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Monday, September 30, 2013

CANDY COATED YUM YUM WORLD

"Dumb is easy, and easy is holy"
-Ace

My niece probably would throw rocks at me for bringing this up, but she was like apparently all little kids in that she didn't care for clothes as a little girl.  When she was 1 or 2 she'd find every excuse and opportunity to get those things off and run about.  I can't say as I blame her, I might too if it was warm enough and wasn't creepy.
Eventually, though, we grow out of that phase and understand that even if its not quite as comfortable, clothing serves a valuable purpose and we ought to go clothed.  Its a part of maturing that human beings go through.  Some, however don't seem to get that far in their maturity.
Recently a small group decided they wanted to protest modeling and the fashion industry in Paris by stripping to their tattered jeans and writing slogans all over their torso, then running onto the runway while models were working.  Basically they compared modeling to prostitution, and one was so exuberant she tried to pull the clothes off a model.  The mode, Hollie-May Saker, puched the girl and then kept on walking as security pulled the protesters off the stage.
Its become a sort of standard for protesting women lately to whip off their clothes for extra attention.  Topless women get cameras on them and the point of protesting is to get noticed.  From Femen in the Ukraine to endless schemes by PETA to get noticed and funded, naked women is a basic stunt.
Its also childish to flash yourself to get attention.  The "streaker" fad in the 70s has pretty well gone away although I have no doubt it will be back, but the principle is unchanged.  And as a culture, this idea of never growing up is getting a bit extreme.
Its one thing to want to be a perpetual 19 year old like boomers try to pretend, but the age of cultural ideal has been getting lower every year it seems.
I like comic book movies (and comic books), video games, and so on.  They are fine, in their place.  There is a line, however.  I am not 15 and reading them all day, I don't play video games as much as I used to, and I always knew I was doing it too much.
But the culture has become a bit too childish and cutesy for me.  If you look around you can see what's happening easily enough.  Adam Carolla recently went on a rant about Starbucks "coffee" and how childish its all become.  I won't link it here because it gets pretty foul and sexualized, but the basic gist is this: you didn't have a coffee before work, you had a shake.  That Caramel Moccachino with whipped cream and sprinkles on top wasn't a coffee, it was candy in a cup.  You can extend this further.  I saw an ad recently on TV for adult vitamins, clearly targeted at men.  The selling point?  They're gummy vitamins.  Multi-Vites!  They're chewable and sweet!  Take a few of those in the morning before your coffee shake.  And for lunch?  A "power bar" which is a candy bar with vitamins in it.
This isn't adult behavior, its Halloween all day long.  Remember when you were 11 and mom wouldn't let you gorge yourself out of the plastic pumpkin bucket you filled on Halloween night?  And you kicked the side of the bed vowing that when you grew up you'd eat all the candy you wanted?
You're supposed to grow out of that stage.
Ace at his HQ segued out of this into the "adorable care act" pictures being released by the White House in an attempt to get young people to sign on to Obamacare and defend it.  If young people (the largest group of uninsured - because they don't see any need health insurance) don't sign on, the effort basically fails.  Ace writes:
But looking at the White House's new "Adorable Care Act" Cute Overload animal pictures, and the continue rise of BuzzFeed, despite, you know, everyone knowing it's a big of a joke, I now appreciate there was a deeper level to his rant about the problem of Numminess in America.
...
We are indeed becoming a more childlike people. We are more and more shirking the expected obligations of adulthood, such as marriage and procreation, and even more basically, we're rejecting the obligation of adults to actually think, in terms of numbers, and of best outcomes, and so forth.

The national mode of thinking is now Nummy. "We" -- and by we I mean Americans, not "we" meaning us here right now -- increasingly think in terms of cute, and easy, and glib, and dumb, and fun.
The "adorable care act" pictures are all about cute animals and cute slogans, its trying to play off the "internet meme" principle where the right combination of graphics and mindless slogans spreads like wildfire and is embraced by the richly desired 15-25 year old demographic and becomes cool.I didn't mind when foul-mouthed pot smoking frat boys on Fark and other sites incongruently began releasing cute pictures of kitty cats with cute slogans in childish pigeon English.  Lolcats are fun and its great to get them away from porn and yelling at women to make them a sammich.  But when the White House starts doing this, we've reached a point in our culture where the entire cutesy thing has gone too far.
I've written about the annoyance of frat boy culture here many times, where men are perpetually the party boy they imagined themselves being in college.  Never grow up, never get serious, always avoid responsibility.  Your hair getting gray?  Return it to your "natural" color with dye!  Hey, idiot, gray is your natural color.  Put away the Viagra, you're old.  Deal with it.
Except that's not even the problem any more.  We're being told that adolescence now extends to age 25 by sociologists.  Yes, I know sociology is about as much science as astrology, but this isn't a suggestion, its a disagnosis.
Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the University of Kent, says we have infantilised young people and this has led to a growing number of young men and women in their late 20s still living at home.
...
"Often it's claimed it's for economic reasons, but actually it's not really for that," says Furedi. "There is a loss of the aspiration for independence and striking out on your own. When I went to university it would have been a social death to have been seen with your parents, whereas now it's the norm.

"So you have this kind of cultural shift which basically means that adolescence extends into your late twenties and that can hamper you in all kinds of ways, and I think what psychology does is it inadvertently reinforces that kind of passivity and powerlessness and immaturity and normalises that."
This isn't a suggestion that we should consider people teenagers until age 25, but a statement that this is how things are.  Part of the article is about mental development, but part is about what culture is doing to young people and a near-total lack of expectation of maturity.  There once was a time when you became an adult at 13.  Then it was 18.  Now its 25.  And that age limit keeps being pushed up.
Furedi goes on to point out that 25% of the audience for children's programming on American TV is adult.  He's not talking about Adult Swim, he's talking about shows like My Little Pony.  You've probably heard of Bronies before, grown up guys who love the rainbow girlie horses on that show.
As you probably know, the ACA treats people living with their parents up to age 26 as "children."
This infantilization of America is getting ridiculous, as Ace notes again:
Years ago, when Titanic ruled at the box office, Hollywood began chattering: Will culture -- I mean, popular culture -- be determined by the tastes of the 16-year-old girls who turned that film into a billion-dollar bonanza by repeat viewings?

I think they rather overshot the mark. The culture is now dominated by the tastes and preferences of Tweener Girls. Or, in reality, 50 year old men and women attempting to channel their inner Tweener to appeal to a population which has decided that they were fools to have ever turned 13 at all.

You know, thirteen -- when you lost your innocence. When you stopped thinking Smurfs were All That and a Bag of Gummy Bears.
Its long been a joke that the music industry is pretty much driven by Tween girls, and that fashion is more and more childish.
In the past, it used to be that you grew up once you got your first bill in the mail when you lived on your own.  Suddenly you turned into your dad, running around the house and shutting the lights off and closing doors.  It wasn't a life of ease and free stuff when your electricity bill took such a big bite out of your paycheck. 
I used to argue that governments have to be run more like households, that people would cut back on their spending when their outgoing money got too high in bills.  But is that even true any more?  People rack up immense debt with credit cards, then run to credit agencies who work out deals to pay it off, or just don't bother paying at all.  Skip out on your house, leave the debt.  Or just don't bother paying for it at all and squat.  Groups like ACORN will show up to help you get away with it.
And then there's all that government assistance.  Bills getting too high?  Well don't give up that $7.50 coffee habit, you'll always get some help from Uncle Sam.  Welfare, unemployment checks, grants, food stamps, its all there to make sure you don't faw down and go boom.
And there once was a time when having your first kid was like leveling up in a game.  Ding!  Now you're grown up.  You gain: Adulthood, Responsibility, Maturity, and Long-Term vision.
Not so much any more.  The rate of single parent moms out there is growing rapidly, because men have worked out that they can get away with just planting a seed and bailing when it gets too rough.  A kid?  Heck with that, I'm outta here.  And hey, at a rate of almost 4000 a day you can just kill the thing off before it gets too big.
Then there are the parents who just don't bother growing up anyway.
Yeah, I got a kid, but its not going to interfere with my party life.  Selfish brat needs my attention all the time, I gotta be me.  You can't force me to your 1950s lifestyle, fascist, I'm gonna have fun and party until I die.
Like the woman who aborted one of her twins so she wouldn't have too many kids and cramp her lifestyle, these parents view children as a cute accessory that doesn't get in the way of selfish hedonism.  Grow up?  That's for old people, and I'm never getting old.
So I call up my preacher
I say: "Gimme strength for Round 5"
He said: "You don't need no strength, you need to grow up, son"
I said: "Growing up leads to growing old and then to dying,
And dying to me don't sound like all that much fun"
-John Melencamp "Authority Song"

This is an inevitable trend.  Boomers started it off by pretending they could be eternal teenagers, when their drug-hazed memories invented a golden age of love and glory.  But the focus of the entire western society has since at least the 50s been about getting mine, about comfort, ease, and pleasure.
Again, need I bring up that this is the consequence of rejecting eternal, absolute principles and truth?  Is it really necessary to note how there's nowhere else for a society to go but inward once you reject anything outside yourself?  That when you believe nothing exists but what you can sense and measure, that the self becomes all?
But consider this: what happens to a society of infants?  Where does a culture go when it doesn't want to even reach a level of maturity that a 13 year old is expected to achieve in modern society?  What do you think the future of a culture like that will look like?

*Hat tip to Ace of Spades HQ for the model punch and Carolla rant stories.

*UPDATE: College Insurrection brings us more childish behavior: naked college students. We're nude, seeeee? You can't make me wear clothes nya nya nanana!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

THE MISANDRY MOVEMENT

“I feel that ‘man-hating’ is an honourable and viable political act, that the oppressed have a right to class-hatred against the class that is oppressing them.”
–Robin Morgan, Ms. Magazine Editor

When the feminist movement really got its modern start, they had a lot of good points to make.  Women were treated as fools and children, dismissed as silly or thoughtless, and generally considered fine for sex and housewives but otherwise not to be taken seriously.  This wasn't universal, of course, but the general cultural perspective in the west was pretty consistently along these lines.
Feminists argued that women were human beings of equal validity as men, just as able to think and act, and should be treated with respect.  They made good arguments such as the replacement one (put a man in the place of a woman in that ad/movie/book/conversation and see how you feel about it).
The basic argument of feminism was sound and worthy, and won the day.  Women are treated with respect and have open access to all of society in America.  Women celebrated and were pleased with the changes, and girls were born into this new culture without any knowledge or memory of the way things once were.
However, like most left-leaning movements, feminism didn't stop.  As I've argued many times before, these sort of organizations have two choices when they fulfill their goals: disband in triumph or keep going and earning money, prestige and the feeling of importance.  They almost never disband, in fact I've never heard of one that said "yay we won!" and quit.  Its too much to give up, and their mindset is one of perpetual outrage and bitterness, usually combined with the infinite hunger of progressivism.  There's always one more outrage on the horizon.
And feminism is no different.  Having accomplished all their stated and desired goals by the mid 80s, feminists were determined to find new outrages and horrors to attack, even if they had to invent them.  And today, instead of being driven by a desire to help and protect women, they are driven mostly by a hate of men.  They aren't feminists, they are misandrists.
An example of this can be seen in this video.  This is last year's attempt to have a conference at the University of Toronto by CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) CAFE, (Canadian Association For Equality).  The conference was to be about the situation boys face in school and how to help them. Foul language warning (NSFW):
The women there are campus feminists, and they destroyed the event, breaking it up, causing damage and ending the conference.  As you can hear from the audio, they weren't very pleasant about it.  In fact, this is just one example of the hate that these women were spewing to silence men, as Warren Farrell writes about in Minding the Campus:
Personally, I have trouble seeing myself as a hate-soaked advocate of rape (as a few of the more unhinged protesters kept saying). In the 1970s, I was a three-time Board member of the National Organization for Women in New York. Nothing in my Toronto speech was remotely anti-woman. It dealt entirely with the growing crisis of boys.
This year, the same conference is being attempted, but the U of T campus is charging them almost $1000 for security, predicting that feminists will again attempt to destroy any attempt to even talk about how boys are treated in school.
Fareell writes about the atmosphere of hostility and misandry on campuses in both Canada and the US:
The problem is that the feminist anger of the 1960s and 1970s s been institutionalized on our campus, where it seems impervious to change. Consider what your son faces if he enters a college in North America, Australia, or most of Europe. In the first week or two, he is required to attend a program on date rape, but nothing on date communication. By October, he will encounter Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but nothing about a "prostate cancer awareness month," though the incidence and deaths from the two diseases are similar. If your son becomes involved in student activities, he has access to significant student funds for women's centers and speakers on women's issues, but not for men's centers or speakers on men's issues.

...he may express interest in a woman who is taking a women's studies course or degree, and see her researching papers on how the patriarchy consists of men who made laws to benefit men at the expense of women. He may learn she is on a scholarship to encourage women in engineering, math or the other STEM professions; if he's observant, he'll note that despite few men majoring in the social sciences, he hasn't run across even a single man with a scholarship designed to encourage men to enter the social sciences. The low percentage of women in STEM fields is depicted as very troubling, but the fact that males account for only 43% of all college students is not.
...Your son will soon meet many women working on papers and theses on women's special interests, such as domestic violence against women, but virtually none on men's interests (the boy crisis; fathering; custody rights, false accusations by women, the high rate of male suicide and imprisonment and domestic violence against men).

At Ryerson University in Toronto, two women applied to start a student group sensitive to men's as well as women's issues.

The Ryerson Student Union's Board of Directors immediately passed a pre-emptive resolution that any group examining gender that was inclusive of "the concept of misandry" would be considered as "negating the need to center women's voices in the struggle for gender equity"...and therefore prohibited from the campus. As is often case at colleges these days, there was no discussion, no debate and no input by the people trying to launch the club. The primary advocate of the ban was Marwa Hamad, a faculty member at Ryerson, and (ironically) Vice-President of Equity at the school.
And its not just in colleges or universities.  Women can beat men like a pinata and they are treated as heroes, while the men are treated as wimps and trash if they complain.  Women can harrass employees and sexually abuse students with little complaint and general cheering of the culture.  When a man sexually abuses a girl student under his care, he's a monster - and rightly so - but when a woman does, out come the "where was she when I was in school" comments.  Women can hang pictures of shirtless men and beefcake calendars in their cubicals at work, but woe be unto the man who has even a tasteful picture of a pretty girl up in his.
This isn't a whine about how hard men have it in society; we brought it on to ourselves.  Men need to step up and be men about it, take responsibility, and be strong.  The problem is that the feminist movement has become a movement of hatred toward men.
Almost every girl or woman you ask will say she's a feminist if she's thought about it.  Almost none of them, however, want a thing to do with the modern feminist movement.  For some the line was drawn when feminists ran to back and support serial adulterer and sexual harasser Bill Clinton while shouting hatred at his accusers.  For others it simply was a recognition that they won, and didn't need NOW or any other organization.
But either way, the situation has become so reversed it is almost a farce.  When previously girls were treated as either prey or imbeciles on campus, now men are treated as idiots and monsters.  Every man is a rapist, even if he hasn't acted on it.  Every law is an evil phallocratic oppression of women.  Every event in history is interpreted through gender politics.
The courses that are taught in "women's studies" departments are absurdities, absolute trash and hate wrapped in an academic bow with just enough historical examples to give a thin veneer of plausibility to their spite.  And this is the environment your son and daughter are sent into at universities and colleges across the continent and into the rest of the western world.
Men are evil, cruel, oppressive brutes who dominate and destroy.  Women are nurturing healers who construct and bless the world with their radiant wonder and inner beauty, we're told.  In the past it was a monster the rest of the world hated who was evil and hateful toward women.  Today the hate is from the feminist who couches their spite in academic language and carefully crafted leftist terminology.  And they are lauded and supported in the press, entertainment world, and especially academia.
In other words, while in the past women were demeaned and humiliated, today men are showered with the worst kind of bitter hatred.  Both are wrong, but clearly one is significantly more wrong.  The pendulum hasn't just swung, its bashed through the side of the clock and showered the room with splinters.
Its up to men to address this and make it right - but its up to women, too.  Women have to reject and push away the misandrists and work to set things straight.  Hate against men is bad, too, ladies.  Feminism as an organization is the wests's most successful, popular, and high-profile hate group in the world.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

SHEESH!

"Under people skills she drew a, I think it’s a little poop with knives sticking out of it. That’s bad, right?"
-Agent Coulson


I have a sort of rule that I just don't watch television shows when they are on television. Its not a deliberate hard and fast rule that I crafted and hold to on purpose, its just how things end up. I don't care to be tied down to a certain time to watch TV since I usually view only when I'm not feeling well or need to rest with my feet up.
However, I set aside an hour yesterday to watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., or should I say Joss Whedon Presents Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?  In any case, it was a rarity for me to watch a show when it was on and sit through all the ads.  I much prefer watching On Demand on cable or on Netflix streaming.
When it started, I had fears.  It would be cheesy, it would be too revisionist, it would be too snarky and contrived in the way Whedon's worst stuff can be.  And I worried that it would be too much Dawson's Creek and not enough 007.
I was relieved to find out it wasn't any of those things.  Overall, I liked SHIELD quite a bit.  It was clever and fun and often funny.  The world that has been created for Marvel in the movies holds together quite well and is interesting to dip your toe into.
What worked well was the way SHIELD is presented.  Yes, its an ominous government organization, but it is overall a benevolent one, if a bit rough around the edges in terms of constitutional protections.  SHIELD isn't a sinister corrupt agency like, oh, the  last 900 television shows created like Alphas.
Instead of an evil controlling group of bad guys, SHIELD is essentially good and tries to help, protect, and seek justice, and these days that is pretty fresh and remarkable.  And the guys in it, while obviously dangerous and strong, are basically working for good.
Agent Coulson is always fun to watch, and I have to wonder where Clark Gregg came from.  From his first appearance in Iron Man, he's always been interesting to watch and likable.  You wonder what he's doing next and what he does when he's not busy in a scene.
The rest of this is going to contain a lot of spoilers, so if you haven't seen the show, its time to read something else.  You can't say I didn't warn you.
I liked how Michael was portrayed, as a man who wants to do right, has been formed by stories of heroism and superheroes, and is faced with a world that has men like Captain America and Thor in it.  He's given a chance to be more but can't figure out exactly how to do it, and is continuously frustrated with that fact.
He makes a speech near the end about being held down by the man, but it wasn't a race-based speech, more of a shout of frustration.  He's lost his job, he lost his wife, and he's been trying to do the right thing.  In that process, he got involved in some very bad stuff.
The bad part is that I didn't get a sufficient feel for him being a good man, which Agent Coulson imperiously declares as fact upon viewing two short videos.  Either Coulson is an eternal optimist who presumes the best of everyone, or he has a plot-driven superpower to see into the hearts of men and judge their character.  
Liking your kid and looking for a job do not necessarily mean you're a good guy, but there wasn't really time to develop Michael's character sufficiently.  So when he tears apart a construction site and kills his supervisor (or at the very least puts him in the hospital), the viewer is not left with the feeling that he's a good guy pushed too hard, just a psychotic who went around the bend, Falling Down style.
I don't know if that was some sort of populist "yeah, stick it to the man!" moment of anti-corporatism that didn't work for me or what, but it was shocking and made Coulson's reaction very implausible.
Some other flaws were how nearly everyone in the show but Coulson is under the age of 25.  It seems highly unlikely to me that SHIELD is populated exclusively by young and pretty people (I know, I know, its TV but still, come on).  Ming Na-Wen's Melinda May character is in her 30s, of course, but the rest are so young.  It strains credibility to have characters that capable and experienced in such youth, could there really be that many prodigies of the right psychological profile and loyalty that SHIELD could snap them all up?
I'm not going to explain how Coulson survived.  I have a few theories (Asgardian medicine, for one), but the show doesn't really explain and its clear that it is something that will be dealt with more clearly in the future.  Coulson seems a lot more cheerful than he was in the movies, which is a bit odd given his experiences.
A few of the personalities weren't very interesting, but I'm guessing that will be fleshed out more later.  The super spy Ward was basically a cardboard cutout, and the worst example was the hacker Skye.  She is a Christmas Jones character, a girl cast for her looks and body that demonstrates absolutely none of the alleged ability and intelligence she's said to possess.
We're supposed to believe this girl hacked into the world's most secure computers (designed by Tony Stark) from the back of a van?  I'm a bit tired of characters who have a room full of super-high end technology and absolutely no demonstrable ability to pay for it all.  She has no job, there's no indication of family wealth, how did she buy and pack a van full of all that gear?  It happens all the time on TV, we're just supposed to shrug at it, but it makes no sense.
Skye was bland and forgettable, I wouldn't even remember her name if it wasn't one of those twee millennial names that annoy me.  She just wasn't an effective character at all despite being so critical to the story.  The only part that was interesting was her admission that she one time hung out in front of the Stark building in a cosplay outfit.
The show had two major flaws, as I see it.  The first was that it presumed too much without any explanation.  A major criticism many people have of American TV is that they explain too much, sometimes to the point of great annoyance and repetition.  Shows like Pawn Stars will start out after every commercial break recapping what went before.  And that's a valid criticism.
However, there's another way you can go too far, and that's something Anime does too regularly; dump people into a situation with tons of references and events that have no context or explanation whatsoever.  This can be a useful device, if used sparingly and carefully, but Agents of SHIELD basically dumped an entire world on the heads of viewers without even bothering to wink at the camera.  The character of Melinda May is presumed to be terrifically significant (she's a new character), for example.  Who is she?  Nobody but the writers have the slightest idea, but the characters all seem to know.
I'm not saying they have to show some montage or explain, but you need to be careful doing too much of this or people will walk away figuring they can't understand the show or missed something in the past.
The second flaw is the Iron Man Universe effect.  For some reason, probably due to its immense popularity, the Marvel movie guys have come to the conclusion that their universe is going to revolve around Tony Stark.  Every single marvel movie released by Paramount has had Tony Stark and Iron Man as being a central and key part of them.  His dad made Captain America!  He was involved with Thor!  He's the main character of The Avengers!  In Avengers 2, he's the guy who created Ultron (instead of Hank Pym, in the comics)!
This show has the Iron Man 3 plot device of "Extremis" featured strongly.  For those who never saw IM3, Extremis is a chemical treatment that grants great strength, durability, and regeneration, but makes people unstable, and many simply explode after a short time.
Its not a bad device, and it does help segue into SHIELD, but at the same time, Iron Man, again?  Until that movie he was a 3rd tier superhero.  I liked him okay, but he wasn't that big.  And he's probably the fifth smartest guy in the Marvel Universe, not the inventor of all reality and key to the future.
Its just a personal thing, but I think they're riding this Iron Man thing a bit too hard.
There were other small bumps, like... what happened to the doctor who gave Michael his powers?  What happened to the bad guys (likely Hydra or AIM) who showed up to kill Michael in the final action sequence?
Yet in the end, I thought the show was too short, and want to see more, so it was successful.  I did enjoy SHIELD quite a bit, and I know that most of these concerns will be dealt with in future episodes.  I expect we'll see either a reference to or an interrogation of the lost characters mentioned above.
I hope that Paramount is smart and sticks a cameo or two of major characters and players in the show.  Just having Hawkeye be seen in the cafeteria would be a good move on their part.  Putting more comic character references in is smart too; X-Men was good at this with little "easter egg" style bits slipped in.  Whedon has said he doesn't want the show to be an Easter Egg hunt, that its about the people of SHIELD, and that's good but its smart and fun to have at least some of that happening.
In the future, interviews indicate that the show will be about regular people caught up in the changing world, a major theme of the first show.  Joss Whedon's take on superheroes is that they unman everyone around them and make people feel inferior, even terrified (Iron Man 3 was all about Tony Stark having anxiety attacks over what he faced in NYC, which seemed a bit excessive to me).
So we'll see how this goes and what happens in the next episodes, but I'm looking forward to finding out.  I just hope it gets into OnDemand, because I don't want to set aside an hour every Tuesday just to see.
*UPDATE: episode 2 was disappointing, I won't be watching the show when it airs any longer. It can wait for OnDemand or Netflix.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

OLD TIME RADIO: I Was a Communist for the FBI!!

"I walk alone"

Matt Cvetic was an undercover agent for the FBI, infiltrating communist organizations in the 1940s and testified before the House Unamerican Activities Committee.  He was a minor celebrity for a while and his life was fictionalized in a movie called I Was a Communist for the FBI in 1951 starring Frank Lovejoy.  Then a book came out and a radio series by the same name, which ran from 1952-1954.
Cvetic's life was serialized in the Saturday Evening Post in 1950, which spawned the rest of the media.  He portrayed himself as an intrepid, fearless spy deep inside the organization.  He hinted at big plots foiled and reaching high ranks in the Communist Party USA.
The radio show follows this pattern, each show about a different plot he helps to ruin while keeping his cover intact.  There's plenty of the usual anti-Commie rhetoric and some times it gets a bit heavy handed, but the writing is surprisingly bright and well handled.
I listened to the first episode mostly out of a lark, just to see how cheesy it would be.  But by the end of the first episode, I was hooked.  It wasn't cheesy at all, it was good hard suspense and a terrific undercover story.  The tales were much more about the fear and paranoia of being an undercover at danger of his life than about Communism.
Each episode starts out with Cvetic expressing the frustration of being the enemy of everything he has to pretend to support and being outcast from his own family and even countrymen.  He is almost always totally isolated from any FBI contact, and even they seem difficult to trust.  He's trapped and has to figure a way out of his situation.
The show did an excellent job portraying the desperate loneliness and paranoia of undercover work.  It focuses on the tagline "I Walk Alone" as the theme, and each show you can feel a hollow sadness in Cvetic's life.
I recommend it as an undercover suspense drama, and you can shrug at the politics if you choose; however I should note that I never once heard an episode that didn't have factual support from past Communist activity (such as trying to foment racial tensions and union fights).
The sad part is that Matt Cvetic was never the intrepid spy he portrays in the stories he told or the radio show.  He never made it very deep into the organization and was pretty gabby about his life.  Apparently he told girls he was with, his priest, the manager of his hotel, even some newspaper men about his FBI work.  Among the stories about the man is this one:
In 1947 Cvetic was pursuing Helen Newman, a young woman in her late 20s. Her father supposedly told Cvetic "We don't want any God-damned Communist in this house." When Helen became engaged to another Cvetic told her about his FBI ties. Desperate to have his story confirmed, he asked Bureau contacts to talk to Helen and her parents. The agents were aghast at this breach of security.
Cvetic was an alcoholic and desperate for fame and money, and he was willing to embroider his stories and exploits to get that.  After a while the red scare died down and public distaste at the way Commie fighting was carried out created a backlash and the show as well as Cvetic fell out of favor.
Still, the show is worth listening to as a piece of fiction and its well done.  The producers gave the show $12,000 an episode to produce, which was a lot back then.  It did well but is one of those forgotten pieces from the past, now only brought up to mock.

Monday, September 23, 2013

#&$#(@ %*%@( #&!!!

Caution: contains profanity

I swear.  No, really I do use profanity, more than I wish.  It comes too easily and its not right.  A little profanity I think is not improper; everything in its place.  But profanity is so common and used so regularly in our society now its far beyond in its place and just wherever.
Some argue that this is just fine, that its just part of speech, but I would argue that profanity's purpose and value is in its potency.  If you shout the F-word constantly, it loses its purpose and value, and further coarsens an already troubled public discourse.  Part of the blame is the entertainment community, which decided that "gritty" and "real" meant "nearly continuous filth" so music and movies started pouring out profanity at a near-constant rate.  
When David Mamet started writing screen plays, people were stunned at how much profanity he dumped into every scene.  These days its surprising when there isn't profanity in a film.  Movies like Kick-Ass start out with a mild profanity as the title and put horrendous language into the mouth of a little girl for shock effect.  Literally; she spewed that stuff in order to stun and shock her opponents, giving her an edge in combat.
The problem is that people have become so used to this constant stream of swearing that they've begun to think that's normal and proper, that its weird not to swear all the time.  People yell things in public that only a crude drunken person would rarely do in the past.
And its spread to business.  The first real example of this was the clothing company Fcuk in the 90s.  See how clever that is?  Its almost like saying... yeah, kind of obvious, really. MTV started using the band name "Butthole Surfers" regularly, almost with a sort of glee, joyous that they could get away with saying the word.
Advertising has embraced the concept too.  Altoids thought this was a great ad:
Get it, its like Shaft, but with pucker, because they're sour!  Edgy and clever!  And you can't see that P very well, it could be an F!  Hee hee hee!!!!  Then there is "Lipshit" lip balm, which James Lileks wrote about a while back:
My daughter found a gift for her friend, and we went up to the register. At the counter by the candy and the novelty bandages and other colored things that would catch a kid's magpie eye was a bin full of lip balm tubes. The logo, the packaging: top-shelf design.

It was called "Lip Sh**" -- without the asterisks, of course.

Daughter looks embarrassed. THAT WORD. IN THE PRESENCE OF A PARENT. You almost want to ask the clerk how she feels seeing kids walk up and see Lip Sh**, but hey, if the owner doesn't care, why should you?

Daughter's 12. She's heard the word. It's a rude crude world out there, and you can't shelter your kids from the raw American vernacular spirit, or from marketers who won't be happy until a billboard for McDonald's shouts (F-word) AWESOME BURGURZ. But is it too much to ask of our fine, upscale, quirky little boutiques that they not stick the S-word at child-level?
...
However elegant your handbags, however lovely your locally produced jewelry, however tasteful your selection of plaques with life-embracing quotes, you're just paving the way for the day you stand before a store window looking at Yukon Cornelius having an orgy with Rudolph in the manger, thinking, "My, how did we come to this point?"
Does anyone really want to put shit on their lips?  Who thought this up?  How old were they, 14?  Then there's Frank's Red Hot.  This hot sauce isn't bad tasting (I much prefer Cajun Sunshine, but its harder to find), but the ads are pointlessly profane.
So funny!  She says [CENSORED] and its an old lady?  Get it?  There's a whole series of these ads out now, with the old lady firing off the S-bomb in inappropriate places.  It gets bleeped every time, but you know what she's saying, and its just a matter of time before ads are spewing the same filth you hear everywhere.
Milder profanity is already out there.  Levi's proclaims that not all asses are created equal.  Diesel Shoes are about not running, but "kicking ass."  Mainstream TV will use words like "balls" and "bitch" after a certain time of night, and some shows running on cable use harder language still.
How did we get here, why is it happening?  Pepsi ran this ad, although not very many times:
And I think that illustrates it quite well.  The rise of profanity in popular entertainment and ads isn't because its so great a system of expression or such a natural method of speaking, but because that's how people perceive young people as communicating.  You'll not tend to see some gray haired old lady yelling S-bombs in public despite Frank's ads, that's why the ads are popular - they shock and surprise.  You go granny!   
The entire culture of the west is youth-centered, to the point of absurdity.  Advertising is targeted at 16-25 year old like a laser, and they simply will not turn away from this at any cost.  Even ads directed at older people are designed to seem like they're for teens (Viagra, etc).   Boomers do not want to think about getting old, and want to think they're forever 19 at all costs.
The economics of this are frankly idiotic, as I've written about in the past, but basically that age group has the least ready cash to spend, despite having few responsibilities, because their earning power is quite low.  Yet in the 70s, it became conventional wisdom that this age group was where all the money was, and so it goes.
So young people swear a lot?  Well they'll dig these ads, they will be more real, more believable!  It will seem "with it" and "hip" to use frightfully dated terms.
At this point some of you probably think I'm just some puritanical old maid who needs to lighten up and get out a little.  Figure I'm too religious and uptight and should just chill the F out?  Consider this, then.  Profanity is cheap and mindless, its thoughtless stupidity.
My mom used to say that swearing is evidence of bankrupt vocabulary.  Like a person who is so in debt or out of money they are bankrupt of money, swearing is just throwing an f-bomb into a sentence because you're so ignorant or lazy you can't come up with a better adjective.
Its like using the word "very" to modify every word.  He's very tired.  She's very mad.  Its mindless, easy, and shows little imagination and a small vocabulary.  Don't say he's f'in tired, say he's exhausted.  Just throwing some profanity into the mix doesn't make your sentence better it makes it more juvenile and profane.
Its become self-fulfilling now that this is how people "really talked" so we get shows like Deadwood with cowboys spewing foul language like a fountain as if that was how they really were.  Back then they had a concept of when and where you would swear.  If the horse throws a shoe while chasing down a herd of steers, that's when you swear.  When you say  hello in the bar, you just don't.
Filling the air with profanity doesn't show you're more "real" or socially adapted, it shows you don't have much imagination, it demonstrates you have little else to say.  When motherf***er is every fourth word from your mouth, that means you are a pretty simple minded sort of fellow.
And frankly, an offensive one, to boot.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

OLD, OLD HABITS

“A rum tover, what?” I said. “Me choover’s been atimbrel since I slove the stinkpipe”
I'm not feeling very well.  That's an understatement, I feel like warmed over death, so I dont have energy to put up anything new, so here's a repost of a review by reader and sometime commenter Tina on my book Old Habits.

I expect to get indifferent, happy, and even insulting reviews, but something I never expected was a review that so completely understood what I was trying to accomplish with my story and seems to have crawled inside my head when I was writing it, which is deeply humbling and gratifying all at once. I wanted to share it with everyone so they can learn more about the book.

Just so you know there are some very mild spoilers here, nothing that hurts the story or surprises, but some advance information.

-Christopher Taylor

Old Habits
As I read Old Habits, I kept flashing on Heinlein - Taylor's fiction be-bops along with an easy wit and droll connivance that hark back to "the Dean".

But unlike Heinlein's lapses, gratefully (hey I'm a girl), Taylor's hero is chivalrous to the point that female characters get to, mostly, keep their clothes on. Not that he isn't a flirt, and Stoce (that's our thief's name) spends a proper amount of time, as a good hero should, rescuing various damsels, or "slims", from lecherous lugs & evil wizards.

There's a nice attention to detail that really draws us unto the story. I believe Taylor has some background in role-playing games and he uses that to good stead here: the thief narrates the book with sotto voice asides to give us the background in why certain habits of mind and motion are essential in his trade, as well as in lively blow-by-blow descriptions of what he is doing to counter obstacles. Apparently, "Be prepared" is a good motto for a thief, too. So when he's faced with rusty hinges on a door that must be opened, we already know he's got a little bottle of oil in his swiss army kit and it makes sense for him to use it to oil the danged hinges. There's enough suspense from real surprises without falling back on old radio sound tricks, and Taylor knows it.

Taylor has created a rich alternate world, with wonderfully delineated places and peoples. I love the lingo - this book has a glossary in the back and it's useful. There's a clever use of slang throughout the story, and the characters fall into "gutter" to hide their intentions from being overheard.

I think my fave is "lollard", which means "inconspicuous" as in "being all lollard". Yes, it's a good read, but I want people to read this book just so they'll "get" the reference if I say "lollard" (like we once did with "thief! Baggins!")! Heh.

The fight scenes are great - believable and boisterous...and bloody. There's some good-natured gore when required. Our hero takes some hard blows and we are concerned for his fate more than once. OK, we are concerned for his fate pretty much every 3rd page for one reason or another. He's a likeable guy, despite himself, and we'd hate to lose a good character in the middle of an interesting story.

The theme is a fine old one: a man on a quest. Like all good quests, the object he thinks he seeks is not that which he longs for, yet the search for one leads him toward understanding the other. Like one of Steinbeck's damaged knights, Stoce seeks his fortune, but longs for fidelity; he rescues women and children, but dares not voice his wistfulness for a home that only a wife & child can make. And under it all is a spiritual quest. The reach for a jewel that one may not be worthy of, the search for healing of a wounded soul.

The book rounds out and has a satisfying finale, but I was not ready for this story to be over. I think there's a good series in this character and this setting. I want to know more about what happens to Stoce and Greaze and Jenya and the paladin. Did Stoce learn to read? Did he and Jenya get together? Was Greaze able to settle down into normal young life? And what about the mysterious Judic?

So although the author says his next book isn't a sequel to this one, I do hope we'll get to at least pass through Dornica again.

I'd recommend "Old Habits" for ages 15 and up. Old Habits is tougher than a juvenile, but still accessible to a teen who's reached a level of maturity. Boys will find it rollicking good fun. Old Habits is a good clean choice as a gift for someone who likes the fantasy genre. Its themes are reasonably moral and the magic is handled as being within the laws of nature. While not overtly Christian, there's no denying some of the archtypes here - and that's a plus in my book.
[For the record, readers will be seeing more of Judic in a book of his own, God willing, and of Stoce and Erkenbrand from my previous book Snowberry's Veil, too at some point in the future.  You can buy Old Habits in ebook form on Amazon and Smashwords, as well as in paperback form on demand on Lulu]

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

REBOOTING STAR TREK: A MISSED OPPORTUNITY

"Make it so."

I haven't seen Star Trek Out of Darkness yet, although what I've read from fans and reviewers makes me leery of the film.  I enjoyed the first Abrams reboot well enough despite its plot oddities.  Exactly how advanced are the Vulcans supposed to be if they have zero air defense whatsoever?  The film made it look like they were cave dwellers.
The casting was pretty well done.  Karl Urban is great in anything he does, the treatment of Uhura is a great idea since she was such a blah, one-note character.  Spock is well cast, and Simon Pegg is always entertaining, this time as a real Scott.  But Kirk, I've just never liked Chris Pine as Kirk.  He just doesn't seem to fill the shoes well at all and he's been written so poorly.  And to me that is the key to the entire show.
If I was going to pitch Star Trek to a television exec it would be something like "Horatio Hornblower in a submarine, but in space, with a twilight zone vibe."  The feel of the Enterprise has a very appropriate submarine feel, down to the cranky ethnic engineer.  Captain Kirk is basically Hornblower, and the episodes tended to have a moralistic feel to them, each one teaching something about humanity and ethics.  If the half white, half black people can get along, why not us?
And if I was going to reboot Star Trek as Abrams did, I would have done it a lot more closely matched to the Hornblower book sequence.  Don't slap him into a captains chair by the end of the first book, he's a young punk who basically got on a star ship by cheating and punching everyone in his way.  He's clearly not qualified to be a captain in any remotest sense.
I get that Hollywood writers are at best vaguely familiar with military and command, but this was so badly done and so obviously the result of some executive yelling "we need him to be captain as soon as possible!"
The first film should have been mostly starfleet school with a small bit at the end in the Enterprise with Kirk as a raw ensign shining brightly but within his limited role.  The second could be him getting promoted at the end to a second officer to Pike, and the third end with him being put in charge of a starship, but not technically a captain until the end. 
That way, instead of "what old Star Trek theme can we redo" it would be "how do we tell the story of these characters in this setting in an interesting, engaging way?"  The plots would be driven more by the story and the concept than rebooting continually.
I know this would require a lot of patience on the part of viewers, and its awfully  hard to get a cast to stay on contract and in a film series longer than 3 movies, but it would have been a much better film series. In truth, this structure would work best as a TV series with each film described above as a season in the show.
But its too late now, and the chances of getting a real reboot done in this manner before 2047 are pretty slim.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

SUCCEEDING AT SECEDING

"Cut the knot now! Cut it now! Apply the knife."

Whatever the founding fathers thought about states leaving the union, they didn't say much about it and the constitution says nothing.  It doesn't really matter at this point, because the Civil War established a precedent that if a state leaves, it can only do so by the rest of the nation's agreement.
However, there is also precedent that individual parts or counties within a state can leave and form their own.  West Virginia, for example, was formed out of Virginia from people within the state who opposed joining the Confederacy.  Delaware was formed from counties out of Pennsylvania around the time of the Revolutionary War.  Kentucky, Maine, and Vermont were all formed out of other states.
And there are many sections of states which have tried to form their own state over the years, right up to this day.  Parts of southern Oregon and northern California wish to form a separate state called "Jefferson," so much so that Yreka (wye-reeka) California has a sign identifying its self as being the capitol of Jefferson.
Almost all of these would-be states are rural areas, tired of being taxed and controlled (and ignored) by urban areas.  However, not all are.  For example, the Florida keys declared they were seceding from the union to get rid of a checkpoint on the highway that was backing up traffic for miles and damaging the economy of the string of islands.  Calling its self the Conch Republic, it even minted coins.  
Parts of Arizona around Tuscon started a movement to become Baja Arizona because the state government was too right wing and refused to go along with an unhindered flood of illegal immigrants. South Florida has been complaining about those annoying non-leftists in the north for decades, and has proposed seceding from the state.
But the majority of state secessionists are driven by annoyance at being ignored and used by urban areas.  Other sections of states which have tried to split away from existing states to form a new one include Absaroka (parts of Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota), Superior (the Upper Peninsula of Michigan), McDonald Territory in Missouri, East Washington (basically everywhere but the Seattle-Tacoma area), Staten Island has threatened to secede from New York several times over being basically ignored by the NYC government.  
On the other hand, Long Island has discussed separating from New York and forming its own state as well.  Northern Maine is tired of their state being essentially run by Massachusetts and has discussed separating from the rest of Maine to form Acadia.  Northern California discussed forming Shasta at one point, and Texas has had two major secessionist movements: to form Texlahoma out of parts of Panhandle Texas and western Oklahoma, and Jacinto out of eastern Texas in the 1800s.
Portions of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah were discussing becoming the state of Navajo in the 1970s, and in the 90's the southwest section of Kansas tried to become West Kansas to get more funding and tax dollars spent in urban areas.  During the build up to the Civil War, portions of Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama did not want to secede from the US, and tried to form the state of Nickajack, but it wasn't as successful as West Virginia.  
And then there's Lincoln, the state of western Washington, part of western Oregon and northern Idaho that has tried to split off for a while.  A more rural southern New Jersey has tried to split away from the rest of the state a few times, and parts of Maryland have argued for splitting off from the state over taxes going to the cities and not helping their counties to form a new state, called various names such as Arcadia and Atlantis.
Some of these movements are pretty strong - the Jefferson one has been pushing for decades.  These efforts usually come about from a long and angry disagreement with the state government, typically over taxes and anger over laws.  Rural areas are taxed to pay for roads, subways, and other projects in big cities, which annoys them greatly.  They tend to be more right-leaning and conservative in outlook, which puts them at odds with urban sections of the state politically and ideologically.
However, the chances of any of these movements coming to fruition are virtually nonexistent.  States do have provisions in their constitutions allowing areas to split off, but they are difficult to carry out.  The one furthest along at this point is a northern Colorado section made up of several counties such as Weld county and 10 others in rural areas.  Mostly they are upset that a hard left legislature mostly controlled by the most populous city (Colorado) has rammed through law after law against the wishes of the rest of the state, such as homosexual "marriage," legalized pot, and various gun control laws.
Although the ballot measure may succeed in these areas, it isn't likely to go any further.  All states require the state legislature to agree to a split, and since the splits are usually over annoyance at the state legislature, that's unlikely to take place.  Further, states are loathe to give up a section of their territory because that means less tax revenue and usually these areas are vacation spots for skiing, hiking, camping, and so on.
And to make matters even harder, to form a new state, the US Congress has to agree.  Since this would mean adding 2 new Senators, it becomes a political battle.  Almost all of these potential new states would vote for Republican senators, and the Democrat-controlled Senate would just not care for that to take place.  And if the state would add Democrat senators, well the Republicans would want to block it too.
And its expensive to add a new state.  All the maps would have to change, and all the lists and information on the state involved and US data would have to be changed.  The US flag would have to add another star - this time a bit more challenging, since 51 is a prime number and its not easy to squeeze one more star into a neat pattern.  All the bureaucracy at the state and federal level would have to adjust to add another state, deleting counties from one area and adding them to another state.
All those county representatives, courts, jurisdictional efforts, law enforcement branches, and so on would have to change their location and coverage.  Thousands of new highway and other signs would have to change.  When Keizer split off from Salem, Oregon in 1982 it took years just to get their police force set up.  The zip code for Keizer still lists it as Salem.  And all of this adds up to millions of dollars in costs for the state alone, and many times that at the federal level.
Which means that political considerations aside, its almost impossible to get a new state formed.  Still, its hard not to sympathize with residents of a state who are routinely ignored in the legislature, taxed for projects they see nothing of, get virtually no representation because of their sparser population, and continually are used by the rest of the state against their wishes.
And if one new state manages to pull it off, you can be sure there would be a half dozen or more attempts to get another one formed, with a great deal more momentum and likelihood of success.

Monday, September 16, 2013

KICKSTARTING

Pieces of eight, the search for the money tree
Don't cash your freedoms in for gold
Pieces of eight can't buy you everything
Don't let it turn your heart to stone
-Styx, "Pieces of Eight

Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites confuse me.  I get the basic concept: you put out a product and a request for monetary support, offer some goodies for people if they give enough, and let the money flow in to fund you.  Its a neat idea, and some great stuff has been funded by it.
What I don't get is how some projects get support.  I don't mean crazy stuff, that's just fun to support because its comical.  A few bucks to help some demented guy with his toothbrush for goldfish is worth a laugh.
No, what I mean are the projects that make no sense to support.  For example, people write books, and put the novels up on kickstarter to fund.  Except... there's really not much expense to writing a book, so what are they investing in?  It takes a bit of money to get the book edited, and some to get a cover done, but that's about $500 max, and you can get it done for more like $300.
I can see why to beg for money to write a book, we can all use some money.  I just can't work out why anyone would donate.  Its one thing to donate to a project that needs capital to get started, but some guy writing a book?  Donating 50 bucks to him is nice, but you're not likely to pay that much for a new book.
Another confusing type on these sites is when a big, established company uses crowdfunding to fund a new project.  Steve Jackson Games makes a lot of money every year from games ranging from GURPS to Munchkin.  In a bad economy for games, SJG is doing quite well.  They don't need crowdfunding to get a project going, they are established and wealthy enough to do it on their own, or get money from traditional investors.
Why would anyone, anywhere, fund SJG to make a new version of Ogre?  And who at this company had the stones to figure this was an ethical choice?  Yeah, you can get a tee shirt or a pdf of the rules, a lapel pin, a copy of the game or whatever.  But they went for $20,000 and got almost $100,000 in donations.
How on earth does this even make sense?  And isn't a big established company like that kind of stealing from the little guys by taking investment dollars they don't really need?
What I mean is this: there are only so many people who'll use crowdfunding sites to invest in any projects at all.  And each of these people has a limited amount of cash to spend.  If they spend money on SJG, then they have less of that cash to spend on, say, Bob's Pool Filters and his new idea.  Since SJG doesn't need to go through crowdfunding because banks will knock on their door to offer loans, that means they're taking money away from businesses that actually do need the help.
That just strikes me as unjust, somehow.
I considered doing a kickstarter for a new book, to generate money.  My theory was I could use the cash for publicity and getting a cover done.  Being able to buy copies of my book to send out to reviewers, a bit of money to get a cover done, and perhaps even an audio version of the book was pretty attractive.
I ended up not doing it for three reasons.  First, I really felt bad about begging for money in any context, ever. I just don't like doing it, ever, no matter what.  And I especially had a hard time figuring out why anyone would just give me money to write a book to begin with.
Second, I would have had to do a video and I have no clue what even to say, don't like attention on myself, and don't have the equipment to do it in the first place.  Everyone, literally everyone says you have to have a video or you just don't do well.  No thank you.
And third, I didn't want the hassle of having to make up and mail out all that crap I'd have to offer to people like bookmarks and drawings and so on.  It wore me out just thinking about it, but if you don't offer goodies, nobody will donate.
But mostly I couldn't figure out why on earth anyone would donate money to an author to begin with.  To me that's like paying a chef to come up with a recipe, then buying the recipe.  I'm paying for the food when I buy it, why in God's name would I pay more?  So I get a tee shirt that says "I paid the chef?"
My problem with marketing and business is that I just don't have a business mindset.  I simply don't get most of what works in business.  I cannot understand why on earth anyone would respond to advertising in any form.  Take a look at this ad:

Its funny right?  Memorable.  I like how its done.  But does it make you want to buy the product?  What are they selling, exactly?  Do you even remember the company name?  Does that ad work?  Because it doesn't make me care a bit about the product.  But what's the second comment on the youtube site?
Lmao This commercial made my mom switch her insurance company to "state farm" 
Now, anyone can say anything on the internet, but businesses spend millions of dollars on these ads, from conception to broadcast.  They work, apparently.  And I just do not get that, I have no intuitive connection to that process.  Advertising does not work on me.  I feel at best manipulated by ads, and treat them as an annoyance I brush away whenever possible.
So I just have no sense of what will work or not, of how to use tools like Kickstarter in any way.  I'm an idea guy, a creator, the guy who comes up with the plot, not the guy who sells it.  And while I could learn to be better with the business side, I'll never have that innate, intuitive sense of what works and what does not.  I can create without thinking about it much, its so much a part of me there's no delay between initial idea and fleshing it out into something useful.
I don't really know where I'm going with this.  Its just a stream of consciousness kind of post because I have absolutely no inspiration or interest in posting anything on my blog lately.  I don't know what it is, I've gone through this before.  In the past, I've jammed through it and forced myself to post anyway, and perhaps sometimes its showed.  But lately I don't feel any compulsion to post here, I've just used the blog for stuff that I get interested in and inspired to post.
For a while I was on a tear, with lots of stuff to put up.  I have a few more bullets in the magazine, so to speak, loaded up to write about, but I just can't find myself caring enough to write about them.  I want to get Snowberry's Veil rewritten and out on the market, and maybe I'm just so focused on that this other is just a distraction.
My mind kind of works that way.  Maybe everyone's does, I can't tell.  I have sort of gears I get shifted into, where I'm on fire for one concept or branch of effort and the others I have no interest in.  I get confused and have to force myself to think differently to even approach the other topic.  When I'm focused on art, then writing is like reading another language, it takes effort to even get started.  When I'm focused on writing non fiction like a work on the Lord's Prayer I have on the back burner, I have a hard time shifting over to fiction.  That's probably a pretty significant weakness on my part, showing limited flexibility, but it works for me in some ways.
So right now, my gear is just not set on blogging or current events.  And since I've basically written off national politics as a hopeless waste of time even events that used to set me off blazing away I shrug at now.  Yeah, events still annoy me, but its like getting angry at the weather.  I can yell all I want but its not going to change.  Why waste energy and time on it, especially when I have so little energy?
So here we are on kickstarter and trying to understand it.  I guess it works out well for people.  If I had any extra money lying around, I'd probably invest in some things. My friend Dean does, he gets little goodies regularly for helping out companies.  It looks fun.  I just don't want any part of the other side.

Friday, September 13, 2013

RACIST CARTOONAGE

"Whatta maroon!"
-Bugs Bunny

I've been hammering Twitter pretty hard lately, trying to generate interest in my writing and raise my profile as an author. I ran some conservative numbers recently in my head, and figured out that - for free - I can reach tens of thousands of readers using Twitter.  
According to Twitter, the average user has 126 followers.  That means for each of my followers, I'm potentially reaching 126 people, which is a sort of super word-of-mouth operation.  All I have to do is get people to retweet, respond to me, or mention me in a tweet and it goes on their twitter feed.  How often that then gets re-retweeted is unknown, but at least once in a while it happens - reaching hundreds more.
So I am focusing on getting a few retweets every day to spread my name and "brand" out there through social media.  Its a clunky sort of experiment, but its worth a shot.  Since I started doing it, I've gained over 50 followers and have been retweeted by some pretty big names, meaning thousands of followers, not 126.
While I was doing this yesterday, a fun bit came up where a fellow asked for favorite Bugs Bunny quotes.  A black woman responded that she used to love "whatta maroon" until she found out what it meant.
For those of you whose eyes just crossed in confusion, let me explain.  Back in the days of the slave trade, English developed several terms to define various "blends" of African blood in a person, so to speak.  Some of these terms are still with us.
The term "mulatto" means half black, half white - President Obama, for example.  And it broke down from there, using various terms.  Octoroon is someone one-eighth African, Quadroon one quarter, and so on.  Other terms such as "Mustee," "Terceron," "Mustufino," and "Griffe," were used.  "Sambo" for example is one of these terms (75% African blood).  Over time almost all of these became very disreputable and fell out of use.  Now blacks use terms like "high yella" instead.
Well, Maroon is one of these racial terms.  It refers to either an escaped slave (especially from French island plantations) or the descendant of fugitive slaves in that area.  The thing is, its a pretty archaic term, one that fell out of use about 100 years ago or more, and simply has not been used in this sense for a long, long time.
So it makes no sense for Bugs Bunny to use Maroon in that sense; nobody would get the joke, and lets face it, Bugs was not exactly subtle.  Give that he called people "imbazzle" instead of imbecile strongly indicates that its just a twist on a word, not some double secret racial slur.
Yet this is the kind of racial demagoging being done and spread around.  Generally speaking the professor or other racial grievancemonger will pick this kind of thing to try to indicate racism that allegedly permeated US culture and the eeevils of the past when people like him weren't given enough power.
Something they will often do is point to cartoons with images like this:

As proof of the horrible racism in the past.  They point to Bugs Bunny busting out singing "Mammy" in blackface is terribly hateful and racist, proof of the wicked bigotry of the white man.  OK I can see where you might be upset by some of these images.  The thing is, I'd like to ask a question:
Do you think white people are portrayed in a positive light in Bugs Bunny cartoons?
Because I don't see Yosemite Sam and Elmer Fudd as being especially noble and intelligent.  Think back on those cartoons.  Any time a human shows up, they're beaten, fooled, stupid, have anvils bounced off their heads, and so on.  White folks are the main representative of humanity, from gangsters to baseball players.
In fact, everyone but Bugs Bunny ends up looking like an ass in his cartoons.  Sometimes even Bugs looks like an idiot.  So when a black guy is portrayed as a fool and a caricature... welcome to the party, pal.  Its equal opportunity abuse from a cartoon rabbit.
Its not that they couldn't have been a bit more sensitive, about everyone (such as hunters, or Italians, what have you) its that the point of a cartoon is to amuse, caricature, and exaggerate.  Distortion and absurdity is the entire point of a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
Someone wisely pointed out that Warner Brothers cartoons are a festival of bad writing: the villains are stupid and no threat, the story follows no discernable path, the victory is cheap and usually absurd, and there's no story, just a series of vaguely related events.  No character development takes place, the dialog is silly and repetative, and so on.
But who cares?  Nobody turns on a Roadrunner cartoon to learn about philosophical distinctions regarding the nature of humanity.  Nobody watches Porky Pig stutter to experience catharsis through tragedy and redemption.  This isn't literature, its not even real storytelling, its absurd slapstick entertainment, its goofy and silly and fun, and that's all its supposed to be.
White people could scream racism at how idiotic and cartoonish Yosemite Sam is.  Why, its mocking gun rights to have Elmer Fudd keep blowing his face up with his rifle.  The offense is everywhere!  Except.. it isn't.  There's no offense because none of it is offered as anything but daffy fun to laugh at, without deeper meaning and significance.  There's no Tao of Goofy out there, because its just about being silly and enjoying yourself.
And people have got to understand that, despite Karl Marx' assertion, not everything is political.  Not everything has deeper meaning and cryptic messages.  Not everything is to be taken seriously.  Why not enjoy yourself a while.  Just so you don't live your whole life on that basis.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

REMEMBER, REMEMBER

Remember, remember!
The 11th of September,
Of terrorists, hatred, and plot.

I know of no reason
Why the evil of that season
Should ever be forgot!

Bin Laden and his companions
Did the scheme contrive,
To blow up men and President
All up alive.

Three pass'nger jets, from above,
To slay old Freedom's snowy dove.
But, by God's providence, one they stall,
Courageous passengers, ready to roll!


A rifle and a stake
For freedom's sake!
If you won't give me one,
I'll take two,
The better for me,
And the worse for you.

A bullet, no error, to end this terror,
A length of rope to choke Bin,
A pint of beer to watch the fire,
And a jolly good fire to burn him.

Ho, boys! ho, boys! Let freedom's bells ring!
Ho, boys! ho, boys! God save our land!
Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

DRAWING A BLANK

I have no inspiration or ideas to write about whatsoever today, so in the place of content I offer up this Chuck 'n' Beans comic from Shoebox:


Monday, September 09, 2013

SONGS I LIKE: End of the Line (Offspring)

Please stay I can't make it on my own - it's the end of the line

The Offspring is an American band that hit it big starting in the 90's with their debut album Smash.  Somewhat punkish and driven by hard guitar jams, they were bare bones rock and roll.  No-nonsense drumming and rhythm, without anything fancy, they sang about youth issues, rebellion, and crazy things like pyromania and street life.
But behind it all was a level of thoughtfulness in the lyrics that set it apart from, say, the Ramones or Green Day.  On their Americana album, The Offspring had several really thoughtful, quite deep songs about what life is like such as "The Kids Aren't Alright" and fun ones like "Pretty Fly for a White Guy" for a mix of entertaining music.
One of the best songs on the disc is "The End of the Line," about death.  Like "Still Remains" by Stone Temple Pilots ('If you should die before me, ask if you can bring a friend'), this song is about the death of a friend.  So far, I haven't had this happen, although I've had family members die and know the pain.  This song cries about the awful pain of missing that person and needing them to stay.
It seems a bit selfish to carry on like this once someone dies, but at that point, they're past caring.  And most of grief is not feeling bad for the person who is gone, but feeling that horrible torn hole in your soul where they once were.  Like a broken back, it takes time to heal and even longer to rehabilitate and live with that damage.  And when you lose someone close to you, what matters most is that now they're gone.
In time you get better, but in the end, you're never quite the same, there's a scar on your soul that lasts as long as you live on this earth and you'll never have them around again.  All those platitudes about how they live on in your heart and went to a better place, well they help a little but honestly all it comes down to is that you have to go on alone.
The Offspring continue to sell well and have a new album in the works, but the release date is unknown.  Americana was their most popular album but everything the band has released has gone gold at least.
When the siren's flash is gone
And we're left to carry on
All the memories are too few

When the pastor's music plays
And that casket rolls away
I could live again if you
Just stay alive for me

Please stay now, you left me here alone - it's the end of the line
Please stay I can't make it on my own - it's the end of the line
Make it on my own
It's the end of the line

Now that you are dead and gone
And I'm left to carry on
I could never smile cause you
Won't stay alive for me

Finally,
Your final resting day
Is without me
I weep
And think of brighter days
What about me?

You can't take back, the one mistake
That still lives on after life it takes
In that one day, that changed our lives
And bitter memories are left behind



*This is part of the Songs I Like series.

Friday, September 06, 2013

HATEFACTS AND HERESY

"I don't know anything about economics, but I know hate."

There was a time in Medieval Europe where people lived in fear of certain words and commentary.  If you were to express doubt or criticism of the Roman Catholic Church, its beliefs, or even its leadership, you were in danger of punishment, torture, imprisonment, or death.  To say that a priest was a child molester might get you thrown into jail or visited by the inquisition.  To question the Church's position on marriage could get you dead.
So if anyone did question the ruling dogma, they did it secretly, quietly, with whispers, or with select, trusted company.  Because it was heresy to question the church, and that was punishable. And there was always the fear that God knew when you were sinning by questioning the religion as well, so even being in secret wasn't enough.
Today, that is still true in some Muslim areas.  Simply questioning a ruling by a Mullah can get not just you but large portions of the community beaten, burned out, or killed.  Even just being accused of doing so suffices in some parts of the world.
And this was true about non-religious areas as well.  Treason has a pretty tight, limited meaning these days and carries virtually no punishment in the west.  Not so in the past.  Merely saying something that questioned or annoyed the king was considered treasonous.  Saying "man he sucks at chess" was enough for heads to roll, not just yours but your sons so they didn't seek revenge.
It didn't matter if what you said was true, reasonable, or even something people generally believed.  What mattered was that you were questioning the ruling dogma and the rulers themselves, and that was not to be allowed.  It was about dominance, power, and control.  If you never, ever allow anyone to even whisper doubt or dissent, you have greater power over the people.
Today in the west we're more evolved than that, with freedom of speech allowing people to speak openly and comfortably about whatever we wish, right?  Well obviously not; some topics are utterly off limits, no matter how free people claim.  From human rights commissions to college speech codes to plain old political correctness, people have to be almost as careful as in olden days.  Nobody is likely to hack your head off or send you to the rack for making a joke about President Obama, but you may pay a price.  You won't get imprisoned for refusing to make a wedding cake for homosexuals, but you might lose your business.
In this modern, allegedly enlightened age, the punishments have changed, but the attitude has not.  Some topics are declared off limits and you face penalty and punishment for them.  Questioning certain authorities, speaking on some topics, making certain jokes is just as forbidden and actionable as it was before the Constitution was written.  For all the rhetoric about freedom of speech in the west, its still not very free.
And what's even more disturbing is that certain topics are so forbidden, you can't even discuss facts and evidence about them.  Just mentioning the Bell Curve is enough to get angry attacks on you; whisper the fact that blacks get lower IQ tests than asians and whites, and you're likely to lose your job in some areas.  Consider Harvard President Summers who was drummed out of his job for suggesting (among other options) that maybe there are fewer girls in the sciences because, well, girls don't like sciences as much.
These unspeakable facts are called "Hatefacts" by some, and its a pretty good name for them.  Hatefacts are factual pieces of truth that are condemned as hateful no matter how accurate and truthful they are.  For example, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published a study on sexually transmitted diseases.  In it they noted that minorities are far more likely to get an STD than whites.  This is a hatefact; technically true, but perceived as critical of a protected group, thus racist and not to be spoken.
Or consider my noting that employers are less interested in paying and employing women as much as men because pregnancy can result in great productivity loss and expense for the business.  Hatefact; shut up, now I hate you for bringing it up.  I didn't argue that's fair or even proper, just that its true, and something that makes economic sense.  I lost several people who claimed to be my friend over it.
Some other hatefacts - things that are true but must never be spoken for fear of penalty:
  • Native Americans were not living in peace and oneness with the environment before Europeans arrived in America.
  • Men are raped more often than women in America - in prison; the Justice Department estimated that over 100,000 rapes of men happened in 2008 alone.
  • Gun ownership has skyrocketed in America, but gun crimes dropped - and the tougher the gun laws, the more gun crime an area suffers.
  • On average, men test 5 points higher on IQ than women.
  • Groups of young black men are attacking whites due to racial hatred, and the incidents of this have exploded in frequency and number since Obama became president
  • For the last fifteen or more years, the average warming on the planet has been .05 degrees per decade... plus or minus .08 degrees.  As in no warming, or even cooling.
  • On average men are better than women at mathematical skills.
  • Homosexuals are much m ore likely to suffer from and transmit sexually transmitted diseases than normal people.
  • And of course, there's the biggest hatefact of all that destroyed Akin: a woman who has been raped is about half as likely to become pregnant as by normal sexual activity.
And on it goes.  You can sense a pattern here: anything that makes a protected subgroup look bad is hateful and to be suppressed.  It doesn't matter how true these facts are, they are hateful and racist and sexist and homophobic and just shut up.
When you point out that these things are true, its not too hard to find something on the internet which seems to counter the truth.  Robert Wisenberg at Minding the Campus explains how it can be done:
Killing truth is also helped by the lack of clear social-science research standards. Rebuttals, no matter how flawed, are all too easy when the audience is already convinced. In the case of sex differences in mathematical ability, just use a measure that combines everybody from a little above average in mathematical ability to those four standard deviations above the mean into a single category. Guaranteed, this will show zero sex differences. Or just assess mathematical ability among pre-adolescents since large sex-related differences there have not yet emerged. Or use multiple statistical controls to "eliminate" any sex differences (outsiders seldom understand this smoke and mirrors tactic). Or insist that "artificial" gaps will vanish once society becomes totally gender neutral. Pretty soon the rock solid "hateful" research findings will be hopelessly out-numbered and who has the gumption to defend a single outlier finding?
You can out-shout your opponent and cry words like "hater" and "sexist" until they shut up, and claim victory.  Then when they try to debate you, scream about the lack of civility in the culture and how this is what got Congressman Gifford almost killed.
Another nifty trick is to accuse someone of something because you don't care for what they think or say, then if they deny it, call that proof of their evil.  Its called Kafkatrapping, and it works like this: "if you start anything with the words 'I'm not racist' well that's proof you are."  Don't like someone's position but cannot factually or rationally refute it?  Just Kafkatrap them.
The term Kafkatrapping comes from the book The Trial by Kafka in which the victim is accused of undefined crimes against humanity and destroyed by his denying them.  It works like this:
Person A: Its sad that men are raped so much more than women in America.
Person B: You're a sick sexist for even suggesting that.
Person A: but its true, see this report from the Obama administration?  I'm not sexist, I'm just telling you the facts.
Person B: Your refusal to admit your sexist nature is proof of it.
Just denying your guilt is called proof of it and all rational discussion breaks down because it has become pointless.  The argument is not based on facts, truth, reason, or intellectual inquiry, it is a schoolyard argument from the 5th grade which has nothing to do with truth.  Its about destroying your opponent, keeping your position intact, and making the other person look bad.
And its inevitable that when people reject reason and objective truth, they're reduced to childish arguments from emotion and strength.  Its all you have left, and all you can use.  The more this becomes predominant in a society, the more effective it becomes because people are less and less equipped to even begin to debate rationally.
And when you try, people yawn, grab their phone and start texting and type "TL;DR" - too long, didn't read.  If you can't reduce it to a 140 character soundbite, its not interesting.  Truth or reason is irrelevant, I'm bored.  Who cares if you're right, I didn't pay attention or understand you anyway.
And the heresy trials are entirely based on this kind of thing.  You start out presumed guilty, cannot argue facts or reality, are unable to engage with reason, and are destroyed for questioning the people in power.
Nothing has changed except the topics, not the tactics.  Heresy trials and inquisitions are still alive and well, they've just moved to another department.  And the reaction is for the same mix of reasons: an absolute zealous certainty of righteousness which cannot be questioned by sane or proper people, and a brutal need to maintain control and power, even at the cost of one's own integrity and stated beliefs.
Its just worth considering: if the facts and truth keep getting in the way of what you believe to be true, maybe its time to rethink our positions, not hate people for making us feel nervous or doubtful.