid breath of Satan after he's attended a cheese-tasting party

>> Wednesday, September 09, 2009

South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson was raised
in a barn by a mangy semi-feral cat and a rusted bucket with
a frowny face painted on it.


See that man in the picture, above? That man is a braying jackass. That man is an elected Representative from a state that shares half a name with my native state, but whereas my state, North Carolina, gave the world John Coltrane and Nina Simone, Michael Jordan, William Sydney "O. Henry" Porter and Thomas Wolfe and at least had the grace to offset the karmic debts created by Jesse Helms with Mr. Sam Ervin, South Carolina is a cultural desert and environmental swamp whose great contribution to American civilization was to instigate the bloodiest war in American history for the sake of the right of wealthy men to treat imprisoned, enslaved men and women like commodities, like beasts of burden. South Carolina is a great, stinking, swampy abyss that now exists solely to make the drive from Charlotte to Atlanta and back a tedious inconvenience. The main argument for not digging up the entire state and dumping it into the sea is that there's already a vast island of garbage in the ocean and basic decency requires us to forbear.

It remains a historical mystery why, after freeing the slaves, the Union didn't simply withdraw from South Carolina with newly-liberated blacks and allow the remaining inhabitants to go on mistaking cattle for their cousins until the population base completely collapsed from a failure to replenish itself naturally, perhaps freeing the United States to convert the former "state" into a vast natural preserve dedicated to the enjoyment of people (if any) who like to visit swamps and vast uninteresting tracts of sand. Such a solution might have saved the rest of us from having to put up with jackasses like Representative Joe Wilson, pictured above in the act of braying at the elected President of the United States while the President was addressing a joint session of Congress and Joe Wilson. Granted, this nature preserve would have required periodic spraying or perhaps draining for mosquitoes (much like an old tractor tire sitting in the back yard, South Carolina is a breeding ground for the beasts; also like an old tractor tire, South Carolina would stink and generate a thick, clinging, rancid black smoke if you managed to burn it, an experiment William Tecumseh Sherman attempted with mixed success in 1865).

Mr. Wilson shouted, "You lie!" which suggests some confusion on Mr. Wilson's part: it's possible he was remembering one of the times former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin claimed that a national healthcare plan would produce "death panels" that would euthanize folks' grandmothers. It's also possible that upon his head's brief emergence from his own asshole he thought he was playing Portal and was confronting GLaDOS about the cake. I don't know. What I do know is that there while it is occasionally entertaining to watch MPs yell at the Prime Minister of Britain or to read about fistfights breaking out in Taiwan's Legislative Yuan, there's been a long tradition, at least since Wilson's spiritual ancestor Preston Brooks beat a man within an inch of his life on the Congressional floor (another fine moment South Carolina contributed to the national culture), of at least pretending that Congress bears some dignity or respect.

The expected defense to this is that there have doubtlessly been moments when Democrats blah blah blah--because, as we teach our very small children, all the bad behavior in the universe is justified when somebody else did it first somewhere at some point in time. All this argument really proves is that some people are neither smarter nor more moral than four-year-olds, and one wonders how in the world such infants, however precocious their spelling skills and ability to string together sentences, are ever given jobs at newspapers and cable television stations or elected to various offices, or even how they ever pulled their mouths from their mothers' tits long enough to drool such ridiculous and hollow nonsense. Better men--Senator John McCain, for example--are already calling for Wilson to apologize, but let's be honest: Senator McCain is wrong and Wilson shouldn't apologize.

This may surprise you, given everything I've said so far about the ridiculous little excretion from his mother's bilious womb, raised by animals without even the barest sense of good manners or public decorum, or so I'd presume if I didn't know that most animals will eat issue like Wilson or kick it out of the nest rather than allow it to waste the vital time and energy a beast normally bestows upon its progeny. But let's be honest, any "apology" that Wilson drools out onto the paper somebody has written it on for him to read (or more likely has taught him to recite phonetically) will be insincere and unmeant at best. At worst it will be self-justifying theatre, with Mr. Wilson explaining he was overwhelmed by his passions (one suspects any passions the brute possesses have more to do with melanin than an understanding of healthcare issues, but nevermind) and will quickly segue into some prattle about how job-stealing Mexicans (a vital part of his state's economy--but nevermind that, too) don't deserve healthcare or how private corporations designed to generate profits for stockholders in an uncompetitive quasi-monopolistic business ecosystem already function quite adequately (which, by the way, is perfectly true if you contemplate the tangible and immediate benefits rescission has for the insurance corporation stockholder) or how a public option brings the nation one step closer to socialism or how Obama is a grandma-murdering Kenyan alien robot from the future--honestly, there's no telling what else can come out of these people's mouths at this point, and while I concede a basic First Amendment right for them to froth at their mouths like rabid marmosets I really am sick of dodging spittle. Given a choice between Wilson's inevitable fauxpology and his silence (preferably by ball gag in Maynard's basement, but what are the odds of that happening?), I'd much prefer the sounds of Wilson's soft, husky mouth-breathing, raspy and humid as the soft Palmetto State breeze.

As I write this, it seems Wilson has apologized with a bit more brevity and less self-justification than I would have expected (thanks, Vince). We'll see if he leaves it at that; for now I'll stand by my invective, although I have to confess Wilson's rapid folding--I wonder if he thought his guttural outburst would be well received--has, for now, deflated my toxic typing. We'll leave this at that, except to add (in case the point wasn't adequately made already): South Carolina sucks.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



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Obama's speech to America's youths--THE AWFUL TRUTH REVEALED

>> Tuesday, September 08, 2009

So, I just read the President's propaganda address to the innocent youths of America, and I have to say it's one of the most appalling things I've seen a long time. Unbelievable.

Take these seemingly-innocuous statements near the beginning of the President's remarks:

And that’s whAT I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your EDucation. I want to start with the Responsibility you haVE TO yourself.

Every single one of you has soMething you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to disCOver what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.


As I was looking at it, I couldn't help noticing that certain letters seemed to be weirdly emphasized. Acting on a hunch, I wrote these letters down on the back of one of the Chick tracts I had lying around to stuff in my neighbors' mailboxes this afternoon, and ended up with:


A T E D R V E T O M C O


"Well," I said to myself, "that's a relief. That's just a bunch of gibberish. Whew! Guess I can go back to worrying about the damn papists." And I really was feeling good, until I happened to glance back down at the back of the pamphlet again and suddenly saw it--if you simply rearranged the letters, you could easily and obviously spell out:


VOTE DEMOCRAT


The room spun around me. Here it was, plain as day, right in the first few phrases of the President' speech--a bona fide subliminal message clearly intended to influence the listener or reader improperly prepared, psychologically speaking, to resist the nefarious influence of a man like President Obama. Indeed, I realized, the President was delivering this message at a high school, and since we all know that high school kids are (a) susceptible to the influences of Satan and (2) strung out on sex and drugs, the captive high school audience was clearly the ideal audience for the President's invidious efforts.

I hurriedly began to read the speech over and over again. Once you know what to look for, the so-called speech becomes a nightmare. Sometimes the message isn't even subtle. We all know that one of the most dangerous diseases in the world--the homosexual plague--was invented in a government lab in Des Moines and that one of the main reasons for so-called "sex education" classes is to spread the homosexual agenda so that more respectable institutions like schools, churches, YMCAs, Rotary clubs, and the heartland America of Thomas Kinkade (with its priceless covered bridges and farmhouses) will be infested by freewheeling, promiscuous homosexuals and lesbians who will infect everybody they encounter with handshakes and mandatory anal sex. I mention these distasteful details because of this appalling, unsubtle, ugly passage from the President's speech:

And no matter what you want to do WITH your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a TEACHER, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.

And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.

You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking sKILLs you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all YOUR classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.

We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.


Do you see it? The horrifying message the President is sending to America's innocent youth--only a fool could miss the significance of these prominent words:


WITH TEACHER AIDS KILL YOUR


That is:


KILL YOUR TEACHER WITH AIDS


It's just like Glenn Beck said! Open your eyes to see, and it's right there in front of you!

My feverish eyes pored over the text, catching the subtle and not-so-subtle hints and cues, the emphasized letters, curiously included words, the order of paragraphs and the placement of periods.

Take this vapid, frothy, podium-thumping rant:

No one’s born being good at thingS, you becomE good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athLete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the fIrst time you Sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schooLwork. You might have to do a matH problem a feW times before you get it right, or read something a few times before You understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.

Don’t be afraId to Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakNess, It’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn soMething new. So find an adult you truSt – a parent, grandparent or Teacher; a coach or counselor – and ask them tO help you stay on track to meet your goals.

And even when you’re struggLing, even when you’re discouraged, And you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yOurself. Because when you give up on yourself, You give up on your Country.


Some might see this as a bit of content-empty posturing, the kind of thing typical of the speeches Fidel Castro used to give before he was murdered by the Chinese, or the sort of thing that John Kennedy used to scream at audiences whenever the microchip in his head would begin overheating. It seems mostly harmless enough, a stream of gibberish and nonsense syllables strung together in no particular order--the ravings of a broken and deluded mind. But look again! Do you see it, dear reader?


S E L I S L H W Y I A N I M T O L A O Y C

SOCIALISM IS THE ONLY WAY


It's enough to make Jesus sell the big American SUV you know he's driving around Heaven in.

The President even makes a reference to well-known Satanist witch J.K. Rowling, as if to rub our God-fearing noses in it. Rowling as done more to promote Satanism and indecency than any public figure since the inventor of Dungeons And Dragons; indeed, moreso, since Rowling's brand of demonic perversion doesn't involve math and is enjoyed by people who can seemingly get dates.

I am appalled. I am offended. I am shocked and flabbergasted at this outrageous treason against morals and decency and capitalism. I ask all Americans to join me in my prayer that the President be impeached and quickly deported back to either Kenya, his father's native land and the land of his birth, or Hawaii, the country his mother was a resident of. Thank you, and spread the word.

God bless America.

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