I decided not to go with the obvious, offensive and slightly misleading first title I thought of and couldn't come up with another

>> Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I love the word "fuck".

You might have noticed that if you're a regular reader. I use the word "fuck" quite a lot, in all of it's various forms and tenses. "Fuck this", "fuck that", "fuck that fucking fucker". Sometimes I'll use it with some sort of modifier, whether it's something fairly benign like the word "mother" or less-benign like "asshole". Sometimes I'll even simply make one whole sentence out of that one mere word. "Fuck."

There's lots and lots of speculation as to where this word comes from. Is it German, is it Latin? Was it used in some form in the Middle Ages or is it ancient or modern? I'm mentioning all of this rhetorically; I mean, you can debate this in the comments if you want and provide various links and arguments and references and whatnot--it's all interesting, and it's all a little beside the point, which is that "fuck" is possibly my favorite word, or seems like it is if you just go by usage.

I am fond of it, though. It's a noun, it's a verb, it's an adjective. It's everything except an adverb, though I guess you could make it into one, awkwardly. And it's such a wonderfully context-sensitive word, too: it can be angry or passionate or even loving. Tell your significant other you want to fuck and it can be an invitation into something fun and dirty, tell the driver who cut you off to fuck him-or-herself and it's clearly something different. It can refer to an act of love or an act of violence: "You should fuck him" almost certainly means something different if (a) the speaker is a young woman advising a girlfriend about how to help a relationship along or (b) if the speaker is a mafia consigliere speaking privately to the don about a dangerous rival, right? (Though it's alternately tragic and hysterical to imagine swapping the meanings between the settings: I'm sure "That's not what I meant!" means the same thing at the end of both versions.)

Yes, "fuck" is an amazing word.

But, you know, here's an interesting thing: although "fuck" is a word I use a lot and savor, I don't think I've ever used it in front of my grandmother. I have two grandmothers, but I'm thinking particularly of my paternal grandmother, who's a bit formal and not as salty as my maternal grandma can be. I don't think I've said "fuck" in front of either one of them, however. They're experienced women, you know, who I'm very sure have heard and read the word, and so I'm not worried about exposing them to something they've never been exposed to and having to explain it (without dwelling on it too much, let's observe that, having grandchildren, both my grandmothers have themselves, obviously, fucked at some point in their lives, and move along; thank you). I have no idea whether they'd be shocked or how shocked they would be if I did say it in front of them. It just doesn't seem like the kind of thing you say in front of your grandmother. Either one.

It's possible, of course, that one or both of them could be reading this right now. (Hi, Grandma! Hello Grandmother! Welcome to my blog! You probably won't like it! But I love you both!) In which case they've seen me drop, oh, I don't know, quite a lot of f-bombs in just a few paragraphs. But that's a little different, I have to admit: I'm not there in person, saying "fuck" a lot in front of them. I don't believe I could possibly read this aloud to either one; actually, I can't imagine being in the same room while either one read it to themselves.

It's just something it doesn't occur to you to do. I don't give it much thought when I'm around them. Do you know how hard it is to not say "fuck" in front of your grandparents? Well, turns out it isn't that difficult at all. Sure, I don't see my grandmothers as frequently as I ought to. Or call. I realize this makes me sort of a terrible grandson. Let's not go into that right now. That's not really what this is about, either. This is about not saying "fuck" around your grandmother, and how easy it is. I manage not saying "fuck" pretty much the entire time whenever I am around a grandmother, and I manage to do it without any real though at all. Even though I might say "fuck" in front of all sorts of people all sorts of other times, there's this easy filter that comes in and I don't find myself saying "fuck" or even thinking "fuck" at all while I'm in the room with them. And I've done this--this not saying "fuck" in front of a grandmother--pretty consistently, no, entirely consistently for forty years, which would seem like an accomplishment if it weren't so damn easy to do.

And I don't feel the least bit pressured or censored or repressed, either. I don't ever find myself sitting there at the dinner table or on the couch or wherever thinking, "Arrrgh, if only I could say 'fuck' right now! It isn't fair! I ought to be able to say anything I want! Damn her!" I can't even really get my head around thinking that, tell you the truth. Like I said, not saying "fuck" around your grandparents is really, really easy. I don't know if it would offend them or horrify them, or for all I know they'd find it refreshing that someone wasn't scared to drop a little f-bomb around them and they were just waiting to drop a few themselves. Well. Maybe I do know that last bit: I can imagine Grandma getting a little free but Grandmother, I have to say, the only thing that's harder to imagine than saying "fuck" in front of Grandmother is hearing her let one loose.

The reason I'm thinking about all this is I was reading Digby's blog and she did a post about this:

So, I mean, Glenn Beck is apparently a very sad panda because, I guess, he can't say the n-word whenever he wants, which he thinks is really unfair and all because people get mad at him. I think it's the n-word, it's kind of got to be the n-word, though maybe it's "blacks" and he rants a bit about how "African American" bothers him and maybe he wants to say "coloreds" for some reason even though that word isn't just offensive to a lot of people, it also suggests you were born in 1903 or something. Whatever, it just seems odd to me that Beck likes any of those words so much, or that I guess he finds it a challenge not-saying them in front of people who might be offended, which just seems a little bizarre to me. Seems to me that it'd be mostly pretty easy to go around not-saying things around certain people, or at least that's my experience when it comes to not saying "fuck" around grandparents. And it seems odd you'd then blame the folks in question--it's not Grandmother V's fault I don't say "fuck" in front of her, it's just something that doesn't seem like you'd say it in front of your grandmother, is all. Right?

It's also just so weird that he keeps talking about how you "can't" say those words he evidently likes so much, or wants to say, or thinks about. Sure, he can say them. This is one of those weird things that people--well, it's people on the right, really--this is one of those weird things people on the right don't seem to grok at all: of course you have the right to say whatever you want, you just don't have a right for people not to take offense. And if you don't like people being mad at you so you don't say such-and-such, well they're not the ones "censoring" you. I guess I probably could say "fuck" in front of my grandmothers, although I don't know why I'd want to: there's no mystical force condensing the word into a solid and turning it around in my mouth so the "k" gets caught in my teeth or anything, I don't have the "f" lodged in my throat so someone has to actually Heimlich the "fuck" out of me. I don't say "fuck" in front of either one of these elderly women because, y'know, I really don't want to, not because I can't. I haven't lost the fucking power of speech, man.

It's not just Beck; I don't understand anybody who gets worked up into a froth about this. What'd'ya mean "it isn't fair" that if you use a particular word someone might get mad at you? How does "fair" enter into it? Here's a word, it has connotations and denotations and some of those maybe offend someone in certain contexts or whatever--well, words have a way of doing that, because part of communicating is that a word is carrying all this baggage of information on the backs of consonants and inside of the loopy bits of the vowels (except for "i", which only has loopy bits if you're an adolescent girl); if you're worried about conveying data you didn't mean to include with the sentence, well, y'know, you really ought to be paying more attention to what you're saying, right? And that isn't an onerous burden or anything; words are tools, and picking the right tool for the job is part of basic tool use, it isn't onerous that you have to use a wrench to loosen a bolt instead of banging it with a hammer, don't be stupid.

"Well how come they get to say _______?" Well, I don't know, what are you, five? This is the length and breadth of your cognitive capacity? I don't know, maybe "they" (whoever "they" are) shouldn't be saying whatever-it-is; or maybe if "they're" saying it "they're" loading it with different baggage and conveying a different meaning; or maybe if it's so important to you, you should just go ahead and say it, and, hey, if people think you're an asshole, well, at least you got to say "fuck" in front of your grandmother, because it was really important to be able to do that. Or you could just put your big boy pants on and stop your fucking whining, that might work in any case.

It's just so stupid, it blows my mind.


An open letter to Mr. Philip Kabore

>> Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Confidence Trust and Honest‏

mr philip kabore

From: mr philip kabore (mrphilipkabore001@gmail.com)
Sent: Tue 8/30/11 8:27 AM

Confidence Trust and Honest
From the desk of Mr.Philip Kabore
Bill and exchange manager
African Development Bank(A.D.B)
Ouagadougou Burkina Faso
Dear friend, With Due Respect

My name is Mr.Philip Kabore, from Burkina Faso in west Africa am working with African
development bank ( A.D.B) ouagadougou burkina Faso as the director of Auditing and account Department I discovered existing dormant account for 5years. When I discovered that there had been neither continuation nor withdrawals from this account for this long period and our banking laws stipulates that any unserviceable account for more than 5years will go into the bank revenue as an unclaimed fund.The request of foreigner in this transaction is necessary because our late customer was a foreigner and a Burkinabe cannot stand as next of kin to a foreigner.
I have made personal inquiries about the depositor and his next of kin but sadly, the depositor and his next of kin died on their way to Senegal for business tycoon, and he left no body behind for this claim I only made this investigation just to be double sure of this fact and since I have been unsuccessful in locating the relatives, I seek your concern for further information.

Amount to claim US$
Now my questions are:-
1. Can you handle this project? ……………
2. Can I give you this trust? ………………
If yes, call me as soon as you receive this email.

Upon the receipt of your reply,I will give you the full details on how the business will be executed and also note that you will have 40% of the above mentioned sum as your own share while 50% will be for me, and the other 10% will be for the expenses that may arise in this transaction.I am expecting your urgent response to enable me inform you on how the business will be executed. Please I would like you to keep this transaction confidential and as a top secret or delete if you are not interested,
I expect you're urgent response and call, if you can handle this project,
Mr.Philip Kabore
Telephone:+226 74 45 16 24

Dear Mr. Kabore,

They'll tell you the business is all glamor, dames with trust funds, attractive widows with inheritances. It isn't until after you've forked over the fees for your license that you discover it isn't all what some trashy rag on cheap paper you read while you wait for the soda jerk makes it out to be. I've spent so much time sitting outside of the Sleepytime Motel on Melworth that the management's reserved a parking spot for me out front. And half the time, brother, you bring some client the photographs of her sweet hubby spending his lunch hour with some floozy--or sometimes with some well dressed young man, even--she acts like it's your fault he's been stepping out.

So you can imagine how attentive I became when I came across your missive on my desk. At first I thought my secretary, Velda, must have brought it in, but then I remembered Velda hadn't been in to work in three weeks, something to do with her paycheck bouncing higher than Sergio Fabrizze did when he missed that swing on the flying trapeze last time the circus was in town (I hear they couldn't afford a new poster for his brother Lamar and all they did was paint out the "s" so he's billed as "The Fabulous Fabrizze Brother█"). Note to self: I need to fire that broad if she isn't even going to call in.

Anyhow, I perked right up like a hobo at a burlesque show when I read your letter: missing body proof of death case--that sounds like exactly the break I need from shaking the bushes for lost puppies and aggravating my hemorrhoids in motel parking lots sneaking pics of suspected spouses. You should know I charge a fifty dollar retainer and ten bucks a day, plus expenses. The fifty is mine whether I break your case or not, no refunds. I don't know about a share in all this money you talk about: I'm fully licensed and bonded and I don't need any shenanigans that'll get the District Attorney pulling my papers again like he did when I was investigating The Dirty Damsel's Dilemma. Cost me seventy-five bucks to get 'em back and she only paid me thirty.

Now, I need some answers before I get started wasting your money barking up the wrong fire escapes. Someone claimed your depositor was dead even though there was no body left behind. So, I'm thinking, lost at sea, plane crash in the Andes, factory explosion, massive 500-piece train wreck with no picture on the box, what? You're right to be suspicious. It smells. It smells, I tell you, smells like a butcher's shop with a busted freezer in August. Are we sure they were going to Senegal? Who saw this guy get on the train or rickshaw or whatever?

A big question I have is whether the insurance boys are involved, because a lot of the time what we're talking about with a suspicious death claim and no body is an insurance fraud case. I've gone against those boys before, though I have to be honest, it was a fender bender where some guy was illegally parked too far out into the street and I still don't see what a guy's supposed to do, drive on the opposite sidewalk? Anyway, those guys, they don't like me and I don't like them, and I owe 'em . I owe 'em about eighty bucks in premiums, plus I'd like a little payback for raising my rates after that guy parked in the middle of the street like a chump.

I also want to know more about this business tycoon our subject was traveling for. How big a fish is he and how small's the fishtank? Our boy a guppy or a piranha? Should I bring my fishing pole or a stick of dynamite? And what's his angle? He have a life insurance policy on his delivery boy? Evidence our subject was sleeping with his mistress? Could be a blackmail angle. Anything you have, however small it might seem, could be what cracks this case wider than the split in the fat kid's pants after an ice cream festival.

Last thing, Philip: I may carry a roscoe, but only for emergencies. You want someone to "execute" some "business", you're scratching at the wrong door, kiddo. You want that kind of operative, there's guys down by the wharf who'll do it for a glass of bathtub gin. I'll find your schnook and let you know what the business of his slipping out the side door is all about, but anything you have to do above and beyond that, I don't want to know, jake? What I don't know about, I don't have to commit perjury over, capiche?

I look forward to opening a file as soon as I have your retainer.

Sam Samson, Private Dick.




Morphine, "Super Sex"

>> Monday, August 29, 2011

Let's go back a bit to the greatest two-string-bass-one-guy-blowing-two-saxes band in alt-jazz-funk-rock fusion history--yep, Morphine.

I don't know if the current President has super sex, but when this song was originally recorded, Bill Clinton was in the White House, so there ya' go: song's based on a true story and everything. Or something.


Moby, The James Bond Theme

>> Sunday, August 28, 2011

In keeping with yesterday's post, here's some more Moby. He's not too fond of the movie he did this for, but it's a cool take on the tune:

Though, looking at the official music video here, there is something a little surreal about the vegan, pacifist Moby fighting ninjas. What's he going to do, use nonlethal force while carroting them into submission. I kid, I kid: I sympathize with at least half of The Bald One's ideologies there, though there's no way I'm going Christian with him. There are worse things that you can be than a lefty vegan Christian pacifist--actually, overall one might even concede that being a lvCp is largely a good thing.

I think I wandered astray. Wasn't the main point supposed to be that this is a badass rendition of a badass piece of movie scoring? There, it is.

Have a great Sunday, y'all.


Ron Paul is a dick

>> Saturday, August 27, 2011

"We should be like 1900. We should be like 1940, 1950, 1960," Paul told a reporter for NBC News after a lunch-time speech in Gilford, N.H. "I live on the Gulf Coast; we deal with hurricanes all the time. Galveston is in my district.”

"There's no magic about FEMA. They're a great contribution to deficit financing and quite frankly they don't have a penny in the bank. We should be coordinated but coordinated voluntarily with the states," Paul said. "A state can decide. We don't need somebody in Washington."
-Jason Volack, "Ron Paul: Who Needs FEMA Anyway?"
ABC News, August 26th

Just to be perfectly clear, this is what Paul is explicitly referring to when he mentions 1900 and Galveston in the same breath:

Wikipedia tells us that Galveston had a population of around 37,000 at the time and that death tolls in the wake of the so-called "Great Flood" were between 6,000 and 12,000, with the number usually pegged at around 8,000 lost in the catastrophe; i.e. somewhere between one-sixth to one-third of the entire population of an American city, wiped out. The only reason reports of the time didn't say the town looked like an atom bomb had hit it was because that technology was forty-five years away at the time; much of Galveston was reduced to splintered wood, with storm-mangled bodies trapped in the ruins and wreckage. It remains one of the worst natural disasters in American history.

No, nothing for the Federal government to care about one whit.

People wonder why the press is giving Paul so little attention this go-around. Well, he's a morally and intellectually bankrupt charlatan who will get exactly the same percentage of the primary vote as he has every other election cycle he's ever participated in, and won't be the Republican nominee for President; I'd make a joke about how it might happen if all his opponents get food poisoning in New Hampshire, but really, no, then the GOP would get Karl Rove or somebody. Sarah Palin will be a serious nominee before Ron Paul is. The only nearly-newsworthy thing about Paul is that he has this cult of devotees who send him lots of money that he blows on his hobby of running for President the same way Bible-thumpers on the TV blow their money on cars and houses, and just like the fact that little old ladies are sending their life's savings to Pastor Goodhair stops being "news" and becomes more of an unpleasant, inevitable and slightly-embarrassing fact--well, same principle goes for some middle-class libertarian with more money than sense; given Paul's negligible odds of ever being anyone actually worth paying attention to, campaign contributions are monies that could be better spent on cocaine and hookers (or if you insist on supporting libertarianism, spend it on gift subscriptions to Reason if you have to).

Sure, Michele Bachmann is just as intellectually bankrupt and vapid as Paul is, but she's a GOP presidential candidate with ladyparts (which is newsworthy, let's face it) and her numbers are a lot better than they ought to be (whereas Paul's are what they always are and ever should be); also, she's already knocked one of her rivals out of the race, something else Paul isn't going to do. Also, I mean, if the press wanted to ignore Bachmann, too, it isn't like that would hurt my feelings any.

But hey, Paul has finally made himself newsworthy if anybody in the press wants to flog him for it: "Presidential Candidate Says We Should Emulate That Time 8,000 People Died." "Referencing one of the worst natural disasters in American history, Representative Ron Paul said it was pretty much no big deal and happened all the time."

He's a tool.


Moby, "Natural Blues"

Going back a bit of a ways, I know. (1999?! Really?! That long?!) But I've been on a wee bit of a minor Moby kick the past coupla days, so why not?

An oldie but a goodie, in other words:


Quote of the day--oh, so that's how you do it edition

>> Friday, August 26, 2011

You type enough sentences, you’re bound to get a good run of paragraphs eventually.
-Zack Handlen, "'Second Chances'/'Timescape'
The A/V Club, August 25th, 2011

Okay, so Handlen is talking about how he writes reviews of old episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but still: I like that. I like that a lot. I really need to try to make that my motto.

Except, of course, it ain't that easy. I mean, yes, you write enough sentences, you're bound to have something good arise spontaneously from the chaos. Maybe. I hope. Oh dear, that might not be how it works at all. Now I'm worried. But, no, seriously: it ain't that easy. The words have to be pried out of the cracks in your brain and then assembled in the right order so as to constitute a sentence in English (or whatever language you're writing in). If assembling words randomly sufficient was, Yodaese you would speak.

But I think, yes, I'm going to try to make Handlen's quip sort of a motto, especially over the next few days as I try to get back to a short story that I was puttering with and back to the awful train wreck that has been running over my leg for the past several years with nothing to show for it unless you count restarts. I will try to type enough sentences. Maybe some of them will love each other and have little paragraphs to take care of them in their old age. That would make me happy. Happier. Close enough.


Neil Young And Crazy Horse, "Like A Hurricane"

>> Thursday, August 25, 2011

Squalling, crashing walls of sound, that epic roaring screech of Neil Young's guitar blasting like gusts of screaming wind across a shuttered window while Crazy Horse keeps the beat hammered down. Just one of the greatest guitar solos ever, it always is whenever he plays it.

And probably all you're thinking is, "Why the fuck are there Jawas on the stage?"

I think the answer can be reduced to two probabilities:

  1. After the release of Star Wars in 1977, the smelly, junk-scavenging extraterrestrial hominids found themselves out of work and all-but-ignored by George Lucas, who brought them to this planet with the promise they would be big Hollywood movie stars. This obviously didn't pan out, and the Jawas found themselves out of work and largely homeless (as the sandcrawlers they prefer to reside in could meet neither California's stringent vehicle emissions standards nor the state's housing code). Famous for his humanitarian pursuits, Neil Young decided to give the aliens work as roadies during his 1978 tour as a way of helping them earn money towards passage on an FTL freighter back to their homeworld or towards retaining the services of a really good immigration attorney, whatever they wanted. As an added benefit, the Jawas were non-union.

  2. Drugs.

Obviously, I can't narrow it down any further past these two, and clearly we can only speculate which one of these scenarios is more likely, though I will offer this much: you saw a lot of brown robes and glowy eyes in various advertisements and TV specials and things from 1977 to around 1979, and then later not-so-much. And yet Neil Young, like a lot of people in his industry in those days, was probably still doing drugs. On the other hand, if a group of robed aliens with luminous eyes put together enough money to finally fly back to their homeworld, you'd expect to see their presence diminish and eventually vanish (with the possible exception of the occasional Jawa who stayed behind, married an American citizen, and moved to the suburbs).

I think the inference is clear.

Part of me thinks posting this could be in poor taste: it was inspired partly by the fact Hurricane Irene may be visiting my home state this weekend. I guess by that rationale, I might have posted Carole King's "I Felt The Earth Move" earlier this week, except I'd never do something that tacky: Carole King really irritates me for some reason I can't explain and I generally don't like her stuff, at least not when it's performed by her (I'm sure a diligent music buff could find a Goffin/King number I love somewhere--I mean, they only wrote about ninety-eight million songs, and that's just for Phil Spector). But, whatever: hurricane's coming, I like Neil Young, I can't think of anything in particular to write about: here you go. Plus, this version has those Jawas, and that really is fucked up. I mean, really--Jawas?! Okay, Neil. Hope you got a bulk discount on the LED glasses for everybody.

Still, rockin' song.


Dumb quote of the day--you are what you read edition redux

>> Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Now the fact that the president of the United States apparently doesn't read women writers is not the greatest crisis facing the arts, much less the nation -- but it's upsetting nevertheless. As I suspect Obama would agree, matters of prejudice are never entirely minor, even when their manifestations may seem relatively benign.
-Robin Black, "President Obama: Why don't you read more women?",
Salon, August 24th, 2011

Oh, for fuck's sake. Again.

Okay, so now here's the President's vacation reading list being assailed from (I presume) the left, this time for not being "inclusive" enough. Because, apparently, readers are expected to look at bookstore shelves and instead of picking up an armful of things that have had good reviews, acclaimed authors, belong to favored genres and/or simply have neat cover art; the reader is instead expected to look for a representative percentage of [category] authors so he can make sure he has the requisite numbers of women (and perhaps a representative mix of ethnicity, religious preference, political persuasion, sexual orientation, nationality, etc.; I am disappointed that the President Of The United States has not read even a single book by a one-legged, bisexual, Greek Orthodox, anarchist, Han author residing in Taiwan).

The sad truth is that Black's complaint is essentially the same as the Tevi Troy whine that drove me nuts yesterday, except that it comes from a perspective I generally sympathize with and it sounds like she has vastly better taste in authors. However, fundamentally, Ms. Black and Mr. Troy appear to be annoyed that the President is evidently reading what he'd like to read instead of reading what they'd like him to read, which is bullshit.

This is not a post about sexism in publishing, which shouldn't be tolerated. Or sexism in marketing (ditto). Or sexism in retailing (bad). Or sexism in reviews (books should generally be reviewed on their merits1). This isn't about whether editors are discriminating against women (or anyone else) or whether women aren't treated as equals at conventions and conferences or whether their books are hidden away in the dark recesses of bookstores while books by men are put in the windows. This isn't about whether a woman has to change her name in order to avoid the slush pile or whether that's at least the conventional wisdom, nor is it about whether that conventional wisdom is depressingly accurate or represents toxically inaccurate notions that create their own sad reality. This isn't about whether comment threads responding to women authors or discussions of sexism end up full of horrible misogynistic trolls who deserve a boot in the head.

This is about someone going to a bookstore and picking up an armful of what she wants to read. (Or he, in the President's case.) This is about suggesting that someone is a bigot because one's recreational reading wasn't "representative" enough (of what?).

It doesn't strike me as particularly reasonable or natural for someone to go into a bookstore looking for categories of authors instead of genres or specific things one meant to get around to.

If I walk out of a bookstore with a Margaret Atwood novel, it isn't because I like to get my fix of women authors. It's because I like Margaret Atwood's work2. And if another visit to the bookstore results in an armful of sausages, that isn't deliberate, either. I'm trying to think of what I picked up on my last two visits to Borders, when I loaded up during their bankruptcy fire sale, and it's mostly men: the photo I posted to Facebook after the first visit shows Charlie Stross (because I've read a few short stories I liked and mean to read more, and the discount offered an opportunity); Margaret Atwood because I've been on a kick since reading The Year Of The Flood; T.C. Boyle, William Gibson, Michael Chabon and Erik Larson because I like them; the one David Foster Wallace novel I haven't read (not counting The Pale King, which I'm reading); Ann and Jeff Vandermeer's The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet Of Curiosities because it sounded neat; Charles Portis' True Grit because I've meant to read it since I saw the Coens' version. Complaining that I picked up only one female author (and one female co-editor) simultaneously gives me not enough and too much credit: I simply wasn't thinking about the authors (and editors) as gendered people, I was simply randomly surfing shelves for authors and titles whose work I already liked or was curious regarding, with a vague-and-undefined arbitrary sense that there was a cutoff point where I had too much (1) in my arms and/or (2) to justify putting on the credit card (with a hopeless and frankly irresponsible promise to myself to pay off the balance I was charging ASAP).

Does this make me a sexist pig? And I think all these people might be white, or whitish; Atwood, Gibson and DFW are, for sure, I've seen photographs of them in various places. So I might be a racist, too, I guess. I hope this doesn't sound bitter or defensive, since my reaction is more bemused and bewildered. The follow-up visit to Borders the following weekend procured Neil Gaiman, Elmore Leonard and the fourth Ed Gorey Amphigorey anthology I didn't yet have, along with some other books--anyway, more books by white men, in any case. Wry observation that my horizons are narrow, though it's seriously hard to type that without a raised eyebrow since I was (at the times) pleased with myself that my armloads included fairy tales, science fiction, "serious lit", westerns, noir thrillers, cartoons and historical nonfiction. I had no idea (eyebrow still raised in amusement) I was supposed to be checking authors' photos and bios for boobies and dingles so I could balance the ratio accordingly and correctly.

These comments about the President's reading list from the left and right do share a refreshing (albeit disappointing and predictable) common ground: they tell us hardly anything about the President and turn out to be Rorschach tests for the respective authors, who reveal their obsessions and preoccupations accordingly. You know, I had to actually go on to Amazon to see whether any of the books the President chose were actually well-reviewed and to get more relevant information about plots and genres and styles and literary things like that? I'm not familiar with any of the authors he selected except Huxley (and everybody seems to think Brave New World was purchased for one of his daughters' required school reading; probably, though, come to think of it, I haven't read BNW since junior high school, myself, and perhaps I owe it a revisiting--perhaps the President is thinking similarly), but it sounds like the President has good taste in lit and/or someone is making solid suggestions to him. It might be that instead of trying to analyze what his book shopping says about his politics or whether it ought to include more a more inspirational symbolic representation of something-or-other, that we might instead wish the President happy reading, be happy that he seems to enjoy books for their own sake, and see if that reading list includes any choice cuts we ought to pick up ourselves the next time we fire up our Kindles, hit the library, etc. (Personally: The Warmth Of Other Suns sounds interesting but a bit heavy for the mood I've been in lately; The Bayou Trilogy also sounds interesting, though I don't read a lot of crime fiction other than Leonard--because Elmore Leonard is just an amazing writer; I've read reviews of Room and I'm afraid it sounds like a book I'll be avoiding like a plague, sorry, because--and this may be an unfair reaction--but it sounds like one of these manipulative, depressing, overly-self-serious novels that will leave me grey and tired and no thank you; the rest of Obama's reading list doesn't much strike my fancies at all, I'm afraid, but it all comes highly-regarded).

But I have a tall stack of things to read, myself; I just hope there won't be a litmus test. Happy page-turning, Mr. O.

1The qualifier being added because I can imagine a hypothetical in which a writer's personal life or views are so awful--he's an active neo-Nazi, for instance--that it becomes impossible to separate the artist from the art and the fact the writer's produced a compelling novel with masterful use of the language and irresistible characters can't push one past the belief that the author and everything he's done should be shot into the fiery heart of the sun and erased from the collective consciousness. Something along these lines keeps me from the works of con artist and cult founder L. Ron Hubbard, though in his case there's also the fact that the one or two bits I have read were pretty awful. So maybe that example doesn't quite work after all (since there are textual reasons to avoid Hubbard's work), but I hope you get the idea.

2Except when I hate it because she's a better writer than I am and I have to re-read a really awesome phrase three times and then put the book down and sulk a bit. I don't know if you ever do that or not like I do. Jealousy is a terrible thing and I'm certainly not proud of it.


Dumb quote of the day--you are what you read edition

>> Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The reports are in about the books President Obama is looking at on his annual trip to Martha’s Vineyard. According to reports from the Los Angeles Times and the AP, Obama purchased five books on his trip to the Vineyard bookseller Bunch of Grapes: Marianna Baer’s Frost, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Daniel Woodrell’s Bayou Trilogy, Emma Donoghue’s Room, and Ward Just’s Rodin’s Debutante.

The second wave came when, according to Alexis Simendinger, White House aides listed for reporters the three books Obama brought with him to the Vineyard: two more novels — Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone and David Grossman’s To the End of the Land--and one nonfiction work--Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.

Assuming that Brave New World and Frost are for his daughters, this leaves six books that are presumably for presidential consumption, and they may constitute the oddest assortment of presidential reading material ever disclosed, for a number of reasons. First, five of the six are novels, and the near-absence of nonfiction sends the wrong message for any president, because it sets him up for the charge that he is out of touch with reality.
-Tevi Troy, "What’s Obama Reading?",
The National Review, August 23rd, 2011

Oh, for fuck's sake.

I mean, seriously, this is what's wrong with America's lack of culture these days. There's this broad swath of ignoramuses, some of them purportedly educated ignoramuses with pieces of paper on their walls and everything, who don't believe in science, don't have time for culture, don't see any value in the arts, who basically have altogether written off the finer points of Western Civilization since the Renaissance.

There was a time when a President was expected to read fiction and go to see music performed and plays enacted. (Okay, so maybe Abraham Lincoln put a modest damper on President's going to the theatre.) And it wasn't even necessarily expected to be all "high culture" or anything: John Kennedy's purported affection for James Bond novels wasn't something that was announced as part of a "presidential reading list" press release, it was something JFK personally told a room full of reporters. Our American Cousin (okay, yeah, maybe a bad example--still) is a broadly-drawn, lighthearted comedy that was a 19th-Century pop-culture sensation (perhaps Mr. Lincoln didn't take the Civil War all that seriously if he had time to attend a romantic comedy).

Troy actually manages to get stupider when he suggests Obama should be reading Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism instead. First, because as far as I can tell from reviews and listening to Goldberg himself during promotional interviews, the book's a work of fiction and I thought Troy's problem was that the President was consuming too much of that already. Second, because it's not like I'd expect any President to waste his time wading through the opposition's trollery. I would be as surprised to learn that Obama was reading Ann Coulter's latest as I would be to learn that George W. Bush was reading something by Michael Moore; not only that, but I'd hardly criticize either man for not wasting their time. Life is too short for you to waste precious time reading an entire book about how someone specifically hates you, personally, and generally hates everything and everybody you represent. Unless you're some kind of masochist. And then, whatever; hey, however you get your kicks.

I'm pleased that this President--and his predecessor, for that matter--reads for pleasure. And novels, too. Thank goodness there are a few people left in this country who read novels. I'm glad the President is reading something other than the massive pop histories and sleazy biographies and tossed-off memoirs that seem to dominate the front shelves of a lot of book chains these days, too. Gods know, it can't possibly be a bad thing if somebody is reading books that sing and hum and throb, the English language turned into symphonies and operas of the human heart and spirit. Hell, I don't think it's a bad thing if someone wants to read about cat-and-mouse games between detectives and serial killers or flesh-hungry monsters besieging a log cabin (in point of fact, if you'd like to give me an advance for the latter so I can quit the day job and get the fucking thing finished, I'd be greatly appreciative--I know, who wouldn't be, right?). And if someone wants to read something that agrees with their tastes when they're reading for pleasure, well, fucking hell, I don't expect somebody to sit around reading something they hate when they're trying to chill, who the hell does that?

But, y'know, there's something that bothers me about what I'm writing here, and something I should be clearer about: I'm afraid that this is sounding like a knee-jerk defense of the President, when it's only incidentally a defense of the President. What it is, really, or what I want it to be, is a defense of the written word. What kind of books does Mr. Tevi Troy think people should be reading, anyway? He mentions by name: Laura Ingraham’s Of Thee I Zing, Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, Mark Steyn’s After America and Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded; I'll confess I haven't read any of these, but I'm sufficiently familiar with Ingraham, Goldberg and Friedman to say that they're insipid, shallow thinkers and mediocre writers whose books--including all three of the ones mentioned--tend to be the kinds of books sold in airports to travelers who want to appear intelligent and think they'll have time to read during a layover when in fact the books will almost certainly end up being the ones visiting guests see with the bookmark always in the same place, bouncing from coffee table to bathroom to bedside nightstand and back round until they possibly end up on a bookshelf (if the purchaser is the sort to have a bookshelf--one sees distressingly few of those in American homes these days, and even fewer that hold books instead of knickknacks and gewgaws) or a box in the basement. These are the kinds of books, along with their counterparts on the left, that contribute to America's illiteracy epidemic: I don't mean "illiterate" in the sense of being unable to read, but "illiterate" in the sense of being profoundly uneducated in either the canon or contemporary literature; we're talking about the sorts of books whose hectoring tone, clumsy stabs at ad hominem "humor" and uninspired rhetoric convince people that reading is a boring waste of time. Books that mistake being insulting for being challenging and excess for depth. One can hardly blame a victim of this rubbish--even a victim who agrees with the rubbish--if he thinks that books are an obligation. I don't know Steyn, but Troy doesn't put him in promising company; anyway, the book is described thus at the website Troy links to:

"New York Times" [sic]-bestselling author Steyn argues that Barack Obama is moving the country toward a Scandinavian-style, big-government system that will stifle liberty and leave the world in a dangerous place.

Ah, well, that sounds like a kick in the teeth, don't it? Very brief looks at the preview of After America available at Amazon and at Google Books aren't promising: lifeless prose, predictably clumsy attempts at humor (a joke about Barbra Streisand doing lots of farewell tours--her last concert appearance was two years before the book's copyright date and her last tour five years before After America was published, but it's still funny because gay San Francisco liberals love her and they're stupid--and gay!--and that's funny, right? Right?), mind-numbing errors that assume the reader is a moron whose entire education consists of unwarranted assumptions (I had to stop reading after a passage about an 1890s time traveler visiting the 1950s and being astonished by the sight of a telephone and an automobile1.

Of course, Troy's reading list consists of National Review contributors (except for Friedman), so it's not merely that Troy prefers bad reading to reading that he seems to think is trivial or escapist: he's also shamelessly pimping. Which somehow makes it worse under the circumstances. Clio knows, I don't have a huge problem with doing some pimping, whether it's for my friends or myself.2 I hope, at least, that my pimping doesn't come along with the criticism that people who aren't reading my friends' work are stupid for it. (Frankly, I'd also like to think my friends are better writers, but, you know....)

I have exhausted myself on this for now.

(H/t Salon.)

1Okay, so I can't just let this ride. Here's what Steyn writes:

Picture a man of the late nineteenth century, perhaps your own great-grandfather, sitting in an ordinary American home of 1890. And now pitch him forward in an H.G. Wells machine, not to our time but about halfway--to that same ordinary American home, circa 1950.

Why, the poor gentleman of 1890 would be astonished. His old home is full of mechanical contraptions. There is a huge machine in the corner of the kitchen, full of food and keeping the milk fresh and cold! There is another shiny device whirring away and seemingly washing milady's bloomers with no human assistance whatsoever! Even more amazingly, there is a full orchestra playing somewhere within his very house. No, wait, it's coming from a tiny box on the countertop!

The music is briefly disturbed by a low rumble from the front yard, and our time-traveler glances through the window: a metal conveyance is coming up the street at an incredible speed--with not a horse in sight. It's enclosed with doors and windows, like a house on wheels, and it turns into the yard, and the doors open all at once, and two grown-ups and four children all get out--jist like that, as if it's the most natural thing in the world! He notices there is snow on the ground, and yet the house is toasty warm, even though no fire is lit and there appears to be no stove. A bell jingles from a small black instrument on the hall table. Good heavens! Is this a "telephone"? He'd heard about such things, and that important people in the big cities had them. But to think one would be here in his very own home! He picks up the speaking tube. A voice at the other end says there is a call from across the country--and immediately there she is, a lady from California talking as if she were standing next to him, without having to shout, or even raise her voice! And she says she'll see him tomorrow!

Oh, very funny. They've got horseless carriages in the sky now, have they?

Jesus. H. Christ. On. A. Stripper. Pole.

Setting aside the general lousiness of the prose.... While telephone service was concentrated in urban areas in the 1890s, they were definitely no longer novelties and long-distance service was available in various areas from the 1870s on. Automobiles are another 19th Century invention, and while our time-traveler may not have owned one, he was more likely to have seen one than he was to see a time machine. Household refrigerators based on mechanical compressors would have been twenty years in our time traveler's future--but the housings were (naturally) based on familiar 19th Century icebox designs and the technology itself was well known on an industrial scale by the time of the American Civil War. Similarly, fully automatic washing machines would have been in our chrononaut's future but the concept goes back to the 17th Century. As for the music he hears: while the transistor radio is obviously a 20th Century gadget, I think he'd most likely assume there was a phonograph around: perhaps one of the many recordings commercially available from Columbia Records, founded in 1888. As for "horseless carriages in the sky": the 1890s were, of course, a pioneering era in flight attempts, culminating in the Wright Brothers' successful flights in 1903; lighter-than-air flights were not uncommon and there was some hysteria over alleged mystery airships being sighted in the 1880s and 1890s; Samuel Langley was one of powered heavier-than-air flight's leading boosters/experimenters in the 1890s and the public excitement over flight experiments of all sorts probably explains why the "mystery airships" were part of the public gestalt in the United States and Europe during our time traveler's era--he most likely would be surprised, in other words, if there weren't commercial flights of some sort in his future, much as a time traveler from 1968 might be surprised at our current shortage of moonbases.

All of this possibly seems nitpicky, considering that Steyn's point is actually some kind of rubbish about the supposed stagnation between 1950 and now, except how seriously are we supposed to take his point when he seems to think that the ordinary American of 1890 is some kind of medieval rube who's never seen a Montgomery Ward Catalog and uses vaguely anachronistic terms like "mildady" (mostly used by European servants in the early 19th Century) and "bloomers" (mostly used in the 19th Century to refer to a fashion item from the 1850s, though the term persisted into the 20th)?

Indeed, and here's what makes Steyn's point more idiotic: a well-read gentleman of 1890 (the sort who might have a time machine around) would almost certainly predict the technological "surprises" Steyn alludes to: flight, telephony, portable musical entertainment utilizing broadcast electromagnetism, home refrigeration, automatic clothes washing and "horseless carriages" were all developments that could be extrapolated from 1890s research and many of these things indeed show up in some form or another in the speculative fiction of the era; what would be vastly more far-fetched to our time traveler would be the social developments made possible by the struggling progressive movements of his era: in the 1950s, he discovers that there are women working outside the home; scientists have conducted investigations into sexual relations and some biochemists are working on some kind of hormonal treatment that will allow women to indulge with a much lower risk of pregnancy; President Truman has recently issued an order to desegregate the military; blacks are trying to gain access to white schools and President Eisenhower supports their efforts (if our traveler arrives after 1954, he'll discover the Supreme Court has even held segregation to be unconstitutional); depending on where he arrives, he may discover that the father of the family with the horseless carriage has a union shop job and that this is no big deal and he doesn't even know any anarchists and is stridently opposed to communism--which, by the way, has somehow managed to take over much of the rural and underdeveloped world instead of the European industrial states our time traveler feared/expected (depending on his sympathies). I.e. the social changes between the 1890s and 1950s were far less predictable than the technological developments, which, if anything, may have proceeded more slowly than an Argosy subscriber would have hoped.

It makes my head hurt.

2A new edition of Rigor Amortis hits shelves next month under the Edge imprint. Look for it!


Conan The Barbarian

>> Monday, August 22, 2011

Do I even feel like reviewing this movie? Don't get me wrong--as much as I wanted to be skeptical, I actually liked the damn thing when I saw it with friends this weekend, notwithstanding its fairly evident flaws. I just don't know if I feel up to doing a movie review worth anything today, although I don't really feel up to much of a blog entry today.

This is--from my point of view, at least--the joy of writing a blog. If I were a movie critic for some big-time newspaper like the Sheboygan Tattler, I'd probably have to cut the first paragraph. But because a blog is, by its nature, self-indulgent, I can sit here and say that I don't know if I feel like writing about this movie, which wasn't all that good from an objective perspective and yet was an enjoyable experience from the subjective.

There is a probability that any movie about Conan of Cimmeria is practically unfilmable. You have a character, invented by pulp legend Robert E. Howard, who is basically a kind of prehistoric-age-of-legends superhero. He isn't perfect, by any stretch of the imagination--he's impetuous and often reckless--but he's also pretty self-evidently the biggest badass on the page he appears upon, cunning, bold, strong, fast; I've often imagined an NBA player's build might suit Conan well, but how many NBA players have any talent as an actor? What Conan isn't is a big, hulking, monosyllabic tank; casting, oh, I dunno, an Austrian bodybuilder in the role is probably about as terrible a miscasting atrocity as you could possibly commit, but there you go (honestly, casting a short, waifish woman as Conan would at least have some kind of crazy bug-eyed camp value or something). There's also a problem with the sorts of adventures Howard's creation has: CGI alleviates things a bit these days, but Howard's Conan wanders all over this prehistoric, mythic world full of ancient civilizations and savage landscapes fighting off Lovecraftian horrors with a variety of weapons ranging from improvised-whatever's-lying-around to swords and axes nearly the size of the guy wielding them, in whatever employment setting struck Howard's fancy when he sat down at his typewriter--i.e. Conan is a king in one story and a pirate in another, and then there are the stories where he's a thief, a mercenary, whatever. Anyway, point is, it can be kind of tricky to pull together a relatively coherent plot out of all these threads, and then to make the collapsing ruins and tentacled monstrosities and whatnot look as awesome as they look inside your head when you're reading this stuff. And speaking of reading, before I mosey on let me mention that Howard was arguably the best writer of his milieu: able to write nailchewing pageturners remarkably free of the purple prose and turgid plotting and sheet-thin characters that show up in so many of his pulpy peers' weird tales and amazing stories.

And the thing is, if you're going to do a Conan movie, you don't really have to be faithful to the plot but you do sort of owe something to the character. Hm. Well, it's tricky. I certainly have enjoyed James Bond movies where there wasn't a lot of similarity to anything Ian Fleming ever wrote. Then again, there's some point where you've taken so many liberties that it's a cheap trick that you're using the character's name at all, the only reason you didn't call him something else is that the suckers in the paying masses wouldn't go see a movie about an adventuring American travel agent/spy named Bernard Waggins but if you call him "James Bond" all over the poster you might con a few people too timid to ask for their money back.

This is all rumination to wind around to: Jason Momoa turns out to be a pretty darn good Conan, looking like somebody who could swing a sword around for a few hours and then climb a wall and shimmy his way in through a tight spot, get clobbered from behind only to stand up when he regains consciousness and do it all again. All of this is abetted, of course, by modern Hollywood's action film trickery--the wire fu techniques that the Wachowskis brought over here plus CGI plus the past couple of decades' improvements in fight choreography--but that's not a complaint. Momoa also has a fell smile and is a solid enough actor one can believe he's a smart guy who might be digging poems in his off time1 (sorry, Arnie).

This is one of the things the new Conan gets right. The Frazetta-ish landscapes with their cyclopean ruins and weirdly cosmopolitan cities-on-the-edge-of-nowhere is another. And I'm pleased to say there's a tentacled monstrosity towards the end of the movie that is perfectly Howardian: it's huge and (well) monstrous, but the bulk of it is never seen and the suggestion or implication is that it's a horror from a forgotten age that has been at the bottom of its timeless well forever and ever and its decadent "masters" simply took advantage of its location to build a vast terror chamber over it, which is exactly the kind of Lovecraftian touch that make Howard's stories not just sword-and-sorcery or precursors to sword-and-sandal epics but weird fantasy--they fit into horror as much as they fit into heroic, you know. There's just enough magic and there's a little bit of pirate movie, and these things are good and Howardian, too. If you like Conan and you like Howard, this movie isn't perfect but I think it's the best to date.

That said, for every two things they get right, they get about three wrong. The gods only know how that still manages to be an entertaining movie that I liked, but there you are. The CGI that lets them get the right look for the Hyborian Age sometimes fails them when it just isn't rendered that well. We saw the movie in 2D (which is how it was shot; the 3D was added in post-production), but that didn't make the "hey, this movie has 3D-ey bits" moments less irritating. Some magically-spawned sandmen are a neat idea that is poorly executed with a mix of live stuntmen and CGI sprites, neither of which (I'm afraid) are particularly convincing. A number of subplots, such as an implied incestuous relationship between the main villains, manage to find a sour spot between "not developed enough to be interesting" and "too developed to be ignored" and die there. And the less said about the main plot--there's an evil mask the barbarian tribes took from Sauron The Evil Wizard McGuffin and scattered in pieces round the world, and now the main baddie is gathering those pieces and wants to glue them together with the heroine's magic blood (hint: Super Glue or epoxy usually works better for that sort of thing)--well, less said about the plot, the better, and I've probably already said too much.

Leading lady Rachel Nichols' character is just impossible and I'm not sure she'd be all that good even with a better script. One of the things that's a little odd about Howard--and I'm not sure how much I want to get into this--is that his sexism and racism are a bit peculiar and don't map onto contemporary idea about such topics; that Howard almost certainly thought a certain sort of Northern European male was heir to a certain kind of robustness and vigor is sort of obvious from his writing and not at all inconsistent with his time (the first part of the 20th Century) and place (Texas); and yet Howard nonetheless seems to have had this idea that this European male type's birthright wasn't something he had a monopoly on or couldn't lose, and so you end up with a few badass women in a few of the stories (for instance) and more than a few wussy European males who have had their virility crushed by civilization's influences. Anyway, the point being that Nichols' character, Tamara, is certainly Howardian enough when she's driving a sword into some reaver and giving it a nice twist, but mostly she runs around screaming "Eeeeek" which, aside from making her not much of a Howard heroine, makes her as annoying as hell and there's more than a few moments where you want her character to die in a fire.

As with the 1982 Conan The Barbarian, the makers of this one insist on giving us a whole backstory about Conan's childhood, which still bewilders me. Howard never gave us one, and while it may not seem like a big deal that others have gone back to fill in those details, you have to bear in mind that part of the awesomeness of Conan is the way he typically rolls into a story sort of like the Man With No Name2 in a spaghetti Western, wrecks up the place and rolls out. Giving him a past really answers questions nobody should actually care about. However, I also have to admit that while the Kid Conan stretch of the movie is a horribly misguided idea, Leo Howard (Kid Conan) is pretty good and Conan's old man is played by the magnificent Ron Perlman, an actor who really ought to be cast in every movie ever made as a matter of Federal law. I also have to concede that although I really don't like the fact that the Kid Conan bits are in this movie, they nonetheless feature some of the movie's best scenes, including a whole sequence where this little kid delivers a righteous smackdown to a group of hapless Picts and then brings their heads home, a scene which more than makes up for the filmmakers totally stealing a subsequent scene from Batman Begins.

Again, funny how that works. The list of things wrong with Conan The Barbarian outpace the list of things that are right about it, and yet this one might even be a movie for the DVD collection at some point. I think I wrote earlier in this piece that it gets two things right for every three things it fucks up, and yet on the balance, it's actually a really enjoyable film. Aside from all of Nichols' screaming, that is. They really needed to put a sock in that.

I'm going to say you oughta go see this one.

Conan shook his lion head. "No, Prospero, he's beyond my reach. A great poet is greater than any king. His songs are mightier than my scepter; for he has near ripped the heart from my breast when he chose to sing for me. I shall die and be forgotten, but Rinaldo's songs will live forever."
-Robert E. Howard,
"The Phoenix On The Sword"

2Clint Eastwood's character is named Joe in A Fistful Of Dollars (or at least that's what the bartender, Silvanito, calls him--maybe he calls all gringos "Joe"); Monco in For A Few Dollars More; and "Blondie" in The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (though this might merely be a descriptive nom de guerre). "The Man With No Name" was a marketing thing some guy at United Artists came up with when they picked up the first movie for American distribution, notwithstanding that he apparently has a name, and which stuck through the "sequels" even though it's pretty obvious when you watch all three that Clint Eastwood is playing three different-albeit-similar characters who all, indeed, possess a name in each movie.

"Standing On The Shoulders Of Giant Midgets: Proudly Helping People Win At Trivial Pursuit Since 2007."


The Cramps, "Tear It Up"

>> Sunday, August 21, 2011

Let's get Sunday started off right, with some bitchin' rockabilly. Ladies and gentlemen, The Cramps:


Lana Del Rey, "Video Games"

>> Saturday, August 20, 2011

I can tell you almost nothing about this song and this singer except that you must listen to this song right now

They've been playing it here and there on SiriusXM; it's one of the best songs of the summer and possibly the most devastating. This The Cool Hunter blog post contains a little background information but the most crucial piece of information--a release date for the album this should appear on--doesn't seem to be available there nor (as of this writing) on Del Rey's Facebook page.

Now I've just played the damn thing a half-dozen times in a row just sitting here, eyes watering about midway through each and every damn elegiacal time. And if for some reason you scrolled/read down to this point without listening to the song: you're at the wrong place in this post, go back. It's an amazement.


How Ridley Scott's new Blade Runner can be awesome...

>> Friday, August 19, 2011

As you may have heard, the Internet has been awash in stories about Ridley Scott announcing his involvement in some sort of sequel/prequel/reboot/remake/something of his 1982 classic, Blade Runner. This was a news item I was sort of trying to ignore because, seriously, nobody in their right mind wants this movie and a pox upon moviegoers if they actually show up to see this thing if it really does get made. (I'm not convinced it will: while Scott's involvement increases the odds, this thing has actually been in development hell for years and years and years now.)

But then Steve Buchheit did a short blog post about not wanting this movie, either, and it occurred to me that there were, indeed, circumstances in which I'd become this movie's biggest fan and booster. Or, rather, a circumstance:

Inspector Gaff, The Movie.

Remember Inspector Gaff in Blade Runner? Probably better known to everybody as "Edward James Olmos' character in Blade Runner"--hell, I had to look his name up on IMDB, even though he's one of the most memorable characters in the thing, with his cane and cryptic grunts and origami obsession. He's the dude who seems to know more about what's going on than Deckard, Roy Batty, Rachael, or David Peoples (the guy who wrote the screenplay). He's the man, partly because Edward James Olmos is such a fucking badass--he was one of the few things that kept the last season of Battlestar Galactica from being utterly intolerable, for instance.

A good film with Edward James Olmos is a great film; a bad film with Edward James Olmos is a bad-film-except-for-Edward James Olmos-who's-awesome. He salvages unwatchable scenes, raises everybody's game in good ones. The man is just phenomenal. He is capable of generating such an aura of sheer coolness that there's no need to go in during post to do any digital color correction to turn everything blue like an old David Fincher music video from the '80s because Edward James Olmos has already blueshifted all the light waves on the set.

My understanding is that there isn't a script for the new Blade Runner strap-on or whatever it is, which means there's an opportunity: you could write the movie around Inspector Gaff from the get-go. So he's 64, and maybe can't move as fast--then again, in the first film, Gaff didn't really move all that fast, either, preferring to terrify replicants with his sheer presence by leaning on his cane and scowling at them. It's possible Blade Runner: Electric Boogaloo could maybe have more of a horror movie vibe:


ABOUT TO BE DEAD REPLICANT pushes the door open and kicks it shut behind him. He has a bag of supplies in both arms and puts it down on the empty counter. Then he looks around the room--all clear. One of those flying cars that looks really cool but is really a bad idea when you think about it WHOOSHES by past the window and shines a spotlight in the window so you get that whole venetian-blinds-moving-lines-of-light thing. ATBD Replicant looks around a little more, seems satisfied, goes back to his grocery bag and freezes--

Next to his bag is an ORIGAMI WALRUS that wasn't there before!

Is--is anybody there? Hello?

Another one of those flying cars whooshes by, or I guess there could be one of those blimps hanging around outside shining spotlights in everybody's windows for no apparent reason.

If any of you blade runner dudes are in here, I want you to
know I'm totally human, okay?

GAFF (shouting/mumbling--shmumbling?--offscreen)
You won't live! You're going to die! Soon!

Oh yeah? That's what you--

And that's when he looks down and sees the ORIGAMI PENGUIN next to the walrus.

And then the replicant pretty much shits his pants and dies, mostly from fear although probably the headshot plays some kind of role in his termination. You could even kind of work in a reversal of the climactic scenes of the first movie, where Roy Batty is chasing Rick Deckard all over the Bradbury Building: now, instead, it's the main replicant running frantically through the place alternating with shots of Edward James Olmos just standing there because he's too fucking cool to chase some stupid robot/clone/whatever-the-fuck-it's-supposed-to-be. And then, just when the replicant thinks he's gotten away, he opens a door and BOOM! there's Inspector Gaff already there waiting for him because that's how fucking cool he is.

Also, while I hate to draw attention to the less-artsy, less-savory aspects of the movie business, the commercial tie-ins are just too obvious: fast food kids' meals with origami fold-lines printed on the bags, Blade Runner: The Quickening-themed origami kits in toy stores, Abbott And Costello Meet The Son Of Blade Runner bow ties (much more interesting than t-shirts, which are played out), etc. Inspector Gaff action figures that come with a pad of origami paper that can be folded into weapons, vehicles and other accessories. A viral marketing campaign in which origami critters are scattered all over major metropolitan areas; origami critters that can be unfolded to reveal Attack Of The House Of The Phantom Blade Runner Revenge mini-posters. This stuff writes itself, people. Wait. No, it doesn't. Thinking of this stuff is hard work and you should give me a job thinking of it, Mr. Scott. You won't regret it.

There ought to be an online petition. We can make this happen. And when it happens, it will be awesome.


Quote of the day--a schooling in Democratic politics edition

Then, in 1972, the Democrats ran a candidate whose speeches were more frantic than any in history. George ­McGovern, following a then fashionable theory that the middle class was prosperous enough to take care of itself and that unions were pretty much irrelevant, spoke to working-class concerns less than any Democrat had before. He lost 49 states.

McGovern didn’t give what Lyndon B. Johnson used to call "Democratic" speeches--LBJ’s shorthand for talking about which party gave the people Social Security, Medicare and the Tennessee Valley Authority and which one was willing to toss them over the side. LBJ gave such speeches all the time in 1964--and he won 60% of the popular vote.
-Rick Perlstein, "How Democrats Win: Defending
the Social Safety Net"
, Time, August 18th, 2011

If there were Democrats giving "Democratic" speeches, you know I'd probably be one. I even considered affiliating last year, having been an Independent since I first registered to vote when I was eighteen; then the Democrats found some other way to fuck something up or maybe they disparaged liberals again, and I remembered why I wasn't interested. They won't give "Democratic" speeches and I won't register to be one of them, and at this stage I'm not likely to give them any money, either, although I reserve the right to change my mind if the GOP nominates one of their Dominionists for 2012 (they have one, possibly two, who are doing well at this early stage in the process--how fucked up is that?) and starts to make a good showing in polls, somehow.

But it's worth remembering who, as Perlstein reminds us, gave us Medicare, Social Security, and the TVA, and who still wants to throw people over the side. I wish the Democrats would help us remember, by educating us, but they've caught the terrible virus Reagan inflicted upon the country during a time when confidence in government was low. Perhaps the greatest idiocy of Reaganism as a governing philosophy (as opposed to an election strategy) is that it throws up "government isn't the solution to the problem, it is the problem" heedless of what the actual question might be. If government wasn't a valid answer to at least some problems, there's no reason it would have lasted as an invention--the reason you probably don't take a spear to work isn't that a spear isn't an effective tool, it's that your job probably doesn't involve joining your fellow hunters in the wilderness and bringing down big game, and if that was your job, there have been superseding tools that better fill the spear's role. Anyway, the point here is that there are things that government does better and big government does best, but you wouldn't know that from the gang of idiots who can't conceive of a role for it at all.


Interpol, "Pioneer To The Falls"

>> Thursday, August 18, 2011

Can't seem to find anything in the day's rubbish to get my write on about, so let's try on some excellent old Interpol. This is a live version of "Pioneer To The Falls", from 2007's most excellent Our Love To Admire:


Quote of the day--behold the power of prayer edition

>> Wednesday, August 17, 2011

In 1993, after giving birth to the fourth of five children, [Michele] Bachmann quit her job as an attorney for the Internal Revenue Service, where she'd worked since completing her legal education. But she continued to follow the path she believed God had chosen for her. She and her husband went to abortion clinics, where they ministered to women on the sidewalks outside, and began taking in foster kids—23 of them over a period of eight years. She also got involved with New Heights, a charter school that was just opening its doors in Stillwater, a quaint Minnesota town on the banks of the St. Croix River where the Bachmanns had settled. Bachmann enrolled one of her kids and joined the school's board.


With parents and board members clashing, a meeting was held to clear the air. Bachmann's critics alleged that she had circumvented the board by sending parents a survey she'd created, asking them to report back. Things reached a climax when a teacher seized the floor. "He said, 'There is evil in this room. We have to chase the evil out of this room,'" Beltrame recalls—at which point Bachmann and her allies joined in prayer to ward off the evil spirits. (It failed; Bachmann stepped down from her post shortly thereafter.) [emphasis added]
-Tim Murphy, "Michele Bachmann: Crazy Like a Fox"
Mother Jones, August 15th, 2011

Wait, wait, wait--let me get this straight: somebody said there was evil at a meeting attended by Michele Bachmann, and so Bachmann and the people with her said a prayer to drive away the evil, and shortly thereafter Bachmann quit and stopped coming to the meetings...?


Don't that beat all?


Well, I'm convinced.

Praise Jesus.


Did somebody say something about Yardbirds?

>> Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A friend on Facebook mentioned a dirty yardbird. Having nothing else to post today, here's several performing Jake Holmes' "Dazed And Confused" in 1968:

I have to be honest: Robert Plant is just a far more spectacular vocalist than Keith Relf. But, y'know, still a badass little number, right?


Krugman's error

>> Monday, August 15, 2011

I feel a little intimidated by what I'm about to do--I'm about to say a Nobel laureate is dead wrong in an area in which he has far more expertise than I ever will. But, it is what it is: he makes a simple misstatement and thereby possibly invalidates his entire point.

I'm talking about Paul Krugman's recent piece in The New York Times, "The Texas Unmiracle" (August 14th, 2011), in which he comments on the Texas economy, likely to be a talking point for newest Presidential contender Governor Rick Perry. It's worth a read insofar as Krugman makes some excellent points about unemployment in Texas (lower than California, higher than Massachusetts), the effects of population on maintaining growth (or at least offsetting shrinkage), and related topics. But then Krugman gets to this unbearable howler:

...the rapid growth in the Texas work force keeps wages low--almost 10 percent of Texan workers earn the minimum wage or less, well above the national average--and these low wages give corporations an incentive to move production to the Lone Star State.

So Texas tends, in good years and bad, to have higher job growth than the rest of America. But it needs lots of new jobs just to keep up with its rising population--and as those unemployment comparisons show, recent employment growth has fallen well short of what’s needed.

If this picture doesn’t look very much like the glowing portrait Texas boosters like to paint, there’s a reason: the glowing portrait is false.

Still, does Texas job growth point the way to faster job growth in the nation as a whole? No.

What Texas shows is that a state offering cheap labor and, less important, weak regulation can attract jobs from other states. I believe that the appropriate response to this insight is "Well, duh." The point is that arguing from this experience that depressing wages and dismantling regulation in America as a whole would create more jobs--which is, whatever Mr. Perry may say, what Perrynomics amounts to in practice--involves a fallacy of composition: every state can't lure jobs away from every other state.

It's hard to believe a man as erudite and perceptive as Mr. Krugman would make such a glaring mistake, unless he possibly did it on purpose. Notice the way he treats the United States as a closed system: "every state can't lure jobs away from every other state." But that isn't what Governor Perry will do for the United States if he's elected to bring the Texas miracle to all fifty states. As President, Perry won't be looking to put Texas into competition for jobs with North Carolina or New York or wherever--he'll be looking at putting the entire United States into competition with the world!

That is to say, President Perry will further the agenda of the Republican party in stemming the flood of jobs away from our country by making us competitive again. And to do this, clearly, instead of exporting manufacturing jobs to China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, the Philippines, Mexico, Swaziland, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Indonesia, Honduras, et al., we need to make American labor attractive to investors in those countries so that they'll send their manufacturing and other labor needs here.

How is it fair or sensible that American consumers are expected to buy clothing made in a sweatshop in Vietnam or a luxury electronics item made by a suicidal Chinese assembly line worker? It's just stupid, obviously. It ought to be that the laborer in Vietnam is buying a cheap t-shirt sewn together in Oklahoma or the Chinese consumer is buying an iPod assembled in Indiana. So why aren't they? It's because the United States have collectively enacted a grotesquely anti-capitalist legal system that stymies entrepreneurial investment and creative effort. Karl Marx would be proud of us.

American households are suffering, but have you ever stopped to consider that in a family consisting of a father, a mother and 2.5 children, there are 2.5 members of the household who consume without giving anything back to the family? Every day, in dozens of countries around the world, children--far more clever and capable and resilient than we tend to give credit for, instead we prefer to infantilize and coddle them--get up in the morning and pump water for the cow before walking to a factory to learn and practice the manual dexterity required to stitch together a tennis shoe; a useful skill calling back to a noble trade that lazy Americans are evidently too good for. (I think "Cobbling, Not Coddling" is a catchy motto that could be employed by the Perry regime's Ministry For Work, don't you?)

Instead of fully employing this country's potential workforce, however, we let them get fat and stupid with their XBoxes and bags of deep-fried lardbombs. Do they have an obesity epidemic in Swaziland? Do they complain that the kids never get up and do anything in Bangladesh? I doubt it, because those children aren't barred from participating in their homelands' versions of the Protestant Work Ethic by paternalistic Big Governments forbidding "child labor".

Let's concede, in all fairness, that there may have been a time in which child labor laws were necessary or virtuous. No doubt we've all seen a film adaptation of some left-wing propaganda screed by Charles Dickens or his ilk in which a "poor" orphan child (better dressed than anybody you're likely to see in a photograph taken in Somalia, I tell you what) is portrayed moaning and weeping on the floor of some grim and filthy Victorian industrial hellhouse. But when's the last time you saw such a building or such a child? Clearly, child labor laws have worked and therefore are no longer necessary.

Or consider the ways in which this country hobbles growth by forcing employers to spend extra money transporting their waste to special and remote locations when there's usually a ready source of running water or vacant lot right there in the vicinity, so close they could pipe the waste right into the water or have a couple of strong young men carry the barrels over in a handcart without wasting money on a dumptruck or whatever (we're talking about maximizing profits for the shareholders, which in turn creates jobs--money spent on a pickup truck is money taken away from a job-creating investor, remember that).

Don't even get me started on air pollution. This is a problem we've created for ourselves and a problem we can solve for ourselves. Let's accept, for argument's sake, that human beings have added greenhouse gases--particularly carbon dioxide and methane--to the atmosphere and precipitated a runaway greenhouse effect, causing global temperatures to rise with attendant ill and unpredictable effect. The "solution" that is commonly proposed is what? It's to control emissions.

Which is exactly what got us into this mess in the first place!

I mean the regulations, not the emissions. Look, focusing on greenhouse gases is only a part of the environmental equation; the other major component is the amount of sunlight that penetrates the upper layers of the atmosphere and warms it. Sunlight that doesn't penetrate the atmosphere--that is reflected back into space or absorbed and radiated back--isn't light that is adding to the temperature.

Consider, for instance, what has happened in any number of major volcanic eruptions: the Earth itself has pumped out vast quantities of atomized rock and dust, creating vast clouds of particulates that have shrouded the Earth for months on end and raised the Earth's albedo--creating global cooldowns such as the one that followed the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa or the 1815 eruption of Mt. Tambora, which is credited with causing the "Year Without A Summer".

And yet, presented with ample opportunities to fill the sky with beautiful, cooling, world-saving soot and fumes, we have insisted that corporations eliminate jobs by installing devices to "clean" the air! If we allowed things to run their proper course, we could probably balance out the problems caused by CO2 emissions by simultaneously reducing the amount of sunlight actually penetrating the atmosphere. But no. So-called progressives ("Luddites" is more like it) stand in the way of true technological progress and insist that the natural chemical outputs of coal burning and other industrial processes cause respiratory ailments and increase cancer rates and so on. Even if they're correct, what are a few lives if it saves the human race? Besides which, children with respiratory ailments are children who need doctors, which promotes the economic well-being of the whole: imagine the great circle of a child taking his month's wages to a physician for a treatment of his chronic bronchitis, whereupon the physician takes the money he's collected from a hundred such children and uses it to buy a clean shirt from a capitalist, who in turn reinvests a portion of that money by paying the children in his shirt factory (minus what they don't get for being out sick all the time); it's a bit simplified and there might be other players, but you get the idea, this is what a functioning economy looks like, free of meddling by bureaucrats and central planners.

I may have digressed, so allow me to summarize: Krugman is wrong because he seems to assume President Perry will have states competing with each other for jobs, when the point of deregulation and low taxes is to create a regime where this country can compete internationally. Doing so will solve the unemployment problem, will alleviate various societal ills created by a culture that has too much time on its hands for The Twitter and PlayStation and computer porn, and will reverse the immigration crisis (not only will Mexicans want to stay at home, but, indeed, American housekeepers, day laborers and landscapers will be sneaking across the Mexican border looking for financial opportunities--let's see how much they like it when the poorly-stitched-in-a-sweatshop shoe's on the other foot!). This will create a new golden age much like the ones this country saw under great Republican Presidents like Ulysses S. Grant and Herbert Hoover.

It's this simple, folks: if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. And we're never going to beat those third-world countries unless we play by their rules, so....

I think the way forward is clear.


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