This place matters

This place matters

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Not with a bang but a whimper

I'm sick. Not hacking my lungs up sick, but rubbing my nose raw sick. And I've promised myself I can go to bed just as soon as I finish this.
I've been thinking a lot about the apocalypse lately. I've got this mini side-job now working for the awesome publication Dark Moon Digest, a horror fiction quarterly, a job I got through a particularly awesome friend. I get to read all manner of horror story and play critic. I've got to say, I'm letting the power get to my head a little. At first I was all "I'm going to be open-minded and not hyper-critical, giving everything the fair shake I'd like my work to get."
About two rounds of short stories later, I became this guy:

(I'm kidding, actually. Everybody gets a fair shake and I read every word of every story before I pass judgement. But, you know, a little power's a dangerous thing).
I've noticed the apocalypse is a popular subject. Enough that I've had to learn to spell apocalypse. I'm not sure if it's just a current trend or whether horror stories naturally trend that way, but tonight I learned I'm not the only one noticing it.
In an interview with professional sycophant Terry Gross (okay, maybe that's a harsh assessment, but damn, sycophant is a good word), film critic David Edelstein says that if there's on thing the film industry says about American preoccupations right now, it's that  "Apocalypse is in the air... there's just a vibe in the culture that our way of life is ending." He mentions global climate change in Take Shelter, dramatic squinting in Planet of the Apes, and plague in Contagion. "I'm not saying movies haven't always been fascinated with the idea of apocalypse, I'm just saying that not in so many different bloody ways."
I remember reading or hearing somewhere that apocalypse movies go in spurts. The early sixties saw the doomsday scenarios aplenty in some of the my favorite episodes of The Twilight Zone like The Midnight Sun, The Shelter, and One More Pallbearer.   In 1964 alone you've got Dr. Strangelove, Fail Safe, The Last Man on Earth (based on the novel I am Legend, which also served as the basis for the 2007 film with Will Smith), all influenced, most of them directly, by nuclear anxiety. 
There's another spate in the mid-90s with Independence Day, The Stand, Twelve Monkeys, and Outbreak. I'm not sure what influenced this one, aside from maybe a big flurry of celebrities announcing they've got/dying from HIV/AIDS. That's a little bit of a reach, though considering the epidemic was hardly news by then. 
Now it's climate change, economic collapse, the Arab Spring perhaps driving up the popularity of the end times once again. 
It's funny, even though I know how doomsday predictions and obsessions come and go, I'm never quite convinced that Armageddon (named for Har Megiddo the mountain on which the Final Battle, according to the book of Revelation, will take place)  isn't just around the corner. I predict global pandemic a la Stephen King's The Stand, which has haunted my nightmares for going on three decades now.




Fire and Ice
Robert Frost


Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.



One of many apocalyptic poems written in the late teens and early 20s of the last century probably influenced by the horrors of WWI.

Monday, December 19, 2011

An angel gets his wings

Every year on my birthday, Jeremy and I watch It's a Wonderful Life. It started one year when I was so depressed I cried through my birthday dinner. To remind me to be happy I'm alive. I'm not saying Frank Capra's an acceptable substitute for modern psychology, but you could do worse for therapy. If you haven't seen it, particularly if you haven't seen it because you're put off by the title, you're robbing yourself. You can borrow it after my birthday's over.
I've always said I'd like to spend a day living in the world inside of Frank Capra's head. In fact, according to his biography on imdb.com, Capra's often rosy outlook earned him the scorn of critics, who coined the term "Capra-corn" to describe his typical fare. Critics accused him, among other things, of wandering about "wide-eyed and breathless, seeing everything as larger than life." Capra didn't consider this an insult, responding, "To some of us, all that meets the eye IS larger than life... Who can match the wonder of it?"
I'm with that. Nobody's ever accused me of being Pollyanna, but I do know that life, through all our suffering, is amazing, and if you want to see it for what it is, all you have to do is open your eyes. If that makes me corny, I guess I'm in good company. 


Some Wonderful Life trivia for you, courtesy of IMDB and my brain:

  • Speaking of corny, before It's a Wonderful Life, movie directors created artificial snow by painting snowflakes white and dropping them from above. This snow was loud, requiring filmmakers to record and add the dialog later. Capra didn't want to lose the authentic nature of dialog recorded live, so he came up with a mix fire retardant and soap pumped through a wind machine. Which is cool; I've always thought that the "snow" in George's hair when  he jumps after Clarence in the river looked like soap.
  • Much of the movie was set in the winter, but filmed during a heat wave. That's why George is sweating in many of the scenes. I always assumed he was feverish with fear and grief, although heat wave certainly makes more sense. 
  • The film, during the Red Scare, was accused of being socialist because it cast bankers and corporate greed in a negative light. However, Capra was a Republican who spied for the FBI during the Red Scare. I wonder why Elia Kazan (director of On the Waterfront) was strung up for naming names when Capra wasn't. Too many feel good stars in their eyes.
  • In an early scene, Bert the cop is reading a newspaper with the headline "Smith Wins Nomination." Jeremy and I were sure that this was a reference to Jimmy Stuart's character in another Capra film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Not so, says IMDB claims this article referred to a real-life presidential candidate Alfred Smith. Given the prominence of the headline in the shot, I have a hard time believing it was complete coincidence. Maybe it did refer to a real guy, but I you've got to wonder why that particular headline was picked.
  • Uncle Billy's pet raven was one of Capra's trademarks - the bird appeared in five of his films. I think I remember reading that Crook's pet bird in The Shawshank Redemption was an homage to Capra, but I can't corroborate. 
  • Jeremy just noticed that Mr. Potter is a thousand years old when he first appears in the movie, in what's supposed to be 1919. The main action of the movie takes place in 1946, at which point Mr. Potter doesn't look a day over a thousand and one. Dude's an evil vampire. Explains so much. Must've lost the use of his legs before he turned. 
    Mr. Gower must be a vampire too, because he was a thousand years old in 1919 too. But he must have been the victim of some gypsy curse that gave him a soul and made him not evil. Or something.

Here's a little Christmas gift from me and Clarence the angel to you: Remember, no man is a failure who has friends.
And if you don't have any friends, I'll be your friend. And we'll not be failures together.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Onward Christian Soldiers

And speaking of boycotts...
I just want to mention before you toss another handful of change into the ubiquitous red buckets that crop up everywhere at Christmas time.
For the last several years, leaders in the gay community have called for a boycott of the Salvation Army, alleging widespread discrimination against queer folk. I've read a whole lot of stories on the subject, and I've yet to find anything that substantiates the claims. 
The Salvation Army, however, is open about its position on homosexuality, stating:

Scripture forbids sexual intimacy between members of the same sex. The Salvation Army believes, therefore, that Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life. There is no scriptural support for same-sex unions as equal to, or as an alternative to, heterosexual marriage.
They do, however point out that there's nothing in scripture about "demeaning or mistreating" gay folk. That's blatantly untrue, of course. Leviticus clearly says,
If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
I'm glad the Salvation Army doesn't believe in doing bad things to gay people, I'm just saying that the bible clearly advocates demeaning and mistreating gay people. Unless murder isn't considered demeaning and mistreating.


Anyway, totally beside the point. The thing is that the Salvation Army isn't just a charity; it's a religious denomination. One that has views with which I wholeheartedly disagree. I've also not been able to find out exactly where the money we donate does go. Does the Salvation Army, as many sources claim, give money to anti-gay lobbies and other anti-gay groups? Do all of the dollars I give go to help people in need, or do some of them go to aid an agenda? I don't know, but I do know for sure that if I donate a can of food to the food bank, it goes to people who need food. Having worked at facilities that benefit from food bank organizations, I can state that for a fact. If I donate to coats for kids, the money goes to put coats on kids. Heifer International is consistently highly ranked in efficiency and wise allocation of resources. Something to consider. 
I'm not requesting you boycott the Salvation Army too; I do, however, suggest you check out their site, view their positions on stuff like marriage and homosexuality, and decide for yourselves. If you do decide to kick the bucket, if you will, consider donating to another charity; I think it's better to donate to them than to not donate at all.
If you agree with their stances, by all means, keep giving. They do good work. I just know that there are other charities that do good work and don't condemn homosexuality.

I'll take that card back now?

The Online Etymology Dictionary's origin for boycott is so cool I've got to post it verbatim:
1880, from Irish Land League ostracism of Capt. Charles C. Boycott (1832-1897), land agent of Lough-Mask in County Mayo, who refused to lower rents for his tenant farmers. Quickly adopted by newspapers in languages as far afield as Japanese (boikotto). The family name is from a place in England.
That's so perfect I'd call bull in any other source, but Wikipedia and Dictionary.com corroborate.


So you've probably guessed, if you've checked a news site today and know me that I'm going to nudge you to consider not shopping at Lowe's. According to every news site on earth, but let's throw a dart at The Washington Post, Lowe's pulled ads from the TLC show All American Muslim after the threat of a boycott from The Florida Family Association because apparently the show is "propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda's clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values."
Anyway, it'd be pretty cool if lovers of religious tolerance managed to cost them a heck of a lot more than The Florida Family Association ever could have. And somebody's going to have to do my part for me because I'm not exactly the DIY sort. Unless DIY also refers to calling the landlord and complaining, which doesn't generally involve a trip to Lowe's. 
Anyway, I don't really feel like I need to make the case against religious bigotry. I just want to remind you all that corporations are only as evil as their customers allow them to be. Do the future of religious diversity in America a favor and send Lowe's a message. It's not like there's not a Home Depot across the street. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday Sermon: The Kindness Conspiracy

The Kindness Conspiracy

Hi. If we've not met, I'm Brigid Brockway, and I've been a member of this congregation about four years now; occasionally they let me speak, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to speak to you all today.
You know when I picked “kindness” as the topic for this message, I didn't really realize how cliched the idea seemed. I mean, kindness? Isn't that kind of basic? We learned this one in Kindergarten... isn't it time we moved on to something bigger? Well yes, kindness is a pretty elementary subject, but I've been thinking a lot about it, and I think kindness is just about the most powerful force for good in the world. Greater, maybe even than love, because kindness is love in action. Love is inert without kindness to bring it to life. Without love there is no kindness, and without kindness, there is no love.
As most of you know, I'm a logophile, or lover of words. So naturally, when I sat down to write this, the first thing I did was check out the etymology of the word kind. The word, which The Online Etymology Dictionary defines as “deliberately doing good to others,” comes from an Old English word meaning natural, native, or innate. I think that's appropriate. Imagine a world in which kindness is everybody's default state of being. I don't know if we're born innately kind. If you look at it from a primarily evolutionary perspective, humans are probably innately pretty violent. They say the law of surviving in the jungle is kill or be killed. Luckily, we don't live in the jungle. In our world, I think the best way to survive is to love as relentlessly as we can, and here's why I think that.
When I was a kid, my church's pastor father Lou Miola, said in a sermon that every action we take either builds up or tears down the kingdom of God on earth. He said, “Whenever you're deciding on an action, ask yourself: 'am I building the kingdom?'”
Unitarian Universalists don't talk a lot about gods or kingdoms, but let me put it another way. Everything we do creates the world in which we have to live. The world in which our loved ones live, the world in which our children will have to live. We never know how much, and we never know how far our actions will reach, but every single thing we do, every single action we take, changes the world; changes the course of history. Every day.
I would like to ask Bob to stand up please. Bob recently participated in an Out of the Darkness Community Walk to benefit the American Society of Suicide Prevention. Bob collected roughly 1,100 for the charity, even though his largest donation was only $50. The smallest was $1.
The amounts of money, the acts of kindness, were small. But all of those donations together, that thousand dollars, that money could be on its way to saving a life as we speak. Brendan McWalters is one individual who credits the Out of the Darkness walks with helping save his life. In a testimonial he gave at one of the walks he said that when he first attended a walk in 2005, he was very actively suicidal. He said when he heard people from the organization talk about how “we walked out of the darkness and into a solution … into a way where we didn't have to think that way anymore; I really knew that was what I really wanted in my life.” Thousands of people tell the same story about attending walks or seeing ads or billboards for Out of the Darkness and getting the hope they needed to carry on. Now, Out of the Darkness has the funding to reach a few more people, give a few more people hope: All because Bob decided to do something kind, and asked the people around him to do the same.
But giving money's not the only way to live kindness. In this economy, many of us are already giving as much money as we can afford to give, or maybe we can't afford to give at all. But that's okay because some of the best acts of kindness don't cost us a thing.
Last week, I visited the New Vision UCC church here in Canton. It's a great congregation. As Andy's always saying, they're pretty much Unitarians who really like Jesus. We had their pastor come and talk to us a couple of months back and near as I can tell, that congregation is just as kind and magnanimous as their pastor is. Now last week I met a woman, a member of the congregation who regularly donates something that doesn't cost her a cent. She takes plastic grocery bags, cuts them into strips, and knits them into blankets for the homeless. These blankets are lightweight, weatherproof, less prone than regular blankets to dirt and bed bugs, warm, and surprisingly pleasant to the touch. She makes them, and then other members of the congregation who go downtown to feed the hungry every Sunday hand the blankets out to homeless people there. She told me that she works on the blankets at night when she's just sitting around watching TV. The woman, just by sitting on her couch and playing with trash, might be saving somebody from freezing to death. Or maybe providing a little comfort to someone who doesn't have many comforts. Maybe giving hope to someone who was beginning to lose faith in a society that seems ever more determined to pretend he or she isn't there.
Okay, so but what if you don't have the time or crafty inclination to do something like that. Fear not. Great feats of kindness can be performed even more simply than that. So I used to work at a Caribou Coffee up in Cleveland. It was one of those work environments that was just really positive. For whatever reason, the staff and clientele just joined up to create a perfect storm of kindness, so that it was the sort of place that everybody – even the employees (even those of us who went in at 5am) – wanted to be. One day, a customer sent the staff this beautiful, eloquent letter that none of us expected. It was from this customer Fred* (or as we called him, dark roast in a travel mug). Fred was a really cool guy who came in after his overnight shift stocking the shelves at the Borders next door, and we liked him a lot. He was really smart, hilarious, really fun to discuss – and argue – literature with. Actually claimed Hemingway wasn't a misogynist, but I didn't hold it against him. Anyway, Fred had a reasonably severe case of cerebral palsy. He could walk, but required canes and had a pronounced hunch. His speech was slow and difficult to understand and his movements were often spastic. He was one of those people, though, who has a personality so much bigger than his disability that you barely notice it. Or so we thought. In his letter, he wrote about a life of pain, of disability. About living through surgeries and indignities and to add insult to injury, people treated him like a freak. People assumed he had cognitive impairments and so spoke to him as if he were a child. People stared, but pretended not to stare. Even when people were nice to him, he said, they weren't really seeing him, they were just doing a nice thing for this poor disabled person. But, he said in his letter, the staff at our coffee shop made him forget all that. He said that the time that he spent with us made him feel like he was experiencing what it was like to be everyone else, because that's how we treated him. Not like he was invisible, or stupid, or an inconvenience, or a pity, but like he was a real live human. Well after we were all done crying, we were kind of baffled. We all knew Fred and liked him a lot, but none of us remembered doing anything for him that would warrant such an outpouring. We were kind to him, sure, but we were kind to everybody. And I think the fact that we were kind to everybody was what made the real difference to him. If we'd been kind just to him, and not to everyone else, it would have been only because of his disability. We'd just have been more people in the long line of folks who put on a show of being nice to him out of pity.
The kind of kindness that existed inside that coffee shop? It didn't cost anybody anything. You memorize somebody's coffee order. You ask Small Cappuccino guy about his cat, you offer to carry Large Espresso Mom's cup to the table because she's got her hands full. In fact, it would have cost us a lot, in that environment, not to be kind. We had this really pleasant workplace and everybody got along really well. To throw a wrench in it by being a jerk, well that would be cutting off your nose to spite your face.
I don't know how that particular coffee shop got that way – it was like that when I found it. I suspect it was an intentional ploy by a couple of relentlessly pleasant staff members who were there when I started, but it kept on being that pleasant even after those staff members were gone. I guess once it got started, their whole kindness conspiracy just took on a life of its own.
When I was younger, one of my favorite passages from the bible was Romans 12:18-20.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
I think about that now and I think Paul didn't have that quite right. Being kind to someone for the purpose of upsetting them isn't being kind at all. It's being fake. I don't want to live in a world where people are all nice on the outside but committing horrible acts of sadism on me in their heads. How about being kind to your enemy because you want to live in a world where people are kind to their enemies? How about being kind to people because you want to live in a world where you don't have any enemies? Hating people is hard work and little spots of meanness in our hearts tend to spread. Now there's a fine line between loving your enemy and laying down so that they can walk all over you. I was actually talking to my mom about this yesterday. My mom's about the friendliest lady in the world and probably hasn't had an enemy since she was ten. Of course there are people that drive her nuts. But she once told me her tip to dealing with those folks. She said you just have to put the blinders up.
Blinders are little leather flaps that are placed near a horse's eyes that keep the horse from being distracted by the things next to or behind her. Now “living with blinders on” is a metaphor some people use to describe a state of ignorance or foolishness, basically, to remain oblivious by ignoring important facts. But my mom never said to live with blinders on – just to put them on sometimes when you need help moving forward. Put them up to keep from looking back at the ways the person has wronged you. Put them up to keep from thinking of all the ways that person is harming you right now. That doesn't mean ignore the bad things about the person. It doesn't mean ignore potential dangers. It just means that sometimes a person or a relationship is so difficult, or a history you have with somebody so ugly, that your only option is to keep your eyes in front, focusing on how you can have a kind relationship of at least mutual respect from here on out. It might not work. Your enemy might never stop finding new ways to make your world less pleasant. But I think that if you're that focused on being kind, that relentless in your pursuit of positivity, you might be able to push the meanness to the periphery, keep yourself warm in the kindness of the bubble you've created, even if your enemy chooses to remain out in the cold. I don't know if it's always possible, but I can tell you this: my mom's got no enemies, so she's doing something right. I can tell you this too: she once told me that every time she has a tough decision to make, she thinks of Father Lou's sermon many years ago, and she asks herself “Am I building the kingdom?”

Previous Sermons:
Last Year's Thanksgiving (I've since been told that all my sources on Squanto's motivations were wrong, but hey. I'm a pontificator, not a professor).

Monday, December 5, 2011

Totally getting my knee-jerk liberal card revoked for this.

Yesterday, my friend Mike posted this link to a fifteen minute video showing the context of the pepper spray incident at UC Davis. In this video, the police arrest a handful of the protesters, after which the rest of the protesters form a circle around the officers and inform them that they won't "let" the cops leave until their friends are set free. 



The group greatly outnumbered the police, they surrounded the police, and they told the police (in unison) they were not permitted to leave. Repeatedly. Is it an exaggeration to say that the protesters were taking the cops hostage? I'm not sure. But it is a great deal more than an exaggeration to call them "peaceful" protesters, is it not?
This is not to say that the police were correct in their choice of action. It is, however, to say that these were not peaceful protesters, they were protesters who were making threats, protesters who were declaring the intent to take the police hostage, protesters who were flat-out breaking the law. It is accurate to call the protesters unarmed. It is accurate to say that they had not yet committed any overt acts of violence. It is not accurate to say that they were peaceful. 


Nick Christie was pepper sprayed ten times over the course of a two day detention in Lee County, Florida for disorderly conduct. The last two times he was sprayed, he was in a cell, strapped naked to a restraint chair, with a spit mask over his face. He was covered in pepper spray, was still covered in the stuff days later when he was autopsied. All of this occurred in March 2009.
The man had several serious health conditions, information that was available to jail employees, but which jail employees neglected to read. He was denied all of his medications, despite his repeated requests and despite the fact that all of his medications were written down and carried in his pocket at the time of his arrest. 
That he had a mental illness was well-documented yet at no time was a psychiatrist consulted nor psych meds administered, even after his wife contacted the county sheriff's office with information about his condition and treatment.
 The final jolt of pepper spray sent him into shock which, according to the coroner, caused him to go into cardiac arrest and later die. The death was ruled a homicide. The Lee County Sheriff's office was later cleared of any wrongdoing, and if criminal action was taken against the jailers who administered the spray, I cannot find reports covering it. 
That's because the story received little to no national news coverage. 


No word yet on how many privileged college students have staged protests against Christie's treatment.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sincerity

Jeremy tells me that he learned in Dan Brown's book The Lost Symbol that the word sincere comes from the two word phrase without wax. The phrase, according to Brown, originates from the fact that sculptors, back in Roman times, would cover imperfections in their work by filling the cracks with wax. A true, honest sculptor would only sell sculptures without wax. In The Lost Symbol, the main character, Robert Langdon, remembers learning this etymology while reading what he calls a mediocre thriller. Jeremy, as it turns out, had read the same mediocre thriller. It was Dan Brown's Digital Fortress
Dan Brown was clever there, preventing anyone who noticed the duplication from accusing him of repeating himself. He was not, it would appear, clever when researching the origin of the word. I find it's usually the case that if an etymology seems that perfect, it's probably fake. And the Online Etymology Dictionary agrees, telling us that the phrase is from the Latin sincerus which means pure or sound. This, the Dictionary goes on to explain, is probably from sin, meaning one, and crescere, meaning grow, so that the expression originally meant out of one growth, referring to something that wasn't hybridized or mixed in with something else.
I'm not sure whether I plan to tell Jeremy this. It's a weird thing, not knowing whether to burst someone's bubble. In my etymological travels, I've found out quite a few of the more entertaining phrase origins aren't true. "Cat's out of the bag" doesn't refer to a ship captain keeping his cat o' nine tails in a bag (something I read about in a mediocre blog post once). In same said mediocre blog, I learned that "mind your own beeswax" doesn't, as myth claims, refer to the fact that women used to use beeswax as foundation. The phrase "don't throw the baby out with the bathwater" has nothing to do with the fact that entire families in the 16th century used to wash using only one tub of water and they always washed the babies last and thus the babies could often be lost and then tossed out with the bathwater (I mean, really?). 
Once, I told somebody that I'd learned on NPR that "dead ringer" comes from the fact that in olden times, they'd tie a string around the wrist of people in graves and then tie the string to a bell. Then if the not-dead-yet individual moved, the bell would ring and so people who looked exactly like someone else would be "dead ringers" because... wow, this is seeming less and less plausible as I write it. I mean, I'd heard it on NPR. I'd read it on a placard at a museum. I'd even heard it on that great repository of truth, the Internet. I don't remember who I told this to, but they burst my bubble and told me my story was untrue. And I felt really foolish. And I think I thought the person who told me a little rude - although would it have been more rude to let me go on telling people wrong things? It's kind of like the classic quandary over whether or not to tell someone they've got a booger hanging out of their nose.
Etiquette tells us that when someone's got a booger hanging out of their nose, the polite thing to do is to inform the boogerer discretely. Probably by doing the old quiet voiced "you got something..." trailing off, and then making a gesture toward the nose that the hearer almost never seems to interpret correctly. And then there's the whole "my right or your right" thing... none of which helps us determine how to burst someone's etymological bubble. I generally go with a gentle shake of the head and the understated "Snopes it."
Man, I love Snopes.
This sculpture is both without wax and an epic win. It's from a
Canton art gallery, and I can't remember which one. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

And another thing

Another thing about the OWS movement that bugs me, and I swear I'm going to let it go after this, is what they call themselves - the ninety nine percent. They're not the ninety-nine percent, they're a very tiny subset of the population who speak not for all of us, as near as I've heard, but for themselves. If they were truly speaking for the people most affected by corporate greed, we'd be hearing a lot less about student loans and a lot more about the predatory lending practices of the cash 'til payday loans places, virtually every major credit card company, and most credit "counseling" services. 
Yeah, student loans are a bitch and it's pretty unfair when people work their tails off in school on the promise of success when they get out, only to find jobs that don't even cover the monthly cost of their loan payment. Believe me, I know. Once, some years ago, I got way behind on my student loans; it was partially my fault, but all the debt was piling up, I had so many bills I couldn't see straight, and I got into trouble from which I didn't think I could ever dig myself out. There was this one company, they were associated with a loan I didn't realize I had, and when they suddenly noticed I existed, they came after me like pirranahs. They wanted all their money NOW and I didn't have it. All of a sudden they were calling me five, six, seven times a day. They were calling me at work, they were yelling at me, they were cruel and mean, calling me names, calling me a liar and a bad person, and it was horrible. I lived in a fear so bad that to this day, I feel a tiny swelling of panic when I get a call from a blocked phone number. But the thing is, I had an Internet connection, and a college degree, and that gave me the opportunity to get educated about my rights; to know what kind of tactics bill collectors were and weren't allowed to use. I was able to assert those rights and cut back on the harassing behavior. I was able to sort the situation out, borrow enough money from loved ones to shut the collectors up, and go back to my life. On top of all that, my interest rate on those loans is still in the single digits, and I was able to get back on track and even ahead of the game within only a few years. 
Folks who are dirt poor and uneducated, who were never even taught how to turn on a computer, they're not going to know how to find these things out. And they don't get nice kushy government-subsidized rates. They get tricked into borrowing at rates as high as freaking 800% at many payday loan places, and either they never got the educational opportunities to understand that, or they're too desperate to care. I'd guess a good ninety nine percent of the kids protesting on Wall Street have never known what it's like to have a sick kid who can't afford a doctor - to take a credit card with a 30% interest rate or borrow at 800% because they've got no other choice. And many - I'd guess most - never will. Because the economy's going to get better and they're going to get the jobs their degrees promised them and in ten years their student loan payments are going to get direct-withdrawn and they'll never have to worry if they'll have enough money in the account to cover it. Trust me, I know that too.
So what I'm saying is, if the ninety-nine percent were speaking for the entire ninety nine percent, they'd be speaking about entirely different things. Most are white. Most, according to The Demographics of Occupy Wall Street, an article in The Week, are under 35 (meaning crashing with mom and dad, for many, isn't out of the question as a last resort). Most resources I consulted indicate that about 90% of the OWS protesters have had the good fortune of having been to college, far higher than in America as a whole. Only 46% of them, according to The Society Pages make less money than I do (though I should note I haven't been able to independently verify this). They're really not a representative sample of the ninety-nine percent, as a whole, and I believe that qualifies very few of them to speak for all of us. I don't think, based on the percentages and what I'm hearing in the news, that these guys are in touch with the real victims of corporate greed, and I've not heard a one of them indicate that they've educated themselves on which corporations are the real bad guys.
I want to make it very clear that I think corporate greed is rampant. I think that the excesses of the really rich are often unconscionable in light of the suffering of the poor. I think consumers should hold corporations accountable for their evil deeds and yes, I think that the government should step in when a corporation gets truly out of line. I'm angry at the way corporations have screwed Americans. I'm angry at the wealthier people who sit in their cushy office chairs and dismiss the poor as lazy, dishonest, and overstating their poverty. I'm angry at people who think that the suffering of innocent people who can't afford food, education, or medical care isn't their concern. I'm angry at America's complacency and apathy when it comes to the poor and I'm supremely angry at people who refuse to put their own problems in perspective. I'm angry that schools aren't better, I'm angry that my mom's students have to dodge bullets on their way to school, I'm angry that good students who work hard can't go to college just because they were born into poverty. I'm angry at the state of health care, and yes, I'm angry at conservatives who would rather blame the victims than work toward compromise. 
Damn corporate fat cats, laying around while others do all the work.
I'm angry that I live in a country that's boiling over with discrimination, poverty and injustice and I think every person of conscience should be out there doing something. I just don't think that the OWS protesters are doing the right thing, fighting the right battles, or targeting the right enemies. Rich people aren't the enemy; in fact, many of them have the resources to be great allies if we'd stop blaming them and start asking them instead to pitch in.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Zero-sum

I learned a new term from NPR last week: zero sum. The NPR show Marketplace has done a couple of commentaries from the so-called one percent. 
Now I've had something stuck in my craw* about the Occupy Wall Street since the movement started. I mean, I'm a liberal girl, I don't like corporate greed, I hate poverty. So what's been bothering me?
Well, commentator Robert Reich started me down the road to figuring it out. Reich argues that the OWS folks' mentality "plays into the false idea that the economy is a giant zero sum game, in which the top one percent wins and everyone else loses, or the reverse. But... if an economy is functioning correctly, everyone wins."

And he's right. Kind of. Of course, the economy is quite obviously not functioning correctly. And the big banks responsible for the economic collapse in the first place? They were the perfect illustration of the opposite of this dude's points. The upper-level folks made tons of money at the expense of the poor through predatory lending practices, then took home millions of dollars in bonuses after the bailouts, while people lower down lost their jobs. I don't have the world's best understanding of economics, but the banking fiasco seems like a textbook example of what Reich's talking about when he talks about the zero sum game.
While that's true, the OWS people aren't just protesting the banks and the other actual bad guys. Even their most articulate representatives are making arguments about the fact that the one percent have so much more than the rest of us, how the rich really ought to give some back. They don't care which rich. They don't care how they got rich. And this is where I agree with Reich. It is bad, of course, for an exec to make billions of dollars at the expense of others. But that's not the only way to make lots of money; and a lot of corporations (although I'd certainly argue they're in the minority) know that.
The company for which I work, for instance, demonstrates the correctly functioning economy that Reich talks about. In the small scale anyway; we've got no billionaires, as far as I know. The people above me on the corporate ladder get paid more than me, sure, but they're the people more directly responsible for my company's existence and continued success. And if those people aren't compensated according to their worth, they're not going to stick around. So their higher pay checks actually put money in my pocket, rather than taking money out of it.
The much-maligned Starbucks, by the way, long considered emblematic of corporate greed, operates very much the same way. Sure, there's a lot of douchebaggery - I think at giant corporations, that's a lot harder to prevent; however, Starbucks treats their bottom-tier employees better than the nicest locally-owned coffee shops on earth. Better than minimum wage pay, benefits, I think they even have some kind of tuition reimbursement system. Owners of the local places aren't more selfish employers, per se, but they're nowhere near successful enough to be able to afford benefits and stuff like that. Starbucks makes their employees' lives better by virtue of being successful. The execs at the top, the ones who make billions of dollars, are responsible for keeping the company successful and thus keeping the workers employed and well compensated. And if (and that's a big if) their corporate literature is to be believed, they're pretty good to their growers too. Starbucks is still evil, however. Oh yeah, I'm bringing up the burned beans again. What did coffee beans ever do to them that they need to scald them so? Their Breakfast Blend tastes like French Roast. Their Costa Rica tastes like French Roast. Their French Roast tastes like used firewood. Really? What kind of animal is capable of such crimes against coffee?
Anyway, my point is, and I think Reich's point is that being evil isn't the only way to make piles and piles of money, and the OWS kids don't seem to have any understanding of that fact. Most seem to be advocating a redistribution of wealth that would grind our economy to a dead stop, and I don't think that's the best option for anybody involved. Because smaller, less successful businesses can't afford to compensate their employees as well as bigger, more successful ones. The hippy dippy coffee shop or restaurant or boutique on the corner may be a kinder, friendlier place; but chances are they can't afford to pay their employees better than minimum wage. Because they're so small, it's possible they're getting paid less than minimum under the table because the authorities don't pay as much attention to small businesses. They often can't afford to sell fairly traded products, they can't afford to give people benefits, and they sure as hell can't afford to donate the gazillions of dollars to charities that the bigger, more successful companies do. 
So that's what's in my craw, at least in part, about the OWS kids. They're failing to distinguish good economic success from bad economic success. They're failing to understand that the richness of the so-called on percent isn't necessarily directly responsible for the ninety-nine percent. They're punishing the good corporations along with the bad and they're doing it really, really obnoxiously. 
In the end, it all comes down to this: corporations are only as evil as consumers allow them to be. I actually liked OWS's plan to get people to fire their banks. Those big banks that contributed to the collapse deserved to be fired. Deserved to have been fired long ago. And if the ninety-nine percent do their homework, find out which banks are good and which are bad, and then move their money in huge numbers, then they're a hell of a lot more effective than the unshowered masses littering Wall Street. By all means, don't shop at companies whose businesses practices you find morally objectionable. Convince your friends not to. Picket them if you really want to. But learn about their business practices and whether they really are evil before you start with the rhetoric. 




* I've always wondered what that means - it refers to something being stuck in your throat, craw being a word for a bird's throat.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Why the Muppets



A friend once asked me that. Why was I so obsessed with the Muppets? What did they mean to me? Apparently, they meant the same thing to me as they meant to screenplay writer Jason Segel who, as the story goes, is the man responsible for dragging the Muppet franchise up out of their made-for-TV squalor and bringing out the magic that many thought had died with Jim Henson.
The Muppets is the story of a young boy named Walter who isn't like the other kids because he's a puppet. Being a puppet can be depressing sometimes, as it turns out, and one day he's down in the dumps over it, and then he and his non-puppet brother, played by Segel, watch an episode of The Muppet Show. That night, Walter's world changes. He has hope. He believes in magic. Suddenly he understands that what makes him different makes him special, and he's obsessed with the Muppets from then on.
Fast forward 20 or so years. Walter's big brother is a grown man now, and Walter's still, well, a puppet. Sort of like the Muppet version of Webster, I suppose. Anyway, Walter, his brother Gary, and Gary's girlfriend Mary embark on a trip to LA and a visit to Muppet Studios. The Muppet Studios, however, have fallen into neglect. The Muppets drifted apart many years ago, you see, and no one has seen many of them in many years. The Muppet Studios are crumbling and dusty; all the magic is gone. 
While there, Walter accidentally discovers that Tex Richman, a heartless oil tycoon played perfectly by Chris Cooper, plans to buy the Muppet studios and tear them down. Now Walter must find the Muppets and convince them to reunite to save their studios. Adventure and hilarity ensue.
I can't remember ever having laughed so hard and so often at a movie. Even Fozzie's terrible puns had the whole audience struggling to keep from having their slushies shoot out their noses (not a pleasant experience, I assure you).
As in the days of old, the characters often break the fourth wall to point out the sorts of plot holes and movie conceits that other, more serious films try to sweep under the rug. I might be reading more than necessary into it, but I think this is one of the many ways the Muppets refuse to pander to their audience. Jim Henson never wanted his characters to be mindless entertainment for kids. In fact, his first show, Sam and Friends, (this according to HowStuffWorks.com) was a TV program started in 1955 and geared towards adults. In the 60s, however, Henson decided that kids could be a pretty sophisticated audience, and that's when Henson created Sesame Street
From then on, the goal of the Muppets franchise was to create entertainment that's appropriate for and amusing to kids that's also great for adults. Stuff that sails over the heads of kids is hilarious to us grown-ups. Ew, I just called myself a grown-up. The celebrity cameos and guest stars, of course, are a treat for the youth-impaired among us too. Seeing Chris Cooper, whose roles are usually so serious and intense, be over-the-top silly was fantastic. I could go on for a million years but there's no time. You have to drop whatever you're doing, right now, and go see the movie. Shoo. Go on, get. 
What are you still doing here?! Go! Go! Go!



Sunday, November 20, 2011

One Flew East and One Flew West

I saw One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest before I read it. So when I neared the end of the book, I already knew how the story would end; tragically, in case you haven't read it. And I remember pausing at the end of the last chapter right before the shit hit the fan. Remember saying to myself that if I stop reading right now, the bad things won't happen. The book will end on an up note and I can tell myself that everything turned out okay in the end. I remember feeling this weird sense of power at that thought. Like I could control the future by refusing to see it. I finished the book, for the record.
I recently read James Wolcott's terribly titled Still Cuckoo After All These Years. It's maybe a little bit snooty and intellectual, but maybe I only think that because I'm not intellectual enough. But seriously:
Despite its impressionistic reveries, its invocations of the great wide American space beyond its scrubbed walls, Cuckoo's Nest conducts its dramatic business with an unabashed, cartoon-stroked theatricality...
That's the kind of fancy talk I would have used in college to gloss over the fact that I spent all night chain smoking and watching cartoons, rather than reading the book I was supposed to read. Unless my mom is reading, in which case, scratch the chain smoking.


Anyway, the author talked about symbolism and social commentary and Big Brother and emasculation. And sure, I can see it... it's just that it had never occurred to me to do so. The novel at its surface level says so much that I never thought to look deeper. 
See, Ken Kesey had been a hospital aide, had had experience with people in mental hospitals and people with mental illness. The picture he painted of the way the patients at the book's mental hospital wasn't all that different from the one I saw working with kids with disabilities and later adults with mental illness. The evil orderlies from the novel? Those were my coworkers, and there was nothing you could do about it. You could catch one or two of them in the act of being evil, but there were always a dozen more where they came from. You can fire people for abuse, but you can't force them to see their charges as people. That much hasn't changed from when the novel was written.
And of course, they don't use drugs like Thorazine as much anymore, and they don't give people lobotomies. But if you're under the impression they don't do shock "therapy" anymore; that it isn't administered punitively like in the novel anymore, you've been tricked. It's probably more the exception than the rule nowadays, but I know more than one person who lost entire chunks of their memories being shocked against their will (and more than one person too, who didn't think shock therapy was that bad, to be fair).
I always tell people that working at  the adult group home in Akron back in 2004-2005 wasn't quite One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but it was damn close. Nurse Ratched at least had some schooling - the lady who carried the clipboard at our group home was an uneducated and willfully ignorant person who thought people with schizophrenia were possessed by demons and that all they really needed was Jesus. Grown men and women were treated like helpless children and worse. You'd sit in that place and look around and there were all these people who could have had a chance at a real life; independence, a job, a family, if only they were given help rather than whatever cocktail would keep them quiet and... well, if you were wondering where I got this ugly cynical streak, that's where. 


But is it possible Kesey wasn't just chronicling, waking America up to the way it treated its mentally ill? Certainly, there's lots of fodder for someone who would say that the message is more symbolic than that. Maybe Nurse Ratched stands for the American government of the 1960s - denying people the right to speak out and exercise their liberties, assuring the dissidents that it was for their own good. Maybe Kesey was trying to say that laws against drug use are holding people back from experiencing life, and the people making the laws are only pretending to be out for what is best for them. The orderlies could certainly stand for the police in Kesey's world view. 
Or maybe it's a message less friendly. Maybe it's a cautionary tale about what happens when power shifts, when women and minorities (the orderlies, it's repeatedly pointed out, are black) take control. Maybe he's trying to say that white men have allowed themselves to become submissive in the name of equal rights. I don't know enough about Kesey's own political opinions to know whether that's anything he'd ever espouse, but it's certainly one way you could read it. Maybe, going down that road, the Chief is supposed to be a reminder of what happens when one race sublimates another.
I'm not making a case for any of this. The fun of the blog is you don't have to go digging around in dusty works of literary criticism to support what I'm saying, I can just bullshit you. And I don't even have to use fancy phrases like "impressionistic reveries" to prove to you I read the book.


But, coming back to what I was saying earlier, I'd be disappointed if Cuckoo really were just an allegory, really was speaking about society as a whole rather than the treatment of people in institutions specifically. We like to ignore people with mental illness, and we like to pretend that the things that go on in mental hospitals really are for the clients own goods. I hope that people read the book or watch the movie and think to ask if we're still treating people with mental illness that way, if things have gotten better. I hope that people read the book or see the movie and come a step closer to seeing people with disabilities as human beings. 
There's this great episode of the show Northern Exposure that I really wish I could find a clip of. A couple of characters are debating the symbolic significance of the poem Casey at the Bat, talking about how it stands for post-colonialism and whatnot, and one of the characters pitches a baseball to another. When the batter misses, the other character says that Casey at the Bat is like that feeling in the pit of his stomach right that moment. The feeling you get when everything's riding on you and you choke. I think a lot of the time, we spend so much effort reading into what we're reading that we miss the author's most basic message.
But what do I know? I'm not even sure what impressionistic reveries means.
This is the third post I know of in which I've talked about
one bird and posted a picture of an entirely different sort of bird.
Which leads me to wonder why I have so damn many pictures of birds
in my library anyway.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Shut your pie hole

I remember the first time I saw the Food Network. It was back when it was first invented, when they were still showing Japanese episodes of Iron Chef. I'm like "A whole network for cooking shows? That'll never catch on."
A television staple in the Brockway house, and just about the only Food Network show I watch now that they don't sell episodes of the Japanese Iron Chef is Alton Brown's Good Eats. Alton doesn't just give recipes and show how to make them, he goes into the science, mechanics, and history of food. When he talks about meringue, for instance, he explains why it is that getting even a tiny bit of yolk in with the whites will prevent the meringue from doing its thing. It's kind of a food version of Bill Nye the Science Guy.
In an episode we saw recently, Alton talked about meat pies. He told us that pie, a dish popular in the Middle Ages, comes from magpie. Magpies love to collect random crap and pile it up. A pie, during the middle ages, was a pile of crap. I mean not literally - it could include lots of different ingredients, like a magpie's nest might.
TV gets to say that sort of thing definitively, but it ain't necessarily so, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. While the site does state that the pie/magpie link is possible, I suspect the word is probably more closely related to the middle Latin word pia, meaning pastry. In printers' slang (who knew printers had slang?), however, pie refers to a jumble of letters. This probably is a reference to the hoarding habits of magpies. 
Below the entries for pie, the site had an entry for piebald. Piebald is an adjective referring to a thing with two different colors, usually black and white. Bald in olden times could mean white (which explains why the bald eagle isn't actually bald); pie refers to the black color of the magpie. This term is usually applied to animals... for some reason, I had always thought the word was more commonly associated with people who have a premature white streak in their hair, like Stacy from What Not to Wear or Rogue from the X-Men (the idea that Rogue absorbed some of Magneto's hair, by the way, is a movie myth. Rogue has always rocked the skunk look). But apparently I was alone in that. Piebaldism in humans is a genetic disorder and usually involves discoloration of the face in addition to the hair.
Okay, you caught me. This isn't a magpie, it's a crow. Also, it's
not blurry on purpose, it's blurry because again, I had my
camera on the wrong setting. But it's still pretty cool.
The pied piper's name goes back to magpie too... pied, once upon a time, meant multicolored, in reference to the magpie being black and white. The pied piper might have been so called because he wore multicolored or motley clothing. Another theory says that the story of the pied piper might be an allegory for a plague - that a man whose skin was multicolored because of plague came into the actual historical town of Hamelin, and that plague carried the children off. But that's probably very fanciful and is perhaps a podcast for another day. 
"Shut your pie hole," according to The Word Detective, is derivative of the earlier British military slang cake hole. This doesn't have any fancy origins; it's just a colorful colloquialism. 



Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bluebeard

I dog ear the pages of my books. Not a lot. Just a tiny bit. Not usually for a bookmark, but to remember to come back. Which I usually don't, of course, and when I do, I don't usually remember what it was I wanted to come back to.
To Jeremy, this is unconscionable. Which I spelled right on the first try. And which, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, means "having no regard for conscience," and is the opposite of conscionable, which isn't ever used anymore. Which, in turn, comes from consciened, an even more obsolete word, meaning "having a conscience." But I digress as usual. Anyway, Jeremy finds dog-earing unconscionable. He likes books pure and virginal. This probably comes from his childhood best friend's mom having been a librarian. Dog ears, I imagine, are the bane of the modern librarian's existence, since bookworms (as in, the insects that feed on the paper and glue in books) aren't as much of a thing anymore.
But I like books that have been dog-eared by other people too. I like to wonder what they were thinking about, and what it was they wanted to come back to, and what they were thinking as they read, and whether the book changed their life and whether they're still alive. I'm awed by the fact that they'll never know anything about all of the pairs of hands that will read the book that they gave away, and that all I'll ever know about them is that they folded down the corner of pages 7, 122, 199, and 300.
Right now, I'm reading the dog ears in my favorite Vonnegut novel, Bluebeard. The copy I read first belonged to my dad and lives at his house. He found it depressing, which is funny because it may be the most upbeat thing Vonnegut ever wrote. Which, to be fair to my dad, isn't saying much. Bluebeard is the supposed autobiography of Rabo Karabeckian, who was a modern artist who worked in Sateen Dura-luxe, a house paint that was supposed to last longer than the Mona Lisa's smile, but which dissolved not long after he created his works, and so now his works are just blank canvasses again.
That there's what we call symbolism.
I think the book's about making meaning from meaninglessness, or maybe sense from senselessness. His parents were among the few survivors after the Turkish empire committed genocide against the Armenians. Out of that senseless slaughter, they created a son. Their son fought in World War II, and out of that senseless war, their son found his voice. 
I've dog-eared page 66 to remember to come back and to tell you what it says. It says
It's hard to believe how sick of war we used to be. We used to boast how small our Army and Navy were, and how little influence generals... had in Washington... Nowadays, of course, just about our only solvent industry is the manufacture of death, bankrolled by our grandchildren, so that the message of our principal art form, movies and television and political speeches and newspaper columns, for the sake of the economy, simply has to be this: War is hell all right, but the only way a boy can become a man is in a shootout of some kind...
That's truer today than it was in 1987, when he said it. In 1987, Full Metal Jacket was raw and agonizing. Now it's almost quaint next to 300 and Saving Private Ryan, which I watched while munching on popcorn. 
I love Kurt Vonnegut except for one thing, which you've probably noticed. When I read Kurt Vonnegut, I write like Kurt Vonnegut. Which I also attribute in part to the fact that we've both been technical writers, which has made us terse and to the point and fond of plain words and simple constructions. Out of the senselessness of wires and programming languages, maybe I'll find my voice.


Fun fact for the day: Among Geoffrey Chaucer's surviving works is a technical document on the use of the astrolabe. I'm in better company than I knew!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A fashion revolution

My trip to Atlanta, in addition to letting me spend some much needed time with two of my favorite people, also gave me some much needed time with two of my favorite podcasters.
Josh Clark and Charles W. Bryant host the show Stuff You Should Know, one of the podcasts created by the good folks at HowStuffWorks.com. They do 30-minute shows about how things work; things lake samurai, prisons, polygraphs, and a bunch of other stuff you never knew you needed to know.
Today, I learned about the zoot suit. The zoot suit, described by one as "a killer diller coat with a drape shape, reet pleats, and padded like a lunatic's cell," is popular in the 1930s and 40s, largely among minorities. A couple of sites online attribute this description to Malcolm X, a big fan of the look back in his big pimpin' days; I have my doubts. Especially since most of those references contain the same exact intro text: "...a young Malcolm X described the zoot suit as..." leading me to believe all the instances were copied and pasted from Wikipedia. But I digress as usual.
So the zoot suit, like the one that Cab Calloway is wearing below, is an oversized, draped coat with nipple high pants that balloon at the top and taper or are pegged at the ankle. 
There are lots of stories as to where the zoot suit came from; the one they mention in the podcast is that a bus driver was visiting Georgia and asked a tailor for a suit that looked like one Rhett Butler would wear. 

The side by side makes me think of one of my favorite cake wrecks (in which the customer asked for the cake on the left and got the cake on the right):

Digressing again. Anyhoo, we're not really sure where the word zoot came from. Cab Calloway says that the word means exaggerated, but that may have come about after - it's possible that zoot suit, like killer diller is jive rhyming slang.
the suit is popular in the 30s and 40s, and like I said, it's popular with minorities. Naturally, white folks were threatened. It gets worse once the war starts and the government starts urging people to wear more streamlined clothing to save on fabric. Now wearing these material-heavy suits is unpatriotic. 
It's this perceived defiance, along with general fear of minorities, that causes the press, especially in LA, to frame these zoot-suiters, as they call them, as gangsters and thugs. Zoot-suiters begin to clash with servicemen, and in California in 1943, a series of scuffles between the two groups turns into an outright riot in which servicemen pile into cabs, drive down to the ghetto, beat the crap out of whatever minorities they can get their hands on, then strip them and take their clothes. 
Police arrest few to no servicemen, but hundreds of minorities, and eventually LA banned the wearing of zoot suits. Because clearly that was the problem.
This story kind of made me think about the whole issue of saggy pants today. The sagging style came to prominence in the 90s when artists like Ice-T and Too Short (according to Snopes.com) began sporting it, and it has been arousing ire fairly consistently ever since. The question is, why? I have to admit, whenever I see a kid sagging, my urge to walk over and pull their pants up for them is overwhelming. It's an extremely foolish look, and I can't fathom its staying power. But is there something inherently wrong with it?
Like the zoot suit, sagging is generally associated with thugs and lowlifes and, like the zoot suit, is most popular among minority males. But is it fair to characterize the style as belonging to thugs? Well, unlike the zoot suit, sagging probably is related to criminal behavior in an exceedingly indirect way. All my sources indicate that the style probably does descend from the fact that people in prisons aren't generally allowed belts, and thus their pants are always falling down. Despite what the Internet would have you believe, however, this is not how gay men in prison signal that they want cock. That doesn't even make sense. The style is also not a vehicle for concealing a weapon. That doesn't make sense either... if your pants are already falling off, they aren't going to be a particularly practical place for your piece. Baggy shirts, yes, baggy pants, no. One could even argue that saggy pants would make crime a bit harder in that it's really hard to run in them. Nothing is funnier to me than watching a kid running down the street holding his sagging pants up like they're petticoats.
But how many people who sag their pants have any idea about the whole prison thing? Saggy pants may look absurd, but they're as harmless as zoot suits. I wonder how much of people's hatred of saggy pants has to do with underlying racism. Then again, people really hate hipsters, and I don't know that it has anything to do with society's underlying hatred of white kids who think they're better than everyone else.

Monday, November 7, 2011

I will return

Oh my, sorry for the long absence. I didn't notice I'd been away so long. I guess I've been busier than I realized. I'm trying this whole NaNoWriMo thing - apparently, every November, folks band together and try to each write a novel of 50,000 words in one month. 
I am at a loss as to whether it's possible to write a good novel in a month. Do any of you know? I often see books at the bookstore on writing your novel in a month. However, I notice that these books are never written by authors I've heard of, so that may be a sign.
I celebrated the beginning of NaNoWriMo by slashing about 20,000 words out of my manuscript. Because I'm a rebel like that. You say write more words, I write less. How do you like me now?
So why am I doing NaNoWriMo? Well, I was hoping it was the push I would need to get me back in the saddle. Jury is still out. I did fairly well last week, but then I went to Atlanta this past weekend and got off track. I'm not sure what's got me out of the saddle to begin with. I've never gotten this far into a novel before, so I've got no idea what's normal. Some people take a decade to write a novel; some claim to take a month. Some say writer's block is your mind's way of stepping aside and gaining perspective, some say it's laziness. Some say that if you're stuck you should keep going, others say that if you're stuck you should try something else.
Me, I don't know. I do not think, even with a 25,000 word head start, that I'll be finishing this puppy before the end of November. I don't feel like I'll ever finish. And between you, me, and the ether, I'm terrified that it's going to suck so much it will have been a complete waste of time.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Bonus Content - Augh!

Okay, so this really has nothing to do with words, or whatever it is that this blog is supposed to be about, but 
a. It's Halloween and I feel like I should be doing something to acknowledge it, besides eating these Reece's Cups we got on sale.
b. I saw this thing about the movie and now I have all this trivia and nothing to do with it.
c. I'm putting off actual writing.


So let me tell you some things about Halloween. The movie, not the holiday (I did the holiday last year). 
Halloween was made on a budget of $300,000, so when it came to Michael Myers'mask, the word was budget (from the Latin bulga, meaning leather bag). Costume folks bought a handful of  masks at a costume shop, including Emmett Kelly, Mr. Spock, and Captain Kirk. The Kirk mask was chosen because it was the most generic - they just made the eye holes larger and painted it white. I knew that Shatner couldn't be trusted. In the script, by the way, the monster is referred to only as The Shape.
Michael Myers was an English guy who helped director John Carpenter with his previous film. Carpenter named the character after him as an homage. Apparently, Michael Myers was well known for being an incredibly nice guy.
Nick Castle, the actor who played The Shape, appeared in only three other films, and two of those appearances were uncredited. He has written and directed a couple of films, however; notably, he co-wrote the screen story for Hook. That's not from the documentary, it's from IMDB.
Jamie Lee Curtis, who was a teenager when the movie was made, is the daughter of Janet Leigh, who played Marion Crane in Psycho.
The original title for the screenplay was The Babysitter Murders. Filmmakers were shocked to learn that there had never been a movie called Halloween, or even a movie with Halloween in the name.
John Carpenter wrote and performed the movie's theme, which is in 5/4 time, a time signature I did not know existed. It sounds to me an lot like the opening theme to Tubular Bells, the theme for The Exorcist. The Halloween theme, however, seems to hold scary better - play Tubular Bells out of context and it's not really all that creepy. 


There. Half an hour of procrastination managed. Also, I have never seen Halloween all the way through. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Monster Mish-Mash

Happy Halloween, all.  Seeing as it's the season for such things, I think it's time I told you what I know about the creatures that lurk under your bed.
Monster, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, comes from the Latin monstrum, meaning monster or omen. This word, in turn, comes from the Latin verb monere, meaning to warn - malformed animals were considered a sign of a coming evil. 
 Zombie, I learned in a special on the History channel today, has its roots in Haitian Vodou. It referred to a person made into a mindless slave by a sorcerer. I read somewhere that some think it's possible that zombies have some basis fact, historically speaking. People have hypothesized that a combination of naturally occurring chemicals can be used to induce a zombie-like state in a human, but that idea seems more than a little far fetched when you dig into it.
I also learned on the History channel that the word ghoul comes from ancient Arabic folklore and refers to a demon who feeds on human flesh and robs graves. Looking for a little background from Wikipedia, I learned that ghouls rob graves, drink blood, steal coins, and eat the dead. I'm amused that "steal coins" is in that list. You can eat the dead and rob graves all you want, but when it comes to stealing coins, that's where I draw the line.
A hobgoblin can be a mischievous imp or a more serious monster. It's name, the Online Etymology Dictionary has just informed me, comes from hob meaning elf, which descends from Hobbe, another way of saying Rob, from the character Robin Goodfellow. As I think I've mentioned before, Puck is another name for Robin Goodfellow, and that is the name of my cat. Hence, my cat is essentially a hobgoblin. No wonder he has been so much trouble. 
A poltergeist gets its name from the German for noisy ghost. Poltergeists are the things, essentially, that go bump in the night. Poltergeists are generally impish and destructive, but generally harmless. In the movie Poltergeist, there are likely poltergeist living in the house, but they're not the ones doing all the scary stuff that makes one hide behind the sofa. In the movie, there are actually many types of ghosts in the home. A demon, not a poltergeist, called Beast is the one who steals the little girl. Eerily, four of the actors who appeared in the films died within a year of each film's premier, including, quite unexpectedly, the actresses who played the two daughters.
I've got to admit that this shot was an accident.
But it's pretty damn cool.

ShareThis