January 31, 2011

Lazy-Ass LIbrarian reviews King Dork

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January 28, 2011

The Joker went Wild

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A kind assessment of Andromeda Klein from old comrade Steven Rubio.

Also, from this goodreads review of King Dork, a cautionary clash-of-generations tale:

I find Tom Henderson to be almost a hero to most dorks who read the book, and absolutely disgusting to average teenagers. I requested that my English III teacher read King Dork. And he absolutely hated it, it's plot, it's characters, and wanted to have the book banned from our library.
Gotta wait till English IV, I guess.
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Hey, look what I found


The "revenge sweater," I mean. Probably hasn't been worn since c. 1998, fortunately. Sorry, world.

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January 26, 2011

My Little Sweet Pea

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January 25, 2011

Brights vs. Liberals

If Richard Dawkins had anticipated a cakewalk through a crowd of uniformly acquiescent ditto-heads in the comments to his boingboing guest post about the Martin Gaskell case, he was in for a surprise. You can color me surprised as well, frankly. Result: an unexpectedly interesting discussion.


Dawkins has contributed to the ensuing discussion, asking this leading question:

What has emerged from the comments on Boing Boing is that there is apparently no level of absurdity that can serve my purpose of serving as a baseline for further discussion. For some people, the taboo against prying into a candidate's private beliefs is so absolute that there is literally no belief, no matter how absurd, that could rule him out.

I am now curious about where this taboo comes from. Does it come from religion itself? Or does it have something to do with the 'cultural relativist' belief that all opinions are equally valid?

The answer is that freedom of conscience and freedom of religion is an important, perhaps the most important, liberal value, enshrined in our Constitution and, apparently, still ingrained in our culture to the extent that an otherwise receptive audience (I'd have thought) nonetheless balks at its dismissal in such cavalier fashion. Calling this a mere "taboo" or associating it with "cultural relativism" merely continues the tactic. Frankly, old cynic that I am, I am rather shocked and encouraged to find this tradition so alive and well.

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Girly Girly Girly

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The nurse hits! (I hope you don't mind.)

Here's something you don't see everyday: a celebration of "roguelikes." Rogue itself was before my time, but but it's not an exaggeration to say that much of my life in the 80s and 90s -- and even, occasionally, more recently -- was pre-empted and shunted aside by Hack and the successive versions of Nethack (along with variants like Moria and Angband.) You know how it is. You'll take a break from studying your Greek with just one quick game, and before you know it, the sun is coming up and you realize you've spent the last ten hours tapping into the void, digging direct routes through the maze levels so you can easily traverse them once you have to contend with the Amulet's teleportation interference.

It's sad, maybe, but those were some of the best times of my life. (And I can still recall the precise details of certain ascensions going back decades. Yaggle-Taggle the Barbarian. Conchobor Jr. the Tourist. Good times.)

It taught me, if nothing else, D&D's chief flaw: that it had to be played with other humans. Nethack, on the other hand, was just you and a green-glowing screen, a vast improvement. To this day, I will sometimes notice, somewhere deep inside, a slight, involuntary shudder when I see a capital letter L, particularly if it's green. (Not a lower-case "l" -- those leprechauns are annoying but nothing like a Lich.)

So yeah, I'm a nerd or whatever.

Still, you can too, if you want. Latest version is here.

(via boingboing.)

ADDED: This essay on the history and significance of Nethack was posted in the boingboing comments and is worth a look if you're at all interested in the subject. I sure hadn't realized that Eric S. Raymond had written the player's guide!

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January 21, 2011

Whammy Bammy Buzzard Goozer

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Note to My Correspondents

My inbox got corrupted and is mostly unsalvageable, so if you're waiting for a response to an email that is my excuse for not answering. Starting over! Resend anything important, but don't worry too much about the unimportant stuff. (And Joe Biden and Barack Obama: your congratulations to me for being such a swell guy and asking for donations are UNIMPORTANT, so there's no need to resend those. Thanks.)

All email addresses still work, it's just that past, unanswered messages are garbled and I'm not going to do much wading through them.

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January 19, 2011

In the Hand of the Inevitable

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Hearth & Home & Fire Escape

So, believe it or not, last night I found myself in the unlikely position of having to brandish the longsword pictured here to scare off an intruder who was messing around on the fire escape outside my back door. True story. Totally worked, too, which I attribute to the element of surprise more than anything else.

added: also, it should be noted that at the time I was wearing glasses, pajama bottoms, and a Queers All-stars long sleeved T shirt.

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So it's come to this

CNN's John King apologizes to viewers because a guest used the word "crosshairs" in a discussion about the Chicago mayoral race.

Whatever the merits of the argument that scrupulous avoidance of violent metaphors will make us safer (extremely dubious in my view), I think it's beyond question that it has already made us dumber.

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A Gentle Bath of Disinfected Liquid Literature

The recent brouhaha about the bowdlerization of Huckleberry Finn knocked loose a strange phrase that had rested, unused but obviously still present, in my mind, and I didn't realize why till I thought about it long enough to reverse-engineer it.

It began with this post, where I noted that, this edition aside, that and other books have been silently bowdlerized for school use throughout the country for years, and that no one seems to know or care about that, even though, really, it's far worse when you do it and don't tell anyone. (See Jen's comment at that post for a truly egregious example.)

In the process of writing the post and the subsequent discussion of the matter on a couple of facebook threads, I became aware of an urge to use the verb "to wad down" as a less extreme equivalent for "to censor" or to "bowdlerize." Something like: "while I suppose I understand the desire to wad down the use of unpleasant words in a classroom setting…" But I knew that couldn't be right. The image I had was of someone taking a wadded up clutch of papers, such as, say, the pages of a book that had been ripped apart by schoolboard members or angry college professors, and smoothing them out over a table with a sort of kneading motion, massaging the unpleasantness away. In other words, wadding something down was the opposite of wadding something up. Sort of. The dictionary, of course, confirmed that this sense of the verb "to wad" didn't exist, except in my funky brain.

After wondering idly about it for a few days, a hitherto unnoticed memory dislodged itself and came to view.

It was in elementary school. The school librarian was giving a presentation to kids and parents, some sort of orientation or get-to-know-the-staff type event. There was a lot of talk about the Joy of Reading, and the importance of Getting Those Kids Reading and Why Johnny Can't Read (and the Bicentennial -- everyone was talking about that in schools in '75-'76.) She had a small stack of books that had been wadded down for children. I can hear and see her say it very clearly in my head, now that the memory has begun playing: "they're the same books, it's just that they've been wadded down." And when she said "wadded down" she made a smoothing out motion with her hands. So that's where it came from. I also remember getting a clear sense of disapproval of this wadding down from my parents. (I mean, it was probably the wadding down, because I can't imagine any way in which they could possibly have disapproved of the Bicentennial.)

As you have no doubt surmised, and as I realized as soon as I recalled the context, what she had really said was "watered down." The books are the same books, but they had been watered down for kids. The librarian's hand motion was probably meant to evoke water in some way, swimming, or running one's hands through a gentle bath of disinfected liquid literature.

I dearly wish I could remember the titles of the wadded down books on the table. I think one of them might have been The Once and Future King. And whoa: I just realized, I first read the Lord of the Rings from that library. I wonder if that was wadded down? I don't think it was. (See how awful it is not to know whether or not you've read the real book? I mean, I think it's awful. Who could think it would be a good idea to wad down books all over the place like that?)

Anyway, even now that I've got it right, the verb "to wad down," in the sense of "to create a fake, starter book for kids by smoothing out a real one with your weird, freckly old-people hands" is still there in my head, undislodge-able. If you get me drunk enough, or mad enough, I might well even wind up saying it out loud sometime. But at least we'll know what I'm doing now.

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The Time Has Come

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January 18, 2011

Good Grief

SWAT team surrounds suspect's house to serve a search warrant, realize they've got the wrong guy, decide to arrest him anyway because of unrelated misdemeanor warrants, and set the house on fire, killing him.

I didn't know what to title this one. Don't be in a house?

Capt. Phil Hansen, asked to comment, said, of the "flash bang" grenades that started the blaze: "they're a life-saving tool."

(via the Agitator.)

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Are Everything

The poor video and audio of the clip only serve to frame the look and sound of the disintegrating Buzzcocks:

Still one of my favorite songs.

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January 17, 2011

Don't bet on college football...

…or they'll surveil you, entrap you, send a SWAT team to execute you a warrant, murder you, lie about it, admit no wrongdoing, harass and intimidate your grieving family, and tie the matter up in court for five years before settling with your family rather than be forced to concede any responsibility.

I'm glad the family got a settlement, of course, but it is simply crazy that the perpetrators of this horrible crime suffered no more than a brief suspension and a tax-payer funded settlement.

In a sane world the shooter and the entire chain of command who authorized this senseless raid and then tried to cover up the misconduct would immediately lose their jobs and be personally liable for its consequences. In a sane world, of course, gambling on college sports wouldn't be illegal at all, much less trigger undercover sting operations and paramilitary raids on ordinary unarmed citizens. There should be consequences for this kind of abuse of the public trust, and there really appear to be, effectively, none. I know it's not a sane world.

Terrible story.

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January 15, 2011

National Brotherhood Week

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One of the most atrocious of its class; it has a process in Necromancy which is possible, say some occult writers -- in the geniality of a lucid interval -- only to a dangerous maniac or an irreclaimable criminal....


Wierus is offering an early printing of the Dragon Rouge/Grand Grimoire to anyone with a spare 3,000 euros lying around.

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January 14, 2011

Rose Melberg covers "This Will Be Our Year"

So beautiful.

(via Steve.)

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Dueling Reference Groups

Both the conservatives and the progressives seem to me to be full of the same kind of intolerance, arrogance, empty-headedness, and to be dominated by different kinds of conformism; in either case the dread of being left out of their reference group.

I've quoted this bit from Thomas Merton's journals a time or two before. Ever since I first read it, it has stuck with me as one of the most perceptive, succinct, self-evidently true pieces of political wisdom I've ever encountered.

Every time there is a big, off-kilter, culture-war partisan blow-up of the kind we've had in the aftermath of the Tuscon massacre, my first thought is: wow, everyone's gone completely mad. Finally. Or, again. Then up pops Merton's simple apothegm, and I realize that it all makes much more sense if you strip away the layers of rationalization, the crude with the sophisticated, and recognize "the discourse" as a fairly simple matter of group dynamics.

The dread of being left out of the reference group; the the thrill of being in a mob; the substitution of in-group signaling for genuine analysis and discussion and the inability to tell the difference between the two. Such is our politics. I suppose it's always been the case, but the internet makes it far more visible, reveals its rather distressing breadth and depth. I'm not, at all, saying I'm immune to it; no one is. It's one reason why the Christian message "love one another" (cf. the President's funeral oration) really is as radical as they always say it is, so rarely heeded, and so impossible to put into practice. So it goes, I guess.

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January 11, 2011

Toning Down the Rhetoric

However one might characterize the ethos embodied in contemporary American right wing populist rhetoric, "eliminationist," coined by Daniel Goldhagen in his Hitler's Willing Executioners to describe the ideological underpinnings of the popular will to exterminate European Jews, is surely the wrong word. That it tends to appear in the context of calls to "tone down the rhetoric" is rather startling irony. Michael Moynihan has more.

added: and now Sarah Palin sees their "eliminationism" and raises them a "blood libel." Everyone's gone mad.

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January 10, 2011

Milwaukee, Here I Come

(via Lexington Green.)

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January 09, 2011

My A-word is True

Pennsylvania Congressman plans to introduce bill banning visual depictions of crosshairs and bullseyes.

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Radley Balko on how the gun speaks from both sides

Of course we should mourn the people senselessly murdered yesterday, government employees and otherwise: U.S. District Judge John Roll, Dorthy Murray, Dorwin Stoddard, nine-year-old Christina Greene, Phyllis Scheck, and Gabe Zimmerman.

That said, I long for the day that our political and media figures get as indignant about innocent Americans killed by their own government—killed in fact, as a direct and foreseeable consequence of official government policy that nearly all of those leaders support—as they are about a government official who was targeted by a clearly sick and deranged young man. What happened this weekend is not, by any means, a reason to shunt anti-government protest, even angry anti-government protest, out of the sphere of acceptable debate. The government still engages in plenty of acts and policies—including one-sided violence against its own citizens—that are well worth our anger, protest, and condemnation.

Brace yourself if you decide to watch the second video of the summary execution of a guy with a golf club: it's horrible, though, evidently, perfectly lawful.

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She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft)

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The N-word of the Narcissus

n-word thumb.jpg

Available here.

(Oddly enough, I first read this book when I was a kid because it was one of the texts/clues mentioned in Ellen Raskin's Figgs & Phantoms. Thus, my introduction to Conrad. I wonder how the Raskin text is faring these days.)

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"I toured Europe's most beautiful cities as part of a bickering group of frightened nerds."

David Mitchell recalls gap year Inter-Railing.

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January 05, 2011

Five Years ahead of My Time

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Warning: Lark's Vomit

I am as against bowdlerizing Huckleberry Finn as anyone could be, but all the hullabaloo over this particular edition is bizarre: publishers have been silently doing precisely this in school and textbook editions of that book, and many others, for decades. It's the "silently" that is most disturbing. At least with the hullabaloo, the reader stands a chance of learning that what he or she is reading is not the actual original text. Like the confection known as Ram's Bladder Cup, books like The New Expurgated Adventures of Huckleberry Finn really ought to bear a great big red label reading: WARNING LARK'S VOMIT. But failing that, a publicity campaign boasting about the lark's vomit, in the New York Times and so forth, is something like the next best thing. I mean, at least they're not trying to hide it.

So that's basically my bowdlerization position: it's all bad, but silent bad is far worse than hullabaloo bad.

The last time this came up on this blog in the comments to this post on banned books, I quoted an article on school materials originally found here but now no longer on the web as far as I can tell:

In accord with these policies, publishers eliminate or change offending passages regardless of the purpose or meaning those passages have in the original work. McGraw-Hill, for example, changes "nigger" to "Negro" in Huckleberry Finn (grade 9), Allyn and Bacon removes "piccanin" from Nadine Gordimer's Train from Rhodesia (grade 12), and Ginn removes the first and fifth stanzas from Richard Wright's Hokku poems(grade 7). Sometimes both right-wing and left-wing pressures affect the same literary work. In Patricia Zettner's story A Perfect Day for Ice Cream, for example, various publishers eliminate the reference to Gloria Steinem and the word pest that a child applies to a sibling because home-and-family conservatives find militant feminism and portrayals of family conflict unacceptable, but these publishers delete the phrase Kamikaze ball as well, because it could be interpreted as ethnic derogation. Since California's liberal textbook guidelines also discourage the use of materials that promote foods of low nutritive value, the publishers have changed the title of the story to A Perfect Day and edited out the trip to the ice cream parlor. Similarly, publishers have corrected the language of Mark Twain's characters in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, yielding to conservative pressure to remove poor grammar from textbooks to avoid encouraging students to use such grammar themselves, and have substituted children for boys in response to liberal pressure for sexually neutral language and the removal of any suggestion that girls have inactive or supporting roles in relation to boys…

It's too bad the article is no longer there, because I remember the rest of it being as interesting as that bit. Do we, through our pedagogic surrogates, really assemble the great, timeless works of literature solely in order to cross out the bits that fail to support our competing, ephemeral, petty agendas and prejudices? Damn, it looks like we do. NewSouth Books has got nothing on us, really, and maybe we should get off our high horse about it.

Also of note is this recent examination of successive phases of silent bowdlerization in two editions of Dr. Doolittle and three of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Until reading this piece, I'd had no idea that the Oompa-Loompas were originally African Pygmies, and that this had been silently changed in the 1973 edition I must have read as a kid. I'm not saying it's a change for the worse, and I can certainly see why it was done -- but it does irritate me that I had no way of knowing about it, and that they (publishers, teachers, librarians) never gave any thought to the possibility that it was something I might, as a young reader, want to know. That's where the whole thing starts to feel a little creepy and slippery-slopey and 1984-y and social engineering-y. You want to be able to trust that the book you have in your hand is the real thing, not something altered for your own good by authority figures with the best of intentions. If they have altered it in furtherance of whatever agenda they might have, they should tell you.

It is no coincidence that so many examples of this silent bowdlerization come from children's lit. It reflects the fact that so many of us, even some of us who pride ourselves on being on the side of the angels when it comes to kids and the Joy of Reading, nevertheless tend not to take young readers seriously as readers. We just assume that they'll take whatever we give them without wondering what it is or where it came from, without the means to discover what it is or where it came from; and we pat ourselves on the back for doing it, for disguising the truth in a good cause. That sucks. I mean, we shouldn't be doing that, really. It is the opposite of education, and inimical to the very idea of literature. It's an abuse of trust.

What I'm trying to say, I suppose, is this: everyone has a right to know about the lark's vomit, even kids.

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January 04, 2011

Daily Gripe

I find it very difficult to watch scenes in movies where music with vocals is played at the same time as dialog, so that the lyrics of the song compete with what the characters are saying. It happens quite often, and it makes my head do funny things, among them to entertain the idea that they (the characters, I mean) may be doing it on purpose just to mess with me.

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I've Been Telling People I Got it in Nam

This funny and wide-ranging Christmas Break report by The 8th Grade Observer happens to include in passing one of my favorite King Dork reviews ever.

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January 03, 2011

Don't be a paraplegic with MS in Florida

If you're like me, this story will make you mad. The prosecutor's website indicates that he is a cancer survivor, so I imagine he has himself had medical treatment with pain meds prescribed by his doctors, just like the guy he sent to prison for twenty-five years. He should prosecute himself. Appalling.

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We Don't Need the English

Live clip from Portland '79 here, with typical punk rock show mic problems. The audience footage is great though -- that's what punk rock really was like in '79, usually.

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January 02, 2011

Omar Sharif Cigarettes


I found this empty cigarette pack box on the pavement outside the ESL school nearby where I used to work in Berkeley, long long ago. The slogan reads:

One of my greatest ever random finds.
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Apple Crumble Mind

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