Soundtrack for the weekend

>> Friday, October 02, 2015

Lots and lots of rain expected 'round here, thanks to that Hurricane Joaquin sneaking up on us.  It would have been nice if we'd gotten it in little bits all through the summer instead of all at once right now.

If you're on the east coast, keep your feet dry.  Keeping your feet dry's important, hey?


Goodness, gracious, great balls of fire

>> Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A pathological technology is a triumph of emotional infatuation over reason, logic, and the unpleasant facts of the real world. Such technologies usually center around objects or processes that are physically huge: the airship Hindenburg; an H-bomb blast; a particle accelerator that’s 54 miles in circumference; a starship that would hold thousands of people. All of these things came with grandiose ambitions driven by emotional, romantic, starry-eyed mindsets or utopian spells: Zeppelins were revered by the Germans because of their otherworldly, cosmic, and sublime dimensions; particle accelerators are intended to reveal the innermost secrets of nature, giving us access to knowledge so arcane as to border on the religious. And as for starships, well, what could be more romantic than traveling to the stars?

A further characteristic of pathological technologies is that their proponents routinely underestimate their costs, risks, downsides, and dangers. The Hindenburg was an immense vessel, longer than the U.S. Capitol building, but it was filled with more than 7 million cubic feet of inflammable and explosive hydrogen gas, a fact hardly emphasized in its advertising brochures. Traveling to the stars may sound glamorous, until you realize that if the starship’s velocity were as great as that of the Voyager I spacecraft, which is now receding from us at 38,000 miles per hour, it would take 73,000 years to reach the nearest star, Proxima Centauri.

This is dumb.  I don't know what to make of it.  It's an excerpt adapted from a book, Monsters: The Hindenburg Disaster and the Birth of Pathological Technology, and it's possible something has been lost in the shrinkage.  Except to find out, I'd have to read the whole book, and I'm concerned the rest of the book might be that dumb, and life is short and someday I will die and that day isn't as faraway as it was yesterday.

Perhaps this would have been a perfect book to read when I was in college, and had loads of spare time for books that might prove to be dumb, and death was very far away and not something you thought about because you were twenty-two and the parts of your brain that think about death are mostly preoccupied with thinking about sex, and people you could have sex with, and how you would have sex with the people you could have sex with if you could have sex with the people you could have sex with.

Mr. Regis says that the poor Hindenburg was an example of pathological technology because it was full of hydrogen.  Of course, it wasn't supposed to be.  It was supposed to be full of helium, but the United States was unwilling to sell any under the 1927 Helium Control Act.  To say that the engineers who built the Hindenburg were underestimating the dangers isn't quite right or fair: they were quite aware of the dangers, and decided that the benefits offset the risks.  This isn't necessarily an irrational--or "pathological"--decision: planes, trains and automobiles are loaded with explosive fuel and can fail in all sorts of catastrophic ways, but the modern world is built around them.

The deadliest accident in aviation history, the collision of two Boeing 747s on the runway at Los Rodeos Airport on Tenerife in 1977, resulted in 583 fatalities; that's nearly seventeen times as many people dead, and did you even know about the Tenerife Airport Disaster?  (You might have.  I didn't.  I had to look it up.)  Let's be honest and callous: the Hindenburg "disaster" looms large in the public imagination while the Los Rodeos accident is the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question, or the question to a Jeopardy! answer.  Nearly as many people on Hindenburg's final flight died as did in the worst bus crash in American history.  (Twenty-seven fatalities in Prestonsburg, KY, in 1958; did you know that one?)  Hell, the Hindenburg wasn't even the worst airship disaster ever: seventy-three people went down with the U.S.S. Akron in 1933, 96% of the passengers and crew and more than twice as many lives lost.

But Hindenburg went out spectacularly, in an iconic ball of flame, and just happened to do so in front of four film crews, a gaggle of print reporters and one infamously hyperventilating Chicago radio announcer.  Trans-Atlantic flight was still a novel enough thing for each arrival and departure to still be an item.  And the newsreel producers were anxious for stories with good visuals, radio producers abhorred the great vacuum of the aether, and big-city papers often had two or more daily/nightly editions with column-inches to spare.

That isn't all, though; the unfortunate fact is that Hindenburg died after a decade's worth of airship disasters, including the previously-mentioned Akron crash.  Heavier-than-air flight was, meanwhile, pun inescapable, taking off.  So that was that.

But it needn't have happened.  Probably.  There's still that notion that Hindenburg may have used rocket fuel for doping, but set that aside.  She wasn't supposed to have hydrogen in her belly at all, and the engineers made a good-faith effort to avoid that.

One reason this interests me is because airships are interesting, and that's probably why Mr. Regis is writing his whatever-you-call-that with the unfortunate hook about "pathological technology"; but another thing is that helium is kind of interesting, and there's this intersection of science, tech and politics in the story.  Helium is a noble gas and the second-lightest element in the universe after hydrogen, and that two-fer--nobility and lightness--makes it a bit marvelous there's any in the Earth at all.  Hydrogen is the lightest element and shouldn't be around here either, except it's an atomic slut and attaches itself to nearly everything.  But all the helium flies off into space, except for what has gotten trapped inside of the Earth's crust during radioactive decay--when radioactive elements undergo alpha decay, they spit out a helium nucleus (a.k.a. an alpha particle) and when this happens deep in the ground the poor little thing can't take to the sky like it really wants to.  This is how the United States ended up with a monopoly on helium in the early days of 20th Century: underground helium leaked out when we were drilling for oil, since the underground helium produced by radioactive decay winds up swimming around in natural gas.

When the United States realized how much of it we had in our natural gas reserves, we decided we should keep it, and the 1927 Helium Control Act mandated the keeping of a national reserve and established limits on how much could be sold abroad.  Actually, you know, we wanted it for our own airships, because that seemed like a viable technology at the time, not a "pathological" tech; the Germans used zeppelins as strategic bombers in WWI, and airships possessed cargo and maneuvering capabilities that airplanes and helicopters wouldn't be able to match until the next World War.  So your science is that helium is incredibly rare, your tech is that it seemed incredibly useful, and your politics is that its potential at the time was as a strategically important natural resource that only one country could produce at the time.

(The punchline to all this being, of course, that nobody thinks helium is a rare substance that only exists trapped underground, built up from millions of years of radioactive decay, and everybody just seems to think it's something you can fill up birthday balloons with and inhale if you want to sound funny when you talk.)

The rest of the quoted passage above is similarly dumb.  I didn't mean to go on and on about helium and Hindenburg, and how it wasn't really that bad, it only looked bad, and history and stuff.  I don't get the rest of it.  For instance, I have no idea what the deal is with picking on the Superconducting Super Collider, which was an expensive boondoggle to be sure but had no risks worth mentioning unless we're talking, I don't know, about construction site accidents like a crane falls on somebody or a tunnel collapses.

And what's the deal with starships, which we don't have and are nowhere near having, and nobody is seriously trying to build right now?  It's a nice dream, and I adore Star Trek, but the observation that Voyager I would take 73,000 years to get to Proxima is interesting, not novel.  It's why SF fans debate over whether putting physics-defying FTL ships into a story is "cheating" (or not) and why there are proposals for "generation ships" that would carry the long-distant-descendants of an original crew into space, as well as talk about and research into human hibernation.  I can't make out what's pathological about fantasizing about space travel, although that could be a symptom of the disease (a social disease I share with thousands, if not millions).  "Proponents," anyway, are fantasists, whether they're explicit fantasists (i.e. science-fiction authors and futurists) or are scientists advocating for or conducting the research that might lay the foundations for a human project that's actually plausible--and affordable, with acceptable risks--in some far-distant future era.  Either way, I have trouble thinking of scientific idealists as "pathological."

If you go through to the link to the full excerpt from Monsters, an interesting and funny thing happens.  The piece is about Operation Plowshare, the American project to try and come up with peaceful uses for nuclear weapons.  Plowshare ended up being a bad idea, because nuclear explosions end up having secondary effects that are, ironically, a bit less manageable than the primary results; that is, the pressure wave, thermal radiation and ionizing radiation are all gone very quickly, but the residual radiation--material that becomes radioactive from neutron activation--ends up a long-lingering, dangerous mess.  The interesting and funny thing is that you wouldn't know this from the piece at Slate, which takes it for granted that you'll think blowing things up with nuclear weapons is Inherently Bad (And No Good Can Come Of It), and so in the context of other things that aren't necessarily bad ideas at all like airships, supercolliders, and starships, you find yourself feeling oddly sympathetic with that awful little Hungarian physicist that Dr. Strangelove was modeled after.

There's an old episode of The Simpsons where Homer gets a gun, which he then proceeds to do various insane things with, like opening jars and trying to use it as a television remote control (turning the TV off with a pistol works better than trying to turn it on, for some reason).  Which I mention because it's hard to deny that Dr. Edward Teller was Homer Simpson, only with H-bombs, in that regard.  Hence, Operation Plowshare.  But the thing about this is, why is it a bad idea to dig a canal with an H-bomb, or blow out a tree stump, or turn off your television.  Homer Simpson is a little more obviously stupid with his pistol because (1) we have a bit more familiarity with firearms after several centuries and (2) The Simpsons is an animated comedy program and it's safe to presume that any idea suggested, or course of action taken, by any of the characters is a possible seed for humorous shenanigans.

But it's not necessarily obvious that a nuclear weapon is a bad thing; that is, it's not unreasonable to wonder if you can do anything with a nuclear explosive that you can do with a chemical explosive, only bigger (or smaller, depending on how you look at it--maybe a nuclear device can give you the same bang as a stick of TNT but in a smaller, safer package).  It ends up being unreasonable because of  neutron activation, but since a fusion explosion generates fewer neutrons than nuclear fission, there's still some point in considering the idea.  Eventually, you conclude it's a bad idea; though, unfortunately, it might take some experimentation to confirm that conclusion, and that's where Operation Plowshare ends up being a dangerous and threatening fiasco.

But conventional explosives are useful and dangerous, and it isn't fundamentally unreasonable to consider alternatives, is all.  Nuclear explosives turn out to be a lousy alternative, but the piece at Slate doesn't really tell you why, it just assumes you'll share its assumption that nuclear bombs are bad--that is, that you'll share the author's prejudice and guffaw and nod about how stupid someone would have to be to imagine you might replace a few million tons of dynamite and gunpowder with a few pounds of plutonium.

I could put it this way: reading "What Could Go Wrong?", I ended up comparing Ed Regis and Edward Teller and deciding the weird little man who knifed poor Robert Oppenheimer in the back and spent the years of my childhood trying to get Ronald Reagan to militarize outer space was the relatively reasonable-sounding one.  Can't really do justice to how weird that feels, personally.  Dr. Strangelove is a little unfair to Teller to the extent that mashing-up the Jewish refugee from fascism, Teller, with any number of physicists ostensibly "de-Nazified" by Operation Paperclip after WWII (including the rocketeer Wernher von Braun) is really very unjust; on the other hand, the title character's excitability over dubious propositions seems an apt portrayal (one can easily imagine Edward Teller trying to figure out whether the A-bomb would ignite all the oxygen in Earth's atmosphere--this was a moment of real concern during the Manhattan Project, and Teller's the one who satisfied everyone it wouldn't happen--with the same feverish intensity the Peter Sellers character brings to computing how many females will need to be relocated to the tunnels at the end of Dr. Strangelove, and even imagine Teller being slightly disappointed by the calculation that the Earth won't burn).  Teller was really a bit awful, especially when the dour little doombringer is set next to Manhattan Project alumni like the doubting, tragic Oppenheimer or the bongos-pounding, practical-joking jester Richard Feynman.

I get that if you're going to write yet another book about the Hindenburg, you need some kind of a hook, and "pathological technology" is nicely euphonious even if the meaning is dubious ("pathological, technological" even sounds like something a white rock star in the 1980s--I'm hearing the late Michael Hutchence here, in "Need You Tonight"/"Mediate" mode--would say during an ill-considered attempt to "do that rapping thing I read about in Rolling Stone"; or maybe Sting, yeah, I can kind of hear Sting doing something with that, or a snarling Roger Waters; anyway).  (Also, I just noticed some nice rhyme in "nicely euphonious even if the meaning is dubious," albeit in more of a Tim Rice vein, possibly; a backing choir singing it on a chessboard or while Jesus is being crucified, I guess.  Accidental, though, didn't mean to do it.  The rhyme, I mean.  I've heard the crucifixion was deliberate, but it was well before my time.)  I lost control of this paragraph somehow.  I ought to start over.

I get that if you're going to write yet another book about the Hindenburg, you need some kind of a hook, and "pathological technology" is nicely euphonious even if the meaning is dubious.  But I suppose I'm of that old school that thinks technology isn't anything except what it's used for.  Even if you don't like the primary or intended purpose of a technology, it doesn't mean there's no legitimate use for it; as much as I dislike guns, I admit they're useful for putting venison in a stew, and I do like a good venison stew.  It's probably good policy to limit the numbers of nuclear weapons in the world, but I can think of peaceful uses that might be at least discussed and perhaps merit keeping a few lying around somewhere--Project Orion is an interesting idea, at least, aside from the legal objections to it, and we might need to do something about a space rock o'death sometime, for instance.  I can't really bring myself to say that airships are an inherently bad idea, and not just because of the romance of airship travel between the wars: it does seem to me that a lighter-than-air transport could be useful and efficient in some contexts where a stable aerial platform might be called for or where air travel is desired but the speed (and fuel consumption) of a jet plane isn't required.  I'm willing, anyway, to think about it, and maybe these technologies are obsolete as astrolabes, but I wouldn't simply take the idea for granted.

The whole thing just seems pretty dumb to me.  Is there a point in reading the book to make sure, or should I just do what I'm faulting Regis for and make some grand assumptions?


Quote of the day: Life moves on, and creatures change edition

>> Wednesday, September 02, 2015

I know it’s hard to look at her without cringing, with those overdone smokey eyes and that $2 merkin of a wig, but LOOK ANYWAY. I’ve seen Porky the Pig’s drag show many times, and let me tell you something—you’d need at least 200 Denises to match the fierceness and slay-bilities of the West Village’s very own Miss Porque Chop. But who are we kidding? Denise isn’t even close to the hardest hog to beat. You can find more glam in the meat counter at Whole Foods.

- Definitely Not Miss Piggy,
Jezebel, September 1st, 2015

Look, I know it's hard when a beloved celebrity couple breaks up, people, but we need to be adults about this.  Sometimes, you know, a pig and a frog just... grow apart.  It's sad, but it happens.  He's not the banjo-playing amphibian she fell for, she's not the little pork dumpling he used to know.  They meet new barnyard animals or... uh... well, like, I don't know, like crazy... monster... weird... whatever some of those things are... or....  Anyway, they meet new... whatevers, and they move on with their respective lives.  And we should respect that.  We should not judge.  We should love them for all their faults and wish them well, and not spew hateful misporcine invective at anyone.

Let me just add as a personal note to the author(ess) of the above quote, should (s)he come across this post: I notice that you claim to be, "someone with no affiliation with Miss Piggy or those who represent her whatsoever," and of course I have no reason to doubt your word, "Definitely Not Miss Piggy."  But on the off chance that you should have some sort of contact with Miss Piggy--should you, say, run into Miss Piggy on the street and introduce yourself as the author(ess) of a blog post about Miss Piggy--could you relay a message to her from so many of us.  Could you tell her that we love her dearly, and while she may not be ready to hear it, we hope she will understand that a refusal to take sides is not the same thing as siding against you her.  We don't approve of his infidelities, but we still have a fondness and admiration for his talent, and our lingering affection causes us to wish for him the best just as we wish the best for Miss Piggy.    She might consider, too, that it is often better to be unhappy apart than miserable together, and that--though I'm sure she doesn't want to hear it--what will be will be; Que Sera, Sera, as Doris Day once put it; if Miss Piggy and Kermit are meant to be together, it will happen in its time without being pushed, but if they are meant to be separate, no matter how much they love one another, it may be best for them to cherish the memories of happier times and to see if the bitterness will fade enough for the two to find some measure of happiness as colleagues with a history and legacy together, if not (better still, we hope) happiness as good friends.

Good luck, Miss Piggy, and know that you are loved.  Wherever you are, I mean.


Dumb Quote of the Day: Standing on a Collapsing Roof edition

>> Friday, August 28, 2015

Flanagan was consumed with race hatred, and was disciplined by the television station for which he worked at the time for, among other things, wearing a Barack Obama button while he stood in line to vote. So why do we not retroactively conclude that images of Barack Obama are hateful, like the Confederate flag, and must be banned? Glenn Reynolds asks, "Will Obama apologize for the behavior of one of his followers?" Of course not. But imagine if a racist white killer who worked for a television station had been similarly disciplined for wearing, say, a Ted Cruz button. Do you not think that fact would be deemed highly relevant, and highly embarrassing to Senator Cruz?
Powerline, August 27th, 2015

Where do we begin?  Do we perhaps begin with the basic factual error in the above paragraph, which is that Vester Lee Flanagan wasn't reprimanded for wearing an Obama button while voting, but for wearing an Obama sticker while covering the 2012 election at a polling place for WDBJ?  (That link, by the way, being the very same one Hinderaker provided, so he certainly seems to have failed the comprehension portion of the reading test.)  Do we begin with the fact that the only people who have ever associated President Obama with racism have been a vocal subset of white reactionaries who have been looking for "reverse-racism" from the President going all the way back to the Reverend Jeremiah Wright nonsense, while the various Confederate flags have been a symbol of white supremacy movements all the way back to 1861?  Do we simply skip to the rhetorical question at the end and answer that the fact a murderer once wore a Ted Cruz button at some moment in his career would probably be pretty irrelevant and not particularly embarrassing to Senator Cruz unless, perhaps, the killer tried to credit Cruz for his actions in much the same way two Bostonians apparently credited Donald Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric for their alleged assault on a Hispanic man, in which case, maybe?

What's really swirling around the bottom of the drain in Hinderaker's post is a profound ignorance.  Dylann Roof's spree-killing wasn't the reason the Confederate battle flags started coming down or almost coming down across the South.  Or it wasn't exactly the reason; all Roof did was create a situation horrible enough that even politicians who previously supported the flying of the Confederate flag had to agree with people who had been calling for its removal for decades.  To be even more specific, one of Roof's victims was an extremely popular fellow-legislator whose death rattled colleagues whose only stake in the issue had previously been its appeal as a hot-button issue for some of their supporters or a historical interest in their own family's role in the war.  Perhaps if Hinderaker knew what he was going on about, he'd realize that what happened wasn't so much a "leftist" exploitation of a new tragedy, but rather a tragedy that personally touched people forging a consensus around one side that had been critiquing, lobbying, and occasionally picketing since the 1950s.

Indeed, it's worth mentioning that Hinderaker's framing does a grave disservice to his own side.  The fact is that the politicians who brought down the Confederate flag in South Carolina were Republicans; the Democrats never had the votes or influence to make it happen, and the change had to be brought about by conservative stalwarts like Governor Nikki Haley and Representative Doug Brannon, with the support of national-level Republicans like Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush.  (Regular readers may well note the date and time of this post as being one of the few and rare times this blog has ever unironically and unsnarkily praised members of the GOP.)  One might uncharitably wish that it hadn't taken a mass-murder for some of these folks, members of the Party of Lincoln, to recognize both the root-history of the Confederate flags and the taint of the flags' embrace by contemporary white supremacist groups, but the thought is unkind, unfortunate and irrelevant: what matters is that these folks decided to plant their feet on the right side of history and take a hard stand that brought them death threats and hostility from many of their own supporters.  Doing the right thing even when it's a hard thing is a sign of nobility, and I may disagree with Governor Haley et al. on nearly every other thing you could think of, but I'm pleased to thank them and praise them for this one thing, at least; Hinderaker, on the other hand, would take away the pride, nobility and bravery of their accomplishment and pin it on my side as if framing us for some supposed crime.

No thanks: all we did was stay the course and we're happy some of our former opponents came around and saddened by the loss--including the personal loss of a friend--that helped them come around to our way of thinking about this one issue.

Hinderaker does go on to say some less-stupid things about the lack of mental health care in the country, though I'm not sure he and I would agree on what could be done about it.  Of course, he also does that as a bit of misdirection away from the gun control issues that Vester Flanagan raises: Flanagan may have been violently mentally ill, but perhaps if he'd been a violently mentally ill man with a chainsaw or a pair of rusty garden shears, he'd have been easier to get away from or capable of less damage (especially if he tried wielding such things one-handed while filming his crime with his cell phone).  

Gun control is basically a dead issue in this country.  If the deaths of a bunch of little kids in school didn't change that, one doesn't imagine the deaths of a couple of adults doing so, either.  But since Mr. Hinderaker brings it up (if only to wave his hands at mental illness and shout, "Look over here!  Over here!"), I'll just say, yet again, that all the gun-advocates seem bizarrely smitten with the idea that decreasing the number of firearms in circulation would accomplish nothing because crazy people are crazy.  Hinderaker tries to make some hay out of saying, "insane people like Dylann Roof and Vester Flanagan keep passing background checks" without getting anywhere near the point that background checks are a poor compromise between making guns slightly harder to sell without making them noticeably more difficult to own, and that an extended program of grandfathering-out classes of firearms (for instance) would eventually result in people like Roof and Flanagan having less opportunity to get hold of firearms, would limit the kinds of firearms they might manage to get anyway, and would perhaps prove to be such a pain in the ass to people who want to kill right now that they might have to resort to things like knives that are capable but not nearly so efficient.

(On a tangent: earlier this week I read a New York Magazine story about a pair of mentally-ill children who stabbed another child 19 times and managed to not-kill her.  The story is depressing and troubling, and is a must-read if you're strong of heart and a must-avoid if you don't want to spend a long quiet interval staring into space contemplating despair, and I really only include the link in case you don't believe me: 19 times.  And one wonders how many people--surely some, surely not many--and how many children, especially, might survive being shot 19 times, as opposed to being stabbed 19 times; a knife being a lethal weapon, yes, but one that requires exertion, a lethal weapon that can be fended off, a lethal weapon that requires a physical intimacy with the victim, a lethal weapon that can only penetrate flesh so-far before it has to be withdrawn--sometimes with nearly as much physical effort as burying the blade was in the first place.  There's a reason people don't hunt for deer with knives (I mean as a weapon, not as a tool for cleaning a carcass, and you knew that), a reason people don't fight wars by charging each other across a field with kitchenware drawn and ready.  Nineteen times.  The body, even a child's body, is a resilient thing--it has to be, that's how Nature forged us over millions of years of evolution--but it's not immortal or indestructible.  Nineteen knife wounds.  And the poor child will suffer grievously, but lives.)

There's a bit more stupidity about "Flanagan’s hateful ideology."  Hinderaker, echoing some idiocy on the part of the I-thought-he-was-smarter-than-that Glenn Reynolds wonders why Black Lives Matter won't "disband, and stop stirring up race hate," which is something I hadn't noticed them doing; I thought they were simply trying to point out that the black lives matter as much as white people's lives in a country with a depressing history of completely devaluing black lives in the century-and-a-half since it became illegal to price them in dollars at auction houses.  Regardless, it's awfully convenient and facile for Hinderaker (and Reynolds) to suggest an equivalency between organizations that Flanagan might have supported and organizations Dylann Roof is known to have supported when the latter includes groups like The Council of Conservative Citizens, "an American white supremacist organization that supports a large variety of conservative and paleoconservative causes in addition to white nationalism."  Reynolds, calling Flanagan "a black Dylann Roof," asks, "Will we see culture war unleashed against any organizations he [Flanagan] might have supported?" and answers himself, "Of course not. That sort of thing only goes in one direction," which saddens me a bit because I really did think Reynolds was better than that even if I disagreed with him: I really, sincerely assumed that if there was one thing the left and right could declare "culture war" on as a united front it would be things like the CCC, but Reynolds' tone suggests I may be wrong about that and that I'm supposed to feel bad about declaring a "culture war" on neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates, white supremacists, and proud race-mongering fascists.

It's typically considered bad form to answer a question with a question, but at this point the only response I can come up with to the rhetorical questions about culture wars and disavowing Flanagan and embarrassments and whatever is, What the fuck, man?.  "WTF?" as the kids these days like to say.  And at first I thought I'd ask this rhetorically, as a rhetorical flourish, What the fuck, man? and then mic-drop and roll offstage (stage left, natch), but as I think about it, I really must ask this question with some sincerity and wondering about fucks.  I can get a certain white lack-of-comprehension or thin-skinnedness about Black Lives Matter--it's stupid, please understand, but I can get how the phrase can be almost-willfully misconstrued into some kind of relative statement about non-black lives--but to then go the extra step and compare a movement that has engaged in mostly-peaceful pickets and assemblies for the cause of holding police officers accountable for the people they shoot to groups that basically think the wrong side won the American Civil War? 

What the fuck?

An update/addendum: as originally posted, I wrote about Dylann Roof as a supporter of Stormfront, a neo-Nazi group.  Upon further self-checking, I find that Roof's connections to Stormfront, if any, are apparently still unclear.

It appears that a more-certain influence on Roof was The Council of Conservative Citizens, an organization whose status as a hate group is a little murkier.  That is, there are several prominent conservatives who have been or are associated with the organization, deny that its a "racist" organization despite the group's apparent sympathies with white separatists and white supremacists, and the group has the continued endorsement of Ann Coulter (who I swore to myself I'd never mention by name again, having decided she's a troll who very possibly doesn't believe a word she espouses) and Pat Buchanan  (who is a prince among men, a real prize specimen).

This does lead me to reappraise what I wrote, a little; there are people on the right who think the CCC is being misjudged and maligned by the left, and that they're just another conservative club being slandered and libeled and the questions and criticisms politicians like Trent Lott received about their association with the CCC were/are nothing more than witch-hunting.  And if you believe that, I suppose you might find what I consider to be an obvious (and offensive) false equivalency to be palatable.

So, y'know, I'll float that just in the interest of fairness: maybe you think the Council of Conservative Citizens has gotten a bum rap and focusing on Dylann Roof's admiration for the organization is even bummier.  I have to admit, I think less of you if that's where you're coming from, but I guess it's less-obviously stupid even if I think it makes you something of an asshole for equating Black Lives Matter to an organization that "...oppose[s] all efforts to mix the races of mankind, to promote non-white races over the European-American people through so-called' affirmative action' and similar measures, to destroy or denigrate the European-American heritage, including the heritage of the Southern people, and to force the integration of the races."  I'm not aware of anyone from Black Lives Matter getting on about "race-mixing," but hey, you say "potato," I say, "bunch of unreconstructed redneck racist fuckwits who subscribe to vile prejudices," but hey, y'know, maybe that's just the funny regional way words get pronounced differently in different places, or depending on how you grew up.


Dreams of my father's shirt

>> Wednesday, August 05, 2015

On the one hand, I don't really want to get into it: one of the problems we've created for ourselves is that our politicians aren't allowed to have personal lives, aren't allowed to make mistakes (however trivial), aren't allowed histories (hagiographies and the occasional redemption narrative aside, I mean).

And yet, I can't read this:

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is not shying away from his family legacy in his campaign.

The Republican presidential candidate unveiled a new online store on his campaign website that is offering a $25 T-shirt with the quote: "My dad is the greatest man I’ve ever known, and if you don’t think so, we can step outside."
Time, August 5th, 2015.

Without thinking about this:

One night, George W. brought his fifteen year-old brother Marvin with him to a party, where both of them were drinking.  On the way back, George W.'s car hit a neighbor's trash can and carried it down the block.  Once they were home, his father sent word that he wanted George W. to come see him in the den.  George W. was in no mood for a polite lecture.  "I hear you're looking for me," he told his father.  "You wanna go mano a mano right here?"  The confrontation ended without a fight when George W.'s brother Jeb interceded to calm him down.
- James Mann, George W. Bush: The American Presidents Series: The 43rd President, 2001-2009, pp. 14-15.

I mean, this seems pretty funny and tone-deaf to me: the story about a young, inebriated George W. Bush challenging his distinguished, war-vet dad to fisticuffs is a story that's sufficiently well-worn and well-retold that you have to wonder why his campaign would put out a t-shirt that practically invites retorts like, "You mean 'mano-a-mano'?" and "With him or with you?  Do I hafta stand in line behind your brother?"

I suspect that every young man on Earth has foolishly wanted to punch his dad at some point in his life, even if he had the best dad in the world.  I don't think the story about Young George challenging Old George to a brawl says much of anything about G.W. as a man except that he was once a foolish and belligerent child like any other man was a foolish or belligerent child (though G.W. may have been a bit more inebriated than most), and even less about his Presidency, the foibles and missteps of which continue to speak for themselves.

But I do find myself wondering about this shirt and Jeb, you know.  Did nobody on Jeb's campaign team think to ask if they wanted to risk reminding everybody about G.W.'s boorish, potted adolescence?  What is it about the Bush men challenging people to fights?

And, for that matter, what does the statement on the shirt even mean?  I have no idea who Jeb Bush knows or has known, and if his dad is the greatest man he's ever known, I'm not sure how I could dispute that even if I wanted to.  I think I'd probably need him to make some kind of list, maybe, so I could see what other men he claims to have ever known, and then perhaps compare George H.W. Bush to the other men on the list; even then, it's pretty subjective.

Also, while I realize that Jeb Bush is a Catholic and they don't have the whole "personal relationship" dealie that evangelicals go on about, I was sort of under the impression that if you're a Republican politician, the correct answer to, "Who is the greatest man you've ever known?" is "Jesus."  I'm pretty sure that that's the answer Rick Santorum will give if the question comes up during the Seven Dwarfs portion of first Republican presidential debate on Fox News on August 6th.

Also also, I would have assumed that Jeb Bush would have met Ronald Reagan while his dad was Vice-President during Reagan's administration, and I was also sort of under the impression that if you're a Republican politician, the other correct answer to "Who is the greatest man you've ever known?" is, "You mean other than Jesus?  Ronald Reagan."  Assuming you've met Reagan, of course.  Which, like I just wrote, I would have assumed Jeb did, though maybe I'm wrong or maybe Jeb just sort of grappled with the magnificence of Reagan through an intermediary and can't claim a personal connection to Reagan, which is sort of apt for a Catholic if you think about it, right?

Or am I misunderstanding the shirt altogether, and it's like a son's equivalent of a "World's Greatest Dad" coffee mug?  Maybe I buy the shirt wanting to advertise that my dad's the greatest man I've ever known, and to hell with Jeb Bush's dad who I've never met, and if you don't believe that my dad is the greatest man I've ever known we can go outside... and I'm not really a fighter, so I guess we could talk about it?  Or take a walk?  If there are ducks around, we could sit on a bench and watch ducks.  Ducks are cool.  They might even turn out to be the greatest ducks we've ever known.  Probably not, but how many ducks do we know?

My dad is a pretty good guy, but I have to admit I'm reluctant to say he's the greatest man I've ever known.  Nothing against my dad, mind you.  I think it's more that I'm afraid of what that statement would say about me, which is that most of the men I've known have turned out, upon closer acquaintance, to be unimpressive.  I think what I'm trying to say is that my dad has a pretty low bar to clear even after my forty-three years on Earth, and Abraham Lincoln and Gandhi and Albert Einstein are all dead and turn out to have been flawed weirdos anyway if you go by any relatively-recent biographies.  My dad's a good enough guy that if I told him he was the greatest man I've ever known, he'd probably be disappointed and wonder why I didn't get out more.  (Maybe that's a sign of greatness.  How the hell would I know?)

But so: here's a t-shirt that could not only draw snarkery from bleeding hearts like me, but also seems like it could invite a certain amount of ridicule from the right-wingers who probably don't like or trust Jeb already.  Which leads one to wonder who this shirt is for: since it would only be purchased by people who are going to give to your campaign anyway, why not just save the cost of making the shirts?  Though I guess that's not how politics works, for reasons I can't pretend to understand.  Sort of like the way PBS gives away tote bags to people who would donate to PBS anyway, and sure, donors like to advertise they donated and a tote bag lets them do that, but doesn't the cost of printing tote bags partly negate the contribution?  There's probably some arcana here I'm too thick or lazy to grok.

I should wrap this up, and so will say in conclusion that I don't really get Jeb's shirt and think it's kind of stupid, and hey, remember that time George W. Bush wanted to beat up his dad?  And also that the best t-shirt I've seen recently is CrazyDog T-shirts "Ask Me About My Facehugger," tee, which I think is pretty funny.  I realize that Jeb Bush doesn't want opinions from crazy liberal socialist atheist humanist weirdies like me, but I think Jeb should totally sell "Ask Me About My Facehugger" tees, and if he did, while I still wouldn't vote for him, I'd find him slightly less objectionable.  Also, I probably wouldn't buy one from him because I'm a fat guy and nobody wants to see my belly button, and the whole point of the gag is you have few enough body-image issues that when somebody says, "Okay, what about your facehugger?" you can flip your shirt over your head.  Hopefully not while smoking a cigarette or drinking a beer, but, you know, flip! and now they know about your facehugger, har-har-har.  But yes, Jeb should sell these.  Because they're awesome.


Spoiler: the Dungeons & Dragons movie will be a trilogy, at the end of which Wolverine finally becomes a first-level Bard

>> Tuesday, August 04, 2015

The Dungeons & Dragons Movie of Your Dreams Is Rolling Your Way

But will it be the Dungeons & Dragons movie of my 7th grade dreams?

I'm happy to say, based on a plot summary leaked to Standing on the Shoulders of Giant Midgets, that the answer is yes!

In the fantastic medieval kingdom of Centere Wyrlde, a party of adventures embark on the adventure of a lifetime in a world of adventure.  Join Hugh Mann the Magic-User, Tommy the Thief, Myzzrylazzar the Blackhearted, Janna Apollo, and Wolverine as they face off against Ents, Darkone the Necromancer, Fake Tiamat, Actual Tiamat, the Knights Who Say "Ni!", Meggadeathe the Shadow Ninja, and Lord Noruas in a cosmic battle to recover Excalibur on behalf of King Dio (who, unbeknownst to the party, is really the Polymorph Self-ed god Thor, who needs to return the sword to Odin's Treasury before Pluto, God of the Underworld, can claim it and bring about the resurrection of a million evil skeleton warriors who really have the stats for vampires).

Thrill as the party encounters the Girdle of Gender-Swapping, the Deck of Many Things, a Cursed Ring -3, a Bag of Holding that totally turns out to be a Bag of Devouring, and stumbles across a large dragon hoard that turns out to mostly be copper pieces and small rocks that were just enchanted to look like gold and platinum.  Hang onto the edge of your seat as Hugh Mann casts Identify on every single stupid magic item after the Bag of Devouring eats Myzzrylazzar's +2 Flaming Dagger, and then has to totally re-learn the spell afterwards because he totally forgets it after use and if he learns it twice he won't be able to slot Magic Missile and that's totally his best spell, man.

Will Hugh Mann the Magic-User trip over a stump and instantly die from his injuries?  Will Wolverine discover Tommy the Thief's pilfering of the party's potion stores?  And if he does, will he accept Tommy's explanation that, "I'm a thief, dude, so it's okay if I steal stuff because it's what I do"?  Will Janna Apollo lose all of his Cleric powers and become a fallen Paladin when he's accidentally "That's so Chaotic Neutral, man; Lawful Good means leaving at least a fifteen percent tip for your serving wench"?  Will Myzzrylazzar touch a lady's boob that isn't his own?  Can the party obtain a 10' pole out in the middle of nowhere to probe the ground in front of them after Tommy the Thief totally fails to disable the trap that caused him to freeze to death and catch on fire at the same time even though that spell totally isn't in the Player's Handbook and that's just cheating now?  Is there a cure for touching a Sphere of Annihilation?  Shouldn't the claws Wolverine got from that Ring of Three Wishes do at least shortsword damage instead of dagger damage?  Wait, why did the DM agree to that last bit so readily and start laughing so hard he knocked over the Doritos bowl?  Will Doug realize he should have also wished for immunity to damage from his own claws before he unsheathes them or after he has to roll for damage?  Why do gnomes suck?

I cannot begin to express my excitement for this movie.  Come on, WB, get this thing in theatres already!


Karen O, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross - "Immigrant Song"

>> Friday, July 31, 2015

I apologize for not knowing this existed until today.  Please, please, please forgive my transgression.


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