Monday, November 28, 2011

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Skimpy Sunday


(Postmodernbarney; Roids and Rants [NSFW])

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Puritan Politics

As has become tradition, in preparation for Thanksgiving, I read Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates. This year, it struck me as very Of This Moment, this moment of unrest and uncertainty, when -- if you'll forgive me a moment of melodrama -- it seems our country, even our world, is crumbling around us. Several passages in particular spoke to me, and I'd like to share them. (Warning: It's about to get political up in here.)

John Adams wrote in the Massachusetts Constitution:

The body politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals: it is a social compact, by which the whole people covenants with each citizen, and each citizen with the whole people, that all shall be governed by certain laws for the common good.

How can so many people have seemed to have forgotten this? Why are so many people convinced they are "rugged individualists" being oppressed by the government from realizing their potential as world-shattering giants, when the truth is they're mediocrities and would be even worse off than they already are if the magical "market" really did dictate all our lives? Tyranny is to be despised and resisted, but we're so far from tyranny. Yet many seem to feel we're a hop, skip, and a jump away from death camps. Government is not, in and of itself, the enemy! We should be trying to make government better, not cripple or dismantle it, and electing people who are openly hostile towards it.


Nathaniel Hawthorne:

Let us thank God for having given us such ancestors [the Puritans]; and let each successive generation thank Him, not less fervently, for being one step further from them in the march of ages.

But I think we could do with a bit of Puritanism. Not the scolding, judgmental, hypocritical part, but the literate, intellectual, contemplative, uncertain part. To be a Puritan was to wrestle, every day, with one's soul, to constantly search one's inner self, to try to do as God wills, to try to figure out just if one is saved or not. They lived in a state of constant uncertainty and anxiety. Now, I know a little bit about living in a state of constant uncertainty and anxiety, and it isn't exactly fun, but we seem to have such outsized self-confidence and self-delusion these days that a dose of anxiousness might do us good. As Vowell says, "From New England's Puritans we inherited the idea that America is blessed and ordained by God above all nations, but lost the fear of wrath and retribution."


Mario Cuomo at the 1984 Democratic Convention (addressed to Reagan, thus the "Mr. President," but I think today it resonates more as a cri de coeur against the modern Republican party and the "1%" in general.):

A shining city is perhaps all the president sees from the portico of the White House and veranda of his ranch, where everyone seems to be doing well....Maybe, maybe, Mr. President, if you visted some more places; maybe if you went to Appalachia, where some people still live in sheds; maybe if you went to Lackawanna, where thousands of unemployed steelworkers wonder why we subsidized foreign steel. Maybe--Maybe, Mr. President, if you stopped in at a shelter in Chicago and spoke to the homeless there; maybe, Mr. President, if you asked a woman who had been denied the help she neeeded to feeder her children because you said you needed the money for a tax break for a millionaire or for a missile we couldn't afford to use.

Then, as now, we were "in the worst recession since 1932" and the deficit was the "largest in the history of the universe." Proper government is "the sharing of benefits and burdens for the good of all, feeling one another's pain, sharing one another's blessings." Again, we seem to have forgotten how do do this. Everything now is vicious in-fighting, people fighting over whatever scraps they have. "Sharing" is no longer in the American vocabulary, and for the rich it seems a dirty word. Tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts, while the poor starve, bridges crumble, and unemployment drags on.



Protestantism's evolution away from hierarchy and authority has enormous consequences for America and the world. On the one hand, the democratization of religion runs parallel democratization. The king of England, questioning the pope, inspires English subjects to question the king and his Anglican bishops. Such dissent is backed up by a Bible full of handy Scripture arguing for arguing with one's king. This is the root fof self-government in the English-speaking world.

On the other hand, Protestantism's shedding away of authority,...inspires self-reliance--along with a dangerous disregard for expertise. So the impulse that leads to democracy can also be the downside of democracy--namely, a suspicion of people who know what they are talking about. It's why in U.S. presidential elections the American people will elect a wisecracking good ol' boy who's fun in a malt shop instead of a serious thinker who actually knows some of the pompous, brainy stuff that might actually get fewer people laid of or killed.

American universities are the envy of the world. We have armfuls of Nobels. We have some of the smartest, most innovative researchers and scientists in the world. We were founded by some of the most eloquent, literate, and learned men in history. And yet we don't cotton to no book learnin' 'round these parts. We all think we're experts, even if we know nothing. Evolution? Just a theory. Global climate change? A scam. We know nothing about biology or climatology, but, dern it, we don't need no them thar scientists tellin' us what to think! The Bible's all the book we need! We'll spend billions on sports, but cut school budgets to the bone, because those evil teachers' unions are greedy bastards. We landed on the moon and pried apart the secrets of the atom, but we seem to more and more retreat into ignorance and anti-intellectualism.

So now that I've depressed or enraged everyone, I'll wish all of you a very Happy Thanksgiving!


I have much to be thankful for. But many others, too many others, are not so fortunate. Today, as you gather to give thanks, consider giving to those less fortunate.


Happy Thanksgiving, all! And what is Thanksgiving but a celebration of awkward white people? I mean, the Pilgrims were hardly smooth customers after all. Squares all the way!

(Via 8Asians)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Water The Money Seed

Just a reminder that there are only 26 days left for Seed Money funding. They're almost at $6,000, but the goal is $25,000.

Guinea Stud

A guinea pig on the loose. A pen full of females desperate for love. Two nights of passion. Forty-two offspring. One tired Sooty.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Bourgeois Book Club

Prospero Lost, Prospero in Hell, and Prospero Regained by L. Jagi Lamplighter

What if instead of one of his tragicomedies, The Tempest was actually one of Shakespeare's histories, the true story of an exiled Duke of Milan and his daughter? And what if Prospero, his immortal children, and their bound wind spirit servitors guard humanity against the capriciousness and malevolence of the supernatural under the guise of a global corporation unto this very day? That is the conceit of this fantastic trilogy.

When Prospero suddenly disappears, his most faithful child Miranda's world is turned upside down. With the help of embodied wind spirit-cum-detective Mab, she has to unravel the mystery of her father's disappearance, as well as comply with the wishes he left in a message to track down and warn her estranged siblings of the infernal threat stalking them. But as Miranda delves deeper into her fractured family's history, the more mysteries appear, and the darker, and deeper, the threats become. Did her father mind-control Miranda into docile subservience? Are some of her siblings in league with the infernal? Is there any way to piece her fractured family back together? And how are they to rescue Prospero from the very bowels of Hell itself?

Miranda is a wonderful protagonist. Held in a sort of stasis for centuries, Miranda has to deal with feelings for the first time: empathy, vulnerability, fear, compassion, and, perhaps most of all, love. She also must face the secrets that litter her life, secrets that threaten to upend everything she thought she ever knew. She has to, in short, become human.

The Prospero family dynamics are well-drawn and believable. Can you imagine how annoying siblings can be over the course of centuries? Very. But they're family, so you love them anyway. I think Lamplighter strikes a good balance between those two impulses in the sibling banter and interrelationships. Some siblings are closer than others, and some downright hate one another, but in the end, they're still family.

If you're a mythology and folklore nerd like me, you'll love the books for their crazy-quilt mash-up of lore. Greek gods, Hermetic spirits, Japanese ogres, medieval angelology, quasi-Gnostic cosmologies, elves, witches, and Santa Claus all have a place in the Prospero world.

If you're a "pondering the big questions of existence" nerd like me, you'll love the books even more. In between the demon-battling and sibling rivalry, there's some serious theological speculating going on. What is faith? What does it mean to forgive? What is free will? What is sin and redemption? There is a very strong, though thoroughly unconventional, Christianity undergirding the story, but one can be an absolute heathen like me and still appreciate Lamplighter's examination of those questions. However, the only discordant note comes towards the very end of Prospero Regained, when Lamplighter starts to make thinly-veiled condemnations of modern society and the inequities and "immoralities" of it, including an anti-abortion message. I thought that was laying on a bit thick.

A wild melange of Shakespeare, Dante, folklore, mythology, quest, mystery, the Prospero series is a delight. Brimming with whimsy and fantasy, it's marvelous entertainment punctuated by passages of stunning beauty and lyricism.

A More Perfect Heaven by Dava Sobel

All most people know about Nicolas Copernicus is that he "discovered" that the Earth revolves around the Sun, and maybe that he was Polish. If you're a nerd like me, you also know that he was the nephew of a bishop, studied in Italy, and didn't publish his work until he was on death's door. The details of his life are otherwise either a mystery or an irrelevance. Neither option could be further from the truth, however.

From a prosperous Polish family, he came under the care of his bishop uncle, who procured for him a lucrative canonship at the cathedral of Frauenberg. After his studies in Italy, where he trained in both astronomy and medicine, it is there he returned and lived out the rest of his life. The security and authority he enjoyed as a canon allowed him the time and resources to perform his astronomical observations, as well as pursue his other interests, including coinage and the translation of ancient texts. He was a diligent and fair administrator for the lands belonging to the cathedral during a trying time; he lived in a warzone between Poland and the Prussian lands of the Teutonic Knights. Add to that the firestorm of the Reformation and the political intrigues in the bishopric, and his was no dull, obscure life.

As he approached the end of his life, a young mathematician named Rheticus suddenly appeared at his door. A professor from Wittenberg, home of Martin Luther and the very eye of the Reformation, Rheticus had heard of Copernicus's ideas (though his full explication hadn't been published, his ideas were known in intellectual circles), and came to Copernicus for tutelage, despite the dangers of travel and the fact that the bishop had banished all Lutherans from his territory, and also to help him finish and publish his work. Copernicus, fearing ridicule and the specter of his own inaccuracy, had eschewed publication of his masterwork, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, for years, despite the entreaties of friends and even cardinals. Rheticus, however, finally convinced him to publish.

No one, of course, knows precisely what they said to one another, so Sobel uses the facts that are known to construct a short play that comprises the middle section of the book. As a play... it's fine. I think it'd play much better live, as most plays do. In the hands of good actors, it would probably be a really riveting performance.

After his death, Rheticus and Copernicus's friend, Bishop Giese, tirelessly worked to see that his book was circulated and all credit due him given. An unauthorized preface that downplayed his heliocentric theory as a mere hypothesis suitable for mathematical calculation but with no basis in reality sent both of them into a rage. And the reaction of many, including Luther, was one of scorn. Did not Scripture clearly say that the Earth did not move? Mathematicians and astronomers took to his tables and methods of calculation, but mostly disregarded the heliocentrism as well. It was eventually placed on the Index of Forbidden Books and condemned as heresy by the Catholic Church. However, beginning with Tycho (who did not believe in heliocentrism, but admired it nonetheless), Kepler, and Galileo, the book and the system gained wider acceptance and adoption, making way for the whole of modern astronomy and physics.

I found myself become rather fond of Copernicus by the time I finished the book, and Sobel obviously felt the same way. Copernicus comes across as a brilliant, conscientious, learned, kindly man with many friends. But he was also timid, and perhaps too self-conscious, a trait of which I know quite a lot about and sympathize with.

Despite her being one of the most prominent popular science writers of the day, I'd never read any of Sobel's work until A More Perfect Heaven. She is an engaging enough writer, and uses ample quotations from Copernicus himself and his contemporaries to good effect, showing that Copernicus was a great mind, witty and learned. This short, economical account putting Copernicus and his ideas in historical and intellectual context is highly recommended for learning about a very important man who is far too little known generally.

Master of the House of Darts by Aliette de Boddard

Third in de Boddard's Obsidian and Blood series of historical-fantasy mysteries set in the Aztec Empire. When a solider returning from a war to obtain captives for sacrifice dies in mysterious, and mystical, circumstances, the whole of mighty Tenochtitlan is threatened by a curse-disease that soon begins claiming more victims. As in the first two books, Acatl, High Priest of the God of Death, must navigate the treacherous political and magical currents of the Aztec Empire to solve the murder, discover who or what is behind the attack, and stop them. But as his investigation continues, he soon discovers that a powerful sorcerer with a grudge against the Empire, and an incipient coup against the current, ineffectual emperor, may be too much for him to handle. Even gods are frightened.

Another wonderful entry into a fascinating and unusual series. The Mesoamerican setting and the culture and magical systems that go with it are utterly unique in fantasy literature, which still is predominated by European settings and conceptions. Instead of a world of castles and magic wands, it is a world of pyramids and blood, and it is refreshing.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Library Can Be A Terrible Thing

Claire Messud, you read my mind: "I feel that my tendency to acquire books is rather like someone smoking two packs a day: it’s a terrible vice that I wish I could shuck. I love my books, and with all their dog-ears and under-linings they are irreplaceable, but I sometimes wish they’d just vanish. To be weighed down by things – books, furniture – seems somehow terrible to me."

I love my books; that much is obvious if you've been reading for more than a minute. I have a terrible time getting rid of them, even though I have really no room for them. It is physically and psychically painful to cull my library. But sometimes I really do feel them weighing on me, or, rather, my need for them weighing on me. At times, I want to just chuck the whole lot of them in a bonfire. I just wish I could come to some sort of equanimity between obsessive hoarding and blithe disregard.

(Via The Little Professor)

Skimpy Sunday

(Via Roids and Rants [NSFW]; Dudetube [NSFW]; Overnight to London [NSFW]; Papermag)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Somehow, I Don't Think She's A Great Tauntaun Hunter

Meet the Wampug, the Wampa's smaller, cuter, snortier cousin. If I met that in an ice cave on Hoth, I'd keep warm from the "awwwww"ing alone!

End of Line

Despite the weddings and the movie openings, 11/11/11 is a sad day for me, because it's the last Binary Day this century. There's something about all those ones and zeroes that soothes me. Hopefully, I'll still be around in 2100 to see the next one, either in my new android body or in some hideously deformed mutant form caused by all the radioactivity from WWIII.

Veterans Day

A hearty and sincere "thank you" to all veterans for their service. It is always appreciated.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Seed Money

Let's just say I know a little about gay porn. But even if you know only a little about that subject, chances are you know the name "Falcon," the studio that practically invented modern gay pornography and defined the aesthetic of the gay 1980s and 1990s. And a man named Chuck Holmes is the one who invented Falcon. Pornographer, philanthropist, socialite, he was a fascinating man, one fully deserving of a documentary. But for that to happen, we have to help.

Michael Stabile, the fabulous former producer of The Tim and Roma Show [NSFW], has been working on the Chuck Holmes documentary for a while now, but mounting costs and credit card bills mean he can't finish it without our help. Won't you please help fund this important work about a fascinating and pivotal figure?

Monday, November 07, 2011

Whadda Guy!

Guy Fawkes may not have succeeded in blowing up Parliament and changing the English government, but he managed to change the English language!

(Via Bookslut)

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Bond Brawl

Who would win a battle of the Bonds? I don't care, as long as Daniel Craig and Bond-era Sean Connery started making out in the middle of it.



Learn to fight the James Tiberius Kirk way! Green chicks dig it!


Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Library of Congress

I visited the Library of Congress once, for far, far too short a time, and it really is as beautiful as this. Link

Tuesday, November 01, 2011