Monday, January 31, 2005

Writerly Hijinks

Jeff VanderMeer, author of City of Saints and Madmen (which is on my Amazon Wishlist, in case anyone's interested) and who edited the fantastic Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases has a blog, on which he writes about nearly being mauled by a wild pig.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Storytime

I finished the rough draft of a story that will ultimately be a Birthday present for my wife. As she is a regular reader (hi honey!) I'm not going to go too much into the details of the plot, other than to say that it's a gothic fairy tale about an undead king and his demented descendants, featuring a deranged prince with designs on the throne and his twin sister, an insomniac princess who stumbles on his plot.

I'm working on illustrations for the story while Kevin and Jenny are reading over the manuscript. My intention is to have a few copies printed up at a local print shop, give it a semi-profeshional shine to the finished product. The story I've written, in the rough, is just a little over 10,000 words in length. Jenny says it's a short story while I say novella. So, when does a short story become a novella?

According to Wikipedia:

A novella is a story mid-way—in length (30–40,000 words) and structural complexity—between a short story (500–15,000 words) and a novel (60,0000 words, minimum). A novella focuses upon a single chain of events with a psychologically surprising turning point, e.g. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–94); and Heart of Darkness (1902), by Joseph Conrad (1857–1924).

Commonly, longer novellas are addressed as novels; though incorrectly, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Heart of Darkness are called novels, as are many science fiction works such as War of the Worlds and Armageddon 2419 A.D.. Occasionally, longer works are addressed as novellas, with some academics positing 100,000 words as the novella–novel threshold. In the science fiction genre, the Hugo and Nebula literary awards define the novella as: "A...story of between seventeen thousand, five hundred (17,500) and forty thousand (40,000) words."

The matter gets hazier when you look at the guidelines of various magazines whose short story requirements vary widely (3000 - 8000 words as the outer limits). While this is a minor technical definition and of no real importance since I'll be self publishing the thing, I'm still curious since even the experts disagree. Any second and third opinions?

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Bad News

I'm out of cat pictures. Luckily, my wife is a photographer. Aparently, so is Lucy.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

On Again, Off Again

Inspired by Mustang Bobby, I've added the link to my novel-in-progress, The Tragic Circus, back to the sidebar. I was up late last night trying to figure out how to fix some of the holes in the story and I think I'm on the right track. Only time, and your impute will tell, however.

My problem is the character of Simon. I don't know who he is or what he wants, yet. I don't think he does either, which is a very human and realistic motivation but it makes for some prickly story telling. The writer asks himself, "would Simon say such a thing?" or "Would he really do that?" And the answer is, gee, maybe, I don't know. A tad frustrating.

Monday, January 24, 2005

#48 and 49

#49 is still Gormenghast, which I'm still reading. But I took a few days off to reread one of my desert island books. #48 is The Hearing Trumpet, by Leonora Carrington. It's got everything: little old ladies, werewolves, fights for the Holy Grail, Pagan Nuns, pole shifts.

Way back in July '03, I had this to say about The Hearing Trumpet:

A coven of little old ladies, with the help of a pack of wolves, a nest of bees and a freelance mailman named Taliesin, steel the Holy Grail from the descendants of the Crusaders and return it to the Goddess from whence the Christians stole it in the first place. While illuminating the pagan roots of the Christian Mythology, Leonora Carrington also admonishes the church for its historically cruel treatment of women, especially the elderly variety, as second class citizens. But more then that, Carrington, a surrealist painter and writer, manages to evoke a brilliant sense of dreaminess and real emotion, something conspicuously absent from most surrealist writings. Personally, this is one of my all time favorite books.
And I haven't changed my mind. More on Gormenghast later.

*****

Hay, you want to read something weird? I found this while looking through my archives for that bit about The Hearing Trumpet.

The News From Iraq You Aren't Hearing

My wife heard form her sister in Iraq. The base's water has been cut off for a few days now and next week, during the elections, the PX will be closed. But not to worry, they do have a Pizza Hut (and plans for a bowling alley). The good news is, Naomi and her battalion will be setting out for a three day convey to Kuwait for their debriefing and she'll be on her way back to the states in early March.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Cryptocool

I've always had a fascination with puzzels, even though I'm pretty lousy at solving them. part fo the mystique of encryption is the hidden meaning. The secret wish that what will be revealed upon solving the problem will be more than just a grocery list of insignificant data, but something profound that perhaps might give meaning to life. Then, their are the puzzles that are just frickin cool. Wired News:

What does it say about the Central Intelligence Agency that its agents can crack the secret codes of enemy nations but can't unravel a coded sculpture sitting outside their cafeteria window?

It says, perhaps, that artist Jim Sanborn, who created the cryptographic sculpture named Kryptos that sits on CIA grounds, could have a career in covert operations if he ever grows tired of stumping the experts.

[...]

It's been nearly 15 years since Sanborn installed the 12-foot-high, verdigrised copper, granite and wood sculpture inscribed with four encrypted messages at the CIA's Langley, Virginia, headquarters in 1990. And it's been seven years since anyone made progress at cracking its code.

But publication of the novel The Da Vinci Code has renewed interest in solving the puzzle because author Dan Brown made two veiled references to Kryptos on his book's dust jacket. Brown's publisher sponsored a contest around the references, and Brown has hinted that his next book, which takes place in Washington, D.C., may feature the sculpture in some way.
This is good news to Elonka Dunin, an executive producer and manager at Missouri gaming company Simutronics, who is obsessed with cracking Kryptos and thinks that the more people who work on the puzzle the quicker they'll solve it.

"We have lots of different theories that we're chasing down," Dunin said of her band of sleuths, which includes some CIA employees. "But there's no way we'll know whether we're on the right track until something comes loose."

Kryptos isn't a complete mystery. Parts of it have been solved.

In 1998, CIA analyst David Stein cracked three of the four coded messages after diddling over the problem with paper and pencil for about 400 hours spread over many lunch breaks. Only his CIA colleagues initially knew of his success, since the agency didn't publicize it. A year later, California computer scientist Jim Gillogly gained public notoriety when he cracked the same three messages using a Pentium II.

But for 15 years, the last Kryptos section has remained unsolved. And when experts or amateurs do decipher it, they'll know what it says but not necessarily what it means. Sculptor Sanborn said the text is a riddle, which requires sleuths to be on the CIA grounds to solve it.

[...]

Until now, only three people were said to know the solution to Kryptos. Sanborn, a CIA cryptographer named Ed Scheidt who helped him choose and alter the coding techniques for the sculpture, and former CIA director William Webster, who received a sealed envelope containing the solution, which sits in a CIA archive until the time when someone solves the puzzle.

[...]

The CIA required Sanborn to write the solution down and present it to Webster so the agency wouldn't be embarrassed if the sculpture turned out to contain a message that was pornographic or critical of the agency. Sanborn gave officials an envelope with a wax seal. But Sanborn said he didn't give Webster the whole story.

"Well, you know, I wasn't completely truthful with the man," Sanborn said, laughing. "And I'm sure he realizes that. I mean that's part of trade craft, isn't it? Deception is everywhere.... I definitely didn't give him the last section, which has never been deciphered."


Connecting Dots

I'm hip deep in a short story, a fairy tale about an immortal King of a fictional European country called Zembla and his weird descendants. On a lark, I decided to google "Zembla" to see what would come up. I expected a few hits, since Zembla is the name of the fictional country of origin of the poet in Nabakov's Pale Fire. I only meant to rip of one of the great masters of 20th century literature and as a bonus, stumbled onto a great little blog called King of Zembla. Which means I'll probably need to rename the kingdom to be a bit more original. Any suggestions?

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Man, Is it Snowing or What?

My digital camera was stolen, so I don't have any pictures to prove it but trust me, it's coming down heavy. Looks like about six inches or so and from what I hear, we could have as much as a foot by tonight. Wowza.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Sometimes, You Get What You Pay For

Rick Perlstein in The Village Voice:

You might wonder—were you someone unfamiliar with or in denial about the ways of the Karl Rove Mafia—how George W. Bush could blunder into nominating someone as attorney general so obviously implicated in the most legally questionable and morally indefensible practices of his administration. You might wonder, too, how the administration seemed to be caught unawares by the bottomless pit of scandal in the past of its initial nominee for Homeland Security secretary.

Or you could realize that such nominations were not blunders, but intentional: that they were made not in spite of Alberto Gonzales's and Bernard Kerik's unsuitability for high office but precisely because of them. Keeping embarrassing facts on file about confederates is the best way to grip them into loyalty like a vise.


Read the whole thing, please. Then you'll start to see what we're in for durring the next four years, and probably for a long time after that.

Beer and Movie Night



I feel like I have cotton on my head. Not in the sick way ( I feel fine) but in the bored way. I've pretty much been stuck inside for the better part of the last two weeks and I'm kinda over it. But with the inpending snow storm, I'm sort of reluctant to get into anything long term that might involve me spending another three hours in the car. (It took me that long to get home wednesday. It sucked in that rightious way that only three hours in a car moving at ten miles an hour can.) So I think it's time to wonder up to the video store and see what's shaking, before the sky dumps a foot of frozen hell on my head.

Novel Update

I was looking over the part of my novel that I posted earlier this week and decided that it needs a lot of work. It's probably not a good idea to post something that's a work in progress. One of these days, I'll learn. So I'm taking it down for now. I'll still work on it from time to time and throw around some ideas for your consideration but for now, I thnk I'll sleep better at night if I just keep the actual words to myself, at least for now.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Story Time

The first three chapters of The Tragic Circus are posted on an adjacent page. There's a permanent link on the sidebar, under fiction. I had Haloscan auto-install the comments option, but they link doesn't seen to have appeared there yet. But when it does, do me a favor and fill it up.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Forgetful Catblogging


It's Saturday already. How forgetful I am.

The Long Awaited Post About Writing

About a year ago, I finished writing the first version of a novel. Please, hold your applause. It was good. I liked the characters and most of the words were even spelled correctly. I passed it around to a few people who agreed to be my test subjects. They all liked the story, more or less but weren't all that enthusiastic about it. I got a few notes back form these fine readers suggesting some improvements but mostly just comments along the line sof, "It was good." Which is nice to hear but not very instructive on how to make it great.

Along about six months ago I had a revelation concerning the story. It's major problem was the main character, a twenty something wannabe poet named Simon whose uncle, after disappearing mysteriously for twenty years, returns home, only to commit suicide. The existential crisis this event causes in Simon is resolved a little too quickly and then I move on to a larger section devoted to Simon's sister, Lilly, a devout catholic teenager who becomes pregnant. The problem is, if Simon is the main character, why do I resolve his problems early on? This conundrum is amplified by the fact that he meats Inez, a mortician who has clairvoyant dreams and they start dating. Their relationship isn't the problem, exactly, but what is is that she's a much more interesting character. This is what I realised six months ago.

So, I decided to rewrite the entire novel, but make it about Inez Vespertine, the mortician. Simon is now a secondary character, as is his mysteriously pregnant sister. Their uncle still dies but his story, alas, is left mostly untold. He's basically just an excuse for a funeral, where Simon and Inez meet.

I'm about thirty pages into this new draft and it's going well, though at times, the story seems on the verge of splitting into numerous little subplots, Inez and Simon's relationship (more rocky and unpredictable) being just one of them. There's also Astrid, Inez's best friend, a lesbian who has a crush on Inez and something happening with a man with a mustache who has a little notebook that he is writing something in, but what, I don't know just yet.

At present, these are little mysteries. Part of the writing process that is most enjoyable, in my opinion, is finding out what will happen with them, seeing where they lead me.

A question for the regular and irregular readers out there in Interweb land: If I were to post a few sections as they were finished (but still rough, you understand) would you be at all interested in reading them and offering some critical feedback? The commenting of course is the key. I want brutal honesty. If a bit of dialogue sucks, tell me but also tell me why it sucks.

Let me know what you think in comments below.

Winning One for Reason

CNN: Judge: Evolution stickers unconstitutional:

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- A federal judge in Atlanta, Georgia, has ruled that a suburban county school district's textbook stickers referring to evolution as "a theory not a fact" are unconstitutional.

[...]

"By adopting this specific language, even if at the direction of counsel, the Cobb County School Board appears to have sided with these religiously motivated individuals."

The sticker, he said, sends "a message that the school board agrees with the beliefs of Christian fundamentalists and creationists."

"The school board has effectively improperly entangled itself with religion by appearing to take a position," Cooper wrote. "Therefore, the sticker must be removed from all of the textbooks into which it has been placed."

Five parents of students and the American Civil Liberties Union had challenged the stickers in court, arguing they violated the constitutional separation of church and state.

I'm sure it's only a matter of time before someone in the Bush Administration or one of their bobbleheaded pundits dismisses Cooper as one of those "Activist Judges" turning our country all topsy turvy by looking at facts and reading the Constitution from time to time. However the right decides to frame this, it's a win for us godless heathans who want our kids to understand science in the classroom, not be forcefed dogma.

Monsters in the Library

My beautiful wife, Elvira sent me this story from Wired about Delicious Monster, a personal cataloguing program for Macs. It looks interesting and pretty flexible. If you're like me and Elvira and have far too many DVDs and books and need a way to keep track of them, this might be the answer. We lost our first copy of Fellowship of the Rings Extended Edition and had to replace it. Since then we'e been cataloguing our DVDs in a spreadsheet and card catalog, so we know what we have and who has it. This program is far more sophisticated. Perhaps I'll have more to say later, after I've tried it out a bit.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Friday Geekout

One of my fondest memories (and earliest conscious ones) was when I was four or five, sitting on the floor in the den with my father on Sunday afternoons, watching Sci-fi Sunday. This was a three hour window on Sunday afternoons, between hideously bad movies where one of the local affiliates (CBS, maybe? I seem to remember the eyeball popping up during comercial breaks) played Star Trek (TOS), Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica. I lived for these hours because my dad would explain as best he could to a five year old the the finer plot points I may have missed and the technical aspects that the stories hinged upon. I had a pretty good grasp of the intricacies of faster than light travel, phasers, cylons in particular and robots in general. At five, I had at least as good a grasp as the writers of those shows I would later discover, much to my disappointment.

This is how I became a nerd. It's my father's fault and I thank him for it every chance I get (which isn't nearly as often as I'd like).

Ever since this I've had a soft spot for cheesy science fiction TV shows. In the intervening years, this affection has been severely challenged, most often by the Star trek franchise. I'm now convinced that Berman and the gang at Paramount couldn't hack out a decent series if they had Harlon Elison's head in a jar and Stephen Hawking's genes spliced into their computers. (Come on folks, the idea of a prequal-type series about the first Enterprise was a good concept but why did you have to screw it up so badly? Instead of all that nonsense with Zindis and pre-federation politics, why not just do a show about Captain Christopher Pike, the first Captain of the real Enterprise? Recreate the bridge and sets and get us all embroiled din the Klingon War, with Romulans and Vulcans and the whole backstory from the original series. But no, we're stuck with the same old crap, warmed over from Voyager).

My Sci-fi spirits, however have recently been revived with the looming launch of the new Battlestar Galactica Series. There's even a blog about the show, so we can all geek out together.

I was really impressed with the miniseries and am very much looking forward to the weekly installments. They've kept enough nods to the original series while ramping up the drama and science a hundred fold. Which is good because, after catching an old episode of BSG a few days ago, I realized how severely undramatic the series was. Here's humanities last hope for survival and they're a bunch of rather relaxed fighter pilots (all with immaculately feathered hair) who are only moderately upset over the fact that twelve planets and an entire interstellar civilization have been destroyed in the span of a night. The new series adresses the innate horror of this tragedy as well as some of the implications in a more realistic manner, all without cutting any of the cool space dogfights (which are really impressive. they make Star Wars look clunky by comparison).

Thanks to Xeni at Boing Boing for the link.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Moral Theology Vs. The Tsunami III

In my previous post on the subject, I pointed out that the religious Right was surprisingly quiet about the Tsunami and any relief that they might be arranging for the victims. Turns, out there's a pretty good reason for some of these groups to not go bragging about their ideas for Tsunami relief. From WaPo (via Mustang Bobby and AmericaBlog):

A Virginia-based missionary group said this week that it has airlifted 300 "tsunami orphans" from the Muslim province of Banda Aceh to Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, where it plans to raise them in a Christian children's home.

The missionary group, WorldHelp, is one of dozens of Christian, Muslim and Jewish charities providing humanitarian relief to victims of the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami that devastated countries around the Indian Ocean, taking more than 150,000 lives.

Most of the religious charities do not attach any conditions to their aid, and many of the larger ones -- such as WorldVision, Catholic Relief Services and Church World Service -- have policies against proselytizing. But a few of the smaller groups have been raising money among evangelical Christians by presenting the tsunami emergency effort as a rare opportunity to make converts in hard-to-reach areas.

"Normally, Banda Aceh is closed to foreigners and closed to the gospel. But, because of this catastrophe, our partners there are earning the right to be heard and providing entrance for the gospel," WorldHelp said in an appeal for funds on its Web site this week.

The appeal said WorldHelp was working with native-born Christians in Indonesia who want to "plant Christian principles as early as possible" in the 300 Muslim children, all younger than 12, who lost their parents in the tsunami.

Back when I was in high school, there was an incident in Va Beach where a Baptist Church sponsored a youth group outing for inner city kids. It sounded like a good idea-- get kids off the street and let them play video games or checkers for a few hours so maybe they wouldn't turn to gangs. Then it was discovered that the church in question was driving into downtown, picking up the kids and taking them to be baptized. If any of the kids objected, they dropped them off and told them to walk home.

The problem here is the walk back to Jakarta is a lot further than the walk from the suburbs back to the hood.

If your faith compels you to help the needy, that's great. Reason should be enough to realize that these people, and others who are not as fortunate need our help but if you require that little extra push from the invisible man in the sky, fine. And hay, if you happen to strike up a religious discussion with an impressionable, scared, young Muslim kid while you're over there handing out bowls of rice and wrapping bandages, that's between you and them. But kidnapping kids and moving them half way around the world, brainwashing them into thinking that safety and sustenance is proportionate to how much you believe in some bullshit book of fairy stories, just to win points with some dead street preacher in your imaginary afterlife, well, that's just fucking evil.

And they wonder why the Muslim world hates us so God damned much that they'll hijack planes and use them as missiles with human warheads.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

#50

I've decided to jump on the bandwagon and take the Fifty Book challenge. For those who don't know, it's more of a personal challenge, to read 50 books in 365 days. There's no real reward, other than the obvious fun of reading a lot of books. I'll be keeping track of them here, and since I'm already behind, I should get started.

Book #50: Mumbo Jumbo, by Ishmael Reed

I've read this book before (hay, it's not against the rules to reread books! At least, I don't think it is...) Frankly, I used to like it a lot more than I did this time. It still has some fun, jazzy prose and I like the basic idea: that the spirit of dance is sweeping across 1920's America and an secret society of uptight Whites is trying to stamp it out while a group of Black Harlem Voodoo gurus are trying to find a way to encourage it. Along they way they liberate primitive art from museums and ship it back to where it belongs and thwart a 1000 year old Templar Librarian in the process.

What does it in though, is Mr. Reed's sometimes hamfisted expository dialogue. Reading three page long monologues about the evils of western civilization and how its done the African people wrong is OK. If you like that sort of thing. And I admit, I have my anti-western civilization sentiments but blaming it solely on White men is about as oversimplified as completely ignoring Black culture because it wasn't made by white people. And there is a healthy dose of self parody involved but it just didn't have the same punch it did the first time I read it. A-

Book #49 will be Titus Groan, by Mervyn Peake. This is a long one and could take a while so I'll probably tackle something else in the mean time, and get back to this one periodically.

Scribledybop

Sorry it's been almost a week with no new post but I've been traveling, getting set back at work and trying to resolve internet access issues. Well, all of those things are taken care of now, so posting will resume promptly. However. I don't want to continue on the same old road of ranting and raving. This year (think of this as a new years resolution if you must) I want to talk a bit more about my own writing endeavors. To that end, I'll have more posts (the first one coming soon) about some creative writing I'll be working on. I have a novel that's been languishing in various stages of rewrite, and a few half started short stories I want to finish up so there should be plenty of writerly craftwork to discuss. I'll post some excerpts here or on an adjacent page and ask for feedback and just toss out some plot knots and general ideas for consideration. Think of it as interactive writing.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Of Emperors, Cats and Crowns



I'll be travelling this weekend, so no new posts until monday. But Don't forget, Saturday, is January 8th, the 125th Anniversery of the death of Norton I, Emperor of the United States of America. Go, ye, and do likewise.

Creative Commies



Via Xeni over at Boing Boing, I found out that Emperor Bill the Magnificent thinks that Free Culture advocates are, "Sorta like communists." In response, Ian Meyer among others, have put together a few Creative Commie flags and images and are encouraging their distribution. Take and share, comrades.

Moral Theology Vs. The Tsunami II

Bill Berkowitz over at Working For Change has discovered that not a single website for any Christian Right Political Groups has links for donations or aide for the Tsunami victims. They still have plenty of time to gripe about immoral TV shows, the lack of Jesus being mentioned during Christmas and to bash gays, though. And my personal favorite:

...Over at falwell.com, the Rev. Jerry Falwell is explaining "The True Meaning of Christmas," recruiting for his new organization, The Moral Majority Coalition, and soliciting cruisers for a late July sojourn aboard the Queen Mary II.

While many Christian evangelical organizations have rushed to help the victims, why aren't the nation's major religious right political groups -- quick to claim the moral high-ground at every opportunity -- putting their organizational muscle to good use? Why hasn't the devastation from the earthquake/tsunami been on the radar screens of these groups? Are they all on a values vacation?

Compassion for the sick and needy? That must have been some other Jesus, preaching on some other mount. Republican Jesus don't give a shit.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

And I'm the Queen of Sheba

I'm a big fan of conspiracy theories. Kevin and Jay can both back me up on this; I love nothing more than sitting around getting drunk, talking about the Free Masons, synchronistic mysteries of history and the Knights Templar. The whole idea of secret societies really feeds my imagination and pondering the various threads of these stories is like generating spontaneous fiction. But I don't take any of them seriously for a second.

So of course, I was intrigued when I heard that the current Grand Master of the Knights Templar has asked the Vatican for an oppology:

If there is something implausible in the idea that huge stretches of world history have been secretly coordinated from a market town just north of the M25 - well, maybe that's what they want you to think. The local newspaper, the Hertfordshire Mercury, certainly seems convinced: over the past few months it has published several intriguing stories quoting local Templars, who told its reporter of a secret network of tunnels under the town that was still in use by the order. "It reaches beyond well known central Hertford locations," one Templar said, "including the tourist office, the castle, Monsoon, Threshers, the post office, Bayley Hall, and the council offices." Treasures of "immense importance" were hidden there, it was claimed. Was the quest for the Holy Grail finally about to come to an end? More surprisingly still, was it about to come to an end underneath Monsoon on Market Place?

The man who has persuaded the Vatican to consider apologising, Tim Acheson, meets the Guardian in icy morning fog in Hertford, wearing smart pinstriped trousers and a thick winter overcoat. His midnight-blue sports car is parked nearby. "As you might expect," he says, setting the tone for the day, "there are going to be some things that I'm not able to discuss."

Acheson claims to trace his ancestry to a renowned Scottish Templar family of the same name, though he won't confirm his own role in the group. Might he just be a practical joker who managed to fool the Vatican? "That could well be, couldn't it?" he says, as we order coffee in a Hertford establishment closely modelled on All Bar One. "I can't tell you anything to prove that I'm not. I think that would be a perfectly reasonable theory."

There are a number of suspiciously sharp points to Grand Master Acheson's story and the article is full of mystery and shadowy hints about strange and important information coming to light very soon, but nothing concrete. But then, it is rather hard to keep your society secret if you're the Grand Master and you go blabbing about where you keep the Holy Grail to every reporter that comes knocking. But for those of us who enjoy a little mystery and a hint of intrigue, we wouldn't have it any other way.

Thanks to David over at Boing Boing for the link.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Moral Theology Vs. The Tsunami

It never ceases to amaze me what sore winners Christians are. Various churches have conned, brainwashed and beaten 70% of Americans into believing in their fairy tales about a Jewish Carpenter and his gang of merry whores, tax collectors, and fisherman.1 A Born Again President and a Born Again GOP control all three branches of the US Government, with a little gold cross dangling around their necks and a copy of the ten commandments tacked to the wall. Drive through the South or Midwest of the US and you'll see billboards quoting scripture every hundred yards. You can't walk five blocks through any city without bumping your nose against a church. And yet, many Christians act as if we heathens are about to set the lions on them. Wish someone a Happy Holidays instead of a Merry Christmas and the holier-than-thou talking heads act as if you just crucified Jesus. Again. Make a movie that muses about the Humanity of Jesus and they start licking their lips and looking for the book of matches.2

It strikes me as odd that a the followers of the supposed Son of God can't handle a little criticism. That every suggestion that they might be a little off about putting so much stock in 5000 year old shepherd poetry and the ranting of ergot addicts is met with feverish derision and screams of moral outrage.

Christians are the thinest skinned hegemony in history. Despite their omnipresent influence in society, their faith can be challenged by movies, weakened by Rock and Roll and completely undermined by children's literature. In spite of the face of Jesus on billboards and God-themed television shows, the faith of the faithful seems poised to wither away at the mere hint of a bare breast. And sugest that there might be no God? Well, then you're a blood drinking satanic commie and you like to kick puppies, too. If there's no God, than what meaning is there in the world? The very thought shimmies the spines of the true believers. For a lucid example, see David Brooks' most recent existential crisis concerning the Tsunami:

If you listen to the discussion of the tsunami this past week, you receive the clear impression that the meaning of this event is that there is no meaning. Humans are not the universe's main concern. We're just gnats on the crust of the earth. The earth shrugs and 140,000 gnats die, victims of forces far larger and more permanent than themselves.

Most of the stories that were told and repeated this week were melodramas. One person freakishly survives while another perishes, and there is really no cause for one's good fortune or the other's bad. A baby survives by sitting on a mattress. Others are washed out to sea and then wash back bloated and dead. There is no human agency in these stories, just nature's awful lottery.

[...]

In the newspaper essays and television commentaries reflecting upon it all, there would often be some awkward passage as the author tried to conclude with some easy uplift - a little bromide about how wonderfully we all rallied together, and how we are all connected by our common humanity in times of crisis.

The world's generosity has indeed been amazing, but sometimes we use our compassion as a self-enveloping fog to obscure our view of the abyss. Somehow it's wrong to turn this event into a good-news story so we can all feel warm this holiday season. It's wrong to turn it into a story about us, who gave, rather than about them, whose lives were ruined. It's certainly wrong to turn this into yet another petty political spat, as many tried, disgustingly, to do.

This is a moment to feel deeply bad, for the dead and for those of us who have no explanation.

I agree with him on one point: It is a time to feel bad, but just about the dead and dispossessed. Then you shake yourself off, roll up your sleeves or pull out the checkbook and look for a way to help. This is not the time to natter on about the thinness of your fairytales and gaze at your navel and wonder aloud why God let this happen. Perhaps there is a reason events like the Tsunami fill us with horror and fear of the abyss: because it's a concrete reminder that stories about a man who lives in the sky are just that: stories told to children to shut them up and rock them to sleep. We're alone in this world, with just each other to get by on. Of course, admitting this would require a reexamination of the claims to infallibility of the witch hunters, past and present. Who wants to think about God's Plan in Iraq (as revealed to George W. Bush) when it's simply easier to believe that their is a plan and someone else knows what it is? Because if there's no plan, no simple moral message, painted on the clouds and illustrated in the blood of the dead, what reason is there?

We in the reality based community realized a long time ago that we all stand naked before the pit. That nature is beautiful and tragic and unconcerned with our days and ways. And you either accept that and get on with life or go hide in monastery somewhere and pretend that if you just believe hard enough, in Jesus, God or the President pretending to talk for them, that somehow you can avoid the next Tsunami. But you can't and you won't and you're just fooling yourself by anthropomorphizing nature and ascribing human reasons and applying broad moral shoehorns to events that have no reason or purpose.3 The 200,000 dead Tsunami victims weren't Noah's neighbors. They weren't wicked or decadent or Unchristian. They were people. Just like you and me. To try and find some Sunday School Moral Theme to this tragedy is not just petty and disingenuous but vile and unhinged. It disgraces the memory of the dead.

_________
1. Though church attendance in the US is at or bellow the 50% mark. He resides in their minds, if not in their hearts, at least.

2. However, a movie that graphically depicts Jesus' torture and crucifixion, that's a religious experience. Seems we Americans really do like torture.

3. Or worse have an all too human purpose. Sometimes I wonder if the majority of my fellow Americans are willfully deluding themselves about the President. For them, he has become a substitute savior (and a piss poor one at that). They realize this on some unconscious level but are so used to believing in their authority figures (it's a short ride down the elevator form King of Kings to the Office of the President) that they just ride a wave of blind faith and hope that somewhere, someone knows why we torture and kill. I guess it's easier than admitting that it's all human folly and greed. Good to know someone can sleep at night.

The Spirit Called Him Home

Will Eisner has died at the age of 87. Neil Gaiman has an appropriate obituary.

I had the pleasure to meet Will Eisner once, a few years ago. It was at a Sequential Art forum at my undergrad. A panel of artists and writers were discussing their art, the medium as a whole and generally being very nice to a bunch of geeks who desperately wanted to be just like them. And there he was. This old man with a white beard. He looked like Santa Clause and even acted a bit like him too, sitting there after the panel, enthusiastically chatting with a bunch of students who were hoping that if they stood there next to him long enough, some of his talent might rub off on them.

it's always unfortunate when someone who effected the way you look at the world (even indirectly) dies. It's like a thread has been cut and the tension it held, released. Now, a part of you, held in place by that thread for so long, flaps in the breeze, unteathered to anything substantial. I guess that will happen more and more, and in substantially more significant ways as I get older. But at least he left behind a body of work that will forever inspire young kids like me to go out into the world and make art, or at least, try to, anyway.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Polishing the Brass on the Titanic

I'm all for boycotting corporations and businesses that promote a conservative ideological message, employ sweatshops or violate environmental and human rights regulations. I haven't bought a Domino's pizza in over a decade and for nearly two years, I've been actively trying to dissuade all of my friends and family from shopping at WalMart. But I was disappointed when I found out last week that the new name on the liberal shopping shit list is Amazon.com. Atrios, among others bloggers have decided to drop Amazon.com partnerships and links and are encouraging their readers to stop shopping there because it was revealed that 61% of their political donations go to Conservatives. However, as Ezra at Pandagon points out, it isn't quite that simple:
But cases like Amazon are more complicated. If you look at where the money's going, the trend is less ideological and more pay-to-play. Utah Republican Chris Cannon, for instance, got the most in congressional contributions, with $4,000. But he's been a leader on the internet tax moratorium. And following Chris Cannon is Democrat John Dingell, with $3,500. In the Senate, McCain leads with $4,000, and Byron Dorgan (D) and John Ensign (R) bring up his rear, with $2,500 each. No donations were made in the presidential race. Further, Amazon is a good company. Their reaction to the earthquake was inspiring. They've created a viable e-commerce model that bursts with ingenious and unbelievably helpful innovations. I spend hours going through lists and reader reviews, and more time than I even want to admit discovering new bands through ever-elongating chains of recommended clips. Their used sellers marketplace has saved me a ton of money and allowed me to try all sorts of books I could have never otherwise afforded. Is it right to drop them because their political contributions tilt away from my ideal?

The Amazon situation is different. They don't push any ideology, they just make donations to Politicians that are backing legislation that helps them. That's not great, from a progressive-ideals standpoint, but from a business stand point it makes perfect sense. The problem is that so far, the alternative of choice among my fellow bloggers is Barnes & Noble. But B&N isn't any better, really. They may make donations to Democrats but they treat their employees like shit. I know, because I used to be one. And B&N is still a corporation and Democrats are still spineless. So this particular boycott is rather silly. Choosing to shop at one vapid corporation over another is splitting hairs to such a fine degree that it makes my head hurt. We have bigger problems, like our country's continued slide into fascism to worry about whether or not the money I just spent on a book at Amazon might end up in the pocket of one of the few moderate Republicans left in Washington.

If you really want an alternative to Big Corporate bookstores on line, you might try supporting Powell's, since they're really a good, independent company, instead of just a not-as-bad-as-the-other-guy supercorporation.