Monthly Archives: April 2013

What is Wrong With You People?

I have nothing but sympathy for the survivors and victims of the Newtown massacre.  I cannot even imagine what you must be going through, those who lost children and spouses to one man’s insanity.

I have nothing but contempt for those people who would use such a tragedy for political gain, who offer “solutions” that don’t even address the problems that allowed such a situation to happen.  To the NRA, to the Anti-gun idiots who have been campaigning on the same tired plank they’ve been marching on since 1981, I have to ask, “What the fuck is wrong with you people?”

I’ll tackle the NRA first, because I’m a conservative, and I find it easier to shoot down pseudo-conservative polemic.  Especially ill-informed bullshit like the crap the NRA has been spewing since December.

Really?  Every school should have teachers on campus trained in armed response?  That’s your “solution”?  Give me a second; I’m rubbing my temples because all of the stupid in that idea has caused a minor blockage in my brain.

Okay, I’m back.  No, wait…okay.  YOU DON’T ARM TEACHERS!  Sorry…sorry…deep breath…okay.  You don’t arm teachers for the same reason you don’t ask your security guard to mop up the vomit in the cafeteria when Suzy Jenkins discovers her stomach can’t handle canned carrots.  It’s not their job, the extra work distracts them from their actual job, and really (with no insult to teachers implied) asking them to do so will just make everything that much worse.  A teachers first and only job is to ensure the education and safety of the children entrusted to him or her.  Period.  In an emergency situation, that means obeying the lockdown rules and ensuring that none of the children for whom the teacher is responsible put themselves in harm’s way in any way.

Think back to your own school days.  Remember how, as soon as Mrs. Castlebaum was outside of the classroom, everything exploded into chaos with at least one student looking out the little window in the door to see what was going on out there (even more, if the reason she left was because of a disruption in the halls).  That is exactly what would happen if an armed-response teacher was required to “defend the school”, only instead of watching Miss Tesselmyer’s meltdown, those kids will make themselves targets for the nutcase roaming the halls.

Never mind the fact that even with training, a teacher can’t spend all day thinking only about the responsible disposition of his or her weapon.  If the fact of the teacher’s emergency responsibilities won’t sway you from the Road to Moron, then bringing up the tragic consequences that will predictably result from three minutes while Mr Cutnell finds out why Jake hasn’t come back from the bathroom yet and forgets that he left his sidearm in his desk draw will have no effect on you at all.

On to the other side, because, while I can’t even think about the NRA’s “plan” without getting a headache, the fact that your argument is so flawed in its bases that only superhuman hubris allows you to present it causes my hands to involuntarily clench into fists.  Feel free to punch yourself in the face every time I mention a redundancy or a flaw in your logic.

“Toughened” laws would not have prevented Newtown.  All three of the guns used were stolen from the perpetrator’s mother, and the one he leaned on the most—the M4 with the expanded magazine—was (and is) illegal to own in the state of Connecticut, anyway.  Federal laws regarding assault weapons and thorough background checks wouldn’t have changed that, or added anything to it.

What people need for hunting (assuming people need or should be allowed to hunt) or for target competition has no place in the argument.  The Second Amendment doesn’t bring up the rights of hunters or the requirements of the local Turkey Shoot.  In words it calls for a regulated militia (that is, citizen army), but in spirit, it states, unequivocally “Government, any government, is a necessary evil, and it must be controlled and kept on its leash by the people, and they must be armed to do so.”  Don’t believe me?  Then you need to read Machiavelli, Jefferson, Adams, any thinker of the time who recognized the struggle between personal liberty and collective safety.

When Washington put down the Whiskey Rebellion, he didn’t seize the farmers’ weapons.  Even the Confederates were allowed to take their side- and long-arms home after they’d surrendered.  To paraphrase someone who may have been Machiavelli, but was probably someone else, “An armed citizenry cannot help but be free, a disarmed citizenry cannot but be in fetters.”  That is the entire reason for the Second Amendment, and every “collective safety” argument you bring up, just burns the necessity of the basic reason for the amendment deeper into the brains of those who support it.

In any case, the availability of guns in the US isn’t the problem.  The problem is the pervasive and endemic spread of feelings of hopelessness and impotence in the general populace.  People who feel impotent seek ways of proving their impact on the world around them; people bereft of hope lash out at their perceived oppressors.  Both of these “plans” are an effort to fix a bladder infection by wearing a diaper.  It’s time to look at the real problem, and then to cowboy-up and face the difficulties of the real solution.

Vampire, Werewolf, Golem, Zombie

I’ll be honest:  On the whole, I dislike the Zombie genre.  I’ve never watched more than five minutes of The Walking Dead, I’ve never been shot in the tail with George Romero’s movies, and I roll my eyes at Zombie Game advertisements.  There are exactly one stand-alone film, one film series, and one television series featuring zombies that I enjoy.  The film series is the game-base franchise, Resident Evil.  Of course, anyone who’s ever watched any of the RE movies knows that the zombies aren’t the main thrust of the film; they’re just something for Milla Jovavich to punch, like the English in Luc Besson’s The Messenger.

The stand-alone film was Shaun of the Dead, and the television series is an anime called (in English) High School of the Dead.  What they both have in common is something you don’t find in Zombie media—hope.  Admittedly, the hope in Shaun is that weird kind of black hope found in all British comedies, where the hero’s only allowed to survive because God needs someone to crap on, and the anime expresses an ephemeral hope that many Japanese films and animes express:  the characters themselves refuse to give up, and that allows them to press on in the face of overwhelming odds.  Because of that hopeless hopefulness, you, the viewer, find hope in their situation.  If anime had been popular during World War II, we would probably have let them have China because they’re so darn plucky.  (In the interest of honesty, I also like HOTD, because I find their constant attempts to fulfill some expectation of cheesecake in all animes to be hilarious–especially the opening credits which seamlessly blend scenes of Zombie atrocities with cleavage shots and naughty schoolgirl softcore porn.)

So, yeah, I don’t really enjoy the Zombie genre.   I also don’t enjoy the self-important diatribes of Rachel Madow, but i watch her on occasion, just the same.  I’m an information junkie, and I never turn down a source of information, even if the interpretation of verifiable facts is wrong (she actually reports accurate facts, when you can differentiate between the facts and the opinions stated as facts).  Anyway, I watch Zombie shows, and have been known to play the odd Zombie game.  If it was okay to avoid something just because you found it repugnant, no one would know math.

That brings us to the actual topic of today’s rant:  I’ve noticed a lot of Zombie movies over the past several years, more so even than the late Seventies and Early Eighties when the Zombocalypse first became popular (yes, Night of the Living Dead was released in 1969 or so, but it spent a lot of time languishing in the midnight showings at drive-ins before it was revived by its sequel, Dawn of the Dead).

I remember reading over on Cracked, a few months ago, that this is because zombies represent gays, or Tea Party Conservatives…something (I get a little hazy when people try to apply an archetype to a single group of people based on spurious psychology).  I also remember thinking how wrong the explanation felt, but not being able to put my finger on the exact reason.  I think I have it now, but to explain, I have to go back and explain other things.

For a long time, there were three major archetypes in horror:  The Vampire, the Werewolf, and the Golem.  These archetypes eminently express visceral fears that people carry about the world around them.  Respectively, they can be seen as The Evil Without, the Evil Within, and the Evil of Our Own Making.  For a fascinating rundown of how the first two work as archetypal expressions of fear, read Stephen King’s non-fiction work, Danse Macabre.  I added the Golem to his two original archetypes, because it fits and, if you count vengeful spirits as a precursor to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, it takes a fear of the-sins-of-our-pasts-returning-to-haunt-us all the way back to the dawn of history.

So now we have a new archetype (okay, not really new…the Zombocalypse goes back to the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers), but what fear does it represent?  A cursory glance may lead one to believe that zombies are nothing more than a general xenophobia; I mean, the basis of every zombie movie is clearly overpopulation—all those people, mindlessly pressing into you and taking you over.  With the state of the world (over 300 million people in the US alone) how can they not be an expression of our fear of overcrowding.

Except that sort of falls down when you realize that India and China, the two most populous nations on the planet, don’t produce many zombie movies at all.  Well, then, I can hear you asking, because  I can hear your thoughts, what do they represent if they don’t represent Sartre’s sentiment that “Hell is other people” (by the way, that’s actually an incomplete quote, but I’m not ranting about Misquoted Philosophers at the moment).

I’m glad you asked, let me respond with a question:  What do all of these movies have in common besides rotting people stinking up the neighborhood?  They have Attrition, Hopelessness, the Overwhelming Force of Things Greater Than Ourselves.  A zombie may be anything you consider mindless and threatening.  Zombies gathered in an unstoppable horde are society itself, or more accurately, the breakdown of societal systems.  What’s more passive-aggressively indefatigable than a zombie horde?  If you said, that officious little prick at the DMV who sent me to the back of the line because I forgot to sign my application instead of just lending me a pen, then you’re on the right track.

One sure sign of societal breakdown is the appearance of bureaucracy.  Okay, not entirely; some bureaucracy, like a mild, but recurring, case of athlete’s foot, can be tolerated because it reminds us to wash the bottoms or our feet.  What I mean, is when a society gets to the point that they can’t (or won’t) trust each other so much that they have entire hierarchies devoted to the enforcement and categorization of minutiae, when “Don’t cross on red,” becomes “File form R-31D at window F to get for 27AL and get back in line to receive formal permission to cross the street if and when the light next turns green on these specific dates,” that society (not government…governments thrive on bureaucracy) is in breakdown.

And, like a zombie horde, a bureaucracy sustains itself by feeding on and accelerating the destruction of the society that originated it.  Like the perverse incentives I discussed last time, bureaucracies have an erosive effect on societal function.  People are encouraged to depend on the bureaucracy.  Meanwhile, the nature of the bureaucracy itself makes it more difficult to act within the law and easier to find yourself suddenly a criminal.  It wears you down like the endless stream of undead shambling forward.

In every zombie movie, you can clearly see the failures of a society that will no longer settle a difference with an apology and a handshake.  You see the death throes of a people who think wildflowers on a lawn are a sign of indolence.  You see the inexorable march of a bureaucracy that replaces reason with rules and equality with minutiae.

It’s oppressive.  It’s overwhelming.  If you let it, it can become hopeless.


Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that you decided to buy an old house in a small town.  We’ll call the town Lincolnville and put it in Monkeybelch County, Texas.  So this house isn’t really much, really just a squat and blocky brownstone on the less attractive side of town, but it was cheap, and you can work on it weekends until you retire or flip it.

While rummaging through the junk-filled attic, you discover a portrait of a man standing beside an open coffin with another man’s corpse in it–weird, but not really unlikely in an old west town.  This piques your interest, however, and you look into the history of your ugly little house.  With the help of a city clerk and a librarian, you discover that the house was where Ron “Pornstache” Lipschulz shot Hezekiah “Hezekiah” Barbar, ending the Monkeybelch Range War and determining the course of the entire Monkeybelch Draw Valley’s history.  Your house is historic!

So the city clerk convinces you to register your squat toad of a house with the National Historic Registry, which causes you to jump through a few hoops to prove provenance and to prove that the end of the Monkeybelch Range War was in some way significant to national history (Monkeybelch county is the nation’s number 7 producer of scorpions embedded in yellow-tinted Lucite that looks kind of like amber).

Only now your weekend project got complicated.  Now that your home is historic, you have to maintain its architectural integrity.  Instead of just repairing the walls, cleaning up the yard and figuring out some way to make the front less glaringly unattractive, you now have to follow specific rules, laws, and guidelines guiding you in every step of repair and upgrades.  Simply bringing the building up to the point where Registry officials won’t fine you for mistreating a National Treasure will cost you twice as much as the building purchase ran in the first place.  You’d have been better off ignoring the place’s historic significance and just bulldozing it to make room for a three-bedroom clapboard ranch.

Or, let’s say you have a pine tree in your yard.  This thing is seventy-five feet tall and weighs upwards of five tons.  And it’s dead.  Between pine beetles and the recent droughts, it just gave up, and now you cringe every time a stiff breeze blows through your neighborhood.  So you call a reputable tree service to take care of it without destroying your house.

The only problem is, while inspecting the tree, they discovered a bird’s nest.  Not just a bird’s nest, but a nest of Shrill Tiny Mud-Colored Annoying Birds.  They’re on the Endangered Species list.  They were put on the list in 1978, when it was discovered that there were only 300 of them in the entire country.  Now, of course, you have to elbow them out of the way just to get down the street, but they remain on the list because development threatens their natural woodland habitat (the six thousand birds that seem happy to live in your neighborhood and crap on your car are considered “aberrations”).  That tree has to stay up, because birds.

Unfortunately for you, when the next big thunderstorm comes through and your dead tree crashes into your house, you’re screwed.  Your insurance company considers your failure to remove a clearly dead tree to be negligence, and they won’t pay out if you act like a dumbass.

These are perverse incentives: times when the effect of government regulations is the opposite of their intent.  The US Code is rife with laws and regulations that punish people for doing the right thing.  My last example probably sounds familiar because it is a popular plot for sitcoms.  Unfortunately, it is also a reality for many people whose lives have been disrupted by the Endangered Species Act.

Believe it or not, encouraging common citizens to ignore or violate the law is not the most common result of perverse incentives.  The most common result, and, in my view, the most harmful, is the manufacturing of narratives.  Last January, I started hearing about the huge drought that Houston was entering this year, which was surprising, because Houston didn’t start lagging behind on rainfall until the middle of February, when the jet stream that gives us dry Decembers reappeared.  As it stands, we’ are about three inches behind average for the first quarter, most of it in February and March.  Of course, we’ve already gotten half our April average in the first week, with more expected.  But the narrative remains that we’re heading for a drought that will be worse than 2011.

It’s hard to see, when you look at a year that may be a little light on rain how these dire predictions of drought are born.  Hard to see until you look up the source of these prediction.  The National Integrated Drought Information System is a division of the National Oceanographic Advisory Administration (NOAA–in turn, an administration of the US Department of Commerce), established to provide information and recommendations regarding drought relief and mediation all over the country.  That seems reasonable, these guys study drought and drought conditions all the time, so they should be trusted to let us know when drought is imminent, so we can be proactive in mediating drought effects instead of just cutting giant crop insurance checks in August.

Except these guys see drought everywhere they go.  If it is not currently raining (and sometimes, even if it is) they shout drought and tell you to stop washing your car and to drink only Red Bull.  They are like your crazy aunt who spends too much time on WebMD and is convinced she has every possible disease including rickets.  Because the climate is so huge and unpredictable, they can’t possibly know how it works or how it’s going to work, so they look at one or two things that maybe were in effect when past droughts happened and shout DROUGHT!

Of course, there’s also the fact that they have jobs because they can show drought as being a credible threat.  Let me put that another way:  Their jobs depend on their ability to present ongoing widespread drought as an imminent danger to American well-being.  It is literally in their best interest to declare Houston to be under “severe” drought conditions, despite the fact that NOAA’s rainfall maps show us not to be in any serious rain debt.

It’s a perverse incentive.  Since their jobs depend on their ability to show that the country has a need for their services, they are always going to find something that supports the narrative.  Any time you hear a dire prediction, whether it’s impending drought, the threat of terrorism, or the dangers of apple fritters, you should be sure to follow the Benjamins.  And do it both ways, because it’s not always Big Business offering scads of bucks to people willing to prove that sucking hot smoke directly into your lungs isn’t harmful, sometimes, it’s someone whose job depends on convincing you that being in the same state as a lit cigarette will give you every disease (including rickets).  It’s not just the people cutting the checks that are culpable for misleading the public, it’s just as often the ones cashing them.


Today’s entry comes entirely from the fact that i was dragged kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century and recently signed up for a Netflix account.  To illustrate what a big deal this is, the last Blockbuster within twenty miles of my home closed over five years ago.  Since then, my film dossier has been limited to the very few movies I’m willing to spend theater prices to watch, the even fewer movies I’m willing to buy as DVDs, and whatever I happen to catch during the couple of times a year that U-Verse does it’s Free Everything Weekend.

So, for five years, Bunnyhat and I have been discussing whether or not to sign up for Netflix (technically, more, since we started discussing it when her brother got an account back when they were just mailing DVDs to people).  We’re still discussing it, since we’re currently doing the free month and still have time to cancel before we have to start paying.  Anyway, it took me five years to get around to doing something that most people had already done before the Blockbuster closed (which is probably why it closed in the first place).  That doesn’t matter, because all of this is prologue.

Last week, trying to get full advantage from the streaming version (we’re also discussing the pros and cons of updating to the mail-a-disc version) of Netflix, i tripped over an interesting title:  “After Porn Ends”.  Turns out, it’s a documenatry about a few porn stars, including how they got into adult features, and what their life has been like since they left the industry.

On its surface, it appears to be a damning screed against the erotic entertainment industry as a whole, and adult films in particular, especially if you listen to one of the featured experts, the author of a book on the industry.  One male star is living alone and pushing seventy, two female stars were pushed so close to the edge that only Christian Evangelism saved them from suicide and self-destruction, a single mother nearly lost her home, and another woman was fired from her job as real estate contact for a major national developer because she was recognized by a client.

But the producers and director of the film are too honest, both with themsleves and their subjects to let it stand as such.  The male star living alone openly admits that his shyness caused him to lose his chance with the woman he thought he could spend his life with, the single mother nearly lost her home because her husband died in an accident, and it was her fans–fans of her porn career–who came through in the clutch and helped her save her home (and Chritmas for her kids).  The author who speaks so eloquently and damningly of the industry is an orthodox Jewish convert (this is never stated, but his untrimmed beard and the flashes of his Yarmulke provide clues for those who would think to research further).  That’s not a slam against Jews or even Orthodox Jews, simply a bit of info, because converts, especially religious converts are notorious for embracing even the most insane (and generally ignored, by those born to the philosophy) arguments and tenets of their new belief.

The filmmakers also show their honesty in not downplaying the non-negative effects that their subjects express.  Of the three male stars showcased, two were in happy, longterm marriages.  Four of the seven women showcased were neither unhappy with how their previous careers affected their lives nor with their lives since.  Even the woman who’d been fired for having once been a porn star took her firing (and an unfortunate cancer diagnosis) as an opportunity to become a nurse.  The two women who were convinced that porn had ruined their lives were plagued by darker demons than can be attributed to some on-camera fucking.

More, the filmmakers are honest enough to attribute most of the problems faced by their subjects right smack where the attribution belongs:  on the society that supports a porn industry in the first place.

People come up to me and say, “Well, you should be in politics.” And I go, “There are pictures of me with a dick in my ass…it isn’t going to happen.” 

—-Nina Hartley

I am not saying that porn should be illegal.  Porn serves a valid purpose in society.  I am saying that porn stars are just people who do a job.  Porn, itself is not the problem.  People become self-destructive in every avenue of the arts, if they’re successful and screwed up enough that their success willmagnify their deeper demons.  River Phoenix, Kurt Cobain, Charlie Sheen, and Lindsey Lohan aren’t porn stars.  They’re deeply damaged people who found themselves in a world that provided them with the means and a celebration of their excesses (and them condemned them for their weakness when their excesses overtook them).

Porn does not intrinsicly deride or defame women.  As the father of a daugher, I find Carrie Bradshaw’s obsession with shoes and bagging a man more offensive than some goofy plot about three people who enjoy fucking under contrived circumstances.  I find Law and Order:  SVU’s message of “Whoever you are, whatever you do, someone wants to kill you with his dick,” much more frightening then the idea that people might enjoy themselves for an afternoon because orgasms are awesome.

I honestly can’t say why we, as a society demonize so many things that aren’t really our business.  It seems, no matter what you do, there is some psycho who thinks you’re horrible because it makes you happy (or, in the case of recreational drugs, less sad).  I can only say that we need to stop it.  Because it’s stupid.