Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Now I remember...

....why I hated having the Republicans in any sort of power. I'll admit, the mirage of finally getting someone without clouds between their ears was pretty alluring, so I voted for a few of them on a local level. My general policy was to vote down anyone sponsored by the California Teachers' Association or the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer's Association of Unwilling Taxpayers Who Wish Civilization Would Pay For Itself but Include Them in the Benefits... the HJTAUTWWCWPIITB.
 Also, if you mentioned any of the following words in your voter's guide blurb:
"Toxic Chemicals" possibly in conjunction with "Our Children",
"Family Friendly",
"Big [industryname]" ,
"Big [union name]", or 
"Big Government" and "Spending our hard-earned money"
I voted your sad ass DOWN.
I'm a moderate. Or maybe a Marxist. I can't decide. You all annoy me.
We ARE in a recession, but everyone has the attitude that cuts need to happen...to someone else! We need infrastructure improvements...but not in my backyard! The same people who demand that we make draconian cuts protest in the streets when we decide to close a firehouse and have 8 instead of 9 firehouses. The CTA demands we cut anything but school funding even though schools and prisons suck down most of the state's budget. 
The conservatives in the wealthy suburb who whine that the liberals are all lawyers who like to sue and hold up valuable construction projects that encroach on the territories of rare earthworms suddenly have a NIMBYfit when we try to build an important rail-line above an existing railline a block away from their boutique downtown. Wonder how much THOSE suits will cost the state....
Fundies like to say that morals in this country started their downhill spiral when we got rid of prayer in school. Or the pledge. Or something like that.
I'd like to propose that this country descended into chaos when we stopped having citizenship classes.  I'm going to sound like a bloody hippie here, but we need to all give a little if this state is ever going to be fiscally stable again.
CTA: No matter how many tenths of a percent we shave off the school budget, you will still be getting off far easier than the crazy, old, and homeless who are always the first people we screw when it comes time to shave off programs. No one wants to hurt the kids.
Suburbia: You don't like your work commute? Stop bitching it when we try to build trains! They're slow, don't go anywhere and you don't ride them. Well, guess what? They're never going to get better if we don't build more and make them go more places. If they get riders they'll get better, so quit bitching about how you are paying for something no one is going to use and set an example by using it!
Can we pause work on the duck sanctuary that the local green club is pushing for? Yes. The ducks can wait.
Can we close one of our eight firehouses? If not, can we have volunteers to help run it as an act of charity to the community?
Can we pay more taxes? We're going to have to, so stop whining and do your part. The Guvmint is not taking your money. You participate in our society and reap its benefits, whether those are social welfare or the provision of a nice stable and fairly free environment for you to do business in. Even if you are independently wealthy, you are still reaping the rewards of living in the US and as such you have received a service for which payment is due.
So STFU and give a little, and I will give a little, and together we will make this place a nice place to live again...and then I might be willing to give a little on your agenda next time it comes up.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sympathy for the Devil

This is essentially a repost of a comment on this article on scienceblogs:
I am a Democrat.
 And right now, my party, and the people I usually agree with are making me very angry. 
Post after post on scienceblogs and in the news from scientists covering the spill in the gulf are referring to the regulatory lapses of the industry as a whole. We liberals have a tendency to demonize entire industries for the sins of a few people within those industries. Apparently the scientists on scienceblogs don't realize that there are scientists working on this--engineers within BP and the other companies that are involved in putting an end to this mess. BP has nothing to gain and everything to lose by putting less than 100% into this effort, so I tend to look for the motivation of the speaker when I hear that they are not doing enough or they're doing things that are stupid. If anyone has a chance of stopping this disaster, it's the same people who had the expertise to let the genie out of the bottle in the first place. There's not much the government can do except enforce the law and stay out of the way.

As a person who has grown up around the oil industry and who has a close relative who is involved with operations safety at a company that is not BP, this whole tragedy has hit really close to home. It's made me question some deeply held beliefs about what motivates Environmentalists of the crunchy and scientific varieties, and business of the benevolent and greedy varieties. I think it's important to remember that big businesses and for that matter, the special interests that both parties respectably rail about are comprised of normal people and that for these people, big business puts food on the table and sends kids to college. These people get lost when we start talking about "big oil" as if it was some ominous monolithic concept.
Heads need to roll at BP over this, but they need to roll for the right reasons...not because BP is a monolithic evil entity that loves to destroy nature and start wars and kill puppies etc. heads need to roll because BP betrayed the people who made it possible for deep water horizon to operate. Some pencil pusher, his supervisor, and the managers above him who were too busy planning their next political maneuver to care about real world implications sold them out for a monetary drop in the bucket. It approved plans that did not include robust safety standards. It did not, apparently, run simulations on it's emergency plans--we can simulate fluid dynamics and pressure and basic physics. Judging by the crystals on the containment dome, BP did not. It cut cost corners putting lives at risk, putting a deep ocean habitat of which we know little at risk, and putting the entire fishing industry In the gulf at risk.
Accidents happen, and this is new, intensely complicated high stakes technology that is on what could be called its maiden voyage. All the more reason to do everything possible to ensure that corners are not cut and every possible safety precaution is taken. I'm not convinced BP did.
Lastly, I think those who are quick to call out the oil industry need to look in the mirror. Do you drive a car? Use plastic containers? Use electricity? That fuel comes from somewhere, and if it's not a repressive dictatorship it's increassingly difficult to access domestic sources.
We the laypeople and our politicians knew exactly the risks involved in deep sea drilling. The politicians gave it the go ahead and the politicians represent us. We also knew the fail points of the available technology and exactly where it should have been regulated. It's not like info on blowout preventers and their track record of flakiness is an industry secret. We apparently were delusional in thinking that something like this could never happen to us.
Anyway, this is a national tragedy. My heart goes out to the people who died, and I'm hoping that they will be seen as the victims of this tragedy and not part of the cause. My heart also goes out to the people from BP and the other oil companies (from what I have heard the effort to curb the spill is industry wide) who are trying everything they can to stop this. Some of them are doing this not only because it is their job but because they are horrified at the environmental and human impact. Talk about a stressful thankless job.
My heart also goes out to the fishermen and local volunteers who face financial hardship and are doing everything they can to mitigate the environmental impact.

And a final, very snarky word to Democratic Rep Ed Markey of Mass who said: "I have no confidence whatsoever in BP. I think that they do not know what they are doing. They started off talking about golf balls going in as a junk shot. People thought they would be dependent on MIT or Cal Tech instead of the PGA and golf balls. That was in the first couple of weeks. So I don't think that people should really believe what BP is saying in terms of the likelihood of anything that they're doing is going to turn out as they're predicting..."
Oh! I didn't realize we had an expert in congress! Stop, everyone! Representative Markey knows how to solve all our problems! Markey knows the oil industry, oceanography, and geology better than the best and brightest minds in the industry! Let's put him in charge!
Wait...as a person who knows nothing but always has an opinion anyway, I know another idiot mouthing off when I see one. Ed Markey, you don't have any better ideas, do you? No? Then:

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Well, at least it wasn't a chicken suit...

On my commute home from work I sometimes like to listen to a talk show host named Gene Burns. He's generally pretty reasonable. Usually a moderate, which I like, and a little liberal on the universal healthcare concept, which I also like, but tonight I he said something that I almost totally disagree with.
He mentioned a recent episode of Southpark where the creators were forbidden by comedy central from showing Mohammed in the irreverent cartoon, because pictures of the prophet as a living entity are haram.
So, instead of omitting the Prophet, Southpark featured him as an unseen guy in a bear-suit.
Gene proposed that some things ought to be beyond the reach of satire--not in the sense of making them illegal, but that it should be highly frowned upon to poke fun at religious icons. He listed Mary, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha (you know, just to be all inclusive and stuff) and Moses as well as a few arbitrarily chosen "secular" topics, like breast cancer.
Firstly, I think Gene fails to make a distinction between forums in which it is in poor taste to crack jokes about people's dearly held beliefs.   I would argue that we as a society NEED satire. Satire generally isn't addressed towards one particular type of person, but instead as an amorphous blob of anonymous people out there. Satire is addressed to a group. Among those people might be Muslims, Catholics, and Atheists, and let's face it: all of those groups have done some godawful stuff in the name (and sometimes though they might deny it, spirit) of their worldviews. It's good  for the rest of society to remind people that there are other people with worldviews outside of their little bubble, and that not everyone believes the way they do. Humour can be a way for the oppressed to vent, as it was in the case of the jokes that sprung up in the Ukraine targeting the Soviet Union after the Chornobyl disaster in 1987. It can be a way for groups to cope with tragedy internally, by laughing at something that hurts.
Satire can be a way of reminding a self-confident group of its faults--we'll know when the Catholic Church has rehabilitated itself because the priest jokes won't be funny anymore, just like the Pollack jokes aren't funny anymore. (Why was that ever a fad?) Sometimes, wounds NEED to be poked, because if they didn't hurt, we'd not do anything about them until they were necrotic.
Satire can also be a telling diagnostic about the ills of a society for an outside party, and it can also teach historians about a society's worldview in a way archaeology can't.  The profusion of Gay/AIDS jokes  which were apparently socially acceptable in political circles in the eighties tells me a lot more about the worldview of the Reagan administration than does a trite gradeschool history text. You'll notice that the fact that those aren't funny anymore shows that we've grown as a society...
Satire is an indicator of the weakness of society, it can help society heal, and it can also be a sign that a weakness has been overcome.  
For example, as a white middle class middle American, I can happily joke about things like Teryaki chicken with a maraschino cherry and a slice of pineapple. The haute cuisine of my people. It means I'm comfortable enough with being a bit of a bumpkin that I can make fun of it.
I think I've stated why it's important that there are no sacred cows in the public forum when it comes to satire, but just to cement that point, let's imagine a situation in which Gene Burns' wish came true, and joking about the Virgin Mary was viewed as something one should not do in satire.
If we were to say "people shouldn't make jokes about the Virgin Mary because she's an inspiration to millions of people", where would we then draw the line? Should we not make jokes about cow tipping because there might be a Hindu in that amorphous blob of an audience who might be offended? How small does a group have to be before we can say: "Eh, that's ok, we can offend them." Does this rule only apply to the world major religions? And what makes their feelings more worth sparing than the Scientologists? If I draw much inspiration from A Tale of Two Cities, and my friend draws much from the Bible, why is it in poor taste to make fun of the Bible but not Tale of Two Cities? Are my life lessons less important than hers?
How do we keep from marginalizing people by making their cherished beliefs fair game while the cherished beliefs of the majority are off limits? Or do we just make any belief off limits for satire, acknowledging that something sacred to one group can be ridiculous to another? And if in refraining from satirizing any beliefs of anyone, what if we rendered ourselves easily controlled by a tyranical entity because no one would speak out for fear of offense? Worse, what this rendered society mirthless and boring?
Now, where I *might* agree with Gene is in the private sphere, even though he was clearly talking about the public one. This is where joking becomes personal, and becomes a judgment on specific people.  Already, society draws lines here, designating what is polite and politic and what is not. I would not, for example, make a joke about Mohammed to a Muslim friend unless I was certain they would not be hurt by it.  I care what that person thinks about me, and I care that I not hurt that person's feelings.
The work sphere is similar. It is in your best interest, in your coworkers' best interest and in the company's best interest that you be nice and not make that joke about women drivers on the company-wide emailing list. Firstly, it would be rude. Secondly, you then become less employable because when people get offended, they don't play nicely together and the whole company suffers.
So yes. I agree that the old adage that one does not talk about Money, Religion or Politics in private spheres like work and amongst one's non BFF friends.
So, to sum up, being polite to people you know and sort of know is good for you and them.
While there is a right to free speech, there is not a "right to not be offended." And for good reason.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Tale of Two Cities Fanart Contest Results

Hello, hello! I've finally stopped being lazy and decided to upload the results of the fanart contest! I think we have PBS to thank for this...DAMN THEIR CONSTANT FUNDRAISING!

I would like to thank the winners and only entrants, Gina and AlbinoGrimby for swelling the very low count of Tale of Two Cities themed fanart out there.

Gina drew the close of the chapter Congratulatory in which Sydney Carton, having dined and drunk with Charles Darnay, and having in his drunkenness informed Darnay that he thinks that he hates him, Sydney has fallen asleep with his drink. The wax of the candle drips down upon his hair like a winding sheet--an illusion to a shroud.
Carton will waken in time to write Stryver's arguments for the next day's case--a dead-end occupation from which he prefers to escape into his frequent drunken stupors.
I think Gina captures this scene very well because of the simplicity of her drawing. She draws it at an angle where you can see his arms, and that captures the desperation in the scene.
Next, we have the two entries from AlbinoGrimby. One is an adaptation from the cover of the copy of the book that he has, and the other is a depiction of Lucie and Sydney.
He's done a really good job of depicting Lucie as a dreamy, pretty, golden-haired doll. I love his style that comes out in the way he portrays Lucie.

His Sydney, on the other hand....is so...boyish, and anime....and...androgynous...and kinda hawt. AND A TESTAMENT TO ALBINO'S INABILITY TO FOLLOW DIRECTIONS!!!1

You guys are both legends! Thanks for entering. Drop me your address and tell me which one of the illustrations from the below posts that you liked--the only ones I'm not willing to part with is the one with the Richard Sharpe illustrations and the A A Dixon one since that one's kind of falling apart.

I also have a copy with photographs from The Only Way...they don't have Martin Harvey in them but the pic on the cover is nice!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Women in Fantasy Novels: Venn Diagram

While I'm waiting for my lovely new hard-drive to format so I can install some games and visual studio, I thought I'd humour you all with this visual representation of the one of the things that seriously irks me about the fantasy genre. I'm lookin' at you, Tolkein! I feel that male authors are especially prone to writing female characters that fit very neatly into one of these categories. I think we can put Eowyn in the Good Wife Wise Mother category inasmuch as she takes on the role of mother to her people. I think this category also encompasses "dutiful daughter", too. That's definitely Eowyn. Galadriel. Yup. Good wife/Wise Mother. Cersei from Song of Ice and fire? Princess-Whore. Arwen? Good wife/wise mother. If we extend this model into video games it gets even easier...
Speaking of Tolkein, did you notice that The Hobbit (my favourite book as a child) has NO female characters? I think they mention Bilbo's dead aunt in the first chapter, but that's IT. I wrote a fantasy story in a class once where all the characters were female and my classmates were like "Nice Lesbian Fiction!!!1" Wait a minute, if a book has no female characters no one even notices, nevermind sticking it in a special genre...

On another note, the results of the Tale of Two Cities fanart contest will be up in a few days. Even if you think you can't draw, you should still send me a picture. ASAP! And thanks to those of you, or you who sent a picture. :)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Remembering and Reimagining Dracula

I'm watching the 2006 Dracula on Masterpiece Theater. At first I thought that  this was another case  of me reading a book a long time ago and not remembering a good part of the plot. This happened with Oliver Twist. I remember the scene where Bill Sykes is hunted down and killed like a dog very clearly, but when I watched the Masterpiece Theater version, I was surprised to find that it had a large role for a character named "Monk". Who was this Monks fellow, and why didn't I remember a thing about him? Did they just make this stuff up? Oliver Twist didn't need an evil cousin for Oliver. A quick check on Wikipedia revealed that I had forgotten a good part of the plot of Oliver Twist, or more disturbingly that the copy I'd gotten from the library was abridged and that I had read the book without realizing it!
To this day I'm not sure why I don't remember Monks.
So, when I started watching the new Dracula, I was baffled.
I don't remember Holmwood as having Syphillis! I remembered that the novel had sexual undercurrents but in typical victorian fashion, I remembered them as being rather frustratingly masked in quaint melodrama. All in all, my impression of the book was that it was rather trite. Idealistic women are attacked by a menace from the mysterious east. Brave and manly English men will try to save their idylic maidens through donating large quantities of blood through archaic surgical methods, but to no avail. One woman is brought back to life as a sensual vampiress. The manly gentlemen hunt the beast to his lair and drive a stake through his maiden-corrupting heart.
I didn't really realize that the story could be reinterpreted as an allegory for Victorian attitudes towards sex until I saw the brilliant, wordless ballet "Dracula, Pages from a Virgin's Diary".
While "Pages from a Virgin's Diary" was clearly a fantasy on the theme of Bram Stoker's novel the new Masterpiece Theater version goes as far as to reauthor parts of the story but keep the original title.
Lucy's Westenra's husband, Holmwood has "the syff". He'll do anything to avoid passing it onto the pure Lucy, and anything to avoid the horrible death that his father and mother endured as a result of the disease.
So, Lucy marries him and experiences extreme sexual frustration as her husband avoids the bed and joins a mysterious cult that promises him brand new syphillis-free blood and immortality.
Guess who the cult is bent on importing to England in a ship full of dead men?
Speaking of which, that guy playing Dracula looks really familiar....oh, God. It CAN'T be.

A quick search on IMDB shows....Marc Warren....in the role of MONKS in OLIVER TWIST.

Anyway, MONKS....sorry.....Dracula shows up and, in what seems to be a nod to Buffy, Lucy invites him in.  It doesn't take too long for him to suck Lucy's blood, transforming her from  frustrated newlywed to undead sexfiend vampire-beast.  He then proceeds to mack on Mina while Holmwood and the some other guy who was into Lucy find a hobo hiding amongst Satanic altars in what appears to be the Holmwood Manor's wine cellar who says his name is Van Helsing. Turns out the death cult duped Mina's squeeze, Harker into taking some real-estate deeds to Dracula in Transylvania.  Van Helsing was the realtor who started the deal and managed to get out of going back to close it.

Anyway, there is very little suspense leading up to the eventual staking (innuendo may or may not be intended) of undead Lucy and Monks, but a whole lot of people get killed who shouldn't and the fate of the death cultists isn't really tied up. Also, because it's a modern horror movie, it has to have the two seconds of twist at the end that nullify the activities of the last hour and a half. The undead corpse opens its eyes. The TV flickers on and evil Sadako's hand reaches over the rim of the well. The serial killer escapes from prison. You know what I mean.

I might be being a bit harsh on the movie. I liked the idea of Holmwood having syphilis and needing dracula to relieve him of it, though I thought the whole death-cult thing was a bit cliche. I agree that any interpretation of Dracula needs to make clear the sexual undertones of the book, but I thought this movie handled it a little inelegantly:
The story does keep the basic skeleton of events of Bram Stoker's original. Harker goes to Dracula's castle, finds disturbing things about his host and escapes. Dracula bites Lucy. Lucy's two lover-boys try to save her. Dracula goes after Mina. Lucy comes back, gets staked. Van Helsing is a crusty old man who beleives in dead vampires and the missionary position and he and the men go hunt down Drac and stake him too.
Everything in between is made up, though, and a lot of the players are killed off and their roles taken by other characters who had a bit part or none at all in the book. I say that this reimagining is inelegant because the screenwriters could have underlined the sexual aspects of the story without rewriting it.
There is a reason that Stoker's work is a classic. As antiquated as its narrative sometimes is, it handles sexual repression in a very subtle and masterful way. To make a work of the same name that rearranges and cobbles stuff into the plot is in my mind arrogant. It's saying "I can do better than that". If you're arrogant, you've got to have the chops to back it up, and the screenwriters here don't.
Aside from my philosophical beefs, though, the addons feel clunky and out of place. As I said, the death cult subplot isn't tied up and is pretty cliche. I also couldn't figure out how Drac and all those Satanic symbols ended up in what seemed like someone's root-cellar. Van Helsing was chastity's badass, but now he's not even an expert on Vampire, but a hobo who got sent on an errand to deal with Dracula.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Tale of Two Cities Fanart Contest-ish

I've been searching google images for "Amateur Illustration "(AKA Fanart) for Tale of Two Cities in conjunction with my previous two posts on the subject of Professional Illustration from the novel. Guess what? I can only find a few things that aren't as a part of an English Assignment and aren't by ME.
That I can find gobs of hawt pictures of Sydney Losstarot but not of Sydney Carton makes me think that the English Lit Geek crowd has a lot of ground that they need to regain. So let's have it.
Send me your fanart for Tale of Two Cities by the end of February 2010 and I'll post it on my blog. The one I select as the winner gets an antique copy of Tale of Two Cities with pretty illustrations in it!
Here are some guidelines:

-No Ex-English Lit Assignments. You need to do this because you want to, not because you had to.
-Must be original. I'll know if you traced or eyeballed something else. My knowledge on this topic is encyclopaedic.
-No slash or shonen-ai. Please. For the love of all that is holy.
-Must be a picture of an event or character from Tale of Two Cities.
-Manga is discouraged. Unless you are crash hot at Manga style. I realize this is a bit of a jerky thing to do, but a) everyone draws manga and I'm kind of sick of the style in general and b) every fanart that isn't by me seems to be Manga.
Mail your pictures to scrabcake@gmail.com
That's it. Happy Arting!