Thursday, May 27, 2010

Pure, freakin' gold.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Also, Too

In our fear, we create false histories devoid of our failures and full of super-human heroes.  We fabricate an impoverished, monochromatic history that tells us we’re wonderful and always have been.  We lie to ourselves about who we are and what we’ve done.
We lie to our students, our children, because we fear that if they learn the truth they will lose all respect for our society, they will despise our government, they will “overthrow” our power structure.
In short, we lie because we’re afraid of our kids.
-Russell King
...what we Americans are is not a stew but a salad, in which all the individual ingredients retain their unique flavors and nutrients but combine to create a greater meal.  This has always been true, as we have always been a nation of immigrants, and it is even more true today as we become ever more diverse.
-Russell King

Friday, May 21, 2010

Libertarianism and the Limits of Ideology

Just in case you've been hiding under a rock these last couple of days, here's Rachel Maddow's interview with newly-minted Libertarian Senate Candidate Rand Paul (R-KY), son of Texas Congressman Ron Paul, in which he admits that he'd probably have voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on ideological grounds (can't seem to get the video to embed).

For what it's worth, I don't think that Rand Paul is a racist. He goes to great lengths to say so, and I'm willing to believe him. He even comes across as a not unreasonable guy, who takes his beliefs seriously, even when they lead to conclusions that are difficult to defend.

And see, that's the sticky part. In the rarefied air, well separated from the dirt and grit of the real world in which we are all constrained to live, in which intellectual argument takes place, Paul's argument, and even libertarianism in general, has some merit, and he's to be respected for being willing to enunciate that he believes that business owners have a constitutional right to be racists and to discriminate against potential customers, even if he finds racism and discrimination to be personally abhorrent. On this ground at least, Paul is being intellectually consistent, which is laudable, if in this case almost wholly misguided.

There is, after all, a certain attractiveness to libertarianism. If everybody was cool, it might even be sort of viable in the real world. But everybody isn't cool. And that's where it all falls down.
"...Hawk, I am suddenly catapulted into a paranoid world where the walls not only have ears, but probably eyes and long, claw-tipped fingers. Anyone about me--yea, even very you--could turn out to be a spy. I suspect every sewer grating and second-story window conceals binoculars, a tommy gun, or worse. What I just can't figure out is how these insidious forces, ubiquitous and omnipresent though they be, induced you to lure me into this intricate and diabolical--"
-Samuel Delany, from Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones (in Aye, and Gomorrah and Other Stories, p 239)
Fun story, with one of the best titles ever (almost as good as We, in Some Strange Power's Employ, Move on a Rigorous Line).

Smart Guy says Something Smart

Whenever I think about the environment (Be Green; Love Mother Earth; Blah Blah Blah), I like to think of a family going out to a nice restaurant. Mom and Dad place their orders–but for some reason, the kids don’t get anything. Instead, the kids wait and watch while their parents gobble down dinner.
Their parents eat the arugula salad, the rosemary-infused bread, the sun-dried tomato farfalle, the veal piccata, and generally have a pretty great time. Maybe Mom’s wearing pearls, because, you know, it’s a nice restaurant. Dad is definitely wearing a tie–he’s classy that way. Mom and Dad go through a couple bottles of wine, linger over the tiramisu, and then, when they’re stuffed to the gills, they shove their picked-over and scraped-over plates down the table to their children, with the last bits of pasta and the runny lines of sauce, and some chewed-up bits of meat, and say, “Here kids, eat up!”
So the kids get the scraps, while their parents get the meal.
And then, to top it all off, Mom and Dad get up from the table and walk out the door, leaving the kids to deal with the pissed-off waiter who just showed up saying that the credit card has been declined. So the kids end up washing dishes in the back for the next couple hundred years to pay off the bill.
That’s Environment 101.
-Paolo Bacigalupi

This Is Awfully Smart and Well Put-Together

Thursday, May 20, 2010

It is only when we have the courage to face things exactly as they are, without any sort of self- deception or illusion, that a light will develop out of events, by which the path to success may be recognised.
-I Ching, Hexagram 5 (Calculated Waiting), Wilhelm translation

The Perverse Incentives of Modern Day Capitalism (first in a series)

BP has wasted so much time on efforts to save the oil and its investment in the well that it is just now getting around to attempting to seal the well. It's pretty simple. Fuck BP. Fucking blow it up. Fucking collapse the earth around it. And be fucking done with the spill and get to the clean up.
-The Rude Pundit
It has long been an intention of mine to produce a series of short think pieces on the perversion of incentives inherent in modern day capitalism--how the elevation of making a buck to the highest (some might say only) good creates not only negative objective outcomes, but actively devalues much that is good and beautiful and righteous and true in the world.

I'll give you an example from the wonderful world of booze, a world I am both professionally and personally conversant in, and that I think illustrates the sort of thing I'm getting at.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

This Made Me Smile

Furthermore, the lack of appropriate outrage from the left on this is also an outrage.  In response, we need to put together two simultaneous protests--one against the outrage, and one against the outrageous lack of outrage expressed by the absent left.
-Chris Bowers
 The whole thing's pretty funny.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Talk About Yummy Couture...

More here (hat tip the internet)
And the first time some brave patriot gets sloshed and lights up a honky-tonk, you know whose fault it will be? The patrons who weren’t packing heat. If they’d had guns, they could have stopped him.
Speak, brother. Speak.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Delia Sherman's Changeling

I'll start by saying that Changeling is not the sort of book I'd've likely picked up on my own. Were it not for the fact that its author, Delia Sherman, will be the instructor for my first week at Clarion, I'd likely have gone my whole life without reading this. It's not that I don't like fantasy. I do. It's just that the kind of fantasy I tend to read these days is more in the China Mieville/Jeff VanderMeer vein.

That said, I'm really glad I did read it, because I really liked it.

Set in New York Between, a sort of fairyland version of NYC populated with imaginary monsters and spirits from all over the world (not unlike the real city), Changeling is the story of Neef, a mortal child stolen by the fairies and replaced with one of their own (which is what a changeling is, btw), who breaks the rules of the Genius of Central Park and has to go on a quest in order to return to her home and the life she has always known.

Like many a YA fantasy heroine, Neef is long on moxie and short on foresight. She knows the rules (we all do, because we all grew up listening to fairy tales, which are really valuable life lessons disguised as parables and stories and where the negative consequences of foolish actions are exaggerated for pedagogic effect), but she's at that age where rationalization and the beginnings of adolescent entitlement start to blind us all to the realities of the world as it is (as opposed to how we think it ought to be). We've all been there: old enough to know better, but young enough to do it anyway and rationalize after the fact. Of course, she learns some valuable lessons along the way, and everything comes out alright in the end; but, as with all quest tales, the journey is the destination. And for the reader it's an enjoyable, engaging page-turner of a journey.

Can't Get This Song Out of My Head

Odessa, on Caribou's new album, Swim, which is not at all what I expected it to be, but is pretty awesome nonetheless.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Further Evidence that Teabaggers are Dicks

Some folks, while caucusing in a rented classroom at the nearby middle school, got it in their heads that the classroom’s teacher was a commie liberal indoctrinating the children with commie liberalism, and so they just dug through all of his stuff and trashed the place.

Jeff VanderMeer's Ambergris Cycle

Thanks to a bout of unexpected travel (with its attendant lengthy spans of time in which one is obliged to sit in place and do, essentially, nothing, during which a good book (or two, in this case) can really come in handy for the whole staving off boredom, madness, and anxiety thing (painkillers also work, but are not nearly so entertaining)), I have recently had the opportunity to finish the second and third books of Jeff VanderMeer's Ambergris Cycle, Shriek: An Afterword and Finch.

Being that Mr. VanderMeer will be one of my instructors this summer at the Clarion Writers' Workshop, I'm going to do my best not to gush here, as there is some small chance he will read this and it would not be seemly and could conceivably make things a bit awkward come the end of July. But given that his presence at the workshop was the primary driver behind my application (I was perfectly content being all autodidactic and such until I realized I'd have a chance to work with him and the other stupendous badasses who will be teaching there this year), the possibility exists that I will not be able to stop myself.

But the truth of the matter is that I love these books, and am amazed and inspired by them, as individual works and, most especially, as a whole. I'm going to do my best not to spoil them for anyone who might be inspired to give them a read, but there's a lot of formal innovation and dialogic interplay that I'd like to suss out and explore, because I'm so bleepin' impressed with it. I think I should be able to do what I want to do without unduly exposing the overall narrative arc of the cycle or ruining the enjoyment of the story as such. If I do, apologies in advance.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Sounds About Right

OK, put the kids to bed and lock the cat in the cupboard, because I'm going to reveal an Awful Truth about the Real World.


The Real World is run by dolts, drones and particle-board humdrums.

There. I said it. And there ain't no takesies-backsies on Teh Internets.

Me and mine have traveled far and crossed many latitudes and longitudes across the great, wide Sea of Gainful Employment and -- with all of the usual exceptions excepted and stipulations stipulated -- I can tell you flat out that, whether you're taking the measure of the titans of industry, or education, or gummint, or not-for-profits, or faith-based organizations, like as not the people you will meet in the executive suites are some timid, risk-averse motherf**kers.

Not necessarily evil people, but not the tamers of frontiers, conquerors of mankiller mountains or tortured geniuses who have shed blood and sinew to hew the Great New Thing from the raw rock of an unforgiving Universe. Instead, you'll find Organization Men who roll off the assembly line hard-wired with a whole set of behaviors optimized to mute and mollify and reflect back on their superiors flattering images of themselves.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

(hat tip Megan M.)
Hear fawking hear.