Category Archives: readin’, writin’, ryth-m-ic

Who doesn’t go Nazi?

Marvel Comics needs a refresher course on their Dorothy Thompson.

Read the article linked above first, if you’ve got the time, and then keep that in mind when you read all about Marvel’s decision to bring Steve Rogers back from the dead just to have him Hail Hydra.

There’s some speculating that this is a “long con” by the character to infiltrate and destroy them from within. My own thought is that actually killing Cap wasn’t enough for the Gatekeepers, who have decided that they have to desecrate the corpse as well by trying to kill his ideals.

It’s being passed off as a political commentary, of course, but whether through willful writer’s malpractice or a woeful lack of craft, they’ve only betrayed their own thoughts about America – and shock of shocks, it’s that America sucks. And I don’t buy for one minute that this has anything to do with the political rise of Donald J. Trump, official GOP nominee for the Presidency. They felt this way going into it, and they’d be doing the same thing if Ted Cruz took the nod. The writer has already gone on record in saying that the Republicans are all evil, so why not ruin their favorite freedom-loving symbol as well? It insults them AND ruins the guy who has (until now) unapologetically loved his country, to the point of punching Hitler in the face in his first comic.

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The wisdom of thugs

Mentioning The Catcher in the Rye is sort of like putting on high-end polarized glasses – it clarifies and contrasts. I knew a kid in middle school, for example, that really identified with Holden Caulfield.

* No, not me. And no, not everyone does. Even if we all rebel in some fashion, and even if some of us act that insufferably, not everyone thinks that he’s an example, much less a brave hero of sorts. In fact it’s an open question whether Salinger himself thought much of Holden, or if he wrote him in order to hold him up for ridicule in comparison to his younger and far-more-competent sister.

I’m thinking of this in light of Catcher’s inclusion in one of those “have you really read it?” lists that goes around the Web occasionally. (For the record, Catcher is one of the eleven books out of the twenty that I have read.) It’s also something of kismet since the Wil Wheaton flapdoodle about his “Hillary’s Harpies” tweet and subsequent cringing obeisance before crybully mob. What happened to Wheaton is actually a lot like what happened to Caulfield in his physical confrontations… which is depressing, because a Holden Caulfield who never grows up is truly sad to contemplate.

That all brings us here, and to this comment by e-migo Nate regarding bullies. Now, they’re bad, mind you. And bullies who never outgrow it are just as depressing as Holdens who never do. They become quite dangerous – in fact, the bullies and the Holdens grow in many ways to resemble each other. But when they come into conflict, well… as they used to say on the nature shows, “Sadly, there can only be one outcome.”

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A brief observation on the rule of law, courtesy of CS Lewis

It is disheartening, to say the least, to have our President have to constantly reassure the citizens who elected him that he is not an emperor. It’s more disheartening to realize why the questions keep coming up. Obama is wont to order around the Congress, browbeat the lapdog press when they remember their bark, scold people who insist on their rights of free speech and self-defense, and demagogue the most successful members of the society for their incomes.

This last holds a particular sticking point. Obama either ignores or scoffs at any suggestion that his own lavish vacations and 1% perks are a problem. Normally, you’d notice if the guy calling you to the ramparts of the class struggle was well back of the front lines… all the way back at a luxury resort, golfing, and then issuing a denunciation of “millionaire and billionaire corporate jet owners” from the steps of his own private jumbo jet. It should be even more glaring that, unlike the big wigs, the President does all of this on the public’s nickel.

And now we have the latest, that the President-who-is-not-an-emperor nevertheless holds himself to have the authority to order the deaths of American citizens on American soil via drone strikes, without due process or even probable cause. The Constitutional prohibitions on this sort of thing are numerous and stringent. The thing that really gobsmacks me on this is the lack of reaction among the same folks who, ten years ago, saw the hobnailed boot of fascism in every step of the prior President. There was a long and protracted argument about this at the time, I recall… and the debate centered on whether the measures taken then were actual violations, and why. But now we don’t even get the courtesy of that debate, because dissent is no longer the highest (or any) form of patriotism.

How is this even possible? People are not so foolish to hold such wildly different standards based just on the letter behind the politician’s name, are they? And honestly, I don’t think they are. In fact, I don’t think  that thinking has much to do with it. The standard isn’t reasonable, in the sense that it doesn’t involve reason at all. The standard is emotional. One group is the Other, and the first group is all that stands against them and all their foul works. So the same exact action (jet-setting to lavish vacations, questioning the motives and actions of the Government) is simultaneously the most shameless of deeds and not a big deal. The standard is not Right vs. Wrong, or Lawful vs. Illegal, but US vs. THEM.

It’s no way to run things. And I don’t think that this is a controversial position. Rule of Law isn’t always popular, but most of the time, most of us from both sides of the political divide agree to it, because the alternative is disastrous. And yet, there’s that us vs. them thing that kicks in when it’s “our guy” getting dinged for acting like a komissar. There’s a list of excuses like “Your side did it first” and “It’s necessary for progress” and “But there’s a crisis.”

And some people just dispense altogether with excuses and do it because They Know Better. And that gets us to CS Lewis, and The Magician’s Nephew. The Magician in question explains to said Nephew that “Men like me who possess hidden wisdom, are freed from common rules just as we are cut off from common pleasures. Ours, my boy, is a high and lonely destiny.”

Digory saw through Uncle Andrew, of course. Quoting the entire exchange would not fall under Fair Use, I’m afraid, but it’s the second chapter, and much of it will sound all too familiar to the reader.

A psychological observation

Sonic Charmer takes a look into the tears of the Hermit Kingdom.

I’ve heard it written (if that makes sense) that of course people were sobbing about the death of Kim Jong Il – his soldiers would have no compunction about shooting them dead if they were insufficiently sorrowful.  That’s true enough, but as Charmer observes, that might inspire an actual, sincere devotion as well:

 This interpretation seems to stem from the error of assuming that North Korean people and society is basically like our people and society, just with a wacky dictator on top. Like a charmingly more-straitlaced version of South Korea, that happened to have a crazy celebrity who uses/kills people in charge. I think, rather, that having a wacky dictator on top of your society actually affects the society. What I tend to see in North Korea is Jonestown writ large. A mass psychosis. Almost all of the people depicted there would qualify as mentally ill here. …

We’re going to have to face it: People love their dictators. And the more miserable they are, the more they will love him. The more empty and powerless their lives are, the more their hopes and dreams get tied up with the dictator’s fate.

This reminded me of a scene that very effectively spells out the difficulty (video will play when you click).

What’s most striking is the chilling confidence of Darkseid.  His victory is already assured.  Even though the outcome of the fight is not certain, his position is fixed beyond the power of Superman to alter or remedy.  No earthly dictator can have this sort of permanent authority, of course, but for as long as it lasts, the dictator might as well BE all-encompassing.  Kim could erase his people from this life as surely as Darkseid’s Omega Beams do in the DC universe.

So, yes – this is the first thing I thought of when I saw the public mourning of the North Koreans after Kim died.  Dear Leader was many things to many people… and there, he was God.  The difficulty is not that his people don’t recognize him as cruel and mad, but that they do.

If China suddenly decided that they had too many problems internally to bother with DRNK as a satellite/buffer/proxy, and buggered out – if the South and its allies swept through and reunited the penninsula under democratic rule – there would be years, possibly decades, of drastic unrest.  This would happen even if the initial unification were peaceful.  If you’ve paid attention to the Middle East over the past ten years, you already know how it would play out: the South would be seen as welcome liberators, who were nonetheless despised, and everywhere those accustomed to the old regime would seek ways to recreate it on some level – and that goes for the entire chain, from the ultimate power down through the brokers and facilitators and petty jacks-in-office, right down to the bottom-rung oppressed.  There would be little corrupt fiefdoms springing up everywhere, if not efforts to use the democratic process to elect a new Dear Leader.

Hell, you don’t need the Middle East to see it in action, either: only a very unfortunate neighbor who grew up in an abusive household, endlessly building copies of it in their own life, even while lamenting to friends that “this is stupid” and “he’ll never change” and “I never want to be like my parents were.”  They keep going back anyway – they regard their interventionist friends as meddlers who only provoke the abuse, and if they just left well enough alone, they could go back to happily living on constant eggshells in the vague hope of catching the abuser in a peaceable mood every once in a while.  They need healing from within, before they can accept changes from without.

None of this is to say that efforts to help are unwise; just that they are often as thankless as they are necessary.  Every once in a great while, however, they work far more brilliantly than could ever be hoped, and the people as one make the change, and where they were once caged in their own homeland, they break free and reassume their sovereignty.  The counterpoint is made more startling here because of the man who died on the same day – Vaclav Havel – and the Velvet Revolution that he helped to focus and came to embody.  But there, I have to let the better writer take over, so please read this from Sheila O’Malley on the playwright and former Czech President.  One thing that she wrote stands out – the thing that made the difference –

… his philosophy was that, yes, he lived in an un-free society, but he would behave as if he were free. The magic “as if”, so much a theatrical term, used to describe the mystery of the creative process of actors (act “as if” you were such and such). Of course, Havel, a man of the theatre, would use the “as if” as a way to survive oppression. He did not compromise. He acted “as if” he were living in a free society, and drove the authorities slowly insane.

My only comment on that is to offer a slight but important clarification.  Havel, strictly speaking, did not drive the authorities insane; by living sanely himself, he only revealed that they had been insane the whole time.

Hell’s Television

If nothing else, reality TV is good for one thing – proving the theory of quantum physics that states that the very act of observation helps to determine what is being observed.

To make this statement even weirder, you need to know that I formed it by watching Gordon Ramsay cook on television.

Ladybug and I enjoy watching him.  And believe me, we understand the peculiarities of the genre.  It’s actually a pet peeve of mine, and sparked this little rant.

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It all started while catching up on my Joe Posnanski reading.

You may know that I am a huge fan* of Joe Posnanski’s work.  In my opinion, he’s a wonderful writer who just happens to make his living in sports reporting.  He’s on my blogroll – some honor, right?  (RIGHT.)  And I’ve permanently borrowed his “posterisks,” small asides/digressions that he tosses into the flow of his essays.

* For example, this would be a “posterisk,” subject: “huge fan.”  Obviously this doesn’t mean that I’m fifteen feet tall or weigh 3400 pounds.  But like all good metaphors, it accurately conveys my enthusaism for his work in a way that a phrase like “I am an enthusiast” would miss.  My enthusiasm for his work is 15′, 3400 lbs, maybe… give or take an inch.

So I was surprised to hear a false note in one of his recent bits, on the Nadal-Federer French Open Final.

Pos was talking about willpower and intimidation.  It’s interesting to me as a novice in the noble art of stat-fu… the talk of willpower among professional athletes.  The classic narrative, when great contests are decided, is that the winning team or individual (or an individual member of said team) simply “wanted it more.”  Another version is when an overmatched team wins on the superlative effort of one player, who “willed them to victory” or “refused to lose.”

Such phrases are literally a total load of hooey.  Superior talent and even superior performance sometimes comes out the loser in any individual contest.  I don’t see how willpower is any different.  It’s pretty much guaranteed that the losing players all wanted very badly to win.  I’ve been on both sides of that equation many times on my own small level, and I have to say that I have never NOT wanted to win those games or championships.  In fact, there was a stretch on one of my teams when we were champions in four straight seasons, with a couple of tournament wins thrown in for good measure.  I like to think I know myself and my teammates well enough to say that we didn’t stop wanting to win after the first couple.  We didn’t go into them not particularly caring if we won, because we had won championships and tournaments with other teams before then.  And when we were finally beaten, it wasn’t because I or any of my teammates had decided that we just didn’t really want to win any more.

On the elite level, I can’t help but think that this is even more true.  The weekend warrior ranks likely DO have guys who go into games not particularly caring.  They’re in it for fun and exercise.  They don’t want to have hurt feelings (or joints) going all-out, ruthlessly, for the sake of a t-shirt and a plastic trinket.  Bless their hearts.  As I’ve aged, I’ve finally approached that golden mean where I care intensely while it’s happening, and then I can write off the outcome, good or bad, after it’s done.  (Not immediately, not perfectly; but I don’t break out a baseball bat and beat the sap out of a tree in the yard after a tough loss… any more.)

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Ain’t that a nail hit on the head

If I had a Greatness in Commenting Award, today’s winner would be a blogger who goes by the Internet handle of Alpheus.  Beneath a post at Professor Mondo’s place about the generally-wretched state of basic composition skills, Alpheus left this gem:

… if grammar can’t be taught because “it’s like asking kids to eat their vegetables,” if correcting composition papers is so tedious and hard it drives conscientious teachers to tears, then the only real explanation is that education has become so much about keeping students happy and (minimally) motivated that it’s no longer possible to ask them to do the work to learn what they need to learn.

Exactly this.  Increasingly, going to school is less about learning and more about emotional cushioning.  The children are considered to be too fragile to be contradicted and corrected; their self-esteem is regarded to be the paramount concern, rather than their minds.  To that sort of thinking, knowledge actually becomes the enemy, rather than the point.  After all, a kid can get facts wrong, make objective errors, and place lower than the other students, leading to sadness and frustration.  Kim Brooks, who wrote the Slate article that Mondo linked, described the results in this manner:

And so recently, I’ve started asking them: “What exactly did you do in high-school English class?” And … the answers I get from them about their preparation in the language arts are surprisingly similar.

Those who didn’t make it onto the honors or A.P. track hardly mention writing or reading at all. They talk about giving oral presentations and keeping reading journals evaluated with a big, meaningless check. They reveal putting on skits, reenacting some scene in a novel or play whose title they can’t recall. … As for the students who did make it to more accelerated English courses, their recollections are a little less disheartening, but only a little.

Read it all, as they say.  You may not be surprised if you have kids, or are an educator (or even know an educator).  When Brooks asks the chairman of the Evanston (Illinois) High School English department about the difficulties involved in teaching the students basic grammar and composition skills, he does two things: 1. offer some edu-speak doubletalk; 2. shamefacedly admit that there’s a lack of will behind teaching that information: “When you start talking about grammar, it’s like asking them to eat their vegetables, and no one wants to ask them to do that.” [my emphasis]

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Following Chekhov’s advice

No, not “Keptin, enemy wessel approaching.”  The original Chekhov.  It goes something like this: “If you mention a podcast while Twittering the first act, you must post a link to it in the third act.”

Or something.  But anyway, I did mention one – specifically, that I made a huge goof about ten minutes into my involvement.  But don’t let that stop y’all.  Here’s WebBard, Keith, and (partway in) yours truly from Lighthouse Hockey, talking about the sport in general and the Islanders in specific, on the Flashlight Podcast.

Comments on Lighthouse are limited to SBN members (with a 24-hour wait) to discourage spambots and trolls, so if you’ve got some feedback, please leave it here for me.  I desperately need it if I’m going to join in regularly.  Thanks!

Coming soon to a book meme near you

Like any good library book, a book meme ought to be borrowed liberally and repeatedly. Tracey borrowed it from Lisa, and now I’m borrowing it from Tracey.

1. Favorite childhood book?

Heh, kind of all of them!  But the one I distinctly remember is Half Magic by Edward Eager.  My copy had an orange cover, and was battered into submission in my heedless youth.  Eventually it fled, no doubt to preserve its yellowing pages with dignity, and leaving me wiser in its absence.  Now I take much better care of my books, including the new copy of Half Magic I found in the bargain bin.  There are books I know are clearly better, but this was an early love that I got to recover, so it goes here.

2. What are you reading right now?

Tom Rogers’ Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics, in which the author destroys bad movie science (warning – contains math), and Dry Storeroom #1 by Dr. Richard Fortey, a semi-memoir, semi-history/behind-the-scenes look at the British Natural History Museum.  Fascinating so far.

3. What books do you have on request at the library?

Right now, none.  We have a great library, and usually find what we look for – or what surprises us, which is often better.

4. Bad book habit?

Oh, I used to be a nightmare – looking at my longest-owned books is a litany of book-reading sins.  I’d dogear them, I wasn’t always careful about the fragility of older pages, and worst, because I could never bother to stop reading long enough, there are water stains from books left face-down on wet counters, food and juice stains from stuff I spilled while I was reading… None of this happens any more.  Though – to my credit, I have never ripped out pages to smoke them.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?

My wife may have a few, but I don’t currently.  Well – more specifically, I don’t know what’s out in my name because my wife just grabs my card if she can’t find hers.

6. Do you have an e-reader?

One Kindle.  Again – Ladybug’s.

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time or several at once?

Prefer’s got nuthin’ t’do with it.  I just read.  I pick them up and chow them down.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?

Well, sometimes I talk about books in intrusive, nosey memes, which I never did before blogging.  But I forgive you.  S’fun.

9. Least favorite book you read this year?

If it bores me, I put it down and that’s the end.  It’s hard to do.

10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?

I found some beautiful old hardcovers at a yard sale that I bought, including a copy of Anne of Avonlea.  I already own it, and I didn’t care, and I re-read it and it was lovely.  For new books – Shades of Gray by Jasper Fforde.  Brilliant.

And there’s more – but it’s HUGE so I’m sticking the last twelve miles of it below the jump.

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