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15 posts from October 2007

October 30, 2007

Checking In On Resolutions

Last year, my new year's resolutions ran thus.

I have completed the following:

3. Get my pictures framed and hang them on my wall. I've been buying artwork for years and storing it and it's time I started framing it. The suckers have been sitting around too long, taking up space. 2007 will be a visually pleasing year! DONE!


5. Get health insurance. DONE!!!


But I'm down to the wire now--two months left--and I haven't gotten most of it done. So I'm paring the remainder of the list down.

My TO DO list for the next two months goes as follows.

1. Finish "The Sixth Element," the boringly titled YA fantasy nobble, or at least the first draft.

2. Get on the insulin pump. I have the insurance. I have an appointment this week with a new doctor. It's a go.

3. Make more progress on eating right, exercising, and losing weight. I'm working on this, but slowly. It might not happen but I'm planning on making a good start.

4. Get my submissions spreadsheets in order (they've been neglected the past two months) and then send out my next round of submissions. I've been pretty good about sending stuff out the first half of the year, but got discouraged and stopped.

5. Finish the one story on my plate right now.

6. Visit my sister. I have the dates set, just need to buy the ticket.

7. Get started on tango lessons again. I know where/when to go, but have to find the time. This week is crazy so it will have to start next week.

I really don't think that this is too much for the next two months. Go team!

October 28, 2007

TV Rearrangemint

So this is what I'm watching now:

  1. Gossip Girl: Blake Lively is well-named. Love her! All the actors, and characters, are alive, fresh, and energetic ... full of their motivations and plans. When the show loses that freshness, I'll lose interest, but for now, it's really, really fun.

  2. Heroes: was testing my patience, but last week's show, with the nightmare dad and the evil Veronica Mars, kicked me into high gear.

  3. Ugly Betty: stalling, but UB's stall is better than most shows' vroom.

  4. Journeyman: which started out slow, but is building up slowly but surely. They need to resolve the brother-thinks-the-lead-is-on-drugs tension soon, though, or it will get boring.

  5. Chuck: like Gossip Girl, there's a lot to dislike here, but the characters (and actors behind them) are so fresh and energetic right now, and the hero, for once, is neither particularly brilliant, nor skillful, nor able to kick people's butts. He's just a really sweet guy (and very cute and built like a model, without having to work out.) Plus, the dialogue is very snappy, and not in wearing way (yet). It could all go horribly wrong in a second, but for now, it's fun.

I may pick up:

  1. Samantha Who?: which I just started watching this weekend. I like it, but I've already seen 13 going on 30.

  2. Aliens in America: which I just started watching this weekend. I like it, but I don't want to relive high school yet again. I hate high school sucks shows.

  3. Dexter, which I can watch on my laptop from work, if I ever get around to it. Still haven't started season 2.

I have stopped watching/tried and will never go back to:

  1. Pushing Daisies: no interest whatsoever. How boring. No spark.

  2. Grey's Anatomy: drove me away. Yuck. I can't even be coherent about how bad that show is. Okay, here's a hint: my two favorite characters were Addison and Burke.

  3. The new thing with Nate from Six Feet Under. Argh.

  4. That misogynist show with four guys including the love interest from Alias. Arrrggh.

  5. Th' Bionic Numnuts. What a stupid show. I keep trying to make myself go over to the website and catch up--I'm like three episodes behind--but I can't make myself do it. This is really a sitch where, if the show were an undergraduate short story, and we were in a workshop, people would be sitting around with their mouths slightly open, shifting in their seats. Someone would finally say: "I really like what you're trying to do with the family situation--with the sisters and their irresponsible father. That's unusual." Then another uncomfortable silence, which would be broken either by the obnoxious guy whose sole purpose there is to tell people they suck when all the others are too conflict-averse to do so, or, if the workshop didn't have someone like that, the instructor, who would ask: "What do you guys think about her use of symbolism?" and everyone would groan internally, but gamely finish out her 45 minutes with discussions of roundhouse kicks and car accidents.

When is BSG starting up again? Will I have time to watch it with all my other commitments?

October 27, 2007

More on Arts Criticism

The truly lovely John Darnielle tries to make peace between his own more positive nature, and the point of view in this idolator post by Jess Harvell.

Harvell, calling out mindless rah-rah in online music crit, sez:

Bands need someone calling them on their shit to improve past the status of a hobby. Empty boosterism is fine on the level of bands playing house parties, but it feels almost cruel to watch its effects on suddenly "important" young bands in 2007 and depressing to watch its effects on the musical landscape of 2007. And calling it criticism with a straight face is the biggest canard of the blog era.

... If nothing else, people always love to argue about whether or not critics and reviews are useful as a "buyer's guide," and many have also argued that if music is as oversaturated as everyone says at the moment, it follows that the intermediaries should be more important than ever, even if the MP3-and-no-contextual-information evidence seems to say that the converse is true. Taste is subjective, but right now there are a lot of untrustworthy voices out there, voices with little in the way of insight--hell, voices that don't even really want to start arguments--and yet are nonetheless regarded as the New Critics, at least among those old media types with the power to anoint such empty titles.

... It's easy to have a lot of friends when you don't stand for anything--again, having opinions is called "hating" these days--and it's equally easy to look like you're merely out to snarkily puncture hype with no stance of your own when commenting on reviews and trends. But for the bands' sakes--which means for the listeners' sakes, since they can only benefit by a band actually getting, you know, good--a moratorium on slobbering praise, at least when it comes to newborn bands like Black Kids, needs to be imposed by those with the kingmaking abilities.

Darnielle responds:

The ideal would be criticism that aspired neither to praise nor to damn, but to understand and elucidate; the ideal would involve not wanting to help or hinder the object of one's scrutiny, but to fairly describe it. That would be real progress toward something rigorous and difficult and exciting, and...well: does that sound like something our culture, macro or micro, is really equipped to do at this point in our history?

Boy, this is all sounding so familiar.

As much as I--as a massive MG fan--want to kiss Darnielle's ass, I have to agree more with Harvell here (and obviously have in the past, as my own post makes clear.) Darnielle's not really saying anything other than: "That way lies too much negativity. Can we find some middle ground? ... well, probably not."

And he's right. There's no competent or useful middle ground between "criticism exists to knowledgeably and expertly evaluate the arts as a proxy for audiences," and "criticism exists to sell arts," and "criticism exists as an outlet for the feelings of rank amateurs excited about the effect the arts have begun to have on them."

You have to pick one and stick to it. And the real problem that causes all this discussion is that there's plenty of the latter two, but not nearly enough of the first.

October 26, 2007

10 Mistakes

Update: I forgot to include my small beef with #5 so I inserted it below.

I'm glad Heather Wood at the Huffington Post wrote about the ten mistakes white people make when talking about race (via RAAW), but, sadly, she got some of it a leetle bit wrong.

2. Using Culture-Specific Slang to Relate to Other Races

K-Fed, you ain't. And you just shouldn't try to be--ever.

Hunh? Does she not know that K-Fed is white?

3. Assuming Biracial People Identify More with One Side Than the Other

The majority race in America today isn't white, black, or even Latino. It's biracial. And this will only increase with each successive generation. We're a society that loves to check off boxes, but the greater challenge is to stop seeing people as shades and start knowing them for who they are.

Hunh? Lady, biracials/multiracials barely even make up 2% of the US population. Are you confusing this stat with the one where multi-ethnic whites make up the majority of whites nowadays? That is to say: most whites are no longer just Polish, or just English anymore. Most of them are Norwegian/Italian, or Swedish/French, or ... whatever, combos don't interest me.

Also, the problem isn't people assuming biracials identify more with one side than the other. What she's talking about here is actually people assuming black/white biracials identify as black ... unless, of course, they can pass. The actual mistake is assuming anything about multiracials at all. Many multiracials do identify more with one side. Others don't. You can't tell by looking at 'em.

5. Using Outdated Terms When Describing Different Races

Oriental, Colored, and Indian went out of style a long time ago; in fact, they're considered offensive. So, too, is lumping every Spanish-speaking person into a general category like "Mexican" or any Arab-looking person as "Persian" (it's a specific country, people). Feeling the need to identify is a nervous reaction we have when faced with issues of race. Black, white, Asian and Latino/a are generally accepted, but when in doubt, how about you just call someone by their actual name. Who says we have to classify ourselves all the time anyway?

Um ... actually, "Persians," or Iranians, aren't Arab at all. They're a completely different ethnicity/race/whateveryouwannacallit. And no one refers to any Arab-looking person as "Persian." They don't even refer to them as "Iranian." They refer to them as "Arab." Or else something worse.

6. Believing Stereotypes

Yes, black Americans dominate most sports, more Asians are accepted into MIT than any other race, and Latinos have been known to tear up a dance floor. Though some race-specific stereotypes seem like positive assumptions, imagine yourself on the other end, with high expectations placed on your shoulders simply because of a scrutinized minority. White people don't have the pressure to be the best in math or sports; they just have to be good enough. Everyone else should get the same slack.

Yikes! what an argument! Lower your expectations of POC because that's more fair? No, sweetie, the real problem with "positive" stereotypes is that they bolster a system of thought in which people think you can tell something about someone by their race. Not by their culture, by their race. "Positive" stereotypes are stereotypes with a smile. All people smile, even racists. And the person who smiles at you and expects you to play basketball well, or do math, or be hot in bed, is always also the person who thought you got into college because of affirmative action, or who will, when the chips are down, finally pull out a "negative" stereotype.

All stereotypes are racist!

But kudos to her for getting this out there. It's by thinking things through that you actually understand things, and it's by putting it out there---and maybe getting some discussion---that your ideas are improved upon.

October 24, 2007


9780689304262Greenwitch, the third book of The Dark is Rising series, is a weird little book. And I do mean little. In my edition it's less than 150 pages. Almost a novella.

After ripping on Over Sea, Under Stone, yesterday, I was eager to see if Greenwitch held up, not that I had loved it as much as TDIR when I was a kid, but I'd thought it was a good book.

And it still is, despite continuing conflict between the Famous Three adventure story tone and the TDIR mystic mood. This is the book where Will from TDIR is brought together with the Drew children from OSUS. Will is entirely unused here. He's played off as an adult, basically, wah-wah wah wahing like the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon. The three children ... well, the boys really, are just as pointless and annoying as ever, but Jane has a new job here that I'm a bit ambivalent about.

The beauty of a child stepping into a predetermined role in an ancient ritual--and then adding their own style to the performance of that role--is one of the things that makes TDIR so luminous. And the child who does that in Greenwitch isn't Will this time, but Jane Drew.

HERE BE SPOILAGE! She goes to the making of the Greenwitch, a wicker "child" sacrificed to, or adopted by, the sea every spring. Only women of the village are allowed to attend, but Merlin swings her an invite. While there, she goes to make a wish on the completed Greenwitch, a village tradition, but is overwhelmed by the sadness emanating from the figure, which has acquired a sort of magic power as it is made. Instead of wishing for something for herself, she wishes that the Greenwitch might be happy.

It is her (very minor) self-sacrifice that wins them the McGuffin in the end. And I have a bit of an issue with this. Cooper struggles to give each of what will in the end be FOUR boys a distinct character role. But she doesn't really struggle with Jane. Jane's role is set: she's The Girl. She gets to play an important role in this one because, as a girl, she's the only one of them who can get close to the Greenwitch. Not because she's smart, or sensitive, or heroic, or magical. Because she's a girl.

And the choice she makes is the girl's choice: self-sacrifice, empathy. ARgh!

Anyway, the other weird thing about the book is that its purpose is to clean up the mess that OSUS left. OSUS was crap, as I have said, and at some level, Cooper must have known this. The series of books is about the acquisition of four things of power which will then defeat the dark. Four things of power, five books. So the obvious arc would be one book for each thing, and then the fifth book for the showdown.

But it takes three books to get two of the things. The Grail is acquired in OSUS, but the manuscript inside the grail, without which the grail is useless, is lost. Then, at the beginning of Greenwitch, the grail is stolen back, so they don't have either of the things it took a whole book to get. So it takes another whole book to get them back. Not efficient storytelling, but then Cooper was working with two different decks: one a card deck and one a tarot deck. Greenwitch is the attempt to meld the two different lines she's started, or rather to bring the children of OSUS into the world of TDIR. She mostly succeeds.

There's also a bit of business about cultural relativity that falls flat. Too bad, b/c the bit about class conflict in TDIR made some interesting promises. Unfortunately, everyone in this world has servants/housekeepers, and Cooper makes much play of the betrayal of servants. Seems she wasn't half as conscious of class war as she wanted to be.

October 23, 2007

Over Sea, Under Stone

N17680I just read Over Sea, Under Stone, the first book of the Dark Is Rising series by Susan Cooper, and I looked on the copyright pages for the pub dates. Turns out, OSUS was first published in 1965, and the other four books in 1973, '74, '75, and '77.

So it seems that what I suspected might be true: the first book was written, possibly as part of a series or possibly as a standalone, and then Cooper was stuck for a long time until she came up with Will and the concept for the other four books, and was able to write them all together.

This makes sense: the momentum, the urgency, of the books doesn't really appear until the second book. Also, the language that indicates that the books are part of a series and that there are further battles to win doesn't appear until the second book. She doesn't find her feet, or her continuity, until The Dark is Rising.

I read online that Cooper wrote OSUS in response to a contest for a children's adventure story, and that's exactly what it is: slightly more naturalistic Famous Five crapola. In fact, the book is a direct rip-off of the Famous Five formula, three siblings go to a town by the sea on vacation and have mystery adventures with buried treasure and pirates' caves and such. With a dog; Cooper even jacked the dog. The only character she didn't steal was the tomboy George, a cryptofemme genderqueer who might have been cool in Cooper's hands if Cooper had allowed herself to follow the possibilities. But she didn't.

That's why OSUS sucked. Yes, it sucked. You can see some of the later, wonderful Cooper in there, but in a really trying way. Her precise descriptions of ritual pageantry, that made The Dark is Rising so Greenawayesque, shows up here as endless, pointless getting people across the room and out the door, so to speak. The kids actually have to go through a corridor, then through another one, then up some stairs, back to their room, move a wardrobe, go up a ladder, through an attic, and then throw away an apple core and decide to pick it up in a strange little cubby hole in the corner of the attic before they finally find the damn treasure map. I would've just sent them straight to the attic and put the map under a loose plank. ... No, I just wouldn't have written the book at all.

The plot (SPOILAGE AHEAD) hinges on a treasure map the children find on a rainy day in th' Cap'n's house (yawn), which turns out to be less of a map than a step, by step diagram, like that children's party game where you hide progressive clues around the house, each clue leading to the next. Despite dire warnings of a definitive battle between good and evil from their great-uncle Merlin, the process still feels like a party game, and Merlin treats it like one, letting the kids put themselves into real physical danger.

The only The Dark is Risingesque elements are a very brief carnival scene, which isn't given nearly the Cooper treatment that I would have liked, and a distinctly lonely and cold mood about the ancient sites that prefigures the rest of the series. But there's also not nearly enough of this.

Also, ephelba asked a couple of posts ago about my take on a couple of scenes in the book. The first is when the children are exploring the house on the rainy day and find the map. Before they find the map, they're pretending to be explorers in the jungle, and there's some by-play among them about how they're being followed by "rude natives." The second one is when the bad guy kidnaps the youngest brother at the carnival, he's dressed like an Arab.

I think these are two different issues. The first is the origins of the children's adventure story in imperialist expansion, and the second is racial drag.

Without dismissing the children's-adventure-story-as-imperialist-training-camp issue, I'm not going to really address it here. Except to say that the sun has set on the fictional British empire, and the appearance of children pretending to explore a jungle served by rude native porters and fearful of cannibals is--in 1965--pretty much Kipling's death rattle. It's sad, clichéd, and boring, but it's at this point a formulaic jerk of the knee. Meaningless.

I say this because the whole book is so rote and clichéd. She was working out some shit, clearly, and I'll need to see the rest of the series again with an adult eye. But, to give the whole series a political read, she starts out with rote imperialist adventure, and moves, in the succeeding four books, more and more and more into Brit Isles interiority, mirroring the postwar withdrawal of the UK back into itself, and the turning of its political attention towards its domestic ills.

The racial drag of someone dressing as an Arab is not a past problem, though. It's a present one. Not that anyone dresses up as Arabs anymore. I think Abscam put an end to that. But you see people costumed as "geishas" all the time.

Alright, I'll be serious. There's not much commentary in the bad guy dressing up as an Arab except: 1) it's the bad guy and his Arab costume is dwelt upon strangely, making the connection stick. Bad guy = Arab. and 2) it makes racial drag sound okay as a holiday costume choice.

Racial Drag Is Not Okay As A Costume Choice, Kids!

I think both of these are relatively toothless, but, of course, these are not the sort of clichés we want to put into children's heads, and leaving this particular book out of The Dark is Rising sequence you read to your kiddies aloud won't actually hurt anything. I didn't read the first one until long after I'd read the other four, and I didn't feel that I'd missed anything. Honestly, though, I really think it's more of a poor read than a politically bad read.

I'm worried now, though, b/c, as I remember it, the second and fourth books were the best ones, and the first, third, and fifth books include the Famous Three. I'm off to read Greenwitch now and maybe it's gonna suck again, too, although Will is in it.

October 21, 2007

The Dark is Rising

Dark_is_rising_the_pixSo I just finished The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, the second book of The Dark is Rising children's fantasy series, and my favorite book when I was a kid ... the book that was supplanted only by Pride and Prejudice, which tells you something about when and how my adolescence started.

I read right through to the last chapter yesterday (finished the last chapter this morning) and then had a bit of an epiphany regarding my own YA fantasy novel. To wit:

There are two plots in The Dark is Rising. The main plot centers around 11-year-old Will Stanton, an English village boy and the baby of a family of ten kids (seventh son, as it happens, of a seventh son.) Will wakes up on his eleventh birthday to find that he is an Old One, basically one of a line of wizards going back into human prehistory who make up "The Light" a side on the battle between good and evil. The other side is, of course, called "The Dark."

Will is the last of the Old Ones, and the Dark is rising for the last time, for a final, multi-year battle that will decide the fate of humanity forever.

But no pressure, right?

I make that snarky comment because Will's arc in the book is predetermined. Everything he does, he does only half understanding what he does. Every act he performs is part of a much older, and more elaborate ceremony that Will does not initiate, or even understand. In this adult reading I have just done, I'm seeing how Will's role in the book is that of someone stepping into a part in a play--or a role in a ceremony, of course--which is set. He can only complete it or fail to complete it. He can't really deviate.

Will's character only really comes out in the small opportunities he has to add his personal style to the actions he performs. He bows to a magical road, for example, to honor its magic, or he puts out a huge hearth fire, rather than a small candle, to practice his magic. He is fooled by The Dark at one point in breaking the circle of Old Ones, and puts everyone in danger, but it all comes right in the end.

For kids, seeing their proxy, the child-protagonist, stepping into a pre-ordained role is very, very satisfying, particularly for kids around the age of eleven or so, tweens, reaching their greatest maturity as children, but not yet raging with hormones. Kids of that age love order. They love to know the way things are supposed to be and to see things fall into place the way they're supposed to.

More than that, of course, this situation mirrors that of older children, who are not yet adolescents, and still look like children, but are being expected to perform responsible roles in family, school, and community, without entirely understanding what those roles mean. Giving this situation layers of depth, history, tradition, and importance is what is so compelling and satisfying for kids that age.

The Dark is Rising is particularly satisfying in this way because the book constantly references ancient English traditions based in magic and the supernatural, as well as legends and myths. These traditions are almost never explained in the book, but rather described in a slightly formal, intensely lyrical language, in a sweet, melancholy, and often cold and distancing tone. It's a tone that's reminiscent of that moment, during class field trips to old buildings, when you looked on someone's grave, or some historical figure's portrait--or the MS of the Declaration of Independence--and realized that a real human hand, or a real human spirit, was behind all of this, and that that human was long dead. That they were just like, but didn't think like, you. And the hairs on the back of your neck went up.

So the order that falls into place in The Dark is Rising is not merely the order usually displayed in children's books: that of contemporary morality and contemporary society, i.e. a very recent, and not deeply-rooted order. The order in The Dark is Rising is a pre-Christian, almost tribal order, created by the understanding of Dark and Light (not even good and evil, because the Light often performs cruel acts.) The book refers often to conflicts between Christianity and pre-Christian supernaturalism, or to class differences: Will is descended from yeoman farmers and artisans, and Will's father deeply resents the squire-like manorial behavior of the lady of their local great-house, and of her butler, who happens to be the first of the Old Ones, and himself a former feudal lord. The book makes the point that the fight between the Dark and the Light transcends these smaller conflicts, but doesn't gloss over the conflicts at all.

Of course, I didn't notice any of this when I was a kid.

When contemplating this book, and the movie that just came out which I'm afraid to go see (the trailer showed a scene of the now American, 13-year-old Will performing a Matrix-like roundhouse kick) the only filmmaker I can think of who could do the book true justice would be, of all people, Peter Greenaway. The Peter Greenaway, of course, not of The Cook, the Thief, his Wife, and her Lover, but of The Draughtsman's Contract, and especially of Prospero's Books. Because this strange and wonderful, and beautifully written, little book (which the movie's Merriman Lyon called "a slog," the bastard) is more of a series of set pieces rich in history, and cultural relevance and reference.

It is a series of beautiful, half-strange/half-familiar tableaux of humans taking on ritual aspects of the natural world to acquire power and perform rites that will arouse and channel the supernatural. It's a series of aesthetic investigations into where human artifice and common culture intersect with the natural world, and where these two interact with and are enhanced by the numinous.

It's really an amazing book.

This would, of course, be enough to make me happy for the rest of my life, but the book has a second, sub-plot, which I never noticed before underpins the entire structure of the book and brings all this lofty, high-fantasy stuff down to a human level. This sub-plot centers around The Walker (SPOILAGE AHEAD!), the 13th century servant of Merriman Lyon, the first of the Old Ones. Merriman raised this guy, named Hawkin, as his own son, and is terribly attached to him, but in Merriman's cold way, more like a pet than a human.

Because of the love and trust between them, and because, although humans are stuck in time, Old Ones are not, and may move themselves and humans back and forth in time at will, Merriman weaves Hawkin into a spell he makes to protect a book that needs to be kept out of the hands of the Dark until Will wakens into his power. The book can only be taken out of its hiding place by Merriman if the he is touching Hawkin with one hand. This protects against Merriman's being turned by the Dark, because, if the other Old Ones suspect anything, they can kill Hawkin and keep the book safe. So for the sake of Will's magical education, Merriman forces Hawkin to risk his life.

Hawkin deals with it until the time comes to remove the book and give it to Will, and then he realizes viscerally exactly the kind of peril Merriman has willingly put him to. That same night he goes over to the Dark and endangers the Light by giving the Dark a doorway--his own mind--into one of the Light's strongholds. Throughout the book, we see him confronting Merriman three times, and each of these confrontations is painful in a way that nothing else in the book truly is. Where ritual and ceremony and magic are being performed elsewhere by our protagonist, always, in a corner, Merriman and Hawkin play out their human tragedy over and over, with magic having no real part of it. And in this tragedy, it is Hawkin who has all the power, because he has free will, and the endlessly powerful, all-seeing Merriman can't affect his decision at all.

Hawkin is hands down the strongest character in the book, and the thing that makes this book still the best fantasy I have ever read.

My personal epiphany yesterday was about exactly that: there needs to be a much more down-to-earth, adult conflict in my book to counterbalance the children's coming-of-age, magical education story that will be the main story. I have no strong adult characters who make it all the way through the book, and I need some. In children's lit, especially middle grade and YA, the child-protagonists' growth is measured against the performance of the adults around them. There need to be strong adult characters, and these characters need to show their quality in acting against their own conflicts, for the book to have true depth.

I'll have more to write about TDIR later but that's all for now.

October 16, 2007

Reading Update

Argh! Teh read books are pilin' up! I have to just list them.

I never mentioned, I don't think, that I read Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell (go read!) or re-read The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (yay!)

Also read New Moon, the second book in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series. I was horrified by it, but I'm going to read the third one before I rip on it so that I can tear the whole series (so far) a new asshole properly. A hint: I went looking for Meyer's religious affiliation, that's how horrifying the book is; turns out, she's Mormon.

I'm now re-reading The Dark is Rising series, because it's so wonderful! I'm starting with The Dark is Rising, though and not Over Sea, Under Stone, which was my least favorite of the five. Maybe it's a mistake, but I always read OS,US after TDIR and before Greenwitch, b/c I didn't like it, but Greenwitch is better if you read OS,US first.

I'm babbling.

How to Handle Junk Mail & Telemarketers

My parents finally sent me one of those annoying forwarded "you have to see this!" emails, and, as usual, they were totally right:

Tips for Handling Telemarketers  

Three Little Words That Work !!

  1. The three little words are:  'Hold On, Please...'

    Saying this, while putting down your phone and walking off (instead of hanging-up immediately) would make each telemarketing call so much more time-consuming that boiler room sales would grind to a halt. Then when you eventually hear the phone company' s 'beep-beep-beep' tone, you know it's time to go back and hang up you r handset, which has efficiently completed its task.

    These three little words will help eliminate telephone soliciting.

  2. Do you ever get those annoying phone calls with no one on the other end?  

    This is a telemarketing technique where a machine makes phone calls and records the time of day when a person answers the phone. This technique is used to determine the best time of day for a 'real' sales person to call back and get someone at home. 

    What you can do after answering, if you notice there is no one there, is to immediately start hitting your  # button on the phone, 6 or 7 times, as quickly as possible This confuses the machine that dialed the call and it kicks your number out of their system. Gosh, what a shame not to have your name in their system any longer !!!  

  3. Junk Mail Help:

    When you get 'ads' enclosed with your phone or utility bill, return these 'ads' with your payment. Let the sending companies throw their own junk mail away.

    When you get those 'pre-approved' letters in the mail for everything from credit cards to 2nd mortgages and similar type junk, do not throw away the return envelope. Most of these come with postage-paid return envelopes, right? It costs them more than the regular 41 cents postage 'IF' and when they receive them back. It costs them nothing if you throw them away! The postage was 39 cents before the last increase and it is according to the weight. In that case, why not get rid of some of your other junk mail and put it in these cool little, postage-paid return envelopes.

    Send an ad for your local chimney cleaner to American Express. Send a pizza coupon to Citibank. If you didn't get anything else that day, then just send them their blank application back! If you want to remain anonymous, just make sure your name isn't on anything you send them. You can even send the envelope back empty if you want to just to keep them guessing! It still costs them 41 cents.

    The banks and credit card companies are currently getting a lot of their own junk back in the mail, but folks, we need to OVERWHELM them. Let's let them know what it's like to get lots of junk mail, and best of all they're paying for it...Twice! 

    Let's help keep our postal service busy since they are saying that e-mail is cutting into their business profits, and that's why they need to increase postage costs again. You get the idea!

    If enough people follow these tips, it will work ---- I have been doing this for years, and I get very little junk mail anymore. 

You know what I've been doing all week! It's soooooo satisfying!

October 15, 2007

I'd Rather Be Blogging

My stepcousin Sean has started a new blog for geeks, geekery, and geekiness called "I'd Rather Be ____". I guess nobody told him about the blogosphere ...

You'll find it here.

October 13, 2007

In Other News: Race Activists Now Have Superpowers

I got into it with Angry Black Woman guest blogger Nora a couple of months ago in comments on a post she wrote where I accused her of avoiding the racist issues that exist between African and Asian Americans. I won't get into that whole thing right now, but I write this to offer a caveat: there might be some little bit of unresolved tension motivating me, and you might want to keep your salt shaker handy.

(I intend to write a series of long posts about the tension between Asians and blacks eventually, but it seemed at best graceless, not mention divisive, to post those during the Jena 6 controversy, especially when there has been near-silence from the Asian American community--and me--about it.)


So today I read Nora's post from Friday in which she wonders if racism has suddenly surged:

Because it really does seem like there’s been a significant increase in blatant, obvious racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry these days. Is it just me? I’m not talking about the institutionalized stuff; that never seems to fade. But suddenly we’ve got nooses all over the place, racially-motivated rape/torture, and miscarriages of justice so incontestable that even the national media (eventually) comments on it.

Then she gives us a history lesson:

It’s been almost fifty years now since the start of the Civil Rights Movement. I count that time as the start of real, substantive US national dialogue about racial equality. For a brief few painful moments, the whole country talked about how to get along with each other: what not to say if you don’t want to piss people off, what not to do if you don’t want to get arrested or sued. During that time, blatant racism became societally frowned-upon. There was one immediate good result of this change: blatant racism diminished. There was also one very bad result: namely that a lot of people — not just white people — convinced themselves that racism had gone away.

That’s when things got weird. For one thing, the national dialogue all but stopped. With so many people declaring that racism was dead, it seemed strange to keep talking about it, so a lot of people went silent. For those who kept talking, a strange thing occurred: they became societally frowned-upon too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had friends, particularly friends of other races, apologize to me for mentioning race. Not for making racist remarks — for mentioning race. I bet it’s happened to you, too. WTF? Somehow, somewhere along the way, talking about race has become conflated with promoting racism.

The illogic between these two statements is boggling. First she says that we're talking about racism, nationally, all the time these days, then she says that we're not allowed to talk about racism. Why all this?:

of course, reports of racism’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. And lately, I’ve felt it getting worse.

I have no empirical evidence to back up this feeling — just my instincts, that sense of “race-dar” that most PoC develop somewhere in adolescence. My Spidey Senses are tingling more than usual.

Oh, I see. It's not because racist incidents are all over the news right now, it's because Nora's POC "race-dar" is going off. Because her "Spidey Senses" are tingling---those senses that only blacks have in full, but Indians and Latinos in part, Arabs and Asians a little bit, and white people not at all---she "knows" that there's more racism goin' on right now.

With this level of historical understanding, with this level of racial discourse, coming from someone who is promoted to us as a thought leader, is it any wonder that the racial discourse Nora engages in goes nowhere?


First of all: Nora's understanding of the history of racial struggle in the United States (as presented here) is laughably simplistic. Since the mid-nineteenth century--and even before--there have been successive waves of liberation ideology, followed by the enlightenment of a few whites, the uplift of a few blacks, and then a serious backlash.

Anyone who has ever read the Emancipation Amendments to the US Constitution (13th, 14th and 15th), could have no doubt that full citizenship rights for African Americans was on the national table as early as 1865. This period, between 1865-1870 (the passage of the three amendments) and 1877 (the Hayes administration's withdrawal of troops from the South), saw unprecendented freedom in both northern and southern states for blacks, with the election of the country's first black politicians, and even interracial marriages.

The US wasn't ready, and our current stereotypical understanding of what "racism" is---Jim Crow laws, KKK, lynchings, voter restrictions, etc.---arose during the backlash that followed in the next quarter century (until the turn of the century.) A campaign of racial terrorism against blacks--not just in the south but in northern states as well--put a lid on black liberation for nearly thirty years.

Not coincidentally, this period also saw the passing of racist laws excluding the immigration, and restricting the citizenship, ownership, and labor opportunities of Asians, particularly in the west. During the latter half of the century, Mexican Americans in western states were lynched at rate of 473 per 100,000 of the population; gender was no protection. And Native Americans were, in this period, also finally defeated in the Indian Wars, restricted to reservations, and saw their children stolen and placed in Indian Boarding Schools, thus largely destroying their traditional cultures.

Of course that eased up again and in the first decade of the 20th century, a group of African American intellectuals, among them W.E.B. DuBois, started the Niagara Movement, which culminated in the foundation of the NAACP in 1909. The following thirty years saw a slow, steady (with many setbacks) development of black institutions in both the south and the north, as the Great Migration of southern rural blacks to northern cities spurred the Harlem Renaissance of the 20's, creating a second, larger generation of black intellectuals who not only articulated the race problem, but set the terms for a debate that still rages along the same lines today.

The 1920s and 30s also saw Asian and Mexican Americans joining the labor movement and gaining for themselves a measure of respect and power through that association. Native Americans won American citizenship. This period also saw many POC leaders first making the connection among the struggles of their various "races." Although no broad-based POC coalitions happened as a result, in the labor movement meaningful alliances were formed, for example in California between Mexican and Filipino field workers.

It's tempting to dismiss this period as a dark one, since the picture for most African Americans, not to mention other races, was one of poverty, limitation, and the constant potential for racial targeting. But racial issues hit the national discourse periodically, and the slow, upward creep of national racial consciousness never ceased between the turn of the century and the Civil Rights Movement.

The Civil Rights Movement was a breaking point, a climax in a tension that had been rising pretty much steadily until WWII, and then had been rising much more quickly throughout the fifties. Naturally, as after Reconstruction, this period of rapid acquistion of civil rights was followed by a serious backlash. Only this backlash was different, and much less successful. For one thing, much of the Movement had radicalized, and focused its energy on building up black instituations within the black communities.

For another, a lot of white liberal energy, as well as white conservative energy, was drawn off of Civil Rights into the antiwar movement. And, just as in WWII when black soldiers gained respect for their entire community, during Vietnam, white and black soldiers serving together did a great deal to change working class attitudes toward the black community.

Also, black civil rights inspired Asian Americans, Chicanos, and Native Americans to form their own pan-ethnic, racial liberation movements. The seventies, far from a conservative backlash, saw the success of the antiwar movement, and the establishment of national Asian American, Latino, and American Indian institutions, which solidified that national understanding of these groups as racial blocs, creating the basis for political power bases. A number of institutional battles for entitlements began during this decade that were ultimately won here or in the eighties: fights for affirmative action in the granting of government contracts, hiring practices, college acceptance, busing, nutrition and health entitlements for children, etc.

The eighties was when idiots like Ronald Reagan declared racism over, but that doesn't mean that racial discourse fell off the table: far from it. National identity-based institutions continued fighting for--and winning--entitlements based on race and ethnicity. This was the decade of "identity politics" and the "culture wars," which revolved not merely around whether or not Congress gets to decide what art is, but whether or not our national culture--both high and low--included the "subcultures" of women, queers, people of color, and immigrants. White artists like to say that we lost the culture wars, but POC and women resoundingly won the culture wars, as evidenced by the periodic grumblings of white men that there are too many unworthy women and blacks (and black queer women!) on reading lists, in magazine articles, in our fiction, nonfiction, national discourse, etc. etc.

The nineties was when Generation X, the first generation raised since the Civil Rights Movement, came of age and seized control of the national dialogue. This is part of the reason why racial discourse was driven, to a certain extent, underground. White GenXers both did and didn't believe Reagan when he said racism was over. They wanted to believe, but knew better than to trust politicians and media. Also, all the institutional entitlements won in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, although constantly embattled, had been so bound up with class, rather than race, entitlements, that--as Nora points out--the Clinton Administration was able to make racial entitlements a question of socialism vs. democracy.

(By the way, today, Bushies have taken advantage of this to shame race activists. It's really hard to argue that blacks, for example, should get more entitlements, when poor whites are losing theirs, too. And yet racial institutions are so used to calling the white man the devil--and I'm talking about all the racial institutions--that they're really hard pressed to form pan-racial coalitions of impoverished and working class. This is particularly hard when conservative working class whites insist on believing that the entitlements they're losing are "socialist.")

The nineties, however, particularly the late nineties, saw a coming of age of GenX POC, who have leveraged new media and the culture/media discussion of the eighties to create a media-savvy, national voice for themselves and each of their groups. Much of the discussion of the nineties was around representation in the media. Anyone who says that discussion of race went entirely underground just. wasn't. paying. attention.

The early "aughts" or "00s" of the 21st Century gave us two things: another racist war, and Katrina. Katrina brought race back into the national consciousness, and also consolidated a new way of leveraging opinions, funds, and action: the internet. And let's not forget moveon.org's move from the internet into face to face activism during the 2006 election, which resulted in a Democratic win. We talked a lot without doing much about race in the nineties because we didn't know how to close the gap between virtual and real communities. But we've learned how to do that recently.

Which brings us to today, black bloggers like ABW and Nora, and the thousands of others who made Jena a household word of shame, and to my second point.


Secondly: it's loooong been a question whether the rape and child molestation rates have really risen over the few decades that they've been collected, or whether recent acquisitions of civil rights for women and children have allowed these crimes to be reported at levels more closely approximating their actual occurrence. This same question dogs every societal malaise and malady that becomes a trend: scientists are currently wondering if we're really having an autism epidemic, or if we've become so sensitized to autism spectrum conditions that people who never would have been diagnosed before are now being diagnosed.

Did it ever occur to Nora to wonder if racist incidents are all over the news right now not because suddenly racism is happening everywhere (it boggles my mind that Nora seems to think that this shit hasn't been happening quietly everywhere all along), but because suddenly race is on the national agenda again for a variety of reasons?

But you have to know history to understand--or even to see--these reasons:

  1. The 21st century is seeing an unprecedented "wiring" of American POC to the internet, and an unprecendented ability to leverage new communications to organize.

  2. The POC rehearsal of the nineties, in which internet-savvy POC practiced outrage by quibbling endlessly with media race portrayals has resulted in broad-based, loose national coalitions of opinion-creating POCs who can activate quickly.

  3. The current antiwar movement, the mobilization of funds and volunteers for Katrina through a blog-led racial outrage machine, and the realization, through moveon.org's successful 2006 election campaign, that online mobilization actually works, has finally culminated in racial groups actually using the internet to mobilize

  4. It's time, historically, for race to come back to the table, as it always does, sooner or later.

Far from it being a bad thing that Nora's supersenses are tingling, it's a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful thing.

Black voices of our and the next (Gen Y? Echo Boomers? Millennials?) generations are being unleashed on questions of socio-economic equity, and not just on media portrayals. This is why everyone is suddenly so angry and suddenly news of racist incidents is hitting us from everywhere. We have a new generation of POC discovering that racism isn't over. And they're, understandably, pissed. But that's when things get better, Nora, not worse, when people who should get angry, do, and start organizing mass demonstrations.

This is good for everybody, and especially for racial bloggers like Nora, who will suddenly become information portals for mobilized POC, exhilarated by their last---and looking for their next---battle. This is good for the bloggers who are prepared to look at both class and race, to sacrifice their egos and cherished points of view for the sake of a vitally important developing dialogue. Maybe not so good for bloggers who aren't capable of difficult change.

It's up to the bloggers themselves to make sure that they keep their audience ... if they can.

October 08, 2007

Come See Me Read!

Hey there, all! Yes, it's Litquake time again! Yes, I'm reading again during the very cool Lit Crawl. I'll be in Phase III from 8 to 8:45:

Mission Laundromat, 3282 22nd Street Lit Journals: Authors from On the Page and Tea Party Magazines Blair Campbell, Deborah Crooks, John Dylan Keith, Clara Hsu, Claire Light, Craig Santos Perez

Hope to see some of you out and about that night! I might even ... we'll see ... do a "blog reading," an as yet undefined type of performance which I might not have time to experiment with. We'll see ...

Readin' Update

Just tore through Naomi Novik's fourth Temeraire book Empire of Ivory. I just can't believe how well she maintains the aliveness and unique species character of all the dragons. If it's that easy, why don't everbody do it?

So happy.

October 06, 2007

Oh Dear

TV is so crap right now.

"Heroes" and "Ugly Betty" are just as good, but they feel more of the same, somehow. I can't really watch "Dexter" until they make the episodes available, plus I'm worried it's going to sophmore suck. "Grey's Anatomy" always did suck, and now that all our feisty females have been shackled to "where's my man?" plotlines, I have no more addiction. "Private Practice" is just sad.

"The Bionic Woman" has the best intentions in the world, but is suckily written, directed, acted, and produced. The only good thing about it is Starbuck fucking that hot Asian guy. Hott. But the dialogue is painful, the plot gaps are annoying, and the emotional illogic is bewildering ... and then boring.

"Moonlight" I couldn't even be bothered to watch the second episode. Damn, that's bad! "Journeyman" is promising, but no promises. It also has bad dialogue, but it flows.

Where's the stuff that I need to get excited about? Where's the creative new show, or the old show kicking its second season up a notch, and sliding into new territory? Where's the juice? The best new thing I've seen so far, oG help us, is "Gossip Girl."

I'm ready to take back all I said about the golden age of TV serial drama.

October 03, 2007

readin' update

Deep Wizardry by Diane Duane

Wonderful, again, like the first. And, again, like the first, a little bit of a disconnect between the hokey-jokiness of meeting whale wizards, and finding out dolphins' real, and very silly, names ... and the very serious and dark turn the book takes around the middle.

Beautifully written and heartfelt. But this tonal disconnect is starting to worry me. Don't know if it's just a personal limitation or if it's a problem with the book. I'll definitely keep reading, though. This stuff is too good not to.

The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Still digesting. But a few initial observations:

  1. after this, no one gets to use a "The ______, _______ Life of _______" title anymore. Oscar Wao finished that mini-trend, and anybody else will be overkill. I mean it. Francis MacComber will crawl out of his short, happy grave and eat your brains if you try it.

  2. Diaz also brings the geeked out, pop-cultured, genx hipster, muscle-voice to a point. Everybody's been trying it (including me) and it's taken care of now. Enough.

  3. I've been rebelling against the American Immigrant Story Structure for so long now, that everything stinks of it. I can't tell if this is regressive, or if this actually moves it forward. I don't think it moves the immigrant story out of its mid-century straightjacket, but, like I said, I'm still digesting.

  4. If you imitate the voice and outlook of a terminal macho asshole so well that your readers can't tell the difference between authorial and narrator's voice, then aren't you the terminal macho asshole? Just because you namecheck Los Bros and Luba, to get all meta and distance yourself from the fact that your one strong, alive female character is racked like a bowling alley, haven't you still showcased the breasts before the person?

I haven't decided on all this yet, and I finished the book a week ago. That's a good thing.

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