« March 2008 | Main | May 2008 »

21 posts from April 2008

April 30, 2008

Pass It On

Take it and pass it on, folks!


via Angry Asian Man.

April 29, 2008

Reading Update

At A Crossroads: Between a Rock and My Parents' Place by Kate T. Williamson

Yes, it's a memoir. An upper-middle white girl who went to Japan for a year after college comes home for three months to write a book about an upper middle white girl who goes to Japan for a year. She ends up staying at her parents' house for two years, getting depressed and confused about herself. The "story" is told in minimally captioned illustrations, which means that the book is at least a very quick zzzzzzz ... ulp--huh? ... uh ... I mean, at least it's a very quick read.

American white upper middle class memoir seems to have come to a head. We've read so godfuckingdamn many of these navel-gazers that, apparently, we don't even need to get the whole story anymore. The memoirists can just gesture in the direction of a scene (Williamson draws one or two panels and includes a one-line caption for each) and call it a day. The rest of us will know what they're trying to say without benefit of description, characterization, internal monologue, action, commentary, subtext, metaphor, or any of those difficult and time-consuming things lit teachers are always on about.

The illustrations are mostly good, if uninspired. Why the thing was published by the Princeton Architectural Press (which sent this review copy to me along with two books on urbanism and borders that I'm actually excited about) is immediately apparent in the gouache drawings themselves, which depict interiors and exteriors ... well ... architecturally. The movement or placement of dynamic figures among fixed geometric shapes is the book's main visual inquiry.

The panels are not sequential for the most part and therefore militate against narrative flow. Many of the best ones contain a great deal of dynamism within the panel, but because they don't link sequentially to the next panel, the energy is "trapped"--or maybe (to be nice) "contained"--within that particular panel, and doesn't contribute to a general flow throughout the book. Because the text serves the images, the text is therefore even more fragmented and ungenerous with narrative or commentary than the images are.

Nevertheless, the images are satisfyingly well-composed. The colors and the play with modular shapes are also good ... especially in a two-page spread of a dustpan filled with flower debris against a hardwood floor, and a near-cubist rendering of fields seen from an airplane window.

But the figure-drawing leaves much to be desired, and I think that's in line with what is left to be desired about the "writing": that the background is thoughtfully recreated but the figures and the action are pretty much ignored or made to look childishly cartoonish.

I swore to myself that I wouldn't be mean about books anymore and I'm already breaking that oath, but I gotta say ... how long, dear lord, must we sing this song? The author/artist has chops enough to make something really interesting of either some kind of actual narrative (for a preference something that doesn't have to do with her or people exactly like her), or a nonfiction book about ANYTHING but her own, predictably depressed and self-questioning self. Why was she encouraged to make--or once made, publish--ANOTHER memoir, and that merely one about writing her last memoir? Auuggghhh!

From what I can gather online, the first book, of a similar tactic, was probably much the better buy, offering her artistic take on both expected and unexpected images of a foreign culture. But I haven't read it so who knows.

Let me just put in here that I, as recently as two years ago, returned to the parental nest after completing grad school, and spent six months there, looking at squirrels and interrupting my mom's bridge games, trying to get my book done. And I have no sympathy or fellow feeling for this writer ... not because my experience was different from hers but because my experience was exactly the same. She offered me no insight into this particular condition, much less the human condition. Although, scene-for-scene, I experienced something similar to everything she depicted in her book, I felt not a single thrill of recognition. In fact, it's only as I've been writing this review that it's occurred to me that I've had the same experience. I wasn't even reminded of it while I was reading the frakkin book.

I think probably most readers will find this inoffensive, and some even delightful. But that's exactly the problem. There's not only no greatness here, no artistic virtue, but there's not even any attempt at a small kind of greatness or artistic virtue. It's just an inoffensive little book with no stretch and no ambition, that asks not a single question, challenges not a single circumstance, and won't make anyone uncomfortable in the slightest. And trees died for this.

My Pen Name

My pen name is Octavia G. Brooke. The cheatin' version would be Maryanne Thrace, because Maryanne wasn't the name she wrote under,  there's no middle name, and Thrace is fictional, but from a TV show. I like the latter one better.

via Gwenda.

April 28, 2008

Big News: Arizonans Still Xenophobic Racists

This makes me so mad I don't even know where to put myself: an amendment to an unrelated bill would make race-based student groups illegal at Arizona's state-funded schools.

I'm not entirely sure where this is coming from. The article says the measure was in response to "controversy surrounding an ethnic-studies program in the Tucson Unified School District, which critics have said is unpatriotic and teaches revolution."

Knowing Arizona, that probably means something related to Spanish/English bilingualism and Chicano pride. Wooo. Real Scary.

And of course it affects all students of color.

The fact that I'm not at all surprised doesn't make this okay. When I started at the University of Arizona in 1987 (that's right, do that math) the school still had an "Oriental Studies" department that included East Asian as well as Arabic studies. You know, oriental studies: all those folks east of the Caucasus. (The what? Exactly.)

Needless to say, there wasn't an Asian, much less an Asian American, group on campus. I educated myself by stumbling across a first edition hardback of Aiiieeeee!!! in a (probably now defunct) used book store on Fourth Ave., a completely chance meeting that altered the course of my life. Seriously.

Nearly ten years later I moved to San Francisco specifically looking for an Asian American community with whom I could discuss the ideas that had been kicking around my solitary head for the better part of a decade without outlet. And I ended up cofounding an Asian American cultural festival and an Asian American magazine--both relatively small efforts with, I flatter myself, disproportional impact. Perhaps I again flatter myself, but I think I've contributed as much to the development and celebration of real American culture as Racistsentative Russell Pearce.

(Here's his contact info, by the way, in case you feel moved to let him know what you think of his one-note "patriotism":

Representative Russell Pearce (R-18)
1700 West Washington ! Phoenix, Arizona 85007-2844
Phone:  (602) 926-5760 ! FAX: (602) 417-3118
rpearce@azleg.state.az.us ! www.azhousetv.org)

That stumble across an important book just underlines the importance of institutions of higher learning as places where young adults can discuss and play out ideas in safety ... until they hit on something solid enough to last a lifetime. Imagine what I could have accomplished if I'd been able to connect to my identity in college ... or for that matter, become an early and educated ally to other racial/ethnic groups through my friends in school.

But it doesn't matter. Because my college years--the years when I needed an education in, and peer support for, my late teens/early twenties identity search, the years when everybody should be dealing with this search so that they can go out into the world as self-aware, educated, confident adults--were wasted as far as helping me to understand who I was in myself, who I was in the world, and how my racial/ethnic background contributed to roles I was forced to fulfill and roles I could choose for myself. That opportunity for me is gone because I went to college in Arizona.

It's not gone for others, though. In the sixteen years since I graduated, Arizona has changed. My university now has, on brief scan, four pan-API organizations on campus, and that's not including ethnic specific orgs. There's an East Asian Studies department, and an Asian American studies minor.

Many years' worth of Asian American undergraduates in Arizona have had the opportunity to engage their own identities in the  (relative) safety of  college, so that they can become educated, self-aware, and productive adults. And now Racistsentative Pearce wants to turn back the clock?

Fuck him. FUCK HIM. Please note the contact info above and tell him what you think of him.

via Angry Asian Man.

April 27, 2008

Blogging Beats, Amanda Marcotte, and Seal Press

Even a personal blog like this one has a beat. Although I'm a feminist and have been known to blog about women's issues on occasion, I don't consider myself in any way knowledgeable about feminism as a field. I read what I need to get on with my life and try to listen to more smarter and reader feminists than I. So I don't usually engage in discussions in the feminist blogosphere and the women of color blogosphere on my blog since there are tons of women out there saying the things I would have said if I knew enough, and saying it better.

I'm also allergic to appearing to be jumping on bandwagons, so when a discussion that doesn't fall within my specific beat is raging, I tend not to post about it myself. But on the other hand, I think meme-ing information is essential for its spread; that's the whole point of using the internet for political discussion. So it's puzzling to me to figure out how to pass news on in a way that feels natural to the functioning of my particular blog.

I've been following the flap about Pandagon blogger Amanda Marcotte and Woman of Color blogger brownfemipower. I've also been following the flap about Seal Press and its ill-judged response to women of color wanting more representation in the press. And I hadn't found a way to blog about it when the two flaps intensified exponentially by meeting in the middle. At this point, this is a story that needs to be passed on, whether I have anything of substance to say about it myself or not. And I suspect that some of my friends who read this blog may not have heard about this so I'm by way of performing a service ... or something.

So this post is just a pass-along. I'll list the relevant links to the sources of information at the bottom. To avoid link stack-up, if you intend to blog about this you might want to just link directly to the secondary sources below. (They're secondary since the original sources of the first two flaps are inaccessible.)


Feminist independent publisher Seal Press came under fire this month for a discussion on a closed blog that I can't access. Apparently, in the post a woman of color expressed frustration that Seal Press didn't publish more books by women of color. The Seal Press editors responded in the comments defensively, saying they didn't get enough submissions by women of color, that it wasn't really their job to do outreach, and they didn't have the bandwidth anyway. They also said books by woc don't sell and accused the blogger of "hating," also stating that they knew the "you all engage best through negative discourse."

They eventually issued an explanation on their blog which ended up being edited without strikethroughs.

Independently of this flap, Pandagon blogger Amanda Marcotte ... well her wikipedia page puts it succinctly:

In April, 2008, Marcotte posted an essay entitled "Sexual Abuse Fueled by Abusive Immigration Language" on Alternet. In it, she discussed the intersections of racism and sexism as experienced by female illegal immigrants to the United States "without one attribute to any blogger of color, male or female." This led to allegations of appropriation on Marcotte's part ...

Numerous feminist bloggers pointed to Marcotte's actions as symbolic of a wider process of cultural and racial appropriation, in which the words and work of feminists of color are both given less value than those of white feminists, and co-opted by them. Several bloggers accused Marcotte of directly plagiarizing the work of another well-known blogger, Brownfemipower, as much of Marcotte's article appeared to be derived from Brownfemipower's work. These bloggers pointed to Brownfemipower's extensive history of highlighting immigration as a feminist issue and Marcotte's lack of history dealing with immigration on her blog, as well as Marcotte's previous admissions that she read Brownfemipower's blog regularly. Marcotte denied these allegations, claiming instead that she was inspired by a speech on a related subject delivered by Nina Perales of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Blogger Problem Chylde did a smoking gun on her in a post that linked every line of Marcotte's article to a post on Brownfemipower's Woman of Color blog where the wording was similar.

As a direct result of this flap, Brownfemipower stopped blogging and took her blog down. Now even back posts are inaccessible.

Women of color bloggers were linking these two incidents already when a new scandal arose, involving both Amanda Marcotte and Seal Press. Again from Marcotte's wikipedia page:

In 2008, Marcotte published her first book, entitled It's a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments. In August of 2007, Marcotte [had] posted an image of the chosen book cover on her blog; the image "was a retro-Hollywood pulp cover of a gorilla carrying a scantily clad woman." The image immmediately came under fire for perpetuating racist tropes, and, consequently, Marcotte and Seal Press changed the cover image.

When the book was finally released, it again set off controversy in the feminist blogosphere for use of images that many saw as racist. To illustrate the volume, the publishers used images taken from the 1950s Joe Maneely comic, Lorna, the Jungle Girl, which was chosen for its retro comic art look. The illustrations used included stereotypical images of "savage" black Africans being beaten up by a white, blond, superhero. Marcotte immediately issued an apology, adding that a second printing of It's A Jungle Out There will not contain illustrations.

The latest news is that blogger Blackamazon, who was directly involved in the original Seal Press flap, has taken down her blog as well.

My only comments to this are as follows:

Although it's shocking that all three of these happened at once, I'm glad they did. If they had happened separately, at a distance of months or years from each other, it would have been easier to gloss them over, as many are trying to do now. But, unfortunately for Marcotte and Seal Press, each incident--which in itself is relatively easy for the ignorant to explain away--bolsters and amplifies the women of color bloggers' interpretation of the other events, until it becomes difficult for any reasonable person to not say, "wait a minute ..."

And I also wish that Brownfemipower and Blackamazon hadn't taken down their blogs. I understand them needing a break, or perhaps even deciding not to blog anymore. And I also understand them not wanting their work to be raided nor to hear the awful comments people were leaving.

But their blogs were important public resources, and although the blogcott is a strong statement, it's one that's felt most powerfully by those bloggers' allies and readers, and NOT by the bloggers' opponents. In making a statement of relatively small impact to Marcotte and Seal Press, the rest of us are being more powerfully deprived.

Perhaps more to the point, this flap has drawn a lot of more mainstream attention to Brownfemipower and Blackamazon and I wish all the new readers who are going online looking for their blogs could actually be met with the wealth of information and intelligent commentary that was there to be seen.

Here are the links:

A description of the Amanda Marcotte/Brownfemipower flap at Feministe.

A description of the Seal Press not publishing enough women of color flap on WOC PhD.

The offensive images from It's a Jungle Out There on Dear White Feminists.

Black Amazon's sign off on Problem Chylde blog.



Seal Press announced on their blog a few days ago their publication of a book entitled Tales from the Expat Harem: Foreign Women in Modern Turkey.

When commenters objected to the use of the word "harem," the editors responded:

The Turkish harem comes from the Arabic word Ḥarām, meaning "forbidden." It's a word that originally referred to the "women's quarters" and literally means "something forbidden or kept safe."

Tales from the Expat Harem is neither a sexist nor a racist title. Please, let's not look for the racially embedded wrong in every one of our books.

I left my opinion in the comments if you want to see it. I have only this to add: being criticized so heavily in public must be very hard, and the editors of  Seal Press must be smarting bad right now. I appreciate that.

But as another commenter pointed out, common sense would/should militate at this point against shooting back defensively. Probably the best thing for them to do is ride all this out with an occasional "thanks, we'll think about what you said." At least until the smarting goes away and they can breathe again.

April 23, 2008

Views From Distances

The internet doesn't have everything.

I'm working on da nobble right now and trying to figure out how much detail of someone else's actions a character with 20/20 eyesight could see at the distance of a quarter mile.

So I went online to see if any random genius had posted photographs of what things look like at various distances: 100 feet, 100 yards, a mile, etc.

Couldn't find anything like that.

Does anyone know of such a resource ... or would anyone like to create such a resource? ;) Seems like a good project for a student studying landscape, land use or surveying.

Just a suggestions.

Cross-posted at atlas(t).

April 22, 2008

Engineers On Cats

These are guys who have given up on ever getting laid again and have proactively kiboshed their sex lives.

The "corporal cuddling" and especially the "cat yodelling" made me cry.

First National Bank of Omaha Sucks

I'll be the first to admit that I never pay my credit card bill on time. But that's not really a problem for banks. As long as you pay it, they benefit from the late fees and extra interest.

Nevertheless, I add this as a caveat before I go ahead and ream my credit card bank.

I'm with an Omaha bank through no fault of my own. My mom co-signed for a credit card for me way back in college with my parents' Michigan mom 'n' pop bank, which then got bought up by a bank in Florida, which then got bought up by First National Bank of Omaha.

I've had problems with them not communicating with me before (they like to do everything by mail, even though I've told them I don' t have a secure mailbox. When my old card expired and a new card arrived, it didn't, and I had to yell over the phone over the course of two weeks to get a new card) and they should, by now, be calling me if I have a problem, but I guess they don't care enough about credit card fraud.

So I go to reserve a car with citycarshare last night and they tell me my account has been disabled for nonpayment. So  I go to the Omaha website and see that my payments, for once, are up to date. WTF? So I call them and THAT'S how I find out that SOMEONE called in "a problem" with my credit card, prompting them to send me a new card--with the same number but a new expiration date and security code--without calling me first.

This was well over a week ago and I got neither the notice, nor the new card. Clearly, they've been stolen.

Let's just take a step back, shall we? I realize that credit card banks have to take all such calls seriously, and I realize that they must know about the kinds of frauds perpetrated in this manner (the most common of which is somebody calling in a lost or stolen card, whose number they conveniently can't remember, on someone with an unsecured mailbox; then waiting until the replacement card is sent and grabbing it).

But you can take such a call seriously AND STILL CALL YOUR CUSTOMER ON THE PHONE TO INFORM THEM OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES. Unless, of course, you're trying to save money and don't care if you screw your customers doing so.

After your customer has had problems receiving her new credit card because of an unsecured mailbox, don't you make a note of that on your customer's record and treat her case differently the next time there's an issue? After all, any money they might lose to a fraudster is money THEY have to swallow themselves. They can't blame me for it.

I guess they must have done a cost-benefit ANALysis and decided that it would cost them less to lose a certain amount to fraud than to keep enough phone operators on board to call customers in these circumstances. I guess that's why credit card commercials make such a big deal about platinum card members getting a call when something bad happens ... because nobody else does.

In any case, it's high time I started looking for a new credit card company. Any suggestions?

April 20, 2008

Death and Pop

Does anybody else find this video terrifying?

Sort of underlines why so little pop music deals with death.

April 18, 2008

Challenge: Mystery Science Election 2008

What I want:

Can someone out there who is funny, and knows how to do these things, put together a YouTube series of her/himself mystery-science-theatering all election debates from now on?


It's not just something I want to watch; it also might save democracy 'n' shit.

April 17, 2008

Writin' Update

The plan seems to be workin' so far.

The plan is that I can't do my paid work--not ALLOWED to do my paid work--until I've done three hours of nobble work. This pushes my paid work into the evening, since I've been spending most of my day avoiding nobble work. But I might be less hard-ass about the three hours and make it 2-3 hours.

Funny, I get a little panicky when I've put off nobble work long enough to endanger the paid work. We'll see if it keeps on working.

Okay, gotta get back to nobble. Half hour to go.

April 16, 2008

Can I Just Reiterate My Hate?

... for the following, popular (and in most cases, incorrect) terms and usages?

  • garner: as in her novel garnered praise. Yuck. This is only used to talk about pop culture reviews. Why would you use a word that only refers to pop culture reviews? Pop culture reviews are disgusting and pointless. I should know, I write a lot of them. But I never garner. I NEVER garner. Nor should you.
  • (noun or pronoun) and I: used accusatively or datively. I'm fine with You and I went to the store, since that is, in fact, correct. But Do you want Keanu and I to bring anything to your luau? is right out, because it's wrong. Whenever you're about to do this, stop, and remove the "______ and" part and just leave the "I" part. Then, if it sounds right, go ahead. If it sounds wrong, fix it. I went to the store is clearly right. Do you want I to bring anything to your luau? is clearly wrong, unless you're from the Caribbean.
  • beg the question: used to mean raise the question. Raising the question is exactly what it sounds like. Begging the question is a silly, hoity-toity philosophy thing that nobody understands. It has something to do with circular arguments, and doesn't have an object. That is to say, you can't "beg the question that _______," you can only "beg the question."
  • ... is, is that ...: as in The reason is, is that I don't ever think before I speak. People, people, there's only ever one "is" in a sentence. Yes there are exceptions but YOU will never need them. The reason is COMMA that I actually do know what I am talking about. God, that drives me nuts! Where did the second "is" come from?
  • peak: instead of "peek" or "pique." People, a "peak" is a high, pointy thing, like at the top of a mountain or a hairdo. "To peek" is to take quick, stealthy glance. "To pique" is a French word meaning to anger or to excite or arouse a feeling in someone. So when you're writing your personals ad, you should write, Your post about your pink, patent-leather dungeon piqued my interest. A movie preview is a "sneak peek."
  • cut and dry: arrrggghh! It's cut and dried, people! Past Tense! The past tense of "cut" is "cut." It means something is set, determined, will not grow or change. As in flowers that have been cut and dried. If you say "cut and dry," that's present tense, it's a command. Basically you're TELLING someone to go cut and dry whatever it is that you're talking about. That makes no sense! Arrrggghhh!

April 15, 2008

More On Race And Dolls

It's amazing how the racial politics we've driven somewhat underground seems to collect around certain fetish objects. In this case it's dolls.

A little while ago I embedded a wonderful short video by Kiri Davis called "A Girl Like Me," about black women's body image. The video included archival images of the Brown vs. Board of Education doll study, in which black children were offered black and white baby dolls and asked which they preferred--most preferred the white ones. Then the filmmaker conducted her own repeat of the study with today's schoolchildren, to very similar, and heartbreaking, effect.

Well, if you ever wondered about the other side of the equation, which dolls white children--or their parents--prefer, wonder no more.

This American Life recently did a story by a mixed-race Latina about her time working at FAO Schwartz. Her job was to pretend to be a hospital nurse taking care of lifelike baby dolls which went for $120 and were "adopted" out of a fake maternity ward on the store's top floor. Due to an unexpected publicity boost on a reality TV show, the store was depleted of its stock of white baby dolls right before the holiday season, and our reporter got to see firsthand what happens when upper and upper-middle class white families are only able to adopt babies of kolah for their little girls.

It's profoundly depressing, though not at all surprising if you've been paying attention to race relations at all.

You can listen to or download it here. Skip to Act Three "Babies Buying Babies."

What jumps out at me here is how incredibly unselfconscious--or maybe just unself-aware--many privileged and educated white people are about their own racial prejudices when you put them into situations that aren't typical "racial" situations. That is to say, if nobody is using the "n" word or outright refusing to hire or befriend or sell a house to somebody because of their race, then blatant racism can happen without anyone seeming to care.

The narrator, who passes as white, points out that her customers attempted to collude with her, or at least assumed that she would understand their racial concerns in rejecting the black baby dolls. This suggests that they were aware that a person of color would find their actions objectionable, but assumed that their concerns would be shared by a white person.

What that says to me, and this may be blatantly obvious, is that many white people think that an action is only racist when it is publicly defined as such by a person of color ... or else that racism is a sort of perceptual filter that only people of color use, and as long as they don't catch you at some "racist" action, it's not really racist. Or perhaps the attitude is that these small actions are racist, but in a really small, unimportant way. Just like stealing a candy bar from a 7-11 is theft, but who really cares? Only boring sticklers with poles up their asses.

Minor shoplifting is to be avoided not because it's wrong (is it really wrong to boost a candy bar from an evil corporation?) but because you might get caught and suffer the consequences. After all, how many of us "experimented" with petty theft as children or teenagers? And didn't we do it with friends, to be cool? But would it have been cool if we'd been caught, and publicly humiliated ... like, say, Winona Ryder?

This seems to suggest that many white people aren't so much afraid of being racist as they are afraid of being considered racist. Just like with petty theft, they don't see the broader implications (minimum wage workers can be held accountable for shoplifting on their shifts, and the cost of shoplifting--which can be enormous--is passed down to the consumer and not absorbed by the corporation), don't understand how their private actions can indirectly hurt people they've never met, and don't believe racism exists anymore in any case.

I think that's the crux of the matter: the disbelief that racism exists. And that disbelief is in itself racist, because to disbelieve that racism exists even while you reject black baby dolls for your white child, is to believe that black baby dolls are inherently less worthy. It's not racism, it's fact that blacks are worth less. But this belief lies so far beneath the decisionmaking process that it's invisible, especially when you're putting all your energy into not seeing it.

April 14, 2008

Nothing Doing

I have nothing in particular to write. The weather in the Bay Area was fucking beautiful this past weekend. I couldn't stop smiling and looking around. It was so bright I had to squint even with my shades on. I slept with the windows open.

Everything I did, all the music I listened to, was imbued with glory and sadness, that summer feeling, like you are at the height of something and everything will be downhill from here ... but also don't worry, because it will come back.

Today is still bright and sunny but chilly. I'm insistently wearing my flip-flops, because, well, I don't want to let this weekend go yet. But it's gone. My feet are cold.

Da Nobble is again underway. Every time I stand back from it, I'm overcome with terror. When I was a small child, I had a recurring nightmare which was very difficult to describe, because it was simply a feeling with no images or sensory impressions attached. The feeling was just that of standing before infinity or endlessness. There was also a sense that I needed to encompass, or even merely comprehend, the infinity that I stood before ... but I think that feeling is inherent in human responses. When you stand before something overwhelming, you automatically feel an impulse to comprehend it, and it is this need to encompass combined with the impossibility of encompassing the infinite, that is so terrifying.

Also, infinity is just terrifying in itself.

I had the dream most intensely between about age five and maybe age ten or eleven. In grade school I could recall the dream during school hours and give myself a fun little thrill of terror while surrounded by daylight and people. But at night it was just devastating, because it wasn't the kind of nightmare that made you scream and brought your parents running to comfort you. You couldn't actually tell anyone about it because you were too young to articulate it and it didn't sound scary in any case.

The last time I had the dream was when I was seventeen. That's a whole nother story, but the point is, I don't fear--or experience--endlessness anymore. But standing before a big project like da Nobble, trying to understand all the things I still have to do with it at once, recalls a small amount (really tiny, actually, it's nothing like infinity), of the terror I felt in my childhood nightmares.

They say that genius expresses itself in the mind of the genius as an instant comprehension of the whole of a field of endeavor--a comprehension that includes exquisite views of detail, a total revelation of structure and energy flows, as well as an overview. Like the musical genius looking at sheet music and being able to see other possibilities, or understand the various melodies and harmonies and chords simultaneously, as individual lines, as masses, and as flows that work together; being able to understand the piece as one expression of a multitude of possible expressions.

And in essence, I think the work of each of us artists and writers (and scientists, and tradesmen, and artisans, and organizers) is to take the slow route to genius: learning and adding each aspect of our chosen fields, slowly building over time that total comprehension which comes to the genius instantly.

After much reading and writing and study and analysis, I've added a great deal more comprehension of writing to my overall ability. That's my job as a writer. I've begun to "see" and "feel" structures and flows of energy, to understand alternatives in a manner that now seems intuitive, but isn't the slightest bit intuitive, because it is the result of hard work and conscious acquisition.

And, hardest of all, I've begun to be able to apply this to my own work ... slowly, painfully, and with much attempted brushing away of bullshit. It's hard work. To "see" da Nobble clearly requires a great deal of posturing and glancing out of the corners of my eyes. I have to spend two or three hours posturing for every one hour of solid work I get done ... and that's even on my best days. And I've only just begun again. I don't have my routine down yet. In fact, what I'm doing right now, writing this, is posturing and bullshit-hounding, in prep for--at most--a couple of hours of revision.

But I'm working. Hallelujah.

April 10, 2008

Martian Territory Law Updated

Of course it would be in the National Review, in Bush's early years, that some idiot would write an article calling on the US to opt out of the 1967 international treaty agreeing to no national sovereignity claims in space.

The post argues that article II of the treaty does American interests "harm," although it never specifies what that harm is. Apparently, because article II was intended to restrict funding to NASA (and succeeded), that means we should repudiate it now.

Now we find ourselves in an entirely different world. The Soviet Union is no more. Mars, it         turns out, has far more water than we previously suspected: enough to support colonies, and even programs aimed at giving it a climate more hospitable to humans. The reward for going to Mars has increased dramatically.

Um, okay ... and what was that reward again? I mean, aside from learning how to keep people who leave Earth's atmosphere and magnetic field for extended periods from dying of radiation sickness? Or maybe giving science fiction writers more jazz? Or maybe sheer excitement?

People, people, we're not looking at a viable alternative living space here. To terraform Mars would require more Earth resources than it would produce or maintain ... probably ever. The potential mineral resources might be attractive ... assuming the iron and nickel are even there in a useful form ... if we needed iron and nickel that badly ... which we don't. But we don't know how to power spaceships without fossil fuels--something that we may well run out of in the next century--and transportation of any resources from Mars would far outcost the resources themselves.

How can conservatives NOT understand the liberal tendency to see them as crazy, greedy, and pathologically nationalistic, when a typical conservative response to a renewal of funding in space exploration is a call to claim sovereignity over unviable and as-yet unreachable territories in contravention of law, common sense, and even imagination?

I want to hit my head against a wall repeatedly, but this attitude is exactly what I need to understand for da nobble, which of course takes place on a Mars already claimed as a territory by the US.

***** UPDATE

oo. Missed this is in the first sweep. Here's an actual PIRG guy (albeit from Texas) advocating the creation of an International Agency for the Development of Mars to enable the selling of Martian territory to private individuals to spur the development and settling of human colonies on Mars.

Again, why? I dunno, but this guy gives more of an answer than the previous dudes:

The IADM should be structured so as to allow ordinary citizens to purchase land shares and prevent all of the shares from being gobbled up by governments and corporations. If this is successfully done, I think it’s possible that we will see a rebirth of a social drive which has been largely extinct for the last century: the push for the frontier. In an increasingly bland, stratified, and commercialized world, the desire to strike out on one’s own, to build a new home even in a harsh and unforgiving environment, will again come to the fore. By mid-century, I wouldn’t be surprised to see restless and adventurous people, the spiritual descendents of the American pioneers, buying Martian land with the full intention of settling it themselves.

Why now? Well, because our world is  "increasingly bland, stratified, and commercialized," and the best solution to this is to create a new frontier and get our manifest destiny flowing again, not, you know, to use our imaginations or to fix our problems or anything.

I say "Mars!" You say "Dumbass!"





April 07, 2008

One-Hit Wonder

Mcswe So it's coming up on four years since my story "Pigs In Space" was published in McSweeney's and it remains my only major publication.

Like a proper one-hit wonder, though, that same story is getting a new lease on life. Claire's greatest hit.

A month or two ago I recorded it on some portable equipment and now McSweeney's has released the first in what is supposed to be a series of audiobooks collecting pieces from various issues read by the authors.

The original idea was that we were to find some public place to record in that would put the recording in danger of being interrupted, or at times overridden by local noise. But that didn't work out for me, equipment-wise or in terms of ideas. (A friend of mine suggested an airport, but that had some obvious homeland security issues, and the nearest pig farm I could find on google is halfway to Sacramento.) So I just recorded it at home, interrupted only by my own amateurishness.

It's out now, and available on emusic. You can find it here. It's called McSweeney's Field Recordings: Close Calls and Dangerous Propositions.

I haven't heard it yet, but apparently, my "narration imbues [my] piece with an undeniably creepy tone." Hm.

The Perfect Cafe

And it begins again, my unremitting search for the perfect working cafe.

It's like looking for the perfect bag or the perfect coat. There are too many variables--many of them invisible even to you, so that when you go to have the bag or coat made, finally, you screw it up.

I don't work well in the quiet of my own home, alone. I only do intensive line editing well in the quiet. I need some noise, activity, and other people to help me concentrate, strangely enough ... but not TOO MUCH noise and activity.

During my MFA studies, when I had to write several hours a day, I went on a three-year search for the perfect cafe in San Francisco--where the choice is wider--and narrowed it down to about three that I cycled among. None was perfect but the three served my purposes. (Morning Due, Petra, and Revolution. Petra is now too packed all the time and Revolution--which has been renamed--ditto. But fortunately, this all happened after my MFA was done.)

And now that I'm in the East Bay, and the SF Mission is more crowded than ever anyway, it begins again. I just spent the last half an hour going from cafe to cafe in Oakland's Piedmont district (I hit three) before giving up and returning to my home turf on the north side of the lake. One cafe, which is pretty good, was packed. Another was a tea house with NO OUTLETS! A third was fine but had none of the drinks I wanted and enforced a two-hour parking limit on the tables near the outlets. No Thanks.

My criteria are:

  1. Convenient opening hours, especially in the evenings
  2. Free, reliable wireless internet
  3. Sufficient tables within reach of an electrical outlet and tables mostly near the wall
  4. Real food, i.e. sandwiches and salads and (preferably) omelettes, not just bad pastries
  5. Comfortable tables and chairs, i.e. not shaky or made of wrought iron
  6. Bright and sunny
  7. Music but not too loud
  8. Not too crowded but also not completely empty
  9. Atmosphere friendly to people like me who hang out all day and mildly discouraging to the mentally ill

Obviously, some of these criteria depend on others. for example, a place that has only one outlet and two tables near it is fine as long as those tables are always empty. The otherwise perfect cafe will become intolerable if it turns out to be the sort of place that crazies hang out in. This may sound intolerant--and it is--but I don't go to a cafe to get stared at for two hours solid, or to have to block out somebody sitting next to me and muttering about their socks and occasionally glaring at me for no reason.

Basically what I'm looking for are the conditions that conduce to enough mental stability (in me) to allow me to write. This is difficult, but not as difficult as it may seem at first glance, because that's the basic purpose of cafes: to create conditions conducive to mental stability so that people can read, study, converse, and otherwise relax productively.

So any Oaktowners out there have any suggestions?

April 06, 2008

10 Things You Should Know About McCain

I just got this in an email from Moveon.org. I don't think it's too early to start campaigning against McCain so I'm passing it on. Feel free to link to this or steal it wholesale and post it on your blog. If you do the latter, please copy the source links below as well.

(By the way, I feel perfectly free to campaign against McCain on my blog but don't think that means you're free to campaign for or against any candidates in the comments. Argue with things if you want to, especially if you have real articles to back yourself up, but no campaigning or you will be deleted. My blog, my rules.)

10 things you should know about John McCain (but probably don't):

  1. John McCain voted against establishing a national holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Now he says his position has "evolved," yet he's continued to oppose key civil rights laws.1
  2. According to Bloomberg News, McCain is more hawkish than Bush on Iraq, Russia and China. Conservative columnist Pat Buchanan says McCain "will make Cheney look like Gandhi."2
  3. His reputation is built on his opposition to torture, but McCain voted against a bill to ban waterboarding, and then applauded President Bush for vetoing that ban.3
  4. McCain opposes a woman's right to choose. He said, "I do not support Roe versus Wade. It should be overturned."4
  5. The Children's Defense Fund rated McCain as the worst senator in Congress for children. He voted against the children's health care bill last year, then defended Bush's veto of the bill.5
  6. He's one of the richest people in a Senate filled with millionaires. The Associated Press reports he and his wife own at least eight homes! Yet McCain says the solution to the housing crisis is for people facing foreclosure to get a "second job" and skip their vacations.6
  7. Many of McCain's fellow Republican senators say he's too reckless to be commander in chief. One Republican senator said: "The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine. He's erratic. He's hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me."7
  8. McCain talks a lot about taking on special interests, but his campaign manager and top advisers are actually lobbyists. The government watchdog group Public Citizen says McCain has 59 lobbyists raising money for his campaign, more than any of the other presidential candidates.8
  9. McCain has sought closer ties to the extreme religious right in recent years. The pastor McCain calls his "spiritual guide," Rod Parsley, believes America's founding mission is to destroy Islam, which he calls a "false religion." McCain sought the political support of right-wing preacher John Hagee, who believes Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment for gay rights and called the Catholic Church "the Antichrist" and a "false cult."9
  10. He positions himself as pro-environment, but he scored a 0—yes, zero—from the League of Conservation Voters last year.10


1. "The Complicated History of John McCain and MLK Day," ABC News, April 3, 2008

"McCain Facts," ColorOfChange.org, April 4, 2008

2. "McCain More Hawkish Than Bush on Russia, China, Iraq," Bloomberg News, March 12, 2008

"Buchanan: John McCain 'Will Make Cheney Look Like Gandhi,'" ThinkProgress, February 6, 2008

3. "McCain Sides With Bush On Torture Again, Supports Veto Of Anti-Waterboarding Bill," ThinkProgress, February 20, 2008

4. "McCain says Roe v. Wade should be overturned," MSNBC, February 18, 2007

5. "2007 Children's Defense Fund Action Council® Nonpartisan Congressional Scorecard," February 2008

"McCain: Bush right to veto kids health insurance expansion," CNN, October 3, 2007

6. "Beer Executive Could Be Next First Lady," Associated Press, April 3, 2008

"McCain Says Bank Bailout Should End `Systemic Risk,'" Bloomberg News, March 25, 2008

7. "Will McCain's Temper Be a Liability?," Associated Press, February 16, 2008

"Famed McCain temper is tamed," Boston Globe, January 27, 2008

8. "Black Claims McCain's Campaign Is Above Lobbyist Influence: 'I Don't Know What The Criticism Is,'" ThinkProgress, April 2, 2008

"McCain's Lobbyist Friends Rally 'Round Their Man," ABC News, January 29, 2008

9. "McCain's Spiritual Guide: Destroy Islam," Mother Jones Magazine, March 12, 2008

"Will McCain Specifically 'Repudiate' Hagee's Anti-Gay Comments?," ThinkProgress, March 12, 2008

"McCain 'Very Honored' By Support Of Pastor Preaching 'End-Time Confrontation With Iran,'" ThinkProgress, February 28, 2008

10. "John McCain Gets a Zero Rating for His Environmental Record," Sierra Club, February 28, 2008

April 01, 2008


Today's the first day of the rest of my life and I have a digestive tract bug?

Too much information?

I Knew That!

Space radiation endangers manned Mars expeditions.


Hint: this is an issue in da nobble, WHICH I WILL START IN ON AGAIN THIS WEEK! YAY!

Join My Mailing List!