Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

A blog about words, wordplay, and etymology, with slightly more than occasional political rants.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Kid Conspiracy

How I came to be reading the one-star reviews on the charming kids' book The Toothpaste Millionaire, I cannot say. Because I have no idea, and can't think of any series of events that might plausibly have led me there. But there I was, when I ran across this: "With all the choices in children's fiction available, why... would anyone make them read this kind of free-market propaganda? Well, it hits the mark on the 'good-for-you' category: complete with math problems and pithy expressions of 'color-blind' and masculine-feminine friendships... subtle."
This naturally led me to wonder what other vile propaganda might be hiding in your children's "harmless" literature. Luckily, I found these real one-star Amazon reviews, which I present to you as a public service. Let's set the stage with some music.

Green Eggs & 
**Spoiler Alert** A local dealer pressures a buyer into ingesting a strange substance for "free". During 80% of the book, the protagonist clearly says "No", but the substance dealer continues to pressure. In the end the protagonist is defeated, ingests the substance, and shows signs of addiction proclaiming outrageous ways in which he'll take this new substance. There is no evidence that the antagonist will continue to provide free samples of the substance once the main character is addicted.
And here I thought this book's only agenda was to get children to eat rotten meat.  

Harriet the Spy
Jesus Wept
(yes, this is the actual title of the review)
This book is devoid of all morals. I encourage all parents to encourage your children to read really good children's literature, the BIBLE and forgo this trash... I especially abhor the part when Harriet hangs the fetal pig in the school's stairwell. I homeschool all of our 7 children, and I read everything that I assign them to read. I couln't get past the first chapter of this book before I was ready to throw up in disgust.
Oh my holy god, at no point in this book does anyone hang a fetal pig anywhere. What the holy hell book was this lady even reading?? (also, do you get the feeling this lady mentions her 7 home schooled children and their love of the bible in every conversation she has ever?)

I Will Love You Forever
This story is pretty much akin to what I imagine a convicted pedophile would come up with if they actually let one publish a children's book. The supposed "intention" of the book (and believe me, I have my doubts as to the REAL intention behind this story) does little to sweeten the seriously unsettling undertone here. It reads way too much like a sugar-coated story of incest.
That's certainly one interpretation... 

Where the Wild Things Are
A disturbed young man in a devilish costume chases a dog with a sharp object, then threatens to cannibalize his mother when she objects. No, it's not an episode of "True Blood"... Max watches as the monsters "gnash their terrible teeth" (a descriptor Jesus used in the Bible when describing Hell)...

And people tell me I read too much into everything. 
Funny thing while digging through these reviews, they start to kind of make sense after a while. Like, I get that Green Eggs & Ham is supposed to be about how it doesn't have to be scary to try new things, but Sam is kind of a pusher. And a lot of parents accurately point out that Harriet writes really, really mean stuff about her friends. Plus, now that he mentions it, those weird vampire sex scenes in Where the Wild Things Are DO seem kind of inappropriate.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

I've got your number

A couple of weeks back, I talked about the term 86, which is restaurant slang for something like "we're out of." This is probably where Maxwell Smart of Get Smart got his numeric designation. 
If there's a special significance to 24601, Jean Valjean's prisoner number in Les Miserables, it's been lost to history. Some allege that Victor Hugo chose the number because it was the day he himself was conceived, and that seems even more silly after writing it out than it did when I was reading it. 
If you watched Star Trek: The Next Generation, then you know that Captain Picard's nickname for his first mate William Riker is Number One. But you may not know that Riker wasn't the first Star Trek character to be called Number One. In the pilot episode of the original Star Trek series, actress Majel Barrett played the ship's first mate, known only as Number One. Barrett's character was left out of the series - seems that, for studio execs, interstellar travel was less farfetched than the idea of a first mate with a vagina. 
Also more believable than a woman first mate.
Don't feel bad for Barrett, though - she eventually earned a new numeric nickname - First Lady of Star Trek. This isn't just because she married show creator Gene Roddenberry. She also played Nurse Christine Chapel, who was promoted to Doctor Chapel for the films. She played Ambassador Lwaxana Troi (the Federation's first female drag queen) in The Next Generation and Deep Space 9, and was the voice of the computer in the original series, The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager, and a couple of episodes of Enterprise, making her the only actor to appear in all of the television series. 
If you're not a Dr. Who fan, you should probably become one. Once you do, you'll learn that the titular doctor's name isn't Who, it's just The Doctor. In recent years, Who fans have started referring to the 13 actors who have played the doctor by the order in which they appeared on the series. Tom Baker, who wore the mantel (and the scarf) in the 1970s is known as the 4th Doctor.

David Tenant and Matt Smith are known to many of their fans as just 10 and 11.

The characters in the play 12 Angry Men have no names - they're known only by their juror number. Jack Klugman, Juror #5, was the last angry man standing when he died back in 2012. He outlived most of his costars by decades. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

You make me sick

It occurred to me today that the entire gumball machine industry is one local news expose from annihilation. All those filthy little hands reaching into a chute that never gets cleaned... the gumball lobby must have friends in high places. 
It was a series of local news exposes that led to the tubs of sanitary wipes at the entrance to every grocery store. Somebody got the idea to swab cart handles and it turns out everything is covered in germs, but cart handles especially. So now we all dutifully scrub down our cart handles before touching them.
In recent years, grocery stores have been stocking more and more products that promote healthy gut flora. Yogurt, fermented tea, probiotic supplements, some product called natto that totally doesn't look like a pile of ogre snot...
Nobody wanted the bacteria when the grocery store was giving it away.
Of course that's silly, right? The bacteria in probiotic supplements is good bacteria... except not necessarily. Supplement manufacturers aren't governed by the FDA, and thus don't have to back up all their claims. For instance, they don't have to prove that the bacteria strains provided are especially good for your gut. And, while the bacteria have to be alive when they're put in the bottle, manufacturers have no obligation to prove they're alive when they get to the store shelves. And they don't have to do anything to make sure the bacteria can survive in your belly. While some supplements are good, experts say that it's better to get your germs from yogurt and fermented foods. Ogre snot for everyone!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Are you not entertained?

First of all, watch this. I don't even have the words to describe how awesome Beyonce's Super Bowl performance was or how absurd it is to criticize her for "bringing race into it." Fortunately, Jessica Williams does. 

So I spent most of my formative years doing direct care work. At residential care facilities like nursing homes and group homes direct care workers are the low-wage shift workers who work directly with the residents, assisting them with eating, housework, hygiene, etc. The work can be rewarding, but it is also dangerous, dirty, exhausting, and sometimes heart-breaking. In my years working with kids with disabilities, I got punched, I got bit (with permanent scars to show for it), I got my shirt ripped off in front of a dozen people, and I had to wash other people's poop out of my hair way more often than you can imagine. All for $6 an hour. I'm sure it's a lot less difficult than being a cop. But it ain't exactly easy.
Some of the best people I've known in my life have been direct care workers. As have some of the worst.
Direct care work seems to attract a certain class of mean, lazy piles of shit who have no business working with anyone, let alone the most vulnerable people on the planet. People who will deny your grandmother a meal because they don't want to have to wash the food off her chin. People who will let children stew in puddles of their own piss because they're busy watching the televangelist on TV. People who abuse and neglect the people they're supposed to care for in ways that would shake your will to live. 
It is not anti-direct care worker to point these people out. Demanding that evil direct care workers be held accountable for their evil isn't the same thing as slamming all direct care workers. Protests against the mistreatment of people in residential facilities isn't an affront to direct care workers everywhere. Mistreatment of people in residential facilities is an affront to people everywhere.
It isn't anti-cop to demand that police officers who recklessly kill innocent bystanders be held accountable. It isn't anti-cop to demand justice for dead children. It isn't anti-cop to protest a system in which cops are more likely to target black people, search black people, arrest black people, and kill black people. It's anti-hate.
Once, another coworker and I saw a direct care worker smack a child across the face. And you know what? We got that bitch fired. Because that is what we were supposed to do, what we were legally required to do, and what we had a moral obligation to do. It wasn't anti-direct care worker. It was anti-evil.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

He doesn't like bullies. He doesn't care where they're from.

Sometime last year, the folks at Fox News started complaining about Captain American, because of freaking course they did. See, they don't like this "stunt" Marvel pulled when they had Sam Wilson, a character of color, take over the mantle of Captain America, and were deeply offended that this new Cap' fought to save the lives of a bunch of undocumented immigrants. What happened to Captain America punching Hitler, they wanted to know. Why do comics have to get political?
I had to laugh like hell... Marvel Comics has been indoctrinating children with liberal messages since decades before I was born, and grownups are just now noticing.
Captain America was introduced in 1941 by Timely Comics, which would later become Marvel. You think it was an accident that Cap's iconic accessory wasn't a gun or a sword but a shield?
Or think about Hulk's origin story. It's 1962, just a couple months before the Cuban Missile Crisis. Bruce Banner's a brilliant and mild-mannered scientist whose experiments with nuclear radiation turned him into a mindless monster completely beyond the scientist's control. The Incredible Hulk brought chaos and destruction down on the good and the bad alike, and all because nuclear energy turned a good man into something beyond anyone's control.
The next year, the X-Men appear. They're Marvel's first super heroes who don't get their power from space or science - they're just born with powers. They're minorities feared and hated for something they can't even help. From the beginning, writer Stan Lee has the X-Men's leader, Charles Xavier, speaking more or less in direct quotes from Martin Luther King. That doesn't seem like a big deal now, but back in 1963, that was pretty damn subversive. The children of bigots were getting schooled in civil rights right under their parents' noses. Talk about political.
In 1991, the Incredible Hulk's best friend revealed he was HIV positive back in 1991, meaning that Marvel addressed the AIDS crisis before my grade school health textbooks did. The character Northstar came out of the closet in 1992, five years before Ellen did. Hiding in plain sight.