This place matters

This place matters

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.

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