Friday, January 30, 2004

Our President from a Hole in the Ground



As usual, Paul Krugman concisely says what we're all thinking:

Surely even supporters of the Iraq war must be dismayed by the administration's reaction to David Kay's recent statements. Iraq, he now admits, didn't have W.M.D., or even active programs to produce such weapons. Those much-ridiculed U.N. inspectors were right. (But Hans Blix appears to have gone down the memory hole. On Tuesday Mr. Bush declared that the war was justified "under U.N. Resolution 1441, no less" because Saddam "did not let us in.")

So where are the apologies? Where are the resignations? Where is the investigation of this intelligence debacle? All we have is bluster from Dick Cheney, evasive W.M.D.-related-program-activity language from Mr. Bush and a determined effort to prevent an independent inquiry.

True, Mr. Kay still claims that this was a pure intelligence failure. I don't buy it: the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has issued a damning report on how the threat from Iraq was hyped, and former officials warned of politicized intelligence during the war buildup. (Yes, the Hutton report gave Tony Blair a clean bill of health, but many people including a majority of the British public, according to polls regard that report as a whitewash.)

In any case, the point is that a grave mistake was made, and America's credibility has been badly damaged and nobody is being held accountable. But that's standard operating procedure. As far as I can tell, nobody in the Bush administration has ever paid a price for being wrong. Instead, people are severely punished for telling inconvenient truths. And administration officials have consistently sought to freeze out, undermine or intimidate anyone who might try to check up on their performance.


So let's recap:

President Clinton lied abut a blowjob, which hurt his wfeelingsalings and resulted in a drawn out bout of dirty politics culminating in a porno novel called the Star Report and impeachment proceedings only the second time in US history this penalty has ever been used. For a blowjob.

President Bush lied about Weapons of Mass Destruction, which resulted in the deaths of 500+ US soldiers, hundreds of coalition soldiers and uncounted tens of thousands of Iraqis, yet he's been given a pass by the media, and has not even offered a lame excuse for how or why he lied. About a war.

War or Blowjob: which of these two activities is a matter of National Security with geopolitical implications that are far reaching andjeopardizepordize our standing in the international community and which is an inaproriate personal matter best handled in private? Not a hard question. Yet for some reason, our media watchdogs aren't interested in even entertaining the idea that our current president is ncompassionatesionate, nor even competent but in fmiserableserable failure putting the safety of our country at stake, all so his corporate buddies can make a fast buck.

I'd like to think that this travesty of justice will one day be rectified. But I'm not holding my breath. I've lived in the US my whole life and I know how our legal system works. Bush is rich, with rich friends in high places. He won't be impeached and probably won't be chastized for his deadly lies. Instead, he'll very likely be rewarded for his failure and reapointed as our leader.

This is George W. Bush's America. If it weren't for the lack of togas and orgies, we'd hardly be able to tell it from Caligula's Rome.

_________
Update: edited to remove alien signals and add an orgy.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

So That Rash, It's Going to go Away, Right?



The astute reader will note that I have updated the Recently Checked Out section on the right column. I've added The Thackery T. Lambshead Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases by Jeff Vandermeer, which is a fascinating and, dare I say it, addictive little book that is, as might be inferred from the title, a collection of made up but still highly infectious maladies. I've had only a few brief moments to peruse the Guide's pages but I'm already certain my uncle died from a rather nasty case of Mongolian Death Worm Syndrone and once, in the third grade, I had a third eye infection. Worse, I'm startled to find that I have three of the symptoms described under Wife Blindness and The Wuhan flu. Oh dear.

On a serious note, two fellow bloggers have taken ill with actual diseases. So if you get a chance send a thought or word or prayer (if you're into that sort of thing) out to Stradiotto and Steve Gilliard.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

"I Didn't Spend Six Years In Evil Medical School So You could Call Me "Mr. Evil'."




"Weapons of mass destruction including evil chemistry and evil biology are all matters of great concern, not only to the United States but also to the world community. They were the subject of U.N. resolutions," Ashcroft said [snapping his rubber gloves].


~via Tom Tomorrow

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Signs and Portents




You can ask Trina Magi anything; she's ready to help you find the answer. Who, exactly, was on Richard Nixon's "enemies list"? How do you create a cranberry bog? Where do you find the marketing data you need to write a business plan? How can one find a photograph of Jesus Christ?

No question is foolish, she believes, though that last one -- which a student truly did ask -- still draws a smile. In fact, it's the very unpredictability of what's on people's minds that makes her daily stint on the reference desk at the University of Vermont's Bailey/Howe Library, in Burlington, so rewarding. "We want to nurture a love of inquiry in others," she says, "not squelch it or make people afraid to ask questions."

These days, it's not people fretting about what she might think of their questions that worries Magi; it's their unease about what the federal government might think. When the USA Patriot Act passed in October 2001, it contained language in Section 215 making it easier for federal agents to look into the business records of, among other places, libraries and bookstores. In particular, agents no longer need to show probable cause before getting a judge's approval to round up private records; the act also makes it illegal for the keeper of those records to tell any one else -- including the customer or patron involved -- about the investigation.

To Magi (whose last name is pronounced "Maggie") and other librarians, all of this strikes at the heart of free inquiry: the right to privacy. "It's one of the basics of librarianship, to respect privacy," says Gail Weymouth, chair of the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the Vermont Library Association, "to understand that what people read isn't necessarily what they believe, and to give them the ability to come in and find information without any chilling effect."

The fear of that chill -- the possibility that people will not explore questions because of how that might look to the authorities -- has turned Magi into an anti-Section 215 crusader.

~ Rob Gurwitt. "Defender of the Free Word: Librarian Trina Magi stands up to the Patriot Act." Mother Jones. January/February 2004.


Not only does provision 215 of the Patriot Act undermine this basic tenant of librarianshipñ the right to privacy, it instills a fear in people to read, at least on a subliminal level. The message is quite clear: ìUncle Sam doesnít want you reading anything dangerous, so play it safe kids and just donít read at all.î

Perhaps this is just a bit of unwarranted hyperbole on my part. Iím sure Attorney General John Ashcraft has our best interests at heart. After all, why would an Evangelical Christian who spends thousands of dollars to drape bare breasted statues, is deathly afraid of calico cats and anoints himself with oil in the manner of Old Testament Kings want to restrict our access to information?

Itís no surprise to anyone that people already have a hard enough time becoming motivated readers. The reasons, I think, begin with the flawed manner in which we look at literature and treat the written word in Junior High and High School. Itís merely something to be dissected and analyzed, like that fetal pig in biology class. Which is not to say that critical thinking of a work is not useful; it is, very much so. But we donít temper this analytical attitude by teaching also the basics of aesthetic appreciation or that some books, like some paintings exist as just Art for Arts sake, that not every novel is a moralizing stump speech by a closet politician. Instead, most children are taught that books are just a jumble of arcane symbols and if you donít have the marbles to decode them you arenít going to get into that ivy-league school (unless your daddy was a graduate and has friends on the board of trustees then you can just spend your youth blowing up frogs with firecrackers, without a care in the world).

Of course, not all children are taught to fear the inscrutability of the written word. I certainly wasnít. But my parents are teachers. Many of the kids I went to school with werenít. But it was a private school and many of them were the offspring of doctors and lawyers. Many were also Jewish and thus had a culturally fostered appreciation of knowledge and scholarship. But for those who werenít raised in an environment where book smarts were applaudedñ which would seem to be the vast majority of the population of the US, there exists already that gulf of mistrust and lack of understanding between them and that daunting volume of poetry by e.e. cummings, philosophy by Bertold Brecht or mathematical theorems of Sir Isaac Newton.

Provision 215 doesnít help matters any. It encourages mistrust of avid readers especially if they happen to like perusing almanacs.


In truth, librarians are hardly the only people alarmed by the Patriot Act, which has sparked a groundswell of ideologically diverse opposition. Yet it is the foursquare defiance found in libraries that seems to have nettled the Bush administration most, as suggested by John Ashcroft's rebuke last fall that the nation's librarians have fallen prey to "baseless hysteria."

Department of Justice spokesman Mark Corallo says that Section 215 simply allows investigators to do what they have been able to do all along -- gather evidence. Exempting libraries, he argues, "would create a terrorist safety zone." But librarians like Magi across the country have rejected this you're-with-us-or-you're-with-the-terrorists logic, buying paper shredders, purging borrowing records, and warning patrons that their records are no longer private.

Go looking for the earliest stirrings of this resistance, and you'll be led back to Magi. During the fall of 2002, she met over dinner with fellow UVM librarian Peter Spitzform, former state ACLU head Ben Scotch, and writer Judith Levine. They drafted a letter to Vermont's congressional delegation arguing that the Patriot Act threatens "the community of readers, researchers, and information-seekers." Magi had just stepped down as president of the Vermont Library Association; she took the letter to its executive board and persuaded them to sign on and become the first state library association to go on record opposing Section 215.


Laws that do not change the way we behave do not require resistance. They are just natural extensions of our existing behavior and are thus invisible (and some could argue, superfluous but thatís another essay). The Patriot Act is not one of these laws. Itís opponents arenít simply a bunch of high strung, hysterical librarians (a beast rarer than a unicorn or jackalope) or radical lefties with a soft spot for terror tactics (whom you are about as likely to meet as a leprechaun). Itís concerned citizens who oppose this law. Itís science fiction fans and Tolkeinites, professors, students, freethinkers, activists and liberal nuns. All the sorts of people who use libraries and bookstores, for all the right reasons: to stay informed. All the people John Ashcraft and George W. Bush donít want to stay informed, because an informed population doesnít just roll over and take proto-fascist, anti-intellectual legislation lightly. They fight it with whit, vigor and genuine patriotic fervor. In the end, this is what Shrub a Dub, Defib Dick and Crisco Johnny fear the most: pissed off librarians.


"We thought we'd get a nice response saying, 'Thanks for your letter, I share your concern,'" says Magi. Instead, the office of Vermont's lone representative, independent Bernie Sanders, called to say that Sanders planned to introduce a measure to exempt libraries and bookstores from Section 215. "I voted against the USA Patriot Act and knew it was not a good piece of legislation," he says. "But the truth is, I was not as familiar with all aspects as I should have been." The librarians' letter, he explains, along with a similar request from the New England Booksellers Association, persuaded him to act; so far, his measure has picked up more than 140 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle.

Magi, in the meantime, is still talking to anyone who will listen about Section 215. Raised as a Seventh-day Adventist, she cut her teeth on protest when she agitated -- unsuccessfully -- for the church to ordain women as ministers." I don't feel uncomfortable about being out here," she says of her increasingly public role. "We need to have a conversation -- we need to have the debate that didn't happen before the law was passed."

Friday, January 23, 2004

What, Me Cynical?



I haven't blogged about the State of the Union Address for the simple fact that it's all a bunch of fucking lies. For an assortment of solid, thoughtful and spot-on refutations of these lies, close your eyes and click at random on the blogroll. Bush has been called out on his spineless array of fibs, distortions, half truths mischaracterizations and thinly veiled politically motivated myths by everybody and their dog, too (and in far more even handed language that I could ever muster).

OK, yeah, I'm pissed. And I know, it's not like Bush hasn't lied to us in the past (see anytime the bastard's opened his mouth, ever, or just last year's SOTU, if you want to refresh your memory of things Bush didn't do) so why am I so hot over this particular speech?

I think I've hit my limit of lies. I'm full up to my eyeballs with them. And there's some whoppers, on everything from the environment ("Global Warming? Never heard of it!") to his on-going march to hand the keys to the treasury over to his corporate buddies while pretending he's cutting taxes. I've simply had enough. So all the civility has left me, at least in regards to the son of a bitch occupying the White House and his army of turd munching fascists.

If you're reading this and agreeing with even half of the invective I have, you owe it to yourself to vote Democrat in November. Whatever your real political leanings, however radical or anti-establishment you are, just fucking vote for whomever the Democrats nominate. It's the only reasonable way to get this fucker out of office before he kills half of us in some ridiculous war and sells the rest to Corporate America as slaves.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Lost Maps and What We Leave Behind



Tobias Seamon tells us what he's learned from literature:

"Dracula" illuminated the perils of foreign travel: fatigue, disingenuous sleeping arrangements, and unappetizing dietary options.

***

Treasure Island" made it plain that every great adventure (fiscal, sexual, psychological) begins with a lost map.

"The Pit and the Pendulum" was a lesson on why to avoid Baltimore at all costs.

"And Then There Were None" made me love one of the world's deepest truths: that by the end everyone is dead, and the only way to identify the killer will be the belles lettres we have left behind.


Some of what I have learned from literature:

"Illuminatus!" taught me that the world we live inñ and our language, is far stranger and more humurous than i ever thought possible.

"The Stranger" showed me that there is nothing to fear. Ever. Even death is just something to do to fill up an afternoon.

"Tlon Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" ilustrated how the most unsettling things are very, very tiny and often overlooked.

"Fight Club" taught me to hate what modern humanity has created in the name of progress.

"The Martian Chronicles" taught me to love modern humanity, in spite of what horrible things progress brings.

President Bush's Fuzzy Math



Leah, over at Corrente pointed me to this story entitled, George W Bush and the real state of the Union.

Today the President gives his annual address. As the election battle begins, how does his first term add up?

***

28: Number of days holiday that Bush took last August, the second longest holiday of any president in US history (Recordholder: Richard Nixon)

13: Number of vacation days the average American worker receives each year

3: Number of children convicted of capital offences executed in the US in 2002. America is only country openly to acknowledge executing children

1st: As Governor of Texas, George Bush executed more prisoners (152) than any governor in modern US history

2.4 million: Number of Americans who have lost their jobs during the three years of the Bush administration

***

1st: This administration is on its way to becoming the first since 1929 (Herbert Hoover) to preside over an overall loss of jobs during its complete term in office

9 million: Number of US workers unemployed in September 2003

80%: Percentage of the Iraqi workforce now unemployed

55%: Percentage of the Iraqi workforce unemployed before the war

43.6 million: Number of Americans without health insurance in 2002

130: Number of countries (out of total of 191 recognised by the United Nations) with an American military presence

40%: Percentage of the world's military spending for which the US is responsible

$10.9 million: Average wealth of the members of Bush's original 16-person cabinet

88%: Percentage of American citizens who will save less than $100 on their 2006 federal taxes as a result of 2003 cut in capital gains and dividends taxes

$42,000: Average savings members of Bush's cabinet are expected to enjoy this year as a result in the cuts in capital gains and dividends taxes

$42,228: Median household income in the US in 2001

$116,000: Amount Vice-President Cheney is expected to save each year in taxes

***

35: Number of countries to which US has suspended military assistance after they failed to sign agreements giving Americans immunity from prosecution before the International Criminal Court

$300 million: Amount cut from the federal programme that provides subsidies to poor families so they can heat their homes

$1 billion: Amount of new US military aid promised Israel in April 2003 to offset the "burdens" of the US war on Iraq

58 million: Number of acres of public lands Bush has opened to road building, logging and drilling

200: Number of public-health and environmental laws Bush has attempted to downgrade or weaken

29,000: Number of American troops - which is close to the total of a whole army division - to have either been killed, wounded, injured or become so ill as to require evacuation from Iraq, according to the Pentagon

90%: Percentage of American citizens who said they approved of the way George Bush was handling his job as president when asked on 26 September, 2001

53%: Percentage of American citizens who approved of the way Bush was handling his job as president when asked on 16 January, 2004

The list goes on and on.

Leah suggests we make a scorecasrd out of it and simply show it to anyone we know who drank the State Of The Union coolaide and thinks Bush is doing a good job. It'll be a whole lot easier than just frothing at the outh and yelling, "He's a God Damned liar!" Besides, people love statistics. Just ask anyone who's a baseball fan.

I thought about printing up a baseball card with Bush's picture on one side and these stats on the back. But frankly, he's done so many bad things that the card would have to be the size of one of those Rand Macnally maps. You know th eones. They hang over the blackboard cover an entire wall.

Strike three, Mr. Bush. You're outa here!

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Running in Circles



I swear I'll be blogging again soon. It's just been a busy couple of days, what with settling in to the new job and finishing up a paper for a professor so he'll let me pass a course. (By the way, thanks to all my Liberal Coalition pals for helping me out with the Q&A session. You were all Very Helpful!).

I haven't been posting much on the Caucus in Iowa for two reasons: 1) everyone else is, and doing a mighty fine job so I'd just be linking you to their sites and going, "Yeah, what they said," and 2) I don't actually know quite how the Caucus process works. I hear the word Caucus and all I can picture is a bunch of animals running around in a circle, gibbering nonsense and tormenting little girls (and from what I do know about the Caucus process, this isn't really that far from the truth...)

So soon, the Librarian will return. And I'll be collecting all my overdue fines, just you wait and see.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Something Under the Bed is Drooling*



I was just over at Eschaton and boy howdy, are the comments knee deep in trolls! Fellow LC member Jesse over at Gotham City 13 seems to have a few Friends of Rumpelstilskin hanging out under his posts as well.

I'm fascinated by trolls. Their activity can almost be predicted according to the waxing and waning of scandals swarming around Bushco with peek trolling (and troll baiting, let's be honest) occurring just after a whopper breaks. Like the O'Neal thing. When some Neocon makes a gaffe, it must just twist their nipples to know that their boys have only a very tenuous grasp of power and that if they were to slip just a little, they might be able to be pushed off the hill and then we'd have a new king.

Now as for troll baiting, I have to admit, I'm a notoriously argumentative blogger. I like to pick apart faulty syllogisms and poke holes in wonky lines of reasoning. (I also enjoy shooting fish in a barrel and am partial to searching for needles in haystacks. A guy's gotta have hobbies).

But it does get tiring, brow-beating Republican lickspittles. Kinda makes me glad I'm not so popular, as high troll traffic would make it notoriously hard for me to keep things nice and quiet around here (it is a Library, after all). Though I wouldn't mind a few comments about my book...

_________
*My apologies to Bill Watterson for the blatant plagiarism.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Southern Comfort



Bob Harris, roving correspondent for This Modern World, tells tall tales of New Zeland, Middle Earth obsession and all. But it really gets interesting when he starts discussing actual Kiwi culture, especilay their attitude about the US:

I don't know how to convey the depth of public disdain for Bush down here. It's casual; it's assumed; it's like being against poverty, ignorance, intestinal worms, or potato blight.

And while I have yet to see even a hint of anti-Americanism directed at myself -- most folks everywhere seem to understand intuitively that I am not my government, a consideration I suspect the people of Iraq might have appreciated from us -- this next is fairly mind-blowing.

A recent study published in the Sunday Star-Times asked Australians and New Zealanders which country they would like to visit, but would not, because they consider it too dangerous. Here are the results:

    1. United States (14%)
    2. Iraq (13%)
    3. Indonesia (11%)
    4. Israel (7%)


and so on.

I kid you not; I can't find a link online, but I've got a hard copy of the paper in my bag. All in all, 28% of New Zealanders want to visit America. Fully half of them won't.

The Aussie numbers are almost identical. America is consciously avoided in numbers down here exceeding even countries in open internal armed conflict.

I was spun around by those numbers myself. Looking again at the phrasing of the question, you'd think America's number is obviously amped by the large number of people who want to visit in the first place.

But the poll also asked which countries Kiwis wanted to visit, safety aside. The whole civilized world shows up at the top of that list -- the UK, Canada, Italy, France, etc. The U.S. is the only industrialized country on the entire considered-too-dangerous list.

Think about it... half the people down here who want to see the U.S. think it's too dangerous to be worth an actual visit.

Half.

Why? Not exactly hard to guess, thanks to the steady stream of orange alerts, not to mention our rate of violent crime, obsession with firearms (widely seen as ludicrous), and lack of national health care that might help a visitor taken ill. Also, seven percent of those polled in both countries wouldn't visit the US simply on ethical and political grounds, and another seven percent would not visit the US because they believed there was too much corruption.


Bob finds similar sentiment over in Australia as well. So, it isn't just domestic lefties (and centrists, moderates, intelligent conservatives, small children and most animals) that are disturbed by America under the Neo-cons, it's pretty much the entire Southern hemisphere as well.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Science Fiction



Fellow LC member, Rivka at Respectful of Otters has a great post explaining why President Bush's announcement of a future Mission to Mars is the best Science Fiction money can buy.

And that is the really exasperating part. We have the technology, the vision, the manpower, the expertise and above all, the desire to shoot for the Mars and beyond. Just not the money. And Bush knows this. And worse, he doesn't care. He is purposely yanking on the dreams of sci-fi geeks and future astronauts everywhere, all to garner a percentage point in his bid for reSelection. Then he'll ignore it for the next four years and let the Democrat that has to clean up after him take the fall for being the spoil sport who cancels the Mars Colony due to budgetary constraints. It's shallow, crass schoolyard politics at its worst.

The part that breaks my heart and makes me want to scream is that it will probably work. He'll get the applause, just like he did for the AIDS project that he's underfunding and for No Child Left Behind and Fill in the Blank. And no one in the media will call him on it.

Welcome to the future, folks. We all thought that 2004 would be just like Science Fiction. Too bad we got our wish.

Candidate Not-the-Mindkiller



Amb. Carol Moseley Braun was on the Daily Show last night and in the span of about two minutes, referenced Star Trek and quoted from Dune (she said that "Fear is the Mindkiller" while speaking, in a roundabout manner, about Bush's use of fear as a tool for influencing the people). She also was intelligent, clear minded and had a definite progressive attitude and a willingness to do the work needed to spread peace and prosperity.

She hasn't got a proverbial snowballs chance in winning the nomination.

And not because she's black, or a woman. Frankly, I'd vote for her, even if she wasn't running against Herr Bush and the Patriot Gang. But she'll get smeared as being all squishy soft and womanly on Security and Defense and so will be seen as week instead of how she actually is, which is progressive, literate and honest.

Personally, I'd like to see a candidate for president who has taken the progressive attitudes of Star Trek and the great Utopian sci-fi stories to heart. I think that's a good way to get us into a prosperous future, by embracing idealism and tempering it with judicious thiking and compassion for our fellow mankind. Sadly, it is unlikely that will happen anytime within the next eight to twelve years though. And especially so long as Bush is in office, we're all stuck in the Black Iron Prison. Help us, Arumcheck!

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

An Antidote to Book Snobery



Friedrich, one of the 2Blowhards has posted an interesting essay on the subject of Book People and their inherent snobery. He begins by comparing Book folk to Movie folk, saying, and I think rightly, that Movie people take the good with the bad and love it all. His primary example of the rollicking Movie Person is Quentin Tarantino. Now weather or not you like his films, you have to admit, Mr. Tarantino loves him some movies. All movies. From subtitled French Art House fair to Classics, to Hollywood trash, to grainy Hong Kong bloodbaths, it's all good in it's own way, damn the art vs. money debate. And I think Friedrich has a point. I'll let him explain it:

I find the gestalt of the book world oppressive; it gives me a pain and it makes me grumpy. And I'm often left wondering: how can books people say of themselves that they love books when they look down their noses at 90% of the books that are published? They disdain not just Stephen King but also self-help books, visual books, and trash biographies; they relish intense discussions about what measures up as a "real book" and what doesn't. (My staggeringly original response to this tiresome issue: They're all books, for god's sake.) IMHO, what books people love isn't books; what they love is their own standards, and their fantasies about what literature should be.

Movie people are usually hearty souls who don't mind a robust disagreement; books people cleave to what's been pronounced worthy. Tell a respectable publishing-world person that you like a Jackie Collins novel (and I liked the one I've read very much), insist that you see real merits in the book, and watch your interlocutor recoil in chagrin. She feels pity, pain and horror for your benighted soul. Tell a film world person, on the other hand, that you adored the movie version of "The Other Side of Midnight" (and I did), and he's likely to crack up and start telling you about all the gaudy trash that he loves too.

Now, he admits that this is a bit of a generalization and maybe so, but it gives you a snapshot of the dichotomy between the two worlds. Now, I for one don't know any true Book Snobs. Personally, I think the Book Snob is a rare creature, found only in academia and perhaps New York, where the publishing elite mingle incestuously. Though I recognize the tendency in my own tastes to know what he's talking about.

It's no secret that I don't like Stephen King's writing. And Mr. King is considered, well, the King of Middle of the road fiction. And even I admit, he can tell a story. But this is my problem: he's so thoroughly middle of the road. Friedrich hits on this point as well, that most people who love Movies, books, and food, love the visceral thrill of watching, imagining and eating, and what we really like is anything with flavor and color and texture. What we hate is the bland, steak-and-potatoes-every-night diet, the marketed-to-death Blockbuster that weíve all seen a hundred times, justwith different actors and diffeent settings. We cinematic and literary hedonists love anything that isnít boring and bland. And Stephen Kingís writing, for me at least is bland. It has no poetry, his stories do not wrestle with any Big Ideas. They're just good yarns.

Now, This doesn't mean I don't enjoy a good bit of trash writing every now and again. There's nothing finer than plowing headlong through an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel. I love the Warlord of Mars Books for their adventure, barely stifled sexuality and old fangled, pre-space age notions of science and science fictionality. Sure, Burroughs was a racist and a little too enamored with the eugenics movement but he wrote some finely plotted stories and at least tried to grab that old brass ring, and show a glimpse of the Big Picture of It All. But if we can judge by the Literary Darlings of the month (and I'm not saying we should but indulge me a moment) we are to believe that Burroughs, King, all those romance novels and everything in between from pot boiler sci-fi, to noir crime dramas are just so much stuff; not really anything to be read and certainly nothing we shuld seriously considder the writerly merrits of, oh no, certainly not, unless it's from the end of an upturned nose.

I, and Friedrich, disagree with this literary Conventional Wisdom. But, as Friedrich asks, "What might a more earthy, worldly, and pleasure-centric view of reading and writing be like? I've seen very few signs of such a thing so far."

Heís got a point there, too. Luckily though, he offers a potential solution:

How might a more roughhousing conversation about books and writing get started? I'm not sure, but I do have a hunch. One of the many things about the books world that that took me by surprise was that it hasn't gone through a guilty-pleasures phase. Remember what a kick it was when movie people started admitting that the lousy movies they loved gave them as much pleasure as they got from their art-movie faves? Books people, bizarrely enough, almost never allow themselves such indulgences.

His suggestion, and mine, is to be proud of your guilty reading pleasures. Carry them around with you. Sit on the train, reading Harry Potter, or, if you must, Jackie Collins or Stephen King. They may not be my tastes, but they certainly are someone's and with a well placed mass market, who knows who'll you'll meet and strike up a conversation with?

As for me, I'll be the guy at the front of the bus, his nose buried in a tattered copy of Tarzan.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Off to the Salt Mines!



So tomorrow, I start my new job as Webmaster for a project page at the University. The best part of the job is that it's a Graduate Assistantship, which means I get some of my class credit hours paid for, as well as a stipend (Yeah! Money! I get to eat this semester!) I'm looking forward to the challenge of the new job and a new semester. So a more substantial post tomorrow, I promise.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

An Orcish Perspective



Experts in source-criticism now know that The Lord of the Rings is a redaction of sources ranging from the Red Book of Westmarch (W) to Elvish Chronicles (E) to Gondorian records (G) to orally transmitted tales of the Rohirrim (R). The conflicting ethnic, social and religious groups which preserved these stories all had their own agendas, as did the "Tolkien" (T) and "Peter Jackson" (PJ) redactors, who are often in conflict with each other as well but whose conflicting accounts of the same events reveals a great deal about the political and religious situations which helped to form our popular notions about Middle Earth and the so-called "War of the Ring.".

***

This tendency to distort the historical record recurs many times in T. Indeed, many scholars now believe the so-called "Madness of Denethor" in T (which depicts Denethor as a suicide) is, in fact, a sanitized version of the murder of Denethor by Aragorn through the administration of poison (possibly distilled from a plant called athelas ).

In contrast to T, the PJ redaction of Aragorn is filled with self-doubts and frequently rebuked by PJ-redacted Elrond. Probably this is due to PJ's own political and religious affiliations which seek, in particular, to exalt the Elvish claims to supremacy against Numenorean claims.

***

we can only guess at what the Sauron sources might have revealed, since they must have been destroyed by victors who give a wholly negative view of this doubtlessly complex, warm, human, and many-sided figure. Scholars now know, of course, that the identification of Sauron with "pure evil" is simply absurd. Indeed, many scholars have undertaken a "Quest for the Historical Sauron" and are searching the records with growing passion and urgency for any lore connected with the making of the One Ring.

~From LOTR: A Source-Criticism analysis by Mark P. Shea.

I had a similar thought while watching the movies. Wouldn't it be interesting to see some of the Orc or troll material? Find out what the Orc chieftain thought about all this fuss over jewelry? Perhaps further elaboration is deserved, when I haven't just spent ten hours driving across three states.

Link from Making Light

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Political Fever Dream



"Mother of twelve bastards, imagine it, the president and the poet laureate all in one man. Washington wouldn't know whether to shit or go blind. This is a country incapable of acknowledging a leader with the ability to blow up the world and beautifully describe it. We demand specialization and strong drink."

~An impressive simulation of Hunter S. Thompson, as done by an anonymous e-mailer known only as "Steve," posted on Neil Gaiman's Blog, commenting on the ontological scuffle over who really wrote some bit of doggerel attributed to President G.W. Bush.

But seriously. It raises an apocalyptic point: Were G. W. to be the much touted Poet Dictator of Plato's feverish Republic, we really would be in it then. When he had liberated the city of Fiume from Yugoslavia, Gabriele D'Annunzio, The Anarchist poet turned necromancer and fascist would rise every morning, after celebrating the sunís setting the night before with debauchery and fireworks, to recite verse from his balcony. Given what we know of G.W.s proclivities, all youíd need to do in order to dress the image appropriately is scatter the flaming carcasses of napalmed Mohammedans about the Rose Garden, dangle the heads of Democrats from barbed poles greased with the entrails of liberals, add in the occasional random flyover of Stealth bombers dropping hand grenades disguised as Bibles into the arms of children, while G.W. looks on the whole scene with glasy eyes and that infinite smirk Then the earth would shake and the sky would belch brimstone as the great and terrible He read from his book of favorite poems (bound in the skin of the last baby snow owl):

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

~W.B. Yeats, the Second Coming

Surely it would be The End.

"Le Roi est Mort"



On this day in 1880, Norton I, Emperor of the United States died.

Born in London, England on February 14, 1819 to John and Sarah Norton, Joshua Norton was a failed businessman living in San Francisco when, on September 17, 1859, he proclaimed himself Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico.

During his reign, Emperor Norton broke the Federal monopoly on currency by printing and distributing his own money, usually in 50cent denominations. These were accepted all over San Francisco by bar keeps and tavern owners. His various proclamations were published in the San Francisco Herald, though it is now suspected that some of the proclamations were written by the newspaper's editors for satirical purposes. One proclamation, though, is known to be authentic:

PROCLAMATION.



Norton I., Die Gratia, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, being desirous of allaying the dissensions of party strife now existing within our realm, do hereby dissolve and abolish the Democratic and Republican parties, and also do hereby decree disfranchisement and imprisonment, for not more than ten nor less than five years, to all persons leading to any violation of this imperial decree.

Norton I.


Given at San Francisco Cal., this 12th day of August, A.D. 1869

Known for his progressive attitude towards the city's large Chinese population, The Emperor once halted and dispersed a lynch mob by standing in the street, head bowed and praying.

His majesty was also a forward thinking civil planner, suggesting on September 21, 1872 that a survey be made to determine if a bridge or tunnel would be the best possible means to connect Oakland and San Francisco. This led to the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge.

On January 8, 1880, Norton I fell dead on the corner of California St. and Grant Ave. He was on his way to a lecture at the Academy of Natural Sciences. Emperor Norton I was buried at Masonic Cemetery. The procession was two miles long and more than 10,000 people turned out for the funeral.

ìEverybody understands Mickey Mouse. Few understand Hermann Hesse. Hardly anybody understands Einstein. And nobody understands Emperor Norton."

~Malaclypse the Younger, K.S.C.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Supply-Side Jesus and the Sermon on the Hill




The reckless liberalism of Jesus Christ cannot be allowed to take hold of the Christian values this great country has fought so hard to preserve.


~A message From Pat Robertson and the "Vote No on Jesus" Campaign

(Thanks to And Then... for the link).

Signals Through the Distant Void



Over at the Gamer's Nook we find startling evidence of Life on Mars!

OK, not really. But it's a fun bit of humor inspired by the Spirit Mission and based on what, just a hundred years ago, people really did think we would find on Mars. Back then we assumed that, because every inch of the Earth is inhabited by strange and exotic species, that likewise, every inch of the solar system would be as well. It's a nice bit of Edwardian parsimony, if a bit naive this late in the day. But just such startling notions gave rise to some of the greatest works of imaginative literature ever so it isn't a complete loss. But alas, it just is not true. Which is not to say that we won't find life out there eventually. I for one, think we will and soon. Heck, we may even find residual evidence of life on Mars but it certainly won't be the fecund Red Planet we dreamed it to be a hundred years ago. It might however, give us a sign of what to look out for, and anything that gives us incite in to how to prevent the Earth from becoming a deserted ball that some other species sends robots to study for signs of life one day in the future, the better.

Monday, January 05, 2004

The Secret Name of Things



Listen all you Democrats and Independents, all you week kneed liberals suffering for a sign; all you angry homos and wonton harlots; All you polibloggers, pundits, digital dream smokers; all you pixies, witches and suicide girls; all you black flag waversñ Listen:


Humanity has always invested heavily in any scheme that offers escape from the body. And why not? Material reality is such a mess. Some of the earliest "religious" artefacts, such as Neanderthal ochre burials, already suggest a belief in immortality. All modern (i.e. post-paleolithic) religions contain the "Gnostic trace" of distrust or even outright hostility to the body and the "created" world.

~Hakim Bey, The Information War


It is this ìGnostic traceî that guides our current regime in Washington D.C. So befuddled by the religious rhetoric of Spirit over Body are our leaders, that they threaten to kill us all. In order to save our souls, of course. What Bey calls the Gnostoc trace is the long and supremely held belief in one Big Lie: that there is a separation between body and soul. Well Iím here to say, there ainít no such thing.

They are one and the same thing. We are whole beings already. Undeliniated. Uncleaved. The lie that there is some glowing ball of light, somewhere in our gut that is from another planet where they donít sit down to take a crap (or even take a crap at all); the lie that says that once we die, that little ball of pure white, non-crapping, non-fornicating light will drift up into the sky and return to the cosmic fun house where it came fromñ Donít believe it. I donít know what happens when we die, or where we go when weíre through feeding worms and rotting in the ground. But if fairy tales about invisible Sky Fairies and Red Faced Boogie Men are the best thing they can offer, then I say shut the fuck up. Iíd rather go no place and be nothing forever after than spend the rest of eternity in church. The fact of the matter is this: Once you believe that whopper about heaven and hell and living in a fallen world full of sin, youíll believe any old thing they tell you, because every other lie, from the one about the ìEvil Doersî over There in that cold, foreign and dirty land to the ìFaith Based Public Worksî are all based on that first big Lie. The one even they believe.


But who cares? It's all "relative" isn't it? I guess we'll just have to "evolve" beyond the body. Maybe we can do it in a "quantum leap." Meanwhile the excessive mediation of the Social, which is carried out through the machinery of the Media, increases the intensity of our alienation from the body by fixating the flow of attention on information rather than direct experience. In this sense the Media serves a religious or priestly role, appearing to offer us a way out of the body by re-defining spirit as information.
~(ibid)


Shrub a Dub wants to be totally, intimately and carnaly aware of your Information. He wants to lick you up and down with his electronic eyeballs, to measure your soul-weight and body-surface and know your secret body-soul desires. He and uber lawgiver Crisco Johnny love the Big Lie. It gets them off and gives them your power, your vote. And if you think they wonít scare you into giving up your power-vote to them by shaking monkey masks and terror juju sticks come next fall, think again. Fear is their tool, just like lies and war and prison death camp violence. All violence is a sin against the body-soul. I may not believe in God but that one commandment, He got right.

Now, while there is no separation between body and soul, there should always be a separation between Church and State. While these convenient social fictions (Church and State are nothing more than ideas that we have all unconsciously agreed to believe in for the sake of Civilization), they can be seen as manifestations of Body (State) and soul (Church). They shouldnít be but often are. State and the Church are just further abstractions, meta-ideas created to give some tactile reality to an idea that must be conveyed, from mind to mind like some mental virus (a meme, in Info jargon). For if not conveyed, the idea disappears. The gods only exist so long as there is one person who believes in them. Stop believing in the gods and they die. Likewise, stop believing in the dirty memes that say your spirit is not your body and you no longer are complacent. When you arenít complacent you become nervous. Suspicious of those in power.

Hay, what are they doing to the environment? My body-soul has to live here! Quit dumping all that shit into the sky, motherfucker!! Thatís my sky! My river! Stop telling me what I canít put in my body-soul! That burning herb makes me glow from the inside out and if I want to glow all night long, to giggle and bark at the moon, thatís none of your business, so long as I show up for work on time and punch your fucking clock, earn my minimum wage, what do you care if I get high on the weekends? If I choose to dress up in fishnet stockings and all shiny beetle black leather, to dance and dream about love and death on a Saturday night and call it my religion, whatís it to you?


As you read these words, the Information Age explodes ... inside and around you - with the Misinformation Missiles and Propaganda bombs of outright Information Warfare.

~(ibid)


Wake up. The powers that be are lying to you. Not just about your body-soul but about the sacredness of your world-temple and your scripture-freedom.


ìOh you donít need all those trees and all that free space to move around and dance and sing in. let us take it for a while, abuse it for a bit. Weíll give you the illusion of safety and some pretty speeches about a bunch of shit you donít understand because weíve made all your gods into demons and talked them to death already.î

~ George W. Bush (translated via Secret Decoder Table I found in Poor Richardís Almanac)


Get nervous when you hear them lie. Then get angry. Then protest and rant and rave. Especially rave. Jump up and down and holler like youíve got spiders walking up your buttcrack. Jive all the way to New York next September. That will be our big rave. A party in the streets. Just because theyíre calling it the Republican National Convention doesnít mean itís all black ties and armbands. They call our love-making a sin, so what do they know about the secret name of things?


Traditionally, war has been fought for territory/economic gain. Information Wars are fought for the acquisition of territory indigenous to the Information Age, i.e. the human mind itself ... In particular, it is the faculty of the imagination that is under the direct threat of extinction from the onslaughts of multi-media overload ... DANGER - YOUR IMAGINATION MAY NOT BE YOUR OWN ... As a culture sophisticates, it deepens its reliance on its images, icons and symbols as a way of defining itself and communicating with other cultures. As the accumulating mix of a culture's images floats around in its collective psyche, certain isomorphic icons coalesce to produce and to project an "illusion" of reality. Fads, fashions, artistic trends. U KNOW THE SCORE. "I can take their images for reality because I believe in the reality of their images (their image of reality)." WHOEVER CONTROLS THE METAPHOR GOVERNS THE MIND. The conditions of total saturation are slowly being realized - a creeping paralysis - from the trivialisation of special/technical knowledge to the specialization of trivia. The INFORMATION WAR is a war we cannot afford to lose. The result is unimaginable.

~Information War


There, in the streets of New York Cityñ our holiest place, our Sodom-Gomorrah-Babylon-Jerusalem, weíll dance and shake our body-souls, and let them know: we arenít afraid. We arenít nervous. Weíre angry. And we arenít buying their lies anymore.


__________
Update: Link added, fnords vanquished.

Friday, January 02, 2004

Keeping Everything In Focus



There are more scientists alive today then at any other time in history. Likewise, the literacy level of not just the western capitalist societies but also the literacy rate the entire world is increasing with every year. The result is a boom in the arts and sciences; more people then ever before are meeting, sharing ideas and spreading information and not just in the traditional print and televised media but also across the Internet and through newly developing electronic media.

One of the most significant opportunities and greatest challenges provided by the information field today is keeping track of and distributing this bulk of information.

I first became aware of this phenomenon while working at Barnes and Noble as a bookseller. On a daily basis, people would come into the store looking for the latest book by their favorite author, or a magazine that featured an article on recent economic or technological news; once a month, at four thirty in the afternoon, we would be bombarded by calls and customers requesting the latest book announced by Oprah on her show that afternoon. Every summer, school children and their parents would come in, a dozen at a time, looking for the great classics of literature and I found it to be both a supreme challenge and an exquisite accomplishment in being able to help people find the book, magazine or movie; the information that they were searching for.

I have always had a love of literature. Both of my parents are teachers and instilled in me at an early age an appreciation for the arts in all their forms. Then one afternoon, a librarian friend and coworker of my wife came into the bookstore. I helped him find exactly the book he was looking for, without having to consult the computerized store database, as I was familiar with the section and author he was in search of. He suggested later to me that I might look into perusing a career as a librarian specializing in reference. I didnít think much of it at the time but later, I decided to look into the prospect of perusing just such a career, out of a desire to switch from a corporate retail atmosphere to the more refined environment of academia.

It is in just such an academic field that I wish to pursue a career as a reference librarian, a desire fostered, no doubt, as much by my upbringing by two dedicated academics as my innate love of books in general and literature in particular. This admiration for the arts and sciences is a necessary quality in the up and coming generation of librarians, in order that they may fulfill the needs of todayís varied institutions with a sincere and knowledgeable grounding in the information sciences. Acquiring a masterís degree in library science from the College of Information Studies will further my pursuit of a career as a Cataloger by providing me with the skills that are required in a field that is rapidly advancing towards being a hybrid of both traditional print and digital media.

***



This was my Entrance Essay for Grad School, hence the rather pedantic voice. Academics seem to like that sort of tone, as they keep asking for it in papers, over and over again. It must work, because it got me into the College of Library and Information Studies at the University of Maryland. I decided to post this essay, not just to show off my skills at writing Bullshit Academic Twaddle (a skill I have since honed in my first semester at University) but to answer a question often posed to me. Some people think it odd that I am going to Grad School in order to become a librarian.

Person: So, wait, you want to be a librarian?

Me: Well, yes.

Person: Why on Earth do you want to be a Librarian?!?

Thatís a good question. It isnít because I like the stress of being in school again after years of being outside of a rigorous academic environment and it certainly isnít for the fame or fortune. This combination of high stress and low yield led a friend and fellow Student Librarian to remark that the bar was never set so low. I tend to agree.

We Librarians donít do it for the money; a shocking and wholly alien concept in a capitalist society I know, but just try and imagine actually doing something you enjoy for a living. Which isnít to say that I enjoy being anal and filing things. As my wife can attest, Iím not the most well organized person and have a tendency to pile my clothes on chairs and leave dirty dishes in the sink.

I suppose itís partially to undermine the stereotype that Librarians are all middle-aged spinsters with prudish sensibilities and a vast collection of comfortable shoes.

Itís also partially to take a stand against the strident and disturbingly widespread a-literacy that threatens to overtake Western Civilization. This might sound like hyperbole to some but Iím serious. People may be reading more but they are understanding less. Our critical thinking skills are withering, most notably in the press, which, especially in this country where corporate media consolidation has drasticly doubled the number of mouthes but severely decreased the number of things they are saying. Itís not that people canít think critically anymore but that they simply donít want to. And technological advances, while helping to make our lives easier in many regards are aiding the spread of this problem. (Neal Stephenson goes into this phenomenon briefly in his novel, The Diamond Age where people are able to get by rather comfortably in life without ever having to really learn to read because everything is illustrated by moving pictures and dancing icons that convey just enough information to get by but not enough to understand why we should want to do anything more than just get by).

Now Iím not saying that I want to stop progress or go back to the way things were a hundred years ago. Thatís just silly Neocon talk and much to pat Buchananís chagrin, impossible. Iím not trying to conserve anything. I just want to preserve something that humans take for granted, namely their freedom to access Information without it being mediated by some do-gooding third party, restricted by a self appointed Big Brother, or classified into nonexistence by some dimwitted Corporatist monopoly, blithely stumbling towards fascism under the guise of Homeland Security and Tax Cuts for All (wealthy doners).

So yes, I want to be a Librarian. But not because I want to make the world a tidy place where everything is in order. In fact, I want just the opposite. I want a future rife with chaotic ideas. A world where multiple points of view and radical notions are shared freely. A future where we can debate the hell out of the newest, shiniest theory and progress towards something better without fear of pissing off some funnel-headed boob who thinks his old fangled King James Notions are the One Right Way for this and every other country.

__________
Update: Edited to remove fnords.

The Longest Day, Ever



On New years Eve, the wife and I went to a club with my sister-in-law to celebrate the new year. We had a blast! They played just the right balance of Goth, Eighties, and Industrial and we danced like their was no tomorrow. After a quick shower and change of clothes, we zoomed to the airport to catch our flight from San Antonio back to Savannah, with a quick layover in Memphis. Our second plane had only six people on it, seven if you include the Rudest Stewardess in the World.

Apparently our original stewardess was out partying, and didn't show up so they had to call in a backup, which delayed our flight by about thirty minutes. As tired as we were, Elvira and I didn't care. But boy did the Stewardess. She didn't bother to do the safety instructions, just told us to read the little card and ask her if we had any questions (we didn't especially mind this as by now I think the airplane safety and crash instructions have entered the Human Unconscious. Soon, babies will be born with an innate ability to use their chair cushions as flotation devices). But when it came time for her to hand out the drinks, she didn't even smile and ask, just leaned over and gave each of us a look that said, "What the fuck do you want now?!"

"Uh, Water, please."

Anyway, after 40 hours awake with only quick snoozes on the plane and a short nap once we got home, plus foraging for food in a city where every restaurant owner took the day off and seeing a great movie (if you get a chance, go see In America) the Longest Day Ever ended in a sleepy blur. My wife and I agreed that, while we had a lot of fun, we've gotten a little too old to do the dance-all-night-and-then-function-on-zero-sleep thing. Next year, we're making sure to buy seats on a plane that leaves later in the day. Or maybe the day after New Years Day.