Happy birthday, Ms. Bush!

>> Tuesday, July 30, 2013

In the wayback-whens, here's how we used to pirate music: there was a place called a public library where, in addition to all the books you could borrow and read without compensating the publishers, you could check out records.  As in vinyl long-playing platters, a format (ironically) I don't have to explain to the kids anymore.  (Who knew?  The compact disc was supposed to supplant the LP, but these days it really looks like long-playing vinyl will have the last laugh after all.  Anyway.)  And what you'd do when you got home, see, is you would run the audio signal from your turntable through a thing that is pretty much obsolete, called a cassette deck; the cassette deck, see, was the recorder-player for the cassette, the low-fidelity, easily-portable, highly-destructible audio format that was replaced by the low-fidelity, easily-portable, highly destructible compact disc (see previous parens).  A cassette was a self-contained unit containing a reel-to-reel four-channel audio tape; the cassette deck had a magnetic reader that would read two of the tracks while the tape ran in one direction, and then you'd flip it over (or some decks would auto-reverse) and play the other pair of tracks.  Looked like this:

But I digress.  As interesting as the history of home audio recording might (or might not) be, the only reason I brought it up at all is that there was one day in the mid-1980s, I think when I was 16 tho' I may have even been a little younger, when I was at the public library, going through their vinyl bin looking for something to check out, take home and misappropriate and I happened across an LP cover featuring a seductive-looking brunette cuddling with a pair of dogs, thus:

The name was not unfamiliar to me.  I'd long been a Peter Gabriel fan, and Mr. Gabriel had long been a fan of Ms. Bush's voice: not just on Peter Gabriel's 1986 single "Don't Give Up", featuring a prominent duet with this Kate Bush person, but I was enough of a cognoscenti to know her credits on Gabriel's eponymous 1980 album (still a favorite of mine).  Ironically, I wasn't yet aware that Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, who I regarded as a kind of god, had connections to Bush going back to when he helped launch her career.

"Peter Gabriel likes this chick, and she's kind of hot."  (The back cover, depicting a soaked Kate Bush being pulled from the water, was even hotter than the front.  If there's anything sexist about being obsessed with the artist's appearance, recall I was sixteen, or perhaps fifteen; no, I don't have that excuse now.)  "Enh, let's see what she sounds like."

And that's how I fell in love with Kate Bush.

She was beautiful, she had a beautiful voice.  She was so goddamn weird and eclectic.  She wrote pop songs that were fundamentally geeky--Hounds Of Love, f'r'instance features a science-fictioney songs about Wilhelm Reich and a dream of seeing the world from space.1  I became mildly obsessive, grabbing albums and interviews and whatever else I could find.  I became a fan.  And have been for thirty-something years, now.  J'adore.  She continues to be a crush for me, one I hope the ScatterKat understands and forgives (seeing as how she knew me when, the ScatterKat probably is amused at my expense more than anything: really, some things never change).

Dangerous Minds pointed out it's her birthday today.  So, happy birthday, Kate!  They, too, posted the "Hounds Of Love" music video, and there's a temptation not to copy their lead, except it's something like an example of love at first sound.  (I suppose you could be technical and point out "Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)" is actually the first track on the album, or that the first time I really heard Bush's voice was probably her chanted "Jeux sans frontières" on Peter Gabriel's "Games Without Frontiers"--nevertheless, I'm going with the title track of the first Kate Bush album I ever listened to and/or acquired.)  I am massively appreciative: thank you, Ms. Bush, for all that brilliant and wonderful music.

1The title track of a more recent album, 50 Words For Snow, includes a line recited in tlhIngan Hol, i.e. the language spoken by Klingons in Star Trek.  I love this woman.


Ten things about the George Zimmerman trial

>> Monday, July 15, 2013

0. It was so nice and dark and quiet beneath all that sand.

I didn't follow the Zimmerman trial very closely at all.  I don't follow public trials at all, usually.  The media always gets everything wrong, for one thing.  It's a lot too much like work, for another thing.  It somehow strikes me as unseemingly voyeuristic for another, a form of rubbernecking.  I mostly avoided most of the news on purpose, and I saw very little of the testimony.

1. What I saw was a mess.

Nevertheless, I saw a couple of YouTube clips.  The longest one and the only one I sat through in its entirety was the cross-examination of the medical examiner, Dr. Shipping Bao.

I watched Dr. Bao's cross-examination because several of the websites I visit for news and opinion lauded Dr. Bao for supposedly holding his own against Zimmerman's attorneys.  But that isn't what I saw.  What I saw was a hostile witness who came across as evasive or maybe even a little confused.  In many parts of the country, medical examiners are what attorneys like to call "professional witnesses", that is they're witnesses who participate in so many trials, they're familiar with basic courtroom norms like waiting until a question is finished and any objections heard and resolved before answering, addressing responses to the jurors and not just to the judge or questioning attorney, speaking clearly for the court reporter, etc.  A witness who is a career professional in some field but has never testified in court isn't a professional witness; he or she may do well for themselves, through luck or preparation or good sense, but they don't have trial experience.  Cops are often professional witnesses, because showing up in court for their cases is part of their job.  Professional witnesses aren't just prosecution witnesses: for instance, the defense might call a forensic psychiatrist who has testified in hundreds of trials to offer testimony about the defendant's mental state at the time of the alleged crime.

Dr. Bao may be a great doctor, but he was a terrible witness.  That whole bit where it turned out he was reading from notes he prepared in anticipation of possible questions was just awful--a professional witness would know you just don't do that, you can testify from contemporaneous notes (e.g. notes made during the autopsy you performed), but you don't get to take the stand with a cheat sheet.  I don't know how it played to the jurors, but as a defense lawyer I thought it made him look like he was trying to pull something.  I would have been happy to find out a witness I was cross-examining was doing that; sure, I'd play up my outrage in the courtroom, why not, but deep down I'd be delighted that it looked like the good doctor was so out to get my client he prepared a script.

From what little else I saw of the other witnesses, it looked like a lot of the State Of Florida's case was like that.  Lousy witnesses who seemed kinda clueless at best, contradictory and hard to pin down at worse.  That kind of thing is what costs one side of a trial their whole case.

2. Sometimes assholes walk.

This is how our system works.  Sometimes assholes walk.  Sometimes they walk because, technically, being an asshole isn't a crime even if someone dies because you're an asshole.  Sometimes they walk because the system is supposed to favor assholes walking--that whole classic post-Enlightenment legal principle that it's better for five (or sometimes ten) guilty men to walk than one innocent be punished for something he didn't do.

3. I don't know what happened anymore.

When Zimmerman said Trayvon Martin beat him up, I was outraged because I'd seen photos where he looked pretty unbeaten to me.  Then some other photos showed up and he looked kinda roughed up.  Claims were made by various parties and then withdrawn.

Here's what I think I know now: George Zimmerman was a wannabe cop who was cruising his neighborhood looking for crimes to thwart.  He saw a black kid in a hoodie who he thought was up to no good, and Zimmerman called the cops and the cops said they'd handle it.  Zimmerman decided that wasn't good enough, and ignoring the instruction to stay in his truck, he got out of the truck and followed the kid...

...and something happened...

...and George Zimmerman had a gun and Trayvon Martin had Skittles, and Trayvon Martin died.

That middle part?  A mystery, a puzzle box.  An insoluble puzzle box, because nobody knows what happened.  Hell, even if I wanted to believe George Zimmerman, what I think I know about memory and the way the brain works (or doesn't work) in a moment of trauma would require me to take even Zimmerman's "honest" memories with a large salt lick.

Nobody knows what happened in that middle part.  Not the morning-after conservatives who have decided Trayvon Martin was a thug, not the morning-after liberals who have decided George Zimmerman is a monster; nobody.

And that middle part, by the way, is what a trial lawyer would call "reasonable doubt".

4. It's about guns.

Actually, there is something I think I know: I'm pretty confident that if George Zimmerman hadn't had a chrome-plated cock supplement in his pocket, he would have stayed in his car.  And Trayvon Martin would still be alive.

I think you have to rewind it all the way back to that point.  It isn't about whether Zimmerman had some right to defend himself, though we should probably talk about that.  It's that it's hard to imagine that if Zimmerman had been unarmed, he still would have gotten out of his car; and getting out of his car was the proximate cause of whatever happened next.  If Trayvon Martin attacked George Zimmerman, it was because Zimmerman got out of his car.  If George Zimmerman threatened Trayvon Martin with a gun, it happened after Zimmerman got out of his car.  So why did he get out of his car?

Because he felt tough.  Tougher than the kid he was watching, anyway.  If he felt unsafe, he could drive away--he'd done what he thought was his duty by calling the cops.

No, he had that shiny silver courage in his pocket, and then he killed a kid with it.

5. It's really about guns.

At the common law, and in many states to this day, you have a duty to withdraw from a confrontation if you aren't at home.  At the common law, and in many states to this day, you have no claim to self-defense if you initiated a confrontation, unless you tried to withdraw and the confrontation was renewed by the other party.  And at common law, and in many states to this day, you have an obligation to use only proportional force if you are unable to withdraw.

These concepts make sense, which is how they became the common law in the first place: the common law is the traditional law, established by generations of judges and legal scholars after much trial (no pun intended) and error.  It makes sense that you can't go around starting fights, sticking around for them, murdering the people you bullied and then shrug your shoulders and say, "Hey, I was just defending myself."  It's a very commonsense approach.

From what I can glean, none of this is the law in Florida anymore, nor in an increasingly-large chunk of the country.  This appears to be the result of NRA lobbying, with states increasingly passing "Stand Your Ground" laws that remove a duty to withdraw, expand your right to self-defense, and immunize you from criminal and civil liability if you use excessive force.

This is pretty appalling, and frightening.

In another place and time, George Zimmerman would be expected to stay in his truck.  If he stupidly got out of his truck and confronted Trayvon Martin, he'd be expected to withdraw to his truck.  If Trayvon pursued him and started punching him, Zimmerman would be allowed to punch and push back to keep himself from being hit, but he would only be allowed to pull a knife or gun and exercise lethal force if Martin were doing so as well.

Florida law--and the law in an increasing number of states--is evidently designed to protect assholes.

6. It's really, really about guns.

George Zimmerman may not be a monster, but he's definitely a bogeyman.  I mean a literal, real, actual bogeyman.  Those of us who favor gun control are, I think, scared of two things.  The first is crazy people with guns, the kind who get hold of firearms legally or unlawfully and proceed to shoot up a school or movie theatre or political meet-and-greet because "the silicon chip inside [their] head gets switched to overload", as the old song goes.  And the second is George Zimmerman.

Or, more broadly speaking, assholes with guns.

Because if George Zimmerman is the gun-advocate's example of one of those law-abiding gun owners--Jesus.

We're scared of some nosy asshole busybody who feels eight feet tall because of his gun, who thinks he's Superman and Batman and Green Lantern all rolled up into one because he thinks he has the superhuman ability of stopping power tucked inside his belt.  If someone asked you what you were doing walking through a neighborhood or what you were up here, you used to be able to tell them to go fuck themselves without thinking they might draw on you and try out their best Eastwoodian sneer.

And while I'm not a big fan or practitioner of violence, you used to be able to walk up to someone who started minding your business and stick your face in his face and ask him if he had a problem; well gods help you if he has a gun and feels the least bit intimidated, lest he whip it out to reassure himself he has the power here after all.

And for those of us who wouldn't be inclined to walk up to someone and go nose to nose and ask what was up his ass, let's hope all of our neighbors are as intimidated.  A bullet goes where the laws of physics tell it to, and just because all the future George Zimmermans of the world were aiming at their interlocutors, doesn't mean their shot doesn't go far and wide and through your toddler watching TV two houses away.  Gods help us if everybody's packing heat: Zimmerman meets Zimmerman in the backyard, "What's your problem?" "No, what's your problem?"  If we're lucky, they only kill or maim each other.

Honestly, if I had to say whether I was more afraid of a bad guy with a gun than a good guy with a gun, I'm more afraid of a good guy with a gun.  What if he's an asshole?

7. Did I mention it was also about assholes?

Because if you didn't pick up on it, George Zimmerman is an asshole.  A monster, like his lawyer says he's been made out to be?  I have no idea.  A racist?  Yeah, but probably in a low-key way we'll get back to in just a second.  An asshole, though: definitely.

I mean, it's one thing (maybe) to drive around your neighborhood looking for things to call the cops about.  Though you have to wonder about a guy who's just assuming the worst and ratting out strangers who aren't doing a helluva lot of anything; I mean, even if we take a charitable look at Zimmerman's claim that Martin was "casing" the neighborhood, it's still just someone walking down the street and looking at things, which used to be something you could do in this country.  But then you get out of your vehicle after being told to let the cops handle it?  You follow someone around and then, what, you're a grown man and you can't figure out a way to de-escalate a situation in a way that doesn't end with you shooting someone?  Which I assume you were prepared to do, else why did you have that goddamn pistol?


8. It's about race.

Do I think Zimmerman would have followed a white kid around?  I kinda doubt it.  I agree with the press release the Southern Poverty Law Center put out:
Was race at the heart of it? Ask yourself this question: If Zimmerman had seen a white youth walking in the rain that evening, would he have seen him as one of "them," someone about to get away with something?
No, I don't believe he would have.  I don't think a white kid would have struck him any particular way at all--though, then again, Zimmerman is an asshole and he was looking for trouble and he had that gun that made him feel all tough-and-handsome-like, so maybe he would have.

I think one of the things that some people have difficulty grokking is that racism isn't just putting on a white robe and burning a cross in someone's yard.  There's also that tiny short-circuit most of us in the United States suffer from, that tiny synaptic gap where we react a certain way--even for just a flash--and react without thinking, jump to certain assumptions that have we have no evidence for.  I think those of us who are self-aware enough catch ourselves doing it, and if we're not in the next tier of racists we feel guilty and uncool.  The next tier of racists doesn't feel guilty.  And the next tier acts on it, and somewhere up the scale you do finally get to the people in hoods burning crosses.  But it's hard--I hope it isn't impossible, but who knows--to evolve past that very lowest tier so that the bad circuit is bypassed altogether and that spark never ever jumps the gap again.

I think Zimmerman's in one of those mid-tier ranges.  I don't think he burns crosses and I don't know if he uses the n-word; but I think he saw Trayvon Martin as a black guy in a hoodie before he saw him as a teenager walking through a neighborhood.  And if he did, he obviously didn't second-guess himself and say, "George, Jesus Christ, what's wrong with you?"

9. It's so about race.

But one of the ugliest things about this hasn't been Zimmerman.  It's been the way so many people in this country have been willing to label the casualty of whatever happened that night as a thug, the way so many people have stereotyped Trayvon Martin.  So many comment threads full of white panic about the black kid who surely was at fault here, and they can't be racist to point this out because George Zimmerman is Hispanic, so the people saying it's about race must be the real racists.

Well I'm not going to wholly disagree: if you didn't grok this from the penultimate paragraph in the last section, I'm afraid we're all the real racists.  It's just that some of the real racists in this country realize this is a problem and feel bad about it and want to better themselves and their culture, while an unpleasant number apparently want to embrace the racism and even feel good about it while denying it exists at all (neat trick, that).

A lot of Zimmerman supporters want to go well beyond what might be a reasoned defense of George Zimmerman, e.g. that he was apparently within his rights under Florida law, or that there's some confusion about what happened that night and Zimmerman was and is entitled to the benefit of the doubt under our legal customs.  These folks need heroes and villains, and if Zimmerman is to be a folk hero they must necessarily demonize the other, and the cheapest way to do that, they find, is to resort to stereotypes.  And when they get called out for resorting to ugly stereotypes, they don't recant, they double down.

And then, when their side "wins", some of them want to go all-in: if they're not the real racists, if the real racists are the black folks saying race was a factor in all this, there will probably be some civil unrest, some rioting, some vigilante justice.  It's hard not to armchair psychoanalyze and label this projection: these white folks "worrying" about retaliation wish they weren't so civilized and could give into their animal instincts as they're sure those people will.  This is thoroughly repulsive.

One of the conclusions a person of good will has to draw from all of this, I think, is that as far as we've come along on race in the past six decades--we no longer have de jure segregation with separate schools and bathrooms, we no longer have whites-only swimming pools and lunchcounters, etc.--we have so far yet to go that one wants to lie down in the middle of the road and die of grief.

10. But is anyone listening to themselves?

But I was less angry and embittered by the usual suspects than I was by my own fellow travelers.  Because as disappointed as I might be by overt, high-tier racists, I don't expect any better.  I am unsurprised by the way gun advocates spin this whole tragedy--it's hardly different from the last time they spun a tragedy.  While I'm not religious, I can't help recalling Luke 23:34, the perfectly apt quote for this kind of thing, these kinds of people.

But this weekend I saw a lot of Twitter tweets and Facebook status updates from people whose values I generally share expressing so much rage and unreasonableness, I found myself shrinking back in shock.  Some from friends who I in fact know, some from "friends" in the Twitter and Facebook sense, i.e. people, mostly famous or at least Internet famous, who I don't know in any way at all other than the things they've said and done.  I saw too many opinion pieces from thinkers I respect enough to regularly follow and read their blogs and websites where the writers frothed at the mouth without the kind of discretion and judgement I look to them for.

I saw responses reflecting a kind of disappointment I think is probably inappropriate: not just the disappointment that a young man is dead and a family bereft, but a disappointment that Zimmerman was acquitted by a system that is designed to acquit people where there is reasonable doubt about a criminal accusation.  As if these folks, disappointed in the result, could presume to know in advance what the result of the trial should have been.  As if the whole purpose of the trial was to proceed to the predetermined result of guilt and the only question was how much time George Zimmerman should serve.

I saw highly intelligent, educated, enlightened people seemingly confuse moral responsibility--that Zimmerman shot a child, whether he reasonably thought he had to or out of callousness, can't be disputed--with legal adjudication of guilt.  That the Florida jury could only reach one result, and that failure to reach that result could only be explained by racial prejudice, was taken as a given.  That assholes sometimes walk where there is reasonable doubt as to what really happened was given little or no recognition.  A bedrock principle of our post-Enlightenment legal system, that crimes are defined as specifically as possible so that citizens know what is illegal, and thus a prosecutor must prove a criminal charge as if he's following a recipe, and even a failure to prove just one, single element beyond all reasonable doubt is fatal to the entire prosecution, was widely ignored.  (C.f. Digby's honest acknowledgement, which I greatly appreciate, that the instructions for manslaughter--a verdict she thought would have been appropriate--could justify acquittal.)  People I think should know better joined people I don't expect to, to confuse acquittal with innocence when it might mean "not proven" or "whatever George Zimmerman did wrong, if anything, wasn't this".

I saw people repeat equivalencies that, upon inspection, proved to be dubious ones.  A popular meme compared Zimmerman to a woman named Marissa Alexander, convicted of several counts of aggravated assault after a Florida judge threw out Ms. Alexander's Stand-Your-Ground defense.  This was presented as evidence that an African-American woman could not expect the same results as a Hispanic male in a racist legal system, a proposition which may indeed be true, but the case of a woman who allegedly threatened her husband, went to the garage to retrieve a firearm, came back and then apparently fired several shots in his direction (her defense called them warning shots, it appears the prosecutor called them misses) may not, in fact, be the best evidence of institutional racism in Florida's legal system.  Other cases were mentioned that might be examples of why Stand Your Ground laws are bad ideas, of why firearm possession is generally a bad idea, of institutional racism within the legal system in Florida and elsewhere--but few, if any, writers did more than copy'n'paste a link to an opinion piece regarding a news item that might be distinguishable from whatever happened in the Zimmerman case.

Worst of all, I found myself thinking again and again as I scrolled through tweets, updates, comments, retweets, editorials, articles, posts, etc., how much the authors sounded embarrassingly like the other side would have if Zimmerman had been convicted.  It was not just disappointment, but the tenor of so much of the disappointment.  The knee-jerkiness, reflexive and reactionary.  I wondered if my side would sound as leeringly triumphant as the other side did now, if Zimmerman were convicted.

I found myself wondering why so many of my fellow-travelers were picking sides at all.  Wasn't our side supposed to be the side of rationality and truth and systematic justice, and not merely the side of a person?  I don't mean that we aren't on Trayvon's side as the victim killed too young by an asshole's gun-enabled assholery; I mean that isn't our side supposed to be the one that accepts losses with grace, that takes setbacks as momentary defeats, whose eyes are on a prize that remains glimmering on an eternal horizon however many times the forces of the unenlightened past grab us and kick at our knees?  Weren't we supposed to hope, not for a conviction, but for the fairest trial possible, whether or not we liked the defendant?  If the trial was fair, aren't we supposed to accede to the result with dignity and grace, accepting it as the right result, even if we find the chief beneficiary fairly despicable?  And if the trial wasn't fair, instead of finger-pointing and jeering and sneering about what else did anyone expect from the crackers and from Florida, isn't our side supposed to be the one that offers reasoned analyses and practical criticism, that takes an unfair trial in stride and looks for the remedies that might bring things closer to fairness, and if that isn't possible to at least make future trials fair?

Aren't we the good guys?  Because I think we sound like a bunch of assholes right now.  Not all of us.  There are exceptions.  But enough of us to make me feel down on our tribe right now.  What's the point if we're no better than the reactionaries and bigots?

We should be ashamed of ourselves.


Fuck Orson Scott Card, part-the-third

>> Sunday, July 14, 2013

The possibility that Stryka may have a legitimate reason to object to Ender’s behavior is never considered—her qualms are “fashion.”  A page later, Ender identifies Stryka’s real motivation (which Ender knows but she does not) as a fear of the stranger.  In this case the stranger is not the aliens exterminated by Ender, but Ender himself.  Stryka’s concern for the genocide of the buggers, which might be interpreted as arising out of a concern for the humanity of the "other," is presented instead as an example of scapegoating the "other"—but in this case the other is redefined as the exterminator,  not the exterminated.  This is a very clever stratagem:  those of us concerned about understanding the "other" are redirected from worrying about the alien to worrying about the killer of the alien, and thus our condemnation of genocide reemerges as a sign of our prejudice and small-mindedness. Ender is not the victimizer, but the misunderstood victim of others’ fear and prejudice.

Goodness is not a matter of acts, but of intentions, an inherent quality independent of what one does. "I don’t really think it’s true that ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions." Card stated in a 2002 interview.  "Good people trying to do good usually find a way to muddle through.  What worries me is when you have bad people trying to do good.  They’re not good at it, they don’t have any instinct for it, and they’re willing to do a lot of damage along the way." The import of this statement is that there are some people who are good before they act, and some others who are bad before they act, and that  goodness or badness is exhibited in their actions. These "bad" people can’t do good, and "good" people can’t do bad.
- John Kessel, "Creating The Innocent Killer"

I apologize in advance if I'm belaboring a point.  But after yesterday's post, I re-read Kessel's most excellent critique of Ender's Game and Speaker For The Dead and found myself with something else to get off my chest.  Hopefully this will be the last of it, or close to it.

As I say, I re-read Kessel's piece, and my brain kept coming back to those two passages, as well as back to the line from Card I quoted a few days ago about whether his opponents will be magnanimous (or whatever) in victory.  And what I found myself thinking again and again is that Card, if he agrees with the value system elucidated in Ender's Game, surely considers himself the victim in all of this, and that he can't be anything but the victim, and that supporters of same-sex marriage can't be anything but evil.

After all, Card is a winner even if he loses: if opposing gay marriage is supporting an inviolable law of the universe, it doesn't matter how many people he hurts by opposing it.  If the National Organization For Marriage (NOM) causes suffering, financial harm, wrecks families--that's all okay, because their intentions are good.  And those who favor gay marriage may appear to be helping people, but the truth is they're incapable of it because "[we're] not any good at it... don't have any instinct for it, and [are] willing to do a lot of damage along the way."  At the very worst, so long as Card considers himself "good" (and who doesn't consider himself good, really?) he'll just "muddle through", while at their worst his opponents will likely destroy civilization.

This may seem somewhat self-evident: it's the kind of thing that gets highlighted now and again when talking about zealots.  But the major reason for bringing it up here is that it means that Card is particularly and especially unteachable.  Many bigots are swayed when they're confronted to the exception that proves (tests) their previously unquestioned rule: the racist begins to question his beliefs about African Americans because of his friend Bob; the bigoted Protestant goes to an ecumenical outreach and discovers she has much in common with the Catholics, Jews and Muslims she breaks bread with.  And the homophobe has a crisis of conscience when his son or daughter comes out of the closet.  These are familiar narratives because, happily, most human beings are educable and we're wired to adapt to new circumstances, stimuli and data.  It may not be an instant process, and humans' stubborn streak may lead to all sorts of cognitive dissonances on the way to improvement (who hasn't heard someone well-meaningly but damnably "praise" a friend by announcing, "He isn't like most ______s..."?).

But Card has an out for himself.  There's no reason to reconsider contrary evidence if your core is sound, if you're "good" in some absolute, existential sense and regardless of what your actions might (erroneously) suggest to outsiders about your intentions.  Outsiders may see your board membership with NOM as being hateful; as striking out in fear or ignorance at an "other"; may speculate as to whether it reflects some inner turmoil, self loathing or grief.  But that's just them scapegoating you.  There is nothing you can do to anyone else that isn't inherently good, because you mean well, but anyone else giving you tit for tat is a monster because they don't, even if they (mistakenly) think they do.

Must be nice, living inside a tautology.

And note how neatly and nicely the first paragraph I quoted from Kessel, supra, deals with Card's straight opponents.  I might, for instance, be under the illusion that I'm supporting same-sex marriage rights because I think denying people marital rights is cruel, unfair, inefficient, burdensome, irrational, etc., and I might think I'm saying "Fuck you, Orson Scott Card" because he's being an asshole about something he could easily keep his nose out of (and by that I mean nobody is forcing Card to attend a same-sex marriage, nobody is forcing him to have gay friends; nobody is going to force him to attend a church that holds same-sex ceremonies or force a church he attends to hold them--he could easily spend his whole life pretending same-sex marriages don't even happen, ignoring them completely).  I am wrong, of course, delusional and misguided and (perhaps worst of all) fashionable.  I'm latching onto the issue because it's hip (not because I have family and friends who are gay), and it's awful narrow-minded of me to excoriate poor Orson Scott Card, who I misunderstand because I willfully fail to look into his pure, clean heart.

Based on the evidence in his writing, Card may not be educable.  He may not be redeemable.   Really, seriously, truly: fuck this guy.

I'm going to close with what I think is the definitive reason for Orson Scott Card fans to stay away from Ender's Game, though I suppose it might be grounds for someone like me to reconsider (not really).  It's kind of clear to me that in Card's mind, one of the most virtuous things about Ender Wiggins is how unfairly he suffers for being Ender Wiggins, and that Ender is something of a proxy for Card himself.  Kessel writes:

Card has spoken in interviews about his tropism for the story of the person who sacrifices himself for the community.  This is the story, he tells us, that he has been drawn to tell again and again.  For example, in justification of the scenes of violence in his fiction, Card told Publisher’s Weekly in 1990 that, "In every single case, cruelty was a voluntary sacrifice. The person being subjected to the torture was suffering for the sake of the community."  I find this statement astonishingly revealing.  By "The person being subjected to the torture," Card is not referring here to Stilson, Bonzo, or the buggers, who may well be sacrificed, but whose sacrifices are certainly not "voluntary."  Their deaths are not the voluntary sacrifices that draw Card’s concern. No, in these situations, according to Card the person being tortured is Ender, and even though he walks away from every battle, the sacrifice is his.  In every situation where Ender wields violence against someone, the focus of the narrative’s sympathy is always and invariably on Ender, not on the objects of Ender's violence.  It is Ender who is offering up the voluntary sacrifice, and that sacrifice is the emotional price he must pay for physically destroying someone else. All the force of such passages is on the price paid by the destroyer, not on the price paid by the destroyed. "This hurts me more than it hurts you," might well be the slogan of Ender's Game.

Indeed.  Well, I don't think we should deny Orson Scott Card the chance to crucify himself for the sake of the community, do you?  Granted, those of us who find the man's beliefs execrable (and who maybe even find the man himself a bit unpleasant as a consequence) might recoil at proffering the writer such orgasmic pleasure as he's likely to endure if Ender's Game is a colossal flop and the fiasco is blamed upon him.  Should Card be shunned because of his bigotry and unkindness noble intentions and inherent existential goodness, it would doubtlessly vindicate him and allow him to raise his head high in exhilarated exultation.  I don't believe you'd be able to find a box of Kleenex in Greensboro, NC, for at least a month (and you probably shouldn't sit down on anything if you happen to be invited to Card's home).

May I propose we give Card the martyrdom he so amply desires?  Everybody would get what they wanted.  Except the poor bastards at Lionsgate.  But, y'know, lay down with dogs and all that.



Dumb quote of the day: "Fuck Orson Scott Card, redux" edition--Ender's Game spoilers herein

>> Saturday, July 13, 2013

"The simple fact is that neither the underlying book nor the film itself reflect [Orson Scott Card's views on homosexuality] in any way, shape or form. On the contrary, the film not only transports viewers to an entertaining and action-filled world, but it does so with positive and inspiring characters who ultimately deliver an ennobling and life-affirming message," Lionsgate wrote in the statement [responding to calls for a boycott of their upcoming film adaptation of Ender's Game].
'Ender's Game' boycott"; USA Today, July 12th, 2013.

This comment contains plot spoilers from a book published in the mid-1980s.  The ultimate point of the comment would be that the above quote from Lionsgate's desperate press release at best reflects massive, fundamental changes have been made in adapting Ender's Game to the screen and at worst is simply disingenuous.

Before commencing with the spoilers, this: entering a partnership with a creator whose views have been openly on-record and a source of controversy for at least twenty years (since the early 1990's) is a gamble.  If someone wants to do a work inspired by Ezra Pound's brilliant poetry--and his poems really do rock--Pound's awful decision to embrace fascism is going to be an issue and you're going to have to deal with it.  If you decide to do another film adaptation of something of Rudyard Kipling's, you're going to have points raised about racism and nationalism; Kipling may be an especially apt example of this, actually, since there's been some constant effort to rehabilitate Kipling (a better and more imaginative writer than Orson Scott Card) since at least the days of T.S. Eliot and to whitewash--the pun is inescapable--some of the assumptions to be found in works like "The White Man's Burden" and The Man Who Would Be King, for instance (personally, and having indeed read some Kipling over the decades, I find it not only more honest but also more interesting to acknowledge Kipling's warts than to handwave them the way Neil Gaiman did once upon a time, but I digress).

Lionsgate, anyway, is no doubt concerned they're going to lose some money on their investment in Orson Scott Card, be it in the form of less profits than anticipated or an outright loss on the film, but that was a risk they assumed when they signed a contract with him and decided to pump money into an adaptation.  Pointing to gay-friendly Lionsgate releases like Gods And Monsters (an excellent film, by the way) is irrelevant (no, worse: it's a little along the lines of saying some of their best friends are gay); announcing they'll be holding a "benefit premiere for Ender's Game supporting LGBT causes" strikes me as outright insulting, somehow, though I'm not LGBT so perhaps my opinion on that point is off or just doesn't matter.

But let's talk about the quote I posted, and spoilers follow.

I didn't read Emder's Game in the 1980s, when I was a disaffected teenager and was the target audience for it and probably would have liked it.  In those days I felt alienated, misunderstood, smarter than most adults, that my gifts were at worst unrecognized and at best unappreciated--typical teenage stuff, though some aspects of my personal life were more harrowing and I spent my high school years depressed and even quasi-suicidal; I don't want to get into memoir and bring it up only because Ender's Game, a science-fiction book, set in the future, about a precociously brilliant six-year-old (Ender Wiggins) who is smarter than most adults (talks like an adult, too, as do all the juveniles in Ender's Game); abused by his older brother, Peter; underappreciated by his parents (two hazy figures who never enter much beyond the book's periphery even though we're to understand they had to have a special government dispensation to have Ender); bullied throughout his school career--this book would have been a narcotic to me, as it likely is to most kids who read it.

Instead, I read Ender's Game a few months ago, as an adult.  Unfortunately, in other words, with the sophistication to recognize exactly was Orson Scott Card was up to in creating a perfect child Gary Stu  surrogate for himself and his audience.  While I may knock Card's literary gifts so far as description, dialogue and characterization are concerned, I have to concede and even admire his gifts as a manipulator, a word that's unfortunately pejorative but accurate.  It shouldn't be taken as a negative criticism; someone once pointed out that, contra the Sex Pistols' reputation for musical incompetence, "God Save The Queen" is one of the most effective pop songs ever written, devastatingly accurate in the way it targeted mid-'70s British socioeconomic angst and intentionally pressed buttons that would offend the English mainstream while getting a lot of disaffected youthful fists pumping; the Pistols knew exactly what they were doing with that song and the best way to do it, and whatever Orson Scott Card's relative merits as a writer are or aren't, I think he has a pretty good idea of what he's up to in Ender's Game in much the same way, tailoring the characters and message for kids who feel good about feeling bad about themselves, which is nearly all of us at some point.

But if Ender's is a guided missile pointed at the bitter adolescent's heart, what's the message?

Ender Wiggins murders his first child when he's six, on pages six-through-eight of the 1994 TOR "Author's Definitive Edition" paperback reissue.  It's pretty brutal, though we don't find out it was an actual murder for hundreds more pages yet.  A bunch of kids at Ender's school are picking on him, partly because he's a special "Third" child (his parents had to apply for permission to exceed birth control quotas) and he's smarter and smaller (this is notable in what follows) than all the other kids.  So here's what happens when a bunch of kids grab Ender in the playground after school:

Ender did not feel like laughing, but he laughed. "You mean it takes this many of you to fight one Third?"

"We're people, not Thirds, turd face. You're about as strong as a fart!"

But they let go of him. And as soon as they did, Ender kicked high and hard, catching Stilson square in the breastbone. He dropped. It took Ender by surprise--he hadn't thought to put Stilson on the ground with one kick. It didn't occur to him that Stilson didn't take a fight like this seriously, that he wasn't prepared for a truly desperate blow.

For a moment, the others backed away and Stilson lay motionless. They were all wondering if he was dead. Ender, however, was trying to figure out a way to forestall vengeance. To keep them from taking him in a pack tomorrow. I have to win this now, and for all time, or I'll fight every day and it will get worse and worse.

Ender knew the unspoken rules of manly warfare, even though he was only six. It was forbidden to strike the opponent who lay helpless on the ground; only an animal would do that.

So Ender walked to Stilson's supine body and kicked him again, viciously, in the ribs. Stilson groaned and rolled away from him. Ender walked around him and kicked him again, in the crotch. Stilson could not make a sound; he only doubled up and tears streamed out of his eyes.

Then Ender looked at the others coldly. "You might be having some idea of ganging up on me. You could probably beat me up pretty bad. But just remember what I do to people who try to hurt me. From then on you'd be wondering when I'd get to you, and how bad it would be." He kicked Stilson in the face. Blood from his nose spattered the ground nearby. "It wouldn't be this bad," Ender said. "It would be worse."

A million bullied kids read that and probably said "Hells, yeah!" and found it pretty affirming.  At least one adult who represents troubled kids in juvenile delinquency proceedings, including cases arising from playground assaults, cringed.  Although Ender is defending himself from a crowd, immediately and preemptively, he also uses excessive force, repeatedly kicking another child the same age in the ribs and then in the groin to make a point about future consequences to a crowd that is developmentally incapable of getting their little, growing heads around the entire notion of "future consequences".  And we find out later that Stilson died from his injuries, though no one bothered to tell little Ender and he somehow managed to avoid being dragged into juvie to face even a manslaughter charge.

(It's probably worth pointing out, at least parenthetically, that although we're repeatedly told Ender is a small child, small for his age, even, he not only thinks like an adult, but is also capable of adult levels of violence.  I have no idea whether a six-year-old is physically capable of kicking another child to death, but I tend to doubt it; if nothing else, the relative absence of such incidents is suggestive.  Ender Wiggins may be the first child I've ever heard of who kicked someone to death, though I've heard of adults doing it and was recently professionally involved in a tragedy where an adult pleaded guilty to essentially just that.)

This happens, to be clear, early on in the book, on page seven (mostly): on page six, the children confront Ender and the last little bit there where Ender threatens them with mutually assured destruction occurs on page eight.  But it isn't the final time Ender is brutally, viciously violent: on page 33 (all pages are the TOR "Author's Definitive" version), Ender breaks another child's arm, ostensibly in self-defense (the other child is hitting him in the back of the head); on page 211, Ender righteously murders yet another child (with the unlikely name Bonzo Madrid)  in the shower, again in self-defense (the other kid and a gang of his buddies ambush Ender in the school showers, in a scene that echoes the Stilson murder and indeed leads to the revelation Stilson died from his Ender-inflicted injuries); then, at the book's climax, Ender murders an entire alien population.

You see, the major plotline in Ender's Game is that humanity is fighting a war against an alien hive species called "the Buggers" (and yes, everyone aware of Card's homophobia does a double-take re: that name), and it turns out that Ender's entire life is a government project to create a perfect killing machine capable of leading humanity's space forces in a vast effort to bring the war to the Bugger homeworld and end everything.  Ender's violence isn't hidden from responsible adults, indeed, it's tolerated and passively encouraged by military instructors who have been supervising Ender since birth (technically, before birth: there's some light eugenics apparently involved in selecting children for training) and intentionally placing Ender in difficult social situations to test him and to teach him he's on his own and must be self-reliant and that he must be able to use violence with extreme prejudice so as to not merely end a confrontation, but to make sure there are no sequels because his opponents are incapacitated and/or terrified of him (and/or eliminated).  The final goal of all this is to drop Ender into a videogame-like "simulator" of a final onslaught against the Buggers' home planet: Ender thinks he's playing a game, but in fact the instructions he's giving to the "ships" on his screen are being relayed to real ships in a real battle (and evidently are being implemented by real pilots--Ender is deliberately not being told that sacrificing real ships here and there constitutes real sacrifices); during this battle, Ender sees an opportunity for a hail Mary play that will end the conflict in much the same way he ended his fights with Stilson and Bonzo--he destroys the Bugger planet and kills their Queen, knowing that this destroys the hive (i.e. is an act of genocide), but not knowing he's really destroying the Bugger planet and really killing their Queen (and really committing genocide).

And there is much rejoicing, and all is revealed, and Ender feels pretty bad about the whole thing.

Which is the point, it turns out.  Ender's Game is a remarkable book about agency and responsibility, see, or rather the lack of it when you don't know what you're doing and feel bad about it later.  No, seriously.  See, it's okay that Ender murders and maims children, because he doesn't start the fights and doesn't want to fight and doesn't mean to kill or maim anyone and after they've been killed and maimed he cries because he's sensitive.  (This distinguishes him from his siblings: his brother Peter is a psychopath who doesn't feel bad about torturing animals and hurting people, while his sister Valentine is too sensitive to hurt anything at all in the first place.  Adolescents Peter and Valentine, by the way, take over the world by being Internet trolls in Ender's Game's B-plot, something that manages to be weirdly prescient--Card first published the full-length novel version of Ender's Game in 1985, back when Internet forums consisted of dial-up BBSes and social media was nonexistent--and hysterically ludicrous, for obvious reasons.)

And Ender's crying is gratuitous.  Because he isn't responsible for his actions, you see--not truly responsible, because he's always reacting to others' actions and doesn't really know what he's doing--he has no cause to feel guilty about it.  Adults keep telling Ender this, and as a narrator Card is pretty clear about it, too.  Ender has nothing to feel bad about, but he feels bad anyway because that's just what a mensch he is.  Poor, martyred Ender: he's just like Jesus, if Jesus' supreme sacrifice was to eliminate every Roman man, woman and child from the world, including all of the ones back in Rome and not just whomever was occupying the Middle East at the time. 

Contra Lionsgate's spin on the story, which I suspect is shared by many of the novel's fans and the various educators and librarians who keep putting the book on recommended reading lists for young adults (the new marketing label for kids), I don't find any of this especially "positive", "inspiring", "ennobling" or "life-affirming".  I find it a bit subversive (in a bad way) and vile (there's no good way for that).  Mind you, I grok that if you have a childish (and narcissistic--Ender is an obvious audience proxy) focus on Ender Wiggins, of course he faces many obstacles and comes out the far end as the savior of the human species, before humbly going off to the outer worlds (now open for occupation thanks to the total elimination of an entire other species) to be a leader and teacher.*  But Ender's Game doesn't tell you how Stilson's parents feel, or Bonzo Madrid's.  (The death of any child must be hard to a parent, but since Card makes such a big deal about Ender being a Third--his parents had to get a waiver from Earth's government to have more than one child--I feel obliged to point out Stilson and Bonzo are probably their parents' only children.)  We can imagine, if we have moral imaginations.  The child whose arm Ender breaks gets sent home and his future prospects might be dim, we don't know (he was one of Ender's fellow cadets, so he certainly doesn't have a future saving humanity).  And if we feel any empathy or even pity for the Buggers--Ender wipes out an entire species.**

One of the principle failings of Star Wars as a saga or epic or--as George Lucas would have it--a tragedy and redemption is that the whole thing can be boiled down to: It's sad but okay if you murder children, kill your wife, betray and kill your colleagues, attempt to murder your best friend and teacher twice (succeeding the second time), torture your daughter, blow up an entire planet full of unarmed people, torture your daughter again along with her boyfriend and his best pal, and amputate your son if you throw an old man off a bridge.  (But the old man has to be mean, and maybe also he has to be electrocuting the son you previously maimed.)  Throw the old guy into the abyss, you'll get into Jedi heaven after all, and your teacher you betrayed and sliced in half will even stand next to you when you get there instead of keeping the disgusted (and precautionary) distance you might reasonably expect.  But Ender's Game is worse, because George Lucas is basically an idiot; I mean, he's actually more talented as a director and producer than he's usually given credit for these days, but he's not much of a thinker and the reason Star Wars has a cruddy moral compass has a lot more to do with Lucas' thinking being muddled and incoherent than it does with him actually having a clear idea what he accidentally managed to say about ethics over the course of six films.  The moral of the story in Star Wars is completely accidental.  But Card, I think, is doing things on purpose; he knows what he's saying, and it doesn't seem to me that Ender's Game is meant to be a cautionary thought-experiment wherein Card lays out a kind of disgusting moral philosophy and pokes it with a stick for the audience's education and amusement.  I think Ender's is completely on purpose.

Lionsgate is certainly buying into it, anyway.  And this is where their press release is stupid, dishonest or both.  If the movie follows the book at all, then it's kind of the exact opposite of "life affirming"; in the real world, violence may indeed be a sometimes necessary and uncomfortable fact of life, but even so we're responsible for making certain that our uses of violence are necessary, discriminate, proportional and that we are accountable for the aftermath, all of which Orson Scott Card, in Ender's Game, postulates is unnecessary and optional.  If the movie doesn't follow the book, it can only be an improvement, but one I expect will enrage the novel's legions of fans.

As a kind of postscript, I highly recommend John Kessel's essay, "Creating the Innocent Killer: Ender's Game, Intention, and Morality", which in my view does a magnificent job of raking Ender's Game to the bone with much more thought and thoroughness than I have any real desire to perform myself right now.  I think it's hard to read Kessel and not conclude Ender's Game isn't merely a bad book from a literary perspective, but from a moral perspective, too.  Of course, your mileage may vary.

From a literary perspective, Ender's Game is competent, and effective (in the Sex Pistols' sense, supra), but it isn't very good, and Norman Spinrad did an effective job addressing that which you may find (in part) on Google Books, here.  If you care to take additional time with it, it's worth the effort.

*Ender in fact becomes an advocate for the dead species he eliminated, which some critics of Ender's Game have not-inaptly compared to Hitler becoming an advocate for Jews.

In fact, one critique of Ender's Game went so far as to accuse Orson Scott Card of trying to write an allegorical apologia for Hitler, an accusation that I personally find a little overboard on the one hand and not entirely beyond understanding on the other.  That is, I don't think Orson Scott Card was intentionally trying to justify Hitler, however I do think Ender's Game is such a terrible book and the moral thrust of it is so reprehensible that the accusation isn't nearly as far a leap as it sounds.  If Hitler felt bad about the Holocaust and sincerely believed it was the Jews' own fault for "making" him kill all of them, would his feelings and intentions excuse it all away?  If you apply Ender's Game's moral philosophy to it, the answer to that question is "yes".  And that's just awful.

**The repercussions of this--for poor, poor Ender--are evidently dealt with in the sequel, Speaker For The Dead, which I hear is a better book than Ender's Game (faint praise, methinks), but which I have no desire to read anytime in the foreseeable future.  In the final chapter of Ender's Game, however, Ender finds a single surviving Bugger Queen pupa, and finds out the Buggers were sympathetic monsters after all and the whole war was a misunderstanding and the dead Bugger species as embodied by the single living Queen feels really bad for poor, poor Ender because they've come to understand he didn't know what he was--gah.  I can't even finish that.


Dumb quote of the day, "Spoilers: the answer is 'Fuck you, Orson Scott Card'" edition

>> Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Now it will be interesting to see whether the victorious proponents of gay marriage will show tolerance toward those who disagreed with them when the issue was still in dispute.
-Orson Scott Card, as quoted by Grady Smith,
Entertainment Weekly, July 8th, 2013.

Funny, I don't feel victorious.  Seems to me that all the Supreme Court did recently was declare the Defense Of Marriage Act unconstitutional, which is admittedly a small win, and essentially punt the state legal issue back to California on a standing issue, which is, well, a punt.  So far as I know, Orson Scott Card remains actively involved with The National Organization For Marriage (NOM), and NOM certainly doesn't sound defeated.  In the dumb comment the above dumb quote is drawn from, Card disingenuously mentions the Full Faith And Credit Clause of the Constitution, but this isn't as cut-and-dried as it sounds: it's an accepted legal principle that, even with the Full Faith And Credit Clause, states don't have to extend full faith and credit to marriages that violate a sufficient public policy interest of the state (e.g. a state is not required to recognize a marriage that it regards as incestuous even if the marriage was recognized as valid in an originating state with differing consanguinity standards); of course, considering the difficulties gay marriage opponents have had in coming up with non-sputtering, even-vaguely-coherent policy interests, Card may prove to be right; still, it isn't cut-and-dried.

Nevertheless, even if I don't quite feel victorious, I think I can still resolve Mr. Card's suspense and settle the question he poses.  I'm afraid, though, it probably isn't actually the least bit interesting to see.  Will proponents of gay marriage show tolerance towards those who disagreed with them?  Fuck you, Orson Scott Card.

Matter of fact, fuck you, Orson Scott Card, a lot.

No, I'm not going to show tolerance, and I'd be a little shocked and distressed if anyone else I knew who favors fairness and equal rights and despises bigotry and injustice decided to show "tolerance".  Tolerance for what, exactly?  For homophobia?  For prejudice?

The best Card and his ilk can expect is, maybe, a faux tolerance when they're old and dribbling and are supposed to be respected because of status and probably kinship.  I.e. we've all probably been at some family gathering when Great-Great-Grandmaw Willikers muttered some hideously inappropriate comment about some group and didn't notice when everyone abruptly fell silent and sucked in a breath, and then Aunt Normandy saved the moment by completely changing the subject and later that evening, once Grandmaw Willikers was rolled out of the range a power surge in her hearing aid might pick something up, everyone rolled their eyes and quietly agreed it was a generational thing and there was no point in lecturing her now and ruining her hundred-and-eleventh birthday party because she's too old to change and would most likely forget the conversation before the fourth-or-fifth generation grandkids got their cake.  If that counts as "tolerance", Card is welcome to it, I guess, though it sounds suspiciously like pity when you tease it out.  "Yes, Grandpawpaw is a stupid bigot, but he's our stupid bigot so we'll forgive him."

But as far as humoring Mr. Card now, well, no, it isn't going to happen.  Not from me, anyways.  If you want to put up with his happy horseshit, by all means, it's your quarter and pony ride.

Card, of course, wants to change the subject and pretend this is all about respecting his right to be disrespectful because, you know, he has a movie to sell.  Ender's Game is due out this coming Fall after spending decades in development hell, and Card is justly concerned about blowback from his beliefs.  He has a right to those beliefs, of course; it's just that civilized society has a right to think he's a prat and to decide, individually or collectively, not to subsidize those beliefs.  And if that hurts his pocketbook or ends up blocking any other page-to-screen projects he may be fantasizing about, well, fuck him.  The right to your opinion doesn't block anyone else's right to have an opinion about your opinion.  And if everyone else's opinion of your opinion is fuck that guy, then it's really entirely on you as to whether you rethink your position ("Hey, if everybody else thinks I'm an asshole, maybe it really is just me...") or take especial pride in your martyrdom ("That's right!  One man, against the world, in truth and righteousness and... I'm so lonely.").

Chuck Wendig, who turned me on to Card's nonsense quote, offers plenty of reasons for boycotting the Ender's Game film, and I suggest you read his post if you want to know why you should eschew Orson Card's chicken sammiches.  For my part, however, I have to confess avoiding Ender's Game in November will be much more of a Domino's Pizza easy boycott for me than it is a Chick-fil-A sacrifice; i.e. it's nice to be able to say I'm not supporting Domino's because of their right-wing politics, but the honest truth is I wouldn't be eating their shitty so-called "pizzas" even if they were hippie socialists, so it's a too-easy moral victory (Chick-fil-A, on the other hand, makes unconscionably delicious chicken sandwiches, and while it's fast food, yes, and should generally be avoided, yes, still there are times when I've driven past a franchise and felt pangs of gluttony and regret).  I finally got around to reading Ender's Game earlier this year--I bought a used copy, supporting my local second-hand bookstore and not putting another dime in Mr. Card's pockets--and thought it was a pretty awful, somewhat reprehensible book.

I don't want to go into the whole thing over it (maybe some other time, maybe not), but I could see why adolescents love it and form an attachment to it--a book about a put-upon, misunderstood, smarter-than-everybody else, abused, Gary Stu speaks to the impotent enraged child in all of us, and when you let him save the universe basically by playing videogames, well, that just elevates Ender Wiggins from "hero" to "god" for the kind of fourteen-year-old audience Ender's Game squarely aims for.  It isn't the worst book I've ever read, not even close, but it's pretty irritating and I can't see myself spending any more time with it than what I've already frittered away with it.  (I wouldn't say wasted, just because while the book wasn't worth reading on its merits, it was worth reading to find out why it won a Hugo, a Nebula, keeps making lots and lots of best-of-ever lists and still inspires devotion in people.  I'd even recommend it to the uninitiated solely on those terms: buy a used copy to figure out for yourself what the fuss is about.  I suspect, though, no one receiving their first exposure above the age of twenty-two or thereabouts will find the experience all that pleasant.)  Anyway, spending twenty-five bucks on a ticket and popcorn and losing two hours of my life all seems like something I wouldn't do even if I were assured Orson Scott Card was losing money on the whole deal; that I get to claim some kind of moral high ground for doing the same amount of nothing I kind of planned on doing anyway just makes it all sweeter.


Pixies, "Motorway To Roswell"

>> Monday, July 08, 2013

Today's Google Doodle commemorates the July 8th, 1947 news report that something landed in Roswell, NM.  Which is a pretty goddamn good excuse--if you ever needed an excuse--for some Pixies.

"Last night, he could not make it.  He tried hard but he could not make it."  Such a plaintive, desperate way to cast the story.  I don't think it was an alien, myself, mind you, but it's always fun to think about that kind of thing.  But it's so often assumed, by those who take the story as one about an alien intrusion, that the ETs were here on purpose, whether they crashed or something else happened.  Rarely, if ever, that the ET might have been horribly, hopelessly lost and ended up here only because he had a hard time following directions and was supposed to be somewhere else.  "How could this so great turn so shitty?"  The Pixies' version is a science fiction version of Deliverance, with some poor bastard BEM playing the role of Ned Beatty.  (You shore would look pretty in some Army crates.)

"Last night he could not make it.  He tried hard but he could not make it."  Poor son of a bitch.  Poor, poor son of a bitch.  We're afraid of them, but I think the song has it right: they oughta be afraid of us.


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