Sunday, January 31, 2010

A two-sentence oxymoron

From Wikipedia's entry on Ke$ha's new, unlistenable single, "Blah Blah Blah":
The song features additional vocals by 3OH!3. Lyrically, the song is an example of female empowerment.
No song featuring those assholes could ever be empowering to women. And certainly not this one.

"It's the thinking that makes most things wrong, not the thing itself"

io9's Josh Wimmer has been reading through the Hugo award-winning novels chronologically and writing about them every couple of weeks or so. It's a great idea, one I'm thinking about stealing before too long (not necessarily the blogging aspect, just reading the books). Wimmer's a great writer, and the essays have been fairly interesting, often dealing with things I'm not 100% interested in, but usually having at least something worth going "huh!" over in them. I recommend them if you're interested in sci-fi.

Most recently he got to Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, which I have not actually read. Mostly I bring it up to quote this instant message exchange (which he quotes in the essay) between himself and another io9 personality, about Heinlein's concept of "grokking," of taking the time to understand something from all possible angles before taking action or forming an opinion:
me: yeah, but what I like is that it's not the relativism that I think gets associated with Buddhism so much — "everything is OK"; you can grok a wrongness in something. you just have to grok it all before you know for sure.

Chris: Right it's just that there's more and different things that are okay than we think there are. And it's the thinking that makes most things wrong, not the thing itself.
This is a nice way of expressing what I was getting at in the Sexual flâneur post (and the follow-up), particularly if we take "wrong" to mean both wrong "morally," or from a societal standpoint, and personally, or from an individual standpoint. We should always keep in mind the possibility that our concepts are wrong (now in the sense of "incorrect"), that something we dismiss may have value, that something we consider bad--something that perhaps actually is bad, in society as it is now--may only be bad because we think it so. I tend to think that if we were actually able to wipe clean all of our preconceptions, the world we would see would be completely unrecognizable to us.

Realism is unrealistic

Ted Gioia, Notes on Conceptual Fiction:
Is it possible that the idea of "realism" as a guiding principle for fiction is itself unrealistic? After all, there are no Newtonian laws in stories—an apple can just as easily fly upward from a tree as drop to the ground. Characters can ride a magic carpet as easily as walk. Any restrictions are imposed by the author, not by any external "reality," however defined.
This I like, quite a bit, and is something I've long thought. It reminds me a bit of what I've always said about David Lynch fans (including myself), which is that all the focus on developing "theories" of "what really happened" in his movies is entertaining and intellectually stimulating but ultimately a bit perplexing; am I really to believe that there is some kind of reality beyond the image on the screen (and the sound from the speakers)? What "really happened" is that I watched a movie. And because I watched a movie, rather than having a real-world experience, anything was possible. And as a viewer, or in the case Gioia discusses, a reader, we should be excited and (though it sounds odd) grateful that the artist has chosen to acknowledge and take advantage of this.

Another thing it reminds me of is Michel Houellebecq's beautiful introduction to his book on Lovecraft (which he gave the excellent title H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life), which I quoted back in this blog's early, awkward days, and will quote again now:
Life is painful and disappointing. It is useless, therefore, to write new realistic novels. We generally know where we stand in relation to reality and don't care to know any more. Humanity, such as it is, inspires only an attenuated curiosity in us. All those prodigiously refined "notations", "situations", anecdotes... All they do, once a book has been set aside, is reinforce the slight revulsion that is already adequately nourished by any one of our "real life" days.

Now, here is Howard Phillips Lovecraft: "I am so beastly tired of mankind and the world that nothing can interest me unless it contains a couple of murders on each page or deals with the horrors unnameable and unaccountable that leer down from the external universes."

Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937). We need a supreme antidote against all forms of realism.
Gioia, unfortunately, follows up with an essay that is most likely useful only to himself, or perhaps to those unfamiliar with the standard SF fandom grousing about the mainstream's view of genre (or, I guess, to those odd souls who seem content to endlessly restate the same things about this discussion over and over again). If Gioia really intends his essay to add anything new to sci-fi scholarship, he reminds me unfortunately of the eternally dense Philip Roth and his apparent belief that his Plot Against America was the first ever alternate history novel. He also tends towards an unpleasant snobbery, even as he says he's countering snobbery. In general, I hate to see the whole literary vs. genre quarrel brought up again, because honestly I don't think that quarrel particularly exists anymore, except in the minds of genre partisans (on both "sides," if we must) who refuse to let it die. Philip K. Dick is being published in editions with sewn-in silk bookmarks, for christ sake. Get over it, it's not that serious.

What particularly bugs me, especially after such a fantastic opening, is section six, in which Gioia arbitrarily brings up genres other than sci-fi and fantasy (mystery, romance, etc.) in order to put them down. Unlike those formulaic genres ("formula must be followed at all costs"), Gioia says, sounding just like the mainstream critics he's dissenting from, sci-fi and fantasy are unfettered and free to explore the outer reaches of imagination. If he can describe to me a formula that binds (for example) both Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler more than the one that binds (again, for example) both Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, I will be very impressed indeed.

Lest I sound too negative, there is a good point that Gioia makes, and in fact responding to it was my entire point in writing all this. But I'm so goddamn wordy that I'm breaking it into two parts, because this shit is too long. Second part tomorrow.

Thank God!

The other day at work one of my coworkers was talking about some news article (which I really, really can't be bothered to look up) about a little girl in Haiti who was found in the wreckage a week or more after the earthquake, "miraculously" alive. Now, this is very nice for this girl and whatever members of her family survived, of course. But this coworker was reacting to this news with a kind of God-is-good, all is well in the world beatific happiness, and it made me sick. If this coworker's inner monologue were honest and candid, I imagine it would go something like this: "Thank God there was an earthquake so this little girl could survive it and I could feel good about her surviving it!"

Whenever I see a survivor of some American disaster bleating about how, sure, everyone they know has died, and they're now homeless, but God must have been watching out for them! They are truly blessed!, it makes me think of Stockholm syndrome. Stories like this (and like the current cover of People, featuring a "heartwarming survival stories" banner right above "Jennifer Aniston: Five Years After Brad!") are a kind of extroverted version, a Stockholm syndrome-by-proxy.

(Despite the repeated mentions, by the way, my intention is not to ridicule a religious response to disaster, which, you know, whatever helps.)

Friday, January 29, 2010


Murdering an abortion provider is obviously inexcusable and horrific, but all the expressions of liberal glee over the murderer's conviction and life sentence are disquieting. If a human must be locked up, the least we can do is be sad about it.


Saw this today:

It's a makeup kit, not an iPhone. I think it's hilarious.

The Baronette and I went to a few big stores today (Target, Kohl's, Barnes & Noble), the first time I've been in a store like that for a while now, and I realized that I seem to have developed the Cayce Pollard brand allergy. Or not really an allergy, but a kind of bizarre response that mixes repulsion, amusement, and, oddly energization: it's good to be reminded of what you oppose.

I don't really have a point, I guess.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

QBQ! Chapter Five: The Victim

Take it away, Johnny:
I received an e-mail from a gentleman who wrote that during his ten years in the military, whenever something went wrong, the only acceptable response was "No excuses, sir!" He accepted it, he believed it, and he lived it.
He also murdered people for a living, but to all right-thinking people that is supposed to be irrelevant to the point of being untrue. I would tend to think that an organization, particularly one as large as the US Military (Ha ha! I joke! There are no organizations as large as the US Military!) in which "the only acceptable response" to something going wrong is "No excuses" is one in which things are going to go wrong an awful lot, and in which nothing is ever going to be learned from this.
When he returned to civilian life, he started working as a territory manager for a large firm in the food industry. He wasn't doing as well as his company expected, and he wasn't pleased with his own performance, either.
Because how in the hell could any human be pleased with their performance as "a territory manager for a large firm"? It isn't possible. Not even for bureaucratic murderers of the type the military produces. Not for anyone. I am as certain of this as I am of anything in this life (which is to say, not very certain at all, but I hope I'm right).

Miller goes on to tell us that this "gentleman" asked all kinds of Incorrect Questions of his manager until "he went through an in-house training program on personal accountability and the QBQ," after which he
closed his e-mail saying, "I realized when I learned the QBQ that from military to business, in just a few years, I had become what I hated the most: the victim."
This quote could not be more perfect if I had made it up. It's entirely possible that Miller made it up, of course, but if he did so he made it up in order to agree with it, to praise it. This is the kind of insane, hate-filled drivel we're dealing with here in the guise of an inspirational text. The thing you hate the most is the victim? Good god.

"Hating the victim" is perhaps the most pernicious pattern of thought there is. In the context of the military, it certainly explains a lot--for example, how people learn to live with themselves, not thinking of themselves as mass murderers even when they go into poor communities in poor countries and kill the shit out of defenseless poor people, in order to rain profits down on their betters. Closer to home, it explains the prevalence of rape in military communities, and the even-worse-than-usual treatment of its survivors. In a larger context, it's responsible for, among other things, the hate and fear white people have for Blacks, as well as the general sense of disdain most of us feel for anyone of lower class than ourselves. We hate those we have victimized, because otherwise our only option is to hate ourselves.

This military man, having been placed in the position of victim rather than victimizer, had two options: he could grow a sense of empathy, or he could pretend not to be a victim. He, with the QBQ as facilitator, chose the latter, because the former would have required him to question everything he had done up to that point. The latter requires only submission--something a military man is well-trained in.

The irony, of course, is that by submitting he is participating in his own victimization, whereas by learning empathy he would be taking the first steps in combating it. As Annie Hall would say, la-dee-da, la-dee-da.

QBQ! Table of Contents

Things that disprove Intelligent Design

1. Farts
2. The inability of the sweat glands to switch off when not exposed to air
3. Hypothermia
4. Incontinence


In a comment to this Tiny Revolution post, Phillip Allen says:
To the extent that those who buy and control the electoral process manage to convince voters of their preferred narratives, then I suppose you could say that voters are expressing their will -- in the same way the victim of a scam can be said to express their will when they hand over their life savings to a con artist.
Thumbs up or whatever.


Damn this email posting. I do have something to say about Zinn. Wish I could update that first post now.
Stop Me Before I Vote Again's Michael J. Smith mentions giving A People's History of the United States to a historically minded but in many respects unaware 16-year-old, which: yes, do that! The two books most formative to my political consciousness were Orwell's Homage to Catalonia and A People's History, read, if I remember correctly, in that order, one after another, cover to cover, when I was in tenth grade or so. I wish I could remember why I read them; I think my mother or father may have suggested Zinn after I was so interested in Orwell, but I don't remember what made me pick up Homage in the first place, particularly since a misguided ninth grader's brain had made me hate 1984 a year earlier (since rectified, multiple times).
From Orwell I learned to distrust what I was being told in school and in the news (well, maybe that's close enough for a memoir, but it's not entirely true; I remember being disgusted by the obvious lies in the American history textbooks at least as early as 8th grade, a benefit of growing up with Indian influence, however minor mine was, and generally of being raised by my parents, as I mentioned recently). From Zinn, I learned why, and I learned (a little of) the truth.
My father and my brother have been bugging me to read Dostoevsky (bear with me) for a while now. About a month ago, I made the mistake of starting with The Gambler. I didn't get much out of it, and my father says it's not one of Fyodor's best. It struck me as not much different from any other comedy of manners, a mildly entertaining but largely pointless narrative of rich people panicking over how best to fritter away their money (I'm well aware that I'm probably missing something there, much as the tween version of me missed everything in 1984, but that's irrelevant to my point). The only way I could see the book being interesting to anyone was in terms of the history of Russia's relationship with western Europe, which I know some people are interested in. A great deal of the book deals with the Russian characters' discomfort in Europe, their conflicting urges to remain proudly Russian and to assimilate, to be ashamed of their insufficiently European culture. I remember learning actually quite a bit about that in middle school (or maybe early high school) history. And even though ever since that first encounter with Zinn I have been aware that the history we learned in school is not the history of anything other than rich people, it had never occurred to me before that this whole identity anxiety was really just a problem of the aristocracy. While I'm sure that much of the Russian peasantry had some elements of patriotism, they weren't spending their time learning French and playing European composers on their harpsichords or whatever, as an effort to Westernize. They were farming and trying to survive.
As obvious as this seems to me now, it wasn't always that obvious, and it isn't obvious to everyone. We learn so early and so intensively that what matters is what matters to the rich that it's very difficult to break out of that habit of thought. That is why Zinn's History is so important, and that is why all of us who know people whose brains are still forming owe it to them and to the world to introduce them to it, as early as possible.

Ah, shit

Howard Zinn, RIP. I have nothing to say.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I said I'd stop doing this, but...

Melissa McEwan: "I really have no fucking idea what is going on in the Obama administration." shit?
Hey, 'Liss: Read my previous post. Follow the link. Read that. Learn from it. ((((hugs)))) if they're wanted, lololololz.

Keep this in mind, liberals

Chris Floyd:
Many...seem to be operating on the assumption--or under the delusion--that Obama actually had some kind of political-economic-social agenda that he wanted to enact as president, and that he is now "failing" to enact it, "squandering" his opportunity. There still seems to be a belief that he ran for president because he wanted to do something with all that power.

But Obama is not "failing"; he is doing exactly what he set out to do: be the president. That's it. That's all he wanted to do. And he's doing it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

And by the way

To all advocates of endlessly voting for the Democrats because "the alternative would be worse":

We've tried doing it your way for long enough. It ain't working. Let's try it a different way.

UPDATE: In other words.

After a pleasant evening spent with my parents

I'd like to take this opportunity to express how extremely grateful I am to have been raised by the specific people I was raised by. My mother is a rational atheist, a humanist whose utter lack of spirituality and religion gives rise to a deep concern for humanity in the real world; she is a scientist. My father is more what could, but should not, be dismissed as a bit of a kook: he has a sense of the cosmos as a unified, spiritual whole (with none of that "The Universe will make you a billionaire if you just say pretty please" Secret bullshit), and also a deep devotion to community and just in general to values entirely alien to Western capitalist society; he's something of a mystic. The combination of these two worldviews, and the entirely open-minded interchange between them, was, and continues to be, essential in my intellectual development. I always return from time spent with them invigorated.

Plus, my mom knitted me an awesome hat.


Have you ever worked in an office where they hand those things out? And then they try to have a "fun competition" to see who walks the most steps in a given day? To encourage physical activity and health? Yeah. You're not fooling anyone, employers. If you wanted your employees healthy and physically active, you would a) provide better health plans and b) not tether your employees to desks all day long. Human beings are built to be active all day long. Forcing people to try to partition off a small portion of their limited free time as "the time I move" is fundamentally unhealthy, and then using a wide array of tactics, from these pedometer things to pop cultural messages all over the frickin' place, to make them feel bad about not doing it, is just cruel.
Speaking of which, I think I'm gonna get back to running every day after work. It really does make you feel more human. And hell, it's warm enough.

Monday, January 25, 2010


The weather in Rhode Island today would best be described as "monsoon season." It got up to near 60 (degrees Fahrenheit, I mean), gusts of wind as high as some ludicrous number of miles per hour, rain all over the place, isolated flooding, and so on.

Now, it's entirely possible that this weird January weather is just a fluke, not indicative of any larger pattern. But when you have to say "It could just be a fluke" almost every goddamn day, it's not a fucking fluke. It's a pattern.

I have a friend who refuses to accept the science behind anthropogenic climate change, specifically, to hear him say it, because Al Gore is profiting off of talking about it. Similarly, I refuse to believe that oil gives off energy when burned, because Texaco makes money off of it.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Middle-school kids have been excitedly whispering "Did you know you can get high from being strangled?" to each other at least since the early 90s, when I was at that age (and if it got to out-of-touch, oblivious 12-year-old me, it was surely common knowledge), and presumably much longer. Someone finally got around to telling the New York Times, and they are shocked.
According to the recent survey of more than 10,642 eighth graders in Oregon, 36.2 percent reported having heard of the choking game, 30.4 said they had heard of someone participating in it and 5.7 percent said they had participated themselves. The survey was conducted in 2008 and reported by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week.

“We’re concerned that this many kids have reported they’re actually practicing this behavior,” said Robert Nystrom, adolescent health manager at the Oregon Public Health Division and one of the authors of the report. “It seems like one in three eighth graders know about this activity, and we have no idea whether they know how dangerous it is.”

The C.D.C. reported in 2008 that an estimated 82 deaths had been caused by the choking game from 1995 to 2007.
Let's go through this step by step, shall we?

So a little over a third of the "more than 10,642 eighth graders" surveyed (does this mean they actually surveyed 10,643, or what?) have heard of the choking game. A little under a third of them (i.e., for all practical purposes the same amount as have heard of it at all) have heard of "someone" doing it. And about one in twenty says that they themselves have done it. You know what? If you surveyed all Americans on any ol' urban legend--say, the one about gang members driving around at night with their lights off so that they can kill the first person who flashes at them--you'd get fairly similar results. "Five percent of Americans say they have killed people for flashing their lights!" Yeah, you know what? I'd be willing to bet that about five percent of middle school students are gonna lie on a survey like that no matter what it's about. So basically what you've done is shown that 30% of them have a friend whose brother did the choking game. Congratulations, you've confirmed that it's an urban legend. I think we knew that already.

In an intelligent publication, that last sentence would be a punchline. You quote this guy trying to catch his breath, panicking that these kids "don't know how dangerous" choking themselves is. For one thing, yes they fucking do: they're animals, and all animals know that not breathing is dangerous. Jesus. But anyway, then you immediately follow it up by revealing how extremely not dangerous it is: nationwide, over thirteen goddamn years, 82 deaths have resulted from the choking game. In other words, again, nationwide, about six deaths every year. Come on. More deaths are caused by untied shoelaces, I can guarantee you. If I had a kid, I'd be more worried about Marlee Matlin personally targeting them for murder than about the choking game.

But this is the New York Times we're talking about--the American media--and so the moral of the story is, as usual: "Be terrified! Lock up your kids!" After all, we have to start training them to be overly credulous and docile in the face of made-up threats sometime.

PS If you read the article, the last paragraph is truly priceless.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Math with the details blurred out

I'm not giving any specifics here, not because I don't want to, but because it's best for job security. Hey, hey.

I'm about to start a new job, making a bit more money than I'm making now. I'm not going to be fantastically wealthy or anything, but for my lifestyle (no kids, no debt, few expenses), it will be noticeably above sufficiency.

Out of curiosity, I looked up the President & CEO of my new company to see how much he made. I was able to find his total compensation for 2008, in salary, bonuses, stocks, options, and "other" income, whatever that is. So admittedly, this figure is slightly out of date, but I'm going to use it anyway, because I'm sure it's accurate enough.

I divided that figure by 365, giving me the amount he makes every day (every day of his life, mind you, not just days he works--whatever "working" actually means for him). Then I divided that number by 24, to give me how much he makes every hour of the day, and again by 60, to give me the amount he makes every minute.

The number I got is only a small amount--under a dollar--less than the hourly wage I'll be earning when I start the job with his company.

In other words, what I will make in an hour of working for this man, he makes almost the same amount every minute of his life. Working, not working, waking, sleeping, whatever. And, remember, this job I'm about to be starting is, relatively speaking, pretty well-paying for your average not-CEO American. This is a state of affairs that apparently most people are perfectly OK with. Including me, I guess. Because, y'know, it's not like I'm planning to do anything about it.

I like TV too

For people who like LOST:

Some obsessive fan took scenes relating to the plane crash that we've seen over the past five years and rearranged them into chronological order (with some irritating 24 style thrown in, but whatever), and it's amazing. My favorite parts are when we see several different perspectives on the same scene at the same time (like when Charlie brushes by Jack on his way to the restroom, at 5:23), with the overlapping dialogue honestly reminding me of something Steve Reich would do (just listen to Cindy telling the passengers to remain seated, starting at 5:52). And watching the plane break up from both the passengers' and the Others' perspectives at the same time is fantastic. If you watch the show and have ten minutes to spare, it's worth it.


Huh, so apparently Tristero really does hate transgender people, and that weird comment the other day wasn't just a fluke. I mean, I already thought he was reprehensible and a moron, but I guess this is just another way he fulfills those roles. Good to know.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Yep, still don't get it

Every couple of years or so I'll break out Exile on Main St. again to see if I understand what the big whoop about it is yet.

Nope, not yet. I love the Rolling Stones, and there's some good stuff here (though frankly it's pretty much all downhill after "Rocks Off"), but give me Between the Buttons or 12 x 5 or Their Satanic Majesties Request or Aftermath over this bloated nonsense any day.

Belated, as usual

So I knew that Martha Coakley was not someone I particularly cared to see in office (who is?), but I didn't realize until today that she's the nasty piece of work who made her name by first winning a conviction in the Louise Woodward au pair case and then hounding a bunch of almost-definitely-innocent people into jail, where many of them still are, on trumped up child molestation charges. More cases of "protect the children" being used to utterly destroy lives, all for Coakley's personal gain and the American public's sick entertainment.

Knowing this, all the liberal panic* over her loss is even more hilarious. This election, we're being told, is going to usher in fascism in America! As if, a, we didn't have it already, and, b, Coakley herself weren't at least as much a fascist as Brown! Are you kidding me?

In other news, the Supreme Court said corporations can buy elections now. This is apparently new.

*Note also the weirdly unnecessary casual transphobia. Tristero, always a winner.

Holy shit!

Courtesy of ladypoverty's JRB in comments, this interview, in which John G. Miller reveals that he is personally accountable for paying fifty-seven thousand dollars* for Sarah Palin's jacket, is wonderful.

*Also known as several years of most people's lives.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

QBQ! Chapter Four: Don't Ask "Why"

This is the chapter where La Miller stops merely giving advice and starts being a full-fledged activist. It's something to behold; let's watch how it happens. The chapter begins with a dramatic list, allowing for a lot of line breaks that take up a bunch of space:
Ever heard these questions?

"Why don't others work harder?"
"Why is this happening to me?"
"Why do they make it so difficult for me to do my job?"

Say them aloud. How do they make you feel? When I say them, I feel powerless, like a victim.
This is clearly bullshit. John G. Miller, I can assure you, has never been powerless in his life. He has no idea what it feels like. His privilege allows him to feel perfectly comfortable lecturing us that "Questions with a 'Why me?' tone to them say, 'I'm a victim of the environment and the people around me.' Not a very productive thought, is it? But we ask them all the time." A dreadful prospect: people having unproductive thoughts all the time. Don't you people know we live to be productive? We have to, not for ourselves, our families, or our communities, don't be ridiculous. For our bosses.

Now, I will admit that many people do go wrong with the kind of thought that Miller is criticizing. When this happens, though, it is not because of the form of the thought but because of its direction: downward. The example that leaps to mind is the many working-class American whites who, casting about for someone to blame for their shitty situations, direct their frustration and rage upon working-class American Blacks and immigrants rather than against the capitalist pricks who are actually responsible. To reiterate, the problem here is not, as Miller would have it, that whites think someone besides themselves is to blame for their powerlessness; rather, the problem is that they blame those even more powerless than themselves, instead of the people who in reality have seized every ounce of power anyone else may have had and taken it for their own.

However, in the real, non-corporate fantasy world, and away from the sad delusions of understandably angry and confused white people, actions take place in a context, and that context is one of vast inequality. For people who live their entire lives on the bottom rungs of our economy, "Why is this happening to me?" is one of the most empowering questions to ask.

So, what was I talking about with that activism comment at the beginning? Johnny cleverly uses an anecdote to cover the shift:
I was on a long flight, sitting next to a man in his mid-fifties. We introduced ourselves...[blah blah, guy's very wealthy]...he went on to say that he lives in New York City and works on Wall Street. Guess what he does? He's not a broker. He's a personal injury attorney.

When he asked me what I do [I told him I'm a speaker on the subject of] "Personal accountability," wondering if he'd see the irony--and the humor...He fidgeted a bit. Finally, just to be clear, I added, "What I really do is help people--including myself--eliminate victim thinking from their lives." He must have understood me because he got up and moved and we never spoke again!
Yes, Jacky. Because the only reason someone you speak to would never speak to you again is because the righteousness of your profession makes them feel guilty. It has nothing to do with your being a ridiculous, aggressive asshole. Anyway, G. Miller socks us with the moral of the story, and here's where it gets deep:
I have nothing against him or his profession. He's simply providing what's demanded by a culture that continually asks, "Why is this happening to me?" But even as we shake our heads about the ills of society, let's not forget that society is made up of individuals. You and me. The best thing we can do to get rid of victim thinking in our world is to get rid of it in ourselves.
Slow down, buddy. There is no "you and me," at least not when the "you" is you. Who the fuck is this "we" you're talking about? Now, I'm not going to get too deep into the realities of individual personal injury lawyers, particularly not those who become fabulously wealthy off of it, because it's clear that what Miller wants us to "shake our heads" about is the concept of protecting individuals from being harmed by capitalist exploitation. He wants us to shake our heads and think, "Gee, if a corporation makes my life unsafe, if a corporation hurts me because it's cheaper to them than not hurting me, trying to do anything about it will make me powerless. My best course of action is to deny the fact that I have been victimized, and look to see what action I can take to make my life better conform to the restraints placed upon it by the ruling class."

At this point, Miller is no longer pretending to merely advise us on how to live happier lives. He is attempting to deliberately organize us into a movement, to convince us, as a group, to be complicit in our own subjugation. I, for one, refuse.

QBQ! Table of Contents

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

new methods

thanks to this video i have a new metric for truth (skip to 2:14). by following this method, i now know these things:
  • barack obama wrote twilight (298,000 hits)
  • princess di was in avatar (1,360,000 hits)
  • martin luther king had butt sex (1,190,000,000 hits)
  • fdr could dunk (163,000 hits)
  • george steinbrenner is the lindbergh baby (53,300 hits)
also - it seems like there is such a huge population of people on the internet who get criticism of world leaders about half right before veering headlong into harebrained (but amusing) conspiracy theories and perplexing nationalism.

My third workplace post of the day

If you haven't seen this Naomi Klein article on branding ten years after No Logo and the Obama administration, you should read it.


So almost a week ago apparently Rush Limbaugh said "The U.S. Military is now Meals on Wheels. It always is with Democrat presidents."
My reaction to this is my usual one to far-right criticisms of the Democrats: if only. Why would turning the U.S. Military into Meals on Wheels be a bad thing?
(Of course, in reality it is a bad thing, as Chris Floyd discusses: "a system designed for war, for death, destruction and domination, will never be a fit instrument for humanitarian relief." But, you know, aside from that, why would it be a bad thing?)

Update to previous post

I can't access blogspot from work, where I am right now, so I can't leave comments or update posts. But I do have email posting set up so I can post. And I'm feeling enough of a need to say this that I'm going to do that rather than waiting to respond in comments or update the last post ("Be a sexual flâneur") this evening.
In comments (which I have reading access to through email), d. mantis said this: "Would you agree that, in a simplistic way, most of our problems stem from the fact that we couldn't give two shits about anyone other than ourselves or immediate surroundings? Would you then also agree that this post could be less geared to the individual and more to the community?"
(Normally I'd do blockquotes, but, you know, email is weird and I'm not sure it'll work right.) So: yes, I absolutely would agree. In fact, I'd put it more strongly. I think that the one root problem that is the cause of pretty much every single bad thing that people do to one another is exactly what d. states. It comes in different forms, but the root is always this lack of empathy or compassion or whatever you want to call it. Sociopathy isn't far off.
I tend to forget that a lot of the time a point that seems obvious to me in what I'm writing is only obvious because I know what I'm trying to say. What I intended, and failed, to imply in the previous post is that the psychogeographical/sexual revolution I ask for should be both individual and community oriented. In fact, I have a (completely unsupported) suspicion that one major reason that "we couldn't give two shits" about others is that our psyches and our physical environments have been so thorougly colonized by economic oppressors (who want us to be sociopaths, because it is profitable to them), and that an honest attempt to free ourselves of this colonization will change that or, as d. put it, "A 'revolution' as you state, of passion and desire could lead to a more emotional existence including greater compassion." This is exactly my point, though I failed to make it adequately.
One reason why I have the complicated subclauses and hyphens and parentheses and footnotes in everything I write is that I'm always terrified that I'm going to forget to mention something vitally important. I need to calm down, because as this and other recent events have shown (like my neglecting to even mention race in my post about media narratives of poverty), I'm always going to leave something vital out. Even reading over the flaneur post again I realize another thing I did was treat gender identity, as distinct from sexual identity, as a bit of an afterthought, which was certainly not my intent.
I'm always going to leave something out. One benefit of the small readership I've gained recently (thanks, ladypoverty!) is that now there are a few people who can point out to me when I've done this. And I'm certainly lucky to have the specific perceptive people commenting that I do.
(PS I apologize for any lapses of editing there may be in this post. Once I submit it it's unalterable until six this evening at the earliest, and as I tend to edit posts for several hours after posting them, it's a bit nervewracking for me to be doing this.)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Be a sexual flâneur

This article is of course completely ridiculous (and written by some sort of a John G. Miller wannabe, judging from the style). But even as it buys into all sorts of ludicrous societal programming (you have to be straight to have children, if you're gay you have to sashay all the fucking time, even in writing, only straight people like "manly" pursuits, gay people have to be promiscuous, women exist solely to bear children, etc.), it does bring up something that, coincidentally, my pretty-much-gay self and my father were talking about just the other day, on the occasion of the public lesbianization of a cousin of mine.
[My friends] have seen little evidence of an interest in the opposite sex during my adult life, nor asked why. And that’s the clincher.

If there had been an interest, it became eclipsed by other more instant, carnal and deliciously taboo temptations, so it never gained light to grow. For 20 years, my life took a track that stifled the fragile stems...
etc, etc, etc, sexuality is like a jewel, made up of many facets, essentially.

Now, strip away all of the self-and-others-loathing here, and what you have left is this: without all of the programming that our society lays down on us from birth, our sexualities would most likely be quite a bit more fluid than they are now. Or, as my father put it the other night, "We'd be messing around with women, men, pumpkins, cows, everything." Now, I'm sure there's an extent to which this is not 100% true--devoid of programming, it seems likely that I'd still tend towards other men, while my father would still tend towards women, both of us tending towards humans--but to me there is a great deal of indisputable truth to it.

The Lettrists, and the Situationists after them, talk about how our physical environments, all of the geography through which we move every day, are shaped entirely out of economic factors. We go where we go in order to make or spend money, and those destinations, our homes, and every place we encounter between, look and interact with us in the way they do because they serve the specific economic purposes that they do. Trace out the path I take during any given day, and the shape you get will be entirely determined by my economic life, even if it's not a day I go to work. What Guy Debord called psychogeography was an attempt to combat this, to get us to redefine our own personal worlds as we, personally, want to define them. He wanted us to do as we desire in any given space, not to do as the space (and the powers behind the space) want; to move as we desire from space to space, not as demanded of us. It can be almost impossible to tell the difference, so a constant effort (both in intellectual reflection and in spontaneous action) is required. This is one of the most revolutionary acts available to us.

Just as much as we need psychogeography, we need...well, we need what I would call psychosexuality if the word weren't taken already by stupid Freud. We don't need Mr. Muirhead's version of it, though--in fact, we need pretty much the opposite. We need to be sexual flâneurs. Rather than basing our sexualities around a societal expectation of what those sexualities will be (which Muirhead is doing even as he scandalously "switches"), we need to stop making any assumptions whatsoever about our own gender and sexuality, and those of others. We need to constantly examine our thoughts about all forms of sexuality--including everything from the standard hetero-, homo- and bisexuality* to more controversial forms like incest, polyamory, pedophilia, bestiality, and so on, as well as various forms of non-sexuality, such as abstinence and asexuality**, not to mention the more fundamental question of the gender binary itself--and figure out why we think what we think about them, and whether or not that would be better off changing. I'm not suggesting any specific course of action here--to do so would be missing my own point. I only mean to say that we need to think about these things, and, more importantly, experiment, be spontaneous, and always, always, try to avoid doing things just because we feel a societal or economic pressure to do them. It's not always possible, but it should always be the goal.

*Despite Muirhead's apparent belief that bisexuality is The New Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name.
**And I should keep going, and expand that list to include forms that tend to be dismissed as ridiculous, like object sexuality or a predilection for yiff or yaoi. But goddamn, I'm already so fucking wordy and just this one hyphened-off sentence fragment already has several subclauses and now two footnotes. I gotta chill out.

Monday, January 18, 2010

our brave media

i tend to check cnn's website frequently throughout the day. i'm not entirely sure how i developed this habit or why exactly it persists. it could be because i find it worthwhile to see the birth of so many fabrications. another reason could be because they write some of the most unintentionally funny shit on the internet.

today i came across this article about anderson cooper rescuing a young boy from a "looting riot". (before the boy gets hit - which isn't shown - all i see is some slight rumpling and a guy that slips a little on some cardboard.) now, i am all for the protection of uninvolved parties, but the extreme level of self-congratulation and the terrible misconceptions behind the account are simply maddening.

to get a full sense of it there are a few things to take into account here:

1. the article - which is titled "Anderson Cooper assists injured boy" - is currently at the top of the "Latest Haiti news" section.

2. in another cnn article, haiti's infrastructure - see: our infrastructure for haiti - is blamed for delaying aid. (which, as i am typing this, the word "infrastructure" was removed from the headline.)

3. this quote from anderson, "An American businessman named Tony who owns two stores nearby barricaded one street to keep looters away. He had armed the two Haitian police with automatic weapons, and they were assisting him, but they were not able to control anything beyond their barricade."

so, what we have is a large population who cannot receive necessary items locally because of an already dominant foreign presence and are forced to accept the terms behind an even larger foreign presence. terms which will most likely marginalize haitians even more than they already were. but hey, anderson cooper's now got one heck of a vacation slideshow.

QBQ! Chapter Three: QBQ! The Question Behind the Question

The title chapter!

This brief chapter lays out the "method," so-called, of the QBQ itself. I'm tempted, however, to skip over that and jump right to the money quote, which is the penultimate sentence. Oh, what the hell, here I go.
Like a jewel, the QBQ is made up of many facets.

I feel as though, having quoted that, I almost don't need to say anything else about the chapter or possibly the entire book. No one who could write that sentence and consider it worthy of submission for publication could possibly have anything useful to say. Still, he and a bunch of corporate types think this joker does have useful things to say, so I guess I'm duty-bound to continue pointing out, in detail, that actually he doesn't.
The Question Behind the Question is built on the observation that our first reactions are often negative, bringing to mind Incorrect Questions (IQs). But if in each moment of decision we can instead discipline our thoughts to look behind those initial questions and ask better ones (QBQs), the questions themselves will lead us to better results.
Now, I must say, if you strip this paragraph of its context in this dehumanizing book, as well as stripping it of its absurd reliance on Corporate Capital Letters and Acronyms (CCLAs), this is not entirely a bad point. It's not a particularly meaningful point in most situations, but, sure, we can all often overreact to things in a negative way that, if we step back and look at them more rationally, we can change to a less negative reaction. Fine. Why don't I write a fucking book about it? Maybe I can use it to trick people into thinking it's their fault the world they're forced to live in and submit to sucks so goddamn hard.

"For starters," Miller gives us three simple rules for dating my teenage daughter constructing these QBQs:
1. Begin with "What" or "How" (not "Why," "When," or "Who").
2. Contain an "I" (not "they," "them," "we," or "you").
3. Focus on action.
Ask any human being! They'll tell you that overly specific grammatical prescriptions and utterly meaningless, vague suggestions to "focus" on abstract concepts are exactly what you need to turn your life around!

"What can I do?" for example, follows the guidelines perfectly. It begins with "What," contains an "I," and focuses on action...
Yes, and so does "What can I destroy?" or, more prosaically, "What can I complain about today?" Useless, Miller, useless. "Simple," Miller tells us. "But don't let its simplicity fool you." He then lets loose about the jewel and its facets, making us all laugh for a few hours, and then tells us that "[i]n the following chapters, we'll explore these facets and see the powerful effect asking QBQs can have on our lives." Hopefully, I will begin to explore these chapters at a rate faster than one a week. This chapter was a bit of a holding pattern, but trust me--we're in for a lot of fun.

QBQ! Table of Contents

Pornographic Priestess

It astounds me that the world's biggest band was able to sing these words in 1967:

Yellow mother custard dripping from a dead dog's eye
Crabalocker fishwife, pornographic priestess
Boy, you been a naughty girl, you let your knickers down


I just overheard a very gay man using his church affiliation as justification for his anti-abortion stance.

One more digby mock and then I'm taking a break

Just what we need? Who the fuck is we?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The products of my decadent lifestyle are insufficient

Google reader really needs to make it possible to mark items unread.


I need help with an element of internet discourse. People on the internet seem to criticize things for being "Manichean" almost as regularly as they do for being "straw men" or other logical fallacies. The logical fallacies kind of irk me, but I understand what they all mean (and people tend to use them in a fairly consistent manner, though I very often disagree with their application and never understand why so many people think simply calling something a logical fallacy means that they've won an argument). "Manichean" I don't understand, and people seem to throw it around willy-nilly in any ol' context at all. I have a vague understanding of Manichaeism, the Gnostic belief that involves a kind of dialectical teleology (how's that for pretentious talk!) in which the good in the world is gradually replaced by the evil (or something like that). I don't know what kind of behavioral demands arise from this belief, though I'd be interested to because in general the Gnostics are pretty crazy and fascinating. But anyway, this vague knowledge does not at all help me to understand what the hell people are talking about when they call people/behaviors Manichean, or why it's a criticism. Can someone help me?

Most likely of no interest to anyone but me

The first four months of 1998 saw the U.S. release of three albums the teenage version of me bought (actually two of them I taped from friends, because home taping is killing music) almost immediately and loved obsessively: Air's Moon Safari (January 20), Madonna's Ray of Light (March 3), and Saint Etienne's Good Humor (April 6). These days, I don't listen to any of them very much anymore, though as coincidence would have it I have put them all on out of the blue at some point in the last few weeks. They hold up differently: Moon Safari I find a bit underwhelming now, though pleasant; Good Humor has probably aged the best and is still a damn fine listen, and Ray of Light, though a bit creaky at times, is by far my favorite of the three--there's just something to that album that makes it great, even with all of its many flaws.

The thing that confuses me about these three albums, though, is that back in 1998, and in fact at no point in the intervening twelve years, did I realize that the sound of all of them is largely identical. Seriously: take any song from Good Humor and put it on Ray of Light and the only thing making it stand out would be Sarah Cracknell's distinctive voice, easily distinguishable from Madonna's; put one of the female-sung songs from Moon Safari on there and I might not even notice it wasn't Madonna singing. It was The Sound of 1998, I guess: icy synth washes with touches of orchestration, and warm female vocals over it. Gimmicky, but it works. Sometimes.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Indian Country Today has named my governor, Donald "Fuck All Of You" Carcieri, as the single individual who had the greatest negative impact on Indians in 2009. And that wasn't even the year he set stormtroopers and attack dogs on elderly Narragansett women.

Otters are cute

Friday, January 15, 2010


The other night on NBC Nightly News Ann Curry told me that survivors of the earthquake are using piles of bodies as blockades to "protest the slow arrival of aid." This, aside from being a horrific image and a task I deeply hope to avoid ever having to perform in my life, plainly makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. No one at all who is upset about supplies getting to them too slowly would block roads. It seems more likely that what is being protested--and, you know, what is actually being blocked--is what comes with the aid.
Mind you, I know absolutely nothing about this. And it was just a passing comment in one of those uesless "things are awful, things are awful, provide no context, things are awful, end on a hopeful note, preferably with a child" reports that TV news outlets love so much. So maybe somewhere outside the airtight confines of Ann Curry's mind (inside of which I imagine there is very little aside from a few slowly settling particles of dust), some sort of reality related to what she said, but different from my surmise, exists. Who knows.
Brian Williams, for his part, had the shameless audacity to say that, "luckily," the police were able to keep the hoardes of people desperate for food and medical attention out of the airport to keep him and the other reporters safe. Lord, let an aftershock get them and no one else.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Natural law

According to our media, some people, some places are just poor, and some people, some places just aren't. Not for any reason (Pat Robertson devil comments notwithstanding), they just are. The only major exception is when someone or some place is poor and, we're meant to believe, it's their own damn fault. Aside from that, though, it's just natural law.

They never really say this, mind you. But they never actually talk about the reasons for poverty, and why it's located where it is. It's such an ingrained assumption in everything they do that if you removed it everything they've built upon it would fall apart. And it's such a powerful subtextual message that almost everyone (including myself, when I catch myself in unthinking, atavistic moments) believes it without ever having to be told.

Remembering ourselves

Yes, yes, yes. ladypoverty:
Something I have learned from my religious friends is the importance of ritual. Whenever society is not organized in a way that respects your values, it takes willful repetition to remind oneself of what those values are. They are easy to forget, since daily life is organized in a way that undermines them.

This conflict between identities -- the one you have and the one you are assigned -- is a source of great psychological stress for anyone forced to "deny themselves" on a regular basis. In the face of total dependence on employers for a way to live -- what capitalism always demands -- we need a way to remember ourselves.
This strikes me as beautiful and absolutely vital. Unfortunately one place I run into trouble in my own life is that, done wrong, ritual can easily turn into routine, which can then lead right back to and feed into the dehumanizing process. Balancing ritual with spontaneity, which I feel is also essential to "remembering ourselves," can be extremely difficult, especially considering the severely limited amount of time we have during which we are allowed to own ourselves.

I'm still working towards a solution to this for myself. Suggestions are welcome.

Haiti again

To actually get significant information about what we're going to do to Haiti now that they have even less of an ability to resist than they used to, read here. It does not surprise me, but it never fails to amaze me how ready our leaders are to exploit this kind of thing. They must already have plans in place for natural catastrophes in every location on Earth.
To witness Digby's apparent belief that Haiti is lucky to get Bill Clinton's face shoved at it, read here. Pay attention to the way she words things, it is very revealing of her thought processes, which, again, do not surprise me, but never fail to amaze me.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


I see that Digby has taken the deaths of thousands (possibly hundreds of thousands) of people as an opportunity to make fun of FOX News.

And I see that PZ Myers has taken the deaths of thousands (possibly hundreds of thousands) of people as an opportunity to make fun of Christians.

And finally, I see that I have taken the deaths of thousands (possibly hundreds of thousands) of people as an opportunity to make fun of bloggers.

Spotted on the bus this morning

Are they really teaching high school kids The Fountainhead these days?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Try again

A coworker, after discussing the type of people who get on Jerry Springer: "No wonder people all around the world hate (Americans)."
You know, maybe I'm just a weirdo, but when I'm being brutally murdered, I don't particularly care about the quality of the murderer's popular culture.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Globe Sauvage

for the past few months, ethan and i have been working on some music under the name Fabrik. well, we finally have a song up ("Globe Sauvage").

to check it out, go here:


until we find a good place to host this stuff, we'll be uploading them there.

QBQ! Chapter Two: Making Better Choices

Man, I gotta get a move on with these things.

In Chapter Two, we get more into the real style of the book as a whole. The chapter sprawls luxuriantly over pages 14, 15, and 16, with half of page 14 taken up by the chapter heading, and only five lines of text on page 16. And I don't think I've mentioned, but the font in this book is massive, the lines are double spaced, and the margins are ludicrous. The book as a whole reminds me of high school, where fiddling with all those elements to meet the page length requirement was the norm.

Even all of that tiny amount of text is nothing more than filler, because the entire contents of the chapter are contained within its title. Miller sets up a metaphor regarding "goat heads," a type of thorn he tells us one finds in Denver, which "can really ruin your day" by getting lodged in your shoes or tires. What's odd is that this isn't really a metaphor for anything, or at least not for anything meaningful.
Each day, as we journey into the unexplored wilds of our personal and professional lives, we have countless choices to make. And what are we choosing? Not our next action but our next thought. Choose the wrong thought and we're off in the emotional goat heads of blame, complaining, and procrastination. But the right thoughts lead us to a richer, more fulfilling life and the feelings of pride and accomplishment that come from making productive decisions.
So, OK, making the wrong choices is...thorns. Remember, though, that he's not talking about what actions we choose to take, but what thoughts we choose to think. This is significant.
Sometimes people think they have no choice. They'll say things like "I have to" or "I can't." But we always have a choice. Always. Even deciding not to choose is making a choice.
See, it's significant that he's talking about thoughts and not actions because we don't have choices regarding our actions. If I choose to go to work tomorrow, I'll have about $60 or $70 that I need and won't get otherwise. If I choose not to, I won't have that money, and I risk losing my job entirely. That is not a choice. Once in work, I can choose to do what my bosses tell me to do, in which case I will maintain my employment, or I can choose not to, in which case I will lose it. That is not a choice. John G. Miller is telling me, though, that I can choose how to feel about this constriction of options--I can either oppose it, maintain my personhood, and work in my life to change the circumstances that keep me and those like me--and those worse off than me--enslaved to these optionless lives, or I can give in to it, and decide to feel that my life is "richer (and) more fulfilling" by so doing.

This is analogous to the "freedom of choice" that advocates of capitalism and free markets offer us. We can make any choice we want--as long as what we're choosing between is products that other people have decided to offer us for sale. And not just that, but products we can afford. This is not a choice.
Want to avoid the goat heads and make great things happen?

Make better choices.
(Emphasis Miller's.) In other words, if I am unsatisfied with the life offered me, it is my fault, and my only option is to accept it as is. This is not a choice.

QBQ! Table of Contents

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Aftermath of a conversation I could not bring myself to participate in at work

I really wish I could figure out how to convey to people that, in a world with seven billion people in it, and all the resources concentrated in the hands of a few thousand of them, people are going to get violent from time to time, and rather than focusing your own violent urges on this hypocritical, phony, condescendingly moralistic urge to punish, you should either be refocusing it into non-violent, constructive acts or, failing that, focusing it upwards.

It's a dastardly act

in viewing pornography, which is more alienating: being placed within the role of the voyeur or that of a participant? i believe it is the second option.

voyeurism leaves the viewer with no control over the situation, but it does not duplicate and then cleave the viewer's mind. the only severe frustration caused by the medium is not being able to change the camera's perspective. the voyeur is only an eye.

on the other hand, being placed in the role of the participant makes for a more convincing illusion - an illusion that aims to consume the viewer's identity.

the mechanics: as the viewer surrenders to the film, both the sense of immersion and paralysis increase. each gesture and movement is less and less one's own. and with the general dynamic of the format, the most urgent and captivating moments belong to someone else. the viewer kills to be something they are not and cannot be!

as i see it, it is the spectacle conquering the realm of sexual desire. situations are crafted that appeal in part to the viewer, but end up just constricting the spectrum of action and thought. this mechanic is not limited to pornography. i see a similiar type of fascism in the behavior of damien hirst. and all creators who can't seem to get over themselves and what they do.

now, i do not have a lot of background in media studies. and i think that many people probably consider the Situationist International (wiki) to be lost to the past. so, if...
  • you know any works about this stuff
  • or find that what i've said is amateurish (it is) and ill-informed
  • or just want to say whatcha gonna say
the club is open

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


via via

Not dead

QBQ and other posting will resume shortly, I swear. I blame The Baronette--she brought her old GameCube back from her latest visit to her ancestral home, and while I don't particularly play video games myself, I'm powerfully fascinated by watching other people play them. So these days, chez The Roommates, once the work day ends, she's playing, and I'm watching. Pathetic? Perhaps. It will pass, most likely in the next few days, and then I (and maybe even the reclusive Baronette herself!) will be back in full force, whatever that might be.

I will tell you, though, that I'm now half tempted to write a book-length critical investigation into Paper Mario. There are so many levels to pry into with that game that I don't even know where to begin.