Curses

>> Monday, February 25, 2013

So who knew?  Apparently you can't read a font unless you can write it, too.  So there's some kind of movement afoot to teach elementary school students cursive handwriting lest they--I'm not making this up--lest they lose the ability to read letters from their grandparents or the ability to read the Declaration Of Independence in its original scribble.  So there oughta be a law.

When I saw the piece in The Charlotte Observer, I was amused.  Ah, yes, it figures this is the kind of thing our new legislative overlords would be upset about.  It just struck me as more obnoxious silliness from a governing body that perhaps could be more worried about the state's obscene unemployment rate, let's say.

But then I ran into a piece at The Junto and it links to an article at The Wall Street Journal.  And now I'm saying, "Wait--no... seriously?  This is a thing?  What the--"  Yes, apparently it's a thing.  A big honkin' national thing.  What I'd been prepared to write off (no pun intended) as yet another example of regional stupidity was, in point of fact, a national craze.

Good grief.

The Observer writes:

"Every child should know cursive," said state Rep. Pat Hurley, an Asheboro Republican and a primary sponsor of the bill. "Our children can’t write a simple sentence. They think printing their name is their signature."

Ah, well.  You know, this reminds me of a lawyer I knew who signed his name in block letters, same way he wrote it.  Gentleman served in Korea, I believe in the Marines, and while he was often a genial and genteel fellow, he still had the air of being someone you didn't want to screw around with.  Which has me thinking Representative Hurley ought to look him up and tell him he's been signing his name wrong for nearly three-quarters of a century.  Just give me a chance to get some popcorn, first.

As for myself, I learned to write in cursive thirty years ago and probably could pry the muscle memories out of cold storage if you patiently gave me extra time to work out the inevitable hand cramps.  I'd hate to just leap to the conclusion that learning script in elementary school was an utter waste of time... but it was an utter waste of time.  At some point in high school I very affectedly started trying to ape the bloody handwriting Gerald Scarfe used as a font for Pink Floyd's The Wall as best I could using ballpoints instead of leaky calligraphy pens; this is the kind of pretentious crap you do when you're sixteen or seventeen, like carrying around a threadbare copy of The Fountainhead or trying to grow a scruffy goatee and quoting Kerouac, etc.  Most of the time you grow out of it (once your brains fill in), but sometimes lasting damage is done; in my case, my handwriting never quite regained whatever slim legibility it had ever once had, but it didn't matter anyway because I had a dedicated word processor with a daisy wheel printer before I headed to college and college had computer labs with machines running WordPerfect 5.1, the greatest word processing program ever written.

These days, my handwriting is mostly a deranged mix of all-caps block letters and lapses into quasi-cursive lowercase, with letters sometimes joined and minimal effort made to lift the pen's nib between characters.  As for my signature: when you have a surname with ten letters, let me tell you that you tend to take shortcuts (or at least I have), and my signature is a flattened scrawl that I suspect manages to be completely illegible to the uninitiated but a distinctly personal symbolic signifier for me to anyone who knows me.  I wouldn't have it any other way: if I want to draw something up for a nearsighted king, I think I'll just type it.

Speaking of which, Seth at The Junto does a great job of demolishing the absurd claim that teaching cursive is somehow required for reading the Declaration Of Independence:

Well, yes they will--they will be able to read it in print, just like most Americans read it (to themselves and to others) until the first facsimile reproductions were produced from the engraving by William J. Stone in 1823. The facsimile  turned the image of the artifact into what Michael Warner calls "a national fetish," giving rise to a preoccupation with the image of the manuscript Declaration as the only authentic presentation of the text.  Unless one is standing in front of the actual artifact, though, all versions, script as well as print, are the product of a process of mechanical reproduction. Insisting that something significant is lost if kids are unable to run a Google image search for the Declaration and read from a jpg seems like an oddly-placed concern.  Moreover, the insistence that one be able to read the document in its "original" form is by definition an insistence that it be read in its original language, which has a certain resonance with the English-only debates that surface from time to time. It is not, I would argue, as if the ideas contained in the document are untranslatable, bound by language, needless to say by media. [link omitted]

It doesn't just remind one of the English-only thing; it more readily reminds me of the American cultural conservative shibboleth that the Declaration and Constitution are divinely inspired or ordained documents.  Pretending that it matters whether the Declaration is reproduced in script or reproduced in plaintext calls to mind the apocryphal story of the little old conservative lady going into a bookstore and asking for a copy of the Bible, "In English, just like Jesus wrote it."  If the founding American documents are magical, then I suppose the runes used might matter (along with the composition of the ink and value in gold pieces of the parchment); if they're working documents, all that matters is whether they can be read.  (While I'm certainly capable of struggling through a swarm of ſes if you put a gun to my head, I'd much rather read a printer-friendly plaintext transcription in an standard font; hell, I'd even prefer to be able to read the names of the signatories in a simple font.  Much faster.)

There's also more than a whiff of cross-generational sadomasochism: the sense some of us get as we grow older that the things we suffered ought to be visited on future generations.  We had to sit down with pen awkwardly held over the lined paper and rewrite a stylized letter "G" over and over again until our hands were as gnarled as pickled rooster's feet, so I'll be damned if these kids today aren't going to go through the torments of the damned like we did back in the day, and the more they whine about it, the better it is for them.  Builds character.  Might come in handy, someday.  Like if Speaker Gingrich's ee-em-pee comes and fries all the pewters and eye-pod-phones.  Anyway, kids today, grah.  Yeah: "get-off-my-yard-ism" at its finest.

No doubt, if civilization collapses and the kids still haven't burned all their notebooks (what good are notebooks?) and somehow can write a letter or send a postcard (oh, and The Mudd Club and CBGB have reopened, natch), they'll have to adapt in order to have something to give Kevin Costner when his horse staggers in.  Meanwhile, I sort of envy the little bastards if they're not doing what I'm doing right now, which is managing a not-bad clip of speed using only two fingers and sometimes my right thumb on a QWERTY keyboard.  And occasionally having to hit the backspace, the backspace, the backspace to salvage a line of text where I started to write something like "salbage" (which I'm pretty sure isn't a word).

Tho' I will  absolutely admit that if the next step is to cut school budgets so they can't afford computers anymore, that might be another reason to teach them a semi-archaic communications technology skill.  I guess.

The whole thing seems inordinately stupid, anyway.  I mean, there's a certain level of stupidity you come to expect from some of the usual suspects involved with this movement, and some of it is even explicable stupidity insofar as some of these people really do, I think, believe in magic, talismans, arcane symbology.  And yet it still manages to be really, really dumb, dumber than what one might be given to expect.






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Scene not shown

>> Friday, February 22, 2013



How many days until police and EMT are able to get to the upper floors of the Nakatomi building and recover the body?  How long does it take for the Medical Examiner to perform his autopsy report and identify the body?  Is there a Mrs. Takagi?  And how many days, hours, weeks until someone makes the long distance call and tells her her husband is dead?  (Who has to make this phone call?  Do they speak Japanese?  Does Mrs. Takagi speak English?  Is there an interpreter on the phone?)  Does the caller have to inform Mrs. Takagi her husband is "probably" dead, and they need whatever medical and dental records she can send over to help the identification?  Did Mr. Takagi have any children?  Does Mrs. Takagi need to call them now and tell them their father is dead?  Grandchildren?  Are his parents still alive and who will call them?  Does Mrs. Takagi have to fly to the States to identify the body, or may a co-worker like Mrs. Holly Gennaro McClane make the identification?  How long until the body is released?  Who takes it to LAX?  Who meets the coffin in Japan?  How many attend the funeral?  Are Mr. Takagi's mother there, his father, any children, any siblings, in-laws, friends, colleagues, people he went to school with?

Does Mrs. Takagi wake up in the middle of the night and murmur something to her absent husband?  On the other side of the world, is Mr. John McClane looking out a window and wondering if he'd done something different, would Hans Gruber have killed Mr. Takagi?  Does Mr. McClane go home and pour himself a double and when his wife comes home, do they have silences that specifically aren't about Christmas Eve in the Nakatomi Tower?

Those police officers and EMTs who had to recover the body, if it wasn't lost in the explosion of the roof after all--how're they doing today?



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Quote of the day: grab your ankles and kiss your ass goodbye (but it'll all be okay so fear not) edition

>> Thursday, February 21, 2013

"I hate to hear people say that they would prefer to die in a nuclear attack rather than face the horrors of survival.  This nation was built by people who left Europe to face the unknown hazards of a wilderness continent. Do we no longer have the courage to face an unknown challenge?"
- Steuart Pittman, 1961.
(As quoted by Paul Vitello,
The New York Times, February 18th, 2013.

Yeah, I don't know: I think I can find those scenarios vaguely distinguishable.  For instance, we don't generally think of the people who "left Europe to face the unknown hazards of a wilderness continent" as leaving behind all of their dead family members, friends, neighbors, associates, FOAFs, vague acquaintances, people they've heard mentioned by name, people whose name they never got around to learning but they always saw them down at the grocery store and kept meaning to say hello, etc., etc., etc.  It's quite true that there were Europeans who came and built this nation who left behind scads of dead relations--the Irish in the 1850s and German and Central European Jews in the 1930s and '40s come right to mind--but they were coming to a nation-in-progress, as opposed to fleeing from one burning mound of corpses to another, completely different burning mound of corpses, or cave, or assless-chaps desert autorama, or whatever.

Then there's also the matter that I don't seem to recall the Puritans slowly dying en masse from leukemia, organ failure, massive hematomas followed in some cases by external bleeding out, etc.  Though I'll also concede some of the symptoms of acute radiation syndrome are at least superficially similar to some of the symptoms of late-stage scurvy, which some of those early settlers may well have suffered from.  So, y'know, six-of-one, half-dozen-the-other and all that.

Mr. Pittman just passed away, a circumstance Brother Nathan alerted me to on the book-of-face today.  He managed to outlive his quote and the worst fears of a full-on nuclear war and the ostensible need for a bomb shelter in every American backyard; I guess that counts as a "win".  I'm not exactly trying to mock Pittman--he sounds like a good guy and a dedicated civil servant who was handled an utterly impossible task with some grace and aplomb--but I don't think you can look at the most prominent part he played in American history without seeing his career as a kind of weird, amusing, and disturbing thing (I'm not sure if I want to call it a "relic" or an "artifact" or an "instant" or "moment" or something else).  There was this era in American history where we sort of schizophrenically believed the country could pull through the End Of All Civilization and dust ourselves off; when something like a backyard bomb shelter simultaneously seemed like a really practical idea and an absurd waste of time and money, something to be mocked in famous Twilight Zone episodes even as some people were actually digging holes in their backyards and pouring cement.

Within a decade, fifteen years maybe, the idea of everyone having a shelter would just seem completely ridiculous.  We'd be well past the "Duck And Cover" Epoch and into the "No, Really You're Just Totally Fucked" Age.  By the time I was a kid, the apocalypse was on prime time; that was fun, everyone kind of knew they soft-pedaled it because it wasn't like ABC had the budget or FCC clearance to show third-degree burns like these, much less Jason Robards vomiting while his ass bleeds out because his entire stomach lining is sloughing.  But whatever.


I mean, not quite that fast; there were all these other members of the nukes club, questions about who was going to control the former Soviet arsenal, still the possibility of accidental launch (people don't much appreciate it, but accidental nuclear war is still possible)--but the probability and, more significantly, the ubiquity, of the threat, just mostly evaporated so quickly I don't think many people even appreciate it was ever there at all.

I don't have much idea what kids these days are afraid of.  I remember going to a couple of SANE meetings in junior high school, I don't know what these kids do today.  Are they afraid of terrorists?  Of other students?  Of off-campus strangers with rifles?  If it's any of those, it's not anything as irrevocably and actually all-consuming as the things their parents and grandparents worried about, things their great-grandparents got to go through the first halves of their lives without even imagining.  I'm not trying to disparage these kids' fears--fear, like pain, is a personal thing, and the fact a child perhaps only has to be afraid of being shot instead of being afraid the whole human race will go up in flames is no consolation whatsoever.  ("You think you know what fear is, kiddo?"  Well of course you do: it's yours and always was and shall be.)

But there was Pittman, anyway, and people like him, who basically were saying for a time there you should be afraid but didn't have to be: yes, the damned Russians had bombs and hated us (the Russians, natch, said the same thing about us), but if you dug out a lead-and-cement-lined tomb in your yard you could emerge triumphant into the New American Wilderness like some pioneer triumphant to reclaim this remade land.  What a crock of shit.  I can only think Pittman meant well by it and was doing what he had to because he must.  But what a crock of shit.



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An open letter to Debby Cox

>> Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Inquiry


From:   Debby Cox (btba@btconnect.com)
Sent:    Wed 2/20/13 8:52 AM
To:


I am Debby Cox; I work with First Tracking Services, a consulting Firm in London, UK. We are conducting a standard investigation involving a client who shares the same name with you. The essence of this communication is to request that you provide us information on these issues: 1-Are you aware of any relative/relation having the same surname


Dear Debby,

Hi, I'm pleased to be able to help you with your standard investigation.  In answer to your question, most of my relatives and relations on my father's side of the family, along with many of their spouses, have the same surname I do.

I think at least one of these relations sharing my surname has done some genealogical work that I, to be honest, haven't paid a great deal of attention to.  What little attentiveness I did pay was piqued when I heard I have a colonial ancestor--if I have the story straight, a Mayflower ancestor--who was the first person hanged in the American colonies.  I like to imagine he didn't do anything in particular and was merely an obnoxious dick, and was hanged for insolence or not doffing his oatmeal-box hat or he flipped someone the bird during Thanksgiving dinner or something.  Slept in on a Sunday--that would be great.  In my imagination, he was asked for his last words, and while my forefather was midway through a polysyllabic obscenity the Governor shrugged and kicked the chair out from under my ancestor, or swatted the mule or whatever.

Whether this putative early American ancestor was also a VanNewkirk, I really couldn't tell you.  The women on my father's side of the family tend to be tough and dangerous, and it may well be that assholery resides on an X chromosome or in the mitochondrial DNA, where it doesn't determine a genetic trait (obviously) but  nevertheless helps the mitochondria power our cells by generating a kind of twisted dark energy, a connection to the Rat Bastard Side of The Force.  I never inquired, actually, whether this alleged colonial malefactor was in my late grandfather's lineage or in my grandmother's.

And of course, I'm also romanticizing, here.  For all I know, this ancestor of mine was actually hanged for buggering a horse.  In fact, that seems more likely, now that I think about it.

Anyway, I digress.  The point was I'm aware of many existing relations having the same surname and ancestors who probably did.  Unless we changed our family name at some point because of all the dickishness and horsebuggery.

I hope that helps you in your inquiries, Debby!  Good luck!


Sincerely,
R. Eric VanNewkirk




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State of the union

>> Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Fifteen years ago, I was sworn into the State Bar.  Well, affirmed into the Bar, because there's no sense in a godless heathen like meself putting my hand on the Bible; not that I've ever seen an oath made on the Bible to, f'r'instance, tell the truth and the whole truth and nothing but the truth ever stop a self-identified believer from breaking that same oath within minutes, f'r'instance by telling a story with all the invention and disregard of facts or even factual possibility as the most inveterate raconteur.  But I digress.  I bring up the business of being affirmed into the Bar because it involved an oath or affirmation to uphold the Constitution, and this made me feel very proud and noble.

Which is why it's a damned shame I have no faith whatsoever in the Constitution anymore.

None.  Almost none.  Maybe a smidgeon.  The faith of a man who has looked at the Patterson-Gimlin film and knows it's a hokey, obvious fake and who knows that if there were a population of man-apes roaming the Pacific Northwest, surely campers would be scraping Sasquatch crap off their shoes on an almost daily basis, but he still thinks maybe the woods are big and deep and it's not impossible there's something tromping around up there.  The faith of a man who knows a plesiosaur would starve in Loch Ness but wants to believe in monsters.  The faith of a child who keeps hearing around the schoolyard that Tommy and Susie both walked in on their parents sticking boxes under their Christmas trees and Stevie found a closetful of toys a week before the sacred day of loot but just because Santa's fake in three houses doesn't mean he's always fake.  Etc.  I have the vestigial faith of a man who is despairing, frankly.

Someday, you know, I might be able to retire.  And then I can stop caring, except maybe on a dilettantish level, an amateur spectator of historical debris fields and ongoing carnage at railway crossings nationwide.  Meanwhile, I have decades of existential angst and knowing I'm a part of the problem, not the solution, to look forward to.  Because I have, indeed, taken a solemn affirmation to uphold the damned thing, and I try to be a man of my word as best I can manage, and besides, it pays my mortgage.

This isn't really about me.  Sorry.  This is all a cynical, self-pitying preamble.

A preamble to the business of the President giving his State Of The Union address last night.  So this is something he has to do, something Constitutionally mandated by Article II, section 3 of the United States Constitution:

He shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient....

And you might well wonder why I spent so much time whinging about my professional existential angst.  It's because the President has to periodically do this State Of The Union business, is why, and how it's become this ridiculous and scarcely relevant exercise and the kind of thing that shows (in a small and inconsequential way) just how ridiculous our refusal to go and scrap the existing Constitution and come up with a nice, spanking-new one really is.  It seems like it would be useful in the 18th Century to require the President to tell the Congress what's going on, though you'll note that the Constitution doesn't say he has to give an "address" and, in point of historic fact, Thomas Jefferson took to sending the Congress a nice letter updating them about what was going on and what they might want to consider doing about it.  These days it seems a little pointless, though, when all a Senator has to do if he wants information about the state of the union is maybe check Twitter (I'm being a little facetious but not totally, you realize).

News traveled badly in the 1700s.  Not slowly (though it often traveled slowly), but badly.  A rumor might spread at astonishing speed but be so mangled by the time it traveled from Boston to Augusta that even Providence would throw up His hands--or their hands, I mean, Providence, Rhode Island might be just as baffled as anyone at what innuendo and inaccuracy hath wrought.  And I don't think the Founders really thought being a politician would be a full-time job, or that it would have to be.  But these days a member of Congress is either as well-informed of the state of the union as anyone, or listening to the President (or reading his report) isn't going to penetrate the thick fog (this latter seems depressingly likely these days).  And the recommendation of measures almost seems redundant these days, when Congress has delegated so much of their budgetary and military authority to the Executive Branch already--which isn't exactly a criticism of Congress as much as it's yet another criticism of a Constitution that divides powers along untenable lines (of course Congress has to delegate authority to the President--we live in an era in which an entire civilization-ending war could be fought in under an hour if we lost our minds and somebody pressed that fabled Little Red Button; and the Federal budget has become so complicated and convoluted it's simply more efficient to ask the President to have his people draw it up and Congress can look at it and approve or deny it).

I'm not talking about the actual speech the President gave last night, am I?  What is there to say?  He gives good speech.  It was more pragmatic and practical than, say, the 2006 State Of The Union address where President George W. Bush talked about hydrogen cars, and parts of it were unobjectionably reasonable (it's hard to argue with, "Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress. If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote.").

But these speeches have just turned into wish-lists and personal introductions that don't necessarily have anything to do with the state of the union.  This isn't President Obama's fault; this is kind of just the way things have been done for much of the past hundred years.  But you consider something like Jefferson's 1804 SOTU message, and you notice a lot of it is a list of what we've done up to now, and relatively little of it involves anything more specific than "That individuals should undertake to wage private war, independently of the authority of their country, can not be permitted in a well-ordered society. Its tendency to produce aggression on the laws and rights of other nations and to endanger the peace of our own is so obvious that I doubt not you will adopt measures for restraining it effectually in future."  Points for pith.

And then there's this thing we do now where we give the other party a rebuttal, which is silly for all sorts of reasons.  I listened to Rubio's speech responding to what he thought Obama might have said if he'd given the State Of The Union address Marco Rubio expected him to (I understand Rubio and/or his speechwriters didn't have an advance copy of the President's speech, hence the surreal disconnect between Rubio's rejoinders to a different speech and the speech the President gave).  I listened to this, though, because I was playing a videogame and was not in a position to get up and turn it off.  Which I would have done if I wasn't playing a videogame, not because I don't care what Republicans have to say, but because I don't care what Republicans have to say about the President's Constitutionally-mandated duty to address Congress about the state of the union; this isn't a debate before an election.  I never cared what Democrats had to say about President G.W. Bush's SOTUs either, frankly.  But this is apparently obligatory, now, and I have to tell you I consider it yet another example of how degraded American governance, culture and civilization have become, that we seem to feel this obligation to give equal time to a response to whomever the President happens to be, a response that replies to him as a member of the opposition and not as the President Of The United States Of America.  It might be vaguely interesting though completely gratuitous if we gave response time to the President Of The Senate and the Speaker Of The House, but I'm not sure why we'd do that, either (for one thing, the President Of The Senate is also the Vice-President Of The United States, and we have unitary Presidential tickets now, so I imagine the President Of The Senate's response would almost always be, "What he said.").

I'm just stuck on the State Of The Union being kind of a dumb and useless thing to do.  Not dumb and dangerous, like a Constitutional clause that leaves the national defense to weekend warriors, pirates and whomever you could round up in an emergency and call an army.  Not myopic and useless like an amendment that protects individuals from having their houses and papers searched and seized but understandably fails to mention their electronic communications and the contents of their horseless carriages, the Founding Fathers being reasonably familiar with history but almost entirely unacquainted with science fiction.  Dumb and useless like an internal organ that pretty much only continues to exist to kill you.  Or maybe not that bad: maybe more like a baby born with a tail.

I want to add that I think the guys who wrote the Constitution were pretty fucking brilliant.  I'm not saying they weren't a bunch of charming, well-dressed, literate intellectuals who were coming up with this fabulous concept for a system of government out of nothing but a decent knowledge of history and a firm grounding in political philosophy.  It's just that they also weren't psychic.  Well, that and that they were, David Mamet notwithstanding, politicians and were engaged in all sorts of horse-trading and compromise to get something down on paper and everyone's John Hancock on it (except, ironically, John Hancock's).  Well, and also just the fact they were fallible guys like anyone else, and some of their ideas were just kind of naïve, to be tactful about it (I really don't think many, or maybe any, of them really got their heads around the notion that you couldn't do a contemporary navy on the cheap, f'r'instance, that ships were complicated and expensive things and you might sort of want professional sailors onboard who knew how to bring the guns in and out and do all sorts of complex stuff that I confess I just skim over whenever Patrick O'Brian goes deep, because those books are amazingly fun adventure/romance stories, but I really couldn't tell a fo'cassmacallit from a mainwhatchamijigger and why you need to twain the bosun's cat with a fo'ardbackwinchcastleknot, but I did manage to figure out that the failure to do something with any and all of the above is possibly what caused Captain Aubrey heroically, inevitably and in spite of his best efforts to lose yet another ship the Admiralty grudgingly made him master and commander of).

We just need to sit down and rewrite the whole damn Constitution, you know?  But I don't think we're smart enough to do it, and anyway we have this whole mythology we subscribe to where we pretend we're under the same form of government we instituted in 1789, or maybe 1868.

But I'll have you know, I'm here and ready and have given my solemn word I'll defend it.  It's almost completely indefensible.  But I will do it.  Sadly, resignedly, and with some sense of despair and hope that Social Security and the state retirement plan won't be wholly gutted before I'm too old to visit anyplace fun, or that at least has a somewhat more sensible system of governance.




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2CELLOS, "Smooth Criminal"

>> Friday, February 08, 2013





So this isn't what I was looking for, exactly--I heard 2CELLOS' version of Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well" on the radio this morning and thought I had to share it, but when you type the band's name into the YouTube and your eye lights on MJ's epic "Smooth Criminal"--well, how do you bypass that?

And who knew the cello was made for rock and roll?

I could run off on a tangent or several, but let's leave it there and with a, "Have a good weekend and be kind to each other."


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Smart dumb quote of the day: "American democracy is the greatest institution on Earth" edition

>> Friday, February 01, 2013

This isn't a bar-room chat. Or an NRA-sponsored gun forum. Or a two-way on Fox News. It's the US Senate. Isn't there even a minimum threshold of plausibility?
The Telegraph, January 30th, 2013.

Regrettably, as a foreigner, Mr. Foster--who otherwise makes some excellent points--clearly has no comprehension as to how the American system of democracy, which I am informed is the greatest governmental system in the world, works.  To wit: he asks, "It's the US Senate.  Isn't there a minimum threshold of plausibility?"

In a word, no.

To proffer an example: this is an august body which cannot pass any act of legislation without a majority.  "Majority", however, does not carry it's vernacular meaning, or even it's Constitutional meaning, of "51% or more of a vote"; in the United States Senate, a majority is defined as sixty percent of a vote.  The reason it's so defined is not because the law does so or the Senate does so, but rather because the Senate has adopted procedural rules that can only be overcome by what is usually described in other contexts as a "supermajority" (which, in the Senate, again, is simply a majority, because that's how things work).  These procedural rules involve not just the infamous filibuster, but also esoteric rituals like invoking cloture.

Cloture and the filibuster are not what anyone usually thinks they are.  For example, many people used to think that a filibuster was that thing Jimmy Stewart did in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, where the titular Mr. Smith heroically stalls the entire agenda of the legislature so that he can avoid facing corruption charges by talking and talking and talking until he passes out.  (This is vaguely heroic insofar as Mr. Smith has to put forth a great deal of effort and is also, conveniently, factually innocent of the corruption charges he's trying to avoid.)  In the modern filibuster, however, all a Senator (including ones who faced corruption charges--I guess that makes some of them a little like Mr. Smith) has to do is Invoke Cloture (Sen 1; V, S; Casting Time: 1 standard action; Range: 500' radius emanation from caster; Duration: permanent; Saving Throw: none; Spell Resistance: none) with a relevant Senate committee saying he's thinking about talking until he passes out but has no real intention of doing so, but since he's considering the hypothetical of the what-if? of perhaps talking until he's tuckered if the committee passes something along to the floor, and the bill or nomination dies.

This year, the Democrats made some noises about redefining a majority to mean a majority, except they couldn't do it because they didn't have a majority--except, see, it turns out there's a special twist in the laws of magic sort of like the one that allows Aslan to come back from the dead in The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe, or maybe it's more like the whole business with the keyhole in The Lonely Mountain appearing once a year when the sun sets a certain way in The Hobbit.  As it happens, on the very first day of the session and only upon that blessed day, the Senate may pass it's own rules and may do so with only a majority, instead of needing a majority as they do upon every other day.  But the problem with this great thaumaturgical loophole is that they could only do so on the first day and upon no other.  How would they accomplish such a feat of ritual and conjuring?

Why, by decreeing that the first day consisted of many days.  Duh.

This made the all-powerful minority, which effectively controls the majority vote, very sad and angry, and so they fretted loudly and promised to summon demons to devour the hearts of the first-born children of the impotent majority minority.  I think that's what they promised, anyway.  And so a compromise was struck, in which the Senators gathered together (around a great round table, I think, in a chamber in the Forlorn Tower Of Westwaste in the Dragonlands, or possibly they just held a conference call about it), and boldly agreed to a compromise so that the powerful minority can no longer kill a bill by cloture or filibuster, so long as they have two chances to slit the bill's throat by amending it so that nobody could possibly vote for it.

And thus, the first day ended (I think--it has ended, right?), several weeks after the first day, with the Senate agreeing to reform itself by passing new rules that will allow it to continue to get nothing done, much as it has accomplished nothing for many years now.

So take that, Mr. Foster!  You ask if there is a minimum threshold of plausibility in the United States Senate--fool!  You must think you're pretty smart, Mr. Foster, asking such a responsible, intelligent and relevant question, but you clearly have no concept of how degraded, degenerate and useless the American political system has become!  There is no minimum threshold of plausibility in the Senate, Foster--only absurd and inane rules that the institution wisely imposes upon itself to limit its Constitutionally limited powers so that it can get less done more slowly while offering its members increasing opportunities to demonstrate just how ignorant and out-of-touch many of them are on a wide variety of topics.  You might as well inquire into the sanity and sensibility of the Queen Of Hearts' Royal Court--except that wouldn't really be relevant, since Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures In Wonderland is really all about math, which we Americans are really terrible at...

 I mean, for the love of Heaven, man: we think fifty-nine percent is a minority.


(H/t CGL for the Telegraph link.)



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Rachel Zeffira, "To Here Knows When"

 
 
Kevin Shields told everyone there was a new My Bloody Valentine record coming out this week.  Nobody believed him.  Yes we did.  No, it's kind of like when you're on the cusp of Santa skepticism, when you know Santa isn't real yet you're still holding out that little hope yes he is.

Or, it's like being a liberal voter.  Same thing, basically.  Almost exactly.

As of this writing, no new MBV album.  No real surprise there.  Maybe by the time this posts, it'll be out (probably not).

Their last album, Loveless, is one of those classic best-albums-you've-probably-never-heard-of.  It also came out in 1991, so if you live in the United States and want to buy it a beer, you can totally do that this coming November 4th.  This album can drive, vote, serve in the military.  You can have sex with this album if you would really like to, or take naked pictures of it.

There are musician's musicians and songwriter's songwriters.  Loveless is a producer's production; Kevin Shields purportedly spent a quarter of a million pounds on it, which is utterly insane, but it's all on the record.  An epic wall of sound that makes Phil Spector sound like a piece of drywall your cheapass college landlord put up so he could rent the same apartment to you and the guy next door.  But gorgeous, y'know?

Anyway, though, as of this writing--maybe not this posting--we have the above gorgeous little rendition of Loveless' "To Here Knows Where" from Rachel Zeffira, courtesy of NPR.  Zeffira is quoted as saying she'd never heard of MBV until a few years ago; well, that's okay, I'd never heard of Zeffira until just now, but she's swell and this is a sweet take on the song.  To say I'll settle for it is a little unjust insofar as there's no "settling" here--she's great, right, and this cover would be welcome even if we weren't all in a fuddle wondering if MBV's Kevin Shields was fucking with our heads again when he claimed there was a record about to hit the shelves.  But enjoy, right, because it's a pretty awesome cover and it's a pretty awesome song.



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