Friday, March 27, 2015

The War of Art

[with regards to the terrific book]

Can't possibly agree more with these authors over the idea of an app that bowdlerizes e-books. I have been working on a couple of (I hope) creative writing projects here and there, and so I suppose I'd have some sort of dog in the fight should I decide to publish any of it. Even the small stuff I have published on Amazon, the annual blog roundups and Asshole compilations, it would be annoying to think that someone was reading them with one eye squinted, ever on alert for Those Terrible Words.

What a way to go through life, needing everything cleansed, sanitized for your protection. Life generates in the soil, and in art, the most interesting signs of life can be found in the things that take you out of your comfort zone, that provide at least a frisson of danger and menace, of unseemliness.

I can't begrudge an app maker his opportunity to turn a buck; I'm sure the people who buy and use the app to its full capacity will love their squeaky-clean reading experiences, as sparkly and dull as a mass-produced Kincade litho, the light beaming just so on the cobblestone, whilst the dappled waterfall courses just beyond, glistening in the sun, a unicorn astride a perfect rainbow at the edge of the image.

Obviously spectra shift; just as most professional Democrats now lionize the eminently moderate, reasonable conservatism of Ronald Reagan, simply because Reagan (like Nixon and Eisenhower) would have to run in that party these days, so too do artistic boundaries shift. Music and movies re-align much more quickly, of course, due to the ephemeral nature of those media and their promotional mechanisms, and also because Americans read less frequently, and less challenging material. (In the aggregate, of course -- I'm not talking about you, Gentle Reader!)

But the thing is, as Chuck Wendig (and go check out The Kick-Ass Writer if you're so inclined, good stuff throughout) points out, the problem with the pecksniffs is that they have somehow conflated profanity as being inversely (or at least obliquely) proportional to overall quality. And that's just not true, not in general anyway.

I should probably do a couple of different word counts here someday, when I have the time (which will be roughly the 12th of never; mark your calendars), both in total count and in the usage of (let's say) Carlin's seven words, plus any others I've conjured in my more inventive moments. The thing is, I (and I assume every other person who writes regularly, regardless of whether they are professional writers) strive to use words with intent. Whether the word is fork or friend or fuck, rest assured that while there may be a clunker or a forced one here or there, ninety-nine times out of a hundred it is placed with intent. This is true as much for "regular" words as for "profane" ones.

Profanity, the pecksniffs and bowdlerizers should understand, is useful in its emphasis and versatility, its immediacy and impact, its ineffable rhythm. I can describe a villainous person in a hundred words or more, beat around the bush, try to convey my perception, or I can cut to the chase and say this guy's a fucking asshole. Boom. Even your pearl-clutching Aunt Minnie knows by-gawd right away what that is all about. There is no misinterpretation possible. The intent is clear, as is the degree of intent.

Look. As a parent, I get it, to a certain extent. We try to strike a noble balance between protecting our kids from the ugly shit that a small but noisy chunk of humanity (or something perilously close) has to offer, and raising a sheltered veal that's unprepared for at least recognizing said ugliness when the time comes to fly from the nest.

And it's not like the Clean Reader folks are forcing anyone to buy their app, not like a fascist, theocratic state is forcing the peons to use the app. This is not Saudi Arabia, folks, despite what some of our fellow morlocks and their anointed dogsbodies might prefer.

But to me, redacting or changing the words of a writer, even an f-bomb, whether from Chuck Wendig, Stephen King, whoever -- that's a desecration. King's a great example, in fact; I've enjoyed his writing since I was in junior high school, and it would be hard to think of a modern contemporary writer who throws down the word fuck with more passion, precision, humor.

Certainly some writers, like hack comics, rely on it to a gratuitous extent. Changing one of King's fucks would be like removing a couple of key notes from, say, Clapton's Crossroads solo, or penciling a mustache on the Mona Lisa. Most of it's there, but something's off. Remember when they tried to syndicate The Sopranos on A&E? What a monkey-fuck that was.

Lesson:  If it ain't broke, don't fuck with it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Dick Dynasty

If I'm going to bother to pray, it's going to be for Phil Robertson to kindly go fuck himself, and take his retarded "show" and his bullshit fantasies with him. Your fifteen minutes are up, and you're still a braying shitbird, "dude." I might actually order a Duck Dynasty t-shirt just to make a YouTube video of me taking a big creamy dump on it, and wiping my ass with it. These American ISIS types can go straight to hell already.

Of course, I could easily deconstruct everything Robertson actually said at this so-called prayer breakfast, and point out fact-by-fact how he has a bizarre and ridiculous misunderstanding of what atheists actually believe (and don't believe). I could point out that his weirdly detailed torture/murder fantasy of his imaginary atheist family says a lot about Robertson's fevered brain, just as much it utterly denies how a real Christian would characterize their savior's message of love and tolerance.

But it would be a waste of time to do that. Robertson is a turd who inexplicably got rich and famous for doing very little, and has chosen to use his platform to push a cultlike mentality of what constitutes morality and belief. This pig-fucking dipshit can't disappear soon enough.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Yahweh or No Way

The tragic news of seven children perishing in a fire in an Orthodox household, started by a malfunctioning hot plate left on for 25 hours through the sabbath observance, naturally inspires the usual religion-bashing for some. Perhaps not without some justification -- after all, seven children died under entirely preventable circumstances. (And is it just me, or is this just about the weirdest, dopiest write-up of such a tragedy? "Red Devil"? Hanh?)

To me, the various "step on a crack, break your mama's back" sabbath rules are less of a point of conjecture than the cheats some "believers" have developed to work around said rules. Cafeteria Catholics are one thing, but it is truly perplexing that someone would take the time to modify existing pieces of standard equipment like telephones and elevators just to avoid pushing buttons.

One would think that the spirit of the Melacha rules, aside from showing compliance with the rules, is to encourage the believer to use the sabbath day for contemplation and reflection. Or not; maybe the rules are just there to make sure people obey them. In either case, what is the urge there to try to find ways to sneak around the rule?

Apparently this hot plate work-around -- and the house fires that start when they're left on for too long -- is commonplace in these communities, which makes you wonder if they can't just make a sandwich or something for the night, have some cereal, something that doesn't require you to leave a dangerous device plugged in all night. No deity worth worshipping would seriously expect you to endanger your life and your family's lives with obsessive rule-following.

Perhaps instead of finding inventive ways to squint around the foma, it might be more productive -- and intellectually honest -- to simply decide to obey them, or not.

World On Fire

The Republicans are basically the proverbial car-chasing dog who, once he's caught his quarry, has no idea what to do with it. If they really want to stick with their formula of Johnny Walnuts having a permanent seat at the Sunday morning follies, the usual think-tank monkeys agitating for war with whoever looks good, and Ted Cruz making an ass of himself at every turn, hey, go with what you know, guys.

It's become a well-worn truism that football (yes, American football, dammit) has become more dangerous in recent years not in spite of better technology, training, and protective gear, but because of those things. Instead of average-sized men holding off-season jobs to make ends meet so they can play football for a couple months in the fall, you now have superbly conditioned, freakishly proportioned men colliding with one another in suits of technologically sophisticated armor, at much higher rates of force and impact than in the era of Chuck Bednarik.

Similarly, the rapid advancement of drone technology has emboldened the hawks to instantly assume that airstrikes and drone-bombings are the "safe" option. And they are safe -- for us. Drones give policy-makers, armchair generals, and average joes alike the ability to just not think about there being any consequences to military actions. Not that they think about those things unless they or one of theirs is in the line of fire.

It's bad enough that we have been bombing -- maybe not indiscriminately, but not all that carefully either -- civilians in remote areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. But airstriking Iranian nuclear facilities means hitting cities. Tehran and its suburbs have somewhere around 20 million people. The nuclear labs have been quite deliberately placed in populated areas, albeit mostly underground. They make it sound so simple, we'll just "take out" their facilities, knock out their program, end their attempt at regional hegemony. Done and done.

Did we not just finally extricate ourselves from a decade-long clusterfuck that was sold as a slam-dunk, one that we'll be paying the financial, ethical, and medical costs for the next generation? Is the region not worse off in every way since we barged in and gave them their sweet, sweet freedom? Is there really a preponderance of 'murkins that thinks it's a simple and good plan to "surgically strike" the Iranians pre-emptively, that moral considerations aside, it would even just accomplish what its advocates say it will accomplish, nothing more, nothing less?

I don't think anyone has any illusions about what Iran is up to here. They really are moving, quickly and with purpose, to expand their influence in the Middle East. They are Bashar Assad's lifeline; they do flex nuts in Beirut, Damascus, and Baghdad -- and now in Sana'a, Yemen. They are surrounding the Saudis, waiting for the off chance that they flinch and provoke the Iranians, or more likely, waiting for ISIS to continue streaming into Saudi from the north, radicalizing an already radical citizenry, overthrowing the petrocrats, sending that country and probably the world economy into (to put it lightly) a turbulent situation.

So no one's saying that they're the good guys, the mullahs. But when the very same people who got us into Iraq are insisting that we simply must start it up with Iran, that it'll be quick and precise and work better than any other option, well, that's the time when you look at the people and politicians in this country, the United States, and see if they're ready to fall for that one again, so soon after the last one.

Some of them will; some of them are always ready to fall for whatever affirms their assumptions about how the world works. Some of them have trouble remembering that while we are friends to Israel (and they have the checks to prove it), our foreign policy is supposed to protect our interests first. But if it's a majority that's in favor of that mess, then you have a real problem.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Cotton Pickin'

Tom Cotton fits in perfectly with the current iteration of the Republican party, in that the more you get to know him, his stances on various issues, and the idjits he rolls with, the less you like about him. Like good ol' Fredo Arbusto, Cotton seems to be determined to undermine whatever credibility remains in a Hahvahd pedigree.

I mean, when you consider the standard media propaganda model, it makes a twisted sort of sense that Bill Kristol gets so much air time. Like the political class he clucks about, Kristol is a pedigreed, sinecured schmuck with the track record of a county fair chicken crapping on a bingo sheet. He's perfect for helping his insect corporate overlords sell pharmaceuticals, outsized trucks, and hemorrhoid crèmes. (And perpetual war for perpetual peace. With other people's kids, of course.)

But the idea of someone who actually affects policy and decisions taking Kristol's advice, not just with a block of salt but at all, such a person has instantly disqualified themselves from serious consideration. I have a ton of misgivings about Obama's foreign policy acumen; he seems to think it's chess when it's really poker. But Kristol isn't even playing Stratego, more like fifty-two pickup.

Re-Home Alone

When I heard about this motherless fuck -- and these other motherless fucks -- I managed to become offended on no less than three distinct levels. (I know, we're all very impressed by such a feat of moral fortitude.)

First and easiest is just being taken aback as a basic human trait, which completely escapes these moral cretins. Secondly, I was adopted as an infant. It's not a huge deal; I don't generally register various benign issues on the subject. But abuse of adopted children grinds my fucking gears like few other things. I take it personally. Third, as a part of my real world job, I fingerprint people who are applying to adopt children (usually their grandchildren or nephews/nieces), and so I have an understanding of the rigorous standards some states have when it comes to taking custody of a child that is not biologically your own.

I recall this sort of thing happening in the '90s, after the collapse of the Soviet bloc countries. Well-meaning yupsters took it upon themselves to adopt children from Russian and Romanian (among others) orphanages, only to find out the hard way that, gee, guess what, some of these kids had endured unspeakable trauma, and needed extra care. And so these poor kids were unceremoniously dumped off, like the kids in the above-linked articles, like stray cats dumped in the local park by asshole college students once the semester has ended and they have to toddle back to their hometowns.

I have zero sympathy for the Harrises, and I sincerely hope that they are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. You can't just dump a child over to another person, even in a backwater shithole like Arkansas. There are fucking rules here, captain. Seriously, what kind of a fucking shit-stain passes off a child in a parking lot to someone they met on Craigslist?

Oh, and did we mention that Justin Harris is one of them special type of hypocrite, the type that whines about how the evil gubmint never created a single job in the history of the universe, while taking hundreds of thousands of dollars per year from that same gubmint? I know, we're all very surprised. Really, at this point, I'd be more surprised if one of these tedious, anti-gubmint bloviators actually managed to walk their fucking talk. Just once.

It's not enough to hope that there is, after all, actually a hell, just so that assholes like these can reside there for eternity. It is much more productive to push for them to be prosecuted with the full force of the law, and incarcerated for as long as possible, not just the vile Harrises, but this entire skeevy underground kid-trading network. It's just too goddamned bad we don't have a Pinochet type to round these motherfuckers up, put 'em in a soccer stadium, and start the lead sweep.

The First Thing We Do, Let's Kill All The Douchebags

Not literally, of course, mostly in the cause of plausible deniability and avoidance of liability for yours truly. But, you know, you read this little love sonnet about a spoiled asshole, poster boy for the do-nothing fuck-you-money class that needs to be brought down and hard, and you figure, well, what's the net loss here? Does he add any value whatsoever to the planet, does he do one goddamned thing to improve the lot -- or even avoid demeaning it -- of the people he interacts with on a daily basis?

Rich or poor, people should periodically ask themselves this simple question -- am I just wasting oxygen, or am I contributing anything at all of value to the people I am interdependent with? Seriously, this is the kind of guy that probably tips 25% only when he intends to ask for a blowjob in return.

All that money and privilege, and apparently this little fucker never heard of the French Revolution, of what happens when the "fucking peasants" he despises and thinks he owns decide they've had enough of his shit. You know the old joke about the sort of fella who gets on the lifeboat and instantly brings up cannibalism? Well, Conrad Fuckface Hilton's skinny, useless ass, whether he realizes it or not, is the first one that gets eaten.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Dumbest Thing Ever Said Aloud, Until Sarah Palin Opens Her Cakehole Again

Anthrax, ham radio, and liquor. -- Clutch, 50,000 Unstoppable Watts

Christ on a cracker, this broad just never seems to miss a good opportunity to shut the hell up. Especially on a subject she knows exactly jack shit about.

I just don’t see the benefits of [net neutrality] at all, lemme know if you know of the benefits of government taking control of the Internet. Gimme your feedback on this, because I must be missin’ something.

Yes dear, you are missin' something. You are missin' everything. Again. Always. You consistently fail to observe every possible chance to get one goddamned thing right, like ever.

In the fantasy dictatorship you live under, the eeeevil fascist overlords want to enact this "net neutrality" thang in order to disenfranchise the gullible rubes who seriously pony up ten bucks a month to watch you mosey your way through life, and beg you to run for preznit, though you never will, because actual work is involved.

And by the way, sweet cheeks, the gubmint created the internets. True story, I shit thee not. You can check it out on....well, the internets themselves. Which is what they'd want you to believe, I suppose. But then we have a recursive cycle of empty skepticism and unnecessary disbelief.

If you can think of a better summation of what constitutes Sarah Palin's public utterances, the sum and substance of her empty jabber and verbal oatmeal, then I encourage you to post it in comments.

Bonus: Remember that yahoo who had the scrawled "Fuc_ You Michael Moore" placard, because we have to excise profanity and promote civil discourse and all? Yeah, that asshole. He's going to be Sarah's son-in-law. Good on ya, Chief, we'll see you in the National Enquirer in about fifteen months.

Flag Hags

Yes, the kerfuffle over the UC Irvine flag banning is a prime example of a meaningless issue inflated to extraordinary stature. It's also a prime example of what Freddie deBoer refers to as the "Rich Uncle Pennybags" test, the flexing of useless muscle over a complete non-issue, at the direct expense of the ability to contest for genuine structural change.

The system has certainly failed these kids, but damned if they haven't just returned the favor. Few things are worse in the political world than an unforced error.

Musical Chairs

This song came out last summer, but I just heard it today for the first time (yes, I make little effort to keep up with what the kids are listening to), and quite liked it:

A cursory glance at the Google informs me that Nothing More is a Christian band, but whatever. Either a song is good or it isn't. (And for this sort of "bro-metal" style of music, somewhere between Five Finger Death Punch, Avenged Sevenfold, and Tool, it's done quite well. But I get why many people do not like that sort of music in general.) I like the song, the musicianship, the message. I like Spock's Beard, too. I liked Kansas when I was a kid. Hell, I revere J.S. Bach, whose output was mostly devotional. If that makes me a bad atheist, well, I've been called worse. But this really is a scathing look at modern American culture.

(Of course, the irony is not lost that the band just signed a large deal with Eleven Seven Music Group, which isn't Warner Bros., but it ain't selling shitty cassettes out of the trunk of the bassist's mom's Buick, either.)

Anyhoo, I offer that as a palate cleanser to the musical topic I really want to look at, which was apparently the only musical news this week -- that Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke got stuck with a mammoth fine for plagiarizing Marvin Gaye. I think any genuine fan of music in general, and certainly every musician, should be wary of that decision, but also consider all sides of this.

From a purely aesthetic standpoint, I can take or leave the song in question; it neither offends my sensibilities nor gets my dick hard. It's bland, inoffensive, and unchallenging, like most music, popular and otherwise. It tries to conceal its deficiencies in that regard with the hugely popular video, featuring some amazingly hot chicks and Thicke's smug countenance emceeing the proceedings. I grew up on a steady diet of soul and R&B as a kid, and it is at least a competent, if uninspired, iteration of the style. I would hate to imagine what Williams and/or Thicke would sound like outside a studio, with nothing but an instrument and natural voice, but then apparently Thicke got a piano into the courtroom and played some variations of his song and Gaye's song, so he has to have at least some musical talent there.

So on the one hand, Blurred Lines is derivative, to say the least. It's not as blatant as some -- remember, even Saint George Harrison got sued for this sort of thing -- but anyone familiar with the original will hear it right away. I don't think it's unreasonable to speculate that you would not have Blurred Lines if Got to Give It Up did not exist. There's clearly a strong influence.

Now the question here -- musically, ethically, legally -- is, at what point does influence become stealing? It's a question that fans, musicians, musicologists, and random passersby have all attempted to answer, with the best of intentions, and varying levels of success.

You don't need me to tell you the answer, because Nona Gaye told us all -- when it makes money. That is the sole criterion here, just as it's always been. And while I don't see the value necessarily in dumping a pile of money on someone because of something her father did forty years ago, that's kinda the way it works. It's also an unfortunate provision of our archaic copyright law, which was set up to ensure continuing revenue streams for the then-new recording industry.

And the poor record companies, to the extent they still exist, have a rough time extracting pelf from the peasants, when not only do fans no longer pay for recordings, but musicians are able to record, produce, and distribute their own music. The revenue stream is now in live performances and swag, and even then, the only way to make any real money on it is to bundle bands together into huge outdoor festivals with multiple stages.

Music piracy is and should be a real concern, but never doubt that the people who really want to compose and record their own music will always do so regardless of how much money there is to be had. The more pressing concern is what the mass audience perceives and expects from their musical experience, if they're just after another event and another event to record on their iPhones and post to demonstrate their presence, or if they want to seek out and hear sounds and ideas that can genuinely transform the way they perceive their world.

The biggest tragedy out of this lawsuit, I'm sure you'll agree, is that the Black Guy Pees appear to still be intact. This is a sadness that no mere court of law can address.

Mutiny on the Clownty; Or, None Dare Call It Reason

Because we now live in an era where a thumb-dicked, draft-dodging cousin-fucker like Rudy Giuliani can still get his corrupt ass on the teevee as a serious common-tater, political discourse has taken a more-tacky-than-usual swerve toward proving Who Loves Them Some 'murka More, I Mean Like With Tongues And Throbbing Cock And Shit.

So, since the new crop of conservatard dickheads naturally takes their cue from 'murka's Mayor (PBUH), leave it to freshman cracker Tom, I say Tom, Cotton (R-Cletusippi) to spearhead yet another misguided opportunity to make Black Satan look bad. Like he don't love him enough 'murka. Not like us, baby; he cain't loves ya likes I loves ya.

This is less about who might be borderline traitorous in their sentiments and activities, and more about a party -- an entire political party here, not just one or two key players moseying off the reservation -- to risk buggering a critical piece of foreign policy, just to make Obama look bad. That's the key here, that everyone other than they're own constituencies seem to understand -- these guys are more than happy to fuck the country sideways, if it makes Obama's job just a little bit more difficult.

(And it's no coincidence that Cotton got the nod for this nonsense, since he's brand-new and not running for higher office -- yet. If it blows up in their faces, the party elders can point to the kid having a rookie mistake; if it works out, it's a feather in his cap down the road.)

Whether that means tweaking the administration by hosting Netanyahu's campaign speech, or writing the mullahs a letter that does nothing but empower Iranian hard-liners, they have shown that they are plenty willing to go the extra mile to mess with The Man. It is central to the evangelical core ethos that most of these knuckle-draggers spout that Israel gets into an all-out Armageddon with the Arabs (never mind that Persians aren't Arabs, they're still Mooooooooslim). That is where their actions trump mere partisan hackery -- it is the future narrative of their belief system.

Jeffrey Goldberg has written some fine pieces for The Atlantic on this subject, trying to finesse the balance between dealing with Iranian leaders who do say vile, aggressive things about Israel, and understanding that the way to bring them around to a compromise is not to engage in useless brinksmanship. That sort of nuanced thinking does not come easily (or, perhaps, at all) to people who attained power precisely by eschewing all appearances of nuance.

The mullahs' statements are for internal consumption, of course, but that doesn't mean that Israel and the US should laugh them off. Many things are simultaneously true, and two of the most important ones in that region are:  one, that Israel needs to attend to its miserable treatment of its Palestinian population, sooner rather than later; and two, that Israel really is surrounded by unstable, despotic regimes who stay in power by stoking the grievances of their seething, resentful populations.

However, it is also important to note that Iran is bordered by countries who possess nuclear weapons, namely Russia, India, and Pakistan. Not to mention Israel itself, not to mention that Saudi Arabia and Egypt are no doubt doing everything they can to acquire the technology as well. American lawmakers, just like American citizens, seem completely ignorant of the idea that other countries might have interests of their own, and that those interests might run contrary to our expectations of them, or of the countries in our "sphere of influence," as the saying goes.

But this particular episode goes beyond the usual bumpkin parochialism, this is simply interference for its own sake, a petulant child throwing a tantrum in the supermarket for no better reason than to embarrass his mommy in front of all the other shoppers. Cue the canned Sunday follies with Johnny Walnuts and Huckleberry Closetcase tag-teaming the hapless hosts over whatever bullshit they decide to spread this week.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

The God Racket

Religious huckster Ken Ham (yes, the "Creation Museum" jagoff) is at it again. Since even a Bible Belt backwater like Kin-tucky won't grant his Noah's Ark theme park (you read that right) a fat tax rebate, Ham has responded with perhaps the dopiest conceivable propaganda campaign -- a barrage of crayon-scrawled letters purportedly written by young children, anguished and aggrieved at the state's "refusal" to let the nice whackjob build his stupid park.

Just for the hell of it, let's enumerate just a few of the ways in which the supposedly Christian Ham is, well, a goddamned liar:
  • The letters use clearly adult phrasing and appeals to argument, such as “Kentucky doesn’t want to be pushed around by non-believers," and “I am not just speaking for me but for the people of Kentucky, for the Christians of Kentucky, and for the next generation of Christians.”
  • No one is preventing Ham from building his shitbox, the state simply decided that since Ham engages in discriminatory hiring practices, the taxpayers shouldn't have to foot the bill for his business.
  • There is no such thing as a "Christian ark". Even if he actually existed and actually built an ark, Noah was not a "Christian", as Christians did not exist until, you know, Christ came along. These mouth-breathing halfwits can't even get the fundamental tenets of their own religion right.
Again, because I sincerely believe that it is morally wrong to allow suckers to keep their money, I support Ken Ham's plan to build his silly ark park. I hope he fleeces these maroons for everything they're worth, and spends every dime of it on hookers and blow. But there is absolutely no reason taxpayers should help him build the damned thing.

These people are the lowest form of hypocrites, really -- they talk shit about the evil gubmint every chance they get, emphasize their independence from secular authority, until it comes time to pay their fair share. It's the oldest ongoing racket of all.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Plus Ça Change

Fifty years after officers sworn to uphold the law attacked peaceful protesters on a bridge named after a human turd, things have changed some, but not enough. You still live in a country where Darren Wilson could have been caught on video walking right up to a prone Michael Brown, unprovoked, and plugged his ass for no goddamned reason, and someone would have defended or rationalized it.