Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Spam filter

from: nickysam74
subject: Really enjoy nights?
body: Adamize your Eve

from: azitaco
subject: If your spaceship needs power
body: Tarzan's fervor for you

In the style of Jon Schwarz

Digby, on the 2004 tsunami, December 26, 2009:
This was one of the most hideous catastrophes of a decade of hideous catastrophes. But the consensus is that they've managed to come back fairly smartly.

I recall watching the footage on the days after Christmas back in 2004 and then seeing the global response and feeling that the post-9/11 paranoia might be starting to lift a little bit. Global cooperation was in, at least for a little while. US soldiers were deployed to help not make war. It was horrible and life affirming at the same time.
Digby, December 21, 2009:
I think I need to get out my copy of "The Shock Doctrine" again.
From the introduction to Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine:
...I travelled to Sri Lanka, several months after the devastating 2004 tsunami, and witnessed another version of the same manoeuvre: foreign investors and international lenders had teamed up to use the atmosphere of panic to hand the entire beautiful coastline over to entrepreneurs who quickly built large resorts, blocking hundreds of thousands of fishing people from rebuilding their villages.
There's also an entire chapter about it. Yeah, Digby, you need to get out your copy again. Maybe read it this time.

Monday, December 28, 2009

I guess irritating atheists are my current obsession

The Friendly Atheist says, of any and all religious, spiritual, mystical, metaphysical, or whatever beliefs: "It’s dangerous because if you start believing in something without evidence, you’re more susceptible to believe other irrational things."

The Friendly Atheist needs to find me a study that shows that, otherwise I'm considering it something he believes in without evidence.

I also like his ridiculous take on the event that inspired his post: some Liberians claim that some human hunters transform into other animals. Some highly literal white asshole makes a sarcastic offer of $1000 ("Hey, I've got money to spare, why not offer it to and then withhold it from some dumb Africans!") if someone can demonstrate this to his satisfaction. A Liberian, who probably does not have $1000 lying around to glibly play with, takes him up on it, fails. This, to the Friendly Atheist, is a "Liberian Manimal Scam." Someone needs to give the Friendly Atheist a dictionary, help him look up "scam" and "friendly."

Cartooning

I rarely find xkcd funny anymore, but on rare (but frequent enough to make it worth reading regularly) occasions, it is beautiful. Today's strip is beautiful and informative, a nifty visual representation of the relative gravity wells of the various bodies of our solar system, and of how difficult it is to escape them.

Somebody lied

I say it's hip to be alive.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tidings of the season or whatever

Aside from the fact that I have an aesthetic appreciation for spiritual mystery, and aside also from the fact that I have a fairly strong desire to have, or at least understand, what people call a religious experience, I'm an atheist. Even if those two asides wouldn't eternally separate me from the bulk of Internet atheists, their absolutely insane failure to engage with the world as it is, while claiming that they're the rational ones, would do the trick. Like, whenever they act like the 9/11 attacks wouldn't have happened without religion, I feel like stabbing. Religion wasn't the motivation--it wasn't even the stated motivation. To believe so is to ignore a trillion facts, American imperialism being a big honkin' one of them. That's just one example; they exhibit the same fanatic blindness on a huge number of fronts. Another that's been pissing me off a lot recently is their assertion that religion, and religious organizations, have been holding back human progress for millennia--an assertion made in the absence of a control (i.e., an alternate universe where human civilization developed without religion), resting on the unquestioned assumption that human progress is in itself necessarily a good, and ignoring entirely the role that many religions have played in advancing knowledge to focus only on their role in suppressing it. In other words, a completely unscientific assertion.

Anyway, I bring this all up because PZ Myers pissed me off the other day. He links to an article about this Reverend Tim Jones, an almost completely awesome (judging by the article*) C of E priest in England who recently gave a sermon saying that if your financial situation leads to a situation where you have to steal, make sure you steal from large corporations rather than local businesses. For some reason that Myers apparently does not feel the need to explain (I'm guessing it's because a religious person said it), he thinks this is terrible advice. I suppose he wants the poor of North Yorkshire to starve rather than steal from multinational corporations.

As for me, my only complaint about the sermon is that it doesn't go far enough. Father Jones should be actively encouraging his parishioners, even those who don't need to, to steal from large corporations. They fucking steal from us enough. It's the only moral thing to do.

Merry Christmas! I should be back in a few days, ready to tell you all about the beautiful acts of consumerism my family will have engaged in on my behalf.

*I don't share his concern about Playboy stationery being marketed to children, but seeing him throw it on the ground in the stores was at least probably pretty hilarious.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Barf

My contention has always been that Kanye West is actually a vehemently racist white man in blackface making fun of his ignorant concept of Blackness in general and hip-hop in particular. Meanwhile, Lady Gaga's vaunted feminism has always seemed fake to me, just another emptily ironic hipster gesture (I'm all for irony, but only in the service of something, rather than the nothing that is Lady Gaga). Somehow, this picture doesn't do much in the way of convincing me that I was wrong about either of those things.

QBQ! Chapter One: A Picture of Personal Accountability (part two)

Part One, in case you missed it.

Before I take the polar bear plunge back in to the icy waters of John G. Miller's psychotic book, I would like to point out that in comments on the first installment the indispensable JRB pointed me in the direction of John G. Miller's Amazon page, whereupon I had to immediately change my pants. First of all, I was startled and intrigued to learn that he has a photograph of himself there without a mustache, which blew my mind. And before I had fully recovered from that, I learned that, dude, he has a blog there. OK, there are only three entries in it since the first in November of 2007, but each one is a perfect little morsel of inanity (sic, or you can put an s in there if you'd like). JRB pointed out the second blog entry (blentry) in particular, and I cannot recommend it to you highly enough. To summarize, in this blentry Mr. Miller responds to a reader writing to praise a particular bank for avoiding the risky behavior that has landed a lot of banks in trouble recently (the words "risky," "landed," and "trouble" should be interpreted as comedy on my part, so laugh damn you). A questionable sentiment to be sure, but at least well intended. So how does Mr. Miller respond? By making fun of foreclosed-on homeowners for blaming anyone but themselves. Ha ha ha! I want to listen to what this man has to say!

So here I go.

When we left off, we were about to "take a look at (our occasionally mustachioed hero's) server's thinking and the choices he made." So let's take that look. Johnny Boy summarizes the situation for us again (lunch rush, busy, customer not in his section, guy goes out of his way for some reason most likely having to do with his estimation of potential tip quantities, though Miller would never consider that because he probably doesn't even tip, the bastard). Miller gives us an exciting list of questions that he thinks "many people" would have asked in this situation:
"Why do I have to do everything around here?"
"Who's supposed to be covering this area, anyway?"
"When is management going to provide us with more products?"
"Why are we always so short-staffed?"
"When are the customers going to learn to read the menu?"
Aside from the ludicrous third one, these all strike me as reasonable questions (and even that third one has a kernel of sense in it, namely, why doesn't management allow us to have what we need to do what they demand we do). According to Miller, though,
these are lousy questions. They're negative and don't solve any problems. Throughout the rest of the book we'll refer to questions like these as Incorrect Questions, or IQs, since nothing positive or productive comes from asking them [Ethan interjecting here to point out that no dictionary reads "incorrect, adj. having no positive or productive result"]. They're also the complete opposite of personal accountability, because in each one, the implication is that someone or something else is responsible for the problem or situation.
More specifically, John, they implicate our betters in the problem, which is unforgivable. We must always focus our problems, our anger, inwards or, failing that, downwards--never upwards. Luckily, JG is here to tell us how to do that. After lingering lovingly on that worst of all words, "opportunity," he begins the downward slide to the bolded sentence-fragment paragraph that has been a stylistic inevitability since first we saw the book's cover.
The moment the IQs pop into our heads, we have a choice. We can either accept them--"Yeah, when are we going to get more help around here?"--or reject them, choosing instead to ask better, more accountable questions such as "What can I do to make a difference?" and "How can I support the team?"

This, in a nutshell, is the essence of the QBQ:

Making better choices in the moment by asking better questions.
You'll notice that he has yet to define what better means in this context. This is because if he did, no one would be able to avoid realizing that he does not mean better for you. He means better for the masters, the bosses. After all, if we're not questioning our unreasonable work environments, but rather working ourselves to death within them to "support the team," then we're not organizing, not unionizing, not working together to better our situations; rather, we're staking ourselves against one another to better their profits.

The chapter ends with an unreadable anecdote about the author returning to the restaurant a few months later, asking for this same server by name, and learning that he's been promoted to a non-server position. The conclusions Miller draws from this are obvious (why he assumes that the server is now "on his way toward his chosen goals," emphasis mine, is less obvious), but I'm more interested in this: in the anecdote, Miller refers to the poor guy as "my own personal server." Which leads me to a very, very practical, immediate, and non-political reason why those unfortunates who work in customer service should never go out of their way for a customer: if you do it, ever, for any reason, that customer will think they have a personal relationship with you. They will always expect the same in the future, no matter what, and frequently will tell friends that they can expect it, too. These people will, almost without fail, become very angry and demanding when they don't get what they want, every time. Anyone who has worked in any service position knows this, and it is the most certain way to make an impossible work situation a thousand times worse.

QBQ! Table of Contents

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Where it's due

I make fun of Melissa McEwan and her creepy creepy cult from time to time, so I feel like it's my duty to point out that she and the rest of them actually make really good points on rare occasions (though they are generally still surrounded by overly cutesy, trite, groupthink internet talk). Like this:
I know I'm a big poopypants and everything, but I hate gendered anthropomorphized toys, because they're almost always male. It's "Chuck the Truck" and "Thomas the Tank Engine" (yeah, I know it's a cartoon, but a cartoon obviously designed with marketing toys in mind) and blah blah, which reflects little boys' male personhood back to them, whereas the EZ-Bake Oven isn't "Shirley the Oven" -- "girls' toys" just underline girls' need to engage in service and don't reflect back any personhood at all, unless it's a babydoll, which is a person that the girl needs to care for.

So kids who play with "boys' toys" get the message that being male is being a person, and kids who play with "girls' toys" get the message that being female is being a servant to chores and other people.

Disturbing, right?
Yep, it is disturbing. It's amazing that no matter how many deep-rooted carriers of our culture's misogyny one becomes conscious of, there are always more waiting to jump out at you. I mean, the only major exception to this rule that I can think of is that Barbie is also a person, and really, if the best thing you've got going for you is Barbie, you're pretty much screwed.

My city in the snow

Beautiful. No shots of my part of town, sadly, but those buses are a big part of my life. 1:59 to about 3:03 I hope conveys a bit why I don't mind being a bus person, even in the cold, even when I complain about it.



(source)

Planetary systems, as they form

We can look at them. Each one of those blown up squares is what's called a proplyd, which is a disk of dense gasses circling a star. Many of them will eventually coalesce into planetary systems, like our own or any of the hundreds we know of, and countless billions more that surely exist. That we can just look at this happening is beyond all words.

Also beyond all words is the fact that each of those tiny little squares in the larger image is alone larger than the human mind can comprehend.

YEMEN!!!

So we're bombing Yemen now, huh? You know, the Bush administration called it a Global War, but they at least just picked a small handful of countries and stuck to them, at least in terms of really active killing. Now we're really, truly taking it global.

Dollhouse

So on the show the Rossum Corporation serves as a stand-in for pretty much all of human society as it is today--programming us in ways that keep us down, essentially. And we also know that it's going to bring about the end of civilization within the next ten years.

And then there's the main characters on the show, who are fighting the Rossum Corporation (aka society, remember) from within and trying to gain an independent identity--in other words, trying to bring about an end to civilization from inside of it. In so doing, they are fighting to prevent the end of civilization.

I don't really understand how corporate media manages to produce art that is not only good but important and actually relevant, but every once in a while it does. Dollhouse is one of these times.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Benadryl blogging (100th post!)

I was going to do the conclusion of chapter one of QBQ tonight but this stuff has me higher than a kite. It could be used recreationally, I mean it. So, raincheck on that. Happy postiversary to blog!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Enemy combatants

Chris Floyd points out something very important that I haven't seen anyone else mention: our first Black president has brought back the concept of people who aren't legally people. He's also successfully argued that torture ain't no thang. Dr. King would be so proud of his legacy.

R.I.P. Dan O'Bannon

The effects in Dark Star are pretty amazing, even if half the movie isn't, and the other half of the movie is pretty great at times, too. He also did Alien and Total Recall, without which I would not want to live. Rest in peace.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

tomorrow's worlds

i for one am thrilled about the recent discovery of a nearby super-earth that potentially has one of the requirements for life. (12 parsecs away, 1974 - 1980. should be getting there soon.) here are two specific reasons why:

1. it further promotes public interest in space. even if only for short time.

2. it opens up the possibility for me to witness one of our future geniocratic leaders yell, "SEND HIM TO SUPER EARTH!" when dealing with those opposed to the Solution.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

ovwoonderhaus

this is for us. mostly us:

http://ovwoonder.tumblr.com/

Wait...

The Lou Reed?

Climate change

Digby has had an embarrassing series of posts (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight) recently where she tries to figure out just what the dickens could possibly cause anyone to engage in climate change denialism. The usual complaints the liberals trot out against their traditional rival team, the Wingnuts, are once again trotted out, and as usual it's a hilarious bunch of narcissism. My favorite is probably the second one, where she approvingly quotes the reliably narrow Amanda Marcotte ("I think she nailed it") saying that it's all about pissing off liberals. Honestly. And I suppose, Digby, that you support gay marriage just to piss of conservatives? What a load of self-adoring nonsense.

Now, I am not by any means a climate change denialist. I'm pretty much 100% sure that anthropogenic climate change is going to severely wreak havoc on human (and other) society within my lifetime. Millions will die, many more millions will be displaced, starve, suffer, and eventually also die. It's going to be very, very bad. The science overwhelmingly indicates this.

However, the people who deny all this (and I'm talking about people, not creatures like politicians and businessmen), though they are wrong, have very good reason to think it's all a bunch of shit. Many of the most vocal climate change celebrities (as opposed to scientists; I'm talking now about creatures like Al Gore here) stand to profit immensely off of the systems they propose to combat this catastrophe--systems that deniers and intellectually honest advocates alike readily recognize are wholly inadequate. And really, what are any of us to make of Al Gore, who claims that this is the struggle of his life, but who was a member of the administration that neutered and neutered and neutered the Kyoto accords before they refused to sign them, essentially forcing a worthless (but expensive) treaty on the rest of the world? And this is one of the less shitty things he's been involved in. The whole "green" movement has been turned into another corporatist, consumerist, and potentially militaristic profit machine, just like everything else in this shithole of a world we've made for ourselves. It's about as good for our ecosystems as the "(red)" nonsense is for the AIDS-ridden nation of Africa (what do you mean, it's not all one country?), which is to say that it is at best no help, and probably worse than that.

Unfortunately, none of this means that climate change isn't happening. It is, and every single goddamn thing any of us does makes it worse. Trying to fight it on an individual level is like trying to buy anything from anyone without in some way supporting the military: it ain't gonna happen. Unfortunately, again, the individual level is all we have, because our only influential collective systems are government and corporations, and look at all the good they're doing.

Basically, the deniers fall victim to the false belief that the truth of the science is in some way dependent on the honesty of the celebrity messengers. Unfortunately, many of the liberal climate change believers (and "believers" they are, with all that that word implies) fall victim to exactly the same belief.

to all you volks out there

through a series of closed-door sessions, i've been granted access to this fine blab-stand.

thanks ethan. i promise to push our vile agenda in any manner possible.

Monday, December 14, 2009

QBQ! Chapter One: A Picture of Personal Accountability (part one)

The entirely of the two opening pages of this seven-page chapter (don't worry, they get much shorter as the book progresses and John G. Miller loses just as much patience with this nonsense as we do) is wasted on inept, and not coincidentally pointless, scene-setting. "It was a beautiful day in downtown Minneapolis when..." That kind of thing. The point is, our mustachioed hero has stepped into a busy restaurant and demanded (or, as he would have it, asked, politely, "with a smile," for) a Diet Coke®; upon learning that the restaurant lives on the Pepsi side of town, he changes his request to water. Some time passes and then:
Suddenly, there was a blur of activity off to my left, the "wind of enthusiasm" stirred behind me, and then, over my right shoulder stretched "the long arm of service," delivering a twenty-ounce bottle, frosty on the outside, cold on the inside, of--you guessed it--Diet Coke!
First of all, let me assure you that I am not fucking kidding you about that style. That is a direct quote. Much of my objection to the style is I'm sure obvious, but I do want to explicitly point out one thing: normally the construction "____ on the outside, ____ on the inside" is used to describe contrast; if a bottle is frosty on the outside, what else would the contents be but cold? Anyway. I should get to the point, lest I waste more words than Mr. Miller himself.

So what it boils down to is that this waiter, I can only assume in a temporary lapse of judgment, decided that this guy really needs his Diet Coke®, rather than the indistinguishable Diet Pepsi® they serve or the infinitely smarter choice of water that he ended up ordering, and so takes one of his own personal dollars and purchases him a bottle of soda from the "grocery store around the corner." "My first thought was 'Hire this man!'" John G. Miller tells us; my first thought would have been more along the lines of "why the hell would he do that," but OK.

Now we come to some hilarity. Apparently, the waiter did not go to the grocery store himself:
By then I was thinking profound and professional thoughts like "Cool!" But what I said was, "Come on, you've been awfully busy. How did you have time to go get it?" Smiling and seemingly growing taller before my eyes, he said, "I didn't, sir. I sent my manager!"

I couldn't believe it. Was that empowerment or what?
Given the options, Mr. Miller, I'm going with "what." If we have defined "empowerment" down to the level of asking our master to help us better prostrate ourselves before rich fuckers, then we might as well empower ourselves with nooses.

The next part of the chapter (I believe this is the only chapter long enough that it can be considered to have "parts") "take(s) a look at my server's thinking and the choices he made." In order not to make this post nine thousand words long (I wish I could avoid being overly wordy and digressive, but I seem to be incapable), I will cover that part of the chapter, and what I consider a more likely interpretation of the event than the one Mr. Miller presents us with, in the next installment.

QBQ! Table of Contents

A convincing argument

The end of capitalism would mean the end of spam.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

ACLU

The ACLU has lost its single biggest donor, which they say has left them without 25% of their annual operating budget. My own tough financial times have led to my letting my membership lapse in recent years, but my finances are not nearly as important as the ACLU's. I just donated $20. So should you.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Female mice turned into male mice...

...by switching one gene.

"It's still very speculative, but it's possible that this approach could produce an alternative to surgery and the removal of gonads -- ovaries and testes," one of the scientists says.

Awesome. This is obviously years and years and years and years and lots of work and theory and research and speculation away from being applicable to humans, if it ever is, but my god, is it promising.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Gil Scott-Heron has a new album coming out soon!

Crazy! This shit is gonna be amazing.

I discovered this startling fact on Zamboni Soundtracks, which, silly name notwithstanding, is probably the best music blog I've ever come across. Ian consistently posts great, interesting, important, and overlooked music, often stuff I've been looking for forever. Case in point: he's currently undertaking a long-term project of posting as much of Throbbing Gristle's massive live box sets, TG24 and TG+ as possible. And, oh my god, so many beautiful John Carpenter soundtracks the other day! In fact I try really hard not to look at the site more often than once a month at most, because I have such an enormous backlog of exciting music to listen to* that seeing more and more and more of it all the time is just overwhelming and, as exciting as it is, it can get frustrating, wishing I could listen to it all at once.**

Ian compares the sound of the Gil Scott-Heron track that's available for download to Scott Walker's The Drift, and he's right--it really is very reminiscent of that masterpiece, though it's still very much Gil Scott-Heron. God, I'm excited.

*And I mean enormous. My external hard drive currently has 373 albums on it (down from a peak of well over 400 a month ago), organized into various folders, that I have yet to listen to. And I'm now going through some of what Ian posted recently on Zamboni and that number may well break 400 again.
**Like Data!

Peter Watts vs. Fuckers

In general I'm not a fan of statements in the form "The only time I'm in favor of (insert reprehensible thing you're opposed to) is when (whatever)." I find them squirrely and annoying and, y'know, morally inconsistent.

That said.

The only time I'm in favor jailing anyone is when it's cops who beat civilians. Unfortunately, these are among those classes of people, and classes of actions, that will never be punished by jail time. Unlike, say, the action of being beaten by cops, which quite frequently is so punishable.

(And yes, these comments are inspired by it happening to someone whose work I admire [read the comments], someone who is a type of person--middle class, middle aged, and above all white--that this does not normally happen to. Please do not take this to mean that I only care about it when it happens to this kind of person. To me, the assumption that cops are evil assholes who deserve whatever they dish out to return to them twelvefold is as basic as the assumption that I need oxygen to breathe.)

Also: a lot of people, any time any incident like this makes the news, will immediately start going "Oh, well, we don't know what happened, let's give the cops or border guards or whatever the benefit of the doubt, he may have provoked it." Which is bullshit.

Reason this is bullshit #1, this specific case: I concede that there are occasions when one human being can be considered justified in punching another human being in the face and using pepper spray on them. I will concede also that there may occasionally be cases where it is justified for several people in a position of authority to do this to one person who is not in such a position, though we are already on extremely shaky ground with this. What is never justified under any circumstances whatsoever no matter what is releasing someone, vehicle-less, without a jacket, into a winter storm, forcing them to walk across the Canadian border, after public transportation has shut down. This strikes me as attempted murder, frankly. Even if nothing else, and that's a big even if, give the man his fucking coat.

Reason this is bullshit #2, general rule: In all cases of dispute between two parties, the default position should be to suspect the worst of the party with power and the best of the party without. Not only is this the safest assumption based on the evidence of all human interaction in all of history, it is also the fairest. The party with power already has power; don't give them more by giving them the benefit of the doubt. Never give power the benefit of the doubt. Ever.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Twenty-nine years

Sunday, December 6, 2009

We're all going to die

A replacement for the glass carafe I just broke, at a discounted price, still costs more than it would to replace the whole (perfectly functional) coffee maker, full price.

In the strangest places

The time and place
Is only something your mind creates
Only boundaries your mind makes


-The Lemon Pipers, "Rainbow Tree"

Their Green Tambourine album is a pleasant collection of bubblegum psych, along the lines of the hit title track, until the last song, "Through With You," which to my ears is ahead of its time, a largely instrumental, nine minute long, startlingly krautrock-style masterpiece that I've never heard anyone talk about, ever, and I don't understand why.

Here's the album.

QBQ! Introduction: What Ever Happened To...

From a billboard towering over the Houston freeway loomed this question:

"What ever happened to personal responsibility?"

I don't know who put it up there, but it sure jumped out at me. For one thing, it seemed so clearly true. What has happened to personal responsibility?
And we're off! Ladies and gentlemen, you can tell you're in for a treat when a book begins by declaring a question to be clearly true. True or false: how old am I? One gets the feeling that Putnam has fired all of its copy editors, and also that John G. Miller is a brain-dead asshole.

Lo and behold, the second of our feelings is confirmed almost immediately. He offers us "some examples" of his conclusion that "What ever happened to personal responsibility" is true. The first:
I was looking for some coffee in a gas station convenience store, but the carafe was empty, so I said to the person behind the counter, "Pardon me, there's no coffee in the pot." He pointed at a coworker not fifteen feet away and said, "Coffee is her department!"

Department? In a roadside gas station the size of my living room?
Now, if I were making (most likely) minimum wage to work in a gas station convenience store--a relatively dangerous job, incidentally--I would not be particularly interested in going out of my way to help pushy assholes with mustaches, either, but, OK, sure, the guy sounds like he was maybe a little rude. Not rude enough to justify stewing about it for years and writing a book about it, but slightly rude. What Mr. Miller does not tell us, of course, is whether this gentleman was busy doing anything else at the moment, or whether the coworker he pointed at had a history of dropping the ball on making the coffee, or alternatively was a control freak who didn't want anyone else to touch the machine, or whether maybe the convenience store has some kind of safety regulations about who can handle the coffee maker, or any other number of things (like, say, what tone of voice Mr. Miller asked his question in). In other words, not only does Mr. Miller want his inferiors to always go out of their way for him, he does not care what their reasons for not doing so may be. Another thing we do not know, but which I feel we can safely draw conclusions about, is whether it is the nameless employee or John G. Miller who has the bigger living room.
Another: On a cross-country flight, the flight attendant got on the intercom and said, "Sorry, everyone, but the movie we promised you will not be shown today. Catering put the wrong one on board."
First of all, the o in the word on at the beginning there should be lowercase, Putnam. Second of all, I have to wonder if Mr. Miller would have preferred the flight attendant to lie to him. "Sorry! I brought the wrong movie on board!" I wonder also if this desire to be lied to would extend to more serious matters on the plane: "No, we're not crashing! You really shouldn't brace yourself for an impact! Don't worry about a thing!"

He gives us another inane example, then tells us that in addition to finding the billboard's question true he also agrees with it, and then moves on to the meat of his introduction. He gives us a list of questions that people ask that he thinks indicate a shirking of personal responsibility ("When is that department going to do its job?" "Why don't they communicate better?" "Who dropped the ball?" "Why do we have to go through all this change?" and "When is someone going to train me?"), telling us that they "go right to the heart of many of the problems we face today." Oh, along the way he pauses to tell us that he prefers "personal accountability" to "personal responsibility," simultaneously telling us that this whole thing is really about wanting to blame people for things they may or may not have actually done and rendering his whole awkward mention of the billboard pointless.

He doesn't, of course, go into any detail yet--that would make the remaining 110 page (minus all the blank space created by frequent chapter breaks) bulk of the book moot, and who would buy hundreds of copies of a book at a time to force down their employees' throats if that book was only five pages long? He does, however, make this ludicrous claim: "Once (people) start practicing QBQ thinking, things just seem to go better. People have more fun. Life is simply more satisfying and enjoyable for those who choose the way of personal accountability" (emphasis mine). This is just a guess, but I have a feeling that if our convenience store employee is going to find satisfaction in his life, it is not going to come from taking personal responsibility (er, sorry, accountability) and brewing up a new pot of coffee for John G. Miller, yessa massa.

QBQ! Table of Contents

I wish I had a readership

Because if I did, I would throw it over to ladypoverty. This guy, with almost every post, articulates, plainly and concisely, some matter of importance that, as soon as I read the post, I realize has been scratching around my brain for a long time now, trying to figure out some way to coalesce. An excerpt from his most recent:
What we give away must conform to our values. "Paying da bills" is not a value -- it is a necessity. It follows, then, that if there is to be scope for what "constitutes our real selves," it can't exist in conflict with the task of basic survival. But because we surrender that potential to the boss in exchange for "a living," we hope to anesthetize the spiritual agony which ensues with material accumulation in excess.

This is the compact of a consumer society. When times are good, many are invited along the single path which makes it work. When times are bad, fewer are admitted. But in neither case can one hope to make that investment in one's real self without, on some level, rejecting its terms.
I don't know how many people read ladypoverty, but however many it is, it's not enough. Anyone who somehow stumbles across this blog: stumble over there, now.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Pattern recognition

Humans are famously supposed to be good at it. It's remarkable, though, how quickly this ability disappears from many people the instant race or gender come under discussion.

Inspired by the largely hideous comments on this post.

Stupak et al

I've long thought that the reason Our Leaders have allowed the ridiculous abortion "debate" in this country to go on as long and as viciously as it has (aside from the fact that it conveniently distracts everyone who cares about it from realizing what else the said leaders are doing, especially as concerns the Supreme Court's rulings on corporate issues) is that the court decision that forced abortion to be legalized nationwide did so while establishing a constitutional right to privacy. In other words, I thought that those in the political/media class who are interested in overturning Roe v. Wade (I say nothing of the members of the Great Unwashed who share this interest) were interested in doing so because overturning it would throw into question this right to privacy, opening wide the door to even more widespread and omnipresent surveillance.

But this Stupak thing has me confused. Do they really, actually care about abortion itself? Right now it seems that way. Maybe it's a longer-term strategy, where they figure someone will challenge the Stupak amendment on Roe v. Wade grounds, thus giving the Court the opportunity to overturn that ruling, but I dunno, that seems overly complicated.

Incidentally, if this doesn't convince all the people who are rabidly pro-choice (among whose number I certainly count myself, as I tend to think that abortion should be encouraged where applicable, although, again, I consider things like the mass murder of brown people for profit more important, if we must rank issues) that the Democrats aren't on their side any more than the Republicans are, I don't know what will. But then, I've said that before about other things.

Correction

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

(via, though I hate to admit it, Shakesville)

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Question Behind the Question

So my current job is about as good as you can expect a temp data entry job to be--in other words, I make enough money to live on (for now; who knows what I'll do once the job ends), it takes under an hour to get there on the bus, and the people there are all fairly to very nice. When I first started, though, I wasn't sure I would be able to take it, because of the very high level of corporate behavioral indoctrination involved in the training--videos of inspirational speakers managing to quote Martin Luther King, Jr., next to B.C. Forbes, on the importance of not aspiring to anything above your shitty station, before launching into descriptions of horrible methods of "going above and beyond" (for no additional pay, of course), inspired by the actions of quite frankly a creepily over-involved mailman, that kind of thing (if you want to look into this, it is seriously called "The Fred Factor" and it is awful). It turns out that once you get through the training, everyone for the most part ignores this stuff (except for the occasional rah-rah meeting, but you get those pretty much everywhere), so all in all the job is borderline tolerable.

Perhaps the bulliest, the shittiest, of all the bullshit was the book whose title might be rendered QBQ!: The Question Behind the Quesion®: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life: What to Really Ask Yourself to Eliminate Blame, Complaining, and Procrastinating, written by professional white asshole John G. Miller. This 115 page, 39 chapter (work out that impressive average if you dare!) wonder is a marvel of idiocy honestly unrivaled in my experience by anything short of The Barenaked Ladies.

So, over the next few months, my plan (which, you know, who knows if I'll actually do it) is to blog about this book (book blogging, or blooking), chapter by chapter, explaining exactly what is so execrable about it. As I do, I will continually update this post to function as a blog table of contents, and each individual entry will contain a link to this post so as to make crossreferencing easy. Sound good? Ha ha! I don't care if it sounds good!

TABLE OF BLOGTENTS
Introduction: What Ever Happened To...
Chapter One: A Picture of Personal Accountability, part one and part two
Chapter Two: Making Better Choices
Chapter Three: QBQ! The Question Behind the Question
Chapter Four: Don't Ask "Why"
Chapter Five: The Victim
Chapter Six: "Why Is This Happening to Me?"
Chapter Seven: "Why Do We Have to Go Through All This Change?"
Chapter Eight: "Why Don't They Communicate Better?"
Chapter Nine: Don't Ask "When?"

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Listening to the radio

In a row, just now, on 92 PRO FM:

1. David Guetta & Akon, "Sexy BitchChick"
2. Taylor Swift, "Fifteen"
3. Kesha, "Tik Tok"
4. Lady Gaga, "Bad Romance"

It's like mainstream radio is going out of its way to be an ugly, meaningless mess these days. I've already discussed "Sexy Chick" here, but the other three songs I think win out in the awfulness fight.

Taylor Swift, who started her ill-fated VMA acceptance speech with the sentence "I sing country music," continues never to do so with a song that would have sounded stale on Lilith Fair's second stage in 1998. It seems to be a sort of response to the kind of bizarrely unhealthy teen sexual/romantic model proposed by works like Twilight, though it cleverly manages to do it without rebutting the sex negativity of these narratives, so really it's useless both as music and as propaganda. (Incidentally, I have no objection to the dissolution of genre lines; if a white lady wants to perform with T-Pain on the CMT awards, and the country music people are into this, I say go for it; just do it well--or, come on, at least try--and acknowledge that what you're doing is dissolving the genre line. Don't keep calling it country, because that is a word that means something, or at least should. When I say I like country, I want people to know that I don't mean Taylor Swift. Again, I'm all for deconstructing and taking apart language and norms and whatever shit you want, but we still have to live day to day.)

Kesha is remarkable primarily because the only thing that distinguishes her from Fergie is the fact that she is an order of magnitude more annoying. A new breakthrough from the same lab, presumably. If you're into masochism, I highly recommend listening at least through 2:40ish, when the backing track drops out and she bravely attempts to sing one line unaccompanied--I'm not even sure how to describe the difficulty she has. Rivals the line "Haven't you heard/How we rock each other's world" in Avril Lavigne's "Sk8er Boi" (at around 2:40*) as the all-time worst vocal moment in pop music history. What a god damned mess.

Lady Gaga...I feel like I would need to write a book-length essay, with all the hours of research that implies, to fully explain what bothers me about Lady Gaga. But since I don't actually care nearly enough about her to do anything that labor and time intensive, suffice to say that I find her to be the epitome of the empty gesture. I mean, take a look at that video; it's trying so hard, but it says nothing; Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You Out of My Head" video**, eight years ago, conveyed far more with similar elements, effortlessly, and without pretending to pretentious ambitions it doesn't even try to fulfill. It's too bad, because I want to like the fact that the public is responding so strongly to a meta-pop star, a pop star deconstruction; even the fact that a huge hit song has a bridge in French should be pleasing to me. Coming from her, nothing is pleasing to me.

The common thread in these songs is a kind of deep, root-level ugliness. Now, I like a lot of what could be called ugly music. Hecker's Acid in the Style of David Tudor is probably my number one album of the year. La Monte Young, The Stooges, DNA, Captain Beefheart, Throbbing Gristle: these are all artists I thought of offhand that I love, much of whose music could defensibly be described as ugly. But in all these cases, and infinitely many more that I could name, including some on pop radio (an argument could be made for Britney Spears' "3," which I am completely head over heels for these days), the ugliness exists for a reason. It achieves a kind of beauty, and part of this beauty is that it expresses something, even if that something is a Stooges-style nihilism. The ugliness of these four pop songs is different; it feels almost accidental--though that word is wrong for several reasons, chief among them its implication that I find the artist's intentions more important than I actually do, not to mention that it doesn't begin to convey the aggression with which this ugliness imposes itself on the listener. It's an ugliness that would make me angry if it had any affect at all, but in its utter lack of affect instead leaves me sort of vaguely depressed. It's awful, and it makes me sad.

Oh, and now Citizen's Bank has an ad on pretending to be charitable because they "know bad economic times are making things difficult for everyone." Yeah, and it's your fucking fault, Royal Bank of Scotland. How much are your executives being compensated these days?

*And I don't think it's a coincidence that these two moments are at almost exactly the same point in the songs.
**Sorry for the pixelation and poor sound compression; you'd think Parlophone could do better but apparently not. You'd also think Firefox would know the word "pixelation" but, again, apparently not.