Sunday, May 29, 2011

Current events

At some point in the past few months, I lost all ability to keep up with and form thoughts on current events, so if somebody could please tell me what I need to know about and how I should feel about
a) Spain
b) Egypt and Gaza
I would be very grateful. I mean, both things seem exciting, right?

RIP Gil Scott-Heron

What a way to come back to the internet after a day away. Everyone already knows "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" (rightly), so here's two others that I just happen to like right now.

"We Almost Lost Detroit" from Bridges, 1977. Fucking love those synths.

"Your Soul and Mine" from 2010's I'm New Here. If you ignore that boring-seeming remix album, what a way to go out.

BDR's got more and a link roundup. He says Scott-Heron had "fallen off my radar until last year's terrific album. That's on me." I could say exactly the same thing. The nice thing about that album, aside from how incredible it is, is that it has inspired me to go back through his catalog and pick up the thread where probably most of us lost it. It's worth it.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The miracles of modernity

I don't know why, but for some reason it cracked me up to learn that Obama signed the Patriot Act reauthorization by remotely "direct[ing] the use of an autopen" from France.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

scattered and happy

the accumulations we are and deem as ourselves, see them as nearing dust - scattered and happy.

see your lot as yours to share and others as theirs - and only theirs - to offer.

My least favorite thing in the entire world

Monday, May 23, 2011

Air conditioned alienation

This morning a guy came to do routine maintenance on the air conditioning. We wouldn't ever have sought out central air specifically, but it was installed already when we moved in here and the landlord pays for its maintenance, so there you go. I admit also that, if you're me, central air turns out to be one of those things that you insist you don't want but then when you have it you end up using it. In my meager defense, I don't use it nearly as much as most people. Because I'm better than them!

Uh, anyway, as the maintenance guy stomped around (nothing against him, he had to wear heavy boots), in and out of the house, up and down from the attic, thumping around with hammers, discovering a fault in the wiring, having trouble fixing it, thumping around more, going in and out, scaring the hell out of poor Boorman*, I found myself thinking about how the overarching system that is "my house" contains within it (at least) four major subsystems that I have absolutely no understanding of (and that's just the major housewide ones).

*Who is seriously going to start hating us, considering that all this trauma comes just two days after we took him to the vet for the first time** and because this week we have to shove glop in his eyes twice a day to treat his conjunctivitis.
**He was a surprisingly good boy, but man oh man did he hate it (of course).

Like, there was something wrong with the a/c. The guy who fixed it explained it to me. It didn't mean a thing to me. If it had gone wrong and there wasn't a guy to pay to come fix it (or, in this case, if there wasn't a guy to pay to come see if there's anything wrong on a semi-regular basis), it would have become a part of my house that didn't work. I wouldn't know how to take it out, either, so the systems that make it go would just be an enormous dead zone in the house, taking up space. I mean, it wouldn't be so bad if we didn't have air conditioning, of course, but still.

Or like, the plumbing. If something went wrong with that and there wasn't somebody to pay to come fix it, I'd be out of water. I wouldn't even know a good way of getting water without plumbing (particularly since I'm pretty sure the ground around here is toxic).

And I'm definitely not trying to say "Gosh, it sure is a good thing we have plumbing services and a/c repair!" I just think it's absurd how we've alienated ourselves so completely not only from our environment, but from our own homes--the very devices that we use to alienate ourselves from our environment. We've made the concept of "shelter" so complicated that we* don't even understand how it works--and that way there can be somebody who gets paid to understand it for us!

*I'm assuming I'm not the only one.

I feel like I should end this with some kind of a new insight, but I think that's all I've got.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Training starts early

We've been watching a lot of new-millennium Doctor Who recently. Hey, this stuff is pretty frequently brilliant, you know? The Baronette, for reasons of a) employment and b) general good sense has been sticking to just Who proper, while out-of-work, no-sense me has been indulging additionally in the spinoffs--the self-consciously "adult" Torchwood and the for-kids Sarah Jane Adventures (RIP). At this point I've only made it through the first seasons of each, though we're on the third season of for-adults-really-but-kids-have-always-loved-it Who.

Anyway, the Whoniverse as a whole has always been pretty gentle. Torchwood pushes at that quite a bit (and often tries way too hard while it's at it), but there are far worse shows to grow up on than these. It's often violent and kid-scary (and, occasionally, verges on adult-scary), but the Doctor makes a point of never carrying weapons, and he respects life unless it unacceptably threatens other life, and occasionally drops some nice slogans.* And the whole thing has been pretty remarkably good in terms of women (regularly creating strong female characters who can think, frequently passing the Bechdel test without cheating, etc.), and race (though there are some slightly troubling patterns with its black characters, overall it's not too shabby--and it has a lot of them, relatively), and sexuality. In general, it is very seldom that I cringe while watching it, and when I do it's usually fairly minor things. Much better than you might expect from state TV**, in other words.

*Dalek Emperor: "What are you, Doctor? Killer or coward?"
The Doctor: "Coward. Every time."
That episode also contains the amazing line "You are tiny. I can see the whole of time and space, every single atom of your existence, and I divide them." Delivered brilliantly by the brilliant Billie Piper as the brilliant Rose Tyler.
**And there's a pair of words to chill the blood, am I right?

All of which makes it all the more...weird, when something goes icky. Like in the Torchwood episode where some startlingly vehement, and yet disturbingly casual, transphobia was put into the mouth of, of all characters, Captain Jack, the pansexual anything-goes-including-aliens open-minded man of the 51st century (though apparently I was the only person in the world bothered by that line--and no, I'm not linking to that After Elton post because I like it, but only because it starts with the quote I'm talking about).

Or like in the Sarah Jane Adventures episode I watched this morning that suddenly spewed out a prison rape joke:

It's the kind of thing that should be unbelievable. Sarah Jane is one of the gentlest characters in the entire gentle world of Doctor Who. It's in the middle of an episode with a decent, if a bit ham-handed, message about how awful it is to train young children for violence. And yet right here in the middle of this show for children, the threat of imprisonment and violence is treated lightly, as if it were funny. Unfortunately, it's not unbelievable. Because, you see, we all have to be trained from a very young age to lack all empathy, to separate humanity into good and bad, and to think that punishing the bad part is not only acceptable, but good, and not only good, but funny. What better way than by casually sticking this kind of thing into a show purportedly against violence?

I'm not saying that the episode's writer, Phil Gladwin, plotted and schemed his way to to sticking this line in. But as far as I can tell there's only two kinds of minds that could think a line like that is appropriate in any context, or, for the love of god, necessary in a fucking children's show*. The first is the kind that does have a deliberate interest in training empathy out of children so as to maintain the status quo. The second is the kind that has been so socialized that it does this unconsciously. In some ways it's almost worse that Gladwin is far more likely to be the second kind. It's in this way that this murderous culture of ours maintains itself.

*And I am most emphatically not one to be all "but think of the children." I think children can be trusted to handle far more than we usually let them. And I don't think they should be protected from information and knowledge about either sex or violence, since those are both integral parts of the reality they live in (one a much much better part than the other, of course). But it's exactly these kinds of messages that slip past the conscious level and become a sort of background radiation of what-we-think-is-acceptable, until it gets to the point where we have a whole society of what used to be human beings who can't be bothered to stop laughing uproariously at goddamn prison rape, let alone do anything to stop it.

A year and a half before that episode originally aired, there had apparently been a minor controversy about a Who episode that had a brief, throwaway, fairly subtle joke about oral sex between consenting adults. To my knowledge (and to google's, as far as I can tell), there was no such outcry about this.

To anyone who doesn't understand, or doesn't believe in, the concept of the rape culture: voilà.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Friday, May 13, 2011


Here's hoping blooger will get around to reinstating the two or three missing posts sometime soon. In the meantime, David Bowie's Toy was leaked two months ago and no one told me????

UPDATE Listening to it now. I'd already known maybe half the tracks in their entirety, and the rest in 30-second clips at shit bitrates, and my impression has always been that it's an uneven album, at times quite good, at times way too modern-rock-ballad for me, but at any rate never an essential Bowie album. That last part still stands, but hearing it all together, in sequence, at a decent bitrate, with all the songs complete, it's a much better listen than I was expecting. I'd probably say it's in the second tier of his albums--no Diamond Dogs or Low, but sure as hell no Tonight, either. None of the redone versions of earlier songs replace (or even really compete with) the originals by any stretch of the imagination, but they're all nice additions to the catalog.
UPDATE II Well, the posts are back, but not the comments, which considering how good those comments were is really not good enough.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Just a tip

If you replace the inexplicably dead-sounding cover of "Across the Universe" with the unutterably beautiful and heartbreaking "Who Can I Be Now," Young Americans becomes the flawless five-star album it deserves to be.

Many thanks to the excellent Pushing Ahead of the Dame, without whom it never would have occurred to me that I could do this, even though I've known the song for years. Oh, and if you're into Bowie and didn't know about Pushing Ahead of the Dame, I apologize for stealing your life.


When I posted the other day about the word "pioneer" and the violence of "pioneering," BDR commented, pointing out that he had just posted some quotes at his place in honor of Pynchon's birthday and that one of them, from Mason & Dixon (which I haven't read yet) seemed relevant:
Does Britannia, when it sleeps, dream? Is America her dream? -- in which all that cannot pass in the metropolitan Wakefulness is allow'd Expression away in the restless Slumber of these Provinces, and on West-ward, wherever 'tis not yet mapp'd, nor written down, nor ever, by the majority of mankind, seen, -- serving as a very Rubbish-Tip for subjunctive Hopes, for all that may yet be true, -- Earthly Paradise, Fountain of Youth, Realms of Prester John, Christ's Kingdom, ever behind the sunset, safe till the next Territory to the West be seen and recorded, measur'd and tied back in, back to the Net-Work of Points already known, that slowly triangulates its Way into the Continent, changing all from subjunctive to declarative, reducing Possibilities to Simplicities that serve the ends of Governments, -- winning away from the realm of the Sacred, its Borderlands one by one, and assuming them unto the bare mortal World that is our home, and our Despair.
The same day, Aaron posted a lengthy essay (which I admit I've so far read very little of) about the problems of the narrative of the "uncontacted tribe," which certainly seems relevant as well.

And then today I started reading Ursula K. Le Guin's rendition of the Tao Te Ching, and in the second chapter (if that's the right word for the sections of the text) I came across these not-irrelevant words:
The things of this world
exist, they are;
you can't refuse them.

To bear and not to own;
to act and not lay claim;
to do the work and let it go:
for just letting it go
is what makes it stay.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Today's discoveries

1. Boorman does not like Don Cherry.

(I listened anyway. By the way, Youtube tells you that that song is by him with Krzysztof Penderecki; actually the album it's on has the same group--featuring Peter Brötzmann and other free jazz big-names--led by Cherry on one side and Penderecki on the other. Both sides are excellent, and I'm sorry this video cuts the track off at the fifteen minute mark.)

2. Boorman loves corks.

The Baronette has been playing fetch with him for about half an hour now--she throws the cork, his tail bushes up and he goes flying after it, bites it, runs back for more. Wonderful! We were afraid because we vacuumed for the first time since we brought him home--oh my god much needed--and we thought he'd be freaked out for a long time after, but less than half an hour later he came out from hiding and wanted to play. He's come such a long way in the not-four-weeks-yet he's been here.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A word I don't want to use anymore and the way in which I don't want to use it

Words mean a lot of things, depending on the social circumstances in which they're used. One of the really magical things about language is that it is such a complex, nuanced structure and yet we use it reflexively, without any thought. As we use these words and don't think about them, the complex system of meanings that they have can blend together in our minds--most of the time this is a wonderful thing, but there can often be a very negative side. I don't by any means suggest that language shapes thought in any kind of strongly deterministic sense, but tiny little subconscious cues from the language do tend to carry weight, especially with repetition--if we use a word in a positive sense in one context it can carry that sense over to another context where the use should be less positive, say.

When you begin to think about the words you use reflexively, you can sometimes spot ways that your thinking has been colonized by the needs of the dominant society. On a more prosaic, but probably concretely more important, level, you can also start to see ways that what you say might communicate different things than you intend, depending on who's listening and in what context. I've been thinking about this a lot recently, and thought it might be good to write about some of these words. This may or may not be a series. Should you be so inclined, let me know what you think--about this particular word, about other words, about this whole idea in general. So, the word:


If you're a fan of any kind of art that at whatever time or place has been considered "avant garde" you've come across this. People frequently use it to talk about, say, early electronic music--Delia Derbyshire or Wendy Carlos or Louis and Bebe Barron or whoever are "pioneers" of electronic music. When people say this, they mean that these artists did things that had never been done before--"went places," metaphorically, that no one had ever been before.

But that's not what a pioneer is. A pioneer is a colonist, a conqueror, a front liner in genocide. A pioneer claims to be the first to go where they go by virtue of redefining those who have already laid down the paths they bulldoze as insignificant, nonexistent in any meaningful sense. A pioneer "discovers" nothing, "invents" nothing; a pioneer is destructive, not creative.

Land is already there. Most of it has had human beings living on or near it for so long that, in terms that we can really feel, you might as well call it forever. Even that which hasn't is occupied--animals, plants, fungi, swarming bacteria, there's life everywhere*, and it's been exploring for a hell of a lot longer than we have--and without, I would venture to guess, this bizarre conceit that it's "discovering" anything.

*And even those places where there is no life--far enough below the Earth's surface, throughout most of the universe, whatever--those places exist, too, with their own perspectives, and have the right to be themselves.

Curiosity and even necessity need not partner with conquest. That we use the word "pioneering" to describe art that "pushes boundaries"--another deeply problematic formulation--reveals the extent to which we have been trained to view these things as inseparable. But the beautiful thing about art--and I use "art" just in the sense of any activity pursued for self-determined reasons--the beautiful thing about art is, or should be, that it's easy to be curious, easy to explore, without conquering anything.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Well put

One of the things that has always bothered me about the death penalty, is that it creates yet another circle of victims. These victims will never see justice, because the murder happened at the behest of the state. Imagine the horror his 12 year old daughter felt, as she watched her father being gunned down, after the U.S. military invaded her home.
There's a lot in the details of her post that I don't agree with, but as far as the "big picture" goes it's an excellent point.

And now, RESOLVED: that this will be my last post on the whole stupid topic.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Actual New York Times headline

Afghans Fear West May See Death as the End

There are at least two reasons it's hilarious, and I can't decide which is funnier.


As you know if you've been alertly reading BDR (as you should) or the comments section here, the most exciting world event in recent weeks is that we adopted a cat. We don't know if he has a name for himself, and wouldn't be able to pronounce it even if we did, so for convenience we're calling him Boorman (After the guy who directed the three best movies ever made, not after a Nazi who, you have to admit, spells his name differently, come on people. Oh, by the way, incredibly creepy sex towards the end of that Excalibur clip, be warned.). Here's the best picture taken of him yet, courtesy of the Baronette.

The rest of the pictures in this post are by me this morning, I'm not much for the photography, but hey.

He's about two years old. He's been in shelters for a least a year, which is hard for me to believe considering how beautiful he is, although his initial shyness may have put off any number of potential takers. I don't know what his life was like before he was in the shelters--I know he was found as a stray, but it seems unlikely that he would have been that way from the very beginning. He's a siamese mix--he's shaped just like a siamese (not the skinny little siamese, the bulkier kind, I don't know what the technical term is), but with patches of darker gray tiger stripes in various places on him and a short little raccoon tail, and he's absolutely beautiful. And huge. When he rolls over onto his back or his side and stretches out to his full length (which he spends about 70% of his waking time doing), he's gotta be at least three feet long. I haven't quite managed to get a picture of that, but this is close (though of course you've got nothing for scale there, but whatever):

The Baronette has had cats for most of her life, but this is my first pet outside of the occasional fish in my childhood. I knew it would be intense, but I wasn't prepared for this. I've loved individual humans before, and I've loved animals in general, and I've even been really good friends with individual animals before, but I've never loved an individual animal before, and it's like nothing else. The past couple of weeks have been a wonderful emotional rollercoaster, especially because like so many cats do he had a hard time adjusting to new surroundings and new people at first. He's still often skittish, but for about a week now he's been coming out from his hiding spot behind the couch more and more, and he's getting better all the time; every day he conquers another of his fears (one day he hangs out with us in the kitchen while we're making dinner, the next day he curls up next to us on the couch and falls asleep). Every time he does, my heart explodes. Sometimes it's incredibly, shockingly difficult: a few nights ago I was in tears because after a few days of being very friendly to me he suddenly seemed like he hated me, while being perfectly fine with the Baronette; it wasn't that I was jealous--if he had been scared of both of us I could have written it off as just a day's backslide, but that he was still into her made me wonder if he had just decided to dislike me, specifically. The next morning, I was in my bedroom, saw him sitting in the living room; I beckoned to him and he came to me from that distance for the very first time. We've been friends ever since.

He still has a long way to go to be truly comfortable and happy here, but he's gonna make it, and I think sooner rather than later. He's a total purr machine and extraordinarily affectionate; he's the type to head-butt your hand if you put it near him, and he rolls over for belly rubs at the drop of a hat. For the most part he hasn't been very talkative, but as I was composing this post he started screeching at me to come keep him company and relieve his anxiety at some of the goddamn eternal deafening yardwork that is the bane of his existence and mine. After a while of me petting him he started to feel better, and now he's just staring, fascinated, into the mirror.

Monday, May 2, 2011

In Recognition of America's Triumph Over the Forces of Evil

Image from Marisacat

Getting this out of the way

I finally get back to posting again, and right away they go and do this. I'm taking it personally.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

RIP Joanna Russ

I've only read two of her books--The Female Man, years ago, and We Who Are About To... more recently--but the impact they had on me was enormous. I've been meaning to read more for the longest time, and now I will. I think I'll start with a re-read of The Female Man, though--much as I loved it, and much as it changed me for the better, I don't think I was prepared then to receive all it had to give.

She was everything science fiction should be and very rarely is: experimental both in style and content, feminist, vicious, sure as hell not techno-utopian*. She recognized that "lowbrow" writing is as important as any other kind--she wrote essays on Kirk/Spock slash fiction** and if I'm not mistaken actually gave "slash" its name--but refused, as so many who share in that recognition end up doing, to infantilize that writing or to be infantilized by it herself.

*Though I may have a post in me at some point about how even the classic sci-fi writers with the worst techno-utopian reputations weren't quite so simple.
**Here the often-problematic Teresa Nielsen Hayden unproblematically and charmingly remembers Russ's interest in these things, mentioning her observation that, in some contexts, "Spock is a woman." I've long wanted to write an essay about that very thing (in contexts other than slash, which I have no knowledge of or interest in beyond the most glancing "huh" reaction), but hesitated because a) I'm not a woman myself, and b) I don't write cultural criticism essays often, though I frequently want to.

She didn't write much the last few decades of her life, due, I'm given to understand, to crippling pain resulting from a back injury. Awful. I had heard some vague rumblings in recent years that she was starting to write again, and I had always had it in the back of my head that some new late-period Joanna Russ was coming, was to be looked forward to. As with any highly brilliant, highly experimental artist, I was excited to see what later works would be like--you never know how people as singular as her will change with time. Now, who knows if there will ever be anything else from her--I tend to doubt it. Still, she has so much already on offer that I have no experience of--I've barely touched her fiction, and her essays not at all.

Still, for someone I have so little genuine knowledge of, I had quite a shock when the "Joanna Russ, 1937-2011" headlines started showing up in my reader after her death Friday. She was important, and she was wonderful.