Have they gone completely Canutes?

>> Thursday, May 31, 2012

...at the summit of his power, he ordered a seat to be placed for him on the sea-shore when the tide was coming in; thus seated, he shouted to the flowing sea, "Thou, too, art subject to my command, as the land on which I am seated is mine; and no one has ever resisted my commands with impunity. I command you, then, not to flow over my land, nor presume to wet the feet and the robe of your lord." The tide, however, continuing to rise as usual, dashed over his feet and legs without respect to his royal person. Then the king leaped backwards, saying: "Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth and sea obey by eternal laws." From thenceforth King Canute never wore his crown of gold, but placed it for a lasting memorial on the image of our Lord affixed to a cross, to the honour of God the almighty King: through whose mercy may the soul of Canute, the king, enjoy everlasting rest.
- The Chronicle Of Henry Of Huntingdon,
edited and translated by Thomas Forester (1853), p. 199


You may know, already: the whole King Canute story--the famous one, as told above by Henry Of Huntingdon--is grossly misunderstood the way it's usually referenced. It often seems to be used as an example of hubris, when the original story was all about the humility. Indeed, there are some proper versions of it that lay the setup on a little thick: Canute's advisors are standing around flattering him when he basically says, "Fine, take me down to the ocean and we'll see just how fine and mighty I am." And then when his feet get wet, he pretty much tells his advisors, "Up yours." I may be paraphrasing that a little. Anyway, it isn't a story about arrogance at all: Canute's point in going down to the seaside (assuming for the sake of argument there's any truth in the legend at all) was to practically demonstrate just how small and temporal the power of earthly kings really is. You might be the awesomest Anglo-Saxon king ever, but the tide keeps on rolling in and out. (And then the Normans come round and kick your family out of England, but that's a whole 'nother story.)

Less humble and more hubristic would be the North Carolina General Assembly, which (you may have already heard) is considering a bill (PDF link) that would limit coastal planners' ability to use actual science to anticipate sea level changes, requiring projections of rising levels to be based on linear projections of 20th Century increases. (Most scientists currently expect exponential rises in sea level caused by global warming.) This has been commented on at Scientific American's website and elsewhere, though I'm not a hundred percent sure the stupidity of the proposed bill has been correctly diagnosed. There is, perhaps, an ideological component to it in that the supporters of the bill appear to be state politicians who are on the record as climate change deniers, true; but the more profoundly stupid problem with the whole thing is that the real sin here probably isn't pride, but greed.

I.e. picture, if you will, a version of the King Canute fable where, instead of commanding the sea to stop and then announcing his humility before God and nature when it doesn't listen, Canute suggests to his courtiers that this would be a nice place to put up some hotels and beach houses only to shrug and say, "Huh, how about that?" when they all get washed out into the middle of the Atlantic ocean. This isn't a version where Canute is the proverbial good Christian king early British chroniclers loved to populate their histories with as part of their centuries-long project to weave a myth of British manifest destiny from William The Conqueror to Queen Victoria, Hastings to India; this is the version where Canute is just kind of a dick, y'know?

I mean, the convenient thing about this example of climate change denialism for the denialists is how projecting sea level changes on a linear basis lets them justify doing what they really want to do, which is develop the coast. If the ocean is going to rise up feet and not inches, a golf course with a sweeping view of the Atlantic might be kind of a bad investment. Which is why I think the deniers in this case are really more results oriented than anything else: if it were more convenient to embrace climate change and make some kind of short-term profit off of selling future beachfront property in Robeson County, I think you'd see these guys hugging all the climate scientists they could get their arms around and maybe even humping their legs.

Which is why the part that makes me a little angry and bitter about the whole thing isn't that it makes my home state look stupid. Actually, I think we covered that about three weeks ago. The part that makes me a little angry and bitter is that I can see where this is going, which is they go through with all sorts of development on the coast, some of it probably funded with various tax incentives, too, and then the ocean eats all of it and everybody who got soaked (literally) gets some kind of disaster relief and/or taxpayer-funded relief because, Neptune knows, we can't have a bunch of impoverished speculators floating adrift when we even told them it was perfectly okay to build there. This is actually a big part of the history of coastal development in this state already: much of the North Carolina coast consists of unstable waterlogged sand anyway, so whenever a big storm blows through and does a number on all the development out there, we end up with everybody arguing about who's going to pay for it, the taxpayers or the insurance companies or the poor sons-of-bitches who somehow thought it was a good idea to build a house out there in the first place. And here's the part where I have to say I'm all about the socialism and the safety net, but even I have my limit where I have to say maybe the fact the precious beachfront lot you bought lost a few square feet a year was a sign your house wasn't going to be there forever. (Shoulda bought something in the mountains: those fuckers have been there for nearly five hundred million years. Nothing lasts forever, but by Crom, that's close.)

I guess I need to make sure I'm the hoopy frood who knows where his towel is. I see myself, and a buncha other taxpayers, taking a nice long bath in a coupla years.



>> Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I am shocked and appalled by the unmitigated gall of this pretender. Article II, section 1 of the United States Constitution is clear about the qualifications for President:

No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty five years, and been fourteen Years a resident within the United States.

Many have argued the natural-born citizen requires a candidate for President to be the child of two American citizens and born on United States soil. Tragic, then, that one of the two major political parties appears to be on the verge of nominating a candidate who fails this basic requirement.

Willard Mitt Romney's father, George Wilcken Romney, was a Mexican!

It's true! George Romney was born in Galeana, in the state of Chihuahua, on July 8th, 1907. Therefore, George Romney was a Mexican citizen, and his son, Mitt Romney, is not the child of two American citizens and therefore is ineligible to serve as President of the United States. It seems incredible to me that nobody is calling attention to this fact, and I have to ask: what are the Republicans trying to pull, here? You know, it seems like they often are the ones talking about people coming from Mexico to steal American jobs, too? Well, I guess they're right: apparently a Mexican fellow came up here and stole the Governorship of Michigan from a natural-born American in 1963, and, failing to be content with that coup, decided to steal the job of Secretary Of Housing And Urban Development during the Nixon Administration. And now his son is trying to steal the Presidency!


This was called to my attention by the Romney campaign's release of a document related to Mitt Romney's alleged American birth. I put it to you that way, because if you go to what has been provided (PDF link), you'll see that it is not, in fact, a birth certificate, but a crude forgery of a purported "Certificate Of Live Birth" from Señor Romney's adopted state of Michigan, where the itinerant politician chose to have his "anchor baby".

We know it's a forgery for several reasons. First, if you examine the edges of the document, you'll notice the left and bottom edges have not been reproduced at all, having been crudely clipped when the forgers grew exasperated, obviously, with having to fake the intricate scrollwork of the margin. Secondly, if my eyes haven't deceived me, the font of the so-called document appears to be Arial, a computer font created in 1982 for IBM printers and subsequently adopted throughout the computer industry as a Helvetica substitute. Mitt Romney was allegedly born in 1947, 35 years(!!) before Arial was even created. (It's impossible not to note the amazing coincidence of that number, and to wonder if that was a deliberate "Easter Egg" left in the faked document by its creators as a kind of sick joke.)

What is unmistakably odd about the forged document would be two particular points. First, it seems weird that the forgers didn't try to gloss the fact that George Romney was a foreigner, listing Mexico as his place of birth when they easily could have added the word "New" and Americanized him that way. Admittedly, Mitt Romney has acknowledged his father's un-American birth in speeches, but (by the same token) Mitt Romney has also shifted positions on issues like abortion, state-provided healthcare and government bailouts of American industries; surely it would have been simple enough for Mitt Romney's position on his father's birthplace to "evolve", shaking the proverbial Etch A Sketch™ to shuffle the location a few hundred miles north with a couple of quick, upside-down shakes and possibly tapping the side a couple of times. Second, there's the obvious "flub" of the font; a possibility that suggests itself as a solution is that the document is, in fact, mostly authentic but was produced after 1982, making Mitt Romney less than thirty years old, and therefore too young to be President; this distressing possibility raises the spectre that much of Romney's biography is faked, and that all the claims of his purported missionary work in the early 1970s, prep school bullying in the 1960s, etc., are utter fabrications, designed to throw us off the scent of Mitt Romney's actual agenda, an agenda so mysterious and incomprehensible it surely must be terrifying.

Let's suppose, however, that the basic information on the faked "Certificate Of Live Birth" is largely accurate. We go back to the first question raised in the previous paragraph: why didn't the forgers hide the location of George Romney's foreign birth? I think this is probably the Rosetta Stone that leads us through the looking glass that gives us access to the rabbit hole leading out of The Matrix, sinking the battleship and advancing Uncle Wiggily three whole hops out of Candyland. The only reason for the Romney group to not eliminate evidence of George Romney's foreign intruder-ness is that Mitt Romney is proud of his Mexican heritage. This is a topic that needs to be analyzed at some great length: how did George Romney's Mexican values shape Mitt Romney, how was Mitt Romney defined by a radical Mexican agenda? One suspects there's more to it than an affection for margaritas and a lifelong passion for fútbol.

Students of Mexican history will recall that that from 1929 to 2000, a period of seventy-one years, Mexican politics were dominated by Partido Revolucionario Institucional, better known as PRI. PRI is and was a revolutionary socialist party, and while Mexico has ostensibly been a democracy since the Mexican revolution, during most of the seven decades of PRI's deathgrip on Mexican politics, PRI secured voting majorities suggestive of embedded, institutional corruption and fraud, marking PRI as a quasi-totalitarian regime (albeit one with arguably benevolent inclinations).

The Romney family allegedly fled Mexico during the early days of the Mexican Revolution, the same period of turmoil from which PRI's predecessor, the Partido Nacional Revolucionario emerged, founded by the radical leftist Plutarco Elías Calles. Suppose that these events are not coincidental, that there are threads linking the players and dates: the left-sympathizing, Mormon Romney family meets with future President Of Mexico Calles and they come up with a plan, a patient long game to be played out over decades. Calles will become President of Mexico, George Romney's father, Gaskell Romney (who we know accepted payments from Mexico in the guise of "reparations" from the leftist Cárdenas regime) will head north to infiltrate the United States. (Recall that Mexican pride and patriotism have never fully recovered from the secession of Texas to the United States, followed by the loss of most of the Mexican north--what we now consider California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and portions of Arizona and Colorado--to the United States during the Mexican-American War.) The Romneys' role will be to establish themselves as a "respectable", "American" business family while secretly working their fingers into the inner workings of American politics and commerce to bring the system down from within. George Romney, born and raised to usurp the role of American President, fails in his 1968 bid for the Presidency, forcing the PRI-Romney cartel to fall back on their plan B: Mitt Romney, a proud "patriot" who's really as American as a chimichanga.1

This, then, shows us what we can expect from the usurper if he is elected in November: Mitt Romney will immediately shed his "conservative" guise and proceed to completely socialize the healthcare system (Massachusetts being a test-run) and many significant areas of the private sector (PRI nationalized the Mexican oil industry in the 1930s; expect Mitt Romney, agent of PRI, to do the same). He will not only rescind all restrictions on illegal immigration, but Arizona and other states will find their "alien" problem solved as soon as Romney ceremoniously returns the territories "stolen" in 1848 to Mexico. Texas will also be returned to Mexico, and American-descended Texans will be forced to pay reparations to the Mexican government (with interest). Spanish will become the official language of the United States, and soccer--which we will confusingly have to refer to as "fútbol" will become the national sport.

Is this the future we want for the United States?

I insist that Sheriff Joe Arpaio, if he avoids indictment and/or impeachment, should form a task force immediately to investigate the mysterious circumstances of Mitt Romney's birth and Romney's questionable associations and allegiances with foreign powers. We know he isn't a citizen, but what we need now is the proof to justify the casus belli for war with Mexico--because infiltrating this country with three generations of spies and provocateurs is surely an act of war, don't you think, entitling us to defend ourselves at least as much as we needed to defend ourselves from Iraq. (Bonus: Mexico is closer and we already have lots of Texans who are well-armed and ready to invade as soon as the order to drunkenly drive their SUVs across the border comes down; an instant strike force and one in tune with the Founders' preference for state militias over standing armies, so it's extra-specially-Constitutional.) I am given to understand that Sheriff Arpaio has been investigating President Obama's qualifications to be President, a mission that has little bearing on his portfolio of duties (though it does provide a rationale for a Hawaiian vacation, expenses paid); the matter I'm demanding he look into ought to be a far more immediate concern to him if he doesn't want to be speaking Mexican on January 22nd.

The public has a right to know! ¿Hablas a español, Sr. Romney?

(A tip'o'th' old hat to Mark at News Corpse for pointing out some of the problems with the alleged "Romney document".)

1Wheels within wheels: the spell-checker in my browser doesn't like the word "chimichanga", so what does it suggest instead? "Michiganite" and "Michigan"--coincidence?! Or is the Mozilla Foundation a part of the grand web of lies and deceit?!


Star Wars: The Old Republic: David Brin, Star Trek, and how much it sucks being special

>> Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I've been playing Star Wars: The Old Republic a bit since it came out. I've never particularly been an MMORPG player, and TOR is the first real one I've played (the first one I've played at all if you don't count things like Echo Bazaar or Urban Dead).

It's been a decidedly mixed bag, but I think on the whole--at this point, at least, about six months since the release--more negative than positive. The first couple of weeks, when the servers were full and the whole experience was new, the sight of avatars for hundreds of people from all over the country bouncing around my screen was something else, and if you've been a Star Wars fan for nearly forty years, there's something about standing on a rendered version of Coruscant watching the jetcars pass overhead or futzing around with your very own lightsaber. Looking at two suns setting is an experience that doesn't get old wherever or whenever or however it's rendered for you.

But over time, the experience has turned into something repetitive and unspecial--grinding in the worst sense of the word. A lot of quests are duplicated for every class and every storyline in the game--go here, kill this many guys; go there, interact with an object, return. A lot of that may sound like your typical videogame experience, of course, but BioWare, the company helming TOR, had a reputation for putting stories and characters at the forefront of the gaming experience. Games like the original Neverwinter Nights; Baldur's Gate; Dragon Age: Origins;the first two Mass Effect games; Jade Empire and Bioware's first Star Wars offering, Knights Of The Old Republic, were all justly heralded as standout contributions to the field of computer gaming and sometimes even proffered as rebuttals to critics like Roger Ebert who have contended videogames aren't art (though that may be a bit much). When the announcement came down that BioWare was doing an MMORPG, even people with little or no interest in MMORPGs (e.g. yours truly) took notice.

The other night, a friend who's also been playing the game commented that the game wasn't giving him the feeling he was making his mark on the galaxy the way the publishers had promised. I know what he means. And it gets me to thinking about David Brin's fairly-well-known takedown of Star Wars in Salon back when Phantom Menace came out.

I feel like I need to say at the outset that I've never especially or entirely agreed with Brin's critique, and I think Brin misses some things about Star Wars and Star Trek; but I also think he makes some fair points, including some of the ones I don't quite agree with.

The chief beef Brin has with Star Wars is that it's a kind of elitist fantasy--the main character (or at least the guys who are supposed to be the two main characters of the trilogies) are guys who are born special and with their special destinies they go making special choices to effectively change or control the lives of billions and billions of creatures all over the galaxy. And this is kind of a valid point. (Brin goes on to gloss the idea that Star Trek's Federation is presented as a kind of benign fascism and Trek doesn't really offer an equivalent to by-their-own-bootstraps rabble-rousers like Han Solo and Lando Calrissian--unless you count a few troublemakers-of-the-week like Henry Mudd or Cyrano Jones, and who does; but nevermind, that's getting away from the point.) Star Wars, like the Harry Potter stories and quite a lot of fantasy, really, is an empowerment fantasy: you, the audience, might think you're some mundane, boring, banal, constantly-put-upon schlub, but there's always the off chance your parents aren't your parents and you are, in fact, a wizard. And to be fair to Brin, whatever ideologically troublesome (or simply incoherent) features the Trek universe offers, it is a democratic fantasy setting in the sense Brin would mean; one of the cute oddities of Trek is that Our Special Heroes are somehow presented as average even all those times they're uniquely situated to save the universe again--Kirk is merely a captain (and only briefly--for two movies--an admiral and he doesn't like it much), Picard and Riker routinely get to introduce a Special Guest Star as a "legend" or personal "hero" (leaving you to wonder, perhaps, if Picard and Riker single-handedly defeated the Borg a half dozen times, what the hell did these grizzled old men who usually end up being depressingly fallible do in their good old days).

The biggest thing I disagree with Brin about on that particular point is, I don't see "elitist" fantasies as being a great honking evil that has some terrible corrosive effect on society or the psyche or Western civilization or whatever. That kind of thing as always been around--I'm not meaning to commit a normative fallacy there, it's more that I just don't see any alleged harm in those kinds of work when I look back over the evidence from the time of, say, Homer, to the present. Yeah, so I can imagine how someone might get self-absorbed with a personal fantasy that they're some kind of chosen one, and I can see how that person might do a bit of harm if, say f'r'instance, they convinced a lot of people to move to Guyana and live on hunger-rations in a compound in the jungle preparing to commit mass-suicide. On the other hand, you might as well think you're special yourself because, let's be brutally honest here, you'll be damned lucky in your life if anyone else ever does; for gods' sake, imagine you're a genetically-select space wizard for two hours, you might find school or work a little less depressing.

But the point of all of this is: if Star Wars is, in a lot of ways at least, a kind of elitist fantasy (and that may or may not be a bad thing, depending on whether or not you're David Brin or the Star Wars kid), it occurs to me now (and only after playing a damn game for six months) that maybe Star Wars is especially unsuitable for a massive role-playing experience. Because the thing is, even if you're not the cosmic Chosen One who'll bring balance to The Force or whatever, there's still only one guy who gets to make the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs or who gets to win an entire floating city in a card game. And sure, you could make a game where someone--and only one person, one player on an entire server--can win Cloud City or unlock the Kessel Run achievement, but the reality of how gaming works (as opposed to how storytelling works) is that you'd end up with one dude with an expensive machine and too much time on his hands unlocking every achievement and then a thousand people dropping their subscriptions and/or complaining on the game forums about how unfair it was they couldn't be unique little snowflakes, too, just because they had kids or a job.

What happens in The Old Republic is that old thing about "When everyone is special, no one is". I actually noticed this during my first couple of days, but when the server was full and you were still caught up in the wonder of "Hey, I'm in Star Wars!" it was funnier more than it was anything else: I had some guy on the Jedi training planet tell me he'd never seen anyone take out training droids the way I had while about five other people were doing the same thing in the background (some of them more efficiently, too). After going through dozens of missions and quests that are like that, that everybody else is doing too, the whimsy of being one of hundreds of equally-accomplished, power-matched superheroes wears off and becomes a bit of a sad joke.

And here's the funny thing in the Brin context: I haven't played Star Trek Online and I don't know how it rates as a game experience, but it isn't hard to imagine that it works better as an immersive or situational experience for the reason I described earlier: that Kirk and Picard et al. are pretended to be "ordinary" denizens of their television shows even though we all know they're not (because they're the ones we're watching every week, natch). Star Trek being democratic in the way it is, you're just one of the hundreds or thousands or millions of other Starfleet captains who must be out there doing the same thing Captain Kirk is doing every week; it's a big huge universe, and Kirk doesn't even get noticed enough to get a promotion until someone at the main office decides it's time to gussy his ship up and give it to the son of one of Kirk's former superiors. Does it turn out that no one in Star Trek is special which means everyone can be?

It seems to me, anyway, that The Old Republic possibly can't offer the experience anyone has ever had fantasizing about being a character in the movies. I would imagine, though I admit I've never really talked about it with anyone, that anyone who's dreamed of the Star Wars universe dreamed of being the hero in their own story in that universe, and massively multiplayer games can't really offer anyone that opportunity. Don't misunderstand: you might have opportunities to be heroic; but when it comes to being the protagonist or even a well-placed protagonist's sidekick, you and a million other subscribers, right? A single-player game can offer that opportunity--the story is written around your character's point-of-view. A well-run tabletop roleplaying game can give everyone at the table the chance to be part of a team of heroes and give every individual player a chance to see his character shine. But a massively multiplayer game can't possibly have that nuance; the only way I can think of for it to offer even an illusion of that would be to make the game an open sandbox with no story (ironically?), so that individual players could narcissistically write their own stories around their unguided, unstructured experience.

I'm not quite ready to quit the thing yet. BioWare has a patch coming that will allegedly improve the social aspects of the game, and that may salvage something of the experience. But it makes me wish they hadn't focused on something that was, again with the irony, one of their strong suits coming into the game--they shouldn't have tried to tell stories, they shouldn't have promised players they would be heroes in the epic narrative sense. They should have looked at making Star Wars democratic.


Pink Floyd, "Southampton Dock"

>> Monday, May 28, 2012


Pink Floyd, "Stay"

>> Sunday, May 27, 2012


Pink Floyd, "Us And Them"

>> Saturday, May 26, 2012


Pink Floyd, "Careful With That Axe, Eugene"

>> Friday, May 25, 2012

If you have satellite radio, Sirius XM channel 27 is running nothing but Pink Floyd this weekend. I don't have a problem with that at all, obviously.

I don't have a lot else to say and I'm expecting to be a little busy through the weekend. Have a good one, 'kay!


Bruce Springsteen, "Death To My Hometown"

>> Thursday, May 24, 2012

To-ing and fro-ing on the President's recent round of attack ads assailing Mitt Romney's time at Bain Capital. The President has doubled down, which I suppose he ought to; Romney, meanwhile, can't justify his own promotion of his Bain time as a résumé asset.

This is all cotton candy, really. It's a bullshit discussion because Romney's big argument, that running a business is somehow a qualification for him to run a country, is complete horseshit. But it's horseshit that some people gobble up with--forgive me--shit-eating grins because of the way we fetishize laissez-faire capitalism these days. So the President's counter-offensive, to the extent it's factually accurate is a thing-that-should-not-be, a rebuttal to incoherency; I guess he has to make it, it just seems pointless.

George W. Bush had private-sector experience, and he was a shitty president. You know I don't think much of Ronald Reagan, but conservatives love him, and he never ran a business a day in his life so far as I know. Conservatives loathe Jimmy Carter, and he and his wife successfully turned a struggling family farm into a thriving agricultural concern. Abraham Lincoln, arguably America's greatest president, was a complete failure as a businessman during the brief period--less than a year--he made a go of it, which may have contributed to his seeking public-sector employment. I mean, I could go on and on and on.

At some point in my lifetime, this bizarre meme entered American popular politics, that "business experience" somehow had anything at all to do with effective public service. It may have been during Ross Perot's campaign, when the two chief things anybody could say about Perot were "successful businessman" and "batshit crazy", and one of those would have looked pretty funny on a campaign poster. And now we have lots and lots of aspiring and serving politicians who will talk about their corporate or small business experience and say it gives them some kind of special insight into how things work; and this weird converse to that, which is that perfectly experienced public sector people will minimize their experience working in government and nonprofits (ironically, even Romney does this: he doesn't hide his gubernatorial service or work with nonprofits, and will even mention it himself sometimes, but it doesn't seem to be something he focuses on).

The United States is not a corporation. The United States is not a business. Corporations may have charters, but they don't have constitutions. The point in having a corporation is to engage in business in a manner that is profitable and limits the personal liability of investors. The point in having a government is to do things like promote the general welfare, keep the peace, enforce the laws, defend the nation from hostile powers, etc. These aren't even apples and oranges we're comparing, these are animals and minerals we're trying to hold side-to-side.

If Mitt Romney gets elected President, he's not going to be able to lay off Congress because their division isn't showing significant growth over the last quarter. If he's able to get a damn thing done (for good or ill), he'll most likely fall back on the cat-herding experience he racked up as a state governor before he needs a single thing he might have learned at Bain Capital.

Most likely, we have to say, because the truth is there's actually no job in the world, public or private, that offers any real preparation for being President of the United States. This is the most absurd thing about the kinds of discussions people generally have about whether one's résumé shows one has what it takes to lead the free world. The Presidency is a job where you're having a nice little photo op with a bunch of little kids and trying to promote your educational agenda (because you want to go down in history as the education president, natch), and some guy walks over and whispers in your ear that persons unknown have just wrecked a bunch of passenger jets full of people into three buildings and a fourth plane is unaccounted for. It's the job where you're having a nice enough Sunday evening when someone knocks on the door to let you know the Japanese have just bombed the fuck out of Pearl Harbor and they don't know how many men, ships and planes have been lost but apparently we're at war, sir. It's a job where your first day at work can involve standing in the back of a plane with one hand on the Bible and your predecessor's brains all over his wife who's standing next to you, and someone's going to get back to you in a minute-or-less when they find out whether or not there are Soviet bombs on their way or do we need to invade Cuba now or was it just Some Random Guy-With-A-Gun.

If you want to talk about résumés, I guess I have to point out that there's exactly one job on the entire Earth that will prepare you for serving as President Of The United States Of America, and you'll be shocked to read that job is serving as the fucking President Of The United States Of America. So if we want to make this a discussion about job experience over anything else, President Obama's already won that discussion. There may be a salient and even a prevailing argument that Mitt Romney's inexperience is trumped by other considerations--I'm not buying, but I'll let you make it if you want. But the idea that Romney is more qualified because he was a successful capitalist a while back when isn't it.

I wish in vain we could move on, already.


Dumb quote of the day--the blood is the life edition

>> Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I told him that I didn't think that was something that I was going to consider, since I had served under Pres. Reagan when he was my Commander in Chief when I was in the ARMY from '87-'91 and that I was a real fan of Reaganomics and felt that Pres. Reagan himself would rather see me sell it rather than donating it.
- the putative owner of a sample vial containing
Reagan's dried blood,
as quoted in an auction listing for said vial.

I'm not a fan of Ronald Reagan. I thought he was a pretty awful President when I was growing up, and the only thing that's really had an impact on my opinion is just how awful one of his recent successors was. George W. Bush lowered the bar so low, you can find yourself in a meaningful debate with someone over whether he was a worse President than James Buchanan (personally, I think "don't destroy the country" ought to be on a Presidential shortlist of things to do/not do, so I'm firmly in the Buchanan-Was-The-Worst-President-Ever camp; I'm also prone to think Nixon was worse than G.W. Bush, though I have to concede Nixon's foreign policy achievements might nearly cancel the whole "had to resign in disgrace to avoid being impeached and indicted" misunderstanding that so-very-slightly tarnished his legacy--then again, there's Cambodia).

But whether Reagan was a shitty President, like I think, or rode unicorns and shat kittens while fighting Sauron like Grover Norquist thinks, I think one thing we might all agree on is: if you had a thirty-one-year-old vial of Ronald Reagan's dried blood, he'd probably want you to dispose of it in an appropriate and sanitary manner.

Okay, granted: we all know that Reagan was not a fan of government regulations. So, perhaps, he would have deemed OSHA's advisories for phlebotomists and others handling blood a waste of taxpayer money. I guess we'll never really know if he would have vetoed The Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act of 2000 (PDF link). Could be he would have seen these kinds of measures as interfering with an employer's right to throw used vials of blood into dumpsters to be found by little kids and hobo vampires. So I'm speculating, actually. Maybe we can't all agree that the 40th President Of The United States would have preferred it if some guy's dead mom who worked at Bio Science Laboratories in Maryland in 1981 had, instead of asking if she could keep a used vial with traces of blood residue, put the blood in with the medical waste to be burned in the incinerator. Maybe he wouldn't say today, "Sonny, thank you for serving your country when I was in the White House, but would you mind burning that for me?"

Given the impact of Reaganomics on the poor, maybe he favored people selling blood. Just seems a little weird, is all.

The Atlantic says the auction isn't surprising, and I guess that's true enough, but it isn't what I mean by weird. At this point in my life, I've about decided my fellow Americans are mostly dumb enough to buy anything, and the way some people revere Reagan (and the way a lot of the ones who don't tiptoe around his name), there's nothing "surprising" about some yutz being willing to pay $14,404.99 (as of this writing) for a holy-of-holies, like some mediaeval twit paying out the nose for one of Jesus' several thousand knucklebones (at least the blood vial has some semblance of authentication).

I wouldn't be the least bit surprised, though, if the top bidder ended up being Mr. Norquist, and if his plan was to open the vial under the white-cold light of the moon on the next February 6 and lick the vial clean of whatever it contains. In doing so he might consume the spirit of the Reagan and take on the properties of the Reagan's soul. If it were somehow to work--Grover Norquist with charisma, can you imagine? And of course he'd have to become a Democrat, is the weirdest part of it, seeing as how that's the party most closely-aligned with Reagan's policies and rhetoric these days. (Yes, that would be weirder than Norquist eating dried blood, which is something I wouldn't put past him now. The blood of puppies and whatever adorable babies of illegal immigrants Karl Rove has passed over in his prowlings, I'd expect.)

Speaking of Rove, of course we have to imagine the possibility he and Norquist could get into a bidding war over the relic, which they'd need to settle in the traditional Republican fashion: a fight to the death with a Third World country with no air defense to speak of. That's right, "with", not "in"; they fight each other, somebody might get his suit wrinkled. Plus, these days (and as a believer in non-violence I'm loathe to be the one to point this out), if they fight each other, the fact neither one probably knows how to throw a punch would make it on YouTube in hours. Four broken thumbs and they won't be able to play golf with anyone from Lockheed Martin for months and where will our national defense be then?

As to anyone who's worried the usual suspects will be outbid by a Republican mad scientist intent on cloning Ronald Reagan, I think there's little to be worried about, there: it would involve stem cell research, so the whole concept is DOA. This is why we'll see a clone of JFK well before anyone clones a Republican: Democrats don't believe in the sanctity of life and Kennedy left genetic material everywhere. You can write Clinton into that joke if you think it'd be funnier that way. Also Your Mom, if she's old enough: that John Kennedy rambled far and wide.

(H/t io9.)


Dumb quote of the day--George Tierney of Greenville, South Carolina edition

>> Tuesday, May 22, 2012

You dont [sic] get to make the rules. I am the george tierney [sic] that made the comments to sandra fluke [sic], not to you..take it off google [sic]. If it goes to a lawyer, it will be settled in court, with me getting paid.


George Tierney Jr
- George Tierney of Greenville, South Carolina,
as quoted by TBogg,
"Internet Man Does Not Want To Be
On The Google Anymore"

George Tierney of Greenville, South Carolina ought to have thought twice about tweeting,

@SandraFluke when are you gonna shut that god damn dick sucker?


@SandraFluke the fact that you are a liar, a fake, and a grandstander, makes my point relavent. CRAWL back under your rock. CUNT

For those of you who aren't on Twitter, let me point out something you may not know yourselves, specifically that the "@SandraFluke" in the previous quotes is treated by Twitter as a delivery notice, i.e. George Tierney of Greenville, South Carolina sent those messages directly and publicly to Sandra Fluke and they appeared in her Twitter feed not only to her, herself, but to every single person following her on Twitter. Not only is it understandable that she took umbrage to insults sent directly to her, but it's inevitable that lots and lots of people would also take umbrage on her behalf, or take umbrage even if she didn't.

I'm not sure how a grown man doesn't reckon on the fact that Twitter is a public forum or use an "@" tag without understanding he's posting his comments directly and publicly to his target, or understand that he might as well be posting his comments on a billboard. In point of fact, he'd probably get a smaller audience if he put up a billboard. (Hell, fifteen percent of George Tierney of Greenville, South Carolina's neighbors wouldn't even be able to read the damn thing anyway.)

But if you're going to be an asshole, own it, y'know? I've got to say that much. You can at least give a fat fuck like Rush Limbaugh his due insofar as when he says something stupid and bigoted and offensive, at least his first instinct when he's called on it is to double down instead of threatening to sue a blogger unless the blogger "take[s] it off google". Congratulations, George Tierney of Greenville, South Carolina, you've discovered that public comments made publicly are public.

I wouldn't expect any less of a South Carolinian. Someone remind me again why the United States took 'em back after the Great Sedition of '61? Oh yeah: it would have been too expensive to build a bridge to Georgia.

But I have to admit, I'm not just piling on because George Tierney of Greenville, South Carolina is a misogynist with a profound misunderstanding of how the tech he uses works. Jackasses are a dime a hundred dozen on the Internet. And Sandra Fluke has plenty of defenders, whether I assume the honor of joining them or tepidly stay on the sideline. No, George Tierney of Greenville, South Carolina said something else that offended me:

@itsTaraElmore dear NC...rock on! fuck off to those who are whining...no one said you couldnt fuck, just no insurance for a gay couple

From North Carolina to you, Mr. George Tierney of Greenville, South Carolina: no, fuck you, asshole. First of all, not everybody in this state is your kind of ignorant, dumbass prick. And second of all, part of the reason I'm happy to call you an ignorant, dumbass prick is that that's not what Amendment One said, asshole: it doesn't say "no insurance for a gay couple", it says

Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.

So, first of all, there's nothing in the Amendment that keeps a private employer from contracting with a private employee to provide benefits, including insurance, for a same-sex partner. Second of all, there's nothing in the Amendment that permits a public employer (e.g. a county government) to offer benefits to the opposite-sex domestic partner of a heterosexual employee (though there may be some doubt as to how enforceable those contracts really are under the Amendment: technically, they're enforceable, but I wonder if a party seeking to void the contract could use the Amendment to argue unconscionability). Thirdly, the Amendment makes no distinction at all between gays and straights at all except to define marriage between one man and one woman as the only domestic legal union state law will recognize: therefore, it strips unmarried straight couples and gay couples alike of any rights they may have had in their domestic union, potentially impacting not just insurance rights, but also potentially impacting child custody rights, domestic violence rights, etc.

Or, in other words, one of the problems with what the idiots in my state have done is that it doesn't just do what they wanted it to. What they wanted, probably, was to ban gay marriages (including the issue you jump on, George Tierney of Greenville, South Carolina, you vacuous, uninformed, lazy-brained jackhole), but what they actually did was screw up all domestic partnerships of any kind whatsoever in this state.

Y'know, George Tierney of Greenville, South Carolina, you have a big, ugly mouth. You don't know what the hell you're talking about and you'd do yourself a favor if you made even half an effort to hold that micturient bladder of a brain of yours 'til the next highway rest stop before you sprinkled the world with your crude illiterate pissings. Or, to put it in the monosyllabic gutturals you'll comprehend: fuck off, dickhead.

(H/t Jeri.)


Dumb (?) quote of the day: ambiguous comma placement edition

>> Monday, May 21, 2012

As president, Mitt will work to expand and enhance access and opportunities for Americans to hunt, shoot, and protect their families, homes and property, and he will fight the battle on all fronts to protect and promote the Second Amendment.
- Mitt Romney For President, "Gun Rights"

Okay, okay, okay. Yes. I know. We all know what Mitt Romney's campaign website was trying to say, and what they did say if you read it the way they meant for you to. Which, yes, is grammatically correct. Hence the question mark after the word "Dumb" in the title.

But am I the only one who read that paragraph and got a mental picture of President Romney signing legislation to allow people to hunt family members? Yeah, I didn't think so.

"Mama, I'm real, real sorry we couldn't afford to keep you in that rest home you liked so much. Now I'm gonna give you a fifteen minute head start because you got that walker and all, but then me and yer grandson, Billy, are gonna get the dogs and start beatin' the bushes. Billy, now you stop yer cryin' and you kiss your gramma and put your orange vest on like I tole you."

This, inevitably, leads me into a thorny maze of ethical questions. I'm not necessarily opposed to hunting, but it seems to me you're morally obligated to use every part of the grandma. Which probably means violating all sorts of state and Federal laws about meat safety and corpse disposal. Plus, y'know, cannibalism is a little unnecessary, increasing the risk of passing along various kinds of parasites and things.

Of course if you wanted to go and take this seriously or something--well, why would you want to go and do that? I mean, this is just the Romney campaign chumming the waters for the NRA crowd. The usual nonsense implying that reasonable limits on gun ownership are somehow an affront to fundamental human dignities, when of course the First Amendment (just to pull a f'r'instance out of the thin air) has gotten along pretty finely notwithstanding laws against libel, slander, making threats, obscenity, committing acts of sedition and treason, etc. As for the assertion that "The Second Amendment is essential to the functioning of our free society," well, seriously?! I don't know which is worse, the idea Romney might be serious about that or that he's more likely pandering so much he might as well go ahead and paint himself black-and-white and go live in a bamboo grove to eat shoots and stop having sex.

If you want to go bag a deer, I don't have a problem with that. If you're feeling charitable, I do love me some venison, hint, hint. But let's not kid ourselves about whether that pistol you have in a gun safe in your closet is keeping the United States Army from having a twenty-year-old kid drive a remote-controlled UAV up your ass to unload a coupla Hellfires. And as for self-defense: maybe you oughta have stayed in the goddamn truck, George, and let the cops do their goddamn job.

Hell, thinking about it, maybe letting Americans shoot and hunt their family and property is a better justification for gun ownership than the tripe that's often offered up by the NRA types. Take a weight off Social Security and maybe get rid of some of these empty foreclosed homes, y'know?

(H/t Digby.)


Echo And The Bunnymen, "The Puppet"

>> Sunday, May 20, 2012

I find myself asking myself these days why I didn't listen to Echo And The Bunnymen in high school. I don't mean more, I mean at all; for whatever unknowable reason, they were a kind of black hole or blind spot. I had friends who listened to Echo And The Bunnymen, I was exposed, I heard the songs. And then I just ignored them. Which seems bizarre to me now: it's very obvious to me that EB were doing exactly the kinds of things I liked in a lot of the bands I was listening to; sometimes, they were doing things first that I was crediting other artists with, I realize now.

A coupla years ago, Urgh! A Music War got released on Warner Archive, Warner Bros.' burn-on-demand DVD release company. Warner Archive is typically stuff that there's some demand for, but Warner doesn't perceive enough of a demand to do a full-throated DVD/Blu-Ray reissue with all the bells and whistles; in the case of Urgh!, though, one suspects the demand would be there for a super deluxe edition (I don't like linking to Amazon anymore, but consider the new and used prices for the out-of-print soundtrack), only the rights are a clusterfuck nightmare; bands that have turned to smoke, bands that are still around but have gotten tight with their rights after surviving corporate screwings, bands that are sorta still around but there's one crazy ex-member who always does the exact opposite of what he thinks his former bandmates want to do, and then all the labels and former labels and successor labels that would be involved. Warner gets to float the bare-bones DVD with whatever their current licensing entails and doesn't deal with having to spend eight years seeing if so-and-so has a problem with this going in the bonus footage or who'll actually show up for a where-are-they-now documentary or comment track, whatever.

But I digress. The point was going to be: there's Echo And The Bunnymen and "The Puppet" (supra) and I'm watching this clip thinking this is one of those bands I don't like much but will put up with to get to Devo (or whomever), only to discover the song is really pretty kickass and I'm really loving the guitar and stuttering drums and the clipped vocals. Loving it and feeling stupid I don't already have a shelf full of Echo And The Bunnymen CDs. And then I start paying more attention when the GenX oldies satellite channel (sigh)--i.e. First Wave--plays 'em and I'm thinking, "Shit, this is really awesome stuff" and cranking it.

I imagine we all make mistakes like that, and end up discovering a band we already knew about years and years after. Probably wouldn't have made a difference in our lives after all of that, but, y'know, disconcerting somehow, sort of embarrassing in a weird way.


An open letter to Evans Green

>> Saturday, May 19, 2012


From: Evans Green (bthiem@ump.edu.pl)
Sent: Fri 5/18/12 1:49 AM

Although you might be apprehensive about my email as we have not meet before,I am Mr Evans Green,I am a Banker i work with Bank Of England,There is the sum of $20,600,000.00 in my Bank "Bank Of England" There were no beneficiaries stated concerning these funds which means no one would ever come forward to claim it.

That is why I ask that we work together so as to have the sum transfered out of my Bank into your Bank Account or any other account of your choice. I will be pleased to see if you can help me and also be a good and trusted person. Once the funds have been transferred to your Nominated Bank Account we shall then share in the ratio of 60 for me, 40 for you,do send me a mail as soon as possible for more details here is my email address: evans019650@gmail.com

Mr Evans Green

Dear Mr. Green,

I have to admit, what made me apprehensive about your letter wasn't really that I've never heard of you before, but that you headed your message, "**SPAM** FYI‏". Now, I don't really eat Hormel's most famous product all that often. Now that I think about it, the last time I consumed Spam was probably at a fair I went to years and years ago where a vendor was giving out pieces of fried Spam on biscuits, which I tried with some trepidation (fried Spam?!) only to discover that it was really surprisingly tasty and brought me round to a minor reappraisal of the merits of Hormel Food Corporation's flagship foodstuff.

Of course, that may not have surprised you at all: apparently fried Spam is a little bit of a thing in your home country, which received lots and lots of the stuff (Spam, I mean) during WWII as part of wartime assistance from the United States. (I guess maybe you Brits should have considered a Spam filter, ha-ha-ha--that's a geek joke). (I guess you may also know that Spam's status as a British staple thanks to the amount imported as wartime relief is what inspired the extremely famous Monty Python sketch.)

But then I saw something that made me really apprehensive. No, not the Spam (which is easily mocked but can be tasty, really, it can be, in modest dosages). What filled me with fear over your current situation was realizing that your employer, the Bank Of England, only has $20,600,000.00 in the vaults.

Now, that seems like a lot of money to me, but for a national bank, well, that seems like hardly anything at all. BOE is the central bank of your country, man, the primary financial institution underlying the national economy, and it only has around £13,031,376 on hand?! I mean, Wikipedia claims the Bank Of England is supposed to control around two hundred and twenty-nine billion pounds sterling in total assets with over seven billion on hand in gold reserves. I know Wikipedia isn't always accurate, but that seems like a pretty big discrepancy!

And then you want to take all of the money out of the Bank Of England, and deposit it in my bank!

Okay, so I admit there was a brief moment when your message appealed to the James Bond movie villain in me, and who doesn't have one of those lurking inside their head? ("Hmmm--things I could do with laaaaaserrrrs, heh-heh-heh....") But then my natural compassion got in the way and I imagined some little old lady going into the bank to make a withdrawal so she could buy a toaster for somebody's birthday and being told, "I'm sorry, Your Majesty, whole bank's been cleaned out by some Yank grifter." She might not even be able to sell her pearls, even, because your country would sort of be out of money, though I guess if the Queen Of England goes in and asks if she can buy a toaster on credit, they probably don't immediately turn her down.

But then as I think through this, I also see a flaw in your scheme. (Well, several, actually....) Your employer is authorized to print more currency, which means that even though you might be able to take all the money out and invest it in my bank, I'd think the Bank Of England, as soon as they discovered the vaults had been emptied, could just fire up the laserjets (laaaaaserrrrs, heh-heh-heh) and run off a few billion bills, or at least however many they could get off before the cartridges died. (I'm thinking that maybe they focus on really big bills, like that new £50 note they're talking about on the website, f'r'instance.

But I just can't believe your country is running on so little currency, and that you'd be such a despicable, treasonous little toad you'd make off with all of it. I mean, I appreciate efficiency as much as anyone and if that's all your nation needs, I guess I can overcome by native skepticism and say, "alrighty, then". But that still leaves you being an awful choad who'd loot his entire country and turn the proceeds over to a complete and total stranger.

Which brings up another flaw in your plan, you silly little man. I appreciate that you're willing to find out (possibly the hard way) whether you'll "be pleased to see if [I] can help [you] and also be a good and trusted person." Have you ever even heard the expression, "No honor among thieves"? Or, I guess, "No honour among thieves," you'd call it? Same thing. How do you know I'm not going to take your whole national bank reserves and keep it, perhaps just to teach you a lesson, or maybe to get some vengeance for that time you made Dolley Madison cry?

But I am a good man, so I'm not going to let you do it. No, Mr. Green, I will not help you steal all your country's money and deposit it in an American bank, and I have half a mind to report you to Judi Dench or whomever so she can send someone round to shoot you with a laser (laaaaaserrrrs) wristwatch or whatever. I'm not a subscriber to blind patriotism, but I would have to say there's such a thing as nationalist decency, and you, sir, need to give it some thought.

At least think of the Queen's toaster, for fuck's sake!

R. Eric VanNewkirk
Standing On The Shoulders Of Giant Midgets



>> Friday, May 18, 2012

I have learned something utterly appalling. Apparently, Iran is threatening to sue Google because Google Maps isn't labeling the Persian (a.k.a. Arabian) Gulf. This is a serious issue for Iran, as it presents a branding problem for the country: right now, their brand is associated with "Crazy Holocaust Deniers Who Want To Build An Atomic Bomb" (which confuses some Americans, at least, with another brand name: "Target"), when many Iranians would understandably prefer their brand be associated with "Forefront Of Western Civilization ca. The Year 1200 Or Thereabouts".

But it's an even more serious issue for me. I'll be honest: I depend on Google a lot. Google hosts Standing On The Shoulders Of Giant Midgets, Google is my primary search engine, Google is how I get directions, Google's Android operating system runs my smartphone (thus I get a lot of my computing tools and entertainment from Google Play), Google owns YouTube--it's just a really long list, and whenever I come across a deficiency in Google, it's really kind of an existential threat to me. What will I do? I panic, I freak out, I get the flop sweat and have to change my shirt (and sometimes my pants), it's just awful.

So I find it distressing, see, that there are unlabeled locations on Google Maps.

You know, like this one:

Oh yeah, I know what you're thinking: "What's the big deal about that?" Exactly! I don't know! I have no idea! It isn't labeled! I mean, the Persian (or Arabian, whatever) Gulf--that's pretty obvious on a map even if it isn't labeled, it's hard to miss and if you don't know where it is, you can always do a Google search for it, blam, there it is. It's famous and everything. And, y'know, if you actually happen to be in Iran, you can pretty much start walking west, and when your knees get wet, congratulations, you just found the Persian Gulf.

But that map up there--what is it? Gods only know. No, wait, they don't, they don't know at all: it isn't labeled.

This leaves me angry and insecure, and ready to sue. I'm coming after you, Google, with lawyers and what I like to call my "angry face" though I sometimes worry it doesn't convey that message, as I suspect it probably looks a lot like my "constipated face". But we need to stay on task here--this isn't about my face, it's about Google, and about that square mile of trees, grass and... and brown stuff. Well, tan, kind of. Straw-colored? Doesn't matter!

What matters, Google, if you're reading this (and you must be, because it's posted to your servers), is: I'm going to sue you unless you label the above square mile of stuff "Larry".

Why Larry? I don't know. It just came to me. It's a good name. It could be short for Lawrence, I guess, though there's already lots of places called "Lawrence" and I'm not sure if there are any called "Larry". Anyway, that patch of stuff looks like a Larry, or I think it does, anyway, and this is my hypothetical threatened lawsuit so we go with whatever I have to say about it. Larry, dammit.

I mean, see--how hard is that? Does that hurt so much? Does that cause massive systemwide failures in the Google Maps mainframes, the reel-to-reel tapes snapping while the ginormous machines with their flashing lights and beeping and clicking doowhatsits spit out stacks of punch cards and a loud electroncized voice barks, "ERROR! ERROR! ERROR!" Probably not. I'm pretty sure one of your Google Nerds could get that coded onto a colored square and stuck in a slot in only a few hours and we wouldn't have a problem anymore, now would we?

Okay, okay, okay: I think I know what you're thinking. Now you're thinking that this is some kind of slippery slope, and if Google gives in to my perfectly reasonable demands, it will only open the floodgates to lots of people demanding that various unlabeled patches of the Earth get named "Bob", "Steve", "Mary Ellen Bowdinski", "Murfleglopolis", etc. Don't be silly. I'll get bored sometime. There is absolutely an upper limit on how many featureless square miles I'll gripe about that anonymity of, and most of the other people on the Internet have an even shorter attention span than I do. So this is, at most, an issue Google will have to deal with for a coupla weeks, tops, unless it somehow catches on the way pictures of cats with misspelled and grammatically-dubious captions have caught on, and I think that's different, just because, you know, who doesn't like pictures of cats? (Besides Hitler, I mean. Boy howdy, last thing you wanted to do was send that dude an e-mail of a kitten stuck inside a brown paper lunchbag with a sad expression on his fuzzy little face and "U LIED- R NO SAMMICHES HERE!!!" written over the image in Comic Sans--just ask Poland.)

So, Google, get on it. Clock's ticking.

Tick, tick, tick.


Richard Thompson, "1952 Vincent Black Lightning"

>> Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sort of in a Richard Thompson mood this afternoon. Actually, what I wanted to hear for some reason was Richard Thompson singing "Atlantic City" only I'm not sure he ever has, or if he has, it didn't show up on a YouTube search.

Someone needs to get right on that. Mr. Thompson?

The thing everybody seems to want to talk about today, the "big news", if you will, is apparently some deranged lunatics (is that redundant?) wanted to build a Romney-supporting PAC campaign based on Jeremiah Wright until the New York Times got a leak on it and now they're all embarrassed over it. I have no idea what to say about this because, you know, anyone still gives a shit about that? Really? Really really?

This is the kind of thing that strokes the balls of people who wouldn't be voting for Obama in 2012 anyway while everybody else stands around looking embarrassed and confused. I might be more interested if Jeremiah Wright were some sort of 19th Century frontier lumberjack à la Paul Bunyan (because, honestly, isn't that what a name like "Jeremiah Wright" instantly conjures?), but, alas. (I heard that Jeremiah Wright once buried a golden locket given to him by his mother but then he forgot where it was, so he dug up all of what we now call Lake Superior--it was a hill, at the time, you know--and he never did find his locket but after rain filled that hole he'd dug, he finally had a place he could water his horse, which was about the size an elephant wants to be and was named Ralph Witkins. Speaking of Ralph Witkins: one time, Jeremiah Wright was going to sculpt a stone monument to his horse, Ralph Witkins, and so he gathered up all the stone he could find, but then when he finally had just the right amount of stone, he realized he didn't know a whole lot about sculpting and abandoned the effort; well, wouldn't you know, a few years later some guy finds the pile of rocks Jeremiah Wright had gathered up, and instead of calling it after Ralph Witkins, he goes and names the pile "Mount McKinley," of all things. But let me tell you about the time Jeremiah Wright got hungry....)

Anyway, back to more pressing issues: anyone know how to get a petition to Richard Thompson?


The bee's knees

>> Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The bee's knees. What does that mean??
- Robbin VanNewkirk, "The Bee's Knees",
Run, Robbin Bird, May 15th, 2012

She was being rhetorical, of course. Sister wasn't really asking so much as she was just clearing her throat before talking about running, chocolate and beer and posting a pic of her adorable cat, Gus. But this is the kind of question that can get under the skin like a splinter, one of those splinters you can wriggle the end off of but can't pull out from under the skin and now you can see it and you can feel it--it feels huge, not fractions of a fraction of an inch--but it's hard to get even with tweezers and maybe you hope it's just absorbed into the body.

What the hell are bee's knees?

Whether bees have knees at all is a matter of interpretation. No, seriously. They have legs (six of them, they're insects, duh), and their legs are jointed. But someone at Yahoo points out they don't have patellas, i.e. kneecaps. But then some actual physicians and researchers out of Cambridge (the English one) who do a BBC program called The Naked Scientists point out that all the several joints on a bee's polysegmented legs ought to be considered knees, notwithstanding the lack of kneecaps, so bees have oodles of knees (my phrasing, not theirs, alas), knees coming out the abdomens. (Not really: they're all attached to the middle part of the bee, the thorax, actually. But the abdomen is where things that go into a bee come out of a bee, naturally, d'ya see?)

Oh dear. We don't even know what a knee is. Yes we do: Wikipedia says it's the joint without reference to the patella, score one for Cambridge University. Only... only dictionaries reference that damn patella as being part of the knee, protecting the joint. Point to anonymous Internet people? Dear, oh dear.

Bees may or may not have knees. Possibly. It depends on what a "knee" is. We have now gone from idiom to science to Monicagate in three paragraphs. I win.

(It seems to me, anyway, that someone ought to settle the issue before we teach bees to play soccer. It's be pointless to even try if we decide in advance we can't offer them regulation equipment.)

But, okay, why "bee's knees"? I think we've heard this one, right? "It's the bee's knees", meaning awesome, meaning something is even better than Jake. And that's an apt reference that I'm sticking in on purpose, which we'll get to in a second.

First, though, I'm gonna confess I'm not doing any original research here. Wish I had the time, energy and resources. I have to whine a bit right now and say that lately I've really been missing those college days when you took your question down to the stacks and spent hours down there at the library, orienting yourself with the secondaries before girding your loins and wading into the primaries whacking away with your vorpal pen and aegis notepad raised high. Good times. I don't know if I even remember how to do it anymore, it's been so long, though I'd like to think it's like riding a bicycle, in the sense you quickly recover the whole muscle memory thing and can do it instinctively no matter how long its been, and not in the sense that your legs hurt in all sorts of places you didn't know existed (and some places, like your indisputable knees, you're all-too acquainted with) and then you fall over (and now you have bloody and aching knees, complete with possibly-fractured patellas, Yahoo and Cambridge will readily agree).

But what do we find when we go searching online for "the bee's knees" and the origin of that odd, odd phrase? The best answer shows up at our old friend, Wikipedia:

Slang for something outstanding or new; a fresh new style. Possibly derived from the Irish Gaelic béas núíosach, pronounced bæs núísəh, meaning fresh new style or a novel manner.

The best answer also being almost certainly near-total bullshit, actually. I mean, it would be really, really awesome if "bee's knees" really was a corruption of an ancient Gaelic expression, but the source of that claim appears to be what is credibly regarded as a specious, poorly-argued and badly-researched book claiming broad swaths of Anglo-American slang are all Irish in origin. Even if there weren't strong critics of Wikipedia's source, there's also the fact that Wikipedia's claim of Irish derivation is itself an outlier: there are plenty of dictionaries of English, dictionaries of slang, discussions of slang generally, discussions of "bee's knees" particularly, and the only ones I see referencing the Gaelic origin all appear to be quoting Wikipedia. Verbatim. The overwhelming majority of etymologies and discussions of "bee's knees" point elsewhere.

Specifically and plausibly (they're Jake!), to the 1920s. Dictionary.com vaguely alludes to "especially in the 1920s" (and adds as a temporally-appropriate example of usage, "Her new roadster is simply the bee's knees"). Wiktionary more helpfully says, "One of many such informal phrases coined in the early 20th century for no apparent reason, of which only a few have endured," and that really seems to be the heart of it. As Mark Israel points out, "the bee's knees" goes along with other absurd animal phrases of the Roaring '20s we all know with similar meanings, like "the cat's pajamas", and some we've all forgotten, like "the eel's ankle" (though that one really seems like it ought to be do for a comeback, doesn't it?).

Unlike some of the related expressions Israel mentions, "bee's knees" obviously rolls off the tongue; there's a nice assonance, as there is with "cat's pajamas" and unlike (sorry to say) "eel's ankle". There's a little assonance in "elephant's instep" but I think the meter's off and it's easy to see--no, wait, it's easy to hear why that one didn't catch on when you say it aloud along with the others in the family. "Bee's knees" is just there.

The '20s may be when the phrase caught on, but The Phrase Finder tracks it back before that, with usage as a nonsense-phrase in the decades preceding its use as an abstract superlative and (a presumably separate and distinct) usage back to the 18th Century as a diminutive (replaced, The Phrase Finder claims, by "gnat's bollock", another expression that needs to make a comeback). The Phrase Finder article at least appears to be well-sourced, though here's where we reach back to my earlier disclaimer: I'm not going to go back and check their primaries and I don't really have the resources to go digging for anything they might have missed, alas.

Anyway, the Phrase Finder piece is what I'd go with if I were you. Also, I can't resist pointing out they decorate it with a photograph of an attractive young woman in a low-cut number that shows a lot of leg, which may be an incentive for some readers. (I confess it didn't hurt my opinion of the post any.)

So, what does "the bee's knees" mean? Nothing, turns out. Turns out it was just flappers trying to irritate their parents by using an anatomically dubious bit of entomological etymology instead of just saying something's "nice".

I guess that sort of clears that up.


Santigold, "Disparate Youth"

>> Tuesday, May 15, 2012

So I know this is the second Santigold track I've posted in as many weeks. I try not to do that kind of thing, try to keep up the variety and shake things up as much as I have in me, but I'm a little obsessed with Master Of My Make-Believe right now, okay? I mean, it's just a damn fine record all around and then there are three or four cuts on it that are just knockout punches, right? Which is something you either already know or maybe you just need to play the clips again.

I really wasn't planning on posting music at all. This morning I wanted to say something about this beautiful quote from an unnamed "Republican official" that Mitt Romney was looking for, quote, "an 'incredibly boring white guy'" for his running mate. But after puzzling and puzzling 'til my puzzler was sore, the best I could do merely merited a Facebook comment: "Yeah, but I don't think Romney is allowed to run as his own Vice-President, is he?" I know, not great, right? But what else can you say? It would make for a kinda interesting bumper sticker, though: "Romney, Just Romney 2012"

I'm telling you, I'm not convinced Romney would pass a Turing test. He's basically like a version of ELIZA that's been written to cough out Tea Party talking points and bizarre bon mot about how crazy rich he is (e.g. "I drive a Mustang and a Chevy pickup truck. Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs actually. I used to have a Dodge pickup truck, so I used to have all three covered."). He even has this thing he does where he spits out a random guess as to an interlocutor's ancestry that's reminiscent of the way some versions of ELIZA will try to desultorily change a subject when a Q&A hits a recursive loop.

And then later I wanted to say something pithy and sarcastic about the completely predictable implosion of Americans Elect. Except, you know, basically everything that could be said about that was literally covered by Paul Krugman and/or can be res ipsa loquitur-ed from the Buzzfeed page logging "7 Very Bad Predictions About Americans Elect". Re: the Buzzfeed list, they only went with one Thomas Friedman quote, though they probably could have gone seven-for-seven with the Great Moustachioed Hisself, who's been dancing around and leaving puddles on the floor ever since AE launched (n.b. I do not know for a fact the Friedster has been behaving this way: I am drawing an inference from the behavior of some friends' American Eskimo, who has been known to behave this way whenever she gets unreasonably excited, though, to be fair, the peeing has become much less common since she outgrew puppyhood; still, I think it's a reasonable inference).

I think the thing that keeps me from being able to fully commit to directing lacerating sarcasm at Americans Elect is that while the whole thing is misguided, its misguided by a misreading of lots of reasonable discontent with the political establishment. I mean, I think lots and lots of Americans probably do want a third and maybe even a fourth party, or at least an alternative to the Democrats and the Republicans, but where Americans Elect goes horribly awry is in thinking that people want the alternative(s) to be more "centrist" when, really, its the fringes who are discontented. As Krugman and others have pointed out again and again and again, there already is a centrist party in America, and its called the Democrats and if there are "centrists" who don't want to be a part of it because they have some sort of instinctive attachment to Eisenhower Republicanism (R.I.P.), that's entirely their own hangups with pulling the lever (or touching the screen) for a Democrat and has nothing to do with what the Democrats mostly stand for these days. Meanwhile, I think it says encyclopedias that if you go to Americans Elect's "drafted" candidates page, the top ten people wanted by the few actual non-pundity people who participated in Americans Elect include Ron Paul, Bernie Sanders and Dennis Kucinich (I'm obligated to note they also include, ironically, Barack Obama); that isn't a massive cry from the center, it's scattered calls from the disenchanted and disenfranchised tattered fringes of the right and left. Basically, Americans Elect is kind of like the governor of New Jersey responding to a train wreck in that one Futruama episode, only, presumably, without the excuse that it was giant invading space brains that made them a bunch of knuckleheads. So while there's a part of me that kind of appreciates the impulse they're expressing, there's also that when your mom told you "It's the thought that counts," she was kind of bullshitting you so you wouldn't feel bad about (giving or receiving) a lousy gift; sometimes the thought really isn't worth all that much at all. I guess I'm just trying to say Americans Elect was a pretty dumb idea wrapped in something justifiable that the guys behind it were too clueless to understand because they're actually not all that bright.


Camper Van Beethoven, "O Death"

>> Monday, May 14, 2012

CVB's take on the Appalachian traditional. Like a lot of people my age, this was the first version I ever heard, possibly because nobody much listens to Dock Boggs anymore. That isn't a dig, just a sad statement of fact.

I feel warmed-over. My innards do not agree with my outards. A more sensible person might see a doctor, but have you seen the kind of people who go to doctors' offices? They're full of sick people, it's absolutely terrible.

That is a joke. On several levels, one of which being I don't think I feel bad enough to actually go to a doctor even if I were the sort of person who visited doctors, ever. There's the other level, right there: that under any circumstances I just don't ever go to a doctor and not for any reason as sensible as the fact their waiting rooms are full of sick people. I just don't like to go. A coupla years ago, when I was in my car accident, I probably would have left my broken wrist alone had I been left to my own devices: "Yeah, sure, my arm is swollen up to the size of a tree trunk and I can't move my hand, but I'm sure I'll be fine. I'll maybe stop and get some aspirin on the way home or something. Lots of orange juice, it'll be fine."

People will inevitably want to know why I'm like this; well, it's irrational, meaning not rational, meaning not reasonable. And therefore defies explanation, explanations bead up and roll off the imponderable surface of it like overpass spit hitting a really, really good clearcoat waxing. I can wholeheartedly agree with anyone who tells me I'm supposed to go to the doctor for routine checkups or when I'm feeling ill, and not only that, being a perfect hypocrite in this regard, I'm first to tell someone else they ought to go to a doctor when they complain of some ailment. That's different, you must understand: that involves people who aren't me going to the physician. It makes no sense, anyway, and I agree, and the logic of friendly and helpful advisors and people who care is unassailable. I agree completely, I should see doctors more often. And....

And it isn't going to happen. I'm very sorry. I just have to admit this up front. There's no good reason for it.

If Death were actually an august personage, scythe and bony fingers or no, my whole non-approach to personal healthcare might be more sensible. I could, I imagine, try to bargain, though on further thought I'm not sure with what. What are Death's hobbies, aside from the obvious ones like plucking kittens from the nest and breaking airplanes, etc.? Pushing old ladies into intersections against traffic and jumping out of the bushes to frighten joggers on their morning run, that kind of thing? Would Death be happy if I offered to buy him an ice cream cone with no limit on the toppings? Would he like a nice pen and pencil office set monogrammed with an ornate "D"? Well. Maybe bargaining would be harder that I think, after all. What we all do know, to be sure, is that pleading doesn't work.


Africa, "Paint It, Black"

>> Sunday, May 13, 2012

Yesterday's post, I mentioned listenting to the Aquarium Drunkard show on the satellite radio as I was driving back home from Raleigh. Folks, they were on a roll; in the time I was listening, there were at least two, not one, two funk/soul covers of British white boy music that reached down the song's throats, fumbled 'round a bit and then came back up with fistfuls of something nobody else knew the tunes had swallowed. This is a thing apparently. I hope I'm not bruising toes mentioning ethnic dimensions here, by the way; this is always awkward to me because while music reflects the cultural and social experiences of the musicians, always, the music itself is something that exists in this whole other space where that shit basically doesn't matter. Consider it some sort of koan or something, that culture is inseparable from music and irrelevant to it, all at once. Oh hell, this is all another reason writing about music is like dancing about--you know the rest; a lot of what you could possibly say about a song doesn't mean a damn thing and the art speaks for itself, so you should be listening to the damn song if you aren't already.

A sort of postscript: poking around a bit to find out what I could about the band responsible for this brought up this interesting entry on the album on the blog Record Fiend. Apparently Africa was something of a supergroup, though this appears to be the only album they recorded. Check out the post, anyway; interesting stuff.


Junior Parker, "Tomorrow Never Knows"

>> Saturday, May 12, 2012

I'm trying to decide if I love this more than the original. I love the original. The original is such a brilliant, fucked-up, innovative recording, y'know?

But this is just beautifully brilliant.

There was a moment, listening to this in the car on my way back from Raleigh yesterday, when I instinctively decided I liked this cover better. And then--this was weird, this was a weird example of how the brain works, sometimes--I said to myself, "Wait a minute, this is a Beatles cover--I love The Beatles' version." There was this cognitive dissonance where I knew what I was hearing was a cover, and I knew it was a Beatles cover, but my brain was not connecting "Beatles cover" to "Beatles cover" somehow. A little like seeing something and not believing you've seen it, only exactly nothing like that at all.

I don't think it was heatstroke. The day was pleasant, even on the cool side, especially for the South in Spring. The temperature stayed in the 70s the whole drive down and the sky was cloudless blue from horizon to horizon. The next thing to a cloud I saw were two planes high in the stratosphere leaving congruent contrails so it looked like one was chasing the other, though in fact they may have been, probably were, miles apart in horizontal and vertical distance. The fact it was just a little cool, a little cold, even, with the convertible top down and the wind of my velocity blasting through the car was deceptive and when I got home I discovered I had a terrible and unanticipated farmer's sunburn on my arms below the sleeves, my face, my neck, my ears. Stupid of me, I should have known better, I even have sunscreen in the trunk. If I turn into a gigantic epidermal carcinoma overnight, you'll know what happened to me; somebody feed Elvis and tell the ScatterKat I love her.

I had the Aquarium Drunkard show on the radio most of the way until it ended. The guy was playing hella good tunes and it was a perfect day to drive, sunburn and I85 construction, notwithstanding.


[hiatus 2012-05-11]

>> Friday, May 11, 2012


[hiatus 2012-05-10]

>> Thursday, May 10, 2012


[hiatus 2012-05-09]

>> Wednesday, May 09, 2012

I'm at a conference this week, so I'm going to let the blog take care of itself for a few days. Hope you don't mind.


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