Friday, March 30, 2007

History Will Vindicate Us!

I stumbled onto this comic today. I am amused at the notion of how people from the future will view bloggers.

And although I don't normally wear a red cape, I do know where I can find a red riding hood about the house. Certainly we are having the greatest dialogues of the age.

Right here. Right now. It doesn't get any better than this. Aren't you thrilled to be part of it?

Thought so.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Cancer and Politics

Haven't written about cancer in a while. That's probably a good thing, since after way too much involvement with it last couple of years, we've been blessedly untouched by it for a bit.

Then came the news this week that Elizabeth Edwards, wife of presidential candidate John Edwards, has had a recurrence of her breast cancer, which has now metastasized and is deemed incurable. And suddenly, cancer and how people deal with it isn't just news, it's a political football. At best, the pundits want to analyze the effect of the announcement on the campaign. At worst, the sleazebags try to capitalize on it, casting aspersions and making accusations.

I find this piece, by Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake, quite compelling. It's particularly poignant, given that Hamsher is herself dealing with a recurrence of breast cancer. She does a good job explaining the behavior of Mr. Limbaugh and his ilk that I wouldn't even touch.

The idea that there is somehow a correct or proper way to deal with cancer in your life or your family is absurd. It is ridiculous to condemn or second-guess anyone for the way they choose to cope with what will potentially be the last years of their lives together. It is particularly irksome to read these hit pieces by people who have no particular knowledge of the people or the situation involved: they just project their opinions, their prejudices, or their political preferences onto people who already have much more than enough to deal with.

Dealing with cancer is not about living up to other expectations. It's about living. And you do it on your terms, as best you can. It's unbelievably hard to do under the best of circumstances, much less under the microscope now applied to those in public life.

I wish nothing but the best to the Edwards family; my heart goes out to them. And I hope some other people will be able to learn a little bit about how life works.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Relatives on the Internet

Here's a link to a lovely picture of a close relative.

For those who need an explanation, try this.

You never know what you'll find on a blog. Small world!

On the Paper, Dammit!

Some good news today on the electronic voting front. Congress is considering legislation to require paper ballots as an official record. California's Secretary of State, Debra Bowen, testified today in favor of the measure, despite having reservations about implementation.

Still a long way to go on this. but at least it's getting serious consideration.

Remember, there is nothing more important in a democratic republic than verifiably fair elections!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Name That Ballpark

Baseball season is in the offing, which means it's time for my mind to wander to important subjects, such as the naming of ballparks.

I saw this encouraging news today:
The Rangers are changing the name of their ballpark from "Ameriquest Field" (Ameriquest is a mortgage company) to yet another corporate moniker. ..."Rangers Ballpark in Arlington." It's the first case I can remember from this callow age of ubiquitous corporate sponsorship that a stadium has been renamed in the right direction.
It seems positive, but my guess is they just haven't found The Right Company willing to shell out the bucks yet. My money is on someone stepping forward to pay for the rights.

Interestingly, this is the second ballpark in Texas to be renamed because of the embarrassment of having a scandalous (and/or bankrupt) sponsor. The Houston Astros changed the name of Enron Field to Minute Maid Park after the Enron implosion.

It's nice to be writing about stuff that really matters again!

Wag More, Bark Less

Since my sister is doing bumper stickers (and such) of late, I thought I should share this one:


I'm not a dog person, but I saw this on a car last week, and the sentiment struck me as simple and useful. Be happier. Be less annoying.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Flags

OK, this is weird. There is clearly some kind of cultural difference here that I don't appreciate. I lived in northern Virginia for a brief period, which I realize isn't the same as living in the deep south, but then, Florida is its own sort of weird "southern" culture.

But it is inexplicably weird to see people displaying a confederate flag with pride. Friends of mine moved out of Georgia in part because they were tired of the debates over whether to keep the confederate flag as part of the state flag.

But this was the most surprising bit to me:
It's interesting that Florida has a law that forbids "public desecration" of the Confederate flag. This is especially interesting given that the American flag is protected by no such law.
Could that be true? Ack! Independent verification from another blog:
What I find infuriating is the Florida statute making it illegal to "deface, defile or contemptuously abuse" the Confederate flag.
Yeah. That's offensive. I like his take on the whole pride thing:
Of course the Sons of the Confederate Veterans are pissed. They see the flag as part of their heritage. That is, they are proud that their ancestors owned people based on the color of their skin, killed and raped them at will, and stole their labor for hundreds of years. The commander of the local there, Robert Hurst, calls the display, "offensive, objectionable and tasteless." I would use those same terms to describe any display of the Confederate flag as a symbol of pride. And I would be right.
Amen.

My thanks to Robert Farley at LGM for pointing this out.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Reading List

Just saw this meme developing over at Pharyngula (a terrific science blog), and thought it would be fun to see how my reading matches up. My guess is I'll be heavier on the SF and lighter on the fantasy, but let's see how it plays out.

Bold means I've read it.

The Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years, 1953-2002

  1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
  2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
  3. Dune, Frank Herbert
  4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
  5. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
  6. Neuromancer, William Gibson
  7. Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke
  8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
  9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
  10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
  11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
  12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
  13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
  14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
  15. Cities in Flight, James Blish
  16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
  17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
  18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
  19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
  20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
  21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
  22. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
  23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
  24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
  25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl
  26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling
  27. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
  28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
  29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
  30. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
  31. Little, Big, John Crowley
  32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
  33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
  34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
  35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
  36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
  37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute
  38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
  39. Ringworld, Larry Niven
  40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
  41. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
  42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
  43. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
  44. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
  45. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
  46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
  47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
  48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
  49. Timescape, Gregory Benford
  50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer
Hmmm. Only 27. And more surprising to me is the number of books on the list I've never even heard of. And then there's the number of books on the list I think are horribly overrated. Oh, well. We can't all agree on everything.

It does strike me that I haven't been reading much SF of late. I've been a bit bogged down in a nonfiction book for a while, and need to get to something lighter.

If you feel like playing, the list is at The News Blog.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Penguins in Civil Discourse

And while we're on the theme of civil discourse, let's include the notion of projecting things into people's comments that have nothing to do with the subject at hand.

Witness, for example, this poor, misunderstood penguin.

Just need to give credit to Tom Tomorrow. His comic is consistently clever, witty, and spot-on-the-mark when it comes to characterizing the trends in American society and politics. I've admired his work since I saw a great comic he'd done for independent booksellers many years ago, parodying chain bookstores. I loved the sign about "books by the pound."

Anyway, if you don't read Tom Tomorrow, you should.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Civility and Subtlety

I have written previously about civility and choice of language in blogging. We've discussed "F-Bombs" and "bad words" various other expressions.

But there's another aspect of current discourse (both within and without the blogosphere) that I find much more disturbing. That's the casual use of the unthinkable: saying things we can't possibly mean, but in an uncaring way.

The trigger that got me off my rear and blogging again after a few weeks is the current discussion of some inflammatory rhetoric at a conservative political gathering this week. I won't cover the details, since they're quite well documented. (Good discussions by Digby and Glenn Greenwald and Anonymous Liberal.)

What bothers me is not the name-calling. I don't like that, but you know, "sticks and stones...." More worrisome is the casual use of language suggesting killing, genocide, torture, poison, and so on. Some of it is clearly joking, and hey, there's a long history of it. One of my favorite lines from Shakespeare comes from Henry IV, part 2: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." (some context here (PDF)) I used to love wearing a t-shirt with that quote as I walked past the law school at Berkeley.

But as I get older, I hear words coming from my daughter and her friends, suggesting that one can solve problems just by killing people or locking them up or sending them away. One can understand that kind of simplistic, childish reasoning from actual children. But the fact is, we hear it from adults, too.

And last night, my wife and I attended a play at Berkeley Repertory Theatre called "The Pillowman." This is an award-winning play by Martin McDonagh. The play was well done, though I wouldn't say it's a great play. And many of the things that bother me about it are the same things that annoy me about a lot of modern theater, such as excessive, gratuitous swearing.

But the play also rather casually incorporates torture, police brutality, child abuse, murder, and similar topics. And it tries to be funny. Not that these are inappropriate subjects for theater, or even for humor. But it got me to thinking about how inured society has become to depictions and discussions of subjects that ought to be unthinkable.

In fairness, one of the themes of "The Pillowman" is a discussion of this very tension: the main character is a writer, and the writer has written stories that depict some awful things happening to children. When some of those things really happen, the police have issues with the writer.

But in some ways, I suppose it is the play's self-awareness of the gratuitous violence and incivility that bothers me all the more. Part of what makes art art is an artist's ability to convey something without depicting it. Let's just say there are more artful ways of showing that someone is crude than by having him swear a lot and hit other people. A really good writer can do that with words, with descriptions, with metaphor.

Or maybe that's it...maybe subtlety is dead. It would certainly appear to have died long ago in the major media. Watching television these days is like being hit in the face with a two-by-four, repeatedly. Which is probably why I rarely watch. The "nice" shows are treacly, and the "not nice" shows are vulgar, violent, or insipid. Where is the art???