Monday, June 29, 2009

Rest in Peace, America

We lost two entertainment icons last week. Farrah and Michael. May they rest in peace.

America may be history as well. But more on that in a moment.

The loss of any human life is, at its most basic, a tragedy. There is some tragedy in how these two lived their lives, but I am not going to belabor that or lessen the impact their deaths have had on their families. Whatever you think of them, they were human beings, plain and simple.

What I will do, however, is excoriate the mainstream media for forcing it down our throats, non-stop. EVERYTHING on cable programming yesterday afternoon was about the death of Michael Jackson. Everything. I think I even saw him on a Beverly Hillbillies re-run, although I may be mistaken on that point.

I had to literally search for something -- anything -- that discussed the outcome of the vote on the biggest tax attack perpetrated upon the American People. I mean, of course, the so-called cap and trade "HR.2454: Title: To create clean energy jobs, achieve energy independence, reduce global warming pollution and transition to a clean energy economy.

Politically-correct Global Warming crap.

Even the local news spent more time trying to link Michael Jackson's life, somehow, however tenuously, to our little town than they did reporting on how our representatives voted on the cap and tax scheme.

You see, the mainstream media and the Washington insiders did not want the American people to focus on this bill. They knew that there was grave danger to the bill if the people really stood up and took notice.

So what did they do?

What do you do when you take a young toddler to get his or her picture taken? What do you do in church when the same child starts to fuss because you've taken something away from him or her?

You distract them.

You use the squeaky duck toy. You jingle your bright, shiny keys in front of them. Anything to get them to forget the camera or the fragile book you want to get away from their grasp.

At first, I believed that South Carolina Governor Sanford's saga was the shiny thing. After all, why make such a big deal over a person -- even though a Governor -- disappearing to hike in the mountains? I think I would do the same thing if I were in public office: just disappear and be by myself. I did not blame him in the least. But remember how the media kept harping and harping on how horrible it was that he would just "disappear"?

The jingling had started.

Then it was revealed he'd actually been in Argentina, not the Appalachian Trail. Even then, I must say, I was still on his side.

The jingling got louder.

Then it was revealed that the married Governor had left his wife at home and traveled to meet up with his Argentinian girlfriend. Whoops. I jumped off his bandwagon at that point. But the media kept harping and harping, louder and louder.

I think at some point I may have seen a big squeaking bunny toy on the lecturn next to Governor Sanford. Honest.

He looked a bit like Harvey, actually.

I don't blame the criticism of the Governor on this issue. After all, your wife should be the most important part of your life. If you're willing to cheat on that, if your wife means as little to you as that, what are your constituents? "Governor" is just a job, after all is said and done. If I was a South Carolinian, I would feel abused and cheated upon. I would want him run out of the Capitol on a rail.

I still believe that he was the intended "shiny thing." It was all a bit too convenient, timing-wise.

But can you tell me any man in America more grateful at the passing of Michael Jackson? Really? OK, granted, it's a pretty tactless thing to say or think.... But Michael's death (and to a much lesser extent Farrah's death) knocked Sanford right off the front page.

Jingle. Jingle. Look at the shiny keys, Little Darlings.

Unfortunately it appears as the deaths of these two human beings has become the latest "shiny thing" held up and jingled in front of the public to distract them from the more important things in life.

Come to think of it, we lost an "infotainment" icon this morning as well. Mr. Billy Mays. You may not know his name (I did not) -- after all, he's just an infomercial frontman -- but you'll remember him as the pitchman for Oxi-Clean and OrangeGlo, the guy with the big beard and loud, annoying voice. Rest in peace, Billy.

But take notice: an awful lot of attention is being paid to his passing. He was the pitchman for cleaning products in infomercials, for crying out loud. No disrespect intended for the newly-departed, but does he really warrant the barrage of coverage his death is getting? What accounts for this press coverage?

In my opinion, it's simple: the American Sheeple need first to be distracted from the passage of the cap-and-trade fiasco. They do not want you to know about the 300-page amendment that was added to the bill at the last minute.

They do not want you to know that, under this bill, if you sell your house, an environmental group is required to come out and "rate" your house, and you will not be allowed to sell your house until you "modernize" your appliances and have a certified "green" home. Liberty? You rest in peace, will you?

Jingle. Jingle. Jingle.

I am willing to bet that the conspiracy-theorists out there are having a field day. Michael and Billy both die under strange and still-unexplained circumstances? Anyone see the Men in Black around their homes?

Jingle. Jingle. Jingle, JINGLE.

I will be willing to bet there is more -- much more -- coming down the pike that will require further distractions.

What will those distractiosn be? It is anybody's guess at this point.

Rest in peace, Farrah, Michael, and Billy. Rest in peace. At least they do not have to worry about all this any longer. Just rest in peace.

And apparently, I may as well say this while I have my First Amendment right to do so: Rest in peace, America.

At least, the Free America I once knew and loved.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Simply Harry Potter

OK. I know that in my last post I may have indirectly heaped trash on the name of J.K. Rowling.

I swear I heard gasping, because there are so many for whom reading Rowling is nigh-unto worship.

That's why I have been reluctant to admit to you all that in the past nine days I re-read all seven Harry Potter novels. Yep. The entire series. Started on June 7 and ended last night.

It was an enjoyable little jaunt.

I am not going to take back my scorn, however.

And I am going to offend some people.

Yeah, I hear you saying that at least she's published. That people know who she is and who am I to criticize her. I understand all that.

I will admit the books are a somewhat pleasant diversion. But they are just that. There is no deeper meaning to them, although I am sure that the typical liberal-arts loving English professor could deconstruct them and find hidden meaning galore, if not The True Meaning Of Life. (Yes, capitalized even.) I tried last night as I was finishing up The Deathly Hallows. Surely there's a message there about learning the truth about your heroes, some warning to children not to look up to or trust adults, because there's always some hidden evil in their background. That was as close as I got, and if I am right -- if that was intended -- well then, J.K. Rowling should be ashamed of herself.

But see, I am of the opinion -- the STRONG opinion that these books are not children's books. I do not care what kind of marketing strategy or philosophy involved, these are not children's books. In fact, I am ready to argue that allowing a child to read some of these books may be akin to child abuse, or at least indifference to the child's mental/emotional welfare and well-being.

We will not discuss the movies, because I gave up caring after the second one.

But I remember being in a grocery store years ago and watching in disgusted amazement as a three-year-old child pointed at a Harry Potter balloon and called out "Harry Potter! Harry Potter!"

A three-year-old child has NO business knowing who Harry Potter is.

And I am not sure that anyone under the age of mid-teens should know either. My teenager has not read them yet, and has not suffered any ill effects. She may in fact be able to live without reading them; the jury is still out on that one, though. Some sudden attack of fatal lackofpotteritis may yet prove to be her undoing.

Do not get me wrong: I am not going to make the argument of witchcraft and sorcery being peddled to our young. Others have made this argument, that is their prerogative. My thinking? They are fantasy novels. Not reality. Heck, outside of my spiritual endeavors, I spend most of my life in a fantasy world. [Aside: What? You think lawyers are sane individuals fully functioning in reality? I beg to differ.] I cannot take too much umbrage with this point. After all, Gandalf did magic. So did Willy Wonka.

No, I have different issues with Ms. Rowling's works. First and foremost, there is very little pure good represented in the books. Pure evil? Sure, it is everywhere; it saturates her little universe and it pours off the page. But pure good? I challenge you to point to ten major characters that are examples of pure, unadulterated, unquestioned goodness in the novels. No fair using animals: Hedwig and the owls do not count. Neither does Fawkes. I'll start the list, though these should probably be qualified as supporting cast:
1. Hagrid. Hagrid is an innocent and I am hardpressed to remember any specifically bad intentional act. The other characters treat Hagrid with pity, in part because he just doesn't seem as smart as they are.
2. Arthur and Molly Weasley. Again, innocents without any memorable bad intentional act. Again, well-meaning, but portrayed as slightly pitiable or less-intelligent. In fact, I could probably lump Bill and perhaps Charlie Weasley in here as well, but they are even more minor characters than their parents and, as such, perhaps do not warrant inclusion in the discussion at all.
3. Luna Lovejoy. Possibly. Her name just came to me; I will have to reserve judgment unless and until I can remember any specifics. But here again, an innocent that everyone considers to be slightly off-kilter or insane (or stupid).
4. Professor Minerva McGonagall. Again, she just came to me. I will have to think on her. She may be an exception to this list, as she is strong and intelligent.
5. Neville Longbottom. Another innocent. Another slightly off-kilter, slightly less-intelligent member of the cast.

See a trend? The only arguably purely good characters in the books are those that are innocent, naive, and possibly not intelligent. That's a nice portrayal; nice message to send to kids. "Hey, son! Why can't you act more like Neville Longbottom, eh?"

No, the main protaganists -- and by this I mean Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Dumbledore -- none of these are as unequivocally good as Voldemort is unequivocally evil. The Dark Lord has no direct counterpart. Dumbledore has a dark side and has done bad things. Harry and Ron waffle back and forth; they are not examples of pure good. Harry's soul is certainly not as lily-white as Voldemort's soul is midnight-black.

After the whole "peddling-these-books-to-kids" issue, this is my main beef with the books. There is pure good in this world. There is also pure evil. If you are going to acquaint readers with evil, especially if you are going to market to children and acquaint impressionable children with the concept of pure evil, then you better darn well be willing and prepared to acquaint them with the concept of pure good.

Plus, I simply cannot accept these as "great" literature. They are pleasant distractions. They cannot -- no matter how loud the groundlings scream -- compare to Shakespeare. Dickens. Twain. Rand. Do not try and argue; one hundred years from now, two hundred? Will Harry Potter be remembered? Will he be taught in AP English classes? Who's to say? Perhaps our standards are indeed that low. They're already suggested reading in elementary school. [Aside: We actually considered a private school for our oldest when she was ready to start school. The fact that the classrooms displayed posters of Harry Potter and Star Wars actually helped convince us to homeschool. Yes, even with a Star Wars-nerd father. There has to be a line in Education. That is a rant for another day, though.] I hope our standards -- not just as Americans, but as a civilization as a whole -- are not this low; I truly hope not. If she is our day's Shakespeare, we may as well simply throw in the towel.

I hear you saying that Shakespeare wrote to entertain, to satisfy the groundlings. Yes, but he did so with style, skill, and art. While Rowling uses magic as a subject, there is little or no magic in her words. Want to argue? Give me a passage with as much feeling and meaning as these:

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form, in moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?
The Bard distills the essence of what makes up a man: the inherent goodness. And he does so with skill, art, and brevity. In the approximately 3,000 pages of the series, she cannot make Harry -- or, truly, any character -- fit this profile, let alone describe anything with this manner of magnificent prose.

I have actually read a review saying, "This [the fact that the characters, good and evil, are developed in such a way that they are, well, not simply good or evil] is perhaps Rowling's greatest achievement in the book. While the series can be described as an epic tale between good and evil, the individuals involved are not so easily defined." This is said as PRAISE of the books. [Aside: what adds a twist to this review was that it came from socialistworker.org. And yes, it was a random search; I just happened across it. In fact, now that I think about it, there's a whole host of blog entries on the fact that self-proclaimed socialists thrill over the blurring of the lines between good and evil. But I will leave that for another day. I do not want to discuss politics right now.] Sure... it may be an epic tale between good and evil, but it is one without a heck of a lot of real good shining out.

In these dark times, do we not deserve to treat ourselves to a little real good now and then?

And do not our children also deserve it? In fact, is it possible that they deserve it even more?

I know, it's a work of fiction. Why am I getting so riled up?

In part because it is a work of fiction. It is not literature.

Rowling's books surely cannot be part of the works of the Ages. If they are, well, I guess we deserve what we get.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Quote of the Day -- June 10, 2009

Seems, madam! Nay, it is; I know not ‘seems.’
’Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black,
Nor windy suspiration of forc’d breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected haviour of the visage,
Together with all forms, modes, shows of grief,
That can denote me truly; these indeed seem,
For they are actions that a man might play:
But I have that within which passeth show;
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.
William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Act I, Scene ii.

And to think that at one point in my life I thought this was detestable drivel. As I think I have stated here before, I will be forever grateful to a High School teacher, and later two Professors, that instilled in me a love for Shakespeare.

Now, I cannot understand how anyone cannot read this and not say, "wow."

I am trying to instill in my own children a love of Shakespeare early in their lives. It seems to be working, too. I am grateful and hopeful; I see so many others, even within my own extended family (nieces, nephews, cousins) who simply turn up their nose at Shakespeare but drool over the latest from JK Rowling, Danielle Steele, or [shudder] Nora Roberts Stephenie Meyer. And that's when they can even be bothered to pick up a book at all.

Thank you, public education. Well done. Yet another reason to Home School.

Needless to say, when I read or hear something like this passage, I am embarrassed to even pick up a pen to put to paper. Oh that my best could someday equal The Bard's worst.

Finally, I wonder: am I the only one that reads this (and reads it aloud) for fun? I hope not.

OK. I am a nerd.

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Saturday, June 06, 2009

Which Fantasy Author Am I?

Took this test: HERE.

Urg. Not pleased with the results. Too late to go into it tonight, though. More thoughts later....

Your result for Which fantasy writer are you?...

China Miéville (b. 1972)

7 High-Brow, 3 Violent, -3 Experimental and -31 Cynical!


Congratulations! You are High-Brow, Violent, Traditional and Romantic! These concepts are defined below.


China Miéville writes in the British fantasy tradition of authors like Mervyn Peake and Michael Moorcock, a tradition which is a little darker than the Tolkien kind, but Miéville is also a great renewer, as he has taken care to challenge, for example, race-related (or, to be exact, species-related) stereotypes in fantasy. His great breakthrough came with the award-winning novel Perdido Street Station (2000), which is set in the sprawling city of New Crobuzon in the secondary world Bas-Lag. Apart from its urban setting, Perdido Street Station also differ from Tolkien-style fantasy by taking place in an era reminiscent of the Victorian age rather than the typical quasi-medieval setting of so-called high fantasy. This means that Miéville has the opportunity to explore his socialist beliefs in a fantasy environment, even if both Perdido Street Station and its two sequels also feature monsters, adventures and such.


Setting his book in a rather dictatorical society and occasionally spinning his sories around resistance against an oppressive government means that Miéville's books sometimes contain rather horrible violence, made all the scarier because it's often conducted legally by a ruling government. This also makes the boks rather romantic; although the struggle is difficult, the struggle continues and whether you are a socialist like Miéville or not, it's easy to sympathize with the message that the world can be changed for the better. It should also be pointed out that although Miéville is often inventive and has a love for spicing up his prose with archaic words, his books are, narratively speaking, traditional adventure stories. Actually, Miéville has made a point of taking genres such as the pirate story and the Western story and retelling them in a fantasy environment.


Still, Miéville has brought fantasy to new literary heights and can be said to represent hope for the genre's future.



You are also a lot like Michael Moorcock.


If you want something more gentle, try Susan Cooper.


If you'd like a challenge, try your exact opposite, Orson Scott Card.


Your score


This is how to interpret your score: Your attitudes have been measured on four different scales, called 1) High-Brow vs. Low-Brow, 2) Violent vs. Peaceful, 3) Experimental vs. Traditional and 4) Cynical vs. Romantic. Imagine that when you were born, you were in a state of innocence, a tabula rasa who would have scored zero on each scale. Since then, a number of circumstances (including genetical, cultural and environmental factors) have pushed you towards either end of these scales. If you're at 45 or -45 you would be almost entirely cynical, low-brow or whatever. The closer to zero you are, the less extreme your attitude. However, you should always be more of either (eg more romantic than cynical). Please note that even though High-Brow, Violent, Experimental and Cynical have positive numbers (1 through 45) and their opposites negative numbers (-1 through -45), this doesn't mean that either quality is better. All attitudes have their positive and negative sides, as explained below.


High-Brow vs. Low-Brow


You received 7 points, making you more High-Brow than Low-Brow. Being high-browed in this context refers to being more fascinated with the sort of art that critics and scholars tend to favour, rather than the best-selling kind. At their best, high-brows are cultured, able to appreciate the finer nuances of literature and not content with simplifications. At their worst they are, well, snobs.


Violent vs. Peaceful


You received 3 points, making you more Violent than Peaceful. Please note that violent in this context does not mean that you, personally, are prone to violence. This scale is a measurement of a) if you are tolerant to violence in fiction and b) whether you see violence as a means that can be used to achieve a good end. If you are, and you do, then you are violent as defined here. At their best, violent people are the heroes who don't hesitate to stop the villain threatening innocents by means of a good kick. At their worst, they are the villains themselves.



Experimental vs. Traditional



You received -3 points, making you more Traditional than Experimental. Your position on this scale indicates if you're more likely to seek out the new and unexpected or if you are more comfortable with the familiar, especially in regards to culture. Note that traditional as defined here does not equal conservative, in the political sense. At their best, traditional people don't change winning concepts, favouring storytelling over empty poses. At their worst, they are somewhat narrow-minded.



Cynical vs. Romantic



You received -31 points, making you more Romantic than Cynical. Your position on this scale indicates if you are more likely to be wary, suspicious and skeptical to people around you and the world at large, or if you are more likely to believe in grand schemes, happy endings and the basic goodness of humankind. It is by far the most vaguely defined scale, which is why you'll find the sentence "you are also a lot like x" above. If you feel that your position on this scale is wrong, then you are probably more like author x. At their best, romantic people are optimistic, willing to work for a good cause and inspiring to their peers. At their worst, they are easily fooled and too easily lead.


Author picture by the talented artist "Molosovsky". Visit http://www.flickr.com/people/25360041@N06/ for more!



Take Which fantasy writer are you?
at HelloQuizzy


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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Quote of the Day -- June 2, 2009

"The nation which had once held the creed that greatness is achieved by production, is now told that it is achieved by squalor." -- Ayn Rand

I am currently reading Atlas Shrugged for the first time. Glenn Beck first recommended it to his listeners, oh, about a year ago. It has taken me this long to work it through my reading list.

I would highly recommend it to anyone.

It will scare your socks off.

At times it is closer to reading the news than reading a novel, especially a novel written fifty years ago.

It will show you exactly where we, as a country and as a world, are headed.

I plan on blogging on this a bit later, once I have finished the book. [Aside: do not worry, it should not take too long; I pounded through over 400 pages Sunday night alone. Right now I stand about 220 pages from the end.] Let me simply state the assertion right now and I will revisit it later: Ayn Rand was either prescient or a genius regarding the human, governmental, and societal minds.

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